Tag Archives: datenight

The Fate of the Furious

Magic tricks are based on misdirection through visual distraction and patter. This eighth installment of the F&F franchise is a beautiful magic trick. While it is better than the previous couple of releases, it isn’t a great movie. But thanks to the application of the tenants of magic, it is entertaining and holds together more than what has come before.

When the series took a left turn in the sixth release from racing films to caper films, it revitalized the storyline and introduced new characters to expand the viewpoints and chances for comedy. Then came Furious 7, which was huge in stunts, but thin in story to the point of frustration for me (even with the Paul Walker reality in the background).

Fate takes the series to a new level. Don’t misunderstand me, Chris Morgan’s (47 Ronin) script is still full of holes and over-simplicities. So many and so obvious I had to pause the film to point out aspects a few times because I just couldn’t contain myself. But, that is where the magic comment comes in. The action is huge. Every time you see a hole, suddenly there is some eye candy to distract you from thinking about it or some clever dialogue to engage you so you let it slip by. F. Gary Gray’s (Straight Outta Compton) direction is responsible for that pace and success, and it is no easy feat.

But it wasn’t just the pacing that mattered. Bringing the story back to Vin Diesel’s (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) Dom recentered the movie. The level of tension and the opportunity for reversals keeps the film tight. OK, some of Dom’s story is forced to heck, but he plays it well and, again, Gray’s pacing keeps it rolling along nicely.

Where, I think, the movie made its best choices, however, was in some of the non-core cast members. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) as the villain was a brilliant choice. She plays a wonderfully chilling and believable sociopath, never once giving in to cliche scene chewing, which kept the movie on an even keel. And the return of Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2.) also contributed to keeping the movie afloat, though in his case through dry, well-delivered humor. His protege, played by Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad), however, was just a cutout, broad comedy character.

I don’t know where they go from here. Topping these latest stunts is going to be very hard. At some point, they are going to have to pull it all back to the simplicity of the first film or risk getting so absurd thta it crosses into comedy rather than staying exciting. The franchise has been managed very well, despite the weak scripts, so I’m sure they’re aware of the issue. Of course, when you make a $1B/film you kinda get to do whatever the heck you want. But I will admit, this movie was way better than I expected it to be…I’m almost sorry I didn’t see it sooner.

The Fate of the Furious

Going in Style

This is more Tower Heist than Hell or High Water, which is a bit of a shame as the talent in the film is pretty stand-up. Top lining are Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas), Alan Arkin (Love the Coopers), and Michael Caine (The Last Witch Hunter); three guys who have massive presence on screen and can still share it with others.

And this bouncy comedy, with a tinge of seriousness, has a great supporting cast as well. Ann-Margret, John Ortiz (Kong: Skull Island), Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence), Matt Dillon (Wayward Pines), and some extra silliness by Christopher Lloyd fill out the lives of our main characters with some nice color.

The thing is, the story had more potential than that. Much like a ton of other options like Now You See Me, Stand Up Guys, Lavender Hill Mob, Topkapi, there were depths to be plumbed. It starts off more serious and on a note that will resonate with much of the audience out there. But that note, instead, is just a MacGuffin that has little bite and barely any threat.

A better script would have helped. Writer Melfi (St. Vincent), despite some good moments, really fell into cliche and obvious choices. Some of that blame, though, has to go to the director, Zach Braff (Scrubs), who has little sense of subtlety and who clearly played this for broad laughs rather than something, potentially, richer. It still could have been fun and funny, but it could also have had a bit more grounding to raise the stakes and involve the audience rather than solely using cheap tricks, like kids and hospitals, to win our affections.

I’m not saying don’t watch this movie. It is diverting. It is funny. It is relatively satisfying. But, much like eating a single Cheeto, once it dissolved I found I was still hungry.

Going in Style

Love Affair (to Remember)

Ever been watching a film and thought, “I’ve seen this before?”

I recently caught a presentation of Love Affair (1939) with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, directed by Leo McCrarey. About 10 minutes in I realized it was reminding me of something else I’d seen not too long ago: An Affair to Remember (1957) with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, also directed by Leo McCrarey.

