Ned Rifle Completes Hal Hartley’s Trilogy of a Messed Up Family


by Carrie Specht

1388785480-dothis_lectores_010214-hal-hartleyThe Cinefamily’s Hal Hartley Film Retrospective runs April 2nd – 4th. This is the first-ever West Coast retrospective of the works of the iconic film auteur, but don’t worry if you miss it because there will be additional Saturday matinee screenings throughout the rest of the month featuring eight career spanning films. Although, Hartley is only in attendance for the April 2nd through 4th screenings, you still have the opportunity to see the rest of the films on the big screen, including the Los Angeles premiere of his latest feature, NED RIFLE. The film’s stars, including Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), James Urbaniak (American Splendor, Henry Fool) and Liam Aiken (Fay Grim, Road to Perdition) are expected to make appearances. This highly anticipated retrospective is the kickoff of a weeklong Cinefamily run of NED RIFLE April 3rd through April 9th.

Liam Aiken as Ned Rifle in NED RIFLE, directed by Hal HartleyNow it’s no secret that Hartley’s filmmaking style can be an acquired taste. However, his deadpan “dramadies” filled with taut dialogue and offbeat characters defined classic American independent filmmaking of the 1990s. And it was Hartley’s films that offered breakthrough roles to Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Waiting for Guffman), Edie Falco (The Sapranos, Nurse Jackie), Adrienne Shelley (The Unbelievable Truth, Waitress), and Martin Donovan (Insomnia, Weeds). It’s hard to believe, but NED RIFLE is Hartley’s first feature film in eight years. It premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, and recently screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival, marking the triumphant completion of the trilogy that started with HENRY FOOL and continued with FAY GRIM. Although these films were made over a period of fifteen years, Hartley used the same actors to play the same characters in three different films over the course of a generation (if this sounds familiar it’s because recent Best Picture nominee BOYHOOD accomplished something similar but very different shooting one film over the corse of twelve years with the same actors). Each film in Hartley’s trilogy includes Parker Posey, Thomas James Ryan, James Urbaniak and actor Liam Aiken. Aiken was just seven years old in 1997, and in 2014 he returns in NED RIFLE as a teenage born-again Christian convinced it is his duty to hunt down and kill his father. This is most definitely not your typical family saga.

201503077_2_IMG_FIX_700x700 This beautifully shot film has an overall somber tone and pace that accentuates the personality of the characters. The matte color palate is undoubtedly the trademark of a low budget film, however in this case the desaturation of the world in which these characters live is pitch perfect and accentuates the muddled thinking of each. Those unfamiliar with Hartley and his approach to character may mistake the even keel performances as bad acting or misguided “helmsmanship”, but they would be mistaken. Hartley and his actors know exactly what they are doing, and the result is quiet rich and satisfying. These are real people, not movie people. And real people who behave in un-dramatic ways give punctuation to their actions when they stray from the norm. These are fine performances marked by the nuances of character that know what they need to do. And even though everyone’s quest is a serious one, there are never any high dramatic moments until absolutely necessary, and even then there is a quiet acceptance of events. 

cdn.indiewire-1Undoubtedly, NED RIFLE holds a greater impact for those who have seen the first two films. However, it is not necessary to see the first two to understand and enjoy the third. Like any well-made sequel, NED RIFLE has an impactful story of its own. In fact, the original film was never conceived as a three part series. It was not until FAY GRIM that Hartley decided there was to be a third film to complete the story. But that doesn’t even matter, because the story is a basic one. It is clear from the very beginning that Ned has issues with his parents and is determined to resolve the matter by avenging his mother for the wrong his father has done her. And thus the journey of a young man begins, but before all is over he emerges as a man. Although he is not the man he expected to be. How could he be with no one else being who he expected them to be? SPOILER – His presumed suffering mother seems to be enjoying prison life, his lovely companion appears to be a nymphomaniac bent on a twisted kind of revenge, and his father whom he has always envisioned as a son of the devil turns out to be a type of modern day sage. And it all fits together in a beautifully crafted tale without a single car chase, explosion, or computer-generated effect. NED RIFLE is just plain old good story telling. It’s definitely unique, very original and certainly twisted, but solidly good at its very core. 

cdn.indiewireOf course Parker Posey provides a solid performance as Ned’s mother, and the rest of the Hartley stable of actors (Aiken,Urbaniak,Thomas Jay Ryan and Martin Donovan) are just as reliable. Amazingly enough, it is the young television comedy star, Aubrey Plaza who stands out by fitting in so nicely with this well-established group of Hartley veterans. Her signature droll delivery is perfectly in step with the world Hartley has carefully established over the years. Her’s is a performance that straddles dry comedy, mystery and intrigue. It is a screen characterization that will propel her in directions we have not seen her attempt before, and the opportunities that are about to come her way are well deserved. Although the image above (used in many ads) depicts Plaza in a very sensational pose, her performance is far more subtle and complicated than implied. Much like a Hal Hartley film. You always get more than the sensational, there’s also depth.

