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Anna Gunn

Anna Gunn

“EQUITY” My rating: C ( (Opens Sept. 2 at the Glenwood Arts and Cinemark Palace)

“Equity” arrives on theater screens with a promising and unusual pedigree.  This female-centric financial thriller was produced, written and directed by women.

That’s nice. If only it were a better film.

Written by Amy Fox and Sarah Megan Thomas, “Equity” wants to tap some of the same emotional/intellectual/political  buttons hit so deftly in “Margin Call,” “Arbitrage,” and “The Big Short” — only with a feminist perspective.

Well, it’s got the woman’s angle, all right. But on most of the other counts it’s lightweight stuff.

Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad” fame) is a hot shot at a huge investment bank. Her job is to put together big IPOs that can bring in millions if not billions of bucks. Currently she’s putting together a campaign for a Silicon Valley outfit that specializes in internet security.

But Naomi isn’t feeling the love she should. Her boss has passed her over for a big promotion and she’s still sore after her last IPO went belly up. She’s told she may be too aggressive (something nobody would use as a negative were she a man).

Small wonder she spends much of her down time pounding away at a heavy bag.

At least there’s a man in her life, a coworker, Michael (James Purefoy), who manages investors’ portfolios. But Michael is a mixed blessing. Loverboy isn’t above milking Naomi for information on upcoming deals that he can use to his advantage — information that once leaked  could land her in criminal court.

In the meantime she advises a meeting of younger women that she’s in it for the money and the feeling that success provides. “Don’t let money be a dirty word!” she tells them.

Continue Reading »

 ** as Roberto Duran

Edgar Ramirez as Roberto Duran

“HANDS OF STONE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Aug. 26)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Hands of Stone” is  “Raging Bull” lite — a boxing biopic minus the genius of Martin Scorsese.

But it does have Robert DeNiro.

Written and directed by Venezuelan Jonathan Jacubowicz, the film takes on the troubled life and career of Roberto Duran, the Panamanian pugilist whose ring experiences were as much a product of his dysfunctional childhood and Third World resentments as they were of hard sweat and tremendous innate talent.

In a decade of championship fighting, Duran held the lightweight belt, engaged in a long-running war of words (and blows) with American champ Sugar Ray Leonard, and sometimes  behaved in private and in the ring like a spoiled child.

“Hands of Stone” feels like an attempt not to excuse that behavior but to put it in perspective.

Early scenes establish Roberto as the son of an American soldier who impregnated his mother and then vanished, setting  up in the future boxer a lifelong antipathy toward the United States.  That fury was only stoked by political upheaval in Panama over efforts to take back the Canal Zone from the gringos (the American-run canal, guarded by U.S. soldiers, effectively divided the country in half).

We see the young and charming (also unschooled and illiterate) Roberto (played as an adult by Edgar Ramirez) wooing a wealthy blonde schoolgirl, Felicidad (Ana de Armas), and starting a family even as his career is taking off.

In a sense “Hands of Stone” is a dual biography, its second subject being boxing trainer Ray Arcel (DeNiro).

When in 1971 he first saw Duran fight, Arcel had been out of boxing for nearly 20 years. In the early ’50s he had incurred the wrath of the mobsters (represented here by John Turturro) who ran the boxing business. He barely survived an assassination attempt and was allowed to live only if he steered clear of the fight game.

But he’s so moved by Duran’s potential that he gets the Mafia’s permission to train the kid with no pay.

Roberto is cocky and tough and at first resents the discipline Arcel demands. But slowly he begins to see his trainer’s genius, especially when it comes to mapping out the strategies that can win or lose a fight.

 

Continue Reading »

** and

Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyer

“SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU”  My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Aug. 26)

83 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Sight unseen, “Southside with You” sounds like a really bad idea…or at least one with a booby trap around every corner.

The subject of writer/director Richard Tanne’s feature debut is the early relationship of Barack and Michelle Obama.

This is the sort of project one might expect 20 years after the Obamas leave the White House. By that time history will have had a chance to sort things out.

It’s certainly not what one anticipates while the man is still sitting in the Oval Office.

But put those misgivings aside. “Southside with You” is a terrific film — funny, romantic, respectful without being stuffy and, yes, inspiring.

Every time it looks like things will bog down in discourse, politics or hagiography, this well-acted effort gracefully sidesteps the crisis.

Set in 1989, the film begins with Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) in her parents’ Chicago home getting gussied up for an appointment. Meanwhile young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyer) is doing the same thing in a haze of cigarette smoke.

