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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Noah Baumbach

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Family’s enough competition as is.

Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) is going through a bit of a rough-patch in his life. He and his wife are separated, his daughter (Grace Van Patten) is going off to college to hopefully continue the family’s long legacy of being artistically-sound, and he just lost his home, forcing him to have to move back in with his father, renowned sculpture-artist Harold (Dustin Hoffman). And by doing so, he also becomes closer with his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and stepmother, Maureen (Emma Thompson). It’s not too happy of a time for Danny and while his father knows this, he doesn’t quite help the situation out much, either. Then enters Danny’s half-brother, Michael (Ben Stiller), who his father loves and adores a lot more and for very obvious reasons – Michael is a lot more successful and Harold happened to marry his mother twice. While the two aren’t really supposed to get along, they eventually try to tie the binds between them and get over the long years of familial strife and continue on the Meyerowitz legacy. Or at least, whatever is left of it.

“No! I’m funnier!”

Is Noah Baumbach a pretentious film-maker? A part of me likes to think that he is, but another part of me likes to think that he isn’t. While there are certain movies of that I don’t care for (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg), there are others that I do (everything else), and it mostly all comes down to how unfathomable and unlikable his characters are. And in mostly all of Baumbach’s films, that seems to be the case.

It’s pretty interesting, really, that he’s chosen to have his protagonists be challenging, somewhat unsympathetic human beings that, while we dislike the time we spend with them, they’re still human and compelling. After all, the characters are either just like us, or like people we know, and while we may not want to spend two-hours with them, there’s no denying the fact that actually spending time with them is rather refreshing. So yeah. I don’t know if the fact that enjoys having his movies centered around these awful characters makes him pretentious, it just makes him, as well as his movies, a bitter pill to swallow.

But one that you’ll probably be fine with afterwards.

And while in the Meyerowitz Stories, there’s no really awful, unlikable, and reprehensible character here, they’re all kind of annoying and a little deuchy. Then again, that’s sort of the point. Family itself is raised on the notion of competition and who’s more successful than the other, so when these characters all start bragging to one another about their great noble achievements, however small they may be, sure, it may be a little tiresome, but it all comes from a soft spot in their hearts that we can, at the very least, relate to.

Baumbach’s a smart enough writer to at least know and understand that each of these characters all have something going for them, as well as a little something going for them. For instance, while Danny’s made out to be a bit of a loser, he’s also got a stronger connection to his daughter and most other humans than perhaps his half-brother, Michael will ever have with another person. On the flip-side of things though, Michael’s also a lot more successful in his life and probably always will be, whereas Danny seems like he’ll never get up off the couch and do something extraordinary with his life because, well, he’s never had to, so why start now? It’s an interesting contrast that follows just about every character in this movie, and while it may make them a wee bit over-bearing, they’re still honest and raw.

So much sarcasm.

And oh yeah, because of the ensemble, fun to watch, too.

Especially in the case of Danny, who gets a great performance out of Adam Sandler, for once and a blue moon. But what’s interesting about Danny is that he’s basically every other Adam Sandler character the guy’s played in the past two decades or so: He’s a man-child who doesn’t know if he ever wants to grow up, how to do it, and is kind of sad. But in this case, the sad-sack has a lot more to him than just childish hi-jinx, as he’s much more likable and sympathetic, and not just an all around dick. It’s great to see Sandler in this kind of role, where he’s literally forced to act and actually do something, and it shows us all that, yes, he’s still got it, and when the Netflix money runs out, he can always turn back to arthouse, character-driven roles. So long as it’s not something like the Cobbler.

Ben Stiller is, as usual, pretty good, too, playing another sort of dick-head who seems like he’s got his whole life in-check, but really doesn’t. Stiller’s done a great job in his outings with Baumbach and while this isn’t his most challenging, it still shows us that he and Baumbach help each other out in working better for the two. Together, Stiller and Sandler have a sort of anti-chemistry that, even though they’re not supposed to like each other, they sort of do and it’s quite a lovely little sight to see. After all, these are two of comedy’s greats, finally together, once again, but instead of yucking it up for the nosebleeds, they’re actually playing three-dimensional, fully-realized characters.

