Thursday, June 14, 2018

“Tag” – Movie Review


This week, I attended an advanced screening of the new comedy “Tag”, starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner.


When former classmates reunite to play their annual game of Tag, will they be able to finally make a member of their group lose after all these years?


It’s May and that means one thing:  Hoagie (Helms) and a bunch of his childhood friends have to assemble for their annual game of Tag which they’ve been playing since childhood.  This year, however, it’s going to be a little different from years past:  their buddy Jerry (Renner) is getting married and as a result, will retire from the decades-long game with his friends once he takes a wife.  Therefore, this year’s game will be the last opportunity any of them  may ever have to tag Jeremy as “It” because he’s been the only one of his friends who has successfully evaded being tagged. 

Hoagie then sets out across the country for the purpose of not only continuing the game, but also to entreat his lifelong friends to join him in his quest to make Jerry “It” before it’s too late.  After a bit of convincing – which includes some rather strenuous games of Tag – Hoagie is ultimately able to get Randy (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Callahan (Hamm) to join him in his quest.  Together, they travel back to their hometown to hunt down Jerry before he gets married.  Jerry introduces them to his betrothed, Susan (Leslie Bibb), and they are immediately smitten. 

Susan, while supportive of Jerry, doesn’t want her wedding to become a travesty by this game.  Therefore, Jerry requires the men to promise that while playing Tag, they won’t disrupt the wedding ceremony itself – and furthermore, they must agree to completing the game before the wedding.  If Jerry loses by the wedding day, then so be it – but if they haven’t managed to Tag him by then, then the game is officially over.  What the men soon come to realize is that both Jerry and Susan are in cahoots to plan various deceptions that will cause Jerry to avoid being tagged.  As the wedding day draws near, will the men be able to get their wish and tag Jerry or will he forever remain victorious? 


“Tag” has a cast quite capable of comedy and decent jokes sprinkled throughout, but sometimes it feels like it doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or an action film.  It would be understandable if you assumed this was just another bro-fest buddy road movie – and in some ways, it is precisely that.  But the filmmakers do make an effort to try to be more inclusive of women as a key parts of the story.  That said, it does come across as a little bit forced; also, when you consider that this is inspired by a true story (from a Wall Street Journal newspaper article), it seems even more contrived.

Despite the fact that “Tag” is a short movie – it comes in at under two hours – it starts dragging during the second act, making it feel a little longer.  During that period, you start getting the reaction that you understand the premise and they need to get along with it – but there are certain plot points introduced that wind up taking you on some unnecessary and unwelcomed detours.  One example is the character of Cheryl, played by Rashida Jones.  Although Jones is fine, the character is not terribly crucial to the story.  One gets the impression that this character was added merely to have a romantic interest and pad out the film’s running time.

In some ways, this might have played better as a documentary; as a matter of fact, videos of the actual men playing the game are shown at the end of the movie and this seems much more fascinating.  Instead, they got a bunch of familiar names with a big Hollywood budget and trivialized the entire tale.  Among the few bright spots are portrayals by Buress and Isla Fisher as Anna, Hoagie’s wife.  That said, despite the performances and occasional verbal and sight gags, there isn’t enough to elevate the film above the mundane.   


Thursday, June 07, 2018

“Hotel Artemis”– Movie Review


This week, I caught an advanced screening of the new action-thriller “Hotel Artemis”, starring Jodie Foster and Sterling K. Brown.


When a hospital that caters only to criminals is overwhelmed after a chaotic riot, will they be able to treat their patients?


In 2028, the city of Los Angeles is in a state of anarchy; with its citizens unable to get easy access to water, riots ensue and the city becomes unsafe.  It is at this time that Waikiki (Brown) and his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) decide to rob a bank; of course, this does not end well for either of them.  While making their getaway, Honolulu is shot and desperately needs immediate care.  Waikiki knows exactly what to do:  he’ll take his brother to the legendary Hotel Artemis where he’ll be well taken care of by The Nurse (Foster). 

