Archive for March, 2015

GET HARD: 2 STARS. “broad comedy about race, privilege and ‘Keistering.’”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.11.33 PMPerhaps the original idea for “Get Hard” involved something about the class divide between the 1% and everybody else but there’s nothing funny about Bernie Madoff so maybe that’s why director and co-writer Etan Cohen juiced things up by adding in broad comedy elements about race, privilege and instructions for something called “Keistering.” Imagine a slapstick “Wall Street” or “The Defiant Ones” sucked dry of its social message.

Will Ferrell is James King, an aptly named but dim-witted hedge-fund manager. He’s wealthy beyond belief, engaged to his boss’s daughter Alissa (Alison Brie) and as self-indulgent as he is rich.

“How much money are you going to make today?” coos Alissa.

“Enough to choke a baby,” he says.

He has the world in his back pocket until he’s charged and convicted on 73 counts of fraud and embezzlement. Sentenced to ten years at maximum-security San Quentin he has one month to put his affairs in order before being sent up the river. “For the love of Alan Greenspan! My life is ruined.”

Terrified of life behind bars he hires a prison coach, someone who has done time and can prepare him for what lies ahead. Or at least, that’s what he hopes will happen when he offers his one African-American friend, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) $30,000 to whip him into slammer shape. “Help me not be someone’s bitch.”

Trouble is, Darnell is a family man who has never been near prison but he’s trying to make enough money to buy a new house.

“Why did he think you were in jail,” asks Darnell’s sceptical wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson).

“I was being black,” he explains. “I’ll be the stereotype he already thinks I am.”

He creates a Prison Readiness Program that includes Mad Dog Face, picking a fight lessons and a simulated prison riot. The pair form a bond, and soon they put the lessons aside to concentrate their efforts on the men who put King in this jam.

It’s true that Ferrell, playing a variation on his trademarked clueless, arrogant guy routine, raises a few laughs and Hart is his usual high energy self—almost too much so in one extended and excruciatingly unfunny role playing sequence—but apart from several outrageous and funny physical bits, “Get Hard” prefers to lean back on tired R-rated comedy tropes.

Gay panic, check. Racial stereotypes, check. Raunchy jokes, check. It’s occasionally offensive—but what R-rated comedy in the last ten years isn’t?—but worse than that, it takes the easy way out and in the process wastes the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and make the class warfare comedy a bit richer. For a farce to be truly effective it has to have one foot in the real world. The characters here are too broad to truly connect, but the realities of economic disparity, class and race are in-your-face enough to provide a fertile vein of satire. Too bad they, by-and-large, go unmined.

HOME: 3 STARS. “contains good moral lessons wrapped up in a shiny package.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.33.57 PM“Home,” is an alien invasion movie for kids. Imagine a cute “War of the Worlds” with messages about courage and the meaning of family and you get the idea.

Oh (voice of Jim Parsons) is a Boov, an alien from a skittish race of ETs who flee at the slightest sign of trouble. Constantly on the run from their mortal enemies, this time their fearful leader Captain Smek (voice of Steve Martin) has found them refuge on Earth, moving the planet’s inhabitants to an interment camp called Happy Human Town to make room for the Boov. Oh isn’t aware of the camp. “Boov do not steal and abduct,” he says naively, “we liberate and befriend.”

Tip” Tucci (voice of Rihanna) is a teenager who managed to avoid the Boov, but is now in search of her mother (voice of Jennifer Lopez). When Oh accidentally invites the entire universe—including the Boov’s enemies—to his housewarming, he flees the angry aliens, running into Tip. The odd couple become friends and soon Oh is helping Tip find her mother while Tip teaches Oh about bravery and the importance of family.

You’d have to be particularly grim faced to deny “Home’s” cute factor. The audience I saw it with seemed to have their collective fingers permanently poised on the “Ahhhh” button but cute doesn’t mean it’s a great film. It makes the most of its modest charms, seeming content to pitch the movie at an audience young enough to not be aware of many of the clichés on display. I won’t list them all here, but suffice to say that five minutes in you know this is the kind of kid’s flick that will end with some kind of dance number.

