Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Book of Henry (2017)

We quite liked this story of a gifted 11 year old who takes care of his artist/waitress mother and 8 year old brother and then takes on a neighbor girl who's being abused by her stepfather. Though the movie swings between light and dark, comedy and tragedy, Jack and I thought it successful, but apparently some critics disagree (more on that in a moment).

Jaeden Lieberher (last blogged for St. Vincent and was also moving as troubled Johnny Masters in 11 episodes of Masters of Sex) is now 14 and is masterful at conveying Henry's on-the-spectrum skills in  accounting, engineering, psychology, medicine, the stock market, you name it. We expect nothing less from, and are rewarded by, Jacob Tremblay, now 10, who won many awards for Room and gives a rich performance as little Peter. Naomi Watts (most recently in 3 Generations and also had a funny bit in St. Vincent) is wonderful as their devoted and slightly ditzy mother Susan. Maddie Ziegler (in her feature debut) is also now 14 and, as the neighbor Christine, displays her dancing chops in a well-edited third act sequence that reminds me of a favorite movie from the 1980s (write me if you want to know--it's a spoiler). Supporting strength comes from Dean Norris (last blogged for Men, Women & Children but is best known as brother-in-law Hank in 62 episodes of Breaking Bad) as the stepfather; Sarah Silverman (after I wrote about her in A Million Ways to Die in the West she was in seven episodes of Masters of Sex and has a hilarious new standup special on Netflix right now) as Susan's BFF Sheila; and Lee Pace (after A Single Man he was in, among others, Lincoln, the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and 40 episodes of Halt and Catch Fire) as a handsome (duh) doctor.

Director Colin Trevorrow (most recently in these pages for Jurassic World) works from an original script by novelist Gregg Hurwitz in his feature screenwriting debut. The imdb trivia tells me that the screenplay is twenty years old and was shot in 36 days. They had good weather those five weeks for the magnificent outdoor shots of upstate New York (fictitious town Cavalry), shot in Nyack, Croton-on-Hudson, and Manhattan by cinematographer John Schwartzman, who did the honors on Jurassic World as well.

Composer Michael Giacchino's (last blogged for Zootopia) lovely score can be streamed from this youtube playlist. The opening credits also tell us that Stevie Nicks performs a song (over the end credits)--the same song that Susan sings to her boys in an early scene. The video of the Nicks song will have spoilers for those paying close attention so you may want to wait to watch it until you've seen the movie. Included in that video are drawings from the titular book that ran during the opening credits; credits that I wish I could watch again but haven't been able to summon from the world wide web.

I've read a few of the scathing reviews and they really hate the roller coasters of emotions, explaining the 23% reviewers' average on Rotten Tomatoes. But audiences are at 70 and we'd give it an 80 or so. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Paris Can Wait (Bonjour Anne - 2016)

Deb and I loved this tale of Anne, the American wife of a Hollywood producer, driving through France with his French colleague Jacques, with fine dining and sightseeing along the way. Diane Lane (last blogged for Trumbo) and Arnaud Viard (new to me) are charming as the odd couple and Alec Baldwin (cameo in Rules Don't Apply and linked to past posts in Concussion) is funny as the workaholic husband Michael.

This is the fiction feature debut for 81 year old director/writer Eleanor Coppola (after two documentaries and three shorts), wife of Francis (he's 78) and mother of Sofia. Francis' production company American Zoetrope helped make this and you will see an actual zoetrope in it. Crystel Fournier's (this is her first American movie and the first I've seen) cinematography is stunning, including the latest of my rules for movies and TV (click this link for the full list of 21): If a movie is set anywhere in France outside of Paris or Cannes, there will be a road lined with tall trees on both sides.

The bright score by Laura Karpman (also new to me, despite a long list of credits) can be streamed from this youtube playlist and I'm enjoying it right now as I write.

The yummy food stylings earn this a place on my list of random food movies (now up to 26).

