I really did not like ‘Snatched,’ and I am a little bummed about it. I was really rooting for it, since I like both Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn (By the way, what’s up with Goldie getting second billing?) They are even perfectly cast as mother and daughter. I really like the early scenes where their relationship was established. However, the screenplay by Katie Dippold went nowhere – even in Equador – that the film just lay lifeless after. Both Schumer and Hawn are game, and you feel like they are trying their best to resuscitate the dead film. It’s such a shame because both women deserve better material.
Richard Linklater, via his Before Sunset/Midnight series, started that thing about a couple talking and exploring each other’s feelings in a course of a night/day. ‘Nobody Walks In LA,’ written and directed by Jesse Shapiro, takes a familiar route: Miles and Becca, played by Kim Shaw and Adam Shapiro, walk, take the bus, Metro all over Los Angeles as they talk their way out of their problems – mostly his as he discovers his girlfriend cheated on him days before their upcoming wedding. Cue in a couple of montage scenes, some party sequences, and just about every cliche out there. Los Angeles, for me, has never been the most romantic city – much too manicured for that – but this film shows some grit along with that that makes the city more down to earth. In the end, we do get to know a little bit more about these two characters, but we ask did we care in the first place?
‘Four Days in France’ (‘Jours de France’) is one of the weirdest movies I have seen in a long time. It is one of those films that is truly hard to describe. Directed by Jérôme Reybaud, this premiered at Venice Film Festival. It stars Pascal Cervo as Pierre Thomas. At the beginning of the film, Pierre leaves his lover in the middle of the night, and starts driving through Central France. We don’t know why he is doing this – we get a very vague idea in the end. As he goes through the different rural cities, he goes to rest stops and cruising areas looking for hookups. Most of the time he is aided by the ever-reliable phone app Grindr, where he ‘meets’ the men of Central France (Are there really that many there?) There is the idea that he has sex with a whole lot of them, but curiously he doesn’t. He meets a lot of other people along the way – his French teacher from childhood, a young gay man who wants to move to Paris, an older lady walking to the market.
And then there’s his partner, who (again) uses Grindr to track him down. That familiar notification notice of Grindr is ever ubiquitous here, if Pierre isn’t listening to classical music. One can find this film very tedious, pointless even. At times I did as well, but I have to admit I also liked the languid pace of the film, and was amused by the quirky characters he met, even if most of the set ups were quite contrived. This film runs at least 140 minutes, and you feel its length. Oddly enough, though, I felt that my time wasn’t wasted.
‘Toni Erdmann’ was Germany’s submission for the Academy Awards last year, and I think it is easily one of last year’s best movies, regardless of what country it came from. It is also one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time as there were times I found myself literally laughing out loud while watching it.
Written and Directed by Maren Ade, the movie is about a father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his adult daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) They have a very complicated relationship, and it has gotten to a point where Winfried thinks he has ceased to know his own daughter. So he visits her in Buacharest, where she is working, and starts to stalk her, at times disguised as his alter ego Toni Erdmann. But the movie is much more than that, it i an exploration of how we as adults treat and disregard our parents. Remember when we were kids and everything our parents did embarrassed us? Well, magnify that situation hundred-fold – that’s one of the premises of this movie. You see Winfred’s character and I have to admit that in the beginning I found the character a pest, as he inserts himself into his daughter’s life coarsely. Simonischek wisely plays the character without too much charm, and as the film unfolds, we get to see what he is doing and where he is coming from, and it happens organically. Not that Hüller’s Ines is an angel, either – we see her as a very strong independent modern woman, and is also a damaged one. We see both characters heal each other.
There are a couple of situations here that are laugh out loud funny. I won’t spoil it, but they involve Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Love You,’ petit fours, and a naked brunch. This film is both enjoyable and contemplative, and depending on your mood, will hit your heart and your funny bone both. I read somewhere that Hollywood is planning to remake it with Jack Nicholson, and that idea both scares and excites me, depending on my mood.
