Amanda Peet

She’s the One (1996, Edward Burns)

She’s the One has a fantastic first act. Some of the banter doesn’t connect, but all of the performances are strong and when the banter does connect, it makes up for the rest. Director, writer, and star Burns relies a little too much on “gentle” homophobia for the banter between his character and Michael McGlone’s. They’re brothers–John Mahoney (easily giving the film’s best performance) is the dad. Mom never appears. I thought she was deceased, but no, Burns just doesn’t give her an onscreen presence, which is a big problem later on. Anyway, Burns’s reliance on the “sister” jokes for McGlone end up just being foreshadowing for the real problem with the film–Burns and McGlone are lousy leads.

But, wait, still being upbeat about the first act. Maxine Bahns is great as Burns’s new wife. They meet in his cab in the second or third scene and go off to get married. Jennifer Aniston is excellent as McGlone’s suffering wife. She gives the film’s second best performance. But she’s not just suffering because McGlone’s an alpha male jerk, but because he’s carrying on with Cameron Diaz.

Diaz, it turns out, is Burns’s ex-fiancee, who he left after she cheated on him. Eight million stories in New York City, of course it turns out everyone knows each other. Except they don’t, so Burns isn’t even trying to do an interconnected thing. Once the second act hits, Burns fully embraces the “movie about nothing.” Short scenes, usually in long shot, setting up what someone else says and then everyone else talking about it. Maybe if it were intentional, but it seems like Burns is trying to find the story. He never does. She’s the One has roughly thirty minutes of actual content. It runs over ninety minutes.

Along the way, there’s some fine acting from Mahoney and Aniston. Frank Vincent is hilarious as Aniston’s father. McGlone’s a funny jerk. The problem is he’s pretty much the lead, because Burns is exceptionally passive in his performance. He gives himself the shallowest character. Well, it’s between his character and Mahoney’s, but at least Mahoney gets an arc, at least Mahoney gets some agency.

Diaz is bad. She’s got a terrible part, which just gets worse for her along the way, but she’s not good in it. The film requires her to have exceptional chemistry with Burns. She has none. She ought to have some chemistry with McGlone too, since he wants to leave Aniston for her. But nope. Aniston and McGlone, when they’re with other people and not just in their own subplot, are great together. Bahns is best in the first act, then her part goes to crap too.

She’s the One is about Burns and McGlone having to accept some responsibility for themselves and doing whatever it takes to get out of it. Burns, as director, tries as hard as he can do get them out of it too. The women of She’s the One are all universally more interesting than the men; Burns just doesn’t want them to be. So there’s some internalized, “gentle” misogyny going on too.

The last act is a rush to save everything and, thanks to Mahoney and Bahns, Burns is almost able to pull it off. Almost.

Great songs and score from Tom Petty (though it’s usually just for Burns and Bahns, McGlone and Aniston don’t get music). Frank Prinzi’s photography is solid, even if a lot of Burns’s composition is questionable. When he finally gets around to letting characters talk and actors act–i.e. the third act–She’s the One shows some of the promise of the first act.

It’s just too little, too late.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Tom Petty; production designer, William Barclay; produced by Ted Hope, James Schamus, and Burns; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Mickey Fitzpatrick), Michael McGlone (Francis Fitzpatrick), Maxine Bahns (Hope), Jennifer Aniston (Renee), Cameron Diaz (Heather), John Mahoney (Mr. Fitzpatrick), Leslie Mann (Connie), Malachy McCourt (Tom), Amanda Peet (Molly), Anita Gillette (Carol) and Frank Vincent (Ron).


The Way, Way Back (2013, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)

At a certain point during The Way, Way Back, it became clear the film was never going to do anything interesting. Then, all of a sudden, writer-directors Faxon and Rash get to their “realistic” ending–by realistic, I mean it doesn’t resolve the most important story lines–and even though the film isn’t going to reward the viewer, at least it’s doing something different.

Then they go back on it. And given both Faxon and Rash appear in the film, when they show up, it almost feels like they couldn’t make that bold a move. Back is a film without any bold moves. It’s about a teenager (Liam James) who goes off to spend the summer with his mom, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s daughter.

Steve Carell’s a great jerk as the boyfriend, but there are no layers to his character. Toni Collette plays the mom; she’s similarly shallow, though Faxon and Rush seem to get she shouldn’t be.

Thanks to the cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) and the awesome, immature water park owner–Sam Rockwell in just as much a type-casted role as Collette’s–James eventually comes into his own. Yep, it’s a standard growing up story.

I won’t spoil if Collette gets her act together thanks to her kid.

A lot of the film is appealing. James is good in the lead–he plays it hostile, which is cool. Robb’s good, Alison Janney’s fun as her partying mom, Rockwell’s great.

But there’s nothing to it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by Rob Simonsen; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Tom Rice and Kevin J. Walsh; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Liam James (Duncan), Sam Rockwell (Owen), Toni Collette (Pam), Steve Carell (Trent), AnnaSophia Robb (Susanna), Allison Janney (Betty), Maya Rudolph (Caitlin), Rob Corddry (Kip), Amanda Peet (Joan), Zoe Levin (Steph), Nat Faxon (Roddy), Jim Rash (Lewis) and River Alexander (Peter).


