Posts Tagged ‘Twilight’

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In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart co-starred in ‘Adventureland,’ an excellent, soft-spoken charmer about theme park workers in the 80s.

It’s been a winding road for both actors since then. Eisenberg earned an Oscar nomination for The Social Network while balancing paycheck work like Now You See Me and Rio with obscure indie projects like The Double and Night Moves.

Similarly, Stewart presumably bought several houses with her Twilight money before spending the last few years rebuilding her indie cred with prestige dramas like Camp X-Ray, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria.

Which brings us to 2015, with the actors reuniting to star in ‘American Ultra,’ an action comedy that tries to be both fresh and familiar, and ends up befuddled in the process.

Eisenberg and Stewart play Mike and Phoebe, a pair of underwhelming stoners in love in Liman, West Virginia. He wants to give her a better life, but his panic attacks and frequent drug-related interactions with law enforcement keep them firmly rooted in a status quo.

But their inertia is actually part of a government conspiracy. Their lives are blown up – literally and figuratively – when CIA assassins are sent to kill Mike, who is in fact a latent government operative with a bad case of the Jason Bourne memory wipe.

Mike is reactivated just in time to defend himself and his lady love, prompting an ever-escalating amount of government fire to rain down upon them. But no amount of action choreography and shaky camera can mask the fact that Eisenberg is completely unconvincing as an action star, and the movie’s BIG TWISTS are as easy to spot as a freight train in broad daylight.

The carnage, which arrives in abundance, is played for laughs. But the attempts a Pineapple Express-esque synergy are squandered by lazy corner-cutting by the writers. For example, Walton Goggins plays a particularly deranged assassin named Laugher, who laughs a lot. It’s supposed to be clever, it’s not, and it speaks to the glaring lack of anything that resembles character development in the undercooked script.

Stranger still is the cast that turns up to stain their reputations. I can only assume that everyone owed the producers a personal favor, as there’s no other way of explaining the presence of Goggins, Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale and John Leguizamo.

All involved would do well to let ‘Ultra’ fade into obscurity.

Grade: C

*American Ultra opens nationwide on Friday, Aug. 21.

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*This review was originally posted in January during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It is being reposted in connection with Austenland’s theatrical release this week.

Austenland tells the story of Jane, an early-30s Austen aficionado played by Keri Russell whose seemingly sole escape from hum-drum existence is her passionate obsession for Pride and Prejudice and, particularly, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy. A cardboard cutout of the proud man (or was he prejudiced? I can never tell) guards her doorway and a collection of antique tea pots, dolls, embroideries and other paraphernalia line her walls.

After a rude and depressing advance from a homely co-worker, Jane decides to blow a small fortune to go to Austenland, a fully-immersive, Austen-inspired Regency Era experience in England, lorded over by former Bond girl Jane Seymour. There, all modern contraptions are done away with for a summer of gowns, pheasant hunting, balls and hired actors paid to romance and woo the young women who had always dreamed of living out one of Austen’s novels.

It is there we meet the remainder of our cast, a one-percenter who’s never picked up a book, much less P&P (Jennifer Coolidge), Georgia King as the third participant in the experience and the three actors trained to woo them, Ricky Whittle, James Callis and, most importanly, JJ Feild as the resident Darcy.

Amidst the role playing and Tom Foolery, Jane runs into and strikes up an unscripted friendship with Martin (Flight of the Concord’s Bret McKenzie), a grounds worker at the resort who makes up the third prong in the fim’s central love triangle.

The movie is, unrepentantly, a romantic comedy, but Jerusha’s attention to both P&P detail as well as her penchant for the absurd (she co-wrote Sundance darling Napoleon Dynamite) elevate Austenland above the genre fold. Coolidge, channeling her loud-mode character from Legally Blond can be a little tiring at first, but as Jane takes center stage in the plot and Coolidge is pushed more to the sidelines the crazy man/straight man balance finds its mark.

Also, Russell is as charming as ever (which is saying something) as Jane, and she trades effortlessly from Elizabeth Bennett-esque quips with Feild to schoolgirl-with-a-crush with McKenzie.

Between the Austenphiles and Twilight crowd (Austeland was produced by Stephanie Meyer), I expect Austenland (which was acquired by Sony) will make buckets of money in theaters. In this case, however, it’s a chick flick that earns its success.

Grade: B+

*For SLC audiences, co-screenwriter Shannon Hale will hold special post-screening Q&As with audience members at the Broadway Center Theater on Friday Aug. 23 and Saturday Aug. 24 (7 p.m. screenings). Tickets can be purchased here.

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I know, this post is more than a month late but the Utah Legislative session began the freaking day after Sundance ended so cut me some slack. I already posted my Sundance wrap up post so I’ll try to keep the redundancies to a minimum but there are just some things that deserve more than a camera phone.

Things like, Main Street’s Egyptian Theater.

