Movie Review: Big names don’t quite rescue “Mothers and Daughters”

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As much as we all love “discovering” fresh, new talent, there’s something to be said for casting your film with, if you can, movie stars.

They understand, perhaps intuitively, something about the camera, how to leap through the lens, make us forget every other role they’ve played and connect.

Movie star moments light up the otherwise drab ensemble melodrama “Mothers and Daughters,” a soapy serial about a wide range of somewhat inter-connected mothers and daughters and how they relate.

Mira Sorvino, playing a designer of “haute couture brassieres,” will make you a little moist-eyed.

And Susan Sarandon, as a mom still supporting the daughter who can’t be bothered to visit home, will stick with you for laying a little mother-daughter wisdom on us all.

“I needed to have you to teach me to be a daughter to MY mother.”

Christina Ricci and Courteney Cox have too few scenes to make an impact, Sharon Stone, Eva Amurri Martino, Alexandra Daniels and Selma Blair play assorted mothers and daughters (and both) in the film, which covers a lot of variations on motherhood/daughterhood in its 91 minutes.

One woman has just found out she wasn’t raised by her mother, and that her “sister” isn’t exactly her sister. That sister is dealing with some big-time guilt.

Another is living off mom’s cash, supporting her cupcake chef-to-be boyfriend but keeping mom at a distance for some long-ago offense.

Another mother is trying to figure out why her Princeton-educated daughter is waiting tables. That daughter is coping with a dying friend.

One is about to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption long before.

And one woman’s a careerist who discovers she’s pregnant and has to decide what to do.

Paige Cameron’s script attracted two Oscar winners and some pretty big names, but director Paul Duddridge (TV’s “McKenna”) delivers a movie that emotionally flatlines through this material.

Every intersection had the characters take the road more soapy — terminal illnesses, terminal grievances, sexy OB-GYNs, an “abortion” choice that the movies long ago lost the courage to make.

The stories don’t give any of the mother-daughter pairings enough screen time. Cox looks as if she needed a few more weeks off for whatever procedure that’s frozen/deadened her facial muscles to wear off. She looks like a “Real Housewife,” with the plastic to prove it. It’s worth mentioning because it’s distracting enough to make you wince.

mothers2Ricci, Sorvino and Blair have been criminally under-employed for years. But there’s little here to make Hollywood make amends for that.

There’s one funny line — “You’re a straight guy who wants to sell pastries in lower Manhattan. Not exactly a slam-dunk.”

Otherwise, “Mothers and Daughters” is drabness on the screen personified, a “Lifetime Original Movie” too unoriginal for Lifetime to want anything to do with it.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic elements and brief drug use

Cast: Selma Blair, Susan Sarandon, Mira Sorvino, Christina Ricci, Sharon Stone, Courteney Cox, Eva Amurri Martino
Credits: Directed by Paul Duddridge, script by Paige Cameron. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:31

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Movie Review: “Special Correspondents” on Netflix

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Suspension of disbelief is maybe the most important ingredient in drama — on film, stage or TV. We need to believe the characters, the situations, in order to empathize with those characters and lose ourselves in the story.

That one most important building block is missing from the frankly half-arsed Ricky Gervais farce, a “Netflix Original Movie” “Special Correspondents.”

Never, for one moment, does anything in this resemble radio news reporting the way it is now or has ever been. Gervais plainly did zero homework.

Never for one moment to we believe the swaggering rogue reporter at an obscenely-over-equipped New York station. We don’t believe Eric Bana is a reporter. We don’t believe this operation, which includes the given-nothing-to-do co-stars Kevin Pollack and Kelly Macdonald.

We might be almost amused by the caricatured Latino restaurant owners played by America Ferrara and Raul Castillo. But we don’t believe them, either.

It’s all a lie, a joke with a feeble set-up and pathetic thud of a payoff. What’s hardest to believe is that Gervais kept his name on this abortion. But excising it would have been tricky.

Writer-director-co-star Gervais, playing a loser-producer who loses his and his reporter’s tickets and passports to a war zone, decides to “fake” going to Ecuador, using “sound environments” (sound effects) to pretend to be in a tropical war zone. Bana’s star reporter character, wanting to save his job, goes along with it.

“You need to grow a pair,” Frank Bonneville (Bana) snaps.

“What, breasts?” poor Ian, whose wife has just left him, asks.

