Alice and Looking (Movie Thoughts: Alice Through The Looking Glass)

large_alice_through_the_looking_glassI was Netflix-and-Chilling with a friend and we were trying to figure out what to watch when we chanced upon ‘Alice Through A Looking Glass’ and he suggested we see it. This wouldn’t have been my first choice – nor fifth – but sure I will go with the flow and see it. I remember seeing the first Tim Burton directed one, and it was okay, but not really my cup of tea – haha, see what I did there? I know this film was sort of a flop last year, and I know it was only produced and not directed by Tim Burton.

Again, for me, it’s just okay. There is a very thin plot – that of Alice (Mia Wasikowska) going back and forth with time – to ‘rescue’ Mad Hatter’s family, sort of an explanation to the Hatter’s sadness. Of course, the special effects here is awesome to look at – everything looks vibrant and full. But of course, I am not going to be the best judge of these things but visually I was impressed. Emotionally. this film is barren. I don’t think anyone connected with each other, and their interactions all seem very by-the-numbers, wherein reactions are more indicated than felt. Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen certainly tries, but you can see the rest of the cast – Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway in particular – phoning it in. One thing I have to say about the film, though: I wasn’t bored, and maybe that’s more because of my company than anything else.

It Started Out Like A Song (Movie Thoughts: The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened)

bestworst-e1475245811818I discovered ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ not from an epiphany. There was a time I was reading everything I could about Broadway after I first arrived in the United States in 1984.  Of course, I had discovered Stephen Sondheim and his work. I listened to his shows on cassette, and there was just something that attracted me to ‘Merrily We Roll Along.’ I had read that it was a massive flop, but the score resonated a lot with me. I remember rewinding ‘Old Friend’ over and over again on my Walkman, and I remember mornings walking to my High School listening to ‘Good Thing Going.” Maybe because I was a teenager then, and I could somehow relate to this young people singing this very adult score.

Cut to now. I have since then seen quite a few productions of Merrily, and while I still marvel at its glorious score, I am jaded enough to realize it is a problematic show. The book is still clunky, and I know Sondheim won’t let it be touched. Still, though, there’s something about the show that just fascinates. It’s quite layered I always see something new in it, and it can be interpreted and updated with so many different eyes.

So it’s with great fascination that I watch Lonny Price’s ‘The Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened.” I have had a tempestuous relationship with this film – it was never shown in any movie theater near me, and I was obsessed with finding it, until I came to a point when I just gave up and told myself to wait for it on video. And of course, it is now streaming on Netflix, and couldn’t be more accessible.

And it’s glorious – telling the story of the young cast that got thrown into the wolves, meaning Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince. Imagine being a kid and being chosen to be in the company of those two mean. We see how their wide eyed innocence marred by the euphoria of being in the show, and the high fail when the show closed after only sixteen performances. I knew a lot of the details in the documentary, but to see these people talking and reliving their experiences gave the story with such a human angle that it touched me. We get to see what happened to some of these cast members after the fall – how Jason Alexander became a household name; how Ann Morrison ended up in Sarasota, Florida teaching disabled children; how Lonny Price ended up directing Sondheim’s later output. By the time we get to their reunion concert in 2002, and how they go back to their old Alvin Theater dressing rooms, nary an eye would be dry. This documentary is in itself a journey, and it is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever seen in a long long time.

A Frenchman In Canada (Movie Thoughts: What We Have)

MV5BMzgwNjc0NzQwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDU5NjE3ODE@._V1_It’s always refreshing for me when I find a film that seems like it did not come from a factory. Everything in ‘What We Have’  is interesting, and unpredictable, but never manufactured or fake. It’s the story of Maurice, played by Maxime Desmons, who also wrote and directed this film. Maurice is an actor has moved from Paris to a small Northern Canadian town,  and the locals are asking why he would ever move there. We find that he has a lot of demons inside him, and slowly these come out as he gets entangled in the life of Alan (Alex Ozerov) his French language student.

This is a very affecting story, and you at once get invested in these people’s lives. The story takes interesting twists and turns, and at times is very unsettling to watch – but it is extremely real and explores issues of loneliness, commitment phobia, and teenage bullying. It is exhilarating, and it never alienates. Desmons is fantastic, with just the right amount of detachment to make you feel for him as you feel his journey. It will leave you thinking about the characters even after the film has ended.

