Tag Archive: Michael Angarano


It must be the month to watch John Goodman—I guess with a big white beard, he’d make one heck of a Santa, so it’s appropriate! I enjoyed seeing him in Argo earlier in the month, and in Red State, he shines as the ATF agent stuck in the mad and mucky middle between heavily armed religious zealots and equally heavily armed government agents.

images2I’m a big fan of writer/director Kevin Smith’s irreverent work based on astute observation and study. Case in point: Dogma, Smith’s 1999 controversial masterpiece—a satirical, fantasy-filled look at church doctrine—shows that the man knows scripture, politics, pop culture, and even rationalizations, and he’s able to incorporate his scrutiny of any topic into an entertaining package with amazing performances and memorable scenes.

Red State is no different, and it provokes discomfort similar to that of Dogma when it was released. Purposefully, Smith released Red State film himself in 2011 (yeah, don’t ask me why it took me so long to watch and review it—I have no excuse) to ensure full creative integrity. The basic story is like a triptych: “Sex” is a segment in which teens (Ronnie Connell, Michael Angarano, and Nichals Braun) images4are lured by a sex website to visit a woman (Melissa Leo) who promises to sleep with them all but instead drugs them and has her cohorts take them away. This brings us to “Religion,” in which these fundamentalists of the Five Points Church—mostly made up of one big family, led by a blustery patriarch (Michael Parks)—take their campaign of intolerance to the next level, professing that homosexuals are not really people and God wants the righteous to exact their wrath on them. They begin killing the boys. Meanwhile, “Politics” is busy investigating Five Points, without knowing about the ill-fated kidnappings. They show up with the local sheriff (Stephen Root) in tow, who really messes things up and turns the church-ATF standoff into an all-out gunfight. But the true objective here, not embraced by everyone, is to sweep the fanatics under the rug for good.

images3It’s a not a “fun” film to watch. For starters, it’s not nearly as humorous as Smith’s other work. Based on Smith’s longstanding beef with Fred Phelps and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (the Kansas-based fruitcakes who picket funerals with signs that read “God hates fags”), the film hits nerves straight out of news headlines. Primarily, it point out how people on all sides of issues tend to descend into ideology they convince themselves about and then pervert to various ends.

The best line in the movie kind of sums up the whole point. Goodman’s character, when asked why he disobeyed orders, tells the story of how his grandmother had two bloodhounds from the same litter, inseparable and loving, until the day he threw them a single bone and watched them turn vicious to fight over it. What he learned about human nature from it is “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.”

A

It’s been a busy month! Nevertheless, the movie report card has some entries that take a bit more explanation than usual, so here goes:

The Pleasant Surprises

Ceremony (2010) is a peculiar glimpse into some pretty screwed-up lives, yet it leaves one feeling an odd sense of lightness and hope. Michael Angarano plays Sam, a pitiably adorable romantic and failing writer of bizarre children’s stories, who crashes the wedding weekend of a woman he once spent the night with. Most of the characters are pathetic in one way or another, but they curiously grow on you. Even the self-absorbed fiancé (Lee Pace) has a patient strength barely visible under his primping bravado but evident in the moments when he takes care of his flaky Zoe (Uma Thurman). It’s one of those films that you will either love or hate—and be aware that it begins rather slowly—but if you do give it a chance, you might find some pleasant surprises too.

Much to the credit of writer/director Max Winkler (son of Henry Winkler), the characters are not wrapped up in neat little packages, and I found myself wishing this film were a book adaptation so I could read the book and find out more about each of them. I wanted to know what had happened to Marshall (Reece Thompson) and why Zoe’s brother Teddy (Jake M. Johnson) was such a mess, though she loved him so fiercely despite that. I wanted to know their thoughts and their plans. They were real.  Ceremony is not for everyone, but if you like Feeling Minnesota (1996) or Wes Anderson’s films, you may be charmed by this one. I was.

B

Suck (2009) is a rock-musical-vampire-movie, written and directed by Canadian actor/director Rob Stefaniuk. He also stars along with Jessica Paré, Paul Anthony, and Mike Lobel, as a member of the band, the Winners (tongue firmly in cheek), who are barely making ends meet with their back-alley gigs while sleeping in their transportation—a hearse. Their ineffective manager (Dave Foley) says himself that they ought to fire him. And then, along comes a vampire and changes their lives. Now they are getting really popular, and all they have to worry about is Eddie Van Helsing *cough* (Malcolm McDowell) hunting them down. The bewildering cast also includes Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, and Alex Lifeson. I also really got as kick out of the effects surrounding the band’s travels through Canada and New York.  Fun to watch!

B+

The Disappointments

The Help (2011) could have been so much better, given the talent involved, so I personally found it sad that it reminded me of another disappointing “movie of the week,” The Blind Side (also a movie that many others loved). How can I say this? I certainly will receive hate mail. Most people adore The Help. It seems unassailable, since it’s hard to say anything against a story depicting the triumph of the help’s quiet dignity over the malicious ignorance of pre-civil-rights-era bigots. *sigh*

That’s not the point—let’s look at it as a film.  It is not bad.  In fact, it’s mostly enjoyable, with wonderful performances. Leading the pack of talent are Viola Davis (as Aibileen Clark), Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook); Emma Stone (Skeeter Phelan) is adorable and competent as always.

Where my problem lies with this film is that it’s a formulaic, gasp-a-minute tear-fest that glosses over any true character development and plays to the audience’s sense of “this is the good fight, so you must cheer,” even though the story is not even a true one.  Some of my fellow viewers pointed out, “But things LIKE this did happen. It’s based on stories from that era.” For my money, I would rather watch true reminiscences (and there are so many real stories out there) than musings that milk the sorrows and struggles of the period.

Those who had read the book also told me, “Well, the characters are better developed in the book.”  What?!  Whoever made a rule that when a film adaptation is made, the characters cannot be as rich or round as they are meant to be?  Plenty of films, including adaptations, present rich and realistic characters.  Stop using that excuse!  There is, for instance, no reason in the world that Skeeter’s mother (played by the wonderful Allison Janney, who was just wasted here) had to come off as an unintelligible psycho. Yes, I get the fact that she was both ill and bound by the mores of the day; that doesn’t mean she has multiple personalities, making her unrealistic as a character.

This film could have been so much more powerful had it been slightly more subtle and, of course, focused on character development—after all, what is more important in a film about the human spirit? As it was, the movie accomplished something that few have in the past: it made NOT want to read the book.

B-

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010) is the worst comic-adapted-to-film I’ve seen since The Mutant Chronicles. I wish people would stop making putrid flops like this; that trend should have gone out with big shoulder pads.

I’ll watch just about anything supernatural or based on comic books, but it seems the moviemakers here simply wanted to cash in on moviegoers’ current love affair with vampires, werewolves, and all things alluringly monstrous. Speaking of which, Brandon Routh, bless his heart, may be eye candy, but he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Even one of my faves, Peter Storemare, could not shine in this mess.

The only saving grace was Sam Huntington (Fanboys) as the sidekick, playing second fiddle to Routh again, as he did in Superman Returns. Unfortunately, even his amusing delivery can’t fix the awful writing.

D

Here are a few other films I watched over the past couple of weeks:

Film Grade Comment
The Jerk

B+

“I was born a poor black child.”  Classic silliness!  Gotta love Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.
Hearts of Darkness

A-

For those of us who love Apocalypse Now, this is a terrific look behind the scenes, from learning about Martin Sheen’s personal difficulties and on-location heart attack, to seeing a 14-year-old Larry Fishburn waxing eloquent, to following the challenging journey of Francis Ford Coppola from dream to nightmare and back.  His wife, Eleanor, filmed this documentary footage and adds interesting insights about the journey into the jungle.
The Human Centipede (2009)

C-

I finally watched this sicko horror flick after hearing so many, ahem, intriguing things about it.  It was like a bad and bloody car accident—I was repulsed but could not look away.  The ending is truly freakish, especially if one thinks about what that poor “part B” girl is going to do now.  *shiver*  Astonishing is the fact that the creepy doctor (Dieter Laser) is even more horrifying than the creature he creates! Unless you are a diehard fan of gruesome horror flicks, skip this one.
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