DANNY COLLINS (2015)

April 5, 2015

danny collins Greetings again from the darkness. He who was once Michael Corleone is now Danny Collins. With a career spanning 40 plus years with 8 Oscar nominations, including a win for Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino must be considered Hollywood royalty. Upon closer analysis, that last nomination and win came more than 20 years ago, and he is now the go-to guy for a demonstrative, (more than a) few years past his prime type. So on paper, we get why Pacino was cast as Danny Collins (think modern day Neil Diamond).

The film begins with a very young Collins being interviewed by a rock journalist (Nick Offerman) after the release of his first album. Flash forward 40 years, and Collins has made a career of re-hashing the same songs to the same concert goers. He lives in a mansion, throws lavish parties, has a fiancé who could be his granddaughter, and absorbs coke and booze between flights on his private jet. It’s only now that Frank (Christopher Plummer), his agent and best friend, presents him with a long lost letter written to Collins by John Lennon after that interview so many years before. Cue the bells and whistles … it’s time for a redemption road trip.

It’s only at this point that we understand the cute “kind of based on a true story” tag at the opening credits. See, Lennon did write a letter in 1971 to British Folk Singer Steve Tilston, and the letter did take many years to find its way to him. However, Tilston never lost his creative vision the way that Danny Collins did (otherwise, there would be no movie).

What happens next is predictable and a bit formulaic. Colllins tracks down his adult son (Bobby Cannavale) from an early career backstage fling, and does all he is capable of doing to cannonball into his life, and that of his wife (Jennifer Garner) and young daughter (Giselle Eisenberg). Expect the usual TV melodramatics as far as disease and suburban family challenges, and tie-in a flirty back-and-forth with the Hilton manager (Annette Benning), and you can pretty much fill in the blanks for the balance of the film.

Cannavale and Plummer certainly do everything they can to elevate the storyline. Cannavale’s emotions are all over the place as one would expect and he is the most believable of all characters. Plummer adds a sense of reality and humor to his interludes with Pacino – wisely controlling his movements against Pacino’s histrionics.

Stories involving a characters seeking redemption have one thing in common … a character who is not so likable. We never really buy him as the aging rock star, or even as the once promising songwriter, but we do buy him as the guy who was too busy for his family and is clumsy and unaware of the pain he causes, even while trying to do the right thing.

Writer/director Dan Fogelman takes few risks in his first shot at directing. His past writing includes the excellent Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and the not so excellent Last Vegas (2013). His common theme seems to be the emotional struggle of men, and we definitely know that’s an unsolved mystery. His effort here may not be a bull’s-eye, but it’s not without some merit – despite the Pacino distraction.

watch the trailer:

 


LAST VEGAS (2013)

November 9, 2013

last vegas1 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve been writing about “Gray Cinema” for the past few years and the understandable desire of Hollywood to capitalize on the aging population. Take that trend and mix it with new-age buddy pictures like The Hangover and Bridesmaids, and you can at least imagine what director Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure movies) and writer Dan Fogelman (the very entertaining Crazy Stupid Love) were attempting to create.

The film’s poster recalls the glory days of the Rat Pack, so taking this foursome of sixty-something year old childhood buddies to Las Vegas presents many possibilities. There is no shortage of enthusiasm from the four leads: Michael Douglas as Billy, the smooth-talking lifelong bachelor who proposed to his thirty-ish girlfriend at a funeral; Morgan Freeman as Archie, suffocating in a cocoon of family over-protection; Robert Deniro as Paddy, the isolated widow wallowing in grief for the past year; and Kevin Kline as Sam, the stir-crazy Florida stereotype bored with 4:00 dinner parties and his marriage.

last vegas2 These top notch actors give it all they have, but there is just no rescuing such fluff and lack of substance. The script is frustrating throughout and just gives no credit to an audience that might appreciate even a gag or story line that wasn’t obvious from the opening credits. Mary Steenburgen‘s character provides a brief respite, but the developments are so absurd that neither her character or the story line can be taken seriously.

