Movie Review ~ Late Night


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A late-night talk-show host suspects that she may soon lose her long-running show.

Stars: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan, Paul Walter Hauser, Denis O’Hare, John Early, Max Casella

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  If you want to start your Oscar season early, it’s always a good idea to keep track of the film festivals that start to roll out in the first half of the year.  Though the more prestige films usually premiere at the international festivals in the fall, a few notable movies often will first see the light of day at South by Southwest in Austin and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.  This year, South by Southwest held the first screenings of Us and Booksmart while Sundance had, among others, The Mustang, Apollo 11, and Late NightLate Night turned out to be the big news coming out of Sundance, namely because it was purchased for distribution by Amazon Studios for an eye-popping $13 million dollars.

Quickly positioning the movie as a breezy summer comedy antidote to the ear-shattering blockbusters playing in the theater next door, Amazon has wisely learned from the mistakes of Booksmart’s too wide/too fast release and is releasing Late Night in waves.  This is helping to generate good buzz for the movie, bolstered further on the positive word of mouth it has received from audiences and critics.  Drawing justified comparisons to Working Girl and The Devil Wears Prada, Late Night is a mostly entertaining film that plays off its formulaic skeleton well but also succumbs to the trappings of the genre more often than it should.

After nearly three decades as the only female host of a late-night television show, Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson, Beauty and the Beast) is seeing a steep drop in her ratings.  The new network head honcho (Amy Ryan, Beautiful Boy) has given her word her contact won’t be renewed and attributed it not just to the ratings but to how out of touch Katherine is with the rest of the world and the changing face of media.  Accused of not being an ally to other women, Katherine makes a last-ditch effort to save her show by hiring Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling, A Wrinkle in Time) to come onboard as the first female writer on the all-male writing team.

Coming from working at a chemical plant as an efficiency expert, Molly has no experience in television, let alone a writers room.  Using her background to assess the shows weakness and strengths, she passes that along to Katherine and her fellow writers who don’t take kindly to the outsider telling them how to run their show.  As with all of these workplace comedies, there’s the typical hazing at the outset followed by gradual appreciation for Molly’s talent, and eventual acceptance as their equal.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it’s in the delivery that sets it apart from the rest.

Much of this credit goes to Kaling’s script which is sharp, insightful, funny, and obviously gleaned from her years as the only female writer on NBC’s The Office.  The relationship she creates between Katherine and Molly is genuinely interesting to watch and goes beyond the expected pathway of the dragon lady boss tormenting her meek staff member (though we do get a little of that in the beginning) and forms something more solid.  The movie really crackles when Thompson and Kaling share the screen, be it in arguing over a joke at the writers table or Katherine entering Molly’s territory to see what the lives are like for her staff when they go home.

It’s when the movie branches out to other characters that it gets a little unwieldy.  Kaling has a good track record with hiring her friends and it seems like she wrote parts for a lot of them in this movie.  This creates an overload of people, many of them serving the same purpose.  Though Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya), John Early (The Disaster Artist), and Max Casella (Jackie) make nice contributions here, I can easily imagine their roles being absorbed into other characters to help the movie not feel so weighed down with white guys angling for one-liners.

Though it’s positioned as a two-hander, the more I think about Late Night the more I feel this is really Thompson’s movie with Kaling as a supporting role.  To that end, Thompson is excellent as a woman of a certain age who was a trailblazer before becoming complacent.  We never do know why Katherine started to turn her back on her show (though, from what I could tell, it wasn’t that funny to begin with) but Thompson gives us an inside perspective into her initial shock at realizing she is being replaced and figuring out a way to move forward and reclaiming what is rightfully hers.  Kaling is a supportive co-star and, as always, abdicates the spotlight whenever possible to allow her fellow actors to shine.  While she has a great many funny lines, she doesn’t keep all the zingers to herself or Thompson but spreads them around the room generously.  More than anything, I was annoyed that Kaling felt the need to insert a love story into the mix of all of this because it’s so shoe-horned in.  I’m glad she was able to get Reid Scott (Venom) and Hugh Dancy (Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return) into the creative mix here but they feel like distractions from the story the movie is really wanting to tell which is the relationship between Katherine and Molly.  That the script continues to weave in other people becomes frustrating as the film progresses.

On a podcast I was listening to after seeing this someone wondered if this wouldn’t have worked a little better as a multi episode series on some streaming service and I couldn’t help but agree.  Too much of the movie felt compacted into the trim running time, leaving out key ingredients such as more of a backstory for Molly (a random cousin pops up for two scenes and is never heard from again) or more time to get to know the home life of Katherine and her husband (John Lithgow, Pitch Perfect 3).  Even with these nitpicks aside, this is a movie worth your time for Thompson’s performance alone.

Movie Review ~ Pet Sematary (2019)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.

Stars: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, Obssa Ahmed

Directors: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Normally, I’m not a fan of remakes of originals that were just fine to begin with. Stephen King’s 1989 adaption of his own novel Pet Sematary was a solid horror film that has held up quite well over the past thirty years. Sure, it’s low tech and some of the performances delve into out-of-place hysterics at times but it was largely a successful effort and often spoken of highly as one of the better King adaptations that have made it to the big screen.

Yet I wasn’t that mad at the fact that the source material was going to get another treatment…and I actually thought it was long overdue. After a lackluster sequel that failed to move the series forward in any compelling way, the property just sort of sat there on the shelf for the ensuing years. I’ve always considered the book and its concept to be one that would lend itself well to multiple sequels and creative approaches yet no one had bothered to take another crack at it. As the original film approached it’s 30th anniversary, Paramount decided to dig up their former horror hit and handed it over to three guys that have been making a name for themselves in the scare business.

The new film has a screenplay written by Jeff Buhler who already had The Prodigy in 2019 and will pen upcoming remakes of Jacob’s Ladder and The Grudge, and was directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer who gave us the underrated horror gem Starry Eyes. Having these three give King’s tale of a city family that moves to the country and experiences the dangerous power of a nearby burial ground seemed like an on the money choice and with stars like Jason Clarke (The Aftermath) and John Lithgow (Pitch Perfect 3) on board this remake was elevated up a few notches from being just a shameless cash-in.

The Creed family has uprooted their life and moved to a small town in Maine so Louis (Clarke) can be a big fish in a small pond as the doctor at a local university. Like the first film, his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz, You’re Next) doesn’t seem to have much of a life of her own outside of taking care of their two young children so while Louis goes to work Rachel begins the process of setting her family up in their new house. Friendly neighbor Jud (Lithgow) catches young Ellie (Jeté Laurence) exploring in the woods and shows her the pet sematary on their property where children come to bury their pets. When tragedy strikes the Creed family, Louis is driven to make an unholy choice involving the pet sematary that has deadly repercussions for everyone.

While the film largely falls into the remake category, with names and situations that echo what we’ve read/seen before, certain elements of the plot have been reimagined and not all of them work as well as they should. If you’ve seen the previews you’re likely aware of the one big change from the book/original film and that choice is, in hindsight, a smart one considering what it allows the filmmakers to do with the final 1/3 of the movie. What I didn’t care for, actually, was that last act when it became less of a slow-burn horror movie and more of a cheap scare machine which undercut some of the strong structure that was built up early on.

Another strange thing about this film is that Buhler’s script is overly talky. In most cases, having some extra character development in a movie designed to provide maximum scare time would be welcome but there seemed to be an endless series of scenes with Louis and Rachel talking in their bedroom. Feeling like low-grade Cassavetes, their marital squabbles and differences of opinion in how much they share with their children about death starts to feel intrusive to the frights. After a while, you begin to wish the bad thing that is coming will just happen so they’ll have something else to talk about.

Clarke, as usual, makes for a reliable leading man and the conflict Louis experiences sits well with him. No one plays tragically at odds with oneself quite like Clarke can. Like the movie, he starts to veer off course near the end but he holds on longer than the film does. I’ve not seen Seimetz in a lot of things but she brought a nice layer to Rachel that wasn’t present in the previous film. The subplot concerning her guilt over an incident from her childhood involving her dying sister isn’t as scary as the 1989 version because its less subtle but she navigates some jarring pseudo-scares quite well. The Jud character was always the most memorable in these films and while Lithgow is no Fred Gwynne, his wind-beaten face and growly voice convinced me right off the bat he was the right guy for the role. The trickiest part in the film is taken on by Laurence as the Creed’s daughter who has to play a whole range of emotions – for a young performer tasked with the film’s most important material she is a strong presence.

As they demonstrated in Starry Eyes, Kölsch & Widmyer know how to slowly turn up the heat on their movie pot and allow it to boil over at just the right time. Here, though, the pot stays on the fire just a hair too long, that is the difference between a remake that sticks its landing, and one that bites off more than it can chew. (I’m trying to jam pack this with metaphors today, clearly). The ending of the film doesn’t measure up and just gets too bizarre to the point where the audience laughs in all the right places but more than a few unintentional passages as well.

