Tag Archives: Olivia Wilde

Better Living Through Chemistry (2014, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier)

Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.

Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.

What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.

Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.

Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.

Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).


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Rush (2013, Ron Howard)

Rush ends with such a cop out, all it does is draw attention all the other cheap things Howard and writer Peter Morgan do to make the film exciting. Technically, it’s fine. Howard’s direction is good, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is great, Hans Zimmer’s music is fine, Morgan writes okay scenes… it’s just mundane.

Howard does get great performances out of Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth as the leads. It’s a shame Morgan can’t create a real relationship for the two men; he can’t even adequately juxtaposition them. The scenes where Morgan tries to point out their similarities and differences are, well, pointless.

A lot of the problem is Howard. He doesn’t have any approach to Rush. It’s sort of a biopic of the two men, sort of a look at the 1976 Grand Prix season, but the film starts too early in order to establish the characters through amusing scenes. Brühl is a sensible Austrian jerk, Hemsworth is a hard-partying ladies man. Maybe if the picture had focused on the racing season–with the other racers being something other than background–Rush would have turned out better.

Alexandra Maria Lara plays Brühl’s love interest. Hemsworth goes through a handful of love interests, with a stilted Olivia Wilde playing the most serious one.

The real stars of Rush are editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. The races aren’t exactly exciting as much as endlessly dangerous.

Too bad Howard didn’t follow the lead and take any risks. Rush stalls.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Mark Digby; produced by Howard, Morgan, Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver and Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt), Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda), Alexandra Maria Lara (Marlene), Pierfrancesco Favino (Clay Regazzoni), Stephen Mangan (Alastair Caldwell), Christian McKay (Lord Hesketh), Alistair Petrie (Stirling Moss) and Olivia Wilde (Suzy Miller).


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Cowboys & Aliens (2011, Jon Favreau), the extended version

Five screenwriters get credit on Cowboys & Aliens. I wonder which one (or ones) are responsible for the stupider “twists” in the plot. Cowboys is stupid the entire time, of course, but it gets even dumber as it progresses.

The movie’s big problem is director Favreau. He isn’t just incapable of directing actors (Olivia Wilde’s performance is atrocious beyond belief), he can’t keep track of a big cast. He’s constantly losing track of the characters, usually in action scenes when he needs to be paying attention.

I assume he’s also responsible for telling cinematographer Matthew Libatique to shoot the film through a muddy lens and he okayed Harry Gregson-Williams’s lame score too. In short, Favreau’s a disastrous director for this movie. It doesn’t even feel like he’s seen a Western before.

For example, Daniel Craig’s supposed to be playing a “Man With No Name” type. Except he’s kind to dogs so the viewer knows he’s really all right. While Craig’s lack of personality is partially his own fault (the script and Favreau do no favors), he’s visibly contemptuous of the material. It’s obvious he thinks it’s stupid.

And it is stupid. It’s terribly stupid. But Harrison Ford manages to give an all right performance, even with a dumber character arc than Craig’s got.

There’s some outstanding supporting work from, no surprise, Sam Rockwell and also Paul Dano and Keith Carradine. Walton Goggins shows up in way too small a part and is great.

Cowboys & Aliens‘s imbecility, surprisingly, overpowers its incompetence.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a story by Fergus, Ostby and Steve Oedekerk and a graphic novel by Fred Van Lente, Andrew Foley, Dennis Calero, Luciano Lima, Luciano Kars, Silvio Spotti and Jeremy Wilson; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental and Jim May; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Johnny Dodge, Kurtzman, Lindelof, Orci and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Adam Beach (Nat Colorado), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggart), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart), Ana de la Reguera (Maria) and Walton Goggins (Hunt).


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Butter (2011, Jim Field Smith)

Jennifer Garner plays a Sarah Palin-type evil Republican woman in Butter. There’s her character. She does a Sarah Palin in Iowa impression; nothing else. It’s easily the most useless performance in the film, but the film’s otherwise filled with good, rounded performances so it’s even more glaring.

And Garner produced the film too so she really just didn’t get it. It’s not all her fault, of course. Director Field Smith and writer Jason A. Micallef maybe should’ve understood you don’t make a wholly unlikable villain a main character, especially not such a real one. It’s not even possible to be sympathetic to Garner’s husband (an underused Ty Burrell) tomcatting around on her. Because his hooker of choice (Olivia Wilde) is human and not an evil monster.

On the flip side, Butter is also the story of a ten year-old black girl (Yara Shahidi) working her way through the all white foster care system in the state. She ends up with some well-meaning liberals (played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) and they have all these profound, wonderful moments.

Shahidi’s half of Butter is amazing. Silverstone doesn’t have enough screen time, but Corddry does and he’s great in the muted comic role.

Wilde and Burrell are both good. Ashley Greene’s good as Garner’s stepdaughter. Hugh Jackman’s hilarious in an extended cameo….

But Butter can’t have it both ways. It should be a great film about race and family and belonging; Garner’s political spoof ruins it.

It’s a shame.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Field Smith; written by Jason A. Micallef; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Matt Garner and Dan Schalk; music by Mateo Messina; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Michael De Luca, Jennifer Garner, Juliana Janes and Alissa Phillips; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Yara Shahidi (Destiny), Jennifer Garner (Laura Pickler), Ty Burrell (Bob Pickler), Rob Corddry (Ethan Emmet), Olivia Wilde (Brooke Swinkowski), Alicia Silverstone (Julie Emmet), Ashley Greene (Kaitlen Pickler), Kristen Schaal (Carol-Ann Stevenson), Hugh Jackman (Boyd Bolton) and Phyllis Smith (Nancy).


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