Ep. 96 – Get Out, our Oscar picks, and Moonlight hits home video

February 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the new horror/comedy from Jordan Peele, “Get Out.” They also hand out their Oscar picks, and take look at “Moonlight” as it hits home release on Tuesday.

[00:00-17:45] Intro/inside podcast talk

[17:45-41:29] Oscar picks

[41:29-52:51] Review: “Get Out”

[52:51-1:04:50] No Ticket Required: “Moonlight”

[1:04:50-1:15:46] Wrap up/tease
Click here to download the episode!

Get Out

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Directed by: Jordan Peele (debut)
Written by: Jordan Peele (“Keanu”)

Dark comedy, sharp social satire and mainstream horror elements merge into the strange and, at times, smartly-written film “Get Out,” the first feature directed by Jordan Peele of the sketch comedy TV series “Key and Peele.” Tonally satisfying and provocative, the hybrid genre movie might overstay its welcome and miss out on driving its critique on cultural appropriate all the way home, but Peele has taken the somewhat unique idea (“Being John Malkovich” did it better) and modified it into his own clever, anti-racism statement.

Things get a little uncomfortable for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, African American college student, when his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), brings him home to meet her family. While Rose believes race isn’t going to be an issue for her progressive parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), the atmosphere surrounding the visit doesn’t sit well with Chris as soon as he gets there—from the unintentionally ignorant albeit inappropriate comments and questions that come his way to the bizarre interactions he has with the family’s black employees. Chris doesn’t know what’s up, but something is definitely not right. When Rose’s psychiatrist mother, Missy (Keener), decides to hypnotize Chris without his permission, supposedly to break him of his smoking habit, is when Chris’s short weekend trip with his girlfriend turns into a disturbing nightmare that he cannot awake from.

Borrowing themes from past films like the aforementioned “Malkovich,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives” (and possibly even director Johnathan Glazer’s trippy 2013 metaphysical drama “Under the Skin”), Peele’s exploration of current race relations in America and how casual racism has somehow become the norm, even among seemingly intelligent individuals, is the strongest reason to make your way to the theater for his promising directorial debut.

“Get Out” works much better as social commentary than it does when it regresses into mainstream horror in the third act, but by then Peele has audiences already hooked. If he had fleshed out some of the more complex ideas instead of actually cutting flesh, “Get Out” could’ve been something truly special.

Enough Said

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)

Imagine going on a first date with someone who instantly provided you with a hard-copy list of his or her bad habits and personality deficiencies even before you touched the appetizer. How much time would you save—and how many subsequent dinners could you skip over—if you automatically knew things weren’t going to work out because the seemingly normal person sitting in front of you likes to attend smooth jazz concerts and doesn’t recycle?

In “Enough Said,” a sharply written and moving romantic dramedy from director/writer Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), the question is dangled in front of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a single mom and massage therapist, who unknowingly becomes friends with the ex-wife of her new boyfriend Albert (James Gandolfini, in his first film released posthumously before the crime drama “Animal Rescue” premieres in 2014). When Eva begins to take full advantage of the situation by asking Marianne (Catherine Keener) about her failed marriage, her curious nature and lack of moral judgment backfires as she uses the information she receives to expect the worst from Albert without giving him much of a sporting chance.

Ironically, the familiar set-up sounds like something Elaine and Jerry would debate in an episode of “Seinfeld” (wouldn’t you want to know your date was a Nazi from the get-go?), so having Louis-Dreyfus at the center of the narrative feels almost natural even though her iconic Elaine character is nowhere to be seen. What we find instead is an emotionally complicated woman who digs herself too deep into a lie she can’t crawl out of to make amends. With her well-known comedic background, Louis-Dreyfus rarely gets the opportunity to put her dramatic talent on display, so uncovering those little moments in Holofcener’s compassionate script is terrific.

