Sister of the Groom


A woman’s side-eye is her most devastating weapon.

(2020) Comedy (Saban) Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Mathilde Olivier, Jake Hoffman, Charlie Bewley, Ronald Guttman, Mark Blum, Julie Engelbrecht, Abigail Marlowe, Noah Silver, Michael Bernardi, Jamie Choi, Adrienne Ellis, Nicole Tio, Tony Costa, Adam Griffith, Deeva Green, Kenneth Maharaj, Claudja Bicalho, Guyvlaud Joseph, Deborah Joy Occhipinti. Directed by Amy Miller Gross

 

Weddings are often joyous occasions, times when families are brought together to celebrate the joining of two lives, two families. They are also occasions for the most boorish and reprehensible behavior imaginable.

Audrey (Silverstone) has reached a crossroads in her life. She is trying to restart her career as an architect, a career she gave up to raise a family. She is turning 40 – this very weekend in fact – and has severe issues with her body, particularly her post-maternal belly which has never returned to the flat, svelte showpiece it once was. Her husband Ethan (Scott) is driving her to the hastily rescheduled wedding of her adored younger brother Liam (Hoffman), taking place at their old family home in the Hamptons, which Liam purchased some years back as his career in finance took off.

Now he is marrying a French wanna-be pop star, Clemence (Olivier) and Audrey immediately gets her hackles up. Clemence is a bit of a diva and tone-deaf at that; she seems to wear the pants in the family, and that is off-putting to Audrey to begin with, but when she discovers that the bride-to-be is pushing Audrey’s brother – who was her best friend growing up – to not merely refurbish the home she loved and had so many memories connected with her late mother but is completely turning it into an abomination and to add insult to injury, they are using Audrey’s ex Isaac (Bewley) as an architect and that to further make things awkward, have invited him to the wedding. Well, let’s just say it’s not the grounds for a strong relationship between sisters-in-law.

Gross references a lot of different touchstones, not the least of which are My Big Fat Greek Wedding and This is 40 in a bid to make a comedy that hits a lot of different demographics. Refreshingly, the wedding is a Jewish one so we miss all the tropes about Christian ceremonies that normally appear in movies like this. Strangely, in avoiding those cultural truisms, director Amy Miller Gross pulls out nearly all the stereotypes about the French – turning the family of the bride into whining, rude Bohemians who are certain they are superior to everybody else.

And perhaps that could have been played for laughs, but instead, Gross (who wrote the script) makes the odd choice of turning Audrey from a sympathetic character into a snarky to the point of flat-out cruelty bitch who takes what sympathy Gross spent the entire first half of the film accumulating for her and tossing it aside until one wonders why on earth anyone would tolerate her for even a moment, let alone the fifteen-plus years of marriage she has enjoyed with Ethan. And to make matters worse, she gets a mad case of mid-life crisis and spends a good part of the second half of the film trying to rekindle a romance with Isaac.

Even so, Gross still had a possibility of pulling it off with Alicia Silverstone in the lead, but it is hard to believe that this is the same actress who made Clueless so delightful, and I’m not just talking about the passage of time. Silverstone resorts to rubber-faced mugging throughout as if she had been convinced she was doing an Ace Ventura movie and it just doesn’t work. I know Silverstone hasn’t been getting a lot of work over the last decade but even so I know she can do better than this.

You can kind of see what Gross was going for and occasionally some things work, like the corrected title cards for each segment, and the use of Clemence’s songwriting partner Orson (Silver) as a kind of Greek chorus. I also like the exploration of why we have a tendency to always want more; as if having a great life and a great family isn’t enough. Maybe that’s part of being human, but we are constantly being bombarded with messages that tell us that we are underachieving and that we need to want more – more money, a better career, a happier family – than what we already have. Contentment has become so passe.

There are some indications that this could have been a much better movie than it turned out to be, so if you’re anything like me you’ll be frustrated by this film, but one can look at it as a learning experience for all involved and hope that their next projects will work out better for them and us.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s a whole lot of neuroses going on.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as comedic as it could have been.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some sexuality and nudity, brief drug use and some comic violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed primarily on location in Amagansett, Long Island.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Best Friend’s Wedding
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Don’t Click

Love, Weddings and Other Disasters


Jeremy Irons counts the number of blind jokes in the scene.

(2020) Romantic Comedy (Saban) Maggie Grace, Jeremy Irons, Diane Keaton, Andrew Bachelor, Diego Boneta, Jesse McCartney, Dennis Dugan, Todd Stashwick, Chandra West, Elle King, Melinda Hill, Andy Goldenberg, Caroline Portu, Richard Kline, Veronica Ferres, Levon Panek, William Xifaras, Ava Gaudet, Dennis Staroselsky, Rob Norton, Rachel Wirtz. Directed by Dennis Dugan

 

Romantic comedies seem to lend themselves to ensemble pieces, in which several different stories about a variety of couples finding love getting tied up with a nice, neat bow at the very end – which usually results in an ending. Far be it for the filmmakers behind Love, Weddings and Other Disasters to mess with the formula.

