“Last Night” – One Night Can Change Everything

So here’s the thing: I have an affinity for dramas about disintegrating relationships. I also have a keen attraction to Keira Knightley movies. “Last Night” happens to fall into both of these categories.

"Last Night"

Keira Knightley & Sam Worthington star in "Last Night"

Michael (Sam Worthington) travels to Philadelphia on a business trip, with the very alluring Laura (Eva Mendes). In the meantime, Joanna (Knightley), who is supposed to be working on her novel, encounters her old flame, Alex (Guillaume Canet), who she is clearly and desperately still in love with.

The film has a lingering feeling to it. Even though the action lies more in their moral decisions, “Last Night” inevitably leaves the audience with a key question. Which is worse: an emotional betrayal or a physical betrayal? And is any relationship safe when doubt comes into play?

The film doesn’t try to answer these questions nor does it allow its characters to reach the questions at all. Instead, the film follows Joanna and Michael through their encounters with these two temptations and how they handle them.

Keira Knightley’s every expression plays perfectly, and it is fortunate, for Worthington delivers a stoic performance, assumedly meant to keep the audience guessing. Just watch this clip, in which Joanna first suspects something going on between her husband and Laura. There’s only a little dialogue in this instance, and the camera remains on Joanna’s face, reliant upon Knightley to show her doubt.

Additionally, in one scene, Joanna rubs lotion on her legs and fixes her make-up to perfection, and as she pauses to stare at herself in the mirror, you can see the doubt and guilt filter across her face. She never tries to look nice for her husband anymore; even in the first scene, when the couple is running late for a party, she merely throws on a plain outfit. Yet, at the first sign of attention from Alex, Joanna immediately dresses to the nines. It is one of those moments that resonates; one of those moments where you know that one night could change everything.

The score also manages to sync well with the action at times, but for the most part, the continuous loop of a single note on a piano being played comes off like “Last Night” is meant to be a suspense film, which is far from the truth.

Unfortunately, while “Last Night” poses a rousing plot, the execution is too slow and relies too much on the audience being able to read the actors’ expressions instead of relying on the dialogue. Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes carry the other half of the story, and I found myself questioning why Laura, Mendes’ character, would think cheating was really worth it.

As the pair provocatively swim half-naked at the hotel, Laura relates her own story to Michael. In the past, she stumbled upon photos of her ex-boyfriend and another woman. After fighting like “animals,” as she puts it, they decided to stay together and it was for the better.

Clearly, the tryst nearly destroyed her past relationship. Why would Laura go after someone else’s?

The first-time writer and director, Massy Tadjedin, tries to capture the nuances of relationships, but the film honestly required more meaningful dialogue amongst the four main characters.

Alex’s friend, Truman (Griffin Dunne), interrogates Joanna at one point, callously asking where her husband is, if she is going to tell Michael of her night with Alex, and other intrusive questions that a normal acquaintance would never dare to ask. Tajedin tries to explain this by having Truman repeat, “I sometimes go too far,” but it comes off as a blatant way of using Truman as Joanna’s conscience.

“Last Night” has its moments, and it is, for many, a relatable story. Usually we’re told the story of the divorce, of the fighting, or of the rebounding, but this one drops off before any of that happens, leaving you to wonder, “Will Michael and Joanna tell each other the truth?” and, “Can they move beyond this?”

Although the film came off lacking in the end, at least it was 90 minutes of staring at beautiful people and a fine conversation starter. Trust me, not everyone agrees on whether an emotional or physical affair is worse in relationship. Just ask.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier… Well that sucked.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Nice glasses, Oldman

The 2011 film, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is a revamped version of a six-hour mini-series, which was adapted from a 1974 novel by John le Carré.  After watching the film, it seems a two hour movie does not suffice to tell the story. Garnering a fair amount of attention, the film has racked up Oscar nominations for the score, the script, and for Gary Oldman’s performance. Unfortunately, even good ol’ Gary Oldman couldn’t save Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan penned the script, and the plot was, to say the very least, dense and twisted. When one takes a look at the screenwriters’ past work, which includes everything from The Men Who Stare at Goats, to How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, to a few other random movies that never hit the spot, it’s no wonder this one failed to impress me. The screenplay came off disjointed and confusing; the material was clearly difficult to work with and better suited to a longer film or novel.

