Film Review : Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

IMDB SCORE – 7.9
Rotten Tomato Score – 82%
Metacritic Score – 74/100

Directed By – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring – Thomas Mann, Olivia Cook, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, and Katherine Hughes

High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

Haven’t we seen this movie like ten times in the last couple years? Coming of age film about a couple high school kids and, *gasp*, one of them has cancer and is dying. Honestly, I didn’t care that the film was about this kind of subject matter. What I care about is can the film take such a common theme and do something different. I wanted an emotional punch but I wanted the hit to come from a different angle instead of dangling it in front of me and then predictably going right for the gut. I first heard about the film when it won the Jury Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve pretty much loved every single jury prize winner so that alone was enough to get me to watch this. I’ve been busy as hell since the beginning of the summer, so I finally got a chance to sit down and give this a view and I’ll be damned if the movie didn’t deliver a blowout blind shot that I didn’t see coming.

The film started out pretty standard. High school kids with more wit than a Monty Python sketch going to a high school that would never exist in this country…ever. If I had any problems with the film it was the few details such as this that irked me a bit. The high school was too surreal and played up. It really seemed like a high school out of a novel instead of a realistic depiction of what those years are like for kids. The overall tone of the film however did not come off fake and forced. This is mostly due to the stellar acting from the three leads, especially Mann and Cook. Olivia Cook played a dying girl better than anybody who has tried in Hollywood over the last decade and the emotional punches came from scenes that she was in. That isn’t to say that Mann didn’t deliver either. The scene where he talks about his regrets was especially moving and wonderfully well acted. RJ Cyler is a natural and the cameo parents and teachers were an added bonus. You really can’t go wrong making Nick Offerman your weird dad.

The direction and cinematography was top notch as well. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon isn’t really a well known name but I can see him being an indie favorite for a long time after this. He had help. The biggest surprise on the credits went to seeing Chung-hoon Chung as the films DP. Best known for filming pretty much everything Park Chan Wook has done, his presence was felt throughout the film with these unique filming angles that call back to films such as Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

The score of the film was also fantastic. The film took a rollercoaster right to the heart in the last 20 minutes of the movie and two pivotal scenes were punctuated by excellent song choices in “Remember Me as the Time of Day” by Explosions in the Sky and “The Big Ship” by Brian Eno. Both songs are filled with emotion and they just drove the power and emotion of the two scenes right home. It’s honestly a big reason why the film is sticking with me so much. It kind of reminds me of the end of I, Origins where music and cinematography can just send a film over the top for me. That, and the cast has to hit it out of the park, which they certainly did in this film.

There you have it. Sundance has spoken again. As mentioned before, the only real negatives of the film was some of the unrealistic and over inflated depictions of high school and some definite “I only wrote this to be unique” style dialogue. It didn’t distract though. I loved the film.

4.5/5




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Film Review : Inside Out (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 98%
Metacritic Score – 94/100

Directed By – Pete Doctor
Starring – Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, and Kaitlyn Dias

After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.

I’m back. It’s been a few weeks since my last review. I’ve been busy with work and trying to get rid of this flat tire I have for a stomach. Work and gym can take up a large portion of your day. I finally got out to the theater since the debacle that was Jurassic World. Ant Man and Trainwreck should be following this shortly, but first I had to get out to see something I’ve been waiting for a long time to see…PIXAR BACK IN FORM!

I’ll start this by saying that I have not seen Cars 2 or Brave. I hated the first Cars movie and I just haven’t gotten around to seeing Brave. I will say however that it has been a long time since we got the four film streak of Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. I missed those days. Finally an original idea comes back into our minds with the help of the wonder animators over at Pixar. It has to do with the brain. It has awesome voice actors I love. I’m in. I’m ready. Let’s get to this.

