Lianne Halfon

Lianne Halfon

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Labor Day Review


OK

With one of Kate Winslet's most layered, resonant performances, this film is definitely worth a look, even though the indulgent filmmaking style pushes it perilously close to Nicholas Sparks-style sappiness. Clearly, writer-director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is shifting gears as a filmmaker, but the movie is in dire need of just a hint of his usual jagged wit.

It's set in 1980s New Hampshire, as the agoraphobic Adele (Kate Winslet) is struggling to raise her sensitive teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) on her own after her husband (Clark Gregg) left. Then one night escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) arrives at their house in need of a place to hide. The next day, Frank offers to help with some repairs on the house. He also notices that Henry needs to learn how to throw a baseball. And that Adele needs some affection. So over the long Labor Day Weekend, he becomes the badly needed man of the house. Then when a neighbour (J.K. Simmons) and a cop (James Van Der Beek) start snooping, they make a plan to run for the Canadian border.

Instead of a dark, menacing edge, Reitman washes the film in sun-dappled earnestness, ramping up the soapy emotions rather than the grittier issues these people so badly need to deal with. This reaches a low point when Frank teaches Adele how to bake a peach pie in a scene reminiscent of the lusty pot-spinning sequence in Ghost: laughably ridiculous. Fortunately, Winslet and Brolin generate some uneasy chemistry, and Griffith is a fine young actor in a very difficult role. Together, they pull the film back from the sudsy brink just in time for a genuinely tense final sequence.

Continue reading: Labor Day Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review


Excellent

Spikier than the average coming-of-age movie, this astute comedy-drama is packed with memorable characters and resonant situations. It's also strikingly intelligent, refusing to accept Hollywood's fake moralising as it grapples with big issues from mental health to bullying. And even better, it's funny and sexy.

Set in the early 1990s, it's the story of the painfully shy Charlie (Lerman), who plans to blend into the background as he starts high school. Scarred by an emotional event in his past, the only new friend he makes is his English teacher (Rudd). Then his sharp wit is spotted by the colourful Patrick (Miller), an anarchic gay teen who doesn't care what people think. Patrick also has a sexy stepsister, Sam (Watson), who takes a liking to Charlie as well, and soon they become inseparable friends. Well, until Charlie loses his nerve to ask Sam out and ends up in a relationship with her friend Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) instead.

After some less-than-thrilling lead roles (such as Percy Jackson or last year's Three Musketeers remake), Lerman finally comes into his own here with a sensitive, intelligent performance that's nicely underplayed. He also has terrific chemistry with Watson and Miller, whose feisty, hilarious love of life fills every scene they're in. They make such a strong trio that we are deeply moved by each rocky shift in their friendship. And Whitman brings a sparky energy to her scenes as the Buddhist punk with a bracingly honest approach to whatever happens.

Continue reading: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

Jeff, Who Lives at Home Review


OK
While not hugely memorable, this enjoyably ridiculous comedy has moments that are sharp, thoughtful and hilarious. And the filmmakers give their gifted cast the space to create characters who are amusing and resonant.

At 30, Jeff (Segel) is wasting his life in his mother's basement. Frustrated that he's not more ambitious, like older brother Pat (Helms), Mom (Sarandon) sends him out on an errand. But everything that happens when he's outside reinforces his belief in some sort of cosmic destiny that's guiding his every step. He also gets involved with Pat, who's showing off his new Porsche just as he learns that his wife (Greer) might be cheating on him. Meanwhile, Mom is perplexed by the fact that she has a secret admirer at work.

Continue reading: Jeff, Who Lives at Home Review

Young Adult Review


Excellent
There isn't much on the surface of this prickly comedy, but the sharp script slices through American culture so astutely that we continually see ourselves in characters who are clearly losers. And the film gives Theron another terrific role to disappear into.

Mavis (Theron) left her small-town home for Minneapolis to become an author of young adult fiction. But as her book series comes to an end, she hears that her high school flame Buddy (Wilson) has just had a baby with his wife Beth (Reaser). So Mavis heads home to try to win him back. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and she ends up instead commiserating with another former classmate, Matt (Oswalt), who also can't seem to move on from his teen years.

