Friday, August 31, 2012

Side By Side ★★★★

Polarizing, Captivating; A Reminder Of Why We Love Movies

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Unlike 2011, a year in which many documentaries failed to make nearly every critic's top ten list, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the documentary. This theory of mine is illustrated beautifully in the new film Side By Side (directed by Christopher Kenneally), a documentary investigating the increasing popularity of digital filmmaking and its impact on film itself. The interviewees include directors, cinematographers, editors and a variety of other post-production talents, each with their own opinion of why shooting on film or digital is a better method for making movies.

The man interviewing these legends of cinema is the last person I would expect in a film like this, Keanu Reeves. While this is a documentary, I have to say that this film is Reeves' best work. He displays a wealth of knowledge on filmmaking processes and is terrific as an interviewer. He doesn't just ask question after question, but instead has a conversation with these people, allowing them to talk and challenging them, when necessary, to provide examples proving their argument.

On the pro-film side of moviemaking is Christopher Nolan, the titan of brilliantly staged and choreographed action all within the camera, and the perfect person to make the case for shooting with film as opposed to digital. He argues that digital filmmaking is not true filmmaking, and uses the example of the chewy cookie - made to look, feel and taste like it was fresh out of the oven - being a fake, and lesser version of the original. In other words, the use of digital photography is hindering directors and cinematographers from knowing their craft, limiting their understanding of how movies are actually made.

On the other side of the argument are David Fincher and James Cameron, two men who, for very separate and equally valid reasons, believe digital photography is the only way to make movies. Fincher is a man known for shooting close to 100 takes for a given scene to ensure a perfect mise-en-scène, and as a result, enjoys the ability to immediately view scenes that were just shot to do so. With film, he points out, directors have to wait until the following day for it to be developed and then watch the dailies. He considers this method a backward way of filmmaking, as a director cannot see if mistakes were made until the scene or sequence has already wrapped. Conversely, James Cameron states that film died for him years ago because could not shoot in 3D and that digital effects were and still are the future of modern filmmaking. Examples from the technology he used in The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are shown to illustrate how shooting in digital has made Mr. Cameron's dream of creating his own worlds come to life.

Every time someone talks about being in favor of film, several disadvantages to it are mentioned. Similarly, the disadvantages to digital are brought up when someone shows their preference for it. One could argue that Side By Side seems to argue in favor of digital but I found it to be unbiased one way or the other. It's made clear that each method has its benefits and its problems, but it also makes a clear case that at this time, one cannot seem to exist without the other. Even if a movie is shot digitally, film preservation (as opposed to hard drives) is still the preferred and more reliable method for storing movies. What is made abundantly clear is that film has reached the best of its potential and that digital is in its beginning, pointing to the necessity for filmmakers like Mr. Nolan to embrace the new and remember the old fondly.

I have to admit that prior to seeing Side By Side, I was pro-film entirely. While directors like Mr. Fincher continue to impress me with digital cinematography, I still found something nostalgic and original in using film. Now, however, it's become clear that there's not necessarily one method that should be used in all movies, but instead, depending on the film and what a particular director is going for, one method may work better to tell that story than the other.

This is a debate that proves to be equally (if not more) polarizing than which political party one identifies with. Side By Side isn't out to tell us that we have to believe in one method or the other, it simply shows us both arguments (as the title implies) and allows us to choose for ourselves. It is an important film for cinephiles like myself, as well as anyone in the arts who wants to learn more about the craft of composing images. As The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott said in his review, "It is worth a year of film school and at least 1,000 hours of DVD bonus commentary."

Side By Side is very personal for me. I grew up watching movies that my parents gave me, learning what I liked and what I didn't. I went to college to study film and to learn the skill with which all of my favorite movies were made. Hearing how these directors and cinematographers - many of whom have worked on movies that I love - talk about their craft so passionately reminds me why I love going to the movies in the first place. It emphasizes the importance of movies as cultural artifacts, and proves that no matter how many movies someone has seen or made, there's always something new to learn.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

V/H/S ★★½

If You Thought You Had Some Weird Home Videos...

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Horror films seem to follow trends for several years until people get tired of knowing what to expect. We've seen countless slasher films, ghost stories and demonic children, each appealing to a different type of horror audience. Most recently, the "found footage" stories have been resurrected, especially since the release of Paranormal Activity in 2009.

