What is Love?

Love is Strange

I believe Love is Strange is a hard movie to describe and its writer-director Ira Sachs would probably agree with me, because how else does a film such as this end up with a title so unremarkable? This worries me, because bubbling under the surface of that generic title and slightly tricky to explain premise is a beautifully acted, moving story that deserves more attention than it’s probably getting. I don’t know, I don’t carefully follow these things and I’ve already forgotten what this movie was called.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been together forever and have finally been given a chance to marry each other. This is considered unacceptable by the Catholic school where George teaches music, and he is consequently unfairly terminated. Suddenly without their main source of income, the newlyweds have to turn to their friends and family for help: they can no longer afford their apartment and need someone to house them until they can find a new place. Unfortunately, no one has a spare room in the city, which means that Ben has to go stay with nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan), with whom he shares a bunk bed, even though that kid’s an only child. Meanwhile George gets to party, party, party with his former neighbors, one of whom is played by Cheyenne Jackson, who, like in his role in 30 Rock, plays an interesting character I’d like to see more of but never get a chance to.

So given that setup, what kind of movie does this want to be? Is it going to be a comedy about elderly, cultured people adapting to the crazy lifestyle of their new roommates? A little bit, yeah. Is it going to be a social issues movie, pointing out problems with the way we society treats homosexual people, the aged, the artistic, or the weird? There’s some of that in here. Is it going to just go straight up romantic and show that as they grow further apart geographically, their love grows even more? That’s definitely a part of it. But Love is Strange isn’t any of those movies exactly and I left the theater not really knowing what I was supposed to get out of it.

Of course, how resonant Love is Strange is for you is not something I can predict. All I can tell you that this movie is worth your time for the acting chops on display alone. Alfred Molina gets some beautiful moments, George is the one who has to directly confront discrimination and the frustrations of losing power of your own life. But John Lithgow absolutely devours this movie as Ben, the soft-spoken half of the couple. If you think of Lithgow as only able to play homicidal sociopaths and over-the-top aliens, here’s a reminder that he can handle what’s in-between those extremes as well.

There are several subplots in Love is Strange that I can’t quite figure out. This is my problem. I’m a 25-year-old single dude who technically still lives at home – I don’t have all the answers, certainly not in regard to the big things like life, family, and real companionship. I don’t have it all figured out. After all, love is strange.

Stream Police Ep 08: Keep the Lights On

This week Michael and John review filmmaker Ira Sach’s half-autobigraphical 2012 drama, Keep the Lights On , along with sharing some of their favorite films of 2014. Also, there are apparently five Prophecy movies but only three with Christopher Walken. If you find that even remotely interesting then check us out!

Bone Buddies

The Skeleton Twins

I don’t want to say Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig “won” this most recent era of SNL, but (with apologies to Fred Armisen) I’m not sure that anyone else was able to display such a wide range of comedic skills that were so naturally suited for the show’s tried-and-true format.  Though at the same time, Hader and Wiig both seem to have such distinct and offbeat personas that it’s been hard to say what exactly their post-SNL years will hold for them.  In movies, Hader’s so far been relegated almost exclusively to playing bit parts, except of course for his lead voice-work as a guy who gets smited by God with a plague of fried food (I think that’s what those movies are about, right?)  And judging from Wiig’s first few projects since leaving Studio 8H, she’s been more inclined to take her talents to low-key indie projects, though none of them so far have gotten a ton of acclaim.  So with The Skeleton Twins it’s been nice to see a film that not only puts them both front and center, but also makes full use of their comedic (and dramatic) range.

The subject of suicide is a big part of The Skeleton Twins and its titular siblings’ lives, and suitably enough it starts with the attempted suicide of Milo (Bill Hader).  His sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig), hasn’t found herself in a much happier place, but nonetheless takes it upon herself to let Milo come home and stay with her and her likably boring husband (Luke Wilson, who does likably boring just about as well as anybody).  This then devolves into the two of them coming to terms with their past, a lot of which has to do with the mistakes they’ve made since high school, as well as their shared daddy issues.  Surprisingly, The Skeleton Twins manages to pack quite a bit of plot development into what is essentially a stripped down character study.  Which sometimes feels a little forced, and especially when compared to another recent indie that centers on two characters like Love Is Strange, which gives itself just enough plot to let it’s characters breath and exist in the movie’s space.

However, this movie still gives its two lead actors quite a bit to play with, since despite having a pretty consistent laugh rate, the film is just as consistently unafraid to go in darker directions.  Hader in particular is somewhat of a revelation here, because sure, I’ve always loved the guy and thought there’ve been few performers to come onto the scene in the last few years that are as naturally funny as him.  But I was caught off guard by how well he was able to tap into the more tragic elements of his character with an undeniable amount of authenticity.  Wiig admittedly has the less showy part, since she’s playing the character who (relatively speaking) has her shit together, but I think she does a good job of internalizing the fact that quite the opposite is true.  But most of all, it’s just fun to see these two play off of each other, and it’s additionally nice to see a movie that values the codependence of sibling relationships instead of just making them yell at each other in every scene (which is what I assume This Is Where I Leave You is like).

On first glance, it might be easy to look at a movie like The Skeleton Twins and instantly drop it into the Sundance dramedy bullshit pile, but I think the movie for the most point avoids this by never allowing itself to unravel into a mushy crowdpleaser.  That said, though this story is obviously about two significantly damaged people, I could have used maybe one or two less overt character quirks from both of them.  Also, there’s a self-absorbed mother character who shows up at one point, and does feel a bit like a stock Sundance character.  But apart from that, The Skeleton Twins is quite good at turning conventions on it’s ear through it’s casting (which also includes Ty Burrell playing off of his inherent dad-ness), while also proving that whoever said “suicide is painless” was probably a dumb child who didn’t know what he was talking about.