I have to comment on the short that preceded the film first. Guys, it was nice. I know a lot of people are REALLY digging it, my friend who saw the movie with me included, but I don’t see the huge deal. The short is about a volcano out in the ocean and how he would like a lady volcano to do whatever it is volcanoes are supposed to do when they have feelings and presumably sex organs. The whole thing is sung in a Hawaiian ukulele song by the who main characters. It was nice. I didn’t really get emotional like other people did because it was a simple story that got dark but you just KNEW it was going to get happy again. It. was. nice. Moving on…

I loved the film. There is a certain point that the great films by Pixar reach where it is hard to rank them as to which one is your favorite. I feel, on a first viewing, that Inside Out can join those rankings. I’m talking about Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and The Incredibles status. They took a fresh idea and built this fully functioning world that not only came off believable, but sucked you into the film by connecting so deeply through emotion. I mean, that’s what this whole film is about right? Emotions? Inside Out takes emotions and highlights just how powerful and important they can be in our life. I’ve always held the idea that you need to be in tune with all of your emotions to be a balanced person and this film just took that idea and ran with it.

If for some reason you haven’t seen the previews…here’s the premise. Riley is a 12 year old girl living with her parents in Minnesota. Inside her head is a vast network of “things” that help work Riley’s brain. The key five figures in this world are her basic emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and disgust. They control how Riley feels throughout her life in their little headquarters. Riley has to move to California and that act sets in motion a series of events that cause Joy and Sadness to have to work together to figure out how to save this little girl from turning into an emotionless teenager we have all seen on Law and Order SVU.

That’s some deep shit. I don’t even know of kids are supposed to GET all of that stuff. I mean, there are plenty of adults, myself included, that have no grasp of how their emotions work. Asking kids to understand these deep philosophical and neurological ideas was a task that Pixar subsequently fucking nailed. NAILED.

The script was able to balance the line between showing us what was going on inside Riley’s head and what was going on outside of her head perfectly. It was never confusing and it was always concise and fluent. I can’t say enough about the script really. It’s kind of flawless. The only thing I can say is that my favorite character Bing Bong happens to be a recycled Toy Story-esque character who has been forgotten after the child they love has grown up. It still didn’t prevent Bing Bong from being my favorite character. I won’t even explain Bing Bong cause I had no idea he was in the movie until I saw it and the fucking cotton candy elephant knocked me on my ass.

Speaking of that, Pixar has once again proven that it can handle some SERIOUS emotional circumstances with grace and without coming off too heavy handed. Scenes in this film are just as emotionally powerful as the beginning of UP, the end of Finding Nemo, and of course “THAT” scene in Toy Story 3. Especially with Bing Bong. Oh, Bing Bong. I love you so.

The film just tackled growing up so damn well. You don’t know how to feel. You want what you had when you were a kid and full of joy. Things start going in the other direction and sadness all of a sudden has a bigger role to play in your life. Kids have to be able to learn how to deal with sadness and realize that it’s a perfectly normal and important part of life and Inside Out delivered that message beautifully. The thing I love most about the film though is that there were no real heroic acts of triumph or superheros overcoming a villain. There was no villain in this film. Not even a hint of one. This allows kids to be able to get the true meaning of the film which is that you’re not always going to succeed in life. There is going to be sadness and things will change but if you try your best to go with that wave of life then you should be able to come out okay. I thought it was a much better film than say Wreck It Ralph which has similar vibes but ultimately fizzles out by the end.

Did I mention the film is also hilarious? I did forget that. There was a goddamn Chinatown reference in this. CHINATOWN REFERENCE. I loved it. The voice acting was top notch from Poehler Black, and Smith and the world building made me wish the film were four hours long. I could spend all day with the memory janitors. Hysterical.

See the film. It’s a return to top form for Pixar and a serious look at how our emotions shape and change our lives. It’s a great film for kids going through such changes or parents who have a kids going through those changes. Maybe you’re just like me and got all teary eyed because it reminded me of how I went through that period of my life and how I’m handling THIS one. Great job Pixar.

5/5




Quick Reviews! : The Imitation Game, Housebound, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and Old Joy

I’ve been busy getting ready for a move so I wasn’t able to give these films a dedicated full review. Here are some quick thoughts on each film.

If I didn’t see Selma this year, Benedict Cumberbatch would have been my lead performance of the year. He’s that good in it. You can tell how dedicated he is in portraying Alan Turing as graciously as he can and it showed. Sure Turing was a bit frustrating to work with, but the man was a genius and didn’t deserve to endure some of the hardships during the end of his life. Graham Moore, who charmed us all with his Oscar speech, deserved his moment in the spotlight after crafting an airtight and seemingly flawless screenplay. From the start to the finish the film runs effortlessly like one of Turing’s machine, turning and spinning on a heartbeat like rhythm. I can see why Morten Tyldum was nominated for an Oscar. This film is just so well put together. The score, the acting, the cinematography, and the writing are all free flowing and synchronized. The film reminded me a lot of A Beautiful Mind, both in subject matter and in storytelling. I didn’t really understand the Keira Knightley praise but it’s always nice to see Matthew Goode in stuff. I love watching him act. Good show.

