THE FILM YAP » film yap We Never Shut Up About Movies Mon, 16 Sep 2013 04:40:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Short Term 12 Thu, 12 Sep 2013 13:00:12 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]> Short Term 12 image within post

“You’re here to provide a safe environment.” This early line in Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12″ is an instruction from Grace (Brie Larson), manager of a foster care facility for troubled youth, to a naive new employee. It’s also a spectacular setup to a beautiful, subtle film that explores the true meanings of safety and home.

Grace appears to be in her late twenties, with a world-weary demeanor she’s come by honestly. She has an easy romantic relationship with her coworker, the jovial and supportive Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) and finds both frustration and comfort in her job, providing tough love to kids and teens discarded by their own families. But when both work and home life are threatened, Grace must finally confront the demons of her past.

Writer-director Cretton infuses “Short Term 12″ with a quiet authenticity. The naturalistic dialogue eschews cliches (don’t call youth “underprivileged” to their faces, please), opting instead for true conversation that often appears improvised. It’s the opposite of “mumblecore”: these characters have a purpose, and an important one. They’re making little money (Grace and Mason’s apartment is exactly what they’d be able to afford) and giving their entire beings to a largely thankless job, in hopes that someone, anyone will benefit. There are no guarantees in foster care, and plenty of roadblocks: soulful longtime resident Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is a week away from aging out of the home, and sullen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) comes from a relatively privileged background, but refuses to talk about the reasons behind her self-destructive behavior.

“Short Term 12″‘s ultimate strength is its cast. Both Stanfield and Dever deliver thoughtful performances as complex teens struggling to find security in music and art. Gallagher Jr.’s scruffy, open Mason is all love, equal parts patient and frustrated with Grace’s guarded nature. But more than anything, the film is a showcase for Larson. She never showboats or overacts – her sad eyes speak volumes. Thanks to Cretton’s strong script and direction and Larson’s low-key interpretation, Grace is a real person: firm and kind in her professional life, a rock for unmoored children, but repressed to the point of barely concealed rage and sorrow.

The film isn’t always easy to watch, appropriately reflecting the hardscrabble backgrounds of nearly all its characters. Cretton doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of abuse directed at others and oneself. And that’s where “Short Term 12″ sets itself apart from its sappier counterparts. Not everyone can find home, but there is solace in giving and getting help.

]]> 0
You’re Next Thu, 22 Aug 2013 13:00:23 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]> You're Next image within post

Ingredients for a solid B-horror movie: stupidly attractive cast that is either remarkably self-aware or flat-out clueless. Copious blood and gore. Maximum silliness, minimum attempts at real wit. With so much violence yet so little watchability, “You’re Next” is 1 for 3.

The premise has potential: A wealthy yet somewhat dysfunctional family reunites at its opulent country home, with significant others in tow, for an anniversary celebration weekend that goes horribly wrong when men in animal masks show up with literal axes to grind. Once in a while, a funny one-liner will pop up in the midst of increasing carnage (for example, when Nicholas Tucci’s character explains why no one’s cell phone is working — thanks to an illegal device called a jammer — his father yells, “you’re such a lowlife!”). More often than not, any attempts at humor (genuine or ironic) or horror are lost to yet another mutilated body or dialogue that’s supposed to be darkly funny but is instead just plain tasteless. (You’ll know when the latter happens.) Also, can filmmakers please stop juxtaposing a boppy pop song with a bloodbath?

The actors in “You’re Next” are neither self-aware nor visibly clueless. It’s hard to tell what’s going through their heads as they stumble through awkward wording with stiff faces. I’d call the acting “community-theater bad”, but that’s an insult to community theater. Only Sharni Vinson, as a houseguest with a surprising ability to defend herself and others, can even be called halfway decent.

