Archive for April, 2014

*Portions of this review were first published in January of 2013 as part of a series of capsule reviews for the Sundance Film Festival

Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones star in 'Breathe In'

Breathe In

A funny thing happened during a Q&A with director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) after his new film “Breathe In.” was screened at Sundance. First, an audience member bluntly asked the filmmaker about the decisions behind what he felt was a predictable script and second, the audience turned on the questioner with a level of boos and hisses that typically accompanies road show melodramas.

It’s not that the man’s question was without merit: ‘Breathe In’ tells the story of a discontented high school music teacher/semi-professional cello player who confronts the lingering dissonance he feels for a quiet, suburban life when a beautiful and mysterious foreign exchange student arrives in his home. From start to finish, the film follows what could be described as a pre-set path, as attraction leads to temptation, action and conflict.

But what lifts ‘Breathe In’ from the mold is the directorial style of Doremus, who employs a sort of hand-held eavesdropping technique that makes every movement and word hum with artistic significance. Reuniting with his ‘Like Crazy’ star, Doremus again crafts a delicate and heartbreaking relationship that relies on intellectual and emotional romance rather than a lust and physical attraction.

Life, after all, can be rather predictable, but in Doremus’ hands ‘Breathe In’ manages to entertain and entice while still maintaining realism and relatability. It does not quite reach the emotional heights of Like Crazy (which won the grand jury award at the 2011 festival), but Doremus nonetheless presents an immersive, tragic tale filled with tenderness and sincerity.

Grade: B+

‘Breathe In’ opens in Utah on Friday, May 2

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First things first, this is not a comprehensive summer movie preview. If you’re looking for a full list of the upcoming releases I, for one, would recommend picking up a copy of last week’s Entertainment Weekly (look for the one with XMen on the cover).

Instead, here’s a short list of lesser-known films that may otherwise slip through the cracks of the big-budget action tentpoles that make up the majority of the summer season. And to be clear, we here at Wood’s Stock love big-budget action tentpoles and are giddy with excitement over Guardians of the Galaxy, pleasantly curious about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, anxiously optimistic about The Edge of Tomorrow and are really, really, hoping we don’t get burned again by Godzilla.

But a cinematic diet that consists entirely of popcorn is unhealthy, so here’s some pallette cleansing comedies and independent films to keep an eye on over the next four months. *Note* unlike last year, the summer indie films have been slow to put out their theatrical trailers. Throw me a frickin bone, amirite?

Boyhood

In the latest film from Richard Linklater, the director of the ‘Before’ trilogy, we see the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from a young boy to a young man. This isn’t achieved by clever casting or digital trickery a la Benjamin Button, it’s the result of an ambitious strategy that saw the cast and crew of Boyhood reunite intermittently  to film the movie over the space of 12 years, literally capturing the passage of time.

It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but one that by most accounts has been combined with a thoughtful, emotional script to pay of large dividends as a singularly unique cinematic experience. And if anyone can pull it off it’s Linklater, who has proved with the Before films a penchant for storytelling that appears effortlessly natural, mining the seeming mundanities of everyday relationships for dramatic gold.

Also, bonus points for using Family of the Year’s “Hero” for the trailer track (hey, didn’t One Wood Uke cover that once?)

Boyhood opens in limited release on July 11

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Magic in the Moonlight

In keeping with director Woody Allen’s style, relatively little is known about Magic in the Moonlight, which is set in 1920’s France and stars Emma Stone and Colin Firth and oh, who am I kidding, I’m already sold.

The latest scandal notwithstanding, Allen has been on fire the last few years. Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine were phenomenal and the relatively meh reception toward To Rome With Love seems, in hindsight, to have been a classic case of too-high expectations. Also remember when I said Emma Stone and Colin Firth? and Woody Allen? AND FRANCE?

Magic in the Moonlight opens on July 25.

The Fault in our Stars

You’ve probably already read the book, and if you haven’t then you’ve probably been told innumerable times by your YA-reading friends that OMG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK OMG SO SAD SO GOOD I JUST CAN’T RIGHT NOW!

Frankly, I didn’t love it, but I recognize the appeal and I’ve said many times before that while I’m not personally drawn to YA literature I nonetheless appreciate the film adaptations it inspires (see: Nick and Norah, Perks, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Spectacular Now, etc.).

