Archive for September, 2014

Men, Women & Children: Boredom for All—Movie

September 30, 2014

Men, Women & Children” believes it is more than it is. It thinks it is saying something important. It strives to be a commentary on texting and social media and how these forms of communication have taken the place of real human interactions. But with that as its goal, it fails, and fails boringly so. Directed by Jason Reitman, based on Chad Kultgen‘s novel, with screenplay by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson, “Men, Women & Children is merely a series of never-ending vignettes about families, parental relationships, husbands and wives and young love. Some vignettes are amusing, some poignant and others mean-spirited. “Men, Women & Children’s” cast totally outshines its script. In this nearly two-hour long movie, thankfully we are treated to some terrific acting.

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Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt portray Don and Helen Truby. Both seem utterly bored in their marriage and rather than confront each other about what might be wrong, explore other opportunities separately to add some excitement in their lives. Please tell me how this is the fault of the Internet or social media? These two are close to middle-age…when talking is still common. As ridiculous as this scenario is, the two actors are extremely good. Sandler presents a side we rarely see in his acting…vulnerability without schmaltz…and he’s wonderful. DeWitt is more known for her work on “Mad Men,” so “Men, Women & Children” gives her a chance to shine on the big screen. Interspersed with Don’s and Helen’s story is that of their son, Chris (Travis Tope). Don discovers that Chris has been surfing the Internet for porn. While this might be normal, it is getting in the way of Chris’ interactions with the opposite sex. Tope provides an excellent portrayal of a young male concerned and confused about what’s expected of him as a man.

Dean Norris and Ansel Elgort both turn in great performances as father and son, Kent and Tim Mooney, respectively. Their lives have been turned upside down by divorce. Tim is a sensitive soul who quits the football team…something no one can understand…and turns instead to video games and a new romance with classmate Brandy Beltmeyer (Kaitlyn Dever). We’re used to seeing Norris as the bullying menace, so it’s extremely refreshing to watch his sympathetic performance as a father truly perplexed by the change in his son and as a man treading very lightly into the dating world. Elgort is just fabulous as the teen who’s been hurt so badly in ways he can’t explain. His story, in fact, is at the movie’s heart. Elgort and Dever have amazing chemistry together and their new relationship seems very genuine in its sweetly hesitant start. With his performance in “Men, Women & Children,” Elgort proves his heart-breaking work in “The Fault in Our Stars” was no fluke. And as his love interest, Kaitlyn Dever is very much his equal. Dever’s character, Brandy, has her own problems. Her mother, Patricia, an unsmiling Jennifer Garner, monitors her email, texts and Internet activity to the exclusion of almost everything else in her life. We never learn why Patricia is this way so we’re left with the usually terrific Garner giving a dour, one-note performance.

There are there other stories going on within the film. One deals with the bullying of an overly thin teen girl, Allison Doss (Elena Kampouris), which results in soap opera-like, dramatic complications. Another story has more layers. A mother, Joan (Judy Greer), and daughter, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), excessively invest themselves in Hannah’s potential modeling/acting career by posting questionable photos of Hannah on the Internet, not realizing the inherent threat to that career and other relationships. All three of these actresses are quite good in rather creepy roles.

So many amazing performances in plots relating so little to the dangers of the over-use and substitution of texting, emailing, social media and the Internet in general for that of in-person communication. This is a topic that can certainly be explored, but this film isn’t the one to do it. And what to make of Emma Thompson’s voice-over? Throughout the film we see shots of the moon, stars and universe, and hear her speaking some kind of mumbo jumbo meant to be inspiring and thought-provoking, one presumes.

“Men, Women & Children” is truly disappointing. Its wonderful performances deserve so much more.

1 ½ nuggets out of 4

Jimi: All Is by My Side: Stumbles In Its Telling—Movie

September 29, 2014

Jimi: All Is by My Side” is a slice of life look at Jimi Hendrix on the cusp of his legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Unfortunately, as written and directed by John Ridley, the movie often comes across as a jarringly edited documentary. By virtue of the directing and editing style, this seems to have been done on purpose, but a quasi-documentary makes for quasi-entertainment…which is to say not all that satisfying, despite some fantastic performances.

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“Jimi: All Is by My Side” opens with an interview of Hendrix (André Benjamin), then jumps back in time to Hendrix, going by the name Jimmy James, working with a group in a NYC club. He’s caught the eye of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), who happens to be the girlfriend of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. That identification becomes a joke throughout the film, but Linda is much more than a “friend of.” She’s rich, smart and more importantly, has tons of connections in the music business. It’s through those connections that she learns that Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the bass player in the Animals, is leaving the group and wants to become a manager. Hendrix has no representation and because the Animals played the kind of music with which he could identify, a “partnership” is formed. Chandler convinces Hendrix to come to London and start playing gigs there. He believes that the London scene will be more receptive to Hendrix’s music. Hendrix goes, after getting a promise from Chandler that he will have the opportunity to play with Eric Clapton.

In London, Hendrix enters into a romantic relationship with Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) who seems to be with him, no matter what his mood—good and bad (and if the film is to be believed, there is a lot of bad). Hendrix thrives in London, playing with some of his idols…finally getting the chance to play with Clapton, who can’t get over how great Hendrix is. Working the clubs in England brings him to the attention of Paul McCartney, who recommends him for a spot in the Monterey Pop Festival. This is where the film concludes, but is where Hendrix’s career takes off.

In André Benjamin (part of the duo OutKast), Ridley has found a near perfect Jimi Hendrix. As written by Ridley, Hendrix could be charming, naïve, sly, abusive and distant. Who knows if he was really like this, but Benjamin’s portrayal of this man’s changing emotions is spot on. And because Benjamin is a musician, when portraying Hendrix the musician, Benjamin’s performance seems especially strong and genuine. Imogen Poots gives a very convincing performance of the woman behind the man. In her portrayal of Linda, she lets you know that she is much more than a pretty face. Haley Atwell is very good in the sad role of Hendrix’s girlfriend, Kathy. She gets him comfortable with the 60s Carnaby Street style of dress and too often gets slapped and worse for her troubles.

Ridley does a terrific job in showcasing the 60s lifestyle and dress, mixing in real footage with replications. It should be noted that 60s fashion for women—hair, makeup and dress were absolutely fabulous…men not so much.The film gets the smallest details correct… down to the women’s eyelashes.

Talks with the character Michael X seem to awaken Hendrix to the racism in England and America. We are led to believe that this is perhaps what gave way to his activism later. However, if one does research, we learn that Michael X is a fictional character, so we’re not really sure what caused the change in Hendrix’s personality.

Because of the constraints of Hendrix’s estate, we don’t hear his original music, but we do hear his covers. It is Benjamin’s voice throughout and he practiced guitar to make sure his hand movements were right, but the actual guitar sounds are from Waddy Wachtel. The combination works beautifully. We get Hendrix’s renditions of Dylan, the Animals and his truly unusual version of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” all sounding emphatically terrific.”

Although “Jimi: All is By My Side” is blessed with some absolutely amazing performances, most especially that of André Benjamin, and beautiful aesthetics, it is ultimately severely wounded by the jarring and undermining manner in which Hendrix’s story is told.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Pride: Its Spirit Soars—Movie

September 25, 2014

Pride” proves that inspirational doesn’t have to be preachy or cloying…it can  be extremely entertaining. Such is what describes “Pride”…extremely entertaining…joyfully so. Directed by Matthew Warchus and written by Stephen Beresford, “Pride” is based on true events in Great Britain during the days of Prime Minister Thatcher.

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In 1984 the miners were on strike in Great Britain. While the strike was going on, the first Gay Pride Day was taking place in London. That is where we are first introduced to Joe, aka Bromley, (George MacKay). A not yet out-of-the-closet student, he meets Mark (Ben Schnetzer) and Mike (Joseph Gilgun) during the march, but is reluctant to give them his name, just his school. From there on in, he’s known as Bromley. He’s drawn to Mark and Mike and their group of friends because of the group’s camaraderie and the idea that with them he can be himself. The ragtag group of gays and lesbians is led by Mark, an activist whose enthusiasm is contagious. Not one to be stopped by any obstacles, he’s always full of ideas about what and how the group should be doing to garner more support for their cause.

It’s against this backdrop that Mark sees the potential in supporting the miners’ strike, rationalizing that both groups are underdogs striving to seek better lives. As one might expect, this idea is met with less than an enthusiastic response from his group and out-and-out hostility from some of the miners. Undeterred, the group eventually forms Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). But when the union is reluctant to welcome their support, Mark has a eureka moment—aligning their group with one group of miners. Mark starts making phone calls and hits pay dirt when Gwen (Menna Trussler) answers the phone in the office of a small group of miners in South Wales. In London, the LGSM meets with the Welsh miners’ emissary, Dai (Paddy Considine), who tentatively accepts their support on behalf of the union and eventually the LGSM make its way to the Welsh community to present in person the money the group has raised. Some of the miners’ committee members are won over immediately—most especially some of the older committee members such as Cliff (Bill Nighy), Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and the aforementioned Gwen. But winning support from the whole committee and the entire group of miners is not going to be easy, if even possible, and therein lays the conflict.

To its credit, “Pride” doesn’t dwell on conflict. The film focuses instead on how the two sides come together, and that is where the joy comes to the forefront. But “Pride” is based on true events and therefore it’s hard not to think about AIDS beginning to take hold during this same time-frame. The film doesn’t shy away from the subject. It can’t. So it addresses it and moves on.

“Pride’s” cast is simply wonderful…from the younger actors to the more seasoned performers. We see much of the film through Bromley’s eyes and the way in which George MacKay portrays his gradual awakening and confidence is amazing. Ben Schnetzer’s Mark is terrific throughout and he makes you feel the passion he has for the cause. Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy are wonderful in portraying the elders trying to bring some common sense to their community. Menna Trussler’s Gwen basically steals every scene in which she is in, she is that adorably funny. Finally, there is Dominic West ,who gives a fabulous portrayal as Jonathan, one of the older members of the LGSM. And when West’s character gives a dance performance that out Travolta’s Travolta, and in so doing, helps unite the two groups…well, enough said.

At the film’s conclusion, “Pride” will have you cheering in your seat without playing on your emotions in a cheap, pandering way. But it so deserves those cheers.

4 out of 4 nuggets

 

Fort Bliss: Emotionally Fulfilling—Movie

September 25, 2014

“Promise you won’t die” says little Paul to his mom in “Fort Bliss” before she sets off to work. Written and directed by Claudia Myers, “Fort Bliss” is the so very realistic look of what it’s like for a parent to leave his or her family for a long period of time and how difficult it is to reconnect once the parent is home. It’s not a new story—it’s been explored to some extent in this year’s CBS show, “Extant.” However, the subject has never been done as well or effectively than it is in “Fort Bliss.”

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“Fort Bliss” revolves around Staff Sgt. Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan), back from her tour of duty as a medic in Afghanistan. She has a five-year-old son, Paul (Oakes Fegley), living with her ex, Richard (Ron Livingston) and his girlfriend, Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui), in Texas near Fort Bliss. Once back in Texas, she struggles to reconnect with her son who barely remembers her, resents her for leaving him in the first place, and is not thrilled at her return if that means being separated from his father and Alma. But Maggie is not one to be messed with, be it ex-husband, the military or a five-year-old. So off the two go to begin their new lives together.

Unbeknownst to her ex, Maggie has re-enlisted, but is not supposed to deploy any time soon. In the meantime she takes on a new assignment at the base—training new medics. With her smarts and take-no-prisoner attitude, the men quickly warm up to her. Her personal life takes an unexpected turn when her stalled car leads Maggie to a chance encounter with mechanic, Luis (Manolo Cardona). He wins over Paul easily with his humor and promise of Texas Rangers tickets; Maggie is a tad harder to figure out. What begins as a sexual release for her starts to turn into something more as Maggie very slowly begins to open up to Luis, but even so, neither of them are sure where it all is going. “Fort Bliss” goes into overdrive when Maggie’s unit is informed that it will be deploying back to Afghanistan sooner than expected. That is when all of the relationships that Maggie has formed and is forming come to a head.

The “Fort Bliss” cast comprises familiar, hard-working actors, but not real stars. They give their all to this film and it shows. Michelle Monaghan, seen in season one’s “True Detective,” nails Maggie’s temperament and range of emotions. She’s positively brilliant. Ron Livingston is terrific as the exasperated, put-upon-feeling ex. His character is no saint, but Livingston is very good at conveying how difficult Maggie’s 15-month tour has been—not just for their son, but for him, too. Manolo Cardona’s Luis is just the right match for Monaghan’s character and the two really work well together. Emmanuelle Chriqui is also excellent as Richard’s girlfriend and Paul’s future stepmother. Representing the good, the bad and everything in between of the military are Pablo Schreiber, Dash Mihok, Freddy Rodríguez and Gbenga Akinnagbe. None of their parts are written in stereotypes and the actors bring shadings to their individual roles to make them all feel genuine. Finally, there is yet one more child actor who almost steals a movie, and this actor is Oakes Fegley as Paul. He is absolutely amazing. How someone so young is truly able to act and form real connections with each character is astounding. His scenes with Monaghan are particularly good as he goes from resentful, obstinate son to a truly loving, caring human-being, whose “promise you won’t die” plea will resonate long after the movie ends.

Claudia Myers has written and directed a skillfully realized story. It feels so very real. No character is a stereotype…no character is all good or all bad. They are simply human—warts and all. While her story is about Maggie, the Military Mom, it could just as easily be about a returning husband/father or just an ordinary spouse/parent with a demanding job. The film is a deeply honest look at homecomings no matter the home.

“Fort Bliss” is a shining gem of a film and well worth seeking out in theatres or On Demand.

4 nuggets out of 4

Tusk: He is the Walrus—Movie

September 23, 2014

Is it possible that in “Tusk,” as an actor, Justin Long, makes for a better walrus than he does in portraying a human being? Based on this performance, the answer has to be “yes.”

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With “Tusk,” writer and director Kevin Smith proves once again that he has a creative mind like no one else in Hollywood. Based on Smith’s SModcast 259 The Walrus and the Carpenter, “Tusk” is the story of wise guy podcaster, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), who has a show with fellow shock jock, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment). They call their podcast “The Not-See Party,” in which Wallace finds videos of people doing a variety of stupid things, shows them to Teddy, and the two then make fun of the people on their respective videos. Wallace decides to follow up on one story—someone called “The Kill Bill Kid,” who accidentally sliced one on his legs while performing a stunt. “Kill Bill” lives in Manitoba, Canada, so after saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), it’s off to Canada Wallace goes. Once there he discovers that his story is no longer viable. Not wanting to waste the money his flight cost, Wallace decides to look for some other strange story in Manitoba. A handbill in a restroom bar provides him with just the ticket. The handbill is from Howard Howe (Michael Parks), offering free lodging for the opportunity to hear his lifetime of stories. Wallace’s curiosity is piqued, so he makes his way to Howe’s estate and what an estate it is!

Howe, confined to a wheelchair, appears to be the ever-so-gracious host and he does have some truly great stories to tell. Over tea, he reminisces about trips with Hemingway and others. Wallace is fascinated and doesn’t realize his tea has been laced with drugs. He passes out and when he awakens, Wallace finds himself strapped in a wheelchair and that’s just for starters. To tell more of his fate would ruin the movie’s “fun.”

Wallace has not been forgotten by Ally and Teddy who haven’t heard from him in a few days. Then they both receive a strange, disturbing voice mail from him and come to the conclusion that something bad has happened to him. They take off for Manitoba and meet with a local detective, Frank Garmin (Ralph Garman) who puts them in touch with Guy Lapointe, a former Quebec cop who has been hunting Howe for years. Together they go off in search of Wallace.

Thankfully, the success of “Tusk” doesn’t rise or fall on its acting. Truth be told, Justin Long isn’t all that good and in human form, he is in the movie a great deal. Granted, his character is not very likeable, but it feels like something more could have been brought to his performance. But when called upon to do other things, he really sizzles. Parks as Howe is riveting, and it’s easy to see how Wallace could be seduced by him. Although it’s nice to see Osment back on the screen, he’s not given much to do, but he does shine in his early scenes with Long. Genesis Rodriguez does a fine job as the girlfriend who’s too good for Wallace (or so we think). But Michael Parks aside, it is the unbilled, uncredited actor as Guy Lapointe who steals the show.

Truly only Kevin Smith could imagine something so bizarrely entertaining as “Tusk.” And if you’re a “Clerks” aficionado like me, you will definitely appreciate the scenes in the Canadian convenience store which are absolutely hysterical.

Your first reaction to “Tusk” might be, “what was that?” Part creepy…part very creepy…and part weirdly funny, you might not know what to think about what you’ve just seen. “Tusk” is definitely not for everyone. But if you love Kevin Smith as I do, “Tusk” should definitely be on your movie-viewing list.

3 nuggets out of 4

The Skeleton Twins: Full of Heart—Movie

September 15, 2014

As portrayed by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, in the unexpectedly wonderful, “The Skeleton Twins,” we may be witnessing one of the best brother-sister relationships ever on-screen. Directed by Craig Johnson and written by Johnson and Mark Heyman, “The Skeleton Twins” is about the reconnection of twins just when they need each other the most.

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Milo (Bill Hader) is a struggling actor living alone in LA with his goldfish to keep him company. We meet him in his apartment staring at his fish as he prepares, we think, for a bath. But when we see him sitting in the tub and realize the bath water is turning red, we know he’s attempting suicide. The scene then shifts to his sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig), in her suburban New York home, studying what appears to be a lethal dose of pills in her hand. Just as she is about to swallow them, her phone rings. Half-heartedly she answers, and it’s the hospital in California calling to tell her that her brother is in the hospital following his suicide attempt. Putting the pills aside, Maggie flies off to LA for their reunion. The brother and sister haven’t seen or spoken to one another in more than ten years, so coming together is rough at first. Very hesitantly, the two begin to adjust, relaxing somewhat, and it’s decided that Milo will go back to New York with Maggie to recover physically and emotionally, staying with her and her husband of a few years, Lance (Luke Wilson).

From their discussions and wonderful flashbacks, we realize that Maggie and Milo were once extremely close, so we are at a loss to know what drew them apart. Milo knew he was gay at a very young age and the scenes of a youthful Maggie applying makeup to her brother are heart-warmingly cute. Over time, once the two are in New York, we discover more about the siblings. Although in Lance, Maggie seemingly has the perfect husband, one yearning to start a family with her, we know Maggie is not happy…for reasons she really can’t fully explain. Walking through town, Milo spots a former older friend, Rich (Ty Burrell), in a bookstore, but something is definitely off there, since Rich doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Then there is the matter of their mother, (Joanna Gleason), who,unbeknownst to Maggie, Milo has invited for a visit and when she appears, brings a lot of tension with her. After a heated confrontation with Maggie, she beats a hasty retreat, leading to a discussion between Maggie and Milo in which we learn their father committed suicide when they were in their teens. And you thought your family had problems!

Although Hader and Wiig are in nearly every scene, when called upon, the film’s supporting cast more than holds its own. Luke Wilson is terrific as the supportive, but clueless husband and brother-in-law who deserves better. Joanna Gleason is very convincing as the selfish, New-Age mother. Finally, Ty Burrell is tremendous as the man leading two lives.

“The Skeleton Twins” is both funny and unbelievably sad at times, and throughout Wiig and Hader handle these varying emotions amazingly. Anyone who saw these two on “Saturday Night Live” knows they are comedically gifted, but their dramatic abilities are the real surprise. With the right roles, both are capable of great things in the future, they are that fantastic.

Wiig has done fine comedic acting in several films, but in “The Skeleton Twins” her work is on a whole other level. What can one say about Hader other than he is completely and utterly fabulous in a nuanced performance. His interactions with all of the main characters are completely different and are spectacular. However, when the film centers on Wiig and Hader together on-screen, “The Skeleton Twins” truly shines…from the delightful, unforgettable lip-syncing and dancing to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” to their touching revelatory scenes near the movie’s conclusion.

In “The Skeleton Twins” we have actors we thought we knew, but are truly discovering them now.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Bill Maher: Bitingly Funny No Matter the Venue—Comedy

September 15, 2014

Bill Maher enjoys such a devoted fan base that people (including me) will come to his show even when they’re not exactly sure what show they are seeing. Do we have tickets for HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” or our tickets for a live taping of an HBO special of his stand-up? In the September 12 crowd in which I stood outside DC’s Warner Theatre, we finally realized we were to be a part of Maher’s comedy special following his also live “Real Time” at DC’s Sidney Harmon Hall. Confused? No matter as long as you‘re entertained and boy were we ever.

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Turns out Maher’s warm-up act was Maher himself as we watched his  “Real Time” show on the television provided by the theatre. Once that concluded our audience was treated to a play-by-play account of Maher’s motorcade/foot race to the Warner Theatre by none other than Keith Olbermann and filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore had a very funny line referencing Maher’s donation in the 2012 presidential election, by commenting that a “million dollar donation to the Obama campaign evidently buys one a police motorcade.” Whatever. On stage, Maher seemed no worse for wear from doing back-to-back shows. He opened his act with, “I had to run three blocks at breakneck speed to get here. Thank, God, I’m white.” And with that we were off.

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Despite Maher’s liberal leanings, no one is safe from his caustically funny routine…not Democrats, the President nor the Clintons. But he saves his special bites for Republicans, Congress, racists and religion. Surprisingly, the only person to come out relatively unscathed was the Pope, referring to him as the “Joe Biden of Catholicism”…affectionately calling him, “Frank.”

One line that brought the house down was about the Republicans wondering how they could have lost twice to “Cedric the Entertainer.” But then he went on to say how hard it was to feel sorry for them when they “nominated the world’s oldest man for President who then chose the world’s stupidest woman for his running mate.” The partisan crowd absolutely lost it at that point. Some of Maher’s best small bits were about Donald Trump’s feud with him and John Boehner’s evident hormonal problems which cause him to cry.

Maher admits to showing his age when it comes to social media and taking and posting pictures of one’s private parts, saying he “associates typing with term papers, not sex.” His hour of levity ended with what else—a not to be repeated penis joke.

A Bill Maher comedy special comes with no applause signs. None are needed. The man is smart, energetic, and most important of all, hilarious. The next time his show comes your way, should take every opportunity to go see him…even if you are a religious Republican. Just bring your sense of humor and you’ll have a terrific time. For now, check your local listings for both his HBO shows—”Real Time” and the “Live From DC Special.”

4 nuggets out of 4

Joan Rivers: Yes, Let’s Talk

September 5, 2014

“Oh, grow up.” I guess I’ll have to now that the world just got a lot less funny and a lot less honest with the too soon, yes, too soon death of Joan Rivers. At 81, Joan Rivers had to be the hardest working woman in show business and still the funniest woman on the planet. How someone with so much vitality can no longer be with us seems unfathomable to me.

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If you only know Joan from her ground-breaking, hilarious work on the Red Carpet or from winning “Celebrity Apprentice,” or possibly from her hysterical “Fashion Police,” you are missing out on so much. First and foremost Joan was a stand-up comic…an absolutely, positively, great stand-up comic. Watch her early appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” or “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and you’ll see how terrific she was. Joan’s initial work was all self-deprecating and boy, did she ever zing herself. While I laughed listening to her tell how she couldn’t get anyone to wait on her at the Bloomingdale’s makeup counter, that story later filled me with anxiety the first time I entered the NYC store. Remembering her routine, I was fearful that I, too, would not be able to get someone to wait on me.

Talk about reinventing oneself and growing—that was Joan. She was never, ever stale. She kept up with current events and changed as the times changed. Yes, she was raunchy and biting, but most of all she was still funny. She never took her success for granted because she knew from sad experience how easily it could disappear. For her, no gig was too small. Watch the wonderful documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. She loved to entertain, tell jokes and hear the applause and laughter. Her biggest fear was not getting that gig…of having an empty calendar…of losing a booking to Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman.

