Lights, Camera, Action! What’s Onscreen and Coming Soon
By: Ellis Nassour
It’s not even Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional start of summer blockbuster season, and the cineplexes are filled with mucho standout entertainment – for the kiddies, family, and serious adult trade. Rush to see those of interest for toward the end of May epics will be coming at you, opening almost every weekend.
Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros.; 3D and 2D), a novel idea, indeed, with the added attraction of Wonder Woman, had aspirations of jump-starting the season. However, the Zack Snyder-helmer didn’t shake things up critically and ebbed due to word-of-mouth after opening weekend. It did shake things up in 4DX* (motion-activated seats, “rain” spritzes, wind, “fog,” strobes, aromarama), as at NY’s Regal Union Square, where the dedicated didn’t mind shelling out $30 for a tkt.
Usually, intense characters and especially intense violence will pack ‘em in. Great cast – Oscar winner Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, O-nom Amy Adams, O-nom Diane Lane, O-nom Lawrence Fishburne, O-winner Jeremy Irons, O-winner Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot; who, even at two and a half hours plus, weren’t given enough flesh time to be absorbed by audiences. In spite of its gargantuan budget, a mindboggling $250-million, and special effects, it didn’t hit home. Stateside, it’s raked in about $100-million more than its budget [overseas box office hasn’t been factored in]. So, it’ll do more than break even. But we may not see this franchise back for at least a decade.
Maybe the premise was all wrong. No one could figure why these two legendary superheroes of the comic book universe had a beef with each other. Shouldn’t the Gotham Bat and Man of Steel be FB friends? The action, which you might expect to be edge-of-the-seat, falls flat. Because it’s often hard to follow you might wonder if it was longer [and if the DVD release will have a bonus disc or that a three-part director’s cut will emerge one day]. As it is, the film was disorienting and choppy. A limpid Lex Luthor didn’t help. The diabolical forces of evil seemed to win.
* [For the next two weeks, you can experience 4DX in special engagements of Captain America: Civil War. Memorial Day weekend, look forward to 4DX with
X-Men: The Apocalypse (20th Century-Fox/Marvel), directed by Bryan Singer, and starring GG and Emmy-nom Rose Byrne , O-nom Michael Fassbender, GG-winner Oscar Isaac, O-winner Jennifer Lawrence, Tye Sheridan, Ally Sheedy, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, and (uncredited) O-nom Hugh Jackman.]
Moving forward: Here are some choice contenders for your money currently in cinemas:
A Bigger Splash(Fox Searchlight) – Fans of O-nom Ralph Finnes, who’ve always wanted to see him do something different, are in for a treat — or they and others may never want to see him do something different again. Director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, 2009) has set his complex love triangle swirling in a rip tide of jealousy for what was and what will never be again on the sun-drenched Sicilian volcanic island of Patelleria. It’s an apt setting. The film is loosely based on Alain Paige’s novel La Piscine/The Swimming Pool and Jacques Deray’s 1969 film of the same name, which stars Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, and Jane Birkin. O-winner Tilda Swinton portrays a rock legend, whom we only hear rock legending about 30 seconds. She’s in this remote, Mediterranean non-paradise recuperating from surgery to, hopefully, repair vocal cord damage. If she speaks, it’s in a hoarse whisper. She’s being tended by her recovering alcoholic partner/manager and videographer, played by Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, The Danish Girl, remake of Far from the Madding Crowd). They’re hopelessly devoted to each other.
With little to do, their hilltop villa’s pool is a soothing diversion where lots of skinny dipping goes on. The couple’s hedonistic rapture is rudely interrupted by a bombastic blast from their past: her longtime record producer and old flame and his former associate (Finnes), who lands on the island with his newly discovered daughter from a long ago divorce. In the role, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anastasia; upcoming How to Be Single) goes from sulking and introspective to a Lolita-like temptress. Finnes becomes the personification of an extrovert narcissist house guest from hell – who when not splashing in the pool and trying to upend his discovery’s happiness busts moves with abandonment to Rolling Stones’ LPs. Soon, smoldering ash is ignited. Swinton, torn between the devotion of two lovers, finally has a role that digs deep into her psyche. Finnes’ performance will have its yeas and nays. The two-hour plus length often makes the going laborious. Discerning art house patrons who have patience with French and Italian avant-garde works of Clair, Godard, and Renoir; and Antonioni,.De Sica, and Rossellini will dig it. Official Selection, Venice Film Festival.
Goofs: When did “Paul” get the keys to the car? How did the Stones LP get “there”? And didn’t Paul proclaim to have never smoked? These are new entries to the Motion Picture Holes of Fame.
Captain America: Civil War (Disney/Marvel; 3D, IMAX 3D, and 2D) – Disney’s having a good year: the studio entered 2015 breaking box office records with J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens reboot, then more recently racked up record admissions for their CGI- heavy return to The Jungle Book. Now, to get the jump even on their big Memorial Day attraction Alice through the Looking Glass and appeal to the all-important summer teen audience, comes Anthony and Joe Russo’s action-packed, superhero-packed comic book follow-up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Though it in no way surpasses it, the CGI special effects are often mind-boggling. But ca-ching! It’s already racked up $200-million overseas and had an amazingly strong weekend gross: $182-million. Shoot it, and they will come.
