On Movies: ‘Avengers 2: Age of Ultron’ expanded trailer

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There are many things to enjoy in this trailer. My favorite moment, however, is when the Avengers are hanging out trying to lift Thor’s hammer. I love the look on Thor’s face when Captain America actually jiggles the hammer, proving he just might be worthy.

Great Paragraphs: How it feels to follow baby boomers in society

‘Dear Harry, I think you’re boring and obnoxious and have a high opinion of yourself.’ Course some of you are probably thinking I sent this one to myself. ‘I think school is okay if you just look at it right. I mean I like your music, but I really don’t see why you can’t be cheerful for one second.’ I’ll tell you since you asked. I just arrived in this stupid suburb. I have no friends, no money, no car, no license. And even if I did have a license all I can do is drive out to some stupid mall. Maybe if I’m lucky play some fucking video games, smoke a joint and get stupid. You see, there’s nothing to do anymore. Everything decent’s been done. All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally, like, exhausted decade where there’s nothing to look forward to and no one to look up to.

— Mark Hunter (Christian Slater), “Pump Up the Volume” (1990)

On Movies: 5-sentence review of ‘The One I Love’

 

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“The One I Love” | Rated R | 2014 | 1 hour, 31 minutes | Director: Charlie McDowell | Cast: Mark DuplassElisabeth Moss and Ted Danson.


5. “The One I Love” is many movies in one package: relationship drama and psychological thriller with a science fiction twist.

4. Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a couple struggling to keep their marriage together after Duplass’ character cheated on her.

3. The go off to a mysterious house and confront their problems — and seemingly themselves — in a series of bizarre twists worth of “The Twilight Zone.”

2. Moss and Duplass are terrific and they play off one another very well in what were reportedly a series of ad-libbed interactions.

1. To describe the plot and its many twists is to take a bit of the fun of discovery away from this film and cliche though it might be, the journey is well-worth it in this fine, fun and baffling story.

 

Rental Review: ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” | 1993 | DirectorLasse Hallström | CastJohnny DeppJuliette LewisDarlene Cates and Leonardo DiCaprio.


 

I hated “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Oh, it’s not all bad. It’s a well-made movie. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as mentally challenged Arnie Grape, the kid brother to Johnny Depp’s Gilbert. But I hated it nonetheless.

Depp plays Gilbert, a small-town kid forced to look after his family after his father hanged himself, with warmth and depth.

936full-whats-eating-gilbert-grape-posterBut I found the film mercilessly depressing. The small-town grocery where Gilbert works is being run into the ground by the bigger, more impressive Foodland on the edge of town — a clear metaphor for the encroachment of Wal-Mart on smalltown America.

Gilbert’s mother, Bonnie, is morbidly obese and housebound since her husband’s suicide. Her family dotes on her, but Gilbert also mocks her. He uses all the classics. “Beached whale” is used a couple of times, I think. He lets the neighborhood kids, curious to see the fat woman like she was a freakshow display, look through the windows of their rundown farmhouse.

I’m morbidly obese and I guess I’m more sensitive about it than I thought. I found it all rather cruel, though Darlene Cates, who played Bonnie, is very strong in her performance.

My big gripe is the ending. Bonnie climbs the stairs to go to bed for the first time in years. She has a heart attack and dies. Mentally challenged Arnie discovers her. At first he thinks his mom is playing possum. But then he slowly realizes she is dead.

That’s some good acting by DiCaprio, who would go on to be a master of his trade.

But what happens next is an absurdity. Bonnie is fat. They say she’s 500 pounds. The local sheriff says he’ll have to get some extra men to get her out of the upstairs of the house. That seems reasonable.

Somehow Gilbert decides they’ll need a crane. And then all the town will show up to laugh at her. This is, of course, something he actively participated in earlier in the film. But now his mother is dead and his morality is resurrected. Or something.

The logical solution, of course, is to burn the house down. Which they do.

It’s a metaphor for starting over, getting rid of past baggage. I get it.

It’s also painfully stupid.

Nobody thought about a tarp, maybe some pulleys and rope to slide Mom’s body down the stairs. No. The only way was to turn the house into a Viking funeral pyre. Why not?

