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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: The Greasy Strangler

MOVIE
The Greasy Strangler

CAST
Michael St. Michaels,
Sky Elobar

RATING
NR

RELEASE
October 7th, 2016 (LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Jim Hosking

STUDIO(S)
FilmRise,
Drafthouse Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes







RATING
9.5/10











REVIEW:

There is nothing that is, was, has ever been, and maybe never will be quite like “The Greasy Strangler.” This film, coming to us from director Jim Hosking, is a love story at its core. There’s a female love interest in there, but the real love comes between the father and son leads. Big Ronnie, played by Michael St. Michaels, is a man who demands grease in and on everything, and his son Braydon, played by Sky Elobar, complies with his father’s wishes so he doesn’t get evicted. Janet, played by Elizabeth De Razzo, becomes the target of affection for Braydon, and pretty soon Big Ronnie as well. And to think, I didn’t even begin to mention how Big Ronnie transforms himself into “The Greasy Strangler,” a grease-drenched humanoid monster hell bent on killing and strangling anyone who dares to defy him in some way.

In case you couldn’t tell, this might not be a movie that’ll appeal to everyone. "Greasy" is the type of offbeat dark comedy made for a very particular crowd of individuals who like the weird and obscure. Think of it like this: if you’re a fan of Tim & Eric, “The Eric Andre Show,” or pretty much anything that plays on Adult Swim after 1 am, then chances are you’re going to like what the grease is cooking. “The Greasy Strangler” is crude, disgusting, vile, and unapologetic in its execution, that’s for sure. But at the same time, it’s also hilarious, lovably odd, intentionally tedious, cheesy, and a whole lot of fun depending on who you are. I know people who absolutely despised this film, and I completely understand why. Based on my personal tastes, though, I thought this was something of a stroke of genius.

Director Jim Hosking has had his fair share of success in the world of short films, most notably for his segment in “The ABC’s of Death 2,” “G is for Grandad.” “Greasy” is his feature-length debut, and it shows in every single scene how much love and dedication he has put into this piece of insanity. It’s clear that he intended to make a modern-day exploitation B-movie with this, and that’s exactly what we get here. Every scene showcases disgusting imagery, from someone eating eyeballs to another dipping a hot dog in one hell of the nasty tub of grease, so if you’re squeamish at all, then this might not be for you. It’s almost as if Hosking challenged himself to outdo himself in gross factor with every passing scene, and for the most part, he succeeded. And yet, through all of the depravity and obscenities presented, there’s this sort of intelligence that oozes out of this movie’s pores.

Hosking, along with co-writer Toby Harvard, wrote the story and dialogue in such a way where things feel incredibly self-aware. There are several moments throughout the movie that are intentionally tedious, and even though in theory these scenes should overstay their welcome, they’re written with expertise and cleverness that they just keep getting funnier and funnier as they go along. Other scenes, where things abruptly end for no specific purpose, compliment these other moments ever so perfectly. It also helps that most of, if not all of the movie, have immensely quotable and ridiculously bizarre lines that will help this stick with you long after the credits end. Hell, I haven’t been able to get “Bullshit Artist” and “Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie” out of my head ever since my initial viewing of the film. I have now seen it twice, and it’s one of those things that benefits from a second viewing in my eyes. Long story short: Hosking and Harvard’s script is tasteless and completely bonkers, yet more intelligent and memorable than one could have ever expected.

Another factor in the film’s self-awareness comes from the cast members. Michael St. Michaels hasn’t had any major acting roles before this, but it’s hard to tell that from how good he is as Ronnie. Not only is he clearly having the time of his life playing this crazy older guy and the greasy persona he puts on throughout the story, but he also comes off as undeniably likable despite playing such a deviously monstrous person. Like with the script, Michaels’ performance is intentionally hokey, making him all the more entertaining. In fact, all of the acting in this movie is deliberately mediocre, which ironically makes the performances even better.

