Movie Review: “I’ll See You in My Dreams”

drms“I’ll See You in My Dreams” has a dream cast — Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, and such supporting players as Mary Kay Place, Malin Akerman and Rhea Pearlman.
It’s got a dreamy plot, about last-chance love, grief and finding that passionate avocation from your distant past.
But it hangs on a screenplay as random as a dream. It drifts to and fro, straining for laughs, leaning too hard on the sparkle provided by its veteran cast, never quite settling on what it wants to say or do.
Danner plays Carol, twenty years a widow, settled in her suburban LA home with her bridge-playing pals (Pearlman, Place, June Squibb of “Nebraska) close by in a nice retirement community. She refuses to move there.
“I don’t like my life too complicated.”
Then, her beloved yellow Labrador Retriever dies — Danner gives this scene a lovely ache. That jolts her to widen her horizons, just a bit.
She flirts and becomes drinking buddies with her pool guy (Martin Starr), an aimless young man with a worthless degree in poetry. They hit the karaoke bar where Carol’s chanteuse past (“Cry Me A River”) pays off.
Speed dating, dabbling in medical marijuana with her pals — easy laughs aimed at an older audience. Or they would be if the scenes had any snap or jokes to them.
Then the tall, swaggering stranger sidles up to Carol in the vitamin aisle and growls, “You don’t need all that. Just right, the way you are.”
Sam Elliott positively twinkles in the role. And Carol, perfectly put together, lets a little blush slip through and a tiny possibility sneak into her thinking.
Co-writer/director Brett Haley’s great coup was in having a script that attracted an A-list of older-than-average actors. The effortlessly stylish and still winsome Danner calls to mind the various Diane Keaton dotage comedies — “Darling Companion,” “And So It Goes,” “5 Flights Up” — still perfectly coiffed in a perfect stiff of a movie.
The moments of grief have very little sting, the laughs die of oxygen deprivation. Malin Akerman, as Carol’s daughter, has nothing to work with aside from a cute wardrobe.
Danner’s performance can be savored for its subtlety, but even that robs the budding romance of its spark. Elliott provokes grins and giggles with every appearance, all drawling charm and “Life’s too short” confidence. He should be a transformative acquaintance for Carol.
But “I’ll See You in My Dreams” wouldn’t dream of anything so overt or delightful.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language

Cast: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Martin Starr, Rhea Pearlman, Mary Kay Place
Credits: Directed by Brett Haley, script by Marc Basch, Brett Haley. A Bleecker Street release.

Running time: 1:32

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Nation Interview: Questions for Lin Shaye and Leigh Whannell?

lsOne created the “Saw” franchise, and as an actor/writer and now director, has “Insidious 3″ coming to theaters. That would be Leigh Whannell.

The other is a veteran actress, a comedy and horror mainstay who learned to laugh at herself with “There’s Something About Mary” and who is Leigh’s heroine in “Insidious 3.”

Lin Shaye’s big break was being the younger sister of New Line Cinema CEO Robert Shaye, but she’s parlayed that into a sort of movie mascot career, dressing up scads of films, from “Jewtopia” and “Ouija” to “Snakes on a Plane” and the upcoming “Helen Keller vs. the Nightwolves.”

Wait, seriously?

Whannell has become a brand name writer of horror, thanks to the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises. He’s still an actor, and his recurring role as “Specs” in the “Insidious” films stands him in good stead. As he becomes a director, I’m curious about the tricks of the trade he’s learned, and Lin’s place within horror fandom.

But how about you? Questions for Leigh and Lin? Comment below, and thanks for the help.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Weekend Movies: Passable reviews for “Pitch Perfect 2,” breathless ones for “Mad Max”

max1A sequel and a reboot dominate the box office. One’s controversial, in some quarters. The other isn’t.

Both are two hours long. Only one of them can justify that length.

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” offers a seriously feminist twist on the George Miller “Road Warrior” myth. It’s not that Tom Hardy’s Max, the ex cop (never really set up in this version) isn’t macho. But the human race’s downfall is traced to men, and its hope is pinned on women, starting with one-armed badass Charlize Theron, as the tanker truck driver who tries to get the “breeding women” of their tribe to safety.

Max just helps.

Men’s Rights groups and assorted conservatives have blanched, but it’s a terrific ride, the movie of the summer, and everybody reviewing without a political ax to grind it says so.

