Brad Pitt

Committed Caroline runs every Thursday evening in Life & Arts.

Photo Credit: Daily Texan Comics | Daily Texan Staff

I’ve never been not exclusive.

As said a hundred times, I started dating my partner a long long time ago and we’ve been exclusive ever since. At one point, early on, before he had asked me to be his girlfriend officially, I was curious as to what our status would be. 

“Are you seeing anyone else?” I asked.

He was wounded and we’ve been exclusive ever since. And really that’s to my benefit. If I had to find a different sexual partner every time I needed to have an orgasm, I might have every STI on record.

My partner is the only boy I’ve ever dated—if you don’t count crushes in middle school and a square dance in elementary.  He’s the only man I’ve had sex with, and really the only one I’m interested in having sex with. Sure, I develop fake crushes on people like Brad Pitt and my cute bartender, but those are simple attractions and nothing to act on.

Exclusivity is what drives my sex life. I love having sex because it’s so intimate. There is something so close and touching and real about having another person care about you enough to come make out with you even if they don’t want to.

There’s a difference between dating exclusivity and having sex exclusively. Some people have one without the other, but I’ve always had both, and I’m not sure I could do without either. I love having sexual exclusivity because I know that everything will be safe and fun, and I love the emotional connection that exclusive dating provides.

I have plenty of friends who have sex with many different people over time, or date several people, but that isn’t ever what I wanted. I always wanted a partner. I wanted someone who would go down on me whenever I asked, but would also come hold me while I cried on my bed during a hard week. 

I know that exclusivity means different things to different people. Some people need to test out many different options to find out what they like. Some people will always like to have more than one person, but for me: I was lucky. I found my person early, and I’m pretty happy only being with him. 

Two of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations in recent memory are “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” both based on works by Cormac McCarthy, whose writing style is so inherently cinematic that very little had to be changed to fit the big screen. It stands to reason then, that McCarthy’s screenwriting debut, “The Counselor,” would be a winner — especially with Ridley Scott directing and Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt in starring roles. Unfortunately, “The Counselor” is a frustrating work whose elegant, talky screenplay is both its greatest asset and detractor.

McCarthy’s screenplay is frustratingly vague, right down to its unnamed main character, played by Fassbender. Fassbender plays a counselor dipping his toes into the murky waters of drug trafficking with the help of accomplices Westray (Pitt), Reiner (Bardem) and Reiner’s lover Malkina (Cameron Diaz). Once an unlucky series of coincidences puts the Counselor on the wrong side of the drug cartels, he finds himself scrambling for his life.

Though “The Counselor” assembles an outstanding cast, several of its members are somewhat stranded within McCarthy’s narratively slack script. Both Pitt and Fassbender, enormously charismatic actors capable of shouldering challenging material, do their best with the vagaries of the film’s story, but neither does particularly memorable work. Even as Fassbender’s character descends into misery, which Fassbender plays very effectively, there’s so little emotional attachment to his character that his fairly wrenching performance fails to evoke any emotion. Diaz, on the other hand, plays a surprisingly adept femme fatale, and Bardem’s bug-eyed delivery sells some of McCarthy’s best lines.

If McCarthy’s overly-talky script wasn’t so gorgeously written, “The Counselor” would be interminable. His dialogue is punchy, with stunningly polished turns of phrase showcasing McCarthy’s gift for minimalist, hard-boiled poetry. But the dialogue mostly pads out scenes of characters sitting around discussing the plot, and there are far too many monologues that ultimately go nowhere.

McCarthy is so taken with his characters and their peculiar rhythms of speech that he willfully breaks one of the principal rules of screenwriting: Show, don’t tell. Almost every major dramatic event in the film seems to take place off-screen, and McCarthy’s stylized script mostly finds the characters obliquely discussing their situations rather than taking action. It’s a shame, too, since the few scenes of genuine action are among the film’s best. Scott directs with a visceral eye, making every gunshot thud hit home and orchestrating one of the best decapitations to ever grace the silver screen. Even the film’s climactic moments are thankfully left to the viewer’s imagination.

The Counselor” is not an easy movie to love as it veers between pulpy fun and bleak nihilism with startling ease and traps its characters in a slowly contracting noose of circumstance. There’s little struggle or opportunity for the characters. They seem to be lost in the consequences of actions that are spoken of, but unseen, and the script’s free-floating, contemplative nature that ultimately derails any narrative momentum or engagement. What results is a film full of people trying to make up for the script’s shortcomings, and while Scott and his cast do their best, “The Counselor” proves to be a surprisingly un-cinematic debut for McCarthy.

