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Entries in Drama (69)

Friday
Aug132010

Eat Pray Love

There’s no debating it, summer is the best season for movies. We may not get many Oscar contenders, but we get Hollywood’s best attempts at delivering action, humor and fun. Being the last major movie week of the summer, we’re closing out with a bang. The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World are tearing up screens with all types of awesome, so what better movie to pit against those juggernauts than Eat Pray Love? Working as counter programming to the manliest and geekiest movies of the summer, Julia Roberts’ latest star vehicle is, as expected, a girly movie through and through.

Based on the best selling book by author Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love tells the story of Liz (Roberts) as she works her way through a divorce and across the globe in an attempt to find what her life has been missing. Right off the bat, there’s a problem. You see, the divorce is her idea and she springs the idea suddenly on her husband Stephen (Billy Crudup), who loves her more than anything in the world. During the divorce settlement, Stephen asks Liz why she is leaving. Why couldn’t she just come talk to him? She replies with a quick tongue, arguing that she tried. He just wouldn’t listen. But we never see her try. We’re simply supposed to take her word for it. But Stephen brings up a good point. She’s so concerned with herself that she never even attempts to make the marriage work. While I’m not suggesting she should stay in a relationship she is unhappy with, her sudden decision to end the marriage without even first discussing it with her husband comes off as selfish and mean.

So off she goes around the world to discover herself. Along the way, she befriends a number of people in similar situations, including Richard (wonderfully played by Richard Jenkins) and a kind sage who accurately predicts her coming trials. But once she arrives at her first destination, Rome, Italy, she seems to do little more than wallow in self pity about being alone. She has an Italian to English dictionary and looks up words like “lonely.” When she sees a pretty dress and a friend tells her to buy it, she replies, “For whom?” The perplexity of the situation is that she broke off her marriage with a man who loved her unconditionally so she could be alone and then gets depressed that she has nobody to spend her time with. Her problem is self inflicted and I had no pity for her.

The biggest problem with Eat Pray Love, worse than its unlikable protagonist, is its awkward pacing and sluggishness. While some portions of the story, like the beginning, are rushed through, hence giving no reason to care, others are drawn out to an unbearable extent. Pushing nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, the film is far too long.

However, there is beauty seeping out of every pore of Eat Pray Love. The people, the food, the locales, all are great to look at, though that I’d chalk that up more to the natural presentation of those things than the direction. Any schmo can point a camera at Italy and make it look beautiful.

Still, Eat Pray Love is light, fluffy entertainment. It’s hard to hate, but it bores with ease. The monotony of the script and the dullness of the messages dilute any type of impact it may have had otherwise. Watching it was a chore and writing this review was the same. It’s tough to drag out “it was boring” to six paragraphs, but here it is. It was a hard fought battle and in the end I survived, but I pity those men who bravely walk into this movie ready to endure it for their loved ones. Their dedication is noble, but I’m afraid their integrity may suffer.

Eat Pray Love receives 2/5

Saturday
Aug072010

Twelve

Coming out of Sundance 2010, Joel Schumacher’s Twelve was being heralded as the worst movie at the festival by some critics. Now it is in limited release and having just sat through it, I can see why. It’s pretty rare for me to give out scores of zero, despite having recently done so for Charlie St. Cloud and Step Up 3D, so I almost feel bad for doing it again here. Almost.

The basic plot of the story is this: there’s a new drug in town called twelve that is making its way around the streets and messing people up. But within that basic story are dozens of characters whose lives intersect, convoluting it all. There’s White Mike (Chace Crawford), the local drug dealer who is still mourning over the death of his mother to breast cancer. His cousin Charlie is hopped up on twelve, though Mike doesn’t supply him with it. He refuses to carry such a drug. Lionel (50 Cent) is Mike’s supplier and is about to have a violent run in with Charlie and a young African American kid named NaNa (Jermaine Crawford). NaNa is on his way home from a game of basketball where he has just been in a fight with Hunter (Philip Ettinger), a rich kid from the Upper East Side, who is about to be accused of murder.

There’s also Sara (Esti Ginzburg), the hottest girl in her school, Molly (Emma Roberts), who has been friends with drug dealer Mike since childhood, Chris (Rory Culkin), the local party thrower, Claude (Billy Magnussen), his steroid taking, unstable brother, and Jessica (Emily Meade), a new junkie who will do anything to get her twelve fix. The list goes on and on. Believe it or not, I haven’t even finished listing all of the characters in this overstuffed film. In fact, before all of them are even introduced, two are killed off. There’s simply too much going on and the descriptive anecdotes for extraneous characters like Chris and Claude’s maid was unnecessary.

Although I suspect this is intentional, the characters in the movie are deplorable. Most, if not all, are rotten rich kids who have every opportunity in the world right in front of them, but squander it due to their drug use. The females in the movie are the type of girls who are so infatuated with themselves that if a guy doesn’t hit on them, they write them off as gay. The guys are all morons whose desire to score with women is the only thing that trumps their desire to score dope. All are poorly juggled. Twelve jumps back and forth from each putrid character like a fly at a picnic ground.

It’s easy to hate the characters from moral and intellectual viewpoints, but the movie is simply too laughable to keep you too angry. Take Jessica for instance, who, as told through ridiculous narration by Kiefer Sutherland, has kept every stuffed bear ever given to her. Well, after taking a hit of twelve, they start to talk to her in a cutesy voice you’d expect to hear in children’s television shows, asking her who she would kill if given the opportunity. It’s supposed to be unsettling, but instead it’s just really, really funny.

By the time Twelve reaches its end, you’ll have already checked out, but that won’t stop memories of the Virginia Tech massacre or the recent Connecticut shootings from infiltrating your thoughts. The climax is so reminiscent of these tragic events that its depiction is downright irresponsible.

To get a good idea of what Twelve has in store for you, consider this: 50 Cent gives the best performance. Take that as you will. My advice is to skip it, but if you really want to see a movie about snooty rich kids suffering through their own self inflicted problems, by all means give it a go.

Twelve receives 0/5

Friday
Jun252010

I Am Love

I have a theory. It has been in the making for years, a thought that I’ve had numerous times, but have just now decided is a sound argument. People are more willing to forgive a foreign film for its flaws and recommend it simply because it is not American. While not all fall into this category, many cinema elitists trash mainstream Hollywood films while praising anything foreign or independent. The truth is that whatever nationality a particular film falls into is irrelevant. There are good foreign films and there are bad ones. I Am Love, while certainly not terrible, is one that can only be classified as mediocre, yet will most likely garner more attention simply because the characters don’t speak English.

The movie begins with Emma (Tilda Swinton) and her family all gathering together for some important news. They have become a wealthy family due to their ownership of a big business, but now the owner is stepping down and passing the reigns to his grandson Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) and his son/Emma’s husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono). Flash forward months later and the family is making changes to accommodate the shift in power, but certain people have secrets of their own. Emma’s daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) has found love with another female and is telling only her mother because she fears her father and brother won’t approve and Emma has just begun having an affair with a friend of her son’s named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) which could tear the family apart if discovered.

Given the synopsis, it sounds like an intriguing drama. A lot is going on and the abundance of themes lend themselves well to exploration, but unfortunately none of it fully comes around. I Am Love seems like it’s trying to make a statement on love, lust and infidelity, but its attempts falls flat. Similarly, it leaves too many stones unturned, like the internal drama within the family from the feuding personalities of the new business owners Edoardo and Tancredi, as well as the shameful overlooking of how homosexuality can tear apart a family with differing moral values. Remember how I said Elisabetta tries to keep her sexual orientation a secret from everyone but her mother? Well, she succeeds. Her father and brother never find out, which begs the question, why make her gay in the first place if you aren’t going to explore it? The sole reason is for one shot at the end that reinforces its gooey “follow your heart” message that feels about as misplaced as the film’s relevance.

Following my screening of I Am Love, I was lucky enough to sit through a Q&A with John Adams, the man behind the music for the film. Interestingly enough, he pointed out that he thinks most movies misuse music by taking preexisting pieces and trying to place them at points that benefit the action onscreen. He believes that it usually doesn't work because those pieces of music were not intended for that purpose. Ironically, such is the case here. By badmouthing the very idea, he echoed my sentiments exactly. While the music is indeed marvelous in and of itself, it sometimes overpowers the scenes, if it even fits in place at all. Each scene blasted an orchestral score that bled the ears dry, like an early scene where Emma follows Antonio down the street that is accompanied by a quick beat more befitting an action picture.

