Posts Tagged ‘Brie Larson’

It’s been awhile, but I figured since we’re all stuck in, this is a good time for me to get back to writing (and you to reading).

After taking a bit of a Brie Break, I decided to finally hunker down (since we’re basicallyIMG_20200330_124857 being forced to hunker) and watch Brie Larson’s directorial debut, the Netflix original Unicorn Store. Obviously, Larson is not the first actor to test her skills behind the camera, and she even made this list of 12 female “bad-ass” actor/directors. I don;t know if she has reached the “bad-ass” plateau just yet, or if she belongs on the same list as Greta Gerwig when it comes to directing, but if Drew Barrymore can make the top 12, then I guess we’ll go with it.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with her directing. In fact, Unicorn Store is a very fine first effort, and according to The Rotten Tomatoes Critic Consensus (and Matt Dursin agrees), the film is, “easy to like — and it suggests Brie Larson has a future behind the camera.” So, here’s the rundown of what this little film is about:

Kit (played by Larson) is described (by IMDB) as a twenty-something dreamer, a recent art school drop-out, in fact, who is now living at home with her weird, earthy-crunchy parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford. Seriously, whenever Hollywood needs a weird Dad, they call Bradley Whitford). After getting some bad reviews from her art professors for her whimsical, or just plain childish art, she decides all of that art crap isn’t for her and she gets a job. She in fact gets a temp job at an ad agency, and her role is to photocopy magazine ads. Despite the fact that it’s her first job, and her boss is a creep, she starts figuring it out pretty quick, and one day receives an invitation while at work to a store that, according to said invitation, is right up her alley. Kit discovers that no one else in the office received this invitation, so she finds it a little bizarre, but decides to check it out. She follows the directions to a nondescript building, and inside finds the answer to all of life’s problems: Samuel L. Jackson.

MV5BYzMzMjNjYzQtMmMzYy00NzI0LWI3MTktNDg4NWE2OTU0Mzk5XkEyXkFqcGdeQW1yb3NzZXI@._V1_CR0,12,620,349_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_

I’m kidding. Well, sort of. She does find Samuel L. Jackson (whom Larson became great friends with while working on Captain Marvel, over the fact that he brought his light-saber to set one day), but the cure for all life’s ills is the fact that this is, in actuality, a Unicorn Store! Yes, if you can prove yourself worthy, and prove that you will love and take good care of this unicorn, you can take one home.

Kit is obviously ecstatic about this, and decides to prove she is worthy by building a proper stable in her parents’ backyard to house her unicorn. She hires a local hardware store employee, and promptly bonds with him for this task. She then sets about doing other weird things to prove herself worthy, including giving a presentation with a few co-workers that tries to make a vacuum cleaner seem interesting, and forge an understanding with her bizarre parents. It’s a little bit like Groundhog’s Day, I suppose, without the in-your-face comedy.

I won’t spoil the ending, but that’s basically what it is; a little Groundhog’s Day, with some Benny & Joon thrown in, with a side of every other movie about growing up ever made. So you might think that I wouldn’t like it because it borrows from so many other movies, but that isn’t true. It was actually a fun, harmless, whimsical movie that was sorely needed in this time of quarantine. It’s not a great movie, but it is, as the review says, “easy to like.”

My biggest problem with it at the beginning was that I thought it was a little too much like Benny & Joon, the 1993 rom-com starring pre-creeper Johnny Depp that is really only notable for giving the world “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers. Similar to Unicorn Store, Benny & Joon is “easy to like,” and most people who came of age in the early 90’s, like I did, probably remember the song fondly, but it’s not really a movie that leaves much of an impression or says a whole lot, except, I guess, love conquers all, which is what most early 90’s movies said, including Terminator 2.

