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0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Expectedly, it all begins with a car chase..., 14 May 2015

While much of the minimalist plot bears resemblance to his earlier "Mad Max" films, George Miller's "Fury Road" is less remake and more reinvention of his own postapocalyptic action movie genre. Blending elements of "The Road Warrior" and "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome," the visionary director dials up the sun-scorched atmosphere to a deafening degree – rusty behemoths collide with damaged flesh and punishingly hostile terrain while heavy metal guitar chords and booming drums bang out a rhythmic dirge. Both the pacing and intensity are relentless, with only snippets of humor thrust into the scanty dialogue, yet Miller knows exactly how much chaos to douse upon his wildly inventive action sequences without losing the quirky fun. The gorgeously demonic designs appear freshly unhinged, while still retaining an air of nostalgia, as the ever-escalating demolition of man, machine, and mise en scene prove endlessly entertaining in this lovingly demented ode to mayhem.

Haunted by the ghosts of those he couldn't save, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) wanders the savage wastelands of a world crumbling under the weight of misery, despair, and diabolical despots preying upon the weak. Captured and assigned as sustenance (a.k.a. a blood bag) for the unhealthy minions of vicious tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Max spies an opportunity to escape his cruel fate when he encounters the resolute driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Fleeing from Joe's "Citadel" city with the mad king's precious cargo and a massive war rig tanker, Furiosa enlists Max's help to traverse hundreds of miles of barren desert in a perilous mission of redemption.

Expectedly, it all begins with a car chase. Then, it segues into a pursuit on foot, before giving way to yet another race of vehicles. It's no secret that "Mad Max: Fury Road" is essentially a two-hour car chase, but credit is due to writer/director George Miller for taking his one idea and attacking it with such unwavering energy that the movie can survive on basically nothing else. The filmmaker certainly knows how to do fast and furious; if ever there were a film that deserved those words in its title, it's this. And yet, though the project is named after Max, it's really Theron's Furiosa who owns the film, bringing a more sympathetic, humanistic character into the fold (especially considering that Rockatansky barely has any lines of dialogue).

Miller, realizing that fans crave more of what he gave them in "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior," reimagines many of the same elements, but with far more verve. Miraculously, he pays homage or grandly embellishes more often than he merely rips off his former concepts – which, of course, he would be entitled to do, since he practically invented the postapocalyptic wasteland setting and epic vehicular skirmishes with cannibalized, re-outfitted, hodgepodge conveyances. Motorcycles, big rigs, monster trucks, tanks, and more are gloriously welded and melded together into gargantuan juggernauts of metal and fuel. This eye-popping style carries over with equal eccentricity to the costuming, makeup, and prosthetics, manifesting some splendidly fitting grotesqueries and oddities and villains – as audiences have come to anticipate from Miller's works. The denizens become ever stranger as the locations shift and the picture progresses.

Like a twist on "Birdman's" percussionist, who regularly appeared in shots with the actors as his beats permeated the soundtrack, Miller employs literal drummers and an electric guitarist (perched atop – or rather dangling from – one of the trucks) to supplement the background sounds with thunderous thumps and twanging riffs, respectively. It ramps up the momentum (if such a thing is possible) for the colossal action sequences that assault the viewer with such force that the 120-minute runtime feel like 30. So much stuff goes on in every frame (except, perhaps, for a plot) that it's unachievable to take it all in the first time through.

The stunts are likely the only piece of the film that could be better appreciated; unfortunately, thanks to the extreme advancements in computer graphics (it's been over three decades since "The Road Warrior"), it's no longer necessary to choreograph exacting realism from such scenes. Before, there was something undeniably awe-inspiring about the stuntmen getting thrown from cars and careening about in the dirt, since every moment involved actual humans. But now, CG bodies and vehicles frequently replace real and realistic stunts, allowing for gravity-defying and far-fetched maneuvers that lose a bit of their impressiveness in their sheer outlandishness (though practical effects do make up a large percentage of the screen). Still, the calm before the storm of a finale is utterly exhilarating as high-octane recklessness and physical abandon replace sensibility and cinematic caution – it's an absolute thrill ride.

