Tag: amanda seyfried

Anon


Anon (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

The high concept sci-fi thriller “Anon,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, possesses a curious idea, but the execution is so dour and so slow that at times experiencing it feels more like a chore than entertainment. In the middle of it, one considers the possibility that the story might have been better off had it been shaped as a tight episode of “Black Mirror” instead of a feature film. At times the pacing is not at all appropriate for the type of technology or future it attempts to criticize.

Niccol presents a future without privacy in which the government has complete access to every single thing that nearly every single person does every second of every day—with the exception of a select few, most of them hackers, who have found rather creative ways to remain anonymous. Should investigators wish, they are able to review records of past events taken from people’s recollections. No warrant is required. Initially, this level of access appears to be highly beneficial because there is a killing spree in New York City.

Detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen), a man still mourning his young son’s death, is assigned to the case. The prime suspect: an anonymous hacker named only as The Girl (Amanda Seyfried) whose speciality is in removing or altering memories of her clients. The police force aims to capture her, but she is consistently one step ahead. Clearly, it requires more than ingenuity to take her in.

The picture is fond of detours when the story is best told straight: Frieland’s grief and alcoholism, pressure from high-ranking officials to protect the sanctity of a technology currently on the verge of being utilized nationally, a suspect possibly a misunderstood persona. With every left turn, which is meant to become an interesting subplot, notice how the pacing tends to slow down. The reason is because these elements are nothing new or compelling; they are simply plugged into this particular world and unnecessary plotting is written around them. Remove the futuristic world altogether and realize there is nothing worth seeing here. Therein lies the problem.

Owen and Seyfried are fine; they try to do what they can with the material. I am almost certain they have been instructed to speak in a low-key way in order to amplify the mystery of the setting. Normally, these are expressive and emotive performers. It feels like they hold back here. When their characters show more varied expressions, particularly during the final act, it comes across as false because they are quite muffled throughout the picture’s duration. The sudden disparity took me out of the supposed drama.

“Anon” wants to be taken seriously and the photography reflects this yearning. The images are drenched in neutral colors. Primary colors appear to be banned. Voices must be kept under a certain decibel. The sun’s rays are barely seen despite numerous shots of skyscrapers. I suppose this level of control should be applauded, but I wished the same effort was made to create an extremely efficient screenplay. There is more style than substance here.

First Reformed


First Reformed (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

The first thing I noticed about the character drama “First Reformed” is its alarming cleanliness. Notice how the inside of the church is extremely well-lit and spotless—like heaven’s light itself forbids imperfection from anything it shines on, how the minister’s home is lacking furniture as if the austerity’s sole purpose is simply so that dust would not settle on extraneous surfaces, how the waiting room of a neighboring church’s pastor commands the impersonality of a hospital. Clearly, these purposeful images is an invitation. Writer-director Paul Schrader wants us to take note of the tidiness, symmetry, and organization of every room. He pushes us to feel uneasy and to examine closely the growing darkness thrumming just beneath the picture-perfect facade.

The work unfolds like silent thriller but a drama at its core. Ethan Hawke plays a minister named Ernst Toller whose life has been in shambles ever since his son’s death in Iraq—followed by his marriage’s dissolution. To numb it all, he drives himself to alcoholism; and despite finding blood in his urine, he continues to postpone a doctor’s visit. Does his suffering come with a purpose? Toller is a fascinating character and Hawke plays him with graceful intensity. When the camera is up close and there is no escape, we can almost feel the demons writhing inside this man. We wish to understand him, to pull him out of his hopelessness even though deep inside we know—and he knows—it is probably too late. In the meantime, Toller is approached by a pregnant woman (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband (Philip Ettinger) does not want them to have the baby.

It is bizarre that the material offers environmental messages—which enraged and fascinated me. On the one hand, I agree that, as residents of this planet, we can do a whole lot more to take care of plants, animals, oceans, and untouched lands. We should be mindful of the trash we make and where we put them. We should take action in making sure that our government works for us rather than with money-driven corporations. Climate change is a fact, not an opinion or an interpretation.