On the plus side there is action mild enough for the young ones—although they do mostly destroy Paris, which might upset Parisian tots—with low jeopardy and nothing that should inspire nightmares.

Parsons probably has the most cartoon friendly voice on television today and he uses it to good effect as the gullible extra-terrestrial. He speaks in alien doubletalk, a kind of Yoda speak mixed with the “I Can Has Cheezburger?” meme. “I do not fit in,” he says, “I fit out.”

“Home” contains good moral lessons wrapped up in a shiny package with giggles for the kids and even a laugh or two for parents who will have top accompany the little ones.

BOYCHOIR: 3 STARS. “smoothes over the rough bits in favour of being a crowd-pleaser.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.13.12 PMRecently “Whiplash” studied the student-mentor relationship as it applied to a drummer and his teacher. It painted a brutal picture of the ruthless search for perfection but the dynamic between the two fed the drama and made the extended drum solo at the end of the film as exciting as any action flick set piece.

“Boychoir” breathes similar air but is much lighter in its approach.

Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a rebellious Texas tween from a rough neighbourhood. He’s a troubled orphan with the proverbial voice of an angel given the chance to improve his life and voice by earning a spot at the Boychoir boarding school. Under the tutelage of the demanding Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) Stet travels the world, sublimating his anger with music and creativity.

“Boychoir” will please people who found “Whiplash” too harsh. It’s the kinder, gentler version of the student-mentor tale that places the music in the forefront. The choral arrangements are stirring but the story could have benefitted from taking a chance or two.

Director François Girard does a nice job of moving the plot from A to B but, like the beautiful music featured on the soundtrack, is a bit too harmonious, too conventional in the telling of the story. Hoffman brings a sense of melancholy to a character who has given his life to music and left room for very little else. That would have been worth exploring, but “Boychoir” is content to smooth over the rough bits in favour of being a crowd-pleaser.

OCTOBER GALE: 3 STARS. “Ruba Nadda’s thriller follows her heart.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.18.03 PM“October Gale,” a new film from “Cairo Time” director Ruba Nadda, is a hybrid of romance and thriller that cares about it’s characters more than it does about moving the audience to the edge of their collective seats.

Patricia Clarkson is Helen Matthews, a Toronto doctor grieving the loss of her husband (Callum Keith Rennie). For solace she retreats to a remote, picturesque cottage in Georgian Bay. Her time of quiet reflection and healing is disrupted, however, by the appearance of Will, a mysterious and seriously injured young man, played by Scott Speedman. She plays nurse, they talk and flirt and soon Helen finds herself drawn to the stranger. Trouble is, Tom (Tim Roth), the man who wounded Will to begin with, has every intention of dropping by to finish the job.

“October Gale” has all the elements of a thriller—people with mysterious pasts meet in a remote location on a dark and stormy night—but Nadda subverts the conventions of the genre by taking her time getting to the thrills. Instead she builds the tension carefully, walking through Helen’s grief in a beautifully played first act. Clarkson is at her best here, subtly and beautifully showing not only her loss but also her resiliency in the face of sorrow. Once we get to know Helen, William appears adding another layer to the story. By the time we get to the thriller aspect of “October Gale” Nadda makes sure we care for and are invested in the characters.

“October Gale” isn’t a typical thriller. It’s a thriller without many thrills, but lots of soul. Nadda does not slavishly try and ape Hitchcock or the other masters of the genre, but follows her heart instead.

THE RIOT CLUB: 2 ½ STARS. “the story of class warfare needs a few more skirmishes.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.19.10 PM“The Riot Club” is a story of excess, contempt and aristocratic entitlement. Based on the play “Posh” by Laura Wade it centers around a fictional version Oxford University’s Bullingdon or Riot Club, a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old drinking fraternity.

The film doesn’t come with an “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,” disclaimer, probably much to the chagrin of former real-life members, Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

The bulk of the movie takes place at an elaborate dinner in the backroom of a gastropub. Two first year students, ‘Milo’ Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin) are inducted into the legendarily elite club. It’s all debauched fun and games until a few perceived slights—a “ten bird roast” arrives with only nine layers and a hired call girl declines their requests—ignites a drunken, violent response.

