Thanks for Sharing

September 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by: Stuart Blumberg (debut)
Written by: Stuart Blumberg (“The Kids Are All Right”) and Matt Winston (debut)

In recent years, there’s been a focus on the topic of sex addiction, especially in the realm of celebrities. Stars like Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods and David Duchovny have been proclaimed as sex addicts with the latter two actually checking into rehab to work on their conditions. Despite their efforts for treatment, a debate rages on whether or not sex addiction is even a real thing, or rather an excuse or justification for infidelity or promiscuity. While the attention of sex addiction in the media has been on celebrities in the spotlight and under the microscope, Hollywood has recently taken a look at regular people in their sex addictions. The film “Shame,” for example, showed a very dark side of the addiction, revealing self-destructive, dangerous, and obsessive behaviors akin to any other type of dangerous dependence. While “Thanks for Sharing” doesn’t quite delve into the pitch black tone of a film like “Shame,” it is nonetheless an interesting look at sex addiction and its impact on relationships.

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is a recovering sex addict who is celebrating five years of sobriety. To keep him on the right track, he continues to attend meetings run by his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins). Also attending meetings is Neil, (Josh Gad) a doctor whose addiction and deviancy is bordering on unmanageable. Each of them, in various stages of their addiction, struggle with relationships, primarily Adam, who is hesitant to jump into one with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a love interest he meets at a party. Together, the three help each other through their 12 steps and fight the urge of temptation to keep themselves from falling off the wagon.

The successes of the film can largely be attributed to the strength of its core set of veteran actors in Ruffalo, Robbins and Paltrow. Robbins is great as the patriarchal figure in a few different relationships, and provides a solid presence throughout the film. Ruffalo and Paltrow work great on screen together and their relationship is the best pairing throughout the film. “Thanks for Sharing” also features a strong turn from Gad, who has tended to overdo things in previous films. Gad’s plays for comedy aren’t as successful here, but his attempt at drama is quite nice and he adds a lot of solid traits to his schlubby character.

With Ruffalo’s and Robbins’ characters currently “sober,” the first half the film is less of a focus on how their addictions are harming them now, but rather what the impact of their previous lives has on their current lives. Ruffalo’s character, for example, only allows himself to use electronics when absolutely necessary and cannot be in the same room as a TV to rid himself of temptation. There is a certain level of embarrassment that Ruffalo plays when courting Paltrow’s character that is evident. It’s really interesting to watch that relationship play out knowing what we know about his character’s past.

The writing of the film is one of its stronger points, with a levelheaded script that avoids cliché for the most part. Of course, Robbins’ character has a rolodex of adages and sayings that he spews off the top of his head, but it’s believable when you considering he has been leading group meetings for years and years. The strong writing is most evident in the portrayal of these intimate and intense meetings with people bearing their souls for one another. The film captures these meetings and the darker parts of sex addiction relatively well, without ever getting too gratuitous.

That being said, the film can be a little uneven at times.  A few of Gad’s obsessive and perverted behaviors are a little silly and the first half of the film strives for a bit of a humorous tone with mixed results. The back half of the film is nearly exclusively somber in tone. One story in particular is over the top in its execution, but the film manages to just barely stay grounded. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but “Thanks for Sharing” is a decent little glimpse into the world of addiction and the struggles that addicts go through to maintain sobriety, even years after becoming clean.

City of Ember

October 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by: Caroline Thompson (“Corpse Bride”)

You could watch “City of Ember” and think of it as a metaphor for our current economic crisis or you could simply watch it as a human version of “Fraggle Rock.” Either way, there are some great ideas and mythology somewhere inside the story, which stay buried as deep as the city where the film is set.

After the world ends, the underground City of Ember is where the remaining population moves so that mankind can continue to live. Those who have created the city, known as “the builders,” have set a clock inside a small metal box along with the secrets of the outside world, so that after 200 years underground, the citizens would know what to do when their time below the surface of the earth was up.

But as the box changes hands over the years from mayor to mayor, it is somehow misplaced. With city continuing to get older and more fragile and their generator (the only source of electricity) on its last leg, the citizens of Ember come together to try to figure out a way to save their home before the frightening daily blackouts become permanent.

Little do the people of Ember know that a little girl named Lena Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), a descendant of a past mayor, has found the box tucked away in her senile granny’s house. Although Lena is not quite sure of the box’s history, she would like to tell someone about her discovery, but is worried that the city’s current corrupt leader, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), could have different plans.

It’s not Murray’s finest hour as he and other talented Academy-Award winning actors like Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”) are sorely underused. Sure, they’re only secondary characters but screenwriter Caroline Thompson doesn’t give them anything worthwhile to do. Instead, the story focuses on Lena and her friend Doon (Harry Treadaway) as they search for a way out of the city by following a map they find in the box and piece together.

While the first half of “Ember” offers some neat concepts, director Gil Kenan only skims the surface. I’m not too sure how Jeanne Duprau’s book is different, but in the film version there’s not enough magical moments inside the city and all that is left is a plodding trip to the outside world. Why leave so quickly when the most interesting things are underground? By the third act, “The City of Ember,” somehow becomes another “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with these characters moving in the opposite direction. It might be good enough for water park ride enthusiasts, but not for someone who wants a little more spirited adventure.

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.