4.5/5

New to Netflix, this New Zealand film from director Gerard Johnstone actually surprised me. I expected a serious horror film but what the film really excelled at was the sort of horror/humor that guys like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson gave us early in their careers. The film centers around a brat of a woman who gets in trouble trying to steal an ATM and has to be under house arrest for nine months in the house she grew up in. Stuff starts to happen that you would normally find in a movie like this but then the film takes a sharp right turn. The result is funny, original, fun, and occasionally disgusting. Give it a try if you like movies like Dead Alive of Evil Dead.

3/5

This Studio Ghibli film was recently nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this years Oscars. This is for good reason. The film is gorgeous. What seems to be colored pencil from time to time, Princess Kaguya’s beautifully animated story tells the tale of a girl born from a bamboo stalk that grows as fast as the plants she grew out of. Obviously there is some magical realism here, but that nuance is why I love Studio Ghibli films. This one was directed by Grave of the Fireflies director Isao Takahata, and features his best animation to date. Every scene leaps off the page in a colorful albeit very subtle display of animation. The simple story didn’t wow me as much as Ghibi’s other films, but its the kind of story that you can just sit back on a rainy day, like I did, and just take it all in. The music was also fantastic.

3.5/5

This was a bit of a slow watch. I’m a fan of Kelly Reichardt. I thought “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meeks Cutoff” were wonderful examples of what you can do with still images and slow burn story telling. Night Moves was a bit of a disappointment but after seeing that Old Joy was on Netflix, I decided to check it out. I didn’t realize a movie that has a run length of only 73 minutes could drag so long. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like the film. It was just the opposite of entertaining. Instead, it was a film that featured two friends going on a camping trip where their past and present only ever so slightly hits the surface of what we can see. There is a lot going on in the background of their lives that we aren’t directly told. I enjoyed it for what it was but I don’t think everybody will like it. It’s literally a car ride and a camping trip. Nice to see NJ natives Yo La Tengo doing the film score though. That helped.

2.5/5

Film Review : Obvious Child (2014)

IMDB Score – 6.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 90%
Amazon Watch Instant

Directed By – Gillian Robespierre
Starring – Jenny Slate, Gabby Hoffmann, Jack Lacy, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, Gabe Liedman, and David Cross

A twenty-something comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.

Rom-Coms. Like the ever so fragile horror genre, there is a very small window of success when it comes to romantic comedies. At least for me. I know a few people that can’t get enough of them. A few professional critics I read laud films like Love Actually and 500 Days of Summer. I’ve seen the latter. I thought it was okay. One of my favorite films of all time, Lost in Translation, could possibly be categorized as a Rom-Com but I wouldn’t say so. That film is a dream like look at empathy and loneliness but surprisingly establishes the exact quality that I look for when I watch something romantic, realism. Whether it’s funny or not, realism is what makes a good film from a bad one. I also think that tragedy can be a very useful but overused tool when it comes to these films. The Apartment had heavy tones dealing with adultery and suicide, yet was still hysterical and endearing. Blue Valentine was devastating as we see two people spiral out of love. Obvious Child is hilarious but deals with unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Maybe I’m just fucked up, but I just can’t like a romantic film unless something horrible happens. I guess that’s why I don’t consider Lost in Translation to be a rom-com. Nothing bad really happens. It’s just two people hanging out and developing a relationship.

Obvious Child does the opposite. It starts with the end of a relationship which catapults the films protagonist Donna, played INCREDIBLY by Jenny Slate, into a bit of a spiral. Donna is a comedian and brings her life on stage every time she gets up there. She eventually meets Max and here is where the films starts to develop into what ended up being such a pleasant surprise.

