REVIEW: The Boss

6 04 2016

Picture this: a highly successful businessperson, who augments the public’s perception of their wealth by doubling as a skilled entertainer, needs to bounce back after suffering some public humiliation.

This person enters a field knowing little about the profession but finds a way to prosper by exploiting complacency, deriding rivals with unwarranted personal attacks and even inciting violence.

The captain of industry boasts about cruel implementation of shrewd business tactics and remains unfazed when compared to totalitarian rulers.

(Oh, and this individual’s distinctively styled hair never gets dented.)

Did I just describe Donald Trump or Michelle Darnell, the lead character of the new film “The Boss” played by Melissa McCarthy?

The two larger-than-life figures share quite a few similarities, though McCarthy (along with co-writers Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory) could not possibly have known that her burlesqued portrayal of a corporate mogul would hit the marketplace at the same time as an equal ludicrous figure marched towards the nomination of a major political party. Literally, production ended on “The Boss” two weeks before Trump made the infamous escalator announcement. The ill-fated timing of its release makes it play like an inverse of “Zootopia,” this year’s most fortuitous arrival.

The odd parallel here and there between the fictional and the absurd business tycoon is not necessarily bothersome. And, in the interest of fairness, Donald Trump did not spend five months in jail for insider trading like Michelle Darnell. But a line feels crossed when she declares, “We’re participating in the American Dream!”

Out of context, this might seem harmless. However, Darnell utters it right before an all-out brawl takes place between her group of entrepreneurial thugs and the Girl Scout-like troop from which they disaffiliated. How can one find humor in the perversion of the American Dream on screen when a demagogue is ushering in a national nightmare in reality? Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dicator” showed that comedy had a definite place in a time of bullying leaders, though it ought to contain some confrontational element if it is to be anything more than a diversion. “The Boss” comes across as oblivious in regards to the implications of its dull satire.

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REVIEW: Tammy

12 07 2014

With their collaboration on “Tammy,” writer/star Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Ben Falcone construct what may very well be the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin’s infamous “bridge to nowhere.”  It’s a film about a road trip to nowhere that gets everyone involved in its making nowhere.

Coming off an Oscar nomination and three box office hits, it’s a shame McCarthy spent what was likely carte blanche with the studios on a project that offers nothing new for her talents.  Even though she was so heavily involved with the film’s creation, “Tammy” offers little humor other than jokes at the expense of her character’s weight or lacking mental capacity.  It’s almost as if she wants the two characteristics to be linked, which baffles me.

Was the point is to prove that McCarthy can play the woman-child archetype as well as, say, Vince Vaughn can play the man-child?  Or that a character like McCarthy’s Tammy can pull in a romantic conquest in spite of her figure and eccentric personality?  I could maybe see “Tammy” sounding like a great feminist victory in its premise, yet in execution, the movie is every bit as bumbling as its titular character.  If McCarthy really wanted to do something radical, she should have made a film where her figure was never addressed at all.

Over the course of 96 minutes (that feel much longer), Falcone and McCarthy give us a whole lot of time on the road with Tammy and her grandmother Pearl, an alcoholic played by Susan Sarandon.  Tammy and Pearl don’t quite have any grand purpose to be road tripping in the first place other than … well, something had to give “Tammy” a plot!

The quite-literal journey in the story is the perfect opportunity to explore a similar progression in the protagonist, but they can never quite figure out what virtues or values Tammy is going to discover.  The film toys with the idea of her gaining self-appreciation while also contemplating a familial love angle, never taking the time to fully develop one or the other.  It ultimately slaps on an ending favoring a rediscovered bond between its two female leads, and the conclusion feels rather unearned.