One of the first thoughts that came into my head after I first saw this was “Tim & Eric,” and that comes mainly from Sky Elobar’s performance. There’s this deadpan and awkward nature he gives off throughout that makes his character Braydon as funny as he is earnest. Being not the most attractive individual adds to a lot of the visual humor, but it’s in Elobar’s delivery that sells the character. This guy can turn an already unerotic sex scene into an absolute laugh-fest. Hell, he can even make phone sex more painfully awkward and side-splittingly funny than anyone could have ever imagined.

The person who probably gives the least “bad” performance in the movie is Elizabeth De Razzo. As Janet, Razzo gives her all by going fully nude, along with partaking in some of the most awkward and jaw-dropping sex scenes in motion picture history. “Game of Thrones” is tame compared the sex scenes featured here. While a lot of her dialogue is cheesy, her delivery is the closest to being “realistic” compared to her co-stars. This isn’t a criticism in the slightest to her or her fellow actors, but rather a compliment to her for being able to keep it straight (or as straight as anyone could be) while saying and doing really odd things. The rest of the acting is even cornier than the three leads, which help to both add to the camp-factor of the movie and the memorability of some scenes.

When I say this movie isn’t for the faint of heart, I mean that in every sense of the phrase. What we have here is easily the grossest, vilest, and most depraved film to come out this year, and that’s saying something considering we had a movie come out that featured an animated food orgy just a couple of months back. Along with insanely disgusting imagery being present throughout, there’s also a lot of male nudity from the two male leads. Both schlongs are prosthetic, and both are used to quite hilarious lengths (pun intended), but if that irks you at all, then I don’t even know that you could ever be fully prepared to see this. And as you might have expected from both a low-budget indie and a homage to exploitation films of the past, the practical effects look as corny as they are brutal. I mentioned some examples of gross imagery before, and believe me when I say that those aren't the most disgusting things shown in the film. These effects are done not just to disgust the viewer, but to also have us laugh at the insanity that’s being presented throughout this movie.

It’s funny how this and another Sundance hit from a first-time writer/director came out on the same weekend, the other one being Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation.” Both films are not easy to sit through, but this one is less accessible to an extent. “The Greasy Strangler” requires a special taste in films in order to enjoy fully. I know quite a few friends of mine who would love this, and I know just as many who would despise this. Regardless of your overall thoughts on the film if you end up seeing it, I guarantee you that it will be hard to forget it. If you’re like me and love these type of obscure indie “midnight movies” that go all out and push any boundaries one may have, then absolutely seek this one out. This is a cult classic in the making, and I really hope people manage to find it and embrace it in all of its greasy nature. I’ve seen “The Greasy Strangler” twice now, and I can’t wait to see it a third time. It’s disgusting, depraved, shocking, crude, and I had an absolute blast with every second of it.









ME WITH ACTORS MICHAEL ST. MICHAELS, SKY ELOBAR, AND ELIZABETH DE RAZZO AFTER THE NEW YORK PREMIERE/AFTER PARTY FOR "THE GREASY STRANGLER" ON OCTOBER 3RD, 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: Brooklyn

MOVIE
Brooklyn

CAST
Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 4, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
John Crowley

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 52 minutes







STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

One of the hottest titles to come out of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was John Crowley's "Brooklyn."  The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl named Ellis who decides to immigrate to America and start up a new and hopefully more successful life.  Ellis initially feels homesick as most people would.  However, her sickness is immediately cured when an Italian man from Brooklyn named Tony, played by Emory Cohen, enters her life and becomes the center of her romantic infatuations.  From that brief plot description, it's easy to brush this off as yet another romantic film that caters to the hormone-injected teen girls of today.  Despite the film having typical romantic cliches that have been done time and time again, "Brooklyn" manages to stand out amongst other romantic tales coming out these days.  It does so by being an emotionally moving, fantastically acted, gorgeous looking, and overall downright charming drama that, while it's not perfect, is very much something that audiences everywhere can and will enjoy together.