Two of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations in recent memory are “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” both based on works by Cormac McCarthy, whose writing style is so inherently cinematic that very little had to be changed to fit the big screen. It stands to reason then, that McCarthy’s screenwriting debut, “The Counselor,” would be a winner — especially with Ridley Scott directing and Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt in starring roles. Unfortunately, “The Counselor” is a frustrating work whose elegant, talky screenplay is both its greatest asset and detractor.

McCarthy’s screenplay is frustratingly vague, right down to its unnamed main character, played by Fassbender. Fassbender plays a counselor dipping his toes into the murky waters of drug trafficking with the help of accomplices Westray (Pitt), Reiner (Bardem) and Reiner’s lover Malkina (Cameron Diaz). Once an unlucky series of coincidences puts the Counselor on the wrong side of the drug cartels, he finds himself scrambling for his life.

Though “The Counselor” assembles an outstanding cast, several of its members are somewhat stranded within McCarthy’s narratively slack script. Both Pitt and Fassbender, enormously charismatic actors capable of shouldering challenging material, do their best with the vagaries of the film’s story, but neither does particularly memorable work. Even as Fassbender’s character descends into misery, which Fassbender plays very effectively, there’s so little emotional attachment to his character that his fairly wrenching performance fails to evoke any emotion. Diaz, on the other hand, plays a surprisingly adept femme fatale, and Bardem’s bug-eyed delivery sells some of McCarthy’s best lines.

If McCarthy’s overly-talky script wasn’t so gorgeously written, “The Counselor” would be interminable. His dialogue is punchy, with stunningly polished turns of phrase showcasing McCarthy’s gift for minimalist, hard-boiled poetry. But the dialogue mostly pads out scenes of characters sitting around discussing the plot, and there are far too many monologues that ultimately go nowhere.

McCarthy is so taken with his characters and their peculiar rhythms of speech that he willfully breaks one of the principal rules of screenwriting: Show, don’t tell. Almost every major dramatic event in the film seems to take place off-screen, and McCarthy’s stylized script mostly finds the characters obliquely discussing their situations rather than taking action. It’s a shame, too, since the few scenes of genuine action are among the film’s best. Scott directs with a visceral eye, making every gunshot thud hit home and orchestrating one of the best decapitations to ever grace the silver screen. Even the film’s climactic moments are thankfully left to the viewer’s imagination.

The Counselor” is not an easy movie to love as it veers between pulpy fun and bleak nihilism with startling ease and traps its characters in a slowly contracting noose of circumstance. There’s little struggle or opportunity for the characters. They seem to be lost in the consequences of actions that are spoken of, but unseen, and the script’s free-floating, contemplative nature that ultimately derails any narrative momentum or engagement. What results is a film full of people trying to make up for the script’s shortcomings, and while Scott and his cast do their best, “The Counselor” proves to be a surprisingly un-cinematic debut for McCarthy.

Brad Pitt stars in "World War Z."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Of all the films coming out this summer, “World War Z” has the most potential to be a disaster. After all, its production has been a loudly publicized series of reshoots, conflicts and ballooning budgets, not to mention the film’s total departure from the fascinating and intelligent book it takes its title from. Unfortunately, “World War Z” isn’t the kind of notoriously bad movie that history loves to scoff at, but settles instead for being bland, forgettable and wholly uninteresting – arguably the worst sin a film can commit.

“World War Z” chronicles the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, seen through the eyes of Gerry (Brad Pitt), a former UN field agent with an undefined skill that makes him essential to thwarting the zombie threat. After escaping Philadelphia with his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters, Gerry deposits them on a military ship (one of the few safe havens on Earth) and sets off on a globe-trekking quest to find the cause of the zombie virus so he can cure it.

“World War Z’s” biggest problem is easily its script, or lack thereof. The film is built around a handful of sequences of large-scale zombie chaos, and the story stringing them together is little more than Pitt running from country to country asking questions. Anything more, such as character development, stakes or anything for the audience to care about are apparently expendable, and half of the characters don’t even have names, much less personalities. This extends all the way to the top, and the script gives Gerry so few characteristics and so little depth that Brad Pitt is basically playing Brad Pitt throughout – he even adopts an orphan at the end of the film.

