Friday, August 31, 2012
Writer: Tracy Letts
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, and Juno Temple
When a Texas trailer park family decides to hire Killer Joe to off their evil mother, they have no clue what they've gotten themselves into.
Friedkin (director of The Exorcist) said he didn't plan for viewers to enjoy this film. For the most part, I didn't. However, this was one of the most fascinating character studies I've seen in a long time. My first exposure to McConaughey was when we moved to Austin just about the time he got busted for three a.m. naked bongo playing. He was just a pretty boy actor then. Well, let me tell you, Det. Joe Cooper isn't real pretty. Sociopathic and scary are more like it.
The story's pretty simple. A kid who's taken the easy way out one too many times comes up with the wrong plan and gets his whole family in trouble. Hard truth about the Smith family is that the one with the obvious mental issues is the smartest one of all.
I've heard some interesting descriptions for this film, but I'm settling on Texas Gothic. There's some very dark comedy in here, but for the most part, the film's a thriller heavy on violence. Don't expect to have a bathroom break, you could miss too much. Serious nod to Thomas Haden Church for his role as Ansel, the head of the dysfunctional family. He played his role just right.
The music's interesting. It's a bass heavy mix of old country featuring Lee Hazlewood's singing which is just right for the film's feel.
This is not a film I'd own or I'd ever want to see again. But it was an interesting escape for the afternoon.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
When a centuries-old curse threatens the town, it’s the odd boy who speaks to the dead who’s got to save them. ParaNorman offers a late-fall cool breeze in the midst of August films, which are usually not the big summer blockbusters.
Tolerance is a strong theme within children’s films of late. ParaNorman manages to teach this lesson without being preachy. That lesson is not just to understand the different, but that bullies need understanding as well. As Neil says to Norman: “if you were bigger and stupider, you might be a bully, too.”
The script is original and wildly witty with hilarious jabs at mainstream horror, older sibs, and adults who don’t listen. In many ways, ParaNorman treats adolescence as its own horror show fraught with bullies, off-the-wall teachers, parents who don’t listen, and a community that doesn’t often acknowledge their contributions.
Characterization of the outcast kids is well-done. Neal may be a bit too much like the fat kid in Monster House, but his role is all heart. I saw myself up on the screen when Norman called the smart girl with thick glasses and a unibrow for the answer to an important question. (“If you were paying attention in fifth grade, you would know that…”) The child actors who voiced Norman and his friends were spot on with inflections, lending authenticity to the on-screen action.
The stop-motion is sharp and crisp. The Art Department didn’t just capture the menace, they nailed the emotional moments in subtle gestures that leave the audience in awe. This is nothing like the anvil-dropping antics from my childhood. Of the major motion picture cartoons, ParaNorman’s got to be the new gold standard. I will not be surprised if it wins Best Animation at the Academy Awards next year.
While both directors have very short credit lists, the film was beautifully executed. Sam Fell worked as a director on The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away ParaNorman is Butler’s first film as Director-Writer, but he’s got Art Department cred having worked on Coraline, Corpse Bride, and Tarzan II.
ParaNorman is one of those rare films that I’d be content to sit through a second showing right after I’ve seen it. I probably will catch another matinee before it leaves theaters and I’ll definitely be purchasing the Blu-Ray as soon as it’s available. I saw ParaNorman in 2D, but this is one film whose effects should be worth the extra charge and the glasses for 3D.
Horror’s actually good for kids. From the Brothers Grimm to now, writers have understood this, but sometimes parents don’t. Dan Horner, the director of Monster House wrote this to a little girl who’d been frightened by his film: “Because even a scary story, if it's a good scary story, takes us into strange, dark places that don't make sense at first, and helps us see that they do make sense, and are therefore not so scary.”
