Quick Netflix review: TO THE BONE (2017)

 

Starring: Lilly Collins (RULES DON’T APPLY [2016], THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES [2013], MIRROR MIRROR [2012]).

In support: Keanu Reeves (THE BAD BATCH [2017], THE NEON DEMON [2016], SPEED [1994], and upcoming and as-of-yet-announced release date films JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 and the untitled Bill and Ted film), Carrie Preston (EQUITY [2016], and TV shows CLAWS and TRUE BLOOD), Liana Liberato (IF I STAY [2014]), Retta (BAND AID [2017], MIDDLE SCHOOL [2016], and TV show PARKS AND REC), Alex Sharp (HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES [2017]), and Leslie Bibb (IRON MAN [2008], TRICK ‘R TREAT [2007], TV show NOBODIES, and the upcoming TAG [2018]).

Writing and directing: Marti Noxon (directed 1 episode and wrote 8 episodes of GIRLFRIENDS’ GUIDE TO DIVORCE, directed 2 and wrote 25 episodes of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER / wrote I AM NUMBER FOUR [2011]). Composer: Fil Eisler (CHIPS [2017], HOW TO BE SINGLE [2016], and TV show REVENGE). Cinematographer: Richard Wong (a ton of unknown films and short films).

(SUMMARY)

The story follows Ellen (Lilly Collins), who is anorexic. In a desperate attempt to get her treatment, her stepmother Susan (Carrie Preston) tracks down Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves), who wants her to be a part of his unconventional, but effective inpatient program to help treat her. Despite her reluctance, Ellen is convinced to go by her stepsister, Kelly (Liana Liberato). Soon, Ellen meets the rest of the patients who also struggle and soon begins a journey of recovery.

(REVIEW)

I was surprised by how much I like this film. It’s a staggeringly honest perspective on this subject and much of that is due to Collins’ incredible performance, arguably making this her career-best to date. At first, I kind of thought that Ellen was this cliché wise-ass that you see in every film. Thankfully, the writing knows better than to be that shallow and really gives a much more complex character. She’s not happy with her choices. It’s a deeply rooted fear brought on by so many outside factors that the movie even addresses during a great scene involving Ellen’s several mothers and stepsister, all trying to pinpoint exactly what the root of where this all came from, even though you could make the very real argument that they’re all right, or they’re all wrong. It’s never as simple as it looks. I think the biggest thing to take away from this film is that it’s not trying to be that movie that has a traditional Hollywood happy ending. It’s much more ambiguous and thought-provoking. A story about, not necessarily the recovery, but rather the journey to want to recover, and I think that’s a really unique aspect to a story like this. About the only real problem that I have with the flick is that there is a shoehorned romance that’s built up big time, but doesn’t really go anywhere by the end of it. The relationship could have been platonic and written out just fine and wouldn’t have made the film so… detoured.

But all in all, I recommend this for anyone who is curious to get a little more aware of what anorexia is and the effect is has on the individual, both physically and mentally, as well as the people around them. It’s gripping, gritty, sprinkled with some haunting imagery, but still has an edge of warmth and hope.

My honest rating for TO THE BONE: 4/5

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BAND AID review

Oh man, if I missed out on this movie, I would have been pissed.

So, a little bit of background. To my understanding, not only is movie Zoe Lister-Jones starring in this movie, but she’s also directing it. Her debut, no less. I first became a fan of Lister-Jones on the TV show WHITNEY, the critically panned an unpopular Whitney Cummings sitcom that only ran two seasons. Personally, I kind of liked the show mostly because of the female talent, which included Lister-Jones, whom I thought was hilarious. Today, she’s part of the much more popular sitcom LIFE IN PIECES among an ensemble cast. I wish I watched more of that show, but I’m here to say that this movie is arguably one of the more anticipated movies of the week for me. Why? Again, kind of a fan of Lister-Jones and had no idea that she had a directing bone in her body. Goes to show what I know, right?

