Sex Tape


Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Nat Faxon, Nancy Lenehan, Giselle Eisenberg, Harrison Holzer, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Timothy Brennen, Krisztina Koltai, Randall Park, Joe Stapleton, James Wilcox, Jack Black, Dave Allen, Melissa Paulo, Erin Brehm, Jolene Blalock. Directed by Jake Kasdan

In America, we really have some very odd reactions to sex. Our attitudes towards it are pretty puritanical compared to the rest of the world, and yet it is such a large part of our culture; we use it to advertise, to promote and to entice. We consume enormous amounts of pornography and send dick pics and boob pics to one another with abandon, yet we keep all that compartmentalized and safely hidden from view. Even discussing sex can bring a flush of embarrassment to our faces.

Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) have been a couple since college. At first their attraction was nearly 100% physical – they went at it like proverbial rabbits. Eventually the lust grew into something deeper and the two eventually married and had a set of kids.

Once Annie had given birth and Jay had seen a baby crowning during the process, the magic fled screaming into the night. Exhaustion – both of them working and raising babies into kids – left them no time for themselves or each other. Soon sex came more as an afterthought when it came at all, and even though on the outside this was a happy loving couple, both of them felt that uncomfortable feeling that there was something missing in their relationship, something important.

Frustrated, Annie arranges to have her mother (Lenehan) watch the kids and turn the night into a sex fest. Dressing up as a slutty car hop, she roller skates into Jay’s home office. Naturally, he’s all for the idea but the two of them are woefully out of practice and they grow stressed out the more that their attempts for shagging are unsuccessful. At last Annie comes up with the brilliant idea of taping the proceedings. She even comes up with the idea of the two of them performing every position listed in The Joy of Sex

The idea works and three hours of non-stop exertions later, the two lay satisfied in the arms of the other. Sleepily, Annie asks Jay to erase the tape and Jay agrees. However, he decides not to do it without telling her – he wants a memento of the occasion.

 

That’s all well and good but when you use your iPad to record something, there’s always the danger of it automatically uploading to your cloud and if you have your cloud synched to other iPads you’ve given away – to virtually everybody since your job entails that you regularly get new iPads – suddenly your sex tape has the opportunity to go viral. When Jay gets an instant message thanking him for sharing the video, he realizes he’s in deep doo-doo.

I can see why the studios greenlit this. Prurient interest is a big motivator – who doesn’t want to see a sex tape with Cameron Diaz in it, after all – to audiences in theaters. Certainly the studio was counting on a big young male audience; after all, when you think about it, the business of essentially watching sex tapes on the Internet generates billions and billions of dollars. Which is not how Carl Sagan ever imagined that term would be used.

I have to give Diaz credit where credit is due. For whatever reason, I’ve never been a huge fan. Not that she’s a terrible actress – she’s done some very impressive work in her time. I just haven’t connected with her. However, this is a role that calls for extraordinary bravery on her part. She literally bares herself for the part – from the back – but also emotionally speaking. Americans and American women in particular sometimes have a difficulty talking about sexual issues and of things not going well in the bedroom, but Diaz gives Americans – and American women in particular – a starting point to conversations that are healthy and necessary. There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

She also has been a terrific comedienne for years and this is some of her best work in that department. There’s a scene in which in order to distract her boss (Lowe) in whose house Jay is searching for a wayward iPad for in which she snorts cocaine in order to appease him and give Jay more time to find the iPad (which is interrupted by the appearance of a belligerent dog) and her reaction to the drug is priceless, one of the funnier sequences of any film so far this year.

Segel, who paired with Diaz and director Kasdan in the black comedy Bad Teacher a few years ago, has lost a bunch of pounds and looks fit. His low-key demeanor counterpoints Diaz’ manic behavior very nicely and the two play off of each other well. That they have the great Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper from The Office supporting them as their best friends (who use their tape to spice up their own married life) is definitely an added bonus. You also get Jack Black making a cameo as the owner of an amateur porn clip host site called YouPorn as he gives relationship advice to Jay and Annie which is normally not a bad thing but I got the sense that even Black thought the platitudes he was vocalizing were beneath him.

