The Two Faces of January

Viggo! Viiiiigoooooo! Love me some Viggo, but no Viggo nuts in this one. Bummer!

The Two Faces of January is a noir set in 1960’s Greece. That doesn’t sound too appetizing but it almost worked.

The plot centers around Viggo’s character, an investment cheat that is on the run with his dame, to Greece then perhaps across Europe. They meet up with an American national who is acting as a tour guide with a penchant for swindle himself, albeit on a smaller scale than Viggo. Throw in an accidental (?) murder and you have yourself the outline for a pretty good story.

The problem I had with is was I thought Viggo’s reaction to the situation was unrealistic. He’s supposed to be a calm, cool and collected con man, yet in the face of one little murder he suddenly turns into a complete idiot. I had no faith that he could have pulled off the cheats the allude to him pulling off (in a timeline before the movie starts.)

Any time they group had to lay low for a few hours, he’d get drunk, get jealous of his wife, go into the town square and start fights, all while being the only six foot tall white guy in town who can’t speak Greek and whose picture is in the paper as a suspect for the murder. Okay, but that only happened once but he did many similar things that would have blown his cover instantly, outside the confines of a more realistic story.

Viggo is also portrayed as a raging drunk, and again, I’m not convinced someone that’s such a dysfunctional drunk could have pulled off a swindle that netted enough cash for the victims to send a P.I. to Greece to track him down.

I can understand that murder will put a bit of stress on a guy, but later on when he kills his wife (spoiler alert!) he seems much less distraught than when he killed the P.I. I also find it hard to believe that someone can fall apart to that extent in just a couple days.

My wife says I’m completely wrong, so the movie can be different things to different people. It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, perhaps maybe overly long. I just thought they really pumped the flaws of Viggo’s character way off the charts, in severe disproportion compared to the other two people in the trio, and it made the proceedings much less believable.

The Boxtrolls

Oh, Laika. Can’t you just hire Henry Selick again and make a decent movie for once? The Boxtrolls was better than the terrible, terrible Paranorman, but that’s not saying much.

The Boxtrolls took place in a more whimsical British sort of town, location unspecified. But everyone had accents. The good people had white hats. The bad people red. But most people didn’t wear hats at all. This is never explained.

The Boxtrolls wear cardboard boxes and live underground. At one time they stole a child. It is presumed that before that they peacefully coexisted with the humans on the surface, but this is never mentioned. This is never explained.

Said kid grows up for about 10 years and somehow speaks the Queen’s English, while the Boxtrolls speak a sort of guttural, monosyllabic pigeon-English that the main character can translate. It’s never explained how he got his perfect Cockney accent.

At the time the kid disappeared, his father, a prominent engineer in the town, also disappears. It’s known that the Boxtrolls took the kid, but it’s never explained why nobody cared about the dad.

The aristocrats that wear the white hats love cheese. This is never explained. The evildoers in their red hats want white hats because they also want some of that cheese. It’s never explained why they can’t just obtain their own cheese. I’m not making up this part at all.

I could go on and on but I won’t. The Boxtrolls had none of the continuity or charm of Coraline, bad writing, unexplained and never referenced characters and SNOOOOOOOOOOOREEEEEE….

The Book of Life

I was pretty disappointed in this one. It looked like it had good potential but it was bogged down in the one thing a lot of animated feature films forget to focus on: the writing.

Mi esposa mentioned to me that the IMDB trivia for this film indicates some rewrites, and three different names during production. It shows, at least in the first half. The story is kind of all over the place. There’s not much direction, nor rhyme or reason to why things happen. They happen just out of convenience. It didn’t make it particularly hard to follow, because there was nowhere to follow, just a bunch of desperate parts lying around that seemed like they were from a few different jigsaw puzzles.

Once the story turned to the ‘land of the rememered’, which is to say Mexican Heaven, it got much better for a few minutes. There was a clear direction to the story, a twist, and the production design suddenly got awesome. They should have spent more time down there. That environment produced the only joke that was worth laughing at.

But then they come back to the surface and everything is weird again. They also kept throwing in weird Tejano versions of somewhat recent pop songs (most notably ‘Creep’ by Radiohead.) Yeah, told you. It was weird, and not in an admirable way.

I wish I could say it was a good try, but it wasn’t. Next time, scrip the whole thing and get a good writer in there to start from scratch. Don’t bring in a ‘script doctor’ to punch it up, that pretty much never works. I’m glad to see an animated film based on Mexican culture and folk traditions, but the great people of Mexico deserve something better. Way better.

Art and Craft

I’m not ever sure where to begin describing this documentary. It centers around a man named Mark Landis who many describe as the US’s most prolific art forger.

They mystery around him seems to be that there is no mystery, he lays down what he does right on the table for you to see, yet the fascinating thing is that there’s really only one person in the art world (formerly, really) that has come forward to expose him.

The reason he’s able to continue his shenanigans is that he gives his forgeries out for free, complete with made-up provenance, where most art directors at big museums choose not to check his story out and blindly hang the paintings. Giving away fake things for free isn’t illegal.

I honestly don’t know that Landis is trying to say anything. He’s not all there, mentally, and they go into his personal history enough to paint a picture of a severely injured man who is coping the best he can.

On the other hand, his ruses are fairly elaborate, complete with forged documents, made up backstories about his not-existing dead sister, costumes and many aliases. One person in the film described it as a sort of performance art, and I tend to agree with him. There’s a sort of mad genius at work here and it was fascinating to watch.

What wasn’t fascinating was the one art director that was trying to expose or stop him. It turns out that the art community at large mostly doesn’t really care about it. They’re not happy to advertise that they’d been duped and would rather quietly take down the forgeries and move on. Except this one guy, who was fired from his post at some big art museum for reasons that are not clear. I don’t even care about his name because he came of as such an asshole by the end of the movie.

Landis sort of reminded me of Frank, except this was real life, and the character in this one at least seemed to be happy, relatively speaking. At the very least he was having fun doing what he was doing, even if he seemed like he wasn’t entirely sure what his own motivation was.

Gone Girl

Oh, David Fincher. Stop directing music videos. Stop directing TV. We need you to make more movies and three years since your last one is just too long.

Fincher directed the crap out of this movie, as he’s done on most of his movies to date. Most directors get better with time, but it seems like he’s just always been good, and Fincher fans won’t be let down with this one.

I can’t disclose plot details because that’s half the fun, there’s some shit that goes down in this one that you’re better off not knowing going in. Suffice it to say there are twists, there are turns, there are revelations, there is a moody soundtrack from Trent Reznor and some other dude, there are sweeping steadycam shots, there is darkness and light, there is mystery, there is intrigue. You will not walk out of this film feeling unfulfilled.

Fincher extracted an Oscar caliber performance from Rosamund Pike, and a surprisingly effective performance from none other than Tyler Perry. You heard it, Tyler Perry wore a man’s suit and hit all his marks.

One thing I like about Fincher (all praise Fincher!) is his attention to detail, but in more subtle ways that I don’t think other directors do, or can do. He has an eye for visuals, sure, but also has an eye for character details, and the ability to express a lot of ideas with one small action or throwaway line. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. For example, one of the characters in the movie could generously be described as a tweeker. Someone mentions great white sharks in the context of the Gulf of Mexico, and this character says ‘It’s bull sharks in the gulf, not great whites.’ A seemingly innocuous line, but for some reason it got me to thinking about that character. First, the movie takes place in Missouri, nowhere near the gulf coast. That indicates that the character moves around a lot, probably. Having perhaps lived on the gulf coast at one time she became aware of this little tidbit of knowledge and saw an opportunity to use it in conversation, perhaps in an attempt to come off as smarter than she actually is. She had a desire to impress this person, or at least put on airs as to who or what she actually was. Her actions later in the movie are not necessarily that of an intelligent woman, but the way I read it, she wasn’t happy being in the rut she was in, but felt she had to go along with it. I got all that from a single line reading.

Or maybe it was just supposed to be a throwaway line, but I normally think Fincher doesn’t put something in a movie unless it has some meaning, so I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt. Ha ha.

In my mind (and in my spreadsheet), I only rated The Lego Movie as high as Gone Girl so far this year, but I think I may have to kick that one down a notch because Gone Girl is definitely the best thing I’ve seen so far in 2014.

The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins was as good a movie as you could expect with a plot that uses suicide as a jumping off point. Two separate attempted or thought about suicides.

Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig play two siblings, twins, in fact, that have crummy lives, are depressed, have not had contact in a decade, and are reunited when one of them attempts to kill themself and fails. I won’t say who, you’ll just have to see it.

To say Hader and Wiig have chemistry on screen would be an understatement. Known for comedic roles, it’s hard to understate how good they both were in roles that are mostly dramatic. The evolution of their relationship is believable but at the same time not as difficult to watch as one would expect given the subject matter.

Still, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of depth to the story, no big twist, no surprises. The whole thing was played pretty straight. So while I was entertained and wowed by the performances, overall it didn’t blow me away.

So, good movie, surprising performances, but in the end it’s not the kind of film one would buy the DVD of and watch over and over again.

The Maze Runner

Woah, I’m falling way behind on reviews. Let’s see if I can crank a few of these out. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve seen some of these.

The Maze Runner is the latest attempt at a franchise based on a YA novel (or two or three, not sure how many books are in this series.) It actually wasn’t half bad. I think one of the things that made it better for a middle aged guy was lack of a love story. In fact, there were two female characters in it, total. Complete sausage fest but it helped to not have that distraction wedged into the storyline.

The story revolves around a group of dudes who, one at a time over the course of a few years, wake up in an elevator that lets them off in a clearing that’s surrounded by a big maze. The maze changes. The maze closes at night. The maze has things in it that will kill you. The Maze is everything to everyone.

The maze itself made for a couple good action sequences, and luckily it’s easy to CG a maze so it didn’t look too cheesy or anything.

Overall maybe not my bag but it was fairly entertaining, and we’ll surely get at least one more movie out of it, the ending is not at all ambiguous about that.