Clearly Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences have no taste, averaging 49 and 48% respectively. This is a delicious movie for all to savor.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Wedding Plan (2016)

Jack and I enjoyed this low-key Israeli comedy about a 30-something Orthodox woman who believes God will find her a husband in time for the wedding she planned with a fiancé who dumps her a month before the event. It's the sophomore effort of director/writer Rama Burshtien (Fill the Void) and the star, Noa Koler (her debut) is charming enough as wacky Michal (MEE-cchhal) in her bright, high-necked dresses. Also known as Through the Wall (Laavor et Hakir). Worth seeing and Rotten Tomatoes' critics agree, averaging 83% to its audiences' 65.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Lovers (2017)

Jack and I really liked this leisurely comedy about a middle-aged couple, each having an affair, surprised to discover sparks of lust and affection for each other. Tracy Letts and Debra Winger are terrific as poor communicators Michael and Mary (Letts, who will be 52 this summer but here looks age appropriate for Winger's youthful 62, was last blogged for Indignation; and Winger, who I wrote was understated in Rachel Getting Married, was Oscar-nominated for Terms of Endearment (1983), The Sheltering Sky (1990), and Shadowlands (1993), the latter of which I don't think I saw, also was great in Urban Cowboy (1980), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Cannery Row (1982), Legal Eagles (1986), Black Widow (1987), and Forget Paris (1995)). Also wonderful are Melora Walters (good in Dead Poets Society (1989), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and 43 episodes of Big Love) and Aiden Gillen (most recently in Sing Street) as their needy paramours Lucy and Robert.

The sly work here by director/writer Azazel Jacobs (last helmed and co-wrote the story for Terri) has been compared by many to a French film. I appreciated the kitchens--Mary and Michael's has two 30" gas ranges side by side and Robert's has a distinctive tile backsplash--perhaps due to the work of production designer Sue Tebbutt, or perhaps due to a clever location scout (it was shot in Santa Clarita, northwest of LA).

The retro symphonic score by Mandy Hoffman, who also scored Terri, can be streamed on spotify. Yesterday it was also on youtube, but today it has been removed for copyright reasons, most likely because the album is for sale at the usual outlets. The soundtrack includes a cover of It Must be Love sung by Letts (track 19 on the spotify playlist), which was a 1981 hit for the band Madness (video), performed in 1972 by its composer Labi Soffre (video), and is listed on imdb as being in eleven other movies.

We are firmly in line with Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 87%, and not its audiences at 43.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Snatched (2017)

As the critics have said, this isn't a good movie, but we laughed pretty much the whole time anyway as Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn play an immature daughter and uptight mother who get kidnapped on an Ecuadorean vacation. Schumer was last blogged for Trainwreck and this is Hawn's first movie in 15 years. Here are a select few of her credits: 64 episodes of Laugh-In, won an Oscar for Cactus Flower (1969), nominated for Private Benjamin (1980), also noted for There's a Girl in My Soup (1970), Butterflies Are Free (1972), Shampoo (1975), The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976), Foul Play (1978), Best Friends (1982), Wildcats (1986), Overboard (1987), Death Becomes Her (1992), The First Wives Club (1996), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and The Banger Sisters (2002), and she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this very month, May 2017. Included in the large cast are Ike Barinholtz (most recently Sisters) as the agoraphobic brother and Wanda Sykes (Bad Moms) and Joan Cusack (Welcome to Me) as a couple vacationing at the same resort. Cusack is very funny in her small part.

While filming in Hawaii Schumer and Sykes did pop-up comedy shows that sold out in hours, with the proceeds going to charity.

Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50), written by Katie Dippold (the Ghostbusters reboot), and produced by, among others, Paul Feig (last in these pages for directing Ghostbusters above, which he also produced), the movie suffers from mood swings--dirty jokes to action, farce to family dysfunction.

There are a lot of great songs (here are a list of 23 and a playlist of 16), especially Soy Yo by Bomba EstĂ©reo, as well as a soundtrack by Chris Bacon (Source Code) and Theodore Shapiro (Ghostbusters).

