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Entries in Justin Timberlake (5)

Friday
Dec202013

Inside Llewyn Davis

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most celebrated filmmakers working today. Their films, even those that fail to reach the lofty standards some have set for them, manage to be insightful, poignant and sometimes even frightening. However, their films have also been more adored by critics and film connoisseurs than the everyday filmgoer. Their latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is perhaps their most accessible film to date. Gone are the religious complexities of “A Serious Man” or the isolating dark humor of “Fargo” and “Burn After Reading.” Instead, it’s a (mostly) straight forward drama about a struggling man trying to live day by day. It’s not their best—in fact, it hardly even feels like a Coen brothers movie at all—but its majestic musical numbers and fantastic performances elevate this well above the humdrum lesser filmmakers churn out.

Oscar Isaac, in a star making role plays the titular role of Llewyn Davis. He’s a struggling musician whose life is in the gutter. No matter what he does, seemingly everything goes wrong. After a performance one night, he’s assaulted in the alley behind the club, he’s currently homeless and living off the generosity of those closest to him who, despite their aggravation, give him a place to crash and a winter coat to wear, his solo career isn’t taking off and he even finds himself in the possession of an unwanted cat after it bolts out of one of the apartments he had been staying in. To top it all off, one of his friends and romantic flings, Jean, played by Carey Mulligan, is pregnant and it might be his.

Before any of the above becomes known to the viewer, the film encapsulates it all, opening with a melancholy song about the troubles of one’s life. The folky twang of the strings, the subtle quietness of the vocals and the profundity of the lyrics set the stage perfectly for a movie that is going to be all of those things at once. A fan of folk music or not, it’s hard not to find yourself sucked in while listening to this beautiful, but heartbreaking song. Though not a musical in the traditional sense, the film is filled with similar moments like these, all coming at a time in the story that builds character, when Llewyn needs a release, something to take his mind off his troubles.

These songs are complimented wonderfully by Oscar Isaac, a typical “that guy” of cinema, one whose face is known, but the name eludes. He is magnificent here, smartly downplaying the extravagance of many musical performers and instead opting to let the pain show through. His habit of closing his eyes while performing shows not a sign of smugness, but one of passion and emotional agony. Llewyn Davis is a person who wears his emotions very close to his chest. He doesn’t let them show while out doing his day-to-day business; it’s in the quiet musical moments that they become apparent and Isaac plays it damn near perfectly in what is sure to be an underappreciated performance.

Throughout Llewyn’s journey, characters pop up and disappear as if they were never there, hardly making a blip on the overall picture’s radar. This gives the film an uneven structure, but it’s one that fits its themes, working to show the uncertainty of this man’s unhappy life. When these moments end, most are never brought up again and any type of resolution is left on the table, but it’s okay because the character himself has no resolution in sight. However, the gravity of certain stories outweighs the unobtrusiveness of others, like the aforementioned pregnancy, and it's a shame they aren’t explored in more detail. Later in the film, Llewyn even finds out he actually has a kid with a former lover, but the impact this has on his emotional state or his life in general is left frustratingly vague. Neither this nor Jean’s pregnancy have the narrative impact they should. While they should make Llewyn’s life even more complex and uncertain, they’re instead just kind of there.

The film also ends on a somewhat unsatisfying note, when you finally realize that nothing is going to be resolved, but perhaps that’s the point. This isn’t a “happy ending” type of Hollywood film, nor is it one of crushing sadness. It doesn’t leave you with hope or fear or any other feeling because Llewyn’s life has become one of apathy and the apathetic don’t bother with such feelings.

The Coen brothers have really done something interesting here. They’ve created a movie that is missing their trademark style—the style that allowed them to create jokes via the simple movement of a camera like when it passed over a corpse like a speed bump in their 1984 debut, “Blood Simple”—but they haven’t lost their touch. Their abilities are downplayed and they let the performers onscreen shine. So many directors want top billing, to practically scream that they were behind it all, but there’s a refreshing lack of vanity in their approach. This isn’t going to go down as one of their best, but “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a treat all the same.

