Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Olsen’



Anne Hathaway stars in this pseudo-monster story, in which an adrift woman moves home after a break-up and discovers that she shares a mental link with a Kaiju terrorizing the people of Seoul, South Korea.

It sounds like the set-up to a quirky dark comedy but “Colossal” remains paralyzed between genres, managing only to be too serious to be funny and to offbeat to be taken seriously. The result is an off-putting mishmash of tone that wastes what minimal goodwill is brought by the cast, including Jason Sudeikis and Tim Blake Nelson. The plot itself hinges on a series of plot contrivances that make less and less sense as the conclusion nears.

Grade: C-



In “Raw” a bright, talented and unflinchingly vegetarian student, Justine, enrolls at a veterinary school and struggles to find her place amidst a tradition of byzantine and tiresome hazing rituals. After one such task requires her to eat a rabbit kidney, Justine takes a liking to the taste of meat, which slowly escalates to an insatiable and (ahem) taboo extreme.

It’s an impressive slow-burn and an increasingly unsettling piece of work by director Julia Ducournau. It take a minimalist approach to the grotesque, creating squirm-inducing images with an air of high art. Under a different director, particularly an American one, “Raw” would likely be a vapid, gore-porn slog. But with its European sensibilities and restrained amusement in the unpleasant, the film makes for something truly special.


Ingrid Goes West

Think of it as “Instagram Millenials: THE MOVIE!” Aubrey Plaza stars as Ingrid, a delusional and social-media addicted stalker who, after seeing a magazine profile of a California socialite (Elizabeth Olsen), decides to move to Los Angeles and become best friends with her new internet obsession.

“Ingrid” keeps things light, plumbing the comedy out of its protagonist’s mania, while also keeping a hard edge that churns under the surface of its characters seemingly blase narcissism. Olsen, who got her start in the excellent and Sundance-premiered “Martha Marcy May Marlete” is able to flex dramatic muscles that have been kept in a box while she endlessly hand-waves in Marvel Movies. But her character is largely caricature, leaving a vacuum for supporting actors Wyatt Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr. to steal every scene they’re in.

Grade: B


Oklahoma City

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, and in “Oklahoma City,” it gets the documentary treatment it deserves.

Director Barak Goodman’s piece is a disciplined, thorough and haunting examination of the event itself, while also paying due diligence to the connect the threads that led to the killing of 168 people in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. From Ruby Ridge to Waco, Texas, Goodman connects the threads with elegance, showing the rise of anti-government extremism and white nationalism that motivated Tim McVeigh, all backed up with an impressive catalog of archival footage and first-person testimonials.

Grade: A


Killing Ground

A couple on a camping trip arrive at a picturesque bend in the river, with a tent standing where another group is camping nearby. But when those campers fail to return to their possessions, the couple begins to worry that something has gone wrong.

The set up is great, as is much of the execution. One tracking shot, in particular, is perfect, shifting from Act I to Act II like a bolt of lightening.

But the film is also too eager to show its hand, doling out information in abundance when mystery should be preserved. The fate of the other camping group, best left for a later reveal, is all but disclosed immediately in broad strokes, leaving nothing but the specific details to work out. “Killing Ground” also makes several wise choices with the relationship of its central characters, but those strengths are undercut by brutally violent scenes that tend to distract more than strengthen investment in the story.

Grade: B-


Before I Fall

In this mashup of “Groundhog Day” and “Mean Girls,” based on the YA novel of the same name, Zoey Deutch stars as sam, a high school senior who is trapped in a one-day time loop after her friends are involved in a car crash after a party.

The device allows for the type of evolution you would expect, as Sam is forced to reevaluate her loyalty to her rude and WASPy best friend and her treatment of her family and classmates. But what “Before I Fall” does well is allow for all of its characters to evolve, from two-dimensional archetypes in the first act to sympathetic and layered personas by the film’s end. It’s still hobbled by its YA mood, where high school is life and death and mean girls are dictators, but it has more in its head than its peers and Deutch is a winning lead, making for an altogether positive results that exceeds expectations.

Grade: B


L.A. Times

Much like “Ingrid Goes West,” “L.A. Times” has a lot to say, and mock, about modern young adults, but doesn’t quite have the substance to hold it all together. There’s plenty of smart parody and satire to justify the price of admission, but it never quite adds up to anything.

Telling several separate stories simultaneously, “L.A. Times” follows a group of friends as they navigate today’s dating scene. One couple breaks up after comparing themselves to seemingly successful relationships, another woman fights off the impulse of a bad relationship while being consistently stood up by her cousin’s coworker. The plot is largely irrelevant, and it’s used to serve up commentary on love and living by writer, director and star Michelle Morgan, who is not as clever, nor as good an actress, as she thinks she is.

Grade: B-


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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In her first film since The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, Rooney Mara joins Casey Affleck and the indie-ubiquitous Ben Foster in a near-modern day Western about a pair of Texas criminals. After a job goes south, Affleck’s Bob takes the fall for his wife shooting a police officer, allowing the pregnant Ruth to raise their child in freedom, waiting for the day they can be reunited.

But then Bob springs loose after four years, and things get complicated as both the law and a trio of underworld scum come looking for him at Ruth’s doorstep.

The film is a taught, quiet, slow-burn thriller, showcasing the acting chops of all three of its leads. Affleck is particularly good as the tortured soul, hardly remorseful for his past sins and motivated by a singular goal of joining his family. Mara, who despite her A-list making role in the aforementioned David Fincher adaptaion is still relatively unknown to audiences, gives us a wholly new side of herself, adopting a convincing Texas drawl and the emotional subtlety of a woman torn between past and present.

Grade: B+

In A World…

Most Sundance comedies come with an asterisk, some sort of dark element or imbedded creation that toes the line between laughter and tears. How surprised I was, then, to see a bona-fide, low stakes comedy and, what’s more, a really good one at that.

IAW follows Carol – played by writer, director and star Lake Bell – the daughter of a Hollywood voice-over legend struggling to break her way into the business. The film is set after the real life death of “The Voice of God” Don LaFontaine amidst a fictional trio of voice actors vying to take over the now empty throne of movie trailer narration (hence the title, i.e. “In a world, where no one is safe…”).

The movie is structured as an ensemble comedy, with the plot playfully and effortlessly hopping between several sub-plots involving marriage problems, daddy issues, and a bit of romance. Most notably, Bell has so carefully and expertly rounded out her cast with a who’s-who list of underrated comedy actors (Rob Corddry, Demitri Martin, Nick Offerman, etc.) that essentially everything that takes place on screen zips and buzzes with perfect timing and chemistry.

The final five minutes over-extends the movie’s welcomes, and the ultimate climax leaves a little to be desired, but overall In A World.. is one of the more sincere and effortless laughs I’ve had in some time.

Grade: A-

Afternoon Delight

In this riff on the bored housewife tale, Afternoon Delight gives us HIMYM’s Josh Radnor and Girls’ Kathryn Hahn as a married couple with a flickering flame. After a spice-it-up date night at a local strip club, Hahn’s character develops a sort of curious fascination with a stripper/sex worker (Juno Temple) who she then hires as a live-in nanny.

Her justification for doing so is a new-feministic desire to help a fellow sister out of a bad situation, but it becomes increasingly clear that the wife’s motivation lies in some vicarious obsession with the danger and raunch of the young woman’s taboo life.

The characters in Afternoon Delight never seem fully realized, and their motivations similarly dip into convenience from time to time. The resolution after the inevitable crises is also swept up with a little too much haste, quickly arriving at catharsis without really demonstrating exactly how, or why, anything has changed.

But, the film is nothing if not interesting, lingering in the quiet moments between words and the hidden meanings behind the actions and routines shared by friends, lovers and strangers. Radnor and Hahn are enjoybale as an extremely everyday alt-Hollywood portrayal of a married couple and while the premise is not likely something most people will encounter in their own lives, the characters seem like an amalgam of everyone you’ve ever known.

Grade: B

Ass Backwards

With a cast that includes the amazing Casey Wilson (Happy Endings), June Diane Raphael (New Girl, as well as my favorite podcast How Did This Get Made), Bob OdenKirk (Breaking Bad) and Jon Cryer (Sixteen Candles — I refuse to acknowledge his more current role) it’s somewhat baffling how AB could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

To simply say that this “comedy” fails would neglect the physical discomfort you feel while watching it. It’s a lot like watching two hours of bad high school improv.

Written by Wilson and Raphael, Ass Backwards follows the dimwitted Chloe and Kate as they make a road trip home to participate in a pseudo-reunion of a beauty pageant they lost as children. The structure is essentially a female Dumb and Dumber, as an incessant series of implausible and contrived errors lead the pair to a community of uber-feminists, an amateur night at a strip club (gee, no one’s ever done that joke before), the hovel of a crack addict and finally, to the beauty pageant where the audience is ultimately put out of their misery.

Grade: D-

Very Good Girls

In VGG, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen play a pair of 17-year-old besties in their final carefree summer before the onset of college-aged adulthood. They’re portrayed, a little heavy-handedly, as a perfectly joined yin and yang, with Fanning the daughter of a rich mansion-dwelling nuclear family and Olsen the hippie offspring of gluten-free and free-range dining Richard Dreyfous and Demi Moore (who, oddly, is given almost nothing to do in the film).

One day, while biking the boardwalk on Coney Island, they meet David, a grumpy but beautiful ice cream vendor. He is the poster child of cliched YA fiction male romantic interests, with his gruff and sullen exterior hinting at a gentle and artistic center that both women immediately pick up on and swoon over.

David’s lazy creation is but the most egregious of the film’s two-dimensional character and plot constructions. The plot ambles along well-traveled paths, briefly arriving at an impressive union of sight and sound in the middle section, only to lose itself in a swamp of inexplicable character actions and forced conflict as it limps its way to the finish line.

It’s not that Good Girls is particularly bad, it’s just that its coming-of-age retread is aggressively mediocre.

Grade: C+

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*This is a re-posting of a review I wrote in February after attending the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in light of Liberal Arts’ current theatrical release. It has received minor revisions for the sake of historical accuracy.

Fans of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother — and casual passers-by marginally aware of the show — will notice how the cast has begun to diversify their portfolios. It started with Neil Patrick Harris becoming the default host of the world, followed swiftly by Jason Segel inching away from stoner-comedies to more mainstream box office fare. Cobie Smoulders picked up a rather decent supporting role in this year’s The Avengers and Allison Hannigan will always be the most successful thespian from the American Pie family.

That leaves “star” Josh Radnor, whose quest for his soulmate is the keystone of HIMYM’s dramatic setup and who has, for the most part, remained largely unknown to those outside of the juggernaut of CBS’s Monday comedy lineup. Turns out, Radnor has been cementing his status as “The New Zach Braff” by not only focusing on his breakout sitcom role — that of a quirky hopeless romantic everyman — but also padding his resume as an up-and-coming writer and director of Independent Film. Much like how Zach Braff had his Garden State, Radnor has given us HappyThankYouMorePlease — a 2010 Sundance award-winner that saw a modest theatrical release to mixed reviews — and now Liberal Arts, a light dramedy about the romance of academia and the unstoppable passage of time.

Radnor — again writing, starring and directing — is Jesse, a mid-30s New Yorker numbed by his job as a University admissions counselor. When he’s invited back to his Alma Mater for the retirement dinner of a friend and former professor his memories of unhindered youth and the adventure of learning are revived and in the ensuing glow he falls into an ill-advised romance with a 19-year-old sophomore (played by the Indie girl-of-the-moment Elizabeth Olsen, of Martha Marcy May Marlene).

What unfolds is a charming cautionary tale about accepting the changing times, learning to act your age and enjoying life, all personified by a small but delightful supporting cast — Richard Jenkins, Allison Janey and Zac Efron against-type as a hippie stoner.

If I were to name a fault, it would be that the plot moves forward along a natural — I hate to say “predictable” — path with few earth-shaking surprises but even that comes with a caveat: how often in life is our earth shaken? While yes, the movie stays mostly above water, resisting the urge at a number of occasions to plunge into darker depths, the result is story that from end to end would plausibly exist in the universe of a boring 30-something’s life. That he learns something and that the audience gets some well-deserved laughs is gravy on the 2-hour slice of life.
The comparison is inevitable and Liberal Arts falls short of Garden State, but Radnor still crafts a worthwhile tale that is sweet, clever, sincere and relatable to anyone who has ever been to college or who has ever aged. He avoids the pull of a lurid, hard-to-watch-romance, instead allowing his character the sense to recognize the disaster of loving a teenager, while being tortured by a believable attraction to her. What’s more, the movie is shockingly tame toeing the line between PG and PG-13 — Sundance movies aren’t rated — which, to anyone who’s been to Sundance, can be a refreshing surprise. B+

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