ChickFlicking – People Like Us Review (Nadia Sandhu)

People Like Us

Starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D’Addario, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed by Alex Kurtzman

The first thing I noticed when I saw the trailer for “People Like Us” was the amazing chemistry between Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks, which would be great if this was a rom-com, but it isn’t.  This is a film about siblings – a brother and a sister, only she doesn’t know they are related.

Now that I have seen the film, I’m sorry to tell you that this ick factor apparently wasn’t unintentional- seems the entire plot hinges on Sam (Chris Pine) not revealing to Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) that he is her half-brother.  Instead we spend fully half the movie in standard rom-com mode with Sam meeting and charming not only Frankie, but her young son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) too.

The film is written by director Alex Kurtzman and writing partner Roberto Orci – better known for their work on Transformers, Cowboys vs. Aliens, and the Star Trek reboot.  The plot was apparently inspired by events in their own lives, and they don’t do too badly with the emotional authenticity.  The main problem lies in the plotting and what appear to be two entirely different films mashed into one narrative.

Sam is a slick “barter” salesman whose wheeling and dealings have taken a wrong turn with the loss of a shipment of boxed soup whose cheap transportation arrangements did not include refrigeration. With a boss expecting him to make up for the financial loss by buying the client a new house extension and the FDA investigating, Sam gets a call from his Mother (Michelle Pfeiffer is playing older mom’s now!!!) – his father has died. When Sam finally shows up after the funeral, he finds out that his cold distant music producer father has left him his vinyl collection, and entrusted him with a shaving kit full of money for a sister he didn’t know he had.

It would appear that Kurtzman and Orci felt the film would be over if Sam revealed his relationship to recovering alcoholic Frankie.  So instead he leads her on.  As you do.  Our writers clearly couldn’t imagine any other ways that this film could play out, and that is the real shame here.  This could have been a Cameron Crow film about a son coming to terms with his family dynamics, or it could have been a really good rom-com.  Instead it is overlong, with a maternal subplot suddenly tacked on at the end, shifting the tone and focus of the story and needlessly dragging the ending on.

BTW Olivia Wilde is in this film, not that you would know it from the marketing.  A sign of how fast her star has fallen in just one year.

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The Passing of a Chick Flick Auteur – Nora Ephron (Nadia Sandhu)

Nora Ephron hated the term “chick flick” per Pete Hammond at Deadline (click here for that great memorium)  but I don’t think she would mind the way that the much maligned, and ultimately unfair label, has been reclaimed here at chickflicking.

Ephron was a prolific writer but she will long be remembered for reviving and reinventing the rom com genre for a new generation.  Her screenplay for 1989′s “When Harry Met Sally” came on the heels of a testosterone soaked decade at the box office and addressed a complex modern dilemma that everyone could relate to: can a man and woman ever really be just friends?

On the heels of that success, Ephron went on to write and direct “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) and “Julie and Julia” (2009) amongst numerous other rom coms listed on her imdb page that will no doubt ring a bell with film fans everywhere. The secret to her success was crafting smart, funny, and morally confused heroines who dealt with real life issues in idealized rom com settings.  Everyone knew when they were watching a Nora Ephron film, and her work has become the gold standard against which other rom coms are compared.

Ephron received three Academy Award Nominations for Best Original Screenplay – for her first screenplay “Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Sleepless in Seattle”.

In addition to being one of Hollywood’s most successful female filmmakers, Ephron was also a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, and a playwright.  Nora was 71 years of age.

NY Times Obituary

ChickFlicking – Weekend Box Office: A Tale of Two Chick Flicks (Nadia Sandhu)

This was supposed to be a positive review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but a funny thing happened on the way to posting. The first box office projections started coming in and I found myself enthralled by the widely diverging fates for Friend and Pixar’s Brave, the two big chick flick contenders this weekend.

The source of my fascination is a question that keeps popping into my head with each successive tent pole’s release – simply put, and pardon my language in advance, ‘WTF is going on at the marketing departments in Hollywood?’ It could be just me, but the campaigns this summer are looking increasingly slap dash and a little clueless even. This looks to be the case right across the board with films as divergent as Rock of Ages, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,  Spider Man, and so on.

Both films this weekend had counter-intuitive marketing campaigns, and while things turned out great for Brave at $66.7 million domestic, the results were really dire for Friend which barely grossed $3.8 million for a tenth place finish.  Both campaigns decided it was best to hide the fact that ultimately, these were flicks for chicks.  The primary quadrants were definitely female here and I can’t help but wonder what suddenly gave Hollywood the idea that women of legal drinking age don’t go to see films, but there you have it.

Disney was very nervous about the first Pixar fairytale and the first Pixar film to feature a female lead. Disney of course has cause to worry – their past is littered with failed female princess vehicles like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid…(yes, sarcasm is absolutely necessary here).  They went the warrior princess route with their campaign and the gamble paid off.  They got us into cinemas to see for ourselves, and the result was  both heartwarming and action packed enough to make up for the shock of the film we received versus what we were expecting.

