Literally, Right Before Aaron


Love makes grinning idiots of us all.

(2017) Romantic Comedy (Screen Media) Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, Ryan Hansen, John Cho, Kristen Schaal, Lea Thompson, Dana Delaney, Peter Gallagher, Luis Guzmán, Charlyne Yi, Vella Lovell, Ginger Gonzaga, Malcolm Barrett, Manu Intiraymi, Ivy George, Rick Overton, Adam Rose, Sam Hennings, Parvesh Cheena, Dov Tiefenbach, Ashley Platz. Directed by Ryan Eggold

 

When we are of a certain age, we have an idea of what The One is going to look like; you know, The One who is your partner for life, your dream man/woman, your other half. Not so much in the physical make-up but the kind of person he/she is. When we think we’ve found that person, the idea is to hold onto them with both hands. It never occurs to us that The One may turn out to be just The One We Thought Was The One.

Adam (Long) is getting over the break-up of an eight-year relationship with Allison (Smulders) when out of the blue, he gets a phone call from her inviting him to her wedding. She puts pressure on him to attend; “I’m going to be at yours so you HAVE to be at mine!” she wheedles. Despite the misgivings and urging to the contrary by friends/co-workers Mark (Cho) and Claire (Yi), he decides to head north to San Francisco and attend.

He meets Aaron (Hansen), the new man in Allison’s life whom she began dating immediately after the break-up and takes an immediate dislike to him. Adam is determined to win Allison back and will do just about anything to do it including lie to his own mother (Thompson) and do his best to remind Allison of what a good thing they had. As Allison herself said during one of (many) flashbacks to how they met, “I can’t decide if you’re charming or if you’re an asshole.”

Believe me, Allison, it’s the latter. This is a dreadfully unfunny romantic comedy in which cruelty and obsessive behavior substitutes for laughs. If someone were to do the things that Adam does in the movie, there’d be a restraining order in his immediate future, not an invitation to a wedding. There would also likely be the beatdown of a lifetime but I digress.

Long has made a career of being the sad sack romantic and he’s as good at it as John Cusack, whose mantle Long inherited, once was. He tries his best here to be likable and charming – and he’s capable of being both – but one is defined by their actions and Adam’s actions are self-centered to the point of narcissism, perhaps even to the point of being mentally unbalanced. I could see Adam going completely berserk, brandishing a gun and screaming at Allison “Love me! Or I’ll kill you!” And perhaps that would have been a more interesting movie. Still, it must also be said that Long is getting a bit long in the tooth for roles like this. I would like to see him take on some roles that have a bit more maturity to them. Hollywood casting being what it is, that might not happen anytime soon.

The movie is riddled with genre clichés and the plot is powered by characters doing things that no rational human being would ever do. I get that love can make you do crazy things, but Jeez Louise; I can’t imagine a psychologist witnessing this behavior without seriously pulling the committal papers out. This is lazy writing of the highest order.

Director Eggold, who is best known as the sinister Tom Keen on the hit TV show The Blacklist shows some of his rookie greenery with the choices he makes – he’ll get a 10-yard penalty for overuse of faded-out flashbacks that are meant to look like old home movies – but he also makes some good ones. Rarely have I seen San Francisco used as well as it is used here to really bring the tone of the city to life. Having lived in the Bay Area as long as I have, I felt a certain amount of nostalgia watching the movie and listening to Tony Bennett croon his signature “I Left My Heart (in San Francisco).” Kudos for that.

Kudos must also be given for assembling an impressive cast, although several of them – particularly Guzmán, Delaney and Thompson – are in the film for only a scene or two. I could have used a little more of these actors and a little less of Long who is in nearly every minute of the film. Not that Long can’t carry a film on his own, mind you – he just needed some better material to carry it with.

REASONS TO GO: Utilizes San Francisco to its fullest. The cast is impressive.
REASONS TO STAY: People acting like blithering idiots does not a comedy make. The film suffers from far too many rom-com clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some sexual references here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie references the John Steinbeck classic Of Mice and Men and goes on to spoil the ending of the book.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 31% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Best Friend’s Wedding
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Walking Out

The Circle


It looks like Tom Hanks is trying to recapture his Cast Away look.

(2017) Thriller (STX) Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Beck, Nate Corddry, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt, Mamoudou Athie, Eve Gordon, Poorna Jagannathan, Elvy Yost, Ellen Wong, Lauren Baldwin, Nicola Bertram, Julian Von Nagel, Amie McCarthy-Winn, Regina Saldivar, Amir Tatai, Smith Cho. Directed by James Ponsoldt

 

There’s no doubt that the world is changing. Social media and the presence of cameras nearly everywhere have guaranteed that our concept of privacy will have to change radically. We must learn to live with the reality that everything we do is not only findable online but is subject to the scrutiny of trolls.

Mae (Watson) is a customer service drone in a dead end job she can’t stand. Coming to her rescue is Annie (Gillan) who works in management at The Circle, a sort of cross between Facebook, Google and Big Brother. Like all social media outlets, The Circle seems to be almost an obsession with its users who post the most mundane details of their day so that friends and strangers can pass judgment.

Mae’s dad (Paxton in his final role) has Multiple Sclerosis and her mom (Headly) has been worn ragged caring for him. Her ex-boyfriend Mercer (Coltrane) is suspicious of the ongoing loss of privacy and is retreating from the modern connected world, moving to a rustic artist retreat that is essentially off the grid.

