THIS IS SPARTA!

300
12/13/2015

THIS IS SPARTA! cries Leonidas.  Him and the 300 Spartan soldiers battle the invading Persian armies in a fight for the ages.  A year after graphic novel legend Frank Miller's "Sin City" was marvelously adapted into a stylishly sophisticated film by Robert Rodriguez, Zack Snyder does the same with "300".

"300" is a feast for the eyes with its grainy hyper real look and poetic slow motion action.  The true story of the 300 Spartan soldiers is stylized and romanticized within an inch of its life, but makes it quite entertaining and fun to watch.  It's true that this film has been mocked and parodied quite a bit but it still doesn't change that fact that this is just a fun movie to geek out with.

As the Persian armies led by the God King Xerxes look to conquer the world, Leonidas who is played by Gerard Butler, hatch a plan to even up the numbers an at least give them a fighting chance.  They are victorious in a few battles and get Xerxes attention, he offers them a deal but the Spartans will fight to the death. Respect and Honor is there motto.  However there is a treacherous hunchback who cannot resist the appeal of Xerxes and betrays Leonidas and all of Sparta.  I could probably talk more about the story but its pretty much all about the visuals.  The rugged 6 pack abs of the Spartans, the slow motion CGI blood sprays.  All of the raw violence and sexuality is where this movie makes it money and everybody knows it, but this is not a bad thing.  This is bloody fairy tale of good versus evil with evil prevailing?  The strength and courage of those 300 Spartans fighting impossible odds speaks to a wider truth, never give up and never surrender.


Seven years later we are given a sequel in the form of 2014's "300: Rise of an Empire" a serviceable sequel but pretty unnecessary. Although major props to Eva Green who really went all out and gave everybody what they really wanted to see.  The original is the standard all will be judged by.  The 2011 film "The Immortals" tried to use the same formula but came off as a cheap imitation and no where near the same experience.  It pays to be first I guess.  The original "300" is widely available and fun to revisit if its been awhile.


Say Aloha to "The Descendants"

The Descendants
11/29/2015

Say Aloha to "The Descendants" the 2011 Film by Alexander Payne starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley.

Set on the islands of Hawaii I love the opening narration by Clooney's character Matt King that goes something like, just because you live in a tropical paradise doesn't mean that your immune from the problems of everyday life.  Matt is a real estate lawyer who has deep ties to the island, his ancestors go way back to the founding fathers.  He's the trustee of the largest parcel of pristine undeveloped land in the state and him and his cousins are poised for a huge payday.  The trust expires in 7 years so the motivation to sell is there but can he go through with it and have the awe inspiring scenery turned into another high dollar resort.  Although this problem is currently secondary due to the fact that his wife Elizabeth was recently involved in a boating accident and lies in a coma from which she may never recover.

Matt has been an absent father to his two daughters, 10 year old Scottie and 17 year old Alexandra (Woodley), prior to his wife's accident and now must try to care for them.  Both come with their own set or problems, Scottie frequently acts out at school, while Alex is currently at a boarding school after her unruly behavior.  Upon hearing the news that Elizabeth's condition is permanent Matt must break the news to his girls and help them through the tough times ahead.  If that's not enough he receives another big blow when he finds out Elizabeth was having an affair and planning to get a divorce.  Matt is forced to re-examine his life and priorities.  He's a good looking successful older man who is seeing his world fall apart and trying his best to stay afloat. This is the source of most of the humor along with Alex's surfer dude boyfriend Sid.


Clooney got a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for this role, not to mention launching the film career of Shailene Woodley.  Her portrayal of the troubled and angst ridden Alex was well written as well as acted.  She is more than just the stereotypical angry teen.  She's a strong and multi faceted young woman who is living her life to the fullest, just like her mother.  All of the acting performances were exceptional and the script was phenomenal.  As with "Sideways" Payne raked in another Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  The film is based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  The Descendants is a well grounded and real experience and I recommend seeing it.   Well to anybody reading this Mahalo.


Take a Trip to Wine Country with Miles and Jack in "Sideways"

Sideways
11/20/2015

Five years after his hit comedy "Election" Director Alexander Payne received massive critical acclaim, and his first Academy Award, for the 2004 film "Sideways".  A buddy comedy that takes you on an unforgettable ride through California wine country.

Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast as Miles an English teacher, struggling novelist, and wine aficionado.  His best friend Jack is played by Thomas Haden Church, a washed up actor who now mainly does voice over work.  His obnoxious personality and gregariousness are the perfect match to Miles depressive poor schlub attitude.  Jack is a week away from getting married so the guys plan a week long trip to Wine country.  Recently Miles has been extremely anxious as he's been waiting to hear back from his agent on whether or not his book will be published.  He is also still recovering from his divorce of two years ago. 

This movie is about romanticizing wine and peoples obsession with.  The film has actually been shown to have quite an impact on the wine sales and popularity especially for Miles love affair with the Pinot Noir.  Jack on the other hand is just along for the ride looking to hook up with a few more women before the big day.  The reason this is such a great film is that its well written, well acted and above all hits so many truthful beats.  The comedy comes organically from the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  Nothing feels forced and every emotion seems to flow and fit together perfectly.

Jack and Miles are the perfect odd couple even when they meet up with a couple of women from the area.  Miles has known Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, for a number of years but has never had the courage or availability to ask her out.  Jack gets know Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh, at one of the Vineyards who also happens to be friends with Maya.  The four of them eat and consume several bottles of wine that leads to two different kinds of relationships.  Although jack has not told Stephanie about his upcoming weekend plans, this is a problem he would like to ignore for the time being.  But just like an on coming train it will have be dealt with and soon.

Jack and Miles friendship is tested many times and none more so than the ending when Miles goes above and beyond the call of duty.  They do make it though the week and feel compelled to maybe improve their lives a little.  "Sideways" was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture but its only win was for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It was the most critically praised movie of 2004 sweeping up all the major critics awards.  It's definitely one to own and watch every once in a while for a feel good laugh.