What the hell.

This film brings to end a long running joke between myself and my friend Andrew. While we were both unemployed back in 2008, we would often walk down to a neighborhood video store to pick out films to watch.

One of us would always say to the other, “Hey, I hear ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is good?” This struck as very funny. We may have been drinking beforehand.

Every visit to the store, which is long closed, one of us loudly ask this question about “Gilbert Grape” and suggest we’d heard it was good. Neither of us had seen the film until now.

Sadly, Andrew, I am here to report that, no, it actually isn’t good.

Rental Review: ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High” | Rated R | 1982 | DirectorAmy Heckerling | CastJennifer Jason LeighBrian BackerPhoebe CatesRobert RomanusSean Penn and Judge Reinhold.


 

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is one of those oft-quoted, seemingly beloved movies that I never bothered to see.

The film debut in January 1982, when I was 6. I was more interested in “Star Wars” than the bare breasts of Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I didn’t understand stoner comedy and suffer talk.

15071-thumbAn edited version of the movie, with profanity overdubbed and nudity chopped out, was on basic cable and Saturday afternoon UHF movies nearly all my life. I never bothered to watch it for more than few minutes before I changed the channel.

But while it was a series of accidents or oversights rather than a direct slight, I can see now I was absolutely correct to snub this very stupid picture for 32 years.

“Fast Times” doesn’t have much plot. It’s story structure feels like randomly thumbing through the diary of sex and stoner fantasies written by a smartass in English class instead of the day’s assignment.

The fact that the film was written by Cameron Crowe, who would go on to do excellent work with “Say Anything” and “Almost Famous.” All great writers produce bombs once in a while. This was his.

Leigh plays a high school sophomore curious about sex. Cates is her more experienced pal, a senior who is engaged to some guy who lives in Chicago. Cates gives Leigh graphic details on how to perform oral sex while using carrots in the school lunchroom. This scene could have been sexy or funny, perhaps both, but managed to be embarrassing.

I wasn’t embarrassed for me. I was embarrassed for what appeared to be two fine, young actresses having to muddle through this terrible material. Everybody starts somewhere, but I feel for those women. That was some real garbage.

Leigh’s character, who is supposed to be 15, loses her virginity to a 26-year-old man. Leigh lied and said she was 19. They have sex on what appears to be a dugout bench in a rundown park. It’s the first of Leigh’s several gratuitous shots of her breasts. I’m all for gratuitous breast shots, but it’s a joyless love scene, as they all are in this film.

This scene, though, begs other questions. If the guy is 26, doesn’t he have an apartment or house? Why are they having sex in a park like a couple of teenagers? Spring for a room at the Super 8 for crying out loud.

There’s a shy movie usher played by Brian Backer. He has eyes for Leigh, but he’s busy receiving terrible advice from his friend Mike Damone, played by Robert Romanus. Damone is a cartoonish high school hood. He scalps tickets to concerts and wears clothes that make him look like a kid hawking newspaper on a street corner in 1937.

Backer chases Leigh, who likes him and wants to go to bed with him. But he’s shy and runs away. So Damone has comically short intercourse with her a poolhouse. This results in pregnancy. Damone agrees to pay for half, but can’t come up with the money so Leigh has to go it on her own.

Her brother, played by the affable Judge Reinhold, sees her at the clinic and offers something akin to sibling support by promising not to tell their parents about the abortion. I’m not sure what any of this means or why it is awkwardly jammed into a teen sex comedy, but at this point I really don’t care what happens to anybody.

Reinhold has some good moments. He wears a silly pirate hat at one point. He also stops a convenience store robber by throwing scalding hot coffee in his face. This doesn’t sound very funny. It isn’t. But that follows the central theme of the film.

The most-beloved scene in the movie involves the curvey Cates getting out of the pool in a red bikini and walking over to Reinhold, opening the top of her bikini and making out with him. This doesn’t even happen in the reality of the film. It’s just a masterbational fantasy of Reinhold’s character.

Even this is ruined when Cates, who got water in her ear from actually diving into the pool, goes into the house to look for some ear drops to clear the blockage. Instead, she finds Reinhold having at himself, who is suitably shamed for his sexual desires.