Continue reading: Young Adult Review

Juno Review


Excellent
Ellen Page plays a quirky teenager in Jason Reitman's Juno but she does so in a way I've rarely witnessed before. She's not rebelling from medication like Natalie Portman in Garden State, nor is she just a normal, shy girl who is externally quirky like Tina Majorino in Napoleon Dynamite. Her peculiarities aren't her definition like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, and she's not flippantly cute and brazenly poetic like Zooey Deschanel in Paul Gordon Green's All the Real Girls. Page's Juno MacGuff certainly has hints of all these characters, but what we witness of her comes from somewhere far off-screen. Remarkably, the world we're watching doesn't revolve around her.

When this Argento-loving firecracker gets knocked up by Paulie Bleeker (the invaluable Michael Cera), her rhythms don't change much; a big cookie consumed simultaneously with a lamb kebob seems like something she'd eat even if her hormones weren't all akimbo. After chatting up an ex-pill popper/current pro-lifer, her attempts to procure an abortion are thwarted by the thought of her baby's tapping fingernails and the sterilized miasma of the clinic's waiting room. Hastily, she opts for an old-fashioned, at-birth adoption with no frills. Her parents, played lovingly by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, are concerned but surprisingly level-headed, even if they wished she had just gotten a DUI instead of getting knocked up.

Continue reading: Juno Review

The Libertine Review


Good
It seems that Johnny Depp, who may be our most consistently dazzling actor, will forever be nominated for his lesser roles. No one of major merit nominated him for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, or Ted Demme's Blow but we sure as hell will nominate him for playing a drunk, silly pirate. How does our strongest actor's most gritty, complex role get snuffed? Hell, even his performance in Ed Wood, his best performance, only scored a Golden Globe nomination. Don't expect his latest in Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine to go anywhere past his British Independent Film Awards nod. There's a better chance of his performance as Willy Wonka getting a nomination 'round these parts.

Depp plays John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, about as depraved and destructive a dissident as there ever was in 17th century England. Besides his duties as an Earl, Wilmot was also a poet, playwright and acting teacher. He married Elizabeth Malet (Rosamund Pike), a woman he tried to kidnap only 2 year prior to marriage, and wrote plays that openly mocked King Charles (a business-as-usual John Malkovich) in his plays and poems, likening him to dildos and limp phalluses. Tell me you wouldn't love to party with this guy. Before he got syphilis and fell apart (literally), he had a short affair with an actress, Elizabeth Barry (the radiant Samantha Morton). Dunmore's film supposes that Wilmot had great emotions for Barry and that her leaving him was what made him die emotionally while syphilis ate away his body.