You aren’t misreading, McCrarey directed both. It is an incredible example of a director getting a complete do-over later in his life with (almost) the same script, but an entirely different life view and technology advantage. The result is, in many ways, two entirely different films with almost the same plot and words. I don’t know of any other film pairing that could whet the appetite of a film lover more than the chance to see that in action, especially with such big names attached.

I recommend both movies for different reasons. Love Affair has the energy and sensibility of The Thin Man pairing of Powell and Loy. An Affair to Remember is quite a bit more serious and emotional. Both are gorgeously filmed and well executed. And, as dated as both are in some ways, they stand the test of time rather well because they focus more on the emotions than the culture of the era.  Make time for both of these at some point. Together, they are fascinating nuggets of film history; on their own, they are just good films as well.

I could spend an exhaustive amount of effort going through the comparisons, but the folks at Spectrum Culture have already done so, and it is an excellent, if spoiler-ridden, read. So if you want detail before or after you dig these films up, here is a link to the article:

Re-Make/Re-Model: Love Affair (1939) vs. An Affair to Remember (1957)

Love Affair An Affair to Remember

Before I Fall

I don’t think I speak out of turn by saying this is a Groundhog Day for teenagers, in fact I may even be helping your enjoyment. If I hadn’t know that, I think the first 10-15 minutes would have sent me running as the young leads are far too good at their clique-ish hatefulness to make me want to stay. It isn’t a trait I find attractive or even compelling. However, knowing it was the base from which change was going to come, I understood the extreme start of the tale and just strapped in for the ride.

The success of the movie is down to Zoey Deutch (Why Him?). While there is nothing particularly surprising in this tale of growing up and coming to terms, but it is effective in its message. But leaping past that, the journey that Deutch’s character takes is very gripping. She is allowed to find the frustration, anger, and even humor of it all so that she can also finally find the solution (which is painfully obvious from the outside looking in).

Anchoring the story with Deutch are alumns from Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Logan Miller and Halston Sage who both put in solid performances. Miller, in particular, is a nice and unexpected choice for his role. Jennifer Beals (Taken) and Nicholas Lea (Continuum) as Deutch’s parents add a small balance to the teenage-run-amok feel of the rest of the story, which helps keep it the least bit credible.

Oddly, though Deutch drives the tale, she is also part of the problems the film runs into. Deutch is just a couple years too old to believably play High School. In fact, though the main cast is all within a couple years of their character ages, those couple years really do make a difference visually, especially for Deutch. It isn’t a constant problem, but every once in a while it pulled me out of the story, which became a distracting issue.

Issues aside, this movie, at the right time, could be very powerful for an audience. It is a great reminder to live life, really live it. It isn’t a new message and this doesn’t dress it up in a new way, but it does it competently and with enough flair and earnestness to make it work. It is certainly aimed at young women, which is also why it could make a solid date movie for a lot of folks as well. Having seen this, I may need to go read Oliver’s book now as well given how much must have been internal monologues.

Before I Fall

Carrie Pilby

Pilby is a balancing act of coming-of-age and romance in about equal measures. While not perfect, it is very sweet and funny and doesn’t quite fit into any particular box thanks to its plot; Pilby’s age, combined with her intellect, helps it bridge a broader audience than you’d typically expect.

Now, I do have to admit that I may just be crushing a bit on Bel Powley (Equals). Powley’s characters are intelligent, witty, charismatic, vulnerable, and honest. Carrie Pilby is no exception, and she carries the movie admirably. She reminds me of a young Emma Stone or a less-edgy Ellen Page, though entirely her own persona.

Into Pilby’s life comes Colin O’Donoghue (Once Upon a Time), Jason Ritter (The East), and William Moseley (Chronicles of Narnia). Each has their qualities, but they are all really there for her to respond to as she finds her way. And while Ritter has some depth, and O’Donoghue is a recognizable rake, only Moseley feels entirely whole.

Amusingly, this film also matches up Gabriel Byrne and Nathan Lane again, close on the heels of No Pay, Nudity. And with Byrne in the lineup, almost all of the main characters in this comedy are from the UK, though only half are putting on an American accent.

As director Susan Johnson’s first feature, there is a solid sense of character. Johnson’s empathy is touching and her love of the character is clear. Indications of time passage still needs some honing, but there are enough clues to keep it all working. Find someone to share this with and make some couch time.