The Hotel Artemis is actually something of a misnomer; although it was formerly a hotel in the downtown section of  Los Angeles, it closed long ago.  Eventually, it reopened, in a sense, being rebranded as something of a medical center that caters only to members of the underworld – but not just for any offender.  Instead, it is only available to those who have been previously vetted by the proprietor.  Since Waikiki is known to The Nurse, he and his brother gain admission easily.  Unfortunately, Honolulu is seriously injured and will require extensive care. 

Reaching maximum capacity, The Nurse severely restricts further patient admissions, no matter how severe.  She does have to make one exception, though:  Niagara (Jeff Goldblum) has been hurt and is brought in by his son Crosby (Zachary Quinto).  The Nurse has to make an exception for the wealthy Niagara since he’s the one who financed her operation after her alcoholism caused her to lose her nursing license.  But once it’s been discovered that certain patients have clandestinely entered for the sole purpose of destroying the facility, can The Nurse find a way to keep it open to care for her patients?


Escapist entertainment can be good for the soul, not unlike comfort food.  But like comfort food, no one can exist on a steady diet because it’s unhealthy.  Having it every once in the while as a treat won’t hurt too much.  That’s pretty much how one might characterize “Hotel Artemis”, which often requires suspension of disbelief.  But the question becomes whether or not doing so is a challenge to enjoying the film. In this case, the answer is that while there are some questions that aren’t answered, it shouldn’t interfere with appreciating this motion picture on purely an entertainment level.  Just surrender yourself to the pure escapism and allow the picture to take you on its wild ride.

This ensemble cast contains many familiar names and faces; although a skeptic might understandably presume they’re in it for a payday (which can’t be ruled out entirely), the screenplay is likely what attracted them to the project.  It’s very well written and extremely funny; despite the movie being extremely dark (in both its mood and its lighting), there are a good number of very amusing jokes that take you by surprise at the most unexpected moments.  The humor is well utilized here; when plot points start feeling heavy, a gag is inserted to lighten the emotion in the scene.

The director is Drew Pearce, who also wrote the screenplay and was a co-producer.  As a director, this is his first feature; with previous writing credits that include “Iron Man 3” and “Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation”, the action-thriller genre certainly does seem to be his expertise; it’ll be interesting to see if Pearce continues to direct his own scripts in the future or if he will work on other projects.  As noted, “Hotel Artemis” doesn’t demand very much of its audience -- in fact, that’s almost a pre-requisite. Whether or not Pearce’s future films will be similar is hard to say, but parts of the screenplay suggest he might venture on to something more weighty someday.


Friday, May 25, 2018

“The Fourth Estate”– Movie Review


This week, I attended an advanced screening of the new documentary, “The Fourth Estate”, about The New York Times’ coverage of Donald Trump’s first year as President.


When Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the united states, will the media be able to keep up with its coverage of him?


After President Donald Trump made his “American Carnage” speech as part of his inauguration, it seemed that the country was headed in a different direction -- and when the journalists at The New York Times reported this, they appeared to know it, too.  While on the one hand it could be an exciting time, it also became a time where demands would be made on them like never before. Much of the time is frequently spent fact checking because they have learned they can’t rely on anything that is told to them by this White House.  The rules as they knew them have all been thrown out the window and the game is being re-defined on-the-fly.

All was not unified, however.  Often, the Washington, D.C. Bureau would argue with the New York City office, especially when, at the last minute, the New York office would drastically change a story reported by the Washington Bureau.  There was plenty of internal squabbling, with resignation threats abounding. Additionally, the New York Times reporters were very competitive when it came to The Washington Post. Whenever the Post would get a scoop, the Times reporters were deflated.  “How did they get that information before us? Why didn’t we get it first?”, they would ask, after having developed relationships with their trusted sources.

There are many sacrifices these reporters make -- much of it having to do with their time.  Anything resembling a personal life is the first thing to go because of how frequently they have to work late into the evening.  If they have small children, they may be able to see them first thing in the morning, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll be home in time to tuck them into bed at night.  Furthermore, with the incumbent President publicly questioning the veracity of the media in general and hurling daily insults at The New York Times in particular, will the journalists be able to keep up -- or will they instead simply give up?  