"Election" Starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon

Election
11/15/2015

What's the difference between morals and ethics? This is the main theme of Alexander Payne's 1999 comedy starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.  Payne has built a reputation as one of the premier American directors working today.  His films are character driven comedies that are often painfully awkward and above all human and truthful.

Morals are defined as a person's standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.  While ethics are moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior.  Matthew Broderick who plays Jim McAllister a high school history teacher who is about to have his morals and ethics challenged by the overly ambitious Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon.  Every school has a Tracy Flick, that feisty overachiever who knows how to get what they want and look good doing it.  The upcoming student body presidential campaign will be a fight for the ages and not for the faint of heart.  As with all politicians Tracey's morals and ethics are a bit questionable. Mr. McAllister's hatred of her grew out of an illicit affair that happen between Tracy and another teacher, Mr. Novotny.  The whole incident was kept relatively quiet, but Novotny was fired and his life was destroyed.  Initially Tracy was running unopposed but Mr. McAllister wanted to knock this uppity bitch down a peg so encourages football player Paul (Chris Klein) to challenge her.  Paul recently fractured his leg and is unable to play leaving him to wonder about his future.  Paul is a gentle and likable guy but a little dumb,  kind of the George W. Bush of the whole election group.    

The story gets even more involved as Paul's sister Tammy, who likes girls, has a falling out with her best girlfriend who then as an act of revenge starts to date Paul.  Fed up with all this Tammy decides to run for president too except as an anti-candidate who wants to abolish all high school government.  Mr. McAllister's boring home life is about to get a little more interesting as he contemplates moving in on Novotny's wife Linda.  McAllister's increasingly bad decision making leads to some painfully funny and awkward moments.

When election day finally arrives and things don't go as planned Mr. McAllister will do whatever it takes to crush the dreams of Tracy Flick.  Eventually he has to answer for his severe breach of political ethics and personal morality leaving him to re-evaluate his life and to finally move and to start over again.  



"Paper Man" is one to Save from the Recycle Bin


Paper Man
11/13/2015

Released in 2010 "Paper Man" has the quintessential indie film elements that worked well for Sophia Coppola's "Lost in Translation".  It works as well thanks to the performance by Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Lisa Kudrow.

Jeff Daniels plays Richard Dunn a struggling writer (is there any other kind) who is determined to write a follow up novel to his not so successful first one.  To do this he takes up residence in a seaside cabin and tries to shut off everything else in his mind, his wife Claire (Kudrow), their friends and mostly his imaginary friend Captain Excellent, played by Ryan Reynolds.  Captain Excellent has been with Richard since he was a child, he wears blue tights, a red cape, and an unusually large codpiece.  The Captain is a rich stew of Richards fear, anxiety and neurosis.  A strongly held security blanket that has been with him far too long.

Richard ventures into the small resort town to clear his head and runs into a local high school girl named Abby played by Emma Stone in one of her first roles before making it big.  Even though Richard is alone in the cabin he hires her to babysit, while he goes out to drink. Upon his arrival back he finds she has made homemade soup, the key to any man's heart.  Their relationship is similar to that of Lost in Translation in that it is an older man and a younger woman in a completely non sexual relationship.  Their characters have this deep unspoken understanding of each other.  Both are at a crossroads in their life, a sort of limbo waiting for the next thing to come along.  Abby has a douche bag of a boyfriend that Richard disapproves of but doesn't want to intervene.  Abby also has a male best friend/stalker in Chris who is that painfully stereotypical guy who is stuck in the friend zone and pines for something more.  This creates a weird sort of dynamic around Abby and the three guys in her life. 



With some help Richard if forced to make some life decisions and opens up to his wife that in turn strengthens their waning marriage.  His seemingly eternal writers block is broke free with his friend and muse Abby and his ultimate dismissal of his need for Captain Excellent.

Jeff Daniels always brings it in whatever role he plays from "Dumb and Dumber" to "The Newsroom" and is one of the most underrated actors working today. As for Emma Stone she just owns her role as Abby with a no nonsense personality and a presence that jumps off the screen.  Its a good thing too because the plot in itself is pretty tired and worn out.  The filmmakers poor script was saved by all the actors involved.  "Paper Man" while starting a little slow really come into its own and makes it a worthy watch.  


See "Wetlands" with Popcorn, Pop & Purell

Wetlands
10/14/2015

When it comes to the gross out comedy you might think of a couple of guys acting childish and stupid.  Maybe something from the Farrelly Brothers or the string of National Lampoon's movies from the 80s and 90s.  Each film seems to raise an imaginary bar as too who can be the absolute rudest and crudest.  It seems we have a new champion and HER name is Helen the star of the 2013 German comedy "Wetlands".  Of course when it comes to freakishly gross who else but the Germans to set a record pace.

Helen, played by Carla Juri, is an 18 year old disillusioned teenager who literally has no boundaries when it comes to personal hygiene and sexuality.  Raised by a very clean minded mother and an absent father, she finds personal rebellion in the nastiest sort of ways.  Her parents are now divorced but has never given up hope of them getting back together. During an unfortunate shaving accident, an anal fissure,  Helen it laid up in a hospital bed getting her ass operated on.  During this time we are treated to some flash backs and fantasies, some including her best friend Corrina, who is also a social outcast due to a chest pooping incident.  Helen develops a crush on her male nurse Robin who cautiously plays along with her twisted games.

No bodily fluid is left unexamined in this movie hence the name "Wetlands" from graphic depictions of blood (menstrual an otherwise), puke, semen, etc.  You get the picture, but what is this movie really about? Its a painfully honest and graphic portrait of getting to know who you are and not being afraid to let it out.  That no matter how hard your parents try they can't help but severely and constantly damage you as you grow up.  You become a product of your parent own worries and neurosis.  As you get older you rebel against anything that ties you to them to hopefully find the real you.  Desperate to get her parents back together she hatches a few plans but the hurdles keep piling up and her self destructive streak comes to a head and a repressed childhood memory finally comes to light that allows her to see her mother in whole new if not disturbing light.

