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A Conversation Piece

To quote comedian Michelle Wolf, a blog is a conversation no one else will have with you. I saw her show at Acme Comedy Company the other night and, of all her musings on life and funny stories, this line resonated with me the most.

I got excited because, hey, I have a blog and I like to think I write in a conversational tone that people totally get … wait, was she talking about me? Probably. I am sure Michelle Wolf reads this.

She is right and to take it a step further maybe a blog is a conversation you don’t want to have with anyone. I could talk about my thoughts on movies and comedy with a total stranger if I had at least two hours to prep and then recite it to myself a couple of times. Plus this person would definitely have to listen to a week’s worth of internal monologues I might have about a post just so they know where I am coming from. Then we can talk.

This morning I thought, oh it’s just a typical Sunday … I got up, worked out and ate an apple while thinking about making hash browns for breakfast instead. Then I thought, based on Wolf’s line of wisdom on blogs, would I tell anyone that? No, but it will make a perfect segue to write about “Friday Night Lights.”

Big news – I made it to season three and all I want to know is why are the characters always at Applebee’s watching the news about themselves and trying to get away with murder and stuff? Is Applebee’s run by the Texas mob and are they the mastermind behind that show?

It is good I can get these things off my chest here because I am pretty sure I am the only person who is still watching “Friday Night Lights” and will still want to talk about it even years from now.

I have actually talked in-depth about this next tidbit with my friends and family because I believe I made Todd Barry mad after his show in Madison a couple of weeks ago and I don’t know why.

It was a great show and I told him something to that effect while he was signing my copy of his book “Thank you for Coming to Hattiesburg.” All he said was, “Who’s it for?”

The book is all about being a comic on the road and smaller venues he performs at, including the Comedy Club on State. I didn’t expect anything from my “meeting” with Mr. Barry in terms of conversation, especially since I was nervous and didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of one of my comedic idols. I wanted him to know I liked his show and I’m a fan, but maybe I should have gone bigger and told him I have a deep obsession with peanut butter or something because I may have gotten the same reaction no matter what I said.

Was it because I shook his hand after he did a bit about being a germaphobe or because we were talking to him and he’s an introvert? Maybe he was dreaming about writing about signing his fans’ books and not having to talk to them in the process? All of this  analysis is not a complaint about Mr. Barry. I respect him and am just as much of a fan, if not more, as before, but I can’t get the interaction out of my head.

I think this look says it all:

img_2207.jpgDon’t hate me, Todd. Please don’t hate me.

I’m an introvert, too, and would be willing to give up on germs if I need to. But not peanut butter, sorry.

Moving on to other things I don’t hate (I guess one perk to actual conversations is you don’t have to say things like that when you can’t think of an effective transition), from comedians I love: “The Big Sick” will be in theaters this month and “Dean” from Demetri Martin has a stint at the Edina Cinema right now.

I am also intrigued by — and probably will love — the new show about stand-up comedy in the 1970’s, “I’m Dying Up Here.” It premieres tonight on Showtime and you can watch the pilot online now. It seems to be getting mixed reviews, but I’ll give it a shot and if I don’t like it (this is probably impossible) I’ll just watch “Crashing” again.

Don’t worry, I have more recommendations of things you should watch to convince you that comedy is the best thing on Earth.

Hot off the Internet presses is the trailer for season four of “Broad City” and “Oh, Hello on Broadway” from Nick Kroll and John Mulaney is coming to Netflix on June 13. As Illana and Abbi would say, “Yas.”

Try Sarah Silverman’s new special on the aforementioned Netflix, or if you’re in the mood to be scared, anxious, depressed and angry over the course of seven hours or so, watch “The Keepers.”

Then pick yourself back up with a deep-dive on Tom Hanks’ Instagram account.  It’s delightful.

Are we done talking now? I thought so. Bye!

(P.S. – Watch Now Hiring with Michelle Wolf on Comedy Central.)

 

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47 of 366: World of Tomorrow

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theatlantic.com

Watching a 16-minute film may be cheating in this challenge, but it just worked after seeing part of The Act of Killing tonightI will finish watching it, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into a documentary about genocide this evening. It was late so I opted for Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, a story about a little girl and a look ahead at times more than 200 years into her future.

Hertzfeldt presents a study of time travel, memories, human emotion (much like in It’s Such a Beautiful Day) through the eyes of someone young enough to not know what it all means.