Wow. Funny how times change. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and a group of interesting characters, the Meyerowitz Stories is an honest, funny, and sometimes look at family and all of the hostilities that go along with it.

8 / 10

Invite me to that reunion. Oh wait. Maybe not.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

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De Palma (2016)

depalmaDon’t care. Black Dahlia still blows.

Brian De Palma has been making movies for nearly 50 years of his long life. Some, obviously, are better than others, but he’s still remained one of the more original voices in cinema who, with each and every flick, sees or tries to do something different than what he may have had to try before. So, through one whole sit-down interview, De Palma talks about his life, his relationships, and most of all, his films. No, literally. Every. One. Of. His. Films.

Love him, hate him, don’t have an opinion on him in the slightest, Brian De Palma has been around long enough to have the right to say that he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. Or, at the very least, get his point across in a manner that, sure, doesn’t always make perfect sense or justify the fact that some of the movie he chats about downright blow, but they do help clear some things up and make us realize that, “hey, maybe he just wanted to make a movie and try something. Why not?” Anyway, De Palma, the movie, will most likely change your view on the person and maybe, probably less of his actual movies.

Hey, who's that dude to the left?

Hey, who’s that dude to the left?

Either way, it’s a simple documentary in which we literally sit, watch, and listen as De Palma himself goes throughout the whole history of his life, as well as what each and every movie he’s ever made, means to him, or even, means to his artistic-craft. The movie is so incredibly simple and ordinary, that you’d think co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow just used their free time wisely, but it doesn’t appear as that at all; rather than us just listening in on a conversation, as if it were some PowerPoint presentation, Paltrow and Baumbach use so much B-roll and clips to help make these stories and little nuggets literally pop-out at us. It would have been easy for them to just have us sit there and listen to whatever De Palma wanted to say, but the fact that they actually incorporate everything else into it, makes it all the more entertaining to watch.

Which, for most people watching who aren’t familiar with De Palma, his work, or even movies as a whole, probably won’t have.

Sure, to enjoy De Palma, you don’t necessarily have to be a “movie-addict”, but there is a certain feeling of prestige, or general knowledge about the film-business, or even movies as a whole to fully understand just what De Palma is getting at half of the time. So yeah, it may be limited in that respect, but for those many who the movie does work for, it works like gangbusters; it definitely helps that De Palma himself is so off-the-cuff and open about every little thing that comes to his mind, that it almost makes you think he’s going to drop some heavy-duty secrets about the biz that may get him banned for life.

Say "hello" to his little friend. Aka, the budget.

Say “hello” to his little friend. Aka, the budget.

Things don’t quite pan-out that way, but they actually get a little closer. Fights with producers, studio-heads, narcissistic actors/actresses who wanted more spotlight than what they were given, etc. – De Palma calls almost all of them out, but it makes perfect sense. The guy’s been making movies since the mid-60’s and say what you will about what he’s churned-out lately, he’s still a relevant name that people look towards and mention every once and awhile. The movies that he’s directed (such as Scarface, or Blow Out), have all gone on to become something of classics, whereas others of his (Carlito’s Way, Body Double), may seem a tad bit unloved, but still get credit nonetheless.

Either way, watching De Palma makes you realize that the guy’s made some pretty damn good movies.

Of course, they’re not all winners and more often than not, they’re stinkers, but the ones that do stink so bad, have a reason for stinking. We find this out and plenty more in our time with De Palma and it’s hard to ever get bored by it. The only times where the movie begins to lag, honestly, are mostly in the moments where we focus on De Palma’s weakest, perhaps far less interesting movies in the later portion of his career, where he doesn’t say much, or if he does, doesn’t really have much to bring to the table. Of course, can’t blame the film-makers for working with what they’ve literally got, but it’s not hard to realize that the movie loses some muster in the final-act, when it has to stray a bit away from being sad and a little depressing, and more towards hopeful.

