Please Give

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt take advantage of other people’s misfortune in “Please Give,” a cutting, character-driven indie comedy about self-image, guilt and mortality that matches wits with recent films including Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages.”

As owners of a high-end antique shop in New York City, married couple Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have quite an eye for priceless old furniture, which they purchase for basement-low prices from the families of the recently deceased. Most people don’t want to worry about what to do with grandma’s armoire after she’s gone, so Kate and Alex, who certainly don’t reveal the actually value of the small treasures to the next of kin, scoop them up and make a pretty penny.

Their predatory approach to death isn’t limited to antiques. Kate and Alex are sort of waiting around for their stubborn, elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to kick the bucket so they can expand on their apartment. Andra’s granddaughters, the passive Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the all-too-blunt Mary (Amanda Peet), know the neighbors are restlessly waiting, which makes for the awkward friendship they share throughout the film.

Riddled with guilt about how they make their living, Kate tries to set her conscience at ease by giving money to the homeless people she sees on the street. Her charity is not met with support by her young daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who isn’t happy her mother would rather give money to a stranger than buy her own insecure daughter the things she needs to feel better about herself (a $200 pair of designer jeans and pimple cream should do the trick).

While the narrative feels a bit forced at times, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, who also made the small gems “Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends with Money,” develops the authenticity of the picture from the eccentric personalities she allows to share the screen. It’s through watching their gauche and sometimes irksome flaws clash together that makes “Please Give” such a delight.

2012

November 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”)
Written by: Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and Harald Kloser

While the new apocalyptic thriller by director/writer Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”) might look like a 10.5 on the Richter scale based solely from its highly-intense, CGI-heavy previews, the event itself is more comparable to the seismic energy of a lopsided shopping cart wobbling down a grocery store aisle.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, however, if you’re familiar with Emmerich’s work. Giving audiences things that are both enormous and awful isn’t a new idea for him. From 1998’s larger-than-life lizard remake “Godzilla” to last year’s unfortunate prehistoric epic “10,000 B.C.,” it’s fairly safe to say Emmerich isn’t the type of filmmaker anyone would consider a minimalist when it comes to the technical aspects of his movies.

While it wasn’t such a problem with the cheese-fest that was “Independence Day” in 1996 (who wasn’t cheering for Will Smith to annihilate some hostile aliens?), there is something about “2012” that can’t be fixed no matter how many tsunamis are unleashed or buildings obliterated.

Forget the fact that a comprehensible narrative is missing and that the dialogue is worthy of massive eye-rolling. You might even overlook some of the countless cornball scenes throughout the film’s 158-minute runtime. What mainstream moviegoer is walking into this for character development anyway? The main problem with “2012” is that none of it is startling anymore. Emmerich does little to take the disaster movie to the next level other than to shell out more cash for extra special effects that ultimately feel worn.

In the film, John Cusack (“1408”) plays Jackson Curtis, a limo driver and small-time author who inexplicably finds out the world is coming to an end. Jackson isn’t the only one that knows this secret. The government, with the help of geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is aware of cataclysmic events that will happen. Judgment Day has been prophesized with the end of the Mayan calendar coming on Dec. 21, 2012. Now, with scientific evidence supporting this theory, administrations around the world have prepared for the worst by building “ships” to save as many people as possible before the earth begins to implode on itself.

As Adrian battles dishonesty within the White House, Jackson’s thoughts are with his family who – along with a majority of the popuation – have no idea what is about to happen. It’s at this point in the big-budget adventure where the destruction begins and never lets up. While the first rescue mission is actually quite fun (basically, it’s what you see in one of the movie trailers), Emmerich chucks in just about every disaster movie cliché in the book. It’s like getting punched repeatedly in the face. The first few blows are going to sting the most, but after 18 rounds, everything feels numb.

Emmerich tries to balance out the action by raising moral questions about the significance of saving certain people and things from being destroyed, but it all comes in a distance second to what most people are probably looking for – death and mayhem. It’s all there in “2012” for the less demanding moviegoers. For everyone else, the world doesn’t end soon enough.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

July 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet
Directed by: Chris Carter (“The X-Files”)
Written by: Chris Carter (“The X-Files”) and Frank Spotnitz (TV’s “The X-Files”)

It might be enough for the most devout of X-philes out there, but TV-show creator Chris Carter’s return to the paranormal is so inundated with murky concepts and symbolism, it becomes impossible to notice any plausible evolution of the sci-fi series in “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”

It’s been an entire decade since the first film premiered and six years since the small-screen “X-Files” concluded, and Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) couldn’t have changed less. It’s a comfortable homecoming, however, for fans of the show who are used to an emotionally reclusive Mulder exchanging philosophies with an always skeptical Scully (after 15 years you think she would realize she’s usually wrong).

No longer working for the FBI, Scully has moved on (as she will remind us numerous times throughout the film) to become a surgeon at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital (could the name be any more uplifting?) while her significant other (finally!), Mulder, avoids public life as a fugitive. He hides behind a scraggly beard, cutting out newspaper clippings like any legitimate conspiracy theorist.

But when an FBI agent goes missing and a priest–turned-pedophile (Connolly) begins to have psychic visions of her whereabouts, Mulder darts off the bench faster than a backpedaling Brett Favre. His heart is still in the game, but Scully’s isn’t. She’s found a new calling and hopes to prove her faith when one of her young patients is diagnosed with a rare brain disease. Her humanitarianism efforts are a second storyline that doesn’t mean much except on an obvious metaphorical level (reference movie title, post-colon).

Meanwhile, Mulder has teamed up with FBI agents Dakota Whitney (Peet) and Mosely Drummy (Joiner) to follow the prophetic Father Crissman through the snows of West Virginia. Their trek leads them to the discovery of hacked-off body parts, none belonging to the missing agent. While Mulder has no problem accepting Crissman’s eerie limb-detecting talent, most of the FBI is reluctant, and they think the ex-priest might have something to do with the kidnapping and possible murders.

Don’t think Scully is going to miss out on all the phenomenal fun, either. Mulder needs Scully like George needs Wheezy, so she inevitably joins the hunt despite protests of “I’m done chasing monsters in the dark” and “I can’t look into the darkness again.” While Scully spouts cliché dialogue, Mulder counters with inspiring verbiage better suited to motivational posters.

Carter makes sure we all know that the characters are struggling to believe in something and drives the point home with an obsessively thematic script worthy of a few edits. In keeping with the Frankensteinian twist the film takes in its third act, Carter has stitched together parts that just don’t quite match. Without the extra, surprising jolt the early seasons of the TV series used to deliver, “Believe” doesn’t have a leg to stand on.