ON THE ROCKS (2020)

October 4, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sofia Coppola cemented her place among top filmmakers with the instant classic LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003). Sure, she’s had other successes with THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999), MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), and SOMEWHERE (2010), but it’s her thought-provoking and self-analytical film with Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson that struck an emotional nerve for so many. This time, she reunites with Murray in what could easily be a companion piece, as it’s both familiar and not.

Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) stars as Laura, who is trying to find herself as a writer amidst the fatiguing responsibilities that go with being a mother and wife, and having age 40 staring her in the face. Marlon Wayans (WHITE CHICKS, 2004) plays her charming, just-started-a-new-business husband Dean, who may or may not be cheating on her. Whether it’s Laura’s concern over how “boring” she has become, or the little clues she finds … well, it’s probably nothing … but doubt grows into suspicion.

It’s at this point when Felix (Murray), Laura’s father, enters the story. Felix is a likable cad (probably an archaic word, but it fits), who has never been much of a father to Laura. Instead he chases fun and skirts, and begins convincing Laura that all men are like him. Director Coppola examines contemporary relationships, and the insecurities that come with a long-term commitment. Can one person be enough? Can men be trusted?

What follows is an offbeat father-daughter husband-spying adventure, and an ill-advised one at that. Felix pulls up in his Alpha Romeo, and the two enjoy caviar on their stakeout – with the top down on the convertible. This leads to a scene clearly written to take advantage of Bill Murray’s talents. As he zips the sports car through the city, he gets stopped by New York’s finest. Depending on your perspective, you’ll either view this as a prime example of white privilege, or as the benefits of spending one’s life being a good listener, attentive to others – a people person making connections.

There is a great line from Felix that carries a great deal of weight, although it’s easy to treat it as a ‘throw away” line. He advises Laura, “You need to start thinking like a man.” Spending time with her dad makes her wonder if he’s right – do all men think like him? This plays well against the non-stop yapping mother Laura gets regularly cornered by when dropping her daughter for school. Jenny Slate is perfectly annoying as the mother who not only still thinks the world revolves around her, but also that the world is still interested.

Of course, we know, and Laura figures it out: her father worships her. He may gallivant around the globe looking for his next notch, but he absolutely realizes what a beautiful soul his daughter is, and what a better person she is than him. Probably the best lesson Ms. Coppola offers is that communication is key … or lack of communication can cause a thought to spin out of control. Sofia Coppola and Rashida Jones are both daughters of giants in their field, and likely could relate to having a larger-than-life figure cast a shadow. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Barbara Bain as Gran. Ms. Bain rose to fame as Cinnamon Carter in the 1960’s TV series “Mission: Impossible”. She’s now 89 years old and still working! Sofia Coppola has delivered yet another film that’s interesting and provides terrific conversation after watching.

watch the trailer


THE SOUND OF SILENCE (2019)

September 12, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Turn that down!” Those are words we all hear when growing up and then repeat as our own kids come of age. Noise pollution rarely receives the same attention as that of air or water, and most of us are startled when we find ourselves out in the country – an environment lacking the everyday electronic, power cell, and human-generated noises we have come to accept and ignore. Director Michael Tyburkski and his co-writer Ben Nabors have expanded their 2013 short film PALIMPSEST to feature length, so that we might hear their point.

Peter Sarsgaard stars as Peter Lucian, a so-called “house-tuner”. Peter has turned his life’s work into an occupation where he visits his clients’ homes and identifies the imbalances and problem areas caused by sound. For example, his clients may have relationship issues or experience exhaustion from poor sleep. Peter uses his exceptional hearing and experience to identify an ‘out-of-tune’ radiator or buzzing toaster, with the expectation of improving the clients’ daily life. The premise is actually quite fascinating, especially for the city dwellers of New York City … a place Peter has meticulously plotted and charted sounds on a map over the years.

And yes, you are correct. Peter is a bit lonely and isolated from society. His interactions are exceedingly low-key and mundane, though it’s quite obvious in the early scenes that he take immense pride and pleasure from his work. Well that is, until he can’t seem to solve new client Ellen’s (Rashida Jones) issue. These first few scenes are the best the film has to offer. The additional scenes with Peter and Ellen seem forced, almost formulaic, as it slips into possible relationship mode for two people who don’t seem comfortable at all in the world. The other piece of this puzzle has to do with Peter’s quest for acceptance by the scientific community, specifically his mentor Robert Feinway (the always fun Austin Pendleton). Tony Revolori (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) plays Peter’s assistant Samuel Diaz, and screen veteran Bruce Altman plays an investor who wants to monetize Peter’s work.

