One Day

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
One Day
Year of Release: 2011
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language, and substance abuse.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Moderate. (General ending is revealed, but the crucial final details are not.)

Sometimes, on nights when even your favorite television shows have gotten stale and nothing in your Netflix cue sounds remotely appetizing, there’s little left to do but ask yourself, “Hey, there’s that shitty movie I saw three years ago; wonder if it’s still shitty?”

The film I’m talking about is One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. My mom and I saw it in theatres mostly because it was the only thing we could agree on, as our options (Conan the Barbarian; Spy Kids) were rather limited. After the credits rolled, our reviews closely matched the general consensus of the good people over at Rotten Tomatoes (which awarded One Day with a cringe-worthy 36% approval rating): monotonous, dull, shallow. But last weekend, I decided to try again.

One Day is the story of two friends, Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess), told over the span of twenty years. Emma and Dexter first meet on the night of their college graduation from the University of Edinburgh, and after deciding to forgo a one-night stand for reasons that are still unclear to me (how cute is Emma posing with her academic regalia thrown over her skivvies?), the two decide to stay friends. From here, the film follows a rather unconventional format of “checking in” with Emma and Dexter, be they together or apart, on July 15 of each consecutive year.

At first, Emma and Dexter function as two necessary halves of the same whole, each with qualities that the other lacks. Though Emma fancies herself a writer, she lacks the free-spirited flexibility that would bolster her creativity and instead commits to waitressing at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Dexter’s career in television, in contrast, is taking off. His rise to fame as a tacky game show host enables him to do what he does best – womanize – while Emma reluctantly settles down with her well-meaning albeit dumpy co-worker Ian (Rafe Spall). But when Dexter shows up to visit his dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) heavily under the influence, it becomes clear that his TV persona façade can’t hold out much longer.

Predictably, Emma and Dexter’s relationship navigates a sea of ups and downs – substance abuse issues, unsatisfying romances, career changes, job losses, weddings, divorces, and even a terrible fight in their late twenties that halts their correspondence for four long years. Also predictably, despite all of the conflict Emma and Dexter ultimately wind up together (though there is more to that ending that I won’t disclose because Huge Spoilers). Too predictable? Could there have been another option? Let’s start here.

It’s a common dramatic trope to have the male protagonist end up with the first female character introduced to the audience. See also: the recent conclusion of How I Met Your Mother. This formula works because it creates its own plot arc, allows for plenty of conflict as each character sorts themselves out, and concludes with the “full-circle” feel we look for in a narrative. Realistically, there was no other option for either Emma or Dexter in One Day – we knew that Ian was boring, that Sylvie (Romola Garai)’s personality was likewise entirely too flat and dismissive for the rambunctious Dexter, and really, where were things going to go with Emma’s Parisian jazz musician?

I’ve always liked this trope because it flies in the face of so much of what we’re (I believe incorrectly) taught about love: that “true romance” is an instantaneous deus ex machina flash of revelation rather than a strong and complex connection built over time. While chasing storybook fantasies, we treat romantic love as an altogether different beast than friendship, when in fact foundational friendship is crucial for any relationship – familial, platonic, romantic – to last. Dexter begins to grasp this for a brief moment when he and Emma go on vacation together in their early twenties. The problem is, I pretty much fancy everyone, he admits during an impromptu skinny dip, but with you it would be…different. Of course, having said too much, Dexter quickly backpedals by proposing a casual summer fling, to which Emma responds by holding him underwater. The bond he shares with Emma is way beyond fling material, but like many of us, Dexter needs time to mature and figure this out.

Rewinding to 2011, I think that my main beef with this film was that I didn’t feel genuinely connected to the characters because the audience was only privy to periodic splices out of their lives. I didn’t feel that I got the proper chance to know them, but now, taking the sequence year by year, I understand that I had to develop myself in order to better identify with Emma and Dexter’s development. The dynamics between the two, particularly as they hit career shifts, are expertly crafted: my favorite scene by far is the “those who can’t do, teach” argument, given that I’ve been on Emma’s end of this before and experienced her fury. Frustrated with his own shallow, failing career, Dexter attacks Emma’s, resulting in the blowup that won’t be resolved for four years. I love you, Dex, Emma says before running off, I just don’t like you anymore. And there it is: in order for there to be love, there must first be like. So while there are several of things to criticize about this film – the awful repetition of the same four measures of score at every yearly transition, Anne Hathaway’s frustratingly inconsistent Yorkshire accent – this central concept is not one of them.