0 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Witherspoon appears a touch too old to pull off such an imbecilic role, akin to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprising their "Dumb and Dumber" characters., 7 May 2015

Rose Cooper's (Reese Witherspoon) childhood consisted of a series of ride-alongs with her police officer father, shaping her eventual career as a member of the San Antonio Police Department. But her procedural personality and by-the-books approach to every interaction makes her a rather intense, rigid conversationalist and the laughingstock of the precinct, where she's reduced to a mere evidence room clerk after Tasering a college kid until he caught fire – a victim who had drunkenly exclaimed he wanted to ride shotgun, which Cooper mistook for admittance of carrying a deadly weapon. Nevertheless, in between keeping current on her police codes and failing at intimidated first dates, she's proud of simply being on the team.

When Vicente Cortez (Joaquin Cosio) - a feared cartel man who dominated the drug trade in Texas and was wanted for over 100 murders - is arrested in Dallas, Cooper is given another opportunity to prove herself as somewhat competent. Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca), Cortez' moneyman, is to be placed in Witness Protection and taken to testify against his boss; his shapely wife Daniella (Sofia Vergara) is required to be escorted by a female officer – and tomboy Cooper is the right candidate. Alongside U.S. Marshal Jackson (Richard T. Jones), Cooper gets caught in a shootout at the Riva's estate, prompting the unprepared cop and her stripper-heeled charge to flee in a commandeered civilian vehicle.

From there, "Hot Pursuit" is a standard chase film (just look at its title) so adherent to formulaic buddy-cop projects (like "48 Hours" or "Rush Hour") that it couldn't more closely match the lead protagonist's stringent perspective. Bad guys aren't quite the bad guys, the cops aren't quite the good guys, the criminal must aid the lawwoman, and the hightailing heroines quickly become wanted fugitives ripe for action-oriented misadventures. They're complete opposites with mismatched motives - ideal for clashing exchanges, rambunctious hijinks, and sisterly bonding. But since the storyline never gets any more complex than the basic premise of wrongfully accused absconders, the escapade feels like it's over before it even begins.

At least, the mood is light and the antagonists so phony that predicaments remain entirely playful. Slapstick, conservative cursing, and nonviolent proposals always thwart death and destruction; even after a catfight with guns repeatedly shoved in faces, the main couple continue to work together as if friendship is a genuine defense against bullets. Witherspoon appears a touch too old to pull off such an imbecilic role, akin to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprising their "Dumb and Dumber" characters (in "Dumb and Dumber To") long after they've matured to the point that their idiocy wouldn't be remotely convincing. Meanwhile, Vergara embodies the same persona she made famous on TV's "Modern Family" – a loud, heavily accented, overblown stereotype of an unintelligent Colombian trophy wife. And comedian Jim Gaffigan makes a brief appearance, but his potential for humor is grossly underused. Although a line or two of sexual innuendo and sequences of horseplay might muster chuckles, it's extremely obvious that there wasn't enough material in the script for a feature-length movie. The outtakes at the end are likely the funniest moments of the whole thing.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
There's little dialogue to interrupt the onslaught of imagery, which actually hurts the potential for audiences unfamiliar with Hansruedi's history to enjoy the film., 4 May 2015

A simple visual tour of Hans Rudolf "H.R." Giger's home and museum could have filled a feature-length documentary. This project, however, predominantly glimpses the artist at work in his home (or, due to his dwindling health, merely residing there), meeting with his agent (Leslie Barany) and associates (including Hans H. Kunz, poster designer, and Stanislav Grof, the author of a new book on Giger), and conversing with his assistant (Tom Gabriel Fischer), his wife (Carmen Maria Giger), and his mother-in-law about his ideas and motivations. And, of course, there's quite a focus on the artwork itself, with careful pans across some of his most renowned and absorbing paintings.

A bit of Giger's personal history is covered, from his humble origins in Switzerland to his success with selling reproductions of his work in the poster format, along with extremely brief notes on his inexplicable techniques and airbrush methods. The fevered inspirations of uncomfortable dreams, a few LSD trips, and vivid personal fears (one dating back to a childhood experience at a museum, involving a mummy and his sister's amusement at his consternation) are spoken about at greater length. The themes of birth, life, and death, blended with Egyptian motifs, sex, and eroticism, are also commented upon (and visually prominent).

