Monday, April 20, 2009

The Good, the Meh, and the Ugly: Kate Hudson

Kate Hudson turned 30 over the weekend which was the inspiration for the following post. The daughter of Goldie Hawn burst into the collective consciousness in Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous. For her role as Penny Lane the actress took home a Golden Globe and snagged an Oscar nomination; the future looked so bright.

So now, almost a decade later, how does her career shape up? Well, we investigate by breaking her career down into three categories: The Good (self-explanatory), The Meh (the films which fall into the category of flawed but still watchable), and The Ugly (you know, the ones so horrifically awful they caused you to break up with the crazy fool who drug you to them in the first place).

Here are the results:

The Good: Almost Famous

The Meh: Gossip, 200 Cigarettes, Desert Blue, Ricochet River, Dr. T & the Women

The Ugly: About Adam, Bride Wars, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Alex & Emma, Raising Helen, Four Feathers, The Skeleton Key, Fool's Gold, My Best Friend's Girl, Le Divorce, You, Me and Dupree

Friday, April 17, 2009

State of Play

State of Play is an ambitious project which, at times, gets away from director Kevin Macdonald. The script was worked on by the men who gave us Michael Clayton, Lions for Lambs, and Flightplan. And, for better or worse, you can see each writer's stamp on the film, meaning at times it becomes both too preachy and too focused on "getting us" with unexpected twists. To be fair, many aspects of the film work well and it's an enjoyable, and even somewhat smart, thriller which has something to say about the state of both journalism and politics.

Cal McAffey (Russell Crowe) is a reporter's reporter, that dying breed your more likely to find in a movie like this than an actually newspaper office, at least these days. He's a throwback, the last of the old guard focused on finding the truth of a story and bringing it into light. His stark worldview is encroached on by a sassy young blogger (Rachel McAdams) who can put out several tasty tidbits a day, an editor (Helen Mirren) pressured to make the paper more commercially viable, and a breaking scandal involving the death of an assistant to a golden boy politician (Ben Affleck) who just happens to be Cal's former college roommate.

The film takes more than its share of twists and turns and when it's focused on the a journalist's search for the truth these work well. However, the film doesn't know when to stop and simply trust the story which has been crafted. Although the film's final twist still works, it lessens the impact of the story which we've watched being slowly put together by this grizzled old newsman and spunky nubile bloggger, and it makes too big a shift in the focus of the film for no real purpose except to try and pull the rug out from underneath the audience and yell "Gotcha!"

Crowe is great as always, and his character, much like the newsroom and world he inhabits, feel quite real (if a bit nostalgic for today's world). It's sad to think that this type of old school journalism is disappearing. McAdams is fresh, funny, and finally cast in a movie I want to see more than once. The relationship between the two slowly grows and, thankfully, stays away from an unnecessary and distracting pysical relationship between the two.

The film contains many smaller roles some of which are red herrings, others of which grow in importance. Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels stand out in small roles, but it's Ben Affleck and Robin Wright Penn, as a politician and wife under scrutiny of the public eye, who shine. Two of my favorite scenes involve Crowe and Wright Penn delving into their past relationship. The first, taking place in a crowded D.C. bar is all about things unsaid, and the second, which takes place in Cal's apartment, tells you everything you need to know about who this character is and how he prioritizes his life. There are other moments in the film I wish were as well crafted and understated.

State of Play isn't a great film, though it does have some very strong moments and is definitely worth checking out. When the film stays centered on unraveling a mystery and focusing on the life of a reporter who searches for the truth, sometimes at great personal cost, it works well. I could have done with a little less preaching from Affleck's character, and the last major plot twist which felt too gimmicky for my tastes.

Friday, April 3, 2009


If you've seen the trailer and commercials for Adventureland you may very well walk in expecting something like Superbad. Although the film contains some similar humor there's so much more worth savoring including great moments, both large and small, and the type of love story women will enjoy and guys won't need to be shackled to the seat to watch. After a single viewing I'm not prepared to call Adventureland a great film, but it is a damn good movie with a little something for everyone.

Jesse Eisengerg (think a less twitchy Michael Cera) stars as James Brennan who is forced to take a job at a local amusement park when his summer plans fall through.

As you would expect the park is filled with characters including his cock-punching best friend from kindergarten (Matt Bush), the sardonic Joel (Martin Starr), the cool older dude (Ryan Reynolds), the beautiful aloof dancer (Margarita Levieva), the wacky couple who run the joint (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), and, most importantly, the enchanting yet troubled Em (Kristen Stewart).

Anywhere else this group of misfits might seem a bit too odd, but for carnies they work just fine. Writer/director Greg Mottola based the characters and story based on his own experiences working in an amusement park in the late 1980's. Although there's plenty of humor and zaniness here Mottola takes his time to make sure each character, no matter how odd, still comes off as a real person you might very well meet while waiting in line for the roller coaster. And that makes all the difference.

I'd like Mottola to sit Kate Hudson, Mandy Moore, Katherine Heigl, and the writers for their recent films, down and show them how you can make a romantic comedy that doesn't feel forced, contrived, or insipid. Although Adventureland has many of the expected beats for a romcom, Mottola spends time and care making each feel natural and focusing on giving a reason for an important moment rather than forcing inflated moments upon us.

Aside from the quantity of blending several different tones from slapstick comedy to real drama, Adventureland is just as focused on providing quality moments that stay with you long after the film ends. The movie isn't afraid to let it's characters be awkward, flawed, passionate, screwed-up, and unsure. The film is filled with some great dialogue, but it generously allows its characters be silent and allows us to watch them thinking, struggling, and working through the events which they are presented with.

To help fill the silences Mottola has filled the music of the time without being cliche. You'll recognize the tunes, but don't expect the I Love the 80's soundtrack of prepackaged hits. Instead what were given is a collection of music someone of the period might be listening too, rather than the best hits they might think back on twenty or thirty years later. Much like the rest of the film, Mottola gives the music his own little twist giving you what you'll enjoy, but not always what you'll expect.

I've gotten this far without discussing the cast. Kristen Stewart is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses working today, even if her choices in films isn't always the best. Although the story is presented from Eisenberg's character it doesn't work unless he, and the audience, fall for Em, who is more than a bit of a train wreck. Eisenberg provides the innocence of the film and Stewart provides its heart. Together they are one of the best teen movie couples I've seen in quite some time.

The rest of the cast is chosen mostly for their comic timing. Martin Starr steals many moments, including providing the film's best line as he describes Adventureland workers to James. And Hader, Wiig, and Bush provide the more obvious humor, though Levieva's ensembles get some of the biggest laughs (thankfully she's the only character they let go "full 80's").

It's strange because from the marketing you would think this film would be what Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist turned out to be: an overly-contrived cobbled-together madcap adventure that also had a love story, but the film is actually what Nick & Norah wanted to be, a romantic comedy benchmark for a new generation. It's nice to get more than you expected from a film, especially in the dead pre-summer months when trying to find a good film is akin to winning the lottery.

Those wanting the outlandish humor of Superbad or American Pie will get cock-punches, vomiting, and an 80's dance club. On top of that however you'll get an engaging love story with characters you'll root to get together instead of wanting to kill (*cough* 27 Dresses *cough*). Although none of these moments provide huge laughs, the film is filled with memorable moments, several quotable lines, strong believable characters, and a highly enjoyable story. Unless they've still got some Oscar holdovers I'm betting Adventureland is the best thing showing at your local theater. Since it didn't get the huge release you'd expect (or it deserves) you may have to search for it, but it's definitely worth the time.