‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is easy going summer fun

Don’t too hard, just enjoy the escapism.

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If you were here first, doesn’t that give you some sway for how you are treated or how you end?

While J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World, is an exciting, fast paced adventure film-the real themes strike home the hardest when it focuses on the victim’s in these tales: the dinosaurs themselves.

The creatures walked this precious rock first way back when, and find themselves defending not only the ground they walk on, but their future and mere existence as well.

Colin Trevorrow-who co-wrote the sequel while stepping away from the director’s chair-reintroduced the world to the majestic creatures in a theme park setting three years ago, and that commercial product backfired on the park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), when her lab decided to make a hybrid dinosaur that helped destroy the park. Continue reading “‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is easy going summer fun”

‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is a career highlight for Nick Offerman

Brett Haley’s gem is a faithful tribute to the power of music.

Frank Fisher (a never-better Nick Offerman) is in love with music; everything about it excites him and ignites a story involving his past. However, he’s fallen out of love with selling music, as in records at his classic vinyl shop that is seeing rent rise and customers decrease. Frank is so old school that he smokes a cigarette inside the store when it is clearly against the rules. He doesn’t care about the rules, because in his eyes, music has no rules. He also drinks cheap beer and straight bourbon.

What Frank would like to do is make music with his daughter, the brilliant Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is about to leave for medical school, but has an incredible voice that shouldn’t be wasted. This father-daughter connection is the heart and soul of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, a heartwarming flick that combines flavors of John Carney’s Begin Again with Jon Favreau’s Chef. This is the kind of movie that will honestly make you feel good while making you blow the dust off your record player for an impromptu night of tunes.

Haley’s secret ingredient in storytelling is simplicity and restraint. We don’t have to know Frank’s entire backstory and what makes him tick, because the filmmakers are going to tell us over the course of 97 minutes. As he did with Sam Elliott in The Hero and Blythe Danner (who has a sweet supporting role here) in I’ll See You in My Dreams, Haley gives a versatile actor the role of a lifetime with Offerman and Frank.

Offerman gives such a convincing performance that it makes you want to go looking for Frank in New York. You think he’s out there, popping cynical anecdotes off like he flicks cigarette ashes on the street. While he won’t win an Oscar or make you reevaluate what determines cornerstone acting, the actor slips on the soul of this retired musician like a broken-in pair of sneakers.

Unlike an actor trying to find his way into a role like a drunk would wander around the perimeter of his apartment building, Offerman’s take on Frank feels lived in and not forced. Haley gave him a fine side piece on The Hero, but serves him an entire pie here. I hope they continue to work together.

Clemons more than holds her own with Offerman, playing a diligent young woman who can’t decide between momentary bliss with her father or a future that looks like a perfectly made, if boring, bed. Sam also happens to be in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), which further complicates her desire to relocate across the country. What if art was knocking on your door even though a proven, if lonely, career was honking the horn outside in a car ready to uproot your entire life? Clemons makes you feel that pain.

Ted Danson puts in solid work here as Frank’s friend, a bartender who is at ease with life and tries to push Frank in that direction. Danson is one of those guys who can pop up in any movie and lend it some comedic wit and grace. Toni Collette is also good as Frank’s landlord and “friend” who sees something in him that still appears blurry and unrealistic to him. As Frank’s eccentric and troublesome mother, Danner plays completely against her part in Haley’s earlier film-and it’s hilarious.

Great acting is when a person doesn’t need prosthetic to make you believe they are someone else. All the actors do that here with ease in roles that were made for their talents. That’s a rare thing.

The music, arranged and written by Keegan DeWitt (who wrote a beautiful song for The Hero), is catchy and unique. An alternative rock with some punk riffs thrown in. Clemons and Offerman sing and perform the tunes, which helps a lot in the convincing department. Frank singing a quiet, sad song for Sam will make you tear up a little because you know it entails their past. Again, the actors convince. If you are going to make a film about music, it better convince.

I liked how the ending didn’t tie a neat bow on things, instead leaving them open to interpretation and conversation. The running time flies by, feeling more like a tease than a “check your watch” convention. As the credits approach, you feel them and wish there was more time with Frank, Sam, Dave and Leslie. The special films make you feel that, like there’s a second chapter that won’t be forced upon your plate.

Hearts Beat Loud is one of the warmest films I’ve seen in a long time. It preaches hope without beating you over the head with a message and calms your soul with the music it presents. Instead of being a mere crutch, the songs exist as supporting actors carrying their own weight.

Like Jeff Nichols, Brett Haley makes simplistic, yet potent, indie films. There are no costumes or special effects. Just people playing music as if it aided their hearts.

Wherever Haley goes next, I’m following. You should to.

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ shows you the decency of Mr. Rodgers

Get ready to meet Fred all over again.