“Pitch Perfect 2″ is a still-tuneful, still occasionally funny sequel to the sleeper hit about Bella a cappella singers, led by Anna Kendrick. She’s more in the background here, making this a two hour Rebel Wilson/Hailee Steinfeld vehicle. Similar number of laughs stretched out over a longer (seems that way) movie. Concept is played, and when you’re dragging David Cross in as an eccentric millionaire a cappella fan who stages sing-offs in his mansion, you know you’re plum out of ideas. A few critics have grabbed onto the film’s (edgy) semi-offensive stereotypes — the Latina singer who puts “white girl problems” into perspective with cliched accounts of a life of trauma, illegal immigration, etc.

I wasn’t crazy about it, and am mystified it got the decent reviews it did. But it smells like a big hit.

How big? Box Office Guru is guessing this beast will swamp “Max.” A $48 million to $44 million win going to “Pitch 2.” That would be something, a big popcorn movie getting thumped by singing sorority sisters. I don’t see it, with “Max” on 150 or so more screens and the films having the same run time. I figure “Max” $45-50, “Pitch,” $38-44.

Indie fare such as “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Time Lapse,” two stiffs in their respective genres, are benefiting from fewer critics weighing in on them with the few who do absurdly enthusiastic for them — perhaps based on film festival screenings. I saw them and found them both yawners.

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Next Interview: Questions for Sam Elliott?

Sam

Sam Elliott has played convincing cowboys, hunky lifeguards, soldiers, artists and assorted men’s men on the big and small screen for the better part of 45 years.

“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”

Want somebody who can out testosterone Nick Offerman in “Parks & Recreation”? Bring in Sam as his opposite number from a nearby town.

Need the living embodiment of the Marlboro Man in “Thank You For Smoking”?  Sam’s your man.

He’s developed a late career twinkle that lifted “The Big Lebowski” into legend, and that sparks the melancholy romance “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which has him pursuing Blythe Danner.  That’s why I’m talking to him today.

Questions for Elliott? Post them as comments below, and thanks for the help.

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”

gettThe Kafkaesque nightmare a woman endures trying to get a divorce in a theocracy is played out, in sometimes comical/often excruciating detail in “Gett: The Trail of Viviane Amsalem.”
This Israeli production, in French and Hebrew with English subtitles, puts its heroine through years of trial by rabbis, who all but refuse to hear her pleas and point of view simply because of her sex.
“Know your place, woman,” the Israeli rabbinical triumvirate barks at her. That’s after Viviane, played by co-writer and director Ronit Elkabetz, has dared to speak out in desperation, fear and fury after years of delays and stonewalling by her long-estranged husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian).
We, of course, have shouted long before then. With every inter-title telling us “two months later” and “three months later,” you want to yell at these sexist pigheaded “judges.”
“Don’t doubt our ability,” they grouse, “granted by both heaven and Earth.”
But we3 do, as does our heroine. Viviane sits and balefully stares at the rabbi brother (Sasson Gabai of “The Band’s Visit”) representing her husband as he questions her character, her nature and the effort she put into a marriage that lasted, she says, 30 unhappy years and produced four children.
Her unobservant lawyer (Menashe Noy) loses his temper, but keeps fighting within the system, as first months and then years go by and Elisha refuses to grant her wish. At every turn, the court claims powerlessness in forcing Elisha to do this. Viviane exhibits the patience of Job as she endures first this tack, then another, from the court and from her husband. Reconcile, bring witnesses who’ve seen the marriage fail, etc.
Since both the court and her husband are working for the husband’s interest, you start to question Viviane’s sanity and piety. Who could stay with a religion that forces a woman to stay in a bad marriage? Who could willingly live in a country where such kangaroo courts exist?
Seriously. And you thought Sharia law was all the women of the liberal West had to fear.
Ronit and her husband Shlomi Elkabetz, in fashioning a sequel to their earlier drama “To Take a Wife,” are slow to reveal the rift that broke the marriage depicted in the  2004 film. But that story, set when the couple lived in Morocco, planted the seeds. He was traditional, and turning more conservative by the day. She strained at the many constraints her religion and her husband’s interpretation of it put on her.
Divorce is rarely “amicable” and rarely pretty, in spite of what people say when the end comes. But the quiet cruelty of a dated system designed to keep women in a form of bondage makes you wonder just how happy the “happiest” marriages in the Holy Land could possibly be. Not with a system this Satanic maintaining them.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, smoking.

Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Menashe Noy, Simon Abkarian, Sasson Gabai
Credits: Written and directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. A Music Box release.

Running time: 1:55

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Time stands still, and not in a good way, in “Time Lapse”

“Time Lapse” is time travel thriller that flatlines, mainly because of the consistently flat performances.
Love, betrayal, confidence games and murder all unfold in this interesting wrinkle on a timeworn plot. But the cast never gets the pulse racing, and the direction never adds the urgency this sort of picture needs to come off.
Finn (Matt O’Leary of “Live Free or Die Hard”) is a painter who serves  as building superintendent for a small bungalow-style apartment complex. He lives with his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker of TV’s “The Flash”) and their pal, Jasper (George Finn).
Their boring lives of work, frustrated ambition and pill-popping  are interrupted when they realize that one of their tenants hasn’t been seen in several days.
They check in on Mr. Bezzerides (John Rhys-Davies, basically edited out of the picture) and stumble across first his collection of Polaroids, and then this huge machine that takes them.
It’s a camera pointed at their apartment window. The wall covered with photos  tells the intimate details of their lives. What’s more, it turns out it develops these pictures before the events in them actually happen.
Time travel by photo? Naturally, the hustler Jasper figures out a way to use that to get rich. Dog racing results. Post them in the window, the camera will capture the winners the day before. Something like that.
“The risk is so minimal, almost non-existent,” Jasper insists. We know he’s wrong, even if we can’t quite figure out how they travel ahead to get the results and post them for the camera to photograph.
Soon complications set in, chief among them the scary bookie (Jason Spisak) who gets suspicious. The trio build their whole existence around the camera. Finn gets over his creative block (his paintings in the photos give him the ideas he never seems to have), Callie can zero in on her dream and Jasper can get rich.
“We’ve gotta do what’s in the photo,” they  decide, otherwise they’re messing with time and the natural course of events. Which of course, they’re already messing with.
Better time travel movies are a dime a dozen, but this intimate indie pic had potential. “Prime”,”Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Project Almanac” had more going for them in terms of plot, but the performances could still have made this work.
But not one threat, not one pointed gun, not one panic-stricken moment when they’re conceiving the cover-up (they find the old scientist/neighbor’s body) is believable.
So time doesn’t travel, it stands still in “Time Lapse.”
1half-star
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, adult situations, drug abuse

Cast: Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn.
Credits: Directed by Bradley King, script by Bradley King and B.P. Cooper. An XLrator Media release.

Running time: 1:42

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Pitch Perfect 2″

pitchWe know Anna Kendrick can sing. And that Rebel Wilson thinks she can.
The”Glee!” phenomenon, with its four-part harmony covers of pop hits, has run its course.
So while the jokes often land and the music is still perfectly in tune, the novelty’s gone from “Pitch Perfect”, the sequel to the surprise hit of 2012. That film that gave Kendrick a brief taste pop stardom and revealed Wilson as a comic with real throw-weight.
But what to do with “Pitch Perfect 2″? More of the same, of course, with the perky Kendrick taking a back to seat to “Fat Amy” and new Barden College “Bella” Emily, played by Hailee “True Grit” Steinfeld. The sequel is a longer movie that feels both overfamiliar and “new but not improved.”
The Bellas have a “wardrobe malfunction” that gets them abruptly drummed out of the acapella organization that sanctions them, snarkily covered by color commentators John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks at events that are “an inspiration for girls, all over the country, who’re too ugly to be cheerleaders.”
Beca (Kendrick) is OK with this, ready to graduate and move on to a job in the music industry, where she already has an internship.
But Chloe (Brittany Snow) and the others aren’t ready to let it go. They want a chance to take on the those Teutonic terrors in tune, Das Sound Machine, at the world championships in Copenghagen.
The Bellas want to “scalp those Deutsche bags!” Maybe they’ll even visit “Hayden Christen Andersen’s House!”Beca would rather help Snoop Dogg with his new Christmas album.
Here’s what works. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen is imperious, towering goddess who leads the German team.
“I really must go rest my neck,” she sneers. “It is sore from looking DOWN on you!”
She’s so stunning that Beca’s counter-insults have no sting — “Your sweat smells like…cinnamin!”
Wilson’s Fat Amy earns a love interest worthy of a solo — Pat Benatar’s “We Belong t0 the Night.”
Snoop is hilariously PG, the creepy Asian girl (Hana Mae Lee) still whispers the most unsettling non-sequitors.
“All my teeth are from other people.”
And the songs, from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to “This is How We Do It” in contests where the categories include singers who “Dated John Mayer,” still pop.
But Steinfeld is a non-starter. More could have been made from her Bella “legacy” mother, Katey “Sons of Anarchy” Sagal.
This sorority in all but name needs more conflict and more pillow fights, all displayed in a much shorter comedy. Eighty minutes worth of laughs feel lost in a 110 minute movie.
Higgins, of Christopher Guest’s comic repertory company, could have used more screen time for his politically-incorrect commentary about the “Lady Boys of the Philipines,” and “This is what happens when you send girls to college.”
And as tired as acapella versions of song made famous by Journey, Natalie Imbruglia and Katy Perry might be, the novel twist “Let’s do an original” just doesn’t work. Unless you’ve got a sure fire hit, which “Perfect 2″ feels like, even if the thrill for the trill is gone.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for innuendo and language

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, Katey Sagal
Credits: Directed by Elizabeth Banks, script by Kay Cannon based on characters created by Mickey Rapkin. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:55

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review — “Mad Max: Fury Road”

max23half-starThe movie of the summer thunders in on 22 armor-spiked wheels, because an 18-wheeler just wouldn’t do on “Fury Road.”
Grim, gruesome and glorious, Mad Max: Fury Road” should send every post-apocalyptic sci-fi hack back to the word processor and every other would-be car picture producer in search of testosterone supplements.
George Miller revisits his most famous franchise in a breathless blast of prophecy that may lack the grace notes and serio-comic humanity of “The Road Warrior.” But his warnings of a social collapse into Jungian archetypes brought on by oil, greed and the Bomb sneaks in during two hours of almost constant battle, torture and chase.
Tom Hardy is Mad Max here, his past sketched in through flashbacks of those he could not save. Now he wanders the wastelands, fending off marauding tribes who covet water, fuel, firearms and food.
Only this Road Warrior is quickly captured, a human “blood bank” for a society whose elite literally transfuse their mutated selves back to life with blood and mass-pumped mother’s milk. It’s a grisly parable of the oligarchs of today, dwarves and skinheads and goiter-ridden freaks preserving themselves and their bloodline at all costs.
The Citadel is ruled by Immortan Joe, who needs oxygen just to carry on his mass breeding experiment in creating healthy offspring even as he enslaves the waterless masses below his mountain fortress.
Charlize Theron is Furiosa, the one-armed War Machine driver who goes rogue, taking Joe’s harem of supermodels (Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley among them) with her. They are fleeing in a gigantic tanker truck to “The Green Place.”
Max is lashed to the hood of one of a fleet of ancient re-purposed Caddys, Corvettes, Barracudas and Mercs, the desert warcraft that Joe leads after the women.
That’s one clever switch that Miller makes in this updating, 34 years after “The Road Warrior.” Women are enslaved for the future they hold, but the toughest of them — Furiosa — is their last, best hope.
“Out here, everything hurts,” she growls. She gets the Road Warrior/Terminator tough-guy lines. You want to live? Stick with me.
The dialogue is as apocalyptic as the desert settings. “I am the SCALES of justice,” one venomous villain bellows, “CONDUCTOR of the chorus of death!”
Hardy is more a physical presence than a soulful one. His Max is haunted, like Furiosa, in search of “redemption.” He is a simple man of action, visceral, blood-spattered action. But the film’s feminist underpinnings render him more a catalyst than savior.
Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is the true believer disciple of Immortan Joe, spray-painting his grin with chromium paint, a religious fanatic ready to go out in glory and secure his place in Valhalla.
It’s exhausting and exhilarating, with only a couple of emotional deaths amidst the mayhem and gore. There’s a whole Cirque du Soleil slaughter to some sequences, with real stunts and real vehicles doing real crashes for the most part. It’s a moving, visual experience, where dialogue is often in an indecipherable Aussie/Future/pidgin patois and not necessary to understand what is happening, and what will happen.

