“Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl” and “The Fault In Our Stars”

Last year on June 6th, 2014, opening night, I saw John Greene’s film adaptation of “The Fault In Our Stars” with my husband, and two-hundred high school girls all in short-shorts. Evidentially, short-shorts are the “new thing” again, though I surmise their rise saves fabric for the industry as the one button cardigan saved money for the industry a few years back.

Greene’s book was better, deeper, and more literary with its Emily Dickinson allusions and major philosophical glimmerings than the film, but the second half of the adaptation is worth seeing. The first twenty minutes is slow with too much time given to Hazel’s early diagnosis and treatment, but once Hazel and Augustus hit Amsterdam,you remember first love.

Ansel Elgort (Augustus) is wonderful in his ability to show facial emotion, and Shailene Woodley is earnest and so believable as one of the dying teens. I liked Wilhem Defoe in an author’s role~here crazed and egotistical. I wish more time was spent on why Hazel so admired his book. I missed parent’s roles in the film, especially the warmth that the families showed in everyday dialogue. Laura Dern ,as Hazel’s mother, was well-portrayed as the mother who would come running sodden from her shower if need be. Gus’ parents were not given much play in the script. This is a shame because Greene developed these characters so well that Hazel and Gus’ story became their story,too.

This year’s piggyback film, “Me, Earl,and The Dying Girl” is more flawed, and certainly not an improvement on “The Fault In Our Stars”. With my own mother, a dear neighbor’s daughter, and a former student’s child all suffering from blood diseases, I was not in a hurry to be reminded that blood is life’s flow. With dire warnings of depression, nausea, and general hopelessness, I made my way to Director Alphonso Gomez-Regon’s “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” classic story start. From the general info of “this is what high school is like” with its tribes and nations (what we called “cliques” )the filmgoer is goosed with claymation-like mini-figures of a moose and a chipmunk. These animals and their interplay are supposed to conceptualize our protagonist’s fears when approached by an attractive female classmate.

In fact, crafts play a big part in “Me, Earl, And The Dying Girl”. The lovely and expressive Olivia Cooke (Rachel) scissors vignettes from the middle of her absent father’s favorite books, Earl (R.J.Cyler) slices red felt into hemoglobin cell props for a film gift to Rachel, and Greg ( Thomas Mann) uses self-created miniatures to depict his voice overs and his film parodies. The film parodies are some of the funniest moments as button-faced socks and orange juice become “Sock Work Orange” instead of “Clockwork Orange”, and “Eyes Wide Butt” becomes “Eyes Wide Shut”. “Breathe Less” for “Breathless” and “Rosemary Baby Carrots”, “2:48 Cowboy”, and “The 400 Bros” are a few others.

If Greg is “invisible, self-hating and detached” as Rachel at one time sums up his character. He is also bright and funny in his self-deprecation. The narcissism of emerging adults is well shown. “It’s me, in convenient gel form.” Greg announces to the drug -dosed patient. Later, Greg offers a strong dose of “gregitol”. Placing Rachel in the “boring, Jewish girls sub.group 2A ” further makes Greg seem like he is daily having lunch in Kandahar.

I have not read the Jesse Andrews book, but I did not like the adult depictions in his screenplay. Unlike John Greene’s depictions, Andrews shows well-meaning,but dysfunctional parents. Nick Offerman as Greg’s father is always in his bathrobe,sometimes leather belted,always holding his Persian cat, always eating gourmet entries and talking about his on-going academic thesis. Greg’s mother (Connie Britton)is always pushing and gently nagging,yet she does not seem to be aware that Greg is failing the last semester of his senior year. In one rather funny scene,Britton’s yammering,her non-stop word stream,turns Greg into a swirming worm on his bedroom floor. Her son calls his mother the Le Bron James of nagging. No teacher,not even the favored history/counselor Mr. McCarthy calls or effectively intervenes: all easy support with no effective outcome. Rachel’s mother (Molly Shannon) drinks to numb her pain and “comes on” to the boys for some inappropriate succor. Offering teens alcohol is her added recipe for pain release. Even the “adult” limo driver for the senior prom is an real clown. Rachel’s father primarily talked to her by counting squirrels on their walks. Adults don’t fair well in this film.

