Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Top Ten Films of 2012

My Top Ten Films of 2012:

1. Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” is magical.  A film about coming-of-age and the symphony of family, “Moonrise Kingdom” layers in winning performances and the textures of survival and scouting in ways that are both endearing and nostalgic.  Two young people fall in love and decide to run off into the wilderness together.  Both are pursued by their respect families.  Edward Norton is a delight as the Scoutmaster of a group of young boys with an affinity for violence and injuries, Jason Schwartzman steals scenes as an older Scout lampooning the institution of marriage as well as being the guy at the trading post that can get you anything, and the lead couple is charming with innocence mixed with sadness.  Wes Anderson has made a film that builds upon his previous work, and this film is about the families that we build around us, with various instruments playing in concert with each other.  The best movies transport and haunt us.  “Moonrise Kingdom” does both.

2. “Silver Linings Playbook” is David O. Russell’s triumphant reimagining of Matthew Quick’s novel about Pat (Bradley Cooper, astonishing), a troubled young man, who searches for a way to redeem himself.  Pat runs around his neighborhood in a garbage bag, furiously trying to change himself and reconcile with his wife.  But the brilliance of the film is that Pat’s journey is mirrored by his obstinate father (Robert DeNiro, wonderful) as well as the volcanic Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, fantastic).  I found the final dance sequence uniting with the parlay of the Eagles-Cowboys game to be one of the most dazzling and fun moments of the year.  And, Russell always has interesting things to say about community, family, and makes even his smallest characters interesting and real.  For example, Chris Tucker nearly steals the film despite only five minutes of screen time.  Russell is comfortable examining our national obsessions with costumes, pageantry, and sports within the context of a suburban Philadephia family.  And, it's got crabby snacks and home-mades!

3. “Skyfall” delivers a serious and modern James Bond film with texture, and as a fan of the novels and films, I was satisfied.  "Skyfall" is not just about quips and gadgets; it is about getting old, dying, and grief, all set against some of the most spectacular visuals ever show in this series.  From the opening chase through Istanbul to the fight in an illuminated Shanghai office building, Roger Deakins does amazing work to articulate Sam Mendes’s vision.  Mendes shows Bond as the wounded, doubting warrior, the man no longer able to fully take on the tasks in front of him, and the injection of real-life terror into the plot is welcome.  And I found the final half hour at “Skyfall,” the ancestral home of Bond to be one of my favorite Bond sequences ever with the helicopter arrival, the fires burning over the heath, the crumbling church, characters clutching weapons and stumbling to their destinations.  Javier Bardem may never touch a computer as blond cyber-villain Silva, but he breathes new life into the villain role.  And, the changing of the guard in this film is handled well, with Q, M, and Moneypenny all receiving their due.  A wonderful film, and a fantastic Bond film.

4. “Argo” is Ben Affleck’s valentine to Hollywood and their pivotal role in the rescue of U.S. Embassy workers in Tehran in the late seventies.  And, it is also a valentine to the intelligence community and the smart people in Washington who figure out how to save lives in unconventional ways.  It is about storytelling and the power of movie-making.  What Affleck does so well here is ratchet up the tension in both D.C. and Iran as both communities try to figure out how to get six hidden workers out of the country.  Unabashedly entertaining, Affleck secures memorable performances from Alan Arkin and John Goodman as Hollywood veterans, eager to help out in the rescue mission; they get all the best lines.  There is commentary on the nature of deception, as press conferences are cross cut with table readings of the fantastic "Argo" script.  Some have taken "Argo" to task for historical inaccuracies or Affleck's penchant to ramp up the tension in nearly ridiculous ways towards the end.  I found it to be completely engaging and well-crafted and tense, and I fully expect it to win Best Picture tonight, though I think Affleck’s performance is a bit of a misfire or maybe just a murk.

5.   "Zero Dark Thirty" is Kathryn Bigelow's exploration of our national obsession with revenge as she chronicles the exhaustive hunt for Osama bin-Laden. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is relentless and sifts through oceans of data, video files, and photographs, searching for the connection that leads to the courier that leads to the compound in Pakistan. Bigelow crafts the world of the analysts as one requiring immense sacrifice and risk, and though little is known of Maya, the final shot suggests quite a bit. The raid on the compound is understandably the film's centerpiece where Maya's will is executed by Chris Pratt and other Navy SEALs. It is gripping cinema and powerful. Where do we go from 
here, both Maya and Bigelow ask. There are no easy answers.

