Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Garry Marshall needs to be stopped. Yes, he is a legend, one of the true pioneers of television (having written for TV since the 60s and having created classics like Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days and The Odd Couple) and director of iconic movies (Beaches, Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, to name a few). But left untethered, Marshall seems to be looking to destroy as many different holidays as he can. The killing spree began in 2010 with his vapid film Valentine's Day and got even worse with the painfully awful New Year's Eve in 2011. Now, after a nice five-year break, Marshall returns to destroy Mother's Day, with his film, Mother's Day (opening today)...and destroy it he does. Incredibly, his latest effort (if you can even call it that) is the worst of his three "holiday" movies, a gauge-your-eyes-out, unfunny ensemble "comedy" (used loosely) that even a mother could find ways not to love.
It's amazing how lazy of an attempt this movie is. Using the same formula as he did in those other two movies, the idea seems to be to throw a bunch of big-name actors on-screen together, with intertwining stories, and re-serve as many tired and lame jokes as one can along the way. Mother's Day definitely has big names: Jennifer Aniston plays a mother of two boys whose cool dad (Timothy Olyphant) has a new young wife (Shay Mitchell). Kate Hudson appears as a woman with bigoted, racist, road-trippin' parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine), living a lie with her husband (Aasif Mandvi). Hudson's on-screen sister (Sarah Chalke) is in a lesbian relationship with her partner (Cameron Esposito), which I'm sure will go over well with mom and dad. And then for some reason, Julia Roberts is in this movie, along with another Pretty Woman vet and Garry Marshall staple, Hector Elizondo, who is so confident that he's funny, you may even feel a twinge of pity watching his career suicide unfold before our very eyes.
Every character is a paper-thin cliche, every joke a stale turd unearthed from the depths of entertainment hell. To be fair, Marshall can't be given all the blame...much of it goes to his team of first-time screenwriters (big surprise) led by Tom Hines, whom Marshall worked with as an actor several times in the past. Do you sniff a theme? This seems to be Marshall and all of his buddies getting together to make a movie. I'm sure they think what they're doing is funny. But there is nothing less funny than a person who laughs at his own jokes, and has no awareness that what they're doing is making others cringe. How in the world Marshall continues to get these movies greenlit is beyond me - but as we've all recently learned by following American politics - there are way more ignorant people in the world than we once thought, and this movie is definitely right in their sweet-spot.
What else is there to say? I could give examples of the tremendously tired jokes you'll have to sit through, or I could regale you with the emaciated plot. Or I could rage against all of the dumb references Marshall sticks in his own movie, calling back moments from his older, more successful films. But this movie barely deserves a review, or another thought.
If you hate your mother, or yourself, go see Mother's Day. But I'd rather you didn't. It may be the only way to stop Garry Marshall at this point. For the love of God, spare us Father's Day...an idea that he hints at in this film.
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizondo, Kate Hudson, Aasif Mandvi, Margo Martindale, Robert Pine, Sarah Chalke, Cameron Esposito
Directed by Garry Marshall (New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride, Frankie and Johnny, Pretty Woman, Beaches, Overboard)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Buckle-up and get ready for the funniest cat-gangster-comedy you've ever seen. OK, so that is quite the narrow genre, but it's as original and as loony as it sounds. Keanu (opening today) is the first feature-film from comedy-duo Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and its a massive success: If you love Key & Peele, you will love Keanu, but even if you have never heard of them...do you not like kittens, you horrible beast?
When we meet Rell (Peele), he is a down-and-out loser with nothing to live for, after his girlfriend has just dumped him. His best friend, the overly-energetic Clarence (Key) is concerned and wants to cheer his friend up, but Rell has already found himself a saving grace: A cute little kitten, that he calls Keanu ("it means cool breeze or something like that in Hawaiian," he tells us) has shown up on his doorstep. Rell is enamored with the little kitty (you will be too) and does everything with him. But this cat has a past. Once a pet to a serious Latino gangster, Keanu is mixed up in some crazy stuff. Mistakenly breaking into Rell's house (they meant to break in to his neighbor's house, the drug-dealer Hulka (Will Forte)), a street gang led by a dude named Cheddar (Method Man) comes across Keanu and steals him. Rell and Clarence go on a mission to recover their new feline friend, needing to go "undercover" into the gang-world in order to do so.
