Bored in the U.S.A.


Just sittin’ and talkin’ ’bout things.

(2018) Drama (Old Academy) Kelly Lloyd, Chris Milner, Bryan Preston. Directed by Mike Finazzo

 

Sometimes what we need is to just talk. Not just talk, but also listen – an actual adult conversation about things that are important. You know, life things. Relationships, dreams, disappointments – the things that keep us going and the things that keep us crying.

Kelly (Lloyd) is married. She stays at home and takes care of the house; she and her husband Bryan (Preston) don’t have kids and there doesn’t seem to be a horizon where that is likely. Their sex is desultory and passionless. Kelly is filling her days as best she can but her friends are busy with their own lives, lives that make hers seem empty and small.

Chris (Milner) is a Londoner living in Baltimore but he’s preparing to return to the UK. He’s engaged to be married and is joining his fiancée back at home. He is in the process of selling his things in preparation for his departure. Despite this, he feels some uncertainty that he is making the right decision.

Kelly and Chris had met years earlier at a party. When they bump into each other, they remember their initial meeting. They get to talking and a cup of coffee turns into spending the day together. Their reflections on how their lives turned out force them to evaluate their past and the decisions they’ve made – as well as their futures.

This is a quiet film that mostly relies on the chemistry and conversational skills of the two leads. For the most part, it works. These are discussions that most of us have had at one time or another, or at least on the subject matter. Of course, your wording may vary. As someone who is interested in words, I enjoyed the ones that Kelly and Chris were uttering in general, and well-written dialogue is always a plus especially in indie films that rely on it. The exception is that Kelly is constantly making reference to the fact that this is set in Baltimore. I get the love Finazzo has for the place – Baltimore ain’t called Charm City for nothin’ – but it’s unnecessary and distracting.

There is a little bit of pretentiousness here; the decision to film the movie in black and white really doesn’t add anything to the film but it doesn’t take anything away. At one point, one of the characters says that “life is simpler in black and white” and that may be, but simpler isn’t necessarily better. Also the soundtrack is littered with French pop songs, bringing to mind film students arguing the merits of Jacques Tati while smoking clove cigarettes and drinking overpriced coffee.

That pretension will likely turn some people off but if you can get past that, this is actually a delightful little film. I wouldn’t say it’s terribly insightful; what you’re getting here are more experiential observations and they may not match your interpretation of them but that’s fine. It’s a healthy thing once in awhile to hear some differing opinions of the things you are going through, have been through or might someday go through.

REASONS TO SEE: The conversational aspect works.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is on the pretentious side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sex, drug use and crude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to being a filmmaker, Finazzo is also a standup comedian.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Sunrise
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Reinventing Rosalee

The Park Bench


It's the awkward silences that bring us closer together.

It’s the awkward silences that bring us closer together.

(2015) Romance (Cake and Ice Cream/Galaim Vivendi) Walter Perez, Nicole Hayden, Stella Maeve, John Prosky, Brian Mulligan, Dustin Fitzsimons, Beau Bonness, Francisco Ovalle, Angel Arial, Madison Browning, Mackenzie Browning, Araceli Cesar, Jerry Franco, Ella Raziel, Stephen Brown, Carlene Moore. Directed by Ann LeSchander

As we build the relationship with the person we love, little things may take on special meaning to us. It could be a song we listened to regularly, as in the case of my wife and I. It could be a certain meal that you ate often as you were courting. Or it could be a place that takes on a certain importance in the process of falling in love.

Mateo (Perez) is the son of Mexican immigrants who is trying to navigate his way through college. He is holding on by his fingernails, only able to attend due to the scholarships he has obtained, scholarships that are now imperiled because he is failing English Literature. Even with that, he is forced to work a series of odd jobs in order to pay for schooling and of course to support himself.

Emily (Hayden) is getting ready to defend her Masters thesis in Library Science. She is also getting ready to marry Eddie (Fitzsimons), a pleasant young man who is studying to be a pharmacist. Her life is progressing upon the set course that she has planned for it; a good career, a stable husband who can provide for her, eventually a family and a suburban home.

