Tony Stark returns, again, to continue the attack of the Marvel superheroes.
We’re sure he’s in there somewhere: Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3
Time Investment: 130 mins.
Return on Investment: 65 mins.
Unsurprisingly, Marvel isn’t even close to being done with us just yet. The Disney-owned comic behemoth, more than hitting its own stride as an ‘independent’ film production company, recently released its ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 1—Avengers Assembled’ box set of titles, and the cavalcade of sequels now continues with Iron Man 3, the first installment of Phase 2.
Very much a sequel through and through, this third foray for Iron Man and company puts the plot in the backseat (surprise!), preferring instead to give free reign to impressive (and impressively loud) effects: the mightiest of which is Robert Downey Jr.’s now trademark cocky banter. However, Downey as Tony Stark is giving just a little too much snark for his own good here, with a script that has him actively mocking a young farm boy who gets caught up in the superhero’s good deeds. Presumably, this boy is a stand in for the ‘classic’ comic book fan—the demographic that initially gave these stories life—and maybe the writers are dismissing him in an attempt to say that comics have grown and evolved to boast a much wider appeal. But perhaps Iron Man and his writers should be just a touch kinder—it’s important not to forget where you came from.
On a happier note, IM3 gives the most screen time to Gwyneth Paltrow (as Pepper Potts) yet, an actress who should be working a lot more than she is. She even gets to do a little fighting and flying of her own, which leaves us to wonder what she could do with her own superhero script.
But the best part of Iron Man 3, by far, is the extended cameo by Sir Ben Kingsley, who reportedly agreed to be a part of this without having even read the script. Luckily he finds a way to milk it to the max, as a Bin Laden-inspired mystery villain who isn’t at all what he seems.
Did we break up, and you just didn’t tell me? I’m so used to finding you toward the end of class, leaning back into you to observe and let go, open up and just FEEL, sometimes I even think we could hang out for hours (if not minutes).
But recently, you’ve been elusive. You’ve been tough to get a hold of. Today, for the first time, you didn’t even stick around until ‘Change’! What gives? Sure, yes, I know I’ve been spending a little more time with Rabbit, who’s always hanging around on your coattails. I used to think he was annoying and really difficult to hang out with, but recently things have been clicking with him just a little bit more. I’ve even been getting compliments from people who see me with him, but listen: NONE of this changes how I feel about you! I do hope you come back to me.
Maybe you’re taking a break from me to let me know that, for once, I don’t NEED to be so ‘open’ all the time. I’ve been so open to everything, to SO MUCH change over the last few months, maybe I should take your slight disdain to mean that for the time being, I need to work on closing in on myself, getting cozy with Rabbit, to figure things out and organize internally. Or maybe it was just the slightly too-heavy salad I ate at lunch today.
In any case, that’s what’s so great about this yoga – IT stays the same so you can see how YOU change.
…But I’ll say it again: I do hope you come back to me, you beautiful and sexy Camel.
Much love always,
(An Open Letter to Ustrasana – Camel Pose)
Stephenie Meyer goes from vamps to aliens with The Host, her grand follow-up to the mega franchise Twilight. Author of the bestselling novel and producer of the film, Meyer has created a rather soft-boiled sci-fi world in which teens fall in and out of love against an epic backdrop akin, sort of, to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Heroine Melanie Stryder (interesting name choice, Stephenie Meyer?), played with muted affection by Saoirse Ronan, finds herself cornered at the very beginning of the film by a band of weird-eyed, alien-infested humans, and soon becomes victim of the worldwide infestation herself. A glowy light creature (not unlike those from the 80s friendly alien film Cocoon) sneakily enters her body, and soon Saoirse is sporting the same halo-eyed look as everyone else. But our heroine is ‘special’, since she fights the invading alien presence inside of her with all her might. What we are left with is a protagonist with conflicting personalities inhabiting the same head, which may have worked very well in the pages of Meyer’s book; on screen, it’s far less successful, making awkward use of voice over and the actress speaking quietly to herself in dark corners. Only toward the end does it finally become less jarring.
