Captain Phillips

captain-phillips-international-posterIn movies, certain monikers immediately invoke evil. Hannibal Lechter, Freddy Krueger, Chucky – if you hear one of those names screamed out, chances are you’re in for a bloody good time. But some of the worst offenders aren’t even on the screen; they hide behind the grips and the best boys, silently moving among the crew while whispering things to the cinematographer like “You don’t need that tripod” and “Here, have another Red Bull.” They are an elite group of very jittery men, but there is one who quivers above them all: the Voldermort of directors, the one whose name can only be pronounced with a Slytherin-like hiss: Greengraaasssss.

I was excited when I heard there was a new Tom Hanks film coming out. And then I read it was about a ship taken over by Somali pirates and I was a tad apprehensive because movies filmed on water can be problematic if you’re a little prone to motion-sickness. But I made it through Castaway so I thought I could probably get through this one, too. Until I saw the director’s name mentioned in a review and had a sudden flashback of Matt Damon and his extremely shaky search for his supremacy and it all came flooding back: Greeengraaasssss.

His name is Paul Greengrass and if you look him up in IMBD, there will be a small puddle of vomit next to his picture. Director of The Bourne Supremacy and United 93, his choppy editing style and hand-held camerawork have made him a legend among those of us affected by this kind of movie. And not a legend in a good way – more like a chupacabra who runs up and down the aisles of the theatre and laughs and blocks the exit as you try to run out toward the bathroom.

And yet, even with all the bobbing and shaking and jerking— I almost hate to type this— Captain Phillips is a riveting film. As much as I despise the technique he employs, I have to admit that Greengrass knows how to move the camera so that the tension is ramped up to eleven. I was practically vibrating in my seat, unable to sit still as the pirate takeover got out of hand and became a kidnapping. Even knowing the ending didn’t abate the suspense – the film is based on a book written by the real Captain Phillips, so his odds of survival were pretty good. The relationship between the two captains (Hanks and Barkhad Abdi) is fascinating, and the way the ship prepared for a pirate boarding was a study in failed security.

I’m going to throw in a Spoiler Alert here, so stop reading if you haven’t seen the film. The most remarkable part of the movie was after Phillips had been rescued and brought aboard a Navy ship for medical treatment. You rarely see the results of violence in action films – it’s often portrayed as it would be in a video game, with the collateral damage unseen and the psyches of the victims untarnished. But this film showed that Phillips was completely traumatized by what he had gone through, in shock, barely able to speak and stuttering to answer questions posed by the doctors. It’s a raw, honest look at the after effects of violence, and it will probably garner Tom Hanks another Academy Award nomination.

My symptoms were similar to Mr. Hanks after I emerged from the theatre, but no one is handing me any awards for keeping my popcorn down. But at least the damn chupacabra has stopped laughing at me.

Barf Bag rating: FOUR BAGS At this point, I just automatically assign any Paul Greengrass film four bags. I think he would be insulted if I did not.Four Bags

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Gravity

gravity-posterI thought our time together was over. I warned you as often as I could, but lately things have been on a pretty even keel and I sensed you didn’t need me any more. Directors have moved onto new technology, found new ways to tantalize our senses, and every film I went to was like watching angels ice-skating or majestic condors gliding on air. I was going to slip quietly away into cyberspace; let the Barf Bags pile up on some server in the clouds, uncounted and unnecessary.

But then something happened; this movie started to get a lot of chatter about special effects and floating and space and bad things that can happen if you ever leave your basement and suddenly I realized: You DO need me! Someone has to warn the world about this film! Someone has to stand on the edge of the internet and shout into the void: this movie is going to make you barf!

Gravity has opened to fabulous reviews, academy award talk and lots of positive buzz. The film deserves the press it’s getting and it will probably garner lots of nominations. But this about more than just striking camera work and awesome special effects masterminded by director Alfonso Cuarón; this is about what is going to happen to your lower intestines. While the critics are tossing accolades, you are going to be tossing your cookies.

This movie is ninety minutes of spinning in space; spinning while things fly through the air and smash into stuff, spinning while floating weightlessly through corridors, spinning while tethered to other astronauts and spinning just for the sake of spinning. There is no fixed horizon to latch onto because they are in space, so you end up about as pale as Sandra Bullock does as she tries to hold it together in zero gravity. It’s actually a very clever way to really feel like you are part of the crew in peril, but if I had wanted to be an astronaut I wouldn’t have cut all those algebra classes in high school.

