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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Longest Ride

 

Sweet, sappy romance. With challenges and complications and maybe some peril. Probably some tears. Oh, and generally happy endings. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Nicholas Sparks movies and The Longest Ride follows that well-worn path. And, as has happened in previous Sparks movies, his home state of North Carolina provides scenic settings.

Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a senior art major at Wake Forest University. A sorority sister invites her to a rodeo. Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son) is a bull rider who spots her at the event and, later, flirts with her at a bar. Their first date is a picnic at an impossibly gorgeous, dusky lakeside setting.

On their way back, they rescue an older gentleman (Alan Alda) who has driven his car off the road and hit a tree. Luke pulls the man from the burning vehicle and Sophia gathers his wicker basket from the front seat. At the hospital, Sophia checks the basket and finds it filled with love letters the man, Ira, wrote to his late wife, Ruth.

As things heat up between Luke and Sophia, she becomes chummy with Ira and through his letters and conversations she learns the story of their courtship and marriage, including a complication that challenged their pursuit of happiness together. In flashbacks, the younger Ira (Jack Huston) indulges Ruth (Oona Chaplin) and her love of art, just as Luke is making a modest effort to do the same with Sophia.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (actually in Luke’s cozy barn residence), Sophia and Luke have a hookup that’s appropriately sexy without being overly steamy. But, since these are two very attractive stars, their tryst should be enough to stir up romantic desires for moviegoers.

But here comes a complication or two: Luke, who’s already had a bad injury thanks to a bull named Rango, wants to complete his comeback with more perilous rides. And Sophia has an internship waiting at an art gallery in New York. How can things possibly work out for these two?

With a script by Craig Bolotin from Sparks’ novel, director George Tillman Jr. (whose prior work has included urban and action films) has made a film that looks good and maintains great pacing. The bull rides and the flashbacks to Ira and Ruth keep things moving beyond Sophia and Luke’s romance.

The Longest Ride is true to the Sparks brand. The film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. And delivers exactly what audiences expect from a Nicholas Sparks story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Time

Time travel is such a hokey plot gimmick. A few decades ago, time travel was used sparingly. Now, it’s a part of so many fantasy/sci-fi movies and TV shows that it has become ho-hum. Am I fatigued with time travel? God, yes!

Having said that, in About Time, the device of time travel delivers a romantic comedy with that’s sweet and funny. Sure it’s a gimmick, but in this case, it works.

About Time is written and directed by Richard Curtis who is best known for writing Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and, in his debut as a director, Love, Actually. He also wrote the scripts for the two Bridget Jones movies. His movies are romantic, sensitive and, happily, funny. And generally set in the UK, as is this one.

Curtis does two daring things in About Time. First, he has cast as his male lead a relatively unknown, Domhnall Gleeson, a lanky ginger who was Bill Weasley in the last two Harry Potter movies. Gleeson is up to the task as Tim. He is fun and funny as a guy who uses the time travel trick to great advantage.

Second, Curtis has a scene where two guys meet two girls in a restaurant that’s totally dark. That’s right, the screen is black for a good couple of minutes as the guys chat up the ladies without benefit of seeing them. I’m not sure this literal blackout scene is a success, but it is memorable.

One of the unseen ladies is Mary (Rachel McAdams) who becomes Tim’s chosen love, thanks to a little time traveling by Tim. She’s earned her rom-com cred in The Vow and The Notebook, not to mention the raunchy rom-com Wedding Crashers. She is sexy, but in a non-sleazy sort of way. (Her dimples appear to get deeper with every film she makes.)

Tim’s Dad and Mum are Bill Nighy and Lindsey Duncan. Nighy is in great form as the one who shares the gift of time travel with his son. Curtis has handed him some good laugh lines and he lands them neatly.

Traveling in time cleans up many of life’s messes for Tim, just as it has for his dad. And that hokey gimmick is what gives About Time its charm.

