Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

We didn't think much of this adaptation of the popular young adult sci-fi book, in which a middle school girl travels through space and time to find her missing father. Though the special effects, wardrobe, and makeup are good, it drags, despite an all-star cast and director.

Storm Reid (a small part in 12 Years a Slave was her feature debut) is young Meg and her parents are Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (last blogged for Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast, respectively). There are three witches, with lots of sparkly lipstick and eyeshadow, played by Oprah Winfrey (most recently in Selma), Mindy Kaling (after Inside Out, she continued her series The Mindy Project to 117 episodes), and Reese Witherspoon (she was Emmy-nominated for Big Little Lies after I wrote about her in Home Again). Zach Galifianakis (last blogged for Birdman) is another supernatural character who instructs Meg and the other children to use their cores when standing on one foot. As a yogi, I appreciated that bit.

I didn't read any of the series by Madeleine L'Engle but we thought we should see this movie three weeks ago because the trailer looked good and it seemed to be a cultural phenomenon, directed as it was by Ava DuVernay (most recently in these pages for Middle of Nowhere). Jennifer Lee (Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (co-writer of one of my faves, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002)) wrote the screenplay.

Ramin Djawadi (of his many projects I've seen only the original Iron Man (2008) and a few episodes of Westworld) is the composer and there are lots of pop songs, too. This 26-song spotify playlist includes eleven songs and 15 tracks by Djawadi.

This is one of the times that we're in sync with Rotten Tomatoes, whose critics are averaging 39% and its audiences 31. Maybe if you're a big fan of the books you'll feel differently.

Band Aid (2017)

Jack and I enjoyed this story of a 30-something unhappy couple who, instead of marriage counseling, form a band where they can take out their frustrations in music and lyrics. We know Zoe Lister-Jones from her 63 episodes of Life in Pieces as Colin Hanks' wife Jen, and she's been in many other TV shows and movies. Here she wrote the screenplay (her fourth produced feature), makes her directing debut (the other three were directed by her husband Daryl Wein), and stars as the battling wife Anna. Adam Pallay (57 episodes of Happy Endings, small parts that I didn't mention in Don't Think Twice and The Little Hours, and more) is her embittered husband Ben. Their neighbor and bandmate is Fred Armisen (covered in The Little Hours). Susie Essman (a former stand-up comedian, she's best known for 62 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and I also liked her appearances on Broad City as Ilana's mother) gets third billing as Ben's mom, despite not having that many scenes. In fact, my only quibble with the script is in the third act when her character explains something to the couple that I thought they should have known all along.

You'll recognize several of the supporting cast, including Lister-Jones' castmates from Life in Pieces Colin Hanks (last blogged for Elvis & Nixon) as "Uber Douche" and Angelique Cabral as Lauren, and Lister-Jones' husband Wein plays "Uber Presumptuous."

We watched it on Showtime On Demand about three weeks ago because of its nomination for the Sundance Jury Prize. What I just learned today is that this project's all female crew is definitely unusual and may have been unique. Sometimes Pallay was the only man on the set and he said it was good, too. Even Wein, an executive producer, wasn't allowed more than a drive-by. I see that some men did work on the movie, but they all worked in post-production. Here's another article.

The band Lucius (two women and three men) has performed their songs on many TV shows but this is their first time credited as composer. They perform on-screen but most of the songs (listed here) are live by Lister-Jones, Pallay, and Armisen. You can stream some of them on spotify.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 86%, and its audiences at 73, agree with us that this is fun and entertaining.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)

As (Medicare) card carrying boomers, Jack and I liked this bio-pic, now streaming on Netflix, about Doug Kenney and his co-founding of the National Lampoon magazine and radio show and its connection with Saturday Night Live. Smart and irreverent folks act up in a smart and irreverent movie that pokes fun at itself as well. Will Forte (still starring in Last Man on Earth--66 episodes and counting--after his mention in Keanu) stars as Kenney in some awful wigs (although the hairstyles of the time were indeed often fashion crimes) and Domhnall Gleeson (last blogged for Goodbye Christopher Robin) is his best friend Henry Beard with his naturally red hair dyed dark brown, and their chemistry is spot on. Martin Mull (some of his best work includes 151 episodes of Mary Hartman and its two sequels (1976-78), Serial (1980--one of my personal favorites), Mr. Mom (1983), 46 episodes of the original Roseanne (1991-97), 73 of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1997-2000), 18 of The Ellen Show (2001-02), four of Life in Pieces (2015-17), and an Emmy-winning four episode series arc on Veep) narrates as "Modern Doug."

