On the Basis of Sex

January 11, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Therox
Directed by: Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”)
Written by: Daniel Stiepleman (debut)

Much like last year’s documentary “RBG,” the feature biopic “On the Basis of Sex” doesn’t depict current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s full contribution as an iconic legal scholar but manages to hit enough high points early in her career to deem it mostly inspirational. Still, for a film highlighting such an esteemed women’s-rights activist like Ginsburg, it is unfortunately much too conventional to make a worthwhile impression.

“OTBOS” begins with Ginsburg (Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones), a married mother of one, enrolling in Harvard Law School in 1956, where she was only one of nine women in her class (Harvard started admitting women six years prior). Her husband Marty (Armie Hammer) was also attending Harvard Law at the time, although their relationship isn’t given as much emotional weight as in the 2017 doc.

Written by first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, who happens to be Ginsburg’s real-life nephew, “OTBOS” focuses on the challenges Ginsburg faced after she graduated from law school (she transferred to Columbia) and couldn’t find a firm that would hire her despite the fact she was at the top of her class. There are plenty of examples of mansplaining to choose from during OTBOS, but it’s during her time in college and while searching for a job as a lawyer that will spur the most indignation from audiences. In one scene, a potential employer explains to her that although her credentials are second to none, his firm couldn’t hire her because the wives would get jealous.

Along with her battle through the unapologetic trenches of New York City law, “OTBOS” follows Ginsburg, who at the time was a law professor at Rutgers University, as she preps for one particularly groundbreaking case — a 1972 lawsuit known as Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The case saw Ginsburg representing Charles Moritz, her client who was denied a tax deduction for caregiver expenses simply because the tax law only identified female caregivers as the rightful recipients of the deduction. She argued the gender-discrimination case in front of Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and won — thus opening the doors for other gender-discrimination cases to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court, such as Frontiero v. Richardson, Ledbetter v. Goodyear and United States v. Virginia.

Directed by Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”), who is a glass-ceiling destroyer herself (in 1973, she became the first female to graduate from the American Film Institute Conservatory), “OTBOS” plays it as safe as possible and misses an opportunity to package Ginsburg’s six decades of influence on the courts into an absorbing two-hour history lesson for mainstream audiences who only know her as the “Notorious RBG” or as a viral meme. Instead, Leder relies on simplistic storytelling and clichés to drive the narrative forward. Objection sustained.

Rogue One

December 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“About A Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Supremacy”)

Prequel is one of the dirtiest words in the English language to “Star Wars” fans, right up there with midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. The increasingly negative reception to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy that unspooled from 1999 to 2005 has rendered the word toxic, which is why Disney’s marketing of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has expressly avoided using the word at all—even though the movie is very much a direct prequel to the original “Star Wars” movie from 1977, known now as “A New Hope.”

This is the first live-action “Star Wars” theatrical adventure to deviate from the so-called saga of the Skywalker family being chronicled so far in Episodes I through VII (there was an animated “Clone Wars” film in theaters, as well as a pair of Ewok-centric TV movies in the ’80s and the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” from 1978) and represents the opening salvo in Disney’s mission to release a “Star Wars” movie every single year for the rest of all of our lives.

Opening around 15 years BBY (that’s Before the Battle of Yavin—the events of “A New Hope” and the super-geeky way in which the “Star Wars” timeline is sometimes parceled out), “Rogue One” focuses on Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), the reluctant brains behind the weapons tech in the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. He and his family, including daughter Jyn, are in hiding from the Imperial officer heading up the Death Star project, Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn). When Krennic tracks them down, he kills Jyn’s mother and captures her father as she flees, taken in by militant Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of an Imperial prison by the Rebels and given the choice of helping Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droll, reprogrammed Imperial droid 2-KSO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) capture her father back from the Empire to find out how to stop the superweapon. When plans go awry after a test-firing of the Death Star levels a Rebel stronghold, Jyn and Andor must team up with a blind, Force-sensitive monk (Donnie Yen), his heavily-armed sidekick (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans for the Death Star, a monumental event that set in motion the entire franchise nearly 40 years ago.

