Synopsis: A woman adjusting to life after a loss contends with a feisty bird that’s taken over her garden — and a husband who’s struggling to find a way forward.
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline, Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Skyler Gisondo, Loretta Devine, Laura Harrier, Rosalind Chao, Kimberly Quinn
Director: Theodore Melfi
Running Length: 102 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: After settling into watching the new Netflix dramedy The Starling the other day, I had a pretty good idea why the initial buzz I had heard after it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival was fairly lukewarm. This is one of those movies that film snobs hungry to feast on spoiled leftovers just hate with a red-hot passion because it doesn’t wind up tasting all that bad. It’s SpaghettiOs® in a season where fine Italian pasta in a rich, velvety sauce is sought and before you say that I’m knocking that canned bit of gold, I consider it a fine meal any day of the week. Without a carcass to gnaw on, it could be easy to simply dismiss the emotions brought forth as overly sentimental TV-movie of the week junk, but in doing so you’d miss the bittersweet lead performances playing grieving parents still processing a profound loss.
Lilly Maynard (Melissa McCarthy, Thunder Force) and her husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd, The Sapphires) have big plans for their newborn, plans they discuss in the film’s opening moments as they paint her nursery with an elaborate mural of a tree with inviting branches. Flash forward to a time in the future after their daughter has died when Lilly is a zoned-out worker at a small-town grocery superstore and Jack is spending time at a mental health facility an hour away. She makes the trip once a week for a visit that doesn’t seem to help either one of them deal with a pain they can’t share with each other. Resentment from both parties is strong; she doesn’t understand why he has to work through this life altering event alone and away from her, he believes she’s moving on too quickly and can’t forgive himself for the loss of their child.
On the suggestion of Jack’s group leader, Lilly seeks out the town vet, Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline, Beauty and the Beast). A former respected therapist, he gave up working with people and devotes his time to animals because they talk back less. Resisting the unorthodox set-up, it’s the appearance of a persistently territorial starling in her garden that brings her back to Dr. Larry after the bird dive bombs her and draws blood. As Lilly begins to open up, she exposes a wound she’d done a good job of bandaging up and in doing so it makes her more emotionally available to her husband as well as her new avian neighbor. As Jack’s depression worsens, Lilly faces her anguish head on. The stages of grief are accelerated after being pent up for so long and eventually the relationship between the husband and wife is put to a huge test.
Reteaming with her St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi, McCarthy demonstrates again why it’s so important for her to make films apart from her husband. The married duo have made a string of movies together that they have collaborated on and produced and while they occasionally find a winner (The Boss actually improves with age) they also have their share of stinkers (remember Tammy? Better yet, don’t.). It’s clearly demonstrated that when she’s working with other directors and screenwriters, see Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Spy if you don’t believe me, she really has a chance to shine.
The lack of chemistry between McCarthy and O’Dowd is mostly attributed to the separation of their characters for a large part of the movie. I never totally bought them as a couple so deep in love that they were being completely tested by this tragedy, but it’s not for McCarthy’s lack of try to instill some warmth O’Dowd’s way. I liked O’Dowd as well, but he seemed to get too lost in the sadness and/or anger of his character and the shifts were jarring instead of understandable. The real head scratcher is why Melfi cast so many familiar faces and then gave them nothing to do. Timothy Olyphant (Mother’s Day) has two or three scenes total and they’re so insignificant it could have been played by anyone. Same for Daveed Diggs (Soul), Loretta Devine (wasted even more here than in Queen Bees earlier this year), and Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming), who gets a high billing but may not even have any lines in the film if I’m remembering correctly.
A few years back I was in NYC and saw Kevin Kline’s soon-to-be Tony Award winning performance onstage in Present Laughter. It was then I remembered how much I enjoyed watching him watching other actors. He’s always listening and providing the kind of reaction that helps create a full character without having to say much. It’s often wonderful to see him and he’s impressive here as a guy that resists getting too attached to his new patient, even though he has a hunch he can find a way to unlock what’s been holding her back.
Speaking of that, what’s difficult about the movie is what it holds back and that’s a lot of key details. It’s never expressly stated how Lilly and Jack’s daughter died or how old she was. I suppose it’s doesn’t really matter in the long run because the loss is the loss but it’s these finer points that help to round out the character arcs being put forth. The starling also is a bit of a red herring because it doesn’t come into play much until the end of the film after making several stealth appearances (with some iffy CGI) in earlier scenes. I understand that writer Matt Harris is trying to fast-track the narrative, but it can’t come at the cost of the finer points.
