Ruby Sparks


Zoe Kazan has just punk'd Paul Dano.

Zoe Kazan has just punk’d Paul Dano.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, Elliott Gould, Steve Coogan, Chris Messina, Deborah Ann Woll, Aasif Mandvi, Toni Trucks, Jane Ann Thomas, Alia Shawkat, Wallace Langham, Emma Julia Jacobs. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

 Cinema of the Heart

The problem with love is that we can’t have the perfect mate. That’s because we ourselves are imperfect and besides, how boring would it be if the person we were with was perfect? There’d never be any growth…ever. It would always be exactly the same. What would you do with perfection?

Calvin (Dano) isn’t really worried much about perfection. He is worried that he might have already peaked in life. He wrote a wildly successful, award-winning novel when barely out of high school. That was ten years ago and he hasn’t written a word since. His brother Harry (Messina) is supportive as his agent (Coogan) who surely must be the most tolerant agent in history. Calvin still does the occasional reading and still carries enough cache to get numbers slipped his way but he is in a funk that has finally compelled him to see a shrink (Gould) who tells him to write about the perfect girlfriend.

This works wonders. Calvin starts writing in a feverish pitch about the most wonderful girlfriend ever. She makes all other girls look like harpies by comparison. Calvin can’t stop writing about her…until she shows up in his house, just as real as you or I.

At first, Calvin thinks he’s blown a fuse. Then he realizes that everyone can see her, and that she is in fact real. Calvin freaks out quite naturally while Ruby (Kazan) wonders why he’ s acting so strangely. However it turns out that when Calvin writes about her, whatever he writes happens; if he writes she speaks French fluently, she starts conversing in perfect French. If he writes that she’s doing naked jumping jacks…well, you get the idea.

The relationship turns toxic though. Calvin turns into a right little shit about it and starts abusing his power over poor Ruby who although compelled to do as he writes is still an autonomous thinker in all other ways. Can a man mess up the perfect situation?

Of course he can. That’s the nature of men after all. Dayton and Faris, the team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine, have this as their follow-up and while it doesn’t measure up to their last movie in terms of sheer quality and laughs, proves that it at least wasn’t a fluke either.

Dano is at once both the perfect choice and the wrong choice for Calvin. He’s perfect in that he captures Calvin’s indecisive nature and his kind of general “wandering through life” vibe. He is the wrong choice however in that the very things that make him perfect make it difficult for an audience to connect with the lead character. Is that a fault of the actor? I dunno. I think that a lot of indie comedies have aspired to a Jon Heder-like character in every comedy which perhaps is an unconscious attempt to duplicate the success of Napoleon Dynamite which is the kind of studio douchebaggery the indie scene is supposed to be against.

The movie has a kind of a sweet core though which is nothing to sneeze at, and Kazan does make for the world’s best girlfriend, which isn’t surprising since she co-wrote the movie. While the ostensible protagonist is Calvin, it is Ruby that you’ll remember from the film and Kazan’s portrayal of her. She has the same kind of screen attractiveness that another Zoe (well, Zoey – Deschanel) possesses and may well have the same kind of successful career that she has.

I like the premise a lot but thought the execution of it was uninspiring. Calvin’s decline from nice nebbish to real jackhole is a bit jarring and doesn’t serve the story well. I kept wondering what the point was that the writer were trying to make – that all men are manipulative jerks, or that perfection is something we can’t handle, or that we’re never satisfied with what we make up in our heads – I don’t really get it. But then again that might be part of the master plan, to leave you trying to figure it out which isn’t a bad thing. It’s still a really good movie despite my criticisms of it and I really do recommend it whole-heartedly but I’m still scratching my head a bit.

WHY RENT THIS: Kazan makes a great perfect girlfriend. Intriguing premise.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions. Dano a bit too laid back.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s quite a bit of bad language and a little drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the time of filming, not only were Dayton and Faris a couple but so were Dano and Kazan.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a real interesting but brief featurette on real life couples involved in the making of the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.1M on an unknown production budget; I think that the movie was profitable in all likelihood.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stranger Than Fiction

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Conclusion of Cinema of the Heart 2013

New Releases for the Week of August 10, 2012


August 10, 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY

(Universal) Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, David Strathairn. Directed by Tony Gilroy

Jason Bourne created a whole lot of trouble for the government and their super-secret Treadstone project. Bourne has disappeared off the grid, but he wasn’t the only agent created by that program. Meet Aaron Cross who like Bourne has an incredible skill set. And in the aftermath of the Bourne fiasco, the government is eager to erase every trace of Treadstone and its related projects. That includes Aaron Cross; trouble is, he doesn’t want to be erased.

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and action sequences)

The Campaign

(Warner Brothers) Will Farrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Aykroyd. A long-term congressman who has had little competition for the seat that he’s owned for some time finds himself in a competition with a fumbling bumpkin whose got the support of some deep-pocketed benefactors who have their own agenda. The mudslinging quickly gets personal as the two candidates engage in a little game of “how low can you go.”

