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 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 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. 

Scene 5 – Chasing Amy

Been going on a Kevin Smith buzz for the last week or so spending a lot of my free time revisiting his old podcast and tv shows…this led me to this weeks movie, his 1997 film Chasing Amy.  Just a warning that both this review and the movie contain one or two ‘French fancy’ words that are not for everyone’s taste…you have been warned.

Without a doubt, Chasing Amy is one Kevin Smith’s best works as both a writer and director…and a personal favourite of mine. Coming off his critically bashed film Mallrats….fucking critics!…Chasing Amy delivers a masterclass in how to write dialogue, even if that dialogue is based around dick jokes…that shit is hilarious. The film is aided by the usual Smith suspects, plus one or two acting additions earning every laugh they get. Smith produces an amazingly contrived story with weird twists, that  produces some moments disbelief…..and my man crush goes on and on…cue the guy love song…

Ok, so the story starts off with the duo of Holden (Ben Bat’ffleck) and Banky (Jason Lee), who are the creative partners of the popular comic ‘Bluntman and Chronic’.  At a comic convention, Holden meets another comic creator, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), who he instantly lusts over….later to find out that she was a lesbian, in one of my favourite scenes…actually the whole time they spend in the nightclub amazing….not spoil it, but all I’ll say about it is.…Jason Lee!! Lee is one guy I really miss on the screen…and Im still hoping that one day he will stop looking at things like ‘My name is crap’ and that chipmunk nonsense….and give Smith a call.  Back to the plot, so despite this revelation, Holden and Alyssa become good friends until Holden finds it impossible to stop himself from falling for her…resulting in the rest of the story being about this turbulent relationship.

Fanboying up about this movie and how Smith directed and edited straight after shooting became evident as it is consistently well-directed, with Smith getting probably Affleck’s best performance of his career till Good Will Hunting and the Dogma.…Christ don’t get me started on Dogma. Ok let me stop drooling and continue…the development of characters and conversations hits a peak with Chasing Amy which Smith has become iconic for. The development is funny, filthy and emotional, combining around general interesting and witty topics, accumulating into one gigantic satisfying payoff……are we still talking about the film?…yes, get you head outta the gutter… I say that but the first quote I have written down is when Holden cites a story about a young kid calling a nun a ‘fucking cunt-rag’…shockingly genius coming from Smith and his Catholic upbringing.

Chasing Amy is as edgy now as it was when it was released in 1997.  Same can be said for Smith’s unique insight, which is always fresh and depicts interesting commentaries on relationships raising entertaining and thoughtful scenarios. Chasing Amy is a must see for any up and coming writer or lover of edgy cinema. The only thing I ask is to rewatch the nightclub scene when Holden is dancing and imagine that was exactly what he did when they announced ‘Bat’ffleck’….thats what I did…and I just stood and applauded.

Scene 4 – Caddyshack

This week I went back and revisited the cult classic that is Harold Ramis 1980’s classic, Caddyshack. A short synopsis for those of you who haven’t seen it before…which, if you like film and haven’t….all I can say is for shame…for shame….

The film is based at an elite country club, a young caddy (Michael O’Keefe) aspires to win a college scholarship by sucking up to the club’s owner; meanwhile, the quirky groundskeeper (Bill Murray) pursues the courses gopher problem, and the club’s owner (Ted Knight) clashes with an inconsiderate new member (Rodney Dangerfield).

The main plot-line itself is a bit mess, with central protagonist, the young caddy, losing the audience’s sympathy when he cheats on his kind girlfriend (Sarah Holcomb)….who’s only fault is her terrible attempt at an Irish accent…, with the new eye candy (Cindy Morgan).

Caddyshack is in a sense a comic platform for Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield to deliver their one liners and quips. It’s Dangerfield in his first major film role who really stands out, as an unorthodox, loud and eccentric real estate developer who delivers classic lines like, “ Hey baby, you must’ve been something before electricity”. Chevy Chase is surprisingly subdued through which is a real shame.  Murray’s character is full of quips such as a story about caddying for the Dalai Lama and being given “total consciousness” as a tip, to which he states, “So, I’ve got that going for me”.

