CGB Review of To The Wonder (Guest Starring Leia the Dog!)

Hey indie filmmakers, why are you so afraid of dialogue?  What did dialogue ever do to you?

This is my review of To The Wonder!

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Also, I’d like to welcome a very special guest: My “niece” Leia the dog!
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To The Wonder chronicles the whirlwind romance of an American man and a French woman played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko.  At first everything is awesome and they’re all in love and shiz, but when Kurylenko moves to Oklahoma with Affleck, shiz hits the fan and their love is tested.  Things get even more complicated when Affleck reconnects with Rachel McAdams.
So before I start, I’m going to do something a little different with this review. Along with my “hits and misses” system, I’m also going to use reaction pictures of Leia to explain what the movie does right and what it does wrong.

The Hits
This movie is surprisingly Catholic without even trying to be!
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For one, this movie has the most compassionate, humanistic portrayal of a priest character in a secular film that I’ve ever seen.  Javier Bardem plays a priest who is experiencing a dark night of the soul.  He feels disconnected and uncared for by God, yet finds peace and healing through ministering to others.
So I’m guessing the screenwriter found inspiration from Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness.  😉
Like Melancholia, this film is a cinematography student’s dream come true.   There are a lot of beautiful nature shots.  This would be the greatest nature documentary ever made if director Terrance Malick had just said, “Frick it, let’s just throw the script away and make an Earth Day movie for Disney!”
To The Wonder is the best representation of the “love just happens” philosophy in action.  It makes a good cautionary tale about what happens when people dismiss the fact that love is a choice and not just an emotional high.  Affleck and Kurylenko are committed to each other…when everything is fine and dandy. When life kicks in and the real challenges arise, what they think is love is suddenly gone. When we abandon the personal responsibility aspect of love, we end up with fleeting relationships that are great for the moment, but can be easily replaced when things get dull or tough.  In a way, the film argues that looking for love using self-serving actions leave us empty-handed, and that true love exists once we look outside ourselves and serve those who are less fortunate than us.

The Misses
A friend of mine once said, “I could watch a movie on mute as long as Rachel McAdams is in it.”
Hey, M.P., guess what?  You’re in luck because this movie is SEVERELY ALLERGIC TO DIALOGUE!
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Yeah, I was also tilting my head at the startling lack of dialogue.  Tell me, when you’re walking around at the mall or the beach or somewhere with your friend, do you just awkwardly stare at each other and then gaze at the pretty flowers as if posing for a photoshoot?   I sure don’t!  The characters in this film will literally walk to each other and just exchange glances without even saying “hello.”  In the rare times that they do talk, they whisper to each other because–Terrence Malick!
You may have noticed in my summary that I used the actors’ names and not the names of their characters.  That’s because nobody in this film calls each other by their names.
Sixteen minutes into the film, I said aloud, “Hey, what are your guys’ names?”
Thirty minutes into the film, as Ben Affleck silently walks across a construction site, I ask, “Dude, what’s your character name?”
An hour later…”I’d love to connect with ya’ll, but I have no idea what your names are!”  Watching an entire movie and never knowing who is who is kind of a problem.
Why is pacing such a common problem in cinema?  To The Wonder and Melancholia are two movies that really like to drag out their running time.   Scenes will go on for longer than they’re supposed to and there are so many silent periods throughout the movie that I actually started doing my math homework without ever feeling like I was missing something important.
By the end, Leia and I just dozed off…
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All of that being said, To The Wonder is a conflicting movie.  There is a lot of good stuff here and as an arthouse indie flick, it succeeds in having its own unique style.  However, the unrealistic silence between the characters and the “drag-your-feet” pacing will test your patience as it did mine.
On the bright side, I got to spend some quality time with my fur-niece.

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Saint Valentine, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Interview (2014)

Before the climactic interview, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) gives Dave Skylark (James Franco) the most ADORABLE Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as a gift and Skylark almost caves in to the dictator’s charms.
To be fair, if a crazed dictator handed me a sweet puppy with a melting expression, I’d probably cave, too.
Why do I bring this up?  Because honest to God, I just wanted an excuse to show a picture of the dog from the movie.
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You may now commence your “oohs” and “awwws.”

