Hail, Caesar!

Posted in Comedy, Mystery with tags on February 9, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo hail_caesar_zps1yertdli.jpg photo starrating-2stars.jpgIn the Coen Brother’s latest, Josh Brolin is what is known as a fixer in Hollywood, that is a guy who works to keep actors’ scandals out of the press. The suppression of any information that could damage a star’s reputation was an important part of the studio system in the 1950s. So it’s a period piece. The time period gives the directors an opportunity to create this ode to old Hollywood. But the story is so diffuse and free-form that it evaporates from the mind. Somewhere along the the way, unmarried actress DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) becomes pregnant and star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is abducted, but those story developments are so neglected they barely register.

The Coens have managed to assemble an impressive cast. Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum all appear, many as versions of real life people. Only the Coen Brothers or possibly Wes Anderson could assemble an ensemble quite like this. Star gazers might be amused but, except for Tatum, they’re pretty much wasted. It’s telling when an unknown like Alden Ehrenreich is the actor that gets all the acclaim. Who? you ask. He’s appeared in a couple productions of note (Blue Jasmine, Stoker). However he’s never been so memorable as he is here playing Hobie Doyle, an “aw shucks” singing cowboy.

The Coens get a lot right, There’s send-ups of the escapist fare that Hollywood used to make at that time: westerns, musicals and grand epics with hundreds of extras. The movies within the movie are the purest part because they’re created with a lot of skill and panache. George Clooney is in a massively mounted Roman production that recalls Ben-Hur. There’s also a synchronized water ballet in the style that Esther Williams used to perform. It’s colorful. Channing Tatum even does a song and tap dance routine and the number is the single most enjoyable moment in the whole comedy. Of course it’s not sincere. The song “No Dames” presents a group of tap dancing sailors in a gently twisted spoof of On the Town.

None of the cinematic recreations of classic cinema are better than the real thing. As a recreation of a bygone era, they’re enjoyed as charming fluff. Yet there’s an acerbic aftertaste to the Coens’ view of Hollywood’s Golden Age that keeps this from being a loving tribute. There’s knowing little in-jokes too regarding how motion pictures are made.  A rabbi, a priest and a Protestant minister are hired to weigh in on Capitol Pictures’ depiction of Christ in a biblical epic. The studio wants to make sure the portrayal doesn’t offend. It’s a comical vignette. There are others, but not enough to justify this meandering story in search of a point.

There’s never any indication that this is building toward anything. Nothing of consequence happens. This is just a series of blackout gags stitched together and marketed as a feature film. Edited up and watched individually it might inspire some titters, but as a full-length movie it’s a mess…and a boring one at that. Hail, Caesar! is a largely unfocused affair highlighted by a few bright spots that would be better viewed as clips on a comedy video website like Funny or Die. Channing Tatum and Alden Ehrenreich save this from being a complete waste of time. It’s not the worst Coen brothers picture, but it’s close.

02-04-16

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Shorts on February 7, 2016 by Mark Hobin

In honor of the Academy Awards, ShortsHD has once again made all three (animated, live action, documentary) of the the Oscar Nominated Short Film programs available to audiences around the world.

 

Documentary

The documentary short collection was released to theaters on January 29th, a month before the Oscars presentation on February 28th. However its availability is much more limited than the animated and live action categories. Check here to see which of your local theaters is playing them: http://www.shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/theatrical-release/

Three of the features have been acquired by HBO Documentary Films and will also premiere on the cable channel on each of the following dates:

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – March 7, 2016
Body Team 12 – March 14, 2016
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah – May 2, 2016

Chau, Beyond The Lines and Last Day of Freedom are both currently streaming on Netflix.

I’ve ranked the shorts in order of how effective they are in presenting their individual stories. This category always seems to favor depressing subjects. This is a pretty downbeat lot. If you do decide to see these one after another, be sure to go with a loved one so you can hug each other after it’s all over.

__________

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
PAKISTAN/40MINS/2015
Director & Producer: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
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This is a disturbing report concerning “honor killings” in Pakistan. The practice is defined as the homicide of a family member due to a dishonor believed to have been brought upon the family by the victim. The murder is seem as a way to restore reputation back to the family.

Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a Pakistani filmmaker whose similarly themed documentary short Saving Face won the award in this category in 2012. This is the story of Saba, a 18 year old Pakistani woman who fell in love with a man. They ran away to get married. She is brutally beaten, shot and left for dead by her own father and uncle. However she miraculously manages to survive and bear witness to what happened to her. In a year with some pretty cumbersome titles, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is the most unwieldy, but it’s also the most affecting. (8/10)

 

Last Day of Freedom
USA/32MINS/2015
Directors & Producers: Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman
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The most offbeat of all the documentaries, this account uses filmed footage of Bill Babbitt rendered in black and white animation. He remembers his brother Manny, who suffered brain damage from a childhood accident. Later Manny endured two tours of duty in Vietnam which further compounded his mental health issues.

Not sure if it’s the animated style or his compelling words, but I was transfixed by Bill’s recounting his brother’s story. What happens next is dreadful. Bill struggles between doing the right thing and the familial bond with his sibling. Powerful and heartbreaking. (7/10)

 

Chau, Beyond the Lines
USA/VIETNAM/34MINS/2015
Director: Courtney Marsh
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This chronicle begins on a sorrowful note as a story regarding a Vietnamese care center for children born with birth defects. The U.S. use of Agent Orange in Vietnam over 40 years ago is the cause. However the sad narrative develops into an inspirational saga about one particular teenager, Chau, who dreams of becoming an artist.

The record follows Chau for several years and we can see him develop his talent over time. It’s a touching (and ultimately uplifting) portrait. (6/10)

 

Body Team 12
LIBERIA/13MINS/2015
Director: David Darg
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The West African nation of Liberia experienced an epidemic of Ebola virus disease in 2014 and 2015. This chronicle focuses on Garmai Sumo, the only female member of a medical team whose job is to prevent the spread of disease by removing the bodies after they have died.

Director David Darg is a humanitarian first responder known for his documentary work in natural disasters and wars. His approach is to present the outbreak from her perspective and the unique challenges she faces when dealing with this work. For example, the deceased cannot be given a grave without a severe risk of contamination. She must convince family members to allow her to take their dearly departed loved ones. Direct contact with the body is dangerous so we see the precautions she and her team take to protect themselves. It’s a window into a very difficult job. (6/10)

[I could see any one of these nominees taking the award, but this is the apparent front-runner.]

 

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
USA/40MINS/2015
Director: Adam Benzine
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Shoah was a landmark 9+ hour documentary covering the Holocaust released in 1985. This explores director Claude Lanzmann’s arduous 12-year endeavor to put together that seminal work.

This reexamines why it is such an important film about the Holocaust. In essence, a 40 minute trailer that persuades the audience to watch the original feature. (6/10)

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on February 3, 2016 by Mark Hobin

In honor of the Academy Awards, ShortsHD has once again made all three (animated, live action, documentary) of the the Oscar Nominated Short Film programs available to audiences around the world.

Live-Action

Along with the animated program, the live action collection was released to theaters on January 29th, a month before the Oscars presentation on February 28th.

In addition to the theatrical schedule, the nominated live action and animated shorts will also be accessible online and on VOD/pay-per-view platforms.

Where the animated segment encompasses the gamut of emotion – joy to sorrow, the live action segment is much more mired in misery. This category is arguably the hardest of all the Oscar categories to call. None of the shorts star famous people, as in previous years’ winners like The Phone Call (Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent) or The Shore (Ciarán Hinds). This makes forecasting the winner even more difficult.

I’ve ranked the shorts in order of best to worst in terms of my own personal taste. However I’ll attempt to predict the prizewinner too.

 

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
GERMANY/AUSTRIA/30MINS/2015
Director, Writer & Producer: Patrick Vollrath
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The uncharacteristically upbeat title belies a heartbreaking tale. A divorced father picks up his eight-year-old daughter, Lea, for a day of fun. They spend every second weekend together, but after awhile she senses a change in the mood that signifies this outing is different.