Mae however has picked a grand time to join up with The Circle. Co-founder and CEO Eamon Bailey (Hanks) is releasing a new product – a miniaturized camera that people can wear all day long that utilizes facial recognition software to allow them to find friends nearby and of course post everything they do – literally every moment of their day – online. Mae, after a rough start, has become a convert “Circler” and is selected to be the first person to have total transparency online.

However with total transparency comes collateral damage – not everyone wants their every moment on display and it ends up causing friction with those Mae loves the most and leads to a tragedy nobody could have predicted. This leads her to do some digging and she soon finds out that not everything at the Circle – or everyone – necessarily has benevolent intentions.

This is based on a book by Dan Eggers who gets the Silicon Valley culture nicely. In some ways, the movie pokes fun a bit at the tech culture of “play hard, work harder” with Mae getting a visit from Circlers who are concerned she’s not participating in any groups – or working on weekends. In some ways the big problem with this poorly-reviewed movie is that it really doesn’t know what it wants to be – at times it feels like a corporate espionage thriller, other times a social commentary and still others a sci-fi cautionary tale.

The graphics are nifty and nicely extrapolate what our online experience is going to look like in maybe a decade or less. The film is also blessed with a marvelous cast. You literally can’t go wrong with Hanks who doesn’t play villains often and even this villain is less villainous than Oswalt’s corporate weasel who is more of a traditional villain. Bailey is charming and folksy, a cross between Steve Jobs and Garrison Keillor. And, of course he’s Tom Hanks, the modern Jimmy Stewart.

But then there’s Watson who is a marvelous actress and perhaps one of the most beloved actresses in the world. She was simply flat here, never really gathering my sympathy or attention. I was far more drawn to Hanks’ character which is not unexpected given Hanks ability and screen charm. But as she proved in Beauty and the Beast Watson is thoroughly capable of carrying a movie and here she simply doesn’t.

I liked the social media aspect which the movie seems to be on the cusp of exploring further but it never really does. It feels like the filmmakers were anxious not to offend millennials which they figured would be a large chunk of their target audience; unfortunately what that wound up doing was diluting the message and taking away much of the film’s bite. Overall it feels a bit like cinematic pablum.

That’s not to say that this is a complete waste of time. The movie does accurately portray our society’s obsession with celebrity and the growing importance of internet celebrity; it also makes points about our obsession with connection and the growing loss of privacy. These are all valid and salient points and I would have loved to see more exploration of them. Instead we end up with something of a generic thriller that ends up disappointing more than it excites. Circles, after all, have a tendency to end up where they start out – and so does The Circle.

REASONS TO GO: Hanks is a riveting quasi-villain. The graphics are nicely utilized.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a wasted opportunity in terms of sociopolitical commentary. Nothing here really impresses.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality, some drug use and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Headly and Paxton who play Mae’s parents have both passed away since they filmed their roles.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/19/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eagle Eye
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Unforgettable

Circus Kid


Where do kids who already live in the circus run away to?

(2016) Documentary (Points West) Larry Pisoni, Bill Irwin, Peggy Snider, Lorenzo Pisoni, Harvey Robb, Geoff Hoyle, Terry Lorant, Paul Binder, Hovey Burgess, Gypsy Snider, Jess Pisoni. Directed by Lorenzo Pisoni

Being in a circus, to a kid, would seem to be the most wonderful thing ever. Traveling from city to city, performing in front of adoring crowds and all those wonderful animals! Oh my, what kid of my generation would not want to join the circus?

Well, Lorenzo Pisoni did just that but not the way you’d think. His father Larry and his mother Peggy Snider were co-founders of the Pickle Family Circus in 1974 in San Francisco. The Pickles were at the forefront of the New American Circus movement, one which eschewed animal acts and while they did use traditional circus performers like clowns, jugglers, high wire acts, tumblers and did I mention clowns? Larry was the head clown and his act made the world take notice.

As a 2-year-old boy Lorenzo wandered out onto the center of the ring and performed his own clown act. Soon he was partnering with his dad who became not just his parent but his coach, mentor and of course onstage partner. Although Lorenzo got his share of home schooling, he had little contact with other kids his age. He was too busy performing and practicing when he wasn’t performing. It speaks volumes that Lorenzo signed a contract as a performer as a seven-year-old, locking him into the life of the circus.

His father also developed a drinking problem, one that got him pushed out of the circus he founded. That forced a change in the life Lorenzo had already known. While Peggy was now staying in San Francisco looking after the financial affairs of the circus, Lorenzo as an 11-year-old boy was traveling with the show without either one of his parents now that his father was out of the picture, although he did have a legal guardian with him.

Years later, Lorenzo would create a one-man show detailing his childhood in an off-Broadway production called Humor Abuse – snippets of it are shown paralleling events being discussed in the film which Lorenzo directs. At first it’s essentially a story of the Pickle Family Circus but eventually it becomes the story of a boy’s relationship with his dad, how it became toxic and how the two reconciled. The latter part is the more interesting element of the two, although the circus history and backstage peeks are also fascinating in their own right.

Bill Irwin was probably the most famous graduate of the Pickle Family Circus, with Geoff Hoyle a close second. Both appear here to talk about their time as part of the Pickles and Irwin gets fairly emotional about it. For those wondering, the group has changed quite a bit over the years – they have incorporated Chinese acrobatics into the show and still do weekend shows in the San Francisco Bay Area three months a year.

