Archive for June, 2014

They Came Together: Better if They Never Were—Movie

June 30, 2014

If the mission was to prove that “They Came Together” can make 83 minutes feel like an eternity, mission accomplished. But the conceit of “They Came Together” is to prove that by making fun of other romantic comedies, this film is smarter than most. In that mission “They Came Together” fails miserably. Directed by David Wain and written by Wain and Michael Showalter, “They Came Together” is almost beyond horrific. I say almost because of the singular appeal of its two co-stars, Amy Poehler and most especially Paul Rudd, both of whom deserve so very much better.

TCT-poster-2013-12-18The movie begins promisingly enough, as over dinner with friends Karen and Kyle (Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader), Joel and Molly (Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) recount the story of how they met. The two say their meeting is like a romantic comedy and as they provide the details, I feared it would be a remake of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan flick “You’ve Got Mail.” If only. Molly owns a candy store, Upper Sweet Side, and Joel works for a candy corporation with plans to put her store out of business. As they tell it, Molly and Joel were both coming out of relationships gone wrong when friends decide to fix them up. It’s hate at first meet when they collide into one another enroute to the same Halloween party. Hate quickly turns to love as the two find out they have much in common. As with all rom-coms, there are ups and downs in their relationship, but the situations and dialogue, in an effort to make fun of other romantic comedies, are so unrelentingly dumb and unfunny it boggles the mind, and only makes you wish you were actually watching “You’ve Got Mail.”

Karen and Kyle serve as the audience as the couple’s story unfolds. However, if they were really standing in for “us,” Bill Hader would have jumped up at dinner and slapped Paul Rudd silly, screaming, “What in God’s sake are you doing?” and then the real, smarter movie would have begun. And just when you think the film couldn’t possibly be any worse, it gives us a “Meet the Parents” scene in which Joel discovers that Molly’s parents are white supremacists in one of the most cringe inducing bits to hit screens this year. Or so I thought until it was followed by the ludicrous incident with Joel’s grandmother.

Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are talented, smart comedic actors. Why either, especially Rudd, can’t seem to find material worthy of them, continues to be a mystery. But “They Came Together” is written so beneath them that they’d have to be standing on stilts to rise above the miserable writing.

Much of the film’s supporting cast…from Hader to Kemper to Cobie Smulders to Ed Helms to Kenan Thompson and many more…is assembled from “Saturday Night Live” and long-standing network comedies. All of them are more than capable of doing really terrific work and most of them have done so on their respective shows. But they need material from which to work and writers Wain and Showalter have given them nothing…zip…zilch…zero. Only Christopher Meloni as Joel’s boss gets one truly funny scene at the Halloween party. Truly appreciative, he takes the ball and runs with it.

I understand that “They Came Together” is meant to be a parody of…a satirical take on romantic comedies. But in order for that concept to work…for the film to be funny and stand on its own merits, it has to be clever. Repeating the same lines over and over again isn’t funny…it’s lazy. The “Pretty Woman” redux of shopping for the umpteenth time is no longer humorous or clever.

And what of New York City? The running gag throughout the film, on the closing credits and on the film’s posters is that “New York City plays such a central role in this story that it is almost like another character in the movie.” For as much as we see of the city, the film could have been filmed in LA or Ottawa. NYC should consider itself lucky. It is the only real player  in this mess to escape “They Came Together” with its dignity intact.

This film is in theatres and available On Demand.

½ nugget out of 4

 

 

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Cold in July: Hot on the Screen—Movie

June 23, 2014

Start with a bit of film noir (albeit in color), mix in some very dark comedy, add a big dose of thriller and voila, enjoy the feast that is “Cold in July.” Directed by Jim Mickle with screenplay by Mickle and Nick Damici, based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, “ Cold in July” will have you laughing, cringing and on the edge of your seat.

cold-in-july-poster1The story takes place in 1989 Texas. Richard and Ann Dane (Michael C. Hall and Vinessa Shaw) are asleep in their bedroom when they’re awakened by a noise in another room in their house. Richard takes out his gun from a lock box and very warily makes his way to the living room. There he is confronted by a hooded man with a flashlight. Richard’s finger slips and he accidentally kills the intruder. Although it’s considered an act of self-defense, Richard feels terribly guilty about what he has done. The owner of a frame shop, Richard is an upstanding, rather timid citizen and the small town’s citizens, especially Sheriff Price (Nick Damici), are shocked that “he had it in him” to actually shoot someone. The sheriff tells Richard that the person he killed was Freddy Russell, a wanted felon, and that the town will be burying him. Richard is so full of guilt and remorse that he drives to the cemetery for the service where he encounters Fred’s father, Ben (Sam Shepard). Although Richard offers his apologies and condolences, Ben is having none of it and threatens harm to Richard’s wife and young son. Without going into too much detail, Richard begins to doubt if Freddy is the person he actually killed and if it wasn’t him, who is in the grave. An unlikely alliance is formed to get at the truth, abetted by Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson), a pig farmer and private detective and most importantly, a friend of Ben’s. Once Don Johnson’s character enters the scene, the dark comedy begins. His awe and fascination with his mobile phone (this is 1989) is extremely funny. It’s also his take-charge attitude that helps propel the action forward.

Much of “Cold in July’s” success is based on the film’s three male leads. All are excellent and have terrific chemistry together. Although the roles are nothing alike, in “Dexter” there was something about Hall that made you like his character, despite his horrific deeds. He brings that same likeability to “Cold in July” —you just want to root for him. He is extremely convincing as the unsteady, unlikely hero who gradually warms up to the idea of taking risks. He’s utterly fantastic. Sam Shepard doesn’t say much, but his body language and eyes speak volumes. His work with Hall is especially good. Finally there is Don Johnson. He’s just plain fabulous. In the past few years Johnson has had a reinvigorated career beginning with “Django Unchanged,” the recent “The Other Woman” and now this film. With the glint in his eyes, he turns his character into a breath of light, fresh air in what, until his appearance, has been a very dark film.

“Cold in July” isn’t perfect. Not all questions are answered. However, director Mickle and his three leading men make you forget about those questions—you are that captivated by what is taking place on-screen.

“Cold in July” is out on limited release and is available On Demand.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

The Rover: Bleakness Can Entertain—Movie

June 23, 2014

The Rover” is about as bleak a movie as there is, but if you’re a fan of David Michôd’s and Joel Edgerton’s work, this is the film for you. Directed by Michôd and written by Michôd and Edgerton, “The Rover” is suspenseful, violent and beautifully acted.

Set in future Australia ten years after what the film calls, “The Collapse,” (yes, it would be different to have a futuristic film where life is wonderful, but since the film only mentions Australia and the U.S. dollar is the preferred currency, maybe America is ok), Australia appears to be decimated. A lone car pulls up to some sort of café in the middle of nowhere. Out of the car steps a grubby, dirty, bearded man who we learn is named Eric (Guy Pearce). Then the scene quickly shifts to three men in a truck arguing rather violently and their argument causes their truck to crash. Unable to re-start the truck, they spot Eric’s car and make off with it. Outraged, Eric runs out of the café, manages to get their truck in gear and gives chase. There is a stand-off of sorts, but the three men escape. As Eric travels on, still determined to get his car, his path crosses with a severely wounded young man named Rey (Robert Pattinson). Rey turns out to be a brother of one of the car thieves, injured in an earlier conflict and left for dead by them. Forcefully getting Rey help for his wound, the two then form a weird bond which holds them in good stead through the twists, turns and conflicts that is the rest of the film.hr_The_Rover_13

Australians (albeit not by birth) Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe became familiar names in America with 1997s “LA Confidential.” While Crowe became more famous, Pearce has worked just as steadily, although appearing in less showy, big budget-type movies. In “The Rover” he might have less dialogue than in all his movies combined, but his stance, eyes and gait speak volumes. He’s utterly fantastic. Pearce makes you believe that with the loss of his car, he is literally at the end of his rope. Robert Pattinson is a complete revelation as the somewhat mentally challenged Rey. His accent seems off, but otherwise his performance is mesmerizing. His twitching, stuttering and wounded eyes really make his character a well-developed one, no matter how strange. Finally, the always interesting Scoot McNairy lends a sadistic touch to the film as Rey’s older brother.

“The Rover’s cinematography really does a fabulous job in portraying how raw, desolate and miserable the futuristic Australia has become. The amazing and very unusual instrumental score underlines the gloominess perfectly.

“The Rover” is most definitely not for everyone. It’s dark, violent and graphically bloody. But its ending is one we never see coming and really ties the movie together in a way one would never have anticipated.

I have been fascinated by the Edgerton brothers and David Michôd ever since I saw one of their earliest collaborations, “Spider.” Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have a sit-down dinner with  them together and find out what makes them tick. If you feel the same way, then “The Rover” is right up your alley.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

Jersey Boys: Four Seasons Full of Song and Drama—Movie

June 23, 2014

In the early 1960s, before the Beatles and the Stones, there were the boys from the Beach and the boys from Jersey. There was no mistaking one sound for the other. Each group reflected the environment from which it came. The Jersey Boys…aka…The Four Seasons mirrored its urban roots with something else…an almost indefinable something. “Jersey Boys” tells how that group and sound came to be. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay and musical book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on the Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys” is full of the Four Seasons’ music, masterfully led by Tony-Award winning actor, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.    Jersey-Boys-Poster

Although the movie flushes out the play, the structure is much the same, with various members of the ensemble narrating the action and speaking directly to the audience throughout the movie. The film opens with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) talking about the New Jersey neighborhood in which they grew up and introduces us to Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Frankie.  Nick and Tommy are several years older than the somewhat innocent 16-year-old Frankie, and both, but especially Tommy, look out for him. Even when they get into trouble, the two make sure that Frankie stays clean. Frankie earns money working in a barbershop where Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a “made man,” is a regular and has taken a shine to Frankie and his voice. Tommy and Nick have a singing group with ever-changing names, with Frankie occasionally singing lead. Nick and Tommy have a few minor jail setbacks, but once that is in the past…or is it… they try to put their singing career back on track and make Frankie, with his amazing falsetto, a full-fledge member of the group. However, the group is going nowhere fast until Joey (Joseph Russo) from the neighborhood (who becomes the Joe Pesci of movie fame) puts them in touch with Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Gaudio is a singer/songwriter who had recently written the hit Short Shorts. Although from New Jersey, he is most definitely not one of the guys. He’s educated, well-read and doesn’t have their New Jersey attitude. What he does have is enormous talent and some connections. Tommy is immediately jealous of Gaudio and his smarts, but once Gaudio puts them in touch with record producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and writes their first hit record, “Sherry,” animosities are put on the back burner. With the group’s appearance on American Bandstand (be on the lookout for the Dick Clark stand-in), their success is assured for some time. Unfortunately, life is not all lollipops and roses, and there are breakups, sadness, and then the re-emergence of Valli as a solo artist. And what a re-emergence that is with the mega-hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

To say these actors can sing and make you believe they are the Four Seasons is putting it mildly. Their voices, coupled with amazing choreography, put you back in the 60s for real. John Lloyd Young is absolutely phenomenal as Frankie Valli. It is like watching and listening to Valli himself. And it wasn’t until I heard Michael Lomenda’s Nick that I realized how important his bass voice was to the group. Mike Doyle and Erich Bergen as Crewe and Gaudio give “Jersey Boys” real depth. Their performances seem very genuine. Christopher Walken is also very convincing as the connected mobster with a soft spot for Frankie. Finally there is Vincent Piazza’s Tommy. If not for Young’s singing, this actor would have stolen the movie (which is fitting, given his character). The film bursts with energy every time he’s on screen. Even with the nastiness of his character, he makes you feel for him.

Despite all of this exceptional talent, something about the film feels a little off. For some reason Eastwood’s direction doesn’t give the movie enough oomph. Maybe it’s “Jersey Boys” lack of color…the shots often seem muted…but something is off that doesn’t infuse the viewer with the same spirit as did the play. Maybe as a movie that’s just not possible.

How much of the back-story is true? The film and play had the blessing of Valli, Gaudio and Crewe. That said, Valli’s New Jersey-Italian parents seem just a tad too stereotypical. And the early scenes with the police are almost Officer Krupke in nature.

Dings aside, “Jersey Boys” is still highly entertaining. The singing, dancing and acting will make you wish the film went on a little longer. And if you don’t exit the theatre humming Big Girls Don’t Cry…well, I don’t know what to say.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

Side Show: Perfection Squared—Theatre

June 23, 2014

The reimagined production of the musical, “Side Show,” currently playing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, is as close to perfection as a play can come. A dramatic story beautifully sung and acted by every single cast member, “Side Show” is a stunning piece of work. This new production (in association with the La Jolla Playhouse), adds depth with fresh material to the 1997 Broadway musical, and is directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon,with music by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell and additional book material by Condon.photo (3)

“Side Show” is based on the real-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton,conjoined twins born in early 20th century England. Abandoned by their mother at birth, they were put up for adoption and raised by a woman who put them on display, charging money to see them. When the twins were young, the woman married a circus side-show manager who made them the featured act in his show. He treated them horribly, considering the two to be his personal property. While on tour in the U.S., the girls finally gained the where-with-all to sue for their freedom and won their suit. They were now able to make their own choices. But would they really ever be free and just what would their future hold? In dramatically entertaining fashion, “Side Show” gives us the before and after story of that freedom.

“Side Show” takes on the freak aspect of the girls’ lives head on with a terrific opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks” (although these days, a tattooed woman is not all that freakish). We are introduced to each member of the show by circus owner, Sir (Robert Joy), with standout performances from each cast member.  We then meet the twins, Daisy and Violet (Emily Padgett and Erin Davie). The two look amazingly alike, but they have very different personalities. Daisy is an extrovert who likes fame and attention, while Violet is more introverted and wants a husband and home. But what they both desire more than anything else is to be treated, as they tell us in song, “Like Everyone Else.”

Daisy’s and Violet’s freak show existence is given a huge jolt in Texas when smooth-talking  talent agent, Terry (Ryan Silverman), and vocal and dance coach, Buddy (Matthew Hydzik), visit the show. Under their tutelage the twins grow more confident and when Terry encourages them to sue for their freedom and leave the show for the Orpheum Circuit, they do just that. It is a hard break because the circus cast has become their family. But with loyal friend, Jake (David St. Louis), leaving with them, the separation is made easier and their hopes are high as they begin their tour. But will they get the lives they imagined? Will they be happier? Who’s to say.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie are equally fantastic. Their singing—either in unison or apart—is absolutely beautiful. Through their voices we really understand the highs and lows of the twins’ lives. How these two actresses manage to sing, dance and act so closely together every day is unimaginable. Theirs is a spectacular performance.

With the twins’ closing song of the first act, “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” you might think nothing could top that performance. Then the second act begins. Shortly thereafter Ryan Silverman’s Terry takes center stage, ruminating over his conflicting feelings for Daisy with a “A Private Conversation.” His voice fills the theatre in show-stopping theatre magic. Just when you’ve begun to recover emotionally and wonder if “Side Show” can possibly soar any higher, David St. Louis’ Jake comes forward to profess his love for one of the sisters in “You Should Be Loved.” It’s another heart-stopping moment of song.

In addition to the acting, singing and dancing, the costumes are also spectacular. The sisters wear gorgeous dresses throughout, and the costumes and makeup for the other characters are equally impressive.

“Side Show” is not a happy, go-lucky musical, but musical theatre in the very best sense of the words. It’s theatre you won’t soon forget.

“Side Show” runs through July 13.

4 nuggets out of 4

22 Jump Street: The Second Funniest Address in America—Movie

June 16, 2014

As the follow-up to the funnier and better written “21 Jump Street,” “22 Jump Street” is still fun in large, if not continuous, doses of laughter. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, with story by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall and screenplay by Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, “22 Jump Street” features some hilarious work by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. The two have amazing chemistry with one another and with the other actors with whom they interact.22_Jump_Street_Poster

“22 Jump Street’s” plot is a fairly simple one. Fresh off their 21 Jump Street success, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are now engaged in non-scholastic, seemingly more challenging work. However, in comical fashion, they quickly blow that job and Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) reassigns them to the spanking new 22 Jump Street headquarters under the command of their former leader, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Their assignment this time is to pose as the unlikeliest set of college-age student siblings at a local college, looking for the suppliers of WHYPHY, the latest college drug of choice.

Schmidt struggles to find his way in college and falls in with an artsy crowd. He hits it off with coed Maya (Amber Stevens), an arts major who comes with the meanest and creepiest of roommates, Mercedes (Jillian Bell). Bell’s and Hill’s chemistry is off the charts and she delivers choice one-liners about how not like a college student Schmidt looks with the sharp skill of a female Don Rickles. Meanwhile Jenko is adjusting to college life perfectly. He finds a kindred spirit in dim-witted, frat boy football player, Zook (Wyatt Russell). The two are so much alike, despite the age difference, that they are practically finishing one another’s sentences. This budding bromance puts a strain on the relationship between Jenko and Schmidt. It’s their conflict that is at the movie’s heart…and to quote the Righteous Brothers, “will they ever get that feeling back again?”

“22 Jump Street” has some terrifically funny moments and Tatum and Hill each get a chance to shine separately several times. Tatum has become a true multi-faceted actor. He can handle the serious work, but he is really gifted with physical comedy material. Hill is also very good, but because we’ve known his comedic work for so long, through no fault of his own, his work is less surprising.

The film’s supporting cast adds some additional pizzazz. In addition to Jillian Bell’s fantastic efforts, Ice Cube and Nick Offerman are very good with their bombastic roles. Patton Oswalt has a small part as a professor and he is just hysterical. Rounding out the fun are the Lucas Brothers as Spike Lee look-alike twins Keith and Kenny Yang, who befriend Schmidt and Jenko and are so in sync with one another that they speak in unison. It’s a small bit, but an extremely funny one.

What makes “22 Jump Street” fun and superior to other buddy comedies is that Schmidt’s and Jenko’s partnership is treated like a real romance. Whatever it is, Tatum and Hill still have it. However, there is something about the film’s writing that feels off…something about it that doesn’t flow. The laughs come in segments and this segmented feel gives the film a disjointed tone. That said, the individual segments are often hilarious and the treatment of future “Jump Streets” will have you keeling over with laughter.

3 nuggets out of 4

God’s Pocket: Devil’s Work—Movie

June 16, 2014

God’s Pocket” is one hodge-podge of a sometimes satisfying film. Directed by actor John Slattery with screenplay by Slattery and Alex Metcalf based on Peter Dexter’s novel, “God’s Pocket” is full of some terrific performances in a movie that not only doesn’t deserve them, but worse still, doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be.

Gods-PocketGod’s Pocket is the name of the poor, hard-drinking, hard-working class Philadelphia neighborhood where the film is set, and covers a few days in the life of its citizens. It’s the type of neighborhood that even if you have lived 30 of your 50 years there, you are still considered an “outsider.” Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is such a man. Mickey engages in the illegal beef trade, plays the ponies with friend and sometime partner, Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and is a regular at McKenna’s (Peter Gerety) bar. He’s married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), who has a grown son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), who still lives at home. With journalist Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) acting as narrator, the film begins with a funeral and then goes back three days before the service.

One particular morning Mickey gives Leon a ride to work—a Philadelphia construction site. Leon is all mouth and not much more. At one point during the work day, he seems to be completely wasted and starts hurling racial epithets at Old Lucy (Arthur French), an elderly black construction worker. When Old Lucy has taken as much abuse as he can handle, he hits Leon over the head and Leon drops dead. Not wanting to get Old Lucy in trouble, the workers all agree to tell the police that Leon fell in an unfortunate “accident.” Jeanie takes the news of Leon’s death badly and doesn’t believe it was an accident. She wants Mickey to use some of his contacts to find out what really happened. Mickey promises that he will, but first he has other, more pressing problems to solve. He and ‘Bird’ owe money to some bad people and are under the gun to come up with the money promptly…or else. To make matters worse, he doesn’t know how he’ll pay for the coffin Jeanie wants for Leon. While Mickey is trying to make quick money, Jeanie also contacts the newspaper about Leon’s accident. The paper assigns local columnist Richard Shelburn to the story. Writing about the city for 20 years, Shelburn is burned out, on an alcoholic downward spiral and, like Mickey, considered an outsider in the God’s Pocket neighborhood. He goes out to interview Jeanie and as soon as he lays eyes on her, is immediately gob smacked. Shelburn begins making overtures, which are not necessarily ignored.

As “God’s Pocket” unfolds, we are introduced to a whole host of characters—and never has that word so appropriately been applied. Chief among them is Joyce Van Patten’s Aunt Sophie. She’s a gun-toting florist and takes guff from no one. Van Patten plays her with both barrels, literally, and is terrific. Peter Gerety is spot-on as the neighborhood owner of a small bar. Then there is Eddie Marsan’s portrayal as funeral director, Smilin’ Jack Moran. He is sheer perfection as a smarmy salesman and businessman.

Christina Hendricks is great as the local beauty who’s gone nowhere and has pretty much given up on life. We wonder if she was really ever in love with Mickey. It’s hard to tell. Jon Turturro’s performance as the laid-back gambler is outstanding and one has the feeling that there might be more to him than meets the eye. Richard Jenkins is absolutely fantastic as the hard-drinking columnist who still has a way with words when he actually cares. Finally there is Philip Seymour Hoffman. In one of his last performances, he is hauntingly terrific. Overweight and downright messy, Hoffman’s portrayal of the unlucky Mickey is riveting.

Despite this outstanding cast and phenomenal acting, “God’s Pocket” never fulfills its potential. Director Slattery has directed some wonderful episodes of “Mad Men,” but he really stumbles with “God’s Pocket.” Sometimes it’s pure “Weekend at Bernie’s”…other times it’s pure melodrama. He never manages to meld the two together and the film suffers greatly because of that.

“God’s Pocket” is playing in limited release and is available On Demand. If you are a fan of terrific acting and still mourn the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, then it is worth checking out.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Edge of Tomorrow: Edge of Your Seat Today—Movie

June 8, 2014

Leave it to Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman to show with “Edge of Tomorrow” just how one does a big action picture right. Directed by Liman, with screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka ‘s novel, All You Need Is Kill, “Edge of Tomorrow” takes place in the future when the world’s countries are united (United Defense Forces (UDF) ) against a common enemy—an alien form of life called Mimics. Just how the world wins the battle…or will it…is the film’s basic plot.edge-of-tomorrow-movie-poster-01.jpg~original