I thought the two movies were similar for another reason, though, because I thought early on in Unicorn Store that Kit was, like Joon, mentally challenged. They never really say what her ailment is, but she exhibits a variety of symptoms which could point to dissociative identity disorder, OCD, Asperger’s and post-traumatic stress disorder. Really, it’s not crucial, but is why Joon is such a sympathetic character, because it is a huge hurdle to overcome. Kit, as it turns out, is really just an emotionally-stunted artist. I guess we’re supposed to believe that she’s just been living this freebird life, or that her parents messed her up with their hippie-ness, but when she has a nice heart-to-heart with her mother, it is revealed that they’re not really all that strange, but more that Kit just was too young and, let’s face it, daffy to understand. Her mother, Gladys, actually has the most quotable line in the movie when she tells Kit, “The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you care about.” Which is all she needed to hear, really. In fact, now that I think about it, if they had written Kit as a mentally-challenged person, like Joon, then it would have pretty much been the same movie, but you would have looked at her differently as a viewer. She does have her big moment of realization at the end, but in the end, all she really overcame was her own whackiness.IMG_20200330_124902

Still, if that’s my only complaint about a movie, then that’s pretty good, coming from me.  As someone who is hyper-critical of movies (in case you haven’t noticed), this one was actually refreshing in its simplicity. I’m glad that I can still enjoy a little movie with fun, little ideas, directed by someone who no doubt has big goals. And if Brie Larson decides to direct again, I think that will bump her up to that “bad-ass” category.

 

 

Before I start talking about the movie being focused on in this post, I wanted to call attention to the post-credit scene for Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t seen it, well, what the Hell? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, yes, Nick Fury was “paging” Captain “Brie Larson” Marvel. And for anyone who thinks that maybe she’s not cut out to be a super-hero, please click here. It’s literally a 20-second video, but you’ll be impressed.

But this post isn’t about Cadownloadptain Marvel. It’s about a very different movie, in fact; the Joseph Gordon-Leavitt/Scarlet Johansson (with some great Julianne Moore on the side) vehicle Don Jon. If you are unfamiliar with this movie, it’s definitely worth your time, and probably not what you were expecting from the trailers, which made it seem like this lovely, little rom-com where a guy meets a girl and they go through the motions and end up together and happy at the end. So, if you’re looking for something a little different, here we go:

Jon (Gordon-Leavitt) is one of those Jersey guys who loves his nice car, his swank apartment, his crazy family (and who wouldn’t? His Dad is played by Tony Danza), and his hot women. His friends constantly marvel at the fact that he meets “a ten” literally every weekend. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, the pleasure that he gets from these women pales in comparison to the pleasure he gets from watching internet porn. Seriously, guy watches a lot of porn, and goes through a lot of tissues. Not sure if he’s an addict, but he’s at least bordering on being one.

He meets Barbara, (Scarjo) and is flummoxed when she plays a little hard-to-get by not sleeping with him right away. This drives him to want to be with her even more. She is from a more affluent upbringing, however, so she tries to mold him into something a little more respectable. She encourages him to take night classes to better himself. The relationship progresses and they finally sleep together, but Jon still prefers the porn (because he can “lose himself.” Also, he doesn’t have to have actual conversations with the porn actors.) Barbara catches him watching a porn video, and is livid, but he claims that it was just a joke sent to him by a friend. She tells him “no more porn,” but that only lasts until the moment he discovers that he can just watch it on his phone. There is a classic moment when he is caught watching a video on his phone by Esther, one of his classmates played by the amazing Julianne Moore. Instead of judging him like Barbara, Esther laughs and says, “Oh my God! Are you watching porn?” and it actually helps them forge a cool bond.

Barbara and Jon continue to have issues (She feels that him cleaning his own apartment is beneath him, for example.), and eventually, she breaks up with him when she checks his browser history and sees that the one video that was supposedly sent to him as a joke was not an isolated incident. Man, even his noob friends point out that he really should have deleted his history.

After the break-up, Jon begins a bit of a downward spiral, and Esther begins to lend him her wisdom. She also lends him a video that she says has a more realistic depiction of actual sex: a Danish erotic film from the 70’s that she says is “pretty hot.” That only pushes him to initiate sex with her. She then encourages him to maybe quit the porn, and even try masturbating without it. She suggests that maybe he could lose himself in a real person. This ends up being pretty life-changing, as he eventually does lose himself in Esther, after learning that she lost her husband and son in a car accident, and discovering what a strong and incredible person she is for overcoming all that, and he can have sex with her and not have to run to his computer after. So, there you go. That’s his arc. End scene.