The Fourth Estate is a four-part mini-series that debuts on the Showtime network Memorial Day weekend; at this screening, we only viewed the first episode.  Watching how these intrepid reporters dutifully perform their job despite many internecine and external challenges certainly does give you a renewed respect for the profession of journalism.  However, given the fact that this will appear on Showtime (and not, say Fox or Sinclair networks), it pretty much amounts to preaching to the converted; the people who should see this never will.  Perhaps it’s just as well. The people who should see it would probably never believe it because of their innate distrust of the media, as inculcated by Fearless Leader.

Having said all of that, one problem occurred to me during this screening -- the title.  The term The Fourth Estate refers to the press in general, not The New York Times specifically.  Despite this, the story seems to focus primarily (if not solely) on The New York Times itself. Based on what we saw in the first episode, other news outlets are only given passing allusions.  If it turns out that the other journalists -- print, digital and broadcast -- are not given their fair share of screen time in the remaining three episodes, then it is a bit misleading for the filmmakers to suggest that “The Fourth Estate” is literally about The Fourth Estate. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with the filmmakers and several of the New York Times journalists that appear in the mini-series (see the list of panel members above).  Haberman said that her coverage of Trump is adventurous but she’s not sure how it will end; because of this, she has been forced to get used to feelings of uncertainty and disorientation.  She believes that when reading his Tweets, you are getting a real-time look into what Trump is thinking, adding that it’s like having Nixon reading his infamous tapes out loud. 

For the full post-screening discussion, please refer to the video below; beneath that, the trailer for the documentary.

The Fourth Estate (2018) on IMDb

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word” – Movie Review


This week, I attended a sneak preview of the new documentary by Wim Wenders, “Pope Francis:  A Man Of His Word


The Pope discusses his philosophy, including views on life, death and the ecology.


In a series of speeches, news videos and statements made directly to the camera, Pope Francis shares his opinions on a wide variety of topics – not all of which are necessarily religious or directly about Catholicism.  For example, one of The Pope’s favorite topics is the environment, which is something the church had tended to avoid prior to Francis.  He believes that defiling the planet is a sin against God because humans are systematically destroying His greatest creation.  Therefore, it is the duty of all its inhabitants to take care of the planet as a way of honoring The Creator.

When it comes to the economy, The Pope believes that there is great financial inequality in the world and that 80% of the wealth goes to about 20% of the people.  He says that we can all do with a little bit less in life and if we do, then there will be a little bit more for those less fortunate than we are.  Speaking of inequality, there is also the issue of gender bias.  The pontiff feels that women should be given greater roles in society and that their voice should be heard more.  As things stand right now, the men in society control far more than their fair share. 

As far as life is concerned, Pope Francis is of the opinion that you can’t consider life without considering death.  He thinks that most people don’t want to think about their own demise because it is too unpleasant; we must reconcile ourselves with death because with each passing day, we are all dying a little bit.  But don’t be so obsessed with it that you can’t allow yourself to enjoy life.  You should have fun, be playful and most importantly, try to find reasons to smile.  If you don’t look for opportunities to laugh and smile, then you’re missing out on what life is all about.


The more you pay attention to the content of what Pope Francis says, the more he sounds like the Catholic version of Bernie Sanders.  Does this mean we have a Socialist Pope on our hands?  Perhaps.  But nevertheless, his views – which some have felt controversial – are what have contributed to his extraordinary popularity with young people.  For those who may be looking for a biography of His Holiness, this is not that movie; if, on the other hand, you are looking for a film where The Pope endlessly pontificates (you caught that pun, right?), then “A Man Of His Word” is for your. 

Admirers of Pope Francis will no doubt enjoy this movie because the pontiff in offered up in all of his glory.  On the other hand, if you’re considerably less of a fanboy when it comes to His Holiness, then you’ll have plenty to gripe about.  This documentary comes across almost as if it were an infomercial – not for Catholicism in general, but for this Pope in particular.  Does the phrase “preaching to the converted” come to mind?  The basic problem here is that the Pope is essentially giving an hour and a half monolog where he’s never questioned or challenged – which arguably would’ve made this a considerably better film. 

