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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird (2017)

Don’t grow up. Like ever.

Marion (Saoirse Ronan) is just like any other kid growing up in California. She longs for a life out in the North, wants to get out of her small, dilapidated home, constantly fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf), gets along swimmingly with her father (Tracy Letts), and wants a little something more. That’s why, with this being her senior year and all, she’s poised to do right by herself, and whether that’s by studying her ass off so that she can get into the college of her dreams (NYU, of course), or by being with the hottest, most interesting guys in school, it doesn’t matter. She just wants to get by this year and if she learns a little life-lesson every so often, well then, so be it.

Despite being awfully pretentious and a little too whimsical herself, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird is surprisingly not like that at all. In fact, it’s a very straightforward, understated, subtle, and moving coming-of-ager that takes a look at a time in all of our lives, when everything was a lot nicer, sweeter, and a whole lot simpler, even if, at the time, it didn’t feel like that at all.

Don’t fall for those charms, Lady Bird! All men are the same!

Movies like Lady Bird are so up my alley, that in all honesty, I don’t even try to hate them – I know that they’re going to work their nostalgic magic on me, so it’s best to just succumb and accept it for what it is. But what makes Lady Bird so particularly special is that it seems to understand and respect that coming-of-agers can fly around a bunch of bulls**t about love, adolescence, growing up, and figuring out just what it is that makes us all tick the way we do when we’re so much younger. Gerwig’s direction, while sometimes a little too quick and snippy, feels mannered in the sense that we get these literal small snapshots into the senior year of this girl, when everything’s right on the cusp of changing and she, nor anybody else around her, really knows.

In that sense, it’s pretty sad and almost tragic. But it’s oh so beautiful because, once again, Gerwig brings no b.s.

She understands what it is about these kinds of tales that make us all swoon and feel all warm inside, while also smack our heads in annoyingly awkward, but fond memories. Lady Bird never talks down to its subject, nor does it really judge anybody else, either; it’s fair, well-mannered, and understands that the best way to have us all relate to these young, sometimes pretentious kids, is to remind us that they’re all kids, going through the same stuff we probably did, or still are going through. That means that yes, Lady Bird touches on certain issues like drugs, sex, alcohol, growing up, careers, picking colleges, unemployment, depression, family-turmoil, faith-struggles, friendships lost, anxiety, addiction, and so on and so forth, but it never feels like too much, or too little.

Everything is given plenty of time to shine and remind us that, once again, these were once our lives. It may be Gerwig’s life that’s being portrayed on the screen, but it’s still easy to feel some semblance of understanding. And it’s not as if the movie’s just getting by on pure, high school nostalgia, either – it’s a downright funny, sad, and downright touching look at this one girl’s coming-of-age – but the heartfelt memories don’t hurt, either. They help have the movie hit closer to home and feel less like it’s just Gerwig bragging about her upbringing, and instead, inviting us to register her life, with ours and grow more compassion as time goes on.

“Stop being a bitch, okay?”

Which is to say that I’m definitely excited and interested in whatever the hell else Gerwig wants to do behind-the-camera. In front of it, I’m fine with not seeing too much of for a short while, but hey, that doesn’t matter here.

What matters is that Gerwig knows how to direct a smart movie that isn’t just all about the actors, but the look, tone and general feel. That seems to be the problem with most directorial debuts from actors – they know how to get great performances out of their casts, but when it comes to everything, like plot or the visuals, it just doesn’t quite work. It can sometimes feel under-cooked and a little dull, which is why it’s always nice to get the rare occasions that work splendidly, such as this.

Sure, the performances all around here are great, with Laurie Metcalf stealing the show as the supportive, yet also brutally honest mama, but they aren’t the crutch that Gerwig hopes and depends on. She’s got more tricks up her sleeve and it makes me hope and wish for the best, whatever she decides to do next.

Possibly Lady Bird, Ten Years Later? Who knows?

Consensus: Honest, sweet, funny, well-acted, and a little sad, Lady Bird is a bright directorial-debut from Gerwig that not only doubles as a moment of self-reflection, but a great bit of nostalgia for when days were simpler, if also a whole lot more dramatic and emotional, for some damn reason.

9 / 10

True pals. For life. For now. At least.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

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20th Century Women (2016)

Women rule. Boys don’t drool, but they don’t rule, either.

It’s 1979 and Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is going through some growing pains. Now that he’s growing up more and more, he’s starting to see the world for the sort of ugly, sometimes evil place that it can be, but he’s also realizing some beautiful things about it, too. This is mostly through the women that surround him, day in and day out. His mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), stands by him every step of the way, smothering and protecting him from the outside world; Abbie (Greta Gerwig), when she isn’t dealing with her own problems, takes him out to rad-as-hell, incredibly violent and crazy punk shows; and Julie (Elle Fanning), while admittedly a friend, also gives him that idea that they could be together, forever, but she’s also a little too busy having sex with random a-holes who don’t care about her nearly as much as Jamie. There’s also William (Billy Crudup), who tries to be something of a father-figure to Jamie, even if he’s got his own problems with growing up, too. Altogether, they create an imperfect, dysfunctional family of sorts that all love and respect one another, but also find it very hard to get by in day-to-day life.

Beach makes everyone better.

Beach makes everything and everyone a little bit better.

20th Century Women is, thankfully, Mike Mills’ least stylish movie. It also happens to be perhaps his most heartfelt, with fully-realized, smart and honest characters that aren’t hiding behind a behind a bunch of twee style-points and narrative-conceits. Due to this, it often feels like the typical indie we’d expect from one Wes Anderson, however, it doesn’t quite reach those great, emotional highs – if anything, it’s a movie that stays so put in the lows of life, that it’s actually more realistic.

And yet, there’s still a style to this that can sometimes actually get in the way of the story itself.

For instance, we never quite know where the story’s going to go, end up, or even what sort of flow it’s going to follow through with for the whole two hours or so. It’s actually somewhat refreshing to get a movie that doesn’t have any need for such silly things like formula, or convention, but like I’ve stated many times with stylish movies, clearly trying to make their mark, they also can come close to ruining any sort of emotional power that they may have otherwise built on. 20th Century Women is an odd movie in that it constantly interrupts its own flow, but in doing that, it’s constantly telling us more about these characters, their lives, their relationships with one another, and just where America was at the time.

In all honesty, it’s hard to really hold much against 20th Century Women, because even when it does come close to being downright irritating, it still gives something else to chew on, so to speak. It’s not a slow movie and it’s definitely taking its time for unknown reasons – it’s just telling a story, the way it can only be told, shedding light on each and every person we see. It not only makes us feel closer to these characters, but makes us gain a sense of emotional attachment to them, as well as their surroundings.

Because if anything, the movie’s plots a little funky and doesn’t really seem to be all that focused, but a part of me thinks that was the point of what Mike Mills was doing. In life, there’s no clear objective, no one set standard or rules, and there’s sure as hell no just one obstacle to overcome and everything in life is all okay. Life is a constant stream of series of events, happenings and moments that you can’t predict and never quite see coming, which is actually the beauty about life in and of itself.

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

The same kind of beauty that, in its brightest, shining moments, 20th Century Women really harps on.

But Mills is a smart director in that he doesn’t always get in front of camera and let everyone know it’s his show and that’s it – he’s got such a good cast that it would almost be sacrilege to get in their way and not allow them to do what they do best. Annette Bening turns in another great performance as a mother-figure, who may not be a total hippie, but also may not be a pushover, either. It’s an interesting narrative that she constantly plays with this character and shows us that Bening can play all sides to a character, no matter how big, or limited her role may be.

Greta Gerwig also shows up and is quite good as the rather punk-ish gal going through all sorts of issues and problems, yet, isn’t a total sap that ruins every scene she’s in; Elle Fanning continues to get better and better and shows it here as the apple of Jamie’s eyes, who may love him like he does, or may be simply just using him as a total friend and that’s about it; Billy Crudup gives one of his better performances in recent-memory as the bro-y super of the building they’re all living in and feels like he could have had his own movie, but because he’s here, he’s just another one of the great, highly interesting stories; and as Jamie, Lucas Jade Zumann, despite having a lot of talent to battle, more than holds his own and makes it very clear that he’s going to have a bright and shining future in movies.

