After Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), is widowed by her husband’s death in an auto accident, the suburban mother’s “friends” turn their backs on her and her son. So she seeks out the town’s patrician mystery woman, Emily (Blake Lively), to set up a play date with each others’ sons. Married to a handsome novelist (Henry Golding), the martini-sipping Emily appears to be everything that Stephanie is not until the fateful day when asks for A Simple Favor, she leaves her son at Stephanie’s house, then doesn’t return to pick him up. Within a short time, Stephanie becomes a grown up Nancy Drew sleuthing her way around local cul-de-sacs and traffic circles to discover what happened to her friend.
Because of the time difference from Sweden, North American winners of Nobel Prizes receive their phone call just before dawn. So when the phone rings at 5 a.m. on a particular morning, the novelist and his wife may act surprised about him winning the Nobel Literature Prize, but in reality, they expected it. He has always been the one in the spotlight, and the Prize’s effect on his ego is all-encompassing. In contrast, her talents and identity have been overshadowed by her husband’s successes. A biographer follows the couple to Sweden, and his questions prompt flashbacks that reveal how the relationship began, how secrets were developed, and how the Nobel Ceremony will bring simmering feelings front and center. Glenn Close’s masterful performance in Bjorn Runge's The Wife makes everything work as conflicting emotions roil through her body and are reflected in her face and voice.
In Jesse Peretz's Juliet, Naked, Annie’s film professor husband is obsessed with the online blog he writes about an American singer/songwriter who disappeared after the release of his 1993 album, Juliet. When a bootleg tape of the musician’s concert appears, Annie writes a very critical review of the singer. Her husband is not amused, and things come to a head when the singer visits his pregnant daughter in Annie’s coastal English village. It seems he wasn’t missing—just living in his ex wife’s garage. Everything is low key in this British rom-com, which is just the way it should be.
Director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg have teamed up again for another heroic “based-on-a-true-story” tale of survival against impossible odds. Only this time, there is no “true-story” to confine them, so Mile 22 can be quick and easy with minor things like the laws of motion and other pesky facts. The film makers overuse choreographed POV shots, surveillance footage and drone camera perspectives which gets in the way of telling the basic story about: “driving someone to the airport.” The “someone” supposedly knows the location of a stash of highly radioactive explosive labelled “fear-powder,” and since the actor playing this guy (Iko Uwais) is a master of the deadly Indonesian martial art called “silat,” you kind of know what will happen next. Having Uwais perform his moves while handcuffed, just adds to the “Gee Whiz” feel.
Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast New Releases For the Week of 8/17/18 Crazy Rich Asians (R) Starring: Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, Gemma Chan Directed by: Jon M. Chu At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is a rom-com with the classic pairing of a beautiful [...]
Spike Lee opens and closes BlackkKlansman with brilliant set pieces. The first involves screening the famous camera-crane, dolly-shot from Gone With the Wind where the screen ends up being filled with thousands of dead and dying Confederate soldiers. Then the clip stops, and a white supremacist (Alec Baldwin) steps to the podium with a diatribe about miscegenation and mongrelization. The final scene involves the reminiscences of a Civil Rights leader (Harry Belafonte) about the Klan showing D.W. Griffith’s silent film, Birth of a Nation (aka The Clansman), and juxtaposed images of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer being run over and killed by a driver at the Charlottesville white supremacist rally. In between, the movie is ostensibly the “based on a true story” of Ron Stallworth, Colorado’s first African American policeman and how he ended up infiltrating the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. The whole thing is punctuated by Terrance Blanchard’s music which adds a Mod Squad vibe to the 1970‘s-era scenes. Lee’s tendency to “soap-box” issues through a megaphone gets in the way on occasion, but I have to remember that most of the viewing audience isn’t old enough to remember the 1970’s, and may need this grab-you-by-the shirt perspective.