If the action scenes were impressive enough to overshadow the film's flaws, the film might be passable. Unfortunately, director Marc Forster’s last big-budget film was “Quantum of Solace,” and that film’s action was the universally acknowledged weak link. Forster has improved to a level of basic competence with “World War Z,” but his CGI-heavy take on zombies as a high-speed hivemind bent on infecting humanity rather than consuming it simply makes the film harder to swallow. Even when the moments of spectacle work, especially in a fairly harrowing opening scene, there’s no tension, no personal investment, and nothing to latch onto except watching Brad Pitt run from zombies … again.

Even disregarding how “World War Z” departs from its source material, it’s easy to see how thoroughly the film fumbles in the way it tells its story. There’s potential here for an interesting study of humanity under duress, or simply a big-budget celebration of undead chaos, but the film is constantly undercutting itself, either through its lackluster storytelling or the execution of pivotal moments. “World War Z” lifts plenty of tropes from standard zombie films, but the PG-13 rating absolutely flattens the tension and impact of these beats, and moments that should be horrifying are rendered inert, or worse, nonsensical by the film’s pussyfooting.

“World War Z” is far from the kind of incredible train wreck that demands to be watched, just so you can see how terrible it’s going to get. Films like those are usually entertaining, either in spite of or because of their audacity, while “World War Z” is content with simply existing, devoid of any personality, emotion or compelling material. That lifeless shamble from one set piece to another, combined with the film’s low scare quotient and bloodless zombie attacks, renders it akin to entering a steakhouse ready to chow down on a bloody-plate porterhouse, only to be served a large helping of flavorless tofu.

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Director: Marc Forster
Genre: Action
Runtime: 116 minutes

 

Photo courtesy of the Weinstein Company
Jackie (Brad Pitt) is prepared for a sticky situation in “Killing Them Softly.”

All of the best films are, in one way or another, “about something.” Not content to simply tell their stories, the movies work in some sort of thematically sound message or moral about today’s society, and hope that the audience is smart enough to parse out what they’re going for. “Killing Them Softly” isn’t just a thrilling crime yarn — which it certainly is — it’s also an allegory for America, set directly after Obama’s election in 2008. While the film’s message may be sound, the subtext is weaved into the story with the subtlety of a flashing neon sign, making “Killing Them Softly” a film that’s much more engaging when it sticks to the simple stuff.

Things kick off with a misguided poker game robbery staged by small-time crooks Frankie (Scott McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). Because the game’s boss, Markie (Ray Liotta), previously admitted to robbing his own game, they expect the blame to land on him, but they’re not counting on the arrival of Jackie (Brad Pitt), an enforcer from out of town. As Jackie closes in on the true culprits, Frankie and Russell struggle to keep a low profile and stay alive.

It’s easy to see how writer/director Andrew Dominik saw the story of a few thugs wrecking the local economy by hoping to pin their robbery on someone else and drew an allegory relating to the U.S. economy circa 2008, but his constant use of political speeches as diegetic noise is tiring after a while. However, Dominik brings an eclectic sensibility to his hard-boiled crime tale, sketching a stylistic pastiche of different flourishes and elements that blend to create a consistently compelling story. His fantastically taut opening robbery stands out, as does a slow-motion killing done on a rainy night, but Dominik has notable problems with subtlety and some of his cues are too obvious by several measures.

For instance, Pitt’s entrance into the film is scored to Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around,” an uninspired choice that makes it pretty clear Pitt is there to rain death down and not much more. Pitt has a much smaller, less flashy role than the trailers might have you expect, but he’s funny and unflappable, serving mostly as a conductor for the rest of the cast to funnel through.

The rest of “Killing Them Softly’s” ensemble is stacked, and heavies James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins are both in their element as a fellow hitman and the man who hires Jackie, respectively. Liotta deserves special mention for his work as one of the film’s few voices of reason and most tragic figures — someone’s whose mistakes catch up to him in a way he never expected. As the duo in charge of robbing the poker game, Mendelsohn is absolutely repulsive but totally watchable, and McNairy (recently seen in Ben Affleck’s “Argo”) gives perhaps the film’s best performance, full of opportunity, optimism and — once he realizes just how deep a hole he’s dug for himself — terror.

Despite the quality of its acting and its unpredictably terse screenplay, “Killing Them Softly” struggles to sell its overarching message. Once the guns get put away and the bodies filed, Pitt has a final scene in which he interacts with one of President Obama’s first speeches about the economy, and it’s one of the most on-the-nose finales to a film in a while. It is a blatant attempt to funnel a political manifesto through sharply written dialogue. Despite the clumsiness of its message, “Killing Them Softly” is a modern noir that’s great when it sticks to exploring the underbelly of the dark, wet world its heroes inhabit.