From what I could tell,  an agent nicknamed “Control” brings George Smiley (played by Oldman) out of retirement to track down a mole in British Intelligence. The fact that the British Intelligence was referred to as “The Circus” only managed to convolute things, especially with code-names floating around for several people and operations. (And on that note, let me know if you find out who “Karla” is in this film.)

That was about the extent of the plot I actually understood. Tom Hardy also held a whole other storyline that tangented off of the main one, as a field agent in hiding. Hardy’s performance resonated more than Oldman’s, who seemed to spend most of his time looking thoughtful or confused and saying very few lines. How did he get this nomination again?

Continuing with the performances, Colin Firth played Haydon, a bisexual man who has an affair with Smiley’s wife and also ends up practically in tears by the end, verbally duking it out with Smiley. He put forth more effort into his acting than Oldman or anyone else, even if I had no idea what he was actually working toward.

The film was well enough directed by the Swede Tomas Alfredson, except for the fact that the film moves at a glacial pace, dragging us along a long-winded journey until I stopped caring about the destination. Many times, scenes wordlessly led into the next scene, lingering on moments, like when “Control” is shown lying next to his bed. Was “Control” one of Smiley’s close friends? Was he a missing piece? Were we supposed to be upset for his character? The answers weren’t so clear.

Perhaps Alfredson was trying to capture what the “spy-life” was actually like, instead of trying to make a fast-paced action flick to appeal to the general public.  This obviously isn’t a Mission: Impossible film or anywhere near a Bourne movie. In retrospect, it would take much time to hunt down a mole in British Intelligence; these are brilliant men, not sloppy criminals. The problem is, Alfredson forgets to inject Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with the energy an espionage movie needs. When the camera pans over Smiley’s face during his moment of realization – the grand moment when he realizes who the mole is – I found myself not having the same, “It just clicked,” feeling.

Alfredson managed to capture a grungy version of the early 1970s, rather dark and dreary with every shot, typically looking like they used natural lighting. Additionally, some scenes felt like they were flushed through a smoke-filter, adding to the gritty feel of the film. The cinematography was as slick as any other drama, but it certainly didn’t stand out as something to be noted. The costumes were spot-on; if the fur lined jackets, the fluffy, floppy hair, and Oldman’s giant glasses didn’t tip the audience off that it was the 70’s, you’d be rather lost the first time the Cold War is mentioned in the film. I’d say all these features affected the storyline, but seeing as the only thing I managed to understand were tense relations, I can’t say that for sure either.

Overall, the film came off emotionless. There was never a moment of hanging suspense, of feeling sucked into the story and moving with Smiley as he attempted to find the source of the mole.  Instead, the plot flies left and right, motives are unclear, and the film lays down clues without ever wrapping them up. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes off as an attempt at a character-driven film, but it never quite makes it there. These actors tried to save the film, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is beyond rescuing, at least when it comes down to comprehending the actual plot.

Perhaps Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy requires a second viewing; perhaps the performances are the one feature of the film that makes it stand out in a sea of movies. Maybe Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was just a plain, old bad movie that somehow caught the attention of Hollywood because of Gary Oldman.

Flashback to Boy Meets World – Yeah, I went there.

Starting in 1993, “Boys Meets World” worked its way into TGIF’s line-up alongside shows like “Sabrina” and “Two of a Kind.” While I missed the first few seasons, I caught up in later years when the episodes aired on Disney Channel and ABC Family, and others followed “Boy Meets World” from the very beginning, when the audience was introduced to a mouthy sixth grader named Corey Matthews.

The plot of the first episode revolves around Corey understanding the meaning of love and priorities. We learn that Corey and his teacher, Mr. Feeny, butt heads again and again. Corey’s older brother, Eric, is the typical teenage boy, busying himself with girls, and Corey’s younger sister, Morgan, acts as an additional comic relief. His parents, although receiving little attention in this episode, come off as the perfect, loving mom and dad.

Mr. Feeny grows frustrated with Corey when he refuses to value the story of Romeo and Juliet. After Mr. Feeny lectures Corey about the power of love, replies sarcastically like this:

Boy Meets World 1x1

Are you aware..?

