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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 51
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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A non-guilty pleasure - Barbra Streisand returns to the big screen in The Guilt Trip
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GUILT TRIP Opens December 21 Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) is a brilliant young chemist living in California who has gone into business for himself inventing a new environmentally safe cleaning product he is sure will revolutionize the industry. Problem is, he can't sell it. At all. To anyone. He's a terrible salesman.

Joyce (Barbara Streisand) is Andy's loving, if overly suffocating, mother. She lives in New York and is convinced that her son chose to move all the way across the country just to get away from her. Still, that doesn't keep this caring mom from calling him daily, asking questions about his life, and giving positive assurances that he will be an undeniable success. Joyce cares for her son deeply, and whether he likes it or not Andy is the focal point of her life.

That's the basic setup for The Guilt Trip, a comedic mother-son road movie written by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Tangled) and directed by Anne Fletcher (Step Up; The Proposal), in which this pair ends up driving across the country for reasons better left unsaid. Not a lot happens, there are few surprises, and most of the dramatics are fairly evident right from the start of the film. It travels in directions that are readily anticipated, and those expecting more than the obvious are going to be in for something of a letdown.

GREAT CHEMISTRY, TIMING
Even so, I liked this movie. It has charm. It has style. It has pizzazz. Most of all, it showcases the sensational chemistry and comedic timing of its two stars, the movie really nothing more than a series of conversations (in dining rooms, hotel rooms, restaurants and, of course, the front seat of a car) between the two, talking about their lives, the secrets they've held dear, the dreams they still hunger to fulfill, and their aspirations for the person sitting next to them on this journey. It's smarter than you think it is going to be and far more honest than I'd remotely anticipated before the screening began.

OK, it can also be a little silly and strained - that goes without saying. Also, the episodic nature of the narrative makes the movie feel at times a bit like a weird hybrid of My Dinner With Andre and Planes, Trains & Automobiles with a familial twist, some scenes not playing nearly as well as others do. Fletcher's direction is so easygoing and nondescript it's almost flaccid, and for a movie that barely runs 90 minutes the pacing still manages to be a bit too herky-jerky.

But Rogen and Streisand, somewhat shockingly, have remarkable chemistry, their back-and-forth and give-and-take verbal gymnastics crackling with infectious electricity. I truly believed this pair was mother and son, and in the end I absolutely adored that the facts behind this road trip were as honest and as pure as they ultimately proved to be. More than that, while Fogelman once again comes up with a contrived and overly melodramatic finale, unlike in Crazy, Stupid, Love there is a beauteous simplicity to the emotional revelations I couldn't help but respond to. Everything comes together remarkably well, and the smile I exited the theater with felt more than justified.

Will The Guilt Trip change lives or ever be thought of as a road-trip comedy classic? No, it's far too obviously plotted and emotionally familiar for that to be the case. But it is enjoyable, pretty much start to finish. Rogen and Streisand give far more of themselves to the production than I ever would have expected based on the anemic trailer. I liked this movie - it made me smile, got me to laugh, and even elicited a gentle tear or two. The bottom line? The darn thing works, and I don't have a lot more to add other than that.


Old-school Jack Reacher a tough, intelligent thriller
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JACK REACHER
Opens December 21


Former Army sniper Barr (Joseph Sikora) has allegedly gone insane and shot five people. Lead investigator Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and Pittsburgh District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) are positive of his guilt, the evidence against him too massive to ignore. They offer the sniper a deal: confess and live out your life in prison or refuse and face execution.

The accused doesn't say a word, doesn't ask for anything, doesn't try to proclaim his innocence or accept his guilt. Instead, he writes down a single statement, 'Get Jack Reacher.'

Thus begins Jack Reacher, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie's (The Way of the Gun) adaptation of Lee Child's One Shot with superstar Tom Cruise playing the popular titular hero. What unfolds next is a robust, intelligently plotted, aggressively executed potboiler of subterfuge and honor, all of it whirling around a character who believes in justice first, with all else nothing more than a secondary concern. A loner who lives off of the grid and sticks to a hardened moral code cemented into him during his military service and years traveling the globe learning its cultures and ways, Reacher doesn't mince words and doesn't back down. He's an old-school hero - a Western archetype in a digital age - and while his methods aren't pretty, he gets the job done.

