Reviews

Theatrical and DVD reviews.

'5 to 7' Proves Romantic Comedy Still Exists

in

5 to 7

I've never been particularly fond of romantic comedies on the whole. For me, it is the one genre of film that I've found to be the most blatantly straightforward and unsurprising. The standard setups, usual characters and typical obstacles are always present and accounted for, regardless of how some filmmakers try to dress things up. And while such romantic comedy blueprints have given vast amounts of joy to countless movie lovers for ages, it seemed that there was always something lacking for me within that world.

It's true, you may find a title or two in my DVD collection that bears the romantic comedy stamp, but those specific titles tell stories of love from different angles. Take for example the little-seen Til There Was You (1997), a small film about two adults who experience a number of failed romances over the course of two decades, only to finally meet each other in the last few minutes of the movie. It's a funny and thoughtful comment on romance and the journey most people must take towards finding the one they are meant for.

If there was any film that would be a game changer for me in this regard, it's definitely 5 to 7 (2014). Upon viewing the film at the Austin Film Society pre-Valentine's Day screening, I can say that I have finally seen a film which truly embodies the term "romantic comedy." Produced by 2015 Texas Film Awards honoree Bonnie Curtis and written and directed by Victor Levin, 5 to 7 is loaded with sharp comedic moments and a compelling story squarely focused on the transformative power of love on the individual.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

in

Hot Tub Time Machine 2The phrase "Hot Tub Time Machine" was such an insane concept I couldn't wait to see the 2010 release. (Debbie's review) Sure, it was a fratboy movie, but it was fresh and edgy at a time when the nation was just learning to laugh again a decade after 9/11, and I loved it. Five years was a long time to wait with such anticipation for this sequel.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a wet hot mess, with bad jokes as frequent as jacuzzi bubbles, and good jokes popping like farts in a tub. It has the same writer (Josh Heald), the same director (Steve Pink) and largely the same cast (John Cusack is replaced by Adam Scott), but it failed to capture the same magic for me. I can't say I hated it, but somehow it felt ... different, like I was watching an elaborately extended Super Bowl commercial.

The original movie was tight, with a relatively narrow scope, but this one felt like Seth MacFarlane had an advising role on set. The characters are not just juvenile and drug-addled. They are absolutely moronic. In particular, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 suffers from too much Rob Corddry, way too much, physically speaking. I don't know if the man deserves recognition for being willing to go so far for a laugh or instead pity for being the guy who will go that far.

The story concerns the fate of the original characters, now returned to a weirdly altered timeline in which they have lived out their lives with future knowledge becoming rich and famous by pre-plagiarizing hit songs and founding their own version of Google. When Lou (Corddry) is shot by an unknown assailant, the group of friends must use the hot tub to again travel back to the past to fix the future. Hmmm.

There really are a number of good gags, and Adam Scott has great chemistry with Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Corddry, better chemistry in fact than Cusack. Chevy Chase is a bright spot for the moment he's there. His appearance feels as if much more of it was left on the cutting-room floor. (Between Chase, Scott, Corddry and Gillian Jacobs, this was practically a Community/Parks & Recreation crossover.) The real heroes of this film are the digital artists, costumers and set designers who designed and executed a really insane version of the present and a far-out version of the near future.

Lone Star Cinema: The Rookie

in

Still from The Rookie

My alternate Super Bowl programming this year was a DVD of The Rookie I checked out from the library. I had first seen the baseball drama closer to its original theatrical release in 2002 and remembered enjoying the story, but hadn’t really thought of the Disney film in the past ten years.

Dennis Quaid (Frequency, The Day After Tomorrow) leads the movie based on the true story of Jimmy Morris, a Texas high-school baseball coach who makes a deal with his team that he will try out for the major leagues if they win district and go on to state. Rachel Griffiths (Muriel's Wedding) plays his wife Lorri, the school counselor. I had forgotten that before he started the sitcom mega-hit Two and a Half Men, Angus T. Jones played the adorable son here. See how young he is in the still posted above.

We are shown the origins of the strained relationship between adult son Jimmy and his father Jim Morris Sr. (Brian Cox, only about seven years older than Quaid). It feels like this is something that might have been compounded more in the screenplay than in real life. Still, it is an interesting contrast to the relationship Jimmy has with his own young son, who helps in team practices and is almost a little shadow to his dad.

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

in

Fifty Shades of Grey

Ouch!
-- Anastasia Steele, far too infrequently in Fifty Shades of Grey

Oh, Hollywood, why do you tease me so, only to leave me sorely disappointed?

