DVD Review: “Listen Up Philip” 3.13.15

This particular movie piqued my interest after having seen it wind up on many of last year’s top 10 lists from quite a few film critics. A movie that virtually seemed to fall under the radar by most yet even despite of its positive reviews. These are the exact types of films that I thrive on seeking out. As a lot of the time when I take a chance with something that I know little to next to nothing about, I sometimes come away feeling a great sense of having found that hidden gem that I can then spread the word about to the film aficionado friends that I know. If it winds up being disappointing…well, that’s not what really matters. It’s the hope of seeing something new and exciting that drives me to want to see a film that some may hold in a high regard that goes unseen by most if not all of the American public. Such was the case with this film. It played in a very limited release at one of our more local art house, independent cinemas here in Portland that only showcases the kinds of films that fall into this particularly kind of category. That and I’ve always been quite fond of the film’s lead, Jason Schwartzman, having feeling like I’ve almost seemingly grown up right alongside him when he wowed both audiences and critics a like with his breakthrough debut performance in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” (1998), which was a major movie for me in terms of my starting to develop an appreciation for both the art of film and its language. I also was intrigued by the film’s supporting cast which boasted Elizabeth Moss (who seems to be showing up everywhere lately, most notably in last year’s trippy SciFi romantic comedy/mindfuck – “The One I Love”) whom I also loved in one of the most underrated, overlooked, and unseen made for cable miniseries – Australian filmmaker Jane Campion’s fantastic murder mystery “Top of the Lake” (2013) which gave me a much deeper appreciation for Moss who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries for her performance in it. Rounding out the impressive cast was the great Bristish stage and screen actor Jonathan Pryce, who has and will always stick out for me from his lead performance in Terry Gilliam’s undisputed masterpiece “Brazil” (1985). This looked to be one that had the potential to be of great promise, considering the actors involved and the great reviews I had glanced at about it.

The titular character, Philip (played by Schwartzman), is a New York City writer who at first seems so obsessed with himself, so self-absorbed, that he comes across as highly unlikable (think Jeff Daniels’ in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) ). He’s a bigot, arrogant, pretentious, and narcissistic. One of those better than everyone young writer types who on the heels of having only published one novel to date but who got critical acclaim for, thinks he’s gods gift to just about everybody he meets. But what’s different from his character than say the Jeff Daniels comparison, is that he’s well aware of all of these things, and we as the viewer are informed of this, throughout most of the film actually, in a brilliant voice over narration by none other than the Eric Bogosian (in what I found to be some of the better use of voiceover since Alec Baldwin’s work on another Schwartzman film – Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) ). It seems like every relationship, from Philip’s ex to his now current girlfriend (Moss) is doomed for failure. As he is not willing to recognize anybody’s else’s accomplishments rather than that of his own. Which makes him a likely candidate for most difficult person to be in a relationship with. He does however find solace in another writer Ike (played by the excellent Pryce), an aging writer who has seen his day, and who like Philip, is so selfish that he willfully seems to push away just about every person in his life. The two are almost mirror images of one another. And when Ike invites Philip to his summer home in upstate New York to escape the ever-growing and anxiety ridden demands of the big city life, Philip jumps at the opportunity to stay with his mentor, as he attempts to get his second novel published.

The film winds up being a mostly enjoyable dramedy, with elements of both dark humor and serious drama as the screenplay really attempts to give us, the viewer, full access into the world of Philip and the two different sides in which he projects – his overly confident, cocky exterior as well as the self loathing and deprecation that’s going on in the interior. Schwartzman handles the role rather deftly, and proves to his once again why he has the residual staying power that he’s had as an actor, despite having a number of notable films under his belt and still being as young as he is. The script and story itself reminded me of something out of the Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson cannon. In that there’s a sad, underlying tone with moments of great comedy on display. Juggling several genre elements all jumbled up into one rather remarkably. Which is a testament to its writer director, Alex Ross Perry, who has a couple of features under his belt but this seeming like essentially his debut film, which is mightily impressive given that he is barely 30 years old. The script is razor-sharp, smart, witty, and darkly funny. And came across as being more deeply rooted in reality than a lot of the other increasing number of films that I’ve seen from this genre as of late. While we look at Philip’s character with disdain, there’s also a human element that resides within him that comes across as universal, authentic, and real. This wound up being a mostly rewarding experience, even if it did wind up feeling slightly familiar at times to films like the ones of early Woody Allen. Recommended for those interested in the independent, romantic dramedy genre looking for something new and fresh and for fans of Schwartzman. As this one should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did, and at least to me, seems like it should have gotten quite a bit more attention than it ultimately wound up getting.