Everyone (well, not quite) is along for the ride: Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark aka Iron Man (O-nom Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (GG-nom Scarlett Johansson); and Ant Man (Paul Rudd), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Crossbones (Frank Gillo), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (O-nom Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (played with gusto by Elizabeth Olsen), Spider Man (Tom Holland), War Machine (O-nom Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and Vision (Paul Bettany). There’s a new evil villain to deal with, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). There’s more star power: Hope Davis and John Slattery as the Starks, William Hurt, O-winner Marisa Tomei, and Alfre Woodard.
This edition deals with moral and ethical questions around the missions impossible of the Avenger battalion. The theft by mercenaries of a diabolical biological weapon causes superhero migraines and sets the action ablaze as heroes and fiends engage in truck-kicking, body-flinging, kick boxing, and all manner of bad-ass battle as Black Widow and Falcon help lead the rescue and recovery. Meanwhile, Stark is busy with holography and conscious-easing philanthropy. But he soon learns there’s a correlation between generosity and guilt. He also finds there’s nothing worse than a mother’s scorn. When the Feds push for the Anti-Hero Registration Act, which will put the league of superheroes under U.N. purview, sides split. Iron Man and Black Widow go along, but Captain America and Falcon refuse to comply. This leaves plenty of room for the evil Zemo to raise holy heck.
Keanu (Warner Bros./New Line Cinema) — Will the Motion Picture Academy change their rules so that one of the cutest stars ever can be nominated? It would be wonderful to see Kitty, playing the title character here, nominated for Best Actress – though with only about 25 minutes of actual screen time, Supporting Actress might be a safer bet. The dynamic duo of popular Brit comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hilariously poke fun at action films and their stereotypes in this familiar fish-out-of-water story. They don aliases and pose as drug dealers to retrieve little Keanu, who’s been abducted by a vicious criminal. The pair joins forces in a thin, clichéd plot involving gang warfare, drug dealers, crime, and mistaken identity. Not everything rises to the level of Key and Peele’s comic timing and inane delivery, but it’s all tongue and cheek. At a time when we need laughs, Keanu delivers them.
The Man Who Knew Infinity (IFC) – Jeremy Irons (also currently in High-Rise), displaying the panache he’s so good at, and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) headline Matthew Brown‘s enthralling film about growing up poor in India and not allowing that to stop you from achieving almost unobtainable goals. During WWI, Patel’s character gains admittance to Cambridge University, where he finds an unlike mentor in his professor (Irons) and goes on to become an internationally-recognized pioneer in mathematical theories.
The Mother of All Holidays
May 2016 has seen a very motherly avalanche at cineplexes: The Meddler, The Family Fang, Mothers and Daughters, and Mother’s Day.
The Meddler (Sony Pictures Classics/Stage 6) – O-winner Susan Saradon (also a co-producer) displays a deft comic turn as a wife adrift following the death of her husband who finds a new “hobby. Her spunky bachelorette daughter, Rose Byrne (Damages; upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse). Soon, she spending so many hours visiting, interfering, giving lessons on life and sex, dispensing motherly love and concern that it doesn’t take long for Byrne to want to spurn all the attention.
Sarandon looks stunning, seeming to have found the fountain of youth. O-winner J.K. Simmons, as you’ve never seen him, and his Harley as the pair who rescues Byrne gives the film a nice boost. Jason Ritter, Billy Magnussen, O-nom and Grammy winner Michael McKean, and GG-nom Laura San Giacomo and Harry Hamlin are featured. You’ll be surprised, no shocked, to find out the tables eventually get turned. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. Depending on how you look at it, this is the perfect or not so perfect film for Mother’s Day and mother-daughter bonding. 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
The Family Fang (Starz Digital; Theatres and On Demand) can qualify as a Mother’s and Father’s Days and Dysfunctional Family Day treat. Move over Royal Tenenbaums! You thought you were eccentric? You ain’t seen nothin’. Jason Bateman, who also directed, and O-winner Nicole Kidman are the estranged children of performance artists (who create art or is it junk in this sharp, taunt dark comedy based on Kevin Wilson’s book by with adaptation by Pulitzer-and Tony-winner for Best Play David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole). The siblings search for their eccentric parents – Christopher Walken and Tony and DD-winner Maryann Plunkett, who are feared attacked and killed (or are they?). In bonding, brother and sister they may not have much effect on their parents but they manage to “fix” themselves. Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn, Marin Ireland, Harris Yulin, and Tony and DD- nom Linda Emond co-star. Bateman and Kidman also co-produced.