But there's little dialogue to interrupt the onslaught of imagery, which actually hurts the potential for audiences unfamiliar with Hansruedi's history to enjoy the film - particularly when the parts of his life involving his nine-year relationship with Li Tobler (whose last name isn't even mentioned in the film), a woman whose likeness appears in many of Giger's works (and who committed suicide after suffering from severe depression), are skipped over so quickly. The film assumes viewers are familiar with that subject, Giger's career milestones, and even his relationships with the various talking heads, and therefore dispenses with necessary introductions to, and reiterations about, his associations and most famous accomplishments – especially his involvement in Ridley Scott's "Alien," which won him an Academy Award. Brief clips of archival footage do make their way into the picture, but not frequently enough to assemble a comprehensive biography. This documentary is much more of a retrospective, detailed by observations of Giger during his final days at his massive estate.

From his shelf of real human skulls (something of a defiance of death) to his personal garden of demonic sculptures (featuring a fully functioning, miniature train) – which is very much like journeying through a prenatal nightmare realm – Giger's dwelling is a labyrinthine estate full of frightful nooks and crannies for the artist to wander through (and to stash away unseen early treasures, unearthed for the first time in this movie). His artwork is instantly recognizable, filled with utterly haunting depictions of bony, mutated flesh, torturously mixed with mechanical components – human anatomy fused with uncanny machinery, dubbed "biomechanoids." And it litters the walls, the floors, the furniture, and even the bathtub.

The film does stress that he's very much a normal guy, despite his paintings and sculptures suggesting quite the opposite. In the end, though this documentary shows some engaging moments with the artist during his last days, it's less informative than observational – and, as a result, more fleeting than memorable. H.R. Giger's art is mesmerizingly sensational, but this somewhat plodding, generally unenthusiastic, routinely monotonic production just doesn't do his monumental accomplishments cinematic justice.

The excessively science-fiction-steeped setup only undermines the parts that work., 23 April 2015

Adaline Marie Bowman (Blake Lively) grew up in San Francisco during the early 1900s, leading a rather unexceptional life. She married Clarence James Prescott and had a baby girl, but soon lost her husband during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ten months later, she was involved in a car crash that induced an anoxic reflex and shock as her vehicle plunged into an icy lake. As if by divine intervention, a lightning bolt struck the water, defibrillating her heart and reviving her for a swift, full recovery. However, the incident also curiously affected her metabolism and cell behaviors, completely preventing her from aging.

After much research, Adaline comes to the conclusion that there is no scientific explanation for her condition. Her only hope for survival, as well as a somewhat normal life for her daughter, is to elude the authorities, keep moving around, and to change her name, residence, and appearance every decade. She succeeds for approximately 60 years, exhausting the use of alias Jennifer Larsen – a library archivist at the San Francisco Heritage Society – and planning for her new identity as Susan Fleischer at the very end of 2014. But a chance meeting with Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a software developer and philanthropist, during a New Year's party, stirs her innermost desire to form a meaningful, lasting relationship with someone capable of understanding and perhaps coping with her agelessness.

The wealthy bachelor scenario paired with Adaline's own prosperous dealings and identity mysteriousness throughout the years imparts a decidedly teen-oriented vampire movie premise, adorned with a differentiating tone of old-fashioned sensibilities and maturer personas. In many ways, "The Age of Adaline" feels like a romantic drama from the '90s. With all its unusual sanitation towards more commonplace, edgy eroticism, the result is entirely the typical love banter and comedic flirtations that unfold in overly sentimental, boilerplate ensemble pieces.

Although there is plenty of footage to establish Adaline's lengthy interactions with historical elements, flashbacks still annoyingly work their way into the picture, fleshing out notions just after they're introduced - like plot twists that are immediately clarified for viewers incapable of remembering the start of the film. This makes the story very disjointed and clunky, which certainly doesn't help the sauntering pace. It's never boring, but many of the events muster little enthusiasm or impact. "The Age of Adaline" is more than halfway over before Harrison Ford finally shows up, creating a vital boost in melodrama and a push toward forcing the characters to react to more harrowing mental predicaments. But by the end, the most emotional moment still comes from a briefly ailing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

