Monday, May 29, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts,  Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen
DIRECTOR: Azazel Jacobs
GENRE: Comedy-Drama

How many times can you lie to your spouse and get away with it? Indefinitely, apparently (or nearly the length of an entire movie), when both partners are doing it in the casually absent-minded way of those who've settled into the  comfortable but dispassionate rut that all long-term relationships seem to be subject to at one point or another.  The Lovers, then, could have aptly been titled The LiarsThe Lovers is a good title, though,  because it implies the irony of the situation.  

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are a mid-life couple who are cheating on each other. Michael's muse is Lucy (Melora Walters), a children's ballet teacher. Mary's new squeeze is Robert (Aidan Gillen), a younger, aspiring writer. Both Mary and Michael are under pressure from their lovers to end their spousal relationship. The tension builds, often in subtle comic fashion, as neither of them are quite up to the task of following through. But their college student son and his girlfriend will be coming home for a visit, and each of them plans to drop the bombshell on the other right after the kids leave. Then a funny thing happens. Out of the blue, Michael and Mary start getting randy with one another again. It's that everything-old-is-new-again thing, brought about by that everything-new-gets-old-again thing. OMG--now they're cheating on their lovers with each other! There's your story complication, and we are half grinning, half cringing for the remainder. 

Things are not this breezy all the way through. Michael and Mary's son (Tyler Ross) acts more like a five year-old throwing a temper tantrum than a young man who's been on his own in the world for a little while. His behavior stands as a ringing indictment of his upbringing, something else that his parents will ultimately have to reflect upon. It all comes to a head in the powerful climactic scene. Here's where Debra Winger, one of the best in the business, gets to shine.

Winger, at age 62 in real life, is still eminently doable, in my book. So it's not at all implausible that she, as Mary, would draw the attention of a younger man. Lucy and Robert are also attractive people. The oddball in this foursome is Michael. He is the epitome of nondescript, and borders on what Marlon Brando might refer to as a "big tub o' guts" (beaucoup points for you if you can name the Brando flick that comes from!) Why either Mary or Lucy would have been drawn to him in the first place is unclear. Was this an error in casting (Tracy Letts)? I thought so at first. Then I realized that when I am out and about, I see what appear to be mismatched couples all the time. Only THEY know what the attraction is, but if they are happy, more power to 'em.

The Lovers shows us the fickle frailty of the human heart, and why it's constantly tripping us up. It's saying things we already know to be true, but are too bound by convention to admit to one another... or to ourselves.

Grade A 


Well we agree on Debra Winger, who I've been in awe of ever since An Officer And A Gentleman (1982). Aside from her overall sex appeal, I'm drawn to her Suzanne Pleshette voice. Deep. Throaty. (Pardon the pun!) But Hollywood has ruined me as far as watching old people have sex. Namely tubby Tracy Letts -- whose credits include writing the script for August: Osage County(2013). It's realistic, I'll admit. But so uncomfortable to witness.

Scriptwriter/director Azazel Jacobs must have figured this out, too. As he gave Lett's character a backstory that made him attractive in his earlier days as an aspiring jazz pianist. (They say women will turn a blind eye to a guy's physical imperfections as long as he plays a musical instrument.) But there's a scene towards the end of this movie that made me cringe even more when the fat, unfaithful spouse starts nostalgically playing a song on the piano (which he hasn't touched in years) and sings. Oh god. It made me miss seeing the oldsters screwing! 

But at least I had no trouble getting the message of this film. The tagline for The Lovers should have read 'the grass in always greener...'

Grade:  C+

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, Chloe Sevigny
DIRECTOR: Oren Moverman
GENRE: Drama

You think your kids are monsters? Well, where do you think that comes from? Here's a hint: look close to home...look pretty close to home.

Two couples meet at a pretentious "fine dining" restaurant (always remember that fine dining is a code phrase for pretentious and overpriced).  Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a congressman who's running for governor.  Paul (Steve Coogan) is the politician's younger brother, a history teacher who's becoming increasingly deranged as he battles mental illness. His mother was a whack job and the strain has been passed on. Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall are Claire and Katelyn--Paul and Stan's spouses respectively.