Greg offers a few silly ,laughter-causing remedies for Rachel:”Enter a sub-human state” or “pretend you are dead”. The latter he apologizes for,for its insensitivity. Screen headings like “Day One Of A Doomed Relationship” remind us that this is Greg’s journey in befriending a mortality -challenged girl. Rachel is in stage four cancer,yet she helps Greg write his personal essay for his college app. and later sends an excuse for his lack of diligence.We know she is his real mentor for his future. I think this last awakening is the reason for the Sundance  Audience Award. Learning how to keep learning about a lost one is a conscious force of will. Skimming the surface of a person is a poor substitute for diving in. Greg returning to Rachel’s room and finding squirrels among the treed wall paper is one of my favorite scenes.

Brian Endo does a beautiful job with the original score. The cinematography is stifling indoors, but an attempt is made to use stairways and narrow, sky-lit pathways to elevate the horizon. Overall, I preferred the romantic treatment of “The Fault In Our Stars” to the awkward push/ pull friendships in “Me”. And “Dope”, previously reviewed, is a better coming of age film,yet.

“Gemma Bovery”

French film rarely disappoints me, and this “reworking” of art mirroring life as life mirroring art is a gem! In a Normandy village near Rouen, Gustave Flaubert penned the novel “Madame Bovary”. In this same village our imaginative baker,Martin Joubert, (Fabrice Lucheni) takes over. His balanced and peaceful life is made dramatic and intense with the coming of new British neighbors, Gemma and Charlie.

The film begins with a flashback of Charles (Jason Flamyng) burning Gemma’s things. We see lingerie,furniture, and magazines hit the flames of a front yard bonfire. The lovely Gemma’s diary is saved by our baker. The backstory of her marriage and the bothersome calls from Charlie’s ex-wife are briefly chronicled. The tear-stained pages are difficult to read,but we learn that Charles wished for a radical new start in the French countryside.

Back to the present we encounter Gus, the baker’s dog, hot in pursuit of Carrington,Gemma’s pooch. This animalistic and humorous symbolism continues throughout the movie. Our baker’s yeasty risings are paired with those of his mongrel’s. Martin tells us that “ten years of sexual tranquility” is up-ended as he watches Gemma smell his loaves and gather cosmos into bouquets. In one scene, Gemma is stung by a bee. Martin is asked to remove her dress and suck out the bee’s venom. Anaphylactic shock has the gorgeous Gemma ( Gemma Arterton) meet yet another admirer. This young law student lives  with his countess mother, and he provides the sexiest scenes.

The twenty-nine-year-old British Arterton is lovely whether exercising, painting or conjugating French verbs. Her up-turned upper lip is photographed in rain-hazed windows and in music-box-like dancing in a cathedral setting. Yet, heels and trench coat out fit her with the tools of seduction. Her printed cotton dresses do the trick,too. Love sick eyes are everywhere, even when her dastardly ex-boyfriend Patrick (Mel Raido) re-emerges to cause more harm. The blond curls and youth of Herve (Niels Schneider), the countess’ s son, only bring about adultery and ugly neck marks in comparison.

But this film is really, Martin’s story. And his tale is a surprising one. Only the French can make a romantic film “romantic” while making fun of romance,too. The French can celebrate life’s tragedies with a joy in life’s craziness. Director Anne Fontaine and screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer turned a graphic novel by Posey Simmonds into a refreshing,playful and thoughtful film.

Enjoy Martin’s brief socialist/capitalistic harangue, and his admonishment to his smirking son:” I’d rather you took drugs than talk crap.” Martin’s re-reading of Flaubert’s “….she was waiting for something to happen..” is wonderful and entrancing. Film viewers may rediscover the novel. If you wish to see bread kneaded seductively, beautiful bodies in lust,and a fanciful watcher trying to save the day, see this film as the French “staff of life”. Somehow the French “get it” with cupids and croissants and death and irony. I am joyful that a sequel called “Anna Karenina” may soon follow.

“Inside Out”

My favorite line in the Pixar-Disney Animated Studio’s new summer release is the off-hand lament : “Facts and opinions look so similar.” This remark should not be surprising since five core emotions rage on screen: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness. Abstract thought is waiting in the wings as the inner workings of a child’s developing mind is awash in these emotions characterized and animated in colors and duties. Another favorite tossed off truism is “Emotions can’t quit, genius!”