Especially if he can hold his own in a movie filled with as many heavyweights as there are here.

Consensus: 20th Century Women may bounce around a tad too much with its style, but mostly gets by on the sheer strength and warmth of its cast and message.

8 / 10

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother's love.

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother’s love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Jackie (2016)

Thanks for the fashion tips. Now, get out!

After the tragic and sudden assassination of her husband, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) has to deal with a lot over a certain period of time. For one, she has to ensure that the rest of her family is alright. Secondly, she has to make sure that her husband’s funeral isn’t just one of the most memorable of any other assassinated President before him, but the best ever. And then, yes, she’s also got to do her absolute hardest to hold onto her sanity, even when it seems like this certain situation in particular wouldn’t call for it. However, no matter how bad life gets, all that Jackie wants is for her husband’s legacy to live on, regardless of what sort of mistakes he made in the past.

Jackie may seem, on paper, like your traditional, ordinary biopic of someone that we think we know so much about, but in all honesty, actually don’t, however, it’s anything but. What director Pablo Larrain does here with Jackie’s story is that he frames it in a way where we get to see small, fleeting glimpses into her life, through certain parts of it, as opposed to getting the rags-to-riches story that we so often get hit with. And sure, there’s nothing wrong with the kinds of biopics that take on those structures to tell their story and to tell a little more about their subject, but with Jackie, an odd structure actually works, as it not only has us feel closer to her than ever before, but also see what really lied beneath the legend.

We still see you.

We still see you.

Sure, most people think of Jackie as this reversed, sometimes not-all-that-bright women who was just lucky to marry the man who would eventually be President of the United States, and a fashion icon, but the movie shows us that there’s much more to her than that. We see that she not just cared about preserving the legacy of the past Presidents who came before her own husband, but also wanted to carve out a legacy for herself as well; rather than just being seen as this harpy wife who stood by her husband, even while he was off, strutting his stuff with many other women, she wanted to be seen, be remembered, or at the very least, be thought of as someone who was intelligent and cared all about the appearances of her and those around her. It’s actually very interesting to see this side to her, as we get a clearer understanding of what her real, actual beliefs and aspirations were, and end up sympathizing with her a whole lot more.

Okay sure, it’s not that hard to sympathize with a woman who has literally just lost her husband right slap dab in front of her, but still, Larrain crafts this story awfully well.

It’s odd though, because while even just focusing on her so much may already seem sympathetic, Larrain still asks a whole lot more questions about her, than he does answer. Like, for instance, why did she stay by her husband for all those philandering years? Was it all for show? And speaking of the show she put on, did she actually care so much about past Presidents, or did she just use that all as a way to show that she was so much more than the First Lady? The movie brings the questions up, never answers them, but at the very least, it does show that Larrain isn’t afraid to question his subject more than actually glamorize her and for all that she was able to do while in the White House.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

And as Jackie, Natalie Portman is quite great, however, it does take awhile for it to get like this. Because Jackie herself had such a mannered, controlled and signature way of speaking and presenting herself with those around her, Portman has to do a lot of weird and awkward-sounding pronunciations throughout the whole flick. Her first few scenes with Billy Crudup’s character are incredibly distracting and make it seem like it’s going to overtake the whole movie, but it does get better after awhile, especially when we see her actually show emotion and use her persona to make the situations around her better. Sure, Portman gets to do a lot of crying, smoking, drinking and yelling, but it all feels right and not just another Oscar-bait, showy performances that we so often get around this time.

And while it is definitely Jackie’s story, a lot of others still get attention to paid them as well, like with Peter Sarsgaard’s incredibly sympathetic take on Bobby Kennedy. While he doesn’t always use the accent, regardless, Sarsgaard does sink deep into this character and become someone who is almost more interesting than Jackie, only because we don’t get to spend every single waking moment of the run-time with him. In a way, there’s a certain air of mystery to him where we aren’t really sure what his motives are, how he actually does feel about his brother’s death, and just what the hell he wants to do now with his life.

Somewhere, there’s a Bobby Kennedy biopic to be made and if so, Sarsgaard ought to be there.

Although, yeah, that damn Bobby title’s already been taken.

Consensus: Smart, insightful and compelling, Jackie presents us with an interesting look into the life of its famous subject, while never forgetting to show the possible negative sides to who this person may have really been.

8 / 10

You look great, Natalie. You don't need three mirrors to prove it.

You look great, Natalie. You don’t need three mirrors to prove it.

Photos Courtesy of: Silver Screen Riot

Wiener-Dog (2016)

Anyone else a little hungry?

A cute, lovely and adorable dachshund puppy finds himself shuffled around a wild list of wacky individuals – some good, others, well, maybe not so much. The first suitors for the dog is a little boy and his two parents (Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts). The kid loves the dog, going so far as to call him “Wiener-dog”, but the parents aren’t too stoked about the pooch. Eventually, the dog gets shipped to Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), who is now a veterinarian and meeting up with an old classmate of hers (Kiernan Culkin), who takes her on a weird trip. Then, the dog meets Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), a film historian who hasn’t made a decent script in nearly two decades, hates his job, is constantly under pressure from the people around him, and has no clue what the hell he wants to do with the rest of his life. And then, finally, there’s an aging, nearly blind lady (Ellen Burstyn), who gets an unexpected visit from her needy and relatively bratty granddaughter (Zosia Mamet), who may or may not have some sinister intentions with her popping-up.

Oh, Danny. Do your thing, guy!

Oh, Danny. Do your thing, guy!

Todd Solondz is obviously not an easy writer or director to get used to. However, when you do actually “get used” to him, magical and wondrous things can happen. Rather than feeling as if he’s being salacious and vile for no apparent reason other than just to be so, the dirty and sometimes disgusting material and themes in his stories take on a new light and seem honest. Honest about the human condition and just honest about the world we live in. Solondz is subtle with what he’s trying to say, but at the same time, not. He tells these stories of these odd, leftovers of society, giving them all the attention and focus that they probably don’t deserve and, well, making them seem at least somewhat compelling.

Yeah, he’s dirty and all that, but yeah, it works.

That’s why with Wiener-Dog, Solondz gets another chance at approaching an ensemble tale, with all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters to play and toy around with. The results, as anyone can expect from his other ensemble pieces like Storytelling and Happiness, are interesting; you can tell that Solondz is more comfortable when he has a lot more space and room to work and stretch his legs out in. Anything where Solondz is tied down to one particular story, doesn’t quite cut it.

And when he has the chance to play elsewhere and not be tied down, you get a sense that Solondz is having fun; in Wiener-Dog, there’s the usual cruelty and cynicism that we’ve come to expect from Solondz, but it’s all become so expected by now, that it’s actually kind of fun. You know that his characters are all going to be horrible to one another, saying things that they shouldn’t say, and deadpanning some pretty silly dialogue. And yet, it all works. We have come to learn and expect this from Solondz and he isn’t hiding behind anything.

That’s because, if you get right down to it, Solondz is a real sweetheart deep down inside and truly does want to show these character’s lives as being, yes, the butt-ends of jokes, gags and puns, but at the same time, earnest and heartwarming; he likes to poke fun and kick people when they’re down, but the fact that he’s showing these characters at all means that he at least has some bit of respect for them. So it’s obvious that when he has the chance to work with more characters, on a bigger playing-field, he can go anywhere he wants and however he wants, giving us all sorts of small, but detailed stories of these weird people’s lives.

That's Ellen Burstyn over there. Just chillin' as always.

That’s Ellen Burstyn over there. Just chillin’ as always.

But it’s also why Wiener-Dog isn’t as good as it should be.

There’s at least four stories in Wiener-Dog, two are meh, one is good, and one is terrific. Through it all, the cast is perfectly game for this material and great for it. Some people far better off than others, but mostly, everyone seems like they knew what to expect from a Todd Solondz film and brought the right amount of craziness, mixed with surrealism that plays out in almost every performer’s benefit.

