God’s Pocket and Directorial Debuts

God's Pocket

This week sees the release of John Slattery’s directorial debut God’s Pocket. Slattery is better known for his on-screen skills, notably in television’s Mad Men, as well as roles in The Adjustment Bureau and Iron Man 2. John Slattery’s debut is the latest in a long line of actors who have stepped behind the camera following an already successful on-screen career. Here I take a look at previous directorial debuts…

Robert De Niro

After two decades and numerous acolades for his acting skills, Robert De Niro turned director in 1993 with A Bronx Tale. Critically successful if not a commercial smash, A Bronx Tale saw De Niro taking cues from his long-time collaborator Martin Scorsese in terms of themes and style. De Niro’s only other directing credit is The Good Shepherd (2006).

Ben Affleck

After starring in numerous high-profile movies and winning an Oscar for his writing, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut arrived in 2007 with Gone Baby Gone. The film was well-received, although Affleck’s directing skills may have flown under the radar in the UK at that time as the film was not released due to similarities to a high profile case. However if anyone was in doubt of Ben Affleck’s directing abilities, he displayed them ably in 2010’s The Town and 2012’s Argo, for which he was awarded the Best Director Oscar.

Drew Barrymore

Whip It

Former child star and Hollywood stalwart Drew Barrymore directed a documentary for television in 2004. However it was her feature debut Whip It in 2009 which brought her to the attention of critics and audiences as a director. Since then, Barrymore has only stretched her directing muscles with a Best Coast music video, featuring an array of young Hollywood talent.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Another former child actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had reinvigorated his acting career with roles in 500 Days of Summer and Inception before turning his attention to directing. With a number of shorts under his belt, Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut came in 2013 with Don Jon, which he also wrote. Starring in the title role, Gordon-Levitt displayed a promising talent as filmmaker.

God’s Pocket is out in UK cinemas on 8th August 2014.

Highlights: Woody Allen Collection

Woody Allen Collection

A new boxset of the prolific director’s work, the Woody Allen Collection is available this week. In addition to Barbara Kopple’s 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues about the musical avocation of Woody Allen, the collection includes the director’s cinematic releases from 1994 to 2000. The films were released after my personal Allen favourite Manhattan Murder Mystery, and do not feature his best-known work. Nevertheless, here is why you should be watching these films…

Bullets Over Broadway

A playwright is forced to cast a mobster’s girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.

Why You Should Watch It: The film stars John Cusack in the ‘Woody Allen’ role.

Celebrity

The fortunes of a husband and wife differ following their divorce.

Why You Should Watch It: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a teen heartthrob in his post-Titanic role.

Deconstructing Harry

An author suffering with writer’s block starts to remember events from his past, whilst his fictional characters come to life.

Why You Should Watch It: Harry Block is one of Woody Allen’s quintessential roles.

Everyone Says I Love You

With her half-sister getting engaged, a New York girl decides to set her father up with a beautiful woman in a shaky marriage.

Why You Should Watch It: The film is a musical! Drew Barrymore, Ed Norton et al demonstrating their singing abilities.

Mighty Aphrodite

After discovering his adopted son is a genius, a sportswriter seeks out the boy’s borth mother

Why You Should Watch It: Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for her role in the film.

Small Time Crooks

A crook and his wife prosper after a botched bank job’s cover business becomes wildly successful.

Why You Should Watch It: Small Time Crooks was Woody Allen’s biggest grossing film of the 1990s in the US.

Sweet and Lowdown

A jazz guitarist faces gangsters and falls in love in the 1930s.

Why You Should Watch It: The film focuses on one of Allen’s greatest loves; jazz.

The Woody Allen Collection is available on DVD from 7th July 2014.

Film Review: Blended

Blended

There is something about Drew Barrymore that makes casting Adam Sandler opposite her bearable. Blended does not recapture the charm of The Wedding Singer but, but fans should know what to expect.

On their first blind date for years, both Jim and Lauren decide quickly that they do not want to see each other again. However, when chance throws the pair and their families together, everyone must try to get along…

Blended is the type of film that certain cinema-going demographics will avoid like the plague. Certainly, the film is predictable. But it is not horrendous viewing.

Humour in Blended is hit and miss. There are some jokes that work. Nevertheless, director Frank Coraci returns to jokes that are not funny in the first place, which is tiresome. The one-dimensional African characters leave a bad taste. Blended would have been much more palatable to either give these characters more depth, or not to try and garner humour where there is little to be found.

The pacing in the film could have been tighter. Exploration of the different family dynamics is necessary to some extent, although some of these scenes could have been trimmed. There is some abrupt editing in the Africa scenes which is rather noticeable. In this way, Blended is a curious mix in feeling overlong at times, whilst noticing cuts in other places.

There is no doubt that Blended is loaded with schmaltz. If viewers give in to this level of sentimentality, there is no doubt they will be moved by certain moments. For those less invested, these scenes may come across as trite.

Drew Barrymore is as adorable as ever as Lauren. Adam Sandler puts in his usual performance, whilst Bella Thorne is well cast as Hilary. Kevin Nealon brings some humour as Eddy.

There will be few who go into Blended not knowing what to expect. If the film was less predictable and tasteless at times, and more humorous it would have been a much more enjoyable experience.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of pre-Christmas visual treats this week, including the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer, 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and more…

A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale is a upcoming fantasy starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay. The film is the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote the screenplay based on Mark Helprin’s novel. A New York Winter’s Tale is out in UK cinemas on 21st February 2014.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Here is the first Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer. After the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it makes sense that a sequel would follow. It is unclear whether this new film will bridge the gap between Rise and the original Planet of the Apes films, but one thing is clear: Cesar looks angry. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is due for release in July 2014.

22 Jump Street

Warning: this is the red band trailer. The film reboot of 21 Jump Street was something of a surprise success in that it actually worked well as a comedy. In sequel 22 Jump Street undercover cops Jenko and Schmidt go to college. The film is out in UK cinemas on 6th June 2014.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon was a great animated adventure, so I have high hopes for its sequel. This trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 does not reveal much in terms of plot, but it looks fantastic. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is set for release in June 2014.

Blended

What is Blended you ask? Well it is a new comedy that once again teams up Adam Sandler with Drew Barrymore. The thing that is giving me some hope is that it is directed by Frank Coraci, helmer of guilty pleasure The Wedding Singer. Blended is out in the UK on 23rd May 2014.

Grudge Match

Above is a featurette for upcoming movie Grudge Match. The film pits Robert De Niro against Sylvester Stallone when they are offered a chance to re-enter the boxing ring. So basically Raging Bull versus Rocky. Grudge Match is out in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

Mr Peabody and Sherman

I want Mr Peabody to adopt me! Frankly what is not to love about this film? A talking dog, who is also the smartest person in the world. Fantastic. Let’s hope Sherman isn’t too annoying. Mr Peabody and Sherman is released in the UK on 7th February 2014.

Film Review: Big Miracle

Based on true events, as the film immediately informs viewers, Big Miracle tells the story of three whales trapped by ice in Alaska. Although the movie is suitable for family viewing, there seems to be an emphasis on engaging with adults.

News reporter Adam Carlson is covering minor news items in small town Alaska when he discovers three whales trapped by the ice. His news report mobilises Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer to start a campaign to help free the mammals. Given the depth of ice that surrounds the whales, Adam and Rachel require help in their mission…

Big Miracle can be a little schmaltzy at times, however it is not relentlessly sentimental. Given the premise of the film, this could easily have been a possibility. Big Miracle offers enough of a story to entertain viewers. Perhaps the movie would have benefitted from more drama, however not everything in the narrative goes quite as expected. For those unfamiliar with this news story from 1988, Big Miracle should prove an interesting tale.

The film features a good mix of reenactment and actual news footage. Additionally, there is a considerable amount of staged news footage. This functions to highlight exactly how big a story this was. Screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler are wise to focus on news reporter Adam and his view of unfolding events. The protagonist’s angle is that of an outsider, but one who is sympathetic to the locals.

Perhaps the main reason that Big Miracle feels like it is aimed at adults and not children is the emphasis on the logistics of the rescue. The film depicts the different political forces at work behind the scenes, and the struggles Greenpeace protestor Rachel and others have in getting help. The rescue mission was far more complex than initially thought, and various parties had different reasons for getting involved. Big Miracle astutely refuses to gloss over the fact that it was a PR stunt for many who were involved with the rescue.

John Krasinski delivers a decent performance as Adam. Drew Barrymore brings her usual passion as Rachel, while Ted Danson plays up to his caricature as J. W. McGraw. Amaogak Sweeney is amusing as young sidekick Nathan.

Big Miracle is unlikely to be considered a must-see film by many. Nevertheless, it is well executed, and sufficiently entertaining.

Film Review: Going the Distance

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long prove their chemistry works as well on-screen as it does off in this likeable and surprisingly funny romantic comedy.

Erin and Garrett meet in a New York bar and hit it off. As Erin is due to return to her San Francisco home, the couple agree to keep things light. Once they fall for each other, Erin and Garrett embark on a long distance relationship…

On the surface, Going the Distance shouldn’t work. The premise is hardly thrilling; it is the type of love story that has been done numerous times before. However, Going the Distance works pretty well. It is the combination of the humour and the chemistry between the two leads which make it a very enjoyable movie.

Whilst both Barrymore and Long are good comedic actors, much of the humour is derived from the support cast. Dan and Box, best friends of Garrett, bring a lot of the crude but funny but jokes, whilst Erin’s sister Corinne and her husband Phil work equally well as the married odd couple.

The chemistry between Barrymore and Long will leave the audience rooting for the couple. In the initial scenes between the pair, the writing excels, making their initial attraction appear realistic and authentic. Whilst some aspects of the romance and the humour are not the most original, Going the Distance is one of the better recent entries in the rom-com genre because it successfully balances frequent comedy with believable romance and drama.

Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are well-cast as Garrett’s best friends. There seems to be a natural camaraderie between the pair and Long, which makes their scenes genuinely amusing. Christina Applegate once again shows her flair for comedy as Erin’s highly-strung older sister. Jim Gaffigan compliments Corinne perfectly as her under-the-thumb husband Phil, showing more subtle, but equally effective, comedic style.

Director Nanette Burstein has added a nice touch to Going the Distance by mixing the traditional with the modern. Whilst Erin and Garrett use modern technology to communicate (text messaging and online chat, for example), there are also elements of their courtship that have a more retro feel. The couple meet whilst playing an arcade game, and Erin writes her phone number down on a napkin for Garrett, rather than typing it into his phone. This, coupled with a soundtrack that features The Cure, makes the relationship appear quaint, in a positive sense.

If you are looking for a romantic comedy that is actually lives up to its description, Going the Distance might be just the ticket.

Film Review: Whip It

Whip It is a funny and entertaining movie – a promising start to Drew Barrymore’s directing career. “Be Your Own Hero”, the publicity for the picture asserts; a message the director certainly seems to have taken to heart.

Whip It focuses on misfit teen Bliss and her attempt to escape small-town drudgery by joining a roller derby league. In the process, as well as finding something she excels at, Bliss formulates a new life for herself. Her new life, friends and boyfriend, however, come at the expense of some of the more positive elements of her previous conservative upbringing…

In some ways the film is what one would expect from Barrymore; an independently produced picture, with a hip soundtrack and quirky but apt casting. Ellen Page is convincing as young Bliss, perfecting the rebelling teen attitude. Whilst there are great performances from all involved, it is Juliette Lewis who steals the show as ultra-competitive rival Iron Maven.

There is no doubt that Whip It is a female-centric film. Rather than taking a preachy tone pushing a feminist agenda, Barrymore keeps in light, advocating instead the positives of female friendship and having confidence in oneself. It is heartening to see that along with the positive female portrayals, the men are also depicted in optimistic light. Too often strong female characters are balanced with negative male portrayals, but thankfully Barrymore eschews this archetype.

Barrymore’s directorial debut accomplishes the rare feat of being both lighthearted and inspirational. It is an enjoyable film to watch, but there is also a real optimism to the messages it sends. Along with the strong female depictions, Whip It reinforces the importance of finding your own identity and having the confidence to pursue your goals. With this in mind, it is Drew herself who is also rousing, going from child star to wild child, from much-loved actress to producer and now director. Thus, her transcendence is encompassing enough to be inspirational to males as well as females.