Liz and Dick


Not that I was expecting much from Lifetime’s latest made for tv movie Liz & Dick, but I feel like the entire project can be summed up with one important detail, the Burtons were known for indulgent lifestyle and in preparation for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Taylor packed on the pounds and struggled afterwards to lose the weight, however, when this time period is dramatized in the movie, no effort is made to simulate Taylor’s weight gain, they just make a point of saying she’s gotten kind of chubby with no visible evidence to back this up. This telling without showing plagues the project and Lohan’s phoned-in portrayal of the legendary screen goddess tells you all you need to know about the future of her comeback.
Lifetime decided to frame the story as being told by Taylor and Burton in heaven set up as if they are giving an interview (with God I guess?). This device adds nothing, as they often just confirm facts the audience should have picked up from the previous scene- after showing their rocky introduction they say they didn’t like each other at first… duh! After Burton refuses to attend the Oscars out of fear of losing again, Taylor says she understood how he felt but worried he was going to miss his change of accepting his award in person… duh! When Burton’s brother becomes paralyzed after falling down their stairs when tending to their house for them, Burton says he always blamed himself for his brother’s injury and eventual death… duh! The entire devise could be removed from the movie and nothing would be different. The story is also oddly paced. They go from disliking each other to being madly in love so quickly, and with so little explanation that I wondered if I passed out momentarily and missed something. Their fights are always anticlimactic and their reconciliations so quick it’s like nothing has happened at all. And while this is supposed to tell the story of their epic love, the reasoning behind their first divorce are so rushed it’s like the two were playing relationship chicken. You come away seeing them as nothing more than spoiled children, who only stayed together as long as they did because Taylor made sure he didn’t make a movie without her for ten years, knowing he would bang whatever actress played opposite him. Some romance!
Everything about Lohan’s performance tells you why her career has struggled so much over the years. This is her big chance at a comeback and she couldn’t even be bothered to maybe watch one or two of Taylor’s films and try to work on an accent. It comes off like she thinks all she has to do is show up in a movie and America will welcome her back with open arms, but if she wants to change her image she needs to do more than play dress up. I felt bad for Grant Bowler who plays Burton and much of the rest of the cast who do their best to try to rise above the poor script and their misguided leading lady. Hopefully these legends will get their story told in a higher quality production and the cast members who tried here are not held back by having this on their resumes.

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Lincoln

Shortly after reelection, with the end of the Civil War in sight, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) decides to take advantage of a lame duck Congress in order to pass the thirteenth amendment which abolished slavery. The idea is that many of the Democrat Congressmen that were not reelected could be convinced into voting for the amendment seeing that they would suffer no political consequences. Meanwhile, the president battles family troubles as his oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wishes to enlist in the army and serve his country against his mother’s (Sally Field) wishes, who is still mourning the death of one of the youngest children.
While Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous men that ever lived, little is known about who he was. He lived in a time before film could capture the sound of his voice or the way he walked but Day-Lewis becomes him so completely it just may be how we picture the man from now on. One thing the film does well is show Lincoln as a man not a saint. While it is still a very complimentary portrayal, this Lincoln has a sense of humor, often telling funny stories to the troops and his cabinet. Lincoln was known by his peers as a lover of a good joke and it’s great to see that side of him celebrated.
While Day-Lewis was the stand out of the film, the rest of the cast is strong. Tommy Lee Jones is stellar as Congressman Thaddeus Stephens, the dedicated abolitionist who must learn to hold back and compromise for the good of the cause. The film does a great job of making the legislative parts fun by showing how feisty Congressional sessions could get. Republicans and Democrats fling cleverly crafted insults at each other. James Spader is also hilarious as part of the team lobbying to change the outgoing Democrats’ minds. Sally Field does well as the emotionally unstable Mary Todd Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes you wish his role was larger.
It was a bold move by Spielberg to make the passing of the thirteenth amendment the focus of the film. For a filmmaker known for large action movies, this film has a lot of talking. Considering there is a war waging in the background throughout, the climax is a vote. The suspense caused by what men will say yay and which with say nay. Also, considering Lincoln is know as much for being assassinated as for freeing the slaves, his death is portrayed as an afterthought. It is clear Spielberg sees Lincoln’s life as the remarkable story, not his death.
Considering the subject matter, the film is careful not to stumble into schmaltzy territory. There are a few moments where it stumbles in that respect, namely the opening where soldiers, white and black, recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln. However, I must say I was proud of Spielberg for not winking at the audience when reciting what future could hold for black America after slavery was abolished by having someone say something like “What next, a black president?”
While this isn’t a film I would say must be seen on the big screen, it should be seen by anyone that appreciates top-notch acting and doesn’t think big explosions are needed to keep an audience entertained.