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language ad brief nudity)

Hope Springs

(Columbia/MGM) Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Jean Smart. A happily married couple approach their golden years but the wife is feeling a bit of the old magic missing. She wants to attend a couples therapy session in a bucolic Maine village under the guidance of a published psychologist but the husband is skeptical, not wanting to upset his routine. Hilarity ensues. Now go about your business..

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for mature thematic content involving sexuality)

Neil Young Journeys

(Millennium) Neil Young. One of the most respected rockers of his generation reminisces about his Canadian childhood, his rise to fame and his career in the spotlight on the occasion of the last two nights of his world solo tour in 2011.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG (for language including some drug references, and brief thematic material) 

Nitro Circus The Movie 3D

(ARC Entertainment) Travis Pastrana, Tommy Passemante, Jolene Van Vugt, Gregg Godfrey. Jackass with cars. Oh joy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Sports…Sorta

Rating: PG-13 (for depiction of extreme and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language)

Ruby Sparks

(Fox Searchlight) Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas. A young writer who achieved extraordinary success early is trapped by writer’s block and a romantic life that, safe to say, is just as moribund. At last, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby Sparks, a woman full of life and charm and just perfect for him. He falls a little bit in love with the character he created. When she turns up on his couch about a week later, he doesn’t know what to think – only that forces are at work that are beyond his comprehension. But who cares when your soulmate is involved?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use)

Four-Warned: July 2012


July 2012Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (1.0)
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1.2)
3. THE WATCH (1.8)
4. SAVAGES (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (1.4)
2. RUBY SPARKS (1.5)
3. PLANET OF SNAIL (1.6)
TIE. SACRIFICE (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 3, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Columbia) Genre: Superhero. A young man searches for clues to his parents disappearance while dealing with his own nascent superpowers and a lizard-like creature terrorizing New York. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.2 One wonders if this reboot of the franchise will live up to the previous trilogy but I have faith in director Marc Webb.

JULY 5, 2012

KATE PERRY: PART OF ME (Paramount Insurge) Genre: Concert. Follows the quirky pop chanteuse on her 2011 California Dreams tour. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 While I admire her personally for her perseverance and her determination to be who she is, her music just isn’t my personal cup of tea.

JULY 6, 2012

COLLABORATOR (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A reunion between childhood friends goes horribly wrong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks a bit like a black comedy crossed with a crime drama; could be a winner.
CRAZY EYES (Strand) Genre: Drama. An L.A. rich kid who’s smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood party scene finds the demands of real life increasing. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.3 I’m not sure I can get behind the poor little rich kid drama here.
THE DO DECA-PENTATHLON (Fox Searchlight/Red Flag) Genre: Comedy. A pair of ultra-competitive brothers engage in a twisted Olympics-style competition during a family reunion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 From the Duplass Brothers who have done several admirable films including Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
LAST RIDE (Music Box) Genre: Drama. A boy is bundled into the family car in the middle of the night by his dad and they take a frightening journey into the unknown. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Looks extremely compelling and with Hugo Weaving in the lead, I’m all in.
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnet) Genre: Dramedy. An aging writer of Western novels whose alcoholism has led to a decline in his skills finds inspiration in the family next door when he rents a lakeside vacation home for the summer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I love Morgan Freeman but somehow I just don’t see him as a bitter old man who’s given up on life.
THE PACT (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A pair of sisters staying in their mother’s old home after she passes away discovers dark secrets about her past even as unexplained things begin happening in the house. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I just love haunted house movies and this looks like a good one.
SAVAGES (Universal) Genre: Crime Thriller. A Mexican drug cartel tries to intimidate a pair of high-end pot growers to supply them by kidnapping their woman. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks a bit like Oliver Stone is doing his version of Traffic.
STARRY STARRY NIGHT (China Lion) Genre: Drama. A young girl falls in love with a young boy even as her parents’ divorce and her grandfather lies dying; on a journey to her grandparents home together they embark on a journey more profound than they could imagine. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 Looks imaginative and visually striking; can’t wait to see this one.

JULY 11, 2012

EASY MONEY (Weinstein) Genre: Crime Drama. Three people on the fringes of the Swedish underworld collide over a stolen cocaine shipment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 This Swedish film got universal acclaim and is already being remade by Martin Scorsese.

