Weekend Recap: 2 Trips To The Movies (One Current One Back) Reviews – “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” + Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) (6.27-6.28.15)

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” came with much anticipation (as you may have read in my Top 10 Films of the Summer Movie Season section). I essentially knew little to next to nothing about it. And only very recently saw a trailer for it when I was seeing another film last weekend. What I did know is that for a movie to be bestowed the 2 above awards at such a prestigious festival such as Sundance (the last film to have pulled off both awards was the year prior with Damian Chazelle’s “Whiplash”). So really knowing next to nothing about it, other than what I could discern by the movie’s title and a trailer that surprisingly revealed very little. This looked like it could be one of those perfect indie sleeper hits if from the little bit that I had heard turned out to be true.

METDG involves 3 central characters, all of whom I had previously been unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film. There’s Greg, the self-absorbed, quick witted loser who lives with his two eccentric parents (Nick Offerman playing his dad is a total stand out), Rachel, an acquaintance of Greg’s who we learn very early on is diagnosed with leukemia, and Greg’s “business associate” Earl, which is really what they just call him because together they make their own self produced films, which are more or less updates of older films of movies they love. Greg is coerced by his mother to go visit Rachel which he is reluctant to do at first because he knows it will be out of pity. But then the two of them sort of “hit it off” so to speak, and Greg becomes an integral part in Rachel’s treatment of her leukemia along with his (again “business associate”) Earl. As the two of them bind together to make Rachel a film in case she winds up succumbing to her disease.

This movie exceeded my expectations and then some. There were so many different components that I liked about it that it’d be a rather difficult task to list them all here. So I will stick to just the essentials. First off, is the razor sharp, funny, and witty script co-penned by author Jesse Andrews, who wrote the book of which the film is based on. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much consistently throughout an entire film in as far back as I can remember. The directing by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was also another one of the film’s strong points, as the camera zips along at a rather fast pace which constantly demands the attention of the viewer. I also couldn’t get over the amount of winks and homages there were to so many great films that have come out through film history. Which any cinephile or film buff won’t be able to contain themselves to do nothing other than just smile each time a reference or nod is displayed on the screen. Then most importantly there’s the story itself – which does an outstanding job straddling the lines between drama and comedy. At times I found myself laughing hysterically out loud while at other I found myself holding back tears. Even more so it hit about every nerve on the human emotion spectrum possible which is uncommon and hard to do in this day and age of cinema. Lastly, was how invested I was in both the characters and story. I found myself thoroughly engrossed and immersed myself in both the story and the three central leads throughout the entire duration of the film. I’m already predicting this one, as early as it is in the year, to even quite possibly slip as a Best Picture sleeper hit come awards time at the end of the year. And as it should. METDG is one of those films that should undeniably be universally liked. And will please both independent film fans and fans of commercial audiences alike.[B+/A-]

Alfred Hithcock’s “Psycho” (1960) is probably one of my 10 all time favorite films of all time. To explain why you would really have to go into how I became a student of film as a teenager. With my film studies teacher at the time showing us this and I was pretty much blown away by it. Since then, I’ve done a presentation on it in a Psychology class as it’s considered the “first psychological” film of all time. A genre that would go and to be and still is my favorite. So for these couple and many other reasons I jumped at the opportunity to see it on the big screen. What’s so great about “Psycho” 55 years later after its release is how well it still stands up. Unlike other major motion pictures of that time, Hitchcock took a more unconventional and incredibly controversial film for its time, and made it into one of if not the greatest and most influential example of psychological horror in film history. Hitchcock clearly displays here why he was labeled “the master of suspense”. Viewing it even now 55 years later, he expertly and masterfully enters the audience’s psyche and creates a story filled with a constant sense of unease and extreme suspense and horror. It’s shot impeccably well, with various symbolic elements layered throughout (birds and taxidermy are a constant motif) and two stand out performances by Janet Leigh, who is billed as the main character but who dies halfway into the film in still one of the most impressively shot and undeniably murder sequences in the history of cinema – “the shower sequence”. Then there’s Norman Bates himself (played by Anthony Perkins) who plays the quirky motel manager to the utmost perfection. Then there’s the cat and mouse chase throughout, with Leigh’s character running off with a stack of money, only to disappear, and the number of people who follow Hitch’s trail of bread crumbs only to meet their inevitable demise. Then there’s the relationship with his mother, also expertly executed, where as a viewer, we’re never quite sure if she’s asking Norman to commit the heinous murders or if she just exists inside his head. There’s just so many remarkable aspects about the film that it’s hard to carve them all down to just a single review. Here’s what I will say, the film stands up and doesn’t seem in the slightest bit outdated 55 years after its release. And despite maybe being the most influential psychological horror film of all time, its also a great examination of mental illness and how inner conflict (Norman suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder) can lead to disastrous results. This was and still is a landmark achievement in film history. And one that still stands up as one of the most important and influential works of all time. [A+]

*Please Note Change In Movie/Time/Theater – This Sat 6/27 Me+Earl+The Dying Girl

Saturday, Jun 27, 2015, 4:45 PM

Regal Fox Tower 10
846 Sw Park Ave Portland, OR

5 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

“Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”(2015)(This Weekend’s Meetup-Saturday, 6/27)Another festival favorite that won both the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize at Sundance. This looks like it could be this year’s sleeper hit that could wind up boding well with the Academy at year’s end. If early, positive praise from critics means anything.Please RSVP …