But Rell and Clarence are not meant for the streets. With the infamous "Allentown Brothers" due to visit Cheddar any day now, Rell and Clarence assume their identities, and because they are so respected, they are thrust into leadership roles within Cheddar's gang. Bud (Jason Mitchell), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and a love interest for Rell, Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) round out the group, and before long the boys are doing drugs with Anna Faris (playing herself) and teaching the gang-bangers the important influences of George Michael (George Michael, and his music, play a major role in the film).
Key & Peele of course, just ended their successful Comedy Central TV show this past year, after five hilarious seasons. They had a knack for taking unflinching, satirical looks at racial stereotypes and turning them on their head. For Keanu, it was a great idea to bring director Peter Atencio aboard, who directed nearly every episode of their TV show. He shows a confidence and effective use of comedic timing, whether it be with audio cues or quick cuts. But mainly, he allows Key & Peele to just do what they do: Be funny. Fans of the show will be happy that there is even a "car scene" between the two in this film, like the kind that were laced through all of their TV episodes. That's a compliment, that these guys can just be funny without even having to do anything but chat to one another.
Comedies should ultimately be judged by how funny they are, and Keanu is by far the funniest film of the year. The "laughs-per- minute" ratio is extremely high, as are many of the characters we meet in the film. Right from the start, a comedic pace is created and it never seems to fall out-of-step. It's ridiculous, dumb, crazy and silly, but it knows what it is. And damn, there are some cute moments with Keanu the cat, a scene-stealer in every sense of the word. I've said before that there are "smart-dumb" comedies and their are "dumb-dumb" comedies. Keanu (and Key & Peele's brand in general) is a dumb comedy for smart people.
Key & Peele are very popular, but they still don't seem to get the credit that they deserve for what they are: One of the best comedy duos maybe ever. It may be early to put them in league with Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Lewis & Martin, but I'll start the comparisons now. None of those, however, had as much to say as Key & Peele. But as funny and as successful as Keanu is, I hope that they don't go the route of "Keanu 2." I'd much rather see them take on new characters, new satirical material, and expand their comedic horizons. Both Key & Peele are talented enough to do anything, each bringing their own style of eccentric humor that meshes up perfectly when together...and as their TV show showed us, they work best when not limited by one particular idea.
Go see Keanu: It's a sure-thing if you're a Key & Peele fan and it will be an amazing discovery for those not familiar.
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Brit-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Jason Mitchell, Rob Huebel, Will Forte, Luis Guzman
Directed by Peter Atencio (The Rig, Key & Peele TV Show - 54 Episodes)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
There hasn't been an epic fail quite like The Huntsman: Winter's War (opening today) in quite some time. It's the supposed prequel to the 2012 film Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the title roles, but this new film is much more of a sequel. The thought is, I'm assuming, that this "prequel/sequel" idea is actually supposed to be some sort of a plot twist, to hide the fact that the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has returned following her defeat at the hands of Snow White during the conclusion of the last film. In other words, they want you to think that it's a prequel going in, only to surprise you with the fact that it's a sequel once you are sitting in the theater. All of this, of course, implies that the audience gives a hoot about any of this: These characters, this world, this story. We do not.
The result is a campy fantasy-adventure that is as lazy as they come, in terms of story, acting and even production. First off, Snow White is only mentioned but not seen, a win for Kristen Stewart and her agents who avoided this dud like a poisonous apple. The story uses the famed "magic mirror" as a sort of McGuffin used to drive the supposed plot along. Hemsworth is the star here, playing Eric the Huntsman as a flat, banal and generic super-hero. Even Hemsworth's one-dimensional Thor is at least given some semblance of a personality. He apparently had a deep love with a childhood warrior friend, Sara (Jessica Chastain), but they were driven apart and (yawn) turned against one another by the evil Queen Freya (Emily Blunt).
Freya is Ravenna's cold-blooded sister, an Ice Queen, and a clear attempt by the filmmakers to make a cash-grab from an audience enamored with Disney's Frozen. When Ravenna destroys her life by murdering Freya's child, Freya turns cold - both literally and figuratively - with the ability to freeze things and shoot ice walls out of her frosty fingertips. The lesson she learns from her tragedy is that love is a bad thing, and that is the shameful and stupid crux of the film: Will love endure? Will love conquer all? Give me a break, people. I wonder.