That’s the caliber of jokes here. Perhaps Gervais needed a beer or three (Golden Globes hosting) or to script this the way he writes those burning, pithy tweets that light up the Internet.

Ian and Frank hole up in their favorite Mexican restaurant. They get the owners to shout things in Spanish in the background of jungle birds, gunfire and helicopters sound effects Ian conjures up.

“Real Madrid!” “Julio Iglesias!”

Amazingly, knowing little about the country, and not having anyone on scene in INTERVIEW — that magic thing that radio and sometimes TV reporters do to PROVE they’re in a place and actually REPORTING there — their boss (Pollack) buys into it.

So they get bolder, inventing facts that no one actually there (Benjamin Bratt plays a TV reporter) can easily disprove.

Vera Farmiga plays Ian’s wife and has a delightfuly snappy flirtation/seduction with Bonneville/Bana.

Aside from her,  there’s nothing to recommend this at all. Poor Macdonald only showed up to practice doing an American accent.

Gervais fans may be willing to bend over backwards to allow his special comic genius to finally reveal itself, but to no avail. A guy whose hosting gigs and nuclear Twitter put- downs are legendary has nothing to say about media, love, marriage, integrity or anything else here. Nothing at all, much less anything funny.

His character fakes going to Ecuador to cover a story. Gervais fakes caring about character, jokes or doing the work to make “Special Correspondents” come off.

He’s never made a worse film. And topping that, he’s never made a lazier one.

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MPAA Rating: TV MA, profanity, sexual situations

Cast: Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais, America Ferrara, Vera Farmiga,  Kelly Macdonald, Benjamin Bratt, Raul Castillo
Credits: Written and directed by Ricky Gervais. A Netflix original release.

Running time: 1:49

 

 

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Emma and Steve and Billie Jean and Bobby

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Damn. That’s on the money. Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carrell as Bobby Riggs? The middle of the Glory Days of American Tennis, and a tennis match that turned into the Shot for Equality Heard Round the world.    “Battle of the Sexes” is due out next year.

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Box Office: Another HUGE weekend for “Jungle Book,” “Keanu” stumbles, “Mother’s Day” bombs

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Any prayer “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” ever had of making a dime is over. Finished. Finito.

Second weekend of release,Second weekend of release, the most unnecessary sequel of the still-new year is plunging more than 50%, after a weak opener.

“The Jungle Book” is racking up another $38-40 million this weekend, yet another win for Disney’s latest “Disney Version” of  Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories. Sometime Monday afternoon, it’ll clear $250 million. 

“Keanu” might have done better had it taken the brand-friendly title “The Key & Peele Movie.” PRobably wouldn’t have helped. Just a cable hit, after all. A modest one.

But the movie is doing $9 million or so this weekend. Not great for a funny, well-received R-rated comedy with a very cute cat. Less than one million tickets sold.

“Mother’s Day” may be the end of the line for Garry Marshall’s “all star” romantic comedies. Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston couldn’t bring’em in. About $7-8 million is all they’ll manage. Awful reviews didn’t help.

I blame JAson Sudeikis. For everything.

“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” couldn’t crack the top ten. Not in a lot of theaters, but it should have managed more than $1300 per screen. Eviscerated by the critics. Including me. 

Nobody bothered reviewing “Ratchet & Crank,” cut-rate animation, thanks to the studio’s lack of confidence. They didn’t screen it. A few reviews are out now. You don’t have to see it to tell it sucks, and that goes for the audience as well as critics. About $5 million on a LOT of screens.

“Zootopia” and “Batman v. Superman” are both closing in on $325 million, domestic, for those keeping score at home.

 

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Weekend Reviews: “Keanu” clicks, “Mother’s Day” and “Hemingway” don’t

Mother2A couple of pictures going into wide release this weekend are earning widespread endorsements.

A couple of others, not so much.

“Keanu” is mostly for fans of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” sketch-comedy series. It’s a sloppily-plotted, violent, hit-or-miss R-rated farce. It hits more than it misses, largely thanks to the whole metrosexual-dad-dealing-with-gang members thing that Keegan-Michael Key plays so well.

And it’s got the cutest kitten (many stunt kittens) ever to appear on the big screen. So it works and gets endorsed by most reviewers.

