An American Pickle

Where’s the line between “heartwarming” and “sappy?” Hard to say. One person’s “tender, sweet, sentimental” is another’s person’s “sickeningly mushy and syrupy.”

An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen hits the right heartwarming notes without going over the line. It’s the story of an East European Jew who immigrates to America, spends a century in a sort of suspended animation and comes back to life in our new and strange modern time.

The movie is funny but not laugh-a-minute funny. The movie is sweet but not quite Hallmark sweet.

A couple of decades into the 1900’s, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) falls into a vat of pickles, just as the Brooklyn pickle factory he works for is being condemned. The vat is sealed and sits undisturbed until a hundred years later when it is opened and there is Herschel, perfectly preserved in the salty brine.

In short order he is introduced to his great grandson Ben (also Seth Rogen), Herschel’s only surviving descendant. They bond but soon find fault with one another. Herschel’s Old World ways get them both arrested for assault and the criminal record results in Ben’s being turned downed for money to market the app he’s spent years developing.

Herschel, who initially stays with Ben, moves out and begins to brine cucumbers into pickles. He sells them from a sidewalk cart and becomes a social media sensation. Ben then schemes to sabotage his great grandfather’s success. Their relationship suffers a number of ups and downs until things are resolved.

Herschel has a full beard and wears vintage clothing. Ben is not quite clean-shaven—he has a bit of facial fuzz—and wears modern casual attire. There is a case of confused identity that is key to the storyline.

Rogen does a great job of playing opposite himself. For most scenes, each actor’s lines are shot separately and spliced together. But some have the two men onscreen at the same time. Actors who’ve done this in the past have spoken of the difficulty of getting the timing and the responses right when playing against a phantom whose parts will be included later. Rogan makes those scenes work just fine.

An American Pickle is a pleasant amusement. The likable Rogen, now just a couple of years shy of 40, continues to expand the scope of characters he plays well beyond the drugged-out goofball types he was earlier known for playing. The film is currently streaming exclusively on HBOMax. I would not be surprised to see it available on HBO on cable within a few weeks.

Brooklyn

Love is an amazing thing. It can bring a person out of his or her shell. It can make a person love life itself more than he or she imagined. In Brooklyn, the transformation Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) undergoes when she falls in love is inspiring and heartwarming.

Brooklyn is a classic. In 1950, young Eilis works in bakery in a small town in Ireland. She lives with her widowed mother (Jane Brennan)and her sister (Fiona Glascott). She takes the bold step of moving to America, specifically Brooklyn.

She moves into a boarding house run by the entertaining Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). She gets a job as a department store clerk where her boss (Jessica Paré) gives encouragement, even though Eilis is shy and tentative with customers.

Her local priest (Jim Broadbent) helps with night school tuition. At a church dance she meets Tony (Emory Cohen) and falls in love. His is a working class Italian family. Her romance is not the only factor that brings her out of her shell, but it is the big one.

A tragedy at home sends her back to Ireland for a visit. While there, a friend introduces her to Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), a handsome single man from a well-to-do family. Now that life and love have opened her up to new possibilities, she is torn between two men and two countries.

Should she stay in Ireland or should she return to Brooklyn? Should she stay with Jim or return to Tony?

Brooklyn is a film that bears similarities to movies made in the early 50s era where it is set. This is the kind of movie for people who say, “Why don’t they make movies like they used to?” (Tip your grandparents about this one!) The script is by Nick Hornby from a novel by Colm Toibin. Director is John Crowley.

Saoirse Ronan is a certain Oscar nominee for best actress. She is blessed with an expressive face that shows a wide range of emotions. Her understated beauty and her acting skill make her perfect for this dream role. With a strong resumé already at age 21, her future appears limitless. See the film, enjoy her performance!

 

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a movie whose outcome you can predict as soon as it begins. Even though the destination may be preordained, the journey is fun, sweet and, at moments, poignant.

Bill Murray is Vincent, a curmudgeon who lives alone in a non-descript section of Brooklyn. Single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) make an auspicious arrival as Vincent’s new neighbors when their moving guys take out a tree limb and part of Vincent’s fence with their truck.

Maggie goes to work and Oliver goes to school. When Maggie has to work late, she hires Vincent to babysit the lad (who appears to be about 10 years old). While mom works, Vincent shares his world with Oliver, taking the kid to the horse track and a bar. He also introduces Oliver to pregnant stripper/hooker Daka (Naomi Watts with a bad Russian accent).

When Oliver is bullied at school, Vincent suggests a technique to take down his bigger intimidators. It works extremely well. (Charismatic Irish actor Chris O’Dowd is a priest who is one of Oliver’s teachers at school.)

As the movie proceeds, more of Vincent’s life is revealed and the grizzled old guy with a bad attitude is shown to have human emotions. He may not have a heart of gold, but at least he has a heart.

Bill Murray has been handed a role that’s perfect for him. His Vincent is not just a caricature, he’s a real guy, like you see on the street everyday. Murray should get awards consideration. But because he makes playing Vincent look so easy, he may be overlooked. The other performances are solid, but Murray carries the movie, so he is due the greater amount of acclaim.

First time director/screenwriter Theodore Melfi, a man with Missouri roots, has assembled a movie that’s funny but also brings real human emotion to the screen. You may not actually cry, but you’ll laugh. And you’ll ending up liking the key characters, too. (Stick around for the closing credits and Murray’s casual singing of Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm.”)

The Drop

 

Bob Saganowski (Tom Hardy) is one of my favorite movie characters of 2014. He’s a bartender at Cousin Marv’s in the new film The Drop, a crime drama set in an Archie Bunker sort of neighborhood in Brooklyn. Marv, the bar’s former owner who still runs the place, is played by James Gandofini in his final film performance.

The bar is a place for money drops of ill-gotten gains. Various criminals throughout an evening hand over envelopes filled with cash. The cash is dropped into a safe. The story is kick started with an armed robbery of the bar.

Bob is a seemingly simple man. His life consists of tending bar, accepting the cash drops and going each day to mass, where he never takes communion. Bob’s rescue of an abused dog from a garbage can leads to his friendship with and attraction to Nadia (Noomi Rapace).

Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a small-time local hood who tells Bob the dog is his and makes threats against Bob and the dog. Deeds is in cahoots with Marv to pull an inside job and take all the money to be dropped at the bar on Super Bowl Sunday—a huge day for bookies.

Another key player is police detective Torres (John Ortiz) who investigates the first robbery and recognizes Bob from the daily mass. Torres appears to know what is going on with each of the characters, but chooses to let things happen.

The Drop is filled with strong performances from the actors playing each of the main characters. But it is Tom Hardy as Bob who soars. With his odd version of a Brooklyn accent and his slow, deliberate manner, Bob is revealed to have more going on than is initially obvious. Expect Hardy to be mentioned during awards season for his work here.

The script is by Dennis Lehane who wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone. Belgian Michael Roskam directed. The story here is good, but it’s the characters—and the actors filling those roles—who provide the best reason to see and appreciate The Drop.