Book Club


In any decade, nobody parties like Candice Bergen.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Paramount) Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Mircea Monroe, Tommy Dewey, John Shartzer, Ravi Kapoor, Lili Bordán, Marisa Chen Moller, Amanda Martin. Directed by Bill Holderman

 

Four literate ladies have been friends for ages and have seen the curvature of their lives move towards the downward slope. One of the hallmarks of their friendship is their regular book club meetings in which the four women read a book and then discuss it the following week. The membership includes Vivian (Fonda) the somewhat oversexed owner of a boutique luxury hotel chain; Sharon (Bergen), a divorced judge who is notoriously career-driven; Diane (Keaton), a recent widow whose bossy daughters (Silverstone and Aselton interchangeably) want her to move to Scottsdale into a basement apartment even though she’s perfectly happy and capable of supporting herself in Los Angeles and finally restaurateur Carol (Steenburgen) whose husband (Nelson) has been notably absent in the bedroom of late – corresponding with his retirement. The reading of Fifty Shades of Grey inspires them to ramp up their love lives.

This is one of those films that perpetuates the myth that senior sexuality is at best cute and at worst a colossal punchline to a bad joke. Being that I’m climbing towards those rarefied age climes, perhaps I’m a little more sensitive to that sort of thing but with modern medicine allowing us to live longer than we used to, sex drives are correspondingly lasting well into our sixties and seventies, sometimes even into our eighties. While there may be those who still giggle at the thought of Granny and Grampy getting busy, it’s not realistic anymore to expect that they don’t.

At least Holderman, a veteran producer making his directing debut, doesn’t waste the talents of his cast. All of these pros deliver performances that range from strong to terrific. Bergen in particular brought to mind past glories as we’re reminded watching her that there has never been another Murphy Brown and there likely never will be.

The film suffers from having too many characters and not enough backstory; I would have been much happier with fewer but better developed characters in the mix. Still, I’m glad that these ladies are still drawing a paycheck and I would love to see much more of them, albeit in better films than this one. At least it has a killer soundtrack going for it.

REASONS TO SEE: The great cast also gets a great soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: The myth that senior citizens having a sexual life is ridiculous is perpetuated here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including sexual references as well as other sex-related content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bergen, Fonda and Keaton all dated Warren Beatty at one time or another.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews: Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Boynton Beach Club
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Patient 001

Youth


Michael Caine conducts himself with dignity.

Michael Caine conducts himself with dignity.

(2015) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Alex Macqueen, Madalina Ghenea, Mark Kozelek, Nate Dern, Alex Beckett, Mark Gessner, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Luna Mijovic, Dorji Wangchuk, Ed Stoppard, Robert Seethaler, Paloma Faith, Emilia Jones, Beatrice Walker, Rebecca Calder, Veronika Dash. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

We all age. From the moment we burst out of the womb our bodies are decaying on the way to decrepitude. And for the record, there’s no such thing as aging gracefully; there’s only the appearance of it. When we age, we do so with a distinct absence of grace. We go kicking and screaming, flailing away like an epileptic mule, into that good night.

In a remote spa resort in the Swiss Alps, retired composer/conductor Fred Ballinger is vacationing with his daughter Lena (Weisz) who is also his business assistant, and his best friend Mickey Boyle (Keitel) who is a respected Hollywood screenwriter putting the finishing touches with a team of writers on his latest script, which he considers his “moral testament,” a work that he sees as his enduring legacy.

A representative (Macqueen) of the Queen of England is there to convince Maestro Ballinger to conduct one of his most famous pieces, Simple Songs #3, for Prince Philip’s birthday at which time he would receive his knighthood, but Ballinger adamantly refuses for “personal reasons.” Try as he might to pry it out of him, the rep is stymied. However, the Queen can be mighty persistent.

Boyle is writing a hell of a part for an actress whose career he helped launch, Brenda Morel (Fonda) but her reaction to the role is startling and disappointing. Both men are realizing that their best days are behind them, and that they are slowly leaving the things of their youth behind, even as they see those who worship youth flutter around them like so many broken songbirds.

