Being Flynn

Being Flynn is disposable filmmaking at its best. Here’s a relatively thought-provoking movie with a solid story and good acting that you’ll only walk away from easily forgetting. It’s in the same vein as the many other heavy family dramas of late, like Descendants. Why these movies gain so much acclaim is beyond me, as they are not necessarily amazing films, they are just pretty good films and have stories which people seem to be able to identify with – if not at least because they’re trying to escape similar situations in their own lives.

What’s funny is, there are millions of stories like this one and probably even better ones at that, and yet somehow this one becomes the fortunate one to survive the rest of the new age, sensitive and dramatic drivel out there. When I saw this film it was an advance screening and presented by none other than the former head of Sundance (now head of Tribeca), Geoffrey Gilmore. In the intro for the movie, Mr. Gilmore proclaimed that he sees a lot of films and it’s the ones that are different or unique that will make it in this present day “disruption” of filmmaking which we’re in (you know, day and date releases, video-on-demand, etc.), because it’s the unique films that will stand out. However, he directly works against his own statements by having hand selected this film for a special advance screening, because unfortunately this film is immediately forgettable and disposable despite its De Niro centerpiece and selling point.

Helmed by director Paul Weitz who you make recognize from earlier fare such as American Pie, there are little moments within this film that you can really hold on to and take with you once you leave the theater. You may crack a laugh, maybe even a smile, probably even feel really bad for Paul Dano’s character, Nick Flynn, at some point, but you’ll never truly care deep down.

There’s no way or chance even to emotionally invest in any of these characters. Yeah, Nick Flynn has a sad backstory, but what’s his deranged/eccentric father’s backstory? What’s his mother’s backstory? Filmicly (dramatically, that is), his mother (played lackadaisically by Julianne Moore here – shocking and disappointing), kills herself in the most unaffecting suicide scene I’ve ever seen in a film – and I’ve seen a lot of suicide scenes in films, because every filmmaker likes a good suicide scene.

It’s almost as if the director Weitz was afraid to do anything too painful with the scene because as he explained it in the Q&A afterwards, the real Nick Flynn (who wrote the memoir this film is based on, appropriately called Another Bullshit Night in Suck City), was on set with him that day as they shot the scene.

The worst part of the whole experience of this person’s life for me was a combination of De Niro’s overwrought performance as the eccentric and egocentric writer Jonathan Flynn and the way Weitz (and maybe the screenwriters?) decided they were tired of this movie now and had better wrap it up quickly at the end. I mean literally, Being Flynn does a 180 on you about ¾ of the way through and ties up everyone’s life in a nice easily digestible package. I can’t believe it could have happened so neatly and succintly in real life, so chalk that spin up to the Hollywood filmmaking formula.

Unfortunately suppressed in his performance for this film, Paul Dano is an awesome actor and he could have torn through the screen if he had been given the chance to, but his scenes which built up his drug addiction were so weak, sporadic and digestible, they almost seemed acceptable – literally the worst that happens to Dano when he’s drugged out on crack is he drinks from someone else’s beer glass. Yeah. His eyes get a little red and at the first mention of someone calling him an addict – BAM! – cut to scene with him at an AA meeting. Talk about cutting to the chase!

Weitz needs to stick to teen comedies, and Gilmore needs to rethink his latest film choices.

What to Watch in September

It’s a tough cinematic world out there, but I care about the readers of this blog and only want them to spend their hard earned dollars on the good films, so here’s a (sorta) completist’s guide to the 2011 Fall Season of films – starting with September. My plan is, around the middle of each month, to post the next month’s domestic (limited and wide) film releases – while of course providing my own two cents on it. The indicators should be pretty clear: if it’s got a line through it, it does not have my recommendation. That said, give it a chance if it comes on cable someday.

September 2

  • Apollo 18 by Gonzalo López-Gallego. Watch it and think about how we’ll never get to go to space again. Which is ok I guess since there’s monsters up there.
  • Seven Days in Utopia by Matt Russell. Looks like a cross between Doc Hollywood and Tin Cup.
  • Shark Night 3D by who cares. It’s sharks in 3D.

September 9

  • Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star by Tom Brady. Nick Swardson plays the socially-outcasted son of two adult pornstars.
  • Contagion by Steven Soderbergh. Eh. Pretty sure I saw this almost 10 years ago, but it was called Outbreak.
  • Warrior by Gavin O’Connor. Looks like a possibly edgier, indier version of The Fighter, although the MMA thing is getting old.

