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Duplicity (2009)
5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Duplicity: Two Sides of the Same Con, 21 March 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's hard to feel sympathy these days for anyone who makes millions off the backs of ordinary people. Even harder when they're beautiful to look at and wear Armani. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star in Duplicity, a light tale of corporate espionage with a little romance and a lot of greed thrown in. Tony Gilroy, the talented writer of the Bourne trilogy, and who made his directorial debut with the much-lauded Michael Clayton which he also wrote, directs. With Duplicity, he further explores his affinity for globalization issues and the multi-national conglomerate as culture.

Two spies, Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and Ray Koval (Owen), formerly of the C.I.A. and MI6 respectively, retire to the better-compensating private sector acquiring sensitive positions in high-level security inside two behemoth corporations resembling despot-driven versions of consumer products marketers Proctor & Gamble and SC Johnson. Ostensibly they team up with the goal to steal a top secret formula for the Next Big Product that one firm is trying to get from the other, and sell it to a third party for an obscene amount of money. Double-agency and treasonous hijinks ensue, with much of the emphasis placed on matters of trust and vulnerability. If it sounds too much like your average male/female relationship, we have the corporations' uber-competitive/paranoid CEO's simultaneously plotting against each other for a parallel storyline.

Sounds fantastic! And relevant! And intriguing! But the gold remains in the conceit. However cunningly Gilroy sets us up with a promising opener (not to mention a fun if over-long title sequence), he soon lets us down when it appears things aren't going to build, but go in circles.

Duplicity's twists and reversals spill out in non-linear fashion, requiring some work on the part of the audience to keep the sequence of events straight. There is a symmetry to many individual scenes, played out either as rehearsal or performance of one kind or another, reminding us of constructions-- societal and dramatic-- and the different roles that we assume to assist us in our life dealings. But the device of disorder seems unrelated to the theme at large, present only as a trendy gimmick to keep the viewer off balance.

Quickly devolving into a superficial mashup of tired conventions, you could probably exchange the entire second act's script with almost any 70's industrial-complex thriller riddled with random lines from an 80's work-a-day romcom or two and not really notice a difference in the plot. Additionally, the self-reflexive text practically claims to be rich and successful, and while it may look good on paper, it's only a front for an arbitrary plot permitted even less dimension within Duplicity's painfully constricted PG-rated world.

The uninspired dialogue that passes for "witty repartee" makes me nostalgic for… witty repartee. If there had been any real chemistry between the two leads, it wouldn't be so noticeable that we never learn a thing about them other than a limited career dossier for each. In fact, the roles of Spy #1 and Spy #2 could have been played by any two humans who you could tell apart. Claire and Ray meet in postcard locations, debate each other's personal trust issues by rote, fade out on the implied sexual act, then retreat to their assigned corners while we are intermittently entertained by amusing secondary figures-- many, we're not sure who THEY really are, or whom they work for. Gilroy admits in a recent New Yorker interview that pursuant to the demands of the studio (by way of a focus group), additional footage was shot and a sequence reordered to help sort out the confusing storyline.

Have no fear, consumers. In spite of the modern look and feel of the film, Duplicity delivers the traditional goods. Incredibly, a seasoned female CIA pro, who has detachedly used sex in the past to get a job done, holds it against her male partner-in-time for doing the same thing for the purpose of achieving their common goal-- and with a mark who could hardly qualify as competition. Oh I forgot. Women are jealous and possessive and are driven to hysteria by their emotions. How quaint. (Don't get me wrong-- the scene where the annoyed Claire debriefs said mark was superb. It was the anachronistic nag-fest she threw later that was a step backward for believable female characters.)

Even though we're supposed to like Claire and Ray's conniving couple, and buy into THEIR greed over that of the corporate muckety-mucks', the payoff is so justly thin that it perhaps teaches a poignant lesson after all: the inevitable financial success of this film will make most of us realize just how under-compensated WE are when it comes to Hollywood's disbursement of grown-up fare.

By the sheer quantity of extraordinarily effusive reviews from the bastions of Old World Media, one might sense that the Newspapers and Networks are paying out big time in exchange for Uni's desperately needed P&A dollars because neither a slickly cut trailer nor two of Hollywood's top performers can bail Duplicity out of its dull-drum.

3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, 31 May 2008

So why does it p*ss off the boys so much? The much-beloved HBO series hits the big screens with an elongated nostalgic trip through the boutiques, restaurants, clubs, parties, and closets of our favorite foursome: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha with Sex and the City— the Movie.

