Tag Archives: datenight

Superintelligence

[3 stars]

Sometimes silly is just the ticket. This past year that’s probably a truer statement than most. And Superintelligence is just that: silly. Melissa McCarthy (The Kitchen) trots out all her best gags and reactions, along with a sousant of heart to keep this rocky comedy afloat. James Corden (The Prom) and Bobby Cannavale (Motherless Brooklyn) add some solid buoyancy as well to keep it entertaining and heart-warming.

Where the movie loses its steam is with its director and supporting cast member Ben Falcone (Life of the Party). He still doesn’t quite know when to give up a joke or how to ground broad comedy so that it feels like a story rather than a rim-shot fest. Other than Jean Smart (Watchmen), he has the rest of the supporting players, like Brian Tyree Henry (Child’s Play), Sam Richardson, and even himself doing pratfall comedy. That can work, but in this movie it simply pulls you out of the story at every turn. Which isn’t to say the rest of the movie isn’t broad comedy, it is. But there is an underlying sense of reality that Steve Mallory (The Boss) put into the script that lets you go along for the ride.

But, as I said, sometimes silly is just the ticket for a situation. And silly this is, as well as romantic. It is also almost utterly forgettable as soon as it’s over, but that’s OK too if all you need is some amusing distraction. Cook up some popcorn and settle in for a couple hours of escape when you need it.

Superintelligence Poster

Love Life

[3 stars]

Basically, if you’re an Anna Kendrick fan, this one’s for you. She isn’t the only character in this series, her roomates Zoe Chao (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) and Peter Vack (Mozart in the Jungle) add to the fun, but this is a vehicle that spins around her and her sense of humor. And humor there is.

We follow Kendrick’s search for “the one.” Narrated (yes, yet another show with an unseen narrator) by Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), we get to relive and cringe and wonder at her choices and situations. Think a more focused, less-soapy Sex in the City. But it is entertaining and does build on itself nicely. And to its credit, it doesn’t take the easy or expected (or even feared) paths.

What we’re left with is a fairly honest, if somewhat idealized, look at life and growing up. It isn’t always pretty, but when you keep moving forward, you actually get somewhere you want to be.

Love Life Poster

Sylvie’s Love

[3 stars]

Are you in the mood for an old-time Hollywood romance? This may be the ticket. It isn’t entirely traditional given the main cast of Tessa Thompson (Men in Black: International) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Hello, My Name is Doris), but it embodies the same sensibility of a young and mis-timed love without devolving into tragedy nor focusing on the social unrest of the era.

Honestly, most of the rest of the cast falls away in the presence of the two leads, which is as it should be. But Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder), Lance Reddick (John Wick 3: Parabellum) stand out for the depth they add to Sylvie’s world, and Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) manages a wonderful impact and humor with a small role.

Writer/director Eugene Ashe really knocked it out of the park both in story and feeling. This is a classic tale in its bones, even if the framework is new and refreshing. If you love old Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant tales, but want a new perspective, give this a shot. You won’t be disappointed. Just settle in for a night of possibilities that never falls into the trap of tragedy.

Sylvie's Love Poster

James vs His Future Self

[3.5 stars]

Think of this darkly humorous, self-realization time-travel tale as a more adult, if slightly less polished, Time Freak.  Led with amusing neurosis by a just slightly too old Jonas Chernick, who also co-wrote this romp, James is given the chance to alter his trajectory and have the life he thinks he wanted all along. Familiar territory, but working with his oft-time collaborator, director/writer James Lalonde (Baroness Von Sketch Show), the two crafted a funny, and even surprising at times, story with few boundaries and plenty of entertainment.

The very recognizable Daniel Stern (Shrill) plays opposite Chernick with buckets of cynicism and tons of affection for his younger self. His energy and intensity buoy the movie and carry it along at a fun pace. With the support of Cleopatra Coleman (Last Man on Earth), Tommie-Amber Pirie (What If), and a fun, pivotal role by Frances Conroy (Joker) the story is full of laughs and, at times, cringe-worthy honesty.