I love films where the audience slowly develops an understanding of the situation. The story just pulls you in. It’s rather simple in scope, but it extracts emotion even better than a production that is four times as long. My absolute favorite of the bunch, which means it has absolutely zero chance of winning. (10/10)

 

Stutterer
UK/IRELAND/12MINS/2015
Director: Benjamin Cleary
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Greenwood (Matthew Needham) is a shy typographer with a severe speech impediment but a passionate spirit. His internet relationship with a woman named Ellie (Chloe Pirrie) has progressed nicely. After six months of online chatting, she is ready to meet face to face, but he is loath to reveal the truth about himself. He worries whether she will lose interest.

Irish director Benjamin Cleary recounts a succinct and well crafted fable about self doubt. Who can’t identify on some level with that dilemma? Scores extra points for taking the least amount of time to tell a sweet story. Ends on a clever note that makes everything worthwhile. A real charmer. (9/10)

 

Day One
USA/25MINS/2014
Director: Henry Hughes
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American woman who has joined the United States military as an interpreter is on her first mission in Afghanistan. However she’ll be asked to do a lot more than just translate before the day is over.

Director Henry Hughes spent five years as a paratrooper conducting two combat tours in Afghanistan. This film was based on an experience with his own female interpreter. The way gender and religion must dictate behavior in Muslim culture, is addressed. The first hand approach is uniquely told from an insider’s perspective. (7/10)

 

Shok (Friend)
KOSOVO/UK/21MINS/2015
Director & Writer: Jamie Donoughue
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The place is war torn Kosovo in 1998. The friendship of two children, Petrit and Oki, is tested when one enters into a dangerous business relationship with enemy Serbian soldiers who now occupy the territory.

Every year it seems there is at least one entry where war and children are united in a depressing narrative. Shok satisfies that niche which is why I’m predicting it will take the award. The drama is competent, but predictably dismal up to and including the extreme “shock” ending. (6/10)

 

Ave Maria
PALESTINE/FRANCE/GERMANY/15MINS/2015
Director: Basil Khalil
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A family of religious Israeli settlers has their car break down in a rural area of the West Bank. They seek the assistance of five nuns in a convent in the middle of the Palestinian territories. The nuns have taken a vow of silence. The Jewish family are forbidden to even use a phone on the sabbath. Culture clash comedy mines humor out of their difficulty to communicate.

Not bad, but it’s essentially a one-note joke built around a convoluted setup. My least favorite which makes it ironic that most prognosticators have selected as the odds on favorite to win. It’s a bit more lighthearted in tone which I suppose makes it stand apart from the more intense stories. (6/10)

01-28-16

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on January 31, 2016 by Mark Hobin

In honor of the Academy Awards, ShortsHD has once again made all three of the Oscar nominated short film programs (animated, live action, documentary) available to audiences around the world.

Animation

The animated compilation was released to theaters on January 29th, giving the public the opportunity to see the nominated entries before the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 28th.

In addition to the theatrical release, the nominated live action and animated shorts will also be accessible online and on VOD/Pay Per View Platforms.

The animated segment is often my favorite of the three shorts programs because they illicit the most diverse array of feelings – ranging from joy to sadness, sometimes within the same vignette.

I’ve ranked them in the order from best to worst. Also included in the theatrical program are a few honorable mentions including Cordell Barker’s If I Was God. All things considered, it’s a shame this didn’t earn a nomination.

 

World of Tomorrow
USA/17MINS/2015
Director & Writer: Don Hertzfeldt
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An adorable stick figure toddler is visited by her future self, a 3rd generation clone designed to live forever. She imparts wisdom and the script is literally one brilliant piece of wisdom after another. “I am very proud of my sadness because it means I am more alive.” The contrast between her happy but oblivious younger self and her melancholy older reproduction is heartbreaking.

American Don Hertzfeldt’s animated films (It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Rejected) have made him a bit of cult figure in this field. World of Tomorrow only adds to his mystique. (10/10)

 

Sanjay’s Super Team
USA/7MINS/2015
Director: Sanjay Patel
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A young Indian boy wants to watch superheroes on TV while his religious father is trying to mediate. After being forced to join him in prayer, the boy uses his imagination to envision Hindu gods combating in superhero adventures. Deeply personal tale obviously influenced by director Sanjay Patel’s real life relationship with his own father. Actual photos of the animator and his dad at the end complete the touching story arc.

