I can't remember the last time I had a 4 movie weekend, but this one was glorious. Gonna break the rules a little bit and blog the last one first, but only because the blog-in-order rule is trumped by the blog-advanced-screenings-first one. So I guess I'm not really breaking anything.
I'd only seen the trailer for this once, but an intriguingly unique premise + Michael Pitt = must movie. Then I saw that The Brattle was hosting an advanced screening with a Q&A with Pitt and director Mike Cahill. Sadly, the gorgeous and talented actor missed his train and therefore was unable to make it, but the movie was still absolutely worth seeing, and I did learn a lot of fun things from Cahill. Movie first though.
Here's where I usually start with the plot. I'm just not sure how deep to go into it. The film was constantly moving forward, so I don't know how far to go into it without recapping and spoiling the entire thing, but I also don't want to cut it too short. Pitt plays Ian, a molecular biologist who is fascinated/obsessed with the human eye. At moments when his occular research seems to be making great strides, his personal life tends to get upended. Along the way, he makes a big discovery that could fundamentally change his beliefs about science and God as well as bring some hope and closure to the tragedy he's faced outside of the lab. Cryptic enough for ya? Just trying to keep ExpDel a spoiler free zone. Though I hope that by side stepping the details I didn't make this sound too hokey.
Pitt was a very strong anchor for a film that carefully balanced character with story. Most films tend to be heavier on one than the other. Here, we had a fully realized and evolving person going thru an unpredictable journey that kept you guessing. Okay, so maybe I did see some steps coming along the way from having seen the trailer, but I don't think I would have made those jumps otherwise. The crowd reactions seemed to support that as well. I do tend to favor plot over characters, and this one was unlike any I'd seen. The premise was just so unique, and one that really kept me thinking throughout. I was also trying really hard to think up some thoughtful and insightful question for the writer/director afterwards (because how often do you get that chance), but the whole thing just felt complete and satisfying. I knew that the only questions I had were all a matter of interpertation. Back to Pitt, who was in pretty much every scene, leaving no room for error, he carried the film with such conviction, fully drawing you into his world and his thoughts. His charisma is was kept pulling me deeper and deeper into the story.
As previously stated, lots of fun tidbits and info from Mike Cahill afterwards. Things like, yes those really are actress Astrid Bergès-Frisbey's eyes that are featured throughout. The third act was set in India because the technology being used is actually utilized there right now (and the CNN clips were real). Some of the films most memorable lines were improvised by the actors. (Sidenote: there was a lot of levity mixed into the film, that I really appreciated. I often find comedy most sincere when it's not trying to make something funny, but rather just allowing for some honest moments). When Cahill was pitching Pitt on the concept, he strung him along for a while that it was a true story. There was also some concern over showing a film that involved a lot of science to a crowd that included a fair amount of the MIT community (myself included). Oh and about that title. This was actually conceived as a backstory for a bigger film "I", and wasn't originally intended to make it to film, until it was. As Cahill said it's "a prequel to a sequel that hasn't been made". So the title is very literal. It's the origins of the other film "I".
I did eventually find a moment to get in on the conversation. Someone raised a question about what they considered to be flawed logic in the film, and was being rather accusatory (dare I say a little rude too) in asking for an explanation. The crowd kinda came to Cahill's defense, with some input from our emcee as well. Another girl offered her take on reconciling the logic issue with her interperation about how the film only focused on one of the senses, and then I offered one citing the age discrepancies between some of the characters involved. Cahill then suggested we all just roundtable discuss over beers and moved on to the next question. So maybe not the insightful and thoughtful question I was hoping to find, but at least I found a moment to jump in. For someone who's shy and antisocial, that's a win.
Whenever I do get to see an advanced screening for free, I feel it's my duty to publicize the film if it's good. It's the least I can do in return. This is one film I'm certainly happy to do that for. Especially when the summer is filled with a lot of mindless blockbusters (which I do love, and they certainly have their place in cinema and my heart), sometimes you just need a film that goes a little deeper. This is one of those films.