The new film V/H/S relishes in this type of horror genre with six unrelated short films, each dealing with a particular filmmaker's take on horror. It's an anthology of shorts, with one main storyline that tries (but doesn't really succeed) to bridge all of these films together. Documentary-like "footage" is used to tell these stories and each one pays homage to a different horror genre. Some of them work, some don't, but you can't help but admire the craftsmanship in each one. 

Tape 56 

This is the main story arc that introduces to several truly despicable men. We're introduced to them through a series of acts, one involving them finding a woman in a parking lot and forcibly lifting her shirt up to flash the camera as they hold her boyfriend back. They're thieves of some kind, as one of them tells the other that they're supposed to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. When they arrive at the house they find it deserted, except for an old man, apparently dead, in a recliner chair. There's a television in front of him with a VCR. One of the guys stays behind to watch one of the videos while the others go and search the rest of the house. 

Each film is introduced in this way, each time a different member of the group returning to the living room with the previous member now missing (this doesn't seem to bother any of them). The creepiest element to this story is the old man in the chair. We know that he's probably not dead and that something bad is going to happen. Obviously something strange is going on since one member of the team disappears after one video is shown. 

Overall, this is the weakest of the films. Say what you will about the horror genre, but I at least want some emotional investment in the characters on screen. As the main arc of the film shouldn't we at least want to root for these guys? There's not one redemptive quality to any of them and thus we hope that they'll be killed off quickly, which may be the film's point. For me, however, I would have preferred actual characters as a through line for the whole film as opposed to these idiots. 

Amateur Night ½

The story here centers around three college guys - Shane, Patrick and Clint - eager to meet women, so much so that they've attached a camera to Clint's (the nerdy do-gooder of the group) glasses to document their conquests. In other words, they want to make an amateur porn video with Clint taping it. They end up meeting some girls, one of whom takes a particular interest in Clint by repeatedly whispering to him, "I like you." Something is off about this girl - she doesn't look quite right and as the night progresses, she seems more and more otherworldly - and the camera-operating Clint suspects this but chooses to ignore it. I won't give away what happens, suffice it to say that of all of the entries in this anthology, this one is by far the most grisly. If your definition of true horror means a lot of blood and carnage, you'll probably enjoy this installment. 

For me, this one almost works but, like Tape 56, falls short with its characters. Clint is the voice of reason and is quite literally the audience to the events taking place. His two friends, however, are moronic drunks who like to take advantage of women, once again emphasizing that the approach here is to root for death over survival. 

What I like in this film is the use of the camera as an attachment to Clint's glasses. It gives us a fun, first-person perspective with some inventive angles and very disturbing character interactions. Overall it's a film to be looked at for style over substance; a lesson in finding new ways to tell the same story over and over, this time making the camera an actual character within the story. 

Second Honeymoon ½

Of all the entries, this is the only one without supernatural elements to it, and yet it is the one that disturbed me the most out of any of them. It focuses on a couple, Sam and Stephanie, taking their vacation out west in celebration of (as the title suggests) their second honeymoon. They've been documenting their trip via hand-held camera, interviewing each other about the day's events thus far. One night at their hotel room a woman knocks at the door asking Sam for a ride the following morning. He's disturbed, but ultimately thinks it's no big deal. That night someone else turns the camera on, recording them as they sleep. 

I doubt this entry will disturb anyone else as much as it did for me, but there's something about the voyeuristic nature of this film that gets to me. I like that it tried to be different from the rest, relying solely on human interactions to tell its story. It's also the first one that provides likable characters in the lead roles, which furthers the suspense when the intruder enters the room.

Where it falls short is in adhering to the rules laid out by the previous and following films in having something supernatural as part of the story. Yes, this is a series of unrelated films, but every single one of them do something different within the supernatural found-footage genre. Had this been a short film that just existed on its own, it may not have felt so out of place. 

Tuesday the 17th 

Friday the 13th fans, this one is for you. This is the first film that blends style and substance in the right way: A group of twenty-somethings enter the woods, only to be picked off one at a time by an unseen killer, but the killer is a creation within the camera itself. The members of the group include Wendy, Joey, "Spider" and Samantha, who are on their way to to Wendy's hometown for a weekend trip. They end up stopping to go for a walk in the woods and Wendy cryptically tells them that they will all die.

Once again these characters are not all that likable, but the killer that the filmmakers decided to create here is inventive and terrifying. It uses the hand-held camera as a method with which to actually see when the killer is about to attack, allowing for originality and quite disturbing imagery. It's grotesque, over-the-top and utterly ridiculous, yet it works at delivering all the frightening elements that classic horror film fans will surely love.