This is from Pixar studios. Their entry originally ran before The Good Dinosaur so this is the most widely seen and the heavy favorite. (8/10)

 

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
RUSSIA/16MINS/2014
Director & Writer: Konstantin Bronzit
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Tale concerning two friends since childhood who go through the training program to become cosmonauts. The cartoon is from Russia so I’m making an attempt to use the correct terminology. Starts out lighthearted and silly and ends up rather sad and poignant. It isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s refreshing to see a short where the narrative takes precedence over the visuals. (7/10)

 

Bear Story
CHILE/11MINS/2014
Director: Gabriel Osorio
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Lonely bear who presents a mechanical theater of windup toys contained within a musical diorama . Passersby may peer inside for the price of a coin. The somber, dialogue-free story about animals captured to perform in the circus may or may not actually mirror the history of his own family. You decide. Just kidding. There’s nothing to decide. That’s exactly what it is. Cute. (6/10)

 

Prologue
UK/6MINS/2015
Director: Richard Williams
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Hand drawn Spartan and Athenian soldiers rendered in charcoal, engage in an extreme battle to the death. Here’s where you should escort the little ones out of the theater and get a snack. There’s nudity and lots of blood. A warrior is brutally stabbed in the groin. The animation is hypnotic but after it’s over, you’ll be scratching your head. What was the point? Well named because it feels like the beginning of something unfinished. (4/10)

01-28-16

Son of Saul

Posted in Drama, History, War on January 27, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo saul_fia_ver2_zpswqogquod.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSon of Saul is a Hungarian drama covering a day-and-a-half in the life of one Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Jewish prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He is forced to work as a Sonderkommando, that is – a captive who assists in the disposal of the dead, his fellow people, from the gas chamber. While there he discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son and tries to find a rabbi to give the child a proper burial.

The Holocaust has been the subject of innumerable pictures presented from a variety of different angles. Judgment at Nuremberg, The Pawnbroker, Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, Life Is Beautiful, The Pianist, The Counterfeiters, The Reader and Ida are merely a famous few that have won awards and accolades. Son of Saul is critically acclaimed as well and is even up for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards on February 28, 2016. Evidently the topic is ripe for more productions as director Laszlo Nemes approaches the material a little differently.

What separates Son of Saul is the you-are-there vantage point of the main character. Our lead is a prisoner but his own execution has been delayed. A visual perspective from a person thrust into the eye of the storm, so to speak.  The orientation is unique. We see everything from Saul’s viewpoint.  The action is shot in extreme closeup, often slightly behind or right in front of our protagonist. His expression is a blank face of detachment, perhaps immune to the atrocities that inundate him. The events however are often obscured, just out of focus for the audience, and hard to view clearly. We never see the faces of the victims or even their deaths distinctly. That is a blessing. Although the sounds that surround these incidents is horrifying.

Given the theme, Son of Saul is understandably difficult to watch. In many ways it should be. The plot doesn’t follow the traditional narrative that highlights an improbable hero. Its hyper-realistic style addresses the murder directly head on with no relief to alleviate the terror. The brutal efficiency with which the Nazis oversee this evil task is a robotic death camp of mind numbing savagery. A seemingly unending hell on earth from which human life is disposed like a mechanized chore. Even watching prisoners scrub the human blood from the floor of a massive shower can be an overwhelming experience.

Son of Saul is largely a compelling drama. Where the chronicle doesn’t near a masterpiece lies in the conclusion. The fact that Saul and his fellow workers’ days are numbered will inspire questions as the story wears on. Why submit to a ghastly task that only prolongs your inevitable death by days? Some abatement from their chamber of horrors is suggested but after a while Saul’s behavior becomes vexing for viewer. Setting up a brilliant beginning also demands a skillful ending. Son of Saul doesn’t quite deliver at the same level all the way through, but it is still a very powerful film nonetheless.

