“Baby Driver” proves there’s life after “Divergent” and “Mad Men”

The luminous Shailene Woodley was always going to find work after the abortive “Divergent” divergence. A blatant cut-and-paste “Hunger Games” knockoff, it didn’t even come to term.

She’s on HBO’s “Big Little Lies” opposite Oscar winners Reese and Nicole and the great Laura Dern.

But co-star Ansel Elgort? Soft spoken, sweet-faced Ansel? Perfectly cast as a guy named “Baby.”

“Baby Driver” is another getaway driver thriller with Elgort in the title role. Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx are the bad guys who need his services. Lily James is the waitress he’d love to “take away from all this.”

It’s an August movie, so low expectations.

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Movie Review: Broadbent shimmers at the center of “The Sense of an Ending”

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It doesn’t help “The Sense of an Ending” when we see that ending from a mile off.

It is a mystery, after all, meant to maintain a certain level of suspense, promising a surprise.

But it’s not a fatal flaw in this often captivating “character study “that lives up to that description. Characters are studied, and their character is judged — misjudged at first and second glance.

And captivating? That’s Oscar winner Jim Broadbent‘s turn in the lead role.

Tony Webster is semi-retired, a divorced self-absorbed semi-grump who runs an antique camera shop and barely tolerates the customers who waste his time.

He gets on well enough with his lawyer ex-wife (Harriet Walker), and is sort-of present in the life of their pregnant daughter (Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey”), who is about to embark on single-motherhood.

But a letter from his past upends his equilibrium. It’s from the late mother (Emily Mortimer) of a girlfriend of his youth. It hints at affairs of the past, unresolved relationships and a tragedy. And it is supposed to come with the diary of a college pal. Only that long-ago girlfriend refuses to surrender what her mother bequeathed Tony.

Something about all this “memento of long ago” has Tony agitated — in that mild-mannered, insistent English way. His ex-wife is curious. So he starts relating the story of his past, the old girlfriend (Freya Mavor), the old chum (Joe Alwyn), letting drips and drops of it come out, filtered by time, filled by false clues, augmented by flashbacks.

Director Ritesh Batra lets us see images of a tub, a line of razor blades, and blood. There are flirtations, a memorable weekend with the girlfriend’s family, examples of the cleverness and sensitivity of that friend in school, memories of their teacher (Matthew Goode). Batra doesn’t so much give away the mystery as spoon-feed the clues, weighting the real with the false equally, hoping we don’t guess and get ahead of her. Which we do.

ending1 Walker makes a properly curious and cagey foil for Broadbent. What is Tony not telling his ex? Is he a reliable witness?

Charlotte Rampling gives an icy old age to Veronica, the aloof and dismissive girlfriend of long ago. And Dockery manages to turn a set-dressing supporting role into something slightly meatier.

But it is Broadbent, who refuses to make Tony broad or easy to read, who holds the floor, here. He suggests the self-righteousness memory affords us, perhaps protecting us from some unpleasant memory or cruel truth about ourselves we’d rather forget. It’s a performance of light shadings, hidden motives, injury and guilt.

He’s as marvelous as he always is in playing it.

And even though this “ending” is a lot less surprising than it must have been on the pages of Julian Barnes’ novel, Broadbent humanizes the mystery and makes us care long past the point where we’ve solved it.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery, Harriet Walker
Credits: Directed by Ritesh Batra, written by Nick Payne, based on the Julian Barnes novel. A CBS Films release.
Running time: 1:48

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Movie Review: Shirley MacLaine always gets “The Last Word”

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Shirley MacLaine has made a wonderful curmudgeon in her dotage. That covers pretty much every movie since “Terms of Endearment.”

“Bernie” was something of a high-water mark in this third act of her storied career, playing a woman so unpleasant a whole town is reluctant to punish her adorable murderer.

So “The Last Word” is no more of a stretch than say, “Guarding Tess,” which had her playing a reviled former First Lady back in 1994.

The idea was to throw Shirley, as a somewhat hip, very self-aware old lady facing her twilight with a determination to control things to the end — including her small town paper’s obituary — and Amanda Seyfried as that bullied obit writer, and just profanity to earn an R-rating (give it some AARP-approved “edge”) and let this Force of Nature make it all worthwhile.

