REVIEW: “A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” (2019) Sony/TriStar Pictures

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Movie marketing can be funny sometimes. It can direct you with a simple trailer into thinking a movie is or isn’t something or sway your opinion one way vs. another.

“A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” is a film you naturally think will be all about Mr. Rogers, the beloved American host of the PBS half-hour children’s educational television series and everyone’s favourite neighbor. Most will agree that the mindset going into this movie is thinking that it will be more of a showcase of the life of one of the kindest men to be on this earth. What you actually get is a film about the relationship that develops between Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical reporter who through his “shut-up-and-get-it-done” magazine editor Ellen (Christine Lahti), is picked for an assignment to interview Fred for a piece on American heroes. The film is all based on the real life story of Tom Junod’s relationship with Mr. Rogers. This along with the fact that not only is Junod aka Lloyd, is known mostly as an investigative reporter who only does serious op-eds – while cutting the people in them to pieces, rather than a puff-piece journo, But the fact remains that he detests that he has even interview Fred at all. Pointedly threading throughout the first half of the film is the “I’m better than this” attitude from Lloyd and therefore he should not be made to do this assignment.

This is where the film goes a bit awry and takes a left turn as the focal point turns us almost completely to Lloyd and the trials and tribulations of his life vs. telling us about Mr. Rogers as the movie is titled. As we fall into watching Lloyd try to get past the fact that not only does he not want to do this interview with again the ‘better than this’ attitude turned on blast, but his sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard) is getting married and wants to have their dad Jerry (Chris Cooper) walk her down the aisle.  But Lloyd is not up to seeing his dad, the man who walked out on the family as his mother lay dying of cancer and they were just children.  In-between all this is his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), is dealing with taking care of their newborn son and struggling with Lloyd constantly having to travel for weeks for work. While this is all happening, the audience is left wondering where exactly is Mr. Rogers fitting into this story-line.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is about the life struggles, past and present of this journalist that Mr. Rogers ends up befriending during the interviewing process and about Mr. Rogers’ impact on one person’s life on its surface. It’s sheer fun at times and hard not to laugh about his sincere kindness stumping most of those around him as the film brings back many aspects of nostalgia for viewers of the original show. Hanks and company perfectly recreate iconic scenes and moments that are sure to jog fond memories from many.  Heartwarming at times, it’s the Hollywood version of Mr. Rogers vs. the documentary version of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” that was actually about the life of Mr. Rogers and focuses on HIS trials and tribulations versus this film, where we are made to watch a character that you are not sure you even like to begin with. Director Marielle Heller chose to almost completely ignore things that the documentary so focused in on such as Rogers’ faith, his acceptance, teaching and introducing of his audience to accept everyone no matter race, creed or colour. The paradox of this can be pretty off putting at times but Hanks is amazing and tailor made for this role, but it’s hard shake off the feeling that instead of being the lead, he comes off as a supporting actor at best.

However, looking slightly beyond the initial opening of the film, it does reveal itself to also see that it is a look at the human condition and Mr. Rogers’ exceptional understanding of it. It explains the importance people have in each other’s lives and how much we depend on one another, something Mr. Rogers very much understood and exemplified in his life’s work. But again, we can’t help but fall back time and time again, on the fact that we signed up for a movie about Mr. Rogers life, not Lloyd’s family life and it’s a harder sell as it’s just not Mr. Rogers movie and that can’t be forgotten nor forgiven throughout the almost two hour run time.

The end is as predictable as it gets, which is not a bad thing for this movie though, as it’s the perfect fit for Hanks character, Mr. Rodgers. The world we live in today could do with more Mr. Rogers, sadly I don’t think he’d much like what our world has become, nor do I think his way of thinking would be all that accepted as it once was. This might not be Mr. Rogers movie completely, but what this movie is best at is reminding you, that it’s not hard to be kind and maybe we all should be more kind to each other, because kindness is the only thing you can’t have enough of in this world nowadays.

Grade: B

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film Group

“A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” WILL BE IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO FOLLOW JANUARY 2020.

Side note: It’s clear Sony/TriStar is doing a huge roll-out of marketing along with their release of this film, we were given some fun tchotchkes of a Mr. Rogers tie and a cute little bottle cozy that were given to every single person at the screening. We also were treated to a full choir singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and it’s rare and so nice to have such an amazing pre-screening experience and I would like to say thanks to them for that.