Revenge, Seasons 1 & 2

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release (originally aired): 2011 & 2012
Rating: TV PG/PG-13 (A lot of people die, leaving a dramatic pool of blood spreading slowly around them.)

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Mild

 

It’s me, your local cheater, bringing television once more into the realm of Catch-Up. I haven’t watched a ton of movies lately that were Catch-Up worthy. We did watch Maleficent this weekend and while I enjoyed that, it is certainly being promo-d enough that it doesn’t need a Catch-Up. Instead, I will write about what my husband calls my soap opera. Since Netflix is my primary source of TV and movies, there are many TV shows I haven’t even heard of that have been on for years. With the increasing fragmentation of cable programming and the speed at which shows are axed, someone with much more pop culture savvy than myself can have trouble keeping up with television shows, let alone me–a busy middle-aged mom who basically watches three “current” TV shows—Game of Thrones, Blacklist, and The Big Bang Theory. I had never heard of Revenge before it popped up in my Netflix as suggested for you! Our best guess for Telaina 5 stars!

I could go into the set of circumstances that made me wander from my stuffed instant queue (oh whoops, “my list”) and click on Revenge, but it would probably be over-sharing. Suffice to say, I’ve had kind of a tough fall and I was looking for some fluffy entertainment.

I decided I would watch one episode of Revenge to see if I liked it. Well here I am, a month later, starting on Season 3. The premise of Revenge seems simple—Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) moves next door to the Graysons (Madeleine Stowe chews scenery as Victoria Grayson and Henry Czerny looks and acts like a perfect douche as Conrad Grayson) both of whom betrayed her father. Emily plans to emotionally, financially and physically damage them in the same way her father was destroyed. (He was accused of a crime he didn’t commit and was then murdered in prison at their command.) The trouble is, every time Emily succeeds in one of her machinations, she usually triggers someone else to then want to take revenge on the person they think has caused their ill-luck. There is not a Buddhist or a radically compassionate Christian in this group—it’s a mean-spirited bunch, for sure. Sometimes the wronged party identifies this person correctly as Emily but sometimes they fall for Emily’s misdirection and start to wreak havoc on a person who had nothing to do with their current set of circumstances. I would say an innocent person but again, none of these characters are innocent. Also, as much as Emily tries, she can’t control and manipulate everyone, so people are constantly going rogue which then interferes with her intricate schemes.

My favorite character by far is Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) who is Emily’s BFF and tech henchman. Nolan wanders through the show stealing every scene that he is in, spouting witticisms and having sex with both men and women as the mood strikes him. The fact that he thinks his bisexuality is unworthy of comment as does Emily, makes me love this show probably way more than I should. I root for Nolan as he kisses both guys and girls, but because he is neck-deep in Emily’s dark plans, he keeps having serious trouble in his love life, regardless of the gender of the person he is dating.

Nolan not only functions as what is left of Emily’s heart and conscience, but he is also the show’s comic relief. With quotes like, “Don’t do anything revenge-y until I get there.” and “I have PTSD—Padma Tyler Sexual Disorder.” (Padma and Tyler are two exes.) “I’m about a three on the Kinsey scale myself.” and “She keeps popping up like the homicidal stripper version of whack-a-mole” and “What? You guys went to revenge camp together?” Nolan keeps this TV melodrama from slipping all the way into General Hospital.

Another thing I love about this show is how it showcases women of all different ages. Madeleine Stowe is 56, and plays her age on the show. Amber Valletta who plays Lydia Davis is 40 and she too, plays right around her age in the show. There are beautiful younger women and beautiful young men, but there is also plenty of opportunities for actresses in their 30s, 40s and 50s to shine. The clothes are lovely—lots of sleeveless dresses cinched at the waist and the high heels! They are all going to keep podiatrists in business. The scenery is gorgeous—though the show really isn’t filmed in the Hamptons—they mix in shots from North Carolina and a few actual Hamptons’ beaches to give it a “no, we don’t shoot in California, not us” feel.

If plot holes and inconsistencies bother you (the white girl has a sensei? really?), this drama may not be for you. But if you loved soap operas as a kid, pop some popcorn and watch Emily and Victoria trade barbs, and Nolan redeem the whole series with his charm and wit.

