Friday, January 3, 2014
Netflix This Movie! Vol. 58
The Guilt Trip (2012, dir. Anne Fletcher) The Guilt Trip was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012. Sometimes it's a nice breather to see a movie of modest aspirations during awards season. What I enjoy about The Guilt Trip is that it's unusually smart and sweet for a generic comedy. Seth Rogen proves that he can be just as funny when robbed of his bros and Barbara Streisand has never been as charming. These two have a really nice, easygoing chemistry that bolsters the entire movie. There's a scene in the middle of The Guilt Trip that really impressed me: Rogen is being a dick to his movie mom and rather than letting that fester for the entire second half, Streisand calls him on his shit (like a normal person would) and the rest of the movie loosens up from formula. It's like a filmmaker knew, FOR ONCE, that a road trip comedy is much more enjoyable for the audience when the characters like one another.
Broadcast News (1987; dir. James L. Brooks) I don't know what's more amazing about Broadcast News, the fact that Hollywood doesn't make this kind of sharply written, character-over-narrative movie anymore, or the way writer/director James Brooks foretells the current state of TV news. Set against the backdrop of a network newsroom, it focuses on the intertwining professional and personal lives of a dogged reporter (Albert Brooks), his fiery producer (Holly Hunter) and a handsome anchor (William Hurt) who catches her eye despite representing the flash-over-substance style of TV news she hates. This is the rare movie that lets characters be more than one thing, giving them real feelings and honest things to say to each other. It's funny. It's sad. It makes putting together a special news report feel as exciting as launching a rocket. Broadcast News is about adults with jobs and relationships, not flashy graphics and car chases. It's a movie that makes me think FOX News and modern Hollywood aren't that different after all.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, dir. Lasse Hallstrom) What's Eating Gilbert Grape is one of my favorite Johnny Depp movies, and maybe one of my favorite films period. Roles such as Captain Jack Sparrow and The Mad Hatter seem easy for Depp to portray because he's able to disappear beneath his accents and eccentricities, but the performance he gives in this movie requires far more of him and appears to push him far outside of his comfort zone, dig into the deepest parts of himself, and convey feelings of discomfort and pain without any props or crutches. It also features an early Leonardo DiCaprio performance that is usually referenced as "brave." When certain actors play someone who is mentally challenged (as Leo does here), they can take it too far and venture into parody. DiCaprio, in my opinion, never does that. It can be hard to watch, but it's also uplifting and ultimately beautiful. Juliette Lewis and Mary Steenburgen also star and give some spectacular and believable performances as women who find themselves drawn into the dysfunctional world of the Grape family. Darlene Cates, not a professional actress, portrays Gilbert's morbidly obese mother with raw honesty, giving a "brave" performance of her own. In fact, I think most of the actors in the film do some of their career's best work here.
Not Fade Away (2012, dir. David Chase) I wrote about Not Fade Away last April, and it just gets better and better the more I think about it. With all the snow and this coming weekend's brutal temperatures, now is the time to hunker down and discover this movie. There is a lot to like here: unconventional characters, dynamite music selected by Little Steven Van Zandt, and one of James Gandolfini's final performances. This is not some "Forrest Gump Easy Nostalgia Fest," this is what the sixties were really like. I was there.
Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear (2013, dir. Isaac Florentine) Ok, #HeavyAction fans. Here it is. The sequel to Ninja reunites director Isaac Florentine and star Scott Adkins for a movie that's darker, fightier, more violent and way more kickass than the first. It may lack the scope and polish of some bigger studio blockbusters, but this one has the best action of any movie in 2013. I want Hollywood to figure out some way to put Scott Adkins into every movie I see.