Monday, August 24, 2015

I got busy

I'm gonna be honest with you. It's going to be really hard to keep up with this when I start grad school, which is next week. As it is, as I prepare for this semester, I'm finding very little time to write about the movies I recently saw. They are "Diary of a Teenage Girl" and "Straight Outta Compton."

It sucks because I was finally starting to get a solid amount of traffic to this site, but I'm afraid I'll be updating this more sporadically in the future.

I did write a review for The Playlist last week for a Dutch movie called "Prince":

So there's that.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The End of the Tour REVIEW

 Sometimes, you sit down in the theater and a movie you see just works for you.  Whoever you are at whatever moment in time, that can make all the difference. Maybe 10, 15 years from now, it won't strike that same chord, but in that specific period of your life? When the right movie comes? It can be a very satisfying experience. That was what "The End of the Tour" was for me. I'm a writer, I'm 27. The main characters in this film are in their early 30s and what they're going through, what they talk about, are things that I can very much identify and empathize with. 

So I loved "End of the Tour." I think it's a good movie any way you slice it, but I just want to be honest about where I'm coming from with my evaluation. Definitely see the film as I think it's incredibly perceptive and wonderfully, almost delicately crafted. There have been quite a few movies set in the '90s before, but this was the first time I've ever actually felt transported into that time period. Most important though are these characters, who simply feel lived-in and naturalistic in this world.

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky and Jason Segel plays David Foster Wallace. The story takes place in 1996 when Lipsky was 30 and DFW was 34. Lipsky just had a book of his published, but the talk of the literature world is this David Foster Wallace fellow, who's in the midst of a book tour for his 1,097-page novel Infinite Jest. It's not just that it's good, it's intimidatingly good. As a result of all the hooplah, Lipsky becomes fascinated and wants to do a piece on the writer for Rolling Stone.

When he visits Wallace in his snowy, modest Midwest home, he's struck by how normal and guarded DFW is. As a matter of fact, David Foster Wallace is not all that thrilled about having this journalist following him around, asking questions. Wallace may be a brilliant writer and Lipsky may be in awe of his talents, but DFW wants none of that. To paraphrase the movie (and Wallace), the more people think you're great, the more you end up feeling like a fraud. Wallace wants, more than anything else, to just live a normal life. He "cherishes his regular guy-ness," which he even says at one point.

Lipsky doesn't know what to make of all this. On one hand, Wallace is generally approachable. But because Lipsky's a journalist, there's an unwillingness inside Wallace to want to open up to him. You get the feeling that Lipsky just wants to be his friend, wants to feel connected to him. Maybe he wants some of that "brilliance" to rub off on him. But Lipsky has issues of his own and when DFW calls him out during one particular scene, an embarrassed Lipsky lashes out against him, taking issue with Wallace and his entire worldview.

Their genial conversations are interesting and their differences are even more fascinating. I was hooked by this movie from beginning to end, and like Lipsky, once I was in DFW's world, I didn't want to leave. And yet, there's a shame in feeling such a way because that invasion of space and privacy is something that goes against everything Wallace stands for. He was a fascinating guy, and what the movie does so well is how it captures him just in that specific moment in time back in 1996. He's got his own worries, yet despite the movie being bookended with news of his tragic suicide in 2008, the middle chunk of the film never feels like some bad omen. There's just enough careful attention paid to these characters; they feel multi-dimensional. Both his life and death are treated with equal amounts of respect.

Some fans, friends, and family members of David Foster Wallace have been vocal about their objections to this movie being made. Wallace probably would've (or, definitely would've) despised any movie getting made about him. It has only been 7 years since he died and perhaps it feels a bit rash to make a movie about him in such a quick amount of time, especially when he would've been so vehemently opposed to it. It's hard to reconcile that as a moviegoer, even moreso when you wind up liking the film. I've spent the last week trying to find the right words to say about the movie because this was an aspect I really did have difficulty with.

I guess what gives me a little bit of peace, and director James Ponsoldt says just as much in this AV Club interview, is that this is really David Lipsky's story. And this movie is David Lipsky's POV of who DFW really is. Is that enough to justify the making of this movie? Maybe not. But what can I say? I really, thoroughly enjoyed this film and felt connected to it on several levels. Those types of inherent contradictions illuminates the themes of the film. The movie shouldn't exist, but it does. It's a great film, but it can't help but view DFW as a larger-than-life person. Yes, those contradictions exist and you can't exit the movie with a clean conscience... and that just makes me enjoy it even more.

Grade: A

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I rent, I watch, I review: RUN ALL NIGHT

I was a bit surprised when I caught "Non-Stop" a year and a half ago. I didn't think it was a great movie, but I find myself enjoying it more than I expected. Liam Neeson is one of those actors who's just always fun to watch even when he's in lesser material. There's a gravitas about him. His voice just has that perfectly dramatic cadence. You can see why he's become such a bankable action star the past few years, but you kinda wish the movies he stars in could at least try to live up to his talents.

