Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa
DIRECTOR: Dan Fogelman
GENRE: Drama

If I had to distill Life Itself down to one sentence, I'd say: It's a big, ambitious film filled with the small moments of life. A multi-generational saga that can seem, at times, like it's abandoned the entire narrative you were following and started up a different film altogether. Then just when you think what movie am I watching, anyway...what does this have to do with anything? connects the dots and there you have your AHA! moment.


The plot revolves around Will Dempsey (Oscar Isaac), a mentally unstable screenwriter and his young and very pregnant wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde). Will had been committed to an institution, but he's out now and trying to piece his reality back together with the  help of his therapist (Annette Bening). Twists and turns and unanticipated moments of high drama ensue as we are placed on alert to expect the unexpected, journeying through the multiple spin-off lives that follow. To give you more would reveal too many spoilers.

I never quote Rotten Tomatoes, but I had a feeling that Life Itself was going to get panned by a lot of critics, and I was right. When I checked  the site, the film had an approval rating of just 12 percent among critics. But get this--it had a full 80 percent audience approval rating! Well, that tells you that critics are pretty much full of shit, aren't they? Yes, I said it. Why? Because critics are cynics. They think their job is to dissect something and tear it apart, when oftentimes it would serve them better just to get in touch with some genuine human emotion. And that is just what Life Itself is imploring you to do. 

Director Dan Fogelman has gotten his impressive cast to buy into this one all the way--as evidenced by the many sincere and powerful performances.

So the question is, can you handle a film that is unabashedly saying something to you in a straightforward manner without couching the message in cryptic terms that are supposed to make you scratch your head to try and figure it out?  For those who answer in the affirmative, Life Itself is a full box of tissue movie. You know what that means. Bring one or you'll be sorry.

Whether your response to Life Itself is positive or negative...whether you think it's brilliant or corny as hell...I'm betting you'll come away thinking, like I did, that you've never seen anything quite like it.

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Rated: R

STARS: Matthew McConaughey,  Richie Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh,  Bel Powle
DIRECTOR: Yann Demange
GENRE: Drama

If you like drugs and drug dealers (in the movies, I mean)...junkies, crooked cops and dedicated cops, and a little shoot-'em-up--all played out against the bleak backdrop of the seedier side of Detroit, amidst the height of the hysterical drug war in the mid eighties...then White Boy Rick is for you!

Based upon the true--and truly sad and appalling story of Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), the film comes about its title due to the fact that Wershe was the youngest undercover FBI informant ever--at age 14--who hung around exclusively with black folk (at least in the movie) because all the dope dealers in this film are black (does that make this a racist film?), and thus he came to be affectionately known as "White Boy Rick."

Rick's dad, Rick Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), is an unscrupulous firearms dealer who sells AK-47s to the drug dealers through his son. The FBI gets wind of Junior's extra-curricular activities and recruits him to become a dope dealer himself in order to infiltrate the big boys of the trade, rat on them and take them down. 

As good as McConaughey and newcomer Merritt are in this film, the Kickass Performance Award goes to two supporting cast members: Jennifer Jason Leigh as a totally jaded and weary FBI  agent...and young British thespian Bel Powle, who plays Rick's junkie sister. Powle is perfectly cast in this role; her eyes are so naturally haunted it's scary (and Halloween is coming up!)

Also notable is Bruce Dern as Grandpa, but only because he's been reduced to bit parts as a curmudgeonly old bastard--popping up higgledy-pigleddy, just enough to make you say: hey, that's Bruce Dern...what the hell's HE doing in this film???

Like most movies based on true events, White Boy Rick proceeds at breakneck speed, leaving you at a loss to keep up at times, with a hip-hop soundtrack that could have been better if any of the songs were recognizable. But on the strength of the gritty performances, I'm giving it a decent rating. You may or may not agree, depending upon how chemically altered your brain is at the time. 

Grade:  B


I'm thinking maybe Tim's recent hiatus from movie reviewing has made him go soft. (oh oh)  Sad as the story of White Boy Rick is, I'm getting fed up with the idea that just because something is based on a 'true story'  makes it cinematic gold. Wrong!

If you're looking to spend one hour and fifty-one minutes being depressed, feeling a sense of unrelenting hopelessness, then this is the movie for you. I have to hand it to cinematographer Tat Radcliffe whose visions of Detroit in the 1980s are enough to make any young man sell drugs just to get out of there!

I suppose, if I had to pin-point the problem with White Boy Rick (a grabber title, by the way), it would be that it's riddled with nothing but losers, including the FBI agents. I'm not suggesting that some Hollywood knight come charging in on a white horse to rescue everybody.  But a film with nothing but bad guys in it risks being too much of a downer. At least it was for me.

Maybe my negative reaction had more to do with the toothache I was experiencing at the time.  I think not...

Grade:  C -

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Rated :  PG-13

STARS:  John Cho, Debra Messing
DIRECTOR: Aneesh Chaganty
GENRE: Suspense/Thriller

If your head is buried in your phone or computer screen for essentially every waking hour, then you'll feel right at home with Searching and it's gimmicky visual presentation. If that isn't you, then the caveat is that every shot in the entire film is viewed through the filter of some technological device--whether laptop, phone, webcam or what have you. It's a gimmick to make a statement about technology being a double-edged sword--as potentially dangerous as it is magical. I found it distracting, and a heavy-handed way to make a point, but not to the degree of where it ruins the film, which I became increasingly absorbed in as it picked up speed and raced toward it's you-didn't-see-this-coming conclusion. 

