Hey Little Sister, What Have You Done

Your Sister's SisterI’ve always told my husband that among the many ways to be unfaithful, sleeping with my sister is the absolute unforgivable betrayal.  It’s hard to say why, exactly, because all cheating is wrong.  And while I like to think I am an open-minded person capable of forgiveness and grace, I feel entirely confidant that a tryst with my very own sister could not be overcome.  Not by me.  Which is why the premise of the indie flick Your Sister’s Sister initially put me off.  After catching it on HBO one random evening, however, it proved to me that nearly any idea, if executed properly, can make for a delightful movie.

Your Sister’s Sister tells a simple enough story (with one kind of big, unforeseen twist) but the charming performances and chemistry between the actors along with some mighty fine writing and pretty scenery make it exceptional.  In its opening scenes, we see Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris at a memorial for Jack’s brother, who we learn later was once Iris’s boyfriend.  Jack and Iris have since formed a tight friendship, so when it becomes apparent that Jack isn’t handling the loss of his brother well, Iris convinces him to take a holiday at the cabin her family owns to clear his head and properly grieve.  He arrives at the cabin late at night to find Iris’s sister, Hannah, who’s staying there temporarily to heal from a bad break-up from her long-time girlfriend.  Even though Hannah is a lesbian, she and Jack sleep together after emptying a bottle of wine and sharing their tales of woe.  Iris shows up unexpectedly the next morning, after which Jack asks Hannah to keep their encounter a secret for fear it would make things awkward between he and Iris, a request Hannah readily agrees to.  Until, of course, Iris confides in her that she is in love with Jack.

Like I said, a fairly predictable plot.  Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as Iris and Hannah have genuine sisterly chemistry, so much so that you barely bother asking yourself why one has an English accent and the other an American one.  It doesn’t matter; they are entirely believable as sisters.  And each has charismatic chemistry with Duplass, who plays his role with such warmth and sincerity, he never falls into the obvious trap of the creepy perv who wants to sleep his way through a family.  Having sex with a man who has also had sex with my sister is such a vile idea to me that I was surprised at my willingness to look past this and root for Jack and Iris to end up together.  It’s truly a testament to the superb performances as well as the fine direction.  Writer/director Lynn Shelton knows how to pace a story.  She takes just enough time with the unfolding of events that it neither feels rushed nor unnecessarily slow.  Instead, it feels natural and organic.  What happens between these three people and their reactions to it are wholly believable.

I did wonder how all three of them were financially able to spend such a lengthy amount of time at a remote cabin and not lose their jobs or get evicted from their homes but this is such a minor discrepancy, I feel silly for even bringing it up.  They never bother to explain it because it isn’t relevant to the plot.  I admit it sounds unrealistic but who knows, maybe they have the kinds of jobs you can do from home.  Or maybe they’re between jobs.  Maybe they had a bunch of vacation time saved up.  It just doesn’t matter.  The flick is so irresistibly charming, it’s more than easy to look past it.

Your Sister’s Sister is not on EW’s “50 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” list, but it should be.

~Nikki

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There Isn’t Room For Both Of Us – “Looper” Review

For the most part, Looper takes place in 2044, in Kansas City.  The future looks grim, the gap between rich and poor so hugely massive, it kind of feels like an Orwell novel.  There’s actually very little time travel in it, since it hasn’t yet been discovered in 2044 and 30 years from then, when it will have been, it’s quickly and strictly made illegal.  The mafia, of course, finds a way to use it for its own purposes.  That is, disposing of bodies.  They employ these “loopers” to swiftly kill the poor schlep they send back in time and then dispose of the body, essentially making all traces of that person’s existence disappear.  When a looper’s services are no longer needed, his future self is sent back to 2044 to be killed by his younger self.  The person being killed is always masked upon arrival and shot immediately.  The looper only knows it’s his older self when he collects his payment, significantly larger than usual.  His contract is complete and he’s free to live out the rest of his life.  That is, until he reaches the age at which he’ll be sent back to 2044 to die at his own much younger hands.  This is called “closing the loop.”

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Joe, a looper with an unsavory childhood and a drug addiction problem.  He’s good at his job and is hoarding a cache of money (in the form of gold bars – the currency of the future) for when his loop is closed.  When that day comes, though, he sees his future self’s face – somehow not covered as it should be –  recognizes him and hesitates ever so briefly.  Future Joe (Bruce Willis) takes advantage of his momentary lapse to knock him on his ass and escape, putting his younger self in mortal danger.  The mafia does not look on this kind of error lightly.  What ensues is a clever game of cat and mouse and the slow unfolding of a surprisingly interesting plot, one I’d rather not reveal, lest it ruin your movie-going experience.  I walked into the movie thinking that the motivation for Willis’s escape was simple self-preservation, believable enough in itself but much too simple to carry a full-length film.  Turns out, my expectations were too simple.

Willis’s Joe has a motivation beyond survival for escaping death and the explanation behind them nicely closes several gaps between his Joe and Gordon Levitt’s Joe.  The film appears to be a futuristic film about time travel but really it’s about identity and sacrifice, the lengths to which people will go to protect what’s theirs.  This theme is present everywhere – in Willis’s motivation for running from his death, in Emily Blunt’s maddeningly relentless protection of her son, in her child’s (who, by the way, is played with icy perfection by child actor Pierce Gagnon) determination to protect himself and his mother, and finally, by the choice JGL makes at the film’s close.  It’s a gimmicky kind of movie done in a very non-gimmicky way.

