Category Archives: 9/10

Rudderless

RudderlessWhat Jesse said:

I just watched a movie that literally left me speechless. It’s called Rudderless and it stars Billy Cruddup and Anton Yelchin, and was directed by William H. Macy (whom I’ve actually met while waiting for a flight in Vancouver!) I really had no idea what to expect from a movie about the fairly difficult topic of how to deal with unbearable grief following a tragic family event. But then there’s the music (I know that sounds like a non sequitur, but stay with me). Cruddup plays Sam, a man whose life takes a nosedive after losing his college-aged son Josh in a mass shooting. A while after this event, Sam starts to play music in an apparent attempt to learn more about his dead son. Overall, I thought the performances were top-notch, and the movie had some funny as well as some very powerful moments. Awesome. Watch it.

Mike’s verdict:

Finally, a decent recommendation!  It’s been ages since Jesse has recommended any movie at all, let alone one that I thought would interest me. I will admit that based on Jesse’s description I was only vaguely sold on this though.  Human strife is tedious so it takes a good deal of talent to make me think it worth spending my evening. That said, Jesse did get this one right.

On the surface, Rudderless is an engaging and clever look at a side of violence that is rarely considered in film, as the plot follows characters that are normally tangential in stories about mass shootings. This film doesn’t look at the classic victims of violence, nor the classic perpetrators of violence. Instead, it circles those who are affected indirectly. But in a way, even the over-arching plot is itself actually tangential to the real focus of the film/ This is more a story about a man trying to escape his life, and his rediscovery of music as a means to propel himself to fulfillment, than it is a story about a mass shooting.

To be clear, the actual plot itself is pretty light. There’s a nice twist (that you’ll almost certainly foresee if you’re paying attention) but not a whole lot really happens. The pace is good, and the characters are interesting, and that’s enough to satisfy the basics without overdoing it or taking away from the real point – which is to follow a man who reconnects with himself as he tries to reconnect with the son he never really knew.

And along the way you become immersed in a fantastic soundtrack that in some ways over-shadows the rest of the film, but is just so much fun.  You likely won’t ever hear a better rendition of The Wheels on the Bus and Kate Micucci (remember Lucy from The Big Bang Theory?) has an angry/sad open-mic ukulele performance that is perfect. Even William H. Macy (whom Jesse thinks he met in an airport but it was really a 52 year old woman wearing a big hat) is superb as the nondescript open-mic bar owner.

I like this movie – it’ll be going in the ‘keep’ pile, and I’m going to hunt down the soundtrack too.

9/10

 

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Don Jon

Don Jon-coverWhat Jesse said:

The next movie I want you to watch is Don Jon. Should be right up your alley…

Mike’s verdict:

Jesse hasn’t seen this one – his “recommendation” was actually meant as a thinly veiled insult because I implied he was lame for thinking The Conjuring is scary. But Jesse doesn’t understand what this movie is actually about. All he knows is that Scarlett Johansson is in the trailer and the IMDB blurb mentions porn. Well Jesse, you can’t trust everything you find on the internet.

Don Jon is not about sex. It’s not about addiction, or unrealistic expectations. It’s definitely not about Scarlett Johansson.

Don Jon is an unpretentious and insightful portrayal of the love that develops out of total, genuine, unflinching honesty. This is not the Hollywood-fairytale-ride-off-into-the-sunset love; it’s the complete release from anxiety that only happens when nerves are exposed and there’s no reason left to hide.

I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an amazing actor. He has an unbelievable range (have you seen Hesher?), so I didn’t need the recommendation from Jesse – I would have watched Don Jon even if only to find out what kind of writer / director Gordon-Levitt is. He does not disappoint – especially considering this is a first attempt at writing a feature film.

But Gordon-Levitt doesn’t hold up the film alone. Julianne Moore, for one, is fantastic. You don’t end up feeling like you fully understand her character, but I think that’s intended – and it works. Her role reminded me a lot of what she did in Chloe. Johansson also does a good job – she’s totally believable as a Jersey girl – but she was clearly type-cast for the role.  Tony Danza on the other hand was definitely not type-cast and he was a pleasant surprise. I probably wouldn’t have even recognized him if I hadn’t noticed his name in the opening credits. Finally, one actor I think most people will over look is Brie Larson. She plays Gordon-Levitt’s sister and does an incredible job with very little. She only speaks in one scene but her character’s personality manages to come through as well as any of the leads’.

Obviously, I really liked Don Jon. It’s honest, it’s unashamed, and it ends exactly when it should. It gets 9/10, losing a single point only because a lot of the nudity was unnecessary to the story. Certainly some of it was needed to force a point, and I understand that in some sense the excess was intentional. But I think that it makes the film inaccessible to exactly the audience that most needs to see it. Even so, if you’re not a prude Don Jon is definitely worth seeing.


