From The Wolverine to The To Do List, here’s what to see and what to skip in theaters this weekend:
The To Do List
Every generation needs its Porky’s. Hey, that’s not a bad thing – you don’t want to know how many times I’ve seen Kim Cattrall howl like Lassie. It just warms my deviant heart that this particularly funny raunch-fest comes from the female perspective.
Parks and Recreation‘s delightful Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Klark, high-school valedictorian and confirmed virgin. Determined to lose her v-card before college, Brandy makes a list of sexual acts to complete, some she’s longed to try, others that sound more, well, exotic. A string of guys line up to help cross items off her list, from lab partner Cameron (21 Jump Street‘s Johnny Simmons), to friends Duffy and Derrick (Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Donald Glover). But Brandy wants her ultimate conquest to be her fellow lifeguard, too-cool-for-the-pool Rusty Waters (Friday Night Lights‘ Scott Porter, proving he has real comedy chops).
The script, from first-time feature writer/director Maggie Carey, is mostly sex-positive, with even Brandy’s mom (Porter’s FNL costar Connie Britton) supporting her daughter’s awkward but burgeoning sexuality. (As an adult not playing a 17-year-old, I would’ve liked more straight talk about contraceptives and STDs.) But like 2010’s smarter but tamer Easy A, The To Do List does touch on some of the more painful aspects of hook-up culture, including gossip and slut-shaming.
Lest you think the film is obsessed with inserting tab A into slot B, rest assured that it also celebrates individualism, female friendship and taking ownership of one’s choices. And if it gives teens, particularly girls, a forum to talk more openly about things usually heard in whisper, that’s okay, too. They could use a release valve on all that mounting sexual tension. (C’mon, I needed at least one pun.)
Skip this – unless you need a Hugh Jackman fix:
This is what we mean when we talk about blockbuster fatigue.
Hugh Jackman returns to his X-Men role in this middling outing, rife with overblown stunts, low stakes and an ending so confused, I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to, because I’m not at all sure what happened. The film just throws MORE, MORE, MORE at the screen in a summer already overloaded with big-budget noisemakers. Still, even weighed down by so much mediocrity, Jackman carries the movie with his usual surfeit of charisma, and more talent than the film can match.
The Wolverine opens with a flashback (actually, it’s a dream within a dream, but go with it): Jackman’s Logan saving a Japanese soldier during the bombing of Nagasaki. In the present, we learn that the old soldier, Yashida (Haruhiko “Hal” Yamanouchi), is dying. Summoned from his hermetic existence in the woods to say goodbye, Logan reaches Japan just as everything falls apart for Yashida’s family, leaving Logan to protect Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (newcomer Tao Okamoto).
At this point, the film offers a handful of tantalizing set-ups, then fails to deliver on them. Who, for instance is after Mariko? And why? There’s a list of suspects, all with puzzling motives, but that still leaves one problem: Mariko is about as appealing and complex as a paperclip. Beautiful, but with little in the way of character development, she’s essentially just the MacGuffin.
Then there’s another wrinkle: Logan seems to have lost his super healing powers. For the first time, the blood that pools around him in fight after fight is actually his. This would be a fascinating arc if, as others in the movie continually suggest, Logan actually wanted to die, to end his suffering and the now-constant nightmares of late love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). But Logan makes it pretty plain from the beginning that he has no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil. So that’s all for naught.
Finally, there’s the ridiculousness that passes for a climax. After a slew of overreaching stunts (on top of a bullet train, against dozens of Ninjas, etc.) Logan ends up in a fight that is the silliest of all. The villain inspires giggles, not fear. Plus, the scene doesn’t even follow its own rules, with action contradicting lines spoken not five minutes before. If it makes sense to you, then please explain it to me. Do a sister a solid.
And if you do go (and plenty of you will), stick around for the Easter egg in the credits. I guarantee it’ll give you more to root for than the previous two hours.
But check out this brilliant cast:
It’s clear that Woody Allen intended for this riff on A Streetcar Named Desire to be lightly tragicomic – just funny enough to get an audience over some unpleasantness in the plot. He should’ve run that by Cate Blanchett first, because her commanding, tragic performance snatches Allen’s film away from him, giving her a star turn that should be noticed come awards season.
Blanchett plays formerly wealthy Jasmine, who loses her grip on sanity when her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is outed as a financial crook in the mold of Bernie Madoff. Having to move in with her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), is the ultimate comedown for Jasmine, who copes with booze and Xanax, with a chaser of booze and Xanax.
Complicating affairs are the two “losers” in Ginger’s life, her ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who’s still not over Jasmine’s snobbery and Hal’s subterfuge, and overbearing new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). The entire cast is spot-on, including Clay, who surprised me, I admit. But the spotlight is on Blanchett, as flashbacks reveal Jasmine to be polished and haughty, while she spirals into mental illness in the present.
She’s the reason to see Blue Jasmine, especially given how uneven the film is, with its whiplash-inducing shifts in tone and time period. It’s far too early to predict Oscar nominations – even for a previous winner like Blanchett – but smart money would definitely put her in the mix.