"Non-Stop," though, kinda did in a way. It had a great hook for a premise: a man threatening Liam Neeson in a plane, plans to kill all the passengers if he doesn't get a specified amount of money. "Run All Night," which is another collaboration between Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also directed Neeson in "Unknown"), just doesn't have the same immediacy and clarity of plot attached to it. While nothing in "Non-Stop" was particularly original or mind-blowing, it still managed to have fun with its premise. It delivered the goods, basically. Collet-Serra found a lot of interesting ways to make use of such limited space in that airplane. "Run All Night" is just way too standard of an action/drama by comparison. While the performances by Neeson, Ed Harris, and Joel Kinnanman are actually pretty solid, the plot here has just been played way too much and is so blandly executed. Collet-Serra doesn't really do anything unique with this material.

Still, I did like Neeson's approach to his character. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a former stone cold killer and right-hand man for gang boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now that he's approaching his 60s, Conlon is filled with a lot of regret thanks to his violent past. He turns to alcohol to cope with his pain and is generally a bit of a nuisance for his boss and the overly boss's son who's an overly entitled, spoiled, little piece of shit to be quite frank.

A series of events go down. Suddenly, the boss's son has a gun pointed at Jimmy Conlon's son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) and Jimmy has to make a choice that could turn everything upside down. He either protects his son by killing the guy, which will undoubtedly get his own boss to turn against him. Or, let his son die, which would simply be too much to have on his conscience, especially since he and his son haven't talked in five years up to this point.

Again, this is all pretty basic stuff. You probably even know how the rest plays out just by me describing the plot to you. There is a car chase, a set piece that takes place inside a Marcy Projects building that was actually pretty well done, and a final showdown in the woods that pits Neeson against a character you thought was dead.

It was generally enjoyable, but in the end, pretty bland and forgettable. Neeson is solid as the remorseful, violent drunk. And how could I ever say anything negative about Ed Harris? It's just a shame he doesn't get very many good roles his way. Vincent D'onofrio and Nick Nolte also have small roles, but they don't really get to do much with them.

If you're a fan of action, specifically Liam Neeson's brand of action, then this is definitely worth the rental. Just don't expect much of it to stick with you when it's over.

Grade: C+

I rent, I watch, I review: GET HARD

More often than not, Oscars are given out to dramas that have historical significance. They're given out to "serious" movies. And over the past few years, we've had our fair share of decent-to-great dramas which crowds the Oscar field. However, it's hard not to notice the near-complete dearth of great comedies in the last decade. You can name the really good-to-great ones on one hand, probably. This is especially true when it comes to studio-made comedies. Why is it so difficult to make something legitimately funny these days? Why are the majority of them just bland and forgettable?

Take "Get Hard" for example. Here, you have two bankable, talented comedic actors: Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. They've made their fair share of funny movies before, and in this movie, they managed to have some good chemistry together. Yet, it's wasted on such a lazy script that's based on this broad idea of a rich white wealthy hedge fund manager getting prison tips from someone who's never been to prison before but pretends he has as the hedge fund guy promises to pay him a lot of money. The hedge fund manager, played by Will Ferrell, is being hauled off to prison in 30 days. Kevin Hart plays the other guy, who runs a car wash operation in the same parking garage of this hedge fund company, he's the man who's elected to be the "prison trainer."

Within "Get Hard" are different elements that suggest this could've gone several satirical routes. The writers chose none of those routes. For example, there's a wealth of material for the taking when it comes to skewering those who run hedge funds, especially ones who are caught embezzling and are convicted of fraud. "Get Hard" barely touches upon any of this.

And when the movie shows hints of poking fun at a wealthy hedge fund's ignorance towards other, particularly ethnic, cultures, the writers take the easiest, broadest route possible. Rather than trying to mine laughs that offers the least bit of hindsight, they go for the dumbest, most tired joke possible. Like, Will Ferrell getting dressed up like a gangster, listening to rap for the first time. Despite Ferrell and Hart doing their best to make the material work, due to an unimaginative script, they're dead in the water.

Bottom line: "Get Hard" just doesn't have very many laughs. And if there are some laughs, it's because these actors did their best to sell the jokes. No effort was made to turn this premise into something interesting. For the first 75 minutes or so, we're stuck watching Hart bark orders at Ferrell. For the last half hour, they finally decide to figure out whether Ferrell's character is actually guilty of the crimes he's accused of. It's just lazy writing all around, so much so that you're surprised when the movie actually decides to have a real plot. Surprised, and quite frankly, disappointed because... who gives a shit about any of this? The writers don't, they're just making an overly-formulaic by-the-numbers comedy to get a paycheck. So why should we care what happens to these characters? What a waste of talent.

Grade: C-

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What will Ken be watching in August?

I don't know if you can tell from my increased activity these past few months, but I'm sort of in a groove. I'm in the right mindset. KenonCinema is halfway towards its sixth year of existence and I feel rejuvenated.

