Life in Dying

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-1

High school movies are like long division, get one step wrong and it all fails. The story could be interesting, but if the characters aren’t believable, fail. The characters can be believable teenaged high schoolers, but if the movie doesn’t have anything interesting to say, fail. Since there are no special effects to make the movie pop, high school/teenage movies rely on characters and story the most to be engrossing and memorable. Now Hollywood has moved past pushing teeny-bopper musicals in school hallways (thankfully) and have tried letting more serious stories be told by the youth of America. Some come off sappy (The Fault in Our Stars), some are fun and insightful (Dope) and some can even take a piece out of your heart. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is most definitely the latter, and it is worth it.

Based on Jesse Andrews’ 2013 book of the same name (Andrews wrote the screenplay for the movie as well), the Me in the title is self-loathing socially awkward high school senior Greg (Thomas Mann). Greg finds high school socialization stupid, so he casually mingles with each clique in order to appear harmless and avoid making enemies (along with new friends). His only friend is referred to as a co-worker named Earl (RJ Cyler) that makes hilariously amateur parodies of classic films like A Sockwork Orange and A Box of Tulips Now. Earl doesn’t look socializing, but his parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force Greg to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Rachel is droll, witty and dying of leukemia, but she doesn’t want anybody’s pity, least of all Greg. The two start connecting via their own awkward tendencies and Rachel even enjoys Greg and Earl’s movies. But as Rachel gets sicker and the Greg reluctantly agrees to make a movie for her, life starts to breakdown Greg’s carefully constructed strategy of emotional seclusion and make him question what he’s missing out on.

If you’re starving for Wes Anderson’s next feature, you’re in luck because Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the best movie Anderson never made. With Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Glee, American Horror Story) behind the camera, he shoots the movie in Pittsburgh with a faded tone and something in the form of an art film. His camera follows his actors in motion (sometimes shaking, sometimes steady), even as the collapse to a non-human state to avoid social awkwardness. Being based in high school makes Me and Earl have more in common with Bottle Rocket than The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Gomez-Rejon has the same passion for film that Anderson has and it’s all on-screen. The movies Greg and Earl make and the stop-motion animation used as an allegory for Greg’s relationship with a cute co-ed (Katherine C. Hughes) show the same unique style of storytelling Anderson brings.

He also knows to respect Jesse Andrews’ characters. Thomas Mann is very endearing by keeping the introverted Greg from becoming an unlikeable jerk. He’s not ignoring people because he hates people, he just understands that being made fun of in high school for what you’re passionate about isn’t worth it. His awkwardness isn’t for comedy (though it is funny), just a part of his personality. His fascination with foreign film is probably because he feels like a foreigner in his own life. He’s got help though, like RJ Cyler’s deadpan Earl that always manages to knock sense into Greg once in a while. British actress Olivia Cooke is more than endearing, sort of a sunnier Aubrey Plaza. She shows a lot of soul when the cancer gets worse and reminds Greg that being alone is stupid, a valuable lesson for introverts everywhere. Me and Earl also has great little pieces of supporting comedy from Offerman, Jon Bernthal as Greg’s intense teacher and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s touchy-feely mom.

What Me and Earl succeeds in is making a story used for sappy Lifetime movies seem fresh and surprisingly funny. Greg (as narrator) points out very early on that this is not a “touching love story” where he and Rachel fall in love, even pointing out he’s not sure how tell the story. That’s actually one of the charms of the movie; he doesn’t tell it like a story of any kind, but as a memory or a life lesson. The story isn’t for everyone so it may turn people off, but the way it’s told is something so alive and funny that it may even turn the harshest of critics. And for those like Greg or Rachel, someone who never fit into the mold and wanted to make their own, congrats on finally having a movie for you.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 4 stars

Advertisements

Going Through The (E)motions

rileys-emotions-inside-out

For 16 years, Disney and Pixar have dominated cinema in the field of animated movies. Pixar movies like Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Wall-E have been both critical and commercial successes for their stunning animations and memorable characters. But what really set Pixar above the rest was their ability to translate important life lessons and interesting stories into something enjoyable for the short-attention spans of kids today and the cynical attitudes of adults as well. They weren’t just kids movies or cartoons, they were made with the quality and imagination of other grown-up movies that would earn critical praise. But, and not to scare anybody before their weekend starts, is Pixar starting to come down from their epic high of animated dominance? Their last three films haven’t exactly been given the warmest of welcomes; Cars 2 was an unnecessary mess, Brave was noble but disappointing and Monsters University was fun but unoriginal. We now have Inside Out, which Peter Debruge of Variety called, “The greatest idea that Pixar has ever had,”…….slow your roll there, guy.

Inside Out follows 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she and her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. This is a lot for Riley to process, especially for the five emotions running around in her brain. I mean “running” literally because her five core feelings are living beings working together to make sure Riley is being Riley. There’s Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black), who all present themselves at certain times in Riley’s daily life to create her personality. When Riley’s playing hockey, Joy’s behind the controls cheering her on. If there’s broccoli in the room, Disgust is scoffing at it like Riley would. But with the new house, new school and no friends, Sadness is more and more present for Riley, which does not sit well with Joy. When Sadness accidentally makes one of Riley’s happy memories sad and Joy tries to fix it, she and Sadness get sucked from the central nervous system (“central control” in this case) into long term memory. Joy and Sadness must make their way back before Riley loses all memory of who she is.

