The American Experience 2015


The American Experience 2015With Independence Day just around the corner, that means it is time for our annual mini-review festival that looks at what it’s like to be an American. The American Experience centers around movies that depict the American lifestyle, events in American history or famous Americans. In fact, our banner this year depicts an iconic scene from an Oscar-winning biopic about a famous American warrior. Perhaps ironically, that’s not one of the films I’m reviewing this year, although I will get around to reviewing Patton one of these days. It was one of my father’s favorites.

So hopefully those readers who are Americans will be enjoying their holiday weekend with traditional barbecues, fireworks and getting together with family and friends as we celebrate our home. And what could be more American than a motion picture, something that an American invented and has been an American art form for more than a century? Happy Fourth everybody!

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The American Experience


The American ExperienceAs America gears up to celebrate Independence Day, we at Cinema365 like to sit back and consider just what it means to be an American and reflect on American life in general. Both of my own parents are immigrants to this great land as is my wife’s mother; this country gave them opportunity and a home so better than many we have a great love for this country, even as we sometimes are critical of the political divisions that separate us.

Even with all our flaws this is still a great place; not only is it a country of great natural beauty and a warm, giving people (for the most part) it is also a nation that even in these tough economic times has a can-do spirit of optimism that things will get better eventually.

This year due to personal issues we’re only doing this for two days instead of the usual three but the two movies we have in store are pretty indicative of the American spirit. We hope the reviews inspire you to go see them and enable you also to reflect on the meaning of America which we feel these films do quite well.

So to our American readers we wish one and all a happy and safe Fourth of July. To our readers from other nations we hope you enjoy our little two day tribute to our native land and gain some insight into the American psyche, Cinema365-style.

The American Experience


It is the time of year when we celebrate, here in the United States, the founding of our nation – not from our final victory in the Revolutionary War, but from the day that the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming to our people, to England and to the world that we would no longer be a colony but a new nation, self-governing and with a democracy unlike any seen in the world since ancient Greece.

We have made our share of mistakes, but we have also accomplished some amazing things. Earlier this year Cinema365 conducted a mini-festival of films from around the world to showcase the quality of movies that originate in countries other than the United States. Today, and through Wednesday, we’ll be looking at movies that examine aspects of American culture and what it means to be an American, to live in America. We’ll spotlight three films; one concentrating on the modern political process and it’s abuses; the second looking at the everyman through the last half of the 20th century and finally the third which will go back to the very beginnings of our nation and reminding us of the sacrifices our founding fathers made to create this nation.

So in the midst of getting ready for backyard barbecues, fireworks, block parties, concerts, and plates of hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, ice cold watermelon, potato salad and your beverages of choice – not to mention the apple pie – Cinema365 wishes all of our American readers a very happy and safe Fourth as we celebrate our nation’s birthday.

Friends With Benefits


Friends With Benefits

Just a couple of couch potatoes.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Screen Gems) Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, Bryan Greenberg, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Shaun White, Nolan Gould, Emma Stone, Masi Oka, Rashida Jones, Jason Segel. Directed by Will Gluck

 

Humans crave intimacy on several levels, beginning with the base physical and into the higher realms of friendship and love. We need it as surely as we need food to eat and air to breathe; without it our lives are empty and meaningless.

Jamie Rellis (Kunis) is a corporate headhunter with a history of relationship issues. Her assignment is to find an art director for GQ Magazine in New York and she thinks she’s found one. Dylan Harper (Timberlake) works as an art director for a small internet company and mainly takes the interview for the free trip to New York, especially after he breaks up with his girlfriend.

It turns out that Dylan and GQ are a match made in heaven, but Dylan is reluctant to take the job offer – he likes it in LA and isn’t particularly disposed to leaving his family and friends behind.  However, a night on the town with Jamie convinces him that New York is the place for him to be so he accepts.

Jamie helps him get settled and soon the two become friends – mainly because Dylan doesn’t know anybody else. One night when he is hanging out in her apartment watching movies with her, the two begin to talk about relationships and sex. Both are single and as it turns out, both are missing sex.

After some discussion, they both come to the agreement that sex shouldn’t need emotional connections – it should just be a completely physical act separate from love. They then agree to have sex without commitment or emotional attachment.

At first it’s a novelty and a whole lot of fun. As time goes on Jamie begins to feel less and less satisfied and realizes this isn’t what she wants at all so she decides to start dating again and lets Dylan know that the sex is coming to an end. She does date again, a man named Parker (Greenberg) and at first he seems to be what she’s looking for but after going to bed with him after the fifth date he calls it off. Furious, she tells him off, then cries about it to Dylan. He invites her to California for the Independence Day weekend and although reluctant at first, she flies west with him.

She meets his family – his father (Jenkins) who’s in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and his sister Annie (Elfman) who has been caring for him. Dylan and Jamie share an evening where it appears there’s a deeper connection between them – until Dylan runs his mouth to his sister afterwards, overheard by Jamie, claiming that this is just purely sex for him. Afterwards, she lets him know in no uncertain terms that she wants nothing to do with him.

