Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thanks For Sharing - 3 stars

This is a movie about sex addiction.  It focuses primarily on three men who are attending regular Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings.

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is 5 years sober.  His problem was porn and hookers, and he's had more than one relationship ruined by his compulsions.  One way he stays sober is to live without a TV.  When he stays in a hotel, he has them remove the TV so he won't be tempted. 

I don't remember if they actually use the word 'sober' in the movie, but since all anonymous programs are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, the term works.

He hasn't dated in 5 years, and his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins) encourages him to start dating again.  As he says, the idea isn't to live like a monk.  So Adam starts seeing Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a health nut who doesn't know about Adam's addiction.  He knows he needs to tell her at some point, but on their first date she tells him that she once dated a recovering alcoholic, and she won't date one again.

Mike has been sober for a long time.  He also hasn't seen his son in years.  His son Danny is played by Patrick Fugit, and he's a recovering alcoholic but he doesn't go to meetings.  Mike doesn't believe his son has sobered up, but Danny promises that he's clean and he's here to make up for all the stealing and everything else.

The other guy is Neil (Josh Gad), an emergency room doctor who likes to rub up on random women on the subway.  He's been court ordered to go to recovery, and Adam is his sponsor. 

I enjoyed this movie.  It seemed like it took the realities of addiction seriously, and the meetings were believable.  Sometimes the movie did get a little too soap opera-ish for me, but most of the time the characters and their behavior seemed authentic. 

I'm not sure how much I liked the way the Adam and Phoebe relationship played out.  When she does find out that he's in recovery, she takes it well and tries to make it work with him.  But it seems like Adam is very insensitive to what it's like for her.  She wants to have a normal sexual relationship, and while Adam doesn't have to abstain or anything - recovery for him just means having and maintaining a healthy relationship - he does have some sexual hangups.  It makes him uncomfortable when she comes on to him too strongly, and he rejects her advances more than once. 

But I can't complain about that too much.  The reality of what it would be like for him to maintain a healthy relationship is a very interesting prospect.  Another nice storyline is the friendship Neil develops with a girl he meets in his meetings.  Her name is Dede and she's played by Alecia Moore, also known as Pink.  Even though they are both in the early stages of recovery, they are able to help each other in several crucial situations. 

The movie was a bit uneven in its tone, but I'm forgiving its shortcomings because I liked the characters and I thought the stories were interesting. 

Short Term 12 - 3 1/2 stars

Brie Larson stars as Grace, a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers.  She's dating Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), another supervisor at the facility.  Their days consist of leading group sharing, searching the kids' bedrooms for contraband, and chasing after the occasional runaway. 

One day, a very troubled teenager named Jayden arrives at the facility.  She's a cutter and her father may be abusing her.  Grace is the perfect person to try to help her, since Grace has been through the same kind of stuff. 

As the movie goes on, we learn more about Grace's past.  When she's working with the kids, she seems to have it all together.  She's able to remain calm in any situation, whether a kid's having a tantrum or whether another kid has just slashed his wrists.  But Grace is really as messed up as any of the teenagers she's trying to help.  She's also pregnant, and trying to decide what to do about it.

This was a really affecting movie.  It didn't over-sentimentalize the situations.  This is no after school special.  The writer director, Destin Daniel Cretton, really knows his subject.  I wouldn't be surprised if he had spent some time living or working in a place like this. 

The characters are really well developed and the relationship between Grace and Jayden was very moving.  There isn't a lot of humor in this movie, but that's ok.  The story is compelling and the drama feels honest. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

In a World ... - 3 stars

Lake Bell wrote, directed, and starred in this movie about Carol, a vocal coach who wants to follow in her father's footsteps and become a voice-over artist.  Her dream is to do voice-over work for movie trailers, but her father doesn't think it's a good profession for women. 

This is the first movie I have ever seen about this profession, and it was refreshingly original.  Lake Bell is funny and has a charming screen presence.  The movie did get a bit predictable at times, especially concerning her relationship with a sound engineer named Louis (Demitri Martin), but the movie was very enjoyable. 