Printed on Friday, November 30, 2012 as: New film hits storyline, misses political theme

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“Moneyball” isn’t director Bennett Miller’s first foray into fact-based drama — Bennett’s last film was Oscar winner “Capote” back in 2005. While “Capote” managed to tell a compelling story and featured an all-time great performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Moneyball” suffers from its true-to-life basis, dwelling on the facts of Billy Beane’s attempt to revolutionize baseball too much to tell an entertaining story.

Brad Pitt stars as Beane, a failed professional baseball player turned general manager for the Oakland A’s. As his star players keep getting yanked from under him because of the A’s disadvantaged financial situation, Beane turns to a theory pioneered by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), which uses statistics to construct a hypothetical “perfect team,” much to the chagrin of other A’s officials, especially field manager Art (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
 
Pitt has been getting some considerable Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Beane, and the attention isn’t totally unwarranted. Pitt brings a tremendous nervous energy to Beane’s mannerisms that makes him undeniably fun to watch. While letting Hill and Pitt bounce off each other for extended periods of time may not sound like the best idea on paper, the two have a certain chemistry that makes for some very big laughs and their scenes are among the film’s highlights.

Unfortunately, almost everything else about the film is simply different levels of underwhelming. Many of the supporting characters are underused, especially Hoffman’s manager, who seems to exist solely to make Billy throw things and Chris Pratt as a down-on-his-luck player given a second chance. Hoffman and Pratt are both strong actors, but the script never gives them anything to do and as such, they never get a chance to impress in any significant manner.
 
The rest of the film requires a more-than-cursory knowledge of baseball, since the narrative of “Moneyball” strongly relies on lots and lots of facts related to the game, all of them presented with little to no context. This makes for a somewhat confusing experience for anyone without a relatively thorough knowledge of the game and a frustrating one when we see Beane’s strategy failing with little explanation. There’s no doubt that screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian know how to tell a better story than this and their dialogue never dips below serviceable, but the script is all facts and no flavor.
 
Everyone involved in “Moneyball” obviously tries to form a shapeless mass of baseball-related factoids into a compelling story and even succeeds in a few scenes. When the film actually cuts to the baseball field, both in moments of triumph and defeat, things become legitimately compelling, but these moments are few and far between — brief signs of life in what’s mostly a bland regurgitation of baseball statistics. While Pitt and Hill do their best to keep the film interesting, “Moneyball” ultimately isn’t up to the challenge of making its story relatable.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Technicalities ruin potential of star-studded baseball film."

Brad Pitt delivers a strong performance in Terrence Malick’s cerebral and abstract film, “The Tree of Life.”

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight | Daily Texan Staff

Genre: Existential Drama
Runtime: 138 minutes
For those who like: Enter the Void, The New World
Grade: C-

Each and every audience member is bound to take something different from “The Tree of Life” simply because of the film’s intensely personal nature, both in style and content. It’s an odd film that’s more than happy to take a 20-minute detour into the history of the universe’s formation and let the audience stew in their own thoughts for a bit.

As such, it’s an extremely difficult film to quantify in any meaningful fashion simply because it’s not a film that can be easily sorted into categories of good or bad. The film is more of a journey through director Terrence Malick’s psyche than a film that could easily be praised or maligned.

Throughout the film, Malick displays a preference for half-baked philosophical musings and vivid imagery over plot, character, clarity or the audience’s enjoyment. That isn’t to say that “The Tree of Life” is an irredeemable film or a complete waste of time. If anything, nearly every frame of the film is an absolute marvel.

Malick, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, demonstrates an absolute mastery of the visual side of filmmaking, contorting small Texas suburbs at will, causing them to seem equally foreboding, comforting and foreign as he feels the story demands. Also worth mentioning is Alexandre Desplat’s soaring, wonderful score, an inspiring piece of music that’s by far the best thing to come out of this maddeningly uneven film.

Broken up into three distinct sections, “The Tree of Life” shines in the middle, which depicts the childhood of Jack (Hunter McCracken) in 1950s small-town Texas. The hour or so spent watching Jack struggle with his strict father (Brad Pitt) and sympathetic mother (Jessica Chastain) is filled with moments of nostalgia-tinged beauty and elegance.

