Film Brief: Get on Up

Get on Up - poster large

Like James Brown himself, Get on Up charts its own course, not bothering much with precedent established in the genre.  With assumptions that the audience walks in with a basic intelligence, and that it knows who the Godfather of Soul was, it refreshingly does not spell out every last detail.  For instance, it doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining the development of specific songs.  But at the same time, it knows enough to keep the music, or the funk, where it belongs: squarely in the center.

Get on Up - text block

Driven by a masterful recreation of “Mr. Brown” by Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up succeeds on its own terms.  A year ago, Boseman played Jackie Robinson in the well-received 42.  I did not see that one, but as a fan of both baseball and good biographical movies, I’ll have to check it out.  I recommend Get on Up, but only for those who like music.  Whether you view it in a theater or at home, make sure the audio is up to snuff.  8/10

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Comparison Notes: Recommended: Walk the Line, Ray; Not Recommended: Jersey Boys [post]

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I

Guardians of the Galaxy poster smallThe year of the blockbuster continues.  Guardians of the Galaxy was reasonably entertaining, but dragged down by the requisite draggy action sequences-in-lieu-of-a-good-plot that plagues most of these big action pictures.  But with fun characters, cool visuals and a good sense of humor it was definitely a kick above most blockbusters released this year.  And the action pieces were, for the most part, above average as well — you could even say exciting.

Guardians was best when sporting its classic tunes — I only wish there had been more.  And something I find ironic is that the period music integrated very naturally with the futuristic sci-fi action on the screen, as contrasted with the complete inability of American Hustle or Dazed and Confused (for example) to achieve the same effect, despite being set in the period belonging to their respective soundtracks.  Classic songs were affixed superficially to those broken movies.

One thing that did bother me about Guardians was the sense the entire movie through that its primary purpose was to generate sequels.  And, sadly, the filmmakers rather gallingly confirmed that inevitability by stating so before the end credits rolled.  Still though, enough fun for me to recommend it; kids and action/superhero fans will eat it up.  And I do love that “Marvel” animation at the beginning — it’s getting better all the time.  6/10

Guardians Galaxy - text block

New Tarantino Film & Teaser Trailer

Hateful Eight - Prelim Poster

IN CASE YOU hadn’t seen this making the rounds… not much to see, but it looks like we can definitely expect a new Western-styled QT movie next year.  I’m thinking a sequel to The Magnificent Seven, but hoping that Tarantino keeps up the level of deft originality displayed in his last two films… which will be no easy task.

Looking at this poster, I’m put off by the “8TH FILM FROM QUENTIN TARANTINO” proclamation, something I talked about in regards to Kill Bill — but I suppose with the run he’s been on it’s justifiable.

Bootleg-shot Teaser Trailer at The Verge

A Most Wanted Man, No Matter How You Say It

A Most Wanted Man - posterGERMANS DON’T SPEAK to each-other in English with a German accent!  Unless maybe in English class in Hochschule.  Or perhaps if speaking with a Brit or American.  Case in point: Daniel Craig does not speak English in a Swedish accent in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  He’s not leaping around yelling “yumpin’ yimminy, yunior” either.

Beyond being a little irksome, the use of a German accent by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last non-teeny-bopper film (he will appear in the next two Hunger Games films; this movie, I was surprised to find, was shot in September 2012) I found to be very distracting.  Normally something like that I can get used to, and eventually I did — but it was a sticking point the entire film through.

One of the reasons for this is that the film begins unclearly.  As I walked out of the theater, someone remarked “I’ve never been so lost in a movie in my life.”  Well the movie was hardly so complicated — in fact it was very much a simple, even one-dimensional tale.  But the use of language and accent in the beginning of the movie is very confusing — we are not immediately sure if Hoffman’s character and his workgroup are all Germans, or a blend of Germans and Americans, or what authority or auspices they are working under.

These matters sort themselves out quickly enough, and we come to realize that Hoffman — and seemingly everyone else in the movie — are indeed speaking German the entire time.  Again, the German speech is conveyed by actors speaking English in varying degrees of fake German or more generalized pseudo-European accents.  The language problem also prominently manifests itself with a key character, a Chechnyan national of Chechnyan and Russian descent who has illegally entered Hamburg — where most of the movie takes place — and who, rather mysteriously, speaks perfect German (or is it English?  No — this is German now) with no accent whatsoever.  What a mess.

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Once you get past the language issues of A Most Wanted  Man, you are left with a not particularly exciting or compelling spy drama which has a few logic problems.  I suppose that notwithstanding the various accents, the performances are all pretty good.  And I did find myself fairly well engaged in the story, eventually.  About a third to half-way through the movie settles into a nice rhythm and becomes, well, entertaining.  But there’s not enough here for me to recommend.  Too much character posturing in lieu of plot.

A Most Wanted Man has received a lot of praise, but I think it’s another case of critics becoming confused between what good and not-good movies are.  Must be the same critics who heaped praise upon the similarly-themed Zero Dark Thirty.  A Most Wanted Man was a much better film, but that’s not saying much.   Still, there is something in all the performances — especially Hoffman’s — that endears the movie to me a bit.  5/10

A Most Wanted Man - still

Tarantino’s Deaths

Tarantino's Deaths - text blockDISCLAIMER AND SPOILER ALERT!  This meme came through yesterday on The Verge, and I hesitated to post it.  The reason: I am a fan of Quentin Tarantino, but there is one movie I have not seen: Jackie Brown.  I assume at least one person gets killed in it, but I don’t want anything given away; as such, I have watched only the beginning and end of this video, so as to skip any Jackie Brown clips (it is in chronological order).  And I had another, more personal reason for not posting it yesterday.