But really, it’s Danny DeVito’s performance, character and story that steals the show. In literally 20 minutes or so of the movie, DeVito’s story is the most compelling, interesting and entertaining, because we actually want to see what happens with this character. There’s never a sense that we know where his story is going to go, nor do we get a full idea of who he is; we know he’s a sad sack and more than depressed with his life, but what’s he going to do with that? And better yet, at what cost? DeVito’s character is the strongest, which helps his performance in some light, but still, it’s the best of the movie and shows what can happen when Solondz is on, and darker than ever.

But like I said, there’s the other stories here and they’re not all that to hoot about. The first involving the upper-class family gets very weird, very quick and sort of feels as if it could have taken up the whole film (even if it is fun to watch Tracy Letts curse constantly and Julie Delpy act like a casual nut-job). The second involving the new and slightly improved Dawn Wiener may be interesting for Dollhouse fans, but can get so slow and meandering at times that it can kind of drag the movie to a halt. Then, there’s the last story with Ellen Burstyn’s granny character and it ends the movie on a solid note. While it’s definitely crazy, there’s some real truth to it and feels like Solondz is, once again, in his wheelhouse and enjoying it all.

If he was like that for every story, Wiener-Dog would be Solondz’s best since Happiness.

But, unfortunately, the wait goes on.

Consensus: As usual, Wiener-Dog highlights Solondz’s odd brand of surreal humor and characterization, even if he doesn’t always deliver at the end.

7 / 10

Not Dawn, but whatever. It's Todd Solondz we're talking about here.

Not Dawn, but whatever. It’s Todd Solondz we’re talking about here.

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Who needs a plan when you can just sleep around?

At this point in her life, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) feels as if it’s about time to start having a baby. While she doesn’t have a man in her life that she can settle down with and actually have the baby with, she still knows that she can have a baby, if solely through a sperm donor. The man she chooses is a former classmate of hers, who now sells pickles (Travis Fimmell). While he totally agrees to it and gives her the sample, for some reason, Maggie gets a little side-tracked. She meets a fellow teacher, John (Ethan Hawke), who takes a liking to her and they start to hang out a whole lot. Even though he’s married to the intimidating, but incredibly pretentious Georgette (Julianne Moore), there’s still something bright and youthful about Maggie that John can’t seem to keep himself away from, but how much is he willing to screw up his whole family for her? Better yet, how much is Maggie willing and able to screw things up with her situation, to then start a life with John and become something she never saw herself as being?

"So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?"

“So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?”

It’s hard not to look at Maggie’s Plan as some sort of sequel to Frances Ha, in which Greta Gerwig’s titular character has now grown up a tad bit, got her own place, found a steady job, and is now thinking about the next stage in her life. Sure, you could definitely say that it’s a bit of a stretch, or not one at all, depending on how you look at it, but it’s hard not to compare the two, especially with what writer/director Rebecca Miller goes for here (that serio-screwball/tragicomedy kind of movie), and how it compares a lot to Noah Baumbach’s style. That said, are both movies the same?

Nope, not really.

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter because Maggie’s Plan is a good movie that, excluding Gerwig and her lovely presence, still works; it’s about much more than Maggie and her “plan”. In a way, it’s about how that plan constantly changes and takes on different forms over time, to where people’s lives are changed and she has no clue how it happened, or what to do about it. It’s odd that Miller is taking on something as silly and light as this can be, especially considering how dark, dramatic and bare her past movies could get, but it’s still nice to see her trying out different things, even if they don’t always work.

See, with Maggie’s Plan, Miller is going for two things here and she doesn’t hit the nail perfectly on the head. There’s plenty of funny moments that are, at the very least, chuckle worthy, but never to extreme laughter, and the dramatic moments, as rare as they come around, often feel like they’re supposed to be more important than they actually appear to be in the movie. There’s two sides to Maggie’s Plan, and they’re both interesting, but Miller can never make up her clear mind of which side she’s willing to take and run wild with; you can make both movies simultaneously, but there has to be a better switch than what Miller sometimes does here.

That said, there’s more good than bad within Maggie’s Plan; there’s a darker undercurrent of a story that’s briefly hinted at, and had Miller gone further down the road, the movie would have been far more sad and emotional. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t go down that road because the movie does an awful lot of skewering and making fun of these kinds of New York intellectuals that, so often in movies, are loved and beheld as some sort of “God sends”. Sure, these people are fine and they do exist, but Miller herself knows that it’s also fun poke jokes at their expense to, while also not forgetting about their humanity, either.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

Gerwig has played this kind of character before many, many times before and it’s still fine here; there’s a sense that she’s growing older and becoming more mature with each role, so it’ll be interesting where she takes it next. However, the movie isn’t always about her, as it’s much more about those around her, like Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore’s characters. As John, Hawke does his best to be charming and likable, even if the character he plays is sometimes so infuriating and nauseating, you want him to be gone and told to “pipe down”. But because it’s Hawke, all of the annoying things he goes on and on about for no reason or another, there’s something endearing to it all.

Moore, on the other hand, is playing a Danish writer and while the role may seem really silly and over-the-top, Moore gets to the heart and soul of this character and makes us see her as a person. This is also a testament to Miller’s writing, showing that this kind of woman does exist, but she’s not such a terrible person in the first place, even if she’s made out to be that way. It also helps that Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph show up as a married-couple, who also happen to be Maggie’s best pals and they always tell it like it is. They’re funny and smart, even if they show up for a little bit, every so often. Each time is as good as the last, but come on, where’s the movie about them?

I wouldn’t mind that one bit. Although, Maggie’s Plan is just fine, too.

Consensus: Despite its never ending battle with tone, Maggie’s Plan works because of its charming and likable cast, and affection for their characters, even if they aren’t always making the best, brightest decisions.

7 / 10

Oh, Greta. What a heart-breaker you are.

Oh, Greta. What a twee heartbreaker you are.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Damsels in Distress (2012)

College kids from Connecticut seem like so much fun when they aren’t speaking!

Sophomore Lily (Analeigh Tipton) falls in line with a new group of gals on her first day after transferring to a new school. The group she falls in line with is led by Violet (Greta Gerwig), a fellow student who tells it like it is, thinks way too much about certain things, and is trying to get her dance craze off the ground and for the whole world to see and become apart of. Together, the two, along with 3 other girls in the group, they run a non-profit Suicide Prevention Center where they allow people to let their feelings loose, and even find a creative escape by tap-dancing. It starts to work because it makes people happy, however, they still battle for the hearts of the fellow male students they see on a regular-basis, and some can’t handle the idea of denial, quite as well as others.

Whit Stillman’s films sometimes work for me, and other times, they don’t. While I’m ultimately interested by what they’re trying to say and do, by the end, I can’t help but feel like I was just talked to, rather than actually given a movie to work with. It’s almost as if I was just in a conversation with someone who is clearly high off their rocker, or just had a tad too much coffee, I sit down with them, try to bring them back down to leveled-ground, but instead, they’re so crazy and hyper, that they just end up controlling the whole conversation, making me frustrated, and then, when it’s all over, leaving me in a cloud of dust, having no clue just what the heck happened to me, or what was even said.

That’s how I feel watching Whit Stillman movies. While I may think about them long after having said conversation, no way am I fully impacted.

I get it, Greta! You can dance!

I get it, Greta! You can dance!

That said, Damsels in Distress is a fun little movie in that I don’t think it ever tries to be as serious as his other movies. In fact, it’s a lot goofier and perhaps more of an actual “comedy” than anything else; whereas his other movies can be seen as “comedies”, but are more based on actual wit, with some more darker themes at-play. And this is all to say that Damsels in Distress is, yes, clever, if not very funny.

Just sort of chuckle-worthy, if you will.

Stillman’s script is filled to the brim with double-meanings, that are splashed with an insane amount of irony, which can make this movie work its magic a little longer. The humor does take awhile to get used to, just by how strange it is, but if you’re willing to let your shields go down on the ground, you’ll find yourself a whole lot happier and more pleasant with how Stillman frames these characters, their personalities, and everything that comes out of their mouth, whether it be just a bunch of mumbo-gumbo, or actual thoughts from the mind of a youngster. I don’t think that Stillman is trying to make any ground statement about the youth in today’s society, but that’s alright, because he doesn’t have to. He’s just having fun with some of these silly, almost caricature-like characters.

"Wait...wut?"

“Wait, what?”

