By Will Ashton || @thewillofash


Well, I’m back in the saddle again, seeing and reviewing as many films that come out of the AIFAV Fest as possible. In my third day of coverage, there is a very loose theme of loss and recovery to be found in these three films. Even if the films themselves vary in quality.

Archaeology of a Woman | Directed by Sharon Greytak | Not Rated
RATING: 1.5/5

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are very serious, devastating topics. But you won’t know that from watching Sharon Greytak’s film Archaeology of a Woman.  

Centered on a woman Margaret (Academy Award-nominated actress Sally Kirkland) and the struggles that come between her and her daughter Kate (Victoria Clark) as she develops the early stages of dementia, this is meant to be a moving, serious-minded character exploration on the state of the fragile mind. But what is produced inside is a movie that makes the feature films on the Lifetime Channel look like Schindler’s List.

The biggest problem with the film is that the script, also written by Greytak, is so convoluted and poorly written that it’s hard to take anything that is happening on screen seriously, especially as it goes on through its confused plot. This is made even worse by her awkward, inexperienced direction with makes even talented actresses like Kirkland look distraught and amateur.

Since the movie is on a limited budget, it can be easy for one to forgive some of their misfortunes. But, between the clunky dialogue, the indecisive direction (there are moments here that I think were supposed to be funny, but come across just as weird as those lighthearted moments in an M. Night Shyamalan movie) and the fact that movie, on the whole, is just really, really boring to sit through makes one’s patience unearned.

Although Kirkland’s performance isn’t anywhere near as good as it probably should be, there are little, subtle moments where you can look into her eyes and see her genuinely acting. It’s a shame that these moments are so few and far between, because they demonstrate how good of the movie probably could have been with a good script and direction. Pity.

If one wants a touching, heart-breaking look at the effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia, they should check out Away From Her. Not this cheesy, awkwardly-plotted, ridiculous little movie.


The Great Flood | Directed by Bill Morrison | Not Rated

In Bill Morrison’s moody, if not completely empowering, look back on the 1926 flood of the Mississippi River, The Great Flood provides a stunningly bleak look back on the troubled piece of American piece.

Encompassed back a jazzy, post-rock score by Bill Frisell, Morrison gives a unique, thoughtful mediation on a part of history that is not as explored as it probably should be. Through the use of music and specifically chosen footage, Morrison does a great job at establishing the era of his film’s timeline. But, with that said, there is something slight about his film that never truly makes it go far beyond its initial intentions.

At just 80 minutes long, The Great Flood is a short movie, and does know when it is time to get in and then get out. Even if its ending is a bit awkward. There is a lot to like inside this movie, and for those who like to have their history lessons have a little bit of punk-based attitude in them, then you should find a lot to explore and like in this movie.

As a slice of life story that blends the lines between the past and modern day, Morrison’s film gives a well-produced slice of life story that is dated and relevant at the same time. It is not going to be the most memorable movie that I see at this year’s fest, but there is too much good in here for me to dismiss.


One: A Story of Love and Equality | Directed by Becca Roth | Not Rated

Films that are obviously meant to be film school projects are hard to judge.

It’s clear that these type of movies are made by filmmakers trying to find their voice, their niche and their style. They are the works of inexperienced filmmakers who know they are still learning and are trying to become the best filmmakers they can possibly be.

One: A Story of Love and Equality is that type of movie from new filmmaker Becca Roth. In her exploration of the North Carolina Amendment One debate, she is clearly working on a shoe-string budget at best, and has to work with that limitations as much as possible. While it is far from a perfect film, Roth is able to make the most of her limitations, thanks to some captivating interviews and a growing understanding of character that she finds in her travels.

For the first 40 to 50 minutes, Roth’s film is a very surface-level look at this topic. She gets too caught up in the cliched nature of documentary storytelling, and never quite pushes herself and her subjects as she could and should. But then, somewhere around the half point of the movie, that changes. By finally exploring the other side of this issue, and moving away from its one-sided pretensions, One is able to become a surprisingly moving, character-based examination on this tricky topic.

The worst thing about the movie, oddly enough, is Roth herself whenever she decides to throw itself into the story’s forefront. Her voice-overs are incredibly cliched, and she goes through ever writing trick in the book in a seeming bliss of unawareness that’s cute in its naivete. Despite Roth being a pretty good editor, she can never quite escape the college-level type film-making she is working with here, but she learns to do that best she can with what she is given.

But, when she is able to move the camera away from herself and focus it on those around her, she has a nice, sensitive vision, and a talent for exploring the hidden struggles of the human condition. If she is able to continue moving away from telling her tired stories and focus more on the works of others, she could become a very promising young filmmaker. Especially if she ever gets a budget.

