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.

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.

Chéri

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates
Directed by: Stephen Frears (‘The Queen”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

If you thought the term “cougar” could only be used as a reference in pop culture to describe women like Demi Moore and Mariah Carey who pursue younger men, then the film “Chéri,” based on the novel by early 20th century French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, proves you’re a few decades late.

Set in 1920s Paris during the belle époque era, “Chéri” follows Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a well-to-do courtesan (a classy name for a swanky prostitute) who falls in love with an enchanting young man named Chéri (Rupert Friend, who looks like a gothic version of Orlando Bloom).

Chéri’s mother Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), a retired courtesan and former rival of Lea, allows the rendezvous to happen since she knows her son will be in good hands and obtain the sexual experience he needs before settling down. The affair would also help Lea keep her status as one of the most desired escorts in Paris.

But what is supposed to be a casual relationship for both Lea and Chéri turns out to be a lot more. Six years later, the couple is still together in what is described as a “soothing routine of habit.” Their love dissolves, however, when Charlotte forces him into an arranged marriage with a woman his own age since the Madame desperately wants grandchildren. While Lea knew the day would come when Chéri would leave the nest, she is devastated but hides her emotions well. “It’s her turn now,” she says to her young lover before letting him go.

Chéri, too, finds it hard to let go of his past the longer he stays in his dreary marriage. All he can think about is his time with Lea and eventually returns to her like a lost little boy. It’s during these scenes of self-pity and overall misery that make “Cheri” hard to bear after a while. It’s not enough that Pfeiffer gives a fine performance as this woman of a “certain age,” and that Bates steals most of the show with a vivacious personality, the era piece doesn’t capture the same romanticism as the last time director Stephan Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton collaborated for 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” which earned Pfeiffer her first of three Academy Award nominations.

Pfeiffer shouldn’t be returning to the big dance this year, although stranger things have happened. “Chéri” is cinematically beautiful with all the pomp and circumstance it delivers in costume and setting. The story, however, feels like a cheap one-night stand rather than a daring love story and is not as overly tragic as it makes itself out to be.

Revolutionary Road

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“The Clearing”)

Married with a house and a mortgage and 2.5 kids. It might sound like the standard version of the American Dream for any conventional couple, but for the characters of Richard Yates’s best-selling novel, it is their prison.

In “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (their first film together since 1997’s “Titanic”) give life and discontentment to Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly happy husband and wife living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s.

It’s a peaceful facade from the outside, but like Mendes’s “Beauty,” there are unseen thorns under this bed of roses. Although they seem like the perfect couple to their friends, Frank and April are miserable. Frank is stuck in a job in office sales and having an empty affair with a naïve young girl at the company, while April, who once dreamed to become an actress, is trapped at home caring for her two children and making the best of a life she finds unfulfilling.

Despite the Wheeler’s marriage coming to an obvious end, April believes it can be saved if they just had a change in scenery. One night, she spontaneously proposes to Frank that they pack up and move to Paris to start over. She sweetens the deal by telling him that she will be the one to work and provide for the family while he discovers what it is he wants out of life. The plan sounds illogical, but Frank and April know that if it doesn’t work out their marriage won’t survive by simply “playing house” and accepting their apathy for each other as natural relationship wear-and-tear.

Through emotionally draining and depressing scenes, DiCaprio and Winslet scrape away at each other until both become fragile and feel worthless. Both are astonishing in their roles. The X-factor in this devastating story comes from supporting actor Michael Shannon, who plays “certified lunatic” John Givings, the manic son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors who cuts the couple down to size and expresses opinions to them as if he was reading their minds. He talks to the Wheelers unlike anyone has ever dared to before. At first, the his candidness is appreciated, but when John finds his way into the heart of their problems, the confrontations become frightening.

Just as Frank and April keep each other on the brink of madness so will “Revolutionary Road” do to the audience as they watch the couple refuse to resign from life. Scored by “American Beauty” composer Thomas Newman and shot by “No Country for Old Men” cinematographer Roger Deakins (both should get Oscar nods), small town suburbia becomes a story of psychological survival between two self-delusional lovers backed into a corner.