The huge cast also features Natasha Lyonne (I have enjoyed her work immensely in Krippendorf's Tribe (1998), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), one segment of If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000), a couple of 2012 episodes of Weeds, Sleeping with Other People, Hello, My Name Is Doris, and, of course, 59 episodes of Orange is the New Black) as writer Anne Beatts and Joel McHale (last blogged for Ted) is a terrific Chevy Chase impersonator--even down to the voice. It didn't hurt that McHale and Chase worked together on 85 episodes of Community. The character of Michael O'Donoghue, the one whom I remember for several sick SNL sketches on one topic (here's an example), is well done by Thomas Lennon (after Mr. Peabody & Sherman he starred as Felix Unger in 38 episodes of The Odd Couple remake (2015-17), and more projects). There are just too many actors to go into them all.

Many SNL moments and other projects (e.g. Animal House (1978)) are recreated for the purposes of this movie. Director David Wain (last blogged for They Came Together) has a cameo as an interviewer, and screenwriters Michael Colton and John Aboud, who adapted the script from the carefully researched 2008 book of the same name by Josh Karp, appear briefly as art directors for the magazine.

We saw this three weeks ago and I don't remember the original music by Craig Wedren (covered in Wanderlust). I can't find any tracks from it anyway--his soundcloud page devotes lots of data to Wet Hot American Summer (2001) but none to this movie. As to be expected, though, there are lots of songs from the 60s and beyond, many listed on imdb and some streamable from this playlist.

Rotten Tomatoes' audiences, averaging 75%, liked it better than its critics at 61.

Don't turn off the TV right away after the movie, because, at the end of the credits, Martin Mull sings with/for the cast, some of whom look downright uncomfortable.

Finding Your Feet (2017)

Jack and I liked a lot this story about a snobby Englishwoman who, after discovering her husband's affair, moves in with her free-spirited sister and eventually joins her in a dancing class for seniors. Imelda Staunton and Celia Imrie (last blogged for Pride and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, respectively) are delightful as sisters Sandra and Bif, as is Timothy Spall (most recently in The Party) as Bif's down-to-earth best friend Charlie. The supporting cast includes Joanna Lumley (made an appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street) and David Hayman (among his many credits I've seen Sid and Nancy (1986) and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008).

Director Richard Loncraine (last helmed My One and Only) and screenwriters Meg Leonard (her writing debut) and Nick Moorcroft (new to me) keep the laughs coming but also add poignancy in their richly developed characters.

Michael J. McEvoy (scored Me and Orson Welles) provides the original music, and you can hear clips from his other projects on his website, but you're more likely to remember the many songs. There's an album of "music from and inspired by the motion picture" that you can stream on spotify or buy in all the usual places.

I was going to characterize this as yet another geezer movie but I just heard from someone over ten years younger than I that she loved it, too (and wants to see it again, this time with her sister). So ignore Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 68%, and especially its audiences at 49, and waltz over to your local art theatre for this gem.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Leisure Seeker (2017)

Jack and I quite liked this unexpectedly funny story of an aging couple, him in and out of dementia, her with other issues, on a road trip before it's too late, in their Winnebago called the Leisure Seeker. Helen Mirren (last blogged for Trumbo, she was born in 1945) is great as Ella, the mostly patient caregiver who loves to talk (in a Southern accent this time). Donald Sutherland (born in 1935, he first came to my attention in M.A.S.H. (1970) and I've enjoyed his work in, among others, Klute (1971), Ordinary People (1980), Heaven Help Us (1985), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Disclosure (1994), Space Cowboys (2000), The Italian Job (2003), Fierce People (2005), Pride & Prejudice (2005), Horrible Bosses, and, just today I watched the excellent pilot episode of the FX mini-series Trust in which he plays J. Paul Getty) is also wonderful as John who can go from lucid to blank in the blink of an eye.

As their son Will, Christian McKay (in Me and Orson Welles he played Welles) is good but has not mastered an American accent as well as his English countrywoman Mirren. Janel Maloney (best known for 150 episodes of The West Wing, she did good work in Concussion and four episodes of Alpha House, to name a few) brings life to their daughter Jane. The neighbor Lillian is veteran character actor Dana Ivey (born in 1941). I love how, nowadays, the filmmakers are able to use vintage photos of the actual actors in the old pictures of their characters. There are quite a few of Ivey, Mirren, and Sutherland shown during the course of this movie. Watch for a surprising cameo by Dick Gregory (who died in August 2017 at age 84) late in the second act.

This is the first fully English language film for director/co-writer Paolo Virzì (and the first of his work that I've seen), who adapted the 2009 novel by Michael Zadoorian with co-writers Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, and Francesco Piccolo (all new to me).

Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (most recently in these pages for Youth) provides beautiful photography, shot mostly in Georgia and Florida.

The director's brother Carlo Virzì has given us a lovely original soundtrack that is available for sale on the usual outlets and can be streamed on spotify. When we saw this a week ago I counted seventeen songs in the credits. There is no list available but I remember some and some I got by using by OCD powers for good and scanning the screenplay which turned up on about the tenth page of my search (note, not every word in the script made it to the screen): Me and Bobby McGee by Janis JoplinLaughing by David CrosbyIt's Too Late by Carole KingIf You Leave Me Now by ChicagoDon't Leave Me This Way by Thelma HoustonBe My Baby by The RonettesIf It's Magic by Stevie WonderMagic Moments by Perry Como.