I do have grad school starting at the end of the month, but that shouldn't prevent me from watching movies and writing about them. After nearly six year, my natural inclination is to write about the newly released movies I've seen.

But with that in mind, with this being my last completely free month before I get bogged down with grad school obligations, here's what I plan to watch/review for August...

Theatrical releases:
End of the Tour
Ricki and the Flash
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Man from UNCLE
Straight Outta Compton
Mistress America
American Ultra (eh, maybe)
Digging for Fire (may not get to this til September)
She's Funny That Way (may not get to until September)

Run All Night
Jupiter Ascending
What We Do in the Shadows
Get Hard

I live in Orange County so some of these are dependent on when some of those limited releases will reach my area. But that's what my slate looks like. Skipping Fantastic Four, The Gift, Cop Car, and Hitman. Z for Zachariah too. Some of those I might catch when they're available to rent. Then, of course, there are the movies I might get assigned from The Playlist. So, hope to have an even busier month, writing-wise, than the last two. That's the goal. Because I'm not sure how it'll be for me once grad school starts. I'll still watch/review the major September movies I want to see, but I'll have to split up my time more for other things.

I bring all this up because I officially started KenonCinema in January 2010, four months after I graduated Penn State. I was 22, living in State College, PA. I worked at a library, I was just about to get engaged. So much has happened to me since then but this site has been the constant, despite me taking hiatuses here and there. Now I'm sorta entering a new phase of my life. Don't know what'll come of it, but I expect this site to still remain a constant. Thanks for reading me and I hope to bring you more content as the year goes by.

I do shorter reviews of both old/new movies on my letterboxd page. My star ratings roughly translate to my graded reviews here, but it's not an exact science. But anyway, if you haven't heard from me on here, check my letterboxd page.

And that's all. Adios!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Late-period Woody Allen always comes with a degree of measured expectations. Sometimes he can still legitimately surprise and delight, other times he can flat out miss. Lately though, at least since "Midnight in Paris," I'd say his movies have ranged from "pretty damn good" to "slight, but still mostly enjoyable." "Magic in the Moonlight" tested my patience at times, but I was cool with it. "To Rome With Love" is the same deal. Now Woody's back with "Irrational Man" where he's twisting the themes of morality once again. This is something he first explored with "Crimes and Misdemeanors" as well as "Match Point."

"Irrational Man" essentially amounts to being a crude interpretation of the famous Dostoevsky novel Crime and Punishment and it's an influence Allen wears on his sleeve. We, in fact, find his lead character Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) with an opened copy of the book, having highlighted certain passages. So, yeah, Woody Allen is pretty straight-forward about his inspirations here and what he conjures up is mostly entertaining, even if a little undercooked. But a resoundingly strong performance from Joaquin Phoenix as well as a great supporting cast that includes Emma Stone and Parker Posey---they bring Allen's material up a notch.

Especially when it comes to Joaquin. Like Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris," Joaquin Phoenix has such a strong personality and different way of delivering lines that he really brings something new and different to the typical Woody Allen protagonist. Phoenix does away with the neuroses entirely, but there's always something off-kilter about the character he plays, Phoenix sells Abe Lucas's budding descent into insanity (or irrationality, really) in a way that feels effortless. This helps move forward a plot that really could've fallen on its face or completely changed the tone for the worst. But because Abe Lucas always comes across as a bit odd, the movie never really feels different tonally.

Basically, Abe Lucas is a famous writer of philosophy who agrees to teach for a semester at a New England liberal arts-type college. He immediately gets the attention of Rita (Parker Posey), a fellow professor and Jill (Emma Stone), who's a student of his. Both are gunning for his affection, but Abe is more than a bit standoffish and quite depressed. He's got writer's block, he's impotent, and when he's not teaching, he's in his apartment sulking.

And then of course, he has an epiphany. Suddenly, he comes across an idea that gives his life purpose. And if you've read Crime and Punishment, you probably know where this is going. Let's just say "Irrational Man" takes a dark turn halfway through, but Joaquin Phoenix's smugness about his epiphany and superiority actually makes this "dark turn" into something fairly humorous. I gotta say it's been awhile since I laughed this much at a Woody Allen film, but the way Phoenix underplays certain lines just slayed me. I'm a fan of the man, what do you want from me?

Really, that'll be the factor as far as whether you personally gain enjoyment from this film. But much of it is actually pretty sharp and witty. I only take issue with the way the story evolves in the last third where Abe Lucas makes a leap in logic that just doesn't quite work with what's been established.

As with most Allen films of late, it seems he's so intent on churning out the next script and getting into production, there simply appears to be little/no regard for making sure all the pieces of his story fits. What it all comes down to are the performances (great), the cinematography (another superb outing from Darius Khondji), and whether the story is clever enough to wanna follow from beginning to end (it is). It doesn't quite add up to another late-period gem from the filmmaker, but it's still pretty solid.

Grade: B