Saoirse Ronan is an actress I've always enjoyed seeing in movies.  Whether it's playing a supporting role in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or the title character in "Hanna," Ronan always gives it her all in her performances.  As Ellis, she not only gives a great performance, but she also shows off a rawer and more emotional side that was quite refreshing to watch.  Granted I haven't seen her Oscar-nominated work in "Atonement," so I can't judge off of that film.  Considering this is pretty much Ronan's film, though, I think it's safe to say that she held her own and gave a commanding and investing performance.

The first 30 minutes or so of the film show Ellis' struggle not only in America but her journey coming to America itself.  These scenes were all very good, but they didn't quite grab me as much as I would have preferred.  It wasn't until Emory Cohen's Tony came into the picture that the quality of the movie not only raised, but leaped high up in quality.  Not only does Cohen give an exceptionally likable and charismatic performance, but the chemistry that he has with Ronan is unbelievably charming.  Every time these two were on screen together, even if a scene was more dramatic than others, I had a big smile on my face because of how well these two got along.  Their romance never felt artificial or written, but rather as if we were watching a documentary about the sweetest couple around in 1950s New York City.  Their romance to me is the glue that kept the film as a whole together.

About halfway through the film, a tragedy occurs which causes Ellis to go back to Ireland.  Back in her native home, she meets another young man named Jim, played by Domnhall Gleeson.  The reason this film fell short for me from being fantastic is because of Gleeson's character.  Don't get me wrong, the performance is strong, and it's nice to see Gleeson in so many movies right now.  My problem with his character is that, frankly, he didn't feel integral to the plot whatsoever.  It seemed like his only purpose was to create a romantic conflict between Ellis and Tony, thus creating a love triangle.  I never once felt invested in him as a love interest, and I just felt that he was kind of unnecessary to the movie as a whole.  If the filmmakers wanted to create a conflict that would persuade Ellis into moving back to Ireland, they could have made up a better than excuse instead of relying on another romantic partner to seduce her.  Gleeson gave a solid performance, but his character didn't feel needed in my eyes.

"Brooklyn" isn't anything we haven't seen before regarding storytelling.  Not just because this type of story has been done countless times before, but also because this film is based on a book of the same name by author Colm Tóibín.  However, screenwriter/fellow author Nick Hornby gives the story more substance and creates likable and relatable characters that we as an audience care about and enjoy watching.  John Crowley animates the screenplay to life by helping his actors deliver great performances and showing a visually beautiful look at 1950s New York.  The second half felt too much like an artificially created conflict for Ellis, and Domnhall Gleeson's presence felt unneeded, but at the end of the day Brooklyn is a charming, well-acted, beautifully shot, and well-made film that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser to everyone who sees it.



REVIEW: Youth

MOVIE
Youth

CAST
Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel

RATING
R

RELEASE
December 4, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
Paolo Sorrentino

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 58 minutes






STARS
****










REVIEW:

Films like Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" are something of a reminder of living life to the fullest and accepting the inevitable truth: we are all going to grow up and die as time goes on.  Michael Caine's Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel's Mick Boyle are two longtime friends who decide to retreat to the Swiss Alps for some much-needed relaxation.  Ballinger's daughter/personal assistant Lena, played by Rachel Weisz, tags along with the two as well.  Fred is an acclaimed composer/conductor with no intention of getting back into the game due to "personal reasons," despite the Queen of England's request of having him perform for her.  Mick is a renowned filmmaker who brings his team of writers along with him to finish the screenplay for what he thinks will be his "last important film."  Lena is married to Mick's son though the relationship is on the fritz.  She resents her father and has a lot of emotions bottled up within in regards to the way he took care of her.  Actor Jimmy Tree, played by Paul Dano, is also staying at the hotel while he tries to prepare for his latest acting job.  Everyone at the hotel ends up reflecting on their lives in some way, shape or form, and it's in these reflections that the movie hits heights that I didn't expect it to hit.

