Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 4.56.25 PM*************************

Review of Step Up All In by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Step Up All In has impressive choreographed dance routines people have come to expect throughout the five films of the franchise. And that’s about all it has going for it. If the surround sound was muted and the scenes attempting to form a plot were deleted, it would be much more entertaining.

The Trish Sie-directed film begins on a high note, however, in an amusing montage of dancers at a commercial audition, complying with every bizarre direction requested of them. The film’s physically flawless protagonist, “Sean” (Ryan Guzman) starts the story off with a voiceover, “There’s a magic that happens when you dance. The world is in synch, and for one perfect moment, you feel totally alive.” This sincere viewpoint carries him through the rest of the film, especially when his dance crew “the Mob” bails on him, tired of endless auditions and no money.

After losing a bar dance-off to a local dance crew “the Grim Knights,” led by thug and Donnie-Wahlberg lookalike “Jasper,” (Stephen Jones) Sean sees one possible solution for his problems: a Vegas dance competition – a.k.a. – The Vortex.

Sean forms a new dance crew, LMNTRX (pronounced “elementrix”), and seeks help from his old friends and regulars of the franchise: “Moose,” (Adam Sevani) “Jenny,” (Mari Koda) “Hair” (Chris Scott), “Vladd” (Chad Smith), “Monster” (Luis Rosado), and Sean’s love interest, “Andie” (Briana Evigan). Together, they break into impromptu dances and unnecessarily whip hats and clothing items out of the screen, right into your 3D glasses.

The script by John Swetnam and Duane Adler feebly attempts to be funny but fails miserably. Between Andie’s caricature bosses and Sean eating Moose’s mom’s goat balls (that sentence alone reflects the cringe-worthiness of the writing) the dialogue is unfortunately laughable. Aside from those scenes, it’s purely dancing. They dance continuously, with montages of the gang dressed up as zombies and mad scientists – making me ache for the days of Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum romantically dancing in the first Step Up rehearsal room eight years ago.

Although the script seems like a Saturday Night Live sketch, it’s not what audience members are paying to see – it’s the dancing and that’s where the film flourishes. Each number is exciting and enticing, with added help from the editing and upbeat music. Paying extra money for 3D is a waste since it only used on occasion, and even then it’s just Twitch (from The Ellen DeGeneres Show) flinging a hat at you. Not worth it.

The plot plays out as expected as the crew heads to Vegas for a shot at financial stability, with Sean’s inspirational speeches to boot. For fans of the franchise, the return of many beloved characters keeps the film fun and lighthearted, but for those looking for anything more substantial than 112 minutes of competitive dancing, Step Up All In doesn’t fit the bill.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (8/11/14)

Top Photo: Ryan Guzman as “Sean”

Bottom Photo: Ryan Guzman as “Sean” and his dance crew.

Q: Does Step Up All In pass the Bechdel Test?

No. The script is mostly focused on Sean and his crew’s vision of winning The Vortex.

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HanQuillI arrived expecting the worst only to find myself charmed by this zany homage to Harrison Ford which begins by riffing Raiders of the Lost Ark then quickly morfs into an update of the original Star Wars (now called Episode IV). With no clue how any of this mapped to the actual Marvel mythology, I just settled in & laughed my way through the ensuing mayhem.

Cast members all acquit themselves admirably. Chris Pratt proves himself totally ready to stand in the center, but for me the star of the show was Bradley Cooper who gives voice to the animated character “Rocket.” (Question: Is this name an homage to The Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon?)

Kudos to director James Gunn for managing a huge technical crew behind-the-scenes! Double that for Nicole Perlman’s giddy screenplay!! Triple that for whoever selected the songs on Peter Quill’s cassettes!!!  (JLH: 4/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH


Review of Guardians of the Galaxy by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

A famous line from Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life reads, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” This quote echoed in my mind throughout the 121 enjoyable minutes of Marvel’s new blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. The timeless themes of love, loss, and friendship – whether on Planet Xandar or Bedford Falls – are more three-dimensional than the overload of special effects in so many recent blockbusters.

