Love, Weddings & Other Disasters

Posted on December 3, 2020 at 5:26 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude material and strong language
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, references to mob killings
Diversity Issues: Insensitive portrayal of disability and gender non-conformity
Date Released to Theaters: December 4, 2020

Copyright 2020 Saban
Fifty years ago a movie named “Lovers and Other Strangers” was released. Now best remembered, if at all, for the Carpenters song “For all We Know,” it was a collection of funny, poignant, romantic, hopeless, and hopeful love stories centered around the wedding of a young couple. While it is dated (one storyline is about the couple’s hiding from their parents that they are already living together, pretty racy for that era), it holds up very well, especially the performance by a young Diane Keaton as an unhappy wife contemplating divorce. The scene where her mother-in-law explains her concept of true love with “The Bells of St. Mary’s” as an example is a classic.

And here we are, half a century later, with Keaton in a very similar but not nearly as good movie, “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters.” It’s not just not up to the standards of “Lovers and Other Strangers” or other multi-storyline romances like “Love, Actually.” It is not up the standards of “The Love Boat.” The script sounds like it was written by 11-year-olds, lots of pratfalls and “jokes” about genitalia. None of the characters behave in a manner that is rational, believable, relatable, or appealing. Oddly, it manages to be more dated than the 1970 movie, with insensitive and juvenile jokes about disability and gender presentation.

The ever-young Keaton plays the most ancient of rom-com characters, a manic pixie dream girl, all whimsy and cheer. Her counterpart is played by fellow-slumming Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as a caterer, the kind of rigid perfectionist who uses a ruler to make sure that the wineglasses are not half-an-inch out of alignment and says things like “We start with perfection and ascend from there.” Their meet-cute is a “blind” date. She’s actually blind, get it? And she knocks over his pyramid of champagne glasses because she’s blind, get it? Because of course a lovable wacky girl would have an incompetent guide dog, of course.

The other characters include a would-be wedding planner who literally dumps her fiance as they are sky-diving after he breaks up with her mid-air, a candidate for mayor who is getting married in eight days and his fiancee, a amphibious vehicle tour guide (unlike the movie I highly recommend the Ducks tours, by the way) trying to find the girl of his dreams even though they only spoke for a moment, he doesn’t know her name, and his only description of her is that she has a tattoo of Cinderella’s glass slipper), and, I am not making this up, some game show contestants competing for a million dollars by being literally chained to one another. Note that the female of this chained couple is not a lawyer, as she told the game show; she is a stripper and there are members of the mob (they say Mafia but they have Eastern European accents) who want whatever she wins. By the way, the game show host is smarmily played by the movie’s director, Dennis Dugan, taking a break from Adam Sandler vehicles.

This movie exists in a world where politicians are elected on the basis of their Instagram posts, a family member’s destructive addiction gets shrugged off as if it’s a lovable quirk, people take tours of historical sites to hear made up commentary, and dozens of women get tattoos to try to get a boyfriend they saw on TV. “My jokes are older than these buildings,” says the tour guide (Andrew Bachelor, whose charm and screen chemistry almost triumph over the material). Yeah, that goes for the whole movie.

Parents should know that this movie has crude humor, sexual references, strippers, and comic peril including mobsters who talk about killing people.

Family discussion: Which couple were you rooting for the most? Are you more of a perfectionist or a go with the flow type?

If you like this, try: “Lovers and Other Strangers” and “Valentines Day”

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Book Club

Posted on May 17, 2018 at 5:11 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout and for language
Profanity: Some strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Paramount

Hey, people behind “Sex and the City,” you might want to call your lawyers. Maybe those of you behind “The Golden Girls,” too. “Book Club,” starring three Oscar winners and an Emmy winner from the last century, is pretty much an AARP version of SATC, with four women who endlessly confide everything in each other, mostly about sex and some about romance. How does a movie with these magnificent, strong, smart stars fail the Bechdel test?

