Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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One of the world's greatest and most timeless country legends has passed away. George Jones, best known for his song "He Stopped Loving Her Today," passed away Friday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn at the age of 81. He had been hospitalized for a fever and high blood pressure, Fox News reports.
This truly is a sad day for the country world. Over the past 20 years, the country community has credited Jones as the greatest living country singer of all time — and many singers even mention him in their own music. Jones will always be remembered for his hard living ways, stormy relationships, distinctive voice, and for his endless list of hits, which includes "White Lightning," "Tender Years," and "We're Gonna Hold On," which he recorded with his then wife Tammy Wynette.
After hearing the devastating news, the country community took to Twitter to remember the late legend.
We lost one of the best voices God created this morning. Our hearts are saddened to hear that George Jones has passed away...
— Faith Hill (@FaithHill) April 26, 2013
nancy and @gjpossum had a beautiful marriage and special relationship. love you nancy. long live the possum. gonna miss my buddy. real sad.
— Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley) April 26, 2013
Really REALLY bad news. We've lost a country music legend. And I've lost a hero and a friend.Goodbye George Jones...
— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) April 26, 2013
So sad we lost "the possum" today. R.I.P George Jones and know we didn't stop loving you today. You will live on forever in our hearts.
— LeAnn Rimes Cibrian (@leannrimes) April 26, 2013
Such a sad day... May you Rest in Peace George Jones. @gjpossum
— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) April 26, 2013
George Jones passed away this morning. We will miss ya Possum.There will never be another!! Make them angels weep up there GJ.
— Bo Bice (@OfficialBoBice) April 26, 2013
Gone ...... George Jones .....man he was country music
— Tim McGraw (@TheTimMcGraw) April 26, 2013
If I'm blessed enough to make it there, I look forward to you giving me the grand tour. Rest in peace George Jones!!!!! -KU
— Keith Urban (@KeithUrban) April 26, 2013
George Jones was my friend, and I loved him. Trace Adkins
— TraceAdkins (@TraceAdkins) April 26, 2013
So saddened to hear of George Jones' passing.He was an idol of mine and a true legend! One of the best voices of a… say.ly/dET5Gsc
— Sara Evans (@saraevansmusic) April 26, 2013
I'll never forget the first time I heard the story in "He Stopped Loving Her Today". RIP George Jones. Country Legend. U will be missed.
— Jennifer Nettles (@JenniferNettles) April 26, 2013
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Following her string of headline-making (hit-and-)run-ins with the police, Amanda Bynes has another problem to deal with: looking for new representation. TMZ reports that her publicist, agent, and entertainment lawyer have all three dropped her as a client within the past few weeks. According to a TMZ source, Bynes started as a "dream client" — but the website suggests that she has become increasingly difficult over the past year. Her team has been unable to reach her for the past month, and Bynes has rebuffed all attempts they have made to help her get her life back under control.
Bynes, however, fails to acknowledge the trouble she's in. In a statement given to People on Wednesday, Bynes said, "I am doing amazing." She followed up by saying, "I am retired as an actor. I am moving to New York to launch my career. I am going to do a fashion line." Does Bynes think now that she is finished with acting she doesn't need an agent? It's unclear how she plans to build a fashion business from the ground up without the help of a publicist?
Publicists, agents, and managers are used to handling crises — it is their job, after all, to spin all press into good press — so it's rare that an entire team will jump ship at once. It is not, however, unprecedented. But recent examples include clients who are a little bit more, let's say, extreme.
Mel Gibson: Gibson hadn't been what one would call stable since his 2006 arrest and drunken, anti-Semitic tirade. However, it wasn't until July of 2010 that Gibson's agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, dropped him from their roster of celebrity clients. WME cited Gibson's use of a racial slur as the cause of his termination.
Charlie Sheen: We all know that 2011 wasn't a great year for Charlie Sheen (what with the drugs and porn stars and tiger's blood and all), and in February his longtime publicist, Stan Rosenfield, decided to separate from Sheen. “I have worked with Charlie Sheen for a long time and care about him very much," Rosenfield said in a statement. "However, at this time, I’m unable to work effectively as his publicist and have respectfully resigned."
Chris Brown: Brown was in hot water with the media and most of America (the portion of the country, at least, that has a brain and a heart), after assaulting girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. And then his publicist, Tammy Brook, decided to drop Brown after his outburst on Good Morning America in 2010. She claimed her leaving had nothing to do with the incident, and was instead the result of a finished contract.
When watching Bynes on All That and The Amanda Show in the 1990s and early 2000s, did you ever think that she would come to have things in common with some of Hollywood's most notoriously unstable figures? Even if Bynes has retired from acting, building a career in the fashion industry (as she hopes to do) requires a lot of time in the public eye. In order to advance her career, she needs to figure out a way to revamp her image, and get herself out of a boat that contains the likes of Gibson, Sheen, and Brown. Which may be hard to do without a publicist...
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Love her or hate her, Blake Lively (of Gossip Girl and the upcoming Green Lantern) is making an effort to shore up her indie credentials with a co-starring role in director Derick Martini's Hick, alongside British thesp Eddie Redmayne (The Yellow Handkerchief) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass).
Based on the shocking coming-of-age novel by Andrea Portes -- who is also penning the film's screenplay -- Hick centers on 13-year-old Luli (Moretz), a girl from Nebraska who "gets more than she bargained for" when she takes off alone for Las Vegas. Lively will play a grifter who mentors the young runaway, and Redmayne will play a loner who shares a past with Lively and has his own plans for Luli.
If you're interested in more story details (and SPOILERS) for the upcoming indie from the director of the 2008 award-winning Lymelife (2008), read on for the full plot synopsis from Amazon:
Portes's chilling debut tracks a 13-year-old Nebraska girl's hard-going life on the road. Young Luli knows losers—her "aging Brigitte Bardot" mother, Tammy, and her father, Nick, go at each other every night at the Alibi, the watering hole in hometown Palmyra, Neb. Tammy runs away one morning, and Nick soon follows, leaving Luli alone at home with the Smith and Wesson .45 her Uncle Nipper gave her. Pistol in tow, she hitches rides heading west to Vegas. A crooked man (literally; he "looks like an italic," says smart-alecky Luli) named Eddie picks her up briefly before throwing her out of the car. Next comes cocaine-snorting grifter Glenda, who enlists Luli as an accessory to a robbery that goes awry. Glenda takes Luli under her wing. The two cross paths again with Eddie, who rapes Luli and ties her up in a secluded motel. Glenda comes to her rescue, but the confrontation with Eddie ends badly. Luli's flippant narration makes for a love-it or hate-it read.