Post Date Nov 13 — Man Up

Man Up Movie Review“Man Up” is a pretty standard romantic comedy on paper, featuring all the tropes of the genre: the meet-cute, the wacky friends, the spontaneous dance routine, etc. But the charismatic Lake Bell and Simon Pegg have such sparkling chemistry, they make this predictable trip worthwhile. Bell, in Bridget Jones mode as a lonely London singleton, also does a solid British accent. My review.

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Post Date Nov 11

Revisiting Shia LaBeouf



You may have heard that Shia LaBeouf has been doing this nutty thing — er, art project — in which he’s going back and rewatching all his movies, in reverse order, for three days straight at the Angelika Film Center in New York. The project even has a hashtag: #allmymovies. That makes it legit.

As I pulled up the live feed of Shia watching Shia this morning — and cramming popcorn in his mouth, and laughing, and occasionally dozing — my husband commented: “You knew him way back when.” And it’s true — I’d totally forgotten that I’d interviewed LaBeouf at the South by Southwest film festival in March 2007, just as he was on the verge of superstardom. We had lunch on the patio behind the Four Seasons Hotel, surrounded by actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a fellow former child star on the precipice of his own grown-up fame) and Bill Paxton, on a gorgeous spring day.

It seems quaint now in retrospect, long before his high-profile efforts to deconstruct and dismiss his celebrity, but he was proud of the fact that he’d created some mystery for himself — that at 20, he wasn’t providing tabloid fodder. And it may sound contradictory given his volatile reputation, but he was a sweet, polite young man. Anyway, I went back and found the article I wrote when I was still with the AP so you can read it for yourself and enjoy — then go back to watching Shia watching Shia.

Shia LaBeouf talks childhood, future and Indiana Jones rumors


AP Movie Writer

Shia LaBeouf is in the position so many former child actors have found themselves in: that murky area between boyhood and manhood, between cute and commanding.

And he’s impatient for it to be over.

“I want to get bigger. I’m sick of being a boy,” the lanky actor says of his recent regimen of running and working out. “I know that there’s this innocence that I have but I feel like I’ve played that guy. The whole goal for me has been diversity and diversifying your portfolio and making sure you do a whole bunch of different things and you don’t get typecast. If I become a type, my career is over.

“I want to be an intimidating presence. I want to be a … killer.”

Strong words from the former star of the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens,” which earned him a Daytime Emmy in 2003. Since then, though, LaBeouf has put together an eclectic filmography for a 20-year-old.

He’s appeared opposite Will Smith (“I, Robot”) and Keanu Reeves (“Constantine”). He’s played a wrongly accused juvenile prisoner (“Holes”), a drugged-out campaign worker (“Bobby”) and a would-be thug (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”).

This year alone he stars in the thriller “Disturbia,” a high-tech teen update of “Rear Window”; the big-screen version of “Transformers”; and the animated “Surf’s Up” in which he provides the voice of a surfing penguin.

And then there are those persistent Internet rumors that he’s signed on to play Indiana Jones Jr. in the fourth installment of Steven Spielberg’s franchise. Even Bill Paxton, who directed LaBeouf in the 2005 golf movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” approaches him during a lunch interview with The Associated Press with a boisterous hug and congratulations on landing the role _ which LaBeouf is quick to say he hasn’t.

“The way that thing started, it’s just wild how it snowballed,” he says between bites of a cheeseburger and fries at the South by Southwest film festival, where “Disturbia” screened before its April 13 theatrical release.

“I don’t have a deal on the table, it’s just a rumor. Would I do it? In a second. It’d be working for a legend and working with legends. Who wouldn’t? But is it something I’m doing right now? No. I’m an out-of-work actor.”

But LaBeouf hasn’t been out of work much since he flipped through the Yellow Pages looking for an agent as a 10-year-old; he was cast as the precocious Lewis Stevens that year. Growing up as one of the few white kids in Los Angeles’ heavily Hispanic Echo Park section (the setting of “Mi Vida Loca” and “Quinceanera”), LaBeouf started doing standup comedy. He’s quick to admit he was drawn to this profession for both creative and financial reasons.

