erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2014 posts

Tuesday June 17, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a slight problem.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) needs to go back in time to January 1973 to stop a minor, hush-hush incident from occurring at the Paris Peace Accords. From this incident, see, a fear of mutants will lead to a program, the Sentinel program, which will lead to the destruction of all mutants in the near, monochromatic future. Fine. Here’s the problem. The movie is a summer blockbuster—not to mention a movie. It needs a big, showy climax. So even though Wolverine and friends stop the minor, hush-hush incident—the assassination of a military scientist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)—the following happens:

  • Mutants, specifically Mystique, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), are outed at the Paris Peace Accords and filmed on 8mm cameras by people in the streets. So everyone knows now.
  • To calm the fears that the appearance of super-powered beings have understandably engendered, Pres. Nixon (Mark Camacho) announces the launching of the Sentinel program at a live press conference on the White House lawn. However ...
  • Magneto rips apart RFK Stadium, drops it like a ring around the White House, and turns the Sentinels on their makers. When Pres. Nixon, the Joint Chiefs and the Secret Service flee to the bunker beneath the White House, he pulls it out, rips it open, and trains all of their guns back on them. He’s about to kill them all on live television. His power is immense. Except ...
  • Mystique stops him from killing Pres. Nixon. Then Professor X (James McAvoy) keeps her from killing Bolivar Trask. She puts down the gun.

This last action is what alters the future. Apparently the display of last-minute mercy by two good mutants overcomes the massive destruction and fear caused by the bad one. The U.S. government, and all governments, apparently decide: Well, as long as there are good ones ...

In other words, a minor incident in the original timeline leads to a massive program to protect the human race. X-Men: Days of Future PastA major, earth-shattering incident in the new timeline, in which the White House lies in ruins, leads to a shrug and a “live and let live” attitude.

That’s a more optimistic view of humanity than I have. Or a more optimistic view of outing.

Removing Ratner
“Days of Future Past” has other problems as well. I’ll get to them by and by.

It’s a pretty good superhero movie, by the way, and finally reunites the X-Men with their long-lost mentor.

No, not Prof. X, killed off by Brett Ratner in the abysmal “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, and resurrected here without explanation. I’m talking Bryan Singer, the writer-director who helped create the first two “X-Men” movies. You could argue that what’s being corrected, what’s being wiped out, is less the Sentinel program than “X-Men: The Last Stand.” And for that: applause.

But are the first two “X-Men” movies wiped out as well? And the two “Wolverine” movies? Does Wolverine have an adamantine skeleton or is he going snkkt! with his all-too-breakable bones?

Questions for the sequel.

The movie opens in a dystopian future—monochromatic, as all dystopian futures are. We see what New York has become, and get shivers of 9/11, as the elder Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), intones about the future (“a dark, desolate world”), and wonders whether it can be changed.

The action picks up in Moscow, where some of our heroes are holed up: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Sunspot (Adan Canto). Then they’re discovered by the Sentinels, who fly in and wipe them out fairly quickly. All but Kitty Pryde and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). He’s lying down, she’s holding onto his temples, and just as the Sentinels are about to kill them, they disappear. “Too late, assholes,” she says. Poof.

Cut to: China. There, more mutants are waiting, including the originals, Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Storm (Halle Berry). Wait, isn’t Bobby/Iceman there, too? And Colossus? But didn’t we see them get crushed in the first act?

Turns out when Kitty Pryde said, “Too late, assholes,” she wasn’t teleporting herself to another location. No, she’d been teleporting the other dude back in time a few days. So he could warn everyone. So the first incident never occurred.

When Kitty Pryde mentions this, Prof. X suggests the obvious: Dude, why not just go back to 1973 and prevent the assassination of Trask, and the capture and study of Mystique and her DNA which will lead to the Sentinel program? Kitty Pryde says, no. She can send someone back into their earlier consciousness a few days, a month maybe. But decades? The mind would snap. Which leads Wolverine to state the obvious: What if that mind could repair itself continuously?