He makes a valid point; I certainly didn’t read Romeo and Juliet until my freshmen year of high school nor did I fully appreciate it then.

Of course, this is a far more sophisticated show that expects its viewers to accept that Mr. Feeny can (and will) teach Corey life lessons, whether he likes it or not.

After a brief stint of living in his tree house, angered that Eric ditched him for a girl and that his parents refused to back him up, Corey realizes that Mr. Feeny was right. Love is a potent force. It brought the Matthews family together, and Corey had to realize that, as his mom pointed out, priorities change, especially with age.

While that’s all true, I honestly was surprised Amy and Alan didn’t even make Eric apologize to Corey for ditching him. He made a promise to his little brother, to take him to a Phillies game, and then ended up swapping Corey for a chick. Real sweet, Eric.

However, Amy points out that Corey and his dad used to play football after school everyday, but as Corey grew older and made friends, he spent less time playing with his dad. People grow up. Priorities change.

In truth, I suppose that’s the message of Boy Meets World as a whole show: everyone grows up.

As someone who knows the later episodes better, features of the pilot struck out at me. For instance, Eric comes off as this super-smooth, ladies’ man. By the final season, Eric is single and comes off as a bumbling idiot. I’m not sure whether I would have preferred a womanizing Eric or a dumb Eric.

Topanga and Shawn, Corey’s best friends, were also lacking in this episode. Topanga had yet to make her appearance, and Shawn had all of two lines, merely propping up Corey.

Corey is also a very cheeky kid, as well as a troublemaker, when in later seasons he acts like a complete goody-goody.

It’s strange to step back to the first season when I already know the evolution of the characters.

The real irony comes from the fact that Feeny tries to teach Corey the meaning of love, when Corey is one of the only characters who finds true, all-consuming love in “Boy Meets World.”

“Planned Parenthood can suck it!”

I stand by Planned Parenthood

Okay, so that’s not an actual quote from someone, but it got your attention, didn’t it?

This past month, Susan G. Komen, a leading breast cancer charity, cut ties with Planned Parenthood, due to the organization’s abortion services. Shortly afterward, when outcries emerged, The Komen Foundation flipped its decision, saying they support Planned Parenthood but requesting its funding not go toward abortions.

The headline immediately caught my attention, partially because Susan G. Komen is tied with Zeta Tau Alpha’s philanthropy (which is my fraternity) and also because Planned Parenthood has come into question before.

Last year, when the government argued over the budget, the deal-breaker was Planned Parenthood: to fund or not to fund, that was the question.

“Why?” You might ask.

Once again, the issue of abortion spread out before citizens.

Let’s look at the quick facts.

Contrary to what Arizona Senator Jon Kyl claimed last year, less than 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services actually concern abortions; not only that but very few clinics across the country even perform abortions.

The other 97% of services? Those consisted of contraception, treatment, and tests for cancer, venereal diseases, and other women’s health services.

So should it really be such an issue? (Not to mention a repetitive one.)

Not in my book. When one in five women visit the health centers across the United States for various, other services, abortion would be the last of my worries.

Donors seemed to agree as well. After The Komen Foundation announced their decision, within 24 hours, $650,000 flooded into Planned Parenthood’s laps, which was practically enough to cover last year’s Komen funding. While this may seem beneficial to the organization, who’s to say those donors could continue to grant the same support in the coming years?

I rarely get riled up about issues, but Planned Parenthood hits a nerve again and again, and I was glad to hear that The Komen Foundation changed its mind.

In the future, hopefully Planned Parenthood doesn’t come into question.

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/susan-g-komen-planned-parenthood-funding-decision-sparks-donation-spike-strong-reactions/2012/02/02/gIQAPLqokQ_story.html

http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/

 

Oh, Captain, My Captain

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is everything a superhero film should be: the film’s plot remains tight and cohesive, only one villain reigns in the universe, and the hero touches our hearts from the time he steps on screen as a scarily scrawny man to the time when he saves the world from a force more frightening than the Nazis. Additionally, the film calls back to previous Marvel films, even working in Tony Stark’s father from the Iron Man fame.

