REVIEW: Passion

6 08 2013

PassionI don’t even know where to begin with Brian DePalma’s “Passion,” an instant contender for the worst movie of 2013.  It’s one of the tackiest and most tasteless films I’ve ever seen, an exploitative B-movie that tries to masquerade as something classier.  It isn’t.

Though it cries to be taken seriously as an art film, I place “Passion” next to “The Hangover Part III” in terms of a disturbing trend from summer movies in 2013.  Both films take an undercurrent of same-sex attraction from their prior incarnations (for “Passion,” this is a well-made French thriller from 2010 called “Love Crime“) and turn into ridiculous and overt subject matter.  While the relationship between manipulative boss Christine and her brilliant protege Isabelle had some tension in the original film, it’s to the point of full-on make-outs and lesbian love declarations.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  However, we don’t live in a time where homosexuality needs to be transmuted into some exotic abnormality, so the campiness of “Passion” plays as somewhat offensive and insensitive.  Noomi Rapace at least plays Isabelle with some grounding in reality. Rachel McAdams’ Christine, on the other hand, is played with all the gusto of her iconic Regina George from “Mean Girls” but with all the energy channeled into making her an insatiable sexual animal.

Although to put the blame for “Passion” on the shoulders of its two leading ladies is unfair.  The movie is a mess because of director Brian DePalma, whose attempts at Adrian Lyne-esque steaminess or Wachowskian cerebral thrills just fall flat on their face.  His adaptation of “Love Crime” drains every ounce of subtlety from the story, turning a tale of professional rivalries turned criminal into crazy lesbian bloodlust (to be short and blunt about what this film is).

“Passion” aims for somewhere between Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” but falls firmly into the territory of unintentional farce destined for the $2 DVD bin at CVS Pharmacy.  D+1halfstars





REVIEW: The Vow

28 02 2012

If you don’t read the fine print, you could easily be duped into thinking “The Vow” is the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks beach read – I mean, novel.  The marketers were certainly happy to sell it as such, reminding us that the movie doesn’t just star Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum but rather the leads of “The Notebook” and “Dear John.”  Little did I, or many others, realize that their obsession with framing it in terms of Sparks’ work was just a big cover.  The movie is actually merely “inspired by true events,” Hollywood’s catch-all phrase that reminds us that something similar happened in real life and that they intend to take massive artistic liberties.

After seeing the movie, I can tell why they had to bombard people with the idea that they had to judge it on the “standards” of Nicholas Sparks (if you can even call them standards).  While it may be inspired by reality, it is based on his formula for tears and gushy displays of shameless romanticism.  Hollywood never seems to take the right lessons away from their smashing successes, and “The Vow” is just a further reminder of how skewed their logic has become.  Some things only work once, and to hammer them away into hackneyed oblivion.

There comes a point when these calculations eventually stop yielding success and the total becomes less than the sum of its parts.  “The Vow” represents that for the Sparks weepies, although it may have come earlier since I don’t make it a point to see movies like this.  A big group of friends insisted on seeing this movie (although I did remind them that there was a great movie called “The Artist” showing a couple of screens down), so I decided I might as well see what the fuss was about these movies.

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REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

6 06 2011

For devoted Woody Allen fans like myself, who will watch anything the insanely prolific writer/director puts his name on, watching him make virtually the same neurotic film over and over again is bearable.  For such fans, it’s a joy to watch Allen (or some other poor schmuck of a surrogate when he’s too old to play himself) bumble through life clinging on to his defeatist worldview.  For others, though, the filmmaker’s consistent nervous babbling has lost its charm and have thus tuned out Allen’s faithful annual output.

However, Allen has done something miraculous with his latest film, “Midnight in Paris.”  He has made a movie that satisfies both camps with wit, charm, and creativity.  It still has that burst of zany energy that the Allen faithful adore but tones down the nihilism so that the disenchanted or neophyte Allen fans can focus on the film’s ideas and not on their querulous complaints.  In other words, it’s a movie made to be seen outside the director’s normal niche audience but can still win that crowd over with its warmth and ingenuity.

