Film Threat Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

2011
Rated PG-13
117 minutes

***

I was all set to hate “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”. For starters, the title is terrible. Not only is it a punctuation nightmare, but it also encapsulates everything that’s annoying about romantic comedies. Love, man. It’s so craaaazy! And stupid! The last thing we need is another movie about Metrosexual Henry Higgins teaching some nerd how to bag babes. The poster recycles that tired nod to “The Graduate” with an anxious man beneath the arch of a sexy lady leg. Along the bottom is a series of headshots of the other actors staring off into the middle distance and smiling knowingly about how crazy and stupid love is. Well, I hope that whoever was in charge of marketing gets a stern talking-to, because “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”, while possessing a few slightly unbelievable moments of coincidence, is not really stupid at all. Crazy!

Cal (Steve Carell) is utterly shattered when his adulterous wife (Julianne Moore) drops the Divorce bomb on him. By the time Playboy Extraordinaire, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), takes him under his wing, Cal has hit a lot of new lows including repeating his tale of woe to everyone within earshot at the local singles bar. After a refreshingly amusing variation on the obligatory training and makeover montage (peppered with much comedic slapping), Cal is ready to field test his new social skills. Predictably, he does everything wrong on his first night out. Nonetheless, it somehow works on a jaded wild woman (Marisa Tomei) who gets off on his extreme honesty. With Cal’s newfound confidence, the Dud-erpillar is re-born as a Stud-erfly. Once all that is out of the way, the film is finally free to become the drollest and distinctly mature mainstream romantic comedy in years.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they loaded the cast with talent. Ryan Gosling flexes his impressive comedic muscles, breathing new life into the lonely lothario persona. Despite chiseled abs and a curious accent, Gosling’s Jacob is more Barney Stinson than the Situation, with a sensitive soul lurking just below the surface of his exfoliated skin. It’s not until he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), the only woman to ever deconstruct his methods, that he considers dropping the designer act and being himself full time.

Carrell’s abused puppy face isn’t anything new, but he’s really quite good at it. Julianne Moore effortlessly packs both humor and pathos into every line. Stone is almost supernaturally beguiling as a misguided pragmatist just out of law school. Tomei plays her part a little broad, but I’m assuming it’s because she didn’t read the rest of the script and based her performance off the tone that the title implies.

Even the youngest actors hold their own in a cute, if over-explored, love triangle subplot. Cal’s thirteen-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with the four-years-older babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Meanwhile, Jessica crushes on an oblivious Cal, even before his wardrobe overhaul. Bobo expertly wields the articulation and mannerisms of precociously insightful youth. Though several years out of high school, Tipton manages to squeeze her adult self back into that awkward period when innocence and sexuality collide. Not bad for a former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.

The clever script boasts plenty of surprises including an adorably self-aware seduction scene between Hannah and Jacob and just why it is that Jacob volunteers to help Cal in the first place. But the biggest revelation of all is that the film never goes where you expect it to, with Cal using his newfound self-esteem to trick his wife into falling for him again. In a time when comedies are mostly about outrageous one-upmanship, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” just wants to tell a story about people falling in and out of love. Though it contains idealistic characters, the script (by Dan Fogelman, “Cars”) is realistic in its execution. No one is infallible and no one (apart from a few peripheral characters) is an archetype. Young boys do think in absolutes. Maybe Cal and Emily don’t belong together, but you can definitely see why Cal might think there’s something worth salvaging. There are also real consequences to Cal’s period of sluttery, including a disastrous encounter with Tomei’s character, who was expecting to be more than just a confidence bone.

Despite all the surprises, it’s not a perfect film. They throw the kind of yucky phrase, “soul mate,” around a bit too much for my taste. But the biggest narrative misstep is with the kids’ storyline. Hannah disappears for a very large chunk of the film (presumably, she’s in Bar Exam hell), to make way for scene after scene of Robbie’s relentless pursuit of Jessica as she pines for Cal. Fogelman was probably trying to drive home the juxtaposition of love in its infancy (Cal and Emily met in high school) to love after it’s been corrupted by life. But Robbie’s unyielding romanticism and know-it-all confidence gets a bit tiring. It’s nothing out of character for a lovesick thirteen-year-old boy. We just don’t need to see it every time it happens.

The film starts to lose focus after a big scene that ties all the characters together and there are far too many endings for a movie that doesn’t actually resolve anything. Like most comedies that run longer than 90 minutes, they could have trimmed a lot of fat.

Still, not bad for a Rom-Com. Not bad at all.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

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Film Threat Review: Bellflower

2011 FANTASIA FEST SELECTION!
Rated R
106 minutes

****

Forget those marmot-wielding guys in black from “The Big Lebowski.” Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) of “Bellflower” are the denotative Nihilists. Devoid of responsibilities, their days involve imbibing a constant stream of alcohol as they prepare for a “Mad Max” style post-apocalypse and… that’s about it. But their lives get a lot more eventful when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), an equally unencumbered wild girl. They fall for each other like a ton of bricks but as the opening rapid fire backwards montage of brutality suggests, there’s no fairy tale ending for these crazy kids. What are on the menu, however, are large quantities of fire, one badass car and a riveting and wholly unique depiction of the dark places that love can take us. You may think you already know what heartbreak looks like, but trust me when I say you’ve never seen anything like Woodrow’s broken heart.

When we first meet Woodrow and Aiden, they’re doing what they probably do every day: build gadgets that serve no real purpose in civilization as it stands, but that would immediately rocket them to the top of the food chain if society crumbles. Their crowning achievement is a muscle car called, “Medusa.” This thing is Grace Jones on wheels: simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. But she won’t be complete until they can figure out a way to make her shoot flames. Only then will they truly be ready to rule like Lord Humungus.

Their end-of-days preparations are stymied when Woodrow meets Milly. Immediately smitten, he asks her out after she beats him in a cricket-eating contest at their local ironic hipster dive bar. Their first date turns into a week-long road trip to Texas, during which they get into a fight with a redneck, trade Woodrow’s tricked out car (complete with a whiskey dispenser in the dash) for a motorcycle, return to a raging party at Milly’s house, fight another guy and, finally, seal the deal with Aiden passed out a few feet away. Milly and Woodrow are balls out in love, but they’re clearly not headed for 2.5 kids in the suburbs.

Instead, the narrative beautifully smash-cuts straight to the end of the relationship, when, with just a few snippy exchanges, it’s clear that they have been living with deep-seated resentment for quite some time. Woodrow’s suspicions are confirmed when he walks in on Milly viciously fulfilling her first-date prediction that she would break his heart. Utterly distraught, Woodrow takes off on his motorcycle and soon, the rest of him is broken as well.

What happens next is as open to interpretation as it is horrifying. I don’t want to get into specifics but I doubt I could spoil the movie if I tried. Let’s just say that Aiden and Woodrow get their apocalypse, but it’s nothing like they, or you, could have imagined. I’m a recovering nail biter, and by the closing credits, I had fallen off the wagon pretty hard.

“Bellflower” isn’t just about the demise of young love. It also serves as shorthand for those kids currently experiencing early-adulthood limbo. They’re the Slacker Generation on alcoholic energy drinks. Their mechanical proficiency and eloquence suggest that they’re extremely gifted, if not formally educated. So what’s with the underachievement? There was probably never much hope for Milly. When I first saw her house, I actually thought she was a squatter. (Though, seeing as how she continuously stiffs her roommate on rent, she’s not far from it.) But with their skills, Woodrow and Aiden should be on “Mythbusters” instead of fucking around with blowtorches in between house parties. Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. Assuming they did go to college, they graduated in the middle of a recession. Maybe they looked for work for a long time, but eventually gave up and got used to cashing their unemployment checks, draining their trust funds or however it is they procure their mad money. Yet, they share a few things with the preceding generation, like the continuous pop-culture laden dialog, the boozy escapades of misspent youth and doing things just for the irony and experience of it. I suppose you could call the film an updated “Reality Bites,” only without the adorably optimistic notion that, somehow, things will turn out all right.

The film doesn’t pull any punches from a technical standpoint, either. Joel Hodge’s cinematography lends a frenetic quality to the look of the film, and the omnipresent Hipstamatic filter often makes Bellflower Avenue resemble the wasteland that Aiden and Woodrow long to dominate.

