Movie Review: “Are You Here?”

2half-star6here“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner takes his act to the big screen with “Are
You Here?” which turns out to be the most quotable Owen Wilson comedy since
“Zoolander.”

It’s a bit all over the place, a stoner comedy with heart, a glib mental
illness riff, a light romance with bite and a too-conventional spoof of small
market TV news.

There’s where Steve Dallas (Wilson, named for a “Bloom County” character?)
glides by as the weather anchor. He shows up on set at the last minute, stoned
half the time, but “smooth as silk” on the air.

His boss (Paul Schulze) disabuses Steve of any notion of moving to a bigger
market, “not with that nose.” And Steve acts like it, burning through pot as if
it was legal, running the same spiel on an endless succession of women.

“Honestly, I wake up happy. I’m THAT guy!”

Then, there’s Ben, his lifelong pal — a plainly unstable stoner he visits in
Ben’s ruin of a rural trailer. Ben is paranoid, neurotic and a bearded
man-child. So naturally he’s played by Zach Galifianakis.

Steve has to drive Ben to Ben’s father’s funeral, stopping for a joint, and
to allow Ben to rescue a baitshop-load of crayfish.

“They mate for life, you know.”

Late for the funeral, awkward with Ben’s sister Terri (Amy Poehler) at the
after-burial lunch at Outback, at least Steve is impressed with vegetarian Ben’s
blooming onion.

“Deep-fried onions, dipped in Ranch? Bet it tastes like…SPRING-time!”

It’s after the funeral that bonkers Ben and testy Terri set off sparks. Their
dad was a success in his corner of Pennsylvania Amish country. Terri, bitterly
trying to get pregnant, gets a lot of cash, but Ben is entrusted with the family
store and farm. Terri hates that, and she hates dad’s calm, earthy and beautiful
young widow, Angelina (Laura Ramsey). Terri is sure Ben will squander his
inheritance, and she’s pretty sure the righteous hippy Angelina is up to no
good.

Steve? He just notices how gorgeous and open-hearted the now-available widow
is. Not that she’s having him.

“Maybe you’d better run along and get high so at least one of us can forget
we had this conversation.”

Weiner didn’t so much create characters as “types” here, and then cast actors
who have mastered those types. Still, he makes up for that with delightfully
witty dialogue, much of it delivered in that off-hand way Wilson has.

Steve corrects Ben as his unstable friend announces grandiose
Amish-influenced plans for a post “Banana Republic” commune for the farm, and
that he’s “stressed.”

“I’M stressed, you’re CRAZY. Let’s use the word freely, as if it gives us
power.”

Some comedies come out in August because they just aren’t funny enough (see
“Let’s Be Cops”) to find an audience in the heart of summer. “Are You Here?”, from
its nothing of a title to its wayward length and broad embrace of ideas and
themes, seems to warrant August release simply because who could figure out how
to market it?

It’s smarter than your average Wilson farce and sweetly deviates from the
formula that made Galifianakis famous. But like “Sopranos” creator David Chase’s
trip to the big screen, “Not Fade Away,” Weiner’s “Are You Here” has good scenes
and clever dialogue, but is over-stuffed with a TV season’s quota of
not-that-original ideas.

MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use and some sexual content/nudity

Cast: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Laura Ramsey

Credits: Written and directed by Matthew Weiner. A Millennium release.

Running time: 1:52

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Movie Review: “The Possession of Michael King”

king1As “found footage” horror movies go, “The Possession of Michael King” is more
unpleasant than scary.

The self-inflicted wounds, menace to innocents and general supernatural
mayhem is nothing we haven’t seen before — the old “body yanked out of the
frame” trick, etc. You see where it’s going and which films it is leaning on for
inspiration. But some folks dig this eyes-averting gore thing, so here goes.

The title character, played by Shane Johnson, wanted to make a little home
movie about his happy family. Then his wife died in an accident and Michael King
decided to go after people who comfort those who have suffered a loss.

They would be priests, tarot card readers, psychics and dabblers in
necromancy. He posts an ad, offering a reward for such people to “prove it.” And
some take the bait.

