Tag Archives: datenight

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

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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.

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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

Passengers

Passengers has not been getting a lot of love in reviews and conversation. I’m going to buck the trend… though with some qualifications.

What you need to understand going in is that this is primarily a romance, not a big science fiction/action film. It carries the trappings of an action film and the production design is brilliant, but that is all an excuse to have a conversation about the main relationship. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Inception) deserves an Oscar nod for the level of detail and scope, despite any other issues with the tale.

It is also possibly the largest budget-to-cast film I may have ever seen. There are really only 4 main characters. Chris Pratt (Magnificent Seven) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) make a great and inevitable couple. It is also, possibly, one of the flaws… we never doubt they are going to be a couple, and the trailers certainly didn’t help. Part of the issue is that they are both so well known at this point in their careers. Unknowns would have made it difficult to sell the film, but it may have improved it, though it would have had to be done more on the scale of Moon or Ex Machina. But I’ll come back to the challenges on this plot point.

Michael Sheen (The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box) and Laurence Fishburne (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) fill out the cast with two essential characters. Both manage to build memorable characters with relatively little script.

The main failure of this beautiful journey between the main characters (and it is a great date-night romance) lands at the feet of director Morten Tyldum (Imitation Game). The balance of the film is just off. It starts off with a good setup but Pratt’s brand of humor dominates his terror and slow slide into potential madness and desperation that launches the next part of the story. Intellectually we follow the struggle, but don’t really feel it. Because of that, the pivotal moment and the inevitable impact are lost and it just feels like it was dragged out. Once the two are together, there is a great dynamic and chemistry, though again, some of the decision points are a little rushed or short-cutted.

You may have also noticed that writer’s name was familiar. Jon Spaihts is really on a roll this season with two major films on screens at the same time with this and Doctor Strange. They each have their weaknesses, but they are also all nicely character-driven tales that have continued to improve since his initial film, Darkest Hour, through the muddled Prometheus, to this year’s releases. He embraces the genres he writes in without insulting them, though a bit more research on his part would plug some of the holes in his science fiction plots and really take them to the next level.

I admit this isn’t a glowing recommendation, but neither is it damning. Visually, Passengers is stunning. The story and ultimate effect are also solid and fun. The love story is affecting. The science details, well, squint a bit. Way worse has made it to screen and made larger multiples at the box office than this will see. While there is certainly a story here, it is the metaphor and message that are stronger in the end. And that’s OK too. (Yes, I’m a hopeless romantic, what can I say?) It is, in many ways, a big screen film. And though the 3D for some of the shots it is pretty spectacular, it isn’t really all that necessary, so weigh that into your decision if you choose to go.

Passengers

Once

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The easiest way to describe this film: For musicians, about musicians, by musicians… and we get to watch. Near as I can recall, it is a love story unique to its genre. Done on a shoestring, Once pulls together the lives of two people whose life is (mostly) music. Their relationship and adventures are believable and they avoid the choices you’d expect; it is much more realistic.

The result is grittier than writer/director Joe Carney’s more recent and equally wonderful Begin Again or Sing Street. In fact, it bares a closer resemblance to Broken Circle Breakdown, but without all the tsuris. But as his first, it shows the immense promise that he continues to exhibit. He truly captures the heart of music and allows people to communicate through their talent in ways as intimate as any love scene. There are reasons it won more music-related film awards than anything else.

A down side to Carney’s approach is that the cast are really musician’s first. While Glen Hansrad has some good emotional range and ability his co-lead Markéta Irglová is a bit less nuanced. It isn’t that they don’t both feel painfully real and honest… but they both feel painfully real and honest; there is less polish to the performances making them feel halting or off at times. More true, yes, but harder to watch. 

Regardless of any limitations of the cast, watching Carney attack this story through the on-screen creative process is completely engaging. It is a deep and abiding love without almost any traditional romance. The courtship and the pain are almost entirely in the songs and performances. And this is where Carney’s work is unique, the performances are utterly natural. Even his later works, as much as I enjoy them, don’t quite recapture the magic of these raw moments, though his eye for humanity has not lessened.

Once

The Terminal

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Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) rarely does anything small, even when the focus is on a single character or family. In this film, loaded with great actors, he draws out a world of people in a confined space of an airport terminal. The humor is overly broad at times and Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) was misdirected through the first third of the story to act very much a clown rather than to play it naturally. But once it all got rolling, the humor got more contained and the character’s stories took over.

The heart of this story is typically warming, with classic camera work, and there are only a few surprises. All to say that no ground was broken with this story, but that it knows how to pull all the right levers. In other words, pretty typical Spielberg. But it works well enough that you’ll go along for the ride.

I have to admit, though there are some fun moments in the script, the funniest for me was a purely geeky one that had little to do with the writer’s intention. Five years before Zoë Saldana (Infinitely Polar Bear) was destined to take on Uhura, her character is outed in this story as a Trekkie. I don’t know if it helped her land the role eventually, but it made my inner geek smile.

The Terminal is an odd little romantic comedy that is probably a love it or hate it kind of film. It is frustrating as it begins, angering even at times, but eventually settles into a groove that is comfortable and satisfying in its way. It has a tale it wants to tell and it sticks to it. Had the direction allowed the humor to find its own way rather than to force it, it would have been a much better film, but its success is in its completion and in the message you can draw from it.

The Terminal

Me Before You

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Yes it’s forced, manipulative, and predictable, but damn them, it works. Given that it was Sharrock’s first feature directing and Moyes ‘first script, I could have graded this on a little bit of a curve… but really didn’t need to. It is a lot sweet, a little brave, and with heavy helping of wry humor that keeps the energy and relationships alive.

The diminutive Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) is delightful, if more than a little fanciful in her performance. She pulls off a 26-year-old woman-child rather well. And Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2) is more than a little cliche but manages quite a bit with just a face to work with. Well, that and an unexpectedly buff body after being wheelchair bound for more than a year, but why nitpick this Billionaire-style romance and finding-your-way flick with common sense? It is a grounded fantasy, not a realistic tale.

Janet McTeer (Maleficent) as Claflin’s mother did a great job with an impossible situation to portray. There was also the always-wonderful Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) as Clarke’s sister. The two played off one another fabulously. Honestly, one of the odder aspects of this film was getting used to Charles Dance (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as a nice guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a nice person before. Severe but good, yes, but never just straight-up nice. As Claflin’s father, he was believable and likeable… it wasn’t his fault I kept wincing and expecting the other shoe to drop when he walked into the room.

This is an escapist evening with just enough reality to take the teeth shattering sweet off of it. And it is perfect for a date night with a sense of romance and tragedy all rolled into a very edible, barely credible pill. But it wasn’t medicine I regretted taking in the least.

Me Before You