"Frances Ha" Starring Greta Gerwig


The first thing you might notice about the 2012 film “Frances Ha” is that it’s shot in black and white, something that worked very well in the one of my favorite films of 2013 “Ida” and it works equally as well in this film.  This was writer/director Noah Baumbach’s second collaboration with Gerwig and arguably their best.  Gerwig was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Frances among countless other accolades.  She plays an energetic dreamer living in New York City who despite being somewhat homeless and seemingly a mess never gives up hope and keeps a quirky positive attitude.  This is Frances Ha.  

How long do you hold on to a dream before you have to say goodbye?  Frances is a dancer, but not a very good one.  She is many things and is not as young as she use to be.  Refusing to settle she constantly strives to find her place in the world.  She’s currently at odds with her best friend Sofie and and the rocks with her boyfriend when she meets Lev (played by Adam Driver).  She is stuck in a sort of extended adolescents usually reserved for guys.  When her credit card is denied at dinner she says “I’m so sorry i’m not a real person yet”.  She is also “undateable”.

The film has title cards that pop up with the latest address she calls home and stability is the one of the things missing in her life.  She seems to be nomadic by nature as her scattered personality is always on to something new and approaches everything with a positive attitude.  She has always had Sofie to depend on but now the harsh realities of life are getting in the way.  Why does it seem like everybody is fulfilling their dreams except you?  Her struggles are relatable and her character is perfectly played.  The fact that it’s black and white does make it a little artsy and pretentious but it’s still an extremely fun and enjoyable experience.  Would it be the same film if it was in color?  Is it annoying that I keep asking questions?  The film has a very strong French New Wave feel and it matches Baumbach’s style well.

“Frances Ha” is available from the Criterion Collection as well as streaming on Netflix.  You don’t have to be an art house film snob to watch this movie so give it a chance and you won’t be disappointed.

Greta Gerwig is "Mistress America"


This is the second of two films by writer/director Noah Baumbach to be released in 2015.  He re-teams with his muse Greta Gerwig who also shares writing credits.  Like most of Baumbach's films "Mistress America" takes place in New York City and involves a woman's battle for personal identity and direction in life. 

Brooke is a thirty something year old woman living in New York City.  Her positive attitude and outgoing personality deceptively hide her directionless mess of a life.  She is ambitious but not very successful as her dreams often exceed her grasp.  When she finds out that her father is getting remarried she is exited that she will be gaining a younger step sister.  Tracy, played by Lola Kirke, is an eighteen year old college freshman who wants to be a writer and has dreams of being chosen to join the prestigious Mobius Literary Society.  A group of pretentious douche bags where good writing seems to be of little importance.  Tracy is smart and reserved but underneath lies a very dogged personality.

Brooke seeks out Tracy and they instant start to bond.  The dialogue is pretty amazing as the words spill out of Brooke as if her brain was on fire.  With her disjointed and often quirky stories, Tracy begins writing it all down and starts a story called "Mistress America".  Her youthful ambition is something that Brooke yearns for.  A chance to restart her adult life.  Although Brooke refuses to let her dream of becoming a dancer go and it's painful to watch it slip by as she desperately tries to hold on.  She has several odd jobs to pay the bills but it's just not cutting it as she couch surfs at many friends apartments.  The film is actually separated with title cards of the different addresses she is currently living at.

After the financing for Brooke's other dream of opening her own restaurant falls through she takes Tracy on a mission to meet an estrange friend, Mamie-Claire.  Brooke claims that Mamie-Claire stole some of her ideas when they were roommates in college and she made a ton of money off of them.  They drive to an extravagant mansion in Connecticut where they run in to a whole new batch of problems and situations.  The whole movie especially the scene's at Mamie-Claire's feel like a play rather than a movie.  It feels a little staged and rehearsed but the dialogue is spot on and it is pretty funny. 

Tracy's story is eventually published and upon reading it Brooke feels betrayed by her future step sister who ends up just being another girl as the wedding was called off.  Tracy receives a lot of backlash from the story but is accepted into the literary society. So where does this leave the girls and their relationship?  Tracy finds out that Mobius is full of shit and decides to start her own club, while Brooke looks for a change in scenery and plans to move to L.A.Tracy seeks out Brooke and they reconcile over and an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner.  "Mistress America" is an interesting slice of life that seemingly only Noah Baumbach could do, it is definitely his style and he does it quite well.  Although not his best film it fits in nicely with the others. Greta Gerwig is amazing and hopefully this will continue.

You Should Watch This Movie "While Were Young"


Premiering in limited theaters in April of 2015 writer/director Noah Baumbach's latest is a sort of companion piece to his 2010 film "Greenberg".  Both starring Ben Stiller as a man refusing to accept his age and place in life.  This time he's playing Josh a documentary filmmaker and teacher who is in a bit of a rut when it comes to finishing his long gestating project.

Josh's wife Cornelia, played by Naomi Watts, has a  father who is a very successful documentarian himself.  Being very goal oriented Josh wants to make it on his own and has always pushed back when offered help.  Although his current project has gone unfinished for past 10 years he struggles for inspiration and motivation in the face of growing older.  During one of his classes he teaches at a local college two young people show interest in him and actually know of his work.  Enter Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, the two ultra hip 25 year olds bring Josh back to time when things were optimistic and full of hope.  In no time flat the two couple are out to dinner and Josh and Cornelia become infatuated with the young people.  Jaime is also a documentarian who is motivated and has ideas while Darby makes and sell her own brand of ice cream.  These too are such yuppie hipsters its pretty unreal, they are like caricatures.