Sorrentino, who directed the Oscar-winning The Grand Beauty, is clearly influenced by the great Federico Fellini. Like Fellini, he has a fascination for women and like Fellini, he has an appreciation for the surreal dreams. As with most Fellini films, Sorrentino populates Youth with the jaded rich, those who have become so used to being able to afford anything they want that there’s nothing they want that they can afford. The shallow values of these people collide with the gorgeous Alpine scenery.

Ballinger and Boyle (which sounds like either a London barrister or a French champagne) are the exceptions. They are bemused by the couples who sit through dinner silently, the South American superstar so famous nobody need even say his name, the wealthy chasing after lost youth as if they could find it again and even if they could, that they can somehow bathe in it and become young again.

There is a great deal of depth to the movie, and it’s the kind that you have to work for. You have characters passing in and out like the actor (Dano) known for playing a robot studying for a new part – and it’s not one that you’d expect. Then there’s the lonely mountain climbing teacher (Seethaler) who approaches Lena, who herself has been cheated on and tossed aside by her husband – who happens to be Mick’s son – and is rebounding in the arms of a gentler, kinder man.

Still, it is Michael Caine who is magnificent here. An actor as versatile as there has been in the last 50 years, if anyone in Hollywood has aged gracefully, he has. He plays a man who has shut away his emotions to the point that when they do come out, it’s a shock. They are most certainly there, but deep below his calm, upper class demeanor. While he dismisses his work as simplistic, there’s no doubt that they mean something very personal to him and even his daughter, whom he has never been able to express his feelings for, knows it. Caine has some of the best moments in the film, particularly a balcony conversation with Mick near the end of the movie that takes a shocking turn. I will always remember his character conducting the cows in the Tyrolean meadows as well as the birds and the wind, making a beautiful symphony only he – and we – hear.

Fonda also has a bravura moment with Keitel, coming off as perhaps the most Fellini-esque of the characters here, with her shrill demeanor, her dangling cigarette and her laid-on-with-a-trowel makeup that make her look like a party guest in a Fellini film. That leads into another sequence reminiscent of the great Italian director in which Mick’s leading ladies all appear in a meadow, repeating robotically the lines from their films.

When Mick tells Fred in a breaking voice “You say that emotions are overrated, but…emotions are all we’ve got,” he’s speaking for Sorrentino. While there’s a lot here to occupy the mind, this is ultimately a movie of the heart and it speaks directly to that organ more so than the one above the neck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack, particularly the contributions of Mark Kozelek (vocalist of the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon). His voice is as calming and soothing as any you’ll ever here; he’s literally human lithium. His version of Yes’ ”Onward” (written by the late great Chris Squire and the best song he ever wrote) is used three times during the film. It’s a beautiful song about love and perfectly underscores the themes of the movie.

Fellini is very much an acquired taste and not everything here is going to appeal to everyone. Sorrentino often flashes images of people or things seemingly at random, or juxtaposes images with dialogue or songs in a way that very much recalls the late director. Not everyone is going to like it but if you like Italian cinema of the 60s, or simply very good movies that appeal to both head and heart, you’re going to find something here to love. Of course if you’re a Fellini fan, so much the better; but those who find his style too pretentious might want to give this one a miss.

REASONS TO GO: There is truly some magic here. Caine’s performance is wonderful.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally pretentious and confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: Graphic nudity, some sexuality and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ghenea was 26 at the time of filming, which would have tied her for the honor of the oldest Miss Universe ever were she actually the part she plays.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/31/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: La Dolce Vita
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Hateful Eight

New Releases for the Week of December 25, 2015


ConcussionCONCUSSION

(Columbia) Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Mike O’Malley, Eddie Marsan, Luke Wilson. Directed by Peter Landesman

Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic Neuropathologist working in Pittsburgh, is presented with a strange situation; a favored son of the city, a former football star, dies suddenly penniless, his very personality rumored to have changed completely. As he investigates he discovers something shocking; repeated head traumas, such as those routinely suffered by football players, leads to some terrifying consequences. However in bringing his findings to the public, he finds himself in a fight with a corporation that owns a day of the week – the National Football League. However, Dr. Omalu refuses to back down and becomes maybe the greatest advocate that pro athletes have ever had.