Not to mention that many fans and foes alike have also been looking forward to Allen making a movie like “Midnight in Paris” for many years.  At 75, Allen is entering his sixth decade of filmmaking and has shown little indication of budging from the tenants of his philosophy, rarely subjecting them to challenges, criticism, or reproach.  But as he enters what are sure to be the twilight years of his film career, Allen hints in his latest film at a level of maturity we rarely see from the director.  He puts his views under a microscope in “Midnight in Paris” and analyzes their practicality in the modern world, ultimately producing some very interesting and unexpected conclusions.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 27, 2011)

27 05 2011

With Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” earning its place in the box office record books (but still nowhere to be found in Houston theaters), I figured the right way to kick off the return of the “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie) of the Week was to shine a light on one of star Rachel McAdam’s finest flicks, “Red Eye.”  The phrase “killer thriller” gets thrown around a lot in regards to chilling cinema due to alliteration, yet few actually merit the descriptor.  This one does.

Say what you will about “Scream 4” being a critical flop and a box office disaster, but you can’t deny that director Wes Craven can send chills up your spine.  “Red Eye” is more in the vein of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” than it is in horror-comedy of “Scream,” and even on DVD and the second watch, it’s still as frightening as ever.  Running at only 85 minutes, the compact volume of terror keeps the tension so taut it could be cut with a knife at any moment.

McAdams stars as Lisa Reisert, a hotel manager taking the red eye home to Miami from her grandmother’s funeral.  Little does she know, however, that she is in the thick of a terrorist plot spearheaded by the devilishly charming man in the seat next to her, Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy).  His plan of terror is not to hijack the plane but rather hijack Lisa’s sanity, exploiting her position, threatening her, and playing intense psychological games with her.

Murphy, channeling his eerie performance from “Batman Begins,” is an absolutely terrifying villain.  He keeps most of Jack’s ferocity bubbling under the surface, just waiting to explode, and it keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat awaiting the moment when he finally snaps.  Thanks to Murphy, “Red Eye” keeps the blood pumping and the heart pounding all the way to the movie’s climactic moments.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 17, 2010)

17 12 2010

There’s no place like home for the holidays … unless its the home of your boyfriend’s overbearing family.

Such is Christmas for Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone,” a winter dramedy with a perfect balance between the two genres.  It’s enjoyable to watch at any time of the year, but it has a particularly warm and loving embrace around the holiday season.  With a fantastic ensemble and pitch-perfect writing, this movie has been a favorite of mine ever since it hit theaters five years ago today.  (And yes, I was there to see it on its first showtime that day.)

It’s always tough meeting the potential in-laws, and the uptight Meredith doesn’t leave the best first impression as she tries to simultaneously be herself and be charming.  The odds are against stacked against the potential new addition to the Stone family as Amy (Rachel McAdams) has it in for her after a dinner in New York didn’t exactly endear her to the incessantly blabbering throat-clearer Meredith.  The tension is only heightened by matriarch Sybill (Diane Keaton), determined not to give her mother’s wedding ring to Everett (Dermot Mulroney) for him to put on Meredith’s finger.

Yet not everyone is determined to see her demise: the fun-loving prodigal son Ben (Luke Wilson) does his best to bring out the welcome wagon, and the ever-reasonable father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) is determined to give her a chance.  But after a day, Meredith mixes with the Stone family like oil mixes with water, and things go haywire as the holiday spirit combines with mean spirits.  The result is a hilariously potent comedy about the importance of family, both the ones we are born into and the ones we create.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention the heavier side of the movie.  Much of what happens in “The Family Stone” is due to an unpleasant truth about the future of a member of the Stone family, and it had been quietly kept secret until Meredith arrives.  The movie is not only a comedy but also a deeply touching and heartfelt look at our families and how much we value each member of them.  Around the holidays, there’s simply nothing better than a movie that can make you laugh and cry with the people you love the most.





