REVIEW: Men, Women & Children

16 12 2014

In 2009, Jason Reitman added a potent subplot to his film “Up in the Air” that dealt with some of the alienation people feel in a depersonalized, technology-laden society.  Five years later, he arrives with “Men, Women & Children,” a dark and moody spiritual cousin to his masterpiece.  It goes beyond the obvious stating that people live text message to text message or email to email.  Underneath it all, they are clearly living orgasm to orgasm.

Reitman finds a new writing partner, Erin Cressida Wilson, to adapt Chad Kultgen’s novel, which is perhaps the only truly honest novel about the realities of living in a digitally mediated society.  The story follows a group of teenagers and their parents, each age group struggling with the temptations of carnality made available at their fingertips.  They all seek intimacy, a rarity in a sea of screen addicts, yet cannot seems to escape their enmeshed existence in the World Wide Web.

It seems as if Reitman, likely by commercial imperatives, had to pull some punches and soften the impact of his film.  How blistering can an excoriation of an Internet pornography obsessed society be if those toxic images are never shown?  How shameful can sexual deviance feel if the acts themselves are artfully avoided?  Reitman did not have to go full NC-17 to make an effective film on this topic, and “Men, Women & Children” suffers from his cautious moves.

Still, the message gets across pretty clearly, provided the audience can put down their iPhones for two hours to listen to it. For once, the youth are neither a fountain of hope nor a convenient object for blame; they are just exploring normal curiosities in the same way that their chief role models did.  In fact, the adults of “Men, Women & Children” are every bit as clueless and juvenile in cyberspace as their kids.  Society is all in this battle together, and no one is above it because it brings out the worst in everyone.

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REVIEW: Dallas Buyers Club

24 08 2014

It’s tempting to look at the flashy physical transformations of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” and assume that the film’s allure lies solely on the surface.  (Not helping matters were the heaps of attention and awards for the actors while the below-the-line talent went virtually unrecognized.)  Director Jean-Marc Vallée actually does deliver a film, however, with a surprisingly deep amount of care in its crafting.

We first meet McConaughey’s tough-talking Texas cowboy Ron Woodruff as he womanizes, a scene which feels all too typical.  Yet pay attention to the way the sequence is spliced together, both visually and aurally, and you may notice how simply and effectively Vallée foreshadows Woodruff’s impending HIV diagnosis.  These flourishes, subtle as they may be, go a long way to prevent “Dallas Buyers Club” from hokey Oscar bait.

Flashy though their work may be, the beauty of McConaughey and Leto’s performances also comes from these smaller moments.  While it’s easy to marvel about how gaunt Leto appears or how seamlessly he disappears into AIDS-stricken trans woman Rayon, he’s at his most impactful when breaking down in tears over fretting imminent death.  The same goes for McConaughey, who gets to slowly peel away layers of calloused toughness to reveal humanity and empathy.

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FEATURE: From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold, Part 1

23 11 2010

Before I begin, let me give credit to Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly for inspiring this post after her blog entry on Jennifer Aniston got my creative juices flowing.  It’s a great post, and it’s worth a read.

After Sandra Bullock becomes the latest comedic actress to put on a serious face and win an Oscar (in the tradition of Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon), Schwarzbaum wonders if Jennifer Aniston could ever join the list.

Since she’s taken Aniston, I figured I would take eight other actresses who have a similar track record as Bullock on the comedy side of things.  In part one of the “From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold” series, I will analyze four actresses who many people could actually envision with an Oscar in their hand.

These actresses are …
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, and Kate Hudson.

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REVIEW: Valentine’s Day

6 07 2010

As much as I wanted to say that all these stars couldn’t save a movie, I can’t. Much to my surprise, “Valentine’s Day” was a relatively charming and very entertaining look at just about every kind of love that might exist. And given the day it is set on, all the love stories are as pumped up on steroids as the size of the cast.

The line-up is like a romantic comedy all-star team, and to top it off, they’ve even peppered in some serious actors. Oscar winners Kathy Bates, Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts (who falls into the rom-com category as well), and Shirley MacLaine all make appearances. “Grey’s Anatomy” fans can rejoice at getting McDreamy AND McSteamy together outside of Seattle Grace hospital. Teen idols for both boys and girls are represented through Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner. In case you had any doubt, you can find at least one star to make your valentine in the cast.

And there’s every kind of love story you can imagine. The movie rounds all the bases and covers all the definitions of the L word that keeps the world spinning. There’s young love and old love, pure love and cheating love, parental love and physical love.  And of course, because you can’t have love without it, there’s heartbreak.

Now, just because it tells all these stories doesn’t mean that they are all told well.  There are plenty that are just plain boring to watch or so horrifyingly predictable that the movie would have done well to shuck it and lose a few minutes off a pretty bloated running time.  At over two hours, it’s a marathon romantic comedy.  You can feel the fatigue starting to set in as it crosses the hour mark, dragging along under the weight of too many characters and storylines.  Most are wrapped up with class, albeit in a fairly typical and predictable fashion.  Be sure to stay tuned until the very end because there are some nice and touching twists up its sleeve.  Turning it off would be a big mistake.  Huge.  B /





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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