It’s interesting to see Netflix rolling out The Starling for a week in theaters before it arrives on the streaming service for the majority of its customers. I don’t find the film strong enough for an awards run (though if the Golden Globes were a thing McCarthy would probably be a likely nominee for Best Actress) but perhaps they’re going for Kline…they’ll certainly want to push for any number of songs that were contributed by Brandi Carlile , The Lumineers, Judah & the Lion, and Nate Ruess. I think it’s best to just keep The Starling handy for a day/night when you require a little comfort food film, some warmth from the overstuffed and stodgy succession of movies that are coming down the pike.
Review: Let’s start with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: I had to see this live-action version of Beauty and the Beast twice before I felt I could really give it a fair shake. I had been so looking forward to seeing Disney’s classic tale come to life that I perhaps went in with expectations dialed too high, spending much of the first screening feeling a bit, well, let-down. Not that the production design wasn’t glorious (it is), not that the music wasn’t stirring (Alan Menken’s score still dazzles), and not that the actors giving flesh and bone life to characters crafted in animation studios weren’t up to the task (they are…mostly), but there was something that just didn’t hit my ‘Thrill Me’ button. Seeing it again two weeks later in 3D accompanied by rich Dolby Atmos sound, I found some magic that wasn’t there before…but many of the problems remained.
Let’s go back to 1991 when Disney hand-drawn animation reached its full renaissance and true zenith with the release of Beauty and the Beast. A dynamite blockbuster and instant classic, it also became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture (other nominees that year? Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides, and the winner The Silence of the Lambs) a title it held for 18 years until the list of nominees was expanded and Pixar’s Up nabbed a nom. Disney recognized it had a property that could have a life beyond the silver screen and soon Beauty and the Beast became a highly popular and endlessly profitable Broadway musical. With countless releases on video, DVD, BluRay and a 2012 re-release in 3D, the film is easily Disney’s bread and butter. It’s no wonder, then, that with the popularity of Disney’s recent slate of live-action adaptations of their classic animated films (Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book), Beauty and the Beast is swooping back into theaters in a lavish new production.
You know the story, right? Snooty, spoiled prince angers old beggar woman that’s really an enchantress in disguise. Prince is turned into a beast and his staff are turned into various objects until the prince/beast learns to love and be loved in return. Enter headstrong and misunderstood Belle who winds up imprisoned by the Beast but warms his cold heart. The rest is fairy tale history.
My biggest issue with 2017’s BatB (let’s shorten it, shall we?) is its length. The original film was a solid 84 minutes with very little in the way of excess plot, characters, or showiness but this film is 129 minutes and feels longer than it had to be. That’s due to some baffling additions in plot and characters that feel like distractions from the action instead of support for the story.
Take Audra McDonald (Ricki and the Flash) and Stanley Tucci (Spotlight) as the castle entertainment turned into a wardrobe and a cadenza, respectively. McDonald’s character isn’t new but the role is beefed up to ridiculous proportions, seemingly only to have an excuse to showcase McDonald’s glorious soprano. Tucci’s piano man adds nothing to the plot and winds up taking time away from established characters Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen, The Wolverine, crazily underused) and Lumiere (Scotsman Ewan McGregor, A Million Ways to Die in the West, nearly nailing a French accent). Emma Thompson’s (Saving Mr. Banks) is no Angela Lansbury but, even though an obvious choice, her warm-hearted Mrs. Potts gets the job done, delivering a sweet interpretation of the title tune.
Screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) has made the curious decision to provide a backstory for Belle and her father that involves Paris, a windmill, and the Black Plague. While it may give more dimension to the character in general, it takes up too much time and again feels like it was added to introduce one of Menken’s new songs.
