Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Copyright TWC 2016

In “Gold,” People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive Matthew McConaughey has more fun playing a bald, overweight, often obnoxious character than we have watching him. The problem, as so often the case when stars produce their own vehicles, is that the movie assumes more affection for the character than it is able to generate. McConaughey plays prospector Kenny Walls (based on real-life goldbug John Felderhof — don’t Google him if you don’t want spoilers). The film, directed by Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic,” “Syriana”) is a rise and fall (and rise and fall and I won’t reveal which one he ends up on) story of a third generation prospector, always on the search for gold. A dream inspires him to go to Indonesia, where he teams up with a legendary specialist in finding gold, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), who takes him deep into the jungle.

They don’t have enough money. The workers desert them. Kenny gets malaria. The assay reports come back negative.

And then great news. They’ve struck gold.

And then the real challenge comes. The jungles of Indonesia are not nearly as treacherous as the jungles of Wall Street. Once the gold has been found, everyone wants a piece of the action. The qualities that made Kenny succeed in finding gold may not be the ones he needs to keep it. A smooth investment banker (Corey Stoll) and the head of the world’s biggest gold operation want Kenny’s mine. They have the resources to get the greatest value from it. They also have the resources to make life very, very unpleasant if he does not cooperate. When Kenny rejects the first option, the second kicks in.

There’s a lot going on here. There’s the relationship between Kenny and his girlfriend (Howard brings enormous warmth and intelligence to a one-dimensional role). There’s the bromance between Kenny and Mike, the search for gold, the struggles with the money people, the issues with Kenny’s original colleagues. Kenny speaks feelingly about the quality that unites all prospectors: the belief that something is there. So we are supposed to think of him as a loveable dreamer. But the movie keeps undercutting that by portraying him as selfish, not very smart, and not nearly as interesting as his buddy Mike or the characters played by Bruce Greenwood and Toby Kebbell. Flash forwards give away too much, too early. The film keeps panning for the gold of storytelling and coming up with lesser metal.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, some peril and violence including guns and predatory animal, and illness, some disturbing images, drinking and drunkenness, chain smoking, fraud and betrayal.

Family discussion: Would you trust Kenny with your money? Should he have taken the deal? What should he do with the package he receives at the end?

If you like this, try: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” also featuring McConaughey

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A Dog’s Purpose

Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:29 pm

Copyright Amblin Entertainment 2016

The doesthedogdie website helpfully lets us know what some people consider the most important deciding factor in selecting a film. They — and their visitors — will have a tough time with this one because in one sense there are at least three dogs who die in this film but in another the whole point of the movie is that dogs do not really die; there are doggy spirits that go on from dog to dog, learning how to be more devoted, more loving, more helpful. So yes, there are some tough moments for both the human and canine characters in this film. I cried just watching the trailer. But on the other hand, there are gorgeous and adorable dogs. Even better, there are puppies.

“A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the best-selling book by W. Bruce Cameron is an unabashed love letter to dogs and the humans who are lucky enough to be loved by them. Yes, it is sugary and sentimental, but so is the devotion dogs and people have to each other. These are not cats like Garfield, who often scorn us and bestow their favors sparingly, or an “Every Which Way But Loose” orangutan who can outwit us. These are dogs who have nothing but time to play with us or comfort us and are always overjoyed to see us.

Bailey, voiced by Josh Gad of “Frozen,” is born (puppies), then quickly caught by animal control and (subtly) killed. Then, he is born again, and adopted by a boy named Ethan. Bailey is curious about the world and his place in it. Much of the gentle humor of the film comes from Bailey’s efforts to understand human behavior, and much of the sweetness comes from his realization that his purpose is to love, to help, and to remind humans of something important they tend to forget and dogs are very good at — to appreciate this exact moment, to inhabit it fully.

Bailey and Ethan adore one another, happy to play together all day. Bailey gets up to the usual dog mischief, but the real problem in the family is when Ethan’s dad becomes depressed, begins to abuse alcohol, and becomes abusive. By that time, Ethan is a teenager, in love with Hannah (Britt Robertson), and being recruited for football scholarships to college. But things go wrong for Ethan, and Bailey gets old and tired…and is reborn as Ellie, a K-9 dog partnered with Carlos (John Ortiz), and then as a corgi adopted by a lonely student (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and then as a neglected dog abandoned by his owner’s boyfriend.

There’s nothing subtle, surprising, or sophisticated about this story, which is as chewed over as a dog’s favorite bedroom slipper. But audiences will be won over by the unabashed affection for its subject and funny-only-after-the-fact incidents that will be only too familiar to anyone who has ever lived with a dog. Its belief in the deep connection between humans and the devoted dogs in their lives — and did I mention the puppies? — help it connect to us as well.

NOTE: The release of some leaked behind-the-scenes footage appeared to show one of the dogs being mistreated by a handler in order to get him to do a stunt. The producer of the film has made a detailed statement about the incident, accepting responsibility for some mistakes but also making it clear that the leaked footage was edited to distort what happened. Anyone concerned about the treatment of the dogs on the film should read his statement in its entirety.

Parents should know that this film has tense, sad, and dangerous situations including very sad deaths of beloved pets and character injured, alcohol abuse, depression, domestic abuse, neglect of animal, fire, law enforcement violence including kidnapping, shoot-outs, and rescue, some potty humor, and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: What do you think a dog’s purpose is? How is it different from a human’s purpose?