That’s not to say that McCarthy did not earn the opportunity to make “Tammy,” though.  The fact that this is film she chose to make from that position, however, is likely to remain a question mark for the rest of her career.  C-1halfstars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 30, 2011)

30 09 2011

Some movies have such a powerful, heartbreaking intensity that you only need to see them once.  They don’t grab you by the shirt; they grip you body and soul.  “Revolutionary Road,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” is one of these movies if you haven’t already figured that out.  In 2008, it was plagued with what I like to call the curse of the Oscar frontrunner – predestination for incredible levels of greatness that it couldn’t possibly live up to its hype.  But now with that season firmly behind us, we can now see it for its incredible capacity to captivate and move us.

Sam Mendes has a particular knack at peeling back societal façades of contentment and revealing the dark underbelly of suburban society, first with “American Beauty” and then with this adaptation of Richard Yates’ 1961 novel about the 1950s.  Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) are a typical couple – meeting after the war, they have big dreams and aspirations.  Yet Frank winds up taking a miserable desk job at his father’s company and moves them out to Connecticut when April gets pregnant.  A few years later, he has almost disappeared into a grey flannel suit and she into an apron.

However, neither can shake the idea that they have bought into an empty illusion, that there has to be more to life than to be just like everyone else.  Roger Deakins’ haunting cinematography emphasizes their Stepfordian conformity and echoes the story’s implication that they are trapped not only in this house but in this life.  However, April refuses to dismiss what Betty Freidan called “the problem with no name” in her manifesto “The Feminine Mystique,” proposing that the family move to Paris to reclaim their livelihoods.  While she brings in the money in a secretarial position, Frank would be able to relax and discover what truly makes him happy.

They start to go through with the plan, and for a moment, this ideal setup revives a failing marriage.  Even in spite of protests by friends and neighbors left aghast, particularly realtor Mrs. Givings (Kathy Bates) and their best friends the Campbells (Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour), they keep their heads held high.  In fact, the only person who seems to see their logic and rationale is John Givings (Michael Shannon), Mrs. Givings’ brilliant but possibly mentally ill son who has the best perspective on the times of anyone.

Nevertheless, the idea becomes just an idea, no longer a plan of action, leaving an embittered Frank and April to confront their problems with a pugnacious brutality.  In their arguments, Mendes and scribe Justin Haythe fully accomplish Yates’ goal of indicting the glorified hollowness of the 1950s.  While “Revolutionary Road” is beautifully written and directed, the film’s aims are best achieved through the tour de force performances by DiCaprio, Winslet, and Shannon.  As first the paradigm of suburban contentment and then its victims, the Wheelers truly needed to be personified by two actors who can fully realize the tragedy.  It just so happened to play out that these two people are world-famous star-crossed lovers thanks to James Cameron’s “Titanic.”

This may very well be the best work in the diamond-crusted careers of both DiCaprio and Winslet, which is saying a lot.  The fact that neither of them received Oscar nominations for the movie is absolutely criminal, although lack of awards recognition should hardly be the ultimate judge of their performances.  They both perfectly calibrate every scene, every emotion, every last movement so that it resonates with a scarily beautiful ring.  Kate Winslet is particularly striking as the active wife defying stereotype and lashing out against the image of the perfect housewife, making her final act devastatingly crushing.  And with powerhouse Michael Shannon as the mouthpiece for Yates and the Wheeler’s foil, the acting of “Revolutionary Road” is what drives that fist of furious emotion right into the gut.

For that very reason, I must warn you that this movie is not for the faint of heart.  Its mind-boggling emotional power doesn’t end when the credits roll; it may linger in the form of a depressing mood or a bleak outlook on life for anywhere from 1-3 days.  But don’t let that keep you from missing one of the best movies of 2008, and for my money, one of the most formidable films on society in recent memory.  You need only see it once to achieve the full effect – although if you want to see it twice like me, it’s still phenomenal.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 9, 2010)

9 04 2010

Those of you who read this blog in December and January know that I’m kind of obsessed with the work of director Jason Reitman.  While doing some research on him, I came across some of his cinematic influences.  One of the filmmakers he lists is Alexander Payne.  I had seen one of Payne’s movies, “Election,” but I decided that I needed to further explore.  “Sideways” was good, but it’s not something people my age are supposed to get.  The movie that really struck me was “About Schmidt,” so much in fact that I even decided to call it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (And just for the sake of the occasional refresher, the acronym stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie.)