And that’s the plan. Wolverine will return to his 1973 body, knowing all he knows now, and stop Mystique from killing Trask at the Paris Peace Accords. Simple.

Except that’s not the plan.

Introducing Quicksilver
This is the plan. Keep in mind that the length of time Wolverine spends in the past is the same amount of time they need to stay alive in the future. Time is of the essence.

Instead of heading to Paris and convincing Mystique to abandon the assassination (or simply stopping her), Wolverine first goes to Prof. X (in upstate NY) and then Magneto (in D.C.), and only then do the three of them (plus Beast) go to Paris and stop Mystique.

I know. Singer and company need to bring in the principle characters. Time is of the essence within the story but the opposite in creating the story. Otherwise we’d have a very short story.

Worse, Prof. X in 1973 is hardly ready for battle. Hank McCoy/Beast has him hopped up on drugs. Kind of. He’s created a serum that allows Charles to walk again but stymies his mutant powers, and he keeps shooting him up with this stuff. He’s a major enabler here. Meanwhile, the Xavier School for Gifted Students has become dilapidated. Something about 1967 and the draft and losing students. This backstory is a bit weak, to be honest. Not to mention glossed over. But eventually Wolverine convinces Charles to, you know, make a stand by returning to his wheelchair.

Magneto’s situation in 1973 is even more problematic: imprisoned in a concrete bunker beneath the Pentagon. His crime? The assassination of John F. Kennedy. You know the magic bullet theory? How it supposedly bent in mid-air? Well ....

“So wait,” I kept thinking. “Magneto killed JFK? That’s pretty awful for a summer blockbuster.”

Except he didn’t. He tells Charles that he was trying to save JFK.

Because? Charles asks.

Because he was one of us, Magneto says.

“So wait,” I thought. “JFK ... was a mutant? What were his powers? Chick magnet?”

But that’s all we get on that. The story rolls on.

The three of them spring Magneto from the Pentagon, by the way, with the best addition to the X-Men since ... ever. In the comics, at least when I collected (mid-1970s), Quicksilver was the lamest of mutants. He was part of Black Bolt’s Inhumans, brother to the Scarlet Witch, silver-haired, perpetually frowning, and a drag, a well-known drag. Didn’t he also steal the Human Torch’s girlfriend? His power was the Flash’s power—he could run fast—but that power doesn’t lend itself well to the storyboards of comic books. But here? With CGI? Wow. They make Quicksilver (Evan Peters) seem like the most powerful mutant of all: the one who can beat you before you even think about taking him on. Plus he gets a personality upgrade. He’s young, playful, insouciant, and often bored by the excruciating slowness of the world. He’s just trying to keep himself amused, man.

Hey, why didn’t Wolverine just get him to help stop Mystique? Zip across the ocean. Easy peasy. But no. They needed to bring Prof. X back to the side of hope, so he could bring Mystique back to the side of peace, so we could get our reductive lesson about hope and peace. Rather than Magneto’s lesson of vindictiveness and destruction. Which is what we paid to see.

Eventually our quartet (Wolverine, Prof. X, Beast and Magneto) get to Paris in time to prevent the killing. But then betrayal from Magneto. He reasons that if Mystique killing Trask leads to the death of all mutants, then she must die. Except it’s not just Mystique killing Trask, is it? It’s Mystique captured and analyzed for years until the secret of her DNA is revealed. The fear of mutants would be there whether she killed Trask or not. And because Magneto simply wounds her, the X-Men get the worst of both worlds: Trask lives, while the blood Mystique leaves behind offers up the secrets of her DNA to Trask.

And this sets up our grand finale on the White House lawn.

What’s the deal with the ring around the White House, by the way? Is it a grand gesture from Magneto (this is my power: don’t fuck with me) or from Bryan Singer (something about ... marriage equality?)?

