Movie Review ~ Isn’t it Romantic


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.

Stars: Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, Jacqueline Honulik

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: A fun thing happened in 2018, audiences finally got a genuine romantic comedy that broke new ground and did killer box office. That movie was Crazy Rich Asians and it restored some faith I had that Hollywood knew how to craft an old-fashioned yet modern romance and layered it with a decent amount of comedy. For a movie that was admittedly formulaic and strategically designed to press every button in the crowd-pleasing cortex of a movie-goers brain, it was remarkably well done and overwhelmingly entertaining.

For Valentine’s Day 2019, Warner Brothers (the studio behind Crazy Rich Asians) has taken a gamble in gently spoofing its own good fortune with the release of Isn’t it Romantic. This light-as-a feather send-up of romantic comedies shouldn’t work as well as it does but it gets extra mileage from its leading lady and in an array of clichés the filmmakers turn from been-there-done-that rehashes into something that feels fresh. Mostly, it’s a movie that sets up a joke and then beats itself to the punch by lampooning it’s corniness before the audience has a chance to.

Growing up, Natalie (Rebel Wilson, Pain & Gain) was always told the types of romance found in the movies are the stuff of fairy tales and would only happen to girls that are prettier and size zeros. Now living in a modest NYC apartment and holding down a job as an architect specializing in parking lots, she scoffs at her assistant’s (Betty Gilpin) passion for cheesy love stories while missing the obvious affection harbored by one of her coworkers (Adam DeVine, The Intern). To Natalie, true love doesn’t come with a pop soundtrack, a perfect wardrobe, and a loft dwelling no true New York 9-to-5er could ever afford.

When she bonks her head after an attempted mugging, she wakes up in an alternate reality where all of those things become real. Everywhere she goes she hears a Vanessa Carlton song, when she leaves the hospital she returns home to a gigantic apartment and designer wardrobe, and her stoner next door neighbor (Brandon Scott Jones, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) has now become her gay best friend armed with sass and flare. At work things have changed as well. While the love from her coworker remains unrequited, her assistant has transformed into a severe alpha female that’s become her competition instead of her support system.

Director Todd-Strauss-Schulson and the three credited female screenwriters have front-loaded the film with all the plot points that will come into play over the next brisk hour and a half. You can count on any sappy rom-com trope Natalie rolls her eyes at pre-head injury to come true when she’s living her new life, down to her hunky client (Liam Hemsworth, The Dressmaker) falling for her while she starts to have feelings for her office mate. It may be too late, though, as the friend-zoned guy has caught the eye of a beautiful yoga ambassador (Priyanka Chopra) who is fast-tracking their relationship.

With several engaging musical sequences interspersed and a cast that has come to play, it’s more than sporadically funny but undeniably a bit hollow when all is said and done. I appreciated that Wilson is honing in on what makes her comedy so appealing and is distancing herself from the bumbling mess she normally leans into. The role gives her opportunities to play physical comedy and capitalize on her charm, she’s a leading lady it’s easy to root for. There’s also nice work from Jones as a dreadfully stereotypical character that puts all that on hold for a heart-to-heart with Wilson in a sweet scene. DeVine is less offensively stupid than usual and Hemsworth and Chopra bite down hard on their roles as prime examples of perfect specimens.

Isn’t it Romantic plays it fairly loose much of the time, picking up threads and dropping them at will. There are plot gaps big enough to drive a flower truck of roses through but I’m guessing it’s not going to be that much of an issue for audiences that have come to have fun. The critic in me that loves follow-through would have liked to see more of Gilpin’s wicked side but I have a feeling much of her role was left on the cutting room floor in favor of keeping the film moving into another sprightly sequence of mirth. I also think there were some missed opportunities to directly send-up some notorious rom-coms that would have made the film feel a bit more meta.  Still, this is engineered as a perfect date film or a movie the gals can all see together and taken on those merits it succeeds in its mission.

Movie Review ~ The Intern

1

intern

The Facts:

Synopsis: 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin.

