Category Archives: Clerk’s Pick

Reviews of movies selected and pitched by clerks at my local video rental shop: Video Central of Columbus, OH.

Swordfish

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Max, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
Swordfish
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Pitch:
“Believe it or not, it isn’t because Halle Berry  is topless in it. I really like John Travolta’s speeches about movies (and how those sequences are shot). The movie also basically gives away the ending early on, but in a way that you don’t realize it, and it still comes off as a twist. I think it is a more clever movie than it gets credit for, and is worth revisiting.”

Background:

Swordfish tells the story of the planning and execution of an elaborate and technologically advanced heist. The protagonist is a notorious hacker, who has just served a 2-year prison sentence. He is roped into the heist by a mysterious mastermind to handle the programming behind the scenes, but is never given the whole story of what the heist will entail. Of course, the plot features a number of twists and misdirections, and a hearty quantity of explosions.

Swordfish was written and produced by Skip Woods, who has also provided screenplays for Hitman, Sabotage, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, A Good Day to Die Hard, and The A-Team. The director for Swordfish was Dominic Sena, who was also behind such movies as Gone in 60 Seconds, Season of the Witch, and Kalifornia. Likewise, Swordfish was edited by Stephen Rivkin, who has also cut films like Stealth, Avatar, Blackhat, and My Cousin Vinny.

Swordfish required a massive visual effects team due to the complicated nature of a number of the sequences. The team included common elements with films like Avatar, Jingle All The Way, Tank Girl, The Italian Job, Speed, The Abyss, Fight Club, Monkeybone, Minority Report, Judge Dredd, Deep Blue Sea, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending, and Mystery Men, among others.

The music on Swordfish was provided by Paul Oakenfold, an acclaimed DJ who has had remixes featured in movies like The Matrix Reloaded, Collateral, and Shoot ‘Em Up, and Christopher Young, who has composed scores for films like Sinister, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3, The Core, and Rounders.

The cinematographer for Swordfish was Paul Cameron, who also shot movies like Deja Vu, Man on Fire, Collateral, and the remake of Total Recall.

The cast of Swordfish is pretty deep, and includes the likes of Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, X-Men, Van Helsing), John Travolta (Battlefield: Earth, Face/Off, The Punisher), Halle Berry (Catwoman), Vinnie Jones (The Midnight Meat Train), Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 2), Sam Shepard (Stealth, The Right Stuff), and Zach Grenier (Fight Club, Mother Night, Deadwood).

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Swordfish was nominated for a Golden Raspberry award, which are dishonors given out for the judged worst films and performances of the year. Specifically, John Travolta received a nomination for Worst Actor for his work on Swordfish and Domestic Disturbance, but lost out to Tom Green for Freddy Got Fingered.

The reception to Swordfish has been mixed over the years. Rotten Tomatoes, which primarily tracks contemporaneous reviews of movies from critics, has it at 26% aggregate score.  However, IMDb, which tracks reviews continuously from its user base, has it at a significantly higher 6.5 rating.

The budget for Swordfish was estimated to be just north of $100 million. It managed to make a profit on that with a worldwide theatrical gross of just over $147 million, though expectations for it were clearly higher. For comparison’s sake, The Matrix managed to make well over $400 million worldwide on a smaller budget.

Halle Berry reportedly received an extra $500,000 on top of her salary for the movie to do her topless scene, which she apparently agreed to in order to overcome her fear of on-screen nudity.

The opening explosion sequence was, at the time, one of the most complicated visual effects shots in Warner Brothers history. It utilized much of the effects technology that was popularized in The Matrix two years earlier, and required the use of 135 cameras.

Swordfish released just months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and is oddly prescient about some of the issues that would follow the event. Notably, Hugh Jackman’s character is said to have hacked into U.S. government files to sabotage a mass program of illegal surveillance of citizens, a program that actually began occurring after 9/11, and was exposed by Edward Snowden.

Review:

First off, Swordfish features too much color filtering, to the point of being obnoxious. That might not have been too distracting at the time, but after years of CSI television shows beating that particular dead horse, it is impossible not to notice. As with many other aspects of the movie, I’m sure this was done based on the influence of The Matrix, which I’ll get to more in a bit.

This might be a bit of a surprise, but I don’t hate John Travolta in this. I always enjoy his hammy acting, particularly in things like The Punisher and Face/Off. However, the writing for his character is incredibly pretentious and sleazy, which I am sure was at least partially intentional. Regardless, he is really easy to hate, but whether that is a positive or a negative is up to the viewer.