While a bit self-involved and too service level in its storytelling at first, One grows just like its characters, and has heart and earnest good-nature to shine. Despite its flaws, there is something so charming about this effort that it makes it worth working through it in the end.

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash


Another day, another batch of AIFAV festival reviews. Unlike yesterday’s selection, there is the mildest of themes that loosely connect these three films together: innocence. If even in the smallest of ways, these three films all strive to connect to a sense of longing and fascination with the world at large.

Ernest & Celestine | Directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner | Rated PG

Sometimes, it’s the simplest stories that are the best, and that is certainly the case with Ernest & Celestine.

Centered on the friendship formed between a bear (Ernest) and a mouse (Celestine) in a prejudiced society, the latest film from the creators of the wonderfully bizarre A Town Called Panic (which does get a nod early on) is just as sweet and lovingly crafted as their former film. Yet, it also has the added benefit of getting something that is so emotionally earnest (no pun intended) that is even more arresting than their last film.

Even if it can be sweet to a fault, there is something so beautiful about seeing this 2-D (yeah for 2-D!) hand-drawn animation on the silver screen that enraptures you to enjoy every blinking moment. There are moments so elegantly crafted, including one moment halfway into the picture that could be something out of Fantasia, in addition to its lighthearted score that makes the movie sweep in the audience’s heart faster than they can possibly imagine.

While it can be very heavy-handed in its message, particularly towards its closing moments, there is something so arresting about this movie—which is particularly ironic based on the events which happen in the movie—that audiences, young and old, will get caught in its net of childlike wonder. Even a cynic like me can’t help but get a smile on their face.


Something Necessary | Directed by Judy Kibinge | Not Rated
RATING: 2.5/5

What happens when the important stories that deserve to be told can’t fully grasp its potential power? You get something like Judy Kibinge’s Something Necessary.

Centered on the aftermath of events which take place in Kenya after a violent civil unrest betakes the nation after their election, even though the characters themselves are fictional—something the film is not afraid to point out—there is something about these story that demands to be told for all its hidden pathos and bottled confusion. But Kibinge’s film gets lost in its need to flush in multiple different story arcs that attempt to connect together, but never quite gain their authenticity.

The biggest problem with this film comes down to its script, written by Mungai Kiroga and Jc Niala. Despite the filmmaker and the actors’ best intentions, they can’t escape the hokey-ness and heavy-handed dialogue that the writing delivers on in hearty portions. Kibinge and her lead actress Kipng’eno Kirui Duncan give a level of restraint throughout that is commendable, but their script is not self-aware as they seem to be.

When Something Necessary is good, though, it’s very good. The quiet moments centered on Duncan’s performance are quite, yet remorseful in a way that are captivating in their silent power. But, unfortunately, these moments are too little and far between in the end that they don’t fully gain the attention they deserve.

There is some beautiful cinematography throughout this movie, particularly in some select moments that harp back to the movie’s restraint creativeness. But, because of the muddled story, its pacing issues (even at 85 minutes, this movie feels long-winded) and its ongoing preachy nature, it never earns the emotional power that they deserve. Which is a shame, because, for a movie that should be a quiet punch in the gut at the end of the day, all its gains is a shoulder shrug.


Visitors | Directed by Godfrey Reggio | Not Rated

There are art house movies, and then there are art house movies.

Art house movies often feature D, C, even B-list actors working on a film of a smaller budget and gets medium theater play. But then there are art house movies, and that is what Godfrey Reggio’s latest movie Visitors is.

Reggio’s movie is not an easy one to describe. If you were to interview everyone leaving the theater afterwards, they would all probably give you a different answer about what it was all about. Which is fine, because that is what art is, but it makes it hard to write about in detail. What I will say, then, is that, for me, Visitors walks a fine line between alluring and pretentious in its examination of humanity and our daily existence.

But, what really makes this movie work is its incredibly beautiful cinematography. Visitors is a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, as its use of excellent lightning and black and white filmography makes it all the more stunning in the darkened atmosphere of the theater. It’s use of shadows matches perfectly, and it encompasses a sense of awe that is pretty breathtaking once you put some of the pieces together. That is, if you put any of the pieces together.

Like I said, this is a movie that everyone is going to get something different from. My explanations here may not be even close to what someone else in front, behind or next to me got in the screening. What I found incredible someone else may get nothing from, and, on that same token, what I found repetitive and unmoving someone probably found amazing. So, with that in time, this is the type of film that you mainly have to look at on face value, in order to give as unbiased of a summation of it as possible.