See the trailer, clips, interviews 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: PG-13 (for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language)

The Big Short

(Paramount) Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei. As the economy came to the verge of collapse in 2008, a group of financial outsiders, seeing what the big banks had done to the economy knew that they would likely not get much more than a slap on the wrist. They decided on a bold scheme to get their share, taking on some of the biggest crooks in the history of mankind – and winning.

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

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

Rating: R (for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity)

Daddy’s Home

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church. A white bread radio executive has married a divorced woman with two kids, and is trying to be the best dad possible to them, although frankly they don’t want anything to do with him. Still, he tries and hopes for the best – until their biological father shows up, forcing him to compete with the guy for the attention of the kids. The ante gets upped again and again until the stakes become ridiculous.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language)

The Danish Girl

(Focus) Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw. Danish painter Einar Wegener was married to a fellow painter and seemingly happy with his life. However, a request from his wife, seemingly simple and innocuous, leads him to a profound change and the realization that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Desperate to find a solution, he takes a risk that at the time was unthinkable – but may be his only hope for happiness and peace.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexuality and full nudity)

The Hateful Eight

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern. A bounty hunter, taking his quarry back to Red Rock, Wyoming to hang shortly after the end of the Civil War, finds himself snowed in with six other strangers in a Rocky Mountain stagecoach stop. Soon it becomes clear that not all of the men are being completely candid about who they are – and that not everyone holed up to wait out the storm is going to make it out alive. The movie will be playing in digital 70mm print approximation (few theaters across the country will have the real thing), and will be opening in wide release on January 8th in standard 35mm digital.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette, B-roll video and a Q&A session here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

Joy

(20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Rohm. Coming from a working class background, nobody ever figured Joy would ever amount to much but nobody counted on her unshakable will. She goes on to found a business empire, navigating the cutthroat waters of modern business to become one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. This is the latest offering from director David O. Russell, who has become the nearest thing to a sure Oscar nominee as there’s been in the last few years.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Point Break

(Warner Brothers) Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer. A young maverick FBI Agent infiltrates a group of extreme athletes who are suspected of pulling off daring robberies utilizing skills involving some of the most dangerous activities known to humans. The deeper the agent gets, the more he gets swept into their world. Eager to prove their innocence he begins to lose sight of his job and the protection of innocent lives. Can he bring these guys to justice before people die for their thrill-seeking ways – or will he ultimately prove their innocence?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, thematic material involving perilous activity, some sexuality, language and drug material)

Youth

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz. Two lifelong friends vacation at a resort in the Swiss Alps as they contemplate oncoming retirement. Befriended by a young actor struggling to make sense of his latest role, one – a musician – is urged by his daughter not to retire just yet while the other – a screenwriter – labors to finish what may well be his last screenplay aided by his muse, who may or may not be true inspiration.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language)

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

This is Where I Leave You


A rooftop tete-a-tete.

A rooftop tete-a-tete.

(2014) Dramedy (Warner Brothers) Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz, Aaron Lazar, Cade Lappin, Will Swenson, Carol Schultz, Kevin McCormick, Olivia Oguma, Beth Leavel, Carly Brooke Pearlstein. Directed by Shawn Levy

It is well known that you can choose your friends but not your family. Families can be a tricky thing. We may grow up in the same house, have pretty much the same experiences and yet still turn out to be different people. My sister and I were born eleven months apart but I’m sure there are times that she wondered what planet I’d been born on.

The Altmans are gathering for a sad occasion; the patriarch of the family has passed on and their mother Hilary (Fonda) is insisting that the four siblings and their families stay at her house to sit shiva – a Jewish tradition in which the family of the deceased sit in low chairs, host mourners at their home and say prayers for the dead – for seven days. It was their father’s dying wish, she tells them. When it comes to this particular ritual, they may as well have called it seven days in hell.

