Concussion

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)
Written by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)

It’s been seven years since actor Will Smith has taken on a full-fledged dramatic role. Although his last, 2008’s “Seven Pounds,” was a complete misfire, Smith has proven in past films like “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Ali” that he is more than capable of carrying the weight. He reiterates his talent with a genuine performance as real-life forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the first person to uncover the alarming truth behind brain damage suffered by professional football players. Directed and written by Peter Landesman (“Parkland”), there is much to be desired when it comes to the emotional impact of the screenplay itself, but Smith brings out the best in this Hollywood-ized exposé on the NFL and is completely believable as the good doctor. Landesman, however, misses an opportunity to delve deeper into the football culture and explore why sports entertainment trumped science for so long.

Still Alice

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart
Directed by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera)
Written by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera)

At one point in “Still Alice,” Alice (Julianne Moore), a 50-year-old college professor suffering from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, tells her husband John (Alec Baldwin) that she wishes she had cancer instead, citing the bravery people bestow upon cancer sufferers, wearing pink ribbons in their honor. Alzheimer’s only inspires pity and puts an immense burden on their loved ones, all while the sufferer’s life slips away one memory at a time. As a vibrant academic with a devoted husband, three grown children, and a personal life dedicated to reading, writing, and travel, its a fate the too-young Alice is horrified to confront.

Alice discovers her disease slowly at first, forgetting where she is during a jog. When her diagnosis is confirmed, Alice has the difficult task of not only breaking the news of her disease to her children (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish), but the chilling fact that this form of the disease is hereditary and there’s a test her children could take that comes with the knowledge that, if positive, there is a 100 percent certainty they too will develop the disease. What follows are scenes of Alice coming to grips with her fate, using her iPhone to quiz her memory daily and her webcam to record a video instructing her future self on how to commit suicide should her memory deteriorate too far.

Moore anchors the film with a heartbreaking performance, likely to finally nab her an Oscar, while Kristen Stewart–finally free of the banal “Twilight” franchise–reminds everyone she can be an engaging actress when given more to do than swoon. She gives the well-worn trope of the wayward daughter a little more depth than is written into the script. The rest of the cast, however, are as one-note as can be—which is fine, because this is Alice’s story, but it would be nice if a performer as intense and focused as Baldwin had more to do than play the sympathetic husband. Also, I can’t help but wonder if the film would have been more effective if Alice and her family weren’t well-to-do professionals with a beach house and university careers. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease no matter your income level, but what if Alice were a middle-class woman who couldn’t just stop working? Just a suggestion, Hollywood.

Blue Jasmine

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

If director/writer Woody Allen has proven anything during his screenwriting career, it’s that he knows how to write extraordinarily neurotic characters. From Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” to Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (and countless more), Allen’s ability to show off the ugly emotional scars of both men and women and give them an almost grating personality is an art form incomparable to any director over the last four decades. Despite the numerous disturbed protagonists he’s created in all that time, it could be argued that the title character in “Blue Jasmine,” played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), is the most complex one he has ever written. It’s Blanchett’s obsessive performance that takes on a life of its own and reveals some of the same despair as a Tennessee Williams novel.

In “Blue Jasmine,” Jasmine (Blanchett, who just might end up getting her fifth Academy Award nomination here) is a well-to-do New York City socialite who has fallen from grace because of the shady business practices of her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). With nowhere to go, Jasmine makes a move to San Francisco where she turns to her estranged, working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) doesn’t like the fact that Jasmine has come around only when she needs something. It might be a reason Jasmine starts planting seeds in her sister’s head that Chili is as big of a loser as her last boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, in a scene-stealing role).

As things get testy in the household, Allen uses flashbacks to explain just what went wrong in everyone’s lives to get them to where they are now. It’s a storytelling devices that is tricky to do well, but Allen pieces the narrative together with such creativity and ease, jumping back and forth from the past and present doesn’t feel like work for the audience. This is a tragic tale only Allen could write. His characters are pathetic when they need to be, and enlightening at the perfect moments. At the end, they’ll all break your heart.

Besides Allen’s talent with the pen, it’s Blanchett’s total commitment to the role that gives “Blue Jasmine” its gravitas. Yes, she goes a bit overboard (think Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” without the meds), but there’s no denying the powerhouse performance still resonates, even when Blanchett is chewing up scenes like a starved Brahma bull.

