horn

 

That horn.  That smile.  It’s the image that launched a wave of outrage across the internet.

Last Monday, if you weren’t crapping on a show you probably never watched, you were probably busy watching the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.  The third option is of course anything but the previous two.  Actually, the majority of you were probably doing that.  But who’s counting?

I find it necessary now to advise you of potential spoilers from here on out.  I’ll be talking about that HIMYM finale.  So, yeah.

SPOILERS

After 9 seasons, 208 episodes and 25 years of television time, Ted Mosby ended up right where he began.  Holding up a blue horn as an offering to his future/former girlfriend, Robin Scherbatsky.  In that span of time, he had many near misses and a wife he loved with whom he fathered two children.  The serialized show (a rarity in the world of sitcoms) was about how Ted met the mother but it was just as much about everything that happened to him before that fateful moment.  And as the finale, in my humble opinion, so eloquently established what happened afterwards.

Ted very much loved the mother.  That was made perfectly clear in the brief glimpses of their future lives together that the final season offered.  But then she got sick and then she died.  And Ted mourned.  And after six long years, the torch he had always held for Robin burned bright once more.  And with the blessing of his kids, he went to see if he could get his second happy ending.

I thought it was lovely.

But I was in the minority.  It seemed most people hated it.  And I’m not sure why.  They said it shouldn’t have ended that way.  But this is what the creators had intended from the beginning.  So the question then becomes why can’t we respect the vision of the creators?  Why must we second guess the people who created the characters and, in this case, shepherded them through 9  years of ups and downs to get them to the place where they were meant to be?

The answer, I think, lies in the way we watch our favorite programs.  Before Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Instant we were forced to savor television shows in 9 month chunks with 3 month breaks.  This can be especially frustrating when you’re dealing with serialized storytelling.  I wonder if those who binge watch shows might not be better off.  Cramming three seasons of Game of Thrones into a weekend in anticipation of the fourth season doesn’t really allow time for speculation. And that speculation is what ultimately and almost inevitably leads to disappointment.  Because let’s be honest, NO ONE’S ideas are as good as our own.  So when a show fails to match the lofty ideas we’ve set in our own minds, we get disappointed.  We get angry.  And then, we get on Twitter.  Can you imagine what would have happened had the internet existed when entire series like Newhart and St. Elsewhere were ‘Bobby Ewinged’ in their finales?  It would have been insane.

But no more insane than the numerous negative reactions to the finales of Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica and Lost.

We are a notoriously difficult audience to please.  In fact, it’s impossible.  Someone’s going to get pissed.  Someone’s going to get disappointed.  And people have a right to feel however they feel.  But before you allow yourself to become one of the naysayers, ask yourself why you’re so pissed off.  Was this story well told?  Was it well produced?  Well acted?  Now be honest with yourself as to why you didn’t like it.  You might be surprised by the answer.  We’ll never all agree on anything but I think we can all agree to be fair and give a show its due.  It’s why we were fans in the first place.

Actually, hold on.  I think there is one thing we ALL can agree on.

Breaking Bad was the best show ever and the series finale kicked ass.

Okay, carry on.  It’s settled.

 

What?

You hated Breaking Bad?  The finale sucked?

*sigh*

Never mind.

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Cheap Thrills

Grade:  A

Some movies are funny.  Some scary.  Others are thrilling and filled with action.  Then there’s the type of film that holds a mirror up to its audience and dares those watching to see themselves in the characters and in their actions.  It asks the viewer “What would you do?”

How far would you go to provide for your family?  What would you do to better your life?  Would you debase yourself?  Would you hurt someone?  Would you kill?  What would you do?  These are the questions asked by the new horror/thriller starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton.  And the answers are quite frankly shocking.

Healy is Craig, a husband and father with an eviction notice on his door.  He’s killing time in a bar to avoid going home to tell his wife he just got fired.  There, he runs into Ethan Embry’s Vince.  They’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while.  Vince is working as an enforcer, an arm-breaker collecting debts.  He’s good at it.  But he’s not exactly happy with his station in life.

While they are drinking away their woes as men are wont to do, they meet an odd couple, husband and wife, played by Koechner and Paxton.  Colin and Violet are crazy rich.  It’s her birthday and he wants to show her a good time.  To that end he has provided cocaine and an open tab to Vince and Craig, companions purchased for what is sure to be a fun and eventful evening.  Some spur of the moment bar bets cause cash to be exchanged as Vince downs a shot faster than his friend  and slaps a waitress’ butt.  Craig wants in on the cash so when Colin suggests, with the promise of bigger prizes on the line, that they move the party to their mansion in the hills, he’s more than willing and able.

And that…is when the shit hits the fan.  The stakes rise.  The cash prizes become life changing.  Blood is spilled.

