There’s an intensifying debate over whether — and how — the government can tackle simultaneously the paradoxically linked problems of hunger and obesity.
Based on Jonathan Tropper's 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You swirls around Fonda's imperious and gleefully inappropriate matriarch Hillary Altman—a bestselling author and family therapist (oh, the irony!) who gathers her four children and their significant others to the stately suburban colonial they grew up in to sit shiva after their father passes away. Each is grappling with his or her own set of issues: Bateman's Judd recently walked in on his wife cheating on him with his loutish boss; Fey's Wendy is stuck in a loveless marriage and still pines for her first love (Timothy Olyphant); Stoll's Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) are fighting a losing battle with infertility; and Driver's Phillip is your standard-issue cosseted screw-up. After viciously needling one another like they used to as kids, they all wind up helping each other unpack their emotional baggage because...well, that's what the sharp-as-a-butter-knife Hollywood playbook dictates.
It's not the actors' faults. Some of them (especially Bateman and Rose Byrne as his old high school flame) are quite good. But none is called on to do much more than deliver punchless punchlines and goopy third-act dollops of laughter-through-tears schmaltz. And they look like they know it. All of which leaves you wondering: Why cast such talented, interesting, and edgy performers if you're only going to ask them play it safe? C]]>
Still, there's an intriguing premise buried in there that could have resulted in a smart look inside the mind of a malignant narcissist (which, the movie reminds us over and over again, was Jeffrey Dahmer's diagnosis too). But No Good Deed chooses instead to operate as a fairly conventional home-invasion thriller. Much of the indulgent second act consists of making us wait—sometimes in true suspense, but mostly in boredom—for Terri to figure out that this hulking man is actually a psychopath. That's not to say Deed isn't gripping at times, and the fact that Henson's character has to protect not only herself but an infant and kid too adds some interesting stakes to the final showdown. But with performers as strong as Henson and Elba, and the guidance of director Sam Miller, who's worked with Elba in a handful of Luther episodes, it should have yielded more. The trite third act reveal only further sours the wasted potential. C]]>
Told in the wake of a Very Bad Thing that unravels the relationship, Disappearance is still a thoughtful meditation on loss, but even the short version is a lot to take. Conversations play like academic dissertations, imparting the emotional impact of a scene instead of just letting us feel it. ''Tragedy is a foreign country,'' Eleanor's father (William Hurt) tells her. ''We don't know how to talk to the natives.'' Characters abruptly explain their own behavior: ''I never wanted to be a mother,'' Eleanor's mom (Isabelle Huppert) confesses, out of nowhere. Themes are spelled out too clearly, from Eleanor's allegorical name to the background movie posters of Masculin/Féminin and A Man and a Woman, two films about subjectivity. Yet Disappearance is worth watching for Chastain's fierce performance as a woman swallowed up by bone-deep grief. If we can feel exactly what Eleanor is feeling, maybe we're not so alone after all. B]]>
Like Davidson herself, this lush adaptation from director John Curran (The Painted Veil) is remarkable for accomplishing so much with so little. There's no love story, although Adam Driver is marvelously dorky as a National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson every so often and might be nursing a crush. There's minimal dialogue — and, really, not much to say, because Wasikowska's riveting performance tells you everything you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there's virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson's motives for taking the journey: The script only hints at a tragic backstory, and in a voice-over, Davidson thwarts any attempt to brand her as a women's-rights activist or a nature conqueror, stating only that she wanted to ''feel free.''
Still, what's on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson's chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we puny mortals are. There's a powerful message about human endurance in there, and no one needs to hear it more than this generation, which came of age too late for Joseph Campbell's rites-of-passage ceremonies and would never survive in the desert without an iPhone compass app. A]]>
In her feature debut, director Jen McGowan displays the unhurried, naturalistic instincts of Nicole Holofcener or Alexander Payne. Her portrait of suburbia is sterile without being sneering, and she finds bursts of humor and pathos in quiet moments. Amy Lowe Starbin's unsentimental script grants depth to her supporting characters, too. Kelly's husband (Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins) is a tired man with an idling sex drive who traded his artistic dreams for the upwardly mobile world of advertising, while her hovering mother-in-law (welcome surprise Cybill Shepherd) senses unrest but can offer only a lasagna casserole as comfort.
