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Posts Tagged ‘jesse eisenberg’

Jesse Eisenberg

“THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE” My rating: B-

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Martial arts build character, hone physical strength, enhance self defense skills and instill discipline and obedience.

That’s the sales pitch, anyway.

But as we learned from the thuggish dojo rats who tormented Ralph Macchio in  “The Karate Kid” (not to mention the Bushido-inspired atrocities of World War II-era Japan), those attributes also make martial arts a fertile breeding ground for fascism.

In “The Art of Self-Defense” writer/director Riley Stearns delivers a deadpan black comedy that turns the whole self-improvement scenario inside out.  A milquetoast wimp (Jesse Eisenberg, always the very essence of cinematic wimp) trains so that he can stand up to bullies; in the process he becomes that which he hates.

Casey (Eisenberg) is a sad, lonely misfit.  He’s an accountant at a firm where the other employees regard him as an odd duck (if they take notice of him at all). His sole relationship is with his sad-eyed Dachshund. He dreams of going to France and in fact is studying the language, but even there he anticipates defeat. Currently he’s working on the phrase “I don’t want any trouble, sir. I’m just a tourist.”

Nearly beaten to death by a gang of cycle-riding assailants, Casey takes indefinite sick leave and retreats to a life of booze straight from the bottle and failed masturbation attempts (he can’t do it while his dog’s watching).

He fills out the paperwork to purchase a handgun, but before he can pick it up he stumbles into the strip mall dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola in what may be his best role ever).

Sensei (real name Leslie, but we won’t learn that until much later) talks nonstop martial arts platitudes. Karate, he bloviates, is a language, a way of communication. “We form words with our fists and feet.”

With his mix of serene philosophy and physical menace Sensei comes off as the love child of the Dalai Lama and a Marine drill instructor. The wonder of Nivola’s blowhard performance (and Stearns’ writing) is how those woo-woo banalities slowly but surely shift into  threatening machismo. The entire film is a slow-building study in insanity.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard

“THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT” My rating: C+ 
110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Hummingbird Project” could be described as a race-against-time movie.

Two cousins risk everything to build a high-speed internet “highway” between Kansas and the East Coast, all to shave a few microseconds off the time required to send the latest stock market updates halfway across the continent.

Why bother? Because a microsecond head start on the competition — the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings just once — could mean millions in profits.

Kim Nguyen’s drama is acceptable if unremarkable in most respects. It  features a vintage Jesse Eisenberg performance (i.e., arrogant nerd) and an atypical one from Salma Hayek (here toning down the sexuality to play a Wall Street shark).

Where “Hummingbird…” really shines, though, is in the work of Alexander Skarsgard, an actor who mostly has been seen as a hunky type (a charismatic vampire in “True Blood,” a predatory stepdad in “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” an abusive husband in “Big Little Lies,” a muscled tree swinger in “The Legend of Tarzan”).

Here Skarsgard plays an antisocial dweeb, a bald, soft-bellied algorithm cruncher more comfortable with his computer screen than other human beings. It’s such a startling transformation that initially he’s unrecognizable. It’s a classic case of an actor getting lost in his role.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

“CAFE SOCIETY” My rating: B-

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s tough getting a handle on Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.”

It’s not a drama, certainly. Its approach is too tangential and distant for any sort of emotional intensity.

But it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Despite a few chuckles there’s a noted paucity of laugh lines, and those bits of dialogue that do register are noteworthy not for their hilarity but rather for their weary resignation. (“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”)

And despite being set in 1930s Hollywood, it has none of the nostalgic warmth of “Radio Days,” Allen’s memorable reverie about growing up in NYC in the glory days of radio.

So what does “Cafe Society” have going for it?

Well, good performances from Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, spectacularly good cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) and detailed production design courtesy of Allen’s frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto.

As the picture begins young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has fled his suffocating home in the Bronx (Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are his bickering parents) to tackle life in wide-open Los Angeles. He hopes to get a job from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent who drops celebrity names with the frequency with which the rest of us use words like “a” and “the.”

Phil is so busy (or self centered) that he keeps Bobby cooling his heels for weeks. (It must be noted that unlike your usual Allen protagonist, someone who’s hugely clever and bent on a career in the arts, Bobby is pretty much an average guy.)

Finally Phil sees the kid and assigns his girl Friday, Vonnie (Stewart), to show his nephew around Tinsel Town.

Between gawking at the homes of the stars the two youngsters hit it off. But unbeknownst to Bobby, Vonnie is having an affair with a married man. This is no small roadblock to their relationship.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid

Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid

“LOUDER THAN BOMBS” My rating: B+

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Louder Than Bombs” is a sort of ghost story, though not of the white-sheet-bump-in-the-night variety.

The first American film from Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier is a quietly devastating study of a father and two sons cut adrift by the death — a suicide, it turns out — of their wife and mother, and how they are haunted by memories, doubts and uncertainties.

Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert, seen in flashbacks and dream sequences) was a photojournalist who specialized in war coverage, not so much of the fighting as of its human toll. Two years have passed since her late-night death in a car crash just miles from her suburban New York home.

