Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Release: Friday, October 19, 2018 (limited) 

→Theater

Written by:  Nicole Holofcener; Jeff Whitty

Directed by: Marielle Heller

Can You Ever Forgive Me? reflects on the life and crimes of Leonore Carol Israel, a Brooklyn-based journalist who, despite making an honest living in the 1970s and ’80s writing biographies of high-profile women, one time even landing on the New York Times Bestseller list, is remembered today for her misguided — indeed, criminal — attempts at career resurrection by way of embellishing and forging literary items on behalf of deceased authors and other famous people. SNL alumna Melissa McCarthy takes on the challenge of portraying the curmudgeonly woman, and the results simply beg the question: where has this Melissa McCarthy been all this time?

In her sophomore feature, director Marielle Heller returns with a familiarly but still surprisingly sympathetic treatment of a subject who might have otherwise come out looking a lot worse in the hands of another filmmaker. Her 2015 début, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, was rightfully praised for how it approached its taboo material (premature sex with an incestuous twist; drug-addled, laissez-faire parenting styles) with maturity and blunt honesty. In the process it introduced audiences to the talents of young British actress Bel Powley, who demonstrated confidence beyond her years with the way she handled such seedy material. With her follow-up feature it almost feels like Heller is giving us another formal introduction, this time to Melissa McCarthy the thespian, not the physical punchline she has become typecast as.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based upon and named after the memoir Israel published in 2008, an unapologetic and humorously self-deprecating tell-all about the mischief she got into after the ’90s arrived and brought with them the winds of change, an evolving market rendering her celebrity bios a thing of the past. Interestingly, the publishing of that very memoir as well as the publisher itself, Simon & Schuster, faced criticism as many viewed it to be merely another cash grabbing opportunity by a recognized poseur.

The film picks up right as Israel is falling on hard times, getting the boot from a late-night copy editing job, one in a string of failed attempts to secure a more reliable source of income. She shuffles back to an apartment apropos of a recluse, a poorly lit cavern smelling to high heaven as a result of long-sitting cat poop that has also drawn flies like a biblical plague. That cat, her best friend, is in desperate need of medical attention, but that’s a luxury for someone like Israel, whose abrasive personality turns off just about everyone she comes across — including the vet, with whom she unsuccessfully attempts to haggle. Rare exceptions are an old friend in Jack Hock (a wonderful Richard E. Grant) and Anna, a cheery bookstore owner (Dolly Wells).

Of the few (and strained) relationships she has, arguably the rockiest is with Marjorie (Jane Curtain), her agent. She takes the brunt of the hostility largely due to the writer believing she isn’t doing all that she can to get her Fanny Brice book off the ground. As Marjorie reminds her, it’s the 1990s and no one’s pining for biographies of 1920s vaudeville starlets. Exasperated, Israel turns to selling off what few personal possessions she has, including a letter written to her by actress Katherine Hepburn, an apparent acquaintance. However, it isn’t until she discovers another letter, this one by the very subject of her new project tucked inside a relevant book, that a lightbulb appears above Israel’s head.

What if I jazz these letters up, add more of a personal touch to them? I wouldn’t pass them off as my own creations, but rather as original insights of long since passed playwrights and authors. And I’ll use a variety of typewriters to create the desired effects. Genius, no? You know what, save your opinions. I know it’s genius. If you never forgive me, c’est la vie. 

Heller, working from a script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, has created an intimate character study that foregrounds a minimal, lonely existence against the hustle and bustle of New York. There’s less than a handful of significant characters involved, but their interactions are meaningful and tinged with a profound sadness, an emptiness, a longing for something more. Everyone in the movie brings their A-game, but McCarthy is simply a revelation as the caustically witted writer.

So good is she, in fact, that you tend to overlook what Grant brings to the scene as Jack Hock, an aging rapscallion who has suffered his own fair share of heartbreak in the past and faces a great deal of hardship in the present. A gay man about town, he lives day to day for new adventures, scrounging for happiness in an era where people avoided celebrities like basketball star Magic Johnson because they didn’t want their sickness to literally rub off on them. When he conspires with a miscreant, now selling “her work” to every literary dealer in town, he finds a new lease on life. Together, the two form a kindred spirit that gives what could have been a cold movie a surprisingly warm, beating heart.

Israel’s fate may be obvious, even before the killjoys from the FBI show up, but it is a testament to the performances and the steady, confident direction supplied by Heller that we get swept up in the misadventure and actually enjoy the ride, in spite of all the misery.

Who you gonna call?