Burdened with extensive reshoots and the unavoidable fact that we know how it all ends, “Rogue One” represented somewhat of a risk for Disney—albeit a risk that will, worst case scenario, not make quite as much money as “The Force Awakens” did last year and only sell 85% of the toys. Happily, though, the movie ends up killer, with a brutality of war featuring the troops on the ground we’ve never seen in a “Star Wars” film before. The scars of the reshoots show through here and there, though, with Whitaker’s character seemingly suffering the most, relegated to a plot device that goes nowhere—and the same goes for a mystical crystal Jyn wears around her neck. Neither of those, however, are likely to conjure up the negative conversations that one prominently featured CGI character will over his too-many scenes. For the record, I’m not talking about Jar Jar Binks, but a long-dead British actor resurrected to look like a Playstation 4 cutscene character—pretty good, but still off-putting and not quite right. Ultimately, we’re left with a thrilling “Star Wars” movie that dares to be different—for example: no opening crawl, no transitional wipes, and no Jedi—and ends up as a better film than the widely-beloved nostalgia hug that was “The Force Awakens.”


October 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Angels & Demons,” “The Da Vinci Code”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Angels & Demons,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdon of the Crystal Skull”)

Call me a philistine if you will, but I, like a lot of people in the mid-2000s, enjoyed the novels of Dan Brown. With titles like “Digital Fortress” and “Deception Point,” it should be abundantly clear what you’re putting your hands on: mindless distraction during your lunch hour that, maybe, you can talk about with someone else once you’ve finished. To further illustrate my point, I’ve also read a vast majority of James Patterson’s nursery rhyme-themed novels featuring Alex Cross for reasons I don’t fully understand, beside the fact that I’d been doing so for the better part of two decades. The works of either author are far from being considered high art—and their film adaptations aren’t really any better.

Which brings us to “Inferno,” the third movie in the series that includes “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” from director Ron Howard (based on the fourth book—sorry, “The Lost Symbol”) featuring Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, a somewhat milquetoast professor who is a world-renowned expert in solving intricate puzzles based on or embedded in Renaissance works of art. This time out, Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, having apparently suffered a gunshot wound and retrograde amnesia. This is all according to his young doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) who actually recognized Langdon from a lecture she attended when she was nine years old. The two must make a hasty escape, though, when moments after Langdon awakes, an Italian police officer comes in shooting. Langdon and Sienna retreat to her apartment, where Langdon discovers some gizmo in his jacket that projects an altered image of Dante’s 7 layers of hell, peppered with clues by bizarre billionaire Betrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), hinting at the end of the world. You see, Zobrist has created a supervirus that will wipe out half of humanity in a matter of days so as to save the earth from overpopulation, and it’s up to a 60-year-old professor and his young English doctor sidekick to stop Zobrist—once they shake the jack-booted thugs the World Health Organization (!!!) sends gunning for them, that is.

While bereft of fun and weighing heavy with a sense of “let’s just get through this” obligation, “Inferno” falls squarely into the same category as “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” before it: inoffensive and forgettable. Howard and Hanks, who I’ve never thought was right for the role, must be making a mint off of all of this, and they both seem like super nice guys, so what’s the problem, right? Plus, Irrfan Khan seems to be having a good time (and if the script had any eyes on a continuing the series, would have been less beholden to his character’s inconsequential fate in the book) and seeing Felicity Jones is a good reminder of how excited you’ll be to see “Rogue One” in a couple of months. Just pretend the movie is like one of the many museums the characters visit: you’ll buy the ticket and hope the experience goes by as quickly as possible, and maybe you’ll share a small conversation about it with someone at work on Monday. It really is the best case scenario.

True Story

April 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold (debut)
Written by: Rupert Goold (debut)

As eclectic as an actor James Franco is – a career decision that doesn’t always translate into great final products – it’s nice to witness when the Oscar-nominated actor (“127 Hours”) is able to pull back the reigns a bit and create a character that isn’t developed from some kind of cinematic experiment gone wrong. In “True Story,” Franco has a fact-based narrative to reference when he portrays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who is arrested for murdering his wife and children. It’s a somber and often times aggravating turn by Franco, but one that proves the actor doesn’t have to make some sort of convoluted statement with every role he plays.

Directed by first-time filmmaker and writer Rupert Goold, “True Story” follows the crime Christian committed in 2002. After he killed his family, he went on the run to Mexico where he used the alias Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a name belonging to a New York Times writer who had recently been fired for some sloppy journalism. When Michael finds out Christian has been pretending to be him, he immediately wants to know more about the case and what drove Christian to such a heinous act in hopes of writing a book about the incident and the man behind it. During their meetings in prison, Christian, who never admits to the murders, begins to spin tales for Michael. It’s a friendship formed on manipulation as Michael allows himself to be taken under the spell of the charming convict. Without knowing where the truth lies, Michael is trapped in a frustrating game where he doesn’t have control of the situation.

