Tag Archives: datenight

Old Man & the Gun

[4 stars]

Whether or not this is Robert Redford’s (The Discovery) final film, as he claims, it would be a solid one to go out on in performance and message. Redford is in full charm offensive and as wonderfully subtle as ever in his acting. Though he has Danny Glover (Proud Mary) and Tom Waits (Seven Psychopaths) as his partners-in-crime, his gang and this story is really a cult of personality: his.

And from the fringes and the pews, Redford brings along a motley group of additional folks. Primarily he pulls Sissy Spacek (A Home at the End of the World) into his orbit, who is every bit Redford’s equal in performance. Along with Spacek was an understated but effective Casey Affleck (A Ghost Story) as a disaffected cop looking for justice and what’s “right,” even when the choices aren’t easy or obvious. And, in a smaller role supporting Affleck, Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) is magnetic.

Writer/director David Lowery gathered Redford and Affleck from his previous efforts to pull off this rather impressive film: Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story respectively. What makes Old Man & The Gun so good is that Lowery gets us to gets us to react just like the people Tucker robbed. We cheer for Forrest Tucker and don’t feel bad about doing it. Lowery leaves us feeling both great about Tucker and about our own possibilities.

Lowery also did some clever work with the film to make it feel like the early 80s; from shaky credits, to washed out color, to the choice of fonts, a sense of appropriate nostalgia and current action was established. Amusingly, it was also screened for me on an old, reflective screen at an aging theater, which added an unintended layer to Lowery’s efforts that was wholly appropriate.

While this isn’t a big screen must, it is a wonderfully entertaining and, ultimately, positive film. It will be part of the awards buzz this year, so see it now rather than wait. And it doesn’t hurt to remind studios and distributors that there is a big market out there for just good film. Not everything has to flash, buzz, or blow-up to keep our attention. Though I certainly don’t mind that occasionally either, I like variety in my entertainment diet.

A Star is Born (2018)

[4 stars]

The bones may be old on this fifth remake of the 1937 classic, but Bradley Cooper (JoyGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) put fresh flesh on them in the roles of director, co-writer, and even co-star.

Cooper brought his own life to bear on the tale, enriching it with a sense of reality not to mention driving passion and real romance. While he did this for his own reasons, he also recognized he had an opportunity. Once in every generation or so a performer comes around who has the presence, charm, and ability to take on this role.

In 2018, it is Lady Gaga (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, American Horror Story), a woman of incredible talent. I’m not a huge fan of her music, but I respect her abilities both musically and in business (much as I did Madonna’s in the 80s). She has both the chops and the confidence to be part of something rather than having to dominate it. Because while A Star is Born is clearly her story, it is also very much Cooper’s. If she simply took it all over, there wouldn’t have been a film worth seeing. And the story is a heartrendingly beautiful one, danced by these two performers. Along with Sam Elliott (Grandma), and a surprise performance by Andrew Dice Clay, their lives unfold and their pasts exert their inevitable influence.

Cooper gets great performances out of everyone, including himself. Choosing to record all the music live adds a sense of reality and credibility to the entire endeavor as well. And though the story has been updated and made his own, he manages to hold onto a sense of nostalgia thanks to his choices in color timing the film to give it a slightly washed-out feel. The third act of the story drags a bit, but the overall impact is only slightly diminished for that drop in urgency. This isn’t a car chase movie, it is a paced tale of love, art, and family. For a first time director, it is also a major triumph. This is sure Oscar-bait, and it even has a chance at securing a statuette or two come next year’s ceremony.

Grab some popcorn and, maybe, even a few tissues and take someone you really care about to this for a date night. The movie is worth your time and it reminds you of what is important in your life in many expected and unexpected ways.

A Star Is Born

Le Week-End

[3 stars]

Hard looks at marriage and long-term relationships are not uncommon. They range from the serious to the amusing in recent years with films like Amour and Book Club. Le Week-End is a bit more naturalistic side, with darker humor. And with Jim Broadbent (Lear) and Lindsay Duncan (Gifted) to drive it home, it is a wonderfully tense trip through something a bit too close to reality.  Jeffrey Goldblum (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) brings in the final piece to pull it all together.