Hertzfeldt’s animation is also somewhat similar to It’s Such a Beautiful Day, but with more abstract  images and color as the girl,  Emily, experiences a small portion of her future.

It’s no surprise that the film, streaming on Netflix, is getting praise from critics and could take home the Oscar for best animated short film.

I may be one of the last people to learn about Hertzfeldt, but I will say he is a filmmaker to watch and it’s worth taking a look at some of his past work if you have the time. Even his website, without watching any of the videos, is a visual masterpiece.

“I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive. I no longer fall in love with rocks,” Emily in World of Tomorrow.

All for now, I better sign off before I fall asleep at my computer again.

 

 

 

28 of 366: Labyrinth

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imdb.com

There is so much and so little to say about Labyrinth.  I wanted to revisit the film once I started my 366 movies challenge, and then David Bowie died and then one of my favorite movie theaters here decided to pay tribute to him with a screening of it and The Man Who Fell to Earth, which I have not seen.

Of course watching it now felt bittersweet with Bowie gone and seeing him on screen in  one of the movies I associate as much with nostalgia as with cinematic creativity and history in the world of film.

People in the audience cheered when Bowie’s name showed up in the opening credits and when he first appeared as the Goblin King.

I know I don’t need to describe the film except to say it’s weird and wonderful all at the same time and manages to mix what seems to be, at first, a 1980s coming-of-age story with total fantasy and heart and of course it holds up after all these years.

What did stand out more for me watching it as an adult was the music and score, which Bowie composed and, obviously, performed.

I know fans of Bowie’s whole catalog of music and film had a lot to mourn after he died. I will admit I have only heard and seen a fraction of his work in my life, but Bowie had such a cultural influence it didn’t take much to be affected by his art over time.

Seeing Labyrinth in the theater more than met my expectations and I don’t doubt the film will continue to stand the test of time.

“I’ll be there for you as the world falls down.”

— David Bowie, As the World Falls Down

Karaoke Dreamin’

Oh, hey.

I have seriously failed at keeping up with my blog during the past few months as well as attempting my New Year’s resolution to sing karaoke. It doesn’t help that I am completely tone deaf, but what really freaks me out is a room full of people (seemingly) staring at me as I struggle through a song.

I also have a very unrealistic expectation that I will rock it like Beyonce. Not going to happen. Until the day I work up the courage to sing my fears away, I will live vicariously through watching movies (at least the three that I can think of after working 13 hours today) with the BEST KARAOKE SCENES EVER.

I couldn’t find an video clip of it, but I love, love, love Lake Bell and Demetri Martin’s duet scene from “In a World.”

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Other than the one at the end of the movie, Bill and Scar Jo singing is my favorite scene from “Lost in Translation.” I spend my days karaoke dreamin’ I could make it through “Brass in Pocket.”

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If I could think of more scenes to add to this list, they would still not top my boy JGL belting out the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” in “500 Days of Summer.” 500-Days-Summer

I’ll also take this opportunity to remind you that he is almost as good at lip sync battles.

That is all.

P.S., instead of playing catch-up to review films I’ve seen recently, I am (hopefully) going to start anew with this blog. In the meantime, I do recommend seeing “The Lunchbox,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Ernest and Celestine,”  and”Unhung Hero.”)

The Way Way Back

“The Way Way Back” is a film that will melt your heart and break it a little bit at the same time.

I most certainly would have been a crying mess, especially during the final act, had I watched the film alone in my living room. But I saw it in the theater and kept my emotions in check in order to maintain whatever street cred I have left in the world of Landmark Theatres. (I do work there, after all)

I will definitely buy this movie and just let it all out during my second, third and fourth viewings at home. But for now let me just go ahead and tell you why you need to see this film before it leaves the big screen.

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (also writers of “The Descendants” with Alexander Payne) are the writers and directors of the film, which took at least eight years to complete. “The Way Way Back” is their directorial debut.

The time it took to make this film is a representation of the heart it has and why it deserves to be seen.

The world of escaping from reality by watching movies is just a little bit of a better place because of this one.

The story focuses on Duncan (Liam James) who at age 14 doesn’t feel he fits in in the world and is suffering from the aftermath of his parents’ divorce.