Apparently Freya summons back to this plane her evil sister, Ravenna (Is she dead? Is she undead? Is she alive? Even the film asks this question but then quickly throws the thought away). But they need that blasted mirror!
Joining Eric in his quest to find it is a group of annoying side characters, the likes of which seem to always populate films like this. Nick Frost and Rob Brydon play two dwarfs who befriend Eric, and they run into two female dwarfs played by Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach. This foursome supplies the comic relief, and the levity that this film had no need for given the silliness found everywhere else.
We first need to ask ourselves: Why? Why does this movie exist? The draw of the first film - Kristen Stewart as Snow White - is left out of this effort, and do people really care about The Huntsman? These are some of the most uninteresting characters ever to populate the screen. This mess was directed by a first-time filmmaker, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, as if the studio cared about the quality of the end product. Nicolas-Troyan, a special effects master in his own right, to his credit has made a nice-looking film - there are some scenes in a magical forest that really pop. But overall this is an under-cooked effort handed over to a first-time chef, and it's no surprise that it tastes like dreck once it's served up.
The Huntsman: Winter's War is the prequel/sequel that nobody ever asked for, or wanted. It's a paint-by-numbers adventure, and we simply deserve better. Of course this movie ends with a hint of a "part three," and even the narrator seems to understand that this is all nonsense. "The story is over," he tells us (and I paraphrase). "Unless we don't want it to be." Please, makers of this movie, leave our Happily Ever After alone.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (feature-film directorial debut)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Ethan Hawke gives a career performance as legendary jazz musician Chet Baker in the new biopic, Born to Be Blue (opening today). The movie takes certain stylistic liberties in its re-telling, focusing on Chet's musical comeback in the late 1960s after battling a drug addiction, some jail time and several relationship woes along the way.
Hawke quickly makes you forget that he's Ethan Hawke, and takes over the mantle of Baker, known now as one of the best and most influential jazz trumpeters in American history. He played with the likes of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, and his odd-charm and good- looks even landed him a few Hollywood roles. But his demons were too numerous to overcome, and like many genius artists though, they were integral to his style.
Writer/Director Robert Budreau understands his subject and gives an intimate portrayal of his many flaws. Like many biopics, the music is of course on display, but Budreau does a good job of infusing the meaning of these soulful classics into the story. Many of Baker's tunes were extensions of his experience, but this is a film that lingers longer on the man as opposed to on his music, although a few musical interludes are woven in that reveal to us the man in the middle.
The film feels a bit slow at times, and sort of drifts along with a sleepy and introspective tone. Jazz of course, is a free-form art-form that relishes on the unexpected, and that, sadly, is where Born to Be Blue hits the wrong note. There aren't too many surprises in this one as it feels like a version of a biopic that we've all seen several hundred times before (drug addiction, love, redemption, rinse, repeat).
Still, Ethan Hawke is worth watching and Chet Baker is worth remembering. For that, Born to Be Blue is worth watching - and listening to.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie, Tony Nappo, Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green Written & Directed by Robert Budreau (That Beautiful Somewhere)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
With star power like Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman and Ryan Reynolds, it's hard to create a dud. But somehow, Criminal (opening today) manages to be just that, despite a lot of promise, several exciting action scenes and some good performances.
It takes no time at all to begin, as we are instantly thrust into an intense chase sequence. A federal agent (Ryan Reynolds) calls his wife (Gal Gadot, better known nowadays as Wonder Woman), and then is quickly on the escape when a bunch of baddies start chasing him. Surprisingly, he is caught by them and (spoiler alert!) nearly killed.
This dude had some very important information in his head that would lead to a known terrorist named "The Dutchman" (Michael Pitt). This bad man may be able to hack into the U.S. nuclear launch codes, and the federal agent is our country's only chance. But in his current condition, the info is all but lost. That's when the hot-headed lead FBI agent (Gary Oldman) calls on an experimental neurosurgeon (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform what is basically a "memory-implant" procedure, where these important memories could be transplanted into the brain of another.
That brings us to the "criminal" of the title, Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a bad, bad, bad, bad dude currently serving life in prison. He kills without thought and has no concept of the way the world works. He is described as the ONLY candidate for this procedure based on the severe brain damage he received as a child, when his parents through him out of a moving car.
Because the movie doesn't exist if it didn't, the transplant operation works, but with unexpected results. Jericho escapes and then struggles between the man he once was, and the man he has been forced to become.