It’s only when I looking back at Murray’s performance, at a lot of his mannerisms and the method in which he delivers lines…with this accent he has given his character.., that I noticed similarities between his performance and that of Jim Carrey in Ace Venture. It’s is evident to me that Murray’s performance was a big influence on Carrey’s performance and thus his style from then on…and It alone is worth watching Caddyshack for.

Caddyshack is a part of cult following of satirical films, which I feel need to be revisited more. The style and the true surrealism in parts is really refreshing with todays films being made with what seems to be the same comic template. The all male synchronised swimming sequence is a hilarious generational gag…which seems to long forgotten…and it something that I feel a lot of movies today need to do in order to improve….is to look back.

Scene 3 – St. Vincent

This week was the turn of last years release… St.Vincent. The movie stars Bill Murray as Vincent or Vin as he prefers, who is a grumpy old man who reluctantly babysits his new neighbour’s kid…who he likes to refer to as ’11 bucks an hour’….genius! Vincent is a character the feels like a combination of Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino mixed with Walter Matthau from Dennis the Menace. He got the kinda love/hate relationship that only comes with age and anger at the world. He loves his booze, his horse and his ladies of the night. He has mutual hate for people, and anyone he comes in contact with seems to feel the same about him. Ok…so I know what you are thinking, another ageing actor playing another grumpy old man role…and well…you are kinda right. The only thing different here is that the old man is Bill Murray, who…apart from the being a dick (in the movie)…is playing himself…in a way. So not to spoil anything I won’t go into that any further, apart from to say that this is one of Murray’s finest roles. It’s as if the role was written for him, they are perfect together! Once the movie explains why it is titled St.Vincent, you’ll see what a person like Bill Murray is to this role… to the film…to the world of comedy… St. Murray!…if may without being cheesy.

Ok enough of my man-crush on one of the coolest people around….

So if it hasn’t become clear between all the guy love, I absolutely love St.Vincent. It has the perfect recipe of five parts funny, two parts charming, a good helping of warming of the heart and just a smidge of heartbreak…which is all it takes believe me!

The movie starts with Vincent at rock bottom. He get kicked out of his favourite bar for being too drunk. He looses again at the race track getting in deep with his bookie. And to make matters worse, he slips and falls in his kitchen cracking his head against a press….pretty rough introduction I must admit. Rough, yet hilarious….and that is a theme that is spread throughout the movie. Now if the movie was just that, the misadventure of a down and out, I wouldn’t love it any less because those scenes are both brilliantly acted and skilfully written. But the film is so much more… So after waking up from the kitchen incident Vincent meets his new neighbour Maggie (Melissa Mc Carthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), who can hold his own, unphased by the legend of Murray….the future is bright for this young fellow.

Back to the introduction….Maggie, is a single mom who has to work a lot, and after a series of events ending in Oliver staying in Vincent’s one day after school, Maggie asks Vincent to watch him…and so the real adventures or misadventures, depending on your outlook begin. The point of view of the film now transfers as the audience are not looking at Vincent themselves but through the eyes of Oliver. Vincent really doesn’t want to mentor Oliver, but after he get picked on by bullies, Vincent really does have any choice. It is this relationship that the whole film is based on, this pure and honest relationship. Vincent never tries to sugar coat anything, or be politically correct and never pulls his punches…in fact he teaches Oliver how to punch!

Even though the movie is mainly about the relationship between Vincent and Oliver, it doesn’t take away from the supporting cast who make the movie more entertaining. McCarthy, plays a more serious role here which is refreshing and she didn’t disappoint. Naomi Watts plays  Daka, a pregnant stripper/lady of the night with a heavy middle Eastern accent that is so out-there its hilarious. Chris O’Dowd plays Oliver’s Catholic school teacher, Brother Geraghty. O’Dowd isn’t in the movie a lot, but when he is charming and witty as ever.

Now probably on to the most revelating aspect of the movie, St. Vincent was written, produced and directed by Theodore Melfi who was taking the helm for his first major film! As I mentioned earlier he modelled a fantastic script filled with brilliant dialogue and fascinating characters, which is all topped off by being beautifully shot! St. Vincent is throughly entertaining from beginning to end, including the credits…and thats all I say about that you’ll just have to stick around to find out what I mean. If Melfi has more movies like this in his locker, he will become one of the best directors and writers out there…I cannot wait for more!! One of the best movies of last year and I expect this will feature quite a bit in my weekly update. Truly brilliant!