New Releases for the Week of January 4, 2019


IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

(Annapurna) KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, Ed Skrein, Dave Franco. Directed by Barry Jenkins

In Harlem of the 1970s, a young couple is getting ready to get married and have a baby together but their plans are shattered when the groom-to-be is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Now the bride-to-be sets out to prove his innocence in the meanwhile dealing with the physical challenges of her pregnancy and with the love of her family for support. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, this is the first project for Jenkins since he won an Oscar for Moonlight.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama

Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Escape Room

(Columbia) Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis. Six strangers find themselves in a deadly Escape Room where they must find clues to exit, ot they will all die.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language)

On the Basis of Sex

(Focus) Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston. Lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg takes on a case that she hopes will make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. The case will end up going all the way to the Supreme Court, change American life forever and pave the way for Ginsberg to becoming one of the most respected and beloved Supreme Court justices in history.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

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

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Being Rose
Odiyan
State Like Sleep
Support the Girls

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Njan Prakashan
Return of the Hero

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

American Hangman
Njan Prakashan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Distant Drums
Njan Prakashan

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Escape Room
If Beale Street Could Talk
On the Basis of Sex
Support the Girls

New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2016


MoanaMOANA

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

A plucky teenage girl (are there any other kind at Disney?) sets out on a dangerous quest across the Pacific to save her people. Aiding her in her quest is the once-mighty demigod Maui who teaches her the way to become a master navigator. Together they’ll face mighty monsters, impossible odds and at times, each other. The one thing that Moana finds on the way to fulfilling her people’s prophecy is the one thing she most wanted to and never expected to – herself.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)

Allied

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. An American spy during the Second World War meets a comely French Resistance fighter on a mission and the two eventually fall in love. Reunited in London after the mission is over, they marry and begin a family. That’s when the bombshell drops (and I don’t mean the Blitz) – his wife is suspected of being a Nazi double agent and he is given the order to take her out permanently.

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

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Bad Santa 2

(Broad Green/Miramax) Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christine Hendricks. Willie Soke, the worst Santa ever, is back and his evil elf sidekick Marcus has a scheme to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is Thurman Merman, the irrepressibly optimistic and naive boy (now a young man) and Willie’s horror show of a mom who turns everything she touches to ca-ca. Not helping matters is Willie/s lust/love for the charity’s director, a curvaceous and prim lass with a libido that just won’t quit.

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

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity)

Dear Zindagi

(Reliance) Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Tahir Raj Bhasin. A budding cinematographer looking to create the perfect life for herself encounters a free-thinking extrovert who teaches her to see life just a little differently – that the joy is in life’s imperfections.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Nocturnal Animals

(Focus) Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. A woman trying to put her life together after a dysfunctional marriage and a brutal divorce is sent a book by her ex-husband that is violent and graphic – and dedicated to her. Knowing that she did something terrible to her ex, she doesn’t know what lengths he’ll go to for his vengeance.

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

Release Formats: Standard (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language)

Rules Don’t Apply

(20th Century Fox) Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening. When Midwestern beauty queen Maria Mabrey comes to Hollywood in 1958 under contract to the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, she is met by his personal driver. Both devoutly religious, they of course fall instantly forever, threatening to break Hughes’ cardinal rule of his employees having no relationships whatsoever. When Hughes  begins to fall for the actress, both Mabrey and the driver are drawn increasingly into his bizarre world.

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

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references)

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

New Releases for the Week of April 8, 2016


The BossTHE BOSS

(Universal) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Taylor Labine, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal, Margo Martindale. Directed by Ben Falcone

The world’s richest woman has been brought down a peg or two. A financial scandal however, brings her empire crashing down around her and sends her to the slammer to pay her debt to society. Once she comes out, she has nothing and is forced to stay with her put-upon one-time assistant. Depressed, she hits upon a brilliant scheme to take her back to the top – a scheme that involves young girls selling cookies. But she stepped on a lot of people on her way to the top and not all of them are willing to see her rise again.

