Archive for the ‘Three Stars’ Category

11172244_detGoing into ‘Pacific Rim’ was a bit worrisome.  On the one hand, you have a talented filmmaker, Del Toro, taking on a passion project, especially an original IP in a summer locked with remakes and sequels.  On the other hand, however, is the discontent many had with the marketing leading up to it – ‘too nerdy’ for some while the designs seemed ‘childish’ to others.  It’s safe to say, however, that ‘Pacific Rim’ is a fairly crowd-pleasing affair.  Although it has a lot of oddities about it all-around, ‘Pacific Rim’ is a very fun action homage to the mech/monsters of Japan.

‘Pacific Rim’ follows Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a pilot of a massive human-like weapon called Jaegers, created to battle against strange beasts called Kaijus that started rising from the sea.  However, through a series of events, Raleigh has been displaced for years before being asked to return once again to defend humanity against the monsters from his former commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).  With the help of Stacker’s assistant, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) and the team at the base, they need to prepare for the worst attacks to come.

The film is at it’s best when it balances the right amount of emotion and action without losing control of the choreography on screen.  Although the film is heavy in special effects, much like the best action movies, Del Toro is able to put a good motive and context behind the giants fighting on screen.  The two standout performances come from Hunnam and Elba who both give their roles a good amount of flavor and color along with a special shout-out to Ron Perlman who acts as a fascinating black market dealer named Hannibal and doesn’t get enough screen time.  Hunnam especially gets the best treatment with a terrific introductory sequence that not only helps set-up his motivation moving forward but some great chemistry with his brother character, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff).  Fascinating characters help create an interesting pallet of individuals that may not always work, keeps the world blooming with interest.

Not to say that the effects are not up to snuff – the towering mech Jaegers have a great sense of weight and although the film limits the amount of Jaegers you get to see on screen, they all have interesting differentiations that surprise at the end of the film.  In addition to these great-looking mechs are two other key factors: cinematography and choreography.  There are some beautiful moments that never feel overly stylish but helps to really showcase the scope of the film such as a majestic moment in a snowy plane that juxtaposes two small humans next to a giant falling mech.  Choreography also helps to keep the action from being too messy and a headache to watch.  Del Toro and his team understand the beats and rhythms of good action films – letting the action relent when necessary before then creating a crescendo into a huge action moment.  Even better, there are surprises that keep on coming and add to some awe-inspiring action moments.  One final great positive note needs to come from Del Toro’s care of his inspiration.  From the usage (and explanation) of the terminology including kaiju and the themes/motifs that are either briefly touched on or repeatedly harkened back to, the film feels like it has a great solid foundation that keeps the film intact.

Perhaps the greatest knocks against the film are the weaknesses in some of the characterizations portrayed and the plot/script progression.  There are several cringe-worthy moments that feel somewhat like small homages to the film’s inspirations yet in execution, feels more out-of-place and unhelpful to the overall ‘big picture’.  One of these moments involve the romantic angle played between (spoilers, but really…you can see it a mile away) Raleigh and Mako.  Not only do they lack chemistry in conversation but their romantic build-up feels forced and rehearsed.  The film felt like it would have lent better to a mentor-mentee angle or a much more fleshed chapter structure that built up the back-story of these two lovebirds.  Instead, the romantic subplot will get laughs but for all the wrong reasons compared to the sense of attachment and gravitas that the film gets between Raleigh and his brother in the introduction sequence of the film.  This sense of awkward feelings comes up several times in the film’s script along with a lot of convoluted backstory that feels rushed and better told in another film or medium and disappointingly, it never lends the film to really be explored on a more psychological or going beyond just a fun, homage film.

‘Pacific Rim’ is a great example of how to create a fun, compelling action movie, even amongst a lot of dumb sections.  There is a lot that seems to go wrong with ‘Pacific Rim’ whether it’s an less than stellar romantic subplot or some terribly corny melodramatic moments.  However, Del Toro and his crew really excel with the rest of the film from a great sense of pacing and choreography to compelling visuals and wonderful sound design.  Best of all, ‘Pacific Rim’ has heart and cares about it’s characters and inspirations which it wears proudly throughout.  Again, ‘Pacific Rim’ has some definitive flaws yet pulls through with a solid foundation.  A great definition of what a summer blockbuster should be.  