The comic-book adaptation by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman begins in 1988, with a little boy listening to his cassette tape labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” outside his dying mother’s hospital room. While running outside to escape the pain of his mother’s death, he is abducted by a spaceship into another galaxy with only one Earthly possession in hand – his Walkman. The film picks up 26 years later, the little boy now a grown, chiseled man “Peter Quill” (Chris Pratt) walking and dancing around Planet Morag to that same, worn cassette tape.

After stealing a sphere-like orb, Quill returns to his home planet of Xandar in the hopes of getting money for it – much to the dismay of tyrannical “Ronan,” (Lee Pace) of the militaristic Planet Kree. While Quill heads towards prison for his theft, Ronan sends assassin “Gamora” (Zoe Saldana) to capture the orb, an artifact so powerful it could destroy the galaxy. When Gamora arrives on the grounds of Xandar’s Nova Corp, she attempts to steal the orb from Quill, leading to an action-packed fight between the two, with the help of “Rocket,” the comical raccoon, (Bradley Cooper) and “Groot,” (Vin Diesel) the almost non-verbal tree. All four, however, are imprisoned and agree to work together, along with “Drax,” the gruff inmate, (Dave Bautista) to escape the penitentiary and retrieve the orb – Quill and the others wanting money, Gamora wanting to keep it away from dictatorial Ronan. DarthRonan

Humor and heart blend with the action that propels the film forward as Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax chase the orb, take down Ronan’s subordinates, discover new worlds, and even get a lesson on Planet Earth’s 80s classic Footloose. Despite featuring an abundance of intergalactic characters, the development of the relationships between them keeps each one captivating. From Quill and his flirtation with Gamora (which she humorously perceives as his “pelvic sorcery”) to Rocket and his friendship with Groot, whose only dialogue is the repetitious phrase, “I am Groot.” The relationship between Rocket and Groot, albeit strange, is a relatable one. Only Rocket can understand the meaning behind each of Groot’s inflections of “I am Groot,” and like real life, everyone deserves a friend who understands what they’re saying when no one else can.

The film deals with familial love and loss, from the murder of both Drax’s and Gamora’s families to Quill, whose image of his dying mother burns brightly in his memory. The importance of these relationships is stressed during the climax of the movie, as Quill and company try to stop Ronan from destroying the galaxy. The entire sequence is metaphorical, illustrating that no matter what kind of obstacle enters a person’s orb, anything is possible if friends, even those coming from surprising places, are there to help them.

Each supporting role in Guardians of the Galaxy is engaging, but Peter Quill lives up to his nickname “Starlord” because of leading man Chris Pratt. For more than a decade, Pratt’s career has been almost perfectly linear. From heartthrob Bright Abbott in Everwood, to overweight goofball Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation, to serious baseball pro Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball, Chris Pratt’s versatility has made him a household name… and deservedly so.

Aside from the acting, the impressive 3D effects, and the tear-inducing plotlines, the retro music keeps the film upbeat, fun, and nostalgic. This surprisingly entertaining adaptation of a comic book that may be unfamiliar to most moviegoers is something I would recommend for even the least-likeliest person to enter a summer tent pole movie. When everybody leaves the theater smiling and dancing along to “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, I would say the $14 ticket is worth every cent.


Review © Brigid K. Presecky (8/03/14)

Top Photo: Chris Pratt stars “Peter Quill” aka “Star-Lord”… oy!

Middle Photo: Lee Pace (in his Darth Vaderesque garb) co-stars as “Ronen.”

Bottom Photo: Our Heroes! From left, they are Zoe Saldana as “Gamora” (~ Princess Leah), Bradley Cooper as “Rocket” (~ C-P30), Chris Pratt as “Peter Quill” (~ Han Solo), Vin Diesel as “Groot” (~ R2-D2), & Dave Bautista as “Drax” (~ Chewbacca).

