REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes

1 10 2017

Toronto International Film Festival

NOTE: Since I reviewed this film for a bigger outlet, I can’t really reprint the review in its entirety. From now on, when I’ve given a film a proper review elsewhere, I’ll use this space to expand upon certain elements that might not have made their way into the full review.

Battle of the Sexes

One aspect of “Battle of the Sexes” getting lost amidst the gendered 2016 election comparisons is the film’s queer storyline. It was important that Emma Stone’s Billie Jean King was a woman facing Steve Carell’s misogynist Bobby Riggs, but as the 1973 public did not know, it was important that she was a queer woman. King was living a lie to herself and her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) because the world was simply not ready to accept a prominent lesbian athlete. (It’s used against King by one of her pious teammates as blackmail, another sad reminder that not every woman abides by the tenets of feminism.)

As I wrote in my full review, “It’s important ‘Battle of the Sexes’ included Marilyn [King’s lover, played by Andrea Riseborough] – to reduce her role or eliminate her altogether would have been nothing short of erasure.” But while their love story might not function smoothly as a romantic subplot, it does open a window into the quiet dignity of a still very underground LGBT community. (Most notable among them is Alan Cumming as Cuthbert ‘Ted’ Tinling, the women’s costumer.) In particular, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris pick up on the incognito communication they use to keep each other safe and covered. These observations are perceptive, and they seem like just nice moments until a surprisingly walloping emotional coda that I dare not spoil consummates them into something more.

Also, Sarah Silverman should only play sleazy promoters/publicists moving forward. Between this and “Popstar,” she’s found her perfect type. B+

Read my full review on Slashfilm.





REVIEW: Café Society

7 08 2016

Woody Allen haters, whether for his personal life or his professional output, need only look at the basic plot summary of “Café Society” to turn themselves away. On its face, the film repackages one of the most unfortunate clichés propagated by his body of work.

This, of course, is the doomed love triangle where a young, sexually blooming woman is courted by two men; one is an older and more distinguished gentleman, while the other is a younger but more intellectually and romantically capable match. Such a formation often seems like Allen wants to have it both ways, where his older and younger personas form a kind of sexual yin and yang.

This risible, repetitive plot invention looms over “Café Society,” imbuing every gorgeous frame from Vittorio Storraro’s lens with a faint stench of retrograde gender politics. In that way, the film plays a role similar to that friend you know has substance issues but dispenses valuable nuggets of drunk wisdom.

Look past the love triangle and beyond the outmoded attitudes, and “Café Society” marks Woody Allen at peak nostalgic autobiography. A few of the bad elements are here, sure, but much of the beauty and torment that marks Allen’s best work is present as well. From his culturally Jewish upbringing to his loathing of Hollywood and even his bleakly optimistic outlook on life, the film feels somewhat akin to a superhero origin story.

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REVIEW: Freeheld

19 10 2015

FreeheldFreeheld” is the most unfortunate of contradictions.  This weepie issues drama about the dark age known as 2002 wants to applaud all progress achieved in the past decade for LGBT Americans.  Yet when it comes time for the film’s chief characters, partners Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), to show affection after securing a domestic partnership, their kiss literally makes no noise.

Director Peter Sollett and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner love having a good round of self-congratulatory outrage and inspiration for lesbian couples like Laurel and Stacie.  They just don’t really care for gays as people all that much.  If they did, they might realize that the battle against discrimination and stigmatization is not over just because of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Freeheld,” perhaps from bad storytelling but also likely because of bad marketing, wants to insert itself in the debate on marriage equality.  This might make the film appear more “timely,” sure, but it is completely incorrect.  Laurel and Stacie’s battle was never about marriage.  It was about equality under the law, even though their legal union was the 21st century equivalent of “separate but equal.”  To redirect the righteous outrage of a woman who fought for her rights even on her deathbed for pure opportunism feels disgraceful to her memory.

Laurel remained closeted as an occupational hazard on the New Jersey police force, fearing that any strain of moral indecency would only enhance the sexism she already faced.  But once stricken with late-stage cancer, she risks backlash in order to secure the transfer of her pension to Stacie.  The law covers domestic partnerships, yet that does not stop her county’s board of freeholders from refusing her request.

