Just when you thought Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club had the monopoly on poignant portrayals of wrestlers, Channing Tatum comes along with his role as Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz. Directed by Bennett Miller (of The CruiseCapote and Moneyball fame), Foxcatcher is not just a re-telling of one of the most neurotic millionaires's downfall in recent memory, but a psychological study of the effects of isolation for the majority of one's life.

As the younger brother to fellow gold medal winner Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo, who, in addition to Steve Carrell, underwent a grotesque physical change for the part), Mark has subconsciously felt cast aside and lesser than for most of his life. In spite of being raised by Dave, his only true friend to speak of, his resentment toward Dave's skills as a wrestler intensifies when he's invited by John du Pont (Carrell), heir to the du Pont fortune, to train for the 1988 Olympics on his property, Foxcatcher Farm in Pennsylvania.

Though the real turn of events took place in the 90s, it seems an apropos choice for co-screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (who also adapted Capote) to have set the story in the 80s. As a decade when wealth was revered and lusted after, John du Pont is a character that seems to fit right in with the morals and "ideals" of this time. Suffering from more than your standard breed of mommy issues, du Pont was sequestered from the outside world as a child, with his only friend being their chauffeur's son, who he later finds out his mother paid to hang out with him.

Touched by Mark's genuine appreciation of his friendship, the two become inseparable for a time until du Pont's concerns about winning at the Olympics are intensified by his mother's disapproval over how much money he's putting into a sport that she deems "low" (her own preference, of course, is horse-related sports). This leads him to call Mark an "ungrateful ape" and subsequently pay a handsome sum for Dave to come live on Foxcatcher and help coach his team.

For those unfamiliar with the story (and even those who are), the conclusion of the film is not only shocking, but also completely gut-wrenching. The question of whether or not money and privilege leads to far more depravity and psychological damage than being a "normal" person is raised with stunning clarity, and proves the old Smiths adage, "Money changes everything" (especially your mind). 





The female best friend relationship is always a complex one. Factor in one of them being a lesbian and you've got the dynamic that comprises Susanna Fogel's debut film Life Partners. Sasha (Leighton Meester, frumping it up a bit in a post-Blair Waldorf role) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) could not be more opposed in terms of their personality types. Paige is high-strung and determined to always get what she wants, whereas Sasha is laidback and prone to having casual relationships that never lead anywhere. Yet somehow, their friendship works based on a shared love of trash TV and essentially because they're both single 29-year-olds.

This isn't to say that their friendship lacks substance, but it is very clearly based on familiarity and convenience. Often joking about the dates they go on and the people they have sex with, never imagining anything will progress beyond one encounter, Sasha is blindsided when Paige actually likes someone she goes on an internet date with. Tim (Adam Brody, in his usual "likable guy" role), a dermatologist, is surprisingly charming and intelligent, barring his graphic tees and tendency to say "Gotcha."

Tim quickly ingratiates himself into Paige's life, leaving little room where there was once a gulf for Sasha. Although Paige still "makes time" for Sasha, the distance between them is undeniable. This sends Sasha on her own emotional bender, as she continues to ask her parents for money to supplement her receptionist job income. They happily do so under the pretense that Sasha is interested in making an album using her previously proven talent. However, as the film progresses, it's easy to see she couldn't be less into music.

It's only after her friendship with Paige deteriorates that Sasha discovers that, all this time, she's failed to "get a life" of her own. And this is one of the most salient/alarming messages of Life Partners: that no matter how close you think you are with someone or how much you rely on them, there's nothing stopping them from letting you fall flat on your ass in the end. Though, of course, because it's a Hollywood movie, it isn't quite so bleak as that. But perhaps if Leighton Meester weren't in the role (Kristen Bell a.k.a. the voice of Gossip Girl was originally going to be cast in her part) and the film had just a bit more courage in its convictions, we would see that Paige would not have forced herself to be there for Sasha in the end. That a sense of duty would not have ultimately prevailed in the end, as Paige had gotten "her own life" separate from Sasha. Because, in spite of it being the twenty-first century, the only movie to have ever championed the benefits of platonic love over romantic love is pretty much just Frances Ha.

Starting out rivetingly enough with "Idle Delilah," Azealia Banks re-introduces herself to the world with the intro track on Broke With Expensive Taste, an album she's been attempting to release since fall of 2012. After getting dropped by her label, Interscope, the opportunity to get the album out into the universe finally came on November 6, with the help of entertainment production company Prospect Park.

"Gimme A Chance," the second track already finds Banks veering toward the experimental side, with musical homages to a decidedly 80s style. Alternating between an 80s and bachata vibe, it is one of the most daring songs on the record.

"Desperado" slows down the tempo a bit, with sultry saxophones to match Banks' deep, rich vocals. Though not lyrically complex, the backbeat of "Desperado" sustains it enough to make it a worthwhile addition to the album. Following is "JFK," featuring an ambient opening that lures you in right away. Likening the assassination of JFK to the assassination of "the look/Murderin' the gown/Fashion killer, the body on the ground," Banks is given a hand on this song from Theophilus London.

"212," which has obviously been well played by now, serves as the fifth track on Broke With Expensive Taste, giving Banks something of a freebie in terms of additional content. "Wallace" is Banks at her most classicist in terms of delivering pure, straight up vocals. Showcasing her trademark brand of confidence, Banks sings, "I suppose I been hot in Europe, yep/Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Seoul, London, Tokyo/Dawn is dusk to me, yep." 

