The Adam Project

Release: Friday, March 11, 2022 (Netflix)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Jonathan Tropper; T.S. Nowlin; Jennifer Flackett; Mark Levin

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Zoe Saldaña; Mark Ruffalo; Catherine Keener; Jennifer Garner; Walker Scobell

 

 

 

**/*****

Shawn Levy’s sentimental time-traveling adventure The Adam Project is a Netflix “original” that stretches the term to its breaking point. The story it tells may be hopeful but from a creative standpoint it feels hopelessly generic.

The Adam Project revolves around the alluring idea of tinkering with the past in order to change an unpleasant future. Like Levy’s previous film, 2021’s Free Guy, the overall experience plays light on logic and heavy on the feels, except here the reliance upon deus ex machina is even more pronounced; this is time travel by way of Sterling Archer, a little more sober and polite perhaps, but no less farcical with the sheer number of things working out at just the right time, on the first try, on the last gasp of fuel.

Adam Reed (no, not that Adam Reed, but the one played by Ryan Reynolds) is a fighter pilot from the year 2050 who crash-lands in 2022 en route to 2018 where he hopes to find his missing wife, Laura (Zoe Saldaña). She’s gone back to terminate an Evil Future Woman from taking over a time traveling device and using it for her own vaguely nefarious purposes. Adam’s plan is complicated when he realizes he has conveniently landed at the very location of his old house, a quaint little pocket in the woods where he encounters his pre-teen self (Walker Scobell).

Less convenient are the circumstances into which he has accidentally plopped himself down. It’s been about a year since the sudden death of his father Louis (Mark Ruffalo), a brilliant scientist, and both young Adam and his mother Ellie (a disappointingly under-used Jennifer Garner) are coping in their own way, which for the former means giving the latter a really hard time and making her worry about his future. Older Adam, nursing a wounded leg and stressing over his wife’s fate, lacks the temperament to deal with his younger self’s so-called problems and his many questions.

Two-time Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener meanwhile has ditched teacup-tapping hypnosis for an admin position at some Skynet-adjacent tech conglomerate. As the movie’s big bad, Maya Sorian, Keener hardly gets to demonstrate her abilities. (Although her character does pull double duty, manifested in the future and past — the “past version” being a poor CGI approximation that makes Rogue One-era Peter Cushing look like the Rolls Royce of digital renderings.)

The Adam Project is a diverting, fantastical adventure that, in its nascent stages, teases something special. In the end, and after so much disaster effortlessly averted, the one thing it cannot escape is its lazy, written-by-committee feel. Moving from one plot beat to the next like a tourist scooted on along by an impatient guide going through the motions, the writers seem more interested in silly song placement than getting serious about the implications of what they have set up. The film is amiable, in large part due to the cast, but it is also forgettable — a creative sin the previous Levy/Reynolds collaboration managed to avoid committing, if barely.

“No gamma rays?”
“No gamma rays.”

Moral of the Story: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are two names that never appear in The Adam Project, but they’re two names I could not get out of my head all throughout, from certain action sequences to the tonality of some conversations and the sentimentality that is laid on pretty thick. Not a bad movie by any means, but like so many Netflix “originals” there is a lot of potential that goes unfulfilled. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “I spent thirty years trying to get away from the me that was you and, I’ll tell you what, kid; I hate to say it, but you were the best part all along.”

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Danny Collins

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Release: Friday, April 10, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Fogelman

Directed by: Dan Fogelman

Perspective is a tool we come to wield better with age.  As months beget years and years decades, we can look back and reconsider things we could have or shouldn’t have done. I’d like to not put too fine a point on it by calling this process regret; at a certain point all of us end up looking into a mirror and realizing that physical changes can sometimes be the least noticeable ones.

That’s a complete cliché and this blogger knows he’s used his fair share since beginning to write about movies but in this instance, where the tribulations of fictitious folk singer Danny Collins have been irrevocably affected by the 40-years-belated reception of a note penned by John Lennon, reflecting upon the past turns out to be a potent storytelling device. Al Pacino’s hard-drinking, hard-partying 60-something celebrity isn’t built completely out of fabricated material, however; he’s based upon English folk singer and songwriter Steve Tilston. The note Lennon actually wrote said something to the effect of “being rich doesn’t change your experience in the way you think.”