REVIEW: “FORD v. FERRARI (2019) 20th Century Fox

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Biopics can be a hard sell at times. “FORD v FERRARI” is one of the latest true stories out of Hollywood that will be hitting the big screen, and here’s why this one deserves to be seen whether you are a racing fan or not, it absolutely deserves your attention.

In the mid-’60s, Ford and Ferrari fought it out for real at most brutal of all car races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a road race that lasts almost as long as this film. At a whopping 152 minutes, director James Mangold’s biopic is no quick win, but buckle up and sit back for the duration and you will be rewarded with a film that delivers great performances, a gripping tale of determination and courage, and some truly spectacular racing scenes (real or CGI? I couldn’t tell).

This could’ve simply been just a car movie. Instead, “Ford v Ferrari” delves into taking us in glorious detail, thru the true story rivalry between Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), which sparked after the former refused to include his iconic racing team, Scuderia Ferrari, in a buyout of the Italian car company to Ford. Angered not only by this, but by a stinging comment Enzo makes to the effect that Ford is not credible with enough to be any part of a legendary firm like Ferrari with Henry Ford II at the helm because the real legend is Henry Ford himself, not his son.  Ford II then calls on legendary car maker Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to design a car that can beat Ferrari at Le Mans, leading Shelby to create the iconic GT40 with the help of championship driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), even though he is deemed by Ford’s second in command, Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) as a ‘loose cannon’.

Herein lies the classic underdog story, as the film follows the team as they design and test the new race-car, experiencing various setbacks along the way (some of which are orchestrated by Beebe, who wants to see Mills fail), before finally making it to France. Following all these multiple characters throughout, Ford v Ferrari focuses on the fact that Henry Ford II was given a challenge to create the fastest race car in the world and thereby improve the company’s image in the eyes of young Americans and putting the Italians in their place at the same time.

If you’re a fan of racing or cars in general, this movie will have you over the moon as it takes you thru the paces of the racing sequences, all which take up a good chunk of the film. Luckily, they are intense, well shot, with a fantastic score to back it up and sound effects to get your heart pumping. Everything about the exciting aspects of this film was top notch. But even if you aren’t a racing enthusiast, this movie doesn’t bore you with minutia, but instead gives you the necessary overview of the needed context so that every viewer understands what’s on the line here.  But secondary to the racing we have backstory about Miles and his family including what it’s like for his wife Mollie (Caitronia Balfe), and his son Peter (Noah Jupe), as they watch in trepidation as Ken goes about not only his racing with a few terrifying crashes that they are witness to, but also the fact that Ken puts racing above just about everything in his life, including his family business of an auto repair garage i.e., food on the table.  While Shelby’s character doesn’t have the struggle of a family life, he has the struggle with the Ford executives over every single aspect of how to build the car that can win Le Mans with Miles at the driving helm.  Until one wonderful moment when he takes Ford II himself out for a spin on the track and thereby ensures himself a blank check much to the angst of Beebe.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon give stellar performances here as the two leading men in the film and you totally buy their rigid friendship that slowly develops based on a mutual respect. Bale seems to disappear into his character especially noting he can ‘speak’ as himself here – accent and all. Damon as well, has the opportunity here to show quite a range from confident showman to a vulnerability we rarely get to see. The supporting cast is flawlessly put together as a well-oiled pit crew with notables such as Jon Berenthal playing Lee Iacocca (yes, THAT Lee Iacocca – who not only developed the Mustang itself, but the Pinto as well and went on to revive the Chrysler Corp.). Tracy Letts layers his performance here with strength and flair as Ford II, Ray McKinnon does top-notch mechanic Phil Remington true to form, and Josh Lucas is the perfect fodder of ‘bad guy executive’ of the bunch.

In the end, Ford v Ferrari is engaging, emotional, and downright thrilling when it wants to be. You find yourself invested in these characters and on the edge of your seat during the climactic races. The only small flaw is some missed opportunity in terms of emotion during certain scenes but all is forgiven in that, seeing as the rest of the movie is so impressive. Ford v Ferrari is one of the definitely one of the most exciting movies so far this year and is sure-fire to be crossing the finish line in first place come opening weekend.

