Disconnect is the Crash of the Internet age. Like the Best Picture-winner the stories are somewhat interconnected. It also takes itself very, very seriously. Although it has some salient points about how the Internet has affected our relationships, Disconnect comes off more like a sort of 21st century Reefer Madness about technology.
The phrase "concern-trolling" comes to mind. One of its many definitions is when someone appears to empathize with a troubling situation, but that concern is really condescending or, worse yet, barely masked schadenfreude and derision. Although I don't actually think that writer Andrew Stern and director Henry-Alex Rubin (Murderball) are enjoying the paces they put these characters through, the overall effect is one of insincerity.
Although the Internet can be a hazardous place for people of all ages, these characters' stories come across as Lifetime movie fodder. The kid who's humiliated via Facebook by two male peers isn't just withdrawn, he pouts at the world from beneath the most impressive bangs this side of Thrasher Magazine. One of his bullies is, of course, bullied himself by his resentful dad, a former cop who had to become a PI to support them after his wife died. In another subplot, a hot teen makes money getting his kit off for strangers with webcams and lives in a sort of flophouse owned by the sleazy pseudo-pimp who runs the cam site. When a journalist sniffs out this webcam ring as a great story, the line between professional and personal get blurry. For a grieving mother and wife, the succor of an online support group inadvertently gets her sucked into a phishing scam that almost ruins her and her husband's lives.
Maybe if Disconnect focused on just one of these stories, or even two interconnected ones, it wouldn't come off so overwhelmingly maudlin. Some of the concerns are terribly dated or simply ludicrous; I can't get over the fact that the term "sexcam" is used, as well as the weirdly hysterical idea of a sweatshop of possibly underage teens lured into the world of web-camming with a hot meal and a place to crash. The movie can be effective in parts, though. The Facebook bullying plotline is painfully relevant, even though it's played for high melodrama. It gives us all a disturbing look at how easy social media has made bullying, and how hard it is to escape it.
Disconnect gives some underused actors a chance to gnaw some scenery. Jason Bateman's role of the grieving and angry dad allows him to explore his darker, more sensitive side — some of his scenes are the most affecting. Andrea Riseborough is a wonderful chameleon who dons sensible suits and French-tipped manicures for her performance as a news anchor hoping to bring her career to the next level. Alexander Skarsgard is oddly effective as an emotionally stunted husband, even though it's hard to take him really seriously as an office drone. The rest of the cast — Max Thieriot, Paula Patton, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, and Colin Ford — are decent enough, given what they have to work with. Fashion designer Mark Jacobs, who plays Harvey the webcam pimp, is an amazing bit of stunt casting, though he shouldn't quit his day job.
Disconnect is oddly dark and murky, but luckily cinematographer Ken Seng left his Project X shaky handheld style at home. Max Richter is an incredible composer, but in conjunction with the overripe dramatics onscreen, it all becomes a bit much. We get it, people are disconnected from each other, their feelings, and their sexuality, but isn't there some room for happiness and joy that isn't tinged with pain amid all this tragedy?
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“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
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When crafting a follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time it’s understandable that one might be reticent to mess with a winning formula. But director Todd Phillips and writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong seem to have confused revisiting with recycling: The Hangover Part II so closely mirrors its blockbuster predecessor in every vital aspect that it can scarcely claim the right to call itself a sequel.
The only significant new wrinkle introduced in Part II is its setting: Bangkok Thailand a location that at least theoretically augurs well for a second helping of inspired lunacy. The story structure of the first film has been copied wholesale a game of Mad Libs played with its script. The action is again set around a bachelor party this time in honor of buttoned-down dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Again the boys (Stu Bradley Cooper’s boorish frat boy Phil and Zach Galifianakis’ moronic man-child Alan) awaken the next day in a hideously debauched hotel room with little memory of the previous night’s revelry. And again there is a missing companion: Teddy (Mason Lee son of Ang) the brother-in-law to be. (Poor Justin Bartha is once again relegated to the sidelines popping up now and then to push the plot forward via cell phone.)
The amnesiac/investigative angle of the first Hangover made for a refreshing twist on the contemporary men-behaving-badly comedy. Repeated here its effect is arguably the opposite: Too often the action feels rote and formulaic. Gone is any hint of surprise an aspect so crucial to good comedy and a huge part of the first film’s appeal. Key comic set pieces – a tussle with monks at a Buddhist temple a visit to a transsexual brothel a car chase involving a drug-dealing monkey – reveal themselves to be merely variations of memorable bits from the first film.
Tonally Part II is darker cruder and a bit nastier than its predecessor. Female characters never a priority in the first film are further marginalized in the sequel. (The only woman with significant dialogue a Bangkok prostitute also happens to have a penis. I’ll let you ponder the implications of that one.) The three leads Helms Cooper and Galifianakis still work well together and despite the inferior material enough of their chemistry remains to make the proceedings bearable – and occasionally funny. But their characters feel somehow degraded reduced to coarse caricatures of their former selves. Speaking of caricature Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) the fey faux-gangsta villain of the first film returns in an expanded capacity in the sequel his garbled hip-hop slang more gratuitous – and more grating – than before.
I can’t help but wonder what might have been if a planned cameo by Mel Gibson playing a tattoo artist hadn’t been scrapped reportedly due to objections by Galifianakis. Liam Neeson Gibson’s replacement apparently proved ineffectual in his first go-round and when he wasn't available for re-shoots his scene was eventually shot with Nick Cassavetes in the role. In its existing incarnation the scene is purely functional a chunk of forgettable exposition. The presence of Gibson an actor of not inconsiderable comic talent would have at least added an air of unpredictability something the scene – and indeed the movie – sorely lacks.
