REVIEW: Sleeping With Other People

4 10 2015

Sleeping with Other PeopleThough the first two words in the title of writer/director Leslye Hedland’s “Sleeping With Other People” are a polite euphemism, that semantic choice probably represents her most cautious choice regarding sex.  Unlike so many others dealing with romance and courtship on screen, she leans in to the thorniness that most choose to sugarcoat.  She embraces the mess created by the libido’s interference with the heart.

Her two main characters, Jason Sudeikis’ Jake and Alison Brie’s Lainey, are even admitted sex addicts.  Early on in the film, the two even reunite after a collegiate one-night stand at a meeting for those struggling to rein in their urges.  “Shame” this is not, but it’s at least a more nuanced portrayal of sexuality than 2011’s pair of hookup movies, “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached.”

Yet sadly, Hedland also seems to borrow one too many plot points from said movies.  Even as she resists reducing love into sex, Jake and Lainey’s drifting back towards each other as they try to push apart feels like a page ripped right from the rom-com playbook.  There’s at least some good humor as Hedland blends in some battle of the sexes humor a la “When Harry Met Sally,” but Sudeikis and Brie lack the chemistry to sell their relationship beyond a few choice scenes.  The two always feel like they are operating on different comedic frequencies.

Despite a winning ensemble that includes fantastic actors like Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne and Amanda Peet, “Sleeping With Other People” just never coheres its parts into a satisfying whole.  I suspect the only time I’ll ever think about this film again is when taking an overview of films that show how technology inhibits intimacy – Hedland does include one powerful split-screen shot of Jake and Lainey texting each other from their own beds.  Though they look and connect as if they were right next to each other, their phones still make them worlds apart.  B-2stars

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REVIEW: Black Mass

15 09 2015

A movie like “Black Mass” is essentially the cinematic calendar whispering, “Winter is coming.”  It’s a gentle reminder that we are inching ever closer to a glut of prestige dramas filling screens across the country but that the best is still yet to come.  (Of course, if you read this in 2016, the last paragraph probably means nothing.)

Director Scott Cooper’s film works fine as a tiding over of sorts.  Most 2015 films so far that have provided this level of drama were low budget indies, and anything with this amount of violent bloodshed must have been a giant franchise flick.  “Black Mass,” made from a well-structured script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, boasts a thrilling experience packaged in some remarkable production values.  It all just feels so Scorsese lite.

And for the most part, that made for an entirely satisfactory evening at the movies.  I got a film that was perfectly good.  It just never approached greatness.

The marketing of “Black Mass” makes the film look like The Johnny Depp Show, and to a certain extent, it is.  Anyone who slithers around a film with such amphibian-like eyes and a Donald Trump combover just naturally draws attention, even when not playing a notorious gangster like James “Whitey” Bulger.  But, at heart, Bulger is just a boy from South Boston (“Southie”) trying to rule its biggest business – organized crime – by any means necessary.

That involves cutting a strange deal with a former childhood acquaintance, FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).  According to Connolly, Southie is the only place where kids go from playing cops and robbers in the schoolyards to playing it on the streets, and he gets into Bulger’s racket just like some sort of game.  As a part of their deal, Bulger goes on the Bureau’s books as an informant yet essentially gets carte blanche to take out his competition.

Depp might get the more ostensibly interesting character to play, and he certainly plays up just how intimidating and downright creepy a figure Bulger truly was.  But its Edgerton who steals the show, essentially playing a Beantown rendition of Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso from “American Hustle.”  Connolly is the inside man who gets played like a harp by a key asset meant to bring him professional glory.  What motivates him to continue helping Bulger even when the jig seems up proves the heaviest and most complex part of “Black Mass,” and it certainly kept weighing on me after the film ended.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: The Overnight

8 07 2015

The OvernightSome films revel in pushing boundaries and norms to expose the ridiculousness of those limitations.  Others, like “The Overnight,” simply dance on these taboos to milk them for cheap laughs.

Writer/director Patrick Brice is far too amused by impressionistic paintings of anal orifices, marijuana-induced hazes, and exaggerated prosthetic penises to interrogate the shackles of monogamy and parenthood.  (You get the feeling that Brice probably laughs until it hurts at the final scene of “Boogie Nights.”)  As a night of friendship blooming between two adult couples slowly devolves into something resembling a swingers party, it’s hard not to feel as uncomfortable as the guests played by Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling.

The end does ultimately show that the evening is a bit of a fantasy, one that can only take place while the kids are safely tucked away in bed.  But if Brice wanted to take this angle on the story, why not go all out with “Hangover“-style antics?  Something feels disingenuous about a tale concerning the loss of inhibitions and release of pent-up desires that is itself holding back something.

Still, within the relatively uninspired chain of events, the cast finds ways to spruce up the proceedings.  Scott and Schilling make for a convincing everyman and woman, reacting like every sane person would to the escalating oddity of their hosts.  Jason Schwartzman, most widely recognized as the mouthpiece for quirky Wes Anderson dialogue, also adds a great deal of fun to “The Overnight” with his articulate, confident eccentricity.  Unlike the stilted, clearly scripted cadences of his most frequent collaborator, Brice gives Schwartzman dialogue that actually sounds like it could come from an actual human being.  And that makes his character all the more hilarious and exciting to watch.  C+2stars





REVIEW: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

4 01 2014

24 hours before I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” I was sitting in a press screening of “The Wolf of Wall Street” for three straight hours of sex, drugs, profanity, and despicable behavior.  Roughly an hour before I saw it, though, I was watching TCM’s broadcast of “White Christmas” with my family and listening to my parents ask once again where the nice movies are in theaters today.