For Friend, it was the weight of expectation that doomed it.  Audiences were set up for a comedy – and while this film does deal with the impending apocalypse with some levity (the asteroid is innocuously named Matilda after all), ultimately this is a film about relationships, regret, and the meaning of life.  This is most definitely a bittersweet relationship drama, and one that I actually found to be quite touching.  There is just no way that a sentimental romance like this can live up to the expectations of a screwball comedy-road movie as set up by marketing, and the damning word of mouth bears this out.  If you set the dinner for steak, you better produce a steak!

For what it’s worth, a completely unscientific exit poll of my film going companions post-Friend did reveal a definite fault line forming along gender lines.  Does this mean men were never going to see it, or could this have been the date movie of the weekend with a different approach?  We’ll never know for sure, and that is too bad.

It will be interesting to see the figures for Brave’s second week, now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag and the boys know what the movie is about.  I’m betting it won’t matter and expect to see a standard drop here, nothing disastrous.

Brave is sitting at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, significantly lower than the average for a Pixar property ( which generally hover closer to 90%) and some are blaming the mother-daughter theme for the perceived shortfall.  Again, I can’t stress enough that if you set up a warrior princess story in the trailer, you can’t substitute will o’ the wisps, witches and bears and expect people not to be jarred.

In the meantime, I am simply breathless with anticipation for the results of the next bizarre tent pole campaign  (I’m looking at you Magic Mike).  Will it be a success?  I honestly can’t say, but the buzz is building nicely and I do think I owe it the Eye Candy treatment at the very least.

Now excuse me while I go ponder on the fact that I used Magic Mike and tent pole in the same sentence.

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NXNE 2012 – A Pair of Danko Jones Movie Reviews (Nadia Sandhu)

The Ballad of Danko Jones

The Diamond Brothers directed the “Below the Belt” music video trilogy for Danko Jones, and then re-purposed that footage to create this short film.  Ralph Macchio and Elijah Wood as the bad guys.  Plus Selma Blair, Lemmy Kilmister, Mike Watt, Don Jamieson, Jena Malone, Frank Drank, Art Hsu and Jason Trost. A fascinating making of video can be found here.

Bring on the Mountain (World Premiere)

As NXNE Film Festival director said in his introduction, this is a rare documentary about a band that has succeeded.  As I watched the film I was struck by two things: the sheer charisma of lead singer Danko Jones and the sheer popularity of this band outside of Canada.  We are talking jam packed stadiums here. These guys have opened for the Rolling Stones, and toured with Guns ‘n Roses and Motley Crue and Danko has been up on stage performing with Lemmy and Motorhead.  These guys are living the rock ‘n roll dream.

Five drummers, one detached retina and 16 years later Danko Jones are still rocking out – and they still refuse to record what has become their live anthem, “Bring on the Mountain”.  Bring on the Mountain is a comprehensive document about the ongoing evolution of an enduring band.  Essential viewing for budding rock acts everywhere.

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NXNE 2012 – Disposable Film Festival Review (Nadia Sandhu)

Photo from the short ‘Webcam’

Description from Selected by MovieMaker Magazine as one the world’s “coolest film festivals,” the Disposable Film Festival supports and celebrates the democratization of cinema made possible by new, inexpensive video technology. Disposable offers a legitimate forum in which the work of zero-budget and non-traditional filmmakers is taken seriously and exhibited in theaters around the United States and internationally. Through workshops, competitions, panels, and other events intended to educate and inspire, the Disposable Film Festival promotes experimentation and innovation and helps build the track record needed for a new generation of filmmakers to enter and change the industry.

I dare you not to leave the Disposable Film Festival wanting to become an auteur.  Founded in 2007 by Dr. Carlton Evans and Eric Slatkin, the Disposable Film Festival was designed to celebrate the democratization of film making by showcasing works made using mobile phones, laptops, cameras and other non-traditional devices.

Creativity is key and content is king. Anyone can submit for a fee of 99 cents and the depth and variety of this year’s finalists was amazing and inspiring at the same time. From genre to romance to music video – every possible permutation was there.

Particular standouts for this reviewer:

Webcam.  Shot entirely on a Mac Book, this film manages to create a creepy narrative that plays on that occasional irrational thought that someone is watching you through your camera. (You know what I’m talking about)

Les Ongles (The Nails). The 2012 Festival Winner is a good old fashioned genre piece, shot entirely on a mobile phone.

Splitscreen.  A visually stunning story of a couple reunited.

Special mentions:

The Voyagers.  Stock and archival footage is edited together with a reflective voice-over, tracing our place in the Universe and the trajectory of a couple’s love.  The story doesn’t quite gel for this reviewer, but the effort is to be commended and it is worth a watch.  Ditto Dans L’Ombre (In the Shadows) which pulls together famous cinematic scenes in the film noirish story of a shadow.

One could literally spend hours on their official website, and I heartily recommend that you do.

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