The romance is effective and the actors are all routinely amusing. But the excessively science-fiction-steeped setup only undermines the parts that work. The gimmick, elucidated by a narrator's mumbo-jumbo that continually chimes in at the worst moments and in the most abrasive fashion, raises more questions than it could possibly be worth to create a unique filmic environment. Is Adaline invincible? Can she get sick? Can she gain weight? Can she die? These curiosities are mostly ignored, but the disorder's general limitations and definitions regularly crop up. At least, it provides an opportunity for creative jokes and poetic repetitions in the dialogue – before the solution to Adaline's "curse" utterly destroys any of the entertaining bits that preceded it (deteriorating into a serious take on the undoing of the phenomenon in "What Women Want," which only marginally succeeded because of its chiefly comedic approach).

True Story (2015/I)
2 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
How sublimely curious that a writer known for telling lies penned the memoir on which "True Story" is based., 16 April 2015

The opening scene is quite the attention-grabber. Artistic and yet incredibly morbid, the initial seconds presage a picture that is centered on a grisly murder, yet far more focused on the analyzation of characters than the weighing of motives or the questing for clues. It's a fitting, contrasting start, especially as the movie unfolds at a purposeful, unhurried pace, while compelling details and dawdling cinematography oust the need for typical flashes of violence or frequent, unsettling imagery.

Asthmatic New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) thinks he's headed for a Pulitzer with his tenth cover story for the prestigious paper. Instead, however, his piece about slavery and abuse on a West African cocoa plantation brings about some confusion over the identities of his interviewees (in fact, a composite of multiple accounts). The fallout includes the loss of Finkel's job and an editor's correction in the following issue, which marks the certain death of his journalism career. No one will hire him, as his credibility is shot.

When Finkel moves back to Montana, where his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) resides, he's contacted by local writer Pat (Ethan Suplee), who wants to hear his take on the recent event – but not the one concerning Finkel's dismissal. Instead, Michael learns that a man by the name of Christian Michael Longo (James Franco) was just arrested in Mexico, having eluded police after allegedly murdering his wife and three children – and that, while in the wind, he used Michael Finkel's identity as an alias. In a supreme touch of irony, Finkel is stripped of his own name while a suspect on the lam adopts it out of admiration. Arranging for a meeting with the prisoner, Finkel comes face to face with one of the FBI's most wanted - and is granted exclusive access to the Oregon man's tale of normalcy, tragedy, and murder.

How sublimely curious that a writer known for telling lies penned the memoir on which "True Story" is based ("True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa"), shedding light on a killer with plenty of lies of his own. And here, in the form of a movie – a medium renowned for its ability to embellish the truth – audiences are shown a cinematic premise nearly too outrageous to believe. With its title, the film doesn't even begin with the now-cliché line, "Based on a true story."

With its obvious hints at "The Silence of the Lambs," including nail-biting interviews and teeth-chattering stares in a heavily-guarded, asylum-like facility, and a brief suggestion of "Spoorloos" (or "The Vanishing") from the potential for experimental devilry and psychological torment, "True Story" brandishes an inspiring series of back-and-forth battles of wits and wills. It scrutinizes the morality of bringing attention to those with ghastly stories that, debatably, shouldn't be publicized; the wrong turns in life that might have influenced heinous acts (the successes and the failures); and the strategies behind betraying guilt and innocence. Just as much as it digs into the mind of a killer, it inspects the processes of the interrogator - here, a man simultaneously benefitting from the publicity and being manipulated by his detained subject.

Mind games, poetic symbolism, moving observations, and humorous notes compose an utterly mesmerizing script. There's always something deeper and undeniably haunting lingering just beneath the surface of the words, particularly as the courtroom drama components unearth twisted, unwholesome facets of humanity. Franco and Hill further amplify this with their stunning performances, each playing roles extremely against type.

James Franco in particular, as the cornered fox with an uncanny calmness in the face of overwhelming evidence, musters some substantial moments of reflection and mental maneuvering. The casting is unexpected and decidedly entertaining in its unusualness; Felicity Jones even gets a rather powerful speech in her short supporting turn. In the end, though routinely presented as something of a mystery (despite the facts of the case being openly available) - with the camera glancing across hand movements, clothing, facial hair, and other subtleties of impressions and appearances - "True Story" exhibits an exhilarating build to a thought-provoking parting shot that questions the need for finding an audience and the ideals sacrificed to attain one, all while a movie theater audience validates the very notion.