01-21-16

Mustang

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 17, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo mustang_ver2_zpsy2ovvvho.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgMustang is set in a remote Turkish village and depicts the life of five young sisters. Our tale concerns them all but is more centered on Lale (Güneş Şensoy). Her teacher at school is leaving for Istanbul. After saying goodbye, she accompanies her sisters on the walk home during a beautiful sunlit day. On the way, they stop off at the beach. They join some of their male classmates in a water game, fully clothed incidentally, where they sit on the boys’ shoulders trying to knock each other off. A neighbor spies the impropriety and the news of their seemingly innocent game reaches their family. The five orphaned teen sisters live with their grandmother in an isolated town on the Black Sea. She along with their overly protective uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) are shocked.  Their harmless goofing around is viewed as licentious behavior. The incident has lasting repercussions on the girls’ life from that moment forward.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a Turkish female director born in that country. However she was raised in France and is currently based there.  As such this picture was nominated as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.  In a broad sense, the chronicle is about freedom. More specifically the accessible subject concerns the unique challenges that girls face growing up in a conservative Muslim society. The narrative does a good job at detailing how their home life transforms after the event. They’re given virginity tests and forbidden to leave the house – even for school.  Soon after their uncle intends to marry every single one of them off as soon as possible. As the 5 sisters band together under the tightening restraints of their domesticity, their sisterly bond is captivating. They exhibit a camaraderie that is touching – a pretty, free-spirited group on the precipice of burgeoning sexuality. However, the group behaves as a unit and that often makes it hard to differentiate one sister from the other. Only the youngest, Lale (Güneş Şensoy) who narrates the story, truly stands out.

Director’s Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s harsh critique of an oppressive patriarchal society is straightforward, but it isn’t subtle. The saga descends from the carefree optimism on the beach into the dark corruption of a community prone to gender bias. The essential “house arrest” of these 5 teen girls approaches the totalitarian conditions of a jail.  The nightmare that is their homelife is clearly evident. Their subjugation is infuriating. As Westerners we are forced into a judgmental corner and are predictably outraged. The cultural portrait is nicely presented. This makes the decision to further stack the narrative by also making the uncle sexually abusive, a bit ham-handed. The focus isn’t just about the tyranny of a culture unjust to women anymore. Now we’re dealing with sexual assault. The approach is unnecessarily embellished. We feel the forcible pull of a screenplay, co-written by the director and Alice Winocour, overstating its case. However as the debut feature from an up-and-coming filmmaker, there’s still a lot to admire here.

01-07-16

Concussion

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on January 11, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo concussion_ver2_zpsn7swvjsa.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgBefore I launch into my review of Concussion, I thought a little primer on biology might help. So the brain floats inside the skull surrounded by something called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). When the body is suddenly stopped after a blow to the head, like after being tackled for example, the brain continues to move in the CSF until it hits the next solid surface – the inside of the skull. Sure a helmet will protect the skull, but it cannot protect the brain. If this happens enough times, the nerve fibers break off and proteins start to build up in the brain leaving scar tissue. That’s bad.

Concussion is a medical drama about Dr. Bennet Omalu. He works for the Allegheny County Medical Examiners Office in Pittsburgh. A forensic pathologist, Omalu conducts the autopsy on Hall of Famer Mike Webster – legendary center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster had not been well. He was suffering from amnesia, dementia, depression and died from a heart attack at only 50 years old. What Omalu finds, leads to his discovery of a new disease that he names chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE in 2005. The complications of which somewhat resemble Alzheimer’s, however they occur much earlier in life. The depression, memory loss and erratic, aggressive behavior experienced by ex NFL players, continues to this day. Concussion does a nice job at emphasizing the severity of these symptoms.

Given the subject matter, this could’ve been a much more incendiary film. The research calls the very sport of professional football into question. (I assume athletes in boxing, soccer, hockey, rugby and wrestling would be at risk as well.) As you might expect, the publication of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s research is viewed as extremely controversial by the National Football league. The NFL had a choice. Join Dr. Bennet Omalu and try to solve the problem, or use their considerable power to discredit him. The NFL choose the latter and they certainly do not come off well. They’re presented as this monolithic corporate entity as headed by commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson).

Dr. Omalu’s fight to get people to acknowledge he is right, becomes a veritable David-vs.-Goliath match. He was born in Nigeria. Dr. Omalu earned his degree in medicine there before coming to the U.S. where he completed his residency. Despite all of his education, he is seen as an outsider. “They insinuated I was not practicing medicine; I was practicing voodoo,” he has said. Not only is Dr. Omalu an immigrant, he is indifferent to that quintessentially American of pastimes called football. Nevertheless he does gain a powerful ally in former Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin).

