Tag: gwyneth paltrow

Thanks for Sharing


Thanks for Sharing (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been a recovering sex addict for five years. To maintain his sobriety, he frequents a support group. There, we meet his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), whose son (Patrick Fugit) has returned home after disappearing for years, and a young doctor, Neil (Josh Gad), who is required by the court to attend due to public indecency. When Adam crosses paths with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) at a party, there is immediate spark. Although fostering a healthy romantic relationship is encouraged by Mike, Adam worries that the sexual aspect of being with someone will send him back to engaging in self-destructive behavior.

“Thanks for Sharing,” based on the screenplay by Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston, gets enough things right to overcome some pacing problems in the middle. Movies about addiction are difficult to pull off because balance is required as to not dip into sentimentality or making light of the matter. This film manages to be funny but at the same time it does not forget the every day struggle of someone who hopes to overcome a disease.

“Is that even a thing?” asks Phoebe right after Adam informs her about his private shame. The fact that Adam and Phoebe can be so open to one another is one of the shining aspects of the picture. They can be silly toward one another—a standout scene takes place in a restaurant—but they are never treated as less than adults which is refreshing. It is easy to want them to be together till the end but at one point we consider if it is the right time. And will there ever be a right time? I admired that the material takes itself a step further.

A subplot involves a friendship between Neil and Dede (Alecia Moore), a new member of the group. Unlike the romantic relationship which takes on some dark corners, their strand is more light-hearted. It is interesting that both of them are obviously a good fit but the screenplay is smart enough not to take it any further. If it had done so, it probably would have explored some similar elements that the central story was already dealing with.

I was lukewarm about Mike and his problems at home. The conflict between father and son should have been more moving. Perhaps the reason why is because the tension grows stale over time. There is bonding over a creation of a pond, meditation, and remembering the past. It is all very passive. There is even a cliché involving a playful wrestle between men with unresolved issues. Meanwhile, Adam and Neil’s stories have gone in interesting directions.

Directed by Stuart Blumberg, “Thanks for Sharing” is a comedy-drama with enough light entertainment and moments of difficult truths as well as nice moments that connect them. It offers no easy solutions. By the end, we are presented with one or two milestones but the effort and hard work continue.

The Talented Mr. Ripley


The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? In your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person. — Tom Ripley

Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a visually alluring, thematically complex, and airtight thriller that dares to put a heart inside of a monster—or at least an impression of a warm, beating thing that resembles an organ, a representation of what separates us from savages. It tells the story of a young man named Tom Ripley, a part-time pianist whose talent lies in impersonating people, preferably those born into money because he covets a luxurious lifestyle. Mistaken for a Princeton alumnus after a performance, a shipping tycoon (James Rebhorn) requests for Tom to retrieve his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), from Italy. Considering that all expenses are paid for, in addition to monetary reward if he were to complete the assignment, Tom quickly seizes the opportunity.

It is admirable that the screenplay does not rely on merely showing Tom as a killer. Doing so prevents the material from being reduced to another suspense-thriller or horror cliché. Instead, it pushes the envelope a bit further by daring to pull the viewer into considering the way Tom perceives himself as a poor, working-class nobody forcing himself to walk in the shoes of someone else, at times literally, that he perceives to be somebody, one who is loved, regarded, important. What results is an electrifying character study with tragic elements, mainly from the perspective of our antihero, until we realize that we have grown to care for a person whose very gift is deception. Tom has played us in addition to those around him. I applaud its courageous ending.

Casting Matt Damon to wear the skin of the charming and manipulative title character is a fruitful decision. Relying on boyish good looks is not enough for this role. Notice the performer’s control of varying levels of magnetism which is almost always directly tethered to how another person might be exploited for Tom’s benefit despite a veil of camaraderie or friendship. The screenplay supports the performer by being smart enough to blur the line between these ideas. It makes us question whether a sociopath like Tom is actually capable of forming genuine social contracts with others or whether people exist simply to either aid or prevent him from reaching his goals. And because Damon is excels at projecting minute emotions, especially feelings of hurt and betrayal, when the camera is up close, we end up empathizing with him even though we know that the character isn’t capable of empathy.