The most-quoted character is surfer and stoner Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in likely one of his most cheerful screen appearances ever. Spicoli is a clown who shows up to class late, doesn’t like to wear a shirt and frustrates Mr. Hand, played by the great character actor Ray Walston.

Frankly, I don’t see the appeal. He calls his teacher a “dick” at one point. He has pizza delivered to class one day. It’s cute, I suppose, maybe even amusing. But it doesn’t make me laugh.

Perhaps I’m too old to appreciate this movie. The appeal of sex in cars or stoner surfers was never that great for me and non-existent today. But I think this is simply a very bad movie and I doubt I would have enjoyed it regardless of when I saw it.

I always cringed when I heard those Spicoli quotes. Now, at least, I’m cringing with context.

On Movies: ‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For’ reveals everything we’ve already seen

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Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” | Rated R | 1 hour, 42 minutes | DirectorsFrank Miller and Robert Rodriguez | CastMickey RourkeJessica AlbaJosh BrolinJoseph Gordon-LevittRosario DawsonBruce WillisEva GreenPowers Boothe and Dennis Haysbert.


“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” is beautiful from the stylized hyper-noir aesthetic to the nude breasts of sultry femme fatale played by Eva Green to making it appear as if Bruce Willis still has hair. In fact, from an effects point of view, it may be more beautiful than the original “Sin City” from 2009.

The beauty is worth a lot. It’s fun to look at, whether Jessica Alba’s depressed Nancy is cavorting and boozing at a strip club or Marv (Mickey Rourke) is meting out back-alley justice to boozed up fratboys emulsifying bums in lighter fluid and flames. And the dialogue, for the most part, is snappy and staccato, echoing the best of Spilane, Chandler and Westlake.

But the sense of having already seen this before — and if you saw the first “Sin City,” you truly did — is overwhelming. “A Dame To Kill For” is a sequel without surprises that improves in every aspect of production save perhaps the most important one: story.

A “Sin City” movie can’t be a character study. This is not “True Detective.” These characters are wafer-thin, ghosts of stronger, better-written and more fully realized people from the best of film noir and hardboiled fiction.

“A Dame To Kill For” seems to know this and turns to excessive violence — more decapitations, dismemberments, murders, suicides and gruesome finger breaking. But it seems more like a distraction, a cringe to take your mind off the fact there’s nothing new happening here.

The doomed hubris plays out in long, dull monologues played as narration from the male characters. Life sucks. Then you die. And it’s tough to tell the difference between life and death in a town as lousy as Basin City.

The women do most of their talking in the movie. And for the most part they’re tougher than the men. Green’s Ava manipulates men toward murder with such ease and menacing wimsey, she’s easily the most powerful character in the film. Even with bruisers Marve and Dwight (Josh Brolin) wandering around.

The prostitutes of Old Town are still around with more guns than clothes, fighting off everyone from the cops to mobsters. Rosario Dawson plays Gail, who is in love with Dwight who is in turn in love with Ava. Dawson seems wasted in a role in which she primarily cavorts in bondage fantasy clothes and rescues her man from Ava’s goons.

The best part of “A Dame To Kill For,” as with “Sin City” before it, is that it does not ask you to take it seriously. It presents itself as what it is, a strange mix of post-World War II male fantasy magazines, edgy comic books written by Frank Miller before his descent into hackery and the elegant malevolence of American noir in the 1940s and 50s.

It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: titillate, tease and occasionally go “boom.” But while “Sin City” produced “booms” that shoot the room, “A Dame To Kill For” delivers its payload and leaves the audience shrugging, “Are you done?”

Morning Mixtape: Best Robin Williams moments from ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’

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When I was a boy, I wanted to be a radio disc jockey. I wanted to do comedy on the radio and play rock and roll. I was influenced by local personalities such as Dic Youngs, Larry Morgan and Lou Sipolt. But what I really had in mind was the wild riffing done by Robin Williams in the 1987 film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” I had a cassette tape of the soundtrack and repeatedly listened to his comedy bits, hoping to copy his style and wit. I was never fast enough or funny enough or quick enough. But even today, 27 years later, I still listen to Williams’ bits and laugh. He’s gone now, but his gifts keep on giving.