Like most people her age Helen is a complex and unique person if not a bit crude and unfiltered.  She is not your stereo typical "girl"  she is a person stripped away of all proper societal bullshit and preconceptions.  She is a good person, a loving person, and above all a brutally honest person.  Obviously if your a germ phobic, clean freak, watching this movie will drive you straight to the asylum and a padded room.  But with all its cringe worthiness its still a good watch, don't miss it.


Wetlands - "Pink-Band" Trailer from Strand Releasing on Vimeo.

"Valerie and her Week of Wonders" is a Wondrous Experience


Valerie and her Week of Wonders
9/11/2015

Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a coming of age film like no other.  This Czechoslovakian film from 1970 is a little know cult classic that was recently restored and released by The Criterion Collection.  Its a strange and surreal fairy tale that will keep your eyes glues to the screen for the entire 73 minutes.  The film is more of a painting or an experience rather than a traditional narrative story.  Rich with metaphor and symbolism its an art house film with a capital A.

Valerie is a young girl of about 13 or so whose transition into womanhood is a scary and dangerous proposition.  Her parents are dead and she lives with her grandmother, who may or may not be a vampire or a witch.  Valerie is friends with a local boy, Eaglet, whose father may or may not be a vampire or even the devil.  He is also known as the polecat, a weasel of a man who is always up to no good.  Throw in a sleazy lecherous priest and Valerie must defend her mind and body for what awaits her in adulthood.  Her bedroom however is a gleaming white sanctuary for which she is free and safe from the outside world.  While Valerie's grandmother fears of growing old she makes a deal with the polecat for everlasting youth, Valerie yearns for love, safety, and security.  She hopes this will come from Eaglet and a magic pair of pearl earrings.

Her journeys are like hallucinations charged with either sex or violence.  She sees a groups maidens bathing in the river, as well as men whipping themselves.  When the priest seemingly returns from the dead, Valerie is taken and burned at the stake

The imagery and cinematography of the film are simply amazing. The image of a blood stained daisy makes for the perfect cover art for the Criterion release.  The film takes on many fairy tales but would most resemble "Alice in Wonderland".  Its a truly unique vision for this girls very strange week of wonders.


Play "Hide and Seek" with Fanning and De Niro


Hide and Seek
9/9/2015

You could say 2005 was a pretty good year for up and coming actress Dakota Fanning as she starred opposite Tom Cruise in the Summer blockbuster "War of the Worlds" directed by Stephen Spielberg.  Earlier in the year she was front and center in the psychological thriller "Hide and Seek" co-starring Robert De Niro.  Here she plays yet another precocious little smarty pants dealing with the suicide death of her mother.

After his wife's death David decides it would be best for him and his daughter Emily to move out of the city and into a quite country estate to deal with things.  David is a psychologist who despite the advice of his colleague Katherine, played by Famke Janssen, thinks it is in the best interest of his daughter.  Katherine has been treating Emily and now more than every feels she needs a strong motherly influence and someone other than her father to talk to.  Never the less they arrive at their new digs, a big Summer house in the middle of Fall. They are greeted by the town sheriff Dylan Baker, who will most likely die a horrible death, since cops never fair well in scary movies.  They settle in for what will hopefully be a new beginning, but that would make for a pretty boring movie, wouldn't it.

The quiet and introspective Emily investigates the grounds and finds an ominous wooded area with a cave, just before being called to dinner.  Emily's relationship with her father is a rather typical one except for the fact that he could easily be her grandfather.  How many men in their sixties have kids under ten?  She is kind of a mystery to him.  He knows a few things like her favorite foods and her dolls name but together they're a bit awkward, which does help with the suspense and tone of the film.  When Emily starts acting out she blames everything on her imaginary friend named Charlie.  David struggles to control his daughter while also trying to grieve for his wife.  Her suicide was a complete shock to him and the unanswered questions keep piling up. 

David does find some friendship in the form of a single mother named Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue) who he meets at the park.  She is invited to dinner and they have their "Taste the Sauce" moment, but Emily is not as inviting as she throws a hateful bitch fit at the table.  As Emily continues to act out in more extreme ways (poor kitty never had a chance) David is overwhelmed as what he should do next.  Up to this point in the story everything has been done to make you believe this is an evil kid movie and Emily is obviously disturbed.  But wait a divisive third act twist in the vane of "Cape Fear" with the exact same actor none the less.  We learn more about Charlie and a different view of all of the crazy things that have been happening.  Although this movie is filled with numerous genre clichés and twists it is an entertaining watch if nothing else. 

Even though Dakota Fanning was only about 10 or 11 when this was made she looks to be an adult playing a kid which also adds to the creepiness factor as she is only actor that can pull this off. The movie is what it is and I would still recommend seeing it.




P.S. The sheriff does die a horrible death.

Dakota Fanning in the Controversial "Hounddog"

Hounddog
8/9/2015

Dakota Fanning was one of the great child actors of her generation, from her film debut opposite Sean Penn in the 2001 film "I am Sam" to "Hounddog" in 2007.  Appearing in over 10 feature films in that period and working primarily with A-list directors and upstaging many of her older co-stars, like Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro.

Directed by Deborah Kampmeier "Hounddog" was a turning point in her career, at the ripe old age of 12.  The independent film about a preconscious young girl living in the rural American South in the mid to late 1950s drew criticism and controversy for scenes of sexual abuse involving Fanning's character Lewellen.  The whole atmosphere of the film has a lingering lusty feel to it.  It's the stereotypical gothic fairytale view of the South.  Lewellen lives with her brutish drunken father (David Morse) for whom she has a love/hate relationship.  She even says she would like to kill him one day. She also lives with her grandmother, who acts as sort of a surrogate mother but still doesn't give her the attention she needs.  When her father has a falling out with his latest girlfriend (Robin Wright), he leaves his daughter to go on a drunken bender for a period of time.  Lewellen grew close to her and took the split harshly.   He only salvation is in the music of Elvis Presley and running around with Buddy, the neighbor boy.  She also strikes up a friendship with a local black man, who introduces her to Blues music.  This allows her to cope with her situation and later on brings her back from a terrible event.  When her father finally returns, she is all to happy to see him but shortly after their reunion he is struck down by a bolt of lightening turning him into a kinder gentler giant with a mind of a 5 year old.  Lewellen now  has to take care of him.  Lewellen's yearning to leave her situation blinds her from some real danger that's up ahead.


