Sean K. Cureton

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Diablo Cody’s Response to Baumbach’s Greenberg

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on December 30, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Theatrical Poster

Young Adult
3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Jason Reitman

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have teamed up again after the success of their 2007 release of Juno, which was one of the best films of that year. Now, with the release of Young Adult, both Reitman and Cody have offered a film that lives up to their previous endeavor, while also allowing them both to evolve as filmmakers.

Where Reitman’s films in the past have been fairly fast paced with polished-looking cinematography, Young Adult seems dialed down, with a slow-paced plot, dependent predominantly on dialogue, and cinematography that is a little less polished, and more realistic looking. Similarly, Cody’s script for this film is not quite so overtly witty or snarky. Instead, much of the dialogue in Young Adult is fairly conventional, and leans more toward the dramatic than the comic. This change is quite surprising at first, but allows for a movie that is ultimately more interesting than Juno, even if it is not a greater film.

Young Adult follows the almost delusional escapades of Mavis Gary, played by Academy award winning actress Charlize Theron, a ghost writer of a nominally popular young adult series of books who returns to her home town to attempt the wooing back of her now married ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson, of 2005’s indie release Hard Candy. The fact that Buddy has a new born baby and is obviously devoted to his family doesn’t deter Mavis, who continues to try to woo Buddy despite the moral counsel that is continually offered to her by Matt Freehauf, a crippled geek from Mavis and Buddy’s high school graduating class, played by Patton Oswalt. Inevitably, Mavis’ selfish antics lead to a climactic scene of chaotic confrontation between Mavis, Buddy, Buddy’s wife, and numerous other characters.

While much of the film is very depressing, and a bit slow and hard to watch at times, Reitman and Cody have also made a film that is intellectually stimulating, as the film’s character study of Mavis is very well done and endlessly interesting. Attempting to figure out what it is that makes Mavis the person that she has become is what makes the film so compelling and hard to take your eyes away from, even when her behavior is completely self-absorbed and cruel.

The only thing wrong with the film’s plot comes in at the end of the film, when Mavis almost changes her personality for the better, until Matt’s sister tells Mavis how much she has always looked up to her. The reason why Matt’s sister would look up to Mavis is non-existent. Thus, there is no motive within the film for this final scene to take place. If anything, Matt’s sister should be the person who finally gets Mavis to really open up about herself. Instead, Cody decides to make Matt’s sister another enabler of Mavis’ destructive behavior, despite the fact that such an action towards Mavis is unwarranted, and leaves the viewer unsatisfied and a little confused at the end of the movie as to how to feel about any possible change in Mavis’ character over the course of the film.

In conclusion, Jason Reitman’s Young Adult is satisfying in its delivery of another great Diablo Cody script, especially after Cody’s lackluster script for 2009’s Jennifer’s Body. Young Adult is a great character study film, with stellar performances given by Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, who jointly carry the entire picture. The fact that Theron’s character’s personal change is ultimately denied at the end of the film is admittedly a draw back. However, the rest of the film being so consistently interesting and engaging makes up for the lack of a real conclusion for Mavis’ character.


The Best Feature Film of 2011

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on December 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Theatrical Poster

4 out of 4 stars
Directed by Martin Scorsese

The idea of critically acclaimed director Martin Scorsese directing a film adaptation of a youth oriented novel sounds ridiculous on paper. On film, however, it may be one of the best ideas that Hollywood has ever conceived.

Based on the novel by writer and illustrator Brian Selznick, Hugo is a film about a young boy named Hugo, played by the young actor Asa Butterfield, whose life as an orphan in a Paris train station in the1930’s leads him to meet the legendary silent film maker Georges Melies, played by Ben Kingsley, among many other notable characters. The way the film presents the story is exceptional, as Scorsese is able to very slowly introduce us to each of the characters involved, and grants each of these characters enough screen time to resolve each of their individual story arcs. In many ways, Hugo feels less like a film, and more like a well-constructed novel, which is a delightful surprise.

