Aloha

Writer/director Cameron Crowe’s movies, whether good or not so good, are always interesting and always have entertaining soundtracks. Aloha his both those marks and turns out to be an enjoyable film with characters who are hard not to like. It may not be as quotable or memorable or funny as some other Crowe films, but Aloha has a number of good things going for it.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is ex-military, now a civilian, returning to Hawaii on a private sector gig. Upon landing he runs into ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and finds she’s married with two kids. Gilcrest’s Air Force liaison is Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a hardcore type-A.

Among Gilchrist’s objectives is to work out a deal with local natives to acquire land. He and Ng meet with the native leader. Gilchrist is the tough negotiator but Ng charms the natives with her personality and appreciation of Hawaiian culture.

As Gilchrist and Ng continue a low boil flirtation, Tracy and husband Woody (John Krasinski) invite Gilchrist and Ng over for dinner. Though they are not quite as intense as Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca, in a kitchen conversation, it becomes clear that Tracy and Gilchrist still have strong feelings for one another, even though she’s spoken for.

Other players in Aloha include Bill Murray as rich guy Carson Welch who provides private rocket launches for anyone with money, but with support from the military. Alec Baldwin is General Dixon, Gilcrest’s former commander, who’s on hand to help foster the deal making. It is always encouraging to see a strong younger actor who has great screen presence—Danielle Rose Russell is impressive playing Tracy and Woody’s daughter Grace.

Crowe has handed Cooper a character with a good backstory and an appropriate level of self-disgust. Stone is at her charmingly perkiest as Ng, a woman with loads of drive and ambition. McAdams’ Tracy is happy and but also frightened by the return of her ex. Krasinksi’s Woody is a quiet man who’s not oblivious to what’s happening. I like these characters.

Gilcrest’s interactions with these two women are the heart of the movie but Crowe does a neat job of stitching the private space mission story into the fabric. Aloha’s touching final scene may cause tears.

In the Cameron Crowe oeuvre, Aloha is no Jerry McGuire but it beats the heck out of Vanilla Sky.

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I’ll See You In My Dreams

As cool as it is to see a 72-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man as the stars of the light romantic comedy I’ll See You In My Dreams, the story is more like one from a romance novel than one from real life.

Don’t get me wrong: ISYIMD is a sweet, fun movie. But much of it does not ring true.

Carol (Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) is a slim, attractive 70-something whose flirtations with a much younger pool boy (Martin Starr) seem to stir her libido. Then, when complete stranger Bill (Sam Elliott) smiles and pays a passing compliment in the grocery store, things begin simmering.

A nudge from her bridge buddies (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb and the wonderful Mary Kay Place) brings her to a senior speed-dating event, which provides chuckles and eye rolls (plus a quick scene with Max Gail of Barney Miller fame). A later chance encounter with smiling Bill leads to a dinner date and fast-moving romance.

Here’s what doesn’t compute. Carol claims that she’s been uninterested in dating, sex, etc. since her husband died twenty years earlier. That’s hard to buy, considering her appearance and comfortable station in life. Likewise, Bill says he, after his wife left him, cashed in his investments, moved to California and bought a boat. Yet he, too, (he claims) has had nothing going romantically for a while.

For some women, Elliott’s squinty gaze, his bushy moustache, his sly smirk of a smile, his very long unlit cigar and that incredible Dodge-truck-selling voice will be enough to incite a fantasy or two. For some men, Danner’s beauty and figure at 70+ will be a turn on. As the pool boy tells her when they first met, “You don’t look that old.”

I’ll See You In My Dreams features Danner delivering a respectable performance of classic torch ballad Cry Me A River at a karaoke bar. The funniest sequence in the movie involves the four bridge buddies inhaling a bit of medical marijuana and heading out to the grocery store for munchies.

A flaw of I’ll See You In My Dreams is it plods along at a casual pace for the first hour or so, then suddenly sets about to resolve things in a hurry. The film clocks in right at 90 minutes.

For moviegoers of a certain age who sit at home and complain that all the new romantic movies are about young people, stop complaining. Go see this movie! Danner and Elliott look great together and the other cast members add just enough spice to make ISYIMD an amusing reason to head to the theatre.