Yet despite these, nearly everything about it is so heavy-handed that at times I felt like these well-intentioned messages overshadow the rich character study. I grew impatient. I caught myself wondering where it is going or if it is even going anywhere. On the other hand, it is interesting because eventually the astute screenplay finds a way to tie them into Toller’s increasingly skewed psychology. Maybe emphasis on the environment does need to feel so extreme so that we can appreciate the subject’s fragile mind and spirit. The atonal approach did not work for me completely.

Toller keeps a journal and in it he writes down events of each day for a year. I enjoyed how the film adapts the format of diary; nearly every scene is just another day—sometimes something important happens and other times it is merely composed of meeting with people and continuing to plan a celebration for the church. (The First Reformed Church is about to have its 250th anniversary.) Although a slow burn, there is urgency in each day. We get a sense early on that it is building up to a crucial event—and it does not disappoint.

“First Reformed” is not for the impatient viewer. It is, however, for those who delight in peeling off each layer with a keen eye. On a surface layer, it is a story about a man in crises: his relationships with fellow man and God, his health, his faith, his purpose as a man of the cloth as well as just a man with many flaws. On a deeper layer, it tasks us to consider our morality and our actions.

At one point, Toller offers advice: “Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.” As an individual, do you intend to live your life closer to hope or closer to despair? And what about your actions? Do they reflect your intentions?

Lovelace


Lovelace (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Before bearing the stage name Linda Lovelace and starring in Gerard Damiano’s pornographic picture called “Deep Throat,” twenty-one-year-old and somewhat of a prude Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfriend) meets Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) outside a roller skating rink and she is quickly won over by his charm. Soon enough, Linda decides to move out of her parents’ house and gets married to Chuck. When money becomes a problem eventually, Linda’s well-connected husband convinces Damiano to allow her to star in an adult film that will eventually gross over half a billion dollars.

Though “Lovelace,” directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friendman, is wise to avoid a hyperbolic route in telling Linda’s tragic story, it is limited by an unimpressive screenplay by Andy Bellin. It employs an unnecessarily confusing non-linear approach disguised as so-called complexity, but just about anyone with a discerning eye is likely able to see right through the fog. Why not just tell the story straight?

The first half is not especially strong but it is somewhat engaging because Seyfried’s saucer-like eyes embody a vulnerable, girl-next-door innocence. It is critical what we believe that the lead character is just like any other girl living in suburbia so we feel some sort of impact once we see her thrusted into a world of unblinking cameras and men who think with something else other than their brain. There are times when I wanted to protect and nurture Linda as if she were a wounded bird.

But the pacing is unforgivingly fast in that it fails to allow us to absorb small but important moments. It races to the making of the infamous pornographic movie and slows down significantly. Not allowing us to spend enough time with the important people in Linda’s life before her superstardom is a problem because we have but a tiny understanding, mostly based on assumptions, as to why people are acting the way they do. As a result, for the most part, Linda’s father (Robert Patrick) appears largely absent while her mother (Sharon Stone) comes off vindictive and controlling. Patrick and Stone have one or two good scenes but there is only a thin dimension to their characters as a whole.

It switches gears halfway through by going back to the beginning of Linda and Chuck’s marriage in order to provide an alternative view when it comes to the dynamics of their relationship. This is a miscalculation because there are more than enough clues—some very obvious—that point to an unhappy union. Explaining every detail disrupts the rhythm of the story being told and I found myself questioning when it would eventually move forward.

I wanted to see more interactions between Seyfried and Juno Temple, the latter playing Linda’s best friend named Patsy. I suspected a lot of their scenes did not make it through the editing room because some of the scenes that did make it onto the final cut hint at a possible arc. For instance, in the first half, Patsy is almost reckless in pushing Linda try to new things. In the latter half, she actually hopes that her friend will take the time and consider her options.