While Goold’s script will have audiences in the dark for most of the film, it’s probably good to know as little as possible about the true-to-life case before watching “True Story” unravel piece by piece. Hill and Franco work seamlessly together, especially when they’re staring across the table from one another during prison scenes. What’s most interesting is how audiences will find themselves in the same position as Michael during most of the film. Is Christian someone that deserves to be heard or are his words that of a sociopath? Goold does a fantastic job of pushing and pulling the story between his two leads.

Where the film could’ve used a little more tightening is with the larger themes Goold obviously wanted to make come to the forefront. The content is present in the script, but it doesn’t come through in the third act. Goold is looking to say something more meaningful about the deceitfulness of man, but there’s little support. Maybe that’s where Franco should’ve been Franco and stepped in to say something profound. A wasted Felicity Jones attempts to do just that in her only contribution to the film, but it’s not nearly enough to tie everything together with much conviction.

The Theory of Everything

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
Directed by: James Marsh (“Man on Wire”)
Written by: Anthony McCarten (“Death of a Superhero”)

After pointing out all the scientific inaccuracies last year in the space drama “Gravity,” famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”) recently applauded filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi adventure “Interstellar” for its depiction of some of the mind-bending elements of the universe, including wormholes, gravitational fields and time dilations. One might wonder how deGrasse Tyson would react to a feature film on the life of arguably the greatest scientific mind living today having little science at all.

In “The Theory of Everything,” esteemed British cosmologist Stephen Hawking might mention singularity theorems and thermodynamics to impress his colleagues, but it all comes secondary to matters of the heart. In doing so, the film explores a touching relationship based on love and mutual respect and the idea that whatever genius concepts floating around inside Hawking’s head at the time were far too important to allow a strained marriage (or a neurodegenerative disease, for that matter) to get in the way.

Adapted from Hawking’s first wife Jane’s 2008 memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, “The Theory of Everything” vaguely explains just how influential Hawking’s discoveries were to those attempting to understand the “underlying order of the world,” but this isn’t the kind of film made for science geeks hoping to get an inside look at Hawking’s process or how his bestseller A Brief History of Time affected others’ research on theoretical physics. Instead, Oscar-winning documentarian James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“Death of a Superhero”) scale the narrative back to a much simpler equation and focus on the courtship and a large portion of Stephen and Jane’s life together. The fragile “love overcomes all” theme probably wouldn’t be something Hawking himself would deem logical since there is no mathematical equation to explain the complexities of the human heart, but the extraordinary performances given by actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones—as Stephen and Jane—make for a solid argument.

It’s especially true for Redmayne, who lends himself entirely to capturing every uncomfortable nuance of Hawking’s being once his disease has taken over his body. From a physical standpoint alone, liken what Redmayne does to Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot” or Mathieu Amalric in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Churning out an all-too-familiar biopic script, McCarten should have followed in his subject’s footsteps and broken boundaries. The screenplay’s shortcomings, however, do not take away from Redmayne’s finely-tuned characterization or Jones’ epitomizing devotion. Even if it doesn’t add up to much in the grand scheme of things, there’s still definite value in what they project on screen.

The Invisible Woman

January 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (“Coriolanus”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”)

In a follow up to his 2009 directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” actor Ralph Fiennes returns behind (and in front of) the camera in “The Invisible Woman,” the story of literary legend Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his secret mistress, a school teacher named Nelly (Felicity Jones).

The performances in “The Invisible Woman” are one of the stronger elements of the film. Fiennes, who is a consistently strong actor, delivers again on the expectations of a solid leading role. As a celebrity like Dickens, Fiennes is able to channel not only the magnetic personality of a public figure, but the passion, intelligence and grasp of language that an author like Dickens would possess. Jones, who is still in the process of introducing herself to American audiences, is also good as Nelly. Where Jones succeeds is taking a relatively quiet and subdued character and finding areas to give her a dramatic performance. The character itself might be a little bland, but Jones does everything she can to elevate it.

The crux of the film relies on the relationship between Fiennes and Jones, a relationship humorously juxtaposed from their father/daughter relationship in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Cemetery Junction.” While their relationship is spoken of in a lyrical and poetic sense, there are very few moments where we actually see their love for each other physically displayed. As a result, their romance never quite hits a fever pitch and the most affecting scenes come as consequences and results of their relationship, rather than the relationship itself.