There is certainly a 2001: A Space Odyssey influence here, and, perhaps more surprisingly, inspiration from the filmography of Andy Warhol as well. As such, the visual effects are great, as is the score by Philip Glass. There is no dialogue in the movie, yet there are many broad themes that are tackled and discussed throughout. This is certainly not the film for everyone, but those who enjoy this type of heady movie are going to find a lot to like here.

Even if it becomes less and less engaging as it enters its third act (I should also mention that there are about three endings at least in this movie) there is still enough here, especially in its first two parts, to make the trip to see it. Reggio is a filmmaker that makes even falling garbage look beautiful, and, while this may not be his finest work, it is still worth watching. That is, if you are into this kind of thing.

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash


It’s that time of year again: the Athens International Film and Video Festival (AIFAV) is back and in full swing, and, on its opening day, I got to see three of its select few. All of which are pretty much nothing like the other. So, without further ado, here is my first day of coverage—and come back for continued coverage throughout the week.

The Missing Picture | Directed by Rithy Panh | Not Rated
RATING: 3.5/5

In his sober, yet deeply poetic, Academy Award-nominated documentary, Rithy Panh explores familiar territory in an fascinating, and often thoughtful, perspective.

Through the use of clay figurines, Panh explores his troubled past in a way of examining the preservation of self and the ongoing sense of longing than anyone can relate to. It’s a somber movie, filled completely with sullen pathos and quiet moments of reflection, but it is also, at times, quite repetitive.

It’s not the type of movie that is going to appeal to every audience, but those who enjoy this kind of stoned-face, watered eye reflection on the meaning of life through survival are going to take away a lot of beauty from this movie.

Much like Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, screened at last year’s festival, Panh uses an unique means of examining his past through the animation and poetic monologues. Whereas Nance’s film was more polished than Panh and examined a 30s mid-life crisis instead of 50, Panh’s film is just as bittersweet and unusually alluring.

There is an undeniable charm to the amateur animation that makes the movie all its own. At times an autobiography, a cleansing, or a thesis—and, sometimes, all three—Panh’s film is an evocative, if at times meandering, look at life that is alluring and stand-offish at the same time. 


OJ: The Musical | Directed by Jeff Rosenberg | Not Rated

Shot in a mockumentary style that is more in line with Edward Burns filmography than the films of Christopher Guest—which is to say, using its style whenever it is convenient for the film at large—OU alum Jeff Rosenberg’s OJ: The Musical has a lot to live up to with a title as promising as its own. As expected, it doesn’t quite live up to the great promise that its ludicrous title suggest, but there are more than a few laughs inside to gain an audience’s admiration.

Centered on a failed playwright’s attempt to merge William Shakespeare’s Othello with the events of the OJ Simpson murder in musical harmony, Rosenberg’s movie is one that would probably have been best served in the shorter form than the longer. With about 30-40 minutes of good material, if that, there is potential here for a pretty great short film. But, as a feature, it equals out to just an average film at best—one that is enjoyable at the time to watch, but nothing quite worth remembering once you leave the cinema.

For all its hit-and-miss comedy, the best thing about this movie is its cast, who, through thick and thin (material) stay on board. In particular, another OU alum Jordan Kenneth Kamp, as the lead said playwright Eugene, is always putting in 120 percent into this comedy. But, thankfully, he either has enough restraint to never go fully overboard, or Rosenberg is wise enough to keep him in balance.

The biggest detriment to OJ: The Musical is that a majority of the characters never really progress in this story in realistic depictions. Their character arcs only progress when and how it is convenient for them to do so in the script, and, as a result, it is hard to truly get invested in this story as wholeheartedly as the filmmakers would like. Also a chink in the movie’s army is its cliched and fairly predictable storyline, which is only livened, and saved, by the movie’s ongoing dark comedy sensibility.

Much like Hamlet 2, the movie is undoubtedly at its height during its extravagantly envisioned musical numbers. Which makes me all the more inclined to believe that this would have been best conceived as a short film or a Funny or Die sketch. As a film, though, it’s an enjoyable, if never spectacular, film that would be an entertaining night home when this movie hits On Demand or DVD.


Wetlands | Directed by David Wnendt | Not Rated

In David Wndent’s perverse, yet oddly fixating, coming of age (literally) movie Wetlands, he proves, once and for all, that the United States don’t even hold a candle on the raunchy comedy department’s line of good manners.