But like I said, being clever doesn’t always make your movie funny, or better yet, interesting. The only times that it really feels like Stillman himself seems all that invested in this material (that is, when he isn’t coming up with snappy-lines), is whenever he’s focusing on and playing around with Greta Gerwig and her character. As the perfectly-named Violot, Gerwig gets to be a lot of things that we know and love her for, as she’s quirky, odd, funny, realistic, always happy about life, sometimes thinks way beyond her head (and the stars for that matter), and has something to say, even if it’s only gibberish. Gerwig seems like she’s perfectly ready and capable of hanging around in Stillman’s world and it’s why she’s been able to transcend the “indie darling” title she’s been slapped with.

However, because the movie loves Gerwig so much, it’s hard to care for anything else when she isn’t around. But it’s almost like Stillman himself knew that; after all, he’s working with so many characters that, after awhile, it just becomes a tad overstuffed and draining to keep up. Not to mention that because the movie doesn’t entirely care about developing these characters beyond “what other funny things they can say”, it’s hard to actually get invested. A part of me likes to think that Stillman knew this, which is why he doesn’t put the greatest effort into helping out Analeigh Tipton’s character, or the countless others who aren’t Greta Gerwig.

Still, it’s fine to listen to these characters talk and go on and on, even if we don’t always know what it’s about, or what Stillman’s trying to say. He seems to want to make fun of the college-life, the sororities, the frats, and the people who just try so desperately to “fit in” and feel apart of something, but in the end, he just settles for clever one-liners. That’s fine and all, just maybe give me something more of a story or what have you.

Or at least, one that’s worth caring about.

 Consensus: When Stillman and Gerwig aren’t working their magic together, Damsels in Distress loses a little bit of luster, but still will keep you laughing in with its odd approach, even if it just takes a little while to get moving.

6.5 / 10

"Honestly, do they really think people talk like this?"

“Honestly, do they really think people talk like this?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

Mistress America (2015)

Freshmen are so immature anyway! Just hang out with the older-crowd!

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just started her freshman year of college and already, she’s not a huge fan of it. For one, she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life; she wants to be a writer, but in order to so, she needs to join up with the school’s writer’s group, who aren’t as welcoming as she’d like. Also, Tracy doesn’t have many friends that she can continuously hang out with. Even though she considers Tony (Matthew Shear), a fellow aspiring novelist, a solid friend of hers, he soon starts taking up with a girl that she’s a bit jealous of and doesn’t really care for. So one night, out of pure boredom and desperation, Tracy decides to call up her soon-to-be-step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is a lot different from what she’d expected. Because Brooke’s a lot more eccentric and fun than a lot of the other people Tracy knows, they start to hang out more and more, where Tracy starts to mooch off of Brooke more and more, even though Brooke doesn’t even care to notice because she’s currently too occupied with plans of having her own restaurant. But eventually, the truth about Brooke’s past comes into play and it isn’t before long that Tracy realizes Brooke isn’t all that she’s made-out to be.

One hipster...

One hipster…

For better, as well as for worse.

I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Noah Baumbach. Somehow, he was able to film a whole, 85-minute narrative-flick, starring both Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, in secret, without anyone knowing, and have it still feel like a well thought-out movie. Though it definitely seems like a lot of it was made-up on the fly, for the most part, Baumbach knows the story he wants to tell and even though it’s not going to tear down the walls like he did with Frances Ha, he’s still going to give the world a little piece of indie-cinema.

Doesn’t make it a great movie or anything, but the intentions are good and sometimes, that’s what matters.

Problem is, though, Mistress America feels like it’s trying too hard. But not in the way you’d expect Baumbach’s movies to be. In most of his other flicks, Baumbach seems so intent and keen on making his characters so unlikable and grating, that he sometimes forgot how to tell a story and make it some bit of compelling. Here, however, he loves his character’s so much and wants the audience to feel the same way, that he, once again, forgets how to tell a story and make it compelling.

Which isn’t to say that the first-half or so of this movie isn’t. Baumbach’s biggest strength here is that he portrays what it’s like to be a college freshman and have not a single clue what the hell to do with your life. Not too long ago, you were a clear-headed person with enough inspiration for what you wanted to do, but then, literally out of nowhere, you’re thrown into this great, big, and new world where you’re the tiniest fish in the sea and left without anyone to latch onto or follow. Everybody else seems to be going somewhere, but you, on the other hand, don’t, and it’s, at times, both frustrating and miserable.

This is how Tracy feels and Lola Kirke does a great job with the role, as a whole. For one, Tracy’s naive enough that when she eventually meets a person who wants to be her friend and hang around with her, she can’t help but follow that person’s each and every move. At the same time though, she’s also smart enough to use this for her personal-gain where she is, in ways, using Brooke. Sometimes, it’s to help create her story, other times, it’s to get a free meal and night out on the town. But overall, Kirke feels like a fully-realized and understandable young adult.

Something that Brooke never quite feels like.

...meets another.

…meets another.

However, because she’s played by Greta Gerwig, there’s a certain amount of likability to her that makes it easy to get past the fact that this character is nothing more than just a type. She’s the kind of character you’d find in an episode of Girls that Lena Dunham would use as a soap-box moment to make a point about the type of self-involved young women that she loathes (even if she herself may be one). Which is fine for a half-hour long show, but for a near-hour-and-a-half movie that depends on this character for a sense of morality, it doesn’t quite work.

Because the main protagonist is so in love with Gerwig’s character, it only makes all the more sense that the movie would act the same way and while it’s sometimes funny to hear what ridiculous things this character has to say, after awhile, it becomes clear that it’s a crutch the movie falls back on. Soon, the last-half comes in and while it’s quick, random, and constantly moving, it also feels randomly thrown in there. It’s clear that Baumbach wants this to be his “screwball comedy”-try, but it makes a lot of these characters sound cloying and irritating.

It’s a nice effort, though. It’s just a little too late.

To be fair though, it should be noted that these characters do eventually get their comeuppances. While they may not be as serious or as life-changing as they probably would be in the real life, they still feel like a nice treat from Baumbach showing that the real world does exist. Even though half of the movie seems like it took place in some ultra-witty land where everyone has a snappy comeback to anything ever said to them, there’s still a glimmer of harsh truths to be found; the truths where people have to learn to grow up, stop depending on others, and see what they can make of themselves while they’re at it.

Basically, what Baumbach’s always been talking about since he got started.

Consensus: Despite some charm, Mistress America loves itself a bit too much to really be all that hilarious and ends up taking away from the more insightful aspects.

6 / 10

And they're now hipsters together!

And they’re now hipsters together!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)

Write this down men: Twenty-something blondes who play the trumpet are bad news.

Recent college-grad Hannah (Greta Gerwig) is working as an intern at a production company and realizes that she needs to make a big change in her life if she wants to be happy at all. Therefore, she decides to break-up with her boyfriend Mike (Mark Duplass) and set her sights possibly on other men; even if those other men just so happen to be her co-workers, Matt (Kent Osborne) and Paul (Andrew Bujalski). Hannah begins one with the later, while the former sort of just sits around, does his work like he’s supposed to be doing and basically be all upset that he’s being left out of the mix. But Hannah’s the type of girl who can’t seem to stick to one thing, regardless of if her life depends on it or not, so you can never tell exactly what she’s going to do next, or with whom either.

It’s a short premise, but at an-hour-and-23-minutes, it’s a short movie, and there’s something inherently charming about all of that. See, writer/director Joe Swanberg likes these small, intimate and rather raw stories about people just living their lives, on a day-to-day basis without all of the schmaltzy, over-dramatic bullshit that we usually see in much-larger, more mainstream movies. Does he do this to save some money and actually be able to make his movies? Sure, you could definitely make that argument. However, there’s something nice and refreshing about a writer/director who likes to create real stories, about real people, doing, well, real things.

Even if one of those “real things” does consist of constantly being shacked-up with whomever is around you.

Oh, Gret.

Oh, Gret.

And yes, that is exactly what Hannah does here. To be honest, the hardest aspect to like about this movie is Hannah herself; she’s self-involved, yet, not overbearingly so. She clearly has a nice conscience and wants to do the right thing for herself and those around her, but when it comes right down to it most of the time, she takes matters into her own hands and doesn’t always fully think things through. Does that make her flawed? Of course it does! But does it also make her somewhat human? Oh, totally!