Word spreads around town is that Elvis will be giving a concert nearby and she will do anything to get her ticket to see him.  Her naive and trusting nature soon leads her into a situation that will scare her for life.  She seems surrounded by boys and men all to willing to take advantage of her from her father, the teenaged milkman and eventually even Buddy.  Her father's old girlfriend swings around again, but this time only to see Lewellen, in the film she is credited as "Stranger Lady", but is this her biological mother? and more importantly her ticket out?  "Hounddog" is decent movie with a few good performances including that of Fanning, but as a whole is a little too mellow dramatic and a bit unreal, it's like a storybook or fairy tale with tall tales and larger than life characters.  I do however recommend you check it out and give it a chance.


"Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present"

Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present
7/16/2015

With over 200 reviews in the rear view this is the first documentary to be featured in long history of the Rockport Review.  It took a doc like "Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present" to break in.  It is simply an event to behold.  Its simplistic, bizarre, and extremely moving.  It's the world performance art.

This film documents the MoMA retrospective exhibit of Marina Abramovic a controversial and boundary crushing Eastern European performance artist.  Now at 63 she launches her newest performance, also the name of the exhibit, The artist is present.  For the whole length of the exhibit which is 3 months she will be sitting silently across from members of the audience in a shared experience.  6 days a week, 7 hours a day in a squared off space.  Two chairs facing each other with a table in between them.  An electric and bizarre atmosphere envelopes the two strangers who lock eyes in a sort of starring contest for an indeterminate amount of time.  It's a monumental achievement in self discipline and how she can control her own mind and body for such long periods of time.

We are also given a retrospective on her career as well with videos and interviews.  She has been performing since the early 1970s and her work explores a wide range of human dynamics and the relationship between the artist and the viewer.  She has performed many works with her now former lover Ulay and these are prominently featured here.  Her work leaves many people asking "Why is this Art?" Ah the question that has plagued mankind for centuries, What is art?

Her massive exhibit features other performance artists recreating many of her previous works, but at the heart of it all is Marina herself in that chair staring back at you.  The exhibit, which took place in 2010, looked to be quite the cultural phenomenon with people waiting for hours are even days for their chance to sit across from her.  It was like she took on this Christ like figure, as people where weeping and worshiping her.  Marina's eyes gave out a sort of unconditional motherly love that drove many of the people to tears.  As the exhibit wore on people got more and more desperate to see her.  It also brought to light the nature of celebrity and how groups of people can be enchanted and mesmerized by a single person.  I'd highly recommend taking a look at this film as it is quite the experience, it was produced by HBO and can be found on DVD.


"White Bird in a Blizzard" a Gregg Araki Film

White Bird in a Blizzard
6/29/2015

A little while ago I reviewed the film "Mysterious Skin" by indie auteur Gregg Araki that stared a young Joseph Gordon Levitt in his latest film "White Bird in a Blizzard" another hot young actor in Shailene Woodley of "Divergent" fame takes center stage.  Araki's films are character driven dramas that push the boundaries of mainstream Hollywood.  This film also stars a number of great actors in Eva Green, Christopher Meloni and Angela Bassett. It currently can be found on Netflix Streaming.

This film is all about Woodley's character of Kat Connors a 17 year old girl whose mother, Eve (Green), ran out on her when she was young leaving her to deal with her uptight milquetoast father Brock (Meloni).  The first line of the film is from Kat saying "Mom are you Okay" which is absolutely perfect, it says so much about the upcoming narrative in a mere four words.  Although Kat had a rather stormy relationship with her mother, she still loves and misses her.  As mentioned before Brock is an emotional blank slate working a menial job, completely unavailable for anyone.  Even when she was around her parents were constantly at odds with each other.  Eve looked to be trapped as an unloved under appreciated housewife dying a slow suburban death.  When she disappears Kat drifts further away from her family and intensifies her relationship with the only person that pays any attention to her, the neighbor boy Phil (Shiloh Fernandez).  It was actually quite surprising to see multiple nude scenes from Woodley who has built her career on big budget family friendly movies.  Its great to see her taking risks and putting her self out there, something that most actors her age would normally turn down.  Although that being said it is a Gregg Araki film so pretty much anything goes.


Kat graduates from High School and goes to Berkley where she meets new people but is still in a sort of mental funk.  "The future bores me" she says at one time.  Upon coming home for spring break her dad has landed a new girlfriend, that she could care less about.  Kat and her friends start to wonder what really happen to her mom and some pretty wild theories pop up, but exactly how wild are they?  Could Brock have killed his wife?  The film then turns into a kind of strange Nancy Drew novel as Kat begins to suspect that her father know more that he is telling her.  He starts to show a more angry dark side, but he's already kind of strange to begin with.  The ending unleashes a twist that is perfect for an Araki movie.  It's shocking and a bit funny at the same time.  Hopefully Kat can move on from her tragically damaged family life and create a peaceful existence of her own.  Hopefully she won't disappear in that blizzard.


"Josie and the Pussycats" Rock the House!

Josie and the Pussycats

7/1/2015

Every so often you'll come across an older movie that you've never seen but always wanted too and it turns out to be completely different than you though it would be.  "Josie and the Pussycats" is just such a movie.  Released in 2001 and obviously marketed to teenage girls, it's actually a darkly satirical and sarcastic laugh riot.  Although maybe not so much in 2001, the last 14 years or so has given it time to mature like a fine wine and be even more cheesy, campy and ridiculously funny.