Some say it's critic-proof, others laud it as an "event" picture that says nothing indicative about whether "average" movies with female leads or female-driven stories can make money. While men and boys seem to feed at the trough of "average" or recycled fodder, the other half of the planet is a bit choosier and tends to wait until something special comes along.

Sex and the City: The Movie, is like the Sex and the City series on steroids. There's the fashion, the friendship, and most important, the emotional gravitas that the four main characters hooked us with so many years ago. For the uninitiated, there's a brief yet effective introductory montage which runs under the credits— just enough to get you acquainted.

Within minutes we're off and running through a veritable fantasy of the perfect man, the perfect dress, the perfect apartment— all the commodities capitalist media has conditioned women to love and want! Massive, unbridled, look-Ma-no-hands consumer-porn there for the viewing. Lest we let our envy get the best of us, each character is spun off into her own life-altering drama— interlaced themes of life underneath the labels— eventually resolved by the mystical power of sisterhood.

And it's more fun than you've had in years! Superficial? Only if YOU are. With a era-appropriate tinge of darkness, the R-rated film continues the daring investigation of female desire that the series began (a topic squeamishly avoided by most studios), and inventively juxtaposes it with a serious and mature debate on Romance vs. Practicality. There are some surprises, lots of laughs, and more than one occasion for tears. A little long at 148 minutes, we take journeys with all the characters as they negotiate expectations, desires, realities, and compromises. And aging. Oh yeah, and the dangers of the Cinderella Complex. Sex and the City is an "E" ticket ride through the grown-up girls' Gotham that does not disappoint— especially if you ever got the magic of the TV show in the first place.

Frankly, I can't wait 'til the senior installment! (Coming in 2028...)

Men may not understand why women like SATC so much, and that's okay. It's possible they could try to wrap their heads around the concept and attempt to see it from another perspective. Women have, for decades, learned to appreciate the avalanche of boy-comes-of-age stories, male-hero-conquers-the-world-tales, or man-in-midlife-crisis laments. Heck— they haven't been offered a choice of much else.

So while many girls and women will put up with their brother's, boyfriend's, husband's, or dad's choice of film, and enjoy it for what she can get out of it, she deserves an opportunity to lavish in female fantasy once in a while, without resentment, hostility, or undeserved criticism.

Perhaps if males were more discriminating, Hollywood would simply have to listen, and there would be an immediate improvement in the quality of films being made and distributed. But until that happens, occasional pleasures like Sex and the City, (movies about nice, normal, averagely-endowed women who permit themselves to do what they want, go where they want, and wear what they want, while enjoying their wildest fantasies), will come along and sweep the other half of the planet into the theaters. What a good time they'll have!

Bonneville (2006)
8 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Caution: Women on Road Trip, Stumble, Fall, 7 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Bonneville is the result of what happens when a bunch of men produce a movie about-- and ostensibly for-- women, but make sure it's written and directed by men. Honestly, I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever get to see the woman's point of view in a Hollywood movie. Ever.

Three BFF's of a certain age, set out on a road trip for the purpose of personally delivering the remains of one's recently deceased husband, to his funeral service. You see, the man's daughter by his first marriage, is intent on having Daddy interred with Mommy, even though Daddy was married to another woman for the last 20 years of his life. But we all know that women are jealous of other women so if the widow doesn't ante up the ashes, the step-daughter will take away her house.

There are many similarities between this and another significant female buddy road trip movie from a few years back. The Bonneville gals even don the "uniform" of the free feminine spirit—the chiffon head scarf and a pair of big dark glasses a la Grace Kelly. Not to mention, they're in a convertible and the sight of all that unruly hair would be too much for most viewers.

En route from Idaho to California, Arvilla, the widow and her pals, the feisty Marjeen, and Carolyn, the obedient Morman, prove that women just can't be left on their own as they helplessly stand by, pondering their fate, when they blow a tire on the Salt Flats of Utah. Thank God that a young strapping man on his own personal quest wanders up to save them. Thank the screenwriter that this hottie doesn't sleep with one of them and steal their money.

During a few more stops along the way that seem impromptu but are really part of Arvilla's grand scheme to relive earlier adventures, albeit only in her mind, we are lulled by lovely scenery, a new-age hip soundtrack (courtesy of the young strapping man), and the predictable bit of bickering from our menopausal ménage.