I feel like we’re going to be seeing more of these remakes of popular films over the next few years and if they turn out like Pet Sematary I won’t be totally disappointed. There’s some thought that went into this one and more than few examples of creativity on display that are worth noting from directors that are continuing to hone their craft. Showing a bit more appreciation for narrative follow-through and arriving at an ending that satisfies is what was missing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Late Night

Synopsis: A late-night talk show host is at risk of losing her long-running show right when she hires her first female who revitalizes her show and her life.

Release Date: June 7, 2019

Thoughts: Movie nerds like myself who keep their ear to the ground (or, more to the point, keep up to date with their podcasts) heard the buzziest film to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Late Night, the comedy written by Mindy Kaling and starring Emma Thompson. Snapped up by Amazon for a June release, Late Night features Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as an icy late night talk show host on the decline and Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) as her new (and first) female writer.  There’s a little The Devil Wears Prada feel to this first look and I’m not hating it, but I can also tell the movie will have something more to say than just acerbic quips delivered with panache by Thompson.  I’m mostly hoping the movie can follow through with an awards-worthy performance from Thompson and make good on its festival buzz when larger crowds get a look in early summer.

31 Days to Scare ~ Pet Sematary (2019) – Trailer

Synopsis: Behind a young family’s home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.

Release Date:  April 19, 2019

Thoughts: Remakes are a tricky thing and often I feel like to remake an already established film isn’t really worth the time or money.  Why go back and revisit something that still holds up?  Sure, movies like Oceans 11 and even last year’s re-do of Stephen King’s IT improved upon their originals but what about the Carrie remake or any of the sanitized updates to horror films like Prom Night or When a Stranger Calls?  Tough stuff.

So here we are now looking down the barrel of a Pet Sematary remake and I’m conflicted.  The original 1989 film retains much of the same scares and thrills as it did when first released but this look at the 2019 version has arrived and I’m not inclined to claw at the walls in frustration.  I really enjoyed directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer previous film Starry Eyes and star Jason Clarke (All I See Is You) seems a good choice for the lead.  I just hope they can exercise some restraint and give us a spooky tale and not go into excess.  Don’t want audiences leaving the theater thinking that sometimes un-remade is better.

Make sure to check out my review of Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, the documentary on the making of the first film.

Movie Review ~ Pitch Perfect 3


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Britanny Snow, Ruby Rose, John Lithgow, Ester Dean, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Kelley Jakle, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Anna Camp, Shelley Regner, DJ Khaled

Director: Trish Sie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (3.5/10)

Review: In 2012, Pitch Perfect was an unexpected stealth weapon smash for Universal Studios.  Arriving with very little fanfare in the midst of a busy fall season, the movie relied on good word of mouth to keep audiences buying tickets and coming back for seconds.  It helps the movie was genuinely good, introducing actors and characters that were funny and appealing.  Two years later, Pitch Perfect 2 was positioned as an early summer blockbuster and the results weren’t quite as memorable.  A slack script, uninspired direction, and more than a few performances that looked like they were delivered under duress or as a way to pay off their backyard pool.  It was your typical cash-grab sequel that offered no forward motion for its players.

Here we are in the waning weeks of 2017 and Pitch Perfect 3 has arrived, supposedly as a finale of a trilogy planned on the fly.  While it corrects some structural mistakes from the first two films, it winds up suffering more than its predecessors as it falls prey to exhaustion and too-slick filmmaking.  Fans of the series will likely find major joy in the final adventures of the all-female acapella group and welcome their return, but all others might be in for a stressful 90 minutes.

It’s been two years since the Barden Bellas have sung together and the troupe has scattered to live their post-grad lives.  Becca (Anna Kendrick, The Accountant) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette) share an apartment in the big city and while Amy spends her days on the street performing as Fat Amy Winehouse, Becca continues to pursue her dream of producing music for the stars.  Trouble is, she’s working with some less than talented characters, a troublesome position for someone clearly far more talented than the clients she serves.  At a supposed reunion of the Bellas organized by senior Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, The Homesman), the ladies express interest in signing together one last time and, wouldn’t you know it, gung-ho former leader Aubrey (Anna Camp, Café Society) remembers that there is a big USO show starting up and her high-ranking military dad might be able to get them a spot.

Flying off to join the troops on a European tour, when they arrive they learn the show is doubling as an audition to open for DJ Khaled (I mean, who wouldn’t want to open for a DJ, right?  Right?) at a big upcoming gig.  It’s not long before the Bellas realize their acapella harmonies don’t stand a chance against the other acts which include a twangy country band, a soul singer, and an all-female rock band (led by the bewitching and underused Ruby Rose) that call themselves Forever Moist (ew).  Jet lag hasn’t even set in before there’s the expected riff off between the groups and the Bellas, with the pre-recorded vocals being mimed pretty poorly by everyone in the movie, this has far less of the off the cuff energy that made the one in the original film so dazzling.