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland should be a slam dunk. It’s Disney. It’s George Clooney. It’s Brad Bird (director). It’s nostalgia. It’s the future. But, like an errant jet pack, it goes off course.

Not to say that Tomorrowland isn’t entertaining. It is. But it could’ve been great. And, sadly, it’s just okay.

The concept has merit, but there’s just too much “business” going on and not quite enough real meat on the bones of this message movie. And, in case you don’t get the message, it is pounded into you: Yes, we have big problems in our world. But rather than complain about them, you should get busy solving those problems.

Frank Walker (George Clooney, with stubble) opens the film by talking about the future and how attitudes toward the future have changed since he was a kid.

A young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) is shown attending the 1964 New York World’s Fair and showing off the jet pack he’s invented. Nix (Hugh Laurie) nixes the device but young Athena (Raffey Cassidy) helps deliver him (and the jetpack) into Oz, um, I mean, Tomorrowland.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is busted while trying to sneak onto the grounds at Cape Canaveral. She finds a cool pin among her personal effects when her rocket scientist dad (Tim McGraw) bails her out. The pin takes her to Tomorrowland.

Upon her return, she visits a collectables store and asks the clerks (Keegan-Michael Key and Katherine Hahn) about the pin, thereby setting in motion a sequence that echoes Men In Black.

With guidance from Athena, Casey meets up with Frank Walker and they begin their mission to get back to where they once belonged.

Tomorrowland bogs down on more than one occasion in preachy dialogue. And for a PG-rated movie, there are a couple of things that might freak out a small fry—such as when a little girl is hit by a speeding truck. Oh, she bounces right up, but the shock resonates.

For those of us who’ve made a few journeys around the sun, Tomorrowland comes off as idealistic pap. We’ve rolled our eyes at futuristic visions for decades.

For the younger, bright-eyed optimists of the world, this great big beautiful Tomorrowland is manna from Disney heaven. If your cynicism level is zero, you’ll eat Tomorrowland up like warm gooey butter cake.

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 hits all the right notes. It’s funny. The music is tremendous. The film’s opening scene which features Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) in a “commando performance” kicks things off on a raucous tone. A spontaneous acapella sing-off guided by David Cross is a blast.

As with any sequel, the goal is to revisit what made the first film a fan favorite and to introduce new elements to surprise and delight.

What’s new this time? A new Barden Bella, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). Several Green Bay Packers singing in the film. A smoldering romance between Amy and Bumper (Adam Devine). Becca’s (Anna Kendrick) internship at a record company run by Keegan-Michael Key. And a new rival for the Bellas, an edgy German acapella group led by a hunk and a hottie.

Does it feel fresh? Yes, but it’s like the second time you taste something wonderful. It’s just as good but it’s hard to match the feeling of that first time.

The film begins with a Barden Bellas performance in Washington before the President and First Lady. Amy has a wardrobe malfunction that results in shame for the group (abundant media coverage and jokes about “Muffgate”) and a suspension from the college president. But there is one shot at redemption.

The suspension does not affect the group’s invitation to compete at the world championship event in Copenhagen. Can you imagine what might happen there?

Elizabeth Banks, who also directed PP2, is back as co-host Gail who, along with master of snark John Michael Higgins as co-host John, delivers some of the film’s funniest lines.

Pitch Perfect 2 comes awfully close to matching the energy and novelty of 2012’s Pitch Perfect. With the current absence of traditional movie musicals, let’s hope that PP2 generates enough ticket sales to keep the (sequel) ball rolling. It’s a feel good flick that will make you smile.

Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, violent, angry film that assaults the senses with adrenaline-fueled vehicle chases, fiery crashes and painful death. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

In a future wasteland, the scenario is ripe for revolt. A tyrannical leader King Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a population that receives water only sparingly. Within the mountainside lair called the Citadel, where women produce breast milk to sustain the ruler and his minions, Max (Tom Hardy) is imprisoned.

Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is selected to pilot a tanker to Gastown along the straight and narrow Fury Road. When she heads off course into unpaved desert, King Joe and his convoy pursue, with Max secured to a lead truck like a human hood ornament. On one vehicle, a guitar player provides a rockin’ accompaniment to the mission (with a guitar that is a flame throwing weapon).

