October 28, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

Even if you're a person who doesn't mind spoilers, trust me - this is one movie you do not want to know the ending to. I know this because I actually read the book. So watching this movie lost quite a big portion of its appeal, seeing as it's a mystery and all.

The book is split into three parts: Part I is so intense you can't put it down; Part II is when the story really unfolds; Part III was disappointing. As in, it sunk the book from being excellent to mediocre. A story is only as strong as its ending, as we all learning from watching Unknown.

The movie spends the majority of its time on Part I, which is smart because it's really the most compelling part of the story and what hooks you into the story. Part II, while interesting, has been condensed into the highlights through a tidy little summary. But where the movie really shines is through its portrayal of Part III. It keeps the same ending, but somehow makes it less... lame. The pacing of this movie is just very well done by focusing its time on the best parts of the book and keeping the disappointing portions mercifully short.

It's difficult to say much more about the movie without giving away key plot points, but I will say it does an excellent job with casting. Ben Affleck draws on his qualities of being attractive but approachable while simultaneously keeping enough smarmy to make you wonder if he is, in fact, a murderer. Neil Patrick Harris, despite looking nothing like I imagined the character would while reading the book, manages to be a complete scene stealer and lends an additional layer of creepiness to the movie. And Tyler Perry doesn't dress up as a woman, so that's a bonus.

I also like Rosamund Pike. Likely because she played Jane in my beloved Pride and Prejudice, but whatever. I like her look. And considering the pleasant but simple characters she plays in Pride and Prejudice, An Education, and Barney's Version, her transformation into a a complex lead here is both well executed and long overdue. Do I think someone else could have done a better job? Possibly. But Pike brings an understated quiet and dignity to the role that is good in its own right.

Final word: Not only an improvement on the book, but a better movie if you've never read the book in the first place.

October 21, 2014

Begin Again (2013)

Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Mos Def, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener

There are obviously so many movies released every year you could never watch them all even if you were so inclined. But if it has Keira Knightly in it, I make an effort to see it. Sure, her repeated "I'm not beautiful and I never wanted to be a star" claims get a little annoying, but I do actually still think she's beautiful and she's one of my favorite actresses regardless. I am also a total sucker for period pieces, which she does a lot of.

I like her so much I've been a staunch defender of her severe under bite, saying it doesn't detract from her acting. But I had never watched a movie that featured her as a singer. That is, a movie that repeatedly showed close-ups of her mouth in action. It's bad, folks. Knightly's singing is actually quite pleasant, but it was hard to focus on with the camera staring at her mouth so often.

Under bite aside, the acting in this movie is solid throughout. Mark Ruffalo still has his disheveled look and personality thing going on, but takes it closer to The Kids Are All Right level of loser-dom, which is perfect for his character. Even the daughter in this movie isn't super annoying. And even though Adam Levine made me want to puke every time I saw him on screen, I give him credit - he is able to play a character at least as douchy as he appears in real life. (I feel compelled to repeat the line from the article I liked to: "Adam Levine, aka the human equivalent of testing positive for chlamydia." It's just so hilarious. And true.)

This movie was very reminiscent of Chef with its indie charm and feel good story. I think the industry would call this movie "heart warming." This translates to a plot that takes you to the edge of eye-rolls with it's cheesiness, but that you still somehow enjoy. It's probably unfortunate that I watched this movie when I did because while I walked away from Chef thinking it was a good movie, I found this one to be a little less impressive, despite the fact that I like both Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly better than Jon Favreau. I guess indie charm wears off after one viewing.

Final word: Substitute music for food and you have Chef.

October 18, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Tom Cruise is 52. On one hand, he doesn't look a day over 46 (it's amazing what Botox can do!). On the other, I find it shocking he's not older. Doesn't it seem like he's been around forever?!? I mean, he was in The Outsiders!! (Don't you remember reading/watching this in middle school?)

With Hollywood's new trend of casting older men in action movies (think: Liam Neeson), it actually didn't seem weird to have Tom Cruise still running around, blowing up stuff in this movie. Of course, this means he'll take it as a sign to make Mission: Impossible 6 or something, but I suppose someone's got to keep Ving Rhames employed. And I haven't heard news of Baby Boy 2 coming any time soon.

The problem with sci-fi movies is that they often do one of two thing:

1. Over-focus on making it look so futuristic it becomes cheesy and cliché (see: In Time). Or,

2. Make the plot overly complex in an attempt to prove how "smart" sci-fi is (see: Cloud Atlas). And an over-wrought plot is just that, no matter how cool the special effects or wardrobe.

Add to that the fact that both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt's last attempts at sci-fi were underwhelming and I was a skeptical viewer. But this movie manages to stay both interesting and exciting from start to finish, which is a rarity in any genre. There are very few lulls in the action, but it's also not non-stop explosions, giving your senses some time to breathe. The Groundhog's Day repeating plot doesn't feel played out here--instead, it is a perfect match for the video game look and feel of this movie. Because I don't know about you, but I need that secret video game code that gives you unlimited lives...

Also looking great in this movie, Emily Blunt's body is to die for. She could be a fitness model for those P90X videos that try and convince you it's not gross to work out and sweat all over your living room. They force her to keep doing this awkward cobra yoga pose, probably because some guy thought it'd be sexy, but her arms look so fantastic that you almost don't mind seeing her subject herself to it over and over again. And normally it would gross me out that she's paired with Tom Cruise (because of the awkward age difference), but considering she's the competent badass of the movie and not some impressionable young woman looking for a man, I guess it's ok. Still not ideal, but better than pairing her with Shia LeBeouf or something.

And if nothing else, it's great to see Bill Paxton in movies again! I mean yeah, yeah, he was in Big Love, but who really watched a show based on the premise that Bill Paxton could get three women to marry him, let alone at the same time? To me, he'll always be the used car salesman from True Lies.

Final word: Surprisingly good.

October 9, 2014

Save the Date (2012)

Lizzy Caplan (aka Linday Lohan's angry friend in Mean Girls), Alison Brie, Geoffry Arend

The reason indie films are so beloved is that they're supposed to be labors of love. They stress acting and realism over special effects (of any kind) and trust the audience won't be bored by long periods of silence. I often find myself annoyed with this commitment to reality, as I want my movies to be entertaining, not reflections of what I see in everyday life.

Relationship indies, however, are where I change my stance. I think the reason regular romantic comedies are so annoying is because they follow the same ridiculous plot formula that is so unrealistic to life (see the breakdown here). But no matter the variations, they all have one thing in common: the grand romantic gesture. You know, the Say Anything moment of the movie where someone does something out of the ordinary to prove their love, because that one moment obviously erases any previous problems the couple had.

This movie had that realness. It was, actually, one of the more realistic movies I've seen about relationships, in terms of the way people interact with one another. They do boring things like brush their teeth together and have conversations about mundane things. That's what shows real intimacy and comfort. This doesn't necessarily make for the most exciting movie, especially since I don't think it's necessary to listen to two people talk about their farts together, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who have had that conversation.

I also think the character development in this was decent, at least in the main character. Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) was one of those girls I'm sure everyone has known (or been) in their lifetime - a girl who likes dating but absolutely refuses to commit, and who can turn cold and unresponsive when necessary to protect herself. She is a character I think many women can relate to and one that men will be confused and frustrated by.

Speaking of frustrating women... her sister! She seems like a judgmental bitch on first glance, which would normally raise my feminist hackles at a woman being portrayed so one-dimensionally, but in thinking about it, I realize that some women really just lose their f*cking mind when planning a wedding. I don't understand it, but I've seen even the most rational, normal women morph into self-centered bridezillas as "their day" approaches. I don't know how to make people understand that no one else actually cares about your wedding, let alone whether or not the color of your napkins match the ribbons on your bridesmaid's bouquets, but I do believe in excusing my friends for their temporary insanity, provided it passes after the big day. So really, her sister might just be one of these women whose self-centeredness is a byproduct of wedding ridiculousness. Or I might just be making excuses for her.

Where the indies lose me is their completely unrealistic portrayal of people who are always artists or writers or whatever and live in these fabulous lofts there is no way they could afford on the money they make. Not to mention, I think Sarah's drawings are stupid and in no way believe she would get an entire gallery show to herself. But if opting to sit through a movie of this type again, I would choose Lola Versus every time.

Final word: Indie chick flick through and through, right now to the musical selections.

October 1, 2014

Austenland (2013)

Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, the guy from Flight of the Conchords, and the gay friend from Bridget Jones' Diary

In order to explain why this movie was made, I first need to try and explain the female population's obsession with Jane Austen. Like millions of other women, my favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, and has been since the first time I read it. I've watched the Keira Knightly movie so many times my husband can quote along with it.

To put it simply: Jane Austen understands women. She writes with a woman's voice, from a woman's perspective, and shows the men from a woman's point of view. She makes each heroine an individual who women can both relate to and aspire to be at the same time. And the leading men are representations of either the cads women actually meet, or the ideal man women dream of meeting. And Mr. Darcy is the perfect man because he is intelligent, handsome, honest, can admit when he is wrong, and just a bit mysterious.

And so, slews of movies based on/around Jane Austen's books - and Austen herself - have been made. And I watch them all. Clueless? Check. Jane Austen Book Club? Check. Becoming Jane? Check. Bridget Jones' Diary? I even sat through the sequel. And I'll probably watch the third, if it ever gets made. I can't help it. I love Jane Austen. And Mr. Darcy. Even if the movies inspired by her work are tragically bad, I still watch them. If Austenland were a real place, it would be my dream to go. Think of it as the female version of a man's dream to have an "immersive experience" in the Playboy mansion.

The movie itself, however, is not quite as brilliant as the concept. It's still a romantic comedy, after all, which means there are predictability issues and more than one scene of squeamish cheesiness. But there are some positives, like:

1. It embraces Jane Austen's feminist theme. Sure, the heroines of her books mostly just talk about whom to marry, but in their time of limited options, they are so bold as to wish for love (instead of  only security) and exhibit personalities contrary to what is always acceptable and "amiable." They take charge of their own lives, which is also what Keri Russell's character does in the movie.

2. There are some decent looking people in this movie. Granted, they really only look attractive in their 19th century wardrobe, but I'm now a believer that Brett McKenzie should just continuously bale hay in a loose shirt and some trousers. These guys are what make this story believable, because honestly, who would spend their life savings to be wooed by unattractive men? It's a fantasy, people!

3. Um, well, that's it. I'm pretty sure the director intended for Jennifer Coolidge (aka Stifler's mom) to be the comic relief, but considering she plays the exact same person in every single movie, it's sort of like ehhhhhh...

At the end of the day, I can recognize it's not a very good movie. But did that stop me from enjoying it? Not any more than when I watched Letters to Juliet.

Final word: Totally fun to watch. Just do it alone, and don't tell anyone about it.

P.S. I could never actually go to Austenland because I wouldn't be able to resist trying to use a British accent the whole time, which would be unbelievably obnoxious.