In the political thriller The Ides of March – George Clooney’s adaptation of the stage drama Farragut North – Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers campaign press secretary to Mike Morris (Clooney) a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Savvy self-assured and blessed with a preternatural ability to spin a story in his candidate’s favor Stephen is a fast-rising figure with a dazzlingly bright future. Unlike his more seasoned – and cynical – campaign-manager boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Stephen all of 30 years old still boasts something of an idealistic streak. He believes in Morris not just as a meal ticket but as someone who just might make the world a better place.
Stephen’s idealism and ambition come into conflict when in the feverish days leading up to the pivotal Ohio primary he suffers a series of judgment lapses that threaten to derail his promising career. Teased with the prospect of a job offer he’s lured into a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) the campaign manager of Morris’ main Democratic rival – a major no-no in a business that prizes loyalty above all else. Later he beds a beguiling young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) who unwittingly drops a bombshell that could very well bring down the entire Morris campaign.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory about Ides of March. Our eyes were long ago opened to the amorality and viciousness of electoral politics. And goodness knows we’ve witnessed political scandals far more salacious than anything depicted in the film. Ides of March’s strength lies in the power of its storytelling in the way that Clooney brings together several distinctive headstrong characters and sets them against each other in a riveting game of intrigue. It helps compensate for the been-there done-that familiarity of the topics explored.
Clooney is very much an actor’s director and Ides of March is a testament to how absorbing it can be to witness skilled performers operating at the peak of their powers. Gosling is particularly fascinating to watch as his character awakens to the severity of his predicament. When Stephen is dismissed from the Morris campaign after Zara learns of his meeting with Duffy the firing triggers in him something akin to a fight-or-flight instinct. His livelihood endangered he scrambles to outwit his former colleagues seizing upon tragedy and scandal to worm his way back into the fold. All pretense of idealism vanishes and his expression betrays the slightest hint of derangement. The game has claimed him.
Apparently Paul Verhoeven made every movie that I wasn’t allowed to see as a kid. Parents wouldn’t let me see Robocop. Too violent they'd say. I coudn't see Hollow Man; too much nudity and violence (which was exactly why I wanted to see it). I couldn’t see Starship Troopers; but in reality they just didn’t want to sit through that kind of movie. Now we have word on the next movie of his that my parents won’t want me watching (well, too bad Mom and Dad! I can see R rated movies whenever I want! Now can I borrow 20 bucks for the tickets?) and it involves sex with ghosts.
It’s called Eternal and in it, a dude has sex with a ghost. The story, written by Passenger 57's David Loughery, goes something like this: a drunk talks a suicidal girl off a bridge and they (naturally) start to get hot and heavy (but not on the bridge, that would be weird). After he gets home, he discovers his wife had a P.I. follow him and he has incriminating photos. But what the photos show isn’t him doing the horizontal boot shuffle with a mentally unstable woman. Rather, the shots are of him drinking. Is he insane? Are you insane? Of course not, as it turns out the woman is a ghost that wants his soul. Judging from his slate of past movies it should be incredibly violent and sexy, so, sweet?
Question though: is having sex with a ghost considered necrophilia? You can basically argue that a dead body is basically a dead person without a soul and a ghost is basically a dead person without a body, so would it still be necrophilia? I would try to Google this but I’m afraid of what would come up. And no, I’m not going to “bing” it. Don’t be silly. This is a serious question.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Derek Charles has a beautiful wife beautiful new son beautiful home and a promotion in a big job but his life is turned inside out when he encounters his attractive temp — as in temptress — assistant Lisa who has designs on him and tries to get him to reciprocate. His resistance only increases her efforts as she becomes the stalker from hell throwing his marriage and career into complete chaos … unless he can stop her fanatical "obsession."
WHO'S IN IT?