In general, the writing for the movie feels edgy for the sake of being edgy, and gives off a tone of pretending to be cooler than it actually is (not unlike Hackers, a similarly computer-themed flick). Everything about the dialogue just comes off as “trying too hard,” which isn’t a vibe you want your movie to give off.

Just about everything about Swordfish‘s aesthetic and style feels intentionally derivative of The Matrix. I mentioned the use of color already, but the music, costumes, effects, and the prominence of computers/hacking in the story-line all combine to make something that looks and feels a little too familiar. This isn’t necessarily objectively bad, and isn’t as noticeable now unless you look into the context of the film, but at the time, all of these similarities would have stood out in bold to both critics and audiences.

Recommendation:

I have mixed feelings about Swordfish. At times, it is genuinely entertaining and interesting, but at others it is unbearably pretentious and hokey. The excessive vigilante patriotism also came off as weird to me, and just doesn’t line up with the hedonistic personality that Travolta’s character was laid out to have throughout the movie. This trait was apparently emphasized more in rewrites on the movie, which resulted in a handful of alternate endings.

If you like heist movies and can handle sitting through the tech nonsense of Hackers, The Net, and The Matrix sequels, then Swordfish is worth sitting through for the occasional good parts. I still think it is more bad than good, but there is definitely entertainment value to it on the whole.

I particularly recommend checking out the We Hate Movies podcast episode on the film for a more detailed walk-through of the movie, and a few other perspectives on the film as a whole.

A Simple Plan

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
A Simple Plan

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Pitch:
“I like Sam Raimi thrillers. I like his horror-comedies too, but this and The Gift really stand out to me. He has an ability to utilize the setting in his stories, which is something that a lot of directors seem to overlook. I also generally like Billy Bob Thornton in things, though he seems like he is a bit of an asshole as a person.”

Background:

A Simple Plan was directed by the one and only Sam Raimi, who is best known for his uniquely shot horror-comedies like The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and Drag Me To Hell. He has also made some more traditional Hollywood fare in more recent years, like the initial Spider-Man trilogy and Oz: The Great and Powerful. I think many people forget that he went through a number of different genres over the middle portion of his career, like his action-western The Quick and The Dead and the standard sports drama For Love Of The Game. A Simple Plan, though well-regarded, isn’t associated as strongly with Raimi himself as many of his other movies.

The movie is based on a 1993 novel by Scott B. Smith, who also provided the screenplay adaptation for the film. Surprisingly, the only other screenplay work he has done was for the 2008 film The Ruins, despite how highly acclaimed his work was on A Simple Plan.

The cast of the movie includes Billy Bob Thornton (The Ice Harvest, Sling Blade, Bad Santa, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Bill Paxton (Slipstream, Predator 2, Frailty, Aliens), Bridget Fonda (Lake Placid, Monkeybone), and Gary Cole (Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, The West Wing, Office Space)

The music was done by the acclaimed composer Danny Elfman, who is one of the most recognizable scorers working today. His work on such films as Batman, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice have cemented him as one of the most unique and distinctively-styled composers out there.

The cinematography for A Simple Plan was done by Alar Kivilo, who also shot such films as Copper Mountain, The Blind Side, The Ice Harvest, Frequency, and Hart’s War.

A Simple Plan was nominated for two Academy Awards: best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor (Billy Bob Thornton). It raked in a number of other accolades, including SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Thornton, along with widespread recognition for the score and the screenplay. The film in its totality was nominated for such accolades as the Saturn Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Picture.

This movie took a number of years to actually get made after its initially publication as a novel, thanks to a number of changes to the cast and crew. One early iteration had Nicolas Cage on board to star, with Ben Stiller directing. Later on, names like Brad Pitt, John Boorman, Juliette Lewis, and John Dahl were attached at one point or another before the final cast and crew listings were settled.

A Simple Plan currently holds a 7.5 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 90% (critics) and 81% (audience). Despite the film’s acclaim, it failed to make back its reported $30 million budget, raking in just over $16 million in its domestic theatrical run.

Review:

First off, I have to note that Bill Paxton gets to show off some of his real talent in this movie, which always seems to come to the surface when he isn’t hamming it up in a sci-fi movie. Billy Bob Thornton might be the one who got the most acclaim out of this movie (and it was certainly deserved), but Paxton shouldn’t be overlooked. The way his character turns from being a staunch moral center to a fully corrupted criminal at break-neck speed is really astounding, and Bridget Fonda plays a fantastic Lady MacBeth in his ear throughout his fall.