Filled with endlessly imaginative camera work and an ongoing desire to push the audience’s line of decency, there is an over-lining sense of obnoxious mentality that pratically demands its audience to be as grossed out as possible. To its benefit, though, it’s a movie that is not for the squish, but it always kept me guessing. Which, for the record, is not something I can say about many movies these days.

What truly makes this movie work in the end is the brave performance of its lead Carla Juri as Helen. She throws herself wholeheartedly into this performance, and it is a pretty great one at that. On that same note, Wnendt’s seemingly fearless desire to push everything to the edge is commendable, if not always well earned. But, thanks to its lead actress, it all works out in the end.

What I think is most disappointing about Wetlands is that, for a movie so willing to take risks, it plays itself very safe in its final moments. Its end is about as predictable as you can expect from the events leading up to it. Which is a shame, especially considering how many surprises this movie had in store for its hour and a half running time.

It’s gross. It’s over the top. It’s perverse and its gleeful in its sophomoric mentality. It has things that will never, ever be unseen, and that will either scare people away or draw them in even more. But, much like the first American Pie movie, it also has a fine balance between sweet character moments and its raunchy humor to balance itself out at the end of the day. It delights in its gross details, but it is still a well-made, competent film that should entertain the select few audience members that get a kick out of this type of thing.



By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 2.5/ 5

Glee-Bash-Episode-1I’m very pleased to note Glee’s permanent move to New York has helped the show tenfold. It still is nowhere near where it used to be in season one, but it’s struggling through an uphill battle to escape from the trenches that were the end of season four and the majority of season five so far. Naturally, in this transitional period of climbing from those murky creative areas, the show still falters. However, it at least is able to deliver acceptable episodes now.

Sam (Chord Overstreet) is set on getting back together with Mercedes (Amber Riley). There’s a lot of playful banter involving pokes at The Facts of Life, Star Wars fan fiction and a faux-fur coat, while these two figure out what to do. Mercedes even sings “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” to prove how great she feels with Sam. Aren’t you convinced they’re in love? Because I’m not. There is chemistry, and for once I don’t find Sam as annoying, but I’m still not pulling for this to work. I think I could maybe get behind this, if only because it would give Riley extra screen time, and I love her. However, Mercedes’ back-up singers don’t approve of the interracial relationship because they think it will hurt her reception in the black market. People, these days.

tumblr_n3qkl0FT4N1qhek11o2_250It’s the mid-winter critique at NYADA, and Rachel (Lea Michele) was only just able to convince her Funny Girl producer to let her make time for it. Thank goodness they are finally addressing the fact that not only is Rachel a full-time student and waitress, but she also is starring in a Broadway revival. It’s physically impossible. Anyways, Blaine (Darren Criss) and Rachel do a spectacular duet to “Broadway Baby,” for it’s a Sondheim theme! This was amazing. I loved the song (obviously) and the whole performance. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to download a Glee cover, but I know I need to listen to this on repeat. Criss and Michele are my two favorites on the show, and they have sang together since season two’s “Don’t You Want Me.” It’s been too long, and I’m so happy to have this in my life.

However, Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg) — yay Whoopi is back! — is not pleased because the assignment wasn’t for a duet. Initially, she’s just going to flunk them, but she gives them a chance to reschedule later in the week. This would be fine if Rachel weren’t going into technical rehearsals for Funny Girl. Thus begins the dynamite fight between Rachel and Tibideaux. Whoopi kicks butt in saying how she’s failing and shouldn’t deserve a handout. She needs NYADA because while she may have talent and drive, she has no direction. Ultimately, Rachel says she is quitting NYADA because it is just holding her back.

Last week’s episode put Rachel two steps forward in my eyes. I finally liked her again! This week managed to knock her back a step. She went from being fun and likeable again to cold and nonsensical. I understand this as a logical step in her storyline; however, you need to figure out a way to play the character! Having her switch this dramatically between episodes is off-putting.

Kurt (Chris Colfer) realizes this is a dumb decision and calls Rachel out on it during their dinner date. She lashes out saying college isn’t for everyone and that he’s only staying in NYADA because it’s safe and that he’s afraid of being an adult. She leaves him.

The episode began with everyone singing “No One Is Alone” at a candlelight vigil for their neighbor’s friend who was gay bashed. From last week’s promo, I knew what was going to happen but hoped I was mistaken. I was not. Kurt attempted to stop a group of men from beating up a guy in an alley, so they turned their anger onto him. He was attacked and had to go to the hospital.

