Posts Tagged ‘Whoopi Goldberg’

Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson

Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson

“BIG STONE GAP” My rating: C

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Much star power has been brought to bear on “Big Stone Gap,” writer/director Adriana Trigiani’s adaptation of her best-selling series of semiautobiographical books set in her childhood home of Big Stone Gap, W. Va.

So why isn’t this film any better?

Perhaps for fans of Trigiani (The Shoemaker’s Wife, the Viola series for young adults) the film will be a welcome opportunity to see on the big screen beloved characters from the printed page.

For this newbie the film was mildly (but only mildly) entertaining and mostly forgettable.

Set in the early 1970s (and actually shot in the real Big Stone Gap), the picture stars Ashley Judd as Ave Maria Mulligan, operator of the local drug store and at age 40 widely considered an old maid.

(One must regard as suspect any movie that promotes Ashley Judd as an old maid.)

Shortly after the film begins Ave’s mother — an Italian immigrant — dies, leaving behind a letter revealing that Ave is the love child of a romance back in the Old Country. Mom was pregnant upon arrival in the U.S.A. during WWII and wed the first man who showed an interest.

Anyone wanna bet that before this story plays out Ave’s mysterious biological father makes an appearance?

Meanwhile Ave has to deal with the hassles of directing the annual town pageant, an affair that comes off like a bargain-basement version of Branson’s “The Little Shepherd of the Hills.”

And there’s also a visit to the burg by U.S. Senate candidate John Warner and his movie star wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Ave’s longtime beau is Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), an aspiring and ego-driven thespian who has never consummated their relationship. Hmmmm. Theodore could have been the inspiration for “Waiting for Guffman.”

Meanwhile Ave is drawn to her childhood friend, the hunky coal miner Jack (Patrick Wilson), who has his hands full with a predatory divorcee (Jane Krakowski).

Other townspeople — all eccentric to one degree or another — are portrayed by Jenna Elfman, Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony LaPaglia, Jasmine Guy, and Judith Ivey.

This is the first feature from Trigiani, a veteran TV producer (“The Cosby Show,” “A Different World”), and while she may be intimate with the material she lacks the directing skill to bring it to life.

“Big Stone Gap” clunks along, making a stab at humor here and a grab at pathos there.  But despite the large and attractive cast, it never gets out of low gear.

| Robert W. Butler

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Chris Rock in "Top Five"

Chris Rock in “Top Five”

“TOP FIVE” My rating: B  

101 minutes | MPAA rating:R

Chris Rock long ago conquered the comedy concert stage and then put his mark on the TV sitcom with his semi-autobiographical “Everybody Hates Chris.”
But he had little luck on the movie screen, his most artistically successful effort being the 2009 doc “Good Hair.”
“Top Five” changes everything. Written and directed by Rock, this meta-saturated comedy/drama may be the biggest surprise of this holiday film season.
Yes, it’s funny, packed with in-your-face dialogue and snarky observations about celebrity and show business. It is frequently off-the-charts rude. It has broad audience appeal.
But it’s also achingly romantic. It’s not an art film, but an art film fan will find plenty to chew on.
Andre Allen (Rock) has abandoned a huge standup career and a series of hit action/comedies — he played a cop in a bear costume — to pursue his vision as a serious artist. (This movie would make a great double feature with “Birdman,” in which an action star played by Michael Keaton is on the same quest.)
Andre is in New York to promote his new film, “Uprize,” an aggressively unfunny (or at least not intentionally funny) historical epic about the bloody Haitian slave revolt of the 1790s. He’s also scheduled to attend his bachelor party, an event being videotaped for the Bravo reality show starring his [ glamour-puss fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union).
Things aren’t going well. Nobody likes “Uprize,” and increasingly Andre feels like an unpaid extra in Erica’s Bridezilla-ish publicity stunt. (Think the first Kim Kardashian nuptials; “Top Five” even lists her current husband, rapper Kanye West, as one of its executive producers.)
And to put the frosting on this ugly cake, Andre’s handlers have set him up to spend the day with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times reporter profiling  the floundering star. Given that one of the Times’ critics regularly savages his movies, it’s little wonder that Andre isn’t looking forward to submitting to a journalistic evisceration.


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