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?

6 responses to “Capsule reviews

  1. Please tell Andrew that “Contact” is one of my favorites also!

  2. I’m afraid I’ve also got to disagree with you on Contact. I consider it the best film of 1997. Very few movies treat either scientists or people of faith seriously, yet this one manages to treat both better than pretty much any other movie. Neither is denigrated, and both make their points without compromising who they are.

    As for the CGI being “substandard”, It wasn’t in 1997. It was state of the art. Might as well fault Jurassic Park for substandard cgi, too.

    Finally, back in 1997 McConaughy hadn’t just starred as a male stripper. In fact, he had been doing serious work like appearing as lawyers in Amistad (1997) and A Time to Kill (1996), as well as a sheriff in John Sayles excellent film Lone Star (1996). Seeing him as this character in Contact was actually quite consistent with his career at the time. He was years away from becoming known as the guy who goes shirtless in his films.

    As for Friends with Benefits, I enjoyed this quite a bit. As a guy, it bugged me a little bit that Timberlake dropped his pants for the ladies, but Kunis used a body double for her scene.

    • I had never seen it before, so perhaps it didn’t age well? I know McConaughey has done serious stuff, but I still don’t buy him as an academic theologian.

      As far as “best movie of 1997” goes, I really feel the need to point out that LA Confidential came out in ’97. 🙂

      • So did Titanic, Life is Beautiful, Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter, Gattaca, As Good As It Gets, Donnie Brasco, Jackie Brown, The Ice Storm, Chasing Amy, Lawn Dogs, Her Majesty Mrs. Brown, The Full Monty, Eve’s Bayou, and many other good films that I have also seen. I don’t make the statement that Contact is the best of the year lightly, nor in a vacuum. Its serious treatment of both science and faith, along with not compromising the characters, is very rare in Hollywood and lifts this film to the pinnacle for the year.

      • Hey, that’s cool. I will have to go with LAC, myself. 🙂

  3. I do like sci-fis but haven’t seen Contact yet. The reviews are so mixed I don’t know whether I’ll like it or not. Ahah, Mr. Shirtless as an academic theologian?? Yeah, that IS akin to Dr. Christmas Jones!

    No interest in Friends w/ Benefits at all though I do believe those two have comedic chops. I just don’t care for the premise so I doubt I’ll enjoy it.

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