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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jack and Jill


Poor guy didn't know it was Adam Sandler. 

If you've seen Funny People, then you get the joke they were making the entire time. This is the type of film they were - in foresight - making fun of Adam Sandler for making. Of course, Jack and Jill isn't without comedic merit. Most of Sandler's films, no matter how bad a few of them are, have a few moments that make me laugh out loud. This one is no exception - the highlight of the film, outside of the entirety of Al Pacino's performance as himself, is the Thanksgiving dinner with a homeless man. The film is worth seeing for those two things alone.

Unfortunately, one hilariously scripted moment and a brilliantly uninhibited extended cameo don't a quality film make. Two stars, for the above reasons, as they're that good. Two missing stars for the overbearing presence of everything else.

When your film relies on diarrhea jokes and racist stereotypes, you might think you have a problem. Consider the too-subtle-for-everyone black-as-damn-night All About Steve for a minute - if you remember the extremist character that Sandra Bullock played, you'll see connections with the first hour or so of this film, and you'll probably see what Sandler was trying to do. There are moments that hint at darker-than-hell comedy, but are usually put aside pokes at Latinos and celebrity cameos. It's hinted that Jill (... adam sandler) has severe social anxiety and is cluster-B style Passive Aggressive. Of course, that's only hinted at. What we're spoon-fed, instead of being left to infer on our own like an intelligent audience, is that she's really just Adam Sandler in a dress a lonely woman who doesn't spend enough time with her twin brother Jack (... adam sandler). What could have been Tatie Danielle style genius is left in the dust for Eddie Murphy/Norbit/Klump style flatulence. Yes, the film has funny moments. I laughed quite a few times. But, it's important to understand the fine distinction between intelligently written comedy and cheap laughs. This is a film of cheap laughs.

If you aren't familiar with the story, as we've been forced to watch the trailer over and over again (thanks, Colombia marketing team), Jack is an ad-executive from the Bronx, living in LA with his wife (Katie Holmes) and two children. One of whom is adopted. and has a tape fetish that goes unexplained for the entire film. Jack doesn't like his twin sister (and there's the set-up, folks) who comes to stay with him once a year for Thanksgiving. Except this time, she elongates her stay until after New Years. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to secure Al Pacino (Al Pacino, channeling Skynet) for a Dunkin Donuts commercial, hocking the new Dunkaccino. yeah. Al falls in love with Jill, Jill doesn't love Al, Jack hates both of them, but learns to love Jill spoilers and they all live happily ever after.

Oh and David Spade has a cameo. As a woman.

I'm having a hard time understanding Sandler's choices for the film. Yes, it's very easy to look at it and just call it a goofy comedy made purely for everyone to have fun. But, he's done that before to much better results. His Grown Ups from 2008 wound up being extremely touching and surprisingly well-acted. Even Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, which are completely ridiculous, have moments that live on past the films. Sandler is a credible dramatic actor, and a gifted stand-up comic. So, looking at his decisions for Jack and Jill, one has to wonder where he went so wrong. Almost as if he lost a bet. Or took plot ideas from a Twitter potluck. You can do much better than this, Adam. 

Paranormal Activity 3

*insert tasteless Polanski joke here*

Cards on the table - I'm a fan of this series. Not this film, particularly, but as a whole trilogy, I can gloss over the poor points of this film and look at all three as a whole. Consider the first three Saw films, left solely on their own, without the additional parts 4-29. or however many there are now. With the addition of part 4, the first three films' stories are negated and make almost no sense. With only 1-3, it's a perfect, multi-faceted trilogy about several interesting themes. My hope is that the Paranormal Activity trilogy is left on its own and not given additional, needless sequels.

More after the cut--

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Theaters This Weekend

Apparently Mr. Brooks taught us nothing as a nation.

Wouldn't you think that when a comedian does his absolute damnedest to venture into dramatic territory, and fails miserably along with the rest of the film, that he should just stick to his usual stuff for a bit? Well, in general, I wouldn't agree with that. But that might be the case for Dane Cook, as his last foray into the serious side of serial killing tanked harder Gigli. Now, he's back in the fray with Answers to Nothing (I know, right?) - a Crash/Magnolia/Short Cuts hodge podge of random people connected by a specific event. We'll see. 