Anyway, the story looks like it’s about this married couple who can’t seem to stop fighting. They go to counseling and they decide to go through unconventional means to repair their relationship by turning their fights into song lyrics. They start a band using that platform and get some help with a neighbor. I have to admit, there does seem to be a special charm about it and, in case I haven’t said it a million and one times, I’m really excited for this project.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we have Lister-Jones (TV shows LIFE IN PIECES, NEW GIRL, and WHITNEY), Adam Pally (MIDDLE SCHOOL [2016], DON’T THINK TWICE [2016], and TV show THE MINDY PROJECT), and Fred Armisen (TV shows UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, PORTLANDIA. and SNL, and the upcoming THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE [2017]). In support… and possible cameos, we have Brooklyn Decker (BATTLESHIP [2012], JUST GO WITH IT [2011], and TV show FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES), Jamie Chung (OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY [2016], SUCKER PUNCH [2011], and TV show ONCE UPON A TIME), Colin Hanks (ELVIS & NIXON [2016], THE HOUSE BUNNY [2008], and TV show LIFE IN PIECES), Retta (MIDDLE SCHOOL and TV show PARKS AND REC), and Chris D’Elia (TV shows UNDATEABLE and WHITNEY).

Now for the crew. Directing AND writing this movie (new information) is, of course, Lister-Jones, making her directorial debut (congrats, miss), but has written for movies before, including CONSUMED (2015), LOLA VERSUS (2012), and BREAKING UPWARDS (2009), none of which I’ve heard of. Composing the score is Lucius, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Finally, the cinematographer is Hillary Spera, known for a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of.

Overall, pretty excited with this one and really want to show support for Lister-Jones. Let’s see how she does as this triple threat.

This is my honest opinion of: BAND AID

(SUMMARY)

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are a married couple that can’t stop fighting. Even therapy doesn’t seem to quite help. But, in a last ditch effort to save their marriage, they decide to turn their fights into song lyrics, which leads them to starting a garage band.

(REVIEW)

This was about to be a “Quick Review” but I enjoyed this movie so much that I wanted to give it the full treatment.

This is almost this year’s SING STREET (2016). Okay, maybe the music isn’t quite as good, but this is one of the best romance dramedies of the year.

First of all, woman of the damn hour, Lister-Jones knocks it out of the park. I feel like nearly everything she did was pitch perfect. Every emotion was nailed. If a scene was meant to be funny, it was hilarious. If it was meant to be serious, it was thought-provoking, or tear-jerking, and feels absolutely raw and real, thanks in no small part to the wonderful chemistry between Lister-Jones and Pally. The opening scene alone has perfectly intertwined smart comedy and intense drama, all because of dirty dishes. I think one of my favorite aspects of this movie is that the depiction isn’t constantly the two of them acting bitter and resentful. There’s a scene with Anna at her god-son’s birthday party and she and Ben are miserable with all the kids that are crowded around them. They escape to a bathroom in the house and share a joint where the two of them are calm and collected around each other. There’s another scene where they’ve already started their garage band and before even coming up with a song, they’re already fighting. I feel like in a lesser film, as soon as the idea for turning the fights into music would instantly have them getting along and only have one or two minor fights thrown in that last two seconds. But it’s written in a way that even though they do connect on a bizarre level doing this, they do still find reasons to argue. It feels like a very realistic portrayal of a dysfunctional couple, but at no point did I want to see them break up.

Now for the music. While I doubt they’ll find themselves among the piles of Oscar considerations next year, I did enjoy it. They’re incredibly simple and not always well played, but they’re amusing and the lack of professional play-style is certainly part of the charm. To be fair, Lister-Jones and Pally aren’t bad singers and their voices do blend well together, especially Lister-Jones’ song at the end of the movie. Damn, woman. I hope a soundtrack of sorts comes out for this because I can see myself turning on their songs to pass the time when I’m walking to work.

I’d also be lying if I said the cameos didn’t tickle me a bit. Hanks is a douche who is obnoxious while he’s talking on his phone and D’Elia flirts with Anna. Hannah Simone from NEW GIRL as the best friend, Retta from PARKS AND REC as their therapist, Angelique Cabral making a pretty fun LIFE IN PIECES reunion of sorts, and Brooklyn Decker from FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES, it was a lot of fun to see these faces.

With all the praise that I can dish out about this film, I do have a couple of problems.

The movie does succumb to that lame cliché where the characters are finally happy and find some semblance of peace, but then at the end of the second act, something contrived happens to cause them to have a gargantuan explosion of an argument that ruins everything until it’s resolution at the end. Granted, I feel like this movie does that cliché a lot better and makes a little more sense than most movies do, but it’s still distracting that it exists within the story.