House (“Hausu”)

What Jesse said:

Have you seen Hoozoo, Hauzoo, Hosso, uh, whatever it’s called – it means House?  It’s a crazy 70s Japanese flick. There isn’t even anything else I can say about it. It’s  crazy. There’s a piano scene. That’s all I can say.

Mike’s verdict:

Wow. There definitely is a piano scene. A ridiculously absurd piano scene. You see it coming like a train wreck in slow motion and it’s fantastic in its absurdity. The whole movie is.

I haven’t seen too many other Japanese movies from the 70s (or any at all), so I don’t know if House is typical or something completely different. It’s a lot like the classic American horror movies of the time; at least it has the same basic format – a group of friends in an unfamiliar environment are killed-off one at a time in increasingly gruesome ways. But where American horror takes itself seriously (even if the audience doesn’t), House almost feels like a spoof. It’s so over the top ridiculous that it’s hard to believe it’s not intentional. It feels like a caricature right from the beginning with a bizarre music montage that goes on so long you’ll start to wonder if you’ve been tricked into watching a musical. Plus, the seven girls all have silly nick-names that are clearly intended to reflect their character’s individual theme. Melody, for example, plays the piano. Even the dialog seems intentionally goofy at times, and not just in the way that asian movies always get goofy when they are translated. This feels like it would still be goofy even if I understood Japanese.

My favourite thing about the movie? Kung Fu. She’s sort of a hero – in an Adam-West-Batman meets Hit Girl kind of way.

The only thing that bothers me about House is the fact that it has subtitles. I don’t mind having to read once in a while, but this movie is very visual and I can’t properly appreciate it because I have to focus on the very bottom of the screen. That’s not really the movies fault but it’s still an issue.

Overall, I liked it and this one will probably stay in my collection so that I can share it with others.

9/10


Battle Royale

What Jesse said:

You’ve never seen Battle Royale? You have to see it. It’s crazy, it’s violent. Children kill each other – what’s not to love?

Mike’s verdict:

A Japanese alternate universe dystopia, Battle Royale is the film adaptation of a 1997 novel by Koushun Takami. The premise is a group of children are taken to an island and forced to fight each other until only one is left alive. To make sure they don’t all just sit around singing Kumbayah instead of fighting, the children are forced to wear collars that will explode if at least one of them doesn’t die every 24 hours. There is ubiquitous surveillance so that the organizers can keep tabs on everyone. Oh, and certain areas of the island are rigged to keep the kids moving around. Sound familiar? No? That’s okay, Suzanne Collins hasn’t heard of Battle Royale either.

The thoughts you have when you walk away from a  movie are certainly important, but the thing I look for most in a film is its effect on how I feel while I’m watching. Obviously this can be a result of a few different components but I’m mostly concerned about atmosphere. Sometimes it’s awkward situations or really effective music, sometimes it’s tense scenes and sometimes it’s the literal atmospheric conditions the characters are in – for instance, seeing people being rained on or falling in the mud.

Watching muddy children try to kill each other definitely elicits discomfort. Since I’m pretty that’s the point Takami was trying to make, I give Battle Royale a 9/10.

It could have had a perfect 10, but I found a few scenes in the middle moved too slow.


The Spectacular Now

What Jesse said:

Got another one fer ya. It’s called “The Spectacular Now“.  [The wife] and I really enjoyed it. Great story, solid performances.  Go see it mofo.

Mike’s verdict:

The Spectacular Now has all the hallmarks of a stereotypical high school coming of age movie. The popular boy is dumped by the popular girl, only to find something better in the “plain” girl he never noticed before. There are parties and a prom. There is the teacher that really cares, the useless father, and the good intentioned but misguided mothers who just don’t understand. And, of course, there is graduation.

But unlike the typical high school coming of age movie, The Spectacular Now feels real. It doesn’t remind you of all the high school movies you’ve seen, it reminds you of high school.

Foremost, the casting is believable – Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley actually come across as real high school kids. They’re not made to look perfect from every angle. They don’t talk about their lives using the vocabulary of an English literature grad student. And the “plain” girl doesn’t take off her glasses to reveal a supermodel when the popular boy starts paying attention to her.  Instead, this is the entirely likely story of a young man and a young woman, both of whom are confronted by the reality of their lives and honestly try to make the best of them. Their choices are often short-sighted, but they never portray the over-the-top irrationality that most hollywood teen movies rely on.

There is a relentless intensity of nervous energy that falls somewhere between anxiety for what might happen to Aimee and the anticipation of Sutter’s next mistake – and it’s made all the more potent by the film’s realism.

9/10