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REVIEW: Foxcatcher

12 11 2014

FoxcatcherTelluride Film Festival

In the opening minutes of “Foxcatcher,” a quietly quotidian montage details the routine of Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz, a wrestler living and training modestly in spite of winning gold at the 1984 Olympic Games.  The sequence concludes with him stepping behind a podium to address a less than captivated audience of elementary school students, and he begins with the line, “I want to talk about America.”

This opening remark appears to be a harbinger portending a film where director Bennett Miller will talk at us about America.  Ramming any sort of message down our throats, however, seems the last thing on Miller’s mind.  The deliberately paced and masterfully moody “Foxcatcher” provides a trove of discussion-worthy material about the dark underbelly of the world’s most powerful nation.  What Miller actually wants is to talk with us about America.

Miller works deftly within the framework of E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s script, which itself feels beholden to no convention or genre. They slowly parse out information on the characters of the film, providing disturbing details and abnormal actions that do not lend themselves to easy explanation. “Foxcatcher” thrives on small moments that do not seem incredibly consequential as they occur, though their cumulative effect is quite the knockout.

The film crafted by Miller is not one of conventional capital-A “Acting.” It’s performance as being, not as much doing. While the talented trifecta of Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo still has plenty of events to live out, they function best as the shiniest components of a larger tonal machine. Miller expertly employs them to highlight the sinister undercurrents running beneath the eerie, brooding surface of “Foxcatcher.”

His proclivity for cutaways and long-held takes has a tendency to turn the characters into specimens, but such an approach also solicits active examination.  The film’s co-leads, Tatum and Carell, each carry themselves in an unconventional, magnified manner that invites peering past their appearances.  What lurks beneath are truly tormented men, each seeking a symbolic meaning system to bring them fulfillment.

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REVIEW: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

6 01 2014

Maybe Adam McKay should have let the marketing and promotions team write the movie “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” for he and Will Ferrell.  They certainly had a much better grasp of the power present in Ron Burgundy’s cult iconography gained over the year and used it to leverage interest in a follow-up to a film released nearly a decade prior.  It’s a shame that the abysmal sequel had nothing to deliver.

I certainly don’t dislike 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” but I never quite understood why it above other movies had gained such a foothold in the pop culture lexicon.  A plethora of lines from the original film are now such staples of conversation these days that I often forget their origin. While I was entertained by the movie the one time I watched it on HBO, I certainly did not think it deserved a sequel over a film like, say, “Pineapple Express” or “Role Models.”

While the former got a humorous pseudo-sequel in “This Is The End,” I can now say with certainty I never want to see a follow-up to the latter after “Anchorman 2” just destroyed the legacy of its predecessor.  While there are intermittent laughs to be had, the utter stupidity of its jokes and lack of care in maintaining its characters made for what might be the most unpleasant moviegoing experience of 2013.

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Oscar Moment: 2013 Pre-Fall Festival Predictions

27 08 2013

Well, folks, the time is here to talk about Oscar season.  The Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, and suddenly it won’t be taboo to talk about what might be competing for the Academy Awards.

Just to show you how much things change over the course of the fall, last year I predicted “The Master” to win Best Picture at this time – and it wound up not being nominated.  I was close for Best Director and Best Actor, though, ranking Ang Lee and Daniel Day-Lewis my #2 pick in their respective categories.  Jennifer Lawrence was not remotely on my radar, but my projected winner Quvenzhané Wallis did manage to get a nomination!  I got the movie right for Best Supporting Actor, but picked Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Christoph Waltz as the “Django Unchained” cast member to hoist the Oscar.  And I, like everyone else, saw Anne Hathaway’s win coming from the moment the first “Les Misérables” trailer hit the web.

So what will surprise us this year?  And what will disappoint?  Here’s my first draft at a year in Oscar forecasting.

Best Picture

  1. American Hustle (trailer)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (trailer)
  3. Foxcatcher
  4. August: Osage County (trailer)
  5. Gravity (trailer)
  6. The Monuments Men (trailer)
  7. Her (trailer)
  8. Inside Llewyn Davis (trailer)
  9. Labor Day
  10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (trailer)

American HustleThere seems to be no clear frontrunner a la “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “War Horse” for 2013.  So I’m just going to gander it’s a dues-paying year.  It seems like David O. Russell, after two straight Best Picture-Best Director nominations for “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” is now on the fast track to win someday.  So why not 2013 with “American Hustle?”  A glitzy period drama that looks to provide action, comedy, and drama looks pretty good on paper to me.