Now, the direction is lush and the acting is splendid, so yes, I appreciated that, but I needed something else to draw me in. I needed an interesting story. I needed some hard hitting dialogue. I needed some emotion. I needed some redemption. None of that exists here. Even after a tragic scene late in the movie where a prominent character should have been in incredible amounts of emotional torment, none appeared.

I’m aware my opening paragraph criticizing cinema elitists may make me sound like an elitist myself (and if I’m being at all honest, I kind of am), but I’m not foolish enough to think everybody will like this movie simply because it is foreign. Some will truly find something special in it and shout its name from the mountains, which is fine, but I won’t be among them. I Am Love has some great moments, wonderful cinematography and high caliber acting, but it’s just so insufferably boring.

I Am Love receives 2/5

Friday
Jun112010

Solitary Man

There are few actors as versatile as Michael Douglas. He can be scary, he can be timid and he can even be funny, as evidenced by his excellent turn in the otherwise awful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. He can also be dramatic and deep, however, and his new movie, Solitary Man, shows him at his best. A character study of the highest caliber, this is a movie that deserves to be seen and has proven itself as one of the year’s best.

Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a former captain of the car industry. In his heyday, he was known as the “honest” car dealer and couldn’t keep cars in his lot if he tried. His name was widely known, but now years later, that name is tarnished. People still know it, but they think of it in a more negative manner due to some illegitimate business decisions that threatened him with jail time and stripped him of his money, pride and family. He spends most nights now on the prowl at the local bars looking for younger girls willing to have some fun despite being in a relationship with Jordan, played by Mary-Louise Parker.

After coming down with the flu, Jordan asks Ben to take her daughter Allyson, played by Imogen Poots, to his old alma mater and show her the ropes. He’s just getting back on his feet business-wise and is close to getting the approval to open up a new dealership, but after making a huge mistake on campus, he loses the opportunity and his already decaying world starts to fall apart even faster. His daughter Susan, played by Jenna Fischer, is getting tired of his inconsistent inclusion in her child’s life and his ex-wife, played by Susan Sarandon, is one of his only means of comfort, though she takes potshots at him as well given his destructive tendencies.

I try to keep my plot synopses relatively short in my reviews, but it’s important to know all of this to understand the character and why this movie is as good as it is, though even then you’ll have to see it to fully appreciate his complexities. He’s not a simple character to decipher. The feelings he holds on the inside don’t match the thick skin on the outside. His pain and his fear are hidden underneath his debauchery and nonchalant attitude.

All of this derives from the opening scene where he is told by a doctor that his EKG looks worrisome due to an irregularity with his heart, but instead of finding out the problem, he leaves and never looks back. He’d rather not live with the knowledge of his impending death and won’t accept that he has grown old in a world that seems increasingly younger. As he says, instead of walking in a room and being the center of attention, the only people who notice him now are the old ones. He has a problem with that and to compensate, he parties like he’s in college and acts like a kid, which distances him from his family.

When he goes out with his daughter and grandson, he orders them not to call him “dad” or “granddad” because he wants to carry the illusion of youthfulness. Instead of showing up for his grandson’s birthday party, he spends a night with a woman and sleeps through it. It isn’t until Susan threatens to take away his right to see his grandson that he begins to wise up.

Of course, a myriad of other factors contribute to his enlightenment as well. He has no income and has been kicked out of his home, forcing him to work as a waiter in a small restaurant owned by an old friend he hasn’t seen in 30 years, and after winding up in a hospital from a cracked rib he realizes he can’t cheat death and that his womanizing and partying has only been a temporary solution to his troubles.

This is where the brilliance of the movie lies. You do get the sense that Ben is starting to see things straight, realizing that the rest of his time on Earth is better spent with his family than with random women he picks up at night, but at the same time that habit is hard for him to break. Ending on a note that offers no definitive conclusion, Solitary Man is a fascinating character study in its own right and shows that just because you’re around people, it doesn’t mean you’re not alone.

Solitary Man receives 4.5/5

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