So — SPOILER ALERT!  — you may not want to watch this video unless you’ve seen all of Tarantino’s movies.  And DISCLAIMER — I can’t vouch for the quality or value of this video, but I would be remiss to ignore it.  So watch at your own risk, and be prepared for a death-fest worthy Caligula.

The insert below is provided for convenience; click on “Vimeo” to watch in HD at

Hitchcock’s Cameos

Hitchcock CameosJim Dalrymple, The Loop:

I’ve long been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Rear Window, North by Northwest, The 39 Steps, all great films, in my opinion. One of my favorite elements of Hitchcock’s filming was his Easter egg gift to his fans. He appeared in some form or another in every one of his movies. Usually, he was an extra in a scene with no lines. Sometimes, he was simply in a picture hanging on a wall.

Here’s a multipage article laying out all of those cameos. But there’s no substitute for seeing this for yourself. Watch the video below for a nice sampling. No, these are not all of them and yes, there are some typos, but I loved the effort. Gosh, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much. So many more.

You may look at the cameos in the video below; for more detail see Jim Dalrymple’s link above to — which by the way is a new site for me, and looks intriguing.  I’ll have to explore a little further.

Flirting with Disaster, and then Diving Right In

Flirting with Disaster - posterSome movies don’t age well.  That’s the feeling I got watching David O. Russell’s 1996 comedy Flirting with Disaster.  It was well received at the time, and if I had seen it upon its original release I imagine I would have enjoyed it more than I did last night on Netflix.  But this movie felt old, clunky and tired to me.  Whenever a comedy, or any movie in general, starts off roughly, I remember Sideways, and that sometimes movies just take a while to rev up.

Well no such luck here.  It was funny here and there, but for the most part the comedy felt forced and awkward.  Not awkward in the good, Steve Carell – Office way, awkward in the it’s not funny even though it’s trying really hard way.  And it plays like Ben Stiller’s practice round for Meet the Parents.  The type of movie he did before he found his comedic groove.

Flirting with Disaster redeemed itself a bit in the second half when Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin got involved, and I liked Téa Leoni, but this movie was formulated like a sequence of mediocre concatenated sitcom scenes.  So chalk up another David O. Russell failure.  There is no reason at all that someone needs to watch this 20 years later.  4/10

Flirting with Disaster - text block


Edge of Tomorrow Rebranding

See Verge article, “Warner Bros. is pretending ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ has a cooler name because it bombed in theaters”

Edge of Tomorrow is a good movie, much better than a lot of movies which have done much better at the box office this year — and that’s a shame.  Goes to show that marketing is important, and that the masses want to see plasticky one-dimensional superheroes who are never put in any real danger.

My 2 Bits on Robin Williams

Mork & Mindy title cardMy first awareness of Robin Williams was from Mork & Mindy, a show beloved by me in my youth.  During that period, he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show (apparently the PBS variety), and my father remarked that he had seen him on the show and was impressed that Dick Cavett — himself sharp and quick-witted — could barely keep up with Robin Williams.

That was something that always stuck with me, even though I had limited familiarity with Dick Cavett.  Because of my father’s comment, Robin Williams was probably the first celebrity whom I considered particularly intelligent and witty.  It’s a small coincidence that PBS has been airing Dick Cavett’s Watergate, and that I was thinking of Robin Williams on his show — even though I never saw that appearance — the day before he died.

Dick Cavett wrote on Robin Williams’ death in Time:

Sitting next to him on my old PBS show was like sitting in the Macy’s barge next to the fireworks going off.  He was at full, manic, comic frenzy for an hour without let-up. (We even improvised a short Shakespeare play together, with and without rhymed couplets.)  I caught his manic energy.  It was exhilarating. And exhausting.

When it ended, I was wet and spent.  It took him a while to come (partially) down, and I thought, “Can this be good for anyone? Can you be able to do all these rapid-fire personality changes and emerge knowing who you yourself are?

Cavett’s comments echo my father’s.

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good-will-hunting-posterRobin Williams did not involve himself in many movie projects that have had much impact on me, save one:  Good Will Hunting, for which he earned his only Oscar.  His incredible performance in that terrific movie is one of the reasons I lauded it as a “Cinematic Great.”

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I found it a little odd that Williams became involved in last year’s sitcom The Crazy Ones, on CBS.  But not that strange, I suppose, given the trend of bigger and bigger stars headlining sitcoms.  What was ‘off’ about it, though, was that in the very brief bits I saw it did not work at all, just like its NBC twin The Michael J. Fox Show.  Both shows featured a return to television by former stars of the genre, both failed miserably, and both were cancelled on May 10 of this year.

I have to believe that the failure of The Crazy Ones contributed to Robin Williams’ death.  At the very least, if he had been involved in a successful sitcom, he would have been filming a second season in Los Angeles instead of heading towards the end in Tiburon.

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Robin Williams was involved in a more positive experience on TV in the last year: Apple’s “Your Verse” ad, which features his narration from Dead Poets Society.

A tragic and shocking loss.

All the World’s a Stage

From The Loop, which should be on everyone’s reading list:

This is fascinating to watch, certainly, but it also raises an interesting point.  I found the meaning in this monologue much clearer, much easier to digest, because it was broken up into fragments, each of which was filmed as an individual scene.  There’s a lesson there for teachers, I think.  Regardless, enjoy.