But wait, “isn’t this a blog about Brie Larson?” you may ask. Is she even in this movie? Of course, and she has a pivotal role. She plays Jon’s sister Monica, and Brie, a future Oscar-winner, and Marvel Cinematic Universe flag-bearer has all of one line in Don Jon. But it’s still a very important role. See, Jon is very close to his family, and they all love Barbara when he first brings her home. But as the relationship progresses, Monica has some thoughts about how it’s playing out. She doesn’t reveal them at first, as while the rest of the family continually discuss the topic, she spends most of the movie like this:

giphy

Naturally, I thought it was a bit of a waste of a good actress, and they were trying to make some kind of comment on millennials always being on their phones while life passes them by. I was foolishly missing the fact that she is clearly observing what’s going on, but clearly letting everyone figure out their own problems. When it comes up at a family meal that Barbara and Jon have broken up, and Jon’s mother goes ballistic because all she wants is grandchildren, causing his Dad to also go ballistic, Monica finally speaks amid the chaos, at first drowned out by the TV, and says:

tumblr_myt6h3vjkj1rcdgd0o1_250

Monica is the only one who consoles her brother by rightly pointing out that Barbara wanted a guy who would just do whatever she wants. She also looks Jon right in the face and tells him that it’s “a good thing” they broke up. In their family dynamic, it was all about getting married and having a family, and Barbara was the right girl for that, even if Jon wasn’t sure he wanted to do all that now. I personally know many marriages that went down this way, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As fun and compelling as that scene is (and as fun as it is to watch Tony Danza play the angry old, Dad), what really worked for me was the movie’s take on porn. The IMDB parental advisory warning says

  • This move might be difficult to watch since there is such an extremely strong portrayal of desire for women in “porn” as objects for gratification without consideration of the feelings of the women however there is a corresponding portrayal of a healthy attitude about sex and women.

I have to admit that I find this mildly amusing, and even though I’m not a parent, I guess I understand the rationale there. I am picturing a very concerned stay-at-home Mom, not unlike Jon’s mother, perhaps, sitting at her keyboard typing that, feeling the need to tell the world that this movie portrays the women in porn as “objects,” as if we didn’t know. Because of course, we should all consider the feelings of women starring in the porno video in a fictitious movie. Joking aside, yes, we should not look at any women as objects, and despite this poster’s lack of correct punctuation, we should definitely applaud them for pointing out that the movie also shows us “a healthy attitude” about women and sex, which I guess was Esther’s role. I’m not sure that’s what the writers of the movie were going for exactly, but at least this person didn’t go on IMDB just to rip on the politics of Don Jon.

In reality, Jon’s porn addiction is clearly a cover-up for deeper intimacy issues, and I was pleasantly surprised that the movie didn’t portray him as some sickie simply because the dude likes his adult flicks. He’s actually a nice guy who is very religious, loves his friends and family, but is feeling such enormous pressure to get married and have kids, that he is having trouble connecting with anyone on an emotional level. That’s what he sees in the women in the videos he watches; they’re not necessarily “objects,” but they are women that he never has to connect with in real life. A lot of movies have men with these kinds of intimacy issues, but I can’t think of too many that handle it this way. Just like a lot of movies have male characters obsessed with porn, and almost all of them are portrayed as one-dimensional, horny assholes. That’s where this movie gets it right.

This is all exemplified by Esther. She doesn’t judge him for his porn-watching, his station in life, and she certainly doesn’t judge him for cleaning his own apartment. She’s like a Manic Pixie Dream-girl without the manic (and ok, without the pixie, but she’s pretty beautiful.) She does not judge him, but in fact, tries to show him a better way. And succeeds, as does the movie. Jon and Esther are then free to lose themselves in each other, and we’re freed from another boring romantic comedy.

