Susan Cartsonis

Susan Cartsonis

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The Duff Review


Excellent

Astute and genuinely funny teen comedies don't come along very often; this one starts with a smart script and lets the spirited cast run with it. Director Ari Sandel and writer Josh A. Cagan also acknowledge their debt to high school classics like The Breakfast Club (30 years ago) and Mean Girls (10 years ago) as they poke fun at the various types of teenagers within the school hierarchy. Of course, the focus here is a postmodern type, the "designated ugly fat friend", also known as the duff.

It's 17-year-old Bianca (Mae Whitman) who is horrified to learn that she's a duff. She's neither fat nor ugly, but her casual appearance makes her the most accessible one alongside her hot friends Casey and Jess (Bianca A. Santos and Skyler Samuels). Yes, she's the third Charlie's Angel. So Bianca sets out to change her status, enlisting the advice of sexy jock-next-door Wesley (Robbie Amell) in exchange for helping him with his chemistry homework. Her real goal is to build up some confidence so she can pursue the sweetly sensitive musician Toby (Nick Eversman). But Wesley's on-off girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne) is the campus queen bee, and doesn't like him hanging out with a duff.

The cast and filmmakers have a great time playing with adolescent stereotypes, constantly undermining expectations while pointing out that of course everyone is actually a duff in one way or another. This sharply observant approach gives every hilarious exchange of dialogue a pointed kick. We can't help but laugh simply because we see ourselves in the characters, remembering that when you're a teen everything seems overpoweringly important. Whitman is superb as the brainy, cute girl who has refused to unleash the hottie within, and her spiky chemistry with the energetic Amell is great fun to watch. Although it's the adults who shamelessly steal their scenes, including Allison Janney in a layered role as Bianca's too-helpful self-help guru mother and an unusually restrained Ken Jeong as her journalism teacher.

Continue reading: The Duff Review

Aquamarine Review


OK
I wouldn't normally even try to review a teenybopper movie like Aquamarine, but I'm doing so for two reasons. First, it's in the bottom 100 of all movies, according to the silly and notoriously irrelevant "weighted average" of user ratings at the IMDb. Second, it's the first movie my three-year-old daughter sat through all the way without losing interest. We're talking about a kid who begs to wear a Cinderella dress when she gets home from school, but has yet to sit still through any Disney movie. That's something.

Anyhoo, Aquamarine is a mermaid movie, or rather, "the mermaid movie," as my daughter now calls it, about two best friends (Julia's niece Emma Roberts and teen singer JoJo) who find a lovely (and equally hormonally teenaged) mermaid washed into the oceanside pool at the motel run by Claire's (Roberts) family. With Hailey (JoJo), they teach the newly-legged Aquamarine (Sara Paxton) about land-based life, while she teaches the gawky girls how to use starfish as earrings. But Aqua's on a quest. In keeping with all mermaid movies, she's looking for love. And she figures the first guy she sees, a hunky lifeguard, will be it.

Continue reading: Aquamarine Review

Where The Heart Is Review


Terrible
Long ago, films were constructed of strong dialogue, original characters, memorable plot points, and solid acting. One of the best examples that Hollywood now completely ignore these qualities is found in the new film Where the Heart Is.

This opus about the power of love and the redemption of family follows the tragic, and I mean tragic, life of Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman). Hitting the road with her hick, guitar-playing boyfriend in a rusted-out GM, Novalee dreams of the blue skies of Bakersfield and sipping chocolate milk beneath a plastic umbrella with her unborn baby, due in a month.

Continue reading: Where The Heart Is Review

What Women Want Review


Very Good
If you looked like Mel Gibson, being able to read women's minds wouldn't be too imperative. Just give 'em those baby blues and flash those pearly whites, and you're in, baby. Or so you'd think. In What Women Want, directed by relationship comedy veteran Nancy Meyers, Gibson's character gets the real scoop on what the fairer sex thinks about him, and boy, is he in trouble. But his problems are the viewer's fortune.

As all-star Chicago ad man Nick Marshall, Gibson is awash in the stereotypical world of a man's man. Ogling chicks, living high on the hog, and being a major player is his life. He has unending self-confidence just because he can bed babes, but ho, what he doesn't know....

Continue reading: What Women Want Review

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Susan Cartsonis Movies

The Duff Movie Review

The Duff Movie Review

Astute and genuinely funny teen comedies don't come along very often; this one starts with...

Aquamarine Movie Review

Aquamarine Movie Review

I wouldn't normally even try to review a teenybopper movie like Aquamarine, but I'm doing...

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Where the Heart Is Movie Review

Where the Heart Is Movie Review

Long ago, films were constructed of strong dialogue, original characters, memorable plot points, and solid...

What Women Want Movie Review

What Women Want Movie Review

If you looked like Mel Gibson, being able to read women's minds wouldn't be too...

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