Judd (Bateman) is a wreck. He caught his wife (Spencer) cheating on him with his boss (Shepard) and apparently the affair had been going on for a year. His sister Wendy (Fey) is married to a prick (Lazar) and is saddled with two small children including a baby. She would have married the love of her life, Horry Callen (Olyphant) but a car accident left him brain damaged and he essentially pushed her away. She still pines for him though.

Oldest brother Paul (Stoll) runs dad’s hardware store now and is trying to get his wife Alice (Hahn) – who used to date Judd before he got married – pregnant. Finally the baby of the family Philip (Driver) is kind of the black sheep/family screw-up who is dating his much older therapist (Britton) but still manages to screw that up too.

They all come for the week, grudgingly. It doesn’t help that Hilary wrote a best-seller based on her kids and overshares on a regular basis. Also in the mix is Penny (Byrne), a high school sweetheart of Judd’s who is still in town. Everyone in the family, Judd wryly observes, is sad, angry or cheating.

I was surprised to discover that this is based on a novel. The reason for my surprise is that the film has kind of a sitcom feel to it, a dysfunctional family trapped in the same house together. Like a sitcom, the whole supposition here is that a week together as a family can cure all the troubles that plague the individual members of the family and make everyone whole again. We all know that when families are forced to stay together usually the opposite tends to be true.

Director Shawn Levy, who has a hit franchise in Night at the Museum, is not the most deft of comedic directors but he does have some touch and having a cast like this certainly doesn’t hurt. Fey and Bateman are two of the most accomplished comedic actors in the movies these days and Driver is heading in that same general direction. When you have Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne and Kathryn Hahn in support you must be doing something right as well.

Strangely though the ensemble doesn’t quite gel; it feels like a bunch of actors reciting lines more than an actual family. You don’t get a sense of closeness from anybody except for Fey and Bateman and even they seem a little bit distant from each other. Still, they capture the squabbling and occasional affectionate ball-busting that goes on in a large family quite nicely.

Of course, most of the family are fairly well-off financially (except for maybe Philip and his girlfriend is apparently quite wealthy) and the problems are definitely of the white people variety so that may put some people off right there. One thing that works about the family dynamic is that nobody really talks to anybody else. Not about the important stuff, anyway. When Judd arrives, for example, only Wendy is aware his marriage has ended. It isn’t until several days in when everybody wonders where his wife is that he finally blurts it out angrily. It illustrates the inherent dysfunction but then again in a family in which your mother has essentially paraded all your secrets out for everyone to see I can understand why some of them might be tight-lipped.

There are enough laughs to carry the movie along more or less and enough pathos to make you feel good at end credits roll, so I can give this a reasonably solid thumbs up. However, the movie is pretty flawed considering the talent working on it so be forewarned in that regard.

REASONS TO GO: Captures the dysfunctional family dynamic. Really great cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat manipulative.  Unrealistic “sitcom syndrome” ending. Ensemble doesn’t quite gel.
FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of swearing, some sexuality and a fair amount of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the source novel, Judd recalls a childhood incident in which he observes his mother exercising to a Jane Fonda workout video. In the movie, his mother is played by Jane Fonda.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/7/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Family Stone
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: A Walk Among the Tombstones

New Releases for the Week of September 19, 2014


The Maze RunnerTHE MAZE RUNNER

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ami Ameen, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Ki Hong Lee. Directed by Wes Ball

A young boy awakens in a glade surrounded by an incredible and seemingly near-endless maze with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He finds himself in the same boat as a large number of other boys. Some very bad things lurk in the maze and despite the best efforts of those glade-dwellers to navigate the maze, no exit has yet been found but the boy’s arrival seems to trigger a change in things. For one thing, the appearance of a girl who seems to know who the boy is. But just as it seems the glade dwellers are on the verge of solving the maze, it becomes clear that there are those who don’t want the maze solved and will stop at nothing to keep the boys – and girl – right where they are.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images)

