|Little Miss Time Travel|
|Little Miss Time Travel|
|This basically sums it up.|
Don’t get me wrong, Steve Carell is one of the funniest, most likable actors working today. But with his past few features, and his latest, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” he has a created a new film archetype: The Sad Insurance Salesman.
The Sad Insurance Salesman is a male in mid-life crisis. His wife will have cheated and then walked out on him because their marriage has lost all sense of excitement. Basically, the Sad Insurance Salesman might as well say, “I’m really nice, but I’m also boring.”
This, in a way, can also define “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” It is nice at parts but in the end, it is unsatisfying and lacks chemistry.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” begins at the end. Well, the end of the world, that is. An asteroid is hurdling towards Earth, and death is inevitable. Dodge (Steve Carell), a timid insurance salesman who doesn’t take a lot of risks, is abandoned by his wife (Nancy Carell, Carell’s real life wife), who doesn’t want to spent her last days on Earth with him. Her exit is marked with The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” playing over the radio. No matter how many times that song is used ironically over a dark scene in a movie, it never gets old.
Dodge still shows up to work everyday, despite the fact that most of his co-workers have jumped ship. Here is a man who won’t step out of his comfort zone and enjoy life, even as all life on Earth is about to end. Dodge doesn’t want to face the end alone, but he also doesn’t want to be promiscuous, as per the advice of his friends (Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt, both criminally underused). Instead, he first seeks solace in a dog that has been abandoned by its owner. The dog might have been the highlight of the movie, even if it felt a little like pandering at times. The dog might have been the best part for me for the sole reason that it is a dog. Dodge names the dog Sorry, because it shows his regrets in life, and blah blah blatant symbolism.
One night, Dodge meets another lonely tenant in his apartment building, Penny (Keira Knightley). Penny is deeply unhappy with her relationship to a penniless musician (Adam Brody). She breaks up with him, and her and Dodge find solace in their loneliness. Unlike Dodge, Penny is spontaneous and positive. She also carries around her baggage from the past: a collection of records, without a record player to play it on. Based on Penny’s collection, which includes Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed, writer-director Lorene Scafaria must be a pretty awesome person.
“Seeking a Friend” becomes a road movie with two separate goals: Dodge wants to spend his last days with his childhood sweetheart, and he promises Penny a plane that will take her to England to see her parents. Unfortunately, one goal seems to be completely forgotten and another becomes completely unnecessary.
As Dodge and Penny, Carell and Knightley are not bad, just underwhelming. Carell is one of the most infinitely likable actors around, but I think he does better as the lovable idiot character role that he perfected in varying degress on “The Office” and in “Anchorman.” Knightley, meanwhile, doesn’t quite settle in well to the comedic potential of her character. Her role would have been much better suited to Gillian Jacobs, the “Community” MVP who shines in a minor role as a waitress who lives too close to the edge. She displays all of the zany energy that would have made Penny as impressionable a character as she was meant to be.
For a movie about a meteor hitting Earth, “Seeking a Friend” ends more with a whimper than with a bang. Without giving much away, there is a fade to white, and the only reaction that immediately came to mind was, “that’s it?” Every conflict plays out in an anti-climatic matter, and not the kind of anti-climatic that skewers your expectations for the best. “Seeking a Friend” would have been better suited as a straight up comedy sprinkled with poignant moments. The movie is supposed to be a look at humanity with typical societal constraints removed. People overlook it, but oftentimes comedy is the most truthful way to examine mankind.
Also, it would mean a lot to me if you could check out this review on The Film Stage. I actually give it a letter grade!
One viewing of a Wes Anderson film simply isn’t enough. His films are like the aftertaste of a good meal that won’t go away, and you never want them to go away. Or, a painting where you notice more going on in the background with a more watchful eye. Or, an even more apt comparison here, like a symphony that sounds even better when broken down into smaller pieces.
In “Moonrise Kingdom,” young heroine Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) looks at everything through binoculars. She says that it makes things look closer, even when they aren’t very far away. She also believes it is her super power. I like to imagine that Wes Anderson looks at every film he makes through a pair of binoculars, and that he shares this super power with Suzy: he can see every minuscule detail of life up close in the most vivid of ways.
Through each one of his works, Anderson is inviting the audience more and more to stare into the binoculars at the idiosyncratic universe he has created. After seeing “Moonrise Kingdom” at Cannes, I immediately knew that one viewing wouldn’t suffice. And while I try my best to go in with little to no expectations, I knew I would like it better the second time around. And that I did. It is not that I didn’t like “Moonrise Kingdom” the first time around, it is just that I liked it for different reasons. The first time, I liked it because the Transitive Property of Wes Anderson* required that I like it. I liked it even more on viewing number two because I saw that once again, Wes Anderson defied his detractors and made yet another film in which the characters were more than just cutouts standing against pretty backdrops.
