Movie Review ~ Fresh

The Facts:

Synopsis: The horrors of modern dating seen through one young woman’s defiant battle to survive her new boyfriend’s unusual appetites.
Stars: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi
Director: Mimi Cave
Rated: R
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  Right away, the woman should be wary of the man she meets at a 24-hour supermarket. Yes, he’s good-looking and charming as all get out, but no one is ever that excited about Cotton Candy grapes. To me, that would be a big reg flag, but Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is just relieved Steve (Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya) isn’t as creepy as the last dozen or so men she’s been swiping through on her dating app. This initial miscalculation is a costly error the audience is aware of because we’ve signed on to stream Fresh through Hulu, but unfortunately, it takes Noa much longer than that to wise up and see this plastic surgeon with the winning smile for what he truly is.

What is Steve? Well, I’m not sure I want to tell you that. It would most surely kill some of the thrills of Lauryn Kahn’s screenplay, which takes the pains of dating in this fast-paced tech-heavy climate and gives it a sinister twist. Directed by Mimi Cave, the opening thirty minutes of the movie goes through the familiar motions of a woman wading through a lousy date, relaying her hopelessness to her friend, and eventually finding the mysterious Mr. Right, who whisks her away for a weekend retreat. Borrowing a page out of Oscar nominee Drive My Car, the half-hour mark is also when the opening credits run. It’s no coincidence this is when the director finally cracks a frustrating mold of wry rom-com sameness and unleashes a creative edge.

It’s hard to tiptoe around Fresh’s second and third act details without spoiling the main twist but let’s say the weekend stay for Noa at Steve’s impressive complex gets extended for an indeterminate amount of time. Without any family to wonder at her whereabouts, it’s up to ride-or-die best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs, in an inspired performance) to pick up on the clues her bestie is in danger and follow digitized breadcrumbs to locate the wolf that has taken Noa back to his lair. Meanwhile, as Mollie searches, Noa and Steve have more time to get to know one another. Kahn’s script allows an intriguing mix of the interplay between two strong-willing individuals grappling for the upper hand.

If it had to be so long, I’m glad we spent our time with this small core of actors. Stan is better than he’s been in any of the Marvel movies and is allowed to explore a side with more gears, giving him opportunities to make shifts into more exciting areas of his acting. After her star-making showing in Hulu’s incredibly intimate Normal People, this type of dark material must have felt like a welcome change of pace for Edgar-Jones. She fronts the cast quite nicely and creates believable friendship history with Gibbs, not to mention chemistry at the outset with Stan. As mentioned before, Gibbs is the real find here, and you’ll be glad they have more to do as the film progresses.

Eventually, Cave can’t quite justify such a long run time, and Fresh gives way to repetition that can’t be saved by any amount of shocking violence or gore. A severe finale that may satisfy some feels like an elevated overcorrection rather than the earth-bound landing point toward which the otherwise intelligent script had been leading. It’s not exactly a first date kind of movie, but if you and your significant other enjoy something that’s a little on the wild side aiming for achievement at a higher level, Fresh is pound for pound a steal of a deal.


Movie Review ~ Lucy and Desi

The Facts:

Synopsis: Explores the unlikely partnership and enduring legacy of one of the most prolific power couples in entertainment history.
Stars: Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Laura LaPlaca, Eduardo Machado, Charo, Journey Gunderson, Gregg Oppenheimer, David Daniels, Norman Lear, Desi Arnaz Jr.
Director: Amy Poehler
Rated: PG
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: We’re a little less than a month away from the Academy Awards, and one of the big questions of the night is if Nicole Kidman will win her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.  Inspired by one pivotal week in the life of Ball and her husband, Cuban entertainer Desi Arnaz, on the set of their series I Love Lucy, Aaron Sorkin’s film has been met with various cheers and jeers by fans and casual filmgoers alike. Some think it focuses too much on the showbusiness side and not enough on the personal; others feel the Hawaii-born but Australian-raised Kidman had no business playing the American as apple pie redhead. Yet there’s that notable trend in Hollywood where awards are concerned…they love to pat themselves on the back, and if they have an award in their hand while doing it, all the better.

