Review: ‘Take This Waltz’…actually, please don’t take anything at all.

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley

Have you ever had that moment where you start something you think is going to be great, and you plough through the entire thing believing that it’s going to get better, and then at the end you wish you could have gotten that time back?

No? Well I have.

That is the essence of Take This Waltz (2011). If I have ever been so sure of something in my life, it’s that I don’t want you to waste one hour and 55 minutes of your life. It’s hard to find someone who can take talented actors like Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan and make their performances so terribly awkward that it’s hard to sit through one minute without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

Margot (Michelle Williams) is a pamphlet writer for national and historic parks and is (allegedly) happily married to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogan). On a business trip, Margot meets an attractive man Daniel (Luke Kirby) who was at the same park and sat next to her on the plane ride home. Daniel happens to be Margot’s neighbor. He is also a rickshaw driver and an artist who is afraid to showcase his work. Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) is Lou’s sister and hangs out with Margot. Margot falls in love with Daniel over the course of the film and must figure out her life.

I honestly felt I missed something about the movie because I dislike it so much. I think the overall message of the film, if approached in at least a neutral manner, would be that life is fleeting and you need to appreciate it for what it is, and live in the present. However, the way that director Sarah Polley approached this message was that you need to be as selfish as humanly possible, and you need to be a despicable human being.

When nothing about the movie makes sense.

I love Michelle Williams. She has been a fantastic actor in every film I have seen her in (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, Shutter Island), not because she is a powerhouse actor, but because she is so subtle and understated in her performances. Seth Rogan is also a surprisingly talented dramatic actor; 50/50 is a great example of his versatility and ability to handle comedy and drama with ease. Even Sarah Silverman has the ability to switch between her rough humor and a sense of seriousness.

For some reason, when these actors are all put together on one set, the resulting product is a nightmare. The actors had no chemistry with each other; the “quirky” romance going on between Margot and Lou was forced and uncomfortable. The supposed passion between Margot and Daniel was nonexistent. Every time they were together, I was left squirming in my seat, praying that the scene would end.

The director’s idea of passionate romance, apparently.

The entire film was a neurotic mess. The dialogue was extremely non sequitur; the actors seemingly did not realize how to effectively deliver their lines, or rather, the screenplay was merely a poor writing job and had dialogue that didn’t make sense. Whole scenes could be eliminated and the plotline would have been the same. Sarah Silverman’s character didn’t even need to be in the film. There was entirely too much color in the movie as well. This seems like a trivial complaint, but the cinematographer’s use of color was overwhelming and made every scene confusing and muddled.

Most of the film was pointless. It merely told the story of unremarkable people who only wished to live for themselves; like Seinfeld but not funny or clever. I can appreciate a film that poses realist situations, but Take This Waltz created a series of events that could have made a compelling story, and instead turned it into a sequence of actions performed by self-serving, artificially creative people.

If you’re the kind of person that enjoys the allure of car wrecks – that feeling of disaster But You Just Have To Watch…watch Take This Waltz. For the rest of you who don’t like train wrecks, my advice to you is to just avoid it.

Rating: C-

Official Trailer

 

 

Review: ‘The Giant Mechanical Man’ is not quite a giant of a film

Written and Directed by Lee Kirk

Written and Directed by Lee Kirk

 

There is a certain quote from the film that I believe forms my reaction to the movie: “I never believed in you, Tim. I just thought you were charming.” This seems harsh, I know. Let me explain myself.

Yeah, I said it!

The Giant Mechanical Man (2012) is about thirty-somethings Janice (Jenna Fischer, The Office), a recently fired temp, and Tim (Chris Messina), a street performer, as they struggle to find direction in adult life. Both Janice and Tim find jobs at the local zoo; they are desperate to find a job so that they can prove to the people in their life that they are on the right track. Janice and Tim connect with each other because they both feel lost in a world that assumes that by their age, they have their life figured out.

The framework for a good movie is all in place. The premise of the film is pretty interesting – they’re both directionless zooworkers, Tim being the title character – the Giant Mechanical Man. There is even a good assembly of a cast – Chris Messina, in my viewing experience, is a rather versatile actor. Jenna Fischer is great as the soft-spoken love interest. I even liked Topher Grace, who plays the douchebag motivational speaker Doug (a little too well…). The actors had good chemistry together, most notably between Chris and Jenna. This was not the problem.

