Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

safety-not-guaranteed-poster1Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, William Hall Jr.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Expectations: Moderately high.

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It would be easy to screw up a film based on something as flimsy as a classified ad, but Safety Not Guaranteed not only succeeds, it enchants. In 1997, an ad appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine that read as follows:

“Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box … You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

Now you see why I had to see this film. Not only is that one of the greatest ads I’ve ever read, it’s such an incredible film premise. Unfortunately, the ad isn’t real (it was written by the magazine’s senior editor), but in the world of Safety Not Guaranteed the premise is taken seriously. Well… as serious as a movie with such an absurd premise can be. There’s lots of comedy throughout the film, too, but unlike a lot of “dramedies,” Safety Not Guaranteed is actually compelling on both levels.

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You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Starring Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel, Ewen Bremner, Neil Jackson, Celia Imrie

Directed by Woody Allen

Expectations: Moderate, heard nothing but bad things, but I love Woody’s films.


You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is not one of the high points of Woody Allen’s filmography of the last few years. It got lots of bad reviews and I have yet to talk to a single person who liked it. After watching it, I kinda get why everyone is against it, but it reminded me a lot of the Louis CK “Miracle of Flight” joke. People complain about the minutia of their horrible flying experiences, but never remember that they are basking in the glory of the miracle that is human flight! You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is like this, where you can complain about parts of it, but at the end of the day, it’s still as gorgeously shot and well-crafted as any other Woody Allen picture and I for one am always happy to bask in his cinematic glory.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger follows a large set of varied people unhappy with their current situations. Anthony Hopkins has a late life crisis and leaves his wife of forty years, Gemma Jones. Their daughter Naomi Watts is married to struggling writer Josh Brolin, but he’s infatuated with the woman across the way and Watts is falling for her employer. The film hinges around these strained relationships and the varied ways they go, but the heart of the film is Gemma Jones’s character and her newfound faith in fortune-telling.

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Mini-Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, Kunal Sharma

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Expectations: None. This is one of those movies I’m curious about only because of hype.


The kids may be all right, but the parents need some help. When the curious kids of two lesbian mothers (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) contact their sperm donor father, it widens the simmering rift between Bening and Moore and causes everyone involved to reevaluate. Some other stuff happens along the way too, but that’s basically it. Thankfully, The Kids Are All Right features some great, witty dialogue that livens up the entire process. The frank depictions and conversations surrounding sexuality were especially enjoyable, but your mileage may vary depending on your sensitivity to that kind of stuff.

The film is adequately filmed, but could have benefited from more two or three-person shots instead of featuring one person per shot (for no good reason) in a four-person conversation and then editing between them constantly. It wasn’t enough to completely throw me over the edge, but it did annoy. The performances from the entire cast are good, with special notices given to Mia Wasikowska, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo. I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right but I find the heaps of praise to be somewhat unwarranted. While it’s a good, competent movie, it’s nothing overly special that is deserving of all the Best Picture awards and nominations. I think a lot of people will find the film lacking the punch required to live up to that kind of hype, and that’s really a shame, because I think the film plays well without any expectations.

Overall, The Kids Are All Right is an enjoyable film that left me satisfied, even if the ending was a bit weak. The tone stays relatively light throughout, allowing the comedy and the drama to coexist well, making for a unique film that is sure to please many.

Mini-Review: To Die For (1995)

Starring Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Alison Folland, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Dan Hedaya

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Expectations: None.


This is a mildly entertaining movie about a pretty girl who has high aspirations to be on television. She’ll do anything. Simple enough. Usually with this type of film, there’s some level of intrigue, but this is not the case with To Die For. The film is told through a pseudo-documentary style and you know pretty much what happens in the first couple of minutes. I’m okay with that, as long as the characters are interesting, but I’m sorry to say that they aren’t. Nicole Kidman’s character is the only one even remotely absorbing and she does well in her role, with some exceptional moments. Most of the other players are overacted caricatures of American stereotypes with Matt Dillon and Joaquin Phoenix battling for the main offender trophy. Illeana Douglas is the best of the supporting cast, but then I always enjoy her in anything, so I could be biased.

This is all coupled with Gus Van Sant’s ugly, boring camera work and editing, making it readily apparent that this one just wasn’t made for me. I can say one thing about Van Sant’s work, he’s consistent. His shot selection never ceases to frustrate and annoy me. I had seen this before when it came out and I didn’t like it then. I like it less now. Avoid it, unless you generally like Van Sant’s work or you want to see Joaquin Phoenix or Casey Affleck in early roles.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloë Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly, Maile Flanagan, Patricia Belcher, Richard McGonagle

Directed by Marc Webb

Expectations: Extremely low.


This movie was better than I expected. It wasn’t great, but it had its moments. It’s one of those movies that people like to call “a cute little movie.” It tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, who believes that one day he will meet his soul mate. Enter Summer (Zooey Deschanel). But as the opening narration states, this isn’t a love story. It’s also not really a comedy. It’s more of a drama than the ad campaigns would have you believe.

The films unravels in a non-linear way, which I almost always feel is a clever device used to make a boring story more palatable. In this case it mostly works, but at only 97 minutes, it still feels really long. That is not to say that it’s uninteresting, just that some of the scenes could have been more engaging. The film is also an incredibly mainstream looking movie for an independent film. Tons of over-the-shoulder dialogue shots and close-ups. It’s not without innovation though. There are a few great ideas in the movie that are executed with perfection. Spoiling them would be just rotten of me, so I’ll just say that one of them involves the main character looking into a mirrored surface and seeing a very clever reflection. There’s also a fantastic split-screen scene involving expectations. I’ll leave it at that.

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