But it's Lewis who makes a movie that easily could have been mawkish sing. ''I wasn't always a suburban housewife,'' she tells Cal in an early attempt to impress the already besotted boy. ''I was once young and wild.'' She pulls old combat boots out of her closet and plays cassettes from her riot-grrrl band days (original songs written and performed by the musician-actress). Even as their friendship careens toward its inevitable crash, climaxing in a vital and wistful dance number, Kelly's vulnerable goodness and loyalty to her family linger on. Lewis is a star in her prime, and more smart directors should put her to work. (Also on iTunes and VOD) A]]>
Ellis was a born raconteur who seemed to both regret and revel in his colorful past as a high-functioning addict and soul-power hepcat. But for better — and worse — No No strives for more than immortalizing his drug-fueled day of infamy. First-time director Jeffrey Radice uses the LSD anecdote as the hook for an awkward attempt to rehabilitate Ellis' image, elevating him from space cadet to civil rights martyr — a junkie Jackie Robinson — as Ellis advocates for black ballplayers, free agency, and a more compassionate support system of drug counseling.
Some of these arguments are convincing, others less so — especially after Ellis' ex-wives recount the abuse they suffered when their husband was loaded. The fact is, Dock Ellis was...complicated. Probably a lot more so than No No makes him out to be. In the end, maybe the most black-and-white thing in his life was the string of zeros he put up on the scoreboard, high as a Georgia pine, 44 years ago. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B]]>
Wiig and Hader play a troubled sister and brother grappling with the long-festering emotional fallout of their messed-up family. Their mother (Joanna Gleason) is a dizzy New Age healer with her head in the sand when it comes to her kids' problems. And their father committed suicide when they were children — an exit that's all too understandable for Wiig and Hader's now-grown-up-and-miserable Maggie and Milo. In fact, in the opening moments of the film, Maggie is prevented from swallowing a fistful of pills by a call informing her that Milo has just tried to kill himself by slicing his wrists in the bathtub. Did I mention that The Skeleton Twins is a comedy?
Well, it is and it isn't. Maybe I should also mention that Milo's suicide note reads, ''To whom it may concern, see ya later'' with a smiley face underneath. Or that the ringtone on Maggie's phone when she gets the call from the hospital is the Growing Pains theme. Like Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo in 2000's You Can Count on Me, Wiig and Hader play estranged siblings who haven't spoken for a decade but who reunite and slowly realize that as much as they can't stand one another, they're also the only ones who truly get each other. They're two broken souls secretly hoping the other might have the spiritual Krazy Glue they need.
Milo, a gay, depressed wannabe actor in Los Angeles, returns home to New York's Rockland County and moves in with Maggie and her sunny, frat-boyish husband, Lance (an excellent Luke Wilson). Both Maggie and Milo are masters at keeping secrets and sabotaging whatever happiness they manage to inadvertently bring into their lives. But for a while at least, they fall back into being the same kids who shared confidences, played hers-and-hers dress-up, and finished each other's sarcastic, smart-ass jokes. In the film's funniest scene, Wiig and Hader do a lip-synch duet to Starship's schmaltzy anthem ''Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.'' As wince-inducing as that reads in print, it's impossible not to smile watching it on screen.
Of course, we know that whatever caused Maggie and Milo to stop talking is bound to resurface. And it does, right on cue. The main problem with the film is that too many of the beats created by director/co-writer Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) feel as programmed as the outline of a screenwriting manual (especially the maddeningly improbable ending). Still, the two costars elevate the film beyond formula. Their onscreen rapport is infectious and believable. Wiig has done this kind of heavy lifting with a light touch before in both Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids. Hader, though, is the film's real surprise. It would have been easy for him to turn Milo into a gay cartoon like his after-hours alter ego Stefon. But he resists the temptation to go for easy laughs and broad strokes and delivers something darker and deeper. It's a shockingly vulnerable performance, one of the best I've seen all year. B+]]>
And yet, despite all that movement forward, we're still somehow putting up with found-footage horror movies. It would be impossible to present these flicks as ''real'' anymore—when Blair Witch cashed that chit in, that particular rope-a-dope was gone for good. It's little more than a lazy storytelling crutch, as characters can simply say exactly what they're thinking and narrate what they see even if the budget doesn't allow those images to show up on screen.
