Tag Archives: romantic comedy

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

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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-

A Life Less Ordinary – Review

18 Apr

I’ve talked all about Danny Boyle before and how I think he is one of the best directors working in the industry today. He always injects a frenetic style into his movies that moves the plot at a sometimes break neck speed, but also just reminds us that we’re watching a movie. Dealing many times with characters who are troubled and occasionally violent, the thought of Danny Boyle making a romantic comedy sounds intriguing. Teaming up again with writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald, Boyle and his crew have created a darkly comedic and wonderfully screwball romantic comedy with A Life Less Ordinary.

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Robert Lewis (Ewan McGregor) is a janitor with bigger dreams of writing a best selling “trash novel” that people are going to find in airports and take along for their trip whose life seems to start spiraling when he gets fired by Mr. Naville (Ian Holm). Celine Naville (Cameron Diaz), Naville’s daughter, is a spoiled rich brat who is bored with her posh life. On a more supernatural level, O’Reilley (Holly Hunter) and Jackson (Delroy Lindo) are two angels who specialize in love and is charged with making Robert and Celine fall in love. Things seem to take a turn for the worse when Robert ends up kidnapping Celine, who is actually just as interested in the ransom money and the entire adventure. As Robert and Celine keep on the run, O’Reilley and Jackson are always following close behind, pulling the strings and trying to bring the two closer together and hopefully fall in love.

I can be very hard on romantic comedies because I feel like most of them follow the same cliches and some of them are exactly the same movie with slightly different characters. If I’m going to enjoy a romantic comedy, it has to be different but also have a romance in it that feels real and heart warming. A Life Less Ordinary is very different with its supernatural and criminal elements, but it also has a romance that I buy and enjoy watching. Even though this movie is a step ahead of most romantic comedies that come out, I can’t say that it is the strongest effort by Boyle and his gang of film makers, especially since this was the movie that followed up his masterpiece, Trainspotting.

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Another great thing about this movie that made it different from a lot of romantic comedies is that it was actually funny. I can’t tell you the amount of rom coms I’ve watched and saw the jokes coming a mile away, or just find it all obnoxious as a whole. In A Life Less Ordinary, most of the jokes work because they’re presented unexpectedly in the dialogue or they’re situational in the most absurd of ways. The fact that there are angels in this movie and a heaven that looks like it is a whited out police station is absurd enough. Another really funny part about this movie is that Robert kidnaps Celine, but throughout the entire kidnapping, Celine is obviously in charge. This turn of events that makes Celine have the upper hand gives the movie a lot of opportunities for some ridiculous screwball comedy.

As much as I enjoy this movie, there is something about it that brings it down a few notches. The way the movie is set up makes it feel like a bunch of scenes, which it is but that’s never how a movie should feel. In my review for Chinatown, I say how everything in the story flows so well that I hardly even picked up on the fact that I was already deep into the plot. In A Life Less Ordinary, everything seemed like it was put into blocks. Scenes never really flowed into each other. They simply just changed. One part towards the end especially not only slows the movie down, but feels completely out of place and really pulled me totally out of the movie.

A Life Less Ordinary is not only a rom com done the Danny Boyle way, but also the right way. There’s nothing in this movie that is earth shattering or completely changes the way that I look at film in general. What it did was provide me with some light hearted (and a little dark at times) fun which was a good way to spend the afternoon. This film comes nowhere near to Danny Boyle’s best, but it is a good movie that will have you laughing at the absurdity that it has to offer.

Her – Review

3 Feb

What do you think people would say 50 or 60 years ago if you were to tell them that in the future we would be talking and dating people we met on a crazy invention called the internet? Wouldn’t be even stranger to try to explain that sometimes people don’t even each other before they begin a relationship? We have entered a crazy time in social networking and relationships, where our connectivity is almost crucial to our friends and significant others. Her not only explores this in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s been said a hundred and ten times, and it also provided a more than worthy love story that may arguably be the best since Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

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Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad and lonely man who works for a company that writes personal letters for other people. Theodore has been avoiding signing the divorce papers from his wife and childhood friend Catherine (Rooney Mara), and as a result has become introverted and uninterested in any kinds of relationships, including rarely seeing his good friend Amy (Amy Adams). One day, Theodore purchases an OS (Scarlett Johansson), or Operating System, that he customizes to have a female voice, and when he learns that this computer is able to think for itself and have an identity the two become friends. The OS names herself Samantha, and her and Theodore begin a romantic relationship. Life seems to finally be going well for him until it becomes apparent that Samantha is learning and evolving in a much faster rate than can ever have been expected.

While Spike Jonze doesn’t have a particularly long filmography, you can’t argue that it isn’t impressive. Films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich have proven that he is an exceptional film maker, and his background in music videos also shows that he has a good visual style. Now with Her, he shows that he has major talent in the writing department. Jonze deftly mixes his absurdist humor with some real, down to earth human drama. That might sound kind of odd considering what this movie is about and how crazy the storyline is, but I feel like a lot of people could connect with the characters in this movie.

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It really says a lot about the actors in this movie how they are able to build such a great relationship, even when they don’t see each other face to face and don’t even touch in any sort of way. Joaquin Phoenix handles the arc of his character very well and Scarlett Johansson, who only provides her voice for the film, does a great job at making a computer as lovable as the HAL 9000 was feared. Amy Adams also does a good job as Theodore’s documentary film making, hipster friend who plays on the cliches of that demographic in a very funny way. As good as the actors all are, if it wasn’t for Spike Jonze’s incredibly strange screenplay, complete with believable and human dialogue, Her wouldn’t be as great a film as it is.

Most of all, I think, is that I really like what Jonze is trying to say with this movie. It’s a pretty obvious statement on the case of relationships and friendships that have become very impersonal thanks to online social networking, where you don’t even have to be near the person to have a full blown conversation. It’s also a clever look at the future, and the kind of things that may or may not be acceptable if we keep going on the same path that we’re on. Not only is its messages something to listen to, but it was refreshing to see a love story that is different from the ones that come out all the time that pretty much seem to be following the same formula and have the same characters.

Her is a real one of a kind movie that made me so happy once it was over. This isn’t because the movie is especially hilarious and uplifting, because it’s actually a really sad experience. I was happy because it was just so well written, filmed, and acted and that it provided me with a different trip than I’m used to. It is a very absurd movie with an outlandish plot, but if you can get past that you will really appreciate everything about Her.