Saturday, May 21, 2016

April 2016

I spent much of April putting together the June issue of Speedboat Magazine, which I needed to complete before going on my seventh Carnival cruise on May 2, which is  tomorrow. It was our annual swimsuit issue, and a lot of fun to create. As I worked, I listened to and graded every song by the late Kirsty MacColl, hunting for gems across her numerous CDs. I listened to and very much enjoyed the audiobook of Michael Koryta’s supernatural thriller The Ridge, and eagerly look forward to more of his work. I am also finally reading The Burnaby Experiments by the late Stephen Gilbert (of Willard fame). I have also been binge-watching The Larry Sanders Show (my third go-around on this series), in the wake of star Garry Shandling’s recent death. This month, we also shockingly lost Prince; he was one of my very favorite performers.
Here are the movies I saw this month:

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016)—I have been a fan of Sally Field going back to her days on The Flying Nun. She’s a dynamic and extremely talented performer, and although she’s a grandma now, she’s still something of a cutie pie. In Hello My Name Is Doris, she plays a shy spinster with few friends, a tendency toward hoarding, questionable tastes in fashion and zero socialization skills. Then one day she meets the hunky new executive (Max Greenfield) at the company where she works as an accountant, and she instantly develops an obsession with him. The rest of the movie concerns the lengths Sally goes to in order to win Greenfield’s heart, fantasizing about him Walter Mitty-style along the way. It’s the barest wisp of a plot, and full of awkwardness as we sympathize with Sally but realize she’s in way over her head. The movie would be a decent lightweight comedy/romance if it weren’t for several bits that ring horribly false (two characters who act supremely rude for little rhyme or reason), and then there’s the ambiguous ending, the kind of which I always despise. But the movie does feature super-sexy Anna Akana in a small role; almost any of her YouTube videos are funnier and more enjoyable than this movie. Akana desperately needs to have her own starring feature film. (7)

FRANK (2014)—This film got so many great reviews when it was released a couple of years ago that I was sorry I missed it. Now that I’ve finally caught up with it…I have to admit to being disappointed. This is about a band whose lead singer wears (and never removes) a large paper mâché head over his real head. An aspiring songwriter and keyboardist joins the band, starts to record music with them and begins to realize that they’re each dealing with various psychological challenges. Way too quirky for my tastes; not really satisfactory on any level. Very odd to cast Michael “Jobs” Fassbender in a role where you can’t even see him. (5)

DEMOLITION (2016)—Jake Gyllenhaal, the star of movies I’ve greatly enjoyed (Southpaw, Nightcrawler, End of Watch), stars as a man whose wife has just been killed in a devastating car accident. Numbed by the emotional pain, he slowly unravels, demolishing lots of stuff—refrigerators, bathroom stalls, even his own house in an attempt to “tear down the walls” of his old life. He meets a pretty single mom (Naomi Watts) whose troubled young son (Judah Lewis) helps him get a grip on reality. This is an interesting movie, but it seems as emotionally detached as its central character—I should have been touched by this film, but although I was willing to go along with the story, I was never moved. The fine acting almost, but not quite, makes up for the lack of real feelings. (7)

ZOOTOPIA (2016)—One of the best movies of this year, this Disney animated film hits all the right notes and features a sterling voice cast, including Idris Elba, Jason Bateman, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Shakira, etc. But Ginnifer Goodwin steals the show as a rabbit who dreams of becoming a police officer in a human-free world. There are sendups of a number of movie clichés—at least, I hope they’re sendups and not just clichés—but there’s so much great writing and humor in this great “buddy movie” that you won’t mind a few borrowed plot twists. I was intrigued and hooked from beginning to end. (10)

THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)—In anticipation of seeing the new live-action remake, Joan and I both screened the Disney cartoon version, which I hadn’t seen since I was 7, and she hadn’t seen at all. I think we were both equally charmed by the animation, music and story, which, by all accounts, is only loosely based on Kipling’s stories. This was the final animated feature that Walt personally oversaw production on—he was dead by the time it premiered—and he was single-handedly responsible for altering the story, making it more family-friendly and removing a great deal of the darker elements of Kipling. I’d say he did a good job. The voice cast—especially George Sanders as Shere Khan and Phil Harris as Baloo—is magnificent. (10)

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)—Because we can now make movie animals talk convincingly through the magic of CGI, The Jungle Book—like Charlotte’s Web before it and an upcoming remake of Animal Farm—was an obvious choice to re-create. I suspect Walt Disney would have disliked his studio’s new version, which embraces the story’s darker elements. It’s fun and suspenseful enough, but lacking the charm of the animated version (even though they do some of the songs). And oh, so dark. One animal is brutally murdered and the tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Zootopia’s Idris Elba) has an interesting but ominous new backstory. Bill Murray is his typically fun self as the voice of Baloo the bear. Special effects are the best reason to see this movie. (8)

DARLING (2016)—In June of 2011, I blogged about a 1965 film called Repulsion. Filmed in black-and-white, this psychological thriller was the first film in English by famed director Roman Polanski. Screened at festivals last year and released wide this year, Darling steals liberally from both Repulsion and The Shining without coming close to achieving the terror or magnificence of either. What Darling does have is plenty of creepiness—lots of weird music, scary imagery, jump shots and bizarre “subliminal” inserts—and it looks fantastic. The movie’s pretty star, Lauren Ashley Carter, has Christina Ricci’s huge eyes and does a decent acting job, but this is really like a short film that’s been stretched out to feature length. (6)

THE MEDDLER (2016)—I rather enjoyed this gentle mom vs. daughter comedy, which is from the same general cinematic neighborhood as The Guilt Trip and Albert Brooks’ Mother. In this variation on the “overbearing parent” story, Mom is played by Susan Sarandon, who (like Alison Janney) grows more beautiful with each passing year. She speaks in a rather labored Noo Yawk accent—which I guess is part of the overall joke—and it takes a pretty long time for daughter Rose Byrne to catch up with the audience and realize she’s got a heart of gold. The always dependable J.K. Simmons adds a touch of romance to this delightful surprise. (9)

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