Friday, August 28, 2015

Rikki and The Flash

      Don't expect to see Meryl Steep winning any awards anytime soon for this lightweight family drama. The film should have been called "Rikki and her Dysfunctional Family", as it's certainly not about her band. And it's barely about her family.

        The thin bare plot is about a mother who abandoned her family years ago to pursue her musical dreams. After one album that went nowhere, Rikki is barely surviving a minimum wage job during the day and playing covers in a seedy bar at nights. One gimmick is that Rick Springfield is her guitarist and boyfriend. They are a mismatched pair and this would be a complete embarrassment for Ms. Streep except for the fact she can carry a tune and manages to get by on "American Girl" and "My Love Won't Let You Down".

         The other gimmick is to have her real life daughter, Mamie Gummer, play her troubled daughter in the film. This certainly lends credibility to the character's relationship. The family plot that drives the story, though, is so lightweight it's laughable (at least something is funny because the film isn't). The characters are stereotypes and cover all backgrounds. A gay son, check. An interracial couple, check. An understanding ex husband, check. There is no character development or back story for any of the characters other than Rikki herself. Audra McDonald and Kevin Kline also co-star but are restrained by the weak writing. 

           I can't resist the pun. "Rikki and The Flash" is a flash in the pan. If you love Rick Springfield or worship Ms. Streep, see it quick before it's gone.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

        Ah, Robert Vaughn, where are you when we need you? Guy Richie's big screen treatment of the '60's T.V. show is all style and very little substance.  It's an origin story of how U.N.C.L.E.'s top two spies, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuriakin meet for the first time and it's clever enough but poor acting and not enough action do not make for top notch entertainment.

         The film does have it's tongue planted firmly in it's cheek and and is saved from being a complete dud by it's humor, soundtrack and visuals. The '60's Europe recreation is "fab" and the wardrobe department worked overtime to get everything right. Although how exciting can it be watching the two leads argue over women's fashions?

           Henry Cavill looks the part as Agent Solo but has no personality. Arnie Hammer works hard on his accent as Illya but plays him as a big Russian bear. Hugh Grant co-stars in a small but significant role, especially if you are a fan of the original T.V. show. The femme fatale is played by Alicia Vikander and she is an absolute delight to watch. The other female lead, Elizabeth Debicki, makes a fine icy, cool villain. What can it say about the film when  the two featured women are more interesting than the two main male characters?

            The set-up is there for a sequel  and if it's made, I hope to  see a certain little New York tailor shop featured somewhere.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mr. Holmes

      A quiet film of dignity, intelligence, wit and surprise, "Mr. Holmes" is an oasis from the loud action popcorn movies of summer. Ian McKellen plays an elderly version of a retired Sherlock Holmes living by the sea and tending to his honey bees. And of course, he is absolutely terrific.

       As his memories start to fade with age, Holmes struggles to remember details of his last case, which we see develop in flashbacks.  He relates the facts of the case to young Roger (played by Milo Parker) who's mother is Holmes's housekeeper, Mrs. Munro. Laura Linney co-stars as Mrs. Munro and it's quite a successful departure for the talented actress.

        This is a period film jumping between two earlier periods in time and Mr. McKellen doesn't miss a step or trick as the older and elderly versions of Holmes. His scenes with Roger are tender and witty and in the flashbacks, even as an older version of Sherlock Holmes, he does the character justice.

         The film is directed by Bill Condon with a quiet elegance and yet a twinkle in his eye. The screenplay is by Jeffrey Hatcher, with a very different take on the famous detective, who ends up solving more than one mystery.

          "Mr. Holmes" is a breath of fresh air and filled with simple pleasures, anchored by a wonderful Ian McKellen.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

         Tom Cruise returns in this 5th installment of the series. With each film, logic continues to dwindle and plot holes continue to grow larger but that's not really important in these films. 

