Out in Theaters: ‘AMERICAN HONEY’

There comes a time in every person’s life where they fracture from the life they once knew. For many people, that demarcation arrives in the form of college but for Star (Sasha Lane) such privileges are but a pipe dream, never once considered. Rather, her life veers from its turbulent tracks with the arrival of Jake (Shia LaBeouf) a charismatic snake oil salesman-type traveling with a band of misfit teens, drinking, smoking and jamming out to Ciara, Mazzy Star and Madeintyo their way across the poverty belt of the U.S.A. Read More



Einstein said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You have to be insane to be a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Heading into tonight’s NBA Draft, I was resolved for the worst, because you can expect nothing more from one of the worst professional franchises in sport, an organization that’s run like a penny-saving ma’ and pa’ store with Enron savvy.

This is a team that’s drafted a guy they vowed not to draft because they hadn’t planned for a scenario where they wouldn’t get the guy they wanted. This is a team that puts players they don’t want into a so-called “S Box.” This is a team that drafted a 21 year old player who turned out to be 26 years old. This is a team run by Flip Saunders, a GM/Owner who hired himself as coach and wrote down his draft pick on a sheet of paper like Kevin Costner in Draft Day. And yet, here I was thinking we could get it right this time around.

We ended up getting Zach LaVine, a Point Guard from UCLA who didn’t start this year and seems to have all the qualities that would make one good at being a gazelle, and none of the talent that lends to being an actually good basketball player. He responded to being drafted by banging his head on the table and saying “Fuck me,” then proceeded to call Minnesota a “great city.” This guy’s a gem.

Somehow, I expected something better from Transformers: Age of Extinction—something sane. Maybe because Director Michael Bay’s on his fourth installation in the franchise, maybe because Mark Wahlberg is starring in it, maybe because the girl that plays Wahlberg’s daughter, Nicola Peltz, is super hot. Instead, Bay’s two and a half hour robokkake elicits the same response as Zach LaVine: “fuck me.”

In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Bay spends his seemingly endless time pouring salt on the barren wounds left by Transformers 1, 2 and 3, but this time it’s with a smirksome eff you to the audience. Everything is turnt up past 11 in this $165 million film: the jean shorts shorter; the sweat sweatier; the muscles more rippling; the cars more decadent; and worst of all, the Transformers are souped up. Dinosaur. Transformers.

Thankfully, we don’t have to struggle through another Sam Witwicky slog because Shia LaBeouf and his head-sack are nowhere to be seen. This time, we’ve got Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) as a ripped inventor whose inventions don’t work. He fixes up neighbors’ old trash for cash and builds malfunctioning robots that explode and combust, like a guard dog that couldn’t guard Zach LaVine.

He’s also an overprotective father of a gorgeous 17-year old (don’t worry I checked: she’s actually 19!) because he knocked up his wife when he was 17 and doesn’t want the same problems to befall his soon-to-be-graduated daughter. Turns out she’s hooking up with an incredibly handsome Irishman behind his back, Shane (Jack Raynor), who races cars for Red Bull. T.J. Miller (HBO’s Silicon Valley) is Wahlberg’s comic relief buddy who quickly gets burnt to a literal crisp and displayed on-screen as a carbonated trophy for a traumatic twenty seconds.

When Wahlberg finds an old rickety truck and discovers that it’s Autobot leader Optimus Prime in disguise (gasp!), the story starts to unfurl. The good Transformers who fought to save the world in Transformers 3: Revenge of the Bots are almost extinct as the government—headed by evil agent Harold Attinger (a bearded Kelsey Grammer)—tries to kill them all. Now there’s only five left.

In the mind-numbing two hours of battling and running and slow-moing and close-upping that follow, Wahlberg and friends team up with Optimus and his crew (notably John Goodman voicing a fat cigar-smoking Transformer and Ken Watanabe as a super-offensive NinjaBot) to ride some dinosaur Transformers and fight Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, a bomb called “The Seed,” a Transformer whose face is a huge gun, and some mechabot thing called Galvatron. None of this shit made any sense to me either.