Silence is not empty, but immeasurably full.” It’s this type of philosophy that the filmmakers use to add weight to Peter’s work. They keep us guessing as to whether he is a bit of a Savant … or more of a crackpot. It’s a high concept and ambitious idea accompanied by sound design that provides a constant tone/ringing that is sometimes faint, and sometimes prevalent. More of Peter’s early sound detective work would have proved more interesting, but you’ll likely find yourself a bit more attuned to the sounds around you after watching.

watch the trailer:


THE MUPPETS (2011)

December 6, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Since I recently selected an animated film as my favorite movie of the year (Toy Story 3), it is to be expected that I would make the time to see the first Muppets movie produced in 12 years. Since the driving forces behind this one were Jason Segel and director James Bobin, who was the creator of “Flight of the Conchords”, one of my favorite cult TV shows … I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Although Bret and Jermaine don’t make an appearance (Bret McKenzie did write the hilarious songs), there are still laughs for adults, as well as the expected gags for kids.

 Jason Segel and Amy Adams star, along with Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black and a long list of celebs who I won’t name here … it’s much more fun to spot them as they arrive on screen. The old gang is back, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo (now owner of plumbing company Royal Flush), Fozzie Bear (in a casino act), Animal (straight out of Anger Management) and of course, my favorites, Statler and Waldorf.

 There are a couple of tributes to the genius that was Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. You will notice a poster of him outside the studio and a photograph on the wall of Kermit’s office. No real need to go into the story, but I think most will be satisfied not just with the cameos and songs, but also the depth of the story. There is a reason for the Muppets revival, and I am very happy to see the band is back together!

On the downside, there were more than a few times that I felt the filmmakers rushed through in a sloppy manner or were just plain lazy with the script.  There is also a touch of Hollywood left-wing propaganda, as the bad guy is an oil man. Most of the cameos seem more like a flash, and they offered much potential for improvement.  That said, I laughed a few times and the kids in the theatre seemed quite entertained.  So ….. Mahna Mahna

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a Muppets fan OR would like to introduce a new generation to the gang and the genius of Jim Henson

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer not to tap into the “kid” side of your personality

watch the trailer:


OUR IDIOT BROTHER

August 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. If you have seen the trailer, you might have the wrong impression. This is no laugh riot. Sure there is plenty of humor and you will laugh, but it’s not the slapstick goofy movie the trailer leads us to believe. Oddly enough, one could make the case that it’s actually a “message” movie.

Director Jesse Peretz has teamed with his writer sister Evgenia Peretz to dive into the often strained relationships between siblings – especially brother and sister, or in this case, brother and 3 sisters. There are numerous examples of how we often cheat or lie our way through life, or at a minimum, trick ourselves into believing (or not) certain things about ourselves and our loved ones.

 The movie begins just like the trailer. Ned (Paul Rudd) is working an organic vegetable booth and is approached by a UNIFORMED police officer to buy some pot. Ned laughs it off until the officer says “It’s been a really rough week“. See, Ned is an incredibly nice and trusting guy. He always wants to help people and treat them kindly. This scene sets the stage … is Ned really an idiot or are we the idiots for not being as open and trusting as he? Once Ned is released early from jail (good behavior, of course), he naturally returns to the organic farm and his girlfriend of 3 years (Kathryn Hahn). To his surprise, he finds she has moved on to Ned’s apparent replicant Billy (TJ Miller). Even worse, she has no plans to let Ned take his beloved dog, Willie Nelson.

 So Ned heads off to re-connect with his mom (Shirley Knight) and 3 sisters. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a hard-driving career woman trying to break into the magazine writing world. She believes in stopping at nothing to nab a story, or even take advantage of her neighbor (Adam Scott). Liz (Emily Mortimer) is a dedicated Mom and frustrated wife married to Dylan (Steve Coogan), a documentary filmmaker and scoundrel. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is the world’s worst stand-up comedian as well as a quasi-lesbian in love with lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones in ridiculous wardrobe and glasses).

 Not going to ruin the individual story lines, but obviously Ned spends time with each of his sisters and manages to wreak havoc for each, and anyone else within ear shot. At least that’s how they see it. All he really does is act nice, be open and tell the truth. The chips then fall where they may. Each of the sisters learn a bit about Ned, but even more about themselves.

 As previously stated, there are plenty of laughs in this one, but also moments of drama and reality that work like a bucket of ice dumped on your head. The above cast is excellent and also includes Hugh Dancy and Bob Stephenson as the police officer from the opening. Mr. Stephenson is underrated and very talented. He can do much with little. For proof stay for the outtakes over the closing credits. His is a gem.

While the sisters are all quite annoying in their own special ways, it is Paul Rudd who makes the film work. He has the eyes, nature and smile to pull off this character as someone who could actually exist. Someone we all wish we could be a little more like.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you see the genius of Paul Rudd OR you are intrigued with the idea of living your life with complete honesty

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a raunchy slapstick Apatow-type OR you prefer to miss the worst ever lesbian wardrobe captured on film

watch the trailer: