Home Again

Posted on September 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, marijuana, discussion of antidepressant medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, scuffle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 11, 2017
Copyright 2017 Open Road

Producer/director/writer Nancy Meyers has the formula on lockdown: Take one Oscar-winning performer, preferably of a certain age (Diane Keaton, Anne Hathaway, Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet). Create a setting of lush, heavenly comfort with soft pillows, gleaming surfaces, white wine, and luscious food. Add a generic title (“The Intern,” “The Holiday”). Put some overly familiar pop songs on the soundtrack and use them to hide the lack of dialogue in scenes when we should be allowed to hear what the characters are saying that is making them think differently about each other. Settle back for a story where the female character is ADORED by everyone and also very capable and pretty much right about everything.

Whether her daughter absorbed all of this by osmosis or is merely a fully-owned subsidiary of the Meyers operation, we may never know. But “Home Again,” the first film from writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is produced by her mother and follows exactly the same formula. It is, to say the least, highly unusual for a first-time writer/director to helm such a high budget, high-profile project, starring, yes, an Oscar-winner, Reese Witherspoon, as yes, a women of a certain age who lives in a spectacularly gorgeous home (Fountain in front! Guest house in back!). But Meyers is a reliable commodity, and as generous with her daughter as her ever-beneficent heroines are in the films. Remember Streep bringing out all those pies for her friends?

If there are no surprises here, one of the non-surprises is that the movie is an easy watch, combining, as Meyers films do, pleasant fantasy with aspirational settings. I know I’ll watch it again when it comes on cable, or if I have the flu or need to fold laundry.

Witherspoon is Alice, as in Wonderland, a mother of two who has moved into her late father’s house in Los Angeles because she and her music industry producer who wears leather bracelets husband Austen (Michael Sheen) have separated. Her father was a much-married, Oscar-winning screenwriter and director because apparently that is pretty much the only world she knows or the only one we can dream of.

Alice goes out with friends on her birthday and gets tipsy with three young men who have just arrived in Los Angeles after success with a short, black and white film they are hoping to turn into a feature. She and Harry (Pico Alexander) end up in bed together, though too drunk to do anything. The next morning, Alice’s mother (Candace Bergen) arrives, befriends the three young men, and invites them to stay in Alice’s guest house.

Alice is against this at first, but comes to enjoy it, as the guys help her with the house and her girls and she and Harry end up doing what they were unable to do that first night. The ultimate seduction move is, of course, fixing the hinge on her cabinet, and I don’t say that metaphorically. They all of course ADORE her and are themselves adorable. Enter Austen, wanting to assert his alpha male status and win back Alice because of course he ADORES her, too.

So, basically a high-end Hallmark movie, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NOTE: This is the second movie in a row for Meyers with an inappropriate and borderline offensive “joke” about children who take antidepressants. What’s up with that?

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, as well as family conflicts and divorce, a child dealing with stress, and a scuffle.

Family discussion: Were you surprised by Alice’s decision? How did Harry help her understand what she needed?

If you like this, try: “The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated” — and you can glimpse writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer in her parents remake of “The Parent Trap”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Romance

Far from the Madding Crowd

Posted on April 30, 2015 at 5:45 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence including gun, character killed
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 1, 2015
Date Released to DVD: August 3, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00ZRBQTXO
Copyright 2015 Fox Searchlight
Copyright 2015 DNA Films

It may be a British costume drama based on a classic novel, but Thomas Hardy’s saga of a headstrong woman and the three marriage proposals from very different men is not the usual corsets and teacups. Far from the Madding Crowd is the story of Bathsheba Everdene (a radiant Carey Mulligan), an orphan who inherits a farm and announces to the staff, “It is my intention to astonish you all.”

What gives the story a vital, even modern tone is the independence of its heroine, who is often wrong, but who has good instincts and accepts the consequences of her mistakes and learns from them. There is romance and drama in the story, tragedy and betrayal, but it engages in a bracing fashion with issues of class, honor, and values. It is not much of a spoiler alert to say that Hardy favored those who were most connected to the land and nature.

