Movie Review ~ Love, Simon

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.

Stars: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Miles Heizer, Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Tony Hale

Director: Greg Berlanti

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I was recently reading a book about the impact of John Hughes and The Brat Pack on the generation of teens that grew up in the mid ‘80s.  The book talked about what was going on at the time and how movies once celebrated as sleepover musts are now revered as essential entertainment time capsules for those that came of age in the Reagan era.  I was slightly too young for that wave of influential filmmaking, though I was in my prime when ‘90s teen classics like Clueless, Cruel Intentions, Scream, and 10 Things I Hate About You were first released and I feel that same sense of protection about them.  So I understand why the early buzz around Love, Simon compares the viewing experience to the influential teen movies that came before it.

I tend to recoil at films that are so current that they’ll become dated in six months but Love, Simon is a rare exception.  It’s a genuine gem that speaks to those navigating high school life now while evoking a palpable sense of wistfulness to audience members like me who so wish they had something as assured and confident as this when they were a kid. Yes, Love, Simon is the kind of truthful message movie I wish I had on VHS on the shelf between The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.

Simon Spier lives a pretty good life.  His family, his house, his friends, his high school experience all seem like the dictionary definition of growing up without much complication.  Yet Simon is more complex than people think.  He’s gay and struggling with resolving some inner conflict about that fact but outwardly showing no signs of stress (or so he thinks).  The good news is that there’s not a lot of self-loathing on display here so it’s not the torturous experience other films have made the coming out saga to be.  He doesn’t hate that he’s gay, he just doesn’t know the right way to say it and risk losing out on future happiness.

Surrounded by friends with their own romantic hang-ups, Simon finds a kindred spirit in the form of an e-mail relationship with an anonymous fellow student who is gay as well.  Reaching out first as a way to take his own baby steps out of the closest, he becomes closer and closer to the guy on the other side of the e-mail who can’t reveal his identity.  Not knowing whom the friend he calls Blue looks like, Simon starts to imagine who it could be.  Is it the handsome quarterback that has a sensitive side?  What about the pianist for the high school musical?  Or could it be the Waffle House employee?  When the e-mails are discovered by a fellow classmate and Simon is blackmailed into playing matchmaker or risk being outed, he finds being gay is the least of his worries as friendships, true love, and familial bonds are tested the more he tries to hide who he is.

As Simon, Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) is a handsome star in the making that ably carries the weight of the movie on his shoulders. Though he’s Hollywood Leading Man Gay, meaning not too gay, he convincingly plays the conflict without making the journey the least bit maudlin.  By presenting Simon as “just like you”, a balance of normalcy is struck that shows the audience that being gay is who you are and not what ultimately defines you.

Simon’s friends include Katherine Langford (Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why), Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Keiynan Lonsdale (The Finest Hours), and Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) as a charmingly diverse group that feels like they could be friends had they gone to high school together.  Though each have their own secrets that arise during the course of the film, these developments don’t feel forced or simply existing in service to Simon’s coming out rite of passage.  The adults in the film wisely say their piece and let the youngsters take the spotlight, but kudos to Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Josh Duhamel (Safe Haven) for presenting understanding but not phony portrayals of Simon’s parents.  As the Vice Principal of Simon’s school, Tony Hale (American Ultra) has some good moments and special mention must go to Natasha Rothwell as a drama teacher that hates her job and Clark Moore as an out and proud gay man at Simon’s school that has two of the funniest lines in the whole film.

Yeah, let’s not forget that as dramatic as the story arc may be this is still a teen comedy at heart and the film is consistently funny throughout.  The parties, the hallway discussions, the afterhours heart-to-hearts, the long walks home, the car rides…all strike a nice balance between sentiment and humor without tipping the scales either way.  Adapting Becky Albertalli’s popular YA novel, screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker have played around with some characters and characteristics from the source novel without losing the message of Albertalli’s original work.  Director Greg Berlanti resists against getting overly saccharine as the film develops and Simon’s secret starts to get out – there’s pain and hurt but laughter winds up making the wounds sting less.

