The Scarlett Johansson Project — #9

One of the things that I really like about, you know, not setting any rules as to how I go about these actor profile things is that chronology is never an issue. I can jump and skip around in an actor’s filmography as if time never mattered (this post’s belated publishing is proof that it indeed doesn’t here on Thomas J). Picking and choosing roles more or less at random has been liberating. 

The time has finally come for a healthy discussion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut (and thus far his only feature directing credit). Back in 2013 the amiable and ever-busy native Angeleno broke the ice with a surprisingly clear-eyed look at the sacrifices and benefits of relationships, taking a modern, sex-positive approach to the subject and the nuances thereof — the corrosive effects of pornography and pop culture on one’s expectations of real sex; the difference between genuine, emotional connection and the thrill of infatuation. 

Despite the film taking its title from the fictional and life-long womanizer Don Juan, a name used to pin down the general attitude of men devoted to the Lothario lifestyle, Levitt’s direction balances baser instincts with more complex feelings in a way that satisfies far more than it feels manipulative and cheesy. The cast is small but fantastic and, predictably, does great work with well-written characters.

Scarlett Johannson as Barbara Sugarman in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon

Role Type: Supporting

Premise: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love. (IMDb)

Character Background: Don Jon is a film with a strong personality. With it being set in a part of the country that also boasts a strong (some may say abrasive) personality, it’s no surprise the characters are going to let you know what’s on their mind, usually by yelling. Barbara Sugarman is a good example, a strong cuppa who isn’t afraid of dropping a few f-bombs in a sentence for proper emphasis. And really everything about her is emphatic: girl talks loud, walks fast and chews gum for the work-out. 

Barbara is a pretty shallow individual. She’s all about the artifice, how something appears rather than how it feels. One of the things that needs to be made clear is that Barbara is no villain, despite the character arc eventually pushing the viewer’s sympathies far more to Jon’s side. Not for nothing, she is very up-front about some of her principles. Don’t lie and everything will be all good. When Jon violates that simple rule, we understand her anger. What’s less reasonable is her expectation that relationships aren’t about work, it’s about comfort and pampering. Fine if you’re a Royal but in reality, at street-level, it takes two to make an effort and it would seem Barbara is putting in the wrong effort, or at least diverting her resources to the wrong cause.

Ultimately she is walking on a different side of the film’s thematic avenue. Unable to accept a man who prefers doing his own cleaning and taking care of his space, believing talking house chores is “unsexy,” Barbara fetishizes her knight in shining armor, attempts to contrive it in the same way Jon’s carefully curated collection of pornos has given him a far too specific code for stimulation. 

What she brings to the movie: Temptation. Sex appeal is largely the point of the character, though Barbara’s perfectly manicured image is also symptomatic of something rotten. Scarlett Johansson is of course the quintessential blonde bombshell but as this feature has gone to show she’s a talented actor capable of conveying depth across a diverse range of roles. So it’s almost anti-Johansson to take on a role that’s the very definition of the cliché of beauty being only skin deep. 

As a native New Yorker she also makes the thick Jersey accent easier to buy. It’s still affected, but is nowhere near as odd to hear as it is from her California-born co-star. 

In her own words: “I had romantic ideas when I was a kid. I don’t know, I always liked people who didn’t like me. I always wanted what I couldn’t have, and I’m still in the process of figuring out why that is. It is something about our own ego, I think, it strokes our ego, the idea of the chase, the challenge. When you actually think about it realistically, would you ever want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?”

Key Scene: An interesting moment, this one. Is this invasion of privacy? Or is that beside the point? Healthy debate time! Sound off in the comments. 