But from its first frame to its last, “Fury Road” lets Miller — whose “Babe” and “Happy Feet” were just as prophetic — puts the Mad back into Max and the madness back into our headlong rush to doom.

max1
MPAA Rating: R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images

Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough
Credits: Directed by George Miller, script by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:00

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Movie Review: These “Animals” are junkies who eat, prey and love

ani1Bobbie flirts with the clerk while Jude pilfers CDs. Jude keeps their ancient Oldsmobile running while Bobbie scams a would-be John thinking she’s a hooker.
They live in their car, drifting from hustle to theft — swiping presents from wedding receptions, pocketing pills from the clinic where they get sick.
The only time these two lovebirds bicker is over the allocation of their drugs.
“He says it’s strong, so go easy.”
“He always says that.”
They’re “Animals,” addicts whose plans never extend beyond where they can get their next fix, and how they can get the money to score. They eat, prey, love, and shoot-up.
David Dastmalchian wrote and co-stars in this generic but well-acted trip down junky lane. His Jude is pale and cadaverous, but obviously too smart for this life he has chosen.
Bobbie (Kim Shaw, excellent) is pretty enough to pimp out, but willing to go on these “dates” only to slip out with the money before anything transpires.
The dialogue is hip and philosophical, but the jargon of this world hasn’t changed in decades, the arc of the story rarely surprising and the situations are never heightened to the point where we genuinely fear for the fun couple.
Fun? They kick back in the Olds, watching the square lives of square people play out in apartment windows. They’re planning a road trip. Only they aren’t.
They dream of skinny dipping somewhere. But the demands of their addiction get in the way.
As they prey on one and all, the title’s name for them seems apt — “Animals.” But these zoo-and-nature-documentary-obsessed 20somethings are animal-like in an even more important way. They live totally in the moment. “Plans?” Those are for everybody else.

We know, from the first time we see them, what they’ve become. The driving force of “Animals” is our wondering if and when they’ll see that.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic drug use, threats of violence, nudity, sexual situations, profanity

Cast:  David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw, John Heard
Credits: Directed by Collin Schiffli, script by David Dastmalchian. An Oscilloscope Laboratories release.

Running time: 1:26

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Where Hope Grows”

hope1“Where Hope Grows” is a sometimes moving and generally watchable melodrama about a drunken ex-ballplayer who finds purpose and a friend back in his home town.
But unlike most faith-based films, it isn’t a church that saves him, a pastor or devout Christian who shows him the way. It’s a teen with Down Syndrome.
The kid’s nicknamed Produce, thanks to his job at the local supermarket. That’s where Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha) stumbles into him. Calvin’s a single-dad whose teen daughter (McKaley Miller) is making bad choices, but he’s typically too tipsy to notice. He’s adrift, bitter about his lost career, refusing to look for a new one.
And then he creates a “Cleanup on aisle three.”
“I just trampled on one of your vegetables, ” he tells the kid.
“A tomato is a fruit,” Produce corrects him.
Produce is in the habit of hugging people he’s just met. And Calvin is struck by Produce’s in-the-moment optimism.
“I’m doing good. Even when I’m doing bad, I’m doing good.”
Calvin lets himself befriend Produce, and even though he resists the kid’s invitations to church, his always positive attitude starts to rub off.
And some of Calvin’s edge rubs off with it.
“Where Hope Grows” is straight melodrama, with daughter Katie’s jerk boyfriend (Michael Grant) nagging her about sex, Calvin pondering whether to get into AA (twelve step meetings are the movies’ easiest lump in the throat moment) and Produce straining to show “how smart” he is, and his true worth.
It’s all fairly routine, even if there’s a moment of violence, a hint of profanity, a little drinking and an unfaithful wife (Danica McKellar of “The Wonder Years,” the biggest name in the cast). But it works, here and there, and Polaha is perfectly believable as an ex-jock and ex-jerk who lets a little child lead him out of the darkness.

1half-star
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic issues involving drinking and teen sexuality, and for brief language and an accident scene

Cast: Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, McKaley Miller, Michael Grant, Danica McKellar
Credits: Written and directed by Chris Dowling. A Roadside Attractions release.

Running time: 1:35

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | 4 Comments