Are you missing a Luke Skywalker character? Don’t. If the match was too perfect, then the story would be same old same old.

Photo Credits: Jay Maidment © Marvel 2014

Q: Does Guardians of the Galaxy pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Technically, yes.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has several brief exchanges with Nebula (Karen Gillan) which culminate in a now obligatory cat-fight-to-the-death scene.

At the beginning, they are supposedly sisters because they have both been adopted by Thanos (or whatever), but they are soon on opposite sides once Gamora allies herself with Peter while Nebula joins forces with Ronan (or whatever).

This just goes to show is how damn easy it is to pass the Bechdel Test… which should make you wonder why so few multiplex movies actually do :-(

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Two cousins who share happy summer memories – Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo — return to the Missouri town in which their grandparents lived to document conditions now that the coal mines have been exhausted and wide-spread economic depression has set in.

But their fly-on-the-wall view of 3 tween boys yields little insight. With no context, who can say what any of this really means?

It’s not hard to feel for young boys trapped in dire circumstances that are clearly not of their own making. And yet the presence of both fire arms and fireworks is ominous. Given almost no hope of living the American Dream, at what point does youthful patriotic fervor turn into adult rage and betrayal? (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.


Review of Rich Hill by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Bleak documentary Rich Hill follows three boys living their young lives in the poverty-stricken titular town of Rich Hill (located in west-central Missouri). Harley, Andrew, and Appachey are faced with daily struggles, family issues, and financial hardships as teenagers surviving in a place that appears to be not only economically distressed, but almost vacant.

Cousin directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo draw from their own experiences in Rich Hill (the town where their grandparents lived and where they both spent many summer vacations), effectively capturing the essence of the desolate town, from vacant strip malls to torn up yards. The stories of the three boys are wrought with abandonment, sickness, and overall misery – making a statement on America’s lower class.

The filmmakers capture the boys’ daily lives with their friends and family members, as deep grey clouds fill the skies and freight trains pass in the background. The dreary picture of rural America is painted perfectly, a fitting backdrop for the miserable lives of these teens. One of the parents is in jail, another is emotionally unavailable, and the others seem to have severe physical and mental problems.

The boys smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods, and lack motivation in an unhelpful public school system. One bittersweet aspect was that, despite all of their hardships, the three boys are still so young and excited about birthdays and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, rather than taking the opportunity to develop deep character studies, Tragos and Palermo seem to keep their “characters” at arm’s length. By the end we know them, and yet we don’t; we need to know more to feel anything but pity towards them.

There’s a fine line between access and insight, Insight is required to make a documentary work, but Rich Hill mostly offers access. There are only so many minutes of establishing shots of empty buildings that can convey a big message. The stories of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey are eye opening, but without more depth it was difficult to feel fully engaged by the film.

The message audiences are supposed to take away from Rich Hill is unclear. Do I feel pity for these boys? Yes. Am I supposed to judge them? No. How can this situation change? I don’t have a clear answer … and neither do these two documentarians.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (8/14/14)

Welcome to Rich Hill.

Welcome to Rich Hill.

Photo Credits: see website =

Q: Does Rich Hill pass the Bechdel Test?

No. Although mothers and a grandmother are featured, the film is focused on the lives of these three boys = Andrew, Harley, and Appachey.

Where is Rich Hill?

Where is Rich Hill?


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LeeWell-intentioned, timely drama. A photojournalist (Keener) struggles to regain her footing after a traumatic assignment in Libya, but it takes way too long to figure out who she is, where she is, & how she finds herself in her current predicament.

Film asks critical questions, but the filmmakers fail to fully utilize their enormously talented cast members. (JLH: 3.5/5)

Click HERE to read out FF2 Haiku.