To wrap things up here, Brie Larson was still a couple years away from an Oscar, but she was definitely starting to make waves. I’ll be back soon to recap more of her journey to the big time, but until there, watch that workout video. Seriously.

main-proof-that-brie-larson-is-training-hard-af-1525324407

 

 

Movies Since Last Post:

Digging for Fire
Everything Must Go
Nightcrawler
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Bridge of Spies
Almost Famous
The End of the Tour

 

I had been trying to come up with a cool name for this silly project that previously had the exhilarating title of “2017 – A Year of Movies.” I thought it was a funny title seeing as how I happened upon several Brie Larson movies, and I also was hoping it would maybe get me a few more hits if some people were Googling “Brie Larson.” Or even “Brie Larson side boob.”

brie-larson-sideboob-look

Yep. I Googled it.

Speaking of Larson, the selection for this post was intentional: the little-seen indie Digging for Fire, where she plays a small role as a young co-ed who is kinda-sorta courted by Jake Johnson. I can’t really say I didn’t like this movie, but I didn’t hate it. The story is that young parents Johnson and Rosemarie Dewitt are hitting all kinds of ruts, financially, romantically and just in general feeling old and grumpy as they house-sit for a much-richer couple. She and their young son go to spend a weekend with her mother so they can have some Me time. He spends it by inviting some of his crazy party-animal friends over and doing some drugs, and she spends it getting seduced by Orlando Bloom. One of Jake’s druggie friends had invited some girls over, one of whom was played by Brie Larson. Now, of course, because young screenwriters are really doughy-eyed, Johnson and Dewitt resist all urges and realize that all they really want is each other, and to raise their child as they see fit and to Hell with the pressures of the world (Yay!). The problem is the movie presents them both as such depressed (and depressing) losers that I was kind of rooting for them to cheat, if for no other reason than to make the hour-and-a-half I just spent watching it seem worthwhile.

orlando-bloom-is-digging-for-fire

I mean, you gotta nail that down

And the fact that they cast Orlando Bloom as Dewitt’s suitor? Come on. After that romantic walk on the beach they took, even I wanted to jump him. The note I made in my spreadsheet next to this movie was, ” I love when Hollywood people try to pretend they’re real people.”

But these posts aren’t supposed to just be about the movies themselves. They are about my observations with regards to how they are consumed, and in some instances, why they are consumed. One thing I noticed about most of this crop of movies is that they seemed like vanity projects. I know for a fact that Ghost in the Shell was something that has been in the works for years. Everything Must Go (based on a story by Raymond Carver) struck me as one of those movies that Will Farrell does once in a while to show people that he is a “real actor.” Bridge of Spies was one of those Spielberg/Hanks collaborations that was designed to make you think, which is pretty much all Spielberg does these days (and after the reviews for B.F.G, maybe he should stick to historical drama.) And Almost Famous was a sometimes funny take on Cameron Crowe’s days as a reporter for Rolling Stone, obviously a movie that he wanted to make, and after the success of Jerry Maguire, had the power to do so. Not that these were not good movies on a certain level, but the only one that had any real teeth to it was Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal’s frightening portrayal of a freelance news cameraman who ends up making the news that he’s attempting to capture. Definitely an eye-opening movie, if for no other reason than to remind the world that Jake Gyllenhaal can actually act.

In the vein of vanity projects, I want to talk about The End of the Tour, based on David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course, You End Up Becoming Yourself: My Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, which is a pretty cool title, but I understand why a movie studio wouldn’t think it very marketable. It is a very interesting take on Wallace (Jason Seagal) and how he dealt with fame and success after the release of his book Infinite Jest. Seeing that he committed suicide, it seems not so well, but there’s definitely layers to this movie (and more than just “the Cold War was bad,” like Bridge of Spies.)

