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Friday, August 9, 2013

'THE SPECTACULAR NOW'

'THE SPECACULAR NOW' (R) (4 STARS) (HIGHEST RATING)

Written By Scott Neustadter and Michael Webber based on the book by Tom Tharp
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Actors: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Andre Royo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Sutter Keely has a good heart and he is a thoughtful kid but he has no direction in his life and he has problems like most teenage kids his age. He doesn't throw parties where laws are broken and women are violated. He is like a normal high school kid about to graduate. He is failing in one of his school courses, he has a slight drinking problem and he has an absentee father. Life at Sutter's age is not all heightened high jinks and parties and vulgarity.

That would be all the other movies about high school that have that same formula fakeness. Once in a while you want to see a realistic movie about kids and high school and the future. "The Spectacular Now" is that movie, a breath of fresh air and one of the most realistic movies about teenagers or heck, even about life in general you will ever see. It is funny, charming, beautiful, touching and heartbreaking. It has the best performances you will see in any movie this year. It is a special movie that will never leave me.

Sutter Keely is played by the very fine young actor Miles Teller (21 & Over and Rabbit Hole). Sutter is a kid with a big heart and a single mother raising him. He is a popular kid who drinks all the time and always doesn't take things as serious as he should. That is until he finds Aimee Finecky (now that is the most real name I have ever heard in a movie!. Sutter just broke up with his girlfriend Cassidy who was also popular. Cassidy thinks that Sutter has no direction and is not going anywhere and she is the opposite of him in her direction. When he finds Aimee he isn't even still broke up about Cassidy.

Aimee likes Sutter instantly and we believe it because we like him too. He drinks a lot and seems to not take things seriously but he has a good heart and cares about his friends. The dialogue in this movie may be the most realistic dialogue I have ever heard in a high school coming of age movie. The adults are even treated with respect here when it comes to realism. They are not non existent like most movie parents are and they are depicted as flawed, loving and frustrating just like real adults can be to teenagers in life.

The performances by the two leads here couldn't be any better than they are. They are my two favorite performances of the year so far. Shailene Woodley, who made her film debut wonderfully in "The Descendants", is a revelation here. This is the strongest, most mature, sweetest and most subtly powerful performance I have ever seen a young actress give in movies. She is the real deal and she will become an award winning actress and you will see her a lot with one majestic performance after another. She comes off her as real and she has this glow that lights up the screen.

Miles Teller has grown since his jokey performance in "21 & Over". He gives a thoughtful, natural, charming and finally heartbreaking performance here. Both actors hit every note perfectly. The supporting performances are also extremely solid especially Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) as Sutter's dad. Chandler plays against type here as a deadbeat father and his performance is something special. This favorite actor of mine is finally getting the blistering career he deserves. It is also great seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter's mother and she is real strong here. Credit also goes to Brie Larson as Cassidy and she is also real and strong here.

All the situations, dialogue and characters in "The Spectacular Now" are recognizably real. This might be the most realistic movie about coming of age and growing pains as a teenager that I have ever seen. James Ponsoldt's direction is just right, the screenplay is incredible work and the book it is based on I have to read. There are numerous scenes that broke my heart including Sutter seeing his father for the first time in ages and how his perceptions of his father will blow up in his face. There are even real scenes concerning Sutter, his job and a talk with his boss that come off so real. Also the final scene between Sutter and his mother will break your heart. So strong is this final scene that I cried during the scene, when the end credits rolled, when I was riding the subway home and now writing this review.

Words could never describe how the performances of Teller and Woodley affected me so strongly. I will never forget these two characters. I probably would have to describe how this movie felt in person, it is so strong, real, heartbreaking and magical. Movies like this don't come around very often especially in this CGI, action, chaos era of movies. I kept thinking about Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything, another realistic amazing movie about teenagers. What a double feature these two movies would make, a look at teens then and now. I cried a lot, felt warmth and was supremely touched by this movie. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen and it will not leave my heart for a very long time. This is what the impact of real and powerful writing and filmmaking should be.




























































































Thursday, August 8, 2013

'BLUE JASMINE'

'BLUE JASMINE' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Actors: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg,Louie C.K., Max Casella.

Like him or not you would have to admit that Woody Allen is one of the best at giving actresses strong lead roles when most male writers don't. The role he has given Cate Blanchett is a doozy of a character giving Blanchett the chance to give one of the best performances of this or any other year.

That character is Jasmine and she is a mix of tics, insecurities and craziness but fleshed out by Cate Blanchett. She is at the center of a failed marriage to a Bernie Madoff type, business man played by Alec Baldwin. After her marriage is destroyed she comes to live with her not well off half sister Ginger who has also survived a failed marriage and lives in poverty in Brooklyn. The two women will go through more relationships with men as we also see that Jasmine is having what seems like a continuous nervous breakdown.

Woody Allen has a distinct style of writing this time telling us a variation on "A Streetcar Named Desire". His writing is recognizable like a Richard Price or a David Mamet. It can drive some viewers crazy and non fans of Woody voice their problems with him just like they do for Mamet. I like his writing most of the time but here it can distract you out of the story and that creates some problems here even with a huge fan like me.

What covers that is the fact that Jasmine is a brilliantly written female character and that Blanchett is incredible in the role. There is also a wonderful cast and performances that are even equal to Blanchett. It starts with Sally Hawkins who is awesome as the half sister, Ginger. Blanchett's performance can overshadow the others but Hawkins is her equal actually. It is a lived in and great performance. Another surprise, but not too much of a surprise for me, is Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's husband Augie who was a victim of Jasmine's husband investing money for Augie and then stealing it. Dice Clay is charming and his performance is also great and feels lived in and natural.

There are also more wonderful performances by an incredible cast. Alec Baldwin is perfectly sleazy as the husband, Bobby Cannavale continues exciting acting as Ginger's new boyfriend and Peter Sarsgaard is also good as a love interest for Jasmine. The screenplay can be clich├ęd but the performances are so perfect and great and the writing of Jasmine is so fascinating that it doesn't matter.

It all starts with Cate Blanchett who I think is one of our best actresses and maybe the most beautiful woman on screen now. She is incredibly amazing as Jasmine. It is a performance that commands the screen and takes over. She is not afraid to make Jasmine emotionally ugly, needy and vulnerable. This is a character that could have produced an over the top, annoying performance but Allen's directing and Blanchett make it real, haunting and powerful.

I wasn't always into the movie but Blanchett is a life force and I couldn't take my eyes off of her! It reminds me of maybe my favorite female performance ever on screen, Gena Rowland's performance in "Woman Under the Influence". It is the same type of character and it is powerful stuff, the type of performance and character any actor could dream of and Blanchett is a house on fire.