Inside Llewyn Davis receives 4/5

Friday
Oct282011

In Time

Now here’s something the cinema world is lacking: an exciting science fiction movie with an original premise, an emotional story and a point to make. For what it’s worth, In Time is simply phenomenal. Its trailers make it out to be a simple story full of the same mindless action we’ve come to expect, but it turns out to be so much more. It’s an allegorical statement on modern times. It’s a political calling. It’s about a corrupt system that feeds off the misery of the poor while the rich reap the benefits. It’s about challenging that system and doing what’s right even if what’s right goes against the established way of living. This movie, though presumably set in the future, is timely and relevant to today. It questions the way things are run and feeds off the anger many are feeling towards those who caused the current recession. In Time is not simply sci-fi fodder. It’s as intelligent and thought provoking a movie that has come out all year.

In the film’s universe, people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at the age of 25, but once they reach that age, they are given one more year to live. A clock that is wired in their arm begins to count down and once it reaches zero, they’re dead. Because of this, time is the new currency. To buy a coffee, you don’t pay with cash. You pay with minutes. Through this system, the rich are able to live forever while the poor struggle day by day to get by. Will (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor people. Every day he wakes up and has mere hours to live, so he toils at his job at the factory and is given more time. One day, however, he is given over 100 years by a rich man who has had it with life and is ready to die. Unfortunately, the police force, called Timekeepers, led by Raymond (Cillian Murphy), thinks he stole the time and killed the man. So the chase is on, but not before he enlists the help of wealthy socialite, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried).

The rich prosper while the poor struggle day by day to get by. Sound familiar? If there’s one movie this year that nails the financial crisis we are currently in, it’s this one. It expresses its disgust by the greed of a select few while millions suffer daily. It asks why, when there are more than enough resources for all to live on, we allow such suffering to take place. It takes the notion of social Darwinism (called “Darwinian capitalism” in the movie) and explores it thoroughly, applying the phrase “survival of the fittest” not simply to physical strength or evolutionary superiority, but to riches and status. And it does it all within its own futuristic world; it never sacrifices its story to make a point. Instead, it coalesces the two, creating something that works by itself, but has significance to the real world.

Even if you took away all of that commentary, In Time would still be something worth watching. It takes a downright brilliant concept and runs with it, tapping into a fear we all have: our impending deaths. We all know that one day, we’re going to die, but it’s the not knowing when that makes it easy to live. If we knew precisely how much time we had left, everything would be different, but that’s something these characters have to deal with and you fear for them just as they fear for themselves. Every tick of the clock weighs heavy on your emotions and that combined with the mesmerizingly beautiful score manage to create feeling in a movie that would be easy to assume had none.

Is In Time perfect? No, of course not. No movie is. Some of the cutesy humor doesn’t work and feels out of place in a story where the characters face such dire situations, some of the dialogue is taken out of the handbook of action movie clichés and certain motivations don’t necessarily make sense (“No one should be immortal if even one person has to die” is flawed logic), but otherwise, In Time is tight, well crafted, poignant, refined and uncommonly intelligent. It couldn’t come at a better time, when Americans are lining up to protest Wall Street for screwing them over with corrupt business practices, and it dares to say something about the unfairness of the system we live in. This may be a work of fiction, but take away the futuristic element and it’s a based-on-a-true-story drama of modern times.

In Time receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jul222011

Friends with Benefits

In a cinematic landscape full of poor romantic comedies, Friends with Benefits should be seen as a breath of fresh air. It’s funny, raunchy and it has a big heart, even if it does amount to little more than an amalgamation of those that have come before it, borrowing everything from its central premise (think No Strings Attached) to its most insignificant, said-in-passing plot points (one character moved around a lot as a child when her mother broke up with her boyfriends, like in The Perfect Man). It doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre, that’s for sure, but it works nevertheless because of its witty writing and charismatic leads.

As the film begins, Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who don’t yet know each other, are being dumped by their partners. The reasons behind the break-ups are ridiculous and even a little hurtful, so they both decide they’re done with relationships. At some point later, Dylan, an LA boy, flies out to New York for an interview at GQ Magazine, set up by “headhunter” Jamie and lands the job. Because he’s new to the town, he strikes up a friendship with Jamie, which inevitably leads to physical intimacy. But because of their pasts, they both agree that’s where it should begin and end. They will be friends with benefits, nothing more.

