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 DARKEST MINDS” (2018) 20th Century Fox

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Starting us off somewhere in the future, “THE DARKEST MINDS” throws us in into a world where 98% of American kids were wiped out by a mysterious disease called IAAN aka Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. 10-year old Ruby Daly (Heaven Hightower) is one of the survivors and is taken along with other survivors of the plague by the government and put them in a camp – yes, it is eerily reminiscent of not only what has happened in the past, but what is happening right now in the US.

Here, the kids are classified by color, based on the special ability that they possess: Greens are geniuses. Blues are telepathics. Golds have electrical powers. Reds and Oranges are rare, but are also considered dangerous and terminated on site. Ruby is diagnosed an Orange, but thanks to Cate (Mandy Moore), a doctor from the resistance Children’s League who helps Ruby escape the camp. From that point on, she has to discover how to use her power in order to survive.

Ruby (Amandla Sternberg) now a teenager, finally escapes her camp – she meets and makes friends with a group of fellow runaways, namely Zu (Miya Cech), Charlie ‘Chubbs’ to his friends (Skylan Brooks) and Liam (Harris Dickinson). They seek out and find refuge in EDO, a camp for survivor kids. And of course, as in every YA film, a romance blooms between Ruby and Liam, while Chubbs provides the comic relief third wheel and Zu gives us a ‘silent’ performance that isn’t terrible.

I went into this film not knowing that it was based on the first book of a young adult book series written by Alexandra Bracken. Her “The Darkest Minds” series started in 2012, and shockingly is now already into its fifth installment. Maybe had it been done then vs. now it might seem as something new. As it was, this whole film felt like a ‘Maze Runner/Divergent’ retread. And that my friends, is wherein the problem lies with “The Darkest Minds,” it comes out too long after this trend has run out of steam.

Up and coming young actress Amandla Sternberg has lovely quality and screen presence about her and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to predict that she’s got a great career in front of her, though hopefully something with a bit more ummph to it.
Harris Dickinson, who impressed me so much with both ‘Beach Rats’ & his portrayal of J.Paul Getty Jr.,in ‘Getty’, sadly disappoints here playing rebel leader and Ruby’s love interest. Patrick Gibson is the villan of sorts, Clancy Gray, the son of the US President and a fellow Orange who took a special interest in Ruby, steps it up some and helps make the last 35 minutes of this film interesting. Mandy Moore just gave me a “This is Us” mom-vibe for her role and Bradley Whitford as US President Grey, a nasty character that could probably give Trump a run for his money. Which brings us down to our least used star whom I love, Gwendoline Christie. She only has a few scenes as Lady Jane, a bounty hunter chasing runaway kids, but made them work.

Watching “The Darkest Minds” gave me a “been there, done that” feeling. I could not help but see it as just another rehash of all the previous YA adventure series. But what started off quite terribly, picked up the last 35 minutes to make it not a completely wasted watch as it did have its own twists, particularly regarding a certain power that only Ruby can perform. But it will take sequels to explore how this story will proceed from the familiar set-up it has begun with here. But again, it’s 2018 – and the time for this YA genre is long past it’s due date. I predict this one will be in and out of theaters before your mind can go dark.

Grade: C–
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
‘THE DARKEST MIND’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE // WORLDWIDE RELEASE STARTING FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2018