No Strings Attached
So the new Natalie Portman film No Strings Attached, her first outing after her probably Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan, is facing mediocre reviews. ‘It’s predictable!’ ‘All romantic comedies are predictable!’ ‘You’re a terrible person, Paolo!’ Ah, shut up. Yes, I concede that the movie gets crappier the more I think about it. For example, to my future children reading this – if you don’t cry or show emotion at my husband/your father’s ‘stupid thing’ of a funeral, but you cry for a guy, I will disown you. Nonetheless, I will give this movie a bone or four.
The cheerleaders in Adam’s (Ashton Kutcher) “High School Musical” esque show actually did high kicks. Like real cheerleader stuff. I can’t remember if they did stunts or flipping though.
There was a total of one realistic sex scene. I agree with Ebert that the multiple lead-ups to Adam and Emma’s (Natalie Portman) first consummation was pathetically ‘code era,’ and that their hair never fully get messy, but when they got there…Oh God, talking about realism in sex scenes in ‘film criticism’ is harder than anything else I’ve ever had to write. The aggression and the connection and hand-held camera capturing a long take and Emma’s (Portman) head practically buried in those pillows. Also, is that Kutcher with a normal person’s body? Congratulations to him. I imagine any other actor working out to the hilt if he was cast in this movie.
Natalie Portman’s relationships with male characters in her other movies aren’t necessarily romantic, and you can’t even say that about older, more respected actresses. She allows herself to be coupled in this film, and I’m one voice who believes that Kutcher and Portman make a decent onscreen couple. Also, her calling Joy and Lisa (Vedette Lim) ‘pumpkins’ is classic.
There’s also one scene with Adam and Lucy (Lake Bell) who bump heads while trying to kiss. I can’t remember the last time I saw that.
The supporting characters. They’re really letting Abby Elliott as Joy nail a Drew Barrymore impersonation? When the trailer was out around Christmastime (someone correct me on this), I thought that the movie was built around Adam’s line ‘You fight like a hipster.’ The film now seems like a free-for-all for the comediennes and actresses with or without comedy films under their belt. We probably have Portman to thank for the girl power, whose project includes producing female stoner movies and has Executive Producer credits to this film. Mindy Kaling’s trash talking humour, her character Shira telling Emma that she’s going to avoid her for being so depressing. We have Greta Gerwig successfully convincing us that her character Patrice is more sexually desirable than the then awkward Emma at one point in their lives. Other actresses include Talia Balsam, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell (playing neurotic middle management) and Olivia Lovibond, the latter two’s comedic talent were probably aided by the fact that this movie is my introductions to them.
There’s also Kevin Kline, playing ‘Great Scott’ Alvin or Adam’sfamous TV star dad, who almost steals the show through both the physical and delivery aspects of the comedy. 3/5.
The Ice Storm
Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) fools around in his basement with Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), but he hears footsteps approaching. Like young people, they expected to be told that this behaviour isn’t correct, as her father Ben (Kevin Kline) does publicly. We the audience have expectations too, that punishment follows sin, and the sinners will all be drowning in tears in the end of every exposure of wrongdoing. But what if the punishers, in this case the parents, take part in the same kind of behaviour? That sort of is the problem here in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1973.
I also just realized days after watching this that the characters also like punishing each other. Although punishment isn’t their prime motives nor they have fully decided to do this for the 48 hours that the film portrays. Mikey’s mom Janey (Sigourney Weaver), irritated by her workaholic husband, has an affair with Ben, which is how the latter fortunately finds the two kids fooling around in the Carver basement. Ben’s wife Elena (Joan Allen) slowly finds out about this affair, and forcibly joins her and Ben to a ‘key party’ – where the husbands put their keys in a bowl and the wives pick a key, their husband’s or not. Yes, some of those actions are vengeful, but their unreliable spouses adds to these characters’ loneliness.
Period object time – The Jesus Christ Superstar poster on the train from New York City to New Canaan, the fashions and pastor’s hair as we hear Harry Nilsson in the background, the action figure of the American soldier whose genitals the Viet Cong has stolen, Ben’s son (Tobey Maguire) reading the Fantastic Four (?). Your turn.
