Spring 2018 Movie Lessons

Warning: These contain spoilers.

Every Day

1. If your boyfriend has a spontaneous personality change and spends the day with you as a funny, attentive, sensitive non-smoker, he may be temporarily under the influence of a more evolved soul who’s borrowing his body.

2. If you are a body-traveling spirit who wants to get together with a girl you fancy fast before your parents force you to go on a car trip, it’s best to avoid inhabiting a body of someone who never exercises.

3. Even without knowing that your boyfriend is under the control of a time-traveling spirit, your mom will freak out when she discovers that you’ve been spending an unsupervised weekend with said boyfriend at the family lake house.

A Wrinkle in Time

4. Bringing along a guy you barely know on a quest to save the planet is fine as long as your younger brother vouches for his “diplomacy” skills, he says he likes your hair, and he’s cute!

5. If you meet three odd women who dress like community theater actresses and/or homeless people, but have the ability to make your backyard ripple like a wave, they’re probably sincere about wanting to escort you on a magical quest.

6. If you teleport to a beach on an evil planet and sample the cuisine there, don’t be  surprised if it still tastes like sand.

Ready Player One

7. Life in the future may be so hopeless that multiple gamers will be willing to enact the same fatal scenario repeatedly, even though it hasn’t a chance in hell of moving them up a coveted level.

8. If you’re a socially awkward computer genius who is dating your colleague’s love interest, creating a game which enacts your dilemma might not help too much in real life – but will entertain future gamers determined to win the grand prize.

9. Virtual reality moves pretty fast – but literally going backwards can be the key to advancing a level.

Chappaquiddick

10. If you can’t quite remember driving off a bridge the night before, submerging yourself in a bathtub of water will do the trick and jog your memory.

11. If you’re a public figure and need privacy to make a condolence call, you can always hijack the local chief of police’s office.

12. If you’re going to make a heartfelt speech to your constituents, make sure your gestures are scripted by cue cards to be extra moving.

Isle of Dogs

13. If you’re a dog on a trash-filled island, it’s still best to take vote with your pack before doing such things as fighting for a food package, helping a child who’s crashed onto the island, etc.

14. Once you’ve survived an accident that leaves you orphaned plus an unauthorized solo plane crash, pulling a propeller blade from the side of your head won’t faze you a bit.

15. Haiku can move even the hardest hearts, if you insert one into an impassioned speech to save your city’s pets from banishment.

A Quiet Place

16. If you and your family find themselves in a post-apocalyptic world populated by monsters attracted to sound, you should just rely on a system of lights to signal danger, rather than build a shelter where they can’t easily sneak up on you.

17. Even if you live in a world where monsters may try to kill you at anytime, corn silos can be potentially lethal places for kids, too, so keep something they can grab if they fall in handy.

18. When looting a drugstore with young children in said world, it’s best to double check to make sure they haven’t snuck any noisy toys with them before you leave. You might also want to keep a closer eye on them as you walk back home.

I Feel Pretty

19. To avoid a humiliating discussion about spin class shoe size, in front of all the skinny women waiting to get theirs, it might be best to bring your own.

20. Falling off an exercise bike might turn out to be more disturbing for the gym attendant than you if you fall under a spell and suddenly are convinced that you have become drop dead gorgeous, rather than merely bruised and in shock.

21. Even the relative of the girl who defeats you in a bikini contest will envy your boyfriend if you execute your moves with enough chutzpah.

Tully

22. If you’re a school administrator dealing with the pregnant mother of one of your problem students, avoid diplomatic adjectives like “quirky” like the plague, or face a meltdown the size of Texas.

23. Even a “bad” mom will already have every ingredient in the house she needs to make fancy cupcakes on the spur of the moment for her son’s kindergarten the next day (including food coloring in every shade of the rainbow); she just won’t have the energy to make them – at least for awhile.

24. Thomas Wolfe was right when he said you can’t go home again – especially not to the hipster pad you had in your twenties.

Overboard

25. If you’re hired to clean a spoiled playboy’s yacht, and he orders you to bring him a mango, you should probably feign deafness rather than engage in a knock-down drag-out argument.

26. If you open your home to an adult male amnesiac stranger, two days without any major alarms, including the stranger spontaneously bringing home frozen yogurt, is enough to let him sleep on the couch rather than the shed – even if you have three daughters.

27. Even if your temporary amnesia abates to the point where you can successfully hold down a second job delivering pizza by car – a task which requires good reflexes and judgment – you will still have no idea your wife and kids aren’t yours – and the issue of your license will never come up.

