Gabriel (2014)


Are you looking at me?

Are you looking at me?

(2014) Drama (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Rory Culkin, Emily Meade, Lynn Cohen, David Call, Alexia Rasmussen, Louisa Krause, Deirdre O’Connell, Frank De Julio, Julia K. Murney, Desmin Borges, Biago Simon, Sean Cullen, Jee Young Han, Chase Anderson, Samantha Sherman, And Palladino, Shana Kaplan, Chelsea Linder, Adriana Barnett. Directed by Lou Howe

Florida Film Festival 2015

We know so little about the human mind. What makes it tick, how it processes information, what causes it to malfunction, we really only have an inkling of the mysteries of the brain. We try to help those who have issues with their mental faculties, but really it’s all just stabs in the dark.

Gabriel (Culkin) is taking a bus. He seems friendly enough, although there’s something a little off about him; a little jittery perhaps, or a sense that he’s trying too hard to fit in. In any case, when he arrives at a small college in Connecticut looking for his girlfriend, we think that he’s just trying to visit his girl until we realize that the address he has for her is years out of date. When he finally finds her home address, his frustration that she doesn’t answer the door leads to a brief outbreak of violent behavior leads to our sense of unease about the kid.

Then we find that he wasn’t supposed to be there; he was supposed to be heading home to his family – brother Matthew (Call), a straight-arrow sort who is doing his best for his baby brother and is ready to introduce his fiance Kelly (Rasmussen) to him, and his mother Meredith (O’Connell) who is frenetically protective of her son, checking up on whether he has taken his medication as if he were a seven-year-old.

It is no wonder that Gabriel chafes in this environment, so at his first opportunity he runs off, still in search of his girlfriend Alice (Meade) whom he think will solve all his problems and make his life the perfect thing he always imagined it would be. There are obstacles in his way however, most of them of his own making. For one thing, the only one in his family he trusts as all is Nonny (Cohen), his grandmother and she is in the City (New York, for those wondering). For another, he’s not exactly sure where Alice is spending the winter break. One thing is certain; he doesn’t want to go back to the institution where he had just been released from. He very much wants his freedom.

There is a small coterie in Orlando who are in the know about something called the Uncomfortable Brunch. It takes place at a bar called Will’s Pub on a Sunday morning once a month and during the brunch they show a movie, generally one that is difficult to watch or raises feelings of unease. Those familiar with that event will understand when I say that this is the perfect movie for it.

First-time director Howe pulls no punches, basing the movie on his own experiences with a college roommate who was a diagnosed schizophrenic. This isn’t a movie that is so much a journey as it is a descent, for as Gabriel refuses to take his meds and becomes more and more in the grip of his own obsession, we see him become less and less likable and more and more dangerous to himself and others.

Culkin delivers the performance of his career to date and marks himself as a serious actor to be reckoned with. The intensity of his gaze from under the wool cap that his character wears constantly (an inkling of which you get from the photo above) grows more and more focused even as he himself does not. We get the sense that there’s something not quite right about Gabriel and it isn’t just the various tics and mannerisms. It’s the unpleasantness (I wrote in my notes as I watched this that there was nothing wrong with him a good punch in the face wouldn’t cure, although of course that’s far from true and not one of my shiniest moments) of the character, the sense that he is capable of anything and his overall unpredictability that make him feel like a ticking time bomb. One feels watching Gabriel that this movie isn’t going to end well for somebody, and it may be someone besides Gabriel who is the victim.

The movie is bleak looking as well; there aren’t a lot of warm colors in the cinematographer’s palate here; a lot of blues and grays and whites. That it is set during winter is not an accident; that contributes to the overall bleak feel of the movie. There are also a few nagging questions I had about just what was going on; where, for example, did Gabriel get the money for the bus tickets he buys?

This isn’t easy to watch in many ways but to its credit the movie will get a reaction from you, even if it is an unpleasant one. The world needs movies like this one, if only to remind us that the world isn’t the same for everybody and some folks who may not be the most pleasant to be around are grappling with demons that the rest of us can never understand or relate to. Only their families will have some sense of the hells they live through and sometimes, they’re so busy going through their own hells in dealing with theirs that they lose sight of that.

I can’t say that I’d recommend this movie for everyone – not everyone wants or needs a downer of a film when they’re looking for a movie to watch. However, despite my somewhat lukewarm review, this is a movie that has a lot going for it and for those looking for something a little different and a little more challenging, this is definitely one you should consider.

REASONS TO GO: Culkin is scintillating. No punches pulled view of mental illness.
REASONS TO STAY: An hour and a half spent with someone you’d probably rather not spend an hour and a half with. A bit too bleak for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the movie was filmed in the Hamptons.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/21/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider (2002)
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared

The Other Woman (2014)


Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

(2014) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj, Kenneth Maharaj, Alyshia Ochse, Victor Cruz, Madison McKinley, David Thornton, Olivia Culpo, John “B.J.” Bryant, Chelsea Turnbo, Brooke Stacy Mills, Raushanah Simmons, Cheryl Horne, Nancy De Mayo. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Infidelity is one of the most notorious deal-killers in any marriage. For many, it is the most unpardonable of marital crimes ranking just below physical abuse. While it isn’t the most common cause of divorce, it is right up there. Different people react to infidelity in different ways . Some are forgive and forgive sorts. For others, it’s not about getting mad so much as getting even.