Being a West Coast boy, I’ve seen the Pickle Family Circus on more than one occasion in their heyday. Like Cirque du Soleil which was inspired by their example, they have only a single ring rather than three. The clowns which I remember vividly were perhaps the most important element of the circus; the feats of agility were certainly amazing but I remember the clowns. It was a more innocent age.

The movie gives some insight not only into the dynamic between Larry and Lorenzo but also into the Circus itself, but it feels like almost two movies. Lorenzo, now a family man himself, doesn’t really bring the two aspects of his film together as smoothly as it might have been. Still, if you ever dreamed of running away to the Circus, this might be the film for you although I have to admit that running away to the Circus generally didn’t mean having my parents along when I was daydreaming about it as a young boy.

REASONS TO GO: A fascinating look at the lives of traveling performers and of the history of the Pickle Family Circus.
REASONS TO STAY: The two elements of the movie – the history of the Pickles and the father and son dynamic between Lorenzo and Larry don’t mesh as well as they might.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing you wouldn’t want your kids to see – especially if they’re threatening to run away with the circus.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lorenzo’s sister Gypsy created all the circus sequences in the recent Tony-award winning revival of Pippin.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Family Fang
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Rat Film

Seed (2017)


Team Nomad’s success is no shoe-in.

(2017) Documentary (Something Different) Ethan Reid, Shahar Hussein, Pulkit Mahajan, Brian Collins, Adi Abili, Milan Koch, Saheen Ali, Paul Glaser, Christopher Wellise, Peter Berger, Brent Freeman, Sean Hughes, Devin Mui, Arjun Dev Arora, Ahmed, Bettirose. Directed by Andrew Wonder

 

When most of us think of hackers, we think of pimply-faced basement-dwelling laptop rats who take out their anger on not getting laid – ever –  by disrupting legitimate websites and from time to time stealing information from major Internet sites. Sometimes we think of the Anonymous hackers who disrupt the socially unjust. We rarely think of hacking as a source for positive change.

And yet AngelHack who were one of the earliest proponents of “hack-a-thons” (competitions for hackers) have turned the innovation of these code writing iconoclasts into potential businesses with seed money coming from Silicon Valley venture capitalists and other underwriters. It’s a very big deal in the hacking community and one of the most prestigious events on the Hacking calendar. They sponsor something called Silicon Valley week where dozens of hackers/code writers/would-be entrepreneurs get together, pitch their apps to first the AngelHack board who determine if they have the stuff to go on to the big stage where they can pitch their demos to industry leaders.

It’s a situation in which the stress levels are ratcheted up to an 11. The documentary follows three teams, including Team Report Taka with spokesperson Bettirose is trying to develop an app that will save lives in their native Nairobi, Kenya; Shahar Hussein is driving for Uber in New York while his brother-in-law Ahmed is watching over their start-up in Palestine which will help businesses there hook up with couriers to deliver packages. Finally Team Nomad, led by three teens are juggling high school with their app which will allow shoppers to take a picture of an item they see that they want to buy and then be taken to a site where they can buy it, something that appeals to the social media generation who can’t be bothered to look stuff up.

Each of these teams are among 14 teams from across the globe vying for interview time with venture capitalists and substantial seed money that could help their dreams take off. Each of the teams are in it for different reasons; one to change the world, another to make a better life for themselves and their families, a third just to prove they can do it.

It isn’t easy though. Team Nomad is having serious troubles getting their app to work for the demo. Shahar and Ahmed are not seeing eye to eye on their business’s future. The Report Taka team needs to be able to convince the various judges that their app is much more than a locally useful app that is worth developing for global use. The day they present after all is called Global Demo Day. The stakes are incredibly high.

This kind of film lives or dies based on how much the audience identifies with the various participants and ends up with a rooting interest for them. Team Report Taka came the closest for me; their app is one that collates reports of dumped garbage and analyzes it, helping the Kenyan government determine if it is proving a threat (garbage that collects in the rivers of Nairobi often contribute to flooding which can be severe enough to end lives). They have a difficult time communicating in English and perhaps understanding the capitalist culture that drives these kinds of things. It’s hard not to root for people who want to save lives though.

The other two teams are less altruistic. Both are working on apps that will aid e-commerce, and that’s all well and good. The teens involved with Team Nomad are often a bit cocky and considering they have a concept and not a working app makes one wonder if they are selling smoke and mirrors. Finally Shahar is maybe a bit mule-headed as is Ahmed and the two of them butt heads on some fairly basic issues. It isn’t always pretty.

Wonder has a nice visual sense and some of the shots here are really cool, but he for some reason decides to do some of the interview segments in unusual locations and positions; the Report Taka team is made to lie down on the floor like spokes on a wheel while Team Nomad is in a dark room lit by blue computer screens. I get that he wanted to get away from typical talking head tropes but it ended up being distracting and off-putting. An A for imagination but an C- for execution.

Nonetheless while the movie doesn’t really add much to the competition documentary subgenre, it is at least reasonably informative although some of the jargon may fly over the heads of those who aren’t technologically inclined. I consider myself reasonably tech-savvy and some of the things that the various participants said left me befuddled but I suppose most documentaries have their share of jargon, no?

I found the process that the teams undergo to be fascinating enough to overcome some of the films’ flaws. It’s available right now on Amazon Prime so those who are members of that service can stream the movie for free; it is also available for rent for those who are not Prime members. In any case, for those who are intrigued by how software is developed, this is a movie that will be right up your alley. For those who may prefer that how their Fandango app works be a mystery to them should probably give this one a pass.