This is my review of The Interview!

In Franco and Rogen we trust.
In Franco and Rogen we trust.

This is the movie that North Korea had a major freakout about last year.  The Interview tells the story of TV host Dave Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport.  Together they run a tabloid show where they cover stories like Rob Lowe being bald or Eminem coming out as gay, etc.  When they learned that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a huge fan of Skylark’s work, the two men set out to interview him.  However things get complicated when the CIA gets involves and wants Skylark and Rapoport to assassinate Kim Jong-un and used the interview as a cover to do so.

Before I start this review, let’s talk about the controversy behind it.
In June of 2014, North Korea flipped out over the premise of this film; two journalists being sent to assassinate Kim Jong-un while using an interview as a cover.  North Korea was so furious that they threatened to take action against the United States if Sony Pictures released the flick.  To prevent a third world war, the film was delayed from its October release to a slot in December and it was re-edited so that North Korea wouldn’t nuke us.  Then the Sony hacking thing happened, and The Interview ended up online and in limited release.

So is this raunchy comedy worth almost getting nuked?
Hmm…sort of.
By the way, I want you to remember that this film was re-edited.  It’ll be important later.

The Hits
The opening scene is hilarious!  Dave Skylark is interviewing Eminem and, literally out of nowhere, Eminem comes out as gay.  The reveal itself lacks the build-up needed for this kind of scene, but what had me laughing was how Eminem keeps a stoic expression on his face the whole time while Dave Skylark overacts.  “I’ve been leaving a gay trail of breadcrumbs,” Eminem says in the most nonchalant way.   The hilarity of the scene stems from the fact that Eminem is robotically calm while everyone else in the studio freaks out.  Characters’ reactions or even lack of reaction can be funny when it’s set up correctly.
James Franco and Seth Rogen’s believable chemistry carries the film.  I like how Seth Rogen is the calm and collected straight-man to James Franco’s whacky egotistical arch.
[A BIT OF A SPOILER] So Franco’s character spends the day with Kim Jong-un, who turns out to be a nerd who likes Katy Perry and margaritas.  I gotta say that I admire the decision to dilute Kim Jong-un’s character.  Even though I have…a variety of issues with portraying a DICTATOR as a hapless puppy-dog of a man, I give credit to anyone who is willing to make a risky move.
Also, extra brownie points for that precious Cavalier King Charles Spaniel!

The Misses
Why did I want you to remember that this film was re-edited?  Because when it shows, it REALLY shows.  It’s not so much in the scene transitions, but in plot points.   For one, they make it clear that James Franco’s character is successful beyond his wildest dreams, so why would he agree so readily and without much of a fight to switch from doing entertainment news to taking on the dangerous task of interviewing a dictator?  The brief argument between Rogen and Franco over taking on the task is so rushed and has no build-up to what’s at stake that it lacks emotional investment.  [ANOTHER SPOILER] When we do find out that Kim Jong-un is batshiz insane, the reveal is so abrupt that even though I knew it was coming, the gravity of the revelation just wasn’t there.  More time was put into making him look innocent than it was on giving the audience a sense of unease about his character.   I have a feeling that when they were re-editing, some key scenes that could have fixed these problems ended up on the chopping block.
Speaking of which, this movie has a major build-up problem.  When the CIA approaches our main protagonists and explains what they [CIA] want them [Franco and Rogen] to do, the weight of the situation is nonexistent because it’s treated too light-heartedly.  Even Horrible Bosses understood how to keep the seriousness of attempting to kill their bosses while remaining a comedy.

Overall I can sort of see why North Korea didn’t want this movie to be released, mainly because of the premise and the portrayal of their ruler.  However The Interview should’ve been written as a dark comedy instead of a slapstick comedy.  That way, it would’ve been a serious situation with comedic reactions instead of a film with a mishandled tone.