Monday, July 06, 2015

June 2015

For two and a half weeks in June, I took up residence at the lovely Beverly Hills home of my friends the Newmans, who were vacationing in Europe. A change of scenery is always pleasant, and this one was a considerable upgrade from my studio apartment. Unfortunately, their shih-tzu, Mochi, is an uncommonly demanding animal that demands attention and love every second of every day, and by the time the Newmans came back home, I was deliriously happy to return to my dog-free sanctuary. June was also the month I binge-watched all three seasons of Orange is the New Black in about a week. It’s a fantastic comedy-drama about women in prison and filled with some of the best acting I’ve ever seen on TV.  Here are the movies I saw in June:

SAN ANDREAS (2015)—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in this throwback to 1970s disaster movies—specifically the 1974 Charlton Heston flick Earthquake. This incarnation doesn’t just double-down or triple-down on the chaos and destruction; there are so many related quakes (reaching from L.A. to San Francisco, along the same fault) and so much devastation that virtually no building is left standing in either city, and the death toll must be in the many millions. But on a more personal level, San Andreas wants us to be exclusively concerned about the welfare of a certain family, led by the Rock, his ex-wife and their daughter, along with some friends they make along the way. It’s all mindlessly entertaining, with special effects that truly stupefy the imagination. (8)

LOVE AND MERCY (2015)—Biopic about legendary Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson lurches back and forth between the 1960s and 1980s, with Paul Dano playing the younger Brian and John Cusack as the older version. Dano is a total ringer for the Pet Sounds-era singer-songwriter, and the scenes of him in the studio are pure magic. That could have been the whole movie and I'd have been happy. Unfortunately, John Cusack looks nothing like either Paul Dano or the older Brian Wilson, and the only real saving grace of the 1980s part of the story is staring at beautiful Elizabeth Banks, who is extremely easy on the eyes. Much of the movie plays like a Cliff’s Notes version of the story I am familiar with in much greater detail, and the scenes of the aging Wilson being treated by Dr. Eugene Landy are hilariously stilted, presenting only the Wilson side of the story and leaving out an entire film’s worth of relevant data. (I am certainly no fan of Landy, but he did get Brian healthy and making music again, and he provided therapy to scores of celebrities over the years. At the very least, must have had some amount of charm to be able to successfully attract so many famous clients—Paul Giamatti's role just requires him to be a complete and total asshole, and we never see how exactly Brian got ensnared in his web in the first place.) (7)

SPY (2015)—Rotund comic performer Melissa McCarthy goes from timid behind-the-scenes CIA worker to full-blown in-the-field operative in this zany sendup of James Bond-type action flicks. The movie has been populated with very talented people, but this was all a bit too full of fake suspense, gross-out punchlines and predictable plot twists for me to care about. Rose Byrne is very memorable as a delicate but foul-mouthed heiress. For me, the James Bond parodies peaked with Austin Powers. (6)

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (2015)—Here’s a comedy-drama for adults about exploring the possibilities of falling in love in one’s autumn years. Blythe Danner, still gorgeous at 72, plays cards with her buddies June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place, and enjoys her life as a widow…until she meets two extremely different men (Sam Elliott and Malin Akerman) and gets to know each. There’s not a tremendous amount of plot in this movie, but it succeeds on the charm of its sensitive screenplay and great performances. An unexpected delight. (9)

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)—When pretty high-school girl Rachel (Olivia Cooke) gets cancer, a fellow student, Greg (Thomas Mann), visits her out of a family-fueled obligation, and a friendship develops. The first half or so of this teen drama, based on Jesse Andrews’ YA novel, is engaging enough, but our interest in the story gradually disintegrated along with Rachel’s health, as the focus stayed firmly on self-obsessed Greg and not enough on Rachel. (The movie would have been better off focusing on Earl, the third part of this not-so-gleesome threesome.) Greg’s voice-over narration in particular becomes tiresome; the engaging comedic talents of Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation are almost totally squandered in a one-joke role, and former Saturday Night Live cast member Molly Shannon has the misfortunate of playing Rachel’s mom as an absurd and vaguely creepy woman, more like one of her characters on SNL than as a concerned parent. (5)

INSIDE OUT (2015)—Although I consider The Incredibles, WALL-E and the Toy Story franchise to be among the very best animated movies ever made, Pixar’s output has been extremely hit-or-miss for me (I was particularly unenthused by Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo). The latest Disney/Pixar collaboration, Inside Out, has received such unanimously positive reviews that I thought for sure this was going to be one of the good ones. Unfortunately, while the film begins and ends strongly, the entire middle half is relentlessly downbeat, sad and cataclysmic, and often resembles a patchwork of everything I disliked about Monsters and Nemo. The movie is about Riley, a little girl who is uprooted from her beloved Minnesota neighborhood and forced to move to San Francisco. Her raw emotions are depicted literally by characters called Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear (as if those are the only feelings people have), which live in her brain and pull all of her emotional strings. Riley’s mind is a phantasmagorical cross between a control room, storage facility and otherworldly theme park, full of ideas and crazy concoctions that never really quite worked for me. Bewilderingly, Riley’s psychological crisis makes for a movie that is bound to confuse and confound young kids who might otherwise take a shine to the cute Bing Bong character (Riley’s all-but-forgotten imaginary friend) but have no idea what’s going on—at times I really wasn’t sure what was going on. On a positive note, all of the voice characterizations, including Amy Poehler and Joy, Bill Hader as Fear and Lewis Black practically stealing the film as Anger, are top-notch. Not one of Pixar’s best, but infinitely better than Cars. (7)

TED 2 (2015)—Family Guy creator Seth McFarland’s sequel to his 2012 talking-teddy-bear movie delivers more of the same kind of laughs (and some of the same plot points), jettisoning Mila Kunis’s character in favor of a new love interest played by Amanda Seyfried. I have to admit I laughed out loud frequently at this, especially at a cameo featuring Liam Neeson. (8)