This inventive film uses French fry forests,a bag of yellow joy balls, a Brazilian helicopter pilot,caramel corn curls and flowing ice-skating sequences to entrance and delight. Emotional intelligence has never been so teachable. Emotions work together. It is evident that psychologists were consulted as the mind’s interior workings are illustrated in the development of baby Riley. The storyboard takes us to Riley’s eleventh year as she deals with a cross-country move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her “train of thought” is a train. Her personality aspects are “islands”,for instance,Goofball Island and Honesty Island. Memories go “long term” during sleep. We stack memories and have to work on keeping them with us as “core memories”. Memories fade to the “dump” when we don’t take care of them. The “mind library” is made concrete. And in terms of technology,one wants Joy to be in control of our “console”.

Core emotions tussle. Anger yells “the foot is down”,and imagination as an amalgam of animals is named Bing Bong. He has adorable heart-shaped nostrils and saves Joy with a Radio-Flyer rocket transport. The co-directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen are also the writers and they keep the voices of Amy Poehler (Joy) and Diane Ladd (Riley’s mother) especially strong.

The labyrinthine mazes in getting back to headquarters were hard to “find the fun” in,just like in real circumstances, but the suggestion that we “could cry until we can’t breathe” was presented as a silly option. The fact was stated and shown that Sadness is needed to return to Joy. As we grow our “console” expands and we even incur a “curse word library”.

No cursing will be done in viewing this sweet celebration of our emotional workings. Take a youngster and find that talking about feelings need not be a subconscious fear. I am certain that a sequel is in the offing. The pin-ball like gaming and the air transport tubes may have a drone or two added as those brain fragmentations and incidents of déjà vu present themselves.

“Dope”

What former inner-city English teacher wouldn’t love a film that begins with three disparate definitions for one word and then showcases a brilliant adolescent ? Yet, celebrating not fitting into the stereotyped role gets complex when Malcolm ( Shameik Moore) finds himself caught with one-hundred thousand dollars worth of drugs. This coming-of-age film is clever,funny and full of hip-hop music, which is integral to the message of making the right choices responsibly. “My fault-my weight to carry” are Malcolm’s words. The fact is that students in the inner-city have too much weight to carry given the crazy circumstances they can encounter so innocently.

The three definitions for “dope” outline the journey of our protagonist: an illegal substance,a stupid person,and excellent. Malcolm and his two buddies are like the three Musketeers,Mickey-Mouse-style. They are “geeky”,BMX bike-riding students,who get their shoes stolen and start up a punk band called “Oreo”. These three,one a lesbian, love the 90’s and hip-hop music in general. The fact that Sean Combs and Forest Whitaker are the co- producers and that Pharrell Williams scored the music may have nothing to do with this,but one of the best scenes is on a city bus with every rider bobbing his and her head to the beat of their music. The use of abrupt slow-motion is delightful and speaks to the power of beat and lyrics joined and joining.

“Dope” was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa. I loved the metaphor of “the slippery slope” and how it was used both comedically and as a thematic metaphor. So many of life’s ironies were touched upon: “the pray away the gay”, the male dominance “pissing contests”,the use of technology for good and for evil. I enjoyed the Tolkienesque “Return To The Kings” t-shirt and the drug lord’s son, who could not rap, and the laughing Hispanic maid.The drug use always was portrayed as humiliating,  be it in vomit or public urination.One scene at a Starbucks-like facility drew one of my favorite lines. After the drug dealer and respected CEO’s daughter was arrested, the  black patron who called the police was interviewed. “How am I supposed to eat my pound cake ( we don’t eat scones,you know) and drink my vanilla chai latte with that hoe peeing in the bushes right next to me.” Stereotypes again turned on their respective heads.

A chain of events like tutoring a love interest,being tempted with playing sexualized “Mother May I”, and shakily aiming a gun at a gang member’s face,all lead to a more normal Six Flag outing and a college admission letter.Shameik Moore, at twenty,was amazing in his flat-topped brilliance. The fact that he so resembled a former student by the name of Darryl R. made this film all the more delightful in its truth-seeking. The cliche “Don’t sell yourself short” applies here. See this movie.

