Friday, August 29, 2014

Worth Mentioning - There's more to life than a happy ending

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody lived through everything the world of entertainment threw at him.

BOYHOOD (2014)

Richard Linklater has been one of my favorite filmmakers for twenty years, ever since a VHS rental of Dazed and Confused first introduced me to his style and usually contemplative characters. As I've followed his career, I've been blown away by the films he has made and inspired by his approach to working in the studio world while also continuing to make more personal projects. He has never strayed too far from his indie roots, and has always being willing to experiment with his art.

Different Linklater movies have meant different things to me at different points of my life. He made one of the most inspirational indie movies ever with his $23,000 breakthrough film Slacker. The widely accessible Dazed and Confused is the ultimate party movie. His Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight) is one of the most touching, realistic portrayals of romance and relationships out there. School of Rock was a family-friendly studio film, but in Linklater's hands also a wonderful love letter to rock 'n roll. The existential Waking Life, a movie which was shot on digital video and rotoscope animated, hit at just the right time, when I was graduating high school and pondering life.

In 2002, Linklater embarked on what sounded like his greatest experiment yet - a movie that would be shot piecemeal over the course of twelve years and follow a boy, to be played by the same actor throughout, as he ages from six to eighteen.

Titled Boyhood, the result of Linklater's experiment is out in theatres now.

The boy at the center of the film is Ellar Coltrane as Mason Evans, Jr., younger brother to Samantha (the director's daughter Lorelei Linklater) and the child of divorced parents portrayed by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. There is no plot to speak of exactly, the movie is simply an examination of how Mason grows and how circumstances change for himself and those around him as the years progress. His mother's struggles to make something of her life, decisions good and bad that she makes along the way. His father's growth from being absent and irresponsible to finally reaching a long delayed adulthood. In the early years, Mason is somewhat quiet and the focus is largely on the authority figures in his life, but once he reaches his teens he begins to take over the film more, developing interests and relationships outside the home, aging into becoming more of a typical Linklater lead, examining the world and wondering, "What is it all about?"

Linklater truly lucked out, because his child actor never hit a bad note as the film goes on. Coltrane is always completely believable as Mason Jr.

Arquette and Hawke provide reliably solid performances, while the main standout of the film may not be the boy gradually growing out of boyhood, but Lorelei Linklater as his older sister. While she has admitted that there were times during the making of the movie that she regretted getting involved with her father's endeavor, she has a great screen presence.

We spend a handful of minutes in each of the twelve years the movie covers, alternately being shown moments that are quite average, are huge and life changing, or are just steps on the way to the huge and life changing. Because there are so many years to cover, the movie is rather long, with a running time of 166 minutes, but it didn't feel that long to me at all. I was always enrapt with what it was showing me, it always felt like it was flowing forward at a good pace.

Linklater took a chance in making in this project, and in its finished form it is a marvel to behold, notable not just because of the way in which it was made but also because it's a captivating and incredible look at life with realistic moments most of us can probably relate to.


Toho Studios and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had been planning to bring a new Mothra movie, to be the kaiju's first solo outing since its debut film in 1961, to the screen for the 30th anniversary of the original film in 1991. Thoughts of a Mothra movie were shelved given the shaky ground the Godzilla franchise was on at that time, but once Godzilla had been saved from box office disaster and Mothra's '90s relevancy had been proven with the success of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, a Mothra project again went into development and was released for the big bug's 35th anniversary.

For their new take on the story of Mothra, screenwriter Masumi Suetani and director Okihiro Yoneda (who had been the chief assistant director on Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah in 1991) dove headlong into its family-friendly fairy tale fantasy film potential, taking elements that were always there and using them to craft a whole new mythology.

When a logging company unearths an ancient artifact while destroying nature with some standard deforestation, the workers choose to chip a seal off of the stone object. Three small "fairies" sense the disturbance of this seal being removed. Two of them, the colorfully dressed Lora and Moll, seem frightened by this event. In a place of darkness and fire, the black-clad Belvera is delighted. As soon as the seal is removed, an earthquake strikes the area the workers are in, signifying that they have done something very wrong.