The two however both realize that they have deep feelings for one another but neither knows how to navigate their way back. Is it possible to salvage anything, and make a relationship out of a purely sexual friendship?

I look at this in a lot of ways as a kind of 21st century version of When Harry Met Sally. The question about sex and friendship between men and women is one that still rages in debate. Gluck, who co-wrote the script, definitely has his ideas on the subject, although he approaches it in a different way than the previous film which asked “Can men and women who are sexually attracted to one another be friends” while this movie asks instead “Can men and women who are friends have sex without ruining their friendship” which is an entirely different ball of wax.

The movie hinges on the leads, and Timberlake and Kunis are very attractive and have some chemistry between them – the relationship doesn’t feel as contrived as it does in other romantic comedies. The problem here is that it just isn’t sure whether it’s a romantic comedy or a raunchy sex comedy – and at times that schizophrenia torpedoes the otherwise good intentions of the film.

Kunis is becoming one of my favorite actresses with stellar performances in Black Swan and Forgetting Sarah Marshall to her credit. She is sexy and sweet, able to do drama and comedy equally as adeptly. She’s come a long way since “That 70s Show” and may against the odds wind up becoming the biggest star to emerge from that show.

Timberlake is developing nicely as an actor and although this doesn’t really build up his career up acting-wise, the box office success continues to cement his reputation as a bankable leading man and to be truthful the performance doesn’t set his reputation back either. He’s still a little stiff in some ways, but he’s definitely getting better at it – he is certainly a star in the making.

I like the dialogue here. The relationship between Dylan and Jamie is acerbic at times, with the two trading snappy one-liners in the style of a screwball comedy in a good way. Maybe the movie really isn’t a raunchy sex comedy or a sweet rom-com – maybe what it really is could be termed a modern screwball comedy. The jury’s still out on it but the results are the movie doesn’t work as smoothly as I might have liked it to and maybe that led me to be harsher in my rating than it deserved because it does do a lot of things right, particularly in the case of Kunis and Timberlake. It just doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole.

WHY RENT THIS: Some decent chemistry between the leads. Snappy dialogue.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Can’t decide whether it wants to be a raunchy sex comedy or a sweet rom-com.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might guess, there’s a whole lot of sexual content and a fair amount of bad language, some of it sexual in nature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In director Will Gluck’s last movie (Easy A) Clarkson also played the mother of the lead character (Emma Stone, who cameos here early on as Dylan’s girlfriend).  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are about seven minutes of outtakes, mostly having to do with flubbed lines and pranks. The Blu-Ray also has a featurette on the choreography of the flash mob scene.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Strings Attached

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $149.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie was a big box office hit.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Marvel’s The Avengers!

Grown Ups


Grown Ups

Kevin James hangs on for dear life.

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek Pinault, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce van Patten, Ebony Jo-Ann, Di Quon, Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows. Directed by Dennis Dugan

The problem with life is that we grow up, we move on. We never have the kind of friends we had as children (I learned that as a child, but was reminded of it some years ago when I first saw Stand By Me) and even when we reconnect, we find that our childhood friends aren’t the same people they were when we were young.

The coach of a championship middles school basketball team has died. A gruff, genial sort, he had a major effect on the lives of the starting five, who gather for his funeral; Eric Lamonsoff (James), a beefy guy who is married to Sally (Bello) who still breastfeeds their four-year-old; Kurt McKenzie (Rock) who is now a somewhat whipped househusband with a dismissive wife Deanne (Rudolph) and the mother-in-law from Hell, Madea…I mean, Mama Ronzoni (Jo-Ann); Rob Hilliard (Schneider) who is on his third marriage, this time to Gloria (van Patten), a woman 30 years his senior and who along with him have embraced a New Age vegan lifestyle; Marcus Higgins (Spade), a womanizer whose women are getting younger as he gets older and finally Lenny Feder (Sandler), the star of the team who has gone on to be a super-rich Hollywood agent married to a hot (in every sense of the word) fashion designer Roxanne (Hayek Pinault).

Lenny decides to rent the same lake house the five were taken to by the coach to celebrate their championship back in 1978. All of them are bringing a good deal of baggage with them, much of it residing in their relationships with their wives and children. Maybe all it takes is a weekend recapturing the magic of youth when a summer day seemed endless, the Fourth of July was a reason to celebrate and the possibilities were unlimited.

That’s basically all you need to know about the plot. The good news is that this is a pleasant movie that really isn’t offensive, despite some of its attempts to be as in Sally’s milk-spray into Deanne’s face, or Marcus taking a header into a pile of dog poo. The bad news is that the movie tends to settle into a rut of pleasantness, taking the bite out of comics who ten years ago would have made fun of efforts like this.

The movie is somewhat uneven; there were places where I was laughing out loud and others where I was rolling my eyes. The comics seem to be going for a juvenile kind of humor where calling each other fat in some imaginative way is the height of wit. Not that I have anything against that sort of thing – that’s what guys do after all – but it runs through the whole movie.