Like I said before, realism is important to me. I have to be able to feel like the characters in the film could actually exist in real life. No woman that Jennifer Lopez or Cameron Diaz have ever existed outside of Beverly Hills, Miami, or the upper west side. The majority of rom-com female leads make up the smallest percentage of what real women are like. Jenny Slate brings realism to this film. She’s awkward, anxious, and has no idea what she’s doing in her life. She reminds me of Greta Gerwig from Frances Ha except a little less hipster cool. Donna lives in Brooklyn, somehow pays only $500 in rent (which totally contradicts this whole realism theme), and works at a failing bookstore. She’s an everyday person. Thankfully, she’s also hilarious. I had a few laugh of loud moments while watching this. Slate, who appears regularly on comedy central shows such as The Kroll Show, has a natural sense of comedic timing which really helped me connect with her character. She just seemed like a person who is struggling to make an impact at 26 years old just like everybody else who is 26 is.

As the film progresses, Slate’s acting chops really start to show. I was surprised. I had heard that she was great in the film and saw that she was nominated for a Spirit award but she still caught me off guard. The tornado that her life ran into required some serious emotional cutbacks and Slate handled it perfectly. She was able to convey a girl who has no idea how she got herself into the situation perfectly. I was impressed.

The film tackles some sensitive subjects with honesty. Abortion isn’t a very widely used subject for film, especially comedies, but Obvious Child was able to take it on without getting too heavy, but also not insulting the situation with humor. I’m the type of person that cracks jokes at funerals and is laughing while being taken to the ER. I always have been. I use humor as a defense mechanism when things are too serious to handle, at least in public. When I’m alone or with family, the true feelings come out, and they did in this film. Those scenes were touching.

The supporting cast was good, but this is really Slate’s show. She didn’t carry the film because I think it was a very well written and directed movie, but I don’t think it would have been the same without her. The film is currently streaming on Amazon Instant and I’d totally recommend it.

4/5




Quick Review : Paddington (2015)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 98%

Directed By – Paul King
Starring – Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeline Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Matt Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, and Ben Wishaw as the voice of “Paddington”

A young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven.

Yes, I saw this movie.
Yes, the trailer isn’t great.
No, the film isn’t stupid.
Yes, it’s for kids.
Yes, it’s for adults.
Yes, It’s adorable.
No, I’m not kidding.

Seriously. See this film. It’ll be one of the best things you do all winter. It’s cold. It’s depressing. It’s winter. This film however is none of those things. My friend and I went to see it merely because it looked cute. I didn’t grow up on Paddington. I only knew that it was a teddy bear toy or something. I guess I’d have to be British to get the full effect of the novels and toys on their culture. Well it’s a good thing that this is a British made film because they freakin’ nailed it. It’s directed by Paul King. Do you know who that is? Well, if you’re a fan of “The Mighty Boosh” then you’ve seen plenty of his episodes. He also directed a little gem of an indie film called “Bunny and the Bull”. You can find that on Netflix and should really check it out. Paul King made a nearly perfect film on par with the majority of what Pixar delivers to both adults and children.

The movie features almost completely realistic renditions of three bears who not only talk, but where funny hats and eat Marmalade sandwiches. Paddington, the youngest of the bears, leaves for London after his home is destroyed by mother nature. So we have a classic “new guy in town” movie but with a twist, it’s a fucking bear. Now, nobody seems to be shocked that there is a bear in London or that it speaks like a proper little lad. A whole damn commuter train passes him by, all except the Brown Family. Like most family films, the notion of family is obviously very high in regard and this is where all of the charm of this movie comes from. Seriously, I could watch Hugh Bonneville be Mr. Brown all day. The guy had me in stitches. He was perfectly cast. Hawkins plays a completely endearing woman who is the leader of the “lets keep Paddington” campaign while Bonneville is content being an old curmudgeon. The journey that family takes is not something we haven’t seen before, but certainly something that has been written as charming as possible. Seriously, they were all delightful.

The whole film was delightful really. The only thin I didn’t like about it was that the films main villain play by Kidman was cheesy. It needed it to be cheesy, but I just hated when she was on the screen because it took me away from Paddington and the Browns. The animation was incredible and the voice acting from the bears was as fantastic as the acting from the Browns. See this film with your family or friends. It’ll brighten up that shitty winter feeling that we’ve been having for the past two and a half months.

4.5/5