Last Night (2010)


Keira Knightley struggles with temptation.

Keira Knightley struggles with temptation.

(2010) Drama (Tribeca) Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet, Griffin Dunne, Anson Mount, Daniel Eric Gold, Karen Pittman, Zach Poole, Stephanie Romanov, Scott Adsit, Justine Cotsonas, Rae Ritke, Stephen Mailer, John Treacy Egan, Chriselle Almeida, Jon Norman Schneider, William Clemente, Christian Lorentzen, Lana Taylor. Directed by Massy Tadjedin

Marriage is supposed to be “til death do you part” although it rarely works out that way. One of the main reasons for that is temptation – we aren’t always able to resist it.

On the surface Michael (Worthington) and Joanna Reed (Knightley) have things pretty good. A power couple on Manhattan’s Upper West side, cracks have begun to sprout up below the surface. Joanna is surprised when at a party he notices her husband having a moment out on the balcony with a beautiful woman. She’s not surprised at that fact – her husband is extremely attractive after all but that when he introduces her as Laura (Mendes), the surprise comes when she discovers that Laura and Michael work together and she thought she knew everyone who worked with him.

Laura is suspicious and accuses him of having an affair with her which he flatly denies. What’s worse is that he’s leaving on a business trip for Philadelphia – and Laura will be there with him. So while she stays home and frets, Laura is really coming on to Michael . It’s clear that Laura wants to get into his pants in the worst way. He’s resisting for now but that resistance is quickly crumbling.

In the meantime Joanna has run into an old flame of her, Alex (Canet) and they spend much of the day together. It is obvious Alex still has very strong feelings for her and as the evening progresses, she realizes she also has feelings for him. Both Joanna and Michael will face their own true feelings this night about cheating – and each other.

This isn’t exactly the first movie about a married couple facing temptation to be unfaithful. It is a titillating subject and is often handled  for maximum eroticism but that isn’t the case here. First-time writer/director Tadjedin attacks it more from an emotional point of view, looking at how infidelity and temptation affect not only the relationship but those in it.

She couldn’t have cast a more attractive couple. Worthington, who has been establishing himself as an action star carrying  major franchise films like Avatar and Clash of the Titans has never been known for his acting skills and while I won’t say he kills it here, he acquits himself pretty well as the emotionally closed-off Michael.

Even better is Knightley who during her run on the Pirates of the Caribbean series I kind of wrote off as just a pretty face but in the last few years she’s done a number of smaller budgeted pictures in which she’s pulled off some impressive performances, and this one is one of them. She is every bit the sophisticated New Yorker, and prone to suspicion not quite to the point of paranoia but not far off either. Joanna isn’t necessarily the easiest woman in Manhattan to live with, but Knightley imbues her with a certain vulnerability and confusion that makes her very relatable.

There’s no doubt Tadjedin loves the Big Apple from the way that the city is filmed here with beautiful vistas and gorgeous panoramas. There are also the elegantly furnished apartments and smart dinner parties that give an allure to life in the city that never sleeps. However, that sort of love is a live by the sword, die by the sword thing – New Yorkers often come off as condescending and pretentious to the rest of us and Tadjedin is unable to escape that particular trap.

Part of my issue with the film in that there is more time spent dithering about being faithful than anything else. Worthington is often staring at his shoes and mumbling in an effort to portray his conflicted feelings and quite honestly that will only go so far before the average viewer will start squirming in their easy chair and going off to check what’s in the fridge. Because the atmosphere is supposed to be sophisticate and chic, the actors and director have taken that to mean passionless and so the movie seems lifeless. Considering the emotional nature of the subject I would have liked to see more emotion from the characters other than discomfort as if they’ve got pebbles in their shoes rather than a moral dilemma to wrestle with.

Still, I give Tadjedin points for treating this subject in an adult manner, never reverting to tawdriness or unnecessary eroticism. Certainly the sex is a factor (there’s a scene in which Worthington and Mendes strip down to their underwear and go swimming in a hotel pool but while there is sexual tension it isn’t gratuitous even though on paper it may sound that way) but it isn’t the factor. This is about boundaries and emotional consequences and Tadjedin prefers to look at the subject from that angle. At the end of the movie, it is pretty clear that the relationship between Michael and Joanna will change and possibly not survive although it just might. While there are plenty of flaws here, there is without a doubt something here worth nurturing and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tadjedin making some important films in her career before all is said and done.

WHY RENT THIS: Approaches temptation in an adult, non-prurient way. Knightley and Worthington are stellar.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags in places. Very New York chic. Needs more spark.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some pretty rough language and adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jessica Biel auditioned for the role that eventually went to Knightley.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.7M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Freebie

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Terminator: Rise of the Machines

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Queen Anne's Revenge is apparently moths in the sails.

(2011) Adventure (Disney) Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O’Hare, Oscar Jaenada, Roger Allam, Judi Dench. Directed by Rob Marshall

The trouble with living is that we all have to die. Sooner or later, we have to give up our space on planet Earth. However, legend has it that there is a place that we can get at least a temporary extension.