Now for those who have heard that Inside Out is a “groundbreaking original concept,” let me be one of the first to tell you it’s mostly a lie. Granted the only other times this concept has been attempted is with an early-90’s sitcom called Herman’s Head and technically with the 2001 animated movie Osmosis Jones, but Inside Out is still nothing original. More so, it’s another adventure movie where the main characters get lost at point A and have to get to point B. While the base of the concept is different for Pixar, the majority of the movie is the same as previous films like Up and Finding Nemo in which two characters who are total opposites have to find a way to work together to get to where they were at the start of the movie. With Inside Out though, having Joy and Sadness have to be the traveling opposites be the two characters seemed like the easiest piece of plot Pixar has ever done, but I digress. The characters in the movie are pretty one-dimensional, but that’s expected when their entire personality is just their name. Disgust is stuck-up and annoyed at everything (just like Kelly Kapoor from The Office) and Anger wears a suit and tie while yelling at everything (just like Lewis Black in real life). Amy Poehler’s Joy is a bit more fleshed out showing signs of stress while trying to keep moral up amongst the other emotions, but it’s hard not to hear signs of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation in Joy. In fact, with two actors from The Office and two alums from Saturday Night Live, it’s easier to call this movie NBC Presents Supporting Comedic Actors’ Greatest Hits.

While the movie may be lacking in originality and three dimensional characters, it makes up for in comedy. The banter between the emotions is enjoyable, especially Bill Hader who was born to be a cartoon character. Poehler has enough bouncy energy to carry most of the scenes with a little help from Richard Kind as Riley’s lost imaginary friend, Bing Bong. The animation is still impressive, with enough color and imagination for visual eye candy. The problem with Inside Out is that it’s now easier to see the Pixar movie formula and easier to predict the outcome of the movie. There’s the obvious message of the movie (i.e. it’s ok to feel sad and express all your emotions), but the journey to that message makes the experience as a whole more interesting. Inside Out is funny and entertaining in bits, but the movie as a whole is weaker experience. The best thing for Pixar to do would be to come up with a new journey, mainly something that strays away from formula. But since Pixar is with Disney and fears original ideas the way kids feared monsters in their closets, let’s make due with Inside Out before Toy Story 4, Cars 3 and Finding Dory ruin the films they follow by being the exact same thing. Disney and Pixar, once here for art but now here for MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY!!!!!
Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

Bro-llywood

The entire existence of Entourage, the TV show and the movie, can be summed up in the penultimate scene in the Entourage movie. The best buddies of Hollywood are walking the red carpet at The Golden Globe Awards and The Who’s “Eminence Front” is playing in the background. For those unfamiliar, the chorus of “Eminence Front” features guitarist Pete Townshend singing “Eminence Front – It’s a put on” repeatedly. That’s it, that’s Entourage in a nutshell: An Eminence Front, a put on, a fantasy, a false advertisement. Entourage, the HBO series about a hotshot actor bringing his three buddies from Queens out to Hollywood for all play and no visible work. They slept with hot girls, drove hot cars, slept by the pool and partied like there was no tomorrow (but still a lot of money). It was the bro capital of television before MTV even thought of Jersey Shore. Now, four years after Vincent Chase and co. went off the air, their back for a feature length effort of making rich guys look like assholes. ADVENTURE HO!!!!!! Co-written and directed by series creator Doug Ellin, Entourage features the same old gang back together: blockbuster playboy actor Vince (Adrian Grenier), nice guy manager/producer E (Kevin Connolly), short but spunky Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Vince’s older brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon). Vince gets word that his former agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) is now the head of a studio and wants Vince to star in his Ari’s first movie. One catch, Vince wants to direct the movie too. Eight months and $100 million later, nobody has seen the movie, Vince is over budget and still needs more money to finish it. This means Ari, still dealing with outrageous anger issues, has to fly to Texas to kiss up to the film’s financiers, Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment). On top of that, E’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is about to have his baby while E is still sleeping around with models and porn stars (so relatable). Turtle is trying to put the moves on Ronda Rousey (one of the many celebrities playing themselves) and Drama is trying to make his own stamp in Hollywood. Entourage is a 104 minute episode of the TV series, with a lot of fluff and little to no substance. As the series has featured before, the movie is chock full of celebrity cameos including Jessica Alba, Warren Buffett, Liam Neeson, Kelsey Grammer, Emily Ratajkowski and Mark Wahlberg (one of the executive producers and the partial inspiration for the show). The cameos are so random and so brief, you could take a shot for every celebrity to show up and see how long you and your friends can make it through the movie. The lead cast members all fill out their less than respectable characters talking about hooking up with girls and how hard it is to juggle hooking up with girls. The funny this is, the guys aren’t sure whether they’re supposed to be loveable buddies who are stupid or just total douchebags. They’ll sleep with porn stars, but then wonder where their lives are headed and feel sorry about it. The only character with something close to an arch is E, but even when fatherhood comes knocking at his door, he just shrugs his shoulders and goes, “Hey bros, I’m a dad! SHOTS!” The only entertaining part of Entourage is Jeremy Piven’s Ari, who is still a total sleaze. His jokes are homophobic, racist and mean-spirited, so if that tickles your funny bone, good for you. Even the whole point of the movie (i.e. Vince’s blockbuster) is shoved off to the side and is automatically assumed to be completed. Purpose in this movie is as pointless as the last chick Vince slept with. It’s strange that Entourage even got made, because its depiction of Hollywood is very demeaning. With the rise of women like Melissa McCarthy leading Hollywood blockbusters and movies that have fully-formed gay characters instead of stereotypes, it seems like a step backward to make an Entourage movie. It’s barely any fun, cool to look at, but pointless to get invested in. It’s a bad sign when one of the comedic highlights is a cameo from Gary Busey. VICTORY….not so much. Final Verdict: 1 out of 4 stars