          The franchise exists as the perfect summer popcorn film...big stars and bigger stunts and in that respect, the film delivers. For my money, the stunts have been better in the previous  films but there is no denying that Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a plane during taking off is pretty incredible. The problem though, is by now it's certainly no surprise (duh, look at the poster)  and it occurs right at the beginning of the film.

            Mr. Cruise is joined once again by the IMF team of Simon Pegg , Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames. Mr. Pegg is comic relief, Mr. Renner provides exposition and Mr. Rhames stands around looking tough.  The new faces this time include Alec Baldwin as the pompous CIA chief, Sean Harris as the creepy villain, and Rebecca Ferguson as the femme fatale double agent. Ms Ferguson holds her own very well in the stunt department going literally toe to toe with Mr. Cruise.

          Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote the screenplay), the film jumps from stunt to stunt with a simplistic story to bridge the action. While the stunts are well staged, Mr. McQuarrie doesn't know when to stop and the film runs too long and with so many sequences, you begin to lose interest. Credit Mr. Cruise however, for doing his own stunts. He appears to be in great shape and goes out of his way to prove it.

            Films like this are becoming interchangeable with Jason Bourne, James Bond, even the Fast & Furious series. Yes Hollywood, all the stunts are fun but please give us a well written script that provides suspense and intelligence to go along with all the action.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Fantastic Four

       Fantastic Flop is more like it. I don't remember the last time a film actually offended me because it was so bad. Here, four good actors are trapped in a fantastic foul-up of a film. Miles Teller plays Reed Richards. Mr. Teller was exceptional in "Whiplash". Now he is so miscast, it's criminal.  Jamie Bell plays Ben Grimm, otherwise known as The Thing. Again, good actor ridiculously miscast and the same can be said for Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm or Kate Mara as Susan Storm. There is no chemistry between them or the film with it's audience.

        The film runs 100 minutes. The first hour is all origin story (and not even the correct origin) with no action sequences at all. If this part of the film was a superhero, it's power would be boredom and the ability to put the audience to sleep.  The last 40 minutes contains a big action sequence where the heroes square off against Dr. Doom on a barren planet. It is a poorly conceived battle with the cheesiest CGI, seemingly left over from a 1970's arcade game. When The Thing shouts his signature line, it is forced and comes out of nowhere, losing all it's verbose appeal.

         20th Century Fox has only had success with The X-Men films. They can't get Spiderman right or The Fantastic Four forcing reboot after reboot and failing miserably every time. They should wise up and sell their rights back to Marvel studios who have shown they know what to do with their heroes.

           Do not waste your time or money on this "Forgettable Four".

Monday, August 03, 2015


          Jake Gyllenhaal takes the hits but it's the audience that gets sucker-punched in this cliche-ridden fight film.  Mr. Gyllenhaal is the only reason to watch this boxing boredom. He is just terrific as Billy Hope, a boxer on top of the world, who falls quickly after a tragedy. Of course he ends up being trained by the wise, ex-boxer, mentor played here by Forest Whitaker, for one more shot at the title and redemption.

         Written by Kurt Sutter (known for the TV show "Sons of Anarchy"), its a lazy script with nothing new to bring to the genre (except the plot device that sets the story in motion). Director Antoine Fuqua tries to bring "street cred" to the story with gritty dark visuals and Eminem rapping the title song, but it all feels fake and a constant retread of a story told many times.

          Rachel McAdams plays "Mo", Billy's wife in what amounts to a cameo. Their daughter, played by newcomer, Oona Laurence is a 10 year old bore who, unfortunately, can't hold her own in her scenes with Mr. Gyllenhaal. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is the stereotypical manager who turns on his fighter the minute he smells a better deal. And Mr. Whitaker, an actor with a quality pedigree walks through his role as the trainer using "Mickey" from the "Rocky" movies as his role model.

           There are so many contradictions, I don't know where to begin and the climatic fight, while very realistic,  just doesn't produce the same excitement as so many other "fight" films. What holds the film together is the committed performance by Mr. Gyllenhaal. His physical and emotional performance rises above the material and he's a winner, even if the film isn't.