The oddly titled Jayne Mansfield's Car -- the "car" figures into one scene in the film in which a "decapitated" car was toured around different locations of the country as some kind of a morbid curiosity -- is directed by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) who also stars in the film as a son of a judgmental and cranky Robert Duvall (The Apostle) in 1969 Alabama. After the death of Duvall's ex-wife -- who left him and the children years before (after the war) to marry another man in England to start a second family -- her body is returned to Alabama for a proper burial ... but accompanying it are her other children (Frances O'Conner [A.I.], Ray Stevenson ['Rome']) and her widower husband (John Hurt - Alien). The film is about these souls coming together and talking ... and about Duvall's three sons coming to terms with him and his disapproving -- of just about all things -- ways. As a veteran, Duvall has a different outlook on the world even though his sons (Robert Patrick [The Terminator] and Kevin Bacon [Footloose]) have also served. Bacon also has some father-son problems with his own son. Not much happens here as it is a study of people ... namely one between fathers and sons. I didn't dislike this film but it is a difficult one to recommend as little happens. The title is more interesting than the film itself. Like this review, it meanders ... there is some depth here; but you have to want to dig it out and put in the time to get the (paltry) reward. I liked the look of the film -- 1960's Americana with picnics and apple pie but that is the surface level. What lies beneath isn't as rosy.
Filmmaker Wong Kar Wai -- who is responsible for one of my 10 favorite films of all time, In the Mood for Love -- delivers a highly stylish and grand re-telling of the (late) story/life of martial arts master Ip Man, whose life has been featured on film in several other recent movies although none look as impressive or glorious as The Grandmaster which found itself nominated for two 2013 Academy Awards for best costuming and best cinematography. Tony Leung (Hero) stars as Ip Man in an era of Chinese history that immediately follows the fall of the last Chinese dynasty. It was a time of chaos and divisiveness when faction faced off against another faction for local control and dominance and it was also a glorious time -- a "golden age" -- for Chinese martial arts. Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) also stars as a the daughter of a martial arts master who has been appointed his heir by her aging father. As many believe China needs only a few "masters", Ip and Gong (Zhang) find themselves pitted against one another as a master of their respective region of China. The film follows many years in the relationship -- rocky yet highly respected -- these two rivals have with one another. The film is somewhat hard to follow at first; but it is beautiful to look at. The orchestrated choreography is magnificent and breathtaking. The editing is swift and the sound is solidly sound. This is a feast for the eyes although it is marred by having to hastily read subtitles while wanting to glare at the opulence onscreen. Lovely ... but I am a huge fan of Kar Wai.
Knowing that this is one of Michelle Obama's favorite films of last year and that she held a private screening for this very small, independent film at the White House last year because she believed it had a very important message will most likely keep many from seeing this movie ... and that is a shame. It will be ignored, belittled and scoffed at just like Mister & Pete in this film -- two young boys who must fend for themselves one summer in the projects of NYC as their unmotivated, tragic and horrible parental figures are arrested for dealing drugs and sent away to rehab facilities while the kids are long-forgotten by both them and the authorities. Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) co-stars as the miserable mother of Mister (Skylan Brooks) who finds himself responsible for the younger neighbor Pete (Ethan Dizon) when Pete's drug-dealing/prostitute mother also finds herself in trouble. Jordan Sparks (Sparkle) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) co-star. The film is very low budget and not one that churns out plenty of fell-good moments; but it tries to shine a light on a topic some of us just don't want to talk about or acknowledge ... you know, because it actually goes away when we remain quiet. The movie is about a sad situation; but more sad is that so many of us decide to do nothing about it.
Jason Statham makes two different types of B-movies -- good ones or bad ones. No matter what he tries to do, the films always come across with a B-movie feel which is odd as I actually really like Mr. Statham. Homefront -- whose screenplay was written by Sylvester Stallone -- is one of his lesser films as it feels schlocky and comes across as a rather generic and stereotypical violent action flick. Statham (The Transporter) stars as ex-DEA agent who moves to a small town that has a drug problem. James Franco (Spring Breakers) plays the lowlife dealer and Winona Ryder (Reality Bites) plays his slightly less dangerous girlfriend. In a stretch of a role, Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns) plays a white-trash townie with a grudge against Statham (her bully son is schooled by Statham's daughter). The film plays out just as one could imagine. The talent on screen here is better than most Statham films but they are all let-down by the rather sad script which generates little to care about. Statham -- and everyone else involved -- has had better films ... watch any of those instead.
A decent film that could have been better, Kill Your Darlings is another cinematic portrait of a select few artists at the center of the Beat Generation that exclusively focuses upon an early event in their tight knit and slightly pretentious social circle that threatened to tear their inner core apart. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe stars as bespectacled poet Allen Ginsberg in his first year at Columbia where he befriends the daringly grandiose Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan - The Place Beyond the Pines) who is basically being stalked by a much older amorous admirer (Michael C. Hall - 'Dexter') who has followed him from city to city in hopes of winning the aloof yet flirtatious cipher's affection. Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston - 'Boardwalk Empire'), Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olson - Martha Marcy May Marlene) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster - Lone Survivor) are other Beat members associated with Ginsberg, Carr and the besotted and ill-fated David Kammerer (Hall) who factor into this unfortunate story. The film has a nice look to it but it falters a time or two when it tries to convey the manic-ness of drugs and in ultimately figuring out the focus of the story this movie wants to tell. Towards the end, it becomes rather unfocused and it isn't overly clear who the movie is actually about as some of the central figures fall by the wayside with little fanfare or explanation. The cast is strong, the set/art direction is swell and the costumes all appear authentic. As strong as elements of this film are, bits of it feel weak ... much like the artists at the center of the story -- they didn't all measure up.