Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

There are those who love the work of Zach Braff, and those who don’t. From his hilarious and often heartfelt turn as JD on Scrubs, to his generally acclaimed directorial debut in Garden State, he has surprisingly divided fans and critics. Some people believe that he is able to capture emotions incredibly well, and others feel that he is too weepy and introspective.

Wish I Was Here is his second turn behind the camera, in another film that he has written. And it is excellent. Especially those who are fans of Garden StateWish I Was Here is a must see. Sure, it does not veer off the path that was set up and established in his initial film, and much of the emotional baggage that his character carries along with him is similar. But it is an honest film, and it is emotionally great.

wish2The story revolves around Aidan, an out-of-work actor trying to get any job by going to auditions for terrible roles in terrible shows and films. He lives with his wife (played incredibly well by Kate Hudson, who is calm and cool, tinged with the right amount of cynicism and emotion, that she in a way, reminds us of what a grown up and bitten by the real world Penny Lane could be like), and two children, who need to be pulled out of their private school, since his ill father can no longer afford the bill. Aidan makes the decision to home school his children for the remainder of the semester, until they can figure out what to do with them. His fears of public school has scarred him enough that he doesn’t want his own children to go through the same pain that he experienced growing up.

With his father dying, played incredibly well by Mandy Patinkin (known best from his role on Homeland), it is up to Aidan to hold his family together, and try to bring back his estranged brother to his father on his deathbed.

wish5There are so many things going on for Aidan all at once, and he is weighed down by the responsibility of so many things at the same time. The pressure of his failed dream, the financial pressures he faces with no work, the burden put on his wife as the sole breadwinner, working in a job that she can’t stand, and where she is forced to deal with sexual advances from a co-worker, the difficulty in dealing with his quirky, shut-in brother, his ailing father, trying to teach his kids something about the world, and being the one relied upon to keep it all together makes for a traumatic period in his life. It is a lot for one man, let along Aidan.

The best part of Wish I Was Here is the acting performances. They come across honestly, and believably. The film is scattered with good actors, and they all do the emotional trauma justice, and Aidan is forced to come of age, and come up with one more act of bravery for the good of his family. Across the board, including the children, offer strong and emotional performances, which better than anything, are believable.

This image released by Focus Features shows Kate Hudson, left, and Zach Braff in "Wish I Was Here." (AP Photo/Focus Features, Merie Weismiller Wallace)

As with anything involving Zach Braff, there is a strong soundtrack that goes along with the film, filled with emotional indie music from bands on the cusp of being big. Consider how popular the soundtrack was to Garden State, and you have the right idea.

Not everything works perfectly in Wish I Was Here. There were some directorial choices that could be seen as questionable, and somewhat amateurish, but in all, Braff is a steady director, and he knows what he wants in order to bring his own words and performances to life. He directs with care, and is able to encompass the emotional instability of his characters through his style.

wish4There are many small parts to the larger story line in the film, but they all work together extremely well, and they never seem like they are set up and left behind. Braff does an excellent job in his script to provide all of his characters with problems that require a solution. This is not easy to do, especially in a film that is only two hours long. But he manages to do it seamlessly, and by the end, the audience is likely to care about the plight of all the characters.

wish6Wish I Was Here is a sad film, with droplets of humour and fun, and emotional saving. It was an excellent watch, and definitely recommended for those looking for something that is eventually uplifting after a lot of struggle.

Hot Girls Wanted (Film Review)

Hot Girls Wanted (Film Review)

Netflix offers up a pretty poignant view of young girls looking to break into the massive porn industry, all starting with ads on Craigslist in the documentary, Hot Girls Wanted. The story follows a handful of young girls, mostly just 18-years-old, who have left home for Miami, to live in a house where they will go through photoshoots and the rigors of booking gigs in order to become porn stars.

hot4The documentary does an excellent job of demonstrating the harsh nature of the business, and provides a ton of stats on the sheer number of young girls who use porn as an escape from their regular lives, only to wash out of the industry in a matter of months. Hot Girls Wanted does not show the perceived glitz and glamour of the porn stars that have almost become mainstream, household names, but the struggle and work that goes in to making it in any kind of way in a brutal business.