Nearly all of the movie’s best moments come at the hands of the five leads, which makes a bit of sense – after all, that’s who people are paying to see. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of lesser characters vying for screen time and making the movie feel a little bit crowded. One of the better moments was a speech that perennial TV guest star Joyce van Patten makes near the end of the movie during the obligatory confessional revelatory scene; it might well be the best moment in her distinguished career. Unfortunately, it feels like it should be in another movie.

If you like all these guys individually or collectively, you’re going to see this regardless of what I say. Fortunately, you won’t be disappointed. It’s not the best work of any one of them by any means, but it certainly won’t leave you feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. I saw this over the Fourth of July weekend which is the ideal time to see this; what can be more American than a bunch of friends getting together in a bucolic location to relive the glory days and fix what is broken in their lives?

 REASONS TO GO: Five of the best comedians of the 90s all together in the same film. Hayek and Bello are a couple of hotties. There are some pretty funny moments here.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is wildly uneven and relies a little bit overly much on juvenile humor and pratfalls.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scatological and sexual humor as well as a few male rear ends on display; while nothing I wouldn’t flinch at, you might want to think twice about letting the younger kids see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dugan has a cameo as the referee in the opening basketball sequence; Sandler’s real-life wife and daughters also make an appearance as the wife and daughters of Tardio, the cannoli guy. “Amoskeag Lake” doesn’t exist, incidentally; the movie was filmed at Chebacco Lake in Massachusetts; Amoskeag refers to a dam on the Merrimack River in New Hampshire near where Adam Sandler grew up; a number of businesses in Manchester were named after it.

HOME OR THEATER: This will work just as well at home as it will in a big theater; however, this is the type of comedy meant to be enjoyed with a crowd so keep that in mind.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Igor

The Bounty Hunter


The Bounty Hunter

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler are crusing the byways of New Jersey in a big blue whale.

(Columbia) Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Dorian Missick, Joel Marsh Garland, Christine Baranski, Jeff Garlin, Cathy Moriarty, Richie Coster, Carol Kane, Tracy Thorne, Adam Rose, Siobhan Fallon Hogan. Directed by Andy Tennant

Sometimes life drops a gift into our laps. It could be an inheritance from a previously unknown relative, or a long-forgotten stock gift hitting paydirt. It can even be something far more simpler but much more satisfying.

Nicole Hurly (Aniston) is a reporter whose life is her job. She is investigating the apparent suicide of a police property clerk under suspicious circumstances. When a snitch calls her to set up a meeting with important evidence on the line, she blows off a bail hearing for a traffic crime to go to the meet.

Milo Boyd (Butler) used to be a police detective but he’s made a few career missteps so now he works for his friend Sid (Garlin) as a bounty hunter for bail skip-outs. When he receives the ticket for his ex-wife – you guessed it, Nicole Hurly – over the fourth of July weekend, he is more than jazzed. He is simply ecstatic.

While searching his ex-wife’s apartment, he runs into her love-struck co-worker Stewart (Sudeikis) who believes that he is having a torrid relationship with Nicole (which was in reality a single night of drunken making out). With his intimate knowledge of the client he heads over to Atlantic City where Nicole has also blown off lunch with her cabaret entertainer mom (Baranski) to go to the track and think. He collars her at the track and its clear that she despises him and vice versa.

Milo is also in debt to some bookies for a good deal of dough and Mama Irene (Moriarty) wants it collected. A couple of thugs are on the look-out for Milo, and there are some crooked cops who are after Nicole. Now half the state of New Jersey is looking for both of them and they can’t stand each other – but they’ll have to rely on each other to make it back to New York.

In years gone by this would have been a screwball comedy with Rita Hayworth or Cary Grant in the lead roles, with lots of snappy one-liners and clever dialogue. Today, it’s a formula romantic comedy that shows little imagination in anything other than the casting of the leads with attractive, bankable stars.

Director Andy Tennant has made movies like Hitch and Sweet Home Alabama, both light entertainments that are way better than this is. This is bloodless and by the numbers. Aniston and Butler are both solid actors who have made some good movies but this isn’t one of them. Butler, who was solid in last year’s The Ugly Truth, is in a similar man-slob role but unlike that movie doesn’t have a whole lot of redeeming qualities. The sweetness that was at the core of his character in that movie is completely missing here.

There’s some talent in the supporting roles, from Baranski as Nicole’s oversexed mom to the great Carol Kane as a bed and breakfast owner. For the most part though, it’s wasted with pointless slapstick bits and one-liners that are punchless and none too funny. It’s not a complete waste of time, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.

In fact, this is a completely formulaic movie that holds no surprises whatsoever. You know where the romance is going, and you know who the bad guys are the minute they show up onscreen. It’s a no-brainer for even the non-discerning audience.  

REASONS TO GO: Aniston and Butler are attractive leads.

REASONS TO STAY: A passionless, formulaic script with no surprises whatsoever.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual situations and a little bit of violence and foul language but for the most part perfectly harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production filmed at Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey; notices were posted throughout the track that those who didn’t want to be filmed should leave the premises.

HOME OR THEATER: No problem waiting for this to hit the home video market.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Repo Men