THE BOY NEXT DOOR

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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SONG ONE

Anne Hathaway films a scene for "Song One" in WilliamsburgAnne Hathaway stars in a new film on which she also has a Producer credit, and it is so bad that I wanted to flee from the screening room after 15 minutes? Sad… but true. Every plot point in Song One is totally predictable, and the music–soulful singer/songwriter stuff–made me cringe. A total waste of time and talent. (JLH: 2/5)

First feature written and directed by Kate Barker-Fryoland (USA). Never to be seen by Rich!

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Writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland tells the story of “Franny,” (Anne Hathaway) a graduate student researching anthropology in Morocco. For the two minutes we see her working, she is snapping pictures at a Bedouin wedding and interviewing women under Moroccan tents. Her work is interrupted when she receives a call from her mother (Mary Steenburgen) informing her that her younger brother “Henry” (Ben Rosenfield) has been in a car accident.

Franny returns home to New York where the entire film degenerates into a tedious, domestic drama. Before the accident that left him in a coma, Henry’s musical aspirations led him to play on the subways of Manhattan (which I can tell you from my own experience, is now quite common). But on his way back to Brooklyn, his headphones distract him and he gets hit by a car. For Henry, becoming a full-time musician meant dropping out of college, with or without his sister’s approval. Franny fought with him and ignored the snippets of songs he sent her in Morocco for the past six months.

Guilt-stricken, she tries to find a way to stimulate comatose Henry by reading his journal and tracking his daily activities. Thinking sense-memory will help trigger something, she goes to his favorite restaurant and brings pancakes back to the hospital, then she pours syrup all over the pancakes and holds the whole plate under Henry’s nose, hoping that the smell will work miracles. No? What about sound? Maybe if she can find an old gramophone in the Flea Market?

Then Franny discovers a concert ticket to see Henry’s musical idol, “James Forester” (Johnny Flynn), who is miraculously performing in NYC that very week! With Henry’s ticket and his picture in hand, she goes to The Bowery Ballroom and asks James Forester–surrounded by groupies–if he remembers the selfie brother took with him the last time James was in NYC. Of course, he doesn’t. She slips him a CD of Henry’s music anyay, which he juggles along with the armful of CDs other fans have given him, and sure enough, James Forester shows up at the hospital… and he brings his guitar. Will the sound of James Forester singing softly to Henry in the quiet of the hospital room be the magic that will wake Henry up from his Sleeping Beauty statis?

Forget about Henry, though, because sure enough, Franny and James fall in love, and the film quickly transitions to musical interludes that are distressingly mediocre and pedestrian. Every storyline, including the handsome singer/songwriter falling in love with the sister of the comatose boy, is preposterous.  And even though Anne Hathaway is only one year older than Johnny Flynn, he looks like Peter Pan, so she looks way too old for the part. I hated it.

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Top Photo: “Franny” (Anne Hathaway) meets-cute with musician “James Forester” (Johnny Flynn) on the bohemian streets of Williamsburg (Brooklyn).

Bottom Photo: And before you can say “Bo!,” he has left all his groupies behind, so he can sing to her solo while the lights of Manhattan twinkle in the background.

Oh, how romantic! Feh :-(

Photo Credits: Ali Goldstein/The Film Arcade

Q: Does Song One pass the Bechdel Test? 

I’d like to say no, but a strict interpretation of the Bechdel Test rules force me to say yes.

Yes, Franny has multiple conversations with her mother, and even though they are primarily about her brother “Henry,” Franny and her mother (played by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen) do bitch at each other around the edges too.

But now that I think about it, Franny’s mother doesn’t have a name. And it’s not just that I don’t remember her name, the folks on IMDb don’t give her a name either. On IMDb, the field next to her name is just blank. They don’t even call her “Mom.” So maybe I should follow my heart and say no?

After all, Barker-Froyland never turns Mom into an interesting character in her own right. Who is she? What does she do besides smoke endless cigarettes? In her rare appearances at home (when she’s not fretting at Henry’s bedside), Mom types away furiously on an unidentified piece of work, so is she a writer? Song One seems to imply that she’s some kind of academic, but what kind is never specified.

Let’s put it this way: De Jure, Song One passes the Bechdel Test, but De Facto, Song One is a failure in this context just like every other.

OK, then: NO! By my criteria, Song One does not pass the Bechdel Test. The end.

