Talking Movies

September 17, 2014

Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff finally follows up Garden State, but his second film as director suggests he needed Kickstarter money for reasons other than control of casting…

o-ZACH-BRAFF-WISH-I-WAS-HERE-facebook

Braff plays Aidan Bloom, an actor who hasn’t worked for quite some time. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports his dream financially with her boring job, and his disappointed father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays the tuition to send Aidan’s children Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King) to a private school. The catch is it’s a Hebrew private school, leading to a religious divide between the three generations with Aidan and Sarah out in the non-kosher cold. When Gabe’s cancer returns Aidan is forced to attempt to simultaneously home-school his children to save money, reconcile his equally underachieving brother Noah (Josh Gad) with Gabe while there’s time, defend his wife against her sleazy co-worker Jerry (Michael Weston), defeat rival actor Paul (Jim Parsons) for a lucrative role, and deal with the infuriating Rabbis Twersky (Allan Rich) and Rosenberg (Alexander Chaplin)…

It’s been nine and a half years since Garden State was released here, but all those skills are still there. The indie musical cues, the deadpan comedy, the unexpected drama – all stand present and correct, but the novelty and charm are gone. Braff’s script with his brother Adam is terribly muddled. Wish I Was Here, despite an unlikely Othello gag, isn’t very funny, and some sequences (Braff pretending to be an old Hispanic…) are just uncomfortable, because, shockingly, Braff’s not very likeable. There’s a crudity to these Brothers Bloom, and even Noah’s crush Janine (an unrecognisable Ashley Greene), that is quite off-putting; and which makes the sub-plot with Jerry problematic, despite a delightfully unexpected touch, because it needs more context for us to understand why only his ribaldry is unacceptable. In fact everything feels like it needs more context, but the film already feels far longer than its 106 minutes; it is that unenviable paradox – both too short and too long. And it also rehashes scenes we’ve seen done better in Studio 60 (the unexpected positive result of a disinterested mitzvah) and Modern Family (the underprepared casual adult teacher being supplanted at the blackboard by his smarter driven student relative).

Wish I Was Here attempts to deal with heavy themes, but Gabe’s terminal illness is terribly manipulative, to the point that you’d reject Aidan and Noah reconciling with him as a mere plot contrivance, because it doesn’t feel earned. Braff is no Michael Chabon when it comes to scrutinising American Jewish identity. The glibly sarcastic agnosticism of Braff and Hudson’s characters is largely the reason they’re acted off the screen by Patinkin and King. Braff seems unaware that proudly reminiscing to the sincere and kindly Rabbi Rosenberg about how he had a double bacon cheeseburger right after his Bar Miztvah is more likely to make us sympathise with Gabe’s disappointment than cheer on Aidan. Aidan and Sarah admit they have no identity, no advice, no metaphysical certainty; all Tucker has learnt is Aidan’s flip attitude. Gabe has bequeathed Grace the Jewish faith, language, and cultural identity. Aidan belatedly ripostes by reciting ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost and ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ by TS Eliot… Joyce wanted applause for his Jewish hero in Ulysses, but his Bloom ate a pork kidney because Joyce, like Braff, lacked the imaginative empathy to create a hero who took his faith seriously.

Garden State was an unexpected gem, but Wish I Was Here suggests that Braff has actually emotionally regressed as a writer since even as his ambition has soared ahead.

2/5

Advertisements

March 12, 2014

Veronica Mars in Dundrum and Dundrum Only

I was doubtful that it would even get a cinema release here, but come Friday Veronica Mars will open exclusively in Movies at Dundrum, and the premiere’s already sold out.

veronica-mars-movie-07

Veronica Mars ran from 2004 to 2007 but now, just like Firefly, it has risen from the ashes of unjust cancellation on TV to sneak into cinemas to continue its story. Kristen Bell has never quite found the equal of her iconic role as the teen detective, and creator Rob Thomas’ 90210 reboot never quite hit the heights he’s capable of, so it’s nice to see them reunited for more sleuthing. And, owing to the movie’s small budget being raised by fans on Kickstarter, there’s no question of dumbing things down for a cinema audience unaware of who the beloved characters are – indeed some websites have hailed this as a first: a movie made for the fans because they’re the people who paid for it.

And for that reason Veronica Mars: FBI has been deemed non-canonical by Thomas, because it made it too hard to reunite the cast. So instead rising legal eagle Veronica returns from NYC to sunny and class-ridden Neptune, CA to attend her high school reunion. Present and correct are loyal friends Mac (Tina Majorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III), 09er nemesis Madison (Amanda Noret) and frenemy Dick (Ryan Hansen). Dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) remains a sage, warning against the obvious peril of insipid college boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) being replaced in her affections by roguish high school ex Logan (Jason Dohring), who is once again accused of murder and so asking for V’s help. Just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in…

Thomas as good as hinted in commentary on season 3’s finale that Piz couldn’t win in the long run against Logan, so here’s hoping that, come Friday, we see the sparks of ‘epic love’ spanning ‘decades and continents’ fire up.

veronica-mars-movie-has-a-release-date

October 10, 2013

Did Theodor Herzl Propose Israel as a Kickstarter Project?

Simon Schama’s recent documentary The Story of the Jews piqued my interest in Theodor Herzl’s 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State, but, interesting as the text is, I didn’t expect it to feel quite so contemporary…

Theodor Herzl

Herzl, writing in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, advocated systematic transference of Jewish people and their property to a newly constituted homeland in either the Argentine or Palestine. To carry out this massive exodus he proposed two massive organisations, the Society of Jews and the Company of Jews, be formed. The Society of Jews would be the diplomatic and spiritual face of the Zionist enterprise, charged with encouraging Jewish emigration, and convincing the international powers to facilitate the creation of the new nation, while the Company of Jews would be the practical holding company concerned with arranging transportation, construction in the new state, and, most importantly, the systematic realisation of Jewish assets in their adopted countries to enable wealth to transfer to the new homeland without massive economic disruption in their adopted countries or unnecessary impoverishment of the new homeland. And it’s in describing how the massive working capital for the Company of Jews might be raised that I did a double-take on recognising a very familiar contemporary concept….

“The Company’s capital might be raised, without the intermediary of a syndicate, by means of direct subscription on the part of the public. Not only poor Jews, but also Christians who wanted to get rid of them, would subscribe a small amount to this fund. A new and peculiar form of the plebiscite would thus be established, whereby each man who voted for this solution of the Jewish Question would express his opinion by subscribing a stipulated amount.This stipulation would produce security. The funds subscribed would only be paid in if their sum total reached the required amount, otherwise the initial payments would be returned. But if the whole of the required sum is raised by popular subscription, then each little amount would be secured by the great numbers of other small amounts.” (p.60)

So, um, did Theodor Herzl sort of propose the state of Israel as the first Kickstarter Project back in 1896??

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.