Human Frailty (Movie Thoughts: Reckless)

81SxBd3RpBL._SL1500_-212x300I got attracted to ‘Reckless’ because of Patrick Wilson, who I can watch read the phone book. In this movie, he plays an up and coming politician who gets obsessed with prostitutes. Sounds a little cheesy, right? These kinds of movies have been done to death, especially after ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Basic Instinct.”  I read that this was screened in Sundance in 2015, but kind of went nowhere, though it is now available on video. Don’t ignore this movie – it’s quite engrossing and entertaining, anchored by a great performance by Wilson. he gives his character Sam Ellis a great deal of humanity that you believe it in an instant, and you can actually see the character’s transformation from a family man to a modern monster, although quite frankly, in this day and age, I doubt anyone would think that he is. MV5BMjIxODgzMDcwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODIyODIzNjE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

Apparently, this movie was originally titled Zipper, fromt he coinage “the zipper problem” which applies to problems politicians have from infidelity. I think that would have been a better title, a bit more provocative if slightly vulgar.(Plus, I find that there are at least two other movies with the same title, and that will further make this film unreachable)  Director Mora Stephens keeps a little light hand on the movie, which prevents it from being preachy. This isn’t a masterpiece of a movie, but on a lazy afternoon it more than fits the mood. Oh, and Patrick Wilson.

Casually Bad (Movie Thoughts: Casual Encounters)

casualencountersI always agonize on what to watch next. I go through titles, and I just spend so much time reading about what to get that more often than not, I end up not seeing anything. So tonight, I told myself just pick a movie and just let it play. I pressed on ‘Casual Encounters’ and just started watching, egged by the fact that it stars Tarran Kilam, whom I know nothing about but I just read an article on the paper that he was leaving Saturday Night Live. As if I cared. This guy has no charisma whatsoever, and the film, which is basically his vehicle, is stalled from the start. I had to force myself to finish this film. It felt outdated, misogynistic,  and just plain unfunny. Kilam plays Justin, a guy who was dumped by his girlfriend on one those shock jock morning shows. So he follows his friends; advise to go on a dating set and sow some oats, if you were. So of course we get a parade of misfits that are ‘weird and wacky.’  The writing is stale, the performances not even perfunctory, and this whole movie just stinks to high heavens. I think next time I will just go back wholly analyzing my next choices.

Who Could Imagine A King (Movie Thoughts: A Hologram For The King)

fid16237Has Tom Hanks ever given a bad performance? He proves he is a living acting legend in ‘A Hologram For The King’ proving that a great performance can elevate a lesser film into something greater. Hanks here plays an American businessman trying to sell IT business to a planned city in Saudi Arabia. He has a lot of internal turmoil – a messy divorce, financial issues that hinder him from sending his daughter to college,  an irate boss who is pressuring him to cinch this account. Hanks manages to balance both the comedy and dramatic tones here, and even if the character’s back story makes him a bit unlikable, Hanks manages to reel you in his corner.

The first half of the film plays like ‘Alice In Wonderland,’ wherein Alan the American has to the KSA’s customs (He asks the room service for beer only to be told liquor is not consumed in the kingdom) He gets raincheck after raincheck upon meeting his contacts, until he takes matters in his own hands. His jet lag leads him to a local driver and their scenes remind us of a weird buddy film and their adventures. The second half of the film is more a journey of self-acceptance, a tender romance with a doctor (a luminous Sarita Choudhory)

I liked the film enough, probably because Hanks’ star power carries the day. I don’t know if I have been interested in the film had I only known about its plot, and also from knowing it is adapted from Dave Egger’s novel (I just do not ‘get’ Egger’s writing even as I appreciate its brilliance) I know this film got lost in the Spring shuffle, but I bet a lot of people will discover this on video and will get a second life.

Reservations For Reservations (Movie Thoughts: Mekong Hotel)

MV5BMjQ0NjU3MjQwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYxMzExODE@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the director of ‘Mekong Hotel’ and this movie was sceened out of competition at Cannes in 2012. I understand Weerasethakul has his share of fans, and they are probably the only ones who will like this film. I went into this knowing nothing about the movie (nor the director) and after seeing it, I scratched my had and asked “what f*** did I just watch?”

This movie feels more like an artistic experiment, and has a feel of a group of people on vacation doing a ‘let’s see if we can make a movie over the weekend’ project. There are short fragments of a storyline here – a couple getting to know each other, and potentially falling in love. There are also ghosts, and they are colled ‘pob,’ and it could be jarring when all of a sudden you see them in scenes where they are eating entrails after a heartfelt scene between the two lovers (some of whom are the same actors) There is beautiful guitar music that permeates throughout the movie, and it was the only think that kept me awake as I was starting to lose patience over extended scenes of looking out the window from the hotel foyer. Thank God this only clocked a minute less than an hour, as I don’t think I could have endured one more minute of it.