He blames his late wife’s tarot card reader (Dale Dickey) for convincing her
not to take the trip that might have changed her fate. He dabbles in LSD-boosted
black magic with an enterprising couple of “demonologists.” And he taunts the
religious.

“God or the Devil, if you’re out there, PROVE it! Come and get me!”

The dying young priest (Tobias Jelinek), chain-smoking to the end, warns him
he’s playing with fire. Call the Devil’s name, he hints, and “the Devil will
never let you go.”

And sure enough, the necromancer-mortician (Cullen Douglas) puts Michael
through a ritual that has him hearing voices, seeing things and makes his
cameras and his camera man freak out.

Meanwhile, Michael has a daughter (Ella Anderson) whom he is utterly
neglecting and creeping out with all this nonsense. By the time he is possessed,
sneaking into her room growling in the middle of the night, nuts but still –
apparently — videotaping his actions, he’s beyond the help of the
psychotherapist he seeks help from, or of anything a priest can offer.

Filmmaker David Jung trots out the familiar tricks of the found-footage
trade, extreme close-ups, night-vision footage, creepy, shrieking music welling
up on the soundtrack.

None of which does much as far as frights go.

Johnson, of “Saving Private Ryan,” makes a compelling skeptic, and landing
the formidable Dickey (“Winter’s Bone”) was a coup.

The effects are on-the-money, never more than when Michael, having carved a
pentagram on his chest and realizing what he’s done, tries to self-administer an
exorcism. A ceiling camera captures the book he’s chanting from bursting into
flame.

But what they were shooting for here was skeptic-is-converted tale, a “Last
Exorcism” in which a doubter is freaked out by the reality of much of what he’d
doubted. That comes across, but the message feels muted — broken up by the
demands of that “found footage” format.

We’re constantly wondering, “Who is supposed to be the camera operator,
here?” and “If he’s possessed and crazy, why he is taking the camera up stairs
while he stalks his kid or his sister?”

Yes, glitchy footage that looks like it came from a cell-phone or security
camera is still a great shortcut to “this must be REAL.” But the format is
confining, and leaning on this for a horror story is totally played out. Fifteen
years past its “Blair Witch” expiration date, “Michael King” proves it’s time to
repossess found footage.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing and violent content, language, some drug use
and sexual material

Cast: Shane Johnson, Ella Johnson, Dale Dickey, Cullen Douglas

Credits: Directed by David Jung, screenplay by David Jung. An Anchor Bay
release.

Running time: 1:23

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Box Office: “Let’s Be Cops” beats “Expendables 3″ and “Giver” at the box office

copsIt’s far and away the worst of the three new wide releases to open this weekend. It opened Wed., to no reviews and zero fanfare. And “Let’s Be Cops” still surpassed “The Expendables 3″ and “The Giver” at the box office, doing @$17 million over the weekend, some $23-24 million since Wed. That’s what hiding a crappy movie from critics gets you.

“Expendables” won’t reach $17. “Giver” barely cleared $13.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fell off the expected amount and hit $27 million, actually a little better than most of us expected. “Guardians of the Galaxy” taps into the same audience — well, parents taking kids to TMNT are the difference — did $23-24 million.

“Boyhood” finally cracked the top ten. “Lucy” cleared $100 million (Thursday, actually). It kept “Hercules” and “Get On Up” out of the top ten.

“What If” is in enough theaters to have hit the top ten, but didn’t. Daniel Radcliffe is still looking for his second post-Potter hit. Rom-com didn’t do it.

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Hot trailer: Johnny Depp, a possible franchise funnyman in “Mortdecai”?

 The comedy from the director of “Ghost Town” is based on Kyril Bonfiglioli novels about a Clouseau-esque upper crust twit/con-man, etc. Daffy looking. February.

 

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Movie Review — “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar”

File photo of ring-tailed lemurs standing together at the Haifa zooEvery so often, a movie comes along and reminds us of the primacy of the pretty picture, the importance of the image in telling a motion picture story.

“Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” is so gorgeously photographed that it’s very much like visiting that exotic island off the coast of Southern Africa. Slow, swooping drone-shots sweep over splintered rocky peaks, hang over forests that climb above the fog and get up close — VERY close — with Madagascar’s most famous residents — lemurs.

In 39 short, lovely minutes, we learn how ancient lemurs are — predating every other surviving primate species on Earth — how they got to Madagascar, how varied they are in appearance and what the only threat to their future is.

“Madagascar is Treasure Island,” Morgan Freeman narrates, as we visit the only forests in the world where lemurs are found. The film then follows lemur expert Patricia Wright as she travels the country, checking in on the Greater Bamboo Lemurs, which she proved hadn’t gone extinct, and tiny-feisty Mouse Lemurs, the singing Indri Lemurs and others.

3half-starIt’s easy to see the origins of that famous cartoon film franchise’s fascination with Madagascar — the flora, baobab trees, octopus trees and bamboo are lush, a full rainbow in shades of green. And the fauna, wild-eyed, exotically colored, cute and vocal, don’t just run or skip across open ground. They dance.

We see the careless slash-and-burn farming practices that threatens Madagascar’s remaining forests, a nation plainly in need of more firefighters. And we check in on lemurs who have adapted, moving out of the threatened land and up into the rocky mountains, short but breathtakingly steep.

“Island of Lemurs” is close to the perfect nature documentary — a visually striking use of IMAX 3D that is picturesque and wonderfully informative about its adorable subject.

MPAA Rating: G

Cast: Narrated by Morgan Freeman, with primatologist Patricia Wright

Credits: Directed by David Douglas, written by Drew Fellman. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: :39

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It’s time to hand out SumOscars — the Summer Movie Oscars

hercSummer’s spent, cinematically. So it’s time to tally up the take, pat a few folks on the back and pass the buck of blame around Hollywood for the cinema season that was
The sequels showed up in droves, and some — from “Spider-Man: Less Amazing Than Ever” to “X-Men: How MANY of These Xes Can we Stuff Into One Movie?” — were hits, others, not so much. Every week had a potential blockbuster, many weeks, those films fell short.
But an August box office rally lessened the pain of a season that lagged 20% behind last summer’s epic numbers.
Some films are remembered, many will be forgotten. And since the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences is loathe to recognize or even remember summer films come Oscar time, let’s hand out another summer’s load of Summer Oscars, “Sumoscars,” naming names and spreading the love as we do.
Best popcorn picture — The jokey-retro-cool “Guardians of the Galaxy,” because “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was all about the animated apes as humans sat around waiting for better characters and dialogue. “X-Men Whatever” was the only other popcorn pic that came close.

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Best Food Film — “Chef.” Jon Favreau’s scruffy food truck road-trip comedy trumped the bloated Oprah-Spielberg backed “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” French cuisine and Helen Mirren bested by Cubanos and a Leguizamo.
Biggest Laughs — “22 Jump Street” mocked its very existence and got away with it — hilariously.
Loudest — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” a Michael Bay production, got a Michael Bay soundtrack.
Most Likely to Succeed as a New Disney Princess — “Maleficent.” Bad girls need a tiara, too.
Most In Need of a Fresh Gag — Melissa McCarthy, “Tammy.” Watch “The Fluffy Movie,” dear, if you want to know how short the shelf life on fat jokes is.
Best Movies You Missed — “Filth,” with James McAvoy as a twisted, tormented Scottish cop, “Belle” with rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the daughter of a slave, raised among aristocrats, and “Begin Again,” a tuneful, wistful New York romance where the love is all about the music.
Worst Served Genre — Animation. A tired and joke-starved “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and an improved-but-still DOA “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” Kids deserve better.
Best Curtain Call — Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man.” It’s a pity he has to turn up in tiny doses in future “Hunger Games.” This Le Carre adaptation was a fitting exit.
Worst Curtain Calls — Woody Allen’s tin-eared “Magic in the Moonlight,” Clint Eastwood’s tone-deaf “Jersey Boys.” Does either still have the patience for rewriting jokes or retakes of flatly played scenes?
Best Hate Mail — “Jersey Boys.” Who knew senior citizens could be such potty mouths? Fuggedaboutit.
Best Career Move — Dying on screen. Tom Cruise did it scores of times, to the delight of fans and especially haters, in “Edge of Tomorrow.”
Best sequel — “The Trip to Italy,” in which all these years of comical bickering, and now two road-trip movies further into their collaboration, Rob Brydon finally gets Steve Coogan to crack up with laughter.