The girls work hard, all day, in order to promote themselves. The online community plays a massive role in porn stardom, and the importance of Twitter is examined in the film. The girls, all of them, come to Miami with stars in their eyes, with the dream of being famous, of being rich, and of being stars. For the majority of them, the reality sets in awfully quick, once hte true side of the business reveals its ugly head to them.

hot2Some of the more poignant, and difficult to watch, scenes come when the girls begin to describe, and snippets are shown, of some of the brutal acts that they must endure in order to get a paycheque. Disdain with a sex scene, or the sheer aggression and brutality of some forced scenes, are difficult to watch, and to hear about. The girls are abused, but in a shocking way, they believe that doing these things are needed in order to make it in the business that has momentarily trapped them. The veneer of girls who are in it because they want to have fun, or because they love sex, is thrown out the window, and we understand that many of these stars in pro-am porn (now the most common type, as people want to see “amateurs” in semi-real situations instead of established porn stars) are just trying to pay the bills, and make it through the day. They are not becoming rich off of this job, even though the potential for big paydays is there.

hot3Hot Girls Wanted is a stark view of the porn industry, on one of its lower levels. It is not parties and limos, but a run down house with too many dogs, and too many girls living together, with their recruiter, who spends the majority of his time throwing lines in to the water to obtain new talent that will make him money.

It is very interesting to watch the quick rise, and quicker downfall that these girls go through. The feeling of fame comes quickly, buoyed by an increase in Twitter followers, and the feeling of being wanted, and desired. This evaporates suddenly, once the girls begin to feel that they are simply being used, and that the advantages of the industry are far fewer than they ever would have imagined.

hot5This is an excellent documentary, and well worth a watch, consider the size of the porn industry. Hot Girls Wanted does a very good job of putting a human face on the films that are seen and downloaded at incredible paces, but also in providing the kind of information that is not usually know. Well worth a watch.

All the Light in the Sky (Film Review)

All the Light in the Sky (Film Review)

I have come to enjoy the mumblecore films of Joe Swanberg. He has been able to develop several strong character dramas on microscopic budgets and semi-improvised dialogue, and they have been able to provide interesting journeys for characters as they face their own inner turmoil, due to one reason of another.

All the Light in the Sky focuses on Marie, an aging actress who is forced to come to terms with her getting older when she is visited at her beach house by her much younger niece, who also has aspirations of being an actress.

light3The film stars Jane Adams, who also co-wrote the movie, in the role of Marie. She is very likable in the film, shows a natural connection to the role of the actress who never quite reached the dizzying heights of fame, but was able to make a solid living off her craft, and is now faced with the idea that potential roles are drying up for her, as she heads over the wrong side of 40, in Hollywood’s views. Adams is subdued throughout the film, taking on her problems with introspective activities that calm her, such as her morning venture into the water for stand up paddle boarding. She seems to be at peace with her life, but the cracks begin to show with her views on her changing body, and her lack of love in her life.

With the arrival of her 25-year-old niece Nica (played very well by Sophia Takal, providing one of the best performances of the film- she definitely is reminiscent of another Swanberg favourite, Anna Kendrick), Marie needs to deal with being around a younger crowd, and understanding that much of her life has passed her by.

light4All the Light in the Sky is not the best film that Swanberg has made. It has moments of greatness, and it can be seen how it definitely fits in with the genre, as the majority of it takes place in the small beach house that Marie lives in. There are definitely parts of the film that lag, and even become so slow that they border on boring, and some of the secondary characters could have used a little more depth to truly fill out the story.

light2But the focus here is on Adams, and the full-on performance that she gives to the film. She truly committed to the role, exposing the subtle weakness and introspection of the character extremely well, truly exposing herself, and the character (there are several scenes of full frontal nudity in the film that actually do help to develop Marie).

For a film viewing for entertainment, All the Light in the Sky is not the right pick when scrolling through Netflix. But for a solid mumblecore movie, buoyed by two very strong female lead performances, there is definitely something worth checking out here.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Film Review)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Film Review)

There can’t be much worse than splitting one book into two films, if only to grab a little extra cash at the box office. This has become far too common, with teen novel adaptations being the primary culprit. Harry Potter and Twilight both split up their final installment, and now The Hunger Games has followed suit, with the recent Netflix release of the first part of the final part of the series, Mockingjay Part 1.

mock4And Mockingjay encounters all of the problems with a story that is ripped in two: nothing much really happens. After the quarter quell, the survivors of District 13 are ready to start a full on war with the Capitol, and want Katniss to be the centerpiece of their revolution, to help rally the increasing unrest in the districts against their oppressors. Of course, this means that Katniss will have to rise up, and be the person that the person that the people need her to be.