Life of the Party

28. If you are going to inform your wife that you’re having an affair and selling the house you’ve lived in since you got married, using words like “facilitate,” won’t keep her from dissolving into anger, protests and tears.

29. If you are a middle-aged housewife, and you attend a college party, de-frumping yourself calls for bold measures, i.e. using a random hairbrush in the frat bathroom.

30. If you find yourself saddled with a roommate who never goes outside and is uber-creepy, it pays not to antagonize her because she might wind up saving the day big time and keeping you in college. She could even turn out to be the cousin of a mega-pop star!

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Movie Review: The Limehouse Golem

“Let us begin, my friends, at the end.”

So begins “The Limehouse Golem,” a Gothic mystery which is set, we’re informed, in the pre-Jack the Ripper era, sometime in the late 1800’s. It’s full of gentlemen in top hats, ladies in corsets, grimy streets, fine abodes and characters who speak in aphorisms (“He who observes spills no less blood than he who inflicts the blow.” Lactantius.) My first impression was regret that Mother’s Day had passed because it was the type of period film my mom would love, but as the film headed into the second half, I changed my mind. My mom likes British period films but not ones that descend into the realm of the overly absurd and campy. As “The Limehouse Golem,” is Gothic storytelling on steroids, I was probably wise to go with a gift card this year.

The “Golem” of the title is a murderer who’s terrorizing London, killing victims who do not appear to share any defining similar characteristics, but who is believed to be somehow linked to a music hall actress (Olivia Cooke), after her husband (Sam Reid) is killed, too. That’s the cue for Bill Nighy, who never fails to deliver regardless of period, to step in as an Inspector. We learn right away that he’s “not the marrying kind,” though why this detail is included given the age gap between him and Cooke, is never explained. His partner is the cherubic-faced Daniel Mays who doesn’t have much to do but is on Bill’s side, something Bill fears his superior isn’t and that he is being set up to fail. Anyway, Bill gets right to work which consists mostly of interviewing Olivia, who is on trial for possibly poisoning her husband, about her life. After a grim, poverty-ridden childhood, Olivia goes to live and work at a music hall after her mother passes. This is where she’s taken under the wing of the principal actor (the perpetually pale Douglas Boothe), who becomes her mentor (but not lover). Surprisingly, Olivia becomes a success, but when she meets Sam, he forces her to give up her acting career (you can see where this is heading).

Meanwhile, Bill runs around interviewing suspects, including – I swear – Karl Marx, beard and all (Henry Goodman). Henry also speaks in aphorisms, but in this case, it’s understandable, even if he seems to be shoehorned into the movie (maybe it’s clearer in the novel by Peter Ackroyd on which this is based). None of these suspects are anywhere half as intriguing as Olivia, but a job must be done. It becomes a race against time for Bill to prove her innocence before she ascends the gallows. And then there’s a twist! And then the movie refuses to end – the best you can say about this is that at least it subverts being too predictable. Viewers who enjoy British period mysteries may enjoy curling up on a dark and stormy night to watch “The Limehouse Golem,” but they should be prepared to be left scratching their heads when the credits roll.

Movie Review: Life of the Party

The pitch for “Life of the Party” doesn’t exactly require a lot of complex thought. It’s basically – What if Melissa McCarthy went “Back to School“!? Wouldn’t that be a hoot? After all, she’s already gone on the mother of all road trips (“Tammy“), been an amateur spy (“Spy“), and played a self-made gazillionaire who becomes a better person by helping her friend’s child’s scout troop be ace entrepreneurs (“The Boss“), so what more is there to do? Thus I assume Melissa and her director husband, Ben Falcone, scratched their heads for exactly two seconds for the next route to take – and the result is that we get Melissa playing a middle-aged housewife who drops off her daughter (Molly Gordon) at college along with her husband (Stephen Root). Just as we’re thinking Molly looks a little long in the tooth to be a freshman (even by movie standards), we learn that she’s a senior. (Whew – dodged that credibility bullet.)

As for Stephen, we know from the second he opens his mouth that he’s a dick because he reminds Melissa that technically she never graduated, so it’s his alma mater, not hers – you see, Melissa dropped out when she became pregnant with Molly during her senior year. Quickly he cements this impression because the moment Molly disappears into her mansion cum sorority house, he informs Melissa that a) he’s been seeing a Realtor – Julie Bowen, b) he’s selling the house because it’s in his name, and c) he likes to kick puppies when no one is looking. Actually, c) is that he’s not taking her on her long-awaited trip  abroad, but you get the picture. Even with ample consolation from her best friend (Maya Rudolph) and a liquored up racquet ball session, Melissa is bummed.