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Most Bored Star — Dwayne “Hercules” Johnson. Those Seven Labors tuckered the old wrassler out.
Worst sequel — “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” because “Planes 2″ at least tried harder.
Worst Acting — The cast of “Into the Storm,” for which director Steven Quale should take the credit.
Biggest Marketing Fail — “Get on Up.” A stunning star turn by Chadwick Boseman could have been an Oscar contender, but Universal rolled the film out to the sounds of silence in early August. The Weinstein Company’s abandonment of “Snowpiercer” comes in a close second.
Most Prescient — “Let’s Play Cops,” about two goofs who dress up as police to get girls and find purpose and machismo. It comes out just as a Ferguson-sensitized America is debating real-life cops who all want to play dress up in macho SWAT gear.
Biggest Suckers — Ticket-buyers to “America,” a documentary-length whine by convicted liar Dinesh D’Souza proclaiming himself a martyr for being caught lying and facing jail time for it.
Real Oscar nominees — “Boyhood,” a possible best director, best screenplay and/or best picture contender. And “Life Itself,” the warm and engaging Roger Ebert documentary becomes the Academy documentary branch’s next chance to screw up, big time.

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Box Office: “Expendables” expended, “Giver” taketh little

boxA PG-13 rated “Expendables” sequel featuring a high body count and a fun turn by Puss-N-Boots Banderas is limping into the $16 million range, the worst opening weekend by far for this aged action hero franchise. They’re done, unless there’s some epic overseas opening that justifies their return. Don’t see it.

And “The Giver,” whatever its merits, cannot overcome all the other film versions of this YA sci-fi plotline that came before it, managing only $12-13 million, according to Deadline.com estimates based on Friday.

“Let’s Be Cops” gained awful reviews, once Fox let critics see it. Hiding it didn’t hurt, though, as it looks to be reaching a $14 million+ weekend, almost $24 since it opened Wed. From the looks of it and gauging the price tags of the cast, they’re already in profit.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is falling off steeply, but not so steeply it can’t hold on to the top spot, low to mid $20s. “Guardians” is right behind it, low $20s.

“Boyhood” expanded, maybe its last big bump in screens, and still will have only reached $13-14 by weekend’s end. Woody Allen’s critically panned “Magic in the Moonlight” also opened wider. Why?

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” will clear $200 million by late Sat.

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Weekend Movies: A bunch of weak films, and “Frank” and “Trip to Italy” open this weekend

You knew the third time would reveal “The Expendables” had passed their expiration date. So did Stallone, who brings in a lot of fresh meat to go with his geezers. Banderas steals a rather weak actioner. Poor reviews for “Expendables 3.”

“The Giver” took Jeff Bridges 18 years to get on the screen. If it had come out ten years ago, he’d have beaten all the Teens-Save-the-Future Films that preceded it (“Hunger Games,””Ender’s Game,””Divergent” et al) and maybe had something here. Lovely looking, smart, well directed and acted. But blah. Been there, seen that. The reviews reflect that.

“Life After Beth” is a zombie film that didn’t have to be.

“The Trip to Italy” is a comic improvisational delight. Coogan and Brydon reverse the order of things a bit in this one. Coogan is more relaxed and amusing, Brydon the needier one. Funny.

“Frank” is enjoying all the hype, with a band, Michael Fassbender in a gigantic head and Maggie Gyllenhaal at her most brittle. Dark and fun.

“Dinosaur 13″ is a reminder that being Native American does not confer righteousness, especially when it comes to handshake deals over dino bones found on property one has a claim to. A bit one-sided (the dino hunters are mercenaries, too), but an interesting documentary.

 

 

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Hot Trailer: “Laggies” bonds Keira and Chloe, with Sam Rockwell playing the grownup

A couple of knowing chuckles, and two laugh-out-loud moments are in the trailer to this coming-of-age-late comedy about a women rebelling against adulthood (Keira Knightly) who falls in with a teen (Chloe Grace Moretz), which doesn’t please the teen’s dad (Sam Rockwell).

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Proud father, proud son, Brendan and Domhnall Gleeson talk about working together

frankThe great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is having a good laugh remembering the
opening scene from the new movie “Frank.” A musically-inept young man is humming
and thinking up lyrics — BAD lyrics — as he walks home from work.

“That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” says Gleeson, who was
Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter pictures and star of “In Bruges” and “The
Grand Seduction,” a man who knows funny. “That lad, he made me laugh and
laugh.”

“That lad” is somebody Brendan Gleeson is unusually proud of. He’s not just a
redheaded Irish actor, like himself. That’s Domhnall Gleeson, 31, son of
Brendan. “Frank,” which stars Michael Fassbender as a quirky artist who fronts a
band — Soronprfbs — while wearing a gigantic fake head that he never, ever
takes off, allowed Domhnall to expand his musical horizons.

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“The very first line of that song, ‘The endless, rolling waves carry me to
you…’,” Gleeson-the-Younger explains, “that was in the script. But the lyrics
and the pain of coming up with them, not realizing how bad they are, I came up
with sitting with (music director) Stephen Rennicks up in his apartment, playing
at the keyboards. I wanted to write the worst possible song, the most boring
personal theme song for this fellow. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, I could write a
song.’ So few of us can.”

“Frank,” a darkly quirky comedy about an uncompromising artist and the
oddballs (Maggie Gyllenhaal also stars, and plays theremin in Soronprfbs) is
opening to some of the most generous reviews of the summer. “Weird and
wonderful,” Variety said. And Variety isn’t alone.

Domhnall Gleeson is the audience’s alter ego in the film, the outsider
reluctantly “welcomed” into the band, the guy who learns about Frank directly
from the big-headed weirdo’s mouth. But acting opposite a famous film star
wearing an enormous head — “That’s really him in every scene. You can tell from
the simple physicality of his performance.” — wasn’t the biggest challenge.
Everybody in the film has to play an instrument, something they demonstrated
when Fassbender, Gleeson, Gyllenhaal and the others performed on Stephen
Colbert’s “The Colbert Report.”

“We play the music live, in the film, so playing ‘Colbert’ was just like that
— not dubbed, not touched up or anything like that,” Gleeson, who learned to
play keyboards, says. “People might not believe us, so even though we hadn’t
played together in a year and a half, since making the film, we got back
together, rehearsed for a day, and did it. Not bad.”

“Frank” isn’t the only film this rising star has out at the moment. His
father plays a priest in John Michael McDonagh’s dark allegory, “Calvary,” and
Domhnall read dad’s copy of the script and knew he wanted a piece of that. He
won over an admittedly-reluctant writer-director and ended up dyeing his hair to
play a convicted murderer, a former altar boy that Father James visits in
prison.

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“We fought really hard in that scene, battled each other fiercely,” Domhnall
says.

“We were like two sparring partners, buddies, forced to get into the ring and
throw punches for real,” his father, Brendan, recalls. “Go back to your corner
in between takes and do what you’ve got to do.”

Brendan says that got to the point where they couldn’t discuss the scene or
the characters any more and had to back away from each other. Domhnall confirms
this, but relished the chance “to see my father in all his glory, taking his
blows and hitting back at him. There’s danger in the air with him.”

Brendan just laughs and says “It was nice to have him back, at the end of the
day.”

While it’s hard to see much of the gruff and garrulous father in the son’s
performances, Domhnall is quick to reflect his father’s pride in his burgeoning
career back at the Old Man, “who is so generous that he makes every day on the
set a blast.” And Brendan?

“I’m fascinated by what Domhnall’s going to get up to next, which is a lovely
place for a young actor to be.”

If there’s one short-coming in Dad’s raising of star-in-the-making, it reared
its head when Domhnall heard about J.J. Abrams and Disney re-visiting “a long
time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”

“I had not seen ‘Star Wars,’ as a boy,” Domhnall chuckles. That could have
made it hard to land a role in the new “Star Wars” film. It didn’t. “Had to go
out and watch those earlier films before I met J.J., just to be safe. So if I
hadn’t gotten the part, we’d be blaming Dad for that!”

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