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The Squid & The Whale

Set in 1986, this comedy/drama chronicles the fall-out of a marriage breakdown.  Academic lecturer Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniells) is an author who hasn’t had a book published in years.  His already bruised ego is damaged further when his wife, Joan (Laura Linney), has her first novel published to great acclaim.  This precipitates a separation between them, effecting their two sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) 16, and Frank (Owen Kline) 12.  Walt idolises his father and follows him blindly.  Frank, however, starts to display bizarre behaviour which gets un-noticed by both parents, as they become self-absorbed in creating new lives for themselves.  The movie title refers to a museum exhibition, which holds the key to one of the sons finally opening his eyes to how he sees his parents.
Noah Baumbach has written/directed this story based on his own upbringing, and shows a fractured family trying to sort out where they belong.  The film is mainly seen through the eyes of the sons as they discover things about their parents that they both dislike, but can’t make up their minds as to how to react to these revelations.
The main instigator of the separation is Bernard, an egotistical selfish man who believes everything he does is right and tries to dominate every situation.  In a very unlikeable role, Jeff Daniels gives a great performance in a career that has shown consistent excellence.  Bernard’s ego has so consumed him, that he can’t bring himself to save his marriage, and uses his sons to get back at his wife. He is oblivious to his sons’ needs while conducting an affair with a fellow college student (Anna Paquin), much to his sons disgust.  Daniells has made a point of pushing his career in new and challenging ways, and this role is no exception.
Laura Linney gives a very real and earthy performance as Joan, the wife who finally had enough of Bernard’s selfishness.  Even though Joan herself isn’t entirely a saint either, she does at least acknowledge that certain past actions affected her sons upbringing, and attempts to change her ways.  Joan begins seeing the boys tennis instructor (William Baldwin), and finally seems to find the love that was missing in her marriage.  The actors playing the sons are very good, and give mature performances that mask their true age.  Owen Kline - the son of actor Kevin Kline - shows that he has inherited his father’s acting skills, and is quite remarkable as the youngest son, and looks set to have a bright acting future ahead of him. 
Although the plot synopsis sounds very bleak, there are times of cutting humour that highlights the absurdity of both Bernard’s and Joans actions. Daniels and Linney are able to bring make their roles totally believable, and makes watching their characters actions sometimes uncomfortably real due to their excellent acting abilities.  The direction is subtly handled, and all of the performances are first rate.  A very interesting film that successfully provides a good mix drama and humour, told in a mature fashion.
Rating out of 10:   8

Basic Instinct 2

Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), the woman who gave ice picks a bad name, returns for this belated sequel. This time out, Catherine is sent to see psychiatrist Michael Glass (David Morrissey), after she is arrested for the killing of her footballer boyfriend. Michael declares that Catherine has a ‘risk addiction’, and seems to get sexual pleasure in the most dangerous of places. Catherine walks free of the murder charge, but keeps on seeing Michael, in search of a ‘cure’. This leads to a string of murders all relating to Michael’s shady past. Hot on Catherine’s trail is Detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis), who sees through her game and will do anything to bring her to justice. What follows is a sordid tale of sex, deceit and psychological mind games.
Sharon Stone finally returns to the role that made her famous in 1992. The original film was basically a sexed up whodunit, with lots of eye catching scenery and a thumping sexuality all of its own. This sequel has none of that, with original co-star Michael Douglas wisely bowing out of proceedings. Things get off to a terrible start with a laughably bad opening sequence, and continues on a downward spiral from which it never recovers. One of the problems of this film is that the character of Catherine has been toned down considerably, thereby diluting the presence that she had in the first film. There is hardly any mention of her bi-sexuality, which was used to dubious effect in the first one.
Stone seems to have forgotten what made her character tick, and presents the audience with a shell of what the character once was. The heavily made up and ‘plastic look’ that she has throughout doesn’t do her any favours either. Her chemistry with David Morrissey is non existent, and provides zero interest into what happens to both of them. Morrissey plays his thankless supporting role as if he were attending a funeral. Blank stares and frowns do not make a character, and Morrissey could have at least tried to inject some personality into his character. David Thewlis seems to be the only one having a good time, as the Welsh detective. Thewlis must have realised he was in a silly load of nonsense, and acted accordingly.
Another major fault with this film is that there is no mystery to the story, as it’s clear who the killer is, which cheats the audience of any suspense. Perhaps the major mystery is why it took 14 years to write a script as bad as this one. The only saving grace is the soundtrack, which utilises the first films score, but has the habit of reminding the audience of the previous better film.
‘Basic Instinct 2′ isn’t involving and has a resolution which defies belief. The London setting is as cold as the performances, and there is not one iota of camp that could have at least made this film a trash classic. Surely a contender for worst film of the year, and an embarrassment for all concerned. Strictly a film for people who like to see desperate actresses cling to the remnants of a faded career.
Rating out of 10: 0
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