Anyway, the basic premise is that Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), a writer for Rolling Stone, hears that this Infinite Jest book is basically Shakespeare, and is rather annoyed at the praise (basically because he just released a book to mild apathy.) Lipsky then reads the book and discovers that it is that damn good, and asks his boss if he can interview Wallace for Rolling Stone, and follows him for a few days as Wallace is wrapping up his book tour.(Side-note: after watching this and Almost Famous back-to-back, it was weird to think that Rolling Stone, and magazines in general, were actually relevant not too long ago.) Lipsky has this sort of puppy-love for Wallace, even before meeting him, basically because he wants that level of success and respect, only to realize that even David Foster Wallace doesn’t actually want to be David Foster Wallace. Wallace is very self-conscious about how he will come across in Lipsky’s article, mostly because he is afraid of sounding like a self-righteous douche. He is, in fact, anything but, as he generally is portrayed as a kind of lonely guy who lives in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois with his dogs and likes to write, but isn’t really all that concerned if anyone likes his books. Obviously, Lipsky is the complete opposite, and can’t wrap his head around why this beatnick doesn’t care about anything.

There’s a funny scene where Lipsky asks Wallace why he wears a bandanna all the time. Wallace’s answer is that he used to sweat a lot, and it kept the sweat out of his eyes, and it eventually just became a type of security blanket. It’s a perfectly reasonable (if not very sexy for readers of Rolling Stone) response, but Wallace is nervous that he will come off as being a little high-and-mighty, like some super-genius who is too good to even comb, let alone wash, his hair. Again, that is not even close to being true, but Wallace is so worried about being perceived as pretentious that he is completely neurotic about it. He is not too worried about his writing being accepted by the public, but he definitely doesn’t want the public to think he’s a prick.

There’s another layer when Lipsky, after being pressured by his boss, asks Wallace about the time he was institutionalized years earlier, because the common belief was that it was because of a heroin addiction. Wallace is incredibly insulted by this, citing that the only addiction he’s ever had was television (which is depicted very clearly and hilariously in the movie). He tells Lipsky that he was just incredibly unhappy, so unhappy that people assumed he turned to heroin to make himself feel better (The movie does gloss over Wallace’s many foibles, like sleeping with his students, excessive drinking, and even stalking women that he was attracted to. I guess being a TV addict just made him more likable.) Wallace compares his depression to a person jumping out the window of a burning building because the perception that burning to your death is worse than falling to it. The real reason he was so unhappy, at least, the way I read it, was because he had broken up with his girlfriend. It’s never made explicit, but Wallace gets very angry at Lipsky for hitting on his ex right in front of him, so yeah, I made that jump. Truly, that’s probably the best reason to be unhappy that’s ever been. Loneliness is certainly a more plausible reason for depression than, “Fame was too much for me, man.” (I’m looking at you, Cobain!)

I could go on, but the reason this movie spoke to me was because I could see both sides of the coin. As a schlub who has written comic books that I wish sold better (which can be purchased here!), I could identify with Lipsky. You put your heart and soul into something you really love, you want people to like it as much as you do, and maybe make a little salad at the same time. However, as my life has gone on, and I’ve met some comic book professionals, I can also see a little bit of Wallace’s point. He’s a regular guy suffering from depression who happens to be blessed with great intelligence, but all he wants is to be regular, and have someone to talk about his day with when he gets home. I admit that I don’t know much about the real David Foster Wallace (although he apparently taught at Emerson for a little while in 1991, so I guess I just missed him.), but if he’s anything like the comic book professionals I have met, I do understand him. No one gets into comics because they want to become rich. They just have some creativity to spare and a need to express themselves, one way or another. I doubt that Wallace wrote a 1,000-plus page novel figuring that it would be The One. You could say he just got lucky, although considering how it ended up for him, you would probably be wrong.

As I said, however, I do understand Wallace on some level. I have enjoyed writing comics, but one thing I really do not enjoy is trying to get people to read them. He really didn’t like his book tour. He didn’t seem too happy to be featured in Rolling Stone. But he did seem to like having Lipsky around to talk to, and that’s pretty much all anyone could ask for.

As a film student at Emerson in 1997 (which I realize was now 20 years ago), I was taking Film Writing & Design with a horrible professor who told me that all people in Hollywood watch movies constantly, like literally that’s all they do. I think he actually said, “hundreds a year.” So I thought I would make a list of all the movies I watched that year and see if I matched up. I worked in a video store and got free rentals, so I thought it would be easy to make a decent number. This list only included movies that were new to me, so even though, for example, I saw Star Wars in a theater that year, that didn’t count because, even though it was the Special Edition, I had seen it before (many, many times). I made it to about 100 movies, I think, which kind of surprised me being that it was so low, and probably wouldn’t have gotten into any Hall of Fame in Hollywood.

Back in 1997, though, you didn’t have too many opportunities to see new movies. You either saw them in a theater or rented them in a video store. I know there were movies channels on cable, but my parents didn’t subscribe to them because my mother was convinced that they just showed the same movies over and over. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but it wasn’t until I became a functional adult that I made up for lost time by subscribing to every movie channel I could. I know this may be snobbish, but I don’t really count watching them on a regular channel, like TBS or something. Something about the commercials just ruins the experience for me.

But in 2017, there are many ways to watch movies, so I decided to try again. Obviously, the method would be a little different this time around. Sadly, video stores are no more, although there are many uses for those old VHS tapes, as you can see:

09bdbff5b4790ed0ac831bcafe532e60.jpg

Anyway, I would try to watch as many new (to me) movies as possible, and catalog them. And not in a spiral notebook like in 1997. This time, I could use a spreadsheet on Google Drive, with the date I watched it and also how I watched it. I thought that by the end of the year, it could be a cool way to examine how we watch movies nowadays (or it could just be a whole lot of nothing).

So, as of this writing (March 5th), I have watched 13 movies. Again, not breaking any records, but I was already a few weeks into January when I decided to do this, so I probably would have watched a couple more if I was actually trying. February was a big month, with 8 movies watched, with half of them being watched on Amazon Prime video. March promises to be even bigger, as I’ve already watched 3 movies (Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, and Logan), and it’s only the 5th. I also somehow managed to watch three Brie Larson movies in a row. I honestly didn’t even know she had made that many movies. She is a great actress, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to her as Captain Marvel.

captain_marvel_

 

The one observation I can make now, and it’s a pretty obvious one, is that watching movies on a computer has changed the game completely. It’s a really interesting way to consume them, in fact, because as a younger, snobbier man, I didn’t really like watching a movie, stopping it at some point, going to do something else, and then coming back to it (even though you could certainly do that with a VCR tape, and I did, but it always felt like cheating somehow). I always thought that movies were meant to be enjoyed in a single sitting. Now, either because I’m just older and I just don’t care, or because of the technology, I feel like it’s cool to just pause it on your computer and go back when you want. In fact, most of the movies that I’ve watched on Amazon and Xfinity OnDemand have taken me days to watch, and I don’t think it diminished my enjoyment of them (if I indeed enjoyed them at all.) Maybe it was because video store rentals had to be returned after a couple days, but my Amazon Prime movies don’t need to be returned, as long as I pay that bill.

Speaking of paying, another interesting aspect of this experiment thus far is that out of 13 movies, I have only paid for four of them, being The LEGO Batman movie, Get Out, Logan and The Spectacular Now (yeah, I spent money to rent that one on Amazon, and that was a bit of a mistake.) Now, I do pay for Amazon Prime and I pay a cable bill that allows me to watch movies on the Xfinity website, but I don’t know if I’m contributing to a film’s gross by doing that. I will say, though, that it makes it easier to watch a lot of movies when you don’t have to directly pay for them (Or leave the house! Even getting free video rentals in 1997 didn’t make it this easy.)

My one fear? That the math will catch up to me. I know myself, and even though there are thousands of movies available to me, right at my fingertips no less, there are also thousands of them that I literally have no desire to see. So, after 13 movies in just over two months, I’m on pace to watch a couple hundred, and my concern is that there aren’t actually that many movies that I want to see. I mean, I may not be paying directly for them, but, time is money. So, do I want to spend my time on them?

We shall see. I’ll update my progress periodically, so stay tuned.