Director Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson), working with his off-time collaborator, writer Hanif Kureishi (Venus), takes an unflinching look at a marriage under stress. Not a marriage falling apart, but rather a couple who’ve forgotten how to connect despite their obvious desire to stay together. It is, at times, almost absurd in its action, but somehow real. And the resolutions are both encouraging and, for me, satisfying. I qualify as I know some folks have found the adventure to be a bit ridiculous. Clearly, this one will resonate differently for people depending on taste, experience, and where they are in life. Personally, I think the movie is worth it just to see the two main performances, which are studies in subtlety.

Le Week-End

Hearts Beat Loud

[3.5 stars]

There have been many films about wannabe or aspiring musicians over recent years. They cover quite a bit of ground as well. From Juliet Naked to Begin Again to Sing Street to Song to Song or even the more tangential like Rudderless, they tend, mostly to focus on adults looking for their lost moments or kids getting together to make their way.

Don’t get me wrong, Nick Offerman (Nostalgia) certainly fills that adult bill in Hearts Beat Loud; but as much as he drives the movie, it isn’t about him. The point of the story really revolves about his daughter, Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) and their relationship. Music is essential and plays a role, but this is primarily a film about family not fame.

Around the pair are some great supporting characters. Relative newcomer, Sasha Lane (American Honey) and Clemons make a great pairing. Their interactions are quietly intense, and, admittedly, a bit too chaste for 18 year olds, but still very effective.

For Offerman, Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Ted Danson build out his story and world with humor and complications. On the other hand, Bythe Danner (I’ll See You in My Dreams) is, sadly, all but lost in this story. She is a bit of background that you can see has meaning, but there is little done with it and it is one of the few real misfires in the flick for me.

Director and co-writer Brett Haley (The Hero) reteamed with Marc Basch to pen this story that lives in a comfortable groove in our expectations but manages to stay unexpected in its execution, like a good song. Even Keegan DeWitt’s (The Hero) music is not your typical choice of “new band creates massively brilliant music.” They are clearly songs filled with promise and with an indie approach to pop music, but none feel entirely finished. They feel, in fact, like a beginning songwriter with talent learning their craft.

The pacing of this movie is deliberate. Not slow, per se, but certainly not a runaway train. Haley lets the story layer and build so the ending has impact. When you want a sweet evening and have the need for a good story that takes you through a range of emotions, Hearts Beat Loud is a great choice.

Hearts Beat Loud

Juliet, Naked

[4 stars]

Sure, in many ways this is a standard rom-com. There is broad humor, unlikely pairings, and personal awakenings. But it is much more than that. The film is packed with subtleties and small scenes of unremarked upon revelations. It is a story about life and, of course, music. It is adapted from a Nick Hornby novel after all, the writer who gave us High Fidelity and About a Boy among other tales and movies.

Rose Byrne (The Meddler) and Chris O’Dowd (Love After Love) make an amusingly broken couple who remain in each other’s orbits by pure inertia at the top of the film. From there, quiet hilarity ensues as each tries to find their place with one other and the world.

While the movie is framed by O’Dowd and the story is carried primarily on Byrne’s back, it is Ethan Hawke (Maggie’s Plan), as the broken and drifting ex-musician, that lights up the movie. His character is complex and sympathetic while still being a bit of a douche as he tries to make up for his past. The man has surprisingly good chops too. And Azhy Robertson, as his son, makes for great interactions and moments. There are many solid supporting roles to fill the film out as well.

Director Jesse Peretz keeps everything flowing and knows when to just let a scene have its own quiet focus. Which isn’t to say there aren’t laugh out loud moments, but there are as many inward smiles too. While not a big screen movie, it isn’t one  you should wait for if it comes to a theater near you. It is a great entertainment that will leave you feeling great about life, love, and possibility without having to grab you by the throat to do it, like so many in this genre.

Juliet, Naked

Crazy Rich Asians

[4 stars]

So all that joy, surprise, and summer delight that I had hoped Mama Mia! Here We Go Again would bring me is here in this movie. It is a broad rom-com to be sure, but it manages to go a bit beyond that. By the end this is more about real love than it is about idealized stories. Not that this isn’t a fantasy, it surely is, but it is one that does what it wants to do well and you’ll willingly go along with it.