Ex Machina (2015)
9 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
In this futuristic vision of artificial intelligence, it's not Ava's brain that seems so advanced – it's her body., 9 April 2015

Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" is certainly thought-provoking – but the ideas invoked aren't all intellectual. Captivating, albeit already heavily examined in cinema, concepts such as the creation of artificial intelligence and the subsequent ability to differentiate it from genuine humanity surface often - yet they frequently devolve into more tired science-fiction tropes of technology run amok or man vs. machine. What does it mean to be human? "Ex Machina" may provide some insight, but audiences will likely miss it for the more overt displays of programmer mind games, manipulative androids, and, of course, graphic female nudity.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime for Bluebook search engine coder Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson): meet with reclusive founder and CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) for a one-week, top-secret assignment at his secluded mountain estate. Once there, Caleb discovers the sprawling palatial domicile is more research facility than retreat and that his mission is one of historic proportions. Tasked with performing a Turing test (the assessment of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligence equivalent to a human) on Ava (Alicia Vikander), a highly advanced humanoid A.I., Caleb is both stunned and intrigued by the robot's physical beauty and its mastery over human interaction. But as mysterious power outages begin plaguing the compound and Ava imparts ominous warnings about Nathan's intentions, Caleb begins to question his own humanity and the motives of his cryptic host.

"Lay off the textbook approach." The most infuriating thing about "Ex Machina" is that, despite containing glimpses of positively absorbing moral quandaries concerning artificial intelligence, it's only masquerading as a brainy picture. At its heart, it's merely a sex robot movie. Instead of delving into the endlessly challenging arena of crafting and then containing a convincing human mind – in the form of a computer – and tackling the morality of governance that constitutes imprisonment or the termination of life, the film just wants to examine what a sex robot might do to escape mistreatment. In many ways, "Ex Machina" resembles "Splice" (or even "Species" before that), in that immense technological or biological breakthroughs are trumped by when, where, and at what point sexual interactions can take place. Is the 18-25 male target audience so important even for a non-mainstream, art house movie that intellectual examinations (identity, mortality, freedom) must give way to titillation and perversion?

The premise alternates between engaging and nonsensical. At the start, the mystery, the eeriness, and the thrills of investigating an island not too far removed from Dr. Moreau's or the property of Jurassic Park (or Bluebeard's estate) create a sensationally cinematic atmosphere. Late night activities and a highly restrictive security system allow the extreme isolation, the ulterior purpose behind the experiment, and the certain deceptions to thrive in a realm of otherworldly weirdness. But as incentives and intentions are revealed, the film becomes more and more incoherent and riddled with glaring plot holes.

Perhaps the most out-of-place design is that of Ava herself. In this futuristic vision of artificial intelligence, it's not Ava's brain that seems so advanced – it's her body. For a machine to imitate human communication is one thing; for Nathan to build a robotic humanoid form that perfectly replicates human coordination, all motor skills, and skin/muscle movement is utterly unbelievable. 2013's "Her" doesn't seem so outrageous when compared to the physiology of Ava's impossibly lifelike motions and cyborg construction. Even if she never spoke a word of dialogue (like her counterpart Kyoko, played by Sonoya Mizuno) she'd be completely credible as a real woman. And, of course, with the explicit nudity and implementation of sexuality, "Ex Machina" deviates sharply into a pleasure android notion (like Gigolo Joe or Gigolo Jane from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence") that can't be shaken, even when compelling existentialistic aspects reappear at the climax.

1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Although the sustained level of utter nonsense and gravity-defying stunts quickly become dull, the fantastical action scenes are never really the problem., 2 April 2015

At some point during the series of "The Fast and the Furious" films, gravity, physics, and mortality stopped being acknowledged. In this seventh tale of wild vehicular escapism, these concepts are completely nonexistent; but the tragedy is not the death of realism, as the franchise rarely abided by such limitations. The true shame is that, despite zero constraints on the magnitude of potential action sequences (surely the budget can accommodate just about anything), few of the extravagant set pieces actually contain anything conceptually new. More cars, more scantily clad women, and more explosions will probably equal more box office dollars, but it's terrifying to think that that an increase in bullets, babes, and bombs is all that interests the target audience – and that an intensification of those factors negates the need for even moderate creativity.