She almost does. But this cutesie collection of confrontations, musical montages and half-based homilies about it’s “never too late” to make your life matter lets her down.

Harriet Lawler ran a local advertising agency in her younger days. She must have been a terror. Because nobody still there has anything nice to say about her.

Her ex-husband (Philip Baker Hall) is more circumspect. “Control is very IMPORTANT to her.”

Her Japanese gardener (Gedde Watanabe, in a role out of the 1940s), her hairdresser (Sarah Baker), even her gynecologist (“the angriest vagina this side of China”) can attest to that.

Her estranged daughter (Anne Heche) won’t even comment.

But those opinions, that view, just won’t do. Which is why the lonely, bitter Harriet insists that her Bristol, California’s best obituary writer (Seyfried) get on the job now, and write one that suits Harriet.

The researching part is amusing enough, with young Anne realizing who “put the ‘bitch’ in obituary.” But Harriet, who has her suicidal moments, has a solution. She’s analyzed Anne’s obits, and those of others, and summarizes the form thusly.

Every obituary says that the deceased was “loved by their family.” They were “admired” by colleagues and business associates. They “touched someone’s life unexpectedly.”

And then there’s “the wild card,” what journalists would call the “hook.” It’s that quirky, unexpected something that makes reading about someone’s life a pleasure.

Harriet and Anne set out to find those four ingredients, manufacturing them if they have to.

Seyfried gives Anne a casual, coarse informality that the hard-drinking (and capable of cursing) Harriet pretends to find grating. MacLaine is properly imperious, flinty and mean.

But the things these two have to put across are just cut-and-paste adorable, knocking the life right out of the money. The “hooligan” moppet whose life Harriet decides to “touch in an unexpected way” (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) screams “CHILD ACTOR” in all the worst ways. “At-risk kid” never crosses or mind.

The idea that elderly Harriet, with seemingly a very limited record collection (The Kinks are the octogenarian’s fave), can bully her way into a drive-time job on the local alternative/college radio station is cute, but a stretch.

Rapprochement with her estranged relations makes for scenes that go nowhere.

But the stars play believable story arcs, and Seyfried never lets herself or Anna seem cowed or awed by the Great MacLaine. And Tom Everett Scott (newspaper editor eager to please) and Joel Murray (former employee of Harriet’s) make solid impressions.

It’s no use wishing “The Last Word” had come out better. But with plenty of examples of failed-films aimed at an older audience to compare it to, an “I’ve seen worse” makes for some consolation.

2stars1

 

 

 

MPAA Rating: R for language.
Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Everett Scott, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Heche, AnnJewel Lee Dixon
Credits: Directed by Mark Pellington, written by Stuart Ross Fink. A Bleecker St. release.
Running time: 1:48

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“Wonder Woman” origin trailer raises hopes that Amazon.bombshell will deliver

Of course, that’s how they get you. Warners/DC anyway. They manage the hype fine, but their comic book movies, of late, have been miss, miss-or-hit, or worse. Keeping expectations low wasn’t an option, I guess. The actress is still more a dazzling, physically fit model who can handle the fight choreography, and some of the dialogue makes one wish they’d brought in somebody for a polish.

But as we never get World War I movies with this sort of budget, let’s expect good things this June.

 

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Box Office: “Kong” crunches “Logan,” “Get Out” about to pass “Fifty Shades”

kong1Warner Brothers managed the near impossible — hurling a bunch of respected character actors, including an Oscar winner, at a giant monkey that has been filmed to death — and made money on it.

A $52 million opening weekend take for a movie that bashes the Vietnam Era US military, tries to lift Brie Larson out of Indie filmdom and lets Tom Hiddleston take a stab at playing an action hero? Call that a win. I found the effects impressive but the “Apocalypse Now” riff grating and a stretch. But no matter. Most reviewers swooned over “Skull Island,” and audiences have bought in.

“Logan,” which got even better and better deserved reviews, fell off quite a bit on its second weekend. A $36 million take, if Saturday and Sunday don’t turn it around. Not bad, but not epic. Fox was wise to get out of the Wolverine business when it did.

