Daniel Barnz

Cake

Claire Simmons (Jennifer Aniston) is in pain. Chronic pain, actually, the kind she tries to relieve by attending a support group for women who live with the same kind of chronic pain. Claire Simmons has been violently hurt in the past. Does the support group help? Not really. They’re much more concerned with the recent death of Nina (Anna Kendrick), a favorite of the group who recently killed herself in an excessively grim manner. We learn all this within the opening seconds of Daniel Barnz‘s Cake, not because of a clever script or neat direction, or because Aniston or anyone else in her group are able to convey what’s going on with snappy conversation or finely tuned physical expression, but because it is all handed to us without question. We know Claire is in pain because she moves stiffly, we know it’s the result of an accident because she’s covered in scars, we know that Nina is dead because a giant portrait of her is ringed by heartbroken women. We even know that Claire is in a support group for women with chronic pain, because a large chalkboard reads “WOMEN’S CHRONIC PAIN SUPPORT GROUP.” Even from its first moments, Barnz’s film doesn’t trust its audience to unravel his predictable, rote film for themselves. It will only get worse.

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The public school system-targeted message drama Won’t Back Down is a kind of war film. It opens on a hazy classroom scene in which a little girl is attempting to read a sentence on the blackboard as her fellow grunts are half-dying (learning-wise) around her. The sound is muffled, as if a bomb has just gone off and the blast has damaged the characters’ hearing. Machine gun fire is heard nearby, from another student’s video game. Their leader is preoccupied with her own life and useless to them. The enemy that the girl is currently up against is the word “story.” If that’s not a baited call for criticism with the film’s own story… And indeed it’s a fitting moment, but not because the story is badly told so much as the children get lost in it. The film recognizes that there is an education war going on, with revolutionary parents battling powerful teachers unions, and it’s the children stuck in the trenches, caught in the crossfire. But at the same time, Won’t Back Down is not really about the kids, either.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr gets an added dose of tiger’s blood and Adonis DNA to make it through all the movie-watching he endures. He bats about .500 in his screenings, really liking some but struggling through others. After a visit to the wild west of Rango, he finds his fate adjusted by a mysterious fleet of men with stylish hats. Then, he realizes how ugly Number Four really is before staying out all night, drinking with Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer… who looks a lot like Number Six.

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phoebe-header

For those of you who aren’t down with Watchmen and live in a few select cities, you might want to check out a dark little fairy tale called Phoebe in Wonderland.

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In a country that has replaced the motto of “land of the free, home of the brave” with “make sure you Tivo it,” it only makes sense to throw away last year’s actors like a DVD of an Ashton Kutcher film at Christmas. But worry not, we’ve got you covered on who everyone will be talking about in 2009.

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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