Love, Simon

March 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp
Directed by: Greg Berlanti (“Life as We Know It”)
Written by: Elizabeth Berger (TV’s “This Is Us”) and Isaac Aptaker (TV’s “This Is Us”)

Unless you’ve been perusing the catalog of gay teen arthouse cinema and stumbled across recent gems like “Beach Rats” or “Princess Cyd,” it’s safe to say the genre isn’t one that Hollywood has been in a rush to make in recent years. Even with critically acclaimed LGBTQ films like “Call Me by Your Name” and “Moonlight” getting the attention they deserve, a major studio has only now stepped up to tell a more mainstream coming-of-age story led by a gay teenage character – someone who isn’t relegated to the role of “gay best friend.”

Imagine that Damien (“I want my pink shirt back!”) from 2004’s “Mean Girls” was given his own romantic comedy, or Patrick (Ezra Miller) from 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or that kid from “Easy A” who convinces Emma Stone to say they “lemon squeezed” so he could keep his sexual orientation under wraps. Where would we be with gay films if more of these characters were given the opportunity to do what their straight counterparts have been doing for decades — acting awkwardly around their crushes, flirting to their heart’s content and sharing with audiences what it’s like falling in love?

With “Love, Simon,” 20th Century Fox has released the most accessible movie ever about the gay teen experience. The outcome is so charming, authentic and emboldening, LGBTQ advocates should strike while the iron is hot and demand Marvel add a superhero movie headlined a gay main character to its franchise (unless, of course, you really think Deadpool’s sexual fluidity is going to be revealed in the upcoming sequel).

In “Love, Simon,” which is adapted from the 2015 young-adult novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, actor Nick Robinson (“Jurassic World”) plays the title character, a closeted gay high school student who wants to tell someone about his “big-ass secret.” But he’s afraid of how his friends and family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play his cool, progressive parents) will take the news.

When fellow student “Blue” comes out anonymously online, Simon reaches out to him (also anonymously) in hopes of finding someone he can confide in. After months of intimate emails, both young men realize they have fallen in love with one another, but question whether or not they should reveal their identities. But Martin (Logan Miller), an annoying theater classmate, takes that choice away when he discovers Simon’s private messages and threatens to out him if Simon doesn’t agree to help him land a date with new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp). The move will also affect the lives of Simon’s best friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).

While things get a bit “Dawson’s Creek”-y at times, director Greg Berlanti never allows the narrative’s melodrama to overtake the more significant themes that make a film like “Love, Simon” a milestone for mainstream gay movies. Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, both scribes on TV’s “This Is Us,” capture the confusion, self-consciousness and internal chaos taking place inside Simon’s own little world – with admiration for his character and for the situations he finds himself taking on alone.

They also use humor effectively and cathartically, which expands Simon’s personality in such a way that audiences can see he’s clever (but not too clever) and likable, and still somewhat flawed. In one scene, he questions why gays are the only people who find it necessary to come out, and imagines what it would be like if his heterosexual friends had to sit their parents down and tell them they were straight. It’s a subtle but funny sequence that fits in perfectly with the film’s other heartfelt moments and its message about acceptance and tolerance. This will speak volumes to real teens in the same complicated position.

Those same teenagers, however, should take note that “Love, Simon” — as easily accessible as it is — isn’t the only LGBTQ-friendly movie about teens that’s out there. You simply have to do a little research to find the indie versions of these stories on the fringes of cinema, just waiting for someone to give them a chance. Still, “Love, Simon” is a nicely wrapped gift that’s been placed on your lap, so take advantage.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible…Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Ron Lieber (debut)

Stretching short books meant for children to feature-length films has always been an exercise in deciding what would make for adequate filler between hitting the beats of the original short story. Few have pulled it off successfully; think 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a movie over-stuffed with meaningless fluff that ends up contradicting the original story’s anti-consumerist message. That film is rendered into some strange monster concocted just to sell cotton candy pancakes and leave everyone confused.

The filmmakers behind the new film version of author Judith Viorst’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” have the same hurdle to overcome—the book is only 32 pages long—but, unlike their peers, they mostly pull it off. Refocusing the story (in the book we’re centered solely on Alexander) to feature the rest of his family (namely parents Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) makes this kids’ movie more enjoyable for adults in the crowd than most movies featuring a computer-generated kangaroo kicking a man in the face typically do.

