Monday, December 26, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Charlize Theron,  Patton Oswalt,  Patrick Wilson,  Elizabeth Reasor, Jill Eikenberry 

Director: Jason Reitman

Genre: Drama/ Dark Comedy

What we often fail to consider about people is there's a reason why they are the way they are. They don't just wake up one day and become suddenly dysfunctional. The reasons for why the gears are slipping in Mavis Gary's brain are not immediately revealed. So she's not exactly a sympathetic character, until we gain some insight into her pain farther down the line. All we know is there's a train wreck coming --we can see it building from miles away. And just how it's going to play out becomes the rubbernecking fascination of Young Adult--the low-key, darkly comedic effort from the director of Up In The Air, and the writer of Juno (Diablo Cody).

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a hard drinking writer of teen fiction in her late thirties. Her publisher is expecting some words from her, but she sits uninspired in front of the computer. Her Minneapolis apartment is a disaster area. ( I felt an immediate kinship, as all slobs do.) Her sexual encounters are of the superficial variety. Something is missing in her life. 

 She receives a mass emailed announcement of the birth of her happily married high school sweetheart's first child. Star athlete Buddy Slade. At first Mavis is incensed, but it gets her to ruminating on  her "homecoming queen bitch" (as a snarky former classmate will label her) glory days. She becomes fixated on the idea of going back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota and reclaiming Buddy for her own. 

Yes, despite the "extenuating" circumstances.
Explaining her arrival back in town with a cover story about some real estate deal, Mavis hits the bar and runs into geek Matt Freehauf, (Patton Oswalt) who occupied the locker right next to hers in high school. But she existed in such a self-absorbed bubble that she doesn't have the slightest recollection of him, until her memory is jogged by a disturbing incident from those days. Matt's youth was marred by a severe beating at the hands of bullies, and now his legs don't work. His member sort of does, but it's crooked (like much of the twisted humor in this movie!)

So Mavis will rendezvous with the clueless Buddy, (Patrick Wilson) who thinks it's all for old time's sake--his marriage to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, of the girl-next-door looks) on such solid ground that it's no biggie to either of them. Little do they suspect that she intends to ingratiate herself into their happy set-up like an army of termites poised to eat away at the foundation of their relationship. 
On the side, Mavis develops a sort of symbiotic relationship with Matt. He manufactures moonshine and she drinks it. Fully aware of what she's up to,   he functions as her dormant conscience--a sort of angel on her shoulder--trying to impress upon her how misguidedly deranged she's become. And just like Clarence, Matt WILL get his wings (and all of geekdom watching will rejoice!)

Though it's lost on Mavis, theirs is the more meaningful of the two relationships. They are kindred spirits, each crippled by the past, as yet unable to move beyond it.   

The climactic scene brings the sudden realization that in Young Adult, what we've been watching all along is a character study of an individual in need of help--it's smirking humor derived from the irony of life itself.

I was never particularly a fan of Theron, but after Young Adult, I am. As Mavis Gary, she taps into our go-for-the-gusto, never to be denied, can do spirit--albeit in a selfish, obnoxious, and devil-may-care manner. But hey, as Mellencamp sang: Those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went...ah, but ain't that America...

One of the year's best films! 

Grade :  A

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Kirsten Dunst,  Charlotte Gainsbourg,  Kiefer Sutherland,  John Hurt,  Charlotte Rampling

Director: Lars von Trier

Genre: Art House/ Sci-fi-/ Drama  

Slap the Art House label onto a film and it can compensate for a multitude of movie making sins.  Doesn't need to have much of a plot. Doesn't need to employ a lot of imagination, as long as the characters are quirky. And the camera work can appear so amateurish and unsteady that half the time when you're supposed to be looking at someone's face,  you're looking at their belly button. But all this is normally overlooked by fans of the genre if something truly memorable stays with you.(The Brown Bunny , for example, is a film that will send you right to Snoozeville--until Chloe Sevigny  blows you away at the end!) Lars von Trier's  Melancholia answers to all of the above criticisms,  but what saves it are some elements of black comedy,  some fine performances from an impressive cast, and its gorgeous cinematography.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a severely depressed young woman. Not a good time to get married, but what the hell. Her wedding reception at the palatial estate of her sister, Claire, (Charlotte Gainsbourg--who must be seen in von Trier's Antichrist to fully grasp how far she will go to give a gritty performance) and brother-in-law, John, (Kiefer Sutherland) comprises the entire first act of the film. 