Frantic and sweltering, "Heavy Metal and Reflective" is the type of fare you would expect to hear in some dark, seedy underground club in Berlin. As the second single from the album, Banks channels Nicki Minaj with lyrics like, "I'm in every city/They say hello to the head bitch." Next up is "BBD," not to be confused as the abbreviation for Bel Biv Devoe (rather, it stands for Bad Bitches Do-it), yet another song we've already heard before, circa early 2013--which is the major flaw with the entire album: we've heard it all before.

"Ice Princess" opens with a blustering wind sound effect and a sleigh bell-like musical intro, setting the tone for the dual meaning of the song, applying to Banks' icy demeanor and her icy jewelry collection--elucidated by the statement, "I'm so cold, I'm dripping icicles/I go and take your man, that nigga might miss you/Spent his whole commission on my neck and ear." "Yung Rapunxel" (another track we've heard already) offers frantic beats in the vein of Zebra Katz's "Ima Read" as Banks repeats "I wanna be free." It's easily one of the best songs on Broke With Expensive Taste, with its combination of witch hop and rock, at times sounding faintly like Lady Gaga if she wasn't so overly processed.

"Soda" features more controlled vocals from Banks, set against danceable music you would undoubtedly hear in any gay bar worth its liquor selection. Picking up where the single "1991" left off, "Chasing Time" is perhaps Banks at her most self-assured and courageous, as she makes overt reference to her former record label and the associated contention of their relationship. Keeping in stride with the theme of the record's title, "Luxury" is a lush offering that details the conflict of wanting all that's luxe and not quite being able to attain it.

"Nude Beach A Go-Go" starts to see Banks go off the rails a little bit as she attempts to sing in a genre that's out of her wheelhouse. Luckily, it's the shortest song on the album, so that you don't have to feel uncomfortable for an inordinate amount of time. The second to last track, "Miss Amor," finds Banks back in top form with a range of musical instruments that the likes of Crystal Waters would most definitely approve of. "Miss Camaraderie," the conclusion to the long-awaited debut from Banks, continues the auditory motif of "Miss Amor," though with Banks showcasing the deeper side of her voice as she paints the picture of "A night, a scene, a town, a ride with Miss Camaraderie." Does the culmination of this collection of songs prove Banks is rich in talent even if somewhat broke in bank account? Yes. But it does leave one to wonder if she can handle herself a bit more business savvily on her sophomore effort--which will hopefully contain nothing but new material instead of recycled songs from her various EPs.


Bill Murray may be in a film a year, but he hasn't truly starred in anything since 2005's Broken Flowers, directed by Jim Jarmusch. His constant role as someone supporting or on the periphery (see: The Darjeeling Limited or Moonrise Kingdom) had perhaps almost left audiences thinking that Murray had surrendered the leading man role for good. But with Theodore Melfi's writing and directing debut, Murray has risen from the ashes of marginal characters to give us the force of nature that is Vincent MacKenna.

Coming off as your average curmudgeon, Vincent, a longtime resident of Sheepshead Bay, takes assholery to artistic heights. When new neighbors move in next door, a single mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincent shows off his talents for apathy quite well. Their initial introduction gets off to a rocky start after the movers Maggie hired back into the tree on Vincent's lawn, causing a branch to fall and hit his car. This quickly invokes his ire, and prompts Maggie to assume that they'll probably have minimal dealings with one another after she pays him off for the damages.

Much to her surprise, however, her hours at work (as a CAT Scan technician) turn out to be more grueling than she thought, leaving her no choice but to leave Oliver in the so-called care of Vincent. Already a social pariah at his Catholic school, Oliver takes comfort in the strange companionship of Vincent, who takes him to his favorite local bar, in addition to the race track. Oliver's "practical" education is further improved by being introduced to a prostitute Vincent occasionally pays named Daka (Naomi Watts, who has a surprisingly effective Russian accent).

Vincent unwittingly finds himself treating Oliver like a grandson, teaching him how to fight his bully at school, which results in bloodshed on both sides, though Oliver comes out the victor. Growing ever more attached to Vincent in spite of knowing so little about him, Oliver is flummoxed to find him sprawled out on the floor of his house after not picking Oliver up from school. After suffering a stroke from the stress of losing his Alzheimer's-ridden wife, who he's been going broke to keep in an affluent retirement community, and the pressure of the various gambling debts he owes to a loan shark named Zucko (Terrence Howard), Vincent becomes an even surlier version of his former self.

Regardless of his rudeness, Oliver, Daka and Maggie work together to reinvigorate his health and take care of his home while he's in the hospital. Meanwhile, Oliver's teacher at school, Mr. Geraghty (Chris O'Dowd, the most successful graduate of The IT Crowd), has assigned a project that requires each of his students to write a report on someone they know who they think qualifies as a person with saintly qualities (ah, the benefits of Catholic school). Carefully considering Vincent's behavior, Oliver chooses him, much to everyone's simultaneous surprise and understanding.

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AuthorGenna Rivieccio
CategoriesMovie Reviews

Apart from addressing that Raymond Carver continues to be an unparalleled source of inspiration/proof that no other alcoholic will ever be able to write as clearly as he, Birdman is thus far the ultimate commentary on the twenty-first century--while still possessing an air of timelessness. Acknowledging themes that have stretched across every era of humanity, Alejandro González Iñárritu's, dare one say, masterpiece examines the struggle to be noticed and feel loved, often confusing admiration for the latter.