There are, sadly, too many shark-jumping moments. When you find out who is blackmailing Jay threatening to release the tape onto the Internet, you may well kick the seat in front of you regardless if its occupied or not. A lot of the jokes are of the immature variety and this never really rises above the level of a sophomoric frat house snigger-fest.

I do think that a truly great sex comedy has yet to be made, one that can be funny and sexy and prurient but smart all at once. Just because we’re talking sex doesn’t mean we have to dumb down the conversation. In short, I’d love to see a sex comedy for adults instead of the usual ones we get for teens, of which this one appears to be. It’s a sad waste of a performance by Cameron Diaz that deserved a better movie for it.

REASONS TO GO: Cameron Diaz.

REASONS TO STAY: Giggly-naughty in a puritan sort of way.

FAMILY VALUES:  A goodly amount of sexual content and some nudity, brief drug use and a whole lot of foul language, much of it sexually-oriented.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: These are Cameron Diaz’ first official nude scenes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 36/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Porky’s

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Hercules

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Contagion


Contagion

How is it that Marion Cotillard can still look so hot while trying to appear concerned?

(2011) Medical Drama (Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Demitri Martin, Brian J. O’Connor, Chin Han. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

From time to time, the human population of this planet has been culled from everything from the Black Death to the Spanish Flu. It has been almost a century since our last plague; we’re about due for the next.

It takes just one person to start a plague. In this case, it’s Beth Emhoff (Paltrow). She has just returned home to Minneapolis after a trip to Hong Kong with a case of the flu. At first it’s just chalked up to jet lag, but she suddenly has a violent seizure and is rushed to the hospital. Within hours she is dead. On his way home from the hospital, her husband Mitch (Damon) is told his son is having a seizure. By the time he gets home, his son is already gone.

In the meantime, cases of the disease are sprouting up all over the place, from a bus in Tokyo to a small village in China to a home in Chicago. It seems that a pandemic is about to break out.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, personified by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) are mobilizing their forces, sending Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) to Minneapolis to co-ordinate with Minnesota health officials while the World Health Organization sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Cotillard) to Hong Kong which is apparently ground zero. Both women soon find themselves in unexpected situations with potentially deadly consequences.

As more and more people get sick, things begin to break down. There is looting and riots as people demand answers and a cure. Doctors Ally Hextall (Ehle), David Eisenberg (Martin) and Ian Sussman (Gould) work feverishly to find the cure for this insidious disease which is so far resisting all known treatment. Meanwhile blogger Alan Krumwiede (Law) seeks to manipulate the crisis to his own advantage, fueling the panic that is already just below the surface. Mitch Emhoff is holed up in his home with his daughter Jory (Jacoby-Heron), watching supplies dwindle and terrified that he will lose his only surviving family member to the disease as her persistent boyfriend Andrew (O’Connor) repeatedly tries to get together with her physically. Will a cure be found before civilization completely collapses?

Soderbergh has shown a deft hand with ensemble casts in the Oceans trilogy but here he winds up with too many characters. Too many plotlines to really keep straight, so some his stars (not all of whom survive the movie by the way) are given extremely short shrift while other plotlines seem to go nowhere.

What he does do well is capture the realism of the situation. The movie was made with the co-operation of the CDC and while I’m not sure what, if any, of the film was actually filmed in CDC facilities, you get the sense that if they weren’t the filmmakers at least were granted access so they could find reasonable facsimiles.

You also get a sense that this is the way things would really go down, with lots of conflicting information going out, political in-fighting and finger-pointing as well as heroics by front line personnel who are trying to care for the sick and protect the healthy, not to mention a shady few who stand to profit by the misery of millions (I’m sure insurance companies will make out like bandits and the right will blame it all on Obamacare).

