Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Review: Going the Distance


Drew and the guys

There have been worries in recent years that the romantic comedy genre is dead or dying. Going the Distance could prove that theory wrong; the amusing romantic comedy tends to stay outside the confines of the typical rom-com formula.

For starters, Drew Barrymore's Erin is a potty-mouthed broad who holds the high score on the neighborhood bar's Centipede game. She's also focused on her career track, and the film (thankfully) doesn't treat this as a negative quality.

Thirty-one and currently in grad school at Stanford, Erin is finishing up her summer internship at a fictional New York City paper when she meets affable twentysomething Garrett (Justin Long), who works for a record label. They agree after their first night together that neither of them is looking for anything serious, but they meet up often during the six weeks before Erin heads back to California. They decide to attempt a long-distance relationship.

We see the fondness between the two characters growing, while their friends and family give them unsolicited advice on how to deal with a long-distance relationship. As the professions Erin and Garrett have chosen -- working for the print media and the music industry -- are hard hit by the economy, the recession plays a role in their story. Will they ever be able to live in the same time zone when jobs are so hard to find? Should either of them give up their career to stay in the relationship?

Review: Eat Pray Love


Liz (Julia Roberts) and the rogue elephant

It's been a while since I read Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir -- and I've read many books since then -- so the story was not exactly fresh on my mind when I watched Eat Pray Love. As someone who is wary of book-to-movie adaptations, I found that the movie remained somewhat true to Gilbert's book, as I remembered it. However, the film fails to capture some of the best aspects and, unfortunately, the true essence of the original work, even as it follows the same plot.

Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) endures a painful divorce (from a morose Billy Crudup) and an unhealthy relationship with a younger actor (James Franco) before she realizes she needs to define who she is and what she wants. She expresses to her editor pal Delia (the wonderful Viola Davis) her desire to travel for a year, and the movie flows from there.

Liz goes to Rome to enjoy food, India to attend her guru's ashram, and Bali to study with a medicine man. As she travels, new relationships blossom. In the book, we read about Elizabeth Gilbert growing into her self and coming to love who she is. In the movie, Liz Gilbert cries a lot. I didn't count, but I'd estimate at least eight times. Her handsome Brazilian lover Felipe (Javier Bardem) cries as well, but at least his tears seem authentic. When Julia Roberts cries as Liz, it seems forced and flimsy. Like director Ryan Murphy was yelling at her from behind the camera, "Cry now!" If movie Liz Gilbert is growing into her self, her self is a weepy mess.

Review: Step Up 3D


Rotten Tomatoes. These kids are stepping it up.

If you've seen any of the Step Up movies, you might expect that Step Up 3D would showcase some great dancing (in 3D!) and also have some semblance of a plot. And it does! But it is carried out in a less than cohesive manner with some very lackluster acting.

The plot, as I understood it, is focused on two guys, "filmmaker" Luke (Rick Malambri) and NYU freshman Moose (Adam G. Sevani), as well as their respective love interests, Natalie (Sharni Vinson) and Camille (Alyson Stoner, also in the original Step Up). Luke owns a building, left to him by his parents, called The Vault. Here he fosters a dance group and runs a club on the floor below. He is having financial problems (of course) and is in danger of losing his building. He sees Moose dance in the park and invites him to join his dance crew, the Pirates. He tells Moose that he is BFAB: "born from a boombox" (more about this is in the documentary-style opening to the film). If Moose joins their dance team, they will surely win the World Jam dance contest and the $100,000 prize, which will save the farm -- err, I mean warehouse building.

Review: Salt


Angelina Jolie in Salt

I was expecting Salt to be like a female version of the Bourne films, and it is as engaging as the best of that series. But unlike Jason Bourne, with Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), we're never quite sure what her agenda is -- although we're still quite eager to follow her on her escapades.

The movie starts off with our heroine/anti-heroine being traded for another spy (sounds familiar, right?) after she was captured in North Korea and her German arachnologist boyfriend Mike (August Diehl) worked for her release (unaware at this point that she works for the CIA). Two years later, Mike and Evelyn are living in Washington, DC, married, and about to celebrate their anniversary when Salt is asked to interview a Russian spy who has turned himself in to the CIA.

This spy, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), spins a tale about a Russian program in the 1970s that indoctrinated children and raised them to speak English as well as Russian ... and he tells of a certain double-agent brought up in the program who will soon kill the Russian president: Evelyn Salt. Salt starts fretting that her CIA partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) will believe Orlov and so she escapes. Thus the action begins!

Review: The Kids Are All Right


The Kids Are All Right

Last Wednesday evening, I attended a packed screening of The Kids Are All Right at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar; the theater was so full that even though I was there early my friend and I had to sit in folding chairs. I was hungry, but felt too unsettled to order anything (and since I wasn't near a table, I couldn't imagine how I would eat and take notes at the same time). Then the movie started, and I forgot my own problems and got caught up in the story of the family in the film.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married Californian couple with two teenage kids: recent high school graduate Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids love their moms, but since Joni is 18, Laser asks her to find out about their sperm donor. Thus, Mark Ruffalo enters the picture as Paul, a organic/local restauranteur (his place is called WYSIWYG, get it?) in his early forties and their biological father.

Paul becomes involved with both the kids and their moms in varying ways. Jules and Joni bloom under his attentions, and even Laser takes his advice (finally) regarding his doofus friend Clay (Eddie Hassell), the kind of guy who would want to pee on a dog's head. Yes, this film goes there! Well, almost.

Review: Toy Story 3


The toys are back!