I really wanted to love this movie. Concussion has the best intentions. It dramatizes a serious story that needs to be told. At the heart of this biography is a compelling performance by Will Smith. Historically he has often had a difficult time disappearing into the persona of another person. We see mega celebrity Will Smith – the brash movie star, not an actor fading within a role. Here however, he manages to convincingly present a different personality – accent and demeanor included. It’s his most impressive achievement since The Pursuit of Happyness. Unfortunately, the diffuse narrative spends way too much time on tedious details involving his personal life which includes love interest and eventual wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She is far too great an actress to be saddled with this expendable role. Concussion is at its best when it’s delving into the science of Omalu’s work, chronicling his study and the ensuing struggle to get his important research acknowledged. The production ends unresolved. According to the film, his research still has yet to be taken seriously by the NFL. Although some concessions have been made, very little about the sport has changed. Apparently the issue is far from over. Stay tuned.

12-29-15

Daddy’s Home

Posted in Comedy, Uncategorized with tags on January 6, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo daddys_home_zpsmwctg3sm.jpg photo starrating-halfstar.jpgI wasn’t going to review Daddy’s Home. I absolutely hated it. So much that I didn’t even want to ever think about it again. But then it became a hit. Since Dec 18th Star Wars: The Force Awakens has loomed large over everything else at the multiplex. That makes the success of Daddy’s Home even more incredible. While Oscar hopefuls like Concussion, Joy, The Big Short and The Hateful Eight all compete for an audience, this meager comedy outperformed them all with $120 million dollars. I can no longer ignore this. It has incurred my wrath.

It’s a sad coincidence, but Will Ferrell actually managed to co-produce the 3 worst movies I saw in 2015. No joke. Daddy’s Home, Get Hard, and Welcome to Me were the very dregs of everything I saw. It wasn’t always this way. Will Ferrell was once a favorite of mine. I consider Elf, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers to be among the funniest comedies of the 2000s decade. I even liked The Other Guys, the last flick he made with Mark Wahlberg – his onscreen co-star here. That makes his recent output all the more depressing. He can do better.

Brad (Will Ferrell) is married to Sara (Linda Cardellini). Right from the start we learn Brad cannot produce children of his own because his groin was subjected to x-ray radiation at the dentist. The script thinks it is important that we know he is infertile. The implicit-association is that he is defective and enfeebled. He is, nonetheless, a loving stepdad to her two young children. The children, who come across as ungrateful brats, hate him anyway simply because he isn’t their real dad. Megan draws a picture of Brad with “homeless man poop” on his head. However after 6 months of sycophantic behavior, Brad is finally starting to fit in with the family. That is, until the kids’ biological dad (Mark Wahlberg) decides to show up and re-enter the picture. Dusty is presented as a more handsome, athletic, macho dude that rides a motorcycle and knows the coach of the Lakers. He ingratiates himself back into their lives much to the consternation of Brad.

This is probably a good time to point out that that the entire narrative is based on a battle of egos to determine male superiority. Brad is unceasingly shown as not being able to measure up to stereotypical standards of masculinity. Will Ferrell has built a career on being an affable buffoon. He’s always been a passive milquetoast, a cloying entity desperately seeking approval. Daddy’s Home relies on those character traits, but here he amps up the obsequious sensibilities of his character to the point it becomes embarrassing. As his feeble attempts to win his stepkids’ love intensify, the more pathetic he seems.

I’ve never been a fan of comedies that derive laughs at the expense of a poor sap who is the obvious butt of jokes. It’s a very low form of humor because it relies on the degradation of another human being. Will Ferrell is a virtual whipping boy of ugly and mean-spirited humiliation. In fact, he’s emasculated to such a degree it becomes excruciating to watch. Despite the evidence that Brad is a nice guy, everyone comes to favor Dusty over Brad. This includes his boss (Thomas Haden Church), the handyman (Hannibal Buress), and the fertility doctor (Bobby Cannavale). Even his own wife (Linda Cardellini), who originally wanted nothing to do with the freeloader, is seduced by Dusty’s self serving ego-driven shenanigans. Here’s where the plot defies logic. Apparently Dusty thumped his chest the loudest.