“Get Out” continues to be the phenomenon of this late winter, doing another $21 (projections were around $18-19). It’ll be over $111 by Monday AM, and will pass Universal’s other Feb. hit, “Fifty Shades Darker” by late in the week.

Teenagers are barely getting around to “Before I Fall,” but it held audience on its second weekend. Kids these days. Another $3 million, anyway.

“Table 19” is fading away, “Moonlight” will make another million or so and then head to video — about $27-28 million in total for a Best Picture winner. Not great.

 

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Movie Preview: “Atomic Blonde” delivers guns, sex, Queen and Charlize Theron

So it’s “John Wick” meets “Lucy,” James Bond finally played by a woman, and Charlize Theron the toughest she’s been since “Fury Road.”

“Atomic Blonde” (unrestricted trailer below) co-stars John Goodman, James McAvoy and Toby Jones, features a leggy, strip-when-she-needs-to gay heroine, and lots and lots of violence. Oh yes.

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Movie Preview: Gerard Butler, Abbie Cornish, JimSturgess and Ed Harris face Futuredoom in “Geostorm”

 

This October, Warner Brothers finds a new way to Apocalypse. Technologically manipulated weather. Check out the multi-national cast. Got to cash those Chinese checks, make that Middle Eastern moolah. Smart. Because this needs all the international help it can get.

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Box Office: Will “Kong” club “Logan?”

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It’s the second weekend for the last hurrah of The Wolverine. But “Logan” has some beefy competition this time around. So anything like a 50% drop off from “Logan” leaves the door open for “Kong: Skull Island.”

“Get Out” is holding more than 50% weekend to weekend — a slow drop off, rather than fall off the cliff precipitous. So “Logan,” riding great reviews and a lot of fan interest, could win another weekend. I don’t sense the world is craving another King Kong movie, this one an “Apocalypse Now” homage.

Box Office Mojo figures that $46 million is coming Kong’s way, and that should better “Logan” on its second weekend.

But the Box Office Guru thinks “Kong” will top out closer to $40 million and will lose to “Logan.”

Either way, “Get Out” should make another $20 million.

 

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Movie Review: Creepy, comical cult exposed–again– in “My Scientology Movie”

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British TV presenter Louis Theroux and a BBC crew set out to be the latest to “expose” the religion-as-pyramid-scheme Scientology with “My Scientology Movie.”

Not that everybody doesn’t know that. As “shocking” subjects for documentaries go, the buy-your-way-into-a-sci-fi-writer’s idea of “immortality” cult is strictly low-hanging fruit.

And no, I’m not talking about its most famous celebrity adherents.

Theroux, — cousin of actor and Jennifer Astin hubby Justin, son of “Mosquito Coast” writer Paul — latches onto a couple of disaffected ex-members of the IAS (International Association of Scientologists), “apostates” who know where the bodies are buried.

He shows up with a camera crew at the group’s infamous “Gold Base,” a celebrity paradise/non-celebrity dungeon in Riverside, California. Like the thin-skinned current occupant of the White House, the Church always takes the bait — leading to familiar confrontations, threats, showing up with a camera demanding that he leave. Seen that before, too.

But what’s novel here is that Theroux and director John Dower know they’ll never get Tom Cruise, John Travolta (not mentioned) or the cult’s diminutive, intimidating, Naval uniformed leader, David Miscavige, to sit for interviews. So they hold casting sessions for many of these “characters. They’ll film “My Scientology Movie” in an effort to recreate some of the more infamous allegations of abuse and infantile bullying that the church and its leaders are accused of.

And then there are the secrets/tactics/dogma that longtime Scientology Quartermaster General Marty Rathbun explains, and through the actors they “cast,” directs into recreating. The staring contests (Cruise mastered his glower here), intimidation and name-calling designed to get someone “clear” can be understood as genuine “science of self-help” benefits. At least to actors, and maybe Korean border guards.

Of course, these E-Meter interrogations are also used as blackmail, keeping adherents in the cult and pushing them to greater and greater “investments” in buying your way up the hierarchy towards Sci-Tol Nirvana. That, too, is overlooked here.