The Hal Hartley Retrospective screening schedule includes the Friday night premier of NED RIFLE, the Saturday presentation of TRUST and THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, the Saturday April 11th screening of SURVIVING DESIRE, followed by the Saturday, April 18th afternoon show of SIMPLE MEN, finishing up Saturday, April 25th with THE BOOK OF LIFE. All screenings will take place at The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, LA 90036. Tickets and Screening information can be found at the Cinefamily’s official site:



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ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel Releases 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films in Theatres

by Carrie Specht

THE_BIGGER_PICTURE_still-e1422561119223-625x375Following the tradition of ten years, the world’s only short movie channel, ShortsHD is responsible for the theatrical premieres of films in the Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary Short categories of the Academy Awards. This year’s Oscar Nominated Short Films opened in Los Angeles theaters and across the country on January 30. The Live Action and Animated shorts began their run at The Nuart in West L.A. and the Documentary shorts stepped things off at the Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. All three programs opened in Orange County at the Regency South Coast Village.


Not to confuse you too much, but the Live Action and Animated programs are separate programs with individual admissions, whereas the Documentary shorts are separated in to two programs due to length but have only one admission price. Got it? Don’t worry, either way it’s worth the price to see these inspiring, innovative and thought provoking mini films. I’m particularly found of the animated ones, which show an unusually high caliber of quality. In past years there has been a clear stand out in the competition making it seem as if the other nominees were included just to round out the field. Not so this year. Each animated short is a true gem and could capture the coveted statue come February 22. I can’t help you out with your Oscar pools here, but I will tell you I’m leaning toward The Dam Keeper.

THE_DAM_KEEPER_stillI honestly got caught up with each and every short, believing I’d seen the winner after each one had ended. Which is particularly notable since most of these little wonders are very short – I mean really short. A Single Life is just two minutes long! I suppose it’s unfortunate for the filmmakers to be nominated in such a truly competitive year, whereas each could easily win had they been eligible a year earlier or a year later. But the situation is a blessing for those who enjoy animation at its best. 


The entire program of animated films is 77 minutes in length and includes entries from Canada, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. The styles (as usual) are diverse and the stories tend to be on the sentimental side with plenty of comedy thrown in to keep things from getting too heavy. After watching the five nominees (and four additional honorable mentions) I was elated. With most of the films running under seven minutes the program has a crisp pace that will keep your attention, and likely have you wanting more. A terrific program for all ages, this is a day at the movies the entire family can enjoy. So I encourage you not to miss this once a year experience and expose yourself to the art of animated short films. After you try it once you may discover that this could be a tradition worth continuing year after year.

Check your local listings for theaters and times. Tuesday, February 17 at 7 p.m. there will be a screening of the shorts at the Academy, hosted by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sean Astin. Come Oscar eve, Saturday, February 21 at 9:30 PM you can catch these spectacular shorts at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, located just blocks from the site of Sunday’s show. 



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American Sniper: American Masterpiece

by Jonathan Davidson

Gilbert Chesterson once remarked, “I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees,” implying that humanity’s greatest accomplishments seldom arise from collaboration, but are the product of singular, enlightened minds. In light of this quote, it’s a wonder that any film relying on the effort of hundreds of individuals could prove itself a masterpiece. Yet each year, two or three films are blessed with just the right constellation of talent, producing an experience so compelling one couldn’t help but call it a masterpiece. 

American Sniper Movie

American Sniper is such a film. Directed by Clint Eastwood and featuring a precise, emotionally gripping performance by Bradley Cooper, this true story about Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American military history, works on every level. Stunning cinematography and tactically accurate battles offer up all the excitement and suspense expected in a war film, yet its true power derives from examining the full spectrum of Chris’s experience as a warrior—how the all-consuming experience of combat can put “lighting in your bones” yet just as easily eviscerate the soul. It also shows how he must choose between being present for his family or his brothers in arms, and the nearly impossible task of coming off the extreme highs of combat and re-assimilating into the emotional flat-line of civilian life.

