Monthly Archives: June 2012

Capsule reviews

Wow, a two-movie weekend! That hasn’t happened in a while, right? The husband and I had fairly different picks this time around; slightly (ok, maybe a lot) dated sci-fi, and current rom-com. Fun was had by all!

Contact (1997)

My husband loves this movie, and I have never been particularly interested in it. I’m not the world’s biggest sci-fi fan, for one thing, and for another, I guess I realized while watching that I’m not particularly a Jodi Foster fan, either. Contact is the story of Ellie Arroway (Foster), who is involved in SETI research, scanning the airwaves for signs of intelligent life out there in the universe. Despite numerous bureaucratic setbacks, she and her team (most notably the always fantastic William Fichtner as Kent Clark, tee hee) do, in fact, “make contact.” Naturally, at this point, the government steps in to make things more complicated than necessary, and Ellie must overcome a variety of obstacles in order to make history by traveling into space via a machine designed by an alien culture. There’s also a romantic subplot involving theologian Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). Yeah. Mr. Shirtless himself as an academic theologian. It’s comparable to Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in The World is Not Enough. But anyway…

For me, Contact was extremely inconsistent. I thought the most interesting part of the movie were the scenes dealing with governmental reactions to Ellie’s work. The discovery of alien life is kind of a usual topic for movies, but a deeper depiction of how the bureaucratic system would deal with such a situation is not as normal. I kind of wish they’d focused a bit more on that, although those parts of the movie were also a little slow, so perhaps that wouldn’t have been the way to go. Additionally, the subplot involving John Hurt was flat-out ridiculous, and tried really hard to destroy any credibility the rest of the movie had. I do think they should have ended the movie before the actual voyage into space. Call me a sadist, but I think a truly ambiguous ending, one where we don’t know if Ellie is successful or not, would’ve been more interesting, plus we wouldn’t have been subjected to some really sub-standard CGI. In the final tally, I think Contact was not bad. It made some interesting points and asked some interesting questions. The leads, and their chemistry, were not impressive to me, but the supporting cast, with Tom Skerritt and James Woods joining Mr. Fichtner, were solid. I think maybe it’s interesting as a product of its time, and as a more practical sci-fi movie (it was written by Carl Sagan), but I also think it doesn’t age well. And really. Matthew McConaughey? Oy.

Friends with Benefits (2011)

Ooh, meta-rom-com. I admit that this movie wouldn’t have appealed to me without some really positive reviews, but it was super-fun and I’m glad I watched it. If for no other reason than the fact that I seem to hardly ever watch “new” movies. Heh.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) are young, attractive professionals who are fed up with the dating game. They meet through work, and become fast friends. Since their views on dating and romance are so similar, they agree to engage in a purely sexual relationship: no strings, just sex. Naturally, this being a rom-com, we all know how that will work out, but the fun is in getting there, right?

Did I mention this was a fun movie? Timberlake and Kunis both have excellent comedic chops, and their chemistry together was totally believable. The writing is smart and sassy, and the pacing is excellent. It’s definitely a little more raunchy than your usual romantic comedy, but it somehow manages to focus a lot on sex without trying too hard and going over-the-top. Well, mostly. A hilarious supporting turn by Woody Harrelson as Dylan’s triumphantly gay co-worker is pretty out there, but even that is treated the right way: the other characters obviously view him as being over-the-top, instead of just acting as though he’s a completely normal specimen. In addition to Harrelson, the rest of the supporting cast is also excellent: how can you go wrong with Patricia Clarkson (as Jamie’s complete disaster of a mom) and Richard Jenkins (as Dylan’s father, suffering from Alzheimer’s)?

I liked that the characters were reasonably fleshed out and not completely unrealistic, and that the glimpses of their family lives served to not only move the plot forward, but also to explain their issues a bit. Call it a rom-com for the new millennium, if you want. The use of a movie-within-the-movie (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, perfect!) to further the discussion of how our romantic sensibilities are skewed by entertainment was a really nice touch, and helped Friends with Benefits to mock its own genre successfully, and to provide a stereotypical ending with tongue firmly in cheek. If you enjoy rom-coms, definitely check this one out. Stars Timberlake and Kunis are truly enjoyable to watch, and the movie feels like a fresh, updated take on the fast-paced, witty romantic comedies of an earlier time.

All in all, a fun weekend of movie-viewing. We’ll be going for another two-fer this weekend, maybe even making it out to the theater!! What are your viewing plans for the weekend?

Trailer: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina is an epic Russian romance, written by Leo Tolstoy. It has, naturally, been adapted for film multiple times, since it has all the earmarks of a great, dramatic, ultimately tragic love story. 2012 will see the latest attempt at bringing Anna to the screen, and now we have a trailer! I have to say that all the names attached are top-notch: Joe Wright (Atonement, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice) has certainly proven himself capable of directing period pieces, and Tom Stoppard (a notable playwright) wrote the screenplay. On the acting side, we have Keira Knightley as Anna, Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) as Vronsky, and Jude Law as Karenin, with a bevy of other notable actors in smaller roles.

On paper, this adaptation ought to be pretty fabulous. Conceptually, it’s a little harder to imagine that anyone can really do this sweeping novel justice, although I admit I haven’t seen any of the previous film versions. Additionally, as much as I do actually like Keira Knightley, I’m not convinced of her as Anna. Obviously she and Mr. Wright have a successful working relationship, but I still don’t think she’s quite right for the role. Can we talk about Jude Law for a minute, though? While he doesn’t do anything for me personally looks-wise (although I admit he’s very nice-looking), I do think he is one of the most consistently underrated actors working today, and judging from the trailer, he is going to rock this movie. Oh right, the trailer. I should let you watch it, huh?

It looks fabulous. It’s captured something intangible about the book…the sort of dreamy quality, the sense that everything is going to come crashing down to earth any second. It’s definitely going to be quite lovely to look at. And to the best of my knowledge (haven’t seen Mr. Johnson in anything) these are all quite good actors, so it probably won’t be a total waste of time. I don’t know why I remain skeptical about it…I think it’s still just Keira. I daresay Kelly McDonald might’ve made a better Anna. But what do you think? Does this look like something you’ll want to see?

Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

I have a couple of statements to make. The first is: just because you didn’t like a movie, doesn’t mean it was bad. There are certainly bad movies, but whether or not they are bad doesn’t necessarily hinge on whether or not you (or anyone else) enjoyed them. Likely, there is someone out there who has enjoyed any movie you can name. I bet even Battlefield Earth has fans. Here’s the second statement: Russell Crowe doesn’t make bad movies. Yes, of course, this comes with some caveats. We all know I’m a huge fan, but I’d like to state for the record that I am capable of putting aside my love of an actor when it comes to assessing his or her work. Additionally, that statement should actually read: Russell Crowe hasn’t made any bad movies since he became a big star. I’ve seen two that were not very good (Virtuosity, which I still enjoy immensely, and Heaven’s Burning, which I actively disliked) but they’re both pre-Gladiator. He makes a lot of movies that critics are grouchy about, for various reasons, and that a lot of people don’t like because they don’t like him, but those movies, while not always great, are never out-and-out bad. And if you want to argue that point with me, bring it on. Unless you’ve seen more than twenty-six of his films, I will welcome the challenge.

The Next Three Days is number 26. It’s a remake of a French film in which a man whose wife has been imprisoned for murder seeks to find a way to free her. In this version, Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, a community college English professor, who becomes single-mindedly obsessed with reuniting his family after his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of murdering her boss. It’s a slow-burn thriller, held together by the question of whether or not Lara is actually guilty of her crime, and whether or not John will successfully break her out of jail and make it out of the country.

Those two ambiguities, along with Crowe’s usual solid performance, make the movie worth watching. As Brennan does research, makes preparations and generally seems to be headed down a path of destruction, the sense of dread becomes almost intolerable. His unwavering focus from the task at hand really must be interpreted as a form of insanity; since he’s an English professor, we even get a class discussion on the “reality” of Don Quixote, just to drive the point home. As mistakes and mishaps start to pile up, one starts to wonder not only how the movie will end, but also how we even want it to end. Whether or not Lara is guilty of a crime, in the end, whether or not he succeeds, John will be a changed man given the illegalities of what he’s planning, and what he must go through to enact his scheme.

The failing of this kind of set-up is that much of the movie is really slow. When you add that to the sense of impending doom, it’s not exactly a comfortable movie to watch. Particularly for a pair of new-ish parents, watching a man make a series of really bad decisions that will affect his son’s life is actually kind of painful. It really is a testament to Crowe’s skill as an actor that the movie does hold together, since he carries about 99% of it. Banks is fine as Lara, who we mainly see struggling with life in prison. Liam Neeson makes a brief appearance as former convict and escapee to whom Brennan turns for advice, and Ty Simpkins, as the Brennan’s son Luke, serves as something of an emotional center. While his father focuses his pain, Ty can’t seem to break free from him, and is a quiet, sad figure throughout the movie. There’s also a nice cameo by Brian Dennehy (who looks old, sadly) as John’s father. Overall, though, we’re talking two and a half hours of Russell Crowe playing a man whose life has a burning and all-encompassing purpose. He could probably do that in his sleep.