“Moonrise Kingdom” has had its fair share of detractors. Well, most negative reviews were actually positive, with some critical things to say. Many have complained that Anderson’s style and tropes have become too predictable. It is true that there are certain things you will find in every Wes Anderson film, but that is what makes him such a great filmmaker. He tells the same story only loosely every time he makes a film. Like his past works, “Moonrise Kingdom” is about adults who act like children, and children who think they’re adults.
Like any good director, Anderson is constantly trying to improve on the template he first created. On a second viewing, I realized the opening, is more than just a tour of the Bishop household and all of its members. It serves the same purpose as the opening of “The Royal Tenenbaums.” When looking at it through that lens, it makes it even more impressive: characters, and a story, are introduced without saying a single word. Here, we learn that Mr. and Mrs. Bishop can spend their time close to each other, without saying a single word to the other. Mr. Bishop (Bill Murray) lying in a fetal position shows something of a surrender to misery. Mrs. Bishop’s (Frances McDormand) arduous routine shows a predilection toward self-preservation. And then there’s Suzy, sitting above her brothers almost in a separate sphere, reading one of her many adventure novels. Well, everyone in this family seems to be in the Bishop household seems to be in their own little sphere, with the exception of the three little boys.
I also found the second time around that the film is much funnier than I first thought it was. Once again, and I cannot say this enough, it is all about the little things. For example, notice how Sam keeps an inventory list of all of Suzy’s things, or the group of kids in the background of one scene trying to play their recorders. Also, I will mention the very hilarious irony of seeing Jason Schwartzman play a preist. And yes, it’s also funny to see that treehouse, and it’s even funnier (and makes total sense) to see a kid carry around $76 in change. Every kid at one point or another had that much change on them for no good reason.
Working on a Wes Anderson film must be an actor’s paradise. He gives them so much good dialogue and characterization to work with. He has kick-started the careers of its two incredibly promising leads, Hayward and Gilman, who bring equal amounts of heart and humor to the film. I believe one day the two of them will run off once again to become Margot Tenenbaum and Eli Cash. The boy with the lazy eye will probably become Dudley.
Sam and Suzy also remind me of a younger version of Bonnie and Clyde, minus the bloodlust. The story of “Moonrise Kingdom” also felt a little bit like a twist on Terrence Malick’s “Badlands.” The indelible image of Sam and Suzy dancing on the beach to Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour,” equal parts cute, creepy, and awkward, felt like the scene where Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) dance along to “Love is Strange.” Both scenes contain the childlike wonder for trying something completely new.
Anderson’s films are often criticized for not having enough heart. But “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of those films that I just wanted to give a giant hug too. It is pretty on the inside, and the outside. Its intentionally cheesy special effects never make it seem dated. While some have said this film could have taken place during any year, I believe 1965 is the perfect fit. Seeing characters chart out territory on real maps is way more interesting than someone trying to figure out where they are going on Google Maps. Perhaps New Penzance is trapped in the past, just like all of its characters, while the outside world moves on. And for that, I actually think it is better off.
One more note I believe it is proper to end on: the music. It is true that “Moonrise Kingdom” does not have the most standout soundtrack of all of Wes Anderson’s filmography. British Invasion is replaced with British Classical, and there’s a tinge more French than usual. But maybe these characters aren’t ready for The Kinks yet, at least not until they figure out how to put Benjamin Britten’s orchestra together.
How I Rank Wes Anderson’s Films:
1. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Bottle Rocket
7. The Darjeeling Limited
Here is a video of Bill Murray giving a tour of the house in “Moonrise Kingdom.” “Moonrise Kingdom” opened a few weeks ago, and I’ve already seen it, so there seems to be no apparent reason that I’m posting it. However, this video contains Bill Murray.
I can’t tell if Bill Murray is joking or serious most of the time he speaks, which is probably what makes him so mysterious and so awesome at the same time. I take everything he says as words of wisdom. Which is why, after this video, I will never wear short pants again, as according to him doing so is asking to get robbed. Genius.
Also, seeing the details that go into making a set on a Wes Anderson film never ceases to amaze me. I need to see “Moonrise Kingdom” again, and as soon as humanly possible.
|Jessica Pare: Humanizing French Canadians Since 2010.|
Warning! May contain some minor spoilers for the season five finale. Read with caution.
Two years ago, when the previous season of “Mad Men” was drawing to a close, I claimed that the fourth season was the best season yet (I’m also not entirely sure I actually knew what the word “dissertation” meant). I take it back, because season five blew every other season out of the water. And unless season six can work miracles, and I know Matthew Weiner is good at doing that, it will be tough to top this one.