Supporting characters (Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, Sergio Rubini) are not mere lambs lining up to be slaughtered. They have distinct personalities, points of view, and lives to live. As they move in and out of the story, something about them is always changed the next time we encounter them. This creates an exciting experience because not only do we need to evaluate Tom whose motivations are consistently elusive, we, too, need to assess those around him based on what knowledges or suspicions they’ve acquired off-screen considering the fact that these characters share social circles. Making the characters intelligent, vivid, and life-like not only breathes a freshness to the film. It also provides genuine challenges for the main character. Tom must adapt. And sometimes it is actually amusing to see him squirm and trip over the details of his deceit. We wonder at which point his lies are going to catch up to him.

Tense at the right moments and surprisingly clever just when we are convinced the jig is up, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” offers a fascinating look at how a specific mind functions. While there is beauty and decadence behind exotic locales the characters see and experience, there is a darkness here that the material is willing to explore without relying on mere violence in order to induce dread or horror. Sometimes a friendly smile held too long is most telling.

Iron Man 3


Iron Man 3 (2013)
★ / ★★★★

“Iron Man 3” is anything but a consistently entertaining, funny, and thrilling superhero bim-bam-smash action extravaganza. It is a throwback to movies like Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” where there are too many villains but not enough effort is put into exploring who they are, what they aim to do exactly, and how they, after executing their evil plot, will help our hero, or heroes, gain an insight to the questions that plague his mind.

In the case of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), after having learned the existence of gods and aliens as well as having a brush with death in Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” he finds himself in a suspended state of trauma, barely getting a night’s sleep, obsessing over creating more Iron Man suits, and fixing whatever knickknack when he really ought to be getting some counseling. When a man called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) executes bombings–first abroad then in America–Stark is, at best, underprepared.

As expected, the film has an eye for destruction. When Stark’s home is attacked by three helicopters with long-range rifles and rocket launchers, it is wise to minimize shots that take place outside. Since the scene is composed mostly of interior shots, there is a feeling that we are in the middle of the action: red hot bullets swishing by, ground collapsing without warning, and a posh car–that happens to be indoors–falling off a cliff. With the aid of first-rate sound mixing, it is a believable localized war zone soaked in dust and danger with seemingly little hope of escape.

Whenever the action stops, however, it is a first-class bore. The would-be funny quips and exchanges are not all that impressive. There are a few lines that made me chuckle, but for the most part they are often misplaced or forced. Instead of engaging us in a consistent build-up of adrenaline, a short break, and then more thrills, the material is punctuated by long stretches tedious dialogue. It gets so pedestrian that–can you believe it–characters eventually verbalize what they are doing at the time when we can see them doing it. The script is filled with padding; there is no reason for this movie to run over two hours.

It has neither intrigue nor a convincing mystery. In the second half, Stark is forced to catch up to what we already know with regards to a villains’ identities. When he inevitably discovers these people for who they really are, it does not feel like a big deal. It is anticlimactic. There is no secondary twist that Stark is able to deduce while the rest of us feel the rug being pulled below our feet. It seems the material has lost touch of what makes Stark such an interesting character in the first place: he is constantly ahead of us–his mind compromised or otherwise–and almost never the other way around.

Talented actors like Rebecca Hall, who plays a botanist, Guy Pearce, a scientist, and Gwyneth Paltrow, the love interest of Stark, are not challenged. Their roles are one-dimensional, diluted by a laughably bad screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black. The one that stood out to me is James Badge Dale, playing a super soldier who works for The Mandarin. Savin is rarely given a chance to speak so it is smart for the actor to apply unwavering tension in his body language. He is robotically sinister; those eyes can put frost on a popsicle. I wished Savin had a backstory.

Directed by Shane Black, there are few reasons to watch “Iron Man 3.” One of them is a scene involving Iron Man attempting to save thirteen people in free fall after being sucked out of a plane. But the rest is folly, oozing mediocrity in every one of one its metallic pores. Iron Man deserves a better story; we deserve a better movie.