There is nothing really new in this script, but it is done well and feels fresh. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet it absolutely tackles the tale with as much rigor as time travel stories can. It’s definitely worth your time if you like such tales. And, even if you don’t, the approach may make it plenty entertaining.

James vs. His Future Self Poster

Happiest Season

[3 stars]

Sure it’s predictable and sappy at times, but for her sophomore film Clea Duvall’s (But I’m a Cheerleader, Veep) holiday offering is a nice balance of the honest and the absurd. It is also primarily women running the show.

At the core of the story are Kristen Stewart (Underwater) and Mackenzie Davis (Irresistible), who’s relationship gets thrown into disarray when they go home to Davis’s family for Christmas. The story then veers between poignant and outlandish moments as Davis and her sibs devolve into their childhoods. Frankly, other than the extremes, not an unusual situation.

Mary Steenburgen (Book Club) and Victor Garber (I’ll Follow You Down) provide the clueless parents driving their children to act out. And Davis is joined by Alison Brie (The Little Hours) and Mary Holland (Homecoming) in the extreme sport of sibling rivalry. It all gets a bit beyond credibility, but anyone with brothers or sisters will recognize the truth in it.

From the sidelines are two important, and more grounded, roles that keep it all on track: Aubrey Plaza (Damsels in Distress) and Dan Levy ( Schitt’s Creek). With the help of these two, Stewart navigates the holiday weekend and finds her own truths and needs. Plaza’s performance is a nice, contained shift for her while Levy is more grounded than usual, but he isn’t bringing anything much new to his performance, even though it still works.

This isn’t a brilliant movie, but it is sweet and funny and at the edges of a holiday tale without shoving it down your throat. Christmas is the background, not the purpose, which makes it all rather palatable. For a warming distraction and a chuckle it isn’t a bad choice for an evening.

Happiest Season Poster

Palm Springs

[4 stars]

Such wonderful, sweet, evil fun.

Neither Andy Samberg (Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) nor Cristin Milioti (Modern Love) are strangers to comedy or satire. The two navigate the absurd landscape of life in Palm Springs in hysterically believable ways. And, with the help of a smaller role by J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges), you can easily commit to cheering, jeering, or sympathizing with their various predicaments.

First time feature director Max Barbakow did a wonderful job dancing along the edge of absurdity to deliver a romantic tale of finding yourself and finding another. Certainly, a lot of credit has to go to Andy Siara’s script as well, which expands on the themes of his other efforts in Lodge 49, though in much more satisfying way. And his opening scenes are a beautiful study in introducing a well-known trope in a new way.

Palm Springs had been heading to be a big splash indie release…in the before times. And I’ve no doubt it would have found its audience and done reasonably well. But the pandemic had it go straight to stream where, frankly, it lives comfortably and doesn’t feel diminished. This isn’t a big effects film, it is, for all its far reaching commentary, a small and intimate romance that will have you smiling and laughing through to the end, and into the credits.

Palm Springs Poster

The Valet (La doublure)

[3 stars]

There is nothing quite like a well-controlled French farce to help put a smile on your face. And director and writer Francis Veber (Dinner for Schmucks, La Cage Aux Folles) certainly understands farce. His main strength is almost always going for the understated response from his main characters, while allowing the peripheral ones to go  broad. It keeps the entire story from ever getting too shrill or ridiculous, even when it is outlandish or ridiculous.

He also has a great touch for casting. Gad Elmaleh (Mood Indigo) is wonderfully comfortable with his life and choices, even when offered something much more. And Alice Taglioni and Kristin Scott Thomas (Tomb Raider), as pawns turned queens, provide some great moments as well as implying some deep backstories that we never really get to learn about directly.

There are many other amusing, smaller roles, some created by faces you’ll recognize from French and International cinema. They all add sparkle and entertainment, pushing the story along with many laughs.

For a bit of warm escape, this is a great choice…and also a good one to share with someone you care about. Pop the corn, pour the libations, and curl up together on the couch for a good laugh.

