GIRL IN PROGRESS
DVD Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
I have to admit that when I first saw a trailer for “Girl in Progress,” I rolled my eyes. It just seemed like an overly obvious stab at award season for an otherwise less notable serious actor, that being Eva Mendes. Nothing against Mendes, but she’s never been known as a great actor, and this just felt like she was trying to hard to get noticed.
Reluctantly, I requested a copy for review, and as it happens from time to time, I found that I really quite enjoyed the movie.
The film tells two stories, one of a mother and one of a daughter. The mother Grace (Mendes) is a single parent, struggling with multiple jobs, trying to keep afloat financially while raising her daughter, Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez). Her daughter doesn’t like the situation she’s in, and she resents being stuck in high school and considered a kid. After a lesson about coming-of-age stories in her literature class, Ansiedad decides to effect her own coming-of-age story to grow up faster.
It’s not that “Girl in Progress” is necessarily free from the cliches of this kind of film. It is nothing but a huge cliche, but that’s okay. It handles the cliche well and doesn’t get too wrapped up in its own emotion. It’s a button-pusher, and things escalate with the characters in the story much faster than they otherwise should or would realistically happen. However, it is the film’s approach that is unique.
Instead of making Ansiedad just some snotty, surly teen, she’s actually quite smart. She’s still a clueless teenager (because, let’s face it, that’s what a teenage is supposed to be), but she actually has a plan and a purpose. Having her try to manufacture a coming-of-age story out of her own life is actually a pretty unique plot device.
The movie also manages to tell both the mother’s story and the daughter’s story without stepping on each other’s toes. The viewer is unable to tell who the film fully belongs to, as we get a sympathetic look at both of them, and that makes things interesting. Grace isn’t this hard-nosed villain to her daughter until the very end when they see things through each others’ eyes. They have their own motivations, and they make their own mistakes, letting us see them as sympathetic.
“Girl in Progress” is held up with fine performances by both Mendes and Ramirez, as well as some good supporting performances by Matthew Modine and Patricia Arquette. This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to come anywhere close to my top 10 list as the year folds up, but it’s leaning on the plus side for me, which was a pleasant surprise.
The DVD includes only a single special feature, “The Making of Girl in Progress.” However, this featurette does offer some decent insight into the development and making of the film.
Blu-ray Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
This past spring, “Lola Versus” made a bit of noise in the critical community, not because it was any great feat of filmmaking, but rather because critics who didn’t like it came under fire from the filmmakers. Those who disliked the film tended to be male, which is no surprise considering a high percentage of film critics tend to be male. So, the filmmakers labeled these dissenters as sexist.
That was utter hogwash, a smoke-and-mirrors guerilla marketing attempt inspired by Harvey Weinstein’s rantings about his films to get free press. I’m not sure if the filmmakers actually believed the critics who didn’t like “Lola Versus” were sexist, but it was a cheap ploy nonetheless.
Sure, the segment of the audience that best identifies with Greta Gerwig’s character of Lola will most likely be women. After all, the movie is about a woman turning 30 who sees her life falling apart. Lola’s fiancé unexpectedly breaks up with her, and she has to re-enter the dating world. She spends a year in emotional turmoil as she tries to put her life back together and deal with more drama coming from his angle.
I didn’t dislike this movie because I’m a man. I generally disliked this movie because I felt the main character was a bit pathetic. I’m tired of stories about twentysomethigns trying to get their lives back together after a break-up, and it’s not just the female characters that annoy me in this sense. That was one of my main problems with “(500) Days of Summer” and the more recent “Ruby Sparks.”
Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been through this sort of thing myself. I happily married at 25 years old, and I’ve never gone through a bitter break-up. I just see all the emotional meandering appropriate for a “Twilight” movie but not for someone who considers himself or herself an adult. I just wanted to slap the characters in this film and yell, “Grow up!” In fact, the only thing that holds the thing together is Greta Gerwig’s charm, which is considerable. Imagine how much I like movies in which I don’t find her annoying.
The movie is co-written by Zoe Lister-Jones, which explains why she’s in it at all. Most people will recognize her from the wretched sit-com “Whitney” in which she basically plays the exact same character as she does in this movie. Trust me, Lister-Jones isn’t doing herself any favors recycling this character everywhere she goes.
The Blu-ray of “Lola Versus” includes an audio commentary with director Daryl Wein and actress/co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones. There’s also deleted scenes and an alternate ending, plus outtakes and two Fox Movie Channel featurettes: “In Character with Greta Gerwig” and “World Premiere.” Additional featurettes include “The Filmmakers” and “Greta Gerwig: Leading Lady.”
DVD Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: zero (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)
As I stared at my stack of DVDs and Blu-rays to review, I tried to decide which would be the best one to watch. In a near-literal “judging a book by its cover” experience, I picked “The Letter” because it touted the names of Winona Ryder and James Franco, along with the tag line, “She thought she saw a devil.” I also glanced at the Wikipedia entry to the movie and saw it classified as a thriller. Since October, the month of Halloween, was fast approaching, I decided to give this a whirl.
When will I ever learn that Hollywood is filled with liars?
“The Letter” is not a thriller. It is barely a film. It’s a boring, self-important, disjointed and pointless pile of tripe masquerading as a movie.
The story, what little there is, follows Martine Jamison (Ryder), who is starting rehearsals on her new play in New York. A new actor named Tyrone (Franco) causes problems on the set and develops a fascination with her. Over the next weeks, Martine becomes paranoid that someone is trying to poison her, and she begins to rewrite her play.
Honestly, that one-paragraph blurb makes more sense and is better constructed than the entirety of this film. Meant to be a minimalist slow-burn, the movie plods along and makes little sense. However, that nonsensical nature comes not from a complex plot but from long, drawn out scenes that are so dull I couldn’t keep focused on the movie.
Dialogue is delivered in a mumbling fashion, often with a deliberately uneven sound mix. Characters swerve in and out of scenes with little introduction or explanation. All this is supposed to put the viewer in Martine’s shoes to show her level of disorientation, but I felt like I was on fuzzy medication that just made me drowsy.
When I finally reach the ending of the film, which offers a mediocre explanation of what actually happened, I was so disinterested in the story and characters, I plain didn’t care. Honestly, the DVD of this film could have crapped out half-way through, and I wouldn’t have worried about finishing it ever again.
Forget the thriller moniker. This film is so insipid and meandering that it makes little sense and pulls zero sympathy for the characters. Reed Rothchild’s poetry is more meaningful.
The only special feature on this disc is the original theatrical trailer, which actually paints this movie as an intense thriller. If you’re going to suffer through this bore of a film, I suggest watching this trailer just to see how wildly different marketing can present a film. It’s shameful, really.
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