So with that said, it may be hard to at least accept Hannah as a person you want to watch a movie about, but this isn’t necessarily a movie that’s trying to test your patience. It’s trying to give you a story of a young, sometimes brash and difficult lady that doesn’t know what she wants with life, except just to be happy and feel like she’s working for, or towards, something. Hannah herself doesn’t want to be left behind by the wind and forgotten about – she wants to be remembered, loved, and most of all, happy. Though her ways of making sure that happens are a bit questionable, it’s still interesting to watch because there’s a feeling that this is a real woman we’re watching on screen, and not just figment of a dude’s imagination.

And if she was, she’d be a pretty depressing one, considering that there’s a lot of heartbreak and sadness here, all as a result of her own doing, mind you.

Also, another reason why Hannah is so enthralling to watch is because Greta Gerwig’s an on-screen presence worth paying attention to every second her lovely face is on screen. Which, in the case of this movie, is the whole, damn time. So, if you’re annoyed of Greta Gerwig’s bubbly, warm mug, then this is definitely not something you should bother with. Especially since Swanberg seems to really love focusing in on that mug and watching as each and every emotion she feels, is spelled out on her face. In a way, it can sometimes be annoying by how much zooming-in Swanberg does on not just Gerwig, but on everything else, but I felt like it was something you have to sort of expect with a mumblecore movie, and it’s easy to accept after awhile. Is it uncomfortable to sit around and watch sometimes? Yes, but it’s something that’s easy to get used to once the story actually gets going.

Gerwig does something quite exceptional here in how she’s able to make us see Hannah as a female, rather than a contrivance that Swanberg would have created. She’s more than just a gal who likes to kiss boys and try them out as if they were a new pair of shoes; she’s trying to work towards something. Of course Gerwig’s a lovely presence, but it’s in these spare, raw moments of emotional truth where you really get a sense for who she is, and you sort of feel sympathy for her. Even if she is making a lot of problems for herself, rather than solving them, but that’s who she is. She’s a complicated, confused gal and Gerwig’s great at displaying both sides of Hannah’s personality.

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

That’s not to say that the whole movie just ends up being Gerwig’s show from beginning to end – in fact, quite the opposite. Because this is a story about Hannah and the sorts of men she interacts with in this short time-span in her life, we get to view a different side to her, all depending on the guy she’s gunning for at the point in time. Though he’s displayed quite apparently on the poster, Mark Duplass isn’t in this film as much as you’d like to think and it’s a bit of a shame. The dude’s always a charming presence in anything he shows up in and here, he’s no different. But because the story needs him to be kaput early on, it’s only necessary that we get a small dosage of his charm, and get a chance to see it head-to-head with these two other dudes, Matt and Paul.

Both are pretty charming dudes, but in a nerdy kind of way. But they’re not totally nerdy in that they can’t ever hold a conversation with any normal human being; they’re just sort of the type of guys who have their own set of interests, in their own little circles. Bujalski and Osborne both display enough likability and realism to make it easy to see why they’d be both perfect, and not-so perfect for Hannah’s wants, needs and desires, and it makes you wonder who she’s going to end up with in the end.

Which, like it is in life, is incredibly unpredictable.

Consensus: The constraints in budget and scope may make Hannah Takes the Stairs feel a bit claustrophobic, but for those who can get past that, will realize it’s a heartfelt, emotional and sometimes funny drama about a gal just being herself, while trying to figure out who it is she wants as a mate in her life.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Me. Everyday of my life.

Me. Everyday of my life.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Nights and Weekends (2008)

Just move in already!

James (Joe Swanberg) and Mattie (Greta Gerwig) are happy and in love. So happy and in love in fact, that when we first see them together, they close the door, get right on the ground, take each other’s clothes off, prepare for some love-makin’, and do the deed. Now if that’s not a true sign of two people in love, I don’t know what is! But as we begin to learn more and more about James and Mattie’s relationship, it isn’t necessarily a normal one as much as it’s one that has to be spent together when one is in town or around and ready for a little hang-out. What I mean by that is that they have a long-distance relationship that seems lovely and going very well at first, but as we see once we get a fast-forward to one year later, things are a bit different between these two as we may have never suspected judging from the first shot of this flick.

The term “mumblecore” is usually referred to in a negative way, however, like with most films of any genre, I don’t find that a negative term per se. The movies that can be associated with this term are usually easy-to-make, as if you or I could get up right now, grab a camera, and start filming anything you want, and usually feature real, down-to-Earth scripts, or sometimes, not even a script at all. The point of a “mumblecore” movie, really, is to show us how real and frank something is, whether it be a simple story or one that provides plenty of thinking. These types of movies are usually my favorite kind, but yet, I still haven’t latched onto the movement as a whole.

"The Plastic Lion Gift": We've all been there before, right men?

“The Plastic Lion Gift”: We’ve all been there before, right men?

Then again, I’m just a 19-year-old dip-shit from the suburbs, so what do I know about real life?

Anyway, where I’m getting at with this flick is that despite the movie being as cheaply-made as possible, there are still some god-to-honest truths that come out here that are more than just “long-distance relationships blow”. No, believe it or not, there’s more of a thought-process needed to be had here when watching because, as co-writer/director Swanberg continues to remind us, everything we are seeing, hearing, and feeling is all real. Maybe almost too real. So real, to the point of where you feel like you can almost connect with their relationship in a way that makes their’s more inferior to yours. We all think about it, especially when we watch movies about relationships and for me at least, it usually doesn’t work because most of my relationships have started off perfect and prosperous, then turned into total miserable affairs, mixed with some pleasures here and there.

However, watching these two made me very happy to not only have those relationships in my life, but also to still be single. Actually, it’s probably more of the latter in this situation, but it still got me thinking about the former. Probably too much actually. Damn you, Swanberg! Now I want a girlfriend back in my life!

But I think what Swanberg is trying to get at here with this honest look into the relationship of a couple that doesn’t seem to really know what they want with one another just yet, is that all humans feel and need love in our lives. It’s just a statement of fact. We will always and forever continue, no matter how hard or painful the outcome may be, to look for that special someone, even if it takes us a hundred years to do so. That’s just how we are functioned as a society to automatically think: If you don’t find that special person that you want to spend the rest of your life with, don’t worry, he/she’ll come around eventually. That idea pisses me off, but as I get older, more hair starts to fall out, names are forgotten, and the vision gets blurrier, somehow, it can’t help but be all too true.

That’s why when I had somebody like Swanberg practically pointing his finger at me, telling me that I should listen up to what he has to say, turned me off right away. The style of this is one that will tee most people off, mainly because it is all about improv, as if everything these people came up with on the top of their heads were moments of pure genuineness, almost like you or I could have the same moment as well. However, it feels more forced than it actually does natural, and that’s not a hit against the two performers here. Both are amazing, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. Basically, it’s almost like the movie knew it had to touch a sensitive spot in our hearts, so rather than just giving us some bits and pieces of character-development that would have us understand these character’s a tad more, it just gives a bunch of pretentious conversations that these two constantly have, whenever they aren’t boning or fighting. Come to think of it, that’s all relationships are: Boning and fighting.

However, that’s not the point of this movie and sure as hell not what Swanberg was trying to get across. What he is trying to get across is that most relationships will die-out, but you have to feel some real truth and passion in them, and if not, if there’s one crack to be found in that persona of you or that other person, then all hope is lost for the relationship. Once again, a very sad fact. but a very honest one that needs to be said more, especially in the slew of mainstream rom-coms that seem to get churned out each and every year. It’s not like Swanberg is telling us that this happens to every relationship, albeit long-distance ones, but just this relationship in particular; a relationship where we the two involved seem like they honestly love one another, but begin to find more and more about each other as time goes on, and don’t really like what they see.