Another film I could see making a charge at the prize is Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.”  Despite all the talent involved in this film, I think it might still be an underdog given that McQueen’s previous two films have not received a single Oscar nomination.  Then again, Tom Hooper was a relative novice when he directed “The King’s Speech,” and we know how that story ends.

Previous Best Director nominees Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), George Clooney (“The Monuments Men”), Spike Jonze (“Her”), the Coen Brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), and Jason Reitman (“Labor Day”) all look to get in the Best Picture race.  Based on their pedigree alone, I’m predicting nominations for these five films.  All are sight unseen, save “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which I have seen and can attest is the kind of well-made film that will score with the Academy.

I guess I could include Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” in this clump, since the film’s director is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and editor.  But that film gets a Best Picture nomination, in my mind, because it belongs in a class with “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi” – technical masterpieces directed by renowned talents.

As for “August: Osage County,” that play is so well-written that it would take a first-class hack job for it not to be a Best Picture nominee.  We’re talking a play that will go next to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in the American dramatic literature canon, people.

And to round out the top 10, I picked Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I’m not entirely sold on it, but it could make a surprise run for Best Picture.  It could also fizzle with awards voters.  Who knows?  Clearly not I.

Best Director

  1. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
  2. Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  3. Steve McQueen, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
  5. Spike Jonze, “Her”

FoxcatcherAs I said, I’m projecting Russell to go all the way in 2013.

Past nominee Bennett Miller could give him a run for his money, although he was overlooked for his work on 2011 Best Picture nominee “Moneyball.”  Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron should score their first Best Director nominations (which is a shame).

And since Spike Jonze scored a lone Best Director nomination for “Being John Malkovich” back in 1999, I don’t think it’s out of the question to see him score a second nomination for his work on “Her.”  It certainly appears to be daring … and the director’s branch showed they were willing to go out on a limb last year with nominees Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke.

Best Actor

  1. Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
  2. Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
  3. Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  5. Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

McConaugheyBig, baity performances have won out here for the past decade, essentially.  So I’d say the frontrunner has to be Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  His comeback narrative is appealing, and the fact that he lost a ton of weight helps.

That being said, I wouldn’t count out Joaquin Phoenix for “Her.”  If he could get nominated for a polarizing film like “The Master,” perhaps there’s more respect for Phoenix in the Academy than most people recognize.  He’s been nominated three times now, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he wins.

Chiwetel Ejiofor could easily supplant McConaughey as the bait performance to beat here.  A frontrunner will be cemented by the time both films debut at Toronto.

Breakout performer Oscar Isaac ought to score a nod here for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”  I don’t see how he can be overlooked if the movie is a hit with the Academy.

And keep an eye out for Robert Redford here.  He gives an incredible, virtually wordless performance in “All Is Lost” that will not be forgotten.  The Hollywood legend hasn’t been nominated for his acting in over 40 years, and the one Oscar sitting on his mantle is for directing.  Might it be his time in the sun?

Best Actress

  1. Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
  2. Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
  3. Naomi Watts, “Diana”
  4. Kate Winslet, “Labor Day”
  5. Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Amy AdamsPlease, Academy, make this Amy Adams’ year!  She’s been nominated four times already in Best Supporting Actress.  Now that she’s playing with the big girls in Best Actress, maybe it’s just time to give her the darned trophy already.

Woody Allen hasn’t directed a woman to a leading actress win since Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” – perhaps Cate Blanchett’s turn in “Blue Jasmine” can break the dry spell?  I think she’s a sure bet for a nomination, but another win is unlikely since Blanchett has won in the past decade.

Or maybe it’s Naomi Watts’ turn after coming up short for last year’s “The Impossible.”  If the Academy loves this two-time nominee, an uncanny performance as Princess Diana would be a good time to give it to her.

Kate Winslet has been nominated for six Oscars and has won one.  So why would the love stop now?  In her first notable screen performance since winning for 2008’s “The Reader,” she could rack up nomination number 7 and be well on her way to becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation.

Speaking of Meryl Streep, I could be making a mistake by not including her here.  She would definitely crack my top 5, but I’m hearing that she’ll be campaigned in supporting.  So for now, that fifth slot goes to Emma Thompson for the breezy “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Michael Fassbender, “12 Years A Slave”
  2. Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
  3. Daniel Bruhl, “Rush”
  4. Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  5. Tom Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks”

FassbenderGo big or go home.  After being snubbed for his incredible work in “Shame,” I predict the Academy will right its wrongs and reward Michael Fassbender with an Oscar for “12 Years A Slave.”  I really hope I’m right.

