The People Garden


Pamela Anderson perfects the pensive look.

Pamela Anderson perfects the pensive look.

(2016) Drama (FilmBuff) Dree Hemingway, Pamela Anderson, Franҫois Arnaud, James Le Gros, Jai Tatsuto West, Liane Balaban, Denis Akiyama, Geneviéve Brouillette, Donno Mitoma, Elina Miyake, Jaymee Weir. Directed by Nadia Litz

 

The forest is, in our psyche, a primal and frightening place. In the forests of our imagination, ghosts lurk and monsters dwell waiting to shred our flesh. While there are some who think they have the woods tamed, there are places that we cannot go without emerging from it completely changed for the rest of our lives.

Such is the Aokigahara forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The Japanese consider it an unfriendly place; people have been going there to commit suicide for a very long time but only now has it become better known to Westerners largely due to the fact that three separate movies have been released this year with it as the setting; this is the third of them.

The somewhat bizarrely named Sweetpea (Hemingway) is traveling to Japan. When she arrives in customs, she’s asked the reason for her visit and she bluntly responds “To break up with my boyfriend.” Her boyfriend is Jamie (Arnaud), a rock star who has inexplicably chosen the Aokigahara as the setting for his latest music video.

Sweetpea is picked up by Mak (West), a young Japanese forestry worker who is told to “keep an eye on her” and then inexplicably leaves her at the edge of the forest with a crudely drawn map and police tape to help her find her way if she gets lost. Only with the help of a young schoolgirl who doesn’t speak a word of English – isn’t it convenient when a young schoolgirl wanders through when you’re lost in a forest – does she make it to the set.

When she arrives there, the director (Le Gros) and the producer (Brouillette) inform her that Jamie has disappeared, but nobody seems overly concerned. Sweetpea, who doesn’t yet know the nature of the forest (which everyone has apparently agreed not to inform her about) does some searching boyfriend but doesn’t find him.

Eventually it becomes clear that he has a relationship with Signe (Anderson), the aging 90s sex symbol who is co-starring in the video with him. It also becomes clear that something far more sinister is afoot than a rock star taking some personal time in the woods. Will Sweetpea find Jamie in time to break up with him?

I was of two minds of this movie. The story structure is a little bit vague; Sweetpea is an enigma, none of her backstory revealed. We have no idea why she wants to break up with Jamie, only that she does. Her past is shown in two segments in which she white-person dances with Jamie while they exchange soulful looks and private smiles. Hemingway, daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Papa, doesn’t have the screen presence yet to give the audience a reason to care with so little information offered.

Litz makes good use of the bucolic setting and thus we have a very pretty film to watch. She also keeps the atmosphere reasonably tense without letting the tension become the entire focus. There is an air of surreality here that adds to the overall feel that something isn’t quite right. Unlike the most well-known Aokigahara-set film, there is nothing supernatural here, at least not overtly so.

While the movie is only 80 minutes long, the pacing is slow enough that it feels almost stifling. The fact that Sweetpea is so dissolute and whose main expression is the 1,000 yard stare adds to the feeling of lethargy that sometimes takes over the film. It is only in the last 20 minutes of the movie that it feels like there’s any energy whatsoever and the movie could have sorely used more.

REASONS TO GO: The forest itself is intensely beautiful even in the creepiest moments. The subject is quite fascinating.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a little bit dissolute in places and slow-paced throughout.
FAMILY VALUES:  Profanity abounds here and there’s a bit of smoking as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  None of the forest scenes were filmed in Japan; instead, the forests of British Columbia subbed for this Canadian production.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/13/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Forest
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Hell or High Water

Advertisements

Life, Animated


The world is Owen Suskind's oyster.

The world is Owen Suskind’s oyster.

(2016) Documentary (The Orchard) Owen Suskind, Ross Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walt Suskind, Gilbert Gottfried, Jonathan Freeman, Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, Emily, Michelle Garcia Winner. Directed by Roger Ross Williams

 

Autism can be a frightening thing to both parents and the children afflicted with it, and of course to the siblings not afflicted who only know their brother or sister is “different.” The thing is that there’s no one way to treat it and no right thing to do; it’s trial and error and sometimes, just error.

