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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The Equalizer


Martin Csokas looks forward to his next movie  My Dinner with Denzel.

Martin Csokas looks forward to his next movie My Dinner with Denzel.

(2014) Action (Columbia) Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Alex Veadov, Vladimir Kulich, E. Roger Mitchell, James Wilcox, Mike O’Dea, Anastasia Mousis, Allen Maldonado, Chris Lemieux, Matt Lasky, Shawn Fitzgibbon, Luz Sanchez. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

We go through our lives essentially just hoping to mind our own business. We don’t want to get involved nor do we get involved with anybody else. However, sometimes there comes a time when a situation demands our action.

Robert McCall (Washington) lives a quiet life as a clerk at a home improvement store (think Home Depot with a different color scheme). He is helping his buddy Ralphie (Skourtis) lose weight and prepare to apply for a security guard job, a definite upgrade in pay.

But he is reluctant to talk about what he used to do. He has insomnia and spends a lot of nights at an all-night diner, drinking tea from tea bags he brings himself and reading novels off the list of 100 books you must read before you die (he’s up to 91). He compulsively rearranges the silverware on the table and always sits at the same one – yes, he’s OCD.

He also strikes up a conversation with Teri (Moretz), a prostitute from Russia who aspires to greater things. He encourages her and provides a welcome breath of fresh air from all the men who just want to use her for sex – or profit by her. He witnesses her pimp Slavi (Meunier) slapping her around but doesn’t intervene when she asks him not to. Slavi’s muscle (Veadov) gives McCall a card so that he can come and collect a more amenable girl.

When Teri ends up in the hospital, McCall pays Slavi a visit. You see, McCall isn’t just a guy that works at a hardware store. He’s got skills. Some big bad ones. And he puts them to good use. This doesn’t sit well with Slavi’s bosses who happen to be the Russian mob and they send a fixer of their own (Csokas) to deal with him and quite frankly, he’s got mad skills himself.

The film is based on an 80s TV show that some critics characterize as forgotten although I remember it quite well – if for nothing else for its catchy Stewart Copeland theme song which sadly isn’t in the movie. There are those who will remember that English actor Edward Woodward starred in the title role as a former British spy who turns his talents to helping the powerless surmount impossible odds. It also reunites Fuqua and Denzel who teamed together so well for Training Day.

This is a good fit for Denzel, who has the best dead eye look in Hollywood. He has mastered the technique of using his good looks as a facade, hiding something deeper – sometimes sorrow or pain, sometimes rage or evil. McCall has plenty of history behind him and it shows in Denzel’s eyes – but there is also a coldness there when Denzel switches it on, the coldness of a trained killer.

He will be 60 later this year and joins the trend of sexagenarians invigorating their careers and becoming action stars (see Neeson, Liam) and let’s be frank; he looks damn good doing it. A couple more roles like this and Sly Stallone is going to be putting him on speed dial for The Expendables 6. The fight scene in Slavi’s office is as good as many action film climaxes and the climax here in the Home Depot clone is frankly incredible. While McCall leaves a few traps, mostly he uses the various power (and non-power) tools to great effect so this doesn’t sink into a Home Alone parody. No, the scene is gritty, violent and occasionally gory.

This is essentially entertainment for its own sake. There are really no deeper meanings here – everything is visceral. You don’t have to interpret different levels, just sit back, turn off your mind and enjoy the carnage. While I enjoyed the action sequences themselves, they don’t really blaze any new trails but they take existing ones and pretty them up a bit. If you’re looking for mindless fun, this is your ride.

REASONS TO GO: Denzel still has it. Terrific climax.
REASONS TO STAY: Kinda formulaic.
FAMILY VALUES:  Lots and lots of violence, some of it rather bloody. Also plenty of foul language and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With almost no backstory for the character of McCall, Washington came up with some of the items including the character’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The A-Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: This is Where I Leave You