Shrink


The party's over...

The party’s over…

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Kevin Spacey, Saffron Burrows, Jack Huston, Griffin Dunne, Robin Williams, Pell James, Robert Loggia, Keke Palmer, Gore Vidal, Dallas Roberts, Mark Webber, Jesse Plemmons, Laura Ramsey, Ashley Greene, Joel Gretsch, Mina Olivera. Directed by Jonas Pate

We look to our mental health professionals to help us see us through our problems, help us overcome our addictions and in general feel better about ourselves and our lives. Like any physician, they are also human beings, subject to issues and pain of their own.

Dr. Henry Carter (Spacey) is a bestselling author and psychiatrist to the stars. He has a gorgeous home in the hills, a clientele that reads like the “A” list and the respect of his peers. But that home is an empty one – his wife committed suicide in it. He can’t bring himself to go in his bedroom any more. He numbs himself out on alcohol and pot. In fact it can be said that Dr. Henry Carter is a stoner of epic proportions.

That’s not to say he isn’t functioning. He still manages to see patients and doles out advice that at least sounds good. His patients include a hard-charging talent manager (Roberts) who gives no quarter in business and has no regard for anyone, a fading comic actor (Williams) who is a raging alcoholic but refuses to acknowledge his problem – he attends his sessions to be treated for a sex addiction that he does acknowledge. There’s also an actress (Burrows) whose career is handled by the talent manager that is slowly spinning into oblivion as he believes her age is an obstacle. She is married to a philandering rock star (Gretsch).

Into this mix comes Jemma (Palmer), a teen whose mother recently committed suicide. She is seemingly losing interest in everything except the movies; Dr. Carter’s father (Loggia) – also a well-respected shrink – urged him to take her on as a pro bono case. At the same time, Dr. Carter’s “step-godbrother” Jeremy (Webber), a struggling screenwriter, becomes friendly with Jemma and realizes her story is the one he was born to tell.

Yes, this is one of those ensemble pieces where all the stories of all these different people are entwined. It’s just not done as well as those other movies like Babel or Crash. The writers rely far too much on coincidence. It’s lazy storytelling and it happens way often here.

Fortunately the movie has some strong performances to fall back on. Nobody in the business does cynical as well as Spacey does and he delivers once again here, despite material that really could have easily been rendered into a 2D caricature. To the actor’s credit, he gives the character nuances and layers that give him a fully realized personality that allows us to really get involved in his story.

He is well-supported, particularly by the manic Williams who has had problems with alcohol in his career and clearly channels those awful years in is performance; Palmer is sweet and cute and adorable and is a breath of fresh air in the movie and James who plays Roberts’ personal assistant who is the love interest for Jeremy.

The opening shot, a panoramic take of the City of Angels from behind the Hollywood sign, shows a great deal of promise but then it falls into cliché-ridden seen-it-all-before-ness that not only doesn’t add any real insight to addiction or life in L.A. but doesn’t really add anything to the genre either. The only thing it really has going for it is Spacey and you can certainly see him in plenty of much better films.

WHY RENT THIS: Spacey is always interesting. Supporting cast is first-rate.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit formulaic. Some lazy writing – too many coincidences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of alcohol and drug abuse in the film, and a whole lot of bad language. There’s some sexual content as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video for the Jackson Browne song “Here” from the film’s soundtrack.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $303,431 on an unreported production budget; chances are this wasn’t profitable during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Crash

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Gangster Squad

Sanctum


Sanctum

Richard Roxburgh is taking his toys and going home.

(2011) Adventure (Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin. Directed by Alister Grierson

The exploration of caves is one of the last great adventures left to us on Earth. Most of the planet has been completely mapped and has been seen by human eyes. It is only when we go belowground that the exploration really begins…as well as the danger. 

Josh (Wakefield) is the son of noted cave explorer Frank (Roxburgh) who doesn’t share his father’s enthusiasms. He is constantly in his father’s doghouse, forced to spend summers with him that he’d rather spend doing anything else but. Frank, for his part, pushes Josh mercilessly, expecting far more than Josh is willing to give.