Whatever the current temperature on Kidman is (Javier Bardem & J.K. Simmons also snagged Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations), there’s a new documentary available on Amazon that might tip the scale one way or another in her direction. Lucy and Desi was directed by comedian Amy Poehler (Moxie) and has been given the blessing of the children of the legendary television stars, with their daughter Lucie playing a prominent role in the movie as a keeper of the keys historian of sorts for her parents. Gaining that advocacy says a lot for a piece that examines the turbulent relationship of the duo who began their careers as individual draws but eventually became synonymous with a picture of domestic life that cast a shadow on the rest of their careers.

With audio recordings made by Ball, who had put the stories and memories down (and then away) for later use, Poehler structures a standard format documentary which only occasionally springboards into tangents the general public may not have been aware of going in. What Lucy and Desi does wonderfully well is take its time focusing not on the wedges that drove the gifted artists apart but what drew them together in the first place and kept them in each other’s lives even after they had divorced. In this film, as in Being the Ricardos, Arnaz is shown to be a keen man of business who tirelessly worked to build a legacy for his family. Arriving from Cuba with nothing (after once being among the wealthiest families), he watched his mother struggle and spent most of his life attempting to recreate their prosperity and gain her approval.

Even if Kidman may not have looked exactly like Ball, the stories told by her daughter and the wealth of footage of public appearances and private home movies show just how well the actress captured Ball’s off-screen presence. The Ball we knew best was the bubbly television housewife always in a jam and involved in a bit of slapstick comedy. In reality, Ball was a force to be reckoned with that wasn’t a natural comic but was highly gifted at it all the same. She had to work and rehearse it, but when she got it, nobody was better because she understood there was an art form to making people laugh. That’s why the show she created with Arnaz has endured for decades.

The documentary loses a bit of its edge when it pulls into the station to talk about the dissolution of the marriage, implying it was more of a personality conflict than anything else. Sorkin’s movie and many reports suggest that Arnaz was a womanizer, but the documentary makes no mention of any extramarital affairs. It’s absolutely within the family’s right not to want to open that door because it is, after all, a private matter that wasn’t in their contract with the public. It does seem odd to not even make a passing reference to it because it is so well known.

Fast-moving and chock full of fun information on Hollywood throughout the decades, I thought Lucy and Desi ended rather abruptly on the heels of a moving passage surrounding the final months of Arnaz’s life. Brought together by their daughter before he passed away, she recounts that time spent together, and that’s when you arrive at seeing these celebrities as people, rather than gawkable movie stars. Punctuated with an emotional kicker you’ll have to see for yourself, before you know it the credits are rolling, and that’s all there is. I could have watched another hour of material but recognize the story Poehler was telling the viewer is about the couple together, not their individual lives apart. That’s another story to recount entirely.

Movie Review ~ The Weekend Away

The Facts:

Synopsis: A weekend getaway to Croatia goes awry when a woman is accused of killing her best friend.
Stars: Leighton Meester, Christina Wolfe, Luke Norris, Ziad Bakri, Amar Bukvic, Iva Mihalic
Director: Kim Farrant
Rated: NR
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  I’m not sure where you’re reading this from or when you might find this review, but I’m writing it on the edge of the darker winter months in the upper Midwest, where the ground is covered with snow, and the air is frigid.  Right about now, the prospect of warm weather being nearer than further is the carrot that will get you to push through a few more months of work.  It’s when many of us look at planning get out of town, last-ditch cabin fever trips to sunny ports of call where summer may be a year-round feeling, and the beaches aren’t as crowded as they’ll be once families start their travel plans after school lets out.  If nothing else, finding a sunny space in your home with a beach read that can sweep you away might be the tantalizing bite to satiate you for the time being, and it will cost a lot less than roundtrip airfare to Belize.