Writer Ross Suskind of the Wall Street Journal got to learn this first-hand when his son Owen was diagnosed at three with autism. He had been a normal toddler up to then, but all of a sudden he became withdrawn. Instead of communicating normally, he spoke in a kind of gibberish. His motor skills deteriorated. His mother Cornelia was frantic; his older brother Walt wasn’t sure what was going on with his brother. When the doctor made his diagnosis, the family was devastated. Nobody knew what to expect next.

It was years of silence; Owen was unable to communicate with his family normally and no matter what they did Owen seemingly couldn’t understand what they were trying to get across. It was a frustrating time for the entire family but they hung in there. There came a few years later an unusual breakthrough; Owen repeated dialogue from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. At first Ron and Carnelia were ecstatic but their doctor warned them that this was likely just echolalia, vocal parroting and somewhat common among autism sufferers.

But Ron figured out differently; he used a puppet of Iago from Aladdin to actually have a conversation with his son. Eventually the family and therapists used the Disney animations as a means to help find a way into Owen’s world. Owen, for his part, used the animations to help make sense of the world. They were timeless and unchanging in a world that was changing rapidly.

Most of the film, we see Owen at 23, getting ready to graduate to independent living in an apartment complex that his girlfriend Emily – also autistic – lives in. Owen seems on the surface like an attractive, normal guy until you hear him muttering gibberish to himself. He runs a club for like-minded autistics who connect to the world through Disney – there are a lot more of them than you’d think.

The heart of the movie is the connection between Owen and his family; clearly the love and patience that they have for each other are extraordinary and it does this jaded critic’s heart good to see it. Older brother Walt expresses concern about Owen’s future; when Ron and Cornelia pass away, who will take care of Owen? Walt knows it will be him and frankly, is more than willing but certainly not looking forward to the prospect.

The movie uses animation effectively; it is kind of stream-of-consciousness and generally depicts what Owen’s world looks like inside his head. There is an almost impressionist look to the animation which I found truly effective; in them Owen is always depicted as a little boy, and I found that somewhat apropos. I’ve always felt the use of animation to enhance documentaries was a brilliant idea, although it has been somewhat overused of late. In this instance, it truly does enhance the experience in that it gives us insight into Owen and how he views the world.

There are plenty of Disney clips used in the film, and Disneyphiles are going to love this; in a lot of ways, it confirms the healing power of movies, although in a kind of unquestioning manner. The book that Ron wrote that this is based upon also mentions that the Disney therapy is just one of many things that Owen responded to over his years of learning how to function despite the noise going on in his head. The movie gives the impression that Disney saved Owen and quite frankly that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I have to wonder what Owen made of the cameras. Clearly some of the scenes are staged, as when Owen watches Disney films in his room. While his actions of delight are genuine, it seems a bit too contrived for my comfort. The movie works best when it is simply capturing what happens in Owen’s daily life, including a lovely moment when Aladdin voice actors Gottfried and Freeman attend one of the meetings of Owen’s Disney club.

This shouldn’t be taken as a primer on how to deal with autistic family members – there is, as has been mentioned, no one right way. This also isn’t a movie about how Disney can be used to save autistic children; there’s no real telling what things autistic kids will focus in on, be it trains, baseball, playing cards or grocery stores.

What it is in reality is an account of how one kid made it through and how his family loved and nurtured him despite everything. At the end of the day, that’s the kind of movie that is well worth watching and the best part of what I get to do for a living.

REASONS TO GO: This is an unexpected, life-affirming treasure. Disneyphiles will dig this hard.
REASONS TO STAY: Leads one to wonder how much the presence of the cameras affected what we saw on the screen.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are complex; there is also brief mild profanity and some conversation that is a little suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The animations are supplied by the French animation firm Mac Guff.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: David and Lisa
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Hollywood Beauty Salon

Definitely, Maybe


Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher put in their bid to be the all-American couple.

Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher put in their bid to be the all-American couple.

(2008) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Banks, Derek Luke, Nestor Serrano, Kevin Corrigan, Liane Balaban, Robert Klein, Adam Ferrara, Annie Parisse, Daniel Eric Gold, Jaime Tirelli, Melissa McGregor, Alexi Gilmore, Marc Bonan, Dale Leigh, Orlagh Cassidy. Directed by Adam Brooks.

Love is complicated and sometimes will tear you to pieces no matter how well-intentioned. We can go in with full hearts and open to whatever love brings and still come out the other side desolated and destroyed. Still, we live in eternal hope that the next one will be the right one.

Will Hayes (Reynolds) should be at the top of the world. Successful, handsome, charming and articulate, he has a beautiful daughter whom he adores. He is also about to sign the papers that will make his divorce final. The day he is served with those papers, he goes to pick up his daughter Maya (Breslin) from school, only to find that today the class has been a course in sex education. He brings his daughter home to hear questions that can only be described as uncomfortable.

For her part, Maya is puzzled about this whole divorce thing. Did her dad ever love her mom and vice versa? How did they fall in love? Her dad has never been real forthcoming about his life before marriage and how he met her mom. Will can see that the information is obviously important to his daughter, so he relents and agrees to tell her about the three women he has been serious about in his life, but on his terms – the names and some of the facts will be changed to protect the innocent. Maya is delighted – she describes it as a love story mystery.

Flash back to 1992. Will is a young idealist from Wisconsin, freshly graduated from college and getting ready to travel to New York to work on the Clinton campaign. His sweetheart Emily (Banks) is not happy to see him going, but comforts herself in that he will be gone only for a few months before the two of them reunite. Before he leaves, she gives him a diary to give to her friend Summer (Weisz) who is a native New Yorker who was her roommate in college.

In the Big Apple, Will promptly discovers that many of his ideals are illusions and the harsh reality is that he is a very small fish in a very big pond. He is cheered up by his friends Russell (Luke), a fellow foot soldier and idealist, and April (Fisher) who is more of a mercenary. Things get exponentially worse when he finds out that Emily has cheated on him and wants to break things off.

Finally, he delivers the diary to Summer but not before reading some particularly steamy passages about a tryst between Emily and Summer. Summer is living with a cantankerous author, Hampton Roth (Kline) many years her senior but as she is an aspiring writer herself, it seems like a good career move. As Roth moves on to younger women, Summer and Will get together and begin to get serious, to the point that Will is ready to ask her to marry him…until she chooses her career over Will, costing him everything.

Broken and beaten down by life and love, Will rediscovers his old friend April whom he has always been attracted to, but as much as they obviously mean to each other, they can’t seem to get together. One of these failed relationships, however, has been given a second chance, only to end in further failure. Maya thinks she knows who her mother is of these three women. Did you figure it out too?

Up to that point I’d never been a particular fan of Ryan Reynolds, but I was actually impressed with his work here. He reminded me of another Ryan, Ryan O’Neal. He is sincere and captures the strengths and weaknesses of the character nicely, being at times charming and shallow, or sad and lonely. You wind up rooting for someone who has a lot of bad luck but makes some bad choices too. I liked Isla Fisher a lot as well – she reminded me quite a bit of Amy Adams and to a lesser extent, Zooey Deschanel. You immediately warmed to her the minute she shows up onscreen and quite frankly, she wipes the floor with Weisz and Banks both.

Derek Luke, so outstanding in Catch a Fire, is good enough in a small role but I think that he is destined for bigger things. I noticed him without him disrupting the flow of the movie, which is the sign of a good actor in a secondary role. And, of course, I am a huge Kevin Kline fan and I love seeing him even in the smallest supporting roles. Overall, the actors did a fine job.

Some great location work in New York makes the Big Apple a scene stealer as always. There are a number of terrific songs on the soundtrack. Most of the technical aspects are very solid, a good professional crew.

