Drinking Buddies (2013)

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Directed by:  Joe Swanberg
Written by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston and Jason Sudeikis (uncredited?)

This is one of those movies that we all complain is missing from Hollywood, because it is heartfelt, truthful and real, but when it comes down to it we want the payoff.   Joe Swanberg creates a true-to-life romance about two good friends who sense but try to ignore the tension between them.  It is a quiet film that unfolds as you imagine life to unfold, but is missing any quirkiness that could have elevated it into something greater.

What I liked: Swanberg does a fine job bringing out the most honest performances from each of his actors.  Olivia Wilde is effortless as a working woman trying to understand herself.  Jake Johnson, with the help of a little facial hair and fine acting, sheds all traces of New Girl’s Nick Miller, while maintaining a comedic streak that endears us to both characters.  Together Wilde and Johnson have such chemistry that we can enjoy the journey, if not the ending.

What I didn’t like:  I appreciate Swanberg’s effort to bring real-life to the screen without the cliched meet-cutes or gimmicks that can be spotted a mile away; and yet the movie is so real that when all is said and done we discover there were no stakes and no consequences.  Drinking Buddies is a film that, even though we sense a change in character at the end, feels too linear, like a reality show without forced drama.

My rating:  Take the tension but leave the rest.

IMDb: 6.0        tomato: 69%

Release Date:  July 25, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (screenplay), based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the disparate reactions to Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual extravaganza, but I am, a little.  Granted, Luhrmann’s take on the classic novel, about a man desperate to prove his worth to his long-lost love and its symbolic reflection of American society in the post-war era, is more garish and unsentimental than the novel but it still works for a few reasons.

What I liked: Attention to performance is one of Baz Luhrmann’s strengths as a director.  Despite the volume of his films, with their prominent soundtracks and buzzing images he never forgets his actors.  The Great Gatsby is no exception.  In fact, Lurhmann takes greater care of his characters and their development here than in previous films.  Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan are excellent.  Through Maguire’s concentrated stare we feel Nick’s loneliness; through Edgerton’s rough voice we feel Tom Buchanan’s arrogance; through Mulligan’s whimisical demeanor we sense Daisy’s unworthiness of Gatsby’s love.  Together with their strong supporting cast, they provide all the heart, emotion and intrigue that manage to retain our focus despite the visial chaos.  Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, is exceptional.  It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him as the romantic lead and his commitment to this iconic character made his performance far more profound and powerful than I have seen in his recent films.  Finally, I enjoyed the modernized soundtrack headed by Jay-Z.  I found the music timely and suited the moments over which it played.  Although, a contemporary soundtrack over period pieces is a staple in Lurhmann’s films, here it worked, whether or not intended, as an indication that American indulgence is still omnipresent.

What I didn’t like:  The narrative framework that posits Nick Carraway as a recovering alcoholic cathartically seeking solace through his writing about Gatsby didn’t at all work.  I found it added nothing to our understanding of the film and delayed my immersion into the story – so much so that I felt waves of fear  that I’d hate my most anticipated movie of 2013.   In fact, the moments of Nick’s voice-over postulations (comprised mainly of quotes from the novel) detracted from the flow and minimized Nick’s affection for Gatsby, which was so endearing during the film.

My rating:  I’ll buy it when it comes out.

In case you’re interested: Here is James Franco’s review of The Great Gatsby for Vice Magazine

IMDb 7.5     rotten 49%

Warm Bodies (2013)

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Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel)
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich and Cory Hardrict

When I talk about doing something new with a tired genre, this is exactly what I mean.  Based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, Jonathan Levine’s “Zomedy” or “Zom-com” about a zombie who falls in love with a human, and the connection he tries to form with her is endearing and witty and that’s it; but that’s all it needs.   It was a pleasant surprise considering the haphazard trailer left me with no desire to see the film.

What I liked: I’ve been looking for a comedy that does nothing more than entertain.  I tried Movie 43 and turned it off after the opening scene.  I tried I Give it a Year and turned it off after 15 minutes.  But this zombie flick had just enough gore, horror, humour and romance to hook me from the opening right through to the end.  I appreciated the movie’s fast pace and Levine does a good job of keeping the focus on the love story rather than a problematic post-apocalyptic society.   Nevertheless, Levine stays true to the zombie genre but without the gore that could have made it unwatchable.  Nicholas Hoult does a credible job as the zombie R whose character comes alive through minimal facial expressions and voice-over.  Teresa Palmer plays the embattled love interest with charm and strength and the two have great on-screen chemistry.

What I didn’t like:  As I mentioned above, there really isn’t much to this movie. The zombies have no memory so the characters have no past.  The zombies can’t really speak so most of the heart comes from R’s inner thoughts and his inability to express them.  There is no real foil and no real villain but the time the two protagonists spend together moves the romance forward and that is enough to keep audiences engaged.

My rating: A perfect rainy day romance.