A Harvard law student, Barack is a summer intern at a big Chicago law firm where second-year associate Michelle is his adviser. He’s asked her to accompany him to a community meeting on the city’s South Side. (Her mama teases her about spending time with “another smooth-talking brother.”)

Michelle is less than impressed when Barack picks her up in a rattletrap sedan filled with cigarette butts. She must straddle a rusty hole in the passenger-side floorboards.

And she’s indignant when she discovers that their meeting is several hours away, that Barack hopes to fill the time with date-like activities like a museum visit and lunch.

“We work together,” she protests. “A date would be inappropriate.”

Michelle explains that it’s hard for a young black woman in a big law firm to be taken seriously.  Dating the summer help is out of the question.

“It’s not a date until you say it is,” Barack concedes. But we all know that before the day is over it’s going to be something bigger than that.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article97555617.html

Chris Pine, Ben Foster

Chris Pine, Ben Foster

“HELL OR HIGH WATER” My rating: A- 

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Hell or High Water” is about two brothers on a crime spree. But David Mackenzie’s film has a lot more on its mind than mere suspense and thrills.

Imagine the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” filtered through the sensibilities of a Bruce Springsteen ballad about sibling tensions and economic alienation, enacted by players who in some instances are giving their best perfs ever, and set against a bleak West Texas landscape so carefully rendered you may find yourself trying to spit out the dust.

And although it was filmed a year ago, it  damn near serves as an ethnological study of Trump voters.

The film begins with a bank heist.  Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) pull on ski masks and barge into a branch of the Texas Midlands Bank in an oil spot of a rundown town. Brother Tanner is clearly enjoying his power over the employees and customers — a bit too much, actually. He has to be admonished by his sibling after pistol whipping a slow-moving bank employee.

Because Ben Foster has so often played eye-rolling loonies, we assume that his ex-con Tanner is the criminal mastermind behind the unfolding series of bank robberies. Actually it’s the low-keyed Toby who came up with the plan to steal  money from the same bank threatening to foreclose on the family’s run-down ranch.

Estranged from his wife and two teenage sons and way behind on his alimony, Toby hopes to pay off the mortgage with the bank’s own money. At least he’ll be able to leave the family spread to his boys. Heck, there may even be black gold under it.

The brothers have a system, hitting different branches at off hours, then burying the getaway cars out on the back 40. They launder the stolen cash by gambling at an Indian casino up in Oklahoma.

But it’s a given that at some point the hair-trigger Tanner will deviate from the plan and throw the entire enterprise into jeopardy.

Because there’s a relentless lawman on their trail. Jeff Bridges is Marcus, a crusty old Texas Ranger facing an uneasy retirement. Marcus has been catching crooks for so long that he thinks like them; he’s just waiting for one little screwup.

In the meantime he passes the time making politically incorrect observations about the heritage of his long-suffering half-Commanche partner (Gil Birmingham).

That’s the plot.  But the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan (who most recently gave us the first-rate drug war saga “Sicario”) is noteworthy for all the other stuff going on just below the surface. Continue Reading »

Mike Bersaglia, Keenan

Mike Berbiglia, Keenan-Michael Key

“DON’T THINK TWICE”  My rating: B+

92 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

Fledgling authors are advised to write about what they know.

Filmmaker Mike Berbiglia has taken that message to heart. While other new directors are bent on referencing other movies and duplicating long-established genres (horror, crime, raunchy comedy), Berbiglia makes movies about what he knows.

And he’s getting really good at it.

A standup comic, Berbiglia made his directing debut in 2012 with “Sleepwalk With Me,” a semi-autobiographical comedy based on his own career, relationship issues and especially a life-threatening sleep disorder.

His followup feature, “Don’t Think Twice,” is also set in the world of professional comedy. It feels so awesomely authentic you just know almost everything in it has actually happened to Berbiglia.

Loosely plotted — to leave room for tons of character development — “Don’t Think Twice” observes the six members of The Commune, a struggling improv group in New York City.

These  comics work menial jobs so that they can devote the weekend to putting on shows in a falling-down theater before small but generally appreciative audiences. They’re improv purists who rely on the ticket buyers to pitch ideas which they instantaneously turn into comedy gold.

They live for their hour a week in the spotlight. And for vindication on a larger stage.  Maybe, just maybe, they can land a gig on “Weekend Live,” the “SNL”-ish network powerhouse capable of turning unknowns into household names.

