Disobedience

May 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola
Directed by: Sebastián Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”)
Written by: Sebastián Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (“Ida”)

After earning an Oscar this year for his compassionate foreign-language drama “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una Mujer Fantástica”), Chilean director Sebastián Lelio makes his American film debut with “Disobedience,” a seductive and mature love story between two women with ties to an Orthodox Jewish community in London.

Esti Kuperman (Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams) and Ronit Krushka (Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz) have been close friends since childhood. Growing up together in the synagogue where Ronit’s father was a well-respected rabbi, their lives parted ways as young women when Ronit “disappeared” to New York to become a photographer.

Many years later, Ronit finds herself back in London to pay her respects after her father dies, although she admits she was never as close to him as he was to his students. Early on, Ronit is surprised to learn that Esti has married their mutual childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), one of the rabbi’s prodigies. Ronit assumes it is a marriage of convenience, however, since she knows Esti, whom she has been intimate with in the past, has always been attracted to women.

Ronit’s arrival — you guessed it — reignites something inside Esti that she has kept dormant for a long time. As the two women begin to re-embrace their passion for one another, the Jewish community around them begins to stir. Already having an unfavorable opinion about Ronit for leaving her father and her faith behind, those closest to the rabbi question her motivation for returning to a society that ostracized her long ago.

Adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by English writer Naomi Alderman, “Disobedience” is an absorbing, well-written narrative that explores the conflict between free will and religious obligation effectively and in a thought-provoking way. In Ronit, Esti and Dovid, Lelio introduces audiences to a cast of three-dimensional, adult characters who are given choices, have conversations and never overdramatize the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in. In a less capable director’s hands, a film like this would likely amount to a worn-out love triangle, but Lelio identifies the nuances within the relationships and allows them to breathe on their own. He also avoids turning the outspoken Ronit into a she-devil stock character who waltzes into Esti’s life to cause trouble like some biblical serpent — especially since the film opens with her father sermonizing on the “desires of the beast.”

While Nivola blends Dovid’s anger, empathy and disappointment perfectly, “Disobedience” belongs to McAdams and Weisz in their most provocative roles to date — from Ronit’s condemnation of Jewish traditions to Esti’s pent-up sexual frustration that she releases in one erotic afternoon. We could have done without the couple listening to The Cure’s “Lovesong” (too on the nose), but every other moment they spend together feels honest.

Ep. 111 – Annihilation, Game Night

February 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Annihilation” and “Game Night.” The guys are also baffled by James Gunn’s revelation that Baby Groot isn’t Groot reincarnated, but actually Groot’s son.

Click here to download the episode!

Game Night

February 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Jesse Pleamons
Directed by: John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”)
Written by: Mark Perez (“Accepted”)

What happens when a seemingly normal evening goes awry? It’s a trite comedy formula that has lived through plenty of cinematic reiterations over recent years, many of which center around an adult-orientated party, the heavy consumption of hard liquor and a lot of poor decision making. When all is said and done, movie characters usually end up doing something stupid like accidentally killing a prostitute or stealing a tiger from Mike Tyson.

The so-so 2010 comedy “Date Night” starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey attempted to put more of a nerdy, everyday spin on the subgenre and ask what would happen if an ordinary, middle-aged married couple went for a night out together and got caught up in some seedy activities. The new “Game Night” aligns more with this pair of square characters than it does with those looking to snort coke off strippers. “Game Night,” however, takes the idea of average couples doing average things and runs with it. With broad strokes of self-awareness, a screwy screenplay that sometimes crosses the line into parody, and one specific supporting character that steals the entire movie, “Game Night” is more gratifying than hearing an opponent say, “You sunk my battleship!”

In “Game Night,” Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”) and Jason Bateman (“Bad Words”) star as Annie and Max, a married couple that share a love for competitive games. The two meet-cute when they simultaneously answer a random question about Teletubbies during a trivia event at a bar. Although their lives are more fun than a barrel of monkeys, Annie and Max are having trouble conceiving a child. Max’s stress-related fertility problems are stemming from the issues he has with his hotshot brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). The only way to overcome his shortcomings is to confront him head on.

Luckily, with Brooks back in town, he can join the regular rotation in Annie and Max’s weekly game night where some of their friends come over to partake in games like charades and Pictionary. Little do Annie and Max know that Brooks has planned a special surprise for them during one of their game nights when he hires a local entertainment company to pull off a simulated murder mystery, so everyone can search for clues and play along. When Brooks, however, is actually kidnapped by masked men who break into his house during the game, Annie and Max think the incident is all part of the elaborate contest until they finally realize it’s not. With a pair of armed criminals making demands, the friends find themselves wishing their lame night ended with some warm wine and Yahtzee instead.