Her husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), a former actor now a teacher, has tried to keep his boys on an even keel. The oldest, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is a sociologist with his first university teaching appointment, a wife and a new baby girl.

The younger, Conrad (Devin Druid), is a brooding, uncommunicative loner who refuses to give his concerned father the time of day. It probably doesn’t help that Gene is on the faculty of Conrad’s high school, and thus always lurking just around the corner.

A gallery retrospective of Isabelle’s work is being planned by a journalist colleague  (David Strathairn), whose essay about his deceased friend specifically names her as a suicide.  While Jonah has long been aware of this, Conrad is still under the impression that her death was a random accident. Gene must find a way to tell him the truth.

There’s no shortage of pain in the screenplay by Trier and Eskil Vogt, but also a great deal of love. This achingly humanitarian work lacks a villain — in fact, all three men and the late Isabelle have their own flaws and frustrating facets. (more…)

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Jesse Eisenberg and...Jesse Eisenberg in "Double"

Jesse Eisenberg and…Jesse Eisenberg in “The Double”

“THE DOUBLE” My rating: C+ (Opening July 4 at the Screenland Crown Center)

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R)

 

Though it is based on a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one could be forgiven for thinking “The Double” is an adaptation of Franz Kafka.

Richard Ayoade’s film gives us a hapless protagonist trapped in a web of illogical but rigid social and political rules. This poor schlub finds himself living in a nightmare from which he cannot awaken.

The problem is that for me dramatizations of Kafka never really work.  They may be well acted, imaginatively mounted, and they may deal with important human issues. But what seems subversive and insightful on the printed page always comes off as a bit silly and, worse, boring when brought to the screen. Kafka-ish yarns are always about an Everyman…and Everymen aren’t all that interesting.

Once in a blue moon a director takes a Kafkaesque situation and makes it both funny and compelling — Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” for example.

“The Double” works about half the time, thanks to its depiction of a glum alternative world and a bravura double performance from Jesse Eisenberg. But it can’t quite make it over the hump.

Eisenberg is best known for playing dweebs in films like “Zombieland” and “Wonderland” and — let’s face it — “The Social Network.” Here gets to play not only a disaffected dweeb but also his lookalike tormentor. Two characters that are polar opposites.

And, yes, the kid can act. He’s so good here I wish I liked the movie more.

Simon (Eisenberg) lives in a grungy, ill-lit metropolis in which technology seems to have peaked around 1935.  He’s employed by some sort of government agency ruled by the Colonel (James Fox), a paternalistic Big Brotherish figure in a white uniform. Exactly what this agency does is never made clear, but it must be important since it has a high degree of security. When he leaves his ID at home, Simon has a hard time convincing anyone at work that he’s been coming there for years.  He’s that forgettable.

Our man yearns for success but is totally lacking in the qualities that might bring it. He’s got no self-assurance, creativity, or charisma.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgard...eco-terrorists

Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard…eco-terrorists

“NIGHT MOVES” My rating: B+ (Opening June 13 at the Cinetopia and AMC Studio)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For want of a better description, Kelly Reichardt’s films are often called “minimalist.” They are made simply, without a lot of technical razzle dazzle, and they concentrate on characters, not big effects.

But just because Reichardt eschews the big melodramatic moment doesn’t mean her films are emotionally barren. Her “Old Joy” was an aching study of two men on the brink of middle age who have outgrown their friendship. “Wendy and Lucy” will resonate with anyone who has loved a pet. And her Western “Meek’s Cutoff” was a harrowing tale of settlers lost on their journey through the Great American Desert.

“Night Moves” may be her most conventional film to date.  It’s a thriller, a genre with whose tropes we’re all familiar. And yet the gentle Reichardt touch is evident everywhere, with an emphasis on atmosphere and slowly building tension rather than big action set pieces.

In fact, the film’s biggest moment takes place off screen.

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Now-You-See-Me-01“NOW YOU SEE ME” My rating: C (Opening wide on May 31)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Big, slick and determined to wow us with its amazingness, the magic-themed caper film “Now You See Me” is less a David Copperfield spectacular than a fumbled bit of sleight-of-hand as performed by “Arrested Development’s” Gob Bluth.

The movie starts falling apart as soon as it begins. “Now You See Me” isn’t about the characters and it certainly isn’t about stage magic. It feels like something the screenwriters (Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt) cooked up on a dare, vying to establish the most outlandish, complicated yarn possible.

What they’ve produced is a towering house of cards that any two-year-old could knock over.

At the outset of Louis Leterrier’s film we’re introduced to four struggling street magicians, each of whom has a magic specialty.  Daniel  (Jesse Eisenberg) is a cocky card manipulator and illusionist. Henley (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist. Jack (Dave Franco…James’ brother) is an accomplished pickpocket. Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist/hypnotist.

These rivals are recruited by a mysterious, unseen individual to form a big Las Vegas magic act, the Four Horsemen.

On their opening night the Horsemen “teleport” a French vacationer to the vault of his bank in Paris, where millions in Euros are sucked up into an air vent and end up fluttering over the delighted audience back on the Strip.

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