Costner is having a great time playing a guy this horrendous, and it's a strong performance. Gal Gadot is effective as the caring wife and Gary Oldman shines as the loose-lipped maniac in pursuit of Costner. If this were 10-15 years ago, it might have been Tommy Lee Jones cast in Oldman's role, but instead he plays a sensitive and worried old doctor and isn't given much to sink his teeth into.
What starts as very intriguing science fiction - think of The Fugitive crossed with Total Recall - slowly devolves into mindlessness. About halfway through, you'll start questioning many of the characters' actions, and by the end, you might be laughing at the inconsistencies. Jericho Stewart is one heck of a memorable screen character, but he is confined here by a script not worthy of his time.
There is enough good stuff here to recommend, but for me, it became too much with the storyline involving the wife late in the film. Criminal was a very compelling idea that wasn't cooked enough to be tasty. It's a chase that doesn't know what to do once it's found.
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Kevin Costner, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Antje Traue, Michael Pitt, Alice Eve Directed by Ariel Vromen (The Iceman, Danika, Rx)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
There will be many that laud The Invitation (opening today) as some sort of eventual cult-classic hit-in-the-making, and it's easy to see why: It is a very unique, tense, thrilling movie-going experience. But it is also an uneven mess, so much so that by the time things pick up with about 20 minutes or so left in the film, you may have already lost interest.
The movie stars a bunch of no-name actors, or actors that you feel you've seen here and there but aren't quite sure. Will (Logan Marshall-Green, who looks like a poor-man's Tom Hardy) is on the way to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and we know that things aren't going to go smoothly right out of the gate. The party is being hosted by Will's ex (Tammy Blanchard) and her new beau (Michael Huisman), and several old friends and ex-business partners are in attendance. Will is paranoid even before he arrives, but things are just...off...at this party, but nobody seems to mind as much as Will does.
So is Will going crazy or is there really something foul going on at this house? The film and filmmaker Karyn Kusama does a great job of establishing an early, eerie tone, and setting up the situation. This is a beautifully shot film too, despite mostly taking place inside the confines of a single house.
The problem though, is that our stay at the party just goes on a bit too long. Things get weirder and weirder, but plot tricks are repeated over and over again. Something strange happens, Will freaks out, the hosts offer a haphazard explanation, and then everyone tells Will to calm down. Rinse and repeat.
It's a darn shame too, that the middle portion of the movie just drags along, because when things do get lively late in the game, it's a nail-biter. And when the movie delivers a massive, eye-opening and blood-curdling twist in its very final scene, it was almost enough to redeem the long and windy path that it took to get there.
Almost. Yes it's a very bold move for an indy-flick like this to try and set-up a cliff-hanger ending that begs of a sequel, I just wish that it would have tied up many of the loose ends it left dangling and came across as more of a complete film. The Invitation is a party that I'd pass on, but strangely enough, I may be open to receiving a second invitation, should that inevitably come to pass.
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Michelle Krusiec, Michael Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Jay Larson
Directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body, Aeon Flux, Girlfight)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Don't dismiss the live-action re-make of Disney's Jungle Book (opening today) as simply a remake. It's more of a re-invention, and it's a sure-fire success.
Most everyone is familiar with the source material the film is based on, "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling, the book that was brought to popularity with the masses in Disney's lightened-up musical version in 1967 (it was Disney's 19th animated film). Mowgli, the "man-cub," is a human child raised by wolves in the depths of an Indian jungle, who is befriended by Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther. It follows his efforts to be brought back to a nearby human civilization, and along the way he meets the hypnotizing snake Kaa, King Louie the ape, and the deadly and villainous bengal tiger Shere Khan.
But why remake an animated classic? Within minutes of this newest version, you won't find yourself pondering that anymore. Of course, the answer is partially that Disney is looking to cash in, and this new Jungle Book movie is one of several Disney classics that are seeing a live-action face-lift (we've already been treated to a live-action Cinderella last year, and there is a Beauty and the Beast remake currently in the works). But somewhat surprisingly, this new film has a succinct vision, and you'll find yourself immersed in this universe full of talking animals, overgrown landscapes and catchy tunes (more on that later) almost instantly.
