Thursday, April 16, 2015


Rated: R

STARS: Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Annette Bening, Christoper Plummer, Jennifer Garner, Giselle Eisenberg
DIRECTOR: Dan Fogelman
GENRE: Comedy/ Drama

In the opening scene, over-the-hill pop music legend Danny Collins (Al Pacino), comes onstage to sing his big hit, "Baby Doll," which sounds an awful lot like Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline"--only more innocuous and schmaltzy, if you can imagine. His legion of adoring fans--on the leading edge of baby boomdom--are lapping it up. (They must have LOVED "Sugar  Sugar" by The Archies.) Collins, who hasn't written a new song in thirty years, is resting on his laurels. 

At a birthday party, Collins' manager, (Christopher Plummer),  presents him with something that's going to change his life. It's a previously undelivered letter--full of encouragement--from John Lennon to the young up and coming singer. Upon reading it, Collins has an epiphany and decides to hole up at a quiet New Jersey hotel and write some meaningful songs. The other reason is that he'll be near the residence of the son he never met, the product of a backstage tryst.  Danny shows up on their doorstep and his son's wife (Jennifer Garner) gives him an earful about being a responsible parent before the none too pleased son  (Bobby Cannavale) shows up and essentially tells Danny to butt out of his life.   

From there, Danny Collins becomes a familiar tale of a man seeking redemption, along with trying to get in the good graces (if not the knickers) of coy hotel manager Mary Sinclair, played by the inimitable Annette Bening. 

There's a great John Lennon soundtrack that moves the action along, serving to remind us of what might have been had Danny Collins' fate taken a different turn. Al Pacino, as always, does a "bang-up"  job as a guy who has it all--except the things that really matter--a real charmer despite his life of excess and unaccountability. But I can't really buy him physically as a Neil Diamond type. There's still something a bit too gangster about his aura---maybe it's Pacino himself...or the goatee...or the way they've got him dressed that's one step removed from the zoot suit era--that makes it incongruous with the kind of  bubblegum ditties the character has built his career upon. 

Little Giselle Eisenberg, already with an impressive list of film credits, plays Danny's bouncy, precocious grand daughter. She may be the next Drew Barrymore if she keeps it up.   

Grade:  B


I always read Tim's reviews before adding my two cents. And this time he's pretty much covered all bases. Or should I say basses in keeping with the musical theme? Sure, Al Pacino is always Al Pacino. But some of his performances are more over-the-top than others. (e.g. Devil's Advocate) This time, thanks to the reining in of writer/director Dan Fogelman, Pacino keeps it real. Of course, seeing all those aging fans, made me squirm a bit. Are we all that ancient?!

I know this is probably a petty observation but when Pacino's character was sitting beside his possibly dying son (you'll have to see the film to find out if he does!), Bobby Cannavale's head was almost twice the size of his dad's. Maybe it was the way the scene was shot that created this disparity but for me it was distracting. My other qualm had to do with the new song, the first one in thirty years, Danny Collins created. It may have been a ballad instead of bubblegum but it was a mediocre song at best. I would've preferred one that gave me goose bumps. Still, it was an entertaining movie. And Christopher Plummer was wonderful, as usual. 

Grade: B +

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Rated: R

STARS: Ricardo Darin, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Dario Grandinetti, Erica Rivas, Oscar Martinez
DIRECTOR: Damian Szifron
GENRE: Dark Comedy

Six wickedly delicious Wild Tales from Argentina illustrate how dangerously close many of us are to the edge-- and how little it may take to send us right over it. 

Strangers on a plane discover, one by one, that they all have a connection to a certain person. Then comes the chilling realization that this person is in the cockpit!  (This one hits close to home in light of recent events.)

A mafioso stops at a cafe where the waitress recognizes him as the person who destroyed her family. Sympathetic to her plight, the cook offers to put rat poison in the man's food. But the waitress has conflicting emotions. Like most of these vignettes, the ending has a twist you won't see coming.

Two men driving their vehicles on a deserted highway become involved in a road rage incident. (If they were the last two people on earth, this would still happen!) And as we all know, these things have a way of escalating into something way out of proportion to what the original minor irritation should dictate. 

A demolition expert's car is towed away while he shops for his daughter's birthday. Again, we identify. The frustration that can build up in dealing with the bureaucracy.  Another potentially "explosive" situation.

A rich kid hits a pregnant woman with his dad's car and leaves the scene. Dad concocts a plan to have his groundskeeper take the fall for the hit and run, after offering the man an enormous sum of money. The bribery expands to include the prosecutor and others. A tangled web we weave. 

At her wedding party, a newlywed learns that her groom has been unfaithful to her with one of the guests at the reception.  And here, for my money, we have the wildest and wackiest of the six episodes. She goes berserk in a way that only a woman scorned can do, ending up having sex with the cook on the roof of the building. You've never seen a "bridezilla" quite like this one. Can a relationship that gets off to such a dubious start possibly end up in that fairy tale land of happily ever after?  You'll be surprised!

In the end, these are cautionary tales--reminding us that beneath the veneer of a polite and civilized society, most of us--under the right circumstances-- are a heartbeat away from reverting to our base animal nature. Which can be really scary. AND/OR FUNNY AS HELL.

Grade:  B +


Where to begin. Tim has done a masterful job synopsizing all six of these outrageous stories. For me, they're all about revenge in some form or another. Getting even. With your parents, the government, your philandering mate. But what makes these tales "wild" for me are the unexpected twists and turns. They remind me of a story by Roald Dahl called "Lamb to the Slaughter" which has the same darkly comedic feel.
    The idea for this particular piece was supposedly suggested to Dahl by his friend and fellow author Ian Fleming who said, "Why don't you have someone murder their husband with a frozen leg of mutton which she then serves to the detectives who come to investigate the murder?" A wonderful twist that we don't see coming.
    I can't rave enough about this highly original film which was nominated this past year for Best Foreign Language Film. (It should've won, damnit!)
    If I had to pick my favorite tale it would have to be the one where one driver (in a fancy Beamer) gives another driver (in a beat-up pickup truck) the bird and then calls him an asshole as he is finally able to pass the guy. Haven't we all done that? (Or wanted to!) Well, as fate would have it, the BMW's left rear tire blows out and the driver is mechanically inept. We, in the audience, are on the edge of our seats, waiting for the asshole to come chug-a-lugging along around the bend. And he does. What happens next not even Roald Dahl could dream up. I won't spoil it for you but I guarantee you won't be name-calling any more bad drivers for a long, long time!

Grade: A+