If you look up “genuine” in the dictionary, the definition runs like this: truly what something is said to be, authentic. Fred Rodgers was genuine.

Most television personalities apply a persona to their presentation-an outer layer of flash and dazzle, just in case their personality doesn’t ring true. Rodgers didn’t need anything extra. He was the real deal, an honestly good man who had a simple idea: if you can connect with a child, you can help them. If you can help one, you can help many.

Director Morgan Neville’s plan with the new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, is also simple, and that’s shining a light on one of the nicest guys in the history of show business, perhaps the world. He doesn’t draw up controversy or try to dig up dirt. Let’s be honest. There isn’t much when it comes to Rodgers, someone who didn’t like what he saw on television once upon a time and wanted to change the game. Continue reading “‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ shows you the decency of Mr. Rodgers”

‘The Seagull’ is perpetually unhappy, failing to resonate

The first rate cast can’t save it

Everybody in The Seagull is unhappy-and I don’t mean a slight unhappiness. I’m talking pure misery.

Constantine (Billy Howle) hates (aka envies) the success of playwright and author Boris (Corey Stoll) while pining for the attention of Nina (Howle’s On Chesil Beach co-star, Saoirse Ronan), who adores Boris. Marsha (Elizabeth Moss) is perpetually unhappy, preferring an unkempt look and a flask of whiskey, because she’s in love with Constantine and he won’t even acknowledge her existence, but school teacher Mikhail (Michael Zegen) thinks she’s great–to no avail.

They all reside under the hot air balloon presence of Irina (Annette Bening), an accomplished actress who imprisons her company in countless tales about how great and important she is. Lost most in her ego is Sorin (Brian Dennehy), the elderly brother on his final legs who just wants to see the city one more time.

There’s a doctor (Jon Kenney), stable hand (Glenn Freischer, who’s in everything), and the head maid (Mare Winningham).

When they all gather at Sorin’s estate, several things come to a head, predictably and melodramatically.

Michael Mayer’s film meanders in the fast lane of the 20th Century’s rich and lustful, showing us hollow souls with no backbone or reason to command your attention or respect. Watching this movie is like going to a rich person’s house in Ladue and being told not to drink or complain, just observe.

A great cast is mostly wasted, stuck playing to their tired strengths in a script that could have used a shuffle. Bening is a talented actress, but she seems to play one speed these days: the aging woman who wants to stay young. Blah.

Dennehy, Kenney, Winningham, and Ronan aren’t necessarily bad, but they don’t linger long after the credits roll. They serve a purpose as in fill this space and read lines.

Howle and Ronan had chemistry in On Chesil Beach, but they weren’t playing mere caricatures in that heartbreaking film. Here, they are sworn yet torn lovers trying to resist the easy urge to break bad or take a shortcut to love. We watched this already in a better film.

Stoll and Moss fare the best, because they play against type and have room to run around in the role. Boris is a great writer, but a chained up soul who has a weakness for strong women-and Stoll taps into that easily. Moss embraces the futility of Marsha’s existence, creating a few spare laughs amid the seriousness of the plot. I wanted these two to run off together and start their own movie.

Stephen Karam’s screenplay was based off Anton Chekhov’s play, so the morose attitude should be expected. Chekhov was one of six siblings growing up, so some of these stories are probably true. I just wish this one had more purpose and more of the actors weren’t playing in their safe zones.

I didn’t hate The Seagull. I just forgot about it quickly after I left the theater. Like the love between two people in this world, the desire I had wasn’t really genuine or strong enough to care about what happened next to these characters.

Perhaps if Mayer had taken the classic play and turned it into a dark comedy instead of playing it completely straight. Maybe that would have created more of a spark and less restlessness.

In the end, a fine cast is wasted in a forgettable drama about unhappy rich people.

‘On Chesil Beach’ provokes thought on an uncomfortable subject

Uncomfortably numb to your feelings, the movie breaks ground

What is a marriage without intimacy?

Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) are newlyweds spending their big night on a romantic island called Chesil Beach. For most couples, this would represent the most exotic getaway, like climbing into a painting and escaping the rigors of the world. For Edward and Florence, it becomes a trial by fire where their past, present, and proposed future will be dissected and observed.

In other words, they have a big fight that brings to light a lot of uncomfortable truths about how men, women, marriage, and sex are supposed to go together-and what happens when the spark just isn’t there.

Welcome to On Chesil Beach, a challenging and heartfelt new film that should get you talking.

It’s always a trustworthy sign when you see a book adapted for the big screen by the same person. Ian McEwan wrote the bittersweet love story in 2007, and it’s his hands on the screenplay that first time director Dominic Cooke places a classy touch on for the theater version. Taking a story from the page to the visual screen is never a bumpy road, but with a tale like this, the director can manage the ride even with bald tires.