Grade: B+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

“FORD v. FERRARI”  WILL BE OUT IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2019

 

 

REVIEW: “MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” (2019) Warner Bros. // Post Q & A: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

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Set in a tough but glamorous moment in time, “MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) after the murder of his closest friend and colleague Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).  Lionel is hellbent on unraveling the reason and discovering why Frank was killed and who is the killer.  He finds himself on a paper trail across Brooklyn, never giving up on his plan. Being that Lionel is someone someone who also happens to suffer from Tourettes or Tertz Syndrome, and other verbal and motor tics, yet is endowed with perfect pitch of a memory that forgets nothing, makes him a true asset in the world of being part of Minna’s boys – the team of the Private Investigation office of Frank Minna.  He is a character that has a lot of depth to get behind, and being one that needs a great performance in order to be authentic.  And we are given that performance in spades, not only by Norton, but the fantastic entire ensemble cast of this film.

The script that is taken from the book of the same title by Jonathan Lethem, is directed and written by Norton as well, and is where this film truly shines the most in film noir context.  Norton has written it to set in Brooklyn in the 1950’s – in a New York that power-hungry people like Robert Moses are transforming, a New York that feeds his autocratic inclination, as the power behind the throne. The indiscriminate use by the city power brokers of the time of ’eminent domain’ in what is subjectively, the ethnic cleansing of the working poor, the blacks and the Puerto Ricans, who are all subject to losing their homes on a whim, to the pretending to ever provide them with places to relocate. The villain here is Moses “Moe” Randolph, a not so thinly-veiled character that is modeled on Robert Moses, and played well by Alec Baldwin. But pay attention as it can seem a bit overwhelming and convoluted in the beginning, giving the feeling that if you miss even one moment, you will lose track of the story line and seemingly every singular piece is of importance as each scene details in the telling of this tale.

Murder, greed, sibling rivalry and treachery, mafia-like tactics, along with adultery, corruption, jazz, taut racial relations, and resistance from below and the stone-willed determination of Norton to put together and solve the disparate pieces of this puzzle that is ‘Homeless Brooklyn’.  A sure fire cast of supporting characters starting with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, who is not just a woman of mixed race here, but playing an educated, strong African American women of the time period, a role written in by Norton specifically to shine through to help those in the thresholds of despair facing eviction. Willem Dafoe as Paul Randolph, the brilliant engineer brother of the King Moe himself, yet who couldn’t be more of a polar opposite of his brother. The always spectacular Cherry Jones who gives grit & spit to her portrayal of Gabby Horowitz, Bobby Cannavale, who has been stepping up his game in good supporting characters in films this year is Tony Vermonte, the guy who wants to take over leading the agency here – but has a second play in motion being he’s side-stepping out with Julia Minna, (Leslie Mann), Frank’s wife.  And how can you not enjoy seeing Michael Kenneth Williams as a mellow jazz musician (even if I always secretly wish he would reprise his Omar character in The Wire).  Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Josh Pais, Fisher Stevens, and Peter Lewis help round out this ensemble cast that seemingly are all so far apart at the beginning of this film, as we watch only to see that all the pieces slowly fall into place one by one, showing how really very connected they are and making 144 minutes fly by at a fast clip. And what would this film be if not with it’s many street scenes, as even the city – Brooklyn – ably stars as itself.

‘Homeless Brooklyn’ speaks to the politics of our day, nonetheless the moral of justice is frayed in a jagged pattern. It’s perfect film noir fodder: power and corruption, progress vs. community, race and a bit of sex, all with a jazz score in the background.  And sometimes it’s just funny.

Grade: A

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Media Review Screening: Monday, November 11, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS // WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO FOLLOW

 

Post Q & A with Ed Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw:

It’s always a wonderful experience to have post Q & A’s with the actor/directors etc.. as they can provide a completely different view into a film that we might never get the chance to know about. Everything from costuming to the music to budgeting, productions shoots and insights of the characters and those that make those characters come to life.  This one was just exactly that.

The Q & A started off with questioning Ed Norton about changing the book from what it was to a completely different setting of Brooklyn in the 1950’s and the challenges that gave him. Norton, followed through that it took him years to create this and accepting the challenge to make it what he truly wanted in film noir, was one he really worked hard for as so many didn’t take it seriously in financing etc.

