REVIEW: While We’re Young

while-were-young

While We’re Young
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

“Enough about ethics, what about me?”

This line in Noah Baumbach’s latest movie comes toward the end, when the middle-aged documentary filmmaker played by Ben Stiller, reaches the end of an annoyingly grandiose diatribe against every other character in the movie and their perceived moral betrayals. It’s delivered, as much of the rest of the movie is, somewhere between satire and sincerity.  That’s to say, While We’re Young is much more of a return to form for Baumbach than the joyous outburst of his last film, 2013’s Frances Ha.

While We’re Young is Baumbach’s sometimes sharp, sometimes eye-roll-inducing look at generational gaps and overlaps.  Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their 40s, have no kids and are very defensive about it.  They’re losing their friends to parenthood, so when Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried, a young couple in one of his film classes, they go on a double date and he and his wife quickly latch onto them.

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Short Takes: It Follows, Insurgent & Hard to Be a God

It Follows It Follows — Writer/director David Robert Mitchell proves himself a horror movie natural with It Follows, a terrifying “Sex = Death” thriller.  The overwhelming sensory experience on display in this movie is enough to distract from the thinness of its premise, which revolves around a young woman named Jay (the excellent Maika Monroe) being inadvertently passed a curse that has a shape-shifting ghost stalk her.  The curse is transmitted sexually, and whoever is the most recent recipient needs to pass it on before the ghost catches up with them.  It’s the slowness of the specter that is truly chilling, especially when combined with Dissasterpeace’s relentless, pulsating score. The movie initially toys with misogynistic audience expectations, sacrificing a barely-clothed young woman after watching her being stalked and then having Jay’s date drug her and tie her up in her underwear after sex to “warn” her about the ghost.  Predatory men may not be the culprits on screen this time around, but Mitchell’s camera still uncomfortably fetishizes the young female characters’ bodies in those scenes.  Thankfully the movie moves past it, though, and unfolds in ways that are wickedly entertaining and genuinely scary. Grade: B- Insurgent 2 Insurgent — The second entry in the Divergent series feels more alive than the stale, uneven first one.  Insurgent trades in the half-assed, uninteresting world-building of the series debut for a story that is often visceral and compelling, as teen messiah Tris (Shailene Woodley) continues to fight back against the totalitarian, Kate Winslet-led regime.  It helps greatly that Winslet actually looks like she wants to be here this time around, and the distilled chill of her performance blends well with the raw energy Woodley brings to her own role. Much of this installment revolves around Tris assembling a rebel army and completing a self-sacrificing series of grueling challenges for the dictator’s benefit (don’t call them Hunger Games).  Director Robert Schwentke brings an urgency to the action sequences that is more compelling than anything else I’ve seen in a recent teen dystopia movie, though Insurgent’s world ultimately feels just as generic and unimaginative as that of its predecessor and those in The Hunger Games and The Giver. Grade: C+ Hard to Be a God Hard to Be a God — It is a great testament to this movie’s power to say that I now feel desensitized to the grossness of human body fluids.  Hard to Be a God, a decades-long passion project of the late Russian director Aleksey German, is the filthiest feeling movie I’ve seen in years, maybe ever.  Set on Araknar, a planet similar to Earth that is experiencing its own Middle Ages, Hard to Be a God tells the story of scientists from our planet who were sent there to study it and then become deities. If the movie had not explained that in its opening narration, I’m not sure I would have picked that all up, though.  German’s camera is so embedded in the feelings of this world, of its eternal wetness and clogged sinuses, that narrative all but disappears.  Araknar is in the midst of a violent rebellion where all intellectuals are being publicly executed. The movie’s black-and-white images are jaw-dropping and disgusting at the same time; from the get-go, German’s bizarre three-hour epic of depravity is thick with sludge, snot and shit.  It captures human cruelty in a ferociously close proximity and with such an abundance of mind-twisting visual information that it’s exhausting to sit through and process in one viewing.  I’d watch it again in a heartbeat, though. Grade: A-

CLASSICS: Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr.
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch (screenplay)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux and Ann Miller

David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. seeks to do nothing less than redefine cinematic narrative.  By playing off expectations- those that precede dread and anticipate desire- he creates a hallucinatory dreamscape that, like many dreams, is populated with familiar people, repeated locations and maddening symbolism.

Figuring out what a dream means is a common point of relation among people, though producing that experience on a film and draining it of the personal angle of a friend or family member makes Mulholland Dr. quite a challenging experience to interpret, especially on only one viewing.  We’re being tasked with interpreting the dream of someone we do not know.

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REVIEW: J. Edgar

J. Edgar
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black (screenplay)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts

Two men are fighting over a woman.  One declares that he may in fact be ready for a wife, while the other, in a fuming rage, declares that he cannot marry that woman.  He smashes some glasses and throws the first punch.  Not to be outdone, the other man fights back with all his strength, but to no avail.  The other man has him pinned to the ground.  And then they kiss.

That is the climax of J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial endeavor and the sliest genre subversion since his masterful acting/directing one-two punch in 2008’s Gran Torino.  He is of course filming the illusive FBI titan J. Edgar Hoover, who here is embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio in his finest screen performance.

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Ten to finish out ’10

With The Social Network and Let Me In giving movie-goers some anti-summer entertainment to look forward to this weekend, we thought it’d be a good idea to map out what the rest of 2010 will look like at the movies.  Here is our list of the 10 movies we think will matter the rest of the year.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)– Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another behind the scenes plunge into the dark depths of competitive sports.  This time it’s Natalie Portman in the lead, playing a ballerina in a a gruelingly competitive production of Swan Lake. When Mila Kunis comes in as a the new kid on the block, the game is on.  That makes it sound like Step Up, but from trailer, which shows Portman sprouting feathers and red eyes, it will be decidedly weirder.  Aronofsky knows his way around pitch black, and has a knack for turning misery into beauty.  Expect nothing less here.

True Grit (Dec. 25)– What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a Coen Brothers movie?  They team up with Jeff Bridges again, this time to remake the western that won John Wayne his Oscar.  However, the brothers list the novel as their main source of inspiration because of its quick dialogue as well as the premise.  A daughter (newcomer Hailee Steinfield) sets out to apprehend her father’s killer with the help of a stubborn marshal (Bridges.)  The movie also features Matt Damon as a ranger accompanying the two and Josh Brolin as the killer.  With a remarkable cast like this, and the success they had adapting No Country for Old Men, it’s hard not to be excited about this one.

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SPOTLIGHT: Naomi Watts

Few actresses in Hollywood that are this attractive get famous for their talent.  That’s just how the business works, unless you’re Naomi Watts.  Her career was launched by a David Lynch movie early in the 2000’s, and she’s been on an almost perfect hot streak ever since.  Sure, she does venture into the mainstream (King Kong), but it isn’t because she’s looking for a paycheck.  She is an actress who does movies she cares about.  In 2010, after a couple years out of the spotlight, she makes a return in the new Woody Allen movie and takes the starring role in a thriller about the outed spy Valerie Plame.  On her way to becoming one of the endearing performers of modern movies, let’s hope Watts continues to send volts through the system for years to come.

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