The letter addresses a then-21-year-old Danny who was interviewed by a magazine at the beginning of his success and reported that he was in fact terrified of what his career might bring him — fame, fortune . . . the sort of stuff many of us would drool over while fantasizing about our new wardrobes, our new social circles, our new everything. And that was his fear, how these things would affect his ability to craft quality music.

Danny Collins is the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Tangled; Cars) and features Pacino in a decidedly less destructive role but with Pacino being Pacino you are unable to dismiss the choice as wayward from the glory days (cough-cough, Robert De Niro). There I go with comparisons again. Not that they’re difficult to make as De Niro has become an easy target and Pacino is that rare kind of performer who just stays excellent (though, granted, perhaps I need to experience his Starkman before I can accurately make that statement). His charisma as a musician stagnating in his latter years, reduced to playing the same hits every night, largely defines this picture.

It’s his manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) who brings the letter to Danny’s attention. After a typical night of boozing and using Danny decides he wants to reverse the course of his self-destructive habits, start writing songs again (after a three decade hiatus) and maybe even get in touch with his son who he has never met. He moves into a random New Jersey hotel, managed by the charming but guarded Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening) who repeatedly rebuffs Danny’s offers for dinner. The first time they meet remains a highlight moment, dually serving as affirmation that Fogelman can write great dialogue. The banter between them is something that doesn’t fail, even if the film overall nearly collapses with sentimentality as a jelly doughnut does with too much filling. (Yes, I’m a firm believer doughnuts can have too much filling.)

Fogelman’s first directorial effort is undoubtedly elevated by experienced actors making mushy material work so much better than it really ought to. Predictability is a bit of an issue, as are character archetypes that are visibly influenced by script rather than the almighty charm of Pacino’s musician. Bobby Cannavale plays Danny’s son Tom. Jennifer Garner is his wife, Samantha. They’re raising what first appears to be a precocious young daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) but as time goes on she’s revealed to suffer from severe hyperactivity and has learning disabilities because of it. They’re trying to get her into an educational institution where her needs will be met. Cue Danny’s first opportunity to get back into his family’s life. It won’t take great acting for us to realize there’ll be some resistance. But Cannavale is superb and erases his character’s strictures with ease. We empathize with Tom perhaps more than we should. Garner is also solid, although she has very little to do but win the race of who’s-going-to-forgive-Danny-first.

It’s not as if it hasn’t happened before, but this is a stage far removed from the spotlights of Tony Montana and Michael Corleone. Pacino has demonstrated a capacity for tolerating questionable material — things of the Gigli and Jack & Jill variety — as well as a willingness to embrace extremes (he makes for quite a charismatic Satan in Devil’s Advocate). He’s not above anything and that kind of attitude may very well be the reason he’s regarded as one of cinema’s greatest American icons. It’s evident that being rich hasn’t changed his experience in the way he thinks.

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3-5Recommendation: Al Pacino and a talented, intensely likable supporting cast give Danny Collins‘ weaker moments a pass, though this is far and away Pacino’s film. Depending on your level of enthusiasm for the guy, this is a must-see in theaters or a rental you cannot miss. It’s a solid adult dramedy, one of an elite few so far in 2015.

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Well, you look . . . slightly ridiculous . . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Release: Friday, October 10, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Rob Lieber

Directed by: Miguel Arteta

As the ruthless Carmine Falcone once told Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Crane in a particularly insightful moment during Batman Begins, “some days, some days just go bad.”

Indeed it does for one Alexander Cooper and his extraordinarily ordinary family. The day before his twelfth birthday, he experiences a series of misfortunes that make for a very bad day. He starts off the day with gum in his hair, which he cuts out himself, then heads to school where more disaster awaits. Alexander finds a way to embarrass himself in front of the girl that he likes (as well as his entire science class) when he accidentally lights her notebook and half the classroom on fire. But the day’s not over yet. When he gets home he mishandles his baby brother’s pacifier and drops it down the garbage disposal, mangling it.

That night, as he blows out candles on the birthday treat he has made for himself, he wishes that the rest of his family — who were largely indifferent to his complaints at the dinner table earlier — would experience what it’s like to be him for just one day. He blows out the candles and the moon rises to take the sky, all cliché-like and shit.

Alexander and the . . . my goodness that’s an exhausting title . . . isn’t the kind of comedy most people flock to for the star talent, though the cast is no slouch. The Coopers are headed by hard-working mom Kelly (Jennifer Garner) who’s eying a promotion at the publishing company she’s been working with for some time; and recently laid-off dad, Ben (Steve Carell), who’s just landed an interview with a gaming company.

Beyond Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) there’s big brother Anthony (Logan Lerman. . . er, rather, Dylan Minnette) and Emily is the in-betweener sister (Kerris Dorsey). The aforementioned are amusing in equal measure, yet the real highlight of the show should be baby Trevor (there’s those adorable Vargas twins again, Elise and Zoey) who has a green mouth for most of the episode. That these people are naturally funny and these characters come across as good, decent people gives weight to the low-brow ambition of this adaptation of Judith Viorst’s 1972 novel of the same long-winded name.

Modern script aims at recapturing the essence of the short children’s book, and at only 81 minutes in length, one’s led to believe there isn’t a great deal of deviation in the narrative. Director Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids; Youth in Revolt) maximizes old-school slapstick appeal and takes a keen interest in the concept of Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong, will go wrong and for these poor people, quite literally everything does. The parents wake up past their alarms on the morning of Kelly’s promotion and Ben’s job interview; Emily wakes up with a fever and Anthony goes on to fail his driver’s test which he had hoped to pass so he could drive his date to the prom that night.

When the wheels really fall off the wagon is when the diminutive little audience is likely to find this film at its most fun and for the adult portion, at its most ridiculous. Clearly the screenwriters cherish the anarchistic set-up. It’s evident in the giddy energy the entire cast summons as they wake up the next day, direct recipients of Alexander and his wishes for them to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But does it really work out that way for the lot of them? That’s why you should watch and find out for yourself.

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3-0Recommendation: If you’ve had a terrible day, here’s something you should see to get your perspective on. The movie is predictable, dumb fun. Of course there’ll be massive compromises made on the part of any parent willing to take their kids to see this as there isn’t much for more matured minds to latch onto here. That said, this is, simply put, good old-fashioned harmless fun. It features solid PG-rated performances from its A-list leads and even some decent ones from the young folk. I actually really enjoyed this silly farce, probably more than I should have as a late twenty-something.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 81 mins.

Quoted: “His face is . . . all green.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Draft Day

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Release: Friday, April 11, 2014

[Theater]

“A sports metaphor.”

There, I did it. I’ve gotten that out of my system, and now no one can call me out for not including at least one in a review for a football-related movie. Now, to get down to the x’s and o’s.

Kevin Costner is as amiable as ever as he becomes Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in this odd dramatization of the process through which college players are selected to play in the pros. The film takes place over the course of a single day — I won’t tell you what day that is, because that is a massive spoiler. . . — and it establishes Costner’s character as the conduit through which all of the big day’s events, emotions and energy will flow.

Directed by some guy who busted a bunch of ghosts back in 1984, Draft Day is his opportunity to shed some light upon an area of the sport perhaps even many hardcore football fanatics would like to know more about. Before placing players on the field, some key executive decisions must be made before and during the drafting process which will determine who those will be. It wasn’t necessarily Reitman’s duty to provide us an action-packed football drama. In fact, for every football movie that has had it’s share of crazy plays, Draft Day features an equal number of moments that do not feature them, almost as if announcing to the world that a movie that discusses football rather than uses it as a plot device is actually possible.

The lack of quarterback/runningback heroics should hardly cost Reitman ten yards.

Whereas many films make the mistake of jamming as many action sequences together as possible to make the story feel more exciting; or others use the sport as a means of coping with reality (hence, football as a plot device), Draft Day considers all of these options and dispenses with them, opting to get down to fundamentals. Football, like any number of team activities at the professional level, is a business first and a passion second. For once it’s refreshing to witness sports functioning differently in the movies, even if certain realities can turn ugly. . .like knowing that all this movie is going to do is earn the NFL suits even more money, because this does make the game seem enticing and thrilling at the corporate level. There is plenty of drama to be found, but nothing of the “if I don’t make this play I can’t come home for dinner” variety. What passes for excitement and intensity in a movie like this is the direction in which conversations go and what picks are actually made in the draft in the film’s final act.

The events of Draft Day are completely fictionalized, but they transpire in a way that is entirely convincing, and to a somewhat lesser degree, emotionally investing.

Sonny is on the hot seat. It’s a seat so hot in fact, he can’t really sit down in it. The city is desperate to get back to a place where a championship title isn’t a pipe dream. With Sonny’s job on the line thanks to the hawk-like watch of team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), he must decide what assets he can afford to ditch and what’s worth keeping of his current line-up in order to take the right steps moving forward. But moving forward won’t be easy when his colleagues and players find out what Sonny is prepared to sacrifice in order to get what everyone thinks they want.

In the opening moments, Sonny is made an offer by Seattle Seahawks’ general manager Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) to trade their top pick in Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), who’s considered as this draft’s most sought-after talent, for three of Cleveland’s future top picks. Not one. Not two. Three years in a row. Keep in mind, a number one pick theoretically could change a team’s fortunes just like that. But what if the supposed star player they bargain for doesn’t deliver? What if he doesn’t fit in? Gets injured quickly? What then?

There’s also the little issue of Sonny’s personal affairs inside and away from the office, as he and his colleague and “friend” Ali (Jennifer Garner) struggle with the idea of making their relationship public. Sonny’s father has also recently passed away. Indeed, there is plenty of drama to endure on this day. Though it does border on shameless and is unavoidable, the product placement and brand recognition isn’t as intrusive at it sounds like it would be because, after all, this is what and where the movie is: it’s effectively a dramatization of the business that determines the futures of young men going into the working world. It’s almost possible to view this as a ‘real world’ film reel. Draft Day is an odd movie because it is filmed so in line with reality; it’s almost a special you might see on SportsCenter for a 10,000th Anniversary edition of the show.

And yet, it retains originality in Kevin Costner’s stalwart portrayal of a man in crisis mode, who saves a football team from almost irreparable damage; it is given personality in the fictitious players who are on the verge of elation or heartbreak depending on whether they get picked this year. The Cleveland Browns seem like a strange place for the film to take place in, and yet, no team is without it’s stretches of despair, confusion, even chaos. So at the same time we want to scoff at the notion of the Browns becoming a cinematic entity, why shouldn’t it have been them?

Draft Day is a competent drama that surprisingly appeals more because it spares little attention to the gridiron. Stuffed with sports jargon, it’s clear to see that it’s crafted to fit a somewhat niche audience, but a general interest in football will make this film a pleasant watch also. This is mostly due to Costner’s appeal. How this guy doesn’t wear a diaper for all of the shit he could lose each minute is beyond comprehension, and at times even humorous. These are aspects you begin to appreciate more about the sport after watching.

Keep an eye out for a number of big names including Ray Lewis, Chris Berman, Arian Foster, Deion Sanders, Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden.

DRAFT DAY

3-5Recommendation: You will totally be forgiven for looking at this as the NFL now invading the silver screen, but there’s more to this story than the corporate giants of football and film taking baths in the monetary exchanges. I mean, they probably did do that, but let’s focus on the fact that a film crew has managed to create a fictional account of a complicated process in the football off-season. No matter how you slice this one up, this is not your traditional sports film and could mean several different things to many different attendees. It’s worth a look for Costner fans, as well. His performance is spectacular.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

Quoted: “How is it that the ultimate prize in the most macho sport ever invented is a piece of jewelry?”

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Dallas Buyers Club

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

AIDS sucks. Rednecks’ treatment of animals sucks. The government sucks. For everything else that doesn’t suck, there’s Dallas Buyers Club.

Ron Woodruff would probably approve of my spin on the Mastercard jingle. Well, all except the part about the treatment of animals, as he’s a cowboy himself and couldn’t care less about a raging bull’s balls.

To go off on a little tangent here (because rodeos really make me upset since I think the sport epitomizes the term ‘pointless’) bullriders are mysterious creatures to me. Well, sad really. They sit atop an animal more than five times their size, an animal they’re about to make feel half the size of human beings because the whole point is to dominate the animal for eight seconds; an animal that’s recently and intentionally been enraged by getting its genitalia vice-gripped by some retard rodeo clown. Riders ironically then have this look of terror on their face as soon as the ride begins. When they either succeed or fail at maintaining that short period of time professionally molesting the animal, they run away (or get trampled). Game over. They get points and recognition out of this somehow.

Though the redneck quota may be sky-high, thankfully this film from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée doesn’t focus too terribly much on this grim aspect of certain cultures. Interestingly enough, it errs on the side of the inhumanity towards other humans. In the mid-1980s the height of the fear and misunderstanding surrounding the HIV/AIDS virus had reached its pinnacle. Those who had it were the quote-unquote undesirable types — homosexuals, intravenous drug users, losers, etcetera. This was a disease generally viewed as one that people ‘deserved.’

So when rowdy old Ron (McConaughey) collapses in his trailer home one day and finds himself in the hospital when he next wakes up, the news that he has HIV and hence why he’s so weak lately comes as a great shock. His level of ignorance and intolerance at first matches that of the nation’s in this decade. He can’t stand the idea that he could possibly get a disease like this: “There ain’t nothin’ that can take Ron Woodruff down in 30 days.” While his T-cell count may be down to nine, his brain cell count has to be even lower. However, he’s not so stupid as to avoid researching his situation. And sure as hellfire he discovers that indeed, having drunken and unprotected sex in the filth and squalor of a trailer park with ghastly-looking whores, well shucks. . . that’d sure do it.

That I started off not having high opinions of this character of McConaughey’s speaks to the quality of his performance. After seeing him earlier this year in Mud, it seemed the standard had been set then and there for Best Male Lead Performance, and since then there’s only been maybe a handful of others who might give the titular character a run for his money. But I have a feeling come the Oscars the conversation will oddly not include that role; instead it will focus on his skinny-jeans Ron Woodruff. You will start out hating this man and all of his ridiculous insecurities and phobias, yet come the end of the film you may or may not be weeping for him. Depends on how sturdy you are as a filmgoer, I suppose.

That we end up feeling anything for Woodruff at all, though, is credited to Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and their superb writing — writing that brings rough-around-the-edges characters front-and-center and making them compelling to watch. Woodruff may be a bit of a misanthrope (aren’t all rednecks?) but his motivation for staying alive makes who and what he is that much more complex. While he almost can’t stand being around gay people or transexuals or what-have-you, everything he does in Dallas Buyers Club post-doctor visit is for the betterment of not only himself, but for those who he deems worthy of a fighting chance of survival (anyone who can afford to be in his Buyers Club, that is).

Inspired by events he’s heard about happening in other parts of the country, he starts up a highly illegal Buyers Club of his own in a hotel in Dallas, with the sole purpose being to serve as an alternative treatment center for those with the disease. His experiences with hospitals and advanced medical care — stuff that hasn’t been working at all — has led him to this point. Enlisting the help of a vivacious transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodruff’s rusty exterior slowly starts to peel away, revealing a softer man who is far more altruistic than his environment might otherwise suggest.

Speaking of Leto, it’s good to see that his band 30 Seconds to Mars allowed him to take some much-needed time off, so he could starve himself down to 114 pounds for this role. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club might actually top a career-defining one from his co-star. At the very least, what Leto had to do to get into character here was a bit more complicated. On one level, he’s playing a man who seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, and on another, he’s a man stricken with this horrible disease that is wasting his body away. Some of the more powerful imagery in this film stem from scenes in which Leto’s present. Coupled with an infectious attitude that his Rayon has, Leto might well be more memorable than McConaughey here, though that’s not to say one truly outweighs the other. Combined, the two put on a most transformative show and are fully convincing, in every sense of the word. They keep this rather sad affair afloat.

Jennifer Garner is also quite spectacular, playing the conflicted Dr. Eve Saks, who is one of the first to tell Woodroof he has a mere 30 days left to live. The doc’s role is a particularly tricky one, what with having to tow the line between policies and procedures set forth by her institution, as well as showing that she truly cares about her patients with a terminal illness. Deftly balancing her character’s professionalism with some strong emotional moments, Garner, while never being an actress I’ve kept an eye on, suits the scene just fine here and in many cases she bears too much of the burden herself. In some ways she is as tragic as the people who are physically suffering.

The sum total of Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t end up arriving at the most profound conclusions that the dedication of its lead actors here more often than not suggests. The story arc, unpredictable as it is, is sort of a one-way street, which in some ways makes the concept feel limited. But it’s within the performances where this movie really lies. Its cast is dedicated to providing physically accurate renderings of this brutal illness, which is enough of a basis to recommend this film on alone. Getting into the personalities behind the Dallas Buyers Club, however. . .well that’s another story entirely.

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4-5Recommendation: This is a performance-driven piece, so if you are into that sort of thing, Dallas Buyers Club should have you covered. More specifically. . . McConaughey seems to have hit his stride as a dramatic actor. Between this and his fugitive from this spring, he has this year alone turned in some of the more compelling anti-heros that I personally can recall in years. But I would like to again emphasize this isn’t just the McSkinny-hey show. Leto gives it his all here as well, humanizing a kind of person many typically turn a blind eye to. After a four-year hiatus, it is good to see him also returning in fine form. . .even if his physique here betrays the concept of ‘fine form.’

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club.”

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