Film Review Roundup: September 2012

Trouble with the Curve

Clint Eastwood has garnered the most publicity he’s had in a few years for his…er, conversation with Invisible Obama at the Republican National Convention. Let’s just write it off as in-character promotion for Trouble with the Curve, the first film Eastwood’s starred in without also directing since 1993’s In the Line of Fire.

Eastwood stars as Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves with one last shot to prove he’s still capable of doing his job. On an assignment that will prove whether or not he’s still capable of doing his job, Gus is joined by his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), who helps as Gus’ failing vision becomes more of an issue. Mickey strikes up a relationship of sorts with another scout, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former player discovered by Gus years earlier.

As far as sport-related films go, Trouble with the Curve is one of the better entries of the past few years. The bulk of the film has less to do with the sport of baseball, and more on the relationship between Gus and Mickey. Eastwood is the rare actor who is still capable of headlining a major film in his 80s, and it’s because of a combination of talent and selective choosing. The roles he picks, including this one, seem tailor-made for Eastwood, and he’s able to knock his performances out of the park.

He’s more than matched by Adams, who does stellar work as Mickey. As a character, Mickey is a bit typical: she’s the hard-working, dedicated female professional. Adams embues the character with a lot of warmth and depth that’s normally lacking in these roles. Her interactions with Eastwood, which dominate the film, provide many of the best moments. Adams also does well against Timberlake, whose choice to focus on films over music is beginning to show more promise. Here, he uses his natural charisma to break away at Mickey’s defenses, giving Adams more ammunition to steal the movie out from underneath Eastwood’s proverbial lawn.

It’s worth mentioning that Trouble with the Curve is a bit formulaic in its approach. What makes it stand out are the performances, which make the majority of the film purely enjoyable. Only a final-act setup and too-neat ending detract from an otherwise worthwhile film. These problems are somewhat forgivable in light of what comes before, though.

House at the End of the Street

Let’s be honest here: most horror films these days get by on any number of clichés, and it’s rare to find one that stands out for any reason. House at the End of the Street is not one of those films that stands out. To be fair, House does play more like a classic thriller than your standard horror flick these days. There’s a legitimate twist thrown into the film, and the film eschews the supernatural elements and torture porn gore that audiences normally find with the genre. Avoiding both of the latter elements makes the film feel a little fresh, even if it simultaneously makes the whole film a bit weak.

Jennifer Lawrence, on a career high after The Hunger Games, stars as Elissa, a high school student with aspirations of being a singer/songwriter who moves to a small,upscale town with her mother. As she and her mother find out, an incident occurred in the house next door years earlier where a child killed her parents in their sleep and disappeared, leaving her brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot) as the lone survivor. Elissa begins a relationship with Ryan, which pulls Elissa into the secrets of the house.

Lawrence manages to make the character stand out a bit, proving once again her position as one of the best actresses of her generation, but even Lawrence can only do so much with a standard character. Elsewhere, nothing about the film stands out. The characters operate on a standard “white people in horror movies” mode, where their actions are stupefying and unrealistic. There are better options for fans of the horror genre and/or Jennifer Lawrence. Skip this film.

Liberal Arts 

Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) follows up his directorial debut, happythankyoumoreplease, with Liberal Arts, where he performs triple duty as star, writer, and director. In Liberal Arts, Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old admissions director who begins a romantic relationship with Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old college student. As their relationship progresses, Jesse learns more about himself and realizes how he’s emotionally stunted.

The film works primarily because of the cast Radnor has to surround him. Aside from Olsen, who continues to show promise after her role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, the film also stars Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser and Zac Efron. It helps, also, that Radnor has created a charming, clever storyline. It’s very much a verbal film, which is appropriate given the collegiate setting. All in all, it’s definitely worth watching.

Sleepwalk with Me

“I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s true. I always have to tell people that,” Mike Birbiglia states at the beginning of Sleepwalk with Me. Aside from a few minor changes, such as renaming his character Matt Pandamiglio, he’s right. Sleepwalk is based on Birbiglia’s one-man show, which details his time as a burgeoning stand-up comic. This period of time coincided with growing stress in a relationship with his girlfriend, and along with other supporting factors help pushed Birbiglia into bouts of severe sleepwalking. Sleepwalk is a bit jarring tonally, but Birbiglia is charming and able to carry the film through its storyline.

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