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Duality (Movie Thoughts: The D Train)

large_MV5BMTQ3ODQzNDE2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM1NzQwNTE_._V1__SX1216_SY640_I missed “The D Train” when it came out in the cinemas last year, and now that it’s out on video, I ave caught up to it. I wonder how this film was marketed : a buddy comedy, a Jack Black film? It would be hard to categorize it, but I have to say that this is a very interesting film. Jack Black plays Dan Landsman, a middle-aged guy in somewhere middle America (I assume) and is the chairman of his class’s high school reunion committee. His character seems to be emotionally stuck in High School – he is of the type that everyone just barely tolerates because he is narrow-minded, and his points of view are probably not in line with reality. One night, he sees a Banana Boat sunscreen commercial starring thei rhigh school heartthrob Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) and he concocts a bizarre plan to invite him to seek him out in Los Angeles for the purpose of inviting him to their class reunion. Dan is in obvious awe of Oliver, as I assume he always has even when they were high school students. So his plan gets bigger and more complicated when they get to Los Angeles, and here he gets to face an emotional attachment to Oliver that is hard to define, and has to deal with that then, and afterwards when Oliver eventually goes to their reunion.

296549l35346024c69664cDirectors  Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel sets up an interesting premise (they also write the screenplay) about the grey areas of bromance. When does attraction change from just admiring someone to crossing the line of infatuation. Black’s Dan is straight – a family man with two kids – but we see him falling in love with Lawless, who is bisexual. But is it really love in that sense? (Although Lawless, or James Marsden, based on physical appearance alone, would really be easy to love)  The movie deigns to go through the exploration of these blurred lines, and I suspect most people who went to see this movie didn’t have a clue where it was going. Black is great here: unsure, insecure, unaware, blind-sided by his character’s feelings. I don’t know if I liked the pretty bow that this film got at the end (Life is much more nuanced by that forever-ever-after) but it’s great that the film asked these questions that are very hard to ask.

An American In Paris (Movie Thoughts: Bad Boy Street)

 

MOV_cf1fa692_bMy heart breaks for people in Paris. Truth be told, I just don’t get along with city, but of course this does not mean that I wish it harm, or I will rejoice when something bad happens there. I can only say a prayer to the Universe for proper healing.

And maybe now is the right time to write about “Bad Boy Street,” a movie I saw recently that is set in Paris. It’s a story of two ships passing in the night, and it’s in the most romantic place in the world. Even in the shaky camerawork here, Paris looks never less enchanting, and when they sit right by the love locks bridge, you can’t help but appreciate the city – and that includes even me. Claude (Yann de Montero) picks up a guy on  the street, and takes his home – he is a drunk American. he wakes up and the guy introduces himself as Brad – and they have a whirlwind overnight affair. He later finds out that this American is a famous movie star named Aaron Davis, and before he knows it, his manager is at his office asking him to sign a Confidentiality Agreement, and a statement that they never did anything. He is, of course, heartbroken. Todd Verow directs this low-budget film, and the budget does show at times, but there is a lot of charm here to compensate for that. Add to that natural passionate performances from Montero and Kevin Miranda (who plays Brad/Aaron) and I found myself swept in. This is one of those love stories where the ending rarely matters. If the audience feels the love between these two characters, then the movie has already succeeded.

Just Like Jesse James (Movie Thought: Jess And James)

996a0239e7b4d91a31091d8aba2e5ff1“Jess & James” is an Argentinian gay road trip movie, and unfortunately that description is the only interesting thing about this movie. Directed by Santiago Giralt from his screenplay, this is the kind of movie where things happen and nothing makes sense. Giralt frames it with long scenes and you wonder to yourself, is something interesting going to happen now, but then nothing does. Plus, he cast two actors (Martin Karich and Nicholas Romero) who not only look alike but act alike. I couldn’t tell one from the other physically, and the only distinguishing personality one has from the other is a cowboy hat. And they have zero chemistry – I never believed they were a couple (but then maybe that’s the point?) When they invite a third person, Thomas (Frederico Fontan) you would think he would add sexual chemistry to the mix, but it still flat lined. Visually, the film is interesting, and that made the movie not as borign as it would have been, but in this case the beautiful frames are empty.