‘This Is 40’: Review

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Judd Apatow is to comedy films as Martin Scorsese is to dramatic films or Quentin Tarantino is to genre films (well, for me anyways). There have been a vast number of auteurs in film history, including some great ones still working today, who often write their own material, direct it, and have similar themes and techniques. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be any huge comedy auteurs, and especially nowadays it’s pretty unheard of. Apatow is really the only one that comes to mind (currently), but correct me if I’m completely blanking on someone. Granted, Apatow’s films that he has written and directed all have several more serious themes, such as growing up, family, and getting old, but are still mainly comedies through and through. I love this balance in his films, where you get all the dick and fart jokes you could possibly dream of, but he instills his films with such honesty and sympathy toward the characters that it’s hard not to engage with the film both emotionally and comedically. This is the prime reason why Knocked Up is my favourite comedy of all time, even with the presence of the godawful Katherine Heigl.

This Is 40, a quasi sequel to Knocked Up, isn’t Apatow’s most layered film, but is obviously something he feels strongly for, and is modeled by his current life status. There really is no plot here, basically just Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters hit a wall in their marriage and try to work it out, while frustrating for other viewers, I found it to free the film up a little bit and allow it to be a little looser in format allowing the themes and comedy to not get bogged down in plot (something this kind of film doesn’t really need that much of). Like all Apatow films, it’s a good deal longer than it needs to be, and especially in a film like this with no huge plot markers or direction, there are plenty scenes that feel unnecessary and drag on for awhile. While not married, or even remotely close to being in these characters shoes, for me it’s hard not to understand the the themes of family, love and perseverance that Apatow, Rudd, and Mann exemplify through their characters ‘ actions and relative downfalls.

The acting was good all around, mainly. I generally like Maude and Iris Apatow in their father’s films, even if they are pushed to the forefront a bit too much on screen. Both were a bit stilted, but they’re both still kids, and I’m not that mean to deconstruct their performances. Maude had a few instances where you could see a great actress inside of her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she got really good after some more practice and diversified roles. This is probably Leslie Mann’s best performances I’ve seen her in, and maybe her biggest starring role, I think? She gets to be funny of course, which she is, but her compassion and attempts to deal with her birth father (the fantastic John Lithgow) really let Mann hit those dramatic notes hard, and really make you feel for her as she is consistently an expert at playing sadness off her face. Apatow isn’t really the most stylish director, but he has some nice camera movements, and a few stylistic shots, especially during the vacation scenes, that heighten the feel of the film, and keep it from feeling generic.

I think through the well-explored themes and good jokes, while nothing revolutionary, Apatow succeeds in making the film he intended. Deeply funny, while keeping with the dealings of a marriage some 15 or so years in, how it changes you, your partner, and your life as a whole. As long as Apatow wrings the truth out of real-life, explores some of these issues to a more fuller and deeper extent, throws a joke or a hundred in the script, he’ll continue to have a great career looking at the serious and funny side of modern life.

7.5/10

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‘Django Unchained’: Review

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There’s nothing I look forward more to seeing in theatres than the newest Quentin Tarantino movie. Being a huge fan of his, I’ve looked forward to Inglourious Basterds throughout 2009, and largely throughout his career as it was the often rumoured project that finally transpired. I had heard mostly great reviews for it, but a few mixed ones, so I was a bit reticent. Coming out of it though, I knew I had seen a masterpiece, second only behind Reservoir Dogs in Tarantino’s filmography (Yes, even better than Pulp Fiction) for me. 2012 found myself in the same boat, Django Unchained was Tarantino’s oft-rumoured spaghetti western, him being so much inspired by the films of Sergio Leone, the music of Ennio Morricone, and everyone else within that genre at the time. Not to mention my favourite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, was playing a bad guy, it couldn’t get much better. This time I walked out deeply satisfied and content with the long wait and the film’s quality, but lacked that feeling of being blown away or claiming it to be an instant-masterpiece.