I love and respect Melissa McCarthy so much. She is just so full of life and confidence, and she's funny beyond all reason. The thing is, when it comes to her films, I have the same problem with her that I used to have with Will Ferrell. Like Ferrell back in the day, I love seeing her pop up in bit roles. No matter how small the part, she'll make the film memorable, saving it at least for those few moments. But also like Ferrell back in the day, I don't so much like her leading roles. I don't know if the schtick gets old or bad scripts or what. It's not that she isn't capable of carrying a leading role, I just don't like those roles. I did really like The Heat, and I think that worked because it was a bit more subdued. By which I mean she wasn't completely over the top. Ferrell eventually started being more reliable, so I have hope McCarthy will follow.
Tammy was a bit hard to love. She was just so unlikeable and awkward at first. Eventually, once she stopped being so overtly strange and you could see her humanity come thru, you did feel for her and cheer for her. I think there was also some age weirdness I couldn't get past. On paper, the idea of Susan Sarandon being mother to Allison Janney being mother to Melissa McCarthy sounds awesome. When you see them standing next to each other, it's hard to buy. Particularly Janney mothering McCarthy. They should have been sisters with Sarandon as mom. I just had an incredibly hard time getting past that. By the time we did reach the more emotional moments where the relationship evolved, my brain had been so confused I had a hard time getting into it.
However, I would love to see those three women team up again. Janney is a favorite and I'm always in favor of more of her. But the real fun this time was seeing Sarandon let loose. I've always known her as a serious and respected actress. You know she took this role just to have fun, which is exactly what she did. We also had Mark Duplass, who I was happy to see. He brought the same genuine sweetness I loved in Safety Not Guaranteed, and he plays really well off McCarthy.
The whole film was a little rough and awkward. Melissa isn't quite the superstar comedienne I'd like her to be, but she's on her way.
Post apocalypic dystopian future. Attempts to cool global warming have frozen the earth. The last survivors are all on a train traveling the global tundra. Class warfare has boiled up to it's limit. Things get real. I'm there!
Yeah, not too hard to figure out why I'd go see this. Luckily, I also had an expiring Kickstarter reward to get me into the Brattle Theater which had the area premier. Buzz had been building so I was excited to watch. Comparisons to The Matrix were being made.
I think it suffered a bit from overhype. I was expecting so much, that when I did see this, nothing could have been enough. I was excited and into it at first. Chris Evans planning a revolt. Octavia Spencer galvanizing the crowd. Tilda Swinton terrorizing like an evil Harry Potter villain. Then something just broke. Maybe the plot wasn't being advanced fast enough. Maybe the darkened screen for the low class cars put me to sleep. Maybe my overanalytical brain caught up to me in overanalyzing the premise. I don't know. But it lost me for a bit.
I got back in though! Once we moved past the lower class cars and started exploring the more vivid and lively world of the upper class. Specifically once we hit the school, I was in. It started to get exciting and I was curious to see whta the next and the next cars would hold. Eventually we hit a point where things reached a confusing conclusion and my brain went into overtime trying to understand a logic that may not have been there. Perhaps it all made more sense in the graphic novel.
It was still enjoyable, and visually entertaining. The concept of filming in such a fixed width setting was kinda cool and unique. The cast was solid. Swinton was clearly chewing scenery and enjoying every minute. I would have watched a whole movie about her as that character. Evans has a lot of untapped depth (which was recognized in Puncture, helping him land this role) and is very capable of carrying a film. Oh and random trivia, in the Avengers bonus post credits shawarma scene the reason Chris Evans is holding his face with his fist is to hide the prosthetics covering his beard from having started to film Snowpiercer when the Avengers reassembled for this quick shoot. The more you know!
After a wonderful quick vacation getaway to Chicago, I returned to my usual movie theater for the latest Apes installment. I actually had a chance to see this while I was away, but the exhausting events of the day didn't make me optimistic about being awake and alert. Also, I had to come back to pick up the "Hakuna Matata" shirt I'd forgotten the last time I was there from the Lost and Found. So I rewatched Begin Again (since I correctly guessed my buddy would absolutely love it) and returned home for Apes. It was a solid plan.