Even if, you know, a movie like Redacted is awful and the less said about it, the better.

But the more said about De Palma, the movie, as well as the actual person himself, hey, even more better!

Consensus: With a simple approach, De Palma gives us the certain insight we wouldn’t normally get from a legendary film-maker, that touches on all aspects of his life, as well as, more importantly, the hits and misses.

8.5 / 10

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: The Denver Post, The New York Times, The Movie My Life

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

While We’re Young (2015)

Growing up is hard to do.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless couple pushing forward and are at a bit of a stand-still in their lives. She’s bored and wondering if she should have a child, whereas he still has yet to complete a documentary that he got started on nearly a decade ago. They’re best friends (Adam Horowitz and Maria Dizzia) are married and have a baby, which makes both Josh and Cornelia feel all the more alienated from the people they used to hang around with and call “pals”. Now, they just rely on one another. That all changes, however, when an adoring fan of Josh’s, Jamie (Adam Driver), approaches him and wants him to help with his documentary that he himself is trying to get off the ground. Josh is fine with this because it feels like a way to connect with the younger-crowd – which is how Cornelia feels when she meets Jamie’s wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Altogether, the four connect to create a documentary, while along the way, forging a friendship that finds both couples happy and excited. Eventually though, Josh begins to wake up and realize that Jamie may not be all that he appears to be, especially when matters involved with the documentary may not be all that they appear to be.

Noah Baumbach is a very hit-or-miss director for me. While I loved the Squid and the Whale, I despised Margot at the Wedding; though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Greenberg, he still surprised me with Frances Ha. Most of what Baumbach includes in these films are challenging, sometimes detestable characters that don’t ask for your forgiveness, nor are we really willing to give it to them. Sometimes, this works in Baumbach’s favor where it seems like he really wants the audience to make up their own minds, but other times, works against him where he isn’t so much as giving the audience anything valuable, except for just a bunch of unlikable, mean-spirited people that you wouldn’t want to spend a dinner-date with, let alone a whole hour-and-a-half with.

Children! Children everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don't look back!

Babies! Babies everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don’t look back!

While We’re Young falls somewhere in between and I’m fine with that; there’s something rather pleasing and simple about that notion that makes me feel like people who don’t normally like Baumbach’s films can find something to enjoy out of this, and his die-hards won’t fall back from, either.

Basically, everyone wins here. Including you, the viewer.

Most of this has to do with the fact that While We’re Young is, for the most part, very funny. Baumbach’s movies hardly ever seem like they’re trying too hard to make people laugh, so they rarely register as “comedies” to me, but here, you can actually tell Baumbach’s trying to be funny and it works. Though the majority of this film is filled with these sad characters, who can sometimes borderline on being “types”, Baumbach finds a way to not make fun of them, as much as to just make fun of the all-too-realistic situations they all get into. For instance, when Stiller’s character gains arthritis, Baumbach isn’t make fun of Josh for being old, but more or less, making fun of the fact that Josh himself can’t believe that he really is old enough to have to worry about his body the way he never had to think about before. It’s that kind of small, narrative-choice that shows us that not only is Baumbach growing a bit more positive as even he ages, but that he’s realizing there’s more to life than people making a constant stream of bad situations.

And yet, Baumbach still strikes a raw nerve here in the way that he approaches the connection two different age groups can create. Though it’s painfully obvious and clear that Jamie and Darby are hipsters, the movie never utters this word; instead, it judges them solely on who they are. Sure, they’d prefer to watch VHS tapes then buy a Netflix account; or own a chicken and raise it, much rather than a dog or a cat; or wear fedoras around everywhere they go, rather than a standard baseball cap. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them who they are and for that, Baumbach doesn’t judge them.