The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger 

Living in an era where using Skype and vlogs for communication are evermore present, it's amazing that no film in recent memory has used the two-person screenshot via video chat as a method for delivering genuine fear. Making the story feel of its time and place, while also creating a tale straight out of The Twilight Zone, The Sick Thing works on a variety of levels.

The story itself is about Emily and her boyfriend, James, talking through video chat about Emily's increasing paranoia that she has ghosts living in her apartment. She misses James and eagerly awaits his visit in the coming weeks. As each night passes, Emily tries to make contact with the entities she claims are with her, while James skeptically watches through the computer. As is usually the case, everything is not what it seems. Those who use Skype regularly might think twice about what goes on behind them when chatting with a friend after seeing this film. They also may decide that using the laptop camera to examine paranormal activities where they live may not be the best investigative technique.

This is the second film that features a lead character (Emily) that is worth watching and not just another slab of meat for a killer. Emily thinks she's going crazy and we the audience, of course, know this to be false. You want to cry for her, especially when the twist is revealed and her fate seems certain. As a diehard Twilight Zone and Rod Serling fan, I found the writing here to be spot on and the twist to be a classic left fielder.


Ending this anthology with a bang is the film that (finally) pays homage to the Sam Raimi Evil Dead series, with four friends, Tyler, Paul, Matt and Chad, driving around trying to find the Halloween party they've been invited to. When they find the house, no one appears to be home, yet they enter anyway.

I'll put it this way: This is not a house I would ever want to be stuck in for any length of time. Thankfully, this film gives us a group of guys who actually do the right thing but ultimately pay a steep price for their chivalry. Around Halloween there are dozens of places that host supposed haunted house tours. This film illustrates exactly what those people are going for - only this time it's real. This is by far the most supernatural of all of the installments in V/H/S, making 10/31/98 is a worthy ender to an otherwise mixed bag of tricks.

V/H/S, as a whole, has it out for women; many of the lesser installments objectify them, while others prove that if a man is actually decent enough to help a member of the opposite sex, she'll most likely kill you. I hope this is not a trend that continues in modern day horror films, as it was dated even when horror films were part of mainstream movies, but only time will tell. Overall, V/H/S almost works as a collection of inventive short films, but the lesser installments weigh it down. If there's a way to catch them individually, that might be better than sitting through two hours for about 30 minutes of good filmmaking. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premium Rush ★★½

Offers Exciting Chase Scenes But Not Much Else 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

It may shock you to learn that even in this day and age, sometimes the quickest way to get an important package, especially in New York City, is through a bike messenger. At least, that's the premise offered to us by Premium Rush, the new David Koepp film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.

Levitt plays Wilee, a bike messenger who would rather risk his life peddling the dangerous streets of New York City than wear a suit and sit at a desk. He's the fastest, most skilled messenger in his profession, which conflicts with the goals and dreams his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), has in mind for him. When he gets the call to pick up an envelope and get it to Chinatown by 7:00 P.M. he's intercepted by Detective Bobby Monday (Shannon) who demands that he hand over the contents of said envelope. Wilee refuses, and thus the chase through the city begins.

The film is full of impressive stunt work, especially by Gordon-Levitt, something to admire with a film that shoots almost everything practically instead of relying on computer effects. These chase scenes are breathtaking and give the film its most pulse-pounding moments, with Wilee narrowly outmaneuvering Monday on his bike. For anyone unfamiliar with New York's layout, these chase scenes also offer a map illustrating the route these chases will occur on. In one of the more comical elements of the film, when Wilee isn't being pursued by Monday, another cop continually tries to catch him for traffic violations, every time resulting in more pain for the cop. It's a running gag that many (including myself) will be entertained by.

Where the film falls short is in taking itself too seriously. The story behind the mysterious envelope in Wilee's possession requires far too much exposition in a film like this, thus underlying the film's inherent problem. It's as if it's afraid to be what it is: a campy, zippy movie that is meant to be entertaining, not serious drama. You need motivation for Shannon's character, but beyond that, keep it simple. The moments where the film tries to be earnest are what take away from its overall joy.

None of the characters are all that interesting, despite the two leads being among my favorite actors in the business. Gordon-Levitt tries to bring a rebel-like quality to Wilee and to an extent he is one but I never believed in the stakes that the film was raising. Shannon has fun playing a corrupt cop, but again, there's nothing more to him than what you'd think in a film like this. Vanessa is the film's biggest annoyance, which may be less the fault of the writing and more on the part of the actress. I was hoping I had seen the last of Ramirez when she was on the dreadful Heroes on NBC, but alas, here she is.

