Synopsis: A court-appointed legal guardian defrauds her older clients and traps them under her care. But her latest mark comes with some unexpected baggage.
Stars: Rosamund Pike, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Peter Dinklage, Chris Messina, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Nicolas Logan, Kevin McCormick, Michael Malvesti, Liz Eng, Alicia Witt
Director: J. Blakeson
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: A lot of good came out of 2014’s Gone Girl. For one thing, after the cool reception of the big screen adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it gave director David Fincher an opportunity to bounce back with another hotly anticipated film based on a number one bestselling novel. Then there was leading man Ben Affleck’s comeback story that was just kicking off after a Best Picture Oscar win for 2012’s Argo and the general feeling in Hollywood that he was robbed of a Best Director nomination. Though he was soon to feel the heat from the comic book nerdom in the unwinnable battle of playing Batman for several films in the ill-fated DC Extended Universe, he was an interesting choice for the role but ultimately a smart move on Fincher’s part.
The real reason we’ll continue to talk about Gone Girl long after people have stopped debating the merits of the book vs. the movie is Rosamund Pike’s Oscar-nominated performance as a missing wife that may not be as missing as we’re led to believe. Pike won critics and audiences over in how she brought this character that was so complex and unreliable on the page to life, adding in extra nuances the book wasn’t able to supply due to the limitations of its medium. The character is unforgettable in so many ways and some of that is the collaboration between Pike, her director, and her co-star but it’s mostly Pike allowing an at times unlikable character to speak up and out, eventually burrowing under our skin to strangely become someone to cheer on.
After all the hoopla, you’d have expected there to be more to the Pike peak and while the actress had a solid resume before the film and nomination, her films over the last half decade have been slightly on the lackluster side. Most have been supporting turns that haven’t allowed her the chance to shine like she could and when she does take center stage, like in 2020’s Radioactive, the films don’t quite rise up to meet her. It’s a thrill to report, then, that right off the bat in 2021 Pike is back with I Care a Lot, the supremely entertaining new Netflix movie that premiered back in September 2020 at the Toronto International Film Festival where it received a nice round of notices. Even better, Pike’s character feels like a slight riff on her Gone Girl persona and while it doesn’t seek to repeat the same work she did there, you see similarities in the characters so much that you almost wonder if Pike wouldn’t consider Amy from Gone Girl and Marla from I Care a Lot kindred spirits.
Meet Marla Grayson, a court-appointed guardian for a number of elderly or at-risk adults that need her expertise. According to the law, she has access to their finances and authority over where they live, their medical care, their routines, and what they eat. Even if they have family that are living, as long as she can convince the court she is better suited to take on these adults as her ward, she’s in charge. It’s a wicked little con, this predatory guardianship masquerading as elder care, and no one is doing it better than Marla Grayson. Sadly a concept based in reality, predatory guardians search for seniors with a history of health issues and either get them to sign over their rights or have the courts make the final call. Once the guardianship is in place, it’s hard to get it dissolved without the person under the care making a direct statement they are well enough to care for themselves. Easier said than done considering how these elderly individuals are “cared for” with the types of treatment they are subjected to by their “guardians.” With her razor-sharp bob, perfect make-up, and always on trend clothes, Marla (Pike) is the very picture of having her act together. How could the court see her as anything but looking out for the best interest of her clients?
Working with her second in command and live-in lover Fran (Eiza González, Paradise Hills), Marla is always looking for that perfect mark, or ‘cherry’, someone with no immediate family or living relatives that could show up to get in her way or claim any inheritance monies at the time of death. One day, that fruitful horse comes in for Marla in the form of Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest, Let Them All Talk), a woman in her late ‘60s living alone in a big, beautiful house and sitting on a pile of cash. Jennifer’s doctor is getting a kickback from Marla by tipping her off to patients that may be good targets for her type of service as is a local nursing home manager that can charge a lot of funds for his care services so all it takes is a stop in family court (without Jennifer present) and an emotional plea for Jennifer’s ‘safety’ and Marla has a new ward and what looks to be a big payday. Before Jennifer knows it, her house is gone and her possessions have been auctioned off with Marla using the money from the sale to pay her own salary. There’s just one rather large problem…this ward isn’t as alone in the world as Marla thinks.