[B]

A Trip To The Movies – Review: “St.Vincent” 1.4.14

I can’t say I had the highest of hopes for this one, despite knowing very little about it other than having seen what appeared to be a mediocre trailer for it prior to its release. However, once the 2015 Golden Globe nominations were announced, and I saw that it got a nomination for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and more importantly a Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) nomination for Bill Murray. Anybody who’s anyone I would think would see a film just based on the mere fact that it’s a “Bill Murray film” that garnered him a nomination. As I think it goes without being said that he may not be the most gifted actor in the business, he’s certainly one of the more universally loved. Which is certainly the case with me. So with that in mind I decided to make it a point to catch the film while it was still in theaters.

“St.Vincent” starts by introducing us to Vincent (or Vin as he’s called) played by the ever so wonderful Bill Murray. Vin is a textbook degenerate – one who resembles something like a cross between Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa” (2003) and Danny McBride in the TV series “Eastbound and Down”. He drinks too much, is disrespectful to just about everyone he meets including his new neighbor (played by Melissa McCarthy – my first introduction to her in a movie), and cavaliers around a stripper (played by Naomi Watts playing a Russian woman with a thick accent – which surprisingly works) so that he can use her as his sex slave. That is until one day by a matter of chance he winds up being asked to babysit the McCarthy character’s son Oliver (played by the excellent Jaeden Lieberher in his debut performance). Oliver is having quite a bit of trouble at his Catholic private school because he’s just one of those teeny, puny kids that are easy targets to get picked on. Vin begins to watch young Oliver after school, as his mother has one of those demanding jobs that requires her to stay late. Vin does this at first simply because he is a selfish old man who is quickly going broke. But as the two of them start to develop a relationship, with Vin’s crazy lifestyle and antics acting as an almost catalyst for Oliver to gain the confidence he needs, while also providing the change that Vin’s character can benefit from because it seems like all he may need is some company around. As this relationship blossoms so does the story, and we start to gain some insight into the man Vin really is on the inside and not just the out.

The film winds up being slightly predictable, formulaic, and follows Hollywood movie tropes a little too closely. But if you’re able to put that aside, within it contains a beautiful and deeply moving film about life and one man’s experiences that have made him into the man he is. Even if he he is a little bit rough around the edges he’s utterly human. This multilayered and complex role almost seems tailor-made for an actor like Murray. Who puts in a dynamite performance here which ranks up there with the best of his “rebirth” roles (the “rebirth” of Bill Murray is considered post-1998’s “Rushmore”). I would even go so far as to say he was better in this than he was in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost In Translation” (2003) and on par with his role in Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004). He is the meat and bones of the film and is well deserving of the Best Actor Golden Globe nomination he received. Also, his relationship with the Jaeden Lieberher character is heartwarming, funny, and touching, and a lot of credit needs to go to him as well as it must be hard to play so well as he does off an actor of Murray’s caliber. Melissa McCarthy, who as mentioned I was previously unfamiliar with, also did a pretty good job as the troubled mother hit with unforeseen circumstances. The movie takes a grand shift at about the middle point that took me by surprise and really shows why Murray is just as good of an actor delving into dramatic territory as he is comedy. I felt while the film was pretty standard fare up to this point, it really started moving and was both engaging and touching from then forward. Culminating in a climax that had me on the verge of tears I was so moved. Despite it feeling like a somewhat familiar story that we’ve maybe seen done before, if you can look past that you should see that the film’s got so much heart and soul and humanity for its characters that I was easily able to overlook its contrivances. Highly deserving of both its Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Actor, this is a worthwhile film that I can see being universally liked as it winds up being very effective on a lot of different levels. Up to and including the pitch perfect closing montage as the credits rolled.

[that sweet spot between a B and B+]