A Walk Among the Tombstones

(Universal) Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson. An ex-cop with a tragic past now works as an outside-the-law private investigator who is engaged by a drug lord to find the man who kidnapped and murdered his wife after the ransom was paid. What the detective finds is a team of serial murders so ruthless and sadistic that they go beyond anything he’s ever encountered – and now that they are aware of his investigation, he may end up being next on their list.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity)

Aagadu

(Eros International) Mahesh Babu, Tamannah Bhatia, Sonu Sood, Rajendra Prasad. Typically, very little plot detail has been released in advance of the film. All we know is that it is a police actioner with two police officers on a dangerous case together becoming romantically involved. I think.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Daawat-E-Ishq

(Yash Raj) Aditya Roy Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, Anupam Kher, Sunny Deol. A shoe sales girl from Hyderabad disillusioned with love due to all the dowry-seeking men who don’t give a fig for her one way or the other discovers the alluring charm of a young Lucknawi chef who becomes besotted with her. With two very dissimilar cultures in their way, the two will have to come up with their own powerful recipe for love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Life After Beth

(A24) Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Anna Kendrick. A teen boy’s life is destroyed when his girlfriend dies unexpectedly. When she miraculously returns, he determines to do and share all the things he failed to do before the close call. When she begins acting a bit oddly, he thinks nothing of it but soon she develops some unhealthy appetites and he slowly reaches the realization that his girlfriend is a zombie.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Zom-Com

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some horror violence, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use)

My Old Lady

(Cohen Media Group) Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon. A down on his luck American seems to have his luck change when he inherits a Parisian apartment. When he arrives in France he discovers that there is an elderly woman already living there and due to the labyrinthine real estate laws, he is unable to sell the apartment for the money he so desperately needs. Worse yet, he is required to pay her a fee until she dies. With no more money left, he is forced to move in with her and her daughter and in doing so, a strange bond begins to develop between the three.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some sexual references)

This is Where I Leave You

(Warner Brothers) Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver. Four siblings, estranged from their parents, are brought together following their father’s death. His last wish is for them to live under the same roof for a week and so they do, never dreaming that this week will help them to heal old wounds, establish better relationships and help them find their best possible selves.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Ensemble Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and some drug use)

Tusk

(A24) Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez. An ambitious blog reporter has stumbled on the scoop of a lifetime. Reclusive adventurer Howe is willing to give him an interview but as the reporter finds Howe’s obsession with walruses disturbing, he has no idea just how obsessed Howe is – and what plans he has for the reporter.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content)

Lee Daniels’ The Butler


Not everything in this film is Black and White - but a lot of it is.

Not everything in this film is Black and White – but a lot of it is.

(2013) Period Drama (Weinstein) Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, David Banner, Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Mariah Carey, Clarence Williams III, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Liev Schreiber, Nelsan Ellis, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Joe Chrest, Elijah Kelly, Adriane Lenox. Directed by Lee Daniels

The Civil Rights era was a turbulent time for this country as we were forced to look at a very ugly side of ourselves. That ugliness played out on television screens across the country as deeply held beliefs – generations in the making – erupted to the surface.

Cecil Gains (Whitaker) grew up as a sharecropper’s son on a cotton farm in Georgia. When he was a young boy, he watched his father (Banner) murdered in front of his eyes by the overseer (Pettyfer) for objecting to the overseer raping his wife (Carey). Gains is taken in by the kindly mistress of the house (Redgrave) who teaches him how to be a house servant. With the specter of his father’s murder hanging over him, he decides to leave the employ and venture to Washington DC to find work as a domestic.

He is spotted at a Washington hotel by the Chief Engineer of the White House domestic staff and is given a job as a butler. This of course is a big deal for Cecil and his wife Gloria (Winfrey) who is a bit star-struck and assumes she’ll get a tour of his new place of employment. Cecil, however, is all about keeping his head down and serving those who sit in the Oval Office to the best of his ability. Along with fellow butlers James (Kravitz) and Carter (Gooding), he will serve seven Presidents over nearly 40 years, from Eisenhower (Williams) to Kennedy (Marsden) to LBJ (Schreiber) to Nixon (Cusack) to Reagan (Rickman) and Nancy Reagan (Fonda). He becomes a comforting presence, nearly invisible – the room feels empty when he’s in it.

