Monthly Archives: January 2012

Movie Review: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

That I had not seen “Walk Hard” up to this point is a mystery even to me. This is the kind of comedy that throws everything at the wall to see what sticks and for the most part, it all does.

“Walk Hard” is somewhere between “Walk the Line” and “Ray” with a dab of every other musician’s life story that has ever been made into a movie. Even The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” can be seen in the mix.
“Walk Hard” is basically the typical biopic movie structure in simplest form. It begins as Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) prepares to go on stage, his face bathed in spotlight. But he can’t go on yet, because according to Sam (Tim Meadows, with some great deadpan delivery), Dewey Cox, “has to think about his entire life before he goes on stage.” Flash to years earlier, when Dewey was just a young boy on a southern farm faced with the childhood tragedy of accidentally slicing his brother in half with a machete. Haunted by accidental murder and his father’s disapproval, Dewey decides to become a musician.

Dewey becomes a sensation with his provocative country jams, which cause some to dance and others to punch priests in the face. He marries Edith (Kristen Wiig), who keeps telling him he won’t be a famous musician even when he actually becomes one. Soon, Dewey will fall for June Carter stand-in Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), and leave Edith for her. Dewey’s marriage ends in a reveal that manages to be uncomfortable and hilarious.

One thing I have never really expressed here is my deep admiration for Johnny Cash, and my deep discontent for some of the ways in which Cash’s life is portrayed in “Walk the Line.” The biggest problem I’ve always had with “Walk the Line” is the way in which they demonized Cash’s first wife, and totally abandons her character in favor of Cash’s relationship with June Carter. “Walk Hard” actually does a much better job in judging its character, mainly in what an oblivious idiot he is and how someone like him really can’t function in society.

Knowledge of the history of American music is not required to enjoy this movie, but it would certainly help. When the end of the 1960s rolls around, Cox’s music begins to resembles that of Bob Dylan, prompting the film to briefly mimic “I’m Not There.” After hanging out with The Beatles in India (with uncanny impressions of the Fab Four), he turns into an LSD addict and tries hopelessly to create his opus. The over-the-top orchestra, which includes a few animals, is funnier when you realize that Cox has turned into Brian Wilson when he was making “Pet Sounds.”

“Walk Hard” does to the biopics of the 2000s what “Spinal Tap” did to the “Behind the Music” documentaries of the 1980s: it skews them by becoming one of them. “Walk Hard” proves what is wrong with the format by following its formula and then reducing each trope to its most basic terms. For example, Meadows’s Sam is the character who is always introducing Dewey to a new drug, first by telling him that he shouldn’t try it, then by telling him how much it will benefit his life to a degree that he can’t say no. Biopics consist of a lot of characters who serve as nothing more than plot points in order to introduce the subject to the next thing that will ruin their life.

Another part of what makes “Walk Hard” work is that it not only talks like a biopic, but walks like one as well. The sets and costume choices all match each time period they are a part of consistently. The Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony seen later in the film looks and feels exactly like a real lifetime tribute to a musician. This goes to show that the only people who can satirize the life of a musician the right way are those who truly admire music. Therefore, it comes off as more truthful than mean-spirited.

The movie sometimes loses its satirical edge when it veers into more crass, over-the-top comedy. Now, I am not against crass, over-the-top comedy when it isn’t just thrown in for the sake of being there. Here, it is thrown in for the sake of being there.

While watching “Walk Hard,” I was frequently reminded of “MacGruber” (released after “Walk Hard”), another genre-mocking genre entry. That movie also went over-the-top at times. However, as seen most prominently in its sex scenes, it served more as a way to knock down everything we hold near and dear in movies. In “Walk Hard,” perhaps the penis that suddenly appears on the side of the scene was meant to make fun of unnecessary gratuitous humor, but in the end, it came off as exactly that. The movie also loses a little steam following Dewey’s LSD rampage.

Despite this, “Walk Hard” delivers the kind of laughs you rarely get, the kind that forces you to stop and recompose yourself. Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, and the pseudo-Cash ballads resemble many songs from the Man in Black in ways that only someone who deeply admired his work would know. And if Jack White wants to make a cameo in your movie, then something must be going right.

Oscars 2012: For Every Great Nomination, There is a Terrible Snub

For every one satisfying Oscar nomination, there are endless movies, directors, and actors that could have filled that spot as well. This year, a surprising amount of suspected shoo-ins were snubbed, along with many that may never have had a chance. This year, who will join the ranks of “The Searchers,” “Touch of Evil,” and “Do the Right Thing” for most egregious snubs of all time? It is time to celebrate those who didn’t make the cut.  

