2013

The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever (2013, Mark Robertson)

The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever is about a New Jersey amusement park called Action Park, which opened in the late seventies and ran for twenty dangerous years—there were apparently six deaths and countless injuries (enabled by the owner running some kind of insurance scheme). The video has a mix of original commercials, interviews, and some recreations. Not sure where the recreations were shot (the park reopened under a different name, with most of the original rides gone, and an emphasis on not maiming customers).

Is it interesting? Not really, no. The filmmakers seemingly picked most of their interviewees for availability, not having any actual salient information about the park. For instance, not a single person interviewed seems to have ever been injured in the park, which is great for them and all, but they've got a particular kind of bias. They braved the park and survived.

Unlike the people who died.

It's unclear if they count the drownings in the six deaths, because when they're interviewing the current owner (and son of original owner), he makes it sound like there were a lot of drownings.

Concerning since he was a lifeguard at the time at the park.

Though apparently the park was just a good place for teenagers to get drunk and bully each other without any adults caring. Because teenagers ran all the rides, even though they weren't old enough.

Because cool. It made men out of all of them. Men who don't think there's anything wrong with rules and laws in place to prevent people from dying at amusement parks. Even skipping all the toxic masculinity stuff and even the fact it turns out to be a bad promotional video for the reopened park… there's also the incurious nature of the filmmakers. They got a former park manager on the phone; he and a law professor provide the more negative side of the park, but everyone else is a cheerleader for it. Yet, again, none of these people had any tragedies. So why not find someone who actually had a negative experience. Since those involved broken limbs and, you know, death.

Instead, there's the owner saying people need to get over themselves and embrace the nostalgia for getting drunk and spitting on people at the park.

It's a weird, limited, and draggy short.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Mark Robertson; written by Seth Porges; produced by Robertson and Porges; released by Dailymotion.


All Is Lost (2013, J.C. Chandor)

All Is Lost is the harrowing tale of an unnamed man (Robert Redford) on his damaged yacht in the Indian Ocean. The film runs 106 minutes. It’s harrowing for all of them. Director Chandor knows how to harrow.

The film has a mundane reality about it. Redford has no back story, no character development, almost no “character” at all. The film opens with a mildly damaging voiceover from Redford; he’s doing a combination apology and goodbye. There’s no indication of who he’s addressing–wife, child, maybe he’s a CEO who sailed off on his yacht after Bernie Madoffing, it doesn’t matter. All Is Lost is about Redford’s struggle during a constantly harrowing experience, with failure more and more certain with each passing moment.

But the opening voiceover informs how the viewer perceives Redford and his actions. Well, except when Chandor’s just dirt cheap about it. Redford risks his life (more than usual) to save a package, opens to reveal a gift, then takes a long pause to consider whether he wants to read the note. Chandor dangles revelation and rescue in front of the viewer throughout. But Redford can’t see it, because then he couldn’t be stoic. And Redford’s stoicism is impressive.

Anyway, one damage is how the voiceover affects viewer interpretation of Redford’s behavior. He has maybe six lines of dialogue after his opening voiceover; five of them are on the radio and the sixth is a single word. The other damage is how that opening voiceover fits into the narrative. Voicever, film title card, then a title card setting the film back eight days. Presumably, Redford’s not going to make the recording for eight days. So what’s going to happen in between?

Lots of harrowing boating things, starting with Redford’s yacht colliding with a shipping container while Redford’s asleep below deck. Bad things frequently happen in the film when Redford’s asleep. He’s either a heavy sleeper or a slow waker.

Once the shipping container situation is resolved, which takes most of the “first act,” other disasters befall Redford and he has to try to figure his way out of them. Chandor does a fantastic job making Redford’s actions make sense. Redford’s not talking, most viewers aren’t going to understand his seamanship activites. Chandor’s juggling quite a bit. Redford’s strong performance makes it all work. While Chandor’s composition is good–though occasionally too fixated on the pretty–and Pete Beaudreau’s editing is phenomenal, Redford’s bringing the humanity. He never voices his fears or anything else, which is frustrating since the opening voiceover is very talky; Redford’s just doing it with his psychical perfomance, his expressions, how he moves around the yacht interiors and exteriors.

Going into the second act, the film downshifts. Summary storytelling is over for a while. Redford’s broken yacht is about to get hit by a huge storm. Is he going to survive? Is something else going to go terribly wrong?