The stars deliver for the most part, particularly Damon who has to run through a gauntlet of emotions from disbelief to grief to anger to fear throughout the course of this movie. He rarely gets the kudos he deserves, but he’s a much better actor than he is often given credit for and for those who need proof of that, they need go no farther than his performance here.

Cotillard is given little to do but look concerned and beautiful and does both beautifully. Winslet does well in her role as a field representative of the CDC who is well and truly over her head to a crazy extent. Law is nefarious and snake-smooth as the blogger with ulterior motives.

The plot here follows standard medical thriller format; the difference here is that there is more emphasis placed on the procedures than on the patients. That’s a double-edged sword in that it gives us a unique viewpoint, but we rarely get to connect to the suffering of those affected by the disease in one way or another.

The scenes that show the rapid breakdown of society are the ones that held my attention the most. Sure, the scenes of scientific research had their fascination as well but I tend to swing my attention more towards the human than the technological or the bureaucratic. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many of those sorts of scenes as I would have liked so the movie scored fewer points than it might have, but still plenty to recommend it to most audiences.

REASONS TO GO: All-star cast and a good sense of realism. Fascinating look at the breakdown of society as social services become impossible.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and not enough plot.

FAMILY VALUES: The content is rather disturbing and there are a few choice words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Damon, Paltrow and Law last worked in the same film together in 1999 for The Talented Mr. Ripley. Law has no scenes with either Damon or Paltrow this time, however.

HOME OR THEATER: You’ll want to see this at home; trust me, once you see this you won’t want to be within miles of another human being.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: I Don’t Know How She Does It

The Social Network


The Social Network

Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg, the new Odd Couple.

(Columbia) Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Joe Mazzello, Patrick Mapel, Rooney Mara, Max Minghella, Armie Hammer, Rashida Jones, David Selby, Brenda Song, Malese Jow, Dakota Johnson, Wallace Langham, Caitlin Gerard. Directed by David Fincher

With Facebook having just reached 500 Million subscribers, that adds up to almost one in every fourteen people on the planet that have a Facebook account. It has become the pre-eminent social network, replacing MySpace and America Online before it, and in a sense, replacing real life in exchange for a digital replica. It’s insanely addictive and has it’s uses, but it has the insidious side to it, eating our time and energy.

Few of us know that much about how Facebook came to be. Many of its users don’t even know the name Mark Zuckerberg unless they trouble themselves to read the masthead. This new movie, which is often referred to as “The Facebook Movie,” isn’t about giving a fact-based account of the founding of Facebook, but then again, generally those types of accounts make for poor movies.

Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), a sophomore at Harvard in 2003, is having a beer with Erica Albright (Mara), his erstwhile girlfriend, and engaging in some conversation and by conversation I mean he is engaging in a kind of strategic battle of words with her, filled with condescending remarks and sometimes biting thinly-veiled insults. She has grown weary of the battle and breaks up with him.

Angry and humiliated, Zuckerberg goes back to his dorm room and as 21st century kids tend to do, starts blogging. Caught up in the raw emotion of the moment, he does a pretty thorough character assassination of her, even going so far as to insinuate that her breasts are “barely there.” A more experienced man might have told him never to insult a woman’s breasts.

Half-drunk and fueled by his own rage, he decides to humiliate every woman at Harvard and creates over the course of the night a webpage that allows women to be rated like so much meat. He calls it Facemash and it becomes so popular it crashes the servers at Harvard. This gets Mark hauled before the board of administration for some disciplinary action.

It also gets him noticed. Twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Hammer) and their programming friend Divya Narendra (Minghella) want to create a kind of Harvard-exclusive site that allows people with Harvard e-mail addresses to link up online and enlists Zuckerberg to do it. He agrees, but early on determines that their idea is more compelling than their vision and determines to create his own site which he calls The Facebook. His roommates Dustin Moskowitz (Mazzello) and Chris Hughes (Mapel) are enlisted to do the programming and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) fronts them the seed money.