The main issue with “You’re Next” is its aspiration to be another “Cabin in the Woods” or “Cabin Fever.” (“Mansion in the Woods”? “Mansion Fever”?) What these two movies had was sharp dialogue and playful weirdness. In contrast, “You’re Next” has utter unremarkability. To call this “schlock” would be remarkably kind. In fact, “You’re Next” aspires to schlock level. Schlock is fun. “You’re Next” is just plain terrible.

]]> 0
Any Day Now Tue, 23 Apr 2013 13:00:41 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]> Any Day Now within post

“Any Day Now” was clearly a labor of love. Though the budget is low, there’s considerable star power: Alan Cumming has a leading role, and several well-known character actors cameo. Also, Rufus Wainwright contributed an original song. Big-ish names aside, “Any Day Now” mostly works, edging toward subtle and away from straight-up manipulative, with a heartbreaking story that speaks for itself.

The opening shot of young Marco (Isaac Leyva) slowly navigating abandoned streets while clutching a blonde-haired doll is enough to inspire a lump in the throat and provides an interesting contrast to the opening scene, in which drag queen Rudy (Cumming) meets divorced lawyer Paul (Garret Dillahunt) at a gay club. Two days later, a family is formed when Rudy seeks temporary custody of Marco from the teenager’s jailed junkie mother and Paul offers them a place to stay. Marco has many challenges, including severe mental handicaps made worse by neglect, but thrives under the couple’s care until a series of events outs Paul at work and puts Rudy’s custody in jeopardy.

Besides the custody issue, “Any Day Now” also focuses on Rudy and Paul’s relationship. It begins on a sordid note (a sexual act in the club parking lot) and moves with the speed of light while deepening into love. However, for an entire year, Paul refers to Rudy in public as his cousin.

Dillahunt and Cumming create believable chemistry, and the couple’s many conflicts are realistically handled without getting overdramatic or maudlin. Leyva gives Marco a sweet, subtle presence, and director Travis Fine doesn’t exploit the handicapped character. In one of the film’s most heartrending moments, Marco looks around his new room and becomes overwhelmed with emotion. “I’m just excited,” he mutters as Rudy puts his arm around the teenager and quietly replies, “It’s good to be excited.”

Fine’s melancholy piano score edges toward the manipulative a couple of times, but that’s really “Any Day Now’s” most overblown aspect. Even the courtroom scenes are small and sparse, sans yelling reporters or bombastic words. Cumming’s gorgeous voice and charismatic stage presence is put to good use, both in the drag club scenes and later when Rudy scores a singing gig. His cover of Bob Dylan and The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” (from which the film gets its title) is simple and haunting.

Anyone who’s had any contact with the United States child welfare system will attest to its problems. “Any Day Now” takes place almost four decades ago but feels very timely in a contemporary society where the child’s welfare is often not prioritized and the LGBT community is still oppressed. This story is a sad one but hopefully, not too far down the road, we all shall be released.

Special features include a making-of featurette and Isaac Leyva’s audition.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 2 Yaps

]]> 0
Ginger & Rosa Fri, 05 Apr 2013 13:00:25 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]> Ginger and Rosa within post

I wanted to love “Ginger & Rosa”, I really didIt has everything I like: British accents, long hair, Christina Hendricks, a serious female-driven story. And yet, the first hour of this 80-minute snore was so dull I had to prop myself up to keep from snoring. For a drama set during the Cuban Missile Crisis – which many feared meant nuclear holocaust – the stakes were remarkably low.

Elle Fanning displays dyed red hair and a mostly competent British accent as Ginger, the daughter of a former war protester (Alessandro Nivola) and the wannabe painter (Hendricks) he knocked up when she was a teenager. Ginger’s devoted to her best friend Rosa (newcomer Alice Englert). As the threat of bombs draws closer, Ginger yearns for activism and Rosa yearns for…Ginger’s newly-separated father.

What bothered me most is that Ginger’s dad is having sex with an underage girl and doesn’t appear to be that discreet about it. Of course, age of consent laws then were not what they are now, and naturally Ginger would be too much in shock to tell anyone, but up until the screechy climax (during the film’s last 28 minutes, when it suddenly becomes interesting), no one really seems to care. In fact, I wondered if I was supposed to accept it, which made me even more uncomfortable.