There is a nice side plot going on with her sister cheating on her husband (Rob Corddry in his 50th movie role of the year so far), and her father is played by Fred Melamed, who is very fun to watch on screen.  The movie wasn't quite as funny as I hoped it would be, but it made up for it with charm and originality. 

Getaway - 1/2 star

This is the dumbest movie I've seen all year.  Ethan Hawke comes home to find his wife kidnapped and a cell phone ringing.  He answers and gets instructions.  If he wants to see his wife alive again, he will follow the instructions.  These involve stealing a car, evading the police, driving through crowded parks and other nonsense. 

Some movies require you to suspend disbelief.  This movie requires you to turn your brain off completely.  The things the voice on the phone requires him to do are completely ridiculous.  For no reason, he has to drive through the middle of a park and skating rink on Christmas Eve.  Now it's not uncommon to see a car driving on a sidewalk, and miraculously everyone is able to jump out of the way just in time.  But there is no way in hell that he could drive through the crowds he does without killing lots and lots of pedestrians. 

Every 10 minutes, he's in a car chase with the police.  Every time, they end the same way.  Once again, no one is killed even though every cop car is smashed and destroyed in the chase.  You would think that after 3 or 4 chases where he gets away every time and destroys a bunch of cars, eventually they would try to find a different way to stop his car. 

Selena Gomez is also in this movie.  She plays the owner of the car who tries to get it back from Hawke.  She gets in with a gun, he overpowers her, and before he can kick her out the voice tells him to keep her with him.  First he is ordered to kill her, and when he says no (he'll drive through a crowd of people but shooting someone is where he draws the line), the voice says "That's the right answer."  Really?  So the voice is just testing him or something?  Anyway, the voice tells him to keep the girl with him, so she becomes his sidekick.  And her performance in this movie is terrible.  I don't know how much of the fault lies with Gomez and how much lies with the director Courtney Solomon, but her performance is so awful I was rooting for Hawke to shoot her within 5 minutes.

When we eventually find out they are going to all this trouble (something about providing a distraction so they could steal some hard drives), it doesn't amount to much.  There was really no reason to put him through the challenges of the first hour of the movie unless they are just sadistic.  But there is no way they could know that he would be able to evade the police for so long, or go through so many red lights without getting killed. 

Just a dumb movie.  I'm getting tired of even writing about it.  So I'm going to stop there.

The Family - 2 1/2 stars

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer are a mafia family in the witness protection program.  Tommy Lee Jones is the FBI agent who watches over them and arranges a new home and identity every time they have to move.  They have to move and assume new identities every few months, since they can't help but revert to their old habits every time they are confronted with a problem.

When the plumber starts hassling De Niro, he grabs a baseball bat and starts beating the guy.  When Pfeiffer is insulted by the local grocer, she sets a bomb in the back room and blows up the store.  The kids are no better.  Within a few days, the teenage son has figured out which students can help him earn money, and he has several of them owing him favors. 

The movie has so much potential for comedy, and it somehow manages to squander almost every one of them.  Director Luc Besson knows how to direct a good action movie, but he doesn't know how to make a comedy.  The first hour felt very unorganized, and I kept waiting for some kind of a plot to kick it.  It just felt like a random collection of scenes.

The second half of the movie got better.  There is a running subplot of De Niro trying to figure out who's responsible for his tapwater coming out brown.  The daughter is trying to have a relationship with her math teacher.  And every time Tommy Lee Jones is on screen, the movie gets fun.  No one plays grumpy better than Jones, and he is constantly annoyed by this family.  The two men hate each other but De Niro knows that he needs Jones to bail him and his family out whenever they get in over their heads.

The movie was pretty boring but it got better.  I liked seeing De Niro as a gangster again, and I couldn't help but think of his performance in Goodfellas.  Obviously the filmmakers thought about that too, because there is a point in the movie where his character watches Goodfellas.  Very on the nose but it made me laugh.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler - 2 stars

This movie tells the life story of Cecil Gaines, who worked on a cotton plantation as a kid and grew up to be a butler in the White House.  He would end up serving 7 presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan.  The movie was inspired by a true story, meaning almost none of it is true.

The writing is very uneven.  One problem is there are way too many events to put into one movie.  Cecil is serving Eisenhower while he is discussing the integration of the schools, and a few minutes later he's helping welcome the new president, JFK.  There is a conversation about the Freedom Riders, then JFK is shot.  Each of the presidents only gets a few scenes. 

Most of the screen time is devoted to Cecil and his co-workers, or his family.  The scenes with his co-workers are interesting, mostly thanks to Cuba Gooding, Jr. doing the best work he has done in years.  Lenny Kravitz plays another one of his co-workers, but he is as bland as his music.

The scenes with his family were the ones that bored me the most, I'm afraid.  His wife is played by Oprah Winfrey, and we don't really learn much about her.  For most of the movie, she is complaining about how much time Cecil spends at work. 

One of Cecil's sons gets involved with just about every aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.  He is arrested many times, first for sitting at the whites only counter at a diner in Tennessee.  Soon he is working with Martin Luther King (staying at the same hotel when Dr. King is assassinated), and later he is a member of the Black Panthers.

This is an interesting juxtaposition.  While all of these important events are going on, Cecil is at the White House hearing the presidents talk about them.  He is trying to get his son to stay out of trouble while his son is passionate about doing whatever he can for equal rights.  It has a lot of potential, but too much time is spent with Cecil dealing with his wife, who becomes an alcoholic and starts having an affair with a neighbor played by Terence Howard. 

I was looking forward to seeing how well the actors would do portraying the presidents, and I was disappointed with how little screen time they had.  I was especially looking forward to Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.  What an interesting choice that was. 

This is one of those movies that's about really important events in our history.  It's just a shame the movie didn't turn out better.

Kick-Ass 2 - 3 stars

It wasn't as good as the first one, but it still worked for me.  I know a lot of people are hating this movie but I thought it was a pretty decent sequel.

It wasn't as much fun as the first one.  One problem was the lack of Nicholas Cage.  His character was one of the better aspects of the first film.  But since he died, there wasn't much they could do about that. 

It was a darker movie than the first.  I was surprised by how dark it got.  There was a lot of death and violence, and the death of one particular character took me by surprise.  But that made the movie more dramatic, and made me realize that anything could happen by the end.

The final battle was kind of ridiculous.  There are something like 50 heroes battling 50 bad guys, and it doesn't make sense that there would be that many.  The Mother******'s henchmen are all for hire, so for him to suddenly have a bunch of willing followers didn't really make sense.  I could believe that Kick Ass could get a bunch of people to show up and help him, but once the battle started, how could anyone tell which side anyone was on?  It's not like they had all been battling for the entire movie, and they didn't have uniforms to indicate which side they were on.  The movie was trying to be realistic in a sense, and I didn't believe that no one was killed during that battle.

The best storyline in the movie was Hit Girl trying to live a normal life.  Her guardian makes her promise to give up being Hit Girl, and she tries to keep her promise.  Kick Ass is kind of a selfish jerk in this movie.  He keeps trying to talk Hit Girl into getting back into the lifestyle.  This is especially strange considering how early on in the movie, he tells her that her dad was insane.  He knows how bad it is to encourage a young girl to be an assassin, but he keeps trying her to get back into it just because he wants her as a partner.  He also is a jerk to his dad for no good reason.

The story of Hit Girl trying to adapt to a normal life is pretty compelling.  She could beat up anyone at high school, but she isn't equipped to deal with the psychological trauma of bullying.  I wish the movie had focused more on that.

I liked the movie overall.  The problem with most sequels is it's either too much like the original movie, or it's too different.  I thought this one was a logical continuation of the story of these characters and I enjoyed it.  It just isn't as rewatchable as the first Kick-Ass was.