Funny how each week’s new DVD releases take Videoport Jones and I to places we didn’t expect. This week it’s thoughts of relationships, love, con men, animated monsters and the disappearance of Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston. Don’t worry, we’re just as surprised as you.
Away We Go
Videoport Jones: “This autobiographical film, from a script by married screenwriters (and indie hipster darlings) Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, had me worried going in. I really wanted to like it; I like Eggers’ writing and am rooting for costar John Krasinski to break out as a legitimate movie star (and not as just everybody’s favorite TV cool guy Jim Halpert), but, from the previews, I was concerned that it was going to be too indie-cute, while the fact that it was directed by the usually heavy-handed Sam Mendes (‘American Beauty,’ ‘Revolutionary Road’) seemed at odds with its seemingly-breezy aspirations. Well, judge a movie by its previews at your own peril- this is one of the most happy surprises of the year. As a pleasantly-aimless couple in their early thirties who discover that they’re preggers and go on a trip trying to decide where to relocate, Krasinski and former ‘SNL’ funny gal Maya Rudolph are the most touchingly-believable couple in a long while. Eggers and Vida created a couple without, some might say, any real problems (they have enough money, they have the freedom to move essentially anywhere they want, and family and friends who love them) and imbued their dilemma with a real sense of weight. They feel, and are, largely rootless, lacking the stable, mortgage-y lives of their parents and, happy enough, they nonetheless
occasionally wonder, as Rudolph’s character does at one point, “Are we f***-ups?” (It’s a question, and a sentiment, I can relate to). And, as embodied by Krasinski and Rudolph (who’s a revelation here as the sturdy, sensible foil to Krasinski’s goofball), these two create a layered, believable, and utterly winning couple who convince us, and themselves, that they are worthy of our sympathy as they meet up with a colorful collection of friends and relatives who, in their own singular ways, provide different s of couple and parenthood for our protagonists to react to, often with Jim Halpert-esque pan disbelief. Like the similarly-structured ‘Flirting With Disaster,’ the couple’s picaresque journey allows for some ‘crazy’ encounters with some very talented guest stars, but ‘Away We Go’ edges its characters more towards the sadness underneath: Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan as boorish borderline crazies, Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara as Krasinski’s too-flighty parents, Carmen Ejogo as Rudolph’s luminously-sane sister, Paul Schneider as Krasinski’s sad brother with a family crisis, and Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina, heartbreaking as a happy couple with a sad secret, and an hilarious turn by Maggie Gyllenhall and Josh Hamilton as the ultimate New Agers. Through it all, Rudolph and Krasinski are a wonder: touchingly-vulnerable, funny, and real. Which is how I’d describe the movie as well.”
Justin: “Never trust previews and reviews Jonesy. If you were to believe some of the reviews they’d have you think Krasinski and Rudolph were unlikable and the story unbelievable. This film is unlike anything I have seen in a very long time. Watching it felt like some wonderful mix of great cinematopgraphy, compelling characters and a unique plot. In other words, it was what a good movie should be. But more than that, it felt like you were watching two friends trying to make an honest life decision and what it all means. You touch on a good point with Rudoplh’s line about being ‘f***-ups.’ I think anyone in our generation can completely and totally relate to that feeling, as well as the listlessness that goes along with it. You DO reach a point where you look around and wonder what is going on in your life. ‘Away We Go’ could easily hit you over the head with themes on family, love and belonging (and I’m sure some say it does), but instead it just sweeps you up and takes you along for the ride (literally.) This movie was one of the few times in recent memory where I had NO idea where things were going with the story. And that made it so much more enjoyable. Krasinski and Rudoplh were amazing, with such great chemistry that their portrayal of the couple seemed effortless. But also, as you point out, this movie is filled-out with great performances from the ensemble, providing vignettes of various parts of family life that alternates between hilarious and heartbreaking, all the while feeling realistic. (And I am ALWAYS happy when Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan get work. And they are hilarious here) Also as an Eggers fan (did I mention I got to INTERVIEW him once!), I was rooting for this film. Watching it I was surprised at how much it was like seeing an Eggers story come to life. See this movie.”