Carly Whitten (Diaz) may well just have it all. Beautiful, smart, successful, she’s a lawyer at a high-power New York corporate law firm. She has a gorgeous apartment. Most importantly, she has a male model-handsome Mark King (Coster-Waldau), her new boyfriend who dotes on her and gives her the most amazing sex ever. He’s willing to meet her irascible dad (Johnson) and as she tells her self-centered assistant Lydia (Minaj), she’s cleared all her other guy friends off the bench. He may well be the One.

Then when he has to break his date to meet her dad because of some plumbing catastrophe at his Connecticut home, Carly is pissed off. Taking her dad’s advice to go and see him in Connecticut, she dresses up like a hooker plumber. The woman who answers the door however, is not Mark’s housekeeper; she’s his wife Kate (Mann).

Hurt and humiliated that she didn’t pick up on the clues that her shining knight was already taken, Carly wants nothing at all to do with Mark. In a strange twist however, Kate befriends Carly. Kate has been isolated and marginalized. She literally has nobody to talk to; all her friends are Mark’s friends she wails, and “they’ll blab!” Carly is at first repulsed but grows strangely drawn to the fragile and clingy Kate. Eventually they become friends, although never without the occasional brawl.

They soon discover that Mark has been a very bad boy. Not only is he cheating on them with Amber (Upton), a beautiful but none-too-bright model sort but he’s been skimming money from his firm. He’s also put Kate in the position to take the fall if he’s ever discovered. The three women decide to team p to teach Mark a lesson he’ll never forget and when you put brains (Carly the lawyer), bitch (Kate the wife) and boobs (Amber the…hey, my eyes are up here!) together, there isn’t a man alive who can withstand the combination.

On the plus side, I’m pleased to see a movie in which the female leads are formidable, strong and confident for the most part. On the negative side, there is a lot of stereotyping going on here; the strong women are vindictive and bitchy, the man a serial cheater and liar. The ladies feed poor Mark enough laxative to make him crap his pants, lace his protein shake with female hormones so intensely that he starts growing man boobs and put hair removal cream into his shampoo until he begins losing hair. It’s almost enough to make one feel sorry for the guy who definitely doesn’t deserve any sympathy.

In fact, the pants pooping incident is only one of two major fecal gags in the film. Now, I like a good poop joke as much as the next person but I think considering the subject matter it’s a bit disrespectful to the ladies who are doing their best to make this an adult comedy. Stuff like that doesn’t really go along with the theme of smart women taking their revenge against a douchebag who deserves it.

Diaz has become one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, equally at home in heartrending dramas (My Sister’s Keeper, Gangs of New York) or in comedies both dark and light (Bad Teacher, There’s Something About Mary). Here she plays smart, sexy and a little bit hard-edged but then Diaz has never been the softest, most feminine actress out there. She often uses her attractiveness as a weapon, a means of saying “See this? You can’t have it!” in a very subtle way. I’ve never warmed to her as much as admired her and her work here leads me to believe that she’s only going to get better as she moves into a new phase of life and career.

It’s not a revelation but Leslie Mann steals the movie for my money. Long known more for being a supporting player and Judd Apatow’s wife, she’s always shown a great deal of talent in the too-brief glimpses we get of her onscreen. Here she finally shows that she is absolutely capable of being one of the top comic actresses in Hollywood, adept at both physical humor and delivering zingers. She also shows a very appealing vulnerability as she allows Carly (and the audience) to see just how deep the wounds cut.

Unfortunately, the humor is a bit uneven. The movie is bipolar when it comes to comedy – when they get it right, they nail it but when they miss it’s crickets bad. And while I complain about some of the really venal things the women do, I have to admit I did laugh so in that regard mission accomplished. I did feel bad about laughing though and still I have to point out that I think the world is ready for a movie in which female leads don’t have to resort to scatological jokes and ultra-bitchiness to prove they’re strong.

REASONS TO GO: Leslie Mann is a consummate performer. Some very funny moments. Strong female leads, a refreshing change.

REASONS TO STAY: Gets a little muddled. Perpetuates stereotypes. Not all the comedy succeeds. Too much poop humor.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references and some foul language, along with mature thematic content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film to be released internationally by 21st Century Fox, one of two companies formed by the split of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The new company continues to own 20th Century Fox film studios and the Fox Network, among other assets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The First Wives Club

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Final Member

Something Borrowed


Something Borrowed

Being BFFs means never having to say you're sorry - although both women should apologize for this movie.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Jill Eikenberry, Geoff Pierson, Leia Thompson, Jonathan Epstein, Sarah Baldwin, Mark La Mura. Directed by Luke Greenfield

Perhaps the most frustrating element of being a movie reviewer is seeing a movie that has a good deal of potential only to waste it with clichés, Hollywood endings and just plain bad writing.

Rachel (Goodwin) is a successful lawyer in Manhattan who is surprised on her 30th birthday by her best friend Darcy (Hudson) who throws her a big party. Also there is Rachel’s confidante and buddy Ethan (Krasinski); Claire (Williams), a somewhat high-strung woman who has the hots for Ethan who is interested not so much, and Marcus (Howey), a new man in town who basically has the libido of a Viagra poster boy, the deft touch of a Neanderthal and the maturity of a Justin Bieber fan. Naturally, as is Darcy’s wont, she becomes the center of attention over the birthday girl but Rachel doesn’t seem to mind – that is part of Darcy’s charm.

Not quite so charming to Rachel is that Darcy is engaged to Dex (Egglesfield) who went to law school at NYU with Rachel and who Rachel had a BIG crush on before she allowed Darcy to swoop in and claim him. Still, she seems okay enough with it to be Darcy’s Maid of Honor. However after the party, she finds herself alone with Dex; they have a couple of drinks and wake up the next morning in the same bed.

At first, much consternation and much guilt – how could we have done it? Oh my God! Then, realization – there must be something there. Then, longing looks exchanged in secret as the VERY wealthy Dex rents a summer home in the Hamptons and the whole crew escape there each weekend. Then, a weekend alone for Dex and Rachel and more sack time. Ethan figures it out. Thinks Rachel should come clean to Darcy. Dex doesn’t want to call it off though – his mom (Eikenberry) who is ill is so happy because of the wedding. In the meantime, Rachel is miserable. What’s a girl to do?

What this could have been – what this should have been – was a look at human interaction. Instead, it’s a bunch of whiny, more money than brains 20 and 30-somethings navigating treacherous waters without any sort of moral compass in evidence. Sure, Rachel shows some remorse but does she own up to her betrayal? No she does not, nor does she stop her shenanigans with Dex.

Goodwin is an actress with loads of potential – she was so very good in “Big Love” – but she hasn’t gotten over the bland but likable roles that are all that are seemingly available in modern romantic comedies. She does a decent enough job here but ultimately she comes off badly mainly because the character was written badly, making all kinds of poor choices and seemingly never haunted by the consequences of ANY of them.

Egglesfield is given little to do besides look longingly at Goodwin. His character is the worst offender here, completely without spine or sense. After a couple of hours with him, I knew that he would never be a good life partner; he’s handsome and he’s a lawyer, but at the end of the day the character was weak and lacked character, a bad combination.

Krasinski who has done such yeoman work in “The Office” is making a niche as the friend who knows too much which is kind of a bad thing – he has so much more going for him. Of all the actors here he has the potential to be a huge star, but hasn’t landed a role that will get him there. I don’t think he’ll be emphasizing this one on his resume, even though he winds up the most sympathetic of all the characters here and has the best line in the movie, describing the Hamptons as a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren.

Now I’m not a prude nor am I someone who needs the movies to have a sense of morality, but this one doesn’t seem to have any. Cheating and betraying your friends gets you rewarded and lying is depicted as an admirable way to make it through the day. I don’t mind people doing bad things but there need to be consequences and these people don’t suffer any.

In fact, there is kind of a wealth worship that I find distasteful. There is so much product placement in the film that it becomes numbing after awhile, the movie having more Madison Avenue than Hollywood Boulevard in it. It all felt assembled on a Hollywood factory line, with all the Rom-Com 101 points hit and an ending that went on far too long and well past the point where I cared what happened to any of these people.

There are points in the movie that show promise, such as a scene at a sleepover where you get a sense of the closeness between Rachel and Darcy and a conversation between Ethan and Rachel near the end of the movie where Ethan makes a “surprising” confession. Smart people can make dumb choices and I get that, but smart people usually don’t act like idiots on a consistent basis. The sad fact is there was a really good movie to be made here, but what we wound up with was a piece of fluff that not only has no substance but actually seems to be suggesting that the more wealth you have, the less likely you are to suffer from being a douchebag (or the female equivalent thereof). It’s always a bad sign when a movie sets itself up for a sequel you don’t want to see – because you don’t want to spend another minute with the people onscreen.

REASONS TO GO: Goodwin and Hudson have some pretty nice chemistry. Krasinski shows a lot of depth here.

REASONS TO STAY: Where to begin – wasted opportunities abound. A Hollywood ending stretches the boundaries of believability and by the end of the film you don’t care what happens to anybody in it.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestive dialogue and a good deal of sexuality. There’s also a bit of bad language and some drug use, including much drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Ethan and Rachel are sitting on a park bench, the woman on the bench next to them is reading a book called “Something Blue” by Emily Giffin. The woman is none other than Emily Giffin, author of the novel this movie is based on.

HOME OR THEATER: A big theater is unnecessary for this one; it’s probably best viewed at home for a little home video date night.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Restrepo