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As a member of the press, I’m mostly relegated to the Holiday Village Cinemas during the festival but I always try to see at least one movie in the old Egyptian at the top of Main. This theater, along with its sister in Ogden, are hands down my two favorite cinemas in all of Utah (now that the Cinedome is closed, sigh). They have that amazing feel of nostalgia for Hollywood’s Golden Age, before HD television when going to the theater for a talkie was an experience. For some of us it still is, and theaters like the Egyptians reward us for our cinephilia.

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My screening at the Egyptian this years was Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess, wife to and co-writer of Napolean Dynomite. Besides a week of amazing independent film and the ability to see the year’s best movies before anyone else, the true magic of Sundance is the post-screening Q&A’s that the filmmakers and cast hold with the audience. Sadly, Hess’ Q&A was hijacked by a bunch of twi-hards who wanted to know what it was like working with Stephanie Meyer (who produced the film), but Hess nonetheless seemed very charming.

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Speaking of charm, there’s no topping Sundance-regular, wunderkind and all-that-is-man Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His film, Don Jon’s Addiction, made its worldwide premiere at Sundance and the versatile writer-director-actor stopped by to chat with the audience about feminism, sexism in Hollywood and how to carefully trim pornographic clips to technically not exceed the bounds of an MPAA “R” rating. Don Jon’s will be hitting theaters soon, it will be interesting to see if they pulled it off.

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This here is Stu Zicherman, who directed and co-wrote A.C.O.D., which stands for Adult Children of Divorce and was quite possibly my favorite film of the festival (I can’t make up my mind. Too Much Good!) After I gave the movie an A rating on Wood’s Stock they were nice enough to retweet my blog post. Hashtags people, get on that train.

As always I can’t choose between color and B&W. I love the balance of the big red screen but I also love how Stu comes out of the dark in the BW picture, almost like a giant Ying Yang. Thoughts?

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This is the team behind “Breathe In,” particularly the film’s director Drake Doremus (the man with the microphone). Drake is the writer-director of Like Crazy, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen at Sundance and one of the best films of 2011. I had the chance to briefly meet Drake during Film Church of Sundance 2011. I wouldn’t expect him to remember, I just felt like mentioning that. Most people brag about getting a high five from Justin Bieber, I get star struck by indie filmmakers.

The Breathe In Q&A was interesting because a man called the film predictable and then got booed by the crowd. I wouldn’t call it predictable as much as I would call it familiar or natural, but either way it is a beautifully-captured story.

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And, as always, between movies there’s the chance to catch some amazing music. Like The Head and The Heart (above) who closed out the festival at the ASCAP music cafe. THATH, if you haven’t discovered them yet, is (are?) amazing but if you like Justin Bieber then just do us all a favor and stay away. The last thing I need is to see Down In The Valley covered on Glee. After losing fun. I’m not sure my heart could take it.

When I took this shot I was cursing that yellow ball hanging from the ceiling. Now that I see the picture though, I kind of love it. I wish it was brighter.

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I was also able to catch a bar-set by my cousin’s band Van Lady Love. My cousin has two bands (The other being Lady And Gent, a folkier outfit). I’d like to tell you where to go to find them but I’m not entirely sure. Google it, that usually works.

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And then, there’s always Main Street. People often ask me “Ben, I’m heading to Sundance, what should I do?” and more often than not they haven’t exactly planned ahead to buy screening tickets, aren’t willing to wait list and buy screening tickets and, frankly, have no interest in attending a screening. That, admittedly, limits your choices.

But Main Street, especially on opening weekend, is buzzing: art galleries, live music, restaurants and great people watching. I’m always struck by the dedication of the club-going crowd. The fact that women will brave strapless mini-dresses in the dead of Utah winter is nothing short of heroic. Also, if you’re lucky, you might see a star or two, if you’re in to that sort of thing. To be honest, you probably won’t see anyone, or at least anyone you recognize. I brushed shoulders with the girl from The Mob Doctor and it took me more than an hour to figure out why she looked so familiar, then again, it is The Mob Doctor.

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And how awesome are these windows? I’m a sucker for silhouette (and empty benches, but that’s not important right now) so I stood across the street from the Kimball Arts Center for about 30 minutes just snapping people walking by.

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Ever since last summer’s release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part II: Electric Boogalloo, there’s been a supernatural romance vacuum in the realm of Hollywood franchises. Much like how TV is still trying to achieve the “next Lost” (Sorry, but Revolution leaves much to be desired), cinema execs are chomping at the bit to find the next sappy YA adaptation to make buckets of money off the wallets of awkward teenagers and escapism-addicted middle aged women.

Cue Beautiful Creatures, the first in an assuredly planned franchise based on the Caster Chronicles book series. It centers on a boy, fancy that, in this case the athletic Ethan who is discontented to be the stereotypical jock and instead spends his free time devouring the banned writings of Rand, Vonnegut, and Salinger, sketching the female vision that haunts his dreams and dreaming of the day when he can finally say “adieu” to his small, southern, backwards town.