Writer/director J. Blakeson wisely eschews the “based on true events” angle that could have been taken and opts instead for an original story that allows for a healthy helping of ice-cold bitterness traveling throughout a number of the characters. In some films, this could become a real drag and stagnate into sameness fairly quickly but Blakeson’s film has such an energy to it that watching people take bites at one another only propels it forward with more adrenaline. Marla is unapologetic in her mission to succeed and isn’t deterred by threats on a verbal or physical level. While we don’t get much in the way of her backstory save for a brief (and telling) reference to her mother, an early confrontation between her and the son of a ward gives the impression she made a decision a number of years back to face all challenges head on and suffer any consequences as a result with open arms.
As one of maybe ten people on the planet that has yet to watch Game of Thrones, I can’t say I’ve yet joined the Peter Dinkalge (Three Christs) fan club based on the films I’ve seen him in so far, yet his co-starring role in I Care a Lot is likely the most I’ve enjoyed him from start to finish. His first appearance is long after the tone of the film has been set by Pike and Blakeson, so he struggles with some adjustment at first and even if he arguably never fully gets that balance right, he makes a nice foil for Pike and a worthy sparring partner in several scenes near the end of the picture. I only wish he wasn’t always trying to be a ‘character’ instead of just letting his acting happen naturally…he consistently appears to be working harder than everyone else for no real reason and it winds up shining the wrong spotlight on him.
It’s Pike’s picture all the way no matter how you spin it and it’s a shame there likely isn’t room for her on the Oscar ballot this year because here’s another complicated female role that deserves recognition. Far from a decent human, insanely stubborn, and comically driven to succeed by stepping over anyone and anything without saying ‘excuse me’, Marla will still earn your admiration in spite of all her behavior. That’s says a lot not just about Blakeson’s screenplay but in how Pike has layered Marla to have more to her than we originally see. It’s not a softer side, per se, but it is someone that just wants to be taken seriously and to play by the rules…even if the rules may not ultimately be fair. Movies that walk an edge like this and make an anti-hero the star of the show can be a turn-off for people but I appreciated that Blakeson saw Marla’s character through to the uncompromising end…her hard shell exterior isn’t an act so don’t waste your time waiting for her to break.
Regrettably faltering right when it needs to fly the highest, I Care a Lot almost makes it to the finish line maintaining the high level of entertainment it kept up pace with for its run time…and that’s too bad because it gets so close. Take that as a minor quibble if you will but it nagged at me, especially seeing that Blakeson seemed to have everything so snappy and under control. All said, this is one of the best Netflix offerings in recent memory and makes for an all-around crackling watch. Don’t miss it.
Synopsis: A boundary-pushing psychiatrist treats three schizophrenic patients who believe they are Jesus Christ.
Stars: Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford, Charlotte Hope, Julianna Margulies
Director: Jon Avnet
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: It seems like a rite of passage for every serious actor (or actor that wants to be taken seriously) to play a psych patient at some point in their career. Watching Three Christs, you get the feeling the three actors that signed up for this slow rolling drama felt as if this was their chance to cross the padded room experience off their list. The trouble is, they’ve found themselves in a movie that isn’t very interesting outside of its central subjects and there’s not enough warmth within any of those characters to keep audiences engaged for its lengthy run time.
Based on Milton Rokeach’s 1954 nonfiction book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, the psychiatric case study was adapted into a narrative screenplay by director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) and Eric Nazarian. From the beginning, with Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) appearing bruised and worn-down speaking into a tape recorder so that he may, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘set the record straight’, Nazarian and Avent have a hard time translating Rokeach’s landmark study into anything compelling. If anything, they’ve taken what was evidently a radical approach to treatment of paranoid schizophrenia that wasn’t entirely embraced by the psychiatric community and reduced it to a series of vignettes that pits a doctor (Gere) and his team against his more traditional colleagues.