The reliance on those tired tropes really drags down As Above So Below, a cheapie horror flick from Drew and John Erick Dowdle, who last made the insipid M. Night Shyamalan-presented Devil. The film follows archaeologist Scarlet (Perdita Weeks) on a quest to retrieve the legendary Philosopher's Stone, a medieval artifact said to be the secret of alchemy. The clues lead her into the catacombs of Paris, a 200-mile system of tunnels that houses the remains of over 6 million people. She drags along friend George (former Mad Men star Ben Feldman), a videographer (Edwin Hodge) to document her search, and a local outlaw catacomb explorer named Papillon (Francois Civil, from TV's Rosemary's Baby).
The catacombs are an awesome place to film a horror movie. All the human skulls, claustrophobic passages, and general darkness create plenty of unsettling spookiness even before things start to go bump in the night. In fact, the first part of As Above recalls the unnerving underground discomfort of The Descent, another caves-are-terrifying thriller. But once As Above devolves into supernatural nonsense, the narrative wheels fall off. The stakes begin as gut-wrenchingly real with the team feeling disoriented hundreds of feet beneath the streets, but the film gets downright silly once the caverns become malevolently sentient.
And of course, any half-interesting ideas are undermined by the fact that most of the final act is invisible thanks to a dropped camera and the dying batteries of the cast's headlamps. As Above has some genuine scares (though nothing as unnerving as when Feldman's Mad Men character cut off his own nipple). But like other movies of its ilk, it's missing a very simple bit of next-level Hollywood technology: a tripod. C]]>
Brosnan plays boozehound and ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux, who is coaxed out of retirement to stop a conspiracy involving a war criminal (Lazar Ristovski). He's also asked to protect a relief worker (Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl of the Daniel Craig era) who holds more secrets than anyone could guess—except the audience, that is—while ducking a past protege (the stiff-as-a-board Luke Bracey) who chases him in some rather meh cat-and-mouse power play. (There's even an actual cat that makes some cameo appearances.)
The movie, based on Bill Granger's popular spy novel series, could easily have been made in Brosnan's post-Remington Steele days, with its fondness for familiar '80s action tropes like smashed BMWs and heavy arterial spray. Once in a while, there's a certain drive-in/double feature junkiness that elicits a chuckle or two (especially any scene with an oily officioso played by the growling Bill Smitrovich, the only performer who seems to be having any fun). But the utter lack of originality eventually sinks the movie, and the climax has more howlers than a wolf convention. The November Man may be an August release, but its silliness would make it a non-event any month of the year. C]]>
Eric's no stranger to life behind bars. His mother died when he was just a kid, and his father (Ben Mendelsohn) has been an inmate for most of his life in the facility Eric now calls home. The rotten apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. Needless to say, the family reunion isn't all finger-painting and hugs. Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who's delivered a run of excellent supporting turns in Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Animal Kingdom, is riveting as a career thug beyond rehabilitation. You can see the torment etched on his face when he can't help his son out of a scrape and the betrayal he feels when Eric starts to form alliances that don't include him.
