Mission: Impossible – Fallout


Proof positive that Tom Cruise is Peter Pan.

(2018) Spy Action (ParamountTom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Liang Yang, Kristoffer Joner, Wolf Blitzer, Raphael Actoque, Andrew Cazanave-Pin, Grahame Fox, Efion Jolly, Lolly Adefope, Alix Bénézech. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

 

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) returns in maybe the best, most kinetic and most edge-of-your seat action films of the M:I franchise. He and his intrepid team of IMF heroes – whittled down now to computer genius Luther (Rhames) and worry wart Benji (Pegg) – are tracking down stolen plutonium that has made its way into the hands of an absolutely bonkers terrorist group who thinks the only way that mankind can be saved is to suffer first. A lot.

Actually, the plot really isn’t all that important in a film like this; just give the guys an excuse to perform unbelievable stunts and you have a license to print money and yes, the stunts here are of the “No, he did not!!!!” variety that will leave you gape-mouthed with astonishment. If there’s one thing this franchise has always delivered on, it’s spectacular stunts.

In many ways, this is the best film of the franchise, tying together ends you didn’t even know were loose from other films. Add to the mix the regal Angela Bassett as a by-the-book CIA officer and Henry Cavill as an agent who’s an ends-justify-the-means kinda guy, and you’ve got a summer movie that you will want to watch year-round (and given its presence on Hulu and Amazon Prime, you can do just that).

Cruise, at 56, is at last starting to look middle-aged rather than the eternal young guy he’s been throughout the series. Rhames is also beginning to look like this might be his series swan song, or close to it. If this does turn out to be the last film in the franchise, it’s a marvelous way to go out. However, I wouldn’t bet my last dollar that we don’t see Ethan Hunt and cohorts at least one more time.

REASONS TO SEE: Incredible stunt sequences, as always. Might be the best film in the franchise, tying together a number of other films in the franchise in a nice bow.
REASONS TO AVOID: Cruise and Rhames are getting a little bit long in the tooth for this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of action and violence, including some fairly intense sequences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cavill was offered the role via public Instagram post by director Christopher McQuarrie.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kingsman: The Secret Service
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Beyond the Law

New Releases for the Week of April 5, 2019


SHAZAM!

(New Line) Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, John Glover, Natalia Safran, Grace Fulton. Directed by David F. Sandberg

A 14-year-old streetwise orphan boy is selected by the mysterious wizard Shazam to receive super powers, which he accesses by shouting out the wizard’s name. Instantly the boy turns into a ripped, buff man who has super powers. But which ones? Being a kid at heart, the boy superhero decides to have fun with his powers but things turn serious when an evil genius brings his dark forces to bear on the young hero.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action, language and suggestive material)

Ash is Purest White

(Cohen) Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Yi’nan Diao, Xiaogang Feng. The girlfriend of a low-level gangster is sentenced to prison for firing his gun when he is being beaten up by a rival gang. Refusing to give him up, she returns from prison only to find out that he’s moved on without her. This wonderful Chinese gangster movie played the Miami Film Festival last month. You can click on the link below (under Scheduled to Review) to read the Cinema365 review.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: NR

The Best of Enemies

(STX) Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley. Based on a true story, a civil rights activist and the leader of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, NC find themselves chairing a committee to implement the federally mandated desegregation of schools in the summer of 1971.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference)

Pet Sematary

(Paramount) Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jetė Laurence. A Boston doctor moves his family to rural Maine to start a quieter life. He discovers that there is an ancient burial ground in the woods behind his home. When tragedy strikes, his grief and desperation awaken an unfathomable evil that will enter his life with horrific consequences. The Stephen King novel on which this is based has already yielded an iconic movie back in 1989.

See the trailer, promos, video featurettes, interviews and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, bloody images, and some language)

The Public

(Greenwich) Emilio Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union. An Arctic blast has turned downtown Cincinnati into a deep freeze. A mousy librarian grows a backbone, going against policy to allow the homeless to shelter in the library. What starts out as an act of protest turns into a police standoff

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, nudity, language, and some suggestive material)

Storm Boy

(Good Deed) Jai Coutrney, Geoffrey Rush, Finn Little, Morgana Davies. A successful businessman, retired now, begins to see images of his past that he can’t explain. He is forced to remember his childhood on an isolated coastline with his father and recounts the tale to his granddaughter, including his special friendship with an orphaned pelican.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, mild peril and brief language)

The Wind

(IFC Midnight) Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zuckerman, Dylan McTee. A woman living in an isolated cabin on the prairie in the mid-19th century is convinced that the constant wind is hiding something evil out beyond the line of sight. Although her husband tells her that it’s all just superstition, things are exacerbated with the arrival of another couple. Soon a chain of events is set in motion that will test the woman to her very core.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, disturbing images, and some sexuality)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Majili
Palau The Movie
Transit

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Majili
Palau The Movie
Panchatantra
Romeo Akbar Walter
Screwball
Transit

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Chaperone
The Head Hunter
Majili
Mera Naam Shaji
Palau The Movie
Panchatantra
Prema Katha Chitram 2
Romeo Akbar Walter

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Majili
Mera Naam Shaji
Palau The Movie
Panchatantra
Romeo Akbar Walter

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ash is Purest White
The Best of Enemies
Pet Sematary
Shazam!
Storm Boy
The Wind

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

Pete’s Dragon (2016)


A boy and his dragon.

A boy and his dragon.

(2016) Family (Disney) Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Marcus Henderson, Aaron Jackson, Phil Grieve, Steve Barr, Keagan Carr Fransch, Jade Valour, Augustine Frizzell, Francis Biggs, Jasper Putt, Esmée Myers, Gareth Reeves, Levi Alexander, Jim McLarty, Annabelle Malaika Suess. Directed by David Lowery

 

In old maps, when depicting areas that had yet to be explored it was often noted “Here there be dragons.” It was a means of keeping those who might venture into parts unknown and claiming it for themselves; in this way certain governments were able to explore at their leisure. Of course, there are those who are quite sure that there really were dragons in these unexplored places.

A five year old boy named Pete (Alexander) is riding in the back of the car with his favorite book and his mom (Myers) and Dad (Reeves) up front. They are on a road that goes deep into the woods of the Pacific Northwest but while they’re in the middle of nowhere they get in an accident and suddenly Pete is alone, surrounded by danger. However, as it turns out, he’s not alone.

Some years later an older Pete (Fegley) is discovered in the woods by loggers and a pretty park Ranger named Grace (Howard). Her father (Redford) is a bit of the town eccentric, with his tales of finding dragons out in the woods. Most people look on him as a bit of a tale-teller but essentially harmless. She has a pretty decent life; her boyfriend Jack (Bentley) runs a logging company with his more aggressive brother Gavin (Urban) and she and Jack’s daughter Natalie (Laurence) have a very close relationship.

Now she adds Pete to the mix and soon as they discover the identity of the mystery child the question becomes “How did he survive on his own for so long?”  Pretty soon it becomes clear that he wasn’t exactly on his own and that his friend was in fact the same dragon that Grace’s dad has been telling tales about all these years – it’s just nobody ever believed that they were true. Now that they are, there are those who would exploit the dragon – whom Pete has named Elliott after the dog in his favorite book – and those who would separate Pete from those he has grown to love. Pete and Elliott must be stronger than ever if they are to get through this.

First things first; this isn’t a remake of the 1977 version of the film. This is a complete reimagining. The only real similarities is that there is a boy named Pete, he has a dragon named Elliott who can make himself invisible and that Pete is an orphan – Disney loves orphans if you haven’t noticed. In any case, the ’77 film is a musical set in a coastal town in Maine around the turn of the 20th century, this one has no music except for a collection of folk singers Lowery has gotten together to make up the soundtrack (as opposed to Helen Reddy who was the female lead of the first movie) and is set in modern times. The tone is also very different between both films.

The first film was also definitely a kid’s movie. This one is too ostensibly and your kids will enjoy it, particularly the shaggy green furry dragon Elliott who has a bit of the Great Dane about him. However, there is a lot more going on than just a kid outwitting simple-minded adults – which isn’t really happening here at all. Instead, this is a boy who has been visited by tragedy, who has made his way the best he can and forges the bonds of friendship that can’t be broken. The relationships are believable and the acting pretty natural. I’m thinking someone the stature of Robert Redford wouldn’t have gotten involved otherwise.

While Urban is the ostensible villain, he isn’t really a bad guy, just a weak one and he does come around near the end; Urban has become quite a good actor since his time in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bentley, a fine actor in his own right, is wasted a bit in a nondescript role that gets absolutely no development whatsoever. Howard comes off best as the maternal and compassionate ranger. Fegley and Laurence, around whom most of the film revolve, are at least not annoying even as they in the middle of the movie begin to act like Disney heroes – doing unbelievably dumb and dangerous things that should get them killed but instead makes them heroic. I’ve always thought that teaching a kid to do the right thing shouldn’t necessarily involve teaching a kid to do the dangerous thing. Fortunately, I’ve not heard of a ton of kids getting themselves hurt or killed while trying to save the day in real life.

Like most Disney movies, there’s a tendency to bring on the sentiment and it can be quite cloying from time to time. Despite Lowery’s best efforts, there are a few cliché moments expressed in the film particularly near the end. The price to pay for using a Disney property I imagine. I would also imagine that here at Disney World, you’ll be seeing Elliott making appearances at the Wilderness Lodge in some form.

Hollywood often treats kids like morons, dumbing down their films aimed at kids which are in reality more or less excuses for merchandising rather than being entertaining and even educational films for entire families. When the parents go with them to see those sorts of movies, it can be an excruciating experience for the parents in particular. That won’t happen here; this is the kind of movie that parents can enjoy as much if not more than their kids. It’s the kind of family movie that you’d want to bring your family to more than once. It’s quite possible that the parents may end up liking the movie more than their kids do.

REASONS TO GO: A refreshing movie that doesn’t talk down to kids and is easily palatable for adults.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a tendency to over-sentimentalize.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some peril (of a child) as well as action sequences and some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Redford rescued an abandoned horse on the second day of filming.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dragonheart
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The People Garden

New Releases for the Week of August 28, 2015


We Are Your FriendsWE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

(Warner Brothers) Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal, Alicia Coppola. Directed by Max Joseph

An ambitious Valley Boy dreams of making it out of the suburban Hell of the San Fernando Valley and becoming a world class DJ. An older, damaged DJ takes the young man under his wing, showing him a world of decadent Hollywood parties and star-studded night clubs. Things get complicated when the younger man falls for his mentor’s much younger girlfriend, and his friends begin to see the changes in him. With everything he ever cared about unraveling in the face of achieving his dream, he has to choose between loyalty and ambition.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Drama/Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

(Sony Classics) Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni. Amid the transition from counterculture to Me Generation in San Francisco in the mid-70s, a young girl experiences a sexual awakening and a coming of age as she develops an intimate relationship with her hard-partying mother’s boyfriend. Based on the highly acclaimed, slightly disturbing, sometimes shockingly graphic and beautifully poignant graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, UA Seminole Towne Center
Rating: R  (for strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking – all involving teens)

Frank the Bastard

(Paladin) Rachel Miner, Andy Comeau, Chris Sarandon, William Sadler. A young woman, who fled her small Maine home town with her father after the mysterious death of her mother, has lived in New York City ever since. Now, she is returning to find out what happened so long ago, what caused her father to flee and what really happened to her mother. Through her nosing into events of the past she discovers indelible links to events of the present, links that make certain people uncomfortable and put this young woman into mortal jeopardy.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere Cinema
Rating: NR

No Escape

(Weinstein) Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Thanawut Kasro. An American businessman relocates his family to Southeast Asia, despite the reluctance of his children. At first, things seem pretty idyllic there and his family eventually relaxes and begin to enjoy life in their new home. However, a violent political uprising throws the country into turmoil and the lives of foreigners are especially at risk. He must get his family to the American embassy to find a safe refuge but first he must travel across a war-torn city to do it.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence throughout, and for language)

Unsullied

(Dreamline) Rusty Joiner, Murray Gray, James Gaudioso, Erin Boyes. A beautiful young African-American track star is abducted by a pair of sociopaths. From there it is a game of cat and mouse to see if she can get away and outrun her two tormentors.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence including a rape, language and brief drug use)

War Room

(Tri-Star) Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie, Beth Moore. On the surface, the Jordan family is happy with a middle class family with great jobs, a beautiful daughter, a dream home. However appearances can be deceiving; in reality the marriage is a war zone with mother and father fighting tooth and nail and the daughter is the collateral damage. With the aid of an older, wiser woman, the two discover the power of prayer can cure about anything, no matter how impossible it seems.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements throughout)

Gone


Amanda Seyfried wants to have a talk with her agent.

Amanda Seyfried wants to have a talk with her agent.

(2012) Thriller (Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Daniel Sunjata, Jennifer Carpenter, Sebastian Stan, Wes Bentley, Nick Searcy, Socratis Otto, Emily Wickersham, Joel David Moore, Katherine Moennig, Michael Pare, Sam Upton, Ted Rooney, Erin Carufel, Amy Lawhorn, Susan Hess Logeias, Jeanine Jackson, Blaine Palmer, Victor Morris, Ted Cole, Tracy Pacana, Madison Wray. Directed by Heitor Dhalia

Woman Power

The thought of being kidnapped by a serial killer, thrown in a hole and being left there, waiting to die, is something most of us don’t really even consider. The thought of escaping that hole only to have nobody believe you that the ordeal was real is unimaginable.

But Jill (Seyfried) more than imagines it; this is what her life is. She’s certain that there is a serial killer out there, who has dug a large hole in Portland’s Forest Park, some 5100 acres of heavily wooded land in Oregon’s largest city. The police haven’t been able to find any hole, any trace that there are missing women buried there. Jill has a history of alcoholism and mental breakdowns; when her parents died some years earlier she was briefly institutionalized. She is so insistent that this horrible ordeal happened to her that eventually she is sent back to the hospital for evaluation.

A year afterwards, she is still obsessed with it, although less obviously. She works third shift at a diner as a waitress, about the only job she can get given her background. At night she patrols Forest Park, looking for the place she was taken to. She has been operating on a meticulous grid-by-grid method of searching, marking off each grid with a red pen but she still has a long way to go.

After a night of searching the park she returns home to wake up her sister Molly (Wickersham) who wanted to get up early to study for an exam she had  later that day, only to find her bed empty. Jill checks with Molly’s boyfriend Billy (Stan) who informs her that Molly didn’t spend the night, then later on he tells her that she didn’t show up for the exam. Jill gets a bad feeling about the whole thing, and goes to the police.

The cops who had worked her case, Lt. Bozeman (Pare), Sgt. Powers (Sunjata) and Detective Lonsdale (Moennig) are all skeptical, given Jill’s history. They dismiss her claims, looking for reasons that Jill might not have gone to her test, and all of them think this whole scenario is going on inside Jill’s head. Only the newest homicide detective, Peter Hood (Bentley) believes her.

Knowing that she won’t get help through official sources, Jill is bound and determined to find Molly on her own and will do anything, break any law to find her sister who is the only family she has left. She’ll lie, cheat and steal – and if she finds the man who has her, kill – to get her sister back.

This is the kind of movie that should have everything going for it; Seyfried is an extremely underrated actress who shows here that she can take on roles like this and make them work. There’s also the Brazilian director Dhalia who is best known in this country for Adrift and has made some fine films in his native land. Then there’s Portland itself, one of those cities that should have more films made there; it is certainly underutilized.

Seyfried is terrific here. This is the kind of role that is often overplayed and the lead character can go from insistent and focused to shrill and unlikable in an instant. Jill is certainly not without her demons but who among us wouldn’t do the things she does to save a sister? Certainly not me. If Jill is on the ragged edge, it is very understandable and Seyfried makes her actually likable, even in her worst moments. It’s marvelous work and shows that Seyfried is a versatile performer who can do drama, comedy and musicals, all of which she’s done notably in the past.

Now for the bad news; the studio seems to have interfered a good deal on this project, insisting that the movie get a PG-13 rating (the director apparently thought it should be R rated) and made Dhalia’s life so miserable to the point that he considered taking his name off the project. In this particular case, I think Dhalia was right; the movie would have benefitted from being allowed to go to a harder rating. It needed more edge to it.

Worse still, the writing doesn’t do the role of Jill justice. It’s full of logical holes – for instance, how does a girl working a third shift waitress job at a diner afford to hold on to a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood and send her sister to college?  Since she’s going into the woods by herself anyway, why does the killer need to go to such elaborate lengths to get her into the woods?

But worse still, she has the police doing and saying things no self-respecting police department would ever do. I get that the writer, Allison Burnett, wants to completely isolate Jill and force her to take action on her own which is the crux of the whole movie, but certainly there had to be ways that she could have done it that were more imaginative. And I think the movie would have been more effective as well if the audience were left wondering if the whole thing wasn’t REALLY in Jill’s head, right up to the very end.

Still, the beautiful scenery in and around Portland and especially Seyfried’s performance make this worth a look. Granted, the movie got terrible reviews and I can’t say as I blame some of my colleagues for ripping this film a new one, but I can forgive a lot when you get a performance like Seyfried’s in the kind of role – the thriller hero that takes matters into their own hands – that is more of a traditional male bastion. That alone is worth a look-see.

WHY RENT THIS: Seyfried takes a strong role and runs with it. Pretty cinematography.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lazy writing. Illogical plot.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence and depictions of women being terrorized, sexuality, some drug references and brief harsh language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The hardware store that Jill shops at in the movie is a real hardware store in Portland and at exactly the location that the film shows it to be.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.1M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only). Amazon, VuduiTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kiss the Girls
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Woman Power continues!

Welcome to Me


Not every ugly duckling gets to be a swan.

Not every ugly duckling gets to be a swan.

(2014) Comedy (Alchemy) Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, James Marsden, Thomas Mann, Tim Robbins, Alan Tudyk, Kulap Vilaysack, Mitch Silpa, Anelia Dyoulgerova, Joe Roland, Joyce Hiller Piven, Jack Wallace, Rose Abdoo, Hannah Chodos, Sabra Williams, Charlotte Rabbe, Shanna Strong. Directed by Shira Piven

Florida Film Festival 2015

We all like to fantasize about what we’d do if we won the lottery. Buy a new house, a new car, a new boat; pay off all our debts, take a fabulous vacation, maybe give some back to the community or to charity. I’m fairly sure most of us would not have buying ourselves our own talk show on the radar.

Alice Klieg (Wiig) ha s just won the California lottery. Up until now she’s led a kind of a drab existence although that’s largely drug-induced. Not the fun kind even – the prescription kind. She has a borderline personality disorder and needs meds to stabilize her moods which have a tendency to get savage without warning. She mostly keeps to herself and watches VHS videotapes of Oprah shows, which she has largely memorized.

So she says goodbye to her pills, much to the objections of her therapist (Robbins), puts herself on a diet low on glucose, high on protein and low on carbohydrates which she pronounces “carbohydrants.” With not a lot to do in Palm Desert (her home), she moves into a hotel room at the local Native American casino and finds herself fascinated by a product that she sees on a local shopping network that seems to fit into her dietary needs. She and her best friend Gina (Cardellini) get tickets to a studio audience for an infomercial huckstering the product and feeling empowered by her recent success, manages to get some camera face time. Flush with the success of that, she informs the station owner Rich (Marsden) that she has an idea for a talk show that she’s willing to pay for, starring herself with the subject of…herself.

While the acerbic director Dawn (Cusack) thinks that this is a monumentally bad idea, Rich is desperate for money to save the station, much to his brother Gabe’s (Bentley) chagrin. He was the face of the product that attracted Alice’s attention and now is attracting Alice’s attention for a whole other reason.

Alice, who has never had any sort of filter and blurts out whatever comes into her head (and reads prepared statements when she wants to get something across) has begun sleeping around with whoever catches her fancy. On the show she makes her grand entrance in a swan boat-like vehicle (she has a thing for swans, which decorate her house) and mostly talks about her diet, and re-enacts incidents from her life that bother her to this day, like someone stealing from her make-up bag on a ski trip, or a former friend who told others in high school that Alice had some mental issues. When provoked, Alice throws things or goes into screaming rages.

As the show continues to run and gets a kind of viral success, Alice begins to spin out of control. She is able to afford to buy what she wants which continues to feed into her disease. Her self-absorption becomes almost maniacal and even the loyal Gina is horrified and can’t cope with the new Alice. She is re-inventing herself, but is it into a person she truly wants to be?

Wiig’s post-SNL career has been largely of characters like this, although Alice is a bit of an extreme. She excels at characters who are just a bit off-beat, who march to their own drummer and who aren’t just ordinary folks. She has also been choosing of late indie films that allow her to really display her best work, roles that are really in her wheelhouse. In many ways, this is her best performance on the big screen, even more so than her work in the blockbuster hit Bridesmaids which essentially set her up as a star leading actress. Even as Alice becomes more unlikable, she remains sympathetic for the most part as we know she doesn’t really control her own actions.

This is one of two films I’ve seen at this year’s Florida Film Festival that has at their center a person with emotional/mental issues that make the conscious decision to stop taking their medication. It is played to much more comedic effect here and less to the chilling effect it is in Gabriel which might make those who are advocates for those who have issues to take pause; however, it should be said I didn’t get a sense that either Wiig or the filmmakers were making fun of Alice but showing the side of her that might provoke an audience to laugh. Certainly I went in thinking that I was going to be cringing more than laughing and ended up doing more of the latter than the former.

The movie starts out strong and kinda peters out near the end. A strong supporting cast, particularly Cusack who has become for my money one of the strongest character actresses working today, helps keep the movie interesting throughout, although some of the characters are a bit cliche. At times it feels like the writers had stretched out the movie to make it feature length.

Still in all, this is solidly entertaining. There’s some subtle – okay, not so subtle – commentary on our obsession with fame and of our consumerist, self-involved society which is quite welcome but for the most part shooting fish in a barrel. What it isn’t is an issue movie on mental health. Wiig remains an acquired taste for some, mainly because the roles she tends to go for are pretty quirky (and none more than this one) but when she’s on as she is here, she’s as good as any comic actress out there. For those who want to avoid the crowds at the big summer movies, this makes for a nice alternative.

REASONS TO GO: Wiig gives a stellar performance. Much funnier than I expected. Great supporting performances, particularly from Cusack.
REASONS TO STAY: Falls apart near the end. A couple of cliche characters in the mix. Some of the material feels a bit forced.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of sexuality, some graphic nudity, a fair amount of foul language and a brief scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shira Piven is actor Jeremy Piven’s older sister; the actress who plays Alice’s mother in the film is actually Shira and Jeremy Piven’s mom.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gabriel
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Kill Me Three Times

Interstellar


To infinity and beyond.

To infinity and beyond.

(2014) Science Fiction (Paramount) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin (voice), Ellen Burstyn, Timothee Chalamet, David Oyelowo, Collette Wolf, William Devane, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, Josh Stewart (voice), Matt Damon, Leah Cairns. Directed by Christopher Nolan

Physics is a fascinating and maddening field of study. The wonder of the universe is written in the language of physics but so too are its rules and regulations. There are those that see the handwriting of God in physics but there are also those who see it as a frustratingly difficult to coalesce glimpse of the infinite simply because we are still learning to understand the language. In that sense, we are as children trying to speak in a language we only know a few words of.

Reality is a bit less hard to fathom. The Earth is dying. Something called the blight has killed most of the crops and, it seems, the animal life on Earth other than the human species. Only corn remains and when that goes, humanity starves. America has become a gigantic dust bowl straight out of the Depression, covering everything in dust and despair.

Cooper (McConaughey) is a farmer who once had higher aspirations. A test pilot and engineer who’d worked for NASA until a crash had taken him out of the ballgame, he grouses to father-in-law Donald (Lithgow) that whereas once mankind looked up at the stars and wondered at our place in the universe, these days mankind looks down at the ground and wonders at our place in the dirt. As with most intelligent people, he can read the writing on the wall but still he labors to try and get his crop in as best he can while raising his 15-year-old son Tom (Chalamet) and his 10-year-old daughter Murph (Foy) in a world of frequent dust storms and a malaise where technology is no longer worshiped or seen as the answer to our problems (where in fact technology is largely seen as the source of our problems) and nations no longer bother to field armies because, well, why bother?

Murph and Cooper have a special relationship. Whereas Tom seeks only to follow in his father’s boots as a farmer, Murph is smart, inquisitive and a bit of a firecracker. When she says she’s haunted by a ghost, Cooper gently tells her that ghosts aren’t real from a scientific standpoint, and yet books get knocked off of her bookcase without explanation, and dust that blows into her room settles into a strange patter which turns out to be a binary code of co-ordinates.