The big question: Does Rachel McAdams have the star power to generate ticket sales? Because Domhnall Gleeson, as good as he is, is not a star. About Time will need good word-of-mouth to get bodies into movie houses. Here are my words from my mouth: If you like good rom-coms, you’ll like About Time.

 

 

 

 

Enough Said

Here is an excellent movie for grownups. Two extremely likeable characters fall in love in a movie that has a message for all couples.

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced woman who goes to a party at the urging of her unhappily married friend Sarah (Toni Collette). At the party, Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini), a divorced man. Eva also meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) who becomes a massage client and, in short order, a friend and confidante.

Albert and Eva go out on a date. Neither expects anything special, but they enjoy each other’s company and soon are sleeping over. They have one big thing in common: both have daughters who are about to finish high school and go away to college. This circumstance requires that they interact with their exes.

The message for couples in Enough Said is not to let little things become deal breakers. Those of us who’ve been married for a while know that both partners have to tolerate their mates’ imperfections. For instance, dirty underwear left on the bedroom floor may be an annoyance but not grounds for divorce. On the other hand, when one partner is aware of his/her annoying behavior and makes zero effort to change, that can be a problem.

Eva has scenes with Sarah and her husband Will (Ben Falcone). They nitpick and bicker but manage to stay together.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is totally charming as Eva. She frequently flashes the great smile that her often snarky Elaine (on Seinfeld) shared minimally or, often, sarcastically.

James Gandolfini is just a big, sweet teddy bear as Albert. I had a melancholy feeling watching Enough Said because I knew that it was one of his last roles before his sudden death last June. His performances during the past year in Zero Dark Thirty, Not Fade Away and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone showed promise of a hugely successful post-Sopranos film career. Sadly, that will not happen.

Let me offer a huge hat tip to the woman who wrote and directed Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener. Her dialogue is clever, funny and believable. Her directing is efficient and never overbearing. Honestly, the only thing I dislike about Enough Said is its rather generic title.

If you’re looking for a movie for grownups without violence and peril, escape to the movie house to check out Enough Said.

 

 

 

 

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!)

 

 

Safe Haven

An attractive couple in a picturesque resort town makes Safe Haven a good-looking movie. It’s a sweet love story that has a bit of conflict and ugliness, but not enough to damage the warm glow Safe Haven gives off.

Safe Haven is adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, as were such movies as The Notebook, Dear John and others. Safe Haven is the eighth movie based on a Sparks novel.

Josh Duhamel plays Alex, a likeable widower with two cute kids. He runs a store in a small town in coastal North Carolina where busses stop to let passengers grab a snack and stretch their legs.

One passenger chooses not to get back on the bus, but to stay in town. Katie is played by Julianne Hough, best known for appearances on Dancing with the Stars. Katie is on the run from something, but what she’s trying to escape is not revealed immediately.

In the meantime, she gets a waitress job in town and falls in love with the hunky widower.

Yes, Safe Haven is like a Hallmark Channel movie with better writing and acting. It has new love, kids, family, sunny days, rainy days, a trip to the beach, a canoe ride, pleasant locations. Romance is in the air and life is good.

Safe Haven also has the peril element found in Lifetime movies. When Katie’s past problems come to call, she and others must confront danger.

Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother fame has a small, not especially glam, role as Katie’s neighbor Jo who is always ready with advice and encouragement.

Safe Haven provides a safe haven for moviegoers looking for a more wholesome contemporary romance. No T & A, no bad words, minimal sex, a necessary (for the sake of the plot) bit of violence. No urban scenarios with dance clubs and cool workspaces. No freaks or geeks.

Julianne Hough is a younger, blonder, prettier version of Jennifer Aniston and Josh Duhamel is hunky without being obnoxious about it.

Is Safe Haven just about the perfect Valentine’s Day weekend romance movie? Without a doubt, yes.

 

 

 

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

First things first, this “end of the world” movie kicks “Melancholia’s” butt.