If there’s one thing that might keep Love, Simon from achieving long-lasting high rank status it’s that it feels like the fantasy way a coming out story would go.  While Simon claims to be just like us in the opening voice-over, can the majority of teens that will see the film relate to a privileged white guy who gets a new car for his birthday, doesn’t seem to have a job but has spending money, lives in an upscale home in the suburbs, and has more than his share of compassionate and understanding family and friends?  Also, there’s an uncomfortable value placed on looks – when Simon is scoping the halls for Blue and pondering who he could be he wrinkles his nose in horror at bearded nerds, Game of Thrones loving dorks, and roly poly dweebs.  Heaven forbid Blue turns out to be an ug-o.

Yet the film ultimately has its heart and message in the right place and any nitpicks are easily shooed away in favor of recognizing the accomplishment at a major movie studio putting out a sweet love story surrounding a gay youth and his friends.  It may not live totally in the reality of now but it rhymes with the truth without much discord.  Now if people will actually line up to see this…that would be the real victory.

The Silver Bullet ~ Nine Lives

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Synopsis: A stuffy businessman finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat.

Release Date: August 5, 2016

Thoughts: Well…I just…I mean…where do you start?  Two time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (Working Girl) stars in this late-summer release family film that finds him playing a snooty businessman inhabiting the body of his pet cat.  Surprise!  He hates cats!!!  If the trailer has me watching in horrified amazement, I can only imagine what emotions the finished product will produce within me.  Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (or, to quote the poster, ‘the director of the Men in Black movies’) I guess I’m not all that shocked to see Jennifer Garner (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) pop up here since she’s made a career of saying yes to any and all movies. As much as I think Spacey is a monster in real life, I can’t for the life of me figure out why he’s attached himself to this cheap looking mess. August cannot come fast enough.

The Silver Bullet ~ Men, Women & Children

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Synopsis: A look at the sexual frustrations that young teenagers and adults face in today’s world.

Release Date: October 3, 2014

Thoughts: Earlier in 2014 Jason Reitman had what some consider his first real stumble with the coolly received Labor Day.  I was one of the few that seemed to absolve it from its awkward assembly and languid pacing because it’s clear that Reitman is a filmmaker that knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants to say.  With October’s Men, Women & Children, Reitman is taking a page from the American Beauty experience and digging under the perfect veneer of a suburbia and its inhabitants.  With its tantalizing images played over a silky update of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, I get the feeling Men, Women & Children has the potential to truly put Reitman on the A list if handled correctly.

Movie Review ~ Draft Day

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The Facts:

Synopsis: At the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams.

Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Ellen Burstyn, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott

Director: Ivan Reitman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: About ten minutes into Draft Day, I leaned over to my friend and asked with the deepest sincerity “This movie is in English, right?” because I wasn’t totally sure that I hadn’t walked into Kevin Costner’s first foray into a foreign film.

Now I should admit that I’m not the target audience that Draft Day is banking on will buy a ticket as long as it doesn’t interfere with fantasy football. While not a huge sport nut, I know my way around a baseball diamond and basketball court…but football is one sport that I can’t get my noggin around. I’ve never even actually BEEN to a professional football game and my exposure is limited to high school games of my youth and waiting until the commercials come on during the Super Bowl.

What I am, however, is someone that’s seen a lot of sports related movies and even though baseball season has just started (check out my review of A League of Their Own for nostalgia sake) the 2014 football draft is coming up in early May. In that respect, one thing that Draft Day has going for it is good timing.

Another positive is Kevin Costner’s presence – though the actors has made his fair share of films surrounding sports, this is his first foray into football territory and he shows that he’s still in fine form after being mostly absent from high profile films in the last five years. After Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and 3 Days to Kill, Costner’s third film of 2014 is probably his best because he’s working on familiar territory…but that’s not saying much since Jack Ryan was a bust and 3 Days to Kill barely made it three weeks in theaters.