And it does. And then something else. And something else. Redford’s sprinting through a micro-disaster movie (which actually might best describe All Is Lost), which changes the pace of the film quite a bit. Then Chandor changes it again around halfway through.

Redford can weather a lot of the pacing issues. Only because the film asks so little of him after a certain point. The more difficult Redford’s reality becomes, the more Chandor pulls away, only to dangle the narrative red herring again. But the movie’s in a far different place and Chandor and Redford have already had some successes. Red herrings can’t bring it home.

Though the herring is so well-prepared, it ends up righting the yacht enough to recover a bit.

Good music from Alex Ebert. Frank G. DeMarco’s photography is fine. The film goes for realism most of the time and DeMarco delivers it. Beaudreau’s editing is the technical standout.

All Is Lost has a great performance from Robert Redford. He just can’t save the ship–Chandor’s style and narrative clash throughout the film, without ever sustaining the right rhythm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor; director of photography, Frank G. DeMarco; edited by Pete Beaudreau; music by Alex Ebert; production designer, John Goldsmith; produced by Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, and Teddy Schwarzman; released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

Starring Robert Redford.


Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Randy Moore)

Director Moore snuck cameras into Disney World (and Disneyland) to tell the story of a creepy dad who goes insane while on the last day of the family vacation. Moore, who also wrote the tedious script, has reasons for the insanity, but they’re all nonsense because Tomorrow is more about showcasing the guerrilla filmmaking and ogling. And Moore seems to know he doesn’t have a cohesive narrative, so he throws in a bunch of pointless subplots. Almost everything in Escape from Tomorrow seems to be taking a shot at Disney, but it’s more taking a shot at the culture of Disney World guests. Or the lack thereof.

As far as the guerrilla filmmaking goes… Moore’s okay as a director. Given the constraints, some of the shots are impressive. Lucas Lee Graham’s black and white photography is good, though reading about how the shots were planned months in advance as to get the light right since it was an uncontrolled environment actually makes it seem less good. Escape from Tomorrow never looks like it wasn’t digitally desaturated in post. It’s less impressive if these shots were the best they got.

Soojin Chung’s editing is awful. Again, might be Moore’s fault, might be the guerrilla filmmaking constraint, but it’s awful. Especially since it’s supposed to represent protagonist Roy Abramsohn’s descent into madness.

The ogling. Let’s talk about the ogling because it’s the inciting incident of the whole stupid thing. Abramsohn is at the park with his family. Frigid wife Elena Schuber, Oedipus complexing son Jack Dalton, and perfect daughter Katelynn Rodriguez. After being fired and not telling Schuber (she’s a bit of a nag, after all), Abramsohn starts stalking a couple teenage girls, bringing son Dalton along for the trip. Moore’s really bad at the humor in Escape from Tomorrow, starting from the first scene when Dalton locks dad Abramsohn out on a balcony. Moore plays it for Oedipus, not for laughs. Laughs would’ve been better, given the intellectual paucity of the script. Moore also bombs every other comedic possibility, which is even worse considering Abramsohn is far better playing dumb dad than potential pederast.

Now, I’m assuming the actors playing the teenage girls weren’t actually teenagers. However, Moore seems to use that excuse to turn on an exceptional level of male gaze, completely free of irony or even knowing exploitation. Again, the script is many levels of dreadful. Though original. It’s kind of original. If Moore had just ripped off The Shining, Escape from Tomorrow would’ve been much better. Instead, there are similarities and, in those similarities, the film showcases how it’s worse for being original than if it were just aping other movies.

And then there’s the whole subtext about Disney World being gross because of the white trash. Only Moore turns it up to eleven and makes the white trash example an evil disabled obese man.

Schuber is fine in a hard part. She’s supposed to be insufferable and suffering. She’s supposed to be righteous, but she’s also supposed to be frigid (Abramsohn scopes his teenage targets as consolation to Schuber shutting him down). She’s also, the film determines, an unideal example of not just a woman, but a mother.

Oh, and Moore introduces the idea she’s lying to her husband about being the son’s father. Another plot thread Moore completely drops because he’s really bad at the whole writing thing.

There’s occasionally some good music from Abel Korzeniowski. When it’s not good, it’s not Korzeniowski’s fault, it’s because the action is so dumb, nothing’s going to make it right. And by dumb, it’s usually not a dumb turn of events, it’s a failed attempt at conveying something visually. Chung is a terrible editor; Moore’s mediocre composition is the only good thing about his direction.