 “You work for the American Dream, you don’t steal it.”

“Then this is even better!”

simpleplan3There is a historically tight relationship between Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers (they worked together on both Crimewave and The Hudsucker Proxy), and this movie really feels like Raimi’s take on a Coen Brothers style movie. The atmospheric similarities to Fargo are impossible not to mention, especially given that Fargo came out just two years prior to A Simple Plan. Reportedly, Raimi even learned how to effectively film in the frigid elements thanks to the Coens. Despite the similar snowy aesthetics and criminal plots, the two films are very different sorts of movies. A Simple Plan is very emotional in its focus on the characters, and stays grounded in reality throughout the story. The characters in Fargo are a bit cartoonish, and create an atmosphere that feels somewhat more exaggerated than the world we really live in, but not so much so that it drifts into a realm that is beyond belief.

A Simple Plan might not be a great movie, but it is certainly a very good one. The performances from Paxton, Thornton, and Fonda are all notable, and the dialogue is really spot-on. The pacing is unfortunately a bit too slow if you ask me, and the story also never builds up quite enough tension for what the film seemed to require (at least, not until the explosive climax and conclusion). Raimi’s shots and imagery are a bit heavy-handed (the birds lack any kind of subtlety, for instance), but the film still looks great on the whole. Overall, it is an entertaining film to watch unfold thanks to the performances and the dialogue.

Recommendation:

A Simple Plan is basically Coen Brothers Lite: it has the same gist of the original, but not all of the content. There is a lot good going on here, and it certainly stands on its own, but it inevitably incites comparisons to Fargo, which is just a much better crafted film from top to bottom. I definitely recommend checking it out, as it is a solid dramatic crime thriller with some great acting and dialogue on all fronts. It is also thoroughly emotionally taxing, and the last third of the film is genuinely powerful.

It Follows

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
It Follows
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Pitch:
“This movie actually got me. Supernatural horror flicks don’t usually freak me out, but this one did. The way it just sort of slowly walks towards you…”

Background:

It Follows was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose only previous feature film was 2010’s The Myth of The American Sleepover, a teen-focused romantic comedy.

The cast for It Follows is made up of a handful of young actors, none of whom have a lot of film experience: Maika Monroe (The Guest), Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto (Beneath), and Kier Gilchrist (United States of Tara) make up the mainstay, with a handful of others filling in depth roles.

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The special effects work for It Follows is credited to Krisz Drouillard, whose most recognizable credit is likely on Kevin Smith’s 2014 foray into body horror, Tusk. The makeup team included Robert Kurtzman (Bubba Ho-Tep, The Faculty, Spawn, Maniac Cop 3, DeepStar Six, From Beyond, Army of Darkness) and Tom Luhtala (Late Phases, John Dies At The End), and the visual effects crew boasted Ed Mendez (Sin City, The Ladykillers, Catwoman, The Road, Spider-Man 3), Alessandro Pepe (Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet), Greg Strasz (2012, White House Down), Raffaele Apuzzo (Nightcrawler), and Andrea Marotti (Getaway, Dracula 3D).

The distinctive and memorable music for It Follows was composed by Rich Vreeland, an electronic and chiptune artist who uses the moniker of ‘Disasterpeace.’ This was his foray into scoring films, though he provided the music for the hit indie video game Fez in 2012, and has a loyal following.

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis has a long history of shooting short films, but his only other standout feature is the 2012 cult hit John Dies At The End, which was directed by Don Coscarelli, and also featured a number of common effects workers with It Follows.

It Follows received numerous awards and accolades, gaining praise throughout its festival run. nominated for the Audience Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, among many others.

It Follows currently holds a rating of 7.0 on IMDb. It also has an astonishing 96% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, though it stands alongside a much lower audience score of 66%.

The film was made on an estimated budget of $2 million, and managed to gross a profitable $17 million in its total theatrical run. However, it was undoubtedly a much bigger critical hit than it was a financial one, and is primarily the darling of critics and horror die-hards.

Review:

I saw this film in theaters, knowing it already had immense acclaim behind it. There is certainly a lot interesting going on in this movie, not the least of which is the fact that it manages to create an effect of unease with both its audio and visual components. I think the score is probably the most distinctive aspect of the movie, and essentially creates something new by delving into something old: the iconic horror scores of John Carpenter. You can tell that the score is a sort of synthesis between Carpenter and the modern electronic drone of Kavinsky, which was popularized in Drive.