Also showing his range is the late Gandolfini, whose soft-hearted and vulnerable approach to Albert is impressive. His shared scenes with Louis-Dreyfus highlight Holofcener’s craftsmanship as a screenwriter. The dialogue is effortless as we watch Eva and Albert (both divorced and preparing to experience empty-nest syndrome) maneuver through their dates like a veteran quarterback would a pre-season scrimmage. They’re not trying to impress each other, but they still want to perform well enough to stay in the game.

With a perfect combination of understated humor and unpretentious drama, “Enough Said” is a sweet and oftentimes sad portrait of two middle-aged souls searching for happiness and comfort the way people used to do it before technology took away the human aspect of interface. Plus, knowing we’ll never get to see Gandolfini in another touching role like this makes all the difference when the screen cuts to black.

The Croods

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

They may not be the modern-Stone Age family most are familiar with in the cartoon caveman world, but “The Croods” is just as satisfying as any brontosaurus burger you’re likely to find at a prehistoric drive-thru. Sure, the characterizations can sway into familiar territory, but with some overall rock-solid voice acting and directors/writers Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”) digging deep into their imaginations for some fun storytelling, “The Croods” is a family-friendly winner in any era.

While the title of the film isn’t a great way to introduce us to the family (they might as well have called them The Uncooths or The Roughinskys), “The Croods” makes up for it in entertaining albeit recognizable characters. Grug (Nicholas Cage) is the overly-protective patriarch of the family, who uses fear-mongering to get his family to always stay safe in the confines of their cave. Monstrous cat-like creatures roam the terrain, after all. His rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), however, is curious to know what she is missing in a world so full of wonder (“Little Mermaid” anyone?). Rounding out the family tree is Eep’s mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), the logical thinker of the family who understands where her daughter is coming from; Eep’s dopey brother Thunk (Clark Duke), who is basically Chris Griffin (“Family Guy”) in woolly mammoth clothing; Gran (Cloris Leachman), who technically isn’t a Crood since she’s Grugs’s mother-in-law, but still delivers some old-lady laughs; and Sandy (Randy Thom), a toddler that acts more like a Gremlin than baby.

When the family meet Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more civilized version their Neanderthal selves, Ugg is skeptical of all the fancy inventions he introduces them to like fire and shoes. Driven from their home after a natural disaster, the Croods are forced to journey through strange lands to find a new place to inhabit. During their barefoot road trip, the family learns that experiencing new things is all part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be eaten whole by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger.

It’s a wonderful message for kids and stops short before rubbing their faces in it. The colorful and incredibly striking animation and funny sight gags and slapstick are what will keep children under the age of eight the most fascinated anyway. Parents, too, shouldn’t find themselves bored with a collection of exotic animals and settings. The creativity makes the Croods’ cave-hunting all the more exciting. The deeper family story also never slow the narrative down in any way. In fact, “The Croods” says a lot more about the father/daughter relationship than Pixar’s “Brave” said about mothers and daughters last year.

Like in some animated films, there is a scene-stealing secondary character like the Minions in “Despicable Me” or the sly penguins in the “Madagascar” franchise. So take heed parents because Belt, Guy’s loveable sloth who he keeps around his waist, will keep everyone laughing with his cliffhanger-inspired crooning. If you’re lucky, the plush version (and not the stinky alive version) will be on your kids’ Christmas lists this year.

Please Give

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt take advantage of other people’s misfortune in “Please Give,” a cutting, character-driven indie comedy about self-image, guilt and mortality that matches wits with recent films including Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages.”

As owners of a high-end antique shop in New York City, married couple Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have quite an eye for priceless old furniture, which they purchase for basement-low prices from the families of the recently deceased. Most people don’t want to worry about what to do with grandma’s armoire after she’s gone, so Kate and Alex, who certainly don’t reveal the actually value of the small treasures to the next of kin, scoop them up and make a pretty penny.

Their predatory approach to death isn’t limited to antiques. Kate and Alex are sort of waiting around for their stubborn, elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to kick the bucket so they can expand on their apartment. Andra’s granddaughters, the passive Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the all-too-blunt Mary (Amanda Peet), know the neighbors are restlessly waiting, which makes for the awkward friendship they share throughout the film.

