On Christmas eve, three lifelong friends spend the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
Running Time: 1hr 41min
MPAA Rating: R
It’s A Wonderful Life’ meets ‘Pineapple Express’ in this stoner Christmas comedy.
by Tom Glasson
Seth Rogen on drugs. It’s as predictable a filmic theme these days as lens flares from J.J. or bleeding penises from Lars Von Trier. Good news is, if you’re into that sort of thing (Rogen, not the…blood), then his latest flick The Night Before should keep you sufficiently chuckling from go to woe.
Rogen’s in wildly familiar territory here, spending almost the entirety of the movie completely off his nut. Joined by his 50/50 co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and The Avengers’ Anthony Mackie, The Night Before is like a prequel to The Hangover; a tale of three friends embarking upon the final run of their decade-long Christmas Eve partying tradition. Heavy drinking, karaoke, Chinese food and a search for the infamous yet illusive ‘Nutcracker Ball’ form the chapters of this quirky, crass film by director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies), and while there’s very little new material here, those ‘under the influence’ staples are handled with an assured touch.
The Night Before also boasts an extensive supporting cast, with amusing appearances from Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, Tracey Morgan, Jillian Bell, James Franco, Iliana Glazer, Miley Cyrus and – best of all – Michael Shannon as the philosophical drug dealer Mr Green. Shannon’s character is as trippy as the visions he facilitates for his customers, but it’s a fine performance that lends the film a touch of otherwise absent class.
Predictably, there’s not much of a plot to speak of, and what little there is suffers from more than a few glaring inconsistencies – most notably Rogen’s heavily pregnant wife (Bell) playing both facilitator and chief critic of his yuletide drug binge. Still, story is rarely what beckons audiences to this genre, and the over-the-top set pieces do deliver a solid stream of pop culture nostalgia, stoner gags and crude one-liners to keep you chuckling throughout.
Running Time: 1hr 19min
MPAA Rating: R
Legend Lily Tomlin — who hasn’t had a lead role in a movie since 1988’s “Big Business” — gives the performance of her career at age 75 in Paul Weitz’s “Grandma” as an acerbic lesbian poet on a mission.
First seen coldly dismissing her much-younger lover of four months Olivia (Judy Greer) as a “footnote,’’ Tomlin’s Elle reveals a well-hidden warmth when her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner of TV’s “The Americans’’) shows up with an urgent request for $600.
Sage, 18, wants to abort a pregnancy — something her pro-choice Grandma, an ardent feminist, thinks would be an excellent idea under the circumstances, though she stresses it will be a choice that Sage will have to live with for the rest of her life.
But the semiretired and once-famous Elle, who has worked as a writer-in-residence at various colleges, doesn’t have the money. And she’s just shredded all her credit cards to celebrate getting out of debt.
So Grandma and Sage set out in the balky 1955 Dodge Royal that belonged to Elle’s late longtime partner (in real life, it’s owned by Tomlin) to raise the money in less than eight hours, because Sage won’t be able to get another appointment for an abortion for weeks.
Along the way, Grandma uses a hockey stick on the loutish boyfriend (Nat Wolff) who has gotten Sage pregnant, but that yields only a pittance. Elle also verbally abuses a bookstore owner (the late Elizabeth Peña) who won’t pay what Grandma thinks a first-edition copies of “The Feminist Mystique’’ and other feminist bibles are worth.
Elle also turns her wrath on a barista (John Cho) who takes exception when Elle loudly complains to his customers that his coffee shop used to be a free abortion clinic.
Tomlin is hilariously misanthropic in all of these scenes, snapping (as only she can) to someone who asks why Elle stopped writing that “people stopped reading.’’ But she’s on better behavior with a transsexual tattoo artist (a nice cameo by Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black’’) who sympathizes with Sage’s plight but isn’t in a position to repay a debt to Elle on the spot.
Writer-director Weitz (who co-helmed “American Pie’’ and “About a Boy’’ with his brother Chris) gradually steers Elle and the film from comedy into potent dramatic territory. That reaches its full flourish during a fund-raising visit to Karl (Sam Elliott), a handsome older gentleman who played an important role in Elle’s very distant past.
This sequence lasts less than 15 minutes, but it’s positively heartbreaking in its intensity. Tomlin and Elliot revisit their characters’ pain and anger over long-ago events with such commitment that they could very well both end up with Oscar nominations.
