For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
In Ruby Sparks, wunderkind author Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood)
has a few problems — one being that he is dateless, another that his
male dog pees like a girl. More pressing is that he lacks the
inspiration to follow up the Great American Novel that landed the
high-school dropout on The New York Times best-seller list when he was all of 19.
This changes when, at the urging of his shrink (Elliott Gould), Calvin writes about the young woman who wanders in and out of his slumber. The girl of his dreams literally becomes the girl of his dreams when she appears in his waking life, in his kitchen, as if they’re already a devoted couple.Her name is Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, Revolutionary Road), and she’s cut from the cloth pattern labeled Adorable Hipster Girlfriend. Having his ideal partner available to him 24/7 inspires an adrenaline rush of prose in Calvin, and he finds that whatever he types about her on the page comes true with the living, breathing version.
It’s as if Weird Science fell in love with Adaptation, and they each went in halfsies on a subscription to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.
The best thing about Ruby Sparks, which opens Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, is Ruby herself: both the character and her creator, as Kazan wrote the screenplay for her and Dano, her real-life boyfriend. The clever script is in good hands with married directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who finally work again after their Oscar-winning sleeper hit of 2006, Little Miss Sunshine.
The two films share similarities — quirky but well-tempered characters, an effective score, posters of people running toward the right (see Exhibit A, at right) — but Sparks emits less energy, only some by design.
A section of the film in which Calvin and Ruby visit his mother and stepfather (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) is comically out of tone, and Dano fails to rise to the climax’s dark demands, relying on an open mouth to emote while Kazan commands the screen and runs circles around him.
Hers is a performance that traverses many layers, emotions and even languages, and the ultimate reason to see Ruby Sparks. While it may be a sidestep for Dayton and Faris, the film marks a huge leap forward for Kazan.