Singer has always brought a homosexual aesthetic to the X-Men (“Have you tried not being a mutant?” – X2), but the primary metaphor for mutants is still the civil rights movement: Martin (Prof. X) and Malcolm (Magneto); non-violent resistance and integration vs. segregation, contempt and revenge. And in this struggle, Mystique has always been the key. She was with Charles, even loved him a bit, but she was won over to Magneto’s side at the end of the last movie. Here, Charles wins her back. She puts down the gun. And then? Pres. Nixon stops the Sentinel program. (Right.) And Trask? Trask is arrested for selling military secrets. (Did I miss that scene?) All of which sets up our brighter, non-Sentinel future, where even Jean Gray and Scott Summers get to live. Good seeing you again, Famke. (Call me.)

And Brett Ratner? You’ve been retconned, asshole.

Wichikoo
So why didn’t I like this movie more? Were my hopes too high? Am I just a sourpuss? Have I realized that even the best superhero movies are just superhero movies? Do I have franchise fatigue? Genre fatigue?

Because “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a well-made, pretty smart movie. We get some good lines and some decent history; and there’s a greater verisimilitude with the time period than in “X-Men: First Class”: fashions, language, Roberta Flack and Jim Croce. My favorite bit was probably the wichikoo Isaac Hayes funk beat as Wolverine walks the streets of 1973. Damn right.

Coincidentally, 1973 was also the year I began collecting comic books seriously. I bought Spider-Man #123 that summer, then Hulk #168; then I was off to the races. I was 10. I did this for five years. Then I put away childish things.

Posted at 06:56 AM on Jun 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday June 15, 2014

Movie Review: They Came Together (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Are movie spoofs a greater indictment of the movies or of us?

Take those action-hero scenes, parodied to perfection in “The Other Guys,” in which all-too-human protagonists are allowed to do impossible feats like jump off rooftops, arms and legs pinwheeling, and survive by falling into bushes. Hollywood whips up scenes like this but we ingest them. And if enough of us ingest them, then Hollywood whips them up again. Ad nauseum. Until they’re parodied to perfection in movies like “The Other Guys.”

But when we laugh at these parodies, are we laughing at Hollywood and the stupid movies it makes, or ourselves and the stupid movies we see? That we need?

They Came Together“They Came Together,” from writer-director David Wain (“Role Models,” “Wet, Hot American Summer”), is a spoof of romantic comedies, particularly the New York-centric, Nora Ephron rom-coms of the 1990s. It’s not bad. There are movies that are trailer-rich and movie-poor, in which the movie never lives up to the promise of the trailer, but this is the opposite. The trailer kind of sucks but the movie isn't bad. I laughed a little. 

It helps that its biggest target is one of my least-favorite movies of the 1990s.

You’ve got candy
Remember “You’ve Got Mail”? Kathleen (Meg Ryan) runs an upper west side independent bookstore, “The Little Shop Around the Corner,” while Joe (Tom Hanks) is the scion of a bookstore chain, Fox & Sons, that’s about to put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s living with a philandering techie, Greg Kinnear, while he’s incomprehensibly sleeping with Parker Posey, with whom he has zero chemistry. Then they connect via this new thing: the internet. He’s “NY152” and she’s “shopgirl.” They meet in a chat room, so they don’t know that each is the person the other hates. Until they do. Which leads to the happy ending: She’s put out of business, sure, but becomes a successful children’s book author, so his business practices are forgiven. And they’re together and in love. Or something like it.

In “They Came Together” (great title, btw), Molly (Amy Poehler) runs an upper west side candy shop, “Upper Sweet Side,” where she actually gives candy away to the kids, while Joel (Paul Rudd) is a top executive at CSR, Candy Systems and Research, which is about to open a huge megastore across the street from Molly and put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s pursued by Eggbert, the accounting dweeb who doesn’t realize the small things that make her her, and who wears douchey scarves everywhere (Ed Helms), while he’s with Tiffany, the vixen who’s almost never out of lingerie (Cobie Smulders), and who just doesn’t love him the way he needs to be loved. As in:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I admire your spirit.

And:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I love Saturdays.

After Joel’s arch-nemesis at CSR, Trevor (Michael Ian Black), wins both the promotion and Tiffany, the bland, stable friends of our protagonists, Bob and Brenda (Jason Mantzoukas and Melanie Lynskey), try to set them up. At first it doesn’t take. Then it does. Then they’re in love. And then no. But really yes! Will they get together for the final reel? Can Joel win her back or will she marry Eggbert? Etc.