Intrigued, Coop drives to the location of the co-ordinates and finds a secret base where NASA still functions. Led by his old mentor Professor Brand (Caine), the facility is constructing one final rocket. It turns out that a wormhole has opened up near the rings of Saturn and have made accessible a dozen planets that are potentially capable of supporting human life. Probes have been sent as well as brave human astronauts. One last mission is planned; to choose between three of the most promising locations and either set up a human colony there or if Professor Brand is able to solve an equation that will allow him to do it, to relocate the remainder of the human race from dying Earth to a new home. However, human astronauts would be needed to make decisions a computer or robot cannot and the journey would be a long one – two years just to make it to Saturn. Coop, being a test pilot and an engineer would be the perfect choice to lead the mission, particularly since he was apparently led to NASA by divine providence – or an alien fifth-dimensional beings who might have a benevolent interest in the human race.

This doesn’t sit too well with Murph who is furious that her father is abandoning her but Coop knows that if he doesn’t go his children will be the last generation of humanity left. Along with Professor Brand’s super-smart daughter (Hathaway), astronauts Doyle (Bentley) and Romilly (Gyasi) as well as a couple of military robots named TARS (Irwin) and CASE (Stewart). In a ring-shaped ship the astronauts enter the wormhole for a system dominated by a giant black hole to find a new home for humanity but the mission becomes even more critical as the relative aging of the crew is drastically affected by the proximity of the black hole. Hours spent exploring a planet will pass in decades on Earth. This means that even if the spaceship is able to return home, Coop will be the same age as Tom (Affleck) and Murph (Chastain) when he returns. While Murph has grown up to assist Professor Brand at NASA, Tom – who thinks all of this is foolishness – continues to farm despite the mounting odds against human survival.

This is as epic a movie as you could hope to make about human survival. It is not an action-packed apocalypse with roaming outlaws and thunderdomes, but one of resignation and despair. It depicts a human race going out essentially with a whimper largely, although there are those fighting to try and make it a bang. Seems reasonably accurate to me.

In fact, the accuracy of the science is one of the film’s selling points. Physicist Kip Thorne, one of the most honored in the field, is a producer and has vetted the science. While some of what is onscreen is conjecture, it is based on real scientific theorem about the nature of wormholes, black holes and relativity. This is science fact, not science fantasy.

McConaughey continues his career renaissance with not only a high profile role but a fine performance in it. His Cooper is extremely conflicted, motivated not so much to save the world but his two children which really is what heroism boils down to – saving those closest to us. It isn’t the kind of stunning Oscar-worthy work that was Dallas Buyers Club but it is memorable nonetheless. Also worthy of mention is Chastain’s performance as the adult Murph. She’s angry but also open-minded and eventually comes to believe in the mission and her dad. Lithgow also is impressive in a brief role as the curmudgeonly father-in-law who is absolutely devoted to his grandkids.

The visuals here are breathtaking, from the majestic black hole to the rings of Saturn to the psychedelic wormhole. As with Gravity before it, you get a real impression of space flight and while no human being has witnessed a lot of the wonders depicted here, again the science is carefully sound so that even physicists have written papers based on the science and images of the film. I don’t think you can get a better testimonial when it comes to authenticity than that.

The one sour note in the symphony are the last 20 minutes. I won’t discuss specifics other than to say that of all the potential doors that the writers could have chosen to go through to end the movie, it felt like they chose the closest one. I won’t say easiest because it requires a bit of explanation but it felt like they painted themselves into a corner and then bent space and time to extricate themselves. Most people who dislike the movie do so because of this sequence.

However, I won’t discount the two and a half hours of magnificent filmmaking that preceded it because of essentially a poor choice of finishes. Perhaps that makes the movie all the more worthwhile to remind us that even Christopher Nolan is human, and even smart humans can make questionable calls.

This is the kind of movie that can be discussed endlessly. Like Stanley Kubrick’s iconic opus which in many ways influences Nolan here, there is plenty of room to figure out What It All Means. This is a movie which rather than staring at the ground and wondering about our place in the dirt looks up at the sky and wonders at our place in the universe. While the filmmaking here does have a major flaw which keeps it from a higher score, it nonetheless is worthwhile filmmaking that deserves your attention and can be recommended wholeheartedly not only to film lovers but to science geeks as well.

REASONS TO GO: Epic sci-fi filmmaking on a grand scale. A rare scientifically accurate sci-fi movie.
REASONS TO STAY: Last 20 minutes are disappointing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of rough language and some fairly intense sci-fi peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the original screenplay for the movie, Murph is a male.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2001: A Space Odyssey
FINAL RATING: 8/10
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