Home Again

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)
Written by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)

I guess there’s an audience for the kind of movie “Home Again” is—a fluffy tale of a rich white woman in her 40s who, while more than comfortably wealthy, is struggling to start some basic bitch-type job like design or decorating for other latte-and-wine-sipping women, who then encounters decent men so saccharine, the woman invents problems to have with them, turning the guy missing a dinner (due to life-changing career opportunities, no less!) into a betrayal tantamount to infidelity. Oh, and don’t forget the woman’s adorably plucky daughters and her no-nonsense mother!

That audience doesn’t include me. But if the large contingent of women in their late 30s to late 40s that showed up to the screening I attended and laughed at every hackneyed joke and hissed at every extremely mild bad thing a man did, well…who am I to judge?

Oh, yeah, a film critic.

Anyway, “Home Again” opens with a flashback montage narrated by Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) as she remembers her late father, a philandering, genius director of romantic comedies in the ‘70s who fell in love with his leading lady Lillian (Candice Bergen), a pairing which begat Alice. His immaculate Los Angeles bungalow is now Alice’s, and she uses the home as ground zero for a fresh start with her two daughters after her marriage to record executive Austen (Michael Sheen) and fleeing New York City.

While out celebrating her 40th (oh no!) birthday, Alice runs into three good-as-gold 20-something filmmakers (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff), fresh off a hit short at SXSW out in L.A. to make it big—and due to sitcom-like circumstances, they all end up living in Alice’s opulent, well-furnished guest house. As the film chugs along to tinkly piano beats, Alexander’s director, Harry, falls for Alice and they begin a mildly naughty sexual relationship, while Rudnitsky’s writer, George, takes to Alice’s neurotic aspiring writer daughter, becoming her mentor. Meanwhile, Wolff’s actor character, Teddy, remains present in a lot of scenes without really doing anything. Conflict only arises artificially, though, when amazing career advancement opportunities come up for one character that mildly inconveniences another—Harry meeting with producers causes him to miss a dinner with Alice, George takes on a script polishing job, Teddy reads for a pilot, and Harry gets pissed because…I don’t know, he’s an auteur? Oh yeah, then Michael Sheen shows up to reclaim Alice from these young whippersnappers, and…eh.

Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who herself is the daughter of romantic comedy directors Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, “Home Again” isn’t far off from her mother’s output—and weirdly ignorant of how actual one might be successful as a filmmaker in Hollywood. You know, if your parents aren’t successful filmmakers and give you a hand up in the business. And it’s also weird that you’d let three men–complete strangers, sort of a diet “Entourage” crew—shack up with you, as a single woman, with two elementary school age daughters just because your daffy old mom suggested you be a “patron of the arts.” There is no home in “Home Again,” at least not one that exists in any other world but the Meyers-Shyer family.

Nat Wolff – Leap!

September 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Since breaking out on the Nickelodeon TV show “The Naked Brothers Band” in 2007 with his brother Alex, actor Nat Wolff has gone on to carve out a nice little career for himself over the last 10 years.

Most notably, Wolff starred opposite Cara Delevingne in the 2015 mystery/drama “Paper Towns” as a teenager who follows a series of clues to find his missing neighbor and love interest. Wolff also earned roles in “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Intern” and “Home Again.”

In the animated film “Leap!,” he lends his voice to Victor, a pre-teen inventor in the late 19th century who accompanies his friend Felicie (Elle Fanning) on a trip to Paris where she hopes to become a world-famous ballerina.

During a recent interview with Wolff, 22, we talked about why it was so fun playing a 12-year-old kid and what he hopes a film like “Leap!” says to young moviegoers.

Whether we’re talking about a movie like “Wonder Woman” or “The Hunger Games” or “Ghostbusters,” it seems like studios, little by little, are realizing that it’s important to tell these stories about female empowerment. Do you think these films are going to become more prolific or are we just seeing a trend?

I think these films are certainly going to become more prolific. I think girls and guys want to see these types of films. I think it’s silly that there is such a disparity between movies that star men and women.

What would you tell parents of little boys who might not want to go see “Leap!” because it is a story about a ballerina?

As a little kid I used to watch movies like “Toy Story” and “Monster’s Inc.” and was a huge animated film fan. It’s exciting to play a character like Victor who is such a wild one, an inventor. That’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid – use my Legos and invent things. I think guys are going to love it, too.

Your character is described as somewhat of a goofball. Can you explain how you connected to him on that level?

Well, it was really hard for me to connect to a goofball. (Laughs) Honestly, it was a breeze. I sort of gave up trying to tame myself in a way. I got to be my wild, 12-year-old self and go into a booth and scream and go crazy for a couple of days. I was a really strange thing.

What’s the message you would like kids to understand when they see a film like “Leap!”?

I think for me, one of the exciting things about this movie is that it’s hopeful and positive and not in a world that is cynical. I’m happy to be a part of the film. I think watching film was really important to my growth as a kid. I think if you’re watching movies that reflect some hope, hopefully that will go into their lives.

Your character participates in a dance off in the film. How do you think you’d fare in a dance off with someone? What are your skills like on the dance floor?

I pretty much think I can beat anyone. I think I could take anyone down. I’m not technically brilliant, but I lead with the heart. Send your best dancer and I’ll school them.

