Scene 21 – Hector and The Search for Happiness

So in 2013, we the audiences were treated to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which saw Ben Stiller undertake a world-traversing voyage to understand the meaning of life…which is apparently a big deal. This time around sees Simon Pegg trying to get in touch with his happy-self, as weird as that sounds… in Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Based on French psychiatrist François Lelord’s best-selling novel of the same name, and directed by Peter Chelsom, Simon Pegg plays our dissatisfied protagonist Hector; a quirky psychiatrist who realises his methods aren’t really helping his patients, and so embarks on a trip around the world, reaching destinations such as Shanghai and The Himalayas,  in a bid to discover the secret of happiness….ps. its cake, lots and lots of cake…

Chelsom does well to capture the energy of the various locales, and if nothing else the aesthetics within the film are mostly impressive, all the more so when you consider the tight budget…especially in comparison to Walter Mitty. As for the film’s relatable messages, the bulk of them hit home, though the heavy-handed manner in which their executed can leave much to be desired. Sadly, it’s not the only problem, with an unfocused  screenplay. This is exemplified in the final act; Hector’s ultimate realization is extremely sudden to say the  least and feels like it comes completely out of nowhere.

Pegg is known more for his comedy chops than his dramatic acting, but here the focus is on the latter. Of course, as an actor Pegg proves up to the task in the emotional moments, but even for an actor as good as Pegg he cannot always imbue Hector with likability, as written our protagonist is too immature and self-indulgent to inspire much empathy. A prime example of Hector’s less than endearing decision-making comes when he cheats on his girlfriend days after departing for his voyage….cue every Beyonce song!

A supporting cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette is always going to class up proceedings, and they are all enjoyable enough in their roles, but there is little cohesive power between their characters’ musings on happiness. Again, like in the instances with Pegg, it isn’t down to the actors faults more so that of the screenplay.

So just like your older sibling…It’s not as profound as it thinks it is, and the screenplay disappoints more than it impresses, but Hector and the Search for Happiness is a harmless, solidly performed romp. Those pursuing true happiness need not apply, but those content with mild entertainment should be satisfied.


Scene 20 – Ant Man

We’re back!!…and by we’re I mean me…so alone…

Sorry to my readers (roughly three people, including my…well, if she could read)…for  the lack of blogs in the past few weeks, just been uber busy and really haven’t had time. But I have made time now and will continue to do so…

One thing I will add is the weeks Watched, Read & Listened To List, may seem impressive but its actually a combination of the past three weeks due to the back log…but anyway on with the blog…

This weeks movie is set in the mega-film-world know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe…comic book nerds around the world rejoicing…about the movies, not so much about the Hipster like phase that comics have now fallen into. the vastly growing Marvel Universe, which has already brought us global successes such as The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, delves back into its inner sanctum to deliver a new tale, that of; Ant Man. Paul Rudd takes the lead as Scott Lang, a robin hood-type burglar who has just finished a stint in jail and is hoping to change his ways, and to be a better father for his daughter…on the count of three everyone…awwww….

Unfortunately, as if this tale was scripted…life as a convict makes it difficult to Scott to keep his job and he is forced into burglary once again. With a little help from his friends, he manages to break into an old guys house and break open a safe only to find what seems to be a retro-biker outfit. Unbeknownst to Scott and co, the house belongs to super-genius Hank Pam (Michael Douglas), founder of Pam Technologies, and owner of said suit, which has the ability to change the atomic structure of a person, i.e. miniaturize a person to the size of…well you guessed it from the title; an ant.

The casting of Paul Rudd was a highlight for me, as I knew from being a fan of the character, that it would allow him to bring his charm to the role. Scott Lang isn’t as smart as Tony Stark or as strong as Captain America, but he is more resourceful than both..there I said it! He is quick on his feet and able to ‘MacGyver’ his way out of any situation which was fascinating to watch. I also am aware that I did just use ‘MacGyver’ as a verb there, and in hindsight, am shocked that it isn’t used that way on a more frequent basis…I blame rap music. So…as Scott Lang learns more about the suit and the ants, he is able to add his unique qualities of sharp thinking and resourcefulness to form into this new and unique type of hero.  Surprisingly, for me one of the best parts of the film was in fact the ants. Explain the different types of ants and the advantages of them, and in a sense turning them into Ant Man’s Bat-Utility-Belt.

