The stereotype of the smothering Jewish mother and her passive (and passive-aggressive) grown son is nothing new in pop culture. The Guilt Trip could have easily dipped into a mewling mommy-hating therapy session but star Barbra Streisand manages to transform a New Jersey widow who loves collecting frogs coffee klatches and coupons with her fellow yentes into something more than her neuroses. Seth Rogen is an amiable foil as her son Andy a frustrated organic chemist whose invention — a cleaner so natural you could drink it! — is going nowhere. Frankly Andy and his product are both pretty boring until Joyce comes along.
Andy makes a rare pit stop at his childhood home before launching on a cross-country tour trying to convince execs to stock his product. After Joyce reveals a rather humanizing tidbit about her past he decides to invite her along. She's thrilled to spend time with her son who seems alternately amused and bemused by his colorful mom. They fall into a familiar squabbly rhythm that hits pretty close to home especially during the holiday season.
Streisand and Rogen's chemistry keeps The Guilt Trip going. You get the feeling that Rogen who has been stretching himself in more serious roles like the cuckolded husband in Take This Waltz almost just shows up to have Streisand bounce off of him. It's hard to believe he's simmering with rage at his overbearing mom and it's easy to see that she is lonely and harmless; without these two factors the movie could have fallen flat or taken a much darker turn. (The latter would have been an interesting drama although a different movie entirely.) His little digs at her are mumbled asides that seem harmless but add up although Joyce can be kind of annoying in a particular way that only a child can sense about his/her parent. Another actor with a less gentle demeanor could have made Andy a real jerk but even in his jerkiest moments he's just sort of sad. There doesn't feel like there's much at stake here. The smaller moments are what sing even if they're a little sappy.
What's so often overlooked by family comedies especially ones that have the opportunity to vilify the mother is that your parents are human. They had lives before you ever arrived and they will continue to do so after you've left. More importantly they have love lives and sexual histories whether you like it or not. Joyce is no naïf; she's less flummoxed by stopping at a strip club (bartended by the wonderful Dale Dickey) than Andy is. She likes to have a good time and men like her. People like her. They don't particularly like or are impressed by Andy. Although Joyce questions whether or not she's been a good mother especially since Andy is still single (The horror!) she never verges on truly castrating or cruel. When she finally lets loose in a total Streisand moment with a monologue that begins "You little sh*t…" you're on her side. Andy is being a little sh*t. Like many of us especially around the holidays he forgets his mom is human.
The Guilt Trip is an interesting companion to the Apatow canon if we can call it that. It's hard not to associate Rogen's Andy Brewster with his earlier comedic roles. There's not a lot to him although Dan Fogelman's script does try and add a few layers that should surprise us. If we try to fill in the blanks it's easy to wonder if Andy is a slightly more grown-up version of Ben Stone who in Knocked Up has a dysfunctional relationship with his father and only got it together when he was trying to impress a woman. It would have been good to get to know Andy a little bit more but it's hard to compete with Babs and he's smart to let her take over.
In the end The Guilt Tripis more about Joyce than Andy which makes it much more in line with adult fare like Hope Springs than Rogen's typical beat. While Joyce is still defined by her lack in many ways — she's single because she reasons she wants to be able to eat M&M's in bed without anyone judging her and we don't see how she supports herself or what she does other than cluck over old home movies — she's still a helluva lot more woman than we normally see on screen.
Based on the classic tale Chicken Little follows the fable with a few creative freedoms. Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) must clear his name as a chicken who cried “wolf” (or rather “The sky is falling…”). The town turns to chaos over Little’s claim. When he can’t prove the incident everyone thinks the chick’s lost it. A year later the stigma still follows him--leading Little to desperately seek acceptance particularly from his father Buck Cluck (voiced by Garry Marshall). In an effort to seek positive attention he joins the baseball team and wins the big game. It seems everything’s going Little’s way until another piece of the sky falls and mysteriously finds it’s way into Little’s home. This time friends Runt of the Litter (voiced by Steve Zahn) and Abby Mallard (voiced by Joan Cusack) bare witness to the incident which turns into a full-blown alien invasion. What follows is a battle between animals and the unknown. As a writer producer director and sometime actor Marshall can now add “animated character” to his list of accomplishments. Voicing Buck Cluck has to be one of Marshall’s easiest roles. With an always distinctive voice Marshall used his signature sound to carry the role. Braff’s familiar voice sounded slightly tweaked for the part but added to the character’s sincerity. As always Cusack and Zahn’s characters add the perfect blend of comic relief. Along with directing The Emperors New Groove director Mark Dindal also contributed to such classics as The Little Mermaid and Oliver & Company. Given his background it’s no surprise that this film delivers a lot of Disney’s essentials--comedy adventure and music. In terms of animation Dindal and his team’s attention to detail won’t go unnoticed particularly in the space invasion sequences. Still while visually gorgeous Chicken Little won’t likely go down in Disney history as a classic. It doesn’t have the great soundtrack Disney is usually known for. It features a few originals (Barenaked Ladies’ “One Little Slip”) but is jam packed with cover songs (Wannabe ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough) sung by the actual cast. Pure comedy but no real gems. But overall Dindal succeeds in delivering a fun film worth taking the family to.
Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos for whom the description "downtrodden" is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense she said). Unwanted unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens Wournos became a drifter turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance then for sustenance. As this movie tells it with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian) comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: "You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you " at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family Wournos from the law as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker easier safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.
Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless brown pools; baby face into pocked sagging jowls; even white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well OK not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron model-turned-actress underneath all the makeup and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger cuss fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird yet rewarding casting choice Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet ultimately whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.
Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend director Patty Jenkins practically screams "Poor me!" for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character it might as well apply to everyone else as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why for chrissakes Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to "go there " pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.
With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.