To Rome with Love

July 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni
Directed by:
Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by:
Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

Even at the age of 76, Woody Allen remains one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. So prolific, in fact, that he has produced at least one movie in which he has written and directed every year since 1982 and a dozens of other movies going back to the mid-60’s. Last year, Allen struck gold with “Midnight in Paris,” a whimsical time travel-centric romantic comedy which brought him, among other things, an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the biggest box office success of his lengthy career. Still, with so many films being churned out, there are bound to be some that are less successful than others. Using a beautiful European city as a backdrop once again, Allen returns with “To Rome With Love,” a messy romantic comedy that is desperate for a focus.

The film is told through four vignettes of different stories taking place throughout Rome. The most successful of these is the one involving Allen himself, in his first acting role since 2006’s “Scoop.” In a random meeting while visiting Rome, Hayley (Allison Pill) and Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) quickly fall and love in get married. Hayley’s parents Jerry, (Allen) a man retired from the recording business and Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly into meet Michelangelo’s parents including his father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) who has a talent that Jerry wants to utilize. Allen gives himself the best material in the film, as this vignette contains the wittiest and most well written moments of the film. Allen’s return to acting is also welcome, with his neurotic babble and sharp one-liners firing on all cylinders. While the latter half of this story gets a little silly, it manages to maintain its cohesion and form the strongest portion of the movie.

In the next vignette, we see architect student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) living a comfortable life in Rome. This all changes when Sally’s good friend with a reputation of making men fall in love with her, Monica (Ellen Page) shows up after recently being dumped. As Jack tries to not fall for her, another fellow architect named John (Alec Baldwin) constantly shows up to Jack advice to give him advice. There are some good things to come out of this section of the film. The chemistry between Page and Eisenberg really works, with Page as a standout in particular. One might think that Eisenberg would be the perfect actor for an Allen movie, but his dialogue feels incredibly forced and scripted. There is also something bothersome about the omnipresence of Baldwin. While he is fine on screen, his constant appearances don’t add much and are hard to take seriously.

In another vignette, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are on their honeymoon in Rome. As they are about to meet Antonio’s very important family, Milly sets out and gets lost in Rome and a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz) mistakenly shows up at Antonio’s door. While Milly is lost, she stumbles across a movie set and gets to spend time with her favorite actor while Antonio must pretend Anna is his wife. Indifference is the best way to react to this portion of the film. Most of the dialogue is subtitled, and the only recognizable actor on screen is Cruz. Unfortunately for this part, cheesy sexual jokes and gags are told at Cruz’s expense and they tend to fall pretty flat.

Finally, the fourth story involves everyday businessman Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who wakes up one day and is a massive celebrity for no apparent reason. This story is the most unsuccessful of the group. While it is clear what Allen was trying to get across with this story, there is literally no reason that Leopoldo should be famous. It’s a preposterous concept even given Allen’s penchant for whimsy. It provides for some amusing moments at first, but the story very quickly wears out its welcome.

If there’s one thing that “To Rome With Love” is begging for it is a common thread. There are hints of themes of adultery in three of the four vignettes, but other than the shared backdrop of Rome, the audience is truly left with four completely unrelated stories. While Allen does a fine job at balancing time and switching back and forth between the vignettes, only one of them truly stands out which makes for an uneven and unsatisfying overall product.

Rock of Ages

June 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Chris D’Arienzo (“Barry Munday”), Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), Allan Loeb (“Just Go With It”)

Isn’t 80s music the best? Sure, the songs can be kinda cheesy, but the catchy melodies, powerful vocals and wailing guitar solos gave birth to not only some of the most popular drunken karaoke songs around, but some truly enduring classics. So, fans of 80s hair metal, imagine all of your favorite songs turned into show stopping song and dance numbers, how awesome would that be? Wait..where are you going? Come back! That’s right, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Twisted Sister’s rebellious anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Starship’s universally mocked “We Built This City” mashed together for alternating battle cries in a fight between fans of a rock club and an angry mob of moms against rock, you are in for a treat. If you think that sounds absolutely awful, that’s because it is.

