The Good House

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NA
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcoholism, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to two suicides (off-screen), some scuffles, lost child
Diversity Issues: Neurodivergent child
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Lionsgate
Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) tells us she was “born three drinks short of comfortable.” She tells us a lot in “The Good House,” based on the 2013 novel by Ann Leary. Hildy and her ancestors going back to one Sarah Good, hung for being a witch back in the late 1600s, have always lived in a Massachusetts town on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. By nature, culture, and profession she is utterly attuned to the emotions and the stories around her. As a realtor, she has to be able to assess immediately the needs and dynamics of the prospective buyers and sellers. Divorce may be a personal catastrophe for the people splitting up, but for her it is a business opportunity. Hildy has to balance the necessity of being pleasant and supportive to everyone with the necessity of boundaries that keep her from getting too emotionally involved. But they also keep her from being as perceptive about herself as she is about others. Hildy narrates a lot and she is always charming, often a little wry, but as we go on we see what she is leaving out of the story.

The good news about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of comfort and help people feel grounded. The bad thing about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of claustrophobia and make people feel trapped. The local psychiatrist, for example, is Peter (Rob Delaney). Hildy will always see him in part as the little boy she used to babysit for. Even if she does not, he will always think she does.

There is an increasing gulf between the way Hildy wants to be seen in the community, the way she is seen, and the way she is. We learn that her daughters and ex-husband organized an intervention because of her drinking, and she has been to rehab. And she is still drinking. A lot. She believes it is important for her to appear successful, so she drives a car she cannot afford. She is struggling and feeling the pressure from a former assistant who has become a competitor.

The trailer may suggest that the focus of the movie is the romance as Hildy connects with Frankie (Kevin Kline), a contractor she loved when they were teenagers. But it is really the story of Hildy coming to terms with the loss and fear she has pushed away and refused to acknowledge since she was a child. Often it was alcohol that she used to make reality less painful. This is a gorgeous role for the endlessly talented Weaver, who gives a layered, deeply lived-in performance, one of the best of the year. She shows us Hildy’s cool, pulled together, ABC (Always Be Closing), performative self, the one she shows to clients, potential clients (that means everyone), even her two daughters. Her wry humor at first looks like some self-awareness, but as it goes on, we see it is just another way to avoid seeing the truth. The same with the details she confides in us. At first they seem disarming and candid. But we learn more about what she is leaving out. And her chemistry with her “Dave” and “The Ice Storm” co-star Kline is genuine and touching.

There’s an engaging shagginess to the story that reveals its origins as a novel. Directors and co-screenwriters (with Thomas Bezucha) Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky leave in some of the messy details of the novel that most writers would smooth over in a movie adaptation, where there is a limited time so that every aspect has to push the story forward. This gives the film a sense of atmosphere and community that we can believe goes beyond the edges of the frame.

Parents should know that this film deals with alcoholism, depression, and suicide. A child is in peril. Characters use some strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Hildy tell Rebecca she could not get involved? Do you believe Hildy had special powers of perception?

If you like this, try: “Dave” and “Our Souls at Night” and, by these same screenwriters, the excellent autobiographical “Infinitely Polar Bear”

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Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s enchanting live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” features a magnificent cast. Here’s where you’ve seen or heard them before:

Emma Watson (Belle): We watched her grow up as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, but she has also appeared in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Bling Ring.”

Dan Stevens (Beast/Prince): He is best known as handsome (and tragically killed) Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” but he also played Colin in the web series “High Maintenance” and stars as David Haller in the superhero series “Legion.”  We’ll see him next week with Anne Hathaway in the unusual monster movie, “Colossal.”

Kevin Kline (Belle’s father Maurice): An Oscar-winner for “A Fish Called Wanda,” Kline also starred in “Pirates of Penzance,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Ice Storm,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The Big Chill.”  I loved seeing his reunion with Meryl Streep in “Ricki and the Flash.”

Josh Gad (LeFou):He  starred in “Book of Mormon” on Broadway and is best known as Olaf in “Frozen.”  We recently heard him as the voice of the main character in “A Dog’s Purpose,” and I recommend his underrated film with Emma Stone and Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette): The star of “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights” will appear in the eagerly anticipated “A Wrinkle in Time,” due next year.

Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe): McDonald is a stage actress and singer who has won five Tony Awards (so far), for both musical and dramatic roles.  She also appeared in “Ricki and the Flash,” as Kline’s second wife.

Ewan McGregor (Lumiere): This versatile actor has played Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” a drug addict in “Trainspotting,” a fairy tale soldier in “Jack the Giant Slayer,” and Jesus in “Last Days in the Desert.”

Ian McKellen (Cogsworth): He played Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Magneto in the “X-Men” movies.  He is a classically trained British actor who has played Richard III and King Lear.

Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts): An Oscar-winner for both writing and acting, Thompson starred in “Love Actually,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “The Remains of the Day.”

Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza): His voice can be heard in commercials for Verizon, and he has played Meryl Streep’s husband (“Julie & Julia”), “Hunger Games'” flamboyant emcee Caesar Flickerman, and a restaurant owner in “Big Night.”

Luke Evans (Gaston): This Welsh actor has extensive stage experience and onscreen has played two Greek gods, Apollo in Clash of the Titans (2010) and Zeus in Immortals (2011).

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Actors Where You’ve Seen Them Before

Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017
Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

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Based on a book Date movie Fantasy For the Whole Family Movies -- format Musical Remake Romance

Ricki and the Flash

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Copyright 2015 Walden
Copyright 2015 Walden

“Aren’t you allowed to have two dreams?”

The person asking the question is Ricki (as she is now known), played by Meryl Streep. She has just accused her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), of not supporting her dream of playing rock music. And he has responded, “I thought we were your dream.” Years ago, Ricki was a suburban housewife named Linda, with a husband and three young children. She left them to be a rocker, and now fronts a cover band called Ricki and the Flash, performing at night for a small group of loyal fans at a bar in Tarzana, California. During the day, she is a cashier for a warehouse store. Neither job pays well; she is about to declare bankruptcy.

But first she has to go home. Her daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) is having a breakdown because her husband is in love with someone else. Pete’s wife is away, caring for her ailing father. So Pete calls Ricki and asks her to come home and help him take care of Julie. She arrives, with her guitar and dressed in 70’s rocker drag, at his gracious gated community and enters Pete’s grand and elegant home, where everything seems effortlessly comfortable. And where Ricki, with her stringy braids and kohl-rimmed eyes and tattoo is very out of place.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”) gives Ricki some unexpected characteristics and of course Streep brings her to life. Linda/Ricki loves to perform and loves the look and shock-the-bourgeois attitude of a rock musician, even at her other job. But she is not the stereotype anarchist/liberal. The tattoo on her back is a proudly waving American flag and she calls out “Support the troops!” from the stage. We learn a little bit more about where that comes from in one of the movie’s highlights, when Pete’s second wife, played with depth, heart, and resolve by Broadway star Audra McDonald, returns home and the two women have a conversation about what is best for Julie. It is couched in the kind of “we don’t have to like each other but we need to get along” terms of two very different women who share the experience of having been married to the same man and, in their own ways, mothering his children.

Streep clearly loves being back with her “Sophie’s Choice” co-star, and she and Kline create a palpable sense of history with each other in some touching moments, especially when they join forces to confront Julie’s ex. And it is a joy to see Steep and Gummer together. Their trust and connection is so solid that it gives them both the freedom to make their relationship complicated and painful, wanting so much from one another, and still wanting to give to one another, too.
Rick Springfield (yes, that Rick Springfield) is excellent as lead guitar of The Flash and sometime boyfriend for Ricki.

The film is awkwardly constructed, and the ending, while sweet, is abrupt and unrealistic. It makes sense for the storyline that Ricki is not a great singer or musician, with a dozen cover songs on the soundtrack, director Jonathan Demme’s commitment to using the live performances without any studio sweetening is questionable. But the musical performances are joyous, tender-hearted and true. And it explores essential questions: How do we love the people who cannot love us back the way we want them to? What do you do when your dreams do not fit together? What will you give up for someone you love?

Parents should know that this movie includes tense and unhappy family confrontations, discussion of a suicide attempt, strong language, drinking, marijuana, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: Can you have two dreams? How does Pete feel about Ricki? How can you tell? Why does Ricki hurt Greg?

If you like this, try: “The Rocker” and “Juno” and see Streep and Kline together in “Sophie’s Choice”

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