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Olivia Wilde (#110 of 8)

Tribeca Review: The Wannabe, The Driftless Area, & Meadowland

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Tribeca Review: <em>The Wannabe</em>, <em>The Driftless Area</em>, & <em>Meadowland</em>
Tribeca Review: <em>The Wannabe</em>, <em>The Driftless Area</em>, & <em>Meadowland</em>

Set in Little Italy, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, and “inspired by” a true story, The Wannabe is a solid but unexceptional addition to the growing canon of gangster movies whose mobsters aren’t glamorous, soulful antiheroes, but canny and unprincipled brutes. Not much is known about why the real Thomas and Rosemarie Uva chose to do something as risky and, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid as robbing mafia social clubs in Queens (the Daily News called them Bonnie and Clod). In last year’s Rob the Mob, Thomas is portrayed as being angry at the mob for having beaten his father when he was late with his payments on a business loan, but The Wannabe’s writer-director, Nick Sandow, shows him as motivated by a childlike obsession with the mafia in general, and John Gotti in particular. Desperate to be accepted into one of the families, this version of the man somehow convinces himself that robbing gangsters as they play cards is a good way to prove that he belongs. But then, thinking isn’t exactly his strong suit.

New York Film Festival 2013: Her Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Her</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Her</em> Review

A man falls in love with an operating system. Sounds like the makings of a biting satire on the supposed lack of human connection in the digital age. But one of the most surprising things about Spike Jonze’s new film, Her, is in how it steadfastly refuses to see this predicament from the cynical perspective one might expect. Plenty of ink has been spilled by now about the ways in which technology has had the effect of isolating people from one another even as some of those forms of technology—like Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media—have promised otherwise. With Her, it’s as if Jonze said at the outset of the film’s conception, “cynicism’s easy,” and decided not only to take the central romance at least halfway seriously, but to dare to suggest that there may actually be some legitimate validity in falling in love with artificial intelligence.

Watch the Trailer for Spike Jonze’s Her, Starring Joaquin Phoenix

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Watch the Trailer for Spike Jonze’s <em>Her</em>, Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Watch the Trailer for Spike Jonze’s <em>Her</em>, Starring Joaquin Phoenix

Watch the first trailer for Warner Bros.’s Her, a sci-fi romance directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an advanced Siri-like operating system named “Samantha” played by Scarlett Johansson, who reportedly replaced Samantha Morton earlier this year. According to the official synopsis, the film, Jonze’s first narrative feature since 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, “explores the evolving nature—and the risks—of intimacy in the modern world.”

SXSW 2013: Prince Avalanche and Drinking Buddies

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SXSW 2013: <em>Prince Avalanche</em> and <em>Drinking Buddies</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>Prince Avalanche</em> and <em>Drinking Buddies</em>

For those afraid that David Gordon Green had completely abandoned the lyrical style that marked such early films as George Washington and All the Real Girls for the crude stoner-comedy mode of Pineapple Express and Your Highness, well, it’s back in his latest film, Prince Avalanche, though perhaps not in the way one might have expected.

Simply on the level of tone, the film, a Judd Apatow-like bromance elevated to the realm of near-myth, is an extremely odd, deliberately jarring work—the kind of film where a tossed-off fart joke coexists with a mournful montage of a man, Alvin (Paul Rudd), contemplating the burned-out ruins of an old woman’s house. But the film has even weirder angles to it than that: how the old woman eventually turns out to be a ghost of some sort, and the how the leavening mysterious female presence offers a counterpoint to the broadly macho old-man ghost that offers Alvin and his fellow road worker, Lance (Emile Hirsch), drinks and, by extension, tempting them to indulge in their inner macho selves.

SXSW 2013: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and V/H/S/2

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SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>

Another opening-night gala screening, another crapshoot. Two years ago, South by Southwest gave the red-carpet treatment of Duncan Jones’s entertaining time-travel thriller Source Code, but last year Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s irritatingly snarky horror-genre deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods got the top honor, and now this year we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which, in spite of a nasty concluding punchline, can’t even claim the kind of cleverly subversive comic gusto The Cabin in the Woods has in abundance—for better and for worse.

Poster Lab: The Words

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Poster Lab: <em>The Words</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Words</em>

Bradley Cooper is an actor in a fairly common predicament. He’s blessed with movie-star looks, yet he still needs to play characters with non-movie-star occupations. For Cooper, this is especially problematic, since it’s tough to imagine him doing much of anything besides looking handsome, staying handsome, and watching televised sports. So right off the bat, there’s an element of unintended comedy to the poster for The Words, which etches Cooper’s face out of printing-press type because his character’s a writer.

Something is up in Hollywood. This is the second movie in two years to cast Cooper as a working author (the other was the gonzo, pro-drug “drama” Limitless). What is it about Cooper that makes him seem, to filmmakers, like a plausible wordsmith? The slightly-boho shaggy hair? The serious arch of his pointed nose? That he was the small dash of brains in The Hangover’s Wolfpack? The synopsis for The Words describes Cooper’s character as “a writer at the peak of his literary success.” At the risk of looking at things in stone-cold, stereotypical terms, that’s not unlike casting Tara Reid to play an archaeologist.

T.V. on TV: The Black Donnellys, Raines, & The Winner

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T.V. on TV: <em>The Black Donnellys</em>, <em>Raines</em>, & <em>The Winner</em>
T.V. on TV: <em>The Black Donnellys</em>, <em>Raines</em>, & <em>The Winner</em>

It’s tempting to write off The Black Donnellys (premiering Monday night at 10 p.m. EST on NBC) as The Sopranos Lite. And, to be fair, in many ways it is.

It’s got the same greasy thrill of the underworld aesthetic that the superior HBO series has. Its one differing trait—that it traces how a gang of mobsters got to the top instead of starting that chronicle when the mobsters were already at the top—isn’t sufficiently different enough to set it far enough apart from Tony and his crew. Even the larger themes (the importance of family, the gradual corrupting influence of crime) are major Sopranos themes (not to mention major themes of those other two modern documents of the mob—The Godfather movies and Goodfellas). Add in the fact that the series comes from the much-vilified Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Best Picture winner Crash; Haggis, in addition, was responsible for the script for the previous Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, too), and you have what seems like a recipe for a hubristic failure.