Frank is exploring a cave in Papua New Guinea’s Esa Ala cave system, one of the largest in the world. Josh has gone to pick up Carl (Gruffudd), a nascent caver himself who is funding the expedition. Carl has brought along his girlfriend Victoria (Parkinson) who has almost no caving experience. Josh escorts them to the massive cave opening and leads them down, although Type A personality Carl prefers jump off the edge and ride his parachute down.

In the meantime Josh’s forgetfulness about bringing down the spare air tanks has led to a terrible mishap in the caves. It becomes a heated argument between Josh and Frank and Josh prepares to leave. However a sudden storm turns into a cyclone, causing the cave to flood, leaving their only way out cut off. With the water level rising, Frank, Josh, Carl, Victoria as well as members of Frank’s support team Luku (Cain) and Crazy George (Wylie) must figure a way out of the caves before they all drown.

This was shot in 3D and to be honest, I’m not sure it really needed it. Much of the movie has little or no foreground to speak of, causing the director to have to use creative ways of framing the action in order to generate the 3D imagery. As a result, the movie has a curious lack of depth considering that it’s filmed in 3D (utilizing the same camera technology that executive producer James Cameron used for Avatar). It is also made darker because of the polarized glasses needed to view the 3D and quite frankly, the movie is dark enough to begin with. Some movies lend themselves to the 3D visual experience and some don’t and to my mind, this was one of the latter sort.

The actors are mainly not well known in these parts, although Gruffudd did get some notoriety as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. Most of the rest of the cast is Australian (much of the movie was filmed there) and for the most part do credible jobs. Roxburgh is the main eventer here, gruff and hard as nails, particularly on his son. The dynamic between Josh and Frank is at the emotional center of the movie, and if it doesn’t work, neither does the movie.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, that dynamic does work and is one of the things about the movie you come away with. That, the breathtaking visuals of the caves which are partially location shots, some sets and some CGI. The scenes are appropriately claustrophobic where they need to be, and grand vistas where they need to be. This makes for an excellent setting for the adventure.

The critics have been pretty rough on the movie and I can see some of their points although I do think they were being a little bit harsh overall. The general consensus is that this is Ten Little Indians in a cave and to my view that’s lazy writing – most survival movies, regardless of location, have that element to them as characters get picked off one by one by the elements or whatever disaster they’re dealing with. The killing off of characters gives you a sense of the danger that they’re in; without it, that sense of impending danger isn’t there and you don’t feel any sense of fear for your characters and your emotional investment in the movie then goes spiraling down the drain.

In the end, this is a fairly pedestrian adventure movie with some nice visuals that would have been nicer if they hadn’t been further darkened by 3D. Also, the language is a bit on the foul side to the point that the movie got an “R” rating here in the states, a rating that it didn’t really warrant considering there was little violence, not much gore and no sex. However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and an escape from the ordinary, you could do much, much worse.

REASONS TO GO: Some stunning cave photography. Some of the perils are quite well done.

REASONS TO STAY: Script a little hackneyed. Language should have been cleaned up.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of coarse language, a bit of violence and several images that might be disturbing to the sensitive.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film bills itself as being based on actual events; co-writer Andrew Wright had a similar situation in which a cave he and 14 others were exploring had the entrance collapse, forcing them to find another way out.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the film is claustrophobic by its very nature, the magnificent caverns should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Company Men

127 Hours


127 Hours

James Franco might just be looking at Oscar gold.

(2010) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Posey, Kate Burton, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Lizzy Caplan, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Being capable can sometimes be confused with being arrogant. However, being capable can sometimes cause one to become arrogant. Arrogance can then lead to hubris and that can lead to the kind of disaster that can change a life completely.