The framing device for all of this is dinner out with another couple, Kyle and Karen (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper), where each goes over their “how did you two meet” stories. For Kyle and Karen, it takes 10 seconds. For Molly and Joel, this movie.

A Cup of Joel
Wain nails most of the stupid rom-com bits:

  • She’s cute but a klutz, so female moviegoers won’t feel threatened.
  • He’s Jewish, but in a “nonthreatening way.” The movie keeps repeating this.
  • She’s got a beautiful black assistant (Teyonah Parris), who has no life of her own, and who gives her relationship advice.
  • He’s got friends, with whom he plays basketball in the park on weekends, who do the same.
  • It’s always autumn in New York.

I love the idea of a candy megastore. I love the stupid business meetings Joel attends, around the long oval table with the high-rise view of Manhattan, led by the suspenders-wearing boss (Christopher Meloni), who, in the final reel, is won over to Joel’s humanitarian plea even as he fires the more ruthless Trevor. I love the awfulness of the name Trevor, and the snootiness of the name Tiffany. I love the stupid wish Joel has: to someday open his own coffee shop called “A Cup of Joel.” I love what happens to this dream.

But we also get stuff that’s not particularly funny: the boss shitting himself at the costume party; the ex-husband (cameo: Michael Shannon) who gets out of jail and comes gunning for Joel; the Groucho glasses; the dead body in the leaves.

And is it too dated? Wain and Michael Schowalter wrote the screenplay in 2002 but it wasn’t picked up until 10 years later. They wrote it in the wake of Nora Ephron’s biggest successes but it’s being released two years after her death.

But it sure as hell beats another rom-com.

Posted at 07:11 AM on Jun 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday June 11, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You know the “Up” series? Michael Apted’s series of documentaries that began with 7-year-olds being interviewed in 1964 and picks up every seven years to see where they are and how they think and what they’ve become? Go deep enough into the series—and they’re at “56 Up” now—and it’s like time-lapse photography of human beings. It’s often profound and moving.

Writer-director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) has now done this in the non-documentary form.

In 2002, he hired a 6-year-old boy, Ellar Coltrane, and he’s been filming him, in a scripted story, with Patricia Arquette as his mom and Ethan Hawke as his estranged dad, ever since. The story takes us from Mason’s “Aspiration Day” in first grade, in which he sits in the grass staring up at the clouds, to the first day of college, when he’s in the mountains doing basically the same. His hair has darkened, he’s got scruff on his chin, his voice is shockingly deep. Richard Linklater's BoyhoodYou think, as many parents think, “What happened to my little boy?”

Here’s the question going in: Is this more than a stunt? You certainly hope so. You hope “Boyhood” coalesces into something profound and moving and maybe even beautiful.

The arc of the step dad
What surprised me, initially, was how seamlessly it moved. There are no title cards telling us it’s six months or a year later. We infer this from Mason’s haircut or his face or the family’s circumstances.

The circumstances keep changing. In the beginning, he’s living with him mom and his bratty older sister, Samantha (Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei), with whom he shares bunkbeds. One morning, early in the film, she wakes him up by throwing a pillow at him and then singing Britney Spears’ “Oops! ... I Did It Again” at him. Nothing says “2002” more. It’s her most memorable scene.

Dad? He’s been out of the picture, living in Alaska, but he arrives back in Texas in a souped-up GTO, with a souped-up personality, ready to make up for lost time. He wants to move things fast and make things big, but there’s a desperation in it all that makes him seem small. Initially he seems like a douche but it’s more complicated than that. He’s a grown-up kid, scrounging after rock ‘n’ roll dreams at the end of the rock ‘n’ roll era. It’s not like he’s not talented; we hear a few good songs. And his fatherly advice may sound simplistic (“Life doesn’t give you bumpers,” etc.) but it isn’t wrong. Plus he’s that rare, loudmouthed liberal in conservative Texas railing against the Iraq War in 2004 (and keep in mind: this was in 2004), and putting up Obama lawn signs, and stealing McCain lawn signs, in 2008 (ditto).