They’re a motley bunch.  Allison (Kate Micucci) is a big-eyed waif.  Lindsay (Tami Sagher) is mostly big — with a hefty trust fund that allows her to live in her own nice apartment while everybody else shares a ratty flat.

Bill (Chris Gerhard) is so timid-looking you wonder he has the guts for improv.  Samantha and Jack (Gillian Jacobs, Keenan-Michael Key) are an item; she’s a team player, while he’s perfectly willing to grandstand.

In charge (if that’s the right word) is Miles (Berbiglia), who’s been doing improv the longest and whose chances of stardom peaked years earlier. Now he teaches comedy classes and halfheartedly sleeps with his female students.

Continue Reading »

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant

Simon Helberg, Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant

“FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS”   My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Aug. 12)

 110 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

The human capacity for self-delusion has long been fodder for dramatists. Usually it’s the stuff of satire or tragedy.

“Florence Foster Jenkins,” though, has it both ways.

Written by Nicholas Martin (his first feature after a long career in Brit TV), directed by Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena,” “The Queen” ) and starring Meryl Streep in a prime slice of Oscar bait, this real-life yarn encourages us to laugh uproariously at the human foibles on display but sends us away in a somber mood.

It’s the rare film that discovers dignity in foolishness.

The title character was a real person, a New York heiress (1868-1944) who became famous — or infamous — for her out-of-tune renditions of operatic arias.

Frears’ film unfolds in the last year of Jenkins’ life. Our guide to Florence’s oddball world is Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), a scrawny, struggling pianist who as the film begins is hired as Florence’s accompanist and discovers to his horror that he’s backing one of the century’s worst voices.

What’s more, he’s now immersed in Florence’s bizarre household.

Streep’s Florence has more money than good sense. A lover of classical music, she has devoted much of her fortune to private recitals at which she is the main attraction.

A zaftig dowager (Streep wears a convincing fat suit) with alarming taste in fashion and the stage presence of an eager child, Florence honestly believes that she has a great voice.

This delusion is encouraged by the blue-haired biddies who are her devoted fans and by her common-law husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (an excellent Hugh Grant).

Bayfield is a failed Shakespearean actor — one of those hammy thesps whose delivery is all about the words but rarely about their meaning — who for three decades has been sponging off the Jenkins fortune.

Continue Reading »

Eat-That-Question-Frank-Zappa-in-His-Own-Words-509x410“EAT THAT QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS” My rating: B+ (Opens Aug. 26 at the Tivoli)

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Rock legend Frank Zappa once observed that while he might be a household name, most people had never heard a bar of his music or knew why he was famous.

Nearly a quarter century after his death from prostate cancer, things haven’t changed all that much.  Zappa — founder, composer and lead guitarist for the Mothers of Invention — still has die-hard fans (present company included), but he’s off the radar of most millennials.

“Eat That Question” has the power to change that.

A documentary about Zappa could go in a dozen different directions.  Filmmaker Thorsten Schutte has chosen to concentrate almost exclusively on what Zappa had to say about himself and his music in dozens of filmed interviews.

Oh, there are snippets of live performances — enough to convince even the tone deaf of Zappa’s adventurous explorations of musicial styles ranging from doo-wop to classical, of his guitar skills and of the extraordinarily high degree of musicianship he  demanded of his players.

But mostly this is Zappa talking — and what a talker he was!

It begins with Zappa telling a interviewer that being interviewed is an artificial situation “two steps removed from the Inquisition.”

What’s amazing, given the stupefying cluelessness of many of the media types who grill Zappa (one calls him “Mephistophelian”), is the weary tolerance he exhibits, allowing his dry wit to now and then comment on the vapidity of the whole process.

(It should be noted here that Schutte’s film provides a mostly positive view of Zappa, a man quite capable of behaving like an asshole — asshole-ism and genius not being mutually exclusive qualities. The cast members of “Saturday Night Live” have voted Zappa their least favorite guest host of all time…no small thing given that Steven Seagal was also in the running. Well, Zappa didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he wasn’t about to cave to some network executive’s idea of humor.)

He was a social commentator whose lyrics gnawed away at what he saw as the vapidity of contemporary American culture. He wasn’t overtly political — he was way too much a rugged individualist to wave the banner for any organized cause — but Zappa was in his own way a great moralist.