REASONS TO GO: The process is fascinating.  Some of the cinematography is really cool.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s a little bit jargon-heavy. Sometimes the filmmaker goes a little bit overboard with the artistic license.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity but not a lot of it.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The three members of Team Nomad were all 16 and 17 years old when the process started and needed to be driven to preliminary events by their parents.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/11/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wordplay
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Logan

Raise Your Kids on Seltzer


Things can get uncomfortable when cracks in a marriage become apparent.

Things can get uncomfortable when cracks in a marriage become apparent.

(2015) Drama (Public Shores) Penny Werner, Jeff Kao, Nancy Kimball, Barry Newman, Kris Caltagirone, Deniz Demirer, William Cully Allen, Alanna Blair, Mark Zucker, Daniel Kremer, Rob Nilsson, Josh Peterson, Pamela Ambler, Leoni Figueredo, Dana Lorena Leon, Natalie Echols, Solomon Zucker, Aaron Hollander, Maryelle Turner. Directed by Daniel Kremer

 

Sometimes we put things behind us for a reason. Maybe the events of the past are just too painful, but other times we’ve simply moved on. Either way, we never completely escape our past.

Terry (Kao) and Tessa (Werner) Wasserman-Wang are a middle-aged couple living in the San Francisco Bay Area. They make their living as corporate videographers which isn’t the most exciting gig in history. Nowhere near as exciting as what they used to do for a living – cult deprogrammers.

They get a letter out of the blue from a former client that tells them that the daughter they rescued from a cult has recently committed suicide, naming the Wasserman-Wangs as the reason for her drastic action in her suicide note. Terry won’t let Tessa read the entire letter, which upsets her even further. Terry seems to be unaffected, busy working on the book he is writing about their years together working in the lucrative but not quite legal trade of what they prefer to call “exit counseling.”

Tessa’s twin sister Willa (also Werner) is getting her son’s bar mitzvah planned and abruptly informs Tessa that Terry is “uninvited.” Tessa is understandably hurt but Terry’s reaction (or lack thereof) further bothers Tessa. She also objects to Terry’s increasing tendency to make decisions for her.

Terry is feeling increasingly constricted by their corporate videography work and the book is stalled by the overbearing daughter (Blair) of Terry’s co-author (Allen). When he is contacted by a friend who has a potential client willing to pay $50,000 to get young Chloe (Kimball) out of a cult, Terry is willing to jump at the chance, particularly since finances are tight. Tessa, on the other hand, is horrified – she thought they’d agreed to leave that life behind and the letter has further strengthened her resolve. The cracks in the facade of their marriage may be deepening into canyons that may not be able to be resolved.

This isn’t Kremer’s first rodeo and there is some self-assurance to the direction. The relationship between Terry and Tessa is strained and feels it, sometimes almost too well; one feels that awkward moment at a party when a couple snipe just a little too personally at one another. While that may make the viewer feel a little bit put off, that’s as it should be; if you’re going to make a movie about a relationship that is strained, the viewer should feel that strain as well.

Werner is mainly at the front and center as the emotional focus of the film. While Kao plays things close to the vest, Werner is outgoing and an open book in many ways. Her Tessa is the kind of Jewish woman that makes the world a better place; she’s funny, pretty and pragmatic. She knows how to have fun but she knows what’s right for her family too. I found myself relating more to Tessa than to Terry, who is very emotionally closed-off.

The script has a tendency to meander a bit and not always in a good way. There are periodic insertions of interviews with the lawyer (Newman) for a cult leader that do nothing for the story and just serve to pad the running time. There are also little bits, like an obsession with a Siamese pickle and the whole bar mitzvah subplot that really distract from what is the most compelling story in the film – the relationship between Terry and Tessa. That distraction really hurts the overall experience and is the one factor I think that damages the film the most.

I like the cult deprogramming angle and how it affects those who do the deprogramming but Kremer doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on it surprisingly. Then again, that might be a different movie than the one Kremer wanted to make although I think that would be a fascinating movie as well. Still, one can look at the relationship between Tessa and Terry and find a lot that is fascinating, and a lot that is insightful about long-term relationships. I just wish there had been less distracting the audience from finding those insights.

REASONS TO GO: The concept is intriguing. The dialogue between Terry and Tessa is completely authentic.
REASONS TO STAY: Over-written. The performances can be stiff at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes as well as mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie Tessa is watching on TV is A Cool Sound from Hell by director Sidney J. Furie, whom Kremer has written a biography on.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Martha Marcy May Marlene
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Nocturnal Animals

Living in the Age of Airplanes


A DC-3 brings personnel and supplies to an Antarctic research station.

A DC-3 brings personnel and supplies to an Antarctic research station.

(2015) Documentary (National Geographic) Harrison Ford (narration). Directed by Brian J. Terwilliger

 

We take travel for granted. We step on an airplane and in less than a day we are anywhere else in the world. It was not that much more than a century ago that was not the case at all. Long distance travel was done by ships, or by trains. And it was not that many generations before that that the fastest travel was only as fast as the horse you rode on.

The fact is that for the first 200,000 years of human existence, the only way we got anywhere was by walking. Most human beings never ventured more than 20 miles from where they were born. We had a clearer map of the stars than we did of our own planet. What lay beyond the horizon of our sight might as well have been on the moon; in fact, we could see the moon much more clearly than what was just over the hill.