Asking Gugu Mbatha-Raw about her character which wasn’t even in the book and was it harder to shape her by not having a book to read like the others did on their characters. – She liked that her character was a strong, educated woman in the 50’s where things like that were rare occurrences. Gugu also noted she was the only Brit actor and being around these top notch terrific theater actors helped make her in so many ways with accent, dress, etc in helping shape her character

Norton spoke about how due to the small 26 million dollar budget, all the actors took deferred salaries in order to make the film possible. Almost all of them being top NYC theater actors that Norton has known for years, such as Peter Lewis with whom he’d been in plays with since his 20’s and was his scene study actor here. Due to the detailed speeches and the short 46 day shoot, Norton needed to know that they could do it. No mistakes, no time for rehearsals etc..had to be able to walk in and do it.  So as Norton noted, he is forever in their debt and if you see him in the coming years in something that you are wondering ‘why is he even in this movie – take for instance a bit role as the mayor in Die Hard 8 – well he is paying off his debt. – to much laughter from the audience.

REVIEW: “LAST CHRISTMAS” (2019) Universal

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If Emilia Clarke was looking to step out and reinvent herself after eight years as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, then “LAST CHRISTMAS” would be that vehicle. Along with her character choice of Kate, a wayward and dysfunctional wanna-be actress in her 20’s, who spends her day working as an Elf selling year round Christmas monstrosities – well you couldn’t be further removed from the queen of dragons herself with this one.

Her boss, in what is sure to be London’s gaudiest Christmas store, conveniently goes by the moniker “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), constantly admonishes Kate for her shortcoming, and there are many of them. As a matter of fact, Kate is simply just the worst. Her nights are devoted to getting plastered, trying to find one in the endless array of couches to crash on – and mornings, well mornings are spent trying to recall the who/what/where of the previous evening shenanigans. “It’s not my fault” is almost a battle-cry for Kate. She just can’t seem to get it together, oddly enough, even when she somehow forgot to lock the door and the store gets robbed, incredibly she keeps her job.

One day the super dreamy Tom (Henry Golding) enters the picture, helping her piece her life back together just in time for Christmas. Magically he enchants her in every way from little dances in the street, to taking her to his little private garden spot. But everything just seems to be a bit to convenient here.  Showing up at the most random of moments, Tom is just too good to be true. And this is only a partial list of things that just make no sense here.  Katie even goes so far as to out her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard), yet instead of facing actual repercussions for these things, seemingly things get better for her. It’s like magically overnight she becomes a good person.

It’s never a good sign when the film’s trailer feels like the whole movie, but you would be right on the money with ‘Last Christmas,’  and those holding their breath for something more will leave sorely underwhelmed.  Sure, you don’t go into a film like this expecting to be surprised but neither do you want it feeling like it’s three steps behind you just because you’ve seen the trailer. Yet, as soon the film delivers its climactic plot twist with the earnestness of a kid tying their shoelaces for the first time, the film quickly trips over its own feet. Your only small highlights in characters here are her parents Petra (Emma Thompson), who delves into heavily into a Eastern European accent, and Ivan (Boris Isakovic) her taxi cab driving dad, both of whom supply a laugh or two but not much more.

It’s hard to know who to lay blame on here as there’s not much to work with in terms of the film’s story. Taking its title from the 1984 Wham! pop song Last Christmas, the film treats George Michael’s music with the same depth as Yesterday treated the Beatles; as window dressing. When it comes to the actual film, it’s nothing more than your typical Hallmark movie of the week. Watching Clarke bumble around is endearing enough for the first half or so but it wears thin quickly and the predictable story line does little to keep things interesting.

So, the question remains: how far can a film go based on charm alone? Well, your mileage will undoubtedly vary based on your tolerance of saccharine love stories as ‘Last Christmas’ is as sweet as they get. Its lack of cynicism and Clarke’s infectiously bubbly lead performance will likely be its saving grace for many, but overall it’s ‘Christmas’ story feels like a lump of coal wrapped up in pretty packaging.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, October 5, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“LAST CHRISTMAS” IS OUT IN THEATERS IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

 

REVIEW: “DOCTOR SLEEP” (2019) Warner Bros.

