Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys, Aliena and Incurable Romantics

A Fine Madness Called “Crazy, Stupid Love”

By Skip Sheffield

Is there one perfect soulmate for every person? A lot of people think so. They are called “incurable romantics.”
“Crazy, Stupid Love” is a very funny romantic comedy that has fun with the notion there is that perfect person, and if you find him or her, you should hang on for dear life and never give up.
That incurable romantic is named Cal Weaver and he is played by Steve Carrell, who also co-produces. Cal’s soulmate Emily, with whom he fell in love at age 15, is played by Julianne Moore.
Both Cal and Emily Weaver have good jobs and two great kids who live at home and another who has already left the nest. What could possibly go wrong? In Dan Fogelman’s clever script, plenty. Fogelman is a bit of a Cinderella story, having struck it rich first as an unknown with the surprise hit “Cars.” He is now one of the hottest young screenwriters in Hollywood. Fogelman has a way of stating simple, obvious truths in a very funny, ironic way.
Without warning Emily drops a bombshell: she wants a divorce. She has lost sight of what she had and lost her head over a snarky co-worker.
Kevin Bacon is quite adept at playing snarky. His David Lindhagen is a jerk of the first order and a perfect foil for the impossibly pure, squeaky clean Cal, who has been with only one woman in his life.
“Twenty-five years of marriage, and you have nothing to say?,” Emily demands her shell-shocked mate.
True, most guys tend to clam up in this kind of emotional situation, and Cal is more tightly-jacketed than average. Jumping out of a car is pretty extreme, but here quite funny.
In real life it would be hard to imagine some studly dude noticing the morose Cal nursing drinks in a bar every night and deciding to do a Henry Higgins makeover on a complete stranger.
That is just what happens in this fantasy, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the same guys who directed the gay romance “I Love You Phillip Morris.”
Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is a chick magnet with killer pickup techniques. He decides to impart his ways with women on the hapless Cal, and bit-by-bit it works.
This gives Carrell ample opportunity to do his bumbling geek schtick that he honed in “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Dan in Real Life.” The funniest of these bits co-stars Maria Tomei as a spitfire eighth grade teacher.
Cal is not the only incurable romantic in the story. So is his 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who is smitten with his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Also discovering her possible soulmate is Cal’s eldest daughter Hannah (Emma Stone), a junior lawyer.
This is shaping up as the summer of Emma Stone, and once again she and her gorgeous blues eyes acquit themselves well.
“Crazy, Stupid Love” is not going to change anyone’s notion of romantic love, but it may help those who have been romantic saps recognize and laugh at themselves.

“Cowboys and Aliens” Neither Fish Nor Fowl

When I did an advance on “Cowboys and Aliens” for Atlantic Ave magazine earlier this summer, I thought to myself this could be daringly brilliant or really dumb. The answer lies somewhere in between. This Steven Spielberg production looks great, has a dynamite cast and a script that both honors and spoofs the movie Western traditions, but it gets headed off at the pass once those darn aliens start jumping around.
Steely, blue-eyed James Bond actor Daniel Craig looks good in a cowboy outfit, and does some convincing choreography as badass gold-robber Jake Lonergun. Harrison is more grizzled than ever as his nemesis, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde, and Olivia Wilde is stunningly lovely as the obligatory babe, Ella Swenson. Ella has a very special secret in this tall tale adapted by director Jon Favreau from the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
“Graphic novel” is just a nicer way of saying comic book. Like “Super 8’ earlier this summer, “Cowboys and Aliens” goes off the rails- way off the rails- and off a cliff. The advance screening crowd seemed to enjoy it and even applauded after the grand finale, but they didn’t pay for tickets. This movie will please neither fans of Westerns nor alien monster movie fanciers. I guess that leaves fanboys (the film debuted last week at Comic-Con). We’ll see if there are enough of them for this film to earn back its production costs.

"Anita" a Tale of Survival and Hope in Argentina

“Anita” a Story of Survival and Hope

By Skip Sheffield

Argentina is a fascinating country on the other side of the world from the USA, yet in many ways familiar.
There are probably more European immigrants in Argentina than any other South American country. Both former Nazis and Jews fleeing from persecution resettled in Argentina before, during and after World War II.
I offer this as background for an Argentinean film called “Anita.” The Anita of the title is a young Argentine woman with Down syndrome. Anita lives with her mother (award-winning Argentine actress Alejandro Manzo) in Buenos Aries. Anita’s mother runs a small stationery shop she inherited from her late husband. One morning her mother leaves Anita in the shop so she can attend a Jewish anti-defamation league meeting. She locks the door and cautions Anita not to leave.
A horrendous explosion occurs while Anita is up on a footstool. The blast blows out the windows and door of the shop. Anita is knocked unconscious, but she recovers and wanders out through the wreckage in search of her mother.
Writer-director Marcos Carnevale was inspired by an actual anti-Jewish terrorist attack in Buenos Aries on July 18, 1994. The attack claimed the lives of 86 innocent victims and injured hundreds more. It was the single deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history. The perpetrators have never been located or prosecuted, though the origins of the attack are strongly suspected to be in the Hezbollah anti-Israel, anti-West hate group in Iran.
But “Anita” is not about politics, violence or religion. It is about one mentally-challenged woman’s survival, with the help of complete strangers. “Anita” celebrates human compassion. Not all of Anita’s protectors are willing or selfless. Some pass the buck, so to speak, but conscience inevitably draws them back in.
For this reason I find “Anita” a wondrously hopeful film. If you believe in the inherent goodness of human beings, it is the “feel-good” movie of the season.

Friday, July 15, 2011

into eternity

“Into Eternity” a Truly Scary Movie

By Skip Sheffield

Forget your monsters, aliens, giant righting robots, vampires or zombies. “Into Eternity” is one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in years.
“Into Eternity” is a documentary film by Danish multimedia artist Michael Madsen. It is only 75 minutes long in English, Finnish and Swedish language, with subtitles, but it will stop and make you think for a long, long time.
Onkalo is the name of a subterranean storage facility on a remote island in Finland. “Onkalo” means hiding place in Finnish, and that is what the government intends to do with the radioactive nuclear waste from its power plants: bury it in bedrock far below earth and then seal it up for all eternity- or at least for 100,000 years, which is how long it takes for radioactivity to dissipate from plutonium and uranium. The huge challenge is that humans have never constructed anything that has endured even a tenth of that time. What will the world be like 100,000 years hence? Will there even be human life?
“Into Eternity” poses very basic philosophical questions as the director films the work in progress at the gloomy, eerie site. Excavation for Onkalo began in 2003, and construction won’t be finished until the 22nd century. There is a debate as to whether the site should have prominent warning signs on it, or be totally unmarked. Given the curious nature of humans, some future treasure-hunter could discover the concrete seal and think great riches are contained inside. Because language and communication is always changing, would humans understand any of the current languages or international symbols?
The tragic recent earthquake in Japan has driven home the very real threat of radiation sickness and death unleashed from the world’s nuclear reactors after natural disasters. Finland is only 16th in the world in nuclear power. The USA is No. 1, with France and Japan in second and third place. How safe are the current above-ground nuclear waste storage containers? How long will they remain safe?
These are very troubling questions. It is a credit to the people of Finland that they have decided to do something about it. We face serious potential problems here in America that could affect us and our offspring for all eternity.
“Into Eternity” is the opposite of an escapist movie. It is a film that challenges, frightens, troubles and angers the viewer, yet there a spooky beauty to it, accompanied by an equally spooky soundtrack contemporary composer Karten Fundal and the great Finnish
composer, Jean Sibelius. Proceed at your own risk. Life is complicated, and growing more complex every year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Waldermar Torenstra and Karina Smulders in "Bride Flight"

As Newspapers Go, So Goes the New York Times?

By Skip Sheffield

Love it or hate it, the New York Times sets the standard for US journalism. What would happen if the great gray lady of newspapers sickened and died?
That is the disturbing question posed by the documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” opening at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
Filmmaker Andrew Rossi uses a kind of scattershot approach, starting with gloomy obituaries on once-great newspapers, then focusing on talking heads such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, then moving on to editors, reporters, editorial writers, pundits and famous authors like Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe.
One guy who keeps popping up is NYT columnist David Carr, a raspy-voiced guy who is a self-admitted former crack addict. Carr has a wry sense of humor, but he is an odd choice to represent the most respected news source in America. More conventional is current executive editor Bill Keller, whom we see holding editorial meetings, but we don’t really learn about the complexities of gathering the news worldwide. We do see the NYT’s gorgeous new headquarters, which ironically has already been sold and leased back to the newspaper
It helps to care about print newspapers to be interested in “Page One.” I care deeply about newspapers, though I no longer make a full-time living as a journalist. I think a transition to mostly online is inevitable. I subscribe to New York Times online, and it helps me feel plugged in.
For the foreseeable future I think we will still have flagship print papers such as New York Times and Washington Post, but smaller, lower level papers such as the entire now-bankrupt Tribune Company will continue to close their doors. However, I think community newspapers such as Boca Raton Tribune will continue to be read as long as they are supported by advertising.

“Bride Flight” Sprawling, Sexy and Soapy in New Zealand

“Bride Flight’ is a big, sprawling, soapy, sexy saga using a real event as a springboard: the final 1953 Great Air Race from London to Christchurch, New Zealand aboard the winning KLM Dutch airliner.
Aboard the plane are three women who strike up an instant friendship. Esther (Anna Drijver) is a Jewish fashion designer whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust. Marjorie (Elise Schaap) aspires to conventional marriage and motherhood, but it will not turn out exactly as she hoped. Ada (Karina Smulders) is a dewy beauty who instantly falls for handsome passenger Frank (Waldermar Torenstra) although she is promised to another man in New Zealand.
That man is Derk (Micha Hulsof) is a priggish ultra-conservative minister who spurns Ada’s advances on their wedding night, yet becomes a stern father to three kids.
It is the on and off relationship between Ada and Frank that provides the sexy part of the story. Marieke van der Pol’s screenplay veers between 1953 and sometime in the 1960s, when Frank has become a successful winery owner. The very beginning and very end of the film is set near the present and the death and funeral of Frank.
Director Ben Sombogaart has a way with the camera and the scenic vistas of New Zealand. “Bride Flight” is gorgeous and a bit too long at two and a half hours, but between the soap opera-complicated plot devices, there is some hot stuff, Dutch-style. Yes, Smulders smolders.