This National Geographic documentary celebrates the airplane – and I mean celebrates it. Narrated by actor and aviator Harrison Ford, this National Geographic documentary looks at how the airplane has changed the world and is divided into five different sections; the first examines the beginnings of flight and places it in a timeline of human history. Quite frankly, if you look at where the plane lies on that line, it’s barely distinguishable from its end which represents the present.

From there we look at airports as a portal to the globe; step through a gate, sit down and when you rise and emerge through the other gate, you’re in a faraway place; maybe halfway around the globe. Ford also intones that the airplane is the closest thing we have to a time machine in that it can transport us to sites where ancient civilizations once flourished, or to monuments of modern civilizations. It’s a claim that’s a bit histrionic and overly dramatic, but I can see the point.

We also see how much of the things we buy and place in our homes were transported there at least partially by air. We follow a rose plucked in Kenya with 14 days of life left to it; from Kenya it is flown to Amsterdam where it is then shipped via FedEx to Memphis and from Memphis to Anchorage to where it ends up in the dining room of an Alaskan home. We are then shown all the other items in the room that made it to that home through the air.

Finally we see the final stage. “Of all the places airplanes can take us,” muses Ford, “the most meaningful is home.” We see then the airport as a place where reunions take place. Anyone who has taken a trip where they have been separated from their families for any length of time, or visits a loved one they haven’t seen in way too long will appreciate this segment.

The music and images here are well thought out, and make for a fairly thrilling experience. There is an IMAX version of this 42 minute film and I wish I’d seen it in that format; it would have been remarkable. It’s still impressive even in the 2D presentation that you are likely to have at home.

We don’t see the down side of air travel here; the delays, the cramped seating, the expensive food and drink options, the inconveniences and the security checkpoint hassles. However, as Louis CK once said in a comedy routine, we bitch about being delayed half an hour for a trip from New York to Los Angeles that lasts about six to eight hours; a trip that once took fourteen months that the entire party taking it wouldn’t survive. We do have it a lot easier in that regard.

There’s no doubt that airplanes have opened up the world to the average person and made it possible for goods and services – and tourists – to travel the globe. It’s pretty astonishing if you take the time to think about it. While this particular documentary is a bit overly glossy in the style of an industry convention presentation or more to the point, a film in a pavilion at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, it does remind us that air travel is something that we shouldn’t take for granted. The world would indeed be a very different place without it.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the visuals are amazing. The James Horner score reminds us what a talent he was. The flower segment is absolutely fascinating.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Feels a little bit like a film at an EPCOT pavilion. The subjects don’t flow and there is little connection from one section to the next.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s nothing here that’s not suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Horner, who scored the film, ironically died in an airplane crash shortly after its release.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A plethora of featurettes, deleted scenes and some content from some of the film’s partners including FedEx.
SITES TO SEE: iTunes
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Koyaanisqatsi
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness begins!

The Intern


"I'll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head."

“I’ll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head.”

(2015) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Celia Weston, Steve Vinovich, C.J. Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Erin Mackey, Christina Brucato, Wallis Currie-Wood, Molly Bernard, Paulina Singer. Directed by Nancy Meyers

Our culture is going from youth-oriented to youth-obsessed. We tend to marginalize the elderly, joke about their inability to decipher technology. As much as we dismiss the elderly, at the same time we don’t want to die young either. We want to live long, full lives. We also tend to ignore that in order to do that, we have to age.

Ben Whittaker (De Niro) has done that. He’s aged. He turns around and finds himself to be 70 and alone, his beloved wife passed on, retired from a successful 40-year career printing phone books. Even the industry he devoted so much of his life to has gone the way of the horse and buggy.

He tries to fill his days with tai chi sessions, Mandarin lessons and lattes. He also finds himself spending an unsettling amount of time at the funerals of his friends. He is busy but curiously unfulfilled. Even some flirtations with a lady his age (Lavin) – most of the flirtation coming from her end – leave him empty and even more cognizant that his life lacks something.

Ben has the wisdom to figure out that what he’s missing is purpose. Getting up early and going around and doing nothing productive just isn’t in his genetic code. When he sees an ad one day for senior interns at an e-commerce women’s fashion company, he decides to go for it.

Jules Ostin (Hathaway) is the CEO and founder of About the Fit, an online store that guarantees its clients that the close they buy will fit them precisely. How she does that is a miracle of epic proportions but hey, this is Hollywood so just go with it. Anyway, she doesn’t particularly need nor want an intern of any age but especially one who’s older and reminds her that her mother (Place) is judgmental and hyper-critical of her success. Jules is a bit of a workaholic whose company in 18 months has become a real player in e-commerce and has grown to more than 200 employees. The investors are beginning to get nervous; not despite the success but because of it. They don’t know if Jules has the experience and drive to grow the company into the next level so they are pushing to get an experienced CEO who can take them there.

Jules doesn’t necessarily want that to happen but on the other hand she is tired of being absent in her own home. Her husband Matt (Holm) is a paragon of support, giving up his own promising career to let her soar with eagles. Their cute as a button daughter Paige (Kushner) misses her mommy but seems cheerfully resigned to the fact that she doesn’t get to see her much.

Jules is a bit of a control freak and is looking for reasons that the easygoing Ben should not be her intern; he’s too observant, she complains to her right hand man (Rannells) as she orders a transfer but she soon comes to realize that Ben has become indispensable, giving her the confidence to be a better boss, a better wife and a better mom but will she learn the lessons Ben has to teach her in time to save her business…and her family?

