I can just imagine the pitch session: “Bikini-girl battles sharks.” And that pretty much sums Shallows up except for the fact that the girl is a med school dropout who can fashion things out of a wetsuit and jewelry that would make MacGyver envious. Since she’s a blond, she has to be pretty dense at times (for example, surfing without a buddy, and swimming towards a bloody whale carcass when sharks are after you). But even a blonde human is smarter than a shark—right?
Pixar’s astoundingly touching and beautiful animated film Finding Nemo is a tough act to follow, and Finding Dory is just a bit to derivative to be as fresh and exciting. Dory (Ellen Degeneres) the blue tang with short-term memory loss problems was inspired in the first film, but the “What was I doing?” bits grow tiresome when the entire movie is built on that schtick. Which isn’t to say the movie isn’t fun—it just depends too much on the “lets do it again” concept. Once again, an adorable little fish heads on a quest across thousands of miles of ocean to track down parents. There are plenty of side-trips plenty of unusual sea creatures to interact with in funny ways and unsubtle sequences comparing and contrasting what it’s like to “be free and potentially somebody’s next dinner,” to “being safe and protected and taken care of (in a dentist’s office fish tank or multi-habitat sea-quarium). With all the new faces, it’s easy to find a character you love. I pick Hank the grouchy octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neil) as my favorite. What’s your choice?
Maggie's Plan, Rebecca Miller’s modern day screwball comedy includes all of the fixtures needed for this genre—a parody of a rom-com that veers off into unexpected directions and becomes a farcical battle-of-the sexes where the world is constantly on the brink of chaos. The titular heroine, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a 30-something woman who “dresses like a Quaker” and decides to become a mother. She sets her eyes on the “ficto-critical anthropologist” who is unhappily married to a successful author who quashes any attempts her husband makes at becoming a writer. We think we know what will happen next, until Maggie decides to become a “kiss and make-up matchmaker” for the couple. Delightful chaos follows (including an on-cue snowstorm).
Down and Out is a racehorse appropriately named for a racehorse bred and raised by a barmaid in a destitute Welsh mining village. In true “it takes a village” style, Janet Vokes knew she couldn’t do this alone, so she formed a syndicate made up of twenty three bar patrons who ponied up 10 pounds a week. They used the money to buy a mare and stallion and in the course of time there was a foal—a long-legged, gangly beast with tall, white stockings on all four legs who loves to race. The ugly duckling tale of a “barmaid’s horse” competing against upper crust thoroughbreds is a wonderful one, and Louise Osmond's documentary lets the people (and animals) who lived it share their stories as a Welshman is born to do.
Famous anthropologists have built their careers studying the complex mating rituals of various tribal groups, and in his Love & Friendship, auteur director Whit Stillman shares similar techniques dissecting the intricacies of courtship in 1790‘s upper-crust England. Using Jane Austen’s novel as an outline, Stillman manages to go beyond a Masterpiece Theater costume drama to delight us with the scheming-for-a-husband mechinations in a time and place where mothers and daughters of a certain class were beholding to their relatives for costs-of-living—until they can find a financially sufficient spouse. It’s all fun and farce, and the scene where a suitor raised on Britain’s culinary staple called, “mushy peas,” comes face to face with the “jolly...little green balls” that are fresh peas, is worth the price of admission by itself.
The Nice Guys plot is simple: in the early 70‘s, an LA private eye reluctantly teams up with an enforcer-for-hire to find a missing girl and solve the suspicious death of a porn star. Almost everything you learned about this genre from Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii 5-0, and The Rockford Files is thrown on the screen, but with a knowing wink to the audience, (and under Shane Black’s deft direction), Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make the scripted screw-ups sing.
Captain America: Civil War is the 13th film in the Disney/Marvel universe and it has war-machine manufacturer Tony Stark (Ironman) develop a conscience after helping decimate Africa in a battle of super-heroes. In contrast, Captain America maintains his certainty in the correctness of fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” (even though that phrase is copyrighted by Superman). The Captain is a time-warped holdover from “the last good war” (AKA WWII), and so the nuances of hegemonic ascendence are simply absent from his mind-set. This internal juxtaposition is what sets ihis movie apart from other, similar ventures into superherodom. The filmmakers (and the venerable Stan Lee’s original storylines) go past the Ironman armor, Frisbie-style shield and spandex suits to reveal the human beings inside. What we discover, is that these guys and gals are funny—stand up comic funny. These humorous interludes provide the necessary time to breath before the next big battle scene.
Keanu is a kitten. A cute little guy who appeals to the inner child of everyone in this movie—including the cousins played by comedy duo Key & Peele, and the South-Central druglords they must confront to get the kidnapped feline back (I thought of using “catnapped” in this sentence, but if I do, it has an entirely different meaning). Underneath it all is a comedy sketch stretched to 100 minutes, and two fine actors who can change their personas from “Suburban Sam” to “Downtown Brown” with a wink and smile. And then there’s that kitten. Did I already mention he’s really cute?
Making a movie about Jazz musician Miles Davis called Miles Ahead has obsessed actor Don Cheadle’s life for decades, and he serves as the film’s producer, director, co-screenwriter and star to see his vision succeed. It is a singularly original film—told from the self-obsessed perspective of a drug-fueled, musical genius sharing his story with a Rolling Stone reporter who he convinces to be his partner-in-crime as they steal back the only copy of Davis’ latest album from a crooked record producer. The interview flashbacks vary from realistic to surrealistic—a misogynistic druggie in a love/hate marriage to ballerina Frances Taylor; a wannabe businessman flim-flammed by gangstas in alleyways and board rooms; a musical genius obsessed with sharing the sounds only can create; an angry, charismatic, inspirational, yet depressed human being searching for answers he never found, yet leaving a legacy of musical oneness.
The jarring response many in the audience experienced seeing “real” looking, sharp clawed and toothed jungle beasts interacting (and most upsetting, speaking English) with a puny almost naked boy is called “cognitive dissonance” As a result, those who treasure Disney’s 1967 animated version of the Rudyard Kipling classic The Jungle Book, may find it challenging to relax long enough to enjoy this feast for the eyes. CGI imagery has advanced so much, that the familiar black-outlined versions of Mowgli the man cub, Baghera the panther, Baloo the bear, Sher Khan the tiger, and Kaa the python we know and love have been transformed into beasts so real they could have wandered in from a National Geographic Special. But the biggest contrast between Mowgli and his beast friends is how constructing complicated tools comes easily to a big-brained kid with opposable thumbs. As Balloo sings “You don’t need to use a claw when you pick a pear from the big paw-paw.” Especially since Mowgli doesn’t really have a “claw.”