In the leads, Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and relative new-comer Henry Golding make a wonderful couple with great chemistry. You can believe and invest in them, even when Golding’s choices are a bit less than supportive around his family.

And it is Golding’s family that is at the core of challenges, with Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: DiscoveryThe Mechanic: Resurrection) as his mother. A side-plot with Gemma Chan (Humans) as his cousin is also well-delivered. In many ways, Chan’s presence actually starts to steal the movie, but that is kept in check by limiting her story’s screen time.

Wu’s Rachel has her own set of friends in Singapore, led by Akwafina (Ocean’s 8) and her crazy family. These are the broadest characters we meet. Given her father is Ken Jeong (The DUFF), that isn’t much of a surprise. Only Nico Santos (Superstore) matches their antics as part of the story. We expect a certain amount of this in a rom-com, but it sometimes skirts the edge of the cliff if it isn’t your type of humor. There are some side characters that actually jump off that cliff, but they don’t really matter for the plot in any real way.

After the bomb of Jem and the Holograms, director Jon M. Chu is probably breathing a huge sigh of relief at the success of this release. He manages the story well, never quite letting it get out of control and delivering the wrap-up with a solid punch. It leaves you smiling, tapping your feet, and celebrating love (and wishing you, too, were super rich, of course). This is a great piece of escapist fun and, as you’d expect, a great datenight flick.

Crazy Rich Asians

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

[3.5 stars]

Here we go again, indeed. And why the hell not? Sure, it is treacly pointlessness with a beat, but it is certainly a welcome break from reality. This installment does suffer a bit from sequel-itis in that it is a bit less focused and not quite “new,” but the cast and production throw themselves into the story to bring it all nicely full-circle.

The original cast return, picking up where they left off, but the real focus is very much in the past. Lily James (The Darkest Hour) as the young Meryl Streep (The Post) is magnetic and wonderful. And Jessica Keenan Wynn, in particular, nails Christine Baranski (Into the Woods) beautifully.

What is most interesting, at least for me, was watching how director/writer Ol Parker (Now is Good) structured the movie to get the effect he wanted. The initial songs and performances are purposefully lack-luster to leave room for the bigger and better-known numbers and stars later on. The first 15-20 minutes of the movie is all about breaking down the happy ending of the previous film so the characters have something to fight for. The inter-cuts from past to present are expertly and interestingly woven together. And the drive to the finale is inevitable. The rhythm builds like Grand Budapest Hotel, compressing as we get closer to the ending.

But therein lies the rub. For me, the film never quite peaked. We’re promised a huge finale, and there is a nice emotional one on some levels, but we never quite have the musical finale we deserve. Think The Greatest ShowmanMoulin Rouge, or Across the Universe or just about any Broadway show. And I say this especially because Cher (Burlesque) was in the mix. The fault really lies with the music arrangements. In every case they seem to hang back or back off the blow-out ending. Whether that was to accommodate the actor’s abilities or to keep Cher from stealing away the film, I don’t know, but it was very palpable for me. The trailers had more showmanship for me than the movie itself.

All that said, the two hour diversion was welcome and entertaining. If you liked the first, you’ll like returning for the second. There is a sweet story, both romantic and personal, being told and ABBA’s music remains unavoidably foot-tapping. Just stay through to the end of the credits for a final, short scene.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Flower

[3.5 stars]

Looking for one of the odder, darker, coming-of-age rom-coms? This will probably do you then. Well, it will do something. Flower is a delightfully enjoyable, entertaining, and weirdly bleakly hopeful story. Yeah, it really is all over the place, though some of that reaction may be due to a generation gap; hard to tell from this perspective.

The success of the story is really down (perhaps a poor choice of words) to the ebullient Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall). She continues to enchant and surprise me in her roles. She is scarily natural on film and comfortable playing whatever is necessary for the character without shame or judgement or even triumph; she just “is.” Her characters are also strong but not without levels.

Her unlikely counterpart, Joey Morgan (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), was a great foil and, ultimately, with a bit more to him than was originally obvious. And as their parents, Kathryn Hahn (The Visit) and Tim Heidecker create a backdrop that is a bit extreme, but suited to the occasion.