The film opens with a “small town girl” named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepping off a bus in LA where she hopes to make it as a singer. Shortly after stepping out and singing a few songs, Sherrie gets mugged and has her precious records stolen. There to help her out is a “city boy” (GET IT?!?) Drew (Deigo Boneta) who works at The Bourbon Room, a famous local rock club. After Drew gets Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room, they browse around a record store, where Drew reveals that he is a singer that desperately wants to be a big star. Of course, he doesn’t just say this, he grabs a random hanging guitar, jumps on top of a shelf and belts out a rendition of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” as almost a mini-concert, complete with a spotlight being shined on him and shoppers going nuts. When that settles, Drew reveals to Sherrie that he can’t be the star he wants because he has stage fright. That’s right. The guy who just made love to a Tower Records during business hours crumbles at the prospect of performing in front of a more traditional audience. Enter Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an over-the-top rock star caricature who is either the most successful cover artist of all time or a rock and roll enigma who is responsible for classic hits like “(Wanted) Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” To be fair, Cruise gives 100 percent to the sexually-charged and alcohol-fueled role, but that gimmick, combined with overplayed rock-star quirks like Cruise’s ever-present pet monkey, undercuts the character’s impact.

A major part of why “Rock of Ages” fails so completely is that the script is truly bad. Not only is it ridden with clichés and very unimaginative jokes, but nearly every line in the film serves as an uncomfortable, clumsy segue into another song. I actually let out an audible “ugh…” when, while explaining a potential job to Hough, Mary J. Blige tells her that she can have it “ANYWAY YOU WANT IT, THAT’S THE WAY YOU NEED IT.” It’s clear that cast members like Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are having fun with their roles. It’s a shame that they are given such uninspiring material to work with. Another major problem with “Rock of Ages” is that it does a disservice to the music it borrows. Nearly everyone in the cast sounds like they were taken straight from a Broadway stage. Boneta, for example, is by no means a bad singer. But no matter what song he performs in the film, he does not sound anything like a singer from the 80s. In fact, the only member of the cast who captures anything resembling an accurate reproduction of the film’s songs is Cruise.

When thinking about “Rock of Ages,” its difficult to determine who the intended audience for this film is. Most diehard fans of classic rock and hair metal will hate hearing their favorite songs from the 80’s bastardized and turned into Broadway tunes. Perhaps fans of musicals will be charmed, but since it makes use of pre-existing songs of a specific genre, does there need to be some sort of overlap? When the film closes with a big stage production of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (SPOILER WARNING)  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when one of the cast members, without a hint of irony, delivers the line “the movie never ends it goes on, and on, and on and on…” Clocking in at just a shade over two hours, I couldn’t agree more. Those looking for a fun, nostalgic trip are better off spending their money on a Foreigner greatest hits album, cranking it up and singing along with their friends.

It’s Complicated

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin
Directed by: Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”)
Written by: Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”)

It may be hard to relate to any of the confounded characters in Nancy Meyers’ new grown-up romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” unless divorce is a favorite pastime of yours, but the director/writer behind such recent films as “Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Holiday” has sure got a flair for charming spectacles. It works perfectly with characters that ought to know better when it comes to the complexities of love.

With veterans Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin springing into action, there are plenty of hearty laughs that will resonate most with mature audiences who might describe Judd Apatow comedies as juvenile.

In the film, Streep plays Jane, a bakery owner whose 10-year-long divorce to Jake (Baldwin) has come full circle and entered a very awkward stage. As she says goodbye to her youngest child who is going off to college, Jane decides to secretly revisit her defunct relationship with her ex-husband even after he left her for a younger woman (Lake Bell).

Family life isn’t going too well for Jake. Jane is perfectly situated to be the cozy option to turn to when he needs an escape. Jane, however, isn’t playing the  dependant or revenge-seeking divorcee waiting by the phone for her lover’s call. Instead, she realizes the role she has taken when becoming “the other woman” and embraces it as an extracurricular activity she deserves to partake in.

But when Jane’s home contractor Adam (Martin) beings to drop hints that he is interested in her, her confusing relationship with her ex becomes more of a risk than a enjoyable throwback to old times especially when he starts falling in love with her all over again.

Much of “It’s Complicated” should not work as well as it does with all the broad strokes Meyers has given us in her witty script. For every classic rom com scenario that plays like a French bedroom farce there’s hints of cushiness that makes the film tightrope a fine line between episodic gags and what Meyers really wants.

At the end, however, these characters are so likeable; from Baldwin and his scene-stealing smile to Streep’s  unfettered happiness to even Martin’s slightly-underwritten third-wheel nice guy, Meyers has it all under control and doesn’t let it get, well, too complicated.  It’s like a buffet of comfort food. While you can overstuff yourself quite a bit, there always seems to be enough room for a few more guilt-free nibbles.