Bradley Cooper works through a grueling bootcamp workout on the set of American Sniper in Los AngelesThe film’s portrait of Chris Kyle begins early in his childhood. After beating up a bully for hurting his younger brother Jeff, Chris’s father congratulates him for “finishing it” and tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. Sheep allow themselves to be victims, sheepdogs protect the weak, and wolves prey on the weak. It’s clear from an early age that Chris sees himself as a sheepdog, ready to use violence to fend off the wolves. But what’s not so clear to Chris is that, even though a sheepdog appears to have noble motives, he’s being raised to be an animal, one who acts off of the base instinct of violence. Subtly, Chris’s upbringing makes the audience wonder, when does the sheepdog become a wolf? Where does the line fall between protecting the weak and becoming a monster? How long can he live by the sword?

detail.de524157Even though Chris never asks these questions of himself, they develop into the underlying themes of the film. In his book What It Is Like to Go to War, Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes says, “Once we recognize our shadow’s existence we must resist the enticing step of going with its flow.” Throughout the film, we see Chris becoming sucked deeper and deeper into the vortex of war, volunteering for multiple tours of duty despite the objections of his wife, who can tell he’s being enticed to follow his shadow into total darkness. On top of deep and rich themes, this picture excels in balancing action and story. Many high-budget films rely heavily on CGI action; hoping excitement can make up for a weak story. Recently I watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In both movies I was appalled to see twenty minutes of story followed by two hours of chase sequences and combat. Thankfully, the makers of American Sniper understand that action can quickly lead to emotional fatigue, causing the audience to quit caring about what happens to the characters.

maxresdefaultInstead of relying on action, American Sniper focuses on Chris Kyle’s personal journey. The screenwriter Jason Hall, who also wrote Paranoia and Spread, recognizes that the audience connects to a film’s hero only after discovering the hero’s strong desires, for strong desires are universal and highly sympathetic. We see Chris’s desire to protect his younger brother as a child, and we like him. We see Chris working hard to become a cowboy, and we admire his dedication. We see his intense desire to defend his country, and we’re touched by his willingness to sacrifice on our behalf. We see him pursue a beautiful woman until marriage, and we’re charmed. And before long we have so connected with Chris’s desires that we can feel his anguish at having to choose again and again between staying with his family or returning to Iraq to hunt down the sniper—a Syrian Olympic medalist in sharpshooting—who has killed his comrades. Once ensuring we understand and empathize with Chris, the filmmakers put him and his buddies into a few gritty, frighteningly realistic engagements and an incredible climactic battle near the end, but never let those action sequences detract from the real story.

Another area in which American Sniper adds to its richness is through exploring the politics of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Politically, Chris observes the war in stark white and jet black. When asked by fellow frogman Marc Lee if their presence in Iraq is a waste of time and lives, Chris blows off his friend’s concerns by saying things like, “There’s evil here. We’ve seen it. Would you want these f***ers in San Diego or New York?” Yet Marc and other characters in the film have a better appreciation for the complexities and vagaries inherent in the business of war, adding just enough counterpoint to Chris’s hyper patriotism to prevent the film from feeling like a raw-raw pro-war cheerleader.


 What really surprised and pleased me about this film was its portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder. So many films focus on the heroic, cinematic battles of war, yet neglect to convey how, for many of the veterans, the battle rages for years after the bullets have stopped flying. In his book On Killing, Dave Grossman says, “Some psychiatric casualties have always been associated with war, but it was only in the twentieth century that our physical and logistical capability to sustain combat outstripped our psychological capacity to endure it.” Each time Chris returns from a tour of duty, the audience can see how modern war ravages the minds of those who fight. Each time his PTSD has grown worse, and its effects on his family prove the true costs of war even for those who are fortunate enough to have “survived.” 

For all these reasons and many more, American Sniper is an important, must-see film. By the end you’ll be thoroughly entertained, emotionally depleted, and will have likely gained significant insight into the lives of our most highly trained warriors.