John Cho is David Kim, whose 16 year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La), has disappeared. As the clues to her possible whereabouts pile up like Jenga blocks, David becomes increasingly frantic and hot-headed, accusing one individual and then another (including his brother) of having something to do with her disappearance. When the story goes viral, police detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case. Her first instinct is to tell David that his daughter has likely run away. But when Margot's car is discovered submerged at the bottom of a lake, things start to point toward a tragic outcome. The answer to the mystery lies--where else--in Margot's laptop.

Lots of twists and turns along the road to the ultimate revelation in this one. But like many a suspense thriller these days, where the bad guy always turns out to be the one you'd least suspect, Searching falls into the trap of getting too cute...s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g the bounds of plausibility and believablity. 

Grade:  B -


If I could retitle this snoozer, I'd call it "The Computer Training Manual." I spend enough time at home staring at my monitor. Do I really need to do it in a movie theater? The opening setup was very original. We see, on a giant computer screen, photographs of a close knit family at various stages (baby pix, dad being pounced on in bed, mom and daughter playing a duet on the piano, etc.) including the decline and eventual death of one of its members. Like I said, very original.  But after 15 minutes of nothing but a cursor scurrying across the screen and text messages between dad and daughter beeping endlessly, I began to fidget.  

I also wondered what viewers who weren't that  computer savvy would think of this Google-driven who-done-it.  No doubt it made the cost of making Searching a whole lot cheaper.  But it was a steep price for me to pay as my eyelids kept getting heavier and heavier.  

Tim has already outlined the plot which, by the end, seemed ridiculously unbelievable.  I won't ruin it for those of you foolish enough to want to see this movie but it was all I could do not to guffaw when the true villain emerged. 

At least casting Asians in these roles was believable. Then again, maybe it's just me and my resistance to technology. I don't know how to text, selfies are beyond my skill set and I'm the only person I know who doesn't own a cell phone.  

Grade: C -

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd
DIRECTOR: Jesse Peretz
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

When a great song from the sixties (in this case Marianne Faithful's "Come And Stay With Me") pops up in the middle of a film that is already beginning to win you over, you get the reassuring feeling that yes, they're going to bring it all home. And bring it home they do in the quirky (mostly) British romantic comedy, Juliet, Naked.

Annie (Rose Byrne) plays second fiddle to her flatmate Duncan's (Chris O'Dowd) obsession with a minor cult figure, musician Tucker Crowe, who seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth since making his brief splash in the early nineties. Duncan interacts with an online community of about 200 diehard Tucker fans--and when, in her exasperation, Annie posts a review of her own that is less than complimentary, she gets a personal response back from the real Tucker, who surprisingly agrees with her observations. Annie and Tucker begin an online dialogue, and at this point we know they are destined to meet, even though he lives in America and she's in England. Duncan learns nothing of his partner's budding friendship with his idol, until...until he which point the comedic complications set in.

The irony is that nothing in Juliet, Naked is laid bare, save for our roller coaster emotions as we follow Annie and Tucker through a gauntlet of twists that involve, for one, when a bevy of kids that Tucker--like any rock musician doing his duty--has spawned from different mothers, show up. Annie likes kids, and wants to have one of her own, but will this be too much of a dose of reality for her? 

At the end, we're urging Annie not to make the wrong decision--it seems perfectly clear-cut--but we won't get the answer till the closing credits are ready to roll.

Ethan Hawke's Tucker is as affable as they come--for a flawed character; Rose Byrne gives an understated performance as Annie, content to be upstaged by O'Dowd's alternately priggish, confused, awe-struck, and righteously indignant Duncan.

 As movies go, Juliet, Naked may be the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

Grade:  A


I knew it!  I knew Tim would react the same way I did to this sparkler of a movie.  I went to see it with some trepidation since Ethan Hawke has done some pretty talky, overly self-indulgent films. (Before MidnightBefore SunriseBoyhood).  This time, however, the pace was just right and Hawke captured the character's quirkiness to perfection.  Hawke has played another real life musician in a movie I really dug titled Born To Be Blue about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.  So this Austin-born actor knows what being on the road can do to man, his talent and, in particular, his relationships.  Even though the character Hawke portrays has been pretty damn irresponsible all his life, you like the guy anyway. 

I have to also tip my hat (if I was wearing one!) to director Jesse Peretz who also knows about the musician's life having been the bass guitarist and founding member of The Lemonheads, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based band formed in 1986.  As I read through Peretz' directing credits, I noticed one of my all-time favorite TV series listed:  Nurse Jackie.  The man definitely knows how to keep the story moving and the audience engaged.
I guess if I had to criticize anything about Juliet, Naked it would be the title.  Yes, it was the name of one of the character's albums,  Still, it seemed a choice to draw in audiences rather than anything intrinsic to the plot.  (It drew me in, that's for sure!)
You gotta go see this one!

Grade: A