Is this Kevin Kline’s movie? Joan Allen and the others steal the movie from him but the water-bed is his.
Ang Lee likes nature, from the torrential rain in the countryside hills in Sense and Sensibility to the bamboo trees in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here in this film we see Ben leave Janey’s postmodern house to his own by walking through some nicely arranged wooded areas that start from her backyard. When Ben busts Wendy, they share the same route and he gives her advice. The area’s multi-purpose, where Janey’s younger son blows up his toys for God knows why, sexual repression or aggression? Lee chooses to adapt a film with a suburban setting, since it’s where man meets nature and both compromise, nature is where humans hide. The only person who can’t really reconnect is Elena, who follows Wendy’s example by biking through the off-roads of the suburbs. She deviates by shoplifting in the pharmacy like her daughter and gets caught, making a big scene.
The film’s title The Ice Storm is also a natural phenomenon, a thing greeted with warning by the weather specialists on TV, making it difficult for cars and trains to go around, an indirect challenge to the characters. Mikey sees it another way, enjoying the harshness and the beauty it produces. For a while his loneliness, as well as the other characters, isn’t as bad. The storm gives us a tragic end, and we can see those factors as something only God would inflict on the film’s characters. It doesn’t feel like anything will change, and no, I’m not saying key parties will still happen in this town. The film actually makes us feel like this tragedy is as bombastic as other directors might convey through their possible versions of the film. Lee’s tone is constant, solid and makes us feel as if the dysfunctional Hood family will be together after the event.
The Big Chill
(Not what you think. ph secret)
Sometimes when I look at a person older than me, I imagine what they looked like and were like when they were my age or younger. It’s easy to see that most of the time. What you don’t see is the time when they were younger, whether they wore bell bottoms or had really long hair that wouldn’t suit them at their current age.
That’s what I felt watching this. These are adults in their thirties raising children, smoking in their corner office (I wish I could still legally do that), going to each other’s funerals. There was no way anyone could have convinced me that this shoulder pad wearing group of old college friends, united by their fried Alex’s suicide – none of whom wore black by the way, have been hippies or activists. They neither show each other old pictures of play the Hair soundtrack. Karen’s husband Richard tells her that he can’t believe that they’re the same people she described.
And they have an angst towards realizing that they’ve changed in fifteen years, like sleeping for that long and waking up in a different life. Robert Osborne, while introducing the movie, talked about the chagrin that the characters felt. It fits but it’s too strong of a word for me. I would have used something around remorse and reflection. There’s something beautiful about Sarah (Glenn Close) and her husband Harold (Kevin Kline) talking about their past. Both actors do great work in not yelling. The only explosive emotion from either of them comes when Sarah looks unrecognizable, crying in the bath.
In the end, everyone gets to spend a night with a different partner either in a platonic way. Chloe (Meg Tilly, with a surrealist spin to her airhead character) gives Nick (William ‘Broheim’ Hurt) Alex’s jacket, which finally gives Chloe a chance for an emotional release. Sarah and Michael (Jeff Goldblum, RIP) sit in front of a camcorder and joke around. Or they consummate (two married people have sex with people they’re not married to). The Motown music, used throughout the movie, tries to convince me that everything including the sex is all right with these grownups, but doesn’t. If I as much think of having sex within 72 hours of burying someone, I’d be called a slut.
Nick worries me, though. He’s a Vietnam vet, shows up late at his friend Alex’s funeral, then gets cited by the police for bad driving. He’s the only one who’s calm when everyone else is going passive aggressive at each other’s throats. He remembers what Alex would say in that hostile situation with a quiet sadness. Alex’s girlfriend Chloe tells him that Nick reminds her of Alex. Nick decides to stay in a platonic relationship with Chloe and work the property that Chloe and Alex have owned. By we’re still talking about drug using Nick here. It’s either he’s gonna cause everyone pain by really following Alex’s footsteps or have a difficult time changing.
Also, the movie has a subtle pastel cinematography that reminded me of “Ordinary People.” It’s also pretty shadowy when Nick and Chloe and in the same room for some reason.