Paper Towns

July 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams
Directed by: Jake Schreier (“Robot and Frank”)
Written by: Scott Heustadter (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Fault in Our Stars”)

As the go-to source for screenplays on young love, screenwriting partners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have had a sizeable amount of success. With “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now,” and most recently “The Fault in Our Stars,” Neustadter and Weber have, for the most part, been able to subvert clichés and avoid tropes to deliver earnest and unique films about love. With another novel adaptation from John Green, “Paper Towns” is perhaps the first truly inauthentic step from the duo.

After drifting apart from being childhood friends, Quentin (Nat Wolff) is visited by free-spirited, rebel teenager and neighbor Margo (Cara Delevingne) in the middle of the night. Needing his Mom’s car to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend and friends, the conservative do-gooder Quentin agrees and has the best night of his life on mischievous adventures. Hoping to further nurture a childhood crush, Quentin wakes up disappointed the next day to find that Margo has vanished. He does, however, find clues that may point to where Margo is hiding and joins up with friends on an adventure to track her down.

In her first starring film role, model turned actress Delevingne is a welcome revelation. With a twinge of attitude and raspy voice, there’s a certain Emma Stone quality to Delevingne’s performance that shows a lot of potential. It’s a shame that she’s gone for the majority of the film, as her performance is the most intriguing part of the film. Something else that is welcome is Wolff finally being in a likeable role. After turning in the most annoying character of all time in “Palo Alto,” Wolff gets to play not only charming, but vulnerable and proves to be quite good at it. Unfortunately for “Paper Towns,” the levels of performance are where its successes end.

With teen films, there is always the risk that writers and directors become so concerned with being different that they pack their characters and stories with quirks and eccentricities that would never exist in real life. This is where Neustadter and Weber have been successful in the past, showing uber romantic gestures, but still believable teenage (or young) relationships. In “Paper Towns,” however, it all seems for naught.

More to the point, Neustadter and Weber do a poor job of establishing the relationship between Quentin and Margo. (What is the purpose of them finding a dead body if nothing at all comes from it?) Quentin’s alleged love for her that makes him want to go on a manhunt across the country, even after their one night of fun, rings completely false. They haven’t even talked since they were kids! Essentially what he is doing is giving in to the whims of an “eccentric” girl that ran away, which is hardly a reason the viewer to care.

Beyond all of that, there’s an annoying streak that runs throughout the film. One several occasions, gorgeous people complain about having to live up to their expectations and how people only see their coolness and their beauty. It’s a form of self-pity that is, quite frankly, obnoxious. One of the side characters in particular has one of these moments, and it is amplified by a sideplot of a relationship with one of Quentin’s best friends in a storyline that is, once again, completely unbelievable.

If there is any word that can sum up the experience of “Paper Towns,” it is “pointless.” When the entire plot of a film hinges on a relationship that is impossible to buy into, it’s really hard for the whole thing to not feel like a mammoth waste of time. There’s no fun or energy behind anything that is happening, and almost none of its relationship moments are earned. The ending has a hint of refreshingness to how blunt it is, but it also, in a way, further cements the fact that the rest of the film was unnecessary. Unrealistic, annoying, and emotionally hollow, “Paper Towns” is as thin as its title suggests.

The Fault In Our Stars

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
Directed by: Josh Boone (“Stuck In Love”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“The Spectacular Now”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Spectacular Now”)

In an adaptation of the wildly popular young adult novel, “The Fault In Our Stars” tells the love story of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) a 16-year old with lung cancer who meets Augustus Waters, (Ansel Elgort) who is cancer-free after having a leg amputated, at a cancer support group. It’s a story that by its very nature, could be emotionally manipulative and packed with schmaltz. Instead, a fantastic script and impressive performances navigate it away from pure melodrama.

As a film filled with emotionally taxing circumstances and scenes, “The Fault In Our Stars” provides fertile ground for its actors to show their dramatic chops and they do it in spades. Woodley, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her incredible work in “The Descendants,” once again delivers a heartfelt performance that shows dynamic acting range. However, Elgort deserves an equal amount of credit and is a true revelation in the film. This is a kid who displays effortless charisma, natural humor, and a confidence that feels completely genuine. He shows emotional depth and vulnerability in his performance. At times, Augustus seems like the perfect, ideal person, but Elgort is so good in the role that it doesn’t really matter.

In a movie with many great performances, the unsung heroes of the film are definitely screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Known for their romantically-themed scripts in “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now,” the duo show an incredible amount of balance with “The Fault in Our Stars.” As an example, they do not let the cancer elements overpower the film and make it a complete bummer. Instead, they let the relationship between these two characters be the star of the film. Admittedly, there are also some missteps along the way. There is some smarty dialogue and voice over work and a scene towards the climax that proved to be ill-fitting and a distraction. Still, with such delicate and naturally dramatic subject matter, Neustadter and Weber have almost the perfect delicate touch needed for this type of story.

There are a few moments towards the end of the movie where the film ever so slightly tips into a manipulation of the heart-strings, but the amount of restraint shown by Neustader, Weber and director Josh Boone should not be discounted. “The Fault In Our Stars” is, of course, tailor made for a teen audience and fans of the novel. It is also an impressive and sincere film that transcends its target audience and should be affecting to all, which is encouraging proof that movies directed at young adults and teens don’t have to be vapid and pandering.