Carrie Pilby

Non-Transferable

This is a sweet indie film that has both its flaws and its charms. It is aimed young, so it may not quite connect on some levels for everyone. But the main point of the film, finding love, will resonate regardless of  your age, even if the path may be somewhat unfamiliar.

Driving the story is Ashley Clements (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and Brendan Bradley. They form an unlikely couple and have minimal chemistry, though they do have good banter. The two are helped along by Clements’ sidekicks Shanna Malcolm and Katie Wee, who bridge various plot and time shifts with amusing, if overly broad, humor. Both women have a long list of small appearances on television and indie movies.

Brendan Bradley, as writer/director/star of this tale, did a surprisingly good job of juggling all the hats he donned to bring this to screen. That said, the movie would probably have been better if he’d stepped back from directing it as well. That role is probably the weakest aspect of what was delivered. The humor is rather raw and unrefined where a bit more of a naturalistic approach and a more confident hand would have helped make it work better.

This isn’t going to be your go-to movie for romance, but it is fine for at least a single watch. And there are a few really good moments in there that work in its favor. It would be interesting to keep an eye on all the main folks to see where they end up down the line. Even if this wasn’t the best reel for them, the entire cast shows talent, however unplumbed for this delivery.

Non-Transferable

If I Were You

Romantic farce is difficult to pull off along with dark comedy. Very difficult. The story and the actors have to ride the line of credibility and the absurd and never fall off in one direction or the other. When it works it is, often, great. When it doesn’t, it is painful to watch. I’ve rated this a bit higher than I should mainly because writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin pulled it off, even if it isn’t perfect.

However, while there are weaknesses in the movie, Marcia Gay Harden (Grandma) is not one of them. Harden’s often subtle performance is a near tour de force; it is certainly brilliant comedy and acting. She takes an impossible premise and makes you believe her choices and actions. Within the first 5 minutes you’ll realize just what a Herculean feat that is.

Which is also to say that the less you know of the story, the better. Don’t read the blurbs. If you like romance and comedy, just get your hands on a copy and enjoy. There is great fun in the surprises as the story spins out of bounds before pulling it all back together.

There is a competent cast supporting Harden, but they are mostly foils for her efforts. Even Leonor Watling (The Oxford Murders), who is her ostensible partner-in-crime, exists for Harden to work with and against. The one exception is Aidan Quinn (Elementary). His character is designed to be part of, but outside the chaos and Carr-Wiggin guided him well in that aspect.

Make time for this one when you’re in a silly or sappy mood (it really works either way). And watch it with someone; it deserves a shared response.

If I Were You

Passengers (redux)

I really didn’t expect to be making a second post about this film. I enjoyed it the first time, though with reservations that had me rate it a bit lower originally.  With this second viewing I’m revising my opinion upward. I’m probably more surprised than you are by that.

What follows does have some spoilers, so be warned.

I still believe the balance of the film is a little off and that there is a significant, but ignorable, flaw in the script (and a bit of science I’m humming through). The main flaw is simply that any sleeper ship would have awakened a crew member at some point given the situation. Period. Even understanding it could be a death sentence for them, we’d expect some attempt to bring a qualified human with clearance into the mix. No matter your assumptions about reliability (which is hammered home) you have fallbacks on a 120 year journey with quadrillions of dollars and 5500 lives at stake. I do think this could have been covered and kept the story exactly the same, but neither Spaiht nor Tyldum did. In the current incarnation, Fishburne (John Wick: Chapter 2) is awakened, but “by accident” not a computer choice. That set my teeth on edge, but I rewrote it all mentally to get past it.

The rest of the script is damned clever and well constructed. Any failure around the tale really falls to director Tyldum, in the end. And he does stumble a bit, which is why it took two viewings and some thought to get where I am.

Knowing the story, and type of story it was this time through, the concerns I had the first viewing mostly evaporated. The subtlety of the Chris Pratt’s and Jennifer Lawrence’s performances came through, particularly Pratt’s. I could see his moments of choice, though I still believe we needed a bit more time and desperation, or a better hammering of his desperate loneliness so his ultimate decisions are better understood. There are opportunities for it that Tyldum misses; I really had to think about it to realize what they were. The fact that he keeps going to the basketball court and the dance off to have “company” is very telling, but the impact of those moments doesn’t hit.  And these ideas are offset by his solo efforts running and boxing, not to mention his humor. The only clear moment we have is his attempt to cuddle with the spacesuit. Alone it is a good moment, but it isn’t enough for what has to follow at that point. These are all director Tyldon’s miss and a result of angles and editing.