At home, his wife is the President of his household and he rarely fades into the background there, raising his kids Louis (Oyelowo) and Charles (Kelly). Louis would go off to Fisk University in Tennessee despite his father’s vehement objections (he didn’t move his family away from the South just to see his son go right back into the lion’s den) and his mother’s desire to have him closer to home. There he becomes politicized and becomes a zealous member of the civil rights movement, enduring arrests and beatings. This becomes a wedge between him and Cecil, his father disapproving of his activities while for Louis’ part he is disdainful of his father’s profession, thinking him a subservient Uncle Tom to the white Master, a symbol for his people’s submission and oppression. Both men are wrong, but it will take a tragedy for them to even consider seeing the other’s point of view.

The movie is loosely (and I mean loosely) based on the life of Eugene Allen, who was an African-American butler in the White House from 1948-1996. While there were some similarities of events (for example, Nancy Reagan really did invite the real Eugene Allen to a State dinner but it was on the occasion of his retirement, not the cause of it as it is depicted here), there are a lot of liberties taken with his life story – for example, he had only one son, not two and that  son was not as involved in the Civil Rights movement as Charles is although to be fair, NOBODY was as involved in the movement as he was – Charles is depicted here as being a Freedom Rider, in the inner circle of Martin Luther King (and present at his assassination), a member of the Black Panther party and eventually an activist against Apartheid.

Daniels, who broke out a few years ago with Precious is one of a group of outstanding African-American directors who have begun to build some pretty impressive movies in the last few years. This is his most ambitious work and it has been rewarded with being a breakout hit,. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets some award consideration, particularly for Winfrey who is absolutely outstanding here.

Yeah, there were times I realized I was watching OPRAH but that was mostly early on and as the movie continues, the audience becomes lost in her performance, watching her chain-smoke her way through the most growth of any character in the movie, showing some all-too-human frailties while maintaining her strength and dignity in the face of increasing loneliness, getting all dressed up and dancing alone to songs on TV variety shows while her husband works, another weekend night alone. It’s quite moving and indicative of how powerful an actress Winfrey is. Her talk show, television network and financial empire have kept her away from acting for the most part but had she continued after her stellar work in The Color Purple she might just have a couple of Oscars on her mantle by now.

While the actors playing the Presidents are eclectic choices for the roles, they at least do them capably and if they don’t necessarily capture the personality of the men they play, they at least capture the dignity and the strength of the office.

There is a bit of Forrest Gump here with Cecil and Louis being thrust into historical events – Cecil as an onlooker and Louis as a participant, further illustrating the gulf between the men. Whitaker is an Oscar winner and has a thankless role; Cecil’s whole existence revolves around him being invisible and it’s hard to make an invisible man interesting. In that sense, Winfrey and Oyelowo carry the movie. The latter turns in a performance that serves notice that he is a force to be reckoned with. I foresee some major roles coming his way.

If there’s a criticism I have for the movie, it’s that it can be overly melodramatic. While there are those who say it trivializes the civil rights movement as an essential side show to the American Presidency and to Cecil’s family drama, I think the scenes depicting the lunch counter sit-in in Nashville and its ensuing violence to the police turning fire hoses and dogs on the marchers from Selma are powerful and moving.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the script sticking closer to the real Eugene Allen’s life – it must have been fascinating. Perhaps someday there is a documentary to be made of it, although I suspect it never will be – the butlers would tend to see a more private side of the President than perhaps they might be willing to show to posterity. However, this is indeed a solid movie, generally well-acted if a bit maudlin in places but the power of the history behind the histrionics more than makes up for it.

REASONS TO GO: A visceral reminder of the hardships undergone by African-Americans and civil rights activists in particular. Amazing performances all around.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly melodramatic. Based on a real person but very loosely which the film should at least mention.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a goodly amount of violence and some images that are graphic. There’s also some sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Laura Ziskin’s last film before passing away of breast cancer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mississippi Burning

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: True Legend