Ah…the songs. Three songs from original musical written by Menken and the late Howard Ashman were nominated for an Oscar and hearing them again with a full orchestra it’s not hard to see (or hear) why. ‘Belle’ is still an energetic introduction not only to our heroine but to her “poor provincial town” as well. I missed some of the eccentric townsfolk Disney animators dreamed up, they’ve been replaced by bland-ish niceties that strangely seem more sinister than their hand-drawn inspirations ever did. ‘Be Our Guest’ remains the star centerpiece with McGregor and an entire Crate and Barrel’s worth of kitchen fare going Busby Berkley when serving dinner. I’ve heard ‘Beauty and the Beas’t a zillion times in a million different versions but it never fails to choke me up with its grand music but tender lyrics. Surprisingly, the songs Menken and Tim Rice wrote for the Broadway musical are jettisoned for lesser carbon copies. I can’t quite understand why the Beast’s knock-out Act 1 closing number ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ was replaced by ‘Evermore’ which says nearly the exact same thing. So, too, for ‘Days in the Sun’, taking the place of ‘Human Again’ without much justification. The only semi-winner in the bunch is ‘How Can a Moment Last Forever’, sung by Emma Watson and Kevin Kline in the movie and Celine Dion over the closing credits. It’s a clear bid for an Oscar nomination and never count Menken out to sneak in and win the prize.
Director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) has never had the lightest touch and it shows in several frenetically edited numbers that cut away when they should be pulling back and showing the choreography. It’s interesting that the best staged number (‘Be Our Guest’) is the one largely done with CGI and not the otherwise exuberant opening number or villain Gaston’s big boastful number set in a beer hall. I was worried that the enchanted objects would look odd and they most certainly do. It takes a good fifteen minutes to adjust to these computer creations which are blended seamlessly into the live-action pieces. The castle design is gorgeous and the film looks like it spent every nickel of its sizable budget.
In the title roles, Dan Stevens (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and Emma Watson (Noah) are just dandy but don’t truly possess the ‘It” factor that would make them feel like the only possible choices. Watson’s got a good demeanor and knows exactly who Belle is, but her singing voice is AutoTuned to an almost comical level and I so missed hearing the soaring vocals of Paige O’Hara. Though Stevens feels slightly too old next to Watson (giving further fodder to the whole Stockholm Syndrome debate that’s followed the tale since it’s origins), he manages to create an actual character within the constraints of his motion-captured Beast creation. He’s got a nice singing voice too.
The best of the non-professionals is Luke Evans (The Raven) as Gaston. Though he isn’t the ‘size of a barge’ as his character indicates in song, he’s a nicely nasty villain cut-off at the knees by the independent Belle and her protective father (Kevin Kline, The Big Chill). He’s got a rich voice and makes each of his scenes and interactions count, I like that he didn’t try to excuse Gaston’s actions or show any redeeming qualities that might make us feel sorry for him. Then there’s Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer), an actor I just don’t get. I liked him in Frozenwhen he was heard and not seen but as Gaston’s sidekick Lefou he’s easily the most grating presence in the film. Condon gives Gad far too much slack to modernize his character through shamelessly mugging while lip-synching terribly and though his affections for Gaston are plain as day, the “exclusive gay moment” being buzzed about is a blink and you’ll miss it beat most won’t even recognize.
There’s no doubt this is going to make Disney another trillion dollars at the box office and in clever tie-ins but for me this was the least successful live-action update so far. It wants to have it both ways; being reverential to the original one moment and not quite as precious to it in another. Condon wraps it up with a terrible final edit that only made me angrier the second time I saw it. Rated PG, it rides the line of being too long for little kids and pretty scary when you throw in two fairly terrifying wolf attacks. It’s much darker than the animated film so parents should think twice before taking the tots to this – popping in the original would be my suggestion.
Synopsis: An adaptation of the classic fairy-tale about a monstrous prince and a young woman who fall in love.
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Thoughts: No, YOU teared up when you were watching this look at Beauty and the Beast…ok…I did too. One of Disney’s most beloved animated fairy tales comes to live action life from director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) in 2017 and it looks like, well, a beauty. We all know the story so even seeing some spoilerific scenes doesn’t deter me from counting down the days until this one gets released. Boasting an impressive cast with Emma Watson (The Bling Ring), Kevin Kline (The Big Chill), Emma Thompson (Beautiful Creatures), Sir Ian McKellen (X: Men – Days of Future Past), Josh Gad (Frozen), Luke Evans (The Raven), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games), and Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) all signing and dancing up a storm, anticipation is high for Beauty and the Beast to be another jewel in Disney’s recent slate of live action remakes of their cartoon classics.
Synopsis: An adaptation of the classic fairy-tale about a monstrous prince and a young woman who fall in love.