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** out of *****


Read Full Post »

11166394_detThe historical drama is definitely not an uncommon sight, especially given some rich and great movies surrounding some of these spectacular true events.  One of the interesting debates that come with a movie format though is how to approach the historical figure.  Will the director/writer/crew take on the entire lifespan or a good chunk of timeline or narrow down to a few events?  Lincoln takes on the issue by going the latter route, focusing squarely on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency.  The decision turns out to be for (mostly) the best as Spielberg and his fairly strong team of actors and crew members really churn out a very historically vivid picture that focuses much on the politics of the situation although the film suffers from the slow pace that emotionally isn’t always consistent.

Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just been re-elected and he has made a choice to try and pass the the constitutional amendment to ban slavery before the Civil War is over, since the Southern States would never accept such a key component of their original plan of secession.  However, the key people in his life are having doubts such as his wife, Mary (Sally Field), Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) and his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt).  Also not helping matters is a fired up opposition both in the South and the House and even in his own party such as with one of the leaders of the Radical Republicans, Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and his own cabinet.  Lincoln has to make several crucial decisions before time is too late.

Lincoln’s best strengths come forward within it’s acting troupe and the atmosphere and approach to the subject matter.  As stated previously, Spielberg’s choice of narrowing down the film’s focus to Lincoln’s last few months proves to be to the benefit of the plot.  The plot really can focus on Lincoln’s character and poignant character interactions within this smaller time frame while still elaborating on other important life points in passing conversation.  The film is at it’s best when it allows Lincoln to simply speak to his intended listener and juxtapose the situation with another emotionally charged scene of a different nature.  From a personal storytelling session to his cabinet to a fiery argument with his wife, the film really feels like a play in it’s presentation because of how focused on conversation and expressions the film looks towards.  Additionally, the beautiful lighting and the great look of the set pieces and costumes help sell the setting and place.  Lincoln playing with his younger son with the light shining from the morning light is simply gorgeous and does not feel overly forced.  Finally, there is, of course, the actors themselves.  There are some terrific performances here that are so important because of the focus on the dialogue and emotional output.  The best two come out to be Day-Lewis and surprisingly, Jones.  Jones is a surprise because his character at first appears to be fairly meek and nominal for Jones’ types of characters.  However, it grows to not only be somewhat sarcastic and strong but flawed and moving.  His monologues on the House floor are a highlight.  Day-Lewis, of course, is the star of the show and really embodies Lincoln as not only the president but also as a well-liked but political strategist that plays with his power.  He brings a moral question into his actions and shows the struggles he faces on all sides.  It’s a fascinating performance that is striking and memorable in not only the look and mannerisms but the range of emotions that evokes a much more complicated president that many may be surprised to see.

That is not to say, unfortunately, that the film is not without it’s flaws from it’s pacing to it’s trappings.  Sure, the film is two hours and thirty minutes long.  However, many films are of comparable lengths and do not suffer from the pacing problems found here.  Although ‘Lincoln’ really focuses on these few months of Lincoln’s life, there are scenes that feel both unnecessary or simply too dragged out.  For instance, many scenes with Robert and the President feel strangely out of place as emotionally, Robert’s place feels unnatural and unnecessary for much of the film’s themes and purposes.  Another part that makes the film feel strange is it’s strange emotional changes such as in it’s use of comedy.  Several comedic characters are played to make the scenes regarding lobbying the Democrats more lax and change up the emotional draw of the film.  Unfortunately, these scenes jar heavily with the heavier emotional scenes and it’s heavy usage by the climax feels very unrealistic with the film’s goals.  Other elements as well do not help the film such as, surprisingly, the usually strong Williams’ soundtrack which lacks a memorable melody or strong overtones.

Lincoln is filled to the brim with powerhouse performances and a very focused theme, diluted somewhat by it’s overly methodical pacing and overly lingering plot.  Yes, the film’s pacing is definitely not impeccable as it really slowly scans over the intricacies of Lincoln’s plot in this two month window and some of the side stories feel unnecessary or over-glamorized.  That being said however, there has been lots of care taken with the film’s quality with a beautiful look and an appropriate Spielberg touch to the proceedings that make the film’s time period and actions work to the film’s benefit – all of this bolstered by a very strong actors, especially from Jones and Day-Lewis who both are given ample time to give rousing and well-rounded performances.  More or less, although Lincoln doesn’t perfectly give audiences all of the trials and tribulations of Lincoln’s presidency, the film is a well thought-out piece on the struggle of presidential power and political choice in even the darkest of times.  

Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 150 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

Time travel films fall into an interesting and ironic dilemma fairly unique (although not completely) to their genre – they must figure out how to explain and rationalize the concept in an efficient method while maintaining sense and flow.  It’s a difficult proposition and has been tackled in various ways throughout the years whether as a mere plot device that is used sparingly (ala Men in Black III) or in zany ways that is explained along the way (ala Back to the Future).  In the end, the best of these films try not to be bogged down too heavily with the concept and surround it with other strong fundamentals.  In many ways, then, Looper does a fascinating job at maintaining sense and intrigue by not worrying too heavily on the origins and semantics of time travel and turns out a solid film about morality and justice although unfortunately, it does not do enough to satisfy with some loose and unpolished parts and potential that isn’t reached.

Looper follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a Looper, a person who has been hired to kill captured prisoners of gangs from the future who are sent back via time travel, which has been invented thirty years later.  Doing this allows Joe to obtain wealth and power in a dystopian world with only the rich and the poor.  However, loopers have on condition in which due to the nature of the work, they must at the end of their tenure kill their future self who is sent back in a similar way.  Unfortunately for Joe, he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) sooner than expected but is outsmarted by him.  Now, the younger Joe needs to clear his name while on the run from his employer, run by Abe (Jeff Daniels), while figuring out how Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) play into his older self’s plan.

Looper is at it’s best when it focuses on it’s atmosphere and builds an intriguing background behind it’s characters.  The film has a beautiful look about it that is grounded in the present day yet feels free to mix itself a bit with sci-fi elements here and there such as hoverbikes and mutant abilities.  It also creates a world that lacks a middle class – simply a very impoverished world versus a rich and powerful one.  Utilizing mostly dark and gritty overtones while sprinkling in actual urban and suburban (and rural) neighborhoods, the dynamic is immediately set as an interesting one, especially mixing in the loopers and their role within the world.  Much like it’s world, the main characters, Levitt and Gagnon, are quite noticeably well-rounded and well-acted.  The characters may seem well far and apart but there is an interesting dynamic not only between the two but also within each of their own arcs.  Gordon-Levitt continues his march as a steady lead with a role a bit darker and focusing less on his charisma and more on his gritty attitude.  Personally, the prosthetic make-up wasn’t much of a distraction and his mannerisms to Willis are pretty spot-on to make the case that the two are one and same but even further, he pulls off a character that audiences will both stand behind yet still double-back on as his motivations aren’t exactly pure.  The other surprise standout is Gagnon as well who shows off a mature and smart child set in the middle of several disputes – it is a fine performance that holds up against other veterans actors on set.  Finally, the plot as well is fairly well-written and well-paced to match.  It’s noir styling mixed in with both a sci-fi and gangster setting makes for a good mix that doesn’t rely too heavily on one genre yet does not forget it’s elements as well and to it’s credit, doesn’t worry about having to explain the mechanics of it’s world such as how time travel came to be since the plot needed no such explanation.  The culmination to it’s climax also deserves a good mention as it comes off as very solid.  One final mention needs to go to the cinematography work that (at least early on) is frenetic and fascinating to watch unfold.

The disappointing foils to these positive, however, come within the film’s devaluation of it’s other characters, some underwhelming special effects and all-too-convenient plot devices and arcs.  On one level is the simplistic characters.  Other than the main characters mentioned prior, many of the other characters’ motivations are fairly simplistic and one-dimensional.  The villain for instance (Jeff Daniels) is created to be a very hardened, no-nonsense character yet never really is touched on other than supposedly frightful moments of anger.  Even Willis is relegated to his usual gruff action role and is only given some context thanks to the time travel mechanic (along with one terrible transition shot that tries to establish a connection with Gordon-Levitt and Willis that is almost laughable).  Just as strange is the special effects which unfortunately is in stark contrast to the beautiful atmosphere.  Futuristic elements like the hover bike seem poorly thought out and it’s the film’s benefit that there isn’t too many special effects heavy scenes.  Finally, much like the side characters, although the ideas are clever along with the plot direction, some of the plot devices seem too obvious and out in the limelight that most audience members should notice before the actual reveal – more of a shame as some of the interesting back-and-forth moments are dulled by these revelations that come too early and too plainly.

