Enough Said

March 4, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Enough SaidEnough Said, James Gandolfini’s final performance before his tragic death last year, is a delightful tale about two divorcees with teenage children who are seeking love and find solace in one another.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener tells a simple and straightforward story, and it works because it is simple. Even the characters’ names are simple.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a massage therapist who seems to have more of a connection with her teenager daughter’s best friend than her teenage daughter. Eva is the most complex character because she harbors self-doubt, which comes into full force when she discovers the man she is dating, Albert, is also the ex-husband of one of her new massage clients, Marianne.

The comedy is derived from the fact that Eva conceals from Albert that she is getting information about him from his ex-wife (or even that she knows him). And as Eva begins to fall in love with Albert, she second guesses herself by believing Marianne’s tendentious view of Albert.

Gandolfini’s performance is the most effective. His blunt but relaxed and to-the-point-though-slightly-resigned countenance carries much of the film’s charm. We like his character, Albert, despite his flaws. He’s not the noblest person in the world, and he accepts that about himself. We want to accept him, too.

There is no strong message or theme here, save for the experience of simplicity — or the need for more of it in one’s life — which is something to take note of.

The score by Marcelo Zarvos follows this theme as well, and fits the film’s mood perfectly. Simple instruments and melodies make up most of the music and the soundtrack makes for a relaxing stand-alone listening experience.

In the end, Enough Said doesn’t have a lot to say, and that’s okay. Perhaps that is the point. We can enjoy it for what it is, a simple, lighthearted romantic comedy to experience for 93 minutes.

This movie was screen at my home from an HD rental from Amazon On-Demand streaming. This review was original published on Soundtrack.Net.

Jobs

March 4, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Jobs

The best things about the quickly made Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, is its original score by John Debney. The music is romantic, epic and inspiring — everything a movie about Steve Jobs should be. Unfortunately, the movie itself sets a low bar and strives for mere mediocrity.

Kutcher’s isn’t all that bad as Jobs, but he isn’t great.  When it comes to acting, his performance epitomizes the difference between impersonation and acting. As an impersonation of Steve Jobs, Kutcher is good. But, somehow, Jobs’ presence is missing. We don’t have a sense of greatness.

Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak flat out doesn’t work. He plays a caricature of himself, and it is mostly annoying. He would have done better service to the movie by doing a straight impersonation than the acting job he attempts here. Yes, had the film featured more acting and less impersonation this performance may have worked, but as it stands Gad is playing the wrong notes in a B-grade symphony.

Still, there is value to be had watching Jobs, though most of it comes from our own imaginations and Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula who, as presented, is the most interesting and complex character the movie has to offer. We are left wondering how the scenes we are seeing actually did play out and we wonder how it must have felt to be in the room during various key and pivotal moments of Apple’s rise and fall and rise again.

Movies are supposed to be larger than life, but Jobs somehow makes it all smaller.

Thankfully, John Debney’s score helps us experience some of that grandeur that is missing. Do yourself a favor and skip the movie, buy the album featuring the original score, and follow along the track listings as the music plays from beginning to end. Imagine what it may have been like at the key moments described in the track listings, especially tracks 7, 8, 11, and 22. Debney’s music will give you a glimpse of what a story about Steve Jobs could have been and should have been.

Jobs is a lesson in the fact that, if you’re going to make a movie about a great man, it’s better to get it right than to get it out first. One’s integrity is worth far more than a quick buck.

This movie was screened at my home and the review was originally published on Soundtrack.Net.

Don Jon

March 3, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Don JonActor Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his debut as a writer and director with Don Jon. On the surface, the movie appears to be a superficial comedy about sex and, perhaps, just an excuse for him to make out with Scarlett Johansson on the silver screen. But, surprisingly, there is actually substance behind it all.

Gordon-Levitt also stars as Jon, a pretty boy bachelor in New Jersey. He is the envy of his friends, scoring the hottest girls at the trendiest clubs. He also loves his porn. Pornography, he argues in narrative voiceover throughout the film, is better than sex.

Several comedic scenes illustrate this view, and as he describes sex acts he would like to engage in, they are then contrasted with the sex acts that he actually gets his conquests to participate in — which are far less glamorous than what is illustrated in his favorite pornos. Yes, Jon can always take solace in his porn. And he does. A lot.

If you’re turned off by this presentation of today’s overly sexuality youth, don’t flip the channel just yet. Because behind it all is a young man who is truly seeking a connection, for which pornography serves as a substitute. He doesn’t even know how to attain that kind of connection, save for a trip to his laptop computer.

That is, until his girlfriend “pussy-whips” him (as the saying goes) into taking classes at the local junior college. There he meets and older student played by Julianne Moore who challenges many of his ideas about sex. After catching him watching porn in class, she confronts Jon and challenges him to try masturbate without watching porn.

When he is unable to do so successfully, she has his full attention and in turn learns that sex is more about connecting with another human being than it is about any particular position or specific sex acts (although, of course, you can’t have one without the other).

The final act of love doesn’t totally work and leaves the audience wanting a more authentic connection than we get. None-the-less, the message rings true and works especially well as targeted to today’s youth. For Don, it is an important step and we can root for his transformation as a man.

The film has a feel of a clean Judd Apatow movie. It is filled with comedy and a strong, heart-felt message, sans the overly grotesque moments that Apatow often subjects us to. Tony Danza as Don’s father works well in several blunt and hilarious scenes.

Gordon-Levitt shows promise in the director’s chair and has a good sense of character and story. The film is definitely worth watching for that reason alone, so long as you find the subject matter palatable.

This movie was screen at my home from an HD rental from Amazon On-Demand streaming. This review was original published on Soundtrack.Net.

Afternoon Delight

March 3, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Afternoon DelightAfternoon Delight is a comedy with a message about sex that falls embarrassingly short in its execution. The story follows a stay at home mom, Rachel (played by Kathryn Hahn) who becomes strangely fascinated by a young stripper and prostitute (Juno Temple). She befriends the girl and offers her a place to stay when her luck runs dry.

And thus begins a series of cringe worthy series of inappropriate, child-endangering behaviors that make you want to look away from the screen in embarrassment for the film makers. It’s not all bad, though.

Issues of shame around sex are explored in an interesting way that may make you think — but are later undermined by a character breaking her promise or doing something so stupid as to crush the positive arguments the character is making and ruin their credibility.

The theme that sex is about unashamed connection between two individuals is dramatized in what the film calls “open-eyed orgasms” and as a dramatic device it almost works. Rachel struggles throughout the film to achieve this nirvana with her husband.

But far as the prostitute goes, this is no Pretty Woman. We root for her redemption and are ultimately disappointed. In the end, there is very little to root for and the film fails to concretize its own theme in a final scene that it so obviously it thinks it is illustrating. It’s not. It’s poor execution at the worst opportune time — the film’s climax and ending.

Still, there are a few laughs here anyone who has dealt with shame when it comes to sex may experience some thought-provoking moments. But a good theme poorly executed is an anti-climax, which is not something a movie about sex should really strive for.

This movie was screen at my home from an HD rental from Amazon On-Demand streaming. This review was original published on Soundtrack.Net.

About Time

January 15, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

about_time

Some of my favorite movies are in a genre I call “simple science-fiction,” which means that most of the movie is realistic except for one or two aspects of reality which are altered by some made-up technology or otherwise mystical power. Usually the premise can be summed up in a single “what if?” statement. For example: “What if you could erase specific events from someone’s memory” (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind);  ”What if we could choose the genetic makeup of our children and lived in a society that over actual skill and ability?” (Gattaca); “What if somebody were forced to always speak the truth, and that someone was a habitually lying defense attorney?” (Liar Liar)

While About Time isn’t a great movie, it certainly is an enjoyable one. The sci-fi element here is used in the aim of romance and a bit of humor. The story involves a gangly British boy who, on his twenty-first birthday is told by his father that the men in his family have the ability to travel through time.

There are, of course, some rules to this time travel gig: you cannot travel into the future, and you can only go back in time to places that you have been to at the time you were there.

Time travel has its kicks and the device is used humorously as Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) begins to court Mary (Rachel McAdams). There is a good mix of humor and drama woven throughout. We learn that, even with time travel, one has to make important choices about one’s life and that those have consequences, either way you choose to have a particular situation play out. In one sequence the main character learns that he can have one value or another — but not both — and must make a choice.

The theme that we ought to slow down and breathe in the wonder of life — to live every day as if it were the second time you were living it — is an admirable goal and one well concretized throughout the film. When we, in our busy lives, don’t take a moment to breathe, or are caught up in conflict or have anxiety or even are anticipating some exhilarating experience, we should stop and admire the wonder and fortune that we do have . In this way, the movie is about finding the value and joy in every day life, told through a time-travel themed love story.

It is a little bizarre at times, and Bill Nighy, who plays Tim’s father, manages to pull off some pretty outrageous scenes as well as be convincing as a loving, caring father.

Time travel is tricky, and sometimes the time travel rules are violated (if you’ve seen the movie, the one about the children, for example), so a few plot points don’t add up. But they aren’t so egregious that it spoils the whole movie. And composer Nick Laird-Clowes creates a lovely recognizable romantic theme that helps weave the emotional moments together.

McAdams starred in another time travel themed movie: the Time Traveler’s Wife. That was a dud and, thankfully, this picture by writer/director Richard Curtis makes up for it. Unfortunately, About Time didn’t see theatrical box office success, but you will definitely want to cuddle up with your honey and pop this flick in the VCR (or stream it to your TV, depending on what time period you happen to be in).  The movie arrives on DVD and Blu-ray February 4.

This movie was screened at the Arclight Theater in Sherman Oaks late last year, full ticket price paid. This review was originally published on Soundtrack.Net.