The film also has plenty of heart, not only thanks to Paul Rudd, but also thanks to its supporting cast. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly (who plays Hope van Dyne) share a father-daughter relationship, which in turn is beautifully echoed to that of Paul Rudd and his daughter Cassie. With Scott Lang being the first Marvel superhero who has a child, they don’t shy away form it.

Bringing in the comedic value was Scott Lang;s small team of enthusiastic consist played by Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. Add to that the villain, played by Corey Stoll, who added just a tad more than the average Marvel villain. He had an awesome suit in the form of the Yellowjackets and a clear reason about why what he was doing was wrong. However, he doesn’t actually get that many scenes and it would have been beneficial to see him at a younger age to explain some of his back-story…but there is only so much time you can keep an audience in its seats.

This film manages to stand on its own, there are elements only made possible by being in the Marvel-verse, but it doesn’t heavily rely on them, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has been a while since we’ve had a standalone superhero film which isn’t a sequel, other than Guardians of the Galaxy…but you get what I’m saying. In essence, this film is a comedic heist film that happens to feature a superhero. what was refreshing was that we saw Scott Lang as a hero foremost and added the ‘super’ later. At the same time they managed to op up the Marvel world by exploring the micro-verse and showing us a small…pardon the pun, insight into the world of quantum.

I really hope that Ant-Man is going to be a hard sale to conventional audiences. People find the trailer funny and/or they love Marvel films which will get them into the seats, but when the title is Ant-Man it sounds ludicrous, and not in a positive sense. Having listened to a Stan Lee interview on the Nerdist Podcast, I’d say the old charmer would be pleased with how Ant Man turned out. His many reasoning for how it wasn’t a fan favourite as a comic being that the concept of his size wasn’t truly exploited, i.e.. Ant Man in a comic panel by himself, so his size isn’t really shown. But that is not a problem here, as transferring of mediums actually highlights this character more than it would have with previous Marvel ones. And I guess it’s true what they say…great things come in small packages!!…now I don’t know if that was a gentleman vegetable joke or just a cheesy line…but thats a question for another day!

Scene 14 – What We Do in the Shadows

Firstly I’d like to apologise for the late post…I did have this update done…just forgot to post it….anyway on with show…

This weeks movie sees the turn of the 2014 Mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. The story is about four vampires of great-varying-ages who all live together in Wellington, New Zealand. The movie picks up with a small film crew following these four undead flat-mates, as they observe their daily…or nightly rather, routines, in a Spinal Tap – esque style. The group consists of Viago (Taika Waititi), who is 379; Deacon (Jonathan Braugh), age 183; Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), age 862 and Petyr (Ben Fransham), at the spritely age of 8,000.

We also meet their friend Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who was supposed to be one of those meals but instead was bitten by Petyr …just as was Deacon years ago, in a hilarious laudation between the Blair Witch Project and the Scooby Doo chase scenes. Nick’s friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), an ordinary human who learns of their secret existence…because Nick just blurts it out… but he enjoys their company regardless and they all seem to like him, so they all agree to leave Stu alone, conveniently the same way they have with the filmmakers… although to add to the absurd hilarity, they tell us that they still wear crucifixes just in case. We are also introduced to Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), Deacon’s “familiar”; a voluntary servant because he promise that he’ll turn her into a vampire, although he keeps delaying it to Jackie’s distaste because she doesn’t want to get any older….and in fairness who wouldn’t enjoy someone doing all of their errands…all except cleaning up the blood-stained-dishes in their kitchen, which Viago and Vladislav complain about given that its Deacon’s housekeeping job.

The minimal-story progresses we follow our main 3 guys as they explore Wellington night life…but because they have to be invited into any home or establishment and hilariously they can’t convince the doormen at most night clubs to actually invite them in… so they usually just end up at the vampire bar. This usually results in them bringing home dinner guests, who don’t realize that they’re the main course, resulting one time in hilarity when Viago’s guest, who assumes it’s a first date but takes no notice of him spreading newspapers around to sop up the forthcoming mess…

Due to the minimalist story I can’t go into it too much…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good, quite the opposite. What We Do in the Shadows, is one of the best comedy movies I have seen in a long time. It has taken a proven, yet not overly expanded genre of the Mockumentary and revamped it…if you pardon the pun, without making it cheesy like so many other do. This referencing is established at in the opening scene of Viago rising from his coffin is reminiscent of the classic Nosferatu (1922)…but with a perpetually goofy grin and alarm clock ringing; to the Star Wars reminiscent-hypnotism-manipulation “These are not the droids you’re looking for”, that the protagonists use on the police who some to investigate the noise complaints; or it’s play on the ’norm’ with Deacon’s backstory that he once was a Nazi vampire until World War II when it was no longer cool; to Stu being a tasty virgin because he’s a computer programmer.

What We Do in the Shadows is one marvelously-absurd-film-journey that pokes fun at decades of movie vampire tropes and the romantic fascination of more-current-vampire tales…unlike in the Twilight series or rather intentionally here, these protagonists come across as bumbling idiots—except for Petyr, who just looks like a grumpy corpse with long teeth and claws, again a reference to Max Schreck’s characterization of Count Orlock in Nosferatu …with the marvelous conceit in the fictional Shadow of the Vampire (Elias Merhige, 2000) that Schreck was actually one of the “undead”.  At a mere 86 minutes, What We Do in the Shadows flies by with an abundance of laughs and rich character development….It’s hard to imagine anyone not being drawn in the its story. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is a perfectly good piffle of a film. It’s the kind of film in which you completely immerse yourself like a schoolboy ..or girl…while watching it saying ‘Vampires aren’t so bad’…well if they are anything like they are in this movie…I wish they were my friends.

Scene 13 – Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012

Having done some research into this weeks movie Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012, or just Crystal Fairy for hardness sake I discovered that film began to shoot when financing for a different film by the Chilean director Sebastian Silva fell through…and it explains a lot really. This resulted in can only imagine to be an outline of an idea by Silva about an obnoxious American student studying abroad in Chile, who will stop at nothing to try the psychedelic cactus plant San Pedro. Now to begin with, this idea seemed refreshing to me…a seemingly effortless character study, with a subtle and minimalist goal…I mean in age where soulless blockbusters would CGI your dead Grandmother back to life just fill seats, it’s synopsis did seem refreshing…But just like my Grandmother used to say “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”…For the purpose of this blog, that stance would be redundant here…but frequent readers of my blog will know, from the length of this one…I sure as hell tried!

God knows I do like a slow burner…I mean it’s key when it comes to a good television show…possible not as much when it comes to film. Here Silva really takes his time setting up his cast. First up is the obnoxious, self-centred Jamie (Michael Cera)…who I must admit does a really good job and making you think he is a prick. Then there is his Chilean roommate, Champa. We meet the pair at a house party where Jamie laments the availability of good Chilean cocaine to an absence of fine wine in Napa…pretentious much? While all the time Champa is reassuring everyone that Jamie isn’t really such an asshole. Jamie and Champa’s plan to try mescaline goes out the window when they meet Crystal Fairy (Gabby Hoffman), an eccentric…to say the least, hippy…who Jamie disingenuously invites along on the preplanned road trip without asking anyone else…

The next day, Champa, his two younger brothers and Jamie head off on their, to only receive a phone call from Crystal Fairy saying she would meet them there. Jamie who is beside himself, cannot fathom that she is actually going…even though she was him… So the dynamic of their drug bound lad-trip shifts to include this madder then a badger in a drain pipe character, who inserts herself into the group.

Silva’s tale unfolds into a bizarre and terribly unsatisfying version Terry Gilliam’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas… Cinematographer, Cristian Petit-Laurent, does capture the beauty of the surroundings and the subtly interactions between them…but mentioning that is like keeping the rotten tooth after its be taken out. The script does allow all the characters their own time in front of the camera to develop and grow…but just like in real life, it does take years and all that is learnt , isn’t always shown…especially in terms of Jamie.  Jamie, who has at the most to grow within the movie within the template of ‘obnoxious, self-centred character to more empathic, loveable and likeable’…but yet it doesn’t happen. And it’s not because that is how Silva had intended it or because Cera didn’t deliver…because I Cera did fantastically well with what he was given. I think it is because the plot is wafer thin…and not in a minimalist kind of way, but more of I haven’t got a Plan B so i’ll give you this 20 min short idea I have and stick it together with 99% filler….killing all that I though would be refreshing about this film before I watched it.

Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus and 2012 is like one of those people who go on a gap year for life experiences…but is to scared of actually doing anything while they are there, so they make up stories based on these trends of what they hoped and desired everything would have turned out like by trying to take bits from here and there…but never having anything of their own.

