Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Article first published as Movie Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on Blogcritics.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was directed by Stephen Daldry, known for The Reader, Billy Elliot, and the Hours. It has been advertised as a stunning, avant garde movie centering on how the 9-11 tragedy affects one family. It centers around Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old boy who is hell bent on discovering a remnant of his father’s past. His father is Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), a jeweler, who dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The last remnant, as it were, he has left behind for his son is a cryptic key. Oskar finds in a vase in the closet after his father is dead. He is from then on driven and fixated on finding the lock that the key opens. This generates a plot of pseudo adventures meeting all sorts of people and devising all sorts of elaborate schemes along the way. What about the twin towers? That was my burning question most of the movie. Make no mistake: this film is not so much about 911. Instead it is more akin to a public service announcement for Asperger’s syndrome, or some garden variety diagnosis of a tortured genius nine year old. Oskar Schell apparently has license to scream horrible words at his mother, (Sandra Bullock) because of his unique disorder. He rolls on the floor, bangs his hands against furniture, and shows utter frustration when his “genius” ideas are thwarted. I could get into the unrealistic amounts of time he is alone to carry out his adventures but I won’t. I also won’t get into the ridiculous cussing exchanges (equally implausible) he has with the security guard (John Goodman) of his building as he comes and goes. I don’t think this movie is meant to be realistic, it’s up to something else. I am not sure I know what it is. It is definitely hard to follow. Fortunately, we can find some compassion for the boy and that held my interest for some of the film.

Of course, anyone would have sympathy for Oskar. He lost his father who was seemingly his best friend to the tragedy we now refer to as 9-11. Still, it doesn’t excuse his disdain for his mother and the strange fixations he leaps headlong into to find the origin of the key. Along the way, he meets a nice, quiet (mute in fact), man who rents a room from his grandmother. He is aptly called “The Renter” (Max von Sydow). He accompanies Oskar on his key expedition which is very difficult because the old man cannot speak. In a way, the renter is best suited to Oskar: he never talks back. The renter is Oskar’s long lost mute grandfather and ironically becomes the only voice of reason. In my opinion, Max von Sydow gives the most compelling performance in the movie. I must add also that there isn’t much competition.

Oskar is very taken with his own “clever” ideas and likes to tell people about them with every opportunity. His lines are annoying and they are delivered with an equally unsettling voice. There isn’t much more to the story than Oskar finding the lock for the key. The mystery’s end is not exciting and he doesn’t seem to advance much in is grieving process for his dad.

I think this movie failed to impress me because it was not about what it advertised. A movie can get away with that when it is such a powerful film you forget you were cheated by the ads. In my opinion, this movie used 9-11 as a “bait-and-switch theme to get people into the theater. There is only minimal reminiscing about the tragedy. On the other hand, the movie centers on Oskar who is not an emotionally well young man. We therefore have nothing to relate with. The boy’s actions are annoying and obtuse, he treats his mother atrociously. I can’t relate with how a kid like that sees his mother and the world. We want to relate with Oskar but the feelings never come. Then there is the theme of 9-11. We want to relate with that but it has such a small small place in the movie. I think it would have been better to either make a well developed movie about 9-11 -or- to make a movie with a decent script about Asperger’s syndrome. They didn’t do that though so what we are left with is a movie with an extremely long title and an incredibly flat plot. I was very let down by this movie and the way it promoted itself to be something it was not. If you like the actors, it is worth seeing. If you want to re-examine 9-11 or anything “real” about the grieving process, or Asbergers for that matter, stay incredibly far away from this one. While this movie may be extremely loud & incredibly close on one level, it is most decidedly not incredibly deep.

Everything Must Go

Article first published as Movie Review: Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Article first published as Movie Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin on Blogcritics.
We Need to Talk About Kevin was Directed by Lynne Ramsay, known for Morvern Callar (2002). Comments on IMDB seem to indicate that she has a small but devoted following. This movie could be what gets her name into the mainstream. I for one will be watching her career, I think she made a quite innovative movie here.

It was produced by a multitude of people but the name best known to me on the list is Steven Soderbergh, known for Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic. The movie stars Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian/Kevin’s mother, John C. Reilly as Franklin/Kevin’s father, and Ezra Miller as Kevin as a Teenager and a cast of others. The age old question of nature vs. nurture is a fitting discussion topic after watching this film. Are kids born bad or do we make them that way?

In We Need to Talk About Kevin, we see a mother going back over the events of her life trying to determine what caused her son to commit a mass murder. It is a series of flashbacks. We learn the events of a child’s life that led him as a teenager to commit mass murder at his high school. The main character is the mother whose eyes we see the flashbacks. She trying to understand why her child committed the mass murder. In the end we are left with no real answers but lines that get us thinking. John C. Reilly is the mostly absent father who seems to think the problem is the mother and exalts the son as a very good kid. There is a lot of dark and frightening imagery of blood and sorts of 1970’s style psychedelic spinning rooms. Once all this is digested, the stark, ominous truth of what has happened appears. It isn’t even remotely pretty.

I liked this movie a lot but I don’t think it will be very popular. In a world where Columbine happened, we still ironically have many people who choose to hide their heads n the sand. Rather than blame the devil, we ought to be talking about kids like Kevin who threaten to kill and kill again all throughout the land. This movie doesn’t show us what went wrong with Kevin but it opens the door which I’ll admit opens to a macabre discussion room, one we need to enter. The cast is perfect for their roles. You will likely hate Kevin’s character as I did, I hope they paid Ezra well! You will want to shake John C. Reilly when he acts like there is nothing wrong. I don’t mean to sugar coat this movie, it was uncomfortable to watch. At the same time, I feel it should be watched. From the dream sequence of a mosh pit of blood to the final chilling words of Kevin, this movie is a study that will most certainly keep brave viewers entertained. What’s more, it is a topic for discussion about another one of societies taboos. Having said that, some scenes had unnecessarily gratuitous violence so that is where it lost points.

Real Steel

Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel, the new movie out about robot boxing. I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

Article first published as Movie Review: Real Steel: The Underdog Fight Ensues on Blogcritics.