The Brothers Bloom
VPJ: “In his high school neo-noir ‘Brick,’ director Rian Johnson proved himself a prankish stylist, wedding the hard-boiled detective genre to a teenaged milieu to audaciously-fun effect. In his new film, ‘The Brothers Bloom,’ he’s playing film style mash-up again, this time tackling the venerable conman genre with a quirky, Wes Anderson-like comic detachment. Well, it’s hard to successfully copy the delicately-whimsical tragicomic style of Anderson’s best films like ‘Bottle Rocket,’ ‘Rushmore,’ and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (even Anderson himself has failed at doing so twice in a row now), and ‘The Brothers Bloom,’ while not a failure by any means, never takes off. Like a balloon with too much to carry, it sort of bounces along, struggling to be delightful. Undeniably-talented actors Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play the titular conmen, orphaned brothers who’ve made their way through the world for decades thanks to the irresistible lure of Ruffalo’s elaborate fictions, and aided by the alluring bait of Brody’s seductively-sensitive playacting. They’re fun to watch as they scoot around the world in pursuit of the next score, and things look promising when they set their sights on a zany, enthusiastic, klutzy heiress with more money than God (she keeps a stable of identical Ferrari’s in waiting) played by the lovely and spirited Rachel Weisz. The film also has a nice, deliberatley-ambiguous approach to time period in the decor and wardrobe. It’s just that, as the film goes along, the style starts to weigh the picture down in a way that it didn’t in ‘Brick.’ There’s a reason that ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,’ ‘The Sting,’ and ‘The Lady Eve’ weren’t directed by Wes Anderson (or Rian Johnson, for that matter) – the con man flick and the quirky indie fairy tale don’t match up well. About half way through, ‘The Brothers Bloom’ goes kinda flat. Still and all, a pleasant enough chance to watch these three always-interesting actors do their stuff.”
JE: “But I have to wonder if the chance to watch three decent actors is enough incentive? Is it enough to give it a pass just because we like the pieces but are ambivalent about the whole? Especially when it comes to the delicate are of the Con movie? I love, and I mean REALLY love, a good con man or a heist flick (though Steven Soderbergh tried hard to torpedo the whole thing with ‘Oceans’ sequels.), and they have to juggle a lot of parts. The grifter(s) has to be charming, not annoying, the target has to be plausible, and the locales, settings and other trappings have to be fabulous beyond anyone’s imagination. And while ‘The Brothers Bloom’ may have those elements, it appears they weigh down the whole show. Which is sad, because Johnson is a smart, creative guy who clearly likes to take chances. I’d say this one gets a pass if you’re curious about Johnson as a director and where his career is going. Otherwise, if you’re in the mood for a con-man flick might I suggest ‘To Catch a Thief,’ ‘How to Steal a Million,’ or either versions of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.'”
The Girlfriend Experience
VPJ: “There is no big-time Hollywood director who takes as many chances, to greater artistic reward, than Steven Soderbergh. From the ‘Oceans’ films to the no-budget experimentation of ‘Bubble,’ from the improv-heavy doodle that was ‘Full Frontal’ to the epic, five-hour ‘Che,’ the guy is gutsy, prolific, and has talent practically out of that big, big brain of his. So why not make a low-budget, shot-on-digital character study of a high class call starring a porn star in her non-porn acting debut? Why not indeed, my good man. Sasha Grey stars as the titular prostitute who offers the titular service (wherein she creates the fantasy for her customers that she is more than just a hired, well, hand), all the while trying to make a relationship work with her own boyfriend and she carries the picture with icy aplomb. Can she act? Umm, I genuinely don’t know; Soderbergh, capturing Grey’s character through a ‘The Limey’ – like use of adept flashbacks, flashforwards, and editing, employs his star with tightly-controlled economy. It’s a good strategy, which he employed to similar effect in ‘Bubble,’ to get the most out of a nonprofessional (or perhaps limited) actor (I maintain that Mickey Rourke was similarly-used in ‘The Wrestler’), and Grey is just fine in the central role, the astute casting of one kind of professional to play another granting the film another level of intrigue. We watch her go through her days, act her parts, and prepare for the next move; she’s a sleek, sexy shark who rarely reveals much, but remains a compelling cypher. Another in the fascinating film essays from the ever-ambitious Soderbergh.”
JE: “And here I am tossing around Soderbergh’s name in a bad way. You have to admit the latter ‘Oceans’ movies were not his finest, but on balance he’s one of the more interesting and gutsy filmmakers today. Not to mention versitile. I’m waiting for him to tackle a buddy cop flick, or even better, team up with Jason Stathem. Best of both words right there! As for ‘Girlfriend,’ one would hope this doesn’t go down as simply being ‘that Soderbergh movie with a star,’ because it could be much more. A meditation on longing, happiness, wealth and , perhaps? That’s not to say this bit of stunt casting is not intriguing in all sorts of meta ways. Also, it could make for awkward couples conversations as wives/girlfriends ask if their man is familiar with Grey’s, ahem, body of work. Sorry, could not resist the pun.”
VPJ: “Remember when the world couldn’t get enough Kevin Spacey? Seriously, after ‘The Usual Suspects,’ ‘Seven,’ ‘American Beauty,’ etc, it seemed like ol’ Kev would be the biggest star in the word. Well, while he hasn’t gotten any less talented, the enthusiasm has petered out. On that subject, have you heard of this film? No? Well, it did go to the theaters, so we’re not in direct-to-DVD hell just yet, but this story, about a grieving shrink self-medicating with lots and lots of weed, didn’t do anything to take the Spacey train back on the road to the A-list. Did I see it you ask? Well, I was going to, but, you know…”
JE: “Let me help you out here. Three words: ‘Beyond The Sea.’ Did you see that movie? That was a freight train of indulgence as the Spaceman wrote, directed, acted and sang in the Bobby Darin bio-pic. It’s an alluring target, as a good bio-pic can be the stuff of legends. Instead it just landed with a loud, slightly croony thud. And when was the last time he was seen? ‘Recount?’ OK, fair enough. But that was an HBO movie, so again, not exactly breaking the box office. I’m a big fan of Spacey, not just because of the movies you mention, but one of his first performances I saw was Glengarry Glen Ross.’ Great performance and one of my all-time favorite movies. So he’ll be back some day and we’ll be waiting. Just don’t ask me if ‘Shrink is that return to form.”
VPJ: “Jennifer Aniston, in her ongoing attempts to prove herself a viable movie star, has made some smart moves. She chose some interesting indie projects (‘Friends With Money,’ ‘The Good ‘) which brought her some critical cred, and, even in her more mainstream fare, she’s teamed up with some more interesting leading men than a less-adventurous mega TV star might (Paul Rudd in ‘The Object of My Affection,’ Jay Mohr in ‘Picture Perfect’), and now she’s doing the right thing again, co-starring with talented character actor goofball Steve Zahn. Unfortunately, as with Rudd and Mohr, the results aren’t everything you could hope for. Things start out okay, with her lonely art saleswoman being wooed/stalked by the oddball slacker caretaker of the motel she gets stuck at, but things get ironed out to a nice, bland smoothness before too long. Woody Harrelson shows up, trying to crazy things awake, but this one’s a pleasant rental for an unadventurous night, nothing more.
JE: “Wow. What can I really add to that. Pretty much spells it out. This feels like another case of ‘liking the individual parts.’ I dig Steve Zahn (a fellow Minnesotan who’s solid in everything) and I have no malice towards Aniston as an actress (though don’t get me started on her public dating woes. It bothers me.). A quick aside: why isn’t Zahn a bigger star? Is he a deliberate character guy, or does he not have the chops for a leading role? I think he does, but I’m biased. Since I feel more strongly about Zahn this could warrant a rental. As for Aniston’s attempts at leading lady-dom, she’s still got work to do. Sadly enough, I think she’d do better to build a resume of enemble or supporting roles, which frankly, I think she is better suited for. Maybe we can book Aniston on the same comeback express as Spacey.”
Monsters vs. Aliens
VPJ: “It ain’t Pixar, but this big budget animated comedy about the titular smackdown is diverting enough, employing as it does essentially every funny person in the world. Let’s see, you’ve got (deep breath) – Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Helms, John Krasinski…man, it’s like they cast the voices in this thing in a concerted effort to get me to watch it. It worked. And it was fine. When does ‘Up’ come out, though?”
JE: “True enough. I feel like the whole ‘celebrities in cartoons’ is a trend that has not reached its peak yet. When putting together an animated feature the voice talent is pretty crucial, so it’s no surprise that producers would go after name talent. On the other hand, when you stack the deck like this it feels like a blatant push to draw in a bigger crowd than you would normally attract. Say, parents, want a movie to take the kiddies to? Well how about this one? You like Seth Rogen, Dr. House and Dwight Schrute, right? GOLD! While I may normally ding you for your devotion to Pixar, in this situation I’ll refrain as I too am anxiously awaiting ‘Up.'”
How I Met Your Mother – Season 4
VPJ: “Now that everyone in the world loves Neil Patrick Harris (very funny hosting the Emmy’s, my man), they should all go back and check out this well-above-average sitcom where he plays TVs ultimate horndog wingman. His Barney is a , catchphrase-spouting cliche, and NPH makes you love every minute he’s on screen. Add in the invaluable assistance of cuddly-hilarious married sidekicks Allyson Hannigan and Jason Segal, and you’ve got yourself a genuinely-pleasing winner. Oh, and the two main characters are serviceable as well.”
JE: “I am all for continuing the era of the NPH Renaissance. I feel like in the hands of anyone else the character Barney would have an off-the-shelf, formulaic sitcom character feel to him. Instead he just pushes it over the top and sells it hard (WHAT-UP!). But seriously, if you’re feeling a sitcom-sized hole in your life and are in the market for a funny show staring pretty people, this is it. I could watch it for NPH and Segal alone (points to the producers for making his character from Minnesota AND including an episode this season about the Vikings.). In fairness the other two leads are funny and likable. Though it should be slightly worrying to the producers that the character the show is centered on (the guy looking for, you know, the ‘Mother.’), is not considered as entertaining as some of the other players.”
– Are the characters in “Away We Go” relatable? If not does that hurt the movie?
– Sasha Grey in “The friend Experience.” Stunt casting or ultimate realism?
– Casting call! What would you cast NPH in next?