 

Anatomy of a Murder

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Currently streaming on Netflix

NR (Somewhere around PG-13 with its rape references and themes)

Review contains mild spoilers

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

 

If you ask someone in Michigan why exactly our Upper Peninsula is a part of Michigan, chances are about 50-50 they won’t have a clue. If you look at a United States map, there is no doubt that logically, Michigan’s U.P. should be a part of Wisconsin. But thanks to the Michigan- Ohio War (it was a real thing), Michigan relinquished 400 miles of Ohio, and in exchange got its statehood and was ceded the iron-rich, copper-rich, woods, lakes and waterfalls paradise that is Michigan’s U.P. It is in this sparsely populated area that Anatomy of a Murder takes place. Filmed on location in Big Bay, Marquette, Ishpeming and Michigamme, (go ahead, East & West Coast folks, try to pronounce those town names correctly. I’ll wait), Otto Preminger (director) managed to recreate both the sense of scandal and gossip, but also the sense of quiet in a small town after a murder has occurred.

Based on a novel by Robert Traver (pen name for Michigan attorney John D. Voelker), Anatomy of a Murder (the book) spent 65 weeks (!!!) on the best-seller list and helped usher in the literary thriller genre. Traver based the novel loosely on a murder that happened in the Big Bay area. The movie has a great cast; James Stewart as Paul Biegler and a very young George C. Scott as the fancy prosecuting attorney from the big city of Lansing (hahaha). The movie received seven Academy Award nominations, including best picture, and the American Bar Association STILL ranks it as one of the best trial movies of all time.

The premise of the movie is that Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara) has shot and killed a local bartender for raping his wife. His wife Laura (Lee Remick) appears battered. She wears tight pants and sweaters and she doesn’t wear a girdle (just panties!), and in the course of the movie, she is, as many rape victims still are, also put on trial in addition to her murderous husband. In addition to the great acting, one of the fascinating things about watching this movie is the social and cultural norms in portrays in 1959. The words “intercourse” “panties” and “contraception” are whispered and bring titillating murmurs and giggles to the court room. And, according to Reader’s Guide put out to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the movie, the movie was actually banned for a time in Chicago due to its obscenities.

One of the most painful scenes for a woman living in the 21st century to watch is when the prosecutor starts talking about Laura Manion’s morals, the way she dresses, her religious practices, her previous divorce and her sexual history. We of course pretend we don’t do this in courts of law anymore, but it is commonplace and still, 55 years after this movie is filmed, only three out of every 100 rapists will spend any time in prison.

Even with the outmoded gender roles and the depressing topic of how rape victims are treated, there is something refreshing about watching a movie where all the women characters are named, have speaking roles, and the opportunity to act and react to what’s going on around them. As strange as it may seem, women actresses in some ways had better parts in some of these old movies.

Another thing that is interesting about this film is what propels it. No one ever doubts that Manion has killed the bartender. What propels the movie is will Paul Biegler be able to defend him? Is Manion lying about why he killed the bartender? Is Manion the one who raped and beat his wife? Or is it just as Laura is saying? Even guilty, will Manion get off? Will Laura stay with her husband? Will Biegler refrain from flirting (or more) with Laura?

Oh, and the soundtrack is great. (Can you tell yet that I really like soundtracks?) It was composed and scored by Duke Ellington.

Even if you’re not a fan of “old” movies, go take a looksee at this one, especially if you like Stewart. Or Michigan. Or courtroom movies. Or stuff that’s free with your Netflix subscription.

Odd Thomas

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Currently streaming on Netflix

NR (I would say it’s about PG-13 for minor gore)

Spoilers: None

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

I’m not sure what the history of this movie is—I heard rumors of lawsuits between production companies and financial problems in the middle of the shoot. I’m not sure if it had any sort of theatrical release or not (the NR would seem to indicate it didn’t?) but it sounds like it was MEANT to have a theatrical release. With a very serviceable cast of Anton Yelchin as Odd Thomas, Addison Timlin as Odd’s girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn and Willem Dafoe as Police Chief Wyatt Porter, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this adaptation of Dean Koontz’s well-reviewed thriller. (Publisher’s Weekly said about Koontz’s first Odd book, “This is Koontz working at his pinnacle, providing terrific entertainment that deals seriously with some of the deepest themes of human existence: the nature of evil, the grip of fate and the power of love.”)

I read Odd Thomas in 2004 (I think?). I got it at the library and read it quickly over a weekend. I think I might have read one of its sequels, but then I got buried again in my never-ending reading list. So when my friend said on Facebook that she had liked the movie and it was currently streaming on Netflix, I took an hour-and-a-half this weekend to watch it. I don’t remember the ins and outs of the novel, having never re-read it, but the movie definitely has the same tone—Odd was likable, funny and you know…odd.

Odd Thomas sees dead people. He doesn’t want to be locked up for being crazy, so he tries to keep his talent hidden. Because Odd often needs the police, Chief Porter does know of Odd’s ability, and tries to find ways to explain how Odd knows a suspect has killed someone, etc.

The true conflict of the movie starts when Odd sees more bodachs than he has ever seen before surrounding a guy (dubbed “Fungus Man” by Odd and Stormy) at the restaurant at which Odd works as a short-order cook. Bodachs are creepy, transparent, alien-looking creatures who feed off of suffering and death. Odd has seen them previously, each time before a tragedy has struck, but never, ever such a large number of them. Odd has to pretend he can’t see the bodachs because everyone who has ever admitted to seeing a bodach has turned up dead. Odd knows something really, really bad is going to happen in his small hometown, and so he begins to follow Fungus Man (and FM’s posse of bodachs) to try to stop whatever it is that is about to occur.

This was exactly my kind of thriller movie. I can’t stand a lot of unnecessary gore anymore I spend one-third of each episode of Game of Thrones with my hands covering my eyes. I had to turn off Zombieland because I felt queasy. I had nightmares when my niece told me the plot of Saw. (Thanks, Hannah.) But this is more action with a side order of blood and bodach.

The dialogue is witty and there is excellent use of character narration (which is sometimes used in book adaptations when the writers can’t fit in necessary exposition any other way… I’m looking at you, Lord of the Rings) but Odd’s narration actually helps add to his character development as the viewer gets even more of a sense of his “voice” which gives the movie much of its charm. Also, excellent soundtracking, which gives the film a funky, small-town feel.

Olympus Has Fallen

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Currently Streaming on Netflix

Rated R for frequent use of F-bomb and lots of blood, brains, stabbings, shootings, splatterings & explosions

Review contains mild spoilers

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

This movie is for lovers of big 80s-style action movies—Die Hard, Terminator, True Lies, etc. Lots of big names in this cast—Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune and Melissa Leo (who gives a wonderful performance as Secretary of Defense). Directed by Antoine Fuqua, one of Hollywood’s few African-American film directors (his most well-known film is Training Day starring Denzel Washington), this movie is far superior to the tepid White House Down which came out, strangely enough, at about the same time. White House Down didn’t know what it was—was it an action movie? Was it a comedy? It had no clue; so it got muddled in a no-man’s land of story-telling. Olympus Has Fallen knows exactly what it is—a story-driven action movie.

Secret-service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is President Benjamin Asher’s (Eckhart) best friend and the head of his Secret Service detail. An accident happens, and Asher blames Banning for it. Banning is banished to the U.S. Treasury Department for 18 months, where he intermittently pleads to his boss Lynn Jacobs (Bassett) for his old job back. Banning glumly sits at his desk until one day he looks out his window and there are North Korean terrorists (unsanctioned by their government) attacking the White House.

This is the part where youtube and IMDB commenters whine, “This is just so unrealistic. This could never happen.” Well, I think we get into trouble when we compare movies we watch for our entertainment with real life but I would also respond to the “this could never happen” whiners that I don’t think we foresaw anyone flying planes into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, either.

President Asher ends up in the White House bunker with the terrorists and a turncoat Secret Service agent (McDermott). The terrorists begin to coerce Cerberus codes out of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense while Banning, the lone remaining Secret Service agent in the White House, struggles to rescue the hostages.

The beating of Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan is one of the plot points that makes this movie rise above typical popcorn action movie fare. Similar to G.I. Jane (a movie which was critically panned when it came out but I have always very much enjoyed), this scene shows the squicky feelings we have as a nation when women are beaten in service to their country. We seem, as a nation, to have no problem when a woman is beaten by her romantic partner. Because that happens every 12 seconds in this country and we have yet to find any solutions for that abuse. But for a woman to receive a beating in service to her country, well, that just brings up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings. After McMillan’s ribs are broken, President Asher orders to her to give the terrorist (Yune) her Cerberus code telling McMillan, “He will never get mine.” So stand down with the tough, little lady. We like to keep our beatings domestic, thank you very much. (See what I did there?)

Some other fun things in this movie include Gerard Butler’s American accent. I don’t know exactly where Banning is from, but I want to visit there. I think it might be BrooklynBronxNew Jersey. And I adore the scene in which Acting President House Speaker Trumbull (Freeman) tells the old white general (Robert Forster) who exactly is in charge. There is also a great scene when Banning and Asher are in a deep bromance moment and it looks like they might kiss. I think they might have sold more movie tickets with a little slash. Butler and Eckhart are both very attractive men. But no one asks me these things.

And while this movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, it does have many named women in positions of power who do get screen time. Not perfect but so much better than many action movies.

Despite its high body count and arguable implausibility, Olympus Has Fallen offers some great acting (I would watch Freeman, Eckhart and Butler in almost anything), awesome special effects and most importantly, a story to go along with blowing shit up.

The Joneses

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Currently streaming on Netflix

Rated R for brief nudity, occasional use of the f-bomb, and mild violence

Review contains mild spoilers

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

The Joneses is a fabulous little movie that I didn’t even hear about until a couple of years ago when it streamed on Netflix for the first time. It stars David Duchovny and Demi Moore, and costars Lauren Hutton. Released in 2009, The Joneses is the perfect blend of comedy, tragedy, romance and satire. Steve (Duchovny) and Kate (Moore) and their two teenage children (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), move into an affluent, gated community Somewhere in America That Isn’t California. The Joneses appear to be the perfect All-American family when their neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headley) walk over to meet them. Summer carries a large basket of Robustion skincare and cosmetics line for which she is a “consultant.” (She says affirmations like “I am a powerful saleswoman.” Think of every time you’ve been invited to/attended a Mary Kay, Arbonne or similar party. Summer’s belief that she can affirm her way to success is one of the smaller underlying tragedies of the movie.)

Larry and Summer are amazed by the perfection of Steve and Kate’s house. No moving boxes, no piles of paper, no dirty dishes here. The house is immaculate and spacious with top-of-the-line furniture and the state-of-the-art electronics. Summer says to Larry when they get back to their house, “I would KILL for that dining room set.”

But of course nothing is at it seems and within the first 20 minutes of the movie we realize that the Joneses are in fact, not a family at all. They work for a large international “person-to-person” marketing firm and have sale goals for certain products in certain demographics—Kate takes care of women’s fashions, hair products, upscale convenience foods and jewelry. The teens are person-to-person marketing video games, cell phones, fashions, skateboards and even cars. And Steve (a rookie, this is his first “family” placement) works on golf, beer, cars, sportswear, cigars, and other “man toys.” The heart of this firm’s success is that people are suspicious of advertising messages, except when the message comes from their friends. This Anywhere in America Suburb sees Steve and Kate and their allegedly hot and sexy marriage and their two beautiful teenage children, and wants to be just like them, therefore they want everything the Joneses have. As Steve and Kate’s boss KC (Hutton) says, “If they want you, they will want what you have.”

What I loved about this movie was its utter skewering of consumption-driven capitalism. I am a married 46-year-old woman with two teenage children and I cannot tell you the number of times people in our same income group have tried to engage me in competition about something related to consumption. At the Catholic school my kids attended for many years the moms would list their spring break and winter break trip destinations, talk about how stressful it was to build a new home (or a second home), or about the Yankees game they had “swung by” on the weekend. Underneath this frothing patina, this gross display of wealth, is more often than not, extreme debt, extreme fear, and loneliness. One of the many interesting mirrors in The Joneses is that Larry thinks Steve is having lots of sex because of the gifts he showers on Kate, and Summer and Larry should be having sex because they are married. It isn’t quite clear why Summer consistently spurns Larry—she’s angry but movie viewers don’t know exactly why. Unfulfilled? She feels she bet on the wrong horse (even though they are living in a huge McMansion and Larry seems to still be in love with her)? Sex and power and money are closely entwined in this movie—just like they are in real life. And the irony present in a good majority of the movie is despite appearance, no one is having sex.

Several story arcs culminate in a variety of tragedies, one which is tragi-comic and involves Steve saying to Kate, “This family is fucked up. Where did we go wrong?” And another tragic scene with beautiful cinematography, soundtracked to Nick Urata’s haunting “In My Hands.” This tragedy results in Steve having an attack of conscience about his deceit, which leads to (some) of the characters in the movie realizing, to varying degrees, that all of the stuff in the world doesn’t equal a single good and loving relationship.