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.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
S6E3/4: Last night, we got a double dose of 30 Rock, so excuse me while I do my best two deliver two recaps combined to make one giant one. And it seems that my observations during the Season Six premiere continue to be true: the veteran NBC series has lost its insane pace and incredible penchant for timely commentary, and instead has settled into the comfort of middle age. It’s where 30 Rock belongs these days and the sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll all be.
First up on the roster is the conclusion of last week’s story with an episode appropriately titled “People are Idiots Three!” We find out just how far Jack will go to convince Liz her boyfriend is a loser, how obsessed Devon Banks (Will Arnett) is with besting Jack, and that Kelsey Grammer is a very convincing Abraham Lincoln. There were parts of the episode that were clearly reaching, but watching the fatherly realm enter into the Jack/Devon rivalry was disturbingly touching, and thinking we were about to see Liz Lemon lose everything once more just before it turns out alright was a refreshing change.
“He inserts himself into my business and now he’s inserting himself into this.” –Liz
That’s what she said.” –Criss
James Marsden is still around as Liz Lemon’s adorable, but potentially ambitionless boyfriend. She tells him he has to give Jack’s money back (and he tries to!) but not before it causes a rift between the pair. But hell, if Liz Lemon screwing things up with her boyfriend always resulted in her drinking scotch, staring out a window and saying “Good God, Lemon” then I’d be a lot more inclined to see the woman break up time and again. Jack won’t let Criss return the money an instead tells Criss that he is officially disapproving, basically breaking up with him for Liz. Criss – the only adult in the room is apparently the guy who’s trying to open a hot-dog truck – asks Liz what she wants. Liz is once again visited by her ghost Jack and a princess-jedi version of herself to help her make the decision, but she says she wants to stay with Criss as long as he fixes all the things Jack disapproves of. Wrong move, Lemon.
“We’re new, we’re called PEEN.” –Devon
“What is that an acronym for?” –Jack
Devon has a clip of Tracy saying everything that could possibly be offensive to anyone and he threatens to expose the clip, re-opening the can of worms that is Tracy’s issues with the media, unless Jack calls in favors to get his “gaybies” into the most exclusive preschools in New York. He admits that Jack won, so now he’s trying for at least a few consolation prizes. It’s great to see them at each other’s throats as usual, but the real treat came when they had to pretend to be pals. Jack and Devon act like buddies to get a member of the preschool’s board to get Devon’s triplets into the school, but the big wig wants a donation from the Giess Foundation – which is still run by Kathy Giess. Her request in order to relinquish the money: NBC’s new mascot is a unicorn. Why not? Maybe people would pay attention to the network for once. “NBC: We have a magical horse?” isn’t testing that badly, after all.
This gets Devon off of Jack’s back, but the schemer points out that he just tricked Jack out of all the favors he should have used for Liddy, but Jack finds the upper hand. Devon came from wealth and Jack came from nothing, yet Jack still came out on top in his life. So Liddy may not attend the best preschool, but she’s a Donaghy, so she’ll best Devon’s kids – besides she’s got more brains already and Devon’s education sounds like 15 years of smoke-blowing. It was refreshing to see Jack abolishing his elitist ideals to be realistic for once; perhaps Papa Jack is a new Jack? (Though not completely new, we hope.)
“Pete’s our friend, Kelsey.” -Jenna
“Damnit, no names!” –Kelsey Grammer
In order to get Pete out of his drug haze – which they still think they caused by breaking fluorescent bulbs though it was really caused by Pete’s self medication – without allowing the blame to fall on them, Kenneth and Jenna team up with Kelsey Grammer. His brilliant plan? Distract the TGS staff with a rousing one-man show about Abraham Lincoln. At intermission, Kelsey helps them put Pete in his office with a dirty magazine and the fixings for autoerotic asphyxiation. Pete wakes up and says it was Kelsey Grammer, but his Lincoln performance serves as the perfect alibi. The Best Friends gang strikes again – even if Subas turns on the lights and proves the whole thing was completely unnecessary! The only reason this plot didn’t make me angry is that Grammer – as much as reports of his personal life make me want to dislike him – is just so damn good at what he does. Offscreen he may be a daunting presence, but onscreen, he can turn a lackluster plot into something hilarious, merely by showing up and doing his job.