Bash_still_4For a while, I felt relieved Glee had stopped simply being a pedestal for issues to be discussed one week and forgotten the next. They’d done it with school shootings, eating disorders and so much more (check out this list Vulture compiled), and now they’re going to do it with gay bashing. As per usual, the show simply just doesn’t know how to handle all the issues it wants to discuss. I would be perfectly fine if the show discussed gay bashing if they did it correctly. Kurt shouldn’t be attacked, but if he is, then don’t throw it in the middle of an episode that mostly talks about a pending relationship and Rachel’s future. Give it enough airtime so we can believe it, and so it will not be so jarring. This can also work much better if they continue with it. Have this moment spark Kurt’s passion to be an activist or something so I can accept this random storyline. Glee, please do something with this. If I come back next week and you don’t mention how he got those scraps and bruises on his pretty face, then I may seriously write you a strongly worded letter.

Blaine sings “Not While I’m Around” to Kurt and also for his re-do mid-winter critique. Surprisingly, I was not as big a fan of this cover as I was of the other Sondheim covers. Something just didn’t fully click for me even though I love Sweeney Todd a little too much.

After Kurt’s incident, Mercedes realizes how foolish it is to not date Sam because of his race, so to make it up to him she sings her own song, “Colorblind.” This is Riley’s own song, and it’s magnificent. The lyrics are beautiful and it is a great first record for Riley’s career. Go listen and buy it.

Burt (Mike O’Malley) even comes to the city to yell at Kurt, but ultimately ends up still being one of the best fathers on TV as he says next time Kurt can only do it if he is standing there with him. Thank you for always being a little ray of sunshine in what is usually a cloudy storyline.

Everyone goes to support Kurt for his mid-winter critique, in which he sings and closes out the episode with “I’m Still Here,” a personal favorite and a great anthem.

With Sondheim, the show soared, but that may just be the Broadway enthusiast in me talking. They weren’t the most compelling television but the Samcedes and Rachel storylines were acceptable. This episode is definitely average at best, but it could have been better received had they done the gay bashing storyline better. Feel free to discuss these issues; they need to be discussed. But do it properly. You’re not helping any cause by only giving it ten minutes of attention. Make it the storyline of the night and make sure to show the repercussions. Issues don’t just come and go in our lives. Kurt was right when he said he’d been fighting those guys all his life. Continue that fight. Don’t let this just be some freak thing that happened. Make it useful and show you had a purpose in doing it.

Has anybody seen Artie? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Bad Words
| Directed by Jason Bateman | Rated R

20-bad-wordsMuch like many, many actors before him, Jason Bateman has decided that he, too, wants to be a director.

To be fair, though, Bateman has been understudying as a TV director for several years. But, with this week’s Bad Words, he finally steps up to the bat and makes his first film as a helmer. How does he fare, though, in the job that has made and broken several actors in the past? Pretty good, I must say. At least, so far.

In addition to directing, Bateman also stars as Guy Trilby, an eighth-grade dropout who, at age 40, has decided to enter the National Spelling Bee with an aim to win thanks to a loophole in their eligibility. Taking down kids left and right, he makes his way to the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee aided by reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), his sponsor who, much like everyone else, is trying to figure out just why the hell he is doing this in the first place.

Along the way, he also, begrudgingly, becomes friends with 10-year-old fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), which ends up, mildly, muddling up his plans.

What I truly appreciate about Bad Words is that they make Guy much more than your average asshole. He’s clearly smart, as the film heavily implies that he is an actual genius, or at least well near it, and uses his asshole-ness to its advantage, even if that hurts everyone and anyone else along the way.

But, more than anything, I like that Bateman has finally been able to push himself away from playing Michael Bluth, for once. He really needed a role like this in his career. Thankfully, not only is he up for the task, but he puts in one of his strongest performances to date. What makes his character so appealing is that there is constantly an air of mystery about him, which Bateman successfully adds both behind and in front of the camera and screenwriter Andrew Dodge draws out on the page.

Although Bad Words is constantly funny, it is never truly hilarious, which is something that ultimately hurts it from being a full-out good movie. It has all the elements to get there. Yet it, for some reason, never quite pulls itself together to be anything more than just a pretty good comedy. One that, if it was on HBO or at Redbox, you’d certainly enjoy, but would be hard pressed to remember in the next couple days.

I feel that this is mainly due to Dodge and his inability to stretch the script beyond the stereotypical conventions of this R-rated comedy genre, especially in its third act.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: Dodge has certainly written a good script, and one that is rather clever and likes to pack a punch when necessary. And yet, it also seems to lack the confidence—even though it is more than willing to be as foul-mouthed as possible—to truly push the comedy over the edge into being a full-on black comedy, perhaps in fear that its main character will become too unlikable. A worthy concern, to be sure, and, in the long run, perhaps is in everyone’s best interest. After all, at times, it’s best to play it safe rather than run the risk of making your main character a completely unlikable prick.