JULY 13, 2012

ALPS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. A company specializing in playing roles of the deceased to family, friends and business colleagues begins to fall apart when one of its members goes off-script. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 A look at the grieving process that is certainly out of the box.
BALLPLAYER: PETOLERO (Strand) Genre: Sports Documentary. The brutally competitive world of major league baseball camps in the Dominican Republic is just the beginning of the cost of achieving baseball stardom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks far from being a whitewash and sheds some light on a corrupt system.
FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (First Pond) Genre: Documentary. Ukrainian foster mom Olga Nenya, raising 23 foster kids as a single woman, is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Looks compelling and complicated as racism – as well as how love sometimes condones it – enters the mix.
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (Cohen) Genre: Drama. The final days of Marie Antoinette as seen by one of her ladies in waiting. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks sumptuous and sexy; could be worth seeking out.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. When the Pangaea continent splits into the seven we know today, Manny, Diego and Sid are split from their families and must find their way back. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.7 The franchise looks to be losing a bit of steam in its fourth installment.
THE IMPOSTOR (Indomina) Genre: Documentary. After a young boy is kidnapped from his Texas home, he is found alive and well in Southern Spain years later with an incredible tale of torture and survival, but all is not what it appears to be. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Looks so bizarre and compelling it has to be true – and it is.
RED LIGHTS (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A paranormal researcher specializing in debunking charlatans and hoaxers is determined to expose a blind psychic as a fraud – but may wind up having to re-examine his own core beliefs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks pretty spooky, but something tells me it isn’t; still a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy has got to have something going for it.
TRISHNA (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. The daughter of a poor family working at a resort falls in love with the son of the resort’s only; when they become a couple the deep schism between classes in India threatens the relationship. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 An adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles set in India.
UNION SQUARE (DADA) Genre: Drama. A pair of estranged sisters collide as one is about to be married and the other is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Kinda looks like indie neurotic New Yorker hipster chic.

JULY 20, 2012

30 BEATS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A summer heat wave triggers a series of sexual encounters in New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A hot, steamy, Big Apple-centric version of the French classic La Ronde.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Warner Brothers) Genre: Superhero. Batman returns from self-imposed exile and outlaw status to once again rescue Gotham, this time from the clutches of the madman Bane. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.0 Hopefully Christopher Nolan’s final visit to the world of the Dark Knight will exit with a bang.
HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A samurai requests an honorable suicide of his liege lord, prompting the revelation of unexpected secrets. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 From legendary director Takashi Miike comes this gorgeous looking samurai film.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Timeshare multi-millionaires set to build the largest private home in America only to fall victim to the economic crash. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Seems like a look at how divorced from reality the 1% really is.

JULY 25, 2012

PLANET OF SNAIL (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The story of a blind and deaf Chinese poet and his beautiful wife who communicate through finger Braille and have created an amazing, beautiful life for each other. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.6 Much of the film is set to his poetry; this looks like one of those movies which might sneak out of the really small indie distributor sets to make a real impact.
RUBY SPARKS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Fantasy. A lonely young author suffering from writer’s block breaks through it by writing about a fictional girl who shows up in his apartment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Reminds me a little bit of Stranger Than Fiction.

JULY 27, 2012

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. In honor of a Chinese photographer under house arrest for photographing people flipping the bird at symbols of injustice in his homeland, this film shows artists and activists around the world doing the same. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Explores the link between art and activism and how each can bring about change.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* (WG) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the abuse of Nicaraguan plantation workers is subjected to the bullying tactics of a multinational corporation. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles August 3). RATING: 2.2 A sobering look at how major corporations can subvert freedom of speech using the legal system.
KILLER JOE (LD Distribution) Genre: Thriller. A drug dealer whose mother steals his stash must come up with six grand or die; when he discovers his mother’s insurance policy will more than cover it he hires a hitman who will accept the dealer’s sister as sexual collateral. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks delightfully twisted and Matthew McConaughey is as badass as he’s ever been in the title role.
KLOWN (Drafthouse) Genre: Comedy. A man kidnaps his pregnant girlfriend’s nephew in order to prove to her that he is father material and gets caught up in the 12-year-old boy’s sexual misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This was one of the most talked about (in a good way) movies at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
NUIT #1 (Adopt) Genre: Drama. Two seemingly mismatched people hook up after a rave and instead of going their separate ways the morning after they stay and divulge their innermost secrets to one another. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 An unconventional love story from the French Canadian perspective.
RITES OF SPRING (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. The kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy socialite sharply divides the kidnappers in the abandoned school they’re using as a hideout, paving the way for a mysterious creature that requires ritualistic sacrifices. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Looks a bit cliché.
SACRIFICE (Goldwyn) Genre: Martial Arts. After a power-mad general wipes out a rivals entire family, the surviving newborn is protected and raised by the doctor that delivered him as an instrument of his own revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A powerful tale of sacrifice and vengeance from legendary Chinese director Chen Kaige.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. A couple of South African fans seek the true story of Rodriguez, a legendary rocker from Detroit who released one album in the 70s that bombed and disappeared into obscurity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks like it can be one of those rock and roll mythologies where the truth is even better than the legend.
STEP UP REVOLUTION (Summit) Genre: Urban Dance. A well-known Miami flash mob decides to use their creativity to help thwart a greedy developer’s attempts to raze a neighborhood for a new hotel. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Dance movies as you can tell by my rating leave me stone cold.
THE WATCH (20th Century Fox) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. A neighborhood watch group discovers that an alien invasion is underway and their neighborhood is ground zero. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 I probably should be a little more leery after the last Ben Stiller-led all-star ensemble film.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Amazing Spider-Man, Savages, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises, The Queen of Versailles, The Watch.