Could've Been Good But ... The oddly-named (real!) CBGB was opened in the Bowery section of New York City in 1973 by the lackadaisical yet idiosyncratic proprietor Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman - Die Hard, Harry Potter, Galaxy Quest) who decided to open another venue in the same city in which his first club had been shuttered some four years earlier. NYC openly embraced art and creativity and the musical scene thrived in NYC as it appeared that nearly everyone from all musical genres were given a chance to succeed. Hoping to cash-in on the "nearly alls", Kristal named his club CBGB - Country, Bluegrass, Blues - and attracted singers and musicians from nearly ALL other genres as he encouraged original content and wanted his musicians to be true to themselves. CBGB is a very lack-luster film with a lot crammed into the short runtime. This New York rock era along with punk helped develop music that followed decades later on the west coast. The film makes mention of thousands of artists getting their start(s) in one of Kristal's clubs - which is a wonderful thing and an interesting bit of trivia - but trying to fit so many into the movie in such a short span of time makes the film falter. The film features Malin Akerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) as Debbie Harry and Kyle Gallner (Beautiful Creatures, Jennifer's Body) briefly cameos as Lou Reed who actually NEVER made it into one of Kristal's establishments. The soundtrack is the reason to view the film as it features: The Ramones, Blondie, Misfits, Television, The Cramps, The Voidoids, The Dead Boys, The Fleshtones, Patti Smith, The Shirts, Talking Heads, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, The B-52's, U.S. Chaos, Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front, Warzone, Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. The movie wants to fit in so many acts to give it (the movie) and the place an authentic, crazed and hyped frenzy but it does nothing for the actual story. I enjoyed seeing the cameos and loved the music; but the movie leaves one wanting a LOT more.
The To Do List is one of those jaw-dropping, highly inappropriate, high school sex comedy raunch-fests that pretty much goes everywhere teenage movies are not supposed to go. This is perhaps the first film I have ever watched that made me feel "too old" and out of the loop as I had to resort to the Urban Dictionary a time or two to know what the "kids" onscreen were talking about! (Shame on me ... or shame on them?!) The movie has a lot going for it and I did laugh throughout most of it; its problems are that it has a few-too-many side stories that makes it feel uneven, some of the jokes are overplayed and the production quality is low (which could be intentional if it is invoking a "retro" feel). Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed) is intelligent-yet-obliviously-clueless overachieving class of 1993 valedictorian Brandy Klark who excelled at everything (academic) her high school has offered making her believe she is well-prepared for her upcoming college experience ... until she is heckled with the shaming word "virgin!" on graduation day making her realize there is a whole other set of "extra-curricular" activities she knows NOTHING about! To prep herself, Brandy makes a To Do list with the help of her soon-to-be-married older sister (Rachel Bilson - Jumper) and sets out to learn each-and-every item on it. It all sounds shameless, raunchy and unabashedly indecent but the film's twist is that the wholesome Brandy views it all as an opportunity to learn and excel at something else in life -- how cringingly admirable! The To Do List co-stars Scott Porter (Prom Night), Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim ...), Connie Britton ('Friday Night Lights'), Andy Samberg (That's My Boy), Alia Shawkat (Whip It), Clark Gregg (The Avengers) and Bill Hader ('SNL') as Brandy's friends, "tutors" or various family members. I dare -- DARE! -- parents to watch this one with their college-bound kids ... although as a bonus, the film takes place in 1993 and has a pretty good soundtrack with which to discuss with them!
