Cake

January 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Daniel Barnz (“Won’t Back Down”)
Written by: Patrick Tobin (“No Easy Way”)

Over the past couple of months as Oscar season has been ramping up, studios and distributors have been feverishly pouring money into awards campaigns to try to get their films and their cast and crew nominated. Perhaps nobody was given a larger push than “Cake” lead actress Jennifer Aniston. Highlighting her lack of vanity in wearing no make up and adding facial scars, Aniston was everywhere promoting the film and campaigns were seen all over the internet. Of course, when the nominations were announced last week, Aniston’s name was absent, perhaps proving that Oscar noms can’t always be bought or influenced…or maybe voters were simply acknowledging that “Cake” is not a good film.

After suffering a tragic accident that left her in chronic pain, among other things, Claire (Aniston) has become a miserable and angry person. When a fellow member of her chronic pain support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire becomes fascinated with her life and her widowed husband Roy (Sam Worthington). As the two become closer, they connect as people trying to put the pieces back together.

In her defense, this is the best work of Aniston’s career as she is able to sink her teeth into a dramatically heavy role and capture the essence of a truly unpleasant person. It may not be Oscar worthy, but it proves that Aniston has the chops to take on roles with a little more substance. It should also be pointed out that perhaps the only character in the film that has any sort of depth is Adriana Barraza who plays Claire’s housekeeper Silvana. Barraza, who is fiercely loyal in the face of being treated horribly, is the only source of true humanity in the film as a whole.

The film itself starts off decent enough, with a pretty good opening scene that shows how caustic Claire is in the wake of her accident. From there, however, screenwriter Patrick Tobin begins to paint Claire as a woman with no redeeming qualities. As the scenes progress, the character of Claire becomes increasingly boorish and quite frankly, annoying to watch. It is to a fault, as Tobin tries to foster empathy with a character that is rude and mean for no reason. Yes, she is in the wake of a horrible tragedy and in chronic pain, but she is regularly lying, threatening blackmail, and insulting people who are simply trying to help her. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to the faults of the screenplay are far too many dream sequences as well as hallucinations of the dead Nina, which essentially play out as the devil on Claire’s shoulder and add virtually nothing to the mix.

As the film goes on, it also becomes more and more contrived, hitting a peak with the storyline that explains the films title of “Cake.” By the time we see the façade of Claire begin to crack, the filmmakers have pushed her detestability so far that any chance for sympathy is too far-gone. A redemption story is only worthwhile when you can actually invest in a character, which is nearly impossible in “Cake.”

Drag Me to Hell

May 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Directed by: Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”)
Written by: Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”) and Ivan Raimi (“Army of Darkness”)

Director Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots in entertaining fashion with “Drag Me to Hell,” a creepy, campy, and richly-stylized blood offering from the man who grossed us all out with his “Evil Dead” films of the 80s and 90s.

After sinking his teeth into the blockbuster trilogy “Spider-Man” for five years, Raimi proves he still has a grip on fiendish humor and doesn’t even need actor Bruce Campbell to make it work. In the bluntly-titled “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi and screenwriting partner/brother Ivan give us a story about cursed souls and the demons who await their arrival into the underworld.

The film stars Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, a self-conscious loan officer who has her hopes set on a promotion at her bank. While she one of the two leading candidates for the position, her boss makes it clear that he wants her to take initiative and make more bold decisions for the benefit of the company.

Christine gets her chance to impress her supervisor when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old, unsightly Gypsy woman with brittle fingernails and ghastly rotted teeth, walks into the bank to ask for a third extension on her mortgage. When Christine denies her insistent requests, the old woman casts an evil spell on the young loan officer and seals her fate for a fiery death.

Now hexed with the spirit of the Lamia, a violent and devilish creature who stalks her every move, Christine and her skeptic boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), attempt to find a way to rid her of the entity before her three-day window shuts and she is dragged into the pits of hell forever.

While the story is fairly basic and becomes entirely too predictable, Raimi shows audiences that horror films built on traditional ideas and scare tactics are just as effective as any computer-generated fluff most American horror uses as a crutch today. This is what was specifically great about films like the “Evil Dead” series. Grotesque makeup, stop-motion techniques, and other rare treats in the genre that aren’t used nearly enough are showcased sparingly in “Drag Me to Hell.” It’s when Raimi allows other influences to manipulate his aesthetic when the movie gets the messiest. It’s doesn’t happen too often here. Horror fans of all ages (because of the PG-13 rating) will end up going on a trippy and repulsive ride.

Henry Poole is Here

August 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza
Directed by: Mark Pellington (“U2 3D”)
Written by: Albert Torres (debut)

Someone invite debut screenwriter Albert Torres over for Bible study. The scribe’s got a lot to say about faith and spirituality and isn’t shy about forcing it down the throats of anyone who’s ever looked out their peephole at Jehovah’s Witnesses and not opened the door. For those atheists out there, consider it the comedy of the year.

The divine intervention begins when Henry Poole (Wilson), who six weeks prior is diagnosed with a terminal disease, moves back to the neighborhood he grew up to wait out his final days crying alone in his vodka tonics. But when Esperanza (Oscar-nominee Barraza of Babel), a pious neighbor, swears to see the face of Christ on the side of Henry’s new home, no one can stop her from anticipating miracles especially when the water-stain image begins to shed tears of blood and “cure” believers. Next door, Dawn (Mitchell) and Millie (Lily), a sorrowful mother-daughter duo who are dealing with abandonment issues, keep Henry company as Esperanza (Spanish for hope) maddeningly tours God-fearing folk through his backyard.

Although the performances make it tolerable (Barraza is genuine and Wilson, when he’s not sulking, is convincing), to know who Henry Poole actually is by the time the preaching ceases is impossible. Instead of smoothing out his rough edges and giving a more meaningful insight to his life before his sickness, Torres and director Pellington drown out the narrative with cliché musings and an overbearingly uplifting soundtrack. The tracks are built around a theme song written by Orlando native and MySpace songwriting contest winner Ron Irizarry, whose lyrics are better fitted as pulpit-worthy speeches for Joel Osteen. Sure, Torres and Pellington might have left some room for religious interpretation, but not before slapping some mud in Henry’s hands and writing him into a West Coast version of Jerusalem.