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work):


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Photo credits:; interview excerpt courtesy of ScreenSlam 

The Lobster

'The Lobster'

Release: Friday, May 13, 2016 (limited) 


Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos; Efthymis Filippou

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Outré black comedy The Lobster might be likened to a religious experience for those looking for their fix of anti-Valentine’s Day sentiments. If you look hard enough you  could even find enough evidence to validate its romance label as well, but it’s so weird and so brutally dispassionate, even the most bitterly spurned, those who firmly believe they’re forever damned to loneliness, may become exhausted in their effort to keep up with its madness. And really, this dystopia is quite mad:

Single people are being persecuted; they’re getting abducted from The City — somewhere in England or Ireland if accents are anything to go by — and brought to an isolated hotel miles away where the staff insist they find a suitable romantic partner within 45 days, otherwise they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing and cast out into the woods beyond. Turns out, it’s neither a joke nor a mind game. There’s a room actually called The Transformation Room where, apparently, it all goes down. Should the unlucky sod find him or herself still single on day 45, Olivia Colman’s hotel manager advises them to partake in some activity that they won’t be able to once transformed. A one-night stand, for example, would be a waste of precious time given that animals still have the ability to fornicate.

Our best chance for understanding how the world operates in The Lobster lies in David (Colin Farrell) and his journey from being recently dumped to finding companionship in the most unlikely of places. And I know that’s a cliché, but I’m talking the epitome of unlikely places; so much so that the symmetry is almost cloying when he runs into Rachel Weisz’ Short-Sighted Woman after his ordeal at the hotel. He escapes and finds a group of stragglers abiding to their own equally radical but opposing ideals: The Loners, led somewhat ironically by Léa Seydoux and constituted by fellow hotel escapees, are vehemently against the pursuit of romance and intimacy.

Dress codes and segregative practices — you can extrapolate the latter to the two major factions we come across, as well as to the way single people and couples are treated differently in The Hotel — lay the groundwork for brutal revelations: in this world, the sum total of who we are is measured by our ability to attract a mate. Single people are lower down in the social hierarchy than couples. Sex isn’t much more than a survival strategy; it’s procreation, not love, that conquers all. The steel-blues and grays of Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography reinforce an achingly melancholic mood.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, in his fifth feature presentation, tackles the loneliness and despair of single-hood, an approach that dovetails nicely with the sacrifice of being in a relationship and he does so with a conviction as forceful as an avalanche against a lone pine tree. Strange, stilted dialogue castrates the piece of humanity, while the frankness of conversations recalls Wes Anderson . . . really, really pessimistic Wes Anderson.

One might naturally assume Lanthimos has it out for those who can’t help but remain stubbornly (or maybe just hopelessly) single, but he’s actually more critical of the societal pressure that falls upon everyone to couple up. While there are few rules governing how “loners” should meet others, The Hotel encourages bonding over physical traits, even ailments and/or disabilities, no matter how superficial those connections may seem. Ben Whishaw’s Limping Man goes to some extreme lengths to get with this girl he likes who happens to suffer from frequent nose bleeds. John C. Reilly is convinced once he meets a woman with a speech impediment like his he’s set for life. Suicide entices some to escape in a different way. All of this becomes a driving force for David to make the decisions he makes.

There’s not a lot of happiness in The Lobster. I think that much is obvious. But it bears mentioning again. The warning sirens must be heard clearly before too many enter the film with certain expectations. It’s one of the most brutal black comedies I’ve seen, capped off by one of the most memorable endings 2016 has yet produced. Presently I struggle to reconcile my enjoyment of Lanthimos’ work, when only two years ago, I was babbling incessantly about my distaste for John Michael McDonagh’s similarly pessimistic Calvary. The two share more in common than I really would like to admit.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 12.22.09 AM

Recommendation: The mileage one gets out of this cynical view on modern relationships I think will depend on one’s own propensity for being cynical themselves. Performances are universally strong, although this is very much a ‘message’ film. However, that message is unlikely to make an impact upon those who can’t latch on to the absurd tone, dialogue/speech patterns and occasionally shocking developments. This is quite a heavy watch but it’s also one of the most unique releases 2016 currently has on tap.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Why a lobster?” / “Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.”

