One Day

August 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: David Nicholls (“When Did You Last See Your Father?”)

There are moments in every person’s life that set change in motion and help shape his or her personality and view on the world. These moments are often blindsiding, unpredictable, and happen when least expected. In the case of “One Day,” all of these events occur on the same date throughout a span of two decades.  Implausibility aside, “One Day” is a lumbering mess of a film that forces us to spend 20 years with characters we wouldn’t waste 20 minutes on.

Adapting his own book, author and screenwriter David Nicholls tells the story of a score-long friendship through the events of July 15th, or St. Swithin’s Day. After a botched sexual encounter, the awkward Emma (Anne Hathaway) and the confident Dexter (Jim Sturgess) vow to stay close friends. As Emma works odd jobs and settles with a painfully unfunny comedian named Ian (Rafe Spall), Dexter becomes the host of several awful TV shows and is universally disliked by audiences and eventually by Emma herself. Over time, their roles and fortunes slowly start to reverse and Dexter and Emma find themselves questioning if a relationship is the right thing to do, or if they are just meant to be friends.

Both of the lead characters in “One Day” are charmless people that are flat out annoying to be around. Hathaway, who offers a distractingly bad British accent, brings no charisma to the role of Emma. Part of the problem here is that Nicholls mistakes dry British wit for bitter griping. In glimpses of a scornful Emma working at a Tex-Mex restaurant, her sarcastic attempts at humor are not endearing (or funny), and she instead comes off as a complaining curmudgeon. Sturgess is convincing as the media-proclaimed “most annoying man on television,” which could either be a compliment or an insult. Dexter is not only introduced as selfish, narcissistic, and vain, but these off-putting characteristics are exacerbated by numerous substance addictions. As a result, audiences are presented with a pessimistic woman who is settling in life and a paper-thin, detestable party-boy. Somehow, we are expected to root for their happily ever after.

Since the frustrating narrative structure of the film checks in with Dexter and Emma on the same day every year, only snapshots of their lives are seen and as a result, much of the character development is happening off screen. Although events that serve as life-altering catalysts are shown, moviegoers only get to see the end product of incidents that happened at least one year prior, completely leaving out the work put in to get to that point. The structure also works against the film by only giving the viewer small chunks of screen time to let the relationship develop. It is hard to buy into this couple’s longing for each other when you only see small snippets of annual contact.

After beautifully crafting the thrice Academy Award-nominated 2009 film “An Education,” it is unfortunate that Danish director Lone Scherfig returned with such a shallow piece of melodrama. With its miscalculated humor and nonexistent charm, the years cannot go by fast enough as the underwhelming relationship between Emma and Dexter unfolds.

Friends with Benefits

July 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Easy A”)
Written by: Keith Merryman (debut), David A. Newman (debut), Will Gluck (debut)

“Friends with Benefits” might have been given the benefit of the doubt if it had at least tried to be anything besides “No Strings Attached.” Sure, you’ve probably heard the comparison a million times already, but it’s evident that what we have here is the same movie six months later. If studios are this hard up for material, don’t be surprised to see a remake of one of these two rom com in about five years.

All kidding aside, a romantic comedy with this many unoriginal ideas can easiliy write itself. Boy and girl meet; boy and girl wonder if they can base a relationship on sex; boy and girl begin to fall for each other; friendship is ruined; relationship is mended. Happily ever after. Who actually knows what screenwriters Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, and Will Gluck (also the director) did to earn their paycheck?

While Justin Timberlake does exude 10 times more charm that Ashton Kutcher of “Strings,” “Friends with Benefits” just doesn’t have substantial material to work with. At first, it makes fun of what a cliché rom-com looks like and then blatantly becomes the exact same type of film it was parodying only minutes before. Maybe that’s the kind of sarcastic storytelling this genre is going for now, but it doesn’t make a difference when everything feels so recycled.

Easy A

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”)
Written by: Burt V. Royal (debut)

High school hierarchy is given a literary twist in “Easy A,” a teenage sex comedy that confuses clever dialogue with something better suited for the Diablo Cody school of excessive quick-wittedness. If you thought “Juno” was a bit too cheeky at times, there is no comparison to the number of silver-tongued characters brazenly stealing the spotlight from one another here.

Loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mid-19th century masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter,” director Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”) transports the story from a small village in Boston to the halls of a gossipy high school where we meet our leading lady Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) doing everything she can to sully her goody-goody reputation.

It starts when Olive, under the duress of her nosey best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), is overheard lying about losing her virginity, a speck of information that quickly finds its way across campus through phone texts and good old-fashion whispering between classes.

Not very concerned with her newfound promiscuous status, Olive is actually surprised about how much attention she’s receiving for telling one little white lie. However, Olive spreads herself thin when her knack to stretch the truth without worrying about the consequences leads her to do charity work for some of the more unpopular boys of the school whose lives could quickly change for the better if Olive agrees to let people think she’s sleeping with them. In exchange, she’s paid with store gift cards to places like Office Max and Home Depot.

In a role too similar to Mandy Moore’s religious she-devil in 2004’s “Saved!,” Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, a Bible-thumping student who wants to save Olive’s soul before she ends up in hell with all the other floozies. The adults in Olive’s life include her hip parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) whose casual nature with their daughter works well for a generation that refers to their mom and dad by their first names. As married high school teachers, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Hayden Church drag the plot into awkward territory.