Rolling into theaters this weekend, a handful of films that might surprise you. Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, about a man with a chronic sexual addiction and an inability to feel pleasure. Answers to Nothing, which we've covered. Pastorela, in which a man who usually plays the Devil in the Church's Christmas play is replaced by the new priest, and fights to get his role back. Sleeping Beauty, which isn't anywhere close to what you think it is. And, Autoreiji - a Chinese crime film, in the style of Woo.

More after the cut--

Monday, November 28, 2011



"Wait. Roman's guilty of what?!"

There isn't very much you can dissect about a 75 minute film, that takes place almost entirely in a single room, with only four actors. Sure, there will be unavoidable comparisons to Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage, and there will be comparisons between the casts. Stage-to-screen adaptations seem to pull thespians out of the woodwork to defend Broadway. But, much credit is due to the screen in this adaptation, mostly for borrowing someone's toy without breaking it. At the very least, Roman Polanski plays well with others.


While researching the film before my viewing of it, I ran across the review written in The Hollywood Reporter, here. Interesting read from Todd McCarthy. He posits, in the opening paragraph, that Polanski is at his best in tight spaces, citing Knife in the Water and Repulsion as examples. Generally, I would agree. He seems to operate with his actors more comfortably when he has them confined to one or two areas. The more uncomfortable the characters are, the more he shines, oddly enough.

Carnage imagines what might happen when the adults behave like children. There's a schoolyard incident where one boy armed with carrying a stick strikes another boy in the face, a few times, knocking out a couple of teeth. The parents of the victim are Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster). The parents of the aggressor are Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet). From simple formula, we assume these people won't get along. At first, Alan and Nancy couldn't be more ready to leave. Coaxed into staying with coffee, espresso, peach cobbler, and subtle jabs at the dignity of their child, they sit and get drawn in. It's not like they want to be there. A number of times, they almost get in the elevator but get talked into coming back inside. From this, we get deeper and deeper into the mindset of each parent, not just as a unit, but as individuals surviving within that unit.

In situations like this, the director isn't entirely necessary. There isn't much of a mark outside of the framing that they can leave, nor is there much of a need to. It's almost a "name" thing. But, in certain situations, you'll get a director like Polanski who not only leaves his mark on even the smallest of details, but on each actor as well, who seem to be almost reinvented in his eyes, through his lens. We don't associate any of these four actors with drunken, loud mouthed, vulgar people. Okay, well maybe vulgar for John C. Reilly. (he spread his butt-cheeks as Mike Honcho, after all). But, mostly, there's a sense of demure that goes with these actors. All Oscar-veterans, all students of theater, all have decades of experience.

Alan is a lawyer, Nancy is an investment broker. Penelope co-wrote a text book once, and Michael sells doorknobs and decorative fixtures. There's stuffy, and there's suburban hippie. And never the two shall meet. Once the booze comes out, though... and after Nancy gets physically sick and vomits all over priceless books of Penelope's... and after Alan won't quit answering his cell phone... and once Michael opens his mouth and says what's really on his mind... well, all Hell breaks loose and the adults quickly become mirrors of their children. McCarthy refers to this in his review as "Virginia Woolf" syndrome, the inability to maintain composure with other characters in a small space once alcohol comes out. I like that. I'm gonna use it. 

Martha Marcy May Marlene

"Mary-Kate... Ashley... hold still."

Meet Martha, as she's known to her family. Or, Marcy May, as she's known by the people she lives with. Or, Marlene, as she's known to whomever might call. To be fair, all of the women answer the phone by 'Marlene'.  That's how they're directed to. Directed by whom?

His name is Patrick. He runs a farm.

From the film's opening few minutes, it's easy to tell that something is wrong here. We can't ever put our fingers on it, collectively, but we know that something feels wrong. To call it a cult, as some critcs have, would be doing a disservice to the film. It's meant to be ambiguous. Yes, there are cult-ish qualities, so that would be the easy way out. But, it's not like anyone is drinking their Kool-Aid out of a sock or anything. It's more of a group than anything else. Of course, this is a group that is seduced by an older man, driving them to sexual depravity and violent home invasions in the name of nirvana. To enter the group, if you're a woman, you're drugged and made to sleep with Patrick (a magnetic John Hawkes), regardless of your virginity. One can only assume that the new boys are made to rob the homes, as this seems to be something they all do.

