A FIVE STAR LIFE

Opens 7/18/14 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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I, ORIGINS

Opens 7/18/14 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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SEX TAPE

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Review of Sex Tape by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Sex Tape, the summer’s latest raunchy R-rated comedy from Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller, provides big laughs, occasional awkwardness, and feeble attempts to be sweet. The plot follows “Jay” (Jason Segel) and “Annie” (Cameron Diaz), a husband and wife who decide to make a sex tape on their iPad to escape their marital rut. When Jay fails to erase the three-hour-long video, it syncs to several iPads that he had previously given away as gifts.

A wild goose chase ensues, in which Jay and Annie’s panic causes them to search out every last iPad to erase the dirty video before their friends and family have a chance to see it. Called by Diaz “a grown-up Adventures in Babysitting,” the film was promoted as an all-night hunt for the sex tape. The manic chase for the iPads is somewhat anticlimactic, however, considering that a majority of the second act is spent in the home of “Hank” (Rob Lowe), a CEO who is considering making an important business deal with Annie. Between Annie’s cocaine-fuelled rants and Jay’s bloody encounter with Hank’s attack dog, the entire sequence sometimes feels as if it belongs to some other movie. Jay and Annie actually end up visiting only a few houses, where they spend far too much time telling the same joke.

Even though the plot in itself is bizarre, watching Jason Segel crack himself up while doing his typical, uncanny “shtick,” makes the film worthwhile. After nine years as Marshall Erikson on How I Met Your Mother, Segel relies on three methods of acting: the bumbling way he delivers a punch line, his uproarious singing, and his serious and lovable sincerity – all of which show up in Sex Tape.

The supporting cast, however, like “Robby” (Rob Corddry) and “Tess” (The Office’s Ellie Kemper), provides a handful of laughs but underutilizes their talents in the outlandish plot.  Rob Lowe as the aforementioned business mogul is a character eerily – and annoyingly – similar to his portrayal of Chris Traeger on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. You get the feeling that Lowe thinks he’s being a lot funnier than he actually is – which, in a way, characterizes Sex Tape as a whole.

While offering big laughs at certain points, mostly thanks to Segel’s impeccable comic timing, the film’s plot holes (the impenetrability of “the cloud,” for example) are distracting. Some might argue this is to be expected in an R-rated comedy with Sex Tape as the title, so despite its overall silliness and occasional cringe-worthiness, the film actually has more substance than most 90-minute raunch-filled comedies. With lines like “maybe everybody has a double-sided dildo in their nightstand,” Angelo and company attempt to drive home the theme that everyone has a proverbial sex tape that they would prefer to keep hidden. Plot points aside, Sex Tape provides mindless laughter for a late night trip to the movies.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/18/14)

Photo: Jason Segel as “Jay” and Cameron Diaz as “Annie.”

Q: Does Sex Tape pass the Bechdel Test? 

No.

 

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CRISTO REY

2014 “LATIN BEAT” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Review coming soon…

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MATEO

SoToughIn this tense, terrific drama from Colombia, teenage Mateo and his mother, Made (pronounced Mah-Day), find themselves in the grip of poverty. Made, working tirelessly to keep her son safe from urban warfare, knows there are no short cuts, so she collaborates with other women at a local laundry to open a lime orchard. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

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Maria Gamboa’s debut feature finds teenage “Mateo” (Carlos  Hernández) and his mother “Made” (Miriam Gutiérrez) fighting for their dignity in the midst of Colombia’s internal gang wars.

The film begins with Mateo and two buddies strutting through a marketplace in Barrancabermeja (due north of Bogota), picking up protection money for local mob bosses. When he gets home, Mateo gives some of his earnings to his mother Made (pronounced Mah-Day), who responds with an icy glare. The next morning, Made reminds Mateo that he will be expelled from school if he doesn’t join a local drama program run by a priest named “David” (Felipe Botero). Mateo doesn’t want to go, but Made insists, so he grudging agrees to give it a try.