This is a very well-written, smart movie. The characters are believable and their dialogue sounds true. The main characters are flawed, but not so much that you don’t wind up rooting for them. As stated above, the acting performances are more than satisfactory. While this is definitely a chick flick, I found myself moved by it, particularly by Will’s own loneliness and sadness. Still, even though he isn’t happy, he’s a good enough soul to realize that he really does have it all, wrapped up in a neat 10-year-old package. Few of the characters turn out to be clichés, although one, sadly, does.

The ending unfortunately is very Hollywood and cliché. Part of me wanted a happy ending for the Will character, but it did make the movie less satisfying. Secondly, the character of Maya is another one of those precocious children smarter and wiser than their parents. Her role in the ending is what makes it extremely unsatisfactory; there is not a kid on the planet who would not only want their dad to fall in love with a woman other than their mother, but would actively assist in making it happen.

I was pretty impressed by it. It’s a lot smarter and a lot less cliché than your average romantic comedy. Ryan Reynolds does a particularly good job, as does Isla Fisher. Even Abigail Breslin, in a role that I found horribly cliché, delivers a nice performance. Perfect date movie fare for Valentine’s Day, or any romantic occasion.

WHY RENT THIS: Reynolds is pleasant and charming. Good chemistry with his various and sundry loves.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The character of Maya is cliche precocious kid. Nonsensical ending.
FAMILY MATTERS: Some sexual content as well as frank and suggestive dialogue.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Director Adam Brooks can be seen as one of the bookstore owners.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on maintaining the various time periods in the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $55.5M on a $7M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon (Rent/Buy), iTunes (Rent/Buy), Vudu (Rent/Buy), Flixster (Rent/Buy), Target Ticket (Rent/Buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: How I Met Your Mother
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Good Lie

Forev


This road trip is no picnic.

This road trip is no picnic.

(2013) Comedy (Gravitas) Noel Wells, Matt Mider, Amanda Bauer, Timmy L’Hereux, Chuck McCarthy, Dominic DeVore, Gina Gallego, Timothy Charlton, Gary G. “Thang” Johnson, Barb Mackerer, Hunter Hill, Pedro Lopez, Logan Strobel, Naaman Esquivel, Connor Morris, Marian McGinnis, Jon Katz, Chris Merchant, Kate Johnson. Directed by Molly Green and James Leffler

Florida Film Festival 2014

When you’re young, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be impulsive. If you think about things too much, you lose the moment and miss out on some fairly amazing experiences. Of course, if you think about things, you might actually save yourself from some pretty sorry situations.

Pete (Mider) is minding his own business, eating pizza in his apartment after a hard day’s work when who barges in but his neighbor Sophie (Wells), an actress. However, she doesn’t realize she’s barged in – she’s too busy making out passionately with her hookup du jour and thinks she’s in her own apartment. After Pete clears his throat, HDJ heads into the bathroom and Sophie hears him tell his friends he’ll be joining them in about 15 minutes after he’s done. Sophie decides that’s an offer that she can pretty much pass up without a problem.

After an audition for a hot dog commercial doesn’t go as well as she might have hoped, she decides to hang out with Pete whom she knows only marginally. His carpet is quite comfortable as it turns out and she is loathe to leave it. Pete says offhandedly “Since you’re going to be here anyway, we might as well get married.” I know, lame, right? Still from such small acorns mighty oaks may grow.

Sadly for Sophie, Pete has to run an errand and Sophie decides to tag along. The errand turns out to be a six hour drive from L.A. to Phoenix to pick up Pete’s sister Jess (Bauer) from college. On the way there, to a killer indie rock soundtrack, Pete and Sophie decide Pete’s marriage proposal wasn’t a bad idea at all. Voila, they’re engaged!

Jess is rightfully incredulous at her brother’s newfound relationship status and incredulity grows into downright hostility when she discovers how long the happy couple have been together. Jess, who was been in a relationship with a promising baseball player whom Pete worshipped for awhile, also has a relationship status change of her own – she’s gone from “involved” to “it’s complicated” to “single.” It’s times like these when you really need Facebook to let everyone know what’s going on.