Toss in a bar fight, bikini contest, mandatory viagra jokes, a world class Casino penthouse, an inconceivable party that would be shut down by fire code, and a wasted cameo from 50 Cent … and you get a lame, flat, mostly unfunny story that barely skims the surface of an endless stream of possibly interesting topics.  It’s certainly not at the level of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel … or even Space Cowboys.

I’ll end by stating that I am a huge fan of Gray Cinema, but my request is that some effort go into the script and production so that viewers are provided with an entertaining and intelligent and respectful experience. There is no need to dwell on the bits of culture that have passed them by or the physical ailments that plague their activities. Luckily, the stellar cast prevents this one from flopping to the level that the script deserves.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the novelty of a cast of leading men all in their sixties and seventies OR you get a kick out of knowing the punchline of every joke before it actually happens

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect a certain level of “smarts” in movies … even comedies.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMnr-R7BkkU

 


CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.

July 31, 2011

Greetings again from the darkness. From the opening scene it is clear we aren’t in for a typically lame rom-com with caricatures instead of characters and punchlines instead of feelings. Instead, this one is all about the characters and their feelings … realistic feelings of pain, anger, hope and frustration. Now don’t misunderstand. It doesn’t go too deep and there is still plenty of humor in the moments.

Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are sharing one of their many restaurant moments over the course of their long, steady marriage. Only  this time, something spoils the comfort zone. Emily says she wants a divorce and later tells Cal that she had an affair with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon). What follows is as close to real life reactions as we could ever hope for in a rom-com. Cal is hurt. The kids are angry. Emily is confused. Their friends take sides.

The intertwining story lines and characters are both sad and funny. We see how people react when they are attracted to others … or not. We see how people react when they wonder if a decision was rash. We see how basically nice people try to do the right thing for themselves and others, but still mess it up sometimes.

 After moving out, Cal heads to a local upscale lounge that seems to be stocked with gorgeous women and only a handful of men … every night. In real life, the line of men waiting to enter would be wrapped around the block. Still, one of the regulars is Jacob, played by Ryan Gosling. He is a thing of beauty himself, and always quick with just the right line. His science is making women believe he cares about nothing but them. Cal is discouraged by Jacob’s incredible success rate. Jacob notices Cal’s negative vibe and agrees to train him. But first, the makeover … wardrobe, haircut and conversation skills.

The polar opposite effect of what you might expect from Hollywood – these nice people begin to question their direction. Cal longs for Emily. Emily still thinks about Cal, but dates her co-worker. The son (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on the older baby-sitter, who has a crush of her own. Even Jacob falls hard for new attorney Hannah (Emma Stone) who has just walked out on her wet rag boyfriend (Josh Groban) who offered her a job, rather than a ring. Oh what a tangled web we weave. And that’s just the stuff I can tell you!

 Cal’s first conquest utilizing his newly learned skills is a teacher played with full energy by the terrific Marisa Tomei. She only has a couple of scenes, but as usual, Ms. Tomei makes the most of her screen time. The high school baby sitter is played well by Analeigh Tipton, but it’s interesting to note (in real life) she is 3 days younger than law school grad Hannah (Stone).

 All of the actors are top notch here. Steve Carell continues to get better … this is a superior movie to Date Night (with Tina Fey). Julianne Moore is solid, though her character is mostly mopey. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both outstanding. Gosling is known for mostly offbeat, dark independent films but shows again how easily he slides back into sex symbol. Ms. Stone is headed for super-stardom. She was really good in Easy A and has a star-making turn in the upcoming film The Help. After that, it’s on to the new Spider-Man for her.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are the co-directors and were responsible for the much less mainstream I Love You Phillip Morris, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Surprisingly the film was written by Dan Fogelman, who is known for his script writing on the animated Cars movies.

Chances are good that more women will want to see the movie, but the surprise is, many men will relate to what’s going on with the Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling characters. There is enough humor to keep everyone happy and enough strong writing to say this is a very good movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: it’s date night and you are looking for a good comedy/drama made for adults

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you find it difficult to find any humor in watching a couple struggle through a divorce, no matter how well made it is.