I Rented It on DVD: “Edge of Seventeen”

Yawn! Another coming-of-age tale about privileged white teen-aged suburbanites who drive  gleaming new cars and vans to school (no second hand jalopies in this crowd), have pools in their backyard and all the latest technological gear at their disposal.

As usual, most of the actors in these films are too old to play high school students. 20 year old Hailee Steinfeld plays a high school junior!

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Hailee Steinfeld – Yearbook picture?

Fortunately, for writer/director and co-producer Kelly Fremon Craig, it is Ms. Steinfeld’s remarkable performance as troubled teen Nadine that saves the movie. Striking an ironic pose to hide the confusion lurking just underneath, Ms. Steinfeld somehow makes her difficult character human and, um. likeable. If you ask me (and no one did) she should have been Oscar nominated for this role as well as the Academy nod for her performance in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit. (She did earn a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Edge of Seventeen.)

Her exchanges with Woody Harrelson, as a deceptively sympathetic teacher, especially shine.

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A Dark Twist on an Old Story? Not Even Close

Okay, I know how I started writing about a 2010 movie based on a 2001 novel but I am not sure why I am posting an entry in my blog about them.

I guess it all started when I watched the Brit TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels by Irish writer Ken Bruen (an appreciation of Mr. Bruen’s unique – to me – prose style appears elsewhere in this blog.)

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I noticed a second hand copy of London Boulevard at a book sale and since I had become an aficionado of Mr. Bruen’s works I picked it up. Okay, it wasn’t a Jack Taylor novel but the protagonist, a wary, volatile ex-con named Mitchell, his run-ins with former criminal associates, his relationship with mentally unstable sister, Briony, his reluctant affair with the aging but still alluring  reclusive actress Lillian Palmer and her enigmatic butler, Jordan. held my attention.

Then I became aware of a movie adapted from the novel.  Since it was written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who adapted the Asian box office hit Infernal Affairs for the Martin Scorsese-directed North American cinematic success The Departed (one of my favorite films) I had high hopes when the acclaimed screenwriter chose London Boulevard as his directorial debut. 

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Imagine my surprise when I looked closer at the back of the DVD dust cover and saw that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley had been cast in leading roles. While reading the novel I kept picturing Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling in the roles. (On the other hand, the casting of Anna Friel as Briony and Ray Winstone as Mitchell’s criminal nemesis, Gant, was spot-on.)

I understand the need to attract “name” stars to secure investors. However, the casting – and rewriting – completely destroys Mr. Bruen’s original intent: to write a British version of Sunset Boulevard, or, as it says on the front cover of the novel, “a dark twist on a classic story.” Imagine a version geared to a youthful demographic directed by Zack Snyder and starring, say, Scarlett Johansson as Ms. Palmer (renamed “Lily”) and one of the Hemsworth boys as Mitchell (MC Mitch?)  

Mr. Monahan’s second attempt at directing, the dismal Mojave. didn’t fare much better (24% Audience Rating). Perhaps Peter Howell of Toronto’s Globe & Mail (quoted on RT) says it best:  “Writer/director William Monahan won an Oscar for penning The Departed and he obviously needs the discipline Martin Scorsese brought to that picture.”

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I Got It at the Library: CUL-DE-SAC

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I’m not saying it’s dated. I just got the feeling  director Roman Polanski read Beckett (I’m thinking here of Waiting for Godot) and watched a lot of Harold Pinter theatre pieces while co-writing the screenplay with Gerard Brach. (There were times when I felt I was back in my Film Studies class again. This film, by the way. was made prior to Mr. Polanski’s exposure to temptation and tragedy in Hollywood.

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ROMAN POLANSKI- Portrait of the Artist as a Young Film-maker

A brilliant cast of 1960s players navigate through the psychological mind games of the screenplay. Lionel Stander, a familiar face (and voice) in 1930s and 1940s movie and radio, was forced to flee to Europe after he ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He plays  American gangster Dickey, who holes up in a castle after a botched robbery. The castle.on a bleak island, is inhabited by a retired English executive,George (Donald Pleasance) and his flirtatious (and much younger) French wife, Teresa (Francoise Dorleac). The cast also includes future star Jacqueline Bissett (billed here as Jackie Bissett)  in  one of her first film roles. (A pair of sunglasses hides those now famous eyes.) No one does humiliation better than Mr. Pleasance aided and abetted by the gorgeous Mlle. Dorleac (Catherine Deneuve’s sister, whose promising career was cut short by a fatal car accident at the age of 25). Mr. Stander, of course, is bullish and aggressive in the role of Dickey. Mix these personalities together, stir in Mr. Polanski’s caustic wit, and you have a combustible combination that is bound to blow up in your face at some point.

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Francoise Dorleac and Donald Pleasance – A Talent for Humiliation

I signed out this 1966 film because I was intrigued by the cast of characters, I have always been a fan of Mr. Polanski’s world view (Brrr!) and c) it was chosen for restoration by the Criterion Collection. If you are not already familiar with the brand (and most serious film buffs – and filmmakers – are), the Criterion Collection a) always shows great taste in cinematic art and  b) lovingly restores films of its choice and packages them with interviews, booklets and other background material. So even if I am unfamiliar with a work, I know that any film, no matter how old (or obscure, to me) chosen by the Criterion folks for their distinctive and caring touch will be viewing time spent well.

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Lionel Stander in CUL-DE-SAC



KWIK KWOTES: I Wish I’d Written That …

Into the Badlands shamelessly borrows from so many sources, I began to respect its diligence. A lazier show would have been satisfied with swiping far less ….”

