Tag: cameron crowe

Aloha


Aloha (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a military contractor who currently works for a billionaire (Bill Murray), visits Hawaii for five days in order to make an important deal with the locals and to supervise a gate blessing at an airport. A member of the Air Force, the very enthusiastic Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), is assigned to be his escort. The two soon hit it off despite Brian’s initial reluctance because his former flame (Rachel MacAdams), currently unhappy with her marriage, also lives on the island.

“Aloha,” written and directed by Cameron Crowe is a fine movie—which is not a compliment. It is too vanilla—divorced from people’s outrage regarding the casting of Stone playing a character who is supposed to be a quarter Asian—meaning there is not much flavor in the story, script, and style of direction. There are, however, highly watchable performances, particularly by Stone who is radiant in just about every scene. Cooper has a strong, likable presence, sort of like an uncle you want to hug and share a beer with, but it is Stone who steals the movie.

There is some believable chemistry shared between the central potential couple. The two eventually realizing that they feel attracted to one another does not take half of the running time which is a nice surprise because this decision makes room for other, more interesting avenues. I particularly enjoyed the strained relationship between Brian and Tracy, his ex-girlfriend with whom he had not seen for over a decade. Because Cooper and McAdams are seasoned performers, comfortable with projecting emotions under multiple wavelengths, I believed that they have history and that is hard for them even being in the same room, let alone excavating a bit of the past.

One might argue that the story does not truly come into focus. Another might claim that it is really about nothing new or deep, just a series of scenes where we follow the main character and events unfold. Neither would be wrong. What I liked, though, was the feeling of being involved in the light comedy-drama despite not having a classic story arc. For example, there is no expected villain here—which is surprising because the ex-girlfriend could have been an easy target. Another potential source of conflict could have been Tracy’s husband (John Krasinski). Instead, these two are actually likable even though there are some problems with their partnerships.

Less effective are scenes involving the military and the billionaire which comprises about a third of the picture. Those in position of power are written and played like caricatures. While it is apparent that none of them are supposed to be taken seriously, I found them rather dull and boring. Casting big names to play these men is a waste.

Although Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray have at least one scene where they are allowed to shine, neither character says nor does anything that impacts the story significantly. I argue that if these scenes were removed altogether or only mentioned, the final product would have been stronger because the material would have turned out leaner. Emphasis would likely have been on human relationships rather than a thinly plotted redemption/patriotism subplot that comes across as highly tacked on.

“Aloha” is predictable and strange tonally—the latter being a compliment. I was curious, never frustrated, with where it is going and as far as light fares go, it could be worse. Still, aside from pretty good performances from actors with whom we know we can rely on to deliver, there is nothing much to recommend here.

Singles


Singles (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

While admiring cute puppies in front of a pet store, Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) meets Luiz (Camilo Gallardo), a university student from Spain whose visa is about to expire in a few days. Not one to have much luck when it comes to romance, Linda is reluctant at first but she is won over eventually because Luiz knows exactly what to say to her and how. After he supposedly leaves for Spain, however, Linda catches him in a bar with another woman. Linda is furious. She makes a personal promise: she will focus only on her career and not get in a relationship any time soon.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, “Singles” does a good job in setting the pace of three relationships on a precipice of change which is particularly a challenge because dispersed among the three plots are colorful commentaries from people who have recently gotten out of relationships and those looking to get in one. It might have come across gimmicky, trite, than a necessary moments of insight within and outside of the story being told.

While Janet (Bridget Fonda) and Cliff (Matt Dillon) do not have the most interesting romantic relationship, their storyline is arguably the most rewarding because Janet is allowed to change in a meaningful way. Initially, Janet is used as merely a source of comedy due to her unhealthy level of attachment to the grunge-rocker who does not care for her affections. I was annoyed by yet another portrayal of a dumb girl throwing herself onto a man who clearly does not want her. As the screenplay unfolds, I realized that the material wishes to offer a statement. Janet is like liquid: an available man is a container she feels she must fill order to satisfy him.

The messages are geared toward people in twenties. Although the lessons Janet learns about self-esteem and self-empowerment may seem obvious, a lot of young women (and men) will be able to relate to her on some level. For example, there is resonance during moments when she is so desperate to be liked, she actually considers altering her body to fit someone else’s fantasy, or worse, her idea of someone else’s fantasy. While film lampoons her in the beginning, the picture is willing to change gears and allow us to care what might happen to her. Unlike many of the characters in the film, she has real thoughts and insights about what it means to be single and alone versus single and free.

The couple in the centerpiece involves Linda and Steve (Campbell Scott). Their interactions are sweet and romantic but sometimes heartbreaking and forced. Although there are chunks of the film when I felt like I was watching a television series because of the type of conflicts they must deal with, Sedgwick and Scott have a nice chemistry which keeps their storyline afloat. I would have preferred to know more about what Cliff really thinks about Janet. It wouldn’t have hurt the material if it had offered the audience a twist involving the inner-workings of Cliff’s mind. It is difficult to believe that he is stoned all the time and all he seems to care about is his band.

And then there is Debbie (Sheila Kelley): so desperate to no longer be single, she actually advertises herself on television so that she can have a pool of options. It can be argued that the amusing scenes surrounding Debbie make a statement about her relationship with herself. Debbie is the antithesis of Janet because, unlike the latter, the former does not seem at all interested in looking in the mirror and asking difficult questions about what she really wants. And she wonders why nothing seems to work out for her.

