Sex and the City 2


Carrie Bradshaw: That’s the thing about tradition; when you’re not looking, it just sneaks in.

When I first discovered the Sex and the City television series, I saw it as a tiny, little gift from heaven. This series about adult women looking for love and refusing to settle for anything less in the big, beautiful city of New York was as insightful as it was titillating. Being a young, single person myself at the time, I drew a lot of inspiration from the character of Carrie Bradhsaw. I know she’s fictitious and that her entire life is scripted but her pursuit of happiness, whether single or not, helped empower me to find strength as a single person as well. It’s been six years roughly since the series closed and I’m sad to say, the show that once inspired so many lost single souls to find their way has officially lost its own.

“Sex and the City 2” picks up the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha (Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall, respectively) two years after Mr. Big (Chris Noth) left Carrie at the alter only to have her channel her inner masochist and marry him anyway. At the time, the four leading ladies had said that they would not have even considered the first movie unless the story was one that warranted being told. I guess a “big” wedding is a natural progression of the story but I cannot see what exactly drew them back this time other than continued success in the only characters that have worked for them. Carrie’s marriage is getting stale; Miranda’s job is stressing her out; Charlotte is having a hard time with motherhood; and Samantha struggles to remain sexual during menopause. It seems to me that it isn’t her marriage going stale that Carrie should be worried about.

Writer-director Michael Patrick King directed some of the best episodes of the series but he needs the restrictions of television structure to control himself. The first film ran way too long and this one is no different. At a two and a half hour run time, even King knows that his old married people troubles are incredibly dull so he picks up the foursome and drops them in Abu Dhabi. Here, despite making respectful comments previously about the American economy, the ladies are immersed in extravagance. They each have their own car, their own butler and three separate costume changes for one simple lunch in the desert. Carrie runs into former lover Aidan (John Corbett), in a market randomly (that may be the most understated usage of the word “randomly” ever), and it isn’t long before she resorts back to being a 12-year-old. Story, or at least a remotely believable one, is no longer a priority for King, it would seem.

“Sex and the City 2” is like getting together with friends you haven’t seen in a long time to catch up over brunch. Sure, you’re happy to see them and sure you laugh some but when you leave, you know that your lives have grown apart and there is a reason you don’t see each other that often anymore. I am still single, unlike three of the four characters in this film. When I read on the screen that Carrie’s latest book was dedicated to all the former single girls out there, I couldn’t help but wonder if the show that once played like an anthem for modern singles everywhere had turned on its own and was now shunning those who hadn’t been lucky enough to fall in love. What once made me feel like being single meant a world of possibility was now reminding me that time was running out. And unfortunately, I had just wasted two and half hours of that time on this movie.

PS. Ladies, do not bring your men to see this movie. You might have gotten away with it last time; this time, they may break up with you.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

MacGruber


MacGruber: There’s a big difference between winging it and seeing what happens.

On Saturday Night Live, “MacGruber”, a throwback to the 1980s television series, MacGyver, is played up every now and then as a skit where a hapless dope (played happily by Will Forte) has to diffuse some bomb in some dire scenario at the last second. Of course, he never succeeds and is constantly blowing himself up but he still comes back kicking even harder the next time around. Now that MacGruber is hitting the silver screen, he goes very big and I see no reason why he should have to go home again to that tiny little set.

Under the direction of SNL regular director Jorma Taccone, “MacGruber” is a film that is serious in its conviction to the complete buffoonery of its title character but not at all serious about anything else. There is nothing believable about a failed explosives expert who hasn’t progressed in the least since the ’80s but by taking his joke of a life seriously, “MacGruber” becomes real. More importantly, “MacGruber” is really funny. Forte is unflinching as MacGruber and that can’t be easy to do when you have to strut like a chicken with a piece of celery sticking out of your butt. Honestly, doesn’t that one sentence alone make you want to run out and see this movie already? What if I told you Val Kilmer plays MacGruber’s arch nemesis, Dieter Von Cunth? It’s completely asinine, yes, but that’s what makes it funny. Still not good enough? Kristen Wiig!! C’mon!

How long has it been since we last saw a Saturday Night Live inspired film that was actually watchable, let alone funny? Like most SNL films, you would think “MacGruber” would blow up in its own face. Just like the character himself though, “MacGruber” the movie has shown up at the last possible second to save the SNL films from oblivion and this time, he manages to make it out before the bomb blows everything in sight.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

The Trotsky


Anne Bronstein: Leon! Supper!
Leon Bronstein: One minute!
Anne Bronstein: You can finish your little revolution after dinner.

If you met a teenager who genuinely believed that he was the reincarnation of the Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky, what do you think you would do with him? Do you think that you would applaud his obvious delusions and allow him to wander around through life sharing his beliefs with everyone he meets? Or would you simply sit him down and set him straight about how the world really works? And if that didn’t work, you could always have him committed, I suppose. If you’re Montreal writer/director Jacob Tierney though, you would take this guy and throw him up on the big screen for everyone to learn from and you would call it “The Trotsky”.

Montreal actor Jay Baruchel plays young Leon Bronstein, the potentially disturbed character I was just referring to, and Tierney should forever be in his debt for this. Tierney’s script is certainly funny but the subject matter itself has such great potential to be entirely missed by most audiences. It may be a pseudo-intellectual teen comedy but I would wager that a fair amount of adults are not that well-versed in Russian politics, let alone the adolescent demographic “The Trotsky” is partly aimed at. Baruchel sells it hard though and with so much conviction and charisma that you can’t help but want to see just how far he will take his crusade to vanquish fascism at the public school he just started attending. His passion for the part and ability to balance the character’s brilliance and insecurity simultaneously bridges the gap between the audience and their potential lack of knowledge on the prevailing subject at hand.

While watching “The Trotsky”, I never really understood why anyone allowed this kid to get away with half of what he was trying to pull off. I also never grasped why no one made the connection between Leon’s antics and his obvious issues with his father (Saul Rubinek). Granted, if anyone did actually call Leon out on his issues, then we would not have been taken down Tierney’s often hilarious fantasy. And, perhaps more importantly, I would still know absolutely nothing about Leon Trotsky.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Robin Hood


Godfrey (on Nottingham): I’ll make this place famous.

I’ve seen a number of Robin Hood movies. Who hasn’t? I haven’t seen them all and I’m sure some people out there have, but even those people haven’t seen Robin Hood in Ridley Scott’s bluish hue before. Originally titled, “Nottingham” (which I actually prefer), “Robin Hood” tells us the tale of how this famous outlaw actually came to be that outlaw. It’s Robin Hood, the prequel, which would explain why it often feels like you’re watching a film franchise being set up instead of the historical account Scott seems so determined to present.

With a reasonable amount of historical inaccuracies (aside from Robin Hood not having actually existed, that is), writer Brian Helgeland (who has floored me once with the Oscar-winning “L.A. Confidential” but who has mostly made me want to vomit with scripts like “Green Zone” and “Mystic River”) takes us back, way back, to when Robin Hood was still Robin Longstride. Longstride used to fight alongside King Richard the Lionheart against Norman invaders at the turn of the 12th century. That is, he did until the king was killed and he saw the opportunity to abandon the army for a life of freedom. He took with him a few other men, all with appropriately varied degrees of merriness, and they set off to disappear. They ended up becoming more visible than they ever desired when they came across a dying group of knights whose duty it was to return the fallen king’s crown to his queen. This is where Longstride adopted the name most would know him as officially, Robert Loxley.

As transparent as Helgeland’s intentions to enlighten us about invented Robin Hood’s past are, Scott’s skillful direction is focused and fiercely barrels through the near two and half hour runtime. He wants to plant Robin Hood’s roots firmly in the ground and proceed from there, taking an iconic figure and making him more human. Albeit an odd choice to cast a 46-year-old actor to play a younger Robin Hood, Russell Crowe plays him with both restraint and confidence. His Hood is one that fends for himself whenever possible but that respects the hardships of the greater population. In that regard, he is often painted as somewhat saintly but that is in line with what we know of him anyway. And with that classic Crowe ruggedness, this Hood is essentially a sexy bleeding heart. It’s no wonder then that Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett) falls for him when they meet.

Scott’s “Robin Hood” is a lesson in history with a somewhat misplaced agenda to turn one of the most famous heroes of the people into a Hollywood hero for the masses. The talent caliber spread amongst the director and the actors easily boosts the film to a level of strength and stature fitting to the size of the subject. The constant attempts to champion the origins of the lore undermine the pedigree little by little. What we’re left with is a legend that feels more manufactured than legendary.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Date Night


Claire Foster: No! When he says, ”vagina”, he means your face.

Before the day has even started, it is already gone. Nasal strips are ripped off your face while miniature bodies pile drive into you before the alarm even has a chance to go off. In all honesty, the alarm probably hasn’t even needed setting in years. Something will inevitably wake the Foster’s up to their routine earlier than necessary. Phil and Claire, played by the king and queen of NBC comedy, Steve Carell and Tina Fey, sit on opposite sides of their bed and stare into the separate abysses that await them. The message is clear; being married is hard, maybe even too hard. As you look at these two comedic geniuses though, you still see hope in their nearly defeated faces – hope for both the Foster’s themselves and for the movie you’re actually about to watch. What everybody needs is a good “Date Night”.

I am not married and nor do I have children. In fact, I saw “Date Night” in the middle of the afternoon, alone. I may not be the intended audience in regard to the marital doldrums theme we have seen plenty of times before but there is a whole other audience built into “Date Night” that director Shawn Levy plays to more often than the first. That would be the legions of Carell and Fey followers out there, of which I easily include myself among. Before this, I essentially avoided Levy’s work altogether. I’m not saying I’m about to go back and watch the “Night at the Museum” series but I must commend him for rising above the complete implausibility of the film’s mistaken identity premise by allowing his stars to shine when they should. Meanwhile, getting strong character actors, like James Franco, Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis for random bit parts also gives more credibility whenever it was needed.

Fey’s quick wit and Carell’s endearing awkwardness may be strengths we are used to by now and just expect to some extent, but their mastery is only getting better and it is their chemistry that makes “Date Night” work when it so easily could have bombed. These two immensely funny people pull from their dramatic strengths to make sure the Foster’s are a real couple. They’re real because you can always see the fear on their faces – the fear that they could actually lose each other. This “Date Night” really needs to work. And it does.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Chloe


Catherine Stewart: I don’t know whether I should be relieved or just go hang myself.

Atom Egoyan is one of Canada’s most celebrated auteur filmmakers but you would never know it from watching his latest, “Chloe”. I thought the hyper-sexualized erotic thriller went out in the ‘90’s but Egoyan seems bent on bringing it back with this remake of the 2004 Anne Fontaine film “Nathalie…”. He also seems bent on proving that Toronto, where the film takes place, is just as stylish as New York City, but he may just end up ruining his reputation for being talented and insightful at the same time.

Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) is the first person we meet. She is pulling up her stockings, presumably getting dressed after an intimate encounter, or on her way to one, from the look of her under garments. She thinks to herself about how much attention must be paid to detail in her line of work. As she continues on about sexual needs and how to anticipate them, it becomes explicitly clear what line of work that really is. The words that come out of her mouth are sharp and meant to be shocking. Only we’ve met this girl plenty of times already and she has nothing new to say. She’s just pretty when she says it.

We next meet Catherine and David Stewart (Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson). They are a well-to-do couple who have been together for many years and have an adolescent son living with them. They are surrounded by excess and yet she’s miserable and he doesn’t care. She suspects he’s having an affair; he flirts shamelessly in front of her. They can’t even work together when it comes to dealing with their own son. It should be no surprise then that instead of confronting her husband when she suspects him of having an affair that she hires a prostitute to trap him so that she can know for a fact. Enter Chloe and exit all sense of suspense and surprise.

Let alone that rich, white people bringing problems upon themselves is hardly something an audience can sympathize with, Egoyan is also overtly obvious with all of his other intentions as well. I understand that he wants to open the discussion about sexual politics and the increasing disconnected nature of our modern society but I don’t need scene after scene of Seyfried talking dirty to Moore about her husband or a breakup on web cam to get those points. And while Seyfried does her best to remain hauntingly distant and neutral throughout to mask her deep-rooted emotional issues, it is still pretty clear every step of the way what is coming next. “Chloe” is a thriller without any thrills, sexual or otherwise. Toronto looks good though.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Greenberg


Florence: Hurt people hurt people.

Noah Baumbach, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of “The Squid and the Whale”, has a knack for creating characters that are troubled and difficult to be around. His fascination with giving a voice to those no one wants to hear, shows his immense sympathy as a writer and director, but it also means that his characters are not easy to endure for two hours straight. In his latest film, “Greenberg”, he gives us another gem of a man – complicated, broken and the kind you would desperately avoid if you could.

Ben Stiller is this man, one Roger Greenberg. Fresh from his time in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown, Greenberg has left the comforts of New York City to do nothing for a while at his brother’s place in Los Angeles. While in the city, he meets up with buddies and ex-girlfriends from his rock star youth days but not because he wants to. He does so because it is a lot easier than forming any new relationships in his life. The supporting cast – Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh representing the old and Greta Gerwig charmingly representing the new – struggle too but the way they handle themselves only further shows how little dealing Greenerg is actually doing. Still that naïve, failed rocker, he has not progressed past his glory days and he is quickly realizing that they weren’t so glorious to begin with.

Stiller doesn’t have to try very hard to be unlikable but he still does the depth of Greenberg’s sorrow justice all the same. Successfully capturing a character that is so narcissistic and oblivious not an easy feat. The more successful you are though, the more you run the risk of alienating everyone watching. You want to like Greenberg; you can tell the people around him want to like him; but until he actually considers liking himself, there isn’t a lot to like about him. Fortunately for him, at least Baumbach still has his back, and fortunately for us, Baumbach still has ours too.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

The Bounty Hunter


Jennifer Aniston is looking a little tired these days. Fortunately for her though, the attempted humour in her latest starring vehicle, “The Bounty Hunter”, is infinitely more unoriginal than she is, so you don’t necessarily notice her worry lines so much.

I don’t really blame her for worrying though. There is no way she could have been making this movie and thinking it was actually going to turn out well. I’m sure it sounded great when somebody pitched it to her. It’s Aniston and romantic comedy hunk Gerard Butler, playing exes on the run. He, being the aforementioned bounty hunter, is giddily tracking down his ex because she skipped her court appearance for a traffic accident involving a police officer. Before they know it, they’re mixed up in a major undercover police operation that could get them killed. And, now this is the clincher, while they’re stuck together in this crazy impossible scenario, this old flame of theirs has the chance to be reignited again. Clearly, with all this deliberate and obvious set up, hijinks should ensue. Instead, scene after repetitive scene followed with not a trace of laughter to be had.

In order to catch a criminal, an effort must be made. In order to entertain people at a movie, an equal effort must be made. Between Butler barely trying to mask his accent and director Andy Tennant barely focusing on anything other than Aniston’s back side, it seems pretty fair to say that the only real effort being made in this film is Aniston running around in ridiculously high heels all the time. I’m sure if she was wearing more sensible footwear, she would have ran right off the set.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Green Zone


Freddy: It is not up to you to decide what happens here.

“Green Zone” marks the third time actor Matt Damon has worked with director Paul Greengrass. Their previous work on the second and third “Bourne” films must have been pretty mind blowing because Damon has since vowed never to reprise the role that brought him international fame unless Greengrass is at the helm. This action pairing is a new Hollywood powerhouse or at least that’s what Damon and Greengrass would like to think and what the studio is selling. Just like the weapons of mass destruction that are being sought out in the movie though, these claims are based on false intelligence.

Perhaps if Greengrass had not kept Damon running up and down dark alleys all the time, he might have been able to see that the premise of “Green Zone” had already been brought to light years ago. Damon plays Miller, an army chief on mission to locate WMD’s in the weeks following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shockingly enough, he does not find any and Miller, being the super soldier that he is, figures out that there must be something wrong with the intelligence if he keeps coming up empty handed. He then decides to take matters, and by matters I mean the entire Iraq war, into his own hands and figure out why the U.S. is there to begin with. You may not believe this but the conspiracy involves the C.I.A., the press and the American government.

Maybe if Greengrass hadn’t given instruction to the entire cast to yell at the top of their lungs most of the way through the film, he would have heard how dated the script was. How is accusing the American government on film of fabricating reasons to invade Iraq innovative at all? I almost wanted to laugh at how serious “Green Zone” takes itself, as if it truly believes it is making a brave point. The laughter stopped pretty quick though and then turned to anger. This is not a brave point. This is exploitation of a now mainstream acceptance of how America duped the world. Brave would have been saying this years ago. Pretending to be brave is just plain cowardly.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

The Lovely Bones


I would not have thought that Peter Jackson, the director of the infamous “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (in case you didn’t know), would ever be a horrible choice to adapt a cherished novel to the big screen. Going forward, I will not be so naïve. In it’s original form, “The Lovely Bones”, as delicately told by author Alice Sebold, is a shockingly honest account of what one seemingly happy family endures after the death of their eldest daughter. Its scope reaches into the minds of everyone who is affected by her death and even goes so far as heaven itself for answers. On screen, it goes nowhere near any of this insight and just ends up a mangled mess.

The death of Suzie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a fourteen-year-old girl with her whole life ahead of her, was senseless violence in a time when people still thought such things never happened to them. No body is found and therefore no rest is had by those Suzie touched in life. To sit with the book is to sit with the Salmon family in their grief. It is a cathartic experience and one that I may need to go through again after having all my healing robbed from me by Jackson. His focus, if he had any at all, circles around Suzie’s personal transition from the land of the living to that of the dead. This allows Jackson to imagine grand imagery to bridge the gap between both worlds but, like Suzie, he too gets lost in the “in-between”.

The only things that keep “The Lovely Bones” from falling apart completely are the performances of Stanley Tucci and Ronan as the murderer and his prey. Their incredible grasp of the source material is the only reminder of its chilling emotional charge. As for Jackson, he should have stuck with the gold he had in hand from the start.

Review by Joseph Bélanger