Parents: Just make sure ParaNorman is age-appropriate. This film is rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language. Most of the kids above eight in our audience handled ParaNorman without issues; however, a younger child had to leave in tears. One particular scene had me emitting a high-pitched girlie scream, which I quickly tried to cover.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan
Stars: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening
Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
“Write what you know,” is an oft-used axiom for starting writers. Author CJ Cherryh often says you need to know your characters well enough that you can sit down at a dinner table with them and have a conversation and know what’s on that dinner table. Calvin muses, “The words aren't coming from you but through you....” This is a great example of how a writer can get so in tune with a fully-actualized character that they believe they’re more of a transcriptionist than a storyteller.
Calvin Weir-Fields isn’t a starting writer. At nineteen, he wrote a brilliant classic and has been blocked since. His therapist suggests a simple exercise, which opens Calvin up, but creates a real woman, Ruby Sparks.
This is one side of the writer’s nightmare coin: What if something I create becomes real? The other side: What if I get sucked up in a fantasy world? Of course, sometimes it’s difficult to know which is which.
Dano and Kazan do a spectacular job of convincing you they are Calvin and Ruby. It helps that in real life, they actually are partners; however, don’t discount the pair’s talent. Kazan’s appeared in twenty films, including It’s Complicated and The Valley of Elah. Dano’s got 30 titles, including Cowboys and Aliens and There Will Be Blood.
Ruby starts out your typical chick-flick, but turns dark soon enough as Ruby becomes a real girl. Says Kazan: “I was interested in talking about what happens in a relationship when one person’s independence threatens the other and control issues arise.”
Pygmalion stories abound. Every year, you see some male-driven film which tries to create the perfect woman for the male protagonist. Ruby stands out because it’s a clever mix of the old story with an inside view of the writer’s world, somewhat reminiscent of Finding Forrester and The Magic of Belle Isle. And, a woman who understands how it feels to be controlled and pulled in the wake of a man’s life writes it.
For the most part, I was entranced. I saw myself as well as many of my other writer friends in the story.
I was a little bit flummoxed when I walked out and heard two women in the restroom talking, “Are writers really like that?” It surprised me that someone would be so culturally-bereft as to not know a writer or two in person.
Sets and music were beautiful. On a gray, rainy day, they took me to a house full of light and the beach at Big Sur. Nick Urata’s original score was a lovely accompaniment, which didn’t intrude on the action or the dialogue. The soundtrack would actually make an inspirational score for writing.
The only anachronistic portion of the film was Calvin writing on a manual typewriter. I found myself shaking my head every time he sat down at the desk and created letter-perfect drafts from that machine. Ruby takes place today. Who really writes like that? Then again, anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that even with modern spell check, I am the Typo Queen.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Ruby Sparks, I’m still undecided whether I would own the Blu-Ray or not. I am not certain if it falls into the category of Finding Forrester and The Magic of Belle Isle, which are films that can be seen over and over.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, August 2012
Director: Simon West
Writers: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone (screenplay) Ken Kaufman, David Agosto, Richard Wenk (story)
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
When a terrorist kills Billy, the youngest member of the Expendables, the team’s out for blood. The writers and actors did a bang up job on the opener, inspiring a lot of hate for the folks who’d take down a kid like Billy. I extend a nod to Liam Hemsworth, (Hunger Games, The Last Song) for making a strong impression in a short space.
This second round of The Expendables is actually better than the first. This time, they don’t attempt to take themselves seriously and that’s how they make the scenarios work. It’s a madcap mix of one-liners and past character-inspired gags that leave you laughing in between spates of breathless action and gratuitous, sometimes unbelievable, action sequences. Yes, I expect to see Mythbusters devoting a show to this film and it’ll be darn near as much fun as the theater.
Van Damme is the consummate bad guy with the best name since Snidely Whiplash. Jean Villain is a Satanist, terrorist, and a big threat to world security rolled up in one still-gorgeous package.
Along with the bangs and blow-ups, the soundtrack drives action and adventure. Brian Tyler (Battle Los Angeles, Rambo, Law Abiding Citizen) kept hard-driving music running all the way through the film. This would be a great soundtrack for a run or any other strenuous workout.