Following the screening, there was an interview with the documentary’s director Wim Wenders.  Wenders explained that he initially got involved with the project when he received a letter from The Vatican which outlined the idea of the film and inquired as to his interest.  He wound up meeting with The Pope four times, each session lasting two hours, just to see if they could get along and also to make sure their idea of the movie was reasonably close.  The Vatican pretty much gave him a free hand to do whatever he wanted with the motion picture, never insisting on final cut or having a say in the content. 

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018) on IMDb

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“First Reformed”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a sneak preview of the new drama written and directed by Paul Schrader, “First Reformed”, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried.


When a member of a pastor’s congregation dies, will he take up the man’s cause or choose to end his own life?


Rev. Toller (Hawke) is the pastor of The First Reformed Church in upstate New York.  Currently, he’s busy making plans and scheduling much-needed repairs prior to the celebration of the church’s 250th anniversary despite the fact that he’s having worsening health problems.  It is at this time when he’s approached by Mary (Seyfried), who is concerned about her husband, Michael – an environmentalist who was recently released from jail after a protest. He’s been depressed and wants Mary to abort their baby; Mary hopes that Toller can counsel him.

Unfortunately, Michael is too far gone and he ends up committing suicide.  Toller now sees his duty to see after Mary during this difficult time; in the course of doing so, he starts reading through Michael’s old research and begins to get involved in the ecological movement.  Over time, Toller’s health starts impacting his ability to serve his congregation so he finally decides to see a doctor and have some tests performed. The tests reveal that Toller may be seriously ill and the doctor recommends more specialized investigation to determine exactly whether or not he has some form of cancer.

As the anniversary draws near, Toller believes his job may be in jeopardy.  His town’s church is overseen by the pastor of a county mega-church, which is itself funded by a local corporation that is a known polluter of the environment.  When the company’s CEO is alarmed by what he sees as Toller’s ecological activism, his ability to lead the church comes into question. Since the anniversary is going to be a major event attended by the governor and the mayor, as well as the CEO, it will get significant press coverage.  With this in mind, Toller believes he can use this opportunity to speak out about how the corporation is defiling the area’s environment. But considering his health, Toller is forced to make a choice: should he make a public statement about the company’s pollution and possibly lose his job or should he simply kill himself rather than wait for the cancer to take him?     


More than 40 years after the classic “Taxi Driver”, Paul Schrader is still obsessed with writing about Travis Bickle.  This time, however, the movie is “First Reformed”, Bickle is named Toller and instead of being a cabbie he’s a preacher.  But basically, he’s the same guy.  Both Bickle and Toller are, in their own peculiar but unique way, trying to seek some sort of redemption – and doing so in the most violent way imaginable.  Another similarity these characters share is the fact that neither one of them is exactly the most mentally stable individual you’ve ever met. 

While Toller as a protagonist starts out as a sympathetic character, he takes one dark turn after another as the story progresses and dares you to like him by the end.  Make no mistake, this is an odd movie that takes some weird twists – which can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether or not you’re enjoying the unusual and unnerving experience that is this film. Whether you are fascinated by the manner in which Toller is questioning his religious faith or are more attuned to the ecological aspects of  this motion picture, “First Reformed” will have something for you – but it defies you to find this story accessible.

Following the screening, there was an interview with Schrader, Hawke and Cedric The Entertainer, who plays the pastor at the mega-church.  Hawke said that he described “First Reformed” to a friend of his as an Ingmar Bergman-like movie. After the friend caught a screening of the film, he told Hawke, “It’s more like if Bergman listened to The Ramones”.  Schrader characterized his movie as “passive aggressive” and said that he loves stories that contain spirituality up against politics. Cedric said that some of his acquaintances are preachers at mega-churches, so he based his character on some of them.