When producers of the Step Up franchise first announced that the third chapter in the urban dance saga would be filmed in 3D that increasingly gimmicky audience-baiting tool so popular these days in Hollywood reactions ranged from ambivalence to ridicule. I myself was rather skeptical having been subjected to my share of hastily produced 3D monstrosities a la The Last Airbender. But after watching the film I must concede that the trendy format actually acquits itself reasonably well in Step Up 3D. I only wish I could speak the same about the film's more traditional cinematic components like plot dialogue and acting.
Indeed it’s puzzling why director Jon Chu even bothered to include them. Even more so than its predecessor Step Up 2: The Streets Step Up 3D is fashioned almost purely as a showcase for its talented ensemble of dancers who shake and shimy their way through a variety of elaborate routines and to a pulsing soundtrack of over 50 different songs. In between the dance numbers all of which are genuinely impressive Chu strains awkwardly to maintain the pretense of Step Up 3D being an actual movie and not simply the extended music video we all know it to be. When the music stops the film flounders.
The storyline which marries extraordinary dancing with extraordinarily bad acting involves Step Up 2 holdover Moose (Adam Sevani) joining a team of dancers in their quest to save The Vault a vast New York City loft where dance-loving refugees from the street can practice their craft without having to worry about being harassed by cops the traditional enemies of the urban arts. Its idealistic founder Luke (Rick Malambri) is behind on his mortgage payments and the only way to earn enough money to avoid foreclosure is for the Pirates (as The Vault’s collection of dancers are known) to win a series of quasi-underground “battles ” in which different crews are pitted against each other in loser-goes-home dance duels.
How are these battles judged? What are the rules? I have no idea but compulsory elements appear to include lots of aggressive gesticulating toward the camera lens several menacing glances and at least one acrobatic maneuver followed by a provocative gesture -- e.g. a triple backflip with a double crotch-grab. Step Up 3D certainly doesn’t waste any time on such trivial questions not when there are inane subplots to resolve: Moose is struggling to balance his love of dance with busy life as a freshman at NYU and his best friend Camille (Alyson Stoner) is feeling neglected; Luke is hesitant to follow his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker; sultry newcomer (Sharni Vinson) is torn between conflicting loyalties to her old family at home and her new one at the vault; and some vindictive prettyboy named Julien (Joe Slaughter) from a rival crew is conspiring to bring them all down.
Who will prevail? Eventually it all comes down to Step Up 3D’s climactic Final Battle. By that time however the war between music video and ensemble drama has already reduced it to rubble.
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.
Elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who once served under the great Alexander (Colin Farrell) narrates the life story of the man the myth the legend--the son of the ambitious King Philip (Val Kilmer) who surpassed his father at every level and charged into the farthest reaches of the world. From early childhood in Macedonia we see where Alexander gets his drive--mostly from his vengeful snake-lovin' mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who urges her son to take charge as well from his tutor Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Even in the taming of his unbreakable horse Bucephalas at 10 years old Alexander's destiny is evident. The heart of the film lies in Persia which Alexander conquers in one of the most studied military battles of all time. Alexander spends a great deal of time there--taking in the culture claiming its riches and marrying a Bactrian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson)--much to the chagrin of his Macedonian generals who are stuck in this foreign land with their king. Despite this success Alexander grows restless and turns his attention to the rest of the world including the unexplored regions of India. With his army stretched thin and his Macedonian troops longing for home Alexander presses them one campaign too far. Succumbing to a mysterious illness at age 33 Alexander dies never quite finding what he so desperately searched for.
Although some may scoff at casting the Irish actor in the lead Farrell does an admirable job playing the tortured hero blond wig and all. He exudes plenty of wide-eyed fury and intensity as Alexander the warrior balanced by the controlled calculation of a hyper-effective military commander although he isn't nearly as effective as the idealistic pre-world-conqueror Alexander as he is spiraling down into the haunted angst-ridden Alexander at the end of his obsessive crusade. Casting Jolie as Olympias is a stroke of genius. Sure Jolie can play a smart and beautiful woman in her sleep but her beauty is surpassed only by the power she imbues as Alexander's bitter yet loving mother; she's as hypnotic as the snakes she carries around. Kilmer relishes his role as Alexander's father Philip in all of his grotesque wine-soaked glory. Powerful driven and battle-scarred Kilmer's Philip knows precisely what he wants and matches Jolie's quiet intensity with the raw aggressive masculinity of a warrior king who is far more comfortable in his armor than a toga. In the supporting roles Hopkins is great as always this time in the thankless role of the narrator while Dawson plays Roxane with a ferocity that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. Standout Jared Leto also turns in a concentrated performance as Hephaestion Alexander's long-time companion boyhood friend and the person who loves Alexander the best. (And we do mean love.)
Alexander is Oliver Stone at his best. An Alexander nut for most of his life the director gives us a film that--even in its loooong three-hour form--continuously holds your attention especially its intense and bloody battle scenes. I mean honestly once you've fought against an elephant in armor the plain old sword-and-shield skirmishes pale in comparison. Alexander also possesses a great breadth of visuals: Alexandria's peace Pella's tension Babylon's opulence and India's richness. Yet as wonderful as the landscapes are it's personal interactions and internal politics that drive the story--and of course Stone's penchant for conspiracy theories as he more than insinuates Alexander was poisoned by his enemies rather than dying of an "unknown" illness. But a problem still remains: Alexander's life was so huge and he did so much that it's almost impossible to encapsulate it effectively into one film. Stone instead has to focus on what he thinks is the most important namely Alexander's renowned conquests while allowing the pressure cooker in which the young conqueror grew up--the triangle of mother father and son--come through in the decisions he makes later in life. For those few of us who have studied Alexander Stone has made this film especially for us. If you haven't spent any time reading Arrian and the other histories this excellent film might just inspire you to do so.