Director Lone Scherfig takes her time getting to the meat of the matter. Setting the scene gives us a sense of time and place but feels unnecessary in terms of making the larger point of the insulation from consequences privilege can provide. Perhaps it’s a way to enrich the ham-handed message—is it really such a surprise that ultra-rich yobs can behave pretty much however they like?—or the cartoonish climax but it doesn’t add much dramatically.

The large ensemble—it’s a who’s who of young English actors, including Douglas Booth, Natalie Dormer and Jessica Brown Findlay—hold it together admirably but the story of class warfare might have been stronger if there were a few more skirmishes along the way.

IT FOLLOWS: 4 STARS. “one of the most unsettling horror movies of the year.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.14.07 PM“It Follows” is a hybrid of genres. It’s a scary film through and through, but it’s the dual horror of teenage boredom and ennui coupled with a strange and terrifying supernatural virus that is transmitted sexually. Coming of age and body/mind horror steeped together in an unholy mix and it is an effective brew.

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a typical, slightly bored teen living in a sleepy suburb of Detroit. There’s not much for the teens to do there except watch TV, hang out and have sex. After a one-night stand with Hugh (Jake Weary) Jay finds herself in trouble, but not “in trouble” as in pregnant. He has infected her with a curse that will cause her to see ghosts, terrifying, shape shifting visions like living nightmares that could drive her to the brink of madness. He tells her the only way to get rid of the virus is to pass it on by hitting the sack with someone else. Until then, he warns her not to let the “ghosts” touch her and “never go anywhere with only one exit.”

It would be easy to write ”It Follows” off as a teen horror, but it is much more than that. It’s a study—and a creepy one at that—of teen angst filtered through primal dread—fear of the dark, being alone, apparitions—and physical fear. An anxiety inducing synthesizer score adds to the atmosphere of unease, making this one of the most unsettling and original horror movies of the year.

Photographs from the March 24, 2015 book launch for “Elvis is King”!

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.59.21 PM“I want to thank everyone who came out last night to the Rivoli for the book launch ECW Press threw for me and Andy Burns to celebrate the releases of our books Elvis is King: Costello’s My Aim is True and Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks.

“It was Nick Lowe’s sixty sixth birthday last night so it was appropriate to raise a pint and celebrate one of my favorite records of all time and the subject of my new book.

“Also thanks to everyone who posed for photographs with copies of Elvis Costello’s records and singles. It was a lot of fun and a great way to kick off this new book.

More on Elvis is King: Costello’s My Aim is True HERE!

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Richard hosted a special “In Conversation” with Pixar’s Pete Docter.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 2.04.24 PMPete Docter insight to directing: “You have to know enough of where you’re going in order to lead the way.”

“Abstract thought,memories,dreams,brain vs. mind; things that can only be explored in animation”

“[UP] was [intially] about two princes on an alien planet, living in a floating city.” – Pete Docter

“What will the audience take away from this? You have to dig deep for the life truths”

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Elvis is King: The Nervous Breakdown Richard Crouse Self-Interview

Screen-Shot-2015-03-13-at-3.09.51-PMWhat was it like the first time you heard My Aim Is True?

Hearing My Aim Is True for the first time was one of those aha moments for me that changed everything. From the opening chord of “Welcome to the Working Week,” I knew this record was something special. By the time I got to track four, “Blame It on Cain,” I knew I never had to listen to Pablo Cruise or REO Speedwagon ever again. Someone out there was making music that spoke to me and it hit me like a punch in the gut. I heard the snarl in Elvis’s voice, the cynicism dripping off every line and for me that was the noise that art made. It was liberation from my small town.

When was the last time you listened to My Aim Is True?

While I was writing the book it was on constant replay but it would not be a stretch to say that barely a week has gone by since I first heard the record that I have not listened to at least part of it. “Welcome to the Working Week” is my unofficial anthem and is in heavy rotation around the House of Crouse… Read the whole thing HERE! Buy the book HERE!