Bradley Cooper, given the villain role in “American Hustle,” could capitalize on a year of goodwill after a nomination from “Silver Linings Playbook.”  He’s probably a safer pick, but I’m not interested in safe at this point.

After last year’s category was dominated by previous winners, I’m going to predict two more first-time nominees in this category: Daniel Bruhl for “Rush,” whose performance has been touted since Cannes, and Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher,” a darker role for the comedic actor.

And then I’ll predict Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” because that proposition just sounds too good to pass up for Academy voters.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Oprah Winfrey, “The Butler”
  2. Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
  3. Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”
  4. Cameron Diaz, “The Counselor”
  5. Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

OprahHonestly, this category is such a toss-up at this point, so I’m forced to pick the only person with buzz at the moment: Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler.”  Beyond her, my confidence ends.  If the Weinstein Company had announced what Meryl Streep will be campaigned in, I’d feel confident picking her in whatever category they chose.  Right now, I’m going with supporting.

I thought Octavia Spencer was the best part of “Fruitvale Station,” but her part may be too small or too soon after her win for “The Help.”

Cameron Diaz looks like an intriguing femme fatale in “The Counselor,” but that movie could flop so hardcore that she’s rendered a non-factor this season.  With no festival appearances slated, the film does not appear to be a serious threat for anything.  Diaz has been pretty quiet lately, but let’s not forget she had a string of acclaimed roles from 1998 to 2002 that gave her 4 Golden Globe nominations and 3 SAG Award nominations.

And as for that last slot, I figured I might as well throw in Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle.”  Everyone loves J.Law, and I think enough people will like “American Hustle” to give her a victory lap after last year’s win.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. American Hustle
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. Blue Jasmine
  4. Her
  5. Gravity

Inside Llewyn DavisDavid O. Russell is a two-time writing nominee?  Check for “American Hustle.”

The Coen Brothers are five-time writing nominees with two wins?  Check for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay a whopping 15 times, and “Blue Jasmine” does not suck.  Check.

Spike Jonze is an acclaimed original figure in Hollywood?  Check for “Her,” but with some reluctance as “The Master” was snubbed last year for the clichéd “Flight.”

Alfonso Cuaron is a two-time writing nominee, but his latest film “Gravity” might be a lot more impressive on the screen than it is on the page.  Perhaps he will wow us once again and make us regret ever doubting him … so I’ll predict “Gravity” to take the final slot here.  But “Black Swan” missed here, so originality isn’t everything in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. 12 Years A Slave
  2. Foxcatcher
  3. The Monuments Men
  4. August: Osage County
  5. Before Midnight

It would be foolish of me not to predict a lot of Best Picture nominees here, which traditionally dominate the Best Adapted Screenplay category.  But don’t count out “Before Midnight,” whose predecessor scored a nomination back in 2004 in this category.  The series, and this installment in particular, has gotten a lot of positive press.  I don’t think the writers will forget about this one.

What do you think?  Who is the one to beat in 2013?  Sound off!





REVIEW: The Way Way Back

4 08 2013

Two years ago, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash stood on stage at the Academy Awards behind Alexander Payne as he delivered the majority of their acceptance speech for writing “The Descendants.” While Payne waxed poetic to millions of people, Faxon and Rash drew the attention of the cameramen through a bizarre stunt – mocking Angelina Jolie’s flaunting of her flawless leg as it protruded out of her dress that very night.

As soon as I saw that, I thought to myself that they must have provided the humor in “The Descendants,” and the tragedy and drama came courtesy of Alexander Payne. But after seeing Faxon and Rash’s directorial debut “The Way Way Back,” which they also wrote together, I’m not so sure my assumption was correct. The dynamic duo crafted a truly heartfelt and genuine film that is equal parts uproarious comedy and poignant drama. Not a moment in the movie feels false as everything hits home just by being honest.

The film might not be the most original as it is a fairly typical entry into the coming-of-age sub genre. The protagonist, Duncan, is a shy turtle of a 14-year-old boy headed for a summer at the beach with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Both of them struggle to fit into Trent’s pre-existing world, although Pam has no escape. Duncan manages to find a surrogate family for the summer at the Water Wizz water park under the tutelage of the quick-witted Owen (Sam Rockwell).