Best Picture: 50/50
            Usually, Best Picture is associated with large scale, historical spectacles. What the Oscars really love, however, are stories of triumph in the face of adversity. No other movie could have better fit that label than “50/50,” Will Reiser’s funny and moving autobiographical story of coping with cancer. It deals with both the dire and the mundane in ways that few movies about cancer before this ever have. It might not have caught the Academy’s eye, but the impact of its naturalistic writing and effortless performances will long outlast the February 26 ceremony.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg (War Horse)

            Spielberg is known at times for letting his emotions get the best of his movies. However, his sentimentality toward movies and re-creating history are at their best here. This is perhaps the most detailed depiction of World War I in film, and the ending, evoking John Ford’s most famous westerns, could make even the most hardened movie buff cry.

Best Actor: Ryan Gosling (Drive)

            Gosling pulled a hat trick this year with memorable performances in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “The Ides of March,” and “Drive.” His against-type performance in “Drive” was the best of these. Conveying so much with so little dialogue, his transformation from a stellar getaway driver to a psychotic killer in the film’s final act is shocking in its subtle believability. Gosling helps elevate a flawed movie by turning The Driver into one of the most unforgettable movie characters in years.


Best Actress: Charlize Theron (Young Adult)

            It may be tough to make the bitchy former high school prom queen likable, but in “Young Adult,” Charlize Theron shows that it is at least possible to make her relatable. Theron so perfectly disappears into Mavis Gary’s self-denial that sometimes, it is hard to even tell whether it is really self-denial. “Young Adult” doesn’t give Mavis the fairy tale redemption ending that a lesser movie would have resorted to. While she doesn’t deserve our sympathy or attention, giving it to her doesn’t seem like such a crime.

Best Supporting Actor: Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)

            Awards season is usually kind to comedians who take a stab at dramatic acting. However, Patton Oswalt, who had not one, but two, fantastic dramatic turns, first in 2009’s “Big Fan,” and this year in “Young Adult,” has yet to be nominated. Oswalt’s performance is much more toned down than anything usually seen from him. He serves as a perfect foil to Theron, wallowing in self-pity, but also displaying a great deal of self-awareness. While his life has fallen apart, he never seems disturbed by it. An actor’s job is to make an unlikable character likable, and Oswalt takes a loser and turns him into something much more unique.

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

            This breakout performance from the 20-year-old Shailene Woodley has been inexplicably left out of the race. Woodley delivers one of the most devastating moments of the year: after hearing that her mother is in a coma, she goes underwater to cry. Making the leap from an ABC Family melodrama to holding your own against George Clooney in an Alexander Payne movie is the mark of a promising movie star in the works.  

Honorable Mentions:
Brendan Gleeson (The Guard): For the ten of you out there who actually saw this movie, you’ll know that Brendan Gleeson is the only person who could make a bumbling and racist Irish cop hilarious and a bit of a sneaky genius. 
David Fincher (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo): Fincher turned a pulpy story into a haunting Swedish noir. Seriously, after this, “The Social Network,” and the various other movies he hasn’t even been nominated for (“Se7en,” “Fight Club”) how has this guy not won an Oscar yet? Perhaps Fincher is the Academy’s new Scorsese. 
And a few more: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50), Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March), Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris), Diablo Cody (Young Adult)
You can also check this article out at The Daily Orange. It is also available in print. Yes, print still exists. 

Oscars 2012 Nominations: Initial Reaction

The Oscar Nominations were announced today, and there was less surprises in the movies included and more in those that were excluded. Those snubs are for another post entirely.

After a late release date and tepid reviews, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” pulled off a surprise Best Picture nomination, as well as a Supporting Actor nod for Max von Sydow. Like Christopher Plummer, he is another veteran actor who has yet to take an Oscar home. Plummer, thought to be the guarenteed winner, now has some competition. Things just got interesting.

Meanwhile, “Hugo” received the most nominations of any movie this year, with a whopping total of 11. Frontrunner “The Artist” follows close behind with 10. The amount of nominations a movie receives usually doesn’t usually equal a win, but “Hugo” definitely became a much more serious contender than it was prior to today.

The most satisfying part of the nominations is the prominent presence of pure comedies in the major categories. Woody Allen deservedly returned to the Best Picture and Best Director race with “Midnight in Paris.” Meanwhile, “Bridesmaids” scored nominations for Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in the Original Screenplay category, and for Melissa McCarthy as a supporting actress. This will mark the first time in Oscar history that a mainstream R-rated comedy with a combined puke and diarrhea joke gets to be nominated. It looks like comedies are finally starting to be taken more seriously. Maybe if “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “Superbad” had come out this year, they could’ve been contenders, too.

