Archive | September, 2013

Rush

28 Sep

‘Rush’: Howard finds a winning formula in a true-to-life racing tale from the 1970s

By Tom Meek
September 28, 2013

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Ron Howard’s directorial career has been all over the map. Early on he made a spate of serviceable comedies (”Night Shift” and “Splash”) and took dips into the fantastical (”Cocoon” and “Willow”) before entering a very serious stage that saw “Backdraft,” “The Paper” and “Ransom.” During that stretch Howard also delivered his crowning achievement, “Apollo 13” (it’s a far more competent and complete work than “A Beautiful Mind,” which garnered a slew of Oscars) as well as the ill-conceived reality TV satire, “edtv.” Along the way Howard unsatisfactorily attempted an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” and ventured into Dan Brown territory, directing the lackluster “Da Vinci Code” films. More recently, the man who had once been Opie of Mayberry appeared more than ready for the directorial graveyard after laying the clucking Vince Vaughn and Kevin James dud, “The Dilemma.”

092813i RushBut like the hero of his 2005 boxing drama “Cinderella Man,” Howard has come off the ropes with “Rush.” To sit through the real-life Formula One speedway drama, one might think they were viewing the work of an emerging auteur just hitting his stride, that first big studio budget behind him.   Continue reading

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Don Jon

27 Sep

‘Don Jon’: Self-pleasuring love story turns into a … well, touching good time for all

By Tom Meek
September 26, 2013

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So you’re a ladykiller and you’ve got abs and a workout routine that would challenge The Situation (not to mention a bit of his Jersey gym rat accent), so why live the life of a chronic masturbator when you can have any babe in the house? A good question, and pretty much the rub of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rom-com, where he not only tackles the role of the buff Jersey boy of the title but also makes his feature debut as writer and director.

092613i Don JonThe film’s intrepid protagonist is so tagged Don Jon (a play on his first name, Jon, coupled with that of the notorious lover, Don Juan) by his boyz because he always scores, though in private his ideal sex partner is 10 minutes of Internet porn and a tissue. Even after landing a nine (on a 10 scale), it’s not atypical for Jon to slip out of bed as the conquest du jour snoozes and fire up the laptop for a quick porno-boosted topping off.   Continue reading

Prisoners

25 Sep

‘Prisoners’: Kidnap flick holds you with top actors, high tension for much of run

By Tom Meek
September 25, 2013

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The title “Prisoners” is multifaceted in meaning, referring primarily to two young girls who are kidnapped off the street of a rural Pennsylvania town on Thanksgiving Day, but also to the parents of those kidnapped girls who grow frustrated with the sputtering police investigation and take matters into their own hands – they take a person of interest captive – as well as the homicide detective who is tripped up constantly by the interfering parents and an unsupportive higher-up, and the burnt-out working-class town that has suffered through decades of tragedy.

092513 PrisonersIt’s a broad net, probably broader than screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (the Brockton native who penned “Contraband”) intended, but the material in the hands of Denis Villeneuve (whose haunting 2010 exploration of arcane family roots in the Middle East, “Incendies,” garnered an Academy Award nomination) is narrow, focused and rife with tension. That’s the gift and bane of “Prisoners”: eternal, dark bleakness. Take either of David Fincher’s serial killer flicks, “Zodiac” or “Se7en,” and you’d have a good idea what Villeneuve is shooting for.  Continue reading

Thanks for Sharing

21 Sep

‘Thanks for Sharing’: On the couch with three sex addicts, where we hear it all

By Tom Meek
September 20, 2013

Sex addiction is a strange and fascinating matter, but it’s also something that’s hard to comprehend and even harder to have sympathy for – because, after all, what are we talking about, someone who’s compulsively after the fruit of life? That’s like trying to feel bad for someone who eats too much sushi or chocolate mousse. No matter, the line between indulgence and addiction is a fine one, and while Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing” doesn’t quite get fully between the sheets of the matter, it does get us on the couch with three recovering addicts.