Solid movie too. We pick up exactly where we left off with Rise. The end credits virus sequence opens the film with a bit of an upgrade. More detail and insight into the devastation of the world and a peek further down the timeline. Then we jump ahead about a decade. While the human world is now desolate, the apes have thrived. They live a blissful and peaceful life that is threatened when the surviving humans find them.
There was one thing that stood out to me as truly incredible. Caesar is a wonderfully complex character, among the best we've seen on screen in recent years at least. I'm not even qualifying that with "for an animal" or "for a CGI" charcater. I mean at all. Certainly more than any character you'll find in a summer blockbuster. Andy Serkis breathes such life into him with a technology that is so advanced that you don't think of him as an ape, but as a fully fleshed out being. The internal conflict, the pressures of leadership, the familial obligations, everything is there. I'd say that other summer films wish they could hit that level, but the truth is few even bother trying.
The main theme seemed to be the duality of man. And of ape for that matter. You can't classify all men as purely good or purely evil. One person with bad intentions can offset the balance and destroy everything. The apes learned this and the humans learned this.
All that weight PLUS the suspense you'd expect from a popcorn film. My heart was nervously pounding in my chest, particularly thru the last act. I didn't always know where the story was going to go and that excited and even scared me. I've become jaded by predictable action sequences, but these were stunning. Sure, my general love of primates may have had something to do with that, but it felt like each shot was carefully thought out and not just thrown together to look cool.
We're certainly progressing the prequel story in a very consistent manner that's exciting to follow. While I know where things will ultimately end up in the far far future, I can't wait to see the next few steps in getting there
Can a song save your life? That was the original title of this movie. Kind of hokey if you ask me, so I get why they'd change it. But at the same time, it was incredibly appropriate and unique. The film really does answer that question with an affirmative "Yes!" and it's proven several times throughout.
Led by an all star cast of Kiera Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levin, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, and James Cordon, the film follows several charaters for whom music plays a big role in their lives and ultimately their redemption. Ruffalo's Dan just lost his job as a record label exec. He finds himself at an open mic night where he hears Knightly's Gretta. Gretta just broke up with her rock star boyfriend, Dave (Levine), and is ready to start her life over without him. Dan is so enthralled with Gretta's music that he needs to record her. When his former label won't make the deal, they decide to record throughout the city. Thus that one song that she first played sets the ball rolling.
I expected this film to be too sappy and sentimental for my taste, but I loved it. The music was just so powerful and moving, even in its simplicity. It's not the kind of sound I'd normally listen to, but I ended up downloading the soundtrack later that day and playing it all weekend. It just gives you the same sweeping emotions you'd get from a really good musical, even if this wouldn't fit the traditional mold of one.
I also love this cast and the commitment they put into it. For his screen debut, Levine declined to be paid. He wanted that badly to be a part of the experience, that the money didn't matter. I thought it was a successful first outting. Much of the character draws some simliarities to him, but he did have a pretty decent arc. His character was "saved" by a different song later in the film. Actually you could argue there were two songs that did that, both of which are probably my favorites. Kiera Knightly's singing voice, oh my God, I loved her. Sweet and haunting, hurt yet hopeful. I think she outshone Adam.
I have mad respect for Hailee Steinfeld and her work ethic. I mean, the girl got an Oscar nomination at 14, for completely owning scenes with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Apparently, when she's working with well respected actors, she makes a point to ask for advice and watch whatever films they recommend. She went to Ruffalo and Keener who supplied her with a large well thought out collection of films. That list was published in EW with commentary from all three. I just find it admirable how dedicated she is, and her hard work shows. It won't be long until she's all the buzz at some future award season again.
So back to that title. While I agree that "Can a Song Save Your Life" sounds hokey, "Begin Again" while appropriate, sounds cheesy and generic. My impulse would have been to go with Lost Stars, after one of the centerpiece songs of the film (possibly the equivalence of Falling Slowly from another film by the same writer/director). But without context that title suggests an emphasis on celebrity. So maybe take from the next line of the song "Light up the Dark"? Okay so I guess it's not possible to get a title that conveys meaning without sounding cheesy. Forget the name and just let the music speak for itself.