Adapted from the "Archie" comic books from the 1960s, "Josie and the Pussycats" are an all girl rock band brought into modern day reality.  Josie is played the down to earth and electric Rachel Leigh Cook, which was the main reason I wanted to see this movie in the first place.  Rosario Dawson is Valerie the tough and smart bass player, while Tara Reid is Mel the ditzy blonde drummer.

Remember this was a time period when boy bands like "Nsync" and "Backstreet Boys" ruled the charts.  The movie opens with such a band called "Du Jour" and there number one hit single "Backdoor Lover".  Their record label Mega Records has created them and molded each of their personalities and their music to sell to their adoring fans.   Although if they become aware or what's really going on behind the scenes they can replace them in a moments notice.  The bands interaction on their private jet is priceless, the petty arguments and celebrity whining all ring true.  This bring another clever part of the film to the fore front or shall I say background.  Product placement in movies and TV is quite the shameless epidemic and the filmmakers take this concept to soaring new heights.  Every single shot in the film has been arranged to show some sort of blatant product placement.  Dujour's jet is plastered with Target logo's and bottles of dish soap? Must be because of their squeaky clean image.  This sort of tongue and cheek satire is littered throughout the film.


Okay back to the girls.  When Dujour's jet mysteriously crashes. Mega Records executive Wyatt Frame (played brilliantly by Alan Cumming) needs to find the next big thing, and just happens to spot "Josie and the Pussycats" crossing the street.  He immediately signs them and within a week they are the hottest band in the country. The girls find this a bit odd but fame and celebrity can be pretty awesome.   When the group learns that Mega Records puts subliminal messages into their music, they must fight the power and save legions of teenage fans from wanting to drink Zima and buy Puma sneakers.  Josie and the girls have remained grounded and skeptical until Josie is given a CD from Wyatt that turns her into a selfish bitch.  He also enlists Carson Daly to kill Mel and Val, this is actually how Carson and Tara Reid met in real life and almost got married.  The girls then must deal with the evil Fiona (Parker Posey) the head of Mega Records.


Filmmakers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan could have gone a few different ways with the material but went all out in crafting a witty, thoughtful and fun piece of cinema that could have been so much worse.  I can now definitely say that "Josie and the Pussycats" are totally jerkin'.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is "The Lookout"

The Lookout
6/4/2015

Two years after the success of "Brick", Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in another indie film called "The Lookout" with another first time director in Scott Frank.  Although Frank has written a number of hit films over the past twenty years, it was his first shot at getting behind the camera.  It would be easy to say that "The Lookout" is a heist film, which it is, but its more of a character study of a young man named Chris Pratt.  Not to be confused with the actor Chris Pratt who was in "Guardians of the Galaxy"

While in high school Chris was a stand out hockey player without a care in the world.  His whole life ahead of him until one night while cruising through the back farm roads in a convertible with some friends, a magical moment is turned tragic.  To better see the clouds of fireflies with his girlfriend he turns his lights off, it's a surreal moment until reality literally hits them in the face.  The car crashs head on into a giant tractor and the friends in the back seat are killed.  Chris and his girlfriend are thrown, but survive. 

Flash forward 4 years and Chris is still learning to live with the brain injury that has turned his life onto an unexpected and frustrating path.  His short term memory has been severely damaged and must keep clear notes.  Due to this disability the only job he can get is a nighttime janitorial position at a small town bank.  Although its a long drive from his apartment it forces him to drive by the scene of the accident twice a day. 


With the financial support of his upper class family he lives in a small apartment with the pragmatic and father like Lewis, played by Jeff Daniels.  Lewis is blind and has learned to live with his ailments.  Chris lives a quiet and solitary life and doesn't have any friends his own age.  So one night at the local bar a childhood friend introduces himself, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), he doesn't immediately recognize him but goes along with it.  Gary hooks him up with a hot girl (Isla Fisher) and introduces him to a bigger group of shadier looking people.  After a short honeymoon period Gary comes clean with his intentions.  Him and his crew rob banks and need Chris's help to hit the one he works at.  Chris is torn, he's a good guy at heart and it doesn't seem like something he would even consider, but he also feels trapped.  Yearning for freedom from his domineering family and the chance to realize some of his lost dreams.  He agrees to be the lookout, hey that's the title of the film!


Chris is a lost soul and his life has been defined by one bad decision he made as a teenager.  Will he learn from that experience and continue improve his life inch by inch as he has been or will he be lured by the devil-like Gary into another life altering choice?  A person's poor decisions will often unknowingly hurt the people around them, but is only realized in hindsight.  While the last act of the movie does suffer a little bit from a case of convoluted bullshit things are resolved.  While the first two thirds of the film does a great job in creating Chris's world and developing its characters it might be a little too slow for people expecting a classic heist film, this is made up for better or worse with the finale.  It's still a film worth seeing and the DVD includes a commentary track for those who like that sort of thing.  Check it out! 


"Brick" is a Modern Masterpiece by Rian Johnson

Brick
5/17/2015

After his breakout role in "Mysterious Skin" Joseph Gordon Levitt followed that up with another sleeper indie hit in "Brick" the debut feature of writer/director Rian Johnson. "Brick" takes the classic noir crime drama and plants it in a modern day high school.

Levitt plays Brendan a scrappy loner who finds the dead body of his old girlfriend.  We then flashback a couple of days to see all of the events that lead up to this discovery and who is ultimately responsible.  Emily played by Emile De Ravin is the girl in question, she has drifted away from Brendan and has fallen into a dangerous crowd.  Her new boyfriend Dode is a low level sleazebag who belongs to a bigger group of shady characters.  Brendan fears for her safety and when she goes missing his search for answers leads him into the underground world of a young crime boss known only as the Pin (Lukas Haas).  With help from his only friend, The Brain, Brendan literally takes a number of beatings, mostly doled out by Tugger, to finally meet with the Pin himself.  The Pin is about 26 years old and has adopted the style of a 1970s godfather, although he operates in the basement of his oblivious mothers basement.  There are moments of ridiculous humor at the mothers expense that make the Pin a more rounded character.  Although it is best not to cross him as his calm demeanor can be a bit deceiving.