Don’t be swayed by the title: the film is from Ginger’s perspective, as Rosa comes in and out of her life. The film’s core relationships are Ginger and her parents, particularly her mother. Hendricks’ Natalie is almost a better choice for the film’s focal point: she wanted to pursue art until life got in the way, and now (like most mothers) isn’t sure how to reach out to her child without dreaded nagging. Her expressive face and thoughtful delivery add a richness to the mostly bland script.

Nivola is appropriately creepy, and Oliver Platt and Annette Bening have some nice moments as Ginger’s gay godfather and activist modern. Fanning’s face is lovely for close-ups, and she’s a believable adolescent: alternating between moody passion and shrugging apathy. But not much is done with her budding sense of right and wrong, and any real sense of fear or danger is brushed aside in favor of yet another long reaction shot or stilted line. Perhaps “Ginger & Rosa” would have worked better as a young adult novel, with beautiful prose to fill in the copious cracks.


]]> 0
Starbuck Fri, 29 Mar 2013 13:00:24 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]> "Starbuck" Starbuck within postramel Film

Originally released in 2011, Ken Scott’s Canadian comedy Starbuck already has a complete American remake. The Delivery Man will be released later this year. It’s also directed by Scott, and stars Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders and Chris Pratt. A stateside revamp almost seems redundant however, as Starbuck is already very American – the only difference is, the actors speak French instead of English.

Let’s run down the U.S. comedy cliches. Fortysomething loser (Patrick Huard) with big debts, bad judgment and a newly pregnant girlfriend (Julie LeBreton)? Check. Squabbling family who co-run a business and play on the same soccer team? Check. Bumbling overweight friend (Antoine Bertrand) overrun by a passel of offspring? Check. (Apparently Pratt gained 60 pounds for the role. Was that really necessary?) Plot straight out of Apatow-land: in this case, abovementioned loser finds out that he’s fathered over 500 children, 142 of whom are suing the sperm bank in the hopes of releasing his identity (donor name: Starbuck), then learns a little something about himself in the end? Check, check and double check. Don’t forget the sexist, homophobic and fat jokes!

Despite its many, many cliches, Starbuck has its share of enjoyable moments. Huard is the perfect embodiment of a middle-aged manchild, from his slovenly beard growth to his half-formed but still snappy quips. Rather than a shrill harpy, LeBreton’s long suffering mother-to-be is quite sweet while still standing her ground. And several scenes in which David decides to be the “guardian angel” for his biological children – among them a recovering addict, a disabled shut-in and a bitter Goth – provide smiles without cloying.

Still, Starbuck is far from perfect, thanks in large part to semi truck-size plot holes. David’s sidekick and eventual attorney has four young children, but their mother is never seen or even mentioned. The subplot, in which David is stalked by water-loving goons so he will pay off an ill-advised loan, is meant to raise the stakes (if he wins the countersuit, he’ll make a lot of money) but is brought forth and then abandoned whenever convenient. Ditto at least one supporting character. And without disclosing spoilers, I was shocked that David got away with so much by the end. He’s lovable and charming, but not that lovable and charming.

I wonder what, if any, changes director Scott made from Starbuck to The Delivery Man (the latter is a play on David’s gig for the family business and his donor past). I’m sure Vaughn will do his trademark fast-talking, Pratt will channel the adorable stupidity of his Parks and Recreation character (now with more girth!) and Smulders will alternate between bemused and bewitched with her soon-to-be babydaddy. I don’t know if I’ll be curious enough to actually see the remake, though. Once was more than enough.

]]> 0
Girls Sun, 09 Dec 2012 14:00:35 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]>

Everyone has an opinion on Lena Dunham. At the root of many opinions is astonishment that a young woman had the gall to make a TV series, in which the characters (also young women) are very flawed and not always likable. I enjoyed Dunham’s 2010 film “Tiny Furniture” and found the first season of her TV series, “Girls”, to be frustrating, uncomfortable and very well done.