Although they failed in their attempt to reboot the Chevy Chase vehicle “Vacation” in 2015 with Ed Helms in the lead role, don’t hold it against directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein for too much longer. The filmmaking duo, who also wrote both “Horrible Bosses” movies, turn a real corner with this dark comedy partnership that feels edgy without going into places that are out of sync with the tone. Yes, “Game Night” is rated R, but it really isn’t a full-throated hard-R like some might imagine. Instead, the film leaves room for some heart and internal exploration, although it might be difficult to think too deeply with all the well-earned laughter, especially in the film’s first half.

Although it’s McAdams and Bateman leading their cast of misfits through the story, a major secondary player in the game is actor Jesse Plemons (“Observe and Report,” “The Master”). Plemons plays Gary, the couple’s creepy police officer neighbor who once attended game nights with his wife at Annie and Max’s house before their divorce, a fact that doesn’t deter him from making things awkward by asking when the next game night is and ultimately forcing Annie and Max to avoid contact with him. Make no mistake; as a character, Gary’s got the goods and Plemons delivers a perfect comedic performance in only a few short scenes. In a dry, dour and unsettling kind of way, he’s that impressive.

All in all, the raucous comedy is more enjoyable than, well, a traditional game night. With sharp jokes and queasy-worthy violence, some nicely timed movie and celebrity references, and a lively electronic score by Cliff Martinez (“Contagion,” “Drive”), “Game Night” scores.

Spotlight

November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) and Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”)

It might not have all the complexity of journalists tracking down a serial killer, like in the 2007 crime thriller “Zodiac,” or the melodrama needed to spur scribes into breaking open a story on the suspicious death of a congressman’s mistress, like in the 2009 political thriller “State of Play,” but the relevancy of a newspaper reporter’s job is made evident in the sincere, insightful, fair and extremely well-paced “Spotlight.”

In a news industry where Buzzfeed headlines and Kardashian selfies are constantly trending for the mainstream masses, it’s refreshing (and equally discouraging) to know a majority of wordsmiths just a decade ago cared more about reporting the truth than creating click-bait content. Not only is “Spotlight” great cinema, it also has the power to remind audiences that a hard-hitting exposé should always be a crucial element of the ever-changing media landscape. Without professionals doing this kind of work (and not just recording grainy cell phone footage), how can anyone be held accountable?

Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Tom McCarthy, whose track record has been so impressive (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win”) since breaking out in 2003 that we might one day forgive him for whatever the hell last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle “The Cobbler” was supposed to be. Spotlight brings the filmmaker back to true form. Set in the early ’00s, the drama tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s investigative “Spotlight Team” of reporters who uncovered a global sex abuse scandal and cover-up rooted deep inside the Catholic Church that ultimately spawned criminal accusations against 250 Roman Catholic priests. For their work, the team was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

That journalistic determination leading them to the source of the crimes is the main focus of “Spotlight.” While the stories of the individual victims and perpetrators is paramount in breathing life into the story, it’s the Globe’s writers’ efforts to deliver these remarkable revelations that serve as the lungs of this compelling narrative. Oscar-nominated actors Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) lead this impressive ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams (“Southpaw”) and Liev Schreiber (“Pawn Sacrifice”) as the Globe‘s new earnest editor who wants the paper to concentrate more on local coverage. What they find at the core is a corrupt system where the crimes of Catholic priests had been swept under the rug for years.

Where McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”) shined most with the screenplay is in the fact they did not sensationalize the subject at hand, respected everyone involved and stayed fiercely objective (even the Vatican’s official radio station called the film “honest”). In doing so, “Spotlight” is also able to point out the faults of its hero reporters and show that despite the immense accountability they inherit when they choose to take on an assignment like this, they are still flawed human beings that make mistakes. Nevertheless, this isn’t a film about the people, per se, as much as it is about the procedure. “Spotlight” takes the research, analysis, interviews, red tape, dead ends and backroom politics of investigative journalism and turns it into an art form.

