Tag Archives: marriage

Sideways – Review

17 Aug

I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded guy when it comes to movies. I try to soak in all sorts of films from all around the world and from different points of view. That being said, some genres just don’t impress me as much as others. I like comedies as much as the next person, but I’d much rather watch a mystery or a crime thriller. Comedies have to work really hard to win me over, and a good place to look is the work of Alexander Payne. Throughout the years, Payne has walked a thin line between comedy and drama and has garnered a lot of respect. The first movie I’ve seen of his was Nebraska, and I have to admit that I really couldn’t get into it. I’m revisiting his work with an earlier movie from 2004, Sideways, which was also met with many accolades. While I do like this one better than Nebraska, I still just don’t think his movies are for me.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) have been best friends since they were room mates in college. They’ve been through various ups and downs together and, despite their efforts, haven’t really made much of an impact on the world. With Jack finally getting married, Miles sees this as a time to take him on a trip through California’s wine country where they will spend quality time together and drink a whole lot of wine. Along the way, the two come across Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress at one of Miles’ favorite restaurants, and they also meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a wine pourer at a local vineyard. Jack immediately starts an affair with Stephanie who is oblivious to the fact he’s getting married that weekend. Meanwhile, Miles becomes close with Maya, but has a hard time holding in the secret that Jack is keeping from Stephanie. This affair in the middle of wine country will force these best friends to examine who they are, what they are becoming, and how to finally feel fulfilled.

I want to go ahead and talk about what I really loved about this movie, and it has more to do with the way the characters are written than the actual story. Paul Giamatti’s character has been through a lot of terrible things, and a lot of it has to do with decisions he’s made. By the time this movie starts, he’s a broken man trying to find something special to hold onto, which is why this week long trip with his best friend means so much. Thomas Haden Church’s character is the exact opposite. He’s a loose cannon who feels like he hasn’t lived his life to the fullest, and he doesn’t realize that his bad decisions are the same things that completely ruined his friend’s outlook. It’s an interesting friendship that I don’t think has been explored this well in movies like this. I feel like Payne really fleshed out these two characters to the point where I understand their feelings without them needing to vocalize them, which is a very strong film making technique. Miles sees a lot of his past in Jack which scares him and Jack sees a potential future in Miles which also scares him. I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed these two characters and the depth of their connection.

The setting for this movie also really helped put me into the story. Road trip movies now seem to always go for the extreme party cities where shenanigans are bound to happen. The fact that shenanigans occur in the California wine country is certainly different. While the setting is fun and different, I can’t really say the same thing about how the story progressed. While there are things that set Sideways apart, at it’s core it still follows the same formula set down by buddy and romantic comedies. The movie didn’t really throw me any curve balls or offer me any sort of dramatic surprises, which is weird considering how deep Payne worked to make his characters seem unique but he couldn’t really do the same with his story. There are some good moments of humor that do feel very original and that helps the story from becoming too stale. While I did chuckle at the movie and laugh out loud pretty hard once, it didn’t really strike me as hilarious. I can’t help but look at Sideways as a drama more than it is a comedy.

As far as the comedy did go, Giamatti was spot on as always. This is the kind of actor that can naturally find the perfect tone for a movie and strike it without even seeming to try. I wish the same could be said for Thomas Haden Church. I can’t really tell if his character annoyed me or his performance annoyed me. He just seemed over the top at times and, while it was a good foil for Giamatti’s character, he just didn’t have the same effect on me. Virginia Madsen is good in her role although there is one scene where the writing felt a bit too unnatural. Unfortunately, Sandra Oh’s character exists solely for an affair to happen. We get glimpses into her life, but she’s never really fleshed out to her potential, unlike Madsen. For a movie that’s so focused on character development, it’s easy to notice when one of them gets next to none.

Sideways is a good movie. I don’t think anyone will say otherwise. My only thing is that it isn’t really my cup of tea. I found it easy to find flaws because it just struck me as pretentious quite often and unfortunately predictable. Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen are excellent while Thomas Haden Church has moments of brilliance but also moments of over the top annoyance. I can’t say much for Sandra Oh since she didn’t have much to really contribute. Sideways works best as an examination of friendship, aging, and trust while also being a strong character study. It doesn’t really hold up quite the same way in the narrative department. As a comedy/drama it still holds up better than many.