Another element that should have been a positive is director Ivan Reitman but instead it appears that the only Reitman to take note of in the directing world is his son Jason (Labor Day) While the elder Reitman was responsible for some mega-successful films (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop), his output over the last decade haven’t been touchdowns.

The biggest roadblock Draft Day tries to overcome (and doesn’t) is its own plot which never rises to the occasion of creating tension or the kind of excitement it seems to want to shove down our throats. Though Reitman makes some interesting work with the kind of split screens and fancy edits that would make Brian De Palma consider calling up Nancy Allen for Blow Out 2, the film is phenomenally boring and makes you feel every second of the 24 hour period during which it takes place.

While Reitman’s casting of Costner (Man of Steel) is spot-on, the limited gifts of Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) creates a problematic situation for the unnecessary romantic subplot. Never mind that Garner looks like she could be Costner’s daughter and is his coworker, she fails to create even friendly chemistry with her co-star and one wonders if she was a last minute replacement or the fifth or sixth choice for the role. I would have loved to see someone closer to Costner’s age in the role, a Catherine Zeta-Jones or a Julianne Moore would have made the character more interesting and on the same level. Garner is usually out of her league, and it’s never more evident than it is here.

I’m not sure if Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist) is paying attention to the roles she’s being offered anymore. One of our greatest celebrated actresses, I find her choices concerning and well beneath the quality of the work she’s been involved with for the last four decades. As Costner’s widowed mother, her role was either cut significantly after the fact or there was nothing to do in the first place because she only pops up when it’s convenient.

I’d go into the various other recognizable character actors that fill out the cast as agents, players, disgruntled fans, and members of rival team management but I honestly can’t remember who did what so I’ll give them the same amount of attention the script and director did…none.

Now look, this film may be an absolute delight for those viewers that are devotees to the pigskin and will find tension in the down to the wire deal making that goes on in Draft Day. For this (re)viewer, though, I found the whole film too far out in left field, er, deep in the penalty box, um, over the foul line, ack, over the line of scrimmage to be entertaining or memorable.

The Silver Bullet ~ Draft Day

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Synopsis: The General Manager of the Cleveland Browns struggles to acquire the number one draft pick for his team.

Release Date:  April 11, 2014

Thoughts: Kevin Costner (Man of Steel, The Bodyguard) is going to have a busy first few months of 2014 from the looks of it.  In February he stars in the action thriller 3 Days to Kill and in April he headlines this sports drama in a role that already feels like a good fit for the aging star.  Costner took a bit of break from mainstream Hollywood after his habit of producing overblown epics caused his A-List status to fade but the Oscar winner is bouncing back nicely in the last few years by centering in on scripts that play to his strengths.  With an impressive cast there for support (even though Jennifer Garner, Dallas Buyers Club, looks too young to be any kind of love interest for Costner) and veteran director Ivan Reitman on board, Draft Day may be the kind of film that helps Costner move up another rung in the comeback ladder.

Movie Review ~ Dallas Buyers Club

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Loosely based on the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a drug taking, women loving, homophobic man who, in 1985 was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS and given thirty days to live.

Synopsis: Loosely based on the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a drug taking, women loving, homophobic man who, in 1985 was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS and given thirty days to live.

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Griffin Dunne, Steve Zahn

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I remember when A Time to Kill came out in 1996 and the then relatively unknown leading man Matthew McConaughey was heralded as an actor to watch.  For a time, that proved to be true as the actor had his pick of Hollywood directors and high profile film projects to choose from.  Then, as is often the case with success, the actor with so much promise began to make some bad choices and it looked like McConaughey was destined to be yet another forgotten star that hit big and faded out with an endless stream of forgettable romantic comedies.