For just over two hours, we are provided with a lot of talk, and the primary goal of rescuing Peeta and the other victors from the clutches of President Snow. Outside of that, very little actually happens in this film, which makes it far less worthwhile than if they had managed to complete the story here.

mock3There isn’t much further development of the characters in this edition of the series, as they are mostly just carrying on from where they left off, as expected. There are a couple of new people here, such as the President of District 13 and a camera crew that is set up to follow Katniss around as she fights and tours the damage inflicted by the Capitol. They goad her into saying revolutionary lines, when she appears too much to be the reluctant hero that the people of Panem need. Jennifer Lawrence is still highly likable as Katniss, even though she spends much more of this film being weepy than she does in the previous ones.

While Mockingjay isn’t a bad film, it’s just one that has no real start, and no real end, which makes it more of a nuisance than anything. Of course it is needed to set up the events upcoming in Mockingjay Part 2, but it really does have that feel of just killing some time until all of the good stuff can happen. There are a couple of small battle scenes that provide a little bit of entertainment, but nothing like the excitement of being in the arena in the first two films. Much of this film falls flat, and one has to wonder how long studios will be able to pull this off, by splitting up films, before people become sick of it, and start to skip the first half of the final piece.

mock2For massive fans of The Hunger Games, they of course will not be missing this film. For casual viewers, it really would be possible to read a two-sentence synopsis of Part 1, and go into Part 2 without missing a beat.

A very average film.

Go Set A Watchman (Book Review)

Go Set A Watchman (Book Review)

How can it be possible to fairly review a novel that has been 55 years in the waiting? One that is viewed as a follow up to perhaps one of the most important works in American literature, in the timeless and widely read To Kill A Mockingbird?

Either way, Go Set A Watchman is never going to get a fair shake with critics and readers. It is too important a piece of literature, and connected to something too culturally, and personally, significant to people. Even the idea of how to read it is a tad confusing. Do we take this new novel as an add on to Mockingbird? Do we allow it to change the way we view the original text, or take them as two separate stories, connected by the author and the characters alone? Do the events of Watchman need to impact the way we see, and re-read, Mockingbird?

watchman2There is so much to say about this novel…it is a tough one to review, for so many reasons. There will be some mild spoilers in here, but nothing that hasn’t been printed in the myriad of other reviews that are already out for the novel.

  • there are many indications that this very much is an early draft by Harper Lee. There are edits that need to be made, in terms of having the stories of both books, work together perfectly, including a detail of the Tom Robinson trial that is different in Watchman.
  • While there are some parts of the book that don’t seem needed, Harper Lee still manages to provide some exceptional lines in the novel. She is able to craft certain things so perfectly, indicating her natural gift for writing. But there is work that could have been done on this novel, which is perhaps one of the reasons it went 55 years before being published.
  • It is pretty amazing that from this original text, which was written before Mockingbird, provided some editor with the idea that Lee should write about the characters as children, instead of as the adult version that Go Set A Watchman provides.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed Scout as an adult. She maintains many of the qualities that made her such a memorable character in the first place. She is not of her time, and intelligent beyond her years still. She has the same fire that she had when she was a child, and that makes her continue as an endearing character.
  • There are some surprises here, such as what happened to Jem. We find out very early in the novel that he is dead; he died suddenly and unexpectedly as too young a man. Part of the novel is Scout trying to come to terms with this fact, and her ability, or lack thereof, to move on past this.
  • Go Set A Watchman doesn’t really have a plot, in the way that Mockingbird did. The story is pretty simple, that Scout is coming back to Maycomb for a visit from her life in New York. There, she must deal with love, loss, and the new realizations about her father and her childhood. There isn’t really a centrally driving story line to put everything together, and have her come of age.
  • A lot of the dialogue, especially in the second half of the novel, becomes surprisingly political, and often reads like a debate, instead of characters having a discussion. While the points are intelligent and important to the novel, it is not Lee’s finest writing.
  • The novel provides added context to the original story. Knowing more about the characters that we grew up with, and loved, adds to what we know from the original. We get the rare opportunity here to see what happened to the kids that we cared so much about as we read about them so many years ago.

watchman4It’s time to talk about Atticus Finch. One of the greatest literary heroes ever written, he was the symbol for all that was good in the world, even if the world was not a good place. He was an example of morality, of kindness, and he did everything for his children so that they would grow up in the right way, to be good people.