Dunham (who wrote and directed most episodes and serves as co-executive producer with Judd Apatow) stars as Hannah Horvath, a privileged 24-year-old wannabe writer who’s been living in New York City on her parents’ dime. When they cut her off financially, she’s left with few marketable skills, a whopping sense of privilege and a friend-with-benefits who doesn’t return text messages. Meanwhile, Hannah’s best friend and roommate Marnie (Allison Williams) has a perfect job and boyfriend – neither of which she wants. Rounding out the ensemble is Hannah’s globe trotting pal Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Jessa’s naive cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), who just wants her life to parallel “Sex and the City”…but has to lose her virginity first.

Critics have panned Dunham for her bland perspective, her characters’ copious screwups, her unrealistic portrayal of post-college life. In doing so, they give Dunham far too much power, along with the responsibility of speaking for an entire generation – one she never assumed in the first place. No one expected “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner to speak for all middle-aged men in the 1960′s, or “Dallas” creator David Jacobs to be the voice of all large Southern families. Also Don Draper and J.R. Ewing are extremely flawed individuals, always interesting but almost never relatable. Why should Dunham’s Hannah and her friends be any different?

Dunham doesn’t set out to tell every young woman’s story – just Hannah’s. And she does a fine job. Though her grip on certain episodes is a bit too tight, Dunham spins a tight, intimate tale with excellent cinematography and thoughtful dialogue. One fight between Hannah and Marnie is so realistic, I was immediately transported back to my early twenties, and the strikingly similar arguments that transpired.

As the pulled-together Marnie, Williams is articulate and perfectly composed – until she’s not. Kirke and Mamet bring equal parts comic relief and pathos: Jessa’s foray into nannying is darkly hilarious, and Mamet makes even a drug trip seem sweet. Guest stars such as James Le Gros, Peter Scolari, Chris O’Dowd and the always-underrated Kathryn Hahn add power to the pack. Hahn shines as a harried mom, gives her employee Jessa a much-needed reality check in one of the season’s most poignant scenes.

“Girls”‘ second season premieres January 13, and it will be interesting to see the direction it takes. Will there be a lighter approach, as the trailer suggests, or will the characters keep on stumbling to stability? I survived my twenties (thank goodness), under very different circumstances than the women of “Girls” – but like them, I had explosive relationships, far-from-dream jobs and conflicts with those I loved most. In season one of this darkly funny series, Dunham told a story that was personal to her, but also touched me.

Blu-Ray includes DVD digital copy, plus deleted and extended scenes, table reads, gag reels, cast auditions and 5 audio commentaries with cast and crew.

Series: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

]]> 1
A Late Quartet Fri, 02 Nov 2012 13:00:55 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]>

Only a chosen few can spend their lives following their passion. It’s a matter of time and circumstance as much as talent and dedication. However, anyone who’s pursued performing arts will relate to “A Late Quartet.” Though Yaron Zilberman’s classical music indie has a rather odd bit of casting, its depiction of fate’s effect on already-complex artistic temperaments is right on the money.

World-renowned string quartet The Fugue formed decades ago at Julliard and is going strong. When cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, his retirement announcement sets a chain of events in motion. Second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) suddenly wants a bigger share of the spotlight and realizes his marriage to violist Juliette (Catherine Keener) has been lacking. Meanwhile, obsessive first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) fights his attraction to his protegee Alexandra (Imogen Poots), an up-and-coming Julliard student — and Robert and Juliette’s daughter.

Relationship dramas about the creative process always run the risk of narcissism and indulgence. Thanks to Zilberman’s incorporation of action, music and documentary-esque film clips, “A Late Quartet” never falls into this trap. New York City is as much character as setting, the gray sky and blanket of snow mirroring the musicians’ angst and confusion in the face of losing one of their own. Seth Grossman’s screenplay is quiet and realistic, skillfully weaving together the tapestry of shifting interactions that form the group’s history with a few chuckles thrown in for good measure.