As the three men believing themselves to be Christ, Walton Goggins (Them That Follow), Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks), and Peter Dinklage (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) have varying degrees of success throughout the movie in their interpretation of mental illness. While Rokeach’s study is fairly descriptive to the degrees of how the schizophrenia affected each man, all three seem to be operating largely on the same level of energy with Goggins opting for the most expressive approach, Whitford for the most muted, and Dinklage the most practical. Instead of it being a showcase of their talents, it just gets awkward because you become distracted by Dinklage’s droll insistence on adopting another poor British dialect and Goggins tendency to bug his eyes behind thick glasses that already magnify them. Whitford likely emerges the most sympathetic because his affectations don’t manifest themselves as outwardly bombastic as the other two.
Per usual, Gere is all business with no one more earnest about the plight of his character than the actor himself. Gere is always good with convincingly advocating for the roles he is playing; whether they are nice people or not, if they are wrong, he’ll convince us they’re right. That’s troublesome here because many of the doctors methods aren’t ethical and, while breaking the rules may lead to breakthroughs, it doesn’t always mean it was the right choice. The doctor learns that the hard way. Also learning things the hard way? Any fan of Julianna Margulies (The Upside) hoping to see her get to do something interesting. Aside from a brief suggestion she’s dealing with her own troubling vices, her role is largely relegated to the wife that stands at the doorway to her husband’s study and asks “when are you coming to bed?” As the token fuddy-duddy naysayer, Kevin Pollak (Indian Summer) get some mileage as Gere’s colleague who looks down his nose at the new doctor’s questionable methods. Only Jane Alexander’s (Testament) brief appearance as a respected professional willing to listen to new ways of thinking strikes the kind of interesting note the rest of the movie sorely needed.
Three Christs was filmed in 2016 and had it’s premiere in September 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Just now receiving its release three years later suggests that no one was in a rush to release this movie and you shouldn’t be in a rush to see it either. It’s a movie for fans of these actors only…and even then your mileage may vary based on how long of a leash you’re willing to give them.
Review: The ultimate villain of Avengers: Infinity War is going to be anyone that spoils what happens in this all-star extravaganza, the culmination of 19 films over 10 years that have made up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a true believer in the power of a spoiler-free experience, I’m reluctant to even talk too much about the movie here, lest I give away even a whiff of the game-changing developments worked up by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. However further you venture to read, know that Avengers: Infinity War may be the first toll of a bell signaling the end of an era but there’s still a few clangs yet to ring out.
With the action picking up two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film wastes no time in diving into the action as big baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice) continues his quest to procure six Infinity Stones by any means necessary. With two stones in his possession by the time the title card is displayed, you get the distinct impression that Thanos isn’t going to be defeated easily no matter what brand of superhero gang sets about to stop him. Sending minions to Earth to gather stones protected by Vision (Paul Bettany, Transcendence) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County), Thanos searches for the remaining gems in truly out of this world locations.
If Thanos secures all six stones in his gauntlet he’ll have power over the entire universe and be able to wipe out half the population with the snap of his very large and in charge fingers. Never fear, though, because according to Marvel there are about 64 main characters featured and while not all of them get as much screen time as you’d think, there is often more than enough action to go around. Markus and McFeely concoct some believable ways to separate the various heroes as they unite to stop Thanos from achieving his goal. Even better, the combos of who is working with whom are surprising and often quite entertaining…but in an effort to maintain some suspense, you’ll have to see the movie to find out who teams up.
With the exception of two notable stars (again…not telling) the gang is all here, down to supporting players that haven’t been seen for a while. Even if A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow (Thanks for Sharing) get limited screen time it’s nice to see these familiar faces along the way because their appearances act like mini Easter eggs, rewarding the actors as well as devoted audience members. Arriving a little over two months after Black Panther smashed all box office records, it would have been easy to do what Justice League did after the success of Wonder Woman and give a bit more attention to a breakout star like T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up) but the filmmakers wisely keep things level.
