Best Sellers


Nobody does glee like Michael Caine.

(2021) Dramedy (Screen Media) Aubrey Plaza, Michael Caine, Cary Elwes, Scott Speedman, Ellen Wong, Veronica Ferres, Victoria Sanchez, Elena Dunkelman, Frank Schorpion, Alexandra Petrachuk, Elizabeth Etienne, Charli Birdgenaw, Rachel Osborne, Frank Fiola, Christopher Hayes, Susan Almgren, Michelle Rambharose, Florence Situ. Directed by Lina Roessler

 

Like many industries in this digital age, the book publishing industry has changed radically over the past fifteen years. Like Hollywood, they rely heavily on blockbusters to pay the bills and not so much on literary gems. Besides, people don’t really read books so much anymore; they are more likely to read (if they read at all) on Kindle or some such device.

Lucy Stanbridge (Plaza) has inherited her father’s boutique publishing company which has fallen on hard times. Despite Lucy’s best efforts to modernize the country with young adult fantasy books, sales have been unspectacular and there are buyers sniffing around, smelling the desperation. Lucy needs a bestseller badly, but doesn’t have anyone on her roster that might deliver one anytime soon. And you know what they say – desperate times call for desperate measures.

That desperate measure is Harris Shaw (Caine), once a young lion of literature whose book Atomic Autumn was a massive cultural touchstone in the Seventies, but hasn’t had a word published since. Conveniently, he contractually owes the publishing house a book. So Lucy sets out with her doughty assistant Rachel (Wong) to wheedle a book out of the reclusive author, who is reclusive for a reason – he can’t stand people, and the feeling is pretty much mutual. However, his own financial situation has become precarious – you can only survive on royalties so long – and he reluctantly agrees to supply Lucy with a new book, The Future is X-Rated, with the stipend that not a word in the manuscript is to be edited. That triggers a clause in the contract that requires him to participate in a book tour for his new work.

Being a feisty curmudgeon, he does his level best to be a bad boy. Instead of reading his work, he reads Letters to Penthouse at his readings. He urinates on his own book and instigates chants of “Bull Shite!” which becomes a popular meme. However, as the young publisher discovers to her chagrin, viral videos and online memes do not translate into hardcover book sales – who knew? Turns out, nearly everybody else.

But both Lucy and Harris are wounded souls and while at first they are wary and somewhat annoyed with one another, they discover that they have much more in common than they at first thought. And that they need each other a lot more than they could have imagined.

The crusty, irascible literary icon is a hoary Hollywood cliché that has been done over and over again, but rarely better than how Caine does it here. This is one of the 88-year-old actor’s most compelling recent performances and he reminds us that he’s a two-time Oscar winner for a reason. Plaza makes a terrific foil and also reminds us that she is one of the most consistently high-quality actresses operating in movies over the past ten years. Putting both of them in the same movie was a casting coup.

It’s a shame that the movie shifts gear in the final act and goes the tear-jerking route which feels predictable and unearned. I don’t have an issue exploring the vulnerabilities of the characters – that’s what makes a movie like this interesting – but just the way in which it’s done, specifically the circumstances (I don’t want to give away what they are) is just highly disappointing overall. I wish that writer Anthony Grieco had trusted himself a bit more to come up with something a little less by-the-numbers – or the producers trusting him to do the same.

So what we end up with is a better-than-average movie that manages to overcome a whole mess o’ cliches with overall charm and a surfeit of strong performances, particularly from Caine and Plaza. This isn’t going to be Oscar bait by any means, but it’s a seriously entertaining movie that is likely to kick off the fall movie season with a satisfying bang particularly for older moviegoers and cinephiles alike.

REASONS TO SEE: Plaza and Caine are treasures. There is enough charm here to overcome its faults.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets pretty maudlin near the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and a scene of sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Roessler’s feature film directorial debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews; Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The End of the Tour
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Nowhere Inn

Cyrus


Cyrus

Even Marisa Tomei finds the concept of falling for John C. Reilly amusing.

