KATIE SAYS GOODBYE (2017)

June 6, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. This little gem played at the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival, and at that time, I wrote about how writer/director Wayne Roberts was one of the new and most exciting filmmakers to burst on the scene. Now, more than two years later, the film is finally getting the distribution it deserves, and I still worry there will be those who decry another film exploiting women as a victim of society. I also still stand behind my case that there is another way to view the story of Katie, a good-hearted dreamer played beautifully by Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”, THOROUGHBREDS, READY PLAYER ONE).

Initially, Katie’s unflappable optimism seems unlikely, if not impossible. She walks miles to work along a dusty highway. She lives in a trailer park with her deadbeat mother (Mireille Enos), whom she supports both financially and emotionally. She works double-shifts as a waitress at a truck stop, where she’s known to toss in a couple extra bucks when a particularly frugal customer stiffs the other waitress. She also works a side job as a prostitute for locals and a regular trucker named Bear (Jim Belushi). Despite a life filled with *stuff*, Katie doggedly pursues her dream of saving enough money to move to San Francisco and become a hair stylist. Of course, since she’s cursed with a heart of gold, she has to save enough money for her own trip AND for her mother to live on. Her dream seems lofty, yet almost achievable.

When Katie falls for Bruno (Christopher Abbott), the new guy in town, she tries her best to fall in love and pull him into her dreams for a better life. It doesn’t take long before Bruno is made aware of Katie’s side job, and her fantasy world begins to crumble. On a daily basis, Katie happily (of course) drinks up the truck stop wisdom of diner owner Maybelle (Mary Steenburgen), who spouts such gems as “A man with a smile will hurt you”. Good intentions abound here, but we realize … even if Katie doesn’t … that the reality of people’s self-interest is the immovable object that so often tears down the dreamers of the world.

As with much of life, one’s enjoyment of the film is likely contingent upon the perspective you bring. A caustic, cynical view will have you waving off Katie’s lot in life as exploitive movie-making; while those who can share even a spoonful of Katie’s spirit, will find themselves rooting exuberantly for her dreams to come true … or at least to sustain her refreshing outlook on life and people. Director Roberts recently released his newest, THE PROFESSOR, starring Johnny Depp. He remains a filmmaker to follow.

watch the trailer:


A WALK IN THE WOODS (2015)

September 2, 2015

a walk in the woods Greetings again from the darkness. Bill Bryson is a terrific and prolific writer known over the last thirty years for his books on travel, science and language. His comedic and witty approach makes his work accessible to even casual readers, yet somehow this is the first of his books to receive the Hollywood movie treatment. Envisioned in 1998 as the third collaboration between Robert Redford and Paul Newman (who died in 2008), there is even a scene reminiscent of Butch and Sundance pondering a cliff side jump/fall. This final version instead teams Mr. Redford with a grizzled Nick Nolte.

Redford stars as Bryson (aged about 30 years over the novel) who has had a successful writing career and has a quite comfortable life with his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) and their family. His problem is that he hasn’t written anything new in years, save the Forewords for the books of other writers. He is feeling unsettled and almost spontaneously decides to hike the Appalachian Trail (more than 2000 miles). His wife is as supportive as you might guess … she laughs at him, begs him not to go, provides documentation of the dangers (bears, bacteria, bludgeoning), and finally agrees only if he can persuade someone to go with him.

Enter Mr. Nolte as Katz, an estranged friend from years ago, who may or may not be on the run from law enforcement. We do know he is overweight, a recovering alcoholic, quite horny (for a man in his 70’s), and in a point that matters little … was not actually invited by Bryson to go on the trip.

What follows is senior citizen slapstick (a new sub-genre for my gray cinema category). The tone is extremely light-hearted … in the mode of The Bucket List, Grumpy Old Men, and “The Odd Couple”. Some of the scenery is breathtaking, but mostly we get face-offs between the intellectual and thoughtful Bryson, and the slovenly horndog Katz. Director Ken Kwapis is best known for his TV comedy work on “The Office”, “Malcolm in the Middle”, and “The Larry Sanders Show”. Redford and Nolte are (very) old pros who handle the material and surface humor with ease. Nolte brings such a physicality to his performance that it left this viewer wondering if he was really that talented or (hopefully not) that frighteningly out of shape. Either way, it works.

Additional support work comes in quick spurts in the form of Nick Offerman as an REI salesman, Mary Steenburgen as a motel owner, Susan McPhail as a memorable Beulah, and motor-mouthed (and funny) fellow hiker Kristen Schaal whose character would have most hikers hoping for a bear attack.

The film is clearly aimed at a very narrow group of movie goers, and it’s likely that group will be pleased with what they see on screen. The philosophical aspects of the book are mostly glossed over here, and for hiking in the mountains, there is an obvious lack of edginess. The objective is laughs, not deep thought. Objective achieved.

watch the trailer:

 


SONG ONE (2014)

January 21, 2015

 

Song One Greetings again from the darkness. Fresh off her Oscar winning performance and infamous onscreen haircut in Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway stars in this infinitely smaller film from writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland.  A Sundance Film Festival entry, the movie winds through the clubs, coffee shops and second hand stores that make up the indie music scene in northern Brooklyn.

Ben Rosenfield (“Boardwalk Empire”) plays Henry, the kind of musician so enamored with his own folk sound that he is willing to play for pocket change in the subway tunnels. Failing to adhere to mother rule #1, Henry pays the price for not looking both ways prior to crossing a street in front of a New York cabbie. Next thing we know, he is comatose in a hospital bed. Henry’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) beckons wayward daughter Franny (Anne Hathaway) home from her worldly pursuit of a Ph.d in Anthropology.

When last they spoke Franny and brother Henry had one of those nasty sibling fights where angry words were spoken and no apology followed. It’s been six months and now a guilt-ridden Franny sits by his hospital bed hoping for a shot at redemption. She soon discovers Henry’s journal and begins re-tracing his favorite hang-outs and bands. This journey leads her to a meeting with Henry’s musical idol James Forester (played by Johnny Flynn). Lacking suspense, the story leads right where one would expect – James and Franny taking a liking to each other, Franny discovers her own love for music, and the songwriting block that has burdened James slowly breaks down.

The film is at its best in the musical moments. Flynn is a very talented guy as a musician (not so much as an actor), and 5 or 6 live musical acts make appearances as the story unfolds. Most of the quiet scenes between Hathaway and Flynn seem a bit awkward, but not awkward in the good way that leads to real romance. Connection and re-connection are quite common in times of tragedy, as we are at our most emotionally vulnerable state. The biggest issue here is that everything develops just as we would expect … no surprises, no twists. Even the re-connection of Franny and her mother is a sweet scene where Franny sings along to America’s “I Need You”.

Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame) and Jonathan Rice co-wrote the original songs used in the film, and as stated, a hand full of other bands perform their own material. For a musically based romantic drama, it does have a couple of really nice scenes, but for the most part, the drama and romance lag the music.

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