From here, Mateo tells three overlapping stories. The first story is set in a mostly-male gang world. This story is very familiar from many similar films set in different countries all around the world. The second story is set in the world of the teenage drama group, in which young men and women interact as equals. This story is familiar too, and follows a relatively predictable trajectory. The third story, on the other hand, is set in a female-centric world in which women working for very low wages band together to improve their lot through microfinance projects. Although there have been a couple of great documentaries on this topic (such as Rafea: Solar Mama), this story has rarely been shown on screen in narrative feature form before, and it propels Mateo from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

It goes without saying that even though he is instantly mesmerized by a beautiful dancer named “Anna” (Leidy Niño), Mateo has trouble fitting into the drama program. David’s touchy-feely “trust” exercises enrage Mateo, and he storms out. What keeps him in the group, however, is the intervention of a gang leader named “Walter” (Samuel Lazcano), who we soon learn is also Made’s brother. Walter sees a chance to take advantage of the situation by getting Mateo to gather information about David and his theater group members. In exchange, Walter – now acting the part of a proud uncle — promises Mateo a higher status in the gang, and he gives Mateo his own gun as a sweetener.

Meanwhile, Made, who is a single mother, goes to work every day in a laundry. She and her co-workers – all of whom are women – have heard that other women nearby started a profitable lime orchard, so they decide to pool their pennies and do likewise. For some of the women, this investment represents a real sacrifice, but when Made offers to pay more than her fair share, she is rebuffed. Then a friend takes Made aside and tells her on the QT that the other women don’t want her money because they all know it comes from Mateo and therefore “her money” is tainted by his gang activities.

If you look at Mateo as a coming of age story with a teenager guy at the center, you will see a very good albeit somewhat routine film from Colombia. But if you look at Mateo as a story about a single mother fighting with all her might to make a better life for her son, then you will see an extraordinary film about one woman who stands in for women all around the world who daily earn our empathy and respect.

Director Maria Gamboa, her co-screenwriter Adriana Arjona, and her whole cast and crew have created a vibrant world filled with vivid characters. By the inevitably violent climax, I cared about them all so deeply that my heart was in my throat. I was transported from a dark Manhattan theater right into a slum in Colombia, and for me this is the essence of the most powerful movie-going experiences. Days later, I still find myself thinking about these people and their world, and hoping against hope that somehow life will be good to them.

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/17/14)

Photos: Carlos Hernández as “Mateo.”

Q#1: Does Mateo pass the Bechdel test? DigitalStampA

Definitely!

Without the relationships Made has with the women who surround her (first at the laundry and then at the orchard), Mateo would never be so much greater than the sum of its parts…

Q#2: Where does Mateo take place?

BarrancabermejaCO

 

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THE SUMMER OF THE FLYING FISH

2014 “LATIN BEAT” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Review coming soon…

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues the saga of nature versus nurture in Matt Reeves’ emotionally charged metaphor of a film.  (JLH <3 /5)

 Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

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Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver), opens in a world in which human civilization as we know it has been wiped out by the Simian Flu virus. The lights have literally gone out all around the globe. One group of survivors dwells in the shell of what was once the city of San Francisco, but they have no idea if they are alone.

The surviving humans, genetically immune to the flu virus, are led by “Malcolm,” (Jason Clarke) who tries to convince fellow-leader “Dreyfus” (Gary Oldman) to give him three days to reconcile with the apes for a chance to provide power to the city – only through access to the forest’s hydroelectric dam.

With “Caesar” (Andy Serkis) governing the apes in the forested colony city, he allows Malcolm to work on the generator in exchange for his firearms. The apes bond with Malcolm, his partner “Ellie” (Keri Russell), and Malcolm’s son “Alexander” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they fix the generator and treat Caesar’s ailing wife with antibiotics.

Meanwhile, “Koba” (Toby Kebbell), a one-time ally and close friend of Caesar, is becoming increasingly hostile towards humans and questions Caesar’s loyalty. Chaos ensues as he tries to take command of the apes and put an end to human existence.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes illustrates that, for every honorable peacemaker, like Caesar (on the ape side) and Malcolm (on the human side), there is a hateful villain who believes war is inevitable. Bomback, Jaffa, and Silver rely heavily on universal themes: trust and loyalty, family and future, and war and peace, all of which lay under the surface of the human vs. ape conflict in the film.

Every important message they try to send, however, is immediately buried underneath CGI explosions and exhaustive gun violence. The 130-minute film offers a plethora of emotion, usually coming from Caesar or Ellie, but for every thoughtful scene there are twice as many with gunshots, ape beatings, and building explosions. While it takes some of the enjoyment away, the violence reinforces the overall message.