Go Set A Watchman changes all of that. In this follow-up, we are provided with another view of Atticus, one that could dramatically change the way we perceive the man that so many readers saw as the ultimate father figure. There is another side to Atticus, and it is one that is very difficult to read. My greatest fear about picking up Watchman was that it would drastically change something, specifically related to Atticus. What if he wasn’t as good as we had originally thought he was? What if Lee has him die in the novel? What if this book ruins him as the epitome of goodness, and as the moral compass that we all loved so much?

Well, we see some different things about Atticus in this book. Not good things. Things that are tough to swallow, and things that are upsetting. For that reason, I will take Watchman as a separate entity from Mockingbird. Because I don’t want anything to change with how I view him. I see this as an original view of the man, not the one he would have actually ended up as, had Lee actually written this book as a sequel, instead of as the original jumping off point for her tale of Maycomb. Had she intended this as a sequel, and there is much debate as to the origins of this novel- was it the first copy, prior to Mockingbird, or was it a failed sequel- I feel that she would have kept Atticus as pure.

watchman3On the flip side, there is a reason behind the different view of Atticus. There is a reason for it, and it is to help Scout become the adult that she needs to be. In a way, she needs to be broken. Atticus himself states that, “I’ve killed you Scout. But I had to.” (or something similar to that). It is heart-breaking to read, but we know that there is a purpose for Atticus to be the way that he is, in order to help his beloved daughter, and last surviving child, to grow up.

Which really, is what it is all about. Is it impossible for somebody to be as good as Atticus was? Even if he has a darker side, does it change any of the lessons that he taught Scout as a precocious child? Is it possible to be everything to everyone, even if you aren’t perfect yourself? The answers provided in Go Set A Watchman are perhaps not the ones that we want to know. Not the answers that could have been left unanswered forever.

While some people will read this novel as a complete, and actual, sequel to Mockingbird. However, I take is as an important piece of context for the original story that will never be able to taint the genius, and beauty, of the book that we have read and re-read so many times. As a book on its own, it is not that strong. There are plenty of flaws in it, as a novel, but not enough to ruin the whole thing. It gives us the chance to know what Lee thought of her characters, and where she saw them going in life. For that reason, Watchman is an important, if not great, piece of literature. Of course we would want it to be perfect, because it is the long-anticipated and wondered about follow ups to one of the greatest books of all-time. It isn’t that, and it could never live up to the enormous expectations placed upon it.

For me, it is more a piece of interest than cold, hard facts about the characters we loved so much.

Especially Atticus.

The Adjustment Bureau (Film Review)

The Adjustment Bureau (Film Review)

In The Adjustment Bureau, an up-and-coming young politician, played by Matt Damon, encounters a mysterious group of men who are tasked with altering his fated path in order to keep him away from a dancer he has recently met. The men, who serve as the agents of Fate, are able to manipulate things in the daily lives of people, in order to keep Damon on the right track.

adjust2But for what reason? Damon is confused as to why he is not supposed to end up with the possible love of his life, Elise, played well by Emily Blunt, if he has such deep feelings for her. How could he be so in love with someone, and not be meant to be with her?

adjust4The main conflict of the film is of Damon trying to avoid his own fate, and the decision that he must make as to whether he should follow the path that has been laid our for him, or defy it in order to be with the girl that he desires the most. Once we finally find out the reasoning behind Fate to have him on a certain path, he is faced with an impossible decision.

There is a lot to like about The Adjustment Bureau. This film has a long list of stellar actors, and they all play their roles appropriately. The romantic leads, Damon and Blunt, are excellent, and provide some good chemistry together on-screen. She definitely comes across as a desirable woman, and we get why Damon so quickly becomes infatuated by her. With a rebellious and carefree demeanor, Blunt is a borderline Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but one that comes to life with Damon, and becomes a more complete character. The agents of Fate are also all excellent, playing their solemn roles believably, and well. While they are definitely reminiscent of The Observers on the TV series Fringe, they have a certain uniqueness to them that makes them an original enough idea for The Adjustment Bureau.

adjust3My favorite part of this film was that it ended up being far more cerebral than I would have anticipated. I hadn’t heard of it prior to watching it, so was pleasantly surprised. Also, that the focus of the film on the idea of love versus fate. Being with someone even if powers beyond our control are working against us. There is something to that that I found refreshing, interesting, and entertaining. The ideas of fate versus free will are brought up gently, and never thrown in the face of the audience. The writers have gone about the thoughts and details of their ideas, and bring them across to the viewers intelligently.

The Adjustment Bureau is a strong movie, one that entertains while making you think a little bit. A strong cast, an excellent central idea, and good writing make this film a definite winner.