Plus he’s Prince Charming compared to the guy Olivia, the mom, winds up with.

She’s taking classes at a nearby university to get a teaching degree when Mason shows up after school and sits in the back row, then witnesses an odd flirtation between her and her professor, Bill Wellbrock (Marco Perella). I got a bad vibe from him immediately, maybe because we’re seeing all of this from Mason’s perspective, which is the perspective of the small and weak, or maybe because Bill has that authoritarian air of a Texas alpha male. Either way, he and Olivia are soon back from a honeymoon in Paris, and Mason and Sam are living with two of Bill’s kids from his first marriage. It’s like “The Brady Bunch” minus one. But not. Bill has a drinking problem. And the authoritarian air slowly becomes totalitarian. He gets on Mason about his chores, then his long hair, then he takes him to the barber and watches, smiling, while the barber shaves it all off. Mason complains to his mom, who says, yes, that wasn’t right, and she’ll talk to Bill. But the next time we see her, Mason’s walking past the half-opened garage and she’s lying on the floor. She tells Mason, a little hysterically, that she just fell, while Bill stands over her making less-than-soothing excuses.

This reveal feels exactly right to me. Even the half-opened garage door. Half the story is hidden, but half isn’t. And from that second half we know what’s going on—even if Mason doesn’t quite. Yet.

Things gets worse at the dinner table when Bill’s drinking goes from surreptitious to in-your-face. Tempers (or a temper) flare, and dishes are thrown. Threats are made. It’s truly scary. It gets scarier when Olivia disappears, but then she returns with a brassy friend for her kids. They get out sloppily, and without Bill’s kids. There’s no justice here, only escape.

Too cool for school?
The arc of the step dad is the one true arc of the movie. Everything else is simply episodic. We keep waiting for other shit to come down, but it doesn’t. Life just happens.

In eighth grade, for example, Mason and his friends hang with two high school boys breaking karate boards and drinking beer on a Friday night. The eighth-graders have their first beers, under pressure, and under pressure tell their first lies about how far they’ve gone with girls. Mason is cool here, but it’s his friend, Tony (Jordan Howard), who delivers the crushing blow to the bullying older kids (including Nick Krause, pre-“Descendants”): If you’re so good with women, what are you doing hanging around with us on a Friday night? We think he’s in for it but he’s not. We think the board-busting will go awry, but it doesn’t. It’s just another night on the journey.

The older Mason gets, the cooler he becomes. Sadly. Little is more boring to me than cool. I want engaged. Is he stoned half the time? Everyone seems intent on waking him up. He gets advice from a photography teacher, a restaurant manager, his mom’s new wrong guy, Jim (Brad Hawkins), and of course mom and dad. Girls try to get his attention. One does. In high school, Sheena (Zoe Graham) becomes the girl, but we don’t really get that until she’s gone, and he’s hurt, but hurt in a way that doesn’t quite register. I’m curious: Does Ellar Coltrane become a less interesting actor the older he gets? Or is teenage solipsism simply less interesting next to childhood enthusiasm? In youth, our eyes are wide; as teenagers, they become half-closed with a worldliness we don’t own yet.

The “Up” series makes you realize how much adolescence fucks us all up. Almost every participant in that documentary is outgoing and bright-eyed at 7, self-conscious and mumbling at 14; then they spend the rest of their lives trying to overcome whatever happened at 13. Mason seems to disappear a bit, too, but less from pain than from a “Whatever” attitude. I remember a much greater awkwardness from 13 to 18. But it could be that Mason (and maybe Coltrane, and maybe Linklater) is cooler than me. It wouldn’t take much.

Are the parental storylines more interesting? For these 12 years, both play catch-up but neither do. She gets pudgier, her temper shorter. He gets thinner and more accepting. He spends less time trying to make something happen and shrugs more often that it never did. He gets a dull, steady job, a second wife, a second batch of kids. He allows himself to become—his word—castrated. In some sense, he’s still a teenager. In most ways, Mason Jr. seems more mature.

