He's Just Not That Into You, Battle in Seattle, Sex Drive, The Unborn
Film Reviews for March 19
Sitcom-level material bolstered by a likable cast, Ken Kwapis´ He´s Just Not That Into you is surprisingly watchable and refreshingly inoffensive compared to like-minded recent films The Women and Sex and the City: The Movie. Still, it´s no great shakes, and a 129-minute runtime asks a lot of the audience; this isn´t exactly an Altman-like ensemble. Filler material showcasing ‘real´ people in faux-documentary scenes should have been the first thing to go.
The title sums up He´s Just Not That Into You as a variety of female characters struggle to understand why their male counterparts don´t want to be with them. Which is something male viewers should be able to relate to: who would want to marry Jennifer Aniston, or remain faithful to Jennifer Connelly, or have a fling with Scarlett Johansson, or go out with Ginnifer Goodwin?
Beth (Aniston) has been together with beau Neil (Ben Affleck) for years, but he´s never popped the question; he just doesn´t believe in marriage, and when push comes to shove it forces a split. Beth´s colleague Gigi (Goodwin) can´t seem to get a guy to go out with her on a second date, despite a little stalking, but she gets some advice on men from friendly bartender Alex (Justin Long); of course, she starts to develop feelings for Alex along the way. Beth and Gigi´s other colleague, Janine (Connelly), is successfully married to Ben (Bradley Cooper). Ben however, has his doubts, and half-starts something with pretty young yoga instructor Anna (Johansson); he also might be smoking, which is even worse. Meanwhile, Anna´s graphic friend Mary (Drew Barrymore) can´t seem to find a man in this age of MySpace and instant messaging until she sets her sights on realtor client and Anna´s lover/friend Conor (Kevin Connolly).
It´s all TV-level situation comedy, but at least it´s a decent sitcom, on the level of an episode of Friends: light and painless and pleasing to the eyes (Aniston, and particularly, Johansson, have never looked better). Goodwin is extraordinarily likable here, overcoming her flighty and obsessive character and creating someone we actually care about; this should be a breakout role for the young star.
He´s Just Not That Into You is pleasant enough to merit a recommendation for rom-com fans, and at the very least, doesn´t travel the same tired road of your standard fare. Still, Kwapis´ film is visually dull, the pacing is off, and there´s nothing new here: despite an impressive cast, other audiences would be best advised to stay away.
A dramatic re-enactment of the riots that erupted in the wake of the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, actor-turned-writer-director Stuart Townsend´s Battle in Seattle is a surprisingly effective little piece of propaganda. André Benjamin´s protestor Django declares at the end “
a few days ago people didn´t know what the WTO is, and now
well, they probably still don´t know what it is, but they know it´s bad.” I got the same gist from the movie, which doesn´t successfully explore the situation but serves as an effective rallying cry that something is wrong.
Over five days in late 1999, thousands of activists took to streets and effectively shut down the meeting of the WTO; riots erupted, garnering worldwide publicity for their cause. What that cause was, of course, gets lost in the shuffle: the globalization promoted by the WTO, which can result in environmental damage as decisions made by corporations and governments often boil down to the matters of money.
Battle in Seattle follows the events from a variety of angles. Seattle mayor Jim Tobin (Ray Liotta) initially wants to keep the peace, allowing protestors and a labor march and ordering police not to make any arrests but to contain the crowds as best as they can. Activist leader Jay (Martin Henderson) organizes the events, which have front-line protestors like Lou (Michelle Rodriguez) cementing their arms together to prevent delegates from entering the meeting, charismatic Django speaking to the press, and some distaff members disrupting the ‘peaceful´ protest by chucking rocks through storefront windows. Cop Dale (Woody Harrelson) watches the events unfold while his pregnant wife Ella (Charlize Theron) is an innocent bystander caught up in the riots. Reporter Jean (Connie Nielson) eventually gets caught in the protests herself.
Irish director Townsend´s portrait of the riots often recalls Paul Greengrass´ excellent look at the Northern Ireland 1972 civil rights protest, Bloody Sunday. Going back further, its seamless incorporation of footage of the actual events recalls Haskell Wexler´s Medium Cool.
If my appreciation for Townsend´s film is muted, it´s partially because I found it to be unnecessarily sensationalistic, carrying a scene where a pregnant woman is dealt a nightstick to the midsection by a police officer, causing a bloody miscarriage. I don´t want to say the message here is unworthy of sensationalism, but I fear the film might have turned the actual events into something they weren´t.
There´s also some unnecessary character work, mostly surrounding Jay, whose brother was killed in a previous protest, and who is apparently on his third strike. Considering the magnitude of the surrounding events the film is trying to convey, I didn´t need that kind of backstory here, which ultimately feels trite.
The cast is all-around excellent, and Battle in Seattle features three climatic, impressively memorable speeches by supporting characters: Django´s quote that I referenced above, delegate Dr. Maric (Rade Serbedzija) demanding to be heard when the audience listening to his campaign for low-cost medicine in third-world countries begins to leave, and African delegate Abasi (Isaach De Bankolé) leading an internal protest at the WTO meeting amidst scattered boos and applause.
I remember when Porky´s was considered raunchy. Jeez, I remember when American Pie was considered raunchy. A shameless, unrestrained, incredibly vulgar teenage sex comedy, Sex Drive goes to show how far these films can go. It´s also the best a film like this can get, with a real affection for its characters that is increasingly rare these days. Still, only a 12-year old could really like it. And under no circumstance should a 12-year old be allowed to see it.
18-year old Ian (Josh Zuckerman) has a crush on best friend Felicia (Amanda Crew), who in turn has a crush on their mutual friend, unlikely ladies´ man Lance (Clark Duke). Ian has also never had a girlfriend, despite Lance´s best efforts, but he´s been making some progress on IM with a certain misstasty, who thinks he´s a football stud. When Ian´s family leaves town for the weekend, Lance urges him to steal brother Rex´s (James Marsden) car and make the titular drive from Wisconsin to Knoxville to meet his internet girl. Felicia, of course, tags along for the ride.
You can see where everything is going a few minutes into the picture, but director Sean Anders has plenty of raunchy fun getting there. Seth Green is particularly amusing as a sarcastic Amish auto mechanic. The film has some big laughs, but more importantly keeps an amiable, upbeat tone throughout. Despite overlength and nonstop vulgarity, the film always seems so pleasant.
Zuckerman doesn´t have much appeal, but Crew is fun as his object of desire. Still, Duke easily steals the film from both of them as the oddball best friend. Production value is slick, yet still retains that sleazy low-budget charm. Among the recent Road Trip and Eurotrip variations this is about as good as it gets.
Note: above review refers to the 129-minute ‘unrated´ version available on DVD.
David S. Goyer´s The Unborn is yet another unwatchable Exorcist variation, this time with a Jewish twist: the evil spirit is a dybbuk, brought into existence during a WWII concentration camp experiment. Or something like that. Despite the endless exposition in the film, I was never really sure what was going on, or what the rules were concerning the dybbuk, who jumps from body to body and creates evils real or imagined, depending on the contrivance of the script.
I appreciated The Unborn for a very short while, as Goyer wastes no time jumping right into things: the very first scene has Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) haunted by a small child, then a dog with an upside-down head, and then - ah, it´s all a dream. You might expect the usual exposition at the beginning, who this girl is, who her friends Romy (Meagan Good) and Mark (Cam Gigandet) are, but the film is all ghosts and jump scares for a good half hour with almost no context to put them in. Then we get the ridiculous holocaust backstory, an unfortunately laughable mire from which the film never returns, delivered by Jane Alexander, no less. I did love the scene where Casey asks a rabbi (Gary Oldman) for an exorcism. Reminds me of a joke I once heard. I was a little less amused when the exorcism was actually performed.
The film goes on and on about the evil spirit, and twins, and eye color, and mirrors - it seems to run down every last cliché you might find in a film like this. I just saw a film called Mirrors, where they go around smashing mirrors to keep the evil spirit out; why am I watching Casey smashing mirrors again here, where it seemingly has nothing to do with her evil spirit?
The upside-down heads are pretty creepy though, I´ll give the film that - if only they were accomplished with a less-obvious use of CGI.
Goyer wrote the Blade movies, and Batman Begins, and Dark City, which is a masterpiece as far as I´m concerned - what happened here? And why did he take this respectable cast down with him? I felt embarrassed for Oldman and Alexander and especially Idris Elba (unforgettable as Stringer Bell on HBO´s The Wire), who is mostly wasted, then CGIfied as the evil spirit takes over his body and he becomes the big bad black man trying to violate our heroine.
Goyer also wrote Demonic Toys and Kickboxer 2, both of which I have seen and cannot recommend more highly over The Unborn.
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