On the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day of his life. He wakes up with gum in his hair, spills a bowl of cereal, and opens up his computer to find a more-popular classmate is having his birthday party the same night as his, assuring that no one will be there, including Alexander’s best friend and the girl he has a crush on. When the rest of his family–wrapped up in their own concerns like a job interview, a book release, a part in a school play, and prom with their shallow, bitchy girlfriend—seem to offer Alexander no sympathy, he makes a birthday wish that they all know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Needless to say, the wish comes true, and the next day finds the family suffering calamities like pimples, being set on fire, and a misprint in a book that leads to national treasure Dick Van Dyke telling a group of children to take a dump in the swimming pool.

With fun performances from Carell and Garner, “Alexander” manages to avoid the usual pitfalls these movies aimed at 10-year-old boys seem to suffer from: being unwatchable to anyone over 10. Strangely, though, Alexander is basically a supporting character in his own movie, watching as the chaos unfolds around him. While usually films aimed at kids overstay their welcome, this one feels oddly truncated. At barely an hour and 15 minutes long, the movie doesn’t give the story enough room to breathe at times, wrapping up in a party that somehow comes together with little effort from the frazzled family. Yeah, like I said, there’s a damn CGI kangaroo that lays out Carell in the third act, but don’t hold that against “Alexander.”

Draft Day

April 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (“No Strings Attached”)
Written by: Scott Rothman (debut) and Rajiv Joseph (debut)

Think back to that amazing scene in the Oscar-nominated 2011 sports drama “Moneyball” where we witness Brad Pitt wheeling and dealing on the phone with other Major League Baseball general managers trying to trade a few of his players to make his Oakland As team better. Remember the energy of those phone calls and the excitement every time he hung up the phone and took another step closer to closing the deal? Remember Jonah Hill on the other side of the desk watching Pitt in awe as he utilized his time and his charm to get what he wanted? The drama of that scene, even though it’s just someone basically talking on the phone, was palpable. In “Draft Day,” director Ivan Reitman tries to spread that feeling across an entire day – NFL Draft Day – but fails at hooking us from the start. It’s not until the film’s waning moments when “Draft Day” chunks a Hail Mary and things hit a climax. By then, however, the corporate NFL influence has been caked on so much, the romance behind the sport is gone.

Written by rookie screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph and led on the set by veteran director Ivan Reitman (“No Strings Attached,”) “Draft Day,” the first film ever allowed to use the NFL brand, is, in fact, a commercial for the pro football league. It’s a bit hard to consider this “product placement” since the product is the actual movie itself, but producers go a bit overboard in their attempt to appease their sponsors with things like flyovers of NFL stadiums. That, however, is the least of “Draft Day’s” problems. Bottom line: the first 90 minutes of Rothman and Joseph’s script just isn’t interesting or inspiring. In those 90 minutes, we watch Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) attempt to land the first pick of the NFL Draft through a slew of unconventional tactics.

None of the conflict between characters during the first half of the movie works. From Sonny butting heads with the owner of the team (Frank Langella) and the coach (Denis Leary) to his in-house relationship with the team’s finance director (Jennifer Garner) to his run ins with upset players who think he’s trying to replace them, the narrative yields no dramatic results. It’s unfortunate since the NFL Draft, especially for fans of the league who love all the behind-the-scenes access, is probably one of the most exciting experiences a young football player could have. In “Draft Day,” Reitman and crew manage to suck all that exhilaration and personality from the story, and all that’s left are a few fancy logos and Deion Sanders.

Dallas Buyers Club

November 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“The Young Victoria”)
Written by: Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and Craig Borten (debut)

If you thought actor Matthew McConaughey offered up career-best performances last year in “Killer Joe” and “Magic Mike,” 2013 only proves those roles were anything but a fluke. Sure, it’s easy to mock McConaughey for his rom-com debacles that have come and gone in the last few years (not to mention the unwarranted shirtless scenes that make the ladies hoot and holler), but there was really no reason to think his acting chops wouldn’t reveal themselves sooner or later. He had pulled his own weight in films like “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill,” so it was only a matter of time before a few more well-written scripts crossed paths with the now 44-year-old actor from Uvalde, Texas.

Two strong screenplays found their way to McConaughey this year. In “Mud,” he showed his range playing a criminal on the run who enlists the help of a couple of young boys. Now, square in the middle of awards season, McConaughey gives us what will easily earn him the first Oscar nomination of his 30-year career. In the biopic “Dallas Buyers Club,” he portrays Ron Woodroof, an electrician/rodeo cowboy who is told by his doctors in 1985 that he is HIV-positive. Reluctant to accept his diagnosis (the epidemic is fairly new and Ron thinks AIDS is a disease only “faggots” get), Ron brushes off the news despite the doctors only giving him 30 days to live.

