Author

Jenni Miller
Jenni Miller has been writing for fun and profit since the age of six. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College several years later, she dove into the wild world of online media — just before the dot com crash. She's interviewed everyone from Mike Leigh to The Lizardman, traversed the tundra of Park City, visited movie sets, and reviewed too many movies, books, and video games to count. Jenni was the senior editor of Premiere.com and has contributed to a variety of outlets, from classy joints like VanityFair.com and GQ.com to, well, other sites. She is planning to write a book (or at least a short story) about the weirdos who go to see movies on opening day, herself included.
  • Chernobyl Diaries Review
    By: Jenni Miller May 25, 2012
    When I first heard about the premise of Chernobyl Diaries I was like Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street: "F*ck science!" Honestly extreme tourism? People pay for a trip to Pripyat — an abandoned city near the site of one of the worst nuclear disaster in history — for some vacation photos? Well it is possible and people actually do it despite the lingering radiation and other serious dangers but hopefully none of them are as painfully dumb as the characters in Diaries.  Jesse McCartney is Chris the sensible little brother who really would have preferred to stick with the plan: a day trip to Moscow where he'd pop the question to his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley). His older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is a bit of a bad boy horndog with a taste for adventure who insistst they and their recently dumped friend Amanda (Devin Kelly) go on an exciting trip to Pripyat instead. Amanda is also a photographer of sorts because she has a fancy camera and is taking photos of everything. Other than that we know almost nothing about any of the characters (although Paul does note that "the chicks are f*cking amazing"). They are later joined by Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) who prove to be equally forgettable. Paul knows how to party so he leads Chris Natalie and Amanda to a sketchy office to set up their trip to Pripyat. The tour guide is named what else Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and he even has a dingy sign on the wall that reads "Yuri's Extreme Travel" and lots of photos of him in military garb. He's built like a brick house — but he's no match for the ridiculousness that awaits them. The build-up to what they do find is interminable especially given what non-horrors await. At one point I was hoping it would turn out to be something similar to The Happening but no such luck. Just a bunch of bald zombie-types lurking in the mist and gnawing on human flesh! Although there's something to be said for leaving scary stuff lurking in the shadows it's also a good idea to establish enough tension beforehand so that we actually care about what is supposed to be scaring us. According to writer/producer Oren Peli a good deal of the dialogue was improvised which is a bit of a relief as the actors drop gems like "What exactly happened in Chernobyl?" and "Nature has reclaimed its rightful home " as well as tidbits like "Stop being a p*ssy" and "Maybe there's a gun in here!" This is director Bradley Parker's first feature and although he does occasionally have trouble keeping the camera steady he doesn't rely on shaky-cam "found footage " for the most part. Naturally some people are offended that filmmakers would use a human tragedy as the backdrop of a horror movie but plenty of movies use tragic events for fodder. They should be more offended that it's just so boring.
  • The Intouchables Review
    By: Jenni Miller May 24, 2012
    One is understandably wary of a movie like The Intouchables after years of heart-tugging relationships between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds who learn important life lessons from each other. A young man from the projects shows up to interview for a job he's not qualified for merely so he can apply for benefits. The job is to take care of a rich paraplegic who turns out to like the kid's doesn't-give-a-crap style and hires him despite his lack of qualifications. I am guilty of this knee-jerk suspicion although not without reason but I'm always thrilled to be disproven. Thankfully I was very wrong about The Intouchables.   Indeed all of those things happen in the movie but the skill of the cast and crew elevate what could be even the cheesiest moments. Driss (Omar Sy) is a young Senegalese man from the projects. He's got a record and he's totally unqualified to take care of a paraplegic; he doesn't even want the job but Philippe (François Cluzet) is tired of caretakers who feel pity for him. Driss doesn't feel sorry for anyone including himself. Later in the movie Driss bluntly tells Philippe he'd have shot himself had he been similarly paralyzed. Philippe dryly retorts "That's not easy in my condition." Driss doesn't have a lot of options so staying in a luxurious house for a few weeks while he auditions for a job is a pretty attractive situation.   At first this set-up is played for humor. Driss is so happy to have his own bathtub that he's busy blasting music through his Dr. Dre headphones to hear Philippe over the baby monitor he's supposed to have near him at all times. Driss relentlessly hits on Philippe's assistant Magalie played by Audrey Fleurot. He refuses to attend to Philippe's more personal needs and is uncomfortable even dressing him.   This dynamic changes forever when Philippe is seized with phantom pains one night. Driss has no problem asking what most of the people in Philippe's life wouldn't dare like whether or not Philippe can have sex. He shares joints with Philippe placing them gently between the other man's lips and instructing him on how to inhale correctly; they help him relax when the pain and panic seizes him at night. He takes the dust cloth off the fancy Porsche in the driveway and drives Philippe around in that rather than his wheelchair-friendly van; at first it's because he's embarrassed to be seen in the van and because hell it's a Porsche. But it becomes a symbol of Driss' disregard for what's "proper" for Philippe; it might not be as safe as his van but it's fun for them both.   Inspired by the documentary A La Vie A La Mort this French crowd-pleaser snagged five César award nominations and Omar Sy won Best Actor over The Artist's Jean Dujardin. The writers and filmmakers Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache took some small liberties with the real life story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his friend and former caretaker Abdel Sellou. Omar Sy is obviously not Moroccan as Abdel is but the filmmakers had worked with him before; he'd grown up in the Parisian projects and they felt that "the background is less important than the personality type in this kind of story." Toledano and Nakache met with di Borgo and consulted with him via email as well.   The dynamic between Sy and Cluzet is spot on and the movie's direction and cinematography lends it an art house feel that in addition to the actors' proficiency keeps it from veering into overly sentimental territory. There are moments that feel off like when Driss comically pops his eyes out at the sight of his very own bathtub but once the movie hits its stride the characters gather meat and dimension.   Brace yourself for the coming adaptation with Colin Firth as Philippe and Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) to direct. Meanwhile I predict we'll be seeing more of The Intouchables this Oscar season.
  • The Dictator Review
    By: Jenni Miller May 11, 2012
    There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor. The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business. Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest. Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing. Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
  • Girl in Progress Review
    By: Jenni Miller May 10, 2012
    The coming-of-age movie is nothing new of course; it's just that so often their subjects are sulky teen boys or man-children. Movies like Thirteen Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains The Legend of Billie Jean and even Mean Girls are few and far between and even when they do appear like blips on a radar the casts are usually entirely white upper middle class teens. Girl in Progress is a lighter take on the adolescent turmoil and it's often heavy-handed and its characters seem flat but one thing it does with ease is put Latinas front and center without any sort of back-patting or race-related teachable moments. That's not to say Girl in Progress doesn't occasionally dip into Lifetime movie territory though. Girl in Progress stars Cierra Ramirez as Ansiedad a budding teen who wants to be absolutely nothing like her irresponsible party girl mom Grace played by Eva Mendes. When Ansiedad's teacher Ms. Armstrong (Patricia Arquette) tells her class about coming-of-age rituals and how they're used to navigate between the world of childhood and adulthood she takes it as a literal guide to leaving her childhood — and her mother — behind. Ansiedad is clever and a bit of a goody-two-shoes; she outlines a plan to go from being a regular girl to a woman as if it were a multimedia project for history. She explains in detail the different stages — acting out losing her virginity to a bad boy etc. — to her best friend Tavita (Raini Rodriguez) who looks on skeptically but agrees to help her friend even when part of the plan includes dumping her dorky BFF. Naturally the best-laid plans of teen girls often go awry and Ansiedad learns the hard way that these things are actually all pretty crappy ways to try become an adult. Unfortunately her dialogue is often reduced to exposition; she literally explains to the adults around her the steps she's at in her transformation. It undercuts Ramirez's performance and distances us from engaging with her emotionally. Grace is Ansiedad's foil; she never finishes anything she moves them from town to town and she makes poor choices in men. Although this character could have really gone off the rails Mendes isn't vying for a dramatic Oscar bid; yes Grace likes to dance and drink and she's not a present mom but she's an overgrown teenager not a cruel parent. Unfortunately this is overemphasized with scenes of Grace getting ready to go out eating cereal sitting on the counter (and drinking the milk from the bowl of course) or falling asleep with her shoes on which Ansiedad carefully removes. There's a subplot with Grace and two men but it doesn't do much to forward the story. One is her boyfriend a married gynecologist played by Matthew Modine and the other is a guy she works with at the crab shack whose nickname is Mission Impossible played by Eugenio Derbez. This is actually one of the more confusing ways Girl in Progress deals with race. Grace needs money for the balance of Ansiedad's scholarship so while it makes sense that