Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Is there anyone in Hollywood as likable as Jason Segel? The rising film star has made a niche for himself playing lovable losers and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is no exception. In another actor’s hands, Jeff might have been too doofy to root for, but Segel injects a sweetness to the character that makes you keep your fingers crossed that he, in the end, finds his destiny. The rest of the cast (including Susan Sarandon and Ed Helms who were last seen as lover and are mother and son here- ew) are also strong in their roles as regular people unwillingly being dragged out of their ruts by the events of one day.
Jeff (Jason Segel) spends his days hanging out in his mother’s basement. He receives a call that anyone else would write off as a wrong number, but Jeff is convinced it is a sign regarding his destiny. Forced to leave the house to run an errand for his mother (Susan Sarandon), he follows a series of what he thinks are clues which lead to him getting mugged, his brother (Ed Helms) totaling his new Porsche, and the two brothers trailing Helms’ possibly adulterous wife (Judy Greer), before Jeff eventually stumbles upon his Kevin related destiny.
Written and directed by Mumblecore kings Jay & Mark Duplas, some will most likely find it too slow, but I tend to like slice of life films. Jeff , brother Pat, and mother Sharon are real people. There is a sub-plot where Sharon receives flirtation messages at work. Watching the lonely widow receive the messages with a mixture of glee and paranoia, is very touching and her admirer’s surprising identity is an interesting move that satisfied me even though I saw it coming. While it doesn’t have the thrills per minute of an action movie, I found myself shaking in anticipation during the film’s climax.

This Week on DVD 1/16/2013

Taken 2: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace
To See or Not to See: Probably a miss for me. Didn’t see the first one. Seems like the series could go off indefinitely with people kidnapping his third cousin and his high school sweetheart’s neighbor. People need to learn to stop messing with this guy’s family!
To Rome With Love: The lives of some visitors and residents of Rome and the romances, adventures and predicaments they get into.
Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page
To See or Not to See: Probably. I enjoyed Midnight in Paris and some other Woody Allen films, but this does not appear to be the auteur’s finest.
Won’t Back Down: Two determined mothers¬, one a teacher, look to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.
Starring: Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter
To See or Not to See: Gyllenhaal is a fan of playing political characters but it doesn’t do much for her career. Some strong ladies in the cast but the story is a little Eh.
The Possession: A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.
Starring: Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick
To See or Not to See: I can’t even remember this being in theaters. Another horror flick with a creepy kid? Pass!

New Releases 1/11/2013

Gangster Squad: A chronicle of the LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s.
Starring: Sean Penn, James Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi,
Will I See it?: The cast alone makes this one intriguing, but I love gangster stuff and modern noir so I will definitely check this one out, if not in theaters than definitely on DVD.
A Haunted House: Malcolm and Keisha move into their dream home, but soon learn a demon also resides there. When Kisha becomes possessed, Malcolm – determined to keep his sex life on track – turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghost-busters for help.
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Marlene Forte, David Koechner
Will I See it?: While the Scary Movie franchise is totally played out, but the trailer for this actually looks funny. Will still wait for reviews before seeing it.
Quartet: At a home for retired opera singers, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.
Starring: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay
Will I See it?: Probably not. Despite the strong cast, this isn’t really something you rush to see on the big screen.
Struck By Lightning: After being struck and killed by lightning, a young man recounts the way he blackmailed his fellow classmates into contributing to his literary magazine.
Starring: Chris Colfer, Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney
Will I See It? Maybe on Netflix. Not a Glee fan, but people are comparing this to Heathers. Could be cool but there’s so many other movies coming out right now.
$ellebrity : Celebrity photographer Kevin Mazur gives an all access pass to life behind the velvet rope and in front of the camera.
Features: Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kid Rock
Will I See It?: Maybe on Netflix if the reviews are strong.
Storage 24: In London, a military plane crashes leaving its highly classified contents strewn across the city. Completely unaware that the city is in lockdown, a group of people become trapped inside a storage facility with a highly unwelcome guest.
Starring: Noel Clarke, Colin O’Donoghue, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Laura Haddock
Will I See it?: Probably not, unless I start hearing really great word of mouth.
Zero Dark Thirty: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong
Will I See It?: Probably, some are calling it a shoe in for Best Picture. Wasn’t that enthralled by Hurt Locker, but the search for Bin Laden is much more intriguing to me.