Looper is a solid and fairly clever sci-fi time travel film that still felt like it didn’t live up to it’s full potential.  The Blade Runner-esque noir world created here is fascinating in it’s creation surrounded with a good dichotomy between Levitt and Willis along with some clever twists along the way.  However, there are noticeably cracks in terms of fairly one-note characters, some underwhelming special effects and plot devices that are too evident.  Make no doubt about it – it was a pleasure watching Looper from start to finish topped off with a satisfying ending, but when the concept of a film is so strong, it’s disappointing to see it not go even further and tighten up the loose cogs that made the film merely good rather than great.

Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

Read Full Post »

Films can elicit different emotions for various purposes whether it is a dooming bell to a happy farce.  It’s job isn’t just to entertain but to make sure the audience understands the purpose it’s trying to reach and it’s eventual conclusion.  At times, films can be frustrating affairs as the audience tries to peel back it’s layers and grasp what the director was trying to say only to be succumbed back to square one.  This eternal struggle forces an audience member to either give up in frustration or continue the epic back-and-forth mind game of understanding.  And so comes this review of The Master, a film by the always fascinating Paul Anderson and explores cults and it’s followers in detail.  The eventual end product is that same struggle of understanding where the pieces fall in place and why but for better (or for worse), it will take a bit more than a single viewing to fully ascertain all the detail.  In the end, however, the film’s overly long and pretentious methodology fights with some brilliant acting roles and beautiful aesthetic qualities that oddly end up as a fairly good view of the oddities of cults in itself.

The Master follows Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran of World War II who suffers from PTSD.  After his return from the war, his troubles continue to haunt him as he deals with alcoholism and fits of extreme anger.  He tries to acclimate to society in different occupations and roles but continues to find trouble until he hides in a boat and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who created a fervent following based on his own book.  Soon, Freddie meets the family including Lancaster’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), and the small growth of the cult versus society and has to battle his own demons along the way.

The Master is at it’s best when it lets it’s actors flow in a scene with strong cinematography, score and lighting all helping to set the tone.  The acting ensemble here collectively are a phenomenal group.  The supporting cast has some great moments, especially an underutilized but controlling role from Adams in one of her darker roles.  The way she controls and sits in the back of her husband is always intense to see and fascinatingly strange.  On the other hand are the two leads, Hoffman and Phoenix who bring such intensity and ferocity to their characters in similar yet so different ways.  Hoffman commands a well-spoken man that has both severe anger issues and jovial outbursts as the cult leader while Phoenix acts like a trickster, brashly moving onto his next move yet so intrigued by Hoffman’s character.  Watch the scenes that simply include the two of them in one room (there’s many opportunities for this) and see them both explore and stay fascinated with one another in an interesting game of cat-and-mouse.  Supporting these actors is gorgeous cinematography that loves to pull back in rapid cuts and let the landscape and the character(s) be seen in relation to one another.  Additionally, the lighting has such a 1950s’ quality to it that perfectly sets the tone along with a musical score that parallels it’s characters well, especially Freddie’s broken clarinet theme.

However, the film will deeply divide many on whether or not it’s narrative does much with the characters and strange plot devices that it languishes in.  Anderson sets up the stage between the meeting of an outsider, Freddie, and the cult that Lancaster holds together.  However, the film does not deviate much from this interaction and creates a bit of a repetitive tempo that revolves around this circle in which Freddie despairs, finds solace and then rediscovers the despair and breaks.  This pattern may happen at different intensity levels and moments in the history of the cult but the beats all seem to remain the same, even puzzlingly near the end with few answers and a breadth of questions.  Personally, although the problem was apparent, the themes did seem to resonate in why such a pattern was occurring in terms of who was the master of the other and in control along with the personalities and inner demons that seem to be commonplace among the cultists and Freddie.  Still, there is no denying that Anderson has little care to explain the purpose or reasoning behind the character motivations which could have created a possibly clearer picture of the situation or that the better narrative, in terms of Lancaster’s cult, is given less time to grow than the strange tale of Freddie.  This film is set up more as a symbolic and abstract piece that has fascinating pieces with a narrative that doesn’t always connect.