Mothers and Daughters arrived with very little fanfare. Interwoven stories, told through the lens of photographer Rigby Gray, tell of what it is to be a mom. Love’s the one thing they can all agree on. O-winner Susan Sarandon [very busy being a mother this year!], O-nom Sharon Stone [looking hotter than ever], GG-nom Christina Ricci, the always-watchable GG-nom Courteney Cox [wish we’d see her more often], O-winner Mira Sorvino, and Selma Blair star.
More mothers coming: Bad Moms(Block Entertainment/STX), opening in July, tells of three overworked and under-appreciated moms who’re pushed beyond their limits. Sort of as Thelma and Louise did, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and self-indulgence – with the latter resulting in chaos and comedy. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell [hopefully, given more screen time than in the pitiful Bad Boss], Christina Applegate, Kathryn Hahn, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kesha.
A woman with a seemingly perfect life – great marriage, overachieving kids, beautiful home, looks, and career – is over committed, exhausted, and ready to snap. She joins forces with two other over-stressed moms and goes on a liberation quest to be free of conventional responsibilities – a wild un-mom-like binge of freedom, fun and self-indulgence – putting them on a collision course with the PTA Queen Bee and a clique of devoted perfect moms.
Mother’s Day! (Open Road). What’s it they say about the past? That it comes back to haunt you! Not so where Garry Marshall’s concerned. This is Number Three in his anthology series, after Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. But damn the critics, full speed ahead! Despite their cold shoulder – “atrociously written … haphazardly assembled,” “turkey,” “reheated leftovers,” “contrived sentimentality,” “hate your mom? Take her to see … this insidious form of torture” – audiences have shelled out $12-million to date for this “sweet, hilarious, awesome” ensemble family comedy. Maybe they just wanted a few stress-free laughs without violence, nudity, and sex.
The one thing Mother’s Day has going for it is a great cast: GG-winner Jennifer Aniston, finally back on the big screen; O-winner Julia Roberts, paid $3-million for four days work – she’ll be better-served next week in Money Mon$ter; Timothy Olyphant, Kate Hudson; Tony nom and Emmy winner Margo Martindale; Hector Elizondo; Tony and DD nom Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon); Jon Lonvitz; Sarah Chalke (Scrubs); Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little liars, Glee), Britt Robertson (Cake); and narration by Penny Marshall.
What plot [scripted by three writers] there is follows several moms: Sandy (Aniston), happily divorced but stressing over the discovery her ex has absconded with a young babe; Jesse (Hudson), a fitness freak, married and with a dark secret she’s hiding from her mom (Martindale) [her sister has a secret of another kind]; and Miranda (Roberts), obsessively career-driven and no time for kids.
The problem is that with only 118 minutes to tell its story, audiences get shortchanged because they’re only offered drips, drabs, and blinks.
May 13: The Lobster (Picturehouse/Film 4/Canal +) – Move over Hunger Games and Youth and make way for what may be the unique film of the year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ futuristic love story , set against the tense background of a dystopian society, is finally seeing release after its 2014 Cannes Jury Prize and sleeper success at the New York Film Festival. It’s a bizarre love and marriage story set in the near future at a creepy hotel deep in a forest. Headlining is GG-winner Colin Farrell, perhaps his best role to date, with co-stars Léa Seydoux (Spectre, Saint Laurent, Grand Budapest Hotel), O-nom John C. Reilly, and O-winner Rachel Weisz. It’s anybody’s guess how audiences will respond. It’s won several overseas awards for Best Film and Farrell.
The Lobster takes expectations of modern-day relationships and satirizes them. The farcical goal aims to partner lonely humans with each other in a stress-inducing timeframe of 45 days, often resulting in deception and the suppression of true feelings in order to garner a relationship as a means of escape. The other side of the coin is the outcast tribe living a meager existence in the woods, where even flirting is punished by physical mutilation. Cold mechanical delivery of dialogue emphasizes the absurdity of the situation, and makes bizarre situations even more bizarre. Though more than a bit convoluted and not always so easy to follow, there’s a message about the fickle nature of relationships. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but adventuresome moviegoers will find much to relish.
May 13: Money Monster (Tri-Star/Smokehouse Films) – This high stakes, fast-paced, high-tech global suspense thriller unfolds in real time. O-winners George Clooney and Julia Roberts, directed by O-winner Jodie Foster [her first time behind the camera since the 2011 bomb The Beaver, which starred Foster, O-winner Mel Gibson, and Tony winner Cherry Jones] are Lee Gates, the self-proclaimed Wizard of Wall Street, and his producer of a cable TV show that provides viewers with investment tips and stock market analyses, all jazzed up with comedy bits and dance numbers to keep the ratings high. They’re riding high until an irate investor who’s lost everything (Jack O’Connell) takes over their studio at gunpoint and threatens to blow himself up. The standoff is broadcast live to millions as Roberts frantically works against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a financial conspiracy. Dominic West and Giancarlo Esposito are featured. This is a radical departure from the intimate, character-driven films Foster’s directed (Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays). Screenedat the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.