The titular character, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), is at an end-of-life crisis.  After retiring, he enters the twilight years with cynicism and boredom.  His wife is aging quickly, and Schmidt often wonders where the woman that he married has gone.  His daughter (Hope Davis) is marrying a dimwitted guy who sports a mullet (Dermot Mulroney).  Despite his best attempts, he can’t get her to reconsider.  In all aspects of life, Schmidt feels useless.

But soon Schmidt is left alone, and he decides to recapture control of his life by driving a Winnebago to see sights from his childhood en route to the wedding.  Even after logging all these miles, he still can’t escape the feeling that his life is inconsequential.

“About Schmidt” is at its best whenever it shows Schmidt trying to make a difference in someone’s life.  After seeing an ad on TV, he decides to sponsor a child in Tanzania named Ndugu.  He can’t pronounce the name, but Schmidt earnestly wants to help this child.  He goes further beyond providing monetary support and makes contact with Ndugu, writing him many revealing letters about his own life.  It’s somewhat pathetic to think that Schmidt can only tell these things to Ndugu, but it further reveals how lost this man is.

It’s easy to see how movies like this have influenced Jason Reitman (for example, the wedding scenes in this and “Up in the Air”) and other directors, and “About Schmidt” is a movie that deserves to be imitated.  Jack Nicholson gives no doubt as to why he is one of the best – if not the best – actors of our time.  The supporting performances are great as well, particularly Kathy Bates as Schmidt’s overbearing future in-law.  The Golden Globes classify this as a drama, and in large part, that’s what it is.  But “About Schmidt” has enough laughs to satisfy any moviewatching mood you could possibly be in.





REVIEW: Cheri

13 08 2009

When I started this blog, my plan was to publish movie reviews in reverse chronological order, that is, starting with the most recent and moving backwards.  However, in my haste to crank out review after review, I skipped over “Cheri.”  I think that is a testament to the movie itself.  It is fairly forgettable and mediocre, the only bright spot being Michelle Pfeiffer’s spectacular performance.  Unfortunately, it will not receive the attention that it rightfully deserves because the rest of the movie is a chaotic mess with no narrative poise.

Lea (Pfeiffer) is an aging courtesan in the Belle Époque period in France who has one last fling with the introverted Cheri (Rupert Friend), the son of one of her best friends (played by Kathy Bates).  She teaches him lessons that his mother never did, including how to be kind to his future wife.  Although she denies it, Lea ends up falling for Cheri.  Unfortunately, he has to be married.  That was the first 30 minutes of the film.  The other hour was an absolute mess that bored me to tears.  By the time that the emotional climax of the film rolled around, I honestly couldn’t have cared less.

Pfeiffer is ablaze in “Cheri,” a welcome comeback to the role of a leading lady for the star.  She is willing to acknowledge and act her age, a rarity in Hollywood nowadays.  Lea is the only character whose emotions seem logical, and I think that is so only because of Pfeiffer.  Kathy Bates is bearable, but Rupert Friend is just horrific.  He thinks he can hide behind his looks and not act, and that never works.  He phones in a performance without any driver whatsoever.  The second act focuses more on him, which may be why it was so gut-wrenchingly awful to watch.

Movies set in this time period seem tailored (no pun intended) to win Oscars for their costumes, and the threads are intricately woven for this movie.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this won the Oscar for Best Costume Design.  The narrative power of the movie is quite frankly atrocious.  A narrator pops up randomly every once in a while to provide some worthless information.  Utilizing such a corny element in a movie that takes itself so seriously was an ill-advised move.  The movie jumps from emotion to emotion constantly, and all of them are poorly developed.  It goes from sensual to sweet to sad to boring to heartbreaking to just plain depressing in a matter of 90 minutes.  Overall, the movie just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, which is a shame because I do think that Pfeiffer gives one of the best performances of the year.  C+ / 2stars