When vengeful madman Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) attempts to murder Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and his best friend Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), the former street racer will stop at nothing to eliminate the threat to his family. But catching the elusive assassin proves difficult without the aid of advanced weaponry and technology, prompting Dominic to accept an offer from shadowy secret agent "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell). In exchange for retrieving the "God's Eye," a highly adaptive tracking program, Dominic will be allowed to use the device to pinpoint Shaw's exact location. Gathering together his regular crew, including hacker Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), wild card Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and his amnesic wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the embattled driver embarks on a succession of perilous, globe-spanning missions that will test the limits of his entire team.

Or, debatably, they won't test any measurable limits. To justify a seventh feature, something new has to be brought to the table. Unfortunately, "Furious Seven" (not to be confused in any way with a project of the caliber to rip off "Seven Samurai" or its Western counterpart "The Magnificent Seven") can't present any sequences that haven't been seen before in this very series. It also borrows heavily from "Ocean's Eleven," "Mission: Impossible," and the adventures of James Bond (and, embarrassingly, "Sex and the City 2," with its attention to fashion, lavish parties, excessive wealth, romance, and Abu Dhabi), but this isn't the first time these properties have been tapped for inspiration. Feeling more and more like "The Expendables," "The A-Team," or "G.I. Joe," the filmmakers have apparently completely exhausted themselves of all ingenuity – and the down-to-earth yet high-stakes premise of Los Angeles street races.

"I can't believe we pulled that off." Although the sustained level of utter nonsense and gravity-defying stunts quickly become dull, the fantastical action scenes are never really the problem. Instead, it's the overbearing sense of imperviousness to injury or death, the total emotional detachment from the characters, and the tragically bland dependence on nameless governmental agencies (providing unlimited funds and tech and weapons and rides) to propel the story that drag the project down. The repetitiveness in action choreography and heist plots is boring, but the dialogue is simply excruciating, topping even the disregard for originality. Every delivery is an idiom, a turn of phrase, or a tough-guy taunt. There's no human communication – merely Schwarzenegger-like showdown retorts.

Nevertheless, amusement can be found in the overdone stupidity of it all. Laughable moments abound, made more hysterical by the lengths the creators go to outdo the property destruction, explosions, and shootouts from previous episodes. While it starts off resembling a music video by Michael Bay (with hyperactive camera-work, jarring cuts, and semi-nude, jiggling female bodies) before turning into a sappy cast reunion, the use of Jason Statham, Tony Jaa, and Ronda Rousey as villains helps boost the intrigue. Sadly, the film is packed with far too many characters to give any of them adequate screen time or proper character development. And, ludicrously, Mia insists that Brian return to his family after this final mission, even though she's accommodated one last return to the world of crime and danger for several previous films in a row. In the end, "Furious Seven" is little more than porn for car enthusiasts.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A modernized take on "When Harry Met Sally.", 30 March 2015

After losing their virginity to each other in college, Elaine "Lainey" Dalton (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) part ways. More than twelve years pass before the two meet again by chance outside a sex addiction clinic - and eventually embark on a real first date. But Lainey, still obsessed with pursuing an affair with an old flame, Dr. Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott), and Jake, admittedly a serial womanizer, agree to maintain a completely platonic relationship - complete with a safe word should their conversations or behaviors become too sexual. As Jake and Lainey quickly become great friends, continuing to confide tales of romantic triumphs and misadventures with each other, they slowly begin to realize that the mutual attraction building between them can no longer be ignored.

The opening scenes and the initial premise are largely unbelievable as they paint portraits of college flings and their lasting effects on adulthood. The following, slow-motion run through the rain to chase down an angered girl with smeared makeup as punk music plays in the background doesn't improve the scenario, though it does eventually change course and offer up a couple of diverting laughs. The rest of the project tries its best to avoid the romantic comedy tropes it initially depended on while also imparting a bit of dramatic heart.