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In “DOCTOR SLEEP” little Danny Torrance is now a grown up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), and is still understandably haunted by the things that happened to him at the Overlook Hotel as a small child. Most days he drinks his hours away to silence the voices in his head. After one drug-fueled drinking rampage, waking hungover and getting ready to rob the last dollars from his one-night stands wallet – even upon seeing the fact that she has a toddler – but not even so much as blinking an eye over being such a degenerate, he gets interrupted by his still very present ghost mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). This all leads his decision to hop on a bus to go across the country to a new town and once there immediately meets good Samaritan Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Freeman, who inexplicably within minutes of meeting Dan, just up and pays for his room and board, then magically gives him a job as well. Oh! to be of this place where all lives are wonderfully and simply mended right? And yes, of course all this helps Dan get his life back together, as he ‘meets’ and connects with a young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), through the chalkboard wall in the room as she ‘Shines’ just like he does and they exchange messages through this medium. Seemingly against his will (yawn), he ends up protecting her from a group of powerful psychics, lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who hunt young children with psychic powers in order to feed on them to make themselves live forever.  Oh how the plot thickens as in a twists of all twists (dripping sarcasm) in order to keep Abra (yes, as in Abra-ka-dabra) safe, Torrance will of course be forced to return to the place of all his nightmares, The Overlook and face his ghosts.

The first hour is spent to a certain extent, explaining ‘The Shining’ and what the intentions of the merciless cult-group The True Knot are. As we follow Dan Torrance as a middle-aged man plagued by all these horrific memories, they take liberties left and right rolling right thru a completely inconsistent tone of plot due to the mass sprawl of locational changes. One minute we’re in a sleepy town, the next a woodland area, and then all of a sudden eight years have been and gone. The zippy nature of the editing and bloated explanation results in zero feeling of terror and needles to say, the tension is non-existent.

The second act gives more of an explanation in detailed effect, of the who, what, how, and why’s of the cult group led by Rose. They show us how the group hunt the children and we get to know the some of the main characters that follow her from Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet) to the creepy Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken) and Silent Sarey (Catherine Parker). We also get a lot of recurring visuals (The naked Lady in the Bathtub for example) that were meant to be scary, but by the end, are just eye roll inducing.  While the acts of Rose and her group of cannibalistic crazies are horrific, most especially the not needed but much detailed kidnapping and killing of Bradley ‘Baseball Boy’ Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), the fact is, they just aren’t scary.  The absolute revolting nature of this heinous act doesn’t make you frightened, it repulses you, which doesn’t make for a good horror scare in the slightest.  It also makes you realize that all you have to do is change these characters to vampires and the ‘steam’ to blood, and you’ve got a typical tween vampire flick going for you here, with about the same embodiment of zest to the performances as well.  Ferguson, who shines so well in action flicks, comes off here as a gypsy Rose caricature channeling Stevie Nicks, while McGregor doesn’t come close to giving us the feels that child Danny Torrance gave us.  One point in particular, there is a ridiculous ‘Buffy the Vampire’ type fight sequence where a supernaturally charged Rebecca Ferguson takes out an axe-wielding Ewen McGregor in a martial arts type scenario that is so out of place in this film that holding in the laughter is difficult because they are trying to have us believe this is serious stuff.  The ridiculousness of scenes like this screeches throughout the film. There is however, one big stand out performance here in Kyliegh Curran, a superb young actress (whom I hope we see much more of in the future) who makes her character so believable and gives us her all.

The third and final act then arrives, and the entire story crumbles much like the Overlook itself. Plagued by an overshadowing sickness that ‘The Shining’ had produced. Nostalgia. Remember that time where Jack viciously chopped the bedroom door down with an axe? Or that moment where blood came hurtling through the hallways in slow motion? What about Room 237? The introductory swooping camera movement that Kubrick embraced whilst the Torrance’s drove to the hotel? The typewriter? Slowly walking up the stairs in a confrontational manner? The snow-covered hedge maze? The twins? No? You don’t remember? No worries as Director Mike Flanagan has got you covered. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, yet it must be handled with delicacy. The difference between imitating and homage is very fine, and unfortunately Flanagan settled for the former.

Sadly most of this film was just..meh. It lacked the nail biting atmosphere that ‘The Shining’ had in spades. It lacked a lot of fear of any kind really.  One can argue that it is wrong and unfair to compare the two films given the uniqueness of Kubrick’s vision, but Doctor Sleep invites these comparisons by constantly referencing The Shining in flashbacks, relying on much of Kubrick’s imagery to pedal its cheap scares.

Grade: C-

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“DOCTOR SLEEP” IS OUT NOW IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

 

REVIEW: “MARRIAGE STORY” (2019) Netflix

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As with some of Bambach other films, “MARRIAGE STORY” is long on talk and short on cinema. While most are at least a good watch, this one tricks you into thinking you’re getting a marriage story for the first five minutes, but it’s got a little trick up it’s sleeve and you soon find out that what you almost fell for, is nothing of the sort. With its sorta jokey NY/LA rivalry theme, and in certain LA frames giving us the “Annie Hall” feels, (along with other films in the same vein appear to be evoked here) but the mere mention of these kinds films only highlights the weakness of this one.