Vanilla Sky


Vanilla Sky (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

David Aames (Tom Cruise) seemed to have it all: he was rich, he could have any woman he wanted, he could be great at his job if he wanted to, and a very good friend, Brian (Jason Lee), was only a phone call away. But what David didn’t have was romantic stability. David and Julie (Cameron Diaz) would hook up and the two share great sex. However, Sofia (Penélope Cruz), Brian’s date, caught David’s eye during a party at his fancy loft. Suddenly, his affection was torn between the two women. Julie did not like it one bit. Based on Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Abre los ojos,” Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” deceptively started off like a romance picture but it evolved into a mystery and changed once again into a curiosity. What I loved most about it was its audacity to dream big. Its tone and storytelling techniques always changed; the events felt like fragments of memories and they didn’t seem to fit. A question gave birth to other questions in an exponential rate. We were offered possible explanations but we had a choice not to accept them. I didn’t know what was going on some of the time but I found myself fascinated with what the movie was attempting to say. It was like sitting in front of someone who had been almost completely paralyzed and it tried to communicate with nothing but its eyes. I’ve seen Cruise embody plenty of roles but I believe David was one of his best. Two scenes stood out to me and they reminded me why was he was a movie star. David’s face had been horribly disfigured. He had a meeting with doctors and he expected that they had solutions to fix his face. After all, money was no issue because he commanded an empire. Unfortunately, the doctors had nothing but roundabout ways of saying there wasn’t anything they could do. In that scene, the way Cruise controlled his character from quietly hopeful to a monster full of rage stripped me of my defenses. I probably would have reacted the same way. David claimed it wasn’t about vanity. We should all know it was exactly about vanity but there was something more to it. Reclaiming his face was an act of getting his power back. Another strong scene was when David finally decided to show his scarred face to Sofia after months of hiding in his apartment. Cruise made David extremely vulnerable. He was ashamed of his ugliness and he felt even uglier because Sofia was so beautiful. David must have felt like he wasn’t worthy of being considered a person. It was like watching an exiled king, now a leper, begging to admitted back to his kingdom. Notice that I’m highlighting the emotions because I believe “Vanilla Sky” was, first and foremost, an emotional journey. The last thirty minutes asked us to take a giant leap of faith. Without being emotionally invested, we wouldn’t take that leap. I believe the reason why the film polarized audiences was because half didn’t feel emotionally connected to David. For those that did, half probably felt like they were constantly getting tricked by the push and pull forces of real and fantasy. In other words, they felt cheated. But I consider “Vanilla Sky” a wonderful entertainment because I felt like a homicide detective. In most homicide cases, not all the pieces fit exactly as we expect them to, despite what TV shows led us to believe, but those pieces that do are enough to provide a clear picture.

We Bought a Zoo


We Bought a Zoo (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) was able to make a living as an adventure addict and a writer. But when his wife, Katherine (Stephanie Szostak), passed away six months ago, he was forced to reassess his exciting career because of his children, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan (Colin Ford). While Rosie seemed to be adapting to the new structure of the household, Dylan had just been expelled from school, the fourth strike involved an inappropriate mural of a beheaded man, a hint of the teen’s possible mental state. Benjamin figured his family needed a change. After visiting several houses, the one that ended up exactly as he envisioned for his family happened to be a part of a crumbling zoo. To say that “We Bought a Zoo,” based on the screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, was obvious would not be considered as misleading. After all, there was a clear parallel between the struggling family eventually finding a proper footing in order to move on from grief and the zoo’s staff desperately putting together the necessary pieces in order to pass an inspection test and be open for business by summer. For every victory, there was another roadblock but the characters somehow found solutions through external resources and personal courage to overcome such challenges. While the picture had a certain level of predictability, I enjoyed it nonetheless because most of the emotions felt true. Although the story took place in a rundown zoo, it was about the people who inhabited the space instead of the cute and ferocious animals. I was particularly interested in the relationship between father and son. There was a lot of tension that accumulated between them because they found it difficult to communicate with one another even though they wanted to. When the inevitable screaming match finally arrived, I found myself very moved because it reminded of a time when my relationship with my parents wasn’t so good. They didn’t yell at each other to be cruel. It simply had to be done so the relationship could have a chance to start anew. For me, that scene was an excellent reminder that a family is really a wonderful treasure to have. You can scream at each other like there’s no tomorrow but at the end of the day, the voice living in the basement of your brain knows that all of you will be okay. Like Dylan, I was–or still am–a secretive person with a lot of thoughts but prone to compartmentalizing especially when a situation is far from the ideal. Dylan was not happy about the move but he knew it wasn’t his place to say something to his dad. Despite the picture’s consistent portrayal of the teenager as sensitive and moody, since it was based on a true story, I think the real Dylan knew the crux of what his father was attempting to accomplish. On that level, I wish the film had given him more depth. Furthermore, while the scenes between Benjamin and Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zookeeper, were cute, it felt slightly underdeveloped. I didn’t need to see them go out on a date because a mutual understanding was established between them, but the later scenes relied too much on clichés to generate a reaction from the audience. Based on a book by Benjamin Mee and directed by Cameron Crowe, “We Bought a Zoo” needed less cloying flashbacks designed to show us how happy the family was before Katherine passed away. I found it superfluous because we already had an idea about how happy they were before the death through the grief they wrestled. Nevertheless, I found its honesty and simplicity delightful.