Andrea Sperling

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Smashed Review


Grim

Despite taking a full-on approach to the issue of alcoholism, filmmaker Ponsoldt undermines his own case by telling a story about the problem itself rather than the people caught up in it. And by avoiding the bigger questions, he leaves us with characters and a situation that are hard to care about, no matter how harrowing the story gets.

Schoolteacher Kate (Winstead) is a mess. Out drinking every night with her husband Charlie (Paul), she turns up drunk to teach her classroom of 6-year-olds. One morning when she's sick, she lets them believe she's pregnant. But lying to the kids sparks her guilt, which gets worse when a colleague (Offerman) covers for her and her boss (Mullally) throws a baby shower. So she joins AA and gets help from her sponsor Jenny (Spencer) to straighten out her life. But once she's sober she wonders whether she can stay with the still-drunk Charlie.

Essentially the film lets all of the characters off the hook since it's the alcohol that's the real villain, not any failing of willpower or self-discipline. In this world, it's not possible to be "the kind of people who have a glass of wine with dinner": you're either a falling-down drunk or a pious teetotaller. And even worst, both Kate and Charlie have tragic back-stories that explain why they are alcoholics. So the film's approach is purely superficial, which makes it impossible to identify with the characters or even root for them to sort out their messy lives.

Continue reading: Smashed Review

Like Crazy Review


Grim
With a deliberately wistful style, this romantic drama never quite convinces us that its central couple is actually in love. There are several wonderfully telling moments along the way, but the over-constructed plot and too-cute cuddle fest just get increasingly annoying.

Furniture designer Jacob (Yelchin) meets aspiring writer Anna (Jones) at university in Los Angeles, and their adorable romance develops over their final year studying before Anna has to return to Britain for a wedding. But she has overstayed her American visa, so when she tries to return she's deported. Over the next few years they see each other whenever they can while getting on with their lives and careers. Jacob starts a relationship with Samantha (Lawrence), while Anna flirts with her neighbour Simon (Bewley). But they can't get each other out of their hearts.

Continue reading: Like Crazy Review

Kaboom Review


Excellent
As this scruffy coming-of-age sex comedy turns into a horror movie, the combination is completely disarming. It's both silly and creepy, with honest subtext about youthful searching and the complexities of human sexuality.

Just starting university, 18-year-old Smith (Dekker) hasn't decided yet whether he's gay or straight. It doesn't help that his often naked roommate Thor (Zylka) claims to be straight despite evidence to the contrary. His best pal is the sardonic Stella (Bennett), who has a crush on a hot girl (Mesquida). Yes, everyone's obsessed with sex, and they're experimenting rather a lot. But Smith is also haunted by nightmarish dreams about a redhead (LaLiberte). And when these dreams start invading real life, he's not sure what to do about it.

Continue reading: Kaboom Review

Harsh Times Review


Weak
Maybe I am simply not male enough to grasp the full appeal of the seedier parts of Los Angeles, but something about the great cruel fraternity of violence and honor and drugs proves irresistible to bullish young filmmakers. In Harsh Times, the latest film to make South Central L.A. its playground, screenwriter and first-time director David Ayer once again falls victim to these terribly masculine charms.

Jim (Christian Bale) is a vet of the first Gulf War, haunted by trippy dreams of the things he saw and did over there, and hanging on by the thinnest thread now that he's back. He talks a good game about the good times just ahead, when he will get a job with the LAPD, marry his Mexican girlfriend, and bring her across the border. In the meantime, with no job coming through, he spends his days tooling around South Central with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), sucking down astounding quantities of beer and running petty schemes to get money, drugs, and tail.

Continue reading: Harsh Times Review

The Quiet Review


Terrible
A film that does its best to make the horrendous palatable, and the unthinkable titillating, The Quiet can be either (depending on your taste) a wrenching experience, or merely worth a giggle. It is, after all, a film about a deaf-mute teenaged girl named Dot (Camilla Belle), sent to live with her weird godparents and their popular cheerleader Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) after her father dies -- so really one can only take it so seriously. Clichés are the order of the day, with bitchy cheerleaders ruling the high school cafeteria and deep, nasty secrets discovered by people who just happen to be walking down darkened hallways in the depths of night. And if one has to ask whether this seemingly placid suburban environment is about to be torn asunder by scandal, one really hasn't watched enough television.

