Screwball comedy lives and breathes thanks to actress Greta Gerwig who turns her new movie “Mistress America” into head spinning fun. Gerwig plays a woman nearing thirty trying to find her way in the world while befriending a young college freshman who might become her step sister. Lola Kirke looks wide-eyed as she observes Greta’s antic life, starting with a night on the town and building to a day in the country and a visit to a rich former boyfriend and his wife. The now married guy still pines for Gerwig but his wife qualifies as a former friend turned nemesis. Greta and her entourage arrives to hit the poor guy up for money to open a restaurant. Lola takes a few cues from her step sister to be and drags along her ex boyfriend and his current girlfriend, the better to increase the chances to bicker. You’ll need a clear head to follow the dialog which bounces around like a pro volleyball match. Count me among Greta Gerwig’s many fans. She lights up the screen. Does it deliver what it promises? Gen X comedy. Is it entertaining? Screwball comedy. Is it worth the price of admission? Worth it for the laughs.
British actress Bel Powley who plays the teen daughter of 1970’s San Francisco single swinger Kristen Wiig. Powley loses her virginity to Wiig’s boyfriend Alexander Skarsgard, putting new tension in the usual love triangle. Powley in real life is in her twenties but captures the conflicting emotions of a teen. The great cast keeps this compelling. Kristen Wiig continues her string of unusual intelligent work. Moments in “Dairy” will shock, sadden, uplift and delight. This one puts a new spin on the usual “coming of age” tale. Does it deliver what it promises? A one of the kind experience. Is it entertaining? Compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s most powerful small films.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” has several things working against it. First it opens on the heels of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”—a stellar spy thriller. Next, it tries to recreate 1960’s style and the old television show on which it’s based. The problem is: it succeeds. It looks like a 1867 movie which is to say it’s slow, talkative, and predictable. Henry Cavill starred as Superman in “Man of Steel.” He makes an o.k. spy as the character Napoleon Solo but he lacks the charm of the old school guys such as Sean Connery who once starred in stuff like this. Armie Hammer plays Illya Kuryakin and adds a bit of fun to a very slow script. The rising star Alicia Vikander fills the femme fatal spot as the daughter of a brilliant scientist kidnapped by the bad guys. She works both sides of the plot in a story line almost identical to that of the recent “Mission Impossible.” I think director Guy Ritchie wanted to pay tribute to the 60’s. Instead he’s churned out a stale spy story with little to recommend it. Does it deliver what it promises? Not even close. Is it entertaining? Slow. Is it worth the price of admission? An August dud.
Meryl Streep looks a fright in “Ricki and the Flash.” She’s an aging rock and roller leading a cover band playing dive bars full of senior citizens. That’s her weekend gig. During the week she works as a grocery store checker. Music was her dream and we soon learn she left her husband and three children to follow it. Her daughter’s sudden divorce and suicide attempt calls Meryl back to the family she left. They do not receive her with open arms but she does have a good influence on her daughter played by Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer. I especially enjoyed Audra McDonald as Kevin Klein’s second wife and the woman who has rasied the children Meryl leaves behind. The two women face off and provide a high point. Streep and her band including Rick Springfield perform twelve songs — baby boomer rock and roll oldies. The performances enhance the usual family dysfunction story. Streep makes this complicated character interesting and thought-provoking. She pays a price for following a dream and leaves us to ponder the result. Does it deliver what it promises? Interesting family musical drama with no easy answers. Is it entertaining? Very much. Is it worth the price of admission? Yeah, a ticket to a Meryl Streep movie is always money well spent.
Those who attend “The Fantastic Four” expecting the usual Marvel magic are in for a disappointment. This reboot gets bogged down by a dull script that delays any action until almost two-thirds of the way through. Miles Teller plays the grown up Reed Richards who as a child dreams of building a teleporting machine—a way to a parallel dimension. He and his friends get government funding, build their dream machine, get into it and something goes very very wrong. Richards comes out with the power of elasticity — he can stretch. Kate Mara can float in a bubble. Michael B. Jordan flies and has the ability to flame–and Ben Grimm turns into “The Thing”—a guy made of stones who can fling them at will. Their friend Toby Kebbell gets the biggest dose of whatever it is they get in the other dimension and turns into the arch-villain Dr. Doom. The audience laughed at several moments of grade Z dialog. The special effects look cheap — like something out of a movie twenty years ago. I did enjoying seeing Reg E. Cathey — the guy with the barbecue joint in “House of Cards” — as the father figure of the four. He’s got the best pipes in movies. Too bad he’s in this one. Does it deliver what it promises? Comic super heroes in a less than fantastic movie. Is it entertaining? Pretty bad. Is it worth the price of admission? No thanks.
I’ll admit it: I’m tired of Tom Cruise and wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing him make another run as Ethan Hunt in the “Mission Impossible” series. But I have to compliment the filmmakers. They make Cruise fun and thrilling from the opening segment in which he hangs onto the side of an airplane as it takes off with nefarious cargo. Cruise goes rogue as the CIA angles to shut down the Impossible Mission department. His friends from recent episodes join him, including the very funny Simon Pegg as well as Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames. Alex Baldwin heads the CIA and as usual makes a great foil. Rebecca Ferguson saves the movie as a double or triple or deep cover agent who either hopes to kill Cruise or help him. She saves his life during the movie high point–an underwater caper in which Cruise must reprogram a computer while holding his breath. Sean Harris makes a great bad guy–yet another rogue agent who now heads an international syndicate out for no good. Several times “Rogue Nation” made me laugh or gasp or engage. Tom Cruise is 53 years old and I don’t know how many more of these he had in his future. “Rogue Nation” would be a marvelous place to stop. Does it deliver what it promises? Thriller with thrills. Is it entertaining? Very engaging. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the best of its kind.
Sometimes Woody Allen makes a great film as in “Blue Jasmine” and sometimes not. “Irrational Man” falls in the “not” category. The plot reminds me of the older Hitchcock thriller “Shadow of a Doubt” mixed with a little “Strangers on a Train.” Joaquin Phoenix plays a bored philosophy professor whose arrival stirs up a sleepy New England college campus. The student bestow “star” status on the professor. Emma Stone finds herself sexually attracted to Phoenix and ultimately they begin an affair to the consternation of the older married professor played by Parker Posey. I’ve always liked Posey and frankly I was disappointed to see her as a desperate unattractive character. Phoenix gets his mojo back committing a murder which sets the Hitchcock twists into motion. “Irrational Man” struck me as flat. Joaquin Phoenix remains one of the most interesting actors working today. I’ll never forget him in “The Master.” But I won’t remember him for “Irrational Man.” Does it deliver what it promises? Not the best Woody Allen. Is it entertaining? Slow and sleepy. Is it worth the price of admission? Skip it.
“Paper Towns” has high hopes to cash in on last year’s successful young adult story ‘The Fault in Our Stars”—both based on books by John Green. Nat Wolff begins the story in voice over describing his attraction to the exciting girl next door played by Cara Delevingne. Their elementary school friendship dissolves as she takes a more unconventional path. Until one night when she asks him for help. The next day she vanishes. Did she leave clues to her new whereabouts? The story changes to a scavenger hunt — a road trip with a group of teens — that ends with more of a whimper than a bang. “Paper Towns” left me with a lot of questions which I think says more about the thinness of the plot than “Hey, how did they get the money to do that?” I suppose it’ll be fun to see where this film leads the career of Nat Wolff. As for his co-star Cara Delevingne, I never got what all the fuss was about. Does it deliver what it promises? Young adult coming of age road trip romance. Is it entertaining? Slow and thin at times. Is it worth the price of admission? Kind of a disappointment.
“Mr. Holmes” dishes up another version of the great detective inhabited by Ian McKellen as an elderly retiree keeping bees in the English countryside and fighting memory loss. As Holmes, McKellen tries to solve Sherlock’s last case—a case that goes very wrong. McKellen receives aid from Laura Linney – his housekeeper – and friendship from her son played by Milo Parker. The scenes between the old man and the pre-teen boy add humor and humanity to the story. Parker’s not yet in his teens but holds his own in his scenes with McKellen. The story takes place a couple of years after World War Two adding great atmosphere and giving Holmes an opportunity to visit post war Japan. I loved every minute of “Mr. Holmes.” It felt like reading one of the classic detective stories on a rainy afternoon. Does it deliver what it promises? Engaging mystery of a fading mine. Is it entertaining? First rate acting. Is it worth the price of admission? Elementary my dear Watson.
Amy Schumer joins the comedy ranks of Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig in her debut film “Trainwreck.” Based somewhat on her life, the story begins with an outrageous comic rif/ explanation by grizzled Colin Quinn to his two young daughters of why he is divorcing their mother. That awkward moment leaves Amy convinced monogamy is impossible. We flash forward to Amy as a young woman working for a snarky magazine, drinking to excess and participating in copious amounts of casual sex. Amy insists her partners never stay the night. So imagine her surprise when she’s assigned to interview a sports doctor played by the very appealing Bill Hader. They hook up and she stays over and now must deal with the confusion the possibility of relationship causes her. The writing in “Trainwreck” (Schumer wrote the script) is as satisfying and hilarious as movies comedies get. I put it alongside “Bridesmaids” and “The 40 Year old Virgin.” Both are Judd Apatow projects and he directs “Trainwreck” and most certainly influenced the final product. “Bridesmaids” made Melissa McCarthy a star and “Virgin” launched Steve Carroll’s career. “Trainwreck” gives some wonderful moments to a great cast including Tilda Swinton as the world’s harshest editor, Bree Larson as Amy’s more settled little sister, and LeBron James as Hader’s best friend. LeBron plays an exaggerated version of himself and steals almost every scene. The dialog marches right up to sentimentality and then pops a zinger so good you almost miss the next one. I can’t wait to see where Amy Schumer’s career takes her. Does it deliver what it promises? Relationship comedy. Is it entertaining? Delightful in a very “R” rated way. Is it worth the price of admission? Absolutely except for the non “R” crowd.