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

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

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

Demolition

(Fox Searchlight) Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis. An investment banker struggles against despair after losing his wife in a car accident. An increasingly confessional set of letters to a vending machine company catches the attention of a customer service representative who forms an unlikely bond with him. This inspires him to take a sledge hammer to his former life – literally – so that he can begin a new one.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language, some sexual references, drug use and disturbing behavior)

Hardcore Henry

(STX) Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth. Henry’s having a bad day. He just woke up from being dead with no memory by a doctor who claims to be his wife, who is promptly kidnapped by a bloodthirsty warlord with plans for world domination. Although he can’t remember her, he figures he should get her back – she may be the key to remembering his past. The trouble is that there is an army of mercenaries and Henry doesn’t know whom to trust. This innovative Russian film was shot entirely from Henry’s perspective, making it not unlike a first person shooter game.

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

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

Rating: R (for non-stop brutal bloody violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use)

High Strung

(Paladin) Keenan Kampa, Nicholas Galitzine, Jane Seymour, Sonoya Mizuno. A British violinist who has a yen for playing hip-hop and an aspiring Ballet dancer from the Midwest attending one of the most prestigious arts schools in New York City meet and find that while their viewpoints clash, their hearts most certainly do not. As the two lovers face the possibilities of losing their dreams, they prepare to perform in a contest that will utilize both their skills and allow them to continue pursuing those ambitions should they win it – or separate them forever should they lose.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Urban Musical
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal CIneplex

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and mild language)

Midnight Special

(Warner Brothers) Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver. A father and his 8-year-old son have as close a bond as any father and son ever. But when the boy develops inexplicable powers, there are forces – not all of them looking out for the welfare of the boy – who want to exploit that power for themselves. The two go on the run, chased by mysterious forces with only the boy’s extraordinary powers and his father’s love and courage to protect them.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and action)

P.S. I Love You


Hilary Swank contemplates Sunday morning alone with the Times.

Hilary Swank contemplates Sunday morning alone with the Times.

(2007) Romance (Warner Brothers) Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr., James Marsden, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Nellie McKay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Dean Winters, Anne Kent, Brian McGrath, Sherie Rene Scott, Susan Blackwell, Michael Countryman, Roger Rathburn, Mike Doyle, Caris Vujcec, Alexandra McGuinness. Directed by Richard LaGravenese

Cinema of the Heart 2015

When the one we love passes away before their time, the loss is devastating. Letting go is nearly impossible, particularly when the person who is gone is the person you were supposed to grow old with. I can’t imagine coping with that kind of pain.

But that’s exactly what Holly (Swank) has to cope with. Her husband Gerry (Butler), a charming Irish rogue if ever there was one, has succumbed to a brain tumor, leaving Holly completely devastated. She has trouble leaving her apartment, where her memories of Gerry are vivid. When she does leave, she carries his urn (containing his ashes) with her like the security blanket of Linus van Pelt. She calls her own phone number endlessly so she can hear her husband’s voice on the answering machine.

Then she starts getting letters, notes and missives from her late husband, the first one accompanying a cake on her 30th birthday which falls not long after the funeral. Before he died, he suspected that Holly would have a hard time adjusting, so in order to ease her back into society he has come up with a plan to help her get over the hump. Each letter comes with instructions of things to do – some of them she is kind of reluctant to undertake but bolstered by her mom (Bates) and two best friends (Gershon, Kudrow) she puts herself out there, intending to honor her late husband’s last instructions.

Along the way she meets a bartender with a huge crush on her (Marsden) and an Irish singer who was once Gerry’s best friend (Morgan) and slowly Holly begins to come to life. But will that life ever be as sweet again?

A lot of critics found the movie misogynistic and creepy but I disagree, particularly on the former. One critic went so far to as to say that the movie denigrates women because one of the things that rescues Holly is her discovery that she has a knack for designing shoes. Really? So throwing yourself into creative work isn’t therapeutic?  Some critics really need to have that stick that is firmly implanted in their anus surgically removed.