Tomorrow isn’t even better for being short because the second half of the film, when Abramsohn’s cheating on his wife and taking the daughter around the park to stalk the girls, drags on forever. There are like four endings to this stupid thing, each one worse than the previous.

And, what’s funny… I was onboard with it for a long time. It’s technically pretty neat, though Chung’s editing is even worse when they’re using digital effects to compensate for the shooting constraint, and it could have easily gone somewhere. Instead, it goes nowhere. Because Moore has absolutely nothing to say. Not about madness, not about marriage, not about parenting, not about Disney World. Escape from Tomorrow is a pointlessly offensive juvenile attempt at edginess.

There is no escape.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Randy Moore; director of photography, Lucas Lee Graham; edited by Soojin Chung; music by Abel Korzeniowski; production designers, Sean Kaysen and Lawrence Kim; produced by Chung and Gioia Marchese; released by Producers Distribution Agency.

Starring Roy Abramsohn (Jim), Elena Schuber (Emily), Jack Dalton (Elliot) and Katelynn Rodriguez (Sara).


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel and Ethan Coen)

Just over half way into Inside Llewyn Davis, there’s a moment where lead Oscar Isaac looks into the face of responsibility–weighs it, weighs the consequences of not accepting it, makes his decision. Until that moment, the Coen Brothers hadn’t candidly identified the film as a character study. It happens in the middle of an epical sequence–the film splits into three (really, five) sections–and they don’t stop the existing momentum. It just changes, ever minutely, how Isaac is going to relate to the viewer. The film acknowledges the viewer wants to make a judgement of the protagonist–as one well should given the protagonist’s name is in the title and that title can easily be seen as an invitation–but refuses that judgement. There’s no need. After all, the film has up until that point warned the viewer and the training wheels are then off.

So with the rest of the film, the Coen Brothers do a lot of different things. They give Isaac some more excellent moments, they craft a really spectacular third act and denouement. They even acknowledge they’ve taken quite a journey–a bigger one than the viewer (or Isaac) realize–and they fit all their many pieces back into the box they so carefully unpacked in the first act.

The film concerns Isaac’s early sixties Greenwich Village folk singer and his callous behavior and interactions with other people, both in the folk music culture and out. Isaac’s performance is outstanding, as are many of the supporting performances. It’s a character study so Isaac’s is the most important and he hits every moment, ably assisted not just by the Coen Brothers’ script and direction, but the fine editing from Roderick Jaynes, who knows just how to cut a talking heads scene for emphasis.

Davis beautifully recreates the period–Jess Gonchor production designing–and Bruno Delbonnel’s crisp photography makes it all even more vivid. It’s a quiet, precise film. Many of the actors–Carey Mulligan and John Goodman in particular–speak in short monologues. The sound is phenomenal, not just because it’s about music, but because of the tone the Coen Brothers get out their cast’s deliveries amid such static, aching quiet.

Isaac’s great, Mulligan’s great. Excellent support from Justin Timberlake (no, really), F. Murray Abraham and Jeanine Serralles. Phenomenal composition and editing from the Coen Brothers (with Jaynes’s assistance, of course).

Inside Llewyn Davis is awesome–big when it needs to be, small when it needs to be. It’s a beautiful extinguishing of hope and, better, watching as Isaac experiences that extinguishing. It’s also phenomenally plotted; I don’t want to forget about that element. The script organically layers the revelations throughout the narrative, forcing the viewer to not just identify–willingly or not–with Isaac, but also with his protagonist’s particular point of view.

It’s a singular character study.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Roderick Jaynes; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by Scott Rudin, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; released by CBS Films.

Starring Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis), Carey Mulligan (Jean), Justin Timberlake (Jim), John Goodman (Roland Turner), Garrett Hedlund (Johnny Five), Jeanine Serralles (Joy), Adam Driver (Al Cody), Stark Sands (Troy Nelson) and F. Murray Abraham (Bud Grossman).


Police Story: Lockdown (2013, Ding Sheng)

If it didn’t star Jackie Chan–and if it wasn’t released in 2013–Police Story: Lockdown might seem like a late eighties cheap Die Hard knock-off. Chan’s a gritty bad dad, super cop who finds himself held hostage by his daughter’s new boyfriend (Liu Ye). Of course, the daughter didn’t know her boyfriend was a supervillain, she just invited her dad there to a party and to introduce the boyfriend.