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Interstellar: Destined To Be A Classic

MV5BMjIxNTU4MzY4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM4ODI3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_by Andrew Perez

A great film requires creativity, imagination and above all, a moving and relatable message. Interstellar fits those criteria perfectly. The essence of its story is simple yet intricate. It may take more than one trip to the theatre to fully understand the meaning of the movie, but its well worth it. With its pleasant fusion of science fiction and human relationships, Interstellar has become a must see of 2014. Its cinematography, soundtrack and characters will undoubtedly place it among the classics in cinematic history.

interstellar There is no question that the cinematography of the movie is absolutely extraordinary. It is one of the first feature films to have most of its footage shot in 15/70mm IMAX cameras, which allows the audience to get a better glimpse as to how majestic our universe is. In recent years, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) has primarily been the source to create unreal scenarios, but director Christopher Nolan understandably prefers the effect of practical illusions instead. The practical illusions used in the movie create more realistic imagery by using miniature spaceship models and matting techniques instead of developing those images on software. Watching the film, you’re not distracted by poor CGI work but you’re paying closer attention to the story, due to the fact that everything surrounding the actors seems real. There are great segments where all we see is the edge of the spaceship as it flies through different locations in space. By showing this imagery, there is little confusion as to where the characters are in that very scene or where they are headed. Everything from the color pallet to camera angles make Interstellar what it is, an epic.

interstellar-skip-cropThis picture would not be what it is if Hans Zimmer was not responsible for the beautiful soundtrack of Interstellar. Nolan has worked with him several times in the past, but for this particular film he decided to do something different; something that greatly paid off. Nolan simply told Zimmer about the relationship between a man named Cooper and his daughter Murph. He was unaware of many crucial aspects of Interstellar, including the fact that it was a science fiction thriller. Even with such little insight, Zimmer was able to take the audience on a ride and enhance the film with what he created. His intelligent use of tone and knowledge of human emotion was evident throughout the movie. The film had much to do with a passionate will to survive and the soundtrack was guiding us through many of those emotional moments. If you felt on edge watching Interstellar, it was not only the cinematography and the believable visual effects doing the job; it was the combination of a powerful score and a beautiful picture.

Zimmer has composed musical scores for Divergent, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel, and several more chart topping blockbusters. It’s no mystery that he is partly responsible for the glory of these films. The soundtrack of a film will always be an essential part in creating a moving and mind-boggling motion picture. The music that joins the beautiful images of interstellar space travel completes the film. Another factor that made this feature film so majestic is the placement of different sound effects. Nolan films are known for suspense and its common to periodically see scenes where the sound is unexpected. This surprising audio makes a sequence more powerful and intriguing, leaving the mind excited for more to come.

Interstellar-05Matthew McConaughey, who played Cooper in the film, had many moments that can be considered, “Oscar worthy.” He captured the emotions of a brave spaceman but most importantly those of a loving father, wanting what is best for his family and his planet. His brave heart was the core of the film, as we were led through his eyes to the many wonders of space exploration. We begin the film with little information about Cooper’s past but McConaughey was able to act well enough to make us understand Cooper’s will to make a better life for his loved ones. We were on his side through the whole film, even if at moments we questioned his decisions. He shared the screen with Anne Hathaway, who also gave an “Oscar worthy” performance. She played a determined Dr. Brand who put all her motivation and time into completing the mission her father had been working on for several years. Hathaway is a phenomenal actress because she knows how to make the character her own. She was able to make us grow to love Dr. Brand throughout the film. As the movie progressed, we learned that she had a soft side, one we could all relate to. She was driven by her own heart and not by anything else. The cast of Interstellar is filled with several more Academy award winners and nominees including: Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain and a cameo from another beloved Oscar winner that you don’t want to miss.

INTERSTELLARInterstellar was made to leave the audience thinking, questioning and trying to find their own conclusion for the film. Entering the theater you’ll think you’re going to watch a film about space and its benefits to the human existence, but once the credits roll, there will be so much more that you have learned than that. This movie is about love. It’s about how humanity saves itself through passion for survival. The film is three hours long yet there were no dull moments. I was so intrigued by all the visuals, sounds, music and exquisite acting that I never checked my phone once for the time. I thoroughly enjoyed Interstellar, as will you when you experience it for the first time.


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MOST – What Does Love Really Look Like?

by Theresa Patterson


I was first introduced to this thirty-minute film whilst a Junior in high school and between then and now, I’ve admittedly watched it less times than I’ve liked to; this, in itself, is a phenomenal feat for someone who rarely considers watching a movie twice. MOST is one of those films that’s best watched alone. It’s not a horror picture where you require the company of your friends to feel safe. Nor is it a feel-good comedy where these same friends – through their exuberant laughter –seem to make every punch-line of Adam Sandler’s punchier. Unless your friends can consistently partake in reverent silence, this film should only be experienced on a rainy day in the privacy of being curled up by the sofa with a hearty plate of your favorite food and a hot cup of tea. This film warrants your undivided attention – more than anything (or anyone) else – for a sincere and fulfilling encounter.

