Rules Don’t Apply


Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

(2016) Dramedy (20th Century Fox) Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Hart Bochner, Haley Bennett, Paul Schneider, Ed Harris, Chace Crawford, Oliver Platt, Taissa Farmiga, Marshall Bell, Ron Perkins, Alec Baldwin, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan, Joshua Malina, Louise Linton. Directed by Warren Beatty

 

Most of us have to live within the rules. The rules after all are there for a reason. There are a fortunate few – or perhaps an unfortunate few – who for one reason or another are exceptions. The rules don’t really apply to them. It can be very liberating – and very lonely.

Marla Mabry (Collins) has come to Hollywood in sunny 1958 to make her fame and fortune as an actress. No less than Howard Hughes (Beatty) has put her under contract. She and her devout Baptist mother (Bening) are met at the airport by Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), a driver with ambitions of his own.

She discovers that she is one of 26 girls under contract to Hughes, all of whom he is insanely jealous towards. In fact, “insane” is a word that fits his behavior which has grown increasingly erratic as paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder have begun to take hold of his life like a dog with a bone. Forbes’ boss Levar (Broderick) shows Frank the ropes, but even though it’s forbidden he begins to have romantic feelings for Marla, feelings which are returned. In the meantime, Hughes begins to fall for the pretty, talented singer-songwriter-actress, but he is under siege as there are those who wish to declare him incompetent and take his company away from him. Those closest to him – including Frank – are determined not to let that happen.

First, this isn’t really a biography of the billionaire. Certainly some of the events depicted here actually happened, but Marla Mabry and Frank Forbes are entirely fictional; so is most of the rest of the cast in fact, although a few historical figures make appearances now and again. This is more of a fable of the Howard Hughes myth than anything else.

Beatty, who hasn’t appeared onscreen in 15 years or directed a film in 18, does a terrific job with Hughes keeping him from becoming a caricature of mental illness. Hughes feels like a living, breathing person here rather than an interpretation of an encyclopedia entry. Often when Hollywood brings real people to the screen, they feel more mythic than actual. I always appreciate films that utilize historical figures that feel like human beings rather than animatronic renditions of legends.

The cast is made up in equal parts of veteran actors, some of whom rarely appear onscreen these days (like Bergen and Coleman) and up-and-comers with huge potential (like Ehrenreich and Collins), with Beatty leaning towards the former in his casting decisions. It is certainly welcome watching some of these pros who are either semi-retired or fully retired plying their craft once more. Of particular note is Bergen as the matronly (and occasionally curmudgeonly) but ultimately kindly secretary/personal assistant to Hughes.

The issue here is that the movie is long and the plot bounces around from scene to scene with an almost manic quality, sometimes giving short shrift to subtlety and other times leading up blind alleys and locked doors. I get the sense that Beatty is trying to craft a parable about the nature of wealth and power and its corrupting influence. Hughes seems like a nice enough guy but his money and influence tends to corrupt everyone around him, including those who didn’t start off cynical. One of the characters gets out before any real harm is done to them; another gets sucked into the vortex.

While this is something of a passion project for Beatty (he’s been trying to get a film made about Hughes since the early 70s) it doesn’t feel like one. It’s a bit bloated and self-defeating, but there’s enough that is interesting going on to make it worth a look. It’s mostly out of the theaters by now – critical indifference and an audience that is attracted to movies about superheroes and aliens more than about those who shaped the world we live in (as Hughes surely did) have hurt the film’s box office receipts. What the movie lacks in spectacle though it makes up for in genuine affection for its subject and that’s something you can’t get with all the CGI in the world.

REASONS TO GO: It’s lovely to see some of these veteran actors in action here..
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult thematic elements, some brief sexual material, occasional profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bo Goldman, who gets story credit on the film, also wrote Melvin and Howard about Hughes’ supposed encounter with Melvin Dummar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Café Society
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Monster

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New Releases for the Week of July 15, 2016


GhostbustersGHOSTBUSTERS

(Columbia) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong. Directed by Paul Feig

Four women with different skills – an engineer, a physicist, a paranormal investigator and a subway token taker who knows New York City like the back of her hand – come together to fight a supernatural threat that menaces the Big Apple. This is a reboot of the 1984 classic which has been a bit controversial in the fanboy community because they are using an all-female team. Most of the original cast makes cameo appearances.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor)

The Infiltrator

(Broad Green) Bryan Cranston, Diane Krueger, Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo. The true story of DEA agent Robert Mazur who went undercover in Pablo Escobar’s organization and ended up masterminding the biggest drug bust in U.S. history. Along with his team, Mazur is risking his family and his very life to take down one of the biggest drug kingpins in the world.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material)

Undrafted

(Vertical) Tyler Hoechlin, Aaron Tveit, Chace Crawford, James Belushi. It was just a summer intramural baseball game, and for this bunch of misfit players who have not much of a future in the sport, it shouldn’t have been anything more than that. Unpredictably, it becomes the most important game of their lives.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding


Living the hippie life.