In this mix, Jane Fonda plays Samantha, I mean Vivian, the luxury hotel owner who has a lot of sex but only with men she doesn’t care about. “I can’t sleep with people I like,” she says referring to the literal act of slumber. “I gave that up in the 90’s.” Mary Steenburgen plays Charlotte, I mean Carol, happily married to a man she loves (Craig T. Nelson), but not happy about their humdrum sex life. Candice Bergen is Miranda, I mean Sharon, a judge who is long-divorced and resolutely single, living only with a cat called Ginsburg. And Diane Keaton plays a character named Diane who is somewhere between Carrie and “Golden Girls'” Rose, a sweet-natured recent widow with two devoted and over-solicitous daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton), who want her to leave her home and move in with them in Arizona.

The women have had a book club together for decades, mostly an excuse for them to get together. When Vivian hands out copies of the naughty bondage and discipline Fifty Shades of Grey novel by E.L. James, it causes all four of them to rethink their own romantic and sexual options. Vivian reconnects with the guy she almost married four decades earlier (Don Johnson, whose daughter starred in the movie version of Fifty Shades). Diane meets a very handsome man on a plane (Andy Garcia) and has to decide if she is open to a new relationship. Sharon decides to try swiping right with a little online dating and ends up having dinner with a tax lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss, every bit as charming as he was in “The Goodbye Girl“). And Carol tries to spice it up with her recently retired husband, who seems to have no interest in sex.

This provides many opportunities for the foursome to get together to discuss each other’s situations in detail. And if you think that they might omit the makeover scene with everyone weighing in on what one of them should wear on a big date and a scene of triumph over the ex’s new young love, rest assured they did not.

It is good to see these brilliant stars give it their best, which is what it takes to overcome the drippy screenplay, co-written by director Bill Holderman (with Erin Simms), and pedestrian direction. It’s like taking a Hallmark Romance Channel movie script and instead of casting the farm team (1990’s television series stars), it sends in the All-Pro heavy hitters. Or a “Love Boat” episode from the days when one segment always featured some 80-something former movie star. This group is able to carry it pretty far, especially Fonda, clearly relishing her role, and Garcia, who is able to give some grounding to a thinly written Prince Charming character. But the silly premise, Bumble product placement, clunky double entendre, unimaginative soundtrack, and Viagra humor make us long for the more reliable middle-age female empowerment fluff of Nancy Meyers.

Parents should know that this film has extensive and explicit sexual references and situations, including the visible results of a double does of Viagra, played for comedy, as well as some strong language and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why were Diane’s daughters so worried about her? Why was it hard for her to tell them no? Why was Vivian reluctant to become close to Arthur? Did the books have an impact on their choices?

If you like this, try: “The Jane Austen Book Club” and some of the earlier films of these stars like “Barefoot in the Park,” “Starting Over,” “Melvin and Howard,” and “Annie Hall”

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Finding Dory

Posted on June 16, 2016 at 5:42 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, separation from parents
Diversity Issues: Sensitive treatment of disabilites
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2016
Date Released to DVD: November 14, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01FJ4UGF0

Pixar’s first feature film was “Toy Story” because their then-groundbreaking computer animation technology could only create characters who were stiff and smooth. Plastic toys were ideal characters. Each film since has shown exponential technological progress — the furry creatures of “Monsters Inc,” the balloons in “Up,” Merida’s curly red hair in “Brave.” With “Finding Dory,” Pixar has created its most ambitious character yet, a seven-appendaged, camouflaging octopus named Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neill. Hank moves like jello in water in a plastic bag, each appendage separate, and his skin and shape adapt to take on whatever colors and textures are in the background. Hank is an astonishing marvel of a character, always surprising, completely believable, wonderfully expressive, and endlessly fascinating.

Hank is one of the characters encountered by Dory, the short-term memory-impaired, whale-language-speaking blue tang who helped Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his lost son in “Finding Nemo.” At the end of that film, she tells Marlin that “I look at you, and I… and I’m home.”

Following a flashback to Dory’s early years with her devoted and understanding parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), we see that she is living with Marlin and Nemo when she has a flicker of recollection. Her parents are in California, the other side of the ocean. She knows she needs help to get there. Marlin, still fearful about anything he cannot control, does not want her to go and he really does not want to go with her. But having almost lost his own son he knows how much Dory needs to be with her family, and he knows he could never have found Nemo without her help. And so they hitch a ride across the ocean with Crush the sea turtle (director Andrew Stanton), but then they get separated at a marine life sanctuary, which is where Dory meets Hank.

