Posts Tagged ‘Courtney B. Vance’

Courtney B. Vance, Mamoudou Athie

“UNCORKED” My rating: B

104 minutes | No MPAA rating

In “Uncorked” a young man must choose between fulfilling family expectations or following his own drummer.

It’s a universal story that in the hands of writer/director Prentice Penny takes on a very specific cultural sensibility while remaining a gently satisfying experience.

Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) has pretty much had his future planned for him since childhood.

His parents, Louis and Sylvia (Courtney B. Vance, Niece Nash), have for years operated a Bar-B-Que joint in Memphis.  Dad has pretty much assumed — without asking — that Elijah will take over the biz…or at least step up to run a second eatery being readied.

But the young man has other ideas.  Currently he works in a liquor store whose owner (Matthew Glave) is a certified sommelier, and Elijah has over the months developed a tremendous interest in fine wines.  So much so that he risks disappointing his judgmental Papa to enroll in a sommelier class that will drain his savings and even send him off to France for several months.

“Uncorked” is at heart a family drama; it also is a sort of rough introduction to the world of wine afficianados who can with a sniff and sip tell you the grape variety, the country of origin, the specific vineyard and even the year of the vintage.


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Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

“BEN IS BACK” My rating: B

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Before it goes belly up in the third act, Peter Hedges’ “Ben Is Back” presents itself as one of the more insightful films about drug addiction.

Like that other contemporary drug drama, “Beautiful Boy,” this one focuses on the relationship between a parent and an addicted child. But whereas “Beautiful Boy” was presented from the POV of an adult, “Ben…” focuses heavily on the young user.

Indeed, Lucas Hedges (the writer/director’s son) is both heartbreaking and terrifying as the title character, who pops up at his family’s suburban New York home on Christmas Eve when he was supposed to be in rehab.

His mom, Holly (Julia Roberts), finds herself welcoming her long-lost son even as she scurries about emptying the medicine cabinets. She wants to believe Ben when he tells her that his drug counselor okayed this Christmas visit, but after thousands spent on recovery programs and repeated relapses, she’s not getting her hopes up.

Her first outing with her newly returned son takes them to the local cemetery, where she bluntly asks Ben where he wants to be buried.  Or does he prefer cremation?

Ben’s teenage sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is even more cynical. She as much as tells her brother that the family no longer needs his kind of trouble. (There are also a couple of very young step siblings, the result of Holly’s second marriage to Neal — played by Courtney B. Vance; his  deep pockets have financed Ben’s so-far-unsuccessful efforts to turn his life around.)

Still, Ben is so earnest and eager to please — playing with his stepbrother and stepsister, offering to do chores — that hearts melt a bit.

Hedges’ script is interesting in that it avoids actual drug use and the nuts and bolts of rehab, focusing instead on the human damage Ben has left behind.

Attending a local AA meeting, he meets a young woman to whom he used to sell drugs. She’s a wreck, and he feels at least partly responsible.


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“ISLE OF DOGS” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

So much is going on in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” that it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it.

Perhaps it’s best to let our eyes do all the work, for this is one astoundingly beautiful animated film.

Shot with the same stop-motion techniques as Anderson’s earlier effort, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” this new entry employs the filmmaker’s usual deadpan humor with gorgeous Japanense-inspired designs and a yarn about human/canine relations.

It’s part sci-fi, part “Old Yeller.”

In an introductory segment designed to look like Japanense screens and woodcuts and propelled by throbbing Japanese drumming, an unseen narrator (Courtney B.  Vance) relates how, after an outbreak of “dog flu” and “snout fever,” all canines in the city were banished by the cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi, head of the ruling Kobayashi clan.

The dogs were transported to an island of trash off the coast where they learned to dig through the refuse for sustenance.

But not all humans are anti-dog.  A few still long for the days of “man’s best friend”; a pro-pup scientist is even developing a cure for dog flu.

The plot proper (the screenplay is by Anderson, who developed the story with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) kicks in with the arrival of Atari, the ward of the Mayor who has stolen a plane and crash landed on the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots, his beloved guard dog, who was torn from him by the canine exodus.

The boy immediately teams up with a quartet of puzzled pooches (voiced by Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) and the suspicious Chief (Bryan Cranston), who understandably nurses a bad case of anti-human sentiment. (more…)

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