And what girl-bonding trip would be complete without a handsome silver-fox to ride in and rescue the quirkiest, least attractive yet most "real" gal with true romance? So much for real-life rejection and disappointment.

Eventually, the three take a break from all this passivity and rent a houseboat on a convenient lake. Mere hours later Arvilla manages to run it aground. I kept waiting for her to accidentally drive the car off into a canyon. Oh wait, that's the other movie...

Fellas, let me tell you a secret: For centuries women have known that if they act helpless, you'll not only take over and do the dirty work, you'll feel better about yourselves having done it. She's running the whole game but she doesn't even have to break a nail. But trust me, when you're not around, she does just fine. In fact, women are infinitely more collaborative than movies (and men) give them credit. It is not credible to think that Kathy Bates couldn't have put her weight into getting that lug nut off the wheel. Even less so that the three of them didn't work together to figure it out. So stick to writing and directing and producing those fresh and original young man coming-of-age stories. No one does them better than you. Lord knows you've had enough practice.

At last we gather at a chapel to honor the absent patriarch, but where a woman's master plan is undone by simple clumsiness played for laughs. If you like your cine-women to act out the rituals of sisterhood, yet worship at the altar of men, this might be your movie. Personally I hope the next time I travel the heroine's journey to rediscover the feminine spirit-- yet remapped as folklore by men— is never. Ever.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Quarterlife searches for the Meaning of Life. Fails to find it., 7 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Groundbreaking" is what the network spin-meisters are calling it. Tiresome is my name for it.

I decided it was my professional duty to check out the history-making new NBC series that originated as the first internet program supported by network production values to migrate to a network prime-time spot.

This show takes the same tread-worn dirt path that so many other television series have taken where the ooh-la-la factor comes solely from who's sleeping with who, or who wants to sleep with who, or is it whom? And coming so early in a show in which one is not yet vested, the question is who-- or whom-- cares? My gag reflex kicked in twice before the 25 minute mark from corn-ball moments like when the roomie who's lusted after from afar by her boyfriend's best friend, actually approaches the pal and kisses him for no apparent reason other than she senses his "secret." Eeewww.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend's boyfriend, one of those Ryan Reynolds look-alikes, uses quite possibly some of the cheesiest language on record in a limpid flirt-fest with the car lot salesgirl. Do guys really get laid with that approach? Gosh things have changed since I moved from the first quarter to half-time.

Wasn't that moping-slacker aspect of the Gen-Xers passé and oh so nineties? Looks like twenty-somethings are having a nostalgia-fest. Or else the show's writers are too young to have faced any actual adversity. The only real moment came when the Van Wilder-guy turned dictatorial at the commercial film shoot and the artistic guy walked off the set. (I certainly know I was ready to quit...) At least Artsy-guy wanted to create something interesting, but the guy with the money wanted an in-your-face sell job. Kinda like what this show was turning into: I was half-waiting for the Toyota spot they were shooting to be shown in its completed stage during the show in a whirl of product placement run amok.

The last 20 minutes brought only one more physical reaction, albeit a strong one. And it wasn't during the orgasm discussion. No, the wretch was caused by the cutesy puppy-dog sniffing scene in the kitchen between the Girlfriend and Artsy. I suppose the only reason for subsequent shows to continue on this sappy trajectory, is that no other show would have the nerve.

The Jobs: Out of six people, according to the information we're given in the first episode, we have a wannabe writer, a wannabe actress/singer, and three wannabe filmmakers (Girlfriend's aspirations are unknown-- but then,? she has her man). Has anyone told this gang that the real world cost money to live in? How do these kids pay the rent??? I haven't even gotten to the privacy issue. Honestly, if you lived in a group situation, would you put up with a roommate who not only videotaped you without your knowledge, but then blabbed about your personal life in a global forum? The poised and confident Bitsie Tulloch, whom I've seen on a talk show or two plugging this experiment, seems to tone down everything that's good and capable about herself, becoming the gawky, inferior mess we see on Quarterlife. Pretty Actress/singer is either angry, envious, or defensive. My sexism alert would go off if not for the equal whimpering time given to the males on the show. I'm all for the sensitive man, but two out of three guys actually cry in this-- the first broadcast-- episode!!! Eeeewwww again. This group on the whole is the whiniest bunch I've seen since Jan Brady complained, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" Has anyone told the director that less is more? I guess subtlety doesn't play well on an ipod.

We're treated to a music vid segment when Pretty Actress/Singer sings-- that's when I reheated my leftovers-- and the show closes with the equivalent of a group hug. That's when we're reminded that life is one big mystery and whatever our special purpose, the universe brings so many choices and now is the time to just..."be." Final eeeeewwwww.

In Bruges (2008)
7 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Freak Show, 16 March 2008

Two hit men wile away their days in Bruges waiting for...I forget. Bored, after the initial sight-seeing device wears thin, the duo together, and separately, take some wild rides with a carnival of far-fetched, quirk-laden characters: a supermodel apparition-cum-reality slut, a coked-up racist dwarf, a Housemother-Mary in her third trimester, bi-polar drug-dealers, etc. It's as though the writer of this mess believes that comedy requires caricature, great dialog can only be comprised of four-letter words, and modern storytelling means stringing together 100+ minutes of fun-house non sequiturs in order to keep an audience on its toes. Colin Farrel puts in his worst performance to date: indicating, forcing, and making faces to get his motivations across. Obviously the director is influenced by the Tarantino school of film-making, but sadly he missed the class on thematic points and the protagonist's journey, focusing on the flashy, outrageous, and cartoon-like aspects of recess. The writer/director claims he got the idea when he, himself, visited Bruges-- he found the city so "Gothic and beautiful," but then how bored he was after only two days, and how he started to want to "find a girl and get drunk," etc. Isn't that inspiring? To think that someone's boredom can become the main plot line of a movie. The oft repeated central question of the movie seems to be "Why are we in Bruges?" Why indeed? Very thought-provoking...

34 out of 45 people found the following review useful:
Superbad in the Time of Cholera, 18 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The greatest challenge for filmmakers of period pieces is to infuse the work with some degree of relevance to modern culture. Perhaps in order to feed the current appetite for anti-hero male fantasies of social revenge and success, Mike Newell has managed to flesh out the sexual journey of it's retro-nerd protagonist, replete with the popular contagion of entitlement and now-expected rewards of conquest.

Gabriel García Márquez' 1985 novel "Love in the Time of Cholera" remains a testament to Romance as Illusion, and Love as a higher calling to those with the maturity and understanding of humanity to appreciate it. However, in Newell's ambitious adaptation, save for the characters aging fifty-odd years, there is neither much maturity nor understanding of humanity.

When the neophyte romantic Florentino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) spies the young Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) promenading through the plaza one day, he is forever smitten. Captivated by her beauty, (a mystery due to the irredeemable casting blunder), he pledges to remain a virgin until they can be together. After a heated exchange of letters, a sweet minstrel stroll in her courtyard, and a long-distance barrage of telegraphed yearnings, Fermina harshly rejects him citing the temporary insanity of youth. At this point all passion exits the film for good.

Fermina 's father (John Leguizamo, who inexplicably transports Queens gang-tough shtick to 19th century Columbia) manages to broker his daughter to Juvenal Urbino, a successful doctor (Benjamin Bratt) after she recovers nicely from a false bout of cholera. The doctor too, you see, is so taken with his patient's beauty he must have her for his own. Maybe there is more in the water down there than cholera-- something that addles the senses of men. The lovely Catalina Sandino Moreno as one of Fermina's countryside ladies-in-waiting outshines Fermina in every scene they share. You wonder why the men aren't lining up to place a bid on her.

Fast forward to an older Florentino (now played by Javier Bardem) using sex with women, lots of women, to alleviate the pain of his separation from Fermina. His pain endures for more than fifty years. Did I mention he alleviates his pain with lots and lots of women? Pain never looked so good.

Part drama, part comedy, there is a curious tone to this movie: it's difficult to tell where the laughs were intended. At first what seems like a camp-romp, purposely anachronistic and self-reflexive, the movie confounds when it appears that the actors are playing it for real. Due to the nerdy fecklessness of the young Florentino, we're willing to overlook some of the earlier stilted moments. Yet there is some dialogue so unfortunate (supposedly lifted verbatim from the rumination-heavy novel), that it's doubtful it could be uttered out loud in any century with a straight face.

Bardem, one of a handful of actors who can elicit our investment in his character no matter how despicable and self-serving his actions, carries the film. (Ugalde, who plays the younger Florentino as a puppy dog eyed Romeo, who looks like he could be Bardem's younger brother, deftly sets up the delusional character's obsessive nature that is handed off like a baton for Bardem to carry the rest of his days.) Giovanna Mezzogiorno on the other hand, must age from late teens to her seventies, and she does so less convincingly. The filmmakers evidently didn't trust that audiences could overlook the horror of an older actress to take us from maturity on.

