The Founder


Ray Kroc worshiping at the Golden Arches.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Weinstein) Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Patrick Wilson, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Griff Furst, Wilbur Fitzgerald, David de Vries, Andrew Benator, Cara Mantella, Randall Taylor, Lacey King, Jeremy Madden, Rebecca Ray, Adam Rosenberg, Jacinte Blankenship. Directed by John Lee Hancock

 

Most of us are more than familiar with McDonald’s. It is Main Street, America on a global scale; on a typical day the fast food chain will feed something like 8% of the world’s population. They are convenient and in a fast-paced world where meals can be afterthoughts, a necessity. But how did they get to be that way?

Salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) is having a spectacular lack of success selling his five spindle milkshake mixer to diners and drive-ins in the Midwest. When he gets an order for five of the machines from a burger joint in San Bernadino, California, he is gratified – gratified but amazed. The operation he visits is staggering; lines snake through the parking lot. Counter service only, he makes his order for a cheeseburger, fries and a coke and gets it delivered to the window in less than a minute. Dumbfounded, he sits down to eat his meal – and it’s actually pretty darn good. The restaurant, named McDonald’s for the McDonald brothers who own it, looks promising as visions of a franchise operation begin to dance in his head.

At first the brothers – Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Lynch) aren’t too interested. They’d tried something like it before and ended up with franchise owners adding their own flair – fried chicken, barbecue, straying from the formula of keeping the menu simple and the quality high. Kroc thought he could make that happen by being a hands-on boss. As it turned out, that didn’t quite work out the way he expected.

At home, his wife Ethel (Dern) lives a life of loneliness and boredom, living for those precious times when they go to dinner at the local club. He uses those occasions to snare investors and Ethel tries to help in her own way. Soon though Ray’s dreams are fast outstripping those of his partners as well as those of his wife. The wife (Cardellini) of a potential investor (Wilson) catches his eye. As for the McDonald brothers, they are content with having a quality restaurant and what Ray is looking to build is more than they intended to take on and their reluctance to change or to compromise quality becomes a major frustration for Ray. He becomes aware that the biggest hurdle in making McDonald’s a household name are the McDonald brothers themselves.

I’m not too sure what the executives at the McDonald’s corporation think of this movie; they are in a very real sense the descendants of Ray Kroc and they owe their position to his vision and his drive to achieve it. I think they appreciate the free advertising but Ray doesn’t come off terribly well here in many ways although he did do a lot of the less savory things that are depicted here, including taking credit for some of the aspects of the image that the McDonald brothers introduced (like the golden arches) and effectively excising the brothers from the history of the company (he labeled an Illinois franchise McDonald’s #1 when in fact it was the ninth store to open). Keaton imbues Ray with a surfeit of charm without ignoring the man’s more vicious traits; he also gives Ray enough energy and charisma that when he does some pretty bad things, one still roots for him. Maybe there’s something in that secret sauce that compels us to but I think that Keaton’s performance has a lot to do with it too.

The film only covers a short period in the history of the fast food Goliath and doesn’t really get into the globalization of the brand or examine the effect of their product on the obesity epidemic in this country which has disappointed some critics but not this one. There are plenty of things one can get into concerning the pros and cons of McDonald’s from their catchy advertisements, their shrewd marketing to children with the play areas and Ronald McDonald and their recent move to adding more nutritional selections on their menu and offering a wider variety of food in general. I think the movie accomplished what it set out to do and examine how McDonald’s went from being a small roadside burger joint in California to the global giant it is today and that’s plenty of story for one movie.

There’s plenty of dramatic conflict that goes on but this simply isn’t going to appeal to those who are easily bored. Although there might be a niche group interest for those who are interested in how corporate entrepreneurs achieved their success, I’m not sure if America (or anywhere else) is waiting for movies about Col. Sanders, Sam Walton (founder of Wal*Mart) or Bill Gates. I did find Keaton’s performance fascinating and that kept enough of my interest to give this a mild recommendation.

REASONS TO GO: Keaton delivers a solid performance.
REASONS TO STAY: Some might find this a bit boring.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All of the McDonald’s restaurants depicted in the film were built from scratch in parking lots and vacant lots because producers couldn’t find suitable locations that matched the look of the film that they were aiming for.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Social Network
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: It’s Not My Fault (And I Don’t Care Anyway)

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Spider-Man goes electric.

Spider-Man goes electric.

(2014) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Jamie Foxx, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, B.J. Novak, Michael Massee, Louis Cancelmi, Felicity Jones, Max Charles, Sarah Gordon, Jorge Vega, Bill Heck, Helen Stern, Kari Coleman. Directed by Marc Webb

It is inevitable that when a superhero shows up, eventually a super-villain will as well. With great power comes great responsibility but also comes great angst and great greed as well.

Despite Peter Parker’s (Garfield) a.k.a. Spider-Man promise to stay away from Gwen Stacy (Stone), daughter of the police captain (Leary) who died in the first ASM film, the feelings between the two are so strong that they can’t stay away from each other, at least until Peter starts seeing disapproving visions of her dear old dad and the guilt forces him to break up with her. Or she gets tired of all the on-again, off-again stuff and tells him to take a hike.