Riddled with guilt about how they make their living, Kate tries to set her conscience at ease by giving money to the homeless people she sees on the street. Her charity is not met with support by her young daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who isn’t happy her mother would rather give money to a stranger than buy her own insecure daughter the things she needs to feel better about herself (a $200 pair of designer jeans and pimple cream should do the trick).

While the narrative feels a bit forced at times, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, who also made the small gems “Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends with Money,” develops the authenticity of the picture from the eccentric personalities she allows to share the screen. It’s through watching their gauche and sometimes irksome flaws clash together that makes “Please Give” such a delight.

Where the Wild Things Are

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”)
 
Not since director Alfonso Cuarón’s “A Little Princess” in 1995 has a film captured the vastness of a child’s emotional scope than Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, the film is an artistic and extraordinarily expressive fantasy that evokes the complexities of life through a misunderstood nine-year-old boy named Max (Max Records).
 
Max is angry. His igloo fortress has been demolished by his older sister’s friends, his science teacher just announced to his class that sometime in the distant future the sun is going to die, and the family dog won’t stay put long enough for Max to get him in a good headlock.
 
Max’s resentment boils over when his mother (Catherine Keener) seems more interested in spending time with her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) rather than going upstairs to look at the bed-sheet fort he has built in his room. The snub prompts Max to toss on his wolfish pajamas and cause a dysfunctional family scene in front of his mother’s company.
 
Enraged, Max runs out of the house and through the neighborhood until he reaches a rickety sailboat that will inevitably wash up on the shore of a dreamlike island inhabited by a pack of, well, wild things.

The creatures, portrayed fantastically by visionary director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Jim Henson Shop designers, stomp, growl, and destroy things with the best of them, but there’s also a softer side to these characters that enhances Sendak’s nine-sentenced book. Not long before Max makes his introduction to them, the wild things crown him king after his exaggerated storytelling impresses them. The script, penned by Jonze and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”), bristles with well-written dialogue as Max holds casual conversations during his stay on the island.

Each furry beast has his or her own personality and shares some of those traits with Max. All of them are disheartened in some way, including Carol (James Gandolifini), who is to Max what the Scarecrow was to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Their bond grows as Max instructs all the monsters to – brace yourself for the main plot of the film – build a colossal fort where they can all live together as one big family.

The storyline, however, isn’t what makes “Wild Things” one of the most remarkable and daring family films of the last decade (although one could argue most kids are really not going to be able to wrap their heads around the more philosophical scenes in the movie). Instead, it’s Jonze’s seamless attention to the affecting relationships Max is experiencing in his parallel worlds that makes “Wild Things” truly memorable.

The entire film speaks on a metaphorical level that is imaginative and disturbing. There’s no easy answer to the sadness Max or the wild things are feeling. Jonze and Eggers don’t pretend to have one either.  At his core, Max just wants to feel safe. It’s unexpected that he would find this amongst animals who, at any given time, could swallow him whole or crush him as they horseplay.

Minimal in delivery and heavy on melancholy and themes related to loneliness and sorrow, “Wild Things,” which took more than five years to complete, is worth every second Jonze spent creating this new classic tale. It’s far removed from Hollywood and is every bit hopeful and painful as the most perceptive mind could imagine.

The Soloist

April 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”)

Based on a series of articles by Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez, the story of a Julliard- music-virtuoso-turned-street-vagabond is simply fascinating on so many levels. There are, however, limitations as to how deep a story like this can run before its momentum staggers into a standard biopic. In the case of “The Soloist,” the narrative should have stayed inside its original newspaper columns.

Leading the way in this inspirational story is Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) as Nathaniel Ayers, the aforementioned homeless musician, whose mental illness forces him to quit his dream to play the cello and leads him to a life of meager means.