Granted, visually, this film is probably the most gorgeous thing that’s ever graced a silver screen. To his credit, Bay has perfected the Transformer graphics to the point that now he’s just playing with it like an infant with a toy chest of action figurines. Explosions boom in IMAX 3D. The cars, planes, alien ships and Transformers glimmer and shriek as they come apart and fit back together. The gun-head Transformer and the DinoBots are definitely the craziest, most preposterously incredible creations Bay has ever come up with. Bugattis and Ferraris flip and twist into robots. It’s astronomically cool.

Despite the glorious IMAX 3D monster that Bay’s created to top the box office charts for months, this flick reeks of #2. He’s trolling us now: Victoria Secret ads are blown up, US Banks are crushed under a Transformer’s boot, and Wahlberg stops in the middle of all the chaos to drink a Bud Light. There was even a quick intro before the movie where everyone involved just talked about how awesome Michael Bay is. Really, Age of Extinction is one big commercial, and the product placement made it seem like Transformers had accidentally wandered into a GQ photo-shoot and just decided to blow everything up.

Optimus Prime is awesome as usual, but there’s just so much crazy and absurd stuff happening to really get anything more than a headache. Plot points are brought up then completely dropped, like when Optimus is said to need repairing and then just magically repairs himself. Close-ups of actors were too jarring in 3D, and Bay too often forces the shots in. Though Tucci and Grammer are outstanding in their villain roles, it’s problematic when you find yourself hoping the good guys lose.

Though Mark Wahlberg is great at playing Mark Wahlberg, anything involving him, Peltz and Raynor is utter garbage. We’re subjected to almost three hours of “you can’t date boys until you’re 18” discourse that never ends. Peltz’s outfits get increasingly tighter, so much so that they look—as the country-folk say—painted on. Luckily she’s really hot, which distracts from how utterly annoying the overprotective Dad shtick gets. Otherwise, my main complaint comes with hotty racer Raynor: why couldn’t he be fat and nerdy and play League of Legends? Why do these guys always have to be way too good-looking?

Age of Extinction is just too long. It’s arduous work just watching because so many things are crammed in. This film could have been an hour long, and it might’ve been fantastic. Too often it dragged out unnecessary plot and confusing battles. There’s a Jaw-like wait just to see the DinoBots. Wahlberg amps up the Wahlberg, and seems to be made out of the same stuff as the Transformers.

At the end of the night, you wonder how you ever expected anything more. History repeats itself and so does Transformers, ad nauseam. One has to wonder if Flip’s “S Box” stands for “Shit Box.” If so, cram Age of Extinction in an S Box and never let it out.


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Out in Theaters: NYMPHOMANIAC: PART 1

“Nymphomaniac: Part 1”
Directed by Lars von Trier
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark
118 Mins

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Joe, a woman looking back on her life with deep-seated scorn, hounding for condemnation, beaten and broken. We meet her lying on the knotted facade of a cobblestone street corner, caked with dark, unexplained bruises, limp and abandoned like a dove craddling a broken wing. To the head banging tune of Rammstein‘s thumping German heavy metal, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) spots Joe crumpled under a gentle but deadly snowfall. After attempts to contact the authorities are met with threats of her fleeing the scene, he takes her home for some bed rest and a steamy cup of Earl Grey.

Upon his bed, she finds in Seligman’s comfort a private confessional for her laundry list of lustful sins. Seligman is her priest, her unwavering forgiver, her absolver of indecencies past and present. From the first chapter of her life of loose sexual morals, Seligman is compassionate and curious towards Joe. It’s a first contact moment, like an alien interviewing its first human. The only way he knows how to approach her is by relating her carnal conquests to the deft arts of fly fishing.

Seligman seeks to understand the instinctual explanations behind her erotic urges, quickly transforming into a dual supporter and therapist for Joe. As she attempts to rap off her worst transgressions,  Seligman is there with a sound interpretation of why she’s not really to blame. Their offbeat relationship is entirely unique, a perversely complex dance of savior and saved, all anchored by Gainsbourg and Skaarsgard’s wonderfully grounded pair of performances.

