Back to School Part II #42: Keith (dir by Todd Kessler)


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Oh, fuck this movie.

Keith tells the story of Natalie Anderson (Elisabeth Harnois), who is seventeen and has her entire life ahead of her.  She’s smart.  She’s popular.  She’s talented.  She’s going to be her school’s valedictorian and she’s going to go to a great college on a tennis scholarship!  She even has a wonderful boyfriend, a South American exchange student named Rafael (Ignacio Serricchio).  It’s all great, right?  Except Natalie doesn’t ever have any fun!

But she’s got a new lab partner!  His name is Keith (Jesse McCartney).  Keith is sarcastic.  Keith is rebellious.  Keith doesn’t care if he’s popular.  He doesn’t worry about the future.  He lives in the moment!  And he’s determined to make sure that Natalie lives in the moment too!  Keith is also totally obnoxious but I think we’re supposed to find him charming.

It would help, of course, if Keith was actually an interesting iconoclast.  Instead, he’s a movie iconoclast.  He talks, acts, and looks like every single teenage iconoclast that we’ve ever seen in every teen film ever made.  As a result, he comes across as being totally inauthentic.  Jack Kerouac would have kicked him out of a moving car.

Now, it turns out that there’s a reason why Keith is so sarcastic.  He has a tragic secret.  But you know what?  It doesn’t mater.  Considering how serious his secret is, I hate to put it like that.  But if Keith proves anything, it’s that tragic things occasionally happen to total assholes.

In the end, we’re supposed to believe that Keith has taught Natalie how to enjoy life but, really, it just seems like Natalie is just imitating Keith.  And since Keith just came across like an imitation of every imitation of James Dean ever filmed, Natalie is a now an imitation of an imitation of an imitation.

Thanks a lot, Keith!

Anyway, Keith is on Netflix right now.  Look for it listed under films about brainwashing.

 

50 Shades of Obsession: The Boy Next Door and Bound


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Okay, I know.  It’s not Valentine’s Day yet.  But it will be soon.  50 Shades of Grey is opening tomorrow and I have a feeling that, come November, there will be hundreds of newborn babies being named Christian and Anastasia.  (And, in a few years, they’ll all have teenage babysitters named Bella…)

However, in case you can’t get into 50 Shades of Grey, here’s two other films that you could possibly watch on Valentine’s Day.  Much like 50 Shades, they both involve a woman having sex with a manipulative sociopath.  The Boy Next Door is still in theaters while Bound has just been released on video.

And they’re both reviewed below!
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The Boy Next Door, which was released towards the end of January, was the first film of 2015 that I was really excited about seeing.  That’s not because I thought that the film was going to be any good.  Instead, it was because I literally couldn’t watch any movie on Lifetime without seeing about a dozen commercials for The Boy Next Door.  The commercials promised a lot of cheap thrills and sordid melodrama.

Anyway, my BFF Evelyn and I saw The Boy Next Door on the weekend that it was first released and we had a great time watching it.  Though the film may start slow, it eventually becomes a minor triumph of so-bad-its-good filmmaking.  This is the type of film that you would normally expect to see going straight to cable but, somehow, it managed to get a theatrical release.  Making it all the more fun is the fact that it stars Jennifer Lopez, playing the type of role that you would normally expect to see Jennifer Love Hewitt or Elizabeth Berkley playing in a Lifetime movie.

Jennifer Lopez plays an AP English teacher who has recently separated from her adulterous husband (John Corbett).  When a teenage boy (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door and starts standing naked in front of his bedroom window, can you really be surprised that he and Lopez end up spending one night making torrid love?  Well, unfortunately, Guzman turns out to be a bit obsessive and, when the new school year begins, he suddenly shows up as one of Lopez’s students.  And you can probably guess what happens from there…

As directed by Rob Cohen, there’s really nothing surprising or interesting to be found in The Boy Next Door but we still had a lot of fun watching it, if just because it gave us an excuse to be snarky.  Ryan Guzman was undeniably hot and, wisely, Jennifer Lopez didn’t seem to be taking the film that seriously.  The great Kristin Chenoweth showed up as Lopez’s best friend and the film’s climax was appropriately over the top.

And, three weeks after seeing the film, Evelyn and I are still laughing about the scene where Guzman gives Lopez a gift, a copy of The Illiad.   Looking down at the book, J. Lo says, “Oh!  A first edition!”  Evelyn and I were just like, “Really?  So, that book’s from 760 B.C!?”  Seriously, did the character have a time machine?

Now, that would have made for an interesting movie!

Bound

If, for some reason, you can’t find a theater showing 50 Shades of Grey this weekend, I would suggest instead watching the Asylum’s mockbuster version, Bound.  

(Personally, I would have titled the film 50 Shades of Charisma but anyway…)

In Bound, Charisma Carpenter plays Michelle, a real estate broker who has an unsatisfying sex life and who finds herself regularly being bullied by her boss (Daniel Baldwin).  However, Michelle then meets Ryan (Bryce Draper), who is young, handsome, rich, and very much into domination  He even has a red room in his mansion where…

Oh wait, does this sound familiar?

Okay, so Bound pretty much tells the same story as 50 Shades of Grey but there are a few significant differences.  A big one is that, as played by Carpenter, Michelle is a much stronger character than Anastasia Steele.  For one thing, she’s not an innocent and naive girl being introduced to sex for the first time by a charming sociopath.  Instead, she’s significantly older than Ryan, which also brings an interesting dynamic to the film.  Michelle’s not a virgin, she doesn’t say things like “jeez” or “oh my,” and she’s capable of getting aroused without obsessing about what her inner goddess is doing as a result.  And, while her relationship with Ryan does head in a similar direction as Anastasia’s relationship with Christian Grey, Michelle never seems weak as a result.  Instead, she’s experimenting and there’s no way you can’t root for her as you watch the movie.

(Ryan, meanwhile, is ultimately portrayed as being the type of manipulative sociopath that Christian Grey would be in real life.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the film was Michelle’s relationship with her teenage daughter, Dara (Morgan Oberender).  The two actresses play off each other well and, from the minute they first interacted, I believed that they could be mother and daughter.  They’re relationship felt real and, as a result, you cared about both of them and found yourself hoping that things would work out for the best.  And, as a result, it made one of the film’s final plot twists feel very immediate and real.

Bound is the type of film that will be (and has been) dismissed by a lot of mainstream critics but it deserves more consideration than it’s been given.

Talking About Love: The Best of Me (dir by Michael Hoffman) and The One I Love (dir by Charlie McDowell)


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When I wrote my review of The Theory of Everything, I mentioned that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time made a brief, if important, appearance in another film released earlier this year.  That film, of course, was the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me.  

Now, I have to admit that The Best Of Me was one of those forgettable films that I kind of suspected most of our readers would not mind me never getting around to reviewing.  It came out two months ago, it got terrible reviews, and it didn’t do much business at the box office.  I didn’t even enjoy it and I’m the girl who always ends up defending the Twilight films whenever the boys here at the Shattered Lens start to make fun of them.  You can tell the impression that the Rest Of Me made on me by the fact that I just got the name wrong and I didn’t even bother to correct my mistake.

But here’s the thing.  January is rapidly approaching and, with January, comes my annual 16 worst films of the year list.  And chances are that The Best Of Me will appear on that list and I’d like to be able to link to a review.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that The Best Of Me is not a good film.  With the exception of The Notebook, the novels of Nicholas Sparks are not known for inspiring good films.  Instead, they are known for inspiring films about achingly pretty people who meet on the beach, have a melodramatic secret in the past, and ultimately end up falling in love.  And dying, of course.  Somebody always has to die.  The familiar Nicholas Sparks formula actually works pretty well when you’re the one reading his prose and visualizing the story in your head.  That’s largely because you can always imagine yourself as the heroine and maybe James Franco, Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Gosling as the hero.  But, when it comes to making movies out of his books, the end results are often so predictable and uninspired that the Nicholas Sparks drinking game had to be legally banned after scores of single women fell ill with alcohol poisoning.

(Yes, that actually did happen!  Google it! …. or don’t.  Actually, don’t.)

The Best Of Me is, without a doubt, the most Nicholas Sparksian Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever made.  Seriously, it has everything that you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks film and it presents it all so predictably that watching the movie is a bit like watching a checklist.  We’ve got two former high school lovers who are reunited 20 years later.  We’ve got melodrama that comes out of nowhere.  We’ve got multiple flashbacks.  We’ve got soft focus cinematography.  And, of course, we’ve got an ending that is meant to be both tragic and inspiring but it’s neither because, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, we already knew that the ending was going to try to be both tragic and inspiring.

What we don’t have is much chemistry between the two lead actors.  James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are both pretty in the way that people in Nicholas Sparks films often are but you never get the feeling that they have much affection for each other.  Even worse, in the flashbacks, their characters are played by two actors (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) who look absolutely nothing like James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan.  In particular, it’s impossible to believe that Luke Bracey could ever grow up to look like James Marsden.  I found myself half-expecting a huge twist where Marsden would reveal that he was an intruder.

And you know what?

That would have been a lot more interesting than what we got!  Somebody help me get in touch with Nicholas Sparks!  I’ve got some ideas for his next book!

The One I Love

For a far more memorable look at love and relationships, allow me to suggest The One I Love, a film that was obviously made for a lot less money than The Best of Me but which is also a lot more thought-provoking.

In The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the verge of breaking up.  At the suggestion of their friendly-yet-creepy marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they agree to spend a weekend at a beautiful but remote house.  Danson assures them that they will be the only couple at the house. Duplass and Moss agree and, at first, the weekend seems to be working.  However, soon both of them start having conversations and encounters that the other claims to not remember.  Duplass and Moss discover that they are not alone at the house…

And to tell you anything else about the plot would be unfair.  The One I Love is one of those films that works best when the viewer discovers its mysteries at the same time as the characters.  To spoil the film would be a crime.  Let’s just say that there is a twist that will leave you reconsidering everything that you’ve previously seen in the movie.

Beyond that twist, however, The One I Love works for the exact reason that The Best of Me does not.  Moss and Duplass have the chemistry that the leads in The Best Of Me lack.  You believe them both as individuals and as a couple.

So, when it comes time to consider what we talk about when we talk about love, check out The One I Love and leave The Best Of Me behind.