Five New Films, Five Degrees of Quality

People who frequently bitch that there’s nothing to see in theaters are in for a treat. No fewer than SIX studio pictures go wide this weekend, five of which I have seen (sorry, “Rush” people — missed that one, but why not see what Austin Kennedy thinks here?) and you can read all about below. To make things easier, I have listed them in order from best to … well, let’s just say “least best.”

enough-said-posterENOUGH SAID (PG-13) — I don’t know how she does it, but writer/director Nicole Holofcener understands the way real people think and behave better than any other filmmaker. All of Holofcener’s previous works (“Walking and Talking,” “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends With Money” and “Please Give”) are proof of this capability, and her newest film, the sweet romantic comedy/drama “Enough Said,” only furthers the truth.

In it, middle-aged massage therapist Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) begins dating another sad-sack divorcee named Albert (James Gandolfini). The thing is, Eva has just made friends with a client (Catherine Keener, who has starred in every movie Holofcener has made) who just so happens to be Albert’s ex-wife, who doesn’t exactly have nice things to say about her ex-husband. Both Eva and Albert also have daughters who are going away for college in the immediate future, and neither one of them knows if they are prepared for the loneliness that comes with letting your child go.

There’s a tenderness to Holofcener’s approach, which makes her characters easier to sympathize with, but “Enough Said” is certainly no downer. There is a lot of humor at work in the film, particularly in the early stages of the flirty, teasing relationship Eva and Albert begin, and in the supporting cast, which also includes Toni Collette, Tracey Fairaway and Ben Falcone, all of whom are excellent. But the true artists are Dreyfus and Gandolfini, both fantastic as the on-screen couple, and even Holofcener herself, who gives the movie a keen poignancy without the movie ever becoming melodramatic. Best line in the film: Galdofini’s sad, despondent reaction to Dreyfus letting him down: “I know it sounds corny, but you broke my heart.” That line alone is certain to break yours. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)

CLOUDY-2-Teaser-PosterCLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (PG) — Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation are banking audiences will return for seconds with this bright and funny cartoon sequel to the 2009 hit “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” And I’m going to contend that they are likely to go home satiated.

Picking up mere seconds after the first “Meatballs” film ended, the movie reunites audiences with wannabe inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader), who, you will recall, invented a machine that turned water into food. Well, we all know how that turned out — rain turned into crudites and his town was left in ruin. In the sequel, his machine has turned food into living, breathing creatures with clever, punny names (tacodile, watermelephants) in an “Island of Dr. Moreau”-like twist. Flint’s idol, another inventor named Chester V (Will Forte), needs Flint’s help to put an end to the madness, but you don’t have to be a genius to know Chester has world domination on the brain.

Virtually all of the original film’s characters return in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” which makes the movie a little cluttered as it tries to make room for them all, but it remains as bright, clever and inventive as the original. The script has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, many of the movie’s food creatures are adorable and the action is quick without growing obnoxious. “Cloudy 2” is not necessarily better than “Cloudy 1,” but it’s a solid follow-up and your kids are sure to eat it up. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

MET_NEVER_Poster_071113_RGB_FPO_BMETALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER (R) — Speaking as someone who couldn’t name five Metallica songs with a gun to his head, the new concert film “Metallica: Through the Never” is, without question, easily the most technically impressive concert I have ever seen put to film. With cameras that swirl over band members, zoom in close on their faces and even find time to crowd-surf over Metallica’s legions of fans, you don’t need to know the songs to recognize fine filmmaking before your eyes. The “story,” on the other hand …. yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

Truly, big fans of the heavy-metal rockers will groove to “Through the Never” no matter what the filmmakers throw at you between sets, but even they may take issue with the movie’s supposed narrative, in which Metallica roadie Dane DeHaan (“Chronicle,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”) is sent on a mission by the band and encounters some sort of apocalyptic event that plays like a meshing of “Pink Floyd: The Wall” and “The Road Warrior.” Some may get a kick out of the visuals in these scenes, but it robs fans of seeing Metallica rock out for long stretches of time. Perhaps Metallica should have taken a cue from one of their biggest songs when it came to the narrative stuff: When you have one of the biggest bands in history on stage, blown up to a size that makes them appear larger than life, nothing else matters. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

don-jon-posterDON JON (R) — Like a No. 2 pencil fresh out of the box, “Don Jon” doesn’t work because it doesn’t have a point.

In essence, the movie tells the story of a bartender from Jersey named Jon (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the film) who bounces between babes he meets at the club until he meets a Perfect 10. She is named Barbara and is played by Scarlett Johansson, who is drop-dead gorgeous but also a bit of a control freak. Barbara believes relationships ought to resemble romantic comedies, while Jon finds it hard to commit due to his addiction to porn sites. But Jon’s eyes are opened when a fellow night school chum (Julianne Moore) helps him realize the reason he’s addicted to porn is because random hookups lack the intimacy he so desperately craves.

Jon’s addictions are mostly played for laughs (he’s also addicted to working out), with enough attention paid to the charms of Pornhub that it almost because an inadvertent advertisement for the site. Jon’s home life is also played for laughs, with a family that is forever screaming at each other between bites of spaghetti (Tony Danza, who is fantastic, and Glenne Headly play his parents, while Brie Larson is wasted as the sister who spends the entire movie with her face buried in her cell phone).

The issue I had with the movie is that not for one second did I believe Jon was capable of changing his ways. Another issue is that Gordon-Levitt has spent so much of his career playing do-gooders that we don’t much believe him as a “Jersey Shore”-type douchebag, either. Johansson, who is easily the sexiest she’s ever been in a movie, is also such a hateful nag that you don’t really want either one of them to end up with the other either way.

Furthering the movie’s troubles is that the relationship Jon develops with the Moore character, while unconventional, is also highly unlikely. But Gordon-Levitt shouldn’t give up just yet. “Don Jon” may not be good, but it shows the young actor is at least capable of broadening his horizons. ★★ (out of ★★★★)

1Sheet_Master.qxdBAGGAGE CLAIM (PG-13) — “Baggage Claim” is less a romantic comedy than it is a checklist of romantic comedy conventions. You might as well think of it as one of those road trip bingo cards you pick up at truck stops.

Gorgeous heroine played by an equally gorgeous actress who we are meant to believe has trouble finding a man? Check. Unlikely premise in which she is given a time frame in which to bag someone her family can be proud of? Check. Quintet of impossibly handsome dudes for heroine to choose from, each complete with abs to die for and some sort of wacky character quirk? Check. Crazy best friends who are forever available to aid her in her quest? Check. Idiotic race-to-the-airport finale we’ve seen dozens of times? Check.

“Baggage Claim” tosses in a couple other hackneyed romcom standbys like the handsome neighbor who may be perfect for her and the utterly ridiculous slow-motion sex scene set to some golden oldie ballad. But Paula Patton shines as the heroine in question, the movie remains likable even if the elements are redundant and played out, and any movie that makes un-ironic mention of 1985’s “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon” can’t be all bad. ★★ (out of ★★★★)


Categories: Jesse Hoheisel, Reviews, Uncategorized

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