Continue reading: The Libertine Review

Art School Confidential Review


Excellent
Few things are more mystifying to outsiders than the world of modern art. Which of course makes it the perfect backdrop for a Terry Zwigoff film. Where else is eccentricity, flamboyance, and pretension considered normal? And who's more alienated and misunderstood than an art student rejected by his art school classmates, who are, quite naturally, alienated and misunderstood themselves? Art School Confidential, Zwigoff's latest, mines this territory for humor and poignancy, raising questions about the nature of art and alienation.As in Zwigoff's previous films, which include Crumb, Ghost World, and Bad Santa, Art School's hero is far from heroic. Played by Max Minghella, with his dark eyes and brooding bushy brows, Jerome Platz is a young art student whose primary aspiration is to be the greatest artist of the 21st century, the next Picasso. His secondary concern -- to find an emotional, intellectual, erotic connection with a woman -- proves even more ambitious since he feels only one girl, luminous art model Audrey (Sophia Myles), is worthy of his attention.The trouble is, after an initial connection with Jerome, Audrey shifts her attention to another freshman painter, the hunky Jonah, whose simple, innocent paintings have turned him into something of a campus hero. In order to win Audrey back, Jerome asks for the help of Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a bitter, reclusive, alcoholic painter. Broadbent's performance is the film's strongest, which is saying something in a film packed with celebrated actors. His Jimmy is sensitive and fearsome, wise, and terrible -- all at once. At several points in the film, during fits of artistic pique, Jimmy's eyes flash with anger and fix on Jerome -- and the misery of a rotten, wasted life paralyzes both Jerome and the audience. The jolting power of these moments, of Broadbent's poisonous eyes, makes his turn a thing to behold.Jerome's classmates and instructors at the Strathmore Institute figure prominently in the film's wry exploration of what makes good art good, and what makes the truest art timeless. Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich) is a failed painter who is unable to see Jerome's talent and potential but wouldn't mind sleeping with him. Jerome's roommate Vince (Ethan Suplee, of TV's My Name Is Earl) is a fast-talking, sexually obsessed film student. And Jerome's friend Bardo is a talentless, wayward womanizer who doesn't belong in art school. Several heavyweight actors play the bit parts that round out the cast, including Angelica Huston as a sage art history professor, Steve Buscemi as a freewheeling gallery owner, and Michael Lerner as a greedy art dealer.Art School marks Zwigoff's second collaboration with Daniel Clowes, who wrote both the screenplay and the graphic novel on which it was based. Their first collaboration, the 2001 film Ghost World, earned them an avalanche of critical praise and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. However, Art School isn't as good as Ghost World, despite their abundant similarities. The connection between the central characters in Ghost World, Thora Birch's Enid and Buscemi's Seymour, was fascinating, odd, and easily understood. Jerome and Audrey's relationship, meanwhile, never takes shape, partly because Audrey's character is completely lifeless. Zwigoff and Clowes never get around to showing us who she is or what she wants. It's never clear why she would turn her back on Jerome to pursue Jonah when she knows better than anyone that Jerome is the real talent.Such problems keep Art School from the heights of achievement of Ghost World and Crumb, but don't keep it from being a provocative, entertaining movie. Art School will go down as a minor work from the maker of off-kilter gems.Between you and me...

The Libertine Review


Good
It seems that Johnny Depp, who may be our most consistently dazzling actor, will forever be nominated for his lesser roles. No one of major merit nominated him for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, or Ted Demme's Blow but we sure as hell will nominate him for playing a drunk, silly pirate. How does our strongest actor's most gritty, complex role get snuffed? Hell, even his performance in Ed Wood, his best performance, only scored a Golden Globe nomination. Don't expect his latest in Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine to go anywhere past his British Independent Film Awards nod. There's a better chance of his performance as Willy Wonka getting a nomination 'round these parts.

Depp plays John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, about as depraved and destructive a dissident as there ever was in 17th century England. Besides his duties as an Earl, Wilmot was also a poet, playwright and acting teacher. He married Elizabeth Malet (Rosamund Pike), a woman he tried to kidnap only 2 year prior to marriage, and wrote plays that openly mocked King Charles (a business-as-usual John Malkovich) in his plays and poems, likening him to dildos and limp phalluses. Tell me you wouldn't love to party with this guy. Before he got syphilis and fell apart (literally), he had a short affair with an actress, Elizabeth Barry (the radiant Samantha Morton). Dunmore's film supposes that Wilmot had great emotions for Barry and that her leaving him was what made him die emotionally while syphilis ate away his body.

Continue reading: The Libertine Review

Ghost World Review


Excellent
It's been seven years since director Terry Zwigoff impressed moviegoers with his documentary Crumb, an uncomfortable look at pop comic artist R. Crumb and his disturbing, grotesque, dysfunctional family. Zwigoff's ability to make viewers squirm and laugh at the same time is again in full bloom, with the fictional Ghost World, a funny, sympathetic look at a whole new group of awkward, unhappy people.

Based on a comic/graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Zwigoff), Ghost World provides the point-of-view of young Enid, just out of high school, and aimless in both direction and identity. In the able hands of Thora Birch, who's already suffered the ennui of suburbia in American Beauty, Enid is a caustic, sarcastic, yet charming, sweetie. Birch is in practically every scene of the film, and anchors it with perfect tone.

Continue reading: Ghost World Review

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