True Story

Brilliant opening shot: A teddy bear falls slowly, landing softly next to a little girl who is, inexplicably, curled up in a suitcase. It is quickly revealed why.

Meanwhile, Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a New York Times reporter, goes to Africa for a story that makes the cover of the Times Sunday magazine. The story is written while Finkel plays poker with colleagues in the newsroom. He wins the hand but it turns out his story is not quite accurate. He is fired.

Finkel goes to his cabin in Montana with his lady Jill (Felicity Jones) and pitches freelance writing pieces. A call comes from a reporter in Oregon (Ethan Suplee), informing Finkel that accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) claimed he (Longo) was Finkel when he was arrested in Mexico.

When Finkel goes to Oregon to visit Longo, the fun begins. In a series of jailhouse one-to-ones, Franco and Hill each show off their acting talents. Finkel is flattered when Longo mentions how much he likes Finkel’s writing. Longo sends Finkel a lengthy handwritten letter and Finkel offers to use its content to co-write a book, once the case is cleared.

Jill has doubts about the whole scenario, but Finkel is totally seduced by Longo’s apparent intelligence and his cool demeanor (despite being charged with four murders).

After this enticing setup, the film bogs down. But… here comes another memorable sequence: Director Rupert Goold juxtaposes Jill’s piano playing with Finkel’s writing on his laptop. Keyboard on keyboard action. Nice.

True Story has a bit of suspense: What is the true story? Did Longo kill his family? What will happen at trial? Will Finkel and Longo co-author a book? Will Finkel be redeemed after his journalistic faux pas?

But the payoff is weak. Oh, there’s resolution, but it doesn’t quite deliver what the first few chapters of the film indicated might lay ahead.

Nonetheless, Franco and Hill are a delight to watch. Someone told me when she heard those two were in a movie together, she presumed it was a comedy. Nope. True Story is serious stuff. It takes a shot, but ultimately misses out on greatness.

Blended

With movies, as with parties and dinners at restaurants, evaluations are influenced by expectations. Going in to Blended, I knew that Adam Sandler movies have been less than wonderful in recent years. On the other hand, Sandler and Drew Barrymore made two highly entertaining movies together, 1998’s The Wedding Singer and 2004’s 50 First Dates.

Happily, Blended conjures up the vibe of those two Adam-Drew films, rather than those of That’s My Boy, Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Jack and Jill, etc.

Not that Blended is an award-winner, but it is cute and funny. It’s a sweet love story whose outcome is pre-ordained. Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Barrymore) are single parents. They have a terrible blind date—at Hooters—but meet again in a store where they help each other out. Through a strange and highly unlikely turn of events, they end up sharing a suite—with their kids—at a resort in South Africa.

They try to make the best of it. Jim, Lauren and all their kids enjoy the resort’s amusements including safaris, ostrich rides and parasailing—with comic results.

Here’s some parental guidance. Blended appears to be a comedy for the whole family, like Cheaper By The Dozen or Yours, Mine and Ours. But it is rated PG-13 and contains some naughty content you might find offensive for your preteens. Some of it will go right over their heads but other parts, such as a shot of humping hippos, are rather direct.

Also in the cast are Sandler’s SNL cohort Kevin Nealon as Eddy and Jessica Lowe as his trophy wife Ginger. Wendy McLendon-Covey of Bridesmaids plays Lauren’s business partner. Joel McHale is Lauren’s smarmy ex-husband. Shaquille O’Neal and Dan Patrick have brief appearances.

Blended is not as good as the earlier Sandler-Barrymore pairings, but it delivers some solid laughs and a happy outcome—and those are good things. It also contains situations most parents—single or married—can relate to.

Maybe the best thing Blended has going for it is the lines will likely be much shorter than those for X-Men and Godzilla.