Tonally Daddy’s Home is an unholy union of raunchy humor unconformably shoved into an account concerning children. Nowhere is this more disturbing than when Dusty improvises a fairy tale to the kids about the “real king” and the “step-king” in a way that paints Brad in a negative light, including the relative sizes of the men’s “swords”.  I’m trying to figure out where the script hits rock bottom and I think sexual innuendos in a children’s bedtime story is the nadir. If this schizophrenic mishmash were only guilty of being painfully unfunny, then I could have dismissed it as just another lowbrow farce. Yet the screenplay has the unmitigated gall to tack on an inspiring coda at the eleventh hour that retrofits this dirty adult comedy with an uplifting moral. You see Brad’s fathering skills ultimately redeem all of his male deficiencies. That this appalling piece of filth eventually shapeshifts into a kid-friendly sermon makes the film too pernicious at which to even gaze. No one should see this vile film. Avert thine eyes!

12-31-15

My Top Films of 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2015, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. So now without further ado…

(Drum roll please)

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2015 *

It has been another fantastic year for movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have people like you that share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am grateful.

So thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2016.

May it be your best ever!

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The Revenant

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Western on December 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

 photo revenant_ver2_zpsqfyjk4tb.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgFrom Amores Perros to Babel to Biutiful to Birdman, director Alejandro González Iñárritu deals in dark, sometimes cruel subject matter. His latest is no different. The Revenant recounts the tale of real-life 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman who who became sort of a folk hero after surviving a bear attack. Then he is left to die by the two the men assigned to take care of him [John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter)]. Hugh sets out to find his way back to their outpost under the command of Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). He’s mainly trying to stay alive, but he also seeks retribution. Hugh Glass has been documented in numerous books and was the subject of the feature film Man in the Wilderness (1971) starring Richard Harris. This production is based on a fictional 2002 novel by Michael Punke, inspired by real events.

Once again, Iñárritu has reunited with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The partnership is integral to the success of the picture. Set in the American Rockies in the 1820s, the shoot stretched over 9 months in the inhospitable Canadian Rockies northwest of Calgary often in subzero temperatures. However the ending was photographed in Argentina after the weather became too warm. No computer graphics or green screen technology was used to simulate the environment. These are actual people suffering barbaric conditions. The atmosphere has a physicality you cannot fake.

The Revenant has some of the most ravishing cinematography I have ever seen. Lubezki or “Chivo” shot on location using only natural light. He presents these snow covered vistas with a visual grandeur that is never less than breathtaking. With this work of art, Emmanuel Lubezki now ascends the shortlist for greatest cinematographer of all time. With his back to back wins at the Oscar, a 3rd would be unprecedented but equally well deserved. The quiet majesty present in his work here makes violent events and a harsh weather look strikingly beautiful. By all accounts, this was not an easy shoot. He, like Hugh Glass, tames the wilderness. He brings out the panoramic beauty of this unforgiving climate. I want develop stills from this movie and make a coffee table book.

However his effort would be in service of nothing if not for the human presence at the narrative’s center. Leonardo DiCaprio captivates the viewer’s attention with a physically demanding role. After one particularly memorable scene, his achievement becomes an almost wordless performance. Early talk focused around the scene where he is mauled by a bear. It is a stunning achievement that combines CGI with stunt people to create a visceral episode like no other. You will feel what it’s like to come face-to-face with an animal of that magnitude. It’s an immersive demonstration that will have you gripping your armrests in the theater. It’s that vital authenticity that makes this the emotionally compelling spectacle that it is.

The heart of The Revenant is centered around an absolute pedal to the metal performance by Leonard DiCaprio as the dirty, rugged mountain man. His survival odyssey is an emotional and physical journey conveyed without words. Hugh Glass travels some 200–300 miles often on his stomach clawing at the ground,. He forages for food, floats down rapids, jumps off a cliff and is followed by hostile Native American Arikara Indians across present day South Dakota,. At three hours, it’s pretty exhausting, but it never feels tedious. At one point, his quick thinking allows him to stay warm in a most ingenuous way that you have to see to believe. It’s creative touches like this that elevate the production into something we want to embrace. The punishing cold, the festering wounds – you will feel every brutal hand that this poor fellow is dealt. The movie is primal. The Revenant isn’t just a film, it’s an experience.

12-06-15

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