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.”

Wanderlust

February 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux
Written by: David Wain (“Role Models”) and Ken Marino (“Role Models”)
Directed by: David Wain (“Role Models”)

When ultra-hippie Seth (Justin Theroux) rattles off a litany of technology he feels normal people are too reliant on, he keeps listing things that are wildly obsolete. He goes on about how people can’t get by without their Walkman, VHS tapes and Zip drives. It’s a joke that is actually really funny at first, but keeps going and going until it’s gone on for way too long. It’s a theme  readily apparent in “Wanderlust,” a mostly enjoyable film that stops just shy of wearing out its welcome.

After George (Paul Rudd) is fired from his job, he and his wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are forced to sell the apartment they just bought and move out of New York City. On their way to stay with George’s brother in Atlanta, they stop for the night at Elysium, a strange hippie commune disguised as a bed and breakfast. Uncomfortable at first with the group’s all-night parties, practices of “free love” and nonchalant take on nudity, George and Linda start enjoying their time and wonder if Elysium is the place they were meant to be.

The film is anchored by Rudd, who is quickly becoming one of the go-to lead comedic actors after years of supporting roles. Rudd stays in familiar territory with a character stuck in the middle of the craziness around him. His normal charm and improv skills are on display. A good portion of the comedy comes from Rudd being flustered in some way. Playing his on-screen wife, Aniston shows, like she did in “Horrible Bosses,” that she is a great fit for raunchy rated-R comedies. Theroux, who is another character with extra screen time, is a mixed bag. Much of the failed material with Theroux’s character comes from the fact he is written as a caricature. Another problem with “Wanderlust” is its lack of fully-formed supporting characters. The ensemble is huge and each actor gets a laugh or two, but then each of them fades into the background. None of the secondary cast ever really congeal with the exception of the oft-underused Ken Marino, who steals every second of screen time he has playing George’s obnoxious, dolt brother.

Director David Wain seems to take the “throw everything out there and see what sticks” approach to “Wanderlust.” There are jokes flying out at a rapid rate, as well as the occasional absurdist gag that might spur a handful of laughs in the theater. With this film, Wain teams up with producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), who is no stranger to letting his actors improvise dialogue on set. Apatow’s knack for the unscripted seems to have rubbed off on Wain, as many moments of “Wanderlust” appear to be heavily improvised. The joint result of these aspects is a film that feels a little cut and pasted in the editing room and strangely put together at times. While there are some long form takes such as Rudd’s amazing improvised sexual pep talk in a mirror, there are a lot of scenes that carry on with very little reward.

Though Wain’s team could have been a little more judicious in the editing room, “Wanderlust” is  funny more often than not and gets plenty of mileage out of the eccentricities of the unconventional community.  Still, what truly makes“Wanderlust” work is the hilarity and unmatchable likability of Rudd.

Just Go With It

February 16, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (“Grown Ups”)
Written by: Allan Loeb (“The Dilemma”) and Timothy Dowling (“Role Models”)

Although it isn’t as unpleasant to watch as other Dennis Dugan-directed Adam Sandler comedies of the last few years (“Grown Ups,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”), there’s not much in “Just Go with It” to make you believe Sandler has any intention to give audiences anything more than the bare minimum. A remake of the 1969 comedy “Cactus Flower,” which landed Goldie Hawn an Academy Award,” “JGWI” goes for the cheap jokes and comes up with punch lines to match. Model/actress Brooklyn Decker might be the rom com’s selling point, but there aren’t enough slow-motion walks on the beach that can remedy the Sandler mediocrity.

The Switch

August 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by: Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory”) and Will Speck (“Blades of Glory”)
Written by: Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”)
 
While any pitch that starts off with the words, “By the two guys who directed ‘Blades of Glory’” isn’t necessarily an effective selling point, “The Switch” finds a way to avoid becoming the sitcom-type movie it sets itself up to be by delivering some surprising sentimentality and an honest script by screenwriter Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”). Despite a lack of hearty laughs, this is the kind of dramedy where it feels just as good to smile.

In “The Switch,” originally titled “The Baster,” Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Aniston (“The Break Up”) stars as Kassie Larson, a TV producer who can’t ignore the thumping of her biological clock any longer. She wants a baby, but without any potential relationships lined up Kassie decides that all she really needs is a suitable sperm donor to make her a mommy.

Jason Bateman (“Juno”) plays Wally Mars, Kassie’s cynical analyst best friend who isn’t keen on her plans to conceive artificially. During her sperm donor party (what, you’ve never been to one?), Wally replaces the sperm sample of Kassie’s preferred donor Roland (Patrick Wilson) with his own, although he was under the influence when he made the, er, deposit.

After Kassie moves away from New York City and back again in the span of seven years, Wally finally meets his son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson in a scene-stealing role) who he doesn’t really know is his offspring until he starts noticing peculiar little similarities they share while he spends time with him. Not only does Sebastian have some of his quirks, he’s also quite neurotic for a kid his age.

But how does Wally bring up a secret he’s never been aware of until recently? Things get even messier when Kassie begins to date the original sperm donor, who has always thought he contributed to her happiness.

Despite a fairly predictable screenplay, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck and screenwriter Loeb aren’t tied down to any lowbrow humor a film like “The Switch” could have easily relied on. Instead, there are some genuine, heartfelt moments especially during the scenes Bateman and young Robinson share together. It’s through these tender moments when “The Switch” wears its heart on its sleeve and becomes a sweet film that explores the complications of parenthood and friendship.

He’s Just Not That Into You

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”)
Written by: Abbie Kohn (“Never Been Kissed”) and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”)

Just when you thought women couldn’t be portrayed more desperate and neurotic than Sarah Jessica Parker at the end of “Sex and the City: The Movie” (if you think Carrie Bradshaw taking back Mr. Big was romantic, then I really don’t understand the opposite sex), meet the ladies of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

While Bradshaw showed at least some signs of independence in “SATC” (she is a single woman living in New York City after all), the unapologetically weak women of “HJNTIY,” led by the likeable Ginnifer Goodwin (“Walk the Line”), are so unbelievably hopeless, you can’t help to not feel one ounce of sympathy for any of them who might end up alone for the rest of their lives.

The relationship troubles in this cliché romantic comedy start with Gigi (Goodwin), a twenty-something young woman from Baltimore who is searching for Mr. Right and always coming up short. Along with running into relationship dead-ends, Gigi, like Charlotte York from “SATC,” is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a man blowing her off after an amicable date.

There to soften the fall after her last taste of rejection is Alex (Justin Long), a bar manager who plays the all-knowing love guru and attempts to explain the rules of dating to a wide-eyed and heartbroken Gigi. She, of course, isn’t the only one with relationship woes in “HJNTIY.” Spread thinly across a forgettable script penned by “Never Been Kissed” screenwriters Abbie Kohn and March Silverstein, other characters include Beth (Jennifer Aniston), whose long-time boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) doesn’t believe in marriage; Ben (Bradley Cooper), who’s in a sexless marriage with Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and gets involved with aspiring singer Anna (Scarlett Johansson); and Mary (Drew Barrymore) who complains about how technology is ruining her love life.

Between these stories, director Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”) decides to add filler with mock testimonials from men and women about their personal experiences in the dating scene. While it worked in a film like “When Harry Met Sally,” in “HJNTIY” it’s phony and unimaginative.

“HJNTIY” feels like a therapy session with friends you haven’t talked to in a long time. They mean well when they give you advice, but what do they know about what you’ve been going through in the last few years? Who needs advice anyway, when you’ve got Justin Long teaching the dos and don’ts of dating anyway? Lesson No. 1: girls are clingy, psychotic, mentally unbalanced morons whose happiness is determined by the men they are dating. It may not be a great morale for those who chose to soak it up like scripture, but, hey, at least its got a cute cast, right?

Marley & Me

December 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin
Directed by: David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”)
Written by: Scott Frank (“The Lookout”) and Don Roos (“Happy Endings”)

You’d have to have a heart made of rawhide not to feel a tad gushy while watching “Marley & Me,” especially if the man-dog relationship reminds you of a puppy love from your past. For me, it was my first pet, a funny-looking mutt I named Cracker (he was the color of a Saltine), whom I loved dearly.

The film may rekindle some lasting memories from your childhood, but the source material, John Grogan’s New York Times bestselling autobiography of the same name, is milked of all its sentimentality, and by the time we get to the film’s most tender moments, they’re unconvincing and obvious.

Directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”), “Marley & Me” is not so much about a dog as it is a family’s life journey with a dog as a supporting player through their ups and downs. Owen Wilson is John Grogan, a newspaper reporter stuck in a rut writing blotter stories, who surprises his newlywed (Aniston) with a pup (giving her something to nurture is supposed to be a surefire way to slow down her biological clock).

Marley is an adorable but incorrigible yellow Labrador whose alpha-male inclinations make him “the worst dog in the world.” (Basically, he gnaws everything to a stump and humps Kathleen Turner’s fat leg). In addition to Marley’s mischievous ways, the Grogans’ stress level skyrockets when they begin raising a litter of their own.

While the screenwriters would like you to believe the heart of the story centers on the unconditional love of a dog, Marley becomes an afterthought in the script until he turns weathered and gray in the most heartfelt and drawn-out scenes. Toss him a Snausage for not sinking to Beethoven levels, but I’d rather have my puppy-loving tears triggered by “Old Yeller,” “My Dog Skip,” or even “Turner & Hooch.”