This is where I go into damage control. There were several elements of the film that did indeed blow me away, or were created only the way Tarantino could, and I loved them. Unfortunately, a few of these elements never coalesced into a unified whole, mainly due to pacing issues and length. Now, I never complain about the length of a film and nor am I complaining about it here, just how everything was segmented very weirdly. Especially the latter third of the film where the climax was supremely long, but falling out from it there was still a lot to wrap up, which was achieved through a multitude of short and stunted scenes that contained a multitude of false endings and just oddly paced scenes. This is really my only chief complaint, that the film felt a lot longer than its 2 hr 44 min or so runtime, not because of a lack of quality or engagement from the content, but just a weirdly plotted film. If it makes any sense, the earlier scenes were more drawn out to ratchet up the tension, like Tarantino always does (see Inglourious Basterds for the prime example), while everything past the climax was shown in short bursts and lacked flow. Again this is Tarantino, all his films are going to be long, and play with format, and a re-watch could just as easily change my mind about this.

I thought I had other complaints, but I guess that’s it, just some issues with the pacing post-climax. I’m not the biggest Jamie Foxx fan, and outside of Collateral, which I loved and loved him in, I haven’t been really impressed with him. Being a huge fan of The Wire I was beyond excited when it sounded like Idris Elba was going to play the part, and was largely disappointed when Foxx got the role instead. It took me awhile to come around on the Foxx casting, and he indeed is very good in the film, not great or Oscar-winning calibre or anything, but I ended up very happy with his portrayal of Django and see little fault in it. I didn’t think Christoph Waltz could ever top his role as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and nor does he, but he comes damn close and he’s absolutely perfect in this film. Unlike in “Basterds”, Waltz is playing a good guy, and infuses so much charm and cool into his character that you never would’ve thought he played one of the evilest Nazi’s in film history. I loved watching his character and his relationship with Django and it’s by far one of the biggest things I looking forward to in a re-watch. DiCaprio pretty much matched expectations with me, which might sound like a bad thing, but like Tarantino, I hold DiCaprio to the highest standards when it comes to their films. It’s great to see DiCaprio tackle a truly villainous character, as in my memory he hasn’t really played a villain, and though he’s not labeled as a baby-face actor that much any more, he certainly hasn’t played a character as dark and deep as this. DiCaprio does wonders with Tarantino’s dialogue and truly flourishs delivering some of Tarantino’s trademark monologues.

I could go on and on talking about this Tarantino film, or any of his really, but I’ll end it with basically the only thing you probably care about, Tarantino’s style. I know that Tarantino gets criticized lots for not having his own style “per se” but just copying others,  like in Kill Bill with the Kung-Fu aesthetic and in Death Proof with the “grindhouse” feel.I don’t entirely agree and could write a whole article on it, but I think in doing so Tarantino has developed his own style, by of course amalgamating from others and using techniques of his idols, but seems to have created his his own beast. There are many classic western shots or techniques, such as the framing of Jamie Foxx in classic hero stances, like Eastwood always would be, as well as the ever-used quick snap-zoom into a close-up. The music, just like in every other Tarantino film is phenomenal, from the unmatched Ennio Morricone to current music from John Legend among others. Usually I don’t like modern music in period films, but it’s just another Tarantino flourish that works with the colourful and often cartoon-like nature of his films. To me, the music of spaghetti western’s are just as important as any other formal element to set the mood and create an atmosphere, Tarantino obviously knows this and sculpts it quite elegantly.

