The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
S4E7: One of the most beautiful things about Parks and Recreation is that it has a cast of ten very rich, very three-dimensional major characters (plus one Jean-Ralphio), all of whom we have come to care deeply about. With this strength, though, comes an inherent weakness: because we care about each and every one of these characters, and we only have twenty-two minutes a week to spend with the lot of them, we are inevitably going to feel like someone that we cherish is getting short-changed. Sometimes this comes in the form of diminished screen time—this isn’t so much of an issue this week, as we get stories involving everyone in the Parks & Rec department. Sometimes, it means interesting arcs being cut short, sacrificed to make room for larger stories—this is a present flaw in this week’s episode. And sometimes, since we’re always so pumped to see these characters do what they do best, we simply get a little disappointed when we see them used incorrectly.
“Friends drive you to the airport and help you move. All boyfriends do is…love you and marry you.” – Leslie
Leslie is headlining a Model U.N. event for Pawnee high school students who are passionate about the club. The only person as excited as Leslie for the afternoon is Ben, who “super-did” Model U.N. in high school. Last week laid some pretty serious groundwork for the discomfort/frustration Leslie and Ben have around each other due to lingering romantic feelings, and this week tends further to that storyline. Naturally, Leslie’s campaign managers feel that this event would make a good photo-op, et al—Ben does not deal well with this. Feeling abandoned by Leslie after they had begun the day in such a fun/dorky celebration of their mutual interest, he develops an immediate hostility toward her once her attention shifts elsewhere. His reaction might seem inconsistent with his extremely supportive act of ending their relationship so that Leslie could pursue her dream guilt-free, or his passive-aggressive bottle-up-your-problems theory as expressed in the Halloween episode, but at second thought, that doesn’t necessarily suggest error: people are inconsistent, especially when overcome by strong (negative) emotions. He wasn’t acting like the gentle Ben (yep, going there) we know, because he can’t help but feel jealous, sad, a little bitter even, at seeing Leslie dote over the “love for which she left Ben”: politics.
The fight escalates and encompasses the entire Model U.N., provoking Leslie and Ben to declare war on one another and form alliances against each other. After the French ambassador calls the duo out for their behavior, Leslie and Ben recognize how they’ve been acting and come to a reconciliation. They acknowledge how difficult it will be to stay friends, but they vow to try. It’s sweet, and real, because the problem is clearly not over—but it’s being worked on.
“Tom Haverfords don’t grow on trees.” – Ron
“If they did, I would sell ‘em—Tommy Trees!” – Tom
Tom is amazing. Ron is amazing. Tom + Ron = amazing. In fact, were it not for the pretty obvious conclusion impending the whole way through, this week’s Tom/Ron storyline would be amazing. It is funny, even if both characters are a bit out of their elements—that’s a testament to the show, that we can love and feel familiar with characters even when they’re acting out of the norm (because it’s rooted in the way we really understand them to be). And as much as I love Tom as a Parks & Rec employee, I was really hoping his “trying to make it big” storyline wasn’t going to get thrown out. I want to see Tom pursue his dream further. Maybe he’ll have ups, probably a lot of downs. But the character has established since Day 1 how he wanted something more (not more substantial, just more expensive) than his P&R* life. I can only hope that this is not the end of his extra-Park ambitions, as they are integral to the Tom character. But I can optimistically say that I feel as though as long as Jean-Ralphio is hovering around, Tom will always have a scheme in the works.
“I am sorry that I added five years to your life.” – Chris
I’m not really sure what’s going on with Chris lately—or Anne, for that matter. Perhaps they are using the two in a more confrontational forum to break Anne out of the void that she’s been in since their breakup. But where the idea came for Chris to date Jerry’s daughter is beyond me—I’m none too fond of the “She’s hot despite the fact that her father is Jerry” jokes, or Chris’ overt openness with Jerry about their love-life. It all just seems a little one-note, and flat on top of that. So the storyline surrounding Chris/Anne/Jerry/Donna (characters I’m all perfectly fond of ordinarily) this week, in which Chris commandeers the other three to get perspectives on why Jerry’s daughter isn’t calling him back, doesn’t work for me. The payoff is Anne coming into her own and calling Chris out on his self-absorbed nature, but then admitting that their relationship in turn made her come out stronger. I suppose we’ll have to see what exactly they decide to do with Chris/Anne/Jerry/Jerry’s daughter in episodes to come. But if it’s more of the same, I’m hoping that this storyline is dropped promptly. Anne deserves to interact with other characters—her Ron stories this season have been subtly phenomenal—and I’d like to see her come into her own independent of Chris.
This week’s episode of Parks has a lot of what makes us love the show. We are enamored and charmed by Leslie, even Leslie at her worst (because Leslie at her worst is always for really sweet, eye-welling reasons). It has Tom being suave, Andy being goofy, and Ron taking pride in things that no man should (and pulling it off in a way that makes all men think, “Maybe that is something I should take more pride in”). But, as expressed above, it’s easy to feel like characters we love so much aren’t always getting the stories they deserve. "The Treaty" is a little thinner than your usual Parks. But, it's still very much a Parks, and still very much a great, funny, warm episode of television.
*Or, if you prefer, Tommy’s Place.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
Harrison Ford is jumping back into the saddle to portray western gunman Wyatt Earp in a movie adaptation of author Allan Collins' 2007 release, Black Hats: A Novel of Wyatt Earp and Al Capone. The story pits the two historical figures against one another in the 1920s. The Indiana Jones star is currently promoting his new movie, sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens.
It is nearly impossible to maintain a sophisticated stance on a movie whose plot description sounds like it was written on Reddit: "So, you take Wyatt Earp. You know Wyatt Earp, right? He was a cowboy. Henry Fonda played him once. Not important. You know Al Capone? Take him, too. Let's have the two of them face off against one another. Cowboys vs. Gangsters. Isn't there another movie like that coming out soon? Who's in that? Harrison Ford? Sounds good! Let's get him!"
So, that's pretty much what's going on right now. Ford will star as Wyatt Earp in Black Hats, a film based on Max Allan Collins'/Patrick Mulcane's (they're the same person) novel, Black Hats: A Novel of Wyatt Earp and Al Capone.
"Let's keep going. Who should write the script? This has got to be badass. What's the most badass movie ever made? 300! Who wrote that? Google says it's Kurt Johnstad. He sounds pretty badass. He's in."
Honestly, if done with the right amount of innovation, I could see this mismatched pairing of genres being an overwhelmingly entertaining and creative account and re-imagining of historical eras, like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, or an odd, nonsensical mashup that doesn't seem to have any purpose at all, like Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.
The Departed has landed three honors from the Southeastern Film Critics Association, including Best Picture and Best Director for Martin Scorsese.
The star-studded movie also picked up Best Adapted Screenplay for William Monahan in the 15th annual poll, voted for by 47 film critics in the nine states making up the southeastern region of the country.
Elsewhere, Forest Whitaker was named Best Actor for his performance in The Last King of Scotland, while Helen Mirren collected Best Actress for The Queen.
Al Gore's climate-change documentary An Inconvenient Truth won Best Documentary.
Jackie Earle Haley was named Best Supporting Actor for Little Children, and Jennifer Hudson was named Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls.
Best Original Screenplay went to Little Miss Sunshine, and Cars picked up Best Animated Film.
Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up and Sing won the Wyatt Award for the movie that best captures the spirit of the American south.
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