6.     “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an audacious film that wrestles with climate change, the role of government, the disintegration of hope, as well as the post-Katrina reality of Southern Louisiana as strained through the poetics of a Terence Malick-like vision.  The performances by Quvenzhan√© Wallis and Dwight Henry as daughter and father are raw and affecting, and the film is always surprising and original.  It is about myth-making, and Wallis shows the resilience of a young hero uncertain of any other way to live.  I am not sure that I fully understood this fable strained through a child’s coming-of-age story, but I also know that this film is the work of master filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, a story that challenges our notions of family and community.  As Hushpuppy's father screams, "Beast it!"

7. “Django Unchained” showcases Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic dazzle and daring.  He elicits sublime performances from Leonardo DiCaprio (never better) and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as writing magnificent scenes for Christoph Waltz and Don Johnson.  Tarantino deconstructs (and destroys) “Birth of a Nation,” as well as spins the idea of the western in new directions.  Yet, for all of his fabulist tendencies, Tarantino sharply crafts a script about a freed slave turned bounty hunter that shows audiences what slavery was like, the business of slavery, the commerce of slavery, the visuals of a fully-functional plantation, the psychology of slavery in its effect on both whites and blacks.  Yes, the music is incredible, with everything from John Legend to Rick Ross as well as a daring mash-up of James Brown and Tupac set to a shoot-out scene in Candy-Land.  I feel that the film weakens in its final third, but I am struck by the layering of Django’s development from slave to hero, how he talks his way into freedom in the last third of the film and leaves the gate open for other slaves to escape as well.  Tarantino’s film is also the funniest of the year and at times, the hardest to watch.

8. “Lincoln” is an easy film to overlook since I saw it five months ago, but Tony Kushner’s screenplay wedded to Daniel Day-Lewis’s acting as the president mark a high-water mark for cinema.  Steven Spielberg reigns in his tendencies, making a film remarkable in its focus and its restraint.  In a way, Spielberg has made a film decidedly relevant to our political times by showing how deals are struck, alliances made, lies told.  Tommy Lee Jones is the fire of the film as Thaddeus Stevens, and a high-caliber supporting cast bolsters a fantastic lead performance.  Day-Lewis shows us Lincoln as a folksy speechmaker, a loving father, an unhappy husband, a physically weary leader, a thinker, a man aware of the legacy he leaves.  To think, Daniel Day-Lewis has played Hawkeye, John Proctor, Bill The Butcher, Daniel Plainview, and now, Abraham Lincoln.  Is there a better representation of the complexity of America in one actor’s resume?

9. “Safety Not Guaranteed” takes the premise of a want-ad in a Seattle magazine and elevates it into a beautiful, painful study in human connection.  Kenneth is searching for someone to go back in time with him, and this is not a joke, and the person must bring his/her own weapons.  Mark DuPlass is Kenneth, a strange, slightly dangerous man working on time travel in secret, and Aubrey Plaza plays the dour intern drawn to his energy.  This film has a weird energy and sense of humor, and its ending is strangely powerful.  I loved it.

10. (TIE) “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is director Stephen Chbosky’s winning adaptation of his own novel, and his care for the material and the performances shines through.  In its depiction of 1991 Pittsburgh-area teens at the brink of starting and ending high school, Chbosky offers the rare treat of viewing high school seriously and thoughtfully.  Graduation looms, relationships teeter, drugs and alcohol confuse, and emotions are difficult to navigate.  Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are wonderful.  Chbosky has crafted a film of grace and emotion, one that I hope finally finds its audience.

10. (TIE) “The Grey” promised the image of Jedi Liam Neeson, bloody and with stubble, breaking mini-bottles of booze left over from a horrific Alaskan airplane crash and strapping them to his bruised knuckes to form a makeshift weapon to face a pack of violent wolves in hand-to-hand combat.  Liam Neeson has had a career trajectory similar to Daniel Day-Lewis, playing icons like Michael Collins, Oskar Schindler, Ra’s Al Guhl.  Here, Neeson plays a man facing death in the starkest terms as a small, miserable band of survivors struggles to survive.  For its quiet moments, its horror, its existential dilemma of wandering through a wolf pack’s territory, “The Grey” was the most surprising film of the year.  I hope that it finds an audience because when Neeson straps the broken glass to his knuckles in the film’s penultimate image, there might not be a more affecting moment in cinema this year!