The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008, Chris Carter)

I can understand why Chris Carter and company made X-Files: I Want to Believe (though not the title), but I can’t understand why Fox produced it. The film was a significant bomb, even if it didn’t cost very much, and some critics dismissed it as an episode turned into a feature. It’s anything but… instead, it’s the most peculiar studio, potential franchise release, I’ve ever seen. I Want to Believe is an adult drama not about David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning to the FBI to look for monsters–instead, it’s about Anderson’s internal turmoil over trying an experimental, painful procedure on a young patient.

They do return to the FBI to look for (qualified) monsters… but it’s not very important. It’s not even as important as the complicated romance between the characters. Some of the complication comes from the script–Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz take most of the movie to reveal the basic ground situation between Duchovny and Anderson, probably because it works so well and they thought they were going to be rewarding returning fans.

I Want to Believe is far more a postscript–and I make this observation generally, discussing the idea of making a sequel after a reasonable absence (I didn’t watch the last few seasons of the show, only hearing about plot points from friends)–than an attempt at starting a film series. It’s very different and it’s rather wonderful in how delicately it treats Duchovny and Anderson. Carter’s never directed a feature before (he uses Panavision to great effect); he treats Anderson with a moving gentleness. When Duchovny’s on screen alone, it’s almost a jolt–like he shouldn’t be running the show.

As for the mystery, I’m guessing it occupies half of the film’s running time. It’s clearly unimportant–the final act, featuring the resolution to it, is much less important than the denouement. It does allow for a surprise cameo, which ends in another touching, odd manner.

There are some excellent action-like sequences in the film. There’s a great chase scene and Bill Roe’s cinematography gives the Panavision a lush, grandiose scale. Shots of people walking from cars in the snow have rarely looked so good.

The acting’s all good, with Anderson having the hardest job. Duchovny has it easier, while Billy Connolly sort of phones in his performance, sort of doesn’t. It’s the same performance he gives a lot, but given his character (a psychic, sex offender ex-priest), it comes off differently. Amanda Peet manages to make an impression in her smallish role–though most of the movie trailer moments are hers–while Xzibit does not.

I spent the entire film incredibly impressed with the score and it turns out it’s Mark Snow, who did the music for the series. For some reason, I figured it’d be someone more famous.

What’s particularly nice about the film is how little one has to know about the show to understand it. There are some references, but as long as the viewer has a working knowledge of the basic concept… it works. I think. And stay through the credits.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Carter; screenplay by Frank Spotnitz and Carter, based on the television series created by Carter; director of photography, Bill Roe; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Mark Snow; production designer, Mark S. Freeborn; produced by Carter and Spotnitz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dr. Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (ASAC Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Xzibit (Agent Mosley Drummy), Callum Keith Rennie (Dacyshyn) and Adam Godley (Father Ybarra).


The Ex (2007, Jesse Peretz)

The Ex reminds me of a 1980s comedy, but maybe not. Maybe more a 1990s comedy. I knew it did, but I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized it’s all about the information given the viewer. The Ex starts in New York and moves to Ohio in the first seven and a half minutes and there’s no establishing and no confusion. Regardless of the title and the trailer–the film’s original title, Fast Track, is better but not quite right either–the film doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s a slight, amusing comedy about a couple orienting themselves with a baby. I wasn’t expecting Amanda Peet to be in the film much as a lead, but she and Braff are really partners. Their days are juxtaposed and The Ex has got a really nice present action too–it takes place over about a week. Five days, not seven.

As a leading comedic actor, Zach Braff is amazing. I’ve never seen him in anything before (I tried watching “Scrubs,” but after five minutes I was dislocating my shoulder going for the remote) but from the first second, he runs this film. I can’t even think of a comparable leading comedic actor (except maybe late 1970s Chevy Chase). It’s a joy to watch him. But then Peet shows up and she’s got her own thing going and she’s fantastic too. I always say how much I like her but before The Ex, I’d only seen her in two things. Now it’s three. They’re perfect together.

Jason Bateman. Remember when one thought “The Hogan Family” hearing his name? Now, it’d be “Arrested Development.” It’s never going to be The Ex one thinks about, but it’s going to be something in the future. Bateman acts with this ease and self-assurance–it’s like a comedic De Niro (back when De Niro was good).

Maybe the performances are why The Ex works as well as it does. Charles Grodin shows up as Peet’s father and he’s got some funny moments, but mostly it’s just a Charles Grodin supporting role. Donal Logue’s funny in his bit. But the three leads command the viewer’s attention like leads are supposed to command a viewer’s attention.

The Ex is so fleet-footed it races past some bad traditional comedy snags, but also some requisite storytelling ones. A lot is inferred in a few moments, including things like character motivation. I think the filmmakers realized it too, because they take care of it real quick at the end.

I’d complain it should go longer, but the film’s thin–it has maybe three subplots, with one of them contributing heavily to the main action–and it gets out at just the right time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jesse Peretz; written by David Guion and Michael Handelman; director of photography, Tom Richmond; edited by Tricia Cooke, Jeff McEvoy and John Michel; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, John Paino; produced by Anthony Bergman, Marc Butan, Anne Carey and Ted Hope; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Zach Braff (Tom Reilly), Amanda Peet (Sofia Kowalski), Jason Bateman (Chip Sanders), Charles Grodin (Bob Kowalski), Mia Farrow (Amelia Kowalski), Donal Logue (Don Wollebin) and Amy Poehler (Carol Lane).


Syriana (2005, Stephen Gaghan)

What a sprawling and ambitious film… oh, wait, it’s actually neither. Syriana has a bunch of good performances (Matt Damon being the stand-out lead and Amanda Peet or Alexander Siddig being the supporting, with William Hurt turning in a really nice extended cameo), but with the exception of the Muslim suicide bomber, it’s emotionally empty… soulless. I did have one problem with the suicide bomber–he strikes at target whose destruction would immediately improve the world. That’s not how suicide bombers actually act (the world situation would be a lot different if they did).

Describing the three main, failed plotlines–man has to come to terms with his son’s death, man has to come to terms with his career ending, man has to come to terms with racism–makes Syriana sound rather promising. But Gaghan displays even more disinterest in the human condition than his script for Traffic did. He’s not writing about people brought together by coincidence or passion, these people are all brought together by the situation. Syriana is dramatic fiction. Trying to present it as a multiple camera, pseudo-documentary does disservice to all the good work the actors put in to the film.

The politics Syriana discusses are probably not common knowledge, but a common American isn’t well-informed (or interested). There’s nothing in this film that has been documented, nothing that five minutes of a Noam Chomsky interview wouldn’t elucidate further. It’s political science for people who watch “Friends.” I really didn’t expect much more from the film (or Gaghan), so I’m not disappointed. Seeing the good acting (though Jeffrey Wright was so passive he disappeared and it’s the first bad Christopher Plummer performance I’ve ever seen), particularly Hurt and Peet, was a treat and the film’s only a couple hours long. I just wish I hadn’t had to pee for the second hour.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Gaghan; screenplay by Gaghan, suggested by a book by Robert Baer; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Jennifer Fox, Michael Nozik and Georgia Kacandes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Bob Barnes), Matt Damon (Bryan Woodman), Jeffrey Wright (Bennett Holiday), Chris Cooper (Jimmy Pope), William Hurt (Stan Goff), Mazhar Munir (Wasim Ahmed Khan), Tim Blake Nelson (Danny Dalton), Amanda Peet (Julie Woodman), Christopher Plummer (Dean Whiting), William C. Mitchell (Bennett Holiday Sr.), Shahid Ahmed (Saleem Ahmed Khan) and Alexander Siddig (Prince Nasir Al-Subaai).


Melinda and Melinda (2004, Woody Allen)

Woody Allen has written around thirty films, probably thirty-four. Ten of these films are some of the finest in the last thirty years, give or take. But he tries something new in Melinda and Melinda and it doesn’t work.

Of his recent work, his post-Miramax period, Melinda is the second strongest–Curse of the Jade Scorpion holding the title. His work hasn’t been astounding, but it’s still good work. Melinda and Melinda had the potential, the writing, and the cast to be his best film in twelve years or so. Wait, I forgot about Sweet and Lowdown. Anyway, when I said Woody tried something new, he screwed up his narrative and ruined the film’s effectiveness.

Melinda and Melinda has three concurrent stories. The reality one: two playwrights, one comedic, one dramatic, at dinner and then each playwright’s story of the titular Melinda. Since neither of these stories is real, but are told with lovely care for their characters, the effect is something annoying (unlike the similarly afflicted, but unmoving The Usual Suspects).

And it’s too bad, because Woody’s got his best cast in years in this film. A bunch of people who, shockingly in some cases, turn in great performances. Chloë Sevigny is great, but we all know that–but Jonny Lee Miller? I had no idea. Amanda Peet continues to impress (her turn in What Women Want starting this run) and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I’ve never seen in anything much less heard the name, is quite good too. Will Ferrell does a couple too many Woody impressions but is fine otherwise. Touching, even, in some parts.

As the eponymous Melinda, Rhada Mitchell occasionally loses her American accent, but is rather good. Melinda isn’t the protagonist, however. Ferrell is in one story, Sevigny in the other. Melinda isn’t the subject either, instead, Woody uses her as the catalyst, which would work great if the stories had weight. Worse, one story ends before the other, jarring the viewer into realizing the uselessness of his or her investment in the film.

Still, the film is beautifully directed, with amazing Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography, and is still quite good overall. I haven’t seen a Woody Allen film in about a year and watching one always produces a nice feeling. A feeling that the world isn’t empty of art. (Except maybe Bullets Over Broadway or Another Woman).

Narrative device warts and all, he’s just so damn good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Letty Aronson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Radha Mitchell (Melinda), Chloë Sevigny (Laurel), Jonny Lee Miller (Lee), Will Ferrell (Hobie), Amanda Peet (Susan), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ellis), Wallace Shawn (Sy) and Josh Brolin (Greg).


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