Jesse (Grace) is a pretty florist who has a type A personality, but became a reluctant viral video sensation when her fiancée dumped her in the middle of a skydive, causing her to dump him into a lake and sending her sailing into a wedding party on the adjoining dock. She became known around her native Boston as “The Wedding Trasher.”

Still, after stepping in to help plan a friend’s wedding, she is recommended to the fiancée of a Boston mayoral candidate (Staroselsky) to plan a big to-do for the candidate that will also score big political points. She takes on the job, much to the chagrin of Lawrence (Irons), the supercilious perfectionist of a caterer who is much in demand for the hoi polloi of Beantown. To make his day even worse, Laurence is set up on a blind date with Sara (Keaton), a photographer who is visually impaired and whose guide dog seems to have an unerring knack for launching her into things, such as the table with the meticulously set up champagne glass tower, sending it crashing to the floor. Even so, Laurence and Sara hit it off and after an actual date, he ends up spending the night at her place. While she’s asleep, he rearranges her furniture and then leaves her a love note. Laurence is a bit of a sadist, I think.

In the meantime, Jesse (remember her?) is trying hard to hire a rock band to play at the reception (the groom is a little bit classical, the bride is a little bit rock and roll – one is also tastes great, the other less filling) and she catches a band and is eager to hire them to do the wedding for which the guitarist (Boneta) is eager, but the front man not so much, leading to a rift in the band – and in the meantime, the guitar player falls in love with Jesse.

=And while all this is going on, a duck boat tour guide/captain (Bachelor) falls in love at first sight with a passenger with a glass slipper tattooed on her neck (Wirtz) and searches Boston for his Cinderella, becoming a cause celebre in the process, and the mayoral candidate’s goofy brother (Goldenberg) is appearing on the worst dating game show ever as contestants who are diametric opposites are chained together with the couple who lasts the longest winning a million dollars. Except instead of being a Harvard-trained lawyer that she claims to be, Svetlana (Hill) turns out to be a stripper with a mobster boss who wants to take a percentage of their winnings. And the hits keep right on coming.

For any screen romance to resonate with audiences, they have to invest in the couple and want them to get together. With all the different storylines going on, it’s nearly impossible to do that; all the characters and situations are woefully undeveloped and the plot, despite every attempt to make it edgy, is as predictable as the Kansas University basketball team having a winning season.

I don’t think this is the fault of the actors. Keaton is as wonderful as ever, and Irons is a pro as always, while Grace and Bachelor pour on the charm, but the writing is so tone-deaf, you end up looking up at the screen with jaw dropped and maybe even saying out loud “are you kidding me?” as the blind jokes are among the least offensive things going on in the humor department.

Still, those who love rom-coms will probably enjoy this because they are a particularly forgiving audience, and any chance to see actors like Keaton and Irons in action should be taken, even when the movies they are in aren’t so good. Just be warned, they are the bright spots in a movie that has few of them.

REASONS TO SEE: Irons and, particularly, Keaton are delightful.
REASONS TO AVOID: Standard, predictable rom-com anthology.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dugan’s onscreen appearance as a game show host is his first screen appearance in seven years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 5% positive reviews, Metacritic: 10/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: New Year’s Eve
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Doin’ My Drugs

Berlin, I Love You


How very Berlin of you.

(2019) Romance (Saban) Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson, Jim Sturgess, Mickey Rourke, Jenna Dewan, Emily Beecham, Dianna Agron, Veronica Ferres, Diego Luna, Iwan Rheon, Charlotte Le Bon, Sibel Kekilli, Nolan Gerard Funk, Julia Dietze, Sylvester Groth, Toni Garn, Yvonne Maria Schafer, Pheline Roggan, Robert Stadlober, Rafaëlle Cohen, Alexander Black, Hannelore Elsner. Directed by Dianna Agron, Peter Chelsom, Claus Clausen, Fernando Eimbcke, Justin Franklin, Dennis Gansel, Dani Levy, Daniel Lwowski, Stephanie Martin, Josef Rusnak, Til Schweiger, Massy Tadjedin and Gabriela Tscherniak

 

Veteran travelers tend to not want to make Berlin a destination. As major cities go, it has little to distinguish itself from any other large city – Cleveland, for example – and while there is more of a history in Berlin than Cleveland, the connotations of some unpleasantness 70 years ago lingers on. Berlin is where you go when Munich is fully booked.