However, her bummed out period lasts about three scenes, and then Melissa gets a brainstorm – she’ll enroll in college to finish her degree, as she’s just one semester’s credits away from getting that sheepskin. Molly isn’t exactly thrilled to have her mom on campus – even though they’re in different houses, but her friends welcome their new classmate/den mother with open arms. Soon “Dee-Rock” ditches her specs, lets her hair down literally and becomes – the life of the party! She quickly starts impressing her archaeology professor (Chris Parnell) who is delighted to have a student who laughs at his corny puns. She also catches the eye of a guy much younger (Luke Benward) with whom she becomes smitten (it’s mutual) at a party. Meanwhile Stephen Root gets his ear pierced and quickly things escalate to the point where he and Gillian are tying the knot. And though Melissa is a force of nature on campus, lecturing her quasi-sorority sisters on girl-power and self-esteem, she still has a few things to learn herself.

In “Back to School,” there’s a scene where Rodney meets up with his son and his best friend who are buying books and supplies – he helpfully clears out the jam-packed store by announcing that Bruce Springsteen is outside. “Life of the Party,” tops this by having a plot point center around a non-existent visit by Christina Aguilera, or so that’s what everyone believes. In this case, fibbing is rewarded, just another mildly mixed message this movie sends, but the jokes are so relentlessly and cheerfully lobbed at the viewer that in the end, it’s beside the point. As for the viewer who might be doing math to gauge the extent that Melissa is robbing the cradle, there’s her father who, after listening to Luke’s impassioned speech as to how much he cares for her, intones mirthlessly: “Son, I have a gun.”

A Look Back: Sky High

As a rule, the logistics of being a superhero do not tend to be explored either when establishing a backstory or advancing on to Save the Planet. But sometimes you gotta wonder. What happens if you order replacement tights or a breast shield from Amazon, and you get a notice in your email that they’re on back order – so very sorry, but these things do happen? In the era where everyone carries a cell, where do you go to change from your street clothes into your super costume when you receive an urgent bulletin that someone is in trouble? Is there a gene for superpowerism – and is it dominant or recessive? If your children don’t inherit your powers, what is a viable career path for you to point them toward?

The last question is, in fact, explored in a 2005 film “Sky High.” Most parents, at least today, are convinced that their kids are truly extraordinary, but what happens if they are wrong? While this may not matter much in a world where no one is gifted with superpowers – the odds that they’ll find their niche with love and support is likely to occur, in one where every other child is suddenly flying around the livingroom or turning twigs into apple-bearing trees with a touch, this presents a problem. (This is the reverse of “Matilda” in which Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman kept failing to notice that their daughter really was a telekinetic genius, even as ordinary objects zoomed around them.) Like the Harry Potter-verse, in the world of “Sky High,” it’s common for superpowers to manifest themselves with the coming of puberty. So when Will (Michael Angarano), son of The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), who is about to start his freshman year at Sky High, fails to show any signs of this, he lets his parents assume otherwise. His best friend/love interest, Danielle Panabaker, does have the aforementioned twig-transforming talent, but she doesn’t treat as any big deal and loyally keeps Michael’s secret when the movie opens.

The next day, Michael and his fellow newbies are transported to Sky High in a flying bus driven by Kevin Hefferman who is a Squib, er, I mean the non-super-powered offspring of two superheroes, but who is good-natured about the whole deal. Once there, the freshies are taken to the gym so that they can put on the Sorting Hat – er, give a display of their particular power so they can be sorted into the Hero or Sidekick track. Because Danielle refuses to display hers, she and Michael are put in the latter track, which is not exactly going to propel them to Super Ivy League heights. However, Kurt, still under the impression that Michael has powers, later takes him into his inner sanctum and shows him his most impressive weapon – the Pacifier, which he took off a supervillain in his younger years called (no snickering now) Royal Pain. Like father, like son!

Things take a turn for the better when Michael gets into an altercation with the school bully (Steven Strait), finally manifests super-strength, and is promptly whisked off to the cushy Hero track. He also attracts the eye of a super-popular senior (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who doesn’t mind robbing the cradle; this however, puts her at odds with Danielle as you might expect. Also, there is a super-villain who is still nursing old wounds and who plans to get revenge big-time. You know how this is going to pan out – with everyone learning a Valuable Lesson about respecting differences, and with the world safely saved.

