The Big Wedding

The Big Wedding is a big mess. First clue: all-star cast. Second clue: gratuitous f-bombs and a few seconds of nudity designed to clinch an R rating. Third clue: a contract required by Lionsgate, insuring that I will reveal nothing about the movie before 9:00 p.m. CDT on April 25 and will share no spoilers ever.

There are some laughs, to be sure, in The Big Wedding, though not as many as one might hope for. The set-up: Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton are exes. Susan Sarandon is DeNiro’s girlfriend. Adopted son is about to get married. Son’s bio-mom from Colombia is strict Catholic who doesn’t believe in divorce, so son asks DeNiro and Keaton to pretend they’re still wed while bio-mom is visiting. Hey, successful film and TV comedies have been built around flimsier situations.

The bride (Amanda Seyfried), her parents, other extended family and even the priest (Robin Williams) provide additional sub-set-ups. In most cases, you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen.

Apparently Topher Grace is now out of the witness protection program or rehab or wherever he’s been. He plays DeNiro/Keaton’s son who receives a dinner table sexual favor in a scene that was much funnier eight years ago in Wedding Crashers. Katherine Heigl, whose ’09 movie The Ugly Truth similarly ramped up the raunch, rendering an R-rated romcom, plays Topher’s sad sister.

The Big Wedding provides a modest amount of amusement. It runs just 90 minutes which means, with 20 minutes of trailers beforehand, you’ll barely have time to finish that mondo-size box of Raisinets.

The cumulative star power of a movie like The Big Wedding (and various Garry Marshall holiday-related films) actually can, I believe, make such a movie more bearable. On the other hand, if you go because you particularly like one individual star in the cast, you will inevitably be disappointed because your favorite has to share his or her screen time with so many others.

And maybe the R rated content will please many who tire of formulaic PG-13 romantic comedy fare that toes the line. In a world with HBO and Showtime original content dialing up the sex/language quotient, The Big Wedding could be right on the money with its f-bombs and bare butt. But I don’t think so.

(Special note to the Lionsgate legal team vetting this review for spoilers: I’m flattered that you care! Reminder: If you were required to watch this mess, that’s 1.5 billable hours!)

 

 

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Mud

Mud is an independent film that has a decent story and some good actors. As with many indie films, there are pacing issues. But the tale unfolds nicely, revealing several intriguing characters and subplots.

Mathew McConaughey stars in the title role, but the movie’s name also refers to the river that plays a vital role in Mud’s story.

Mud has a Tom and Huck feel to it with two boys on the cusp of puberty, who spend huge amounts of time on the river. Ellis and Neckbone (played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) both have family issues. Ellis is dealing with his parents’ divorce; Neckbone’s folks are unknown. (He lives with his uncle, played by the always-interesting Michael Shannon.)

Mud (the character, not the movie) is a fugitive who’s living on an island in the river. Ellis and Neckbone become chums and provide him with food and other goods. Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon shows up in town. She is Mud’s on-and-off girlfriend, Juniper.

Following close behind Juniper are bounty hunters, out to avenge Mud’s crime. Among the bounty hunters is Joe Don Baker, best known for his portrayal of Buford Pusser in the original Walking Tall—forty years ago! Also in the cast is Sam Shephard, looking older than 69 (his actual age), as a wizened river rat who is an ally of Mud.

Mud gives us a slice of modern day life in small town America. The southeast Arkansas town in Mud is like hundreds of other towns across the Midwest and the South. It’s certainly not as distinctive as Hannibal was in Tom and Huck’s day, but it shows us who live in cities what it’s like in the hinterlands.

I have joked that there is apparently a law stating that any Mathew McConaughey movie must contain at least one scene in which he is shirtless. In Mud, one of his character’s favorite possessions is a white shirt that he wears throughout the film—until, with less than a half hour to go, he takes it off, for no apparent reason. Except maybe to obey that law.

A movie like Mud depends on good performances from the kid actors. Sheridan and Lofland are up to the task. They’re not going to be Oscar winners, but they each do commendable work.

Despite its flaws, Mud is an entertaining film for true river rats as well as for those whose river time is spent crossing them on highway bridges.

The Place Beyond The Pines

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper have just one scene together in The Place Beyond the Pines, but it’s the pivotal scene of the movie. In a film full of interesting and well-developed characters, theirs are the ones the movie is built around. A film with strong performances from two of our best young actors is one that must be seen.

These two men are both basically good guys who each face moral dilemmas. Gosling plays a guy who rides stunt motorcycles in a carnival. He reluctantly becomes a bank robber. Cooper goes from law school to the police force where he encounters that bank robber.

The story’s good, but the main reason to see The Place Beyond the Pines is to meet all these people. In addition to Gosling’s Luke and Cooper’s Avery, Eva Mendes is Romina, a Latino who bears Luke’s son after a quick hookup. This is a non-glam role for her and she inhabits it well. Ben Mendelsohn plays Robin, a local guy who gives Luke a place to stay. Robin is also the guy who points Luke toward robbing banks.