If anything great comes out of “Easy A” it is the overall likeability of star Emma Stone. Regulated to more secondary roles in past movies like “Zombieland, “Superbad,” and “The House Bunny,” Stone proves she can carry a movie all on her own especially during the scenes where she video blogs to her online audience. Sure, she doesn’t have much help from co-stars this time around, but there’s something striking about Stone aside from her attractiveness. Look for her to scoop up all of the roles Lindsey Lohan would have earned if she wasn’t too busy passing out in her own vomit.

Despite Stone’s very enjoyable performance, “Easy A” is still all snap and no substance. First-time screenwriter Burt V. Royal was probably patting himself on the back as he churned out page after page of this script. On occasion it’s sharp. Most of the time it bludgeons us for the sake of a few one liners.

Shutter Island

February 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”)
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”)

There are times during Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese’s (“The Departed”) thriller “Shutter Island” where you can feel the anxiety of the picture frothing up inside your gut. Once Robbie Robertson’s disturbing Hitchcockian score and Robert Richardson’s misery-stricken cinematography merge to create the ominous tone during the opening scenes, it is obvious Scorsese plans to keep you as uneasy as he possibly can for as long as he can.

There is only so much, however, that a masterful director like Scorsese and a few members of his technical crew can do before its foundation collapses from under them. Adapted from the Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) novel of the same name, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”) rides Scorsese’s coattail as far as she can before the work itself shrinks back into predictable dark corners. The twist and turns might be sharp, but that doesn’t make them any less dull.

Collaborating for the fourth time with Scorsese, Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”) plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a murderess from a mental hospital known to house the most criminally insane patients. Teddy’s new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) joins him on his tour through the facilities where he plans to interrogate every one who knows Rachel, including psychiatrists Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) who aren’t exactly cooperating with Teddy’s methods of inquiry.

Teddy, however, has more to worry about than unsupportive head doctors who seem to be hiding the truth. Nightmares of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and his time in the war begin to haunt him as he and Chuck end up stranded on the island during a vicious thunderstorm. They are the type of hallucinations that would easily be dismissed if they were in any other horror-type movie, but since Scorsese is directing the scenes we’re led to believe that they should be considered more artistic than overly-stylistic. However you want to identify them, they have no bearing on any emotional aspect of the story, which is unfortunate since they are revisited numerous times.

Most of the emotional pull comes from DiCaprio’s performance itself. Walking a fine line between awareness and madness, his on-the-spot portrayal of a man uncertain of his own mental welfare as he caves in on himself is frightening. Still, the suspense refuses to take another step forward once the pieces start fitting together more obviously. Once that occurs, it is only a matter of waiting out the rest of the unsubstantial plot points in “Shutter Island.” By then, all the dread has subsided and that ball of nerves that was floundering around inside you earlier feels more like bad indigestion.

Married Life

March 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”)
Written by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”), Oren Movermen (“I’m Not There”)

“Married Life” is either an adult comedy with dark themes or a dark comedy with adult themes, although neither genre in this specific instance is particularly enjoyable even on a twisted level of simplicity.

Although you would be hard-pressed to find two actors more natural than Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”) and Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April”), the problems lie in the not-so-fascinating screenplay of Ira Sachs and Oren Movermen.

Set in the 1940’s and given a sort-of film noir ambiance, “Married Life” follows Harry Allen (Cooper), a hopelessly romantic businessman who wants to kill his wife. It is, of course, not his wife Pat (Clarkson) who he is in love with any longer. Harry has moved on and found a younger woman with whom “to be truly happy.”

Her name is Kay Nesbit (Rachel McAdams), and Harry is wild about everything she brings out of him. As a lonely widow, Kay has found a stable relationship that she can count on. As a married man, Harry wants nothing more than to leave his wife and start a new life with his mistress.

But in the 40’s, divorce wasn’t just something people do on a daily basis. There was embarrassment involved from a social aspect because people viewed it as a failure in life. So, instead of divorcing Pat, Harry decides that he will have to kill her to save her from the whispers she might hear after their split. How thoughtful!

All the while, no one has as much power and influence over Harry and Pat’s marriage as Harry’s best friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan). Like a fly on the wall, Richard knows everything that is going on between all parties involved and always has the upper hand to get anything he wants, even when that includes Harry’s new gal. Brosnan, who is also the film’s narrator, is excellent in this role. He keeps up with Cooper’s cunningness both as friends and competitors for Kay’s love.

Although the acting is top-notch in this intelligent albeit soft-around-the-edges drama, one can’t ignore the tediousness that lingers between the characters’ separate stories. These minimal moments muddle the tension and also Harry’s point-of-view, which is the most ruthless and indifferent you could imagine. Some of the best parts of the film are when Harry, only moments away from poisoning Pat, can still give her compliments and make her feel like she is the only thing that matters to him. (“You’re prettier today than you’ve ever been,” he says without a smirk).

Still, Cooper and the rest of the acting talent can’t hold the film together on their own. With a story of deception, extramarital affairs, and murder, you would think the “Married Life” script has a lot going for it. But halfway through, you’ll feel just like Harry and want out in any way possible. Well, almost any way.