It begins in 1870, when Everdene is at first a poor relative living on her aunt’s small farm. She had intended to take on the favorite profession of literary heroines: governess. But “she was far too wild,” nothing like the meek Jane Eyre. She rides straddling her horse, no sidesaddle. The very handsome farmer next door is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, radiating quiet integrity) who presents her with a lamb and asks her to marry him. She likes him very much but turns him down. “I shouldn’t mind being a bride and having a wedding if I didn’t have to have a husband.”

Their positions are suddenly and dramatically changed. She inherits a farm, rising to the lower levels of the landed gentry. He loses his flock in a calamitous accident and is unable to keep the farm. As he is looking for work, he stops to put out a fire in what turns out to be Everdene’s new farm. She offers to hire him if the change in their positions will not be too awkward for him, and he agrees. Her next proposal is from her neighbor, a reserved and lonely older man named William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), who is not bold at all, but who was encouraged by a valentine Everdene sent him impulsively, not thinking he would take it seriously. Her third proposal is from an officer named Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), who tells her she is beautiful, shows off his swordsmanship, and introduces her to sensual pleasures. He does not tell her he was supposed to marry someone else.

David Nicholls, who wrote the excellent miniseries adaptation of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, would have benefited from miniseries length for a story of this scope. It is rushed and abrupt at times. But Nicholls and director Thomas Vinterberg never let the story get musty or dated. It is firmly grounded in the most literal sense, always returning to the land as the source of what is good and true, and to the people who understand that as the real heroes and the ones who know what love can be.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and a non-explicit situation, violence, and sad deaths including a murder.

Family discussion: What was Bathsheba looking for? Why did it take her so long to figure that out? What appealed to her about each of her suitors? Why do you think this heroine inspired the name of “Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen?

If you like this, try: the earlier version with Julie Christie and the book by Thomas Hardy, and “My Brilliant Career”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Remake Romance

Exclusive Clip from “The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box”

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

Michael Sheen, Lena Headey, Sam Neill, Ioan Gruffudd, and Aneurin Barnard star in this film based on Mariah Mundi: The Midas Box by G.P. Taylor.  It’s about a fearless hero’s quest through a fantastical realm of steam-powered wonders and sinister magic.  Seventeen-year-old Mariah Mundi’s life is turned upside down when his parents vanish and his younger brother is kidnapped.  Following a trail of clues to the darkly majestic Prince Regent Hotel, Mariah discovers a hidden realm of child-stealing monsters, deadly secrets and a long-lost artifact that grants limitless wealth – but also devastating supernatural power.  With the fate of his world and his family at stake, Mariah will risk everything to unravel the Curse of the Midas Box!

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Admission

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd seem perfect for each other. The characters they play in this movie are not as persuasive.  Fey is so much better than the adorkable rom-com role assigned to her here and Rudd is capable of so much more than the earnest do-gooder relegated to him.  But what really hurts this film is the senseless complications the characters have to try to navigate and the uncertain hold on developments that are are disorientingly off-key.  You can see the studio’s lack of confidence in the movie in the bait-and-switch ad campaign.  The commercials make it look like a standard romantic comedy (and it may have been re-edited to try to fit those rhythms), but the plot line about reuniting with a child put up for adoption feels awkward, cluttered, and intrusive.

Fey is Portia, a tightly-wrapped admissions officer at Princeton, always buried in orange file folders brimming with the hopes and dreams of 17-year-olds and their parents.  They all have excellent grades, community service credentials, positions in student government, athletic achievements, and some sort of artistic streak.  Portia knows how to maintain her composure even when confronted with prospects who are certain that asking just the right penetrating question of the student tour guide will somehow cause the (for the purposes of this film) toughest school in the country to get into to see them as the shining star of perfection their parents always told them they were.  She is less composed when it comes to her own ambitions.  The head of the office (Wallace Shawn) is retiring and Portia is competing with a colleague (“Lincoln’s” Gloria Reuben) who is much smoother at ingratiating herself at Portia’s expense.

