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#647 October 21, 2011
M O V I E S
Footloose (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
Remaking Footloose is a dicey proposition, and that's not just because the 1984 film is such a beloved multimedia pop culture phenomenon but also that even its most ardent fans would concede it's as inseparably associated with '80s kitsch as it is with star Kevin Bacon. However, from the opening sequence it's clear director Craig Brewer has figured out a way for his film to be the best of all worlds. Not only does he convincingly transplant Dean Pitchford's original story and concept to a contemporary context while being respectfully faithful to the original film, as well as streamlining certain narrative elements and beefing up characterizations in a most respectful and unobtrusive way, he also finds ways to pay fun, affectionately cheeky--but never campy--homage to indelible signposts of the original: scenes, lines, and of course the music and '80s era itself. Close-ups of dancing feet move to the original Kenny Loggins theme song indeed accompany the opening credits (in the same font!), but Brewer, in an inspired bit of narrative economy, puts those feet in the practical dramatic context of a raucous teen party--which leads to the tragedy that leads the small town of Bomont to outlaw public dancing by minors. Showing the tragedy on screen in this version amps up the drama and reality in Brewer's take, which has that specific, authentic air of its Deep South milieu much like in his previous films. The sense of grit and groundedness is perhaps his biggest departure, for the community and the relationships--be it between fresh-in-town city transplant Ren (Kenny Wormald) and rebellious preacher's kid Ariel (Julianne Hough), Ariel's with her dad (Dennis Quaid), or Ren and Ariel's with their respective best friends Willard (Miles Teller) and Rusty (Ziah Colon)--here ring more raw and real, in laughs and pain.
That said, Brewer, while bolstering the drama, still has plenty of fun, after all, this is a music-driven film about an outsider fighting an anti-dancing law, and there a number of memorable sequences that do pay close homage to the original (hello, Angry Dance!) but are given their own unique personality by the fresh choreography and spirited performers. Wormald and Hough both come primarily from the dance world, so needless to say their hoofing is on point, but they prove to be capable and effortlessly likable actors as well. Of the pair, Hough is the clear standout, and not just because she has the fortune to not have to follow up a rather iconic performance. Brewer has significantly added more edge and heft to Ariel, and Hough, in a rather revelatory turn, proves she can act with the stars every bit as well as she can dance with them, holding her dramatic own against the veteran likes of Quaid and Andie MacDowell (as her mother). But all the young actors--her, Wormald, Colon, and the scene-stealing Teller--make striking impressions, and I can easily imagine this Footloose being looked back on down the road as the film that launched these names much like how the '84 film is reflected on in terms of Bacon.
50/50 (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Blu-ray! 50/50 takes its title from the survival odds given to its young protagonist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he's diagnosed with a rare form of cancer; it also rather well-describes the balancing act that writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine achieve. The film is hardly the stern, lachrymose drama the premise implies, but one that balances the seriousness of its central issue with laughs not only from the designated Wisecracking Best Friend (here, Seth Rogen) but also a sharply observant wit. By not beating one over the head with the potential tragedy of the situation, when sentimentality does take over, the tears are earned, no small thanks to the touching performances given by Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick (as his psychotherapist); the supporting work by Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard (continuing a shrewish streak from The Help), and Anjelica Huston also add to the distinctive flavor of what couldve been another Disease of the Week piece.
Margaret (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Never has a troubled film project's off-screen drama played out so clearly in the release product as it does in Kenneth Lonergan's long-delayed follow-up to his much-lauded 2000 debut You Can Count on Me, shot in 2005 but only now reaching cinemas after years of battles both in the editing room and on the legal front. Reports say that Lonergan struggled to find his film in the editing room, and the version seeing the light of day, clocking in at 149 minutes and bearing a 2008 copyright, indeed plays very much like a work-in-progress whose individual pieces have yet to be focused and formed into a cohesive whole--which is all the more frustrating when so many of those parts can be so good in isolation. The one unifying element that does come through is Anna Paquin's rather go-for-broke performance as Lisa, a spoiled, bratty New York high schooler (which shows just how long this film languished in limbo) whose life and world views upended when she partially causes a fatal bus accident. If that sounds like a typical set-up, Lonergan's follow-through is far from it, for instead of going through typical paces of Lisa softening and wising up, she acts and lashes out even more violently, stubbornly, selfishly than ever before. This doesn't make for too likable, if at all, a lead character, but she certainly is a fascinating one, and Paquin rather bravely doesn't soften Lisa's rough edges at all while still conveying a sense of the psychological pain and confusion--not only due to the accident but of simple immature adolescence--that informs her every word and action.
If only Lonergan were wise to zero in on Lisa in the editing room, however, for he rather ambitiously and wrongheadedly uses her situation as a springboard to other subplots and peripheral characters whose barely-there payoffs ultimately to not be worth the time and effort spent (such as Lisa's stage actress mother's new romance) or, even worse, are simply suddenly, completely abandoned before ever getting a chance to even reach a dead end. This is all the more frustrating when, perhaps owing to his playwright roots, Lonergan has crafted many terrific isolated scenes whose crackling dialogue organically build to memorably charged (whether dramatically or comedically, sometimes both) climaxes, but often said scenes, as good as they are on their own, exist in a vacuum divorced from the bigger picture (case in a point, a highly amusing but completely tangential classroom debate between a student and a teacher). And the cast--in addition to Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron (as the mom), Mark Ruffalo, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Broderick (as said teacher) and a very young looking Matt Damon--all bring their A-game to a script that reads well from line to line and scene by scene but hardly hangs together as a whole. The abstract title--taken from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "Spring and Fall", obliquely related to the film's themes, read by Broderick in one scene; there is no character here named "Margaret"--pretty much sums up how pretentious and ultimately unfocused this work is.
Take Shelter (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Michael Shannon has carved out a bit of a screen niche as a crazy guy, and his role here does indeed qualify as such a character: a man whose visions of an impending apocalypse not only gradually unravels his sanity but the lives of all those around him, most especially his wife (Jessica Chastain, continuing her virtuoso banner year in another different, distinctive role) and their young hearing-impaired daughter. Writer-director Jeff Nichols's film requires patience, for its ominous tension builds slowly but steadily, but keeping the proceedings absorbing are the rather impressive effects work for the visions (especially for a no-budget indie) and, above all else, the riveting performances by Chastain and especially Shannon, which turn what on paper is a fairly simple climax into quite the emotional wallop.
What's Your Number? (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Anna Faris is such a fearless comic live wire that the idea of channelling that spontaneous energy into the context of a romantic comedy appears to be what a notoriously formulaic genre needs for an injection of freshness. But while Faris is her usual, lovably offbeat self, she ultimately fights a losing battle against formula as a young woman who tracks down her 19 ex-lovers, believing she has already passed up The One, with the investigative help of her slacker lothario neighbor (Chris Evans). It's highly obvious where this is going, and while Faris and Evans do have chemistry, she never gets a real chance to cut loose in the hilarious way one knows too well that she can; she more or less is simply called on to go through rom-com heroine paces, which she dutifully hits well enough but is a waste of the unique skill and personality she brings to the screen.