Stylistically, the film also has some problems. Koepp's decision to freeze frame Gordon-Levitt in the opening shot took away any chance I had in taking the film as seriously as Koepp clearly wanted me to. There's also a scene later on in the film when Vanessa asks her boss for backup and the camera zooms in on him as if to say something big is about to go down. It doesn't work, and is more laughable than engaging.

What I'm getting at is the fact that the film's style and tone are in constant conflict with one another. Koepp is going for a more dramatic tone but his camera angles and zooms echo something straight out of an Adam West Batman movie. It's a film that can be reasonably enjoyed for nothing other than the chase scenes the first time you watch it. However, once the credits rolled I immediately asked myself if this was a movie that could be enjoyed if watched again. Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding "No!"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Truth Is Out There ★★★½

Picking Up Where Mulder And The Lone Gunmen Left Off

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

When people ask me what my favorite show on television was my response is The X-Fileswithout even thinking about it. It’s a show that continues to have a special place in my heart because it represented nerdy guys like myself and did so respectfully. That representation was perhaps best illustrated by Mulder’s (David Duchovny) three wisecracking sidekicks known as The Lone Gunmen. These characters we so popular that there was a even a spin-off series entitled, The Lone Gunmen, that put these guys front and center, focusing each week on their misadventures. That series was cancelled and after The X-Files ended its nine-year run it seemed as though that would be the last we would see these three heroes and the world of conspiracy they and the show opened up. At least until now.

Dean Haglund, who played Langly - the computer hacking, Ramones loving, longhaired rebel - has returned - or perhaps never left - in a documentary released last year by Phil Leirness aptly called, The Truth Is Out There. Mr. Haglund has very much remained in the world of conspiracy, attending various conventions all over the world in search of a universal truth. The documentary explores this journey and asks if that truth is attainable.

The film begins by introducing us to the veteran television actor, showcasing his skills as an improv comic and following him around several conventions as he talks with people about the nature of conspiracy. At first each conspiracy seems different from the other, but about 10 minutes in you start seeing how every one of them connects to another. Every person Mr. Haglund interviews has something both fascinating and, at times, quite disturbing to say.

An example of this comes from the interviewee who I thought was most engaging, G. Edward Griffin. In talking about cancer and how it’s currently treated, he argues that the focus should not be on killing tumors but instead asking the question of why the tumor grew where it did in the first place. Furthermore, he mentions that there are certain areas of the world where cancer is virtually unheard of because amygdalin - a compound that when used properly attacks cancer cells - is found in much of the food that the people in these areas consume. It is eye-opening, jaw-dropping material that illustrates this film's importance. Other theories that may surprise viewers include a moment where Mr. Haglund states that the Kennedy assassination was actually a suicide and a moment in Berlin when Mr. Leirness, who appears briefly, talks about the theory that certain filmmakers and showrunners, including Chris Carter, are mouthpieces for The Illuminati.

For me, the most disturbing area explored in the documentary was in relation to our food supply, which is explained by Dr. Stanley Monteith. He states that roughly 85% of our corn and 90% of our soy is genetically modified for the purposes of sterilizing the population. You may feel the urge to roll your eyes at a statement like that, but if you reserve judgement and listen to what he has to say, you might start paying closer attention to what you eat.

What the film does best is give voice to these people who are usually silenced or ignored. It dives head first into territory that many might find uncomfortable, with Mr. Haglund serving as our tour guide. One of the complaints I’ve heard about the film is that it’s two long (it clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours) and that some of the people interviewed could have been cut. This is truly a subjective criticism (but then again, aren’t they all?) in that this is one of those rare movies that give no two people the same experience. The interviewees I enjoyed most could very well be the people that someone else feels could have been cut and vice versa. It’s that attribute that makes this film such an enjoyable experience despite some of the difficult areas it explores.

In addition, it's a film that welcomes repeated viewing; you get something new out of it each time. There is a lot of information thrown at you and at times it's hard to keep everything straight, as this is such unfamiliar subject matter for most people. (I have about three pages worth of notes from my most recent viewing.) It's an example of a filmmaker showing respect to his subject matter, giving them the platform upon which to stand.