There is however, some passing enjoyment to be had.  Laura Dern turns in a stellar performance as Nora Fanshaw, a vicious divorce lawyer camouflaged in California nuances, and there are some fine cameos from Ray Liotta as Jay, opposing lawyer to Dern’s character.  Alan Alda also steps in as Bert Spitz, and is probably the best bit of comedy the film is given, though we are also given a true moment of sadness when you can’t help but notice the wonderful Mr. Alda’s tremors/shaking during this performance.  The wonderful Wallace Shawn, Merritt Weaver as Nicole’s sister Cassie, her mother Sandra (Julie Haggerty) are fun as well.  On the other hand, our two leads: Nicole & Charlie (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver respectively), are as bland and uninteresting to watch as is paint drying. With such a lack of chemistry the film soon grinds to a plod and therein leaves us with absolutely no feeling towards them – no matter how much they talk about it, it’s hard to fathom that they have any kind of shared history (even their son, used as a bargaining chip throughout the messy divorce, has about as much appeal as a potato).

During one particularly lengthy argument, which was right on the level with that of a Real Housewives scenario and about as well acted as such, Johannson tries, but can’t strike a spark from herself nor her co-star, the dead-eyed and apparently sedated Driver. I’ll admit, his appeal escapes me, but he can sing — as at one point he inexplicably gets to sing an entire number from “Company” at a piano bar, and pulls it off admirably well. But Baumbach remains firmly within his context setting of affluent, if not wealthy, Brooklyn and L.A. showbiz people and their neuroses. It’s all very narcissistic and more than a little contrived — as it could be said, this is more theatre, with its elaborate, paced plotting intended as build-up to the leads’ Big Scene, which then leaves us no great effect.

In fact, Bambauch makes an unforced error in a courtroom scene where, for the first time, ordinary and everyday people are seen waiting their turn before a judge, who makes a welcome comment to the effect that he is adjourning the case around which the film revolves as there are plenty of people with far fewer resources awaiting their turn. Indeed. And so the inevitable question arises: why should we care about these particular privileged, undoubtedly smart, but politically and socially dull people as they go through the predictable phases in the break-up of a marriage whose reality was never very convincing to begin with? Why should we spend our time watching what amounts to a modernized version of a drawing-room comedy, updated to take account certain contemporary sensibilities. Well that’s for someone else to figure out. The sheer fact that they list this as a ‘comedy’ is truly baffling as our leads provide none of it and if it weren’t for some great supporting roles here, this film would be a complete sham. It also should really be titled ‘Divorce Story’ as the ‘Marriage Story’ title invokes a much happier tune than what is given.

This movie is no joy ride and I tend to say that it should have been 30min shorter. Especially the musical scenes in the end felt like “to much”. Sure, I get it, it’s a reference to the Broadway theme, but it just felt out of place. Maybe this movie is a bit to long by design, to make you feel the dread and despair as a divorce, especially when it gets so dirty, is a process that goes on for much longer than you think it should. They gave us a cute little package of tissues upon entry of the film and I thought I would be using them in an emotional tense, instead the only tears to be shed were the ones of wanting the movie to just end.

 

In the end, this film is overlong, over shouty and brings absolutely nothing new to the table. I think I’ll watch “Annie Hall” again, thanks.

Grade: D+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“MARRIAGE STORY NOW OUT IN SELECT THEATERS // ON NETFLIX DECEMBER 6, 2019

REVIEW: “THE IRISHMAN” (2019) Netflix

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“THE IRISHMAN”  is both a period piece and an almost historical type piece as you need to know a little history to understand the direction of the narrative and flow of this epic film. The movie, while following Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as our designated main character, revolves around Teamsters union boss James “Jimmy” Riddle Hoffa (Al Pacino). Fortunately Frank goes to great lengths to narrate the story for the audience and provides a healthy dose of context for those of us not from the Kennedy era. The main thing you need to know going in is that Jimmy Hoffa had mob ties, and that he vanished in 1975 and was presumed murdered by mob bosses for being “uncooperative”. While I’m sure a few ‘liberties’ have been taken by the film, it does make you go ‘hmmmm’ more than once after viewing.  It’s good to note as well, that it is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, who’s legal career cannot be disputed. Once you do see the movie, you will understand how perfectly rich that title is.