The main stars that anchor the action are Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., The Judge), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Vacation), and Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World) with some nice supporting turns from Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher). In hindsight, it feels like the popular Guardians of the Galaxy are favored in the action ever so slightly more than a few of the veteran Avengers but watching the movie in the moment there is a greater feeling of equity. There’s little room for new characters to be introduced and when they are, like Peter Dinklage’s (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) painfully serious but ultimately silly turn, it feels like time is being taken away from the people we want to see.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stuffed this prize package with an abundance of get-your-moneys-worth riches, from eye popping visual effects to spectacularly pitched action sequences. The finale is a showstopper, an all-out blitzkrieg assault that takes place in multiple places with numerous characters and still it’s never hard to follow what’s going on. It takes a special hand to guide these types of action set-pieces and their fourth film for Marvel has the Russo Brothers finding full scale power in their directing. That style in direction marries nicely with Trent Opaloch’s (Elysium) stunning cinematography that isn’t overrun by the dynamite visual effects. Alan Silvestri’s (The Croods) score is, as always, instantly recognizable and eternally heroic.
Do yourself a favor and get your bathroom breaks out before the film starts because at 156 minutes from start to finish it’s a commitment. You can’t afford to miss much, though, so even a well-timed pee break might set you back, especially in the last ten minutes. As with all Marvel movies, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t leave until the final credit has disappeared because there’s only one post-credit scene and it’s at the very end. Missing this one in particular would be a mistake.
The next Avengers movie is set for release in May 2019 and by that time two more Marvel films will have seen the light of day (Ant-Man and the Wasp in July and Captain Marvel in March 2019). Not every question is resolved by the end of Avengers: Infinity War and I’m more than interested to see what gets answered between now and next year…just do yourself a favor and see this one before anyone can spoil what happens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…or that I let the cat out of the bag either.
Synopsis: In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.
Stars: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes
Director: Martin McDonagh
Running Length: 115 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review: I’m going to not-so-secretly admit something I’ve been holding inside for a few decades now, I never understood why Frances McDormand won Best Actress for Fargo in 1996. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from McDormand because she’s been a consistent actress since she began but I’ve been scratching my head over the years about that win (maybe that’s why my bald spot grows bigger each year…). Sure, her performance was rock solid and deserving of attention but I always felt it was more of supporting role that landed in the wrong category in an otherwise weak year. I’m ok with it…I just don’t understand it.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me say that McDormand’s performance in the new film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is truly one for the record books and worthy of all the awards that can be thrown at her. This will, I’m sure, enrage McDormand (Promised Land) to no end seeing as how in interviews she laments these types of accolades but if ever there was a role best suited for her, it’s this one. Mildred Hayes is wily, profane, blunt, and honest and McDormand pulls absolutely no punches as she takes this woman through an emotional journey that might not heal her broken heart but slaps a strong band-aid on it so she can solider on.
At the start of the movie, Mildred is driving on a backcountry road near her house that isn’t used as much now that a new highway has gone in. Noticing three billboards in disrepair displaying fragments of advertisements from years past, she gets an idea that sparks a furor in town, reopening old wounds for the town that have never healed for Hayes and her family. Mildred’s daughter was raped and murdered and no one has as of yet been brought to justice. The police don’t even have any suspects or leads to go off of. Feeling like the justice system has failed her, she rents space on the billboards and puts up two statements and a question meant to shock the police force and it’s chief (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me 2, in a damn fine performance) into action.
Action is taken all right, but the energy generated is more toward Mildred and creating various forms of pressure put on her to take the billboards down. Most of the town loves its revered family man chief of police, especially his troubled deputy (Sam Rockwell, The Way Way Back) who takes the billboards as a personal attack. Already in trouble with a police brutality charge likely racially motivated, the deputy becomes unhinged and is willing to do whatever it takes not to help Mildred’s cause but to impel her into silence. Lucky for her (and us), Mildred isn’t one to back down as she shows when a dentist friend of the chief chastises her and then attempts some oral surgery without anesthetic.
Director and screenwriter Martin McDonagh scored a sizable indie hit with 2008’s In Bruges and followed that up with the clever Seven Psychopaths. As he’s shown in film and even more with his skilled plays, McDonagh isn’t afraid of a little blood, violence, and profanity and he brings the big guns to Ebbing. People get burned, shot, bloodied, thrown out second floor windows, and most of those are only periphery characters. All that brutality might be something to recoil from but McDonagh balances the bloodshed with multiple emotional punches to the gut in the form of developments you’ll be hard pressed to see coming.