The only time that he does begin to judge these characters is when you can start to see the tides change in this movie, where the tone goes from playful, earnest comedy about life and love, to an angry, hate-spewing drama about learning lessons. This is where While We’re Young begins to lose its focus and become a whole other movie altogether; one that I don’t even know could have worked on its own. It seems like Baumbach has something to say to the many generations to come and while it all may hold some truth, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t work for a movie that seemed like it had an honest point, yet, still didn’t forget to draw on the comedic opportunities, either. Not to say that all comedies have to be constantly funny, no matter where it is that they go, but they can’t go from 1, to 10 on the drama-meter whenever it sees fit; there has to be some sort of cohesive change in the middle and I don’t know if that happens here.

Look out, grand-pa!

“Don’t fall, grand-pa!” – some young whippersnapper

But, no matter what happens in the later-half of this movie, there is no denying that the cast works well this material and, more often than not, finds ways to make their characters more than just what they appear to be on the surface. A perfect example of this is Adam Driver’s Jamie – he’s the type of kiss-ass, wise youngling that seems like he means well and wants to make those around him happy, but there’s something troubling about him underneath it all. We know this early-on because it’s a movie, and for there to be no conflict whatsoever, there’d hardly be a movie, if you think about it, but when everything does eventually come to a head and we realize Jamie’s true intentions, we see the true colors in this characters and it works as well as it should because Driver keeps us guessing about this character. Are his intentions to feed-off of Josh and the connections he has in the film world? Or, is he genuine in saying that he loves, praises and adores Josh, and just wants nothing more than to learn every trick of the trade there is to learn in the documentary-making world?

These are questions that are barely answered and for that, the mystery works.

Though, this isn’t to say Driver’s the only one worth mentioning here, as everybody else is solid. Stiller shows off that lovely comedic-timing of his that’s worked so well in many other pieces of his, but comes from a heartfelt place this time that makes you feel for this aging, relatively sad guy; Naomi Watts gets to be funny, too, but also show us a woman that wants to be apart of “something”, but because she doesn’t have a child to love, to hold, or to care for, she’s pushed-off to the side and seen as something of an “outsider”; Amanda Seyfried may be given a thinly-written role in the form of Darby, but she works well with it, showing that there’s more to her than just being stuck in her hubby’s shadow; Charles Grodin, for the limited amount of time we get to see him on-screen, is funny and brutally honest, and there’s a part of me that wanted more from him; and Adam Horovitz, believe it or not, is the one who ends up leaving the most lasting impression as the voice of reason. He’s the character that tells Josh and Cornelia to wake up, realize that they are indeed, old, and should stop pretending to be somebody they aren’t. He isn’t telling them to have kids, he’s just telling them to accept the fact that they’re old and to be done with it already.

Holy crap. Is Ad-Rock almost 50? Where did time go?

Consensus: Honest, smart, and surprisingly funny in spots, While We’re Young hits certain notes about growing old and accepting that fact in life in an effective manner, even if the final-half does get a tad bit preachy.

7.5 / 10 

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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.

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Don’t ever invite the one person that may stop the marriage, to your actual wedding.

A mother named Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son named Claude (Zane Pais) live together and are constantly angry at the things around them. They go to visit a relative (Jennifer Jason Leigh) over the weekend, for that person’s wedding but the problem is that the soon-to-be husband (Jack Black) of that husband, isn’t exactly Mr. Charming. But in Margot’s eyes: almost no one is.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach doesn’t seem like the right kind of guy for me. His films are filled with characters that are so damn unlikable, that you would much rather shoot them than be in the same family as them, and the dialogue has that natural feel to it, but also gets very weird and quirky for no reason at all. He always seems to base his movies in reality, but a type of reality that is pessimistic, miserable, and downright uneven. Maybe that’s how life is, but for me; it doesn’t seem so. That’s why Baumbach never seems to deliver the goods and this flick is no different.

The biggest problem I hit with this flick was that barely anybody here drew me in, nor did they even have me compelled by what they were going to do next with their lives. Quite frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about them. Sounds harsh but the film is just dedicated to each one of these characters either constantly fighting with one another, acting strange just for the sake of it, saying how they really feel at random and sometimes, unnecessary moments, and getting into arguments where it gets so heated, they’re about to kill each other the next second. I mean I know family can be a bitch at times, but never as bad as they are displayed here. Almost every single scene that goes by, nobody ever seems to enjoy each other’s company and it never changes. Whether or not Baumbach meant for us to share the same misery these characters were feeling, is totally beyond me.