“I grew up on that show and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Took me out of my house, it was real dramatic at that time. My dad was on drugs _ heroin and all kinds of wild (stuff) and he was in a rehab facility. My mom was trying to hold down the fort and that wasn’t working. So when the show came along it was a savior. It saved my life, my family’s life.”

LaBeouf’s parents eventually divorced; as an only child, he remains close to both. His father, he says, was a mime and a clown who used to grow pot in the brush along the sides of L.A.’s freeways; his mother was a dancer.

“I feel like my childhood was kind of lost. It was adulthood right away,” he says, turning over his right arm to reveal a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that reads “1986-2004” _ the period from his birth until he turned 18. “I feel like you forget a lot of your childhood so I put the timeline on my wrist. I just don’t want to forget the childhood I did have.”

When asked about working with LaBeouf on “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Paxton jokes that he had to “break him like a mustang.”

“I feel very proud to have directed him and to have kind of helped him at a crucial time in his life and in his development as a craftsman, as an artist. You know, it’s hard to make that transition, to go from being a child actor and then, you know, you grow up and they don’t love you anymore. `You’re not cute anymore, you’re not funny-looking anymore, you grew up.’ But he’s someone who’s making the transition.”

Paxton is one of many people LaBeouf says he’s looked to as a mentor and father figure; Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges and John Turturro are others.

“It’s nuts because in my lexicon, those guys are all in my tops. So when you get to work with them and be on that level with them it’s just, it’s jarring. It’s jarring when they consider you equals and you’re sitting there going, ` … This is impossible. How did this happen to me?'” he says. “These are my heroes. These are my Captain Americas and my Spider-Mans. To be sitting around with them is very surreal, and it never gets normal.”

Despite having worked steadily for the past decade, LaBeouf insists he isn’t famous yet. And unlike some other actors his age, he doesn’t provide juicy fodder for the tabloids.

LaBeouf wants to fly even farther below the radar by going off to college (he’s been accepted at Yale) and experiencing life outside of acting for a while.

“How do you create danger when they’ve grown up with you? How do you create mystery when they know everything about you?” he asked. “You’ve gotta go away. You’ve gotta give them time to not know you. And I plan on doing that, it’s just right now, the opportunities I’m being given are just out of control and I can’t turn them down.”

Post Date Nov 5 — The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie Movie ReviewI am the target audience for “The Peanuts Movie.” I was all in. So it brings me no joy to report to you that it’s a rather safe repackaging of material you’ve seen before. Bring on the angry hordes. My review.

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Post Date Oct 24


A24 Films
Rated R for language.
Running time: 118 minutes.
Four stars out of four.

This is one of those situations in which mere words seem insufficient in describing a film’s profoundly moving power.

I can tell you this much, plainly and without shame: I sobbed throughout “Room,” about a mother and her 5-year-old son trapped inside a sparsely furnished, 10-by-10-foot space, and I started doing so long before the story turned truly harrowing. And afterward, I walked home from the screening room — 2.87 miles to be exact, I mapped it — to process my feelings. Did director Lenny Abrahamson’s film wreck me because it’s truly great, or because I also have a 5-year-old boy and motherhood has, as I’d long feared, turned me irreparably soft?

“Room” is indeed that great — but I might also be a ninny. In its poetry and power, its intimate details and ambitious ideas, it’s simultaneously devastating and mesmerizing. The truth at its core, which Abrahamson achieves through pure and subtle observations, is what astonishes again and again. Within this nightmare scenario, a mother and child have crafted for themselves a tangible fairy-tale world. They refer to the small area they share as Room. The window above their heads is Skylight. Ma’s bad tooth is — appropriately and affectionately — Bad Tooth. The boy, Jack, regards them all as treasured friends. But an enemy also lurks: Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the volatile, middle-aged man who put them there and makes frightening, nightly visits.

But despite the extreme events that led to their cramped captivity, there’s a realism to the relationship between Ma and Jack. They stick to a relatable routine — every minute matters, every day matters. They have a comfortable shorthand, the result of spending every single moment together. They make the most with what they have. They take care of each other.

Every parent will recognize himself or herself in Brie Larson’s Ma: She’s proud of her boy when he figures something out and frustrated with herself when she snaps at him too quickly. She answers his increasingly probing questions with patience and tries to protect him as long as she can. She’s a great mother, even though she didn’t choose to be one. It’s all there on the page in Emma Donaghue’s elegantly efficient screenplay, which she adapted from her best-selling novel. But the abidingly authentic performances from Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are what bring these words vividly to life.

If you saw Larson in her first, real starring role in the criminally under-seen “Short Term 12,” or in standout supporting parts in films like “The Spectacular Now” or “Trainwreck” or the Showtime series “United States of Tara,” you knew what she could do — you knew of her naturalism and her presence. Here, she conveys so much with just her posture, with the slightest glance. There’s nothing showy about her performance and yet you can’t take your eyes off her. She just never hits a false note (and rarely does the film as a whole). And she has a deeply believable chemistry with Tremblay, who’s excellent in a complicated, demanding role. There’s nothing cutesy about him — there’s not the timiest whiff of child-star precociousness. He is just totally in the moment all the time. He’s a tremendous find.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about plot yet, and that’s intentional. Yes, the trailers and even the signature image on the posters reveal that eventually, Ma (who’s only 24 and whose real name is Joy) and Jack escape their prison in a scene of meticulous timing and breathtaking suspense. They return to the outside world, something Jack only knew of from images on a beat-up television set and glimmers from the skylight, but for a while it’s more of a place of obstacles than opportunities.

The second half might seem more ordinary than the first, perhaps because it’s a world we actually know and one that seems safe. But it’s fraught with its own perils, both externally and internally, and how Joy and Jack navigate them together gives this section of “Room” an even larger kind of heart and even a sense of hope. They get help from a superb supporting cast, led by Joan Allen as Joy’s relieved mother and Tom McCamus as her stepdad, who forges his own lovely, unexpected connection with Jack. (William H. Macy, as her detached father, might have gotten more to do but that’s a minor quibble.)

And that’s all I want to say about “Room,” for now, at least. Please go experience it for yourself and let the emotions and revelations wash over you — and then come back and let me know that I’m not alone in being reduced to a puddle.

Post Date Oct 23 — I Smile Back

I Smile Back Movie ReviewSarah Silverman previously has dipped her toe in more dramatic waters with 2010’s excellent “Take This Waltz.” Here, the comedian flings herself headlong into dark and disturbing territory as an upper-middle class wife and mom struggling to conceal her depression and addiction. She’s willing to go to places that the superficial film itself is not. My review.

Read the review here

Post Date Oct 9 — Knock Knock

Knock Knock Movie ReviewThe moral of the story is: When two hot, much younger women knock on your door, scantily clad and stranded during a rainstorm, you probably shouldn’t have sex with them, tempting as that may be. The latest from horror veteran Eli Roth builds sly tension for the first half, then goes haywire and gets tedious in the second. My mixed review.

Read the review here

Post Date Oct 8 — Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Movie Review“Steve Jobs” doesn’t try to make you like Steve Jobs –and that’s what makes it so compelling. Danny Boyle’s film, bursting with super-Sorkiny Aaron Sorkin dialogue, is thrilling and daring and full of fascinating contradictions. My review.

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Post Date Oct 2 — He Named Me Malala

He Named Me Malala Movie ReviewDavis Guggenheim’s documantary takes a frustratingly superficial look at the life of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education and went on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She’s a worthy and fascinating subject, to be sure — and she’s incredibly charismatic — but Guggenheim perpetuates the mythology of her bravery rather than digging deeper to determine how she truly feels about becoming an international symbol of hope at such a young age. My review.

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Post Date Sep 29

Hotel Transylvania 2

Hotel Transylvania 2 Movie ReviewSony Pictures
Rated PG for some scary images, action and rude humor.
Running time: 89 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.

“Hotel Transylvania 2” is the greatest movie Adam Sandler and Kevin James have ever made together. I believe this is called “damning with faint praise,” given their dubious track record (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” various “Grown Ups” movies, “Pixels”) but it also happens to be true, and relevant.

The sequel to the 2012 animated hit “Hotel Transylvania” falls squarely within the segment of Sandler’s oeuvre in which middle-aged dudes lament feeling out of touch with the young people today and their rock and roll music and whatnot. But “HT2” has far zippier energy than those phoned-in flops and a script in which it seems people actually cared about whether it was clever, entertaining and maybe even borderline thoughtful.

(I’m just gonna go ahead and assume that was Robert Smigel’s contribution to the screenplay, and not so much Sandler’s. Although as I wondered in our “What the Flick?!” review of the film, maybe this is the real Sandler, and all the other halfhearted crap is just what he pumps out because he enjoys going on vacation with his family and friends and pretending he’s making an actual movie in the process. The world may never know.)

The first film — which Genndy Tartakovsky also directed — was cute and harmless, but this one is even more consistently funny and crammed with inspired sight gags. I talk a lot on my site about animated movies and how well they work for various members of the family. “Minions,” for example, is totally for kids; “Inside Out,” meanwhile, is really more for adults. “Hotel Transylvania 2” doesn’t break any great, new ground and it’s pretty thin in terms of plot, but it’s a lot of fun for viewers of every age. I laughed out loud — quite frequently, I’ll admit — at the pop culture references and parenting jokes. Nicolas, who’s almost 6, cackled his head off at the goofy monsters and their antics, which often resulted in some sort of bodily injury.

(Although Nic’s favorite character, Blobby, doesn’t exactly have a body, as his name would suggest. He’s essentially a green Jell-O mold come to life, but his propensity for changing shape and getting stuff stuck inside of his translucent, gelatinous self makes him endearing.)

So: It’s a sequel. This means more monsters and more humans and more adventures. You can still check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Vampire mom Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) literally finds this to be true when she ponders moving out of the hotel with her human husband, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), and their almost-5-year-old son, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). She wonders whether living under the watchful eye and sharp fangs of her father, Sandler’s Dracula, is the best place for her family now that they are trying to live a quote-unquote normal life. Drac, meanwhile, will have none of such talk. He hates change, as is so often the case with Sandler’s characters.

Plus, he wants to be around his only grandson in order to encourage the latent vampire tendencies he’s certain are in lurking within the boy. At this tender age, it’s unclear whether sweet, young Dennis will turn out to be a human or a vampire. He’s mixed. He’s a mystery. He’s Renesmee Cullen from the “Twilight” series.

And so, with the help of his monster buddies — Frankenstein (James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible man Griffin (David Spade) and mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key, taking over the role from Cee-Lo) — Dracula insists on training Dennis in the proud vampire tradition. This means scaring people, turning into a bat, etc., but innocent Dennis always manages to make these activities adorable rather than frightening. An amusing bit involves Dennis’ love of a TV “monster” known as Kakie who is hideously, hilariously misshapen and annoyingly cloying. He’s voiced by Chris Kattan. The increasing interference of Dennis’ well-intentioned human grandparents (Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally) certainly doesn’t help matters.

That’s basically the extent of it: “Hotel Transylvania 2” is episodic in structure until The Big Reveal as to the kid’s true nature. The involvement of Mel Brooks in a choice bit of casting as Dracula’s dad, Vlad, adds some oomph to the big conclusion (at least for the grown-ups in the audience); kids, meanwhile, might be frightened by the dastardly deeds of Vlad’s right-hand man, Bela (Rob Riggle), which put Dennis and playful werewolf cub Winnie (Sadie Sandler) in danger.

Ultimately, “Hotel Transylvania 2” is about open-mindedness and acceptance — the kind of feel-good sentiments Sandler usually tries to wedge into his films half-assedly toward the end. This time, it actually sort of works.

Post Date Sep 25 — A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story Movie ReviewThe documentary “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” follows a young woman’s journey from insecure bullying victim to internationally acclaimed motivational speaker and lobbyist. Velasquez — who was born with a syndrome that gave her striking facial features and makes it difficult for her to gain weight — radiates sweetness and humor, no matter the situation. Her story is certainly worthwhile and inspiring. But I wish the film had dug deeper below the surface. My review.

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