Our introduction to washed up actor Riggan Thomson

Our introduction to washed up actor Riggan Thomson

The star of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, in an all too appropriate role) faded long ago in the early 90s after he decided not to make a fourth installment of a comic book franchise called Birdman. Ever since, he's been atrophying away, both in terms of talent and celebrity. His only daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, carrying off ripped tights as no one else can), serves as his personal assistant, just one example of the many damaged relationships in his life. In order to pull himself up by the proverbial bootstraps and regain a modicum of respect in the "acting world," Riggan decides to adapt Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," for the Broadway stage. 

The story, about different kinds of love and where each of these kinds of love go when they seem to disappear, is all too poignant when held up against Riggan's own life, like some sort of cruel funhouse mirror. Playing multiple roles within the play, Riggan's portrayal of Ed, a jilted lover of one of the other characters, Terri (played by Naomi Watts), is the one most eerily similar to his own persona--with quotes like, "Why doesn't anyone love me? I tried so hard to be who you wanted and now I don't even know who I am anymore." This reference to not being loved by any sort of public is also especially salient due to the other lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton, amazing as usual), stealing the front page of the New York Times Arts and Culture section with his interview about the play.

Sam, Riggan's daughter/assistant

Sam, Riggan's daughter/assistant

All the while, Riggan has the interior voice of Birdman telling him what a fuck-up and failure he is for having ever abandoned the character. In typical Iñárritu fashion, the film often borders on the surreal, or, what theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), might call "Super-Realism," but it never strays from its most overt theme: Does cultural relevancy equate to love, and vice versa? Perhaps no other writer-director has explored this concept with as much depth in a time increasingly punctuated by a lust for fame--at any cost--that people confuse with love. 

David Fincher has always been very meticulous with his film choices,  which is why each one tends to be gripping and/or stays with you long after you've seen it. From his earlier, less commercial work, like 1997's The Game, to his more well-known epic, sweeping biopics, like Zodiac and The Social Network, Fincher has established a long-standing reputation for creating films with an air of mystery and intrigue about them. With Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn's third novel of the same name, Fincher has, once again, chosen a script tailor-made for his style.

Still from Gone Girl

Still from Gone Girl

Not being familiar with the plot of Gone Girl already is the best way to see the film, as it leaves greater potential for you to actually be surprised by what happens. That being said, Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike, who is something of a Julia Styles 2.0) is a seemingly laidback woman who meets Missourian Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) in her native New York City while at a party. Impressed by his game, Amy, always "the cool girl" (as she later refers to herself), falls quickly for Nick. Being the inspiration for a children's book series called The Amazing Amy, which her parents peddle in spite of her aversion to it, Nick comes to Amy's rescue while being interviewed at a book release party about how she feels regarding Amy the character getting married when Amy isn't married in real life. It is at this point that Nick chooses to propose. The first two years of their marriage, as told through Amy's journals, are punctuated by romance and ease of communication. But things take a sour turn in year three as Amy describes Nick's increasingly abusive behavior.

On the day of their fifth anniversary, things have practically unraveled, or so Nick describes to his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), while sitting at the bar (called The Bar) that they own together (paid for by Amy's trust fund). When he returns to their home to find that there's been a scuffle and Amy's nowhere to be find, Nick is more than a bit mystified over her disappearance. The lead detective on the investigation, Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), is the only one who seems not to think Nick is the one responsible for Amy's absence.

After being interrogated

After being interrogated

The dark secrets of Amy's past and the truth behind the nature of their marriage is unraveled with delicate precision by Fincher, who keeps his viewer guessing for the first half of the film before unveiling the extent of Amy's psycho bitchery. With Nick's life on the line (Missouri still has the death penalty), his desperate dependence on Amy's return is only matched by his desperate desire to be free of her. The film, thus, serves not only as a fascinating individual character study, but a study of what the modern perspective on marriage is (chiefly, a prison). 

As we all know, narcissism is a key trait in any artistic endeavor, particularly writing. Following up his acclaimed 2011 film, The Color Wheel, Alex Ross Perry chooses the most interesting of all neurotic subject matters: the writer--with specific regard to Philip Roth. Though, of course, a "fictionalized" account, we are given Roth as the re-imagined Philip Lewis Friedman--an appropriately douche bag name--played by Jason Schwartzman, in arguably his most meaningful performance to date (which isn't to say that his acting is necessarily amazing so much that he falls very neatly into the role of someone detached and depressed).

Promotional, Philip Roth-esque promotional poset for Listen Up Philip

Promotional, Philip Roth-esque promotional poset for Listen Up Philip

After the successful publication of his first novel, Friedman quickly rises to meteoric heights in the New York literary world, taking the opportunity to tell former girlfriends and college friends who he believed never supported him exactly what he thinks about them. Imbued with a natural air of self-righteousness and superiority, Friedman is the gross archetypal cliche of a narcissist at his worse: delusions of grandeur, an inability to see outside his own consciousness and the unwavering belief that he is better and more worthwhile than any other human being. His rocky relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Ashley Kane (Elisabeth Moss, continuing to hedge her bets for a post-Mad Men career), seems unfathomable considering how little he actually cares for her, and yet still needs to harbor the illusion of being humanly connected. Upon publishing his second novel, Obidant, Friedman is invited to reputed, well-respected author Ike Zimmerman's (Jonathan Pryce, in the Saul Bellow role) Upstate New York home.