Only sign of happiness throughout this whole hour and a half.

Only sign of happiness throughout this whole hour and a half.

I mean, I get it. Not everybody in the world we live in is going to be as sweet as pumpkin pie but this film takes that a little too far to where it’s just an annoyance. Watching people practically beat the ever, loving shit out of the other in a verbal, and sometimes physical war. What makes it even worse is that this film is one hell of a sloppy piece-of-work because Baumbach never seems to be able to make a cohesive story here, and resorts to just snipping together random, short shots of these characters either reacting with each other, or just standing there looking mad/angry/sad. It’s cool what Baumbach can handle his characters without ever having any real plot to work with, but he doesn’t succeed at that here and I think it’s mainly because he trusted too much in his writing to win everybody over. Qurkiness can only go so far, and it went a bit far for our man, Noah, here.

This was even more of a shame to see in this flick is because of the movie that came before this, The Squid and the Whale. It’s probably my favorite Baumbach flick and shows that the guy can handle quirkiness, but also throw in some real, honest emotions to-spare where we feel for the characters involved, no matter how self-centered or despicable they may be. It seems as if Baumbach tried to do some of that here, but it doesn’t have as much steam as that indie-gem had. The characters from that movie were pretty damn unlikeable, but at least they had some sort of sympathetic side to them, deep-down inside. You had to look far for it, but when you found it all out, it worked wonders for the flick and it seemed like Baumbach tried to do the same thing here, just without any likeable-traits whatsoever. I can’t lie, there were some parts of this film that had me interested and made me laugh, but they were also very few and far my dear. Very few and far.

Yeah, not buying it.

Yeah, not buying it.

Even though the characters and story-line sort of blow, the cast still owns and show exactly why they deserve roles like these, no matter how detestable they can be. Nicole Kidman is great as the confused, bitchy, and often terrible mother that can’t seem to get her head around whatever it is that she wants in life. Kidman has always been a powerhouse in every performance she’s given, but she’s allowed to play a more mean character than we usually see from her and I think she handles it well. Since every scene consists of her bitching everybody-out that’s around her at that time, it’s not very hard to see exactly why a gal like this would own at playing such a evil mother. Yes, she even bitches out her own son. Damn woman!

Jennifer Jason Leigh always has had a knack for coming off as very sunny, bright-eyed, and likable and her role as Pauline really worked for her in that aspect. The fact that she’s so happy with life and her sister is such a huge bitch, really seemed strange to me, but then again, I guess that’s what happens in life. Life can take you down different paths of life, and I guess that’s what this flick was trying to show us with these two sissies that just so happen to be blood-related, but yet have completely, different out-looks on life. Still don’t know how a hot momma like Leigh ended-up with Jack Black, but hey, that’s what movies are made for, right? Speaking of the one and the only, Jack Black, he’s actually very good as Malcolm, Pauline’s soon-to-be-husband and brings a lot of that comedic-timing to this movie (that is so rightfully needed) and also has some nice dramatic touches as well. Malcolm is probably the most realistic and chill character of the whole film, and it’s never fully explained why the hell Margot hated him so much to begin with. He was the only guy in this film that made me want to continue watching and actually give it more of a shot than it deserved. Never thought I’d say this about any movie, but Jack Black was the best part of it. God, now that I think about it: this movie really must have sucked.

Consensus: Noah Baumbach at least deserves some sort of credit for making a story for Margot at the Wedding, solely out of random snippets of character emotions and happenings, but that’s not much when you consider how loathsome and mean these characters can be, without any sense of love or kindness in their hearts.

3 / 10 = Indie Crapola!!

Staring into space, and judging the atmosphere. What a bitch.