Stars: Robert De Niro, Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway,Rene Russo, Anders Holm, Adam DeVine, Andrew Rannells,Linda Lavin, Christina Scherer, Celia Weston, JoJo Kushner,Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Nat Wolff

Director: Nancy Meyers

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Let’s start this review off by going the full disclosure route and saying that I’m not a huge fan of the movies that Nancy Meyers started to make after splitting with her husband, Charles Shyer.  Together, the two were responsible for films like Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, Irreconcilable Differences, and the remake of Father of the Bride and its sequel (let’s skip over their clunker I Love Trouble).  As a standalone writer/director, Meyers has been responsible for a trio of films often described as white-women fantasies: The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, and, most recently, It’s Complicated.  All three of these have had dynamite casts with strong female leads…but they all seemed to take place in an alternate universe where every surface is spotless, every arm is covered in taupe cashmere, and no problem can’t be solved over a glass of white whine, oops…wine.  It’s escapist entertainment, I get it, but they’re carb-free meals for this critic that craves some starch.

So I came to The Intern with some pre-conceived notions of how it would all play out.  In all honesty the film came at the right time for me and caught me in the perfect mood, it’s a guilt free bit of whimsy that wasn’t as interminable as previous Meyers outings.  Bouncing around in development hell for quite some time, it was originally imagined as a vehicle for Tina Fey and though the high-powered career woman intended for her has had a few years shaved off, it’s not hard to see how Fey would have fit into the central character now played by Anne Hathaway.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Opening with the kind of “let me bring you up to speed” monologue that Meyers excels in, Robert De Niro’s (Silver Linings Playbook) Ben details how he came to be applying for a senior internship at About the Fit.   A widower, after 40 years in working his 9-5 job the retired Ben has traveled the world, doted on his grandkids, learned a few new languages, and now doesn’t quite know what to do next.  A chance glance at an ad tacked outside his local grocery gets him in the door at the fashion start-up.

Clearly overqualified for the job, he’s matched with none other than the founder (Hathaway) of the company who, in true Driving Miss Daisy fashion, tells him he’s not needed or really wanted.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that the two will be at odds on the outset before becoming a cohesive unit so let’s focus more on where the film turns up some unexpected delights.

The good news starts at the top with De Niro and Hathaway (Interstellar) clocking in surprisingly charming performances.  De Niro doesn’t seem to be very discerning in his role selections as of late but he’s a good fit with the kindly elder who isn’t merely there to offer sage advice but to lend a hand as well as a shoulder to his young boss.  Hathaway too is downright delightful as Jules (because, of course that’s her name) and I couldn’t help but feel like the character was a more seasoned version of the one she played in The Devil Wears Prada.

Echoing Baby Boom, the main question The Intern seems to be asking is ‘Can women have it all?’  Can they have the high paying job, can they run a business, can they stand on their own two feet and still manage to keep a stable family life?  Jules’ husband (Anders Holm) is a stay-at-home dad, parenting their girl while his wife is working and Meyers illustrates often the sacrifices both are making to keep up with the daily grind.

The problem is that the question doesn’t seem to be as relevant as it was back in the late 80s and for a film set in the new millennium it feels a bit backward in its thinking.  Yes, we know that wage equality between males and females still has a long way to go and that the roles of wives and husbands have had some fluidity in the past decade.  But are we really saying that women have to choose between the two?  Alarmingly, Meyers puts her female lead to that test several times and it’s proof of Hathaway’s charisma that she’s able to overcome that dinosaur of a notion and still maintain some semblance of professionalism.

Making our way down the cast list, things get a bit rocky.  Rene Russo (Nightcrawler) is always a welcome presence and since Meyers can’t clothe Hathaway in her favorite cream colors, Russo is the model for an array of perfectly ivory and billowy beige ensembles.  She’s the company masseuse that takes a liking to De Niro and while that relationship is only explored when the movie remembers to do so, it’s a welcome reminder that age-appropriate couplings are alive and well in Meyers’ world.

It’s never quite clear what Andrew Rannells (Bachelorette) actually does at the company (is he a co-founder? is he co-owner?) but he disappears halfway through the film so it’s quite possible he was Jules’s imaginary friend.  Linda Lavin, looking positively mummified, pops up all too briefly to try and get De Niro in the sack and a trio of bro-ish, dumb-ish, co-workers of De Niro (lead by the always annoying Adam DeVine, Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2) seem to have been crafted for an ill-advised foray into slapstick comedy that occupies a labored fifteen minutes in the middle of the film.  Holm strikes out big time as the benign husband that may not be quite as content to play second fiddle as he appears to be.  Reading his lines as if he’s making fun of their supposed sincerity, he’s the one thundercloud in an otherwise sunny film.

I’ll admit that even though it has its faults, The Intern was more pleasant than it had any right to be.  It’s lead by two strong performances and, while Meyers doesn’t seem to have anything new to say about the state of affairs in business, she has produced a crisp apple of a film, tart when it has to be and juicy when called for.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

arnold-terminator-almostdidnotstar

Hasta

We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.

May

Though the summer movie season has traditionally been thought of as Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the past several years studios have marked early May as the start of the summer movie wars and 2015 was no different.

Kicking things off on May 1 was Avengers: Age of Ultron and, as expected, it was a boffo blockbuster that gave fans more Marvel fantasy fun. While it wasn’t as inventive as its predecessor and relied too much on jokey bits, the movie was everything a chartbuster should be: big, loud, worth another look.

Acting as a bit of counter-programming, the next week saw the release of two very different comedies, neither of which made much of a dent in the box office take of The Avengers. Critics gnashed their teeth at the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara crime comedy Hot Pursuit but I didn’t mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. True, it set smart girl power flicks back a few years but it played well to the strengths of its leads and overall was fairly harmless. I hadn’t heard of The D Train before a screening but was pleasantly surprised how good it turned out to be, considering I’m no fan of Jack Black. The movie has several interesting twists that I didn’t see coming, proving that Black and co-star James Marsden will travel out of their comfort zones for a laugh.

Blythe Danner proved she was more than Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in the lovely, if slight, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It may be too small a picture to land Danner on the end of the year awards list she deserves but the drama was a welcome change of pace so early in the summer.

Another early May drama was a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel…and one I forgot to review when I had the chance…here’s my brief take on it now…

                                         Movie Review ~ Far From the Madding Crowd
far_from_the_madding_crowd_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel was a moving drama brimming with quietly powerful performances and lush cinematography. It’s a story that has been duplicated quite a lot over the years so one could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen this all before. Still, in the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and led by stars Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), & Michael Sheen (Admission) it stirred deep emotions that felt fresh. Special mention must be made to Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby) for his gorgeous score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her aforementioned picturesque cinematography. You missed this in the theater, I know you did…it’s out to rent/buy now and you should check it out pronto.

Around mid-May the summer bar of greatness was set with the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road. The long in development fourth outing (and semi-reboot) of director George Miller’s apocalyptic hero was a movie lovers dream…pushing the boundaries of cinema and filmmaking into new places. A vicious, visceral experience, I can still feel the vibration in my bones from the robust film…a real winner.

The same week that Mad Max came back into our lives, a so-so sequel found its way to the top of the box office. Pitch Perfect 2 was a lazy film that’s as close to a standard cash grab as you could get without outright playing the original film and calling it a sequel. Uninspired and lacking the authenticity that made the first film so fun, it nevertheless made a song in receipts and a third film will be released in the next few years.

Tomorrowland and Poltergeist were the next two films to see the light of day and neither inspired moviegoers enough to gain any traction. Tomorrowland was actually the first film of the summer I saw twice…admittedly because I was curious about a new movie theater with reclining seats that I wanted to try out. As for the movie, the first half was an exciting adventure while the final act was a real mess.

I thought I’d hate the Poltergeist remake way more than I did…but I ended up just feeling bad for everyone involved because the whole thing was so inconsequential that I wished all of that energy had been directed into something of lasting value. While Sam Worthington made for a surprisingly sympathetic lead, the entire tone of the film was off and not even a few neat 3D effects could save it from being a waste.