Living the hippie life.

(2011) Comedy (IFC) Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Ann Osmond, Rbert Bowen Jr., Marissa O’Donnell, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen, Joyce Van Patten, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Joseph Dunn, Chace Crawford, Rosanna Arquette, Katharine McPhee, Denise Burse, Teri Gibson, Poorna Jagannathan, Terry McKenna, Wayne Pyle, Alison Ball, Laurent Rejto. Directed by Bruce Beresford

When things are going wrong in our lives, it is a natural instinct to run back home to our parents. Sometimes, we just crave the comfort of being next to our figures of security but other times, it’s their wisdom that we truly need.

Diane (Keener) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who is used to being in control. When her husband (MacLachlan) announces that he wants to divorce her, it shakes her to her very core. Needing a refuge, she decides to go home to mom in Woodstock. The trouble is, Diane’s mom Grace (Fonda) is something of a free spirit who hasn’t really left the 60s and the two women, as different as night and day, haven’t really spoken in 20 years.

But Diane has more than her own pride to think about. Her young son Jake (Wolff) is terribly shy and lacks self-confidence. That might just be because her daughter Zoe (Olsen), a budding poet, is terribly judgmental about things and people. Her kids need a support system while Diane tries to put her shattered life back together.

All three find Grace to be more than a little irritating at first and Woodstock a bit too sedate for their liking. However, all three find romantic interests; Jake falls for Tara (O’Donnell), a waitress at the local coffee shop; Zoe, a vegan, against all odds develops a crush on Cole (Crawford), a butcher. Even Diane finds time to become romantically involved with Jude (Morgan), a budding musician.

As the family finds healing in the love of others, Grace and Diane begin to find common ground. Can the two women, at war with each other for over two decades, finally make peace? Maybe there’s hope for the Middle East yet if these two can mend their differences.

Australian director Bruce Beresford has some pretty nifty movies to his credit and while he hasn’t really made it to the top tier of Hollywood directors, he is nonetheless well-respected and has had a consistent career. This movie isn’t one that is going to be a resume highlight but it nonetheless has its own kind of charm.

Chief among its charms is Fonda, who rarely gets lead roles these days and usually plays crusty old broads, curmudgeonly old mothers-in-law or this one, the eccentric granny. We tend to forget what an amazing career Fonda has had, with Oscar-caliber performances in Klute, Coming Home and On Golden Pond.

Also of note is the village of Woodstock. Famous for the music festival (which actually took place on a farm 60 miles away), the town – if this movie is to be believed – has capitalized on the notoriety of the festival and has become kind of a high-end Berkeley (those of you who live or have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area will immediately know what I mean). Think of it as a college town permanently stuck in a by-gone era.

This isn’t an inconsequential film mind you, but it isn’t something you have to overthink. It’s a charming, pleasant diversion that might bring a smile to your face and is nicely performed and directed. It won’t necessarily change your life any although the lessons it teaches about living life at a pace that doesn’t burn you out is well-taken (the ones about being in love solving all your problems, not so much) and you’re never really hit over the head with them. It’s one of those movies that gives you the warm fuzzies and sometimes, like a hug from your mom, that’s all you need.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong female roles and performances. Woodstock is a charming location.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit scattershot. Seems to indicate that the secret to happiness is romance.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few sexual references and some comedic drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although two films she performed after shooting this one were released before it, this was actress Elizabeth Olsen’s first cinematic acting job.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590,700 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Georgia Rules
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Insidious Chapter III

What to Expect When You’re Expecting


What to Expect When You're Expecting

Elizabeth Banks and Brooklyn Decker do the Baby Belly Bump.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Lionsgate) Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Chace Crawford, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Ben Falcone, Thomas Lennon, Joe Manganiello, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, Rebel Wilson, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Directed by Kirk Jones

 

Childbirth is one of life’s miracles; where a new person is created from sperm and egg. Any mother will tell you that pregnancy is no picnic; there can be serious medical ramifications to the mother and while medical technology has improved, babies – and mothers – still die in the process. Giving birth then is a calculated risk.

On a “Dancing With the Stars”-like show, contestant Jules (Diaz), a Jillian Michaels-like trainer on a “Biggest Loser”-like show, captures the gold along with her dance partner Evan (Morrison). While the tabloids are speculating, the fact is that Alex is more than just a dance partner and it turns out that Jules is pregnant, which will force her to juggle her career as America’s favorite trainer with her pregnancy needs.

