This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2014
Director: Shawn Levy

The Altman family siblings; Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll) – are summoned by their mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), to sit in mourning together for a week in a traditional Jewish practice called Shiva (which literally means ‘Seven’ in Hebrew) at their father’s dying request. This, despite their father being an atheist, brings them all together under one roof and into contact with people from their collective pasts. What ensues is loads of family antics.

I saw this film in the theater with my own siblings. It wasn’t really on my list of movies to see, but it turned out to be an okay film and I’m glad I went with my own brother and sister to see it because it really gave some nods to the sibling dynamics that we’ve all experienced.

Most of the movie has some decent moments but overall, there wasn’t much substance to grasp onto or to really sink your teeth into. It felt almost more like an episode of a long-running television show than it did a feature film. I think what really saved this was the comedian actors and actresses who headlined this movie – especially Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.

Is this a bad film? Not by any means. It just didn’t pack much punch. It wasn’t especially funny, nor especially deep or poignant. There are definitely enough laughs to merit at least one watch-through and I’m sure there are some people out there who will genuinely connect with the film more than I did. For me, it just didn’t go anywhere new. We’ve seen this movie before in multiple incarnations.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For This Is Where I Leave You

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Lars And The Real Girl (2007)

Lars And The Real Girl (2007)

Original Theatrical Release: October 25, 2007
Director: Craig Gillespie

Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) has a problem, and nobody knows what it is. He’s painfully shy, full of anxiety, is super-awkward and can’t even have dinner with his family, let alone have a normal conversation with a girl. When he tells his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’ wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) that he has met someone over the internet, they are ecstatic for him. However, Bianca is not what they expected. She is a sex doll that Lars ordered online. Lars’ family, friends and the town must now find a way to deal with Lars’ delusional beliefs that Bianca is a real girl who not only talks to him, but loves him back.

I remember hearing about this film a while ago, and since it had Ryan Gosling in it, I sort of shied away from it because he tends to be in a lot of movies I didn’t think I liked him as an actor. However, this film seemed to have such a quirky idea and personality that I figured I’d give it a shot.

First off, I think the premise was the best part about this film. A town set “somewhere” up north, which is somewhat reserved and apparently full of churchgoing people, having to deal with an otherwise healthy and kind individual who is in love with a sex doll….that’s great stuff. What it lacked was the proper focus and execution.

The movie felt like it dragged on forever. I understood what the film was trying to do fairly early on, so to have to watch it all unfold at a snail’s pace somewhat lessened the impact of the film’s idea. Also, they sort of moved “six weeks later” from the point Lars first hears about the doll until he had ordered it, and you don’t really see anything in between. It was the only jarring part of the movie, to me.

Gosling’s acting was great, honestly. The whole cast was acting up a storm, so no complaints on that front.

There had to be a little suspension of disbelief because of certain things, like an ambulance that is willing to pick up a sex doll and waste money/time and potentially interrupt someone’s REAL emergency…all because he is Lars? When he doesn’t even seem to be that well-liked at the start of the film? So, there are things like that in the movie that are somewhat hard to swallow.

It makes for a great date movie, I’m sure…or if you really like Ryan Gosling in sweaters.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Lars And The Real Girl

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Original Theatrical Release: December 14, 2001
Director: Cameron Crowe

David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a successful publisher who inherited the majority of his father’s money and business and lives a carefree life where nothing ever goes wrong and everyone caters to his every need. During David’s posh birthday party, his friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) shows up with who could very well be the girl of David’s dreams – Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). David has to decide if she’s worth changing his life for. However, there are consequences to every action, and a very manic and depressed “fuck buddy” of David’s, named Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) waits on the sidelines in quiet anger and desperation.

Let me first tell you that I am often not a fan of Tom Cruise. Or Cameron Diaz. Or Penelope Cruz. About the only actor I initially liked in this movie in other projects is the amazing Jason Lee.

None of that matters, though, because this movie completely blew me away.

It’s a remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) in which Penelope Cruz reprises her role. Many think that Abre Los Ojos is far superior, but to each his own. I felt that Vanilla Sky hit harder with me under Cameron Crowe’s direction.

I rented this one night on a lark, not really knowing what to expect. Tom Cruise turns in one of the most memorable performances of his career, donning makeup that makes him look disfigured throughout the film when he’s not wearing the facial prosthetic/regenerative mask. Cameron Diaz has mostly unimpressed me (aside from There’s Something About Mary) but she was perfect for Julie Gianni’s moody, depressed character. Jason Lee was awesome as Brian, the best friend character….and Penelope Cruz was charming as the independent Sophia. Oh, and KURT RUSSEL. Seriously.

I have seen this movie so many times that I can quote it by heart. It made me laugh, it made me cry. The music was amazing (I bought the soundtrack after seeing the film), the cinematography was gorgeous.

This is a highly underrated film and didn’t get much attention when it first came out. I think it has staying power and an extremely strong message that I definitely identified with. It’s commentary on life, on love, on material possessions and existential thought. Go see it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Vanilla Sky

Waitress (2007)

Waitress (2007)

Original Theatrical Release: May 25, 2007
Director: Adrienne Shelly

Jenna (Keri Russell), a server who is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), has a talent for creating amazing pies -which she often uses to mentally escape from her life. A new doctor comes to town (Nathan Fillion) and she finds out from him that she’s pregnant, spurring a series of events that rock her world and force her into action.

Waitress kind of surprised me. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie before seeing it. I’d watched the trailer and  liked the look of the cinematography and the narrative voice of Jenna’s character. I love Jeremy Sisto as an actor, and also Nathan Fillion, so it was a natural for me to check out.

The acting was amazing in this movie. I hadn’t seen much of Keri Russel but she played her part very well. Jeremy Sisto was an amazing douche bag husband and Nathan Fillion was, of course, charming as the new doc. This was a very character-driven piece, the plot being secondary. Adrienne Shelly weaved everything together masterfully, though, and it all came together. I enjoyed seeing all the different sorts of pies she made and I rooted for her success. (Plus, we got to see Matlock in a diner)

About the only thing that kept me from giving it five stars was the pacing toward the end. By the time it was starting to wrap up, I had already figured out almost everything that was going to happen and basically had to stick around to see if I was right, at the end. Still, Adrienne Shelly definitely showcased her directing chops with this one. It’s too bad that she was murdered and now will not be able to create any more films. 😦

PS – I wonder if they created a pie recipe book as a movie tie-in. I’ll have to Google that…

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Waitress