Thursday, May 2, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: NOT FADE AWAY (2012), THE DETAILS (2012), plus bonus Netflix Instant exclusive PERCENTAGE (2013)

(US - 2012)

Several SOPRANOS alumni, including creator David Chase, reunited for this semi-autobiographical period piece about one of countless 1960s rock bands that didn't make it.  Chase, who wrote and directed, seems to approach his first feature film as if it's an entire season of an HBO show whittled down to two hours.  The story isn't exactly cohesive and it's probably not meant to be.  It makes sure to mention all the expected '60s touchstones--opening with JFK's assassination, then the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Vietnam, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights, free love, LSD, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Kennedy--as we watch a small-time Jersey band build a following, squabble, and try to audition for a record label all while dealing with life in a tumultuous decade.  The focus is on drummer Douglas (John Magaro) who's invited into a local cover band by guitarist/singer Eugene (Jack Huston).  Douglas, Eugene, and Wells (Will Brill) form the core of the unnamed band and tensions flare when 4/5 of the band thinks that Douglas is a better singer and Eugene should just play guitar.  Eugene is also reluctant to write original songs and would prefer to play covers.  Meanwhile, Douglas falls in love with rich girl Grace (Bella Heathcote) and drops out of college, much to the disgust of his bitter, blue collar father (James Gandolfini) who doesn't approve of his shaggy hair and his clothes that make him look like he "just got off the boat."  This formula repeats for the entire film:  the band plays, squabbles, pulls it together, Douglas and Grace make big plans about music and film projects, Eugene acts like a jealous dick, and Douglas goes home for the holidays and fights with his dad. 

Magaro is very good, and Chase does a great job with period detail, but his construction of the film is frustrating.  The narrative jumps all over the place, sometimes skipping months and years at a time (indicated by how increasingly big Douglas' hair gets), and established subplots get cast aside with an almost willful disregard.  We never really get to know the large cast of characters (I don't even recall hearing the names of the other two guys in the band), and I don't know why we spend so much time dealing with Grace's troubled older sister (Dominique McElligott).  And if you hated the last scene of THE SOPRANOS' final episode, then wait until you see what Chase does here.  His fondness for the era is undeniable (I got a big laugh out of Grace dragging Douglas to see Antonioni's BLOW-UP, where he complains "What kind of movie is this?  Nothing happens!"), but in the end, it misses the mark and has surprisingly little to say.  Produced by Steven Van Zandt, who also served as music supervisor.  The song selection is probably the film's strongest attribute.  (R, 112 mins)

(US - 2012)

THE DETAILS is one of those twisty nightmare comedies where one single infraction by an everyman protagonist spirals into out-of-control doom.  It's the kind of dark comedy that wants to be FARGO-era Coen Bros., but its frequent moments of excellence never really coalesce into anything all that special by the pat, predictable conclusion.  Mild-mannered, nice-guy Seattle doctor Tobey Maguire, who's initially so benignly unthreatening that he spells out his curse words, decides to add a room on to his house without obtaining a city permit, and through an individually plausible but collectively absurd set of circumstances, sees his entire life fall to pieces.  He and wife Elizabeth Banks haven't had sex in six months, but they generally get along, and he spends his spare time jerking off to internet porn and battling raccoons who keep digging up his lawn in the wee hours.  After an argument, his frustrations boil over and he sleeps with his married med school friend Kerry Washington, who confesses the indiscretion to her husband Ray Liotta, who then threatens to tell Banks unless Maguire pays him $100,000.  Meanwhile, Maguire has to contend with crazy cat-lady neighbor Laura Linney after her cat dies ingesting some poison left out for the raccoons.  Before Maguire realizes what's going on, he and Linney have a fast and frenzied sexual encounter in her living room and she ends up pregnant.  The only good thing going on in Maguire's life is his friendship with Dennis Haysbert, an almost-basketball pro who fell on hard times and needs a kidney transplant.  But Maguire's chaotic existence even spills over into Haysbert's, who decides to help his new friend in the worst way possible.

Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, who's been MIA since his acclaimed 2004 debut MEAN CREEK, THE DETAILS has a lot of outstanding moments and killer supporting performances, but it turns into a case where the parts are greater than the whole.  Shot in 2009, it's a better film than three years on the shelf and a 73-screen release would lead you to believe.  Maguire is good, but it's Linney, Haysbert, and Liotta who steal the film.  Liotta, in particular, has an amazing scene where he confronts Maguire on a bridge that features some of the best and most profane acting of his career.  And his comedic timing and delivery of bizarrely funny dialogue is spot-on ("I taught you how to make pesto and you sleep with my wife?!").  Linney throws herself into her role, turning in a fearless performance as a character that a more vain actress wouldn't even consider portraying (straddling Maguire, she shrieks "I can feel you getting bigger!").  It's an odd little film that never quite finds the tone it's looking for, careening from near-slapstick with the raccoon business to some really dark, bleak turns in the closing act.  Flawed and inconsistent and probably hard to market, but worth a look.  (R, 101 mins)

(US - 2013)

Two weeks after the unwatchable HOUSE OF BODIES, Netflix drops another Queen Latifah-produced bomb as a streaming exclusive...no theatrical release, no trailer, no publicity, nothing.  Like BODIES, the gangsta thriller PERCENTAGE was directed by the astonishingly inept Alex Merkin, who's obviously gunning to be the Albert Pyun of his generation.  As terrible and as dated as it is (playing a lot like one of those countless DTV, post-I'M 'BOUT IT Master P joints from the late '90s), PERCENTAGE is at least a technical improvement over BODIES and, if nothing else, almost looks like a real movie instead of cobbled-together cell phone footage.  But the praise ends there as we follow unscrupulous NYC thug Ant (rapper Cam'ron, who also "co-wrote" the "script") and his buddy Carter (Omar Gooding, Cuba Jr's brother) fleeing a shootout with the Russian mob and heading to Miami to lay low.  Instead, they team up with Carter's cousin Flaco (Antwon Tanner) on a half-assed credit card scam that can't possibly be as easy to pull off in real life as the film presents it.  They live large, buying expensive watches, lighting blunts with Benjamins and hangin' at the club, all until Miami crime boss Mama Cash (Macy Gray) and her cowboy enforcer Porter (Ving Rhames) want their cut.  The eastern European mob also figures, as per the rules of straight-to-DVD dogshit.  Merkin actually tries to go for some style here by clumsily ripping off John Woo (birds!) and Steven Soderbergh (when Ant meets Malinda Williams' Cass at the club, their conversation is intercut with footage of them in bed later on, much like George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the hotel bar in OUT OF SIGHT), and there's repeat invocations of "The world is yours" from both versions of SCARFACE.  But proving he's seen good movies by better directors doesn't give Merkin any credibility, especially in a gaffe-filled montage with Ant's narration ("The terminals was hacked...to place a trace on each card swiped") repeated over two consecutive scenes.  Really?  Nobody noticed that?  Gray is awful and Rhames is phoning it in (though at 66:30, watch what appears to be his impromptu impression of Bela Lugosi in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN), and Queen Latifah really should be using her celebrity and her name on more worthwhile projects.  What can you say about a movie that's so bad that it's even beneath Omar Gooding?  (Unrated, 83 mins, currently available only on Netflix streaming)

1 comment:

  1. Holy shit Mark,

    You honestly wrote the perfect review for this steaming pile of horseshit movie. I'm actually going to watch it with my gf so we could laugh at this piece of shit. Spaghetti Western scenes in a hood movie? Genius. Someone must have watched Django (probably the worst screenwriter, cam'ron) and decided to give it his own 'spin'.