Comments on watching and making films.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Whip It

I'm always leery of films by actor's. When I heard Drew Barrymore was making a film, I had to weigh her career of somewhat crappy rom-coms and girl flicks against the fact that her production company has helped produce a lot of great independent movies, including Donnie Darko. When I found out that Ellen Page was in it, though, that sealed the deal.

Whip It stars Page as Bliss Cavender, a girl in her late teens, who's mother has managed, through either guilt or force, to get her to take part in various pageants in and around their little town of Bodeen, Texas (which is outside of Austin). Not feeling like she fits in anywhere, she discovers roller derby, and sneeks out of the house with her best friend Pash, played by Alia Shawkat, to go to Austin to watch the derby. One night she approaches some of the girls to express her love of what their doing, and they invite her to try out (even though you have to be 21 to do so). Bliss decides to take a chance and lie about her age so that she can try out, and makes the team. Now she just has to figure out how to balance the lies she's telling to the team and to her parents to be able to live the life she's always dreamed of.

Barrymore does an incredible job as a first time director, and her ensemble cast of the team is incredibly well put together. The story is simple, but really inspirational. Ellen Page, as always, delivers an amazing performance, and is complimented by Shawkat, Kristin Wiig, and Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as Bliss's parents. It is so awesome to see Daniel Stern in some stuff again, and he does a great job. Surprisingly, for a film that takes place in Texas, it was mostly filmed in Michigan, but you wouldn't know it. It definitely looks like Texas, and Barrymore picked some great stuff for the shots she did in Austin. Whip It is one of my favorite's of this year, and I wish more people would see it. If you don't get a chance to see it in theater's, though, definitely check it out on DVD.


The zombie comedy has had mixed results over the last few decades, starting with Return of the Living Dead and coming all the way through this years Zombieland. The thing about zombie's is, they're almost endlessly fascinating, and since they're great straight men, their's always humor to be found somewhere.

Zombieland's primary protagonist is Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg). When we meet Columbus, he is on the run, somewhere in Texas, trying to get back home to Columbus, Ohio (hence the name). After wrecking his car, he sets out on foot, and meets Tallahassee, a redneck with a penchant for zombie killing and painting Dale Earnhardt's number on the side of every car he drives. They decide to keep each other company, at least for a little while. When they stop at a grocery store to try and find some Twinkie's (Tallahasse's odd obsession), they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, and promptly get their car and gear stolen by the two girls. After catching up with them later, they fight a little, but eventually come to the agreement that they can do more together than apart, and decide to head for Pacific Playland, supposedly the last zombie free place in America.

This film is fun to its core. It's just a good old fashioned action comedy that uses the zombie genre as a back drop. While I found Shaun of the Dead to be a lot funnier, Zombieland's cast, including a surprise appearance by one of the greatest comedian's of our time, is just amazing. Harrelson was born to play Tallahassee, and Eisenberg is a perfect foil to him. Emma Stone's Wichita is a bit of a bad ass, for her age, and makes me think that she could take on some serious action roles in the future.

Gentlemen Broncos

Jared Hess did something you never want to do with your first film - He made something he would never be able to easily top. Napoleon Dynamite was Hess's debut feature, and it was an atomic bomb blast of comedy that came out of nowhere. He followed it up with the funny, but not as funny Nacho Libre shortly after, and then took some time off before bringing us his newest - Gentlemen Bronco's.

Bronco's centers around a timid young man named Benjamin, played by Michael Angarano, who dreams of becoming a well known sci-fi and fantasy author. His mother, who homeschools Benjamin, is incredibly supportive of his dream, and sends him off to a writing camp, to attend classes that are taught by his hero, Ronald Chevalier (played by Jemaine Clement, who starred in the awesomely hilarious Eagle Vs. Shark). While at the camp, he meets Tabatha and Lonny (both aspiring writers, and Lonny is also an aspiring film director). At the camp, Chevalier announces a contest, and the winner will get their story published. Benjamin enters his own story, one that he has let Tabatha and Lonny read. Chevalier, who is hard up for a new book, reads Benjamin's story and decides to steal it, while Tabatha and Lonny option the story for a movie (and go on to do horrible re-writes). Benjamin now has to face the accusation that he plagiarized his own book, while having to face the embarrassment of Lonny and Tabatha's adaptation of his work being a colossal failure.

Bronco's is not as funny as Napoleon Dynamite, but, then again, what is? I think if you divorce yourself from expecting another Napoleon Dynamite, you can REALLY enjoy this movie, because it really is very funny. Mike White is hilarious in his small role as a big brother type, and Clement is so sleazy, you can't help but laugh. My only complaint is that Michael Angarano has so much potential as an actor, and I feel like this film didn't really take advantage of that. I wanted to see Benjamin really go crazy, and not be so passive about everything.

Hess definitely suffers because of his marriage to a style in this movie, and, like Wes Anderson, would greatly benefit from doing something totally out of his element. David Gordon Green did that with Pineapple Express, and while the results were mixed, it proved that Gordon Green was not just a one trick pony. I'd love to see Hess do a straight up drama or something, just to see if he could pull it off.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy is one of those novelist's that filmmakers read their books and ache to turn them into films. Why it has taken so long for this to happen, I have no idea. Many years ago, we got All The Pretty Horses, which I never got to see (but my ex-coworker and friend Steve Crawford was in, as a body double for Matt Damon). It seems to be relatively hard to find on DVD these days, so, who knows when I will get to see it. The next one came MANY years later, in the form of the Coen Brother's fantastic adaptation of No Country For Old Men. Now, with Blood Meridian SUPPOSEDLY on the horizon (though I wouldn't count on it), we've got another McCarthy adaptation in our laps, The Road, and I got a chance to see a sneak preview of it at the American Cinematheque in LA.

The film revolves around a father, played by Viggo Mortensen, and his son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and their mission to make it south of where ever it is they are, down to "the coast". There really isn't any geography given in this film, so, its hard to tell exactly where they come from and where they're going, except for vague references. The Man (Mortensen) knows that, in this post apocalyptic world they are living in, where the trees, animals, and crops are all dead, he must protect his son at all costs from marauding gangs and cannibals. For all he knows, the two of them may be some of the very few surviving humans left, and they must keep the compassion of humanity alive at all costs, even when it means showing none.

Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are in, literally EVERY scene of this film, so, by the time its over, you feel like you've gotten to know their characters inside out. The film is undeniably bleak, with every hint of good that happens in these two's lives balanced by a heaping pile of horror. One scene, in the basement of a house, is especially horrifying (I won't spoil it for you). John Hillcoat, who directed the Neo-Western The Proposition, brings a masterful hand to the film and creates a world that cuts to the audiences very core. With the recent collapse of Wall Street, and mounting environmental problems, one is hard pressed to not leave the theater without wondering if, in five years or ten years or tomorrow, they could be one of the last humans alive, and walking down that same road.


Okay, so, this blog has not been kept up very well lately. I admit that its purely laziness on my part, BUT, I am going to try to do better from now on.