The Valet Poster

The Half of It

[4 stars]

It isn’t perfect, and it’s certainly predictable in many ways, but The Half of It is also down-to-earth and earnest in the best possible sense. And I say this even with the framework of Cyrano with echos of Love, Simon and Hedvig and the Angry Inch paving the way. Director/writer Alice Wu (Saving Face) really came through in her Sophomore outing. She navigates the sea of high school awakening and romance with confidence, honesty, and a good dash of fantasy to allow for dramatic moments. But she never loses credibility, despite the well trod ground.

Much of the success here goes to the three leads. Leah Lewis (Nancy Drew) as our Cyrano is heartbreakingly lost in her world, trying to balance life and family. Daniel Diemer, is surprisingly effective as a “inarticulate jock” with hidden capacities. And Alexxis Lemire, as the object of affection, walks an interesting line without stumbling. With Wu’s guidance, each of them manages to remain both aware and innocent, intelligent, but naive. In other words, very much of their age rather than adults playing at being teenagers.

This is where the movie sets itself apart from another similar outing in 10 Things I Hate About You. 10 Things, while practically a classic, leans into its classical underpinnings and loses the pretense of reality. The Half of It leans more into life, and embraces the joy and the suck (at least to a degree) that is being a teenager in love.

There is also one wonderful bit part worth mentioning, as it is a real standout. Becky Ann Baker (Girls), as Lewis’s teacher, has a few fabulous moments that also serve to expose the town at large with a few brushstrokes.

Make time for this one, if you haven’t already. It will put a smile on your face without rotting your teeth. And the story, humor, and moments are certainly worth revisiting again down the road.

The Half of It

Darling Companion

[3 stars]

Imagine a Hallmark or Lifetime movie on steroids and you’ve got a sense of Darling Companion. It isn’t that it is over-the-top histrionic so much that it is loaded with acting talent for a script that is, well, a TV movie at best. It manages to capture tense but loving relationships, as Lawrence Kasdan (Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Big Chill) has shown he’s capable of, but it was all at the surface.

What I will give him credit for is that while the story revolves around Freeway, the foundling dog, it doesn’t focus on him. It really does spend almost all its time on the humans around him. There are no cutsey dog-reaction moments or inner thoughts. It is about how the arrival of this stray is the catalyst for those around him.

And the cast is a surprising wealth of talent, all of whom could be doing better things, but decided to do this. So take it in for what’s worth. I honestly was dragged into watching it, but wasn’t sorry I did. It isn’t that I don’t like sappy films (god knows, I do) but I really shy away from what I fear will be completely manipulative tales of children or animals with big eyes and forced moments. The Kasdans (as Meg Kasdan co-wrote) managed to avoid that almost entirely and give us a story about people finding themselves and romance in their own ways.

That Awkward Moment

[3 stars]

Basically, this is a boys to men tale about three college friends: Zac Efron (The Disaster Artist), Miles Teller (Baby Driver), and Michael B. Jordon (Just Mercy). And “awkward” is a good word for the result. About the only things that set this rom-com apart from its peers is the cast and that it’s from the point of view of three guys rather than the the women. The women are the mature and stable ones: Imogen Poots (I Kill Giants), Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate), and, to a degree, Jessica Lucas (Pompeii).

For his first movie writing and directing, Tom Gormican did manage to do pretty well. The The dialogue and situations careen from the absurd and outrageous, to the heartfelt and real. Never one direction for too long or too far so that any one group of viewers can fall away. That isn’t an easy balance to manage. But it’s far from a brilliant result, and the denouement is patently ridiculous, which is a shame as the idea of that moment is really good. But the trappings of the film, of the rather rich New Yorkers, is a bit tired, and none (and I do mean none) of the characters are believable in their chosen careers, which made it a bit of a challenge for me.

If I sound a bit conflicted on this flick, I am. There were a lot amusing moments and an overall arc that was engaging. But the extreme choices by characters (and occasionally stupid choices) pulled me up short. Viewer age will definitely come into play for enjoyment here. Someone in their 20s is going to connect more than someone in their 60s, but a good romcom is accessible to just about any age. This is a somewhat entertaining tale of discovering love, but it isn’t a great movie.