What Netflix Sent Me: Stretch (2014)

MV5BMTc2NjgyMzAxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIxNTE4MjE@._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_AL_What a wild, silly, and bizarre trip this film turned out to be… I had heard about the 2014 film Stretch directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces) and starring Patrick Wilson (The Watchmen, Young Adult) and seen a few screen shots, but really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Stretch, is about a down on his luck limousine driver (only known as Stretch), working in Los Angeles, who picked up this dead-end job after his career as an actor also hit a dead-end. His bad luck gets even worse when his gambling debts catch up to him, and he has to come up with a few thousand bucks by midnight.  Knowing his life was pretty much over, he didn’t really bother to get the cash, until he picked up an eccentric billionaire (played by Chris Pine) who sends him on a wild goose chase to pick up a brief case for him.  In exchange, this billionaire might make Stretch’s financial problems go away.  So Stretch decides he’s going to do what it takes to get that briefcase, and live to see another day.

The plot is actually a lot less convoluted as I just made it out to be… this film IS wildly entertaining, and dark as hell.  Patrick Wilson is at his best here, and he’s surrounded by a cast of characters that only makes his character much more endearing.  You never know where you are going to end up next in this film, but it’s okay, because you are just along for the ride.

You can tell that every single actor involved in this project was just in it to have as much fun as possible.  Right down to the actors who play themselves in cameo appearances. (no spoilers!) Over the years I’ve heard people’s mixed feelings about Patrick Wilson, and his acting ability.  He tends to take off beat parts, but overall I’ve always been a fan.  He is a decent actor, and can do a range of characters, and he more than proves his acting abilities in this one.

One of the best characters in the film however, was played by Ed Helms… he adds the darker elements to the movie which help to influence Stretch’s decisions throughout the film.  I enjoy Ed Helms a lot, and he’s playing a role that is not his usual thing.  In fact, I think a lot of the actors in this film went against type, which I think is what made this such an enjoyable film.

This film didn’t have a theatrical release, it was supposed to be a Paramount film, and was going to be released in March, but for whatever reason they decided not to put it out.  Alternately it was released on iTunes, Amazon and later Video on Demand.  It’s too bad that Paramount didn’t have faith in the movie, because it was actually really good.  I think that most of the movie going audience would agree, the film received an 89% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.6/10 on IMDb.

 

Movie Review: St. Vincent

st_vincent_ver3What happens when you bring a bunch of comedic talents into a touching and heartwarming story about single parenthood, old age, and life in general?  You get a pretty damn fine movie…

I don’t think a single person was expecting St. Vincent to be a “bad” movie, nor were they expecting it to be a great movie.  But thanks to performances by Melissa McCarthy, and the legendary Bill Murray, we were at least expecting to get an entertaining (and memorable) movie.

Going into this film, I didn’t really know the details of the plot… with a cast such as this one, you don’t need many more details.  Here’s the basic storyline… Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a single Mom who moves her son, Oliver to Brooklyn to get away from her cheating ex-husband.  New to the area, she is forced to leave her son with Vin, (Bill Murray) a cantankerous old man who is up to his eyeballs in debt, and who is constantly waving his middle finger at the world and everyone he meets.  Inadvertently, Oliver learns a lot about how to be a man, and how to take care of himself through the help of his colorful neighbor, and his prostitute girlfriend (played by Naomi Watts with a terrible Russian accent).  And with the help of Oliver and his Mom, Vin learns to be a better human being.

As I alluded to in my first few paragraphs, there isn’t a lot to complain about here… writer/director Theodore Melfi brings a delightful story to life in his first ever feature film.  He brings out amazing performances from his actors, not only from Bill Murray who once again proves that he can play drama as well as comedy, (although Murray never really strays too far from his comedic roots) but also from Melissa McCarthy.  Her performance as Maggie is worthy of an Academy Award nomination, and I hope she gets one… because she proved that she is more than just capable of slapstick.

I compared this film to last years best picture nominee; Nebraska, not for it’s story or performances, but because both were feel good films, and they serve to fill in that 10th nomination slot that generally goes to these types of films.  The underdog films that lay in the wake of bigger films with bigger budgets, the ones we are glad that the academy thought so highly of that they gave them a nomination, we’ll see if I’m right.  Hopefully Bill Murray will also get the nomination for playing the lead character in this film, an honor he hasn’t gotten since 2004’s, Lost in Translation.  Frankly, should he receive a nomination and subsequent win, it would be for a better role than the one he played in the aforementioned film.

Lastly, I don’t know much about the director of this film; Theodore Melfi, but kudos to him on making one fantastic film for his directorial debut.  Looking at his IMDb page, I can see he did a lot of producing before taking this movie on… so he’s no stranger to the art of filmmaking.

If you think this movie looks good, you’re right… so go out and see it and enjoy the show!

Festival Time! – Dancing in Jaffa

Note:  This movie was screened as part of the members only film series put on by Milwaukee Film.  So, although it’s not technically a “Festival Time” movie, but it’s close enough.

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Dancing in Jaffa is a documentary about a well renowned ballroom dancer, who returns to his home town of Jaffa (a suburb outside of Tel Aviv) to teach Jewish and Palistinian Israelis to not only dance, but dance together.  The filmmakers follow Pierre, and a few of his students, not only focusing on his dance classes, but we get to see some of their home lives and cultural differences.   Pierre puts on a competition for the students where each school competed against each other for a gold cup.  As Pierre appropriately tells the teachers and the parents; the students start the year shy and always looking down, but by the end of the year they are so proud they hold their heads up high, all because of the dance.

This simple little documentary spoke volumes, showing the long struggle between the Palestinians and the Jews.  It was heartbreaking to see some of these young kids with a prejudice that is taught to them from the day they were born… but seeing them come around because they enjoy dancing, made this documentary totally worth watching.

From a technical perspective, the documentary sometimes made me wonder if I was actually watching a narrative film.  This might sound like a negative statement, but I think it was a great thing… it sucked me into the story and I found myself making connections between characters.

I really enjoyed this film… and one thing that I enjoy about the Milwaukee Film’s members only screening is that I always go into it blind.  Yes, Milwaukee Film does let you know what the movie ahead of time is, but I intentionally refuse to look.  I’m going to go to the film no matter what, so why not be surprised.  It makes the experience that much more  of a treat.

So, I definitely recommend this movie… I learned a lot and you will too.