Writer/director Bo Burnham shoots his movie, Eighth Grade, from the POV of a student named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), and creates a “must-see” film in the process. Kayla and her junior high classmates are trying to find their way through the last week of being “kids” before the unavoidable transition to the “Young Adult” status of High School. Like many youngsters, Kayla chronicles her thoughts, realities and aspirations via YouTube and reveals a cute, wannabe older and wiser individual who would somehow be better able coping with the realities of living day-to-day. This coping includes the garbled attempts at “communication,” with her single dad, trying not to giggle or cry during “active shooter drills” at school, trying to disappear in her auditorium seat when she garners the “Most Quiet” award from her classmates, and displaying her less-than-perfect body at an end of the year pool party. We grown up’s immediately see that every kid at the party is “less-than-perfect,” but we are supposedly adult enough to not consider ourself “unworthy” in comparison. This brilliant, slice-of-life uncovers the fact that although Kayla may not appreciate it right now, most of the people she encounters have her best interests in mind, and many of these people display genuine kindness. Wow! What a concept! Note: Because of “coarse language and some sexual material,” the powers that be have arbitrarily given this film an “R” rating which theoretically removes it from being seen by middle schoolers. Ignore this, take your kids, and if it makes them feel more comfortable, sit in different parts of the theater.
The Mission Impossible movies are all about the real-time stunts that Tom Cruise performs himself so there is no doubt that it he is the actor that we see. and Mission Impossible: Fallout is no exception. Co-star Simon Pegg sums things up: “He’s genuinely risking his life to entertain people—which is incredibly valiant—and daft.” If you want to save some time and money, director Christopher McQuarrie has posted a slick “All Stunts” short on YouTube that features behind the scenes shots and these stunts: The Long Line; The Downward Spiral; The Motorcycle Chase; The Rooftop Jump; and The Halo Jump. You can even see where Cruise explains how, “I stuck my foot out to soften the impact [when slamming into a building], and could instantly tell it was broken.” In true “the show must go on” style, Cruise then climbs up to the rooftop and limps away. Notoriously famous for only having three expressions, the other performers (most notably Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Angela Bassett) act circles around Cruise. But he is the “star” here, and everyone makes sure the audience knows this vital piece of information. The plot? If it matters, it’s about capturing a former British Intelligence Agent turned terrorist by repeatedly putting yourself in imminent danger after tacitly agreeing to take “the mission—should you wish to accept it.”
Thanks to the magic of flashbacks, in Mama Mia 2 we get to meet the young sexy Donna we heard about from the diary her soon-to-be-married daughter, Sophie, shared in the first Mamma Mia film. To remind everyone, Sophia discovered (via three “dot-dot-dot” excerpts), that she had three potential fathers from trysts her mother had on Kolokari beaches. The set up is that Donna has died, so while giving tours of her island home, Sophie recounts her mother’s tales of lust and song. Although not quite as exuberant as the Phyllida Lloyd directed first film, the new one has the advantage of minimizing Pierce Brosnan’s attempts to sing. The audience waits with high anticipation for the arrival of Cher playing Sophie’s grandmother, and the final 20 minutes is an over-the-top celebration of Cher playing Cher.
Like she did in her astounding Winters Bone with Jennifer Lawrence, director Debra Granik has discovered another star, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in her new movie, Leave No Trace. This time, a homeless-by-choice vet with PTSD and his 13-year-old daughter live a peripatetic existence “off the grid” in the deep woods near Portland, Oregon. They forage for food, sleep in cleverly concealed hidey-holes, read, play chess, and practice proactive techniques to avoid critters, park rangers, and the police. As we get to know this pair, we realize that the self-confident girl does the parenting of her shell-shocked father. Like the “back to the woods” dad in Captain Fantastic, the father’s teaching style is dogmatic as he shares his decidedly single-minded, us-vs-them outlook. But when interactions with other human beings increase, like all teens, the girl begins to seriously question many of the “truths” she has been taught.