It's as much a film about Mr. Haglund as it is the "friends of truth" as they're known, which at first might confuse the people who seek this film out. However, at one critical point in the film, Mr. Haglund states that as a young man he was often criticized for not sticking with one thing. In that scene everything about the film becomes clear: We've jumped from conspiracy to conspiracy, country to country, and learned who Mr. Haglund is along the way. What better way to exemplify this man than to show us what his life is like through the film's editing? Mr. Leirness, who in addition to directing edited the film, deserves an award for editing all of this material and doing so in such a way as to serve who Mr. Haglund is.

What The Lone Gunmen series did was show that unlikely heroes exist all around us and in many forms. These were characters unafraid to find the truth, going so far as to sacrifice their lives to save many others at the end of The X-Files' run. My favorite line of the show came from Byers (Bruce Harwood, who reunites with Mr. Haglund and Tom Braidwood in the film) who tells his colleagues, "We never gave up and we never will. In the end if that's the best they can say about us, it'll do." It's comforting to know that Mr. Haglund is still fighting the good fight and that the themes both shows explored all those years ago on television remain an integral part of this man's life.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

ParaNorman ★★★½

Funny, Scary and Heartfelt

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

These days it seems like there are too many zombies and ghosts populating both the big and small screen. On top of that there's an overabundance of animated films that are less than stellar, begging the question of whether or not these types of films have run their course. Happily, a film like ParaNorman reminds us that there's a lot to love in both genres, but that maybe the best form for both to exist is in stop-motion animation.

The film focuses on Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young man who can see dead people and, as a result, is outcast by his peers and his family. Misunderstood would be an understatement, as the only person who truly understands Norman is his deceased grandmother, voiced by Elaine Stritch. Norman finds a new friend in Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) but his brief happiness is interrupted when he is informed by his crazy uncle (John Goodman) that a curse will befall the town at midnight unless Norman performs a ritual to stop it. When he fails to do so, a group of zombies is summoned to wreak havoc on the small town until Norman can figure out how to stop them.

The joy of ParaNorman comes from its healthy mixture of genres, delivering moments that are simultaneously hilarious and creepy, such as the scene in which Norman discovers his uncle's dead body. It grosses you out and makes you laugh uncomfortably at the same time. There are also scenes with genuine heart on display as exemplified when Norman's sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), sticks up for him for the first time, or when his grandmother confesses to staying behind on Earth as a ghost so that she could always protect him. We don't see horror comedies with emotional resonance like this that often. In its opening scenes alone there's a grindhouse-like design to the title cards that display the filmmakers' love and respect for the genre. It's a film that gets everything it's going for right. It's fun, earnest and has the best understanding of the zombie genre that I've seen as of late.

Furthermore, the animation on display is something to admire. The directors, Sam Fell and Chris Butler, have found a way to seamlessly match stop-motion with computer effects to the point where it's hard to tell which scenes used what format, especially in the film's finale. In addition, the character and production design is something from another world. Everything is just slightly different from our world - perspectives are shifted and nothing is symmetrical - giving the film a truly original feel. Enhancing the animation is the cinematography by Tristan Oliver serving the film's ghostly, spooky feel it's going for.

We go to the movies to be transported into the world offered to us by the filmmaker. We hope to be taken out of our everyday lives and to forget about our own problems, even if it's only for a short time. ParaNorman is a film that does this effortlessly in its simplicity. Sure, we've heard this story a million times, but it's not often that it's told right. ParaNorman invites us into its otherworldliness with open arms and gives us everything we could ask for.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Expendables 2 ★★★

Insert One-Liner Here

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

There are too many movies out there that are misrepresented through poor marketing. Oftentimes they're not well received and leave audience members feeling cheated out of their money. It could seem as though the days of knowing exactly what you're getting when you enter a theatre are gone, unless of course you're going to see The Expendables 2, the sequel to the 2010 film that offers everything you're hoping for with a one-two punch. If you were a fan of both the first film and the eighties action films it represented, you won't be disappointed.

Our rag-tag group of misfits are back with an explosive vengeance, this time to square off against Jean-Claude Van Damme, an arms dealer who, early in the film, brutally kills one of their own and takes possession of a blueprint containing the location of five-tons of plutonium. Added to the mix on the good-guy-side are expanded roles for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis; an appearance from Chuck Norris, who delivers perhaps the cheesiest lines in the film; Liam Hemsworth, the newest recruit to the team; and Nan Yu, a Chinese Agent assigned to the team by Willis's Mr. Church. Everyone else on the team returns except for Mickey Rourke, who is never referenced but sorely missed, and Jet Li, who unfortunately only appears in the film's opening. Of the returning players, I enjoyed the chemistry between Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham - a perfect match-up for the old and new action star personalities - and also that the rest of the group were actually in most of the movie, something that the first film lacked.