Staring into space, and judging the atmosphere. What a bitch.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Two people who have English degrees don’t seem to make the best couples.

Set in Brooklyn in 1986, this film captures with extraordinary immediacy the inner workings of the Berkmans. Bernard (Jeff Daniels), a once successful novelist and Joan (Laura Linney), have given up on their marriage, leaving their two sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), 16, and Frank (Owen Kline), 12, to grapple with what has become of the family.

When I think of films that have to do with divorce, I think of the classics like ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ or ‘War of the Roses’, to name a few. However, never in my right mind would I thought that a film by the same dude who brought me ‘Greenberg’ would be added to that list as well.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach is a guy who’s films I can never really get into but with his script here, he shows some real talent that deserves to be heard. His script is filled with a bunch of humor, sarcasm, and witty puns that actually take your mind off the fact that this flick is essentially about a family falling apart right in front of our eyes. It’s strange to be laughing at something like this but the way Baumbach is able to make every single situation in this flick, come out almost funnier than the last is what truly is what makes him such an inspired writer in the first place.

The script also has a bit of a sweet side to it, which at first, is a little too hard to see since everybody is mean and nasty, but by the end of the flick you can really start to see it come out. The film has characters that aren’t very likable but by the end, they start to understand their short-comings for what they are and that’s where the film made a difference for me. I actually started to care what was happening between the members of this family just through how they show their pain and anguish over this divorce and it works because you somehow get attached to these characters. None of these moments are ever shown in an obvious or melodramatic way either, which is always one step above the normal Hollywood comedies we get almost every weekend.

The one fall-back that I did have with this flick was that Baumbach seemed like he just felt the need to be a little strange and weird with this flick and it doesn’t work. The whole idea that the one kid, Walt, is playing ‘Hey You’ by Pink Floyd an calling it his own without his parents or many other people not knowing that it’s actually by them seemed a little far-fetched for me since it is a pretty big song, and I don’t know, Pink Floyd is a pretty big band. Then again, I guess these sophisticated types just stayed at home and listened to opera all day.

Another example about the weirdness of this script is the whole sub-plot about Frank and his angst. First of all, he’s drinking beer just about every night and he constantly jizzes in his hand and wipes it all over random stuff in school. OK, I get it, the kid is having a hard time but does he really need to wipe his semen everywhere in order to show how upset and confused he is. This seemed like something for a whole different movie and this was just a little too weird and strange to actually ring true at all.

Where the film excels perfectly act though, is the performances given by all four of these performers. Jeff Daniels is great as the snobby, know-it-all, Bernard. The guy thinks he’s right even when he’s terribly wrong and it’s just funny to watch him go about his day and say things that obviously make him seem like a total pompous asshole. Daniels is great in this role and easily can make us laugh but he’s also still likable in a way and he’s a pretty cool guy, even though he can be kind of a dick. Laura Linney is also pretty good as Joan. It’s a really hard character for her to play, considering she has to make an extremely unlikable character, likable in some way but she pulls it off and makes her character seem like a real person rather than just another one of those confused woman that want sympathy all the time.

Jesse Eisenberg is great in this role as Walt, playing the usual fast-talking nerd he plays in every flick but he still seems like a young kid, as he actually was when this film was filming. Much of the film actually revolves around him and just to watch him take his father’s advice all the time and practically hate his mom as well, seemed very realistic and made Walt an easily relate-able character since I would have probably acted the same way as well. Owen Kline, son of Kevin Kline, is also very good as Frank and it’s a real wonder as to why this kid hasn’t done much more with his acting since he gives a very realistic performance as a young kid, even if his story does get a little too wild. The one scene-stealer in this whole film though is William Baldwin as the total goon, Ivan, a guy who made me laugh just about every time just by calling everybody around him “my brother”. Alec probably could have pulled it off better though.

Consensus: Even though some moments don’t really ring true, The Squid and the Whale still features great writing that mixes drama and comedy perfectly, with realistic performances from everybody involved that add so much more to these almost unlikable characters.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

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!!