While he bashes away at villains with his invincible, patriotic shield and proves himself worthy of his title, Captain America (Chris Evans) is not without flaws. Digitally diminished to a small frame in the early scenes, when all Steve Rogers longs to do is defeat the bullies, the adjustments are noticeable, especially since Chris Evans’ head seems to sit uneasily upon his narrow shoulders. Evans delivers his role with confidence, however, and since the audience knows he will be showing off a six-pack in no time flat, this aspect can be overlooked.

The film is set in the forties, when Captain America rose to fame, and although the director, Joe Johnston, makes a good effort, I can’t help feeling like the film isn’t so much set in the forties, as it is just a bunch of characters dressed in forties’ clothes. The fact that lasers and television screens are worked into the plot from the enemy’s lines doesn’t help things. I could almost overlook such a detail, (Afterall, I’m watching a superhero film, not to mention I thoroughly enjoyed “Thor.”) but the fact is, television wasn’t invented until the 1950s, folks. So my imagination doesn’t quite reach to that extent.

Hugo Weaving plays our villain, who looks like a man until he promptly rips his face off – literally. It was a nice build-up, but I wanted to be told more about Red Skull by the end. Hayley Atwell plays the love-interest, or rather, the “almost” love interest; the audience never really sees a fully fleshed out relationship, and boy is it a pity, because Miss Atwell possesses some fine acting chops she didn’t get to show.

I recommend checking out Captain America, if nothing else for the additional set-up for the future “Avengers” film.

Tommy Lee Jones and lesser-known Sebastian Stan also co-star.

Grey’s Anatomy: When to Give Up

Despite ridiculous advertising calling practically every episode of Grey’s Anatomy the most, “life-altering” one yet, the twelfth episode was a real knockout.

The theme of this episode: “A lost cause just means try a little harder next time.”

In this episode, Lexi partnered with Derek when they operated on an eleven year old boy with a tumor clinging to his spine. The kid was the definition of a lost cause, but despite that fact, Lexi fought Derek over his decision to give up. In one of the few instances on Grey’s, the mighty surgeons of Seattle Grey had to let this one go. I couldn’t help but wonder if Meredith had been working with Derek, she would have pushed harder to make him fix the boy.

The other case shown in the episode featured Nia Vardalos, who plays a woman with liver failure, whose selfish sister frankly annoyed the hell out of me. I felt the writers could have given Vardalos much better written material. Overall, that story was a bust.

Perhaps what saved the episode was the last pivotal scene, when Owen and Cristina finally clashed over their relationship, leaving the question of whether or not their marriage will survive.

Earlier, Teddy teamed up with Cristina to charge through one surgery after another to blind her own misery. Owen sent both home, only to find they had taken over a thrilling surgery. Although it was fun to watch the duo, Teddy seems to deal with her grief rather inconsistently. She continues to plow through surgeries, but one week she’s having Cristina recite what happened to her husband before his death until she is clouded with body-wracking tears and the next she’s accepting “widow casseroles” awkwardly and pretending like nothing happen.

After being defied, Owen confronts Cristina, but as he goes on about the liability of the hospital, the fight boils down to what’s really bothering Owen: He still won’t let the abortion go. The episode ends on Cristina’s stoic face, as well as Meredith’s heady voiceover, asking when it’s time to just throw in the towel.

Through all the dramatic fights and drama, there is always an injection of witty banter in Grey’s Anatomy, which brings me back to the show a lot of times. The humor in this one mostly came from Calli and Arizona, who teased Mark Sloane about not being able to say, “I love you” to his girlfriend, Julia, of three months. Although, in TV terms, three months does seem a little soon, especially when we’ve seen all of four scenes featuring Julia. It was definitely worth Calli’s indulgent impression of Mark, however.

The episode also set up a definite future love triangle among Jackson, Karev, and April when April suggests the three live together. Here’s to rooting for Jackson.

Additionally, Webber’s part in the episode successfully yanked out your heart when he sang to his Alzheimer’s suffering wife to calm her down from an episode. It was a familiar device – finding something to ground the patient – but it definitely worked as shown below.

Finally, and I must mention this, the one thing I will always criticize about “Grey’s Anatomy” is the overdramatic music. The dialogue and actors speak for themselves, and the crescendos come off terribly.

Other than that, Grey’s Anatomy met my expectations, and I look forward to seeing how each story plays out over the rest of the season.