It should be fairly obvious that “Walter Mitty” falls in line with the latter of the two aforementioned films; after all, it is based on a film from the 1940s.  And following an evening of watching a candle stuck wedged between Leonardo DiCaprio’s butt cheeks (one of the few shenanigans I dare to write about), it was just nice to watch a good, clean family feature.  Even though Ben Stiller’s film is nothing spectacular, its intermittently successful embrace from a bygone era is a nice change of pace.

Stiller, who also stars as the film’s titular character, does not drown the film in excessive sentimentality, often a hallmark of Hollywood’s golden age cinema.  But perhaps it would have been welcome had it brought any charm, which is largely absent from this languidly paced film.

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REVIEW: See Girl Run

24 04 2013

See Girl RunI am literally one of the biggest and most devoted “Parks and Recreation” fans out there. So when I say that I could not even remotely enjoy a movie starring the show’s unsung hero, Adam Scott, you know that the movie is a dud.

I really did want to like “See Girl Run,” a rom-com by sophomore director Nate Meyer.  I had the privilege of hearing him do a Q&A after the screening of the film at the RiverRun International Film Festival last year, and it did make me appreciate what the film was trying to do a little bit more.  But ultimately, I don’t grade a film based on concept; I evaluate it based on execution.

And in the end, “See Girl Run” fails to do anything interesting.  It’s not formulaic, per se, but I felt like I had seen the concept or story played out before.  I don’t even think the movie is worth the effort for me to go look up the plot summary, so needless to say, it’s a forgettable flick…

I do remember there being no chemistry between leads Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, largely because they share only one scene together!  That’s right, the film’s romantic leads, and they don’t talk to each other until the climax.  I suppose it’s bold, but Meyer builds up so much to this scene, and it can’t help but disappoint.

Scott is a bright presence, I suppose, but watch “Parks and Recreation” if you really want to see him in action.  Tunney, on the other hand, plays a brutal character who can’t decide which man or life she wants.  It works when Reese Witherspoon does this because she brings a charm and levity to the bind.  Tunney is just a lot of angst and whining.  If there was supposed to be a “realist” aspect to this, I found it shallow at best, unconvincing and uninteresting at worst.  C-1halfstars





REVIEW: Friends with Kids

22 12 2012

The title “Friends with Kids” sounds an awful lot like “Friends with Benefits,” the 2011 Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis sex-friends comedy. Though the two differentiate themselves over the course of their respective films, they actually share quite a bit in common.

Both begin with a ridiculous premise: here, it’s the idea that two people can have sex once, procreate, and be parents without forming any sort of emotional connection to each other. It’s an idea that Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt) hatch one night after seeing how miserable their once happily married friends become when they have kids. And those same friends, like us in the audience, laugh at their foolishness and know it can only lead to disaster.

Their friends, by the way, are essentially a “Bridesmaids” reunion 15 years early for their People shoot. Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are Ben and Missy, a sex-crazed couple whose kids take a toll on their marriage. And on the more reasonable end, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are a couple coping with the same issues but on a more authentic scale. All that’s missing is some Wilson Phillips (and perhaps a little defecating in sinks just for fun).

Yet just about every time you think it’s going down the path to predictability or genre, Westfeldt surprisingly turns the tables on you. She’s written a very thoughtful movie in “Friends with Kids,” one that makes some insightful revelations about marriage and parenthood. Though Jason and Julie move on to other people – him Megan Fox’s Broadway dancer Mary Jane, her Edward Burns’ family man Kurt – they find each other and their real feelings through those people. It might seem slightly cliched, but with all the laughs and the honesty, I didn’t really mind. B+ / 3stars





REVIEW: Bachelorette

8 09 2012

When “Bachelorette” begins, it’s easy to see the structural similarities to “Bridesmaids” … and then just totally laugh them off due to the two films’ vast tonal differences.  Kristen Wiig’s comedy is like being tipsy on wine: wild, but also controlled and somewhat classy.  Leslye Hedland’s movie, on the other hand, is like what I imagine being high on cocaine would be like: messy, strung out, and utterly chaotic.

The three bridesmaids here have little in common with the Wolfpack of “The Hangover,”  rather, they all bear more than a passing resemblance to Mavis Gary, Charlize Theron’s protagonist of “Young Adult” whose mentality is stalled in high school.  The mean girls of the ’90s are back to wreak havoc on the wedding of poor Becky (Rebel Wilson), a girl that they didn’t really seem to run with then and don’t seem to care any more for her in the present.  I wouldn’t want anyone who called me “Pigface” at my wedding at all, much less as a bridesmaid!

But for a while, I was willing to overlook the plot holes and strap myself along for the drug-fueled shenanigans of harlot Katie (Isla Fisher), sassy Rashida Jones placeholder Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and their seemingly sober-ish ringleader Regan (Kirsten Dunst).  The humor is at first stingingly acidic and bitingly true in a way that recalls Lena Dunham at her most sour.  Caplan is the scene-stealer of the bunch, lighting up every scene even as she drains it of a significant portion of happiness.

Once again for the record, I’ve never been on cocaine, but I’ve been led to believe the high is followed by a big crash.  And like I said, “Bachelorette” is like a few lines of cocaine, so for all the fun it brings, it comes down with a large thud.  All the energy gets sapped out of the film’s second half as it veers away from a significant look at relationships and takes a turn down Formula Lane.  By the end, I had all but tuned out of the three bachelorettes’ stories, which is disappointing.  The characters were relatively interesting, but Hedland fails them with a predictable script that tantalizes with promise at the beginning.  C