Sadly, there’s more to the movie and it involves John Lithgow (Intestellar) sporting an Australian accent so broad it should come with its own groaning laugh track and an out of left field kidnapping action film plot that feels like screenwriters Kay Cannon (How to Be Single) and Mike White (The D Train) got offered too much money to make a rumored Fat Amy spin-off happen.  Can’t forget to mention that the snide color commentators from the first two films (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are following the ladies around trying to make a documentary (sorry, daccamentary) about their struggles to remain relevant.

Looking less pained than the previous film, Kendrick grooves with the movie and regains her star status after taking a back seat in the more ensemble-y sequel.  Wilson is up to her usual schtick…is anyone else concerned that after all this time she’s still playing second banana in movies?  It’s time for Wilson to take the lead because she has potential that continues to be squandered on lame physical humor.  It’s nice to see Camp back in a larger role after having a glorified cameo in PP2 and Brittany Snow has a few pleasant moments as she allows her prefect outward façade to crack and show the vulnerability below the surface.  Banks (Magic Mike XXL) and Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West) have been reduced to grotesque, mean-spirited caricatures that began the series as well-sketched comic critics.  It’s a lowbrow end of the road for those two.

All of these quibbles might not matter because you might not be able to discern much of the action that’s taking place.  Director Trish Sie has shot and edited her film so frenzied that it feels like it was assembled by rabid piranhas.  Forget about the camera zooming back to catch the Bellas performances in widescreen. Nope, Sie favors quick shot close-up cuts and blink and you miss them wide shots.  I’m not convinced the movie wasn’t shot in some warehouse in Pasadena because aside from locales that look like old Euro sets on the Universal backlot, most of the musical numbers have a sameness to them.  Only a nice performance in the Brooklyn aquarium has any special feel to it.

On the positive side, the movie is 20 minutes shorter than the first two films and wisely keeps the men (including Adam DeVine, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt) out of the mix.  For a series that has nicely sung the merits of female empowerment, it was always strange that men played such a pivotal role up to this point.  I’m even willing to forgive the inclusion of a leering producer with his eye on Becca because he factors so little into her overall arc.

Much like fans of Marvel, DC, and the Star Wars saga, the devotees of the Pitch Perfect series don’t want to hear the negative and that’s OK too.  These three films have brought some musicality back to movie theaters and that’s totally fine in my book…I just wish these last two films had the same spirit of originality that launched the first one into the repeat viewing category.

Movie Review ~ Miss Sloane

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the world of political power-brokers, Sloane takes on the most powerful opponent of her career and will do whatever is required to win.

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow

Director: John Madden

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Miss Sloane is a timely political drama that has a stacked deck in its cinematic favor.  An Oscar nominated director and multi-award winning actors have been brought together with mostly good, but never great, results.  While that may sound like the movie overall is a disappointment considering the pedigree in front of and behind the camera, it has enough energy to rise above the scenes that enervate its forward motion.

Jessica Chastain (The Martian) plays the titular character, a sought-after D.C. lobbyist as ruthless in her pursuit of winning as she is about making sure her flame red hair is always tucked neatly behind one ear.  (At one point, I doubted she had two ears since we never saw the other).  As the film opens, Sloane is about to go before a congressional hearing to defend herself over accusations of impropriety, charges that could, if convicted, carry a lengthy term in prison.  Showing how the sleep-averse Sloane got into her current hot seat is what occupies most of the picture, tracing her path from a plum job at a high powered conservative lobbying firm to a grassroots boutique agency opposing a gun bill.

The parallels to David and Goliath are evident as Sloane and her recruits take on the big boys who begin to care more about derailing her than they do about pushing through their political agenda.  Sloane isn’t afraid to go up against her former employers, even if they already may know exactly what her next unscrupulous move will be.  Brief forays into high tech spy surveillance (what’s being done with cockroaches might make a PETA supporter reconsider squashing them on sight) and peeks into the upper pill popping Sloane’s personal affairs via clandestine meetings with a kindly gigolo (Jake Lacy, Love the Coopers) thankfully break up the heavier moments with stale political rhetoric being recited expertly by Chastain and the rest of the cast.

