Monthly Archives: March 2015

Movie Review: The Gunman

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: A convoluted mess of a movie.  Some good action interspersed between confusing plot points.  Sean Penn did this movie to show off his awesomely sculpted 55 year old body and his deep concern for Africa.

See Sean Penn.  See Sean Penn assassinate a Democratic Republic of Congo high-level minister.  See eight years elapse.  See Sean Penn care about Africa.  Care, Sean Penn, care!  See people attempt to kill Sean Penn.  See Sean Penn run.  Run, Sean Penn, run!

Thus sums up “The Gunman”.  Sure, there’s more to it.  There’s a highly accomplished female doctor turned wallowy damsel-in-distress.  There’s a weird sub-plot involving Sean Penn’s character’s brain damage.  There’s a mystery appearance by Idris Elba which I’m still trying to figure out.  There’s also a lot of boring.

The biggest problem is nobody’s motivation is ever quite clear.  People are going through a whole lot of trouble and manpower to kill Sean Penn, but none of it ever seems worth it given the stakes.  As the movie comes to its final confrontation, it’s as if the director recognized this and threw in the most ridiculous final chase scene in movie history.  It involves a crowded bull ring and the main villain being gored by a bull.  I am not really spoiling anything by saying that as they foreshadow it happening for a good ten minutes before it occurs.

Leave this one alone.  It’s not even worth your time to watch in the comfort of your own home. Unless, I suppose, you’re absolutely desperate for some sculpted Sean Penn torso, I guess.  Sure, the action scenes are kind of well done, but the lead up to them is not worth your effort.

Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: Interesting premise, but a very slow setup with absolutely no payout.  Completely lacking in atmosphere and emotion.  Never establishes what kind of movie it wants to be.

Nostalgia is starting to lead me into making poor life decisions.  I went to see “The Lazarus Effect” because of its similarity to the 1990 movie “Flatliners” which I remember really liking.  The setup for the two movies is almost exactly the same.  In both, a group of medical students are experimenting with the boundaries of life and death and experience unintended consequences.  “The Lazarus Effect” takes that interesting premise and runs a million different directions with it and never arrives anywhere.

The movie has a very slow build that makes it feel like we’re placing the blocks for a satisfying denouement, but instead it decides to kick the blocks over like a petulant child.  There is just so much wasted potential here.  For example, earlier on, they resurrect a dog from the dead and it immediately acts really weird, not eating and just sitting around.  So, of course, the two scientists take the dog home with them because that’s totally safe.  But whatever.  The dog begins having more and more aggressive episodes and you think, “Ok, maybe they’re going to go the Cujo route”, but that’s all they end up doing with it.  It breaks out of the same cage a few time and looks threatening and that’s it.  Then they basically just drop it from the movie completely in a totally pointless scene.

There is also a completely useless sub-plot in which a pharmaceutical corporation ends up buying all the research.  I don’t know why it was included in the movie.  It did not advance any part of the main plot at all and everything could have turned out exactly as it did if they saved us all that 15 minutes of the movie.

All of these failings could be forgiven if the movie were to establish any sort of atmosphere or evoke even an inkling of emotion, but it does neither.  The characters are all hollow and lifeless and all attempts to evoke an emotional response are amateurish at best.  For instance, the movie  sets itself up as a horror film early on by making an excuse for why cell phone coverage doesn’t work (they’re in the basement) but then throws at us an entity that can manipulate electricity at will and doesn’t even bother to give us the ubiquitous “Oh, that’s right, cell phones don’t work here!” scene at any tense point in the movie.

I have listed only a few of the failings of this movie.  There may be a good drinking game involved in watching this film and pointing out all the inconsistencies, but if you’re not going to do that, you should stay far away from “The Lazarus Effect”.

Movie Review: Farewell, Herr Schwartz

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: An engaging look into a Jewish family split apart by the events of World War II and one woman’s attempt to find out how the split happened and if the two sides can ever reconcile.

“Farewell, Herr Schwartz” is a documentary about choices and trying to find out the reasons for those choices three generations after the fact.  The first fifteen minutes or so are a bit dull and dry and the movie is subtitled so I missed a bit of information, but a young Israeli woman finds out that her grandmother’s brother, who everyone had thought was killed in a fire actually lived a full life, married, had children, and died all within a stone’s throw of the concentration camp the Nazis sent him to during the war.  The movie follows the woman’s (Yael Reuviny) discovery of the man (Peter/Feiv’ke)  and his family and friends and documents her family’s reaction to the news that a member of their family would decide to live in a country that did his family so much harm.