The Master is a film that completely knows its purpose, even at the expense of it’s narrative, but still ends with a fine acting ensemble and cinematic piece.  There is no denying that the film is bound to infuriate and confuse much of it’s viewing audience with the overly long narrative and plot cycle that rotates in circles more than pushes forward.  However, for audiences that can understand it’s purpose and look past such strange plot devices, there is much to be found from some brilliant performances from Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams along with a great musical composition, beautiful cinematography and a fascinating sense of cults.  Although it may be illegible at times, The Master is a fascinating film that challenges it’s audience to come to terms with it’s character, just as much as they try to become masters of one another.  

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
Running Time: 137 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

Dildo.  Raunchy.  Phone sex.  These words might evoke either a.) pornography b.) a raunchy Hangover-style comedy or c.) a dramatic documentary.  However, it’s fascinating to note when films utilize societal taboo concepts to help support a different idea that may have been much more unexpected.  And thus is the segway into a very surprising summer film, For a Good Time, Call as it mixes together a raunchy film about two sex phone operators with a story about a budding friendship.  Although few will be surprised at the general story arch and probably will feel the characterizations needed more room to really breathe, the overall comedy is not only funny but also appreciative of the chemistry between it’s characters and the subject matter.

For a Good Time, Call follows Lauren (Lauren Miller) who just learned that her boyfriend has called for a break in their relationship to fly off to Italy and is being forced to move out as well as losing her full time job.  On the other side is Katie (Ari Graynor) who is about to get evicted and reluctantly needs a roommate.  For better or for worse, their mutual friend, Jesse (Justin Long) hooks them together and forces them to become roommates, even with a past standing feud.  Soon, however, Lauren learns about one of Katie’s side jobs as a phone sex operator and becomes more interested in becoming involved.

The comedy is at it’s weakest when it lacks much context and meatier characterization to justify some of it’s proceedings along with a fairly simple story arch holding the film together.  The film is definitely very briskly paced both to it’s benefit and it’s folly.  The tight structure allows the film to push forward at a fairly breakneck speed that allows for the jokes and the laughs to keep coming but at the expense of some of it’s context and plot.  This problem rears it’s head with the two main characters, who have a fascinating growth period but their initial meeting and the reasons for starting their ‘friendship’ off at such a low point felt more inconsequential, even in such a setting that is slightly more loose with it’s plot logic.  Not helping the lack of meatier context is the fairly simple plot structure as well.  Although there is one fairly good plot surprise (at least in my personal viewing), expect the plot to hit the beats you expect it to and twist the way you think it will.  The structure and plot itself follows that previously mentioned simple structure, making decisions fairly simple to see and creating a situation in which you may understand the sympathy of a character but may not fully fall onto their side due to the lack of more substance.

However, for all it’s smaller errors, the overall comedy is held up with some great jokes from nearly all it’s cast along with the undeniable chemistry and craft put into it’s main characters and concept.  The film utilizes it’s phone sex premise to some pretty hilarious remarks not just because it may play with some vulgar innuendos and such but also because the writing has good respect and insight into the craft as well.  Nearly all the characters seem like they are given some great lines and jokes because of the brisk pacing which helps to focus jokes pretty well (especially the plethora of great cameos).  Speaking of the actors, along with an energetic (and funny) performance from Long, Miller and Graynor are also terrific to watch, especially playing off of one another.  Although their personality types may be fairly simple, the quick wit in how they respond to one another and the energy and spunk simply glue you to the characters as the film progresses.  Their roles are well-written and lots of fun to see transpire from start to finish.  Finally, on a larger level, the film, although it has it’s romantic moments, focuses on the friendship between Lauren and Katie more than anything else and surrounds the humor around their relationship.  Reminiscent of a close relationship film like Superbad, the focus and nurturing of that friendship alongside some of the insanity and absurdity erupting from the phone sex service makes for a smooth film that doesn’t create an overly sentimental or melodramatic proceeding but instead lets the audience care about the characters while still laughing and enjoying the trappings.

For a Good Time, Call is a surprising culmination of raunchy humor mixed with respect for it’s characters and subject matter.  Sure, the story may be a bit simplistic in terms of it’s overall story arch and the characterizations seemingly a bit too simplistic.  However, there is some good fun to be had in both the fun way it plays around with the concept of a call girl service and the great chemistry between the two leads that the script not only greatly respects but also balances well without being too overly sentimental.  For a Good Time, Call is definitely one of the best comedies of the year to date.

Director: Jamie Travis
Rated: R
Running Time: [Approx.] 80 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

The Midas Touch and similar stories and parables all have the same conclusion – that when a person is given the ability to play god, the temptation of abuse is ever present because, as the saying goes, we are only human.  It is a story that continues to resonate even to the present day where modern storytellers of all types utilize the basic narrative to teach the age-old lesson of the moral issues that come with such a heavy responsibility.  Ruby Sparks is definitely another narrative that owes much to the classic tales of playing god, but does it do enough to distinguish itself from it’s inspirations and come out as a more unique tale?  The end result may not completely be able to shake off the predictable narrative structure and some plot contrivances, but the exciting leads and the energy the film outputs is, at it’s best, a fascinating remodeling of the classic parable.

Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) is the titular character of Calvin’s (Paul Dano) new novel – a girl he has been envisioning after encountering a severe case of writer’s block and depression.  After talking with his shrink, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), and getting disparaged for his lack of fitness and sexual prowess from his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), Calvin is motivated to pull it together and make his new novel works.  That is, until a girl named Ruby appears out of nowhere and claims to be Ruby Sparks.

At it’s weaker moments, Ruby Sparks feels too reliant on stories that have repeated similar themes and plot points before, not helped by some odd editing choices and overly bombastic score.  As stated previously, the film definitely owes a lot of it to previous parables and stories that engage in similar material.  Essentially a story of a creator and it’s creation, Sparks follows the path of it’s predecessors a bit too familiarly to really surprise the audience too much and most likely, you’ll be guessing the film’s journey at each turn.  Of course, some may argue that Sparks does a decent enough job transplanting the characters and themes into modern senses but even then, I believe more could have been done to make the story it’s own than a sum of it’s parts.  Not helping this feeling is the fade out editing.  The film seems to divide itself into play-like acts with quite often, reappearing fades to black and lingering fade ins.  Unfortunately, the momentum comes to quite a halt and the feeling of ‘sections’ than ‘a cohesive whole’ is felt.  Actual cue cards or B-Roll transitions could have helped give the film a better flow or structure than the choppy feeling.  Finally, the music seems too grandiose for the story.  Inspired by a more Disney-esque, bombastic score rather than a quiet fascination, the music gave the proceedings (at times) a bit of a corny feeling than a quirky one.  This problem didn’t come throughout the entire film but reared it’s head enough to be noticeable and affect the overall emotion of the film.

That being said, Ruby Sparks has it’s two strong leads and sense of chemistry that help deliver the film’s empathy and a charm and respect for the happenings to become a good watch to the end.  Kazan and Dano (along with much of the cast) bring a great sense of both weight and fantasy to their roles to help sell the idea of such a miraculous event and for the most part, they all do a solid job creating interesting relationships.  Of course, it is Kazan and Dano as the two frontrunners that not only steal the show but really help to solidify it well.  It doesn’t hurt that their real life relationship helps to sell such great chemistry but the roles themselves are just full of fun and glee.  Dano especially is particularly a fascinating actor as he gives off a Woody Allen-esque performance that is both maniacal yet so intelligent.  It was a delight to see him act and hope it won’t be the last.  In addition, the plot, although simplistic and non-revelatory, still has a lot of respect for it’s characters and their happenings.  Stories are fleshed out and the family, especially from Calvin’s side is taken cared of with some interesting insights throughout the film as well as the concept of Ruby herself which is kept in the fantastical realm.  In this sense, there is an undeniable charm about the film with it’s concept not outliving it’s novelty and interest.

