MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (2016)

March 24, 2016

big fat2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 14 years since the Portokolas family took over movie theatres, the box office, and casual conversation in most every social setting. I’ll readily admit that, despite my leanings toward more serious film fare, I was a huge fan of the 2002 surprise mega-hit. The movie was refreshing and observational, with commentary on proud cultures and helicopter parenting – but mostly it was funny. Bundt cakes and Windex will forever be a part of movie lore … as this sequel reminds us.

Given the Hollywood proliferation of sequels, re-makes and re-imaginings, the only thing surprising here is that it took so long for Wedding number 2. And yes, that is the only surprise. Nia Vardalos obviously wrote this script as a love letter to the fans of the original. It fits like a warm blanket – comfortable and familiar. The setting, the characters and the jokes … all familiar … yet still pleasant and easy to watch.

With that title, we know we are in for another Greek wedding. However, Toula (Ms. Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) have one daughter – 17 year old Paris (Elena Kampouris), and her big decision is whether to stay local for college or leave Chicago and the family for NYU. Since the wedding is not for the daughter, it falls to Toula’s parents. It seems Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) have been living in sin for 50 years – all because the priest never signed the marriage certificate. Let the histrionics begin!

Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) stays true to the spirit of the Vardalos script and legacy, and much of the movie plays like one big inside joke for fans of the original. Windex make an appearance in each of the three acts, and we get a shot of decorated Bundt cakes, some exaggerated make-up and hair styles, and a steady stream of family members who just can’t help their propensity for being loud and up in everyone’s business.

Most of the original cast returns. Andrea Martin is back as scene-stealer Aunt Voula, and Mama-Yiayia (Bess Meisler) gets her usual “pop-ups” plus a touching moment in the wedding spotlight. New faces include Alex Wolff (brother of Nat, son of Polly Draper) as Paris’ prom date; and Rita Wilson (also a producer with her husband Tom Hanks) and John Stamos have a couple of scenes as a Greek couple; while Mark Margolis (“Breaking Bad”, “Better Call Saul”) appears as Gus’ brother from the homeland.

Nostalgia and familiarity are the keys here, and there is no reason to be overly-critical of a movie that is so pleasant and light-hearted. “There you go!”

watch the trailer:

 


HELICOPTER MOM (2015)

May 21, 2015

helicopter mom Greetings again from the darkness. Just when it seems everything we say or do is offensive to someone and most every topic is considered politically incorrect, a movie shows up that seems to say it’s ok to be offensive if you are trying to make a worthy point. It’s kind of like someone defending their actions by saying “I’m not a racist – I have an African-American friend.”

Helicopter parenting is defined as an overly involved parent who thinks they are best serving their kid by staying involved in every detail of life – from homework to activities to love life. As sad as this phenomenon is, this movie from director Salome Breziner and writer Duke Tran is so exaggerated, a more appropriate title would be Chainsaw Mom. Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) stars as the clueless and relentless single mom obsessed with her son … especially the uncertainties of his sexual orientation.

Ms. Vardalos seems to have patterned her approach to the role after some of the wide-eyed over-the-top characters of Keenan Thompson from “SNL”. This is beyond caricature and it’s also beyond annoying. The character is not believable in any sense, and is fortunately offset by more grounded performances from Jason Dolley, who plays her unfortunate son, and Mark Boone Junior, who plays her ex-husband and his father.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on a topic like teenage sexual ambiguity/confusion with a comedic approach; however, much of this comes off like a cheesy sitcom. The only thing missing is the laugh track … and maybe Vardalos hiding behind a potted plant while wearing Groucho glasses and mustache. I say maybe, because it’s possible the latter occurred during one of the many segments where I was rolling my eyes or shaking my head in disbelief.

Fortunately, there were some genuine father and son moments between Dolley and Boone. In fact, Boone’s performance is so good, it’s like someone changed the channel every time his character appears. Dolley and Skyler Samuels (The Duff) also have some very sweet and believable scenes together. It’s just a shame that a moment as poignant as the confused son asking his father “When did you know you were straight?” is offset by mom publicly humiliating her kid and herself in yet another unimaginable display of inappropriate and cartoonish behavior.