CONSPIRACY UNCOVERED
The twist in this particular story is that Reacher arrives to bury Barr, not to save him, and it's only through the prodding of the man's attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the D.A.'s estranged daughter, that he even agrees to take a fresh look at the evidence, his mind already made up because of Barr's past misdeeds. But being the driven investigator that he is, when he uncovers facets of a massive conspiracy separating the sniper from the crime and implicating others, his focus shifts, his anger over the situation only quelled by his belief that justice must be done.

For those unfamiliar with the book it would be unfair to say more, and while the twists and turns aren't entirely surprising there is some fun to be found in deciphering the whats and the whys behind the horrific sniper attack on Pittsburgh's unsuspecting citizenry. McQuarrie's script is unfussy and stripped-down, the filmmaker keeping things as focused as possible wiping away any unnecessary filler or fat. By and large no scene feels out of place or fails to propel the plot forward. Even seemingly innocuous moments, such as one between Reacher and a frazzled auto-parts employee (Alexia Fast), have far more importance than one might initially surmise.

If anything, the movie is as retro and as analog as its hero. It feels like a Walter Hill film from the late '70s or early '80s, certain elements recalling classic hard-hitting thrillers like The Driver or 48 Hrs., and that includes the comedic elements inherent in both pictures. It's all classily photographed by the great Caleb Deschanel (Fly Away Home; The Right Stuff) and meticulously edited by Kevin Stitt (Breakdown), their superb work culminating in an adrenaline-fueled car chase through the streets of Pittsburg that's downright spectacular. The pieces fit together with precision, McQuarrie taking Child's story (the ninth of 17 Jack Reacher novels) and doing nothing short of wonders with it.

That's a bit of hyperbole on my part - Jack Reacher is not without its sillier aspects or problematic moments. As great as it is to see Cruise and Robert Duvall working together again after 22 years (they both were in Days of Thunder), the latter's appearance at the end is a bit nonsensical, and if not for the pair's superior chemistry this turn of events wouldn't have worked nearly as well as it ultimately does. Also, Reacher's approach to solving the case is a little more simplistically vulgar than necessary, and while there is a cathartic thrill to be found in his single-minded ferocity, the John Wayne-meets-Arnold Schwarzenegger-meets-Clint Eastwood finality of it all does seem slightly (only slightly) out of place.

GREAT FIGHTS, CAR CHASES
But as problems go these feel relatively minor. Pike makes for a winning sidekick, Duvall's appearance made me want to applaud, and the inclusion of revered director Werner Herzog as the villainous force propelling events forward is close to genius (he's awesome). The fight scenes, all three of them, provide a visceral kick that is undeniable, while as I've already stated that signature car chase is one of the best I've seen in quite some time (echoes of The French Connection, Bullitt, and Ronin more than intentional).

While many critics have pointed out that Cruise does not fit the physical description of the character as provided in Child's books, internally he is flawless. I believed him as Reacher for every second of the film. A sequence inside a bar as he calmly and with more than an ounce of exasperation tries to convince a gaggle of youthful toughs from picking a fight with him, - a fight he knows they'll lose - says everything we need to know about the man and does it in precious few syllables.

I'm not sure what general audiences will make of Jack Reacher, but I hope it's a hit. Devoid of CGI, absent otherworldly stunt work that defies credulity and was obviously in some way faked, the movie is a return to action-thriller esthetics of a bygone age, McQuarrie making a movie for mature audiences that doesn't belittle their intelligence or ask them to suspend belief too far outside the norm. It's quality entertainment, and I can't help but hope that Cruise and company get the opportunity to return to this well again.


Easygoing Hyde Park doesn't live up to its potential
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Now showing


I'm not entirely sure of what to make of Hyde Park on Hudson. Ostensibly it is the story of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Bill Murray) June 1939 meeting with Britain's King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Olivia Colman). On the surface, it wants to get inside these events and show how the cagey Roosevelt was able to 'humanize' these monarchs for the American people - allowing him to pursue his policies of aid and support for the British even though many in the U.S. wanted nothing to do with another European war.