Yeah, he often used naughty language and adolescent sex jokes and crude humor. But what used to be shocking now seems pretty mainstream. The messages he sent — especially his contempt for religion and a misleading mass media — are as vital as ever. (In one TV interview Zappa predicted that America was rapidly heading toward a right-wing theocracy.)

Continue Reading »

sausage-party-post1“SAUSAGE PARTY”  My rating: B

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The animated “Sausage Party” is so thick with puerile sexuality that a viewer must choose between bailing on the whole experience or embracing it in a spirit of unfettered adolescent humor.

I  mean, here’s an R-rated movie about a hot dog named Frank (Seth Rogen) who dreams that Brenda (Kristen Wiig), the bun he has worshipped from afar, will open up and allow him to nestle his full length in her soft, spongy interior.

Other characters include a lesbian taco with a Mexican accent, a bottle of tequila that talks like a wise old Indian chief, a neurotic jar of honey mustard, a box of grits and even a used condom. Then there’s  Lavosh — a Middle Eastern wrap — who is always exchanging insults with a Jewish bagel. The villain of the piece is the megalomaniac Douche (yes, a feminine hygiene product).

These characters are brought to life by a Who’s Who of voice talent that includes Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd and James Franco.

Narratively “Sausage Party” feels likes something a bunch of stoners dreamed up at 2 in the morning (duh).

It’s July 3 in the supermarket, and all of the products sitting on the shelves are pumped because so many of them will be “chosen” by the “gods” (i.e., human shoppers) and taken out of the store to what they are sure will be a paradisiacal eternity in the Great Beyond. They  celebrate their imminent liberation in a rousing song (music by Alan Menken).

Frank and his fellow wieners (they’re crammed in eight to a package) have been gazing lustfully at a nearby package of buns (six to a package…go figure), awaiting the day they will be joined in the hereafter,  “where all your wildest and wettest dreams come true.”

Continue Reading »

Logan Lehman, Sarah Gaddon

Logan Lerman, Sarah Gaddon

“INDIGNATION”  My rating: B

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

As a producer and/or writer of most of Ang Lee’s films, James Schamus has established a reputation for intelligent —  even intellectual — filmmaking.

Now the CEO of Focus Features has made his directing debut, and as you’d expect from the man who wrote an entire book about one of the most confounding and polarizing films ever — Carl Theodore Dreyer’s emotionally arid “Gertrude” — it is brainy, challenging and not a little perplexing.

“Indignation” is based on Philip Roth’s 2008 novel, and a more faithful adaptation can hardly be imagined. Even to the point of duplicating things in the novel that have little hope of working on film.

Logan Lerman (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Fury”) is Marcus, a New York Jew who has landed a scholarship to Winesburg College in Ohio.

The year is 1951 and as long as he remains a student in good standing, Marcus can avoid the draft that is gobbling up his childhood friends for Korean cannon fodder. Staying in school is, for all intents, a life insurance policy.

But he finds Winesburg’s middle-American ethos and white Protestant outlook disconcerting. For starters, Marcus is assigned a dorm room with the only other two Jews  on campus who aren’t members of the Jewish fraternity.  These three individualists — one is probably gay, the other antisocial — form their own little ghetto.

And then there’s the weekly chapel requirement, which demands that all students show up to hear the campus chaplain drone on about Jesus.

Here’s the thing about Marcus.  Though he knows relatively little of the real world — he’s a virgin, he’s never worked outside his father’s butcher shop — he’s a borderline genius. And with that comes a degree of arrogance and, well, indignation at the way he’s being treated.

Things look up when he meets blonde coed Olivia (Sarah Gadon), whom he takes to a fancy dinner (Escargot! This son of a kosher butcher has never dreamed of such excess) and who rewards him afterward with a matter-of-fact blow job.

Marcus is so stunned, his moral compass so bent by this experience that he immediately ends the relationship.  Although he can’t resist standing outside her dorm late at night trying to find Olivia’s window.

Continue Reading »

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen

“CAPTAIN FANTASTIC” My rating: B- 

118 minutes |MPAA rating: R

There’s something phony…or at least seriously muddled…at the heart of “Captain Fantastic.”

Which doesn’t keep it from being intermittently entertaining and even borderline charming.

Matt Ross’ dramedy stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, the hippie-dippie/drill instructor Dad to six kids he’s rearing deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

A typical day for these youngsters — they range in age from 5 to 17 — consists of rigorous physical exercise, survival training, hand-to-hand combat and some serious hitting the books. (And I do mean books…there’s no Internet or electricity out in the bush.)