“Quartet”‘s principal actors clearly relish this project, resulting in subtle, thoughtful performances. It’s nice to see Walken play a dignified teacher and father figure — in other words, something other than the self-parody he’s become in recent years. Keener strikes the perfect balance of prickly and introspective, and Ivanir is wonderful as the consummate perfectionist who spends so much time in his own head, he hasn’t quite mastered the art of conversation. (Anyone who’s dabbled in the arts has encountered someone like Daniel.) Not surprisingly, Hoffman emerges as the film’s standout, exploring Robert’s descent from happy-go-lucky to searching for validation without ever chewing scenery. If there’s one word for Hoffman as an actor, it’s this: gracious.

The only problematic element of “Quartet” is Poots. Alexandra is a character that would have been played by Winona Ryder or Claire Danes 15 years ago, Julia Stiles or Natalie Portman a decade ago, or Anna Kendrick five years ago (maybe even now if Kendrick hadn’t achieved mainstream stardom). Alexandra is an interesting young woman, frustrated with her parents’ dedication to their art while willingly following in their footsteps. While Poots’ interpretation is decent, I never believed her as Hoffman and Keener’s daughter. For one, she doesn’t resemble either, and even worse, her American accent is awful. It’s possible Zilberman had a challenge finding an actress who was willing to work for scale and who didn’t look too L.A., which speaks ill of the Hollywood system and its unnatural standards of beauty.

Casting hiccup aside, though, “A Late Quartet” resonates. When an artist leaves a group, amateur or professional, the absence is deeply felt. This past summer, a friend with whom I’d shared the stage and teaching duties at an arts camp decided to end his life. Though we hadn’t acted together in many years — I don’t even live in the area anymore — there’s a gap now. It’s the size of a man, and it will be smoothed over but never fully refilled.

]]> 0
Magic Mike Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:00:19 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]>

Before it was released, I joked that “Magic Mike” should have been called “Best Idea for a Movie, Ever” or “Channing Tatum is a Stripper: You’re Welcome, America”. My friends and I went to a midnight showing on opening day, eager for abs, pecs and titillation. We got that. We also got something unexpected: a thoughtful, often gritty look at a world that kicks off when the sun goes down.

In many ways, Steven Soderbergh’s latest – partially inspired by Channing Tatum’s past experiences as an exotic dancer – is reminiscent of one of my favorite films, 1977′s “Saturday Night Fever”. Though the latter has often been parodied for its homage to an era and dance style gone by, its underlying story goes far beyond nostalgia. “Fever”‘s hero Tony Manero lives for disco, but he also abuses drugs, deals with a dysfunctional family and has no real ambition. In turn, “Magic Mike”‘s titular character (Tatum) is perfectly content with taking his clothes off and getting easy money and easy sex in return. Or is he?

Many of my friends were disappointed or bored by “Magic Mike”, and I can understand that: when you go in expecting a lighthearted cabaret of male nudity and see a disturbing scene involving vomit and a pig, there’s bound to be disillusionment. And the film has its hiccups. As Mike’s young punk protegee, Alex Pettyfer often appears stiff and uncomfortable (this previous statement could be applied to Pettyfer in virtually everything he’s done). Also, I would have liked to learn more about the other strippers, particularly married Ken (Matt Bomer) and Richie (Joe Manganiello), who’s known for his large, uh, asset. But overall, Soderbergh manages to provoke one’s mind as well as their fantasies. And just like pleasing a crowd yearning for something more – whether “more” entails a muscled man in a G-string or a pipe dream long relegated to the sidelines – that’s not an easy feat.

DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack includes extended dance sequences and digital download.

