Can You Ever Forgive Me?

canyoueverforgiveme

Lee Isreal (Melissa McCarthy) is not an easy person to like. She lacks the social graces. She drinks to excess. She is a bit of a slob.

She does have writing talent. She’s a published author. When her career hits the skids, she turns to another kind of writing.

One might be prone to feel sorry for her. However, as her agent (Jane Curtin) and her ex-partner (Anna Deavere Smith) point out, her off-putting behavior is of her own doing. Isreal even admits she like cats more than she likes people.

Isreal’s scheme is to produce notes and letters she claims were written by now deceased literary figures. “Can you ever forgive me?” is the tagline on a note she crafts and presents as having come from Dorothy Parker. She sells these letters to bookstores who sell them to collectors.

[Sidebar: I went to my first baseball card show in Willow Grove PA in 1981 and saw autographed photos of big league ballplayers for sale. I noticed the signatures all looked alike. In 1998, Mark McGwire went into card shops around the US and found items alleged to have been autographed by him. He said they were not authentic. Two conclusions, which Isreal also reached: People are suckers and there is a lot of fake stuff out there.]

Isreal buys vintage typewriters and consults old printed matter to crib material for these letters. But she and her drinking buddy Jack (Richard Grant) make a couple of errors that lead to her getting caught by the feds for her fraudulent practice.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? features a different Melissa McCarthy. She’s not completely unfunny. Her character has a nasty sense of humor. But the energetic, vibrant, fearless McCarthy from her comedy roles is dialed way, way down. Her look is muted, plain. And her character is, as mentioned, a sad sack of a human. Is this a role that can net McCarthy an awards nomination? Stay tuned.

There’s a flash of the more familiar Melissa McCarthy when Isreal makes a statement to the judge during a court proceeding.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is not a crowd-pleaser type of film. But for all who have appreciated Melissa McCarthy’s comedic work in movies and TV, this movie reveals that she definitely can handle a wider range of roles.

 

 

 

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First Man

Firstman

Can the landing of the first man on the moon be… anticlimactic? In First Man, it almost is.

For a couple of reasons. We know how it turns out. The video is iconic. The “small step/giant leap” quote is ingrained into our beings.

But mainly, First Man delivers tension, suspense and the threat of peril in the life and career of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) well before the moon landing. By the time Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) are ready to moonwalk, the film has already presented the stoic Armstrong in situations that put him through intense physical and emotional challenges.

Yes, the moon landing is First Man’s money shot. And, yes, there’s a tingle that comes when the lunar vehicle is looking for a landing spot. But what precedes that event is what makes the movie another winner from director Damien Chazelle of La La Land and Whiplash fame.

The real life Armstrong was not as outgoing as other U.S. astronauts. Shepard, Glenn, Aldrin, Cooper and others were more visible via media. Armstrong, though not a recluse, did not seem to savor the limelight.

Gosling is excellent in his portrayal of a man who generally keeps his emotions in check. I’d argue that it’s harder to portray this kind of individual convincingly than to play more flamboyant types.

First Man shows Armstrong as a family man dealing with crises at home as well as a space pioneer applying his knowledge and talents to his job. His wife Janet (Claire Foy) provides needed support but also confronts him just before the moon mission, demanding he talk to his sons about the danger and risk ahead.

As other space films have shown, there is friendly competition among astronauts but a special camaraderie also exists. Armstrong’s grief when fellow spacemen-to-be suffer bad fates is deeply felt.

The soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz complements the visuals and the action beautifully.

The story of the Neil Armstrong you never knew (unless you read the book that First Man is based on) adds meaningful context to recollections of the space race and that singular accomplishment America achieved one Sunday evening in July 1969.

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Man And The Gun

Redford

The Old Man And The Gun has all those classic indy film elements: quirky characters, quirky plot, a few slow periods where little happens, a mediocre song and a general low budget look.

But this one also has Robert Redford! He may have lost some speed on his fastball, but he still cuts an impressive figure on a movie screen. And he is fun to watch in this one. (Redford just turned 82 in August, FYI.)

Forrest Tucker (Redford) was a real life bank robber. (Not to be confused with the “F Troop” actor.) For Tucker, robbing banks is a bit of a sport. He’s polite to bank staff (and to the authorities who arrest him), not like the fearsome trigger-happy criminals often seen in films and on TV.

As he flees the film’s opening heist, Tucker stops to help a woman whose truck is broken down on the side of the road. He invites her to join him for a bite. So begins his relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek). She is charmed and they begin to get together often for apparently non-carnal reasons.

Casey Affleck mumbles his way through his role as Dallas police detective John Hunt. After the feds take over the pursuit of Tucker, Hunt sniffs out Tucker’s backstory, which features a life of crime and incarceration. Also in the cast are Tucker’s sometime accomplices played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

For a movie about a bank robber, with car chases and other tense situations, The Old Man And The Gun is relatively light entertainment. Redford’s smiles and chuckles play a big part in softening the feel of the film.