Rian Johnson has created a unique and interesting world with a language all its own.  The characters dialogue is peppered with its own slang giving it an authentic and gritty feel.  The structure and atmosphere of the film are right of a Dashell Hammett novel if adapted for younger crowd.  All of the regular conventions are present.  You have your innocent man, the dead girl, the kingpin, the enforcer, and of course the femme fatale.  Laura fills that role perfectly in "Brick".  She is rich, beautiful and could be the key player in finding what happen to Emily.


Driven to the point of physical and mental exhaustion Brendan's intensity and determination refuses to quit.  One by one he gathers clues and digs himself a big hole he can hopefully get out of.  When things disintegrate within the Pin's inner circle its everybody for themselves and everyone has a play.  In this chess match someone is going down hard and Brendan must be a step ahead of everyone to get out alive.


"Mysterious Skin" A Film by Gregg Araki


Mysterious Skin
5/10/2015

This is the film that showed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has arrived as a serious and talented dramatic actor.  A daring and explicit film that not only shed his child actor status but shows great potential for years to come.  Directed by indie auteur Gregg Araki who always has something powerful and profound to say.  Never afraid to go there.

This is the story of two young boys who were sexually abused by their little league coach and the two different life paths it has taken them down.  The years of repression and coping mechanisms is wearing them down as they get older.  First we are introduced to Brian (Brady Corbet) who as an 8 year old blacked out for a period of time and woke up with a bloody nose.  Even as he gets older he is still convinced he was abducted by aliens that night as he still get those bloody noses.  After seeing a UFO program on television he seeks out a young woman who also believes she was abducted.  Brian is an emotional wreck in a desperate search for answers.  Neil (Gordon-Levitt) on the other hand is now about 18 or so and is a hustler, hanging out at parks and playgrounds selling his services to older men.  Neil hides behind a cocky, devil may care attitude, but you know he is scarred and hurting inside.  His best friend Wendy has been at his side from the beginning and is now going off to college in New York City.  Tired of his old routine back home Neil also moves to NYC, which proves to be more that he bargained for as he tries to make money like he did back home.

Brian's search for answers brings him to a small farm and he meets with Avalyn, the woman from
TV, who has problems of her own.  This whole alien abduction fantasy that they share is just way to escape their crippling physical and emotional problems and to find other such people to confide in.  Brian's emotional pressure cooker comes to a head with his own father who he blames for not being their for him.  His mother is also in a deep state of denial about what could have happen to him.  Also at about this point Neil has a run in with a brutally violent John that breaks him down physically as well as emotionally.

Back home on Christmas Eve Brian finally meets up with Neil and the whole truth comes flooding out.  It's obviously no secret that abuse at any age is life altering and the after affects last for years if not forever, but their is still hope at the end of the long dark tunnel.  This film is brutally honest and shies away from nothing in its depiction of its ugliness and how it affects its victims.  While at times hard to watch "Mysterious Skin"is definitely a film to see.


"Identity" Knows what a Good Horror Movie Should Be!

Identity
4/19/2015

"Identity" combines a good script along with good execution to deliver a thrilling scare fest of a puzzle that entertains and surprises.  Although it did follow the trend of the super surprise "Sixth Sense" style twist ending, which pretty much makes the movie what is.  That being said it still doesn't take away from the enjoyment of it.

The story takes place at a desolate roadside motel during a monsoon like rainstorm.  The ensemble cast is led by Ed, played by John Cusack, who while driving through the storm accidently hits a woman on the side of the road.  The woman is a wife and mother of George and Lou.  They all go to the motel for help, but the phones are out as well as the cell phone service.  Getting back on the road Ed doesn't get that far as a few miles up the road he finds its flooded and heads back.  Various characters start showing up at the motel looking for a place out of the rain.  There's the bitchy actress, the young couple, the reformed prostitute, and the cop (Ray Liotta) who is transferring a dangerous prisoner.  They are all a little bit more than their stereo type indicates but nothing that will reinvent the horror genre.  While waiting out the storm one by one they start showing up dead and in pretty nasty ways.  The big mystery begins as to who is the killer? With each body that shows up they find a hotel room key counting down to number one.  Ed, who used to be a cop, and Rhodes the actual cop team up to find the killer and protect who's left, but the murders don't stop and accusation and anxieties run high.  Eventually they find out each of them has a connection to each other.  Is this just a strange coincidence or was the whole thing staged by some murdering psychopath?

All of the action happening at the hotel is framed by another story of a death row serial killer named Malcolm Rivers trying to get a last minute stay of execution.  Dr. Malik, played by Alfred Molina, has new information that could help Malcolm's cause and a late night meeting has been set up.  The connection to these two stories is made clear in the big reveal at the end.  People familiar with horror movies might see a lot of the twists and turns to come but the filmmakers do a good job trying to stay one step ahead.

With so many possible spoilers it's a little difficult to review a movie like "Identity" but it's easy to see that a lot of thought and care went in weaving such a story and to not get lost along the way.  The film has quite the amazing cast for a horror movie in Cusack, Liotta, Molina, Amanda Peet, and a yet to be discovered John Hawkes.  Its a fun movie that delivers all the thrills and chills it promises and that is a pretty rare thing.


"High Fidelity" is a Chart Topping hit!

High Fidelity
3/9/2015

After watching the previously reviewed "Say Anything" you must follow that up with the 2000 film "High Fidelity".  Another John Cusack classic that's heavy on great music.  It's next to impossible not to like this movie.  It was directed by Stephen Frears and based on the book by Nick Hornby.  It co-stars Jack Black, Tim Robbins and Lili Taylor among others.

Cusack plays regular guy Rob Gordon who owns a record store called Championship Vinyl were he works with the crazy off the wall Barry, obviously played by Jack Black.  Barry is obnoxious and rude to customers but has a deep love for music and his friends.  Then there is the quiet and meek Dick, who looks like a cross between Michael Stipe and Moby.  It doesn't seem that Rob has changed much over the years and things are sort of at an impasse.  He is having one of those "What does it all mean?" things.