There is a mega-bar, converted from a factory. Oh, and it’s Christmas. Because, you know, it’s Die Hard.

Director Ding’s script goes on and on before it gets anywhere; so does his direction. He cuts back to previous action scenes, purportedly to show Chan’s thoughts, but really it just kills time. Because if he weren’t able to kill time, Ding might actually have to write something for the actors to perform.

What’s so frustrating about the inept script–along with the inept direction–is it doesn’t give the actors anything to do. Chan’s obviously a charismatic performer, even if one’s unfamiliar with his work, because he always seems ready to connect with the viewer. Then Ding stops it, either through lame dialogue, lame flashback or strange cuts and camera movement. Even though the club is a factory and large, it’s a confined space. Ding has no idea how to shoot it.

The action scenes are even worse.

Lockdown doesn’t seem like a good idea for a movie, but it shouldn’t have been this bad. It should’ve been tolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ding Sheng; director of photography, Ding Yu; edited by Ismael Gomez III; music by Lao Zai; produced by Du Yang; released by Emperor Motion Pictures.

Starring Jackie Chan (Zhong Wen), Liu Ye (Wu Jiang), Jing Tian (Miao Miao), Yin Tao (Lan Lan), Liu Yiwei (Chief Niu), Na Wei (Na Na), Zhou Xiaoou (Wei Xiaofu) and Yu Rongguang (Captain Wu).


Enough Said (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

For most of Enough Said, I marveled at how director Holofcener–apparently in an act entirely lacking irony–created the perfect film to fail the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, which is all the rage, requires two female characters talk about something besides men.

Well, besides talking about men, the characters in Said do not do much. Lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus otherwise makes acerbic observations about those around her or the minutiae of her life; I wish I could know how the film played if one is unfamiliar with a certain show about nothing starring Louis-Dreyfus, but I cannot. It probably wouldn’t be much better, because Holofcener isn’t just lazy at the plotting, she’s lazy with the characters.

Here’s the idea (straight out of a “Seinfeld”). Louis-Dreyfus starts seeing James Gandolfini (even though he’s fat–she’s supposed to be out of shape too, in one of Enough Said’s more absurd requests for the viewer to suspend their disbelief). She’s a masseuse. Her new client–an exceptionally wasted Catherine Keener–turns out to be really cool and they become friends. Oh, and Keener’s Gandolfini’s ex-wife. Which Elaine–sorry, sorry–which Louis-Dreyfus figures out and keeps to herself.

The film wastes the more interesting empty nest subplot involving Louis-Dreyfus bonding with her daughter’s friend, Tavi Gevinson. Sure, they fail the Bechdel test too, but not as bad as the rest of the film.

Bad editing from Robert Frazen. Great performance from Gandolfini.

Enough’s pointless and slight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; edited by Robert Frazen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Keith P. Cunningham; produced by Stefanie Azpiazu and Anthony Bregman; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva), James Gandolfini (Albert), Tracey Fairaway (Ellen), Toni Collette (Sarah), Ben Falcone (Will), Catherine Keener (Marianne), Eve Hewson (Tess), Tavi Gevinson (Chloe), Amy Landecker (Debbie), Toby Huss (Peter) and Kathleen Rose Perkins (Fran).


Fast & Furious 6 (2013, Justin Lin), the extended version

For the most part, Fast & Furious 6 is a delightfully absurd action concoction from director Lin. The film drops the Fast and the Furious “family” into a James Bond movie; thank goodness, because it’s hard to imagine Roger Moore able to outdrive the bad guys here. And it’s even set in London (and later Spain). It’s not original, but screenwriter Chris Morgan does fold familiar action movie plot lines into a new situation. Lin’s making a non-fantasy (just absurd), non-realistic action extravaganza. It has to be seen to be believed.

But then there’s how much time is spent on Vin Diesel courting Michelle Rodriguez (she’s back from the dead, with amnesia–apparently Morgan doesn’t just like to lift from Empire Strikes Back, he likes to lift from “Days of Our Lives” too) and Lin handles it pretty well. Some of it. One spinning conversation is terrible, but the car race immediately proceeding it is fantastic work.

The thing about Furious 6 is Lin and photographer Stephen F. Windon do create breathtaking car race and car chase shots; they’re in the quickly edited sequences, but clearly done with deliberate, careful intent. And the car race between Diesel and Rodriguez is phenomenal stuff.