But as his health deteriorates, Ron decides to do a little research on his own and soon realizes his promiscuous lifestyle and drug use throughout the years have, in fact, led to his sickness. Ron, however, isn’t ready to give up. He’s also unwilling to believe his doctors are doing everything they can to save his life. Ron takes his treatment into his own hands and creates the Dallas Buyers Club, an underground organization where, for the price of membership, he makes unapproved HIV drugs he illegally brings in from other countries available to fellow patients. With the FDA breathing down his neck, he and his business partner and HIV-positive transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto, also in a career-best performance) fight through the system while giving hope to people who would, instead, just be waiting around to die.

While Ron isn’t what you would consider a likeable character, especially in the first half of the film when his homophobia is on display, McConaughey slowly brings viewers to a place where we can sympathize with everything he is going through. McConaughey’s drastic weight loss to play the role might be hogging all the headlines, but it’s more than his physical transformation that makes Ron a fascinating person. Credit for defining Ron on an emotional level definitely goes to screenwriter Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and first-time writer Craig Borten, who give us an effective character study of a man who refused to take no for an answer.  There might be a few fragile decisions made in the narrative from a historical aspect, but what McConaughey does on screen is enough to forgive “Dallas Buyers Club” of its storytelling shortcomings for the most part.


April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner
Directed by: Jason Winer (debut)
Written by: Peter Baynham (“Borat”)

Late comedian Dudley Moore should not be turning in his grave. Merely turning would not get him far enough away from the disastrous remake of his 1982 classic “Arthur,” a film British actor Russell Brand somehow botches up. “Arthur” follows a rich, alcoholic playboy who throws a tantrum when his mommy arranges his marriage. No, instead of just turning in said grave, Moore needs to actually dig another one inside the one he’s already in and crawl into that. In small doses (like Will Farrell), Brand, who has an uncanny resemblence with Skeletor if Skeletor had skin, can have some great moments (his Aldous Snow character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek” is annoying and charming all at once). In those movies, however, he either had a supporting role or was leaning on someone as talented as Jonah Hill. In “Arthur,” Brand is bare-boned and all by himself, which doesn’t do him any favors. The man-child character has been done well plenty of times before, but in “Arthur” the classic story sadly takes a nosedive and becomes laughless.

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

The Invention of Lying

October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Ricky Gervais (debut) and Matthew Robinson (debut)
Written by: Ricky Gervais (TV’s “Extras”) and Matthew Robinson (debut)

Ricky Gervais is a comedic genius. Even if you’re not a fan of the BBC comedy show “Extras,” take a look at last year’s highly underrated comedy “Ghost Town.”  Still, with his first attempt at writing and directing for the big screening, Gervais still has his work cut out for him. He does fairly well with “The Invention of Lying,” but seems to be grasping for straws for most of the runtime. In the film, Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a man who tells the world’s first lie and in turn becomes a sort of prophet for mankind. Overall, “Lying” is surprisingly controversial on the religious front, occasionally funny, and riddled with plot holes big enough to march an entire fleet of atheists through.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

May 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas
Directed by: Mark Waters (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Four Christmases”) and Scott Moore (“Four Christmases”)

What do you get when you cross a classic holiday story like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with a nauseating romantic comedy? With Matthew McConaughey playing a character as cynical as any rendition of Ebenezer Scrooge over the last 150 years, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” can’t find enough enchanting moments and depth to make it worth any kind of homage to the late literary icon.

In “Ghosts,” McConaughey is Connor Mead, an arrogant bachelor photographer who knows a lot about sex and little about women although he’s bedded his fair share of them in his life. An unbeliever of love and monogamy, Connor drags himself to his little brother’s wedding where he is reunited with his childhood crush Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner) whose heart Connor had broken years before.

Connor’s past, however, soon catches up to him when his deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), the man that raised him and taught him everything about dating and dumping women, tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts who will take him on a journey through the relationships of his past, present, and future.

It’s an interesting idea done way better (and without ghosts) in “High Fidelity” when John Cusack revisiting his old flames to find out why he is still single after so many years. In “Ghosts,” McConaughey doesn’t really change throughout these life-altering moments. Even when he meet his final ghost, the Ghost of Girlfriends Future, an incredibly attractive blond spirit, Connor still tries to make a move on her even though he just relived half of his life and saw the mistakes he had made. Isn’t the point supposed to be that he learns to be a better all-around person?

Still, the transformation from sleazebag to gentleman is miraculously completed with a little shove by screenwriting partners Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who scripted the unfunny “Four Christmases” at the end of last year. Here, McConaughey’s cinematic reputation precedes itself. It’s the kind of movie he was born to star in, which, in the last eight or so years, hasn’t been a real positive statement to make.