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Review: Her

Her_PosterI wouldn’t mind living in Spike Jonez’s version of the future, but for now I’m happy to just keep watching “Her” over and over again.

“Her” takes place in a future version of Los Angeles and hones in on Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly, a soon-to-be divorced man who writes other peoples’ love letters for a living. One day, Theodore opts to purchase the hottest new piece of technology on the market, OS 1, the first artificially intelligent operating system. Soon thereafter, he creates Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a digital secretary of sorts who’ll clean out his inbox, organize his writing and also be his friend.

If we’re heading towards Jonze’s version of the future, we might be better off. There are no hulking robots, deep space transports or overabundance of ultramodern technology, but rather mildly modified elements of the present that have clearly been changed to facilitate a more serene lifestyle. Computers are voice activated, clothing trends are practical, the streets are clean and not a single person raises his or her voice. “Her” features some heated discussions, but they’re genuine discussions, not thoughtless outbursts.

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Interview: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ Rooney Mara

Rooney_MaraRooney Mara has been in the business for quite some time, but there’s no denying that in 2009, her career took off, to say the least. She appeared in the adaptation of Youth in Revolt, led Tanner Hall, then starred in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, had a small part in the Oscar-winning The Social Network, earned her own Best Actress nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and this year, brought us Side Effects. Currently she has both Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Her on the way; even more impressive? Every single film on this list is so strikingly different.

In David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Mara steps in as Ruth, a woman who’s separated from the father of her unborn baby during a botched robbery, where he takes the fall for her and claims responsibility for shooting a police officer (Ben Foster). Years later, Ruth is living a humble life with their grown daughter, but her new existence is rattled when Bob (Casey Affleck) escapes from prison and makes a desperate attempt to rejoin his family.

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Review: Side Effects

Side-Effects-PosterFirst Steven Soderbergh terrifies us of falling ill with “Contagion” and now he makes us wary of the medication that should make us better with “Side Effects.”

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) had it good. She met a kind, handsome guy (Channing Tatum) with a flourishing career; they fell in love, got married and set out to begin a luxurious life filled with wealth and romance. Unfortunately, in an instant, her fairy tale was decimated when her husband was taken away from a lavish Connecticut estate in handcuffs, convicted of insider trading and thrown in prison. A dedicated wife, Emily holds strong, visiting Martin on a regular basis and welcoming him home with open arms after his release.

However, even though she’s thrilled to have him back, the experience is so jarring it stirs up a former issue with depression. Eager to get out of her current funk, Emily starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who gives her a prescription for a drug called Ablixa. While the pills do brighten her mood, they also cause Emily to get up in the middle of the night, walk around and even cook meals – all in her sleep. Brushed off as a mere side effect, Emily continues the regimen, but when her mid-slumber behavior turns violent, nobody knows who to blame – Dr. Banks, Ablixa or Emily herself.

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Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There’s been quite a bit of hype over this remake, hasn’t there? Well, apparently I’m one of few who’s never read Stieg Larsson’s books or seen the Swedish films and that proved to have a bit of an effect on my reception of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Perhaps if I were familiar with the source material, I’d have had an easier time following all the details, but, then again, this should be a review of David Fincher’s film and Fincher’s film alone, so my novice status makes this a purer evaluation.

After journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is convicted of libel and must forfeit his life savings, he’s contacted by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who wants Mikael to re-direct his investigating skills towards finding the individual responsible for his great-niece’s murder back in 1966. With no solid reason to turn down the offer, Mikael accepts and moves into a small cottage on the Vanger family’s island.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the young woman employed by Henrik’s lawyer to spy on Mikael before his hiring, is struggling with financial troubles. Parentless and a ward of the state, a court-ordered guardian maintains control over her finances and he refuses to hand over her cash without sexual favors. After putting her unconventional and incredibly resourceful skills to use to take care of that situation, she heads out to Hedestad to work as Mikael’s assistant.

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Review: Tanner Hall

Sure, it’s nice for a film to have a solid script paired with appropriate visuals, but sometimes, movies can get away with having the former, but not the latter. The bigger problem comes when you’re trying to achieve the reverse and mask weak writing with a pretty picture. In fact, in most instances, it’s impossible and Tanner Hall is certainly an example of one of those cases.

It’s another year at Tanner Hall boarding school. Fernanda, Kate and Lucasta (Rooney Mara, Brie Larson and Amy Ferguson) are back as usual, but this year, their trio picks up a fourth wheel, Fernanda’s childhood friend Victoria (Georgia King). While Kate and Lucasta are both easily swayed by Victoria’s power of persuasion, Fernanda’s onto her as she remembers Victoria’s darker side from their younger years.

On top of the rift in their friendships, each girl has an added trouble to manage. Victoria’s is the most deeply rooted, stemming from her mother’s drunken disapproval while Kate’s is a situation she creates herself, sexually taunting her teacher, Mr. Middlewood (Chris Kattan), until he finally takes the bait. Meanwhile, Lucasta’s having trouble managing her relationship with the local pizza boy, Hank (Shawn Pyfrom), while Fernanda kicks off one with a much older man, her mother’s friend’s husband, Gio (Tom Everett Scott).