Patrick lures the newcomers in with promises of happiness to those who have been abandoned. He fills their heads with things all people should be told - that they're loved, that they're important, that they're needed. But does so only to get under their skin, hooking into their brains and not letting them go. Men like him are sent to prison for a reason. He is a man guilty of countless rapes, countless murders and robberies, but he wouldn't ever suggest it. He might just seem like a loving father figure to a group of lonely kids. That's his power. After raping the unconscious women, he convinces them that they wanted the sex and that it was the best thing that could happen to them. In one scene, after ordering the death of a complete stranger, Patrick explains it was showing him pure love by allowing him to reach God.

Early in the film, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes the farm, only to be followed by one of Patrick's "men". Or, "sons". I guess. Whatever. She's found at a diner and the boy, Watts (Brady Corbet) does his best to convince her to come back. Leaving, thinking she will, Martha instead calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to come and pick her up at a bus stop. It has been about two years since they've seen each other or spoken. Naturally, Lucy hurries, thinking Martha's been hurt. She's taken to live with her sister and he husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Moving only three hours from the farm, Martha is taken from rural upstate New York to a lake-side cottage where her past begins to meld with her future, causing alarm and concern from Lucy and Ted. She tells no one what's wrong, but let's everyone know that she needs serious help.

There's a sense of doom that hangs over the entire film. Even in the lighter moments, which there thankfully are, there's a predatory sense that follows the camera. Almost like Martha herself is being followed, which is subtly implied throughout the film. Even in the film's ambiguous and divisive ending, it's hinted. Is she being hunted, or is she being paranoid?

Elizabeth Olsen's performance is the definition of "throwback". I used this word once when describing Sandra Bullock's performance in The Blind Side as a throwback to the way people approached acting in the 40's and 50's. I maintain that I was correct. This performance, however, is a throwback to the golden age. Think 1972, and how sharp the new form of acting was then. Remember when method became a thing, and it was all about quiet torture right behind the eyes. That's Olsen's Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene. She recalls a beauty from the days of Garbo, and the subtle turmoil from the glory days of Pacino. It's a perfect performance, and the stuff that "Best Actress" is made of. 

A Dangerous Method


If you're still thinking about your mother, not even Freud can help you. 

The birth of modern psychoanalysis. The world as we've come to understand it, from two of the sharpest minds to have ever graced the field - Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Knowing this, one can only assume that the unstoppable force (Jung) would not meld with the immovable object (Freud), especially when a woman (Sabina Speilrein) comes between them.

It shouldn't be a surprise that a film about psychiatry would be full of long stretches of dialogue, should it? Of course, for a David Cronenberg film - if his career is indicative of anything - it might be surprising. Though, since 2005, he's apparently traded in the industrial fare for a more human style of filmmaking. His career hasn't suffered, surely, but it's interesting and certainly surprising (in effect) to see where he goes next. A proposed sequel to Eastern Promises might be on the way. And for a filmmaker as strong as Cronenberg, it could be the right territory.

The film opens in the early 20th century, with a young woman being hauled away in a horse drawn carriage. Though, for her, it seems to be more of a horse drawn cell. She's placed in the psychiatric care of Dr. Jung (Michael Fassbender). The woman, Sabina (Keira Knightley), might not need much care were it not for the society around her. Still, Jung brings out in her the patient he never knew he wanted - a cunning young woman suffering from the abuse of her father, and driven by a desire for humiliating sex. Her major fixation - being spanked.

Of course, with a patient that looks like Keira Knightley baiting you to have sex with her and spank her with a belt... you're going to have a hard time focusing on the actual job. Jung would eventually cure her and she would become one of the first female psychoanalysts. If you know anything about history, this isn't a spoiler. And beside, spoilers are superseded by fact. By the way, Aaron Ralston lost an arm in 127 Hours. Point being - Sabina and Jung enter into an elicit and graphic affair, leading Jung to seek the council of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), off of whom he basis his treatment for Sabina. Freud's (then) modern theories about human sexuality being at the root for most mental distresses was cutting edge medical hypothesis, but Jung found fault with his diagnoses. Over this disagreement, an intense friendship is formed and both parties would come to know the best and worse of each other, through Jung's affair with Sabina.