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Thoughts: Gosh darn it, there’s no denying that Disney is sure on a winning streak with re-purposing their animated fairy-tale canon as live action films. After the winning success of 2015’s Cinderella and the eye-popping visuals of The Jungle Book, Disney is unleashing the big guns in 2017 with their production of Beauty and the Beast. Already well represented in the flesh in a Broadway show and touring companies around the world, the stars are aligning for this to be one beauty of a movie. This first teaser gave me legit goosebumps, mostly due to the creative use of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s haunting score and the briefest of first looks at Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) as Belle and the voices of Ian McKellen (The Wolverine) and Ewan McGregor (August: Osage County) as Cogsworth and Lumiere, respectively. In future trailers I’m sure we’ll see more of Dan Stevens (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) as Beast, Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) as Gaston, Audra McDonald (Ricki and the Flash) as Garderobe, Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as Mrs. Potts, and Kevin Kline (The Big Chill) as Maurice. Directed by Bill Condon (Mr. Holmes), I’m praying it’s light on gimmicky CGI and retains the heart that made the animated film such an instant classic.
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.
Traditionally, August is the month when the wind-down begins. It never has any of the big tent pole pictures featured earlier in the summer and it can be a time when studios try to burn off some troubled pictures or try to skillfully position a sleeper hit. This August for sure had its share of high and low points, much like the summer that it capped off. I was still in frolic mode so didn’t get to as many reviews as I had wanted but sitting here now, in still sunny September, it’s time to review the movies I missed!
Movie Review ~ Shaun the Sheep Movie The Facts: Synopsis: When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely to the green grass of home. Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak Rated: PG Running Length: 85 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: I’m not saying that the U.S. doesn’t churn out a fine slate of family friendly films…but there’s a certain aura around the British imports that seem to work time and time again. Like Paddington earlier this year, Shaun the Sheep Movie was an unexpected delight, 85 minutes of smart comedy that’s deep enough for adults to not need a lobotomy to enjoy and zany enough to keep the attention of young tykes. Remarkable when you consider there’s not any dialogue in the movie aside from some rumbles and grumbles from human and animal characters, it’s a big screen adventure adapted from a popular television show. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was surprisingly entertained and quite impressed by the stop-motion animation. The film didn’t have great marketing so it slipped by most people but if it’s at your bargain movie theater, pack those kids up in your minivan and get to it…or treat yourself to a solo show.
Movie Review ~ Dark Places The Facts: Synopsis: Libby Day was only seven years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Twenty-five years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night. Stars: Charlize Theron, Drea de Matteo, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Tye Sheridan, Shannon Kook Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner Rated: R Running Length: 113 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: With the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girland seeing how fast the movie rights were snapped up, it’s only natural that her other two other books would take a similar path. Dark Places is the first of these to hit theaters (Sharp Objects is arriving as a television movie) and it shows one of two things, either the third time was the charm for Flynn or something was lost in translation. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book but I’m inclined to think that it’s the fault of the screenwriter because there are so many hazardous movie mistakes only a Hollywood writer could make. Though the mystery of a decades old killing spree coming back to haunt the sole survivor is initially intriguing, it quickly dissolves into a sticky mess that makes less sense the more secrets are revealed. It also doesn’t help that it’s badly miscast, with the usually impressive Charlize Theron relying on her ever-present trucker hat to do most of the acting for her…or maybe to hide her embarrassment at being looped into this turkey. Though it boasts a cast that typically gets the job done, no one quite seems to know what they’re doing…as if they hadn’t read the book before undertaking their scenes. The only worthwhile performance is Christina Hendricks as Theron’s murdered mom, bringing some dignity to a role that, as written, doesn’t earn it.
Movie Review ~ Fantastic Four The Facts: Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson, Reg E. Cathey Director: Josh Trank Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 100 minutes TMMM Score: (4/10) Review: Well, what can I saw bout the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said (loudly) already? Is it a lousy movie? Yeah, probably. Could it have been better? After two attempts to bring these characters to the big screen I’m not sure we’ll ever get a decent adaptation. What went so wrong? If you believe the outspoken director, it was studio interference that took his movie from a rich origin story to an overstuffed thundercloud of action movie clichés and fairly terrible special effects. If you are to believe the studio, it was that director Josh Trank (who debuted with the surprise hit Chronicle) disconnected from the material, a development that was costing time and money. Watching the film with this knowledge you can see the moment that something went awry. Because the thing is, the first 20-30 minutes of Fantastic Four is quite good, sensitive even. It’s a slow start and, let’s face it, audiences these days don’t want a slow start. They want their action and they want it now. The studio was happy to oblige and when it becomes a standard summer superhero movie my interest took a nosedive and it became a waiting game of the good guys defeating the bad guys so I could go home. I think the colossal outcry from fans and critics was a little on the dramatic side, even for a superhero film, but it’s not wholly unwarranted.
Movie Review ~ Ricki and the Flash The Facts: Synopsis: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. Stars: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield Director: Jonathan Demme Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 102 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: So we’ve all long agreed to the fact that Meryl Streep can do no wrong. You can love her for it or hate her for it, but she never fails to impressive me with each new role she takes on. From starring in The Iron Lady to taking a supporting role (cameo, really) in The Homesman, Streep seems to take a role if it speaks to her, no matter the size or commitment. It’s not hard to see why she was attracted to the rough rocker Ricki with her tattoos and braided hair, here was another opportunity for Streep to strip away the classical actress aura and go barefoot into the wild. She’s ably aided by Diablo Cody’s middling script, Jonathan Demme’s careful direction, and a supporting cast that don’t just play second fiddle to Streep’s lead guitar. I think there’s one too many musical numbers allowed to play longer than they should and Cody’s dialogue doesn’t have the snap that it used to. The whole thing is worth it though for a stellar scene between Streep and Audra McDonald, the new wife of Streep’s ex-husband. A sparring match spoken with calm and some care, the two women have an electricity between them that the film needed more of. It falls apart swiftly in its second half, but it’s not a totally out of tune affair.
Movie Review ~ The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Facts: Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant Director: Guy Ritchie Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 116 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: I never watched the television series on which this cool-as-can-be spy movie was based on but I’m pretty sure there weren’t the same amount of homoerotic jokes during the weekly adventures of Solo and Kuryakin. While I feel that director Guy Ritchie relied a bit too heavily on his similar experience at the helm of two Sherlock Holmes films, he brings his A game to this big screen adaption, sparing no expense when it came to production design. And that’s a good thing because though it’s never truly predictable, the plot is pretty thin. So it’s up to Ritchie and his cast to sell the film and they are more than up for the challenge. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is perfectly cast as the smooth Solo and he’s well matched with Armie Hammer’s (Mirror Mirror) simmering Kuryakin. The two trade barbs rich with double entendre while protecting Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) from falling into the hands of a sinister villainess (the scene stealing Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gastby). The film looks and sounds amazing, here’s hoping costume designer Joanna Johnston gets an Oscar nomination for her impeccable suits and stunning dresses.
Movie Review ~ End of the Tour The Facts: Synopsis: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Anna Chlumsky, Mickey Sumner Director: James Ponsoldt Rated: R Running Length: 106 minutes TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: I never thought I’d say the words “potential Oscar nominee Jason Segel” in a work of non-fiction…but then again I didn’t think two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill was possible either and look what happened there. Yes, Segel’s work as tormented writer David Foster Wallace is worthy of acclaim as the actor digs deep within and bypasses his comedic instincts to find the truth of the man behind the epic novel Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg (who also pops up in American Ultra) turns in strong work as well, though he’s really just a prop for Segel to react off of. Their five day road trip interview for Rolling Stone is the basis for the movie and it leads the men and the audience into interesting territory. It’s a movie you watch once, appreciate, then file away as something you can recommend to people and feel like you’ve done them a favor. One thing that must be said…Eisenberg needs to learn how to smoke a cigarette. Here and in American Ultra he looks a child does when they are mimicking their parent. Many things about Eisenberg annoy me and this is just another thing to add to the list.
Movie Review ~ The Diary of a Teenage Girl The Facts: Synopsis: A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Stars: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig Director: Marielle Heller Rated: R Running Length: 102 minutes TMMM Score: (7.5/10) Review: It’s nice to go into a movie with only a basic logline and a list of the actors featured. I didn’t know what to expect from The Diary of a Teenage Girl but whatever I thought, the movie surprised me in the best ways. The story of a young girl’s sexual awakening in San Francisco is gloriously set in the mid ‘70s, an era of freedom and discovery. While some may be off put by the relationship between an older man and an underage girl (star-in-the-making Bel Powley is older than she looks, thankfully), they’d be missing the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel on which the film is based. It’s a frank flick that frequently finds its actors in the buff but doesn’t feel gratuitous because these characters are coming into themselves, marveling at a new experience they never knew existed. I appreciated that the film pulled no punches in showing nudity and discussing sexual situations and director Marielle Heller shows respect for all people involved. It’s a bold film with animated sequences, a killer soundtrack, and splendid performances.