Rotten Tomatoes was our first indication not to have high expectations, averaging 36% critics and 35 audiences. Right before the movie started, there was a trailer with Schumer and Hawn thanking us for watching it with other people in a theatre. Sorry to say, Jack and I can't totally recommend doing that when it'll be available streaming soon enough. But if you do happen to see it in one format or another (be sure to get an uncensored version), do watch at least the beginning of the end credits, as Hawn cuts loose on the dance floor.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

This sequel to the 2014 blockbuster is predictably entertaining with plenty of laughs and great makeup and special effects, though a little heavy on the pop psychology: daddy issues, sibling rivalry, and a touch of Freud with a character named Ego. Returning from the first go-round are Chris Pratt (last blogged for Passengers) as Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana (most recently in Infinitely Polar Bear) as green-skinned Gamora, Bradley Cooper (after Joy he was a voice on the phone in 10 Cloverfield Lane) as the voice of Rocket who doesn't want to be called a raccoon, and Dave Bautista as Drax and Vin Diesel as the voice of Baby Groot (both of their last appearances in these pages were for the original Guardians of the Galaxy--Diesel voiced big Groot last time), to name a few. Joining up for this chapter are Kurt Russell (profiled in The Hateful Eight) as Ego and Sylvester Stallone (starred in yet another Rocky sequel, Creed) in a cameo.

James Gunn returns to the director's chair and writer's desk from the original and, this time, he is the only writer credited with the script and not with creating a concept or a character. As usual, keep your eyes peeled for Stan Lee's appearance, watching our heroes whiz by an unnamed planet.

Like so many big budget blockbusters, this has pages and pages of trivia factoids. One that caught my eye is that Gunn choreographed and performed the motion capture for Baby Groot's dance in the opening credits and it took almost two years to make just that sequence digitally. Also, his brother Sean performed motion capture for all of Rocket's scenes.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1 was integral to the first movie as Awesome Mix Vol. 2 is to this one. You can read the playlist on this page and listen to it from this one. Tyler Bates reprises his role as composer of the driving battle music, available on spotify.

We saw it two weeks ago and liked it fine, agreeing with Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences, who average 81 and 90% respectively. It's still playing everywhere in various formats and they've already started making Volume 3.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016)

You don't have to be Jewish to love Norman Oppenheimer, a pushy nobody determined to connect people and get somewhere himself. In fact, you don't have to be Jewish to portray him either. The unlikely casting of gentile boomer heartthrob Richard Gere (last blogged for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) pays off in a layered performance that you won't forget. Steve Buscemi (most recently on the big screen in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone before starring in 56 episodes of Boardwalk Empire) is hilarious as the harried Rabbi and Michael Sheen (last blogged for Passengers) may have picked up some mannerisms for his part of Norman's nephew (or is he?) from years of dating Sarah Silverman. Both Sheen and Dan Stevens (just seen in Colossal) do well at trading their native English accents for New York ones. I shouldn't quibble about who's Jewish and who isn't--it's called acting, after all.

The key character in Norman's rise and fall is Israeli bureaucrat Micha Eshel, played by Lior Ashkenazi (new to me, he's had dozens of roles in his native Israel). Along the complex way, Harris Yulin and Josh Charles, who play father and son businessmen in five episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, are a business team in this movie (Yulin has 127 credits in his almost 80 year life, including Scarface (1983), Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988), Multiplicity (1996), Training Day (2001), and The Family Fang; and Charles was in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot but is best known for his TV work such as 45 episodes of Sports Night, 10 of Masters of Sex, 4 of Inside Amy Schumer, and 108 of The Good Wife). Hank Azaria (since I wrote about him in Love and Other Drugs he's continued his animation work, bringing his Simpsons episode total to 606, and is currently the dissolute title character in the profane and hilarious IFC series Brockmire, about a baseball play by play announcer) has a nice little cameo near the end.

Director/writer Joseph Cedar was born in New York but moved to Jerusalem at age 5. This is his sixth feature (I haven't seen any) and his first in English, and several of the production companies are Israeli. Yes, the story is complex, and Jack complained later that he found it somewhat hard to follow but, full disclosure, he was sleepy Saturday afternoon when we saw it so he may have missed some of the complexities.

I was wide awake and loved the music by Jun Miyake, who composed, among others, Lilies in the Valley and two more songs which were in Pina. The soundtrack for Norman doesn't seem to be available but here's a very long playlist of Miyake's work. The a cappella quartet's rendition of the haunting Mi Sheberach would be nice to find as well.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are averaging 80% for this sleeper and its audiences may also have been napping during the exposition, coming in at 70. I recommend it.