Django Unchained brought with it lofty expectations, like all Tarantino films, but he never seems to be phased by this and consistently delivers a terrific film, and even if he might not always top his previously films wholly, within certain elements he definitely does. “Django” is classic Tarantino with the artistic flourishes, the soundtrack, the colourful characters, the long tension filled scenes, and the epic monologues, but through all this he manages to nicely poke around the issues of racism in the 1860s and how it seeps through everything. This is by no means a message film or one that solely sets out to imprint a strict message in its viewers, but uses it as a backdrop for this revenge story, but never straying away too far from the horrors of slavery and the monsters it created and the people it suppressed. This is the last of Tarantino’s long rumoured movies that has been actually made to the surprise of me and many others, after Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. I can’t wait to see what he tackles next, as Tarantino always pours his heart and soul into everything he does, the least I can do is be there on opening day.

8.5/10

And, just for fun, My favourite Tarantino films ranked:

1. Reservoir Dogs

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. Pulp Fiction

4. Kill Bill Vol. 1

5. Django Unchained

6. Jackie Brown

7. Death Proof

8. Kill Bill Vol. 2

‘Homeland’: Season 2

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*SPOILERS for seasons one and two of Homeland follow (duh!), and also some 24 spoilers as well*

I loved season one of Homeland, I was hooked from that insane first episode, which eerily feels like a film, to the wondrous “The Weekend”, all the way up to “Marine One” which literally had me on the edge of my seat, and somehow sweating more than Brody. I love it so much, because it was so audacious, and nothing like I’d ever really seen attempted in a serialized manner before. This made me extremely nervous for season two, mainly because how the hell could they ever top this, and also, where the hell do they go from here? Now that season 2 is finished, myself and everybody else has their answers. It seems the majority of the internet is disappointed and crying about how “bad” this show is now and of the huge missteps it took. Now while I agree a lot on some similar points, and yes, it was a significant step-down from season one, I appreciated what Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon did, and it presented some interesting ideas that seem destined to fall on two sides of the same spectrum for different people.

Lets start out with the not so good things. The Brody/Carrie romantic relationship was interesting in season one, because it still held that mask up to whether Brody was a legitimate terrorist or not, and that suspense fed into their relationship, making Carrie forever at risk. We never truly knew either of their motives, especially Brody’s at the time, while Carrie’s shifted from using the relationship to gain more info on Brody to her actually sustaining legitimate feelings for him. In season two, Carrie went full head-over-heals, second grade puppy love on Brody, where she unequivocally believed Brody to be the man for her, while Brody seemed to reciprocate the feelings, but his true extent of his love for her, doesn’t seem to match Carrie’s for him. I don’t think this romantic relationship really needed to quite reach this extent, as their tangential, random hook-up type style served the disparity and closeness of the two to make the early season two episodes of Carrie using their relationship to get Brody to flip to really sing.

Season two felt a bit scattershot as well, where there wasn’t a single driving goal or force, like there was in season one (even if we weren’t fully aware of it at times). Sure, Abu Nazir was again the main target in season two, but he didn’t really come to prominence until the last few episodes, and his major blow (get it?) occurred in the back-half of the last episode, setting the stage for season three. I couldn’t believe all the plot they were burning through in the first five episodes or so, revealing Brody as a legitimate terrorist and getting him to flip. Obviously, in retrospect it works out, as the whole season was about getting him to flip sides and try and take down Nazir from inside congress. But, the season seemed a bit segmented, and a little “start and stop”, instead of coasting on a seamless plot or ultimate driving force.