The film opens with CNN footage of the ongoing battles and then goes to an interview with Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a UDF spokesman and officer in the United States Army Reserve, on CNN’s Jake Tapper’s “The Lead.” After the interview, Cage heads to London to meet with General Brigham, (Brendan Gleeson), commander of the UDF, who informs him that he has the “opportunity to be embedded with the armed forces as they prepare to fight in France. Gates, who’s never actually been in combat, balks at the assignment and threatens the General. But the General one-ups him, telling Gates he has no choice, strips Gates of his rank, and sends him out, in handcuffs no less, under the watch of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and his band of ragtag soldiers. To say Gates is out of his depth is putting it mildly, but the soldiers deploy and a bloody fight incurs. It’s during this battle that Gates experiences the first of his many time resets, “Groundhog Days,” if you will. It’s in one of his earlier resets that he meets up with war hero Rita Vrataski, the “Angel of Verdun” (Emily Blunt). He discovers that she had also experienced resets, just like Gates. They form an alliance and together the two try to come up with a plan full of action, fights and resets to save the world.

“Edge of Tomorrow” has its share of astounding special effects and weird, spider-like villains, but unlike other special effects-laden war/end of the world movies out this year with more to come, this film also has brains and wit. It just seems more intelligent and it’s never boring. What’s even stranger, but in a good way, is that even though scenes are repeated, the movie never feels repetitive.

Although “Edge of Tomorrow” is billed as a Tom Cruise movie, Emily Blunt has almost the same amount of screen time as Cruise and she is every bit his equal. Not one you’d normally associate with an action flick, Blunt is amazing. Her chemistry with Cruise is terrific and this lady can kick some mean butt. As one would expect, Cruise excels in the scenes which cause for him to be cocky and he’s great in all of the action sequences. But he’s also very good in the scenes in which he’s literally freaking out or when he’s dazed and somewhat confused. Giving heft to the all-around good acting are Gleeson and Paxton in their supporting roles.

Just when I was about to give up on ever watching a really good, substantive special effects, end-of-the-world film, along comes “Edge of Tomorrow.” Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt really do save the day.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Fault in our Stars: Worthy of Your Tears—Movie

June 8, 2014

The Fault in our Stars” showcases two terrific young actors—Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. We’ve seen Woodley before and know how wonderful she is. Elgort may be new to many, and he is just as great.The Fault in our Stars

Directed by Josh Boone, with screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on John Green’s best-selling book, “The Fault in our Stars” revolves around teens afflicted with various forms of cancer. Full of both laughter and sniffles, the film is so much more than a cancer story. It’s about life, love, families, friends, and, yes, pain.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is told through the eyes of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley). She has a form of cancer that requires her to be attached to an oxygen tank. Smart and cynical, Hazel is forced by her parents (Sam Trammell and Laura Dern) to go to a cancer support group. At one meeting she literally bumps into Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) before the meeting starts. Augustus is immediately taken with her, and when she speaks up during the meeting, he’s also smitten by her brains, sense of humor, as well as her beauty. Hazel falls pretty hard, too. Augustus is cute, funny, utterly charming, and smart, too. His cancer is now in remission, but because of his cancer, Augustus, a former athlete, lost his leg and now wears a prosthetic one.

Hazel and Augustus bond quickly and before long are spending time at each other’s homes. Augustus’ parents are quiet, but given the framed upbeat philosophical sayings that decorate the home, are big believers in the power of positive thinking. We get to know Hazel’s parents (Sam Trammel and Laura Dern) a little better. Because Hazel has had close calls before, they are grateful for every day they have with her. Hazel, early on, tells us that she knows she has an expiration date, but so far has managed to beat the odds. Because of her health, Hazel refuses to use the “L” word with Augustus and insists that the two remain just friends. In a beautiful, but short scene, Hazel’s father even tries to lower Augustus’ expectations by beginning to tell him of her history, but Augustus isn’t one to listen.

Hazel has been buoyed through the years by a book, An Imperial Affliction, written by Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe), about a girl who has cancer. The book ends mid-sentence and for years Hazel has wondered about the fates of the various characters. She has written to van Houten, but has never heard back. Hazel introduces Augustus to his work and he also is wowed by the novel. Augustus arranges through a Make-a-Wish-like foundation for them to meet the author in person in Amsterdam where he now lives. For those who haven’t read the book, it wouldn’t be fair to give away any more of the plot.

There are so many unbelievably talented young actors in today’s Hollywood, one can only hope that there is enough good material in the future for all of them. In the meantime, “the Fault in our Stars” is fortunate to claim three of them, along with some excellent veteran actors. Shailene Woodley just continues to grow and surprise us as an actor. She is absolutely amazing as Hazel. Woodley is just so very genuine and she makes Hazel very real. She never seems like a victim and that is very much due to Woodley. Woodley shares the screen almost equally with Ansel Elgort and he is most definitely her equal…which is going some. He has the ability to easily show us both Augustus’ self-assured and vulnerable sides. Nat Wolff is fabulous as Augustus’ friend, Isaac, who is in the process of losing his eyes due to cancer. Despite his circumstances, Isaac supplies much of the movie’s comic relief. Sam Trammell and Laura Dern are especially good as Hazel’s parents. For those of us used to seeing Trammell as “True Blood’s” shape-shifting bartender/heart-throb, it’s a bit of a shock to see him as the parent of a teen. But he pulls it off. He’s extremely convincing as the compassionate father. Laura Dern’s part is larger and she’s excellent. Dern has to go back and forth as stern parent, compassionate friend and worried, but calm mother, and she does it all beautifully.

Is the “Fault in our Stars” sad? Most certainly. But it is also funny, clever, life affirming without being preachy and just all around amazing.

4 nuggets out of 4

Obvious Child: Adult Friendly—Movie

June 6, 2014

Obvious Child” may be the first romantic comedy with abortion at its centerpiece and guess what? It’s funny…laugh outloud funny. And that is in no small part due to its breakout star, Jenny Slate, and a terrific supporting cast.

Obvs-Child-Poster-Smaller-moviefoneDirected by Gillian Robespierre and written by Robespierre, with story by Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm based on the short film written by Anna Bean, Maine and Robespierre, “Obvious Child” is the story of Brooklyn standup comic, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate). Picture a sweeter, but just as dirty and outrageously funny Sarah Silverman, and that is Donna. As the movie opens, Donna is about to experience some of the worse weeks of her life. In short order she is dumped by her boyfriend…in the comedy club bathroom of all places…loses her day job and becomes pregnant from a one night stand. Wow! I’m already beginning to feel better about my life.

The film is extremely relatable, even in its crudeness and its frequent hilarity at Donna’s expense. The stalking, the drunken messages, the worrying about the next paycheck…most of us have been there at one time or another. Even the subject of abortion will hit home for many. We can empathize and identify with Donna’s struggle to get out of her rut and move on with her life.

“Obvious Child” is not a perfect movie. There are just a few too many “meet cute” coincidences with Max (Jake Lacey), Donna’s one night stand. Also, as someone who has done some standup, material isn’t normally put together on the fly as Donna does it. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just rare. Whatever the case, the standup scenes work and are hilarious…heartbreakingly so, in some cases.

What is perfection is “Obvious Child’s” acting. As already noted, Slate is wonderful. She brings a genuine naturalness to her acting. As Max, Jake Lacey is also terrific. He, too, makes his character seem very real. Gaby Hoffmann as Nellie, Donna’s roommate and best friend ever, and Gabe Liedman as her comedy colleague, Joey, are both excellent as supportive friends. Together, they feel like true 20-something friends trying to find their way. Adding depth to the supporting cast are Polly Draper and Richard Kind as Donna’s brilliant, divorced parents.

“Obvious Child” is most definitely not for everyone. Abortion is not a topic with which everyone is comfortable. And “Obvious Child’s” tone regarding abortion certainly won’t convert them. But if you are seeking something bold…something funny with substance…something original… something brilliantly written and performed…then it’s obvious what should be on your must-see list…”Obvious Child.”

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

 


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