However, and despite the directing/editing choices of that first half hour, Spaiht’s script, overall, is incredibly clever and well thought through. Jennifer Lawrence’s path through this tale is probably the most treacherous. But all of the concerns of why she chooses what she does and how she resolves those conflicts are all covered. She would have died unless he woke her up. She chooses to stay around despite having the option not to. The two may or may not have had children (we don’t know) but the focus at the end is about the two of them and their happy life together.

It does have to be noted that Michael Sheen’s performance is just as much fun the second time as it was the first. It is another understated delivery that stay consistent but effective. And the production design is amazing. I still think it should have taken the Oscar for the quality and scope of its efforts, but was glad it got the nod as I’d hoped.

If you still haven’t seen this film, do. Ignore the couple of science-y things they get wrong and just go with it. The movie really isn’t what you think it is and it holds up to rewatching, which says a lot to me. I’m even looking forward to watching it again at some point… which says even more.

Passengers

Operator

I love being surprised, and this movie surprised me. It wasn’t a cheap surprise of events, it was a surprise of how insightful and intelligent the story was. As their first feature, director and co-writer (with Sharon Greene) Logan Kibens delivered a witty and edgy comedy about life, technology, and love.

The core of the success of the film is the casting, particularly the women. Mae Whitman (The DUFF) is perfect for the role. She has the vocal chops (from years of voice overs) and a presence and quirky confidence that helps you both understand her choices and support her issues. Even though she isn’t the lead, she dominates this story. Christine Lahti (Touched with Fire) also delivers a great performance, particularly one scene that is so real it is painful. And, in a less believable but impactful role, Cameron Esposito (Mother’s Day) delivers as well.

However, it is Martin Starr (I’ll See You in My Dreams) in the lead. He has the unenviable job of being a broken man-boy trying to find his way. His performance, much like most of the cast, is a little outside the norm and not quite realistic, but they are believable. Even Nat Faxon (The Way Way Back), whose character is probably the least realistic, pulls it all together by the end by staying true to his choices. The consistency and commitment to their paths ultimately sells the story.

I admit my expectations for this flick were low, but it had reasonable ratings and a couple of small festival wins which got it into queue. I feared it would end up being a rehash of Her. Instead, it is the reverse of that story and with an incredible understanding of the situations and industries. That may sound dry, but when was the last time you went through a day without someone texting while you were talking to them?

At its core, this is a romance with a helping of dark comedy; it is about people, not technology. And that is what makes it so good. It may be one of the better films most people missed last year (I certainly did). It isn’t perfect, but it is very effective. Make time for it with someone you care about. It may make you squirm at times, but it will remind you why you are snuggled up with someone as well.

Operator

The Hollars

Yes, this is a fairly standard family drama, loaded with people trying to find themselves, dark humor, and sappy moments. But for his sophomore attempt behind the camera, John Krasinski (Aloha) managed to deliver an entertaining and well-balanced tale with the aid of a script that has just enough variations on this theme to not feel stale. It is even more impressive since Karsinski is also a large chunk of the on-screen ensemble.

In addition to his own talents, the movie boasts a collection of solid talent. Leading the pack are Richard Jenkins (Jack Reacher) and Margot Martindale (Sneaky Pete), whose relationship is at once wonderful and painful. Shalto Copely (Chappie) was the biggest surprise for me here as I didn’t even recognize him in this role. He is also the weakest of the characters, to my mind, his comedy a bit too big for the intent of the film. Much the same was true for Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

But in the smaller roles there were some good turns. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Swiss Army Man) and Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) have small but impactful screen time. And Anna Kendrick (The Accountant) has a small gem of a role as well, her usual dominating presence held in check in service to the rest of the cast.

The story is a bit broad in its humor at times, but Krasinski manages to make it work by the end. It isn’t a perfect movie, but it is heart-warming and funny and worth the time.

The Hollars