The movie, which is a quirky indie romantic comedy, definitely has the faux-indie feel. Think ‘poor’ people living in spacious loft apartments and a soundtrack that would have all the vinyl-loving kids in coffee shops swooning. I’m not sure if this was a poorly researched attempt to make a rom com attractive to the art house crowd, or if director Lee Kirk actually believed that the kinds of life portrayed in the film are actually real.

I think the problem was mainly in the screenplay. The dialogue between characters seemed as though it was written by a fifteen-year-old who was trying to put themselves in a deeply mature existential crisis, but didn’t quite have the words to describe their feelings.

Basically the entire movie.

 

I don’t have a problem with the premise of the movie. Finding direction in one’s life can be very difficult at times, especially when society is so fast-paced. The film is a good reflection on the arrested development of Western society’s young adults – we are told at such an early age that we have to have a definite syllabus of our life, and when we question our blueprint, we feel like outsiders in a world that seems to have it all together.

The audience identification in the film is very accurate, I admit. I am not in my thirties, but I know that my lack of a five-year-plan for myself sets me apart from my peers. What will I do with my life? The Giant Mechanical Man makes the point that there is no strain to know exactly what you want in life, but that you know what you don’t want. That is what experiences, mistakes, and being alive are for: to learn. That is not a cheesy message – that is reality.

Rating: B-

Official Trailer

Review: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’, but your roller coaster of emotions are

Directed by Colin Trevorrow Written by Derek Connolly

Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Derek Connolly

Since the popularity of Juno (2008) propelled the quirky indie genre into the mainstream, there has been a difficult distinction between truly original and merely mediocre. Many films cranked out by the ‘indie’ factory claim imagination, but instead are reproductions of the same “weird is the new cute” formula (cough, Zooey Deschanel, cough), which purely cause an oversupply of Manic Pixie Dream Girls who teach faux-hipster boys that all girls need to be loved is a Smiths mix tape and left-over teenage angst.

Diane Keaton did it best in Annie Hall (1977); however, and I declare this with upmost sincerity, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), is a truly unique endeavor by director Colin Trevorrow. Darius (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) is a college graduate/magazine intern with a difficult past. The magazine receives an advertisement reading “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”

One of the magazine’s writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson, New Girl) suggests investigating the story. Jeff brings along Darius and another intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to do the actual work, while he searches for an old high school love. Darius, who herself is extremely curious about the ad, meets the supposed time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass, The Mindy Project), and is immediately fascinated by him. The film follows Darius as she tries to determine what is true; with Kenneth, with time-traveling, and with her own future.

This movie is truly fascinating in so many layers. There is enough going on throughout the entire film to keep you entertained; no minute is unnecessary, and every minute is spectacular. The acting is solid and understated – I really appreciated how the entire cast seemed to step back from trying to make a big deal of their own performances, so that the film as a whole could succeed.

We officially approve of subtle acting!

We officially approve of subtle acting!

I admit, I am a total fan girl of Aubrey Plaza. Not many pretty girls can successfully pull off deadpan, but Plaza does it so fantastically; she is the anchor that keeps the bizarre happenings throughout the film grounded in a hilariously sardonic reality. Jake Johnson, although I am not familiar with his television talent, pulls off raging-douchebag-with-secret-deep-emotions extraordinarily well. Mark Duplass is just plain cute as a crazy guy obsessed with martial arts and science fiction.

I was wary of underground references and burger-phones at the beginning of the film, and save for a scene where every character is wearing horn-rimmed glasses (an apparent requirement for all indie films), the dialogue was extremely natural and genuine. The screenwriter, Derek Connolly, realized a clever script does not equal a gratingly hipster script. I was thankful that this film was not part of the contest to cram as many 90s TV show references or underground bands as possible into two hours.

Safety Not Guaranteed is like the perfect girlfriend (or boyfriend, because duh): laid-back, intelligent, unique, and the perfect balance of exciting and insightful. I’m not the kind of person that tries to guess the plot before the film is over, but I can say that this one had interesting twists that were unexpected and refreshing. I’m also the kind of person that is really discriminatory with movies, and I am so glad that I was not disappointed with this one. The movie depicts an ambitious adventure, and the viewing experience itself was a fantastic and whimsical journey.

Rating: A

Official Trailer