As Derek the nice guy whose life spirals out of control after a temp stakes a claim on his affections Idris Elba comes off as passive and confused — no match for either a defiant Beyonce Knowles as his wife or Ali Larter (Heroes) as the psychotic maneater who tries to rock his world with everything this side of boiling bunnies. Both stars get a chance to shine before meeting up in a memorable showdown right out of the Fatal Attraction playbook. Larter is sexy seductive and disturbed all at once perfectly capturing the fragile state of a delusional woman in heat. Knowles who previously showed off her acting chops in musicals like Dreamgirls and Cadillac Records really gets to go for the dramatics in Obsessed — and delivers. She does contribute an end title song appropriately called "Smash Into You " aptly describing what she (and her stunt woman) pull off in style in the film's big climactic scene. Also worth mentioning are Jerry O'Connell as Derek's office buddy and Matthew Humphreys as his efficious gay assistant who likes to spread the office gossip. Christine Lahti however is saddled with a thankless role as a rather clueless detective — this fine actress deserves better.
Those who go in checking their brain at the box office might find this paint-by-numbers scenario crudely entertaining even in its utter predictability. It's well-played if totally over the top but hey isn't that what we want from this stuff?
Start with credibility. There isn't any. It takes a full 80 minutes before anyone utters the phrase "restraining order " and the frustration builds while watching a nice innocent guy become such a wuss at the hands of his sexually off-balance temp. Of course if he came clean about the situation and called the police the movie would be over in the first 20 minutes. So suspending belief is a must here. It's interesting to note that considering the casting of Beyonce and blonde goddess Larter as the women at the heart of this triangle those expecting what has been buzzed as a "black Fatal Attraction" will find there is not even a single line referring to the racially mixed nature of the relationships.
HOW TOUGH IS BEYONCE?
Beyonce gets the film's best line in a take-no-prisoners moment when she leaves a message on the nutcase's answering machine: "You think YOU'RE crazy? I'll show you CRAZY. Just try me bitch!"
A well-written hospital scene where Derek gets grilled by a detective and his wife at the same time. This will teach every guy to 'fess up before it all goes bad.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex. The crowd reaction during the finale is part of the fun. But despite the surprisingly generous PG-13 rating definitely leave the kids with the babysitter.
Lakeview Terrace pushes a lot of racial buttons in a melodramatic but gripping story of a young interracial couple--Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington)--who move into beautiful new suburban house in a hilly neighborhood of Southern California. Trouble starts when the self-appointed lord of the street an uptight veteran LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) turns an unkind suspicious eye toward his new neighbors. As if his relentless patrols up and down the block weren’t bad enough he aims his super bright light right into their bedroom all night long. When he catches his kids spying on the couple as they make love in their pool his rage against the pair increases and tensions ratchet up--not helped by a major brush fire threatening homes in the near-distance. Everyone’s patience meets a boiling point as the marriage encounters troubles and Abel’s flash-point temper gets him into hot water on his job. As the fires burn closer the not-so-neighborly conflict careens out of control. The incomparable Jackson is riveting to watch even if this pretty straightforward role of a controlling racist cop doesn’t pose one of the bigger acting challenges of his career. As Abel Jackson simply commands our attention every moment he is on screen and dominates the proceedings like few actors can. You feel his simmering anger and prejudices although until the final moments there isn’t a whole lot of back story to add dimension or complexity to the character. He seems to be what he is with no logical reason for targeting the nice young couple next door. Essentially this is really a three-character piece which--save for a few scenes of Jackson at the station or on patrol--is concentrated solely in the cul-de-sac. Making up the other two parts of this triangle Wilson and Washington are quite believable both slow to burn until given no other choice. Wilson is treading on territory he explored in Little Children and is quite effective as you conjure up memories of the young Paul Newman whom Wilson uncannily resembles especially when shooting pool. Washington continues to show the great promise she displayed in Ray and holds her own in this company. Playwright screenwriter and director Neil LaBute is known for creating tough characters (usually men) and cynical scenarios in his work so it’s easy to see why he might have been attracted to this material written by David Loughery and Howard Korder. His direction is so tight and even claustrophobic at times making the film feel like it could have been designed for a theatrical production--an area in which LaBute is well versed. The power of the piece comes from the combustible interaction between the three main actors and the pitch perfect pacing lets the action peak at just the right moments. By slowly building this house of dominoes LaBute knows just the precise moment to go for the jugular and knock them all down. In other hands it all could have been too much but the director nicely reins things in before unleashing the real fury simmering beneath the surface of this engrossing adult drama.