Lora and Moll, played by Megumi Kobayashi and Sayaka Yamaguchi, closely resemble the previous versions of Mothra's fairies that we've seen. Their kind were called the Shobijin in the classic era of Toho's kaiju movies and the Cosmos in The Battle for Earth, but here they're called the Elias, and they've been around for millions of years. Belvera (Aki Hano) is their estranged sister, who was turned to the dark side by tragic events that occurred long ago: the near eradication of the Elias by Desghidorah, a three-headed monster that came from space 65 million years ago to suck the life out of Earth, just like it did to Mars. They were saved only through the efforts of their moth-like protectors, of which only two remain - Mothra, and a tiny version called Fairy.

An employee takes the seal home and Belvera, riding a small dragon, soon arrives to claim the seal for herself, terrorizing the man's wife and two young children. Knowing they can't allow the seal to fall into Belvera's hands, Lora and Moll ride the energy beam-blasting Fairy into battle with their sister, causing a large amount of damage to the logger's home in the process.

Despite the best efforts of Lora, Moll, and Fairy, Belvera escapes with the seal and uses its magical powers to release Desghidorah from the rock prison it was entombed within. Once free, the monster (which, as its name implies, is an uglier re-design of King Ghidorah) immediately begins sucking the energy out of the Earth and burning down the surrounding forests.

Lora and Moll call Mothra in to fight the world destroyer, but since she's at least 65 million years old, the moth creature doesn't have much energy left and is quickly bested by Desghidorah. Luckily, Mothra laid an egg before dying, and as she is being battered the egg hatches, a Mothra larva crawling out of it.

The winged Mothra and the larva then join forces to take on Desghidorah. Although this action sequence set around the site of Desghidorah's former prison, nestled between mountains and a dam, takes up approximately 25 minutes of the running time all told, it still ends with the mother Mothra dying rather than the space monster being defeated for good.

After the battle, Desghidorah takes flight to wreak further destruction upon Japan, causing plant life to wither and die, lowering oxygen levels in areas.

On an uninhabited island, the larva spins a glittery cocoon and soon emerges from within as a multitude of moths made out of colorful light, which then join together to form the reborn Mothra, who is known as Mothra Leo.

With the fate of Japan and ultimately the world hanging in the balance, Mothra Leo flies into a climactic battle with Desghidorah.

Rebirth of Mothra was clearly made with the younger members of the kaiju movie watching audience in mind. Even though I felt while watching it that I was about twenty years older than the viewers it was aimed at, it was undeniably a fun movie to sit through. Sure, there were moments that almost made me feel embarrassed to be watching it as a 30-year-old, but it is packed with some good action and it has a nice "wonders of nature" beauty to it.

Of all the kaiju movies I've watched and written about so far this year, Rebirth of Mothra would be near the top of the list when it comes to which of the movies I would most likely recommend that parents check out with their children.


John Terlesky, who starred in the likes of Chopping Mall, The Allnighter, and Deathstalker II in his acting heyday, got behind the camera to direct this suspense thriller starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Los Angeles homicide detective Jack Lucas, whose world gets torn apart over the course of the film.

The movie starts off with Lucas getting questioned by Internal Affairs about the death of his partner, which occurred while the pair were investigating drive-by shootings believed to have been committed by the Red Dragon gang. Their suspicions were confirmed when what was meant to be a simple meeting with an informant turned into an intense action sequence that we're shown in flashbacks. There are explosions, gunfire, and vehicular mayhem, all of which was achieved through the use of stock footage from the film The Corruptor. The bulk of the movie certainly doesn't feel like they would have had the budget to shoot this action themselves, but I have to give them credit, that stock footage and the shots of Lou Diamond Phillips firing his gun blend together very well.

Following that opening sequence, most of the movie is much more low-key. The main plotline begins when Lucas goes to a bar, and while having his drink meets a very odd guy. Played by Edoardo Ballerini, this fellow introduces himself as Ollie, and is soon talking about how much he'd like to strangle his ex-wife, who's a dancer at a club called The PlayPen.

After noticing a newspaper article on the Red Dragon incident that makes Lucas out to be a hero, Ollie buys him a drink. They clink glasses, but Ollie does it with such force that Lucas's glass shatters in his hand, cutting him. Heading for the restroom, Lucas starts to appear as if he's been drugged. He passes out at the sink, and when he comes to his personal items are missing. Including his service Beretta.

Since he has already been under investigation, Lucas doesn't report the theft of his gun and tries to track Ollie down on his own time. But Ollie isn't just waiting around for Lucas to catch up with him, he stole those things with a purpose in mind.

As Ollie proceeds to murder people Lucas is acquainted with, leaving his personal items at the crime scene, even breaking into the police department and stealing the files Internal Affairs has on Lucas in an attempt to manipulate that situation, Lucas is forced to seek out the help of the PlayPen dancer in his quest to figure out this guy's true identity.

The dancer, Kari Wuhrer as Jessica, is not Ollie's ex-wife, she's simply a girl he has been harassing. Ollie starts killing people she knows, too.

There is no indication as to why Ollie is targeting Lucas like he is. Even when Lucas finds out Ollie's full name, he still can't prove any of his claims or come up with any evidence against him. Ollie even passes a lie detector test. He is in complete control, and things are going to play out the way he wants them to. It seems impossible that Lucas is going to be able to gain the upper hand.

But, come on, he's a hero cop played by Lou Diamond Phillips, of course he's going to come out on top by the time the end credits roll. The climactic sequence contains more stock footage, this time a car chase lifted from the Steven Seagal movie Marked for Death.

Malevolent is a very intense little thriller, with the always likeable screen presence of Phillips balanced out by the incredibly creepy, chilling performance by Ballerini. Ollie is slimy and detestable, and the mystery of why he's toying with Lucas is intriguing throughout.

The screenplay was a collaboration between Peter Bellwood, who wrote Highlander, and Dennis Shryack, who had multiple films starring Chuck Norris and Clint Eastwood (not to mention the awesome 1977 horror movie The Car) to his name. Their script isn't award-worthy, but it works, and it was capably brought to the screen by Terlesky and his cast.

Malevolent is very much a B-movie and the direct-to-video release it got was perfect for it (especially given the fact that its action was taken from different movies), but it is an entertaining, captivating way to spend 95 minutes.

DON JON  (2013)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his feature film writing and directing debut on this film, also casting himself in the lead role of Jon, an arrogant and materialistic young man whose primary activities are going to the gym and then going out clubbing in the search for meaningless one night stands. He's so good at scoring these trysts that his friends call him The Don, as in Don Juan.

But Jon has an addiction. Other members of his family are wrapped up in technology in their own way - his father rarely takes his eyes off his big screen television, his sister is always enrapt with her smartphone - but Jon's addiction involves him giving his complete attention to his laptop screen in the comfort of his own apartment. Like many young men of his generation, Jon is addicted to internet porn.

With porn as accessible as it is these days, and in such abundance, the world is probably going to see more and more guys who feel the way Jon does - that watching porn is better than actually having sex. Porn presents more intense scenarios, more visual stimuli (the camera gets better angles than eyes during the act), the fantasy is better than the protection-wrapped reality. He dedicates his time to porn at least twice a day, and even on nights when he has had sex with a random girl he just met, he still gets in some porn watching.

Of course, there is no story if Jon doesn't start to get himself turned around in life. The change comes in the form of "a dime" (that means her looks are a ten out of ten) he meets at the club, Scarlett Johansson as Barbara Sugarman. Barbara is no easy one night stand, she holds out on getting intimate until it will mean something. Jon is so attracted to her that he leaves the player life behind and pursues a relationship with Barbara, who turns out to be very controlling and vehemently anti-porn. As part of her endeavor to change who he is, she gets him to enroll in college, where he meets an emotionally unstable older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore), who also starts to work her way into Jon's life.

I find Gordon-Levitt to be one of the best young actors working today, and he further proves that he is with Don Jon, by making a character who I wouldn't be able to stand being around for 90 seconds in real life interesting to watch for the movie's 90 minute running time. I don't particularly like the character's personality, and yet I become invested in watching his story play out.

Gordon-Levitt also did a great job behind the scenes, crafting a good script and capably bringing it to the screen, surrounding himself with a fantastic supporting cast. Beyond Johansson and Moore, the ensemble playing Jon's family are also especially notable - Tony Danza as the father with a hair-trigger temper, Glenne Headly as the mom who wants her son to find love, and Brie Larson as his sister, who is sort of like this film's version of Silent Bob. All she does is quietly look at her phone throughout the movie, occasionally lifting her eyes to look at a family member when something that's said catches her attention, and then in the final moments she speaks, dropping a line of dialogue that reveals she had a deeper read on what's been going on in the characters' lives than anyone else.

An engaging examination of love, intimacy and the modern male with a certain inclination, Don Jon is a fantastic character study drama and a commendable debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, filmmaker.

1 comment:

  1. Great set of reviews. I agree that JGL is one of the best actors out there. He did a solid job in all aspects in regard to Don Jon. And Tony Danza was amazing.