Sunday, July 12, 2015

More Sights and Sounds

Four pocket reviews:

In Your Eyes (2014)
Screenwriter Joss Whedon is best known these days for the action-packed Marvel Avengers movies, but those who remember his work on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer know he can be intensely sentimental. That is not always a bad thing. He shows his penchant for sentimentality again in his script for In Your Eyes.

Modern romantic dramas and RomComs rarely succeed. For more than a decade audiences have been in a particularly sullen phase of the gender war, too cynical to allow credibility to the premise of these films, at least as far as ordinary people are concerned. There must be some outlandish explanation for romance before we will credit it: one or more of the lovers is a vampire (True Blood), both are kids (Moonrise Kingdom), they’re crazy (Silver Linings Playbook), or something. We need some radical reason to account for it. Whedon, accustomed to writing for not-quite-human characters, gives us one. Rebecca and Dylan have a paranormal mental connection. Though Rebecca is in New Hampshire and the Dylan is in New Mexico, they can see through each other’s eyes and feel what the other feels. Both have had glimpses of faraway scenes since they were kids, but each always dismissed them as some personal mental quirk. Then one day the connection suddenly strengthens and they grasp what is going on. OK, that might create a special bond.

Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is a good-looking ne’er-do-well on parole for robbery. Though a bad boy, he has a good heart. (Well, he would have to, wouldn’t he?) The doe-eyed actress Zoe Kazan portrays Rebecca, a shy, awkward, but likable character. It’s a kind of role in which she feels comfortable. Zoe wrote a similar character for herself in her own screenplay Ruby Sparks. Since their on-off connection often clicks on at inopportune moments and disorients them, Dylan and Rebecca develop reputations for being bonkers. Both of them have unenviable lives. Rebecca’s husband is well-to-do but he is a domineering hospital administrator who puts the ass in jackass, and who wants to commit Rebecca to a mental ward. Dylan meanwhile scrapes by in his trailer and is being pressured into another crime by his former accomplices. When the mental connection occurs in private, Dylan and Rebecca find welcome escape and solace in it. The duo’s feelings are not initially romantic, but they change over time. Will they overcome all obstacles, including the law, to be together? You probably can guess, but I’ll leave the answer unwritten.

This is a better movie than it sounds, thanks largely to the casting. Don’t expect anything grand here, but Thumbs Up anyway.

** **

These Final Hours (2015)
Yes it’s another apocalypse. A literally earthshattering asteroid has smacked into the North Atlantic and the folks in Perth Australia have only hours before the shock wave and the peeling crust overtake them and wipe them out. What do you do when the end is coming fast and there are no consequences tomorrow for what you do today? Apparently, facing the end with dignity, as Australians by and large did in On the Beach (1959), is no longer fashionable. Suicide, mayhem, and orgies are in.

The central character James (Nathan Phillips) plans to get it on with both his girlfriends (separately), go to a party, and ingest enough alcohol and drugs to dull the pain when the end comes. Yet, despite his own shallow intentions, he intervenes to rescue a tween girl (Angourie Rice) from perverts and then tries to get her to her family. He baffles himself by doing this, but slowly gets the idea that how one dies matters even if no one afterward will know.

Violent, graphic, and low-budget but not bad. I would recommend the similar but more low-key Canadian film Last Night (1998) over it, but not bad.

Mild Thumbs Up

** **

Mordecai (2015)
Why did I watch the whole 106 minutes of this? To see if it would get better, I think. It didn’t, despite starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Goldblum. The level of humor can be indicated just by mentioning that Mordecai’s personal assistant is named Jock Strapp.

Mordecai (Depp), a notoriously shady art dealer, owes 8 million pounds in back taxes but can escape his predicament by helping MI-5 recover a Goya painting that has a code on the back that reveals the location of Nazi gold. Whatever possibility for humor there may have been in this is squandered in failed attempts at silliness. I owe the producers of the uninspired sequel/reboot St. Trinian’s (2007), which I panned last year, an apology. By comparison, their movie, which also involves an art theft and shady dealers (including Russell Brand), is good.