Sky High” is a tad derivative, but then what movie isn’t in this genre? It doesn’t take itself too seriously (hence some of the cheesy names), and is chock full of super-fun. It also caught fire when it comes to the endless fan fiction churned out by writers who dream of having super-powers. Enjoy.

Movie Review: Overboard (2018)

Head injuries in Hollywood movies can be many things – a way to inject humor in a scene that needs it, for example. Another popular use is using them as a catalyst for a character to begin transforming into a better person. This happened in “Regarding Henry,” in which getting shot in a drugstore robbery turned out to be the best thing possible for Harrison Ford, even though technically he sustains brain damage, he learns how cool it is to see your daughter’s face light up when you bring home a puppy. In “Overboard,” the Garry Marshall remake which originally starred Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Eugenio Derbez falls off his yacht in a drunken state, gets claimed by Anna Faris who wants to teach him a lesson, and becomes Dad of the Year. And all this in a span of a week.

In “Overboard,” Anna plays a single mom who works as a carpet cleaner and a pizza delivery person for a restaurant, who is totally overwhelmed, much like Charlize Theron in “Tully,” except she’s not pregnant. Though she’s studying to become a nurse, the viewer may wonder why she just doesn’t try to make some fast money by writing a book in which she explains how she’s managed to maintain her fabulous figure after having three kids. (Plus her selfish 72-year-old mother, Swoosie Kurtz, has decided to take an acting role and can’t watch the kiddos.) In one of her cleaning jobs, she meets Eugenio who plays a spoiled playboy and billionaire heir to a company that manufactures bags to carry cement in among other lucrative ventures. She and Eugenio get into a heated fight after he demands she bring him a snack, which results in Anna losing her job and owing the company $3,000 for a piece of destroyed equipment. Eugenio’s father is very ill, as well, and one of his sisters is angling to take over the company when he croaks. So when Eugenio temporarily drops off the map, she has a vested interest in making sure he stays gone.

Meanwhile, Anna – egged on by her best friend (Eva Longoria) concocts a ruse in which she shows up at the hospital claiming to be Eugenio’s wife. He resists, but after she points out an intimate detail – a tattoo on his rear – the doctor is sufficiently convinced to release him without any blood tests or anything that might get in the way of Anna’s plans. Which are – get Eugenio a menial pool building job with Eva’s brother, and force him to do her chores while she studies for her nursing exam. Eugenio gets the hang of things fast, and what you might expect if you’ve seen a movie before occurs. But how can Anna bear to tell the truth, etc., etc.?

Overboard,” is the reverse of Rudyard Kipling’s “Captain Courageous,” in which a spoiled rich boy becomes a man by going aboard a fishing boat and working his butt off, but it’s basically a fairytale in this version that may not be too convincing when you consider the advances in social media – not to mention medical care. It has some sweet scenes centering around the kids, but is probably worth waiting for on DVD if you don’t have an abundance of free time. And can’t manage to find someone with amnesia to do your chores.

Discussion questions: 1. If you could get away with it, would you kidnap a rich person with temporary amnesia and make them your temporary servant? If so, who would you choose? Explain.

2. What precautions would you put in place to ensure that they didn’t find out? Which of your friends and/or family members would you trust with your secret? Explain.

3. If you got in trouble with the law, would you accept the consequences without complaint, or would you try to bargain with the judge? What kind of real life consequences do you think someone would receive in a case like this anyway? Explain.

Movie Review: Tully

There’s a scene in “Tully,” where Charlize Theron brings her youngest son (Asher Miles Fallica) who has “atypical” special needs to his new school, and he has a meltdown in the boys’ room. Charlize, while gripping the bassinet of her new baby, is trying to soothe him – when what to their frazzled eyes should appear but an ordinary looking man who approaches them in the hall and suggests that they “be trees,” leading them through a series of yoga poses which brings things back to “normal.”

It’s yet another unexpected moment in a movie full of oddball ones that still manage to be realistic and black-humored. And for Charlize, who plays a mom of two young children, including one on the way when the film (written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman) opens, it’s yet another small nugget of advice that will help her on her journey back to feeling like a competent woman who can deal with whatever life decides to throw at her.