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Interview: Tanner Hall Directors Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini

Sure, studying film in college and making shorts are great ways to build up your knowhow before diving into a full feature, but even then, committing to such an expansive project isn’t easy. Long time friends Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini took that exact route, both studying film at Brown University and then going on to make short films with the help of friends and family. Appropriately, the duo opted to take the plunge and go for their first feature with something that was near and dear to their hearts, a piece that not only somewhat represented their own experiences, but something they hope young women can related to as well, Tanner Hall.

The film stars Rooney Mara as Fernanda, a student returning to her boarding school, Tanner Hall, for another year. She’s thrown off when her best friends, Kate and Lucasta (Brie Larson and Amy Ferguson), aren’t the only ones to greet her upon her arrival. Turns out an old childhood friend, Victoria (Georgia King), is attending Tanner Hall for the first time. It’s been quite a while since she and Fernanda spent quality time together, but Fernanda still vividly remembers Victoria’s less than congenial behavior as a child. Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for Victoria to rock the boat and cause the protective walls of Tanner Hall to crumble around Fernanda.

While Fernanda and Victoria are at the center of this piece, both Kate and Lucasta have issues of their own and, between the four, there’s something for just about everyone to relate to. Even beyond the story, Tanner Hall required a significant amount of production work so von Furstenberg and Gregorini could create something that’s timeless and visually stimulating as well. With the film coming out September 9th, both von Furstenberg and Gregorini sat down to run through the entire process from their earlier experience making shorts, to developing the script, to working on their shot list and beyond. Hear all about it for yourself in the video interview below.

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Review: Youth in Revolt

Need to spice up your life a bit? Just create a supplementary persona to do it for you; it works for Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt. Join helplessly awkward Cera, suave and deviant Cera and a slew of other odd characters on a senseless, yet amusing ride to achieving sexual bliss. The movie doesn’t pack the same punch as the book, but still manages to create a wildly entertaining blend of teen love, awkwardness and vulgarity.

Nick Twisp (Cera) is a sexually frustrated teen from Oakland, California. His desperation to vanquish his virginity takes a back seat to other issues including his detestation for his mother’s live-in boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis) until he meets the girl of his dreams on a vacation to a trailer park in Ukiah. Of course, the trip eventually comes to an end and his budding romance with Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) must come to an end. Well, not if there’s anything Nick can do about it. Or should I say Francois Dillinger? Through his dashing and deviant alter ego, Nick does everything bad and unruly to be reunited with his love.

In just 90 minutes screenwriter Gustin Nash manages to squeeze in a significant amount of C.D. Payne’s 499-page book. Not in great detail of course, but Nash honors just about all of the key points any fan of the book would hope to see in the film version. At some point, the detail-heavy story sinks, yet, at other times, it keeps it firmly afloat. The highs and lows balance out making the overall experience mildly pleasant.

First, let’s get the bad out of the way. The plot is very thin. A number people, incidents and emotions are visited, but only vaguely. Even Nick’s relationship with Sheeni isn’t quite justified. His infatuation with her is blatant, but you’re never convinced that it’s true love and not merely a teen crush. Sheeni is in a similar situation. Her boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is MIA over the summer, so Nick fills the void. That part works but when the relationship transitions into something more serious you’re too busy wondering why Sheeni ditched her all-American man for meek and meager Nick.

Underdeveloped plot points plague the secondary characters as well. In the most critical condition is Sheeni’s brother, Paul (Justin Long). His sole purpose in the film is to initiate an especially humorous segment involving a mouthful of mushrooms. The scene certainly garners the biggest laugh, but doesn’t validate Paul’s inclusion in the film. Rather than throw in more characters, Nash should have paid more attention to the ones more necessary to include, like Lefty and Vijay (Erik Knudsen and Adhir Kalyan).

Even with the little attention they’re given, both of Nick’s buddies make an impact. The same goes for Nick’s father and his Oakland neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Steve Buscemi and Fred Willard). Cera is 110% the focus of the film, but even when secluded to milling around the background, both Buscemi and Willard get the job done. Sheeni’s parents contribute to some of the movie’s most memorable moments as well, particularly seeing M. Emmet Walsh with a face full of mashed potatoes. Sheeni, on the other hand, isn’t very memorable herself and it’s not Doubleday’s fault. In fact, she’s an absolutely natural on screen. She’s one of those actresses that could just stand there and smile and you’ll still find her character endearing.

Sheeni falls victim to the Michael Cera one-man show. Nick is meant to be the film’s main character, but that doesn’t mean every minute has to be about him. Scenes that should have been purporting other character’s feelings wind up being twisted and turned so Cera can squeeze in a few extra one-liners. Again, this is the fault of Nash. The role of Nick Twisp belonged to Michael Cera from the instant C.D. Payne penned the book. No, this isn’t Cera’s shinning moment that will show the world he’s capable of playing someone other than geeky and awkward, but that’s exactly what this role calls for. He does get the chance to stretch his legs a little when in Francois’ shoes, but it really only requires a deeper smug and a pair of aviators.

Youth in Revolt has a lot to pick on, but even with its faults, manages to come together for an immensely enjoyable experience. The dialogue is quick, monotone and, at times, will go over your head, but when a line hits, it hits hard. No life lessons to be learned here, but that’s no the point. C.D. Payne’s book is an utterly absurd love story and so is the movie. It’s colorful, lighthearted and pretty damn funny.

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