Cedar Rapids. Directed by Miguel Arteta. “The Office” has more or less run its course, but Ed Helms could have a decent movie career ahead of him. I’m not sure exactly how varied he’ll be able to make his characters, but there are certain moments in both “The Office” and Cedar Rapids when Helms is capable of showing real depth. In this film, he plays a by-the-book insurance agent who meets up with a group of fellow agents (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) at the big multi-firm convention in Cedar Rapids. The rascally Reilly is perfect as the guy who turns Helms’ life around in a few short days, teaching him how to live a little. Other fine character actors and comedians are on hand, including Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Lennon, Rob Corddry, Mike O’Malley and Mike Birbiglia. Sigourney Weaver also has a small but pivotal role, although I did not like her as much as I did in the Ghostbusters movies and Galaxy Quest. (To be fair, her character in Cedar Rapids is not supposed to be likeable.) All in all, I recommend the film. It’s actually really funny and a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Friends with Benefits. Directed by Will Gluck. Who even gave the green light to this project? I understand that Justin Timberlake is a hugely popular entertainer and Mila Kunis also has her fans, but this movie is a waste of time. The film purports to be a “different” take on romantic comedy (much like this month’s Lola Versus), yet it follows that basic, tired formula anyway. Timberlake and Kunis fail to generate the chemistry you need to make such a ridiculous story believable. The screenplay barely exists; the dialogue sounds as though the actors were making it up as they went along and not in a good improvisatory way. Even the cast of supporting actors – Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Nolan Gould – can’t save it. The only possible reason I can think of for why anyone would want to see Friends with Benefits would be to see Timberlake’s naked backside (freely on display). Otherwise, don’t bother.
One Day. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Simply put, I thought that One Day was great. I know, I know, Anne Hathaway has made a bunch of sappy-looking romantic dramas and comedies. This one, however, is worth your time. Jim Sturgess, whom I had only previously seen in Across the Universe (you don’t even want to know how much I hated that exercise in tripe), proves himself to be a fine actor, giving Dexter depth and soul. Anne Hathaway is similarly excellent as Emma; I was not in the least bothered by her British accent. Patricia Clarkson and Ken Stott are touching as Sturgess’s parents; the scene when Sturgess carries Clarkson to her bed is especially emotional. I was pleasantly surprised by Rafe Spall’s performance (he’s younger than I thought, although I hadn’t realized that he’s Timothy Spall’s son). Spall is convincing and heartfelt, making his love for Hathaway feel genuine. Besides the acting, I loved the cinematography by Benoît Delhomme and the unforgettable score by Rachel Portman. Give this film a chance!
Take Shelter. Directed by Jeff Nichols. I suspect that the way I watched this film, which was on the Starz channel at 12:00 noon, was not the right choice. Although most of the events in Take Shelter occur during the day, it seems like a movie which is better viewed at night. In fact, most movies are better seen at night. Anyway, I have tried to justify my dislike of the film – and my unfortunate tendency to be easily distracted by the sunlight streaming in through my house’s windows and the sound of birds chirping outside – by the film’s dragging screenplay. I lost count of how many times my eyes drifted down to the clock on the cable box, checking to see how much of the film’s two hours had elapsed. Nothing was Michael Shannon’s fault; he is a fine actor and I enjoy his ability to play slightly off-kilter guys. Jessica Chastain, on the other hand, has failed to impress me both with this film and with an earlier work, The Tree of Life. When I watch her attempts to act, I don’t feel anything. Therefore, despite the less-than-perfect circumstances in which I watched Take Shelter, I must conclude that I probably would not have liked it any more if I had seen it in a movie theater or in a darkened house.
X-Men: First Class. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. With each film I see, I become more of a Michael Fassbender fan. He is clearly far better as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto than as Rochester (Jane Eyre) or Carl Jung (A Dangerous Method). I must admit I don’t know much about X-Men – I haven’t even seen the previous three movies – but this particular film was definitely a lot of fun and it has fairly few dull moments. James McAvoy brings charm and intellect to his portrayal of Charles Xavier, a character who might have otherwise been a tad insufferable. The other actors are not quite as memorable: Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Isabella Kravitz, Lucas Till, Caleb Landry Jones, Jason Flemyng, Edi Gathegi and Álex González, who make up the rest of the younger cast, don’t make incredible impressions, despite being likeable enough. Lawrence and Hoult are the only ones who have developed personalities, or as close as they could get to developing. Kevin Bacon, an actor I have associated with villainy ever since The River Wild, does a creditable job as the main baddie. Don’t forget the underrated Oliver Platt, either; his character is only known as “Man in Black Suit,” but he is always a welcome presence onscreen.