After Max escapes and joins forces with Furiosa, he finds that she is ferrying five gorgeous babes, the mountainside leader’s sex slaves, to her intended destination, a land of vegetation where she was born. The chase continues until… they all head back to the Citadel.

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action/adventure films I’ve ever seen. Because of its fantastic settings, its distinctive characters, its primal story, its savage spirit, its forceful soundtrack and its high energy level. The film starts at a sprint and doesn’t slow down until 30 minutes in.

Hardy is a brilliant choice to play a hero who saves his own skin first, then becomes part of a bigger effort to help others. Theron, in her non-glam buzz cut, is all business as her character asserts her own will and proves to be just as tough as any man.

Director Miller may be guilty of overkill, but the unrelenting intensity of Mad Max: Fury Road will satisfy audiences who are ready to have their minds blown. For action movie fans, Mad Max: Fury Road is a must-see!

Far From The Madding Crowd

 

Carey Mulligan wears her impish grin and her impressive wardrobe to great advantage in Far From The Madding Crowd. As Bathsheba Everdene, she has spunk. She’s an independent woman who claims she doesn’t need a man—while three suitors want her.

Set in the late 1800’s in rural England, FFTMC (based on the Thomas Hardy novel) teems with sexual tension. When this beautiful woman on horseback meets her handsome neighbor, sheepherder Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts), the attraction leads to his quick proposal of marriage (and gift of a baby lamb). She says no.

Bathsheba inherits a successful farm from an uncle and hires Oaks (who has lost his farm after all his sheep die) to work for her. Meanwhile, middle-aged neighbor, bachelor farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), offers his hand (and the prospect of a farming merger). Again, she says no.

Enter handsome soldier Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge). Yep, women love a man in uniform! He impresses her with his swordsmanship. (Is the sword a sexual metaphor? I think yes.) He introduces her to the pleasures of the flesh and marries her. But a quick case of buyer’s remorse sets in, leading to the story’s final chapters.

Not unlike a similarly named fictional character, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games (novelist Suzanne Collins took the Everdeen name from FFTMC), Bathsheba operates proactively. She is not the demure flower of a woman we often see in Victorian era stories. She gets things done even if it causes her to get her hands dirty. When she jumps into the water to help with sheep washing, her farmhands (and Oaks and Boldwood) are impressed.

Director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls keep the story moving at a quick pace. (The 1967 version of FFTMC starring Julie Christie ran nearly an hour longer than the new film.) A nice slowdown is the after dinner song Bathsheba sings with Boldwood.

Carey Mulligan has turned in several impressive performances in recent years but has not dominated a film quite like she does in Far From The Madding Crowd. This is her showcase and she shines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Pursuit

 

Hot Pursuit is a disappointment. It’s not funny. Just minutes into the show, it becomes obvious that the film, which is essentially one extended chase scene, is going nowhere.

Policewoman Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) and drug lord wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) are travel mates in this would-be madcap comedy. Like last year’s Tammy, the set up is okay, the stars are likable, but the movie, ultimately, is a failure.

Cooper is assigned to escort Riva to Dallas where her drug lord husband is set to testify against a former partner. But the pickup is botched when gangs burst in with guns blazing. Cooper and Riva escape and take to the road in a classic Cadillac convertible, the first of several vehicles they’ll use to get to their destination.

Witherspoon, despite being raised in Nashville, speaks with a southern accent that sounds inauthentic. Vergara, brings little beyond her Modern Family TV persona to her role. Neither excels at physical comedy. Hot Pursuit is a mess.

Who gets the blame? Director Anne Fletcher delivered another bad road trip movie The Guilt Trip (with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand) in 2012. The writers David Feeney and John Quaintance are veterans of (mostly failed) TV sitcoms. With the exceptions of comedians Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia in small roles, the supporting cast has no real charm.

Witherspoon and Vergara have producer and executive producer credits, so they are among the culprits.

I’ll concede there are a handful of chuckles, but if you want big laughs you won’t find them here. (Even the outtakes that are shown during closing credits are not funny.) Do not pursue.