The Boss


A smile only a dentist could love.

A smile only a dentist could love.

(2016) Comedy (Universal) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Cecily Strong, Mary Sohn, Kristen Schaal, Eva Peterson, Timothy Simons, Aleandra Newcomb, Annie Mumolo, Presley Coley, Ben Falcone, Margo Martindale, Michael McDonald, Robert Pralgo, Larry Dorf, Cedric Yarbrough, Mark Oliver, Rico Ball, Carla Fisher. Directed by Ben Falcone

Woman Power

The bigger they are, the harder they fall or so goes the old saying. These days, the super-wealthy are the biggest they are. It is rare for one of them to fall, but when they do it leaves a crater that could swallow a number of European nations.

Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) is the 47th richest woman in the world. Orphaned at a very young age and never able to latch onto a foster family (she would be taken by some but always returned shortly afterwards), she has grown up believing that family is more than a hindrance to success than a help. Her self-help empire is largely run by her long-suffering assistant Claire (Bell). One of her longtime business rivals (and former lovers), the crafty Renault (Dinklage) has leaked information to law enforcement that Michelle has been indulging in insider trading. As a result she is jailed for six months and her assets seized.

When she gets out of jail she has nothing and nowhere to go, and despite Claire’s misgivings, she invites Michelle to stay with her at the behest of Claire’s daughter Rachel (Anderson). At first Michelle is morose, defeated but as she gets involved with Rachel’s Bluebird group (think Girl Scouts), she hits upon a scheme to make her fortune again using Claire’s delicious brownies.

This ignites a turf war with rival Bluebirds and attracts the attention of Renault who wants to squash Michelle like a bug. With the help of Claire, Rachel, the Bluebird troupe and Claire’s new boyfriend Mike (Labine), Renault and the competing Bluebirds don’t stand a chance as Michelle will stop at nothing to get back on top – but will it be at the cost of her new family?

There are many who believe that McCarthy is the most gifted comic actress working today and there is certainly good reason to support that. She is certainly the most popular. When McCarthy is at the top of her game, she can be devastatingly funny, but with the wrong script the laughs come at her rather than with her. This is somewhere in between those two extremes.

The script isn’t the best one McCarthy has had to work with and in this regard she has nobody to blame but herself since she co-wrote it along with her husband (and the film’s director Ben Falcone) and fellow Groundling Steve Mallory. The plot is wafer-thin and doesn’t stand up to a great deal of scrutiny. Darnell is supposed to be a cross between Martha Stewart and Leona Helmsley, but with a heart of gold deep down. Sadly, she just comes off as a bitter woman who largely deserves the indignities that come her way. I had almost zero sympathy for the character and that makes it really hard to root for her during the climactic scenes.

That’s not to say that elements didn’t work. McCarthy, as I’ve mentioned, is as talented as they come and her relationship with Bell works well. The two women make an excellent team. Some of the comic bits are extremely funny, although the best one involving a sofa bed is in the trailer. However, there are a lot of bits that fall flat including one involving Michelle and Claire comparing boobs, which an excerpt from also appears in the trailer. I guess that’s equal opportunity publicity.

There is kind of a mean tone to the movie that I found slightly disturbing. I get that the condescending attitude of the 1% for the rest of us is supposed to be getting grilled here, but McCarthy should have used a little less lighter fluid. The flame is burning the meat and there is quite enough meanness in the world without adding to it. Still, there are enough funny moments to make a look-see at the film worth your while.

REASONS TO GO: McCarthy and Bell have some fine chemistry. Some fairly funny slapstick moments.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is dumb as a rock and is completely implausible throughout. The overall mean tone was really disconcerting at times.
FAMILY VALUES: The language is considerably salty, and there is plenty of sexual innuendo and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: WWE wrestler Dave Bautista made a cameo in the film, but his part was eventually cut out. It appears in the trailer however.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 19% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Get Hard
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Love & Friendship

Mad (2016)


Madness is often preceded by a smile.

Madness is often preceded by a smile.

(2016) Dramedy (Caterpillar Event) Jennifer Lafleur, Maryann Plunkett, Eilis Cahill, Mark Reeb, Conor Casey, Chris Doubek, Nathan Harlan, Shaun Weiss, Robert G. Putka, Claire McNulty, David Sullivan, Ty Gebler, Avery Gebler, Ern Gerardo, Spencer Tuckerman, Lyndon Casey, Lori Allen, Debbie Scarletta. Directed by Robert G. Putka

Florida Film Festival 2016

A lot of us, at one time or another, are convinced that our parents are crazy. Once in awhile, it turns out to be true.

Mel (Plunkett) has lost it a little. Freshly divorced, she has become more than a handful that her adult daughters Connie (Lafleur) and Casey (Cahill) just can’t handle. Connie is the “responsible” one, an executive for a financial firm with a husband and child, not to mention a kind of shrewish demeanor. She interrogates her mother more than converses with her. Casey, on the other hand, is the “artistic” one, who has floated through life without really settling on a career or a relationship. She’s sweet natured but she is often bullied by her older sister.

So the two daughters, basically unable or unwilling to take care of their mother who has some emotional issues, have her committed to a care facility where she can get the help she needs but before you think “right thing to do,” their motivations might not necessarily be pure; it may be the right thing to do in many ways but it’s also the convenient thing to do for both of them.

So the two daughters go on their merry while mom goes through bouts of intense loneliness and feelings of abandonment while enduring group therapy and living among people who are in far more dire straits emotionally/mentally speaking than she is. While this is going on, both girls are undergoing radical changes in their lives; one is becoming much more level-headed and mature, the other ready to face the music for her own indiscretions. How does mom fit into their equations now?

This isn’t one of those movies that are a comfortable viewing. It pushes you and challenges you. Connie is a flat-out bitch at times while Casey will drive you crazy with her mousy behaviors. Even Mel, who sometimes seems befuddled, isn’t always the nicest and most identifiable character ever. How much you like this movie is going to depend a lot on your tolerance for spending time with people who aren’t always likable.

Now that’s not something I mind per se; I’ve had wonderful experiences with plenty of movies whose characters were people I wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes interacting with in real life. I don’t mind imperfect. What I do mind is predictable. The movie’s plot twists aren’t all that much of a stretch and the big one involving Connie is the only one I really didn’t see coming, but even that one was, once it hit, fairly pedestrian in its outcome. For movies like this to work, I need an element of surprise.

Another bone to pick is that I don’t think the writers did their research very well. The crime they described, for one thing, is not called trade rigging; it is called insider trading and it is not an anti-trust issue, which it is depicted as in the film. Any financial professional could have told them that insider trading is a securities fraud issue.

While a few scenes (particularly those showing Connie at home with her family) seemed a bit padded, overall the pacing is handled well and the transitions from one portion of the film to the next are handled with some finesse. What stands out about the movie is that it really drills down into the complex nature of mother-daughter relationships and creates some real, organic ties between Mel and her two daughters. Unfortunately the situations seem a little bit contrived and I would have preferred the characters to be a bit more realistic.

There are people I respect who found this to be one of the better films presented at this year’s Florida Film Festival and I can kind of see where they’re coming from, but the flaws I perceived were too much for the movie’s strengths to overcome. I think that there are some good films in Putka, but for me, this one will act more as a stepping stone to better movies in his career.

REASONS TO GO: Really captures the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships. The transitions from scene to scene work nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scenes of domestic bliss are a bit long. A bit on the predictable side and occasionally seems a bit emotionally flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality including sexual references as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film debut of Putka whose prior seven short films had all been rejected by Slamdance before the feature was accepted.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Parenthood
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Babushkas of Chernobyl

Side Effects


Is this what depression looks like?

Is this what depression looks like?

(2013) Psychological Thriller (Open Road) Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, David Costabile, Mamie Gummer, Vinessa Shaw, Michael Nathanson, Sheila Tapia, Ann Dowd, Debbie Friedlander, Polly Draper, Marin Ireland, Katie Lowes, Elizabeth Rodriguez. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

As a society we’re drug-happy. Our physicians and psychiatrists prescribe willy-nilly and Big Pharma encourages them to. Modern American medicine has largely become a matter of knowing what pill to prescribe. That’s not to deny there haven’t been serious advances in pharmaceuticals – but the question has to be asked if we rely on them overly much.

You would think Emily Taylor (Mara) would be happy. Her husband Martin (Tatum) is getting out of prison after doing four years for insider trading. Sure, their lives which had been all about privilege and pampering had gone to a more hand-to-mouth lifestyle but at least they’re together. Emily though suffers from depression and after a failed suicide attempt is sent to Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law), an expatriate Brit plying his psychiatric trade on American shores.

Various prescriptions of anti-depressants prove to be ineffective until Jonathan runs into Emily’s former shrink Dr. Victoria Siebert (Zeta-Jones) at a conference. They discuss her condition and Victoria recommends Ablixa, a fairly new drug, as an alternative (she’s even got a promotional pen to give him). Dr. Banks agrees to give it a try.

At first it’s everything advertised; Emily feels a lot better, her sex drive has returned and things are looking rosy. There are a few blips on the radar – she’s sleepwalking which is a common side effect of Ablixa but that’s not worth stopping the treatment. That’s when a tragedy occurs that changes everything, turning Emily’s life upside down and calling into question Dr. Banks’ abilities as a psychiatrist and threatening to destroy his life as well.

Soderbergh excels in these sorts of psychological thrillers and while this isn’t his best, it’s still a solid effort. He has a strong cast (particularly among the lead four) and casts Law perfectly into a role he specializes in. Law is equally adept at playing heroes and villains, largely because he is a bit twitchy to begin with but is also likable. That serves him well here as he is somewhat morally ambiguous although clearly he’s also having his strings pulled.

Mara has only had three leading roles thus far but she’s been excellent in all of them and here she plays a completely different character than her last big part – seemingly mousy, frightened of the world and everything in it, somewhat high maintenance. She’s a bit of an enigma and the movie relies on her being so. Plenty of actresses can be enigmatic but Mara makes her engaging enough that you want to see her get better, want to protect her and take care of her. That’s exactly what the part calls for.

Longtime readers know I’m not especially a fan of Tatum’s acting but in all honesty he does pretty darn well here. He’s certainly morally ambiguous – all of the characters are, a Soderbergh trademark – but he’s also much more warm and likable than I’ve ever seen him. I might just have to revise my opinion about the man.

Zeta-Jones has of late done some fine character acting. She’s still as beautiful as ever but her range has always been much greater than she’s been given credit for and she gets to stretch it a bit here. I’ve always liked her as an actress and she’s given me no reason to think differently now.

While well-written and even brilliant in places, writer Scott Z. Burns falters in the middle third. However the beginning and the last 25 minutes or so are taut and imaginative. You may see some of the solution coming but it’s unlikely you’ll see the whole picture unless you’re pretty damn clever and observant. This is an effective thriller that is sharp, brainy and sexy – everything you want in the genre. That’s not as common as you’d expect.

REASONS TO GO: Skillfully written thriller. Law and Mara deliver fine performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Missed opportunity to skewer Big Pharma. Middle third muddles about a bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sex, a bit of nudity, a surfeit of foul language and some sudden and graphic violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Soderbergh has said that this will be his final feature film as a director (he’s currently putting the finishing touches on a premium cable mini-series) although he hasn’t ruled out coming back to the profession in the future.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100; the film has been getting good reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Firm

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Warm Bodies