Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff makes movies less frequently than Tool releases albums. It’s been a long time coming since Garden State.

The main way I can describe this one is that it’s Zach Braffian. It’s mostly sort of realistic with a little surrealism thrown in, and a great deal of schmaltz. I’m not sure why I was able to put up with it so much. Ha ha. I must have been in a good mood.

I think a lot of it had to do with the acting. Braff is okay, but he was smart to hire the great Mandy Patinkin and the surprisingly good Kate Hudson to share the screen with him. Even when delivering somewhat cliche lines, you really believe Patinkin means what he’s saying. The one scene Mandy and Kate shared, alone, in the movie was by far the best one.

So I don’t know, my wife didn’t like it but couldn’t quite put her finder on why. I might feel the same way with regard to why I liked it. It was just real enough to be believable, just fantastical enough to not get in the way, just genuine enough to make you care for the characters.

The Swell Season

This movie is a few years old so you’re not going to see it. You probably won’t want to anyway.

It wasn’t terrible, but this experiment in docudrama just didn’t quite work out. Hard to put a finger on it but I have a few major quibbles with it.

If you haven’t seen the movie Once, you should go do that right now. I’ll wait.

The Swell Season is a docudrama with many re-enactments of events that happened between the two stars of Once in real life, after the movie was released, they got popular and went on tour together. And got romantically involved.

My first complaint is that they had a few really great scenes that didn’t really push the narrative of the movie. I almost would have liked to just see a documentary about life on the road without the little blips of drama thrown in. It was like they were trying to fit a puzzle together with pieces from two different puzzles. It broke up the plot, broke up the pacing, broke up any semblance of story.

The second thing they tried to do was push the story forward through the music. The problem is that they mostly included entire songs which go on too long for a movie of this nature. It really ground the thing to a halt, over and over, while we sat through them. It pains me a little to say that because Glen Hansard  is an amazing performer, but in the context of the movie I was sort of bored. I wanted more meat and it turns out there was barely any meat in it.

I’d still categorize this as a near miss. I can appreciate what they were trying to do. It was different but they just fell short in many ways. They could have tightened up the performances and put more intimate scenes in and it might have been brilliant. Instead it was just a good effort and perhaps they can try again in a few years.

Life Itself

This documentary about Roger Ebert could have been better. I was hoping for better. I wish it was better.

It wasn’t particularly bad but it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Does it want to be an informative, entertaining biopic? Or does it want to be chronicle of Ebert’s battle with, and eventual loss to, cancer? It was like two different movies with two different tones mushed together and it ultimately just didn’t work.

Both angles on their own could have been interesting and engaging, but spliced together the way they were was almost offputting, considering the subject of the film. You could literally cut the movie apart and assemble it in two pieces and have two entirely coherent movies, one of which would have been great.

It’s too bad, in steadier hands we could have ended up with a great biopic, a great chronicle of Ebert’s second act, or both. Instead we’re left with two stories that paradoxically yielded about half a movie.

Snowpiercer

Holy crap this movie was fuckin’ nuts, but in an admirable way.

It’s based on a graphic novel of French provenance, directed by a Korean guy in his first foray into an English language film. The Korean guy is fairly famous but I hadn’t seen his previous two films that everyone was raving about (Mother and The Host.) He definitely has a flair for visuals and somehow makes the setting of a train seem big when he needs it, and small and claustrophobic when he needs it. (holy crap, I spelled ‘claustrophobic’ correctly on the first try.)

So about that train. What this movie presupposes is that humanity tried to solve the global warming crisis by seeding clouds with some sort of cooling agent, but they accidentally froze the shit out of the world. The only survivors end up on a train with a perpetual motion engine that travels around the world and never stops.

That’s some crazy shit but somehow it all works. I think because they threw in a lot of really, really good actors that relentlessly chew the scenery, amazing production design, a heavy theme of us vs them, a reluctant hero, hand to hand combat, death, blood and a mythical leader. And did I mention the whole thing takes place on a train?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t specifically call out two acting performances that really made the movie for me. First, Tilda Swinton as an over-the-top authority figure with just a touch of psychosis and a whole lot of menace. A truly scary character.

And on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the equally scary but for completely different reasons Alison Pill playing a teacher indoctrinating children in the ways of the leader, complete with rhymes, jingles, scripted call and response and hand motions. In some ways her character was more terrifying than Swinton’s but together you have two performances that almost make it worth seeing Snowpiercer, if for no other reason.