Movie: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

]]> 0
Pitch Perfect Sun, 30 Sep 2012 01:59:36 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]>

These days, geekery rules. A hit (albeit inconsistent) sitcom celebrates outsider teens covering pop songs. At at the fictional Barden University, male a cappella singers are gods – well, if you don’t count the jocks and frat boys. “Pitch Perfect” both embraces singer stereotypes and reverts them with snappy quips, with fun performances and plenty of sweet notes along the way.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a hip city girl (in case her eyeliner and visible tattoos didn’t tip you off) whose dreams of being a DJ are diverted by her Barden professor dad, who insists she take advantage of the free tuition. After a chance encounter (in the shower) Beca ends up joining the Bellas, a female a cappella group whose earnest leaders (Brittany Snow and Anna Camp) dream of winning the international championships. The only issues? The Treblemakers, the rival all-male a cappella group with a snarky frontman (Adam Devine) and a repertoire that’s more, uh, current than that of the Bellas, who favor Ace of Base.

Like “Bring It On”, 1999′s exuberant take on cheerleading, “Pitch Perfect” strikes a near-perfect balance of parody and flat-out adoration. Kay Cannon’s screenplay serves up laugh-out-loud clips and even a little gross humor, but with a self-aware twist (in other words, the polar opposite of “Glee”). The able cast runs with it: Kendrick, a Broadway actress since childhood, is subtle smirks mixed with soulful vocals. Skylar Astin (“Hamlet 2″, Broadway’s “Spring Awakening”) has some nice moments as Beca’s cinephile love interest, and Ben Platt gives good geek as Astin’s roommate, an amateur magician and a cappella groupie. John Michael Higgins and co-producer Elizabeth Banks shine in cameos as competition emcees (a cappella competitions have emcees? Sure they do, and here it works).

The two strongest performances, however, are Snow and Rebel Wilson. Whether she’s enthusing about her “lady time” soundtrack or tearfully overcoming a minor ailment, Snow’s bubbly optimism and total commitment are forever entertaining to watch. And as the self-proclaimed “Fat” Amy, Wilson mixes broad gestures and snarky asides and manages to visibly crack up her costars. Add in corny-yet-funky cover songs and “Pitch Perfect” is cinematic proof that lighthearted doesn’t mean stupid, and female-dominated material doesn’t have to center around fighting over men. No diggity, no doubt.

]]> 1
Bachelorette Thu, 13 Sep 2012 05:00:59 +0000 Lauren Whalen Continue reading ]]>

Note to anyone whose friends instruct a stripper to call her “Pig Face,” or abandon her when she’s clearly intoxicated in the company of one man encouraging the other to drug and take advantage of her, or freak out when she’s passed out with blue lips not because they’re concerned for her health but because she’s messing with their schedule:

Find new friends.

The ever-so-charming so-called protagonists of “Bachelorette” are also unthinkably rude and often verbally abusive to anyone and everyone in the service industry. In one of the film’s only genuinely funny moments, a stripper exacts her very creative revenge. Why wasn’t the movie about the stripper?

Oh, right. Because as a single woman who’s been in weddings, I am supposed to identify with Kirsten Dunst’s type-A maid of honor who’s been tasked with planning a wedding for a truly sweet high school acquaintance (Rebel Wilson). Except when my friends get married, I am happy for them. I don’t belittle their weight, snort cocaine at the rehearsal dinner and backstab my two other high school friends by yelling in a club about one’s abortion and ignoring another’s glaringly obvious substance abuse. In short, I do not identify with Dunst’s character because I am not a terrible human being.

“Bachelorette” desperately wants to break into the clique of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids,” two other wedding-centric gross-out comedies that worked because they weren’t nasty. Even in the broadest of circumstances — like stealing a tiger or losing their collective lunch in a bridal salon — the characters were empathetic. They were trying, they grew and we rooted for them to do both. “Bachelorette” may have worked if it had focused on Wilson’s giggly and oblivious bride-to-be or Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott, who give real chemistry and genuine heart to a former high school couple with a dark past. Perhaps the two could just make another season of “Party Down”; this mere idea is more entertaining than all 89 minutes of “Bachelorette.”

]]> 1