First Reformed (2017) on IMDb

Saturday, May 12, 2018

“The Day After”– Movie Review


This weekend, I attended the opening night screening of the new Korean drama “The Day After”, directed by Hong Sang-soo. 


When a married man ends an affair with an employee, will he repeat his behavior with her replacement?


Bongwan (Kwon Hae-hyo) runs a book publishing company and is frequently racing to the office unusually early in the morning.  Quite reasonably, his wife suspects something is up.  She confronts him about this and speculates that he is having an affair with another woman – possibly, someone at work.  Bongwan refuses to allay her concerns, but neither does he deny nor confirm her accusations.  Instead, Bongwan is more concerned with the office assistant who quit her job about a month ago.  Her replacement is scheduled to start that day. 

Areum (Kim Min-hee) is greeted by Bongwan on her first day at work.  She came highly recommended by a long-time acquaintance of Bongwan, so he hired her immediately.  Areum starts her new career at the publisher with an extended conversation with Bongwan over a cup of coffee.  Areum, as it turns out, aspires to be a writer someday and thinks that working for a publisher will help her toward that goal.  She looks up to Bongwan because he is renowned throughout the country as himself being a great writer and literary critic.

Bongwan’s wife finds a poem she suspects he wrote to his girlfriend and ventures to the publishing office to confront her husband’s lover – unfortunately, she finds Areum there and wrongly believes this young woman of being her husband’s girlfriend.  She begins beating up poor Areum, who is rightly confused by all of this; Bongwan’s wife doesn’t believe Areum when she denies the accusation.  Once Bongwan discovers this, he explains to his wife he’s not having an affair with her – but actually, he was cheating on his wife with his previous assistant.  Will Areum now be able to keep her new job or will Bongwan be forced to fire her in order to mollify his wife?


“The Day After” is an intricate and complex movie that presents far too many challenges to viewers to make it accessible.  Also, its fluidity with time can present difficulties in terms of your ability to follow the story.  There are probably people who strongly believe that this is a clever way to tell a tale.  They’re not entirely wrong – in some ways it is.  The problem is that spending an hour and a half watching two people chatting incessantly over coffee or during a lunch or dinner at a restaurant can wear you down a bit.  It is a less interesting version of “My Dinner With Andre”.

Where the movie goes wrong is in its lack of dramatic tension and absence of a protagonist in whom the audience can invest its interest.  Without either one of those things, you really don’t have much of a story to tell.  Apparently, we are supposed to get behind the man here but he seems to be such a scoundrel you don’t want to bother.  As far as the wife is concerned, her character doesn’t have enough screen time to be a protagonist; likewise for the ex-girlfriend.  The new office employee, on the other hand, has plenty of screen time with her boss and given how unfairly she’s treated, you want to make her the heroine; the only problem is she allows herself to be a victim in this situation and never actually does anything remotely “heroic”. 

Lacking any way to connect to these characters – or a compelling story in which the audience can get involved – there’s precious little that makes this movie worthy of recommending.  It seems as though this is supposed to be an intense psychological drama, but it doesn’t come across that way at all; instead, it spends time appearing to chase its own tail in search of a plot.  Why was the film shot in black and white?  It’s hard to say.  Director Hong Sang-soo claims that it was his own idea and not that of his cinematographer.  Perhaps the choice was to make this story feel as though it could have taken place in an earlier time (the books he publishes are all in hard copies – if there are digitized versions, there is no mention made of them).       

The Day After (2017) on IMDb

“Book Club”– Movie Review


Recently, I attended an advanced screening of the new comedy “Book Club”, with Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen. 


When long-time friends read a sexually stimulating book, can it inspire them to improve their love life?


Over the past 40 years, four friends have kept in touch by meeting regularly in their book club:  Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen). They assign each other the same book to read and discuss it during their meetings.  One day, they decide to read the best seller “Fifty Shades of Grey”. When they meet to discuss their progress, they unanimously agree that they find this entire subject matter to be incredibly stimulating; given their enthusiasm, they decide to commit to reading the entire trilogy.  But their interest belies the fact that each woman is currently encountering her own challenges with respect to her love life.

