Ask 411 Movies for 09.09.13: The Writer Who Couldn't Type Straight
Posted by Chad Webb on 09.09.2013
Is Some Like It Hot one of the best mob comedies of all-time? Was You're Next or The Spectacular Now worth checking out? All this and more covered this week in Ask 411 Movies!
An "Ask 411 Movies" column would be nothing without questions, so please toss them my way. Why should you ask me instead of using Google? Well, perhaps I'll tell you something you can't find there, or maybe you just like my conversation and soothing words. You can post any questions or thoughts below in the comments section, email me at email@example.com, or send me a tweet using the links below:
This week instead of just giving you quick thoughts on movies I've seen, I'm going to post some of the mini-reviews I usually put on Letterboxd. Enjoy!
Plot Summary: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.
I had read about the positive reception this film was receiving, but I wasn't sure what to expect. Now that I've seen it I can say for certain that it was a blast, but it isn't groundbreaking in any way. It's not that director Adam Wingard or writer Simon Barrett explore new territory here, it's that the areas they do cover are done so in a brilliantly demented manner. I think You're Next takes some time to really start mixing its intended tones in a deliciously twisted and competent fashion, but once it does the experience never ceases to be enjoyable.
What we have here is a satire on a dysfunctional family blended with a tongue-in-cheek home invasion plot and even a bit of revenge. Knowing all that, You're Next pokes fun at horror and slashers, while also respecting those conventions, cliches, and common traits. In this regard it differs from The Cabin in the Woods, though they do have similarities. What it lacks in narrative depth it makes up for in character development. I felt like all the personalities were outlined masterfully early on and superbly performed by the cast.
What is really intriguing is that You're Next tosses a combination of smart and dumb players at the audience, which is actually quite organic when you consider the situation. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments and I'm not sure if everyone in the theater I was at had the same darkly comic reaction I did. Many of the kills are insane and memorable. The dialogue is sharp and effective, and the the picture establishes an excellent sense of location. I also thought it was hilarious that the central heroine was raised on a survivalist compound.
As I write this review, I know very little of Adam Wingard's career, but that will soon change. I look forward to what he brings to us next. The action is visceral and intense, while the violence is appropriately gory, but not excessive. Almost everything clicks. You're Next triumphs with its steadily escalating, yet unrelenting momentum and manages to leave the viewer with a perfectly satisfying aftertaste. This is a classic case of quitting while you're ahead. I might have to give it a second go-around to truly see how much I love it, but I'll have no problem recommending this to others.
Final Rating = 8.5/10.0
Plot Summary: Summer war games between neighborhood kids turn deadly serious when jealousy and betrayal enter the mix.
When you break it down there is quite a lot going on in I Declare War, but really it's a glimpse at boyhood, including both the joys and the pain. Right off the bat we have a bunch of kids who enjoy playing outside and using their imaginations, two activities that seem to gradually fade away more with youth as time rolls along and technology offers them increased opportunities to be lazy. A good old fashioned game of "Capture the Flag" brings out the personalities of the various kids involved, not to mention how those personalities mirror stock characters from war or action flicks. On the surface the kids won't strike you as appropriately fleshed out, but that changes as the plot progresses. Directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson show us that they are more than just runts, bullies, leaders, and so forth. These are children that will have you recollecting your own memories of being that age.
The most debated aspect of I Declare War is the fact that it does not adhere to one consistent tone. You have humor, action, and drama. Certain moments are intended to be funny, while others are not. I thought these shifts were handled adeptly. I was completely immersed in the story and the game and was not taken out of it one iota throughout the running time. One of the many great touches is how the filmmakers keep reminding the viewer that these are kids despite the visually arresting depiction of their imaginative weapons and how intense the situations get. Based on their dialogue, how they interact with each other, and how we are not stuck in a constant state of their fantasy land, Lapeyre and Wilson understand that integrating a sporadic lightheartedness was important.
Several critics have cited the obvious influence of Lord of the Flies, but dismissing this as a rip-off of that in any form is missing the point. There are other ideas at work here. Personally, this makes me think of classics like The Goonies and Stand By Me. There is heart and a palpable sense of goofiness that is engaging. And apparently the filmmakers have stated in interviews that the objective was to make a movie just like that. I say they succeeded. I Declare War does indeed exhibit how kids will act and speak when left on their own (as William Golding's novel did), away from the judgmental eyes and ears of adults, but it's predominantly about friendship, loyalty, and envy and what those terms mean when during adolescence.