That's another problem, however, as "Sleeping with Other People" doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The tone is consistently humorous, with Jason Sudeikis' nonstop jokes mustering genuine laughs, yet severer moments keep cropping up. Frequently, it's as if two separate movies are unfolding simultaneously. Even some of the more original gags (such as a crash course in female masturbation) are alternated with the darker concepts of real psychological disorders and graphic sex. The beginning details of sex addiction treatment and coping methods soon give way to the truths of waiting for Mr. Right and yearning over the one that got away. "You're not an addict – you're just a whore."

In its attempts to be both serious and goofy, the film struggles. But, fortunately, Brie and Sudeikis are talented actors, capable of not only delivering clever bits of dialogue (intermittently written with perceptive verve by Leslye Headland) but also crafting characters worthy of attention and sympathy. No matter how formulaic it is to see the two lead personas - hopelessly right for one another - continue down disjoining courses, it's routinely amusing to see them veering back to their inevitable conclusion. It's a strange balance, with the comedy and drama working best when not intermingling, like a modernized take on "When Harry Met Sally" as the inherent degeneration of platonic relationships are revealed and the risks of experimenting with love become more disconcerting.

In the end, "Sleeping with Other People" proves to have just enough surprising sequences of individuality that it can't be relegated to the raunchy teen comedy realm of projects like "Just Friends," "No Strings Attached," "Friends with Benefits," and "40 Days and 40 Nights." The screenplay is wired with frank sexual conversations and slightly higher-brow references (like the early days of Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" show), generating arrestingly fast-paced repartee like a dirtier Woody Allen (again, from the early days). Resultantly, much of the denotative remarks will likely be lost amongst the target audience (including mentions of "The West Wing," "Misery," the IBM ThinkPad, Anne Sullivan, Blues Traveler, Pinkerton from "Madame Butterfly," Malcolm Gladwell, Bobby Fischer, and the opening scene from "Beverly Hills Cop").

Cam Girlz (2015)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
It's commendably beyond (quite graphically) the uninspired standard of talking heads., 27 March 2015

It begins with a woman in a sexualized mime getup, acting out a striptease to a webcam, as if to show a double-layered piece of erotica – one for provoking a question of symbolization and one for simple visual stimulation. In many ways, the documentary as a whole serves a correspondingly dual purpose. By showing clips of nudity, the film represents pornographic input; by supplementing this footage with voice-over narration and commentary by the instigants, it becomes an examination of the mentality and motivation behind the acts themselves.

Here, "camming" is basically performing any intimate deed live on the internet, while potentially thousands of subscribers watch the routines. Nudity is almost always a factor – though the girlfriend/companionship-only angle supposedly makes up a percentage of the girls' incomes. The clientele is mostly too shy to type a response on their computers, although more adventurous users type requests and transmissions and interact as if they're involved in a substantive relationship. The women on film insist that they're real, normal, intelligent, empowered, and certainly not exploited. They're rendering services, creating a fantasy, and getting paid. At the very least, they're more than comfortable with their bodies.

Apparently, no one is getting hurt. But, of course, that's the most controversial aspect: is someone involved being abused or exploited? Or is this all genuinely harmless? As long as they're doing it by their own design and desire, what's the problem? Surely, those that partook in "Cam Girlz" did so of their own volition (not everyone in the industry is a product of emotional and sexual abuse), but decidedly more nefarious entities and victims certainly populate the world of monetized sex streams – though that is not covered (or of concern) in the scope of this documentary.

"The most important thing is to be online." Intriguingly, the element of marketing is addressed, with the many subjects considering their initiatives entirely entrepreneurial. The entertainment value, a knowledge of the audience, and an understanding of the product are crucial components of the business. Most of the girls wish to fill a niche to avoid dullness; apparently, boring sex scenarios are of less value. Most revelatory are the cammers' appreciation for being their own bosses and finding financial success that surpasses that of more customary jobs. $75,000 a month for the top performing models is nothing to scoff at; obviously, sex sells. And there is also a surprisingly expansive array of performers, running the gamut of body types and ages and even the wildness of the programs. One in particular involves elaborate costumes and creepy ventriloquist puppet interactions.

Most of the footage is snippets of the shows, which, when devoid of narration, are mere sexual images (pole-dancing, masturbation, showering, fondling) for the sake of sexual images. This will, undoubtedly, prevent "Cam Girlz" from being a film that can reach a wide audience. Furthermore, the plodding pacing, with its focus on visuals over a more philosophical debate on the topic, diminishes the potential for a truly inspirational analyzation. Few breakthroughs or eye-opening viewpoints are scrutinized, succumbing instead to generally trivial blurbs of individual ideals on achievement and emancipation from the entry-level employment rat race.