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REVIEW: Despicable Me 2

18 07 2013

No one is mistaking Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment for Pixar.  Heck, on its best day, I don’t even think it stacks up with DreamWorks Animation.  But that’s not to say that “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t have a place in the market.

It’s a film content to be just simple and sophomoric, corny and childish – but who can blame them for making a kids movie that’s tailored towards children?  It’s got goofy laughs aplenty for the munchkins, and it’s not shudder-inducing for everyone else.  While “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t hit straight at the heart like a “Toy Story” movie, it’s lovable enough to bring out the soft side in everyone.

Though it hardly qualifies as TV-14 humor, “Despicable Me 2” boasts a completely successful bottling of Essence d’Kristen Wiig into an animated character.  Her Anti-Villain League agent Lucy has all the lovable awkwardness of Wiig complete with all her zany body contortions.  She makes up the deficit left by Steve Carell’s Gru and the adorable Agnes, who simply doesn’t have the same unbridled innocent charm as the original “Despicable Me.”

Yet while Agnes decreases, the Minions increase.  Those little yellow corn-nuggets of energy are back in full force, no longer relegated to side-show status like they were in the first film.  They are even better realized in “Despicable Me 2,” achieving a kind of humor not unlike that of silent comedians (albeit in a very watered down fashion).

Illumination certainly did a good job of looking at what worked in the 2010 film and made it even bigger and better for their sequel.  In other words, they’ve come to the market in 2013 with a product even better suited for the moviegoers that made “Despicable Me” such a hit 3 years ago.  That may be good for investors, but it’s not all that great for the fans.  “Despicable Me 2,” not unlike its predecessor, is a rather disposable movie that charms during the experience but dissipates the second you leave the theater.  Though it is funny, it is also rather forgettable.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Hope Springs

14 01 2013

Hope SpringsBe careful, for “Hope Springs” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

David Frankel’s comedy disguises itself as a comedy in the vein of “It’s Complicated” where Meryl Streep has issues with her sex life.  But it’s anything but that.  Laughs are sparse, unless you find uncomfortable erotic fantasies being spouted by Tommy Lee Jones to be uproarious.

Instead, “Hope Springs” plays like “Blue Valentine” with an AARP card.  We see Streep and Jones’ married couple, but there’s no love or passion anymore.  Sure, they are held together by their children, their house, and 31 years of commitment.  But they don’t touch each other, kiss each other, or even sleep in the same bed anymore.

I suppose it’s effective as a drama, largely because the dynamic is devastating and depressing between the couple in question.  Channeling some of his Oscar-nominated performance as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln,” Tommy Lee Jones constantly bullies his wife into submission and silence.  And when that wife is America’s sweetheart Meryl Streep, it just makes you angry.

When they go to couples therapy with an eerily stoic Steve Carell as their shrink, it’s hard to believe that this marriage can be fixed in anything less than a Hollywood movie.  And things get better, but I was hardly convinced or left smiling.  Between “Hope Springs” and “Amour,” 2012 has been a year where the movies have frightened me about where love and marriage eventually end up.  C2stars





REVIEW: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

18 06 2012

Melancholia” or Melan-comedy?  Much like that awful pun to start this review, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” often teeters on the delicate see-saw of funny and just plain depressing.  In brief bursts, it often has moments of humor that can garner a chuckle.  Most of these jokes only play well to those with a love of irony and a willingness to accept a little bit of absurdity – because think too much and you might actually remember that these people are facing extinction.

That’s right, just as the title suggests, Lorene Scafaria’s debut feature opens at the close (a “Harry Potter” reference that should explain the earlier von Trier allusion).  This apocalypse, however, feels nothing like the impending pit of doom that forms in our stomachs when watching “Contagion” or “Take Shelter,” two films heralding a modern end of days.  Given three weeks notice of a massive asteroid impact that will end all life on Earth, we’ve been primed to expect massive riots, looting, and murder.

What Scafaria provides could perhaps best be described as “The Bucket List: Apocalypse Edition,” in which forty-year-olds simply act like college students by losing their inhibition for a brief period of time.  Cocaine, adultery, you name it!  But when the novelty of their “end of the world” party wears off, it’s time to get down to business – living out the romantic-comedy narrative that all of us must fulfill some time before we meet our maker.  Oh, and there’s also a tiny riot just for kicks to advance the plot.  In the quiet suburbs of New York City, you can barely tell that mankind’s demise is imminent because it feels so sanitized of conflict or anxiety.  “Apocalypse Now” or Apocalypse Lite?  (Sorry, couldn’t resist another one.)