she'd take an extra job or two to make ends meet she's actually the housekeeper for Dr. Harford (Modine)'s family. Although Mission Impossible seems like he could be a good candidate for Grace there are some implausible plot developments that make him a rather unsuitable character. Is the point here that it's more important for Grace to figure things out on her own? But then why when race isn't even spoken of in the movie would these odd details crop up? Girls can sniff out the most tender spot to attack in a weaker girl but the mean girls make fun of Ansiedad's clothes or Tavita's weight never their race. It doesn't quite add up and while I'd like to not make this a bigger deal than it is it seems odd that Girl in Progress would make race a non-issue in Ansiedad's world and then rely on tired clichés for Grace. As for Mendes herself it's impossible to totally tone down her bombshell good looks but that also acts as a foil for Anseidad. The way Mendes is portrayed isn't particularly salacious or even shaming; she's just a damn good-looking woman with a young daughter who would prefer to be nothing like her. She's given more to do than in her usual roles but even when she's telling Ms. Armstrong all the reasons why she shouldn't judge her for her life choices it doesn't come across as particularly hard-hitting. The rote dialogue doesn't do anyone any favors. Girl in Progress doesn't transgress or shock like Thirteen or other movies about the traumas of being a teen but that could be a good thing. Although it's not the hippest movie around town it is something that moms and daughters to watch together and talk about. It's also worth boosting a movie that doesn't rely on the same Hannah Montana clones to cast; the more that young girls can see themselves onscreen the better.
  • Think Like a Man Review
    By: Jenni Miller Apr 19, 2012
    It's hard to fault Think Like a Man for being pretty much what you'd expect an ensemble romantic comedy based on a dating advice book by Steve Harvey to be. Yes it is sexist. Yes the women manipulate the men with advice from Steve. Yes the men realize how and why they're being manipulated and turn the tables on them by doing exactly what the women want them to do eventually realizing the women were right all along. As for Harvey at least one character quotes him and he even shows up as a show-within-a-movie talking head in cutesy interludes. His book shows up so often I'm surprised you don't get a free copy with your ticket. Luckily an entertaining and diverse cast and some decent patter save the movie from its source material — mostly. Meagan Good plays party girl Mya who's going 90 days without sex but is starting to date Zeke (Romany Malco) the player. Jerry Ferrara is serviceable as Jeremy a nerdy guy with low aspirations whose awesome girlfriend Kristen (Gabrielle Union) is tired of waiting for him to pop the question. Regina Hall plays Candace a single mom who is falling for a charming and sensitive mama's boy named Michael (Terrence J). Last but definitely not least the Oscar-nominated Taraji P. Henson takes on the role of the hardened career woman — as Harvey puts it so charmingly the woman who is her own man — who's forced to rethink her high standards when she begins seeing a dreamy-eyed cook named Dominic (Michael Ealy). Rounding out the cast is Kevin Hart as Cedric a guy who is constantly complaining about his soon-to-be ex while loitering in Zeke's sweet pad…and generally being kind of obnoxious. Gary Owen plays their one happily married buddy; in a comedy about romantic dysfunction it's a thankless task to be the guy who actually wants to go home and cook dinner for his wife. Oh and Chris Brown appears as Mya's one-night-stand who can't remember her name. And not just the morning after either — he runs into her several times throughout the movie and manages to screw it up every time. Chris Brown is a terrible actor. On top of that the grossness of casting him as a player who pops up to call Mya by the wrong name and remind her over and over again that she slept with a jackass is distasteful at best. The opening shot of the film lingering on his bare chest as he stretches out in Mya's bed irresponsibly suggests that the audience should still think he's desirable. He's only been cast for his supposed sex appeal which given his history of violence against women is abhorrent. (The same goes for Charlie Sheen whose smirking visage makes one want to smash the TV whenever it appears.) What Think Like a Man does do is successfully portray a diverse group of friends in a way that can appeal to most mainstream audiences. There’s enough "guy humor" in here to entertain male moviegoers — especially with Kevin Hart and Turtle from Entourage on hand. And for the ladies there's romance little nuggets of truth (Mya's granny panties for instance) and a cool cast. Think Like a Man tries to distance itself from being pegged strictly for African-American audiences; the writers even make a crack or two about Tyler Perry which is pretty bold for a movie that features two actresses that have worked with Perry (Union and Henson). The guys joke among themselves about race and the interracial relationship between Union and Ferrara's character is shown as a total non-issue neither a point of contention nor as some sort of PC do-goodery. Broadening the scope of the actors we see onscreen and the kinds of roles they have is a good thing even in an imperfect vehicle. The movie-going public can use a comedy that bucks the race-based marketing system.