Also noteworthy is Tyler Dawson’s performance as Woodrow’s fiercely loyal best friend, Aiden. Early on, it seems as though Aiden’s purpose is nothing more than comic relief. But when the shit hits the fan, his true character shines through, and Dawson handles it beautifully.

We can certainly credit some of “Bellflower’s” success to its basis in reality. Not only did Evan Glodell write, direct and star, he also built all the gadgets in the film, including the car and the camera used to capture it all. Normally, when someone spreads himself so thin on a film, some aspects will suffer for it. But Glodell doesn’t miss a beat. Perhaps it’s because the material is deeply personal. At a post-screening Q&A, Glodell confessed that he wrote “Bellflower” as purgation after ending a destructive relationship. That certainly explains the ultraviolence in the film. Let’s just hope the catharsis worked.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

MetroNOTual

As reported by Slog, tonight is “the second of three public hearings on a proposed $20 “congestion reduction” car tab fee will be held at 6 p.m. in council chambers, 516 Third Avenue, 10th Floor”. Should the fee not pass, they will cut the follow routes:

1, 2 EX, 2, 3, 4, 5 EX, 5, 7 EX, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 EX, 15, 16, 17 EX, 17, 18, 18 EX, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 26 EX, 27, 28, 28 EX, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 48, 51, 53, 54, 54 EX, 55, 56 EX, 56, 57, 66 EX, 67, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 99, 101, 106, 107, 110, 111, 114, 116 EX, 118 EX, 118, 119 EX, 119, 121, 123, 124, 125, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 134, 139, 140, 148, 149, 150, 152, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 161, 162, 166, 167, 169, 173, 175, 177, 179, 180, 181, 182, 186, 187, 192, 196, 197, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 205 EX, 209, 210, 211, 213, 214, 219, 221, 222, 224, 230, 232, 233, 234, 236, 237, 238, 240, 242, 243, 245, 246, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 255, 257, 260, 265, 268, 269, 271, 277, 280, 308, 311, 312, 331, 342, 345, 346, 347, 348, 355, 358, 372, 373, 901, 903, 908, 909, 910, 912, 913, 914, 916, 917, 918, 919, 925, 927, 930, 935.

Routes in bold would be eliminated entirely. Whether or not you ride Metro, this WILL effect you. Many of these routes are often filled to capacity with riders. You do NOT want those people adding cars to the roads. If you can’t make it to tonight’s hearing, you can still email a testimony to City Council here. There will also be one more hearing. PLEASE take a moment to tell them how these cuts will effect you. And believe me, if you live in Western Washington and aren’t a complete shut-in, they WILL effect you.

FILM THREAT REVIEW: Horrible Bosses

2011
Unrated
93 minutes

**

Most everyone has had a horrible boss at one time or another. It’s frustrating while you’re at work and funny when you’re removed from it, so a movie like “Horrible Bosses” should have written itself. That’s certainly why we would go to see a movie called “Horrible Bosses.” Instead, guys who penned such illustrious sitcoms as “Becker” and “Shit My Dad Says” wrote it, with help from the kid from “Freaks and Geeks.” Nevertheless, they did a terrible job.

Jason Bateman plays Nick, a salesman who is gunning for a promotion. Unfortunately for him, his boss is Kevin Spacey from “Swimming with Sharks” and what the film calls a “TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE.” Jason Sudeikis is Kurt, an accountant for a chemical company who also wouldn’t mind a promotion. His future is actually bright, until his grandfatherly boss (Donald Sutherland) dies seconds after proclaiming Kurt the heir apparent. Unfortunately for Kurt, there were no witnesses to this decree and his new boss is Sutherland’s “DIPSHIT COKEHEAD SON.” Charlie Day’s Dale is a kind-hearted spazz who just wants to get through his day as a dental hygienist without being sexually harassed by his boss, a sex-addicted “EVIL CRAZY BITCH.” (Predictably, his friends don’t see it as a problem because DUDE SHE’S SO HOT!!! Hilarious.)

The biggest problem with this premise is that it drags the tone all over the place. We are definitely meant to relate to these average Joes. We all work hard and are under-appreciated. We’ve been passed up for that promotion. We’ve seen our bosses exercise dubious judgment. We’ve been the recipients of an off-color joke or two in the workplace. Yet, it’s almost as if the writers have only heard about these things, not experienced them first hand. “Horrible Bosses” is the interpretation of a real workplace dilemma by people who have only ever worked in the innately over-the-top office called Hollywood. The bosses in this film aren’t just horrible; they’re almost supernaturally evil.

Spacey’s Dave Harken uses a realistically dismissive line like “We’re all on the same team,” to explain to Nick why he’s just given himself Nick’s promotion; but he follows it up with, “You’re my bitch. I own you.” A man with this much ego would never say something so obvious and direct because he’s already made his point with the subtler, cutting excuse that some are more equal than others. Bobby Pellit’s (Colin Farrell) threats to fire all the fat people and dump chemicals into the drinking water would never fly because he’s a walking law suit in an office full of disgruntled employees. The nymphomaniacal Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), is the most ridiculous of the three. If she were really as relentlessly, unquenchably horny as we are meant to believe, she would not wait around for a little mouse like Dale (Charlie Day) to satisfy her. She would fuck literally the next person she found and it would be all the same to her. I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to go along with the premise that her desire to have sex, specifically with Dale, would consume her every waking moment and drive her to concoct elaborate schemes to make it happen.

The outlandish bosses aren’t even the most cockamamie plot point. I understand why the writers would go to great pains to explain why quitting isn’t an option; not many people would see a movie called, “Horrible Previous Employers,” but instead of using their over-educated brains to come up with a way to get their bosses fired, our hapless crew instead decides that they must be killed. Killed. Yes, their bosses are technically evil, but we regular folk don’t just kill people. It’s the whole reason why that hypothetical question about going back in time to kill baby Hitler is even a QUESTION at all. The characters cite similarly themed films, “Strangers on a Train” and “Throw Momma from the Train” when they discuss the plot to take care of each other’s problems. But the difference is that the characters in those films are as insane as the people they’re trying to murder. Nick, Kurt and Dale are shortsighted buffoons with no common sense, but they’re not crazy.

Another difference is that the characters in those influential films were one-of-a-kind, memorable personalities. We’ve seen almost every single character in “Horrible Bosses” before. In most cases, they were played by the very same actors. Jason Bateman is pretty much Michael Bluth from “Arrested Development”, minus the delightful eccentrics to play off of. Jason Sudeikis is the same lecherous dork from “Hall Pass” with a higher success rate for booty snatching. Charlie Day does the same yell-acting that I’ve seen right before the end credits of every “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode that precedes something I actually want to watch on FX. I was bored for them, when I wasn’t too busy being bored myself. Also, there aren’t any trains at all in “Horrible Bosses.”

Jennifer Aniston is the biggest question mark in this debacle. In the past, she’s proven herself to be a competent comedic actress. In her better roles, she’s managed to completely shed her distracting movie star quality, which is something that a Julia or a Sandra could never do. She still churns out plenty of crap, but she doesn’t usually demean herself in the process. Playing a sexually confident woman should be empowering, but instead she’s labeled as an “EVIL CRAZY BITCH” (because whenever there’s something wrong with a woman, it’s because she’s “crazy”). I’m not advocating the idea that a woman can’t be capable of sexual harassment, but there is little difference between the forward things she says to Dale and the lecherous asides uttered by Kurt. It’s not supposed to be creepy when Kurt says, “I’m going to go see that girl about her vagina,” but it’s crossing the line when Dr. Harris talks about her own vagina to Dale. Granted, this whole argument is rendered moot when you consider the fact that people like Kurt exist while people like Dr. Harris do not.

I have to give credit to a couple of funny gags peppered throughout, but the laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between. I don’t even want to list them, because if you end up seeing the film (likely, considering the cast), you’ll have nothing to look forward to. It’s mostly a lot of tired bits (like the now classic argument about whom among them is more prison rape-able) and oh-no-he-didn’t moments. The world was a better place before people were obsessed with making this year’s “The Hangover” (especially you, Guys who made “The Hangover”).

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).