MOVIES: 'Crazy, Stupid Love,' 'Cowboys and Aliens' & 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE"
If you're looking for laughs, this multi-generational ensemble farce supplies them -- from chuckles to guffaws -- along with poignant observations about the sadly fickle finger of fate.
Nebbishy suburbanite Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) thinks he has the perfect life until his high school sweetheart/wife Emily (Julianne Moore) confesses to having an affair with her smarmy co-worker, accountant David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), and informs him over dinner in a crowded restaurant that she wants a divorce. Dazed and distraught in this mid-life crisis, Cal drowns his sorrows in vodka cranberries at an elegant pick-up bar, blubbering to everyone that he's been cuckolded.
Sympathizing with his all-too-obvious misery is Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a cool, resolutely single womanizer, who tells Cal, "You've got a kind face. You've got a good head of hair. You seem like a nice guy. I'm going to help you rediscover your manhood."
That he does, as Cal embarks on a complete physical and psychological overhaul, scoring with an eager English teacher (Marisa Tomei). Meanwhile, slick Jacob faces rejection from savvy law student Hannah (Emma Stone), who's disappointed by a lawyer (recording artist Josh Groban). Meanwhile, Cal's precocious 13 year-old-son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has become convinced that the family's 17-year-old baby-sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) is his soul mate. Problem is: Jessica has a crush on his dad.
Written with sophisticated, observational humor by Dan Fogelman ("Tangled," "Cars"), it's directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("I Love You Phillip Morris"), who wisely play off the rueful vulnerability exuded by Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and TV's "The Office." Best known for his dramatic chops in "Blue Valentine," Ryan Gosling reveals his ripped physique and comic timing for the first time. Aside from too many characters and issues, the primary downside is the seemingly endless series of anti-climaxes, making the pathos overstay its welcome by at least 15 minutes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Crazy, Stupid, Love" is an affecting, amusing 8, reminding audiences never to give up on finding romance.
"COWBOYS AND ALIENS"
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford join forces in this preposterously serious $180-million, sci-fi Western action-adventure, set in 1875 in the territory of New Mexico and based on Platinum Studios Comics chief Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's 2006 graphic novel about the Old West besieged by a menacing terror from outer space.
When a mysterious desperado, Jake Lonergan (Craig), rides into the desolate, mining town of Absolution, he has no memory of his past. The only hint to his history is a metallic band that encircles his forearm. The people of Absolution are wary of strangers, and nobody does anything unless it's approved by tyrannical Civil War cavalry Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). But after they're attacked by a scary enemy from the sky, the lone gunslinger turns into their savior.
Looking to Lonergan's knowledge of extra-terrestrial technology for their salvation are intrepid yet enigmatic Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) with his Latina wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and the rest of the archetypal residents, including a gang of stagecoach robbers and Chiricahua Apache warriors. United against a unique threat, they're enmeshed in an epic struggle for survival.
Deftly patched together by a quintet of screenwriters (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby) from a screen story by Fergus & Ostby and Steve Oedekerk, it's solemn and serious -- without a hint of irreverent satire. Directed by Jon Favreau ("Iron Man"), it's also propelled by powerhouse executive producers Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, among others.
Originally, Robert Downey Jr. was considered for the role of Lonergan, but British actor Daniel Craig's ruthless demeanor and fighting ability, honed during his stint as James Bond, gave him the edge. While Favreau credits Spielberg for the image of a gunfighter walking into a saloon with an alien blaster on his wrist, Harrison Ford contributes emotional gravitas. And, remember, Mayan culture is rife with allusions to ancient alien visitations.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cowboys and Aliens" is an authentic, entertaining 8, pushing the envelope of frontier folklore.
"SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN"
Wayne Wang's lushly melodramatic tale revolves around two sets of Chinese women in two different centuries, linked by the concept of "laotong," a traditional bond between two unrelated young girls making them sisters for life.
As the present-day story begins, a confident Shanghai financial whiz named Nina (China's Li Bingbing), who is about to be transferred to New York, arrives at the hospital bedside of her estranged, longtime friend Sophia (South Korea's Gianna Jun), who lies comatose, the victim of an urban accident when a taxi hit her bicycle. During her vigil, Nina finds Sophia's manuscript that tells the allegedly ancestral story of seven year-old girls, Lily and Snow Flower, joined by a `laotong.' Pragmatic Lily (also played by Li) marries a wealthy, emotionally remote Hunan man, as fragile Snow Flower (also played by Jun) winds up as the wife of a coarse, abusive country butcher -- and they exchange letters, secretly written in the folds of a white silk fan.
While Lisa See's 2005 international best-seller concentrated on a lifetime of female friendship in 19th-Century China, screenwriters Angela Workman, Ron Bass and Michael K. Ray added the parallel contemporary story. Although Hong Kong-born Wayne Wang ("Chan Is Missing," "Maid in Manhattan," "The Joy Luck Club") directs, the driving forces propelling this contrived, often disjointed story to the screen are producers Wendi Deng Murdoch and Florence Stein, who both have Chinese roots; they're the wives of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and ex-MGM CEO Harry Sloan, respectively.
It's easy to see why they were attracted to this melancholy tale of women's repression in provincial, feudal China in1829, when toddlers' tiny feet were tightly bound, forcing them, even as adults, to walk with small, halting steps. Indeed, Florence Stein's production company is defiantly dubbed Big Feet. To lighten the cinematic misery, Hugh Jackman sings and dances in a cameo as Sophia's nightclub-star boyfriend.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is a tear-jerking 5, a soap-opera-ish chick flick about love and loyalty.