There are certainly moments, though, where it starts to go into this territory and, as a result, usually produces some of the movie’s best jokes. One in particular, involving ketchup at the tournament, strikes this balance of mean-spirited foul play and funny shenanigans quite well. Yet, for about the other three-fourths of the movie, it never truly crosses that line that would essentially make it a truly good, mean spirited R-rated comedy.

If, when watching any commercials or trailer for this movie or even just reading the title, you were reminded of 2003’s Bad Santa, you would not be mistaken. Although I have not heard either Dodge or Bateman confirm it in any interviews, it appears that that movie’s foul-minded mentality was a heavily influence on not just the protagonist, if you will, of this movie, but its general story thread as well.

Now, this is not to say that it completely ripped off that movie, because it didn’t, but the comparisons can’t help but bring the movie down a couple notches. Especially since that movie is over a decade old now. Nevertheless, though, Bad Words is still able to create enough spunk and wit around its curiosity in its main character to make this could-have-been one-joke movie work.

As a director, my feelings towards Jason’s work fall in line with what A.A. Dowd wrote in his review of the film for The A.V. Club: it’s “competent but without much flair.” While I would argue that Bateman does have a little more flair than Dowd gives him credit for—his decision to immerse the film in a greenish, yellow-brown color grading, as well as several slow-mo, fast-mo sequences (no, not like the ones in 300 or 300: Rise of an Empire) throughout that are actually pretty well done and nowhere near as annoying as they could have been, represent a filmmaker that has a little more in mind, stylistically, than your average actor-turn-director—he, generally, seems to direct the movie in a typical, if not particularly exciting, manner.

Bateman certainly has a strong sense of pacing, as the movie knows how to get in and get out in a brisk 89 minutes, as well as how to keep the movie’s mean-spirited mentality in balance, but never overboard. But, at least when it comes to camera staging and use of actors, he doesn’t do anything quite outstanding, just, as Dowd said, competent. Which is fine, I will never knock anyone for being competent, but I feel that, in the years to come, Bateman will only grow as a filmmaker.

While only sporadically funny, and not quite as clever and witty as it thinks or hopes to be, Bad Words is still a pretty good little comedy that shows, hopefully, good things to come from Bateman, both behind and in front of the camera. Now, so long as he doesn’t keep milking this Michael Bluth thing, we’re all cool.

Although, looking at his IMDB page, I am reminded that he has Horrible Bosses 2 coming out in the near future…oh well.

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Captain America: The Winter Solider
| Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo | Rated PG-13
RATING: 3.5/5

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-PosterWith less than ten films as their own company under their belt, Marvel has found a way to master the art of disposable superhero filmmaking.

With Disney’s purchase of the company, they, like all things, have been able to produce their films not just a means of making films, but rather as a way to sell, sell, sell. They get in, market the hell out of their movie, make a solid buck, then move on to the next film. They have a movie or two planned out for the next ten or so years, literally, and this is the best and worst thing that could possibly happen here.

Now, I don’t want to go on a rant here, but Marvel movies are starting to lose their soul a bit. Even The Avengers had a whiff of emptiness in it, saved mostly by Joss Whedon’s whip smart writing and the cast’s great chemistry.

I’m not going to go around moping about the state of the Marvel movies for this whole review—because, essentially, I did that already in my Thor: The Dark World review and my upcoming (hopefully) published column in one of this week’s Post papers—but I will thankfully say this: Captain America: The Winter Solider, the latest marketing gig by Marvel Studios, is their best in the Phase Two sequence. But it’s not quite a great film.

Concluding his adventures with the Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is finally starting to get adjusted to life in the 21st century. Or, at least, he’s trying. But he doesn’t get too much time to do so, as he gets wind of a group of people trying to take over the S.H.I.E.L.D. industry and possess its immerse power for their own personal use. Now, as he tries to stop it, Cap gets made to look like the villain, and everything, including his life and the lives of those he cares about, are put in jeopardy.

What helps save Captain America: The Winter Solider from falling into the depths of average that were the last two Marvel movies is its attention to character. Thankfully, this movie understands Rogers, and wishes to explore who he is a human being. Not just a man in a goofy mask running around throwing a shield. It layers him out, exploring an emotional side that deserves to be told and therefore draws a stronger emotional impact to him than we have developed for any Avenger, save for Tony Stark. The quieter, more character-driven moments are where the movie excels.