Director Simon West (The Mechanic, Human Target) did a credible job riding herd on so many talents. If I had any quibble with the execution of this film, it would be for occasionally muddled video quality.
The only downside is if you didn’t grow up in the 80’s watching the original Rambo, Die Hard, Terminator, etc and you miss the inside jokes. If you’re an action-adventure junkie and love these actors in their heyday, you’re going to think this film is great. If you’ve not seen these films, you’ll still enjoy the hard-driving action, but will occasionally wonder why the old geezer sitting closer to the screen is laughing his head off.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, August 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Director: Peter Hedges
Writers: Peter Hedges (screenplay), Ahmet Zappa (story)
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, C. J. Adams
I confess, I went to this film on opening night. The fantasy element sucked me in. Timothy Green is pleasant enough for a single escapist matinee.
Peter Hedges, who created the amazing Gilbert Grape was heavy-handed with his pen and ended up with a typical schmaltzy Disney family film. I admit, I cried, but I’m not sure I’d own the DVD or even watch it again on television. The fantasy was too obvious and sadly, so was the primary lesson of tolerance.
Here’s the summary in brief: When Cindy and Jim learn their dream of having children is done, they ease their pain by burying that dream in a cedar box in their garden.
There are some positive aspects of Timothy Green. The secondary lesson on handling grief actually worked. Conceiving a child is stressful on a relationship. Anyone who’s tried will tell you it takes the fun from intimacy. Many couples split up when fertility treatments don’t work. From the beginning, Jim and Cindy never thought of quitting each other when they realized they couldn’t have a child. They immediately created a positive solution to heal their grief together.
The best parts of the film were Timothy and the music. CJ Adams lit up the screen as Timothy. He was just the right amount of naiveté combined with sagacity. He’s definitely an actor I will be watching for in the future.
The end song, “The Gift” by Glen Hansard, is one of the loveliest and most fitting closers I’ve heard in a long time. I went home and bought the song on iTunes.
Fortunately for families who are searching for kid-friendly fare, this is one Disney film that won’t send your young children running. I’d still recommend Timothy Green for audiences over seven because the youngest kids needed a bit of explanation, but they’re not going to be traumatized by seeing Bambi’s mother killed, either.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle
Sunday, August 12, 2012
|Gina Ardito/Katherine Brandon
Eternally Yours available now!
Barnes and Noble:
When Becky invited me to guest blog here, I asked her what she wanted me to write about. She suggested “hooking the reader.” I thought about this topic all day Friday and Saturday, even wrote 500 words or so, but wasn’t happy with it. Whenever I’m stuck, I run ideas past my son (he’s 15) who shares my creative genes and a warped sense of humor. Saturday night, I asked for his help. “Becky wants me to talk about hooking the reader,” I told him.
His reply? “Tell them to put boobs in the first paragraph.”
Helpful, yes? Umm…no.
Hooking the reader is about more than titillation. Over the years, I’ve judged contests and seen openings where a sexy blonde sashays up to a bar and purrs, “I’d like Sex on the Beach,” when the rest of the story has nothing to do with a bar or drinks or even the beach. That’s not hooking the reader; that’s manipulating your story. It’s cheap and it only alienates your reader. So how do you hook a reader and keep him/her hooked all the way to The End? For me, it’s all about characterization.
First, you have to know and love your characters. Really know them, really love them. Know and love them the way you know and love your children, which requires you to know not only the good parts of them, but the bad: the flaws, the fears, the sins. Understand they’re going to fall every once in a while. Love them unconditionally, but watch them fall without interfering. Let them learn their own lessons in their own time. Then you have to create opportunities for them to fall; literally throw the banana peel under their feet, inches from the Grand Canyon (which you wouldn’t do with your real children).
In my latest release, Eternally Yours, I not only arrange for my character to fall. I make her commit suicide in Chapter One. Because the story takes place in the Afterlife with my heroine arriving in that realm before her time, Jodie had to die in the first chapter—suddenly and unplanned. No running in front of a bus to save a puppy (which was actually suggested to me by an editor) since, in my opinion, if that had been her fate, the rulers of the Afterlife would have known that was her fate and been prepared for her arrival. The only reasonable option for someone to die before her fated time would be self-termination.
Wanna know the hardest part? Eternally Yours is a romantic comedy. Talk about a challenge! How was I going to make suicide funny? Well, obviously, I can’t. The best I could do was to create an interesting opening and move through the suicide as quickly as possible. The rest of the story takes place in the Afterlife, that realm I’ve created after our time here on Earth has come to an end.
I also needed a hero worthy of my heroine, but filled with his own foibles and flaws. Enter Luc Asante, who was taken off life support by his wife after a rock-climbing accident. Luc’s worked as a bounty hunter in the Afterlife, wrangling up ghosts who’ve lingered too long on Earth to deal with unfinished business, for quite some time when Jodie becomes his new trainee.
Okay, great. I’ve got a memorable hero and heroine and some terrific secondary characters. Now, I need to create an interesting world that challenges them and entertains my reader. The Afterlife is chock-full of spirits and rules that will have both my hero and heroine banging their heads in frustration. Readers will love the small vignettes about each ghost they pursue, how they died, and why they can’t move on.
I have the recipe for a great story that will keep my readers turning the pages until The End. Throughout the story, though, it’s the characterization (of the hero/heroine, the secondary characters, and even the world they inhabit!) that keeps the tension taut, the reader rooting for my hero and heroine to find a Happily Ever After, despite the fact that they’re both dead.
Did I accomplish this feat? You be the judge. Read the book. Eternally Yours is available in electronic and paperback formats through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Buying the paperback version? Use B&N. For some strange reason, their price is cheaper than Amazon’s!
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Stars: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
I’m not a fan of relationship films. Frankly, I’d rather see a shootout or even be in one. But, pairing Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones? Meryl Streep’s had seventeen Oscar nomination and won three. Jones has been nominated three times and won once for his supporting role in The Fugitive. Many people do not think Jones has it in him to play opposite Streep, but I know better. I’ve seen almost every film he’s played in from The Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men to all three MIBs. Jones downplays every role he’s ever had, but he always rises to the occasion whatever is called for.
The story’s simple, a wife (Streep) married thirty-one years is seeking more from her marriage. She signs her reticent husband (Jones) up for a week of intensive couples counseling.
Jones says about his role in the September issue of Esquire, “That character in the new movie, Arnold Soames, is just a little bit ridiculous. Just like you, and just like me.”
This film’s erroneously hyped by the trailer as a comedy. The near full-house audience for the opening was laughing, but most of it was self deprecatory or embarrassed. Both my husband and I saw a bit our ourselves on screen as I am sure many of the other attendees did. As Tommy Lee Jones so aptly says, “just like me.”
Marriages are hard. Most of them fail and the ones that don’t still hit rocky spots. Nothing’s more painful than putting yourself out there particularly when there’s so much at stake. Hope Springs took you to the bedroom and the analyst’s couch, which aren’t places many of us want to share with an audience.
I can’t say this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The action was far too slow for an action/adventure lover. The action here’s as subtle as a posture or a position on an analyst’s couch. We’re talking deep here.
What I’d recommend this film for is a study of body language and acting. Even the smallest gesture here has meaning and both actors use those subtle clues to the max. The acting is carefully timed and so deliberate that if your attention strays, you may well miss an important cue.
Music was perfectly cued, fitting both the situation and the character’s ages. When Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together played in one scene, you could almost see the younger couple together caught up in the first blush of love.