Like family
“Boyhood” is set between 2002 and 2014 but I keep coming back to the thought that much of it is culled from Linklater’s own life. So much feels like that odd portion of the 20th century (roughly 1966 to 1978) rather than the first two decades of the 21st. The haircut, for example. That would’ve truly sucked in 1970. But in 2006? Mason would’ve just looked like every other kid. Or Olivia’s helplessness when faced with Bill’s abuse? Again: 1970s. By now, the rules and the laws have changed. Just direct Olivia to a tough female Texas family law attorney and take Bill to the cleaners. Even Mason Sr.’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams seem very 1970s to me.

That said, the movie has moments that feel as real as my own memories: the search for arrowheads, gawking and giggling at lingerie ads, hanging alone in the narrow space between garages. There’s the late-night, teenage drop-off in the station wagon after drinking, and the makeout sessions in same. The friends that come and go.

That said, the teenage years seem prolonged to me. Intentionally? In “The Hotel New Hampshire,” John Irving wrote how we seem 15 forever, then suddenly we’re in our 20s and 30s and time just zips, and he structured his novel that way—so that the teenage years simply take up more pages of the book. Maybe Linklater is doing something similar? Or did he simply edit the earlier scenes to a smooth finish while the more recent years were allowed their unnecessary material? Because it does feel like unnecessary material. The movie takes too long to end—as if Linklater didn’t want it to. Yes, “Boyhood” is often profound and moving and even beautiful, but I didn’t leave the theater the way I wanted to: stunned. A high bar, I know. The highest. 

But something else happens in the days after seeing the film, something unique in my moviegoing experience for this truly unique film. Because we watch this young actor for 12 years of his life, and see him grow from blonde boy to too-cool-for-school adolescent, this fact alone affects us on a deep level. There’s a pang when we think of him and the boy he once was. It’s almost as if he’s family.

Posted at 06:19 AM on Jun 11, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday June 09, 2014

Movie Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You should never criticize a movie for what it isn’t. But here I go.

I thought “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” was about a Japanese girl who was obsessed with the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo” for the movie itself, and that’s why she travels to Minnesota in the middle of winter: to immerse herself in that odd, Minnesota-nice, Scandinavian culture. Go Bears.

Instead it’s about a Japanese girl in the midst of a mental breakdown, who travels to Minnesota because she thinks she’ll find the ransom money Steve Buscemi’s “Fargo” character buries by the side of the road. It’s not quirky at all; it’s just a long, slow, sad slog. It’s a pointless quest. Emphasis on pointless.

The enablers
Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is an “office lady” for a nondescript company in Tokyo, 29 now, and thus a bit old for the position. Her officemates gossip and chat about getting their eyelashes permed, while Kumiko stands off to the side, contemplating spitting in the boss’ tea. Kumiko the Treasure HunterThe bossman tells her to get his dry cleaning and she dumps it in the garbage. Old friends try to engage her and she stands stricken, then flees. She wants no engagement. What does she want? Money, apparently. The money from “Fargo.”

Why? Why does she think it’s even there? Who knows? It might have something to do with her mother, whom we never see, but who berates her daughter by phone about promotions and boyfriends. Kumiko obviously has severe mental issues that are never addressed. The opposite. She’s surrounded by enablers.

At one point, she attempts to steal an expensive atlas from the public library but is caught by a security guard who questions her in a private room. She keeps her head down, barely saying anything. Finally, she mumbles, “I only need page 95. It is my destiny.” What does he do? He tears out the page—a map of Minnesota—gives it to her and lets her go. Why not? Later, Kumiko’s boss tells her she has an increasingly poor disposition and brings out a possible replacement. Then what does he do? He gives her the company credit card. With which she books a flight to the Twin Cities.