Then a minor miracle happened.  McConaughey seemed to realize what was happening and instead of just taking the checks and sloughing off the sideways glances of those that knew his potential, he stepped back and took stock of what kind of actor he’d become.  And he decided to change things up…which led to McConaughey hitting on a string of films over the last several years (like Bernie, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Killer Joe, Mud) that showed the actor to be dexterous, intriguing, and willing to put his career on the line for projects he believed in.

Never more is that evident than in his career-high performance in Dallas Buyers Club.  As the rough Ron Woodroof, McConaughey doesn’t just physically transform into the man diagnosed with HIV that takes his life into his own hands, he goes deeper than he has before to produce a character that makes no apologies and still earns the affection of the audience…no small feat for playing a man that starts out so smarmy you can practically smell the cigarettes and cheap alcohol emanating from him.

After Woodroof was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, his doctors (Denis O’Hare and Jennifer Garner) aren’t able to offer much hope for a disease at a time before the government admitted it was a problem and funded research to learn more about it.  Frustrated, confused, and unwilling to admit his time is running short, Woodruff loses his good ‘ole boy friends who only thought of AIDS as a gay disease.  Woodruff’s homophobia runs rampant and keeps him from attending any support meetings to help learn more about the disease that is ravaging his body.

Doing his homework, Woodruff learns more about available medical treatments and how the popular drug AZT may not be the life saving solution everyone thinks it is.  A chance meeting with a doctor (Griffin Dunne) in Mexico gives him the idea of how to combat this disease, buying him more time off of his death sentence.  In short time, he grudgingly partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite also dying of AIDS who possesses the street smarts and compassion that Woodruff is lacking.  Together they form the Dallas Buyers Club, a “club” that disperses non FDA approved drugs to the HIV community that may not otherwise have access to them.

For a movie with such a somber subject, there’s great life to be had in Dallas Buyers Club.  Aside from McConaughey’s committed performance, there’s the equally impressive transformation that Leto undergoes.  Maybe even more so than McConaughey, Leto truly gets under the skin of his character…resulting in a mighty powerful and vividly drawn character.  There’s good work from Dunne and supporting players O’Hare and Steve Zahn, all seasoned character actors that know how to stay out of the way of the leading actors.  It’s only Jennifer Garner that hits a few wrong notes…I’ve always considered Garner more of a television actress that occasionally pops up in movies and her work here only confirms that.  While her effort is better than other projects, she has a way of taking a serious scene and being a tad too invested in it, which sniffs of an earnestness that doesn’t ring true.

It’s McConaughey and Leto that you should be focusing on anyway and director Jean Marc-Vallee wisely keeps them front and center for the majority of the film.  Though as audience members we can do the math and probably know how the ending will play out, there’s more than enough surprising turns in the script from Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack to fill out the two hour running length.  I like that the movie didn’t allow the characters to compromise or be compromised and let them act and react as people would in real life – it’s not a movie where everyone holds hands and realizes the errors of their ways by the final reel.  There’s no Hollywood ending to be had but a real-life ending that provides a strong impact and lasting message.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Dallas Buyers Club

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Synopsis: The story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof and his battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, and his search for alternative treatments that helped established a way in which fellow HIV-positive people could join for access to his supplies.

Release Date:  December 6, 2013

Thoughts: It’s hard to believe it now, but it wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed like Matthew McConaughy’s film roster was destined to be filled with an endless stream of forgettable romantic comedies.  With three films that found the actor playing nearly the exact same character (Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and (shudder) Fool’s Gold) I had all but written him off when McConaughy took a step back from the blockbuster-type money being waved at him and instead started showing up in roles that gave him room to stretch, breathe, and find artistic success with.  After turning in strong supporting turns in 2012’s Magic Mike, Bernie, Killer Joe, and The Paperboy, 2013 may wind up even better for him with November’s The Wolf of Wall Street and this real life drama that could net him an Oscar nomination.  Losing an extreme amount of weight to play an HIV addled man that isn’t content to roll over and die, McConaughy is pushing some limits here and that makes this a must-see.  Check out Jared Leto too!