Final Grade: B

Extract – Review

20 May

Mike Judge is one of the best when it comes to comedy. It’s hard to deny the impact he’s made on the genre and popular culture itself. From his television creations like Beavis and Butt-HeadKing of the Hill, and most recently Silicon Valley, to his commercial film hits like Office Space and Idiocracy, his talent is clearly visible. One of his movies that I don’t hear too much about is his companion piece to Office Space titled Extract. I’ve finally come around to seeing it, and I can sort of see why it’s not one that’s talked about too often. It certainly is funny enough and a comedy that will more than likely stay on my radar, but it does lack some of the sharpness and off the walls absurd satire of his other, more recognized work.

Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman) seems to have it all. He is the founder and owner of the Reynolds Extract company, has a great house in a quiet neighborhood, and also is married to his beautiful wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig). On the flip side, his company is also facing problems after an accident causes one of his employees (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to lose a very important part of himself, he is constantly aggravated by what may be the world’s worst neighbor (David Koechner), and his love life with his wife has become stagnant. Things become even more complicated when a mysterious drifter, Cindy (Mila Kunis), starts working at the factory and shows a major interest in Joel. Because of this and some horrible advice from his friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), Joel’s life becomes a series of lies, even great misfortunes, and a possible company ending lawsuit.

Extract has a story that’s all over the place. There’s problems with the factory and also Joel’s love life, then there’s Mila Kunis’ character who has a backstory and motivation all her own, and then there’s an impending lawsuit that becomes more of an issue towards the end. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all sometimes. This works both for and against the movie. On one hand, with all of these subplots working against each other, there are some areas of the movie that feel rushed and not worked to completion. One character is relegated to just one scene when he could’ve had a lot more screen time. On the other hand, it started to make me stressed, which should be a problem, but it helped me relate to Joel’s plight, especially when he starts to reach his boiling points.

Where the movie does sort of falter is in the overall point of it. When I watch something by Mike Judge, I expect to see some sort of satirical sharpness, especially when he says that this film is a companion piece to his super sharp Office Space. There’s a really fun comedy of errors to be found here, but the whole thing feels kind of hollow. Part of that can be due to what I was talking about before. There’s so many plots and subplots and side characters that don’t amount to much that the whole thing doesn’t feel fully realized. If Judge was going for this simple comedy of errors vibe, it pulled off, but if he was going for something more than it doesn’t quite reach that standard.

Where Extract does succeed, and where Judge continues to show his immense understandings, is the personification of the characters. Everyone in this movie is someone you have met or have no problem believing in. One of my favorite characters is an older woman at the factory who continuously harasses a new employee and who refuses to work because she believes she works harder than everyone else and gets nothing for it. I know I’ve met that person. This also has a really great cast. Bateman is always great as the deadpan character who explodes after being pushed too far. Ben Affleck is surprisingly hilarious as Dean and David Koechner as Nathan, Joel’s annoying neighbor, kills every scene he’s in.

Extract is definitely a minor entry into an otherwise outstanding body of work by Mike Judge. This is a funny film with a great cast and a premise that works really well, even if it does feel stretched a bit too thin. If more time was given to certain plot elements, this might have felt a little bit stronger, even without the sharp satirical edge I was expecting. This movie is good for some laughs, but don’t expect anything more than that.

Final Grade: B-

Manchester by the Sea – Review

14 Dec

Sometimes it seems that a great movie can just pop up out of nowhere. I shouldn’t really be saying that about this one considering this is the time of year when a lot of the great movies come out and also the fact that this particular film was getting a fair amount of buzz. When I first heard of Manchester by the Sea I was determined to see it because of the praise that was being given to Casey Affleck, one of my favorite actors. I went to the movie not knowing too much of what the plot was or who was involved with the production, but looking back on it, Manchester by the Sea is one of the stand out films of the year and one of the most honest and down to earth stories I’ve seen in a long time.

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts who is known by the tenants for his often volatile personality. One day he gets a call to let him know that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died which forces Lee to return to his home town of Manchester-by-the-Sea for the services and to also look after Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This return to Manchester opens some old, deep wounds that Lee has been running from for years that are only made worse when he finally runs into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and the two begin talking for the first time since a tragedy forcefully pulled them apart. As Lee starts to deal with his past and the problems he is presently facing, a bomb is dropped on him when it’s revealed that he is now the legal guardian of Patrick, a responsibility that seems so far from what Lee is capable of.

There are so many really impressive things about Manchester by the Sea from the way the story is told to the actors responsible for bringing all of the poignant scenes Kenneth Lonergan created to life. In terms of story, it’s simply beautiful and it’s so beautiful because it’s so real. There’s nothing glamorized in this movie and the drama feels like it could happen to anyone including yourself. The idea of having a death in the family, especially someone as close as Lee and Joe were, is a very upsetting thing to think about but the story never becomes so upsetting that all the hope is lost. People deal with loss in different ways including lashing out at other people or hiding behind a sense of humor. This movie explores all of these ways and it surprisingly made me laugh more than a few times. In one scene, Lee and Patrick are having an argument while they walk up and down a street looking for where they parked the car. This frustration of forgetting where they parked adds frustration to their argument and fuels the fire. This is a great scene that perfectly illustrates the real scenarios that are relatable to the viewer.

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Part of what made this movie connect with me so much actually had a lot to do with the location. Manchester is shot like it could be Anytown, USA. There’s something really familiar about the businesses and the homes that just put me at ease with where I was. Like I said, there’s nothing glamorous in Manchester by the Sea and that includes the way the settings and people are shot. None of the characters look like movie stars, but are made up to look like they could be anyone’s next door neighbor. It reminded me a lot of British realism in the sense that all of this could be happening next door from you and you may not even know. Lonergan has truly crafted a story that can speak to anyone, no matter how cold and jaded you’ve become.

On to the reason why I really wanted to see this movie. Affleck has been getting a lot of attention for his performance in this movie and he deserves every bit of it. He gives an understated and honest performance, but he also just fits right into the location like he’s been there all his life. There are some scenes that require him to really put energy into the drama, but there are so many great scenes that are much quieter and you can see just by his face that the gears in his head are turning and turning fast. Lucas Hedges also gives a surprisingly great performance as Patrick, and the two leads work great with each other. It’s a very real relationship they have and the conversations we get to listen to happen so naturally. Finally, Michelle Williams is always one to give a strong performance and her tragic character in this film is clearly and accurately brought to life.

Manchester by the Sea snuck up on my out of nowhere and has become one of the strongest and most memorable movies of 2016. It’s a pretty long movie and it can be argued that not much happens in the slow burn of a storyline, but I’d argue that. This is a very deep, complex, and emotional story that’s acted by some of the best in the business and realistically brought to life by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. It doesn’t so much succeed as a drama as it does in showing life and humanity in the most organic way you can see on film. Manchester by the Sea is required viewing.

Final Grade: A

Revolutionary Road – Review

2 Sep

To me, some of the coolest kinds of movies take subjects that seem completely normal and uneventful and completely flip them on their heads to show a much more unsettling look at normalcy. In 1999, director Sam Mendes graced the world with a masterwork of film making, American Beauty, which took a darkly comedic look at the sometimes tragic follies of suburban living. After this great success, Mendes would revisit similar themes with his 2008 film Revolutionary Road. While it does share similar elements to his earlier film, Revolutionary Road is a much more serious and unsettling look at marriage, mental health, and the idea of “settling down.” It’s an overwhelming experience that is bound to leave you drained by the end.

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After Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets April (Kate Winslet) at a party, it doesn’t take long for them to fall in love and start their life together. They move into a nice house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs of Connecticut. Frank gets a job as a salesman for Knox Machines and April stays home taking care of their two young kids. It seems like the perfect nuclear family. What’s happening behind closed doors is less than perfect. Frank and April’s relationship is completely disintegrating, and this disintegrations is causing a lot of hate to boil to the surface. This hate has to remain hidden from their friends and neighbors. Their final solution to this is to pack their things, get out of the mundane life they created and move to Paris. While this idea brings them closer to the happiness they desire, a promotion offered to Frank once again puts their relationship in jeopardy as their desires and feelings become even more at ends and their lives begin to spiral out of control.

What Mendes did for more modern suburban life with American Beauty, he does for the nuclear family in Revolutionary Road. This film takes a tough look at what is labeled as the “perfect American life.” The Wheelers are a close family that live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and that’s ultimately what seems to be their downfall. Everything is just too nice. It also shows the long term consequences of decisions that seemed like a great idea at the time, like quickly getting married or hastily taking a job that you have no interest in. I feel like I’m rambling a little bit, but that’s one of the more interesting parts about this movie. Everything seems so mundane and ordinary at first glance, but this mundanity is what’s helping to tear this family to shreds. Revolutionary Road also takes a critical look at relationships. It doesn’t condemn them even a little bit, but it forces the audience to examine what makes them actually work and how too much focus on yourself, no matter how right or wrong you may be, can wreak the foundation a relationship is built on. In a nutshell, Revolutionary Road is a film about the extraordinary dark side to an otherwise ordinary life, which may seem all to real to some people.

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Revolutionary Road is an emotionally exhausting film, and I guarantee that by the end you’re going to need either eat an entire tub of ice cream or take a really long nap. There are scenes in this movie that are so intense and real and uncomfortable that I was looking at it through my fingers. When a movie isn’t a horror film and it elicits that kind of reaction, then something was done very right. While it is very intense and tragic in many scenes, there are times where it got to be a bit too much. That’s probably my only complaint with this film. It goes from being highly dramatic to too predictably melodramatic. This only happens a few times throughout the course of the movie so it really isn’t that big of a complaint at all. Most of the scenes hit the dramatic intensity just right, while a select few kind of just go too far. One major contribution to the drama is Thomas Newman’s excellent score that fits right in with the film’s onscreen action.

Watching this movie, it isn’t hard to believe that before working in film, Mendes was a prolific director of stage plays. He, along with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, films this movie like something that could be found on stage. It works great for the film and really allows that actors to work with the limited space that is given to them DiCaprio and Winslet have already shown their chemistry in Titanic, and now show a much more matured version of that chemistry in Revolutionary Road. They give outstanding performances that, I feel, have become under appreciated since the time of this movie’s release. I was surprised to see Michael Shannon, who has grown to be one of my absolute favorite actors, shows up for a little bit. He’s only in a few scenes, but he absolutely owns the screen whenever he’s on, and for this small performance he was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Revolutionary Road is one of those movies that really hits you where it hurts. At times, the drama could get a little heavy handed and the writing could stray into the “no one really talks like that” category. Even with the rare heavy handedness, this is a really interesting and upsetting film that succeeds in exactly what it was trying to do. Not only is this film shot very well, but the acting is superb and the production and costume design really get you into the era that the film takes place. Mendes is a film maker that understands the more subtle terrors of normal life, and he uses them very well in Revolutionary Road.

Blue Valentine – Review

20 Nov

Before Blue Valentine was released in 2010, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the rating that I think helped boost its recognition a little bit, and I was worried that the hype around the movie was going to ruin the entire experience for me. Well, after 4 years, I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie, and I can’t really say that I’m disappointed. There are plenty of things that make this movie great and worth a viewing, but my own personal taste tells me that I’m really not going to have to sit down and watch the movie again.

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This film chronicles the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) in an interesting way, but the love they have for each other is ultimately doomed to fail. In the past, Cindy was facing the end of a bad romantic entanglement and an unexpected pregnancy when she meets Dean, who shows her a much more fun and easy going side to life. Dean is even willing to step in and help her with the baby even though it is obvious that it isn’t his. Five years later, they are married and raising their daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Both are good parents, but have seemed to have lost touch with what made their relationship so great in the first place. Dean and Cindy both decide to go out for a night and try to rekindle the spark that they had, but only succeed in making their situation worse.

I understand that this movie is really good. I can see that it is, clear as day. There’s just some unknown variable that exists that makes me not really want to watch it again. Maybe I found the entire experience a bit too cynical, but then again, that cynicism is a big part of the story and the message that writer/director Derek Cianfrance is trying to give. So it’s not that I don’t understand what he’s trying to say, it’s just all sort of depressing. There have been films with this message I’ve seen in the past like 500 Days of Summer and Annie Hall, both of which deal with doomed relationships, but there’s something about Blue Valentine that looks at it in such a hopeless an negative way, sort of like real life. So, yes, I do appreciate and understand Cianfrance’s frankness, but that doesn’t mean it makes for a very entertaining movie.

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By far, the best part of this movie is the acting. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give two of the most honest performances that I’ve ever seen in a movie. The director had a lot of ways to get that kind of chemistry between them, so credit also goes to him. It’s clear that a lot of what the actors are saying is improvised or even some of their actions, and that is what gives this movie such a real feeling. Even through all the cynical remarks and devil may care attitude that doesn’t always work for me in movies, I still bought it because of their strong performances. Williams was actually nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in this, which pretty much had to happen considering how excellent she was.

I just really couldn’t get into the style of Blue Valentine. I felt like it was a romance movie that was trying to be different at times. Most times it definitely succeeded at being unique, but I often felt, especially during one nice scene where Cindy dances to Dean’s ukelele music, that the movie was just trying to hard. But you know what, this is all just my personal preferences coming into it. I can see how this movies appeals to other people, and I definitely see that it is a well made film. There’s just something about this style that I can’t really get into, and I often checked the time throughout this entire movie.

This was a really hard review to like, because part of me was saying to just write how well made it was and how technically proficient it all is and how the writing and acting is all really good. It all is. All of those things are really good, and for those reasons I’m glad that I’ve seen this movie at least once. The other part of me doesn’t want to see it again because I just couldn’t get into the mood or the style of the movie, but as I said before I can see how it would appeal to other people and for good reason. Objectively speaking, Blue Valentine is a really good movie, but it just didn’t sit too well with me.