That appeal has a lot to do with the popularity of author Sarah Alderson’s thrillers. These efficient blockbusters are easy to digest while still offering the reader a fully formed story structure to support her often twisty plotlines.  Agatha Christie, they’re not, but they aren’t dime store throwaways either, and it’s easy to see why Alderson has been able to divide her time between writing published work as well as television.  The ability to keep things tight and together makes the stories easy to imagine as pieces that could translate easily to movies, something of which I’m sure the author is aware. That’s a strong reason Alderson has adapted her 2020 novel The Weekend Away for Netflix.  While not out to shatter expectations of what the genre or anyone involved is ultimately capable of, it’s an unpredictable 89-minute trip halfway around the world.

Since their days at university, Beth (Leighton Meester, The Judge) and Kate (Christina Wolfe) have traveled different paths after graduation.  Beth has settled down for domestic life with Rob (Luke Norris) and is mother to a still-nursing infant, while Kate has gone the opposite direction, opting for days where the party never ends.  Divorcing her wealthy husband, Kate has invited Beth to a seaside Croatian town to reconnect and allow the new mother time away to recharge.  Greeted at the airport by kindly taxi driver Zain (Ziad Bakri), who offers to show her around if she ever needs him, Beth has barely arrived at the deluxe accommodations Kate has arranged before her friend wants to take her out for a night in the otherwise innocuous town.

Waking up the next day to find Kate gone and a few oddities both in their rental and her fuzzy memories she can’t piece together, Beth waits the entire day for Kate to show up, and when she doesn’t return later that night, she makes a call to the police for assistance.  Feeling stonewalled, Beth calls up her taxi driver friend to see if he might be able to help her remember what happened the night before, thinking it will lead her to what might have happened to Kate.  Instead, she winds up implicated in a murder that has several suspects who may have had a hand in it…including herself.

Even if Netflix has expressly forbidden us to pump the brakes right about now and let you discover the rest of what happens in The Weekend Away for yourself, I would have had to stop my recap there.  It’s right around that point in the movie when Alderson starts to cast significant doubt on our perception of the facts by presenting no different explanations of the solution, just alternate angles to the crime committed that night.  It did catch me off guard several times and whatever theory I was working in my mind at what happened had to be scrapped almost in its entirety.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and heap too much praise on The Weekend Away as a highly detail-oriented mystery.  Filmed on location in beautiful Croatia, director Kim Farrant is more efficient in keeping the action moving quicker than spending extra time on the actors/characters molding the plot contrivances into less convenient coincidences.  Farrant loves a red herring, and for a while, I wondered if there would be any men in the film introduced as not an immediate suspect for the person(s) that may know where Kate is.  Thankfully, there are people on Beth’s side, but she has to find them first, wading through a coastline filled with creepy voyeurs and members of the police who aren’t taking her protestations of innocence seriously.

Keeping the movie heartily afloat is Meester, an underrated actress mostly known for her television work but tends to make a strong showing in film projects.  I bought that she was a stay-at-home mom that may have not quite wanted this life when she was growing up and perhaps harbors some jealousy with Kate because of her ‘freedom.”  Was the jealously strong enough to kill for?  Meester does a solid job with playing it almost entirely one way but allowing a few strands of the opposite to bleed through – that makes you wonder what Farrant and her screenwriter have up their sleeve for the final act.  I liked the chemistry between Meester and Wolfe, too.  The friendship, warm one minute but icy the next, felt natural and understandably standoffish when lines get blurred.  Of the other supporting players, I enjoyed Iva Mihalic as a police officer who first suspects Beth but grows to doubt her guilt. 

Like the recent Netflix film Brazen, The Weekend Away is a female-led effort and a rather good one.  There’s a comfortable feel to this one, and it doesn’t skimp on the elements that go into a good “accused and on the run” thriller that sets your pulse racing just enough to make the time fly by.  It’s nothing you’ll remember five days after you see it, but while everyone is out seeing The Batman over the next month, you can fire up The Weekend Away with confidence that you’ll get a little something out of the trip for the effort.