“Is man indeed a walrus at heart?”
This is one of the pseudophilosophical questions posed in Kevin Smith’s new film Tusk, the first film adapted from a podcast (see Smodcast #259 “The Walrus and the Carpenter”). Not so much a horror film in the traditional blood and guts fashion, the Clerks director’s latest opus is more psychological – with plenty of humor mixed in throughout. And if you are a fan of the SmodCo podcast brand, there is no shortage of homage to be enjoyed.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is one half of the duo who hosts the “Not-See Party” podcast, which centers around his travels to interview quirky internet celebrities (like the “Kill Bill Kid,” who chops off his own leg with a samurai sword). Wallace then explains his story to Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) who did “not see” what happened. Upon packing his bags for Canada to interview the the aforementioned legless star, he leaves his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) in the States – stating that he basically doesn’t want her to stop him from being entertaining. Ally is not a fan of his mean-spirited podcast antics, and wishes that the “old Wallace” she fell in love with would come back.
Wallace arrives in Manitoba only to find that the “Kill Bill Kid” has taken his own life, leaving him out the cost of his plane ticket and the interview he came for. As he drowns his sorrows at a local bar, he stumbles upon an ad posted by an old man who has lived “A life of adventure, with stories to tell.” Intrigued by the posting (based on the real-life Gumtree ad by UK hoaxer / eventual Tusk associate producer Chris Parkinson, which inspired the podcast), Wallace travels a couple of hours to a secluded mansion owned by Howard Howe (Michael Parks). After a couple of fascinating stories, and some delicious tea, Wallace find out that he has been roped into much more than listening to the old man’s stories.
If Tinker, Tailor, Solidier, Spy is croquembouche (the elaborate, ornate dessert), simultaneously being rich and decadent with its twisty, turny plots, and subtle and nuanced, with its labyrinthine undercurrents, then The November Man is a skittle.
There’s an approximation of what the spy/espionage genre entails, it’s just not actually there… which is why we have an agency handler saying things like, “I want eyes on him!” or a reporter uttering, “Let me get my dictaphone.”
Based on a series of books by Bill Granger, “The November Man” is a spy thriller/revenge flick in the vein of the Bourne series or Taken… but without the thrills. Or much of the spying. What we do have is not James Bond doing a lot of not James Bond stuff (unless James Bond liked to sit around and talk. Or walk and talk. Or just talk.)
For the past few months, fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been blasting producer Michael Bay and director Jonathon Liebesman about their reboot of the popular franchise. While a lot of the comic purists cringe at the thought of Bay heading another unnecessary reboot, the outcome is actually pretty enjoyable.
Lieberman’s TMNT is very different from the first film, which is nearly 25 years old. While the original film stuck to the comic for the most part, the 2014 version has nearly a brand new take on the turtles. Liebesman and Bay change up how the turtles were created, as well as their look. I think this is what pissed fans off the most. Those who worry that the film might try to portray the turtles as aliens, fear not, as there is even a joke about it in the film.
As the film opens, the Turtles are still in training, but have been sneaking out to fight the Foot Clan. April O’Neil is a television reporter, trying to land a major story. She just happens to stumble upon the Clan committing a crime one night. That’s where she first sees the turtles. O’Neil then turns to family friend Eric Sacks, played by William Fichtner, to try to figure out where the Turtles came from. It just so happens that Sacks has a secret alliance with Shredder. It’s now up to O’Neil and the Turtles to try to thwart Sacks’ and Shredder’s plan to destroy New York.
Original concepts are few and far between these days. It isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that they aren’t marketed like remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It doesn’t mean there aren’t people still pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, and finding new ways to tell compelling stories for the sake of art. It’s just that the public rarely sees the films that push these boundaries. Are audiences blind to new compelling media? Yes and no. Your average person watches film to escape from their everyday life, and usually want something familiar. Boyhood is a bit of a conundrum, it has the familiarity of life, but the sincerity and the lack of a defined plot will keep it from becoming a financial success. People will likely feel the film too closely captures real life, even though that is exactly the point.
In 2002, Richard Linklater set out to make a movie about growing up, which on the surface may not seem like an incredible undertaking, but make no mistake, it is an incredible feat in filmmaking. Rather than rely on special effects and multiple actors to tell the story of a boy in a short period of time, Linklater had the idea to film segments of the film over a twelve year period using the same cast. It’s an incredible commitment that pays off in the film, as we see a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family evolve throughout the years. There isn’t one definable plot thread throughout the film, and instead we focus on a number of important pieces of Mason’s life. We see him struggle through school, deal with an alcoholic step-father, find his passion, lose his first love, and many other moments. The film never creates shocking moments that are meant to be plot devices to move the story along. Are there shocking moments? Sure, but they aren’t defining moments of the film. The defining moments are the small moments where you see just how much the boy you’ve been watching has changed.
Most industry insiders were a bit baffled a few years ago when Marvel announced they were putting Guardians of the Galaxy into production. Even with Marvel not owning the rights to many of its top franchises, surely weren’t there better choices to help expand the Marvel cinematic universe? Even more baffling was the choice of hiring James Gunn to write and direct the film. Gunn wasn’t known as a big budget director; in fact Gunn got his start in B-movie heaven, Troma Entertainment. Many people, myself included, thought Marvel was heading for disaster. After a second viewing of Guardians tonight, I can say without reservation that my pessimistic thinking was as far off the mark as one could imagine. Marvel has hit a home run that should result in one of the biggest releases of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a self-described outlaw by the name of ‘Starlord’ as he attempts to navigate a wide galaxy. The film opens with Peter being abducted shortly after his mother’s death, with only the clothes on his back, and his trusty Walkman at his side. The film catapults 26 years into the future where Peter is now calling himself ‘Starlord’, and is a skilled thief in search of a mysterious orb. Unfortunately for Peter, this is no ordinary orb and is being sought out by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), two of the most feared aliens in the galaxy. Thanos quickly dispatches his cybernetically enhanced daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to recover the orb. Getting in her way are bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a foul-mouthed racoon, and his muscle Groot (Vin Diesel), a giant tree with a limited vocabulary. Rocket, Groot, Peter, and Gamora have a beautiful fight for different motives that lands them in a high security prison. It’s only at the prison that our merry band begins to bond after figuring out the orb Peter has stolen is much more valuable than any of them could have imagined, and they must do anything to keep it out of the hands of Thanos and Ronan. Upon their eventual escape, picking up a beefy over-literal alien, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy must race against powerful foes, and deal with more power than any of them could have ever imagined.