‘Some Kind of Heaven’ Checks in on Retired Life in The Villages

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Some Kind of Heaven (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: The Residents of The Villages

Director: Lance Oppenheim

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (I’d peg it as PG, or maybe a soft PG-13)

Release Date: January 15, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

In the beginning of Some Kind of Heaven, one of the residents of The Villages remarks that living in a retirement home is more than a little bit reminiscent of college life. And it’s true. For those who like to spend their golden years this way and are fortunate enough to afford it, it promises a pretty cushy arrangement in which hanging out with your friends requires little more than stepping out your door. Situated in central Florida, The Villages takes the college comparison several steps further with a reputation as “Disneyland for Retirees.” Hanging out with your best buds every day is great; spending each one of those days at the most wonderful place on Earth is pretty dang expensive. With that in mind, Some Kind of Heaven focuses on a quartet of folks who are caught on the margins of The Villages.

For such a sunny setting, director Lance Oppenheim’s documentary takes a rather glum approach, as we witness some of The Villages’ most overcast days (literally and metaphorically). I’m sure that all the residents have their own set of troubles, but I’m willing to bet that we meet the ones burdened with the most upheaval. There’s Anne and her husband Reggie, who’s losing his hold on reality while turning to psychedelic drugs as he tries to insist that their relationship is strengthening. Their story is somewhere in the nexus of delusion and enlightenment. Elsewhere is Barbara, a widow surprised to find herself still working full time, bringing out the melancholy in full force. Then there’s 82-year-old Dennis, who’s not actually a resident but living in his van while he looks for a rich gal and tries to outrun his legal troubles. Some retirees really are just late-in-life adolescents, aren’t they?

I was surprised at the intimacy of Some Kind of Heaven‘s approach. Its subject struck me as more suited to an expansive overview of a unique subculture. Instead, it goes piecemeal in a way that I suspect may have been more suited to a series of half-hour episodes. Regardless of the medium and format, though, the clear-eyed and verite empathy shine through. Our stories and struggles don’t always end quite so smoothly as we may want them to, and the glitzy promises of a place like The Village tend to paper over the more complicated details.

Some Kind of Heaven is Recommended If You Like: Slice-of-life documentaries, Directorly unobtrusiveness, A dog randomly humping a cat during an interview

Grade: 3 out of 5 Retirees

‘Soul’ is Pretty Dang Soulful

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Soul (CREDIT: Pixar/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Angela Bassett, Questlove

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Disney+)

Graham Norton as a hippie sign waver? I wasn’t expecting that. I like it!

I’m going to go ahead and whip out the “Does this movie make me want to do what it’s about?” type of review. So here goes: does Soul make me want to have a soul? Very much so! I may already have one, but if I don’t … I’d like one! Also relevant: when I’m listening and/or singing along to soul music, that’s pretty dang invigorating as well. (Soul features more jazz than soul, but soul and jazz are often in conversation with each other.)

It’s ultimately a religio-philosophical matter whether or not an inner essence exists, and what it should be called, and how it should be defined. Which is all to say, we probably can’t fully ever know all there is to know about the soul. This film is part of that inquiry, and if its inquiring essence resonates with anybody, then it might just be worth incorporating its ideas into our personal philosophies. Soul posits that our purpose isn’t what we’re passionate about, but how we’re passionate. That’s pretty damn life-affirming from my vantage point.

Grade: 4 out of 5 Jerrys (and 1 out of 5 Terrys)

‘Wonder Woman 1984’: Surprising, Confusing, Unexpected

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Wonder Woman 1984 (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Director: Patty Jenkins

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters/HBO Max)

Wonder Woman 1984 was … not exactly what I was expecting. It’s a “Monkey’s Paw”/be careful what you wish for-type story. In fact, at one point Diana Prince literally says “Monkey’s Paw.” Multiple times, if I’m remembering correctly. You see, there’s this stone that grants wishes to whomever’s touching it. Which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But alas of course, something important is taken from the wish-grantee in turn. Not exactly mold-breaking in terms of the history of storytelling, but quite unusual in the realm of big-budget superhero cinema. At the very least, I gotta give Patty Jenkins and company credit for very much not taking the road most travelled.

I wish I could say I was thrilled by the execution, though! Instead, I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the execution was throughout most of the movie. And this is a long movie! Spending more than two hours trying to figure out a movie’s whole deal is not my preferred way of watching a movie. I could envision some structural changes to the script/editing that would make character motivations a bit more clear and resonant. I’m pretty sure I got what Diana’s situation was, and K-Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Mr. Pedro Pascal started with intriguing setups, but at the end, I found myself thinking, in multiple ways, “Wait, how’s that again?” Also, this movie took place in the 80s, but there were very few, if any, scenes of people doing coke or voting for Ronald Reagan.

Grade: More Lassos of Truth, Less Confusion

‘Promising Young Woman’ Spoiler-Filled Review Addendum

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Promising Young Woman (CREDIT : Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features)

I’ve already published a rave review of Promising Young Woman that you can check out here, and now that the release date has finally arrived, I’ve got some spoiler-rific thoughts to share. This is all to say: SPOILER ALERT! So you know, don’t read this unless you’ve seen it or if you’re fine with knowing all the details ahead of time.

ONE LAST WARNING! Don’t click ahead unless you really mean to…

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In Paul Greengrass’ Western, Tom Hanks Sends the ‘News of the World’ and an Orphaned Girl on Their Way

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News of the World (CREDIT: Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Covino, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Francis Murphy, Bill Camp

Director: Paul Greengrass

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Particularly Tense Shootout and a Few Other Occasional Bursts of Western Meanness

Release Date: December 25, 2020

The title of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks’ latest collaboration might lead you to believe that America’s Dad is finally getting his Frank Sinatra on. And while he does indeed start spreading those titular news, the focus is much more squarely on his journey with a young girl in a sort of gentler spin on The Searchers. Both elements of the story are about the importance and difficulty of communication. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, a widowed Civil War veteran who traverses the Texas frontier to tell tales of recent events of notes to whomever is willing to listen to them. During his journeys, he encounters 10-year-old Johanna (Helena Zengel), who’s been raised by the Kiowa tribe ever since they killed her German immigrant parents. She fancies herself a Kiowa now, so when the family she’s been living with is also killed, she becomes an orphan twice over. She then winds up in the captain’s care as he attempts to deliver her to her aunt and uncle, which is not a plan she’s exactly a fan of.

News of the World demonstrates the value of an unexpected title. There are only a handful of scenes of Captain Kidd delivering those news, so I don’t think I would have considered them very deeply if the title hadn’t primed me to. In a setting with rudimentary mass communication, these stories are orphans that find themselves in as precarious a position as Johanna. There is no guarantee that the ears they fall on will even accept them. They benefit immensely from a patient medium like Captain Kidd. Both the news of the world and Johanna require love and support in getting from where they are to where they need to be going. I wasn’t expecting the philosophy of Marshall McLuhan to be so starkly clear in the latest Greengrass film, but in this case, the medium absolutely is the message.

News of the World is Recommended If You Like: A kind and gentle (but not that gentle) approach to Westerns, Clutch supporting turns from Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Wagons

What Happens When Big Names with Big Personalities Spend ‘One Night in Miami…’? Let’s Find Out!

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One Night in Miami (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Joaquina Kolukango, Beau Bridges

Director: Regina King

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Language (There’s a Lot of Dialogue)

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters)/January 15, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

On one particular day in February 1964, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent an evening together in Florida and the makers of One Night in Miami… thought we might like to see how that may have played out. First this idea took the form of a 2013 play written by Kemp Powers. Now he’s adapted it into a screenplay, with Regina King making her feature directorial debut. (Spoiler alert: you can tell that it started out as a play.) Are these African-Americans titans of the 20th century just as interesting together as we knew them to be individually? Although of course, the more relevant question is: do the actors playing them do them justice, and can they find the right chemistry for their little powwow? The answer probably won’t blow your mind, though it might satisfy you.

Reporting for duty on this night are Kingsley Ben-Adir as X, Eli Goree as Ali (actually still going by Cassius Clay at the time), Aldis Hodge as Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke. Odom’s casting makes the most sense to me, because he can sang. He can be musical anyway you want him to, so summoning the majestic voice behind “Chain Gang” is no problem for him. Meanwhile, Ben-Adir commands most of the attention, and he’d better, because Malcolm had plenty to cover that he thought was pretty damn urgent, and he wanted everyone to hear him. Goree and Hodge, alas, fade a bit into the background. That might mean that the promise of the premise isn’t fully fulfilled, but the others pick up on the slack as this ultimately becomes the “Malcolm & Sam Show” more than anything else. Everyone, especially Malcolm, picks on Sam for not carrying his weight in the civil rights fight, while Sam fires back that he’s actually figured out part of The Man’s formula for getting a piece of the pie and he’s in fact been sharing it with his associates. In conclusion, they’re all doing their part!

Whenever people with big personalities are having passionate debates about the issues of the day, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least something satisfying. But I did find myself wondering throughout much of One Night in Miami… why I wasn’t finding it as dynamic as I thought I would. It probably boils down to the fact that I would rather watch these famous guys do what they’re famous for, rather than watching them talk. To be fair, Malcolm and Muhammad were partly famous for their wordsmanship, but playing to a big crowd and having an intimate conversation are two very different situations. We do get to see some of Muhammad in the ring, but we don’t get to see any of Jim on the football field or roughing up Martians. At least we get a decent amount of Sam onstage. Letting Leslie Odom Jr. loose with the Sam Cooke songbook is hardly a groundbreaking revelation, but it gets the job done enough when we need it to.

One Night in Miami… is Recommended If You Like: Movies That Walk and Talk Like Plays

Grade: 3 out of 5 Close-Cropped Haircuts

 

‘Sister of the Groom’ Cranks Up the Angst Way Past 11

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Sister of the Groom (CREDIT: Saban Films/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Jake Hoffman, Mathilde Ollivier, Mark Blum, Charlie Bewley

Director: Amy Miller Gross

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Language, Casual Nudity, and Molly in the Wedding Cake

Release Date: December 18, 2020 (Theaters/Digital/On Demand)

Alicia Silverstone is an immensely charming person, and yet somehow Sister of the Groom has the temerity to ask her to be immensely un-charming. She plays Audrey, the titular sister of the groom, and that’s not an individual who should be commanding attention on the wedding day. But typically a movie’s main character does indeed command the most attention, so we find ourselves at an impasse immediately. That’s not a place I like to find myself with Silverstone, but actors should certainly be allowed to stretch themselves beyond where they’ve been pegged. In this case, that stretch is quite the challenge, and the end result lays bare the difficulty of delivering on it.

Audrey has a lot of stressors in her life, perhaps more than most people do, but she also has a way of behaving, particularly during her brother’s matrimonial weekend, that mainly serves to amplify all that stress. She’s trying to get back into the swing of her architecture career, so she doesn’t appreciate that her bro Liam (Jake Hoffman) has hired her ex-boyfriend for a job she assumed was hers. She also is no big fan of his significantly younger French fiance Clemence (Mathilde Ollivier), but you kind of get the sense that she might not approve of any potential sisters-in-law. On top of all that, she’s viscerally insecure about her pregnancy-altered belly. At least she seems to be affectionate with her husband Ethan (Tom Everett Scott), although it’s not much of a surprise when it becomes clear that there’s actually a lot of strife bubbling barely beneath the surface there.

If you’re a fan of angsty cinematic family gatherings like The Family Stone or Home for the Holidays or (to keep it wedding-themed) Rachel Getting Married, Sister of the Groom might offer something to entertain you. But from my vantage point, it leans too hard into the unpleasantness and struggles to tease out any profundity. I’ve got to at least give Silverstone credit for so thoroughly stripping herself of any emotional vanity. Alas, though, she didn’t convince me that that was a good idea.

Sister of the Groom is Recommended If You Like: Unrelenting angst

Grade: 2 out of 5 Chuppahs

‘Promising Young Woman’ Fulfills Its Promise, and Then Some

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Promising Young Woman (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Molly Shannon, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Director: Emerald Fennell

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Twisted Jokes, Drug Spikings, Discussions of Sexual Violence, and Some Up-Close Acute Violence

Release Date: December 25, 2020

Promising Young Woman hooked me immediately with its trailer, seemingly telling me everything I needed to know. When I finally saw the actual movie, it somehow still had plenty of opportunities to surprise me. It fits one of my favorite formulas for all-time great movies: simultaneously exactly what I was hoping for and so different from what I was expecting. Carey Mulligan is a knockout, in every way you can imagine. She plays med school dropout Cassie Thomas, a black widow who lures entitled men into this intoxicating trap she’s cooked up. She pretends to be blackout drunk at bars so that someone will not-so-gallantly bring her home to take advantage of her, at which point she drops the charade and spooks like them like a zombie popping out of the grave. She has her own history with assault, but she’s also an avenging angel taking on the entirety of rape culture.

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John Patrick Shanley Turns Back on the Classic Romantic Charm in ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

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Wild Mountain Thyme (Credit: Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

Starring: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, Dearbhla Molloy, Danielle Ryan

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Mild Adult-ness

Release Date: December 11, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

Do you despair at the lack of nakedly emotional romantic movies nowadays? Have you spent the past 33 years wondering when the next Moonstruck is going to finally come along? Do you believe it’s time to send Jon Hamm to Ireland? Well has John Patrick Shanley got just what you asked for! The screenwriter behind “Snap out of it!” and “Why do men chase women?” has taken his talents to the Emerald Isle for Wild Mountain Thyme, a windswept tale about two people who sure appear to be very much in love, though it takes them quite a while to fully consummate their passion. As with Moonstruck, the fun is less about wondering whether or not they end up together and more about how emotionally discombobulated they become by resisting where their passions obviously lie.