Stan wants to discuss some weighty issues, but he never gets to them because his assistant (Adepero Oduye) keeps butting in with "I'm sorry, but you really better take this call." Is it any wonder why their sense of self-importance gets blown way out of proportion?  

Eventually it is revealed that the two couple's 16 year-old sons have perpetrated a heinous crime upon a homeless woman sleeping inside an ATM kiosk. Just for the sheer glee of it. But the identities of the perpetrators have not been discovered by the authorities, and there's a chance they won't be. So now we have the existential dilemma among the four adults. Turn the boys in and hope for mercy from the courts...or cover it up and hope it goes away? They are scrunched between a rock and a hard place as the possible effects of this unforseen detour of fate upon Stan's political future loom large. In the process of what follows, each of the parents tip their hand as to what kind of people they really are. And it isn't pretty.

Paul is the most interesting character here, as his tenuous hold on keeping it together slowly slips away--leading to a desperate and misguided act near the end.  For the most part, Steve Coogan is believable in the role.  If Paul is the most interesting, then Claire is the scariest of the bunch. She starts off as something of a sympathetic figure--she's dealing with cancer--but if there is such a thing as "spontaneous" mental illness, the transformation takes place before our eyes in her frenzied and illogical defense of her son as she tries to make black white and vice-versa. It has to be difficult to play such a burgeoning psychopath without veering off into soap opera territory, and unfortunately she steps over that line. But Linney has been a fine actress for a very long time, and I won't mark her down much for that. Rebecca Hall holds her own as the disgruntled congressman's wife who puts them all on notice that she's only going to take so much shit. And Gere, with this performance, ought to run for something. What makes The Dinner special is that the only character in the movie with any integrity is the POLITICIAN! (Yes, I'm tempted to re-label the genre of this film as fantasy.)

I should say something about the ending without giving it away. As the closing credits rolled abruptly onto the screen, a patron a few rows down from me shouted, "THAT SUCKS!" That was my knee-jerk reaction as well. Now, having had some time to let it marinate, I'm sure there was a method to the madness (pardon the pun) of director Oren Moverman concluding the drama the way he did.  I just haven't figured out what it is yet. 

I'm giving The Dinner a higher grade than some others might, on the strength of a very good cast and at least it wasn't boring. 

Grade:  B

I loved the ending! And that's not like me—having made the point in previous reviews that I prefer things spelled out. But unlike the idiot who sat near Tim, I felt the up-in-the-air ending was exactly like what happens with real family impasses: they never get totally resolved. And I felt that the fancy restaurant setting, complete with a cadre of waiters serving each course, was almost a separate character in and of itself. (The only sane one of the bunch!)
I can't say enough about Steve Coogan, whose American accent was spot on. I remember seeing him in Philomena with Judy Dench (for which he also cowrote the screenplay) and being super impressed. And his character was so believably rational one minute and mad as a hatter the next. No wonder it rubbed off on his wife. And probably their son. 
By the third paragraph in these shared opinions, I usually write about some cinematic flaw. But with The Dinner, I can't find one. The score was minimal -- as I felt it should have been. The flashbacks were totally followable (is that even a word?).   My only criticism might be how small a part Chloe Sevigny had as Barbara Lohman, Richard Gere's first wife. (As sane as she seems, one wonders why she ever married him?) You won't leave the theater smiling. But you won't leave it unthinkingly, either!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Let's say you're a rageaholic, or a raging alcoholic--or some other out of control type. You might not even be aware of the damage your behavior may be doing to innocent lives. And with that I've given you a big one-up on everyone else who may be quite clueless themselves as to the deeper meanings behind Colossal--the quirkiest and most thought provoking film to come down the pike since Alejandro Inarritu's Birdman. Of course, that's just one take on it. You may come away with something different. That's the beauty of this Beast. It will make you scratch your head and use your...noodle! (Some folks don't want that--they want it all spelled out for them.)

Anne Hathaway (who also produced the film, so she's in it up to her sweet derriere ) plays Gloria--a kooky chick with apparent memory problems stemming from her being drunk a lot. She lives with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), in his New York apartment...but not for long. As the film opens, he is in the process of kicking her aforementioned ass to the curb. He's fed up with her ongoing bullshit. She can't believe it. She doesn't think she's that bad (they never do). 

She lands back in her upstate hometown, squatting in her parents' abandoned house. On the way there she runs into her old childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who operates a local bar. He obligingly takes her on as a waitress. They sit around after hours and drink, which seems to suit Gloria just fine. Then comes a BIG twist--as big as when the space invaders appear out of nowhere in Cowboys And Aliens. A gigantic kaiju monster shows up in Seoul, South Korea and begins doing what all Godzilla-esque creatures do over in Tokyo, and that is to stomp around (innocently enough in its brain, you always get the feeling) knock down a few buildings and terrorize the populace. (Cue Carol King singing "I feel the earth...move... under my feet...")  And while it's not Japan, the people of Seoul know the for your lives!!! These scenes of terrified folk scurrying thither and yon may be the most believable thing in the movie--if you're going to take everything at face value. But you don't want to do that.

Gloria, sleeping it off in the local park, wakes and watches live news reports of the monster on her mobile device. Then the strangest thing. She discovers that when she raises her arm, the monster raises its arm. Any movements she makes, it follows in sync. She's doing a Howdy Doody number on a colossal creature thousands of miles away! Not only that, but when Oscar shows up at the park, there appears a humongous robot counterpart to the monster that begins following his every move! The monster and the robot become giant projections of Gloria and Oscar. This is where it starts getting real good! And this is where I'll leave you hangin.'  Except to say, in philosophical terms, the micro is the macro.'s a little more. There are flashback scenes to when Oscar and Gloria were kids together that give some plausible explanation as to why they are able to do what they are doing (as plausible as it gets in Colossal, anyway!)    

If you think in terms of metaphor, it's easy to come up with shades and shards of meaning. The butterfly effect. Personal responsibility. The seemingly insignificant (to us) things we do can have far-reaching consequences--creating monstrous bugaboos on the scale of global warming, for one.  

Approaching the Gloria and Goliath climactic scene, I was getting an adrenaline rush that evoked the first time I saw Rocky. That's a film I've viewed multiple times, and I will see Colossal again--you bet!  ( Will prolly buy it when it comes out on DVD.)

This is why I go to the movies. To be swept into another world.  Even one as off the wall as this. There is plenty of precedent for this kind of whimsy. We've rubbed elbows with the Mad Hatter...defied gravity with Uncle Albert (how stoned was that guy?)...and would have gladly loaned E.T. our smart phone--if they had been invented in 1982--and eavesdropped on his loooong distance call. 

As Bill Murray once said: It could happen! 

Grade:  A

I knew there was a good reason I left Tucson for California: you Arizonans are crazy! Only a crazy person would sit through this sci-fi monster movie twice.... As you must know by now, I want my films "all spelled out." (Thanks, Tim.) And spelled out Colossal isn't. I did leave the theater scratching my head. But it was due to the pounding in my brain from so many cinematic inconsistencies. I was hoping Tim might explain why these alcohol-induced monsters appeared in Seoul rather than in the aforementioned park? And why, if they represented the monster in all of us who over indulge, they looked so unlike the people whose rage created them? (The art director must have been Korean.) 
But I must admit I never got bored. And among the myriad points the script kept trying to make, I did love the idea that Jason Sudeikis' character – trapped in a town with nothing to do but drink and be a nobody-- got totally hooked on his monster's power. (He could finally "be somebody.") This made me think of all the serial killers who feel a rush every time they pull the trigger. It didn't, however, save this film from being a mish-mash of too many metaphors.

There have been many films that dwell on the evils of drink (Lost WeekendLeaving Las Vegas28 Days) but they all have one point to make: too much alcohol can destroy you both literally and psychologically. Alas, Colossal gets overloaded with messages about the monsters in all of us who abuse booze. But too much thinking about drinking can make a very confusing movie....

Grade: C+