Movie Review ~ Book Club


The Facts
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Synopsis: Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading Fifty Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.

Stars: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr.

Director: Bill Holderman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: There are some that would say a comedy featuring four multi-award winning actresses of a certain age humorously discovering that “the next chapter is always the best” would be a no-brainer. Turns out they were spot on…Book Club has no brains to speak of. Here’s an aggressively dull, pandering movie that manages to do a disservice to its distinguished actors and an intended audience already woefully underserved. With its tin ear for realistic dialogue and a baffling cluelessness to how humans behave, no clichéd stone is left unturned.

Friends since college, Vivian (Jane Fonda, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding), Sharon (Candice Bergen, Home Again), Carol (Mary Steenburgen, Parenthood), and Diane (Diane Keaton, And So It Goes) meet for their monthly book club in one of their pristine dwellings. Starting with Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and recently coming off of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, vampy Vivian introduces the ladies to E.L. James’ famous smut tome Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s the first red flag that pops up in the script from Erin Simms (Pete’s Dragon) and director Bill Holderman (A Walk in the Woods). As poorly written as it was, James’ book was a phenomenon and you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of it or seen the movies adapted from her trilogy of novels. Aside from Vivian, none of the ladies seems to know much about it and are shocked to discover its titillating scenes of bondage and explicit couplings.

All four ladies are, naturally, having trouble in the romance department and find that the book not so much ignites a newfound lust for life as it influences their choices. Hotelier and notoriously single Vivian runs into a long-lost paramour (Don Johnson, Django Unchained) who might have been the one that got away while federal judge Sharon, still bruised from her divorce, signs up for a dating service and winds up attracting the attention of Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) and Wallace Shawn (Admission). Carol is finding it difficult to connect with her husband (Craig T. Nelson, Poltergeist) in and out of the bedroom and widowed Diane ventures into a new relationship with a swarthy pilot (Andy Garcia, Jennifer 8) while her children pressure her to move closer to them.

What laughs there are to be had (and trust me, there aren’t many) come, surprisingly, from Bergen who I’ve always found to be a little aloof in films. Here she seems to be having a ball as a high-strung intellectual embarrassed she has to resort to finding a date online. Sadly, the film doesn’t give her a full arc so by the time we’ve gotten into her rhythm with Dreyfuss he’s disappeared, never to be heard from again. There’s even less time spent with Shawn who pops up in for a well-timed cameo but doesn’t get much chance to make an impression.

For my money, far too much time is spent with Fonda’s storyline, which is the most ham-fisted of the bunch. Wearing an awful wig and decked out in one gaudy outfit after another, it’s not hard to see where things are headed for the woman who likes to sleep with men but doesn’t like to “sleep” with them after. Always an underrated commodity in film and television, Steenburgen has nice moments here and there and while her thread is likely the most relatable, by the time the film has her tap dancing to a Meat Loaf song at a talent show you can literally see her working hard to keep up with things.

Then there’s Keaton who, to me, seems like the most natural fit for this type of froth. Sadly, Holderman and Simms make her character such a doormat and allow her children (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) to take her for granted far too long. (It’s also a mystery to me why there are two daughters when the film only needed one) Keaton coasts through much of the movie on fumes and only comes alive when there’s some physical comedy to execute, if only Holderman and Simms had given her character dimension of any kind.

What kind of message is the movie ultimately sending? A detriment to the film’s credibility is its stupefying lack of diversity. Taking place in present-day Los Angeles (and made on the cheap with a ton of questionable green screen and downright lousy Photoshop), there’s nary a person of color to be seen aside from a few random service workers. Purporting the myth of the white woman fantasy so grossly admired in Nancy Meyers movies with its affluent rich white ladies, Book Club feels completely out of touch and out of step with our society. Even worse, when you get right down to it, every woman in the film needs to be defined by the men they are with.  There’s something uncomfortable about watching that unfold before you.

Book Club is for easy readers only.