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Man Up

'Man Up' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 13, 2015 (limited)


Written by: Tess Morris

Directed by: Ben Palmer

Man Up plays out like the self-help book on dating that you never knew you needed. Or wanted. It’s a romantic comedy where the romance is neither obnoxious nor saccharine and where not everyone is all LOL-ing up in your face because they’re having a jolly good time in a movie regardless of whether or not you the viewer are.

No, Man Up is actually pretty good fun and while the fates of our two star-crossed lovers aren’t anything surprising at least they make sense and can be believed. It doesn’t deal with perfect people with perfect smiles, even though stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are far from unattractive, and the story doesn’t aim to aggrandize anything. (Sure, be negative and call it an unambitious movie but I won’t say that, even though I technically did just say that.)

Ben Palmer directs a story written by Tess Morris about a woman in her mid-thirties, Nancy (Bell), who hasn’t had much luck in love lately and is utterly fed up with the awkward blind dates her family keeps setting her up on. When she finds herself at the right place at the right time, standing underneath the clock at the bustling Waterloo train station where Pegg’s Jack is supposed to be meeting a blind date, Nancy can’t quite bring herself to say who she really is and instead plays along as his ‘date.’

The eminently likable actors make it easy to buy in to the awkwardness of the situation. With a little bit of serendipity thrown in for good measure — Nancy is mistaken for Jessica (the would-be date) in part because she happens to be holding the same book Jack has been reading — our adventure plods onward through the streets of downtown London and into pubs. Meanwhile, it’s the night of Nancy’s parents’ 40th anniversary and she is expected to be giving a toast at the party.

The movie is titled Man Up but the farce ultimately revolves around Nancy and her inability to make decisions, good or bad. Well, she’s more naturally drawn to the bad ones, hence the irony of the title (I guess it’s ironic?). What makes it fun playing along as third wheel here is watching the actors adapt to the shift in dynamic when Nancy finally does own up to her actions. The nervousness of the initial meet-cute stage quickly gives way to bitterness, jealousy, even open hostility. Pegg nearly dissolves in the acidity of his own sarcasm as he begins to rue the moment while Bell adopts a more serious tone, simultaneously feeling bad for Jack while pitying her own hopelessness. Why can’t she just be “normal?”

After a slow start Man Up finds renewed energy following a heated exchange (not the kind you’re thinking you perv) in the men’s room at a smoky London dive. The film relies perhaps a little too much on the spontaneity of its performances as the stakes aren’t exactly high and you’d have to be blind drunk not to see how this night ends. Fortunately the characters have our sympathy as these are good-hearted people who have clearly paid the price for the mistakes they’ve made in the past, though Nancy is the more interesting character as all we get for a backstory concerning Jack is an all-too-brief cameo by Olivia Williams as his bitter ex-wife.

Man Up is lightweight fluff but it’s not forgettable fluff. Few and far between are the romantic comedies that play out quite so naturally, the ones that don’t suffer because of the strict parameters that make up the rom-com blueprint — we’re of course reminded of those limitations within the final scene, that grand gesture that just has to happen in front of as large a crowd as possible. The tears of joy. The awkward first-time introductions for maximum dramatic effect. But Man Up gets away with it, the cheeky little bugger.

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg in 'Man Up'

Recommendation: Fun, energetic and well-acted, Man Up is a modest romantic gesture that earns its laughs and even its more sappy moments. Not without its flaws, this is certainly one to watch if you’re a fan of either Bell or Pegg. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “I met a man today. For the first time in ages, I put myself out there. And I took a chance. Blah, blah, blah, the end.”

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Run All Night


Release: Friday, March 13, 2015


Written by: Brad Ingelsby

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Emotionally resonant, impressively acted and frenetically paced to a fault, the latest demonstration of Neeson’s physical and intellectual stamina may suffer from a case of ‘been there, done that’ but that’s more in reference to the general direction this new release takes and less to its personality. There’s no shame in repeating a formula . . . if it works. What’s that adage — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Well Liam isn’t broken yet as this film proves; he’s got plenty left in the tank.

The 62-year-old Irishman crawls under the skin of what may be his most apparent antihero yet, Jimmy Conlon, a former hit-man with more ties to the mob than to his own family. When a thug, the son of one of Jimmy’s only remaining friends Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) makes a sloppy attempt at disposing of unwanted evidence in the wake of a botched murder by tracking down an escaped ‘victim’ to Jimmy’s son’s home and attempts to clean house, Jimmy is awoken from a particularly brutal drunken stupor in an effort to save his son’s life. Michael (Joel Kinnaman, finally coming to life) hasn’t seen his father in five years since the death of his mother and finds the timing a little odd to say the least. Knowing full well what the consequences of his latest kill are going to be, Jimmy makes a strong case for Michael to trust his trigger-finger and gut instinct for just one night.

It’s clear we won’t be dropping the baggage of old age manifesting in bottomless drinks and endless cigarettes this time around: Neeson’s character once more gets to tout his miserable existence on this mortal coil as experience no one around him ought to share in, but within this fragile father-son dynamic the pain caused by his rejection from society — or those who haven’t committed murder for a living anyway — not only registers with the audience but it’s a burden that feels earned. If it’s not a better life Jimmy wants for his son and his family, which includes a regrettably disposable Genesis Rodriguez as his gorgeous wife, then it’s certainly anything but what the next 24 hours are going to offer.

As for those aforementioned consequences, Harris’ ruthless Shawn, whose previous claims of running a legit operation these days belie the monster dormant behind cold, blue eyes, stabs a man in the back no less than ten times with a large blade during a shocking sequence of mafia-related retribution. It’s not quite like Matthew 5:38 (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”), but the allegory, even if as subtle as a backstabbing, works to heighten the tension. Every move Jimmy makes to protect his son Shawn mimics out of desperation — desperation with which we can actually empathize. Credit Harris’ gift for powerful acting. Credit screenwriter Brad Ingelsby for setting up the stakes sufficiently, as the fall-out between the two men culminates in a surprisingly emotional showdown.

Run All Night is of course not without its own missteps. Its many action-packed (read: very violent) scenes are spliced together with an energy that takes some effort keeping up with, even for director Jaume Collet-Serra. A dizzying blend of awkward camera zooms that whisk us from one section of the metropolitan maze that is Manhattan to the other and close-ups of characters at rest nearly results in nausea and does result in frequent detachment from the movie. Not to mention this story, though much more attentive to character development and emotional gravitas than the latter Taken installments, merely adds padding to Neeson’s post-Ra’s Al Ghul résumé. Run All Night is neither as poorly titled as Non-Stop nor as ill-advised as extending the legacy of Bryan Mills, yet it won’t survive the year in most moviegoer’s memory.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a film worth checking out though. It packs a punch and has strong performances peppered throughout, unsurprisingly from its head honchos and even Joel Kinnaman. Yes, I do realize how much that sounds like hyperbole . . . but for once on this blog I feel like I’m underselling something.


3-0Recommendation: Run All Night could have gone either way, but Neeson once again delivers, with dramatic heft and some interesting relationship developments backing him up. At his age this could easily have been Walk All Night, or Hobble All Night. Or Talk on the Phone Menacingly All Night. But this character feels a little more three-dimensional as does the narrative. May I suggest this one to the more devoted fans of the rugged and imposing Liam Neeson and some other big-named actors who offer solid work.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Tell everyone to get ready. Jimmy’s coming . . . “

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Release: Friday, January 10, 2014


When Spike Jonze makes a film this intelligent, it’s pretty difficult to comprehend the fact that this is the same guy underneath all that ghastly ‘Old Granny’ make-up in Jackass. Even though that was a pretty minor role Jonze played in the show/movies, it was still a semi-recurring one. Yet, it couldn’t be a more polar opposite experience to what he’s presenting here.