So, do I recommend it? It’s definitely not my favorite Crowe film, but I think it has a lot of merit. If you like slow-building tension and elaborate schemes, you’ll probably enjoy it. The movie as a whole is sort of standard, I guess. There’s not a whole lot of violence, or drama; it maintains a fairly even keel throughout, with that feeling of lurking disaster being the most notable characteristic. Once the final sequence of events starts to unfold, it does get pretty exciting, but unfortunately, a lot of the set-up is boring, and I felt as though there were other aspects of what John and Luke were going through that could have been more interesting in terms of character development. I guess I’d have to say ultimately that The Next Three Days is fairly mediocre outside of Crowe’s performance. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. Use that information, coming from a big fan, as you will.

Open letter to Paul Bettany

Dear Mr. Bettany,

Earlier today, a friend of mine recommended a movie, which I initially mistook for something you’d been in recently. Both movies looked unimpressive to me, but my friend was complimentary of the movie he saw, and for a moment I got really excited until I realized I’d confused the two. You see, I’m a fan. I really am. But…how do I say this politely? You don’t always make the best movies.

Please understand that I am truly a fan. I will admit that while you were entertaining in A Knight’s Tale, that movie is sort of mid-range for you, and it wasn’t until A Beautiful Mind that I really sat up and took notice. It is still my firm belief that you were robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Master & Commander, which is one of my most favorite movies ever. Yes, I’m a Russell Crowe fan. Do you still talk to him at all? Please tell him I said hi. After those two movies, I kept my eyes and ears open because I was positive that you were going to be a huge hit. And then…The Da Vinci Code? Really, Paul? Don’t even get me started on Legion and that other one about the vampires, or whatever it was. Priest. Why? Why is an actor of your caliber making laughable horror/fantasy movies? Why aren’t you getting more calls for period dramas, gritty action pieces, or even more comedies? Heck, I don’t think the notion of a superhero is that far out there for you, with your long and lanky physique and all. Not to get too personal, but your shirtless scenes were some of the highlights of Inkheart (we’ll come back to this in a minute). Your looks seem to me to be able to adapt to both period and modern genres well, so I really just don’t get it.

I know that a lot of movie stars like to make a variety of movies, and I get that. I know that sometimes you’re just looking for a paycheck. I get that you turn down movies to spend time with your newborn daughter, but do those movies have to be eventual Best Picture winners?? Colin Firth won an Oscar, Paul. The King’s Speech was huge. Priest? Was not. My point here is that I’d really like to see more of you, Mr. Bettany. You’re good-looking, intelligent, funny, and you’ve got a British accent. Isn’t that supposed to be gold in Hollywood, for pete’s sake? You’re not even as old as some gentlemen in the business currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts (like Robert Downey, Jr. OMG, can I just say that I freaking love your voice work in the Iron Man movies? Fantastic!), and again, I’m positive you’ve got the physicality to pull that stuff off. Ok, let’s go back to Inkheart. The books are pure magic. I love them, and have actively campaigned my husband to name a future son Mortimer, for real. The movie was, in my opinion, a cinematic tragedy. The casting was oh-so-brilliant, and it should have been magnificent, something to rival the Harry Potter franchise, but instead, it was kind of a mess. I pine for the sequels, for your chance to shine as Dustfinger (for whom you were perfect) and for your real-life wife, the stunning Jennifer Connelly, to play Roxanne. Forgive me just the slightest tangent, but I worship J. Con. I want to look like her when I grow up. You guys are one of my top couple crushes (after the Obamas, maybe tied with the Downeys). You should make more movies with her! She’s all Oscar-winner, heavy drama lady, right? I was really sad that Creation didn’t get better reviews, but you guys should totally try again. Maybe something a little less controversial. I mean, look at A Beautiful Mind. That was a really, really good movie, you know?

I have to admit that there are movies of yours that are considered pretty good that I have yet to see. Creation is on that list, as well as The Young Victoria. I’ve even got The Tourist on my Netflix queue, mainly because of you. Ok, and Angelina Jolie, but who can blame me for that? I might even manage to sit down for Margin Call someday, and I seriously hate Kevin Spacey. Movies like that seem to be where you are most able to make your mark; ensemble pictures with strong scripts and casts. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If that were the base of your career, I think you would have something to be proud of. Everyone can’t be a George Clooney. I’m not asking for that. You don’t have to be at the top of the A List. But do you think maybe you might consider B+ List? Maybe the A- List? I really think you’ve got what it takes. Please believe me, Mr. Bettany. You deserve so much more than Legion.

Sincerely yours,


PS-I know this idea gets tossed around from time to time, but if you were to happen to convince Mr. Crowe and Mr. Weir (over drinks, perhaps?) that the world needs a second M&C movie, well, that would just be the best thing ever. Thanks!