“Green Room” is the best thriller of the new year, a sort-of horror movie without zombies, supernatural slashers or alien monsters. A rock band gets trapped backstage at a Nazi skinhead club. Rave reviews for “Green Room.”

It goes into wider release this weekend, and opens in Orlando at the Enzian.

Garry Marshall’s latest “all-star” slab of sloppy sentiment, “Mother’s Day,” won’t do much for discerning filmgoers. It’ll almost certainly draw a big crowd. Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston have their fans. Jason Sudeikis has his…never mind.

Critically trashed, up and down the line. Nuked.

“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” is a maudlin, malnourished melodrama that was shot in Cuba — the first “Hollywood feature” filmed there since Castro’s revolution. A nice sense of place, a sloppy, anachronism-packed set-dressing that occasionally spoils the “moment in time,” and an unimpressive Papa ruin it. Terrible reviews for this one. 

In limited release, Jason Bateman’s adaption of the novel “The Family Fang” gets a pass from critics. We love J. Bates. I found the movie heartless and almost pointless, though. 

 

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Movie Review: “Sing Street”

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If  you’re a filmmaker, chances are you’re going to be shoved into a pigeon-hole. Your best hope is to find a fun, comfy one and maybe make the best of it.

John Carney’s “first, best destiny,” as Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” might put it, is making street musicals. “Once” was the musical movie epitome of romantic longing, love expressed through music when no other outlet is open to you. Even “Begin Again” crackled with music-at-the-moment-of-creation life.

“Sing Street” is the latest delight he’s added to his pigeon-hole, a infectious, effervescent coming-of-age comedy about Irish lads trying to make their mark during rock/pop’s “New Romantics” era. All because the lead singer has a crush on an older woman.

Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) should never have set eyes on her. But his parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aiden Gillen) are fighting over money, so it’s no more Jesuit school for him. He’s off to Synge Street’s cut-rate Catholic school chaos, administered by bullies, with bullies-in-training filling the ranks of its students.

A pretty and posh boy like him will never fit in, which is why Conor makes up and sings songs, to drown his sorrows and mask the racket of his parents’ matches.

But Raphina gets his Irish eyes smiling. On an impulse, he offers to put this pouty, 16-year-old would-be model in a music video. It’s Dublin. It’s 1985. U2 did it. How hard can it be?

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The ginger haired squirrel Darren (Ben Carolan), a hustler-in-the-making, will be their manager. He takes Conor straight to the Master of All Instruments Eamon (Mark McKenna). Darren insists they bring on the only “golliwog” (Irish racist for “black guy”) in school (Percy Chamburuka) on as keyboardist. A couple of other kids join in.

And they call themselves “Sing Street,” a pun on the name of their school.

Naturally, there’s an older, music-loving brother, given a fine stoner-bluster by Jack Reynor of “A Royal Night Out.”  He’s a wise, but aimless drop-out, and he pulls out records and pushes Conor in the right direction — Hall & Oates, yes. Genesis? God, no.

“Rock and roll is a risk. You risk being made a fool of.”

The girl has a boyfriend. But he’s into Genesis. No problem.

Raphina (Lucy Boynton) makes a fine muse, with her Sheena Easton hair and ’80s Madonna-wear. She prods the lovestruck kid to learn the “happy sad” state of mind that makes a great pop song.

So the boys drop their attempts at covering Duran Duran and Conor, renamed “Cosmo” by Raphina, writes songs with Eamon. Raphina also plays around with his look. He’s already been picked on for being “gay” by his hateful classmates. One day, he’s John Taylor from Duran Duran. The next, Rick Astley. Can A Flock of Seagulls be far behind?

Carney tosses in a little Catholic sadism (Don Wycherly plays the brutish priest in charge of the anarchic school) and the obligatory bullied-kid-turned-bully-himself (Ian Kenny).

Truthfully, all Carney was going for here was a sort of “Commitments” lite, even casting Kennedy from that 1991 Alan Parker hit as Conor’s mom.

Thus, “Sing Street” skips through many of the tropes of such musicals, and gives short shrift to every character save for the three at the very center of the story — Conor, Raphina and Brendan.

The ’80s Golden Age of Music Videos/New Romantics Era setting is strictly for costume kitsch value and upbeat pop for the lads to draw their inspiration from.

But the tunes, co-written by Carney, are catchy, sweet and fun. And the kids’ under-polished performance of them (and DIY videos) add to the charm.