Aron Ralston (Franco) is the prototypical Type A personality. He never met a physical activity he didn’t like, a challenge he couldn’t face. He’s at his happiest when he’s alone in the canyons of Utah’s Canyonland National Park, even though it’s a bit of a hike from his Colorado home. Sure, he has friends like Brian (Lawrence) whom he works with and even Rana (Olson), an ex-girlfriend who sees through the cocky bravado and pronounces that he will end up alone.

Still, Aron is naturally charming as he proves when he meets a couple of pretty young women (Mara, Tamblyn) out hiking. They’re lost, he knows his way around and soon they’re frolicking around in an underground pond. When they separate, one leans into the other and says “You know, I don’t think we even figured into his day.” And they’re right, although he will eventually look back on their encounter with some regret.

He’s going to have the opportunity to dwell on that, and other aspects of his life. While crossing a cut canyon, he steps on a boulder he thought was stable and goes plummeting, downwards-like. When he lands, he discovers the rather inconvenient fact that his arm is pinned to the canyon wall by a boulder the size of a home AC unit. He tries to move the boulder, but no good. He tries pounding the boulder, unsuccessfully. He takes a deep breath, lays out all the contents of his backpack and tries to think. The sinking realization is that nobody knows where he is. Nobody can hear his cries for help. His water supply is limited as is his food. He has no real tools that can extricate him from the situation apart from a multi-purpose tool with a dull knife blade.

After freaking out a little bit, Aron realizes the grim situation he is in. He has only enough water to last him a few days. Nothing short of a jackhammer is going to get that rock off of him. He is going to die. 

Dying is a funny thing, particularly when you have time to wait for it. You are given a chance to reflect back on your life, see the road not traveled and figure out who you are and what didn’t work. And, as his water begins to run out, the lack of sleep and the exposure to the elements begins to play with his mind. And as his time runs out, he is faced with a devastating choice between the will to survive and a horror that thee and me could never contemplate.

Most of you know by now that Aron Ralston is an actual person who went through this, and that devastating choice was whether to saw off his own arm with the dull knife or else wait to die. Obviously he chose the former, and stumbled out of that canyon to be rescued by a pair of hikers who alerted authorities.

You wonder how a film set in a cramped space for 127 hours – a little over five days – can be a riveting experience but Oscar-winning director Boyle makes it so. Even though for the most part you know what everything is leading to, you get to see inside the person that Ralston is. During his ordeal, he made several entries on a digital video camera that essentially detailed what he was going through but also served as a goodbye and apology to his family for the times he put his own needs ahead of theirs. In the end, he realizes that he had insulated himself from the things in life that were most important.

Franco is an expressive and often physical actor who is perfectly cast here. This might be the defining performance of his career; it is as sure a bet to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in a few months as any performance this year is. He is onscreen for the entire movie and spends much of it alone. He has to capture the attention and imagination of the audience without interacting with anybody other than himself, and he does it in a way that is both natural and unforced.

The amputation scene is not as graphic as you might think, although there are reports of people fainting during it. It certainly is disturbing and I would think long and hard if I were the sensitive sort about putting myself through it. If you have someone who is affected by such, you might want to take it under advisement that they might not do well at this movie although the scene isn’t gratuitous in the least.

The cinematography here is breathtaking, utilizing the majestic desolation of the Utah landscape as a character in the movie. It is this that Aron disrespects and winds up paying a heavy price.

REASONS TO GO: A career-making performance by Franco and another great movie by Boyle. This is the kind of movie that stays with you long after its over.

REASONS TO STAY: Sensitive sorts will be disturbed by the amputation scene, and claustrophobics might be made uncomfortable with the surroundings in the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of bad language (hey, you’d curse if you had a boulder on your arm) and some pretty disturbing scenes of self-amputation that are definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The camcorder that James Franco uses in the film is the same one used by Ralston on his ill-fated trek. The video he shot had only previously been shown to family and close friends, but Boyle and Franco were allowed to watch it for accuracy sake. The video is kept in a vault for safekeeping.

HOME OR THEATER: Much of the film takes place in a cut canyon, a very narrow environment, but some of the shots of Canyonlands National Park are just breathtaking and should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Police, Adjective