Miss You Already


BFFs.

BFFs.

(2015) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Jacqueline Bisset, Tyson Ritter, Mem Ferda, Noah Huntley, Janice Acquah, Charlotte Ubben, Shola Adewusi, Honor Kneafsey, Anjli Mohindra, Ryan Lennon Baker, Joanna Bobin, Eileen Davies, Sophie Holland, Charlotte Hope, Frances de la Tour, Lucy Morton. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Often Hollywood puts out buddy flicks to explore the relationship between two people. More often than not it is of a pair of male friends, generally in stressful situations. Women tend to be more in romantic situations when filmmakers capture their friendships with other women.

Lily (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) have been friends for, well, like, forever. Jess, an American girl whose Dad had been transferred to London, has grown up to be an environmental activist. She lives on a houseboat on the Thames with her boyfriend Jago (Considine) who is busy trying to get her pregnant, which turns out to be a daunting task (who knew it would be so hard getting Barrymore pregnant?) while Lily is a rock and roll publicist who has married Kip (Cooper), a one-time rocker himself who has settled down to create a successful business. Lily has two kids, a boy and a girl.

But while their lives have been great to this point, life (as it often does) is about to throw a wicked curveball at them; Lily has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Lily, who has quite a bit of vanity inherited from her TV actress mother (Bisset), stresses her way through chemo, hair loss, and wig selection. By her side through all of it is Jess, there to babysit her kids, make them healthy meals they don’t want to eat and offer emotional support for her best friend.

But things aren’t rosy. Lily is unraveling at the seams as the disease runs its course. She lashes out, especially after enduring a double mastectomy which her husband is unable to deal with. Intimacy goes out the window and maybe their marriage with it. Their friendship is sorely tested and with revelations during an impromptu trip to the Moors (in an effort to recapture their wild impetuous youth), perhaps destroyed beyond repair – just when they need each other most.

Hardwicke is best known for directing the original Twilight film. One of the things I really liked about the film is that she cast Barrymore, who generally plays flighty impulsive characters, as essentially the stable, sober one while Collette, who often plays the reasonable character, as the free-spirited one. There is also real chemistry between the two women, making their friendship believable which is at the center of why the film works.

Barrymore is sometimes a little too cloying for my taste but she is much more centered here in giving one of her best performances in years. Barrymore excels when she has a character who is not just a flighty little minx with a heart of gold; she’s a smart actress who can be deceptively intelligent which I quite suspect is very much what she’s like in person – not that I’m ever going to know. She does rock Jess this time out.

However, it is Collette who has the meatier role and the veteran actress runs with it. It would be easy to make Lily a melodramatic martyr, a collection of cancer-related tics and Collette chooses not to. Lily is terrified of dying, even more so of losing her hair and her breasts and occasionally acts out. More than occasionally, actually, but totally understandable.

The progression of the cancer is handled matter-of-factly as we see the ravaging of the body that the disease commits. One of the things the movie addresses is how breasts are often tied in with a woman’s self-image; when Lily’s breasts are taken, her self-image is severely shaken. This is definitely a movie that should win the commendations of breast cancer awareness groups worldwide.

Personally, I think that a case of tissues should be handed out at the ticket office. The movie is cathartic to the max, and anyone who likes a good cry at the movies will come away more than satisfied. While the movie drifts into occasional rom-com cliches, and some of the action feels a bit forced, this is one of those movies that is delightful and touching, funny and sad, and at the core is a very real relationship between two women you might long to hang out with yourself.

Sure, some of this is awfully contrived and some of this is awfully manipulative, but it is well-acted enough and serious enough to make it worth your while. This is one of those movies that upon first examination doesn’t seem to be much more than typical, but once you plop your butt down in the seat it becomes much, much more. Don’t let the subject matter scare you off; this is one of the better movies about women and their relationships that you’re likely to see.

REASONS TO GO: Authentic chemistry between Barrymore and Collette. Cathartic. Excellent performance by Collette. Sober treatment of breasts and how they relate to female self-image.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally cliché.  Forces when it doesn’t need to.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult themes, some sexual content and a bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Weisz were both at one time cast as Jess but both dropped out, leading to the casting of Barrymore.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brian’s Song
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Office

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Red Riding Hood


Red Riding Hood

Gary Oldman reacts to charges that this is Twilight with werewolves.

(2011) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Shauna Kane, Michael Hogan, Adrian Holmes, Cole Heppell, Michael Shanks. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

The woods are deep and dark for a reason. There are things there that defy the world we know and keep to the shadows, leaping out only when some helpless unsuspecting maiden passes by.

