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.
Tonight, ABC enters some previously uncharted territory: the salacious, youth-skewing drama. They’ve made their mark in serialized drama with Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, but they’ve yet to dive head first into something primarily wicked and opulent like their new series, Revenge. The Hamptons drama premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, and we’ve got a rundown of the new show just in time for the premiere.*
The series stars TV vet Emily VanCamp (Brothers and Sisters, Everwood) as our protagonist, as well as Joshua Bowman (Make It Or Break It) and Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl) as young Hamptons men from different sides of the tracks, and Madeleine Stowe as the evil matriarch at the center of the intrigue.
The Hamptons, also known as the summer getaway of choice for New York's elite.
A modern day take on the classic tale, The Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge takes place in the heralded East Coast summer escape, The Hamptons. We got a taste of the high society out on the far reaches of Long Island when Gossip Girl took a little foray to the New Yorker’s paradise a few seasons ago, but they barely scratched the surface. Revenge sets up camp right in the thick of the wealthiest of the wealthy, where our heroine begins executing her plan of…well…revenge.
Emily’s father was framed as a part of a conspiracy – the nature of which we’re not yet aware of – and it would seem that Victoria Grayson, or Queen Victoria, as she’s known to her faithful Hamptons minions, was the orchestrator of the whole thing. Being that Victoria hasn’t seen Emily since she was a child, Emily takes the opportunity to infiltrate the luxurious community in order to take down the people who framed her father, one by one.
So, does it work? The pilot episode moves quickly, delivering us from one step to the next, all the while giving us glimpses of both of our strong, opposing women as they plot out their separate intrigues. VanCamp is a great choice to lead the series as her role throughout the story is to feign ignorance and pretend to be the new girl; she’s got an innocent look about her, which makes it that much easier for her to play out her sneaky plan.
Madeline Stowe is appropriately regal as Queen Victoria, as are her faithful little minions, but the show garners some charm from the set of Long Island brothers whose father owns and operates a bar on the docks. Declan and Jack Porter (Gossip Girl’s Paolo with a Long Island accent and Nick Wechsler) aren’t members of the flighty, weathy set who comes in when the weather gets warm and escapes when the leaves turn. They’re from the Hamptons and they help to ground the series – and Emily, who seems to have a past connection with Jack. While Paolo isn’t a main character, it is rather fun to see him shed his Upper East Side style for some good ol’ Long Island boy antics.
The series is visually stunning, with sweeping shots of the ocean and the surrounding areas – not to mention the designer duds draped on all our well-to-do main characters. Much like Gossip Girl, the series will thrive on the fabulous clothes and illustrious location, but it’s got something GG doesn’t. While the CW hit succeeds when it comes to teen squabbles and ex-boyfriends, it’s never really been able to get a good grip on more adult intrigues. That’s where Revenge comes in. It’s got the melodramatic tone we know and love on Gossip Girl, but with a storyline whose outcome is just a little more urgent. The series cropped up at the perfect time to nab GG viewers who’ve grown tired of the let’s-see-how-many-more-people-Serena-can-make-fall-in-love-with-her and Chuck/Blair escapades over on the CW drama. Instead of dealing with the “my life sucks because I’m so rich and beautiful” side of the East Coast wealthy set, Revenge shows its ugly underbelly and the series may just be the palette cleanser that evening soap fans need.
*Hollywood.com received the Revenge pilot on a tablet device as part of a promotional gift package.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Sleepy-eyed Arkin is a petty thief who uses his legit job as a day-laborer for a remodeling company to case potential targets. Desperate to raise the cash necessary to settle a debt with his ex-wife who herself is in deep with some nasty loansharks he goes for one last score by raiding the bucolic home of his most recent employer a wealthy family that’s just left town on vacation.
But when he arrives at the house to do the job Arkin quickly realizes that the family never left; they became captives of Jigsaw — errr the Collector — a masked maniac who’s gone a step beyond the standard torture routine by rigging the entire house with a series of elaborate booby traps to ensure that anyone attempting to escape is met with an excruciating end. It’s that latter detail that helps convince Arkin to stay and try to put a stop to the Collector’s evil ambitions.
WHO’S IN IT?
In the grand low-budget horror tradition The Collector's cast is stocked with a group of attractive little-known modestly talented actors working presumably for scale led by Josh Stewart (episodes of CSI: Miami and Criminal Minds) Andrea Roth (Rescue Me one episode of Lost) Madeline Zima (Californication an episode of Grey’s Anatomy) Daniella Alonso (one episode each on CSI Knight Rider and Without a Trace) and ... honestly does it really matter who the rest of the cast members are? Most of them are drenched in blood and virtually unrecognizable for the most part anyway.
Could there be a less appealing tagline to a movie than “from the writers of Saw IV V and VI?” The phrase essentially means if we’re lucky The Collector has a chance at being just as lame and played-out as those flicks have become. Huzzah!
As you might expect from the pedigree of its filmmakers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton The Collector’s plot involves a sadistic madman subjecting assorted victims to various grisly surprisingly imaginative forms of torture. But unlike the latter Saw flicks The Collector manages to introduce some new elements that add a solid degree of suspense those films have increasingly lacked. In short it’s actually scary — in the beginning at least.
The acting not surprisingly ranges from average to distractingly poor. But that’s par for the course for films of this ilk. What’s most unfortunate about The Collector is that it gradually dispenses with the horror and substitutes torture in its place its tone transitioning disappointingly from frightening to repulsive during the second act. Then as if to emphasize the change the final third of the film is littered with one gruesome money shot after another. There’s nary a sensitive body part that doesn’t get punctured torn sliced or straight-up lopped off by the closing credits.
When Arkin first enters the house director Marcus Dunstan pieces together a gripping cat-and-mouse chase as the Collector slowly stalks his uninvited guest. As the would-be thief encounters one disturbing trap after another in his vain effort to escape Dunstan raises the tension to a fever pitch by blending tried-and-true horror devices (the creaky stairwell et al.) with expert timing and camera work.
The Collector is like the MacGyver of horror villains jury-rigging his adopted lair with enough ghastly booby traps — all made with common household items no less — to impress the Viet Cong. The place is like Disneyland for murdurous sociopaths.
In those rare incidences a sequel can actually be better than the original. Such is the case with X2: X-Men United where this time around the X-Men--including mind-benders Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen); optically enhanced Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden); weather controller Storm (Halle Berry); Rogue (Anna Paquin) aptly named newcomers Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford); and last but not least the hunky yet steely Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)--have their work cut out for them trying to keep the peace between the human and mutant races. After a teleporting mutant assailant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attacks the White House relations between mutants and humans take a turn for the worse starting an anti-mutant movement. The movement is fueled by baddie scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox) who bears a grudge against mutants and his henchwoman Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) both of whom have a mysterious connection to Wolverine's past. They seek to wipe out all the mutants on Earth by manipulating Xavier and his all-powerful machine Cerebro--a machine that can locate and even destroy every mutant and/or human on the planet in mere moments using mind power. Stryker is in for a fight though. Militant mutants the iron-clad Magneto (Ian McKellen) and morph-happy Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) join forces with the X-Men to stop this madman--but of course they have their own agendas. Can the X-Men repair the rift in mutant/human co-existence? Or is war imminent? Guess we'll have to wait until X3.
X2 does a nice job giving its comic book heroes and villains more of an emotional core than in the first X-Men. The relationships have deepened and are further explored with Jackman's haunted Logan/Wolverine looking for clues to his past still a standout. Janssen another standout gets more to chew on as Jean whose triangle with Logan and Scott grows more complicated and her character arc takes a surprising turn. But will somebody please write Halle Berry out of this franchise? They say her blonde wig was improved for the sequel but it's as unbelievable as her acting. As for the kids Paquin and Ashmore sweetly play out Rogue and Bobby's budding love story but its Stanford's sullen John who holds the most interest as you see his resentment toward humans growing and luring him to the dark side. In the villains' corner Cox plays Stryker as stonily evil as he can while Romijn-Stamos seems to have a lot more fun as the ultra-cool Mystique even getting to shed the blue paint in one scene and simply use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Cumming too seems to enjoy being blue as the bible quoting German-accented Nightcrawler who really isn't so bad after all (and has one of the snazzier entrances in the movie). But the most compelling relationship by far has to be between Xavier and Magneto. British thesps Stewart and McKellen portray the two as the old friends they are but whose disparaging views on how mutants and humans should interact has torn them apart giving the film some dramatic weight.
With the original X-Men director Bryan Singer had the dubious task of introducing all of the Marvel comic book's attributes and characters in a way that would appease rabid fans and newbies while also creating a compelling movie with a beginning middle and end. The result was adequate but a tad muddled and cartoonish. With X2 however Singer is able to fine-tune those characters and delve further into the story's universal theme: ridding the world of xenophobia and creating a peaceful co-existence. The three-tiered points of view--from Magneto's defiantly anti-human stance to Stryker's anti-mutant attempts at genocide and Xavier's hopes to find a happy middle ground--parallels today's political climate and actually makes you ponder the world's affairs even while you are watching the very cool very mutant-esque action. X2 leaves you wanting more to find out what is going to happen next to these people. Honestly if there is a war between mutants and humans who do you think is going to win? If only I could use powers of telepathy…