Jennifer Todd

Jennifer Todd

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Live By Night Review

Good

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's novel Gone Baby Gone, and he now returns to the author to adapt this Prohibition-era gangster drama. It's a big, beefy story with colourful characters and a snaky, expansive plot. And it's beautifully assembled by a skilled cast and crew. Even so, the film never quite generates quite enough energy to engage properly with the audience.

In 1927 Boston, Joe (Affleck) is a war veteran who has turned to crime to survive. But problems arise when he launches a torrid affair with the moll (Sienna Miller) of the Irish mob boss (Robert Glenister). With his life in danger, he turns to the rival Italian mafioso (Remo Girone) for a job, and is sent to Tampa to run their rum-smuggling operation. Working with his pal Dion (Chris Messina), Joe makes a success of a string of speak-easy bars and finds love with a the sister (Zoe Saldana) of a Cuban gangster. Then as he plans to open a huge casino, his gentlemanly agreement with the local police chief (Chris Cooper) is threatened. And it doesn't help that the boss in Boston begins to meddle.

Everything is assembled with a sumptuous sense of style, from the cool cars to the epic suits and hats. The film looks gorgeous, shot with muted colours that echo the subdued emotions of people who never quite say what they think. Of course, this creates a big problem, because it leaves Affleck's Joe looking like a blank slate, intriguing to watch but impossible to sympathise with. Nothing feels properly developed, with romances that seem to exist for no real reason and business relationships that appear to be based on some sort of unexplained subterfuge. The most riveting element of the story is Joe's clash with the KKK, a powerfully bull-headed group that refuses to play by the usual mob rules.

Continue reading: Live By Night Review

Alice Through The Looking Glass Review

Excellent

This much more light-hearted sequel reinvigorates the franchise after Disney's quirky but murky 2010 reboot of Lewis Carroll's classic, which sent the heroine into Underland (not Wonderland) for a dark adventure that spiralled into a Lord of the Rings-scale battle. Thankfully this time the odyssey remains personal, centred on lively characters rather than overwrought plotting. And Alice's time-travelling quest is both pointed and engaging.

After captaining her late father's ship on a global journey, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to 1875 London to bad news: her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has made decisions that take her future out of her hands. As she struggles to respond, she is summoned back to Underland to help her friend Hatter (Johnny Depp), who is emotionally devastated by the fact that his entire family has been killed. So Alice decides to help by confronting Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and stealing a device that will allow her to travel back to help the younger Hatter. But she also becomes entangled in the early life of the White and Red Queens (Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway), and the feud that grew between them as young sisters. Meanwhile, Time is terrified that Alice is unravelling the fabric of reality.

The emotional nature of Alice's mission adds a surprising layer of suspense to the entire film, while director James Bobin (The Muppets) adds a breezy comical tone to Tim Burton's stunningly visual designs. Some of the more wacky flourishes don't quite work (such as the "sea of time" imagery or Time's hand-powered vehicle), but the film more than makes up for these with wonderful character details. This lets the actors relax into their roles while cranking up the surreal touches. Wasikowska is great as the plucky heroine fighting for her right to control her own life, a strong point that's made without preaching.

Continue reading: Alice Through The Looking Glass Review

The To Do List Review


Very Good

Even as this comedy strains to be goofy and transgressive, it catches us by surprise simply because it dares to explore first-time sexual experiences through female eyes. And Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed) brings her usual sardonic wit to the lead role, merrily offending the more timid moviegoers while making more adventurous fans wish the film went even further.

Plaza plays Brandy, who graduated at the top of her Boise high school class. But with that goal achieved, she wonders if she neglected to prepare properly for university social life, so she makes a summer to-do list of sex-related tasks leading, hopefully, to losing her virginity to the hunky guitar-strumming lifeguard Rusty (Porter). She works with him at the local swimming pool along with her nice-guy best pal Cameron (Simmons), who's of course secretly in love with her. But as Brandy works through the list with the help of her friends (Shawkat and Steele) and her experienced big sister (Bilson), she starts to worry that her emotions are getting in the way.

Thankfully, writer-director Carey refuses to let this turn into a romantic slush-fest, keeping the encounters jagged and often very funny. The script is packed with hilariously squirm-inducing conversations about sex, many involving Brandy's far too helpful mother (Britton). Although her dad (Gregg) and her loser boss (Hader) understandably don't want to know. Meanwhile, when the local guys (Glover and Mintz-Plasse) find out about Brandy's list, they are sure to tick off a few items themselves, as does a visiting rock star (Samberg).

Continue reading: The To Do List Review

Celeste And Jesse Forever Review


Very Good

With its refusal to follow the usual romantic-comedy formula, this snappy and observant movie is a nice surprise. Not only does it keep us wondering about where it's heading, but it gives the likeable Jones and Samberg much more complex roles than they usually get to play. And the quirky approach combined with some darkly dramatic moments makes it more interesting to watch.

Jones and Samberg play the long-time couple Celeste and Jesse, who have been together since they were in school. Now married for six years, they're starting to wonder if maybe they're just best friends, rather than a couple. So they decide to separate. The main issue seems to be surfer-artist Jesse's lack of ambition but, when he begins to move on with his life, Celeste starts wondering if maybe she's the real problem. Even so, they're still completely involved in each others' lives, which is awkward for their friends Beth and Tucker (Graynor and Christian). Maybe they need some distance.

The film's perspective centres on Celeste's messy journey, which is a bumpy series of conflicting emotions. She works as a lifestyle critic, so her comments on pop culture are hilariously barbed, but as her personal life dissolves she retreats into annoying pot-fuelled wallowing. It's often not easy to watch her, but Jones gives a ruthlessly honest performance that's both funny and disturbing. Her sideplots with her gay boss (Wood), her low-life drug dealer (cowriter McCormack) and a bratty popstar client (Roberts) are nicely played but only tangentially developed.

Continue reading: Celeste And Jesse Forever Review

Idle Hands Review


Bad
It's very frustrating. Teen movies can be good. The original Scream was good (although ruined by a sequel). What are they doing? She's All That? I Still Know? Varsity Blues? I could go on but you'll hit "close" on your browser. The newest teen movie, Idle Hands, is pretty bad.

Devon Sawa stars as Anton, a slacker who sits around his house all day, smoking weed, and watching television. When Anton's parents are killed, a mysterious force takes over Anton's hand. He unwillingly kills his two best friends (Seth Green and Eldon Henson) and doesn't seem that phased by it. I mean, he's worried what more damage he could do, but it doesn't really bother him. His friends refused to go to heaven (too far) and walk around as zombies for the rest of the film, helping Anton control the hand, and save his girlfriend (Jessica Alba, who I wouldn't mind saving).

Continue reading: Idle Hands Review

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Review


Excellent
James Bond is back - NOT! - as one vaguely remembered star of stage and screen might have said.

Instead of Bond, it's super-groovy spy Austin Powers (Myers) making his triumphant return to the silver screen, the British secret agent frozen in the 60's and thawed in the 90's, where/when he returned to active duty. The Spy Who Shagged Me picks up right where the original left off, with Dr. Evil (also Myers) banished to space in his Big Boy statue/spaceship, and Austin settling down with new wife Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley, in a cameo re-appearance).

Continue reading: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Review

Jennifer Todd

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Jennifer Todd Movies

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

Alice Through the Looking Glass Movie Review

Alice Through the Looking Glass Movie Review

This much more light-hearted sequel reinvigorates the franchise after Disney's quirky but murky 2010 reboot...

The To Do List Movie Review

The To Do List Movie Review

Even as this comedy strains to be goofy and transgressive, it catches us by surprise...

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Celeste and Jesse Forever Movie Review

Celeste and Jesse Forever Movie Review

With its refusal to follow the usual romantic-comedy formula, this snappy and observant movie is...

Idle Hands Movie Review

Idle Hands Movie Review

It's very frustrating. Teen movies can be good. The original Scream was good...

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Movie Review

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Movie Review

James Bond is back - NOT! - as one vaguely remembered star of stage and...

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