Diane’s husband passed away about a year ago; her daughters are concerned about her being alone so they encourage her to move from her home in southern California to Arizona, where they’re located.  Vivian never married; a wealthy and successful businesswoman, she couldn’t find time for a serious relationship, so instead she just went from one affair to another. Sharon, a federal judge, was divorced 18 years ago and hasn’t been with a man since.  Carol has been married for 35 years, but since her husband’s retirement a couple of months ago, they haven’t been intimate.

Diane winds up meeting Mitchell (Andy Garcia), a pilot who also happens to live in Arizona.  Will she be able to start a new romance with him or will their initial sparks just result in a misfire?  Vivian runs into Arthur (Don Johnson) at one of her hotels; he’s an old flame from years ago. At this point in her life, is it possible for them to rekindle their relationship?  Sharon registers on a web site for a dating service designed for mature adults. When she meets a man with whom she feels comfortable, will she have the perseverance to see it through?  Once Carol tries a few ideas to reignite her husband’s libido, will her schemes work or will it only serve to drive him further away?


As demographics in our country change, we may be finding a new genre of film emerging:  Geezer Love. Should that come to pass, let’s hope the quality of the movies improves because “Book Club” – which apparently aspires to be something of a romantic comedy – is not nearly as funny as it seems to think it is.  This is very much a paint-by-numbers type of motion picture which is just a little too familiar – the feeling of deja vu pervades the viewing experience giving you the feeling that you’ve seen this story before (which you have – many times, in fact).  This being the case, the resolution of each character’s situation is fairly predictable.

Part of the problem here is that the actresses in this cast are a particularly talented group of women with quite accomplished careers – unfortunately, because of their age, their career as such is mostly behind them because they no longer get offered any of the top screenplays.  Those scripts are going to much younger women. As a result, they are forced to take just about anything that comes along because the pickings are slim. If they are going to continue to see themselves as working actresses – or at the very least, score a nice payday – then they pretty much have to commit to whatever comes along. 

“Book Club” is certainly pleasant enough – inoffensive and enjoyable for anyone who’s not terribly demanding when it comes to their entertainment.  The humor, such as it is, isn’t edgy in any way. Whether or not it’s worth going out to the theaters to see is another matter entirely. The timing of its release is a bit unfortunate though; this would’ve been a good movie to see on Mother’s Day, but it’s not opening until the following weekend.  Perhaps if you miss the brunch Mother’s Day weekend, you can make up for it by taking Mom to this film next weekend. Just don’t set your expectations too high.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

“Life Of The Party”– Movie Review


This week, I attended an advanced screening of the new comedy “Life Of The Party”, starring Melissa McCarthy.


When a middle-aged woman suddenly finds out her husband is leaving her, she decides to return to college to get her degree – but will this sit well with her daughter who attends the same school?


What should be a bittersweet day for Deanna (McCarthy) turns out to be more bitter than sweet.  Shortly after dropping off her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at college for the beginning of her senior year, Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh) informs her that he wants a divorce because he’s fallen in love with another woman.  Horrified by the news – as well as its timing – she then decides to exact revenge by returning to college to get her degree and having Dan pay the tuition.  While this initially seems like a good idea, Maddie may not agree – mainly because Deanna is enrolling in the same college she’s attending. 

Deanna’s enthusiasm for her return to university life is soon tempered when she winds up getting a weird roommate and is trolled by some mean girls who aren’t terribly friendly or welcoming.  Nevertheless, Deanna is emboldened by the fact that Maddie’s friends absolutely adore and accept her; they are totally supportive of Deanna’s goal to finally finish her education and earn her degree.  Another thing that makes Deanna’s adjustment to college a bit smoother is that Jack (Luke Benward), one of the students at the school, is strongly attracted to her.

