MOVIES: 'Ides of March,' '50/50' and 'Dream House'
Published 1:20 pm, Friday, October 7, 2011
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE IDES OF MARCH"
Timely and thought-provoking, writer/director/producer/star George Clooney's skeptical dissection of American political culture should prove disillusioning, even to the most naïve and optimistic.
Presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney) is a charming, charismatic idealist, bearing more than a passing resemblance to disgraced former Sen. John Edwards. That's coincidental since the screenplay was written long before Edwards' scandal involving infidelity and misuse of campaign funds. Indeed, the idea which grew into a play, "Farragut North," was conceived by Beau Willimon, who worked for 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, and was later amplified into a savvy, jargon-laden script by Clooney and his long-time collaborator Grant Heslov. Clooney admits that the ironic theme really took root for him after his father, journalist/TV host Nick Clooney, lost in his bid for a Kentucky congressional seat.
Disguised as a dramatic thriller, this character-driven parable of loyalty, betrayal and revenge, unfolds during a crucial Democratic presidential primary in Ohio, pitting Morris against Sen. Pullman (Michael Mentell). While Morris respects his experienced campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he relies on his 30-year-old media strategist, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a hotshot who spins ruthless reporters like Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), trolling for a scoop on a potentially game-changing Morris endorsement by influential Sen. Thompson (Jeffrey Wright).
But problems arise when cocky, ambitious Meyers takes a meeting with Pullman's campaign manager, deviously diabolical Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who convinces him the Cincinnati numbers are fluctuating and tries to convince him to switch sides. Later, Meyers' dalliance with slinky, seductive intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), daughter of the DNC chairman, exposes seedy complications in the candidate's treacherous sprint for tactical advantage.
Ensemble performances are strong, particularly Gosling's, and the Shakespearean title refers a soothsayer's warning -- "Beware the Ides of March" -- referring to March 15, 44 B.C., when Julius Caesar was assassinated by a conspiracy of Roman senators.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Ides of March" is a cynical, sophisticated 7, sliding down the slippery slope of contemporary corruption.
What are the odds of this poignant serio-comedy succeeding? Just about the same as the survival odds that 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) faces when he's diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Sensitive, seemingly healthy Adam works as an NPR producer and regularly jogs around his hometown of Seattle. But, occasionally, his back aches and he suffers night sweats, which leads him to seek medical care. When an oncologist coldly informs him that a large, malignant tumor is growing along his spine, scared Adam's reaction is entirely plausible: "I'm going to throw up," he says.
Sharing Adam's shock, dread and bewilderment are his raunchy buddy, Kyle (Seth Rogen); his sexy, self-absorbed artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bruce Dallas-Howard), and his anxious mother (Anjelica Huston), who is caring for his Alzheimer's-afflicted father (Serge Houde). Predictably, they each react differently, creating individually frustrating subplots. So Adam's greatest support comes from Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick), the earnest 24-year-old novice psycho-therapist assigned to his case.
Director Jonathan Levine ("The Wackness") elicits engaging, endearing performances from the entire ensemble, including the cranky curmudgeons he meets at his first chemotherapy session who get him high on macaroons baked with medical marijuana. But most memorable is the genuine friendship -- or loyal "bromance," as it's called nowadays -- between Gordon-Levitt ("500 Days of Summer," "Inception") and Rogen ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Funny People").
And now for the rest of the story ... when screenwriter Will Reiser was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2005, his real-life buddies Seth Rogen and producer Evan Goldberg urged him to keep a journal and write a script about how people in their 20s deal with the concept of mortality, a crisis they've never confronted before. Six years in remission, Reiser discovered that writing forced him to confront and process all the painful memories. Many in the audience may have the same reaction. Since my first husband died of cancer, I know I did.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "50/50" scores an emotionally cathartic 8, ending on a convincingly upbeat note.
Without doubt, the greatest disappointment of the week is this lame wannabe-psychological thriller that unwisely reveals its things-are-not-what-they-seem twist in the Coming Attractions trailer.
Successful book editor Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) decides to quit his publishing job in Manhattan and move to seemingly idyllic suburbia with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two young daughters (real-life sisters Taylor Geare and Claire Astin Geare) to work on his first novel, only to discover that a family was brutally murdered in their house five years earlier. The father, Peter Ward, was suspected of the horrific killings but he was never convicted and has since been released from psychiatric care.
To augment the bucolic creepiness, a strange, sinister man (Elias Koteas) is skulking around and Goth teenagers hold candlelit rituals in the Atentons' basement. Their skittish neighbor, Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), obviously knows more than she's willing to share but she's battling with her angry ex-husband, Jack (Marton Csokas), for custody of their daughter Chloe (Rachel Fox).
"I feel safe when you're here," blissfully ignorant Libby sighs.
What is baffling is why two-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot," "In the Name of the Father," "In America") ever agreed to direct David Loucka's ludicrous, derivative script which tosses together familiarly generic elements from "The Shining," "The Amityville Horror," "The Others," "Shutter Island," even "The Sixth Sense." Rumor has it that Sheridan battled with Morgan Creek producer James G. Robinson continuously on the set and subsequently lost control of the film. And when Morgan Creek's editors unevenly re-cut it, they created the spoiler trailer that gave away the plot's essential secret.
Another unsolved mystery is why Craig inexplicably keeps stripping off his shirt in the middle of a snowy, windy, New England winter. By far the most interesting aspect of this film is that its co-stars, Craig and Weisz, fell in love on the set, split from their respective longtime partners and subsequently got married.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Dream House" is a tiresome, tedious 3. It's destined to foreclosure.