Screenwriter-director James L. Brooks enjoys making movies about human nature. Even when his films border on drama, he goes for the joke. Sometimes the dramedy wears thin. Before you see Brooks latest, Spanglish (the odd mix of Spanish and English spoken in multi-cultural cities like Los Angeles), you have to get used to three things. One is Adam Sandler in a calm role. Two is Adam Sandler as a leading man. Three is Adam Sandler married to Tea Leoni. Hit and miss here, folks, hit and miss. The movie is about colliding cultures. It goes from amiable comedy to nasty comedy faster than a rattlesnake strikes. A Mexican woman with a daughter arrives in L.A. hoping to capture the American dream. She ends up as a maid in a comfortably well off Beverly Hills household. Dad is Sandler, a nice guy who has a popular, well-rated restaurant to run. Mom is Leoni and shes a neurotic mess. High maintenance doesnt begin to describe her. These are the Claskys, parents to a son and daughter. Along for the ride is their wisecracking grandma, Cloris Leachman, whos good in the role, but the cliches start falling out of Leachmans mouth right from the get-go. Are their any seniors in Hollywood who arent feisty? The gist of Brooks strained effort is that dad is running out of excuses for moms behavior. The kids are not okay. Granny is a boozehound. Eventually, the Clasky clan takes the maid and her kid to their Malibu place for the summer. Its here that the movies cultural commentary crumbles. The dialogue really gets mean-spirited. There are no insights into dysfunctional behavior and the Upstairs-Downstairs connections are pointless. The usually wonderful Leoni is so over-the-top that she has nowhere to go with her character. Sandlers low-key performance is fine, but soon becomes dull. The movie fades into the Pacific Ocean as it tries to tie-up Brooks views of the relationship between a maid and her bosses, mother-daughter bonding, and having a career versus hanging around.
Closer is based on the hit play of the same name. Were in contemporary London, and the movie expertly captures the look of the new architecture that has befallen that town. Some of it is striking, but most of it is deadly. The film feels modern, but its roots are in Edward Albees Whos Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. This is a terrifically tough, lacerating adult drama about four lonely souls searching for passion. Sexual passion, relationship passion, human contact passion. Closer seethes with bitter emotions. Would-be novelist Dan (Jude Law) meets an American whos a part-time stripper. Shes Alice (Natalie Portman) and its lust from the start. You know there are going to be complications. The movie, directed by Mike Nichols, uses flash-forwards and flashbacks as unsettling expository elements. The technique works. Seems that Dan has met photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) at a photo shoot and betrays Alice by seducing Anna, who meets a hyper-masculine dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen). Since nothing stops on a dime in this movie, she and Larry are soon in bedded bliss. But the bliss doesnt last for anyone as backstabbing and betrayal are the order of the day. The quartet keeps the sparks flying. Closer has scathing insights into the negative things that humans do to each other in relationships. The acting is brilliant from all. This is one hard-edged movie.
Twelve is the new eleven. Thats what the posters read. Like the movie, its a saying thats meaningless. Oceans Twelve is a trifle wherein the good-looking gang from the Oceans Eleven remake returns to carry out a series of scores so they can pay back Las Vegas casino owner Andy Garcia whos out for vengeance. Hes already collected on the insurance, but the boring Garcia, looking like Peter Lorre, wants to double his money. Enter Danny Ocean and company (the twelfth member of the gang will end up being Oceans wife, Julia Roberts (sans make-up and with stringy hair her interpretation of homemaker, I guess). Also along for the ride and a ludicrous ride it is is a lifeless Catherine Zeta-Jones as an Interpol agent trying to outguess what Ocean plans to do in Amsterdam, Paris, or Rome. It turns out she once had a love affair with Brad Pitts character, but we didnt see that in Oceans Eleven, so it comes out of left field. Zeta-Jones seems to have been modeled after actress Anna Karina from some of Jean-Luc Godards faux gangster films. She cant pull it off. In fact, she pulls nothing off. Another subplot involves a Frenchman known as The Night Fox wants to keep his title of worlds greatest thief. Add Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis, Eddie Izzard and Albert Finney in cameos that look truncated from longer bits, and youve got a caper movie that isnt about anything except George Clooney playing ennui until it hurts. Hurts you, not him. I like Clooney a lot, but come on. This is a film that is virtually without solid elements. Its more like the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack 1960s Oceans Eleven than a next step in the Ocean caper progression. Director Steven Soderbergh has made a movie thats lighter-than-air and just as gassy. A bit of it is fun, but most of it isnt. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Theres been a ton of buzz about the movie Kinsey since it showed at the Toronto Film Festival. The buzz is justified. Weve heard that America was an uptight place, but whew, who knew the parameters. Liam Neeson rules the screen as sexual behaviorist Alfred Kinsey, who studied sex the way numismatists study coins. Hes obsessive and, as it turns out, a tad obsessed. Kinsey began work studying critters and ended up taking pictures of human subjects in all their nude glory. He also had a taste for sex that included all the options. He was a nerd that grew up. He married a lovely lass (the great Laura Linney) and when the two had problems in the sack, they sought professional help for their intimacy issues. The result? Kinseys groundbreaking studies of American sexual hang-ups, masturbation, homosexuality, bisexuality, and the way to achieve an orgasm. He sleeps with one of his best friends (colleague Clyde Martin; the always-talented Peter Sarsgaard giving and showing his all), shatters taboos and stereotypes, and makes quite a name for himself. Director Bill Condon mines the subject for humor and truth and mixes visuals and dialogue to perfection. Kinsey focuses on the good old U.S.A. from 1930 to 1950 when sex was an act done fast, often with bedclothes on, and seldom talked about. Its a smart movie; wonderfully acted by a cast thats seems eager to prove to the moral guardians amongst us that sex is going to be around for a while.