Newcomer, 10-year-old Neel Sethi plays Mowgli and gives one heck of a performance: He's cute and likable and represents Mowgli well, but also handles a few of the movie's heavier themes with experience beyond his years. The animals that populate his world include the voices of Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) and even the late Garry Shandling as a wayward porcupine. Only Christoper Walken as King Louie seems out of place.
Director Jon Favreau should be officially promoted into the class of "elite" working directors today. With this Jungle Book, he creates anticipation for all future Disney live-action films, much like his work on Iron Man birthed the success of the Marvel movie franchise (imagine if that movie would have sucked, what would movies be today?). But the visuals here are a true revolution in the areas of cinematography, computer-animation and graphics technology. The drawback is that the live-action in this film can be quite scary at times, which may work in direct opposition of who this film is being targeted at. Yes parents, this Jungle Book may not be appropriate for young ones, despite the PG rating.
And while there are menacing monsters and hyper-realistic creatures lurking in the dark, there is also a lot of fun and excitement, more than enough to capture the hearts of movie-goers of all ages. It sticks a little closer to the dark tone of the original material, but this is whole-heartedly a Disney film, almost to an annoying degree, when two beloved songs ("Bear Necessities" and "I Wan'na Be Like You") are still shoe-horned into the story. The first song at least sort of works and is brought up organically. But by the time Christopher Walken's King Louie peaks out of the shadows and sings "I Wan'na Be Like You," it's totally uncomfortable and was the film's biggest and only mishap. There is only one Louie Prima (the famous singer who voiced the animated Disney version), and Walken's version borders on blasphemous. He also has no reason to bust into song, unlike the fun-loving and kind-hearted Baloo earlier in the film.
Walken's inclusion aside, this Jungle Book is a must-see for fans of the original and even those that were not...just beware in bringing very small children, as even as an adult, it was hard for me to shake some of the film's more gruesome images from my mind.
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 45minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Neel Sethi, and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose
Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by Jon Favreau (Chef, Cowboys & Aliens, Iron Man 2, Iron Man, Elf, Made)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a roll as of late, choosing a string of extremely interesting characters to play over his last few films. There was the psychological thriller, Enemy, the high-brow sci-fi flick Source Code, and the acclaimed boxing epic, Southpaw, to name a few. And to name a few more, how about his roles in End of Watch, Prisoners or Everest? Among all of these achievements however, Gyllenhaal's best performance in recent years was as the psychopath Louis Bloom in 2014's Nightcrawler, a role that should-a, would- a, could-a been nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately for Gyllenhaal (and us), his streak comes to a smashing, sudden halt with Demolition (opening today), a severely misguided drama that explodes into bits and never quite comes back together.
Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell, an equally eccentric man when compared to his Louis Bloom character in Nightcrawler but infinitely less-compelling. Nothing seems to stoke Davis's interest, and his wife (Heather Lind) can't get him to even listen to her as they sit in traffic. His mind wanders, and we learn that this man has very little connection to any real emotion. This is tested greatly when (spoiler alert!) a tragedy takes his wife from him following a horrific accident.
We see just how odd Davis is when, in the hospital, he has a problem with a vending machine. Instead of grieving or showing any emotion at all, he instead becomes consumed with the vending machine and decides to write letter after letter to the vending machine's manufacturer. His letters serve as narration into this obsessive-compulsive mind as we wait for his tough exterior to show signs of cracking.
None of this is good for his job as a big-wig executive ran by his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). But suddenly one night, Davis receives a phone call late at night from a customer service representative who has been reading his letters...this woman (Naomi Watts) is oddly fascinated by Davis's words and soon becomes obsessed with this troubled, troubled man.
At almost every turn in Demolition, there are misfires and tired contrivances. The biggest flaw of all is that this time around, Gyllenhaal is not able to make us care about his character whatsoever. He is a jerk, a loner, a loser. Some early signs of humanity would have done this story well, but instead we are led to believe that Davis was an a**hole far before the accident. So what do we care if he is able to finally grieve for his dead wife?
In addition, the film includes a lot of pretentious symbolism and lame attempts at dark humor. There is a lot of talk in the film about people being broken into pieces (get it? Demolition! Pieces! Ahem). But it's important that we care about what was broken to begin with...it keeps us caring about what is being put back together. Without this, the film is just a jumbled wreck of rubble.