A previous mishap involving an armadillo leads to the proverbial car breakdown in the desert, stranding them in a town so small that even the one horse has grown bored and hitchhiked to L.A. Sophie gets the surprising news that she got the part in the commercial after all and has to be in L.A. in two days to shoot it. When Pete gets into a fight with a local hitting on his fiancée (after said fiancée eggs him on) , Pete and Sophie head back to the hotel for some awkward cuddling while Jess finds herself a bearded guy to hang out with. When she doesn’t come back to the hotel room, Pete and Sophie go on a desperate search, the clock ticking on Sophie’s job all the while.

If you see enough independent films, you are going to find this not only familiar but downright “been there done that.” It has enough indie clichés to fill a hipster film festival; the cute couple acting zany and childish, the indie rock soundtrack that substitutes for a Greek chorus, the young people at least one of whom is an artist marching to their own drummer and so on. Throw in the clichés of modern romantic comedies and you have a case of cliché overload.

The young cast is actually quite good and have some decent chemistry – Mider and Wells both attended the University of Texas with the co-directors, so they have known each other awhile. That serves them well in terms of their banter and interaction. The script relies heavily on charm and has its share of funny moments.

The biggest problem here is that after awhile you start feeling the distinct need to stand up in your seat, shake your fist at the screen and scream at the top of your lungs “REAL PEOPLE DON’T ACT THIS WAY!!!” And they don’t. Personally, I think the film would have been far more effective if they’d chosen instead to make the whole marriage thing a running joke between Sophie and Pete which gradually becomes something real. Instead, you get the sense that these are two dim bulbs who think that marriage and relationships leading to marriage are something so easy you can just snap your fingers and it happens. Jess gets it but you get the sense that she’s a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Thus.

I do think Green and Leffler have some decent instincts but they need to find their own voice. The movie relies too much on established indie moves, so much so that the few moves of its own that it shows are kind of lost in the shuffle. A movie like this one hits the target more readily if you can recognize the characters in it. Instead, we get the hoary old indie song and dance about 20-something hipsters trying to impress somebody with how spontaneous they are. I get that I sound like a “Get off My Lawn, you young punks” critic but I don’t have a problem with spontaneity or young people – I have a problem with those elements in a movie are not given enough thought or depth to make the movie resonate better.

Incidentally, the movie remains on the festival circuit for the time being. A VOD and home video release has been scheduled. You can pre-order the movie on DVD/Blu-Ray beginning on May 1 by clicking on the photo which will take you to the movie’s website.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent laughs. Attractive leads with lots of potential.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many indie-cute clichés. Characters not acting like real people. Predictable

FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wells joined the cast of Saturday Night Live this season as a featured player.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Doomsdays

Your Sister’s Sister


Mark Duplass finds the horizon to be a bit murky.

Mark Duplass finds the horizon to be a bit murky.

(2012) Dramedy (IFC) Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mike Birbiglia, Kimberly Chin, Mike Harring, Kathryn Lebo, Jennifer Maas, Jeanette Maus, Jason Dodson, Dori Hana-Scherer, Steve Snoey, Pete Erickson, Evan Mosher, Seth Warren. Directed by Lynn Shelton

Florida Film Festival 2012

 

A relationship between two people is complicated enough. Add a third wheel and things get really crazy. When there’s also a fourth person in the mix (who happens to be dead) well, then, we’re talking crazy here.

Jack (Duplass) is mourning his brother Tom (Harring) who has been dead a year. Jack seems permanently stuck in the anger phase of grieving; at a party celebrating his brother, Jack seems intent on alienating everyone by explaining what a dick his brother was and that just because he’s gone doesn’t earn him a candidacy for sainthood.

His best friend Iris (Blunt) wisely takes him aside and tells him he needs to take off and put in some me time to work through his feelings. She suggests her family’s vacation cottage on an island in Puget Sound (did I mention this takes place in Seattle?) as the perfect place to sit around with no distractions, contemplate one’s navel and maybe do a little psyche repair work so that he can rejoin the human race. Realizing that she’s right, Jack agrees.

He bikes over to the ferry that runs to the island and quickly realize that he’s a little too old for this. It’s dark by the time he arrives at the cottage and he quickly realizes that the house isn’t vacant. There’s a naked woman in the shower. She turns out to be Hannah (DeWitt), Iris’ lesbian sister but he doesn’t know that and she doesn’t realize that her sister had invited Jack up so she clocks him with an oar.

Eventually the confusion is resolved and the two, with Iris in common, sit around and talk circles around why they’ve come to the island for the solitude – Jack’s grief and Hannah’s own as her longtime relationship (seven years) has ended. Talking turns to tequila, as it often will and tequila turns to sex – as it often will.

Iris arrives the next morning unexpectedly and Jack and Hannah scramble to hide the evidence of their indiscretion. You wonder why seeing as Iris isn’t Jack’s girlfriend – if anything, she had a relationship once upon a time with his brother. But as the three of them hang out and things get awkward we begin to see that the dynamics between the three people aren’t what they thought they were.

This is refreshingly a movie for adults. While the synopsis sounds a bit like a typical Hollywood romantic comedy, this is far from one. Shelton, who has been gathering a reputation as a fine writer/director on the indie circuit (her Humpday was one of the best-reviewed films of recent years) has written these as flawed individuals – as are we all – who do dumb things without really understanding why we’re doing them (and sometimes knowing full well why but powerless to stop the dumbness), even though they’re all basically decent people.

Duplass, a highly-regarded filmmaker in his own right, is developing into a fine cinematic Everyman. He isn’t buff, he isn’t tone and he isn’t always right. He’s just a guy, struggling with his own issues and those that come brightly packaged with being a guy in the second decade of the 21st century. You’ll probably recognize him as someone in your own life – a brother, a boyfriend, an ex, a son or a co-worker. He’s passive almost to the point of inertness, wallowing in an endless cycle of grief that he can’t seem to find a way out of. Most of the things that happen when he’s sober (other than the sex with Hannah thing that is largely his flirtatious suggestion) are at someone else’s impetus and he seems incapable of making decisions for himself until the movie’s end (more on that later). That’s not necessarily a bad thing – a lot of people are like that – but it can be infuriating to watch in a movie.

Blunt and DeWitt are both beautiful and smart actresses. There’s even a superficial resemblance and if you can get past the difference in accents (Blunt is British and doesn’t even attempt to hide it with a faux Yankee accent), they could well be sisters. When Hannah’s betrayal becomes apparent, it drives a wedge between them as you’d expect that it would but the way that they reconcile is also how you’d expect sisters to pull together.

What really hurts this movie is the ending. Not the very final scene, which actually is pretty cool  but the way things get resolved. It’s so Hollywood and doesn’t really resonate as the way real people act which is quite jarring when you’ve been admiring throughout the film that these characters are acting exactly like how real people act. Having seen this on Blu-Ray, I was moved to turn off the movie before said final scene and take a walk outside the house to cool off. I felt a bit betrayed to be honest which if intentional worked brilliantly. However I suspect it wasn’t; it was just a means of moving the film from point A to point B (or more like from point W to point X) and smacked of lazy writing, which I’m not accustomed to from Shelton.

Still other than that this is a standout film. Terrific acting, realistic situations, reactions and characters and a beautiful environment to put them in. While I was bothered by the movie’s resolution, I still believe in Shelton as a talented filmmaker who has plenty of wonderful cinematic moments left in her and hopefully, her best work still remains ahead of her. This one isn’t half bad though.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong performances. Emotionally powerful in all the right places.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Duplass’ character is too passive for my tastes. The ending is an abrupt stumble at the finish line.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality, some adult situations and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rachel Weisz was originally cast as Hannah but when the shooting schedule for the movie was pushed out, Weisz had to drop out of the film due to a scheduling conflict with her film The Deep Blue Sea.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.6M on a $125,000 production budget; the movie was a modest success.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Five-Year Engagement

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Coverage of the 2013 Florida Film Festival Begins!!

Lola Versus


Lola Versus

Greta Gerwig smirks at Brooklyn from the safety of Manhattan.

(2012) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Joel Kinnaman, Zoe Lister-Jones, Hamish Linklater, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jay Pharoah, Maria Dizzia, Cheyenne Jackson, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Jonathan Sale, Adriane Lennox. Directed by Daryl Wein

 

The rite of passage as we turn 30 isn’t a ceremonial one nor is it even one we even are aware we’re doing. When we’re in our 20s we can be wild, but as we enter our 30s the responsibilities of job, family and relationship put dampers on our tendencies to party like, well, 20-somethings.

Lola (Gerwig) is 29 years old and life is a bowl of cherries. She’s working on her doctoral dissertation and planning a wedding to her artist boyfriend Luke (Kinnaman) who is handsome and sexy and adores her. Her BFF Alice (Lister-Jones) kvetches constantly about her own inability to attract a guy. She and her ex Henry (Linklater) are Lola’s support system.

Lola is going to need it too when just a few weeks before the wedding, Luke bails on the marriage – and on the relationship. Lola is devastated, comforted by her parents (Pullman, Winger) who are a couple of ex-hippies with a possibly kooky New Age outlook but warm hearts beneath the jargon.

Lola is urged to stop moping and obsessing on Luke and starts to go out with other men. She develops a deep friendship with Henry which both seem to want to take further but neither seem to be able to find a way to make it work. Lola winds up having sex with Luke, then with a creepy prison architect (Moss-Bachrach) with a large….um…well, you can guess.

Lola is a sweet girl but as she approaches birthday number thirty, she is making some fairly egregious mistakes – some out of awkwardness but some in an effort to hurt. She alienates some of her friends, particularly when she begins to realize that of all of them she’s the only one who is truly alone.

For those who love indie hipster romantic comedies with a serious undertone, this is right up your alley. Gerwig has become an indie film darling (much like Parker Posey and Zooey Deschanel have been). She tends to play slightly neurotic but ultimately good-hearted sorts who have difficulties with relationships. The neurotic part utilizes her comedic skills, which are considerable; the good-hearted part engenders audience identification. While most of her parts seem to have been limited to girlfriend types, Gerwig is a talent with a future.

Sadly, she isn’t given much to work with here. It seems like it was written in an Indie Film 101 course with all the clichés that one finds in the average independent film. Artistic types living in Manhattan lofts they couldn’t possibly afford, check. An apparently unlimited income that comes in from no discernible job, check. Quirky friends, check. Montages set to indie music, check. Spiffy dialogue that nobody really talks like, check. A haughty New York-centricity that looks down on all other locations as vastly inferior, check. It all has a kind of been there done that feel.

This is a movie that is too hip for its own good. It’s not that I have anything against being hip, I just feel that it’s a bit overexposed. I’d rather see a few movies that have nothing to do with artists living in lofts, are located anywhere but New York and have characters and dialogue that aren’t clever. I like Gerwig (and Lister-Jones has some good moments as well) but by and large, this just left me flat.

REASONS TO GO: Frank about female sexuality. Gerwig is extremely likable.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too indie hipster for its own good. Might make those who find sex objectionable uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexuality, plenty of cursing, some drinking and drug use as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lister-Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Wein.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100. The reviews are more or less mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tiny Furniture

MACROBIOTIC FOOD LOVERS: Lola’s parents own a vegan restaurant and throughout Lola mostly eats and snacks on macrobiotic and raw food.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

My Blueberry Nights


My Blueberry Nights

Nothing like a cup o' joe to finish your evening.

(2007) Drama (Weinstein) Jude Law, Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, Adriane Lenox, Benjamin Kanes, Chan Marshall, Hector Leguillow, Chad Davis, Katya Blumenberg, John Malloy, Frankie Faison. Directed by Wong Kar Wai

Love is no easy thing. It chews you up and spits you out like a burnt blueberry pie. Time and distance can give us perspective and sometimes even lessen the pain, but it is a conscious choice to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on with our lives.