Director Jamie Babbit hardly showed much promise with her debut film, the stiff, one-note 1999 comedy But I'm a Cheerleader, but one would have thought that the intervening years spent directing episodes of such sharp TV comedies as Malcolm in the Middle and Gilmore Girls would have honed her talent somewhat. No such luck. The Quiet is so tone-deaf that when it should be eliciting sympathy or empathy, it comes off as simply amateur comedy -- Pretty Persuasion without the guts. She's put together a good enough cast here, with Edie Falco and Martin Donovan playing Nina's parents (the former a prescription-medication-zonked stereotype and the latter a creepy and controlling menace), though they're mostly marooned amidst the cartoonish plot of adolescent brooding and familial dysfunction. As Dot, Belle is stuck with providing her dialogue via maudlin voiceover ("I am invisible") while Cuthbert has to do what she can with a script that sends her character ping-ponging between damaged, vulnerable victim and Heathers-esque school-dominating bitch.

Continue reading: The Quiet Review

Harsh Times Review


Weak
Maybe I am simply not male enough to grasp the full appeal of the seedier parts of Los Angeles, but something about the great cruel fraternity of violence and honor and drugs proves irresistible to bullish young filmmakers. In Harsh Times, the latest film to make South Central L.A. its playground, screenwriter and first-time director David Ayer once again falls victim to these terribly masculine charms.

Jim (Christian Bale) is a vet of the first Gulf War, haunted by trippy dreams of the things he saw and did over there, and hanging on by the thinnest thread now that he's back. He talks a good game about the good times just ahead, when he will get a job with the LAPD, marry his Mexican girlfriend, and bring her across the border. In the meantime, with no job coming through, he spends his days tooling around South Central with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), sucking down astounding quantities of beer and running petty schemes to get money, drugs, and tail.

Continue reading: Harsh Times Review

The Quiet Review


Terrible
A film that does its best to make the horrendous palatable, and the unthinkable titillating, The Quiet can be either (depending on your taste) a wrenching experience, or merely worth a giggle. It is, after all, a film about a deaf-mute teenaged girl named Dot (Camilla Belle), sent to live with her weird godparents and their popular cheerleader Nina (Elisha Cuthbert) after her father dies -- so really one can only take it so seriously. Clichés are the order of the day, with bitchy cheerleaders ruling the high school cafeteria and deep, nasty secrets discovered by people who just happen to be walking down darkened hallways in the depths of night. And if one has to ask whether this seemingly placid suburban environment is about to be torn asunder by scandal, one really hasn't watched enough television.Director Jamie Babbit hardly showed much promise with her debut film, the stiff, one-note 1999 comedy But I'm a Cheerleader, but one would have thought that the intervening years spent directing episodes of such sharp TV comedies as Malcolm in the Middle and Gilmore Girls would have honed her talent somewhat. No such luck. The Quiet is so tone-deaf that when it should be eliciting sympathy or empathy, it comes off as simply amateur comedy -- Pretty Persuasion without the guts. She's put together a good enough cast here, with Edie Falco and Martin Donovan playing Nina's parents (the former a prescription-medication-zonked stereotype and the latter a creepy and controlling menace), though they're mostly marooned amidst the cartoonish plot of adolescent brooding and familial dysfunction. As Dot, Belle is stuck with providing her dialogue via maudlin voiceover ("I am invisible") while Cuthbert has to do what she can with a script that sends her character ping-ponging between damaged, vulnerable victim and Heathers-esque school-dominating bitch.And what to make of this script by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft? Undoubtedly they believed they were crafting a dark little drama about suburbia's seamy underbelly, with a symbolism-laden deaf-mute protagonist to act as a bid for arthouse cred. Instead they've put together a crude mash-up of teenage cruelty -- Nina tries so hard to make life hell for her new sister that you can almost see the sweat beads on her brow -- and stock representations of parental hypocrisy, with a persistent undertone of sexual perversity that veers more than once into leering exploitation. Nina's best friend, the ultra-slutty Michelle (Katy Mixon), has a porn fixation, while the object of her X-rated lunchtime conversation, the star basketball player, Connor (Shawn Ashmore), appears sexually attracted to Dot simply because of her passivity.Although the balance of The Quiet pivots around the revelation of two shock twists, they're both so predictable that even Desperate Housewives wouldn't stoop to using them. Director Babbit's handling of the fallout from these twists, which should have been heavily emotional material, careens instead quite quickly into high camp of a sort that's quite impossible to enjoy without a stiff drink -- or three.