For instance, Mattie tells it like it is, what she’s feeling at a certain moment, and rarely ever holds anything back. Makes her a pretty cool chick to hang out with I think, but that’s just me. But sooner or later, once we get to see Mattie in all of her full-on form (and I’m not talking about the nudity, although there’s plenty of that), we realize that she’s probably the most-invested one in this relationship, constantly crying whenever her boyf isn’t around to keep her company, or put on a “real” smile when she wants to have fun. But it’s weird too, because when she’s not crying and being all emotional for no reason, she’s then talking about how she feels that “love shouldn’t be so precious”, as if she’s just that ice-cold bitch that every man should steer away from. She’s an odd duckling, and an inconsistent one at that, but she still feels like a real person for that reason alone. There’s an under-lining honesty to her, that comes out more and more once the flick continues on and gets further into it’s own emotional crossroads.

Cue the Marvin Gaye. Or not music at all either. Just heavy-breathing and moans is fine too.

Cue the Marvin Gaye. Or, no music at all. Just heavy-breathing and moaning is fine too.

This is of course, made to happen because of the amazing performance from Gerwig who’s been churning out great-performance-after-great-performance ever since this movie came out, but yet, it’s still nice to get a small-glimpse at her career when she was getting bigger by the mumblecore flick. Same goes for Swanberg, who probably isn’t as big of a name as Gerwig is, but still shows us enough dramatic chops as an actor to where I feel like he could be a welcome-presence, had I have to get used to seeing him all of the time on the big screen. Together, they forge a wonderful relationship that’s filled with plenty of ups and downs. I could also tell that these two were legitimately two friends who got together, realized that they wanted to make a movie, not have it cost all that much, and just let it all hang loose (literally and figuratively). They actually have a nice bond together, where instead of telling each other how they feel through simple words, they convey most of their emotions usually through eye-contact or a certain physical-trait the other one has, allowing them to latch onto one another. Pretty beautiful thing, if you don’t mind me saying so myself. It’s something you can tell between two people who honestly know and love each other, which only makes it more accessible to understand that these two really are besties in real life and better yet, are ones that love to make movies. But not just any sort of movies, movies with messages about two people that feel they have it all, but don’t know half of what’s about to happen to their relationship and their lives.

However, such is life. Suck it up. Move on. Find that special someone. I guess.

Consensus: Though Nights and Weekends strategy of getting it’s point across feels a bit self-indulgent, we still get the point, and it hits us in a spot that we like to keep clear any bad vibes from hitting: Our hearts.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Ehh, whatever they're fighting about, they'll forget about it in T-minus 10 years.

Ehh, whatever they’re fighting about, they’ll forget about it in T-minus 10 years.

Photos Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Frances Ha (2013)

Going through a quarter-life crisis? Just dance!

Meet Frances (Greta Gerwig): she’s young, she’s newly-single, she has no job, she has a best friend (Mickey Sumner), and she’s a dancer. Well, sort of. As soon as Frances feels as if she has her life on-track with the boyf, the job, and the bestie, everything gets swooped-from underneath her feet and she soon realizes that she has no place to crash, no dude to fall back on, no bestie to really care for her when she needs it the most, and no source of income. Basically, Frances is having a hard time adjusting to the curve ball life has thrown her, but that’s life. That’s what all the people say.

It should be no surprise that I’m not the biggest fan of indie-auteur Noah Baumbach. For some reason, the dude has just never connected with me on a deeper-level, except for maybe The Squid and the Whale, which actually followed a plot-line, with real characters, real situations, and real problems that people face in their day-to-day lives. Every other movie of his seems to have barely any of those aspects, and yet: people love the hell out of him. Never quite got, until now. Then again, this is probably his most-cheerful film in the longest time so maybe that’s what’s going along with it as well.

The aspect of this movie that makes it work so well is that it feels relateable to everybody, no matter what walk of life you come from. You can be either young, old, new, or dying and still find something to connect with, whether it be the ideas, themes, or just plain and old Frances herself. I found myself connecting to all of the above, but Frances stayed clear in my mind the most.

Baumbach takes a look at life through the regular, ordinary hipster that lives in New York and is just trying to take in each day as she can, all by herself, and be successful at it, but it’s just not working out for her. Whenever Frances thinks that she has it all figured-out, is ready to move on, and make that big step in the right direction, something problematic pops-up in her way, screws it all up, and then puts her right back at where she started. That’s sort of how life is. Right when you feel like nothing bad could happen and screw-up everything good you have going on in your life, something bad does happen. It’s unexplained, but it always happens. It’s all a matter of whether or not you can pick yourself back up, continue on, and find out what is really out there for you, whether it be in your home state, or somewhere out there in the world, such as a whole other country.

Slap-boxing in the park, how those used to be the days.

Slap-boxing is the perfect bonding for most women, until it becomes serious because the one, fucked the other’s boy and hell just breaks loose,

Being a young, civilized-male who still lives with his parents and attending community college as of right now, I found myself really connecting with this movie as it made me feel as if I wasn’t the only one who still struggles to be independent and not let bad shit get in the way of the simple things in life. For instance, whenever my parents offer me money for anything, whether it be for food, gas, a movie (barely need it anymore), or anything at all, I usually shake the head, put the hand up, and firmly say, “It’s cool. I got it.” It makes me feel cool, makes me feel in control, and makes me feel independent. We all strive to feel like that every once and awhile, but we still need that leverage from a helping-hand. All you can hope is that it isn’t too many times, to where it almost feels like you’re losing all credibility for falling back on others.

Anyway, I feel as if I’ve gotten further and further away from this flick and what it does, and more towards me and my inner-thoughts as a young lad. On with the movie!

If anything, this movie gave me a nice dosage of reality that is sure to hit me any second. Life can be funny, life can be heartwarming, life can be happy, and life can just be random. Things that happen in this movie may take some by surprise, whereas it may just have others scoff at the pure-randomness of it all. However, it does have cohesion to it’s plot because it’s all what life is all about. Life isn’t always going to go according to yours, or anybody else’s plan. It’s just going to happen the way it is, whether you like it or not. Call me cynical, call me what you will, but that’s just how I feel after 19 years of living (old-head over here). Baumbach touches on this reality that the world we live in is always changing, and we might just be changing along with it. We just never take a second to wait and check it out for ourselves. Gotta listen to Ferris in a situation like this!

It was also pretty nice to see Baumbach still display his knack for comedy, drama, and building characters. To be honest, the movie isn’t very funny and even when it tries to be; it’s all about being awkward, weird, or plain and simply hipsterish. That pisses me off, but I guess when you pair Baumbach and Gerwig together for one movie, “hipsterish” is exactly what you’re going to get. Still, it didn’t piss me off as much as it has with his past flicks, because of the sole reason the guy seems to actually give us somebody to care about, somebody that HE actually cares about, and he found that all in Greta Gerwig as Frances.

You can't see, but the training wheels are still on. Yup, such a hipster.

You can’t see, but the training wheels are still on. Yup, such a hipster.

In mainly all of Baumbach’s movies, he always seems to give us characters that you despise, couldn’t give two shits about, and just want to see bad things happen to, in anyway possible. However, Frances is different and you feel for her right from the very-second she shows up on-screen. Gerwig is a very likeable-presence on-screen that isn’t hard getting used to, even when she seems to making too many clueless mistakes that you want to slap her in the face for. But then you get to thinking: we all make mistakes. Frances is just like every other human-being, in a way (minus the irony and ballerina dancing), by how she does what she feels is right for her, even if it doesn’t always have the best impact on the one’s around her.

It would have been really hard to feel for a character like Frances if she continued to make stupid decisions and not realize why and how stupid they actually were, but she does come to that realization many of times. She’s also a nice soul too, that doesn’t seem to have a heavy-set agenda against any person in particular and is rather peaceful, whether she’d be talking to her bestie (played by an amazing Mickey Sumner), hanging-out with random people she just met at a party, or is trying to win over upper-class noobs that she just met through a mutual friend at a very fancy din-din. Frances goes through everything any person has ever gone through in life, but she does it in just about an hour and a half. It always remains interesting, insightful, and enjoyable to watch, all because of Gerwig’s presence. The girl’s got a lot going for her, and it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the world really gets a good look at who she truly is. No, not that look!

