Monday, May 28, 2018

BOOK CLUB (2018)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen

DIRECTOR: Bill Holderman
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

I'm sitting inside a theater that's at least half full for a matinee performance, and having scanned the crowd, I'm quite certain I'm the only one with a member in attendance at this showing of Book Club.  (To point out that it's a total chick flick would be like belaboring the obvious about a bear in the woods.) But the chance to see four icons of the silver screen--Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen-- playing off of one another in a never to be repeated event is too good to pass up.

Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a successful hotelier--cynical to the bone, who "never sleeps with anyone she really likes." Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who is dabbling judiciously in online dating. Diane (Diane Keaton) is a widow with two condescending daughters who think that mom is ready to join the I've-Fallen-And-I-Can't-Get-Up crowd. She is far from that. And Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is a chef whose longtime marriage to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is in a real rut--and it's rutting that seems to be the issue.

The tie that binds the four ladies together is their book club, and this time they've selected Fifty Shades Of Grey to be their titillating read. This sets the table for some raunchy one-liners when they get together, none of which I thought were that funny, but it's "cute" because of their ages, right?  In real life Steenburgen is 65; Fonda is 80; Keaton and Bergen are 72, but they pass off as contemporaries due to the wonders of cosmetic surgery that have kept Ms. Fonda looking like Barbie (or Barbarella) for all these years.

What works in this romantic comedy is not the comedy, but the romance, and the four separate story lines provide a lot of poignant moments. Richard Dreyfuss, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, and Craig T. Nelson as the counterparts or potential partners for these ladies would be an impressive list of stars in any other film, were they not yielding the spotlight to these four heavyweights (oh go on...I mean that in a good way!) That and a soundtrack full of uplifting tunes that fit so well and hit all the right notes at the right times to manipulate your emotions. But you won't mind.

One scene that is funny is Richard Dreyfuss and Candice Bergen's characters out on a date--the chemistry between them is awesome. And a sight gag with Craig T. Nelson's character after his wife has slipped Viagra into his drink is particularly pointed.

So here we have a film that would be your run of the mill rom-com in every way, except that it's out to prove that love is ageless. And that's what sets it apart in a you-go-girl way. On the "negative" side, Book Club displays a bit too much of the jaw-dropping beauty of my home state, Arizona. I can hear the sound of folks packing their bags and heading west as we speak. All right then, if you must. I've been thinking of hiring out as a tour guide anyway.

Grade:  B


Unlike Tim's movie experience, the AMC theater I attended was packed full of  enthusiastic seniors ready to giggle their wrinkles away at four women dealing with the realities of sex after a certain age.  Of course, not all over-70 ladies look like these four glamour gals. Nor do they find themselves on a plane, seated next to some ridiculously sexy pilot played to perfection by Andy Garcia (age 62). Nor do they bump into an old beau (Don Johnson, age 68) who, after a 40 year absence, looks like he belongs on the cover of GQ. (I had my own senior giggle, knowing that Johnson's daughter Dakota plays the female lead in the movie versions of Fifty Shades!)  As unrelated as this feel-good film is to real life--  especially the online dating scene -- I'll bet my bloomers it'll be a box office biggie. 

The dialogue is crisp.  The situations, funny.  And the ensemble acting is worth the price of admission. (Shockingly high here in southern California, I might add.)  But the gal I went to the movie with pointed out how Jane Fonda seems to always be Jane Fonda in every role she plays.  I'd have to agree with her.  Then again, acting has never been a strong point with this uber in-shape daughter of a Hollywood legend. (The only film where I felt she exhibited some serious acting chops was On Golden Pond.)

There's a line Candice Bergen says that will remain with me long after I forget The Book Club: (and I'm paraphrasing here): "Love is just a word until someone makes it real."  To me, that's right up there with "Love means never having to say you're sorry." (Love Story, 1970)  "Hate put me in prison.  Love's gonna bust me out."  (The Hurricane, 1999) And, going way back, "Love is a song that never ends."  (Bambi, 1942)

For something escapist with nary a car chase, or a robot taking over the universe, I highly recommend this romantic comedy.  "Love never goes out of style." (Jill, 2018)

Grade: A

Monday, May 21, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

DIRECTOR: Sebastian Lelio
GENRE: Drama

Pay close attention to the opening monologue in Disobedience, because the theme of the film is encapsulated there.  Rav Krushka,  the elderly spiritual leader of an orthodox Jewish congregation in London, is pouring it all out--as if these would be the final words he would ever speak. Immediately afterwards, he croaks. This sets up the return of his estranged daughter, Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York photographer who was exiled from the community due to her youthful penchant for her own gender--in particular her childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). Ronit is not welcomed back with open arms into the closed--and closed-minded--community, but she is invited to stay with Esti and their mutual school days chum, Rabbi David Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who is now Esti's husband.

It doesn't take long before the repressed passions between Ronit and Esti are rekindled, leading them to consummate their love for each other on the sly, which will set up the inevitable conflict for Esti to choose between desire and duty--whether to flee with Ronit to New York or stay and be the good wife for her husband and support him in his ambition to take over the leadership position that Ronit's father has vacated.

What to do. What to do.

Disobedience is about life in a closed conservative religious community, and it feels as real and authentic as you can get, right down to some great singing in Hebrew that even someone like me can appreciate. It's also about lesbian sex, as there's a really hot lovemaking scene between Weisz and McAdams. Oh wait a's not between the actors, it's between their characters--Ronit and Esti. Because in real life these two have male partners, and so of course they're just acting. Decide for yourself on that one.

But the central theme of the movie is what lies at the heart of existentialism, and it harkens back to Rav Krushka's monologue at the beginning of the film: Free will. The freedom to choose. The main tenet of existentialist philosophy is that with freedom comes responsibility. This plays out beautifully in Disobedience, as Esti has a lot more to consider in making her decision than just her own happiness. It all leads to a climactic scene (no, not that one) that's as touching as any I have seen on film. And while the first half hour or so of Disobedience is as slow as the molasses in January, the story will draw you in with three remarkable turns from Weisz, McAdams, and Nivola, and you'll be hooked in short order.

For me to reveal more than that just wouldn't be kosher.

Grade:  A


People who read our joint reviews tell me they much prefer it when our opinions are diametrically opposed. Well, get ready, folks! Maybe it's because I didn't like studying existentialism in college.  Or I have an automatic mad-on for stultifying religious communities.  But Disobedience left me disappointed and disgruntled.  

The film took forever to get started, as director Sebastian Lelio (who also directed A Fantastic Woman) wanted us to understand every little nuance of the plot.  I'm a great believer in bookends, i.e. starting and ending a film with the same visual. Disobedience followed this cinematic premise to the letter. But as a romantic (and a fan of Hollywood schmaltz), I believe love should triumph over anything else. Especially when the other choice is so depressing.  

When Casablanca first came out, the producers aired two separate endings:  one where Bogart and Bergman stayed together; the other where war and duty triumphed. (I didn't like that ending either!)

The acting is superb and that sex scene Tim refers to is tastefully done albeit highly erotic.  For you trivia buffs, it might interest you to know that Rachel Weisz (the wife of Daniel Craig aka "007") is having her first child at age 48. Obviously, she's a rebel in real life, too!

Too much thinking gives me a headache. I like my movies to be entertaining.  They can be violent.  Or scary.  Or even sad.  But when a philosophical  concept drives the storyline it makes me break out in hives.

Grade: C -