Tag: naomi watts

Adore


Adore (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have known each other since they were kids. They grew up along the ocean and decided to stay there as adults. They are so close, their sons are also best of friends. However, when Tom (James Frecheville), Roz’ son, catches his mother walking out of the guest room, where Ian (Xavier Samuel), Lil’s son, is staying at the time, with barely any clothes on, the dynamic among mothers and sons are pushed into a sudden shift. Tom and Lil become lovers, too.

“Adore,” based on Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers,” is actually a nice surprise—though the picture tackles a subject that can be considered taboo, the screenplay by Christopher Hampton treats the situation and the characters very seriously. The question is not so much whether or not the relationships will survive till the end but which person gives more love and is willing to sacrifice more in a friendship. That is something fresh.

I had my reservations. I expected it to be some sort of sexy skin flick where women of a certain age get their way with young men. But it is not like that at all. The only thing that is sexy about it is how gorgeously it is photographed by Christophe Beaucarne. The interiors of the houses are so spacious and modern but lived in at the same time. The exterior shots, especially ones that take place at the beach, look like the best Hawaiian postcards. Just about everything about the cinematography is inviting—even when it goes for the close-ups of the aging Lil and Roz. We wonder what they are thinking. Watts and Wright appear very comfortable in their own skins and I think that is key in playing characters like Lil and Roz.

The weaker links are Samuel and Frecheville. While I did buy their performances during their characters’ late teen years, I found them sort of awkward when they come to a point where they must portray men in their late twenties. They just look so young, so boyish that I was taken out of the gravity of what their characters are supposed to be going through. Perhaps casting actors who look a little older to play teenagers might have been a better decision because the bulk of the meat is in the latter half when repercussions are due.

There is a running joke in the film that Roz and Lil are so close that they are often mistaken for a lesbian couple. While funny on the surface, perhaps there is something to that. The images on screen made me wonder about the book. Are Lil and Roz subconsciously in denial of their sexual attraction to one another? Is being with one another’s son a way to diffuse or channel or resolve their romantic feelings for each other?

Directed by Anne Fontaine, “Adore” leaves us something to think about even though the content is not that relatable. In some instances, it works against itself completely. There were moments when I thought, “Who cares?” All four seem to be living in a suspended fantasy that no one wants to leave—deep down at least. Still, I am giving it a mild recommendation for the leading actress’ performances and beautiful seaside imagery.

Sunlight Jr.


Sunlight Jr. (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

“Sunlight Jr.,” written and directed by Laurie Collyer, is a bare bones picture in that is a but peek into a life of a couple with barely enough money to get by. There is no beginning or end, not even a standard parabolic dramatic path typically found in works of fiction. On some level, I admired it. Still, I am not sure as to who the picture is intended for.

It shows poverty in a realistic way. Most might ask why Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are not shown to be more practical especially since they are continually pushed to desperate financial situations. For instance, although Richie has lost the use of his legs, why is he not able to to get a job? I offer superficial answers. First, he is an alcoholic. Second, he has not yet come to terms with his handicap. Third, I believe that a part of it involves depression—not one we always see represented in the movies but the kind that exists in the real word, the kind of depression that is too common yet not always recognized.

Though Dillon and Watts are capable of delivering the necessary gravity to create believable characters, their performances are not completely transformative. Their clothes appear to look as though they have been washed too many times and their hair could use a bit of clean-up but I consistently saw movie stars doing their job. As a result, I was unable to invest emotionally in the characters. We recognize Richie and Melissa’s plight but we do not feel like we are ever in their shoes.

Perhaps the picture might have had more of an impact if the lead characters were played by unfamiliar faces. I am talking about ordinary faces, plain statures, and body types that may not be considered appealing or attractive. The film is supposed to be rooted in realism. And yet when I walk into a convenience store, I never see anyone who look like Watts behind the counter. I may see someone who looks like Paul Giamatti or DJ Qualls. I don’t mean to be insulting to these performers. What I mean to say is that if the material wishes to get down and dirty, every element must fit or else it may come across as phony at times.

One of the implicit questions asked is whether love is enough to withstand the winds of adversity. I enjoyed that it offers conflicting answers. One of the most common words used to describe the film is “depressing.” I don’t think that it is. At least not really. Yes, what the couple goes through is tough. We watch their every day battles—whether it be about work, unspoken disappointments between the couples, things that must be sacrificed. But if one looks closely, there is always a silver lining.

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.

Movie 43


Movie 43 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

When word spreads like wildfire that a movie is terrible, sometimes it is a challenge to keep an open mind and evaluate it as is–without taking word-of-mouth into consideration. This is why “Movie 43,” composed of shorts by various writers and directors, is somewhat of a surprise. I came in expecting I would hate it, but it turns out to be just another mediocre effort. While that is not a ringing endorsement, I enjoyed four–maybe five–out of about thirteen scenarios on screen, from Naomi Watts kissing her on-screen son on the lips to an animated gay cat who is caught by Elizabeth Banks masturbating to Josh Duhamel’s shirtless pictures.