Bratt must make the transformation across the years as well, but the three of them seem to decompose at different rates, making for a few jarring scenes. Some critics have lauded the make-up crew's accomplishments. Frankly, the pancake looks as though it's in danger of sliding from faces in the jungle heat. Bardem, alone here in the ability to age in voice, posture, tempo and demeanor, in addition to the cosmetics, helps provide a signpost as to where we are in the life cycle-- just in case Florentino's ever-growing list of sexual conquests doesn't mark the time clearly enough.

What's lacking most in the script by Ronald Harwood (so adept with his exquisite "Diving Bell and the Butterfly") is a thriving spirit, a transcendence, an irony. The movie is simply a superficial accrual of loathing: Florentino's of society, of Love, of the fate that denies him earthly happiness and which spurs his mission to bed more than 600 women in order to drive out the demon of Fermina that possesses him; Fermina's of herself as her body has the audacity to age, of her fading beauty, and of her husband's wandering eye. (Such is the fate of women whose sense of self-worth relies solely on their appearance.) Even at seventy, she still can't bear to make love with the lights on. You'd hope that she would grow comfortable in her own skin at some point in her life. Lucky for her, decrepit old Florentino doesn't see her as she really is-- he's still imagining her as a youthful sprite from a bygone time.

The novel is a rich examination of love in its many incarnations with deeper themes underscoring how Romantic Love can disease the soul just as the dreaded cholera ravaged humankind. This adaptation is plagued with the endemic and dated shallowness of a tele-novela steeped in the tradition of patriarchal virulence disguised as drama and conflict. Interesting how Newell takes the book's passionate struggle of a male masochist trying to reconcile his idealism, and mutates it into an Apatow-styled adventure of a virginal lovesick loser turned lothario, who still gets the girl in the end.

Uninspired camera work and sloppy transitions sadly waste the exotic locations. For all the sumptuous scenery and meticulous period set design, the movie has the feel of a "Lifetime Television for Women" M.O.W. Maybe there's a new cable network I don't know about: "Mid-Lifetime Television for Men" that this project can kick off.

31 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
When We Were Winners, 6 September 2007

I don't admit this to too many people, but the single most significant historic event I have ever "witnessed," was watching the first lunar landing as it happened, on television, as a ten year old kid. Okay, maybe there was a thirteen-second delay, but I was right there with those guys-- my heart pounding, skipping a beat every time Uncle Walter (a.k.a. Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America) interjected his incomparably eloquent journalistic commentary. But even Cronkite couldn't suppress his awe as mankind's greatest achievement unfolded before our eyes.

The documentary, "In the Shadow of the Moon," directed by David Sington, and presented by Ron Howard (who partnered with ThinkFilm to help usher the project to completion), is not only a romantic, dramatic, suspense-filled fantasy to behold, it grips you with deep emotion and vests you with our heroes through every sequence of their quest. And it's all real.

Without a single frame of CGI or simulation, the filmmakers compiled astounding, never-before seen footage with inserts of intimate confessions by some of the remaining Apollo crew members who took part in the nine moon landings. "Shadow" shows just part of how the work of 400,000 scientists and engineers came together to make President Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, a reality. These are parts worth seeing.

"The extraterrestrial film footage, shot by the astronauts themselves, has been brought out of storage only a handful of times since the sixties and seventies," Chris Riley, the film's co-producer explains. Considering that there may not be any more footage shot on or from the moon by an actual human, again in our lifetime, this film is very precious indeed.

"In the Shadow of the Moon" effectively evokes that brief time in late-20th century America when we thought that the government was doing something right. This documentary puts a human face-- and soul-- into those bulky space suits, and let's us know what it was really like to be on those harrowing missions.

Command module pilot Michael Collins admits to having being excited, but not fearful. At times, mostly worried-- that all the machinery would work as planned. The documentary reveals a few of those times the machines didn't, or almost didn't work. And startlingly, how much "luck" played a part in the operations. "Shadow" nearly gives us a first-person experience of how a body feels, what the physical sensations of being shaken, slammed, and thrust-- first off the ground, then through the atmosphere, finally into the eerie calm and quiet of space. The men talk of how they felt a fool's complacency, if only for a second, after a rocket stage would break away and fall to earth, until anticipation of the next stage's violent expulsion reminded them that it too, would detach as planned, or explode killing them all. It makes the Space Mountain ride at DisneyWorld sound like a massage.