What would you do if you found out the world was going to end in three weeks? You might panic, you might riot, you might party, you might share “gallows” humor. Or if, like Steve Carell’s character, Dodge, you’ve just been dumped by your wife, you might be almost totally unemotional.

Dodge offers aid to his neighbor Penny, a free spirit type played by Keira Knightley. They soon leave the dangers of the city to embark on a road trip to see forgotten family members and ex-lovers before the end comes.

SAFFTEOTW has laughs and horrors. It contrasts order and chaos, sadness and joy, heartbreak and love. One hilarious scene on the road trip takes place at a bar/grill called “Friendsy’s” where the staff is just a bit too eager to please. This comes moments after a scene of surprise gruesomeness.

After the stop for food and drink at Friendsy’s, Dodge and Penny get back in the truck and satisfy other appetites. The stoic Dodge enjoys her company, but is intent on finding his old high school girlfriend. Penny, meanwhile, is mainly focused on seeing an old boyfriend and her folks before earth goes kaput.

SAFFTEOTW is a sweet movie. Lead actors who are easy to like, and a script that mixes light moments with heavy, result in successful film. In a situation that is desperate but inevitable, the tension that could overwhelm is tempered. Yes, it is the end of the world, but you won’t have your personal world too badly rocked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

It was better than I was expecting. (And much funnier than the book!)

Like most ensemble romantic comedy movies with large casts of interacting characters, WTEWYE is predictable. How predictable? Five seconds into the movie, you know exactly how the first scene will end.

WTEWYE does have more laugh out loud funny moments than the Garry Marshall ensemble movies, such as “Valentine’s Day.” Here we have five Atlanta area couples dealing with fertility issues, planned pregnancies, surprise pregnancies and adoption. Of course, there is also a fair amount of poignancy with the pregnancy.

Interestingly, the only mother-to-be in the film who has given birth in real life is Jennifer Lopez, whose character is infertile. She and her husband adopt a child from Ethiopia. The pregnant women are Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick and Brooklyn Decker. Elizabeth Banks is the funniest of the five.

A good bit of the WTEWYE’s humor comes from a group of dads who get together to push their offspring in strollers. Thomas Lennon of “Reno 911” fame and Chris Rock are part of that group.

For men and women who are new parents (and for many of us whose youngest offspring are now teens), the film will bring back memories of pregnancies, some of which you may have forgotten. Along with the pregnancies, we follow the development of romantic relationships between the couples to predictable outcomes.

Maybe the most impressive aspect of WTEWYE is how realistic the prosthetic tummies appeared on the film’s moms.

WTEWYE is a pleasant enough amusement. But if you are newly pregnant, don’t count on the movie to be instructive. Buy the book.

Wanderlust—*Hippie Trip*

First things first: yes, Jennifer Aniston appears topless, but it’s heavily pixilated and not a big deal at all.

Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd play a New York couple with money problems. They hit the road, happen into a commune and decide to stay a while.

Copious amounts of pot relieve the stress of being broke. But a lack of privacy and the prospect of free love with commune members are issues they must deal with.

“Wanderlust” has its funny moments. Aniston and Rudd are attractive stars with good comedic chops. Both have appeal for women and men.

But “Wanderlust” somehow feels like a movie that could’ve been made decades ago. Maybe having 70’s sitcom stars Linda “Alice” Lavin and Alan “M*A*S*H” Alda in the cast helps make it feel dated. By the way, Lavin and Alda are the strongest actors among a supporting cast that, overall, is a bit weak.

So… you like Jennifer; you like Paul. Do you go see this one at the theater this weekend or wait to rent it from Redbox this summer? I think that depends on how much you like movie house popcorn and those ginormous boxes of Raisinets.

There is no urgent reason to see this movie now. Having said that—if you want to see a movie this weekend and you like comedies, go see “Wanderlust.” You won’t have your mind blown but you’ll be amused.

“Wanderlust” is rated R for language and “graphic nudity,” among other things. For what it’s worth, the graphic nudity will not titillate; in fact, it may have the complete opposite effect.