Stallone himself is an actor that (in my opinion) doesn't get enough credit. He may look like he needs to take a breather every now and then and yes, he has a lot of one-liners that many may role their eyes at, but he never fails to bring some humanity to his roles, at least in his current career upswing. I may be accused of taking him too seriously, but seeing what he does with his character The Expendables 2  illustrates his soft side and emphasizes why he's the leader of this group. In addition, Van Damme is much more of an evenly matched villain to Stallone's hero than Eric Roberts was in the previous installment. He doesn't play the menacing bad-guy in the conventional sense; he's more reserved than you might expect and it serves him well here.

While the actors are fun to watch, the action is equally as fun, relentless though it may be. Everything in this sequel seems to be just a little bit better than the first time around. Much of that may be due to the fact that Stallone chose not to direct this one and instead gave the directing duties over to Simon West, who has experience in directing silly action films like Con Air. I liken this film to a roller coaster that lasts nearly two hours. Strap yourself in and just enjoy the ride.

If you grew up watching films like Commando, Rambo and Die Hard, you'll have a lot of fun. This is an action film that is completely unbelievable yet entirely entertaining. It's reminding its audience that no matter how old these action stars may get, they've still got it. Being released at the end of a summer that has brought us several super-hero movies and an Alien prequel (sort of), The Expendables 2 serves as comfort food for people like myself who sometimes just need terrible one-liners that follow giant explosions.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hope Springs ★★★½

A Healthy Blend of Old and New

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

In the current cinema landscape we are exhausted from dreadful romantic comedies. It seems like every month we can expect another lazy, half-hearted tale. We also expect the two leads to get younger and less experienced with each new release. So when something unexpected comes along it's truly refreshing. In this case I'm referring to Hope Springs, a new film with an inverse relationship to the romantic comedy of today, having two seasoned professionals (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) in the lead roles and giving us a movie that's actually good.

Streep and Jones play Kay and Arnold, an elderly couple who sleep in separate bedrooms, hardly speak about anything of substance and, despite living in the same home, don't seem to even know one another anymore. Kay, distraught and tired of feeling so alone with the man that she loves, takes it upon herself to buy a trip to Maine and undergo a week-long marriage counseling course with the renowned Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). When they arrive, it's obvious that Arnold has some deep seeded emotional problems and that Kay may have been more neglectful than we've been led to believe.

It's a simple plot, but one that asks the question too few films dare to these days: Is it possible for long-term couples to remain in love with one another? This question was the very basis for writing the script, as stated by the film's writer, Vanessa Taylor, in a recent article in The New York Times. This point exemplifies the underrated talent in the world of writers currently working in Hollywood. It's a great script, written by someone much younger than the characters she's writing for, with a lot of heart and an emotional punch that works beautifully. The characters that Taylor has created are exceptional and the casting could not have been better.

It's been awhile since I have seen Jones do any role that illustrates his talent, especially after his tired performance in Men in Black 3. But here we see a man who was hurt many years ago and, for reasons that are eventually revealed, has stopped trying to do nice things for his wife. He's heartbroken, regretful of the decisions he's made but also harboring a lot of bad feelings toward Kay. If the film has any faults, it's that the sessions, while they are a good portion of the movie, come only in small chunks and in some ways feel afraid to get to the root of Arnold's anger. There's a lot more to be explored with this character and I wish the film had gone there.

These scenes with the three leads are so great to watch, which is a testament to the actors' performances. Carell is terrific as Dr. Feld. He never plays any of his lines for comedy and he very much gives each scene over to Streep and Jones, playing off of what they do and say perfectly. It's not just the fact that Carell plays a therapist well; it's that I believe he is one. In addition, Streep, as always, proves that there's no role in the world that she could ever be lousy in. In many ways Kay has been the victim of years of bullying (however unintended) from Arnold and we root for her because she's learned to stand up for herself. We're invested in her story because despite the distance between her and Arnold, she's not ready to call it quits just yet.

More and more I see older crowds at the theatre despite the increasing number of movies aimed at younger audiences each year. Hope Springs is a film that breaks the mold, a bit of counter-programming in a summer full of big blockbusters. It's a film that recognizes the importance of the older crowd but also appeals to audiences in any age group. It's a film that showcases great writing and great character work, which, as sad as it is to say, is something too many movies lack these days. Thus, the film's title works two-fold: It illustrates not only the message of the film, but also how I feel about the future of romantic comedies.