Sydney


Sydney (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

John (John C. Reilly) is sitting outside a diner with hands in his face when Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) comes up to him and offers coffee. John accepts and we learn that the reason why he looks so hopeless is because he lost all his money. John’s good intentions impresses Sydney. That is, John had wanted to win enough money so he can give his mother a proper funeral. Sydney, a man of experience, decides to teach John some tricks in exploiting the casino’s loopholes.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Hard Eight” may be a small film but it is equipped with big guns: a confident, fast-paced, and focused direction; a wonderful ear for dialogue; and characters who continually reveal layers of personalities and histories.

I expected the film to be about John because he is the protégé as well as the first person the camera fixates on. It turns out that while he remains an important figure in the storyline, it is really more about Sydney and how much he grows to love John like flesh and blood. To complicate the plot, right after Sydney teaches John the first lesson in outsmarting the casinos, the picture jumps two years forward. Not only are John and Sydney slightly different from the time we meet them, there are two new characters: Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), John’s sort-of girlfriend for two months, and Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson), John’s friend that Sydney doesn’t particularly like.

We are expected to learn about the four and how their relationships change the dynamics of the situation. Hall delivers an incredible performance. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of my grandpa: tough, suave, mostly quiet but very capable of warmth and support. Every time he is on screen, I was drawn to him and he doesn’t have to say a word.

There is a scene in a shabby hotel room where panic-stricken Reilly and Paltrow are on the foreground yet I kept noticing Hall on the background, just standing there, completely calm, while his face is drowned in shadows. In each scene, I felt him observing and thinking what he might do next. He never becomes predictable.

In most movies that aim to tackle special relationships between a parent and his or her non-biological child, there comes an obligatory scene where the former tells the latter, “I love you like you’re my own.” I almost always roll my eyes or end up stifling a snicker. It has turned so cheesy, so passé. But not here. I completely bought the set-up and delivery. During that scene, I relished every emotion on Sydney and John’s faces, held my breath at every pause, and found it hard to swallow because I was so moved. The moment is earned.

“Hard Eight,” also known as “Sydney,” is a gem and I’m astounded that it’s Anderson’s first feature film. By the end, it accomplishes two things. 1) It kept me interested in what would happen next. 2) Somehow, I couldn’t think of one thing I would change to make it better.

The Avengers


The Avengers (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Tesseract, a cube with the potential energy to destroy the planet, was obtained by the egomaniacal Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from S.H.I.E.L.D., Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistic Division, led by one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Overpowered by Loki’s strength and otherworldly powers, Fury sought help from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eventually joining the party. Based on the screenplay by Joss Whedon, comprehensive character development in “The Avengers” was simply out of the question because each superhero contained an interesting personality filled with quirks and unique sense of humor. The main question was how to keep the story interesting apart from massively entertaining explosions and jaw-dropping action sequences. I found that the film was similar to a great swimmer. Because of Whedon’s direction, the film knew how to pace itself so it didn’t drown in its own ambitions. When the movie kept its head underwater by delivering the intense and often breathtaking battle scenes, they were allowed to play out to our satisfaction without overstaying their welcome. For example, the duel between Iron Man and Thor was simply wonderful to watch. Out of the six, not only did the two of them have the biggest egos, they were my least favorite characters compared to the rest. (Personally, listening to Thor speak is as boring as reading about the history of differential equations hybridized with Shakespearean lingo.) Yet it didn’t matter because I was so involved in what was happening. Their brawl, and of those to come, was within the story’s context. Thor, prior to joining the group, wanted to convince his adopted brother against enslaving Earth while Iron Man worked for a cause and had to deliver Loki to the proper authorities. When the movie gasped for air, they were quick and memorable. The sense of humor stood out because the script played upon the elementary personalities of each hero or heroine. For instance, the material had fun with what the audience expect of Black Widow and her sex. The script was balanced in subverting the typicalities of women’s roles in superhero movies, given that they’re usually the romantic interest or object of desire, and remaining loyal to her character as a woman on a global and personal mission. Since she, along with Hawkeye, did not have a stand-alone movie, having not read the comics, I appreciated that her character was given a little bit more depth than her counterparts. While there were still unanswered questions about her history and the intricacies of what she hoped to gain by joining S.H.I.E.L.D., by the end, I felt like I knew her as well as the other guys. I felt like she had her own stamp in the dynamics of the group, that they wouldn’t be complete without her. Naturally, the film’s climax involved a lot of extirpation of expensive skyscrapers. But the main difference between the destruction seen here as opposed to, say, Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” was the action didn’t feel incomprehensible. Things blew up but the quick cuts weren’t injected with multiple shots of epinephrine. Each jump of perspective had something enjoyable to offer instead of relying on a false sense of excitement. In other words, the destruction was actively made interesting instead of allowing it on autopilot. “The Avengers” could have used more Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), less speeches between Loki and Thor, and an explanation on how The Hulk became more manageable toward the end. Nevertheless, such negatives are so small compared to the cyclopean roller coaster ride that the filmmakers had given us. When I was a kid, I played with a lot of action figures. Some even revolved around crazy narratives I made up, one of which involved a live caterpillar and beetle destroying Legos that stood for Gotham City. I must say, the sight of The Hulk tossing Loki around like a piece of spaghetti made me feel like a kid again.