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STRANGE MAGIC

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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WE’LL NEVER HAVE PARIS

Paris1Review of We’ll Never Have Paris by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Husband and wife team Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne bring their love story to life in We’ll Never Have Paris, a comedy based on their pre-marriage breakup. When scrawny florist “Quinn” (Simon Helberg) bores of his decade-long relationship, he breaks free from girlfriend “Devon” (Melanie Lynskey) and begins his descent into his quarter-life crises.

The first stop on Quinn’s mental checklist is his flirty co-worker “Kelsey,” (Maggie Grace) a wannabe-model who is comfortable kissing mirrors with her creamsicle lip-gloss. After the two have a bizarre sexual encounter, Quinn is put off by Kelsey’s immature behavior and unkempt lifestyle. He seeks advice from quirky pal “Jameson” (Zachary Quinto) and the two take a bro-vacation to forget about Devon – with no such luck. Quinn makes it his mission to win Devon back, even though she has jetted off Paris to find herself.

Helberg brings out his classic Howard Wolowitz charm, with comedic timing that has helped make The Big Bang Theory‘s Thursday nights so monstrously successful. Not only physically comedic, Helberg delivers blink-and-you-miss-it lines of dialogue that are so quick (and uncomfortable) that they are uproariously funny. In one instance, Quinn tells Kelsey that he proposed to girls in elementary school all the time. “I was in elementary school, too, at the time. Nothing illegal.” Similar dialogue is generously sprinkled throughout the film’s 90 minutes, with Helberg letting awkward moments linger extra long to get the extra laugh.

An element of We’ll Never Have Paris that isn’t quite believable is, in fact, the main couple. Although Melanie Lynskey gives a decent performance as Devon (a carbon copy of her quiet, tired character in HBO’s Togetherness) she has more chemistry in one scene with Mark Duplass than a feature-film’s worth with Simon Helberg. The love story is frustrating (especially since it is based in truth!) with Quinn acting, to put it mildly, as a hypocritical, narcissistic twerp. It would be fascinating to watch the bonus features to see how Helberg and Towne relived their not-so-glamorous relationship milestones.

Paris2The supporting roles are fun to watch, with each actor embracing the comedy genre. Zachary Quinto is humorous as peculiar Jameson, a man who plays with toys and mixes cocktails with “real habenero chilies.” Quinto, recognized for darker roles, delivers whimsical dialogue with a deadpan face. Alfred Molina is delightful with his small amount of screen time as Quinn’s eye doctor/father. But Maggie Grace is the most surprising player of all. Known for Lost and the Taken trilogy, Grace lends her comedic chops to the film and is notably better in this role than her work in action or drama. Jason Ritter (Helberg’s lifelong best friend) also makes an appearance as Devon’s brother, with one scene of dialogue, at most. Nonetheless, his presence is enjoyable. It’s Jason Ritter.

Overall, the story is cringe-worthy but, like a car crash, it’s hard to look away. Although not nearly as romantic as his ballad to his TV-wife (see HERE & laugh through your tears), seeing Helberg put his piano-playing talents to good use is a highlight. While promoting the movie on Live! With Kelly & Michael, Helberg explained the true events that the film is based on: as he self-destructed, his girlfriend ran off to Paris, to which he stalked her and showed up at her door. Kelly Ripa responded, “… to which she faked her own death?” Although that might have made for a more believable, interesting twist, We’ll Never Have Paris is filled with painfully awkward, sweet, sad, and real moments that fully encapsulate art imitating life.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (1/26/15)

Medium Photo: Zachary Quinto as “Jameson” with Simon Helberg as “Quinn”

Bottom Photo: Melanie Lynskey as “Devon” with Simon Helberg as “Quinn”

Q: Does We’ll Never Have Paris pass the Bechdel Test?

No. Although we meet Devon’s mom, they are never seen together.

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APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

BookstoreBrooklyn, 2014. “Shirin” (Desiree Akhavan) is a young bisexual woman from an Iranian family at loose ends after a break-up. Despite some promise, the film has a “been here/done this” quality that makes it difficult to care.  (JLH: 3/5)

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Well-intentioned first feature by writer/director Desiree Akhavan throws us yet again into the angst of a 20something seeking her place in the world.

But, alas, even tho “Shirin”–the character Akhavan plays–is female (yay), and bisexual (fine), and from an Iranian family (mmm), Appropriate Behavior–as a film–still feels self-indulgent and derivative rather than self-confident and fully-formed.

The plot revolves around Shirin’s relationship with “Maxine” (Rebecca Henderson). Maxine was expelled from her own family when she came out to them as a lesbian. Now she is pressuring Shirin to come out as a lesbian too. Shirin tells Maxine that her parents aren’t ready to hear this news, but Maxine is adamant. If Shirin really loves her, she should come out, regardless of the consequences.

And so they break-up–which has severe practical consequences for Shirin beyond the obvious emotional devastation. Where will she live now that she no longer lives in Maxine’s apartment? And how will she support herself when she has no independent source of income?

Unfortunately, instead of dealing head on with the realities of this predicament, Shirin quickly finds a room in a quirky loft and then finds a job in an equally quirky school, allowing her to spend most of her time moaning and groaning to her friend “Crystal” (Halley Feiffer) about how much she misses Maxine…

And I am bored to death :-(

Aside from a few meet-ups at colorful parties hosted by various Iranian relatives, Shirin’s parents could be Upper Middle Class parents anywhere. They know what is going on, but if Shirin won’t confront her true self, why should they? Best to keep on pretending that everyone in the family is remaining silent for the sake of the others.

Ironically, my favorite character is Shirin’s brother “Ali” (Arian Moayed), who provides some level-headed commentary from the sidelines. In a beautifully written and perfectly-edited early scene, Ali is in one room with their mother “Nasrin” (Ahn Duong) complaining about the stress of being the older child, while Shirin is in another room with their father “Mehrdad” (Hooman Majd) complaining about the stress of being the younger child.

Desiree Akhavan is a promising filmmaker, so let’s hope she gets more chances to develop her style and then articulate a unique POV.

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Top Photo: Shirin” (Desiree Akhavan) in a Brooklyn bookstore with “Maxine” (Rebecca Henderson).

Bottom Photo: Shirin in a Brooklyn coffee spot with “Crystal” (Halley Feiffer).

Photo Credits: © 2014 – Gravitas Ventures

Q: Does Appropriate Behavior pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Since the narrative revolves around a lesbian couple, the obvious answer is “Yes.”

In fact, with the exception of her brother, her father, and her boss–all of whom have short scenes that basically move the plot along–most of Shirin’s time is spent in conversation with other women.

Beyond Maxine and Crystal, there are women roommates and women co-workers, as well as women in bookstores, women in clothing stores, etc–a slice of life in Brooklyn circa 2014.

 

 

 

 

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LITTLE ACCIDENTS

little3Review of Little Accidents by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Writer-director Sara Colangelo’s feature debut Little Accidents tells the bleak story of life after tragedy in a West Virginia coal-mining town. After an explosion kills nine coal miners, three stories are linked together – the only survivor, “Amos” (Boyd Holbrook) the coal mine executive, “Bill” (Josh Lucas) and his wife, “Diane” (Elizabeth Banks), and the teenage son of a fallen miner, “Owen” (Jacob Lofland).

The film picks up as with Amos being questioned about memories of the explosion. His memory is blank, his mood solemn. The focus of the investigation shifts to upper-class couple Bill and Diane and their involvement in the accident. On the other side of town, lined with lower-class houses and trailer parks, is a freshman in high school, Owen. Since his father died in the accident, Owen is burdened with helping his mother “Kendra” (Chloe Sevigny) and tending to his Down Syndrome brother “James” (Beau Wright). On a cloudy, dreary afternoon – the common imagery throughout the film – Owen brings beer to a group of high school boys, hoping to fit in their group. But when Bill and Diane’s bully son “JT” (Travis Tope) starts chasing him, another tragedy strikes and Owen is left with a deep, dark secret to keep.

The main action focuses on Diane and the circumstances surrounding her son’s disappearance and her husband’s involvement in the coalmine. She joins Amos at a local Bible study and the two quickly form an unlikely romance. Meanwhile, Owen struggles with the information about JT’s disappearance and whether to tell the truth about what actually happened. The entire film is filled with angst and gloom, but nothing powerful enough to sustain interest. Watching Diane’s downward spiral – complete with hyperventilation – is tiring. The frustration of watching Diane’s cluelessness comes from the dramatic irony of knowing what happened to JT in the first act.