I thought the pacing and editing was solid. The suspenseful approach kept me interested the entire time. The narrative takes place in a forest, but Lapeyre and Wilson know the location and shake up the sub-plots well so nothing seems repetitious. The acting is excellent, especially considering the number of newcomers in the cast. Not everyone gives a flawless performance, a couple kids are bit rough around the edges, but no one was terrible. I loved this movie; probably more than most will, providing people check it out at all. I expect most will write it off as average and that's it, but I was somewhat nostalgic as I watched this, while also digging the violence, fear, and comedy that was all meshed together. I would definitely watch this again. See it if you can! It should be available on demand.
Best Line: "You can't stop a war for juice!"
Final Rating = 8.5/10.0
Plot Summary: A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl."
The Spectacular Now is an effort many of you have already heard of. Since it was screened at festivals, the buzz and hype surrounding it has been building steadily. It finally came to my neck of the woods and I thought it was fantastic. This is yet another coming-of-age tale, not even the first one we've seen this year (Mud, The Way Way Back), but this is a sub-genre I highly respect because the same central story can be conveyed as fresh time and time again when it emanates from a unique perspective. We all have different journeys. Not all grab our attention, but when they're told with a sure hand, like this is, it sticks with you.
On the surface, this script comes across as pedestrian, but the acting augments the material for sure. Miles Teller is terrific as an confident (maybe arrogant) and likable high school kid named Sutter who is on top of the world and doesn't want to worry about his future. Shailene Woodley is marvelous as Aimee, the sort of untypical girl that guys like Sutter wouldn't notice in school. Their romance was organic and convincing. They establish innate chemistry and are compelling to watch. Together, Sutter and Aimee generate all the necessary emotions of being a senior couple on the cusp of adulthood: apprehension, happiness, awkwardness, fear, and so forth. I'm leaving out certain parts of the plot. The less you know the better.
Bob Odenkirk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Andre Royo all lend fine supporting turns. Adapted from Tim Tharp's novel by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, this is a smart, poignant, and rich motion picture that doesn't treat its characters or story as manipulative tools. Knowing that it was based on a book is amazing considering how it never feels superficial, choppy, rushed, or self-aware.
This was directed by James Ponsoldt, who is evidently improving as a filmmaker because his take on alcoholism, Smashed, was flawed. This is a profound, coherent, and skillfully constructed piece. Mixing elements from Cameron Crowe and John Hughes, this is another director who grew up in the 80's and whose inspirations and influences noticeably stem from that decade of teen flicks. This is not a bad thing. The best way to describe The Spectacular Now, is authentic. The script is not groundbreaking, it is territory that has been explored on numerous occasions in the past and will continue to be, but it is one of the most truthful, most authentically written and acted films of the year.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
If you liked what you just read and want to know more about my movie tastes, check out my page on Letterboxd by clicking right here. Also, make sure to look at all the great articles and writers at 411, particularly in the Movie-zone because that's where I predominantly am, but all of the zones.
Tommy Morrison died last Sunday night at a Nebraska hospital of a cardiac arrest and blood infection. He was 44 years old. Morrison was a former heavyweight-boxing champion who defeated George Foreman in 1993. He would also go on to face Lennox Lewis, among others. He is perhaps most known for his portrayal of Tommy "The Machine" Gunn alongside Sylvester Stallone in Rocky V. He initially tested positive for HIV, only to discover later that the test was false. Family members have commented both ways in regards to whether or not he had HIV/AIDS. His boxing record was 48-3-1. My deepest sympathies go out to his friends and family.
Jose Ramon Larraz died this past Tuesday in Malaga, Spain. He was 84 years old. Larraz was a Spanish director of exploitation and horror films. One of his most well-known titles was Vampyres. He was also a comic writer, his most famous being the action series Paul Foran. May he rest in peace.
No questions were asked this week, so you all get to read about whatever pops into my head. This column is only as good as the questions, so please float some my way!
Randomness - Mob Comedies
With Luc Besson's The Family arriving in theaters this Friday, a mafia/mob film that blends action and comedy, I thought I would take this opportunity to remind everyone of past entries in this genre that you might have forgotten.
I will say right off the bat that these are titles I would recommend. Having said that, you will not see The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards, Analyze This, or Analyze That. Analyze This was tolerable I guess, but overall I'm not a big fan of any of those, and since they are popular examples, I expect them to be mentioned in the comments section.
Again, these are in no particular order. We have like 500 list columns on the site, so unless I feel unusually motivated you won't be seeing any numbers here.