Recommendation: Reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, this is a deeply human drama about personal and professional dignity, of failure and success. It’s one of my favorite movies of 2018, by far. Can You Ever Forgive Me? will win you over with performances that are both heartbreaking and mischievously entertaining.

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “This next song goes out to all the agoraphobic junkies who couldn’t be here tonight.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Keanu

'Keanu' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 29, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jordan Peele; Alex Rubens

Directed by: Peter Atencio

The Cat in the Hat. Garfield. Sylvester. Mewtwo. Mr. Bigglesworth. Shere Khan. These are but a few of the world’s most famous felines. You can go ahead and add Keanu to this prestigious list, because he’s the best thing about a full-length movie that’s kinda-sorta-but-not-really-at-all about him.

The mischievous duo behind Comedy Central’s Key and Peele find themselves comfortably making the transition to the big screen, but unfortunately they’ve missed an opportunity to make a memorable entrance in this painfully hit-and-miss comedy that sees two schlubs turning thug under some seriously contrived circumstances. I suppose, yeah, you could say they were under duress, but . . .

The (mis)adventure begins when a kitten shows up on Rell (Peele)’s doorstep. He has traveled from afar, barely escaping with the fur on his back from a violent confrontation at a drug processing facility deep in the city. Rell, reeling after a bad break-up, takes an immediate liking to the cat and believes it will help him feel better. He names his new friend Keanu. Meanwhile, his uptight cousin Clarence (Key) is seeing his wife off for a weekend getaway with a mutual friend played by the always untrustworthy Rob Huebel.

Unbeknownst to them, the cat actually belongs to a powerful thug named Cheddar (Method Man) to whom the notorious Allentown boys — the ones involved in the aforementioned firefight and who are also played by Key and Peele — are indebted as they track down the precious fur-ball. The Allentown boys are bloodthirsty goons straight out of a Rob Zombie nightmare and will stop at nothing until they get what they’re after. These freaks are the shameless beneficiaries of Abby O’Sullivan’s fantastic costuming and make-up.

Rell takes Clarence to see the new Liam Neeson movie to try and get Clarence out of his house and to spend some “bro time,” as was suggested by his wife. They get back only to find Rell’s place has been ransacked and Keanu’s missing. Rell’s next-door neighbor/weed guy Hulka (Will Forte, sporting some awesome dreads) of course didn’t see nothin’. The hunt for Keanu eventually leads the cousins into Cheddar’s lair, a blown-out night club poignantly christened HPV, where they also find the cat, now repping a gold chain and black doo-rag. Rell, barely able to hide his outrage over the kitten-napping, snaps and declares he and Clarence are the Allentown boys and that they’d be willing to do one favor for Cheddar in exchange for ownership of the cat.

And so the rest of the film is just allowed to happen . . . somehow. It’s a parody of the Gangster Experience that flits between cringe-worthy and chuckle-inducing, its many farcical developments amounting to a parlay of good fortune that simply endures too long. And it’s so not about the cat, either. Keanu’s closer to a meowing macguffin than a functional character in a plot designed to bait animal rights activists into protesting the comedic duo’s next event. (Fear not: no animals were harmed during the making of this film.)

It’s not as if Key and Peele was the most reliable source of saucy satire but when it was good, it could really strike a nerve. In the feature film setting, however, their inconsistency is magnified tenfold and there are some very bare patches as the writers milk the faux-gangster premise for all its worth. The scene at Anna Faris‘ house drags on for what feels like an eternity as we’re forced to watch Rell (now operating under his thug alias ‘Tectonic’) and Clarence (a.k.a. ‘Shark Tank’) bluff their way through the drug deal they agreed to.

There are moments where their deadpan charm pierces like the sun through the thick clouds of uninspired writing — Key and Peele themselves aren’t the problem with their movie. In fact it’s their camaraderie that is able to pull us through Keanu‘s least compelling moments, and why I enjoyed it more than I probably should have.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 8.04.58 PM

Recommendation: Keanu mirrors the hit-and-miss nature of Key and Peele. Although there is a caveat to that: devoted fans are likely to not take as much issue as those who are less familiar with their schtick. That said, the premise as a whole still feels like a wasted opportunity to do something memorable with an animal that’s not only this photogenic but well-trained. This cat has a bright acting future ahead of him. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “We’re in the market for a gangster pet.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Voices

the-voices-poster

Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Michael R. Perry

Directed by: Marjane Satrapi

I always knew cats were inherently evil.

What with their pawing and purring and hairballs and general infatuation with chasing their own tails. Is evil the right word? In this case, yes . . . yes it is; cats take on an entirely darker role in at least one human’s life.