May went out with a boom thanks to two wildly different films. If you asked me what I thought the prospects were for San Andreas before the screening I would have replied that Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ would be the only good thing to come out of the action picture starring everyone’s favorite muscle with eyes, Dwayne Johnson. I still feel like Sia came out on top but the movie itself was a more than decent disaster epic, a little too long but made up for it with grand sequences of mayhem and destruction. Can’t imagine it will play nearly as well on a small screen but I wasn’t hating the film when the credits rolled.

A film I wasn’t too thrilled with at all was Aloha, Cameron Crowe’s own personal disaster flick. I still don’t know quite what to say about the movie because it was so dreadful that I’ve attempted to clear it from my memory. What I do remember was that it wasted its strong cast and exotic locale, as well as our time. Truly terrible.

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

The Silver Bullet ~ The Final Girls

the-final-girls-41503-poster-xlarge-resized

Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.

Release Date: October 9, 2015

Thoughts: The concept of meta-horror was ushered in by Scream in 1996, spawning hundreds of imitations with diminishing results. The idea of a high concept horror film was jettisoned in favor of all out torture porn or found footage cheapies that did little to show there was any life in the fading genre.

With the revitalization of Scream as a television show on MTV and Scream Queens premiering on Fox this fall, meta-horror seems to be coming back in style so I’m interested to see where The Final Girls falls on the spectrum. Don’t get this one confused with Final Girl, another 2015 entry starring Abigail Breslin…especially confusing because both movies feature Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor) in a prominent role.

I’m not sure yet how this one is going to wind up – it’s either going to be a total 80s throwback gem or a stinker you want to throw back from whence it came. The rather long trailer seems to give away much of the overall joke and production values look questionable…but with a game cast featuring Malin Akerman (Rock of Ages), Adam DeVine (Pitch Perfect 2), and Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring) it’s definitely worth taking a shot on.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Intern

intern

Synopsis: 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin.

Release Date: September 25, 2015

Thoughts: I resisted doing a write-up of The Intern for several months now because my parents always told me if you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all.  Then I remembered that this blog was designed to cast a critical eye on all things film so why not just go for it?  Ok? Here we go.

I do not like Nancy Meyers.  I don’t like her directing and I don’t like her writing.  “But Joe”, you say, “what about The HolidaySomething’s Gotta GiveIt’s Complicated?”  I’ve seen them, I’ve enjoyed them…but I don’t feel good about it afterward because Meyers seems only able to represent the privileged white woman’s point of view. Her films are awash in taupe and cream…the same color as the skin of all of her characters.  The lack of diversity in her films is shocking and it’s baffling to me no one has called her on it in a public form yet.

So I approach her new film with a great deal of angst.  It looks like another white-washed affair full of life lessons and jokes only a Wellesley grad would appreciate and one that should be watched while sipping white wine and munching on celery stalks.  Taking on a role once occupied by Tina Fey and then Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) seems right at home, as does Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) who hasn’t made a truly discerning film decision in almost a decade.

I’ll see it…but Nancy Meyers…I’ve got your number.

Movie Review ~ Pitch Perfect 2

pitch_perfect_two_ver3

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a humiliating command performance at the Kennedy Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Kelley Jakle, Hana Mae Lee, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin, Keegan-Michael Key, Flula Borg, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Ben Platt

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  What Pitch Perfect 2 has is a deadly case of sequelitis.  It’s a not-so-very-rare disease that most sequels succumb to and, sadly, it has no cure.  Now, it should be said that Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t deserve to be chucked in the hazardous materials bin with the likes of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and The Hangover Part III but it deserves a good spanking for taking the sweet surprise fun of the original and turning it into a off-key and slack feature length ad for a variety of advertisers.

What made 2012’s Pitch Perfect so, well, perfect was that no one involved was expecting much from the modestly budgeted comedy…least of all its studio.  When early test screenings scored high with audiences, Universal launched a smart ad campaign and released the film slowly allowing that good ‘ole word-of-mouth to drive people into the theater.  The film exploded and, thanks to its (mostly) charming cast and skilled mash-up of the musical and college comedy genres, became a bona fide repeat viewing go-to for old and young, male and female.