About Time

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)
Written by: Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)

What never fails to makes a great love story is genuineness. It’s what all the greats – “Annie Hall,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Love Actually,” – have it in common. Simple, authentic storylines with relatable characters and relationships are what really make a romance, well, romantic. Encompassing all that and more is writer/director Richard Curtis’ “About Time.” It’s a film that just might find itself somewhere on the list of greatest rom-coms of all time, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking. A heartwarming story about one man and his ability to time travel, “About Time” reminds you just how much life and love inevitably go hand in hand.

On his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) he has the inherited ability to time travel. Initially set on using his newly-found talent to find a girlfriend, Tim soon discovers his skills at time travel may give him the power to do so much more. After meeting the beautiful yet insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim travels back in time to make her fall in love with him again and again after their first encounter doesn’t go as planned. Depicting the events of their life together over the span of a decade, Tim is eventually forced to realize his gift cannot fix everything wrong in his relationship after all.

Luckily, “About Time” does not revolve around the topic of time travel, and therefore is nothing like “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which is great news for anyone that has seen how horrible that movie is. And sorry ladies, but it’s really not even a movie about finding your soul mate. Setting itself apart from the great love stories out there, Curtis writes a delightful and wonderfully surprising screenplay about the relationship between a father and son and, even more so, about the journey of life, how majestically messy it can be and how love can make it all worthwhile.

Portraying the ordinary and naive character of Tim, Gleeson hits the mark and graces the screen with an honest performance. One can only hope, after watching this movie, he is given the continued opportunity to earn more roles throughout his career. While McAdams complements Gleeson with their undeniable chemistry, Nighy transforms this story into what it is. Creating a unique and memorable takeaway for the audience, Gleeson and Nighy work together effortlessly and create a strikingly close picture of what it’s like for a son to idolize his father and what it’s like to be a parent who loves their child more than anything in the world.

There are scenes in “About Time” where Tim decides to time travel one too many times, making it feel a little repetitive. It’s easy to overlook that, however, with a perfectly paced screenplay filled with an abundance of quick and much appreciated comedy, not to mention its sporadic artistic cinematography. With many moments guaranteed to leave you breathless, “About Time” will have you walking on air.

To the Wonder

May 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”)
Written by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”)

In the quickest follow-up to a film in his 30 year career, director/writer Terrence Malick delivers “To the Wonder,” a drama so polarizing it earned a series of boos and cheers when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival last September. “To the Wonder” comes after Malick’s Oscar-nominated – albeit still as dividing – “Tree of Life” starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. While it might be considered a companion piece to “Tree,” “Wonder” is less experimental and far less emotionally gratifying than its predecessor. In fact, of the six films Malick has directed since 1973’s “Badlands,” it’s the only one I cannot recommend.

As with every Malick film, viewers can insert their own personal meaning behind the thinly-plotted “Wonder.” Ben Affleck stars as Neil, a man who falls in love with single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in France and brings her and her daughter back to Oklahoma to start a new life together. When things don’t work out (it’s not evident why they don’t since all Affleck does is stare into the distance for most of the film), Marina moves back to France and Neil rekindles a romance with Jane (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend who is now a rancher. When that relationship ends, Marina comes back. Plotted sloppily between the love triangle is a secondary storyline about a priest (Javier Bardem) who has lost his faith. In perfect Malick form, he walks around aimlessly trying to find it.

For a majority of the film’s 112-minute run time (a short film for Malick’s standards), not much happens. Affleck has tickle-fights with Kurylenko and McAdams on beautiful backdrops as Wagner, Hayden and Rachmaninoff music blend with sparse, meaningless dialogue. There is also verbose narration in French and Spanish that tries hard to be poetic, but proves ineffective. Malick shoots Kurylenko and McAdams like a father who is chasing his twirling toddlers with a video camera he just got for Christmas. It was probably great footage in his mind, but no one else is going to want to see it.

Of course, you can’t dismiss the beauty of “Wonder” with Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Tree of Life,” “The New World”) at the helm again. Here, he makes a field of grain and a parking lot at a Sonic Drive-Thru restaurant look immaculate. Still, “Wonder” is exactly why Malick detractors don’t give him a fair shake. And this time they’re right. The imagery is incredible, but it’s a pretentious mess. With three more projects already in the canon for the next two years (“Knight of Cups,” “Voyage of Time,” and an untitled piece), here’s to hoping Malick’s sudden craving for rapid filmmaking isn’t his downfall.