At the center of attention in this bizarre twist on an already twisted subgenre of horror known as horror-comedy is a fairly lonely man named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), who has just started working at a bathtub factory in a rinky-dink town we don’t know the name of. By all accounts a nice enough guy, he nevertheless shows some signs of detachment from reality and reluctance to interact with his coworkers. When he’s tasked with putting together a company barbecue and in the process meets the cute girl from accounting, a British babe named Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he is instantly smitten and asks her out.

Unable to flat-out tell him she doesn’t want to go out with him, she instead avoids him after work and goes with her friends from accounting, Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Alison (Ella Smith), to a karaoke bar. She’s left stranded afterwards in the rain when her car can’t start up and her phone has been soaked in the downpour. Serendipitously enough, along comes Jerry who’s heartbroken to say the least having been stood up yet offers a desperate Fiona a ride home. In striking up a conversation with her on the way back Jerry can’t see the deer in the middle of the road and unfortunately creams it. Antlers and all sticking through the windshield, we’re now entering spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, The Voices quickly flips the switch and starts to pursue, with unsettling fervor, the horror aspect.

As far as the comedy is concerned, a little asterisk might need to be placed beside that word. A twisted sense of humor will help enormously in enjoying what Iranian director Marjane Satrapi has to offer here; although the brightly-colored promotional poster for the film doesn’t really make that a secret. What might be more of a surprise is the quality of Ryan Reynolds’ purely tortured performance. He is something to behold — the days of Van Wilder are long since gone, boys and girls. Not that staying in school for the better part of a decade was ever a bad idea but this is a role that represents a remarkable sense of maturity.

If Reynolds’ masterful turn as an oddly empathetic Jerry is the peanut butter to this messed-up sandwich the jelly, then, surely is Satrapi’s commentary on the truly disturbing potential of mental illness to completely consume its victim. There’s no doubt something’s off about this man and while we do surpass the point where we in any reality could forgive him for what he does (let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t an Eli Roth production, death is not played up for laughs), we are able to get to a place where we understand where his problems stem from.

Sure, in order to get to the root of the evil that pervades Jerry’s life we must try to buy into some rather ridiculous scenes that could have benefitted from stronger writing, but the surrealism, the downright perverse entertainment value wins out time and again. Talking dogs and cats? This isn’t quite like Homeward Bound. Or maybe, if Sassy had more of a psychotic agenda.

At the end of the film, one thing was certain for this reviewer: I’m still much more of a dog person.

ryan-reynolds-does-something-bad-in-the-voices

3-5Recommendation: The best recommendation I can give here is that if you’re still wondering what the animals have to do with anything (especially that darn cat — yay, another movie reference!) then you should just watch and find out for yourself. Fan of Ryan Reynolds and black comedies? This just may well be a must-see for you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Pretty complicated inside the human mind, huh?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Inside Llewyn Davis

inside_llewyn_davis___poster_minimalist_by_jorislaquittant-d6x84bd

Release: Friday, December 6, 2013

[Theater]

“A folk singer with a cat. Is that part of your act? Every time you hit a C-major, does he puke a hairball?”

For whatever it’s worth, this line delivered by John Goodman’s character was intended to hurt Llewyn Davis’ feelings, not the cat’s. I suppose if the poor feline had to audition for its (substantial) role as Llewyn’s traveling pants, it probably managed to develop a thick skin (fur?) and wasn’t quite as sensitive as all the other Garfield-looking actors who didn’t get the part.

If that’s not a strange enough introduction to throw you completely off-balance, then you definitely need to see this film. Somehow the intro will seem more fitting and less like a rambling filler paragraph. The Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski) step forward into the limelight once again with a darkly comical week-in-the-life of a permanently embittered yet talented musician who constantly fumbled in his attempts to make something of himself against the backdrop of the folk music scene in 1960s New York City. If Greenwich Village (largely a residential borough of west Lower Manhattan) was the rose garden in which young artists blossomed, Llewyn would be the thorn of thorns growing on the tallest rose stem. Antisocial and abrasive, the character is not the kind one would immediately associate with potentially award-winning storytelling.

Ordinarily that presumption — that miserable characters tend to make for bad times at the movies — is a good one to keep in the back pocket; why pay money for an experience that’s going to ultimately irritate or rub you the wrong way? While that reservation is still understandable here, writing off the Coens’ latest gem as not a good film because the main character doesn’t appeal would be a mistake.

