VOD Log: We’re the Millers

The terrific TBS promo for We’re the Millers had a lot to do with my desire to see the film.  This promo does not exist anywhere on the internet, that I can find, other than the fragment pasted below — and that’s a shame.  TBS should be proud of its promos.  I do have a small problem with it — there is no girl playing a saxophone on the beach in the movie.  There’s not even a beach.  The musical backdrop, indeed, has no relation to the film at all — which technically amounts to perjury.  However, I certainly can’t ding a movie based on a television network’s independent ad campaign for it.

We’re the Millers falls in the sub-50% zone on Rotten Tomatoes.  One critic wrote that “The filmmakers lack the courage of their convictions.”  Maybe so — but I know that going in.  Put another way, I judge a movie on what it is, not on what it isn’t.  I’m not expecting high art or tense edginess.  I’m expecting Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston in a fairly mindless comedy.

And it works on that level.  There’s something likable about these characters, and this story — raunchy and banal as it often is.  It comes nowhere close to comparable films Vacation or Due Date, but for what it is, it succeeds — barely.  6/10

Availability: iTunes

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Does American Honey Stick?

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In my last post, I noted that good movies were either character-driven or story-driven. What I left off was that the best ones are both — which is where I hoped American Honey was headed.  There’s a lot of promise here early on, and I admit I was fairly well stuck on American Honey.

My criticism of Beasts of the Southern Wild was “these folks live in squalor, but they relish it.”  The same holds true here.  Where American Honey succeeds, in contrast, is in continuously putting our young heroine in risky situations.  But the movie fails by the same count — it doesn’t know where to take those storylines.  It skirts obvious but bold developments in favor of mundane relationship issues among this very loose group of young adults.

american-honey-text-blockStill though, like Beasts, we have a glimpse into a world of impoverished youth which I found mostly fascinating.  There’s a vivid intimacy and fresh honesty here.  But this is an overlong movie — nearly 3 hours — and it begins to repeat itself.  As always, story matters.  At the end of American Honey, you’ll likely be left asking, ‘so what?’ — and worse ‘what could have been?’

A couple more notes: I didn’t pick up on the square frame from seeing the trailer multiple times, but it sure was obvious on my screen: a completely unnecessary, distracting gimmick.  Regarding the film’s star, Sasha Lane: expect to see more of her.  Hopefully continuing with interesting roles, but don’t be surprised to see her in superhero costume. 6/10

Comparison Notes: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Short Term 12, Tangerine, The Master, Electrick Children, River’s Edge, My Own Private Idaho

The Trip to Bountiless

The Trip - poster smallWhen I first saw the Michael Caine impersonation-off in the trailer for The Trip a few years back, I was amused.  But when that scene hit early in the actual movie, it rang hollow.  I love Michael Caine, and the one maestro of British impersonations (which seems to be the main point of the movie) does a dead-on Caine, really nailing both the young and old actor.  The fact that it wasn’t funny speaks volumes about this failed film.

So a recurring theme in my blog: comedy is tough.  The British comedic chemistry that this film yearns for is largely missing.  A reference in the movie is made to the phenomenally successful BBC series Top Gear.  Now there’s some comedic chemistry.  But no such luck in The Trip. 

Another problem was the split personality of The Trip.  If the comedy worked well enough it might not be so bad that it splits its effort with equally ineffective forays into drama.  I suppose the dramatic interludes are meant to bolster the overall comic output — Neighbors comes to mind, but it does not work here.

Sideways, the movie that has grown near and dear to my heart, draws obvious comparisons to The Trip.  And since Sideways started slowly, I kept giving The Trip the benefit of the doubt that it would improve as the not-so-dynamic duo trundle along.  But except for the end of the film, which I hope without giving anything away brings strong parallels to Local Hero, that higher calling is never reached on this Trip.  It is no Local Hero, it definitely doesn’t lean Sideways, and it cannot reach a Top Gear.  4/10

Cinematic Greats: Wild at Heart

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I don’t care what anybody says, Wild at Heart is a great film.  Roger Ebert, who I admire greatly, called the movie “dishonest.”  But then I don’t think Ebert ever got David Lynch — he gave a thumbs down upon seeing the great instant American classic Blue Velvet — indeed one of the greatest films of all time.  I’m not suggesting that Wild at Heart is at all up to the level of Blue Velvet, but if you’re part of the “Lynch Mob” as I am, you absolutely love it.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was among the critics who were able to appreciate the movie:

Wild at Heart - still 2 - in bedStarting with the outrageous and building from there, he ignites a slight love-on-the-run novel, creating a bonfire of a movie that confirms his reputation as the most exciting and innovative filmmaker of his generation.

With foreshadowing of the mystical elements that would pervade Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart soars as the great alternative telling of Dorothy’s journey through Oz.  More and more, especially looking at the still of Lulu and Sailor punk-dancing in a roadside field, I draw parallels to another film of that era, also by a gifted director: Natural Born Killers (stay tuned for my long awaited Oliver Stone post(s).  One key difference: Lynch stopped making movies; Stone stopped making good ones).  My recommendation: watch both as a double feature.

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Wild, wonderful, and weird to boot.  A great love story, and truly great cinema.

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Friday Fun Flick: Due Date

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Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in Due Date

A couple years back while vacationing on the central coast, I wanted to see a movie in San Luis Obispo.  The choices were limited, so I chose the comedy Due Date (2010) expecting to occupy some of my time that evening and little more.  Normally featuring a dog or other pet in a movie is a warning for me to stay the heck away.  Based on the advanced marketing, and the dog, I was anticipating a bad, boring, banal and stupid movie.  Instead I got a great little comedy that really works!  Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr. have good comedic chemistry, and work well together as a sort of modern-day Abbott and Costello.

This is no high art movie.  It received generally negative reviews, so you are warned.  I say they’re all a bunch of party-poopers.  I had a good time with this fun flick, and think you will too — but watch the trailer first.

TCM Film Festival

TCM Festival LogoI love TCM — though I don’t take advantage of it as much as I should.  This film festival coming up a month from now looks like a lot of fun.  From the website:

 

Cinematic Journeys: Travel in the Movies, the theme for the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, will explore how movies can carry viewers beyond their hometowns to distant or imaginary locales, where they can be transformed by great storytelling.