Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, a young writer who, while on vacation in Italy with her fiance’ Victor (Gael García Bernal), stumbles upon The Secretaries of Juliet, a group of women who answer the letters that hundreds of broken hearted women write to Juliet Capulet at the place of her birth (a real life occurrence!). Sophie’s writer instincts kick in and she answers a years old letter which throws her and the letter’s widowed author Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) into a trek across Italy to find a lost love from her youth and presenting Sophie with the perfect story to use as her big break. Claire’s handsome grandson Charlie (Chris Egan) is along for the ride and we all know what’s going to happen there.
As directed by Gary Winick from a script by José Rivera and Tim Sullivan, Letters to Juliet is a predictable and formula romantic comedy, but it charms you and draws you in anyway, even thought you know how it’s all going to turn out. This cliché but fun romantic comedy set’s itself apart with it’s fairy tale-like angle of lovelorn women writing to the legendary Juliet Capulet for help and the ‘secretaries’ which answer. It presents a cast of very likable characters to get attached to and takes them on an old fashioned quest across the beautifully captured Italian countryside, to find an ages lost love and possibly a new unexpected one. Sure it’s schmaltzy, but it works anyway. We want Claire to find her Lorenzo (the legendary Franco Nero) and we want Sophie to fall for the charming yet cynical Charlie and leave her workaholic, self-absorbed fiancé. We know as soon as the plot is set in motion how it will end up, but we go along for the ride anyway. In this case it’s not the destination, but the old fashioned charm of the journey that makes it worth while. A fun, cute movie despite being so cliché and the Italian locations in Siena and Tuscany are sumptuously filmed.
Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) is a man who’s been accused of killing his first wife. Despite being acquitted, it has made him somewhat infamous and left him mentally scarred. He’s trying to live a new life with his new, young, actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) and their adorable daughter Ella (Avery Essex). WIth Susanna doing a play in London, the family rents a secluded house in Wales. Unfortunately, there is something very strange going on in that house and Theo’s past comes back to haunt him, as does the house’s shadowy occupant.
Supernatural thriller is written and directed by David Koepp, but despite a nice try to concoct something a little different and spooky, the flick seems cold and distant. Maybe it’s because we never really like or feel sorry for Theo, as he seems to be a bit of a jerk at times and we know from the start there is something about his tragic past he is not telling his new wife, or us. It’s all very predictable and ends exactly as we expect, even up to and including the identity of the house’s specter-like occupant. There are a few spooky moments, but they are few and far between and the excuse to get Susanna out of the house for the last act, just succeeds in making her unlikable as well. As for the couple’s marriage, the fact that Theo is so weird from the start and so much older than Susanna, not to mention his past, leaves their whole relationship, very unconvincing. It might have worked If there was some nice chemistry between the actors, but Bacon and Seyfried never click as a couple onscreen, either. At least young Avery Essex shines as Ella, who is basically the only truly likable person in the movie. Kinda of “meh” when all is said and done. Most entertaining thing about the film, is that it takes place in Wales yet was actually filmed entirely in New Jersey.
Obviously, a movie with Gina Gershon and Drea de Matteo as female rockers already has a built in appeal and it’s too bad the film chooses to wallow in the darker aspects of the rock scene, as well as, some tragic melodrama, for us to fully enjoy it. Story is from a play by Cheri Lovedog who co-wrote the script with Robin Whitehouse. It focuses on Jacki (Gina Gershon), a bi-sexual rocker who’s just turned 40 and wonders if her all-girl rock band Clamdandy will ever make it out of the bar scene. That’s about it story-wise. Along the way we are treated to all the rock clichés and some dreary smatterings of beatings, rape and even a tragic death as Jacki tries to decide if it’s time to do something new with her life. As directed by Alex Steyermark the film already tries too hard to be a ‘rock’ movie but, then wallows in the scenes of drug abuse, abusive relationships, rape, death and even the traditional ‘screwed by a record label’ sub-plot. Despite Gershon giving Jacki her all and equally good performances out of de Matteo, Lori Petty and Shelly Cole as her band mates, the material is too familiar and too dreary to make this really enjoyable and lacks the energy in it’s few music scenes to overcome that. Also stars Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Marc Blucas as the ex-con brother of Cole’s Sally. The film is far more depressing than it is entertaining.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (2014)
OK comedy/drama has aging hipsters Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) struggling with getting older and maybe having missed out on some of the important things, such as kids. They meet a pair of younger hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) and decide maybe they don’t have to act their age as Josh and Jamie collaborate on a film project. Things get weird as Jamie comes up with a potentially successful documentary idea while Josh’s has been languishing in development hell for ten years. Directed and written by Noah Baumbach this flick can be funny and sentimental at times but, can also be cliché and a bit pretentious at others. The story of an aging character/characters falling in with young people and not acting their age has been done to death and the filmmaking angle only adds a slight deviation from this. The outcome of that is fairly predictable as are the conclusions the characters come to. There are some good performances across the board but, the film never really rises above pleasantly mediocre.
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Not being a fan of Seth Macfarlane’s Family Guy, I was pleasantly surprised by his 2012 talking teddy bear comedy Ted. It’s not a great movie by any stretch but, it was actually very funny at times and had a surprising amount of heart. The film was a huge hit and now the ‘Thunder Buddies’ are back!…and if you liked Ted, I find it hard to believe you won’t like this.
Ted 2 opens with the self-aware bear marrying his girlfriend and fellow cashier from work, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), while John (Mark Wahlberg) is still suffering from the effects of his divorce from Lori. The film then jumps a year later where the honeymoon is over and Ted and his bride can’t get along. Taking advice from a co-worker, Ted decides the best way to fix the marriage is by having a baby…something he is physically incapable of doing. At first…in a hilarious series of segments…he tries to get a sperm donor. When they find Tami-Lynn barren from all her years of drug use, they try to adopt. Ted, though, is viewed by law as an object and therefor not eligible to adopt. Ted and John must now, somehow, get the courts to acknowledge Ted as a living person and so, they hire pretty, young lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to try to prove it. Meanwhile, Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) is back and with the help of a toy company CEO, plots to see Ted’s efforts fail so they can have the talking bear in their clutches without consequence.
Macfarlane is back in the director’s chair and once again co-writes with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. The result is pretty much the same with a plethora of toilet humor, stoner jokes and pop culture references which play out during the thin excuse for a plot. Not every joke or bit works, but, a lot do and the film still has far more heart than you would expect in a low brow comedy. There are some truly funny gags here…one involving Ted and John in a fertility clinic is particularly hysterical…and some very amusing cameos…such as a side-splitting Liam Neeson. Macfarlane even teases star Amanda Seyfriend about her large expressive eyes with a couple of Gollum references and the actress gets ‘good sport’ points for going along with it all the way. If nothing else, the finale set at New York City Comic Con is worth seeing this alone for, especially if you’re a geek and get all the references and costumes that get dragged into the mayhem. Sure the flick is far from perfect with a weak story, a strong predictability…John and Samantha, like we didn’t see THAT coming…and some very cliché situations but, the characters of John and Ted are endearing as ever and it’s their antics we came to see and Macfarlane delivers more often than not. At the very least this sequel is an equal and that’s good enough.
Obviously, the cast helps makes this work and some surprising faces get to show they have a sense of humor and can take a joke. Wahlberg is once again fun as simple working guy John Bennett. His phony Boston accent and surprising comic timing make him a good team with Macfarlane’s vocalization of the smart-ass, foul-mouthed, CGI Ted. Two friends who refuse to grow up and there is a chemistry between the performers that really makes the pairing special, even when the jokes fall flat. The biggest surprise here is Seyfried. I am a fan of the actress and was delighted to see that she not only can play low-brow comedy but, she plays it very well and fits right in with the boys. She not only is very funny but, also appears to be a good sport with the Gollum jokes and keeping a straight face when smoking an interestingly shaped bong. She has a flare for comedy and Macfarlane smartly let’s her cut loose in contrast to the more straightedged Lori (Mila Kunis) in part one. Ribisi is slimy and creepy again as Donny and we also get fun appearances from the likes of Morgan Freeman and a returning Sam J. Jones and Patrick Warburton in smaller roles…and some very funny cameos from an assortment of familiar faces including some Star Trek alumni.
Normally I am not a fan of Macfarlane’s humor but, something about the characters of John and Ted and the predicaments they get into are endearing and sometimes, just really funny. Sure the humor is beyond raunchy and Macfarlane and his co-scripters leave nothing sacred…a Ferguson, Missouri crack had the audience groan in shock… but, that’s kinda why we see these movies…to see how far they’ll go. Raunchiness like this needs humor and wit behind it, though…which was missing in Macfarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West…to really work. For the most part, Ted 2 has some definite cleverness in the toilet humor and some rebellious audacity, too. Not every joke is funny…again, the Ferguson reference…or every slapstick sequence a knee-slapper, but, the film succeeds far more than it fails and despite being about an animated teddy bear, that bear does have a heart buried under all the bodily fluid references.
I’m not a big fan of Seth MacFarlane’s ‘horny 13 year old’ sense of humor and I don’t watch Family Guy. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Ted, though and so, went into this, his new flick, with an open mind. But sadly, despite some nice sentimental moments here and there, this western/comedy is a constant barrage of boring sex jokes and bodily function bits that are vulgar for vulgars sake. MacFarlane ignores actually trying to tell his cliche’ story and fills this overlong movie with an endless and tiresome parade of gross-out humor that wears out it’s welcome in the first half hour or so. How he dragged Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried along with him in this predominately unfunny mess is a mystery.
While I wouldn’t outright say that Neighbors is a bad film, it’s just that it is such a routine and cookie cutter, Hollywood situation comedy that is instantly forgettable once the credits role. Flick has a frat house moving in next to yuppie couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the resulting war between them and the Zac Efron led frat boys. The flick really isn’t that funny and it actually makes the couple appear far more childish and irresponsible than the ‘kids’ they start a feud with. It also was a bit disturbing that these two ‘adults’ leave their infant daughter alone in their house numerous times to party with/make war with the boys next door. A few funny bits and Efron gives his character a little depth but, it’s hard to root for Mac and Kelly when they seem like bigger jerks than the partying frat guys who the film can’t decide are the bad guys or not. Kind of a mystery as to how this was such a big hit.
Brett Ratner directed flick is based on a graphic novel that portrays the legendary Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) as a powerful yet, very mortal mercenary whose 12 labors and lineage of the gods is just embellished PR fables to drive fear into the hearts of his enemies. Herc and his crew are summoned to help an embattled king (John Hurt as yet another ‘old king’) free his country from invaders but, is duped into aiding a tyrant. Betrayal and vengeance ensue. This is another flick that passed the time alright but, is so by-the-numbers and forgettable that it barely justifies existing in the first place. The Rock seems like he’d rather be somewhere else with an uninspired performance as one of the world’s oldest heroes and the rest of the cast are all operating on a paycheck grab level as well. Competently made but, when all is said and done, routine, cliche’ and uninspired.
Lovelace is a well made if not somewhat flawed biography of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the first bonafide porn superstar who appeared in the equally legendary adult film Deep Throat. While I’m not quite sure that the narrative structure completely works, the film is elevated by some really good performances all around from it’s good cast. The film’s story is basically told twice. First we have a fun look at girl-next-door Linda Boreman who comes from a home with an overbearing mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and upon meeting her future husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), embarks on a journey into making the adult film classic Deep Throat…a film that basically ignited the porn industry’s growth into the billion dollar industry it is today…and becoming an overnight sensation herself. The first half of the film portrays it from the outside appearance of this wide eyed girl becoming a star practically overnight by making one of the most infamous porn films ever made. She even gets to meet Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who tells her she has what it takes to be a true star away from porn. But then we jump six years later to Linda getting ready to publish her memoir “Ordeal” and then we jump back to the beginning to see the true story of what happened including the horribly manipulative and physically abusive treatment by husband Traynor, who forced her into prostitution and then the production of the legendary porn flick all to fund his own life of excess. We then see how she was physically abused and forced into sex acts with other men for money in some very effective and horrifying sequences. We get to see the effect on her and how it ruined the relationship between her and her parents for many years until she finally got the courage to leave Traynor and the adult industry and start on a path to a new life that included releasing her memoir and becoming a feminist as well as a wife and mother.
And this is where I feel Lovelace had it’s biggest problem, I just don’t think telling the same story twice from two different perspectives really worked to the benefit of the story. At a little over 90 minutes that basically gives us 45 minutes to cover the same events twice instead of telling the full story from start to finish and covering more ground. I appreciate the concept of telling the story from first the public’s point of view of what happened, to then showing us how it really was, but to me the mood shift is very jarring from the more entertaining perspective of her rise to infamy and then this harrowing and heartbreaking story of her abuse at the hands of her slimy husband. Both halves taken individually are done well and are effective, but don’t quite work as well as a whole. A more traditional narrative might have better suited the material.
But what makes this film really worth seeing are the good performances from the actors. Seyfried gives her best performance yet and is exceptional at presenting both the public and private sides of Linda Lovelace’s life during her fame and then her escape to living a somewhat normal life and crusading against porn and domestic abuse. Sarsgaard is equally good portraying the charming man on the outside and the insecure and abusive monster that lurked behind closed doors. A man who had no problem selling his wife to a room full of scumbags for a gang bang. As her parents, Stone is almost unrecognizable and also gives one of her best performances as Linda’s overbearing mother Dorothy and Robert Patrick gives an emotionally filled performances as her father John, who cares deeply about his daughter, but appears afraid to assert himself in front of his wife. The supporting cast are equally solid with Juno Temple as Linda’s friend Patsy, James Franco as Hugh Hefner, Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and Chris Noth as Deep Throat investor Anthony Romano, who starts to see Chuck for who he really is.
Overall I liked Lovelace, especially for the performaces. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman do a good job recreating the era and giving the scenes the emotional depth they need, it’s just that the narrative structure robs us from appreciating the emotional contrast of seeing both sides of the story as it occurs instead of revealing it all in one big flashback. The script by Andy Bellin seems solid, but again, we have the narrative issues it’s structure causes. A good film, not a great one, but one that does still have an impact and is really made worth watching for an exceptionally good cast. Also stars Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Debi Mazur as Dolly Sharp.