After the previous exceptional Toy Story movies, much is expected from Toy Story 3. A rollicking adventure that serves as an homage of sorts to the prison/escape movie genre, the animated movie also packs an emotional punch. You wouldn't expect anything less from a Pixar film.

In this addition to the series, the toys -- much reduced in number over the years -- are suffering from lack of attention from their owner, Andy, now 17 years old and packing for college. A few toys, such as cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), aren't coping well with possible rejection, while cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) tries to convince them that the attic will be a nifty place to hang out.  

A mishap occurs and the toys end up at Sunnyside Day Care instead, a place ruled by charismatic, good-ol-boy teddy bear Lotso (Ned Beatty), with a Ken doll (hilariously voiced by Michael Keaton) and a big, doodled-upon baby doll as his minions. While Andy's toys are there, a relationship grows quickly between Molly's donated Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken, Woody is taken home by shy, imaginative Bonnie (whose mom works at the day care) and meets her dedicated toys (Kristen Schall, Jeff Garlin, and Roger Dalton), and the Pizza Planet delivery truck makes yet another appearance in the series.

Review: Sex and the City 2


Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2 has a lot going on. The cast is large (so many cameos!), the storylines are many, puns -- and crotch shots -- abound, the budget is sizable, and the movie clocks in at just less than 2.5 hours.  Could the movie have been simpler? Sure, but then it wouldn't be Sex and the City.

The film begins with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), our narrator, reminiscing about when she met Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in NYC; this is mainly an opportunity to show how the ladies look in 1980s era fashion. From there the story moves to Connecticut, where Anthony and Stanford are getting married by Liza Minnelli (their wedding hall looks like something out of The Gay Divorcee).

Carrie is still getting used to her role as Big's wife, Charlotte's two daughters are overwhelming her (despite the help of her Irish nanny), Miranda is working with a sexist boss, and Samantha is dealing with aging. These are the basic plot threads through the film. The first portion of the film feels like a standalone episode of the former TV show, but then the ladies travel to Abu Dhabi.

Review: Letters to Juliet


Still from "Letters to Juliet" from Rotten TomatoesI attended the screening of Letters to Juliet the day that Lynn Redgrave's death was announced, so it was both refreshing and bittersweet to see her older sister Vanessa in the film. Vanessa Redgrave always gives a quality performance, no matter the size of the role. Even so, her role in this film isn't as large as I would have liked.

The main character is Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker for The New Yorker, engaged to hot chef Victor (Gael García Bernal). As viewers we are expected to suspend our disbelief that on their salaries -- and less than a month before Victor's new restaurant opening -- the couple can afford a pre-wedding trip to Genoa, Italy. Okay.

During their stay in Italy (lushly shot, I might add), Victor drags Sophie along to various foodie stops, while she wants to see the sights. They end up amicably spending time away from each other, and on a solo walk around Genoa, Sophie stumbles upon Juliet's house.

In the courtyard, women leave notes to Shakespeare's celebrated character. At the end of the day, these notes are collected and Juliet's secretaries answer them. Sophie helps them and discovers a 50-year-old letter written by a young Brit about her regretted decision to leave her boyfriend Lorenzo. Soon Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her orange-hued, twentysomething grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) meet Sophie and they start on a search for Lorenzo.

Review: The Joneses


Still from "The Joneses" from Rotten Tomatoes

With a lock on our consumer culture, The Joneses is an enjoyable satire, a sort of mixture of The Stepford Wives and the Home Shopping Network. The film focuses on the Joneses, a "family" made up of salespeople assigned to influence the spending habits of a certain suburb.

David Duchovny plays Steve, the father figure who also happens to be the newest addition to the team. His "wife" and boss, Kate, is played by a lovely and well-matched Demi Moore. Rounding out their family unit is Amber Heard as Jenn, their "teenage" daughter who prefers older men, and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), who works with the high-school set as he deals with his own issues. Also playing a large part in the story are Gary Cole (fabulous as always) and Glenne Headley as a neighbor couple who completely buy into whatever the Joneses are selling.

Review: Brooklyn's Finest


Brooklyn's Finest

There were a few times during Brooklyn's Finest that I wanted to get up and leave, but I thought, well, maybe it will get better. The problem is: it never does. The film depicts three unrelated stories involving cops on the Brooklyn beat: Eddie (Richard Gere), an alcoholic cop seven days from retirement; Sal (Ethan Hawke), a detective trying to find a way to put a down payment on a new house; and Tango (Don Cheadle), an undercover cop who is unsure where his true allegiance should lie. Frankly, this movie could have used more Cheadle and less of everybody else. His scenes with Wesley Snipes, who plays a kingpin who once saved Tango's life, are about as good as the film gets.

The movie seems to deal in general stereotyping. For instance, the women in the film are either victims or bitches -- there's no in-between. Lili Taylor, playing Sal's ailing pregnant wife, is only in about two scenes of the film, but her illness fuels his desire to find money for a new house by any means necessary. Ellen Barkin's hardass Fed seems to mainly exist for Tango to play off as she makes ridiculously racist comments (and she's only in a couple of scenes herself). There's the coke-sniffing prostitute that Eddie (Richard Gere) wants to save -- but he also wants to sleep with her. The other women serve as scenery. They don't talk, they just serve drinks (topless), iron drug money (topless), work in a strip club (topless) ... you get the idea. And strangely enough, there are scant women (I only saw one) on the police force in Brooklyn's Finest. For a drama that yearns to be gritty and "real," this seems a huge misstep.

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