Although Neil Armstrong, known to be somewhat of a recluse, does not make an appearance, he is certainly there in spirit. His fellow crew members make it known they felt he was the right choice for the first man out. That he was preternaturally calm under pressure, they concur. Recollecting how Armstrong delivered those poignant first words as he descended the steps of the LEM, and how it might have been more tempting for them to simply yell, "Whoopee! I did it!" But Buzz Aldrin asserts that he also holds a record for a lunar first. In one of the many hilarious moments in the film, his feat is captured on video as proof.

Most of the men who went on the Apollo moon missions tell in this film, of the moment while in space, viewing the galaxy from a perspective very few of us will ever see, they experienced the profound realization of their own insignificance, while comforted with a certainty of infinite connectivity with the very stuff of the universe. Contrast that with the "hero's parades" and instant celebrity into which they were violently thrust upon return to terra firma. Additionally, some of the astronauts confess the guilt they felt, knowing that many of the pilots and friends they had trained and served with, were being "shot at, shot down, and were fighting for their country" in Viet Nam.

Some might have viewed America's race to the moon was little more than a diversion, cleverly orchestrated by government propagandists, from the colossal turmoil of the times. Others, saw it as a symbol of hope-- that there was something greater beyond our mere earthly squabbles.

Watching this film reminded me of what America is capable-- how much can be accomplished in the interest of science, ecology, or the most human of natures, curiosity-- not to be underrated. Present and future resources, research, and funding if thoughtfully channeled, just might be able to find alternate sources of energy, cure cancer, and save the planet from ecological disaster.

President Kennedy foresaw that the way out of the Post-War confusion and the Cold War paranoia, was to coach us back to the top of our game. Just a few years before what would eventually become the debacle of Viet Nam, this was perhaps one of the last times America truly was champion of the world. Getting to the moon made us feel like winners. We were proud. I still am.

20 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
Serious Problems in the Family Stone, 5 January 2006

It is hard to know which player is most guilty of throwing the game in this charade of a comedy: the actors, the writer, or the director.

In this painfully unfunny portrait of a quirky loving family, Emmett brings his cold and "formal" girlfriend Meredith home for the Christmas holiday. The family doesn't like her, she doesn't like them, and we don't know what the two of them see in each other.

The performances from nearly everyone are lackluster and stilted, save Diane Keaton as the frustrated and regretful matriarch, and Rachel McAdams as a sibling lucky enough to have grown up with a relatively supportive family but has not found her own place yet. Luke Wilson does manage to portray the prodigal son with his trademark devilish charm. Dermot Mulroney completely misses the mark in his attempt at complexity and devotion to either his girlfriend or his mother.

The writing is flat and uninspired, but a talented cast should be able to mine a script for moments that aren't on the page.

The direction is either so precise or heavy handed as to not let the actors create characters that interact organically. It's hard to imagine that Sarah Jessica Parker (so authentically neurotic as Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City") as Meredith would resort to pushing motivations, indicating, and "playing" uptight on her own accord. (I can hear the director now: "That's not how my sister said it. Try it this way," only to follow with a line reading.)

Unfortunately we know that both director and writer are the same person, so the finger pointing game becomes less of a challenge.

It's a difficult task to present a main character that is unsympathetic and downright unlikable, unless they possess some an endearing flaw or have suffered some mistreatment that causes them to become that way. The Stone's react to Meredith with criticism and judgment before she's even arrived, only to have us agree with them after a few clumsy exchanges, not many of which are believable. Wilson's character tells her not to try so hard. I wish the director had followed the same advice.

No doubt, the story is in some way autobiographical, as no one seems to have labored over creating unique "comedic" moments, but rather expectorated them as they happened in either real life, or in other mediocre movies. Resorting to slip and fall gags, and those old favorites, shouting at deaf people, and "I got drunk last night and can't remember if I had sex with the wrong person," I heard only two laughs during the entire screening, both generated by the oafish warmth of Luke Wilson's delivery of otherwise incidental dialog.

Press releases (and some reviewers) have lazily ascribed the term "dysfunctional" to the Stones, but this family appears to operate pretty well inclusive of the ordinary miscommunication we all experience in everyday life. If this is dysfunctional, I'd like to be adopted!

The unsatisfying ending is so absurdly ridiculous that Meg Ryan's reaction when discovering Tom Hanks is her online pen pal in "You've Got Mail" looks realistic by comparison.

At one point Parker's character screams, "When is someone going to love me?" My answer in five words: "Not in this film, dear."

143 out of 171 people found the following review useful:
Reel Love: a Lot Like Real Life, 14 May 2005

Perhaps this film won't inspire the twenty-something folks at whom it was marketed. They might not appreciate its message, after all, when you're young, life stretches out before you like an eternity. But if you're over 30 and haven't found that perfect person to share your life with, it might really touch you...

This is the most romantic movie I have seen in years. As a regular armchair film critic who happens to love romantic comedies but finds the quality of most to be sorely lacking, I usually start to gnaw away at a film within the first five minutes. But A Lot Like Love immediately embarks on a tortuous journey of love's most confounding mileposts. The fireworks, the mystery, the seduction, the retreat... A guy who wants to get "all his ducks in a line," and a gal who deals with whatever happens to come her way, help each other loosen up their respective rigid perspectives on how life should be lived.

The chemistry between Oliver and Emily percolates over a span of nearly seven years but neither lets it come to a full boil lest it ruin their plans. Kutcher and Peet each deliver endearing performances and actually play against the urge to gratuitously combust making for just the right emotional veracity and sexual tension to keep it real. No "just add water" instant love here. These two take their time to fall into the soup.

This film is certainly easy to look at what with the hip modern beauty of both of its stars decorating every shot. The fly-on-the-wall perspective of watching these two people awkwardly and trepidaciously flirt with what might be, kept my attention rapt, and experiencing it in the moment, I can honestly say that I did not know what was going to happen next.

If anyone has ever had that "friend" that you've know for years, you know you have feelings for them, appreciate their loyalty, and take their bad with their good (because after all, you're "just friends"), but have spent years keeping an eye out for something better, or just not taken that "next step" because of geography, peer-pressure, or fear of rejection, you will appreciate the honesty and sentiment of this story.

You'll definitely get a refresher course in the fact that life is indeed short and a lot can happen when you're not paying attention. Enjoy every moment you can, and take some risks or you'll be looking back on an awful lot of regret. A Lot Like Love is funny and sad, playful and poignant, and was over before I wanted it to be. For me, this movie is a lot like life.

16 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Summary: A+ is for Actors, 2 March 2005

Many actors say they got into acting because it's "like therapy." Just as many would-be's quit because the process hits too many nerves.

I had never seen, or even heard of this show until after a three day search for something worthy on any of my 500 channels to watch, I stumbled onto it in my HBO "On Demand" fare. I figured I'd give it a shot and watch an episode. Well, I was delighted with the season opener, and went back for seconds. Completely addicted by the third, I viewed the entire season over a period of a week.

I recognize nearly every character in the program as a stock personality that inhabits the cruel and unapologetic world of acting. I studied acting for five years in Washington, DC, worked a couple of paying theatrical gigs, and moved to New York. I continued with classes here and worked in four films and a play my first year out. Frank Langella's character is the male embodiment of one of my "most respected" acting teachers, (an abusive tyrant, but if you could get past that, you could learn a thing or two.) I agree with absolutely everything he tells his students. Goddard's anecdotes are real, his caveats to be heeded, and his teaching points valid.

I have known more than a few "Krista Allens," pretty, sexy women who got boxed into a stereo-type early on and spent years trying to bust out of it. (Forgive the pun.) New York and L.A. are overrun with the likes of Jennifer--sweet, honest, naive young girls who want more than anything to act, make their mark, and be loved.

Every actor in training will meet their share of "Brians." He IS talented. He IS basically a good guy. He IS self-absorbed. He WILL get a plum role. He WILL try to "keep it real," and he WILL tick off his buddies, use women, and charm who he needs to help him keep on course. Such is life.

Anyone who has a remote interest in acting for film and/or television should watch this show. It might save them from being surprised or caught off guard at some point. Beyond being a quick course in thespian politics, it accomplished what most good movies, plays, or shows do-- Made me laugh. Made me cry. I don't really care if it's scripted, improvised, or fed to the players on cue cards. The resulting product is fresh, engaging drama. I am stunned by some of the hostile and negative comments on this thread. If this show "offends" you, look inside yourself. Or better yet, take an acting class. It really can be like therapy.