“Saint Laurent”

“Yves St. Laurent Slips Away” may have been the headline in Paris’s “Le Monde” in 1977, but in this 2014 biopic, it is St. Laurent’s character that slides. The self-destructive couturier and self-indulgent 33 year old is superbly played by actor Pierre Niney. Niney looks like YSL and has his mannerisms,as well as,actually dressing in his clothes and luxuriating in Yves St. Laurent’s apartments. We learn of St.Laurent’s work rituals like his wearing of white lab coats and his penchant for classical music. We also learn of his substance abuse and his passion for risky sex and chocolate mousse. The film makes it clear that he was the artistic genius who had no interest in the scheduling or in the business transactions. As his assistant prattles on about the day’s line-up of appointments,he rebuffs her with,”Let me listen to my music,please.” As he draws and sketches,selects fabrics and models,and attends fittings,his partner Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) runs the fashion house’s financial side. Laurent complains of Pierre to his girl pals Lou Lou and Betty,”You can vanish here–only power and money interest him,the monster!”

Berge was more than cooperative in getting the film “St. Laurent” made. He comes off as the stabilizing factor in Yves’ life. He puts up with temper tantrums,infidelity, boozy clubbing,and St. Laurent’s easy boredom. We,in turn, see Laurent locked in his quarters and managed like a child. Laurent’s own mother tells her son that he has”left the world” and can not change a light bulb. Pierre can and will was his response. It is Pierre that picks up Yves passed out and dumped body at a construction site. It is Pierre who tries to avert a scandal by halting an interview from being published. And it is Pierre Berge who amassed 350 million dollars after St. Laurent’s death. More than Michael Jackson’s or Elvis Presley’s estates earned by comparison.

One scene has a drug addled YSL pick up a Roman bust and attempt to smash Berge’s head in as he slept. Most of this drama stems from the real villain of the film,the debauched socialite,Jacques de Bascher. Introduced to St.Laurent by fashion rival Karl Langerfeld,Jacques (Xavier Lafitte)has no limits on kinky sex or on heavy acid dropping. His most yucky line is ,”why not step into the bushes?” With Jacques,fear and ugliness enter like the cobras YSL hallucinates. Still in this eighteen year relationship with Laurent,Berge begs “Don’t let him destroy us.” St. Laurent responded with,”I love bodies without souls.” Berge later gives St.Laurent a painting of Proust’s bedroom,staid and 19thc safe.

The film’s director Jalil Lespert uses flashbacks inordinately. Beginning in 1974 where YSL books a Parisian room under the name Mr.Swann (a toast to Proust, maybe) to the Algerian home where he dresses dolls for his sisters,the scenes and atmospheres jump back and forth.This is effective for the “untold story”, but not so much for the actual factual one. One really needs to already know that St. Laurent was the first living artist to have a solo exhibit at the Met. or that he ushered in “men’s clothing for women” in the form of tuxedos and trousers, and that he pushed the borders of couture  with the sheer blouse. That he was a protégée of Christian Dior or the that he retired in Marrakesh was not broached. What was shown was his love of music,Maria Callas in particular. His goals of art acquisitions like Matisse, Mondrian and Rothko;his wish to please his mother,his early hobby of collecting y- shaped sticks for good luck,his cameo collection in later life and his Buddha altar were all interesting.

I enjoyed seeing the actual seamstress work and appreciated the pressure they were often under. “Tell Mr. Laurent that I am not Houdini’s wife” was a telling line. How to keep satin-backed organza simple was refreshing, as was watching gigantic scissors slicing through patterns. The collections and the runway shows entranced. The scenes with girl pals Lou Lou and model Betty were fun. My favorite line being St. Laurent’s, “Let’s go in disguise and terrorize everyone” would have a different take today.

I did not enjoy the 1971 disco clubbing or the four year old French bulldog Moujik’s demise from spilled pills. The fancy granite headstone and box of white lilies hardly made up for the pet’s panting,drooling and suffering. I disliked the pseudo-frontal nudity and the genital jewelry. Somehow,”you dress the world” does not include these. The film left me feeling sad for YSL’s shallowness. His “fashion passes like a train” will be want I hope to remember.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”

      When more than three fourths of our life is over, “So What?” may be a sobering question. Somehow the film “I’ll See You In My Dreams” makes mortality, at least the idea of it, a no brainer. One lives like one always has lived with daily rituals in place and friends in one’s corner. Blythe Danner is matter-of-fact, practical, and no nonsense as she has an aged and ailing pet put down, deals with a rat in her house, bouts of loneliness, and the quirks of friends.