I first learned about ‘The Comedian’ from its New York Times bad review. And it steered me away from seeing it. But I was looking for something to watch, and chanced upon it, and maybe I shouldn’t have had Manohla Dargis sway my judgement. ‘The Comedian’ may not be Citizen Kane, but I found it very enjoyable even as I see its faults.
In the film, the great Robert deNiro stars as Jackie Burke, an aging stand up comic who had a very successful sitcom years ago. So he carries with him the baggage of being Eddie, the character from said show. Burke is one of those insult comics, along the lines of Don Rickles, and nowadays, in this age of political correctness, that type of comedy isn’t as celebrated as it used to be. But De Niro infuses a lot of charm in Jackie, and I truly believed in him as the character. I actually thought about the idea. Does a great performance elevate a film ? Because there isn’t much story here, and the point being driven by the film somehow gets lost along the way, but darn if you can’t take your eyes away from DeNiro. He whispers, he cackles, he punches, he even falls in love, and you are with Jackie Burke all the way. The last quarter of the film gets turned into schlock melodrama, but at that point you have truly gone to the character’s side. I found myself enjoying this film, and I think a lot of people will, if only they discover it.
Argentinian Director Marco Berger, in his 2014 movie ‘Hawaii,’ teased his audience on a will-they or won’t-they angle, and in his new film ‘Taekwondo’ (which he co-directs with Martín Darina) he does the exact same thing. Germán (Gabriel Epstein) is invited by his friend Fernando (Lucas Papa) to an all-boys summer vacation in a resort town near Buenos Aires. He doesn’t know why he was invited – he senses that Fernando is into him, but he gets a lot of mixed signals, not just from him but from his posse in the house. He even asks, is he even gay? We find out that Germán is, via his phone conversation with a friend and we spend the rest of the movie testing our gaydar if Fernando is. All things seem to point that way, but are we really sure?
The ‘tease’ here can be frustrating and it is compounded by Farina’s penchance for closeups of the male genitalia, and when we are kind of certain things are going a certain way we get sidetracked. We also get to see how other cultures are more comfortable with their sexualities, as we see the whole group of men here always in various states of undress, and can you imagine an American movie – even a gay one – do that? I read of a study recently wherein straight men get more sexually flexible when they are drunk, and we sense that homoerotic tension here as a group of guys drink, shoot the breeze, and tell sexually sated stories with each other. As I said, this film will try your patience but it is thoughtful and there is a nice payoff in the end. Epstein and Papa are pretty to look at (everyone here is, actually) and the dialogue is nice and easy going – its languid pace makes you really feel like you are on this vacation with them. I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone, but for the lovers of gay independent niche projects, this a big go.
I think I saw the trailer of ‘Gifted’ numerous times, and frankly, it should have appealed to me more, but it didn’t because the trailer seemed like one of those that almost gives the whole movie away – it practically gave away most of the storyline, and it doesn’t take a genius for one to see how it will turn out.
But Chris Evans’ allure won. For him, and just for him, I went to see this and you know what? It wasn’t as bad as thought it would be, and actually it was kind of good. This story has been told a thousand times – gifted kid struggles on having a normal life vs being treated as some kind of machine. But what sets this film is the acting, which makes gives you the feel like you are seeing this story for the first time. Specifically, Chris Evans plays a more down to earth super hero here. As Frank Adler, he has been taking care of his little niece Mary (McKenna Grace) since his sister’s death. We get to learn that Mary comes from a line of geniuses in Mathematics – both his mother and grandmother have shown genius in the field. But he believes that his sister would have wanted a ‘normal’ childhood for Mary, and is hell bent on making that happen. Enter grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) who tells him that the gift cannot be wasted. The director Marc Webb sets up both sides fairly, and the audience gets caught in the tug and pull. Duncans’ Evelyn is just a bit too one-sided so you do pull for Frank, because Evans gives his character an honest and charming performance, the his chemistry with Grace is appealing.
Sometimes all you really need is a good story, even though familiar, to have an engaging film. ‘Gifted’ has one, and is one.