On the side is Adam Scott (Krampus) in a role unlike any of his others I’ve seen. It is contained and quiet, with an interesting tension underneath.

As his second feature film, Max Winkler directed this well, keeping it light but not without the gravitas it needed. Like a good sauce, it seamlessly thickens as it cooks and holds together well. Winkler also co-wrote the tale, with McAulay and Spicer (Ingrid Goes West). I can’t even imagine the story sessions this trio had coming up with the plot, but they clearly worked well together. [Sidebar: If you were hoping for the Liz Phair song that shares the titles name you’ll be disappointed; but I’m still convinced it was part impetus for this movie.]

Flower is not your traditional film, and may not be for everyone, but it is one worth seeing for its surprise and craft in front of and behind the camera.

Flower

The Mountain Between Us

[3 stars]

Two great actors and an indefatigable dog make this a hard movie not to like. Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel) and Idris Elba (Molly’s Game) make an interesting pair, in acting chops and romantically. The story goes from the mundane to the extreme quickly, though some of the character secrets are held back more by force than logic. Small parts by Beau Bridges (Bloodline) and Dermot Mulroney (Sleepless) help round out the tale…and, of course, the aforementioned dog.

The script is a departure for Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Cinderella, Rogue One) who is more often on the light fantasy side of things. But he was balanced by J. Mills Goodloe (Age of Adaline, Pride) who tends to stick closer to romance and more real-world relationships. But it is director Hany Abu-Assad, whose pension for depicting desire in the midst of adversity, who takes it all over the finish line.

The survival tale is a good one, and relatively credible. But, in reality, this is more a long metaphor for love and relationships…and on that level it gets a little strained, however on the mark it may be. And I get the sense the dog’s story got lost or his import somehow drained out on the cutting room floor. In the final cut, he is entertaining, but superfluous other than as additional color. Both of these aspects lower the final assessment of the movie for me, despite the successful building of the delicate relationship and aftermath of the adventure.

All that said, the scenery is gorgeous. The tension and dangers palpable. And the interplay is well done. The movie is worth your time when you’re in the mood for either a story of survival or of relationships forged from shared experiences and needs. The tight focus on the two main characters for the majority of the film is intense; it is rare you get to see that kind of talent with little distraction around it. But do bring a blanket…watching all that snow and ice really gets to your bones.

The Mountain Between Us

Finding Your Feet

[3.5 stars]

Yes, another tale of late-life discovery and rebirth. But it does it well, with humor, and with a hell of a cast.

The story is led by the incomparable Imelda Staunton (Pride) and Celia Imrie (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as a pair of estranged sisters reconnecting after more than a decade. The two work brilliantly together both emotionally and with their timing. Imrie’s world is full of other characters that spur Staunton’s rediscovery of herself and life. Chief among these are Joanna Lumley (Me Before You) and David Hayman (Macbeth) as the core of her group along with the most unlikely of the cast: Timothy Spall (Denial). Spall has often carried stories, but rarely, as in this case, as the romantic male lead. Not your typical choice, and yet he manages a sweet magnetism and vulnerability that makes it all work.

The script for this life and aging adventure was from a pair of writers: first-timer Meg Leonard and the more-heeled Nick Moorcroft (Burke & Hare). But as fun as the film is, it falls prey to taking a couple simple “outs” with the plot rather than working toward their goal in a more challenging way. Honestly, it was a bit of a shame as the scope of the story across age, love, and loss was pretty sweeping; perhaps a little too sweeping given how they solved the problems. But, they still manage to land the moments and the point, even if a few of the paths were far too generic and obvious from the get-go.

Regardless of any weaknesses or clichè in the script, Richard Loncraine (Richard III) directed the story with a sure and powerful hand, controlling the leaps in time and emotional evolution well. The story borders on broad comedy, but has just enough of a tinge of bitterness and embarrassment to feel real during the most challenging moments. It is also unafraid to quietly feel pain at its rawest.

As a tale and reminder that life doesn’t end until it does, this is a great couple of hours. It is for the romantic, at whatever age, and the time invested is worth it just to get to the final frame.

Finding Your Feet