David Lowery is the movie’s writer/director. He did an interesting crime drama I enjoyed (also featuring Affleck’s mumbles) in 2013 with the puzzling title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

Supposedly this is to be Redford’s last movie. But, as with many music acts who’ve had farewell tours and then later reappeared on stage, there’s a Bond title that applies here: Never Say Never Again. Whether he returns to the screen again or doesn’t, it’s good to have one of one of filmdom’s greats back in a starring role right now.

 

Side Effects

Looking for a great movie for grownups? Side Effects satisfies! It has a suspenseful story, well told, and compelling characters, well portrayed.

Rooney Mara is Emily Taylor, a twenty-something in NYC who meets Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after she drives her car into a brick wall. He’s a shrink who begins treating her for depression. Channing Tatum plays her sympathetic husband who’s just been released from prison where he served time for insider trading.

One of the medications Dr. Banks prescribes for Emily appears to help but has a significant side effect: it causes sleepwalking. When Emily commits a crime, her meds and Dr. Banks are called into question. The situation is complicated by the fact that Dr. Banks is taking money from a drug company for consulting on medications.

Side Effects steps into many timely and topical areas, including mental illness and its treatments. Also within the film’s sights is the pharmaceutical industry, as well as doctors who are in cahoots with those companies. After Emily’s crime, the blame and the repercussions remain unresolved.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Dr. Victoria Siebert, a Connecticut psychologist who treated Emily for depression before Dr. Banks. As the story unfolds, her involvement with the drug companies becomes a key plot point.

While there is no doubt that psychotropic drugs have helped many people with mental illnesses function normally, we know that drug companies have marketed products with dangerous (sometimes lethal) side effects. It’s easy to throw stones at large organizations that have questionable practices, but not always so easy to determine which individuals should suffer the consequences.

That’s the case in Side Effects. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? And who’s in that gray area in the middle? See the movie and find out.

Side Effects is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies are always interesting, even when they’re not as good as Side Effects. And, as with all his movies, the soundtrack is excellent. Thomas Newman is the music composer.

For Jude Law, this is his best performance in years. His stubble, worn in many scenes, gives him a more mature look. Rooney Mara was excellent in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that was more of a caricature. In this role, she hits it out of the park as a real woman with real problems. Bravo!

A Late Quartet

A movie about a string quartet? How tedious could that be? In the case of “A Late Quartet,” not tedious at all—this is a lively, energetic movie about a talented group of musicians, performed by a talented group of actors.

You don’t have to be a Beethoven fan to appreciate “A Late Quartet.” There’s plenty of music, but the story is more about the musicians and their passions, musical and otherwise.

Christopher Walken is a recently widowed cello player who is diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a violinist who is married to the quartet’s viola player, played by Catherine Keener. Ukraine native Mark Ivanir is the intense first-chair violinist who wants every note played perfectly.

But musicians do not always play every note perfectly. Christopher Walken’s character has a wonderful scene in the film in which he relates a tale about an encounter with violin great Pablo Casals. The point of his anecdote is that a live performance of music reveals personal interpretation.

The quartet has been together for nearly a quarter century when we meet them. The group is upset first by their cellist’s Parkinson’s, then by Hoffman’s character’s desire to make a change to the group. Then come marital issues between the couple and an upsetting romantic choice by the first chair.

Along with the quartet, a beautiful young actress with the unfortunate name Imogen Poots gives a nice performance as the aspiring violinist daughter of the couple.

Director Yaron Zilberman (such an unknown that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) who co-wrote the original script, does an excellent job of making these actors appear to be real musicians. (At least to my non-musician eyes.)

Yes, the story is a bit soap opera-ish, but the cast is strong and the music enjoyable. While “A Late Quartet” is unlikely to move beyond art houses, don’t let Beethoven scare you away from a good movie.

“Deep Blue Sea”—(Melancholy, Baby)

“Deep Blue Sea” reminds me of those late 30’s movies my wife loves to watch on AMC and TCM: It’s slow. It has a small core of key players. It greatly resembles a stage play.

Actually, “Deep Blue Sea” was a stage play! It debuted in London in 1952 and came to Broadway a year later. The movie stars Rachel Weisz as a young woman married to an older man. He is a wealthy London judge. They have a nice life but she wants passion. Her mother-in-law advises her that “restrained enthusiasm” is preferable to passion.

She finds passion with a younger man, a military pilot. She leaves the older guy, moves in with the younger guy, but he (the younger guy) is not quite ready to settle down. He still wants to party in bars, instead of spending all his time with Rachel. This makes her gloomy.

Will she go back to the older guy? Will she follow the younger guy across the ocean? Will she kill herself? No spoilers here!

Director Terrence Davies has turned in a movie that has many stylish shots, including those at the beginning and end of the narrative that frame the film.

Tom Hiddleston plays the younger guy. Simon Russell Beale plays the judge. They’re good, but this is Rachel Weisz’s movie.

If you want an antidote for loud, fast-paced movies with plots that are hard to follow, check out “Deep Blue Sea.” It’s more about the characters and their needs and desires than it is about the plot. And it’s slow. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Rated “R” for a nude scene. Opening date for “Deep Blue Sea” has been pushed back to Friday, April 20 at the Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

My Holiday Movie Guide—(With Best Bets for Grownups and Families)

Holiday time is great time to go to a movie or two (or three). There is truly something for everyone this season, so enjoy!

“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”—The acting, the story and the story telling are good, but it is the title character that dominates this film. She demands your attention when she is on screen. Sure, most of the credit for the character goes to the novelist, but let’s stand up and applaud actress Rooney Mara for bringing life to Lisbeth Salander. Be warned: some of the sexual violence is intense. Overall, TGWTDT is an excellent film and an indelible character. (Scroll down for longer review.)

“The Adventures of Tintin”—Steven Spielberg’s animated adventure is shot in the “performance capture” technique seen in “Polar Express” and “Avatar.” The visuals here are stunning, the 3-D is great, but the plot is one that young kids may have a hard time following. Tintin has been popular in Europe for decades. Will American audiences embrace him and this film? I’d guess yes.

“We Bought a Zoo”—Yep, the title is a spoiler. Matt Damon is a widower who buys a rundown private zoo. With his two kids and the dedicated staff he inherits, he works to get the zoo back up to speed. One kid is a pouty teen boy. The other is a seven-year-old girl who is the cutest kid in a movie since Drew Barrymore in “E.T.” Among the zoo staff is eye candy Scarlett Johansson. Perfect family film.

“The Artist”—This silent movie, filmed in black and white, is a huge hit with critics. The concept and the storytelling are clever. The performances and the music are outstanding. Though set in Hollywood, the two leads are French actors who are unknown in the US. A familiar face is John Goodman, who makes the most of his screen time as an exec guiding his studio through the transition to talkies. It’s different, but a great movie.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy”—Based on the British spy novel, TTSS has a story that is just okay—not that special. The acting is good, especially by lead Gary Oldman. It’s set in the early 70’s, so we see artifacts of the era including reel-to-reel tape recorders, teletype machines and even a pair of hotpants. You might want to opt for something else in the multiplex.

“War Horse”—This is a classic—a story of a boy and his horse. They both go to World War I for Britain, separately. The movie follows the horse through all his war adventures. If you are the emotional type, bring some tissues. If someone you know loves horses, you must take her/him to see this. The cinematography is outstanding. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

“Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol”—Action galore. Tom Cruise and his M:I team are out to save the earth from nuclear annihilation. Sounds simple, right? But it turns out to be complicated. The film’s highlight is the sequence with Tom climbing on the outside of that extremely tall building in Dubai. In a genius casting move, Simon Pegg of “Shaun of the Dead” fame, appears as the team’s timid electronics guy. See it on the IMAX if you can—a big screen for a big movie.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”— Robert Downey Jr. brings massive on-screen charm. The film crew brings the gimmickry, which provides much of the film’s fun. The plot, however, is a bit of a mess. Jude Law returns as Watson, Holmes’ assistant, consultant, rescuer, foil and chronicler. Good, not great.

“Young Adult”—The lead character in “Young Adult” is not especially likable. The movie, though, has a lot to like. Charlize Theron plays a woman with baggage who returns from the big city to her small hometown in Minnesota. There are some big laughs in “Young Adult, “ but it also serves up some thoughtful takes on modern American life. Directed by Jason Reitman who did “Up in the Air” and “Juno.”

Also still around:

“The Descendants”—My pick for best movie of the year. Family drama with comedic elements, set in Hawaii. George Clooney is a likely Oscar winner in the lead role.

“The Muppets”—The “feel good movie of the year.” This musical comedy has a funny script, great songs and an old-timey look.

“Hugo”—This movie about a boy living in a Paris train station takes a left turn midway and flashes back to the early days of filmmaking. Nice visual effects and excellent 3-D.

“My Week with Marilyn”—Michelle Williams will get an Oscar nomination for her performance as Marilyn Monroe in this story, set in the 1950’s.

“New Year’s Eve”—Standard romantic comedy with scads of stars. Some end up happy; others, not so happy. In the formula of last year’s “Valentine’s Day.”

Best bets for grownups:  “The Descendants,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Artist,” “Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” “Young Adult,” “My Week with Marilyn.”

Best bets for families: “We Bought a Zoo,” “War Horse,” “The Muppets,” “The Adventures of Tintin.”

Only go if everything else is sold out: “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Hugo,” “New Year’s Eve.”