Poor Ray Liotta. Whenever you see him in a movie, you know something bad is going to go down. He plays a crooked cop. Strong character actor Bruce Greenwood plays the local D.A. The two young actors who play the sons, Dane DeHaan as Luke’s son, Jason, and Emory Cohen as Avery’s son, AJ, also bring good acting chops to the movie.

Avery is conflicted about his being proclaimed a hero cop after his incident with Luke, but eventually he milks it and moves into politics. Suddenly, the movie jumps ahead 15 years to the relationship between the teen sons of the two men. The “third act,” as some have called this part of the movie, reveals more about Avery, as well as the boys. It provides a fitting conclusion to the narrative.

The movie is set in Schenectady, NY. The town name is Mohawk for “place beyond the pines.” According to web postings, the names of the Schenectady streets, banks, TV stations and newspaper are the actual names. The police uniforms are supposedly the exact ones worn by Schenectady cops. The story, though, is pure fiction.

The Place Beyond The Pines is among the year’s best, so far. It’s harder for a March release (April, in St. Louis) to get award nominations than, say, a November release. But good writing, excellent acting and a well-assembled movie should lead to year-end accolades. I recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oblivion

Oblivion looks great on the IMAX screen. But the story—while mildly interesting—is not compelling. Plus, like many sci-fi films, Oblivion has a couple of head scratchers in the story.

The setting: 2077. Tom Cruise as Jack Harper resides in a gorgeous residence atop a tower overlooking what’s left of earth. Seems some pesky aliens attacked us earthlings and while, as Jack mentions, “we won the war,” the planet is generally uninhabitable. In two weeks, Jack and his partner, Victoria (played by beautiful Brit Andrea Riseborough), are destined to join other refugees on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Jack heads off to work each day via his phallus-shaped aircraft. Okay, many aircraft are phallus-shaped, but this one is downright Freudian. Victoria stays in touch via headset and touchscreen. Melissa Leo shows up on that touchscreen, in a primitive TV feed from a distant control center, frequently asking Victoria, “Are you an effective team?”

But trouble rears its head when Jack, on a drone repair mission, sticks his nose where he shouldn’t. Because the drones know he’s a “good guy” they refuse to attack him. So he stands between a drone and a sarcophagus containing a woman he knows from somewhere. Oh, yes! She was, in a former life, Julia, his wife! (Played by Olga Kurylenko.)

As memories begin to reemerge for Jack, the plot begins to get convoluted. If you become confused, don’t worry—there are plot summaries online to help you out. Some sci-fi geeks will embrace this movie and others thumb their noses, as they frequently do to movies which are not titled Bladerunner.

Oblivion’s redeeming qualities? It looks great! That glass house in the sky, with its cool pool, is one of the best movie homes this side of Tony “Ironman” Stark. Some of it was shot in Iceland, which has some gloriously stark landscapes. Morgan Freeman adds his beloved mug and his classic voice to the film, but has just a small bit of facetime.

Of course, the main reason to see the film is Tom Cruise. There are better actors in movies today, but very few who light up the screen like Tom does when he flashes those choppers.

One more thought: when you see Oblivion sometime down the line on Blu-Ray or HBO or even TBS, you might think to yourself, “Wow, I bet this thing would’ve looked good on the IMAX!” You’d be correct.

 

 

42

Like most recent crowd-pleasing biopics, 42 presents a series of opportunities, challenges and successes for its hero. As we saw in films about Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, and now here for Jackie Robinson, talent and determination win the day.

Jackie Robinson is played ably by Chadwick Boseman. The movie’s depiction of Robinson reveals few flaws, other than a temper. No addictions, no womanizing here. He has a wife, but few other characteristics that flesh him out as a real person, not just a ballplayer.

The story of Jackie Robinson is also the story of Branch Rickey, the white man credited with bringing Robinson to the bigs. Harrison Ford plays Rickey with restraint. Not many of those intense tirades we’ve seen in other Ford roles, but a couple of good speeches give Ford his moments to shine.

After Rickey determines that Robinson has the guts and the self-control to handle the abuse, Rickey deals with managers and players who aren’t happy that Robinson is part of their team.

Acceptance is slow in coming, but winning ballgames helps heal some of the hard feelings. Robinson leads the Dodgers to the 1947 pennant, is named Rookie of the Year and the audience leaves the theater with a warm, Hallmark Channel-like upbeat feeling.

Following Django Unchained, hearing the “n” word in a mass market film like 42 is not so shocking. I heard the word four times through the first half of the movie. But after Robinson joins the Dodgers, he hears the word many more times—mostly from Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Chapman is played by Alan Tudyk, who was Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.

42 attempts to capture the feeling of 1946 and ’47. On some levels, that goal is achieved with the typical tools: cars, phones and costumes of the era. What the film fails to communicate is how big baseball was in those days, as compared to other amusements. The depictions of real ballparks of the era are partly successful. The film has a major anachronism with a shot of modern seating in a minor league ballpark.

42 is not a great movie, but tells its story in an entertaining enough way to click with many groups of moviegoers: men and women, white and black, baseball fans and non-fans. Like Ray and Walk the Line, 42 is destined to be a crowd-pleaser.