Elizabeth (Jones) is recovering from a relationship breakup after her boyfriend cheats on her. She finds refuge in the diner owned by Jeremy (Law), where she is the only customer who orders his fresh-made blueberry pie. The two start to converse; it turns out that Jeremy is a broken soul as well. Jeremy begins to fall for Elizabeth but she flees from New York before he can establish a beach head.

He searches for her meticulously and desperately, knowing only that she’s gone to Memphis. He makes calls and sends postcards to nearly every restaurant in the Memphis area trying to find her. He must have missed the one where she’s at, working as both a waitress (by day) and bartender (by night) as Lizzie. It’s at the bar she meets Arnie Copeland (Strathairn), an alcoholic ex-cop who pines for his wife Sue Lynn (Weisz) who persistently and openly cheats on her husband from whom she is separated. His struggle seems to resonate with Lizzie who befriends him, and when he threatens Sue Lynn one night with a gun, the resulting tragedy sends Lizzie off west to the desert.

Now known as Beth, she meets up with Leslie (Portman), a professional poker player who’s had a run of bad luck. She does have a car, which Beth needs but she needs a stake in the big poker tournament. Beth agrees to stake her in exchange for one third the winnings if she wins and her car if she loses.

Leslie plays in the tournament and eventually reports back to Beth that she lost. She asks if Beth could give her a ride to see her father, from whom she’s been estranged. They arrive in Las Vegas only to find that Beth’s father died the night before. They’d just missed him. Leslie confesses that she actually won the tournament and wants the car back for sentimental reasons. She gives Beth the money which is more than enough to buy a car…and Beth heads back east, having made a journey to evade love – had it found her anyway?

Chinese director Wong Kar Wei is known for being one of the most visually arresting filmmakers in the world, and in his English language debut retains that distinctive visual style. The neon lights make for a colorful backdrop in Manhattan and Memphis while the loneliness of the desert vistas are magnificently captured by cinematographer Darius Khondji.

And this isn’t case of images over story either; the movie depicts a journey, an evolution as it were, of Elizabeth from a scared, broken-hearted little girl into a wise, self-aware woman. Casting Jones, a singer with no acting experience in the role was a bold move but one that paid off. She has an interesting face, which is a Wong Kar Wei trademark – he utilizes close-ups better than any director working today, so in that sense she suits him well. She also proves to be at least competent as an actress; clearly she can use some improvement if she decides to prove a dual career with the music business, but she has the potential if she wants to go that way.

Law is solid in a part that doesn’t require much of him but to look soulful. Strathairn, the talented veteran character actor is most impressive as the broken-hearted alcoholic who desperately loves a wife who has given up on him. It’s a performance that is as soulful as it is poignant; I thought it was one of the best of his career. He and Weisz had real chemistry together.

The movie is only 90 minutes long so there is an economy here that’s refreshing – Wei does no more and no less than he has to do. The brevity works in the movie’s favor; the constant barrage of symbols (keys play a big part in this movie) grew annoying after awhile. But of course American sensibilities are different than Asian ones obviously. Some find that level of layered nuances challenging and gratifying on an intellectual level.

This is a movie that should be experienced rather than seen. I found that letting the images and story wash over me was helpful in my enjoyment of the movie. As Wong Kar Wei movies go, this isn’t his masterpiece…but it may make a good jump-in point for American audiences to be introduced to this amazing director.

WHY RENT THIS: Like all of Kar Wai’s films, this is a visual treat for the senses. Strathairn brings great poignancy to his role. Jones is a capable actress.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is symbol-heavy and not all of the vignettes are as striking as the Strathairn/Weisz one.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence, but also a good deal of drinking and smoking as you might expect in a movie where so much of the action takes place in bars.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chan Marshall, who plays Katya, is better known as Cat Power, a leading indie musician. This is also her feature film acting debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interview with director Wong Kar Wai conducted by the Museum of the Moving Image that lends fascinating insight as to his philosophy of moviemaking.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22.0M on an unreported production budget; the movie almost certainly made money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Ahead of Time