Once the divorce is finalized, Dan decides to get married to the woman for whom he’s left Deanna.  Although Deanna still harbors understandable bitterness toward Dan, she decides to bury the hatchet by attending his wedding and wishing him well.  However, upon arriving at the banquet hall where the ceremony is being held, she is pained to discover that Dan has gone out of his way to humiliate her in the eyes of the other guests.  So unnerved is Deanna that she trashes the reception area, causing Dan to cut her off financially.  Without Dan paying Deanna’s tuition, will she still be able to graduate?     


It almost goes without saying that the saving grace of “Life Of The Party” is its star, Melissa McCarthy, who is credited with co-writing the screenplay (she is also credited as a co-producer as well).  While the script is trite and cliché ridden, it nevertheless serves its star well in that she is able to remind us what a gifted physical comedienne she is (although some scenes are either effects or stunt doubles) as well as the fact that she gives herself some of the best lines.  Having said that, though, it should be acknowledged that Maya Rudolph, who plays Deanna’s best friend Christine, comes close to really stealing the show.

In her own way, McCarthy – despite occasional missteps in some films over the past few years – has been the comedic trailblazer for women’s empowerment movies.  Even in what can sometimes be a sub-par motion picture, she can be the best thing to watch – and the fact that you can’t take your eyes off her is part of what goes into making her the star that she deservedly is.  The key to her success in this regard is the fact that while her character sometimes finds herself in embarrassing predicaments, she is never a buffoon; such situations only serve to humanize her character rather than demean her in the view of the audience.      

Did McCarthy really co-write this screenplay?  Probably not in the traditional sense.  Given that she wound up getting some of the best lines and the biggest hunk on campus had an immense crush on her character, she likely did have tremendous input into the script – which is probably how she ended up with a co-writing credit.  For that matter, did she really co-produce the movie?  Again, probably not in the standard way, although the role of the producer has typically been somewhat fluid.  In all likelihood, she probably negotiated the title as a way of having some degree of control over the film. 

Life of the Party (2018) on IMDb

Sunday, April 22, 2018

“Zoe”– Movie Review


This weekend, I attended the Centerpiece screening at The Tribeca Film Festival, the World Premiere of the new science-fiction romance, “Zoe”, starring Ewan McGregor. 


In a futuristic company that specializes in human relationships, can a romance between two co-workers survive despite a revelation that disturbs them both?


In the not too distant future, a market has developed that is to help people with their romantic relationships.  A small start-up company known as Relationist has become one of the leaders in this field; they have perfected a technology that will determine whether or not a couple will be a good match.  While this has gained them some notoriety, what they are really working on is “synths” – synthetic forms of human beings.  Some would call them robots, but they are really the next generation.  These synths can do much more than merely walk your dog or landscape your yard:  they can be your life partner. 

The founder of this company is Cole (McGregor), a brilliant but lonely man who buries himself in his work in order to forget about his failed marriage.  Overseeing the manufacture of the synths is Zoe (Léa Seydoux), who secretly harbors romantic feelings for Cole, which she is reluctant to express.  Together, they work to create what they hope will be the next generation of synths, which is one they call Ash (Theo James).  Once he is brought online, Ash is brought to socialization, which includes education of qualities that will make him more human-like. 

Despite the fact that Ash develops an attraction for Zoe, she spurns him because Cole is the object of her desire.  Unable to contain her feelings any longer, Zoe and Cole embark on a romance – but it turns out to be ill-fated once Zoe learns from Cole that she is one of his synth creations.  After an accident which results in Zoe being taken offline temporarily, Cole decides he must end the relationship.  Distraught, Zoe delves into the black market of synths where she seeks to be taken offline permanently.  But when Cole finds out about this, can he stop Zoe before it’s too late?   


If you are a fan of the genre of films popularly known as mumblecore, then there’s a good chance that you might like “Zoe”.  Having said that, however, it should also be noted that “Zoe” is a decent science fiction drama that, while presenting a dystopian future, also provides a glimmer of hope for that very same future.  While it may be seen that “Zoe” is a story about robots, it is, in fact, more of a story about humans and what makes our relationships imperfect and fallible.  Like any good science fiction, it is less about the futuristic gadgets and more an introspection of who we as human beings are right now.