Friends with Benefits is one of those hipster, self-aware movies that seem to be all the rage these days. It references other romantic comedies, the characters watch them and at one point, Jamie even mentions wanting her life to be like one, admitting she approaches relationships based off them. In one hilarious bit, Dylan even ridicules the obligatory upbeat pop songs these films so often have. If one thing can be said about it, Friends with Benefits knows it’s a romantic comedy, but that self-awareness doesn’t go further like it should (it doesn’t spoof the genre the way, say, Scream did to horror); it merely acknowledges the clichés before acting them out. And there are plenty of upbeat pop songs.

So it follows the formula of your typical romantic comedy, which includes the girl-sees-how-good-guy-is-with-family and ailing-family-member-momentarily-overcomes-illness-to-speak-words-of-wisdom scenes, but it works nonetheless because it dares to go places other movies won’t, taking its two talented and good looking stars and allowing them to say and do things that will make even the least prude audience member blush. It’s the type of humor that those with life experience will be able to understand, including a great (and truthful) joke that will speak to the men in the audience who understand how difficult it is to…well, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable typing it here.

Of course, most romantic comedies succeed or fail on the chemistry (or lack thereof) of its two leads. In this regard, Friends with Benefits soars. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are so good together, it seems a shame the two aren’t a couple in real life (though there have been rumors). At times, the film runs the risk of losing us thanks to its egregious product placement of things like the Playstation Move, which sticks out like a sore thumb due to the incandescent wand the characters hold and wave around (giving the placement of T.G.I. Friday’s in the recent Zookeeper a run for its money), but it always manages to win us back. It’s funny, good natured, fun and it includes not one, but two well choreographed flashmob performances. And who doesn’t want to see that?

Friends with Benefits receives 4/5

Friday
Jun242011

Bad Teacher

The Office is one of the best shows on television. While it will be interesting to see how it fares without Steve Carell in the upcoming season, it has firmly cemented itself as one of this decade’s smartest, freshest, hippest comedies. Many things contribute to its success, not the least of which is its sharp writing. Though television shows have many writers, two of The Office’s most celebrated are Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who bring a certain youthfulness and fun to each episode they write. They’re so good on that show, one can’t help but wonder why their cinematic endeavors are so abysmal. Despite having the comedic talents of Jack Black and Michael Cera, 2009’s Year One managed to disgust and appall without ever actually entertaining and their newest film, Bad Teacher, follows suit. It’s cruel, heartless and unfunny. It’s a movie that disrespects itself, the audience and the art of filmmaking. It’s a cinematic shamble with a thin plot and even thinner characters. And yes, it’s one of the worst so far this year.

Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth, a gold digging teacher who has just been dumped by her wealthy fiancé. Upset that she just lost her money (but not so upset about losing the man), she begins to chase after substitute teacher Scott, played by Justin Timberlake, who is also blessed with riches. He’s the unassuming type, however, and doesn’t give into her come-ons. In her vanity, she decides a breast enhancement will fix her problems and will do anything she can to gather up the money she needs for the operation, though her admirer, P.E. teacher Russell, played by Jason Segel, insists she’s perfect the way she is.

Let’s just call that plot (though “plot” may not be the right word to describe a movie about a girl raising money for a boob job) what it really is: a vehicle for sweetheart Cameron Diaz to be as vulgar as possible. You’ll get to hear her say things that, and I’m confident about this, you’ve never heard her say before. She is clearly embracing the uncensored nature of her character and having fun with it. Unfortunately, shocking language does not always equate with comedy. Never has that been more apparent than in Bad Teacher.

The reason behind its comedic emptiness stems from the fact that Elizabeth is one of the most wretched, hateful characters to appear onscreen in quite some time. She treats her co-workers like scum and her students even worse. She shows up to class hung-over and drugged out, swindles her kids’ parents out of money and, fearful of having to face the consequences of her own selfish actions, sabotages another teacher who is rightfully suspicious of her and concerned about her students’ academic futures. I get that the premise of the film, as suggested by the title, is inherently mean-spirited, but it’s a premise without comedic value.

