New on DVD and Blu-Ray: ‘Flipped’ and ‘I’m Still Here’

Flipped

Oh wow. This one caught me off guard. Here is a film for all of you out there who can be quoted having said, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to!” Flipped is a thoroughly old-fashioned, fun-loving romp through adolescence in the 1950s from Rob Reiner. It is Reiner’s first good film in about fifteen years and it stands up well against his best works.

Flipped tells the story of Bryce Loski and Juli Baker. They meet when Bryce moves next door to Juli in the second grade. She immediately falls in love with him. He resists because girls are weird, this one in particular. The movie is something of a fairy-tale love story. The story takes place during ages seven through fourteen, but most of it takes place in a matter of months on the latter end of those years.  Juli is a spectacular little girl. We fall in love with along with Bryce. She is the kind of girl that is fully selfless and in love with the world around her. We get to see her protest to save a tree, win a science fair, start a business selling chicken eggs, and redesign her lawn. And she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. Except for Bryce, who regularly finds himself involved in her shenanigans.

The story plays out in a series of short interactions, each told from both perspectives with narration from each of them. While this narrative style could be repetitive, it is used well in Flipped by not really repeating anything in the interactions. Instead of repetition, we get insight into the back stories that lead up to the interactions. Each of these interactions play out rather like a short story, the best of which involves the cutting down of a tree.

The film is incredibly simple, but the story is elevated by the tender, heartfelt nostalgia created by the environment the characters occupy.  There are a plethora of characters, all of which are fairly basic but well-portrayed and wildly entertaining. John Mahoney as Bryce’s grandfather who takes a liking to Juli, is stunning, as is Anthony Edwards (of Zodiac) as Bryce’s father. But the film is more than just the sum of its parts. This is film that makes us feel as though we have known the characters for years, and it does this in less than ninety minutes.

As the film progresses, we learn that Juli comes from a family not quite as well off as Bryce’s. This socio-economic disparity along with the presence of Juli’s uncle as a mentally handicapped individual makes the film rather preachy.  But the simplicity of the morals and the aforementioned blatant optimism resemble Frank Capra. The juxtaposition between the two families parallels the two families in You Can’t Take it With You among others. The father figures are polar opposites, Bryce’s father being the obvious symbol of corrupted morals. Yes, it is incredibly cheesy. But it is heartfelt.

I’m really not sure how to describe this film other than to say it is a combination of (500) Days of Summer and A Christmas Story. It has the narrative quirks, the romance, and the soundtrack of the former with the 1950s culture and short-story/voice-over narrative of the latter.

Well, I suppose I should get to the DVD some time. It is an alright release. It has three featurettes, one of which is rather useless and the best of which is called “Anatomy of a First Kiss.” Rob Reiner and his long-time collaborator, Adam Scheinman clearly are passionate about the film, as they should be.  One of the more frustrating parts of writing about the film industry is that films like Reiner’s latest, The Bucket List, are utterly horrid, yet somehow seem succeed resoundingly while this little gem goes almost entirely unnoticed.

Flipped wears its heart on its sleeve and in its frenetic energy plays out rather like the best of Disney’s films. It has the kind of blind optimism that is often hard to take seriously. Believe me it is very possible to pretentiously stick your nose up and resist the films charm. And quite honestly, I believe audiences do this, particularly with horror films. People go in and try as hard as they possibly can not to get scared. This movie won’t scare you, but it might just leave you feeling elated if you let it.

I’m Still Here

About two years ago, Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement of the film industry. I declared his newfound passion in rap music to which he made it his goal to pursue. Casey Affleck, his brother-in-law decided to shoot a documentary about the experiment. This is the resulting documentary. The catch? It’s not real. You could describe it as a hoax. Phoenix and Affleck describe it as art. Which, I guess it is. For whatever it is worth, you can now have it in your home.

I reviewed this film a month or two ago, and I stand by most of what I said in that review. It is a solid film, quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. That said, it is not particularly fun to watch. It is not invalid due to the revelation that it is a hoax. Let’s face it, most of the movies we watch aren’t real, so viewing this one as a work of fiction makes the emotional appeal of Phoenix’s lost self an incredible act of tragedy. The film is a very philosophical analyzation of what can happen to anyone and the powers that can keep us from success and ultimately destroy us. Had Phoenix’s heart truly been set on recording this rap album, he really may have failed exactly as he does in the movie. It is a tragedy that someone that successful might not find happiness or success in following their heart.