I have to admit that much of the spinning took place in my imagination because I had my eyes closed for a large part of the film, but between the 3D headache and the queasiness from the swirling, it was really the only way to survive to the end to see if Sandy and George made it out alive.

Sandy and George; they’re like old friends, aren’t they? They are so familiar to us as movie stars that in some ways it felt like they were miscast in the film. Sandra Bullock was quite good, and managed to get beyond her popular persona and meld with her character. But George Clooney was George Clooney; I never for one moment thought he was an astronaut. There were times you heard only his voice and it sounded like he was narrating a beer commercial. But I have to admit if I was stranded in space with only one voice to soothe me, his is probably the one I would want. And in return, I hope that he would hold my hair back after what his movie did to me.

Four BagsBarf Bag Rating: FOUR BAGS  This movie joins other four baggers in the Barf Bag Hall of Fame, nestled right between The Bourne Supremacy and Exit at the Gift Shop. As you can well imagine, the Barf Bag Hall of Fame does not smell very good.

Random thought: I’m sure the skimpy tank top and boy shorts that Sandra Bullock wears under her spacesuit are standard NASA issued gear. I would just like to know why we didn’t get to see George in the same outfit.

Blue Jasmine

BJ-posterI try to remember the words of Garth from Wayne’s World when I go to see a current Woody Allen film. I tell myself this isn’t about how I want his movies to be. It’s about how he perceives himself as a filmmaker and an auteur and how his art completely represents who he is in today’s world of cinema.

Okay, who am I kidding? It’s totally about me! Because I represent the paying audience and even if Woody makes his films for himself with no worries about how they are perceived, my opinion still counts! I’ll bet Woody doesn’t have to write a blog post every 51 days!  (I’m guess I’m a little behind.)

Blue Jasmine has been Woody Allen’s best reviewed movie in years. Praise has been universal for the script and the cast and the acting.  And yet I sat through this movie and thought, okay, been there, done that. What other critics called an homage to A Streetcar Named Desire seemed to me to be lukewarm Tennessee Williams copycatting. It was Blanche DuBois meets Bernie Madoff, only the disgraced financial consultant was played by Jack Donaghy as interpreted by Alec Baldwin, who now seems to play every part as if he were still on 30 Rock.

Coincidences abound in the script and shape the story in a convenient way that simply seem like he couldn’t bothered to work out the plot. The characterizations are all remnants of well-known stereotypes, and while the actors try their best, nothing on the screen seems original. The word that I kept writing in my notes was lazy.

I remind myself that Woody Allen is 78 years old, that he has been making films for over 40 years. He knows what he wants to say. I just think I’m tired of listening.

Barf Bag Rating: ZERO BAGS

The Bling Ring/The Way Way Back

bling_ringTeen age angst has been a popular film subject for years, and no wonder: the years of emotional upheaval, budding sexuality and the quest for popularity combine to make movies that remind those of us who are past this age to stay away from time machines. It also feeds directly into the touch of narcissism that all teenagers possess, as they are a hugely profitable segment of the movie-going audience and will willingly pay to watch themselves on-screen. Oddly, this is often in films where they are hacked to bits by strangers in hockey masks.

There is no blood spattering in The Bling Ring because I’m pretty sure the kids depicted in this film have no actual body fluids. They appear to be as soulless as the zombies that populate other teenage films, although they are far better accessorized. The film tells the true story of a group of LA kids who decide to break into Paris Hilton’s home. Actually, they decide to walk into the mansion because it appears as if she has no security system and doesn’t even bother to lock her doors. The fact that the amateurs are able to do this says as much about Paris Hilton as it does the would-be thieves: she obviously has way too much stuff and doesn’t even notice when things go missing. The kids realize this and decide to help themselves.

With the first robbery, you can almost understand this line of thought. Frankly, Paris Hilton is the most annoying famous-for-nothing person that we know too much about and the teens actually track her whereabouts by reading tabloids to find out when she’s gone. But the urge to possess designer outfits pushes them to try other celebrities, and the well-dressed gang hits the houses of Audrina Partridge and Orlando Bloom as well. Soon they are stealing wads of cash and designer drugs from a variety of unlocked mansions and cars.

Directed by Sophia Coppola, the movie depicts a level of shallowness that is as shocking as it is depressing. The teenage gang never once questions whether what they are doing is wrong or right; they appear to have no morals at all. The families they come from are clueless about what they are doing but even after they are caught, seem full of excuses for the behavior of their children. The criminal activities are depicted in almost a clinical way, with Coppola letting the viewer make their own judgement. It’s a scathing statement about modern-day materialism and the decline of the family, or at least I hope it is. I suppose it’s possible that Sophia Coppola was simply documenting what growing up in Hollywood was like.

