Chronically Metropolitan


Writing and hangovers go hand in hand.

(2016) Dramedy (Paladin) Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Benson, Addison Timlin, Josh Peck, Chris Noth, Mary-Louise Parker, Chris Lowell, Sosie Bacon, Nasser Faris, Norm Golden, Rhys Coiro, Max Curnin, Craig Newman, Luca Surguladze, Whitney Vance, Al Thompson, Victor Cruz, Andres Arellano, Antoinette Kalaj, Alex Oliver, Meredith Travers, Ana Valdes. Directed by Xavier Manrique

 

Writers are an odd lot. We have wonderful powers of observation, very often able to discern truths about those we observe that they might not expect. We are also self-centered; writing is by its nature a solitary endeavor. All of us, every one, is ruled by the tyranny of the blank page.

Fenton (Fernandez) is the son of one such writer and professor who has been a leading light in the New York City literary world and a fixture on the Upper East Side. When Fenton’s dad (Noth) is involved in a car accident in which drugs and extramarital sex played a role, his whole family is put under an enormous microscope – the accident winds up front page material in the New York Post (“They never paid this much attention when I won my National Book Award” he grouses).

Fenton had been living in San Francisco the past year. A talented writer in his own right, he had gotten a story published in The New Yorker which his then-girlfriend Jessie (Benson) had assumed was about her and her family. It led to a nasty break-up and to Fenton’s exile, as he puts it. Now he’s back, trying to mend fences with Jessie who is on the eve of her wedding to Victor (Lowell), an art gallery owner whose family is stupid rich. Fenton’s dad assumes that’s why the nuptials are impending.

Fenton’s mom (Parker) has retreated into a marijuana-scented haze trying to dull the edges of her pain and embarrassment. His sister Layla (Addison Timlin) is basically angry at everybody and carrying on a hidden relationship with Fenton’s best buddy (and mom’s pot supplier) John (Peck). Fenton has a deal for a novel based on the success of his New Yorker story but when he sits down to write it that blank page stares back at him accusingly. He hasn’t been able to move on from all the upheaval and with his parents essentially on the verge of divorce, he is getting overwhelmed and acting out. Can he put his life back together under the microscope of New York literary society?

This is the kind of movie that plays to the prejudices of non-New Yorkers, characterizing them as pretentious self-centered spoiled rich pricks. Everyone in the movie and I do mean everyone has some sort of neuroses going on. As for actual New Yorkers, this is the kind of movie that sets their teeth on edge. Certainly there are people who behave this way – those prejudices had to start from somewhere – but it isn’t really true to life anymore.

For one thing, a story in the New Yorker isn’t going to have the catastrophic effect on families that it once did. In this day and age of social media, a family’s skeletons are likely to be aired on Facebook long before the dirty laundry is made into a short story or a novel. Regards to the New Yorker, a publication that is worthy of respect but while it continues to carry a lot of clout, I don’t think that it can cause that kind of personal chaos any longer. At least, that’s what I hear.

This feels like a movie cobbled together from a lot of different movies; Fenton wanting to stop the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, a family at each other’s throats due to a work of fiction that is thinly veiled autobiography, a philandering father who is a writer, a mother who is self-medicating, an angry sibling – I could go on but why bother? This is all fairly safe, fairly familiar territory and most of you who have watched more than a few indie films set in Manhattan are going to recognize it.

Noth channels Rip Torn here and does a fairly stellar job in a role of an utter S.O.B. which Torn used to essentially own. Noth, who generally plays nice guys, does an admirable job here. Parker, a terrific actress who doesn’t get nearly as much credit as she deserves, is wasted in a generic role. In fact, most of the women here have very little depth to their parts. This is certainly a case where the script could have used a woman’s touch.

Cinematographer Scott Miller does a bang-up job of using the city as a character; one gets the sense of the ebb and flow of New York. Despite the shallowness of most of the characters, one senses a genuine love for the city from all of the filmmakers. That does go a long way.

Sadly this is far too generic and far too cliché to really attract much notice. There are some good ideas here but for the most part the writing takes safe, established routes rather than blazing new trails. There’s nothing here that seems to have much of a voice – and that’s essential to a film like this. It’s okay as far as it goes, but I would have liked a lot more than okay.

REASONS TO GO: The film is skillfully shot and features New York City nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Indie clichés abound here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, a fair amount of drug and alcohol use and some sex and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Parker, whose character here has developed a marijuana habit, also played a pot smoker in the TV series Weeds.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frances Ha
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Landline

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Danny Collins


Pacino describes the size of his paycheck as a bemused Bening and Benoist look on.

Pacino describes the size of his paycheck as a bemused Bening and Benoist look on.

(2014) Dramedy (Bleecker Street) Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Melissa Benoist, Josh Peck, Nick Offerman, Aarti Mann, Katarina Cas, Giselle Eisenberg, Anne McDaniels, Eric Lange, Brian Smith, Michael Patrick McGill, Cassandra Starr, Scott Lawrence, Meghan Aruffo, Eric Schneider, Linda Wang. Directed by Dan Fogelman

Fame is something we wear on our heads like a sombrero; it might appear to some to be like a halo but at the end of the day it’s just straw.