The dog days of summer brought three other notable releases to theaters, though I’m guessing by the poor box office returns of two of them that the studios (and actors) wish the films had just quietly gone away.
I hadn’t heard a thing about American Ultra until two weeks before it was due to arrive, strange considering it starred Kirsten Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. The two aren’t serious box office draws but they do have a fanbase that might have helped build more buzz for the stoner comedy. Not that it would have made the film any better because at its best it was a mildly diverting mix of comedy and gratuitous violence and at its worst it was a merely the thing you watched because you’d seen everything else at the theater and wanted some time in the air conditioning. It’s bad when you don’t know what the movie is about, but it’s worse when it feels like the filmmakers don’t have a clue either.
I’ve gone on record as no fan of director Noah Baumbach and very on the fence for actress Greta Gerwig so I wasn’t at all looking forward to their latest collaboration, Mistress America. Once again, the universe has a way of loving to see me humbled and I emerged from the screening not only in a damn fine mood but the desire to see it again. That rarely happens with any movie, let alone a Baumbach/Gerwig joint so that should tell you something about the quality of this movie that is firmly in a New York state of mind. Sure, it has its share of problems but they don’t ultimately detract from the overall enjoyment the film brings.
Finally, there’s the sad, sad case of We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron’s latest attempt to be a serious dramatic actor. While I think it’s Efron’s best dramatic performance to date and didn’t totally hate the film, audiences sure did and it became the third biggest box office failure of all time…pretty stunning considering how many other bad movies have been released and made at least a few million during its opening weekend. I think the film got a bum rap and just was released at the wrong time, but it should hopefully send a message to Efron that he needs to spend some time figuring out exactly where his place is in Hollywood because he is, like his character here, totally lost.
Synopsis: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family
Release Date: August 7, 2015
Thoughts: What you have here is a movie with a stacked deck: an Oscar-winning director (Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs), an Oscar-winning screenwriter (Diablo Cody, Juno), and Oscar darling Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Into the Woods, etc.). Here’s the thing though…this first look at the trio’s Ricki and the Flash looks pretty ordinary by most conventional standards. I’ve no doubt that Demme, Cody, and Streep will make something out of the slim set-up but the first preview for the anticipated film gives too much away (even the ending!) and has enough of those eye-rolling dramatic one-line statements to fill up my Give Me a Break tank. No matter, I’d see anything any of these Oscar winners do individually…so I’m interested to see what their collaboration brings. Surely Streep could end up with another Oscar nom for her efforts, but might we also see her perform Jenny Lewis’ original song on the telecast too?
Synopsis: A group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a posh South Carolina winter house after the funeral of one of their friends.
Stars: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Some movies set in the 80’s just do not age well. I can’t tell you how many films I’ve had fond memories of until I took them for another spin and squirmed uncomfortably at their failure to have the same hold on me years later. On the other hand you have the films that age like a fine wine, getting richer and more meaningful as they age and such a film is 1983’s The Big Chill, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar nominated ensemble dramedy.
Taking place over a long weekend for a funeral of a close friend that dies suddenly, The Big Chill introduces us to a group of baby boomers that are all at different phases of their adulthood. Kevin Kline (In & Out) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs, Jagged Edge) are the stable married couple, the ones that their less mature friends look to for support and guidance. Gathering their old college friends in their expansive South Carolina home, Kline and Close (who was Oscar nominated for her work) are perfect hosts…ones that allow their friends the chance to let loose, grieve, and cavort like they did when they were younger.
As we all know, there is a time to put away childhood playthings but in Kasdan’s eyes people need to let go in their own way at their own pace. Saying goodbye to their friend (an unbilled Kevin Costner) means saying goodbye to a part of their youth they can never get back and for some that’s a frightening notion to wrap their heads around.
Hollywood playboy Sam (Tom Berenger) rekindles a romance with married Karen (JoBeth Williams) while actors like Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) and William Hurt (The Host, Altered States) find themselves at different crossroads of their romantic lives. I’ve always found Mary Kay Place’s nebbish attorney the most interesting yet consistently frustrating character as she struggles to pinpoint exactly what she wants in life…and when she does the solution surprises everyone.