Peter is also haunted by the death of his parents, dad Richard (Scott) who once worked for the evil Oscorp empire, and mom (Davidtz) whom Peter remembers only fragments of. He finally confronts his Aunt May (Field) about them. May, who sometimes comes off as too saintly in both the comic and the first film trilogy, actually acts with a completely understandable anger – wasn’t she there for him? Wasn’t her love enough?

He’s also busy taking care of things in New York City, including taking down a crazed Russian mobster who will eventually come to be known as the Rhino (Giamatti). His best friend Harry Osborne (DeHaan) returns to town as his diseased and despotic father Norman (Cooper) lays dying, leaving Harry to pick up the pieces, take over Oscorp and fend off the scheming Donald Menken (Feore) who has an agenda of his own. Harry also discovers that he may soon share his father’s fate and only the blood of a certain Spider-Man might contain the clue that can cure him.

On top of that there’s a new super-villain in town. Mild mannered Max Dillon (Foxx) who develops a man-crush on Spidey after he saves him from being hit by a bus has a terrifying accident as he is shocked by high power lines and falls into a tank full of genetically altered electric eels which leave him badly burned but with the ability to shoot electric charges from his hands and eventually turn into living electric current.

Max, now going by the name Electro, has felt ignored and marginalized all his life. He is tired of being invisible (which ironically becomes one of his superpowers) and now that he can cause so much carnage feels vindicated that people can “see” him now and his freakish appearance is a small price to pay. He also feels betrayed by Spider-Man, his buddy who forgot his name.

All this leads to a pair of climactic battles as betrayals lead to rage which leads to a tragic confrontation that will alter Spider-Man’s life forever. Which is essentially how the second installment in any superhero franchise tends to go.

The second film in the Sam Raimi Spider-trilogy turned out to be one of the best superhero movies ever. This one, sadly, falls more into the category of the third Raimi movie which was sunk by too many supervillains and not enough memorable characters mainly because the film doesn’t get to develop them too much other than Foxx’s Electro and even he doesn’t get a whole lot of background.

What does get some background is the romance between Gwen and Peter which is a double-edged sword. Some of the most natural sequences in the movie involve those two and the banter between the two of them reflects the real-life romance that has developed between Stone and Garfield, eerily reflecting the real-life romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst that developed in the first Spider-trilogy. However, spending as much time on the romance as Webb does tends to mess with the momentum of the film, creating awkward breaks between action sequences and a sense that Webb is trying to make a movie that is all things to all audiences. Columbia execs have a history of becoming too involved in the Spider-Man films and I get a sense that studio interference may have occurred here as well.

Webb shows some deft touch with the action sequences and his vision of Electro is nothing short of amazing, worthy of a high-profile superhero franchise such as this one. One sequence in which Electro disappears into an ordinary electric outlet to go and wreak havoc is so well done that it looks as if it could have actually happened. That’s excellent effects in my book.

The character of Gwen Stacy doesn’t work as well for me. Stone described her as the “brains” of the operation which is a bit of a departure from the comic book in which the nerdy Peter, one of the first true science geeks, was capable of being the strategist but it is Gwen who comes to his rescue time after time by figuring out solutions to problems Spider-Man is having and incredibly, as an intern at Oscorp in biochemistry for whatever reason has learned how to work the electric grid of New York City which Oscorp runs. That part doesn’t ring true at all and took me right out of the film. I don’t mind smart women in movies but make her realistically clever please.

Garfield however continues to impress as both Parker and Spider-Man. In the latter role he has the fluid movements that make him look just non-human enough to be different. In the former role, he isn’t quite as brooding as he was in the first film (until near the end) but he certainly shows the inner conflicts that come from wanting to do the right thing but knowing that doing so could potentially put those he loves in danger. Some critics have groused about the smartaleck wisecracking that Spider-Man does, but that is part of the comic book personality of the character and is Parker’s way of coping with his own self-doubt.

This isn’t the sequel I was hoping for. I’m a big fan of Webb and I like the way Garfield plays both Peter and Spider-Man. I was hoping after the unnecessary second origin movie in ten years for the character that they might take Garfield’s strong performance in the title role and build on it. To some extent they do but their ambitions exceed the realistic here and they wind up making a movie that is a bit of a mess. It’s still plenty entertaining and has all the thrills, action and emotions that you need to make a great summer blockbuster, but they also failed to learn from Raimi’s mistakes. It’s worth seeing for the action, for Garfield and for some of the emotional sequences but the movie is nonetheless very flawed.

REASONS TO GO: The Electro sequences are amazing. Some emotional high points.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and subplots. The flow of the film doesn’t quite work. Logical issues.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of superhero violence and peril, plus a brief scene that may be disturbing for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first Spider-Man movie to film in New York City where the series is set – it is also the largest production to date to film in the state of New York.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 53/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Words and Pictures

The Internship


No, not the Tour de France.

No, not the Tour de France.