McCracken, making his debut, is a formidable actor, effortlessly vulnerable and soulful as he navigates the treacherous minefield of adolescence. Pitt and Chastain are similarly strong, especially the always reliable Pitt, whose bitter and resentful character proves to be equally terrifying and frustrating. However, both actors are saddled with a short list of qualities rather than actual characters, and Pitt can only parse so many variations of causing his sons mental anguish.

While the middle section is the film’s highlight, it grows tiring because Malick makes the same points over and over rather than build intriguing characters or situations. This is characteristic of much of the film, especially the two sections that surround the chronicle of Jack’s childhood. The film’s first section, which shows an elderly Pitt and Chastain (whose characters remain unnamed) dealing with the death of a son as an adult Jack (Sean Penn) mopes around a Houston skyscraper, quickly devolves into an overlong series of shots of nature, space and even a few CGI dinosaurs.

It’s the dinosaur sequence that first arouses skepticism about the film. Malick has a lot on his mind here and he believes he’s making deep, nuanced observations about the unstable relationship between Man and God and the way people lead their lives. He fails to present these ideas in any substantial form, instead having characters we’ve barely met whisper them in voiceover while we watch some lava melt a rock.

The film never lets us forget what we’re watching — big, important and ambitious art. It also never takes the time to earn the respect and attention it demands of its audience.

Shockingly, its final section is even more insufferable, shattering what little internal logic or shreds of narrative existed in the film in order to give us a dialogue-free, climactic sequence that’s clearly meant to be cathartic but is instead frustrating.

Malick is by no means a commercial filmmaker and makes it perfectly clear from the first frame of “The Tree of Life” that he has no interest in making a film that satisfies his audience. At the same time, he has constructed a film that fails to engage his audience, throwing underdeveloped characters and musings about the human condition at them without giving them a reason to care.

Even worse than keeping us at arm’s length from the characters, the fractured chronology of the second section robs us of a chance to see them develop or change. He never lets them move forward from the small collection of personality traits they’re assigned because it’s never clear how the film’s events relate to one another.

“The Tree of Life” isn’t for everyone. There are things to like in the film, such as the barely pent-up fury in Pitt’s eyes when he’s unsuccessfully teaching his sons to fight; or the gorgeous visual feast Malick serves up for the audience or McCracken’s wonderful debut performance. To those who see “The Tree of Life” and find themselves unreceptive to Malick’s philosophical babblings and contempt for his audience, trust one thing: you didn’t miss something.

Disappointingly enough, “The Tree of Life” simply isn’t the film we hoped it would be. While a second viewing may seem necessary to pick up on some vital ingredient that simply wasn’t there the first time around, it’s not. There’s only one result of seeing “The Tree of Life” twice, and it’s sitting through “The Tree of Life.” Twice.
 

 

Dreamworks Animation, more or less built on the mediocre “Shrek” franchise, has been staging something of a renaissance since those films wrapped up. First, 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda” was a charming comeback for the studio, and this year’s “How To Train Your Dragon” and now, “Megamind,” have solidified them as a legitimate opponent to the animation powerhouse that is Pixar Animation Studios.

A legitimately fun twist on superhero lore, “Megamind’s” titular character (voiced by Will Ferrell) becomes engulfed in an existential crisis after defeating his arch-nemesis, superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) and finding himself with no counterpoint to his lighthearted brand of diabolical evil. However, when a worse threat emerges, Megamind finds himself becoming the very thing he’d tried to destroy.

The story is pretty predictable and basic, and a lot of the same ground was tread by this summer’s “Despicable Me.” However, where that film was cavity-inducing sweet, “Megamind” goes for as many laughs as possible, and nails most of them. While the humor tends to skew toward the kids in the audience, a few hilariously wry moments are thrown in for the older crowd, especially an extended Marlon Brando parody that never stops being funny.

The film is beautifully animated, and the 3-D is marvelously used, with very few gimmicky or obnoxious shots. Ferrell’s typically boisterous delivery fits the material to a tee, and the rest of the cast ranges from perfectly suited (Brad Pitt’s Metro Man) to awkward but effective (Tina Fey’s Lois Lane-esque reporter).

In the end, “Megamind” is a surprisingly funny and engrossing film, putting some entertaining twists on superhero archetypes and earning its handful of sentimental moments. The predictable story drags the whole thing down, but the presentation is so charming and the characters so enjoyable that it barely matters.