There, she meets more enablers. An old widow rescues Kumiko from a snowstorm and takes her to her farm, where she gives her hot chocolate, a dog-eared copy of “Shogun,” and a room to sleep in. Kumiko bolts. A kindly cop (writer-director David Zellner) finds her roaming the small-town streets wearing a quilt for warmth, like she’s in a low-budget version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and takes her to the station. Eventually she confesses her quest to him—the one about finding the money from “Fargo.” What does he do? Does he take her to a hospital or psych ward? No. He takes her to a Chinese restaurant, hoping to get a translator; then he takes her to a second-hand store and buys her a winter coat and boots. This last is actually fairly sweet. He’s tying the boots on her feet when she leans down and kisses him. He pulls back: It’s not what he wanted. He’s got a wife and kids. So she bolts.

Etc.

Bedtime for Bunzo
Zellner, who wrote the screenplay with his producer-brother Nathan, keeps the film moody, the pace slow. Way too slow. It’s a slow-paced movie about an uninteresting girl on a pointless quest.

I liked a few moments. When Kumiko lands in “the new world,” as it’s called, we get a surreal shot of airplanes being de-iced on a cold winter night at the Twin Cities airport. Several times in Tokyo, Zellner has Kumiko walk off frame, then holds the camera there until she walks back. These are usually life-altering moments: stealing from the library (but being led back by the security guard); picking up the boss’s dry cleaning (but returning to dump it into a nearby garbage can); entering a subway with Bunzo, her pet rabbit (but returning empty-handed and crying). Bunzo winds up sitting in a subway seat by himself, nose twitching. He’s her last tie to ... well, anything. It’s the most affecting, and effective, part of the movie.

Earlier she tried to abandon Bunzo in a park: “Bunzo, you are free! Go where you want to go!” she tells him, then grows annoyed when he simply stays there, nose twitching. Kumiko’s reaction to Bunzo is mine to her. I sat in my seat, thinking, “You are free! Go where you want to go!” Well, I guess she does, doesn’t she?

Does Kumiko ever find the nondescript spot by the side of the road where Buscemi’s character buried the ransom? She does. At the very end. And look! The window scraper is even there. And so is the ransom money! Then she walks off happily, smiling and swinging the briefcase. But she’s probably dead—frozen in a snowstorm—or so insane she’s living completely within her own mind.

And the point of it all? I have no idea. We never know enough about Kumiko to really care about her. As Kumiko has trouble grasping reality, we have trouble grasping Kumiko.

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your movie work there, David.

Posted at 08:37 AM on Jun 09, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday June 06, 2014

Movie Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I kept getting a 107-year-old man vibe from “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.”

Do you remember the 107-year-old man? He’s a character in Joseph Heller’s classic, absurdist, World War II novel “Catch-22,” who lives in a brothel in Rome and engages with the American servicemen he meets there. At one point, he tells Nately, a romantic, patriotic American, that Italy will win the war. Nately scoffs:

“Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?”

“But of course I do,” exclaimed the old man cheerfully. “The Germans are being driven out, and we're still here. In a few years, you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well.”

Similarly, in “100-Year-Old Man … ,” those who shrug over life and politics keep on keeping on, while talkative true believers … Well, they don’t exactly live to be 100.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedHalf the movie is set in the present day, half 100 years of historical flashback narrated by the title character, Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who’s not quite all there. He’s a bit of a dimwit. The first of these flashbacks takes place in 1909, as Allan’s father preaches incessantly on condoms as the best way to break free from oppression. Unfortunately, he does this, first, on Children’s Day, and second in Tsarist Russia, where he is quickly hauled away, still talking, before a firing squad. Even then he can’t stop blabbing. Finger raised, he adds, “Can I say something?” right before being shot dead. I laughed.

Later, a grown-up Allan, with a love of explosives, winds up heading to the Spanish Civil War in the company of Esteban (Maneul Dubra), a revolutionary who talks nonstop on the train, during training, and as they march. In the first battle of the war, he stands and shouts, “Viva la revolucion!” … and gets shot in the head: the war’s first casualty. I laughed again.

That’s the movie’s main lesson. “Thinking gets you nowhere,” Allan’s mother tells him on her deathbed. “Life is what it is, and will be what it will be.”