Like in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis gives a standout performance. He portrays Caesar as a conflicted, good-hearted ape who is torn between loyalty to his own species versus love for the kind-hearted humans who raised him. Serkis proves how powerful motion-capture performances can be. Serkis, who made a name for himself as “Gollum” in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, portrays Caesar’s emotions through a glance, a facial expression, or a simple hand gesture.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of this summer’s blockbusters, but has more heart than the usual summer tent-pole film. For those uninterested in apes shooting and beating each other in 3D, it might not be worth a $15 ticket, but fans of the franchise will no doubt see Reeves’ version as enjoyable and most importantly, thought-provoking.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/14/14)

Photo: Keri Russell as “Ellie” and Kodi Smit-McPhee as “Alexander.”

Q: Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

“Ellie” (the woman played by Keri Russell) never interacts with any female humans and even her interactions with female apes are totally peripheral.

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LAND HO!

Opened in NYC on 7/11/14. Review coming soon…

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Joanna Hogg: Brava!

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BEYOND THE EDGE

EdmundHillaryBeyond the Edge commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the conquest Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (of Nepal). This Leanne Pooley-directed film about their treacherous journey up the mountain is interesting for its historical details, albeit lackluster in excitement and suspense. Notably missing is an answer to the question: “Why?” (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

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Opening in America after its 2013 New Zealand release, Beyond the Edge centers on “Edmund Hillary” (reenacted by Chad Moffitt) and “Tenzing Norgay” (reenacted by Sonam Sherpa) trudging up Mount Everest under horrendous weather conditions until they finally reach the peak on the historic day of May 29, 1953.

Director Leanne Pooley (winner of the Best Documentary Director at New Zealand’s 2013 Film and TV awards) includes a breathtaking 360-degree camera turn on the tippy top of Mount Everest’s highest peak. The stunning shot shows that Edmund and Tenzing are certain that they have reached “the top” because they are able to look out at the whole world now lying beneath them.

But the film ends when they get there, so a certain amount of delight is lost because we know exactly how their journey ends. And how on earth did they get down anyway?!? Suffice it to say that we know they did because they both lived to tell about it—and to show their own photos—but still…

The strength of Beyond the Edge lies in the admirable effort made by Pooley and her crew to recreate all of the equipment that was considered “state-of-the art” in the 1950s. The replicas are almost identical in appearance to the actual equipment that Edmund and Tenzing had available to them at the time (oxygen tanks, clothing, tents, etc). Everything they put on screen is very closely modeled on what is now on display in various New Zealand museums and at the Royal Geographic Society in London.

With his image gracing the $5 commemorative banknote because of this triumphant feat, Edmund Hillary is considered one of the greatest heroes in the history of New Zealand. But once he and Tenzing did it, others felt compelled to follow, and now people regularly die in their own foolish quests (often taking poorly-paid Sherpas with them).

But although I personally do not see the point of trudging up this treacherous mountain, I can certain appreciate that Beyond the Edge is beautifully-realized. So there is no other way to say it: If this is the kind of film you like, you will definitely like this film.

FromTheTop

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (7/11/14)

Top Photo: Chad Moffit as “Edmund Hillary” in reenactments filmed in New Zealand.

Bottom Photo: Mark Whetu looks down from the peak of Mount Everest.

Q #1: Does Beyond the Edge pass the Bechdel test?

 No.

There are no women on screen in Beyond the Edge (although many women worked behind-the-scenes to help Leanne Pooley achieve her vision).

Q #2: Is the 360 degree turn real??? Yes! This is the real deal!!!

The climax of Beyond the Edge is a stunning shot showing that Edmund and Tenzing are able to look out at the whole world and see that it is all now lying beneath them. As soon as I got home, I set about learning if that shot was real, and, if so, how they got it.

The answer is that Leanne Pooley hired Mount Everest Cinematographer Mark Whetu!

According to the press kit: “Mark Whetu is a New Zealand mountaineer specializing in high altitude filming, rigging, and crew safety. His filming exploits have put him in the wildest locations possible providing exclusive footage for productions internationally. He has climbed in the Himalayas since 1983, including two ascents on whatever Summit. Mark has summited Everest seven times from Nepal and Tibet filming on the planet’s high point five times and capturing unique footage for various production companies.”

Yowza!

Fit and handsome though they may be, the actors Chad Moffitt (as young Edmund Hillary) and Sonam Sherpa (as Tenzing Norgay), did all their scenes in the rugged mountains of Southern New Zealand. But when the time came to shoot from the tippy top of Mount Everest, that job went to a pro named Mark Whetu!

Q #3: Where is Mount Everest?

NepalEtc

 

 

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