To add to Duncan’s troubles, his mom’s new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) makes him feel less than while mostly pretending to care about having a relationship with the whole family.

James and Carrell are joined in the cast by Toni Collette (Duncan’s mom, Pam), Allison Janney as Betty, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet and Rob Coddry.

Sam Rockwell plays Owen, the manager of the Water Wizz park who befriends Duncan during the family’s summer trip to Trent’s beach house.

Duncan spends as much time away from the house and his family as possible, which is how he discovers the water park during a venture into town one day.

After some time it’s clear that’s the place he fits in best and meeting Owen is just the thing Duncan needed.

Owen is young at heart and doesn’t take life too seriously but he connects with Duncan through having similar experiences in his childhood.

Eight, or more, years ago I am glad those who needed to saw the potential in the story of “The Way Way Back.”

Even beyond the age of 14 we all have experiences of not fitting in and not having any idea what we’re going to do.

It’s life and, as Owen tells Duncan, you just have to find your own way.

As I said there are scenes in the film that will pull at your heart strings but those come with an equal amount that are funny and witty.

Rockwell very much plays a character who is a mix of comic relief and being serious enough to teach everyone a lesson and help Duncan come into his own.

Faxon and Rash have roles as Water Wizz employees Roddy and Lewis and Rudolph plays a manager at the park alongside Rockwell.

I think Collette was a fine choice to play Pam, but her performance didn’t really stand out. Allison Janney, as the drunk, fun-loving neighbor Betty, provides comic relief as well. She has a stronger supporting role than Carrell and, while I’m a fan, I wasn’t really impressed with his performance.
Maybe it’s because Trent is developed as a character you do not like or relate to, but I still would have liked to see more of an impact from Carrell.

Overall, “The Way Way Back” is an effective mix of a modern-day family story with nostalgia represented by a beach town that comes alive in the summer and a vintage station wagon.

If for nothing else, see this this film so it won’t be a decade before Faxon and Rash make another one.

The Bling Ring

The power is out at my apartment until, perhaps, Wednesday so this blog is coming to you from Paul Westerberg’s house. I just thought I’d check it out and luckily the key was under the mat.

Just kidding.

There is in fact no power at my place, but I did not resort to breaking and entering  just to write this. Fresh off of seeing Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” I am pondering the obsession with fame that would lead someone to break into the house of a person they admire.

I think that is the point of the film. It is based on the true story of a group of wayward teens living in the Valley in California who go on a burglary spree at celebrities’ houses.

Coppola used Nancy Jo Sales’ article in Vanity Fair, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” as the backdrop for her screenplay.

In the film, Marc (Israel Broussard)  is the new kid at Indian Hills alternative school in the Hollywood Hills. He is soon taken in by Rebecca (Katie Chang) to hang out after school and go to clubs.

Coppola did not use the real names of the teens in the film.

Marc and Rebecca’s time together soon turns away from surfing the web after school and getting coffee. They, along with a crew of their classmates, party, do drugs and eventually become serial burglars in the Hollywood Hills.

Rebecca is definitely the ring leader and the most obsessed with famous people and their material possessions. They raided Paris Hilton’s house several times and also broke into the homes of Lindsey Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson.

Coppola’s visual depiction of the teens’ escapades is a plus of the film and viewers who favor her stylistic choices will appreciate it on that level.

She mixes loud music and party scenes with those of silence and dialogue well, but there is not much connection to be had with the characters. I think the actors (mostly unknowns except for Emma Watson) cast as “The Bling Ring” were realistic in their portrayal of superficial and naive teens.

It seems Coppola stayed very true to her source material and maybe there just isn’t any depth in the real-life characters for the average viewer to relate to.

But, if that is any part of the story, I wish Coppola would have explored it a little bit more.

Overall it is a fascinating story and “The Bling Ring” fits into, at least for me, the escape of going to the movies.

I need to explore more of Coppola’s work, but the films I have seen focus on different facets of fame.

Watch (and then watch again and again) “Lost and Translation,” and give “Somewhere” a try before seeing “The Bling Ring.”

 

The 48 hour film project

Change is a good thing, right?

According to David Carr, you shouldn’t have nostalgia for nostalgia.

Information is so instant and changes so often nowadays, do we even have time to miss it?

If that’s the case making a film in 48 hours and moving on isn’t a bad idea.

I actually think it’s a great idea having just seen films that made it into The 48 Hour Film Project  at the Riverview Theater.