The Film Critic’s Dilemma: Really, really wanting to like something, but knowing in your heart that you just don’t :-(

War Story is a well-intentioned and very timely drama directed by Mark Johnson, based on a screenplay he wrote with Kristen Gore. (Yes, that Kristen Gore—daughter of Al & Tipper.)

The main character is a photographer named “Lee” (Catherine Keener), but when we first see her, Lee is an object for other photographers rather than a subject who is taking pictures of her own. Lee is hustled out of a building that looks vaguely Middle Eastern and pushed into a waiting car while flashing cameras snap at her like piranha fish.

As I said, timely, but alas, to say that War Story is “oblique” is to damn with faint praise. I thought it was my fault. I thought maybe I had been preoccupied and just hadn’t paid enough attention. So I watched the whole film a second time on VOD (with the captions turned on so I could see all the dialogue), and then I even watched the beginning a third time so I could be sure of all the parallels between the first scene and the last scene. But even so, the screenplay fails to provide answers and leaves us in a muddle.

For example, where is this film set? After the intro described above, Lee arrives at a place that seems filled with people who speak Italian, but where? At the end, when the credits roll, the copyright says “Sicily Film,” so presumably War Story is set in Sicily. But why? Why does Lee go all by herself to this particular place?

Even though she has no reservation, Lee checks in to a small hotel where it seems she has stayed before, but why? Only in Act Three do we learn that she knows someone in this town, and his reputation is presumably enough to assure that people will treat her well no matter how abominably she treats them. (On a trip to the local hospital, Lee is very rude to a male doctor there who knows her and is trying to help her, so she’s not exactly sexist. But that said, the way she treated women such as the desk clerk and the housekeeper at the hotel made me cringe.)

Lee spends an indeterminate amount of time alone in her hotel room, sleeping with shades down in the daytime and periodically examining mysterious wounds on her back in the glare of the bathroom mirror. Her cell phone rings repeatedly, but she never answers it, nor does she make any outgoing calls of her own.

Finally she gets dressed and heads outside, which is when the plot, such as it is, gets going. Lee sees a young woman on the street and stalks her. When the woman turns on her, Lee says she knows her from a prior assignment. The woman says no, Lee doesn’t know her, but at least the dialogue between them provides us with a bit of information.

“Hafsia” (Hafsia Herzi) tells Lee she is from Libya. She left on an illegal boat with her brother, but somewhere in the night, he vanished. The survivors made it to shore, but there is no welcome for them in Sicily. Lee agrees to help Hafsia get to France. To accomplish this, Lee needs a car, and that’s when we meet “Albert” (Ben Kingsley) the person who actually lives in this place and owns the car Lee intends to borrow. And thankfully the dialogue between Lee and Albert provides us with a bit more information. WithAlbert

Lee is a photojournalist. Albert is her mentor. Lee was on assignment in Libya with her partner, Mark. They were captured. Lee was tortured. Mark was murdered. Lee has survivor guilt. Lee has post-traumatic stress disorder. Lee has big decisions to make about her future. Albert is cold, practical, and uncompromising: This is what we do, and this is the price we pay.

As I write, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and big chunks of Africa are exploding in flames, and refugees like Hafsia are desperately seeing shelter all around the world.

Where would “social media” be without all the pictures we’re forever sending off to one another? But does that mean we need professional journalists committed to covering each story objectively even if, in doing so, they sometimes risk their own lives in pursuit of the facts? Maybe it’s enough to have unvetted “citizen journalists” on the scene who can upload photos from their phones directly to their blogs? Unfortunately, there only seems to be one third option: out of sight/out of mind.

These are critical questions and kudos to War Story for implicitly asking them. I just wish the filmmakers had done a better job of utilizing their cast’s enormous talents. An incessantly moaning cello is no substitute for back story.


Top Photo: “Lee” (Catherine Keener) on the streets of an unnamed place in Sicily.

Middle Photo: Lee with her mentor “Albert” (Ben Kingsley).