The plot is nothing that is especially original.  There are elements here that feel like they could have been lifted out of the cautionary tales that were often told in The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  But it is very well executed.  The script is darkly comic and sharp as a razor.  Most importantly, this is an actor’s showcase.  The four main characters occupy about 98% of the film’s running time so they’re going to have to carry the film.  They are more than up to the task.

Koechner is simultaneously smarmy and ingratiating.  His Colin is disturbingly pragmatic about the whole sordid affair.  He’s got cash to burn and willing fools at the ready who are prepared to do anything for it.  Embry brings a frightening physicality to his performance.  The man is far removed from his teen comedy days.  There’s no evidence of Rusty Griswold here.  Healey is perfect as the hard luck working class schlub.  His dreams of being a writer have long since faded.  He’s living the American Dream and it’s a fucking nightmare.

But the shining star here, in a night sky filled with them, is Sara Paxton in the quietest role of the film.  Violet is passive and bored during most of the proceedings barely taking the time to look up from her cell phone as the willing dupes jump through hoops to earn their pay.  But as the dares become darker, she grows more curious, her eyes betraying a perverse, almost sexual, interest in what’s happening.  Every twisted thing that being done is for her benefit, her pleasure.  And she loves it.

The climax feels inevitable.  To the victor goes the spoils.  And as he stands, surrounded by his winnings, his body a twisted wreck, the film ends leaving the audience with a final image that is impossible to shake.

Cheap Thrills received a VERY limited theatrical release playing only in Austin & Los Angeles.  It’s expanding into about 20 cities in the next week so it might just be popping up somewhere near you.  If you get the chance, catch it in a theater.  But it’s pretty much available on every Video On Demand format there is.  If it’s not available from your local cable provider, try iTunes or Amazon Instant.

See it now.  See it in a week.  See it when Drafthouse Films releases the Blu-ray or DVD in a few weeks.

Just see it.

This!

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Movies, This!, TV
Tags: , , , , ,

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Veronica Mars

A long time ago we used to be friends.  But I hadn’t thought of you lately at all.

That’s a lie.  I always remembered Veronica Mars.  How could I forget her?

She came storming back into all our lives with a tantalizing chance at a long promised and rumored return.  And in record time, she pocketed $2 million and that promise became a reality.

And she’s not coming back alone.  Oh no.  She’s bringing her old man Keith with her.  Old friends like Wallace and Mac.  Old boyfriends like Logan and the unfortunately named Piz.  She’s going to her high school reunion.  So all those Neptune schoolmates who ostracized her 10 years ago?  Yeah.  They’re going to be there, too.

And there’s a nasty little murder mystery that’s going to need solving.  It’s been 7 long years, Veronica.  And it seems very little has changed.

C’mon now, honey…bring it on, bring it on!

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The History of Future Folk

I love horror movies.  I think they speak to my jaded world view and my taste for the morbid.  This is not a horror movie.  This is a high concept comedy with an ultra-low budget and a big heart.  And yes, I kind of loved it.

The film opens with Bill.  He’s a father telling his daughter a bedtime story, the tale of General Prius who left his home planet of Hondo in hopes of finding a new world for his people.  It’s clearly a tale he has told the child on many occasions.  It then cuts to the man performing folk music in front of a mildly curious and amused crowd at a dive bar.  He’s wearing a costume very similar to that of the general in his daughter’s illustrations of the story.

It’s the first charming moment in a film that features many like it.  It is at time quirky, at times silly and I never lost the smile that the first clever song Bill plays in the bar puts on my face.  Eventually, Bill meets a stranger from his…hometown.  Though their relationship is initially contentious the two discover a common love for music and what was once a solo act becomes a duo.  And that duo will have to save the world.

If you want to catch something off-beat, something unexpected, something goofy and just plain good…well this is that.

Highly recommended!

The History of Future Folk is available on Netflix Instant

2013.  Ah yes.  I’ll always remember you as that year that came between 2012 and 2014.  Truly you were special.  Many things happened within your 365 day span.  Some of them I can actually remember.  Just not right now.  But I do remember your films.  I saw 100 movies with your release date though not everything I wanted.  I haven’t seen Her, Wolf of Wall Street,  All Is Lost or Dallas Buyers Club.  And while I plan on seeing all of those, they won’t count towards this year’s list.  So enough chit-chat.  Lets get to it.

Superman, bearing his traditional red and blue costume, is shown flying towards the viewer, with the city Metropolis below. The film's title, production credits, rating and release date is written underneath.