Danny Collins (Pacino) has been living with fame for most of his adult life. Once a promising folk singer, a cross between Bob Dylan and John Lennon, he has settled into a groove as a soft rock pop star, feeding off the energy of his massive hit “Hey Baby Doll” and others of that ilk, not a one of them written by Danny Collins and none of them as heartfelt or insightful as those he wrote himself in his youth. But thirty years have passed under that bridge and there’s an awful lot of water that went with it.

After another rote concert filled with screaming old ladies whose days of beauty were decades gone and who retained just enough of their bloom to be utterly ridiculous, he’s ready to give it all up. Those feelings are sealed when his best friend and manager Frank (Plummer) gives him a letter written to him by John Lennon back in his youth. You see, Danny had done an interview with a now-defunct rock magazine with a smarmy interviewer (Offerman); the interview catches the attention of none other than John Lennon who wrote him a letter care of the smarmy interviewer who promptly sold the thing. Frank had only found it a few months earlier.

For Danny, the effect is galvanizing. He tells Frank to cancel his upcoming world tour and points his private jet towards Jersey – not before breaking up with Sophie (Cas), his much younger fiance. Why Jersey? That’s because that’s where his estranged son Tom (Cannavale) lives. Tom is a working class guy, the sort that takes whatever construction job comes his way in order to feed his family; his very pregnant wife Samantha (Garner) and his severely ADHD afflicted daughter Hope (Eisenberg). Danny was pretty absent in Tom’s life and Tom didn’t take kindly to it and hasn’t really been able to get past it.

But given Danny’s sex drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, that might not have been a bad thing.  Danny has made a lot of mistakes in his life and in many ways his chickens have come home to roost. He has occupied a room in a suburban Hilton, arranged for a grand piano to be brought in and sets out to woo the attractive manager Mary (Bening) and charm his family, but both are uphill battles for a man who has become used to taking the path of least resistance.

Fogelman, who’s made a tidy career writing Disney animated films (including Cars) and unimpressive comedies (including Last Vegas) makes his directorial debut here. In all truth it’s pretty solid if unspectacular; Fogelman hits all of the right notes and while he doesn’t take a whole lot in the way of chances, he delivers a product that is more than palatable.

That’s mainly because of the presence of Pacino who delivers one of his more enjoyable performances of recent years. Danny is a charming Irish rogue at his best and while that sort of role hasn’t exactly been one Pacino has been noted for in his career, he does a great job of making Danny the kind of guy that you’d love to hang out with but that you wouldn’t want dating your sister.

He’s got a solid supporting cast behind him, with the ever-lovable Bening as the love interest, the just-as-charming Plummer as the best friend and Cannavale (more on him in a moment). Only Garner seems a bit wasted in her role as the daughter-in-law as she mostly seems confused and bewildered, although she shows a bit of backbone when Danny offers to get Hope in to a prestigious school that they could never afford to get her into on their own.

I honestly think Cannavale has it in him to be an A-list leading man. He has mostly been cast in thug roles but I don’t think they suit him very well; he seems to do better with more sympathetic parts. Here he’s gruff and a bit stubborn but at his core he’s a good-hearted man who just wants to do right by his family.

The soundtrack is definitely worthwhile with plenty of John Lennon songs, although they are used a bit of a ham-handed manner; I mean, we don’t need to hear “Working Class Hero” to know that Tom is just that or “Instant Karma” after a failed attempt at reconciliation with Tom. The Danny Collins songs – the Leonard Cohen-like one he’s writing in the hotel, and the insipid pop “Hey, Baby Doll” are less memorable.

The story is a bit rote and the plot twists are pretty old school if you ask me. Then again, this isn’t a movie about redemption; it’s about understanding who you are and growing when need be. What I like about this movie is that Danny doesn’t end up being the perfect grandfather/father and write insightful songs that re-energize his career. The changes in his life are coming piecemeal as best as he can. In that sense, Danny Collins is a real character because real people don’t make wholesale changes but gradual ones. Nothing happens overnight except maybe a Beyonce album.

REASONS TO GO: Pacino is a hoot. Cannavale continues to be a cinematic presence.
REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really inspire audience commitment. Predictable ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language, some nudity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was inspired by the real life story of English folk performer Steve Tilston who learned of a similar letter sent to him by John Lennon 40 years after the fact.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/24/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Somewhere
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Unfriended

New Releases for the Week of September 20, 2013


Prisoners

PRISONERS

(Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Len Cariou. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

A desperate father races against time after his daughter and her young friend have disappeared. The only lead the police have is a dilapidated RV that was parked on the street at the time of the disappearances. The driver, a mentally challenged young man, has been released for lack of evidence. As time ticks away with each moment bringing a greater chance that the children will be dead, how far will he go to find his little girl – and what price will he pay?

