Breaking Upwards


Breaking up is hard to do.

Breaking up is hard to do.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Martin, Olivia Thirlby, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Julie White, Peter Friedman, LaChanze, Pablo Schreiber, Heather Burns, Tate Ellington, Francis Benhamou, David Call, Sam Rosen, Max Jenkins, Audrey Allison. Directed by Daryl Wein

It is said that it isn’t always easy to pin down when a relationship begins but it is almost always obvious when a relationship ends. Hollywood tends to spend much more time in the former situation and much less in the latter and usually when a relationship ends in a Hollywood movie it’s always sudden, event-based and rarely the way things work in real life.

Daryl (Wein) and Zoe (Lister-Jones) have been going together for four years. He’s a writer and filmmaker, she’s an off-Broadway actress. Sex between them has become almost routine and just something that Zoe wants to get over with as quickly as possible.

Obviously the bloom is off of the rose of their relationship and the two of them, being good New York hipsters, decide that they’re going to spend some time apart but not the way most normal couples do. Instead, they’re going to pick several days during the week when they are forbidden from seeing each other. Hopefully this enforced time off will help them gain some perspective.

Instead, it gives them opportunities for them to see other people – Alan (Schreiber) in her case, Erika (Thirlby) in his. It also gives the relationship an opportunity to die slowly. Daryl moves in with his mom (White) while Zoe’s mom (Martin), a sort of hippie feminist sculptor with a big dash of Jewish mom thrown in for  good measure, attempts to help Zoe get through a situation that mom doesn’t quite understand.

Wein and Lister-Jones co-wrote the script (along with Peter Duchan) and reportedly based it on their own experiences as a couple when they were going through a rough patch (they are no longer together). Wein, who would go on to direct Lola Versus, shows some nice touches in depicting a relationship in a realistic manner but then turns it into an indie hipster fest with characters hanging out in coffee houses, listening to indie rock and talking like they based their dialogue on episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wein and Lister-Jones make an engaging couple as you might expect having had a real life romance but it is after they separate that things kinda lose their steam. That’s a bit opposite of what I would have hoped for; in a chronicle of a relationship’s demise, I would hope that there would be more intensity as things spiral towards their inevitable conclusion.

The supporting cast, most of whom worked for scale if they took money at all is pretty impressive, with SCTV alum Martin showing the most depth but veterans White and Friedman also get some pretty nice scenes and Moss-Bacharach and Thirlby contributing some key scenes as well.

I take it that Wein and Lister-Jones are New Yorkers and of course they’re going to write about what they know. No problems there, although I think that at some point there are going to be enough movies about New York/Brooklyn hipsters and perhaps we’ll see people that don’t live in lofts that they can’t possibly afford, aren’t artists or artistic and don’t eat out and go out drinking more often than Paris Hilton does. If you’re going to make a movie about real relationships, the least you can do is make the environment real as well – at least, not a cliché typical indie flick New York environment which has been done to death.

I liked the premise a lot but the execution left a lot to be desired, mostly on the writing end. I can take a script in which the leads do senseless things – when it comes to love and relationships, often the things we do in real life don’t make sense either. What I can’t take is a movie that’s serious in tone getting unexpectedly precious which takes me right out of the experience. There are some things here that work, enough for me to give it an average rating but I hope that Wein continues to grow as a filmmaker and tries a few other environments other than the one discussed. I think he needs to be taken out of his comfort zone a bit in order to be a better filmmaker, although in all fairness this was a local production made on a microscopic budget that probably wouldn’t cover office supplies on a major studio release. I can commend the movie for not looking or feeling that it was made on the cheap but I just wish it took a less consciously hip tone.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare realistic look at a relationship’s end. Some good performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again, awfully New York-centric. Some cutesy-pie moments derail the movie’s overall tone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The New York Times did an article on the film’s production, praising it as an example of “sweat equity” or the use of alternative methods to acquire cast, crew and production funding.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A photo tutorial.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77,389 on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was quite profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Uncertainty

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Deadline

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Think twice before hanging out with Shia LaBeouf; there are a lot of angry film critics out there.

(2011) Science Fiction (Paramount) Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Leonard Nimoy (voice), Tyrese Gibson, Buzz Aldrin, Elya Baskin, Peter Cullen (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice), Robert Foxworth (voice), James Remar (voice). Directed by Michael Bay

Nothing exceeds like excess, and by that criterion Transformers: Dark of the Moon exceeds all expectations.

Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) has saved the world – twice – and all he’s got to show for it is a lousy Ivy League education. He longs to make a difference once again but he can’t get any sort of job and has to settle for living on the largesse of his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), a former British consulate employee now working as an assistant to billionaire Dylan (Dempsey).

To make matters worse, the unemployed Sam is being visited by his judgmental parents Ron (Dunn) and Judy (White). However, Sam manages to get a job in the mail room of a defense contractor run by the somewhat eccentric Bruce Brazos (Malkovich).

Sam would much rather be working with the Autobots in NEST, but the government wants him far away from Optimus Prime (Cullen) as he can be. Lennox (Duhamel) is nominally in charge of the Autobots who are helping the American government putting out small fires around the world; taking out an illegal Iranian nuclear plant and investigating a strange occurrence at Chernobyl, where Lennox discovers Autobot technology may have been responsible for the disaster there.

Optimus demands an explanation and finally supercilious CIA chief Mearing (McDormand) gives him one. Apparently, near the end of the civil war that drove the Autobots from Cybertron, an Autobot ship escaped from the planet carrying a secret weapon as well as its designer, Sentinel Prime (Nimoy), the leader of the Autobots before Optimus. That ship crash landed on our moon, prompting the space race of the 1960s.

The Autobots rocket up to the moon and retrieve both Sentinel and the remains of the weapon. As they return, Megatron (Weaving), brooding in the desert after two defeats at the hands of Optimus and Sam Witwicky, puts into motion an evil plan that involves murder, betrayal and plenty of nasty robots coming after Sam and his new girlfriend. The stakes are high as the entire human race could end up as slave labor in the New World Order as envisioned by Megatron – and the Earth itself a desiccated, dried-out husk as her resources are used in the insane rebuilding of Cybertron. Once again, Sam and Optimus must lead the allied human-Autobot forces if both races are to survive.

My son has said that the reason you go to a Transformers movie is to watch robots beating each other up, and he has a point. If that’s why you’re plunking down ten bucks plus to see the movie, you won’t be disappointed. Once the battle starts in earnest, which is about halfway through the nearly two and a half hour movie, it doesn’t let up. The robots just about level Chicago and it is done realistically and spectacularly.

In fact, it’s done so well there seems to be no reason for human participation at all. The first half of the movie is somewhat slow and talky, and the humans are no match in the slightest to the giant robots of Cybertron. It is very much like watching a movie about, say, the Battle of the Bulge from the point of view of an ant colony. All the humans really have to do is dodge falling debris and be blown up by robot plasma shots; when one of the lead characters looks like they’re about to buy it, an Autobot comes out of nowhere to save the day (usually Optimus).

In fact, once the battle starts, LaBeouf has very little to do other than look concerned for his girlfriend, and occasionally shout “OPTI-MUUUUUUUUUUS!!!!” and he does both pretty well. His twitchy persona fits right in with the Witwicky character and although he’s the focus for the first half of the movie, it does break down during the first hour or so as we watch Sam mostly feeling inadequate and sorry for himself. It gets old.

Other than that, Bay did upgrade the supporting cast some, adding McDormand and Malkovich, Oscar nominees both, to the cast and both of the veteran actors deliver, as does Turturro in the returning role of Simmons, the paranoid agent (who is now a bestselling author) as comedy relief. Alan Tudyk, who impressed so much on the “Firefly” series, gets a meaty role as a fey German assistant to Simmons with his own set of skills. He makes the best use of his limited screen time.

As far as adolescent chubby-inducement, Megan Fox is out and former Victoria’s Secret model Huntington-Whiteley is in, making her feature acting debut. Fox was never known for her acting skills but she at least has some; Huntington-Whiteley is there mainly to wear tight dresses, have the camera almost see up her skirt and be put in jeopardy so Sam can rescue her. At least Megan Fox’s character wasn’t nearly as useless.

Transformer fans can rejoice; this is easily the most spectacular movie of the series and for non-fans, this is the best of the lot. Check your brain at the door, get the extra-large tub of popcorn and soda, and bliss out in a dark theater for awhile. This is pure popcorn spectacle on a massive scale and the plot is merely window dressing to the special effects. That’s not always a bad thing.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of robots battling for those who like that kind of thing. Easily the most spectacular film of the series.

REASONS TO STAY: The beginning of the movie lags a bit. The human characters are stiffer than the robots. Humans no match for aliens whatsoever.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of mayhem and a few bad words, but it’s the scenes of destruction and robot death that might be a bit much for tykes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leonard Nimoy, voicing Sentinel Prime, utters the line “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in homage to a line spoken by Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

HOME OR THEATER: The spectacle demands the big movie theater screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies