Across the River (2016)


Love is tubular.

(2016) Romance (Random) Elizabeth Healey, Keir Charles, Liz Richardson, Tomasz Aleksander, Leon Ockenden, Gillian MacGregor, Marlon Blue, Rowena Perkins, Pippa Abrahams. Directed by Warren B. Malone

 

There’s no love like your first love. It’s the one that sets the standard for all those that follow it, the one we remember even if we sometimes have trouble remembering some of the people we dated – not a problem for me, I might add. Still, one’s first romantic relationship can have a magical glow to it – although occasionally, if it ends badly enough, leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.

Emma (Healey) is an overworked executive working for a big firm in a gigantic skyscraper in central London. She is leaving work a bit early to pick up a cake for her daughter’s birthday and is entrusting an important task to a suitably nervous assistant (Blue) who, as the British might say, promptly cocks it up. To make matters worse, there’s a transit strike going on in London and Emma is unable to get a car out to pick her up in a timely manner.

Hailing a cab turns out to be a nightmare – every last one is taken so Emma decides to try and take a ferry to get her closer to home. Although an efficient and competent businesswoman, she has a terrible sense of direction and ends up going the wrong way down the Thames. She gets off on the South side of the river without a hope of getting to where she needs to go. She starts looking around for Waterloo station – she knows vaguely where it is but not exactly – and after a frantic phone call from work begins to hint at the massive screw-up enacted by her now hysterical underling, she manages to drop her phone into a bucket of water.

That bucket, in something of an outrageous coincidence, belongs to Ryan (Charles) who was Emma’s first love before he abandoned her without a word of explanation. He is currently an artist carving decorative sand castles at low tide on the side of the Thames and he is genuinely glad to see his ex. Emma is more reserved about her emotions; you can sense the awkwardness in her demeanor and it’s clear she wants to make as fast a getaway as would be acceptably polite. This IS England, after all.

When he hears about her plight, Ryan determines to get Emma home as soon as possible but every one of his attempts ends fruitlessly. The two resolve to walk in the general direction of Emma’s home (Emma considerably less enthusiastic about the prospect than Ryan) and see what turns up. The two begin to talk, light conversation at first and then meaningfully about their relationship and why it failed. It is clear Ryan still harbors feelings about Emma. Emma is more guarded but as he breaks down her walls it seems she might have some feelings too.

My wife would call this a quiet film; she uses that term to describe a movie which is real life-driven and not about superheroes, aliens, monsters, car chases, explosions or the like. Much of the film is about two ex-lovers walking through the neighborhoods of London, talking. It sounds on paper like an absolutely dreary prospect (and frankly, some of it is) but for those of us who are fascinated by the lives of other people and enjoy films about them, there is a lot to recommend.

Healey and Charles are veterans of the independent UK cinema scene and they have a marvelous chemistry together. They largely wrote their own parts and there are hints of hidden depths – Emma is emotionally guarded and has a laser focus on her career, often at the expense of her family. Ryan is secretly terrified that he has failed at life and while he rants on about the ills of capitalism and democracy (he refuses to vote because “all politicians are pricks”) but for all the ranting he does seems disinclined to make his lot better. You can spend an endless amount of time analyzing these two and I won’t do so any further here but those who like to do that sort of thing will find plenty of fertile ground here.

Despite the fine performances by Healey and Charles who spend nearly the entire film onscreen together, the real star of the film is London itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city utilized so beautifully in a film other than maybe Notting Hill and even that film didn’t capture the everyday life of ordinary Britons as well as this film does. It was seemingly filmed guerrilla-style with handheld cameras which gives the movie a sense of immediacy and intimacy lacking in other romance-inclined films.

While the movie only runs an hour and 15 minutes long so your time investment won’t be overbearing, I do have to admit that in the middle of the movie the film drags in places. Some of the material isn’t going to resonate for those who don’t currently live or in the past have lived in London, although those who fit one of those categories will doubtlessly get a kick seeing their home city on display this way. Ryan’s rants also are hyper-annoying and maybe that is part of the character’s charm for some but I wouldn’t want to spend an hour listening to them (although mercifully they only take up a small percentage of the dialogue).

The movie does have plenty of charm and while it might be small in scope, its ambitions are noble. Any movie that reflects on the human condition, particularly in a place unfamiliar to me, is a movie I want to see which might make me a bit weird to those who prefer their movies to have the things I listed earlier but to each their own. It’s been out on VOD for awhile and for those who want to take a chance on it the rental rates are reasonable. It’s the kind of movie that may not seem like much while you’re watching it but you find that you’re still thinking about it long afterward.

REASONS TO GO: The filmmakers utilize London as a location beautifully. The main characters have some hidden depths to them.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags a bit in the middle. There is an awful lot of bloviating going on.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity including a few F-bombs.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the dialogue between Emma and Ryan was improvised by the actors playing them.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cairo Time
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Avengers: Infinity Wars

Keep the Change


This isn’t your usual romantic walk on the boardwalk.

(2017) Romance (Kino-Lorber) Brandon Polansky, Samantha Elisofon, Jessica Walter, Will Deaver, Tibor Feldman, Nicky Gottlieb, Christina Brucato, Sondra James, Jennifer Brito, Jonathan Tchaikovsky, Tommy Beardmore, Alex Emmanuel, Luke Rosen, Charlton Lamar, Anna Suzuki, Mary Cassera, Evander Duck Jr., Lori Burch, Kennedy Hall, Yvanna Barktidy. Directed by Rachel Israel

 

Some movies are for everybody. Some movies are not. Some come easily to any audience. Others require patience. This film is one of the latter.

David (Polansky) is a man who yearns to be normal. He has some quirky mannerisms, the most glaring being his propensity to tell inappropriate jokes. Most are funny only in the abstract – “Why did the bum vote for Obama? He wanted CHANGE! Haw haw haw!” However, this mannerism has gotten him into trouble on a number of occasions, repelling first dates with jokes about rape and more to the point, making jokes about pigs to a cop. This lands him, very unwillingly, at the Connections program at the Jewish Community Center in New York in which people on varying degrees of the Autism spectrum are given the opportunities to socialize in a safe environment.

David isn’t having it. He’s just “passing through” as he tells one of the participants and is sure that he is far better than the weirdos (his word) that make up the program. However, he is paired up with the somewhat outgoing Sarah (Elisofon) who might break into song with little encouragement and who mostly communicates through clichés and aphorisms. This annoys David at first but when she proclaims that David is “real real smoking hot and sexy,” he takes notice.

This isn’t a match necessarily made in heaven; her affections towards other guys drive David crazy as he wants a normal girlfriend. David’s casual cruelty hurt Sarah to the core but often she is able to scrunch up and just keep going, having learned to endure anything the world can dish out at her. Autism patients often must in order to survive.

The plot isn’t anything to write home about. It’s standard rom-com stuff but of course with a difference; rather than attractive young indie types or Hollywood A-listers, the actors are mostly autistic themselves. Israel is to be applauded for this and as a card carrying lefty I have to give the movie points for this. That doesn’t excuse the movie for going the predictable route though.

I get that the intent seemed to be reminding us that for all the quirks and tics of the autistic they are just like us, and it’s a great message to send. Am I sure that Israel was 100% successful in getting that across? Well, no. I think I have to be careful here because I’m not trying to say that those with autism don’t have stories to tell; of course they do. I can only though react to what I see onscreen and I wasn’t altogether satisfied. Some of the plot points felt a little bit contrived and considering all the trouble the actors and filmmakers went to in making this as authentic as possible they seemed to sabotage their own film in that sense.

Elisofon is absolutely charming. She is guileless and if her character is a bit on the sexy Pollyanna side, there’s nothing wrong with that. You won’t find a character like her anywhere in the movies. Polansky has a much more difficult job; his character is largely selfish and unlikable and it is his character who has to undergo the most change during the course of the film. That’s not always the easiest thing to embrace for any actor. There will be times that he says and does things however that will make most viewers cringe. Even when the person who says something cruel has autism, it still hurts when he or she says it. David doesn’t see himself as autistic or if he does, as one who is above all the others in Connections. He wears sunglasses everywhere and when he gets flustered he makes a loud honking noise that’s a cross between a sneeze and clearing the throat and has his share of insecurities. His overbearing mother (Walter) likely contributes to that smug sense of self-importance. David’s family is wealthy which largely insulates him but his mother wants him to have a “normal” wife, one who can take care of him after his parents are gone. The thought of him pairing up with someone else who is autistic is about the most terrifying thing she can imagine.

There are some moments that will genuinely tug at the heartstrings and those folks who have some contact with the autistic community – whether or not a family member or friend – will look upon this film fondly. The rest of us will likely have to accept that this is an imperfect movie and be okay with that once we decide to pull the trigger and give it a view. One certainly has to applaud the efforts to bring this community onto the screen where they have largely been rendered supporting cast members or stereotypes. This is a breath of fresh air in that regard albeit one that could have used a bit of air freshener. There will be those who don’t have the patience to see this through to the end – and while the first instinct will be to look down on those people as bad people, I find myself having a hard time doing that. After all, asking those who have limitations to go beyond them is no easy task and just because some folks will have as hard a time with this as a certain segment will have with Love, Simon is not a reason for scorn; it’s an opportunity for education.

REASONS TO GO: There are some occasional moments of the warm fuzzies.
REASONS TO STAY: Not everyone will have the patience to watch this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity as well as some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won the Best Narrative Feature award and Israel won the Best New Narrative Director award at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Best and Most Beautiful Things
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Maineland

Office Christmas Party


Party on!

Party on!

(2016) Holiday Comedy (Paramount) Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate MacKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Andrew Leeds, Oliver Cooper, Chloe Wepper, Matt Walsh, Ben Falcone, Adrian Martinez, Lynne Ashe. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck

 

Holiday parties are a tradition for workers around the country. Some parties are staid and somewhat dull, others are raucous – generally in proportion to how much alcohol is consumed. Careers can be wiped out – or once in a great while – made by someone’s performance at an office Christmas party.

Josh Parker (Bateman) is the recently divorced head of I.T. at the Chicago branch office of Zenotek, a firm that manufactures data storage devices. The branch manager is Clay Vanstone (Miller), son of the founder. However Clay’s big sister Carol (Aniston) is the acting CEO who is engaging in cost-cutting measures to keep the bottom line looking sharp so the temporary position becomes permanent.

One way of cutting costs would be to close down the Chicago office which hasn’t been performing up to standards, which Carol has conveniently raised. Carol and Clay have had a sibling rivalry that goes back to childhood and Carol is taking absolute delight in shutting down Chicago, despite the fact that it was the office that their father ran. However, there is one glimmer of hope; there’s a multi-million dollar account that Clay and his IT team have been pursuing. If they can get Walter Davis (Vance), a representative of that company, to sign on the dotted line the Chicago office and all the jobs there will be saved.

Unfortunately, Walter is looking at other options and in a last-ditch effort he is invited by Clay to the office Christmas party that night, one which Carol has already canceled. However the thought is if they can show Walter a good time, he might be impressed enough with the corporate culture of Zenotek to go with them instead.

Therefore, Clay prepares for the party of the century with an ungodly amount of alcohol, a living nativity scene, an ice luge, a DJ straight out of 1997 and enough oversexed techies to fill up a bad porn film. Paranoid tech whiz Tracey (Munn) may have a program that might bring the company to the next level – assuming she gets the self-confidence to finish it – hooks up with Josh, while Nate (Soni) hires a prostitute (Lee) to pose as a supermodel girlfriend he’s been bragging about. Mary (MacKinnon) is the uptight H.R. rep who may be the party pooper – or the life of the party. And it looks like they have a real shot at getting Walter Davis to get on the right page. Still, it will take a Christmas miracle to keep the doors open in the Chicago branch.

This is essentially a raunchy ensemble sex comedy revolving around a party as the crux of the film and let’s face it; this is neither a new idea nor an uncommon one. Generally there are a couple of movies with this basic plot released every year – this one having a holiday theme to differentiate it (most of these sorts of films are set at high school graduation parties). This has a better-than-average cast which helps elevate the film above the B-movie these types of films tend to be.

Most of these types of movies can’t boast the likes of Bateman, one of the most likable actors in Hollywood. Nor can they boast the likes of Aniston, who is as versatile an actress as there is working today. With a cast that includes Miller, MacKinnon, Bell, Corddry and Park – some of the funniest comic actors in America – there is plenty of potential here and certainly from time to time the movie lives up to it.

But then again, the movie has a very pedestrian, predictable plot that leaves you feeling like somebody took a rough outline of elements cribbed from other movies and then stuck the actors in to ad-lib their own lines. That can work under the right circumstances but not here, sadly. It feels a bit tired overall, like something one has experienced time and time again without much variation. The jokes are fairly predictable and like a lot of comedies these days, thinks the farther that the raunchiness is pushed the funnier the film. I’m no prude but I need a little bit more than crude visual jokes to hit my guffaw button.

This isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, but it isn’t a particularly good movie. It’s just kinda there, and if that’s all you need, this will fit the bill. If you’re looking for something a little more daring, a little more outrageous, keep looking.

REASONS TO GO: There’s nothing particularly off-putting here.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s nothing particularly noteworthy here.
FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of sexual humor, nudity, profanity, drug use and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the fifth film to star both Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Project X
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Into the Inferno