Richard Roeper describes director Nancy Meyers as “reliable” and he’s right on that score. She doesn’t get the credit she deserves but yet she turns out consistently entertaining films albeit on the lightweight side but that may also be the secret of her success; even her movies with somewhat weighty topics (as this one which looks at women in the workplace) tend to be low-key and rarely rock the boat with strident opinions.

Here she is given the opportunity to take on how working women tackling entrepreneurial success are treated and the answer is pretty much not well, but she doesn’t hit her audience in the face with that revelation (which isn’t a revelation at all, really) but rather allows you to come to that conclusion organically. The point here is that there is a balance between career and family that can be achieved and when it is, both thrive but when out of balance, both suffer. It’s not really a subversive point at all and yet she sneaks it in out of left field with few people noticing at all that she’s actually communicating with her audience. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman?

De Niro has had some forgettable performances in the last decade but it’s forgiven because, hey, he’s De Niro. That’s not the case her as he utilizes his expressive face to go beyond the script with a well-timed roll of the eyes, shrug of the shoulder or grimace, he creates a character that’s living. That’s a good thing because Ben as written is a little too perfect to be believed; he always knows the right thing to say, do or be. He’s the magical Grandpa.

He also has great chemistry with Hathaway who also is a very emotional actress. The two have a great moment when discussing their marriages in a hotel room while on a business trip to San Francisco to interview a potential CEO (don’t ask why an intern would be on such a trip or how he got into her hotel room while both are in pajamas and robes), but Hathaway reminds us in those moments why she is such a powerhouse actress and along with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams is the cream of the crop of talented young actresses that has come to the forefront of Hollywood the last five years or so.

There is a lot of contrivance in the plot which I suppose is to be expected because the story is so thoroughly a fairy tale but if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you and you don’t mind feeling the warm fuzzies as you exit the theater (or, if you are reading this a year from when this was published, as you turn off your TV or computer), this might just be what the doctor ordered. Da Queen found it to be much more than she expected from the trailer and I understand what she means; while Meyers can’t help the old fart jokes that pepper the film, there’s also a healthy respect for the difference between experience and wisdom that Hollywood sometimes mistakes for one another.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming without getting too treacly. Good chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway.
REASONS TO STAY: Ben is a little too perfect. Kind of fairy tale-esque.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexually suggestive content and brief rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead roles were at one time held by Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :The Internship
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Meet the Patels

Terminator Genisys


I just want to set the world on fire...

I just want to set the world on fire…

(2015) Science Fiction (Paramount) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matthew Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt, Wayne Bastrup, Gregory Alan Williams, Otto Sanchez, Matty Ferraro, Griff Furst, Ian Etheridge, Nolan Gross, Seth Meriwether, Afemo Omilami, Teri Wyble. Directed by Alan Taylor

Some franchises seem to need little encouragement to be creative. Some tell a single story over the course of several films. Others essentially make the same movie over and over again.

The War Against the Machines is reaching it’s end; John Connor (J.Clarke) and his troops are storming an L.A. prison camp which hides Skynet’s secret weapon even as another brigade is storming the main server complex in Colorado. Complete victory is within their grasp; except that Skynet has sent a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor (E. Clarke), his mother, before he can be born. John sends his right hand man, Kyle Reese (Courtney) back in time to stop the unstoppable cyborg.

Sounds familiar right? But this isn’t a reboot. When Reese gets there he discovers the Terminator has already been dispatched – by another Terminator, reprogrammed and sent back further in time to save Sarah – and now to save all of them from a liquid metal T-1000 (Lee) that is nearly impossible to destroy, but clever Sarah manages to find a way.

Now, they have a chance to stop Judgment Day itself but something is wrong with the timeline. Reese saw John getting attacked just before he was sent back in time and now Judgment Day isn’t in 1997 but in 2017. And the means that the nuclear holocaust will be achieved is through a new operating system, Genisys, that will link up everybody and everything – including the nukes. With the aging Terminator whom Sarah calls Pops – as he keeps insisting, he’s old not obsolete – the two will try to save the world from Skynet one last time but Skynet has an ace up it’s sleeve that nobody foresaw – except those who saw Paramount’s second trailer for the movie that spoils one of the biggest and unexpected twists that could have been this summer.

The Terminator franchise has seen better days. The first two films in the franchise were box office smashes and are beloved of science fiction and action film fans alike. The last two have done decent financial numbers but both critics and fans alike have excoriated both of them. Where in that demarcation does this one fall?

The latter, unfortunately. Critics have given this a spanking as you can see by the numbers below and fans have been essentially unimpressed. To be honest, I can’t say that this is one of the better movies in the series but it isn’t the worst either – Terminator Salvation gets that dubious honor – and quite frankly I think it holds up pretty well, despite the critical lambasting it has taken.

]Schwarzenegger, who essentially just made cameos during the last two films which were both filmed during his gubernatorial days but is fully back here and he steals the show. Arnold has never been the greatest of actors (though he has improved) but he’s always had a load of charisma. He manages to play the sympathetic Terminator nicely with genuinely horrifying attempts at a human smile, and a few unintentionally funny quips.

