Tag Archives: Olivia Wilde

Ho-Ho-Hokum

‘Love the Coopers’ is snow-covered Christmas gloop

(Left to right) Diane Keaton and John Goodman in LOVE THE COOPERS to be released by CBS Films and Lionsgate.

Love the Coopers

Starring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Alan Arkin, Ed Helms & Olivia Wilde

Directed by Jessie Nelson

PG-13

In the early moments of this sprawling Christmas comedy, characters somehow appear to end up “inside” a snow globe, frolicking in the crystalline white flakes.

There’s a lot of snow in Love the Coopers; the stuff never stops falling. I was surprised by the end of the movie that it hadn’t shut down every road in Coopersville, or Cooperstown, or Coopers Knob, or wherever it is the story takes place. Instead, like a gigantic snow globe, the movie just seems to regenerate the same precipitate, shaking it up over and over again—so it doesn’t pile up, it just flies around and re-lands, making everything look like a big, fluffy white winter wonderland, snow on snow.

Love the Coopers indeed looks like a picture-perfect Christmas: sumptuous cookies and cupcakes, colorfully coordinated sweaters, coats and scarves, holiday carolers, red poinsettias, green mistletoe, twinkling lights on impeccably trimmed trees. Even the dogs are decorated.

LOVE THE COOPERS

Marissa Tomei

But all the cheery Christmas decorations cover up a big, dysfunctional mess: The Coopers are falling apart, in just about every way. Mom Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and dad Sam (John Goodman) are planning to split after 40 years of marriage. Their grown kids (Ed Helms and Olivia Wilde), Charlotte’s younger sister (Marissa Tomei) and her dad (Alan Arkin) all have issues of their own.

There’s also a jaded waitress (Amanda Seyfried), a foul-mouthed urchin granddaughter (Blake Baumgartner), a cop with an identity crisis (Anthony Mackie), a couple of teens working out the sloppy, tongue-twisting kinks of French kissing, a say-anything septuagenarian aunt (June Squibb), and a strapping young soldier (Jake Lacy) who gets roped into the Christmas Eve family reunion as a pretend boyfriend.

And a partridge in a pear tree—no, not really. But it does get very, very crowded, and that’s not even counting the narrator, who turns out to be…well, someone whose name you’ll certainly recognize, in a form you’ll in no way be expecting, in a manner that makes absolutely no sense at all.

LOVE THE COOPERS

Producer-director Jessie Nelson, whose previous projects include the heart-tugging, high-pedigree gloop of I Am Sam, Stepmom and Corrina, Corrina, remains true to form here, with an all-star cast fumbling around in a deep-dish holiday goo of dumb dialogue, silly shtick and artificial sweetness that feels like a concoction created with ingredients ladled from other, far better cinematic Christmas crock pots—a dollop of It’s a Wonderful Life, splashes of Love, Actually, sprinkles of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Snow on snow on snow.

Ed Helms and Alan Arkin sing, a dog gets blamed for a fart he didn’t make and Marissa Tomei hides a brooch in her mouth. There’s mashed potato slinging, Christmas carol mangling, streets full of Santas, gingerbread men in G-string frosting, and a joyous, swirling dance to a Bob Dylan song.

And so much snow. But it never piles up—and like the movie, it never adds up, either, to anything more than a slushy, mushy holiday heap of ho-ho-hokum.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Walking Dead

Olivia Wilde gets lost in a clunky spook house of recycled sci-fi hokum

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The Lazarus Effect

Starring Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass

Directed by David Gelb

PG-13

From the opening shot, you know something bad’s going to happen.

As a group of hotshot young scientists, lead by Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass, attempt to resuscitate a dead pig—their latest chapter in a search for a breakthrough they hope will ultimately benefit coma patients—you can sense the dread, even if they don’t.

“You are playing God with a bunch of dead animals!” one of them later tells another.

Of course, that’s it! But they learn that lesson too late. Perhaps if they’d only looked a little closer at the title of their own movie, or watched any number of other films over the years, or even paid more attention to what they were doing. Lazarus, as many other folks seem to know, is a character in the New Testament who was reported to have died and been raised back to life by Jesus; his name has since become enshrined as secular shorthand for anything wrongly thought to be deceased.