Of course, when his new creation goes online on February 4, 2004, the twins are furious, thinking they’ve been ripped off. Tyler and Narendra are all gung-ho to sue Zuckerberg but Cameron, wishing to maintain the decorum of a Harvard gentleman, wants to find some other way of redress. It is only when they discover that the once Harvard-exclusive site has gone global that Cameron changes his mind and calls out the family lawyer.

As the site begins to grow by leaps and bounds, Zuckerberg decides to summer in Palo Alto, hoping to get some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs interested in his start-up. Eduardo stays behind in New York, trying to sell advertising for the new website which makes Zuckerberg a bit uncomfortable. He begins to fall under the sway of Napster founder Sean Parker (Timberlake) who at least has the vision to see Facebook as a world-changing application, and determines to capitalize on it, interesting venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel (Langham) to invest big bucks in Facebook. Soon Zuckerberg finds himself as one of the youngest billionaires in the world, but the cost is his friendship with Saverin, as at the urging of Parker he devalues Saverin’s shares from nearly 30% to less than 1%. Saverin, incensed, decides to sue. The simultaneous lawsuits act as a framing device for the film.

The buzz for this movie has been plenty high and after its debut at the New York film Festival last month, grew to a dull roar. It’s being touted as the year’s first serious Oscar contender and it seems likely that some nominations are going to be coming its way, quite likely for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and maybe even to Eisenberg for Best Actor.

The real Zuckerberg is reportedly none too pleased with his portrayal here, and Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin’s screenplay certainly isn’t very complimentary. It gives us a Zuckerberg who is arrogant, ruthless, cruel and socially awkward; he doesn’t seem to have a problem gutting his friends and certainly believes himself to be the smartest guy in any room. Is that the real Mark Zuckerberg? Chances are that elements of the character are accurate but I sincerely doubt that this is meant to be an exact capture of the essence of the Facebook founder. Rather, it’s meant more to be symbolic of digital hubris in an age of online egos gone out of control. Eisenberg becomes something of a cipher, his face often going blank when he is trying to hide what he’s feeling. He usually plays likable nerds but there’s not much likable about this guy and yet still we are drawn to him; as one of his lawyer’s (Jones) tells him near the end of the film, he’s not an asshole but he’s trying really hard to look like one.

Garfield, who was recently cast to be the next Spider-Man, does a great job as well, making the likable but ultimately out of his depth Saverin the emotional anchor for the story. Audiences will naturally root for him, and when he is eventually betrayed will feel his pain. Garfield hadn’t to this point caught my eye with any of his performances, but he certainly shows the ability to carry a franchise film like Spider-Man on his own.

Timberlake, whose acting career has blown hot and cold, delivers the best performance of his career to date as the unctuous Parker. Looking visually not unlike Quentin Tarantino, he is slick and snake-like, mesmerizing his victims with his charm and promises, then striking with lethal speed, delivering his venom in a swift, fatal blow.

Much of the movie is about courtrooms, programmers and start-up Silicon Valley businesses, as well as the rarefied air at Harvard, but despite some of the dry subjects manages to hold our interest throughout, and that’s mainly due to the interactions between the characters and Fincher’s deft hand at directing. The movie is both emotional and antiseptic, sometimes showing us heart and then slamming that door shut abruptly. It serves as a cautionary tale, not just for would-be billionaires but also to all of us. We reap what we sow and if we choose our own egos over actual human interaction, we too could wind up endlessly refreshing a computer screen, waiting for a friend request acceptance that never comes.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling story and some intense performances. Eisenberg is particularly marvelous in a role that is quite frankly unlikable.

REASONS TO STAY: The portrayal of Harvard students is so self-aggrandizing at times it makes you wonder if our species has any future.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surfeit of drug usage, quite a bit of sexuality and no shortage of foul language. Older teens should be able to handle this, but more impressionable teens should be steered clear.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Finch was unable to find suitable twin actors to portray the Winklevoss twins, so he cast Hammer and Josh Pence who have similar body types, then digitally inserted video of Hammer reading the lines over Pence’s face to create the illusion of identical twins.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing here screams big screen, so you can be forgiven if you wait for the home video release.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)