With no family to turn to, Nathaniel finds friendship and emotional comfort from reporter Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.), who becomes intrigued with his latest subject after watching him perform on a two-stringed violin under a statue of Beethoven in L.A.’s Pershing Square. While Steve plays the observer for their first meetings for his piece, he soon becomes much more to Nathaniel as the everyday challenges he faces as a homeless schizophrenic become more and more life threatening.

While screenwriter Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) has some great material about the passion for music one individual feels, most of that sentiment comes from Foxx himself as he falls into a tranquil daze every time a bow hits a stringed instrument. While this aspect of Nathaniel’s life is essential in completing his character arch, Grant fails to complete her end of the bargain when intertwining a message of mental illness and homelessness. Both topics are placed on the same pedestal as Nathaniel’s natural music ability, which poses a problem.

By the film’s third act Nathaniel doesn’t seem like a musician without a home who has mental issues. Instead, he is projected as a crazy homeless guy who knows a thing or two about classical music. More time needed to be devoted to the musical side of the story although in Lopez’s written word the other issues are just as significant. In “The Soloist,” however, they’re stylized more than they need to be and ultimately skimmed over. The way these views are presented also clash with the idea that Nathanial has been blessed with an effortless gift.

While Foxx does his best to keep Nathaniel from becoming a caricature, Downey Jr. has more of a challenge when he attempts mold his character into someone other than a crutch. It’s a very one-dimensional take that doesn’t quite lift off past his newsroom desk. Even when Grant introduces more for Downey Jr. to grasp (Catherine Keener is sort of in the background as his ex-wife), the story line goes dissonant and nothing else is said about Steve’s own parallels to the film’s focus.

Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) doesn’t seem to get his mind around the noteworthiness of the story. “The Soloist” might be soothing at times, but that’s what also makes it all the more aggravating once the music dies.

Synecdoche, New York

November 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman (debut)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)

It’s evident from films like “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is a modern genius when it comes to vision and individuality. In his directorial debut, Kaufman, like he does with 2002’s “Adaptation,” writes a story about a writer who writes himself into his own story (get that?).

This time, Academy Award-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) fills in as his muse and is cast as Caden Cotard, a playwright who emotionally deteriorates while leading an acting troupe through an endless charade of obscurity. It’s a dark and complex tale, but as an audience, it might seem as though Kaufman has left us floating on the outer edges of a conversation he’s having with himself.

Hamlet 2

August 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Joseph Julian Soria
Directed by: Andrew Fleming (“Nancy Drew”)
Written by: Andrew Fleming (“The Craft”) and Pam Brady (“Hot Rod”)

“Hamlet 2” is so politically incorrect, it makes “Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers” sound suitable for preschoolers to sing.

The film begins and ends with Steve Coogan as Dana Marschz, a Tucson high school drama teacher, who proves that “if you can’t do, teach” wasn’t just a saying created to piss off teachers. Dana hasn’t had much luck as an actor other than the few infomercials and herpes commercials he’s starred in.

He falls back on teaching drama despite being the laughing stock of the entire school for the horrid plays he writes, produces and directs. Adapting “Erin Brockovich” as a stage production really isn’t a great way to show the school that they should keep funding the program.

It really doesn’t matter anyway. Dana only has two high-spirited students in his class, and it seems like the principal is about to drop the bomb on theater unless they start making some worthwhile plays. When the new school year begins, however, Dana, who is having some slightly dysfunctional problems at home with his wife (Catherine Keener), is surprised when his drama class is filled to maximum capacity with new students. Unfortunately, the mostly-Latino group of kids are only there because they couldn’t take the courses they really wanted so were funneled into drama to slack off.

But when Dana decides to write a sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the students must rise up against the school and community who become infuriated with the blasphemy-filled script Dana has written for the them to perform.

While director/writer Andrew Fleming pulls no stops, a few gags go a bit long before falling flat. Still, there is enough wickedness and total lack of morality (a lot of it hilarious) that will have you asking why Steve Coogan isn’t in more mainstream comedies (he is in “Tropic Thunder,” of course). With “Hamlet 2” Coogan has proven that British comedy sometimes does translate well for us American heathens.