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Theroux has a deadpan and unflappable style that serves him well in his many confrontations with “squirrel busting” Scientology officials, who get in his face and in that of other “SPs” (Suppressive Persons) with cameras, insults, demands and threats.

The many “Do you know why this guy is filming us?” debates — the BBC filming Scientologists filming the BBC — have a comical quality. That, in the end, is the larger point here. Theroux is playing this mostly for laughs. When an actress interrupts an early poolside hotel room chat, we wonder how much of what we’re really seeing is “real,” and how much is just a laugh?

More chilling is how Theroux gets a rise out of Rathbun, once a highly-placed intimidator, a two-fisted “fixer” now undergoing endless IAS harassment, a short-tempered penitent who lets us see the sorts of bullies the church creates. Then there are the ever-shrinking numbers that the Church is drawing. All this money, all this infrastructure and real-estate, and there are maybe 20,000 paying/abused/over-working suckers still listening to the little man in the admiral’s suit sell them on the idea that they’re saving the world.

There are amusing points to be scored with this organization finding a home in close proximity to the gullible, narcissistic dreamers of show business, and the parallels with the “Health and Wealth” pyramid scheme Herbalife as depicted in the new documentary “Betting on Zero” are undeniable.

Theroux’s film misses that. So it’s hardly the last word on this scam and its hilarious embrace of the “Duck Soup” uniforms and the addled imagination and crackpot ideas of L. Ron Hubbard.

But that’s the point. If the F.B.I. can’t break in and “free” cultists being brainwashed and having their bank accounts emptied, if the decades of print and TV news warnings about Scientology haven’t dried up the supply of suckers, maybe this approach can.

Mock them to death.

3stars2

 

MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, threats, profanity

Cast: Louis Theroux, Marty Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter

Credits: Directed by John Dower, written by John Dower and Louis Theroux. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:39

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Movie Review: “Year by the Sea” only seems that long

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Karen Allen still has that freckly twinkle, and movies aimed at women over 60 are so rare that it’s a shame when effort and energy are wasted on one as predigested as “Year by the Sea.”

It’s a writer’s memoir where the only “writing” is an afterthought, a marriage-has-lost-its-romance melodrama about a bored wife who seeks solace by the sea shore.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh did it and wrote it better 70 years ago with “Gift from the Sea,” and as far as movies are concerned, “A Year in Mooring” was a seaside reflection with more drama and pathos.

But “insipid” feels a little over-used today, so we’ll cut precious memoirist Joan Anderson a little slack.

That’s who Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) plays, an empty-nester whose son’s marriage and her husband’s delayed announcement that his firm is closing its New York office and he must relocate to Wichita prompts her to bail.

Just like that.

Granted, Robin (Michael Cristofer) is something of a whiny complainer. I mean, she has to get up after him to flush the toilet he’s forgotten to empty, but whatever.

So Joan sets out for Cape Cod — Chatham, Massachusetts — where her editor (S. Epatha Merkerson) hopes she’ll start a new book. Joan? She’s not so sure. And living in an oceanside cottage reachable only by dory (dinghy), she’s got her metaphor.

“I’m a bit like a boat…adrift. Nothing to steady me.”

The hunky clam digger (Yannick Bisson) she befriends might change that. But “Nothing goes unnoticed in a small town.”

The quirky local free spirit (Celia Imrie of “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) could help.

“We have a friendship to develop!”

There’s an abusive relationship to intervene in, clam-digging to master and a gloriously rustic cottage to tidy up.

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But nothing much happens here. It’s scenic, but writer-director Alexander Janko has cast the thing with no flavor. Nobody has an accent, not even the local Cape Cod characters.

Allen, Imrie and Merkerson have “adventures” only in the broadest sense of that word.

Leaving nothing to recommend “Year by the Sea.” And if the all-too-apt “insipid” is off the table in this review, then “genial post-menopausal dud” will have to do.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, mild profanity, adult themes

Cast: Karen Allen, Celia Imrie, S. Epahta Merkerson, Yannick Bisson

Running time:Credits:Written and directed by Alexander Janko, based on the Joan Anderson memoir . A Real Women Make Waves release.

Running time: 1:54

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