Honorable Mention: Here are films 11-20 which are worth your time as well and affected me quite deeply this year, though unable to make the Top Ten: Jeff, Who Lives at Home; The Master; The Hunger Games; The Impossible; Seven Psychopaths; Les Miserables; 21 Jump Street; Premium Rush; Kiler Joe; Prometheus.

The Most Disappointing Films of The Year: 

"The Dictator" with Sacha Baron Cohen was unfunny.  I laughed less than five times.  And I loved "Borat."  A disaster with unlimited potential, Cohen does not seem to be trying here.

"We Bought a Zoo" is not Cameron Crowe trying to make a children's film and failing. It is just a film that works on no level.  It isn't funny, warm, emotional, or genuine.  I was surprised at its awfulness especially because he has made emotional films in the past.

"This is 40" is Judd Apatow's tone-deaf story of a couple in financial crisis who cannot communicate or decide to cancel the caterers (!) for a 40th birthday party.  It does not work and shows evidence of Apatow just letting the camera run and his actors improvise to terrible results.  This film is the Judd Apatow of the unfunny "Funny People," not "The 40-Year Old Virgin."

"Friends With Kids" is just really indulgent and strange.  It assembled a very exciting cast and then used them in the worst possible ways.  Jennifer Westfeldt has drained her own film of any power, and a film with Jon Hamm and Adam Scott used so poorly has to be considered extremely disappointing.

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" with Keira Knightley and Steve Carell is frustrating because of its intriguing concept and its poor execution.  The film has tonal shifts and does not seem to know what it wants to be.  In a world where we can watch "The Walking Dead" on AMC or read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," I do not think there is a reason to watch this film.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Texas Flood of Blood: Matthew McConaughey is Killer Joe

Movie Review: Killer Joe

Director: William Friedkin

Reviewed: 17 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--***

Matthew McConaughey is Joe Cooper, a cop who is also a killer for hire in the desolate Texas wasteland outside of Dallas.  He meets Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) in a few destitute spots to discuss business: the killing of Chris's mom for the insurance money.  They meet in an abandoned pool hall; they meet in an abandoned amusement park.  Chris owes bad men money, men who will chase him down and bury him alive if he does not pay.  His own father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) cannot help him come up with the cash and has none to give.  Ansel's wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) seems to have an allergic reaction to Chris and violently attacks him whenever in the same room, and then there's younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple).  Dottie lives in the trailer park inside her cocoon of a room, filled to the brim with stuffed animals and dollhouses.  She seems a bit off, unaware of her surroundings, prone to sleep-talking, and the beneficiary of the mom's life insurance policy.

Director William Friedkin throws all of these ingredients in a cooking pot and turns up the heat: guns, bikers, lightning crashes, beat-downs, and Joe's taking of Dottie as his retainer.  "Killer Joe" is a pulpy stew of the most lurid kind with its elements of film noir refracted through the world of the trailer park.  Based on a Tracy Letts's play that I am not familiar with, it seems stagey in certain scenes, but Friedkin effectively uses parking lots, offices, restaurants, and public places to give reprieve from the oppressive trailer park dining room that occupies the last thirty minutes of the film.  Friedkin inserts beautiful shots of blue lightning illuminating the dark Texas sky, and he cranks up the tension quite well in the final out of control thirty minutes.  The pit bull that stops barking when it sees Joe is a nice touch that becomes a touchstone throughout the film.  Thomas Haden Church is wonderfully dumb as Ansel, a man pushed around by nearly everyone in his life.  McConaughey is darkly magnetic, and he almost pulls off some of the audacious work in the final scenes. Hirsch's histrionic acting seems a bit much to me, though my eye is always drawn to him as a younger Leonardo DiCaprio.  He takes a ton of abuse in this film, wearing a bloody, black and blue face like a mask by the end.

The real charge of this film is how the final scene illuminates nearly every scene that came before it.  Friedkin reveals a character to be more than first appears, and the last line is a doozy.  Some of the big reveals are easier to see than others, and some of the twists are particularly twisted.