Bottom Photo: Lee with “Hafsia” (Hafsia Herzi), who becomes something of a surrogate daughter in the course of the film.

Photo Credits: No photographer is named on IMDb.

PS: Shout-Out to someone named “Beavertoof” with whom I exchanged several illuminating messages on IMDb. Thanks, Beavertoof :-) But note that this thread contains multiple spoiler alerts!

Q: Does War Story pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Absolutely! The film rests primarily on conversations between Lee and Hafsia. Their slowly-developing relationship grows as they come to trust one another and recount past experiences. By the time they leave the hotel together, they have achieved something of a mother/daughter vibe, which adds emotional heft to their parting scene.


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VGG_JM_7_2_12_382.CR2Very Good Girls is a wonderful film with a terrible title. I actually saw it several weeks ago, but I waited to post my review until today—Very Good Girls’ official opening day in New York—so I would be able to include up-to-date information from Rotten Tomatoes.

Sure enough, Very Good Girls, which RT describes as “Best friends Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), home for one last New York summer, make a pact to lose their virginity before leaving for college…” is currently rated at 10% Fresh which is equal to 90% Rotten. (This calculation is based on 21 posted reviews, 2 of which are “Fresh” and 19 of which are “Rotten.” But even the 2 “Fresh” reviews contain factual errors and half-hearted endorsements.)

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion,” right? But some things are not matters of opinion. Some things are matters of fact. And in the case of Very Good Girls, it is simply not the case that the film’s subject is “Best friends [who] make a pact to lose their virginity before leaving for college.”

Despite its title, Very Good Girls is about one girl, a girl named “Lilly.” Lilly is played by Dakota Fanning and she is in every single scene in Very Good Girls except one. In other words, while Lilly appears in scenes with Gerry, she also appears in scenes with her mother “Norma” (Ellen Barkin), her father “Edward” (Clark Gregg), her boss “Joe” (Peter Sarsgaard), and her two younger sisters “Eleanor” (Kiernan Shipka) and “Phoebe” (Clare Foley). So in addition to her scenes with Gerry, Lilly has scenes at home and at work, and Lilly even appears in several highly significant scenes all by her lonesome.

And what about Gerry? Gerry appears in one scene with a guy named “David” (Boyd Holbrook), who RT would have you believe is the bone of contention in an otherwise perfect Gerry/Lilly relationship (or as RT puts it, they “find their friendship tested when they both fall for the same guy.”) This scene lasts for about a minute. In all the other scenes in which Gerry appears, even scenes set in Gerry’s house with Gerry’s parents in the room, Lilly is always there on screen too.

In a film with a runtime of 1 hour and 31 minutes, that’s approximately 90 minutes of screen time with Lilly, and approximately one minute of screen time without Lilly. If that doesn’t count as an objective measure of “Point of View,” then I don’t know what does. These are facts, folks, and these facts have nothing whatsoever to do with my own opinion—one way or the other—of Very Good Girls.

But, of course, I’ve already told you right up front that I think Very Good Girls “is a wonderful film,” so what do I think happens to Lilly in these 90 minutes? To make a long story short: Lilly learns how to use her wings to fly from the nest.

When Very Good Girls opens, Lilly has just graduated from high school and she is getting ready to leave for college. It is midsummer. Most days, she works in Manhattan. (Lilly is one of the scrubbed clean kids who tell folks what they are looking at as they circle the city in a tour boat.) Some days–and most evenings–Lilly palls around with a girl—her BFF Gerry—who lives in her neighborhood.

Lilly is, indeed, a very good girl. From various conversations, we know that Lilly went to a school named St. Ann’s, which is a real place with a great reputation. But even if you don’t recognize the name St. Ann’s, you can guess that Lilly went to good school because her destination is Yale… and we all know Yale is a top notch Ivy.