It is most unfortunate that the material’s priorities are, for the most part, misplaced. A person’s story is best told through subtleties so that the audience can appreciate what makes his or her trials special enough to warrant being put into celluloid. Though “Lovelace” has good performances all around, the screenplay is simply not ready to dig through hidden depths.

Epic


Epic (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Just as the queen of the forest (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles) has chosen a bud that will ensure the survival of all, she is attacked by Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), a group of warriors who wish to create a desolate wasteland. MK (Amanda Seyfriend), a human visiting her father (Jason Sudeikis), happens to walk in the middle of the action and she is magically turned into pint-sized being. She is instructed to take care of the bud and deliver it to Nim Galuu, a caterpillar with access to sacred scrolls. Though MK gets help from some of the queen’s loyal friends, Mandrake and his army move ever closer.

Based on “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” by William Joyce, “Epic” is disappointing but passable, energetic but not thoroughly enjoyable. It is likely to entertain really young children but there is not much for adults who need something more than pretty colors and a few chuckle-inducing one-liners. The picture gets by most of the time but the deeper it gets into the conflict between good and evil, one cannot help but wonder who cares and how long until it is all over.

The main characters are not interesting. Initially, MK has an interesting backstory because her mother has just passed away and so a part of her hopes to reconnect with her father. However, she is not surprised that he is more into his work—proving that little people in the forest do exist—than forging a real relationship with his daughter. Meanwhile, Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is a Leaf Man who is having second thoughts about being one. His mentor, Ronin (Colin Farrel), thinks he lacks the drive and discipline to become an effective protector.

It is most awkward that the material forces MK and Nod to share a romantic connection. It simply does not make any sense—she being human and he being a creature of the forest. Taking a friendship route, helping each other recognize what they need to be able to flourish in their own worlds, might have been more effective. And given that the two of them being together is not off-putting, what they have is far from convincing. The dialogue between them is so cloying and trying too hard to be cute that I felt like I was watching a television show for pre-teens. Is their flirtation supposed to be appealing to kids?

The villains are bland as chalk. Their motivation does not make sense. They are a part of the forest as much as the good guys but they supposedly want to kill the environment. It is illogical because if they so happen to succeed, how will they be able to survive? Where will they get food, clean water, and proper shelter? Surely the screenwriters could have chosen a better motivation for the bad guys rather than just giving them a nonsensical reason to stir trouble. Even if the intention is to remain loyal to the source material, translating the work into film requires a level of complexity.

The animation is quite easy on the eyes but there is only two or three scenes that are impressive. Because the little forest creatures move so much faster than humans, the former perceive the latter in slow motion. A standout scene involves MK, Nod, and Ronin breaking into MK’s house and being found out by the three-legged dog and the enthusiastic researcher. The sequence is more visually stimulating than any of the action scenes between the Leaf Men and the Boggans combined.

Directed by Chris Wedge, “Epic” is not imaginative enough to live up to its title. Children deserve to experience something with more weight than good guys and bad guys running around. For instance, if Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s “The Lion King” were only about an evil lion who killed his younger brother to get the throne, it would not have been a classic. It is not too much to expect a bit more thought and meaning from the story being told.

A Million Ways to Die in the West


A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Tired of her cowardly boyfriend being up to the same old schtick, Louise (Amanda Seyfried) has decided to break up with Albert (Seth MacFarlane) a sheep farmer who detests living in the Old West. Though he is determined to get her back, just about every time they meet in town presents yet another opportunity to embarrass himself—especially since Louise has taken on a new beau (Neil Patrick Harris). However, when a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) meets Albert, she just might offer a friendship that he needs to move on. Unbeknownst to Albert, Anna is the wife of the deadliest and most feared outlaw in Arizona (Liam Neeson).

“A Million Ways to Die in the West,” written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, is a rambunctious and anachronistic western-comedy, with many jokes ranging from the sexually frank and politically incorrect to desperate. And yet it does not completely work. One of the reasons is because the picture reflects that of various sketch-like scenarios cobbled together to make a two-hour movie. Thus, it becomes a challenge to keep our attention—especially since the jokes are hit-or-miss in the first place.

The other—and perhaps more problematic factor—is the contrived romantic storyline. It is stretched from beginning to end that it eventually gets under the nerves and tests the patience. Similar to bad romantic comedies, the writers never provide a reason why or how the couple who break up in the beginning of the film were together in the first place. Right from their initial scene together, we can tell they are completely wrong for each other. Thus, there is no tension there, no underlying conflict. Thus, we do not care.

Seyfried playing her character completely straight, as if she were in a serious western drama, is a miscalculation. Though she is normally a very charming performer, she does not give her character a chance to be liked here. A little smile here and there or a bit of spice and cheekiness might have turned her character’s b-word persona into someone with a little bit more layer to her. Seyfried playing a straight-up mean girl is no fun.

Even the villain is a bore. Though played with a sort-of danger and growly menace by Neeson, like Seyfried’s character, Clinch Leatherwood also feels out of place. But instead of coming from a serious western drama, it feels as though he is straight off a western revenge-thriller, somewhere along the lines of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” And although that could have been the intention, the character is not exaggerated enough to symbolize true evil in the West. To me, the character is not anything more than a common bandit whose actions have received enough word-of-mouth that he has become a legend.

I laughed sporadically and chuckled somewhat consistently. I enjoyed the scenes when the material gets literal with the title, showing people dying in all sorts of ridiculous ways mixed with some historical truths. It is most disappointing that these do not compromise most of the picture. They are more like punctuation marks in the protagonist’s story of self-pity and broken heart. MacFarlane should have stuck to the jokes even if they do not always land. This would have resulted in a steady momentum—and a shorter running time.

The film is highly commercialized in that it tries so hard to appeal to as many people as possible that it ends up impressing barely anybody. In other words, it spreads itself too thin. Couple such a quality with a painfully ordinary man-wants-to-win-back-his-woman storyline, it becomes a slog to get through. Thus, I have to ask: Can a lack of brain stimulation be another way to die in the West? It sure felt like it.

At one point, MacFarlane’s character learns how to shoot. He shoots at bottles from a couple of feet away. No luck. So he moves a little closer. Still no luck. Then he walks directly in front of the bottles. Still, the bullets fail to touch the glass. That scene is funny on its own… and because it embodies how badly the film misses the mark at times.

While We’re Young


While We’re Young (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) meet a couple in their mid-twenties, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), an aspiring documentarian and an ice cream maker, respectively, and the former are reminded of their age—how they have lost track of the many things they wanted to accomplish because life had gotten in the way. Hoping to relive the spirit of their youth, the middle-aged couple spends more time with Jamie and Darby, unaware that these two are not exactly what they seem.

“While We’re Young,” written and directed by Noah Baumbach, is a struggle to sit through not only because of its standard, dull storyline but also because of its sluggish pacing. At one point there is a scene in the film where Stiller’s character is pitching a documentary—one that is charmless, dry, and convoluted—to a potential financial backer (Ryan Servant) and the latter just sits there feeling bored and wanting to play around with his cell phone. I imagine that the audience, including myself, is that man personified on film.

A few bits are amusing. Cornelia and Josh trying so hard to be young again is shot and performed with effervescence and a bona fide sense of humor. I never knew that Watts has a knack for physical comedy, especially the scene when her character tries hip-hop dancing. I can’t wait to YouTube that scene again. However, there are not enough of these surprising moments dispersed throughout the picture.

Pretty clever is the sequence that highlights the disparity between the two couples. For instance, Josh and Cornelia play games on their iPad while Jamie and Darby play board games. Jamie and Darby listen to records, Josh and Cornelia listen to CDs. The comedy works because we expect for the younger couple to lean toward technology while the other is more into “old-fashioned” things like reading an actual book than on a screen.

What does not work entirely is the forced drama between Josh and Cornelia. Just about every time they get into an argument, I noticed myself becoming increasingly frustrated because it almost always comes down to them not having much success with having a baby. Although Stiller and Watts try the best they can with the material, the lines often feel too script-like—which is not at all foreign to a Baumbach film but it is very jarring in this movie because the story is supposed to be a convincing comedy-drama.

Jamie and Darby not given depth prior to the turning point is a miscalculation. I was never convinced that they were as interesting a couple as Josh and Cornelia thought they were. This disconnect is a problem because the screenplay attempts to make them more human or relatable toward the end, but the entire thing comes across as disingenuous, all too convenient for the plot. These characters needed to be rewritten.

“While We’re Young” is likely to impress those who have not seen very many films— dramatic, comedic, or a mix of both—about aging as well as the concerns and awkwardness that come with it. The picture is not without good ideas but the execution lacks heft and power. Clearly this work is not made by Baumbach at the top of his form.

In Time


In Time (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Set in the near future, humans were genetically engineered not to live past the age of 25. Once a person turned of age, a green countdown of one year appeared on one’s arm. When it reached zero, death was a certainty. Will (Justin Timberlake) was twenty-seven years old which meant he’d been scavenging for minutes for two years. In world where time was used as currency, as one would use money to buy a bottle of pop or pay toll to be allowed to pass a certain area, a couple of years, let alone hours, wouldn’t get an individual very far, especially if one lived in the ghetto, as did Will and his mom (Olivia Wilde), a place known as a Time Zone, where the rich limited the circulation of time. “In Time” began like a great science fiction film: it left us in middle of a curious era, handed us the rules of the game, and allowed us to navigate through the necessary exceptions and recognize why they were justified. We observed what people did in the Will’s time zone which ranged from people trying to make an honest living to earn time (but were often short-changed) to thugs (Alex Pettyfer) who harassed others and stole their time via arm-to-arm contact. One of the most compelling early scenes involved a woman who had only an hour and a half on her arm but a bus ride required a fee of two hours. After much begging to no avail, despite explaining that her destination was approximately two hours away by bus, the driver coldly suggested that she ran as fast as she could to get to her destination on time. I liked that the director allowed the woman to have only one look at the people sitting on the bus where not one volunteered to give minutes. It wasn’t that they were required to but it was a decent thing to do. That scene gave me strong feelings anger and sadness because I had been in that situation before. A person couldn’t pay for the the fare and I just sat there, impatient as to when the driver would finally step on the gas. Unfortunately, I felt like the film’s grand ambitions were thrown out the window in the latter half in order to make room for romance and chase sequences. While there was undeniable chemistry between Will and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of an influential and rich man (Vincent Kartheiser) who could live for thousands of years if he so chooses, their differences were not explored beyond the set-up of poor guy wanting more and rich girl wanting to be less suffocated by parental controls. Since the roots of the partnership was executed superficially and lackadaisically, when they decided to rob banks and give time to he impoverished à la Robin Hood alloyed with Bonnie and Clyde, there wasn’t much tension or excitement. We wanted to them to get away from Timekeepers Leon (Cillian Murphy), Korsqq (Toby Hemingway, sporting a runway-ready haircut), and Jaeger (Collins Pennie), assigned by the government to capture the duo, because they strived to do good for the downtrodden but it was a passive rather than an urgent experience. Finally, I yearned to see more scenes of Sylvia’s father do more than looking glamorous and serious. There could have been complexity in him because we saw that he, too, worked for higher, possibly more sinister, echelons. It was a slight disappointment that “In Time,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, circumvented daring intricacies for the sake of digestible answers. If it had maintained its initial promise–heavy on the concept, light on the adrenaline–and had been more careful about clunky details, it could have been a paragon of modern science fiction.