While Gainsbourg prattles off her top of the charts, worst of the worst list of dirty deeds like a dark fairy tale narrator, Stacy Martin guides us through the experiences firsthand. From the inklings of her sexual self-discovery to her playing a game of “who can bang the most dudes on this train ride,” Joe is a force of nature and Martin’s fearless performance paves the way for her undying depth of character. Though the older, more embittered version of Joe brews with regret and self-hatred, young Joe is full of life. She wants the whole world of men, in every shape, size and color.

Joe’s sexuality is her weapon and she wields it like a long sword. Having managed to completely divorce sex from emotional connection, as her list of suitors grow so does her heartlessness. Eventually managing entire relationships by the roll of a dice, Joe gets tangled up in a hysterical middle chapter led with brutish force by an unbound Uma Thurman. It’s been years since Thurman has put her name to something so iconic and unforgettable. And in a film stuffed with fantastic performances, hers is an implausible highlight, impossible to ignore. Her brief vignette brings humor and hardship to the table, serving them up as the same dish, indistinguishable and essential as one and the same.

In this marriage of comedy and tragedy, Trier mines the unparalleled success of Nymphomaniac. Captured through an admirable stripped down cinesphere of grubby locales and queued with a truly bipolar score, the technical aspects surrounding the film are a deft house of cards. Without cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro‘s grim but provocative pictures, the uninviting hospitality of Trier’s landscape would lose its oddly captivating appeal. In a way, Joe’s scarred humanity is a victim of circumstance, a product of his European bleakness.

Through all, Joe’s often brutal, cold mentality is accented by Trier’s uncharacteristically warm and understanding direction. For all her self-deprecation, we’re left wondering what to make of her tidal wave of remorse, especially in a patriarchal society. Would an older gentleman display such penitence? Obviously not. Is her unscrupulous vaginal record the fault of her ice queen mother? A few hours in, we haven’t yet pinpointed the source of Joe’s despondent temperament but we’re beginning to understand. And though old Joe may be depressive, Trier’s film most certainly is not.

An oddball combination for sure, it’s truly a wonder that Nymphomaniac works as well as it does, especially considering that this is only the first part of an ongoing saga (and you definitely feel the punch of a truncated story). One might have thought that nearly five hours of sexual confession (and one montage of penises) is too much. After seeing the first two hours though, all I can say is bring on part 2.


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CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN Trailer Means Make or Break Time For Shia LaBeouf


Charlie Countryman’s newly released red band trailer looks very… adult? Shia LaBeouf is trying hard to break into more artistic filmmaking, but he’s still Shia LeBeouf. He still hasn’t risen to the occasion and brought a stand out performance to the table. He will always be the Even Stevens kid who was in that Indiana Jones movie that no one likes.  Watching him in a red band trailer is akin to watching your 13 year old sister smoke a cigarette. It feels as inauthentic and try-hard as the beard and slick hair LaBeouf wears in this trailer.

From what the trailer gives us, it seems LaBeouf has been fooling around with the wrong lady, getting on the wrong side of the always badass Mads Mikkelsen. Not much else is revealed, which is an amazing quality for a trailer to have. It looks surreal, violent, intense, and kind of awesome. Still, the trailer gives a feeling in the pit of the stomach, as if it’s saying “Look how gritty and independent I am.” Hopefully that’s not the case. But all too often films like this fall into the style-over-substance category. What we’ve learned from Shia LeBeouf is that he usually joins projects that have neither.

Perhaps the cynicism is unwarranted. Perhaps LaBeouf is as brilliant as the trailer claims him to be. It remains to be seen. Labeouf’s other new film is Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomanic. If Von Trier saw something in him, perhaps he has potential.

Charlie Countryman is directed by Fredrik Bond and stars Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, and Rupert Grint. There is no  no official theatrical release date yet.