 Joshamee Gibbs (McNally) has been mistaken for infamous pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and has been taken to London for trial and eventual hanging as a pirate. However, Jack has a daring plan to rescue his shipmate. Unfortunately, like most of Jack’s daring plans, it ends in disaster with a bunch of guns being pointed in his general direction.

Jack is hauled in front of the corpulent King George III (Griffiths) and his obsequious prime minister (Allam) to be offered a proposition. Jack reputedly knows the location of the Fountain of Youth. It turns out that the Spanish have discovered the location and have sent a humorless grandee (Jaenada) to go there. Rumor has it that Jack is putting together a crew for such a venture but this is the first the good Captain has heard of it. However, the crown has a ship and a captain and if Jack joins them, they might have a chance at catching up to the Spanish expedition. When Jack discovers that the captain of the British expedition is none other than his former first mate and nemesis, a dandified Barbarosa (Rush) – who has not only lost a leg but also Jack’s beloved Black Pearl, Jack says no thanks and makes good his escape.

While fleeing the redcoats he is aided by his father (Richards) who warns him against making the trip to the Fountain of Youth. Jack seems more interested in finding out who is impersonating him – which turns out to be Angelica (Cruz), a former lover of his. To make matters even more complicated, she turns out to be the daughter of Blackbeard (McShane), the pirate whom all other pirates fear. One of her crew knocks out Jack with a blow dart and he wakes up on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s notorious ship which has a bunch of zombies for officers (zombies are much more pliable, according to Angelica).

Blackbeard has very particular motives for reaching the Fountain – it is prophesized that he will be killed by a one-legged man within a fortnight. He wants the waters of the Fountain as an insurance policy.

Blackbeard and Jack know that two additional items are needed for the waters to work – the chalices of Ponce de Leon, which they need to get, and the tears of a mermaid, which they also need to get. As it turns out, mermaids are extremely capricious creatures who can be as deadly as any monster. They are able, however, with the aid of a noble missionary named Phillip (Claflin) they manage to snare a beautiful mermaid named Syrena (Berges-Frisbey).

So it’s a race to the fountain with three interested parties converging on the Fountain and the wreck of de Leon’s ship; which one will be granted eternal life? And will they have chosen…wisely?

After the last Pirates movie, there had been some talk that the franchise was finished despite the massive box office numbers it had done. The director of the first three films, Gore Verbinski was involved with this new film initially but eventually chose to bow out, allowing Marshall in. Marshall, who has among other films the Oscar-winning Chicago to his credit, was an intriguing choice to direct as he had never attempted a summer blockbuster before, being better known for Broadway musical adaptations. He stages some pretty nice sequences here, action-wise – none as silly as the water wheel sequence from the second film – particularly an early swordfight between Jack and Angelica, as well as the mutiny sequence. Some of the sequences fall flat however, including the climactic battle.

Depp has made this role his own which is good and bad, mostly bad. Despite the presence of a bit of backstory, he adds nothing new to the role. I wouldn’t say that the performance is phoned in because he certainly puts enough effort into it, but there is nothing in it that really calls for me to recommend you see it nor make me super enthusiastic for the next film in the series, for which this is said to be the first in a proposed new trilogy.

Cruz makes a nice foil for Depp. Fiery and temperamental but with a good heart buried under her bravado, she is much more of a presence than Keira Knightley was in the first three films. An Easter egg scene following the credits sets up the next film and implies that Cruz will be a major component in it. That wouldn’t be a bad thing in my opinion.

With Orlando Bloom also absent, more is given for the always-reliable McNally to do. He does well with the expanded role although again he does pretty well with the material and screen time he is given. Graham also adds a bit of luster as comic relief.

McShane has developed into an actor who always delivers an excellent performance regardless of the quality of the material. He makes a perfectly vile pirate who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for his own purposes. Of all the pirates we’ve seen in the series thus far, he is by far the nastiest, worse than Davy Jones himself. He also lends a bit of gravitas.

I will admit that this is better than the last two movies in the series. It’s nowhere near as good as the first. It’s decent summer entertainment but just decent; you’ll watch it once, forget it quickly and move on. That’s not much of a recommendation but that’s all I’ve got; McShane is worth seeing anyway.

REASONS TO GO: Some really nifty action sequences and a nice ambience.  McShane makes a worthy Blackbeard. 

REASONS TO STAY: It’s possible Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow has worn out his welcome.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, a bit of fantasy violence and a little bit of innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Penelope Cruz was pregnant throughout the shoot and it was only in several sequences at the end of filming where her sister was used as a body double in order to hide her pregnancy.

HOME OR THEATER: Big action sequences, big fantasy, big performances – big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Kings of the Evening

Everything Must Go


Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell takes a break from big budget comedies.

(2010) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Michael Pena, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton, Rosalie Michaels, Todd Bryant, Dave LaBrucherie, Daniel D. Halleck. Directed by Dan Rush

There are times in our lives when we are hit by a storm of crises. Major life-changing events – almost always negative – seem to batter us one after the other. Sometimes, the storms are of our own making but how we react to them, whatever the cause, is often a major component of what defines us for the rest of our lives.

Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is having a really bad day. He is fired from his job after an incident on a business trip revealed him to have fallen off the wagon yet again. The company has been patient with his alcoholism recovery, his boss (Howerton) tells him as he informs him of his impending unemployed state, but this last straw was too much. Because Nick is a regional vice president and had been with the company for sixteen years, he’s given a pocketknife with his name engraved on it as a parting gift. Rule number one for employers giving gifts to employees who are being let go – never give them weapons. Nick thoughtfully slashes his boss’ tire with the pocketknife before being forced to flee, leaving the pocket knife in the tire.

He drops by a local convenience store to get a 12-pack of beer and a Slurpee. A couple of teens ask him if they can buy the beer off of him. When Nick refuses, one of them knocks his Slurpee over in a fit of pique. No frozen treat for Nick. When he gets home, he arrives to find all of his stuff on the front lawn, all the locks changed and a note from his wife telling him that she’s left him, advising him not to call. Thoughtfully, she freezes their joint account ensuring that Nick has no place to go and no way of having his stuff put in storage. His company car gets repossessed. Nick is reduced to sleeping in a recliner on his front lawn, only to be awakened by the automatic sprinkler the next morning.

Nick takes refuge in a constant stream of beer drinking. However, there are those in his neighborhood who are a bit uneasy with his living situation and the cops are called. However, Nick has a friend on the force – his AA sponsor Det. Frank Garcia (Pena). Frank keeps him out of jail, but informs him that he can keep his stuff out there if he has a yard sale. This buys him three additional days out on the lawn.

Nick meets young Kenny Loftus (Wallace), a lonely young boy whose obesity has made him an object of ridicule. Nick hires Kenny to watch his stuff and help him prepare for the sale, teaching him how to play baseball in exchange (along with hourly wages and a cut from the proceeds of the sale). Nick also meets his comely new neighbor Samantha (Hall) who has just moved out from New York in advance of her husband whose arrival in Arizona is repeatedly delayed.

Nick also seeks out Delilah (Dern), who once wrote a very sweet Yearbook entry for him in High School, although they never formally went out. She’s a single mom now whose dream of being an actress never materialized. She recounts an incident from high school that Nick doesn’t even remember but made an indelible impression on her.

Still, Nick can’t help but be his own worst enemy despite his good heart. He is frustrated, and the alcohol has taken a renewed hold on him. Has Nick hit bottom yet or will he sabotage what momentum upward he might have established?

This is based on a short story by Raymond Carver and to be honest, I’m not all that familiar with Carver’s work firsthand so I can’t really say how accurately this reflects the spirit of the original. I’m advised however that the movie indeed captures Carver nicely, so I’ll go with that – I’ll leave fans of the author to judge for themselves.

This is a role that in many ways is very well suited for Ferrell – but in many ways not. Ferrell doesn’t do many dramatic roles and while Nick has a few comedic moments (most of which are captured in the trailer), they’re rarely over-the-top and are for the most part, overshadowed by Ferrell’s depiction of his addiction. To Ferrell’s credit, he doesn’t play Nick as an out-of-control boozer, but a quiet drunk, chain-guzzling Pabst Blue Ribbons (probably the best beer he could afford on what limited cash he had) and at times letting his inner demons get control.

The scene with Dern is one of the best in the movie. Most reviews I’ve read of the film have said something along the lines of “Dern makes a rare but welcome appearance” which I whole-heartedly agree with. Dern, whose sunny persona illuminated such films as Jurassic Park and October Skies, is one of the most underused actresses in Hollywood whether by design or not. She does so well as Delilah that you almost want to follow her story after she leaves the screen after a brief 10 minute appearance. She’s likable and meshes well with Ferrell.

Rebecca Hall also does a nice job as the sweet but sad Samantha. Hall is beginning to build a reputation, getting cast in a number of projects both high profile and indie; like Dern, she’s very likable and capable as an actress. She holds her own in her scenes with Ferrell which is saying something – Ferrell has a surfeit of personality that can overwhelm a partner from time to time. However, Hall does just enough to be memorable.

In fact, the whole movie can be characterized that way. It’s very likable throughout, but exceedingly low-key. The performances are good but not great. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but it really is a movie that I can recommend – it’s just not going to blow your socks off. However, I can commend it on its realism; there are no pat answers here and the ending lets you know that Nick is far from out of the woods, but there is a sense of a chapter coming to an end. I can honestly say I like the tone here, but I would have liked a little more passion.

REASONS TO GO: A good change of pace for Ferrell. Quirky but never intrusively so.

REASONS TO STAY: A pleasant film that never really rises above that.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of bad language and some sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Christopher Jordan Wallace is the son of the late rapper Notorious BIG.

HOME OR THEATER: An intimate film that is going to be difficult to find in theaters; you’re all right if you check it out on home video though.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: 300