Our take on the weekend’s new film releases, including the powerful “Boyhood,” and Cameron Diaz’s “Sex Tape.”
You might not be aware of this, but approximately five years from now, our government will be taken over by a nebulous group of bureaucrats who refer to themselves as the New Founding Fathers. One of their first orders of business will be to establish an annual “purge,” whereupon, for exactly 12 hours one night of the year, all crime, including rape, murder and torture, will be legal for anyone wishing to be a part of it (and, of course, their victims, who don’t have a say in the matter). Just why this is seen as a beneficial policy will be left hanging, as will any data to support the resulting statistics that has unemployment at a record low and crime rates virtually nonexistent the rest of the year.
Our chat with Zach Braff, whose new film “Wish I Was Here,” opens this weekend in Philadelphia.
The original Planet of the Apes, made back in 1968, concerned a human astronaut (memorably played by Charlton Heston) in the future who crash lands on a planet with his crew and discovers it to be run by intelligent apes, with the existing humans on the planet mute and savage, used for sport hunting or medical experiments.
Polanski’s movies tend to be even-handed in their treatment of the sexes, at least in that both male and female characters can be conniving and power-mad.
Dir. Steve James
Over the last few years of his life, his body ravaged by cancer to the point where he couldn’t eat, drink or speak, Roger Ebert went from porcine, preening TV icon to the beloved patron saint of all film critics. Some of this was due to the courage and conviction with which he faced his most terrible health predicament — in the course of things, he lost his lower jaw, his tongue and all of the lower part of his face to the point where, near the end, there was only a loose lower mouth flap dangling like a swing under the roof of his mouth — but a lot of it was the way in which, with the launching of his blog, he finally opened up to the world at large. In this way, despite the fact that he still kept a pretty murderous schedule of screenings, reviews, and other movie-related writings, he also added much in the way of personal revelation and politics (he was an avowed liberal) to his output.
It was a particularly cruel way to go, the man whose smooth, sonorous voice had become absolutely synonymous with film commentary — apart from the various incarnations of his TV show with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel, Ebert was a popular figure on the lecture/conference circuit, displaying, scene-by-scene, some of his favorite films such as Citizen Kane — suddenly without a voice to contribute. But in the aftermath of his loss, he re-doubled his efforts to be heard, even if he had no way of speaking them (later on, he got a proprietary computer program to ‘speak’ for him, a la Stephen Hawking, only in some facsimile of his own voice). And so he went from being a slightly resented, if not rich and powerful, popular critic to a true populist.
Steve James’ remarkable film, documenting the last few months of Ebert’s life as well as celebrating all that had come before his sickness and demise, from his early roots as an arrogant kid in Urbana, Illinois, to his stint as a decidedly talented but conceited editor at the Daily Illini, his college paper where he was an iron-fisted Editor-in-Chief, to his early days with the Chicago Sun Times, where he was handed the film critic job shortly after joining the ranks of the ink-stained wretches, to his long nights drinking and raconteuring with his fellow daily scribes in dilapidated Chicago watering holes, to his eventual sobriety and world-wide fame along with Siskel, as the only film criticism TV show to have made it big.
Ebert lived a life of regal splendor in many ways, at least by the standards of this occupation, jet-setting to major festivals, interviewing whomever he wanted and for as long as he so desired, but it wasn’t until he quit drinking and finally met and married a woman named Chaz, whom he knew from his AA meetings, that he really settled into being a more three-dimensional human being (Siskel’s widow recounts a story, pre-Chaz, where eight months pregnant, Ebert cut in front of her to grab a cab in New York).
His relationship with his TV spouse was so famously contentious, they often wouldn’t speak to each other outside of the confines of the show. Siskel, who worked for the far more upscale Tribune across the street, was as smooth and garrulous as Ebert was heavy and prickly. When they were first contacted about doing a film review TV show, they would have preferred working with anyone else, but over the course of time, as the film demonstrates, the two became inexorably linked, both financially and professionally, and grudgingly came to appreciate each other. Siskel died of brain cancer back in 1999, and though he wasn’t destined to be as venerated or beloved as his partner, Ebert himself was never quite the same.