This is a twisty, twisted narrative and it works throughout the film. When you get to go to a lot of movies each year you begin to see sameness to what you’re watching but with Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri I felt like I was seeing a picture with a purpose. The performances are note-perfect (especially anytime McDormand and Rockwell share the screen) with effective supporting turns from John Hawkes (Lincoln) and Mildred’s ex-husband, Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird) playing their son, Peter Dinklage (The Boss) as Mildred’s would-be suitor, and Clarke Peters (John Wick) as another police chief who comes into play late in the film. I also enjoyed Caleb Landry Jones (The Florida Project) as the man who rents the billboards out to Mildred and pays a costly fee and Sandy Martin (Lovelace) as Rockwell’s ornery mother. For a movie so bleak it can be hard to stick an effective ending in but McDonagh manages to tie the picture up without a tidy bow that remains wholly satisfying.
With the emotional knob cranked up to 12, this isn’t an easy movie to watch but it’s one I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s a story that feels like it could happen anywhere and, sadly, probably has and that makes it all the more resonant to this viewer.
Synopsis: A titan of industry is sent to prison after she’s caught for insider trading. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart, not everyone she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget.
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Cecily Strong, Timothy Simons
Director: Ben Falcone
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: I think I’ve finally figured out what makes a Melissa McCarthy movie good…humanity. After grimacing through The Heat and fighting the urge to flee from Tammy, I started coming around to McCarthy again in 2015’s Spy. Now comes The Boss and though early previews were, I admit, fairly entertaining with some laughs on a level that few trailers can drum up, I was still mighty suspicious. McCarthy was re-teaming with her husband, Ben Falcone, who would direct her in a film from a script the two of them wrote with Steve Mallory. Could it be another Tammy waiting to happen?
Thankfully, it’s not and it’s largely because, like Spy, McCarthy’s isn’t playing a dim-wit monster that growls and gnaws her way through the film. No, she’s playing an actual human being that’s drawn with some fairly nuanced broad strokes. Though it’s far from being the kind of solid material that earned her an Oscar nomination in Bridesmaids, The Boss finds McCarthy continuing her ascent into figuring out what kind of roles she not only succeeds with, but that audiences respond favorably to. As in Tammy, she’s playing a fairly irksome character, but it’s one grounded in a kind of savvy reality that Tammy never could capture.
Abandoned at birth and by several adoptive families along the way, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) has risen to the top as a motivational guru that prides herself on empowering women to take what they want without apologizing for it. Her past disappointments in people have kept her cold though, and she’s brazenly rough with anyone that tries to get close. Her long-suffering assistant Claire (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is tired of her antics but as a single mom she needs the job, no matter how frustrating her employer is.
When an old-flame now business rival of Michelle’s (Peter Dinklage, Pixels) turns her over to the government for insider trading, Michelle loses everything as she spends six months in jail for her crimes. After she gets out, she moves-in with Claire and her young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) and before long has started her own empire to rival a Girl Scout-like troupe.
Performance wise, as I said before McCarthy resists the urge to snarl her way through the movie in favor of showing that Darnell’s nastiness comes from a place of personal protection…if she makes sure people know she doesn’t give two hoots, then they can’t hurt her. As is typical, McCarthy isn’t afraid to throw herself into the physical comedy bits, which means that Darnell trips and crashes down stairs, gets tossed into a wall by a sleeper sofa, and brawls with a gaggle of young girls and their mothers.
Bell does exasperated well and plays nicely as second banana and straight woman to McCarthy. The actresses have a nice rapport and during the gag reel at the end of the movie they seem like they genuinely like each other as well. There’s nice supporting turns from Anderson as one of the rare child actors that can actually act without being obnoxiously precocious and Tyler Labine (Monsters University) makes for a nice romantic interest for Bell, though the film really doesn’t need the extra distraction. Kathy Bates (Titanic) shared the best scene with McCarthy in Tammy and parlays that into a brief but memorable cameo as a former mentor of Darnell’s. I feel like there was more of Bates performance left on the cutting room floor, but I guess we’ll have to wait for some deleted scenes to see if it was wise to excise them.
