Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy written by Zoe Kazan. Ruby is a fictional character thought up in the movie by a successful writer in his early twenties played by Paul Dano.

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Much to his surprise, one day Ruby comes to life and takes on the role of his real life girlfriend. After that a roller coaster of emotions and love lessons ensues. For me, the strongest message in the movie is about the power we try to exert over each other in relationships. It has a truly all-star cast including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould, and many more. Though the film started slow for me, it picked up in the middle and became a very fun and emotion-filled ride. I read online while watching the movie that the actress playing Ruby, Zoe Kazan, is the actual writer of the movie. For this reason, the audience gets the perspective of a woman being invented and controlled by an actual woman writer. I was impressed by Miss Kazan and will look for more from her in the future.

Final Thought: Relationships are often funny but more often perplexing. This movie uses metaphor and satire in the form of this invented woman to address some of those difficult issues. Paul Dano does a very nice job as a young writer trying to figure out life and love. He has definite ideas about what Ruby should be and he writes them clearly. I felt a real-life connection to what he was doing when he “wrote Ruby.” I thought at one point, “How would I ‘write’ my wife if I had the magic typewriter?” Through most of the movie I knew I would not rewrite her one iota. I think that is the message of the movie. We want “the perfect spouse” but in reality, we don’t know what that is for us. Better to let our spouse have her/his imperfections than try to craft them into something “perfect.” If those themes sound interesting, you’ll love this romantic comedy. I give it 5/5 stars. In some ways for me it was a perfect film experience.

There Will be Blood

There Will be Blood is an epic film released in 2007 that gives a close look at a truly hateful opportunist. Having said that, believe it or not, it’s wonderful. It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson known for Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and the Master. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, and Ciarán Hinds.

IMDB says it’s “A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.” The protagonist’s name is Daniel Plainview. He is a shrewd and relentless oil prospector who almost dies a couple times before he strikes black gold and untold fortune. There is hardly any blood in this movie so don’t let the title steer you wrong. It takes place around 1900 but there are scenes before and considerably longer after that.

Plainview is one of those characters you detest with all that is human but at the same time you can’t take your eyes off his journey. This film treats us to the life of one man. I can see parts of myself in him and at the same time, I see a heart as black as midnight I would never compare to my own. We learn early on he hates people. That should be a clue about what’s to come. The ending is horrendous and somewhat unpredictable. I imagine a lot of people hated the ending. As for me? I can’t really see a better way to complete Plainview’s story. The question lingers for me: is Daniel Plainview’s money worth the human cost? While great in my view, it lost points by not having much real humanity portrayed. One example is, there are hardly any women in it. It could have been stronger if it showed more ordinary life. That would have served to contrast and showcase Plainview’s twisted madness. As it is, that is all we see. It could be better, but it’s great as it is.

Magic Mike

Magic Mike is a film about Mike (Channing Tatum), a male stripper, and entrepreneur who takes a new younger stripper under his wing and teaches him the ropes. They have adventures that take them through waking up in vomit and meeting hot women with whom they take drugs with and sleep with. Mike wants to start a small business making furniture but the banks won’t lend to him because he had bad credit and a $13,000 stack of ones and fives. We are to assume these are his tips from stripping. Mike goes through a transformation in the course of the movie. Along the way, in between very predictable drama, there is actual stripping. We don’t see any penises but there are butts in thongs galore to keep the drunk women and gay men (I’m not saying all gay men will like the stripping), who go for that sort of thing, stimulated.

I was surprised that almost half this movie was not stripping. The commercials promoted it as a raunchy comedy for people who enjoy male stripping. My wife had planned to go see it with her girl friends but when they never went, I offered to take her since she seemed eager to check it out. It does have a dark story with bubble gum ending that at times is reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever. The characters are all flat and undeveloped and the stripping scenes are no more racy than what you’d see on a CSI episode.

In conclusion, I liked the way the producer and director attempted to give this film a story instead of just showing stripping for 2 hours. Unfortunately the story they gave us is unbelievable, slow, and most of all uninteresting. For that reason, I think this movie has very few people it will appeal to. It just wasn’t funny enough. By sheer demographics, it may not even break even on its budget. If it does do well, I’ll strip on Youtube for you. Here’s hoping it doesn’t!

Secretary

The movie Secretary (2002 Rated R) seeks to portray sexual control in a relationship. This is probably a really hard thing to do straight out so the movie makes a sort of comic book story to get its point across.

mv5bmja5odizmtq4m15bml5banbnxkftztywmdgwnda3-_v1_-203x300-7732868The result is a jarring, strangely erotic tale of control between a cutter and a BDSM dominant. Though the writing and sets are comic-book like, this is definitely not one to show the kids. This film, replete with nudity and graphic themes like cutting, can be viewed however as a close look at how lovers can control each other in relationships. Not everything here is meant to be sexual.

This film was directed by Steven Shainberg and stars Maggie Gyllenthal and James Spader and the couple it centers on. While the director is not known for a slough of films, the actors are well known for many movies. Both deliver passionate performances. There is nudity and once again, this is not a film for kids. It is however well acted and the writing is bizarre yet enjoyable. None of this is anything I do but it helps me get what this sort of stuff is about. I found that interesting.

Here is the storyline from IMDB:

Lee Holloway is a smart, quirky woman in her twenties who returns to her hometown in Florida after a brief stay in a mental hospital. In search of relief from herself and her oppressive childhood environment, she starts to date a nerdy friend from high school and takes a job as a secretary in a local law firm, soon developing an obsessive crush on her older boss, Mr. Grey. Through their increasingly bizarre relationship, Lee follows her deepest longings to the heights of masochism and finally to a place of self-affirmation.

This movie bears indictable resemblance to “Fifty Shades of Grey” but is more than just a tale of BDSM sexual encounters. I gave it a 4.5/5 because I think the director succeeded in showing the power we can hold over our significant others. It lost points with me in the way that it wasn’t a more realistic portrayal. We are obviously not all like Mr. Grey and few like Mr. Grey will find requited love. Still, we do hold each other captive sometimes and it’s interesting to think about how we do that while watching this movie.

The Snowtown Murders

Racists exist. We as a society learned this best through daytime talk shows all through the 90’s. I recall more than a few toothless pontificators.

mv5bmtm1mtcwote0nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjqymdewnw-_v1_-221x300-9883318Those are the entertaining kind, the scariest ones operate covertly in families. And then there are those who are neither covert nor entertaining, those whom are pure evil. John is such a man. Though many will interpret this movie as macabre horror, it doesn’t attempt to be that. Instead it strives to be an endurance test in tense human relationships and murder. In the final analysis it’s a study about bigotry in poverty left unchallenged. The real John is serving 11 consecutive life sentences for torture and murder. Young men need role models. Without them, they are susceptible to the Johns out there.

This film was directed by Justin Kurzel, it was his directorial debut. The lead role of serial killer John Bunting is played by relative newcomer Daniel Henshall. Daniel’s performance in this film has already won him multiple awards. I add my praise to that, he does an excellent job at being scary and believable. The scariest part about him is that he could be the neighbor helping you take in your groceries.

This film is based on a true story of a serial killer. A summary of the film is as follows: Jamie looks up to his mother Elizabeth’s new boyfriend John. They live in an Australian form of welfare housing in an under-decorated environment. There are sweet family moments depicting a happy family. Jamie’s 2 younger siblings run around and play like any normal kids their age. What is not normal is the judgmental, bigotry that John espouses. Early on the family clings to his stability. In a world that seems to care so little, John is their stability. Most the movie is a study of Jamie and John’s relationship. Jamie learns to trust and respect John even up to the point of killing with him. More than a macabre horror tale, which it decidedly is, the film shows the environment in which a real serial killer survived and thrived.

The acting and sets are superb. I was on the edge of my seat the whole 2 hours. While there isn’t a ton of gratuitous violence, there is some truly hideous stuff here. It will not appeal to a wide audience because of this. The killer is not glorified but clearly the director seeks to show how a serial killer can grow and thrive in a disenfranchised, impoverished social strata. I liked the character development but would have preferred more tender moments between the characters. It was as if everyone was tortured 24/7. Does respect really grow out of that? It seemed to me Jamie would have gone to the police early on if his life were that miserable. There is nothing to like in John and what we can like in Jamie is neutralized early on when they start killing. If you watch the Snowtown Murders you will find it obtusely disturbing as I did. Well, at least I hope you will.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a refuge amidst so many predictable and non-inventive movies out now. It tells a creative story line of lovers who thrive despite their antagonistic surroundings. The synopsis on IMDB reads: “A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.” It was directed by Wes Anderson known for The Royal Tennebaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. If you can enjoy a love story told in a campy way, this one will delight.

Moonrise Kingdom has many stars in it including: Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce). There are excellent secenes delivered by all the most notable being the portrayal of the 12-year olds in love.

Moonrise Kingdom starts and ends slowly. I can’t tell you it ever speeds up but because there is so much great and beautiful retro stuff to look at, I didn’t complain. It takes place in 1965 on a remote yet suburban island. We encounter a family with children and a crew of boy-scouts learning to live off the land and get various merit badges. If you can believe it, the two paths cross and we get a love story between two twelve year old kids and a whole bunch of campy humor. The tenderness of the kids in love is not lost however. There is something deeply touching in the way they bare their weaknesses verbally to each other while running away from a world that can’t hold them. If you can suspend disbelief and judgement for 90 minutes or so you may enjoy this one. If you are looking for realism, you should pay for a ticket. Odd scenes and dialog permeate but I liked that. I can see how some audiences would be put off by this film’s quirkiness. It was something different in a predictable movie Summer of films like the Dark Knight and The Amazing Spider-Man. That made it quite refreshing for me. If you can handle getting lost in a fantasy film, you will enjoy this one.

Everything Must Go

Article first published as Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.