Ruby Sparks is, at it’s best, an interesting parable on a young man learning about himself and love and at it’s worst, a retread of all-too-familiar tropes.  The problems that the film has trouble overcoming are the familiar all-too-familiar aspects of it’s genie-in-a-bottle/Midas Touch story and the results and conclusions the film delves into aren’t quite as surprising as the film may be hyping.  However, there is no denying that where the film may lack in surprising punches, it succeeds in creating both charm and respect for it’s material.  The leads, Dano and Kazan, have a great chemistry (and Dano, especially, is a complete fascinating actor to keep an eye on for future roles) that especially pulls the film together.  All-in-all, Ruby Sparks works as a film of lessons and morals that has a nice, youthful energy fueling it – hoping it infects you with the same amount of glee and fascination.  

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Rated: R
Running Time: 104 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

Read Full Post »

It’s fascinating how many films can continue to peck at the concept of a relationship and the possible demise.  Whether it’s a culmination of modern-day evolutions or a different perspective, it’s become a genre that may not have huge intricate differences amongst one another but the best definitely come out swinging with a unique perspective or just having a solid and capable foundation.  Celeste and Jesse Forever isn’t a revolutionary romantic comedy by any means and approaches some of the common tropes and perception many have on the relationship and a break-up.  However, there is no denying that the film can win open-minded audiences over with a fairly solid script and crew along with a lot of emotional care taken to view the female perspective of the break-up.

Celeste and Jesse Forever follows a separated couple, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) as they struggle to reconcile their close friendship with their impending divorce.  Jesse is a struggling artist who doesn’t work while Celeste is a busy working as a brand marketer.  Not helping the situation are their friends, Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Olsen) who are planning to get married soon and have trouble hanging around the two of them at the same time.  When Jesse finally finds someone new first, Celeste does not know what to do next or what to feel.

The film’s weakest points come from it’s all-too-familiar tropes and a plot arch that feels a bit too long and meandering.  Celeste and Jesse Forever doesn’t necessarily reveal anything new about relationships that hasn’t been discussed in the film medium before.  True, it’s not a damaging point against the film but does create this sense of familiarity about where the plot is going and sometimes creates a lull when the film happens to follow your predicted path.  Additionally, the film feels a bit too long in terms of the journey it takes to get from the beginning to the end of the narrative.  Although it may play into the theme of emotional distraught that Celeste is going through and the roller coaster of emotions, it still feels as if there is not enough meat to the core story or the subplots and the plot feels like it drags after about three-fourths of the film.

However, Forever’s strengths, insights and chemistry makes the final film a worthwhile endeavor.  One of the easiest-to-spot strengths lie in it’s two leads, Jones and Samberg.  They play off each other wonderfully both on a comedy-level (which isn’t too surprising) but also on a romantic drama level as well (which is much more surprising).  The premise that they’re both best friends yet separated lovers creates a fascinating interplay between the two sides, creating both feelings of familiar laughter between the two and such animosity and tension as they begin their separation.  Although definitely not as strong as the leads, Woods, Graynor, Olsen and Roberts have their comedic moments.  Much of the success is also due to the fairly smart script and focus.  Instead of focusing too much on the relationship or even the break-up itself, the film hones in on the aftermath and the complexities, mostly from Celeste’s point of view.  This perspective and timing lets the film not only create some more unique scenarios than other films in its genre but using Jones as the center/focus gives it a fresher edge as well as both a character and a feminine lead in a full look at the evolution of a break-up.  Not only is it driven by some fun comedic moments in light of the grim situation, the journey itself feels real and impactful as Celeste goes through each stage and tries to reason why things are happening.  Rounding out the film is some good cinematography work and a consistent, indie soundtrack that adds a lot of flavor to the film.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is not a revolutionary romantic comedy film but one that respects it’s characters and their struggles to great depths in trying to understand a break-up between best friends.  The overall film does feel a bit long-winded and the subject matter and revelations are not uncommon to any seasoned moviegoer.  However, the approach taken here creates a fascinating journey of the highs and lows of such a tumultuous break-up from mainly Celeste’s point of view and succeeds in creating real and empathic characters while injecting some mostly well-timed humorous quips throughout, helped by a smart and consistent indie-driven soundtrack, great chemistry between Jones and Samberg and fairly good writing.  Forever at it’s best felt when respects the relationship and challenges viewers to ask more about not the break-up but the aftermath no matter how bad the timing and placement may be.  

Director: Lee T. Krieger
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »