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Entries in Emily Blunt (10)

Thursday
Dec252014

Into the Woods

There’s a certain joy that washes over me when I watch a good musical. Movies and music are wonderful mediums for artistic expression, as each find their own truths and meaning in their own distinct, separate ways, but combining the two is complete bliss. Both complement each other, the music giving the visuals an extra flavor that would be missing had they been accompanied by silence, and vice versa. When those visuals are as striking and the music as wonderful as they are in “Into the Woods,” it’s impossible not to be entertained. This is visually one of the best musicals since 1940’s “Fantasia,” full of all the grandeur and wonder that one might expect from a Disney movie.

Adapted from the 1986 Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods” tells a story that mixes together numerous childhood fairy tales. In a small town, there is a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who are desperate to have a child, but whose family lineage has been cursed by an evil witch (Meryl Streep), making it impossible. She tells them she will break the curse if they can obtain four items for her in the surrounding woods: a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood and a shoe as pure as gold. On their search, they run into Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is attending the Prince’s (Chris Pine) ball, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who is on her way to see her grandmother, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is stuck in a tall tower with no stairs or doors, and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is heading to town to sell his cow, but will end up trading it for some magic beans. The baker and his wife, thrust into the middle of all these stories, will do their best to get each of those items however they can.

“Into the Woods” is a magical film, one that combines the natural wonder of the fairy tales it portrays with terrific songs that simultaneously poke fun of those tales and lovingly embrace them. It doesn’t shy away from the darker moments of these Brothers Grimm tales, including the death of major characters—and yes, you’ll get to experience the evil stepsisters getting their toes cut off in an attempt to fit their feet in the golden slipper—but it never gets dark enough to lose its whimsy. Chris Pine, in particular, steals every scene he’s in with a self-deprecating performance that adds a satirical spin on fairy tale machismo as it upends the traditional character gender roles so many of these classic stories exemplify.

But Pine is merely one part of one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Streep, as is expected at this point, gives one of the best performances of the year as the wicked witch. The nuance she brings to the character makes the witch all her own, as she crafts someone who is both terrifying and also immensely likable. Even as she threatens and frightens the baker and his wife, she charms, as does Kendrick, cast perfectly in the role of the disheveled, but nevertheless lovely Cinderella. She has proven her vocal talent in movies like “Pitch Perfect,” but whereas that movie mostly featured an a cappella group singing together, she gets to shine alone here. Her story is the funniest and most emotional, so her songs bring with them added weight and she performs them with aplomb.

For those more interested in visuals, however, the star of the show won’t be Kendrick or Pine or Streep or even Stephen Sondheim, but the fantastic art direction that somehow manages to give colorful life to the dark settings. The costumes, props, sets all create a vivid world, one that would be desirable to live in were it not for the witch curses and giants stomping about. If you don’t mind a pervading sense of dread in your visuals, “Into the Woods” will amaze you, even if the songs and story don’t.

It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t, though, as almost every moment in this two hour movie is a delight to watch, the sole awkward part being the song sang by the Big Bad Wolf, played by Johnny Depp, which is full of enough (presumably intentional, but still uncomfortable) sexual innuendo towards Red Riding Hood to derail the mood up to that point. Luckily, it’s early on, so it corrects itself quickly, but in every other regard, “Into the Woods” proves itself as an absolute gem of a musical.

Into the Woods receives 4.5/5

Thursday
Jun052014

Edge of Tomorrow

Last year’s “Oblivion” was one of the most underrated movies of the year and one of the most thought provoking science fiction movies in some time. While most science fiction films these days rely on explosive action (“Transformers”) or pseudo-philosophy (“Transcendence”), “Oblivion” had something interesting to say. Although it relied on some narrative genre tropes, it used those tropes to explore its themes in interesting ways. Tom Cruise’s newest science fiction film, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is the exact opposite. It has a cool story with some neat ideas, but the narrative doesn’t have any meaningful thematic context behind it. It’s still a stylish and entertaining movie, but it’s missing much of what makes the science fiction genre so interesting.

