Let’s continue to get caught up with 6 more reviews of 6 more films that I saw in 2014!
At Middleton (dir by Adam Rodgers)
“Charming, but slight.” I’ve always liked that term and I think it’s the perfect description for At Middleton, a dramedy that came out in January and did not really get that much attention. Vera Farmiga is a businesswoman who is touring colleges with her daughter (Taissa Farmiga, who is actually Vera’s younger sister). Andy Garcia is a surgeon who is doing the same thing with his son. All four of them end up touring Middleton College at the same time. While their respective children tour the school, Vera and Andy end up walking around the campus and talking. And that’s pretty much the entire film!
But you know what? Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia are both such good performers and have such a strong chemistry that it doesn’t matter that not much happens. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t matter was much as you might think it would.
Hence, charming but slight.
Barefoot (dir by Andrew Fleming)
Well, fuck it.
Sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start a review but Barefoot really bothered me. In Barefoot, Scott Speedman plays a guy who invites Evan Rachel Wood to his brother’s wedding. The twist is that Wood has spent most of her life in a mental institution. Originally, Speedman only invites her so that he can trick his father (Treat Williams) into believing that Speedman has finally become a responsible adult. But, of course, he ends up falling in love with her and Wood’s simple, mentally unbalanced charm brings delight to everyone who meets her. I wanted to like this film because I love both Scott Speedman and Evan Rachel Wood but, ultimately, it’s all rather condescending and insulting. Yes, the film may be saying, mental illness is difficult but at least it helped Scott Speedman find love…
On the plus side, the always great J.K. Simmons shows up, playing a psychiatrist. At no point does he say, “Not my tempo” but he was probably thinking it.
Divergent (dir by Neil Burger)
There’s a lot of good things that can be said about Divergent. Shailene Woodley is a likable heroine. The film’s depiction of a dystopian future is well-done. Kate Winslet has fun playing a villain. Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort are well-cast. But, ultimately, Divergent suffers from the same problem as The Maze Runner and countless other YA adaptations. The film never escapes from the shadow of the far superior Hunger Games franchise. Perhaps, if Divergent had been released first, we’d be referring to the Hunger Games as being a Divergent rip-off.
However, I kind of doubt it. The Hunger Games works on so many levels. Divergent is an entertaining adventure film that features a good performance from Shailene Woodley but it’s never anything more than that. Considering that director Neil Burger previously gave us Interview with the Assassin and Limitless, it’s hard not to be disappointed that there’s not more to Divergent.
Gimme Shelter (dir by Ron Krauss)
Gimme Shelter, which is apparently based on a true story, is about a teenage girl named Apple (Vanessa Hudgens) who flees her abusive, drug addicted mother (Rosario Dawson). She eventually tracks down her wealthy father (Brendan Fraser), who at first takes Apple in. However, when he discovers that she’s pregnant, he demands that she get an abortion. When Apple refuses, he kicks her out of the house. Apple eventually meets a kindly priest (James Earl Jones) and moves into a shelter that’s run by the tough Kathy (Ann Dowd).
Gimme Shelter came out in January and it was briefly controversial because a lot of critics felt that, by celebrating Apple’s decision not to abort her baby, the movie was pushing an overly pro-life message. Interestingly enough, a lot of those outraged critics were men and, as I read their angry reviews, it was hard not to feel that they were more concerned with showing off their political bona fides than with reviewing the actual film. Yes, the film does celebrate Apple’s decision to keep her baby but the film also emphasizes that it was Apple’s decision to make, just as surely as it would have been her decision to make if she had chosen to have an abortion.
To be honest, the worst thing about Gimme Shelter is that it doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it shares its name with a great song by the Rolling Stones. Otherwise, it’s a well-done (if rather uneven) look at life on the margins. Yes, the script and the direction are heavy-handed but the film is redeemed by a strong performance from Vanessa Hudgens, who deserves to be known for more than just being “that girl from High School Musical.”
Heaven is For Real (dir by Randall Wallace)
You can tell that Heaven is For Real is supposed to be based on a true story by the fact that the main character is named Todd Burpo. Todd Burpo is one of those names that’s just so ripe for ridicule that you know he has to be a real person.
Anyway, Heaven Is For Real is based on a book of the same name. Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is the pastor of a small church in Nebraska. After Todd’s son, Colton, has a near death experience, he claims to have visited Heaven where he not only met a sister who died before he was born but also had a conversation with Jesus. As Colton’s story starts to get national attention, Todd struggles to determine whether Colton actually went to Heaven or if he was just having a hallucination.
You can probably guess which side the movie comes down on.
Usually, as a self-described heathen, I watch about zero faith-based movies a year. For some reason, I ended up watching three over the course of 2014: Left Behind, Rumors of War, and this one. Heaven is For Real is not as preachy (or terrible) as Left Behind but it’s also not as much fun as Rumors of War. (Rumors of War, after all, featured Eric Roberts.) Instead, Heaven Is For Real is probably as close to mainstream as a faith-based movie can get. I doubt that the film changed anyone’s opinion regarding whether or not heaven is for real but it’s still well-done in a made-for-TV sort of way.
The Other Woman (dir by Nick Cassavetes)
According to my BFF Evelyn, we really liked The Other Woman when we saw it earlier this year. And, despite how bored I was with the film when I recently tired to rewatch it, we probably did enjoy it that first time. It’s a girlfriend film, the type of movie that’s enjoyable as long as you’re seeing it for the first time and you’re seeing it with your best girlfriends. It’s a lot of fun the first time you see it but since the entire film is on the surface, there’s nothing left to discover on repeat viewings. Instead, you just find yourself very aware of the fact that the film often substitutes easy shock for genuine comedy. (To be honest, I think that — even with the recent missteps of Labor Day and Men, Women, and Children — Jason Reitman could have done wonders with this material. Nick Cassavetes however…) Leslie Mann gives a good performance and the scenes where she bonds with Cameron Diaz are a lot of fun but otherwise, it’s the type of film that you enjoy when you see it and then you forget about it.