They bathe in streams, grow food in a greenhouse and hunt the local wildlife, and at night hold family jam sessions around the campfire (Ben plays a mean guitar, not to mention the bagpipes).

Ben is what you might call a left-wing survivalist. He’s convinced of the immorality and uselessness of most modern society, and has trained his kids to parrot his views. The family doesn’t celebrate Christmas; the big day on their calendar is Noam Chomsky’s birthday, which Ben marks by presenting each of his offspring with their own very wicked-looking hunting knife.

They’re like a military unit, moving in perfect harmony whether running down a deer or shoplifting groceries.

Just because they’re growing up in the boonies doesn’t mean the Cash kids are intellectually deprived.  The  youngest of them can recite the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, and the 12-year old is reading Middlemarch. The oldest, Bodevan (George MacKay), has a handful of acceptance letters from Ivy League schools; he’s trying to decide when to inform his father of this latest triumph (since it will mean leaving the fold).

Where is Mom, you ask? We never see her — alive, anyway. We learn that she’s been gone for several months for hospital treatment. And the bulk of the film consists of the clan’s road trip to Albuquerque to attend her funeral.

The opening scenes of “Captain Fantastic” are kind of idyllic — if you can ignore the fact that Ben is raising a brood  largely unequipped to deal with contemporary society.

But once the family members find themselves dealing with the outside world — in the person of Matt’s sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband (Steve Zahn) and his wife’s very rich, very opinionated, and (one suspects) very Republican father (Frank Langella) — we realize just what fish out of water they are. Continue Reading »

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

“JASON BOURNE” My rating: C+

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s good to see Matt Damon back in action.

“Jason Bourne” marks his return to the renegade spy franchise after sitting out 2012’s “The Bourne Legacy” (in which Jeremy Renner played a fellow super assassin).

But let’s get real: This installment is less a continuation of the saga than a recycling of stuff we’ve already seen.

To say it’s superficial is giving it too much credit.

Writer/director Paul Greengrass (who helmed Nos. 2 and 3 in the series, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”) doesn’t even make a token effort at original plotting or character development. Nobody in this film has an inner life.

What he concentrates on to the exclusion of all else is movement.

The film is one long chase around the globe (Greece, Iceland, D.C., Berlin, London, Las Vegas) captured in jittery handheld camerawork and rapid-fire cutting. Is there one shot here that runs for as much as five seconds? Don’t think so.

At first it’s exciting. The movie radiates energy like a pubescent boy on a three-day Red Bull binge.

After a while it becomes numbing.

We encounter our fugitive hero on the Greece/Turkey border, where he has a gig as a street fighter. Basically he beats up other pugilists for money. It’s ugly work, but it keeps Bourne off the grid.

Enter former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has turned on her former employers and has now discovered evidence of the origins of the Treadstone superspy program — including a revelation about the crucial role played by Bourne’s late father.

But back in Virginia, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, looking ever more like a 3-D topographical map of Arizona) is on the hunt for our man. Dewey is putting the final touches on a sixth-generation version of Treadstone and doesn’t want a wild card like Jason Bourneout there to spill the beans.

He employs the talents of cyber analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to track down Bourne. Soon Heather comes to believe that maybe Bourne isn’t such a bad guy after all (although her long game is hard to pin down).

But Bourne still must contend with another assassin, known only as “The Asset” (Vincent Cassel), who carries his own grudge against our hero. Continue Reading »

xxxxxx

Julian Dennison

“THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE”  My rating: B-

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi had a classic cult hit with 2014’s “Things We Do in the Shadows,” a hilarious faux documentary about a pack of inept bickering vampires living in a rickety urban home. With its talking-head technique and absurdist attitude it was a close cousin to the comedies of Christopher Guest (“Best in Show,” “Waiting for Huffman”).

For his followup, “The Hunter for the Wilderpeople,” Waititi is channelling Wes Anderson, especially Anderson’s sublime “Moonrise Kingdom.”  If you’re going to pattern yourself on a recent film, that’s a pretty good one to emulate.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a rotund, sullen 13-year-old juvenile delinquent. He’s been a ward of the state most of his life and now he’s out of options. Having run away from countless foster homes, he’ll be on his way to a prison if his latest placement doesn’t work out.

As the film begins he’s being deposited on the farm of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill), a married couple living in glorious isolation deep in a fantastic landscape of jagged mountains, jungle and winding streams. Paula (Rachel House), the brusque social services lady who delivers him, doubts that Ricky can be turned around…but at least this far from civilization there’s a limit to how much harm he can do or how far he can go.