Hugo is also one of the most atypical films of Scorsese’s career, given its child oriented material, and its almost magical elements and themes. Instead of directing another gritty and realistic film, Scorsese seems to be calling on all of his experience as a director to craft a film this time that is vastly different in its look and feel than anything he has ever done before. It is definitely not a change of directing style to be taken lightly, but Scorsese’s experience with filmmaking allows Hugo to look easy and unhindered by any unnecessary directing choices, which is a feat that simply could not be done unless a director like Scorcese had made this film.

Hugo is also a great film on film, in that with this film, Scorsese has been given the unusual position and privilege to pay homage to silent film director Georges Melies, and with him all of cinema. When watching Hugo, the viewer is not only being engaged with the film on the screen, but all prior films that helped to inform its production. In other words, Hugo is not only a great movie in and of itself, but is a movie that represents all the great movies that have come before it, and will come after it.

Finally, Hugo boats one of the best ensemble casts of any film this reviewer has seen in a long time. From Ben Kingsley’s excellent portrayal of the director Melies, to Sacha Baron Cohen’s turn as a train station cop intent on placing every orphan he sees, including Hugo, in an orphanage, as well as Asa Butterfield’s wonderful feature film debut and Chloe Moretz as Melies’ goddaughter Isabelle, every performance captured by Scorsese’s camera in this film is nothing short of amazing, and the fact that each of these actors play off of each other so well only makes the performances work better.

In conclusion, Martin Scorsese’s late 2011 release of Hugo is a surprisingly inspired change of pace for Scorsese, which is not only a great film of the year, but also quite possibly the best film of the year. Come Oscar time, it would be a shame if this film were not at least nominated for best picture, even though it should not only be nominated, but win.

Trouble in Paradise

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on December 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Descendants
4 out of 4 stars
Directed by Alexander Payne

Director Alexander Payne has for a long time now been one of the best directors of film drama. Starting in 1996 with his debut release of Citizen Ruth, which was closely followed by the 1999 release of Election, Payne has been a director who has been able to take a novel, and adapt it so perfectly to the screen that one ever becomes aware of the fact that the plot of his films are not of his own invention. Payne’s films are so seamlessly beautiful and achingly honest that his audience has continued to come out for his subsequent releases, which only got better with 2002’s About Schmidt and 2004’s Sideways.

The Descendants is Alexander Payne’s first feature film in seven years, and it delivers just as much of an emotional wallop as any of his other films. In the film, George Clooney stars as Matthew King, a Hawaiian land heir, who is faced with the difficult decision of either selling the land his family has owned for generations, or keeping the inheritance in the family. To make matters worse, his wife has just landed herself in a coma, leaving Matthew to take care of their two daughters on his own. Things become even worse when Matthew learns from his eldest daughter Alexandra, played brilliantly by young actress Shailene Woodley, that his wife has been cheating on him for a substantial amount of time.

The way the rest of the film is then able to take this fairly conventional drama, and turn it into one of the most humanly funny and tragically beautiful films of this year is what makes Payne one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. The way in which Payne uses his paradise setting as a place that is both beautiful and depressing becomes something that the viewer cannot take his eyes away from while the film is being shown, and it is something that the viewer will carry around with him after he has seen the end. Down to the very last details of the cinematography and the use of Hawaiian music on the soundtrack, Payne has made a film that is so in tune with its own themes, that the audience becomes so completely immersed in the film that the story never feels tired or clichéd, but is consistently and brutally honest.

Payne has also captured one of the best performances of George Clooney’s career in this film, with the only greater performance for Clooney having been delivered in 2009’s Up in the Air, which this reviewer still thinks should have received Best Picture for that year. Clooney’s performance is backed by the stunning performances given by Shailene Woodley as his daughter, Nick Krause as the strangely charming Sid, and Matthew Lillard giving his best performance since Scream, as the man that Clooney’s wife has an affair with. To top it all off, Payne also captures a great performance from Beau Bridges as a greedy uncle, whose laissez faire attitude is reminiscent of Beau’s brother playing the Dude.

In conclusion, Alexander Payne’s 2011 release of The Descendants is Payne’s first film since 2004’s Sideways, and proves to be just as emotionally powerful and humanly funny as any of Payne’s other films. Come Oscar season, Clooney should get a nomination for Best Actor, Payne should get a nomination for Best Director, and the film should receive a nomination for Best Picture. It’s just that good.