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Celebrating too soon…

The idea of “man playing God” is an ancient one, older even than the tale of Lazarus, as old as ancient mythology. But it really took pop-cultural root with the character of the Frankenstein monster, created by novelist Mary Shelley in the 1800s and later turned into an entertainment icon in movies, TV, cartoons and even breakfast cereal. The fingerprints of Frankenstein are all over just about any sci-fi or horror “reanimation” tale that’s ever followed it, including this one.

Here, Duplass’s character is named Frank, and it’s the beautiful Wilde who becomes the “monster” after an incident in the lab goes horribly awry.

The Lazarus Effect starts off with some smart, intense ideas, sharply batting around topics of science, faith, mortality and the financial realities that drive modern-day scientific research. But the dialogue soon enough veers into gobblygook and the plot disintegrates into a clunky haunted-M-128_06382rv4_rgbhouse hodgepodge: flickering lights, fiery visions of clawing hands and a little girl in hell, and Zoe popping up from the shadows—or from underneath a sheet.

Zoe can read people’s thoughts, complete their sentences and move things with her mind. She has super-senses. “I think something’s wrong,” she tells Frank, in a moment of clarity…and terror. “I can see things; I can hear things.” Then she vomits up a torrent of white stuff. Turns out the lab accident has made her super-smart, utilizing all her brain instead of just part of it. And all that intelligence, for some unexplained reason, has made her angry…really, really angry.

Most viewers will be angry, too, at this mismanaged mess of a monster movie, which strands its two talented stars in a spook house of recycled sci-fi and horror-show hokum and loftier concepts lifted from other, far better films—like Carrie, The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist…and, of course, Frankenstein. This sub-par scare-flick entry in the “back from the dead” genre starts smart but gets dumber as it goes, crash-lands on a downer note that I can’t imagine will please anyone, and ultimately fails to bring any encouraging signs of new life to a tale that’s nearly as old as life itself.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Love Bytes

‘Her’ raises questions about our connections to technology

Her

Her

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.99 / DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entetainment)

 

What does it mean to be in love? What senses are involved? Is it possible to love someone who isn’t there—who isn’t really “someone” at all? Director Spike Jonze’s provocative, critically acclaimed futuristic tale of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s new artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), raises all sorts of questions about technology and our growing relationship to it—and also becomes a surprisingly sweet, sensitive ode to the basic, timeless human need to connect. It also features Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, an Oscar-winning original screenplay, and a captivating Oscar-nominated song by Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Life in the Fast Lane

Director Ron Howard’s ’70s racing rivalry is a hip, sexy crowd pleaser

Rush

Rush

Blu-ray + DVD $34.98 / DVD $19.96 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Director Ron Howard’s thrilling recreation of the real-life rivalry between two 1970s professional racecar drivers, English daredevil playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and straight-laced Australian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser set in the daring, dangerous golden age of Grand Prix racing. Olivia Wilde has a knockout supporting role as a globetrotting fashion model, and generous bonus features on the Blu-ray combo include a several mini-documentaries, including one on how Howard and his crew created the illusion of filming all over the world while shooting mostly in the United Kingdom, and another on the movie’s sexy flashback style.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Guy Meets Gigabyte

A surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted ‘what if’ about love in the not-so-far future

HER

Her

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Spike Jonze

R, 126 min.

Can you love someone who isn’t really anyone? That’s one of the questions at the heart of Her, in which a lonely writer in the not-so-distant future develops a romantic relationship with the operating system of his computer.

Think of Siri, the speech-recognition software that comes with an iPhone, or the “voice” that narrates routes mapped out by your vehicle’s GPS navigational device.

Only Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the first of an advanced new operating system (OS) product line, is much more than just a voice. She has personality and a powerful “artificial intelligence,” and she immediately begins to wow her new owner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with attention to his every need. She proofreads his work, composes music for their moments together, helps him play his favorite holographic videogame and sends him dirty-minded doodles that make him laugh.

HERSamantha “gets” Theo—understands him, relates to him—like no flesh-and-blood woman ever got him before. Soon enough, he begins to develop feelings for “her.”