To be honest, though, Eric doesn't need much of anyone's help. He already seems to know all the tricks of prison life: how to defend himself with his bruised knuckles, how to fashion a shiv out of a disposable razor and toothbrush, and how to oil down his body to make himself harder for the guards to restrain. After dishing out a string of brutal beatdowns on his cell block, Eric is enrolled in a therapy group run by Homeland's Rupert Friend. And it's here that the film feels a bit too familiar and superficial. It could have burrowed deeper into Eric's past and offered more layers to his rage. Still, O'Connell gives the movie everything he's got. He's explosive and feral, and you can see why Angelina Jolie picked him to play the lead in her upcoming film Unbroken. Like Eric Bana's menacingly raw breakout in 2000's Chopper or Tom Hardy's in 2008's Bronson, O'Connell bristles with terrifying hair-trigger unpredictability. Watching him, you feel like you're witnessing the arrival of a new movie star. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B]]>
Based on Gayle Forman's best-selling tearjerker novel, the film stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a shy Portland high school cellist named Mia Hall. As the story opens, Mia's at home with her younger brother (Jakob Davies) and her parents (The Killing's Mireille Enos and Higher Ground's Joshua Leonard), who can't stop reminding their kids just how hip they used to be. They toss off references to Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry like cheap shorthand confetti, never realizing that if they really were cool, they wouldn't have to keep repeating it over and over. Not that Mia would care anyway. Her musical hero is Yo-Yo Ma.
After school is called off for a snow day, the family decides to distract Mia, who's nervously awaiting a decision letter from Juilliard in the mail, with a scenic car ride. Bad idea. They endure a horrific accident, and Mia wakes up amid the wreckage, standing over the injured bodies of not only her family members...but also of herself. No one can hear her or see her. She's in some sort of helpless metaphysical limbo. At the hospital, she races from operating room to operating room, willing her family to pull through. Teetering between life and death, Mia reflects on her life and whether she wants to keep living—a choice, according to one of the least believable ER nurses in movie history, that is up to her. From there, the movie becomes a string of flashbacks to the key moments in Mia's life with her family, friends, music, and most crucially for If I Stay's target demographic, her boyfriend, Adam—an earnest, non-threatening bad-boy rocker played by Snow White and the Huntsman's Jamie Blackley, who seems to be channeling the young Johnny Depp (or at least the young Skeet Ulrich). It's only a matter of time before we witness the young lovers passionately embrace and talk about ''making music together.''
Like The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay paints teen romance as little more than a wish fulfillment fairy tale. Boys like Blackley and Fault's Ansel Elgort always seem to be there with a sweeping gesture, a sensitive ear, and whispered promises about how their love will last until the end of time—if not longer. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. Young women should expect men to be chivalrous and kind. But there's something about the way that Hollywood keeps churning out these puppy-dog knights that I suspect will lead to a lot of disappointment and broken hearts a few years from now. These Romeos are unrealistic fantasies.
At just 17, Moretz is already an actress with enough smarts and self-possession to convince you that Mia has her head screwed on straight. Bach is just as important to her as her boyfriend—a choice that comes into sharp relief when she has to decide between staying in Portland with Adam or heading off to Juilliard in New York. Still, as believable and relatable as Moretz's wallflower is, the supernatural story swirling around her is so mawkishly rigged to work your tear ducts that it squanders whatever honesty she invests in it. The other stand-out in the film is Stacy Keach, who, in a pair of scenes as Mia's grieving grandfather, shows how much better the film could have been if it were more interested in real sentiment than gooey sap.
I suspect that the problem may lie with the man behind the camera, R.J. Cutler, a director better known for documentaries (The September Issue, A Perfect Candidate) than slick, three-hankie studio fare. You'd think that someone so used to working in non-fiction would have a better handle on realism. But If I Stay never bothers to go after authenticity when there's a cliché hovering nearby. That may not be enough of a drawback to prevent teenage audiences from lapping up the movie with a spoon, but they certainly deserve better. C-]]>
Any movie whose cast includes two dozen famous actors has to coast on those thesps' abilities, and that proves to be the case here—though, disappointingly, Alba, Rosario Dawson, and the Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga, share about 15 lines of dialogue. Mickey Rourke is back as biker brute Marv and Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen's tortured ladies' man Dwight. With their low-rumble vocal stylings, they were born for this type of flick. The filmmakers wisely hired the fearless, magnetic Eva Green to play—what else?—the delectably twisted femme fatale Ava, who offers up most of the aforementioned copious nudity. Reminiscent of Linda Fiorentino's classic turn in the seedy suspenser The Last Seduction, and far more resourceful than the movie she's in, Green's Ava more than lives up to this picture's subtitle. C+]]>