The final stop on the way to the clinic is one both Grandma and Sage would prefer to avoid — breaking news of the pregnancy to Sage’s high-strung businesswoman mom Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Even the feisty Elle (who conceived Judy with a sperm donor) finds Judy — who barks out orders to underlings from a standing desk mounted on a treadmill — frightening.
“Grandma’’ is extremely well-acted, full of delightful surprises, and effectively the pro-choice “Juno.’’ With not a wasted frame in its taut 80 minutes, this is deserving of your attention as one of the year’s best movies even if it’s being released in the middle of August.
70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin.
Running Time: 2hrs 1min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The Intern: A Paean to the Power of Gentlemen
In Nancy Meyers’s new film, Robert De Niro plays a wise old man who helps a start-up CEO played by Anne Hathaway find the right work-life balance.
It’s easy to scoff, but The Intern is clearly a Nancy Meyers movie. Her previous films (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) saw heroines bemoan the romantic appeal and destructive foolishness of alpha dogs played by Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin. The Intern tweaks this formula by making its central relationship platonic: Its main character, Ben, is free of foibles and is a helpful fountain of paternalistic advice. Thanks largely to performances by De Niro and Hathaway, The Intern is a gentle, enjoyable fantasy—and certainly Meyers’s best film in more than a decade.
As befits a modern generation-gap comedy, The Intern is set at a start-up: a successful shopping website Jules founded called About the Fit that’s colonized a converted factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (As she has many other locales, Meyers fetishizes the borough’s architecture, giving it an almost artificial sheen.) Ben is a retired widower with plenty of time on his hands and a seemingly bottomless reserve of can-do spirit who applies to a senior internship program. Once he’s assigned to Jules, his inexhaustible patience with her mild Type-A personality makes them an unbeatable team as she weathers the bumps of expanding her company and balancing work and her personal life.
Meyers has some fun with traditional fish-out-of-water humor: Ben struggles to set up a Facebook account, astonishes his fellow twenty-something interns by carrying a briefcase, and dispenses chivalrous dating advice that basically amounts to “maybe go easy on the texting.” But the pivotal piece of generational commentary comes when Jules gets drunk at a bar with her interns and starts bemoaning the arrested development of her generation’s men, doofuses who have no concept of their career goals or even how to dress beyond business casual, supposedly outstripped by her generation of women raised in the “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” era.
Chief among these offenders is Jules’s househusband Matt (Anders Holm), for whom the film has a hilarious lack of respect compared to Ben. Jules is late to meetings and a bit of a micromanager, but as start-up CEOs go, she’s pretty angelic: Her major conflict is finding time to be at home with Matt and their precocious moppet Paige (JoJo Kushner). Ben is there to gently nudge Jules away from the idea that she should scale back her life’s work out of some societal ideal of womanhood. But as is often the case, Meyers has her characters articulate each side of the debate a little too obviously, then fashions an ending that tries to have it both ways.
The Intern works, however, mostly because of the strength of its leads. De Niro hasn’t played anyone this mild-mannered in years, but he’s cute and reserved in the right ways, giving his trademark squinty nod-grins anytime they’re needed. Ben spends much of the first hour in a slightly melancholy mood, hovering on the outside of Jules’s life just waiting to be given a purpose again, but De Niro makes him sympathetic. Hathaway, too, takes Jules right up to the edge of being annoying over and over again, then pulls back each time with just the right amount of self-awareness. The various chuckleheads who constitute the supporting cast (including Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, and Nat Wolff) function as easy but weak punchlines for how feckless their generation of men have become. But The Intern has a solution: Two hours of concentrated Baby-Boomer wisdom and a drawer full of pocket squares, it posits, are all it takes to right even the most wayward path to adulthood.
2 Oscar Nominations
Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.
Running Time: 2hrs 2min
MPAA Rating: R
by Tom Terwin
Among the recent films centered on Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs is the best. Penned superbly by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), and directed with flair and ingenuity by Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs humanises and presents rather ambivalently the personal and professional life of Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in three tightly wound acts, set at product launches in 1984, 1988, and 1998.
The three theatrical “backstage” acts heighten the sense of emotion in the film. Sorkin has written a clever biographical character study that feels urgent, without skimming on details. This is delivered via Sorkin’s trademark dialogue. Like Jobs’ tumultuous career, conversations change direction and tone just as quickly, as a friendly exchange can spiral into bitterness and hate. The best exchanges come between Jobs and former Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), as their relationship skirts between father figure, business advisor, and vicious adversary.
Boyle’s direction is solid, keeping what is essentially a three-act play lively with visuals and tracking shots. As an added touch, DOP, Alwin H. Kuchler (Sunshine), films each period in different film stock (16mm, 35mm, and digital) to exemplify the advancement of Apple’s technology throughout the period. While this can add to the self-aggrandising of the product, Sorkin digs deeper into what made Jobs loved and hated by so many. Surprisingly, the emotional pull of the film lies in Jobs’ relationships with the central females in his life – his faithful head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (a wonderful Kate Winslet), his one-time partner and mother of his child, Chrisann (Katherine Waterson), and his daughter (played by a different actress in each period). With a tremendous cast, a great script, and solid direction, Steve Jobs carefully balances capitalistic exaltation with Jobs’ more humanized flaws, brought to the screen in equal parts dazzle and heartbreak.
A selfish 16-year old girl is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.
Running Time: 1hr 41min
MPAA Rating: PG
Film review – Labyrinth (1986)
In the quarter of a century that has passed between Labyrinth first appearing in cinemas in 1986 to now being digitally remastered, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to suggest it is on its way to becoming a children’s fantasy classic. Similar to the books loved by the film’s young hero, which include Peter Pan, Snow White, The Wizard of Oz and Where the Wild Things Are, Labyrinth is a wildly inventive and imaginative adventure story combined with a parable about maturity. While not a success upon release at the time, Labyrinth now has cult status to the extent that it does feel like part of the collective folklore that includes all the fairy tales, fantasy stories and mythology that it references.
Unlike director Jim Henson’s equally magnificent previous feature film The Dark Crystal (co-directed with Frank Oz in 1982), Labyrinth is more traditionally a family film. Its young star Jennifer Connolly is Sarah Williams, who has to solve a perplexing labyrinth in order to save her baby half-brother Toby (Toby Froud) from Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie), after she impulsively wished that Jareth would take Toby away. The presence of Monty Python’s Terry Jones as the films only credited screenplay writer (there were others) ensured that the film was filled with plenty of humour and absurdist touches. Much of the humour in the film is memorable, such as the farting and belching Bog of Eternal Stench, while other comic flairs are so subtle that they are only discovered after several viewings, such as the two milk bottles waiting to be collected outside the doors to the Goblin Palace.
Watching Labyrinth again in the cinema for the first time since its original release, the most striking aspect of the film are its visuals. Combining the puppetry magic of director and legendary creator of The Muppets Jim Henson with the concept design of fantasy illustrator Brian Froud (who previously worked with Henson on The Dark Crystal), Labyrinth is a gorgeous demonstration of ‘old school’ special effects that rely on matte paintings, puppetry and other in-camera visual effects with restrained use of post production computer generated effects. There is a tangibility to the film that makes its dream logic inspired sequences and playful manipulation of perception even more impressive.
Bowie’s presence in the film is both a complete oddity and also perfect. In terms of his music career, Labyrinth came out at a low point between the recording of his two weakest studio albums and yet the songs he performs in Labyrinth are terrific. There’s the fun ‘Magic Dance’, the darkly romantic ‘As the World Falls Down’, the celebratory ‘Underground’ and the strange and menacing ‘Within You’, which is performed during a striking scene inspired by MC Escher’s lithograph print ‘Relativity’. Bowie is marvellous as Jareth and gives the seductive yet cruel character the same otherworldly intensity that he had used for the various personae he had adopted during his music career. The only unanswered question about his role in the film is what were the filmmakers thinking when they fitted him out with those grey tights? Was the intention to provoke delighted snickering all these years on?
It is within some of the film’s more surreal moments that the underpinning themes of maturity and responsibility are best expressed. The heroic journey that Sarah must take to rescue her half-brother is a parable for the emotional journey she must take to let go of childish things and become less selfish, without completely losing her ability to imagine and dream. She has to navigate a tricky path between freeing herself from childish impulses without succumbing to adulthood cynicism and dangerous suitors. The labyrinth and its inhabitants are physical manifestations of her imagination, with the objects in her bedroom seen at the start of the film appearing throughout the labyrinth as living creatures. Sarah moves between her bedroom, the labyrinth and a sort of dreamscape world often without logic explanation. In one key scene she falls from her hallucination, into her bedroom and then the labyrinth’s rubbish tip pours in making her realise that all the material objects she has hoarded are meaningless junk.
While Sarah’s experiences in the labyrinth teach her the importance of taking responsibility, caring for family and the harsh life lessons that nothing is fair and things will always change, the film is also careful to not suggest that she should completely ‘grow up’. In fact, the greatest threat Sarah faces is forgetting about her childhood during the scene where she hallucinates herself attending a masquerade ball, which represents the world of adulthood. The other guests wear false faces and even Sarah appears distorted when she sees herself in the mirror. Despite all the tricks and traps of the labyrinth, this adult space is where people are most not what they seem. Sarah anxiously searches for Jareth, who delights in her confusion and distress, like a manipulative lover. As both tormentor and much older seducer, the truly sinister intentions behind Jareth’s behaviour is spoken at the end of the film when he confesses that all he wants is for her to ‘Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.’ It’s a classic plea/demand of a controlling, self-pitying and dangerous obsessive. Fortunately Sarah has become a much stronger character and remembers the crucial lines required for such a person – ‘You have no power over me.’
Labyrinth has stood the test of time astonishingly well, and it’s extraordinary looking back at the personnel involved; not only Henson, Jones, Froud, Bowie, Connolly and Henson’s team from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, but also George Lucas as one of the film’s producers and as people who saw Being Elmo will know, it was also the first major production that Kevin Clash worked with Henson on. The resulting film is truly a testament to the creative energies of all involved, but most of all Henson who did so much in making high quality entertainment for people of all ages that was fun, imaginative, not afraid to be subversive in content or form, but most of all humane. It was Henson’s final feature film and a wonderful gift from a person who really did make you believe that even as you got older, everything magical that you treasured from your childhood and all your imaginary friends were never too far away. Should you ever need them, for any reason at all.
Thomas Caldwell, 2012
In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.
Running Time: 2hrs 3min
MPAA Rating: PG
by David Blaustein for ABC News
The Oscar-winning 2008 documentary film “Man on Wire” is such an enthralling, well-constructed telling of French daredevil Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the idea of anyone making a narrative film about that spectacular feat seemed to me at first superfluous. Putting it in the hands of director Robert Zemeckis and having Joseph Gordon-Levitt play the colorful, slight Petit made the prospect slightly more intriguing.
Let’s just say, I grossly underestimated the possibilities.
As a matter of record, on Aug. 7, 1974, a week before his 25th birthday, Petit and some “co-conspirators” sneaked up the recently erected towers, worked all night to fashion a tightrope and, at approximately 7 a.m. as the streets below started to fill with people, Petit stepped onto a steel wire one-inch wide and spent the next 45 minutes walking back and forth along the 140-foot length between the twin towers, 110 stories above the asphalt streets below, all without a safety net or harness.
To introduce us to Petit and his story, Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne put Gordon-Levitt in the Statue of Liberty’s torch, with the twin towers glistening in the background. For anyone who feels sentimental about the towers, it’s a beautiful, albeit obviously manufactured view that’s largely unnecessary. It’s also a close-up of our star in considerable makeup and even, perhaps, a bit of digital manipulation to make him look almost exactly like a young Petit.
Until we get to the actual walk, the film vacillates between Petit’s consuming passion to accomplish his goal, and the storytelling device of Petit perched on the torch narrating the action, which dampens the tension and undermines the drama. “Man on Wire” does a much better job of building the suspense leading up to the walk. However, it doesn’t really put you on the wire with Petit.
“The Walk” does, and it’s a cinematic miracle. The simple fact is, no human other than Petit has ever occupied that particular space between those two special buildings, and Zemeckis puts us there.
This is the part where I encourage everybody on the planet to see “The Walk.” This is also the part where I tell you Zemeckis and Browne get overzealously cute with their script and storytelling. But the combination of their jaw-dropping recreation of the twin towers, Petit’s walk between those towers, and the power of the story itself easily overcomes the cartoonish narrative. And yet “The Walk” is also deeply satisfying, almost like a love story. Very much a love story, in fact — an inspiring and thrilling love story between a man and two buildings that are, quite literally, the objects of his very particular and unique desire.
Petit’s love and reverence for those towers is palpable, more so to anyone who lived and grew up in the New York City area between 1974 and Sept. 11, 2001. “The Walk,” encompassing all the magical elements cinema has to offer, serves as a gorgeous tribute to those buildings loved, admired and missed by so many.