Connecticut: It’s nice to see that my homeland became a representation for suburban boredom. I can’t say that living here is as exciting as living in New York City, but at least I didn’t grow up in Cos Cob.
Pete Campbell: Even after five seasons, I still don’t quite know how to feel about Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the ambitious child of privilege. On the one hand, he’s constantly selfish and conniving. On the other hand, he exemplified this season that even if you have everything you want, it’s possible to still be missing something. As Don became more and more of a moral compass, Pete transformed into the man Don once was [Editor’s Note: How could anyone possibly cheat on Alison Brie? How?]. Kartheiser is one of the ensemble’s best actors. Nonetheless, it was a great moment of schadenfreude to watch him get punched in the face.
|Filed Under: First World Problems.|
|Look familiar at all?|
I definitely didn’t need a trailer to get me excited for “Django Unchained,” but I’m not complaining about the fact that the first trailer has finally been released.
While the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s last film, “Inglourious Basterds,” misled viewers to believe that it was nothing but a Brad Pitt fest, the “Django Unchained” trailer seems to be showing exactly the kind of film everyone expected it to be. And no, that is not a bad thing at all. “Django” looks to have a perfect mix of serious and awesome action and hilariously inspired exploitation. It also opens with a Johnny Cash song and includes Christoph Waltz channeling Hans Landa and Leonardo DiCaprio saying “rambunctious” in the most sinister way possible.
But it’s time for me to shut up now, and time for you to watch this trailer*:
Being internet famous is not just any ordinary kind of fame. Achieving internet fame suggests that you may have done something that you wouldn’t normally do.
|The line for “Killing Them Softly.” But was it worth the wait?|
While at Cannes, I watched “Killing Them Softly” and “Mud.” However, I never got to publish reviews of them. Here they are now.
Killing Them Softly
When Brad Pitt is in your movie, you are bound to get plenty of attention from the French.
“Killing Them Softly” surfaced with some bad early buzz but received favorable reviews when it actually opened. I compare it to “Lawless” simply for the reason that they are both gangster films. “Lawless” has the makings of a minor American classic. It goes for something a little more old fashioned, yet very refreshing. “Killing Them Softly” goes for brutal and meditative, and gets halfway there.
Here is a film that has a standout script, but doesn’t bring its characters anywhere. The dialogue is detailed and familiar-sounding enough that it mimics real conversation. The banter between Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) gives “Killing Them Softly” a nice, humorous heart. While Brad Pitt is the selling point, McNairy and Mendelsohn are the film’s true stars.
That is not to insult Mr. Pitt’s role at all. Many people were unimpressed by his performance, but he did everything right as a very professional hitman. “Killing Them Softly” felt like a knockoff “No Country for Old Men” morality tale, with Pitt’s Jackie Cogan substituting for Anton Chigurh. Like Chigurh, he has an calculated and mysterious air to him. Unlike Chigurh, his moral compass is less fascinating and less defined. Without giving too much away, the title refers to Cogan’s standard of killing his victim from far enough away so as not to become emotionally attached. Strangely though, Cogan kills many people up close, and that doesn’t seem to change him in any way, shape, or form.
|I’m Brad Pitt, and you’re not.|
The story of “Killing Them Softly” is quite simple: it is about a hit being pulled off. And if you follow that brief premise, it delivers on that exactly. “Killing Them Softly” was directed by Andrew Dominik of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” fame. “Killing Them Softly” replaces the open spaces of the west for the confined, gritty backdrop of New Orleans. What “Jesse James” has in silence, “Killing Them Softly” has in dialogue.
“Jesse James” ran over two and a half hours long. It is said that an original cut of “Killing Them Softly” is about the same length. I would very much like to see this version, as what was shown at Cannes felt like a summed up version of a much better movie. I’d like to see how much more depth, and what new directions, Dominik had intended for the characters. I’d like more scenes with Frankie and Russell, and more with the Bukowski-type Mickey (James Gandolfini), who has some of the film’s most entertaining scenes.
I admire “Killing Them Softly” for its ambition. The film takes place during the 2008 presidential election, and uses this event as a means of criticizing the greed of American capitalism. It seems to exist in a world of many Gordon Gekkos. I am not sure if Dominik’s point totally came through, but I believe a second viewing, and a longer running time, might clear some things up. I will say this though: the final line of “Killing Them Softly” will end up on an AFI Top 100 list one day.