For starters, missing this film means missing out on Oscar Isaac’s sharpest performance to date, and it also means missing a chance to see/hear Justin Timberlake do some real singing. (For the readers who are choosing to stay through this review even after I have mentioned that name, I thank you kindly. And yes, I do accept tips.) In fact, one of the most compelling reasons to see this film is for the music. That the performers have a chance to incorporate their musical inclinations is surprisingly rewarding; Isaac’s voice is incredible. Timberlake is quite tolerable since his contributions are minimal, yet they endure as much as Isaac’s mopey face; and the film serves as a great showcase for Carey Mulligan’s beautiful voice as well.

However great the many musical imbuements are (and they really are something), all they do is factor into the story — a story of a struggling musician trying to be noticed in a world filled with competing interests and, perhaps, more favorable personalities. These interludes demonstrate these people at their best. When the spotlight turns off of them (particularly Llewyn) though, the Coens’ carefully constructed tone and mood — even the cityscape — seems that much darker.

Isaac portrays a character loosely based on the music and experiences of folk singer/songwriter Dave Van Ronk. Indeed, there was no such folk singer named Llewyn Davis — a reality that is difficult to accept considering the power of Isaac’s essence. Instead, the Coen brothers drafted up a period piece so rich in detail they created real, breathing human beings; even fictitious acts like Davis, like Al Cody (Adam Driver), like duos such as Jim (Timberlake) and Jean (Mulligan) (who actually were based on the real-life duo of Jim Glover and Jean Ray) are byproducts of a fully-realized script that epitomizes one particular point in music history.

Such is the value of the ticket into this particular Coen production: the sense of time and place. Steeped in a little corner of America that was brimming with talent in a much-overlooked genre, Inside Llewyn Davis transports the viewer to what’s ostensibly the 60s; so much so, that the story presented comes in second to the ambience. Llewyn was once part of a duo himself, but after his friend and fellow songwriter decided to commit suicide, he has been left in an aching hollow, a dark melancholy from which he seemingly cannot awaken. His last album (which he recorded with his late friend) hasn’t sold well at all, rendering him completely broke. So he bounces from couch to couch, finding increasingly desperate ways of securing the next gig that may or may not tide him over for awhile. Llewyn doesn’t so much live as much as he exists.

On top of his real-world issues, Llewyn has a myriad of ideological problems that don’t seem to help his cause. He can’t fathom why audiences are taking to other acts more than his own; why does everything he touch seemingly fall to pieces? His jealousy of Jim and Jean might be understandable on a more personal level, and yet, for him, it’s so much more. Llewyn doesn’t like people, clearly. Painfully ironically, he has plenty of kind-hearted “friends” and acquaintances who have been trying to help him out and get him off of his feet. (Hey, at least there’s the cat. . . .he won’t help to pay rent or whatever, but, meow. . .)

The directorial duo of brothers weave a slight, if daydreaming, narrative in between rousing on-screen performances and tremendous stage presences. It’s difficult to believe Isaac and Mulligan — and, yes. . .okay, Timberlake, get in here too — are this talented, musically as well as visually. We don’t see Llewyn do much other than mope around between apartments he’s staying in, smoke cigarettes and complain; but we do meet a full cast of characters who do more than their fair share of bringing this story to life. John Goodman adds some color (as per usual) as Roland Turner, a jazz musician Llewyn meets on the road who might be more obnoxious than he is; Garrett Hedlund makes a brief appearance as Turner’s driver, cigarette un-sharing, beat-poet Johnny Five; and F. Murray Abraham plays up the big whig (or as big as they get at this point) Bud Grossman, a potential label representative Llewyn has been eyeing in Chicago, his possible ticket for getting out of all of this mess.

The Coens won’t make it easy on the viewer (after all, they did hire Justin Timberlake. . . but in all honesty, he’s nothing to worry about here). Inside Llewyn Davis suffers from a minor case of anti-hero. However, in this case, the viewer must be able to distinguish between bad person and great performance. Isaac turns in an affecting performance; arguably one of the more memorable of 2013. Capturing the drama and the anxieties of working in this kind of market during this time in this place is a task left up to Joel and Ethan Coen. And they deliver, as only they can.

llewyn-davis-2

4-0Recommendation: Inside Llewyn Davis may very well appeal to far more fans of Coens’ previous work than to newcomers, but it should also have a strong sway with anyone who loves good music. Packed full of great little songs, a few of which are sung to perfection by the cast, the film is a real joy to watch unfold, despite it’s rough-around-the-edges subject and the circumstances surrounding him/it. The performances are stellar, and, unless the Oscars are completely and unabashedly fixed (maybe they are), they should receive at least some sort of recognition come February.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com