Moments: On Robin Williams and the daily struggle

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Robin Williams died Monday. Authorities said took his own life. He was 63.

Williams struggled with alcoholism and other addictions. He also struggled with mental health issues. His publicist told the Los Angeles Times that Williams was suffering from depression in recent weeks. It appears the depression took his life.

robin-williamsI never met Williams. I knew him through his work, which was often terrific. But I feel for him and his family, especially because he carried the burden of depression.

Twice in my 39 years, I’ve been to an emergency room with suicidal thoughts. I could have very easily taken my own life on both occasions. For whatever reason — blind luck or divine inspiration — I reached out for help instead of killing myself.

My late mother struggled with mental health issues in her life. My dad tried to get her help, but he always felt guilty. He grew up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression and loaded ships as a Navy seaman during World War II. To him, psychiatry was akin to witchcraft and asking a therapist to talk to his wife meant she would be confined to a room with padded walls and straightjackets for the remainder of her days.

I want to believe we as a society are more enlightened about mental health than we were when I was a boy. But I worry that people still think padded asylum cells and violent criminals when mental illness is discussed. We are not far removed from a time when Tom Eagleton was shamed out of being a vice presidential nominee because he sought treatment for depression.

Mental illness is a broad spectrum of ailments, but it is all rooted in one thing: The brain is an organ — just like the heart or liver — and sometimes it malfunctions. In exceptionally rare cases, it means people cannot function at all. But in most mental health cases, the disease is simply something that we live with day to day.

I am diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. The clinical words simply mean I sometimes get very sad or very scared, sometimes both, for long periods and greater intensities than I find tolerable. I control it with medication and therapy. Most days, that’s enough. But sometimes my brain doesn’t work right.

I get very depressed. I work every idea out to its ultimate outcome, which is usually slow, painful death. I feel disgusting and loathsome, even though I have a wealth of family and friends who would tell and show me otherwise, I am unable to feel anything but misery. Panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside. Everything is an emergency and I can only focus on negative thoughts.

Sometimes, not often and certainly not every day, those thoughts turn suicidal. I am in pain and the only way I can get out of it is to die. The times that I have seriously considered suicide, I don’t really want to die. I want relief. Of course one can’t feel relief when one is dead. But when your brain isn’t working right, it becomes all too easy to forget that.

Robin Williams apparently lost sight of that sometime Monday. The world lost a great entertainer to a disease that affects about one in 10 Americans, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

My second set of parents, the retired east Des Moines hairdresser and printer, would be hesitant about me writing publicly about my mental health problems. They would worry, rightly so, that people would look at me differently or treat me as lesser or perhaps a dangerous nut who will run amok at any moment.

People do react differently to you when you struggle and are open about it. But I talk openly about it amongst my colleagues, on my blog and with my friends, family and sometimes my sources when reporting stories where the revelation is relevant. I talk about it not to brag about it or complain in a “woe is me” kind of way.

I talk about it because mental illnesses are really no different than high blood pressure or diabetes – other health problems that can be fatal. And that’s what suicide really is: the fatal heart attack or liver failure of depression and anxiety.

I talk about it because people who suffer, my fellow travelers, need to know they are not alone. As my friend Bill McClelland, the great St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, once told me: “We are all walking on the thin ice.”

I talk about it because people need to hear from those of us who suffer from the illness that sometimes it is a daily struggle, but most of the time we survive and even thrive. But it is a scary thing. Because I have been to that place Williams visited, with the instrument of my death in my hand, and thought there was no way out.

I found another way out. Williams didn’t.

That Williams lost his fight and I’m still fighting isn’t a measure of character, strength or determination. My cancer just went into remission. Williams’ got stronger.

Mental illness is often a brutal, cruel fight against your own thoughts. And one gets so tired, so very damned tired.

I don’t have any more answers or magic solutions.

But I have a bit of advice: Put as much kindness into the world as possible.

If one measures kindness by laughs inspired, Williams left one heck of a legacy for us to follow.

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