The film is at its best in its portrayal of the unease of Dickens’ affair and its toll on those around him, such as scenes where his wife and his mistress interact, as well as the coldness Dickens had to display in an effort to keep suspicions about his affair quelled. Despite these strong sections and strong performances, the relationship between Dickens and Nelly never hits those moments of intensity and therefore comes off as occasionally dispassionate. As a result, and due to some slow pacing and general dullness, “The Invisible Woman” just narrowly misses the mark.


June 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Tanya Wexler (“Ball in the House”)
Written by: Stephen Dyer (“Ball in the House”) and Jonah Lisa Dyer (debut)

During the closing credits of “Hysteria,” a period comedy that tells the story of how the female vibrator came to be invented, the device’s history is presented in photos of the ever-evolving sex toy over the last 100 or so years. It’s some of the most interesting information offered by the film, which, despite its intriguing narrative, doesn’t satisfy the more complex issues women faced in the late 19th century. Instead, director Tanya Wexler and screenwriters Stephen and Jonah Dyer choose to wink their eye at the audience, toss out double entendres like they were free condoms during Spring Break, and hope the lighthearted nature of their screenplay is enough to overlook the film’s bigger problems.

Actor Hugh Dancy is definitely not one of the pitfalls of “Hysteria.” He stars as Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who finds himself dealing with a medical condition known as hysteria, which, at the time, was affecting half of the women in Britain. Insomnia, depression, and nervousness were only some of the symptoms of the disorder, which would later be understood to be more about sexual frustration than anything. When Mortimer lands a job with a doctor (Jonathan Pryce) specializing in treating women suffering from hysteria, he doesn’t find the work as gratifying as he had hoped, although he makes quite a name for himself for delivering relief to his female patients. He is also quite smitten with the doctor’s prim and proper daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) and confused by her volatile sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

While “Hysteria” demands attention for its own sexual revolution like 2004’s biopic “Kinsey” on scientist Alfred Kinsey, not all the pieces are here to make that happen. Dancy is marvelous as the straight-laced doctor who wants to be taken seriously as a professional, but his interaction with Gyllenhaal is not very convincing. Neither is his relationship with Jones, whose role as a wallflower is wasted.

In a comedy that should be screaming female liberation from the rooftop, Wexler and her writers seem to think any genuine thoughts or feelings of the women involved are inconsequential since we never hear from them (besides the squeals of ecstasy at the hands of Dr. Granville). Give “Hysteria” credit for livening up the era, but by not saying more than a few oohs and aahs, it really is a missed opportunity to mark a noteworthy event in medical history.

Like Crazy

November 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Drake Doremus (“Douchebag”)
Written by: Drake Doremus (“Douchebag”) Ben York Jones (“Douchebag”)

When the Britain-born Anna (Felicity Jones) and American Jacob (Anton Yelchin) begin their relationship, they know that eventually Anna’s college career will be over and her school visa will run out, sending her back to England. When that day finally comes, she decides she can’t do it, and overstays until she returns to London briefly. When she tries to come back into America, she is denied entrance and Anna and Jacob must face the challenge of keeping their relationship intact when they can’t physically be together.

Jones makes her mark in her American film debut with a very strong performance, one that will lead to many major roles in the future. While her character is eccentric and quirky, her natural beauty and smile light up the screen, as she provides so much of what makes these kinds of movies so charming. Her chemistry with Yelchin is also strong, and both performances are genuine and believable.

“Like Crazy” is an independent film in its truest sense. The characters bond over their love for Paul Simon, create quirky gifts for each other and many of the scenes of them together are put together in montages reminiscent of a movie trailer or music video. Most of the dialogue is improvised and it was shot on a microbudget using a Canon digital SLR that is available to consumers. That doesn’t affect the movie however, as it is mostly well composed. The improvisation of dialogue perhaps adds to the authenticity as the fights between Jones and Yelchin are very convincing.

The film starts off strong as we see two people in young love, trying to deal with problems that accompany being in a long distance relationship. They struggle to communicate due to the time differences, spend tons of money on flights for just weeks of time spent together and even kick around the idea of seeing other people when they can’t be together. But as the film goes on, the relationship between Yelchin and Jones begins to feel more like an obligation, and the desire to see these two be together starts to wither. Towards the end of the film, the characters slowly begin to lose their charm, alienating the audience as they sink into misery.

“Like Crazy” is a good relationship drama in many ways, one that deals with long distance relationships accurately and with sincerity. Jones shows moments of being a truly captivating young actress, but the narrative stretches itself a little too thin and ultimately makes for a film that is solid, but unspectacular.