Monday, September 10, 2012

August 2012


HOPE SPRINGS (2012)—Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play an aging married couple who don't have sex anymore (his choice, not hers). In a last-ditch attempt to bring the spark back into their relationship, she persuades him to attend some couples-therapy sessions with Steve Carell, who has published a book on the topic. (In retrospect, I wonder why they didn't just read the book.) This is a gentle but effective romantic comedy for people over the age of 30, its leads performing flawlessly but practically upstaged by the brilliant stunt casting of funnyman Carell in a straight role with nary a punch line. (9)

 PARANORMAN (2012)—What looked like an enjoyably macabre stop-motion treat turns out to be from the folks who made the feeble Coraline and not the infinitely superior Corpse Bride. There are a few chuckles, to be sure, but the movie is, like its predecessor, a resounding bore. (4)

 CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (2012)—The good news is that this indie romance-comedy stars its writer, Rashida Jones (of TV's Parks & Recreation), who is quite fetching and can be very funny as well. (I've been a fan since she co-starred on Boston Public as a teenager, and more recently on The Office.) The bad news is that it's an overlong, unfocused and mostly pointless mess of a film, charting the post-breakup relationship of Celeste (Jones) and her longtime BFF Jesse, played by Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live. The pair are totally believable as a career woman and a terminally unemployed artist, respectively, but since the movie insists on kicking off with the dissolution of their marriage, that doesn't give the story very much room to grow. There are some funny and well-conceived scenes, but it's not enough to warrant a recommendation. Mostly it's just about how Jones has no problem moving on after their breakup—that is, until Jesse suddenly (and quite unintentionally) has a new romance and important responsibilities thrust upon him; then she turns into a jealous blithering idiot. In the film, Jones is cast as a professional trend analyzer who's supposed to be a genius at making sensible conclusions from small details, but who doesn't even realize that an important work-related logo contains a depiction of a penis (which everybody else does). Meanwhile, Jesse is supposed to be an artist, but we're given no sense of the kind of art he creates—we're never given any examples of his talent, assuming he has any. (6)


AKEELAH AND THE BEE (2006)—Before she blossomed into the drop-dead gorgeous star of films like Joyful Noise, Keke Palmer played Akeelah, a young black girl with an incredible talent for spelling. Naturally, this middle-school kid is far more mature than most of the adults in her family and school community. But then, I suppose the writers had to build some conflict somewhere beyond "I before E except after C." Palmer is pitch-perfect as the kid who, against all odds, rises through the ranks of the various spelling competitions. Also nice to see Curtis Armstrong (of Revenge of the Nerds and Moonlighting fame) as the school principal, as well as Laurence Fishburne as the girl's coach and mentor. It's a warm, reasonably involving drama with a satisfying payoff. (9)

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