Because the show is created by ex-24 crew and it being one of my favourite shows of all time, I’m going to draw some light comparisons between the two. Main character and fan favourite Tony Almeida was killed off in season five (amid a bunch of other prominent cast-member deaths), and it was pretty big as he was one of the main secondary characters, and perhaps the biggest behind Jack Bauer. Everything seemed legit, until over the next couple seasons, rumours would go around that Tony wasn’t actually dead, and he would come back as a villain, and of course that is what eventually happened. Now I’m not entirely sure if they intended this all along that Tony wasn’t actually dead, or that he was and they just ran out of ideas and were like “Fuck it, what if we bring Tony back from the dead!?”. Either way, it seemed like they just used his exit as a cheap chip to hold over the show, and eventually use it to their own supposed advantage. This reversal zapped all the energy and emotion out of Tony’s “first death” and made it an empty void. By having Brody seemingly leave the country and flee, and subsequently the show (it would be goddamn stupid if he just shows up next year, which would void what I’m about to say, but, I doubt it), the Homeland writers are doing the same thing. Presumably Brody will be off the show for a bit, only to have him fucking rappel in through a window in the back-half of season 4 to save Carrie from a Russian arms dealer or something. Holding this over the show is silly, because we know he’s at least coming back at some point, and his return most likely will not be justifiable enough. Killing Brody, which would have been perfect, would’ve been the most efficient way to go about things. You succinctly and relatively neatly tie up the terrific arc of Brody by putting a cap on everything, ending his story, and assuring he never pops up somewhere down the road, just for the Internet to get a big Brody stiffy again. The writers obviously know there’s really nowhere else to go with Brody now, that’s why they put him on the lam, but why not just kill him? I realize permanently letting Damien Lewis’ acting talents go is extremely scary, and I’d of course miss them as well, but I think it would’ve been a worthy sacrifice for the show’s future.

Some good things now. The acting, holy jeez, the acting. You know what, it was probably even better this season than last, actually, it was. I love Claire Danes acting, no matter how much people make fun of her crying face, she’s so brutally honest in her face and everything seems so goddamn real, you just want to reach out and give her a hug. I think by far though, Damian Lewis takes the cake in every acting category. He seems to know this character so well now and watching him sway between both sides, and how this all just destroyed him mentally was absolutely fantastic to watch. This was a man screwed on both ends, and was never really safe whichever way he looked. The way Lewis portrayed this was heartbreaking and depressing as Brody was broken down physically and mentally maybe even as much as when he was held captive. Mandy Patinkin again plays Saul with the intense, but comforting and solid demeanor that makes him uniformly sweet, but also capable of outbursts and doing what is right no matter the cost.

Now my main defence of the season (for the most part) is how Gansa, Gordon and co. shook things up and took us places completely different in formant and in content from season one. This seems like the chief complaint from critics I’ve been reading on the Internet, that this season was so different, and that they changed the formula and moved away from what made them so successful in season one. That is the thing though, erase your memory, go back and watch season one, and please tell me a logical fucking way to go from there. I don’t see an “easy path” to follow, and even though revealing Brody and making him flip seems like an end-game type thing, there’s no way they could have vamped for multiple seasons until then without it being excruciatingly terrible. They had to throw caution to the wind and do this shit now, while it was still fresh and viable. Setting up for next season it looks like there’s going to be a major shift and an even more wildly different format without Brody as a foil, and Carrie and Saul being really the only main focal points. The main premise of this show is entirely un-sustainable, that’s why season one was so good, they delivered on the log-line, even as it seemed fit to be a mini-series, but it isn’t, it’s a serialized (and now popular) television show that is going to run multiple seasons (quite literally, since it is on Showtime after all…). As much as I loved the first season, and realize no subsequent season will ever be as great as it, I respect Gansa and Gordon for doing something completely different each season (as it seems) and am vastly interested to see how they tackle the next set of challenges.

Coming out of season one, I was so goddamn excited because of what I had just watched, but so nervous to how they would even attempt to follow it. The conclusion of season two leads me to think they did the best that they could. There was some fantastic episodes, basically those first five or so episodes, there was some pretty bad episodes near the middle, and some average episodes into the season finale which I dug quite a bit (probably would have loved if they literally pulled the trigger on Brody). My emotions going into season three are pretty mixed, I still love having this show in my life and find it pretty funny the people who vehemently are shunning the show now because it wasn’t exactly what it was in season one. A show gives you an utterly phenomenal first season, they follow it up with a differently formatted and plotted, yet still good second season, and you write it off as garbage just because it’s different? Jeez. Again, I have no clue what season three will look like, maybe Brody will be back, I don’t know, but I am more apprehensive coming off a bumpy season like this. It will be vastly different, that’s for sure, I don’t care, I’m enjoying the ride so far.

