REVIEW: Rules Don’t Apply

15 11 2016

rules-dont-applyPoor Warren Beatty. The man has been trying to make a passion project about Howard Hughes for the better part of four decades. The film faced significant challenges, including 2004’s biopic collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio that nabbed double-digit Oscar nominations.

12 years later, Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” finally makes it to the big screen only to have the misfortune of opening in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. The timing doesn’t exactly feel right for a mostly breezy, old-fashioned tale about an eccentric and potentially deranged billionaire who wants to control women’s bodies and limit their personal freedoms. (A remark where a young actress declares, “I think Howard Hughes should be president, there’s no one else like him” is sure to inspire some nervous laughter.) To be clear, none of this is Beatty’s fault. He has no control over the circumstances under which his movie gets released.

But he did have control over what kind of movie he made. Beyond the unfortunate parallels to the man dominating global news headlines, “Rules Don’t Apply” is not a film built for the long haul – it is certainly not the kind of project that clearly evinces forty years of thought and development. After all that time, it feels like Beatty should have figured out the story’s protagonist – Hughes, his latest starlet prospect Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), or the married company driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who falls for her against his better judgement. The film plays out as a series of loosely connected, scarcely progressing scenes involving these characters – nothing more.

Of the key trio, only Ehrenreich’s Forbes is a character deserving of his own film. Beatty plays Hughes as a slave to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, turning his neuroses into a joking psychosis. Collins, meanwhile, dashes through her lines with such speed that she delivers them without seeming to understand what any of them mean. Or, at the very least, she doesn’t feel them with any strong sense of purpose.

Ehrenreich, meanwhile, recalls the unflappability and easygoing cool of a ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio. As a corporate pawn torn between his show business attraction and his familial commitments, Forbes is the only person in “Rules Don’t Apply” whose path does not seem predestined. Too bad that Beatty did not line up the heft of the movie fully behind him. C-1halfstars

Advertisements




REVIEW: Cut Bank

17 04 2015

Cut BankIn Matt Shankman’s “Cut Bank,” a tiny town has to deal with baby’s first murder investigation.  The young Dwayne McLaren, played by Liam Hemsworth, just happens to film his girlfriend Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) when a Native American pulls out a gun and shoots a postman (Bruce Dern).  The murder threatens to unravel and disrupt a number of co-dependent facades necessary to maintain a sense of peace in the small Montana locality, apparently the coldest in the country.

These implications involve a sheriff (John Malkovich), a shop owner (Billy Bob Thornton), a strange visitor (Michael Stuhlbarg), and an eager postal inspector (Oliver Platt).  The cast is far more impressive than the characters they play, though.  With little development of their personalities and far too many cooks in the kitchen, “Cut Bank” never quite finds its center of gravity.

There’s nothing wrong with an ensemble thriller so long the filmmakers are dedicated to giving each component a fair oiling, and that is definitely not the case in “Cut Bank.”  All these mechanical flaws only find themselves amplified by the lack of conspicuous artistry to distract from the uninspired execution.  This is a pretty standard, cut-and-dry crime flick with little out of the ordinary to offer.  C2stars





REVIEW: Kill the Messenger

20 03 2015

Michael Cuesta’s “Kill the Messenger” plays like an “All the President’s Men” for an era of the lone eagle rather than the journalistic tag team.  Jeremy Renner stars as muckraking journalist Gary Webb, a reporter who uncovers a 1980s CIA conspiracy that use the smuggling of crack cocaine into the U.S. as a front to launder weapons into Central America.  In essence, poor American communities are collateral damage to freedom fighting operations.

The first half features him uncovering the story, and the second half follows the fallout after publication.  Unlike Woodward and Bernstein, who had the backing of the Washington Post, Webb just wrote for a small outlet out of San Jose that lacked the resources or the confidence to stand with the controversial piece.  The CIA, of course, sought to discredit the story, and archival footage shows how the mainstream media ran with their smear campaign.

Renner is potent and forceful as the leading man of the film, clinging to his ethics and pride when all else around him seems to fail.  “Kill the Messenger” thrives because of his righteous anger.  His work also receives bolstering from a tremendous supporting cast with solid turns from character actors like Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

I can scarcely think of a critique for “Kill the Messenger,” except maybe the fact that it lacks an X-factor to take it from very good to great.  Still, Cuesta turns Peter Landesman’s tightly wound script into an entertaining, enthralling watch.  I can’t complain about that at all.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Chef

13 07 2014

Summer 2014 might host the documentary “Life Itself” that exalts critics, yet it also boasts Jon Favreau’s “Chef” that tears them down.  In the film, director Jon Favreau steps in front of the camera as Carl Casper, a chef whose meteoric rise in the culinary world has coasted to a plateau preparing dishes for the elite by the time we meet up with him.  Critics help build his reputation, but they are also apparently responsible for tearing it down.

Forced by his boss to prepare a rather formulaic meal when an influential foodie blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) stops by and subsequently receives a write-up indicating disappointment.  In his eyes, however, Casper might as well have received a review similar to that one of Guy Fieri’s restaurant penned by Pete Wells of The New York Times.  The now-notorious lambasting featured the critic mercilessly hurling rhetorical questions at the chef to the point where it seems like a personal vendetta.