It does not seem like a compliment to call a film trashy, but "Killer Joe" revels in its own filth.  There is always a bunch of money in a film like this with desperate characters reaching and clawing over each other for it.  I would put "Killer Joe" in the category of New American Noir in the same breath as "Red Rock West," "The Last Seduction," and "A Simple Plan."

There are no happy endings, even in Texas.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films, 2012

Movie Review: Head Over Heels

Director: Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly

Reviewed: 3 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--****

I flat-out loved this film.  With its impressive visual claymation (or "Wallace & Gromit"type style), "Head Over Hells" seems like a companion piece to the film "Up" in its depiction of an older couple and a home.  Its conceit is to show a house divided in two with shared appliances and furniture, with the husband on the ceiling upside down and the wife on the ground right-side up.  One keeps turning their framed wedding picture a different direction.  Wordless and beautiful, "Head Over Hells" captured my eye and my heart more than any film up for the Oscar for Animated Short Films this year.  I am rooting for it to win the Oscar.

Movie Review: Fresh Guacamole

Director: Pes

Reviewed: 10 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--****

In only two minutes, "Fresh Guacamole" delivers a rousing, spirited film embracing wordplay, visual substitutions, and provoking laughter.  Its beauty is in its simplicity, the converting of objects into one another, and on that level, "Fresh Guacamole" embodies the magic of cinema.  Pes uses color, sound, and imagery to dazzle.  It is a perfect film.  I could see it winning on its sheer commitment to fun.

Movie Review: Adam and Dog

Director: Minkyu Lee

Reviewed: 10 February 2013

jamesintexas rating: ***1/2

A film that resembles a water color painting and offers a version of the Adam and Eve story but this time with a dog!  Lee's version of Eden is one of great, epic forests and colors that shift and shimmer.  A wordless film with Adam's spiky hair, a dog's curious face and ears, blades of grass, and the sounds of nature echoing.  There had to be a first dog, and this one is curious and bounding through the world.  I was transported to this world, and I loved the aesthetic choices and feel of the film.

Movie Review: Paperman

Director: John Kahrs

Reviewed: 10 February 2013

jamesintexas rating: ***

In a very skillfully drawn story, "Paperman" captures the era of the big city in the 1960's, with its long, lean skyscrapers and windy corridors, where an office drone crossed by love on the morning's train spies the woman he loves in a neighboring office building.  Buried in paperwork at his desk and desperate to meet her, a fleet of paper airplanes aim for the window across the way.  The musicality and the storytelling build predictably and in a lovely manner.  "Paperman" evokes old-school Disney drawings, the lanky angular bodies of the Darlings in "101 Dalmatians."  It features the familiar dreamy eyes of Disney characters, and it wears its heart openly on its sleeve.  

Movie Review: Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"

Director: David Silverman

Reviewed 10 February 2013

jamesintexas rating-***

"The Simpsons" is a landmark achievement in television, and the transfer to film is not a natural one, though if anyone can do it, I believe Maggie Simpson can.  Maggie is dropped off at day care and encounters the terror of other children, tracking, and recently born butterflies gruesomely dispatched by a toothy toddler.  Maggie fights, silently, to save her butterfly, and many comic visual moments ensue.  It feels slight and familiar, though the story is well-told.

Pitch Perfect: The Rise of Fat Amy

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

Director:  Jason Moore

Reviewed: 9 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--***

Maybe it is Anna Kendrick's charm as a DJ-obsessed outcast in college who can really sing?  Or Rebel Wilson's wonderfully funny turn as the self-anointed Fat Amy who belts out songs with passion?  Or maybe the evocation of the cutthroat world of collegiate a capella complete with "Best In Show" type announcers Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins?  Regardless, "Pitch Perfect" is a surprisingly sweet and funny film with true fervor for its performed songs.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Don't get me wrong.  There's quite a bit that doesn't work.  Kendrick's freshman Beca has an inconsistent relationship with her professor father, a teacher on Barden College's campus who only appears when the plot needs him to appear.  Wilson's Fat Amy only exists in the context of the a capella group, though it would have been hilarious to have more of her interacting with college students, attending (or not attending classes), or in general, more screen-time.  The dynamic between Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany) fails to capture the reasons why they love a capella and the Barden Bellas or wherever they are destined to go after college.  There are so many other members of the Bellas that are underdeveloped or ignored in the script.  And the film at times seems to be building the all-male a capella group into the antagonists, but then abruptly switches that up.