The story is structured as a sort of mix tape of romantic misery.  Rob talks directly into the camera and counts down his top 5 break ups of all time all while currently in the middle of another one.  His apartment is wall to wall records where he sits and wallows among the stacks upon stacks of vinyl.  He admits to being cursed in love and is determined to find out why.  "My guts have shit for brains".


His current soon to be ex-girlfriend Laura says she has outgrown him and moves out. Later we find out that she has shacked up with there upstairs neighbor Ian (Robbins), a new age hipster douche bag.  Rob is full of typical male insecurities and when problems come his way he is usually reluctant to do anything about it, but now he is determined to track down the top 5 women who broke his heart and find out what really happen and if he really is cursed.  He has the support of his sister Liz, who is John Cusack's real life sister Joan.  We also get some more top 5 lists and a short lived fling with a beautiful musician played by Lisa Bonet.  Rob regains his self confidence and realizes that he wants Laura back, but is it too late. This calls for the ultimate mix tape.  Their is a real honesty and truth to Rob's character and it shows on screen.  Its a fun movie to watch so don't let the words romantic comedy get in the way.

In the spirit of Rob here are my Top 5 movies starring John Cusack
1. Say Anything
2. High Fidelity.
3. Being John Malkovich
4. 1408
5. Identity

You Can "Say Anything" But see this Classic Movie!


Say Anything
3/2/2015

This classic 80s teen romance was the debut feature from Cameron Crowe who also wrote the script.  It stars John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, a vision of what was going to hit Seattle in the early 90s, a sort of pre-grunge era.  Dobler's classic trench coat and laid back attitude sets the tone for this story of surprising honesty and originality.  Ione Skye co-stars as Diane Court, the school valedictorian and Lloyd's object of affection.  Lili Taylor and John Mahoney also give memorable supporting performance.

Its graduation day for Lloyd and he has no set plans for his future except for maybe kickboxing.  He is the ultimate underachiever who lives with his sister and nephew, his friends are mostly female, most notably the guitar playing Corey (Taylor). Conversely Diane lives with her dad and has won a prestigious fellowship to study in England in the fall.  She's had little time if any to socialize with her classmates and has few relationships beyond her father (Mahoney) who runs the nursing home where she works.  Lloyd decides to call Diane after seeing her at graduation and talks to her father, he takes a message and adds it to the pile.  She calls him back and she agrees to go out with him to a graduation party.  Lloyd is a mixed bag of nervous excitement when he picks her up.  They seem to be the perfect opposites attract couple.  Lloyd is a complex character as he is smart and sympathetic, but also impulsive and directionless.  He lives for the now with no regard for the future.  They have a great time at the party, Diane finally gets to let go and have some fun and feel accepted with people her own age.

Diane only has the summer to be with Lloyd before she leaves for England and must decide if Lloyd is worth risking her future for.  Her father is obviously opposed to their relationship.  Exactly how strong is their love anyway? Another interesting little distraction comes into play when the IRS come knocking and ask to see the books for nursing home.  Diane's father has always done everything he could to support his daughter even it meant breaking the law.  She is put in a tough position as she is finally told the truth about her father.  

Going against everthing she feels and looking towards the future Diane takes her fathers advice and breaks up with Lloyd.  She gives him a pen wanting him to write to her.  Lloyd will not let her go that easily as he puts his heart on the line to get her back, with one of the most iconic scenes in teen movie history.  Across the street from her bedroom window he hoists his boom box over is head and blasts their song Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes".  Of course this would only work in an 80s movie.  After she learns the truth about her father she seeks out Lloyd at the gym and they get back together.  Lloyd is going with Diane to England and will do what he does best, to support her and be their for her in what ever she does.


When it comes to Rachael Leigh Cook "She's All That"

She's All That
2/14/2015

While the previously reviewed "Easy A" is a great example of the classic teen comedy done right, the 1999 film "She's All That" is quite the opposite.  This movie has been mocked and parodied to death, but is it really that bad?  Rachael Leigh Cook is the only reason to see this movie and she does her best with the material given. The rest of the cast is stocked with the late 90's version of the Brat Pack: Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Anna Paquin, a young Paul Walker not to mention others.

The story is packed to rafters with cliché piled on top of cliché.  Cook plays Laney Boggs, a "nerdy" artist type.  Her clothes are splattered with paint, her hair always in a ponytail not to mention she wears glasses, by the rules of high school movies she is a hideous freak.  We then arrive at the jump off point to our familiar story.  Prinze plays Zack Siler (not to be confused with Stewie's Family Guy Parody Zack Sawyer) the jock and hottest, richest guy in school.  His equally rich bitch of a girlfriend has just dumped him right before the prom, dude bogus!  He was dumped for a conceited douche bag (played by Matthew Lillard) who's claim to fame was being on the MTV's "The Real World".  On the rebound and looking to change things up a bit Zack and his friends make a bet the he can turn any girl into the prom queen .  Right on queue the messy and clumsy Laney stumbles on by. Little does he know that through Laney he'll learn more about himself and loving another person than he ever though he could. (silent giggle).


First of all Laney is obviously the hottest girl in school even in her "ugly" phase.  She's smart, expressive, and a strong independent girl.  Smelling his bullshit a mile away Laney keeps her distance but he is very persistent.  She eventually gives him a chance and they start to bond.  Before going to their first big party as a couple, Zack's sister Mackenzie (Anna Paquin) comes over to make Laney "pretty".  This consists of taking off her glasses, cutting her hair and putting some make-up on leading up to the grand staircase entrance/reveal.  The party turns out to be a disaster and leaves Laney feeling more alone than ever.  Zack is also still harboring some strong feeling for his old girlfriend Taylor.  Then Laney becomes aware of the contest she kicks his ass to the curb.  Coincidentally Taylor also becomes available and wants Zack back bigtime.  Does he go back to his old cheating girlfriend or try to repair things with Laney?  Not so fast Zack, in the mean time his best friend Dean (Paul Walker) has eyes on Laney and she uses him to make Zack jealous.  But like all teen movies everything comes to head at the prom, where for some reason there is a big choreographed dance number and everyone is a professionally trained dancer.