(2013) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Josh Brener, Dylan O’Brien, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Josh Gad, Jessica Szohr, Rob Riggle, Eric Andre, Harvey Guillen, Gary Anthony Williams, John Goodman, Will Ferrell, Bruno Amato, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Anna Enger, B.J. Novak, Karen Ceesay, Jill Jane Clements. Directed by Shawn Levy

 

One of the truths about modern life is that things are changing faster than we can keep up with them. Those of us who are middle aged don’t always notice it but when we take a moment to breathe it can be staggering how far we’ve come and how our lives have changed. For my part, I never thought of myself as particularly “tech-savvy” growing up but here I am blogging daily on the Internet.

Nick Campbell (Wilson) and Billy McMahon (Vaughn) are feeling the currents of change swirling around them. Old school salesmen, they discover at a meeting with a client that their company has shut its doors without telling them. Nobody uses watches anymore apparently – people find out what time it is these days by checking their smart phones.

Without a college education and with limited skill sets in an increasingly high tech job market, the two flounder. Nick takes a job with his sister’s boyfriend (Ferrell) at a mattress store which is as demeaning as it gets but Billy, searching on Google for job possibilities, lands an interview for a possible internship at Google itself.

The two, neither one owning a computer of their own, use one in a public library (having to fend off snarky kids) and display an appalling lack of savvy when it comes to tech matters but the interviewers (Novak, Ceesay) discover that they bring other skills to the table – outside-of-the-box thinking and personal skills that most kids today haven’t had to develop.

Against all odds, they get a shot at an internship which could lead after a full summer to a high-paying job on the Google campus in Mountain View, California which kind of resembles a cubicle cowboy’s version of Fantasyland – but keep in mind that the production filmed there. The perks of employment (free food, nap pods, a volleyball court and loaner bikes) are actually part of the company’s employment package and the offhand remark early in the film that Google was rated the best place to work in the country is also true. Not in the movie are also a roller hockey rink, basketball courts, three wellness centers and onsite daycare.

Most of the other interns vying for a handful of jobs are kids half their age, all of them fresh out of college. Billy and Nick quickly realize that they are outgunned for this “mental Hunger Games” as Billy put it and realize that their only chance at landing the jobs they desperately need is by aligning themselves with the best team possible and coat-tailing it into employment. One of their competitors, the pretentious and arrogant Graham (Minghella) turns out to be something of a shark, snapping up all the whiz kids on his team.

This leaves them with the :”outcasts” who include Yo-Yo (Raphael), a home-schooled genius who was so bullied by his Korean mom that he picks at his eyebrows whenever he gets stressed – which leaves him without an eyebrow by the end of the internship, Neha (Sircar) a beautiful Southeast Asian chick who talks a good sexual game, Stuart (O’Brien) a cat so cool he rarely looks up from his smart phone to see what’s going on around him and Lyle (Brener) the nebbish manager who is mentoring them.

The internship is made up of a series of challenges overseen by Chetty (Mandvi), a Google executive who’s as frosty as the cold one he won’t be having with his employees. The commitment-phobic Nick strikes up a romantic friendship with Dana (Byrne), a hard-working manager whose life off endless meetings and brutally long workdays have left her without much of a life. As the games begin, Nick and Billy’s team seem hopelessly outcast. Can these old dogs teach their young teammates new tricks?

The plot is fairly formulaic so the answer to that question should be pretty self-evident. This is a movie that is meant to make the audience feel good and to a pretty good extent, it succeeds. Wilson and Vaughn first teamed up eight years ago in The Wedding Crashers and for whatever reason haven’t gotten together again since. However, their chemistry – central to the charm and success of that movie – is intact here thank goodness.

The two make a highly effective comedy team, the easygoing Wilson making a perfect foil to the manic fast-talking Vaughn. Some are going to measure The Internship to their previous movie and while I’ll admit it isn’t quite as funny as their first film, it’s unquestionably still entertaining. Mandvi, a veteran character actor, is particularly appealing as is the woefully underemployed Byrne. I liked all of the young actors who played their team and while Minghella’s Graham is less despicable in some ways than villains in similar movies, he still turns out to be the one you love to root against.

This does play like a puff piece for Google and that might grit a few teeth here and there. I’m not sure that they employ a lot of middle aged tech-challenged sorts but my guess is that the Billys and Nicks are few and far between on their Mountain View campus. Diversity only goes so far so in other words don’t get your hopes up.

I liked the movie enough to give it a solid recommendation. This isn’t a groundbreaker by any stretch but if you’re looking for a movie to give you a bit of a lift certainly this will fit the bill. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to give you deep insights to be a good movie; sometimes watching the underdog come through is enough to keep us going in a world where the haves seem to win an awful lot more than the have-nots. Given the presence of the team of Vaughn and Wilson is an added bonus. I only hope their next film comes sooner than eight years from now.

REASONS TO GO: Chemistry between Vaughn and Wilson is still solid. Feel-good movie.

REASONS TO STAY: Not as funny as one would hope. A nearly two hour commercial for Google.

FAMILY VALUES:  The movie has its share of foul language, sexual references and crude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The annoyed Google employee trying to take a nap during the nap pod sequence when Nick is trying to talk to Dana is played by director Shawn Levy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/15/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100; yet another movie this summer the critics are lukewarm on.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Real Genius

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: This is the End