Brave


Princess Merida loves adventures. Her idea of a good time is riding her horse through the wilderness with her bow strapped to her back. However, her mother Queen Elinor does not think her passions are appropriate for a princess. She subjects Merida to regular lessons on how to be a proper princess and in return, Merida gets one day a year to do whatever she wants. But Merida is getting older, and Elinor decides the time had come for her to meet her suitors from the neighboring kingdoms. Merida is furious and thinks she is too young to be thinking about suitors and marriage but her mother thinks it’s high time she accepted she is a princess and start acting like one. Merida tries to prove her point as the suitors fight for her hand but her mother refuses to budge leading Merida to take matters into her own hands. She seeks out a witch to cast a spell that will change her fate but gets much more than she bargains for.
This is Pixar’s first film with a female lead and it is quite a tender story about a mother and daughter learning to swallow their pride for the one they love. I feel like anyone can identify with the very common clash and it’s done in a really respectful way, giving each side a strong argument and not making anyone the bad guy. This is another fine example of Pixar being the masters of creating empathy. However, the trailer was very misleading, implying the central action would be Merida going on an epic quest by herself where she faces many challenges etc. While it seems Pixar is all right with having a female protagonist, perhaps they didn’t believe an audience would line up for a film about lady issues.
One thing I will say about this film, there are way more bears than I expected. I was expecting no bears and I got a lot of bears. Also, the film’s midpoint is a drawn out, with a lot of chasing and hiding, that makes you assume they weren’t sure what to do so they made everyone run around for a while. There were two directors for this film, original director Brenda Chapman left the project unexpectedly and was replaced with Mark Andrews so maybe these scenes are symbolic of the crew running around, not certain of the project’s future.
While many were disappointed with Brave and questioned Pixar’s ability to still make great films, I’m not worried. Brave is still better than most films out there and still contains a lot of what makes Pixar such a quality studio. There’s a lot of tenderness at its core, and while a lot of the wackier moments seem a little off, it’s nowhere near as the mindless as a lot of other children’s films. There are very few films in cinema’s history as perfect as the Toy Story series or Up so I am willing to give Pixar a pass if a film is simply “pretty good”.

The Amazing Spiderman

I kind of feel sorry for The Amazing Spiderman. Nobody really needed it. The original Spiderman movies are still so fresh in everyone’s mind that this revamp of the series confuses more than excites. In fact, it was only made so the studio could retain the rights to the property. I feel like any greatness this version achieves will be undermined by people not being really sure why it exists. However, The Amazing Spiderman boasts a strong cast with Andrew Garfield as the webslinger and real life girlfriend Emma Stone as his love interest Gwen Stacey, and a new look at Spidey’s origin.
Peter Parker was orphaned as a young boy when his mother and scientist father left him with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) in the middle of the night, only to die in a plane crash shortly after. Peter grows into an intelligent teenager who has a passion for photography and habit of sticking up for the little guy. However, he knows little about his parents, as his aunt and uncle rarely talk about them. When he discovers papers his father left behind, it leads him to find his father’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who works for Oscorp trying to discover a way for humans to regenerate missing parts, as he has a deformed arm. When trying to track Connors down, Peter stumbles upon one of his experiment and is bitten by a radiated spider, giving him unique powers. When tragedy hits his family, he dedicates himself to tracking down criminals that the cops aren’t taking care of. Meanwhile, Connors obsession corrupts him and he becomes The Lizard, who begins to terrorize New York City. Only Peter Parker knows enough about Connors’ work to bring The Lizard down.
One thing this film has over the original Spiderman movie is a stronger central cast. Andrew Garfield is total teenager as Peter. He’s sometimes sweet, sometimes snotty, sometimes emo. While trying to hide his secret from his aunt and uncle, he comes off like a kid with a drug addiction and he clashes with his guardians as they don’t understand how he could suddenly become so irresponsible. In the original film series, Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane was always a deal breaker for me. I always felt they totally threw everything interesting about the character out the window and, to me, the series’ failure can be symbolized in on shot, Mary Jane running in slow-mo in her wedding dress, rushing to tell Peter she loves him. Gag me! However, this time around, Peter Parker’s paramour is America’s most lovable young actress, Emma Stone who plays Gwen Stacey. Gwen is smart, capable, and a good person and likes Peter from the get go because he is also smart, capable and a good person. Garfield and Stone have great chemistry so I hope they keep Gwen Stacey around for another movie or two. Martin Sheen is strong as Uncle Ben, though Sally Fields isn’t given much to do as Aunt May. Time will tell if her character is developed more as the series continues. Also, I found myself feeling sorry for Ifans’ Dr. Connors as his obsession drove him over the edge.
When I first saw the trailer I felt it was too much movie. There’s the stuff with his parents, his basic origin story, the Lizard, his antagonistic relationship with Denis Leary, it’s a lot for one movie! It wasn’t as overwhelming as I anticipated, but the pacing is a little off. There’s a bit too much time spent pre-bite and then even more time spent before Connors transforms to the Lizard! There are certain elements that don’t get explored enough and others that are downright anti-climactic.
While this latest take on the classic Marvel hero is a bit cluttered, the cast is strong enough that it gives one hope for the sequel, when there’s less back story to get through and the plot can really hit the ground running.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


With three weeks left until the end of the world, Dodge(Steve Carell) is prepared to spend his final days alone, having been recently left by his wife. While many of his friends are content to go out with a bang, doing drugs and having casual sex, Dodge finds himself wondering about the one that got away, a former girlfriend named Olivia. He meets his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) who has also recently gone through a break-up but is more heartbroken that she has missed her chance to return home to England so she could be with her family one last time. The two team up to help Dodge find his lost love and develop an unexpected bond along the way.
I will warn, do not go into this movie expecting a comedy. While there are lighter moments, this deals with the end of the world and the emotions one would go through when they realize they are facing the apocalypse. I found this to be a beautiful and realistic portrayal of what would happen if we all knew it was the end of days. Some of us would do all the risky things we didn’t do because it’s not the best idea in the long term, some of us would try to fix past mistakes, and some of us would keep on doing what we had been doing.
Carell and Knightley have great chemistry, despite seemingly being today opposites from the outside. Carell is great in leading man roles as he is relatable and brings a sweetness to his character. While he has to face the literal end of the world, he discovers his life had been a lie when his wife not only leaves him, but he later learns she had been having an affair for some time. While Knightley’s character is very manic pixie dream girl, she is really into vinyl and has a sleeping disorder, you feel her pain watching her speak to her family who she knows she will never see again.
One of the recurring themes is what would you do for love. Both of the main characters make major sacrifices for the one they love, knowing there is no time for the other to return the favor.
Really enjoyed Dodge’s relationship with his father. While he has not spoken to the man in over twenty years and still holds a strong grudge against him for leaving the family, he still carries with him a gift his father gave him during happier times. It reminded me how no parents plans on being a bad one, and many times the worst offenders had once promised themselves they would never be the monster their parent was. I’m probably reading too much into it, but it added another dimension to how all the character go to where they were.
Be prepared to shed a tear or two as this film is not the romantic comedy it was advertised as, but if you decide to check it, you’ll be rewarded with a cast of unique characters and a touching story of love finding someone even in the darkest of moments.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a recent grad struggling in the working world, only able to land an internship at a magazine. When reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) needs assistants to tag along and do all his work on an unusual story, Darius is eager to volunteer. A man has placed a classified ad for a companion to go back in time with him, claiming he has time traveled once before. Jeff thinks it could fun feature, see if the weirdo is for real, but when time traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass) recruits Darius for his mission the team has to ask themselves if they covering a lunatic or a genius.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. Based on a real fake classified ad, I wasn’t sure what direction they were going to go with it. Was the main action going to be the crew traveling through time kicking ass and taking names? Will the guy be proven to be a whackjob? What I liked about the film is that they really found a way to leave what’s Kenneth’s real deal is up to the audience, telling a sci-fi story steeped in reality. It also touches on the bigger question of what would each of us do if given the power to time travel?
Mark Duplass is pretty fun as Kenneth, the totally 80s out potential time traveler. His intense training process is hilarious and provides a wonderful chance to watch Kenneth and Darius bond. Duplass and Plaza have pretty strong chemistry, which is almost enough overlook their age gap. However, Duplass’ denim-tastic attire highlights their age difference making certain scenes a little uncomfortable. While Duplass is believable in scenes amping up Kenneth’s quirks for comedic value as well as in scenes showing the character’s sensitive side, his weakness as a dramatic actor shines through in some of the more intense moments. However, he creates a likeable enough character that you really root for him not being completely out of his mind.
For me, Jake Johnson was the stand out of the film. His character appears so gross and assholey as he brings the interns along to do his work for him as he tracks down a former flame, but over time you find yourself growing to love him. His shallow attitude masks a man desperately hoping he can turn back time and fix the biggest mistake of his life, letting his high school girlfriend get away. He also allows his jerk tendencies fall away as he tries to help the other intern (whose sole purpose in the film is to give Johnson someone to talk to when Darius and Kenneth are off training) learn how to stop worrying about school and have fun once in awhile.
Definitely one of the most unexpected films of the year. Safety Not Guaranteed has a strong cast and tackles the fantastical in a realistic way, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about what is real and what is not. There’s also a surprising amount of tenderness that that is lacking from many comedies.