The script from first-timer Jonathan Perera is very of the moment, even if it plays like the pilot of a new HBO series.  If you listen carefully, the entirety of the twists the film has in store are given away by one character within the first ten minutes but it’s buried so well by Perera that you don’t notice it until you’re walking to your car.  Director John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) maneuvers his actors well and keeps the film moving at a nice clip but at 132 minutes there’s probably a good ten to fifteen minutes that could be jettisoned in favor of a tighter running time.  While some may accuse the film of cheating in its final act, I’ll again point to Perera outright telling us what’s going to happen and then delivering on it.

As much as I like Chastian, I have to say that for the first twenty minutes of Miss Sloane I wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing.  Showing a ballbuster temperament on the surface without going very deep, I got worried that Chastain was using this as an exercise in overacting instead of layering in her performance.  Eventually, though, the actress tuned in and that’s when the film really starts to zip along.  Like the best complex characters, there’s not a lot of backstory given to how Sloane came to be how she is and that makes her one of the more interesting characters to show up in film this year.  The race for a Best Actress nomination is a tight one and Chastain might just find herself as one of the five nominees.

Supporting Chastain is Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) as Sloane’s boss at her new firm and Sam Waterson (The Man in the Moon) as her previous employer who sets his sights on destroying her completely.  Waterston may have more hair on his eyebrows than Strong has on his whole body but Strong easily bests Waterston performance-wise by underplaying expertly.  You can’t totally fault Waterston, though, because the first half of the film finds many characters shouting at each other…guess no one in Washington knows how to use their inside voices.  Though I’m a fan of Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange), his terribly old-school New Yawhk accent only made me detest his already detestable character more.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast) and moon faced Alison Pill (Hail, Caesar!) are the lone prominent female roles and both are afforded showcasing scenes.  As the head of the congressional committee cross examining Sloane, John Lithgow (Interstellar) is his usual blustery self.

At the center of Miss Sloane is a debate over gun control that continues to be a hot button issue in this increasingly political climate.  Even as a work of fiction, Miss Sloane makes some interesting points about the current state of affairs regarding the NRA and the landscape of big business in our nation’s capital.  In setting out to tell this story, Perera and the cast aptly keep the conversation going without letting the movie be solely about that important issue.

An intelligent, well-read picture, Miss Sloane may be overstuffed and take some time to let its actress find her way but it winds up being a pleasing film with good intentions.  If it had been made as the first episode for a cable series, I’d be setting my DVR to record future episodes.

Movie Review ~ The Accountant

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Here are a few professions I wouldn’t have a hard time believing Ben Affleck to have onscreen: firefighter, steel worker, bartender, caped crusader, kingpin, suburban dad, cowpoke.  One profession I couldn’t see?  Accountant.  Look, Affleck has matured into a solid actor (Gone Girl) and talented director (Argo) during his time in Hollywood.  There’s little he could lend his name to that I wouldn’t willingly sit through and for the most part, The Accountant is a solid thriller that’s predictable but nonetheless entertaining.  Yet try as he might and squint as I may, I never fully bought Affleck playing an on the spectrum number cruncher by day and gunslinger by night.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

I’m naturally squirmy when I go to the movies.  I’m a habitual watch checker, sometimes in desperation to see how much longer I have to spend in movie prison with drek like Mother’s Day or to attempt to halt the clock hoping to have more quality time with the movies I do enjoy.  I almost feel my ratings should be in watch checks and if I did, The Accountant would have scored high.  It took me 105 minutes to get the itch to check and that’s in large part due to the film’s entertainment value as a throwback vehicle for its star.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic savant posing as a small-time CPA that’s great with numbers but not so great with people.  He’s so good at his job in fact that all sorts of unsavory clients come his way, most of them in need of finding the leak in their amassed fortunes.  This talent brings him to the more legit high-tech robotics company owned by brother (John Lithgow, Interstellar) and sister (Jean Smart, Hope Springs) needing to uncover the mole that’s been skimming millions off of their bottom line.  Working with a curious but overly talkative whistle-blowing employee (Anna Kendrick, Cake), they aren’t even 24 hours into the investigation when someone winds up dead and their services (in the office and on earth) are no longer needed and are targeted by a mysterious hitman (Jon Bernthal, Sicario).  While all this is going on, a Treasury Department agent (J.K. Simmons, Zootopia) blackmails a young analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Star Trek Into Darkness) into finding out who this rogue accountant is so Wolff winds up having two factions after him.