Teen movies follow a pretty strict formula and very rarely do anything original or daring. "She's all That" is a used text book example, but as I said in the beginning Rachael Leigh is pretty awesome in this.  She really is all that.  So if your lookin' for some cheesy romantic 90s nostalgia this is quite the goldmine.




"Easy A" is Essential Teen Comedy Viewing

Easy A
2/7/2015

"Easy A" was the surprise sleeper hit in the fall of 2010 and propelled the funny and charismatic Emma Stone to Hollywood stardom.  This movie was surprising because its not the 1980s or late 90s for that matter and the chances of a teen comedy being successful, funny, and profitable all at once is pretty rare.  But every generation needs its "Breakfast Club, American Pie, etc.  A movie that portrays the modern teenage experience.  A film that is honest and relatable without being cheesy or pandering.  "Easy A" is all of these and will take its place in the hall of fame of great teen comedies.

Emma Stone plays Olive Pendergast, a sort of revamped Molly Ringwald for today's generation.  The film knows its place in teen movie history and its crush on the 80s is very apparent with numerous reference all the way to the big ending.  This is not a bad thing but a wonderful homage to the memorable films that preceded it.  The story as a whole also plays like a modern retelling of "The Scarlet Letter" with Olive being Hester Prynne "Except without Demi Moore and all those bubble baths"

It started with a lie.  To get her best friend off her back about losing her virginity Olive says she slept with an older guy.  In literally a few hours the whole school knows and now the once clean cut Olive is the newly minted school slut.  Lies and rumors are the foundation of any high school society and now Olive has to figure out her next move with the help of her closeted gay friend Brandon played by Dan Byrd.  Brandon feels frustrated and depressed for not being able to be who he really is so they make a deal.  Olive pretends to sleep with him at a party so everyone will think he is straight, just until he gets through high school.  She then plans to give the people what they want and become the biggest phony slut she can be.  Word of the deal leaks out and guys start approaching her wanting the same deal.  They offer her money (she prefers gift cards) just to be able to say they did things with her.  She even starts to dress the part complete with a red "A" or scarlet letter.  This eventually becomes a problem and things get a little to real and she must try to put a stop to it.  She plans a to tell the whole story in a web cast that is played sporadically throughout the film.  This also plays havoc with her own crush on Woodchuck Todd, the school mascot and a long time friend that she has feelings for.

Emma Stone is not alone as the supporting cast is phenomenal.  Her cool and progressive parents are Thomas Hayden Church is Mr. Griffith a no nonsense teacher that is looking out for Olive and concerned about her recent changes.  Lisa Kudrow has a small but essential part as the school guidance counselor, who also happens to be married Mr. Griffith.  Before losing her mind and wondering off to crazy town Amanda Bynes plays a Christian Jesus freak named Marianne, Olive's arch enemy.
played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanly Tucci, who are normally seen in dramatic roles so it was quite the refreshing change.  Its also refreshing that their characters are portrayed as real people and not the clichéd movie parents that just don't understand.   


The script is clever, sharp and witty throughout.  Its satirical, heartfelt and just a heck of a lot of fun.  Now that I've run out of adjectives to describe this little piece of awesomeness it's time to "bucket list this bitch".


The Rockport Reviews Top 5 Films of 2014

The Rockport Reviews Top 5 Films of 2014
1/23/2015

It was an interesting year in movies, a lot of good movies, but very few great ones.  There is still a handful I have yet to see so the list could possibly change.  So with out anymore needless blabbering here's this years list.


The Top 5 (in no particular order)
Boyhood
Ida
Only Lovers Left Alive
Enemy
Birdman

Honorable Mentions
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Under the Skin, Blue Ruin, & The Immigrant 

Best Horror Movie
Oculus - Not so fast Babadook

Best Documentary
Life Itself - The incredible life story of the late Roger Ebert

Best Actor
Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy & Nightcrawler)

Best Actress
Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer)

Most Audacious Taboo Crushing Gross out film of the Year

Wetlands - Bodily fluids abound

Nothing "About Cherry" is all that good

About Cherry
1/4/2015

The 2012 film "About Cherry" was the debut film from writer/director Stephen Elliott and although it deals pornography it is pretty tame and watered down.  It plays as if it's a fairy tale as told through the diluted eyes of its main character, Angelina or Cherry.

With an impressive ensemble cast that includes James Franco, Lily Taylor, Dev Patel, and Heather Graham you would think the results would be much better.  Ashley Hinshaw plays Angelina, a young beautiful blonde girl who lives with her alcoholic mother, two siblings and her mother's abusive boyfriend. Unable to take it anymore she moves out to San Francisco with her possibly gay best friend Andrew (Patel).  To make some extra money she agree to model for a photographer.  After that bad experience she meets Frances (Franco), a slick lawyer at a nightclub who introduces her to some people at an adult film company.  The business is like any other as if was a bank or a hair salon, except they make porno's.  Angelina is taken on as an actress and does solo's and girl on girl movies, all directed by Margaret (Graham) a lesbian in a rocky relationship.  I personally have no idea what the porn industry is like but this all seems so fake and glossed over, kind of like the content they produce.  Margaret develops a major crush on Cherry (Angelina's stage name) however she isn't gay or is she? It's San Francisco so anything is possible.

The movie is more about messed up personal relationships than pornography, all of which revolve around Angelina, who really isn't that interesting to begin with.  The supporting characters are loosely drawn and don't seem all that believable either.  We are then force fed a typical Hollywood style ending.  Like I mentioned before the whole story could actually be a diluted fantasy all taking place with in Angelina's mind, but it doesn't seem like that's what the filmmakers are going for.  While watching this I though of David Lynch's "Inland Empire" a much darker and much better film, although not exactly  similar.  "About Cherry is currently available on Netflix watch instantly.