I'm referring, of course, to your tepid cinematic treatment of my most favorite kinky novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. I longed for ecstatic screams of agony and agonized screams of ecstasy, but the film delivered little more than one-percenter fu and some really lame spanking scenes.

I know that many a fine novel has suffered greatly in its journey to the big screen; such is the nature of turning books into movies. But your treatment of the brilliant Fifty Shades of Grey is downright disrespectful and, dare I say, deserving of a sound thrashing.

Before I get to the thrashing, I'll give those unfamiliar with Fifty Shades a Grey a two-sentence plot summary: College student Anastasia "Ana" Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets kinky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who wants nothing more in life than to tie her up and beat her. Initially shocked, she finally submits to him -- and to the wanton desires of the naughty girl she truly is. That's really all there is to the story; great literature need not be complicated.

Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

in

Kingsman: The Secret ServiceFilmmaker Matthew Vaughn's already well-established catalog (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) gains a new entry this week with the release of his comedy spy adventure and arguably best film to date, Kingsman: The Secret Service. This James Bond meets Attack the Block romp was scripted by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman, and is based on the comic The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a study in wasted potential due to bad influences and an unsteady home environment who's recruited to a secret organization of upper-crust spies by Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Colin Firth). Only one recruit can complete the training, and Eggsy is at a disadvantage competing with his well-heeled rivals. This theme of class warfare is reflected in the larger story as quirky internet billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) carries out an evil world-wide plot that the Kingsmen must foil.

Let's talk about Jackson for a minute. He is prolific, to say the least, and diverse, but his character Valentine is something entirely, hilariously different, with a comical lisp and vague OCD tendencies. The character is something of a clothes horse, always sporting stylish threads but wearing the same leather baseball hat in different colors to match his outfit. Valentine is an obsessive movie buff and as much a product of pop culture as a shaper of it. He rationalizes his twisted views with grade-school logic, and he's at once the most unique and memorable character Jackson has ever brought to life.

Jackson isn't the only character playing against type. Mark Strong, usually at home as the villain, appears here as Merlin, the technical expert. Firth, however, is as usual the perfect, polished English gentleman. The picture of refinement and class, he explains to Eggsy the origins of the Kingsmen among the elite tailors of London and the virtues of manners and a bespoke suit.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is exactly what you have come to expect from Vaughn. He cleverly riffs on spy films with satire, not spoof, delivering a continuous stream of laughter on top of an action story you can really sink your teeth into. I loved little throwaway lines like the mention of a shoe phone that call back to other spy properties, and spectacular fight choreography and effects lead to an explosive climax that is more over-the-top than anything Vaughn has done in his career.

Review: Still Alice

in

It's hard to begin to review a film like Still Alice. I was warned that this movie might be considered a modern horror film, as it depicts the life of one woman with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Although the film doesn't shed any positive light on getting older, it does take a deeper look at the importance of memory and family.

Alice (Julianne Moore) has just celebrated her 50th birthday surrounded by a loving husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children. She thrives on both her family and teaching at Columbia University, reknowned for her work in linguistics and communication. Life seems on track until she begins to forget words and people's names rather suddenly. A trip to the doctor reveals a rare form of familial Alzheimer's Disease and a life of slow but sure decay for Alice.

Still Alice is painful to watch; not because the film is poorly done, but because it's so truthful all the way through. Alice's decline in memory and basic functioning evokes a real fear in its audience, especially when you realize it's capable of happening to you or someone you know. Perhaps the saddest truth is watching Alice's frustration at her everyday loss, little by little. Her character is most relatable in the way that she tries so hard to cling to her memories, as many of us often do as we age.

No other actor could have played this role like Moore. Others could have portrayed it, but Moore brings a depth to Alice that is both hopeful and heartbreaking. A pleasant surprise is the complex relationship Alice has with her youngest daughter Lydia, played by Kristen Stewart. The role sheds a new light on Stewart, one of a larger acting scale not previously seen. It's perhaps the first role I've actually enjoyed her in.

The best bit of hope the story provides is learning to live in the moment. In a heartfelt speech midway through the film, Alice explains that although having this disease is a struggle, she must learn to live with her loss. What a difference it makes, she explains, to learn to be present in a single moment. That speech, that thought, echoed in my head long after the credits rolled.

Sundance Review: The Forbidden Room

in

The Forbidden Room Still Photo

The Forbidden Room debuted at Sundance Film Festival, and a significant portion of the audience left the screening within the first 15 minutes of the opening credits. This polarizing film is a symphonic cacophony of visual and aural stimulation, with interludes of absurd humor to relieve the pressure. Co-directors/writers Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson along with co-writers Robert Kotyk, John Ashbery and Kim Morgan crafted the story like a traditional Russian nesting doll, with tales within tales -- and sometimes within inanimate objects such as a urine stain within which a battle rages. Lovers, murderers, chanteuses, vampire bananas, motorcycle girls and skeletons are just a few of the macabre players in this delightfully demented and disturbing tale.