Lilly’s family lives in a very large and very nice house in a Brooklyn enclave called “Victorian Flatbush,” but basically her family lives “above the store.” Both of her parents see patients at home. Her father (who is a physician) sees his patients in one set of offices, and her mother (who is a therapist) sees her patients in another set of offices. But we know this is an urban neighborhood rather than a suburb because we see Lilly getting on and off buses and subways where she is surrounded by a great mix of people.

(Full Disclosure: I actually live in this part of Brooklyn myself now, so I know that just to the west of Rugby Road is a Pakistani neighborhood, and just to the east of Rugby Road is an Afro-Caribbean neighborhood. Clothing styles and restaurant options run the full gamut.)

BFF Gerry also lives in Victorian Flatbush, but her house is not quite so plush. And it’s not at all clear that Gerry is a “very good girl.” While Lilly has spent her high school years doing all the things that get one to a place like Yale, Gerry has been hanging out with musicians. Did Gerry also go to St. Ann’s? Not clear. At one point she drops the name “Erasmus” which is a public school that has seen better days. Is Gerry also going to college? Not clear. No destination is ever defined for Gerry, so if she is, then it is likely to be local. After all, if Gerry’s goal is to be a musician and she’s already making connections, then why would she even consider leaving New York? But most important, Gerry has a wild streak. She does impulsive things, which is one reason why Lilly probably likes to pal around with her.

One day on an outing to Brighton Beach, Lilly and Gerry meet a guy name David who has a mobile food cart. Gerry immediately begins flirting with him (which is her nature), while Lilly watches with icy reserve (which is her nature). Unbeknownst to them, David, who wants to be a professional photographer, takes pictures of them as they are leaving for home. A few days later, David sees Lilly walking on the street. He posts pictures of her around what he rightly assumes to be her neighborhood, and after she sees them, Lilly returns to Brighton Beach alone for a second meeting. That’s when Lilly gives David her address. (But don’t look for Lilly’s house at 832 Rugby Road. I checked. It’s not a real address.) VGG_JM_7_3_12_1272.CR2

Meanwhile things at home have gone from bad to worse. Lilly’s father Edward has moved out; Lilly’s mother Norma has locked herself in her room; and Lilly’s younger sisters Eleanor and Phoebe are in a panic. It is up to Lilly—always reliable, always in control—to keep the household going. When her boss Joe starts hitting on her at work, Lilly can’t tell Norma, so she tells Gerry and Gerry’s Mom “Kate” (Demi Moore). Kate wants Lilly to report Joe to the ACLU, but that’s not Lilly’s style. Gerry may be bit of a Drama Queen, but Lilly is still “a very good girl.”

And that is the set up and that is all I am going to say about what happens next. How Lilly copes with the various impediments between here (Victorian Flatbush) and there (Yale University), are for you to discover for yourself. But suffice it to say, Lilly is considerably older and wiser by the time she leaves for Orientation.

For a girl like Lilly, this moment—the moment when she leaves home and heads for college—is one of the most important moments of her life. Filmmaker Naomi Foner received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award in 1989 when she wrote a screenplay about a young man at exactly the same age. Running On Empty remains one of my all-time favorite films, which is probably one reason why I went into this new film—which Foner both wrote and directed—wanting to love it. But wanting doesn’t make it so. If I did love it—and I did—it’s because Dakota Fanning does such a brilliant job of bringing Lilly to life on screen.

In 1989, River Phoenix got an Oscar nomination for his performance as “Danny” in Running On Empty. In a fair world, Dakota Fanning would get an Oscar nomination for her performance as Lilly too. But the world isn’t a fair place. There will be no Oscar nominations for a film that gets a 10% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes…


Top Photo: Dakota Fanning as “Lilly.”

Middle Photo:  Lilly with “David” (Boyd Holbrook).

Bottom Photo: Lilly and Gerry (Elizabeth Olson) meet David for the first time in Brighton Beach.

