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Films I Neglected To Review: Pass Me The Orthopedic Shoe!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Broadway Idiot," "Kill Your Darlings," "Last Vegas" and "Life Tracker."

When post-punk band Green Day debuted "American Idiot," their 2004 rock opera dealing with youthful angst in post-9/11 America, it was instantly hailed as a masterpiece by fans and critics alike. However, it is highly doubtful that many of them listened to it and immediately felt that it was the ideal basis for a big-scale Broadway musical. Nevertheless, it was decided that the material had the potential to make the transition to the stage and the new documentary "Broadway Idiot" follows the entire process through the eyes of band member Billie Joe Armstrong. Offered an unusual degree of access, director Doug Hamilton gives viewers a interesting look at the creative process that goes into putting on a stage musical and some of the most intriguing moments come as we listen to Armstrong and the other creative personnel as they try to reconceive the hard-rocking tunes into something that fits its new requirements while still retaining the power of the original recording. The trouble is that the entire process seems so problem-free as depicted here (no significant creative conflicts of note) that the film threatens to come across as a bit of a whitewash at times. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting look at the creative process and beyond that, Armstrong's reaction to seeing Donald Trump in the opening night audience alone is pretty much worth the price of admission.

Since there have already been films made about the life and work of famed writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, why not make a film about the obscure figure who brought them all together in the first place when they were undergraduates at Columbia University? That is the premise of "Kill Your Darlings," a film can be seen as a sort of origin story for the Beat Generation. Told through the eyes of fledgling poet Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe, in a role that has some odd parallels with his work as Harry Potter, albeit with more graphic sex scenes than he was alloted back then), the film, set in 1944, shows as he arrives at school and is taken under the wing of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a charismatic classmate who yearns to shake things up by any means necessary. Joined by Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Huston), the four make plans to start their own literary revolution but get sidetracked when a mysterious figure from Carr's past (Michael C. Hall) threatens to tear them apart until he meets with foul play at Carr's hands.

In regaling this intriguing literary footnote, director John Krokidas (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Austin Bunn) has come up with a film that is a decidedly mixed bag of goods. On the one hand, he never really allows us to get to know the characters in any way beyond the usual surface details of a typical biopic. A bigger problem is that while Carr's story is an interesting one, the film largely negates it with its odd decision to tell it through Ginsberg's reflected perspective instead of presenting it through his eyes in a more immediate manner. That said, the performances are pretty strong across the board--Radcliffe continues to grow as an actor with each successive turn while hot newcomer DeHaan (whom you will recall as the troubled kid from "Chronicle") once again impresses as Carr. (The only disappoint comes from Elizabeth Olsen, whose talents are largely wasted on a nothing role as Kerouac's long-suffering wife.) I can't say that I particularly liked "Kill Your Darlings" but I can't say that I was ever bored with it and those with an specific interest in the Beat Generation writers should check it out. Besides, if nothing else, it beats that misbegotten adaptation of "On the Road" like a gong.

Playing like a cross between "The Hangover," the grumpy old men movie of your choice and that in-house channel on your hotel room cable system that takes you on a tour of the facilities in all their glory, "Last Vegas" is a film that so aggressively bland and innocuous that it makes its title seem witty and inspired by comparison. In it, aging lech MIchael Douglas impulsively decides to marry his much-younger sweetheart and the occasion inspires longtime pals Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline to meet up in Vegas for his log-delayed bachelor party. While taking in the seamy sights and sounds (though never seamy enough to threaten the PG-13 rating), each one has to confront some personal dilemma. Douglas begins to have second thoughts about his impending nuptials after meeting sassy lounge singer Mary Steenburgen, recently widowed De Niro begins to come out of his shell when he begins developing feelings for Steenburgen as well, Freeman revels in his freedom from his overly protective son while offering paternal advice to a dumb young punk and Kline, given permission to misbehave from his highly understanding wife, strives to make use of the rubber and Viagra pill she has given him as a going-away present.

Written by the relentlessly bland Dan Fogelman (whose previous screenplays include such classics as "Cars," "Fred Claus" and "The Guilt Trip) and directed by the equally innocuous Jon Turtletaub, "Last Vegas" is a film that conveys all the excitement and dramatic payoffs of a blackjack player hitting on 22. None of the various plot strands have any surprise to them, unless you are somehow convinced that the film will end with Douglas marrying the young girl, De Niro slinking back into despair, Freeman falling back under the control of his son and Kline getting laid--in that case, I suppose that I should have said "Spoiler Alert" a long time ago. Not even the immensely talented cast can do much with the material except blast through it as quickly as possible so as to get the shooting over with so that they can hit the roulette tables. When the four stars are simply playing off of each other, the film gets a little livelier (especially when Steenburgen gets thrown into the mix) but most viewers will spend their time wondering why could have possibly inspired such A-list talent to sign on for such substandard material in the first place.

"Last Vegas" could not be more boring if it tried, a work so absolutely toothless and lackluster that it is convinced that a cameo from rapper 50 Cent is the height of edginess. The best thing that can be said about it is that it marks Robert De Niro's career high-water mark for the year to date, though that says more about the insanely awful quality of his other choices than anything else. Other than that, this is a film that is about as much fun as waking up in Reno and actually less fun than "Waking Up in Reno."

"Life Tracker" is a micro-budgeted sci-fi story that grapples with one of the eternal questions of mankind--if you could have your future revealed to you, right down to the details of when and how you will eventually die, would you want to know? The film is one of those found-footage constructs and centers on Dillon (Barry Finnegan), a slacker who decides to pull himself together by making a documentary about a new company, Life Tracker Limited, that claims to be able to predict someone's future just by examining their DNA. At first, he assumes that the whole thing is a joke and even convinces pal Scott (Matt Dallas) and his girlfriend Bell (Rebecca Marshall) to join him in the test. However, the results seem to be real and as Dillon continues filming, the company grows larger and larger. Eventually, they go so far as to release the results of a test on Earth itself and those revelations prove to have unexpected reverberations for the world in general and Dillon, Scott and Bell in particular.

This is the first feature from writer-director Joe McClean and he has made a debut that is admittedly uneven but not without promise. The basic premise may strike some as being slightly reminiscent of Rand Paul favorite "Gattaca," it starts off very slowly and the combination of vast sci-fi ideas with decidedly low-fi mumblecore aesthetics has been pulled off with more success in such films as "Pi" and the two features from Shane Carruth, "Primer" and "Upstream Color." On the other hand, it does begin to pick up steam as it progresses and some of the ideas that it presents are interesting. Best of all, it is one of the few films of the found-footage vogue to actually come up with a rationale for the gimmick that is reasonably inspired. "Life Tracker" (which is currently available on some VOD platforms) is not perfect but even when it stumbles, it is still more interesting than the bland likes of "Ender's Game" and if you are a genre fan looking for something off the beaten path, you might consider giving it a chance.

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originally posted: 11/01/13 08:27:27
last updated: 11/01/13 08:39:09
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