‘Silver Linings Playbook’: Review

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I’ve been sitting on writing this review for awhile now, nothing against the film but I decided I should probably write it before goddamn Bradley Cooper comes out with a new movie. His IMDB doesn’t back me up, but I feel like he’s in everything. This movie is a little weird tonally, I would call it a “dramedy”, but I’m not a terrible monster who uses dumb words like that. It has a more serious backbone, with Bradley Cooper’s character dealing with his bipolarism, but it lightens up a bit when his relationship deepens with Jennifer Lawrence’s character. The climax feels very rom-comy (pretty sure that’s not a word) with a dance number deciding everything both plot and relationship wise, while the b-side features a scrambling comedic tint with De Niro (yes, Robert De Niro’s in this), and everything riding on the betting of an Eagles game (Oh, I’ll get to this). IMDB tells me this is a comedy over a drama first, I don’t necessarily believe that, it’s definitely got more serious stuff on its mind, but it does come out fairly in the middle. The problem I think with dramedy’s (oh, god) is that they work better when they’re more dramatic or more comedic and have smaller bits of the other, rather than towing the line between them, as things tend to get a bit muddled thematically and tonally.

Now to the acting! It was all pretty good! I’m nowhere close to a Bradley Cooper fan, I think he’s way too boring and generic to be a truly engaging actor, and someone hard to look forward to in a role. Props to him though, as this is definitely the best role he’s been in, and really one of the only he’s had with some substance to it, so maybe he just needs to pick better projects. I’m not all too familiar with bipolarism, but Cooper did a pretty great job with its effects, and very impressively was able to transition from being completely crazy when off his meds, and then throughout the film when he slowly became better and more sure of himself being with Jennifer Lawrence’s character. Lawrence herself was pretty good as well, again I’m not that huge of a fan of her, loved her in Winter’s Bone, but am more interested in her attractiveness at this point. Her character was a little more of a stock piece, being the also slightly crazy, slightly sexualized divorcée, but there were moments that you felt true pathos emanating from her performance and it sold it all the way. De Niro doesn’t have much to do, but c’mon, he’s De Niro, and gets a couple nice scenes where he gets to blow-up and go all De Niro rage on everybody. Ortiz and Tucker were pretty funny, especially the former, and Jacki Weaver is awesome.

If you don’t like football, Philadelphia, or the Eagles, just skip this paragraph (I’m a huge Eagles fan, if you didn’t know, you probably didn’t). Basically, this movie is the greatest film ever made, because it revolves around how crazy this family is for the Eagles. Mainly De Niro though, who’s taped every game and is banned from Lincoln Financial because he beat a guy up there once, and believes that Cooper watching a game with him changes the team’s “juju”. “DeSean Jackson” is said about 100 times in the film, also the costume designers apparently were all like “fuck it, just let Bradley Cooper wear a DeSean Jackson jersey for like 90% of the film.” There’s an incredible scene, where David O’Russell just flips on the slo-mo and lets us experience the tail-gate festivities before a game, and it’s goddamn beautiful. I could watch that scene on repeat ‘til the day I die, and not regret a minute of it, except for it not having more of John Ortiz flapping his arms like an eagle. So, yeah, this movie is also awesome because of Philadelphia and the sports team I like.

A nice little film, but something I wasn’t floored with. The performances are all great, but going against some of the other performances that will be surely nominated by people like Affleck, Washington and Day-Lewis, Cooper has no chance in the Awards race. It’s a good film, but definitely not Oscar worthy, although it’ll probably get some attention. At least it’s not an Oscar bait film, where Cooper playing a guy with a disorder is played up to the enth degree, and then he dies all sadly or something. No, this a much more lighter film, and really all the better for it for being something it wants to be and not conforming to anybody’s else rules, that’s David O’Russell for you. Go Eagles!

8/10