Creating ‘new’ out of ‘old’ is more or less the whole gist of the film’s style: the anachronism is even built interestingly into the set design and the background details: characters have modern mobile phones and electronic devices, but all of the televisions are ancient CRTs, the cars are vintage, and the movie theater has a live organist. In many ways, you could argue that we are living in a nostalgia generation, defined by its lust for the past. In that way, It Follows is the perfect encapsulation of our status quo.

I once had a jazz teacher who always gave the advice to his students to listen to and imitate great musicians. “But won’t I start sounding like ‘Bird’?” a student might say. He would respond: “You’ll never sound like Bird. You’ll sound like someone trying to sound like Bird, and that will be you.” It Follows is, as many have pointed out, a mockingbird of John Carpenter, and specifically Halloween. The music, the posture of the creature, the setting, and the shots all function as modernizations of that classic film, arguably more faithfully than the actual reboot of the franchise. However, I don’t think anyone would confuse this movie with a product from John Carpenter himself, in the same way that a saxophone student won’t be mistaken for Charlie Parker. It Follows feels, looks, and sounds like a movie trying to be a John Carpenter movie, and the resulting imitation is something that is both faithful and unique.

When it comes to problems with the movie, I found that the creature lost a lot of its intimidating ability one it was made clear that it was physical and definitively mortal. In general, monsters become less scary as characters discover their weaknesses and boundaries, like sunlight with vampires or silver with werewolves. However, “It” really needed to be unstoppable to be intimidating. Making it susceptible to bullets and electricity took a little too much away from its mystique. I also expected some sort of clever trap for the creature rather than a killing blow, which would have made more sense and kept the monster from losing its edge.

I also wasn’t particularly enthralled with the first kill of the movie, in which a young woman is discovered grotesquely contorted on a beach after fleeing from the creature. The way she was bent around struck me as a bit too comical, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of bendy-straw pretzel-making shenanigans the creature had to go through to get that effect. I imagine it wasn’t unlike making a balloon animal.

Back to a positive: I loved the way this movie used the underlying sexual anxieties of youth as a way to tap into a latent social fear. I think the best horror movies always do that to some degree, and it helps the film get a foot in the door to the viewer’s psyche, which makes it more effective at being genuinely horrific and unsettling. That is one of the biggest shortcomings of most Hollywood horrors made nowadays if you ask me.

Likewise, It Follows is very deliberate and creative in its use of color and light, particularly when it comes to shadows and water. Both the back yard pool and the finale municipal pool are shot in ways that are visually striking, and the blues always find a way to pop against the surroundings. All of the interior shots in the various are kept dark and are shot tightly, giving a distinct sense of claustrophobia and discomfort.

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Recommendation:

I can’t recommend It Follows highly enough. For many horror fans, I think It Follows and The Babadook have served as beacons of hope for the genre, and counterpoints to lazy Hollywood horrors like Ouija and Annabelle. I’m a little surprised that audiences haven’t been more receptive to It Follows on the whole. My guess is that the slow build of tension didn’t work for a lot of general audiences, who aren’t accustomed to atmospheric horror, and are more conditioned for jump scares and a simpler horror formula.

Carnage

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
Carnage
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Pitch:
“The casting is really great. You would think it would be a dark comedy from looking at it, but it is almost more…physical? It is about two couples whose children get into a fistfight on a playground, and they start teaming up against each other over the course of the movie. It is one of those movies where a minor thing winds up becoming a really big deal. I think it was adapted from a play, because it definitely feels really stage-y. I really love the tagline: ‘a comedy of no manners.’

Background:

“Carnage” is a 2011 movie directed and co-written by Roman Polanski, the once-lauded director (and noted scumbag pedophile-on-the-run) who was behind such classic movies as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” “Carnage” is an adaptation from an award-winning French play called “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, who shares co-writing credit on the film with Polanski.

Outside of the opening and closing scenes that are set in a Brooklyn park, the entirety of “Carnage” takes place in a single apartment. The bulk of the scenes were shot in France by Polanski, while the few exteriors and the playground scenes were shot by a second unit in the US (given Polanski is a fugitive and all).

The cast of “Carnage” is very small, and is primarily comprised of notable actors Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly. Foster and Reilly play a couple whose son is attacked by the child of Waltz and Winslet, and the story picks up with the parents meeting to talk over the situation and the consequences for the children.

carnage1The music in “Carnage” is done by french composer Alexandre Desplat, who has recently scored critically-acclaimed films such as “Argo” and “The King’s Speech,” and previously worked on movies such as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Desplat has worked with Polaski on a number of films besides “Carnage,” including on “The Ghost” and “Venus in Furs.”