Simple cues. Simple gestures. In many ways, that’s the lesson you can take from the film. Watch and listen to the people you care about. Learn their tells and understand what makes them tick before it’s too late. This film’s definitely worth the price of admission if you learn those things before you have to hit an intensive couple therapy session.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, August 2012
Friday, August 3, 2012
LOVE PEOPLE--DON'T JUDGE THEM: Her feelings were that it wasn't our job to judge anyone. God took care of that. We were tasked to: Love our neighbors as ourselves. She never read any exclusions in the Bible. This is the lesson she taught me when I realized at ten my favorite cousin was gay. She believed Leviticus was past and Jesus' words of love were what should guide Christians in dealing with homosexuality.
RECYCLE: Almost everything can be repurposed if you think carefully. Mom turned cottage cheese containers into bird feeders. She just drilled holes in the sides for string or wire to hang them, then filled the feeders with seed or the hulls of green peppers. Mom saved plastic tubs, washed aluminum foil, even waxed paper and plastic wrap. She and a schoolteacher friend, Georgia, sent the same birthday card back and forth to each other for more than forty years. They'd simply initial the card and date it. The situation got interesting with envelopes. One year, Mom embarrassed her friend when she sent the card to her in a recycled brown paper bag. Georgia said her postman joked about her receiving mail in a "plain brown wrapper."
GOD DOESN'T MAKE JUNK: That includes gays, handicapped people, and anyone else. We all have a purpose in this life and we need to seek that purpose out and live it. She did her best to love everyone and told me that is what we all should do.
YOU HAVE TO BEND OVER TO PUT PEOPLE DOWN: If you're trying to put someone down, you're going to have to bend over to do it. It's better to raise them up, you can stand up straight yourself and hopefully travel along a higher path.
FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD: Be sensible. Avoid danger when you can. That doesn't mean you are a coward, it just means you need to be smart about when to risk yourself. When you've got to do something that puts you at risk, do it as sensibly as you can.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY: Grandpa taught this to her and both of them taught this to me. They believed there was never a chance to stop learning and growing.
A FOX ALWAYS SMELLS THEIR OWN STINK FIRST: Essentially, before you criticise someone else, you might want to make sure your own nose is clean. We tend to see the worst in ourselves in others.
YOU'RE KNOWN BY THE COMPANY YOU KEEP: If you hang out with troublemakers, even if you're not one yourself, you're going to get branded as such. Same with any other characteristic. If you don't like what people you're with are doing, you probably shouldn't hang out with them.
YOU CAN BELIEVE IN THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE, TOO: God put fossils here for a reason and human beings have certainly evolved, think of us no longer needing our wisdom teeth or appendixes. A day in God's time is a whole lot longer than we think. So, learn about science and evolution.
THE CONCRETE EFFECT IS COMMONSENSE: On one of those 105 degree Oklahoma days, Mom took me outside with a thermometer and we played. First, we measured temperatures on the asphalt street, then the concrete sidewalk, then on the grass, then beneath a tree. Her point in all of this was human beings have an effect on the world with development and that effects our environment.
DO SOMETHING GOOD EVERYDAY: Mom believed in doing kindnesses for other people. Even a kind word can make the difference between a good and a bad day for someone.
TELL THE TRUTH--IT'S A LOT EASIER TO REMEMBER WHAT YOU'VE SAID: That's the truth.
PEOPLE WHO TALK ABOUT OTHERS ARE ALSO TALKING ABOUT YOU: Gossips live to gossip. If they're dishing on someone else, they'll probably tell your secrets, too.
DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE/HEAR: People can distort facts. Find out for yourself.
LOOK IT UP: A dictionary or an encyclopedia are your friends. Learn to use them and while you're there, do some exploring.
ANIMALS HAVE SOULS: Nothing that can love unconditionally could have anything less. And, they're going to Heaven. (Good thing, because I don't think my Mom would want to be there unless cats could come along)
These are the values I remember my Mom for and I try to respect them as much as I can. She was a good woman and she made the world a better place for that goodness.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, August 2012