It’s also pretty scathing on your stomach as the film uses a lot of real hand-held footage to document the robberies. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it through the film after the first fifteen minutes, but it calmed down a little after they stopped using shaky night cam shots. I would also like to know just what the reason was for the hideous font treatment used in the poster. That made me more nauseous than the film itself, and I am not the only one who noticed.

kinopoisk.ruMoving on to less Hollywood-type angst/more coming of age, The Way Way Back tells the story of one summer in the life of an awkward and depressed 14-year-old boy on vacation with his mother and her loutish boyfriend. The kid is lonely, the mother is anxious, the boyfriend is obnoxious; all fairly standard characters that are elevated by the actors. Toni Colette and Steve Carrell play the couple, with Liam James as the young man who would have been played by John Cusack twenty years ago. The boy ends up working at a water park that looks exactly like every run down park you’ve ever been to on vacation; you just know that someone has peed in the Lazy River.

Sam Rockwell is the manager of the park who hires the kid and steals the movie with his rapid banter and personality. The script is slight but charming, written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who also wrote The Descendents. It was odd to see Rash act in the film with hair as he usually plays the chrome-domed Dean on Community. There is a repeated gag about whether or not you can pass someone on a water slide, and the movie makes you wish you could grab a pad and see for yourself if it’s possible. A nice summery diversion from robot carnage with nothing to unsettle you except whatever that was floating in the wave pool.

One BagOne BagBarf Bag Rating for The Bling Ring: TWO BAGS
Barf Bag Rating for The Way Way Back: ZERO BAGS

Much Ado About Nothing

much-ado-about-nothing_612x907“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Words that ring true from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, but he should have added this caveat: “…unless you’re in Hollywood.” Because then great power means you can do whatever the hell you want. How else can one explain Joss Whedon’s latest film? When you make the third highest grossing movie ever, no one will even bat an eye when you pitch, “I’m thinking I might want to try Shakespeare as my next project. Probably film it in black and white; not gonna bother with stars — I’ll just use my friends. Yeah, I’m gonna keep the iambic pentameter  — don’t want to mess with a classic, right?—  I think it will be too warm for velvet so I’ll just let them wear their own clothes. Oh, and I’m gonna film it in my backyard.” Continue reading

The Heat

heat_posterAs we all know, a thank you note must always be hand written, preferably on a lovely creme-colored stock in indigo ink from a heavy fountain pen that allows the words of gratitude to flow smoothly from its nib. This is why cursive must not be allowed to disappear from our public schools, because a heartfelt message inscribed with your own hand is really the only way to convey the depths of your thanks. “TY GRAM 4 the $$!” will simply not cut it.

So I must apologize for doing this in an electronic format. While it goes against every fiber of my being, I simply do not have time to send a stamped envelope to everyone in Hollywood, so I must resort to the internet, as we so often do. Please imagine this as lovingly crafted note, full of flourish and proper punctuation. As you would expect, my penmanship is excellent.

Dear Twentieth Century Fox,
Thank you so much for distributing the new buddy film, The Heat. In a summer where the term “sausage fest” would not be hyperbole, having a movie that stars two women was a like an icy, delicious treat for our parched throats. I saw it the first weekend it opened; so did just about everyone else I know, some who even happened to be men. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the guys in tights and exploding robots that are always there; it’s just that occasionally (maybe more than once every three years?), it’s fun to go see the cinematic equivalent of coming home and taking off your bra. It’s relaxing and liberating! Continue reading

Star Trek: Into Darkness

startrek2posterThere is an unspoken rule among movie critics that you do not spoil a movie’s ending. This speaks to the respect that grows between an audience and a trusted reviewer who realizes that when a person invests hard-earned cash in an evening of entertainment, they deserve the right to approach the film with a child’s innocence and sense of wonder. Of course, that rule only applies to critics who are actually paid. The rest of us are just hacks working out of our basements so we can say anything we damn well please. And frankly, if you spend any time on the internet at all, there is no way you have made it this far without knowing about this ending.

But just in case you are one of those darling naive movie patrons, let me switch to all caps and declare a SPOILER ALERT. This review is so spoiled that if you drank it out of a carton in front of an unplugged refrigerator, it would cause you to puke up every taco you have eaten in the past twenty-four hours (just keeping with the theme of the site!). Continue reading

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