Most of the sage advice, however, comes from Charlize’s new night nanny Tully (odd name explained later; played by Mackenzie Davis), who is hired with financial help from her brother (Mark Duplasse). Her husband (Ron Livingston) is willing to help with the kids when he’s home but travels a lot for his job (maybe he should see a hypnotist), leaving Charlize exhausted when it comes to dealing with three kids’ needs around the clock. Now she’s reduced to serving frozen pizza for dinner and permitting her daughter (Lia Frankland) to text at the table, things that makes her worry that a visit from Child Protective Services is right around the corner. So she reluctantly agrees to hire Mackenzie, and soon things aren’t back to the way they used to be – they’re way better.

Mackenzie, who is Mary Poppins without the umbrella and the carpetbag, and despite her odd assortment of trivia and New Age philosophy, soon charms her way into Charlize’s life. She bakes Minion cupcakes, she gets Charlize exercising again, she gives her advice on how to jumpstart her sex life, she does it all. But like that other famous nanny, she can’t stick around forever.

Tully” has a twist of sorts –  it’s like “Mary Poppins” meets “The Sixth Sense.” It’s also a no-holds-barred look at motherhood that we seldom see in Hollywood movies. (It can also be shown alongside “Chappaquiddick” for a D.A.R.E. program if those are still around.) People like Tully are kind of like the magic feather in “Dumbo” – they’re meant to help us think we can fly, when perhaps we could all along and just needed a temporary boost.

 

 

 

 

 

A Look Back: The Hunger Games

If you were an American high school student, you were probably exposed to at least one classic of dystopian lit, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” or George Orwell’s famous duo “Animal Farm,” and “1984.” If you were like me, your first reaction might have been something along the lines of, “Gee, this is kinda grim. Why does the future have to be such an unmitigated bummer? What about the flying cars? What about hoverboards?” Of course, the last two questions were not considered relevant to the discussion. But there’s no denying that literature set in the future skews toward the deeply depressing. In “Brave New World,” humans are divided into castes – bred from the start for a certain path in life, and in “1984” all genuine joy has been leached from the propaganda-driven everyday existence of the protagonist. While there is sex in the various futures, it is largely mindless, illegalish or both, which may be why old-fashioned dystopian novels fall short in ways the new ones do not.

Why? Mainly, because the new dystopian novel crop rarely forget a certain key element guaranteed to appeal to their teen readers. Which is, of course, a really awesome love triangle. When authors, such as Suzanne Collins, boldly stepped into the breach to correct this with what became a best-seller, “The Hunger Games,” another element was born – mainly that books were more appealing if they came in threes. Thus followed many young adult trilogies about dystopia, some more successful than others.

The Hunger Games,” is set in a world where everything is divided into 12 districts (though there’s forbidden hints of a 13th), the rich have all the power, and parents have a tendency to give their kids names based on flowers, pastoral elements or famous Romans depending on their income. Our heroine is called Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives with her younger sister (Willow Shields), Willow’s grouchy cat, and widowed mother in a coal-mining district in poverty. (The mom is so much of a cipher, she doesn’t even get a first name.) Their income is illegally supplemented by Jennifer hunting in the nearby woods, a skill that alas, will shortly come in handy when she and her sister enter the mandatory lottery for the annual Hunger Game contestants (who are all eighteen and under). You see, every year, each district is required to send a boy and a girl contestant to compete in the nationally televised Games, in which all are forced to fight to the death – only one “lucky” winner can emerge. Rich districts consider this an honor and train the kids to be potential winners, though this is technically illegal. But the poorer ones don’t have that luxury.

Anyway, after Willow is chosen (at age 12), Katniss volunteers in her place, and leaves her fellow hunky hunting partner (Liam Hemsworth) behind to head off to the Capitol with a fellow contestant (Josh Hutcherson) who is also hunky and who has always harbored a secret crush on her. Their guides are a former District winner (Woody Harrelson) who is an alcoholic and Elizabeth Banks, the hostess for their event who is so perky you want to slap her. When they reach the Capitol, they are forced to participate in parades and TV interviews and makeovers so that they can win the hearts of the rich viewers and get little bonuses during the actual Games. So Jennifer reluctantly plays along that she has a raging crush on Josh.

Of course, this is yet another movie/novel that breaks its ironclad rules, so both Jennifer and Josh can live. Along the way, though, innocents are sacrificed, and the duo help ignite a revolution in the poorer districts. This will all be resolved in Book Three. The trilogy has to sacrifice certain elements on the big screen to streamline things, but the filmmakers get another cat by the second installment so it matches the book one, plus they get sufficiently good-looking leads for both Jennifer’s love interests, thus showing that they truly know the way to their audience’s hearts.