The Vow

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Scott Speedman
Written by: Michael Sucsy (debut), Marc Silverstein (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), Abby Kohn (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), Jason Katims (“The Pallbearer”)
Directed by: Michael Sucsy (debut)

If you’re in a serious, long-term relationship, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve discussed with your significant other if they would stand by you through anything that happened. You’ve probably cooked up the most absurd scenarios ever, promising to stay with them even if they encountered an event ranging from a minor cosmetic abnormality through full-on incontinence. “The Vow” takes a shot at one of those tests of true love, but fails to fulfill its promise of being a satisfying date-night movie.

Inspired by true events, “The Vow” opens with a car accident that causes Paige (Rachel McAdams) to lose the previous five years of her life, erasing her husband Leo (Channing Tatum) from her memory completely. When Paige’s estranged parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) come back into the picture, Leo is left to try to convince Paige of their previous feelings for each other and make her fall in love with him again, while trying to keep her last known boyfriend Jeremy (Scott Speedman) at bay.

If you took the over in the “Channing Tatum shirtless” office pool, you’ll come out a winner. Tatum is good enough in the role of Leo. He’s convincing in showing that he truly cares for Paige, but like with most of his performances he leaves something to be desired on the acting front. McAdams proves herself to be pretty charming in her short-lived pre-accident moments. But once the accident happens, she reverts back to her old self which makes sense in theory, but robs her of the personality she establishes early on. One of the biggest issues facing “The Vow” is the seemingly lazy effort put into creating any interesting secondary characters. The random vindictive intentions of ex-fiance Jeremy are forced and misplaced given his outward behavior. In fact, the forcedness of all of the characters who are foils to the romance make the already weak characters that much more stale.

While the plot of the film might seem similar to 2004’s “50 First Dates”, it is a little different in that Tatum’s character doesn’t have to reintroduce himself to his love on a daily basis. But perhaps that’s why “The Vow” fails to strike a chord. Though Leo goes through the big spectacles and far-fetched ideas to reignite their love, his sense of frustration kicks in and the passion isn’t felt as strong as something like “50 First Dates” where Adam Sandler’s character refuses to give up. After the accident, Paige has changed, and no longer has chemistry with Leo. Unfortunately for “The Vow,” watching someone try to force a relationship on someone else does not make for a good romance.

Coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day, “The Vow” knows its exact target audience. Although it occasionally comes off as sincere, the story is too schmaltzy, the humor is too flat and the characters are too flimsy to stand on their own.

Midnight in Paris

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in another time period? Imagine experiencing the Renaissance in the early 16th century or witnessing the birth of Hollywood’s silent film era in the late 1880s.

The idea is something three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) experiments with in his new film “Midnight in Paris,” a smartly-written, whimsical romantic comedy that just so happens to include a charming little time-traveling storyline that fits in wonderfully.

In “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson (“Marley & Me”) stars as Gil, an American screenplay writer and self-described “Hollywood hack,” who travels to France with his boorish fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents and ends up going on an adventure on his own. Gil enjoys Paris well enough, but he wonders what it would’ve been like to be there during the Roaring 20s when art and literature were at a historical peak.

When Gil decides he no longer wants to hang out with Inez and her snooty friends (Michael Sheen plays a know-it-all intellect to perfection), he decides to take in Paris by himself by going on a late-night stroll through the city. In a magical and Cinderellaeque twist, Gil steps into a mysterious car at the stroke of midnight and is somehow transported back in time to the 1920s where he meets the like of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso, all of whom inspire his own work as an aspiring novelist.

The time traveling scenario happens every night at the same time and Gil takes full advantage of his newfound friends. He even gets writer Gerturude Stein (Kathy Bates) to read over his own manuscript and give him some priceless constructive criticism. During his nightly trips back to the era (the time-traveling scenario happens every night and every night Gil somehow returns home without explanation), Gil ends up meeting one of Picasso’s mistresses (Marion Cotillard), a French socialite who also wishes she could have been born in another era, specifially the Belle Epoque.

As picturesque as most of Allen’s past work that embraces particular cities like New York and Barcelona, “Midnight in Paris” is a refreshing fantasy that takes being inspired to a whole new level. It might not reach the greatness of some of Allen’s classics, but “Paris” easily arouses the artist’s passion in all of us.

Morning Glory

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton
Directed by: Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

If “Morning Glory” were an actual segment on a news program it would be the equivalent of the fluff piece that comes somewhere during the show when the anchor replays a YouTube video of a parakeet whistling old TV show theme songs. It pointless, harmless, and sometimes even a little funny, but is also usually always forgettable.