Too bad Arnold as a robot is more lifelike than the human characters. Jason Clarke has shown himself to be a capable lead actor in Life on Mars and in other films, but here he seems terribly lost. I’m not sure if he just required better direction, or any direction but I get the sense that he’s not sure how to play this messianic character and so plays him without much to recommend him by. At least he does a better job than Christian Bale did.

Courtney, who has been a villain in the Hunger Games movies does a mite better, but again seems a bit over his head. The same could be said for Emilia Clarke who has turned heads in Game of Thrones but seems strident and unlikable here instead of tough. Makes one wish her colleague in Thrones, Lena Headey, would have been the one asked to take the role here. She did a far better job in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The action sequences are better than average and the special effects likewise. Where the movie really falls down is in the story; it’s so convoluted, with parallel timelines and all sorts of techno babble which ends up slowing the momentum of the movie down at key moments (in one incredible sequence, four different characters try explain a plot point four times to a disbelieving character which is just beyond comprehension why anyone writing a major summer movie would do that. I think they should have simplified things a little or just didn’t explain anything and let the audience just go with it. They would have been better off in the long run. However, fans of the series might be interested to know that there will be at least two more movies made; Paramount has already greenlit them because the rights to the franchise revoke back to James Cameron in 2019 so the studio intends to get as much return from their investment as possible. I hope that the audience does, too.

REASONS TO GO: Some fine summer entertainment and eye candy. Schwarzenegger is clearly having fun.
REASONS TO STAY: Convoluted plot. A little too much like previous entries in the franchise.
FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of sci-fi violence and gun fighting, some partial nudity and a few choice words here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jason Clarke is the fifth actor to play John Connor. Rusty Griswold of the Vacation series has also had five actors in the same role, the only characters known to have that many different actors playing them.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/12/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: I, Robot
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Desire for Beauty

Inside Out (2015)


Antonin Scalia reacts to recent Supreme Court decisions.

Antonin Scalia reacts to recent Supreme Court decisions.

(2015) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Paula Pell, Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger, Josh Cooley, Flea, Carlos Alazraqui, Laraine Newman, Rashida Jones. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen

Growing up can be a dangerous thing. There are no manuals on how to deal with our emotions; we just have to do the best we can, which is generally not good enough. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and realize that it is okay not to be happy and cheerful every minute of every day.

11-year-old Riley (Dias) and her Mom (Lane) and Dad (MacLachlan) have moved to San Francisco from Minnesota and the usually cheerful Riley is not happy about it. She misses her friends, she misses playing hockey – a sport she loves and excels at – and she misses the shall we say less urban environment of her old home.

Up in her head, Riley’s emotions are working double time. In charge (more or less) is Joy (Poehler), a sprite-like being who wants all of Riley’s memories to be happy. Working alongside her are Sadness (Smith), Anger (Black), Disgust (Kaling) and Fear (Hader). Sadness is a squishy blue teardrop, Anger a red brick who sometimes blows flames out of his head, while Disgust is broccoli-green and Fear is a twitchy pipe cleaner with a bow tie.

The emotions work in Headquarters, the part of her brain where the emotions exert control and memories are made and separated into storage – long term, short term and core. “Islands” are formed by her core memories, helping to establish Riley’s personality – love of hockey, honesty, love of family, imagination and so on. A variety of workers keep the memories stored and occasionally, dump them to disappear (Phone numbers? Doesn’t need them. She keeps them in her phone) and make room for new ones. The memories manifest as little globes like pearls, colored by whatever emotion is associated with that memory although Sadness has discovered that when she touches a memory, the emotional hue can change.

Not long after that, a series of accidents strands Joy and Sadness together in the long term memory area of Riley’s head. Worse yet, the core memories have accidentally been sent there, which will slowly lead to her personality islands crumbling away. Joy and Sadness will have to work together to get those core memories back to Headquarters. They’ll be aided by Bing Bong (Kind), Riley’s imaginary playmate whom she hasn’t thought of in years. But they’ll have to hurry; Anger, Disgust and Fear have been left in charge and their decision-making process is, to say the least, untrustworthy.

This is one of the most imaginative animated features in years. Say what you want about the execution of the movie (which is, by the way, pretty dang nifty) but the concepts here are much different than any animated movie – or movie of any other kind – you’re likely to encounter.

The vocal performances are solid, albeit unspectacular although the casting of Black as Anger was inspired if you ask me. He steals the show whenever his rage button is pushed, which is frequently. Poehler gets the bulk of the dialogue as Joy but Kaling, Smith and Hader also get their moments and all of them encapsulate their emotional counterparts nicely.

True to its subject matter, the movie moves from whimsical (as when Bing Bong, Joy and Sadness move through the subconscious and change forms to two-dimensional and into Depression era animated figures) to downright moving (Bing Bong’s plaintive expression of his desire to make Riley happy, despite the fact that she’s forgotten him). While the emotional resonance of Wall-E and Toy Story 3 aren’t quite there, it still packs quite a powerful emotional punch in places. Softies, beware and bring plenty of tissue.

The only real quibble I have with the movie is that from time to time the story is not as straightforward as it is with other Pixar films and it might be a tad difficult to follow for younger kids, who will nonetheless be quite happy with the colors and shapes of the new characters that are likely to dominate the toy merchandise this summer (at least, until the new Minions movie comes out). It also has a tendency to set us up with what appear to be rules to follow only to do something a bit different. I’m not a stickler for such things – this is an animated feature, not a documentary – but some people who are anal about it might have issues.

