Movie Review: “Demolition”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind
Director
Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with character-driven films like “Nightcrawler,” “Enemy” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems natural that he would want to collaborate with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director who led Matthew McConaughey to Oscar gold in “Dallas Buyers Club” and helped revive Reese Witherspoon’s career with “Wild.” Unfortunately, while Gyllenhaal continues his fine form in “Demolition” – Vallée’s third movie in a row to deal with the subject of grief – the film isn’t as good as the performance at the center of it. Though it’s a refreshingly honest look at coming to terms with the death of a loved one, without Gyllenhaal in the lead role, “Demolition” wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

The actor stars as Davis Mitchell, a successful New York investment banker who’s become so emotionally numb that he doesn’t know how to react when his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident – one that he escaped with barely a scratch. His father-in-law/boss Phil (Chris Cooper) believes that Davis is in shock and just needs time to process it all, but he can’t even squeeze out a tear at the funeral, instead fixated on the hospital vending machine that failed to dispense the peanut M&Ms he purchased shortly after Julia’s death. Over the following weeks, Davis writes a series of complaint letters to the vending company that take the form of cathartic, soul-baring confessionals filled with intimate details about his life under the assumption that no one will ever read them. But when the company’s lonely customer service representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), reaches out to Davis after being touched by his brutally honest letters, the pair forms an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her rebellious teenage son (Judah Lewis), Davis begins to dismantle his old life to understand what went wrong.

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Movie Review: “While We’re Young”

Starring
Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Director
Noah Baumbach

After “Frances Ha” and Noah Baumbach’s upcoming film, “Mistress America,” it felt safe to assume the writer-director had taken on a new demeanor, because there’s a joy to those films rarely seen in his past work. As it turns out, it was wrong to presume that he was done with his days of making audiences squirm, because that side of Baumbach has returned with a vengeance. “While We’re Young” is perhaps the filmmaker’s most unpleasant picture to date, and that’s a compliment.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a happily married couple. They’re comfortable with the choices they’ve made, including not having kids, but they begin to question those choices when they see the family their friends have built and, especially, after they meet a young and overly hip couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). The two youngsters are wild and free, which is a lifestyle Josh and Cornelia attempt to emulate. The middle-aged couple begins to feel young again, thanks to some funky hats and hip hop dance classes, but his fantasy doesn’t last too long, as the older couple begins to realize that maybe this isn’t how people their age should be acting.

“While We’re Young” is a mix of the old and new Baumbach. It’s as cringe-inducing as his early work, but it’s also as accessible as “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America.” The film is filled to the brim with jokes and awkwardly comedic scenarios, almost to the point of exhaustion. Baumbach has recently exhibited a strong eye for pacing; he’s telling his stories with a faster pace, without ever making them contrived, rushed or any less human. His recent work is as driven by story as it is by character, and Baumbach balances the two rather nicely.

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Blu-ray Review: Dream House

Months before its late-September release date, we received notification that “Dream House” would be screened in our area. And then, at the last minute, the screening was pulled. The screening for a movie that starred Daniel Craig, Rachael Weisz, and Naomi Watts…was pulled. That is not a good sign, to say the least. It speaks to a sudden lack of confidence in your product, and the studio has gone into damage control mode in order to preserve whatever box office potential it may still have.

Good call, as it turns out, though that’s not to say that “Dream House” didn’t have a wealth of promise. Will Atenton (Craig) quits his job to spend more time with his wife (Weisz) and kids while writing the Great American Novel, but almost as soon as he’s home, his family is threatened by a mysterious stalker. His neighbor Ann (Watts) is sympathetic, but she’s the only one. Once Will discovers that a mass murder took place in his house, he decides to find out more about the crime in question, only to discover that the trail leads directly back to him.

That’s a pretty damn good setup – the only question is where you go from there, and that is where “Dream House” loses its way. There are a myriad of paths the story could have taken, but damned if they didn’t take the simplest option available. Seriously, the explanation for why things went down the way they did is just head-slappingly dumb, and it kills us that we cannot explain why. Add just one more layer to the story, and this could be one of those “Jacob’s Ladder”-type movies where you never really know what is real and what is fantasy. Instead, they took the easy way out. Sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. This, however, is not one of those times, not when you begin the movie by pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes. If your movie is high-concept, then see it through to the very end.

Anyone who grew up watching M. Night Shyamalan movies – and are therefore always on the look for the hook or the twist – will not miss the clues in “Dream House,” which form a veritable trail of bread crumbs. Hopefully the three leads will make another movie down the road, because goodness knows that under better circumstances, they could create something special. (Universal 2012)

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