Oddly enough, for a movie so jam packed with action, the scenes centered on two characters talking are much more interesting and well done than any scenes involving fisticuffs. It’s weird that, for a blockbuster like this, the scenes where the movie is at its weakest are when they involve explosions and punching and general violence. While some scenes are pretty well done—there’s an impressive shot of Rogers fighting a group of guys on a boat early one, as well as a fist fight between the title characters three quarters into the motion picture—a lot of these scenes suffer from over-use of shaky cam, and a lack of knowledge as to how to shoot close action.

It’s no surprise that this movie is shot by the same man who was the DP of last summer’s Elysium—Trent Opaloch—because both movies seem to have the same problems. They are good at shooting action from a distance, but when it involves characters up close and personal, it seems to be at a lost. The camera shaking, along with the over-use of quick edits, is not only jarring, but near headache inducing trying to get a hold of what’s going on. Where Elysium only had one of these scenes, though, The Winter Solider has about five to seven.

One of the highlights of the film is a supporting performance by none other than Robert Redford. Without getting too deep into the plot, I will say that his character is perhaps the most fascinating of the new players introduced in this game, and he doesn’t get nearly enough scenes to scorn and skillfully play along with the film’s antics.

Also, one of the best aspects of this movie is that it finally gives Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) their due. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is not their movie in any stretch of the imagination. But, for once, they are actually able to expand their characters and, especially for the later, they are given lines that are not just exposition. Although Black Widow has had a couple scenes of character in both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, this is the movie that really uses her the best thus far.

Decidedly, as the Star-Spangled Avenger, this is Evans’ best performance to date behind the shield and cap. Granted, it’s mainly because this is the most weight he has had to pull thus far. But he does it in stride, and helps drive home the script’s attempts of establishing an emotional core.

Not to knock on the script, though, because this is genuinely one of the best they have had in some time. I have a hard time believing that these are the same guys that wrote Thor: The Dark World and Pain & Gain, because Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely have put together one of Marvel’s most sophisticated scripts to date. True, the film does fall back on traditional story troupes whenever it gets the opportunity, but the banter is a lot wittier this time around (I wonder if directors Anthony and Joe Russo helped out here) and the general sense of story structure is a lot more tight and clear.

Plus, it’s not afraid to get its hands dirty at times with a little bit of grit, even if it starts to chicken out towards the end.

Speaking of grit, the Russos are mainly responsible for bring this sense of character to the film. Given their background—excluding You, Me and Dupree—they have generally gathered a strong understanding of character development and use of team building, especially in their work on TV for shows like Community and Arrested Development, and help make this a much more personal film than most of the other Marvel features to date.

While they are good in the character department, though, they lack the understanding to make strong hand-to-hand combat scenes. Generally, much like The Avengers and Iron Man 3, whenever they are showing action for a distance, they do a respectable job. But, when things are shown up close and personal, they rely too much on shaky cam and over editing. It’s not only distracting, but it runs the action, especially considering that the fight choreography in this movie is actually quite good overall, especially in an opening sequence on a boat.

Additionally, while not a bad villain, the title villain doesn’t quite ever get the time to shine. He certainly has some badass moments, but, save for these, he doesn’t really get enough of a back story for us to care that much about him, or really enough screen time to make us invested. As much as people like to hate on the D.C. movies of late, at least they know how to make a strong villain. I felt much more of a threat from Zod in Man of Steel than I ever did for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 or whoever the hell the villains were in Thor: The Dark World besides Loki or even here. I’m just saying.

Also, just another random side note, the make-up in this movie, especially with one particular scene in mind, is actually really good—much like in the first Captain America movie. I will give Marvel that, they have a knack for finding good make up artists. Though, I suppose when you are buddy-buddy with Disney, they are able to help their kin.

Overall, Captain America: The Winter Solider may not be the great superhero movie that some are making it out to be on social media websites, but it is still a damn fine superhero movie that shows promise for the Marvel franchise to move beyond fast-food filmmaking. Hopefully, they keep on this track and continue to make quality movies with a little more thought put into the characters and their motivations, because this is definitely the strongest one in the “phase two” sequence.

At least, until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out. Hopefully.

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 3.5/ 5

new new yorkGlee is finally out of McKinley and it has drastically improved because of it. This was the best regular episode of the season yet, meaning it was the least nonsensical so far. Off topic, but the episode is called “New New York” and I can’t help but wonder if that’s a Doctor Who reference.

It’s been a few months since graduation, and Rachel (Lea Michele) has done an out-of-town run of Funny Girl and now has her own town car to chauffeur her around as she pleases. Naturally, she starts singing “Downtown” and is joined by all her fellow ex-glee club members as they walk around — you guessed it — downtown New York City.