I will say that it is a bit creepy to have one’s life directed by their spouse after they’ve died (and to the film’s credit the Kathy Bates character says as much) but there is also a tenderness to it, a revelation of the concern of a husband for his wife even after he’s gone. Puts the “til death do us part” thing to shame in a way because this is beyond death. Sometimes, love is looking out for the one you love even when you’re not there to do it.

This is a very different role than what we’ve come to associate with Swank; she’s normally more in her wheelhouse when she’s portraying strong women. And that’s not to say that Holly isn’t strong; it’s just that she’s been completely brought to her knees by a sudden, unexpected and overwhelming loss. It’s enough to bring anyone to their knees, come to that and I found myself relating to her when I thought about how I’d react if Da Queen were to be suddenly taken from me. I’d be a miserable wreck, a quivering mass of goo on the floor and likely I would hide in my bedroom for a very long time afterwards.

That said, you have to give Butler and Morgan credit for playing charming Irishmen. For Butler it pretty much comes naturally but Morgan had to reach a little bit for that bit of blarney. Morgan’s career has cooled a bit since he made this and I don’t understand why; I always thought he had some leading man potential but that hasn’t panned out as yet for him, although he continues to steal the show of just about every movie he participates in.

This is a bit bittersweet for Valentine’s Day as it concerns the loss of a loved one and rebuilding one’s life afterwards. I can’t say as I think this is perfect for couples just starting out but for those who have put some mileage in their relationship it is one that allows them to consider how they’d deal with the loss of the other, and while that sounds a bit morbid in a way, it also serves to remind you that life is a great big chance and that the rock of your life can be snatched out from under you at any time, more the reason to appreciate every last moment you can with them, particularly watching a romantic movie like P.S. I Love You on the couch on Valentine’s Day.

WHY RENT THIS: Sweetly romantic. The feelings of loss for Swank’s character hits home hard. Morgan and Butler are both scene-stealers here.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The whole concept is a little bit creepy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some very brief nudity as well as a few sexual references scattered about.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jeffrey Dean Morgan had to learn to play guitar for the movie; his teacher was Nancy Wilson of the band Heart.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a faux instructional video (done in faux black and white with faux scratchy film) on the game of Snaps which is briefly mentioned in the movie. There’s also a music video by James Blunt and an interview with author Cecilia Ahern whose novel the movie is based on.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.8M on a $30M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Definitely, Maybe
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Cinema of the Heart concludes!

Tammy


Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

(2014) Comedy (New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, Ben Falcone, Sarah Baker, Rich Williams, Steve Little, Dakota Lee, Mark L. Young, Mia Rose Frampton, Steve Mallory, Keith Welborn, Oscar Gale, Justin Smith, Barbara Weetman. Directed by Ben Falcone

Sometimes we manage to become people we never intended ourselves to be. Through circumstances that are sometimes entirely out of our control – but not always – we find ourselves being the very people we swore we’d never be. Generally that revelation is accompanied by bitterness and self-loathing.

Tammy (McCarthy) has it in her to be happy but it doesn’t look like she is. She does seem self-possessed on the exterior – belting out renditions of the Outfield’s “Your Love” in her car. Not a cappella and not on the car stereo but from an ancient boombox which may or may not be older than the Toyota Corolla she’s driving. After an unsettling encounter with a deer, her car which was already only a hair or two away from breathing its last gives up the ghost.

Not only that but the deer encounter makes her late for work, which her prissy boss Keith (Falcone) uses as an excuse to fire her. Tammy’s reaction to the news is how you might expect – she’s not the sort to take that kind of thing lying down. Having to walk home essentially she returns home early to find out that her lackadaisical husband Greg (Faxon) is having an affair with a comely neighbor (Collette).

Convinced that she needs to get out of town or go crazy, Tammy heads over to her mom’s (Janney) house. However, her mom won’t lend Tammy her car, nor front her some cash so she can go walkabout. However, her grandmother Pearl (Sarandon) has a Caddy and seven grand that says road trip to Niagara Falls  which Pearl has always wanted to visit.

 

On the surface, this seems like a very bad idea. Tammy is mulish and a wreck – it’s not hard to figure out why her husband would cheat as she has taken zero care of herself and can’t be easy to live with. Worse yet, it turns out grandma is an alcoholic and a bit of a nymphomaniac, getting it on with a Louisville rancher (Cole) while Tammy is forced to sleep outside the hotel room. Only Bobby (Duplass), the sweet son of the rancher who treats Tammy decently – the first man to do so in ages – makes it anything more than excruciating.

The two women’s shenanigans cause them to blow through their cash faster than expected forcing Tammy to take some desperate measures that lead the two of them to go on the lam over at the beautiful home of Tammy’s cousin Lenore (Bates). Lenore, a lesbian who owns a chain of pet food stores and whose partner (Oh) is as sweet as pie, is a no-nonsense sort who sees what’s really going on. When Pearl and Tammy’s problems lead to a painful moment at a Fourth of July party at Lenore’s place, it becomes obvious that Tammy needs to make some changes if she’s ever going to be truly happy. The question is, is it obvious to Tammy?

McCarthy has become a star comedic actress with not only her TV success on Mike & Molly but also a string of hit movies to her credit. She co-wrote this with her husband Falcone who also directed the movie; you’d think it would be an absolute slam dunk.

Sadly, it’s not and it isn’t due to McCarthy the actress who actually does a pretty fine job in a role that is pretty similar to the ones she’s played in the past three movies; foul-mouthed, gross, obnoxious and highly sexual. The trouble is that the role isn’t given depth so much as it’s given mannerisms and the blame lies with McCarthy the writer.

McCarthy the actress isn’t alone in this issue either. None of the characters here are particularly well drawn out,  mostly given a trait and essentially left to flounder with a script conspicuously short on jokes. I get the sense the writers weren’t sure if they wanted a comedy or a heartwarming buddy movie and ended up with neither.

Reading that back, it sounds a little bit harsh and if I’m gonna be honest, there are some laughs here (some of which may be found in the trailer) and if I had to recommend the movie, I could do so grudgingly; McCarthy is an engaging enough actress that she can provide life to any movie no matter how terrible. This isn’t the funniest summer comedy ever but at least it’s better than last year’s truly awful Grown-Ups 2 – now there’s a franchise which could use McCarthy’s talents. In any case, fans of the actress probably will end up liking the movie anyway; she basically has this kind of role down pat enough that she could do it in her sleep. Those who want better from her however will have to wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: McCarthy and Sarandon battle gamely through subpar material. Bates does her usual impressive job in support.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks real humor. Could have used some depth in the characters who mainly end up as caricatures.

FAMILY VALUES:  A ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sarandon is only 24 years older than McCarthy, who plays her granddaughter. In addition, Janney – who plays Tammy’s mother and Pearl’s daughter – is 13 years younger than Sarandon and 11 years older than McCarthy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thelma and Louise

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Begin Again

Midnight in Paris


Midnight in Paris

Ahh, the romance and magic of Paris!

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Lea Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Lundh, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo. Directed by Woody Allen

Paris is a place that embodies romance. When we think of the city, that is one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. Paris – City of Light, city of love. There is an ineffable magic to Paris; it is the city once prowled by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Victor Hugo, Gaugin, Matisse, Luis Brunel, Gertrude Stein, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. It is the home of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs d’Elysee. It is a city made to enchant and ensnare the visitor.

Gil (Wilson) feels their presences quite keenly. He is a Hollywood hack writer, known for successful but ultimately empty screenplays that have made him rich but haven’t fed his soul. He is in Paris vacationing with his fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her Tea Party parents John (Fuller) and Helen (Kennedy). There they run into Paul (Sheen), a former beau of Inez, a know-it-all who like many of that sort generally know nothing. He precedes nearly every thought with “If I’m not mistaken…” which, as we all know invariably means they are.

The others are tourists in a place that they have no emotional connection to; Gil loves Paris, particularly the Paris of a bygone age. He pictures it after dark, a soft rain falling. He goes for midnight strolls around the streets of the city. After one, he is resting on some marble steps near the Pantheon, not quite sure where his hotel is when an antique car pulls up alongside him and a young couple gesture for him to join them. That’s where the magic and romance truly begins.

I’m being deliberately vague about the rest because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the movie. This isn’t your typical Woody Allen movie – there are no neurotic New Yorkers to be found here. Instead, this is more akin to movies like Purple Rose of Cairo and Play It Again, Sam – movies that have an element of fantasy and romance to them.

Woody Allen, despite all his jokes to the contrary, is deeply romantic at heart. He believes in magic and destiny, points that are made in nearly every one of his movies. He also requires a certain amount of literary awareness of his audiences and the references here are many and varied; from the manliness of Hemingway, to the rough-around-the-edges kindness of Gertrude Stein to the self-promoting whimsy of Dali.

He has some comments for the cultural insensitivity of Americans, and the tendency for us to wish we lived in a Golden Age when Things Were Better. He makes the point that those who lived in that time were in all likelihood thinking that things might have been perfect at some previous era to that. Maybe cavemen thought wistfully that things were so much simpler back when they were Cro-Magnon.

 Wilson makes a nice surrogate Woody, having naturally some of the inflections and cadences of Allen at the peak of his game in the 70s. He has always been an amiable sort onscreen and that easygoing charm serves him well here. Cotillard, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, plays a love interest in the movie that catches Gil’s eye. Also of note is the French first lady who plays a tour guide at the Rodin sculpture garden (where she runs afoul of know-it-all Paul) and Brody who plays a famous Spanish artist with over-the-top panache.

I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, particularly lately when his movies have been extremely uneven in quality. This is by far his best movie in decades, clearly one of the best movies he’s ever made. I don’t know if it is the change in location that has inspired him but if so, let’s see him do some movies in Tokyo, New Orleans, Montreal and Barcelona. He’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired – until now. I will admit that my view is colored by the fact that in less than two weeks my wife and I will be taking a vacation in Paris so seeing the places we’ll soon be haunting ourselves gave us a special thrill. Nonetheless, this is wonderful filmmaking, bringing back the magic and romance that movies used to bring us in massive doses – and seems to be so rare and precious today.

REASONS TO GO: As charming a movie as you’ll ever see. Perfectly captures the romance and magic of Paris. Allen’s best in decades, maybe ever.

REASONS TO STAY: You’re a big Woody Allen fan and you think Play It Again, Sam and The Purple Rose of Cairo were his worst films.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and quite a bit of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The flea market scenes were filmed at the market on the days it was normally closed with crew members and extras dressing the stalls for filming, then restoring the market to its normal appearance when filming was done.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a darkened theater with a big tub of popcorn and a soda; the magic of Paris combined with the magic of the movies.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: And Soon the Darkness

Charlotte’s Web (2006)


Charlotte's Web

Some loves were just never meant to be.

(2006) Family (Paramount) Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts (voice), Steve Buscemi (voice), John Cleese (voice), Oprah Winfrey (voice), Cedric the Entertainer (voice), Robert Redford (voice), Kathy Bates (voice), Reba McEntire (voice), Dominic Scott Kay (voice), Kevin Anderson, Sam Shepard, Gary Basaraba.  Directed by Gary Winick

The truth of the matter is that as much as I was looking forward to seeing this star-studded live action version of the E.B. White children’s novel, Da Queen had even more anticipation than I. There was, therefore, no question that we would be seeing it as soon as it was possible to see it in the theater, and eventually buying the DVD for it as well. Still, the cynic in me wondered; was it possible that the filmmakers could take a beloved novel and completely mess it up?

The plot is simple enough. Fern Arable (Fanning) saves a runt pig from being put down by her farmer dad (Anderson) and raises the pig, whom she calls Wilbur, herself. The two are inseparable, the pig even joining Fern at school. Eventually, the pig grows as baby pigs will, and Fern’s parents put their collective feet down. They send the pig across the road to Uncle Homer’s farm. Kind-hearted Homer Zuckerman (Basaraba) installs the pig in a large, comfortable barn and there Wilbur (Kay) meets the animals of the farm.