“Tracy, I have been calling your cell all day.” –Liz
“My ring tone is the chicken dance, if I answer it, I can’t hear the whole song.” –Tracy
Meanwhile, Tracy and his idiots organization are still protesting against Liz for her “harsh” comments about, well, idiots. And they have some demands, my favorite of which is broadcasting Denise Richards’ music video “J’adore La Piscine” – a direct and well-played dig at the Real Housewives of New York’s Countess LuAnne and her terrible video, “Chic, C’est la Vie.” The biggest request is that Liz reads the apology they wrote for her. She can’t bring herself to read the Idiots’ speech, instead blaming them for things like The Golden Globes and the fact that there may be an Entourage movie (take it back, take it back!). And in the course of her speech, she spies Criss and realizes that she’s the idiot (aww).Criss lets her win at Monopoly and actually likes all her quirks – plus, he’s played by James Marsden, so there’s that. After Liz makes up with her man, Jack finally gives Criss a better approval rating, with three months to become a man worthy of Liz. We think this is pretty reasonable, so long as Jack doesn’t expect Criss to legally change his name, get a degree from a college other than Weslean and stop being so boyishly good-looking. We’re going to assume he’s talking about the getting his business off the ground part so we can “aww” over how much Jack cares about ol’ Lemon.
And while I said the series is hitting the notes it needs to hit, I can’t help but be scandalized by some of these changes. Jack not promoting elitist ideals over everything else? Liz Lemon choosing happiness over Jack’s opinion? Where are we? Who are these people? They’re still funny, but they’re just so…different.
Next up is “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” which is an episode I didn’t hate, but I feel like I should have liked it more. The concepts were hilarious, but I found myself appreciating them and smiling occasionally instead of laughing out loud like I normally do.
“Jenna has become a huge star on this network. She’s bigger than Malik Pancholy on Whitney.” –Jack
Jenna shows everyone the trailer for her new movie: Marin Luther King Day. This is also where we find guest stars Andy Samberg and Emma Stone as the platonic friends who could be more at the center of the cut-and-paste film in the style of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. I would be annoyed that the show has managed to work in two big jokes about the Gary Marshall movies in a matter of weeks, but after sitting through New Year’s Eve I will gladly listen to any ridicule these writers want to throw its way. That movie is so bad it may single-handedly bring about the demise of our nation. But I’m getting sidetracked. The movie has blown Jenna’s ego out of proportion; she’s cutting off Liz’ ponytail and going to Jack to go over Liz’ head. Jack’s solution: use the friendship to read Jenna and best her.
But two can play that game. Jenna is using leeches for her skin and using blood weight – along with the Demi Moore reference that garners more weight now than the writers likely anticipated when they wrote it. Yikes. Liz suggests they do lunch like they used to – provided Jenna hilariously removes the leeches from her face. They dine on bloomin’ onions at Outback, but it’s all just a ploy for Jenna’s endorsements. Plus, she’s being chased by paparazzi and lets Liz take her winter wear in order to distract them while Jenna gets away. While Liz does the Jenna impression that I feel is far to infrequent on this show, she is hit with red paint and Jenna taunts the PETA people for drenching “a nobody.” Liz determines this is nuts and breaks up with Jenna – and we find out yet another sad sack Lemon story about college. Jenna is fine, she’s got celebrity friends like the fourth Kardashian sister (who I wish would have been played by Nasim Pedrad – come on, she’s just down the hall at SNL, you guys!) and Charlie of “Charlie Bit My Finger.”
Liz tries to befriend a group of girls meant to parody Sex and The City - really, 30 Rock writers? But they just serve to help Liz figure out that she’ll more likely meet a new best friend like her in places she would normally go – like the Barnes and Noble bathroom. (Oh hey, a reference to life in New York! Imagine that.) Liz and her new best friend, Amy, spend 10 minutes complaining about everything – but it feels like hours – and Jenna is overwhelmed by the extreme narcissism of her three new “famous” best friends. They both realize that they need their vapid besties, but at least they have the decency to dramatically run down Fifth Avenue to get back to them. Now this was cute and funny in the golf-whisper laugh sort of way, but once again, I was appreciating the idea and the commitment to the characters more than I was laughing, which is a strange way to watch 30 Rock.
“There is a story that turned out to be true about a virgin and her son who had some pretty wacky ideas. That virgin was my sister and her son Lyle has a learning disability.” –Kenneth
This quote is my way of saying Jack is shutting down the Page Program, hoping that a bold cost-cutting move to impress Hank Hooper. Kenneth makes a plea for keeping the pages, Jack says they can automate all the pages’ duties, orders them to leave their uniforms. Jack offers to find Kenneth another job at NBC because he’s such a hard worker, but he isn’t interested, and he’s found the one thing machines can’t do for the pages: give tours. Enter Not Kenneth, the robot voiced by Rachel Dratch who knows everything about NBC. Once again, it’s cute, but I’m not lizzing over it.
But it turns out Jack does need pages. Hank Hooper is upset because Jack didn’t send a Businessversary gift, but he did, he just accidentally sent it to the 6th floor instead of the 60th. Jack made a dumb mistake Hank is not pleased that he made a “woman’s mistake.” Plus, his attempt to post up memos saying that the automated system confuses 6 with 60 is easily thwarted by Lutz. Let me say that again: LUTZ. Obviously, Jack needs the pages back.
“Tray I hate seeing you like this. Sitting in her, listening to your depressed thoughts CD.” –Dotcom
Tracy is upset because the invitations for his birthday party say “donations to charity, no presents” because he already has everything. He really wants the presents but the notion that he already has everything starts to make him ask, “What’s the point of living?”
To bring him back from the edge, Dotcom and Grizz go to Long Island to find the old lady who used to make pies in Tracy’s old neighborhood, and have her bake him a banana crème pie to show he doesn’t have everything because the shop is now closed and he wouldn’t have been able to get one of those pies. But, it turns out that he really just wanted to make his point about them telling guests not to bring presents to his birthday. His schedule “was light this week” – an apparently, so is the well of Tracy jokes. This plot was a bit weak, writers.
“Dump sir, dump all over me.” –Jack
And it all comes full circle when they use the soundtrack from Martin Luther King Jr. Day to play while Jack and Kenneth making up by Kenneth taking all the blame for Jack’s mistakes, Liz and Jenna hugging and becoming friends again, and Tracy getting all the presents he already has. Like I said, that was cute 30 Rock, but where were all the laughs?
Get at me with all your rants or raves on Twitter @KelseaStahler
Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a diamond-drenched pampered pooch who lives the high life in Beverly Hills. Beloved by her owner Aunt Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) and adored by the landscaper’s Chihuahua Papi (George Lopez) she is left with a babysitter niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) when Viv takes off on vacation. Rachel impulsively departs on a last-minute weekend romp to Mexico with Chloe who not only gets lost south of the border but ends up in some very bad company. Saved from certain death in a dog fight she hooks up with a street-savvy German Shepherd (Andy Garcia) harboring a dark secret from his past life as a police dog. Along the way her diamond ID collar is swiped by a conniving rat (Cheech Marin) and his accomplice a very fidgety Iguana (Paul Rodriguez) leading to major chaos as all of them are pursued by the vicious El Diablo (Edward James Olmos) a Doberman out for revenge and one very disoriented Chihuahua. Will Rachel and Papi be able to find her in time before clueless Aunt Viv’s return? That’s the burning question. Basically a talking dog movie with a heavy Spanish accent Beverly Hills Chihuahua doesn’t exactly shy from stereotyped Mexicans but since this is a canine Babe it manages to get away with just about anything simply because these pooches are just so darned cute. The voice cast which features such Latino stars as George Lopez Edward James Olmos Paul Rodriguez Cheech Marin and Andy Garcia is perfectly cast lending a lot of fun to the proceedings especially Lopez as the lovably loyal Papi and Marin as a jewel-thief rat. Barrymore is also ideal as the ultra-rich and spoiled Chloe who is the equivalent of a canine Paris Hilton. The human actors are basically wallpaper with Curtis given little dimension in her relatively brief screen time and Perabo spending most of the film searching for the pup she carelessly misplaced. Manolo Cardona does nicely as the family gardener who helps out in the search. But it’s the remarkable real dog stars that steal this show. You have to wonder how their trainers led by Birds And Animals Unlimited’s Mike Alexander pulled some of this stuff off. These animals are more three-dimensional than most real thesps we’ve seen lately and actually do seem to be mouthing their lines (including some very clever dialogue). The old show-business adage says to never work with kids or animals--they take center stage everytime. In this case director Raja Gosnell and the group of talented trainers behind the cameras have proven the saying absolutely right. Dominating the breezy 86-minute time the bulk of the movie is devoted to stars of the four-legged variety and Gosnell makes it look easy with inventive camera angles giving us the POV of all the various dog stars who seem to be taking on the distinct personalities of the “characters” they are playing particularly the soulful down-and-out ex-police dog Garcia voices. You really do wonder what this dog’s deep dark secret is and the relationship forged between him and Chloe is genuinely real. It’s a tribute to Gosnell’s talents and the entire behind-the-scenes team that Beverly Hills Chihuahua turns out to be the family delight it is.