What saves “Morning Glory” from becoming totally unmemorable after leaving the theater are the charming performances it features from most of the cast. It starts with Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) who plays Becky Fuller, a New Jersey morning show senior producer who is dealt a heavy blow when she is let go from her position after some restructuring.

Her unemployment, however, doesn’t last long when a struggling news station in New York City calls upon her lead their understaffed and underfunded morning show back into contention. It’s no “Today Show,” but Becky accepts the job and commits to it. Although most people don’t think she’ll last, including longtime co-anchor Colleen Peck (an underutilized Diane Keaton), there’s no denying her tenacity.

When Becky is left with an empty co-anchor seat, she seeks out veteran newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to bring in some journalistic integrity onto the set. But when Mike’s arrogance begins to get in the way of the show (he refuses to cover news stories he feel are beneath him and uses words like “aggregated” on air), Becky must try to find a way to make everyone happy before their show gets cancelled in favor of game show reruns.

Directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), “Morning Glory” doesn’t try to be something it’s not. While there are hints the film will examine how the media industry is evolving in this new century, this isn’t’ a film like “All the President’s Men” or even last year’s underappreciated “State of Play” (another media-based movie McAdams stars in).

Instead, “Morning Glory” is a peppy movie that follows the same blueprint as a film like “The Devil Wears Prada,” both of which are written by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna who, like in “Prada,” trips up the flow of the narrative with an cliché love story that benefits no one.

What “Morning Glory” needed to do was stay within the confines of the newsroom and make those relationships feel more authentic. It would have been nice to see more of a give and take between Harrison and Keaton, who butt heads whenever they share the spotlight. It would have been nice to know a little more about Becky aside from her failed attempts at dating and gluttony for work.

But McKenna and Michell take the easy way to the finish line. While the cast manages to stay likeable (even Ford’s unlikeable anchorman is fascinating in a pompous, Meryl Streep in “Devil Wears Prada” sort of way), the script comes together sporadically and without paying much attention to the multi-dimensional value of any of its characters. It all adds up to lighthearted entertainment that isn’t as newsworthy as it should have been.

Sherlock Holmes

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla”)
Written by: Anthony Peckham (“Invictus”), Simon Kinberg (“Jumper”), Michael Robert Johnson (debut)

It’s really not necessary to walk into the hip new version of “Sherlock Holmes” knowing anything about the legendary 19th century detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Actually, it might benefit moviegoers to forget anything about the English gumshoe they might have learned in prep school.

While there are some glimpses of Doyle’s source material, director Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla,” “Snatch”) attempts to amp up this Holmes tale for the next generation, but fashions it around a mass-appealing storyline that becomes more soupy that scholarly.

That shouldn’t take anything away from two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr.’s stylish portrayal of the title character. As Holmes, Downey Jr. commands the screen as the world’s most famous, fist-fighting detective. Here, he is matched up nicely with actor Jude Law, who is a solid casting choice for Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson. Despite the impressive paring and chemistry, screenwriters Anthony Peckham (“Invictus”), Simon Kinberg (“Jumper”), and newcomer Michael Robert Johnson can’t match the magnetism of Downey Jr. or the menacing art direction that turns London into a tarnished locale.

In the film, Holmes and Watson are on the heels of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a serial killer involved in black magic who apparently rises from the dead after the duo watch him hang for the murders he committed. From there, the film falls into a tale of world domination that is hardly unique on any level. Blackwood wants to bring down Parliament with a chemical weapon. Holmes must find him before he does. Where’s Guy Fawkes when you need him?

An under-used Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) plays Irene Adler, a secondary character only mentioned in one of Doyle’s numerous writings but is undoubtedly high on the Holmes hierarchy. The always-reliable Eddie Marsan plays Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade with his usual bitter approach to his characters.

Set pieces aside, “Sherlock Holmes” goes as far as the supernatural-themed narrative allows it. There are some highlights in the film including the rousing action sequences Ritchie is known for, which work well for a while before we’re reminded that all the loose ends and twists still have to be revealed before the bloated story pops. Then, there’s the fantastic score by Hans Zimmer that is far removed from his usual extravagant musical offerings. The funky piano playing throughout reminds us that not every period blockbuster needs a swelling orchestra to be effective.

But when a film feels like all it’s doing in the final act is setting up for a sequel, something is wrong with its cinematic logic. There’s far more story to tell in the mystery series, but it’s insane for “Holmes” to stop short without a concrete promise of a follow-up or without earning the right to dole out cliffhangers. It really acts more self-important than it should. Just be thankful Holmes never utters the word “elementary” or things could have gotten really ugly on Baker Street.

State of Play

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Kevin McDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), Billy Ray (“Breach”)

There will never be another newspaper film like “State of Play.”

While it might be a bit extreme to say Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are on the same tier as Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford’s Woodward and Bernstein in the 1976 media epic “All the President’s Men,” no one has ever come as close to capturing the true meaning of investigative journalism in the print media. Even with some sensationalism thrown in for flavor, “State of Play” is smartly done.

For the generation who like their news in short blurbs written by bloggers who use Wikipedia as their main source, this definitely won’t resonate with you. For those who still value the art of in-depth reporting and the way an actual newspaper still feels between your fingertips, “State of Play” is as tightly written as a front-page story grinded out on an unapologetic deadline by a veteran reporter.

Based on a 2003 British TV miniseries of the same name, “State of Play” follows old-school Washington D.C. scribe Cal McAffrey (Crowe) in the middle of a political scandal that slowly reels him personally and professionally. The mistress of his old college friend, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), has died of an apparent suicide, but with some exceptional fact digging, Cal uncovers other circumstances that could prove to be damaging to some governmental bigwigs and to himself on an ethical level.

There to pick up the slack as their scowling editor (Helen Mirren) keeps a sharp eye on her staff is internet reporter Della Frye (McAdams), whose blogging abilities are just impressive enough to provoke Cal’s traditional stance on his lifelong career. “I’m just trying to help you get a few facts in the mix the next time you upchuck online.”

Still, a little new blood never hurt anyone especially with someone as hungry for a newsworthy story as Della. Crowe and McAdams’ chemistry blends well from the start and only strengthens as the political thriller dashes in and out of some sharp turns and detailed storytelling. It’s easily the best newspaper movie since 2003 “Shattered Glass” and the most intelligent film to be released in the first third of the year.

The Lucky Ones

September 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, Michael Peña
Directed by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”)
Written by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) and Dirk Wittenborn (“Fierce People”)

Not original enough to make a pro-war statement, and too contrived to make an anti-war statement, “The Lucky Ones” seems comfortable in passing itself off as road trip flick about friendship. It’s unfortunate, however, that the screenwriter’s efforts are impractical and flat.

In “The Lucky Ones,” three U.S. soldiers, Colee (Rachel McAdams), Cheever (Tim Robbins), and T.K. (Michael Peña) meet each other in the airport when they are sent home for leave. While Colee and T.K. are deployed home for 30 days because they have sustain injuries (she’s shot in the leg and he’s nursing a shrapnel wound to his scrotum), Cheever has completed his service in the military and is looking forward to spending time with his family.

As luck would have it, their trip starts poorly when they land in New York and cannot make a connecting flight to their respective cities because of a blackout. Instead of waiting for the airport to reschedule their trips, the trio decides that it would be faster to rent a car and drive cross country to their destinations – St. Louis for Cheever and Las Vegas for the others. Colee’s  plan is to return her dead friend’s guitar to his family in hopes that she can stay with them, while T.K., who is suffering from impotence because of his below-the-belt nick, is looking for a prostitute to help him with his little problem before he goes home to his fiancée in Florida. (I guess streetwalkers don’t live in the Sunshine State).

But when Cheever gets home and finds out his wife wants a divorce and his son needs money to go to Stanford University, it only make sense that he continues traveling with T.K. and Colee to Vegas so he can win his son’s tuition playing blackjack (I guess they’ve never heard of student loans).

They are all brainless ideas that implode on paper and even more so when McAdams, Robbins, and Peña, all good actors in their own right, try to help director Neil Burger explain who military men and women are by putting a name and face on these universal characters. The problem is that Burger and writing partner Dirk Wittenborn have created a set of stories far too unbelievable to latch onto in any way.

Through their journey we never really learn what is going on inside the heads of these three soldiers or what it’s like coming home knowing the stay is only temporary. It’s obvious that Burger wants to say something about the emotional state of the soldiers once they hit American soil, but instead of connecting us to them thoughtfully, he throws too many obstacles in their way that don’t benefit the overall importance of the story. Why write a scene where Cheever locks the keys in the car when, five minutes later, they find someone to open it with a slim Jim? It feels like Burger and Wittenborn have strung together skits to form a hybrid dramedy that goes nowhere and wastes valuable time.

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