‘Fault’ stars it-girl Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two cancer-stricken teens who meet in a support group, fall helplessly into young love and then, well you can probably guess but it’s all about the journey or something, right? The script and the book it’s based on were both written by John Green, who is something of a deity among YA circles, so fans shouldn’t have much to worry about and newcomers should bring tissues.

‘Fault’ opens on June 6.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

I’ve always had a soft spot for the humor of Seth McFarlane, which bounces between high-brow and low-brow gags that trade crass vulgarity and dry wit in equal measure (the horrendous CBS sitcom ‘Dads’ being the exception that proves the rule). Take, for example, the much-discussed “We Saw Your Boobs” number during last year’s Oscars. It either perpetuated Hollywood sexism and male gaze or it actually subverted Hollywood sexism by criticizing male gaze, but still delivered an impressively-staged piece of musical theater that benefited from McFarlane’s natural aptitude for showtunes.

And now there’s ‘West,’ McFarlane’s live-action follow-up to the funnier-than-it-had-any-right-to-be ‘Ted.’ Only this time, instead of inhabiting a stuffed animal, McFarlane’s actual face will appear on the big screen as Albert, a wise guy ahead of his time living in the American West circa 1882. The plot has something to do with Albert being challenged by a gunslinger (Liam Neeson, natch!) and wooing Charlie Theron, but it’s safe to assume that “plot” will be frequently set aside in service of comedic vignettes that largely revolve around accidental and unnecessary death.

A Million Ways to Die in the West opens on May 30.

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Float tank

Yes, that’s another nude selfie. Let’s not make a big deal about it OK?

For April’s Treat Yo Self, I decided to try a session in a float tank, a.k.a an isolation tank, a.k.a a sensory deprivation tank. What that is, in essence, is a sound- and light-proof chamber filled with lukewarm salt water that you close around yourself and float in. It’s used for relaxation and meditation and is advertised as a form of holistic alternative medicine for various ailments.

The nice woman at the spa told me that most of her clientele are men. Apparently ‘Fear Factor’ host Joe Rogan is a big Float advocate, and apparently Joe Rogan is a still a thing.

If you ever saw the atrocious 2003 film ‘Daredevil‘ starring Ben Affleck, you may remember that 1) if given the right material, Colin Farrell would make a superb comic book villain and 2) Affleck’s character sleeps in a float tank to dull his sonar-esque super powers.

Float tank at Salt City Float Spa

I remember as a kid going swimming in the Great Salt Lake and being fascinated by how much the saltwater increases your buoyancy. Float tanks are like that. The water is only a few inches deep but you comfortably sit on top of the liquid, fully supported along your entire body.

When you first lie down, there is music playing softly to help lull you into a state of relaxation. You can also choose whether to turn off the light and close the lid fully, which really does plunge you into a state of absolute darkness and only the sound from inside the tank, which is minimal once you settle in and the music fades out.

It took me a little time to loosen up and relax. My body instinctively tried to support my head, which put a lot of tension in my neck. But once I finally let myself go full “rag doll” the experience was quite enjoyable, a lot like the Shavasana portion of a yoga practice, where you spend 5-10 minutes lying down and meditating after your workout. But the float session at Salt City Float Spa was 60 minutes, so it was essentially a full hour of shavasna, floating in water.

Salt City Float Spa

For this month’s experience, I invited along my friend and colleague Jordan Allred. He and I met in college when we were two sides of the student journalism coin: he as manager of the of the student radio station and me as editor in chief of the student newspaper. Since then we’ve followed somewhat parallel paths, ending up at the same media organization and being romantically involved with a number of women in common through the years.

Jordan is a very skilled photographer, and just so happens to suffer from a fear of having his picture taken. I tried to find the scientific term for this and came upon two different terms – fotografizophobia and photogophobia – but neither have a wikipedia page or a Merriam-Webster entry, which leads me to believe neither have achieved a consensus state.

Regardless of what it’s called, Jordan has it. Here’s us on Halloween.

halloween

Here’s us during our recent trip to Zion National Park

zion

And Jordan’s Facebook profile picture, before his account was deleted recently, was a simple white square. He’s ok.

Properly pampered, we headed over to In-N-Out Burger to conduct our interview over some Double-Doubles (animal style, natch).

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Jordan Allred: I’m Jordan Allred. I work as a web editor. I grew up in Montana in a large family and moved to Utah to go to school. I always knew I wanted to do journalism so I studied broadcast. While I was there I got involved in a couple of radio stations including the student radio station at Utah State and then moved to Salt Lake City, decided to grow up and be an adult, which is the worst decision I’ve ever made.