Cliché as it may sound, this Czech movie is a powerfully moving account about love. Unlike contemporary counterparts however, it manages to bridge the gap between fanciful infatuations like Twilight and realistic relationships, creating a love that is at once singular and universal. Moreover several different types of love are observed, including: the time-tested bond between sisters; the heartbreak of a severed romance; the indifference of unrequited love; the fun of less entitling friendships; the sacrifice of a soldier husband; and even the carefree obliviousness of lust. Together, these stories serve as somewhat of a foil to the main narrative, which revolves around a doting single father and his equally-doting son, Lado.


Now, I’ve heard of the stereotypical single mothers who dutifully raise their kids but rarely did I come across a situation where the father was also mother. Directed by Bobby Garabedian, this particular father-and-son chronicle is set in the bleak winter of the Czech Republic. Despite the coldness however, the affection and chemistry between the two is more than enough to inspire the necessary warmth, in both themselves and audience-members alike. Garabedian perfectly captures the essence of their relationship, as well as the many relationships sprawling about them, in concise, sincere moments that don’t include any superfluous dialogue; and even though every encounter is straight to the point, nothing ever feels remotely lacking. The scenes are fleeting – and often interspersed by glimpses of related but distant memories and stories – although they are unrelentingly tear-jerking in their inherent purity and humanity, whether that involves an endearing hug, a generous gift, a deeply-felt goodbye, or a morally-grey decision. To this end, the credit must also go to the actors themselves, especially Lada Ondrej who flawlessly conveys the animated spirit of Lado, and Vladimir Jarvosky who plays Lado’s benevolent father.


Additionally, credit must be given to acclaimed music-composer John Debney, whose scores can be heard in films like The Passion of the Christ (of which he received an Academy Award nomination), Iron Man 2, The Princess Diaries as well as the upcoming remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book, which is set to be released in early October. In MOST, Debney uses his talents to structure accordion crescendos and diminuendos against a backdrop of elegant violin strings and soft piano melodies; what you then have is a peculiar mix of drama and buoyancy. Not to perplex you any further but did I also mention how this film was Christian? One more reason that makes this film palatable and well-worth the watch – even to the dismissive secular – is how successful it’s been in exploring biblical themes of unconditional love, perfect grace and new life; it does so in beautifully poignant details without ever making an explicit reference to religion, or even to God. This story delivers a cosmically significant message through a personal resonating event – that I have painfully tried to avoid disclosing – and it is for this singular reason that I’m going to watch it again.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel Shines

by Leif Erik Harty

GBH_Title_meteormermaidIn Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic adventure Ralph Fiennes stars as M. Gustave, the concierge of a hotel in the fictional European nation known as the Republic of Zubrowka. Joined by his newfound lobby boy, Zero (played by the relatively unknown Tony Revolori) he seeks to avoid detainment for the “theft” of his rightly inherited property. The movie follows their escapades across fictional alpine Europe in a time period designed to mirror that of World War II. And the effect shines like pure Anderson gold.

Grand-Budapest-Hotel-Actors-Talk-About-Director-Wes-AndersonFor the longest time, I have been wrestling with the issue of my favorite movie. It’s one of those questions that people ask pretty frequently, but I’ve always had trouble answering. The main reason I’ve struggled with it so much is that I thoroughly enjoy so many movies. I decided the best way to finally make a decision was to approach my thinking from two directions, effectively creating two sets of favorites. The first method revolved around how the movie made me feel, while the second method focused on my admiration for the mechanics of the moviemaking process (use of lighting, quality of editing, cinematographer’s preferences, etc.). Then it happened. I sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time earlier this year and discovered a movie that hit both criteria out of the park. The narrative follows a grandiose and ever-winding path, but tells the majority of its story (like most good movies do) through exceptional visuals. I’ve walked away from each subsequent viewing with a continued sense of this movie’s masterpiece quality.


Despite its fictional nature, it’s really quite an experience taking the 100-minute vacation to the Republic of Zubrowka. Any good movie will draw you in, but few movies transplant you quite the way Grand Budapest Hotel does. The hotel and all of its guests live a regal lifestyle, even through some very dark moments. In complete honesty, the hotel is a den of pomp and lavish living, but it never feels quite that way. The goal appears not to be to create a feeling of disgust within the viewer, but rather a feeling of fondness, which is exactly what happens. Throughout the ups and downs of the plot, there is always a fanciful touch to everything, which is part of the comedy. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but a large portion of the amusement comes from the persistent elegance in the face of blatant misfortune. In addition to its comedic value, the atmosphere is also just downright pleasant. However, it isn’t innately well done. The atmosphere is successful because of several technical aspects that work well together.

