Movie Review: “Men, Women & Children”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Olivia Crocicchia, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Elena Kampouris
Director
Jason Reitman

It’s never fun seeing a filmmaker you enjoy stuck in a rut, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Jason Reitman, who tainted his near-flawless body of work with last year’s soapy romance “Labor Day.” And though his latest movie isn’t nearly as bad, it’s a fairly mediocre drama that doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt to be a merciless social commentary on communication in the digital age. “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Reitman is preaching. Is it a little heavy-handed, melodramatic and obvious at times? Sure, but it also features some great performances and an intriguing multi-story narrative that doesn’t pull any punches in its denunciation of the internet.

Adam Sandler stars as Don Truby, a middle-aged schlub whose sex life with his wife Helen (Rosemary DeWitt) is so non-existent that he’s resorted to watching porn on his teenage son’s computer. Bored with the lack of excitement in his marriage, Don hires an escort from an online service, totally unaware that Helen is using a website for married people seeking affairs to have one of her own. Their son Chris (Travis Tope), meanwhile, has become so desensitized from watching porn at a young age that he’s unable to perform when he hooks up with sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose own mother (Judy Greer) has been enabling the wannabe actress by posting provocative photos of Hannah on her modeling website. And the worst part is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.

The other kids at school are just as messed up. Fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) has resorted to anorexia in an attempt to win the affections of the school hunk, while star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) has been taking his mother’s recent abandonment so hard that he’s quit the football team and rechanneled that energy into playing an online role-playing game. Having lost most of his friends as a result of that decision, Tim forms a bond with shy girl Brandy Beltmeyer, whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is so obsessed about the potential dangers of the internet that she monitors all of Brandy’s online activity and tracks her every movement with her phone. So when Patricia discovers that Brandy has been secretly hanging out with a boy, she doesn’t think twice about the ramifications of her constant meddling.

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Movie Review: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

Starring
Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullally
Director
Miguel Arteta

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day” is not a good movie, but it’s a damn likable one. The dialogue is snappy, and the performances by the family members are spot-on (this movie does not work without Steve Carell), but the plotting is, well, bad. All characters outside of the family are gross stereotypes, seemingly because it’s easier to make an example of them that way. The pro-family vibe of the movie is so strong, though, that it makes the predictable storytelling easier to forgive.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is about to turn 12, and per middle school protocol, he’s having an awful day. He wakes up with gum in his hair (sadly, one of only a few nods to the 1972 book on which the movie is based), and proceeds to get humiliated at a school-wide level via text bomb, and is crushed to discover that even his best friend is going to skip his birthday party the next day in order to attend the party of a much cooler kid. Alexander, convinced that he is all but invisible to his family and frustrated that they can’t relate to what he’s going through, wishes on a candle-lit cupcake at midnight on his birthday that they could know how it feels to be him for a day. From the moment they wake up the next morning, Alexander’s entire family experiences a “Liar Liar” form of karmic payback.

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Movie Review: “Draft Day”

Starring
Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Leary, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Pence, Tom Welling
Director
Ivan Reitman

You can tell the kind of movie “Draft Day” is going to be by the company it keeps. The NFL and ESPN are on board, which means they approve of the story line, which means said story is safe as kittens. And holy cow, is this movie safe. That it manages to still be entertaining is to its great credit, and nearly all of that is because of Kevin Costner. Imagining this movie with anyone besides him in the lead role is unthinkable.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, and he’s feeling the heat. It’s the first day of the NFL draft – and only a few months after his father, and legendary Browns head coach, passed away – and Sonny is picking seventh. He’s fine with picking seventh, but the team’s owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), is not. He wants Sonny to make a headline-worthy move, making it clear that it will cost him his job if he doesn’t. Sonny lets that pressure get the best of him by agreeing to trade a king’s ransom to Seattle for the first pick in the draft, much to the dismay of new coach, and Super Bowl winner (just ask him), Penn (Denis Leary). Having the first pick puts Sonny in position to take can’t-miss Wisconsin quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), but as the day progresses, Sonny learns things about Callahan that cause him to question Callahan’s character. Is there a way to take the decision he made to mortgage the team’s future and spin it into something he can be proud of?

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Movie Review: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Dennis O’Hare
Director
Jean-Marc Vallée

Is there an actor who’s had a better last few years than Matthew McConaughey? Though he used to be somewhat of a punch line, known more for his shirtless roles in flaky rom-coms than his promising earlier work, recently McConaughey has been repairing his reputation with a string of outstanding performances in films like “Killer Joe,” “Magic Mike” and “Mud.” And while he earned his share of acclaim for all three roles, the actor’s latest turn as real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodruff might just be the crowning achievement of his career thus far. “Dallas Buyers Club” isn’t the kind of movie that would normally attract this much Oscar buzz – at least with such a generic script and uninspired direction – but it benefits from a couple of great performances that demand to be seen.

In 1985, the AIDS epidemic was front page news, but many people, including Texas electrician Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), were under the impression that it was a disease only passed between homosexuals. So when Ron is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live (note: he ended up surviving seven more years), he doesn’t believe it at first. Shunned by his friends and unable to get on the hospital’s drug trial list, Ron takes matters into his own hands by crossing the border into Mexico to purchase some non-FDA approved drugs that are more effective. Realizing a business opportunity when he sees one, Ron begins importing the meds to Texas to sell to other HIV/AIDS victims on the street. But when the government catches wind of his operation, he teams up with a transgender prostitute named Rayon (Jared Leto) to create a “buyers club” where they sell memberships and give away the drugs for free, exonerating themselves of any legal trouble.

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