It's easy to pass this off as nothing more than an "old people" movie due to its two leading men.  The film itself is so much more than that.  Sure the prime focuses are Caine and Keitel's characters, but the movie features many other characters, both old and young, who are in the Alps to relax and have some fun.  It isn't just about two older men looking to vacate and admire the life they've lived.  The movie, rather, is about how a group of people staying at a beautiful hotel in a beautiful part of the world find their ways of reclaiming their youthful spirits and feel, well, young.  Sorrentino captures this essence powerfully and delivers a superb film chock-full of laughs, drama, and well-crafted characters with precision and grace.

Veteran actors Caine and Keitel give two of the best performances of their decade-spanning career in this movie.  Not only do the two share some incredibly funny and very poignant scenes together, but their character arcs separately are very fleshed and have a lot more substance than one would expect.  One scene that stands out, in particular, involves a heated discussion between Caine's Henry Ballinger and a representative for the Queen of England.  On paper, it could seem that the emotions coming from the characters aren't very authentic, but the way Caine pulls off his performance in this scene allows the scene to work wonders and adds quite the amount of depth to his character.  Keitel's final scene in the movie is also quite poignant to encounter.  Without spoiling anything, both of these scenes are incredibly emotional and somewhat subtle, making the overall outcome of what happens in them stronger and more effective.  Another veteran actor, Jane Fonda, has a small role in the movie, and she too is very good in her bit part.  Having said that, the performance Fonda gives feels like nothing compared to the incredible work Caine and Keitel give here.

Two performances that aren't quite as great as the former two but still deserve mentioning are the ones given by Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano.  Weisz's portrayal of Ballinger's daughter Lena is raw and relatable.  In a sense, anyone could see themselves in her shoes because of her life getting washed down the drain.  Everybody knows what it feels like when it seems everything that could go wrong is going wrong, and yet the main source of all of this is unknown.  Paul Dano's Jimmy Tree is in a very similar spot actually, as he wants to venture off and become a more versatile actor but is only recognized by fans for playing a robot on a TV show.  Both characters on the outside may seem self-centered and unlikable, but as the movie goes on it's shown that they're complex characters with a lot more realism than the surface may show.

Aside from a couple of things not being explained well, mostly involving the final scene of the movie, as well as a rather horrible green screen effect used towards the end, there isn't anything else negative to say about Youth.  There are people out there who won't enjoy the film as much as I did, as there were people who booed the movie at its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival.  Some may even complain that it drags and it feels like something catered towards the 55+ crowd.  To me, this wasn't made solely for a specific age group: this is a movie for people who want to know how to "live" again.  Being cooped up in a room doing nothing but eating food and watching Netflix shows can get boring, and "Youth" is something of a reminder to get off your ass and live life to the fullest.  Another movie that came out this year, Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young," had this identical effect.  Although, I do feel like this film emulated this better.

Paolo Sorrentino has crafted one hell of a moving movie.  The acting is incredible, and the chemistry between Caine and Keitel makes a lot of the scenes they share work wonders.  The cinematography is stellar and so damn gorgeous to look at, especially when the camera focuses on these long shots of the mountains and scenery of the Alps.  Sorrentino's script is chock full of sharp humor and incredibly heartbreaking/poignant moments that make this hit closer to home than one may expect.  His direction as well gets the best performances out of his actors and gives him the ability to tell this great story with ease.  Fox Searchlight may be campaigning this for Awards Season this year, but it seems like their main focus is on John Crowley's "Brooklyn."  While "Brooklyn" is more digestible and is a very well made film on its own merits, "Youth" has more of a subtle and raw quality to it.  That, to me, makes it a much stronger and more impactful piece of work  It might not appeal to everyone, but to me, "Youth" is a wonderful look at people regaining their youthfulness while dealing with the fact that death and growing up is inevitable.



Sunday, November 29, 2015

REVIEW: The Walk: The IMAX 3D Experience

MOVIE
The Walk

CAST
Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
Charlotte Le Bon

RATING
PG

RELEASE
September 30, 2015 (IMAX 3D)
October 9, 2015 (WIDE)

DIRECTOR
Robert Zemeckis

STUDIO
Tristar Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 3 minutes









STARS
****










REVIEW:

Back when movies were first invented, they were considered to be something of a novelty and was meant to be an experience.  Nowadays, films are made to tell stories and show off performances, visual designs, a great script, or anything else you can imagine.  It's rare when somebody says that going to the movies is an "experience" rather than something more common.  In the case of Robert Zemeckis' latest film "The Walk," an "experience" is the best way to describe it.  The movie tells the true story of Philippe Petit, an eccentric and larger-than-life French performer who, in 1974, assembled a crew and successfully performed a high-wire act between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  A documentary about his grand (and illegal) act called "Man on Wire" came out in 2007, but this tells the story in a more narrative fashion.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, and without sugar-coating anything, it's the best performance of his career thus far.

Once you get past the French accent which, personally speaking, I didn't mind as much as others, this is Gordon-Levitt as his highest form. The character of Petit is a likable and extraordinary man who wakes up every day with a passion burning deep in his heart, and JGL captures that attitude with precision. I would bet he would have gotten a nomination for Best Actor for his performance if the competition wasn't as fierce as it is this year. Yes, he is THAT good. Ben Kingsley has a great little supporting role as Petit's mentor, and the rest of the cast works very well as an ensemble. Charlotte Le Bon, in particular, stands out from he other supporting actors, as she is simply delightful and engaging on screen. Her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt is very enjoyable to watch, even when they're not exactly seeing eye to eye with one another. All in all, there isn't a single bad performance featured in this movie.

Probably the most attention given to this movie was for the visual effects and the use of 3D. There is a reason for that, though: both are out of this world. It's pretty easy to tell that the majority of the film was shot on green screens and soundstages, I will admit.  Take that away, though, and it still feels like the characters are in New York looking at the Twin Towers, and when Petit is walking between the towers, you feel like you're right there with him. The 3D increases this feeling strongly, and that alone makes me believe that it is necessary to pay the surcharge and see this in 3D. There are several "pop-out" moments featured during the movie, but the 3D is necessary because of the added feeling of immersion given.

Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne have together written a well-paced, funny, intense, and overall engaging little caper that never dragged or made me bored.  Regarding the actual directing done, this is Zemeckis at his finest.  Everything felt so tightly knit, and everything felt necessary to what was presented in my eyes.  Nothing felt out of place or had the need to be cut out in my eyes.  The last time I felt this type of love for a Zemeckis film was "Forrest Gump."  That might sound hard to believe, but you just have to see this film to see maybe what I'm talking about. It's a true shame that this didn't do as well as other 3D movies that came out around the same time, as this is 2015's definition of the term "movie magic" to me.

I never expected this to be a surefire awards contender, but the fact that barely anyone gave this movie a chance makes me upset inside.  Maybe one-day people will see this masterful piece of work and realize that this was meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible.  Speaking of which, seeing this in IMAX 3D was such a surreal experience.  Everything about this movie is perfection, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it.  "The Walk" is a work of art in my eyes and is a beautifully crafted love letter to film fans, high-wire enthusiasts, the grand city of New York, and the Twin Towers of World Trade Center.  In fact, I'd say that this is as close to a perfect tribute to the buildings and those the world lost on September 11, 2001, as we're ever going to get.





ME WITH "THE WALK" DIRECTOR, ROBERT ZEMECKIS, AND STAR OF THE FILM, CHARLOTTE LE BON, AFTER A SPECIAL NYFF PRESS SCREENING/FAN EVENT FOR THE FILM ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2015!!!!!!