(Fox Searchlight) John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Katie Aselton, Tim Guinee, Steve Zissis, Jamie Donnelly, Diane Mizota, Kathy Ann Wittes, Charlie Brewer. Directed by the Duplass Brothers

In a simpler age, it was said a boy’s best friend was his mother. These days, that statement has creepy connotations, which is no doubt what inspired the making of this movie.

John (Reilly) is not a very happy guy. It’s been seven years since his wife divorced him (not his idea, as he very firmly points out) and ever since, he’s been in a shell. He rarely goes out, has few friends and as for a romantic life? Obviously not. Mostly, his only social contact is his ex-wife for whom he still carries a torch. She walks in on him masturbating to tell him the news that she’s getting re-married, which gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is going to be.

She badgers him to go to a party she’s throwing and at first, John isn’t keen on going. She has invited a lot of beautiful single girls and insists he goes so he can get on with his life (and by inference get out of hers). Finally he gives in and shows up, and it’s clear that he has no game whatsoever. As the night goes on, he continues to drink vodka and Red Bulls, getting progressively more sloshed and makes horrible attempts at small talk with disinterested, even to the point where he opens up to a woman (Wittes) about how desperate and lonely he is, sending her fleeing as far away from him as she can get.

He is overheard by Molly (Tomei), who can relate being also desperate and lonely. The two meet each other while John is urinating in the bushes (oh, the romance!) and she deflects the awkwardness of the situation by saying the only thing a woman can say that won’t cause the man to wish he were a thousand miles away – “Nice penis.”

From such things great romances are born, and Molly and John spend the night together. Soon, they are seeing each other seriously despite John’s misgivings about his looks (“I’m, like, Shrek!”) but John is a little concerned that she always leaves his bed in the middle of the night. One night, he follows her and finds out where she lives. He discovers she has a grown son named Cyrus (Hill) who lives at home and is working on a New Age music career.

Cyrus is welcoming enough at first but it becomes clear that he has another agenda in mind. For one thing, Cyrus is extremely possessive of his mom and doesn’t want to compete for her affection. In fact, the two are so close it’s kind of creepy; apparently Cyrus was still being breastfed when he was about, I think, eight. Years, that is – not months.

The Duplass Brothers are noted as leading artists in the “mumblecore” filmmaking movement, which is more evident in their previous features Puffy Chair and Baghead. This movie isn’t mumblecore per se, but it has some of the elements of it – like the jerky camera movements and the sudden zoom ins and zoom outs that become really annoying after awhile. It’s all part of the “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome that often affects filmmakers who have been too much on the indie circuit.

This has romantic comedy elements too, and unfortunately they are the same ones that have made American romantic comedies mostly forgettable and lame. The movie’s ending is very predictable, to the point of making me want to pound my head against the wall.

What saves the movie is the premise and the execution, as well as the acting of the three leads. Reilly and Tomei are two very likable actors and even though they’re playing very flawed characters here, they make you root for them despite those flaws. Reilly is so rumpled and beaten down you wonder what a hottie like Tomei would see in him until you find out how beaten down she is. They’re kindred spirits, which makes the romance all the more acceptable.

Jonah Hill has played some oddball characters in his time, and this is one of the oddest. Cyrus is at once pathetic and shrewd, able to play his mother like a Stradivarius. In many ways their relationship symbolizes a lot of the problems with modern parenting, the permissiveness and clinginess that many parents feel towards their children. If that was the intent of the Duplass brothers, then a big ol’ Bravo to them.

The movie is definitely creepy in places and awkward in others. Watching it is not unlike walking in on a married couple having a big fight; the longer you stay, the more awkward it feels. In some ways, I like being thrown off-balance that way – it makes for a more memorable cinematic experience. However, those who feel uncomfortable at the expression of raw emotions should stand warned that they might find it too awkward.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. The three key leads all turn in solid work.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-consciously indie combined with rom-com clichés make it an uphill climb at times to like this movie. The forced focus and montage sequences became tiresome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language and a little bit of sexuality. Some of the situations are decidedly uncomfortable concerning the mother-son relationship.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott served as producers on the movie, through their production company Scott Free.

HOME OR THEATER: While worth seeing in the theater, this certainly will work at home if you’d so prefer.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: G-Force