It would be easy to say that the film talks too much, sure. But, isn't this the case with most films about psychiatrists? If Jung had transformed into a fly halfway through, wouldn't you be like "..."? And if Sabina and Freud sword-fought during their first meeting... actually, that would have been all right. I would watch that.

Thing is, despite the apparent complaints that the film is too dialogue heavy, it shouldn't be that much of a complaint when the film boasts one of the best screenplays of its year. It might not make it into the Oscars' categories, but consider the source material - three psychiatrists battling wits, two among the most famous men of all time. Freud's theories about penises and mothers are woven into the dialogue beautifully, as are Jung's eventual archetypal theories. The film does an excellent job weaving between the two men, building the tension around Sabina.

Keira Knightley's performance is something to behold. There's a phrase among actors called "dropping in", where an actor so immerses themselves in a role that even without the help of make-up or costuming, they become unrecognizable. Here, Knightley completely drops into the role of Sabina. It's always flattering to admire the way a character moves rather than how an actor might move as the character - it's a testament to their incredible skill. Her quirks and ticks that comprise her character are second only to the mental cues she displays even by simply breathing as Sabina - she's completely in character. Her scenes with Fassbender are magnetic, not even just because of her. Fassbender's quiet reptilian performance as Jung is remarkable. Physically almost unrecognizable, however, is Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. He's got the beard, he's got the gut, but most importantly, he's got the guile. He, through his subtle mannerisms, embodies not just our current idea of Freud, but the man who Freud might actually have been. Both he and Keira Knightley are perfect in their roles. 

30 Minutes or Less, Our Idiot Brother, and More on DVD Tomorrow

The boys from The Town laugh at you.

It's been a long while since I've done one of these. I'd apologize, but I don't feel like it. 

Here goes! 

Hitting DVD shelves tomorrow, five releases that will most certainly not define the year as we know it. 30 Minutes or Less, One Day, Another Earth, Our Idiot Brother, and Tucker & Dale vs Evil. How many of these did you see? Really, me either.

30 Minutes or Less 

I wasn't too inclined to view it at first, but my interest has been piqued. The trailer is amusing enough, and as it's from the creative team behind the ferociously funny Zombieland, I'm sure I'll be amused. That, and Danny McBride gets my money, always. Will it be another Zombieland? Reviews have indicated a resounding "nope", but even the negative reviews had positive things to say. Check back here for my own thoughts on it soon.

Our Idiot Brother

There's a certain "wtf" that usually goes along with releases like this. Nobody really bothers to say anything about them, no one will claim it's their favorite movie of the year, but not one soul will hate it. It's there, it's got Paul Rudd in it, so we live with it, because we love him. And, from what I can tell by the trailer, the film itself actually has a fair bit of heart. Will it be the kind of film to make you go "Aw!"? Probably not. But, it might be worth checking out simply for the Rudd factor.

One Day

You ever watch a trailer that doesn't seem to have much to it, but you know that when you see the film, your reaction will be solidified on either end of the spectrum? You'll either love it, or hate it. You'll probably cry if you love it, or you'll spend the whole film plotting your own suicide. This is one of those trailers. Check for a review soon, and find out whether I've plotted my suicide or wept openly. I have a deep love for Anne Hathaway, balanced with a deep regret for Jim Sturgess' career. So, honestly, it could go either way.

Another Earth 

And then there are trailers where you feel like jumping out of your skin for joy. Like this one. Imagine what your reaction would be if you walked outside one morning to enjoy your coffee, and saw an image of the planet Earth in the sky. Hovering right above your house. Only to find out that it's not just a mirror... but another Earth, with another you, in another life. Imagine the walking dream (or nightmare) that would induce. And there you have this film, centered around a young woman who made a terrible mistake and has the chance to help herself, or someone else, start over. And all I can say is... wow.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Ahahahahaha yesssss. Yes! My first time seeing this trailer was right before embedding it into this blog post. And I can't stop laughing. Much like Another Earth, I'm so thankful that there are two startlingly clever and original ideas coming to DVD tomorrow. I don't care if this flops on sales, I'm picking it up. And cheers to Alan Tudyk for holding on strong to his career. Firefly did him well.

Enjoy your week, filmgoers! Go pick up a movie. Let me know below what you're looking forward to!