The performances are solid, especially Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portrayal of twenty-something Joe.  My prediction: JGL is very soon to be an A-list actor.  The kid can act his ass off.  He has a compelling on-screen presence, stealing scenes from the very capable Jeff Daniels and ultra-action star Bruce Willis.  Daniels plays Joe’s boss, a Mafioso from 2074 living in 2044 to manage the loopers.  What a refreshingly different role for him, and one he plays convincingly well.  Emily Blunt continues to impress.  She seems to have all one needs to succeed in her chosen profession – beauty and a great deal of talent.  If she chooses the right roles, she’ll likely enter the realm of actors the likes of Natalie Portman and Naomi Watts – gorgeous and elegant and capable of carrying both major blockbusters and artsy character pieces.  And Willis delivers a perfectly adequate performance, doing those things – running from gunmen, shooting people, getting the snot beat out of him, beating the snot out of others – he does best.

I can’t say that Looper will blow your mind or change your life – it isn’t that kind of movie. But for what it is – an action flick with a twist – it excels above its peers. Its plot is more intricate, more interesting and better executed than many an action film and the performances from every major player completely sell it, making it a movie well worth watching.

~Nikki

Now I Know How Forever Feels

Source: Wikipedia

If I asked you what the concept of an actual five-year long engagement sounds like, what would your answer be? Long, drawn out, never-ending? Well, sadly, that’s how the film felt too.

The Five-Year Engagement was one that I was looking forward to for a couple of reasons. 1. The cast: Who doesn’t love Jason Segel? Alison Brie? Chris Pratt? The English goddess that is Emily Blunt? I adore them all. 2. The fact that this film was written by Segel himself and his frequent collaborator, Nicholas Stoller (who directed as well), and these guys brought us one of my all-time favorite, gets-better-the-more-you-watch-it-comedies, the totally fucking hilarious and awesome Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The thing about Marshall is that the first time I saw it, I found it to be sort of stupid, and certainly not very funny. As time has gone on, however, I’ve grown to love it. I wonder if the same thing will happen for this film as well? I can only wonder, as I never thought Marshall would have grown on me either, so perhaps this review should be taken with a grain of salt.

Segel and Blunt are Tom and Violet, a sweet, happy couple, who actually seem to have a normal, healthy relationship. His character is similar to what he is known for (and is pretty good at) – a guy who is actually decent, kind, funny, and cool. See: Marshall Erikson, Peter Bretter, Sydney Fife. Tom’s a talented sous chef at an up-and-coming restaurant in the picturesque and way-nicer-than-wherever-you-probably-live San Francisco. Violet is finishing up school and applying to psychology grad programs (or something like that), unfortunately, the only place that accepts her is the University of Michigan. Oh, the shock horror of having to go live in the midwest! Since Tom is a nice person and actually gives a shit about his fiance, they move, and put the wedding off.

Michigan proves to be trying in many ways (although, as someone who went to school near Ann Arbor, it was rad to see several places I’ve actually been up on the big screen), as Tom cannot find a job similar to what he was doing in Cali and Violet’s also-British boss (a smarmy and slightly repulsive Rhys Ifans) is a tad flirty with her. And so begins the never-ending cycle.  Tom becomes continually more frustrated with his path and descends into a depression so deep he ends up growing a terrifying beard and wearing knit sweaters while hunting in the woods for their actual dinner. Violet is doing well but the strain of knowing that Tom’s failing and the fact that they keep on putting that wedding off, just wear and wear until they finally rip apart at the seams. This proved to be, as it might sound, sort of painful to watch.

The problem about Tom and Violet is that they were likable. Not fall over yourself adorable, but pleasant, some-what normal folks, who you wanted to see succeed. Unfortunately, it got hard to keep rooting for them. Violet was nowhere near as cool as Mila Kunis’s Rachel in Marshall, and nowhere near as cunty as Kristen Bell’s Sarah – which means she was sort of mediocre. Ugh. As it went on (and on, seriously, this movie’s running time is over two hours. WHY. NEEDLESS!) I was in semi-agony and just stopped caring. Because, and this is my MAIN problem with this film: It was NOT funny. I mildly chuckled two or three times. Now, when a film is presented to me as “Judd Apatow-produced, brought to you by the guys who brought you Forgetting Sarah Marshall“, I expect a lot more. In fact, not many people in my screening laughed (it should be noted, I was in one of the last vestiges of cinema in a po-dunk town where the screen was TINY, the sound barely audible, the tickets FOUR DOLLARS AND TWENTY FIVE CENTS FOR A 9 PM SHOWING, and the audience elderly). The supporting cast – Brie, as Violet’s sister, and Pratt, as Tom’s idiot co-worker and Brie’s eventual hubby, and the rest of their extended families – were abrasive and mostly, the opposite of comical. So many of the jokes were set up, executed, and then just hung there, like Segel’s member in the famous break-up scene in Marshall.

I’ll admit that the ending was really kind of precious, but mostly what was running through my head was “Get married, or don’t! Just let me out of here!” If it had, say, the sharp, creative, bonkers wit of Marshall, I’d have definitely been more on board. As it stands, it’s a typical rom-com that’s mild on both fronts. Perhaps when it makes the HBO rounds, it’ll have a chance to evolve for me, but just like Tom and Violet’s relationship, I pretty much don’t care, either way.

~Annie