Although the film is of a reasonable length, at times it feels as though it’s dragging; this may be attributable to its slow pace.  It’s a science fiction movie, but there aren’t any sequences that contain “action”, mainly because it’s more of a psychological story.  This isn’t a criticism so much as an observation.  Viewers should be aware that this is not going to be like a Star Wars type of experience; it’s much more low-key than that and if you are looking for chase scenes or shoot-em-ups, then you would be advised to search elsewhere.  “Zoe” is an enjoyable – but at times languid – motion picture.       

Following the screening was a question and answer session with the director and cast.  Doremus said that he has a strong connection to the theme of love; he feels it is a constant longing and this film asks the question, “What do we need in order to fulfill ourselves?”.  “Zoe” focuses on the less evolved synths versus the more evolved synths.  He said that he encouraged much improvisation during the filming.  His choice of many close-ups in the movie was due to the fact that he felt there was so much intimacy in the story, he wanted the audience to feel as though we almost shouldn’t be watching this.  

Zoe (2018) on IMDb

“Duck Butter”– Movie Review


This week at The Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of the new comedy, “Duck Butter”, starring Alia Shawkat.


When two women become disappointed in relationships, they decide to spend 24 hours together in order to restore their faith.


Naima (Shawkat) is an aspiring actress who has become disenchanted with relationships due to the dishonesty she has experienced.  She has suffered as many professional disappointments as personal ones.  One night, she goes to a nightclub to let off some steam.  While there, she meets Sergio (Laia Costa), an aspiring singer/songwriter, who is also performing at the club.  Afterwards, they chat and find that they are really hitting it off.  In fact, they discover that they have both shared similar disappointments in their respective relationships. 

Later, they go back to Sergio’s place for a hook-up.  Afterwards, they concoct a plan that they believe will solve their problems:  to spend 24 consecutive hours with each other, having sex every hour, where they will be forced to confront each other in an open and hones way while sharing both emotional and physical intimacy.  In so doing, they believe, this will restore their faith in their ability to have an actual relationship with someone – possibly even each other.  Initially, things go well, but after hours without sleep, both become irritable and disagreeable. 

They return to Naima’s the next morning to continue their plan.  Living together is not as comfortable as they had both hoped it would be.  Sergio’s mother is supposed to meet her for breakfast, so they invite her over to Naima’s home, where she prepares a meal.  Things don’t improve much once she arrives; her presence only adds to the conflict and anxiety between the two.  After she leaves, Naima and Sergio must confront the reality with which they are faced:  has their experiment actually blown up in their face or can they overcome their difficulties to be a couple?


If you already know the meaning of the term “Duck Butter” – or have had the opportunity to research what it references – then you probably have a reasonable idea of just how disgusting this movie has the potential of being.  Assuming you are entertained by the output of a rectum, then it’s possible that you may find the film “Duck Butter” to be a joyful cinematic experience.  However, if this does not sound like the foundation of solid filmmaking, then perhaps it might be time to look elsewhere.  As a fan of much of Alia Shawkat’s other work, this comes as a major disappointment. 

While watching “Duck Butter”, one gets the sense that it is utterly disjointed and nonsensical in its concept.  There’s a good reason for this:  as it turns out (based on the post-screening interview with the director and its stars), there was no screenplay.  At least not in the traditional sense.  Apparently, here’s what happened:  director Miguel Arteta received an outline from Shawkat; this was written at a very high level, one would think because Shawkat lacked the discipline to do the heavy lifting of writing an actual script.  She admitted during the interview that no dialog was written. 

The concept of the story is that these two women spend 24 hours together where they are having sex with each other every hour.  What we learned from the post-screening interview with Arteta is that in order to create the authenticity of a couple being awake for 24 hours straight, he chose to shoot the sequence in real time, during a 24 hour period where no one had a chance to sleep.  It shows.  What comes across is some kind of manic dream where people are unable to think clearly and are operating on sheer emotion.  Unfortunately, this results in unsympathetic characters and you really can’t root for either of them.

Duck Butter (2018) on IMDb