Favreau bakes his opinions on the critical establishment following the roasting of his 2011 film “Cowboys & Aliens” into “Chef,” indicating an almost personal affront to the negative notices.  His attitude towards reviewers resembles that of a petulant child refusing to believe he can do anything wrong.  And despite a slapped-on ending to redeem the critics, Favreau never seems to acknowledge that he might just share a common goal with them – that of promoting and advancing a craft.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Please Give

12 12 2010

Thanks to Best Picture winners like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash,” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” today’s moviegoers are accustomed to thinking that movies that tackle issues have to be massive, sprawling dramas with big implications.  Euthanasia, racism, and poverty are big social issues facing the world today, and these movies have tackled them in such a big, brassy way that most audiences think that movies with such relevant themes have to be this way.

Yet on the comedic flip-side of the coin, there is Nicole Holofcener, who writes movies about issues just as important but with the scope of your average person.  Her latest feature, “Please Give,” explores money, greed, and guilt in today’s society as it affects four people in different but profound ways.  Full of wit and humor, the movie is delightfully pertinent to just about anyone in 2010 as it probes for answers to questions we often find ourselves asking everyday.

There’s nothing monumental about Holofcener’s latest study of money and society, but she builds the narrative from characters who are interesting and compelling down to their core.  Upper class New York couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) run a furniture business, managing to stay on top of competition by purchasing antiques from the children of the elderly who don’t know the true value of the pieces.  With some of their profits, they have managed to buy an adjacent apartment, now just waiting for the elderly inhabitant to pass away.

Yet with all the spoils of money, Kate can’t help but feel torn by guilt.  She sees the homelessness in the city and feels obliged to help in some way, but she also has a family to provide for, including a daughter who will stop at nothing until she gets a pair of designer jeans.  She also starts to wonder if she and Alex’s predatory purchasing is morally acceptable.  As a result, she tries to reform her life for what she thinks is the better of those less fortunate.  However, she finds that even with the best of intentions, sometimes helping others doesn’t help them – or yourself – as much as hoped.

Holofcener raises a lot of interesting questions with “Please Give” about the nature of charity in today’s culture, and her exploration doesn’t yield many answers.  The situations she lays out aren’t exactly comforting for those who think they are being helpful to the community.  But simply by raising these questions, she leads her audience to a self-examination, precisely what movies dealing with important societal issues should do.  B+





REVIEW: Love & Other Drugs

4 12 2010

There’s an interesting commentary on the pharmaceutical industry at the heart of “Love & Other Drugs,” a prevalent enough part of the story to make it into the title.  But it’s the love part of the name that takes control of the movie and ultimately devalues the larger and more relevant message.  Like a pimple, the romance grows and grows until it virtually envelops the face.

Granted, this is an incredibly attractive pimple.  The film’s historical background in dealing with Viagra gives it free reign to go crazy on the sexuality, and director Edward Zwick runs with the opportunity.  It’s practically soft-core porn starring two young, attractive stars in Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal.  But the movie is more than just two constantly and completely naked stars on a bed; it develops the emotional out of the physical.

The nudity isn’t meant to titillate so much as it is to be honest.  It removes the sheets of pretense from the bedfellows, Jamie the womanizing Viagra salesman (Gyllenhaal) and his latest squeeze Maggie, a passionate but insecure lover affected by stage 1 Parkinson’s (Hathaway), and leaves their character naked.  The two nudities complement each other beautifully, and these are two fascinating portraits of people trying to figure out where their lives are heading.

Read the rest of this entry »





F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 19, 2010)

19 11 2010

Looking for a warm Thanksgiving-themed movie to watch while the turkey is in the oven?  Take a bite out of the delectable comedy “Pieces of April,” my timely pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  I watched the movie back in March because of Patricia Clarkson’s Oscar-nominated supporting role, but there’s so much more to love about the movie than her.  I’ve been an enthusiastic fan for quite some time now, and I held back posting about it until now, when the timing seems right.

Think about, we get a plethora of Christmas movies but no love for Thanksgiving?  By the time November rolls around, all the stores are already decorated to sell Christmas gear, XM Radio has already started their Christmas station again, and the retailers start to post their holiday sale information.  There’s so much to celebrate about Thanksgiving, one of the few holidays we have left that isn’t heavily commercialized.  So for all those who think that Thanksgiving is just the day before Black Friday, step away from the wallet and sit on the couch and watch “Pieces of April.”

Since Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, it makes sense that this a movie all about family, both the ones we are forced to be a part of and the ones we make ourselves.  April (Katie Holmes, pre-Tom and Suri madness) is the twenty-something rebel living in New York to maintain a distance from her dysfunctional family, but welcomes them to her tiny apartment for Thanksgiving dinner, potentially the last for her mother Joy (Clarkson), embittered by her breast cancer diagnosis.  The movie follows both sides as they think they have the hardest part of the deal: April actually attempting to cook a turkey and her family making the journey from suburbia.

Each encounter difficulties, with April’s oven breaking and Joy’s negativity forcing them to take some trite and unnecessary delays.  However, April finds that her cooking struggles force her to interact with her neighbors, with whom she had never associated before.  She finds that she can actually be friends with these people, and that’s what makes “Pieces of April” such a great movie for such a great holiday: it’s all about the relationships, both appreciating the ones you have and being open to making new ones.