His Her is destined to be a modern classic, an enchanted fairytale for the iPod generation. Stylish, comical and surprisingly poignant, this original screenplay from Granny Jonze captures human interaction and emotion like few films have before. For every decent (or even great) romance film or love story that has preceded this and the missteps they have taken in their efforts to affect audiences a certain way, Her manages to learn from those errors and simply avoids making them.

Seeing as though virtually everything that could possibly work for a film does work for this one, let’s start at the main menu, with the performances, for they are astonishing.

Joaquin Phoenix dons a pair of thick wire-framed glasses (yes, this pair actually does have lenses) and a funny mustache as he transforms himself into yet another peculiar lead. This time it’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely Los Angelino in the middle of a painful divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). His performance is one of the man’s most earnest and vulnerable; this is a person who doesn’t know what he wants out of intimate relationships. That’s true of the past and certainly his biggest conundrum looking forward. Phoenix disguises a complex range of emotions within his furrowed brow, occasionally expressing the more irrepressible of them with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed look of disbelief. The nerd-glasses are particularly effective in conveying his discomfort on a number of occasions.

Phoenix is no doubt the focus here, but it’s what Scarlett Johansson is able to accomplish with a disembodied voice that will come to distinguish this production.

In this more impersonal society, technology has spawned an operating system that is intended to help people stay more organized and on task. Code-named OS1, Theodore can’t help but get one of his own since he figured it couldn’t hurt him anymore than he already is. Beginning as a mere sentient program, she quickly develops a genuine personality in which Theodore feels comfortable confiding. She even names herself ‘Samantha.’ In fact, technology has reached a point to where the OS1 learns to feel exactly as a person does or would in any given situation, but because it is a highly-advanced program, it has an obligation to learn so much more. In fact, it’s not even obligation — this is just what computers do. Samantha’s capacity to learn, to feel and experience proves to be far greater than Theodore could have imagined, the more they get to know one another.

Johansson’s role may seem limited — even off-putting — but this ethereal, beautiful voice couldn’t be more entrancing. The ease with which she stores herself into the viewer’s long-term memory is, in all honesty, haunting.

Not fully convinced that two incredible central performances are sufficient, Granny Jonze cleverly thrusts the story into a latter-21st-century context. The L.A. of the future doesn’t look so radically different as to be unrecognizable, but there’s an oh-so-slight dystopian accent which enhances this sense of distance between people. The fact that most passers-by caught in any given shot all seem to be engaged in an OS1 chat of their own is intended to give viewers pause for consideration. Never before has having a conversation with someone who’s less than ten feet away from you seemed like such a quaint idea.

And yet the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha proves an utterly beautiful contradiction to the environment in which their relationship has been established. The fact that it’s possible to feel some emotion towards what even the least discerning of audiences recognizes as a very intelligent computer system, is a testament to the quality of the screenplay and the respective performances. And while the leads are certainly unforgettable, there are a couple of contributing performances that help realize dear old Granny Jonze’s vision.

Olivia Wilde’s brief appearance as a blind date Theodore meets one night (at Samantha’s request, actually) is well-placed. In a few brief minutes we gain a deep understanding of the type of relationship she’s looking for, and simultaneously a better understanding of who Theodore is. . .and isn’t. This cast isn’t exactly extensive, and because it isn’t, the film benefits further from the only other main character’s strong presence in Amy (Amy Adams), who is Theodore’s friend from college and currently a colleague at the letter-writing company he works at.

A couple of others get to (literally) phone it in, with Kristen Wiig connecting briefly as one of the film’s arguably funniest moments; and Chris Pratt gets to be the weird receptionist guy who takes an unusually strong interest in Theodore’s writing skills. Though slight, each little quirky character adds to the awkwardness of the experience.

The director clearly trusts in his cast enough to let them do the heavy emotional lifting, but as a writer, he steps in with an unusually perceptive script that builds (and demolishes) characters and situations in completely believable ways. Attention to detail is at a level unparalleled in many films as of late, manifested in everything from the color palette (mainly reds), to the pillow talk Theodore has with Samantha, to the way Phoenix scrunches his eyebrows in reaction to things.

Granny should know the effort that went in does not go unnoticed. Her. . . excuse me, his film, Her — if there’s any justice in the world — should stand as one of the proud cinematic achievements of the 21st Century. Not only a deeply emotional film, it’s a conversation about the future that we needed to have.


5-0Recommendation: Neither strictly romance nor dedicated to being simply sci-fi or comedy, Her dramatizes elements of each while incorporating a refreshingly earnest take on relationships and it strikes an emotional chord while doing so. Anyone who has ever considered themselves in one of those, well. . .you should probably see this one. That does sound like a lazy recommendation, but honestly it’s the truth. This is one of the best films I personally have ever seen. (Too soon?)

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

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Blue is the Warmest Color


Release: Friday, October 25, 2013 (limited)


A film already mired in controversy surrounding it’s director and one of the lead stars, Léa Seydoux, stirs up a conversation I don’t think a great many of us have had at the theaters, perhaps ever. I think that’s because most conversations had when filing out of the exit doors don’t involve primarily talking about the sex scenes. If a movie was good, they’ll be remembering other things about the story, plot, etc, and maybe, yes, if there is a bit of that in there it’s an afterthought; but here is one that has already ignited a strong debate simply over it’s sexual content.

Understandable in some ways.

Blue is the Warmest Color subsists on a healthy diet of passionate (and quite frankly committing) love scenes, ones that become starkly contrasted against moments of suffering, loneliness and heartbreak, as well as anything and everything in between. Throughout this sprawling epic one comes to realize the ultimate circle of an intense love affair. Along with it, all the pains and the pleasures. Feelings on both ends of the spectrum are treated with Abdel Kechiche’s undivided attention. And it’s only fair that we give ours to them.

At the center of what’s being pitched as not your traditional relationship, is the fifteen-year-old Adele, a high school student who appears to distance herself from most people. We don’t at first know what the reasons are for her aloofness, but over time we can tell she is certainly conflicted with getting intimate with another person — in particular, this one guy in her class all her friends are urging her to start talking to. Finding herself practically cornered, Adele ends up sleeping with Samir (Salim Kechiouche), though soon she’ll encounter a blue-haired girl one day at a crosswalk. Her life will be irrevocably changed.

The moments throughout Blue that play out subtly are intentionally kept to a minimum, yet when they do happen they are brilliant. The moment the two find each other’s eyes for the first time is one such pivotal scene, setting the course of the rest of the film.

Perhaps its the fact that this is a foreign production — one that has garnered the supposedly straight actresses and its also-supposedly misogynistic director praise of the highest order at the Cannes Film Festival in the form of Palme d’Ors all around — that gives the proceedings an organic, dramatic feel; a delicate warmth and stone-cold conviction, flourishes that likely could have been stamped out if handled by American filmmakers. One can certainly argue that this film is a style all to Kechiche’s own, though. Whatever that quality might be is difficult to describe exactly, but the emotions contained within this sweeping chronicle of love feel earned rather than just given.

Adele finds herself overwhelmed with desire the night after she first sees her, and this prompts her to go out looking for the woman in night clubs around the area. (An argument for stalking could be made.) When she enters a lesbian club deep into the evening, she finds her again. It is here we get our first impressions of the pair’s on-screen chemistry — intoxicating right from the get-go. The girl’s name is Emma, and as a fourth-year fine arts student, its clear there’s some age difference between the two. Confident, stylish and matured, Emma finds herself also drawn to Adele’s touch. What starts off as a mutual attraction quickly evolves into a torrid love affair, making for some of the most immersive scenes modern filmgoers are likely to ever find.

Some part of me wants to label a couple of these extensive sex scenes as gratuitious. Similar to the way in which slavery is depicted in Steve McQueen’s haunting biopic 12 Years a Slave, the content at times reaches shocking extremes. But this part of me is the part that is awkward and uncomfortable. This is the part of me that doesn’t quite understand the dynamics of these relationships (perhaps relationships at all, for that matter), and since these cumulative 30-ish minutes of sex have been bashed by the gay community as being “clearly sex scenes filmed with heterosexual actresses,” it seems that perhaps even the director himself doesn’t, either. Admittedly there are a few shots that remain in the final cut that seem like they could easily have been done away with in previous edits, but they remain; a time or two the camera lingers on a particular body part for a second or two unnecessarily.

Regardless of one’s personal views, these moments are the reasons why Blue is an inherently controversial post on DSB. They also account for the rumors circulating that those involved in its creation had terrible experiences with it all. It’s a shame, this gray area.

A film that dedicates itself to raw truths about love shouldn’t get drowned out by the news of what goes on behind closed doors. Certainly at this point the controversy far outweighs the product. At least, to certain people it does. However it’s not appropriate for me to really weigh in on that myself, nor would I really be able to. From a filmgoer’s perspective, Blue is the definitive story about love. Forget about things like Titanic and Pearl Harbor — epic love stories tied into historical tragedies for the sake of widening the potential audience. Forget how convincing Anne Hathaway or Rachel McAdams or Julia Roberts is in any rom-com. Forget the classic, timeless fable that is The Princess Bride. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s relationship with their audience is about as intimate as the one they share on-screen, and the experience here is greatly improved because of it.

Boasting performances that would seem to transcend what’s required of method actors, Blue is ingenious in its expansive run time because it allows a single relationship to naturally grow and shrink over time, providing us with more than simply a snapshot of life on the big screen, something which most movies don’t have the luxury of affording due to more modest time constraints. This is a film that likes to take its time, sampling and appreciating the little things in life along the way.

Sometimes it’s the little things that end up consuming a great deal of who and what we are.


4-5Recommendation: I find that I simply cannot dish out a perfect rating for this one based on the graphic nature of some of the scenes. This is like asking whether or not I would have given one to The Passion of the Christ (had that story actually been more than just simple torture), given all of its bloodletting. That’s not to say this film is one-dimensional, in fact it’s the furthest from it. But in all good conscience I can’t call what is ostensibly an adult film a “Must See” film. Still, it’s one that a great many filmgoers should see because it features one of the most open and honest relationships ever put to film. I applaud everyone on that, despite the film’s many issues, on and off the set.

Rated: NC-17

Running Time: 187 mins.

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Thanks For Sharing


Release: Friday, September 20, 2013 (limited)


….and now that you have, please don’t ever share again. It might cost us our friendship.

So said Gwyneth Paltrow to Mark Ruffalo’s Adam, who’s celebrating five years of celibacy. Well, maybe ‘celebrating’ is a poor choice of words for this situation, but still. Ruffalo plays a dude who is reticent to having any kind of relationship with another woman at this stage in his life, and the other two lead roles here in Tim Robbin’s Mike and Josh Gad’s Neil, have at some point invariably come to this conclusion in their own journeys through rehabilitation.

The three meet in a support group primarily for sex addiction. The opening scenes show them sharing anecdotes, as well as informing each other of any progress they might be making day-to-day. Each of the three main characters is at a different stage in that progression towards health. For Mike, he’s a recovering alcoholic as well as a former abusive husband and father and has been for years seeking solace in therapy. For Adam, this means being five years removed from his last sexual encounter. Then there’s Neil, who seemingly can’t get a grip on anything at all and it would be a miracle if he went a day without masturbation. Initially, his character would appear to be the most chronic sufferer of a disease which many might view as simply an excuse or a reason to be antisocial. Thanks For Sharing attempts to rectify the stigma, but in so doing, director Stuart Blumberg causes more of a blemish on the subject because it’s far too preachy.

The acting all around is something close to remarkable and has little, if anything, to do with the depressing nature of this film. Ruffalo and Paltrow have great chemistry — not just in the bedroom, either. Tim Robbins is a heartbreaking central figure in that, in some sense, he’s the oldest of this trio and would thereby seem to be at a more advanced stage in his rehab; to assume as much would be a gross oversight though. He’s very much still dependent on therapy.

Then there’s Josh Gad, who I’m slowly starting to build much respect for. He continues to take on roles that are self-deprecating but he manages to portray them in such a way as to come off as ‘the loser,’ but a lovable loser. His Neil might be the best showcase of Gad’s talents. A few other supporting roles contribute, and not the least of which is Pink (a.k.a. Alecia Moore)’s Dede, who joins the support group further into the film; as well, Patrick Fugit plays Mike’s son, Danny, who suddenly reappears in Mike’s life at perhaps an inopportune moment.

There’s no denying Thanks For Sharing‘s bold subject matter — sex addiction is quite the taboo topic and this very fact begs a lot of interesting questions and suggests many an intriguing angle that the director might have and should have taken. Instead, Blumberg relies on old-fashioned romantic-comedy formula to get us through the awkwardness of it all. Relationships are developed as well as they are lost with the snap of a finger. While this is an oversimplification of certain developments and won’t make a great deal of sense until you watch the film yourself, it greatly detracted from any of my intrigue I had going into this film, and quite frankly the management of the relationships — namely between Ruffalo and Paltrow — was intensely annoying and equally so, too-pat and Hollywood-ized.

Let’s get one thing straight: the topic up for master debating in this motion picture is anything but glamorous. Yet Blumberg hires some pretty damn good looking people to bring a deeply personal — and to be repetitive, tabooed — story to the big screen. Please forgive me if the next statement comes off as cruel, but Josh Gad seems to be the most accurately cast actor to fulfill the requirements of a dramatized pervert. He’s a great actor. And he looks the part. I have a very difficult time doing the same with Mark Ruffalo (all Hulkified and shit) and the gorgeous Pepper Potts. There’s an element of insincerity in the cast’s attractiveness that simply doesn’t gel with what is at times some pretty excruciating material.

As Phoebe, Paltrow rarely has been more enticing, but still the object of her affections can’t trust her seemingly good intentions. One of the first things she tells Adam is that she “will never date another addict.” Having much difficulty in finding the right moment, Adam can’t bring himself to admit his problems to her; and then when that day comes, things go down just as one might expect. However, the movie cannot exactly be blamed for forcing an all-too conventional relationship into the story. Adam and Phoebe’s relationship is anything BUT conventional. Yet it’s still somewhat wholly unsatisfying and frustrating.

Fortunately, and to reiterate, the same things can’t be said of Gad’s Neil and his own journey. He becomes more of a centerpiece than Adam in some ways. And one of the more interesting threads ongoing is the complicated relationship between Neil and Adam. Partnered together in the rehab program, Adam is Neil’s “sponsor,” which roughly translates to some kind of confidant. At times, Neil is a gut-wrenchingly tragic character, but he has far more redemption than Adam seems to get or deserve. The same might have applied to Tim Robbin’s Mike had his character not been written as purely a stereotype. While the relationship between him and his son served as a heartwarming subplot, his place in the universe, his “kind” is chalked up to nothing more than a series of cliches.

In short, Thanks For Sharing is one of those hodgepodges of great talent mixing with sub-par material and gratuitously somber direction. There are great moments throughout — particularly pertaining to the meetings with everyone admitting their stories to one another — but there’s rarely a scene that doesn’t beg the question, “This couldn’t have been handled any better than this?” As its Blumberg’s debut feature, perhaps its just inexperience. I applaud him for embracing such a polarizing issue like this, but unfortunately this just feels far too safe for a drama, and too stiff to be labeled comedy for me to definitively approve of the guy as a director just yet.


2-5Recommendation: There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Blumberg’s first film; however, it’s not developed enough to recommend fully. Catch it on a rental or Netflix or something later; this won’t be anything that will be remembered too soon, which is a shame, considering it’s one of the more interesting-sounding films I had heard of this year.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins. 

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