As famous as the film, the soundtrack to The Big Chill is remarkable, and not only because nearly all of it was added in after the movie was shot. All the choices from music of the present day to the folk/rock music of the past blends so well together, resulting in a bestselling soundtrack that takes on a life of its own.
Kasdan’s script is extremely funny with a dry wit that speaks to the frustrations of the Baby Boomer generation yet still remains apt to modern audiences viewing it thirty years later. After all, becoming an adult hasn’t gotten any easier in the decades since The Big Chill was first released and the movie is a lasting reminder that even in the worst of circumstances it’s nice to have a group around you as screwed up as you are to help you find support.
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Synopsis: Three sixty-something friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.
Release Date: November 1, 2013
Thoughts: Headlined by four Oscar winners, Last Vegas is a movie your mom will probably ask you to take her to. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it says something about the type of film this will end up being…a matinee crowd pleaser for those of a certain age that have worn out their copies of Grumpy Old Men on VHS. I’m an old soul at heart and a fan of the four men so I’ll overlook this unremarkable trailer and try to focus on the positives here…most notably being Morgan Freeman (Oblivion, Now You See Me) cutting loose near the end of the preview.
Synopsis: A midwestern teacher questions his sexuality after a former student makes a comment about him at the Academy Awards.
Stars: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Bob Newhart, Gregory Jbara, Shaw Hatosy, Zak Orth, Lauren Ambrose, Alexandra Holden
Director: Frank Oz
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Here’s a case of a movie with a preview and a set-up that works better than the film itself. The premise of a small town teacher being outed at a national level by a former student nearly on the eve of his wedding has comic mileage written all over it. The problem is the movie itself is so silly, so frustrating, so not satisfying that it trumps any positivity you had for the film going in. Though I’ve tried on more than one occasion to find some appreciation for In & Out since it was released in 1997 the appeal of this movie still escapes me.
Maybe it’s because the movie takes place in what could best be described as an alternate reality…an oddball version of the modern world as we know it. That’s not entirely by accident, I don’t think, but is a by-product of writer Paul Rudnick’s kooky style that may work for some films (Jeffrey, The Addams Family) but really fail him when going for a more (ahem) straight-forward tale.
Hey, this is the movies so there’s something to be said for some suspension of disbelief but In & Out pushes the line too far…starting with an Oscar ceremony that defies description. Rudnick is known for his playful skewering of Hollywood and its vain nature under his pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner and he goes for broke in showcasing Hollywood’s biggest night as a name-dropping, in-joke telling, overblown affair.
When mega star (and judging from the clips mega-untalented) Cameron Drake (Dillon) outs his high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) when he accepts his Best Actor Oscar it sends Howard’s small town life into chaos as the gossip hungry media descend on his quaint town just as he’s preparing to be married to his seriously patient fiancé (Cusack, Working Girl). A beloved teacher and member of the community, everyone seems to turn their back on Howard when the gay rumors start flying.
This is what really makes me mad about the movie. Yes, I see that Rudnick is trying to make a point about acceptance but having an entire town turn into ignorant cartoons (“Did this Barbra Streisand do something to you?”) is icky to watch. Even if this was released in 1997, I think the world was a little farther along in acceptance at that time. The way that this tight-knit community cold shoulders Howard is not funny, it’s unsettling.
To be fair, the film does have a few nice moments…notably Cusack’s profanity laced tirade late in the film that probably earned her her Oscar nomination. There’s also a too short scene between the older women of the town (including Debbie Reynolds as Kline’s mother) discussing some of their secrets they haven’t shared. While it’s nice to see rugged star Tom Selleck play against type, there’s no explanation as to why his Hollywood reporter character is granted access to film anywhere he pleases…including Howard’s wedding and a graduation ceremony that he’d have no business being at.
The whole affair as directed by Frank Oz is merely in service to Rudnick’s clumsily executed plot that puts people where they need to be for no other reason than it’s what Rudnick wanted. There are some serious continuity problems as it relates to cross country travel and the movie seems to exist without any observance of days of the week.
Even with likable lead Kline and a few sly turns by a cast packed with trusted character actors, this film stinks…though I’ve tried to wake up and smell the roses a few times the smell of failed opportunity is still all over the movie.