REVIEW: I’ll See You In My Dreams

25 04 2015

I'll See You In My DreamsRiverRun International Film Festival

I’ll See You In My Dreams” features something increasingly rare in movies these days: an elderly protagonist.  (Writer/director Brett Haley just turned 30, which makes the film even more of a welcome oddity.)  Blythe Danner stars as Carol Petersen, a graying widow who resists moving into a home despite tons of social pressure from her bridge group.  Living in her own house grants her a certain sense of freedom and control that she stubbornly resists ceding to anyone.

But over the course of the film, Carol finds herself opening up in ways she has not in decades thanks to the entry of two men into her life.  The first, Sam Elliott’s Bill, assumes the role of a traditional gentleman suitor, drawing Carol into intimate situations she has avoided for decades.  The second, Martin Starr’s poolboy Lloyd, marks a decidedly more platonic bond; the two simply enjoy each other’s company and conversation.

Carol never gets explicitly romantically courted by Lloyd, although a few sparks definitely fly between them.  Thankfully, Haley resists exploitative territory with their relationship, just allowing it to shed light on what both parties have to gain from intergenerational communication.  Carol and Lloyd share some beautiful, sweet moments together in “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and their exchanges are the kind of thing that deserve imitation and replication in mainstream cinema.

Since Carol does not technically involve herself in a love triangle, a comparison to “It’s Complicated” seems like a bit of a stretch.  But her dual male companions, the occasional ribald interlude (mostly with her bridge girls played by June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place), and the keen emotional insight into one woman’s complex experience recall what writer/director Nancy Meyers does so well.  In its pared-down specificity, Haley’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams” delights and charms to a similar degree as the Streep-starrer.  B+3stars

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REVIEW: Rock of Ages

20 06 2012

Rock of Ages” – the movie too bad to be true.  This horrendous piece of schlock that profanes the movie musical as we know it is thankfully self-consciously corny.  The invitation to laugh at the film’s ridiculousness begins in the first minute when Julianne Hough’s archetypical naive Oklahoman good girl, Sherrie Christian, breaks out in song on the bus to Los Angeles, only to be quickly accompanied by the rest of the passengers.  Surely this movie can’t be for real, you immediately think.

Oh, but it only gets better … er, worse.  The movie quickly runs through the hard rock anthems of the ’80s as if it were selling you a TIME Life boxed set.  Except rather than hearing the original raspy-voiced rockers, we get to hear them sung by actors whose only pipes are situated firmly in their trailer.  Aside from Julianne Hough, a vocal virtuoso, all the decent singers are relegated to bit parts.  Ultimately, that’s not worth getting too upset about since Mary J. Blige and Catherine Zeta-Jones both overact their ridiculous caricatures so much that it negates their singing talents.

No, instead, we are treated to hear Alec Baldwin’s dreadful attempts to belt and Tom Cruise murder three halfway-decent songs as the stuporous superstar Stacee Jaxx.  (I’m just going to throw out my theory that he had a voice double – his singing voice sounded NOTHING like his speaking voice.)  I’m not terribly offended by his performance.  After all, being a child of the ’90s means that these songs hold no sentimental or nostalgic value for me, although I did like “Wanted Dead or Alive” before Cruise tried to sing it.  However, clearly no one learned anything from the Pierce Brosnan-“Mamma Mia!” fiasco, and what could have been an amusing cameo gets stretched out into an obnoxiously long Jack Sparrow impersonation.

Really, the problem with Stacee Jaxx is the same problem with “Rock of Ages” on the whole.  They start out amusing in their lunacy and prove worth a few good laughs.  But it just goes on far too long, just trying to find any excuse to throw another ’80s song into the mix for the soundtrack.  There comes a point where using one random off-the-cuff remark to cue a lavish musical number just becomes plain stupid, and it quickly wears out whatever good will you had in the beginning.  The longer it goes on, the more you begin to realize that “Rock of Ages” loses its chance to proclaim itself so bad it’s good.  Instead, it becomes so bad that it’s bearable.  C





REVIEW: Couples Retreat

28 11 2009

Hollywood loves combo deals.  A recent favorite is the probing exposé of a relationship mixed with comedy.  “Couples Retreat” follows this recipe, but there is only a fair amount of laughter added to offset watching long sessions of couples therapy.  Surprisingly, the script (written by stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau) captures a wide scope of realistic relationships, perhaps some of the best in comedy of this type.  However, the writing is also the film’s weakness as it plays like a rerun due to its devotion to the typical “relationship movie” formula.  You come to expect some master plan behind all the exercises that pull the couples apart (while subtly bringing them together), but the movie amounts to little more than just a string of events.

The married-with-kids couple whose relationship has become like a job (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman).  The high-school couple who has been together way too long (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis).  The anal couple who is frustrated because everything doesn’t go according to their perfect plan (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell).  The older man-younger woman couple that always manages to raise some eyebrows (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk).  Chances are, you know at least one of these couples.  “Couples Retreat” dwells largely on the familiarity of its characters to propel the more serious side of the movie.  At the same time, it allows the strengths of the actors to provide some comic relief.  Vince Vaughn does a few trademark trite spiels; Jon Favreau gets plenty of moments to be curmudgeonly; Jason Bateman plays average Joe with a tinge of neurosis.

“Couples Retreat” doesn’t really succeed as a comedy, but it does manage to portray some very realistic relationships with very real problems.  As the directorial debut of Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” – you know, the one they play all Christmas on TBS), it’s not such a bad place to start, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.  We’ve seen all the stars in this movie do better, and it isn’t too far out of line to request more.  But for what it’s worth, this will provide you some amusement yet fail to deliver the belly-laughs we have come to expect from actors like Vaughn, Favreau, and Bateman.  B- /





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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REVIEW: The Proposal

8 08 2009

I hate re-runs, so I will spare you my rant on the predictable nature of the romantic comedy.  And although it is caught up in some typical clichés, “The Proposal” manages to succeed in spite of them.  The movie provides decent fun for all, offering many solid laughs.  Sandra Bullock makes a welcome return to the genre where she belongs, and she has great chemistry with Ryan Reynolds, who is surely headed for Hollywood superstardom.  The way that they are able to play off of each other’s energy is really what makes the movie work.

Margaret Tate (Bullock) is an uptight book editor who treats her workers like garbage, especially her dedicated assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), who has aspirations to inspire people with his own writing.  But Margaret has a problem: she has put off her immigration lawyer in favor of her work so many times that her application to renew her visa is denied.  To avoid deportation, she forces Andrew to marry her on the threat of ruining his career.  After three years of being Margaret’s assistant, Andrew knows everything about her.  She, of course, knows nothing about him.  To change that, they go to Andrew’s grandmother’s 90th birthday weekend celebration in his home state of Alaska.  Margaret’s big city working girl attitude clashes with the slow small-town attitude of Andrew’s family.  At first, the family is puzzled by his engagement to the woman he loathed.  But eventually, his mother (Mary Steenburgen) and grandmother (Betty White, TV’s “The Golden Girls”) accept it, but his father (Craig T. Nelson) cannot.  As time goes on, Andrew and Margaret begin to open up to each other and realize that there is something different than expected behind their working exteriors. Read the rest of this entry »