The challenge of The Forbidden Room is to follow the threads of each of the stories that are interwoven in a crudely but lovingly handcrafted tapestry. After a brief introduction on "How to Take A Bath," we meet the crew of a submarine that has been trapped underwater for months due to an unstable cargo and missing captain. While the men struggle to survive by eating -- and breathing via -- flapjacks, they encounter a woodsman (Roy Dupuis) who mysteriously appears aboard their doomed home. As they contemplate the fate they are not willing to accept, they encounter even more fears in the dark rooms and corridors as well as within the woodsman's tales. The internationally acclaimed cast include Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Céline Bonnier, Charlotte Rampling, Géraldine Chaplin and Luce Vigo.

Review: Jupiter Ascending

in

Jupiter AscendingLana and Andy Wachowski are two of my favorite current filmmakers. The Matrix rocked my worldview, and Cloud Atlas expanded my worldview, claiming a place as my very favorite movie. We've come to expect the very best from them, but not every movie can rock your world. Sometimes we have to settle for just "really damned good."

Jupiter Ascending encompasses the Wachowskis' grand visions of galactic empire within the confines of a relatively small action-adventure story. Their aesthetic, with a dreamlike quality, seems to draw on influences from every big science-fiction film of the past but mixes them together in new and original combinations. Immediately after it screened for press, Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of complaints from critics calling the movie a mess. It may not be for everyone. It misses a few beats, but it gets more right than it does wrong. If you're on the same wavelength as the Wachowskis, you should enjoy Jupiter Ascending as much as I did.

The story follows a Russian immigrant girl, named Jupiter because of her astronomer father's obsession with the planet, as she is attacked and aided by competing alien forces due to an accident of her birth. Her DNA is a perfect match for the eons-dead queen of a galactic empire, and the queen's heirs, her three children, each approach Jupiter in attempts to woo or threaten her and gain control of her now vast resources.

Mila Kunis is perfect for the role of Jupiter, with her combination of dark gorgeous looks and childlike innocence. In their interview with Hitfix's Drew McWeeny, the Wachowskis discuss their goal to make her a particularly feminine heroine rather than a female character who acts like a male hero. This is one goal I feel they failed to achieve, as time and again they place Jupiter in the position of damsel in distress so she can be rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum). This happens with such frequency that he becomes the hero of the story.

Slamdance Review: Clinger

in

Clinger Still Photo

Houston-shot comedic horror film Clinger premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival with full houses for both screenings. This quirky feature directed by Michael Steves (Hello, Cruel World) and co-written by Gabi Chennisi (Dark Water), Bubba Fish, and Steves is entertaining horror that turns the rom-com genre on its head, both literally and figuratively.

Jennifer Laporte stars as Fern Peterson, a high-school girl who aspires to receive an athletic scholarship to MIT. She experiences her first love with classmate Robert Klingher (Vincent Martella), who overwhelms Fern with adoration and gifts. Just as Fern admits to Robert that they should end their relationship, Robert dies in a freak accident and returns from the dead as a love-sick ghost. With the aid of her track coach and semi-retired ghost hunter Valeria Kingsley (Alicia Monet Caldwell), Fern must overcome Robert's attempts to ensure their everlasting love.

Clinger is a refreshing departure from a typical high-school romantic comedy, with strong characterization of lead and supporting actresses. While Fern clearly appreciates the affection from Robert, there's a reluctance that can be seen in her expressions -- especially in a photo where Robert grasps her in an overly affectionate stranglehold. Laporte is phenomenal in her role of a young woman conflicted by her emotional attachment to her first love and its impact on her chosen path in life.

Review: Amira & Sam

in

Amira and Sam 

Romantic comedies are not exactly known for being rooted in realism. Movies in this genre always include an element of fantasy, whether it is minor or major, to make viewers wonder if it could ever happen to them. There are elements to Amira & Sam that feel surprisingly authentic and even when it begins to feel a little contrived, I do think its heart is in the right place. 

Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) is Sam, an army solider who has recently returned home and is struggling to reassimilate. He returns to civilian life by working security as a doorman for a highrise apartment building. One night, he makes the mistake of chastizing an elevator full of privileged assholes after seeing one of them urinate outside the front door. They mockingly call him a "redneck cop" and dare him to do something about it. Sam lets the elevator doors close, but quickly shuts down the elevator banks, trapping them while he grabs a mop to clean up the mess. 

Syndicate content