The movie is split up into three generations of discovery.  The first looks into the mystery of Peter, the long presumed dead Schwartz and Yael interviews neighbors that knew him.  The second looks at Peter’s children and focuses on his son who would like to discover more about Peter’s life with Yael.  The third looks at one of the grandsons of Peter who, despite not really knowing much about his grandfather’s Jewish past, feels drawn to the faith and yearns to maybe move to Israel one day.

What would possess a man to do what Peter did?  It is hard for me to comprehend so I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the side of the family that left for Israel thinking he were dead.  There’s sadness and betrayal, loss and longing, needing to know and not wanting to hear.  Ghosts and phantom pains raising once again to the surface.  But can there be forgiveness?  Maybe.  Hopefully.

Despite the aforementioned slow beginning and another bit of a dry spot near the end of the film, “Farewell, Herr Schwartz” is an engrossing documentary.  How many other families have similar stories as the Schwartz’s/Reuviny’s do?  Countless, I fear.  All of them trying to put together pieces of a puzzle that has been so tampered with by evil forces that pieces that once fit together no longer seem to belong and pieces that don’t go together are forced into place because the alternative is to not have a picture.  It’s heartbreaking.

Movie Review: Run All Night

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An excellent first hour setup followed by a sub-par, formulaic run-fight-escape chase movie.

I really need to stop being a sucker for Liam Neeson beat-em-up films.  He’s running under 50% success rating with these vehicles.  That said, the beginning of “Run All Night” was a pretty good movie and almost makes it worth the time investment to watch it.  Yeah, we’ve seen many gangster underworld movies where the hot-headed son of a powerful mob boss screws things up and his attempts to fix his screw up only makes things worse.  This one starts in that vein, but it does a really good job of fleshing out all of the main characters so you have some level of sympathy for them even though there’s really only one main good guy.  There is a realness to all the characters that is often difficult to capture.  It’s about as engrossing as is possible for the type of movie that this is.

The movie moves along really nicely until Common enters the picture.  Common plays Andrew Price, another hit man who is hired to take out Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) and his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman).  Before this point, we had a gripping, somewhat reality based chase/revenge movie going, but Common’s introduction throws the movie off the rails.  It isn’t that Common does a bad job because he’s suitably bad-ass.  It’s just that his character is completely outside the realm that all of the other characters inhabit.  While all the characters are somewhat grounded in reality, his is super-human.  He goes on this insane killing spree just trying to get to the Conlons.  It doesn’t fit the pattern of the movie at all.  It might have been made acceptable if they at least gave Common’s character some background, but he’s just suddenly there with a “Oh, I’ll kill him for free” attitude.  There’s a story there, tell it instead of showing the rampage.

What we have here are two movies that don’t belong together.  On balance, I think it’s worth the time because the first half is pretty engrossing.  Really, if you watch it from the comfort of your own home, just fast-forward through the Common portions and it’d be quite enjoyable.  Or maybe just suspend reality for the Common portions of the film.

Movie Review: Amour Fou

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: A colorful and bleak look at life in an 1810 Berlin home. Wow, life in 1810 Berlin was boring as hell.  At times interesting, at times overwrought.

“Amour Fou” means “insane love”.  The movie is appropriately titled.  Set mostly in the upper-class household of Fredrich and Henriette Vogel, it explores the lack of intimacy and awkward relations between what I am assuming is everyone in 1810 Berlin.  This lack of intimacy leads to many strange (and yes, insane) views on love.  One such view is held by the poet (of course, it’s a poet) Heinrich.  Heinrich believes that the truest expression of love is to find a woman who will commit suicide with you.  He sets his sights on Henriette when his advances are spurned by a woman who I believe was his cousin.

Either 1810 Berlin was hopelessly bleak and lifeless and loveless or everyone in the film was just a horrible actor.  I’m not sure which.  I’m going with the former interpretation because it does fit with the overall themes of the movie.  What is funny is that the backgrounds are always so colorful.  Almost distractingly so.  It contrasts so much with the wooden and lifeless people going about their daily lives.  This was most noticeable in the Vogel family’s serving woman.  She was a tall, gangly, somewhat homely young woman dressed in this red and black outfit that reminded me of Olive Oyl from Popeye.  Every scene she is in, despite being mostly mute throughout, she steals because she is the most colorful and towers over the others.

Oh, and let me tell you about the singing.  It exists in the movie.  A lot.  The same song.  Over and over again.  Live.  With piano accompaniment.  By people with only moderate talent.  In the movie’s defense, it is a thematic song, but I wanted to shoot myself half way through the second rendering and there were more to come.

Yeah, so art films, whatcha gonna do?  There is stuff here that’s interesting, but it’s really hard to get past how unemotional everyone is.  I mean, if you’re getting distracted by the tall, homely servant, there’s something wrong, right?  Ok, so not a good start to the European Union Film Festival.  There are five more films to go, though, so there’s lots of time to make up for the first dud.