Here we are introduced to some of  the aforementioned colorful folk: Justine's dad, (John Hurt) who feigns lifting  fancy silverware and slipping it into his suit pocket;  John, who keeps reminding everyone of how much this lavish affair is setting him back; and Justine's acid-tongued mother, (Charlotte Rampling) who gives a cringe-worthy speech about how she abhors the institution of marriage. (Rampling, who  starred in many a film back in the day,  where her main criterion for taking the role was that her character be NAKED, is now reduced to bit parts playing embittered old biddies. Would have been funny had she  hopped up on the table--with everyone yelling TAKE IT OFF BABY--and gladly obliged once more for old time's sake...but that might not have played with the younger crowd!)

Anyhoo,  things get  progressively worse for Justine. She tells her boss to shove it.  She ducks out of the proceedings to take a leisurely bath. She parries the amorous advances of her groom (Alexander Skarsgard). The evening is falling apart,  but things aren't as bad as they're gonna be, because people start taking notice of this funny looking planet, "Melancholia,"  that is heading our way. There are mixed opinions from the experts as to whether there will be a near miss, or whether the planet is on a collision course with earth.   

The second half of the movie belongs to Claire. While Justine has taken a so what,  the earth is evil and we'd likely be better off attitude about this development, (remember, she's depressed) Claire grows increasingly fearful for herself and her young son, Leo (Cameron Spurr).   

We see no news reports about the advance of the planet,  which looks strangely like our own earth, by the way. No shots of people running through the streets or heading for the mountaintops, though John--the amateur astronomer--does begin stockpiling some survival supplies, while assuring everyone there's nothing to worry about. .  

Bits of  information come via the internet,  but there is an eerie disconnect between this assemblage and the outside world . At first the  impending crisis seems almost secondary, as they're all caught up in their own personal stuff-- like most of us--until the things that really matter loom large enough that they can no longer be ignored. The doppelganger earth on a collision course with our own appears to be a not so subtle metaphor for the path we humans have set upon to destroy ourselves.    

In the end, Claire invokes  a bit of "magic."  The magic wasn't quite there for me--in my overall assessment of Melancholia--but it is still a film worth seeing. Just be sure to watch it with a friend, because you're going to want to discuss it afterward.  

Grade:  B

Friday, December 9, 2011


Rated PG-13

Stars: Too numerous to mention (see below)

Director: Garry Marshall

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Check out these names: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hillary Swank,
Jon Bon Jovi, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigle, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Zac Efron, Alyssa Milano, Carla Gugino, Jim Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ryan Seacrest, Sienna Miller...OKAY, THAT'S ENOUGH, DAMMIT...because there are even MORE recognizable celebs in New Year's Eve--a film I had high hopes for, because dat be my favorite party time of the year!

Somehow, director Garry Marshall juggles this huge ensemble cast and its myriad intersecting story lines--mostly involving romantic foibles and folly--trying to connect, reconnect, or make amends for past misdeeds, as everybody gets kinda wistful on New Year's Eve (easy to do when you're falling down drunk!) It's a given what New Year's Eve is building toward--midnight on the last day of the year--when, for example, Katherine Heigle and Jon Bon Jovi's characters, who are ex-lovers, will make or break their chance at reconciliation. The kind of stuff that may pull at your heartstrings in a sappy, manipulative kind of way.

But too many characters = too much fragmentation = not enough character development. Wouldn't have mattered much anyway, because these are TV sitcom characters in a movie with TV sitcom laughs...meaning the funny parts are mostly lame, tame, and not really funny.

We've all seen the star-vehicle movies that were designed just to showcase the big name, and not much else (every ELVIS movie, for example). Same thing here, but with more stars and plotlines than you can shake a bottle of bubbly at, or care about keeping track of.

See, you'd think--or hope--that getting stuck in an elevator with hottie Lea Michele might produce more possibilities than having her blast a song in your ear at close quarters, (as she shouted out with Glee) but no--New Year's Eve is that vehicle for stars who sing to sing, and for stars who emcee television shows to emcee, and for stars who've become typecast for being in bad romantic comedies (Katherine, you're better than this) to be in another bad romantic comedy.

A fun thing you can do with New Year's Eve, though, is to try to spot all the celebs who are listed in the credits--like Penny Marshall. Where the hell was she? I didn't see her. Another one I missed was basketball star Amare Stoudemire, who is listed in the credits as a "party dancer."


Grade: C

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Judi Dench

Director: Simon Curtis

Genre: Drama

To those who knew her, Marilyn Monroe was known as a pretty sharp cookie--not at all the dumb blonde persona she maintained for the public. And that may be my only criticism of Michelle Williams' performance in My Week With Marilyn. Williams plays the mega-star closer to that public image, even in private. But in every other way, she nails the character--capturing the little girl vulnerability of a troubled woman who might well have traded in her fame for the feeling of being truly loved.

My Week With Marilyn chronicles a brief moment in time in the life of the late writer/documentary film maker Colin Clark. In 1956, Clark was a callow 23-year-old who had landed a job as a lowly production assistant for the the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl--a movie Marilyn Monroe co-starred in with Sir Laurence Olivier. Marilyn was newly wedded to playwright Arthur Miller, but he wasn't around much for the making of the film in Britain.

As the most celebrated woman in the world, Marilyn had some obvious trust issues. But she took a shine to the young lad. His puppy dog adoration and protectorship of her must have seemed like a rock she could rely on, as he alternately played escort, nursemaid, and suitor (at least in his own mind) to her during the turbulence of the film production--which saw Monroe showing up late for work and forgetting her lines.

Eddie Redmayne plays Mr. Clark as the dogged young man with stars in his eyes, determined to find a niche for himself in the film industry.

Kenneth Branagh, as Laurence Olivier, does a fine job of capturing the actor's petulance and befuddlement with the process of simultaneously directing (which he did) and starring in a film with Monroe.

Dame Judi Dench adds a touch of old school class to the proceedings.

In the minor subplot, Emma Watson is well cast as a young girl who has fallen for Colin, but sees it going for naught as the allure of the goddess continues to draw him in. (I had my own exquisite pain of the brush with fame when, at the same tender age, I spent an afternoon in the company of the number one female pop group of all time. The one I really liked held onto my hand for what seemed to be an inordinately long time, as we made small talk. That evening I wept at the realization that she could never be to say that I could identify with the young Mr. Clark's emotional predicament would be an understatement.)

I kept wondering how much skin they were going to allow Michelle Williams to display--especially if there were to be any topless shots--inviting the inevitable comparisons with Monroe's body. (I've seen both Monroe and Williams topless--each quite lovely in her own way--but I don't think anyone with a PRACTICED eye, such as...uh...MYSELF...would mistake one for the other!) So director Simon Curtis plays it just right. He gives us a couple of brief shots of Michelle's bottom--which I dare say, old chap, will compare favorably to anyone's...including Ms. Monroe!

The soundtrack, featuring some lush tunes from Nat King Cole (DAMN--he was a good singer) is perfect.

My Week With Marilyn is a small gem of a film that will break your heart...just like Marilyn broke everyone else's.

Grade: A