Full list of nominations here. My annual list of snubs will be published tomorrow. 

Speaking of comedies, Jim Rash is one of the writers who is nominated for “The Descendants.” Yes, this guy.

Movie Review: Me and You and Everyone We Know

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible to ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”
-Dr. Seuss

Few movies could be as polarizing, yet as undeniably well made, as Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” Some will angrily walk out of it believing they have just seen the typical, nonsensical Sundance entry. Others will take a queue from the opening credits, which are placed against a man setting his own hand on fire, and be prepared for the totally unexpected.

“Me and You and Everyone We Know” is told in a series vignettes that sometimes overlap, and sometimes don’t. July plays Christine Jersperson, the perky and awkward performance artist who has a day job as a driver for Elder Cab. She struggles to sell her art, which consists of videos of her acting out various dialogues, usually concerning people in love.

Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), who had set his hand on fire in the first scene, foolishly thinking he could pull off a magic trick, is recently separated from his wife and he tries his best to bring his two sons up right. His two young boys take to the Internet and form a twisted relationship in a chat room, while two neighboring and insecure teenage girls vie for the attention of a creepy man who lives next door. They may all vary in age, but they are all dumbfounded by the seemingly meaningless direction of life.

July, a former Portland based performance artist in real life, has created a movie that is itself a piece of performance art: every scene depends on an audience reaction in order to get it going to its intended effect. There are so many different scenes that push it to a limit, whether it be the hand burning or the goldfish scene. In the memorable yet perplexing goldfish scene, a goldfish in a water-filled plastic bag is tossed from car to car on the highway. In a way, it shows how helpless each character in the ensemble is to the unfolding of their own story and in the way that the fish’s survival depends on the movement of each car, so does each character depend on the actions of one another.

July is just as good of an actress as she is a writer and director. She displays a delicate emotional vulnerability that is funny and sometimes sad. While her speaking manner is awkward and timid, her presence is always inviting. When her and Hawkes are on screen together, they share an uncomfortable chemistry that makes it seem as if each of them was a puzzle piece that was meant to be together. Creating this can be tough, but these two actors rose to the occasion and succeeded. 
Watching “Me and You and Everyone We Know” made me think of Todd Solondz’s “Happiness.” Just as that movie was about the many eccentric lengths people go to in order to find happiness, this movie is about the crazy lengths people will go in order to find what they think is love. In the end, love is not some universally known feeling. It is something that can only be shared amongst a select group, it is what connects me and you and everyone we know. 
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” is filled with many deep and powerful images that might not hold as much significance on a first viewing. I began to appreciate the film more during round two. You will begin to notice little things, such as one image at the beginnings that mirrors a painting shown at the end, and the combination of those two is rather remarkable. I would not call this a nice little movie, as some of the characters do things that wouldn’t necessarily make them likable. However, it is a movie that is very quiet and mature throughout all of its humorous instances. It is not a concluding resolution, but rather a concluding feeling, that defines everything. Movies don’t do that often enough. 

Golden Globes 2012: My Predictions

Since the Golden Globes don’t mean much towards the Oscars, and they are actually kind of a sham (last year, “Burlesque” was nominated after some actions that most people would consider to be corrupt), I will not spend too much time analyzing who will win and why. The Globes are a fun night to watch everyone in Hollywood get drunk and compliment each other. However, with Ricky Gervais hosting again, another large scale takedown seems possible.

Since you probably don’t care much anyway, without much further adieu, here are my predicted winners for tonight’s Golden Globes in all of the major film categories*:

Best Picture (Drama): The Descendants Upset: The Help

Best Picture (Musical or Comedy^): The Artist Upset: Midnight in Paris

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) Upset: Alexander Payne (The Descendants)

Best Actor (Drama): George Clooney (The Descendants) Upset: Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Best Actress (Drama): Viola Davis (The Help) Upset: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)

Best Actor (Musical or Comedy): Jean Dujardin (The Artist) Upset: Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)

Best Actress (Musical or Comedy): Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) Upset: Charlize Theron (Young Adult)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners) Upset: Jonah Hill (Moneyball)

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (The Help) Upset: Berenice Bejo (The Artist)

Best Screenplay: The Descendants

*I have neglected to include the TV nominees, as the absence of “Breaking Bad,” “Community,” and “Parks & Recreation” lead me to believe that those categories don’t even exist this year.
^This is among the dumbest pairings of all time.

Attention Everyone: The New Wes Anderson Trailer Has Arrived

Lately, I’ve been complaining a lot about terrible, no good, misleading trailers for movies. That temporarily ends today, as the trailer for Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” has arrived. Not only does it make this movie look fantastic, but it is most likely showing exactly what we will get, maybe that’s simply because Anderson has a very distinct style of filmmaking. It almost looks like a series of children’s drawings.

I love everything about this trailer. I love the outdated look of it. I love the French soundtrack. I love that it includes a clip of Edward Norton saying the phrase “Jiminy Cricket,” which brings back the use of the phrase “cuss” in “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson’s last movie (and one of my favorite movies of the last decade). I love that the rest of the cast includes Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Bill Murray. Seriously can Bill Murray win an Oscar for this role? Just because he’s Bill Murray?

But I digress. Watch the trailer below. Then re-watch it a few more times like I did:

Movie Review: The Purple Rose of Cairo

Warning: The following review contains some content that many would consider to be spoilers, mainly because it is hard to discuss this film without giving a lot of the story away (especially the ending). So if you haven’t seen this movie, just go rent it right now based on this sentence alone. 

When I was younger, I was one of those kids who thought I could free the miniature people trapped inside the TV set. Luckily, my parents never let me play with a hammer.

Woody Allen probably never had a hammer either, but he did have the ability to write a superb script. “The Purple Rose of Cairo” combines Allen’s gift for realistic fantasy story telling with chaos theory. The result is one of his finest films.

Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is a wishful thinker and a bit of a dreamer. That might be because she lives in Depression era New Jersey (any era New Jersey would probably be bad enough), has an abusive husband (Danny Aiello), and works a dead end job as a waitress which she is eventually fired from. Things like this would want to make anyone want to escape into the comfort of a good movie every single day.

Cecilia frequents the action-adventure-romance picture “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Enough is seen of this movie’s story that “The Purple Rose of Cairo” becomes a movie-within-a-movie with the movie within it also being called “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Hope your head doesn’t hurt too much yet, because the main character of the movie within a movie, the explorer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) literally walks off the screen and into Cecilia’s life.

Tom is the kind of man that could only exist in Cecilia’s dreams: he’s strong, brave, and romantic. Meanwhile, she’s used to a weak-willed alcoholic. The best part of this whole act is that there is absolutely no explanation for it. It is similar to the way that Allen goes to no length to explain Gil’s ability to travel back in time in “Midnight in Paris.” Save the science behind it for a J.J. Abrams movie. All that matters to Allen is the ensuing reactions if seemingly impossible situations such as a movie character coming to life were to happen to an ordinary person.  

In accordance to Chaos Theory (sorry, there has to be at least a little background philosophizing here), the movie-within-a-movie’s story cannot go on without the presence of even a minor character such as Tom. This leaves the characters in the movie within to partake in much philosophical kvetching. Meanwhile the actor playing Tom, Gil Shepherd (Daniels, again), is left to ponder his next career move after this debacle occurs, and he eventually, like his own character, finds himself falling for Cecilia after they meet.

“The Purple Rose of Cairo” might be Allen’s saddest movie. Well, almost every one of his movies ends on some sort of note of melancholy. However, this is one of the few that leaves its protagonist with too many problems and too little hope. Maybe the funniest thing about this movie is that even though it tells us that movies provide the best form of escape, the bigger movie itself is as far from escapism as possible.

This is a movie that tends to also be really funny at times. I love the way the characters attending the screening of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” interact with the characters on the screen. Everyone is so surprised as to what as happened, but no reacts in any over-the-top way. Reacting as little as possible to a situation that requires a more emotional reaction is always funny. Escapism is okay as long as we know that we are escaping into a realm of fiction, and not into a realm of reality.

“The Purple Rose of Cairo” is a great black comedy about the absurdity of reality. Every one of its characters, even the minor ones, are memorable in some way. Farrow steals the show as the abused mess of a woman, and she is absent of the high-pitched shriek voice that she would have to take on two years later in “Radio Days.” She also owned the ukulele before Zooey Deschanel and her army of hipsters decided to take it over. Daniels also gives my favorite performance I have ever seen him in (“Dumb & Dumber”) in two different roles, one being the overly confident pseudo-intellectual that Allen so frequently mocks.

The scene in which Tom Baxter first jumps off the screen, even by today’s standard of special effects, still feels magical and jarring. Maybe it is the way he so suddenly changes from black and white into color.