The Grand Budapest HotelCinematography is the first of these aspects that I’m going to touch upon. There are a few visual qualities that really set The Grand Budapest Hotel apart, the most pervasive being its thematic color. While it’s not necessarily unique for a movie to have a color theme, it is unique for that color to be primarily pink. Within the bulk of the movie, there are shades of pink everywhere. For the brief parts of the movie that take place in the late 60s and mid-80s, the thematic color is orange. Both colors are rather unusual, but they do a great job of constantly reminding the audience where things are in the overall timeline. The pink adds to the flowery feel of the hotel’s heyday, while the orange adds to the dull feel of the hotel’s declining years. The system works very well, but never makes itself overly present.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL_426.jpgThere is also another visual achievement that succeeds by making its presence known. Films need establishing shots. They really do. It can be very disorienting to the audience if the narrative lacks any visual encompassment. I admire the way that Wes Anderson’s team decided to tackle such a standard element. There are a good number of typical wide shots, showcasing the outside of a building or something along those lines. However, there are also many wide shots composed in such a way that they take on a Charlie Chaplin-era feel. They’re actually rather hard to describe, but the most accurate description is that they make the scenery look like high quality backdrops. These shots, combined with slides separating acts and the occasional vignette, ingrain a golden-age-of-cinema feel within the movie. Visuals aren’t everything, though. The Grand Budapest Hotel would fall flat on its face without the aid of some excellent dialogue.


Keeping in line with the elegant feel of the hotel itself, much of the movie’s language is quite fanciful. The narrative is full of metaphors and figures of speech too flowery for the average Joe to come up with, but it never becomes stuffy. In fact, things progress quite differently. In the same way that the film creates comedy by contrasting pomp with turbulent situations, it also contrasts the linguistically proper with the linguistically crass. The elegant language of the upper class is often broken up by a cruder, but equally colorful, way of speaking. Part of the movie’s R rating can be attributed to its crude language, but it isn’t overdone. It’s present just enough to create a very nice contrast and provide some variety, which is something this film has in abundance, especially in the casting department.

budapesthtelCatPeople don’t pay enough attention to casting. I have to admit that I fall into that group. Fortunately, this movie woke me up. The array of actors is pretty unique and it creates an interesting setup. For one, the list of notable actors is pretty lengthy. Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, to name just a few. The thing that particularly sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart in the realm of casting is that many of the big-name actors receive only a short amount of screen time. At first, it’s a bit strange to see them in minor roles, but ultimately, it’s a nice twist on typical expectations. On the flip side, one of the leading roles is the lobby boy, Zero, played by the no-name Tony Revolori. The genius in having the unknown actor play such a key role is that he brings no baggage with him. The audience gets to experience him in a completely fresh way since he has no past characters for which people to connect him. The freshness of Zero’s character and the celebrity casting contribute to the film’s pleasant, but unique feel. 

In short, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fantastic movie. It tackles many familiar conventions with new thinking, makes great use of contrasting realities to tell a funny story, and pulls the audience into a world with more strength than many films could every dream of. I highly recommend it.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is now Extended and on Blu-Ray in 3D


by Carrie Specht

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment of the epic The Hobbit trilogy arrived on Blu-ray 3D and regular old Blu-ray in a new “Extended Edition” on November 4th courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The Extended Edition features a 25-minute longer cut and more than nine hours of new special features on two separate DVDs. That’s a whole lot of middle earth bang for the buck. The most ardent fan will be thrilled with this extremely thorough presentation package, and the less enthused admirer of the series (although I can’t imagine who these people are) will be impressed with the behind the scenes look into the production of the three most ambition films of our times. Now is the time to own it on Blu-Ray.

HBT1-fs-304358.DNGThe 25 minutes of extra film footage is spread out, extending individual scenes, adding coverage that was previously unseen through out the known movie. So, don’t expect a surprise ending or anything like that. But instead, enjoy the welcome extension of your favorite moments that now have a little some extra. For fans such embellishments make this the must-see, definitive version of the film. And that goes for both the 3D and the regular Blu-Ray presentations. The more than nine hours of new bonus features offer exactly what you would expect and more, truly enriching the experience of the Trilogy. All this comes at the perfect time as fans restlessly gear up for the December 17 theatrical release of the third and final film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

gandalf-the-hobbit-dos-ee-620x330The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield. Their’s is an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Having survived the beginning of their “unexpected journey”, the company travels east, encountering a skin-changer and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. Their luck holds out as they escape capture by the dangerous Wood-elves as they journey to Lake-town. Finally the troop (for the most part) make it to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they face the greatest danger so far, a creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship. This creature is of course the title character of the dragon, Smaug.