The film covers its subject matter with a seriousness that at first seems mock and then is completely sincere.  However, the laughs are genuine, and the music competitions are quite fun to watch with modern songs and impressive choreography.  Obviously, "Pitch Perfect" springs forth from the work that "Glee" has done in layering in the personalities of a singing group set against the backdrop of the ticking clock that is always Regionals.  (Is there a more daunting, catch-all word for the moment of truth in today's world than Regionals?)  Wilson is a star, given so much to do compared with her hilarious near-cameo in "Bridesmaids," and she shows confidence and verve.  "Pitch Perfect" could have easily turned into The Rebel Wilson Show, and Jason Moore contains her character of Fat Amy, giving us small doses of her hilarious line readings, not allowing her to sideline his story.  But Wilson is easily the most fun performer to watch, and though Kendrick does a fine job carrying the bulk of the plot, it is impossible not to wonder what Rebel Wilson could have done with more screen time.

And, it is impossible not to wonder if Fat Amy should have been the story?

Seven Psychopaths: A Wonderful Collection of Actors

Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths

Director: Martin McDonagh

Reviewed: 8 February 2013

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

I'm a huge fan of Martin McDonagh's dialogue.  From "In Bruges" to the play "A Behanding in Spokane," his profane characters (usually killers, usually Irish) spout wonderful lines of poetry, cutting into the world around them with verbal acid, attacking the chaos in their lives.  No one goes gentle into that good night.  McDonagh's lines are laugh out loud funny from the very first exchange, and to hear Christopher Walken speak them is a delight.  Walken is maybe the best part of "Seven Psychopaths," but there are wonderful monologues delivered by Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, and even Tom Waits.  "Seven Psychopaths" is audacious and fun in the same way Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was; it is quick and then slow, it skewers time and comments on its own storytelling, and it dazzles with its dream sequences and action shoot-outs.  As Sam Rockwell utters more than once, "This is my movie and I'm in charge of how it ends."

Farrell is Marty, a boozy writer trying to craft a screenplay.  Rockwell is his best friend Billy who keeps him supplied with ideas and also kidnaps people's dogs for money.  Walken as Hans helps return the dogs and collect the rewards.  Harrelson is Charlie who loses his beloved Shih-Tzu, and all hell breaks loose.

The film is talk-heavy and deeply funny.  There are wonderful scenes with Rockwell's zaniness mixed with Walken's laconic strangeness.  The overall playfulness of the film's construction means that Rockwell can narrate a ten-minute dream-ending sequence in a graveyard with Walken rising out of a grave, guns crossed over his chest like some sort of Nosferatu.  There is time to hear Waits's bizarre tale of a serial killing pair of serial killers who hunt down an astonishing array of baddies.  Walken can wander the desert with a tape recorder, pausing and ruminating upon any subject he likes.  And McDonagh can interrupt his own credits to ensure that all strands of story have been collected.

"Seven Psychopaths" assembles a dazzling array of talented actors and then lets them loose.  Farrell took a turn in his career for the better, and it may have started with his "In Bruges" work with McDonagh, and I love seeing him act.  In film after film, he exudes charisma and confidence; I hope he stays away from big-budget action adventure shlock forever.  Walken is having a banner year with this role as well as his work in "Stand Up Guys" and "Final Quartet."  There is no one that I would rather hear mangle the word "hallucinogen."  Rockwell is having the most fun and carries the movie with his manic energy.  His riff on Ghandi's "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" is one of the best pieces of dialogue of the year.  And, Harrelson is a seething mess of anger,  infinitely fun to behold.

Casting is one piece of this film's success, but without McDonagh's words, the film would not work.  Luckily, McDonagh is a playwright, an architect of profane poetry, and a lover of digressions and silliness.  Sometimes, a film needs a good fire, some blankets, and an overnight camp out in the gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park to tell its tale.

Looper: Time Travel Hurts My Brain

Movie Review: Looper

Director: Rian Johnson

Reviewed: 10 February 2013

jamesintexas rating-- ***

Rian Johnson's "Looper" is a confounding, innovative, and dazzling work featuring Bruce Willis as Old Joe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, caught in a time travel plot initiated by the crime syndicate of the future.  A looper is an assassin who wipes out people sent back from the future, since in the future, disposing of a body is nearly impossible.  Loopers are paid well, expected to be at the rendezvous point, gun in hand, prepared to shoot anyone who comes back in time.  When the bad guys want to close the loop, they send the older version of their looper back to be killed by his younger self.