IMDb:  7.0       tomato: 80%

The Big Wedding (2013)

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Directed by: Justin Zackham
Written by: Justin Zackham, Jean-Stéphane Bron (motion picture “Mon frère se marie”)
Starring: Robert de Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Barnes

You know a movie isn’t very good when critics use ‘all star cast’ as a euphemism for no plot.  At least that’s what I discovered when I tried to find something to say about this romantic wedding comedy.  Other than the famous faces that populate it, there is absolutely nothing memorable or forgivable about this 89 minute cliche.  The worst part is that they tried to modernize a tired genre that desperately needs reinventing but forgot to update the dialogue and punch lines at the same time.

What I liked: The location is beautiful.  I wouldn’t mind getting married at the lakeside property where it was shot.  Robin Williams was sort of funny.  Topher Grace delivered a couple of funny lines.  I’m curious to know if the original French version had the same punch lines that just didn’t translate well or if Hollywood butchered what could have been a fun romp.

What I didn’t like: Everything.  From the forced story, the clichéd dialogue and expected crises, to the undedicated cast, the sloppy editing and the laboured jokes. I groaned at every new scene and rubbed my forehead with each punch line.  However, in fairness to Zackham, he clearly targeted and reached a certain audience because my theatre was roaring with laughter and I just didn’t get it.  Maybe I’m too young to appreciate the trite sex jokes delivered by Sarandon, de Niro and Keaton and felt they were too old, or respected, to be convincing.  My feeling throughout was that Zackham must cringe when he watches this film.

My rating: I wish I could unsee every minute of it.

IMDB: 5.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 8% (Yup. That’s an 8. Top critics gave it a 4%)

My Most Anticipated Movie

(0f 2013)

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The Great Gatsby is finally here.

Baz Luhrmann’s much anticipated 3D film adaptation of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, was originally slated to open Christmas 2012 but was pushed back to May 2013.  I’ve read a series of evasive responses to the reasons for the movie’s delay including this from Lurhmann himself: “I will tell you this; I’m just very nourished by just working on it. I’m just thrilled.  Right now I’m working on music. You can imagine how involved I am in the music alone.” So, the movie was delayed because???

The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton and opens May 10th.

I cannot wait, effects, performances, music and all.

If you haven’t seen the trailer:

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher.

Oscar Nominations:  Actor (Bradley Cooper), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor (Robert de Niro), Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Editing, Screenplay (Adapted), Directing and Picture.

I’m a huge fan of David O. Russell so needless to say I was pretty excited to see his take on the romantic comedy.   I enjoyed the story, about a young man trying to come to terms with his bipolar disorder, his father and the rejection of his ex with the help of young woman who forces him to face his reality; and I enjoyed the performances but, I have to admit, I came away from it a little mystified by the acclaim and Oscar nominations.

What I liked:  Bradley Cooper is excellent as Pat and he was convincing enough to let me forget he was ‘Bradley Cooper’.  I was also happy to see Jacki Weaver nominated for her performance as Pat’s mother, the cracked glue trying desperately to hold her family together, as she could have easily been overlooked for the subtlety of her role compared to the neurosis around her.  The casting is excellent and I liked that I could finally enjoy a romantic comedy that focused on the characters rather than the formulaic plot points.

What I didn’t like:  I thought Robert de Niro was admirable as Pat’s equally neurotic father but there was so much depth to his character that it felt like Russell tried to force too much into the brief moments when he was on screen.  That is only one instance where I felt the editing failed.  The transitions also felt strained and at times I wanted to see the missing gaps that had been pared down to make this choppy final cut.  Finally, Jennifer Lawrence was enjoyable as Tiffany and her performance stands above the role of  ‘love interest’ in most romantic comedies but I never forgot for a moment that she was ‘Jennifer Lawrence.’

My rating:  Don’t believe the hype.  Sure it’s a good, heartfelt, funny movie but Best Picture? Nah.

IMDB: 8.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

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Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni and Jake Johnson

One review I read compared Safety Not Guaranteed to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  How they made that leap is beyond me.  Colin Trevorrow’s indie dramedy, about three journalists who decide to chase down and write a story about the author of a personal ad who is seeking a partner with whom to time travel, is quirky but has nothing close to the depth of Eternal Sunshine.  The comparison, however, basically summed up what I didn’t like about it: I just didn’t feel the “sweet, oddball sadness” that permeated the latter.   Here, I liked the characters and I understood their pain and dissatisfaction but it didn’t reach me.  There was something uncomfortable about it which might have been the point but it didn’t help to make this movie memorable despite its unique, and true (the movie is based on a real personal ad) premise.  That said, there is something enjoyable about the movie where the dialogue, story and editing move it forward with charm and grace.  It is not overambitious and without comparisons stands well enough on its own.

What I liked:  The eccentricity of each character feels natural and never forced.  The relationships are rushed but sincere and the rugged style merely enhances the finale.  There is something true about these characters and their lives.  The casting is flawless, especially Mark Duplass as the time traveller dealing with his loneliness better than the rest.

What I didn’t like: I really can’t pinpoint it.  The movie, in its way, is beautiful but I felt Trevorrow kept his characters at a distance from his audience, as if the movie ends just as we were beginning to understand these individuals.

My rating: I’d have these characters over for dinner.

IMDB: 7.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%