Scene 12 – Adventureland

I came across this weeks movie by mistake coincidence…having mistakenly mixed it up with another ‘land’ titled film, also featuring Jesse Eisenberg….so I never got around to watching this one. So what better way to watch it then have it as this weeks blog…

Director Greg Mottola shot onto the movie scene with his critically acclaimed debut feature The Daytrippers. This, his third instalment Adventureland, his quasi-autobiographical follow-up to the successful 2007 hit, Superbad. Adventureland shares similar plot-lines with The Daytrippers, such as woven acuity relating to matters of class and culture, sex, growing-up and money, in ‘modern’ American life. I use ‘modern’ loosely here in relation to the 1980’s/mid 90’s term “building for a new, modern America”…blah blah blah. As for Adventureland , it is set in the neither distant nor immediate past of 1987. 

The plot focuses itself around James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who plans to move to New York City to pursue a postgrad journalism course at Columbia University. James’ woes begin when, just after graduating, he’s told by his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) that because his father has been demoted at work, they can’t afford to contribute to either the trip to Europe he planned to take with his wealthier friend Eric (Michael Zegen), or his move to New York….i.e the real world flipping him the bird.
James search for an alternative cash flow leads him a summer job at Adventureland, a lame expanse of junk, where most of the games and rides are fixed, and of dubious safety. The class divide is subtly continued within the park were the pretty & popular types chosen to run the rides and the weedier rejects assigned to games. James, to his annoyance…much like when he found out he had work for his money, is now assured by owner-managers Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig) is definitely a games type. He soon makes friends amongst his coworkers, helped in large part to the stash of weed Eric left him….oh and to his decent, gentle demeanour. Soon after he begins a tentative romance with one of his fellow games drones, Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), after she helps him out of a sticky situation…only to awkwardly declare himself to be slowly recovering from an 11-day failed romance to excuse the fact that he’s befuddled at still being a virgin…it’s probably cause he’s a twat!
A common trait among the films Mottola as directed is a deceptive script, with Adventureland following suit—offering virtually shapeless offerings of the characters’ daily travails, the drolly recounted frauds, frustrations, inanities, and yearnings that characterise a day’s work at the fairground, all the while quietly building towards an inevitable moment of crisis. It has to be said that crisis is signaled early on when it’s revealed that although clearly attracted to James, Em is carrying on a purely sexual affair with the fair’s resident mechanic, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds)…I know what you are thinking, Kristen Stewart sleeping with an authoritative figure…wait, you weren’t?…forget I even said it……Em is something of an enigma even to herself, daughter to a well-off lawyer, already studying in New York, but who has buried herself for almost Dostoyevskian reasons in a crummy, low-paying job for the duration of the summer. As her romance with James blossoms, she reveals a lingering, consuming outrage at her father’s marriage to Francy, a high-strung, obnoxious social climber with whom he had commenced an affair when her mother was dying of cancer.
Adventureland belongs in a kind of subgenre of growing up in modern America’ movies, amongst the likes of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, with a playful edge of nostalgic satire and a “jeez wasn’t it sucky but it all works out in the end” take on the difficulties of negotiating youth and functioning adulthood. Adventure land is not only about James’ education in matters of love, but also in matters of economics, as he is introduced to problems of social mobility he hadn’t had to consider before. Is it to Mottola’s credit that the characters are well-rounded, familiar types or is it Mottola just fitting in with the subgenre Linklater coined years before, just like his movies….and I’d have to say it’s the latter. Although idea of using the amusement park as a microcosm of life is a genuinely effective motif. 

Stewart’s nascent career has been badly hampered in terms of critical attention thanks to the Twilight films…and rightly so in fairness,  but she’s quietly good as a likeable but uneasy, compromised, subtly fraying girl, particularly in the sequence in which, after receiving a series of pounding humiliations, she returns home and insouciantly pours herself a whiskey whilst taunting her mother-in-law with obviously incendiary intent. Eisenberg is ok as James, even if he’s required to be little more than a slightly snappier and manlier Michael Cera from Superbad.

Mottola’s narrative does little that’s unfamiliar….There’s a lot of humour in the film, most of which stems merely from dryly observed perversities of the park and period tragedies, like the incessant playing of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”. Watch it or not, Adventureland won’t show or tell you something you haven’t seen before. Its story fits in just like the templated characters within the subgenre, offering nothing new, only reminding us that growing up is hard and sucks…but someones gotta do it.