Eventually, the alternating shots of naked women curiously gives way to a few male users, who admit that watching cam girls builds confidence, substitutes for communications at the typical bar or strip club, and helps them explore their sexuality. One man misguidedly believes he's accruing genuine, intimate connections. That is, sadly, the major fallacy. For the girl, it's an act, a chiefly invented personality; they're paid to be enthusiastic about their erotic endeavors. In a real life situation, they'd certainly behave differently. The degree of anonymity (as evidenced by suggestive screen names), as long as it exists, is the only protection – and also the catalyst for more dangerous follow-ups. Yet this predicament is only touched upon by a single model, with just a couple of sentences.

"You have to have a lot of self confidence." Obviously, online sex shows are still a taboo topic. The girls here attribute this to a lack of communication and education about sex in general. Promiscuity is shunned and intercourse is demonized; open-mindedness is a difficult concept to propagate, especially when old-fashioned traditions and religion still immoderately dictate the forms of acceptable professions. It's an amusing subject, but executed with a distinct lifelessness, a lack of technical and editing verve, a tonal flatness, and a failure to movingly illustrate the various personas that frequent the picture. It's commendably beyond (quite graphically) the uninspired standard of talking heads, but it's nevertheless wanting for depth and potency, regardless of the compelling nature of the issue.

The shenanigans should be happening to Harold and Kumar instead of middle-aged businessmen., 26 March 2015

Businessman Petr Kraus (Pavel Batek) journeys back to the Czech Republic from China to retrieve an under-the-table shipment of clothing. But when he examines the merchandise, he realizes the yellow Adadas shirts are defective (manufactured with an incredibly tiny hole for the head). His contact at the shipping yard only gives him a week to remove the product and Kraus envisions his own shady boss blaming him for the whole ordeal. Indeed, the impatient textile contractor (Jirí Lábus) isn't likely to ignore a $3 million, unfulfilled order.

Fortunately, Petr has never been interested in leading a normal life – with a proper job, a mortgage, a wife, and kids – and so doesn't seem all that consternated by his potentially deadly dilemma. Instead, he preoccupies himself with a series of blind dates he's been orchestrating via the internet. Despite having an easy time picking up women and sleeping around, he can't see the most appropriate companion right in front of him: therapist Tereza "Teri" (Vica Kerekes), who is desperately in love (in the most awkwardly obvious way). Meanwhile, best friend and construction worker Pavel (Filip Blazek) - who always knows what to do in every situation - becomes a useful ally in solving problems, just as Petr is scheduled to meet the irritated boss in Ostrava in two days.

In an attempt to be quirky, the film uses annoying techniques of narrative curve balls, like jumping about in the timeline, creating fictional asides to visualize possible futures, and even fast-forwarding through conversations. The stylization eventually dissipates, but it's replaced by comic relief incidents that possess absolutely no humor. A gay man wielding a miniature chainsaw, a kleptomaniac uncle, the numerous dates secreting the existence of crazy boyfriends, a heavy metal concert in Vsemokrousy, and a last minute wedding to upend each provide opportunities for fun – but the execution is so poor that all the laughs are lost. Even the genuinely funny idea of trying to knock a man unconscious (it looks simple in the movies) is somehow devoid of amusement.

Just as the shenanigans should be happening to Harold and Kumar instead of middle-aged businessmen, a smattering of greatly discordant narrations continually chimes in. Petr omnisciently comments on existential philosophies during bland moments, interpreting happiness and purpose and expressing little knowledge (certainly, few poignant observations or opinions) about anything. The film tries to be a romantic comedy, but operates with the mindset of a crime thriller (perhaps inspired by Guy Ritchie's superbly balanced pictures). As a result, it doesn't know what tone to set or which direction to travel; the action scenes don't fit, the romance is stale, and the mirth is nonexistent. It's apparent that writer/director Rudolf Havlik has seen lots of American movies but couldn't figure out how to duplicate (or mimic) any of them with cinematic competency.


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