Yet simply because Steve Carell’s vanilla, insurance-selling sad sack Dodge reluctantly falls in love with Keira Knightley’s pot-smoking, free-spirited hypersomniac Penny in an archetypical narrative does not mean that the movie realizes that and tailors our experience to fit such a pattern.  Instead, “Seeking a Friend” settles to provide a slightly satisfying film while it suffers from genre confusion.  It toggles with high concept comedy a la “Horrible Bosses,” a road trip comedy a la “Due Date,” a meditation on loneliness a la “Up in the Air,” and, of course, the conventional opposites attract rom-com.  While Knightley is all over the place, Carell excels by going dark and deep like he did in “Little Miss Sunshine,” although a fine performance can’t mask this film’s flaws.  As much on screen as it must have been on the page, “Seeking a Friend” is really just seeking a genre.  B-





REVIEW: Crazy Stupid Love

29 07 2011

I sit through way too many romantic comedies each year hoping that one of them will wind up being something like “Crazy Stupid Love.”  Coming at the tail end of summer 2011, this genre-pic manna tastes way too sweet.  But it’s not worthy of exaltation just due to the sea of flops surrounding it or praise just because it wasn’t bad, it’s actually just a good movie, one with heart, humor, and insight.

Take away the Christmas setting and it’s actually reminiscent of a small-scale “Love Actually.”  The movie provides perspectives on love from Generations X, Y, and Z, stories that are told with an uncanny sincerity that overpowers their slightly hackneyed development.  Written by Dan Fogelman, who had previously only dabbled in light kiddie fare like “Tangled” and “Cars 2,” delivers a work full of maturity and scope, one that winds up being surprisingly clever.  The movie has a few tricks up its sleeves, and it makes the movie a great deal more engaging than any other movie dealing with this subject matter.

Fogelman’s best maneuver, however, may be reminding us to expect the unexpected when it comes to something as complicated (or crazy and stupid) as love.  While Hollywood may require a certain ending point, the journey to get there doesn’t have to be formulaic or predictable.  The characters of “Crazy Stupid Love” make that voyage fun because they are hardly conventional romantic comedy archetypes, save perhaps Emma Stone’s insecure burgeoning career woman.

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Random Factoid #406

7 09 2010

I have no intention of seeing “Piranha 3D” … really, ever.  But for the sequel (which seems strange to already plan given the movie’s lackluster box office receipts), I might be kind of interested.  The folks running the marketing may have come up with the greatest way for moviegoers to participate in creating a movie.  Sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to say art.

Listen to this proposition (via Cinematical):

We already know a sequel to Alexandre Aja’s rebooting of the “Piranha” series is in the works, and now comes news that The Weinstein Company is planning to let the fans get involved with the story development.

The as yet untitled sequel will take a page out of the Paranormal Activity playbook — not by asking viewers to demand the film, but instead letting them vote on which celebrity they’d love to see turn up in the sequel and die a horrible death. Sounds fun to me — and the possibilities are endless!

The author of the post suggested some great dramatic actors like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, or Robert DeNiro.  If I had to cast my vote, and I think I will because the opportunity is just too good to pass up, I would choose someone very unlikely to ever take such a role.

So here are my picks.  For female, I’d love to see Tilda Swinton do it because she is so serious about everything.  She stated her days as a “Hollywood spy” are over, which would make taking this role all the more hilarious.  Female runner-up is Marion Cotillard, mainly because I want to see how great a swimsuit they could put her in (hey, I am a guy).  And for the same reason, I’d love to see Leonardo DiCaprio do it as well because like Swinton, he’s made editorial headlines for his stubborn insistence to only take on intensely dramatic roles.  Runner-up for males would be Steve Carell, but only if he played Michael Scott.  The real exit of Michael from “The Office” – he goes on a beach vacation and winds up getting mauled by piranha.





REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

30 07 2010

Movies have always had a knack for turning pain into comedy; it’s one of the reasons why we go.  We can’t laugh at suffering in the real world, but we can go and sit in front of a screen and be thoroughly entertained by the trials of people we don’t even know.

However, in “Dinner for Schmucks,” pain is just pain.  As if the pain of the events themselves weren’t enough, we are forced to endure a seemingly interminable series of jokes falling flat on their face.  It’s OK to watch pain when it’s a fictional character enduring it – not the movie itself.