The critics and audiences of Rotten Tomatoes are hating on this one, averaging 33 and 52% respectively. If the topic doesn't push painful buttons for you, spite those critics and enjoy this one.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Annihilation (2018)

Here's a switch: despite the critics' raves, we did not love this sci-fi thriller in which five female scientists volunteer to explore and study an environmentally altered area. Natalie Portman (last blogged for Song to Song) is the protagonist, as her motivation is to learn what happened to her husband (played by Oscar Isaac, most recently in Suburbicon) in the area, known as the Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh (after Anomalisa I enjoyed her work in nine episodes of Atypical) heads up the expedition, which also includes Tessa Thompson (last in Creed), Tuva Novotny (small part in Eat Pray Love), and Gina Rodriguez (she did other work before her 80 episodes, so far, as Jane the Virgin, but who can remember?).

Director/screenwriter Alex Garland (last did the honors on Ex Machina) adapts the 2014 novel, the first of the Southern Reach trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer. Ex Machina was to the point, with an ending that tied up loose ends. This one is confusing and subject to much interpretation and speculation. Apparently one backer tried to make Garland change the ending after a test screening but didn't prevail.

The composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury (also scored Ex Machina) provide a spooky soundtrack (which I like a lot) that can be streamed in its entirety from this link.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are averaging 87% with its audiences more in line with us at 67. The main reason we saw it three weeks ago was its position of number one on Thrillist's best movies of 2018. Oh well, you can't love them all. Its estimated streaming and disk release is May 2018.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Jack and I expected to love, and did, this stop-motion animated tail, er, tale of dogs exiled to an island trash dump and the boy who searches there for his lost dog. Set in near-future Japan where a crooked mayor hates dogs, the movie is delightfully idiosyncratic, including Japanese-speaking humans and English-speaking dogs (the translation techniques are explained in the beginning).

The main dogs are a group of four domesticated ones and a stray. I had trouble identifying the voices so here's my guide. Look at this picture. Chief, the stray with the black fur, is arguably the alpha dog (though they're all called alpha dogs) and is voiced by Bryan Cranston (after Wakefield he had a cameo as himself in The Disaster Artist). The other four (whose voice-actors were all in the director's last picture--more on that in a moment) are Rex, with blonde fur (Edward Norton, last blogged for Birdman); Duke, with gray and white fur (Jeff Goldbum, most recently in these pages for Le Week-End); Boss, who wears a jersey (Bill Murray, last in The Jungle Book); and King, who has floppy ears (Bob Balaban, who has done some TV after The Grand Budapest Hotel). Liev Schreiber (last in Spotlight) makes a late appearance as a dog with white fur and blue eyes.

Among the cast of dozens, four women stand out: Scarlett Johansson (most recently in these pages for The Jungle Book) voices Nutmeg, the show dog; Greta Gerwig (last acting gig we saw was in Jackie) plays Tracy the human freckled American exchange student; Frances McDormand (just won her second Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is the human interpreter; and Yoko Ono (the last time she acted was to play herself in a 1995 episode of Mad About You) has very few lines as Assistant Scientist Yoko-ono, also a human.

Director/screenwriter Wes Anderson's last project was The Grand Budapest Hotel, and 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox was also stop motion animation. I really enjoyed this video about the puppets used here and another making-of video. You can watch several more offered below those.

The story is credited to Anderson as well as to Roman Copploa (co-writer of Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom), Jason Schwartzman (he and his cousin Coppola co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited (2007) with Anderson as well as creating and writing several episodes of Mozart in the Jungle), and Kunichi Nomura (his writing debut after acting in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) and The Grand Budapest Hotel. He also does the voice of the Mayor in this movie and is a famous radio host in Japan).

One of several reasons I was excited to see this movie is my love of Japanese taiko drumming, featured prominently in the trailer. Composer Alexandre Desplat (won his second Oscar for scoring The Shape of Water and the first was for The Grand Budapest Hotel) uses the big taiko drums throughout the wonderful soundtrack, melding Eastern and Western influences, which you can stream from this youtube page (unfortunately it stopped and started on my computer today), this playlist, or use this one to link to apple music or spotify. The songs include Sauter-Finegan Orchestra's Midnight Sleighride from the 1950s and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's I Won't Hurt You from 1966.

We saw it opening day on Friday and, apparently, it's too soon for Rotten Tomatoes' audiences to weigh in, other than 97% "want to see." Its critics, however, are averaging 92%. Some have said it's no coincidence that "Isle of Dogs" sounds a lot like "I love dogs." If you do, go ahead and see this now.