The biggest and most original selling point of The Host is the idea that much like human beings, an alien race can be capable of both kindness as well as wickedness. Benevolent aliens are rarely given equal screen time as their diabolical counterparts, and for the most part this is handled well in the film, as The Wanderer, Melanie’s alien occupier, begins to understand how the invasion is effecting her and those she loves. Unfortunately, the inherent evil of a body-snatching alien
race gets lost in the shuffle, and with it any measure of suspense in the film’s second half. Diane Kruger drearily plays the stand-in for a villain, an alien ‘Seeker’ who is hellbent on finding Melanie/The Wanderer. Just when the threat she poses should be growing, her far less aggressive fellow aliens state flatly that she is alone in her quest; they would much prefer to let the human resistance die out on its own (a much less enthralling prospect for us viewers).
Instead, we are supposed to be wrapped up in Melanie/The Wanderer’s humdrum love triangle inside the confines of the human’s stronghold in the desert. Enter the boys, dutifully played by Max Irons and Jake Abel, each vying for the affections of the entities within Melanie’s head. While this Edward/Jacob tug-of-war may have held viewers’ attention in Twilight, The Host really should not at all be packaged as a love story. The film’s considerable sci-fi elements are not given their proper due.
Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the sequel you’ve been waiting for—Yossi & Jagger 2?
What are you smiling at? Ohad Knoller and Oz Zehavi in Yossi
Summer’s over and with it, its blockbusters. It’s time to get serious at the movies again.
Fall Film Preview
As Florence and her machine sing, “the dog days are over.” And for Hollywood that means rolling out the big guns at the movies. After another notably poor summer in box office numbers (down even lower than 2011 according to recent reports, despite Avengers), the movie business needs to generate as much buzz as possible. But with these upcoming titles, that shouldn’t be too hard.
10. Cloud Atlas
Stylish filmmaker Tom Tykwer along with The Matrix’s Andy and Lana (once Larry) Wachowski all direct seemingly half of Hollywood in this multi-century, multi-character drama whose trailer is equal parts mind-bending, beautiful and completely nonsensical.
Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, with a script by Tony Kushner (Angels in America)? Need we say more? Let the Oscar hunt begin.
8. The Master
With his first film in five years, the unmatchable writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (of Magnolia and Boogie Nights fame) comes back to us with a not-very-well-disguised look at the rise of L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of Scientology. Everyone’s been talking about The Master, and what Scientology folks like Tom Cruise and John Travolta (who has enough to worry about) think about it. Soon it will be our turn. Also of note: this film marks the (sheepish?) return of Joaquin Phoenix, an extremely talented actor who seemingly went off the deep end for a few years there.
Tim Burton, the master auteur of creepdom, is finally (finally!) leaving Johnny Depp and remakes behind and doing something original for a change. A longtime labor of love for Burton, Frankenweenie started as a short back in 1984 starring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and a young Sofia Coppola, and is now being resurrected in stop-motion animation form backed by the voices of Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and (the brilliant) Catherine O’Hara. If Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride are any indication, this will be a smash.
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Freshly out-of-closet Ezra Miller joins Hogwarts alum Emma Watson and Logan Lerman (of Percy Jackson & the Olympians) in another adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel, this one about never quite belonging in high school (a somewhat universal feeling).
5. Wreck-It Ralph
Gay gamers (and everyone born post 1970) rejoice: we finally get a big scale but very old-school video-game movie, which hasn’t really been done since Super Mario Bros. (Yes, Tron Legacy does not count.) Although lacking the stamp of Pixar, this Disney animated vehicle boasts the voices of John C. Reilly (as a videogame villain who grows tired of his ‘job’), Sarah Silverman (as a character named Vanellope von Schweetz) and Jane Lynch.
4. The Guilt Trip
Barbra Streisand fans have a new reason to live, with this mother-son road-trip comedy starring Babs—in her first starring vehicle in over 15 years—and Seth Rogen. (How’s that for spot-on casting?) Yes, this film comes out on Christmas, technically making it a holiday release, but it’s actually been ready since Mother’s Day. Based on insanely positive test screenings, Paramount is so convinced of its success potential that they pushed the release back to the end of this year. We’re excited!
3. How to Survive a Plague
A searing documentary on the crucial early years of the AIDS epidemic, the gross negligence of those in charge and the tireless efforts of a group of New York activists to bring the epidemic to light. This is the unflinching real-life look behind the scenes of The Normal Heart. (See p.14 for more.)
2. Les Misérables
The era of the movie musical is still alive and kicking. Get ready for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter singing “Master of the House”, along with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Even though you saw the musical on stage five times, we know you’re going to see this movie.
1. Life of Pi
For anyone who’s read Yann Martel’s epic fable, the excitement for this film needs no justification. But even for those who haven’t, the stunning trailer speaks for itself: an Indian boy on his way to open a zoo in Canada gets lost at sea with a zebra…and a huge tiger. Ang Lee directs this adaptation of a book that is both hard to classify and deeply rewarding.
Bachelorette is a shameless Hangover-Bridesmaids mutation, with not an ounce of winsomeness or wit.
Time Investment: 94 mins.
Return on Investment: 4 mins.
Kirsten Dunst has shed her Melancholia—or has she? As the sour, resentful Regan in the complete misfire Bachelorette (Radius TWC), she fails, through no fault of her own, to pique the audience’s sympathy or even interest. And she’s not the only one: the derivative, unfunny script treats everyone in the same brushed-off and caustic manner. The three bachelorettes—Dunst plus the usually adorable Isla Fisher (I am the one critic who didn’t hate Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls!)—are not that likable, and not that intelligent either. This film is borderline misogynistic, which is all the more shocking since it is somehow based on a stage play of the same name by writer-director Leslye Headland. If this seems like an exaggeration, consider the insanely abridged bulimia subplot involving Dunst and Fisher, which ultimately becomes terrain for laughs and not much more. Fisher, especially, gets the short end of the stick here as a certifiably retarded ex-sorority girl who does too many drugs, passes out all the time, but hopefully will have sex with the straight-laced guy (which will, of course, save her from her wild ways and give her life meaning).
As the bride to these sorry bachelorettes, Rebel Wilson is utterly squandered; this otherwise hilarious and kooky character actress is expected to play the good girl, but Headland is so busy burying her under fat joke after fat joke that she remains a brutish caricature like everyone else. Providing (flagging) male eye candy is James Marsden (has he had some eye work done?), who is much much better in the much much better Robot & Frank.
Aside from the presumably simple arithmetic of Bridesmaids + The Hangover just not adding up, perhaps the worst element here is that these bachelorettes are not only unlikeable, they don’t seem to like each other that much, either.
…So why are we watching?
A Trip To The Hospital You’ll Never Want To Take—Even if it’s to see Orlando Bloom
The Good Doctor
Time Investment: 90 mins.
Return on Investment: 59 mins.
Forget Brokeback Mountain; Keep the Lights On is the grittiest and most heartbreaking gay love story of our times.
I really can’t quit you…Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth in Keep the Lights On
Keep the Lights On
Time Investment: 102 mins.
Return on Investment: 100 mins.
After 2007’s brilliant Married Life, gifted writer-director Ira Sachs turned to an experience in his own life to create Keep the Lights On, a completely unapologetic and hyper-realistic chronicling of a tumultuous decade-long relationship between two men in 1990s New York City. What starts out as an (incredibly passionate) phone-sex trick turns into a romance so ripe, full of such frank and almost uncomfortably intimate sexuality, it’s impossible to look away, even when things start to go awry.
And awry they do: early on, closeted lawyer Paul (Damages’ Zachary Booth) reveals to Danish filmmaker Erik (the incredible—and incredibly handsome—Thure Lindhardt) his ‘little secret’—his habit of smocking crack. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control, as Erik looks on with a sort of detached wonder. But he is powerless to resist, unable to stand up, mention something about ‘dealbreakers’ like we would today, and leave, simply because of the power Paul holds over him. To say that the chemistry between these two men—physical, mental, emotional, etc. and so on—oozes off the screen would be a grand understatement. They are completely magnetized toward each other, and Sachs does an astonishing job of making sure the audience never forgets it, no matter how bleak things get, no matter how far-gone Paul becomes. The sex scenes, for one, are intrinsic in communicating their love and desperate need for each other.
Granted, it might occur to some that, since this is based on Sachs’ own life, Erik might seem a bit skewed toward the sympathetic: ultimately, his only real flaw is the fact that he loves Paul too much, a clearly tortured man who at many points in the film seems like a total monster. Regardless of this, Lights is a heartbreaking dual character study, like Brokeback Mountain with a powerful dose of contemporary reality.
Look for fun cameo appearances by Eastern Bloc (which was then known as Wonderbar) as well as Julius’.
Who doesn’t love a Dolly Parton track? And cute gay twins? Sold.
A Leslie Sandwich! Leslie Jordan with Gary and Larry Lane in Hollywood to Dollywood
Hollywood to Dollywood
Time Investment: 81 mins.
Return on Investment: 60 mins.
Like many documentaries, Hollywood to Dollywood starts out being about one thing and ends up being about something entirely different, and therein lies both the appeal and minor irritation of this downhome cross-country tale of gay dreams, family acceptance and Dolly Parton. Gary and Larry Lane (isn’t that just precious?) are a pair of (gay) twins living it up in Hollywood, Calif. where they have been working on a joint passion project for over four years: a tribute to several of their favorite female performers and personalities—most notably the inimitable Ms. Parton—in the form of a film script.
Somewhere along the way, their dream shifts from the actual script to its fateful hand-off to Dolly herself, since she is the sun around which the twins’ dreams and inspirations orbit. With the help and guidance of a boyfriend and some very high-profile friends (it’s always nice to see Leslie Jordan, as well as Dustin Lance Black and brilliant character actress Beth Grant), they hatch a plan to finalize the script as best they can, pile into a trailer (named Jolene, o’course), head on over to Dollywood in Tennessee and give the old gal the script directly. Along the way, they encounter some vaguely compelling hurdles (like floods), but most importantly, it becomes quite clear that their need for acknowledgement from Dolly is a very thin veneer over their greater need for acceptance from their mother, who has had major trouble with their coming out. While Dolly, naturally, will accept the boys—she even allowed them to use 15 of her precious songs in the film—the more personal acceptance they seek may never come, and therein lies this film’s true weight. As the brothers grapple with this and fumble through Dollywood with script in hand (a little tediously, in must be said), one thing remains clear throughout: there’s no one else quite like Dolly Parton.
Although using a somewhat dated premise (does anyone actually have phone sex anymore?), For a Good Time, Call… is the sister to any classic bromance in the general tradition of Bridesmaids
Go on, I dare ya…Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor in For a Good Time, Call…
For a Good Time, Call…
Time Investment: 86 mins.
Return on Investment: 73 mins.
For anyone who’s loved Ari Graynor since Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist and Whip It but has sort of felt let down by her recent work (most notably as the uptight goody-goody in Celeste and Jesse Forever—hello, miscasting!), rest assured that she is back to her crafty, scintillating ways in For a Good Time, Call… (Focus Features), a wry and playful film about former college friends who start a phone sex company. Although it does seem just a tad dated (maybe this should have been called For a Good Time, Skype…), the film’s premise is really just an excuse to let Graynor go bonkers, which she does with gleeful abandon.
Opposite her is the prim and proper Lauren Miller, who has the slightly more difficult task of acting as Graynor’s foil, going from uptight career girl to let-your-hair-down (phone) sex kitten. Miller does a fine job, but the film pretty much belongs to Graynor, who also stepped in as executive producer. Her delivery of lines like, “You don’t need to judge my body” are filled with such fierce comic timing it’s hard not to crack a grin.
There are also some great cameos and supporting players in the mix here, including a droll Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Seth Rogen and even Mrs. Ex-Tom Cruise Number One Mimi Rogers. And Justin Long plays gay the way it should be played in a vehicle like this (take note, Elijah Wood, also in Celeste): light as a feather, fun and frothy.
The amusing but completely over-the-top ending of Good Time cements it as the sister to any classic bromance, since these two girls from opposite sides of the tracks come to not only appreciate each other, but fall in love with each other a little bit as well. Aw!