One of the many brilliant fake covers of Ike Zimmerman's novels

One of the many brilliant fake covers of Ike Zimmerman's novels

Zimmerman and Friedman (the Jewish connection undeniable with their names placed next to one another) immediately hit it off, both feeding off one another's self-involvement and detachment from women as anything other than folly-laden distractions. The discovery that the "caretaker" of Zimmerman's home, Melanie (Krysten Ritter), is actually Zimmerman's daughter simultaneously leaves Friedman with greater admiration for how removed Zimmerman is from personal emotions and somewhat terrified that he could cause the same level of psychological damage to another human being. As Melanie points out one day while sitting on the couch with Friedman, "No one likes to made to feel as meaningless as they are." But this is exactly what Philip does, and feels must be done in order to be a "great writer."

The film is, in fact, at its best when it tapers off to show us Ashley's emotional roller coaster in the wake of finally deciding to ban Philip from her life for good. At first averse to the notion of being actually alone as opposed to figuratively alone, Ashley experiences depression and disinterest in her work. Luckily, there are cats that can be adopted. When she finally comes out of the other side of their break-up, which Philip deems merely a temporary separation while he accepts a teaching job at a college upstate, she is stronger than ever. Indeed, this is the most redeeming aspect of the film--the fact that at least one person experiences a metamorphosis. 

More Philip Roth book fonts

More Philip Roth book fonts

And then there is the aloof, nonpartisan narration of Eric Bogosian, as he describes everything the characters are thinking and feeling (but in a manner that manages to not come across as annoying). This adds to the sense that nothing in this life is significant, no matter how much our two giant narcissists believe they (and their work) is.

 

 

 

Begin Again , the sixth feature film from John Carney, shows the writer-director's seamless evolution from 2007's seminal Once, a more low-budget movie demonstrating the process behind creating an album, to a mature, fully-formed examination of the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating a piece of music. Not to say that Once isn't still one of his best works--it probably always will be--but there's something so much more confident about the way in which Carney executes the story of a songwriter and her fortuitous encounter with a failed music producer.

Promotional poster for Begin Again

Promotional poster for Begin Again

After coming to New York City with her semi-famous boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, who plays into his douche bag role quite nicely), fresh off recording several songs for a movie soundtrack, Gretta (Knightley) feels somewhat out-of-place as he is given the royal treatment and taken to L.A., leaving her to her own devices for a spell. Luckily, one of her old friends, Steve (James Corden), from England is also a struggling musician who helps keep her entertained while Dave is away. Her friendship with him proves useful after Dave returns from L.A. and informs her that he's taken a shine to one of his record producers. 

Instead of letting her book a ticket back to England like she wants to, Steve insists that Gretta come with him to his open mic night on the Lower East Side, whereupon he forces her to sing one of the songs she's written. Recently fired from his own label, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a Grammy-award winning producer/alcoholic, just so happens to be in the audience. Hearing something magical in Gretta's rough-hewn performance, Mulligan offers to "sign" her even though he has no label to sign her with. Nonetheless, Gretta seems to have more faith in him than in herself, prompting her to agree to his half-baked idea to record her entire album throughout New York City in an extremely DIY manner.

Appreciating the music together

Appreciating the music together

As Dan and Gretta record the album together, they each begin to have revelations about their personal lives that the other is able to help them through. Unlike the characters in Once, Carney opts ultimately not to give their relationship a romantic slant--which makes it all the more meaningful when we arrive to the conclusion. 

 

 

Caribou goes by many names, the other most famous being Daphni, but it is under this moniker that Canadian-born Daniel Snaith is always at his best. His eighth studio album, Our Love, is a dynamic addition to his already impressive canon.

Album cover for Our Love

Album cover for Our Love

Opening with the atmospheric "Can't Do Without You," Caribou repeats, "I can't do without you," throughout the duration, which certainly does plenty to welcome the listener. "Silver" is an ambient track with soft vocals crooning inaudibly, "I guess I don't need her/It doesn't mean I can't get over her." Following is "All I Ever Need," which features a frenetic, soulful beat that overpowers Caribou's lyrics as he laments, "I can't take it/The way you treat me wrong/It's not right girl/People treat me bad/But my next love will be the best I ever had." Clearly, Caribou is exorcising some demons with this album.

The title track, "Our Love," features a tone and beat that continues to build as the song progresses, as though wanting desperately to break out if its own shell--which it eventually does, crescendoing to an energetic melange of sounds that dares you not to get your ass on the dance floor. "Dive" echoes the trip hop genre that fell out of fashion so long ago, but is somehow effortlessly resuscitated by Caribou. Making unintelligible sounds throughout, Caribou lulls you into his submission like some sort of snake charmer.

Caribou

Caribou

"Second Chance" features exuberant female vocals that insist, "I really wanna show you now/Nothing you could say I don't already know/I don't get the second chance, baby/Yeah, you know I'll just keep on waiting." The notion of waiting and disappointment is a prevalent one throughout Our Love, themes that are somewhat contrasted by Caribou's musical stylings. Case in point is, "Julia Brightly," which continues the tone of jubilance that pervaded "Second Chance" with more unintelligible noises against a beat that can't be ignored.

The appropriately titled "Mars" includes a flute that punctuates the entire song. Indeed, it is exactly what one would picture to be playing if you landed there. "Back Home" segues seamlessly from "Mars," building slowly with a faint volume that allows Caribou's vocals to really shine through more than they have at any other point on this album.

Bursting with vibrancy

Bursting with vibrancy

"Love Will Set You Free" concludes Our Love with Caribou's most assured musical arrangements. It's a methodical collection of sonic bursts punctuated by the simple message: "your love will set you free." Apparently, Caribou's has, and in turn, we've all benefited.

Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino when referring to his music career, has always remained consistent with his release of surprising and unexpected albums. Although generally labeled as a writer (he got his start writing for 30 Rock) or actor (on Community and, tragically, Girls), it is Glover's musical stylings that set him apart more than any of his other talents. His new mixtape/EP, STN MTN / Kauai, proves that he's capable of even more than we thought.

Album cover for Kauai

Album cover for Kauai

Opening with the instantly catchy "Sober," Childish Gambino lures us in with his sultry vocals and resonant lyrics, asserting, "And now that it's over, I'll never be sober." "Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)" acts as some sort of bizarre song lovechild of Kevin Lyttle and Rihanna with its romantic, fanciful vibe. Plus, it features Jaden Smith. The third track, "Retro (Rough)" alternates between pure hip hop and semi-ballad with its lascivious confidence as Gambino croons, "We can get there, we can do it if we try."

"The Palisades" is one of the richest songs on the EP, complemented by the vocals of Christian Rich, an N.E.R.D. protege. Expressing a somewhat cynical/aloof sentiment toward relationships, Gambino sings, "If we could be together would that make you happy? And if it wouldn't tell your girlfriend to get at me/Love don't really happen." Following is "Poke," an appropriate song for an October release when considering the lament, "Those summer days never fade away, they just stay the same in my mind."

Performing bombastically

Performing bombastically

"Late Night in Kauai" also features Jaden Smith (clearly Gambino's new favorite). Evoking the beat poetry style, the song is nothing but bongo drums and bizarre reminiscences like, "I remember that first night you were wearing a Power Ranger t-shirt. So was I." The concluding track is also the best one. "3005 (Beach Picnic Version)" includes Minnie Mouse-pitch vocals that assure, "No matter what you say or what you do, I'll be right by your side till three thousand and five." It's the perfect way to end an EP that you didn't think could possibly get any more endearing.

Gregg Araki has always been known for making avant-garde or at least mildly offensive films (see: The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face). His latest offering, White Bird in a Blizzard, however, is somewhat on the tamer side by Araki standards. Adapted from Laura Kasischke's 1999 novel of the same name, Araki shows us the bland, desolate life of San Bernardino housewife Eve Connor (Eva Green, always great for playing non-maternal roles). Though she's always displayed signs of dissatisfaction, her behavior of late has seemed particularly neurotic to her 17-year-old daughter, Kat (Shailene Woodley, revealing a surprising comfortableness with nudity throughout the film).

Over the housewife scene

Over the housewife scene

Regardless of how outlandish her mother acts, Kat is immune to her tantrums, more concerned with her boyfriend/next door neighbor, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), and their waning sex life. It's around the time that Kat becomes more focused on her libido that her mother starts lashing out at her in a way that indicates jealousy over Kat's youth and general desirability. Lamenting the loss of her own life and the living out of days making dinner and washing dishes, Eve grows more contemptuous by the day.

Kat and her boyfriend, Phil

Kat and her boyfriend, Phil

Right around the time Eve's fury reaches some sort of plateau/zenith/crescendo, she simply disappears. The cop in charge of the case, Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane), serves not only as the man trying to find Kat's mother, but also as the man who ends up fucking her pain away, much to the delighted startlement of her best friends, Beth (Gabourey Sidibe a.k.a. Precious) and Mickey (Mark Indelicato a.k.a. Betty's little brother on Ugly Betty). Although Kat appears nonchalant about her mother's vanishing, especially to her therapist, Dr. Thaler (Angela Bassett, proving Araki loves to dig up those we thought we had lost), her series of dreams/nightmares about being caught in a blizzard and searching for Eve indicate an undeniable trauma. 

Determined to move on with her life, Kat suppresses the memories of 1988 (this is the year her mother leaves them) and carries on in a totally well-adjusted manner by the time 1991 rolls around and she's attending UC Berkeley. Unfortunately for Kat, a trip back home for a break leads her to uncover revelations she wasn't prepared for (plus, Sheryl Lee enters into the mix, giving us a slight preview of Twin Peaks). Although the story contains plenty of intrigue and a plotline that always holds your interest, there is something about the disinterested way in which Araki reveals the final twist that makes White Bird in a Blizzard somehow lesser when compared to his other works. Nonetheless, as can always be counted on with an Araki film, the soundtrack is primo (even though he features the requisite playing of New Order because part of the movie takes place in the 80s).

It isn't often that you get a parody movie that isn't part of the Scary Movie franchise. At long last, this has been remedied. The incongruousness of romantic comedies in general--especially of late--makes They Came Together one of those timely sort of movies that hits right for the jugular at a moment when the rom-com needs to be turned on its ear. Extrapolating every cliche from pretty much every classic Meg Ryan movie ever made, They Came Together opens with Molly (Amy Poehler) and Joel (Paul Rudd) at dinner with some friends (played by Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper) who ask how the two of them met, resulting in a parodic re-telling of the formulaic way in which "they came" into each other's lives.

Even the title of the film alone, directed by David Wain and co-written with Michael Showalter (the brilliant minds who brought you Wet Hot American Summer and Stella), is rife with the implications of its over the top comedic leanings. As it toes the line between being a believable rom-com and a completely absurdist work, They Came Together is at its best when it pushes the boundaries of campiness (e.g. when Molly takes Joel home to meet his parents and finds out they're white supremacists). 

Promotional poster for They Came Together

Promotional poster for They Came Together

In keeping with the standard blueprints of the rom-com, Molly and Joel face the obstacle of Joel working for Candy Systems & Research (a deliberately and strangely generic corporate name), a candy empire that's about to put Molly's indie candy shop, Upper Sweet Side, out of business. It smacks of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. And then there's the actual wielding of the line, "I'll have what she's having," to drive home the When Harry Met Sally angle.