Cruise plays Major Cage, a media relations expert working for the military during the war against the Mimics, an alien race that arrived in Europe a few years back via meteor. Over the years, they have advanced across the continent and, with human resistance having little success, show no signs of stopping. Cage, despite not being a solider, is ordered onto the front line during an upcoming battle, one that could have devastating consequences for the human race if lost. While out there, he kills an “alpha,” one of the alien race’s leaders. Shortly after, he too perishes, but mysteriously wakes up in the previous day and finds himself reliving it all over again. Only one person knows what he’s going through, the Angel of Verdun herself, Rita (Emily Blunt), and with his help, she plans on stopping the Mimic invasion once and for all.

“Edge of Tomorrow” starts out on a low note. It introduces its story in a silly manner, complete with corny jokes that nearly all land with a thud and its characters come off as clichés, particularly Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), who spouts off about the glories of war in a typical Southern accent. It even manages to treat the horrors of war and the sadness of death with a (perhaps unintended) humorous tone that makes you wonder just what in the world the filmmakers were thinking. When one soldier screams in joy at finally being on the battlefield, only to immediately get crushed by a crashing drop ship, there’s no other reaction to have but to laugh.

When the film does treat its characters like actual human beings and tries to wring some real emotion out of what they’re going through, it hardly resonates due to the nature of the story. The most glaring example comes when Rita dies in Cage’s arms, only for the day to be reset as Cage dies immediately after. Because of this, much of the action, which is already hard to watch due to excessive shaky cam, far too tight camera angles and quick movements of the aliens, has no real tension. Nothing is really at stake. We know that when they die, they will simply revert back to the previous day with superior knowledge that will allow them to not make the same mistake next time. With no real danger, there’s little to invest in.

“Edge of Tomorrow” still has a pretty neat story, even if it is just “Groundhog Day” with aliens, and its central character is interesting because he uses brain over brawn; he doesn’t find victory because he’s a battle hardened killing machine, but rather because he’s able to memorize and adapt to the aliens’ attacks through trial and error, that is until the last act at least, which abandons this different approach and transitions Cage into yet another indestructible action hero. But science fiction is interesting not simply because of its story or its characters, but rather from the way it uses them to tap into some deeper meaning. “Edge of Tomorrow,” while admittedly entertaining, is too thematically thin to be much more than a mild diversion.

Edge of Tomorrow receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep282012

Looper

Writer/director Rian Johnson is one of the most creative and talented filmmakers working today. He changed the way film noirs were looked at with 2005’s Brick and in 2008, he made the wonderful and underrated The Brothers Bloom. His latest, Looper, reunites him with his Brick star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the results are astounding. It’s the biggest mind-trip to hit movie theaters since 2010’s Inception, but whereas that film nailed its own internal logic, but failed emotionally, Looper nails both. It’s never confusing, it never seems to contradict itself (though, admittedly, repeat viewings may lead to plot holes) and it toys with your emotions, culminating in a satisfying ending that will send chills down your spine.

The year is 2044 and time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be in 30 years. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. His job is to kill people sent back in time, people that his mysterious employers don’t want around anymore. It’s a cushy job that pays well, but it has one huge drawback. Because time travel is illegal in the future, his employers want to leave no trace of their Loopers, so when they decide a Looper’s contract is up, they send their future self back in time to be disposed of. After the younger Looper kills his older self, his contract is over and he has 30 years to live before his time comes. This is called “closing the loop.” However, if you fail to kill your future self, the powers that be, led by Abe (Jeff Daniels), a future man sent back in time to run things, come after you. Joe makes that unfortunate failure and now, along with his future self (Bruce Willis), he is on the run and trying to survive.

Looper is as uncommon as movies come. Sure, it borrows some things from other movies and occasionally relies on screenwriting coincidences (as all movies do), but it does something so special with them that it feels completely different. Despite all the action, gunfire and explosions, Looper gives off a unique feeling, an extremely rare one makes you feel both compassion and resentment simultaneously, causing your inner emotions to tug back and forth between what you deem right and wrong. Through a brilliant turn of events (that I’ve deliberately avoided describing), the film sets up Joe to be both the good and the bad guy, though, at certain times, it’s hard to tell which version is which. Both have their reasons to do what they do and even though we know them to be selfish or immoral, we understand. It’s a strange feeling to have, especially when those feelings are polar opposite of each other and, really, about the same man.

The only real downside to this otherwise captivating plot turn is that it spoils a portion of what is to come. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, the former from the present and the latter from the future. That means that if something happens to Gordon-Levitt, Willis disappears, but the nature of the story dictates that Willis must be around. If you take away future Joe, the story doesn’t happen. This leads to a few tensionless scenes where the young Joe is fighting, hiding or running for his life. Despite the danger around him, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll escape unscathed. Any type of suspense that could have been around otherwise vanishes.

But that’s the only big complaint in an otherwise incredibly exciting futuristic film noir. Looper redefines the way we think of science fiction, fantasy, action, screenwriting and even make-up, thanks to the flawless prosthetics placed on Gordon-Levitt’s face during shooting to ensure he resembled his older counterpart. It keeps you on your toes and once it introduces telekinesis to the equation, all bets are off. Paradoxical implications aside, Looper is flat out terrific. If Rian Johnson continues on this path of well above average filmmaking, he could turn out to be one of the best to ever do it.

Looper receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jun152012

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister’s Sister begins with a somber moment. One year after the death of a man named Tom, his friends and family have gotten together to remember him. Most talk about how special and kind he was, a person who was always willing to lend a helping hand, but his still grieving brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), remembers him differently. He remembers him as the little hellion he was when they were kids, before everybody else in the room met him. After ranting about how terrible he could be (not out of hate, but out of his disgust for people who claim to know so much about him, but really don’t), his best friend and Tom’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt), tells him to take a load off and get away for a while. She tells him to go to her father’s cabin where he will be shut off from the world, but when he gets there, he finds her lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has also retreated there to get away from a difficult situation.

This is where the movie takes a turn. It becomes more humorous and the two characters who have never met each other before begin to form a bond. After a long night of drinking, they end up having sex with each other. What’s clear in these early moments is that the characters are indeed facing central problems that motivate their actions, but the movie smartly never dwells on them. It never forces us to feel bad for either of them, instead allowing us to make up our own minds based on what they do and say, not how the screenplay wants us to feel.

A large portion of this could be because of its improvised nature, a staple of the recent so-called mumblecore film movement, but this isn’t like, say, Humpday, which consisted of 10 written pages with no dialogue. Your Sister’s Sister is a 70 page treatment that clearly has a narrative and emotional path in mind, yet it allows the actors to forge that path themselves. It’s the best blending of mumblecore with traditional filmmaking to date.

But while the characters are strongly defined through equal parts performance and writing, they’re stuck in a story that would feel like a gimmick in a romantic comedy. When Iris shows up the next morning after Jack and Hannah’s rendezvous, a number of things are learned, of which I’ll leave secret for fear of revealing spoilers. Although the events are handled more delicately than they would be in a more conventional rom-com, they are no less banal and inconsequential, the latter adjective used only because the film wraps up a hugely complex and precarious situation in an unbelievably tidy manner. The overly simplistic conclusion makes the conflicts feel minute in scale, despite their essentiality to the story.

Nevertheless, Your Sister’s Sister is a solid movie, featuring a trio of excellent performances and dynamic character relationships that ring true in every scene. Above anything else, the film is about sibling love and forgiveness, even when that sibling has done something unforgivable. For the most part, it succeeds both narratively and emotionally in what it sets out to do (despite a silly and heavy handed end speech), but Your Sister’s Sister never rises above that humdrum feeling its premise elicits.

Your Sister’s Sister receives 3.5/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5