Valerie (Seyfried) lives in a bucolic village in the woods surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is winter and the woods have become dark and threatening. It is full moon night and a sacrifice is being left out for the wolf that has beset their village for generations.

She has been in love with Peter (Fernandez), a woodcutter who works with her father Cesaire (Burke) who mostly drinks. Her mother Suzette (Madsen) however has promised her to another – Henry (Irons), the blacksmith’s boy and considerably well-to-do in a village like this. It’s a great match – only Valerie loves Peter, not Henry.

Things start to go wrong when Valerie’s sister turns up dead at the hands of the wolf. The townspeople go out to hunt the beast dead. It turns out the hunters killed a beast but not the beast. They call in Father Solomon (Oldman), an expert hunter who asserts they have a werewolf at work – and the beast lives among them in their human form.

Suspicion turns on everyone, from Valerie’s quirky grandma (Christie) living out in the woods by herself to Valerie herself. At first the villagers pooh-pooh the good Father but when the werewolf crashes their celebration, there is no longer any doubt that they are dealing with a diabolical beast. But which one of them is it? And can they stop the beast in time?

Director Catherine Hardwicke last did Twilight and obviously this is the kind of thing that is in her comfort zone. It has all the elements that made that movie a hit; a virginal lead forced to choose between two hotties that have a secret that involves the supernatural. However, what this movie lacks is that sense of tragedy that makes the hearts of teen girls go pitter pat. Twilight works because there’s that knowledge that Bella and Edward can never be together and because if they do, they will both be changed forever.

That’s not here at all; there’s nothing epic about the romantic angle at all and say what you will about the Twilight series, that quality is there in spades. You have to care about the couple in a romantic fantasy or else it doesn’t work. Here, the sparks never really fly. Seyfried is a fine actress and Fernandez and Irons are both pretty good in their own rights, but the chemistry fails here.

The location is really beautiful which is inevitable because it’s mostly computer generated. Majestic snow-capped mountains, endless dark green swaths of forest and quaint vaguely-Germanic villages make it a fantasy setting right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In a sense, the location is too perfect, too bucolic – at times the sense of menace that should be palpable is overwhelmed by the charm of the setting.

The werewolf itself is also a bit of a letdown – it’s more of a big shaggy dog than anything else and the wolfish side which should be wild and untamed is suborned by a silly ability to communicate telepathically with Valerie. He comes off like a talking animal and less of a ferocious monster. So as a horror movie, this doesn’t really work either.

So it boils down to suspense, figuring out who the werewolf is. Quite frankly, it’s not that hard – Da Queen figured it out pretty damn quickly, even more so than her movie-loving husband. Still, it’s not difficult to spot the wolf, as it were – and that is also a problem.

It’s a movie that needed more guidance from the writer; it’s almost as if three different studio executives with three different ideas for the movie were telling the writer “More romance. No, more horror. No, it’s gotta have suspense.” In trying to be something for everybody it ends up being nothing to anybody.

REASONS TO GO: Some beautiful-looking sequences. Some of the music is impressive.

REASONS TO STAY: Isn’t terrifying enough to be horror; not sentimental enough to be romance; too mundane to be a suspense film.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and sensuality, along with some creature feature-like thrills.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Max Irons is the son of Jeremy Irons.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the wide CGI vistas are best seen at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Inugami

Twilight


Twilight

Can it really be young love if one of them is 114 years old?

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Cam Gigandet, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

We are all of us searching for something but none more than teenagers. Teenagers aren’t only looking to find love and acceptance, but also define who they are. When we find those answers, it’s usually the gateway into adulthood but sometimes those answers cost.

Bella Swan (Stewart) has had a difficult time of things. Her parents are divorced, her mom in Arizona having remarried a baseball player. Bella, a sensible sort, goes to live with her father (Burke), the Sheriff in the tiny western Washington town of Forks, Washington (a real place, by the way). As the new kid in a small school, Bella is big news and is fussed over by her new classmates both studly and dorky. She tries to fit in with her new friends but she notices a group of pale kids who hang out amongst themselves. This, she is told, is the Cullen clan, a group of foster kids being cared for by Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Facinelli), the town physician. They live in possibly the coolest home in Western Washington on the edge of town. One, in particular, nabs Bella’s interest; the smoldering, sexy Edward (Pattinson) who stares at her like his eyes have been glued to her.

Bella’s dad is being kept busy by a series of animal attacks in the area that have resulted in the deaths of several people, but he has time to have his friends Billy Black and his handsome son Jacob (Lautner) over. The long-haired native American Jacob hits it off with Bella and the two become friends.