Those who read my blog know that I have dabbled in stand-up. It never would have even occurred to me to think about this without Joan Rivers. Every female comic owes a debt of gratitude to her for paving the way to make it possible to  earn a living telling jokes, and if the jokes are raunchy…who cares…as long as you are smartly funny. She was my idol…my hero. One of my biggest thrills was seeing her perform a few years ago at the Strathmore’s Music Center, outside DC. It was a packed house and she did not disappoint. She exceeded my expectations. Brilliantly uproarious, sharp and physical…at 77! It was an absolutely astounding, amazing performance.

At times like this, it’s customary to say, “Rest in peace.” If there is a heaven, I can’t believe Joan is resting. I’m sure she’s competing with Robin Williams for laughs as we speak.

 

 

Life of Crime: It Pays Off—Movie

September 1, 2014

Sometimes messy is good and so it is with “Life of Crime.” Written and directed by Daniel Schechter and based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, “The Switch,” “Life of Crime” is fun (with one exception) from beginning to end. And the film is at its all-out best when Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) are on the screen together.

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Set in 1978 Detroit, “Life of Crime” revolves around a kidnapping that quickly goes bad. Two criminals, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes) plot to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of wealthy and corrupt businessman, Frank (Tim Robbins), and hold her for a one-million dollar ransom. Because we meet the Dawson family before the criminals do, we are aware that all is not well in the Dawson household. Frank is a boor, a bully, drinks too much and is emotionally abusive. Even the Dawson’s son, Bo (Charlie Tahan), seems to favor his mother over his father. And who knows what is going on with the Dawson’s fellow country club member, Marshall Taylor (Will Forte). Enlisting the help of Nazi-loving, arms-dealing, Richard (Mark Boone Junior), the kidnappers’ plan is put into action when Frank leaves for Florida for a business trip and some golf. Wearing shockingly funny masks, Ordell and Louis make their way to Mickey’s home and encounter some complications during the kidnapping. Things go from bad to worse when Frank doesn’t seem all that eager to pay the ransom. He’s got more than business and golf going on. More unforeseen problems come Ordell’s and Louis’ way and how all of this is played out makes for much of the film’s fun.

The cast does Elmore Leonard (to whom “Life of Crime” is dedicated) proud. Aniston, who is also one of the film’s producers, is outstanding as the not so dumb blonde housewife who gets smarter as the film goes along. “Life of Crime” enables her to use both her comedic and dramatic skills and she makes the most of the opportunity. John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey are terrific as the kidnappers with some heart. Bey’s character is the slightly smarter of the two and Bey’s inherent charm makes him so engaging, you almost want him to succeed. Hawkes’ character might not be as smart as Bey’s, but Hawkes manages to make him quite the lovable criminal. Mark Boone Junior as the crazy Richard is fabulous. He has the film’s more violent scenes and you can’t take your eyes off of him when he is in full-berserk mode. Will Forte puts in a good turn as the “friend” who wants to be more. Some of his scenes are out-and-out funny, while others have more pathos to them and he handles them all well. Charlie Tahan, so good in “Love is Strange, has another good turn in this film. Tim Robbins is great as the unconcerned husband and Isla Fisher shines as his girlfriend on the side, Melanie.

“Life of Crime” has a wonderful original, Shaft-like score which suits the film to perfection. The 70s were not pretty times for anyone, and Anna Terrazas‘ costume designs and the film’s makeup department capture the period flawlessly.  The clothes and makeup that Jennifer Aniston is forced to wear…let’s just say she suffers for her art. And outside of the hat that Hawkes wears, the men fare no better.

“Life of Crime” takes one wrong turn in the last third of the film which really feels out of place. This scene could have easily been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have missed it. Thankfully the movie quickly moves on, almost as if it realized the mistake it made and with enough time left before the film’s conclusion, one can focus on the rest of the film and forget about what took place earlier.

“Life of Crime” has a great story with actors more than ready to do it justice. The film reinforces what a great storyteller Leonard Elmore was and makes for a fun afternoon at the movies.

“Life of Crime” is in theatres and available On Demand.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4


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