But then, a mysterious new girl named Lana arrives in town to stay with her uncle, the local rich, eccentric hermit and supposed devil worshiper. Lana sends ripples through the school and community, immediately catching Ethan’s eye. The two teens share a meet cute in the rain and proceed to fall head-over-17-year-old-heels in love with each other but of course, her family doesn’t approve, because Lana is a witch and obviously that sort of thing is forbidden.

Where the Twilight films creatively drown under the weight of their own nauseating self-seriousness, Beautiful Creatures manages to keep things light and playful. Supporting castmembers Emma Thompson and Emma Rosum gleefully vamp it up, chewing the scenery as a pair of evil “casters” – their term for magical folk – while Jeremy Irons provides the emotional moxie as the family patriarch and Lana’s guardian.

Much like how Twilight is a tale of vampire meets girl, Beautiful Creatures is a tale of boy meets witch. Creatures is not particularly good, but it is spared from being ultimately bad by two things: it’s deep-south setting and the winning charm of relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan.

I was well-prepared to despise Ethan from the moment his heavily-accented voice-over narration opens the film, but after a few glimpses of his wide, Cheshire grin and a few pinches of snappy, if less-than-inspired dialogue, he won me over.

In another rarity, he and Alice Englert, his partner in magical romance, actually present their characters as a believable pair of goofy, nerdy, teenage lovers. Compared to the photo-shopped perfection and age-stretching of the Twilight cast (and any other movie set in High School) Ethan and Lana actually come across as a reasonably authentic adolescent couple, even though lightning bolts occasionally shot out of Lana’s fingers.

Likewise, the film’s deep south setting is one of its greatest strengths, imbedding the film with a certain sense of mysterious cool. Much like other fictional southern works, like Skeleton Key or Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, the scenery and setting are used as though they were extra characters.

The generic townsfolk are dismissible and two-dimensional, bordering on caricature, with the exception of Viola Davis, who brings the soul as a family friend with a few secrets up her sleeve.

Ultimately, Beatiful Creatures is an adequately enjoyable, albeit blocky and unpolished, fantasy. It has just enough fun to keep things moving and to nearly make up for the laughably awful visual effects. After making it’s money in spades – as I assume it will – I wouldn’t be completely disinterested to see what happens next.

Grade: B-

*Beautiful Creatures opens wide in theaters on Feb. 14, 2013.

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Seeing as how “Austenland” was helmed by Utahn Jerusha Hess, adapted from a novel by Utahn Shannon Hale and produced by the world’s second-most-loved Mormon (after Mitt Romney, natch) Stephenie Meyer, it seemed fitting to do a breakaway review seperate from the quick capsule treatments I’ve been giving everything else.

Austenland tells the story of Jane, an early-30s Austen aficionado played by Keri Russell whose seemingly sole escape from hum-drum existence is her passionate obsession for Pride and Prejudice and, particularly, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy. A cardboard cutout of the proud man (or was he prejudiced? I can never tell) guards her doorway and a collection of antique tea pots, dolls, embroideries and other paraphernalia line her walls.

After a rude and depressing advance from a homely co-worker, Jane decides to blow a small fortune to go to Austenland, a fully-immersive, Austen-inspired Regency Era experience in England, lorded over by former Bond girl Jane Seymour. There, all modern contraptions are done away with for a summer of gowns, pheasant hunting, balls and hired actors paid to romance and woo the young women who had always dreamed of living out one of Austen’s novels and finding their own Darcy.

It is there we meet the remainder of our cast, a one-percenter who’s never picked up a book, much less P&P (Jennifer Coolidge), Georgia King as the third participant in the experience and the three actors trained to woo them, Ricky Whittle, James Callis and, most importanly, JJ Feild as the resident Darcy.

Amidst the role playing and Tom Foolery, Jane runs into and strikes up an unscripted friendship with Martin (Flight of the Concord’s Bret McKenzie), a grounds worker at the resort who makes up the third prong in the fim’s central love triangle.

The movie is, unrepentantly, a romantic comedy, but Jerusha’s attention to both P&P detail as well as her penchant for the absurd (she co-wrote Sundance darling Napoleon Dynamite) elevate Austenland above the genre fold. Coolidge, channeling her loud-mode character from Legally Blond can be a little tiring at first, but as Jane takes center stage in the plot and Coolidge is pushed more the sidelines the crazy man/straight man balance finds its mark.

Also, Russell is as charming as every (which is saying something) as Jane, and she trades effortlessly from Elizabeth Bennett-esque quips with Feild to schoolgirl-with-a-crush with McKenzie.

Between the Austenphiles and Twilight crowd, I expect Austenland (which was acquired by Sondy) will make buckets of money in theaters. In this case, however, it’s a chick flick that earns its success.

Grade: B+

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