The Accountant is structured in a way I happen to love.  Random threads in the beginning half start to slowly tie together as Bill Dubuque’s (The Judge) screenplay introduces a multitude of twists and turnbacks all the way until the final frame.  There’s one big reveal that seemed to come as a shock to some audience members that was clear as day to me an hour earlier.  This isn’t an attempt to toot my own clue following horn but it’s not as landmark of a bombshell as the movie wants it to be.  There are a few strands that don’t get a proper tie off or even a deeper explanation after they’ve been introduced, but Dubuque keeps his head in the game most of the time.

Stuck behind a pair of glasses with a square haircut and stiff suits, Affleck commits to the piece and does what he can in a part he ultimately just isn’t right for.  It’s not a knock against him in the least, sometimes the spark just isn’t there.  Kendrick has played this type of chatty pixie before and, aside from holding her own in a claustrophobic fight scene, she seems to be coasting.  Same goes for Simmons who has a monologue right before the final reel that slows the film to a jarring halt…that’s when the watch got a peek, by the way.  For me, Addai-Robinson was the real find for me, though her promising arc feels forgotten before the movie was half over.  Director Gavin O’Connor fills the rest of the cast with interesting character actors like Smart and Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover Part III) that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of.

While I was energized by the fact the movie was born from an original script and not an established property or novel, The Accountant finds some trouble when it comes time to sum itself up, falling prey to curse of one too many endings.  You’ll be half out of your seat in anticipation of the credits rolling until O’Connor adds in another unnecessary establishing shot of something we already understand.  All nitpicks aside, for the fall movie-going season The Accountant represents entertainment at its most cozy and I engaged with it more than I thought I would.  It’s not going to rock your world but it’s a nice way to spend a few hours of your time.  It’s not even tax season yet, but take some time to audit The Accountant.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Good Dinosaur

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Synopsis: After a traumatic event unsettles a lively Apatosaurus named Arlo, he sets out on a remarkable journey, gaining an unlikely companion along the way – a human boy.

Release Date: November 25, 2015

Thoughts: With all eyes on PIXAR’s June offering Inside Out (already garnering rave reviews) it’s easy to forget that the studio has a second film due out in 2015. This nice little teaser for The Good Dinosaur doesn’t give much away in terms of plot and that’s perfectly OK with me because it won’t be long until a longer, more descriptive trailer arrives that shows more dino action. 2015 looks like it could be a good year for dinosaurs between this and June’s Jurassic World and with PIXAR’s history of tugging at that good ‘ole heartstrings I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the big “What If” question that’s posed in the preview. Here’s hoping this is another strong effort from PIXAR, a still aces studio that has seen some strong competition in recent years.

 

Movie Review ~ Interstellar

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin, Mackenzie Foy, Topher Grace, David Gyasi

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 169 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Most of the reviews for Interstellar are going to focus on the fact that it’s a let-down to what we’ve come to expect from director Christopher Nolan.  Destined to be held to the impossibly high bar he set for himself with his trilogy of Batman films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises), you could say that he really only has himself to blame for critics and audiences alike coming to expect a certain need to be filled with each Nolan epic.

While I agree that Interstellar may not be the 2001: A Space Odyssey of the new millennium as many thought it would be, I still marveled at the sheer magnitude of innovation surrounding the film.  I applaud its commitment to science, cinema, and humanity – it’s why I left the screening with a spark of ebullient respect that literally kept me up tossing and turning in bed as my dreams were filled with wormholes, theories of relative time, and all those failed physics tests of my youth.  Yet, as I continued to think on Nolan’s film as a whole, I found enough fault in the melodramatic moments Nolan and his brother Jonathan have unfortunately wedged in that overall my jovial enthusiasm for the movie faded…and faded fast.

In a distant future, our crops are dying and our prospects look grim.  Single father and retired pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club) lives on his farm trying to do best for his children.  Guided to a secret government facility by a series of events I won’t divulge here, it isn’t long before Cooper is blasting off into space with a two pronged mission to find a new world to inhabit and save the human race.

That’s a heavily oversimplified rundown of the first hour of Nolan’s three hour trek into universes beyond our reach and it’s this earthbound time at the front of the picture and the final hours that kept restraining the journey from really rocketing into the oribit I wanted it to.  There’s a manipulative feeling to what the brothers Nolan have constructed, with attempt after attempt to tug at the heartstrings of viewers.  What they failed to include, however, is a set-up that allows us to be attached emotionally to anyone enough to be moved by their fight for survival.

The film is best when it’s floating in space because that’s when the artistry begins to take form and all cylinders start to fire.  Projected on an IMAX screen and making full use of an immersive sound design (my teeth are still rattling), Interstellar could come across feeling like an entertaining school lecture with its long monologues describing time travel and explanations of the effects of relativity.  Thankfully, Nolan finds a balance in keeping audiences up to speed without boring them (or dumbing it all down) with textbook-ish dialogue that only a multi-PhD professor would grasp.

An impressive, Oscar recognized cast (2 nominees and 4 winners…5 if you count a surprising cameo) make the most of Nolan’s multi-layered script.  McConaughey’s a bit of an odd duck as our hero lead.  Adept at wearing his emotions on his sleeve, I found myself craving for a shot of the actor that didn’t show him with his eyes welled up with tears.  Cool headed when trouble arises, he still cuts the appropriate swath of an All-American dad just trying to get home to his kids.  Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) has never been a favorite of mine but the break she took after her Oscar win has given the actress time to reacquaint herself with a grounded acting style and she largely succeeds in her role as a brainy, all-business counterpart to McConaughey’s cowboy cavalier.

Rounding out the cast is Michael Caine (Now You See Me) as Hathaway’s father and McConaughey’s mentor and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) playing a scientist with a link to McConaughey, alongside Wes Bentley (Lovelace) and David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas) as fellow explorers onboard the shuttle.  Caine has a long history with Nolan but here the role he’s been given is so clearly designed as a plot device that it’s hard to form an honest opinion of the performance.  Chastain fares better, considering she’s saddled with a hefty amount of the problematic moments in the final third of the film.

Less complex than Nolan’s trippy Inception and lacking the emotional attachment of 2013’s better (and shorter) Gravity, Interstellar is a film I can imagine getting less interesting with repeat viewings.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll see the movie again in 70MM on the largest screen I can find because the movie looks absolutely incredible…but I’m not sure all the additional viewings in the world can excuse some major cracks in Nolan’s ambitious rocket-ship.

Interview ~ Ira Sachs

Ira Sachs

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

Love is Strange is the new film from director Ira Sachs and it’s one that’s been getting major buzz since premiering earlier in 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival.  In the last few weeks the film’s ridiculous R rating has come into question from groups claiming the MPAA’s decision reeked of homophobia.  With no sex, nudity, violence the rating does seem, to this critic, to be another example of the secretive MPAA applying a double standard to films that may not follow their values.

No ratings or awards talk was discussed in my interview with the warm, genial Sachs early in the morning on August 12.  He was in town for a quick round of interviews and a visit to the Walker Art Center before taking to the skies spreading Love all around.

Love is Strange tells the story of New Yorkers Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) who find themselves newly married then separated after George is fired from his teaching post.  Only days after their wedding their family and friends now have to come together to help figure out how to help their two friends.

 

Your previous films (Leave the Light On, Forty Shades of Blue) seem to me to be cautionary tales regarding love with some dark, rough edges.  Love is Strange, however, seems to have a more positive outlook on relationships.  Was that an intentional shift?
That is completely true and I think it’s because I’m at a different stage in my life and I have different feelings about love.  For the first time I really feel optimistic about the possibilities of love to grow and blossom…and I think that’s been hard won, for me specifically also as a gay man it’s something that generationally we had to learn was possible.  So this film comes out of at time in my life where I’ve married my partner, we’ve had two kids, we’re raising the kids with their mom who lives next door…and I can imagine this being a good thing.  That’s where the film came out of…wanting to make a romantic love story.

In a recent interview you noted that your inspiration for the film were several long term relationships in your own extended family as well as films like Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (critics note: which I coincidentally watched right before popping in my Love is Strange screener).  Do you find people, gay or straight, identifying with these characters?
I think a lot of people identify with the film for a number of reasons. This is a picture about a couple in a long term relationship and it was as inspired by my mother and stepfather as much as anyone else.  I think they see themselves in little moments between Ben and George, certainly.  And the similarities are almost as interesting as the differences. Ultimately, I’m a cinephile and film becomes part of my collective memory.  If you do your job right you’re taking them all in and speaking with your own voice.

What was the collaboration like with your screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias?
I think Keep the Lights On was definitely a dark film but it was a film about self-discovery.   It came out of a time in my life that was not dark…meaning when I made it I was very open.  And I think that Mauricio and I meet at that point in our lives.  We’re now finishing a third in a New York trilogy and we have a wonderful shared interest in people, and stories, and movies.  He’s the godfather of my son and we share qualities and beliefs – it’s very important in collaborations that you share human values because it makes for a much easier time together.  Not just in creative relationships but in love relationships – right?  It’s so much easier if your basic values are in line.

What I found especially interesting in the film were the supporting characters, how richly etched they were.  Each seemed to have a moment that made me want to know more, want to watch whatever movie they were entering after leaving this one.
For me, every person in the frame really does have my interest.  To the point in which there is a concert scene where you see a bunch of portraits of people you don’t ever see again…but for that moment the film values them.  As a filmmaker I try to be attentive to each individual and that’s in line with humanist tone of the film.  There isn’t a hierarchy of importance among the characters.

Living in New York, you have access to a wealth of talented actors from the stage (like Adriane Lenox, John Cullum, Harriet Harris, etc) and I know that both John Lithgow and Alfred Molina have strong roots in the theater.  Was there a rehearsal process before filming began?
My background is actually theater; I was a theater director in college and high school.  When I got into film, one of the things I learned from Sydney Pollack (executive producer on Forty Shades of Blue) is that he gave me permission not to rehearse.  He didn’t tell me to do that but I began to understand that for myself I wanted the actors to be really ready, feel comfortable, confident, and well taken care of but not to know what they were going to do.  Not to pre-consider subtext, we don’t talk subtext at all because the minute you talk subtext you begin to play subtext.
So what I do is that I meet with everyone individually and spend time talking through the script.  John, Alfred, and I had dinner and a steakhouse and just talked about our lives, trying to get comfortable.  Then you get on set and a production day is you shoot one scene for eight hours…that’s enough rehearsal.  I like it all to be in the moment of shooting, and that’s the texture I’m able to get in my films through that process.

It seems in the last few years Hollywood has begun to embrace the fact that romantic leads don’t have to be hunks and starlets in their pre-30s.  That veteran actors in their 50s and 60s can tell/sell a story as rich (or richer) than their younger counterparts.  Do you notice that shift as well?
One thing I’ve noticed on the other side for example, (he speaks directly into the recorder) “Sorry John and Alfred” but you don’t get covers of magazines…because covers of magazines won’t go over 30.  I will say that this was an independent film, not financed even with this cast from Hollywood.  And now Hollywood has embraced the film because they see that there is a market for it.  But they don’t finance the film and that’s an interesting place as a filmmaker because you really have to find your way in order to keep going.

Do you have to think about that when making films now?  I mean, making films independently is great but with then having to sell the film and thinking about promotion, does all of that come into play when creating the final product?
I’m always trying to make a movie that people will connect to.  In this case, I also benefit by having wonderful actors that are also very good at comedy.  There’s an access point which is humor and that’s something we knew going into it that’s important to their roles — they really do have exquisite comic timing within a dramatic film…

…and that winds up lending the film dramatic moments that really feel sharp.  We know how John Lithgow can flip from comedy to drama but there’s a restraint on both ends of his spectrum here that winds up giving him one of the best roles of his career.
There is a restraint and that’s something John and I talked about very early on…that this would be a very different kind of Lithgow.  What we see now is that he is very good, brilliant really, at delivering a naturalistic performance.  It’s just not what he’s been asked to do previously, it’s not what Third Rock from the Sun wanted.  It’s such a different palette and yet, the skills are evident.

After the success of Keep the Lights On, was this an easier film to get made?
It was easier.  It wasn’t easy…but it was easier.  Ultimately it was 26 individuals, 23 of which were gay and lesbian.  The majority of those were retired lesbian businesswomen that connected with the film.  They saw it as the story of same-sex marriage and felt that it was also a film women would connect to and parents would connect to.  And they’ve been right…they’re businesswomen for a reason and they had a good assessment of what the film could be.

Though it’s not the main subject of the film, one event that becomes a catalyst for your characters is when George loses his longtime job as a music teacher at a parochial school when he marries his partner.  It’s a story that seems to be happening repeatedly all over the country.  George could have been fired for any number of reasons so were the particulars included as a way to highlight what’s going on?
We had read of a case in the Midwest and that seemed to be the starting point of the story but I knew it was not the story itself.  One of the things I find interesting about Ben and George is that they aren’t individuals who then fight back.  They’re not taking it to the streets or joining ACTUP; that’s not who they are.  There’s a humility to them that I think is very much about this kind of class and this kind of age that I see in a city like New York.  They’re average people.  They’re going to find a new way to live their lives…but as themselves.
The film is about a lot of things.  It’s about discovery but it is about loss too…and acceptance of that loss to some extent.  For me it’s written from the perspective of being in the middle of my life and seeing my parents’ generation coming to their later chapters and having to face that head on.  Being a parent, I look at my children and they don’t know anything about loss…which is why I have a young character discovering those emotions of something so fresh for the first time.

 

love_is_strange

Check back this weekend for my review of Love is Strange, opening at Landmark’s Edina Cinema on September 5.