The two are meeting at a park bench because Mateo needs a tutor and Emily has drawn his name from the student tutoring service. At first they don’t seem to be very compatible; Mateo’s schedule can be haphazard and Emily is a bit uptight about being on-time to tutoring sessions for the three times a week they need to meet. While the two have reservations about one another, eventually they decide to give it a go.

Emily turns out to be a really good tutor, just as she said she was. But she is learning a lot from Mateo as well; about his culture, about his viewpoint of the world (the viewpoint of the son of illegal immigrants). She is pleasantly surprised by the delicious food that Mateo’s mom cooks for him (a scene in which she tries ceviche for the first time is priceless).

The regular tutoring sessions at the same park bench turn out to be confessionals for the both of them as they get to know each other better. And as you can imagine, their feelings for each other begin to deepen into something else. Can the uptight Emily get past her need for stability to embrace love for its own sake?

LeSchander has crafted a very efficient but effective romance – I wouldn’t quite call this a comedy although there are some funny moments. Essentially this is the most cost-effective movie I think I’ve ever seen. The whole movie is set at a single park bench in a lovely glade (I wish I could find out which park this was filmed at; I’d love to go there someday). The scenes are delineated by framing devices and flashbacks and animations enhance the story.

The animations seemed a bit unnecessary to me but I can understand why they’re there. Mostly, this movie is all conversation and filming a conversation can be a very static enterprise indeed. While the two leads are attractive and do their jobs well, nobody wants to see a picture about talking heads. Unless it’s the Talking Heads, of course.

Bad musical puns on my part aside, there is a pleasantness to the movie that is quite appealing. Watching it is like sitting in a park yourself on a lovely warm spring day, watching life happen around you with the occasional odd lost birdwatcher wandering into frame. In that sense, this is a movie that tends to create the warm fuzzies, much like a beautiful spring day can.

It’s not without its faults. The ending seems a bit out of character, particularly for Emily. Hayden does a good job of taking a character who could easily be unlikable and making her at least sympathetic. Perez, on the other hand, has a good deal of charisma. His charm, good looks and screen presence could take him much further in the business with a little bit of luck (and an aggressive agent). At times, the spark between the two of them was less intense than I would have liked but then again, this is a fairly low-key endeavor to begin with and some sparks smolder slowly rather than ignite quickly.

This is very much the kind of movie that I have a soft spot for. It charms without being smarmy and tells its story well. LeSchander seems very confident behind the camera and she prioritizes the right things. This isn’t a movie that is going to make critics go wild with praise but it’s the kind of movie to build a career on. I liked it a lot and can recommend it as the lovely diversion that it is.

REASONS TO GO: Attractive leads. Perez has some screen magnetism. Charming. Efficiently made.
REASONS TO STAY: More of a collection of vignettes at times. Could have used a tiny bit more structure. Ending comes out of left field. Spark not there.
FAMILY VALUES: Pretty much suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is LeSchander’s first full-length feature. Previously she has directed several short films.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/23/15: Rotten Tomatoes No score yet. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :One Day
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: 5 Flights Up

Lola Versus


Lola Versus

Greta Gerwig smirks at Brooklyn from the safety of Manhattan.

(2012) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Joel Kinnaman, Zoe Lister-Jones, Hamish Linklater, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jay Pharoah, Maria Dizzia, Cheyenne Jackson, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Jonathan Sale, Adriane Lennox. Directed by Daryl Wein

 

The rite of passage as we turn 30 isn’t a ceremonial one nor is it even one we even are aware we’re doing. When we’re in our 20s we can be wild, but as we enter our 30s the responsibilities of job, family and relationship put dampers on our tendencies to party like, well, 20-somethings.

Lola (Gerwig) is 29 years old and life is a bowl of cherries. She’s working on her doctoral dissertation and planning a wedding to her artist boyfriend Luke (Kinnaman) who is handsome and sexy and adores her. Her BFF Alice (Lister-Jones) kvetches constantly about her own inability to attract a guy. She and her ex Henry (Linklater) are Lola’s support system.