It helps that the actors bring their potent A-game to the screen. Ronan just dazzled us with her witty portrayal of teenage rebellion in Greta Gerwig’s Oscar darling, Lady Bird and captured our hearts with the enigmatic love story, Brooklyn, as well as Atonement. Here, she settles easily into Florence’s habitat, a woman defined by her past, which included a fairly conventional and strict upbringing.

Florence’s upbringing clashes with the unconventional past of Edward, who is besieged with innocence by Howle, who looks like the long lost brother of Daniel Bruhl. While Edward has plenty of dialogue, Howle’s best moments are when he lets his highly expressive face do some of the heavy lifting, especially in the second half of the film. You may know and adore Ronan, but you’ll leave wanting to see more of Howle. He carries the final third of the film, when all the weight of the film’s big themes start to settle.

You see, Florence grew up where the grass grew nearly as tall as the money that it surrounded, while Edward was riddled with an overworked father and two sisters who had to help with a mother struggling with brain damage. He’s more dirt under his fingernails, but has a love for history, music, and wildlife. In a way, he’s a wilbury cut off from his band of rebels, trying to track down innocence.

He found it in Florence, a classical violinist who dreams of playing in the neighborhood theater and making it as a musician. While the film takes off on their awkwardly cluttered wedding night, the story takes us back to their upbringing and shows us not only how they, but how they grew closer together.

Everything comes to a head at Chesil Beach. If you think you know where it’s going from the trailer, think again. This isn’t Desperate Housewives, the 1962 version. What transpires between Edward and Florence that night will define the rest of their lives, and the film does a great job of keeping you off balance during the first hour before anything big happens.

For me, a late scene between an older man at a record shop and a young girl who seems overly familiar broke my heart, and this is where Howle’s restrained and understated approach paid off so well. In this short scene, the entire movie floods over your emotions. You won’t understand heartache until you watch this movie.

I respect On Chesil Beach’s brave storytelling and the ability to ignite a conversation about how sexual desires played out back in the 1960’s and the effect it could have on a couple people from different backgrounds. This is the kind of story and film that McEwan needed to write, the kind of tale a scribe must get out of his head. It’s also the perfect fodder for a romantic drama on the big screen.

There’s nothing fancy about love, and that’s how Cooke and McEwan treat the characters. Unlike most creators, they won’t cater to how the audience wants a story to end. Their biggest concerns are staying true to the characters they created. I respected the bravery of this film, even if a late moment gave me an urge to reconsider.

The way the film balances a rock n’ roll soundtrack, which is Edward’s speed for life, to the classical and restrained music, which is what defines Florence, is extremely well done.

Life is defined by choice, which can be triggered by desire. Your need to want something will force a decision to be made going one way or another. I liked how On Chesil Beach got me thinking about choice, marriage, and the effect it can have on a life 10, 20, or even 40 years later.

An unconventional love story that spans nearly 45+ years, On Chesil Beach will challenge you, provoke a reaction, and start a conversation about what a marriage could-and could not-live without.

Pulse-pounding and romantic, ‘Adrift’ captivates you

An exceptionally done true story with feeling

For Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley), drifting through life at the age of 24 was something she chose to do. She wore the freedom like a shield of honor hanging on her shoulder. With a broken home and high school behind her, the teenage Tami left San Diego, California to go find a life on the great open sea.

She eventually found love in the equally free-spirited sailing Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), as well as a catastrophic hurricane a few months after it. Even Tami didn’t want to drift as much as she did after the hurricane wrecked her boat.

Baltasar Komakur’s Adrift details the true story of how a courageous woman reacted to having a storm rip through life, stranding her at sea. Using the same thrilling high-wire survival techniques he brought to the similarly powerful true story in 2016’s Everest, Komakur never allows the camera to stray too far from Woodley’s Tami. It’s her show and the actress owns it.

If you think you know what kind of talent Woodley is, pulling from doomed projects like the Divergent series or her solid work in HBO’s Big Little Lies or The Spectacular Now, rethink that notion. The 26-year-old actress officially arrives with this tough role, which calls for Woodley to tap into every single emotion you can imagine. What if you met the love of your life and thought anything was possible, even sailing across the world on a boat? She makes you believe and connect to that emotion. I’ve long adored the actress, but this performance is something else. She commits mind, body, and soul here. She’s been good before; here, Woodley is great.

Claflin is up to the task in a role that’s not a walk in the park. He holds his own in a role that required a poetic wit along with a handyman’s sea intellect, but one where the actor couldn’t go overboard. Again, you may seem to have a read on the actor from his more popular role in the Hunger Games series, but he turns a new page here, breathing life into a guy who never let a challenge overcome his desire to live life to the fullest.

It is the chemistry that Woodley and Claflin create that makes the film reach a higher level. If you don’t love them nearly as much as they love each other in the film, the story doesn’t resonate as completely. They are the faces of the film with a cast list that doesn’t stretch past ten names. Komakur wisely isolates the action around them, sticking to the story and resisting the urge to stuff the film with unneeded characters. Woodley and Claflin make you believe in Tami and Richard.