Color Of A Brisk And Leaping Day Review


Terrible
The color of a brisk and leaping day, it seems, is black and white.

The rather pompously titled Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day tells the story of John Lee, the grandson of a Chinese Immigrant who worked on the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. For some reason, John becomes obsessed with the local, short-line Yosemite Valley Railroad, which is near closure due to abandonment. He manages to buy the railroad and tries (with the aid of minor characters played by Michael Stipe, who would probably have been more helpful playing a rock star instead of a traffic manager, and Henry Gibson). There's a romance, and there's hardship as John runs the railroad... runs it back into the ground, I should say.

Continue reading: Color Of A Brisk And Leaping Day Review

D.E.B.S. Review


Grim
Somewhat like watching the Disney Channel's girl-power prime-time lineup through a muddled exploitation-lite filter, D.E.B.S. is a patently ridiculous teen-spies scenario that's played mostly for laughs but oddly enough only works when it's being downright sincere.

The film imagines that there's an entire wing of the national intelligence apparatus composed of nubile young women in tarty schoolgirl outfits (knee socks, plaid miniskirts, the whole bit) selected by how they answered questions buried in the SATs that secretly test for espionage aptitude. The starring quartet of hotties soon to graduate from the D.E.B.S. academy are: straight-A and dishwater dull Amy (Sara Foster, her blonde hair making her the star), chain-smoking and slutty Domique (Devon Aoki, sporting a respectable French accent), love-starved and not-too-bright underachiever Janet (Jill Ritchie) and their over-the-top bitchy leader Max (Meagan Good, trying too hard).

Continue reading: D.E.B.S. Review

But I'm A Cheerleader Review


Grim
Take director John Waters and give him a really good actress like Natasha Lyonne, a paltry budget of, say, $1 million, and ask him to make a satire about a "gay rehab camp," and you might come up with something like But I'm a Cheerleader.

Then again, Waters might have come up with something funny, like Pecker. With such a meaty topic as Family Values ripe for a send-up, you'd think it would be easy to milk Cheerleader for comic value. Unfortunately, first-time feature director Jamie Babbit (whose few credits including directing the MTV series Undressed and acting as script supervisor on The Game) doesn't appear to have much ability behind the camera, which becomes painfully apparent after only a few minutes.

Continue reading: But I'm A Cheerleader Review

Pumpkin Review


Terrible
We're all different. But when someone's handicap makes their uniqueness especially noticeable, what is the acceptable reaction? Most of us would simply acknowledge the differences and move on. The makers of Pumpkin however find plenty of dark humor in the subject matter. Some of their jokes work, but most fail miserably and in the end, Pumpkin is far more offensive than it is funny.

The ignorant Carolyn (Christina Ricci) leads the perfect life of a college senior -- she's an officer in her sorority and dates Kent (Sam Ball), the tennis team stud. Everything is going well until it's decided that her sorority will mentor the handicapped adults of the Challenged Games (think Special Olympics). Carolyn is against the charity selection, but the sorority president (Marisa Coughlan) believes helping these special athletes train will give the sorority enough points to win Sorority of the Year.

Continue reading: Pumpkin Review

Andrea Sperling

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