Cliche rom-com scen

Cliche rom-com scen

Of course, regardless of all that's standing in their way, Molly and Joel end up falling in love and then having their romance marred by the return of Joel's ex-girlfriend, Tiffany (Cobie Smulders), who previously cheated on him with his co-worker, Trevor (Michael Ian Black--because where there's Wain and Showalter, there's Black). Their reunion features a preposterous sex scene reminiscent of another parody movie, Fatal Instinct.

All of the conventions of rom-com must be adhered to, however, ultimately leading to Molly and Joel's wedding in the third act. But it wouldn't be a parody movie without a humorous twist--and so, at the end, we learn that Molly and Joel are actually divorced as they tell this story. The lampoon is complete, presenting future romantic comedies with a challenge they might never have considered: be more original.





Something about the fall brings on at least one requisite film about family dysfunction (see: Home For the Holidays). Craig Johnson's visually sparse, emotionally wrought The Skeleton Twins is no exception. Wasting no time in getting right to the suicidal point, the film opens in an L.A. apartment with Milo (Bill Hader) listening to "Denis" by Blondie as he writes a disinterested farewell note.

Promotional poster for The Skeleton Twins

Promotional poster for The Skeleton Twins

On the other side of the U.S., Milo's sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig), contemplates her own demise as she stares at a handful of pills on which to overdose. As she gazes at them in her hand, her cell phone rings with the caller ID listed under "Unknown," an apropos complement to her other hand, filled with life-ending potential. She decides to answer, stunned to learn that Milo has just failed in his own attempt. 

Bleeding out

Bleeding out

After ten years of estrangement (the reason for which is never addressed), Maggie and Milo are reunited in Milo's hospital room, where he tells her she should leave. The next day, however, she offers him the guest room in her and her husband, Lance's (Luke Wilson), house. Considering his recent breakup that spurred him to try to kill himself, Milo takes her up on the invitation. 

Urging Milo to come back to New York with her

Urging Milo to come back to New York with her

The adroitness with which The Skeleton Twins acknowledges how a connection between siblings can usually always be rekindled, even after a significant amount of time spent apart, is what makes it so effective on an emotional level. Regardless of Maggie and Milo knowing so little about the other's current state of existence, they still feel compelled to tell each other the things they could never tell anyone else. 

Bonding

Bonding

For instance, after repeated bouts of drunkenness, one of which finds Milo on a rooftop and then escorted by the police back to Maggie's, Milo confesses, "I get depressed about my life sometimes and do stupid shit." Maggie gives the even realer reply: "We're all just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way things turned out." The fact that their father committed suicide lends an added element of tragedy and sense of impending doom for both of them throughout the narrative. But, as the Starship song they seem to love so much insists, "Let them say they're crazy, they don't care about that." And indeed, they don't--so long as they've got each other. Plus, Bill Hader as a gay man is, as usual, everything. Think Stefan, but more nuanced. 


Sometimes, a film comes along that makes people "feel good" enough to ignore some its more glaring flaws. Jon Favreau's Chef is just such an example. Teetering on overly trite, the narrative explores the travails of Carl Casper, a renowned Los Angeles chef who struggles with the comfortableness of his job at a premier restaurant called Gauloise stifling his culinary creativity. 

Promotional poster for Chef

Promotional poster for Chef

Change foists itself upon Carl when an illustrious food blogger named Ramsey Michael (Oliver Platt) comes to review the menu. Carl wants to shake it up with some new cuisine while his somewhat tyrannical boss, Riva (Dustin Hoffman, in a strange, somewhat esoteric role for someone of his caliber), insists that he "play his hits" (per a Rolling Stones analogy he made earlier). With a heavy heart, Carl chooses to swallow shit and oblige the request. The result is, of course, a scathing review of Carl's chefly abilities. Wounded by the tirade, Carl seeks comfort from his current girlfriend, Molly (Scarlett Johnansson, also in a limiting role), the hostess at the restaurant, and his best friends and co-workers, Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannvale). They all tell him to let it blow over, but the review magically ends up going viral on Twitter (what is it with the prevalence of Twitter in movies these days?).

Attempting to be more creative

Attempting to be more creative

Wanting to take action, Carl asks his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), to help him set up a Twitter account to respond to Ramsey. Thinking he's sending him a direct message, Carl tweets, "You wouldn't know a good meal if it sat on your face asshole." This, too, goes viral and leads Carl to challenge Ramsey to eating another one of his meals. Unfortunately, Riva ends up forbidding him to do so, inciting Carl to walk out of the job, 

Wanting to take action, Carl asks his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), to help him set up a Twitter account to respond to Ramsey. Thinking he's sending him a direct message, Carl tweets, "You wouldn't know a good meal if it sat on your face asshole." This, too, goes viral and leads Carl to challenge Ramsey to eating another one of his meals. Unfortunately, Riva ends up forbidding him to do so, inciting Carl to walk out of the job, 

With zero prospects and a lot of publicity, Carl gets advice from his ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), who continues to insist, as she always has, that he open up a food truck. It isn't until Carl goes to Miami (where he originally hails from) with her and their son and takes a bite out of an authentic Cuban sandwich that he finally feels inspired to do so. It's all very convenient. 

Naturally, Carl is able to secure some money for a food truck from Inez's ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr., occupying yet another rando role for someone of his celebrity status) and of course he is able to unwittingly wrangle Martin to come to Miami so they can start an instant sensation of a business. The neatly bow-tie wrapped plot concludes with Ramsey offering him financial backing for his own restaurant and Carl remarrying Inez. It is, indeed, a far cry from the ambiguity of Favreau's opus, Swingers. But wait, now I'm starting to sound as snarky as Ramsey.  