In the not too distant future time travel is reality and is used by the mob to dispose of someone who gets in their way. The send them back 30 years where a looper is waiting for them to take them out, leaving no evidence in the victim’s present and the murder untraceable. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper and knows at any time the boss could “close his loop”, meaning they would send his future self for him to kill in exchange for a large payoff. However, his future self (Bruce Willis) has other plans and intends to change the future and save his wife by killing her murderer as a child.
A lot of surprises for me here. Going by the trailer, I thought the drama stemmed from Gordon-Levitt discovering he had to kill his future self, but he was quite prepare for that. Didn’t know Emily Blunt was even in this, as she plays the mother of the child Willis must kill. Kudos on the American accent, Miss Blunt. Sometimes when a plot is not what I expected, I’m disappointed, but Looper had a lot more meat than I was anticipating.
With any film that takes place in the future, there’s a lot of world building exposition, and Looper is no exception. The first twenty minutes or so, you’re bombarded with a lot of information and key slang (like blunderbuss and TK) but everything has their place and importance. The future present here is a dirty and dangerous one, much like the world of Blade Runner. Gordon-Levitt’s Joe sleeps with prostitutes (or at least one prostitute), does drugs, and has a posing little weasel for a best friend (played by Paul Dano who seems to specialize in weaklings). While watching this film, I realized that Gordon-Levitt plays a lot of lonely guys, someone give the guy a hug!
2012 was a pretty strong year for kid performances and newcomer Pierce Gagnon is terrifying as Cid. I never wanted to see a kid get shot so much. He just is such a creepy little guy and while, yes, his mother loves him and sometimes he can look cute, but no good can come of him being allowed to reach adulthood.
One thing that bugged me was the excessive use of lens flairs. Once the action moved to the country, they calmed down, but early on it was driving me to distraction. I know people who hate on the use of shaky cam, but I find excessive lens flair way more obnoxious.
This was a strong year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I give the guy a lot of credit, he’s becoming a star on his own terms. You can always tell what drew him to the project and he isn’t doing stuff for the paycheck. I look forward to more interesting choice from him in the future.

This week in DVDs

Some interesting new titles on DVD & Blu Ray this week…
Game Change: Follows the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain and his choice of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, her meteoric rise in the media spotlight and their eventual defeat in the general election.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris
To See or Not to See: Heard great things about this one and it won a bunch of Emmys (including one for Outstanding Writing won by Danny Strong aka Jonathan from Buffy). While Tina Fey defined Sarah Palin for America, it looks like Julianne Moore does a great job here and HBO always does a great job of dramatizing America’s great political blunders (see also Recount). Definitely not to be missed!
Compliance: Based on actual events: a series of prank calls to a fast food manager leads him to interrogate a young, female employee to the point of abuse that leaves no one unharmed.
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
To See or Not to See: While the subject matter sounds a tad hard to stomach, everyone I know who saw this has raved about it and it made on several people’s best of the year list. While I definitely should see it, it is definitely not light viewing so I might put it off a bit.
Dredd: The future is now – police have been given the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner and a veteran cop partners with a trainee in order to take down a deadly gang that has introduced a new drug, SLO-MO, that alters reality.
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
To See or Not to See: Didn’t really understand why this remake was needed and totally didn’t even realize it had been in theaters. While it seems like this was an upgrade from the Stallone version, and I do love Urban in the Trek reboot, it doesn’t seem like it did that great in the box office so I don’t know if there will be any sequel. This will probably be one I miss unless the right people tell me to check it out.
House at the End of the Street: A mother and daughter move into a new town and into a house next door to where a young girl murdered her parents. After befriending the son who survived the incident, it becomes apparent this story isn’t over yet.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot
To See or Not to See: Not a big horror movie fan myself, but Hubby is and found this one underwhelming, so I will skip this one and will probably be talked into seeing Cabin in the Woods instead.

New Releases 1/4/2013

A Dark Truth: A former CIA operative turned political talk show host is hired by a corporate whistle blower to expose her company’s cover-up of a massacre in a South American village.
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Eva Longoria, and Andy Garcia
Would I See It?: While it’s an interesting premise, it sounds like the actual film is a jumbled mess with a miscasted Longoria and an underutilized Whitaker and Garcia. At best, it’s something to check out on Netflix Instant Watch when you’ve exhausted everything else.

Texas Chainsaw 3D : A young woman travels to Texas to collect an inheritance; little does she know that an encounter with a chainsaw-wielding killer is part of the reward.
Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde, Trey Songz, and Scott Eastwood
Would I See It?: I do not understand the appeal of these mindless horror remakes/sequels. They all seem so manufactured and meaningless. I don’t think I would go see this even if I got free tickets. However, if you are a fan of the genre, it would probably make sense to see it in the theater as the 3D aspect seems to be the main purpose for the movie.