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout)

Battle of the Year

(Screen Gems) Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Caity Lotz.  A hip hop mogul, ticked off that the Hip Hop Dance World Championship has gone to countries other than the United State for 15 years, decides to assemble a dream team to bring the trophy back home – and a washed up former championship basketball coach to lead them there.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and innuendo)

Generation Iron

(American Media/Vladar) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke (narrator), Lou Ferrigno, Michael Jai White. As the prestigious Mr. Olympia competition nears, renowned bodybuilders from around the world prepare for one of the most coveted titles in all of bodybuilding. As the film focuses on seven top up and coming young stars, legends and admirers of the sport weigh in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language) 

Grand Masti

(Maruti International) Ritesh Deshmukh, Vivek Oberoi, Aftab Shivdasani, Maryam Zakaria . A sequel to the huge hit sex comedy Masti finds the three sex-crazed men of that film now married to beautiful sexy wives. Perfect life right? Wrong! Their wives are too busy with their other obligations to give the men the sex they crave. They’re going crazy – until the opportunity to attend a college class reunion gives them the chance to sow their wild oats with willing co-eds. No, this isn’t a 70s porn film.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Phata Poster Nikla Hero

(Tips) Shahid Kapoor, Ileana, Katrina Kaif, Zakir Hussein. The latest from director Rajkumar Santoshi is the usual meld of high energy, low comedy and spectacular musical numbers and dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Thanks for Sharing

(Roadside Attractions) Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson. Three people afflicted with sex addiction struggle to face life together after rehabilitation. Romantic involvements and interpersonal relationships become battlegrounds as the human need for companionship and love is at war with their obsessive need for sexual gratification.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some strong sexual content)

The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D

(MGM) Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. We all know the story. We’ve all seen the movie. Now you can see it like it’s never been shown before – in full-on IMAX 3D. I’m usually not too encouraging of my readers to spend their hard-earned dollars on blatant cash grabs, but this one might be the rare exception. Who doesn’t want to see a Flying Monkey in 3D on the IMAX screen?

See the trailer, promos, clips and stream the full movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some scary moments)

What Goes Up


What Goes Up

Steve Coogan prays for more roles like this one.

(2009) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Olivia Thirlby, Josh Peck, Molly Shannon, Molly Price, Max Hoffman, Sarah Lind, Laura Carswell, Ingrid Nelson, Andrea Brooks, Andrew Wheeler, Gabrielle Rose. Directed by Jonathan Glatzer

Some movies are easy reviews. They stay with you or they are of such quality (or lack thereof) that the reviews almost write themselves. Others, like this one, are much harder to find the right words for.

Campbell Babbitt (Coogan) is a journalist doing a backstory on teacher Christa McAuliffe, who is about to go up in the Space Shuttle Challenger, at her high school in New Hampshire. As it so happens, an old college buddy of his also teaches there but before Babbitt can hook up with him, he commits suicide.

He is left to talk to the surviving students, such as Lucy Diamond (Duff), a somewhat self-centered sort who thinks that every guy who lays eyes on her is automatically her conquest; there’s also Tess Sullivan (Thirlby), a pregnant teen who is as manipulative as she is expectant and Jim Lement (Peck) who plays things close to the chest.

As a matter of fact, the whole town seems to be a bit on the eccentric side (as towns in New England often are in the movies) with Penelope Little (Shannon) putting on a somewhat avant garde musical production honoring the Challenger and its famous local astronaut. In the meantime, Campbell is going to get a close look at himself and his own ethics.

This is the kind of movie that drives me crazy. There’s a good deal of promise here, both in the subject matter and in some of the casting – I like Steve Coogan and this is the kind of role he doesn’t tackle often, something with a little meat to it. Coogan has the ability to tackle roles both comedic and dramatic and this one shows off his talents in both fields.

Duff is cast against type as something of a slut, and to be honest with you I can’t say as she looks comfortable in the role. Shannon is wacky as ever and this is the kind of part she has played many a time, both on SNL and in movies. She’s a little more sympathetic than usual here but that’s all.

Using the Challenger disaster as a framing device wouldn’t be a bad thing in and of itself, but there doesn’t really seem to be much of a point here. The point is, I suppose, that the students are teaching Campbell something about life and maybe there’s some merit to that, but they seem to be more cliche indie film eccentrics more than real characters.

Some of the moments are really touching, and there are some moments that are charming but sadly, they are not as plentiful as they might be. Some of the cinematography is marvelous – there are some beautiful shots of the bleak winter, but that’s not enough to carry the movie. It’s sort of a noble failure; there are enough things that work to make it worth my while to review, but there are not enough of them to provoke me to recommend it, as much as I wish I could.

WHY RENT THIS: A definite change of pace for Coogan. Some really affecting moments. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is inconsistent in places; sometimes thought-provoking, other times not so much. Casting seems a little haphazard.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s teen sex, language and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in New England, the movie was filmed in British Columbia to help better establish the winter setting.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Beastly