REVIEW: How to Be Single

10 02 2016

Far too often, Hollywood rom-coms problematize singleness. This genre portrays the lack of a romantic partner as a condition to be fixed – or even a disease to be cured. In many ways, coupling is somewhat of a biological imperative. But with lifespans getting longer and the nature of connectivity changing our expectations for others, singleness is becoming a more permanent fixture of the life course.

How to Be Single,” adapted from a novel by Liz Tuccillo (and seemingly loosely), provides many different avenues to explore just what this special period might mean. There’s the romantic monogamist type in Dakota Johnson’s Alice, the free-wheeling and fun-loving hedonist with Rebel Wilson’s Robin, and the maternally instinctual but careerist in Leslie Mann’s Meg. Each finds a path that is right for them as the film goes on, a refreshing change of pace from the “one size fits all” solution offered by far too many films.

The ride towards these conclusions gets a little turbulent, though, as the film plays into a few of the double standards or traps it wants to decry. It mostly just sticks to archetypes, which works just fine once each character finds themselves within one. Ironically, “How To Be Single” finds its biggest successes in the moments when someone’s archetype leads them to a moment of self-actualization.

The one character who does not fit this mold is Alison Brie’s Lucy, an algorithmically-obsessed serial online dater. Her connection to the core trio in the film is only tangential; the link comes from a neighborhood bar that Alice and Robin also happen to frequent. Lucy’s presence just clutters up “How To Be Single.” She feels like a shameless ploy for topical relevancy rather than a well-imagined addition to the story. Brie’s fire-tongued portrayal makes Lucy’s scenes fun, but they detract from the real core of the film. Her constant need to find herself in someone else clashes with the message offered by the rest of the film, which posits that extended time for solitary self-reflection can produce worthwhile discoveries. B-2stars

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REVIEW: The Bling Ring

3 08 2013

“Too many bowls of that grain, no Lucky Charms / the maids come around too much, the parents ain’t around enough,” sings Frank Ocean over the closing credits of Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” the perfect cherry on her blistering excoriation of millennial attention obsession disorder. It’s a quintessential Coppola story, containing an opportunity to reconsider the corrosive society of “The Virgin Suicides,” the clueless lives of the luxurious of “Marie Antoinette,” and the hollow celebrity culture of “Somewhere.” With her fifth feature, she swirls it all together into a darkly humorous fable with the pop of a tabloid headline turned music video.

The story is ever so lightly fictionalized from actual events where suburban L.A. teenagers harnessed the power of the Internet to rob celebrities while they were away from their homes. Curiously, they chose to steal from people who were mostly famous for their own fame, such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Audrina Patridge. They take plenty of clothing and accessories with them, but breaking and entering becomes like a hobby or a sport for them.

“The Bling Ring” is replete with relevant discussion topics, such as intimacy, narcissism, and connection in the era of social media – just to name a few. Nancy Jo Sales’ book, an expansion of her article from which Coppola derived the film, provides excellent commentary that manages a miraculous balancing act between rich cultural criticism and the breezy feel of a magazine article. Most of that depth is absent, however, in the film as Coppola opts to skim the surface on most issues.

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REVIEW: This Is 40

31 12 2012

Judd Apatow is quite a curious entertainer, and I’m fascinated by the trajectory he’s taken to put his stamp on comedy.  Lately, he’s been using his tremendous power to advance women’s voices in comedy through Lena Dunham‘s HBO series “Girls” and Kristen Wiig’s “Bridesmaids,” quite a noble thing to do.

Yet otherwise as a producer, he makes comedies largely by the status quo, albeit with a slightly Apatowian (is that the proper term?) spin of vulgarity opening up on a big heart.  Some are hits, and others are flops.  Some work; others, absolute disasters.

However, as a director, he’s on the cutting edge.  2009’s “Funny People” and his fourth feature film, “This is 40,” are bold experiments in genre.  In these two movies, Apatow is probing the boundaries of comedy and attempting to make sense of the murky gray area that is dramedy.