10.  Man of Steel

Almost certainly my most controversial choice but I put a lot of thought into whether or not I honestly felt this was one of the 10 best movies of the year.  Obviously, I did.  I loved the extended opening on Krypton.  It gave us more detail and feel for the planet then we’d seen in any other Supes flick.  I really appreciated the fresh take on the Pa Kent dynamic.  It felt real.  I love that Lois figures out the truth.  Amy Adams is by far the best Lois to date.  Actually, I liked all the leads.  Henry Cavill is a great Clark, a great Kal-El, a great Superman.  It’ll be fun to see him grow in the role.  The film presented an untested man learning to be a hero at great cost.  It shows how Clark Kent became Superman.  Great acting, great score, great action, great effects.   It’s plain great.

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9.  Stoker

Director Chan-wook Park, in his American feature debut, delivers a nice mix of Southern Gothic horror and Hitchcockian suspense highlighted by stellar work from Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska.  Nicole Kidman also does a pretty good job with a slightly underwritten role.  The real meat of the flick is in the relationship between Wasikowska’s India and Goode’s Charlie.  She turned 18 on the same day her father died in a car accident.  Charlie’s the uncle she never knew she had who shows up mysteriously for her dad’s funeral.  Kidman’s widowed Evelyn has more than a passing interest in her brother-in-law but he clearly has designs for his niece.  It’s creepy, it’s sexually charged, it’s beautifully shot and composer Clint Mansell supplies a moody score.  Here’s hoping Mr. Park spends some more time stateside.

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8.  The Place Beyond the Pines

The film is a very well done generational tale involving two men, their children and the fall out of one fateful afternoon encounter.  The film opens by focusing on Ryan Gosling’s Luke, a carny stuntman, who has to settle down when he discovers he has an illegitimate son.  His efforts at providing for his family will have dire consequences.  There’s a sudden narrative shift after the first act as the film shifts focus to Bradley Cooper’s Avery, an ambitious street cop who finds himself a hero while mingling with some unsavory elements within his own police force.  The third and most compelling act deals with the sons of these two men as they must deal with the sins of their fathers.  This is pure drama, well acted and well told.

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7.  Captain Phillips

The film fell under some scrutiny and was subject to criticism for playing a little fast and loose with the details of the real life event upon which it was based.  But films based on a true story rarely stick 100% to the facts so I’m not sure what people what people are complaining about.  The plot revolves around two men,  Tom Hank’s Phillips, the captain of a cargo ship, and Barkhad Abdi as Muse, a Somali pirate desperate for a big payday.  Hanks is his usual stellar self, shining in material worthy of his attention.  Abdi’s Muse is so much more than a bad guy.  He’s a fully realized character with a conflicted and justified reasons for his actions.  The final ten minutes feature a master class in physical acting from Hanks.  Wonderful stuff.

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6.  Only God Forgives

The second feature to team director Nicolas Windig Refn with star Ryan Gosling is a highly stylized, minimalist masterpiece.  It’s a very divisive movie probably because it’s so different from the pair’s earlier collaboration, Drive.  And while I prefer that film, I can’t find anything to dislike about this one.  The plot is a simple revenge tale that spirals  out of control and leaves few unaffected.  Gosling, with very little dialogue, is a soulless, emotionless man pressed into service by his domineering mother played to icy cold perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Vithaya Pansringarm is Lt. Chang, a Thai police with a biblical moral code.  Chang is a fascinating, nuanced character.  The film revolves around him and justifiably so.  Refn’s on a roll.  Hope he keeps it up.

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5.  Upstream Color

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is clearly the work of a unique and singular vision.  This is such a film and that vision belongs to director/writer/cinematographer/editor/composer/actor/caterer Shane Carruth.  His previous movie, the trippy time travel tale Primer, is a cult classic but this one should rise above that classification.  It’s almost useless to describe the plot.  It’s non-linear storytelling filled with vivid imagery and an aural landscape that brings to mind the very best of Terrence Mallick’s more esoteric work.  The film is meant to speak to the viewer at a subconscious level, speaking to primal feelings of love and loss.  And in that respect, it’s astoundingly successful.  Carruth has only made 2 films in 10 years but they are obvious passion projects.  If his next is as good as this, I’m willing to wait.

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4.  Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest film from the Coen Brothers was criminally ignored by the Academy Awards voters but I doubt seriously they very much care.  They’re gonna keep doing what they’re doing until they can’t do it anymore.  I’m fine with that.  This tale of a folksy rocker in the early 60′s proves that you don’t have to like the lead character to like the film.  Llewyn is a bit dead inside since the death of his performing partner.  He bounces from gig to gig, couch to couch, woman to woman.  He can’t be bothered to feel anything because doing that would force him to feel everything.  And that would kill him.  He’s stuck in an endless loop of cynicism and apathy and frankly he deserves it.  He makes beautiful music but his soul is as rotten as they come.  This is classic Coen material.