The best segment is “Victory’s Glory,” written by Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko, which focuses on group of black high school basketball players in the late ’50s who are worried about facing white players on the court. Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) gives them a pep talk, assuring them that they will win simply because they are black. His argument relies on African-American stereotypes: tall, long-limbed, athletic. The comedy works because it goes all the way in poking fun of the racism that, for better or worse, has defined America as a nation. Propelled by Rusty Cundieff’s energetic direction and Howard’s performance, the penultimate short clip is a blast.

Another section that is worth watching is called “Beezel,” written and directed by James Gunn, named after an animated cat owned by Anson (Duhamel), a man who plans to begin a new chapter with his girlfriend (Banks). I enjoyed its creative leap of using an animated cat and not a trained animal who does tricks for the camera. By doing so, the feline–in under five minutes–is given color, personality, and clear motivation. Like “Victory’s Glory,” it starts with what should be a one-note joke but upends expectations by willing to experiment without veering completely off-course.

Many of the others do not fare as well. “The Catch,” directed by Peter Farrelly, does exactly the opposite. The joke involves a woman (Kate Winslet) going on a blind date with a handsome man (Hugh Jackman) who happens to have a set of testicles hanging off his neck. It should be funny. After all, many of us are so used to watching Winslet in serious roles. When she does comedy, it is difficult to read her and I like that she always has a level of danger in her eyes. However, the writers end up relying on one joke–everybody, except for Winslet’s character, failing to notice the man’s deformity–and hoping that the scrotum is disgusting enough to hide the sheer laziness of the material.

Most repulsive, boring, and pointless is director James Duffy’s “Super Hero Speed Dating.” A suggestion for the writer: if you’re going to put Batman (Jason Sudeikis), Robin (Justin Long), Superman (Bobby Cannavale), Wonder Woman (Leslie Bibb) in the same clip, make sure the script is written smart and worthy of the pop culture icons you are undertaking. Otherwise, like this segment, it ends up being like a cheaply produced dress up with no script, no effort, and no laughter. It is easily the most disposable of the bunch.

Lastly, “Movie 43” is not helped by the sequence of its segments. While the overarching storyline involving a screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) and a movie executive (Greg Kinnear) is as lifeless as a rock, the middle portion is almost unbearable, for the most part a landfill of uninspired ideas that will not pass as remotely funny even in an alternate universe, still there are a few standouts that do work.

The Impossible


The Impossible (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Instead of staying in their home in Japan, the Bennett family, led by Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), decide to spend their Christmas vacation on a Thai resort. The day after Christmas, while they relax by the pool, a tsunami comes raging through the coast which inevitably decimates everything in its path. Maria and Lucas (Tom Holland) are separated from Henry, Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). As Maria’s health declines, so is the hope of the family finding one another in a community that must deal with deaths and missing persons.

“The Impossible,” based on the screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez and experiences of the Belón family in December 2004, reaches inside of us and twists what it manages to hold onto. It makes for a consistently compelling watch especially from the standpoint of special and visual effects. Although it is a cut above many films of its type because the humanity of the story is often underlined, it falls into some of the expected dramatic trappings of disaster movies.

What is most sensational is watching the tsunami’s power to change a picturesque serenity of life into a horrifying vision of death. I liked that a choice is made in terms of which group to focus on. By allowing the camera to stay on Maria and Lucas’ struggle to get to one another as they are carried by a raging torrent, tension is heated until it boils. The movement of the camera below and above the water gives us an idea on how difficult it must be to gain some control of the situation for another chance of holding onto a loved one and feeling safe despite the chaos all around.

The direct aftermath is equally fascinating. It changes gears by focusing on the images around mother and son rather than the question of if or when they will be reunited. Particularly memorable to me is the sight of a dead man faced down on the water coupled with a neighboring image of a fish gasping for air. Placing them side by side touched me because it is an effective reminder of the fragility of life as well as our place in nature. Also, even though it does not further the plot, I appreciated that it turns our attention on the senses: images like people walking through mud while a trail of blood is created, sounds of a child crying for his mother, and how it must have smelled when the ocean is mixed with land and modern creations.

Since the picture does not have much plot, in some ways it is crippled. The most disappointing is the screenplay being reduced to putting characters into one place forcing them to just miss each other as one enters and the other leaves the room. It cheapens the material and I started to feel like I was being toyed. Tonally, it is a mess because it eventually begins to feel like something that is taken from a bad romantic comedy-drama. With all the horror and sadness that the Bennett family has gone through, surely they deserve something that is more respectful and less cliché.

Even though “Lo imposible,” directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, has a nasty habit of settling for dramatic techniques that are typical, one of its methods never fails to get to me every single time. That is, when two characters swim or run toward one another as the majestic music reaches a crescendo. I guess it is highly relatable: when you really miss someone and you want to hug him so hard or kiss her in a way she’s never been kissed before, the anticipation from inside of us turns into an uncontrollable spirit animal.

J. Edgar


J. Edgar (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), working as the head of General Intelligence Division at the time, observed how the Bureau of Investigation handled crime scenes and noted that a lot of changes had to made in order for the group to maximize their efficiency as both a protector of the people and, in theory, preventer of execrable crimes. When he was appointed by the Attorney General to be the Bureau’s acting director, it was his chance to make the necessary radical changes from within. “J. Edgar,” written by Dustin Lance Black, had a fascinating history in terms of its subject, his personal and professional life, but the picture only reached moments of lucidity regarding what it wanted to say about a man’s legacy. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the screenplay was structured. It wanted to cover a plethora of subjects which ranged from Hoover’s determination for the government to give the Bureau the power to make arrests and bear arms, the hunt for the communist radicals, the controversial and painstaking attempt to solve the Lindbergh kidnapping, to, and most importantly, his evolution from being a patriot to an obsessed man who couldn’t let go of being in charge, his tragic inability to separate his professional from personal life. Focus and insight came few and far between. I wish we had known more about Hoover’s relationship with Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), his eventual personal secretary and confidante. One of the most exciting and amusing scenes was when the two went out on a date. Hoover’s idea of romance was to show her the impressive catalogue he created for the Bureau. In order to prove to her the efficiency of his system, he asked her to time how long it took him to find a book given a specific subject and time frame. The scene had spice and humor because we don’t see many, arguably, lame dates in biopics. It made Hoover seem human for a change instead of just being a robot who strived for constant perfection, a man who wiped his hands every time he shook hands with another. Later, when Hoover and Gandy were old, their scenes lacked impact when they exchanged looks that were designed to be meaningful. It felt forceful. This was because their relationship didn’t have a proper arc. The same critique could be applied to Hoover’s relationship with his mother (Judi Dench). While Gandy was painted only as a career-striving woman, the mother was drawn as a control freak who preferred to have, in her own words, a dead son than a daffodil for a son. In real life, I imagined Annie Hoover to be a loving woman who just didn’t know how to deal with homosexuality. Otherwise, Hoover, a smart and persistent man, wouldn’t have stayed with and loved her for long. Conversely, what the picture managed to do well was the execution of Hoover’s romance with his protégé and eventual Associate Director of the FBI, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The film captured the love between them even if they had to remain in the closet given the times and natures of their occupation. Despite their intense feelings for one another, they couldn’t express them without dancing around the issue then having to retreat. It got so bad to the point where punching each other in the face and wrestling on the ground was the only time they had an intense physical contact. Directed by Clint Eastwood, “J. Edgar” needed to be more selective in terms of which aspect of its subject’s life was worth covering. Considering Hoover’s legacy was epic, to say the least, putting all the apples in one basket, even if only one of them was rotten, in this case a few, corrupted the rest.

Fair Game


Fair Game (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) was a covert CIA agent who worked in the Anti-Proliferation program where she and her team gathered secret intelligence concerning possible weapons of mass destruction. She was connected internationally and she gained people’s trust even though their lives were on the line. But when a man in the government leaked her identity to the papers, with impunity, all for the sake of shallow revenge involving the article her husband (Sean Penn) wrote aimed to criticize the Bush administration, Valerie and her family’s lives were turned upside down my the media, politicians, and the people they knew back when they still had valuable anonymity. Directed by Doug Liman, “Fair Game” was an effective thriller about an injustice in America and the unnecessary betrayal Valerie had to go through just because some men wanted to remind themselves that they still had power. The acting was top-notch. Watts did a tremendous job in making Valerie sympathetic but not so much that we ended up feeling sorry for her. Instead, she controlled her character in such a way that, if we were in her shoes, we would be outraged by what was done to us, especially when all we wanted was what was best for our country. She was a smart and strong woman, fully capable of thinking on her feet, in a thankless job where they could easily deny connection to you when things went sour. I was surprised that she didn’t receive more acknowledgement for her performance here. Much of the film’s strength was the complexity she injected into Valerie. The suppressed emotions were just as vivid as the expressed. Penn was also wonderful as the husband hell-bent on finding some sort of elusive justice. Although not always making the smartest choices in which his strategy was to appear in all sorts of interviews to gain exposure, his persistence was admirable. I loved the scenes between Penn and Watts as they evaluated their marriage amidst the chaos of revealed identities and realizing that what they had romantically might be beyond repair. What’s more impressive was the picture worked even if it was based entirely on fiction. It was exciting because we cared for Valerie and her family, the enemy was invisible and powerful, and it offered no easy answer except for the fact that revealing a CIA agent’s identity, while very active in the field where other lives depended on her, was a crime. I thought “Fair Game” was brave for showing its audiences the nastiness and ugliness that happens in America just so we would have the comfortable illusion of control or prosperity. We (or most of us anyway while others remain in denial) are all the wiser of the incompetency of the Bush administration, but it isn’t any less maddening when we are reminded of the fact that we allowed charlatans to rule our country for eight years.