Set in Southern California, this is a slow, low budget, slice-of-life film that empathizes with rather insulated and well-off seventy-year-old white women,who find themselves bored with golf and bridge. Sally (Rhea Perlman) longingly jokes how sexual the “tee” vocabulary is what with “ball”, “hole” and “stroke”. The retirement home Speed Dating and the medical marijuana forays seem contrived and equally pathetic. The pool boy relationship Carol (Blythe Danner) invests in is more realistically linked to her teacher/songstress background. Poor souls looking for support and connection is thematically here as Lloyd (Martin Starr) needs Carol’s attention and support as badly as she needs his.

In one scene, Lloyd takes Carol to a karaoke bar after being impressed with her East Village club history.
Danner’s rendition of Julie London’s “Cry Me A River” is pretty weak,while throaty. The best part of this Indie film is in the details.The bouquet of daisies replaced by the bowl of lemons,the dog’s leash, the digital clock’s red numerals, and the endless wine guzzling leave their mark.The cemetery urns,dust and the left cigar and the small trowl door knocker all leave us knowing that Carol will keep living each day and dreaming about tomorrow.

Brett Haley,director and writer, does a good job with Cath ( Malin Akerman) ,Carol’s daughter’s role~just enough love,concern and tension. Enjoy Danner’s blue,gray,and accented yellow wardrobe as you learn about her husband’s death twenty years ago. Her raised eyebrow,her classic trench coat and Riedel clinks make us know what she is thinking when one has “30 seconds to shift”. Georgina ( June Squibb) and Rona  (Mary Kay Place) complete the cast of  girl friends.

Sam Elliott’s Texas charmer role did surprise and his remark,”Hard to lose somebody no matter how many legs they have,” later has ironic resonance as his fate is learned. The song lyrics of the young pool cleaner/cum poet make the title of this film make sense.

“Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2”

After a week of scholarship and insight at Indiana University’s Mini-U, it is time for a balance by reviewing summer comedy and snarky spoofs.A fellow friend and film blogger had seen “Spy” and enjoyed it enough to wish to see it again. My husband had seen a review on “Pitch Perfect 2” and asked me to join him even though we had not seen the original. Below are my thoughts on both films.

Never really a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I must say I loved her in “Spy”. She is more vulnerable here and less vulgar,even in a wait-until-the-credits-roll-by outtake. (Worth waiting for because McCarthy can’t even believe she allowed her ad lib to be included.)Let’s just call it her thumb review! Likewise,Jude Law is stellar: the perfect stance,facial expressions and timing. In his James Bond role,as Bradley Fine, he looks mighty fine,too!
I thought the entire cast with the exception of Allyson Janney was top notch. Janney was too
one dimensional for me~never wavering from the hard boss. While Rose Bryne,Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart and Jason Statham brought a natural and balanced vigor to their roles. Loved the creative name-calling and word play from “Shits Carlton” to you dress like “a slutty dolphin trainer”. I consider Paul Feig’s “Spy” most summer-comedy worthy with double agent action to keep you guessing.

“Pitch Perfect 2” bored me with the use of the divided screen highlighting pillow-fight hijinxs and campfire singalongs. I liked the word play in this comedy as much as the a cappella singing. “Deutsche bag” and “treblemakers” struck me as creative.By the way,the German singers had the staging and the voices. Das Sound Machine out did the generations of Bellas in my estimation. The contest co-hosts Elizabeth Banks And John Michael Higgins were less than hysterical.The Christmas album with Snoop Dog was inspired as was the “songs about butts ” category and the gift card to Dave and Busters. Product placement advertising is rampant in “Pitch Perfect 2”: Cover girl and Pantene star.

One of the most beautiful shots is in Copenhagen with drizzle and sun rays on the colored facades and umbrellas mirroring all. Fat Amy and “muffingate”, or Southern exposure to the Commander-in-Chief was as silly as “sucking vodka from a maxi-pad”, sophomoric at best.I did not much care for Anna Kendrick or Rebel Wilson. Skyler Astin was energetic more than memorable.Fans of “The Voice” may find this film “the kicker of the ass”,I just didn’t.