Cinema Digest 2012 – Week 51

Playing for Keeps (2012)

George (Gerard Butler) is a former soccer star who’s fallen on hard times. His wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) left him years ago and plans to remarry soon, he owes money and has a hard time earning the necessary cash, and he’s ruggedly handsome. He still hasn’t gotten over his wife and moves to Virginia to be near her and their young son (Noah Lomax). In no time at all, he’s coaching his son’s soccer team and making all the divorced or unhappily married moms’ nethers moist. Will our gorgeous, accented, muscular hero survive the onslaught of vaginas flying at him and reclaim the woman he lost?

The best word I can use to describe this film is “non-committal.” It wants to be a sweet rom-com but waits until the final 15 minutes to sprint through every cliche. It wants to be raunchy but remains strictly PG-13. George apparently did something in the past to make Stacie divorce him but they never say what it was because they want us to only see him as a good guy. Dennis Quaid plays a cartoonishly over-the-top, rich jerkwad guy but his character serves no purpose. The worst offenses, however, are all wrapped up in the ending so I’m going to spoil it. If you don’t mind it being spoiled, carry on. If you do mind it being spoiled, stop being stupid and read it. You shouldn’t be watching crap like this anyway.

So the whole point of the movie is that George wants desperately to get back with Stacie (in spite of the fact that she’s getting married in the next few weeks) and prove that he’s a changed man. However, that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with two other women and being a pretty lousy father. Stacie’s husband-to-be is basically a non-character even though we see him multiple times and he appears to be a genuinely nice guy. But he isn’t handsome or wears leather bracelets like George. Near the end, Stacie is having doubts about her impending marriage until photographs appear of George in a seemingly compromising situation with another woman (of which he is innocent this time) and George gets to utter that timeless line, “It’s not what it looks like.” Stacie decides she’s had enough and George decides he’ll move to Connecticut to work at ESPN. He’s driving away and it almost appears that a valuable lesson is about to be learned about moving on and paying for your mistakes when George turns back around and decides that he’d rather stay near to his son. Okay, that’s not so bad either he can still have that same lesson and he’s actually made a good choice for once. But then Stacie reappears and tells George that she’s changed her mind and called off the wedding to what’s-his-name because happy ending.

We’re supposed to be happy for a guy who says he’s in love with one woman while sleeping around with multiple others, frequently abandons his son, and never actually shows us how he’s changed. Meanwhile another really nice man who’s done nothing wrong gets totally fucked over. I guess the lesson here is that if you don’t have to actually change anything about yourself or let go of the past, you just have to hang around and stalk the woman you want until she gives in. That, or you just have to be Gerard Butler.


The FP (2011)

Two rival gangs (which seem to consist of three people each) battle for supremacy in the small town of Frazier Park by facing each other in games of “Beat Beat Revolution”. When the bad gang takes over the town, one of the good gang guys with a tragic past must return to save The FP and get the girl.

The FP takes place in either an alternate universe or the least catastrophic post-apocalypse ever. Everybody dresses like they stumbled out of an 1980’s film and talk in a jumble of 80’s and made-up slang while saying “fuck” a lot. It’s supposed to be an homage, but it never goes beyond surface-level. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not funny. It’s supposed to be a cult film, but it’s too manufactured. This “joke movie” gets old really fast and quickly becomes tedious as you watch them check off every bad cliche in the book. It’s not enough to just ape a genre but these filmmakers refuse to do anything original. Also, watching people play Dance Dance Revolution is neither thrilling, nor suspenseful. Perhaps there is a way to film it that way but here, it just looks stupid.


Hitchcock (2012)

Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) fresh off the success of his film North by Northwest, begins work on his next film, Psycho. But even the master of suspense is having troubles. Hardly anybody thinks the film is a good idea, his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) might be having an affair, and the project seems to be awakening the darkest recesses of his mind.

This film is actually three different stories, each one detracting from the others. The first and most interesting is the story of the making of Psycho, the second focuses on a half-baked love triangle, and the bizarre and least compelling third one involves Ed Gein as the personification of Hitchcock‘s disturbed mind. Each one affects the other to some extent but they never feel like a cohesive whole and none are wholly satisfying. It would have been better to focus on just one or two of these but the movie wants to both have and eat the proverbial cake. But these complaints aside, the film is entertaining with strong performances from most of the cast. Even if the story is more fiction than fact, it’s fun to see Hitchcock go toe-to-toe with the censors and revel in his morbid wit.


Julien Donkey-Boy (1999)
julien donkey-boy

Julien (Ewen Bremner), an actual human and not a mutant donkey-boy, is schizophrenic and has a weird family. There’s his pregnant sister (Chloë Sevigny) who may be carrying his baby, his wrestling obsessed brother (Evan Neumann), and cough syrup chugging, gas mask wearing father (Werner Herzog).

That’s the only way I can describe this film which is mostly plotless and largely incoherent. It’s grating and practically unwatchable and while I think that’s intentional, it doesn’t make the film any easier to sit through. There are points where it goes into a photographic montage a la La Jetée for no reason and other times, the camera wildly and nauseatingly swings about. The film doesn’t lead up to anything, the sum of its parts do not add up, and I just couldn’t latch on to anything in the film.


Jack Reacher (2012)

A sniper shoots a bunch of people on the street and all evidence points to James Barr (Joseph Sikora). Problem is, he didn’t do it. So he puts out the call to get Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). While investigating with an attractive lawyer (Rosamund Pike), Jack soon finds himself entrenched in a conspiracy that may go much deeper than it initially appears.

Jack Reacher is the best at everything. He’s a brilliant detective, has photographic memory, can shoot with the best of them, has no trouble taking on five guys in a fight, and just walking within six feet of a woman will cause her to instantly become pregnant with his baby. The movie is clearly infatuated with this guy and builds the myth of his character to an absurd level. That’s not really a criticism but it’s just a bit silly. Even more silly is the James Bondian villain played by the always fascinating Werner Herzog. He’s got a foreign accent, a dead eye, and a disfigurement. His first scene is pretty amazing but unfortunately he doesn’t do much after that. The silliness wouldn’t feel so out of place if Cruise wasn’t intent on playing it so seriously. Now for the positives. The film begins with a very disturbing, dialogue free sequence, the action is well choreographed and well filmed and usually quite fun. It’s solidly made and you should have a good time with it if you don’t think about it too much.


This is 40 (2012)

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are on the cusp of turning 40 and their lives seem to be getting worse and worse. Debbie is feeling insecure about her age and someone at her boutique is stealing money while Pete is having trouble getting his record label off the ground and is hiding the family’s dire money troubles from his wife.

There’s a lot of very funny comedy to be found here and the actors are all quite good. That alone makes the movie worth seeing but there are more than a few problems. The film is basically a series of loosely related events featuring miserable people getting on each other’s nerves and yelling and moping. It’s to writer/director Judd Apatow‘s credit that he can find some comedy in this but after a while the wallowing in misery gets tiring. The problem wouldn’t be so pronounced if the movie was shorter. At nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the film is just too damn long. There are multiple little subplots that could have been cut and not missed. Further, while Rudd and Mann are funny people (no pun intended), they aren’t very relatable and veer too often into unlikability. They live in a really nice house, have multiple iPads, iMacs, iPhones, etc, and take a vacation to a beachside resort so it’s really hard to empathize with their money troubles. And finally, there’s the ending. So much of the movie is spent in misery that the rather sudden happy ending feels jarring and unearned. In spite of these issues, I did spend a good deal of the film laughing and enjoying the myriad of humorous antics.


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