  • Damsels in Distress Review
    By: Jenni Miller Apr 06, 2012
    When Lily (Analeigh Tipton) transfers to scenic Seven Oaks three strange but charismatic young women approach her like a girl gang in matching sweater sets. Although Lily doesn't need help with her wardrobe or men Violet (Greta Gerwig) Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) recruit her to live with them hang out with them and join them in their efforts to thwart the school's "atmosphere of male barbarism." It's not actually barbaric; it's a fairly normal upper class liberal arts college but to these girls one of whom has such delicate nostrils that she freaks out at the slightest hint of BO we'd be much better off returning to an classier era. Seven Oaks which used to be a women-only campus is a veiled reference to the Seven Sisters colleges some of which like Vassar have gone coed. With Violet as a slightly awkward ringleader the trio has very strict ideas of what's proper and what's not what kind of behaviors lead to depression and general uncleanliness and what will most enhance each person's happiness. They set out to do this by avoiding handsome men and going for fixer-uppers and offering depressed students tap dancing classes and fresh-smelling soap. However even though Violet's biggest dream is to kick off "an international dance craze " something she assumes will benefit many people on a wider scale than their college-level suicide interventions they all seem sort of depressed. Is it anthropological curiosity that motivates Lily the loneliness of a new school or as with the audience the sort of weird charm shot through sadness that Violet possesses? Fans of Whit Stillman's talky thinky upper crust movies are overjoyed that the writer/director has returned after 14 years but what will about newbies? Damsels in Distress is somewhat perplexing; there are a few too many characters and subplots that are introduced and then dropped like the young woman whom the gals take in briefly after a suicide attempt. The film brings up questions about identity the ways we lie to ourselves but leaves them dangling. We're given details about who Violet really is in an insightful and startling subplot that could have given the movie a slightly weightier tone but then it shifts back into Stillman territory. To be fair that's why we're watching in Damsels to begin with; the random excursions into the outside world of actual mental illness heartbreak and financial or personal struggle have no real place in Stillman's lovely bubble. In the end it's not clear if there's some greater thrust to the movie some sort of lesson that the protagonists and viewer should be taking away from it all but if we're allowed to turn off our brains for mindless action fodder and enjoy it why not do the same for hyper-literate modern dandies in a world of dance classes and sunny college campuses? It's also buoyed by a strong cast led by Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton with enjoyable performances by Echikunwoke and would-be suitor Adam Brody as well as excellent costumes that combine the modern look of liberal arts colleges with the perfectly preppy wardrobe of the three girls and occasional dance numbers. Small touches like Audrey Plaza as a wild-eyed and -haired tap dance student referred to as "Depressed Debbie " Gerwig's stoic face even when referring to her breakdown as being "in a tailspin " and a sight gag here and there serve to remind us that Stillman and his team aren't fumbling in the dark here; they're perfectly aware of how enjoyably goofy Damsels is. It's no accident that their college offers a class called "The Dandy Tradition in Literature" that focuses its studies on Evelyn Waugh and others as obsessed with the leisure class as Stillman.