Josh and Cornelia have friends their own age but feel alienated since they don't have a baby.  They are that couple, although it not for lack of trying, Cornelia has had problems in the past and they are both busy with their careers.  They are hooked on Jaime and Darby like a drug, as they start seeing them every chance they get.  They even start acting and dressing like them.  Why wouldn't people in there mid 40's want to be 25 again.  The film is chock full of comments on modern relationships that are right on.  Baumbach's strength as a filmmaker is finding the honest and real moments in his characters.  Josh and Cornelia are obviously getting in over their heads in trying to act younger.  They take part in this strange new age ritual involving a shaman and puke buckets.  Enough said as it has to be seen.  This is also a point that tests their relationship as Cornelia mistakenly makes out with Jaime or was it?

After a while Josh begins to suspect that Jaime has ulterior motives and could have been playing him from the start.  This brings us to another big message in the story line.  The problem of youth and ethics.  Although Jaime wants to be the next great documentarian he plays pretty fast and loose with the ethics behind it all, whether it's in his work or his own life.  Is this new generation willing to do anything to make it big? but hasn't this been happening in Hollywood forever? Where is the line and how do you define your personal and professional ethics?  In the end what is going to win out entertainment value or truth? This was good film and fits together nicely with "Greenberg".  Ben Stiller is underrated as an actor sometimes he just needs a good script and a good director and he has found one with Noah Baumbach.

Ben Stiller is "Greenberg"


Writer/Director Noah Baumbach is one of the most critically acclaimed independent filmmaker working today.  His films are often humorous takes on life with characters that are painfully honest and real. His muse an frequent collaborator Greta Gerwig co-stars with Ben Stiller as the title character of Roger Greenberg.  Stiller is most known for starring in big Hollywood comedies, but here he takes on a much darker and serious role as an aging man trying to get his life back together.

Just released from a psychiatric hospital Roger agrees to house sit for his brother whose vacationing with his family in Vietnam.  Roger is a neurotic, quirky, and a darkly pessimistic character who used to live in New York and is still readjusting to life in Los Angeles.  Roger has a run in with his brothers assistant Florence (Gerwig) when the dog Mauler has an emergency.  She is equally quirky and lonesome.  She also sings at a local club.  Roger gets to know her and while having drinks utters the perfect line "Life is wasted on... people".  They eventually have a very awkward and short lived sex scene.  Roger is one of those people who has trouble making decisions and taking responsibility in his life.  A constant theme in Baumbach's work is the Gen X'ers inability to grow up and let go of the past and embrace who you've become.

In a moment of desperation Greg tries to reconcile with his ex wife Beth, but is shot down.  With his relationship with Florence is up in the air he finds himself resorting to his old destructive ways.  He throws a party at the house in a hopeless attempt to recapture his youth.  He is always looking for an easy way out, a suicide attempt was what led him to the psych ward to begin with.  The morning after brings him two opportunities and he must make a decision that will change his life.  Is he ready to be a responsible adult? or will he continues on his impulsive and destructive path? 

"Greenberg" is well acted, well put together film that is enjoyable if not a little painful at times.  It feels honest and relatable.  In 2014 Baumbach re-teamed with Stiller on the film "While Were Young" a sort of companion piece to "Greenberg".  A review is forthcoming.

"Knock, Knock" Should be Left Unanswered

Knock, Knock

Director Eli Roth's 5th film "Knock, Knock" was released through Video on Demand in the fall of 2015.  It's a departure from his usual over the top gore fests and it also starred a known Hollywood actor in Keanu Reeves.  This film would be classified as a twist on the home invasion thriller.

Keanu plays Evan an architect and family man who lives in a nice house in Los Angeles with his artist wife who does colorful sculptures.  Evan is an aging hipster who used to be a DJ and has a killer vinyl collection.  He's a laid back dude who is good with his kids, but his marriage is going through a rough patch.  His wife and kids have gone off on a mini beach vacation so he can get some much needed work done, but his deadlines are about to be the least of his problems.

During a torrential down pour the first evening there is a knock, knock at the door.  Two young, sexy girls are soaking wet and asking if they can use his phone because they are having car trouble on their way to a party.  Genesis and Bell are played by Lorenza Izzo, of "Green Inferno" fame and Roth's wife, and Ana de Armas.   Evan is very polite and accommodating.  He gets them towels and calls Uber to get them a ride to the party, although it will be 45 minutes until the car will be there.  There is an awkward tension between the three and you can immediately see where the story is headed and doesn't deviate from the expected plan.  The girls are aggressive and unrelenting in there tormenting of Evan.  His morality conundrum eventually cracks and they have a shower threesome.  The morning after the girls are still there and are making a mess not only of his kitchen but his life.  From here on out Evan goes into full "Keanu" mode as his acting is just an awful mess.  In his defense the script doesn't give him much to work with as the focus is mainly on the two psycho sluts that make his life a living hell.  They deface his wife's art work and in another cringe inducing scene Bell video tapes herself raping him wearing his daughters school uniform.  They lie, threaten and torture him until Lewis, his wife's art dealer, come over to pick up some pieces for a show.  He see's right through their charades and calls them out only to take an unfortunate fall.

I didn't particularly care for this movie as it seems to be too much in love with itself.  Which is a part of all of Eli's work but in "Knock, Knock" is just seem to be trying to hard.  The girls were completely insufferable and annoying matched with Keanu's "acting" its just a one trick pony, that didn't deliver the goods.