“Carnage” was nominated for a litany of awards, primarily in Europe. Winslet and Foster both earned Golden Globe nominations, however, but neither of them took home the prize.

Despite the many awards it accrued, the film’s ratings are only moderately above average. It currently holds a 71% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, a 66% audience score, and a 7.2 rating on IMDb.

Review:

“Carnage,” unfortunately, is kind of forgettable. There is nothing particularly bad about the movie, but nothing much stands out about it either. All of these actors are better in other things, and at times it feels like they are just trying too hard to stand out *cough*Jodie Foster*cough*. It seems like they are acting at each other at times, which doesn’t make for a very compelling watch.

carnage4All of that said, the casting is pretty great. These are all generally good actors, but none of them put up their best performances for this one. The best thing I can compare this to is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”, but “Carnage” doesn’t seem to be or feel like it is as heartfelt or genuine as that cinema classic.

I would wager that this is a great play to see on stage, but something just doesn’t gel quite right with this as a film. I’m not sure what the issue is, but the movie feels really run-of-the-mill. I would expect this sort of film from just about any indie director out there, but not Roman Polanski. It just feels oddly…sterile? It is like all of the right elements are being heated in a beaker, but the reaction just isn’t happening.

carnage3“Carnage” interestingly feels like it drags on too long, despite being a pretty short movie (80 minutes). There isn’t a lot of motion to the film, and the characters mostly talk themselves into concentric circles through the story, which is almost certainly why it feels so much longer than it is. After a while, the only interesting thing about the film is watching Academy Award winners pretending to get progressively drunk.

“Carnage” reminded me a little of an earlier Clerk’s Pick, “It’s A Disaster”, but I think that movie was actually pulled off better. It has the same sort of bottle scenario and rapidly degrading sanity that are both present in “Carnage”, but it just seems to move along better. I would wager that “Carnage” offers the better performances of the two, but it just doesn’t feel quite as entertaining.

carnage5After all of the meandering conversation, argumentation, and outright yelling, “Carnage” comes to what feels like a really abrupt ending that doesn’t feel earned or justified. It bookends pretty nicely, but nothing seems to be resolved or changed as a result of the story. I’d also say that no one really learned anything or grew as a result of the story, so it all ultimately feels kind of pointless. Then again, that might have been the point. In any case, I didn’t come out of it feeling entertained.

All of that said, “Carnage” has a very interesting concept. I don’t think it was pulled off particularly well, but there are undoubtedly good elements to it. Although, I will say that I have no idea how either Winslet or (especially) Foster got Golden Globe nominations out of this. That is just boggling my mind, because Foster is just downright chewing scenery in this thing, and Winslet spends a non-trivial part of the movie fake-vomiting.

Recommendation:

I think that some people would really enjoy this movie, but that most would be better advised to skip it. I even like this kind of bottled-setting drama, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with “Carnage.” At times it feels both overacted and excessively preachy, and neither of those things do the movie any favors. If this is the kind of movie you are looking for, I would think that there are a lot better ones to find with very similar setups.

Maybe if you are a big fan of Foster or Winslet, this will be a better watch for you. I am not particularly high on either of them, and their performances in this didn’t change my mind. They certainly look their parts and were cast well, but they just didn’t quite do it for me.

 

The Brothers Grimm

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
The Brothers Grimm
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Pitch:
“It almost has a USA series sort of concept. They are the brothers Grimm, but they are con artists. I love the little references to the Grimm tales, and it is just a generally fun movie. Also, it is beautiful, being a Terry Gilliam movie. Critics really didn’t care for it, but I think it is pretty fun, and I enjoyed it when I watched it again recently.”

Background:

“The Brothers Grimm” seems like a winning combination from the start: the Grimm tales are some of the most beloved, dark fairy tales of all time, and here they are put into the hands of one of the most visionary and imaginative directors out there in Terry Gilliam, who specifically specializes in the bleak and strange (“12 Monkeys,” “Brazil”).

grimm1The writer of “Brothers Grimm” is credited as Ehren Kruger, who is probably best known for his involvement in writing a number of the “Transformers” films. He has a number of other credits to his name that predate “Grimm,” such as the Ben Affleck flick “Reindeer Games” and the much-maligned third “Scream” movie. His only particularly well-liked work seems to be “The Ring,” for which he wrote the adapted English screenplay. Interestingly, the writing credit on “Grimm” was the subject of much controversy: Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) apparently extensively re-wrote Kruger’s script, but were denied writing credits by the Writers Guild of America.

The cast of “Grimm” features the late Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as the eponymous Brothers. Outside of them, the cast features Gilliam favorite Jonathan Pryce (“Brazil”), the now-acclaimed Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”), Peter Stormare (“Fargo”), Monica Bellucci (“Irreversible”), Mackenzie Crook (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), and character actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths. Interestingly enough, Headey, Pryce, Crook, and Ashton-Griffiths have all appeared in recent seasons of “Game of Thrones” in an assortment of roles.

grimm3Interestingly, it is reported that Gilliam wanted Johnny Depp for Damon’s role, but Bob Weinstein dissented, claiming that Depp was not commercial enough. Of course, Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” released during the production (2003), changing his status overnight. Stormare’s role was apparently given to Robin Williams initially, but he dropped out before filming.

grimm6Among the producing credits on “The Brothers Grimm” are the notorious Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob. This movie released just as the brothers were fleeing Disney (and their original company of Mirimax) in 2005, for the greener pastures of their new incarnation, The Weinstein Company. Technically, “Grimm” released under Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films label (in cooperation with MGM and Summit due to the budget), though it could be considered one of the first productions of The Weinstein Company.

Unsurprisingly, the Weinsteins clashed significantly with Gilliam over the course of the film’s production. In a 2009 interview, Gilliam had some choice words about the brothers and the ultimate product that is “The Brothers Grimm”:

“…they’re interesting producers, but they are people who are good at those jobs and not at directing movies. And yet they want to be filmmakers. They interfered more than I’ve ever been interfered with before.”

“it’s not the film they wanted and it’s not quite the film I wanted. It’s the film that is a result of two people, or two groups of people, who aren’t working well together.”

As Hannah mentioned, “The Brothers Grimm” was not well-received on release. It currently holds a critic score of 38% and an audience score of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, a rare case of agreement between the two barometers. However, the IMDb user score is notably higher at a 5.9, which may indicate that the movie has been looked back on more fondly in recent years (though not dramatically). It did manage to make some money on a high budget of an estimated $88 million, but not much. It is really something when a movie can break $100 million total in ticket sales and not make an impressive gross.

Review:

The best aspect of “The Brothers Grimm” is almost unarguably the effects. They are a little dated a decade down the line (the werewolf transformations, particularly), but not excessively so. Visually, the film is really solid all around, with an interesting mix of CG and practical effects. There is also some masterful use of lighting (particularly in a couple of the Mirror Queen sequences), which is to be expected from Terry Gilliam.

You can tell that there are the makings of a good Gilliam movie here, but that it just couldn’t come to fruition. I’m sure Gilliam would blame the Weinsteins’ constrictions for that, but I think that Gilliam’s vision was just too big for the realistic budget: the film almost didn’t get released at all due to the skyrocketing budget of the flick. Of course, the writing wasn’t exactly stellar either, which didn’t give the movie much of a foundation to work with.

The script is pretty shoddy on the dialogue front, to the point that the actors can’t really salvage it. They are still pretty charming and do what they can with the material, but it just isn’t very good. The constant nods to the Grimm Fairy Tales are to be expected, but they come a little too often and a little too blatantly for my taste. It isn’t as bad as “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” or “Van Helsing” by a longshot though, which some have (I think unfairly) drawn parallels to. Probably worst of all though is the fact that the plot just isn’t very interesting or engaging. I loved the initial concept, but the plot’s inane complexities really took me out of it by the third act. I just couldn’t stay invested in the labyrinthine details as the story progressed.

grimm5There is another pretty big problem with this film, and I think it is one that significantly impacted the behind the scenes tensions: this movie is just too long for what it is. I know that one of the fighting points between the Weinsteins and Gilliam was over  the director’s right to final cut (final say on the editing of the movie), and I’m willing to bet the Weinsteins wanted him to tighten it up against his wishes. And you know what? They were right in this case. One of Gilliam’s greatest weaknesses is pacing, and a number of his more recent movies have been criticized for this problem. I don’t think it is as bad here as it has been in some other films of his, but the 2 hours of run-time here feels as long as a Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation, and it isn’t nearly entertaining enough to justify it.

Recommendation:

Unless you are a die hard fan of the Grimm Fairy Tales, or are a Terry Gilliam completest, I think “The Brothers Grimm” is pretty skippable. It has some good moments, and I don’t think it is as bad as the critics treated it on release, but I found it to be a mediocre film overall. Gilliam is capable of a whole lot better, and it is hard to divorce the ultimate product of this movie from the incredible potential it had.

Hesher

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Max, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
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Movie:
Hesher
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Pitch:
“It is like ‘Metalocalypse’ meets ‘Mary Poppins.’ It is probably my favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt role: he plays a stoner asshole, but he manages to help the other characters get over the loss of their wife/mother.”

Background:

Spencer Susser, co-writer, editor, and director of “Hesher,” doesn’t have a whole lot of credits to his name to delve into. For the most part, he has only created a handful of short films over the years since 1999, perhaps most notably the mockumentary “R2-D2: Beneath the Dome.” “Hesher” remains his only full-length feature, and his only notable work recently is directing a 2014 episode of the Netflix series “Hemlock Grove.”

The writing team behind “Hesher,” outside of Susser, consists of writer/director David Michod (who has gained acclaim for his recent films “Animal Kingdom” and “The Rover”) and a guy named Brian Charles Frank, who at the time had no other credits. However, Frank more recently wrote a television show called “Wolfpack of Reseda” for Fox Digital Studios, but doesn’t appear to have anything else in the pipeline.

The cast of “Hesher” not only includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, but also a handful of Hollywood regulars, including Rainn Wilson and Natalie Portman. The movie technically centers on a child character, meaning that there is a lot of pressure put on the lead child actor in Devin Brochu, who has been in movies like “Rubber” and “In the Valley of Elah.” The rest of the cast includes the much-lauded Piper Laurie (“Carrie,” “Twin Peaks,” “The Hustler”), character actor John Carroll Lynch, and another child actor in Brendan Hill.

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Although “Hesher” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, it didn’t get much love from critics in general. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 54%, with an average rating of 5.7.  Audiences seem to appreciate the film a bit more, as it holds an IMDb rating of 7.1 and a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 61%.  Still, those aren’t exactly stellar numbers.

The character of Hesher is reportedly based on Metallica bassist Cliff Burton: a long-haired, hard-partying musician who was killed in a bus crash in 1986. Appropriately, the soundtrack of “Hesher” includes a number of Metallica tracks that feature Burton.

Review:

Much like another movie I recently reviewed, “House of Yes,” “Hesher” is fairly dependent on one character. Unsurprisingly, that character is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s title role of “Hesher.” Almost everything that happens in the film is somehow catalyzed by Hesher, or is done in reaction to him. However, he is interestingly not the main character: he is just a roving force of destruction that creates the plot in his wake. It probably goes without saying, but JGL is thoroughly impressive in the role.

The actual lead of the film is portrayed by Devin Brochu, whose character is a young child trying to deal with the recent death of his mother and family’s financial hardships (not to mention an obnoxious school bully). For a child performance, it is beyond impressive. It is always a gamble to put a kid in the dramatic center of a serious movie, but in this case it certainly paid off. I hope Brochu sticks around in film, I’m looking forward to seeing him in more things in the future.

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Brochu’s father is played by Rainn Wilson, who is maybe the most under-appreciated dark comedy actor out there today. Though he is best known for his role from the American adaptation of “The Office,” Wilson has been brilliant in movies like James Gunn’s “Super,” and has just recently started a leading role in the dark comedy cop show “Backstrom.” In “Hesher,” his character is a straight foil for JGL, but the intensity and sorrow that Wilson brings to the role is incredibly humanizing for a character that could easily have been dull and forgettable.

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In general, this is a film that is powered by performances. The only real weak spot I noted was Natalie Portman, who doesn’t really have a whole lot to do in the movie: her character doesn’t get the same kind of screen time or opportunities as most of the others, making her more or less just a distant satellite in the story.

Spencer Susser earned a commendation for “Best First Time Director” at the Philadelphia Film Festival for “Hesher,” and I think it is definitely well-merited. The way the film is shot plays a solid role in how the drama plays out, and a number of moments are particularly impressive at building tension. I also really like how the film is lit: the only time anything is brightly lit or colored is during a flashback sequence, which not only makes it stand out, but also emphasizes the dark ambiance of the movie in general. It is subtle enough that you don’t particularly notice it, which basically means it is done well.

I can recommend this one pretty heartily. The performances and direction are really solid, and I definitely don’t see eye-to-eye with the critical detractors on this one. A number of the complaints I saw cited issues with the narrative flow and with the general vulgarity of the movie, and more specifically with the lack of likeability in the character of Hesher. While the plot is slow, I don’t see  how the vulgarity or unlikeability of Hesher is a weakness to the film: it is kind of essential to it. “Hesher” is a quirky indie movie to be sure, and it is definitely rough around the edges, but there is enough good going on in this movie to forgive some of the indie stereotypes it holds to. It is by no means a great movie, but it is definitely in the realm of “good.”

 

 

Paper Man

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Max, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
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Movie:
Paper Man
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Pitch:
“It is a coming of age story, where Ryan Reynolds plays Jeff Daniels’s imaginary friend from childhood, who is still sticking around as an adult. I wind up recommending it to a lot of people who like Emma Stone, as this was one of her first really big roles.”

Background:

“Paper Man” is the creation of a co-writer, co-director team of spouses Kieran and Michele Mulroney. This is the only film that either of them has directed, and their writing credits are also pretty limited: Guy Ritchie’s 2011 “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is the only other major feature attributed to them. However, Kieran has a good number of bit acting roles here and there.  Notably, he is also the brother of the more prolific actor, Dermot Mulroney (“Zodiac,” “August: Osage County”).

paper2“Paper Man” features an interesting cast, including Jeff Daniels (still a couple of years off from his resurgence on “The Newsroom”) and Ryan Reynolds, who was coming off of his role as Wade Wilson in the high budget action flick “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (a character he is set to reprise in 2016’s “Deadpool”). As Max mentioned, it also features Emma Stone before she really hit the map. Probably my favorite surprise in the cast, however, is Kieran Culkin, who is well known for his roles in “Igby Goes Down” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” but doesn’t do a whole lot of acting. He also featured in the first two “Home Alone” movies with his brother Macaulay, not that he is particularly recognizable from those.

“Paper Man” was not well relieved by critics or audiences at the time: the film currently holds a 31% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 4.7 from critics and 3.2 from audiences. However, for whatever reason, it has a much higher score with the IMDb users, where it currently has a 6.7.

The crew of “Paper Man” includes editor Sam Seig, who has worked on films such as “Minority Report,” “Munich,” and “Catch Me If You Can,” and cinematographer Eigil Bryld, who has worked on the film “In Bruges” and the acclaimed American adaptation of “House of Cards.”

Review:

I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds’s comedic roles, even though he hasn’t necessarily picked them well. In “Paper Man,” he is really the comedic force: Jeff Daniels isn’t absent, but he mostly reacts to other characters, and awkwardly stumbles around the film. Reynolds is a great sort of interior monologue / hallucination for Daniels’s character, and definitely illustrates his self-loathing through the dialogue. Without Reynolds’s comedic timing and superhero good looks, the movie probably wouldn’t work so well.

paper3On another front, Emma Stone really proves herself as a dramatic actor in “Paper Man,” and I can see what she started getting better roles after this. Her character has a lot of dramatic weight to haul around in the film, and she definitely makes it work.

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The film has a really interesting premise (a writer with an imaginary friend), but it doesn’t quite work here. A number of the characters are just quirky enough to be beyond belief, but not enough to be outlandishly entertaining on their own. Also, Daniels and Culkin often just come off as…creepy. These are both actors I like, but something about the way they are written is at times off-putting and uncomfortable, and I definitely don’t feel any sort of connection to them (which I assume was intended). Culkin’s character and behavior starts to make a lot more sense as the movie goes on, at least. Again, Reynolds is great comedically and Stone is fantastic dramatically, but the rest of the world around them just isn’t quite up to par. The film also seems to drag on longer than it particularly needs to, but that might just be because there isn’t a whole lot interesting going on (particularly whenever there is an extended on-screen absence of Ryan Reynolds). However, when either Daniels/Reynolds or Daniels/Stone are on screen together, everything clicks into place fantastically either dramatically or comedically, depending on the combo. It is kind of a shame that the rest of the film fails to live up to their respective chemistry.

paper4When it comes down to it, this is a film I can certainly recommend to people who are fond of quirky indie comedies. It isn’t great, but if that is your cup of tea, it is probably worth a watch. Outside of that, I can recommend this to people who are either curious to see a more obscure Emma Stone role, or to anyone who is just dying to see Ryan Reynolds in spandex outside of “Deadpool” or “Green Lantern.” I wish it held together better, but the product as it exists isn’t bad. I think critics were mostly just over-saturated on quirky indie comedies at the time, and were perhaps a bit too harsh on it as a result.