Lola is going to need it too when just a few weeks before the wedding, Luke bails on the marriage – and on the relationship. Lola is devastated, comforted by her parents (Pullman, Winger) who are a couple of ex-hippies with a possibly kooky New Age outlook but warm hearts beneath the jargon.

Lola is urged to stop moping and obsessing on Luke and starts to go out with other men. She develops a deep friendship with Henry which both seem to want to take further but neither seem to be able to find a way to make it work. Lola winds up having sex with Luke, then with a creepy prison architect (Moss-Bachrach) with a large….um…well, you can guess.

Lola is a sweet girl but as she approaches birthday number thirty, she is making some fairly egregious mistakes – some out of awkwardness but some in an effort to hurt. She alienates some of her friends, particularly when she begins to realize that of all of them she’s the only one who is truly alone.

For those who love indie hipster romantic comedies with a serious undertone, this is right up your alley. Gerwig has become an indie film darling (much like Parker Posey and Zooey Deschanel have been). She tends to play slightly neurotic but ultimately good-hearted sorts who have difficulties with relationships. The neurotic part utilizes her comedic skills, which are considerable; the good-hearted part engenders audience identification. While most of her parts seem to have been limited to girlfriend types, Gerwig is a talent with a future.

Sadly, she isn’t given much to work with here. It seems like it was written in an Indie Film 101 course with all the clichés that one finds in the average independent film. Artistic types living in Manhattan lofts they couldn’t possibly afford, check. An apparently unlimited income that comes in from no discernible job, check. Quirky friends, check. Montages set to indie music, check. Spiffy dialogue that nobody really talks like, check. A haughty New York-centricity that looks down on all other locations as vastly inferior, check. It all has a kind of been there done that feel.

This is a movie that is too hip for its own good. It’s not that I have anything against being hip, I just feel that it’s a bit overexposed. I’d rather see a few movies that have nothing to do with artists living in lofts, are located anywhere but New York and have characters and dialogue that aren’t clever. I like Gerwig (and Lister-Jones has some good moments as well) but by and large, this just left me flat.

REASONS TO GO: Frank about female sexuality. Gerwig is extremely likable.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too indie hipster for its own good. Might make those who find sex objectionable uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexuality, plenty of cursing, some drinking and drug use as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lister-Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Wein.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100. The reviews are more or less mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tiny Furniture

MACROBIOTIC FOOD LOVERS: Lola’s parents own a vegan restaurant and throughout Lola mostly eats and snacks on macrobiotic and raw food.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

An Affair to Remember


An Affair to Remember
Dressed to impress!

(1957) Romance (20th Century Fox) Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Charles Watts, Fortunio Bonanova, Dorothy Adams, Richard Allen, Suzanne Ellers, Genevieve Aumont, Marni Nixon. Directed by Leo McCarey

 

Some movies withstand the test of time while others become hopelessly dated. Some remain classics because of their era-centricity.

An Affair to Remember is one of those movies that has had a charmed life. It began as a remake by McCarey of his own 1939 hit Love Affair which garnered six Oscar nominations, starred Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer and is a classic of the romance genre on its own. An Affair to Remember was a massive hit in its day, one of the first movies to take advantage of the Cinemascope process. It slumbered in the archives of Fox for years, occasionally surfacing on an afternoon movie program before Sleepless in Seattle referenced it as a romantic touchstone for the Meg Ryan character, sparking renewed interest in the film (more than two million video cassette tapes were sold of the film after Sleepless came out).

The plot has European playboy Nickie Ferrante (Grant) taking a transatlantic voyage aboard the U.S.S. Constitution to New York where he is to be married to his heiress girlfriend. On board he meets singer Terry McKay (Kerr) where in time-honored romantic tradition the two find each other not liking each other much but being the only single people on board constantly paired together.

It is only when the ship docks in Madeira and Terry meets Nickie’s charming grandmother (Nesbitt), seeing his tender and loving side that she falls in love with him and he with her. The two spend most of the rest of the voyage trying not to be seen as a couple together; as they dock in the Big Apple they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months time. However, fate throws a curveball in their direction that may irrevocably separate the lovers for good.

This remains one of Da Queen’s most beloved films. Her wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses were modeled after the dress Kerr one (depicted in the picture above) to give you an idea of what she thought of the movie. It certainly captures romance in a time and period where elegance and manners weren’t four letter words.

Grant is perhaps one of the most romantic leads ever in cinema. In his time he would have won the Sexiest Man Alive on multiple occasions had the award existed and there are plenty of women today who’d be quite happy to be swept off their collective feet by his ghost – and regularly are whenever they watch one of his films. This may well have been his most romantic.

Kerr is one of the most beautiful women ever in the movies and she was at the height of her beauty and allure here. What man wouldn’t fall in love with someone as strong, smart and lovely as her? She is of course a woman of her time and in many ways there are things about her character that modern feminists might take umbrage to, but that’s simply the norm for the times. For my money she is as modern a woman as most I’ve met running around the 21st century.

This is the way they used to do romance and in many ways, in this age of social networking, online romance, dating services and internet porn, they got it far more right than we do. I think that strikes a chord in a lot of us – wanting our romance to be simple, more elegant, more epic in scale. It isn’t much to ask.

So do yourself a favor – curl up on the couch, bring out the champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, slip into something comfortable and put this on the DVD player. Guys, nothing may blow up or get shot  at nor will there be any bare breasts but trust me – your woman will thank you for it. In a very meaningful way.

WHY RENT THIS: A favorite of Da Queen and considered one of the best romantic movies ever made. Certainly it has all the right elements for a terrific couch cuddlefest.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Elements of it are dated and might not be relatable for younger audience members.

FAMILY VALUES:  Like most films of the era, there isn’t anything here that you’d find objectionable for your kids to see, other than the excessive smoking and drinking that was par for the course at the time.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie debuted aboard the U.S.S. Constitution where many of the shipboard scenes were filmed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: This has received several home video incarnations; the original DVD release (2003) includes a commentary track from film historian Joseph McBride and singer Marni Nixon who dubbed Kerr’s voice in the film. There is also an episode of AMC’s “Backstory” devoted to the film, and a snippet from a newsreel showing the film’s premiere on board an ocean liner. The 50th Anniversary edition (2008) comes with postcard reproductions of the film’s original lobby cards, as well as segments devoted to the careers and lives of Grant, Kerr, McCarey and producer Jerry Wald. The Blu-Ray edition (2011) comes with everything in the 50th Anniversary edition sans the postcards.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.8M on an unreported production budget; the movie was a huge hit!

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Chronicle

Something Borrowed


Something Borrowed

Being BFFs means never having to say you're sorry - although both women should apologize for this movie.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Jill Eikenberry, Geoff Pierson, Leia Thompson, Jonathan Epstein, Sarah Baldwin, Mark La Mura. Directed by Luke Greenfield

Perhaps the most frustrating element of being a movie reviewer is seeing a movie that has a good deal of potential only to waste it with clichés, Hollywood endings and just plain bad writing.

Rachel (Goodwin) is a successful lawyer in Manhattan who is surprised on her 30th birthday by her best friend Darcy (Hudson) who throws her a big party. Also there is Rachel’s confidante and buddy Ethan (Krasinski); Claire (Williams), a somewhat high-strung woman who has the hots for Ethan who is interested not so much, and Marcus (Howey), a new man in town who basically has the libido of a Viagra poster boy, the deft touch of a Neanderthal and the maturity of a Justin Bieber fan. Naturally, as is Darcy’s wont, she becomes the center of attention over the birthday girl but Rachel doesn’t seem to mind – that is part of Darcy’s charm.

Not quite so charming to Rachel is that Darcy is engaged to Dex (Egglesfield) who went to law school at NYU with Rachel and who Rachel had a BIG crush on before she allowed Darcy to swoop in and claim him. Still, she seems okay enough with it to be Darcy’s Maid of Honor. However after the party, she finds herself alone with Dex; they have a couple of drinks and wake up the next morning in the same bed.

At first, much consternation and much guilt – how could we have done it? Oh my God! Then, realization – there must be something there. Then, longing looks exchanged in secret as the VERY wealthy Dex rents a summer home in the Hamptons and the whole crew escape there each weekend. Then, a weekend alone for Dex and Rachel and more sack time. Ethan figures it out. Thinks Rachel should come clean to Darcy. Dex doesn’t want to call it off though – his mom (Eikenberry) who is ill is so happy because of the wedding. In the meantime, Rachel is miserable. What’s a girl to do?

What this could have been – what this should have been – was a look at human interaction. Instead, it’s a bunch of whiny, more money than brains 20 and 30-somethings navigating treacherous waters without any sort of moral compass in evidence. Sure, Rachel shows some remorse but does she own up to her betrayal? No she does not, nor does she stop her shenanigans with Dex.

Goodwin is an actress with loads of potential – she was so very good in “Big Love” – but she hasn’t gotten over the bland but likable roles that are all that are seemingly available in modern romantic comedies. She does a decent enough job here but ultimately she comes off badly mainly because the character was written badly, making all kinds of poor choices and seemingly never haunted by the consequences of ANY of them.

Egglesfield is given little to do besides look longingly at Goodwin. His character is the worst offender here, completely without spine or sense. After a couple of hours with him, I knew that he would never be a good life partner; he’s handsome and he’s a lawyer, but at the end of the day the character was weak and lacked character, a bad combination.

Krasinski who has done such yeoman work in “The Office” is making a niche as the friend who knows too much which is kind of a bad thing – he has so much more going for him. Of all the actors here he has the potential to be a huge star, but hasn’t landed a role that will get him there. I don’t think he’ll be emphasizing this one on his resume, even though he winds up the most sympathetic of all the characters here and has the best line in the movie, describing the Hamptons as a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren.

Now I’m not a prude nor am I someone who needs the movies to have a sense of morality, but this one doesn’t seem to have any. Cheating and betraying your friends gets you rewarded and lying is depicted as an admirable way to make it through the day. I don’t mind people doing bad things but there need to be consequences and these people don’t suffer any.

In fact, there is kind of a wealth worship that I find distasteful. There is so much product placement in the film that it becomes numbing after awhile, the movie having more Madison Avenue than Hollywood Boulevard in it. It all felt assembled on a Hollywood factory line, with all the Rom-Com 101 points hit and an ending that went on far too long and well past the point where I cared what happened to any of these people.

There are points in the movie that show promise, such as a scene at a sleepover where you get a sense of the closeness between Rachel and Darcy and a conversation between Ethan and Rachel near the end of the movie where Ethan makes a “surprising” confession. Smart people can make dumb choices and I get that, but smart people usually don’t act like idiots on a consistent basis. The sad fact is there was a really good movie to be made here, but what we wound up with was a piece of fluff that not only has no substance but actually seems to be suggesting that the more wealth you have, the less likely you are to suffer from being a douchebag (or the female equivalent thereof). It’s always a bad sign when a movie sets itself up for a sequel you don’t want to see – because you don’t want to spend another minute with the people onscreen.

REASONS TO GO: Goodwin and Hudson have some pretty nice chemistry. Krasinski shows a lot of depth here.

REASONS TO STAY: Where to begin – wasted opportunities abound. A Hollywood ending stretches the boundaries of believability and by the end of the film you don’t care what happens to anybody in it.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestive dialogue and a good deal of sexuality. There’s also a bit of bad language and some drug use, including much drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Ethan and Rachel are sitting on a park bench, the woman on the bench next to them is reading a book called “Something Blue” by Emily Giffin. The woman is none other than Emily Giffin, author of the novel this movie is based on.

HOME OR THEATER: A big theater is unnecessary for this one; it’s probably best viewed at home for a little home video date night.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Restrepo