Ruby Sparks

Calvin (Paul Dano) is struggling with writer’s block, never being able to top the success of his debut novel that he wrote when he was in his teens. He also has issues with people, confiding only in his brother and his therapist, never be able to trust who likes him for him and who just wants a piece of him. Inspired by a dream and an assignment from his therapist, he begins to write again, writing about the perfect girl- Ruby Sparks. Then, one day he wakes up and the real life Ruby (Zoe Kazan) is in his apartment. Despite his brother’s warnings, Calvin begins a relationship with his creation. Everything is perfect until Ruby starts to want a life of her own and Calvin begins to have trouble controlling her.
Many (including myself) were wary of this film due to the heavy use of the manic pixie dream girl character trope. I don’t have as big of a problem with the trope as some other people, mostly because I think, at its heart, it celebrates a woman for her personality instead of her body so it’s a step in the right direction. However, star and screenwriter Zoe Kazan really plays with the concept, showing what happens when you fall for someone based on what’s on the surface and expect them to serve your every emotional need. However, haven’t we all created our own Ruby Sparks at some point? The question we should all ask ourselves is do we want a fantasy relationship or a real one that has the occasional issues that you have to work through together?
This film also touches on the Nice Guy TM trope. Calvin is a genius, the J.D. Salinger of his generation because of course he is. Calvin is pretty much who every white guy in Brooklyn would be if he had the chance. His biggest problem is everyone thinks he’s a genius! I had trouble getting into the film until Ruby really comes on the scene because Calvin is so obnoxiously self-involved and such a typical independent film character (he even has totally crunchy hippie parents but it’s the totally adorable Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas). However, when you watch him trying to figure out how to properly control Ruby, you see that even seemingly liberal, in touch with their feelings men can still have a dark side when they don’t get their way.
Really looking forward to what the future holds for Zoe Kazan. This is her debut screenplay and it seems like she has a lot to say as a writer and an actress. The scene where she is Calvin’s puppet, being forced to say whatever he wants is incredibly painful and beautiful. This isn’t the film for anyone expecting a happy, sunny romantic comedy. The topics brought up in this film stay with you after the credits roll and can lead to really question what yourself what you would do if you had Calvin’s power over the one you loved and what you really want from relationship, the real stuff or the fantasy.