September 16

  • Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan – there’s no way I’m missing this.
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It by Douglas McGrath. A classier comedy for the SITC set?
  • The Lion King 3D by Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff. So The Lion King is getting not only a Blu-ray upgrade, but a limited theatrical release in 3D!? Oh Disney, your vaults are so leaky!
  • Restless by Gus Van Sant. The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.
  • Straw Dogs by Rod Lurie. This is one of the most painful films for me to list here. In general, I loathe most remakes of anything, but especially a remake of a film that was absolutely perfect to begin with. Peckinpah would roll over in his grave if he knew someone bastardized his (possibly) best – and most controversial – work to make an easy sale to the teenage torture-porn audiences who should just be left to their Final Destinations and $5 popcorn. Haven’t seen the 1971 version of this film with Dustin Hoffman? Try and get your hands on that first and check out my review of it here.
  • The Whale by Suzanne Chisholm. Endearing doc which looks like a cross between Free Willy and The Cove.

September 20

  • Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe. A cineaste’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll filmmaker (ok, along with maybe Pennebaker and Scorsese) pulls together a new rock doc on the 90s other Top 40 grunge band, Pearl Jam. You know, the ones who instead of making kids want to do drugs and commit suicide, made them want to surf and stand up to bullies? Apparently, they’ve been around for 20 years now. Problem is, if I go see this, I’m just going to feel fucking old. PS. The soundtrack is released on this day as well, and it includes 30 pages of liner notes from Crowe himself.

September 23

  • Abduction by John Singleton. Decent looking action suspense flick which fits neatly into the fringes of the summer blockbusters. Nothing you haven’t seen before story-wise, but a chance to see Team Jacob’s (Lautner’s) acting ability in something other than stilted-werewolf-lover-boy for once.
  • Dolphin Tale by Charles Martin Smith. Another Free Willy in September comes you (and your children’s way)! This one looks more like a good tearjerker for the adolescents and their moms than The Whale, but at least this one will probably have the prospect of ending on a high note.
  • The Double by Michael Brandt. Political intrigue and the usual pairing of a retired CIA Operative and a younger FBI agent to help heighten the tension and provide something mid-life crisis moviegoers can sink their teeth into. Think Hollywood Homicide in… Detroit?
  • Killer Elite by Gary McKendry. Standard issue action flick, but one with a cast that I admit I’m intrigued to see play off each other: Statham, De Niro and Clive Owen (with a ridiculous Magnum P.I. throwback mustache). The updated version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the trailer is not adding any points though.
  • Machine Gun Preacher by Marc Forster. First of all, I’ll watch anything by Marc Forster. He has a sensibility to rooting out the most unique films which appeal to both the marketing people and the critics. It’s a beautiful thing. This one stars Gerard Butler as a (I think) a real life reformed drug addict/biker who finds religion and makes it his life’s devotion to help the children of impoverished and brutalized Africa. The poster, however, looks a little goofy.
  • Moneyball by Bennett Miller. Hollywood takes a shot at revitalizing the sport of baseball by bringing in Brad Pitt and the only character Jonah Hill seems to ever play anymore – the bright, young, employee with fresh ideas on an old line of work. Looks a little too Any Given Sunday via Jerry Maguire for me though.
  • Red State by Kevin Smith. Holy crap. I’ve been waiting for this movie since 2008. What else can I say?
  • Weekend by Andrew Haigh. British indie romance about a gay couple who do pretty much nothing exciting looking for an entire weekend. Touted as an “Audience Winner” at SXSW this year – don’t let that get your hopes up. A good percentage of what they program is geared towards one specific type of hipster audience and most of the films are either pretentious or ridiculous or both. Example: MacGruber. This one looks a bit like Medicine for Melancholy only not with a black, hetero couple in the States.

September 30

  • 50/50 by Jonathan Levine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite young male leads and playing off another of my favorites – Anna Kendrick – makes this made-for-hipsters dramedy all that much more enticing. 
  • Courageous by Alex Kendrick. Overwrought drama about four law enforcement officers.
  • Dream House by Jim Sheridan. Rock solid lineup of actors, with the always-solid directing of Sheridan (ok ok, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a joke) makes this a no-brainer. Additionally, this will be Sheridan’s first stab at helming a horror flick!
  • Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan. Anna Paquin plays a woman who witnesses a bus accident which turns out to change her life. Honestly, this could be hit or miss. I’ve grown used to Paquin as a mind-reading vampire lover, so it may be a hard transition for me in this real-world-rooted drama, but then a film produced by the trio of Minghella, Pollack and Scott Rudin can’t be all bad.
  • Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. This film looks just plain awesome. Michael Shannon is always great as the tight-lipped, emotionally-repressed characters he exudes, but the austerity and manipulation of the dramatic elements in this film make it no question as to why it garnered praise at Cannes, Sundance and other fests. Be sure to give it a shot if you see anything in September.
  • What’s Your Number? by Mark Mylod. Anna Faris churns out another romantic comedy where she gets to trip, fall and look goofy. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.