The location, however, added a certain depth to the film. Shot on location in a real coal-mining town in West Virginia, the camera catches the true essence of a class-divided town. The music, or lack thereof, adds a gloomy element to an already depressing mood. The most impressive part of Little Accidents is the cast, most notably Banks as a distraught mother on the brink of marital implosion. Lucas and Holbrook convincingly portray both the husband and the motel-buddy, respectively. The most engaging key player is young Jacob Lofland as the distressed brother and son, so convincing for someone so young. With a solid cast, good location, and impressive technical elements, Little Accidents failed to tell a compelling story.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (1/19/15)

Top Photo: Elizabeth Banks as worried mother “Diane”

Bottom Photo: Jacob Lofland as “Owen” and Beau Wright as brother “James” whose father died in a mine accident

Q: Does Little Accidents pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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SPARE PARTS

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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2015: Oscar So Blue

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” but as Female Impact on Oscar Nominations falls ever lower, AMPAS–the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences–continues to mock us.

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Only one year in the 21st Century has had less Female Impact (2.5% in 2005), but even that all-time low was offset by the fact that Julie Delpy was one of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees (for her work on Before Sunset.)

This year, for the first time in the 21st Century, no female directors were nominated (not a single one), and no female writers were nominated (not a single one).

The 4.65% Female Impact for 2015 is based on the fact that Rosamund Pike was nominated for her role in Gone Girl (but screenwriter Gillian Flynn was not nominated) and Selma was nominated for Best Picture (but director Ava DuVernay was not nominated). That is it…

We stubbornly hold onto our belief in meritocracy–surely Oscar is Gold–but every year it become more and more obvious that Oscar is Blue. I will have more to say on all this later, but right now, this fight has exhausted me.

READ THE DETAILED NUMBERS ON MY CHART & WEEP :-(

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LIFE INSIDE OUT

LauraAndShane2Review of Life Inside Out by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Co-writer Maggie Baird stars as a tired mom who rediscovers her songwriting passion while helping her sulky, teenage son find a voice of his own.

Like so many mothers, 46-year-old “Laura” (Maggie Baird) selflessly takes care of everyone else and their needs before her own. She is bogged down with mundane tasks of everyday life – from hosting her wacky sister’s scrapbooking parties and packing up her mother’s business to making dinner for her husband and (ungrateful) teenage sons. When she contemplates donating her old guitar, Laura’s long-forgotten love of music instantly rushes back to her. She heads to a local guitar shop to buy the essentials – new strings, a pick, sheet music – and immediately begins creating imperfect, inspired songs of her own.

Thinking she can write songs for a living, Laura signs up for available spots at Open-Mic Nights in downtown Los Angeles (far enough away to not be recognized) and brings her youngest, moody son Shane (Finneas O’Connell) to tag along. Unlike his gruff father and brothers, gangly 14-year-old Shane feels bullied at home and invisible at school. And like his mother, his only outlet is creative expression. The two bond over nights at the half-empty clubs and slowly, subtly gain newfound confidence.

The Jill D’Agnenica-directed film is sleepy with a clunky plot, but ultimately very sweet. Although portions of dialogue could have been eliminated (the same messages can come across without the characters having to blatantly say them) the screenplay was supremely realistic. Laura’s realism is found in the details: giving her sister “Lydia” (co-writer Lori Nasso) business without being thanked, taking her aging father to appointments, picking up her sons from school, and still managing to put dinner on the table (albeit burnt garlic bread) at the end of the day. Some of the supporting characters were a bit stereotypical, but Baird and O’Connell gave strong, central performances as mother and son.

The way Baird and Nasso write Shane’s character is not over-the-top, like so many films about angsty teenagers. Although he has typical drawings of scary figures in his notebook, (Hollywood’s requirement if there is a teenage outcast in a movie) there is just enough practicality to bring everything down to earth. Not only the writing, but also the set design of middle-class, suburban Los Angeles house makes everything seem more authentic. Although cramped and dim, the cluttered home seems warm and comfortably familiar to so many.

With pleasant folk music as an overarching theme (warning: it may lull you to sleep) the film is sincere and heartwarming. A quote from an early episode of The Wonder Years came to mind where Daniel Stern narrates, “When you’re a little kid, you’re a little bit of everything: Artist, Scientist, Athlete, Scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up, one by one. I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up; one thing we really miss – that we gave up because we were too lazy, or because we couldn’t stick it out, or because we were afraid.” Life Inside Out makes you care about a middle-aged mom who is bold enough to pull out her dusty, old guitar and give her forgotten passion one more try.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (1/14/15)

Top & Bottom Photo: Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell as mother/son duo “Laura” and “Shane”

Q: Does Life Inside Out pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes.

Co-writers Maggie Baird and Lori Nasso play sisters with a love-hate relationship. They discuss dreams, the decision to have kids, and what supporting someone is all about.

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FAREWELL HERR SCHWARZ

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

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