The script has three prints on it, but you wouldn’t know it from the execution of the actors. Aaron and Jordan Kandell along with David Branson Smith each lend something unique to the story without simply tirelessly passing the laptop around the room. The moments after the storm where Tami and Richard are battling conditions that eat away at the soul slowly carry restrained yet potent dialogue.

Do yourself a favor and avoid trailers or articles on the film. Allow Tami and Richard’s story to hit you flush like a vicious wave in the middle of the ocean. The less you know, the better the film will hit you. There are certain parts of the climax that will hit you harder if you know little going in other than two lovebirds trying to survive for weeks while stranded 1,500 miles from shore. Like two people set to sail across the sea, only take the essentials into the theater.

If there are more heartbreaking true stories about mother nature and natural disasters pushing humans to the limits, I hope Komakur tackles them. He manages to resist the Michael Bay urge to just stick to the action, instead finding a silver lining between the theatrics and the personal drama. He knows how to make the action strike you in a poignant manner.

Let’s put it this way. There’s a moment at the end of the film with Tami that will just break your heart. Make you sad in a certain way. If Woodley/Claflin don’t light the spark and if Komakur doesn’t allow the chemistry to mature, the moment wouldn’t resonate as much.

I didn’t expect much going in Adrift. Maybe an escapist thriller with a decent lead performance. I ended up getting a lot out of it.

If you want a different kind of date night with your loved one, take him or her to see Adrift, a romantic disaster film-and a powerful true story that moves.

‘Life of The Party’ is another Melissa McCarthy stinker

Watch this if you have 90 minutes of your life to kill.

Life of The Party marks the third collaboration between husband and wife combo, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. They need to stop making movies together.

While funny at times and avoiding the cinematic intersections that resemble terrible, Life of the Party is a wholly forgettable movie experience, relying on tired jokes, worn out cliches, and an urge to bring back humor that didn’t even exist in the first place.

What’s the story? McCarthy plays Deanna, a middle-aged woman who has given her entire life to the needs of her family, which centers around her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon). Deanna’s life gets spun around when her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) leaves her right after they drop Maddie off at college. What does a woman do when her life falls apart? In Deanna’s case, she goes back to college to finish her degree. The same college as her daughter. Go ahead and pour another drink, and I’ll continue.

The typical things happen. Deanna is the lovable yet overbearing mom that Maddie’s friends find adorable and sweet, so she collects twice as many friends as enemies. There’s the girl who spent eight years in a coma and another drop-dead gorgeous woman who doesn’t think highly of herself. They all bond quick with Deanna, who gets a makeover and sleeps with a guy half her age in trying to find herself. Did I mention her roommate is a closeted goth girl who may have a secret connection to someone? Yep, check.

What you have is an elementary practice that will ask for 12 dollars out of your pocket to see jokes that were done a whole lot better elsewhere. Falcone wrote the script with McCarthy, and it relies on all the strengths of the comedy actress, which is basically one thing: physical comedy. McCarthy’s unique set of skills is going back to the same well she’s used since Bridesmaids. It’s tiring, only working well when written by Paul Weitz and paired with a hilarious Jason Statham in Spy. It’s the same thing you saw in Falcone’s previous films, The Boss and Tammy.

A scene where Deanna, or “Dee Rocks” as her friends call her, has to give a verbal presentation in class, is funny. McCarthy gets to use her gross-out skills in showing us a woman facing her worst fear. Then, the movie goes back to the same-old playground of jokes. A late bit involving a musician falls flat and sends the film into a neat wrap-up.

I’ll be honest and admit I am not the biggest McCarthy fan, but she has found good content in films. When she isn’t the lead, her work isn’t as nauseating and plays better. When she plays against type, like in St. Vincent, she is good. She’s the musician that keeps getting summer-long tours, because movie fans find her relatable, so they let their comedy guard down. I am not impressed.

This will continue. Tammy grossed $100 million worldwide and The Boss made $64 million, both on budgets less than $30 million. Why would they stop making movies if they are making money? Who cares if Rotten Tomatoes rated the films at 22% and 24%, respectively?  One day, they’ll make a good movie-or movie fans will call their bluff.

Life of The Party is like drinking a milkshake on an empty stomach. It looks great on the menu and you trust the stomach to break it down, but in the end, you are in bed praying never again. Only it will happen again. Falcone and McCarthy are developing another comedy, Superintelligence, for 2019. I’ll probably review it. Hopefully, the movie won’t be a waste of my time.

Watch this movie when you are riding in the backseat of an overstuffed car during a road trip on an old laptop that freezes frequently. That way, you may get disgruntled enough to not make it to the end of this stinker.

Otherwise, I’d skip it all together.