Some movies with such despicable characters have a narrative arc that leads to a late movie redemption. Bad Teacher provides the redemption, but forgets the arc. For its entire runtime, Elizabeth cares about nobody but herself before suddenly having a change of heart, realizing that perhaps money shouldn’t be her prime motivation in a relationship. This moment comes from nowhere and the scenes leading up to it do nothing to establish her actions, yet we’re supposed to find her likable. I don’t suspect many people will.

The most disheartening aspect of Bad Teacher is its wonderful list of supporting players, all of whom are given nearly nothing to do or interesting to say. Thomas Lennon from Reno 911!, Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family and Jerry Lambert from those great Playstation 3 commercials (which, coincidentally, pack more laughs in a short 30 seconds than this entire movie), show up to lend their considerable talents, but they’re all wasted. I suppose you could consider Bad Teacher a sad commentary on the state of our public education system, though you’d really have to be reaching to land on that conclusion (but I guess its defenders need something to argue). Regardless, the film remains vicious, poorly written, boring and, even at a concise 89 minutes, exhausted and drawn out.

Bad Teacher receives 1/5

Friday
Dec172010

Yogi Bear

I liked “Yogi Bear” growing up. I liked the quick slapstick humor and found it funny that Yogi and Boo Boo were always looking to steal a pic-a-nic basket. Of course, I liked a lot of crap growing up and now that I’ve seen the Yogi Bear motion picture, I wonder why I was ever amused with the character.

The story should be familiar to anyone who enjoyed the Hanna-Barbera cartoon growing up. Yogi (Dan Aykroyd) is a talking bear who, along with his sidekick Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake), roams around Jellystone National Park and snatches picnic baskets from unsuspecting visitors. In a failed attempt to give it a little more substance, the film adds a corrupt mayor who is going to close down the park and rezone it for his own gain. However, if Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) and his understudy, Ranger Jones (T.J. Miller), can raise close to $40,000 dollars by the end of the week, they can save the park. So they arrange a 100 year anniversary party that they hope will bring tourists from all around, but Yogi, failing to heed Ranger Smith’s warning to stay away, could end up wrecking the entire thing.

Also making an appearance is Anna Faris as Rachel, a filmmaker who wants to make a nature documentary. Early in the movie, she places a small, unnoticeable camera on Boo Boo’s tie, which plays a major part in the big finale that only the dumbest of viewers (or very small children) won’t see coming. Rachel also sparks an interest in Ranger Smith and so begins one of the biggest eye rolling romances of the year.

Maybe it’s because I was a child when I watched the cartoon and didn’t notice it, but I’ve suddenly noticed that Yogi Bear promotes thievery. I came to the realization as I watched film, seeing as how the word “steal,” or a variation of it, is used countless times. I’m almost embarrassed it took this long for me to see. Yogi’s whole existence centers on stealing things that are not his, yet he is idolized and his theft is shown as fun. I’m not necessarily insinuating that kids shouldn’t see this—besides, I watched the show as a child and I’ve never stolen anything in my life—but it strikes me as curiously questionable.

What’s more offensive than the idea that children may be getting the wrong idea from the Yogi character is how one-note he is. A central character whose only activity is stealing picnic baskets doesn’t leave much room for deviation. How many times must we see him rig up some contraption that will end in him being thrown somewhere or getting hit by something? The slapstick hijinks may work for the toddlers, but they’ll quickly tire the adult eyes in the audience.

It’s true that 3D is shaping up to be the new bane on contemporary filmmaking, but most criticism towards the format is when a movie is haphazardly up converted from 2D filming. If shot in 3D, the effect is usually better, but Yogi Bear proves that just because you go the smarter route, it doesn’t mean your product is going to look good. The 3D in Yogi Bear is awful, an unnecessary element to a film that is already wholly irrelevant. One of its few positives would have been the colorful visuals, but the tinted glasses made the whole affair extremely dark, effectively negating it.

In a sea of vapid idiocy, there is one shining element in Yogi Bear: Justin Timberlake. The man simply can do no wrong. He was beneficial to the best movie of the year, The Social Network, and he manages to impress even in this disaster, nailing Boo Boo’s voice perfectly. He is the sole reason Yogi Bear isn’t making it on my worst of the year list. Yogi may claim to be “smarter than the average bear,” but his movie is dumber than a rock.

Yogi Bear receives 0.5/5