Movie Review ~ Love the Coopers

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday

Stars: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde

Director: Jessie Nelson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Hold on a sec, allow me to get into full Ebenezer Scrooge mode because have I got a whopper of a turkey for you. Normally, I truly feel like the last two months of the year are, as the song says, the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time to reunite with family, practice being ok with giving instead of receiving, and hauling out classic holiday films made more enjoyable on snowy days and chilly nights. Arriving like a lump of coal in a moldy old fruitcake, Love the Coopers is not only the worst holiday film in recent memory but one of the worst offerings of 2015. Yes, I’m counting the endless TV movies featuring a department store Santa Claus helping an exasperated female executive find love with a burly man we all know is perfect for her.

Picture a movie where every single character is miserable. They don’t like their family, they can’t stand their friends, they basically hate their lives. Now imagine its set during Christmas and filled with every lame joke in the holiday handbook, from family secrets spilling out during a disastrous dinner table scene to irascible old fogies that turn wise when the movie needs a moral.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers (who, after viewing his credits on IMDb, seems to specialize in saccharine nonsensical dramedies) sketches the film as an ensemble affair with multiple storylines playing out (more like wearing out) during one jam packed day.

There’s Eleanor (Olivia Wilde, The Lazarus Effect), who’d rather hang out at the airport bar than head home, befriending a military man (Jake Lacy, Carol, the only bright spot in the movie) before convincing him to come home with her and pretend to be her boyfriend. Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, Lovelace), a diner waitress that feels a kinship with the cantankerous old coot (Alan Arkin, Indian Summer) that frequents her section. Hank (Ed Helms, Vacation) is trying to find a way to tell his estranged wife (Alex Borstein, A Million Ways to Die in the West) that he’s lost his job and can’t afford to buy presents for their kids. Emma (Marisa Tomei, Trainwreck) is a kleptomaniac taken on the longest drive in the history of ever by a policeman with a Big Secret (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain).

Then we have Diane Keaton (And So It Goes) and John Goodman (Argo) as the heads of the family who can’t seem to get out of the rut they’ve been wallowing in for years. Keaton seems resigned to live in the shadow of a career that’s left her in the dust and Goodman must have needed the money to buy clothes in light of his recent weight loss. Oh…and I can’t leave out June Squibb (Nebraska, in a role I’m sure Betty White turned down) as a forgetful aunt that’s just a set-up for various sight gags and fart jokes. There’s also a narrator to the film, a device employed not only as an opportunity for a famous comedian to provide a voice for but to be a part of a twist reveal that most awake audience members will figure out early on.

The last film director Jessie Nelson released was I Am Sam in 2001 and it’s painfully obvious the dormant decade between the two films wasn’t spent in a graduate film school seeing that the film is an awkward mix of false emotional peaks and ill-conceived bits of comedy that makes the running length feel neverending. The tipping point for me was a dreadful family sing-a-long with Helms and Arkin strumming away at their guitars without the vaguest hint of knowing irony. Another particularly painful passage was the aforementioned police car ride where Tomei tries to psychoanalyze stoic cop Mackie, leading to a left-field admission that’s not only offensive but downright tacky.

Love the Coopers seems destined to be that awful holiday entertainment that that one good friend of yours (hopefully not a loved one) claims to be their ‘favorite’ film and forces you to watch with them. Take my advice and resist the urge to bask in the glow of doing something kind for others and think only of yourself…and stay far away from this stinker.

The Silver Bullet ~ Finding Dory

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Synopsis: The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way.

Release Date: June 17. 2016

Thoughts: It’s hard to believe that Disney/PIXAR’s Finding Nemo is 12 years old.  And it’s equally hard to believe that for as successful as that film was, its sequel took so very long to get swimming. Perhaps the wait will be well worth it when Finding Dory is released next summer.  This first look showcases the same rich colors and vibrant animation that made the original such a sight to see…even more so when it was re-released in 3D a few years back.  Plot details are scarce but you can bet that considering the studio and players,  it will be an emotionally resonant underwater adventure.  With the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Diane Keaton (And So It Goes), Ed O’Neill (Entourage), Albert Brooks (A Most Violent Year), Idris Elba (Prometheus), Ty Burrell (The Skeleton Twins), & Dominic West (John Carter).

Movie Review ~ And So It Goes

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A self-centered realtor enlists the help of his neighbor when he’s suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off at his home.