The plot is simple, adhering only to the old adage of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  As a rising executive, Paul Rudd’s Tim is invited to a cruel tradition where members of the corporate crew each bring a bozo to dinner in order to lampoon them for their own entertainment.  He hits the jackpot with Barry (a red-headed Steve Carell), an IRS agent who dabbles in taxidermy in his spare time, creating some very intricate mice dioramas.  While he has a heart of gold, he has a knack for destroying everything in his sights.

There’s also a cast of supporting characters, including Tim’s girlfriend with an inconsistent French accent (gotcha!), as well as his psychotic New Year’s hook-up turned stalker, a foul-mouthed secretary, and a sex-crazed artist.  None of them manage to excite us, and it’s not just because we don’t recognize them.  There have been many a no-name comedy sensation, look no further than last summer’s “The Hangover” as proof.  Yet there’s just no comedic spark or energy from anyone, and characters that could make a mediocre comedy bearable just become part of the pratfall.

And then there are the schmucks, who only come out in the twilight moments of the movie.  It’s an interesting cast of characters, headlined by Zach Galifianakis, who thinks that he has the power to control minds.  The schtick is funny for a little while, but even last summer’s golden child of comedy can’t keep the ridiculous character from becoming a one-note role.  Your mouth may be wide open during the dinner, not necessarily laughing but just awe-struck by how absurd the buffoons at the table are.

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.  D+ /





Random Factoid #351

14 07 2010

I have a new addiction courtesy of iPhone 4 (which works FINE with a case, all you Apple haters).

Thanks to multitasking, I have begun to love listening to the arts & life segments from NPR.  Thanks to Apple’s innovations, I can listen to NPR while checking Facebook, writing an email, sending a text message, or blogging.  A lot of times I will leave it on while cleaning my room or just casually walking around the house.

I’ve heard some really fascinating segments recently.  I’ve listened to plenty of movie reviews, and some very interesting editorials, including one on the declining impact of box office draws.  But what I’ve enjoyed most are the interviews.  I heard a great one with Steve Carell, and I have a 25-minute interview with “The Kids Are All Right” director Lisa Cholodenko saved in my queue.  I plan on listening to it now that I’ve seen the movie.

By far the most fascinating was an interview with Mark Ruffalo around the release of the aforementioned movie.  I don’t know how to embed the audio, but click here to be taken to the article and listen.  You will find out a whole lot you didn’t know.





REVIEW: Despicable Me

11 07 2010

A lot of comedies aren’t made by the main attraction.  We don’t love “Caddyshack” because of Danny Noonan.  “Knocked Up” might have been any old stoner comedy without Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd’s married couple breathing humor and humanity into it.  Even in animation, would you really say that your favorite character in “Toy Story” is Woody or Buzz?  Or Shrek and Fiona in the “Shrek” series?

So it’s unfortunate that Gru (Steve Carell), the despicable one that the title of “Despicable Me” alludes to, doesn’t really have much to offer us.  While most animated movies require us to suspend reality a little bit, here we have to go so far as to believe that a treacherous villain can go to Starbucks and have a house in the suburbs like normal people while still making headlines.  He becomes deadlocked in a fight for the top spot with Vector (Jason Segel), who we can never really buy as villainous because he looks like Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” in a track suit.  Their storyline is corny and, quite frankly, pretty stupid, but it sets up the “Grinch”-like tale of Gru’s adoption of three young orphans.

Thankfully, the movie doesn’t rely on Gru solely for laughs.  The minions are absolutely hilarious, easily the best part of “Despicable Me” and the real reason to see the movie.  Gru’s partners in crime resemble kernels of corn, and they pop off the screen with more energy than anyone else.  Every time they scamper on, a chuckle is guaranteed, but usually a giant laugh ensues.  We only get them in small doses as comic relief from Gru, yet I think I’d be more willing to sit through uninterrupted minion antics than the despicable villainy of their boss.

The movie has a big heart, something all kids movies should have but few really do nowadays.  This is most evident every time the three adorable kids waltz on screen, particularly the youngest, Agnes, who totally wins us over.  I probably would have cried had it been told with Pixar sensitivity.

So, despicable you, Gru, for hogging all the screen time.  You may be the #1 supervillain, but you aren’t the #1 attraction in your own movie.  B /