Consensus: Considering this is his most pleasant and happy-go-lucky film to date, Noah Baumbach finds reality, along with happiness, pain, sadness, anger, smiles, and hipsters galore with Frances Ha, as he, and supposed real-life gal-pal, Greta Gerwig make you feel like you’re watching a real person, go through real problems, and find a way to get past them in any way she can.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

No need for the tie, but hey, I mean, I guess it's cool and all.

No need for the tie, but hey, I mean, I guess it’s cool and all.

To Rome with Love (2012)

Come back to America Woody! Spare all of these other countries of your quirkiness!

The film is made up of four distinct vignettes of people in Italy —some American, some Italian, some residents, some visitors—and the romantic adventures they get into.

After last year’s sleeper-hit, Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen seemed like he was destined for a real comeback and people would start taking him seriously again. Sadly, he sort of knocks that reputation back down in the ground.

This whole film is played off as a bunch of skits, that just take place over one movie without any real connection to one another, other than the fact that they all take place in the same city. This would have totally worked perfectly if any of these skits were as interesting as they seemed to be. Allen’s writing is usually funny and witty, but here, a lot of it feels forced and a lot of the skits get drawn-out a little too much to the point of where it’s over-kill and you just want him to move onto the next story. Problem with that, is the next story is probably more lame than the one that preceded. Therefore, you just have a bunch of skits that don’t work and you can’t really look forward to.

I usually get Allen’s sense of humor, which in some cases, I did here as well, but I don’t think there was a single serious moment in this film. All of the drama here, is downplayed and made to be like it doesn’t exist just because these characters and these stories are too zany and wild for it. To me, I thought there could have been some more emotional honesty to this product, especially when you have stories about couples that are sleeping around on one another. Now I wasn’t asking for Allen to get down and dirty with his dramatic self, but I was just asking for a bit more drama here than I actually got.

Although, as lame as this film may be, most of it is made better because of the cast, some of which are great, and some of which that just don’t hit the right notes. Woody Allen‘s long-awaited return to the front of the screen, is probably the highlight of this movie, not only because he knows how to sell his own material perfectly, but because it seems like his character will never grow old or get annoying. He’s just Woody Allen being Woody Allen, and that’s all I asked for. Well, that’s all I asked for when it come to the acting department. Penelope Cruz brings a lot of flair to her role as a sexy call-girl, in one of the stories that actually is a lot more interesting and could have been played out in it’s own film alone.

Another good performance from this cast is from Alec Baldwin, even though it was very unsure what the hell his character actually was in this movie. He comes off as a narrator for this one story involving Eisenberg, then everybody else sees him and can communicate with him, but then he just sort of shows up out of nowhere, like a ghost who just won’t go away. I really didn’t get this character and what made it even worse was that the story he was in, totally sucked. Honestly, when you have two talents like Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page together in a Woody Allen movie, you would expect them to be hilarious, passion-driven, and believable, but sadly, none of that happens for either of them. Eisenberg’s shtick doesn’t do much and Page comes off as an annoying pretentious actress that just wants to hear herself talk and I get that is what the film is trying to convey about her, but that doesn’t make me like her anymore than I already did. Also, no passion between them whatsoever and I would have much rather seeing Eisenberg and Gerwig in a film together, all by their lonesome selves.

Oh, and I must not forget about Roberto Benigni, who I haven’t seen in quite some time and probably has one of the dumbest skits in the whole movie, which is really saying something. His plot is basically all about him being this random celebrity that people want to know more about, girls want to sleep with, and little kids want autographs from, but it’s never made clear exactly why that is and exactly what’s so extraordinary about this guy in the first place. Benigni’s a lot more tied-down in this role and doesn’t let himself get too crazy with this role, but when he does, it’s annoying and it just made me wish he stayed away from this film with the remains of Pinocchio. Don’t worry, this movie is better than that one.

Consensus: It’s obvious that Woody Allen loves Rome and all of its beauties, but he never shows that through his writing or direction here. Instead, everything comes off as forced, contrived, lame, boring, and nothing all that exciting to stay around for and watch again. It’s just a lazy Woody Allen. Boooo!

3.5/10=Crapola!!

Arthur (2011)

Who says you don’t need another story about a drunk rich dude in the 21st century?

Irresponsible charmer Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) has always relied on two things to get by: his limitless fortune and the good sense of lifelong nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) to keep him out of trouble. Now he faces his biggest challenge – choosing between an arranged marriage that will ensure his lavish lifestyle or an uncertain future with the one thing money can’t buy, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), the only woman he has ever loved.

Having already seen the original and knowing that this flick was just another unnecessary remake used to boost up somebody else’s career, I can’t say that I was looking forward to this but more as curious. I was curious to see whether or not how bad this actually was and if, just if, it would make me hate everyone involved. Well, it didn’t really do either.

This film is definitely a little bit different from the original, in the way its story is shown. The original shows this drunken billionaire as a sad and messed up dude, but here, Arthur is shown as a charming and happy man-child which is the right approach I think this film took. The script has its fair share of problems in many departments but the comedy was pretty funny and there were a couple of zingers here and there that actually had me chuckling, which is something I was definitely not expecting in the least bit. About 1 in every 10 joke actually hits it mark, but that’s still better than 0 so I can’t say that I didn’t at least laugh a couple of times here.

The problem that this film hits is that it just feels too held-back from everything it could have possibly explored. What I mean by that is since the film is rated PG-13, you never get any real hard raunchy jokes and you don’t get anywhere near the close amount of debauchery as you got with the original. You see his drinking problem come up 2 times, you hear about how he apparently he has sex with all of these chicks even though you rarely see them, and we never get to see him go to any darker places than he was already in. The whole rating this film was given made it enough to appeal to just about everyone, but I still feel like they held-back a little bit too much.

Let me also not forget to mention that the problem with this flick lies within the fact that it starts to get very cheesy and predictable by the end, which lead me to eye-roll a couple of times. I mean I knew where this film was obviously going right from the start but sooner and sooner down the road with this flick, I realized that the laughs weren’t really here and even though the film did display a nice little amount of heart and emotion for its story, a lot of it just didn’t feel right and more of just cliche.

Your enjoyment of this film will probably be based on how much you actually enjoy watching Russell Brand for a whole 109 minutes. I like Brand and I think he’s always funny and this is no exception here. He spits-out jokes with rapid fire, almost never stopping, and just brings that great charm we all know and love him for. Brand seems like a different Arthur as opposed to Dudley Moore’s version and still is able to handle the expectations of this role very well. The problem that he runs into is that when it comes to him actually bringing some emotional and heart-gripping drama to the flick, he can’t really do it all that well. Brand comes off as more of a really soft dude whenever he tries to soften up his mood and it just does not feel right considering this guy the whole film is making references to Chinese little girls, Batman, and even the French in such a mean-spirited way.

As with the original, this one here really tried its hardest to have us relate to and care about Arthur, when he just seemed like too much of a dick to care about in the first place. I mean this guy is filthy rich, doesn’t have work a day in his life, and is about to marry Ben Affleck’s smoking-hot wife, and he’s complaining about how he’s not able to be with the one he truly loves. Come on, stop being a little bitch and just soak it up, or how about you actually get a job and stop being a little brat.

The supporting cast is also a lot of fun as well and damn near saves this flick. Helen Mirren is great as Hobson, and shows that she can be totally hilarious without barely ever cracking a smile. She’s sarcastic, realistic, but also very mean which is where I found most of the time she was on-screen to be some of the best moments. It was also really funny watching her try her hardest not to actually laugh at Brand doing all of his goofy stuff. Greta Gerwig gets her first main-stream role here as Naomi, and she’s very good but she seems too much of a type like that quirky, indie girl we see so much now of. Jennifer Garner is also fun to watch in this very unlikable role as Susan and she’s just totally crazy in a type of role we barely ever see her in ever.

Consensus: Arthur is a remake that is predictable, unnecessary in the first place, and doesn’t really do anything new here at all, but the cast makes this film enjoyable and funny enough to at least have a little fun for the time being. Still, who the hell needed an Arthur remake?!?

5/10=Rental!!

Halloween Horror Movie Month: The House of the Devil (2009)

Now when I’m looking to babysit, I know to cross Satan worshipers off the list.