The desire to "be in a band" in the twenty-first century is rife with the implications that one must cultivate the perfect gimmicky image before he can even dream of his music being heard with any level of auditory discernment. Lenny Abrahamson's fourth feature, Frank, explores this notion with equal parts deftness and semi-satiricalness. 

Promotional poster for Frank

Promotional poster for Frank

Following the musical aspirations of the hapless, rather talentless Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), we're given a glimpse into disparate spectrums of the musician's mindset: the side that seeks fame without acknowledging a lack of aptitude and the side that is neutral about fame and would prefer simply to make music. Frank (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious musical prodigy who invites Jon to join his band, Soronprfbs,  after their keyboard player commits suicide, falls into the latter side of the spectrum. 

Frank playing guitar

Frank playing guitar

The other members in Frank's band, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Nana (Carla Azar) and Baraque (François Civil), are eccentric, to say the least, though not nearly as bizarre as Frank, who Abrahamson has stated is a combination of Frank Sidebottom (a.k.a. Chris Sievey), Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. Determined to lock themselves away and record a masterpiece of an album, Soronprfbs is temporarily foiled by the fact that they don't have enough money to keep renting out their secluded space in Ireland. Wanting desperately to be a part of something legendary, Jon offers them up his "nest egg" to continue recording. 

Although none of his music is used for the album, Jon still enthusiastically tweets (ugh, Twitter) and records videos to his followers to keep them interested, resulting in a spike in the band's number of fans that ultimately leads them to be invited to SXSW. While Jon is ecstatic about this offer, the other band members are extremely reluctant. Frank is ultimately cajoled into going, leading Clara to threaten Jon, "If you fuck things up in America, I will stab you." Her threat becomes real after the pressure and anticipation weighs heavily on Frank once they get to Austin.

After Clara is arrested, the other members of the band refuse to play without her. All the while, Jon continues to tweet and record what's been going with the band, leading everyone to believe it's all some sort of publicity stunt. The night of their performance--with the band down to just Frank and Jon--Frank has a breakdown onstage and ultimately goes into hiding. It suddenly dawns on Jon that his lust for recognition came at the cost of the music, which he was never really a part of to begin with. This revelation forces him to realize, once and for all, that musicians who are pure of heart can never really handle the fame that goes with their talent. 


"The passion in the beginning is always going to be the best part of it." So begins the brief intro track to Tove Lo's debut album, Queen of the Clouds." "The Sex" then transitions into the Rihanna-esque "My Gun," in which Tove Lo establishes her vocal strengths and predilection for dance pop. 

The expressive nature of Tove Lo

The expressive nature of Tove Lo

"Like 'Em Young" proves that only women can get away with talking about enjoying the attraction to a less mature ilk as Tove Lo defends, "Hey girl, why you judgin' me, when your guy's turnin' 53?" The lively beat continues the effervescence set forth by the album, with Tove Lo proving she can keep up with the youngest of them. "Talking Body" slows down the pace somewhat, with a slow build that you can feel wanting to burst through, which, of course, it eventually does or it wouldn't be Swedish pop. Tove Lo sings, "Now if we're talking body, you've got the perfect one so put it on me," persisting, perhaps, in her penchant for youthful men.

Single cover for the single, "Habits"

Single cover for the single, "Habits"

"Timebomb" again finds Tove Lo wanting to show off her more ballad-y side, but finding that she can't quite give in fully as the backbeat elevates to a crescendo while she sings, "We're not forever/You're not the one/I'm not forever/You're not the one."  "The Love (Interlude)" is five seconds of Tove Lo channeling Taylor Swift as she says, "You freak out 'cause suddenly you need this person." This transitions into "Moments," which finds her getting a little too comfortable with her whiteness as she admits,  "I grew up with a lot of green, I was safe, I was fine" and "I'm not the prettiest one you've ever seen, but I have my moments."

"The Way That I Am" (not to be confused with the similarly titled Eminem song) has a wistful opening and finds Tove Lo doing her best imitation of Katy Perry as she wails, "You can't point fingers all you want/I don't care/I love you anyway." She clinches the Russell Brand-era Perry by adding, "Falling in love and I hope that you want me the way that I am." Next up is "Got Love," carrying on her use of a tropical sounding beat as Tove Lo jubilantly announces, "We got love." It's a very Scandinavian declaration.

"Not On Drugs" begins Tove Lo's decidedly overt enjoyment of comparing being in love to being on drugs as she asserts, "Baby listen please, I'm not on drugs, I'm just in love." The comedown from this sentiment is further explored on "Habits (Stay High)." But before that, there's "The Pain (Interlude)," allowing her to transition into the aftermath of love as she states, "And then there's no good way to end things, 'cause it's ending, you know?" This leads into "Thousand Miles," her first real slow jam of the album. Her earnestness shines through in lyrics like, "Back and forth forever, is that how it's gonna be?" Naturally, as with so many songs, running or walking a thousand miles is bandied about to show how much one person can love another.

"Habits (Stay High)," easily her best song, succeeds "Thousand Miles," expressing a distinct form of pain that can only be experienced through the heartache caused by withdrawals from the one you used to love (or used to love you). "This Time Around" explores the unraveling of a relationship through the loss of interest on the part of another. Tove Lo laments, "I used to take your breath away/I used to make you laugh about anything..." The beat picks back up again, however, with "Run On Love"--though the theme of love lost goes on, with Tove Lo insisting, "We can run on love till it dies." 