Part of "Looper's" fun is seeing the plot unfold and Johnson's narrative time-splitting, so the less said, the better.  The make-up uniting Gordon-Levitt and Willis is at times distracting, though the movements, growl of the voice, and the overall look unites them.  Johnson's strength in this film is in painting a wide canvas with many details around the edges.  Jeff Daniels shows up as Abe, a world-weary crime boss; Paul Dano is a looper named Seth, forced to confront himself with torturous results (and perhaps my favorite special effects shots of the whole film).  Emily Blunt carries the second half of the film which involves a small Kansas farm house, and that plot line is certainly fresh and innovative.  I had no idea where it was going.  The imagery is strong: Joe, standing in an empty cornfield, with a tarp next to some corn stalks, waiting patiently with his gun.

At one point, Old Joe acknowledges that he doesn't "want to talk about time travel...we'll be diagramming shit on napkins for hours," and that kind of confidence in the story-telling propels "Looper" though I still don't know what to make of the ending and I'm not sure I followed every twist and turn.  Yet, it captured my imagination, and nearly a month afterwards, I still wonder and come back to the film, which means another viewing is soon in my future.  That is a good sign, when a movie won't leave you.  Can you fight yourself when the older version of you essentially knows everything that the younger version will do?  Some of the special effects shots do not work, and I felt very disoriented and confused most of the film.  In fact, I still do.  "Looper" is a film that I admired more than loved, yet I'm willing to return to it and see if the story moves me more on a second viewing.  Johnson's "Brick" was a wonderfully inventive transplanting of the detective noir style to a Southern California high school, and this film wrestles with time travel and family in a way that I haven't seen before.

A film that's likable and worth your time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kenyon College on Film: Liberal Arts presents College!

Movie Review: Liberal Arts

Director: Josh Radnor

Reviewed: 28 January 2013

jamesintexas rating--*1/2

As a Kenyon man but more importantly as a lover of cinema, I found Josh Radnor's "Liberal Arts" to be disappointing on nearly every level.  Besides being excited to see Kenyon College's campus shot in glorious sunshine, helicopter shots flying over Peirce Hall, and the incongruous sight of Zac Efron on Middle Path (as well as the Bookstore, Peter Rutkoff, and the Wiggin Street School), Radnor's script is too long and its heart in a very strange place.

Radnor is Jesse Fisher, a NYC admissions officer at lost in the big city and in life.  When his favorite Professor Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins) calls him back to his small college in mid-Ohio for a retirement dinner, Jesse returns and meets cute with sophomore Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), the vaguely unsatisfied comedy troupe performing Hannah Hall-dwelling manic pixie dream girl dissatisfied with Kenyon men and intrigued by Jesse for some reason.  They strike up a friendship, fueled by mix CD's and letters.  Voice-over ensues as both read their letters and form a relationship from afar, each idealizing each other.

What frustrated me most about this film was Jesse's incompleteness as a character.  So little is given of his life in NYC that it is hard to view him as anything other than a set of attributes and behaviors.  It's not even clear where his romanticism of college comes from.  The film abandons its mentor character of Richard Jenkins, substituting a subplot involving Allison Janney as Professor Judith Fairfield, a frightening Romantics professor.  I disliked the overloading of the plot with too many strands; it really cannot carry all of them well.  There are moments that seem just designed to denigrate the "Twilight" series as well as inane conversations that just ring false.  Radnor's skills behind the camera are fine.

The film fails to end when it should, and by dragging out the plot, Radnor weakens the film.  Jenkins gets all the film's best lines, ("Any place that you don't leave is a prison") and he is too fine of an actor to waste in this film.

In closing, I wonder if I am too harsh on this film.  I love my memories of college, the closeness of professors and students, and that time in a person's life is truly extraordinary for so many reasons.  I fault Radnor for simply not telling a story worthy of its location and time period.  It's simply not that interesting and that stems from Jesse and Zibby both lacking depth and truth as characters.  I wanted to see the movie about Professor Hoberg's leaving of a place that he loved.

I was truly unprepared to dislike this film as much as I did.