Filmmakers who were up for the challenge, which is done nationwide, are given a handful of rules on a Friday night and must turn in their creation by Sunday night.

The films must include a character, prop, line of dialogue and follow the genre issued by the project creators.

This year it was a Bobby or Betty Bulmer, a farmer/gardener, a lamp and “She told me it’s a secret.”

Thousands of filmmakers have made thousands of films across the world under two days of pressure. This year, it includes 120 cities and at least 60,000 people participating behind and in front of the camera.

I must say I was quite impressed by the films I saw.

Genres ranged from comedy to horror with themes of love, deceit, fear and the trending zombie apocalypse.

In the end the audience voted on three favorites and there will be a Best of Screening at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at the Riverview Theater.

Check. It. Out.

The Riverview Theater in itself defines nostalgia (see photos below by Amber LeRoux) and it is a really great place to take in a film.

I also recommend The Walker Art Center, which is where I saw Noah Baumbach’s latest “Frances Ha.”

Festivals coming up include the Twin Cities Film Fest in October and the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, which should come around again next spring.

Those festivals often have screenings at multiple theaters throughout the Twin Cities.

If you’re more into the history of film and the stars, the Weinstein Gallery has an exhibit of candid celebrity photos open through July 27.

I know this post is a bit of a different format for me, but the short films I saw this week are a reminder of how much else is out there in the art world.

Plus, as much as I would like to just write about it forever, I have already shared my analysis of “Frances Ha.”

Today a customer (I am a journalist by day and movie theater part-timer by night) asked what I thought about “Frances Ha.”

I simply said I enjoyed it enough to see it twice. She responded that it seemed fitting for someone my age.

I am going to go ahead and take that as a compliment.

Frances would want it that way.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

The Iceman

“The Iceman” has all the staples of a film about the mob.
There’s the basics like a business to serve as a front for illegal activity and the money coming in paired with themes like the main character struggling not to betray their family and who they work for.
Either scenario doesn’t end well. That is certainly the case in “The Iceman,” and it’s all based on a true story.
Michael Shannon stars in the film as Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer from New Jersey who killed more than 100 men. The film focuses on a period of his life from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, but it is reported Kuklinski’s mob career started in 1948.
Director and co-writer Ariel Vroman tells the story, for the most part, in a linear way to show the highs and lows of Kuklinski’s life.
He was a family man in the beginning, one that would do anything for his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) and two kids.
But you soon learn Kuklinski has a dark side that blurs the lines between what he can justify as good and bad all with the purpose to support his family.
At first Kuklinski simply follows orders from his boss in the mob, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) while his family thinks he has a day job lucrative enough to support their comfortable lifestyle in the New Jersey suburbs.
After Demeo is told to stay off the grid for a while by his boss, Leonard Marks (Robert Devi), Kuklinski continues on by working with another contract killer Mr. Freezy (and unrecognizable and amazing Chris Evans).
In the film Kuklinski and Mr. Freezy freeze their victims’ bodies to cover up when they died. Thus, Kuklinski’s nickname “The Iceman.”
The filmmakers credit a novel (“The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by Anthony Bruno)
and documentary (“The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer) about Kuklinksi’s life as sources for their work.
Shannon stands out for his portrayal of Kuklinski over about 20 years of his life and the actors cast in roles of those closest to him help show the type of man he was.
The cast also includes a mustachioed David Schwimmer as Demeo’s sidekick, another actor it is difficult to recognize at first glance, and James Franco.
I wasn’t familiar with Kuklinski’s story before seeing “The Iceman,” but I feel the filmmakers effectively used their own style to tell it while staying true to what happened and the book and documentary they credit.
Kuklinski was ultimately arrested and received two life sentences in prison for his crimes. He died in 2006.
In an interview, Vromen said he wanted to focus on the “love story” between Richard and his wife Deborah (named Barbara in real life) in making “The Iceman.”
The other side of it is the undercover investigation that led to Kuklinski’s arrest.

“When you have 18 or 19 years of stories, of so many characters, and a limitation of time and budget, you gotta choose what story you’re telling,” Vromen said at a recent press gathering in New York, when asked about the brevity of that important chapter. “I wanted to tell the love story. So I started the movie on a date and I end up on a separation.” (northjersey.com)

Maybe Vromen’s choice will divide audiences and, understandably, people who knew Kuklinski.
But I think it was a choice worth making to expose people, like me, to one facet of a story they had not heard about and to the inspiration it came from.