*Things Change is a 1988 comedy and drama film directed by David Mamet. It was co-written by Mamet and Shel Silverstein, and stars Joe Mantegna and Don Ameche. Gino, an Italian-American shoe-shiner with a remarkable similarity to a certain mafia don, is paid to take the rap for a murder. Jerry, a two-bit gangster on probation, is given a chance for redemption by guarding Gino for the weekend. But instead of sitting around a dingy hotel room, Jerry decides to give Gino a weekend to remember, taking him to Lake Tahoe. Jerry's bragging to his friends of his important charge, as well as Gino's dignified, quiet demeanor, soon result in much complication for them both. You can't go wrong with Mamet and this is one his efforts I never hear people talk about. I liked it and found it for $3 at Big Lots. Check it out.
*Some Like It Hot is an American comedy film, released in 1959, which was directed by Billy Wilder and featured Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft and Marilyn Monroe. The film is a remake by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond of a 1935 French movie, Fanfare d'Amour, from a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan, which was also remade in 1951 by German director Kurt Hoffmann as Fanfaren der Liebe. However, the plots of the French and German films did not include the gangster angle, which is an integral part of the drama in Some Like It Hot. The plot: When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in. Obviously this is a classic. If you haven't seen it, crawl out from under your rock and do so now. It's great.
*Oscar is a 1991 American comedy film directed by John Landis. Based on the Claude Magnier stage play, it is a remake of the 1967 French film of the same name, but the settings has been moved to the Depression era New York City and centers around a mob boss trying to go straight. The film stars Sylvester Stallone, Marisa Tomei, Ornella Muti, Tim Curry, and Chazz Palminteri and was a rare attempt by Stallone at doing a comedy role. The story follows gangster Angelo "Snaps" Provolone promises his dying father (Kirk Douglas) that he will give up a life of crime, and instead "go straight". I'll be honest, I saw this once a long time ago and don't recall very much about it, let alone how well it has aged. But I do remember it being pretty funny. I'm also a huge Stallone fan, but I digress.
*The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is a 1969 novel written by Jimmy Breslin, and a film of the same name based on the book and released in 1971. The novel is a roman à clef based on the life of Joey Gallo. In the film, Kid Sally Palumbo – the character based on Joe Gallo, also known as "Crazy Joey" – is played by Jerry Orbach. The Mafia comedy features a young Robert De Niro as a member of an Italian cycling team who stays behind illegally in America after the cancellation of the race, for which he had come to the country. For money, he is an adept thief who masquerades as a priest to con Mafia bosses into giving donations to a nonexistent charity. This is one of De Niro's earliest roles. Originally, Al Pacino signed up to play the part of Mario Trantino, but the part was given to De Niro when Pacino was cast as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. This is a pretty funny movie and the cast is excellent. This was another $3 Big Lots purchase. I'm sensing a theme here.
*The Freshman is a 1990 American crime comedy film starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick, in which Brando parodies his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. It is written and directed by Andrew Bergman. The plot revolves around a young New York film student's entanglement into an illicit business of offering exotic and endangered animals as specialty food items, including his being tasked with delivering a Komodo Dragon for this purpose. Brando and Broderick are magnificent. This is a good comedy from start to finish, silly and offbeat with affable performances. Bergman wouold go on to make a couple films with Nicolas Cage that were mediocre and the notorious one where Demi Moore got naked. Well worth revisiting if it's been awhile since you last watched it.
*Wise Guys is a 1986 feature film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo. The plot revolves around Harry Valentini and Moe Dickstein, both errand boys for the Mob. When they lose $250,000, they are set up to kill each other. But they run off to Atlantic City and comedy follows. The cast also features Harvey Keitel, Ray Sharkey, Lou Albano, Dan Hedaya, and Frank Vincent. I doubt many people think of Brian dePalma when they think of this, but it was indeed a comedy from him. It is not his best and not his worst, but underrated I think.
*In Bruges is a 2008 British-American black comedy film written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The film stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen in hiding, with Ralph Fiennes as their gangster boss. The film takes place – and was filmed – within the Belgian city of Bruges. I love Martin McDonagh and this movie. I could also have put Seven Psychopaths here I suppose. Just go ahead and seek out anything from this director.
*Mafioso is a 1962 Italian black-comedy film directed by Alberto Lattuada. The film stars Alberto Sordi as a factory manager who visits his hometown in Sicily and is tasked with performing a hit for the mafia. This is a film I discovered because of Criterion, who released a wonderful DVD set. In all seriousness, this is the only movie of the ones I mentioned which could potentially rival Some Like it Hot in terms of quality. It is outstanding.
Of course if I included mob or gangster movies that contain comedic elements, we would be here for days. But I hope you give one or all of these a shot if you haven't seen them. See you next week!
"The plural of Chad is Chad?"
--From the movie Recount