Sleepwalk With Me

As a longtime fan of Mike Birbiglia’s storyteller style of comedy, I was happy that his brand of humor was making it to the big screen. While some of the plot was familiar to me from his stand-up, I thought they found a great way to tell his stories cinematically. If this is a taste of what the future holds for Birbiglia, I could see him becoming a kind of Woody Allen of his generation, telling the stories he wants to tell the way he wants to tell them. He has a great way of making you like him even when he admits you probably shouldn’t.
Matt (Birbiglia) is a struggling comic who has been with girlfriend Abbey (Lauren Ambrose) eight years when his sister’s upcoming marriage amps up the pressure for him to show his commitment. Matt hasn’t considered marriage and assumed Abbey felt the same, but he quickly learns she is dreaming of marriage and children. As he stalls for time with Abbey, his career starts to pick up. He finds an agent and makes it clear he’ll take any job out there. While on the road, he learns that he doesn’t need to write jokes, and should instead be honest about his feelings on marriage and relationships. The stress of his relationship and life on the road causes Matt to sleepwalk. He writes off these potentially dangerous encounters until he almost kills himself by jumping out a hotel window.
This film is apparently hitting some people a little too close to home. Producer Ira Glass admitted some are seeing a little too much of themselves in the protagonists and breaking up. Their plight is a familiar one. While the two don’t have major problems to propel them to break-up, they want different things from life so in order to stay together someone would have to make a compromise they might regret later. Everyone knows a couple like this, two perfectly nice people who have just been together longer than they should. This film also shows a great example of what physical distance can do to the couple, as Matt and Abbey start to build their own lives in the other’s absence.
This film is also a great look at the life of a stand-up comic in a way we haven’t really seen before. Matt has to start at the bottom, playing mostly empty rooms. In the beginning he’s spending more money to get to the shows, than he’s making at them, but as time passes he grows as a comic and learns more about his craft as he goes along. This is not a romantic look at the world of comedy and could make any aspiring comedian think twice about life on the road. However, those who are familiar with the world of stand-up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a number of familiar faces.
If you’re a fan of Birbiglia’s work, you’ll enjoy Sleepwalk With Me. If you don’t know who he is, be warned, this film is very indy and way be too slow-paced for some.

Les Miserables

I want to start off my review to address a problem with going to the movies nowadays, people who see films without knowing anything about them and then are audibly confused/disappointed throughout the entire movie. I had it happen to me a number of times and it always annoys me. This includes people who take children to really graphic movies only to have to hurry the crying child out of the theater when things get too intense. How hard is it to read about the movie you’re going to spend close to $15 dollars on? I had been looking forward to seeing Les Miserables for a while and was anticipating bawling during the many emotional songs but kept getting distracted by a group of teenagers who were obviously not expecting so much singing and so much sadness, and were giggling during all the most touching parts. Really distracting! Sigh, rant over, for now.
While there is a large cast with many plotlines, Les Miserables mainly tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackson), a man who served 19 years of hard labor after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. This troubled past hangs over his head and prevents him from finding work, so he creates a new identity and becomes a successful businessman. However Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to find him and bring the parole jumper to justice. Their paths cross throughout the years, but Valjean has more than himself to worry about as he adopts the daughter of a woman who was reduced to prostitution after being fired from his factory (Anne Hathaway). As the girl grows up she wants more than the life of hiding she has known for so long and falls in love with a young revolutionary.
Movie musicals tend to be a hard sell in the 21st century and director Tom Hooper made some bold choices that makes the film harder for one not familiar with the musical to get into. One being that the actors all sang live while filming instead of recording their performances and lip-syncing them later. With the amount of singing that goes on in this film (almost every line of dialogue is sung, with many 2 or 3 exceptions, it’s more like an opera than a musical) it would have been annoying to have to lip-sync that much, but it leads to rawer performances and while many will appreciate the emotion that goes into every number, there are many (like the teenagers sitting next to me) that will find the actors’ singing faces awkward and funny. We’re not sure to people putting their all into a song and the results are not always pretty. I was just about to let the tears flow during “I Dreamed a Dream” when the teenagers started guffawing at Anne Hathaway’s snot bubble. Also, this was not a time where people were polished and pretty, many of the extras are pox marked or have sores on their face. While realistic, we are not used to such ugliness on the big screen.
Had the interesting experience of feeling underwhelmed by many of the play’s showstoppers and becoming more invested in characters I didn’t like in the Broadway show. I particularly found “Master of the House” to be underwhelming, but I think that’s a good example of stage acting versus film acting. I felt Helena Bonham Carter (while basically auditioning for the role of Madame Thenardier for the past ten years) muttered her best lines too much, while in the play the actress always projects, ensuring the audience hears the jokes. Also Sasha Baron Cohen was the only one doing a French accent, while was a little odd, but I heard he ended up being sick during the time he was filming which effected his voice. On the other hand, when I was the play, I found Cosette and Marius to be a total snooze (Team Eponine!), I found myself being able to stomach their romance this time around.
One thing that is true of both the play and the film is that the 2 halves are so different. While many love the story of Fontaine, I am far more invested in the political stuff in the second part and first saw this in high school so Eponine is incredibly relatable. I will note the teenagers next to me were quieter during the second half (also, people are prettier in the second half, ha). Everyone in the political group is fantastic, particularly Enjolras the leader of the group. I really would be happy with a whole film just about those guys. However, seeing that the movie is so long and such a heavy subject matter, an intermission between the two very different halves would have been appreciated, though knowing today’s movie audiences half the crowd would probably get confused and leave. Sigh.
If you are familiar with the stage version, you’ll probably enjoy the film (unless you’re expecting it to be exactly like your favorite cast recording). If all you know about it is that Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman are in it, please be prepared for very sad things to happen to them as they sing and for them to not look their best and you should be fine.