I loved Lea Michele in tonight’s episode. She really nails playing the diva and has started to make me like Rachel again. Kudos.

Artie (Kevin McHale) does a voice over about how much he loves the Big Apple, until someone steals his backpack right off his wheelchair in the subway. Now, he’s afraid to go back to that treacherous place. I’m not kidding. This is his storyline. If this is a reflection of what the rest of his time spent in New York is like, then I think we should cut the cord now.

Surprisingly, his and Rachel’s storylines are somewhat intertwined. Rachel tells him he just needs to get right back on the subway because being a “real New Yorker” means getting over scary things like that. Artie then yells that she’s not even a real New Yorker because she spent all of a few weeks actually walking around the city before she became the glam diva standing before everyone today. She wants to be authentic so she ditches the town car and promises to take the subway with Artie everyday. Just as natural as the first song, the duo sings “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” as interpretive dancers fill the subway car and station. One, this song isn’t actually about the subway, but nice try. Two, YOU CANNOT DANCE THAT CLOSE TO THE TRACKS. So many accidents could have happened.

One day, they see the mugger on the train, and Artie pepper sprays him and gets his backpack back. Holy unnecessary storylines Batman!

boxersBlaine (Darren Criss) is just still so happy to be living with Kurt (Chris Colfer), even though it’s been a few months now, so they sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” during their morning routine, which I guess always consists of a pillow fight because reasons. Hey, if it means I get to see Criss in his boxers for three minutes; I’ll take it.

However, not everyone is feeling the love as Kurt thinks Blaine is suffocating him. Blaine is in all his classes; they live together and essentially do everything together. He talks with Elliott (Adam Lambert) who reassures him that his relationship is worth fighting for, “but don’t forget to practice with your band.” Cue their performance of “Rockstar.” Transitions matter, people. At least attempt to write them.

Kurt eventually freaks and yells at Blaine, who ends up going over to Elliott’s to tell him to back off his man. Elliott reassures him he doesn’t think of Kurt in that way — even though we know something is going to happen — and the two have a brief acoustic jam session. Sure, why not.

Klaine decide they need to live in separate spaces in order to save their relationship.  “We don’t need this pressure,” Kurt says. Excuse me, you are ENGAGED. If you can’t live together, then how are you going to spend the rest of your lives together? Once again, the show has proved how teenagers are way too young to consider marriage.

I am glad things aren’t just peachy keen for these two. Feeling suffocated by your partner is a very real concept and the show hasn’t really ever dealt with that. I think they did make an important note in saying that Blaine’s moving out wasn’t a step back in the relationship, it was just to let the two be their own people. People in relationships still need independence; otherwise, it becomes a very unhealthy partnership. For once, ya done good Glee.

samSam (Chord Overstreet) laments about his lack of job prospects and just sulks around the apartment all day. Obviously, the best way to cheer him up is to sing “Best Day of My Life” in Times Square. Now, he has the motivation to finally cut his hair — thank goodness! — and gets a gig modeling for some sort of brief that lifts men’s buttocks. Thank you for finally making Chord Overstreet attractive once again. That long hair don’t care look was really unappealing.

He moves into a complex where other models live but has to move out when they start talking about pills and unhealthy habits. Good for you, sir.

They’re all hanging in the apartment when Mercedes (Amber Riley) comes in and announces she’s moving to New York. Sure, why not. Because none of them have any other friends, Blaine and Sam move into Mercedes’ spare room. But that Samcedes spark is gone as Mercedes boldly turns Sam down.

I am thrilled Riley is back, for what I think is for good. Sam and Artie are really disinteresting characters, but Mercedes has always been great. She’ll definitely help a season that would otherwise really be quite dull without her.

And we end the episode with Rachel singing “People.” There are a lot of things I don’t like about Glee, but give me Lea Michele singing any Barbra Streisand song, and I’ll allow it. This was a perfect cover.

I may have sounded snarky throughout this review but compare this episode to the last ten episodes of season five and tell me it’s not the best of those episodes. It is. Lea Michele is spectacular all throughout the episode. I’m really glad Mercedes is back; I’ve really missed her! Sam finally cut that awful ponytail off, and I got to see Darren Criss in his boxers for a solid three minutes.

Is there really anything more I could ask from a show that has been disappointing since its season premiere? Here’s hoping this up-streak continues. As much as I love to hate the show, I continue watching because I’m waiting for that magical moment when it becomes good again. Season one was amazing, and it had me obsessed. I want to be that invested in the show again. Let’s hope the new setting will open up the creative minds of the show.

Fingers crossed.

What did you think of the first New York-only episode? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl


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