Watching the show where Jules triumphs is Rosie (Kendrick) and her roommates. Rosie works on a food truck that shows up in Atlanta parks and at events around town. Working for a rival truck is Marco (Crawford), an old high school classmate of hers. The two aren’t particularly friendly but they make a bet over whose specialty will sell more, they get to talking afterwards, one thing leads to another and she’s pregnant, without even having gone on a single date with him.

Also watching the show is Wendy (Banks), a children’s book author and an advocate for breast feeding. She and her husband Gary (Falcone) have been trying to get pregnant for months without any success. She desperately wants to experience all the things about pregnancy that she’s been writing about but hasn’t had the opportunity to feel for herself. So after a spontaneous tryst during an outdoor movie screening of Dirty Dancing, Wendy comes up pregnant. Gary can’t wait to share the news with his dad.

Her father in law is Ramsey (Quaid), a retired race car driver who is ultracompetitive as a father. He has remarried a trophy wife, Skyler (Decker) and makes no bones over his success as a driver and the money he has. Gary’s joy at announcing his wife’s delicate condition however is tempered when Skyler responds that she, too is pregnant and having twins – Gary is about to have siblings as well as a new child.

Finally, there’s Holly (Lopez), a photographer who loves kids but just can’t have any of her own. She and her husband Alex (Santoro) have decided to adopt an Ethiopian baby mainly because the wait times are shorter. Alex, however, is freaking out about the impending fatherhood thing so on the recommendation of Holly’s friend Kara (McLendon-Covey), Holly sends Alex to join the Dudes group, consisting of fellow dads Gabe (Huebel), Patel (Talai), Kara’s husband Craig (Lennon) and the leader Vic (Rock). To be honest, I’m not sure how helpful Alex found their advice but the camaraderie seems to be what he needs more.

Of course as the weeks and months go by and the due dates loom closer, there will be some issues. Some will find pregnancy nearly unbearable; others will breeze through it. Some will have issues with their partners, others with their own fitness as potential moms. One of them won’t make it to the delivery room. One may not make it out. All of them will find expecting not at all what they expected.

This is based on the best-selling pregnancy guide by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, which has been described as the “Bible of American pregnancy” which is a term I find amusing, as if there is a difference between American and Canadian pregnancies. USA Today named it one of the top 25 most influential books of the past 25 years.

Not having read the book, I can’t say for certain whether the movie has captured the spirit of the book. I can only judge it on its effectiveness as a movie. First of all, there are too many plot threads. Now I’m not against showing different aspects of pregnancy – as they do here, but what wound up happening is that we wound up not getting enough time with the characters to develop a whole lot of attachment to them.

It also doesn’t leave the actors a whole lot of time to make much of an impression. Diaz’ character comes off as pretty abrasive, while Banks gets to be something of a caricature. Decker actually seems to make the most headway as a genuinely sweet girl who understands a whole lot more about what’s going on around her than she lets on.

There are some genuine moments of pathos – one in which one of the prospective fathers is terrified that he might lose his wife, and breaks down, unable to even accept the awkward comfort of a fellow dad – and the movie abruptly switches to a scene of Lopez and Santoro in Ethiopia preparing to adopt a baby. It kills the momentum of the film and takes me right out of the emotional power of it, and I was unable to reconnect afterwards.

Admittedly this is going to appeal more to moms and mothers-to-be than those of us who don’t have the correct plumbing. That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be anything to appeal to those of us without wombs; Rock gets to deliver some of his best work in quite a few years and the whole Dude Group thing seems to have been inserted there to give boyfriends and husbands dragged along something to hang onto, although more likely to give their girlfriends and wives something to snigger at.

It’s not that I object to the movie on general principles – pregnancy is a part of life and there has yet to really be a movie that truly captures the pain, the joy, the fear – all of the emotions that go with it. There were moments that this movie did, particularly in the Rosie-Marco story. Unfortunately, too much fluff and padding smothered what could have been a really good movie and turned it into a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: At times captures the difficulties of pregnancy.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many storylines. Relies too much on cheap laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: While yes this is more about pregnancy than sex, there is some content that is a bit on the crude side. There is also some bad language which you would expect from someone who is in labor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the extras who appear to be pregnant (both in Atlanta and Ethiopia) actually were at the time of filming.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100. The reviews are mostly negative..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

FOOD TRUCK LOVERS: Several of the food trucks seen in the movie are actual working food trucks around the Atlanta area.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Intouchables