Best of 2012

Looks like I picked a good year to start a movie blog! 2012 took people by surprised, a slow burn of a year where it seemed like the quality of film as a whole was bumped up a notch, so it’s tricky to pick just five films I enjoyed the most this year, but I’ll do my best.

1) Beasts of the Southern Wild –While it may get edged out come award season by higher profile films, Hushpuppy (played with a compelling blend of sweetness and rage by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) and her home The Bathtub will stay with me for years to come.
2) Moonrise Kingdom- It’s fitting that Wes Anderson’s most mature film would be about two twelve year olds in love. Anderson has found a perfect balance of quirk that makes one excited for what the future has in store for this established auteur.
3) Lincoln- One of our country’s most beloved heroes is given passion and humor with Daniel Day-Lewis delivering the performance to beat this awards season. While focusing only on the last few months of Lincoln’s life, you leave the film feeling like you spent two hours in the president’s presence. While the passing of an amendment seems like a snooze, the script provides a surprising amount of laughs.
4) Sleepwalk with Me- Rising comedy star Mike Birbiglia brings his strength as a storyteller to his first leading role. This very autobiographical story of a struggling comedian trying to balance his relationship and his growing career while battling a severe sleepwalking disorder, is a terrific blend of humor and sadness.
5) Safety Not Guaranteed- The year’s most surprising comedy takes an unexpected take on time travel and boasts a strong cast.
Other strong contenders include Zoe Kazan’s screenwriting debut Ruby Sparks and blockbuster juggernauts like The Avengers and Hunger Games. Keep in mind I haven’t seen Django Unchained, Argo, or Les Miserables, all films I have been greatly looking forward to all year.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story is a perfect piece of nostalgia about a boy growing up in the Midwest in 1939/40 who dreams of getting an “official Red Ryder 200 shot carbine-action range-model air rifle” for Christmas despite all the adults in his life insuring him he will shoot his eye out. The film kind of plays more like a television show, with many scenes depicting milestone moments in a child’s life, particularly a child growing up in the Midwest during this time period. The film has become a Christmas staple and I believe this is because it is very relatable, as everyone remembers being in the same predicaments as young Ralphie.
The film was a surprise hit in theaters when released but it has become a Christmas juggernaut mostly due to TBS’ 24-hour airing of the film. You can catch the film 12 different times as it is broadcast around the clock, most likely the network’s way of padding a low ratings day, as most families are probably too busy with holiday festivities to watch much tv. While I used to eagerly look forward to catching it on tv, 24 hours of anything is overkill. I think it has hurt the film’s legacy more than helped it. Part of what makes the film so magical when you first watch it, is that it’s such a surprise and I think having it aired 24 hours straight kills a lot of the spark.
This film is really about growing up, as Ralphie experiences many milestones over the Christmas season. The movie is an adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s short story collection In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (oddly enough, many of the stories were first published in Playboy) where he recalls his Midwest childhood. Stories that originally took place years apart from each other in the book, happen over the course of a few weeks in the film. Ralphie encounters a lot of hard truths as he straddles childhood and adulthood, the biggest being that his parents were right all along about the air rifle, it is a dangerous toy. I know someone who said Ralphie hurting himself also immediately with the rifle ruined the movie for him. It proved the parents right and that was inexcusable. I see his point, but I have other issues with that twist in the film. Ralphie’s goal is to get the rifle, so the fact that he gets it and then the film keeps going is problematic structurally. While there are still good moments after the receives the rifle (particularly Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant), it all feels a little unnecessary. His goal was achieved, the movie’s over right?
While I will agree this is an important Christmas movie, I this the excessive TBS showings hurts its legacy more than helps it. The film kicked off a nostalgia trend that led to the popular television series The Wonder Years which also used a narrator to dramatize growing up in a simpiler time and crossing over into adulthood. If somehow you’ve managed missing this film after all this time, check it out but I would advise watching it on DVD instead of the televised airings.