I’m going to go on record now and say that I do not now and have not ever liked Dinklage. His mock seriousness only goes so far and while I gave him some slack in Pixels, he’s easily the worst thing about The Boss. Playing a mix of Derek Zoolander and Dr. Evil, Dinklage is in a totally different movie and doesn’t seem to care. Seeing the impish Dinklage fawning over the large and in charge McCarthy is more of a sight gag than anything else and it’s one that wears off almost immediately.
Though the film doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it could be 15 minutes shorter and exist as a much tighter comedy…but too often McCarthy, Falcone, and Mallory don’t know when to quit or cut as gags go on too long and some conflated dramatic tension is introduced for no real reason other than because the Screenwriting 101 book must have said so. When the film hits its target, it’s a solid bullseye for laughs but when it misses it’s mark it starts to be the worst thing a comedy can be…boring.
The Boss isn’t as fun as Spy but it does have its moments where the time spent feels worth it. If anything, it shows that McCarthy is capable of writing herself a character that’s from planet earth. It’s silly entertainment…but it’s entertainment all the same.
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.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Boo Boo Stewart, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit
Director: Bryan Singer
Running Length: 131 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Ok, I believe by now we’ve established the kind of reader-critic relationship that allows me to be as open and honest with you as I possibly can. So, I the spirit of putting it all out there on the table I need to tell you that the X-Men and all their variations have never really been my thing. Aside from a childhood desire to beat the SEGA game, I’ve never truly warmed to Professor X and his motley crew of mutant heroes and villains…even after seven films.
Though the overreaching message of the film (we’re all mutants in some form or another and that’s ok) is a positive one that has the ability to speak to anyone, there’s something about the over eagerness of the filmmakers to constantly “get it right” that I find myself enjoying the spectacle at a distance.
It doesn’t help that the quality of the movies hasn’t maintained any sort of consistency since X-Men was released in 2000. The first sequel improved upon its predecessor but when original director Bryan Signer vacated the series for Superman Returns the third entry landed with a thud. Spinning off the series into a poorly executed Wolverine origin story further dug a hole for the franchise before 2011’s X-Men: First Class saved a listing ship. I didn’t dislike 2013’s The Wolverine as much as my colleagues but by that point fans were a little sensitive to their mutants getting less than stellar cinematic adventures.
Now we’ve arrived in the present with X-Men: Days of Future Past…but we won’t stay there long as the enjoyable seventh entry of the series is more interested in looking back than moving forward. There’s a lot (A LOT) going on in Simon Kinberg’s script…so much so that I often found myself struggling to remember how all the pieces fit, who is who, and what decade we’re in. After an opening in a desolate not-too-distant future, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Prisoners, who must have been paid in how many bicep veins are present) is sent back to the early 70’s by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) to prevent rouge Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) from setting a series of events into motion in the past that will have a deadly impact for the future.
Juggling two separate time frames, returning director Bryan Singer manages to keep everything in balance for the most part. Having watched X-Men: First Class directly before seeing this new film, I was impressed that Singer and Kinberg carved out a new path while keeping continuity through some difficult loose ends previous director Matthew Vaughn left for the new crew to figure out.
Less impressive is an overall humdrum feeling the movie left me with after all was said and done. I’m not suggesting the movie isn’t terrific popcorn entertainment or doesn’t contain a handful of impressively filmed sequences (like Evan Peters as Quicksilver showing off his talents while Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” plays in the background) but it all feels overly calculated, designed to allow the franchise to continue without really having to answer for past mistakes.
With Lawrence’s star gone supernova since the last installment, her part is significantly beefed up here. Mystique has never been so front and center and Lawrence manages to eek out some nice moments under her full body make-up. As the younger Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy (Trance) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) don’t seem quite as invested this time around, but then again there’s not the same kind of character discovery available to them. Jackman can play the role in his sleep…and by now it looks like he is.
Moving fast through its 131 minute running length, the end of the film sets up the next volume of X-Men escapades nicely…but then again if you really think about it that’s all the movie seemed interested in in the first place. Fairly and frequently violent for a PG-13 film, parents should think twice before bringing young children along…Godzilla has less death/carnage in it.
With all my griping about overall ulterior motives, I’ll admit the movie fits neatly into the mode of summer blockbuster by combining all the right elements into the mix. I think fans will look back and see the mechanics of the script in years to come…but by that time these will be the true days of future past.