REVIEW: Morning Glory

11 11 2010

Morning Glory” centers around the fictional morning talk show Daybreak, which is in fourth place in the ratings behind The Today Show, Good Morning America, and “whatever CBS has in the morning.”  In the realm of movies centered around talk shows, this Rachel McAdams vehicle falls among the ranks of Good Morning America in that spectrum.  It has heart and makes for some undeniable fun, but the familiarity of the story and premise make it difficult for the movie to have the resounding emotional impact it so greatly desires.

It’s less a story about the newsroom as it is about the woman running it, Becky Fuller (McAdams), a career girl who is so focused on her job that she bumbles through every other aspect of her life.  It’s just as easy to be inspired by her drive to return Daybreak to glory as it is to be off-put by McAdams’ phoned-in performance.  She is so overly kinetic and frantic that it feels awkward.  I’m a huge fan of her work, so I was surprised to find myself reacting so aversely to her charms.

Without McAdams in full force, the rest of the movie has to pick up the slack, and, for the most part, it does.  What the script lacks in originality it makes up for in humor, through both great lines and on-air moments that recall some of the most YouTube-worthy news anchors of our time (I’m talking to you, Grape Lady).  The diva aspect is totally nailed as well, particularly shining through Diane Keaton’s prima donna anchor Colleen Peck.  We rarely get to see the aging actress anymore, and she spins every line into gold.

It’s particularly great to see her quarreling with Harrison Ford’s Mike Pomeroy, an aging Dan Rather-type anchor with no time for anything but what he deems “serious” news.  Ford plays him as a sort of gruff Walt Kowalski from “Gran Torino” with the intimidating deep voice and booming temper, which sometimes borders on excessive.  Yet Ford is far from bad, still managing to find ways to make his interpretation work.  He delivers the emotional climax of the movie, which the script bungles, and saves it from being a total disaster, quite a feat in itself.

There’s a lot to enjoy about “Morning Glory,” and while that doesn’t include great thematic depth, this isn’t the kind of movie that requires it to be successful.  It’s a great ball of fun, warm and fluffy, that will hold up very well on repeat Sunday afternoon viewings on TBS.  And as far as unoriginal movies go, this is about as good as they get.  B





My “My Best Friend’s Wedding” Cast WON!

29 10 2010

Who, me?  Again?  Oh, stop it.  Seriously, stop it.

Thanks again to every LAMB voter who crowned me king of casting AGAIN.  I really do appreciate it.  Maybe I should go into casting as a career … the other day I recast “The Social Network” using the actors from my school’s acting company.  It’s something I sure like to do.

I’ll offer up a brief bit of rationale behind my casting – and who knows, maybe you can steal my crown!

Rachel McAdams was my choice to take over helming the movie from Julia Roberts.  She’s a fantastic actress with great comedic talent, plus she looks GORGEOUS.  Even if she stunk in the role, I’d forgive her as long as she looked good.  She is in the mainstream consciousness, but a huge role like this could propel her to superstardom.  I have adored her in movies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The Family Stone,” and I just hope the rest of America could catch up with me – er, her.

I had the hardest time casting Michael, the man of her dreams who happens to be engaged to another girl.  I settled on Ryan Reynolds, who has been heating up the rom-com circuit recently and could easily do a pretty good job with this role.

The two biggest no-brainers were the scene-stealing supporting roles of Cammy, Michael’s ditzy fiance, and George, Jules’s gay friend who steps in to make everything more complicated.  It was obvious from the get-go that Amanda Seyfried would have to play the part since she has proven herself so great at playing the dumb blonde type (“Mean Girls”) as well as being someone beautiful that an audience can care about (“Mamma Mia”).

And do I even need to explain choosing Neil Patrick Harris as George?  He’s one of the funniest people at work in the business and this role was practically made for him.  If there’s ever a Broadway version of the movie, he will be instantly cast.

Watch for the next edition of LAMB Casting, when the blogosphere attempts to recast “Forrest Gump!”  (My choice.  We’ll see how it goes.)