The-Hobbit-desolation-of-Smaug-dragon-photo-close-up Among the many new special features are an audio commentary with Peter Jackson, the film’s director/producer/screenwriter, and Philippa Boyens, co-producer/screenwriter. The two-disc “Appendices” are really a multi-part documentary focusing on various aspects of the film and the Trilogy showcasing an immersive multi-part history of the filming of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The scope of which includes pre-production in the various departments of the film in the months leading up to the start of principal photography, the extensive training required of the many actors, and the work done on set and in the world of digital effects. Of course, you can’t talk about the making of The Hobbit without giving due respect and attention to New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth. I’m telling you this is an all out effort to give the fans what they really want, and that’s to get as close to the action as possible, and this package delivers just that.


Special note: Another bonus that comes along with the purchase of specially marked Blu-ray discs is the inclusion of Digital HD with UltraViolet . THis is pretty cool, because Digital HD with UltraViolet allows consumers to instantly stream and download movies and TV shows to TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones through UltraViolet retail services like CinemaNow, Flixster, Target Ticket, VUDU and more every day (this is a wonderful world we live in). For more information on compatible devices go to Consult an UltraViolet Retailer for details and requirements and for a list of HD-compatible devices. 

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUGAnd you can have all that goes with the purchase of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition on Blu-ray 3D for $54.98 and Blu-ray for just $35.99. That’s a pretty awesome price, especially when you consider that Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. I watched this on an 80″ screen and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on it. No kidding. I know I sound like a print ad, but it’s true that the format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film. Why hasn’t someone thought of this sooner!



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Carrie, Randy and Ruben Are Back Rambling About Movies


Carrie, Randy and Ruben like to talk about movies whenever and where ever. Sadly, Randy couldn’t be with us so Dick Hollywood is filling in for him for this quick (8 minutes or so) revival of a once grand plan.

We roam from topic to topic pretty quickly, and Carrie is a lot louder than her subdued counter parts (Dick can be such a wallflower, poor thing). We’ll be sure to iron out the technical difficulties for our next submissions, but for now give us a listen and let us know what you think. Is Carrie an insufferable know-it-all? Is Ruben an obstinate jerk? Is Dick Hollywood the coolest guy in town who just knows everything about films on the edgier side? You tell us.

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Love is Strange is Not as Strange as You Think, or Want

LOVE-IS-STRANGEby Carrie Specht

As much as I wanted to love this film I just couldn’t. As much as I wanted John Lithgow and Alfred Molina to wow me with award worthy performances it just didn’t happen. And as much as I would like to agree with so many other reviewers about the qualities of this well-intentioned film, I just can’t. Love is Strange was to me the biggest disappointment of the summer, but I suppose that’s because I wanted so much for it to be so very good that my expectations were too high. Then again, I feel the director shares some of the responsibility here, and that he settled too often for “good enough” when he should have made the extra effort to do better. He has dropped the ball on a wonderful opportunity and done a disservice to two fine actors who deserved to have this film be as good as it should have been.


I absolutely love the concept of the film, mostly because it sounds a bit like the plot from on old 1937 film I adore, Make Way for Tomorrow. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a couple who have been together for nearly forty years. They don’t have kids, but they have many friends and an extended family that appear to be very supportive as demonstrated at a beautiful wedding ceremony held in lower Manhattan. Things change however, when George loses his job soon after and the couple must sell their apartment. For financial reasons they are forced to “temporarily” live apart until they can find a new home. Seems like a reasonable idea, but of course it’s one thing to love your friends and family and an entirely different thing to live with them. 

6150563_origBen goes to stay with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and family (Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan), while George ends up at the apartment of some much younger and more socially active friends (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez). And this is where the heart of the story really is. As much as the previews and ads want you to believe this film is about the relationship between Ben and George and the pain of their separation, the focus is all on the tension that builds between those forced to live together who otherwise wouldn’t. An already awkward situation is made more difficult because Ben has to share a bedroom (and bunk beds) with his nephew’s temperamental teenage son as the sedate and classical music loving George now spends his evenings with well-intentioned neighbors who seem to live life in a never-ending stream of parties and get-togethers.