Pitching Tents 07: Primetime TV

Television may have taken a while to achieve credibility, but the medium has certainly arrived by now. It used to be the place actors went after their careers fell apart in the cinema, now it’s a viable launchpad as well as the source of some of our most respected actors (Bryan Cranston, Peter Dinklage, Claire Danes). So what I’m saying is we’re not really “settling” for doing TV pitches at all. Yeah, doing a TV series would is totally our dream, this has nothing to do with the fact that Hollywood has not been accepting of our latest pitches and we’re getting desperate for work. Nope, it’s not like that at all. TV is great. Game of Thrones, right?

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Songs Of Business

U2 – Songs Of Innocence

“Well, ok.  That’s cool I guess.”

This, unlike the majority of the internet apparently, was my reaction to U2 releasing their new album for free — so free that it was already in your iTunes by the time you went to the trouble of checking.  And maybe people found this self-described “gift” to their fans (as well as the millions of people who don’t give a shit about U2) to be mildly irritating because in order to do it, U2 had to go through a corporation that might as well own the world at this point.  Also, it probably has to do with the fact that no one likes having something they don’t want forced upon them, be it religion, politics, or 11 songs by a bunch of middle-aged Irish dudes.  But as for me, I’ve been a U2 fan since I was 15 years-old, and though my enthusiasm for this band has fluctuated throughout the years, I’m still gonna end up listening to whatever they put out no matter what.  So I didn’t mind them making this process so ridiculously easy, though I kind of wish they hadn’t done it with such an easy to forget album.

First off, I’ll just admit that I’m not someone who thinks U2 haven’t done anything worth while since Achtung Baby, despite their reemergence as the biggest band in the world for about the past decade-and-a-half.  In fact, I really like their last album.  So much so that I’m pretty sure I named it as my favorite album of 2009, though that now seems a tad bit embarrassing, even when you factor in that 2009 was kind of an off year for music.  But I think I responded to No Line On The Horizon when it came out because it saw U2 just goin’ for it, creating those all-encompassing, echo-laden sound cathedrals of rock that they do so well, even if that album didn’t quite get the same kind of fanfare that usually awaits a new U2 album.

However, despite the fact that Songs Of Innocence has gotten people talking (though not necessarily positively), it feels like an album where unlike No Line On The Horizon, U2 are a little afraid of sounding like U2.  And what you get here is a much more “generic rock” approach to what this band usually brings to the table.  Now, I don’t want to put all the blame on producer Danger Mouse, since I’m guessing it was U2’s decision to bring him in to give the album a more “modern” sound.  But I’ve never been much of a fan of the guy’s production style, since it seems like everything he touches turns to bland, and Songs Of Innocence is no exception.  My other biggest complaint would be that The Edge is kept somewhat in check for a lot of the album, which for someone like myself who finds The Edge to be one of the most unique and expressive guitarists around, is a bit of a bummer.  So it comes as no surprise that the album’s more inspired songs are the ones like “Iris (Hold Me Close)” or “Volcano”, where The Edge finally gets to cut loose.

So then should I blame Bono for Songs Of Innocence just being an alright U2 album?  Maybe.  Because in interviews he’s described Songs Of Innocence as being an intentionally personal album, and since he is the guy writing all the lyrics (I assume), the album does feel personal to Bono in particular.  I’d even say that The Edge’s relatively absent Edge-iness at times makes Songs Of Innocence feel almost like a Bono solo album, since no offense to Larry or Adam, it’s hard to ever gauge how much those guys are contributing.  But I have to imagine that a Bono solo album would probably be more indulgent and honestly more interesting than this, so instead what we get is a relatively streamlined U2 album.  But what do I have to complain about?  I got it for free.

Favorite Tracks: “California (There Is No End To Love)”, “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, “Volcano”

Stream Police Ep 07: Crossworlds

Some movies are out of this world, some movies are Crossworlds. Join Michael and John as they
delve into the 1996 straight-to-video sci-fi flick Crossworlds starring Josh Charles, Rutget Hauer, and… Jack Black? Intrigued? Then look no further.

Episode Breakdown
1:50 – Weezer Chat
11:38 – 52:12 – Crossworlds Review
52:18 – John and Michael Recommend
60:00 – Netflix Randomizer

The People’s Albums: #31 Purple Rain

Earlier today, I got around to listening that new U2 album, but right now I’ll be talking about an old Prince album instead.  However, there is one thing I’ve been able to take away from the unexpected release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in contrast to Prince’s newer music.  And it’s that no one gives a shit about Prince’s newer music.  I don’t know if it’s because the guy has diluted himself too much, since he sure has released a lot of albums over the years, four of which have come out since 2004’s Musicology (the last Prince album I remember anyone giving a shit about).  But apparently he has two albums coming out in 2014, which I also kind of doubt anyone will give a shit about.

And it’s weird right?  Because whenever U2 or Springsteen or Madonna or even a posthumous Michael Jackson album comes out, there’s at least a little bit of hubbub.  Though despite being one of the most beloved pop artists of the last 30 years (in terms of both respect and popularity) Prince oddly enough has had more trouble than his contemporaries in escaping the looming shadow of his glory days.  And yet, I will probably not be doing the man any favors by talking about the album that looms largest in his legacy.  But to quote George Costanza, this is what I do.

Album: Purple Rain
Artist: Prince And The Revolution
Release Date: June 25, 1984
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 13 Million

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