Even as a work of fiction the film retains much of its power. It is a sad world we live in. On to the DVD. This is a film that really could’ve used some information regarding the nature of the films ‘mockumentary disguised as documentary’ background. Instead, there is little other than commentary and rather excessive deleted footage.

All in all, I enjoy the film. Here is the rare incidence of a very good film that carries almost no repeat value. It just isn’t very fun to watch. But if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to rent it. Particularly if you are a person who follows the film industry in depth.

Amusingly enough, Joaquin Phoenix apparently helped to narrate an MTV documentary also titled I’m Still Here. All the reviews on Amazon appear to be for the new film. How confusing.

On the Art of DVDs

Well this is a pretty lame cover for Flipped. The original poster captures the beautiful cinematography and the over-the-top fairy tale nature of the film’s optimism and it includes one of my favorite characters in the film: the tree. The new one doesn’t really look or feel like the film at all. In fact it pretty much looks like an unrefined photograph.

I’m Still Here retains its great image of Joaquin in glorious insanity. That shot is a seminal one that is used very well in the film and is certainly one of my favorite individual shots of the year so far. I feel like that image has been well-circulated and it was wise not to change it. The only thing that changes is the text. I think I prefer the original, but both work. It is the image of Joaquin that is important.

Other Ventures

As I’m sure you will all be pleased to hear, you can now bring all of your favorite Tyler Perry films home on Blu-ray. Or you could go on living your life and pretend that this never happened. I expect most of you will go with the latter.

On a more interesting note, The Expendables is on DVD now. Which means you can spend two productive hours upping your testosterone level and dropping your IQ. I haven’t seen Eat, Pray, Love. I hear it is a fantastic book, but not much of a film. View it at your own discretion. It’s got some big names, but not much else.

FilmMisery Recommends

If you have a heart, Flipped will entertain you. I’m Still Here is worth a rent, but probably not more than that. Other than that, this week’s offerings are pretty weak.

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  • Andrew R.

    I doubt Flipped is as good as Reiner’s best works.

    The only other director to come close of Reiner’s record of their first 7 debut films being great was Tarantino, who made 6 (Death Proof murdered his odds) and Kubrick (his first 2 were solid, but not great, so 5)

    He went from This is Spinal Tap to The Sure Thing to Stand By Me to Princess Bride to When Harry Met Sally to Misery to A Few Good Men to…

    North. Well, Roger Ebert said it all. And then he recovered a little with American President. But then he really went to hell.

    Then he made Ghosts of Mississippi, which was mediocre. Story of Us is a film I didn’t see, but it’s supposedly awful. The trailer sucked too.

    Then Alex and Emma, which was terrible especially considering he made When Harry Met Sally.

    Rumor Has It wasn’t bad enough to kill his career-it was actually OK, even good at times! But The Bucket List…find the negatives and burn them.

    [/Reiner rant]

  • I didn’t say it was his best film necessarily. I said it stands up well against his best works. By that I mean that one could see that it is in fact from the same director as his great films and it doesn’t look completely pathetic as a part of his filmography the way his other films do. I can’t say that about anything else he’s done in the past fifteen years. I would say it is his third or fourth best film.

    Although for the record, I never really cared for Stand By Me. Go ahead, crucify me.

    As for the seven debut films? Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Cocteau, David Fincer (assuming you don’t count Alien 3), and I would argue James Cameron and Christopher Nolan as well.

    You clearly know your Reiner better than I do, and I would love to burn the negatives of The Bucket List with you (I know several people who call it there favorite film and say they cry every time…), but really, see Flipped before judge it. It might be your favorite film. Almost certainly not, but you don’t know that.

  • Andrew R.

    Fair enough regarding Flipped.

    BUT:

    1. You never liked Stand By Me? I’ll go get the giant wooden cross.

    2. Going through all those directors…

    Wilder: 2 out of 7. I either didn’t like or haven’t seen the other 5. I hope you can guess what the two classics are.

    Capra: I don’t think I’ve seen his first 7 films.

    Fellini: 3 out of 7. La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and Nights of Cabiria are amazing, but I haven’t seen the other 4.

    Godard: He’s incredibly overrated. Next.

    Cocteau: See Capra.

    Fincher: Sadly, I can’t discount Alien 3, and I always thought The Game and Panic Room were just OK. I do like Benjamin Button more than most, though.

    Cameron: True Lies and The Abyss are meh. But Piranha Part 2: The Spawning is a masterpiece! (Couldn’t resist.)

    Nolan: 7 out of 7. (OK, now I have to edit my statement. You win.)

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