So even though “Sing Street” covers familiar ground, its director knows how to make his pigeon-hole adorable. The address’s charms win you over in the end.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking

Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Mark McKenna, Aiden Gillen
Credits: Written and directed by John Carney. A Weinstein Co. release.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Review: “The Family Fang”

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There’s a world-weary misanthropy than runs through child-star turned adult comic actor and director Jason Bateman’s work. And that trademark “I have no you-and-I-no-whats left to give” permeates “The Family Fang,” his second feature film as director/co-star.

But that pose’s shortcomings as an ethos, a way of looking at the world, weigh-down this smart but half-hearted farce, based on a Kevin Wilson novel.

It’s about this quartet of professional performance art pranksters — parents who enlisted/coerced their kids in their stunts, from an early age, in the name of “art.”

They’d fake a bank robbery, and Baxter, whom his folks (Kathryn Hahn plays the younger version of his mother, Jason Butler Harner his father) call “Child B,” would pass the note to the teller, pull out the gun and fire the shot that brings the “robbery” to its climax.

Child A, or Annie, would be the weeping daughter of an “innocent victim” hit by the stray bullet. Convincingly.

Or the kids would be folk singing buskers, singing “Kill your parents” to appreciative audience. Appreciative, save for two hecklers (the parents).

Dad would secretly videotape the gags, and do the reveal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let this be your trumpet call. Life is sweet, so taste it while you can.”

That is one messed up childhood. The proof is in their adulthood. They look like successes.

Annie is a mercurial, “indie cinema darling” and loner with impulse-control issues.

Baxter is also a loner, a would-be author with writer’s block, a sometime journalist with his own warped view of stunts and what the real world can actually do to you when they go wrong.

A magazine feature he’s writing on redneck potato-gun buffs goes wrong and his long-estranged parents (now played by Christopher Walken and Maryanne Plunkett) are summoned. He summons Annie from a movie set where she’s just stirred up the tabloids with her reaction to an unscripted nude scene sprung upon her by the pervy director.

Annie and Baxter discover parents who have lost their way. It’s impossible to stand out with their elaborately planned, supposedly socially-conscious stunts, in the youtube era of viral videos of accidents, stunts-gone-wrong and cute kittens.

The kids should rejoin the team, “just like old times.” But the kids aren’t having it.

That’s when their parents disappear. Another stunt? Or are they dead? The siblings disagree about that.

Bateman dials down his already low-key slow-burn under-reactions, but never gives a hint of the man who is working out a way of turning his broken past into an asset, that he’s absorbed the lessons of his parents’ “art.”

“If you’re in control, then the chaos will happen around you and not TO you.”

Kidman works up to a fine but somewhat under-motivated fury.

Truthfully, this doesn’t really go anywhere. Unlike “Bad Words,” Bateman’s acrid world-hating comedy about a grown man competing in spelling kids’ spelling bees, there’s no hilarity in the set-ups, no pathos in the payoff.

Screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the play Kidman’s somber “Rabbit Hole” was based on, but also the book to “Shrek” stage musical, and several humorless scripts (“Poltergeist,” “Inkheart,” “Rise of the Guardians”). He doesn’t give anybody anything pointed to say or do.

And Bateman’s “Life, are you kidding me?” instincts, which have served him so well as an adult, work against “The Family Fang.” Viewers, it turns out, have to have a f— left to give for a movie to work.

Maybe it’s nothing more than some sort of demon worth exorcising. It’s a telling film selection for a former child star with a child-star sibling to make. Kids “used” by their stage-managing parents grow up a bit messed up.

But as intriguing as that is to think about, “Family Fang” doesn’t work, even  as onscreen therapy.

2stars1

MPAA Rating:R for some language

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Christopher Walken, Maryanne Plunkett, Harris Yulin
Credits: Directed by Jason Bateman, script by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the Kevin Wilson novel . A release.

Running time: 140

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Will Ferrell as…Ronald Reagan?

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The comedy, Variety reports, will be about the late president’s second term, when “I don’t recall,” “I don’t remember” replaced “mistakes were made” and that ever-cupped hand to his ear, unable to hear Sam Donaldson’s shouts over the chopper motor noise.

Will Ferrell will produce and star in this comedy, which is about an intern helping convince the out-of-it- C in C that he is “playing the president in a movie.”