This story is seen through the eyes of his neighbor and fifth cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney). She comes into Roosevelt's world through his mother, Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and quickly becomes a friend and confidant he can escape with, into a realm away from world events and political upheavals. Their affair was quiet yet intimate, personal yet clandestine, the reserved Suckley documenting a great deal of it diaries discovered hidden in her house shortly after her death.

On the surface this sounds like the makings of a rich, highly involving drama, filled with informal and comic undertones and giving new light to historical events. Problem is, screenwriter and playwright Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) never find a focus to this story, never get inside the heads of the characters in a way that feels authentic. Instead, the movie treads a hazy middle ground, uncertain in its footing yet still well enough acted and composed that sitting through it is hardly a chore.

ROYAL COUPLE A HIGH POINT
What's weird, and maybe it is the undeniable connection between this story and the one told in the Academy Award-winning The King's Speech, is that the scenes between the King and Queen of England speaking honestly with one another come off the best. Their relationship feels lived-in and true, as does their uncertainty as to what the goals of this visit are and what the intentions of their host might be. Their joys become our own, their insecurities have weight, and even though they are not the focal point of the film, they make the most indelible imprint and were the characters I found myself still thinking about afterward.

But the relationship between Daisy and the president, the one that is supposed to be the focus of this saga? That never comes across as fully or as well-developed as it should be. Like Daisy, this story seems to sit in the corner the majority of the time, a wallflower given insight into a garden it can never hope to take root in. As a result, when issues arise and complications are encountered they don't have any resonance, making our storyteller's decisions feel meager and unimportant as far as the grander scale of historical events are concerned.

F.D.R. TOO OFTEN M.I.A.
Murray, playing well against type and portraying a character seemingly well outside his comfort zone, proves once again just how underrated an actor he is, his take on Roosevelt an oftentimes inspired one. But for long stretches he drops out of the picture entirely, becoming something of a frustrating afterthought just when he should be front and center. Scenes between him and West are strong, hinting at the complexities of the tightrope both men were walking but doing so with a jovial simplicity that speaks volumes. At the same time there is no connection between him and Linney, no sense of the friendly and cathartic intimacy that supposedly existed, making the fracturing and ultimate healing of their relationship hard to care about, let alone believe.

Still, there are some great moments, such as the depiction of the fabled 'hot dog' picnic where King George begins to win over the American populace by downing, of all things, a gigantic mustard-covered frankfurter. There's a great bit of back-and-forth dialogue between the King and Queen over War of 1812 pictorials depicting British sailors as monkeys, while a front-seat conversation between Daisy and Roosevelt's longtime executive secretary, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), hints at the emotional complexities the film desperately wants to cover but sadly never does.

I get in some ways what Michell and Nelson are going for. They wanted to paint a relaxed, easygoing picture of these events that combines the personal with the political, the domestic with the epic, the public with the private. But if the core relationship between Roosevelt and Daisy doesn't come to life, then nothing else matters nearly as much as it should have, dragging down the proceedings in a way that is maddeningly benign. There is a mediocre banality to Hyde Park on Hudson that's sadly disappointing, and for a story with so much inherent potential the fact it doesn't come close to achieving it is a failure I can't help but lament.




Forever Babs - The Gay icon talks about her big-screen comeback and her own 'guilt trip'
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Best of music 2012: Albums and singles
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Best live performances of 2012
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The worst of 2012
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'Wassail, Wassail!' - Early Music Guild presents a holiday concert to savor
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Not kosher, but tasty
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Let's misbehave! - Classic Fats Waller tribute show returns to Jazz Alley
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A non-guilty pleasure - Barbra Streisand returns to the big screen in The Guilt Trip
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Old-school Jack Reacher a tough, intelligent thriller
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Easygoing Hyde Park doesn't live up to its potential
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Northwest News
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Letters
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Editors note
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Out Gay rapper reveals his 'Meat'
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The perfect setting - A Gay Marine proposes to his boyfriend at the White House
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Marrying the Harts
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Confessions of a marriage doubter
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East meets West - Support for same-sex marriage strongest on the coasts
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No going back - Pollsters find public attitudes toward Gays are changing quickly
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'Love & Marriage' - New video chronicles Dec. 9 mass weddings
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