As the film begins, Christopher Walken intones, “Welcome to Ireland,” and I’m thinking, “I’m pretty sure Mr. More Cowbell is definitely not Irish, but I nevertheless feel as welcome as possible.” Walken plays Tony Reilly, father of Jamie Dornan’s Anthony (the “h” is silent and everyone hits that “t” as hard as they possibly can). The elder Tony is in a financial bind, so he’s set to sell the family farm to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm). That puts a damper on Anthony’s seemingly inevitable marriage to Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), who had envisioned the two of them enjoying wedded bliss in the countryside. Anthony and Rosemary have basically been in love ever since they were kids, and everyone knows this. But for some reason Anthony cannot bring himself to pop the question, and honestly I’m not sure what his problem is. But I suspect that’s kind of the point. The best explanation the movie offers us is that he’s suffering from the vaguely defined familial strain of “Kelly madness” (Kelly being the surname of his grandfather).

Anthony’s dithering is so extreme that anyone watching is liable to wonder why Rosemary doesn’t just move on. And she’s not lacking for options, as there’s a scene that begins with her announcing “Today’s the day,” which leads to her making an impromptu trip to New York City (to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score, no less) where she meets up with Adam and develops a quick natural repartee with her beloved’s cousin. And when she returns to Ireland, Anthony even attempts to push her in that direction. But somehow I am ultimately convinced by Shanley’s machinations and Blunt’s sheer force of will that Anthony and Rosemary really are going to make it work somehow. The way he digs in his heels should be disqualifying, but the situation only gets sillier and sillier, and thus more and more charming. Maybe we could all use a little bit of Kelly Madness in our lives.

Wild Mountain Thyme is Recommended If You Like: Moonstruck, Taking a while to snap out of it, Ireland, Jon Hamm-centric subplots

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Farms

For All of My Life, I See a Lot of Movies. ‘All My Life’ is One of Them.

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All My Life (CREDIT: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Harry Shum Jr., Kyle Allen, Chrissie Fit, Jay Pharoah, Marielle Scott, Keala Settle, Ever Carradine, Mario Cantone, Jon Rudnitsky, Josh Brener

Director: Marc Meyers

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Typical Brief Language-Related Reasons

Release Date: December 4, 2020

My biggest emotional connection with All My Life came at the very end when we saw footage of the real Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau, the couple whose story inspired the film, as it made me go, “Oh yeah, it said, ‘Inspired by true events’ at the beginning.” In between, I had pretty much forgotten the real life aspect, as nothing particularly stranger-than-fiction appeared to be happening. Perhaps the real Jenn and Sol’s romance was just as pedestrian as what ended up on screen, although I’m sure it didn’t feel unremarkable to them. Seeing as their story caught the attention of big-time Hollywood executives, it surely must have been passionate somewhere along the way. So I kind of wish I could have watched their entire wedding video instead, because what I actually watched felt like it was written by an Algorithm instructed to create “Generic Heterosexual American Rom-Com 2020.”

Surely it didn’t have to be this way, as we have a couple of fine leads in the form of Jessica Rothe as Jenn and Glee alum Harry Shum Jr. as Sol. Rothe is of course preternaturally charming in the Happy Death Day movies, and while Shum hasn’t broken out on quite the same level as some of his New Directions colleagues, we know that he’s a bona fide song-and-dance man. Let these two kick loose, why don’t you, All My Life! What I haven’t mentioned up until this point, but what is pretty crucial to the premise, is that this story pivots on a malignant cancer diagnosis that interrupts wedding preparations. So tragedy is hanging over the whole affair, but clearly this movie nevertheless wants to be about living life – ALL OF YOUR LIFE! – while you still can.

We need to see these characters doing just that, and we also need to be able to enjoy it vicariously. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you what I was feeling, and it wasn’t vicarious enjoyment. Rather, it was a mix of confusion, digestion (or indigestion) of banality, and just a profound sense that I’m not connecting to these people. Jenn eats Ding Dongs for dinner at one point, I guess because it’s supposed to be goofy and quirky? At another point, Jenn and Sol dance in a water fountain, I guess because Friends is part of our collective cultural memory? Eventually Sol loses his sense of taste as a side effect of his cancer treatment, and that’s a big deal because he’s a chef, and that’s one of the few moments that I genuinely understand. This movie seems to have selected its name from the “Department of Generic Titles,” but I think a better idea would have been to go with the moniker “Loss of Taste” and then set everything in motion from that starting point.

All My Life is Recommended If You Like: Generic covers of Oasis songs

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Meet-Cutes

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