And I think Lister-Jones’ history on sitcoms shines through a little too obviously. What do I mean? Weird Dave (Fred Armisen). Don’t get me wrong, Armisen is funny, sometimes downright hilarious, and even has some pretty dramatic scenes of his own. But the majority of his presence on screen is a little too goofy and out of place. You have several scenes with Anna and Ben fighting. Some of that drama gets heavy, especially when the root of their fighting is realized, creating some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film where Lister-Jones ought to be considered for an Oscar nom. But then you have scenes where Dave will stare off blankly into space before saying something that’s either random nonsense or just outright weird. A character like Dave would work in an over-the-top comedy like MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES (2016), but in a movie that deals with such harsh realities, it doesn’t fit into this story. Lister-Jones clearly knows comedy and drama, and proves that she can blend the two almost seamlessly, but this was a weird choice that I didn’t always agree with.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable film. Great comedy and drama, fantastic acting, enjoyable music, and a story that keeps you engaged and invested in the characters. Certainly not perfect, Lister-Jones can definitely improve in some areas, but this is a really good movie that I am so happy I got to see and hope to see more movies directed and written by her. It’s likely that most won’t be able to find this movie in theaters anymore, but if you get a chance to rent it, I highly recommend.

My honest rating for BAND AID: 4/5

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MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE review

Oh man, did I need a break from talking about bleak stuff.

Okay, so MIDDLE SCHOOL is based on a kids book, and I won’t lie, I’m totally reminded of the Diary of a Whimpy Kid films. Don’t they look eerily similar? Except maybe this one is a bit more cartoony? Well, give this movie credit that it at least looks like it’s meant to be exaggerated, whereas the cartoon sketches in the Diary films are just there to remind fans that it’s adapted from the books. But seriously, look at this. Kids driving cars with no consequences, a school with the most over-the-top rules that no school outside of a prison (funny enough, commented like such in the trailer) would have. What is this movie?

The film stars Griffin Gluck. Primarily a TV actor who’s been in shows like LIFE IN PIECES, ABOUT A BOY, and RED BAND SOCIETY, as well as some TV movies, he’s no stranger to the big screen. But is more prominent role is probably 2011’s JUST GO WITH IT. This movie looks to be his first starring role, so big congrats. Co-starring is Lauren Graham. A popular actress in television having been in the ever popular GILMORE GIRLS and PARENTHOOD, but has been in quite a few films as well, such as BAD SANTA (2003), MAX (2015), and EVAN ALMIGHTY (2007). Andrew Daly, from TV shows MODERN FAMILY, ADVENTURE TIME, and EASTBOUND & DOWN. Finally, Rob Riggle, from 21 JUMP STREET (2012), and TV shows NEW GIRL and WILFRED.

Now behind the scenes. Directing, we have Steve Carr, who’s done MOVIE 43 (2012), PAUL BLART: MALL COP (2009), and DADDY DAY CARE (2003). Penning the script is Kara Holden, Chris Bowman, and Hubbel Palmer. Holden hasn’t done much writing and nothing well renowned, but Bowman and Palmer wrote last week’s MASTERMINDS (2016). You can read that review and see what else they’ve done. Composing the music is Jeff Cardoni, who’s done MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES (2016), and TV shows SILICONE VALLEY and THE GRINDER. Finally, the cinematographer is Julio Macat, who’s worked on THE BOSS (2016), HOME ALONE (1990), and PITCH PERFECT (2012).

Yeah, I’m not going in with high expectations. My biggest hope is that it’s at least a tad creative with a serviceable performance from Graham. I’m not leaping for joy at the cast, certainly not behind the scenes, I’m definitely not looking forward to this, despite RottenTomatoes giving it a 62% and IMDb’s 6.4/10 (both as of 10/7/2016). This is my honest opinion of MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE.

(SUMMARY)

Talented artist, Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) has had a hard couple years, trying to recover from a personal tragedy. It has resulted in him acting out, and he’s been kicked out of too many schools. He’s down to his last one. However, the new school is closer to a prison with the most ridiculous rules imaginable. Thank goodness that he meets up with his equal trouble-making best friend (albeit a little more prideful of the fact), Leo (Thomas Barbusca). But when Rafe’s sketchbook is discovered by the dastardly Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly), and destroyed, Rafe and Leo have had enough of the man’s sainted rules and decide to fight against his system to inspire change.

(REVIEW)

While I hesitate to say that the movie is good, because a lot of the movie relies on Nickelodeon humor, there are some surprisingly well-written, even adult, moments.