Dory has been tagged for transport to an aquarium in Cleveland. Hank wants that tag; he does not want to be returned to the ocean. He wants to be safe and he wants to be left alone. He agrees to help Dory find her parents if she will give him the tag. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) try to catch up with Dory, with some help from a pair of alpha exemplars of the territorial imperative, British-accented sea lions (Dominic West and Idris Elba) and a scrawny, wild-eyed loon named Becky. Meanwhile, Dory runs into an old friend, a visually-impaired whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson). And there’s another sort of friend, played in an adorable cameo by Sigourney Weaver as sort of herself.

With most of the action in the marine sanctuary, this film misses the grandeur and beauty of “Nemo’s” underwater setting, spending much of its time on a series of expertly executed action sequences with comic moments and delightful characters.  Once again, the film centers on the essential joy/anxiety conundrum of being a parent or a child.  Dory’s parents are endlessly patient and encouraging, though she hears them privately worrying about how they can teach her to stay safe and be independent despite her cognitive impairment.  Destiny and her neighbor,  a Beluga whale named Bailey (O’Neill’s fellow “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell), both have to overcome their disabilities as well.  Bailey has a sort of PTSD following an injury and has to learn to use his echolocation to “see” what is happening to Dory.  The treatment of disabilities is exceptionally nuanced and tender-hearted, not the usual pity or saintlike treatment.  Everyone has strengths as well as weaknesses.  When Marlin realizes that instead of over-analyzing everything he has to learn to think more like Dory, he, Nemo, Dory herself, and those of us who are leaning just a little closer toward the screen, learn to trust her heart and ours as well.

The DVD/Blu-Ray release has a fabulous assortment of extras, including interviews with resident of the real Marine Life, the adorable “Piper” animated short film, “Animation & Acting.” a look at the art of creating a deep and profound connection between an audience and a fish, and my favorite, “The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar,” the story of Hank, the challenges and rewards of bringing to life Pixar’s crankiest, most technically challenging character ever. The cast talks about their favorite underwater creatures and there is some background on the story development. There’s even an all-emoji version of the story!

NOTE: Be sure to get to the movie in time to see the utterly winning short film, “Piper,” and be sure to stay all the way through the credits for some extra scenes, including the appearance of some favorite characters from the first film.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and some violence, some mild language and brief potty humor. Even more than the first film, it is a frank but sympathetic portrayal of characters with disabilities.

Family discussion: What is a good way to help someone who has memory impairment? Why did Hank change his mind? What is the difference between the way Dory and Marlin think about how to solve problems, and should you be able to do both?

If you like this, try: “Finding Nemo” and your local aquarium or marine life sanctuary and learn more about the sea creatures in the film.

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The New Yorker’s Actress Profiles: Tilda Swinton, Angela Bassett, Katharine Hepburn, and More

Posted on May 29, 2015 at 8:00 am

The New Yorker has created a section with some of its best profiles of actresses, including Angela Bassett, Julia Roberts, Diane Keaton, Tilda Swinton, and Katharine Hepburn. They are a treat to read and will inspire you to check out or revisit some of their classic performances.

Anthony Lane on Julia Roberts in 2001: “The essence of Julia Roberts’s appeal is that she is more lovable than desirable, and that, even when love is off the menu, she cannot not be liked. There is no more flattering illusion in movies: here is a goddess, and she wants to be your friend.”

Claudia Roth Pierpont on Katharine Hepburn in 2003: “With her starved, whippetlike grace and overbearing intensity, Katharine Hepburn appeared slightly mad. But the same characteristics also made her seem a distinctly new type of woman, poised between the nervy and the nervously overwrought.”

Hilton Als on Angela Bassett in 1996: “While she has yet to account for a film’s financial success, her dignified, alert, and earnestly emotive screen presence does generate audience sympathy. And she appeals especially to that segment of the moviegoing public (black women, white housewives, lesbians, and married men) who are not just fetishizing her striking upper-body musculature but are responding to the subtext of her performances—a subtext that includes her struggle to reinvent Hollywood’s view of black women as something other than wisecracking or doleful martyrs, their hair stiff with brilliantine and the funk of subjugation.”

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