2015 European Union Film Festival

It’s EU Film Festival time at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago and I’ll be seeing six of their many offerings this year.  The Gene Siskel Film Center is a wonderful place to watch a film.  The theaters are intimate and comfortable and they are always showing films you can’t see in wide release.  It is a hidden gem of Chicago and I don’t use it nearly as much as I should.

I have a general idea of which films I will be seeing, but that’s likely subject to change as life gets in the way so I will refrain from saying up front which are on the agenda.  As per usual with movies I see in the theater, I will be doing reviews for them all.  The first one is “Amour Fou”.  I can say that because I watched it yesterday.  It is a little insane.  Which is appropriate because it means “Insane Love”.  The review will likely be up tomorrow as I’m still processing it.

How To Describe Gender

For someone who doesn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to talk about gender clearly, this cool infographic is a great starting place.  I’m sure it’s not all-inclusive, but it’s certainly better and simpler than anything I’ve ever come across.  It does get across the point well that gender is far from a binary position.



Movie Review: Still Alice

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: An emotional and devastating look at living with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Well acted and well paced.  Sometimes a little over the top with the emotional manipulation.

I can think of nothing more terrifying than slowly disappearing into your own mind; finding moments of clarity becoming fewer and fewer; knowing in those moments of clarity that you are just becoming more and more of a burden on those that love you; not remembering from one moment of clarity to the next that you’ve come to the same conclusion many times already.  Such is how I imagine living with Alzheimer’s Disease would be.  Such is the story of “Still Alice”.

Julianne Moore turns in a devastatingly good performance as the eponymous Alice who is an accomplished linguistics professor who learns she has Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and, along with her family, does what she can to live with it.  There are many real and heart-rending scenes portraying the difficulty of doing so.  Moore is backed up in her effort by a top-notch cast portraying her family, including Alec Baldwin as her husband, John, and Kristen Stewart as her youngest daughter, Lydia.  Say what you want about Kristen Stewart and her wooden acting in the “Twilight” series; I think it was more the material than her abilities because she does a fine job in this movie.

All movies manipulate your emotions on some level or another and “Still Alice” does a fairly good job of organically making you feel for each of the main characters as individuals.  There are times, though, where it goes a little overboard.  Those times are when they show home movies of Alice’s youth.  Maybe it’s trying to portray the internal thought process of an individual with Alzheimer’s or something similar, but it just seems out of place with the rest of the movie and I’m surprised they weren’t able to find a more effective way to do it considering how effective the rest of the movie is.  It is really the only fault in the movie.

Minor quibbles about failed emotional manipulation aside, “Still Alice” is well worth your time.  You get great acting and an honest representation of both what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s and what it’s like to live with someone who has the disease.  There are a few highly impactful scenes that will stick with you for a long time.  Julianne Moore deserves every award she won for her role.

End Time Zones Now!

This one minute video sums up my feelings on the use of time zones very nicely.  They may have made sense at one point, but they make sense no longer.  They just add to global confusion.  Stand up against the time zone patriarchy!

The Right-Wing Schrödinger’s Cat

Benjamin Netanyahu gave his controversial speech to Congress today and it was as banal as expected.  Iran is evil, Iran must not get nuclear weapons, Iran plans on destroying Israel, Iran supports terrorism, Iran plans on taking over the Middle East.  He presented nothing that hasn’t been heard by every single Congresscritter and every single individual on earth that pays attention to events in Israel haven’t heard a million times.  In other words, the speech was useless propaganda with Congress playing patsy to a foreign leader.

What gets me is how much of what Netanyahu says seems to contradict each other.  Take for instance the contradicting beliefs that Iran both plans on being a major power in the Middle East and that it is a suicidal power that only wants a nuclear weapon to use it against Israel.  The former is almost certainly true.  Iran uses proxies in many of the Middle Eastern countries to exert some sort of control over those countries in the underwear gnomes hope that they will somehow profit.  The latter is absolutely ridiculous.  Any use of a nuclear weapon by Iran or by a proxy of Iran will immediately result in Iran becoming a desert of glass.  Iran knows this.  Israel knows this.  The U.S. knows this.  End of story.

So Iran is both suicidally against the existence of Israel and wants to project soft power all across the Middle East.  Netanyahu needs Iran to be this geopolitical equivalent to Schrödinger’s cat in order to play to his base who would re-elect him at home and to play to his base who will lend him political cover here in the U.S.  And our right-wingers are more than eager to lap up this drivel like it was the richest of cream.

I don’t know enough about the U.S. negotiations with Iran to say whether the deal is good or not, but all the arguments I hear against it are disingenuous at best and flat-out lies at worst.  At it’s heart, once again, is that Obama hates America and is a secret Muslim.  And the Otherness campaign against Obama runs apace.