I’m very into sports. Athletics is a huge part of my life; always has been, always will be. For example I coach football, just started a new coaching job out at Kearns. I love photography and that’s probably my next biggest passion and Utah is such a great place to do any of that. Utah has got it all. It’s great for all the hobbies I love to do. I never thought I’d like living in Utah until I started spending more time on my hobbies and now it’s not so bad.

WS: What did you think of the float tank?

JA: It was a different experience. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

WS: Walk me through it. What’s the process? How did it feel? Paint me a word picture.

JA: The whole thing seems odd to me. I normally don’t do these sort of things, these soft sciences, the stuff that there isn’t a lot of hard facts behind. So when we got there and I see these tanks and we’re watching this tutorial video I thought “what is this weird thing that we’re about to do? I feel like I’m about to join a cult or something.”

photo 2(1)

But then we get in there and you take a shower, clean yourself off, then you get into this tank and almost immediately you realize it’s completely different. There’s only about a foot of water in there and you’re not touching bottom, you’re immediately floating up at the top and as soon as you relax into that thing you really don’t even feel the water. You just feel yourself. You’re sort of there and floating.

WS: And it’s not like regular floating. How would you describe the way it feels?

JA: That is the most difficult thing. I guess in my mind I imagined it was what it feels like to float on a cloud, just because I have nothing else to compare it to. I’ve never had that experience before, but it just felt comfortable and … I don’t know.

WS: Were you immediately comfortable or did it take you a minute to settle in?

JA: It didn’t take me long. Probably the first minute I was situating my body. You get your bearings, like how far you have until your head will touch an edge. For the most part I had my hands off to my sides and so you see how far you can drift to the right or to the left before you touch the boundaries of this chamber.

Float tank tutorial video

It’s a little wobbly at first but the second that you completely relax, you just go into this very comfortable state and you’re really not doing much in the way of moving. You’re in the middle of this chamber and I didn’t even know which way it was that I was drifting, that’s how unaware you are of your surroundings. All the sudden I would get a light bump on my head and I’d realized I’d floated to the top, then a second later my feet would touch, but it was all unexpected. And part of that was having it completely dark in there.

WS: You went lights out?

JA: Yeah I turned the lights off and had them off the entire time.

WS: Did you shut the lid or leave it open?

JA: I had to leave it open just a little bit because it was difficult to breath if you had it shut all the way. It gets very humid in there very fast. So I cracked it just a couple of inches and that really helped.

WS: Let’s talk about photography. You are a gentleman who does not have your picture taken.

JA: No.

WS: Ever?

JA: Never. I hate being in photos, but especially photos of my face. I never let my face be photographed but even just being in a photo where my back is turned or whatever, I can’t stand it.

WS: Help me understand that. Is it that you dislike being photographed or is that you can not allow yourself to be photographed?

JA: I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve had a lot of people try to help me out with this and figure out exactly what’s what. I think the closest I’ve come to describing it is it’s just a complete fear of having my photograph taken. It just terrifies me. The thought of somebody pointing a camera at me, that’s probably the most nervous I ever get when it comes to anything.

WS: Has it always been like that? I don’t want to get political but is this a lifestyle choice or were you born this way?

JA: I probably was born this way but you just don’t realize these things as you’re growing up as a kid, figuring things out. I always felt a little uncomfortable with having my photo taken but it was about the time that college rolled around that I was like, “I don’t have to have my photo taken if I don’t want to.” So I just stopped, completely. People would invite me to be in photos with them and I would just tell them “No. No thank you.”

That was probably a bad choice for me to make because all it did was make me fear having my photo taken more. So I’ve probably done two or three family photos since then and those make me uneasy.

WS: I’ve traveled with you and one of the things you do when you travel is take pictures of people on the street.

JA: I love taking random photos of random people, people that I’ll never see again.

WS: I find that ironic. You can’t stand having your picture taken but you love taking pictures of other people?

JA: It’s hypocritical of me; I know it. At the same time most people don’t mind and when I’m photographing people that I don’t know I always make sure that I get their permission beforehand.

WS: You describe it as a fear and most people can relate to a fear of spiders or snakes. If a person were to walk into this room brandishing a camera and snapping pictures, what happens to you?

JA: I’ve been in rooms before where somebody is making the rounds with a camera, at parties or whatever, and they want to take photos. The second that I see that happening I get that same fear that you get with anything that you’re afraid of. I get that gut reaction like ‘Oh no, I do not want this happening to me.” And so I just plan my escape. I get out of the way and sometimes I end up getting cornered and in that case I tell people ‘no thank you.’

WS: You’re also a football coach. Are you tough love or are you Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights?

JA: I’m a very hard coach because I want to make sure that anytime you’re practicing the entire reason you’re practicing is to get better. I’m always tough on my players because I say “look, let’s not waste time out of practice. Everything that we do, let’s make sure we’re doing it right, let’s make sure we’re making ourselves better” and therefore I don’t tolerate laziness, I don’t tolerate people not trying or giving it their best. I don’t tolerate bad attitudes and so that comes across as very harsh but when somebody realizes “look if I give my best effort, that’s all he’s asking of me” then we’ll be on good terms.

Most athletes end up figuring that out. All I’m doing is trying to help them. I’m not doing it to be a jerk. I’m not doing it because of me. It’s all because of them and all I want is for them to get better and sometimes you just need somebody to push you to make you a little better.

WS: Would you recommend the float spa to someone?

JA: Beforehand I don’t think I would have. But after doing it I think that I would and I wouldn’t be surprised if I do it again. It was a different experience and I feel pretty relaxed. The only time that I really think that you get your body on that level of relaxation is when you’re sleeping. It’s the only time that I’ve been awake and felt that relaxed.

Float tank at Salt City float spa

WS: Anything you need to promote?

JA: Promote? No.

WS: Is your team going to take state?

JA: I will tell people to come to Kearns High games. We have a very young team, but in a couple of years we will be very good. The team hasn’t competed for a state title since, I think, 1982, and I think that will change in two years. So people will want to watch out for that.

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DRAFT DAY

Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner star in ‘Draft Day’

It’s easy to imagine a room of Hollywood executives attempting to conjure up football’s answer to the Oscar nominated ‘Moneyball,’ which saw Brad Pitt and a dramatic Jonah Hill making unlikely movie magic out of baseball statistics.

I can’t say for sure that was the genesis of “Draft Day,” but the film is nonetheless haunted by the ghost of ‘Moneyball’ while delivering a story about NFL player selection that dangles like a piñata overstuffed with character clichés, suspiciously convenient plot points and shots of Kevin Costner leaning against a desk with his arms crossed.

Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns saddled with familial baggage in the form of his recently deceased father and strained relationship – not fully explained – with his mother. He awakes on draft day to the knowledge that his co-worker/secret girlfriend played by Jennifer Garner – with whom he shares zero on-screen chemistry – is pregnant. Oh, and the team owner tells him in no uncertain terms that he needs to make a big splash in the draft or lose his job.

As if that weren’t enough melodrama, we also learn that the Brown’s quarterback was injured midway through the last season, and a late trade proposal materializes from the 1st-pick holding Seatle Seahawks that would allow Sonny to pick up Heisman winner and likely first pick QB Bo Callahan (played by Josh Pence, the secret Winklevoss from ‘The Social Network’ finally allowed to show his face).

From there the story advances relatively slowly toward a literal ticking clock when Sonny must make some big decisions, although he’s distracted by his fumbling new intern, shade-throwing from Gardner, insubordination from his coach (Dennis Leary) and a gnawing feeling in his gut that party-boy Callahan isn’t the man for the job. That sounds more entertaining than it is, as what actually transpires on screen is a rotating backdrop of cubicle farms and storage closets as Costner paces around the team’s executive office space for two hours.

In the final 30 minutes, Draft Day shows us a glimpse of the fast-paced banter-filled gamesmanship film it could’ve been, but it is hardly a game-winning Hail Mary pass after scrambling in the pocket for so long. The film’s resolution is a little too tidy, the stakes never seem to be very high and at no point do any of the characters present us with a compelling reason for why we should be invested in the outcome.

With neither the fist-pumping gridiron action of a typical sports film nor the nuanced emotion of a character drama, Draft Day manages to pull the worst of columns A and B to deliver a story about football that is both innocuous and unmemorable. It lacks sizzle, with little reverence to the game and investing too heavily in a half-baked romantic subplot, and ultimately comes away with what amounts to a low-scoring tie.

Grade: C+

*‘Draft Day’ opens nationwide on Friday, April 11.

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