Some good acting from Evans, some bad acting from Gina Carano (though one of her fight scenes with Rodriguez is awesome). Everyone else is fine. Lin manages to get better performance from Dwayne Johnson here too.

Furious 6 is mechanical and superficial, but beautifully made and likable enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Christian Wagner, Dylan Highsmith, Greg D’Auria and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Luke Evans (Shaw), Gina Carano (Riley), John Ortiz (Braga), Shea Whigham (Stasiak), Clara Paget (Vegh) and Elsa Pataky (Elena).


The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013, Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden has way too long of a title. The subtitle is a reference to something the viewer will probably be unfamiliar with until the epilogue (it’s the title of a book by one of the documentary’s players), but at least it shows a certain engagement from the filmmakers. Their enthusiasm for their project doesn’t forgive its problems, but it does make them seem far more affable.

Unless, of course, one reads about how there are no tortoises on the Eden island, something the documentary implies many times throughout its really long two hour runtime.

Some of the other problems are side effects of the film itself. Directors Geller and Goldfine cut from 16:9 interview and modern location footage to old, black and white 4:3 footage, which they imply was taken by the island’s settlers. It’s always implied (the filmmakers have no presence until the epilogue either), but it eventually becomes clear a lot of this footage ostensibly from the 1930s is just modern stuff run through a filter.

And the titular Affair? The big mystery? It’s nowhere near as interesting as the lives of the people living on the island the filmmakers do interview. These sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters of mostly German expats who went to the end of the world to get away from Hitler (in some cases) is far more interesting than the mystery. The mystery doesn’t have enough information to be mysterious.

Galapagos is long, professional and meanderingly pointless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine; screenplay by Goldfine, Geller and Celeste Schaefer Snyder, based on books, journals, articles and letters by Dore Strauch, Margret Wittmer, Friedrich Ritter, Hinz Wittmer and John Garth; director of photography, Geller; edited by Bill Weber; music by Laura Karpman; produced by Geller, Goldfine and Snyder; released by Zeitgeist Films.


This Is Water (2013, Matthew Freidell)

This Is Water is incredibly slick. Director Freidell is literally visualizing a commencement speech David Foster Wallace once gave. Wallace will mention cars on a freeway, Freidell has the cars on the freeway. Often, Freidell visually represents parts of the speech–in stylized graphics–in his shots.

It’s slick.

And that slickness, whether it’s how well Freidell brings everything together to make a cohesive, predictable narrative, but how he comments on that narrative. The narrative, which isn’t Wallace’s creation, has depth because of how it plays against Wallace’s narrative outline. And Freidell is translating it.

Wallace’s speech–which basically espouses a humanist belief (I think someone lifted it for a “House M.D.” monologue too–has a shifting point. He appeals to his listeners vanity, then explores their vanity. Freidell’s playing with the same thing–only by engaging with their expectations for a short like This Is Water.

It’s rather cool.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Matthew Freidell; screenplay by Matthew Freidell, based on a speech by David Foster Wallace; directors of photography, Matthew Freidell and Catherine Asanov; produced by Allison Freidell, Whitney Willison and Jeremy Dunning.

Starring Hunter McClamrock (Man), Jaycie Dotin (Woman), Shey Lyn Zanotti (Mother), Phoenix List (Child) and Rhoda Pell (Cashier); narrated by David Foster Wallace.


BLT (2013, John Cunningham)

BLT runs twelve minutes. It’s probably about four minutes too long to be effective, since most of the run time is spent with Stephen Molloy (as a successful businessman) lecturing a homeless man, played by Ross Owen Williams. Director Cunningham’s script makes too many value judgments in the dialogue–Molloy’s just too obviously a prat–for the back and forth to seem sincere.

But Molloy and Williams are good and the short’s well-made (Cunningham also edits and photographs, doing well at each); if it were shorter, it might work out.

Because BLT is all about the punchline and the punchline does pay off quite a bit (Cunningham sort of paces out the punchline into three stages).

And Cunningham directs BLT well. He makes it feel real big; the problem’s not the directing. It’s the script–Cunningham’s not building to anything but that punchline. Everything else feels way too forced.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, written and directed by John Cunningham; produced by John Cunningham and Rhona Cunningham.

Starring Stephen Molloy (Businessman) and Ross Owen Williams (Homeless Man).


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