The lesson to be learned here for kids is that it’s okay to be sad, or angry, disgusted or even afraid. It isn’t a requirement to be happy all the time – nobody is. We all must, sooner or later, deal with all of our emotions, even the not so nice ones. All of them are there for a reason.

Despite the minor flaw and given all of the movie’s strengths I found this movie to be beautifully rendered with a wonderfully imaginative setting and characters I could get behind. The storyline isn’t earth-shattering – essentially it’s about a disgruntled 11-year-old girl who wants to go back to the home she’s used to and acts out because of it – but all of us can relate to dealing with emotions, either because we know an eleven year old or at least been an eleven year old. Pixar has been on a bit of a cold streak as of late but this movie reminds us of how great this studio is and how much they have contributed to the animated feature genre. This is a gem, destined to be another in a long line of Pixar classics.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative and different. Moving in places. Teaches kids that it’s okay to have negative emotions as well.
REASONS TO STAY: Can be confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the thematic elements may be a bit much for the very small; there is also some animated action and a few images that might be frightening for the less mature child.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mindy Kaling was reportedly so moved by the script that she burst into tears during the initial meetings with director Pete Docter.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up
FINAL RATING: 8,5/10
NEXT: Ted 2

San Andreas


Either The Rock is striking a heroic pose or he accidentally gave this girl The People's Elbow.

Either The Rock is striking a heroic pose or he accidentally gave this girl The People’s Elbow.

(2015) Disaster  (New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Haynes, Todd Williams, Matt Gerald, Alec Utgoff, Marissa Neitling, Morgan Griffin, Breanne Hill, Laurence Coy, Fiona Press, Dennis Coard, Simone Kessell. Directed by Brad Peyton

When the earth starts to shake and buildings begin to fall, who are you gonna call? Dwayne Johnson! When the fault cracks in two which the tsunami rolls into, who’ll see you through? Dwayne Johnson!

Disaster movies were a thing of the 70s for a short while, all-star casts of big stars put at risk by natural or man-made disasters. Irwin Allen was the king of these films, and things like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno were big box office champs back in the day. These days, most of those disaster effects are done on computers which you’d think would save money in the budget for amazing casts but here in this 21st century disaster movie, after legitimate stars Johnson and Giamatti as well as next-tier stars Gugino, Daddario, Panjabi and Gruffudd, things get a little thin. Where’s William Holden when you really need him?

Ray (Johnson) is a LAFD rescue helicopter pilot whose devotion to his job increased exponentially when one of his daughters drowned during a rafting trip and he was unable to save her. His remaining daughter Blake (Daddario) adores daddy, but he emotionally shut down after the tragedy and after trying and trying his wife Emma (Gugino) is now his ex-wife and is moving into the palatial mansion of architect Daniel Reddick (Gruffudd) who seems like a genuinely nice guy. When a massive earthquake in Nevada ruptures the Hoover Dam, forcing an all hands on deck call to any rescue helicopter pilots in the neighborhood, Ray has to cancel on a planned road trip to take his baby girl to college. She instead hitches a ride to San Francisco with Daniel. And Emma takes a lunch with his bitchy sister (Minogue).

That’s when Big One #2 hits, in Los Angeles. Ray is forced to save his own wife from a collapsing high rise and when they realize that Big One #3 is going to hit San Francisco at any moment – thanks to earthquake predicting software developed by Dr. Lawrence (Giamatti) whose partner (Lee) was buried alive in the Hoover Dam thing. Now Ray and Emma are heading up to San Francisco to rescue Blake who has been abandoned by the as-it-turns-out cowardly Daniel and has hooked up with a lovestruck Brit named Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his precocious little brother Ollie (Parkinson).

The effects-heavy San Andreas features lots of buildings and other structures collapsing, people crushed by fallen masonry, a tsunami that takes down the Golden Gate Bridge and Ray driving anything that isn’t nailed down be it on land, in the air or at sea. There’s plenty of shark jumping and WTF moments that will turn your brain into peanut butter if you think about it too hard. My advice is, just don’t think about it and go with the flow.

Other than the adequate and occasionally delightful effects, the big draw here is Johnson. He’s not the most accomplished actor on any given set, but he doesn’t need to be, particularly on movies like this. He gets by on his irresistible charm, his rippling biceps and his genuine heart. You can’t help but like the guy no matter who he’s playing; it will be interesting to see what he does with a villain role in the upcoming comic book hero movie Shazam. Here even at the movie’s most godawful plot moments, he rescues it just by being himself.

Writer Carlton Cuse (Lost) doesn’t deliver his best work here which is kind of a shame; I would have loved to see his ability to draw up fascinating characters in impossible situations transplanted here, but the movie is just so engaging in terms of effects and disaster goodness that it’s hard to really fault Cuse for not bringing on the A game here. This isn’t going to break box office records, nor is it going to redefine the summer blockbuster. While it could have used a more judicious hand in the editing room – dodging falling buildings repetitively gets pretty old after awhile – it nonetheless accomplishes what most of us are looking for this time of year which is a fun ride at the movie theater.

REASONS TO GO: Dwayne Johnson saves the day. Fun summer entertainment.
REASONS TO STAY: Paint-by-numbers plot. Probably a good half hour too long.
FAMILY VALUES: Intense action, disaster mayhem and a few choice curse words here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riddick’s San Francisco headquarters is actually the Bank of America building, the same building (enhanced with optical effects) that was used for the 1974 disaster classic The Towering Inferno.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earthquake
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding