Rules Don’t Apply


Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

Lily Collins celebrates being backlit.

(2016) Dramedy (20th Century Fox) Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Hart Bochner, Haley Bennett, Paul Schneider, Ed Harris, Chace Crawford, Oliver Platt, Taissa Farmiga, Marshall Bell, Ron Perkins, Alec Baldwin, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan, Joshua Malina, Louise Linton. Directed by Warren Beatty

 

Most of us have to live within the rules. The rules after all are there for a reason. There are a fortunate few – or perhaps an unfortunate few – who for one reason or another are exceptions. The rules don’t really apply to them. It can be very liberating – and very lonely.

Marla Mabry (Collins) has come to Hollywood in sunny 1958 to make her fame and fortune as an actress. No less than Howard Hughes (Beatty) has put her under contract. She and her devout Baptist mother (Bening) are met at the airport by Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), a driver with ambitions of his own.

She discovers that she is one of 26 girls under contract to Hughes, all of whom he is insanely jealous towards. In fact, “insane” is a word that fits his behavior which has grown increasingly erratic as paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder have begun to take hold of his life like a dog with a bone. Forbes’ boss Levar (Broderick) shows Frank the ropes, but even though it’s forbidden he begins to have romantic feelings for Marla, feelings which are returned. In the meantime, Hughes begins to fall for the pretty, talented singer-songwriter-actress, but he is under siege as there are those who wish to declare him incompetent and take his company away from him. Those closest to him – including Frank – are determined not to let that happen.

First, this isn’t really a biography of the billionaire. Certainly some of the events depicted here actually happened, but Marla Mabry and Frank Forbes are entirely fictional; so is most of the rest of the cast in fact, although a few historical figures make appearances now and again. This is more of a fable of the Howard Hughes myth than anything else.

Beatty, who hasn’t appeared onscreen in 15 years or directed a film in 18, does a terrific job with Hughes keeping him from becoming a caricature of mental illness. Hughes feels like a living, breathing person here rather than an interpretation of an encyclopedia entry. Often when Hollywood brings real people to the screen, they feel more mythic than actual. I always appreciate films that utilize historical figures that feel like human beings rather than animatronic renditions of legends.

The cast is made up in equal parts of veteran actors, some of whom rarely appear onscreen these days (like Bergen and Coleman) and up-and-comers with huge potential (like Ehrenreich and Collins), with Beatty leaning towards the former in his casting decisions. It is certainly welcome watching some of these pros who are either semi-retired or fully retired plying their craft once more. Of particular note is Bergen as the matronly (and occasionally curmudgeonly) but ultimately kindly secretary/personal assistant to Hughes.

The issue here is that the movie is long and the plot bounces around from scene to scene with an almost manic quality, sometimes giving short shrift to subtlety and other times leading up blind alleys and locked doors. I get the sense that Beatty is trying to craft a parable about the nature of wealth and power and its corrupting influence. Hughes seems like a nice enough guy but his money and influence tends to corrupt everyone around him, including those who didn’t start off cynical. One of the characters gets out before any real harm is done to them; another gets sucked into the vortex.

While this is something of a passion project for Beatty (he’s been trying to get a film made about Hughes since the early 70s) it doesn’t feel like one. It’s a bit bloated and self-defeating, but there’s enough that is interesting going on to make it worth a look. It’s mostly out of the theaters by now – critical indifference and an audience that is attracted to movies about superheroes and aliens more than about those who shaped the world we live in (as Hughes surely did) have hurt the film’s box office receipts. What the movie lacks in spectacle though it makes up for in genuine affection for its subject and that’s something you can’t get with all the CGI in the world.

REASONS TO GO: It’s lovely to see some of these veteran actors in action here..
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult thematic elements, some brief sexual material, occasional profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bo Goldman, who gets story credit on the film, also wrote Melvin and Howard about Hughes’ supposed encounter with Melvin Dummar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Café Society
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Monster

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Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?


In their own way, they're both sticking to their guns.

In their own way, they’re both sticking to their guns.

(2016) Comedy (Area23s) Andrea Anders, Matt Passmore, Cloris Leachman, Katherine McNamara, John Michael Higgins, Garren Stitt, Horatio Sanz, Lauren Bowles, John Heard, Christine Estabrook, Kevin Conway, David Denman, Fernanda Romero, Max Lloyd-Jones, Marshall Bell, Terrence Beasor, Ray Auxias, Julie Brister, Gina Gallego, Eileen Grubba, Victoria Moroles. Directed by Matt Cooper

 

In Texas, there is power and then there is power. For the men, the power resides behind the barrel of a gun. For the women, the power can be found between their legs. At least, that is what this comedy would have you believe.

In the oh-so-very Texas town of Rockford, the town motto is “Live free, shoot straight.” The men work at the fruit packing plant all week long, the one owned by the reclusive billionaire Cyrus Rockford who hasn’t been seen in decades (the prevailing rumor is that he’s been dead for years) and on weekends, go out hunting. The womenfolk take care of the kids, the house and occasionally get together in their book clubs. Things are going the way they’ve always gone there for generations.

Glenn Keely (Passmore) is one of the plant’s managers and, rumor has it, a prime candidate for a vice-president’s position. His life is pretty dang sweet; his wife Jenna (Anders) is smart, gorgeous and sexy; his daughter Sandy (McNamara) is the same. His son Lance (Stitt) is growing up to be a fine young man, even if he’s a bit impatient to get satellite TV.

Glenn is a bit of a gun nut; he collects the handguns, some of which are pretty sweet. When Lance decides to show off his dad’s latest purchase to his friends at school, it leads to an accidental discharge of the weapon that results in nothing more wounded than the crossing guard’s pride (and tush) but the thought of what could have happened is enough to give Jenna night terrors. What makes it worse is that none of the men seem to think much of the incident; the school gave his son a slap on the wrist, the sheriff (Heard) looks the other way and Glenn seems more concerned that Lance took the gun without permission than the fact that it went off in a crowded courtyard.

After airing her frustrations to her book club pals, she hits upon a plan; the men in town must give up their guns. Until they do, the women of town will withhold sex from the men. At first the ladies are reticent; will this even work? Getting the other women in town to come on board will be an uphill battle. Nevertheless they do it, the prime ringleaders being the foul-mouthed grandma (Leachman), the sexy Latina next door trying to have a baby (Romero) and the sheriff’s matronly wife (Estabrook).

To Glenn’s chagrin, Jenna’s leadership and determination galvanizes the ladies into an organized group to be reckoned with. At first the men dismiss the women’s stand, figuring it would blow over as soon as they began to miss their husbands embrace but as time goes by, it soon becomes apparent that the ladies aren’t going to give up the fight anytime soon. The spineless mayor (Higgins, channeling Fred Willard) is unable to rally the troops to get control of their women so it falls to an NRA-like organization called the National Gun Organization led by a dour Charlton Heston-worshipper (Bell) to send in the cavalry to rescue the men and their God-given rights to have as many guns as they want. The ladies are in all sorts of trouble until help comes from an unlikely source.

This is the second movie in a year to be based on the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes about a group of women who refused to make love until their men ceased making war. Quite frankly, associating that ancient play with the modern issue of gun rights vs. gun control is a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really hold up to the concept; there is a TV movie of the week quality to the film that is quite disappointing.

Anders is a very attractive lead and with the right material could become a solid big screen leading lady. This isn’t the right material; it is riddled with cliches and stereotypes and nearly entirely white faces in the cast. Yes, even Texas has some diversity and more than a token Hispanic couple lapsing into Spanish whenever they get angry. Sorry Hollywood; those of us who are second generation or later view English as a first language and we don’t express our frustrations in Spanish. Just sayin’.

I also find it disconcerting that the filmmakers will throw some sobering facts out there in one breath (such as the number of mass school shootings after Newtown or that the Second Amendment only referred to arming state militias until the Supreme Court decreed that it referred to individual gun ownership in 2008) and then deliver a boner joke with the next. It does a disservice to the material and honestly if I were the parent of a child slain in a school shooting I would find it highly offensive.

This is an equal opportunity offender. Lefties will object to the cultural stereotypes, while conservatives will grouse about the Hollywood liberal gun control bent that the movie obviously has. Others will find the humor crude and vulgar. What it boils down to however is that anyone who loves a good movie will be greatly offended that this movie is far from even being mediocre; this is pure and simple a poorly made, poorly executed film that could have been so much better with sharper satire and fewer trouser tent gags.

REASONS TO GO: There are a few funny moments, mostly involving erections.
REASONS TO STAY: A film riddled with cliches and stereotypes. The tone is flat and dull. The filmmakers dumb down an important and controversial subject.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references and sensuality, some brief violence, crude humor and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is at least the fifth movie version of Lysistrata to be filmed, none using the original name or material.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 6/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chi-Raq
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT: Mechanic: Resurrection

To the Wonder


Whispers on the mournful prairie.

Whispers on the mournful prairie.

(2012) Drama (Magnolia) Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chilline, Romina Mondello, Tony O’Gans, Charles Baker, Marshall Bell, Casey Williams, Jack Hines, Paris Always, Samaria Folks, Francis Gardner, Jamie Conner, Gregg Elliott, Michael Bumpus, Lois Boston, Danyell Inman, Wigl-Black, Ashley Clark, Tamar Baruch. Directed by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is a true original and like most true originals, his work isn’t for everybody. His movies are visually arresting, epic and intimate at the same time. However, he tends not to tell his stories in the way that moviegoers are used to.

Neil (Affleck), an environmental engineer from Oklahoma, meets Marina (Kurylenko), a Ukrainian single mom ex-pat in Paris and the two fall deeply in love. So much so that Neil invites Marina and her daughter Tatiana (Chilline) to live with him in Oklahoma.

At first, everything is lovely but as reality sets in, Tatiana begins to miss her friends and Marina is disturbed by Neil’s unwillingness to commit although Marina wants very much to be married. She begins to get counsel from Father Quintana (Bardem), a priest who is having a crisis of faith of his own. Neil’s refusal to marry Marina leads to her visa expiring and her forced deportation back to France where Tatiana goes to live with her father in the Ukraine.

Neil begins a relationship with Jane (McAdams), a high school sweetheart of his who is recently divorced and having financial problems keeping her ranch afloat. When Neil’s commitment phobia submarines that relationship as well, he decides to bring Marina back with consequences that might just doom that relationship for good.

Like all of Malick’s films, this is simply exquisite from a visual aspect. Windswept prairie, picturesque small town downtown, suburban neighborhood, Parisian landmarks – all look epic and timeless under the watchful eye of Malick and his longtime cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Even a common supermarket looks amazing and wonderful the way it is shot here.

There is no dialogue to speak of; almost everything that the characters say is done in a voice over in short bursts almost like poetry as their thoughts are what we hear rather than what they actually say. In a sense, it’s more honest than dialogue.

However, in an attempt to make cinematic poetry, the lines that the characters speak are often pretentious non-sequiturs that  have really sound much more thoughtful than they are. It goes through the whole film so really your tolerance for this sort of thing is going to determine how much you like the movie.

The actors are more or less props here. None of the lead performances are particularly memorable; they are made to convey moods and feelings so there are a lot of soulful expressions and child-like grins. Affleck has almost no dialogue; the voice-overs belong to both of the women in his life and Father Quintana and are done in three languages – Marina in French, Jane in English and Quintana in Spanish.

I get the sense that this is Malick’s take on a Bergman film; everyone in it is miserable and the stunning vistas reminded me of The Seventh Seal and other classics by the Swedish master. This is also in many ways one of Malick’s most spiritual films; much of the movie revolves around the loss of faith in something bigger than oneself whether that be God or love or the world. Nearly all of the characters undergo a crisis of faith in one form or another and the movie’s final shot of Mount Saint Michel in France may be as outright spiritual a shot as you’re likely to see in an American movie that isn’t faith-based to begin with.

Mention must be made of the score which is scintillating. Compose Hanan Townshend (who is apparently not related to the Who guitarist Pete Townshend) utilizes many classical works of the 19th and 20th century, particularly to the Prelude from Wagner’s Parsifal which is beautiful enough that you don’t get tired of its regular use. Also in the Oklahoma scenes, the sound of the wind blowing mournfully through the wheat fields is used to excellent effect. The Blu-Ray advises you to turn your sound up and I would concur with that; the sound is as important a part of the film as the visuals and picking up on the nuances will only add to the enhancement of the movie.

I get the sense that Malick is out to make the perfect film. He gets a little closer with each try but at the end of the day I think he ends up believing the next one will be the one. He isn’t very prolific except for lately; he made a movie two years ago, this one last year and another one is due out sometime this year or early the next. Considering that output would about triple what he had made in the previous dozen years before that and equal his output since 1978 (!) might give you an idea of how amazing his recent creative spurt has been.

As I said earlier, this isn’t for everybody. While the storytelling is linear, that is about all moviegoers will recognize about it. This is a series of images, some with thoughts attached to it, essentially like a memory of the events from years in the future. Not all about it is easy to digest and requires some thought. You can also just let the images wash over you and bask in their beauty, and that is a worthwhile endeavor also.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the most beautiful visual cinematic experiences you’ll ever have.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One of the most frustrating cinematic experiences you’ll ever have.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie by Malick to be set entirely in the present day. It also has the distinction of being the last movie to be reviewed by Roger Ebert; the review was published posthumously.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.8M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Tree of Life

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: No-No: A Dockumentary