Bella, a talkative woman desperate for motherhood (and quite capable of killing a wild boar with a knife), does her best to make a home for this resentful wild child. Her husband Hector, a bearded survivalist type, is unimpressed by this surly interloper with a gangsta/rapper wardrobe.

Wapiti’s screenplay s boils down to an extensive chase. After an initial adjustment period, Ricky softens and starts to get comfortable with life in the sticks. Hector  still isn’t crazy about this wise-ass city kid, but they become partners in crime and soon are hiding in the woods and living off the land while an ever-growing army of cops, park rangers, bounty hunters and others try to bring them in.

Like an Anderson movie, “Wilderpeople” features titled chapters (“A Real Bad Egg,” “Another Door,” “Broken Foot Camp”) and daring tonal shifts, going from physical comedy to heartstring-tugging emotion, social satire to a celebration of innocence to a tactile emersion in a gorgeous natural world.

Continue Reading »

Edwina and Patsy

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina and Patsy

“ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE” My Rating: C-

90 minutes | MPAA rating:  R

Making “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” must have been a blast.

Think about it: A reunion of old coworkers and their beloved characters, awesome scenery in the south of France, and a never-ending stream of famous-face  cameos — Rebel Wilson, Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Chris Colfer, Lily Cole, Jerry Hall, Lulu (yes, the “To Sir With Love” singer), Graham Norton, Gwendoline Christie, Perez Hilton, Stella McCarthy and more skinny supermodels than the brain can process — that turns the movie into a celebrity version of Where’s Waldo.

If only some of the fun had ended up on the screen.

Fans of the old “Ab-Fab” TV show will be bitterly disappointed. Newcomers will wonder why anybody bothered.

It’s enough to make you look back fondly on the “Sex and the City” movies.

The long-running ’90s Brit sitcom featured Jennifer Saunders (who scripted the series and this movie) as Edina Monsoon, a  hoplessly inept p.r. maven to London’s fashion industry, and and Joanna Lumley as her running buddy Patsy Stone, an aging former model who can rarely think past where her next alcohol/pharmaceutical fix is coming from.

It was a savage comedy about a couple of reprehensible people.

Eddie and Patsy are still reprehensible, but the charm has worn very, very thin.

Continue Reading »

Steve Gleason

Steve Gleason

“GLEASON”  My rating: A- 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Gleason” will leave you a wreck…but in a good way.

A simple description of this documentary — it’s about a young man who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and must face the likelihood of an early and ugly death — is enough to scare most of us away from the movie theater.

I felt that way, too. But for all the pain, fear, anxiety and depression it contains, “Gleason” is an uplifting, life-affirming experience.

Despite being too small for the NFL, Steve Gleason became a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. He was, according to his wife Michel, “A superhero athlete but super smart — the best of both worlds.”

Gleason became the special teams captain, playing with balls-to-the-wall fury. In the Saints’ first home game after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Gleason blocked a punt. The play became a symbol of the city’s comeback and elevated him to celebrity status in the Big Easy.

He retired in 2008. In 2011 he was diagnosed with ALS. A month later Michel learned she was pregnant.

The film that became “Gleason” started as a videoblog for the couple’s unborn child: “A gift for you, my child, whom I have not yet met.  My intention is to pass on as much as I can of who I am to you.”

Meanwhile two local filmmakers — David Lee and Ty Minton-Small — began documenting the Gleasons’ lives, practically moving in with the couple and recording nearly 1,200 hours of intimate, heart-breaking footage.  Three years into their subject’s illness they turned their footage over to documentary maker Clay Tweel (“A Fistful of Quarters: The King of Kong,” “Finders Keepers”), who whittled it down and shaped it into a two-hour feature.

Steve Gleason...on the field with the NFL's Saints

Steve Gleason…on the field with the NFL’s Saints

There is stuff in here that will make you laugh. You’ll also wince, get angry, and tear up.

Despite receiving a death sentence, Steve Gleason declares that “It’s not going to crush my life even if it crushes my body.”

“Gleason” depicts in often harrowing detail how the neurological condition rapidly strips the once superb athlete of the ability to walk and eventually robs him of speech. The physical deterioration is terrifying.

But so are the lacerating emotional moments. At times Steve becomes furious at the hand fate has dealt him: “I want to punch something but I can’t.  All I can do is scream.”

 

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