The conclusion of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” is one that is beautiful even in its sadness. Cecilia seems to have become more self-aware, yet she remains just as sheltered by the cinema. After Gil leaves town without telling her and she realizes her husband won’t change, she returns to the theater and watches Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing with a sense of both desolation and wonderment. Perhaps it was at that moment she understood that that was the best her life would ever get: to sit inside a theater and watch two people who don’t exist feel a sense of happiness that she would never get to feel. Maybe every once in a while, being drawn in by the flashing light of film from a projector can be a good thing. It can heal wounds and make the pains of life feel just a little bit better.

Check This Out: If We Don’t, Remember Me

I have been meaning to share If We Don’t Remember Me for a while now. It is a gallery of living, moving movie stills (or GIFs, in Internet speak). IWDRM has found a way to maximize the art of the movie still: it is no longer just a still image, but a living encapsulation of a brief moment in time. Watch endlessly, the moment before Travis Bickle snaps, or notice a sense of humor you didn’t notice before in Sergio Leone’s films. Some are funny and endearing, others are subtle and almost moving. In between my viewing of videos of cats morphing into croissants and the dog from “The Artist” skateboarding (is there anything this dog can’t do?), there is something subtle and quiet to be addicted to on the Internet.

I don’t think I need to say much more, I am now going to let a few of my favorite stills from the site speak for themselves:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Fight Club

American Psycho

Taxi Driver
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
2001: A Space Odyssey

Red Tails: On Dubstep, False Advertising, and My Hatred of Kids

We here at The Reel Deal enjoy making fun of George Lucas a lot. Mainly, we target him for the fact that hokey Naboo sequence for “Attack of the Clones” and the fact that he will be rereleasing “The Phantom Menace” in 3D later this year.

The latest release under the Lucas name is “Red Tails” or as I will call it here, “DubTales” for the absurd soundtrack that has been accompanying its commercials. During Lucas’s interview on “The Daily Show” on Monday night, I saw a side of him that took me off guard: he was forthright rather than pompous. This looked a lot more like the guy who made “American Graffiti” and “A New Hope.”

“DubTales” is yet another movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the brave African American fighter pilots who, against all odds, took to the sky and fought for America during World War II. Lucas has been working on this movie since 1988, and various people, including himself and Samuel L. Jackson, have been slated to direct. Anthony Hemingway is slated to direct a final script written by John Ridley. Anthony is unfortunately not related to Ernest, but Ridley is credited with the story for “Three Kings,” one of the best war movies ever made. Perhaps he can bring something original to a story that has been told so many times on film.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping Indiana Jones (courtesy of South Park). 

The story behind the making of “DubTales” is an interesting story itself. According to Lucas, studios were hesitant to finance a story like this. Studios today largely concentrate on foreign box office, as that is where the real money is. It is no longer just about making movies that will appeal to Middle America, but what will appeal to the rest of the world. Instead of doing careful research, the easiest thing to do in order to break cultural barriers is to make movies that have less emphasis on story, and more emphasis on explosions. This explains the existence of the “Transformers” series.

So apparently, an inspirational story about African Americans won’t sell well overseas. I have never conducted a focus group, and don’t know if any were actually conducted to reach this conclusion, but the most perplexing part about this is that even George Lucas can have trouble getting a movie made.

Lucas was not trying to make “DubTales” for a foreign audience. Rather, he is targeting it toward teenage boys, whom he would like to learn more about this momentous story. That explains the Dubstep soundtrack in the trailer. I appreciate his efforts, but adding music like this to a movie about World War II seems wrong. It feels less like finding the right audience and more like pandering. And how could I resist making fun of blatant pandering? Teenage boys should be encouraged to see movies about history, but they should not be the one deciding the way in which they are made.

This picture has no purpose here, I just think it’s funny.

It is very possible that this ad was just an attempt to grab an audience and not a reflection on the actual film. I have been starting to trust ad campaigns for movies less and less by the day, thanks in part to how the trailers for “War Horse,” “Hugo,” and “Young Adult” represented their respective movies so inaccurately. Trailers are not the selling of the actual product, that is what buying tickets is for. Trailers are meant as a tool for hype, but given that no one seems to know how to represent a movie accurately nowadays, studios should look into heavier use of word of mouth.

I believe George Lucas cares more about the movies he makes than he lets on, and I will consider seeing “Red Tails,” but never “DubTales.”

Watch the Interview Here:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
George Lucas
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