While I think Lee Daniels' The Butler is a good movie, I don't think it is a great one as I believe it tries to take on too much and the scope of the picture should have been a bit more narrow. The Butler is a fictitious story based on a real person so I can understand why Lee Daniels wanted to try to include as much of the "story" as he could; but by doing so he loses a bit of the more in-depth focus needed to make this story/movie more heartfelt. As is ... it goes through the motions (like a butler) but the audience doesn't get to know enough about the man dedicating his life to service. Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland) is a stand-up, dutiful man who takes pride in his good work although others in his family don't see what he has to be proud of ... as they oftentimes believe him to be nothing more than a subservient black man aiding the white man. It is understandable why some would view his work this way (as it is simply that to some); but as it means more to Cecil it pays to try to understand him and his outlook on what he does. It is a tribute to so many nameless men and women who do "serve" but are also working an honest job ... and are quite often the "bigger" man deserving the most respect. What makes Cecil's story so noteworthy is that he served as butler in the White House under eight different American presidents -- which is remarkable but this is also why the story is weaker than I thought it would be. The filmmakers want cameos of each of the presidents ... and this comes at the price of Cecil's personal story with his wife and children. It is fun seeing some of the actors in their presidential roles -- James Marsden (X-Men) is Kennedy, Alan Rickman (Harry Potter) is Reagan, Liev Schreiber (Salt) is Johnson and John Cusack (Being John Malkovich) plays Nixon -- but the film's best performances belong to Cecil and his family. There has been a lot of hype over Oprah Winfrey's (The Color Purple) subtle performance as his long suffering and annoyed wife and while she is good -- she's Oprah! -- she isn't as great as the critics have said and it only bothers me because she has gotten more praise than the much better David Oyelowo (The Paperboy) who plays their son trying to find his place in America's tumultuous history. I kind of wish the film had been entitled The Butler's Son. This is a good movie without doubt ... I just wish the film had a better edit to focus more on the man than giving the audience glimpses of the men for whom he worked.
Longtime best buds Joe (Nick Robinson -- Jurassic World) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso - Super 8) are planning the perfect summer adventure: they will live in and off of the woods in a makeshift shelter and provide everything needed for the other's survival as the duo have extensively studied guidebooks on nature and survival skills so they can capture, kill or identify the area's avian population and also know how many venomous snakes live in a twelve mile radius. It is safe to say that the boys aren't going to win any popularity awards at school in the upcoming fall semester -- which they are both fine with -- and they have also learned the in's and out's of the survival game: "To Eat or Not To Eat?". These boys are prepared for anything that nature will throw at them ... that is "except when a living (!) third boy enters the forest" (Moises Arias - Despicable Me 2) and wants to follow their example and join their ranks. When it is a girl who breaches their humble abode the second time around (!!!) it almost turns to war as the two best friends appear to like her in equal measure and the boys end up learning more about life and each other than they even believed possible. Meddling parents only factor into the film a small amount ... but to hilarious effect (thanks to Park & Rec's Nick Offerman and his real-life hilarious wife, Megan Mullally) as The Kings of Summer stays more loyal to the Kings of Summer ... and not their entourages. It is a nice and rather simple coming of age film.
Hoping that his Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka might one day be another international motion picture hub, director Chandran Rutnam wanted to bring prestige to his pic by casting Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley as the film's central character -- a disillusioned "common man" who has become a terrorist in defiance of what his world is turning into. Kingsley's character plants five bombs throughout the streets of Colombo and alerts the authorities of the possible high-casualty disaster. Kingsley will call off his attack IF the Chief of Police (Ben Cross - Chariots of Fire) and the Sri Lankan government release four notorious criminals/terrorists and let them fly away to safety at a secret location. In order to ensure the police play the hand they are dealt, a novice reporter is tasked with reporting live to the residents of the city whenever the "common man" decides to let them in on some information. The reporter and the bomb squads trek all over the city as tension is supposed to build. While A Common Man has an interesting premise -- it was adapted from a Bollywood film called A Wednesday -- it is nearly impossible to enjoy unless the audience gets a glimpse of either Kingsley or Cross as the rest of the "acting" -- yes, I am putting it in quotation marks! -- is atrocious! There are no words to describe the lack of talent onscreen in A Common Man. While I do not recommend seeing the film for its story, I might have to tell people to try to make it through some of the movie to witness some of its sheer awfulness. It is too bad the actors weren't at least "common".