A great cast can be a powerful weapon. In the case of the new family dramedy The Oranges it's the saving grace.
The formula for a quirky suburban dissection is on full display in the feature from TV veteran Julian Farino and first-time writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss which follows two best friend couples Terry and Carol Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) and David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) whose BFF relationship implodes when David strikes up a romance with the Ostroff's daughter Nina (Leighton Meester). The scandalous affair lights a fire under the well-to-do New Jersey families and when David realizes that his connection with Nina is deeper than just a one night stand their white picket fence lives completely crack.
Even with a divisive subject matter (to follow love or to stick with family?) The Oranges floats by without much edge. David and Nina's romance begins with passion but is entirely void of sexual fire. As it evolves they become complacent and boring — everything David hated about his first marriage. That would be a great twist but The Oranges isn't satire. The conflict comes with the scowling world around the unlikely pair the Ostroff's distraught over their daughter's choices Paige off exploring other options for her own now-single life and David's daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) juggling her own aimless path as a furniture designer. For a risky life choice David and Nina's decision to declare their love for one another doesn't come with many repercussions even in the "squeaky clean" land of Jersey.
But the cast turns The Oranges into one to watch. Laurie has a life beyond the uptight Dr. House playing David as a compassionate conflicted acceptedly selfish man. It's easy to see why he falls for Meester's Nina who isn't simply a 20-something with an interest in older guys. They both see qualities in each other that are apparent to the audience and they play it with energy not present in the material. There's a been-there-done-that feeling to Platt and Janney in The Oranges but only because they're continually perfect as the hilarious overbearing parents. Sadly Keener goes to waste; another indie vet she spends most of the time of screen until one momentous outburst that arrives without build up.
Farino adeptly directs The Oranges and avoids the eye-rolling tropes that go hand and hand with movies of this nature (I'm looking at you head-on shots featuring Linus-like characters moping about). He knows how to let his actors play and when you have a man like Laurie in the lead that's a must. The movie never peels back the rhine to find something new to say about the 'burbs but with great actors in tow The Oranges rises above the lookalikes.
Saturday was a big day for the TV world as the 2012 Creative Emmys took place. Hollywood.com was both backstage and on the carpet, bringing you the scoop direct from the source. HBO and its epic hit Game of Thrones were the night's biggest winners, with the network taking home 17 statues — six of them for GoT. CBS wasn't far behind with 13 wins, followed by PBS with 11. Frozen Planet, Great Expectations, and Saturday Night Live each took home four awards, resulting in a three-way-tie for second place after Game of Thrones. See below for the list of winners:
Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series: Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein, Judy Henderson, Craig Fincannon, Lisa Mae Fincannon for Homeland
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Pat Moran, Kathleen Chopin for Game Change
Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series: Jennifer Euston for Girls
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Kathy Bates for Two and A Half Men
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: Greg Nicotero, Jake Garber, Andy Schoneberg, Kevin Wasner, Gino Crognale, Carey Jonse, Garrett Immel for The Walking Dead
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic): Mario Michisanti, Francesca Tampieri for Hatfields & McCoys
Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic): Paul Engelen, Melissa Lackersteen for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Makeup for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic): Zena Shteysel, Angela Moos, Patti Ramsey Bortoli, Barbara Fonte, Sarah Woolf, Nadege Schoenfeld for Dancing With the Stars
Outstanding Costumes for a Series: Michele Clapton, Alexander Fordham, Chloe Aubry for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special: Annie Symons, Yvonne Duckett for Great Expectations
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie: Monte C. Haught, Samantha Wade, Melanie Verkins, Natalie Driscoll, Michelle Ceglia for American Horror Story
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special: Bettie O. Rogers, Jodi Mancuso, Inga Thrasher, Jennifer Stauffer, Cara Hannah Sullivan, Christal Schanes for Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series: Anne "Nosh" Oldham, Christine Greenwood for Downton Abbey
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Jeremy Davies for Justified
Outstanding Choreography: Joshua Bergasse for Smash ("National Pastime", "Let's Be Bad", "Never Met A Wolf")
Outstanding Music Direction: Rob Berman, Rob Mathes for The Kennedy Center Honors
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score): John Lunn for Downton Abbey
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special (Original Dramatic Score): Javier Navarrete for Hemingway & Gellhorn
Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics: Adam Schlesinger, David Javerbaum for the 65th Annual Tony Awards ("It's Not Just for Gays Anymore")
Outstanding Art Direction for a Multi-Camera Series: Glenda Rovello, Amy Feldman for 2 Broke Girls ("And The Rich People Problems", "And The Reality Check", And The Pop Up Sale")
Outstanding Art Direction for Variety or Nonfiction Programming: Brian Stonestreet, Alana Billingsley, Matt Steinbrenner for The 54th Annual Grammy Awards, and Steve Bass, Seth Easter for The 65th Annual Tony Awards
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie: David Roger, Paul Ghirardani, Jo Kornstein for Great Expectations
Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series: Bill Groom, Adam Scher, Carol Silverman for Boardwalk Empire, and Gemma Jackson, Frank Walsh, Tina Jones for Game of Thrones
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series: Jordan Goldman, David Latham for Homeland
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: Steven A. Rasch for Curb Your Enthusiasm ("Palestinian Chicken")
Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: Sue Federman for How I Met Your Mother ("Trilogy Time")
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie: Don Cassidy for Hatfields & McCoys - Part 2
Outstanding Picture Editing for Short-Form Segments and Variety Specials: Bill DeRonde, Chris Lovett, Mark Stepp, Pi Ware, John Zimmer, Ben Folts for 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming: Andy Netley, Sharon Gillooly for Frozen Planet ("Ends of the Earth")
Outstanding Picture Editing for Reality Programming: Josh Earl, Alex Durham for Deadliest Catch ("I Don't Wanna Die")
Outstanding Animated Program: Bob Schooley, Mark McCorkle, Bret Haaland, Nick Filippi, Chris Neuhahn, Ant Ward, Andrew Heubner, David Knott, Shaun Cashman, Steve Loter, Christo Stamboliev for The Penguins of Madagascar: The Return of the Revenge of Dr. Blowhole
Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program: Brian A. Miller, Jennifer Pelphrey, Curtis Lelash, Rob Sorcher, JG Quintel, Mike Roth, Janet Dimon, Matt Price, Jack Thomas, John Infantino, Robert Alvarez for Regular Show ("Eggscellent")
Outstanding Voice-Over Performance: Maurice LaMarche for Futurama
Syd Cassyd Founders Award: Dick Askin
Governors Award: Dan Savage, Terry Miller for "It Gets Better"
Outstanding Special Visual Effects: Rainer Gombos, Juri Stanossek, Sven Martin, Steve Kullback, Jan Fielder, Chris Stenner, Tobias Mannewitz, Thilo Ewers, Adam Chazen for Game of Thrones ("Valar Morghulis")
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role: Dave Taritero, Robert Stromberg, Richard Friedlander, Eran Dinur, David W. Reynolds, Matthew Conner, Austin Meyers, Jonathan Dorfman, Steve Kirshoff for Boardwalk Empire ("Georgia Peaches")
Outstanding Stunt Coordination: Peewee Piemonte for Southland
Outstanding Main Title Design: Nic Benns, Rodi Kaya, Tom Bromwich for Great Expectations
Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music: Paul Englishby for Page Eight
Outstanding Commercial: "Best Job" (Procter & Gamble Corporate Brand) – Wieden + Kennedy, Ad Agency; Anonymous Content, Production Company
Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming: Tom Paul for Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour): Matthew Waters, Onnalee Blank, Ronan Hill, Mervyn Moore for Game Of Thrones ("Blackwater")
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie: Stanomir Dragos, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern for Hatfields & McCoys — Part 1
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation: Stephen A. Tibbo, Dean Okrand, Brian R. Harman for Modern Family ("Dude Ranch")
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series or Special: Paul Sandweiss, Tommy Vicari, Pablo Munguia, Kristian Pedregon for 84th Annual Academy Awards
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special: Douglas Murray, Peter Horner, Kim Foscato, Steve Boeddeker, Casey Langfelder, Andrea Gard, Pat Jackson, Daniel Laurie, Goro Koyama, Andy Malcolm, Joanie Diener for Hemingway & Gellhorn
Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera): Kate Hopkins, Tim Owens, Paul Fisher for Frozen Planet — Ends of the Earth
Outstanding Sound Editing For a Series: Peter Brown, Kira Roessler, Tim Hands, Paul Aulicino, Stephen P. Robinson, Vanessa Lapato, Brett Voss, James Moriana, Jeffrey Wilhoit, David Klotz for Game of Thrones ("Blackwater")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series: Steven V. Silver for Two and a Half Men ("Sips, Sonnets, and Sodomy")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series: Jonathan Freeman for Boardwalk Empire ("21")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie: Florian Hoffmeister for Great Expectations
Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming: The Deadliest Catch team ("I Don't Want To Die")
Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming: The Frozen Planet team ("Ends of the Earth")
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series: Steven Cimino, John Pinto, Paul J. Cangialosi, Len Weschler, Barry Frischer, Eric A. Einstein, Susan Noll, Frank Grisanti for Saturday Night Live (Host Mick Jagger)
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Miniseries, Movie or Special: Steven Cimino, Paul J. Cangialosi, John Pinto, Chuck Goslin, Barry Frischer, Jeff Latonero, Len Weschler, Susan Noll, J.M. Hurley for Memphis (Great Performances)
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series: Robert Barnhart, Matt Firestone, Pete Radice, Patrick Boozer for So You Think You Can Dance (Season Eight Finale)
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special: Robert A. Dickinson, Jon Kusner, Travis Hagenbuch, Andy O'Reilly for The 54th Annual Grammy Awards
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Jimmy Fallon for Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming: Martin Scorsese for George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming: Geoffrey C. Ward for Prohibition — A Nation of Hypocrites
Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking: Connie Field, Lois Vossen, Sally Jo Fifer for Have You Heard From Johannesburg (Independent Lens)
Outstanding Nonfiction Special: Margaret Bodde, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Blair Foster, Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair, Martin Scorsese for George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Outstanding Nonfiction Series: Alastair Fothergill, Susan Winslow, Vanessa Berlowitz for Frozen Planet
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series: Don Roy King for Saturday Night Live (Host Mick Jagger)
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series: Tim Carvell, Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Rich Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Wyatt Cenac, Hallie Haglund, JR Havlan, Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, Jo Miller, John Oliver, Zhubin Parang, Daniel Radosh, Jason Ross, Jon Stewart for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Variety Special: George Stevens, Jr., Michael M. Stevens for The Kennedy Center Honors
Outstanding Special Class Programs: Ricky Kirshner, Glenn Weiss, Neil Patrick Harris for 65th Annual Tony Awards
Outstanding Special Class: Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs: Rob Corddry, Jonathan Stern, David Wain, Keith Crofford, Nick Weidenfeld, Rich Rosenthal for Children's Hospital
Outstanding Special-Class: Short-Format Nonfiction Programs: Michael M. Stevens for DGA Moments In Time
Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media — Enhancement to a Television Program or Series: John Wooden, Aaron Bleyaert, Conan O'Brien, Timothy Campbell for The Team Coco Sync App
Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media — Original Interactive Television Programming: Fourth Wall Studios for Dirty Work
Outstanding Children's Program: Ben Montanio, Vince Cheung, Todd J. Greenwald, Gigi McCreery, Perry Rein, Richard Goodman, Greg A. Hampson for Wizards of Waverly Place
Outstanding Children's Nonfiction, Reality or Reality-Competition Program: Carol-lynn Parente, Melissa Dino, Mason Rather, Kevin Clash for Sesame Street: Growing Hope Against Hunger
Outstanding Reality Program: Eli Holzman, Stephen Lambert, Chris Carlson, Scott Cooper, Sandi Johnson, Rachelle Mendez, Lety Quintanar, Rebekah Fry for Undercover Boss
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Martha Plimpton for The Good Wife
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Bill Hader an Emmy or I'll Sic DJ Baby Bok Choy On You
The First-Ever (Fake) Annual Reality TV Emmy Awards
What Jimmy Kimmel Can Learn From Past Emmy Hosts
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.