BARE BONES: LADY BIRD (2017)

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LADY BIRD (2017)

Indie comedy/drama takes place in early 2000s Sacramento as strong-willed and opinionated Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) spends her senior year at Catholic school and has plans for her future in a New York City college. This plan causes her to butt heads with her money minded mother (Laurie Metcalf) who is determined she go to school locally to ease the financial burden on her down-on-their-luck family.

Enchanting indie flick is written and directed by Greta Gerwig, who has been in a number of indie films herself and certainly has paid attention. She creates a very spirited and rebellious character in the self-proclaimed “Lady Bird” without that character becoming a cliché. We are endeared to her and cheer her on, as her fire and determination to be her own person, rubs family and faculty alike the wrong way. Gerwig never steers the film into melodrama, yet also keeps the humor subtle so we take Christine’s journey, to walk to the beat of her own drum, seriously. She gets great performances out of her cast, especially Ronan and Metcalf and gives us real people to populate Christine’s world and not stereotypes. A fun and engaging story of a young woman coming of age in post 911 America. Also stars Tracy Letts as Christine’s father, Larry.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: WELCOME TO ME

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WELCOME TO ME (2014)

Comedy/drama finds emotionally and mentally troubled Alice Klieg off her meds and obsessed with TV, namely Oprah. When she wins $86 Million in the lottery, she pays a down on his luck producer (James Marsden) to let her have her own TV talk show…one that stars Alice, is about Alice and the only guest being Alice.

Kristen Wiig is a brilliant actress and comedian and the only reason this flick is as watchable as it is, is because of her performance. The concept from Eliot Laurence’s script, as directed by Shira Piven, is interesting but the film never really takes full advantage of it’s premise. We follow Alice as she reflects back on incidents in her life, such as having make-up stolen out of her bag as a teen and cooking her own concoctions such as meatloaf cake with sweet potato icing…all in front of a live audience. Predictably, she becomes a cult hit until the whole thing starts to backfire as all those she blames for her problems in life take issue with her finger pointing. The filmmakers roll out these mundane and ludicrous set pieces, as Alice goes from one tangent to another, but miss the opportunity to really provide some satire and commentary on today’s society and it’s obsession with the lives of others. It also only weakly touches on the current trend of seeing ourselves as some kind of celebrities with our posts on social media, as if everyone cares what we’re thinking, watching or eating (says the guy with the movie blog. LOL!). It really misses a golden opportunity to skewer the notion that through reality TV and social media, we all have become celebrities in our own minds and can’t wait to share our most droll thoughts with millions of others. Instead we just get yet another indie flick about yet another self absorbed person learning some life lessons about being less selfish and thinking a little more about those around them. It’s a shame, Wiig is up to the task but not given material worthy of her talents or the story’s premise. Also stars Wes Bently, Linda Cardellini, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Cusack.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and THE NIGHTMARE

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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.

Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.

While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.

As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (2015)

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SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Offbeat romantic comedy tells the story of Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis). Twelve years ago they lost their virginities to each other in college and never saw each other again, until reconnecting twelve years later at a meeting for love addicts. Now, despite that neither of them can stay faithful in a relationship, they form a bond which may lead to the thing they both have been running away from since that fateful night…true love.

Writer/director Leslye Headland delivers a rarity, a romantic comedy that is not only cleverly funny and delightfully raunchy, but has some very heartfelt emotions that are never intrusive or overbearing. The film tries to avoid many of the clichés we are used to seeing in the more mainstream rom-com flicks and when it can’t, it uses them in a fresh and offbeat manner. Best of all, it is raunchy as can be, but unlike most flicks these days, there is some definite wit behind the raunch and thus it rarely, if ever, slips into the just plain vulgar, like so many other flicks fall right into. It gives us two very eccentric, troubled but very likable characters in Lainey and Jake and we are rooting for them to finally get together as we watch them avoid the inevitable, by continuously entering in relationships that aren’t right for them. The banter between Sudeikis and Brie is really crisp, funny and very well written and the delivery by both actors is impeccable. There is also a genuine heart to this flick that makes it work so well without ever getty sappy or overly sentimental. Sure it stumbles a bit in the last act, but regains it’s footing and gives us a satisfying conclusion fitting the eclectic characters.

This brings to the forefront the skilled cast that Headland has assembled. Community‘s Alison Brie is endearing as sweet but, very love-challenged Lainey who avoids risking her heart by pursuing a man (Adam Scott) with his own commitments. Sudeikis is really good as the kind-hearted ladies man, Jake, who avoids putting his heart at risk by sleeping around and breaking off anything that starts to resemble a relationship. He has some really clever dialogue and delivers it masterfully and has a nice self deprecating humor that keeps the character humbled despite his numerous conquests. He and Brie have a great chemistry together and their conversations are engaging and often hilariously dirty. There is also a definite spark between the two stars and you can see their feelings bubbling beneath all the evasiveness and denial. There is also top notch support from Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne and Marc Blucas as the various people around our leads. All slightly eclectic characters that refreshingly avoid the stereotypes that usually populate these movies.

I really enjoyed this flick. Not only was a it an engaging romance, but was delightfully offbeat, cleverly written and very raunchy and funny. It had a sweet love story at it’s core surrounded by some eccentric but endearing characters. Filmmaker Leslye Headland gives some needed wit to the dirtier material and gets great chemistry and performances out of her cast. She also films New York with a loving lens and it makes you fall in love with the city, as well as, the characters she’s let loose inside it. A really entertaining indie romantic comedy.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 green tea bottles…just watch the movie.

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