A sequel seemed like a no-brainer and, true to form, that’s exactly what we get.  Returning screenwriter Kay Cannon hasn’t done much to move our characters along; merely letting a few of them graduate school or to new planes of maturity doesn’t exactly qualify as improving a character arc.  Cannon’s screenplay gives the film no purpose and commits the deadly sin of gathering up all the laughs from the previous film and just repeating them, sometimes verbatim.  Laughs that worked in small doses back in 2012 are piled high and frequently fall flat because they feel so been-there-done-that.  Worse, even more time is given to Adam DeVine (who I referred to in my original review as a Jack Black-alike…and at this point DeVine should be paying Black a percentage of his earnings) who pops up all too frequently to stink up the joint.

A co-star and producer of Pitch Perfect, Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) steps behind the camera for the first time as the director and while that may seem like an inspired choice, Banks can’t seem to find a rhythm to the overly episodic nature of the film.  With its garish lighting and questionable use of color it looks like a badly produced industrial training video and unspools at an awkwardly motionless pace.  Continuity between the two films is non-existent (Anna Kendrick’s character originally sported a canvas of tattoos that she seemingly had removed in the last three years) and there just seems to be an overall forced energy in the film.

What does help to qualify the film as only a near miss in my book are several engaging performances and a loud and clear message of female empowerment and positivity.

While Pitch Perfect really centered on grumpy Beca (Kendrick, Into the Woods) falling in with the all-female a capella group at her new college, the sequel doesn’t have one central character and that works in its favor.  Now, it’s an ensemble comedy that mostly gives equal time to several of the Barden Bellas that are going through some “stuff” while the group struggles to regain its reputation after an incident labeled by the press as Muffgate (to explain it would give more time to this idiotic plot device than necessary).

The breakout star of the first film, Rebel Wilson (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), is of course given more to do here and that’s a decision that has qualified success.  Too often she’s a Rebel without a cause as the actress lazily mumbles through some improvised shtick that probably was better than what the script had her saying.  Returning Bellas like Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee are joined by freshman Hailee Steinfeld (The Homesman) and all deliver exactly what’s expected of them…which is very little.  As for the men, Skylar Astin and Ben Platt are barely utilized because the film has no real place for them or any real reason to add them into the mix.  Each time they pop up it feels extraneous and more unnecessary than ever before.  A time-waster of a side-story features Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s boss…these scenes could have been subtitled The Sound of Silence because the comedian’s jokes land with a thud.

Forced to fight for their survival at the World Championship, the Bellas go up against Das Sound Machine, led by Flula Borg & Birgitte Hjort Sørensen.  Looking like the Eurotrash villains from a stage musical of Die Hard, the members of DSM are supposed to be forces to be reckoned with but, as is the case with an alarming amount of the musical numbers, next to none of the performances are very exciting.  It’s only in the finale (with a surreally bizarre cameo by Robin Roberts) that some sparks are ignited with a song composed by Sia and Sam Smith Hailee Steinfeld’s character.  In Pitch Perfect the music seemed to be justified and had a pulsating verve that got your toes tapping but the song choices for the sequel are pretty bewildering and not memorable in the least.

A centerpiece of the original was the Riff Off, a battle of the bands of sorts that tests the best of the best.  There’s a repeat of that (of course) here and it happens to be one of the more inspired bits in the film.  Watching the Bellas battling the likes of DSM, the Treblemakers, and one totally random group (the biggest spoiler of the movie…if someone tells you who it is, they aren’t your real friend) is where the most joy in this rather joyless sequel is found.

I recognize that I’ll probably be in a minority of those that failed to fall into the orbit of Pitch Perfect 2 (and hey, I liked Hot Pursuit so clearly I’m operating on a different playing field currently) but if this is the sequel fans were waiting for I’m glad it did its job.  I just happened to find it off-key and resting too much on its well-earned laurels.  When Pitch Perfect 3 comes out (and trust me, it will), can I make a suggestion that it’s a prequel?