Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Happy Go Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) [5]

I guess there are two ways to look at Happy Go Lucky. One would be to look at the film and its main character, Poppy, as a refreshing breath of cheerful optimism in a world overrun with dour, depressing news. The other way, in which I see the film, is that Poppy is such a grating character that it overrides any other feelings I have about the film. Her constant jabbering and bubbly persona aren't quite my favorite qualities in people or characters. My unlike for her hangs over everything that it's all that remains after the film is over. It's a bit of a shame because Sally Hawkins really does a great job, and her character is a nuanced character, not just a one-dimensional chatterbox that my earlier statements make it sound like. The other issue that plagues the film is Leigh rigs the film to create a conflict of characters. As Poppy is cheerful and talkative, Scott the driving instructor is dark, conspiratorial, and prone to fits of range. He role as a right-wing fanatical nut job who misunderstands the entirety of his relationship with Poppy is the crux of the film. I find it too highly contrived and constructed to meet the purpose it does. Again, it's a shame because there are plenty of moments where Leigh takes his time to examine these characters' lives. It those quieter moments, in that they don't revolve around Poppy and Scott's conversations, that work best. They just aren't enough to make the film any more tolerable for me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Listening Post - April 2009

This will kind of serve as an updated listening post/live music review section of the month. Some interesting new releases so let's get them out of the way:

The Felice Brothers - Yonder is the Clock
Bonnie Prince Billy - Beware
Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels
Gomez - A New Tide
Woods - Songs of Shame

Even with the demise of Binghamton's only major music venue, The Magic City Music Hall, there has still been a surprising amount of good shows in the vicinity in the past few months. One of the highlights of the past month was the Gomez/Josh Ritter show in Ithaca. This may be biased since I'm a big Josh Ritter fan, but his set was one of the most enjoyable live music experiences I've had in a while. The show was switched to a smaller venue in Ithaca, The Haunt, and all I can say is thank you Upstate New York for the lack of general interest. All that resulted was an enthusiastic crowd in an intimate venue that made the night. Gomez, while formidable, really lacked in punch compared to the enthusiastic Ritter. Here's hoping Josh makes a stop in Ithaca or someplace nearby sometime soon.

The next week or so brings a slew of interesting shows to the area back to back to back. April 20 has Neko Case in Ithaca, the 21st has the Felice Brothers in Ithaca, and the 22nd has the Dead bringing it to Wilkes-Barre. Probably won't be heading to Ithaca but early word and listening on the Dead tour shows some promise. More on that later...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008) [4]

If this was just a little bit tongue in cheek in regards to its action sequences, I might be able to get behind it. Instead, what starts out as a fairly funny film tuns into a big, violent, pointless mess that wouldn't seem out of place in something produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Clearly, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are using the spectacular action feature as their basis but adding nothing more than having pothead protagonists. If there was some bite behind their structure, something that Trey Parker & Matt Stone do so well, it would actually be a good film instead of some funny moments in a forgettable waste. This is not to say this is a total waste however. The two strongest elements of the film are David Gordon Green's direction, which has some sly allusions to B-movie production and James Franco's performance. Franco plays a character with nuance and vulnerability, a drug dealer who loves his bubbe and wants to be a civil engineer. Rogen's character, on the other hand, is just another in the long line of loud man-children with type A personalities that I've had enough of in Apatow productions. I mean, there are laughs with these two in straightforward pot humor (look how high these morons are) but I almost feel ashamed that I would actually laugh at some of these antics. When the film moves towards its cataclysmic orgy of violence at the end, it would be hard to believe this was actually a comedy at some point. Considering who was involved, Pineapple Express comes as a disappointment. But after looking back, there isn't much here that makes me think I was going to like it very much in the first place.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Role Models

Role Models (David Wain, 2008) [7]
Despite its predictable story structure and ending, Role Models more than makes up for its deficiencies in laughs. And as I've said many times before in regards to comedies, all I really am asking for is to laugh, so this film more than meets my expectations. Yet, there is something about Role Models that goes a little deeper in that it really seems to care about its characters and not just using their idiosyncrasies to get laughs. The film has more than its share of crude, juvenile moments but in the end, it's never using its story or its characters for cheap laughs at their expense. In a film world where comedy is all to eager to have us laugh at losers or misanthropes at the expense of them being actually characters, it's nice to see a film actually think. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play two energy drink salesmen who are required to mentor some unusual kids as a result of Rudd's character having a meltdown. It's not so much Scott's character or his little person, a hilarious yet somewhat hollow Bobb'e Thompson as an obscenely foulmouthed child. It is Rudd as a coldly cynical adult whose dreams have been shattered and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a totally insular geek that make the film worth its while. Rudd's character is actually tethered to reality, as someone who realizes what a shit hole life can be while Scott, playing the same exact character he almost always manges to play, the horny party boy, is uses as a counterpoint. But it is Rudd as Danny that actually gives the laughs some sting, as being in a dead end in a job and relationship isn't something that might not be that fun personally. The crux of the film is Mintz-Plasse as Augie, a loner lost in the fantasy world that plays a key role in the film. Never once do I think that the film uses Augie or this world for cheap laughs but instead actually takes the time to know about and care about a character such as this. It makes the film enjoyable instead of having cringe-worthy moments. Points shouldn't be taken away because the film follows such a predictable structure but it is surprising for someone like David Wain to make such a film seeing how Wet Hot American Summer was so all over. It may be all worth it.