Check out this Meetup →

A Trip To The Movies – Review: “Whiplash” 11.13.14

Winner of both the Audience Award and the Special Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival 29-year old wonder kind writer/director Damian Chazelle knows his music. Having been raised in a musical family himself and joined the band in high school. It would only make sense that his debut feature; given that he’s so young, would have something to do with music. I had heard about this one following the Sundance hoopla, and noticed that it had taken home the 2 coveted awards that I had mentioned above. So based on that and that alone I knew I was going to see it. Then I saw a trailer for it that pretty much knocked my socks off it looked so good. I did however think for a second that it looked strongly similar to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” (2010) about a ballet teacher who pushes one of his students too far. Except here it looked like a musical teacher who pushes his drummer student too far. Which left me slightly skeptical. That and while I’ve liked some of the work of its 2 leads in J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, the former of whom is one of the better “character” actors of our time but one whom I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a lead role from what I can recall. And the latter, Miles Teller, who prior to this I was only familiar with in his small but memorable role in John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole” (2009) and as the lead in last year’s mediocre “The Spectacular Now” (2013). A film in which I thought got more credit than it deserved. But after hearing such good things about the film following the festival circuit, particularly that of the 2 actors who received a lot of buzz for their performances, I decided to check it out. What sealed the deal for me was having a lengthy discussion about it with one of the theater reps who spoke incredibly highly of it and who books movies at one of our commercial theater chains that tends to show a lot of the Academy bait-type movies early in the Oscar season. Before those movies get catapulted out into wide release later in the year as they start to get noticed via word-of-mouth. So, I went to see it and just barely chose it over Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s “Birdman” (a hard decision to make let me tell you). But one that I had nothing but the utmost confidence in.

The opening shot introduces to our first of 2 main central characters, Andrew (played by Miles Teller), in a pan in shot playing a drum solo that tips off the audience right away to the fact that he’s some sort of prodigy of sorts. Which is confirmed soon after when we find out that he is currently enrolled in a prestigious (though fictitious) music conservatory college in New York City. One in which even Andrew himself claims is “the best in the country”. Andrew, like most people who devote 100% of their life into honing their craft so that they can be the best, is a bit of a ghost to most of his classmates who seem to be able to maintain other interests outside of their area of study like most college students. He’s got no friends, is painfully shy, and spends his free time going to the movies with his father (played by Paul Reiser). He’s a second year, 19-year-old, back up drummer in class. Who basically just flips pages in the second seat waiting for his chance to be a core player. That chance comes one day in the form of the school’s most prestigious musical teacher, Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), who also happens to teach the most reputable musical group in the school. One in which every student’s lifelong dream is to get into and play for him. Well, Andrew gets such an opportunity which elevates his confidence to ask out the attractive young girl who works at the movie theater he goes to with his dad. Everything seems to be going good for Andrew. At least for a short while until he gets his first crack at performing for the infamous Fletcher, and soon learns that there’s a method to his madness. The two then go on to develop a teacher-student relationship. A dynamic in which I haven’t seen since R.Lee Ermy’s Sargeant to Vincent D’Onfrio’s Private in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) or more recently Vincent Cassel’s dance troupe instructor with Natalie Portman’s ballet dancer in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” (2010). Can Andrew rise to the challenge to fulfill his passion of becoming the best drummer at the school? Maybe one of the all times greats? Will Fletcher help bring this young prodigy get to the top? Or will his perfectionist and unorthodox methods of teaching act as a roadblock to him achieving his dream?

What can I say about this film other than that it was nothing short of exceptional. Easily the best part of it for me were the 2 very fine lead performances on display. It’s refreshing to see such a great script whose characters get played by 2 actors – one who’s relatively new to the game in the form of the young Miles Teller, and the other by a veteran actor like J.K. Simmons whose been in the business for years but mainly as a character actor in bit parts. Both are outstanding, particularly that of Simmons, and both of whom should get some serious awards attention as the critics and Academy start rolling out their nominations in the next few months. Secondly, like some of my favorite films do, it plays into several genres. It contains a sports drama element like 2002’s “Drumline”, part musical, psychological thriller, even at times borderline horror film like the aforementioned “Black Swan” (2010). Though don’t be fooled – at its very center it is first and foremost a concert film, and one of the very best I’ve seen about music in as far back as I can remember. The way the script and cast of professional jazz musicians bring the music to life really needs to be seen to be believed. At its core it’s really a film about the love for music and the lengths some people will go to be the very best. Which zips, booms, and bangs music and breathes new life into the genre with its great jazz, swing, and bebop score. The last thing I think is important to point out, is the testament to the truly great script which never panders to the audience, even if in the first third I thought I had the rest of the film figured out. The way in which it shifts gears in plot and keeps the audience guessing the 2 lead characters’ motivations to me was executed perfectly. Did I also mention it’s incredibly intense yet also an incredibly confident story and assured piece of filmmaking? And one that will have you on the edge of your seat from about a third of the way in until it’s wonderful grand finale. Don’t be surprised if this picture winds up being a dark horse for Best Picture, and one or both of the 2 leads gets Oscar nominations as the year comes to end. This is a smart, well executed and acted sports drama/thriller, about one very unique relationship between mentor and pupil. Which also happens to be one of the year’s best pictures that should easily land a coveted spot on my list of the top 10 films of 2014.

[A-]