If Siskel were more the blue-blooded Ivy-league man (graduating from Yale), Ebert was the anti-elitist: the too-smart kid from a small town who had made it in the big city on the strength and guile of his conviction in himself. Ironically, it was a story fit for the movies, a Preston Sturges rags-to-riches sort of affair, complete with unlikely love story and ravaging disease that somehow makes the protagonist more popular and beloved than ever. It is an irony, one can imagine, far from lost on Ebert, who died just last year, as the film was being completed. Fortunately, the veritable mountain of writing he left in his wake will forever stand as a testament to his talent — and his courage.
Before this film, husband and wife team Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy had not professionally written anything together. They are successful comic actors — McCarthy, especially, after her memorable turn in Bridesmaids and The Heat, rapidly ascending the ranks of female comics who can move the needle for a studio — but other than writing a handful of Looney Tunes episodes (Falcone) and directing a single episode of a TV show (McCarthy), they had done precious little to indicate they could pull off a feature film.
Credit resourceful directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, fresh off their financial and critical triumph with The Lego Movie, for coming up with a loophole to extricate themselves from the single most difficult conundrum in all of summer blockbuster sequel-dom: How do you make a new hilarious comedy while still having to incorporate all the old characters, jokes and elements of the previous film that made it so popular in the first place?
Should you see it, skip it, or wait for DVD? Our take on the weekend’s new movie releases.
Our picks for the best new movies on Netflix streaming for the month of June.
Not to get all meta on you, but if you take a moment to peruse a range of other reviews of this flick, I can practically guarantee you they will make mention of Harold Ramis’ much-beloved comedy/philosophical treatise Groundhog Day (now, including this one). This is because of the similarities of concept: Both films feature protagonists forced into reliving the same day over and over again, no matter how many times they die in the process.
For all of Seth MacFarlane’s supposedly edgy humor, he’s making the most conventional three-act hero’s journey imaginable.
Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Director Pawel Pawlikowski has a way of constructing his frame so that his characters appear at the bottom edge, with the widest expanse of screen over their heads, as if to suggest both the vulnerable placement of his protagonists, and also the vastness of the impenetrable world around them.
The film plays out as a bit of a mystery: A young novice named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), in early ’60s Poland, several weeks from taking her vows as a nun in the convent she was raised in, gets to visit her only living relative, an aunt in a nearby town, whom she has never met. Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza) turns out to be formidable, both a heavy-drinking and lusty firebrand, and a powerful judge at the local magistrate. Wanda explains to Anna that not only is her real name Ida, but that she is actually Jewish — her parents both being executed during the war.
Together, the unlikely pair seek out the former house of Ida’s parents, out in the rural countryside where a Catholic family now resides. In the course of their journey, Ida discovers much more about her parents’ tragic story, and perhaps the source of Wanda’s misery.
But this isn’t a simple sort of conceit, a “personal journey” wherein the closeted nun-to-be, learns about the joys of the hedonist life from her fun-loving aunt. Pawlikowski is after something much more meaningful and subtle. Ida does get to experience a significant taste of the outside world, but that hardly means it pulls her away from her faith.
It’s an old-school sort of value, enhanced appreciably by Pawlikowski’s use of the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, one favored by the silent films of the ’20s and ’30s, and the lustrous black and white cinematography from Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, which, as with the aforementioned careful framing, is often stunning.
But none of the film’s beauty masks the difficulty of its subject matter, nor the dark, ominous skies that seem ever prevalent as the characters make their way through the Polish countryside. Pawlkiowski also favors a simplified story-telling technique, whereby he cuts scenes abruptly, with very little non-essential material. As a result its 80-minute runtime feels cut to the absolute bone, a detail that works very well with the choice of brooding subject matter. With the exception of the deeply wounded Wanda, none of the characters speak much more than they absolutely have to, a way to suggest the lack of conversation on the subject of the war and the shattering guilt still felt between countrymen.
Check out our thoughts on four new movies to hit screens this Memorial Day weekend.
In what came to be a disastrous incident for two pivotal superhero movies released in 2006, after a falling out with Fox, the studio that had produced his two previously successful X-Men films, director Bryan Singer left the third X-Men film in pre-production to work on Warner Bros.’ iconic-hero reboot, Superman Returns. Desperate to keep the film on schedule for its summer release date, Fox quickly inserted functional-but-visionless director Brett Ratner to helm the X-movie.