The supporting cast also includes Kate Flannery (TV’s “The Office”), Gillian Vigman (The Hangover), and Dallas’ own Hockaday girl Lisa Loeb – who has a role as a teacher, and wrote the song for the opening credits.

Confusion over sexual orientation in teenagers is certainly a topic worthy of film treatment, as is the cultural phenomenon of helicopter parenting. The slapstick comedy approach seems to overwhelm the first message, while the 1980’s sitcom style destroys any commentary on the second.  The only person who thinks a boy’s best friend is his mother is Norman Bates. And Hitchcock showed us how that turns out.

watch the trailer:

 


LARRY CROWNE

July 3, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I view Tom Hanks as one of the all-time giants among movie actors. He is true Hollywood royalty. When I heard he was producing, directing, co-writing and starring in a new film (his first directorial outing since That Thing You Do), I assumed it was his first step in becoming the new Clint Eastwood. Sadly, Mr. Hanks broke the number rule of movie-making: have a point to make or a story to tell. What we get is a time warp when mainstream movies could be successful just by putting nice people on screen.

 And nice people is what we get. Tom Hanks plays the ultimate nice guy as Larry Crowne. Crowne is the type who attracts nice people and makes them even nicer. Even when he loses his job, we never doubt that this nice guy will land on his feet and even be better off eventually. Oh no you don’t … stop trying to guess the ending! Other nice people are … EVERY STUDENT in the speech class taught by Julia Roberts, the L.A. scooter club that recruits Crowne, the Marine owner of a diner who hires Crowne, the lottery-winning neighbors of Crowne and the dean of students at the community college. The nicest one of all is Talia, played delightfully by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the awful “Undercovers” show that lasted less than one season).

The closest thing to a bad guy is Roberts’ husband played by Bryan
Cranston (“Breaking Bad”). His fault? He is a bit lazy (after writing two
books) and he likes to look at swimsuit models on the internet. Sure,
when the movie starts, Ms. Roberts character is at her lowest. She
clearly drinks too much to mask her misery, though it’s never obvious
just why she is so miserable.

But this is not a movie about conflict or tension or anything not nice
… even though it begins with a nice guy getting laid off from his
job. The story and screenplay are co-written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos.
You will remember her as the creative force behind the gem My Big Fat
Greek Wedding. Unfortunately, this film is nowhere close to the level
of that one (conflict with Greek traditions).

 If Mr. Hanks’ goal is to become an important filmmaker in the vein of Clint Eastwood or Frank Capra, he will need to study the films that have made him rich and famous. Or at least study the best screwball comedies or rom-coms. A good story must have CONFLICT! There needs to be something that creates interest for the viewer. Even children’s books give us something – a mean raccoon, a wicked witch.  Simple, bland, generic, nice, likable and swell can all play a part … but they can’t be EVERY part! My two favorite things about the film are George Takei and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Mr. Takei (of “Star Trek” fame) provides some of the few laughs in the film as a very meticulous Economics professor. His voice and mannerisms inspire us to smile and ultimately laugh outloud. Gugu is just terrific as the idealistic free-spirit who transforms Crowne and lights up her every scene. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

 As you might expect, supporting actors lined up to work with Hanks and Julia. Among those not mentioned above are Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji B. Henson (Crowne’s neighbors), Wilmer Valderrama (Gugu’s boyfriend), Rita Wilson (the mortgage officer), Pam Grier (professor), Grace Gummel (Meryl Streep’s daughter as the ‘pasta’ speech student), and it’s always nice to see Bob Stephenson on screen. He is one of the more underutilized deadpan comedic talents around.

There is little doubt that this film will find an audience. An audience
that demands little from a movie. There is nothing wrong with two hours
of back-slapping and giddy smiling … as long as you get a story to go
along with it.  The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s like looking at a family photo album.  Everyone is smiling.  Everyone looks happy.  But nothing is really happening.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you believe thinking and movie watching should remain separate activities OR you simply want to see a lot of nice people onscreen for two hours

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe filmmakers owe us something and shouldn’t cash in on their reputation … even if their name is Tom Hanks.