2014 Review Catch Up!

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So I didn’t post a lot on this blog in 2014. I don’t really have an excuse for that, because I saw a lot of movies, and if anything, my opinions on things become more and more polarized to the point where I should write about them, just as an exercise in getting pent up frustrations out. However, I did not, and as the Oscars are this Sunday, I figured I’d  take a look back at some of the films I saw in 2014 and didn’t review. Don’t fret–I’ll also be doing an Oscar breakdown at some point later, but I thought it was important to first get my feelings about these films out of the way, in chronological order. I’m also gonna leave out some of the smaller films I saw–we’ll just focus on the ones that got the most press this year.


The Lego Movie

I was so hyped for this film last year. I don’t even know where the hype came from, but it honestly didn’t disappoint me in the slightest. The only real negative thing that could be said about The Lego Movie is that story wise, it isn’t the most innovative (chosen one gets the thing to save the world), but in a way even that plays into how great it is. It’s one of the most meta animated films I’ve ever seen, but who could expect anything less from the creative minds of Chris Miller & Phil Lord. I’ve never really been disappointed with anything they’ve put out, and this only cements that. Witty, imaginative, and interesting to all audiences (I’ve had enthusiastic conversations about this film with 10 year olds and 50 years olds alike), The Lego Movie is the most heartfelt and hilarious ninety minute commercial you will ever witness.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

As a fan of Wes Anderson, I am very quick to see anything he puts out, and am seldom disappointed. And with The Grand Budapest Hotel, he managed to push his quirky envelope to the absolute limit. I’m 100% here for it. It’s as fun to watch as I’m sure it was to be a part of, with splendid performances all around. The man can really do no wrong. I saw a tumblr post once that said something along the lines of, “Wes Anderson is like Quentin Tarantino’s weird quirky brother who listens to vinyl and complains about Quentin stealing his library card.”

I’m not really sure what that has to do with my review of this movie, but I find it really fitting.

Point is, it’s refreshing these days to go into a movie and actually have fun. Maybe that doesn’t mean a lot coming from me since I am a cinema cynic, devoid of any part of me that is able to relax and not take movies 100% seriously, but I had a great time while watching Grand Budapest. It’s not my favorite Wes movie (Rushmore is unbeatable), but it’s one of the best.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

I once watched a Alejandro Jodorowsky film with my sister entitled The Holy Mountain.

To this day, I still don’t know what I watched–only that it was the pinnacle of the absurd, really really colorful, and, despite making two hours feel like five, bizarrely compelling.

Jodorowsky is somewhat of a living legend for his ability to encapsulate the odd in a combination of John Waters and Salvador Dali, and one time, he tried to make a film adaption of the Frank Herbert novel Dune–which ended up later infamously falling into the hands of David Lynch.

But Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune was so unruly, so fascinating, and such a beautiful disaster, that Frank Pavich decided making a documentary about how the production fell to pieces was a good idea.

Spoiler alert: it really, really was. Easily my favorite documentary of the year, and an honest to god shame it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

Birdman

THIS SHIT WAS DOPE. PLEASE WATCH IT. IT IS SO ASTRONOMICALLY INVENTIVE AND PROGRESSIVE. And meta. If you didn’t know, I really like meta things. This film laughs in the audience’s face and it is amazing, the script is such a wonderful echo of reality both in the movie and outside. There aren’t enough words to describe my love for this wonderful movie. Easily my favorite film of the year.

Gone Girl

Another perfect storm of a film that somehow perfectly juggles feminism and sociopathy in a way that is offensive to no one. The titular character of Amy Dunne is a fascinating examination of a femme fatal, and the overarching themes of the effects of long term relationships is both soul-crushing and oddly liberating. Only David Fincher could take something that could be a TV movie on Lifetime and elevate it to this level of artistry and success, combined with one killer performance from a dark horse, Rosamund Pike. Also the soundtrack is elemental; please keep working forever, Trent Reznor. Definitely read my friend Kelly’s deconstruction of Amy Dunne.

Interstellar

There’s one thing to be said for Christopher Nolan, and that is the man knows how to create a theater experience. I have never walked into a Nolan movie, sat down, and not at least had a good time watching it. The unfortunate thing is that some of the time, I walk out of the Nolan movie, and that’s when it gets disappointing for me. Case and point: Interstellar. A beautifully shot film that pays homage after homage to my favorite filmmaker (Stanley Kubrick and his magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey), with production design like no other, unfortunately falls short on the writing end of the spectrum.

I mean, come on, Nolan. “Love Conquers All?”

My friend coined this film really well as, “The Best Episode of Doctor Who Ever.” Which is fine, I mean, Doctor Who is a good time. This movie was a good time. Not perfect, certainly no Inception and certainly no Dark Knight, but a good time. I do tip my hat to Nolan, though, for constantly coming up with (mostly) new sci-fi ideas while somehow managing to still be accessible to general audiences and film snobs alike, which is maybe the most difficult thing to pull off, ever.

The Book of Life

Can Maria become the new Elsa because my quality of life would improve tenfold. Please, parents, show your child this film, because it is splendid. No more words.

The Book of Life > The last ten years of Disney films.

Inherent Vice

With Paul Thomas Anderson being one of the top competitors for my #1 spot as “Favorite Living Director,” it goes without saying that I was excited for Inherent Vice. After the majesty that was The Master, I was also excited to see PTA working with Joaquin Phoenix again, and that, combined with my favorite trailer last year, just all stewed into my pot of hype deliciously.

And then I was disappointed.

Before anyone (Ott) says anything, no, it’s not because “Thomas Pynchon novels don’t make sense!!” or “I couldn’t follow it!!”. It was because it was maybe the least dynamic PTA film to date, with just a series of scenes of Joaquin Phoenix walking somewhere, saying some stuff, and then leaving. Examine any other PTA movie and that is not what you will see. Thomas Pynchon is a very ambiguous and complex writer–so maybe some ambiguous and complex scene structures might be nice. That being said, the film still looked beautiful, so Paul is still one of my favorite technical directors.

Nightcrawler

Great story, GREAT characters–I can honestly see Lou Bloom and Amy Dunne getting together. However, when I saw Nightcrawler my initial vibe was that they were going for a Drive type feel–it wasn’t nearly stylistic enough. However, the film still managed to keep me invested and interested all the way through, and the way the main character was written was so devious, sharp, and just plain interesting that I couldn’t get enough. Jake Gyllenhaal in my head has always been kind of underrated in Hollywood–he gives great performance after great performance and never gets much recognition for it. I’d give him an Oscar nomination for this over most of Leo DiCaprio’s nominations, just sayin’.

Boyhood

THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME. THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN EVER TO CINEMA–NAY, TO AMERICA. LIFE CHANGING. HAS CANCER CURING EFFECTS. DID YOU KNOW IT TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO MAKE IT?! TWELVE WHOLE YEARS. THEY DEDICATED THEIR ENTIRE LIVES, WITHOUT ANYONE EVER ASKING THEM TO. TWELVE YEARS!

Are the thought police gone? Okay, real review time.

I realize I’m in the dissenting opinion here, but I really, really didn’t like Boyhood. Before you get antsy, I will say that it is an amazing feat what they accomplished. I mean, filming something over 12 years… watching the actors grow before your eyes… that’s likeunheard of

Okay, okay. All snark aside. It was well shot, pretty, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette gave really solid performances. Unfortunately with a film titled “Boyhood,” the main focus is on… the boy. He is boring and I don’t care about anything in his life. All of the philosophical elements of this film have already been explored in previous Linklater productions–his Before trilogy is easily his best work, and it is painfully obvious that the writing process for Boyhood just blatantly borrowed ideas from those films.

Furthermore, Boyhood does the cheapest thing in the universe, which is uses nostalgia to make people feel things & think the film is Amazing. If this movie had not been shot over twelve years, if you took out all of the prolonged shots of things that will make me nostalgic (a Gameboy SP, for example), but you still used the exact same script, it would be an incredibly mediocre film.

When the only thing that elevates your movie to the next level is a gimmick, you’re not an Innovative Filmmaker. Linklater is just a patient one. Which is fine, but it’s so unnecessary to trademark him as a true progressive, when this script and characters are anything but. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) is a progressive, and even though his film also has somewhat of a gimmicky quality to it, the script and the characters at least give the movie another layer completely. Boyhood completely lacks that.

Into The Woods

With the least accessible second act in musical theater history, I was really interested to see how the film production of Into The Woods was going to go. And, surprisingly enough, it went really, really well. It was imaginative, the production design was fantastic, the sound mixing was beautiful, and it was cast perfectly. It was also way more interesting and dynamic to watch than, say, Les Miserables, but maybe I’m just biased because I love the hell out of Stephen Sondheim.

I also found it beautifully ironic that Disney produced this film, considering the musical is literally making fun of all of their exploits. The live-action remake of Cinderella was one of the previews before I saw Into the Woods, which made me chuckle quite a lot.

Big Hero 6

SPEAKING OF Disney movies, the winter season’s vehicle! With Marvel and Disney now being fully synergized, it was only a matter of time before an animated superhero film. And thus, Big Hero 6 was born, and this time, it not only integrated every single Disney trope in the book, but every single Marvel trope in the book as well! Isn’t life fun? Aren’t cliches still enjoyable after the 700th time? Ah, yes.

I feel like Disney is just run by a robot now. I get no sense of individual artistry in any of their films; no voice other than the big, corporate, “I want all your money, sheeple” voice. The other two animated films I reviewed are so stylish and perceptible to the individuals who made them. There really isn’t any of that going on at Disney anymore. The AI just makes movies that everyone on earth will see and think is nice. I guess their AI works, because Big Hero 6 was a nice movie. I laughed, I cried, I got excited, I felt for all the characters.

“So what’s wrong with that, Maddison?”

A ROBOT MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. THEY ARE TAKING OVER. SLOWLY BUT SURELY. SKYNET IS SOME REAL SHIT.

Selma

This movie was everything Spielberg’s Lincoln should’ve been: pointed in on one specific period in a famous person’s history, without cheaply foreshadowing to future events nor rehashing things that already occurred in the film’s canon. With sharp performances all around, this is easily the best biopic of the year, as well as the least Oscar Baity, which gives it a standing ovation in my personal opinion. The direction in this movie is sharp, the writing is as excellent as the performances… it’s a well crafted biographical movie that still somehow manages to be progressive in the art of filmmaking, unlike…

The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything

…which are, by definition, “well crafted movies.” And yet I was bored by them, not because the characters were underdeveloped or because the direction was flat, which they weren’t. They were Good Movies, as there always are in every Oscar season. These stories might be important to be told; the main focus of both films are absolutely men to be honored. But in 5 years, I don’t see these in any “BEST FILMS OF THE DECADE” lists. I do, however, see them in high school history classes.

Benedict Cumberbatch was good. Eddie Redmayne was good too. They were good movies. But I don’t really care about them all that much. Neither of these films are The Social Network or A Beautiful Mind. That’s all there is to be said.

American Sniper

Remember when Clint Eastwood talked to a chair on national television, pretending it was Obama? Yeah, that crazy ol’ bastard still makes movies. Here’s one of ‘em. Think… “Birth of a Nation,” but instead of demonizing black people, we’ll demonize Middle Easterners! Let’s make a movie that will only intensify White Fear! I think that will be really good for society, because there aren’t enough hate crimes against Muslim folks in America already!

If you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds, take this moment to remember that one Nazi that Daniel Brühl plays. The sniper who killed a bunch of people in that watchtower. Remember how the Reich Minister of Nazi Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, makes a biopic about him and all the Nazis celebrate him and his accomplishments, despite the fact that he’s actually a horrible, egotistical womanizer, and a damn NAZI?

That’s actually 100% what American Sniper is. Chris Kyle was not a nice dude. Please stop celebrating him. And please stop saying that he “protected our freedoms” because straight up, killing people in a country that is 1/22 the size of ours and is half a globe away does not do shit to “protect our freedom.” Thanks.

Also, this movie was really really poorly directed. It looked like a Call of Duty sniper montage on YouTube. Except it was less fun to watch, because Chris Kyle hardscoped the whole time and didn’t even do one 360. Bradley Cooper was good, only because he’s a good actor, not because this role was written well. The nobody who played his wife was a bore. And then Jonathan Groff showed up for 2 minutes just to confuse me with his role choices, or maybe just to prove that Clint Eastwood is at least cool with gay dudes? I don’t know. It was a lame movie, is the point I’m trying to make.

Clint Eastwood, you were really really amazing. Once upon a time. That time is over. Please stop making films now, because your filmmaking ability has already peaked and it’s all downhill from here. I’d like to remember you with some fondness but you’re making it hard.

Whiplash

What a film. Wow, just thinking about this movie gets the bad taste of writing about American Sniper out of my mouth. What. A. Film. This is the kind of movie you go in to watch and you can just feel the energy and drive that went into making it. It’s love that is palpable; hell, you could stir it with a spoon. The direction is so aggressive, much like the script and the characters and the performances, and all of it  blends to make a film that just goes BAM! CRASH! POW!

Pun intended, because Whiplash is about a drummer, hohoho. And actually a really nice way to close out the cinematic year of 2k14, which was underwhelming in some parts, and overwhelming in others. In a film society that is plagued by remake after remake, sequel after sequel, it’s invigorating, inspiring, and liberating to know that there are still truly original passion projects being pursued.

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Review: John Krokidas’s “Kill Your Darlings”

As a noted fan of the beat-era poets, I was phenomenally excited when I first heard word of Kill Your Darlings. Anything about Ginsberg or Kerouac and I will most certainly be there. Furthermore, when I discovered that the ever-infamous Daniel Radcliffe would be playing Allen Ginsberg I was more excited. It was an interesting casting choice. Having seen other adaptions of Ginsberg (notably James Franco in the film Howlit was going to be fascinating to see how Radcliffe would expunge the vision I had in my mind of Ginsy and interpret the eccentric poet himself. Furthermore, upon discovering that the film would be depicting the enigmatic Pre-Howl Ginsberg, my excitement grew and grew.

Radcliffe delivered with force, representing an awkward, teenaged Allen who was yet to come into himself, and his performance, along with the fascinating script was captivating.

Indeed, the script itself was a marvel, and it was easy to tell that a lot of passion went into this project. Everyone involved was enthralled in the work they were doing and it shows, from the shots to the performances to the way the characters were written. It was enjoyable to watch with an intriguing as well: I had no previous knowledge of the events depicted in the films (surprisingly enough) and thus was fascinated by the retelling. The coming of age themes paired with the electirc poetry of the script and the murderous plot melded together in an edgy yet incredibly sincere form.

Perhaps the true star of the film, however, was not Radcliffe’s Ginsberg, but rather, the entirely romantic and feverishly disturbed Lucien Carr, played by up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. I was already swept with Dane from witnessing his prior feats: his tragic depictions of the ADHD-ridden Jesse in HBO’s acclaimed series In Treatment, Andrew in the edgy, superhero-sleeper Chronicle, or more recently Jason in notoriously-gritty Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines. DeHaan seems the type to fall into typecast territory of angsty adolescent, and while Lucien doesn’t do much to quell that, the role is flipped on its head by the fact that Carr is incredibly skilled at getting people to fall at his feet. And DeHaan does so without fail, bearing an intense portrayal of the poet-turned-killer that draws a love-hate response from the audience. His performance was, in a word, incendiary.

The supporting cast were magnificent as well, including Michael C. Hall as the predatory-yet-mournful David Kammerer, Ben Foster as the ever-odd Burroughs and Jack Huston as our lovely Kerouac, and again, it was easy to tell that everybody involved in the project was fully committed to what they did. With such a small budget and a brief shooting schedule (the entire film was shot over just 24 days), I figure it was hard not to be.

Despite the film’s quandaries in that it seems to break structure here and there, Kill Your Darlings was a persuasive tale. To any lover of the beat generation, it provides fascinating insight to the writers so loved and to those less familiar, is a gripping and mysterious introduction. The loving script and the dedicated performances make it shine.

Guest Review: Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”

[By Ott Lindstrom]

Drive is…

Well.

Drive is a 2011 arthouse crime movie, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. It stars Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling’s sweet-ass scorpion jacket, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and a whole lot of fake gore. The story revolves around the unnamed Ryan Gosling character, a stunt driver by day/getaway driver by night who befriends and ultimately falls in love with his neighbor Irene, whose husband is in prison. One thing leads to another and the unnamed driver ends up on the run from a bunch of pissed-off gangsters with a million dirty dollars in his possession. Refn won the Best Director award at the Cannes festival and the film was nominated for a number of B-tier honors, while being notably snubbed at the Oscars. Drive grossed over 77 million dollars at the worldwide box office on a 13 million budget, for a modest profit of $64 million. Drive clocks in at 100 minutes and is availablah blah blah blah.

It’s a movie, capiche? It was shot on a movie camera and it was shown in theaters. You can watch it on Netflix, torrent it off Pirate Bay and buy it on DVD and BluRay on Amazon if you feel so inclined.

But to simply characterize Drive as a film would be unfair, if not downright doing it a disservice; Drive is just as much an art installment as a movie, a medium-transcending feast of color and sound. The variety is simply flabbergasting: from the harrowing opening scene dripping with shadow and tension to the sundrenched ethereality of a joyride down the Los Angeles spillway, Refn jumps between a cadre of moods and styles with the dexterity of a circus juggler. Every frame is executed with more aesthetic care and craftsmanship than most films can muster in their entire runtimes. The music is equally superb, an eclectic mix of deep, grimy synths and eerie vocals. Somewhat unfortunately, the musical highlight of the film comes rather early on, where the contrast of the Driver’s ascetic apartment and a neighbor’s party is accompanied by a poppy dance number, which worms its way in and out of being diegetic as the camera hops between the two rooms. It’s a fun trick, one that is sadly never topped.

However, Drive’s art gallery veneer and acoustic expertise belies that, at its core, Driveis also a video game. Certainly, it’s the most scripted and the least interactive one since Heavy Rain, but apart from the lack of quick time events and obnoxious ads for DLC and microtransactions, Drive is a perfect embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the current gaming paradigm. It is an adolescent power fantasy spiced up with visual flourish and excellent packaging, brimming with brutality for the sake of brutality (and, in one notable scene, breasts for the sake of breasts). It tells a rote crime story, its simple twists telegraphed miles away, populated by two-dimensional mannequins, vacuous husks with the masks of pretty actors grafted across the voids within. Nowhere is this inherent emptiness more apparent than when the lazy camera focuses on the Driver himself. A monosyllabic murder machine, the Driver’s binary smirk-to-straight range of facial expressions makes the internet’s memetic stereotype of Kristen Stewart look downright expressive. It’s telling of how limited Gosling’s portrayal is that the movie would have lost very little if the rubber mask the Driver dons as part of his stunt driver ensemble in the first ten minutes had remained in place for the remaining hour and a half. But it’s not just Gosling; with the exception of Albert Brook’s viciously energetic Bernie, the other characters are little better; Bryan Cranston is crotchety, gruff and not much else, Ron Perlman stands around and says “fuck” a lot, and Carey Mulligan spends a good 70% of her screen time staring silently, tearfully into the middle distance.

But here’s the weird thing: this universal shallowness works. When all the simplistic elements are working together, when the soundtrack is pounding a decadent beat and the lights and the shadows are tearing into each other like rabid beasts, Drive is a visual symphony, a dreamy exercise in art house experimentation acted out by soulless, blood spattered automatons. Logically, the whole thing should fall apart, but it doesn’t. It should collapse under its own pretension and weirdness, but it doesn’t…it’s just all the stronger for it.

Drive is truly something to behold.

*/5 “Defies a numeric summary”

Available on Netflix Instant Streaming

Review: Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave”

There’s something to be said for our society when, upon viewing a trailer for a film that deals with the topic of slavery in the United States, it is immediately dismissed as “Oscar Bait.” I myself am no stranger to jumping to that particular conclusion (sometimes faster than I thought possible). It is something that comes almost naturally. In fact, a lot of period pieces in general, of any kind, tend to bring about this response in audiences. And, upon watching the film, do not do anything to quell said response. War Films, Biopics, et cetera, all share an emotionally-stirring idiosyncrasy that just seems to scream “well that director wants an award.” In a way it has almost trivialized the events that they are covering. That is not to say that these types of films are bad films, because they aren’t—more often than not they are without a doubt what anyoone would consider a Good Film, but in such a by-the-book way that it can almost reduce the film going experience entirely. Something too wrought with swelling scores and emotive speeches breaches cliché territory, indeed, breaches “Oscar Bait” territory, and quickly. It is—and I say this only for hyperbolic purposes—almost a little insulting that studios can produce these almost manipulative and sometimes seemingly passionless films in search of a buck or perhaps an award for the mantle.

However, there are times when a period piece film comes along that makes me realize that those kinds of films do not always fall into Oscar Bait territory. Take, for example, Steve McQueen’s recent monument, 12 Years a Slave.

I wasn’t familiar with the book the film was based off, but I knew more or less what to expect with the subject matter, considering the title. However, I knew not to expect the run of the mill Civil-War-era period piece from Steve McQueen, who had demonstrated his incredibly poignant and subtle direction through his past works (Shame and Hunger), and thus I was pretty excited for the film beforehand. Taking into account the cast too, I  had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be just “another one of those.” And, lo and behold, it gloriously wasn’t.

In fact, 12 Years A Slave is potentially one of the most fulfilling, endearing, and painful films in this particular genre to watch. I say painful not in that it is bad, because it certainly is not, but in that it is agonizingly realistic. And beautifully so–disturbingly long sequences depicting the mistreatment of humans in pre-13th Amendment days so gloriously shot by McQueen’s visionary eye stirs the viewer in the most honest of ways. The performances in the film are standout, specifically in the newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who is for sure due for an award or two this season. She is electric, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast; Michael Fassbender, a McQueen favorite, shakes the screen with a terrifying portrayal of cognitive dissonance. And of course there is the star of the show, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who truly comes into his own, with longing expressions lighting up the screen every moment. Everyone else, from Benedict Cumberbatch who is very rapidly climbing his way to the top of the A List, to the classic Paul Dano, really put on their war faces for this film, and it shows. It is a perfect storm of cinematography and performance.

In sum, 12 Years A Slave, though with a mere glance at the title seems to be Oscar Bait, is most certainly not: it is honest, it is heart-throbbing, it is both a pain and a joy to watch, and it is a capital-c Classic. If no other antebellum-era picture, all must at least witness this.

Guest Review: Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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[By Ott Lindstrom]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s prologue is, at first glance, the set up for an uninspired romantic comedy: against the backdrop of a frigid New York Valentine’s Day, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet spend seventeen minutes make puppy eyes at each other, exchange playful dialogue and do their very best to be adorkable. Out of context, it’s a damning first impression, coming across as a sort of twee understated indie thing where copious amounts of mumbling and awkwardness attempt to stand in for actual wit or humor. Then the seventeen minutes is over and the mood changes with the brutal swiftness of a bullet to the head as the titles drop, accompanied by a shot of Jim Carrey sobbing alone in a dark car.

There is something oddly compelling about watching Jim Carrey cry, a morbid satisfaction akin to sticking a thumbtack into a child’s balloon or popping the head off a dandelion. When the man’s famous rubbery visage, so adept at pulling off wacky expressions in accompaniment to funny noises, is scrunched into a tear drenched cascade of wrinkles, you can’t help but be enthralled. So it is with many aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry’s examination of failed romance wearing the guise of a low concept science fiction film. This is not a “feel good” movie by any means; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is to romantic comedies what Spec Ops: The Line is to modern shooter video games, an assumption-manipulating, cliché-eviscerating exercise in subversion and indictment that still manages to engage and fulfill despite its many layers of grim cynicism.

The majority of this engagement is embodied in Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Both actors are in top form here, as ex-lovers Joel and Clementine who opt to undergo a procedure to erase all their memories of their relationship. Carrey is marvelously low key, turning in a quiet and nuanced performance at odds to his usual over-the-top comedic shenanigans. If it weren’t for the few rough patches where Carrey’s broad comic chops are given the opportunity to manifest (mostly in the form of almost cringe-worthy tone-breaking displays of facial muscle acrobatics), one could nearly be convinced he had been dealing in empathetic, dramatic roles his entire career. Sadly, it is perhaps this abstracted triumph of Carrey’s acting that is the biggest tragedy in a film full of heartbreaks: it is closing in on a decade since the film’s debut and Mr. Carrey hasn’t set foot near any project with even a fraction of Eternal Sunshine’s depth since.

Kate Winslet is equally great as Clementine, a brilliantly constructed corruption of the manic pixie dream girl romantic archetype. To paraphrase her catchphrase, Clem is a very fucked-up girl, whose litany of eccentricities comes off as more sad and petulant than endearing. The brash impulsiveness Winslet brings to the role is a perfect foil to Carrey’s quiet uncertainty. While their romantic chemistry feels a touch lacking (as it should, considering the context), the interplay between the two is nevertheless extraordinarily pleasurable to watch.

The background cast, while solid, feels more like a collective means to an end than an actual roster of fleshed out characters. Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood provide flashes of comic relief (far more seamlessly than Carrey does) and Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson provide a moderately interesting subplot that channels into the main twist of the third act. The actors are all good at what they are doing, but many of them feel one note and they are all completely overshadowed by the main duo.

Gondry’s directing and Charlie Kaufman’s writing are all but impeccable. Apart from the clunky way in which the script brings Joel and Clementine back together at the end of the film and the supremely awkward way in which the title’s source quote is worked in, Eternal Sunshine is fantastically constructed and presented, taking joy in toying with the viewers’ preconceived notions and slamming them in the face with jarring juxtaposition. The sci-fi aspects of the movie are nicely minimalistic, with no bloated technobabble to bog down the excellent dialogue (this is one of the most eminently quotable films I have seen in a good long while). The nonlinearity that stems from the science fiction elements is easy to grasp and follow, managing to be clever without confusing. The special effects, few and far between, are pleasant in their subtlety; an image of Joel’s storybook childhood home transforming into a bleak, tumbledown wraith as his memory is scrubbed is beautiful and melancholy.

And that is the best way to describe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: a beautiful melancholy. By the time the film has come to its inexorable conclusion, there isn’t a scrap of hope left for the characters, only the putrescent stench of dead love lying thick over the chilly streets of a New York February. And yet, despite the frustrating futility of Joel and Clem’s love life, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is still extraordinarily satisfying; the creativity and craft of the creators and the talent of the leads is more than enough to justify letting a little heartbreak into your life.

4.5/5 “You should probably check this out. Now.”

Available on Netflix Instant Streaming

Jack and Jilling

[Original Publish Date: January 5, 2013]

The other day I was browsing the internet per-the-usual, and I stumbled across a post on the popular blogging site Tumblr. On this particular post was a screencap of an IMDB page for a film that was to be released entitled “This is the End.” The picture included the cast list, and the names of the characters in the film. Tumblr was clearly excited for the movie because it managed to get reposted nearly 83 thousand times, along with the caption of the original poster, which read, “There have been talks of an All-Star cast in the past… but this, my friends, is the most perfect cast ever created. I cannot wait for this movie.”

I have to say that after reading the first three names on the list, Emma Watson, James Franco, and Jonah Hill, I too thought the cast looked excellent. It was only when I looked over to see the names of their characters that I discovered the truth about this film—it was yet another prime example of Jack and Jilling.

Let me preface further description of This is the End by first explaining to you how the term Jack and Jilling came about, and what it means.

While I was perusing the net one evening, searching for reliable film-related websites, I found myself watching a 70-minute-long review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It was entertainingly thorough, and thus, I found myself a regular visitor of the website that had created it: Red Letter Media. Red Letter Media prides itself on being… well, rather nitpicky when it comes to film, with an overly-snarky and hard-to-impress attitude. They break down films piece-by-piece and build it back up through their absurdly detailed reviews. While it’s not exactly the site you’d visit to decide what movie to see in the theatre next, it’s definitely entertaining to more devoted (and cynical) movie-goers. I don’t always agree with Red Letter Media’s views (in fact, I can say I ardently disagree with a reasonable amount of what they have to say), but it is fair to say that they are intensely comprehensive when it comes to information on cinema.

One of their reviews specifically stuck out in my mind. It was a review for a film that they stated, “Would change your life.” What film is that, you might ask? Why, it’s Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, of course!

Oh, but not in a good way. Jack and Jill, though appearing to be a lighthearted, run-of-the-mill, comedy, is much more sinister.  This isn’t even my bias leaking through. I understand that taste in film is subjective. One person might find something funny that another person does not. Another person might be driven to tears by something the first person thought was foolish. However, those kinds of opinions are reserved for movies that are, actually, movies. Jack and Jill is not a movie. Jack and Jill ceases to be a movie when you see the motives behind its creation. And I assure you, with something as transparent as Jack and Jill, they aren’t exactly invisible.

It is not the uncreative plot that makes this film bad. It is not the truly dreadful quality of the acting or the writing. As I said earlier, Jack and Jill is not a movie. We cannot judge it by the same presets we would judge a real movie by. If we were to do that, you would get what was expected: a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 23 on Metacritic, and a rousing “ignore” from acclaimed critic Roger Ebert. No: we should judge Jack and Jill by what it truly is:  a blatant scam.

In that regard, I tip my hat to the King Fraud Adam Sandler for manipulating his fan’s pockets into a personal piggy bank. He is a master of that particular trade. And things like Jack and Jill (things that are not movies) are his medium. Like Picasso to oils, is Adam Sandler to… scam… commercial… projections of fake-movies.

Jack and Jill is a trick. It tricks the audience into thinking they’re watching a film through cheap jokes and forced sentiment. What they are really watching is a giant, cheap, commercial.

I would highly suggest you watch Red Letter Media’s entire review of Jack and Jill. However, since you people all have lives to live that can’t be wasted watching hour-long reviews of Adam Sandler films, I doubt you will. So I will neatly sum up what they have to say.

Jack and Jill is a cheap-looking movie. There is little to no effort put into makeup or effects. The sets are poorly crafted. The entire film looks like an SNL skit. However, the budget for this film was an estimated 79 million dollars. To put that in perspective, we will compare it to the budgets of two other 2011 films that look insurmountably better: Cabin in the Woods, with a budget of 30 million, and Drive, with a budget of 15 million. How does that make sense? Why do these films look so much better than Jack and Jill? Where did 79 million dollars go if not to effects or makeup or design or work of any kind? Not to mention that 79 million isn’t even including the vast extra amounts of money given by advertisers for product placement (and trust me, there is a lot of it).

Before I go on, I would like to not get sued for libel by making a notation that this is merely a theory. Maybe the makeup artists worked really, really hard on Adam Sandler’s…wig. Maybe the wig was made out of the finest silken hairs in the land… or something.  Maybe they had to spend 50 million dollars of the budget on the wig. Or maybe Happy Madison (Adam Sandler’s production company) just took all the money to overpay the actors (Adam Sandler and all of his SNL friends). He doesn’t care about the quality of work. He isn’t trying to win Oscars. He is trying to turn a profit. He writes a script in a weekend. He calls his actor and producer friends. They film this thing for a month or two. They release it. And it makes a worldwide gross of 150 million dollars. Enough people around the world go to see these abominations for it to earn 150 million dollars. And Adam Sandler gets richer and richer.

That is the definition of Jack and Jilling. In a neater sense, here is a quote from Red Letter Media’s review:

Adam Sandler says, “Hi, I’m Adam Sandler. I have lots of pull, I have lots of box office hits (not necessarily in the critical definition of hit, but in the financial definition of hit), I can make some phone calls. We’ll put together this really cheaply made product called Jack and Jill. I can raise this amount of budget for it (x amount of dollars), and I’m going to call up all my old friends and give them horribly inflated paychecks to be in it, and at the same time get giant checks from big name advertisers to also give us money. We’ll cash all these paychecks and we’ll release this bomb into the theatres, and who gives a shit what the critics say, people will go watch it… and everyone will be happy.”

“So what’s wrong with that?” you might ask, “Companies making products for a profit. It happens all the time. That’s what business is.” Well, there are a couple things wrong with that. It does not only belittle the medium by turning film into fast food. It does not only make millionaires out of talentless hacks. What Jack and Jillingdoes, is laugh at us. All of them—Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Tim Herlihy—they sit in their mansions and laugh as all the mindless zombies go to the theatre to eat their garbage. And it is insulting. You should be insulted, because these people think that you and I are so dumb. And what’s more is that they are bordering on being correct.  Maybe we are all just dumb, because if their plans didn’t work, then these things wouldn’t continue to be made.

It’s not just Adam Sandler. Look at Gary Marshall: the director of two movies that were literally the same. Look at this thing coming out in a few weeks. And finally, let’s get back to This is the End, a fake-movie that is especially disappointing.

The title for the movie is This is the End. It is directed by Seth Rogen. It is written by Seth Rogen. Seth Rogen is in it, playing a character named… Seth Rogen. And good god, I usually respect Seth Rogen (50/50 was a great film)! Who else is in it? Paul Rudd plays a character named… Paul Rudd. Jonah Hill plays a character named… Jonah Hill. Michael Cera plays a character named… Michael Cera. Do you see where this is going? It unfortunately does not stop there.

This is the End is Jack and Jilling us again. And audiences are going to pay ten dollars to go and see this two-hour-long Funny or Die video, and these people are going to make fortunes off of it. All these actors all probably showed up at James Franco’s house one night and did improv for a few hours, taking turns filming one another on their iPhones. Then they probably employed some poor USC film students to edit the thing into a “movie.” And somewhere, Philip Seymour Hoffman is shaking his head in utter disgrace. Of course, I haven’t seen the film, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe it actually will be a work of art. Maybe its existence won’t make me cry myself to sleep at night. But it’s dreadfully apparent laziness tells me that what little hope I have is unfounded. It’s Jack and Jilling. It’s all just Jack and Jilling.

You won’t stop going to these movies, I know. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. You laugh at the man falling down the stairs because a man falling down the stairs is funny. And so, they are right to make a two hour long movie of a man falling down the stairs. They are right to turn a profit off our generic laughter. It doesn’t hurt anyone except those who are too emotionally attached to movies. Never mind Adam Sandler being in the 1% and stealing all the money right along with the Wall Street executives. Never mind the trivialization of film as an art form, making good movies so far and few between. McDonald’s product doesn’t cheapen 5-star-restaurant’s products, so why should Jack and Jill cheapen the quality of good cinema?

Unfortunately, it all costs the same amount of money to go to any movie. The ten dollars you spent to see Jack and Jill on Friday, November 25th could have been ten dollars you spent to see Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. But who cares about Hugo, really. Leave all those “dry, boring” films to the pretentious people. You weren’t in the mood for spectacular effects or magical acting. You were in the mood to go to the theatre with your friends and laugh at Adam Sandler falling down…without even realizing that Adam Sandler is the one laughing at you.