Things get literal as the film goes on, and Davis teams up with the lady's young, impressionable boy (Judah Lewis), and the two blow stuff up and do a whole myriad of crazy-stupid activities together. None of it rings true or feels authentic. By the time they introduce the idea that the boy is struggling with his sexuality, and that Davis's wife might have been pregnant, it enters full-on After-School Special territory. Bleh.
We know Gyllenhaal can play these sort of dark, odd characters...he's done it quite well throughout his impressive career. But Demolition makes a fatal mistake by forgetting to build a foundation. With this sort of cast, with an Oscar-nominated director at the helm, you would expect fireworks from Demolition. Instead, they've sent up a dud.
Run Time: 1 hour, 40minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis Screenplay by Bryan Sipe (The Choice, Alpha Mail)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Strong, solid performances by Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen aren't quite enough to pull I Saw the Light (opening today) from the shadows of mediocrity.
Hiddleston plays the iconic country superstar Hank Williams, one of the most successful singers in American history. Tragically and like many stars who simply burned too bright, Williams died in 1953, only a few years after making it big with hits like "Lovesick Blues," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin," and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." This movie picks up shortly before he struck the big- time, chronicling his romance with wife Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen), and his battles with alcoholism back problems and drug abuse that eventually led to his untimely demise.
A big critique that faces many bio-pics is the complaint that we don't really get to know the subject more than just what's on the surface. Unfortunately, this is true for Hank Williams in I Saw the Light. The problem may be that he was a complicated soul and there are some conflicting thoughts as to just how "good" of a man he really was off stage. The closest we get to cracking the surface comes during a testy scene over half-way through the film, when Hank is interviewed by a news reporter. Trying to confirm the rumors that Williams is a known drunk, Hank gets upset and storms off. Prior to this, he talked about the "realness" and authenticity of country music and how he feels his songs may be popular because "there is darkness within us all." The problem is, the movie shies away from ever shining any light into these dark areas. They are touched upon, but never delved into.
There are some colorful passages of dialogue but the overall script is just plain vanilla. Hiddleston and Olsen do what they can and they both are worth watching. Hiddleston, performing all of Hank's songs in the film himself, is much better as Hank when not singing. If there is anything that is clear after watching this movie, it's that there is, was and only ever will be one unrepeatable Hank Williams.
I Saw the Light isn't all bad, but it's not the deep-dive character study that Hank Williams deserves.
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, David Krumholtz Written & Directed by Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Criticism is art, says most professional critics like the one profiled in the new documentary City of Gold (opening today). Jonathan Gold is a semi-famous food critic who rose to popularity by discovering restaurants and food trucks off the beaten path. He loves food, and loves what he does, yet has a simplistic, descriptive style that "normal" non-critic-types can relate to. And while this documentary isn't as inventive or exciting as some of the dishes Gold critiques, it does enough to satisfy the senses.
Working as a cross between a lost episode of Anthony Bourdain's CNN series "Parts Unknown," and an excerpt of A.O. Scott's book, "Better Living Through Criticism," the movie follows around its subject, the bulbous, disheveled Mr. Gold, as he experiences little- known, exotic restaurant hot-spots in and around Los Angeles. Towards the beginning of the film, he tells us that there is much more to LA than what most people have in their heads (a notion I can relate to as a Detroit-er). Director Laura Gabbert does a great job of making us feel like we are taking back-road after side-street through portions of the LA city and suburbs that are rarely navigated by those not from the area.
Much of the film though, is critics talking about criticism and the value of criticism in modern culture. As a critic, I found it fascinating, but I have a feeling it won't translate all that well for everyone else. It's literally food for thought.
We also are shown several different business owners, many of them family-owned, and are given their stories. It's a cliched notion - that the best food comes from passion passed down generation to generation - but one that the film spends a lot of time on regardless. If nothing else, you'll leave hungry.
If City of Gold was a five-course meal, it would be comprised of a tasty appetizer that aroused the palette, followed by a very well- made, if uninspired, second course. But as the meal progresses, we're offered nothing new and by the time its consumed, you'll swear it was served a bit stale.
Jonathan Gold is a very interesting, eccentric individual at the top of his craft, doing a job that he absolutely loves. It's just too bad that the film he is featured in doesn't possess the same unique flare or flavor that he craves in his work.
Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R
Written & Directed by Laura Gabbert (No Impact Man: The Documentary, Sunset Story)
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