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In The Heart Of The Sea Review

Excellent

With a huge budget and a relatively small story, this is an intriguingly offbeat blockbuster that might struggle to find an audience. Basically, it's aimed at fans of more thoughtful, personal stories of tenacity and survival, but it's shot with a massive special effects budget that sometimes seems to swamp the drama. Still, it's involving and moving. And it's also fascinatingly based on the true events that inspired Moby Dick.

The story is framed in 1850 as novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visits an ageing sailor named Tom (Brendan Gleeson) to quiz him about a momentous event in his past that he has never spoken of. Flash back to 1820 Nantucket, and Tom (Tom Holland) is a rookie crew member on the whaling ship Essex, working under the posh, privileged Captain George (Benjamin Walker) and his able but low-class first mate Owen (Chris Hemsworth). As these these two leaders clash against each other, the ship sails off for what will be a very long journey. Eventually they head into the Pacific in search of a mythical pod of whales. But when they find it, they run afoul of a gigantic white whale that takes their arrival personally, sinking their ship and pursuing the survivors in their lifeboats.

All of this is staged as an epic battle between humanity and nature, with layers of interest in the way these men strain to survive against unimaginable odds. It's a riveting story, beautifully shot and rendered with immersive effects. And the cast members create complex characters who are profoundly changed by their experience. Not only is there mammoth action, but there's plenty of barbed interaction and even some strongly emotional moments that bring the themes home to a modern audience. Sometimes this aspect feels a bit corny, as clearly whalers at the time wouldn't feel remorse about killing one of these majestic creatures. But we would.

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This Is Where I Leave You Review


OK

A sparky ensemble helps make this film entertaining even if the plot is simplistic and the themes very tame for a movie that is trying so hard to be anarchic. August: Osage County this isn't! Instead, it blends warm comedy, silly slapstick and a heavy dose of sentiment to tell a story that's engaging but never remotely surprising. But the terrific cast makes it well worth a look.

It opens as Judd (Jason Bateman) sees his life go from bad to worse: he catches his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard), then learns that his father has died. Back home for the funeral, his mother (Jane Fonda) announces that she wants Judd to sit shiva, seven days of mourning, with his three estranged siblings: frazzled housewife Wendy (Tina Fey), frustrated Paul (Corey Stoll) and party boy Phillip (Adam Driver). Everyone in this family is dealing with relationship issues, so they all get involved in each others' lives again, even though none of them likes to talk about these things (except their hilariously over-sharing mother). So as Judd and Wendy reconnect with old flames (Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant, respectively), Paul and Phillip have to clarify things with their partners (Kathryn Hahn and Connie Britton).

Each of the various subplots touches on a big issue, although Jonathan Tropper's script never digs too deeply, relying on superficial comedy and simplistic emotion rather than anything too provocative. This is an odd approach for a film that is essentially trying to say that life is messy. Even the funeral and grieving are used more for laughs than emotion, as are old rivalries and perceived betrayals. Much of the brawling, insulting and teasing is genuinely funny, but only because the cast members have so much fun with it all. Bateman offers his usual likeable everyman, generating terrific chemistry with Fey, Stoll and Driver, as well as some jagged wit in his scenes with the always superb Byrne. And Fonda steals the show as an unapologetic woman who says the wrong thing at just the right time.

Continue reading: This Is Where I Leave You Review

The Company Men Review


Excellent
Strangely sidelined during awards season, this downsizing drama might be a bit downbeat, but it's sharply observant and extremely well-played by an impressive cast. It also says some very important things about the effects of capitalism.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is a high-flying shipping executive stunned when he's fired after 12 years on the job. Company founder Gene (Jones) is furious at the CEO (Nelson) for sacrificing thousands of employees to guarantee bigger profits for stockholders and executives. And his 30-year-veteran colleague Phil (Cooper) is worried that he might get the chop in the next wave of cuts. While Bobby struggles to accept his unemployment, his wife (DeWitt) is more realistic, suggesting that Bobby take a job with her builder brother (Costner) to tide them over.

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Envy (2004) Review


Terrible
The last half hour of Saturday Night Live is inevitably a wasteland. Talented comedians are given Z grade material that goes nowhere. Imagine if the entire show were that dismal. That, in a nutshell, is Envy.

It begins with two working stiffs, Tim (Ben Stiller) and Nick (Jack Black) plodding their lives away at a 3M facility. By-the-book Tim is creeping into middle management while dreamer Nick wallows on the factory floor concocting wacky ideas for useless products. All of that changes when one of Nick's hare-brained schemes, a spray that dissolves dog excrement called Vapoorize (No. Stop. I think I'm gonna bust a gut.), pans out and makes millions.

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Possession Review


Bad
A.S. Byatt's Booker Award-winning novel Possession might have provided some literary delight, following two academics who track the love letters of a Victorian poet and his free-spirited mistress. That doesn't translate well to cinema, though. Neil LaBute's film adaptation boils down to a buttoned-down Gwyneth Paltrow (sporting her Academy Award winning faux-Brit accent from Shakespeare in Love) and square-jawed Aaron Eckhart running from one Masterpiece Theater location to the next (the library, the moors, the waterfall, the gothic archway, the castle wall, and the moonlit graveyard) all the while reading aloud from the correspondence of dead Englishmen.

While it might make a charming book-on-tape for the Oprah crowd, this "love loves to love love" hokum masquerades as a real movie. The present day academics exist in counterpoint to the period movie flashbacks (basically Jeremy Northam donning his suit again and looking forlorn, intercut with shots of his beautiful mistress Jennifer Ehle looking voluptuous and forlorn). And they talk, talk, talk about subtext within the letters; but they're actually talking about each other. Yes, it's When Harry Met Sally in the Library. So help me God, Eckhart's emotional revelation is when he asks Paltrow, "Is there an Us in You and Me?" (If I were Paltrow, I'd say, "I'll call you.")

Continue reading: Possession Review

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Paula Weinstein Movies

In the Heart of the Sea Movie Review

In the Heart of the Sea Movie Review

With a huge budget and a relatively small story, this is an intriguingly offbeat blockbuster...

This Is Where I Leave You Movie Review

This Is Where I Leave You Movie Review

A sparky ensemble helps make this film entertaining even if the plot is simplistic and...

Advertisement
The Company Men Movie Review

The Company Men Movie Review

Strangely sidelined during awards season, this downsizing drama might be a bit downbeat, but it's...

Envy (2004) Movie Review

Envy (2004) Movie Review

The last half hour of Saturday Night Live is inevitably a wasteland. Talented comedians are...

Possession Movie Review

Possession Movie Review

A.S. Byatt's Booker Award-winning novel Possession might have provided some literary delight, following two academics...

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