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3.  Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron, director of the magnificent Children of Men, delivers a stirring space movie that earned it’s spot on this list by reminding audiences of why they go to the movies in the first place.  It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible surrounded by an invested audience of fellow lovers of cinema.  It features the some of the best use of modern 3D technology and incredible visual effects.  The Oscar-nominated score by Steven Price propels the film as astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney struggle against all odds to survive a space walk gone disastrously wrong.  The action never lets up and yet there’s time for some nice character development amid the spectacle.  This is bold and beautiful film making.

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2.  Mud

This one is as small and as intimate as a film can get.  It’s a Huck Finn for a new millennium, a classic coming of age tale steeped deep in the traditions and culture of the Arkansas riverbanks on which it was filmed.  And it features another in a long string of fantastic performances by Matthew McConaughey.  He is riveting as the swamp shaman exiled on an island waiting for true love to catch up to him and befriending two young boys looking for a hero.  That no single character in this turns out to be exactly as they first appear is a credit to writer/director Jeff Nichols who is quickly emerging as one of America’s finest young filmmakers.  It’s a rich vibrant movie that I’m certain I’ll watch again and again.

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1.  12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northrup was a free black man born in New York during the height of slavery.  In the 1840′s, he is torn from his family (a wife and two children) by two men and sold illegally into slavery in the South.  The film recounts the next decade plus of his life as he is sold from plantation to plantation, master to master, trying to hide his education, trying to blend in, trying to survive.  His ordeals are horrific.  Director Steve McQueen challenges the viewer to look away as Northrup (portrayed brilliantly by Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor)  does what he must to get back to his family.  The film is filled with great performances but none more great than those of Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as Epps, who feels his right to own people is ordained by God.  This is a masterwork of cinema and it’s the best movie of the year.

At one point, most of the following films were sitting in my top 10 only to be pushed out by later films or by second viewings of other films that shuffled them down.  That said, these are the very best of the rest of the movies that didn’t make the cut.

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Europa Report

A found footage sci-fi flick about man’s first interstellar trip to the moons of Jupiter.  It paid great respect to the science side of sci-fi by using footage from the International Space Station and space walks as reference for filming.  The found footage aspect is never obtrusive and it tells a very compelling story with interesting characters.

A girl in a red dress, laughing in the rain, alongside a tall red-haired man wearing a suit.

About Time

Unapologetic and bittersweet, the film focuses on a young man who discovers he can travel through time at will.  He uses his gift as I imagine most young men would and manages to secure the woman of his dreams after numerous missteps.  The film is at its best when focusing on the lead’s relationship with his father.

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American Hustle

This is a very clever “semi-true” ensemble comedy/drama, focusing on a colorful cast of characters involved in the Abscam operation in the late 70s, that never takes itself too seriously.  Stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence & Jeremy Renner are clearly having fun playing dress-up for director David O. Russell.

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Prisoners

A Thanksgiving Day kidnapping of two young girls triggers a series of events that leaves two families devastated and a dogged police detective facing ultimate evil.  Hugh Jackman & Jake Gyllenhaal deliver award worthy performances as respectively the father forced to grave task and the detective determined to crack the case in this dark, moody film.

If you wanna see what other films I really liked this past year check out the previous installments of The Rest of the Best.

The Rest of the Best Part 3

The Rest of the Best Part 2

The Rest of the Best Part 1

I’ll be unleashing my final and official Top 10 of the year in the next few days.  And after that, I’ll be diving into 2014 and beyond.

Continuing my countdown to the best movies of 2013

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Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine brings us Disney divas as girls gone wild and it surprisingly works to great effect.  Fueled by a great score featuring Skrillex and Cliff Martinez, the film is a neon-colored, black-light lit fever dream featuring killer performances from the four young leads and an almost unrecognizable turn  by James Franco.

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Blackfish

A truly, great documentary can serve to affect social change by shining a light on injustice and inhumanity.  I can honestly say that after seeing the treatment of these beautiful killer whales at the hands of Sea World, I will never step foot into another of their parks.  And in that way, this is truly a great documentary.

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The Kings of Summer

This is yet another film in a great run of coming of age tales.  It’s a crime that it’s rated R simply for featuring young boys talking the way young boys do.  But I guess saying ‘fuck’ a couple times more worthy of the restrictive rating than the buckets of blood and violence seen in PG-13 blockbusters.  That point aside, this is a fun and sweet movie.

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Nebraska

Director Alexander Payne loves to send broken men in fractured relationships out on the open road to discover themselves and to dig deep into their damaged psyches.  His muse on this trip is veteran Bruce Dern who, with his son, sets out to claim a sweepstakes fortune.  At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a wonderful movie.