For those with the bonus track version, a remix of "Habits (Stay High)" serves as the next track, with "Love Ballad" following. Antithetical to the title, this track is an upbeat announcement of all the things Tove Lo would do for the one she loves, including "Jump off a cliff/give you my last spliff." Again with the drug references, "Crave" is the second to last song on the deluxe edition of the album. Slower and more controlled, Tove Lo drones, "Cravin' I'm cravin'/I crave you." And if you're not in a k-hole by the end of this song there's one more remix of "Not On Drugs" to keep you as doped up as possible until you re-play the album. 

Michaël R. Roskam's The Drop may come across as just another gangster movie, but there's far more complexity to it than that. Not only does James Gandolfini's final posthumous film (following Enough Said) lend the often typecast actor plenty of justice, but it also serves as the perfect vehicle for Tom Hardy (with his weird British interpretation of a Brooklyn accent and all) to show off his frequently underrated acting chops.

Based on Dennis Lehane's (who also adapted the screenplay) story, Animal Rescue, The Drop is an enigmatic glimpse into the underworld of Brooklyn crime, consistently posing the moral dilemma of right versus wrong and the fine line that always seems to blur these two opposing concepts. Bob Saginowski (Hardy), the bartender at Cousin Marv's Bar, finds himself in the difficult position of being Marv's (Gandolfini) cousin. As such, he tends to fall into the role of Marv's "boy" rather easily, particularly since the bar is run by Chechnyan thugs that use the establishment as drop-off point for their illicit money.

Tom Hardy as Bob in The Drop

Tom Hardy as Bob in The Drop

As if dealing with the recent robbery of Marv's drop money isn't enough, Bob also finds himself caring for a pitbull he names Rocco after finding him in the trash can of a woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace) while walking home from the bar one night. His affectionate and protective side shines through as he comes to view Rocco as more of a friend than a pet. Unfortunately, a local loony gangster, Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), claims to be the rightful owner of Rocco, badgering Bob to the point of coming to his house either unannounced or while he's not there in order to scare the shit out of him. 

A proud (and uncertain) new pet owner

A proud (and uncertain) new pet owner

As Bob worries about how to juggle his lust for Nadia with his watchfulness over Rocco, Marv has schemes and dreams of his own--all involving selling Bob down the river for a quick escape. However, all isn't as it appears with Bob (considering most Bobs have to be at least somewhat evil thanks to the precedent set by Twin Peaks). The Drop's exploration of redemption and the notion of whether or not a person can come back from sin is extremely poignant, revealing that nothing is ever truly fixed with matters of atonement. And all you really need is one person to forgive you, allowing you to believe in yourself (and your penchant for goodness) again. 

When it comes to movies starring Jennifer Aniston, the term "hit or miss" is something of an understatement. But add Yaslin Bay a.k.a. Mos Def, Will Forte and Tim Robbins to the mix and you've got yourself some undeniable possibilities for goodness. Such is the case with Daniel Schechter's latest film, Life of Crime. Set in the 1970s and based on Elmore Leonard's The Switch (also, incidentally, the name of a Jennifer Aniston movie), the film centers around a kidnapping under the false assumption that Mickey Dawson (Aniston) is given a shit about by her alcoholic husband, Frank Dawson (Robbins), a wealthy, thieving landlord with a penchant for affairs.

promotional poster for Life of Crime

promotional poster for Life of Crime

Mickey, very much the martyred housewife, goes through the motions of acting interested in her husband's social life, attending parties and country clubs, all the while only in it for her son's sake. The relationship she has with Frank is strained at best and abusive at worst. Her son, Bo (Charlie Tahan), also has nothing positive to say about the man, remarking, "He doesn't know shit." But even the offer of an affair by fellow country club-goer Marshall Taylor (Will Forte) doesn't make her feel any sort of excitement. If anything, it leaves her revolted.

Doing the blonde thing

Doing the blonde thing

And so, when she's kidnapped by two ex-cons named Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes), her reaction is understandably somewhat disturbed, yet also utterly zen. Knowing that her husband doesn't love her, Mickey laughs when Louis--who she strikes up something of a romantic rapport with--tells her they're asking for a million dollars (of which Frank swindled by skimping on the cost of his appliances in his apartments). 

Doing the aloof thing

Doing the aloof thing

The true apple of Frank's eye is Melanie (Isla Fisher), a buxom redhead with a lax attitude about everything, that is, until Ordell comes to find her and Frank in the Bahamas to personally extort his money. This results in Melanie using her charms on him to talk down his asking price and throw in offing Mickey for good measure (she can't have Frank feeling suddenly guilty and retracting his divorce papers, after all). 

Doing the terrified thing

Doing the terrified thing

In the meantime, Mickey must stave off the perverted actions of Richard (Mark Boone Jr.), the Nazi sympathizer/paraphernalia collector whose house she's being held captive in. Ultimately, Louis saves her from his raping clutches and takes her back to his apartment where they, surprisingly, don't consummate their relationship. In fact, it is this strange plot twist, for lack of a better term, that makes Life of Crime so interesting and so telling of the decade that was the 1970s. Rather than being an era of cliches, it was a time that emphasized change and revolution (albeit not quite to the same extreme as the 60s). Rather than allow herself to jump from one form of monogamy to another, Mickey merely seeks friendship from her former captors, who seems to know much more about living a life of excitement than she does.  


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AuthorGenna Rivieccio
CategoriesMovie Reviews