The Great Gatsby

After seeing the above photo and reading James Franco’s thoughts on Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gastby” I began to wonder why Mr. Franco wasn’t cast in the film.
This is really off topic from where I wanted to start this post, but I will go ahead and say Franco would have made a very interesting Nick Carraway opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby.
Franco, a writer and actor with a diverse film resume, could have pulled off the depth of Carraway’s character.
Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the great American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald already seems to be a love it or hate it film so it is unlikely that Franco as Gatsby’s neighbor and, ultimately, best friend, would create any more of a divide between critics and audiences.
My personal preferences aside, Tobey Maguire did fit the bill of Carraway’s character quite well.
Carraway is introduced right away, but the narrative to connect him with Gatsby is a slow burn.
Luhrmann’s use of glitter, green, and glam are enough of a distraction until Gatsby’s delayed appearance.
Carraway speaks the narrative from a perspective slightly different than the novel. I actually didn’t notice that until listening to Slate’s Spoiler Special about the film. That review, and others I’ve listened to so far, did not criticize Luhrmann for his choice.
The script, co-written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, stays true to the rest of the story.
The visualization of it is to reach a new audience. I just hope they read the novel to see Luhrmann’s inspiration.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an obvious inspiration for the director too. Did I mention he is FANTASTIC as Gatsby? Just checking.
Luhrmann builds the anticipation for the viewer, through Carraway’s eyes, to meet Gatsby for the first time as one of many luxurious parties rocks on at his mansion off Long Island.
Then you’re soon reminded it’s all for his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who lives across the bay with her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
I noticed similarities to Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” in some of Gatsby and Daisy’s interactions and in the visuals he used to connect the characters.
There is tragedy and darkness in both romances, but a feeling of just a little bit more hope from Jay Gatsby.
In fact, Carraway describes Gatsby as the most “hopeful” men he’s ever met.
That hope held on until the end of the film and the life of Gatsby’s character.
Luhrmann’s “The Great Gastby” is very over the top at times, but it’s worth it to see the life it brings to a classic story.
That’s all, old sport.

Spring Breakers

“Spring Break, Spring Break, forever …”
If you’ve seen Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” it’s no doubt those words in James Franco’s voice keep running through your head.
It’s been happening to me since I saw the film last weekend and I really have no complaints about that or Korine’s latest work of art.
Sure there is extreme nudity and lots of drug use that could be a bit polarizing for audiences, but at its core “Spring Breakers” is a story that really draws the viewer in and I actually did feel for the main characters.
Franco plays Alien, a gangster by way of St. Petersburg, Florida, in the film.
He bails a group of partying college girls on Spring Break out of jail and brings them into his world.
By this time in the story the girls Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez), have already been in a enough trouble so the addition of guns and even more money to their week of drinking and doing drugs is just a natural progression.
Well, not so much for Faith, who Alien is most taken with.
Faith, in addition to her friends, especially wanted to break free from the conformity of college and dorm life for a week but not enough to rob the “Chicken Shack” to fund their travels.
She isn’t cut out to be a gangster’s sidekick either.
After about half their time in Florida Faith, to Alien’s dismay, decides she needs to go home.
And then there were three to take over St. Petersburg with Alien.
There are no hard feelings among the girls when Faith leaves, just the lingering sense they should have all been on that bus together.
Back in Alien land, he gets to know his three partners in crime or “soul mates.”
As a boy who dreamed about being kicked out of school so he could live his life being bad, I find Alien, Brit, Candy and Cotty are very similar.
They adapt pretty well to the “bad” lifestyle and having Alien’s back against his best friend turned rival in the St. Petersburg gangster scene.
It’s a pretty simple story but when you’re watching it play out on screen in the style that only Harmony Korine could do, you won’t be able to look away.
James Franco’s performance, dreadlocks, grill and all, really made the film for me.
I have seen “Kids,” of course, and should watch Korine’s other films but right now I just want “Spring Breakers” on repeat.
As for Franco, his IMDB page makes me dizzy and I can’t wait for all of it.
He is directing, writing and starring in many films in the near future.
Franco probably wouldn’t, but he could say “Look at all my sheeyit!”