Se7en


Se7en (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Detective Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) was one week away from retirement when he was thrusted into a case that involved an obese man who seemed as though he ate himself to death. Enter Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), an ambitious man of the law who was supposed to replace Somerset. In the meantime, the two had to work together in order to catch a killer who was intent on personifying the Seven Deadly Sins. That is, turning each sin against the sinner in grotesque and often very violent ways. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by David Fincher, “Se7en” was about the two detectives as well as the crimes the killer inflicted on his victims. The contrast between the two detectives went beyond their age and the way they perceived their role in law enforcement. Somerset was the patient intellectual who bothered to read between the lines in search of deeper meaning, while Mills was the mercurial brute arm who had less proclivity toward delayed gratification. As the duo got deeper into the macabre case, we came to observe their strengths and weaknesses as well as learn about their histories. Despite their differences in personality and the way they approached problems, they made a good team. And like all good teams, sometimes they made game-changing mistakes and created repercussions that they just couldn’t walk away from. By allowing us to observe Mills and Somerset as they explored the increasingly cryptic assignment, the film argued that in order for a person to understand evil, one has to be willing to, if necessary, be an agent of the thing he is fighting against in hopes of ultimately overcoming it. Yet nothing was certain and the picture offered no easy answers about motivations, revenge, or redemption. I admired the film’s cold detachment in terms of the details of the crime. I’ve always been a curious person but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed when Fincher allowed the camera to be as close to the subject as possible. For instance, when the obese man was in the morgue coming off a post-mortem examination, we could clearly see the various discolorations on the man’s skin, every fold of fat and fibrous vein, as well as the points of incision. When such details were so precise that my nervous system couldn’t help but react so strongly, that’s how I know I’m watching a master at work. The picture could easily have been a gimmick about the cardinal sins. But notice that with each passing victim, the camera spent less time on their mutilated bodies. Increasing attention was directed to the two detectives’ varying reactions. Take Mills as an example. He was easy to crack jokes about the corpses. He didn’t do it to be mean or disrespectful. It was his own way of coping with what he just saw so that at the end of the day he would be able to go home and sleep next to his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). “Se7en” had respect for its complex story and, more importantly, it respected us as an audience. Its willingness to stare into the ugly depths of the psyche as well as the bleak streets and underground alleys of sin made it a harrowing and rewarding experience.

Contagion


Contagion (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), while on a business trip to Macau, became sick. She returned home thinking that what she had was a common case of cold. Within two days, she died. So did her son. This left Mitch (Matt Damon), Beth’s husband, shaken with disbelief–that a few coughs and sniffles could destroy his family. But what Beth had wasn’t typical. Within a couple of days, health organizations from all over the world realized that what caused Beth’s death was a virulent virus that had the capability to invade its host’s respiratory and central nervous systems. And it was spreading at an exponential rate. “Contagion,” written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, was at its best when it was coldly calculating. Such a tone was prevalent in the first half and it was appropriate because viruses don’t discern between good and bad people. It was simple: we observed a human being develop the symptoms of the fatal disease and he or she died within a couple of minutes after we met them. Then it was onto the next victim. It was scary, mysterious, and real. The director juggled different characters, scientists and civilians, with relative ease. There was Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) who worked for the CDC whose confidence relied on a plan of attack that worked in the past. But this was a different breed of disease and it was mutating at such a rapid pace. We observed this man’s confidence crumble which happened to be parallel to society’s laws and regulations slowly being thrown out the window. With people not getting enough answers and becoming more terrified each day, they had to lie, steal, and kill to survive. And such actions were not limited to civilians. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was Mr. Krumwiede (Jude Law), a sort-of journalist/blogger who led a popular website, who claimed that the government didn’t want people to know the truth. In some ways, he was right despite his fear mongering. For me, while watching the film, the main source of drama wasn’t in the fact that I became more paranoid of germs as it went on. I know that there are “good” germs that protect us from “bad” germs; that our bodies rely on select foreign organisms to function well. What piqued my curiosity was the struggle between figures who wanted to keep things hush-hush, like Dr. Cheever, and those who wanted to reveal information, even without proper scientific research, like Mr. Krumwiede. I was left in the middle and, as it turned out, I found myself caring most about people who ended up confused but tried their best to make it through just one more day, like Mitch and his daughter. Despite the film using a lot of foreign-sounding words like “pleomorphic,” “encephalitis,” and “immunoglobulin domains,” which not everyone had to understand to realize that something bad was happening, the picture had a heart. Notice that the director always reverted to Mitch and his struggle to keep his daughter safe from the virus. Although still interesting, “Contagion” lost a bit of momentum in its second half. But all is forgiven because no one turned into a zombie.

Two Lovers


Two Lovers (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

“Two Lovers” was about a man with bipolar disorder (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with two women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw)–one was emotionally unstable with an edge of coolness about her, while the other was more ordinary but was ready to settle down. I’m not sure if I was supposed to believe that Phoenix’ character really did fall in love with either woman because, throughout the film, I felt like he just a little boy with a crush: either he really liked one of the women or both of them one minute but he was as easily able to detach from them. His indecision made him look like a jerk because of the way he juggled his time between the two. I thought the first part of the movie was consistently strong (even though Phoenix’ character was a bit creepy) because I was interested in the dynamics among the characters, especially Phoenix and Paltrow. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle it got lost within itself due to its languid tone, dark material, heavy-handedness and self-indulgence. I ran out of patience with it instead of actually wanting to watch the story unravel. There were not enough pay-offs dispersed every fifteen minutes or so. In fact, it just started repeating itself when it came to the lead characters’ constant disappointment by Paltrow’s self-hating character. The whole idea of a woman not feeling like she deserved to be loved was played out and I’ve seen the idea explored in better films. I thought she was essentially a user and ultimately did not know what she wanted so I ended up disliking her greatly. She was so selfish and I felt like her apologies were more for her–so she could feel better for the pain she caused other people. I just couldn’t sympathize with her. Directed by James Gray, “Two Lovers” is a small picture but its main problem was just that: it settled with being small. Instead, it should have acknowledged itself for being small but still delivered the big and insightful ideas. I chose to watch this movie because I thought I would get witty and smart conversations between two mature adults. I was very disappointed because I felt like I was watching a romance between fifteen-year-olds stuck in thirtysomething bodies. Don’t even get me started with the eye-rolling typicality of two lovers chatting over the phone as they looked at each other from across the building. It may work on a Taylor Swift music video but not on a full feature film. The film needed more depth, consistency and a stable sense of identity.

Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.