And that’s what I liked about “The 100-Year-Old Man ...” It’s dark, absurdist, and there’s a Mr. Magoo quality to Allan avoiding disasters, and having adventures, simply by continuing to move; by being and not thinking.

Unfortunately, there’s also a “Forrest Gump” quality to the movie.

Next stop: Malmköping
“The 100-Year-Old Man … ” begins with the title character (the 50-year-old Gustafsson slathered in latex) talking about how no one has meant more to him than his beloved cat, Molotov. But one night Molotov doesn’t come back, and the next morning he finds it by the woodshed, a victim of a neighborhood fox. Cut to: Allan wrapping sausages around a pack of dynamite. This act of retribution sends Allan to an old folk’s home, where the staff readies a party for his 100th birthday. Allan, in a less celebratory mood, and per the title, climbs out the window, then shuffles over to a nearby station and uses what money he has to buy a bus ticket to however far it’ll go. Which is Malmköping.

At the station, a short-tempered, burly bike-gang member can’t fit his wheelie suitcase into the bathroom with him and orders Allan to hold it and not let go. Allan follows this order even when his bus arrives; he simply takes the suitcase with him to Malmköping.

There, the station manager, Julius (Iwar Wiklander), engages with Allan, likes the cut of his jib, and offers food, drink and shelter. Meanwhile the bike-gang member comes roaring after his suitcase—which, yes, is full of drug money—but gets conked on the head by Allan and stuffed in a meat locker by Julius. Whoops, Julius leaves it at 20 below overnight. Now Julius and Allan are on the lam. Although I suppose Allan always was. And wasn’t.

In this manner, they pick up quirky compatriots and leave the dead bodies of gang members in their wake. My favorite of the compatriots is Benny (David Wiberg), a man so educated he can never make up his mind. He can’t even make up his mind on what degree to get. He’s almost a psychologist, almost a zoologist. “I’m almost a lot of things,” he says. Sometimes he can barely finish his sentences for all the gray areas he sees. His intelligence clogs his every waking moment. It’s a brilliant character and Wiberg plays him perfectly.

Meanwhile, the flashbacks. After Esteban’s death, Allan continues fighting for the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, less for the Orwellian cause (he knows no cause) than for blowing things up. “I would eat and sleep and blow things up,” he tells us. “It was a wonderful time.” But suddenly he loses that urge. Walking away from a half-lit bomb, he stops a car for a lift—just as the dynamite he’d placed below relights itself and blows the bridge up. To the people in the car, including Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it’s as if he’s saved their lives. Cut to: Allan being feted by the fascist. At one point, Allan expresses regret over the death of his friend, Esteban, so Franco shouts, “Long live Esteban!” Great bit: the Fascist toasting the long life of the revolutionary, who died trying to save Spain from him.

All of this is fine: joyful even. It’s when circumstances lead Allan to America, and the Manhattan Project, where he informs Robert Oppenheimer (Philip Rosch) how he can make his atomic bomb project work, that my enthusiasm began to dim. That was too “Forrest Gump” for me—like teaching Elvis to dance or coining the phrase “shit happens.” Except on a world-altering scale.

Forrest Gump with bombs
After the war, Allan is kidnapped by the Soviets, winds up partying with Stalin, then, after mentioning Franco, he’s put in a gulag. His escape causes Stalin’s heart attack. Etc. He winds up a noncommittal spy in Paris in 1968, and in the 1980s his recording of Ronald Reagan telling the White House gardener not to tear down the Rose Garden wall is overhead by Gorbachev, who thinks he’s talking about the Berlin Wall, and so ... blah blah blah. The closer the flashbacks got to our time, the sillier they seemed to me.

“The 100-Year-Old Man ... ,” directed by Felix Herngren and written by Herngren and Hans Ingemansson, is based upon the 2009 international best-seller by Jonas Jonasson, and I have no doubt the movie will be popular, too. Some of it is very good. The rest? It’s “Forrest Gump” with bombs. I missed the greater wisdom of the 107-year-old man. 

Posted at 06:39 AM on Jun 06, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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