The fifth in the Cities in Love series – of which only four have made it to America (a 2014 anthology set in Tbilisi has yet to receive American distribution) which began with Paris Je t’aime back in 2006 features a handful of directors (there are ten here) creating short vignettes set in that particular city and all featuring something to do with love. An “opposites attract” romance between a living statue (Stadlober) and an Israeli singer/activist (Cohen) who take up competing spaces in a par serve as a linking device as they continue to run into each other all over the city.

The vignettes take place in between the linking sequences and include  British aid worker (Knightley) stationed in Berlin bringing home a young refugee kid in “just for a night” while her cantankerous mom (Mirren) is visiting; a jaded, aging lothario (Rourke) hooking up in a hotel bar with a beautiful young woman (Garn) who hides a devastating secret, a stressed-out big budget film director (Wilson) falling in love with the city and Dewan, one of the citizens therein, and so on and so forth.

As a travelogue, the movie works, filming taking place near familiar tourist landmarks but not really exhibiting much thought toward Berlin’s recent checkered past other than through the animated credits sequence. We also get a glimpse of Berlin’s notorious nightclub scene with pulsating beats, a deplorable excess of neon and beautiful people getting happily hammered.

Despite having a fine cast, most of the sequences are curiously flat, as if the directors, knowing they had a limited amount of screen time rather than setting the pace on fire rather left it smoldering, rather than sizzling, giving the overall experience a kind of flatness that is off-putting. These sorts of anthologies depend heavily on the cast and the writing to tell a good story in about ten minutes of screen time, but that happens less often rather than more. To be fair, Wim Wenders’ Angels of Desire (which is referenced here) aside, Berlin is not known for romance and neither will this movie be.

REASONS TO SEE: The cast is excellent.
REASONS TO AVOID: As with most anthologies, some of the segments work, some don’t
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, sexual content and some brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Future installments in the series are said to include Shanghai and Jerusalem, with New Orleans, Delhi and Tokyo to follow.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Netflix, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 11% positive reviews: Metacritic: 34100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: New York, I Love You
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Hidden Orchard Mysteries: Case of the Air B N B Robbery

The Vanishing (Keepers)


Taking on all comers.

(2018) Mystery (SabanGerard Butler, Peter Mullan, Connor Swindells, Gary Lewis, Emma King, Ken Drury, Soren Malling, Ólafur Dari Ólafsson, Gary Kane, Roderick Gilkison, John Taylor. Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm

 

On or about December 15, 1900, three lighthouse keepers on the tiny island of Eilean Mor in the Flannan Islands about twenty miles West of the Outer Hebrides Islands in Scotland vanished without a trace. Their fates are unknown even to this day and are the subject of lively conversation locally.

Senior officer Thomas Marshall (Mullan), grizzled veteran James Ducat (Butler) and fresh-faced newcomer Donald MacArthur (Swindells) – known in the log book as “The Occasional” because he isn’t a full-fledged member of the crew yet – are set for a six-week shift watching the Flannan Islands Lighthouse. It is tedious, boring and lonely work but the three men get on pretty well, ribbing the newbie and heading off the cold with copious amounts of Scotch.

Then a rowboat shows up with an apparently dead body and a locked chest. Donald is sent down to investigate, and the dead body turns out to be not-quite-dead-yet. Donald ends up in a fight for his life and triumphs, but is sorely affected by what has transpired. You just know that whatever is in the chest that someone was willing to kill for is certainly going to have other people looking for it, and of course they eventually show up. That leads to further mayhem, guilt, paranoia and inevitable tragedy.

Nyholm does a good job of creating an eerie atmosphere. Certainly there have been paranormal explanations as to what happened to the keepers, but Nyholm and writers Celyn Jones and Joe Bone keep their feet planted firmly on terra firma, but Nyholm is not above making us think there is something otherworldly going on. It is only in the last half of the film that we’re pretty much told “Nope, nothing crazy going on here.”

The performances here are superb, particularly from Butler, who doesn’t get many opportunities to flex his acting muscles in the action movies he primarily makes these days, and Mullan, one of the finest character actors in the UK. The turn of the 20th century is replicated well here, although the lighthouse is equipped with a radio that I’m fairly certain wasn’t in general use for another decade at least.

Despite the title which intimates a spooky horror film, this is a pretty taut thriller with explosions of very personal, in-your-face violence. Well-acted with a nicely tense atmosphere of paranoia and maybe something else, this is an ideal viewing on a cold, windy night – or for that matter, a still summer day.

REASONS TO SEE: Very atmospheric with great period production design. Solid performances all around, particularly from Butler and Mullan.
REASONS TO AVOID: Devolves into a generic thriller towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence and grisly images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the lighthouse of Eilean Mor is still operational albeit slightly modernized, four other lighthouses were used in the production of the film due to the remoteness of Eilean Mor.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/28/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lighthouse
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
A Dog’s Way Home

Power Rangers


Welcome to your childhood, revisited.

(2017) Science Fiction (Saban/Lionsgate) Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader (voice), Matt Shively, Cody Kearsley, David Denman, Robert Moloney, Anjali Jay, Sarah Grey, Morgan Taylor Campbell, Caroline Cave, Kayden Magnuson, Lisa Berry, Wesley MacInnes, John Stewart, Fiona Fu. Directed by Dean Israelite

 

Never underestimate the value of nostalgia in selling a franchise movie. The toys and games of our youth become the $100 million franchise film of our present. Michael Bay turned a TV show meant to sell toys into a billion dollar film franchise which shows no sign of abating.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were arguably a bigger kid’s show in their day. Certainly it paved the way for all sorts of shows that were arguably toy ads and included such shows as Pokémon and Animorphs.  There were a couple of movies made with the Rangers (the first one I was forced to endure since my son was a MMPR junkie at the time) but while the show has continued in a variety of forms over the years, it hasn’t quite had the same cache as it did back in the day. Now Saban, the American distributor of the original, has started a film arm and is pulling out what is arguably their most valuable property to help get it going.

Five misfit teenagers in the sleepy California town of Angel Grove have been drawn together. Jock Jason (Montgomery) has a bright athletic future ahead of him but throws it all away for the sake of an unfunny prank that ends up getting him arrested. Kimberly (Scott) is a cheerleader whose clique has turned against her. Billy (Cyler) is a brilliant but bullied young man who is on the autism spectrum. Jason, who hates bullies, stands up for Billy but not because he is bullied – Billy is able to disarm the ankle bracelet he’s forced to wear.

Billy takes his two new friends to an old mine his late father used to take him to. There they meet Zack (Lin), an outgoing Asian kid and Trini (G), a Latina loner. The five of them discover that they picked a mine that happened to be above a buried alien spacecraft where they discover five coins. The coins give them a variety of super powers but nothing like what they would have if they could manifest the Power Ranger suits.

At least, that’s what giant head Zordon (Cranston) tells them. With his snarky robot sidekick Alpha 5 (Hader), the five are meant to be the new Power Rangers who have to battle interstellar baddie Rita Repulsa (Banks) who has plans to nab the Zeo Crystal and destroy the planet – unless the bickering teens can get their act together and team up to beat her and her giant robot Goldar. We’re doomed.

It’s hard in some ways for someone like me to review this; I really didn’t follow the show and while my son was way into it for a certain part of his youth, it was his show, not mine. We didn’t watch it together but that was okay – it was something that could be his and his alone, which is important for a young boy. The connection I have to the show is tenuous and the Easter eggs and cameos that litter the film go straight over my head. Younger people who grew up with the show in the 90s will find more resonance here than I ever could so keep that in mind.

The special effects are fairly spectacular for the most part – the climactic battle is a little bit overwrought and difficult to follow. It takes a long time to get there however; the Rangers don’t appear in uniform until the movie is nearly done and the dinosaur-like vehicles they operate, the Zords don’t appear until even later.

The movie is chock full of terms and expressions that will only make sense to those who grew up with the show.  That’s okay, mind you, but just be warned that those of us who weren’t into the show will have less of an experience. The same thing can be said about the Marvel movies, Star Trek movies and so on and so forth. That’s kind of the point of going to see a movie like this.

The movie is a bit schizophrenic in that part of it seems to want to be a slam-bang action movie and the other more of a Freeform teen angst movie. Israelite is more successful at the latter than the former and quite frankly the integration of the two could have been better and I think that’s where the movie has its biggest issue. When the action sequences come, they are a bit on the cheesy side and don’t look terribly convincing. They’re also quite jarring when you put them together with teens who are sexting, experiencing sensuality for the first times in their lives, dealing with autism and bullying and alienation from not only the adults in their lives but from people in general. All the special effects in the world can’t help you with those.

If you loved the original series, chances are that you’ll enjoy this depending on how much a stickler you are for keeping things the way they were in the 90s. Chances are you’ll have seen this already as well. For those wondering if they should catch this at the local dollar theater, do. It should definitely be experienced on a big screen with big sound. However, keep in mind that this is essentially a mediocre movie that could have used less of an eye on the bottom line and more of an eye on writing a great story involving these characters instead of one drowning helplessly in liquid cheese.

REASONS TO GO: There is a nostalgia factor for those who grew up with the original TV show.
REASONS TO STAY: Tries to be both an action movie and a young adult drama and doesn’t really integrate the two disparate sides together very well.
FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of sci-fi violence, a smattering of mild profanity and a little bit of crude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third Power Ranger movie to make the big screen (although as a reboot it isn’t connected to the other two) and the first in 20 years to be released.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chronicle
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Pandora