There’s unctuous Samuel the Sheep (Cleese), prissy Gussy the Goose (Winfrey), down-to-earth Golly the Goose (Cedric), wry Bitsy the Cow (Bates), neurotic Ike the Horse (Redford) and devious Templeton the Rat (Buscemi). However, Wilbur’s best friend of all is Charlotte A. Cavatica (Roberts), spider.

However, all is not idyllic in the barn. The other animals are aware of what happens to spring pigs on Zuckerman’s farm. They become summer bacon. Alarmed, Wilbur turns to his friends for help, and he finds it in the most unlikely of places – in the miraculous webs of Charlotte.

Most of my generation grew up reading the book and seeing the animated version of it, voiced by Debbie Reynolds (Charlotte), Henry Gibson (Wilbur) and Paul Lynde (Templeton). Quite frankly, it was one of my favorite books and I read it and re-read it regularly, and I’m sure there are a lot of people – a whole lot – that could say the same. I think I speak for the majority of us when I say that most of us who love the book would not take too kindly to having it messed with unnecessarily.

Thankfully, director Winick doesn’t. In fact, if recollection serves me correctly (and Da Queen bears this one out), I think this new version is if anything even more faithful to the book than the animated classic. Winick also takes the movie out of the depression era that the book was set in and makes it a bit more timeless, setting it somewhere in the late 20th century, but cleverly doesn’t give too many clues as to when the story is taking place. Rather, he puts the action in a rural setting that is nearly archetypal, so perfect as to be almost too good to be true, and as a result we feel comfortable in this world.

The problems I have with the movie are three-fold. The first is that some of the voice actors – not all, just some – come off rather flat. My favorite moments from the movie tended to come during exclusive live action sequences, as when Fern confronts her father about Wilbur’s fate, or Henry Fussy’s (Julian O’Donnell) awkward courting of Fern. Considering how much this movie and the story relies on the animals, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Second is Charlotte herself. She’s CG, and quite frankly, they do a little too good a job with her. Strangely, they give her almost human eyes rather than the multi-faceted insect eyes that spiders actually have. Rather than humanizing her, it makes Charlotte seem kind of creepy if you ask me. There were times during the movie that I half-expected Charlotte to pounce on some poor unsuspecting critter and eat it alive. Sorry, spiders aren’t cute and cuddly creatures and quite frankly, they should have kept away from close-ups of Charlotte. I’m sure some of the younger kids might have been freaked out a little bit.

The most glaring problem I had with the movie, however, is Wilbur. Child actor Kay doesn’t have the emotional depth to really make Wilbur live, as Henry Gibson did thirty years ago. I know that Wilbur is supposed to be a child, but quite frankly he’s also supposed to be “some pig,” among other things and Kay never makes Wilbur seem anything more than whiny and out-of-sorts.

Still, the good outweighs the bad in the movie. The live actors do a tremendous job and make up for some of the surprising star flops. Shepard’s narration is spot-on; he’s the perfect guy for the job. Winick also captures the mood and the charm of the novel nicely, which is really what you’re looking for most. The animated version stands up even today as a timeless classic; I don’t know necessarily if this version will get the same sort of distinction, but something tells me it will not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining and nearly perfect family fare at the right time of the year. Take a break from the big-budget CG animated features and check this out with your kids. It will give you, at the very least, a chance to revisit something beloved from your own childhood.

WHY RENT THIS: The live action version is more faithful to the book than the animated classic. Fanning is terrific in her role as Fern.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The child actor voicing Wilbur isn’t up to the task, sadly – but then many of the voice actors seem curiously flat. CG verion of Charlotte is creepy enough to freak out the smaller tykes.

FAMILY VALUES: Pretty much suitable for the entire family, although younger children might have problems with the realistic CG version of Charlotte.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The two crows, Elwyn and Brooks, are a tribute to the name of the original book’s author E.B. White, whose initials stood for Elwyn Brooks.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are a pair of music videos, as well as a featurette that focuses on what happened to the more than 40 piglets that played Wilbur after shooting wrapped.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $144.9M on an $85M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: African Cats

Bonneville


Bonneville

Three chicks on a road trip. Daughters, lock your fathers up!