These two movies are flawed but noble ventures into the great unknown.  Both films attempt to find the kind of tender human drama that defines the works of Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman, two directors who make serious works with touches of levity.  Apatow strives to find that same pathos without losing his films’ firm rooting in comedy, and though he doesn’t find it in “This is 40,” I’m willing to sit and watch him decipher it out.  Because once he finds that balance, a true masterpiece will be the inevitable result.

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REVIEW: The Change-Up

6 08 2011

It’s a stretch to call “The Change-Up” a comedy.  The movie feels like a two-hour gag reel of failed jokes axed from an offensive stand-up comedian’s routine.  It puts you on edge, too, because you are always scared that it’s going to go one step too far and really offend someone like Michael Richards or Tracy Morgan.

Sophomoric and immature humor can be funny at times, but when anything relies solely on it, the act gets old really quickly.  The movie tastelessly hurls pot-shots at mentally challenged people, Down syndrome patients, Japanese people, and Catholics, just to name a few, trying to get a laugh at their expense.  This kind of shock jock technique treads a thin line between making a statement or commentary and exploiting stereotypes for personal gain; “The Change-Up” is so far on the wrong side of that line it really isn’t funny.

Not only that, the movie as a whole just doesn’t produce the laughs that it should.  The writers of “The Hangover,” who penned the stale reimagining of “Freaky Friday” that can barely be called a script, took the wrong lesson from their smash success.  We didn’t respond so overwhelmingly positively to “The Hangover” because of its raunchiness and vulgarity; that’s standard order in Hollywood R-rated comedies nowadays.  We responded because it was outrageously original and a fun ride because we never knew what to expect.

“The Change-Up” represents that lazy and misplaced mentality that  doubling the crudeness and gutting the inventiveness down to next to nothing will still produce a good comedy.  As evinced by all the jokes that fall terribly flat and the ability to see the wheels of the movie turning the whole time, it doesn’t produce anything except a rollickingly predictable and forgettable time at a movie that should have you rolling on the floor.  And alas, there are probably more body changing movies out there than decent laughs in this movie.

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Random Factoid #326

19 06 2010

I don’t watch much late night TV, not even the talk shows.

How does this tie in with the movies, which I tie everything into?  Well, I watch Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel whenever there is a big comedic movie coming out with a whole lot of stars doing the promotional parade.  The campaign has to take them to late night, so I buy in and watch them talk.  It’s pretty entertaining stuff.

The last time I made a concerted effort to watch a lot of guests was at the release of “Funny People” last summer when Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, and more were doing the rounds.  This summer, I’ll be watching around the release of “Grown Ups” with its five stars that will most likely be lighting up the late night circuit.  It kicked off last night with David Spade on Leno, and I’m sure it will be in full force next week.

But let me share the three top moments of the “Funny People” cast’s appearances from last summer.

3. Seth Rogen gets rejected by Megan Fox

2. Jonah Hill and his fake Twitter account

1. Leslie Mann likes to Google herself





What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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Random Factoid #32

29 08 2009

My moviegoing pet peeve is crying babies.  Most people know by now that talking on your cell phone during a movie is like urinating in your front lawn – that is, something that you just know not to do.  With the dawn of the iPhone and other touch screen cell phones, the annoying clicking of texters has been significantly minimized.  And I talk a lot during movies, so for me to say that is my pet peeve would be extremely hypocritical.

But whenever some couple brings their infant to the movie with them because they were too lazy to get a babysitter, I want to go punch a wall.  The majority of the time, they start whining and crying.  Unfortunately, most parents are too busy serving their selfish desire to watch a movie to take their disruptive child into the lobby, thus ruining the movie for the rest of the audience who has paid good money to see the movie.

I do have a specific worst crying baby moment.  I was at “Funny People,” and I was jammed next to a woman and her baby.  I knew that it would be bad news before the movie started when her daughter wouldn’t stop whining during the pre-show entertainment.  She managed to keep it together for the beginning of the movie, but I knew she was a ticking time bomb.  During a poignant and emotional scene between Adam Sandler and Leslie Mann, the baby starts screaming at a level so loud that it blocked out the sound from the movie.  And if the audience was staring bullets at her mother, she must have been wearing a Kevlar body suit.  She let her daughter scream and cry for over 2 minutes before taking her out, just in time to ruin the scene for the entire theater.