When I say “Nickelodeon” humor, you might figure out what I mean by that. The antics pulled off by Rafe are so beyond the realm of possibility that it feels like this should have been a cartoon. I mean, paint in the sprinkler system, reprogramming the bell to sound like a fart, it gets pretty out there in terms of believability. Which is odd to say because the first stunt pulled it actually quite inventive: the sticky note fiasco. I mean, there’s obviously no way on Earth that this could be pulled off in a matter of a few hours, covering the Principal’s entire office, completely covering two or three hallways in the school, it’s obviously not possible, but the visual set-up is still pretty funny and creative to look at, especially when you see a sticky note portrait of VP Stricker (Retta). But none of the other pranks felt that creative.

The main problem is that this won’t

The cardinal sin of the movie: Bear (Rob Riggle), Jules’ new boyfriend who is closer to a child than the actual kids are. Never mind the fact that he is beyond unfunny in this, but his role is absolutely pointless. He’s the second plot of the movie. Notice in my summary that I only mentioned the plot of Rafe fighting his school’s system. That’s because that’s the plot you’d expect from a title called “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” You’re not thinking to yourself, “Oh, this is about a kid who has to deal with his mom’s jerk of a boyfriend.” The main story is fine on its own. You take Bear out of the movie and you get exactly what this movie suggests. Put him in it, it’s another movie entirely and instantly loses focus. This would be a fine story to put in a sequel, maybe, but not here.

To top it all off, it’s predictable. The moment this character shows up, you know exactly how it’s going to end. He’s a fine gentleman around Jules, but he’s a rotten person around the kids and everyone else. Thing is, he’s still obnoxious even around Jules. So the guy is helpful. Does that mean you have to date him, or consider marriage? Has she even thought about what the kids think if him?!

Speaking of which, why don’t they speak out against him?! I don’t recall this tactic ever used in the movie. Am I wrong?

Well… for all the ironic lack of “thinking out of the box” humor that is loaded in this movie, I can’t deny that there are a couple of saving graces.

First of all, there are some pretty funny lines.

LEO
Er… what else rhymes with [luck]?
(I don’t remember the actual word he used)

RAFE
Nothing good.

Obviously, some context is missing for you readers, but that joke was funny to me. There’s also some genuinely heartwarming moments too. So Bear wants to get rid of Rafe and send him to military school. Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), Rafe’s younger sister, overhears Bear and Jules talking about it. Rafe comes home through his bedroom window in the middle of the night and she starts crying to him about how the situation doesn’t look good. Crying that she knows she “talks a big game,” but she’s terrified of living with Bear all alone. So Rafe makes a promise to be on better behavior for her sake. Despite this scene not having very little impact in the rest of the movie, this was a legit scene. This was pure sibling bonding, right down to ending the scene with the two of them trading playful insults. Probably one of the best scenes in the entire movie.

But now… it’s time to talk about the best moment in the movie.

***SPOILERS***

***

***

The twist. Yeah, there’s a twist in here and I genuinely didn’t see it coming. Rafe’s best friend Leo is also his brother. The same brother that died prior to the story. This is blew my mind. This kids movie really went in that direction with this. I mean, never mind the technicals, how no one truly reacted to Leo when he was around, but this story actually tackles the subject of grief when dealing with the loss of family at that age. It’s handled surprisingly well. Especially at the end, how Rafe deals with finally letting Leo go… man, that hits. While I wish the rest of the movie was this well-written, it’s still a welcomed change in a lot of live-action kids movies.

***

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***END SPOILERS***

It’s not hard to see someone not liking this movie. It truly is like watching a ninety minute episode of a kid’s TV show and it won’t be for everybody. But I’ve seen a few too many opinions expressed online that this is the worst movie they’d ever seen. If that’s true, then clearly they haven’t seen many movies… hell, this year alone had some of the worst movies that had me apologizing to JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS (2015). But… I don’t hate it. Some of the visual gags were fun, some dialog was pretty funny, and those heavier moments are impressively well-executed. Does it make up for the painfully obvious subplots, and over-the-top set-up? Of course not. But it’s harmless. There’s worse movies to show your kids. In the end, I’m still recommending it… er, a soft recommendation.

My honest rating for MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE: 3/5

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And that’s all she wrote, dear readers. But this year is far from over. Halloween’s around the corner, and I’m catching up on some horror movies and classics to celebrate. My weekly picks to check out for the month:

  • PARANORMAN
  • HOUSE OF THE DEAD (it’s my favorite bad movie of all time)
  • RESIDENT EVIL: DAMNATION
  • SLITHER

I’ll be slapping out some other recommendations in the coming weeks, so let’s get to enjoying the start of the holidays!

Upcoming films 10/13/2016 – 10/20/2016

Upcoming films 10/20/2016 – 10/27/2016