(2006) Road Trip Drama (SenArt) Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Tom Skerritt, Christine Baranski, Tom Amandes, Tom Wopat, Laura Park, Victor Rasuk. Directed by Christopher N. Rowley

Women of a certain age tend to be marginalized by our society, particularly if they are without husbands. That’s especially true of Hollywood, which tends to depict older women as raging sex addicts, uptight old fools or complete loons.

Arvilla Holden (Lange) has just seen her world come crashing down about her. She had married Joe, an adventurous sort who took her globe-hopping in a mad orgy of travel, but while in Borneo he died suddenly, leaving Arvilla to hold together the pieces. To make matters worse, he hadn’t updated his will legally, leaving their Idaho home in the legal possession of his daughter from his first marriage, Francine (Baranski) who really doesn’t like Arvilla.

Joe had specified to Arvilla he wanted his ashes scattered in various places around the United States but shrill Francine wants his ashes buried next to her mother at their Santa Barbara estate. Arvilla is inclined to decline but Francine presents her with an ultimatum; bring the ashes to California or be evicted from her home.

Arvilla, not wanting to be 50-something and homeless, decides to take the ashes to Santa Barbara. She engages her closest friends Margene (Bates) and Carol (Allen) as moral support. Margene is a free spirit, one with an enviable love of life quotient. Carol is more uptight, a strict Mormon. In fact, all three women belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints, which is how they conceivably met. To the movie’s credit, this isn’t dwelled upon so much as presented as a facet of their personalities.

Originally set to fly to California, Arvilla abruptly decides to take one final road trip with Joe, which Margene heartily endorses and Carol quietly disapproves of. Along the way they visit the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, meet a truck driver (Skerritt) who becomes seriously infatuated with Margene and are rescued from a flat tire on the Bonneville Salt Flats by Bo (Rasuk), a hunky hitch-hiker who gives the ladies a chance at being sweetly ribald.

Most road movies don’t involve grandmotherly sorts, but this one is a little different. Not often do you see women of the Red Hat Society generation portrayed as road warriors, but here you have one. It doesn’t hurt that three of America’s premiere actresses are riding in that 1966 Bonneville. Lange is the centerpiece of the movie, grieving without getting overly emotional although her loneliness is palpable at times. Ditto for Bates, who hides that loneliness with exaggerated bonhomie. Allen, however, might fare the best of all of them as an uptight woman whose life is ruled by strictures that even she feels troubled by at times. She sneaks sips of coffee when she thinks nobody is looking but outwardly at least is the perfect wife and mother of her faith.

The movie can be a little bit too bland in places and other than between Francine and Arvilla, there’s almost zero conflict. We wind up just along for the ride, pleasant as it might be. I would have preferred to examine the Francine-Arvilla dynamic a little more closely; her hatred for Arvilla can only be ascribed to Joe’s temerity of re-marrying after his first wife died, but she seems hell-bent on hurting Joe after his life was over as well; her anger towards her father is never adequately explained, although it may well stem from the same source as her anger towards Arvilla. The shame of it is that Baranski is also a terrific actress and her one real scene with Lange early on in the movie is a showstopper; I would have liked to have seen more of the two together.

The movie got tepid reviews for its somewhat brief limited run, which seems a little bit harsh to me. I thought the movie was solidly entertaining, particularly the performances of Allen, Bates and Lange as well as the supporting turns of Skerritt and Baranski. While the movie never explores the unpleasant side of bereavement (being more about the friendship between the three women), it at least is inoffensive at worst. I’d elevate it slightly higher than that given the talent in front of the camera.

WHY RENT THIS: The three leads are as good as any actresses in Hollywood and watching them together is a hoot. The movie has a sweet charm at its center. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: At times the movie is a little vanilla, and some of the relationships (particularly Francine and Arvilla’s) aren’t explored adequately.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild cursing and a bit of sexual innuendo. This is generally safe for all but the youngest audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The car used in the film was a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville. The chrome rearview mirror was removed so as not to show the reflection of the crew filming the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a promo video for the Red Hat Society.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.3M on an unreported budget; while it’s unlikely that the theatrical release made money, chances are it wasn’t far off.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Damned United

Cheri


Cheri

A transcendent moment of idyllic loveliness; Ah, La Belle Epoque!