Willa Paskin SLATE

I knew it was a strange hybrid.  I figured maybe it was created to cash in on the popularity of Hong Kong-style action pics (thus the many -almost balletic and certainly athletic – fight scenes) and the royal intrigue of HBO’s Game of Thrones (one actress in particular seems to be channeling Margaery Targaryen.) However, Ms. Paskin is paid to spot the influences so I will let her do the heavy lifting. 


Jemaine Clement – Straight Outta N.Z.

With his blocky features and dorky glasses, Jemaine Clement reminds me of my Grade Eleven Physics teacher, Mr. Prokopetz (Y’know, the one that had a nervous breakdown midway through the term.) And yet, this most unlikely of media personalities has carved out a career with the most. um, unlikely kind of material. Mr. Clement swam into the North American pop cultural consciousness as one-half of the half-witted musical duo “Flight of the Conchords” (The other half – played with masterly composure – was fellow New Zealander Bret Mackenzie.)

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Bret and Jemaine – Striking the Right “Con” CHORD

 I watched Season I on cable and Season 2 of the HBO series on a DVD I got from the library. Rhys Darby is poker-face perfect as the duo’s woefully inept but egotistical manager, Murray, and Kristin Schaal is suitably zany as their devoted fan/groupie, Mel. The series also features David Costabile – usually cast as an unsavory  type – in a rare comic role as Mel’s boyfriend/husband.

The 2014 film What We Do In The Shadows teams up Mr. Clement with fellow Kiwi oddball Taiki Waititi in a deadpan goof on vampire film cliches. (Mr. Clement and Mr. Waititi share writing and directing duties.) Taiki Waititi also acts as the narrator of the Office– style mockumentary,  an almost 400-year old bloodsucker named Viago. Mr. Waititi is perfect in the role with the deer-in-the-headlights look and too-broad smile of someone who has never been on camera before. Mr. Clement’s character is named Vladislav (naturally), a dour vampire with fright wig hair, mustache and goatee (and minus the glasses).

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Jemaine Clement as Vladislav – Taking Aim at Vampire Flix

The film asks us to imagine that the two share the house with 183 year old “bad boy vampire” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and 8,000 year old Petyr (Ben Fransham), a double for the toothy villain in the 1920s horror classic Nosferatu. Trust me. This is not your (great) grandfather’s vampire.  Dracula creator Bram Stoker may be turning over in his grave. (If, indeed, he is truly deceased.) These blood-sucking housemates wash dishes, grumble over chores. tidy up the house after a messy kill and go nightclubbing together. (Mr. Darby plays Anton, one of the werewolves who challenge the vamps to a fight.)

The film not only takes aim at familiar vampire tropes but also spoofs documentary film-making itself, with the camera going out of focus, documentary visual cliches and, even, footage of one of the characters talking while driving (a favorite of documentary  film-makers.)

Some over-enthusiastic critics have called the film “an instant cult classic.” First of all, the adjective “instant” makes me edgy and only time will tell if it’s a “cult classic” (the phrases “scream with laughter” and “howl with glee” have been done to death.) However, if you appreciate the dry wit of Conchords, you should definitely rent or buy the DVD. (I got my copy at the local video store.) You don’t have to be knowledgeable about vampire flicks to appreciate it, but, if you are, this pic should be just your type. Blood type, that is. (Oops!)

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No, that’s not Jemaine  Clement in another clever disguise 

Mr.Clement get to keep his unique Kiwi accent as Will, a transplanted graphic novelist living in NYC and struggling to get over the sudden collapse of his marriage in People, Places and Things.

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Stephanie Allynne (as Will’s cheating wife) and Michael Chernus (as, well, the cheatee.)

 It’s basically a family flavored rom-com but given that Mr. Clement is in the starring role (although American film-maker Jim Strouse wrote and directed ) the flick is reliably quirky. In addition to coping with his new single status, Will must also deal with taking on responsibility for his two adorable little daughters (real-life twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, who steal every scene they are in.)

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To supplement his meagre income, Will is also an art teacher and one day one of his students (Jessica Williams, a star for the future) offers to introduce him to her divorced mom (Regina Hall, demonstrating a range not offered by her limited role as a cop on F/X’s Justified ). 

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Regina Hall at a screening of People, Places and Things.

Will’s misadventures as a divorced dad and possible lover form the basis of this sweet, funny film (recommended).

So That’s Where He Got the Title ….

There have been numerous speculations as to where and why creator Charlie Brooker named his dystopian TV series BLACK MIRROR. Obviously the speculators are not Neil Gaiman readers and/or have never seen the SANDMAN graphic novels written by Mr. Gaiman.

Cuz in the SANDMAN graphic novel “A Doll’s House” I found the following quote: … “a black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront …. “

I know Mr. Brooker respects and admires Mr. Gaiman’s work because he asked the author to write an episode for BLACK MIRROR (Mr. Gaiman has written several eps of the British sci-fi series “Doctor Who”). However, according to reliable sources (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) he begged off due to an already heavy workload.  I blush to admit I had already watched all three seasons on Netflix before I realized this.


Random Bitz – A Shadow of His Former Self?

If the young snotty Bob Dylan of the Sixties was told that his 73 year old self would be  crooning songs from Tin Pan Alley popularized by Frank Sinatra he probably would have laughed sarcastically and assumed the speaker was out of his head on something illegal.

And yet there was the onetime anti-Establishment icon warbling through ten Sinatra classics from what is often referred to as The Great American Songbook on an album (yes, I still call it that) called Shadows in the Night.


I listened to the tracks on Spotify with horrid fascination. Yes, there was the familiar craggy voice he has adopted in recent years singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” and Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” with gritty purpose. To hear it  is to believe it.

 Just as improbably the album was one of his rare hits, hitting the Top Ten of the U.S. charts and topping the British  charts for the first time since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963.

The tunes they are a-changin’ …..  again.