Stars: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Sterling Jerins, Frankie Valli, Scott Shepherd, Frances Sternhagen, Andy Karl, Annie Parisse

Director: Rob Reiner

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Instead of a straight-forward review, here’s how I imagine Rob Reiner pitched And So It Goes to Diane Keaton:

Rob Reiner: Hey Diane, I have a movie I think you should be in with Michael Douglas. It’s about –

Diane Keaton: Rob, I’m just going to stop you right there.  I have some questions.

RR: Um, ok…is it about the movie?

DK: Sure.  First things first.  Can I wear only cream, taupe, and ivory shirts with large collars?

RR: Well…yes, I think that would work.  See, you’d be playing a-

DK: Great! Yes, I love those shirts, they are so comfortable and I really feel I can be myself in them, y’know?

RR: Yes. I know.  Now that we have that straightened out –

DK: Ooooo!  And skirts!  I need to wear skirts that end above the knee and are five times the circumference of my body.  At all times.  I could maybe go for pants but only in inclement weather.

RR: I’m not sure the skirts would make sense to the character…

DK: Great!  And I’ll want to hike the skirts up under my armpits so it looks like I’m being consumed from the waist up. And belts…the bigger the better.

RR: Let’s talk more about that later, I’d like to tell you what the movie is about.  You’d be playing a widowed lounge singer living next door to a grumpy old guy played by Michael.  The whole plot revolves around him being forced to take care of his granddaughter abandoned by his prison bound son.

DK: I was in the original Broadway cast of Hair…did you know that?

RR: I did…and you were great.

DK: I know, right?  I’ll sing torch songs, then?

RR: Yes, and I’d be playing your pianist because I can’t NOT be in a movie I’m directing.  I think, however, that I’ll wear a toupee so people won’t recognize me.

DK: Why don’t YOU wear a big skirt and a belt?

RR: No, I think the toupee is enough of a challenge for me.

DK: OK.  Y’know Rob, I was thinking.

RR: About the character?

DK: (laughs) No!  I don’t think I’m totally sold on your idea of just dressing in beige colors the whole time.  I think we need to throw in some reds and polka dots…and red polka dots.

RR: Diane, you suggested the color palette.

DK: (laughs again) Noooo…I think that was your suggestion.  So I’m playing a romantic at heart that convinces this old codger next door that you’re never too old to change?  Hmmmm…sounds an awful lot like As Good As It Gets with my old Reds costar Jack Nicholson.

RR: Well that’s probably because Mark Andrus wrote the screenplays for both.

DK: Ah…so it’s a sequel?

RR: No, no…just a painfully clumsy re-working of that film, lacking any sort of humor, warmth, or honest emotion.

DK: Yikes…sounds pretty bad.  Didn’t you direct Stand By Me, Misery, A Few Good Men, and When Harry Met Sally… those were great films, Rob!

RR: Yeah…I know.  I think Sally Struthers put some sort of curse on me.

DK: Is there anything of value in the movie?

RR: I’m thinking of casting Frances Sternhagen in a thankless role that she could do in her sleep.  And ever since Frankie Valli was passed over to play himself in the movie version of Jersey Boys

DK: Ooo…I think that movie is going to bomb…looks terrible.

RR: Totally!  Anyway…now Frankie has the acting bug…I’ll just give him one awkward scene and that’ll shut him up.

DK: What about the granddaughter, is she cute at least?

RR: Not really…she has the bad habit of looking directly into the camera…but if I have time after my toupee lessons I’ll try to break her of that.

DK: Well Rob, I gotta tell ya…this sounds like a pretty bad film from the outset.  The kind that should go straight to Netflix instead of playing in the theaters.  The type of movie that people may say “What are Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton doing in this garbage?”  The sort of experience moviegoers young and old will find impossible to relate to filled with characters no one can sympathize with.  I’ll just bet that the script is illogical, incoherent, insipid, contradictory, and clichéd at every possible turn.  I mean, next thing you’ll tell me is that Michael’s character will deliver a baby with his bare hands and I’ll film a sex scene miraculously wearing more make-up than I did before the humping started two minutes earlier.

RR: Well…what if I promise you can wear a red polka dotted neckerchief in two scenes?

DK: I’m in!!!!