Thursday, November 26, 2015

REVIEW: Bang Bang Baby

MOVIE
Bang Bang Baby

CAST
Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin

RATING
NR

RELEASE
September 19, 2015 (NYC)
November 10, 2015 (VOD)

DIRECTOR
Jeffery St. Jules

STUDIO
Random Media

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 29 minutes









STARS
**









REVIEW:

Well, I'll give "Bang Bang Baby" credit for something: it's extremely original.  At the same time, though, it's also extremely weird and absurd throughout.  This is a sci-fi musical dramedy that takes place in Canada circa early 1960s.  The movie stars Jane Levy from the "Evil Dead" remake along with Justin Chatwin from Showtime's "Shameless" and character actor Peter Stormare.  Levy plays a lonely teenager named Stepphy, who dreams of becoming a singer, as many girls do.  She ends up winning a singing competition that would require her to go to New York City, but her alcoholic dad refuses to let her go.  Stepphy's fate changes though when a musical idol of hers just happens to cross paths with her when his car breaks down just near her home.  As if things couldn't get stranger, a mysterious chemical leak happens that begins to give the townsfolk a series of bizarre mutations.

While the film itself takes place in the 60s, the vibe, look, and sound of the soundtrack feel as if they're more so from the 50s.  The sets, for example, are very nice visual treats for the eyes.  However, they give off a feel as if they're confused about what period they're trying to represent.  It got annoying at times to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to take place around the same time as something like movie/musical "Hairspray" was set.  Speaking of the soundtrack, it's overall pretty mediocre.  There are some songs, particularly the film's opening number "Juniper Lane," that are quite catchy and very well done.  Others, though, are not as good and didn't have quite as much of a flowing rhythm as others did.

The casting choices in the movie are all over the place.  On one hand, you have Jane Levy and Peter Stormare giving pretty solid and believable performances as their respected characters.  On the other hand, you have Justin Chatwin and David Reale giving mediocre to awful performances.  Chatwin seems to be trying too hard to channel his inner Elvis and in trying to do so becomes a very hollow, irritating, and one-dimensional character.  Granted it seemed like that was the filmmaker's intentions with this character, but the way he was executed was rather poor.  As for Reale, I guess you can say he's the film's main antagonist.  It's one thing for a character to be menacing and unlikable, but if you have your villain be so irritatingly annoying that you're not given the chance to be genuinely afraid of him or even have him be something of an interesting character, then there's a problem.  Every time Reale was on screen my insides twisted and I had a couple of minor headaches merely because of his presence in the movie.  Chatwin is a talented actor, and I'm sure Reale is too, but here they do not deliver enjoyable performances whatsoever.

As an aspiring filmmaker, it hurts to bash on a film from a first-time feature director/writer.  It hurts even more because I could see so much passion that went into making this movie.  It's very clear from watching this movie that writer/director Jeffrey St. Jules loved what he was making and created this from a place of true energy and imagination.  In fact, it was because of this passion I saw that I even gave "Bang Bang Baby" a second watch, something I rarely do for newer-released films.  That second viewing only made me dislike what I saw even more, sadly.

If this was supposed to be a comedy at parts, I never laughed.  If this was supposed to be a drama where the audience is meant to sympathize with the characters, I never felt so much as a twinkle of that until the film's third act.  The ideas and concepts featured are interesting ones, but, unfortunately, they all just felt like an odd mixture of things that never fully meshed together to make something good or great.  "Bang Bang Baby" may appeal to a select few people out there.  After all, it did win the "Best Canadian First Feature Film" award at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  Unfortunately for this writer here, the movie didn't connect or become something more than a bunch of cool ideas/concepts.  If you're a fan of fresh and original material, I'd honestly say give this a watch merely because of how much creativity went into it.  As a movie-lover, though, I can't say that this is a good movie worth your time, unfortunately.