(2009) Drama (Miramax) Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Iben Hjejle, Stephen Frears (voice). Directed by Stephen Frears

It is not unusual for Hollywood to portray May-December romances. It’s just usually that May is the woman and December the man.

In the waning days of La Belle Epoch (the early 20th century in France), retired courtesan Lea de Lonval (Pfeiffer) has taken herself a lover. That lover is the son of her close friend (and fellow retired courtesan) Madame Peloux (Bates), christened as Fred but known to all as Cheri (Friend), which is the French word for “darling.”

Cheri is a bit of a project, somewhat indolent, occasionally cruel in the thoughtless way of youth, desperate for a firm, guiding hand. Perfect for the role would be Lea, 25 years his senior and someone whom he has known and adored all his life. With his mother’s tacit approval, they embark on an affair that lasts six years.

After that, Cheri announces that his mother has arranged a marriage for him with the comely but terminally naïve Edmee (Jones). Lea is devastated. The affair had been a languid one of beauty and sunlight, something that she has come to need much more than she thought she might. As for Cheri, it’s just the end of a chapter as far as he’s concerned. Like many young men, he doesn’t recognize what a rare and precious gem is in his possession until it’s already fallen down the drainpipe.

Director Frears has experience with lush period pieces in Dangerous Liaisons (which co-starred Pfeiffer) and Mrs. Henderson Presents but also more recently-set classics like The Queen, My Beautiful Laundrette and my personal favorite High Fidelity. This is right in his comfort zone, with a witty script, gorgeous cinematography and a fine cast.

His best move was hiring Pfeiffer for the role. Pfeiffer is playing her age here and while she looks much younger, her eyes tell a different story. She is still regally beautiful, but from time to time you catch a hint of doubt and sadness in those eyes, a knowledge that a beautiful epoch is coming to an end, and her own beauty will soon betray her. It’s marvelous work and re-affirms that Pfeiffer is perhaps the most underrated actress of her era.

The movie is based on a novel by the iconic French author Colette which in turn is loosely based on her own affair with her stepson. The novel extolled the virtues of Lea’s strength and pointed out rather vividly Cheri’s weaknesses. Unfortunately I only managed to plough through the first third of the book – she’s not my literary cup of tea, although I can say that she is a tremendous writer, one who should be better known on these shores except that she flouted the morality of her times and was quite scandalous (she was bisexual in an age when that simply wasn’t tolerated).

My issue with the movie – and the book as well – is that Cheri is so venal, so whiny and unlikable that it is impossible to see Lea falling for him the way she does. Yes, he’s handsome in a boyish way, and has all the youthful vigor that goes with it, but in the end I kept asking myself if someone as obviously cultured, intelligent and self-possessed as Lea de Lonval would find such a strong emotional bond for someone so obviously childish and wantonly cruel? I know a lot of women who have the same qualities as Lea and I can say with great certainty that they are generally not attracted to immaturity regardless of how pretty a package it comes wrapped up in. Then again, I’ve known some very smart, capable and beautiful women to make some incredibly dumb choices when it comes to romance.

Despite its flaws, the movie is still worth seeing if for no other reason for Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance and the lovely expression of an age long gone by. Like a shaft of sunlight on a late autumn afternoon with the threat of dark winter in the wind, it is a golden moment of glorious loveliness that is there so briefly before going the way of all things so fragile.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous period photography and a clever script make this a feast for eyes and ears. Pfeiffer is magnificent as always in her role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cheri is just so damned insufferable that you wonder how anyone, particularly as intelligent and cultured as Lea de Lonval, could fall for him.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality and a bit of drug use; not suitable for most young family members.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Lea de Lonval was originally meant for Jessica Lange when this project first started development back in the 1990s.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.3M on a production budget of $23M; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: The Young Victoria