A cash-strapped college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes a babysitting job during a full lunar eclipse and ends up fighting for her life. She soon discovers that her employers, Tom (Tom Noonan) and Mary (Mary Woronov) Ulman, are hiding a wicked, sick and twisted secret.

Giving the fact that it’s October and I’ve been doing this little “Horror Movie Month” thingy, I finally get the chance to actually look at a lot of horror films that I wouldn’t normally look at if it were say December of November. So when peeps started telling me that I needed to check this flick out for this month, I did not hesitate once.

Writer/director Ti West does a great job here with this 80’s look-alike because he’s more about the suspense of the horror film rather than the numerous jump-scares we always get nowadays. It’s less about scaring you and more about keeping you scared that something scary is about to happen soon. The first hour or so is all about creating the tension for this film with basically Samantha just walking around the house, looking at the rooms, listening and dancing to The Fixx, and watching some really crappy TV. This, to many people may sound really boring, but I can promise you, it’s probably the most tense I’ve been in a horror film for a long time. Never would I have thought

However, as subtle as the first hour was, the last 30 minutes of the film kind of delves into more straight-up in-your-face horror. To me, I still was very freaked out by everything that happened in these last 30 minutes because you actually get to see all of the devil-work but since the first hour is all about what you don’t see and what you imagine, this came off as a bit of a disappointment. But it’s still really creepy and even though I knew where it was all going, it still worked which is something I can’t say for half of the horror crap that comes out nowadays.

Another minor problem I had with this film was how a gun came into play with this film. A gun is not really a weapon you see used in a horror film, let alone a killing device like it’s used here because it comes into place the first time and is extremely destructive, but the next time it’s used, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was actually a BB-gun after all. This wasn’t a problem that took me away from the film as a whole, but the way its used and how differently its effects are shown, raised a little bit of eye-brows for yours truly.

If you are a fan though of Freddy, Jason, or any other of those other crazy son-of-a-bitches from the 80’s, then this is definitely the horror film for you. Right from the opening credits, I knew I was in for an 80’s horror film tribute and instead of just being a total mirror-copy of that style without any originality I actually found myself wondering why more horror films can’t be like this nowadays. The certain camera angles, lighting effects, and synthesizer-powered score that this film uses is in great effect and made me feel like I was actually watching a Grindhouse flick from those days that I would go to see on a boring Saturday night.

Earlier in the week, I heard that a little-known Indie film-maker was looking to make a $500 remake of the horror classic, ‘Halloween‘. This came as a total surprise to me because I felt that ever since Rob Zombie touched that franchise, it was practically dead. It also had me thinking that maybe some directors out there could possibly breath some new-life into old horror films, rather than just being a carbon-copy placed in the 21st century. Ti West is one of those guys who bring some new game to these old-school films but instead he gets stuck with crap like ‘Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever’ but I still have faith that he could just possibly do something cool and new in the future.

Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, who does a good job at being pretty but also scared. It also helps that Samantha is incredibly smart and actually makes a lot of good decisions as the whole film goes which isn’t a lot we could say for many of the other teens we see in any horror film in today’s world. It also helps that she looks like Ally Sheedy, another 80’s film legend. Greta Gerwig is also pretty good as her bestie; Tom Noonan is brilliant as this insanely creepy and strange as the mysterious as Mr. Ullman; and Mary Woronov is equally as weird as her husband. The cast is all pretty good but it’s really West who is the star and finds away to take over the spot-light every time.

Consensus: With the grainy throw-back look to the horror films of the 80’s, Ti West makes The House of the Devil a very tense and creepy flick that may take awhile to get where it has to go, but it’s worth it in the end.

7.5/10=Rental!!

Greenberg (2010)

Makes Woody Allen seem cool.

At a crossroads in his life, New Yorker Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) takes time to figure things out and travels to Los Angeles, where he house-sits for his brother and forges an unlikely bond with his sibling’s assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig).

This is one of those films that in the early part of last year, was getting a lot of positive reception, and it was weird because it was a film starring Gaylord Focker. However, I can see why now.

The film is from writer/director Noah Baumbach who is one of those now renown, indie directors that people just can’t get enough of, and to be honest I don’t understand why, especially after watching this film. I did laugh every once and awhile, but the problem was I just didn’t get what this film was trying to say. Maybe it’s just because I’m 18 and I haven’t gone through my mid-life crisis or anything yet, but the point they try to convey didn’t come across me once, and I still don’t know what it was.

This guy Roger Greenberg is plain and simply, a dick. He is one of those neurotic dudes who always has something to bitch about, give insight on, and be unpleasant about, but for some reason, I enjoyed that all. I think Greenberg is a fascinating character not only because you wouldn’t want him showing up to your next dinner party but because all this anger and frustration that lies within him, comes out in the oddest ways, mainly because he doesn’t give a crap about his life and what he does with it. This is more of a character study, rather than an actual story, and for the most part it works because this main character, although an asshole, really was fascinating to watch.

I think for the most part, the reason I liked Greenberg so much was because of how Ben Stiller plays him. Jim Carrey did it, Adam Sandler did it, and hell even Will Ferrell did it, so now it’s Stiller’s time to go and shake his dramatic acting chops and does an excellent job. I could actually believe Stiller as this dick of a guy, and there are moments where it just seems like this guy has no idea what to do or say for that matter, and Stiller makes it all work so well. Greta Gerwig is good as the female lead, Florence, and I still don’t understand what all the hype around her is, but I must say I liked her. My main problem with these two in a romance is that the film doesn’t really capture what makes her so attracted to him in the first place, and why she keeps on going at it with him, if he’s constantly bitching and lashing out at random things. I wish the film took a couple more looks at this whole romance, but these two were very good together I must say. It’s always nice to see Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rhys Ifans back playing some major supporting roles as well.

Consensus: Greenberg may not have the most likable main character, and some major themes and elements to it’s story that clicks, however the cast is good, especially Stiller, and there are still enough fascinating things about this film to keep your interest.

5.5/10=Rental!!

No Strings Attached (2011)

Once again, another romantic comedy about people boning without feelings.

Emotionally unencumbered and sexually satisfied, friends with benefits Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) have an open relationship that suits them just fine. That is, until those pesky little things called feelings enter the picture.

So it seems like romantic comedies have started to lose the spice they once had, so Hollywood has decided to bring it back with romantic comedies about casual sex. Love & Other Drugs hit last year, and was OK, now this, and then apparently there is some summer film with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis coming out called Friends With Benefits. Hollywood can’t get enough sex.

I don’t mind chick flicks sometimes, as long as they keep me entertained, and at least give me something to look at. This right here is not one of those chick flicks, mainly because the script is terrible. Right from the get-go, you know how this is all going to turn out and everything but that didn’t bother me as much as the fact that the screenwriters thought by looking up Urban Dictionary sex slang terms, they could bring a lot of humor. They try so hard to be funny, that at times I actually forget what was supposed to be funny and then I got that awkward feeling I rarely ever get while watching films, comedies especially.

There is also problem here because too many times does the film not know where to actually go with its tone. There are times where this film steps into some pretty raunchy stuff, like a “tunnel buddy”, but then will be try to be really cute with it’s little love story, and this just struck me as a little strange since I didn’t know what to think of this comedy as.

The cast is at least alright here. Natalie Portman does a fine job as Emma because she can be cute, sweet, but also very funny, and sort of mean altogether. Portman is a joy to watch and although this is crap compared to Black Swan, she still at least brings that general likability to her character. Ashton Kutcher is OK as Adam, and although I was expecting him to be worse, I still didn’t fully believe his performance here. However, the script really did let him down as it did with almost everyone else in the cast. There are some nice little bits here and there from the likes of Ludacris, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling, and Olivia Thirlby. The real problem with this cast is Kevin Kline as Adam’s dad, Alvin, who is just so cheesy sometimes, and such a dick that I had no idea what his reason to be in this film was in the first place. Also, a lumber-jack looking Cary Elwes shows up as Emma’s boss, and probably has about 3 lines the whole film, which was pretty unneeded the whole time.

Consensus: The cast tries their best with whatever they can do, but the script brings No Strings Attached down way too many notches, with it’s bad jokes, and very mushy romance that isn’t very appealing. Rent Love & Other Drugs instead.

2.5/10=SomeOleBullShitt!!