Which, as Donald Trump has said, is all the job really requires. “It’s easy.”

Needless to say, the loud but ever-shrinking Reagan Generation fans are outraged. 

Because Ferrell, after all, has already mocked one former president on the small screen and on stage.And Reagan had Alzheimer’s.

But some of the outrage is a step behind the times. Those posts “They’d never dare do one on Ted Kennedy,” missed this news about Jason Clarke and the Chappaquiddick wreck/tragedy/scandal.

 

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“The Jungle Book” — the magic of green screen revealed

This is Disney approved footage, narrated by Jon Favreau, showing some of how they conjured up the Magic of Mowgli mingling with talking animals for the film.

Even less of it is “real” than you realized.

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Movie Review: Key and Peele risk it all for “Keanu”

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Comedy Central phenoms Key and Peele and the cutest kitten ever put on the big screen team up for “Keanu,” a bullet-riddled, laugh-out-loud “gangsta”farce.

It’s wildly uneven, rather like their TV series (Jordan Peele and series director Peter Atencio scripted it). And it is wincingly violent, with some of the John Woo-style slo-mo shootouts going on too long and spilling too much blood.

But the chemistry is still there, the banter between the bald, bug-eyed, high-maintenance metrosexual Keegan Michael Key (left, above) and the slow-burning Peele still zings.

Those versions of their personas are on display in this comedy, about an LA stoner, Rell (Peele) and his married, one-kid and Honda Minivan cousin, Clarence (Key).

We meet Rell, mid-bong hit. He’s lost his girlfriend and is feeling sorry for himself. But then this cat shows up at his door.

We’ve met the kitten first. He was a drug lord’s pet, the lone survivor of a shoot-out in the abandoned church turned drug lab. And he is irresistible.

Rell devotes himself to this cuter-than-cute kitten, names him “Keanu,” poses him in shadowbox movie scenes (See Keanu in “Reservoir Dogs,””Point Break,” etc.) and just generally dotes on the critter that gives him reason to live.

Then the kitten is catnapped, probably a mistake, as Rell’s drug dealer (Will Forte, a stitch in cornrows) lives next door. Rell is livid and on a mission. The buttoned-down Clarence, a “team-building” coach, in his Minivan Dad-clothes, wearing his George Michael fandom out loud and proud, is dragged along on a trip to the dark side.

But getting that cat back is going to be tricky. Everybody who meets him, from thugs to cops, falls for Keanu the kitten.

Peele may do the writing, but Key is the truly hilarious one here. Clarence is the ultimate fish-0ut-of-water. They have to look “hard” when mingling with the gangsters who stand between them and the cat. Rell figures he can fake it. But Clarence isn’t keen on slinging the N-word around “shiftlessly,” just to pass.

Facial tattoos prompt a “God gave you ONE face, why would you change it?”

His eyes bug out and the N-bombs tumble out of his mouth, inventing gang slang as he does.

“Word to Big Bird…Wordness to the turdness.”

Clarence convinces gang bangers that George Micheal is black — “George Michael is holding it DOWN.”And both of them try to look capable of just about anything.

It’s a movie with scattered moments of humor and the occasional Big Comic Idea, starting with the cat, a cute running gag.

Anna Faris plays a drug-buying, samurai sword-swinging version of herself.

“I was in ‘Scary Movie’ 1, 2, 3 and 4. Not 5! Too old!”

A drug hallucination becomes the highlight of the film.

Whenever the movie runs out of ideas, which is often, Key is there to amp up the bug-eyed intensity to hold us over until something funny happens. Just as he did on the equally uneven TV show.

It’s not up to the lowdown level of “Pineapple Express,” which was kind of the idea. It’s just not gonzo enough, not as brisk or out there, not as overloaded with funny supporting players. (Method Man and Luis Guzman play gangleaders).

“Pineapple Express” had Seth Rogen and Danny McBride. But it didn’t have the world’s most adorable kitten. Keanu the cat helps “Keanu” the movie get over and get by, a passable comedy from a team that needs a little more outside help to make the big score.

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MPAA Rating:R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity

Cast: Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Method Man, Nia Long, Anna Faris, Luis Guzman, Tiffany Haddish
Credits: Directed by Peter Atencio, script by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens. A Warner Brothers/New Line release.

Running time: 1:38

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