Photo Credits: Jessica Miglio & Linda Kallerus

Q: Does Very Good Girls pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

If you’ve read the above, then you already know the answer is YES!


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Opens 7/18/14 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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Opens 7/18/14 in NYC. Review coming soon…

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Regular Couple“Jay” (Jason Segal) & “Annie” (Cameron Diaz) send their kids to grandma one night, then record themselves working their way thru all the moves in THE JOY OF SEX… only to realize in the morning that they have inadvertently uploaded their tape into cyberspace.

Rich only saw the crude in this, but Jan thought she detected some interesting Zeitgeist about living the digital life. (Note that Annie is a successful “Mommy Blogger,” so there is more than a little bit of  Julie & Julia in her plot line.)

Jack Black is hilarious as a cucumber-cool Porn King, and young Harrison Holzer almost steals the show as a savvy tween geek whose knowledge of the cyberspace quickly turns menacing. (JLH: 3.5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.


Review of Sex Tape by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Sex Tape, the summer’s latest raunchy R-rated comedy from Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller, provides big laughs, occasional awkwardness, and feeble attempts to be sweet. The plot follows “Jay” (Jason Segel) and “Annie” (Cameron Diaz), a husband and wife who decide to make a sex tape on their iPad to escape their marital rut. When Jay fails to erase the three-hour-long video, it syncs to several iPads that he had previously given away as gifts.

A wild goose chase ensues, in which Jay and Annie’s panic causes them to search out every last iPad to erase the dirty video before their friends and family have a chance to see it. Called by Diaz “a grown-up Adventures in Babysitting,” the film was promoted as an all-night hunt for the sex tape. The manic chase for the iPads is somewhat anticlimactic, however, considering that a majority of the second act is spent in the home of “Hank” (Rob Lowe), a CEO who is considering making an important business deal with Annie. Between Annie’s cocaine-fuelled rants and Jay’s bloody encounter with Hank’s attack dog, the entire sequence sometimes feels as if it belongs to some other movie. Jay and Annie actually end up visiting only a few houses, where they spend far too much time telling the same joke.

Even though the plot in itself is bizarre, watching Jason Segel crack himself up while doing his typical, uncanny “shtick,” makes the film worthwhile. After nine years as Marshall Erikson on How I Met Your Mother, Segel relies on three methods of acting: the bumbling way he delivers a punch line, his uproarious singing, and his serious and lovable sincerity – all of which show up in Sex Tape.

The supporting cast, however, like “Robby” (Rob Corddry) and “Tess” (The Office’s Ellie Kemper), provides a handful of laughs but underutilizes their talents in the outlandish plot.  Rob Lowe as the aforementioned business mogul is a character eerily – and annoyingly – similar to his portrayal of Chris Traeger on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. You get the feeling that Lowe thinks he’s being a lot funnier than he actually is – which, in a way, characterizes Sex Tape as a whole.

While offering big laughs at certain points, mostly thanks to Segel’s impeccable comic timing, the film’s plot holes (the impenetrability of “the cloud,” for example) are distracting. Some might argue this is to be expected in an R-rated comedy with Sex Tape as the title, so despite its overall silliness and occasional cringe-worthiness, the film actually has more substance than most 90-minute raunch-filled comedies. With lines like “maybe everybody has a double-sided dildo in their nightstand,” Angelo and company attempt to drive home the theme that everyone has a proverbial sex tape that they would prefer to keep hidden. Plot points aside, Sex Tape provides mindless laughter for a late night trip to the movies.


Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/18/14)

Top Photo: Jason Segel as “Jay” and Cameron Diaz as “Annie.” Just a regular, happily-married couple!

Bottom Photo: Jack Black as a Porn King totally non-plussed by yet another couple desperately trying to get their tape back.

Photo Credits: Claire Floger

Q: Does Sex Tape pass the Bechdel Test? 

No. Annie has no one-on-one conversations with other women about anything :-(

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2014 “LATIN BEAT” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Review coming soon…

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