If you like this, try: The book by W. Bruce Cameron and the movies “My Dog Skip,” “Marley & Me,” and “The Three Lives of Thomasina”

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Based on a book Comedy Crime Drama Family Issues Romance Talking animals

Ron Padgett: The Poet of “Paterson”

Posted on January 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I loved Paterson, the story of a poet/bus driver played by Adam Driver who lives in the city that shares his name.

The four poems written by the film’s main character were written by Ron Padgett, who told PBS that he first said no when asked to step into the voice of the movie character, but then “found myself falling into what I kind of temporarily fantasized to be his world.”

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Tribute: Mary Tyler Moore

Posted on January 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm

She could turn the world on with her smile. She could take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. We have lost one of television’s brightest lights, Mary Tyler Moore, who has died at age 80.

Mary Tyler Moore starred in two of the most beloved and most influential series in television history, but in one of her earliest appearance in the then-new medium of television, you never saw her face. As Sam, secretary to detective “Richard Diamond” (David Janssen), the camera stayed on her legs, hands, and mouth. She also performed as the sprite Happy Hotpoint in appliance commercials.

When she was cast as Laura Petrie in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” created by Carl Reiner and based on his experiences as a writer for Sid Caesar’s variety show, it was the rarest kind of magical pairing. Rob and Laura Petrie were a new kind of married couple in television sitcoms. They were gorgeous, sophisticated, and obviously crazy about each other. Their chemistry perfectly suited the superb writing on the show, and it is still my all-time favorite series. Moore was a trained dancer, and the Petries danced together in many of the most beloved episodes.

Some of the episodes involved Rob or Laura getting into trouble, often featuring Moore’s “Oh, Rob!” My favorite episode is “Snoopynose,” where Laura can’t resist opening the mail addressed to Rob. I also love the one where she has to admit that she lied about her age when they got married and the one where she accidentally admits on television that Rob’s boss wears a toupee. But any episode is worth watching and they are all available on Hulu and on cable television.

Moore returned to television with one of the most iconic television series of the 1970’s, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where she played a single woman who has to “make it on her own” as a news producer on a small station in Minneapolis. YouTube has a wild assortments of home-made videos of people re-enacting the opening sequence, which ended with Moore throwing her hat in the air. There’s even one from Oprah, one of the series’ biggest fans, who says Moore’s character inspired her to go into television journalism.

Moore played Mary Richards, an independent single woman unseen before on television (it was shocking when she acknowledged being on “the pill” in one episode). The show had one of the best casts in television history, with Ed Asner as Mary’s crusty boss, Lou Grant, Cloris Leachman as her bossy landlady Phyllis, and Valerie Harper as Rhoda, her best friend. All had spin-off series. Also in the cast: Ted Knight as the dimwitted anchor, Ted Baxter, Georgia Engel as his girlfriend, Georgette, and Betty White as the station’s cooking and household hints show, Sue Ann Nivens.

One of the best-remembered episodes is “Chuckles the Clown Bites the Dust,” where the newsroom staff attends the funeral of the station’s children’s television host. It is both hilariously funny and very perceptive about grief and loss. TV Guide picked it as the third best television episode of all time.

The last episode of the series featured a group hug that seemed to embrace us all.

Moore also appeared in movies like “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Flirting With Disaster.” Her most memorable performance was in “Ordinary People.” Director Robert Redford saw something in the former Happy Hotpoint and cheery sitcom star that no one else had and picked her for the role of the mother who could not express her feelings about the loss of one son and the struggles of the other. When Entertainment Weekly did an oral history of the film, Moore and Redford spoke about the decision to cast her.

ROBERT REDFORD: At that time I had a place in Malibu, and it was winter and I was sitting there looking out on the beach. I saw this lonely figure all wrapped up and walking slowly. The figure looked sad. On closer examination I saw it was Mary Tyler Moore—America’s sweetheart. She was probably just cold, but the sadness hit me and stuck with me when I began casting. I went to see Mary and her husband, Grant Tinker….She had only done these bright, happy things, so I felt pretty awkward going in there and suggesting she play a darker character. But she was very excited and wanted to do it.

MARY TYLER MOORE: Redford was warm and funny and very charming. He told me I was the one whose face he saw as he read the book. Beth was the character he said he most cared about, and he wanted her portrayed with sensitivity. And he wanted me. This was Robert Redford. How could I say no?

Virginia Heffernan wrote in her perceptive tribute in the New York Times:

The influence of Ms. Moore’s Mary Richards can be seen in the performances of almost all the great female sitcom stars who followed her, from Jennifer Aniston to Debra Messing to Tina Fey, who has said that she developed her acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock” and her character, the harried television writer Liz Lemon, by watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Many nonactresses also said that Ms. Moore — by playing a working single woman with such compassion and brio — inspired their performances in real life.

Moore went from pushing the boundaries of television by wearing Capri pants (the network executives wanted her to look like the other TV moms, who did housework in dresses and pearls) to pushing the boundaries by portraying an independent woman with a satisfying career and a full life without a boyfriend. She was a gifted comic performer because she was a great actress. May her memory be a blessing.

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