Edward and Bella are assigned to be lab partners and despite Bella’s attraction to Edward, she is disturbed to discover that he feels quite the opposite about her, asking to transfer out of the biology class altogether. However, once they begin talking, a deep attraction begins to blossom. This is heightened when he saves Bella’s life by stopping an out of control truck from squashing her in the school parking lot, despite not being anywhere near her when the truck began its skid.

Suspicious at secrets Edward is apparently hiding, Bella does some research aided by stories told by her friend Jacob. She soon suspects that Edward might be a creature not unlike a vampire, which Edward eventually confesses that he is. However, vampires aren’t anything like how we’ve seen them in the movies; they don’t fear crosses or garlic and they are quite capable of being out in sunlight; however direct sunlight causes their skin to sparkle and annoying bells to ring. The sparkle announces that they aren’t human, but it might be those twinkling bells that make the Cullens unwilling to venture into the light.

Each of the Cullens (who don’t feed on human blood – they feed on animal blood instead, considering themselves kind of like vegetarians) has a different and unique power; Alice (Greene) can foretell the future for example. There are other vampires who prey on humans and their leader James (Gigandet) has his sights set on Bella, so Bella’s in danger but worse yet the prom is coming up and you thought your high school prom had drama…

Of course this is based on the staggeringly popular young adult fiction series by Stephenie Meyer which has sold about a gigillion books, mostly to teenaged and pre-teen girls but also to a surprising number of their mothers. I’ve heard the books described as “Harlequin Romances for teens written by Stephen King” which may be a bit harsh. Nonetheless, there is an element of truth to it.

First and foremost, understand that this isn’t a traditional vampire movie and it isn’t a traditional teen drama movie either. It’s not even a traditional romance. What it actually turns out to be is elements of all three genres wrapped up into a neat little package. While many critics (and film fanboys) openly sneer at the franchise, I actually found myself admiring it a little bit for trying something different than the traditional vampire movie with quivering virgins, buckets of blood and flaming vampires. There is actually very little gore or sex here. I also found myself giving the author marks for at least creating her own vampire mythology.

This movie was always going to live and die on the attractiveness of the leads and Stewart and Pattinson have all that they need. I seriously doubt this movie would have been anything near as popular without Pattinson as Edward; he is absolute catnip to teenaged girls, handsome and brooding and gentle all at once, yet fiercely protective. He is the ultimate boyfriend, and I don’t doubt that every teenaged girl who sees this will be holding up their boyfriends and potential boyfriends up in comparison to this guy, which is going to make for a lot of disappointed teenagers.

Stewart, who was one of the best things about Into the Wild has a very girl-next-door kind of look to her. She is meant to be strong, smart and kind – someone teenaged girls are meant to want to be like. Da Queen found it amusing that with all the romantic drama going on in this girl’s life she never once snapped at her parents but this is a fantasy after all.

This is a nice-looking movie that makes ample use of the Pacific Northwest scenery to create an overall tone. However, the movie had a pretty light budget (given that tiny Summit Entertainment was making it) and some of the special effects seem a little chintzy. I suspect that given its overwhelming box office success, future installments will have better-looking SFX than this.

In some ways, reviews for movies like this are superfluous; their target audience is going to see them over and over again regardless of what any critic says. For the rest of us it’s adequate entertainment and not nearly as bad as some have made it out to be. Keep in mind it is geared towards teens in a big way and that anyone my age – heck, anyone over thirty – aren’t going to relate to it as closely as those under thirty. That’s okay too; in some ways I’m quite glad I’m well past relating to these kinds of movies. Still, if you have a teenaged daughter or want to know more about what teenaged girls are thinking, here is your opportunity to get some insight. Oh, and the soundtrack is surprisingly amazing as well.

WHY RENT THIS: This is an entirely new mythology for vampires. Pattinson and Stewart make an attractive couple. The beauty of the Pacific Northwest plays an integral element in the movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The teen soap opera elements may make this a difficult pill to swallow for vampire film fans. The special effects don’t hold up against other modern films.

FAMILY VALUES: A little violence and teen sex make this suitable for teens and tweens; the movie may not be suitable for smaller sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the release date of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was pushed out to July 2009, Summit moved Twilight into that desirable pre-Thanksgiving weekend spot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a trio of music videos, as well as footage of the cast’s appearance at Comic-Con. Be prepared to hear a whole lot of teenaged girls screaming.

FINAL RATING: 5/10 (but if you’re a teenaged/pre-teen girl or their mom, 10/10)

TOMORROW: Gran Torino