After the Jump: Mud
When at Cannes, the distinction between American movies and movies from foreign countries becomes more and more apparent. Even the best of American cinema can succumb to trying to wrap dark little stories up in a pretty, Disney-colored bow. That is the Achilles heal of “Mud.”
First, let me be clear: I did not hate “Mud.” In fact, I liked it very much, and I recommend you see it when it comes out. Had I first viewed “Mud” during its actual theatrical release, I probably would have liked it much more. It makes most American movies look bad. But when paired up against the fare at Cannes, it looks a little trite. This is why no matter how hard you try, being a film critic can never be an objective job. If someone tells you otherwise, answer by saying, “shut up, Peter Travers!”
|“Mud! Mud come back!” -Someone who misquotes movies a lot.|
But I digress. “Mud” is yet another major American release at Cannes that took place in the South (“Moonrise Kingdom” might have been the only one that wasn’t). And it is the third release of 2012 in which Matthew McConaughey turns on his southern swag*. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a runaway and a hopeless romantic living deep in the Arkansas woods. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is the object of his affection. The young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are taken under his quiet, charismatic spell.
“Mud” is directed by Jeff Nichols. Nichols previously directed “Take Shelter,” which I have yet to see, but I hear that it is excellent. Nichols has a very restrained style of directing that lets the story, and not the style, shine. As Mud, McConaughey plays a character who seems to be a legend unfolding in every frame. Watching him, I was somewhat reminded of Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke.” Not to say that McConaughey is on Newman’s level, but they both had that same, relatable rebellious spirit.
Where “Mud” went wrong for me was in its ending. Maybe I’m just being a tin man, but I didn’t feel myself getting overwhelmed with emotion by the finale. The movie spent a lot of time trying to turn Mud into this mythical character and in the end, he feels nothing like that. What at first feels very satisfying in the end feels like nothing more than comfort food. Also, “Mud” suffers from the very easy to catch Multiple Ending Syndrome.
I would like to reiterate once more that “Mud” is a very likable movie. It feels a bit like a “Tom Sawyer” or “Huck Finn” type adventure, but a lot more family friendly (and by that I mean, a lot less racial slurs).
*Remind me never to use this word in any sentence ever again.
Last night, Andy Samberg announced that he will not be returning to “Saturday Night Live” in the fall. This was a sad, yet expected announcement. Expected as in I expected this to happen much longer ago, as Samberg has been a star for many years now. But he needed to stay because without him, “Saturday Night Live” would have been a much different show.
Samberg may have saved the show from irrelevance by launching his first Digital Short, “Lazy Sunday,” in 2005. With the Digital Short, the show found a way to survive in the 21st century. Of course, promising new cast members and a Sarah Palin impression would also help, but let us not forget the importance of the Digital Short.
With his band The Lonely Island, Samberg has released two albums, and I pray that a third be on the way at some point in the near future.
Samberg does not get nearly enough credit for being such a versatile performer. He can sing, tell jokes, and act. While Samberg’s videos are usually what he is best known for, he could do a few good impressions, including one that got him in trouble with Mark Wahlberg. I worry for Samberg’s movie career if he chooses more projects like “That’s My Boy.” However, I am optimistic if he instead makes more movies like “Hot Rod.” “Hot Rod” mixes a whole lot of insanity with a whole lot of heart, and dozens of YouTube worthy moments.
After the jump: Kristen Wiig, and some video highlights.
This news is especially rough given that Kristen Wiig also left the show. Her departure was announced in a moving final segment at the end of the season finale, in which she danced with the cast to the tune of “She’s a Rainbow” and “Ruby Tuesday.” “She’s a Rainbow” was just about the perfect song to play for Wiig, as she was one of the most colorful performers the show has ever had, and she will light up the big screen in the years to come. “Bridesmaids” was her first, and most certainly not her last, mega success in film (I haven’t forgotten about her bit part in “Knocked Up”). In fact, I believe she will become one of the biggest movie stars the show has ever produced.
|“Don’t make me sing!”|
The big question right now is this: where does “Saturday Night Live” go from here? Recently, “Saturday Night Live” has built a talented ensemble that does not hinge on one or two people alone. Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudekis have no plans to leave yet, but given their success in other television shows and movies, that may not last long. Seth Meyers remains a strong Weekend Update host, and featured players Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam, and Jay Pharoah hold promising futures.
“Saturday Night Live” is an American institution. And for every Chris Kattan and Victoria Jackson that is put out into the world, they also produce an Eddie Murphy* or Will Ferrell. No matter how many times people try and put it down, “Saturday Night Live” is an important breeding ground for both comedy and comedians. And every once in a while, they give us someone like Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig.
*”Norbit” not withstanding
It was hard to choose, but this is my favorite Digital Short made under Samberg’s watch: