Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friends with Benefits

This morning I saw Friends with Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.

It's the age-old question: can two friends who are physically attracted to each other have a sex without developing feelings? The characters in this film bargain they can.

Jamie (Kunis) is the headhunter who convinces Dylan (Timberlake) to relocate to New York from L.A. for a great job with GQ. Since he knows no one in his new city, the two become buddies by default and are soon lounging around together on the couch watching movies.

Their attraction to one another is undeniable (and Timberlake and Kunis have enough chemistry to pull off the tension), but both were recently burned in previous relationships so they decide they want nothing from each other except sex.

And the filmmakers should be commended for their first sex scene—if couples would be as honest as these two are (telling one another EXACTLY what to do and how to do it) the world would probably be a happier place. Because they get all of the communication out of the way in their very technical debut encounter, they end up having a truly satisfying physical relationship, which almost achieves exactly what they wanted.

Until they decide to start dating other people.

The film then takes a very formulaic turn, throws in some family members (one with a sad ailment), a trip home and we all know where the rest of the story is headed.

But that's okay.

The clever writing, fun pop culture references (who doesn't fondly remember Kris Kross?) and generally lighthearted vibe make forgiving its flaws easy.

The two leads are a pleasure to watch and the story is something that should appeal to anyone who has thought "what if?" about one of their attractive friends.


Saturday, July 23, 2011


Today I saw the documentary Tabloid, directed by Errol Morris.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #106, so tune in next month for our review.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Tree of Life

On Sunday, I saw The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken.

This is a film to walk into without expectations, and I wish I'd had that luxury.

I'd heard that I would love it; I'd heard that I would hate it. I'd heard that I would know what it feels like to be a baby, then a young boy. I was told my faith would be challenged. None of that turned out to be remotely true.

I didn't love this movie, but I most certainly didn't hate it—there is too much magic present for that to happen. It stirred intense emotions within me, though while it was doing so I was lamenting the fact it was about an hour too long.

I was impressed by Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken, who play father and son. I was annoyed by Jessica Chastain (Mom), who seemed always to be running or floating or crying on her sad little suburban street.

I was disappointed that Sean Penn's appearance was so brief, and wondered why the grown-up version of his character was even there.

I was amazed by the beauty of what I was witnessing on-screen: the stars forming; rivers with dinosaurs jumping about; a beautiful baby giggling and cooing; a gorgeous, old tree our symbol of life throughout.

There are a dozen different ways this film could be interpreted—some feasible, others reaching. So I'll just express how I experienced it and wonder if anyone else felt the same way...

I believe the entire movie was meant to show God's perspective.

I believe we were watching the story of one family because most of us could relate to that in the easiest way (and the director's childhood was apparently similar to that of the film's young hero).

I believe it was meant to be a conversation by humans asking God why life is filled with such pain.

I believe it was meant to show that God's plan is merely a cycle and we're all just in each part of it temporarily.

I believe it was meant to show that God sometimes experiences life with us, which is why we must hurt.

I believe it was meant to show that God sees the world in whatever way He chooses: through his own eyes, through those of a child, or via a guilt-ridden adult.

I believe God is meant to be represented as an entity or simply as another branch of nature.

I believe it is up to us to decide.


Friday, July 01, 2011

Larry Crowne

Today I saw Larry Crowne, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Larry (Hanks) is a content retail worker until his world comes crashing down during company layoffs. He's forced to give up his house, his car—his life as he knows it.

The reason given for him being chosen as someone to lay off is insufficient education, so he decides to go back to school to use up all of this new spare time. There, at the local community college, he takes a class from Mrs. Tainot (Roberts). She's a bitter, jaded, out-of-love-with-her-husband kind of woman who probably shouldn't be teaching anymore.

But of course, her hard-ass approach and wrap dresses make all of the students a captive audience, and soon the kid who was answering his cell phone in class is up giving presentations just like everyone else (even if he cheats by writing them on his hands).

Did I mention that Larry befriends another student in the class who convinces him to join her scooter gang? And that the scooter gang is comprised of people younger and more diverse than Larry?

Sound cliché? Well, it is, but I can't help but still love Hanks, who co-wrote this with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos.

He (as usual) is incredibly likable in this role, and a few cameos from his real-life wife, Rita Wilson, and Vardalos' real-life husband, Ian Gomez are also fun to watch.

But the chemistry between Roberts and Hanks isn't as electric as the script would imply. With the exception of one 'kiss' scene, which tells us of their physical attraction, these two characters appear to have no reason to even like one another.

Bryan Cranston, who plays Roberts' loser of a husband, has more sparks with her in his limited time on screen than she and Hanks do throughout the entire film.

For a formulaic, occasionally funny, PG-day-at-the-movies type of flick, Crowne isn't horrible, but it certainly doesn't live up to its stars' or writers' other works.