LOVE IS STRANGEThe press release I received says that director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Forty Shades of Blue), and I quote, “blends the romance of New York City’s streets and skyline with a delicate Chopin piano score to poignantly capture both the lightness and sorrows of this modern day love story”. However, the moments that feature the Chopin music are very heavy handed (a montage of shots of random people listening intently is less than inspiring), and I didn’t see a lot of the city or its skyline in this film. In fact, I didn’t realize that Ben’s character was relocated to Brooklyn until I read the press release. The set up of sending the two men to two separate homes is so poorly executed that if you’re not paying close attention you’ll be confused about why they haven’t gone to stay in the same place. Especially since there is a relative with a home large enough to accommodate them, although it is in New Jersey and everyone keeps making little jokes about how no one would want to go there even if only temporarily. Really? I would think these two men would.


The incompetent execution extends to the lack of so-called coverage. Many scenes are shot with just a few camera angles (if more than one) leading me to believe the filmmakers had a very small budget with a very tight schedule. Okay, I can understand that, but that’s no excuse for not creatively coming up with the coverage necessary to tell such an intimate tale. For example, when you have a close up of one of the two heroes expressing his feelings to the other you want to see the reverse and the face of the one who is listening (and sometimes even talking), and not just the back of their head. This to me is lazy filmmaking. Not to mention the lack of any real conflict occurring between the houseguests and their hosts. Ultimately, it just seems that everyone is a bit shallow and unfeeling towards these two men who need a little more help than they originally thought they did. And don’t give me the false hope of the ridiculous situation that pops up at the end completely out of the blue. It wasn’t necessary. I don’t want to give anything away, but it would have been fine just to show us the final home without the way it was acquired. It seemed to me a weak attempt to build pathos in a film that is sorely lacking elsewhere.

Sorry, but Love is Strange completely dropped the ball for me, and when there’s so much potential I find that unforgivable. I’m glad we’re finally seeing such characters as Ben and George on the big screen; I just think they deserved a better story, and certainly a much better director. This is one you can skip.

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The Trip To Italy is a Refreshing Summer Get Away


by Carrie Specht

Summer is usually the time for big movies with lots of action enhanced by copious amounts of special effects and computer generated images. Or even high concept comedies that involve opposites who are irrevocably drawn to each other. And of course there are the silly, flamboyant films aimed at kids accompanied by gobs of marking products that inevitably end up making more money than the film itself. But sometimes, maybe once in a blue moon there emerges another kind of film, one that relies on content clever dialogue, and snappy repartee. Fortunately for audiences the week before this film opened we experienced a “super” moon, which is even more rare than a blue one. On its trail comes The Trip To Italy, the delightful follow up to Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s previous road movie, The Trip.

thetrip240314wLike their previous team up, Coogan (Philomena, Hamlet 2) and Brydon (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Rob Brydon Show) are on a regional exploration with the intention of visiting several restaurants to review for some English print outlet, but this time they’re in Italy instead of the English Lake district (poor fellas, right?). They drive a lot and they eat a lot, and there’s not much more to the plot than that. Although there are some strained attempts at a couple of subplots (romance for Brydon and family drama for Coogan), the whole set up is just a really good excuse for two friends to talk and rant about whatever comes to mind.

trip-to-italy This might seem like a boring concept to some moviegoers, but with the likes of Coogan and Brydon it’s a brilliant idea that allows for some moments of hilarious comedy that will have you laughing along as if you were a part of the conversation and endless bantering. And since the two comedians appear to be sincerely close friends – the kind that pick on each other relentlessly and get on each other’s nerves to the absolute straining point and yet will still go for the kill on a tender subject if there’s a good joke in it – you’re really getting an inside look at a wonderful adult friendship. The Trip To Italy is as intimate a film as you’re ever likely to see.


I recommend seeing this film with someone with whom you share a similar relationship to the one that exists between Coogan and Brydon. No doubt the empathy you’ll experience will make the comedy that much more funny, and the movie that much more memorable (kind of like when you take a vacation with a friend). There are times you’ll wonder why these two men put up with each, and why they would even consider a trip together their behavior toward each other is so acerbic and unrelenting. And yet it is clear that they understand each other, making each other laugh harder than anyone else they know. When those moments happen I promise you’ll be laughing just as hard, especially if your own Coogan or Brydon is sitting next to you with whom you can share a knowing glance.


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