Sunday, June 28, 2015

Infinitely Polar Bear

      Mark Ruffalo stars as Cameron, a manic depressive bi-polar father of two little girls. Zoe Saldana co-stars as his wife, Maggie. The title refers to how his youngest pronounces his condition.  And while Mr. Ruffalo's acting is as excellent as always, his portrayal is one dimensional. Whether it's the direction or his interpretation but his only clinical sign (after a initial breakdown) is just being totally manic.

       When Maggie decides to go back to school to get an MBA, she leaves the girls in Cameron's care. The story is both amusing and heartbreaking and is clearly a showcase for Mr. Ruffalo. Imogene Wolodarsky plays Amelia, the older daughter and  Ashley Aufderheide plays Faith, the younger sister.  They are both very good and play well against Mr. Ruffalo.  The three share most of the screen time together.  

        The film is written and directed by Maya Forbes, based on her own experiences growing up with a bi-polar father. Since it's her own story, I can only assume it's a fairly accurate portrait of her life. Mental illness is not easy to get right on screen and while the film seems to paint a bit too cheerful picture, it's still a worthy drama.    

Sunday, June 21, 2015


    Writer/Director Paul Feig has another hit with his muse, Melissa McCarthy.  Ms. McCarthy continues to improve with each film. She absolutely shines here in her first fully developed leading role.

       The movie is a clever send up of James Bond films from the opening credits to very funny sight gags. Ms. McCarthy plays a desk bound agent for the CIA who finally gets into the field when a fellow agent, played by Jude Law, is killed chasing a stolen nuclear bomb.

       Her fellow agent in the field is played by tough guy Jason Statham, who hilariously makes fun of his own image. He almost steals the film but make no mistake, this is a star vehicle for Ms. McCarthy. She shows a wide range while maintaining her natural goofiness. Her verbal barrage of one-liners, whether scripted or ad-libbed are absolutely hysterical.

        The villains are played by Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne. Mr. Cannavale role is small but crucial to the plot. Ms. Byrne is clearly enjoying her role as the femme fatale who shares some great scenes with Ms.McCarthy. The CIA chief is played by Allison Janney, deserving of more screen time but good none the less.

       Mr. Feig makes good use of his globe hopping locations, moving briskly around Paris, Rome, and other major European cities. He and Ms. McCarthy have a natural connection that is evident on screen.

    "Spy" is funny, exciting, filled with actual intrigue and can easily be the start of a  franchise character.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World

        New director Colin Trevorrow takes over the reins for this reboot of a huge franchise. The film is executive produced by Steven Spielberg and while he may not have been on set, you can feel his presence throughout the film. After an entire trilogy of dinosaurs running amok, Mr Trevorrow has big shoes to fill and guided by Mr. Spielberg, his reboot ultimately succeeds.

         It's a clever script that makes fun of itself right from the start. People are getting bored visiting Jurassic World. They've gotten used to seeing the dinosaurs now for years so of course, the mad scientists back in the lab must produce a bigger, meaner, scarier model. What could possibly go wrong?

          The film stars Chris Pratt as a raptor trainer (don't ask, just go with it) and Bryce Dallas Howard as the Director of the theme park. Co-starring is Vincent D'Onofrio representing the evil corporation with its own agenda and Irfan Khan as the billionaire who funds the park. Jake Johnson is comic relief and B.D. Wong is back as the mad scientist. The film also introduces the requisite kids (this time brothers) who, of course, are immediately in danger. They are played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins.

           Mr. Pratt makes a dashing hero as he proved in "Guardians of the Galaxy" but his role here is not quite as freewheeling as Peter Quill. Ms. Howard does a good job of starting out as the Ice Queen and eventually melting into a caring human being, Being chased by  monster dinosaurs can have that kind of impact.

             The film starts slow with lots of sentimental backstory but picks up steam and holds a few good unexpected surprises for the audience. The CGI is better in some scenes than others but the raptors are just terrific. You really imagine them to be actually on screen interacting with the cast.

              I enjoyed it more as it went on and it ultimately does succeed as a perfect summer popcorn movie. You get what you expect...and then some.

Sunday, June 07, 2015


    Director Bill Pohlad brings the story of Brian Wilson to life in this remarkable new film.  The screenplay cuts back and forth in time focusing on two seminal points in Mr. Wilson's life, the creation of "Pet Sounds" and dealing with his midlife mental issues.

      The film opens with the Beach Boys riding high on their success but Brian no longer interested in touring. While the group tours Japan without him, he stays behind to work on what would eventually become "Pet Sounds". The young Brian is played by Paul Dano and he is just terrific. Scenes in the studio, working with the musicians to create the album, you get chills watching him bring Mr. Wilson's genius to life. And you are chilled even further as the "voices in his head" get louder and he begins to totally breakdown.

       The older Brian is played by John Cusack and he is just as daunting, tacking mental health issues, and the domineering Dr. Eugene Landry, who was his doctor and legal guardian. Dr. Landry is played by the always reliable Paul Giamatti who overcomes a horrible hairpiece to create a vile human being who almost destroys Mr. Wilson. It is only when Brian meets Melinda Ledbetter (played beautifully by Elizabeth Banks), that, with her love and determination, he is able to get free from Dr. Landry and begin to really live again.

         Some of the dissolves between time periods are disruptive and choppy but for the most part the device works and combined with the heartbreaking true story, terrific acting, and the brilliance of Brian Wilson, this is a must see on so many levels.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Slow West

          A new Indie western that at once is iconic and yet at the same time turns the genre upside down. Brilliant in its simplicity with wonderful cinematography, this is a film to be savored slowly and appreciated for it's quirkiness. 

          Kodi Smit-McGee stars as Jay, a lanky naive young man, new to the American west in search of his true love, Rose. In flashbacks, we see them together in Scotland when circumstances force Rose and her father to leave for America. The film opens on Mr. Smit-McGee staring up at the stars, alone at his campfire. Soon enough, he gets into trouble and is rescued by the film's narrator and his co-star, Michael Fassbender. Mr. Fassbender is a drifter in the iconic mold of Clint Eastwood's "man with no name".  The two men come to an arrangement of sorts and ride off together. 

           The land is expansive (New Zealand fills in for the American west) but the film is small. There are few characters within the contained story. There is no town, just the land, our two riders and the small band of bounty hunters following them, led by Ben Mendelssohn.  No better choice here than Mr. Mendlesohn to play the villain. He is wonderful in these types of roles.

           Writer/director John McLean respects the western genre but stages ample scenes with a Wes Anderson playfulness. There is requisite gun play but staged in unusual and original ways. The ending is  refreshingly different than expected but yet, makes sense at the same time. There is so much to enjoy in this "little" film that I can't wait to see it again.