Written and directed by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) Her takes an old-fashioned romantic convention—guy meets girl—and runs it through an innovative wavelength of sci-fi wi-fi that at the same time doesn’t seem all that out of sync with today. We never know when it takes place—presumably, it’s only a couple of decades from now—but its scenes of people walking around with ear buds, constantly speaking commands for their portable devices to check email or play songs, look oddly contemporary.

Jonze’s movie—nominated for four upcoming Academy Awards, including Best Picture—raises issues about relationships, intimacy, isolation, jealousy, sensory experience, and our connections to the technologies on which our lives have increasingly come to rely. Phoenix gives his usual standout, immersive performance in a very tricky role, playing to a co-star who isn’t really “there” in a physical sense.

As for Samantha, heard but never seen, Johansson is mesmerizing, a warm, sensual, palpable “presence” that moves from Theo’s head into his heart, re-awakening him in every way

_DSC2097.tifAmy Adams frumps down her recent firecracker role in American Hustle to play Theo’s old college friend with love problems of her own, and Rooney Mara portrays his soon-to-be ex-wife, scoffing at his inability to find and date a “real woman.” Theo’s co-worker (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks and Recreation), however, doesn’t bat an eye when he finds out his girlfriend is an OS. Olivia Wilde has one scene as a date with doubts about Theo’s abilities to commit.

At one point, Theodore plays a ukulele and plunks out a song for Samantha. It’s a charming little tune about being “a million miles away” with the one you love. The very idea of a guy head-over-heels with a female voice coming out of a device in his shirt pocket may seem, indeed, w-a-a-ay out there. But Spike Jonze’s surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted “what if” makes you wonder if it’s not so far off, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Life In The Fast Lane

Ron Howard’s real-story racing movie is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser

RUSHRush

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde

Directed by Ron Howard

R, 123 min.

Released Sept. 27, 2013

The rivalry between two professional racers becomes the driving force in Rush, director Ron Howard’s dramatic depiction the 1970s competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The racing world was captivated, back in the day, as Hunt and Lauda became superstars of European-based Formula One racing and vied for championship trophies in the first half of the decade. Not only were they passionate, prickly competitors, they also represented polar opposites: Hunt was a dashing, daring blonde-haired British playboy; Lauda was a straight-laced Austrian with an obsessive, calculating mind wired for speed—and a face, as Hunt used to remind him, like a “rat.”

The media loved them, the public loved them, and they loved—well, they loved racing, even though they knew it could kill them. There was a part of them that loved it because they knew it could kill them.RUSH

As Lauda (Daniel Brühl) points out, every time he climbs into his car’s cockpit, he’s aware there’s a 20 percent chance he won’t make it out alive.

“Staring death in the face, there’s nobility in that,” says Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “It’s like being a knight.”

Brühl and Hemsworth are both outstanding, and it’s especially good to see Hemsworth break out of his Thor tights. Olivia Wilde shines in her role as the globetrotting fashion model who becomes Hunt’s wife…until another playboy, this one a famous Hollywood movie star, enters the picture.

RushMoviegoers who might be put off by the idea of a “racing” movie should know that while Rush revs up its story, it’s much more than a flick about fast cars. At its core are two men who happen to be racers, and the drama that builds around them as the years unfold. We learn how both Hunt and Lauda came to be both rivals and admirers, and how they were both “hulk-headed kids, scorned by [their] families, headed nowhere,” before finding their futures behind the wheels of the low-slung, super-fast cars on the Grand Prix circuit.

And we see how Lauda finds the will to recover from a horrific accident, and return to the track, by watching videotapes of Hunt continuing to win races.

Howard, the former child actor who grew up to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, adds another winner to his resume with this hip, cool-running crowd pleaser that’s also a terrifically made movie all-around. Each scene is meticulously constructed with careful detail, from the burnished, Kodachrome-esque glow cast by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire), to the parade of ‘70s fashions and the soundtrack of retro tunes from David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Thin Lizzy.

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The racing scenes, whether on sun-dappled pastoral country roads in England or dark, rain-lashed sections of do-or-die championship track under the imposing shadow of Mt. Fuji in Japan, are thrilling, taking advantage of everything that modern movies can do with seamless integrations of live action and digital effects.

But the thing that Rush does best, however, is never let you forget about the two men—the two real men—who did the driving.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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