092013 Thanks for SharingThe tall and rangy Mike (Tim Robbins) runs a New York-based support group like a big papa bear, stern, avuncular and always quick with an answer. He may be the warmest practitioner of tough love. Mike’s addiction, while a bit vague, is more substance based than sexual in nature, but he’s been clean for some time and seems to have a solid home life with his dutiful wife (a radiant Joely Richardson) who’s obviously been through the wars (probably not to the same degree as Anthony Weiner’s spouse, Huma Abedin, but still) and opted to stand by her man. Then there’s his trusted lieutenant, Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an international financier with a primo high-rise condo in Manhattan. He’s five years sober and, because sex is so easy to come by, goes to painful extremes to truncate alone time with the TV and Internet. The good news is that Adam has met the perfect woman in Phoebe (a very toned Gwyneth Paltrow), though he’s reticent to tell her about his bug (sex is permissible; just not compulsive sex). Adam’s also taken on a new charge who’s a discombobulated mess: Recently terminated from his post in a hospital for sexually harassing a co-worker, Neil (Josh Gad) rubs up against a woman in the subway and gets court mandated to the group.  Continue reading

Drinking Buddies

13 Sep

‘Drinking Buddies’: Smart romance shows mumblecore master ready for mainstream

By Tom Meek
September 12, 2013

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What happens when your best friend and co-worker is a member of the opposite sex and you’re hopelessly attracted to them but can’t pursue anything because you’re in a long-term relationship heading toward matrimony? That’s the situation Joe Swanberg’s neo-slacker essay plumbs, and it gets even more complicated when Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) bring their significant others along for a couples getaway in the woods. In the middle of the night, after some silly drinking games, the two, who work at a Chicago micro-brewery, sneak down to the beach and forge a raging bonfire. The sexual tension’s aflame too, a veritable tinderbox of unrequited passion, needy and raw and open to that game-changing spark. You might feel sorry for their SOs, but they’re not so innocent themselves; earlier in the day, Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Chris (Ron Livingston) went out for a hike, drank some wine and after an awkward conversation about love, life and fulfillment, also rolled perilously close to the precipice of crossing over.

091313i Drinking BuddiesIf there’s one thing painfully obvious (like, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” obvious), it’s that Luke and Kate are meant to be together, but thankfully Swanberg – one of the early adaptors of mumblecore filmmaking (the lo-fi indie film movement in which production values, most notably sound, play second fiddle to the visceral and ideological elements) along with the Duplass brothers (“Puffy Chair”) and Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha”) – is after something a bit more nuanced and un-Hollywood. For inexplicable reasons Chris leaves Kate, which further enables Kate and Luke’s hop-infused brewmance. The pair, along with other vat rats from work, spend many a late night lighting up the dingy side of Chicago, while Jill, conveniently a teacher, sits at home toiling away on art projects for her special-needs students.  Continue reading

Race, Film and Reflection

4 Sep

Huffington Post

Posted: 09/03/2013 2:41

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial two movies have come out that have helped shape the discussion on race and the racial divide. The docudrama Fruitvale Station explored a similar real-life shooting, but preceded the tragic event with a poignant preamble that chronicled the struggles of a young black male trying to go straight in a society seemingly stacked against him, and more recently Lee Daniels’ The Butler, followed the life of a black man (Forest Whitaker bringing grace and dignity to the role) raised during the early 1900s on an antebellum plantation in Georgia where he witnesses his father shot and killed by a plantation supervisor (who had just raped his mother) and later goes on to become a member of the White House wait staff, serving eight presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan during his long tenure.

As a freelance film critic, formerly with the now (and sadly) defunct Boston Phoenix and currently publishing in a variety of media outlets, I was carefully preparing my review of The Butler for a South Carolina paper, and in looking at the film’s credits, I noticed that the basis for Danny Strong’s script was a Washington Post article by a reporter named Wil Haygood, who in print had documented the decades-long career of Eugene Allen, the man Whitaker’s fictional Cecil Gaines is based upon.  Continue reading