Portia is constantly under assault from applicants, parents, and high school college counselors.  Despite the avalanche of applications Princeton receives every year, she has to go out to high schools to encourage seniors to apply.  Princeton is competitive, too.  It wants to make sure that it gets to choose from the the most promising applicants.  And it wants to keep its rejection ratio high so it will top the annual US News rankings.  She gets a call from John Pressman (Rudd) the head of an alternative school.  Like all the other high school administrators, he has a student he wants her to accept.  Like many of them, he wants to make the case that the kid’s file does not reflect his true potential.  But there is one more thing.  John is sure, on the flimsiest of evidence, that an autodidactic polymath named Jeremiah (a likable Nat Wolff of “The Naked Brothers”) is the son Portia gave up for adoption.  The one she never told anyone about.  Jeremiah wants to go to Princeton and Portia’s vestigial maternal instinct jumps to life.  All of a sudden, she finds herself on the other side of the admissions process.

And there’s a lot of other stuff happening with Portia’s professor boyfriend (Michael Sheen), her free-spirited mother (a mis-used Lily Tomlin), and John’s adopted son (Travaris Spears), and John’s parents.  And most of these people at some point in the last third of the film do something so inexplicably inconsistent with what we know about them and what we want for them that it almost seems that we’ve wandered into a different movie.

It would be impossible for Fey and Rudd to be anything other than entertaining and highly watchable.  But I hope their next time on screen does not test that proposition so insistently.

Parents should know that this movie includes references to infidelity and putting an out-of-wedlock infant up for adoption, drinking, and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: How did Portia’s mother influence her ideas about parenting? How would you decide who to admit?

If you like this, try: “Clueless” and “Date Night”

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Based on a book Comedy Date movie Romance School

Alice in Wonderland

Posted on June 1, 2010 at 8:00 am

Almost 150 years ago Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson published his wildly imaginative story about Alice’s adventures down a rabbit hole. And now the wildly imaginative director Tim Burton has brought Wonderland to the 3D movie screen. It is less faithful to the original story than many of the previous dozen or so movie versions, but I think Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, would approve of Burton’s bringing his own take to the classic characters.

He brings his own story as well. Carroll’s Alice is a little girl bored by her sister’s dull book, and her journey is episodic and filled with wordplay and references to Victorian society that fill the annotated edition of the book with witty footnotes.

To make the story more cinematic, Burton tells us that all of that has already happened in what young Alice thought was a dream. This is her return visit. Alice is 18 years old and has just been proposed to by a dull but wealthy lord with no chin and bad digestion. As she meets up with the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter, she is not the only one who is confused. Characters seem puzzled and unsure about whether she is the real Alice. The Mad Hatter peers at her perplexedly. She may be Alice, and yet not quite completely the Alice they are looking for. “You were once muchier,” he tells her. “You’ve lost your muchiness.” In Burton’s version, Alice’s adventures are about her finding her “muchiness.” Her visit to Wonderland is a chance for her to understand what she is capable of and how much she will lose if she makes her decisions based on what people expect from her. As in the Carroll story, she is constantly changing size, and Burton shows us that she is really finding her place. She believes she is once again in a dream but increasingly learns that it is one she can control. By the time she faces the Jabberwock, she knows that she is in control — and that her courage and determination can create the opportunity she needs to follow her heart.

Johnny Depp brings a depth, even a poignance to the Mad Hatter, and Helena Bonham Carter is utterly delicious as the peppery red queen, hilariously furious over her stolen tarts. There’s a thrilling battle, the visuals are dazzling, with references to classic book illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, and the 3D effects will have you feeling as though you are falling down the rabbit hole yourself. The frame story bookending the Wonderland/Underland adventure is tedious and, oddly, less believable than the disappearing cat and frog footmen. But Burton’s re-interpretation of the classic story is filled with muchiness and the result is pretty darn frabjuous.

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3D Based on a book Fantasy For the Whole Family Remake Talking animals
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