Thumbs Down

** **

Halestorm: Into the Wild Life (2015)
When a band wins a loyal audience with its early recordings, a backlash commonly develops against some later album. The complaints always are one of the following: 1) the band sounds the same, or 2) the band sounds different. The backlash can be remarkably unrelated to the musical merits. Sometimes the album really is forgettable or worse, but other times it later is recognized as a classic. Rolling Stone actually panned Abbey Road: “Of course, the Beatles are still the Beatles, but it does tread a rather tenuous line between boredom, Beatledom, and bubblegum...Side two is a disaster.” The backlash against Into the Wild Life, more by fans than by professional critics, is of “the band sounds different” variety.

I liked the album. First of all it still sounds very much like Halestorm. But to the extent it doesn’t, good.  Basic hardcore rock’n’roll hasn’t dominated the charts for a long time, but it still has a lot of fans. Lzzy Hale’s formidable vocals backed by effectively harsh guitar, bass, and percussion (brother Arejay Hale on drums) have been giving them what they want since 2009. Several of the tracks on Into the Wild Life are very much in the same vein, including Apocalyptic, the single getting the most radio airplay. So, the fan base has not been abandoned. But in other tracks the band experimented, flirting with country and even pop. A flirt is not the same as a commitment, however, and a first-time listener still would categorize the result as rock, leaning to the hard side at that. True enough, in consequence the album as a whole does not sound exactly like the previous ones, but to my ears the expanded range enriches the sound, not corrupts it.

Thumbs Up

One for the base, Apocalyptic:


  1. I was never to much into mainstream? hardcore? rock, however, that's pretty hard to define. That said some of the CDs I own certainly fall into that category: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zepplin, etc., which now I guess considered classic rock. I like music docs too, but I have to pretty much care about the band most of the time. There's one that I'd like to watch that I may have to end up buying as I can't find it to rent--perhaps Amazon Prime has it, but I don't have that service. That would be Derailroaded about Wild Man Fischer. I enjoy some of those fringe artist. Another along that line that I do own is The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

    I thought Mordecai would not be very good. I'm not a huge Depp fan anyway. That's probably one of those films that sounded original and fun in script form, but not so good once finished.

    Wondered if you've ever seen the musical movie Once. There's a bit of romance in it too, though not comedic. Pretty good film, and I enjoyed the music too.

    1. Thanks for the tip on "Once," which I've never seen, but which, I notice, has very good reviews. I'm not normally one for love stories, though my cynicism is not a matter of "the times" but just of time. In other words I'm getting old and crotchety. Nonetheless, I won't rule them out altogether and have liked a few.

      Yes, rock, metal, and so on don't have distinct boundaries but overlap a lot. Different people will put the same band in different slots.

  2. Wow, I had no idea Whedon wrote "In Your Eyes". Makes me want to check it out. I usually enjoy most of his work. I got a kick out of his take on "Much Ado About Nothing" from a couple years ago.

    I have an English friend who watched Mordecai and told me that it was a riff on several British caper movies from the 60s and 70s. And he found it slightly amusing because of some of those references, but his girlfriend is is American found the whole thing really dull. He then turned around and told me that the "Kingsmen" movie did it all much better and recommended I check that out.

    When I'm not listening to film scores, I do enjoy rock with female lead vocals. Pat Bentar and Joan Jett are still favorites of mine. There's also a metal group that works with a symphony orchestra call Nightwish, (I think they are from Finland) that I really enjoy. There work is like a heavy metal film score a lot of times. Fun stuff. Thanks for the song here, I think I'll have to check out more Halestorm.

    1. Joss Whedon is a versatile writer who isn’t afraid of humor, action, or emotion. I haven’t seen his "Much Ado About Nothing." That might be worth a look.

      Just because of the involvement of Mark Millar in the comics on which “Kingsman” is based, I’m not surprised the film is better than “Mordecai.” I haven’t see “Kingsman” but Amazon keeps recommending to me.

      Halestorm is just a good solid rock’n’roll band. They tour relentlessly, so they are bound to turn up nearby at some point. A peek at their website shows they’ll be in Riverside in October. Though I like the new “Into the Wild Life,” the best album to date is “The Strange Case of...” (2013). Their first hit single in 2010 was “It’s Not You”: . Trivia: the derby girls in that video are the Jersey Shore Roller Girls; I usually attend their bouts against the local Morristown teams.