The movie unfolds over four acts, told over several decades by Frank Sheeran. In act one, Frank is introduced as a WWII veteran who is stuck driving food delivery trucks in and around Philadelphia. He has the bright idea to steal some of the steaks that he’s delivering, and sell them to local mobster Felix “Skinny Razor” DiTullio (Bobby Cannavale). Eventually his brazen willingness to break the law catches the eye of Italian mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), who happens to be a mobster on a national level, a man who might be commonly be referred to as an ‘underboss’ in the mafia levels structure. His calm demeanor is both comical yet terrifying. A soon to be classic line encompasses Bufalino perfectly: “You might be demonstrating a failure to show appreciation.” Under his mentor-ship, Frank becomes a ruthless action/hit man for the Italian mob and explains with rather entertaining dispassion how he does his job properly. In act two, Russell introduces Frank to Jimmy Hoffa, the outspoken and fearless president of the National Teamsters Union. Their relationship grows and Hoffa becomes Frank’s second mentor. Together they use intimidation and bribery to gain influence until the election of John Kennedy, who subsequently appoints his brother Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General and he immediately goes after Hoffa.

The first two and a half hours are the most fun, and in particular the end of act three is some of the most tense and dramatic storytelling that I have had the pleasure of seeing in recent memory. At a dinner celebration for Frank (who eventually becomes a Teamster boss himself), tensions between Hoffa, Bufalino and the other mobsters reaches a breaking point, and the decision is made to make Hoffa disappear. But in a gut wrenching twist that you had a feeling just might be, Frank is the one tasked to do the job. In a beautiful display of cinematography over a thirty-minute buildup, Scorsese forces the viewer to the edge of their seats with the dread of what’s about to happen. Robert De Niro’s performance in these moments is master class; the inner conflict is all the more apparent thanks to all of the time we spent watching Frank being groomed by Bufalino and Hoffa in equal measure.

Getting away from the plot a bit, the movie is actually surprisingly funny. In one particular scene, someone insults an older Bufalino at a dinner reception. He and Frank exchange glances, and the frame suddenly cuts to a hotel bed covered in guns. Frank then narrates with excess detail and hilarious dispassion the ideal weapon for a public assassination. Moments like these are thrown throughout the film and keep it from getting too bogged down in it’s violence. It’s impressive how quickly jokes fly, given the disproportionate amount of people getting shot point blank in the head.

The heart of the movie is definitely Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro was de-aged apparently with some really good CGI, as he is supposed to be younger than both Pacino and Pesci. While it’s fairly obvious, it was never too distracting to not enjoy what was unfolding onscreen.  Al Pacino is a an absolute over-the-top riot as Hoffa, and is certainly one of the best roles that Pacino has bit into and played in awhile.  While De Niro on the other hand, goes for the more understated, it as if he is the ying to Pacino’s yang that makes this pairing so wonderful to watch together. Pesci as Bufalino is chilling, and it’s fun to seem him as the boss in this gangster movie after being a junior-level mobster in ‘Goodfellas’ so many years ago. The mentor-ship between De Niro’s character and both Pacino and Pesci is amazingly entertaining. Mention must be made of the flawless ensemble cast which backs up these principals, including the amazing women, who play such important, but background roles in the film is the cushion that rounds out these characters and nuances of story line. Kathrine NarducciRay Romano, Anna Paquin and Aleksa Palladino to name just a few, and while not always front and center, they add so much into the texture of their scenes.

The only thing keeping me from calling this movie perfect is it’s length. The almost three and a half hour run time is a very long one, and while occurring infrequently, the movie does drag a bit. This is most apparent in the fourth act where Frank introspects during his final years, and attempts to achieve reconciliation for all the murders he’s committed. It doesn’t really offer any closure or seem necessary to wrapping up the narrative.

Ultimately that doesn’t even come close to making me not recommend seeing “The Irishman” at all. There’s a reason Martin Scorsese will forever be known for his gangster movies. Combining comedy, violence, brotherhood and drama, he has created a formula that continues to work. The fact that he continues to still make such excellent movies after all these years, well it says a lot about the man himself.  Well done Mr. Scorsese, well done.

Grade: A-

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“THE IRISHMAN” NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS // ON NETFLIX NOVEMBER 27, 2019