Movie Review: The Founder

One of my early memories involves sitting in a McDonald’s by the window with my family watching the sky light up with lightning from a random thunderstorm. Extreme weather on one side; fast food on the other – what’s not to be happy about, at least when you’re a kid? Of course, this was years before I had one of “those” teachers; you know, the kind who believes it is their solemn duty to educate their charges on the Way the World Really Works, including the realities of how one’s hamburger arrives in one’s paper wrapping, which contributed to my becoming a (sort of) vegetarian. In “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as real-life McDonald’s (co) founder, Ray Kroc, we don’t get to see how the hamburger is made, but we do get to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the other two founders’ idealism slowly gets eroded, which may make you think twice about patronizing McDonald’s.

When the movie starts in the fifties, Michael is spending most of his time on the road hawking his mixers (which no one really wants) and bemoaning the current state of fast food joints, in which you must wait upward to a half hour for your food, even if it is ultimately served to you by a perky girl on roller skates. When out of the blue, he gets an order for six mixtures for one restaurant, he assumes it’s an error, but when he calls Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald to verify, Michael is assured that it’s valid. In fact, he should even bring two more! When he goes out to San Bernardino, Calif. to see the place for himself, Michael is knock-your-socks-off impressed. Not only does he get his food a few minutes after ordering, it’s tasty, portable and easy to dispose of the trash when done. Soon, he’s proposing to the McDonald brothers that they consider franchising it – but they’re too hung up on things like quality control and avoiding “crass commercialism.” They also want to keep the menu focus just on burgers, fries and milkshakes. If you can imagine. But Michael works on them and gets them to consider the idea, even after he hangs up on them multiple times prompting this exchange:

One brother: “His bark is worse than his bite.”

Other brother dryly: “That’s what Neville Chamberlain said.”

Hee. But soon, they’ve struck a deal with the devil – though like most movies of this sort (“The Social Network”), they won’t realize it for awhile. As it turns out, not only should one read ALL the fine print when signing a business deal, but one must also never simply rely on a goodwill handshake to seal things. The McDonald brothers are savvy about a lot of things – such as taking advantage of the transition from carhops to restaurants without “undesirable elements,” i.e. teenagers, but sadly, make a mistake trusting Michael. Today, fast food chains fill a valuable niche in a world where everything is open 24-7, but probably are not considered shining examples of non-crass commercialism. Everyone in the film does a decent enough job, and it nicely captures the atmosphere of that era, but there’s not a lot to distinguish “The Founder” from similar movies. But perhaps a movie focusing squarely on the McDonald brothers might be worth making – they certainly have a more easy-to-sympathize-with rags-to-riches path. In the end, however, the good guys got shafted, but McDonald’s is still forever. Even if it does serve other items besides burgers now.

Everything, Everything: An Abridged Script

FADE IN

EXT. OCEAN

AMANDLA STENBERG floats in tranquil turquoise water.

AMANDLA STENBERG
Greetings! I look like I’m having an awesome time, don’t I? Well, this is just my FANTASY. In REALITY, I am trapped in a sterile house 24-7 because I am ALLERGIC to EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN – LITERALLY. I would probably DIE if I went outside. I’ve been stuck here since I was a baby. Most people with my disorder die before TWO. Only my NURSE and her DAUGHTER know I even exist outside my mom. Depressed yet?

AUDIENCE MEMBER
Wait, how is it possible that you’re that sick, yet you’ve never once been to a hospital? What about things like medication and vaccinations? Why…

AMANDLA STENBERG
My mom’s a DOCTOR, okay? She takes care of all of that doctor stuff. No one seems to think it’s a breach of ethics for her to be her daughter’s only full-time physician. Logic’s not this movie’s strong point.

AUDIENCE MEMBER
Okay, then.

INT. STERILE HOUSE
AMANDLA’s MOM, ANIKA NONI ROSE cancels her night out so that she can stay home with AMANDLA for a fun night of Scrabble, keeping everything sterilzed and ironing one of her daughter’s many interchangeable WHITE SHIRTS.

ANIKA NONI ROSE
Isn’t this fun, honey?

AMANDLA STENBERG
If you say so, Mom.

The DOORBELL RINGS, and ANIKA answers it. It’s NICK ROBINSON with a bundt cake.

NICK ROBINSON
Welcome! My mom baked this as an apology for moving in. Later on, you’ll understand because she’s a battered wife, and my dad’s a complete dick.

ANIKA NONI ROSE
(recoils like he offered her a plate of dead spiders)

NICK ROBINSON
Not a fan of bundt then? That’s all right. By the way, is your daughter around?

ANIKA NONI ROSE
Well, that didn’t take long. Get out of here, you horndog. I knew that cake was just a lame excuse. You probably bought it at the corner store.

NICK ROBINSON
(makes adorable sad face; slowly leaves, while AMANDLA watches both adorably and sadly from her tower.

EXT. EVENING

NICK ROBINSON is in his house watching AMANDLA in hers. They exchange many flawless-complexioned, dewy eyed, wistful gazes. Finally, he writes his CELL NUMBER on a piece of paper and holds it up.

AMANDLA STENBERG
Well, that beats a boombox.

(texts Nick, begins adorable romance)

INT. STERILE HOUSE
AMANDLA’s day nurse, ANA de la REGUERA chats with AMANDLA.

ANA de la REGUERA
Boy, you seem perky lately. You’ve even started wearing colored tops – how’d you manage that?

AMANDLA STENBERG
Who knew it was so easy to get a CREDIT CARD online when technically no one knows you exist? How did I not figure this out sooner?

ANA de la REGUERA
This wouldn’t have anything to do with NICK next door now, would it?

AMANDLA STENBERG
We haven’t done anything yet! Just eye-flirted. Don’t tell mom.

ANA de la REGUERA
I won’t. In fact, I’ll go a step further and allow you two to meet when she’s not around, if you promise to stay on opposite sides of the room.

AMANDLA STENBERG
(crosses fingers behind back)
No problem!

INT. STERILE HOUSE

NICK ROBINSON
I’m floppy haired and good looking in a boy band androgynous way. I have a grim family secret and a dark outlook on life. Boy, you look cute all the way over there.

AMANDLA STENBERG
I’m radiant which sort of calls into question why I think I’m sick, but let’s chalk it up to first love. I want to be an ARCHITECT, which is sad because the odds of my ever leaving home are nil. I’ve never fallen in love before, but I definitely am now.

(moves a few steps closer)

NICK ROBINSON
If you could go out of the house and do anything, what would you like to do?

AMANDLA STENBERG
Go see the ocean.

(moves closer so that they are now within touching distance)

NICK ROBINSON
Well, it sounds like we’re destined to be soul mates, even after just one brief encounter.

AMANDLA STENBERG
Obviously! We’re so cute together, the AUDIENCE wants to pinch our cheeks. How could our love be wrong?

EXT. OUTSIDE NICK’s HOUSE

AMANDLA watches in horror as NICK’s BAD DAD shoves him, then runs out of the house, followed a heartbeat later by ANIKA.

ANIKA NONI ROSE
What the hell are you doing? You could die! Get back inside.

AMANDLA STENBERG
(goes back inside)
Oh, MOM, my life sucks! I don’t want to lose NICK!

ANIKA NONI ROSE
(real line)
He’s not “your Nick.”

AMANDLA STENBERG
All right, Mom. You might have a point. I will retire to my room in a bizarrely mature fashion to consider this.

She does. Then SHE and NICK BREAK UP. Then they don’t. Then they sort of do – but by this point, who’s keeping track?

EXT. OUTSIDE NICK’s HOUSE

AMANDLA STENBERG
(carrying bags)
Hi, long time, no see. Wanna go to Hawaii with me? I bought tickets online.

NICK ROBINSON
Well, now, this is a surprise. Luckily, it’s summer and I can take a few days off to go with you, so why the heck not? Jeez, this movie has more PLOT HOLES than SWISS CHEESE, but who cares?

They GO and have an ADORABLE TIME until AMANDLA collapses and is rushed to the hospital!

INT. BACK IN STERILE HOUSE

AMANDLA gets the phone.
Hello?

VOICE AT OTHER END
Hi, this is the doctor who attended you when you got sick in Hawaii recently. Your chart says you’re sick, but the odds that someone with your immune system has that DISEASE are VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT.

AMANDLA STENBERG
Well, that is definitely a bombshell that has just exploded everything I thought I knew. Thanks for calling!

DISTRAUGHT, AMANDLA rummages through her MOM’s HOME OFFICE but does not find anything REMOTELY RELATED to her ILLNESS. UH OH. Then right on cue, ANIKA bursts in!

ANIKA NONI ROSE
What do you think you’re doing?

AMANDLA STENBERG
I can’t find any paperwork remotely related to my ILLNESS, what’s going on?

ANIKA tries to put her off, but is finally forced to admit that AMANDLA isn’t ill at all!

ANIKA NONI ROSE
But, you must understand, your brother and father died when you were a baby, and I didn’t want to lose you, too. Plus you got sick and wound up in the ER for three days, so it’s not like I didn’t have cause to be concerned, right?

AMANDLA STENBERG
Screw you! NICK’s now in NEW YORK which is a gazillion miles from here. What are the odds, I could make it onto another plane flight?

ANIKA NONI ROSE
You could always take a train, but…..

AMANDLA STENBERG
(runs out, manages to get to NY, finds NICK and declares her EVERLASTING LOVE.

NICK ROBINSON
So you aren’t sick, after all?

AMANDLA STENBERG
Nope! Maybe one day, I’ll forgive Mom, but for now, let’s be together!

They DO.

END

 

 

Movie Lessons: Spring 2017

Warning: These may contain spoilers.

Logan

1. If a parentless child appears with your identical superpower, repeatedly disavowing that she’s yours is futile.

2. Knocking out, kidnapping and confining a man with retractable claws for hands is also futile. Even if your team outnumbers him, and he’s intoxicated.

3. Kids who have spent all their life in a lab still should be taken seriously when they discuss their future. They know more than you think they do.

Patriots Day

4. If you’re nursing a bum knee, you should probably try another way to force entry into a locked apartment.

5. If you are kidnapped by a terrorist, it’s a good idea to feign taking him seriously, even when he goes on about how 9-11 was an elaborate hoax.

6. Never underestimate the local police when you’re on a stakeout to take down two terrorists, even if it’s not your native territory.

Before I Fall

7. If you think being a teenager is tough, try being trapped in a loop where you relive the same day over and over.

8. Always be civil to the class outcast because it could come back to haunt you in a horrifying way.

9. If you decide to declare your love for the shy guy who you used to be best friends with as a kid, make sure to leave enough time – if you’re going to have to intervene in a potential suicide later.

Gifted

10. If you’re a single dad with an overnight guest who happens to be your kid’s teacher, it’s a good idea to go to a hotel, if your child’s being babysit at the house next door.

11. Palmetto bugs in a modest Florida home may be enough to sink your child custody case.

12. If you make it in time to prevent your daughter’s cat from being put to sleep at the shelter, why not adopt all the ones on death row, as well?

The Circle

13. If you have just been hired to work at a company known for invisible cameras all over the globe, you should avoid going into super-secret rooms at your workplace, even if your friend says it’s okay if you don’t tell anyone.

14. Becoming “transparent,” may put a damper on your parents’ sex life.

15. If your quasi-boyfriend goes on and on about how he hates the invasiveness of today’s technology, you should probably take him seriously.

Going In Style

16. Even discount grocery stores have working security cameras, so you should avoid trying to pull off a heist there

17. If you’ve got a bum back, be extra careful when bending over as you commit a robbery.

18. Everyone deserves a piece of the pie – literally and otherwise.

The Promise

19. If you can’t get a scholarship to a top medical school, you can always fall back on your dowry.

20. It’s possible to escape from a prison camp, hitch a ride on a train and jump into a river, only to emerge with nary a scratch on you later.

21. If you are flirting with your patron’s governess, and he catches you, you can always claim you were dancing for exercise, but he won’t believe you.

King Arthur

22. Swords can be temperamental, even if they’re yours by destiny.

23. Even super-villain kings who turn into glowing coals while fighting really are just lonely little boys who want to be loved by their subjects.

24. Traumatic childhood flashbacks can prolong a battle to the death with your mortal enemy.

Everything, Everything

25. Not everyone will be thrilled with a friendly welcome and bundt cake from their new next door neighbors, if they are hiding a dark secret.

26. In a post 9-11 world, it’s possible for a teen with no photo ID, who has never left the house in years, to board a flight to Hawaii and arrive there without incident.

27. If your homebound teenager switches from always wearing a white t-shirt to colored tops, it may be a sign that she’s in love.

Movie Review: Everything, Everything

For a movie reviewer, there are few review-writing challenges tougher than writing a synopsis of a film where one of the major characters is gravely ill. Do you assume your readers have already read the book on which it’s based and give away the ending – because “everyone” already knows it? Or do you play it coy? In “Everything, Everything” (based on the best-selling YA novel by Nicola Yoon), the main character (Amandla Stenberg, “The Hunger Games”) a teen who has never left the house since she was a toddler because of severe life-threatening allergies, spends her time (among other things) posting online book reviews, and we get to read several spoilers. So I’ll just say right away that this review also gives away the big reveal.

It’s hard to believe Amandla (though we have no reason not to) when she informs us from the start that if she goes outside, she may well die. After all, she looks perfectly healthy when we first meet her. More interestingly, how is it that she has never once tried to sneak out – even if for just a few minutes – anyway, risks be damned? (And how is it that she seems more poised and mature than most teens who can?) But her mother (Anika Noni Rose) has warned her that she has a compromised immune system – and her mom is also a doctor. This helps explain a big question mark once we learn mom’s “secret.” It also helps explain why Amandla never uses financial means as an excuse for not doing anything – she is only encumbered by the literal four walls of her home. But all that begins to change when a cute guy her age (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and begins flirting with her via cell – a valuable communication tool that say, Romeo and Juliet, lacked. Soon enough, Amandla is enlisting her day nurse (Ana de la Reguera) to help her secretly meet Nick in the flesh. Though they are supposed to maintain a strict distance between each other, pretty soon they’re within touching distance and falling in love.

One thing leads to another, and eventually, Amandla does sneak out to meet Nick – and not just to go to the local coffee shop but all the way to Hawaii by plane. (It’s summer which helps plug that plot hole a little.) When Anika discovers her daughter’s note, she notifies the authorities, but does not strangely enough, contact Nick’s parents or put a hold on Amandla’s credit card, so the two have an amazing impromptu vacation (they appear to be the only ones in Hawaii in several scenes) in which Amandla encounters the ocean for the first time (a long awaited dream). Sadly, Amandla eventually collapses and has to be rushed to the hospital, putting an end to their fun. But a surprising phone call from a medical professional who treated her in Hawaii suddenly sets Amandla’s world off kilter. Could it be that she isn’t really “sick” at all? Yes, folks, yes indeed. If she’s a victim of anything, it’s Munchausen’s syndrome – and her mom is the one who’s made everything up. Still, she has a second chance to tell Nick that she loves him, which she promptly takes.

There’s another recently released movie about the same topic: “Mommy: Dead and Dearest,” which is based on a real-life case. In that one, the daughter rebels by meeting a guy online and eventually becoming an accessory to murder. “Everything, Everything,” is nowhere that melodramatic in plot, but it follows a predictable teen movie romance course. Amandla is as good here as she was as Rue in “The Hunger Games,” although she looks far too healthy for anyone not to have caught on to mom’s deception by now. But there’s a happy ending with both teens ending up together. I don’t know if forgiveness is ultimately in the cards for mom, but the movie ends on an upbeat note.

 

Movie Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

While there are many interpretations of the “King Arthur” legend, if the viewer, like me, is most familiar with “The Once and Future King” (book by T.H. White) narrative, the new eponymous Guy Ritchie-directed film will likely leave you scratching your head. As you sit in semi-darkness with the smell of old popcorn lingering in your nostrils, your fingers will get quite a workout as you watch the lead, Charlie Hunnam, strut, pose and posture his way through the movie. He’s a convincing enough King Arthur, I suppose, if you’re expecting a vintage Guy Ritchie-directed movie. The subtitle is “Legend of the Sword,” but it could also be called “The Prequel to the Actual Kingship.” because even though Charlie grasps the sword early on, he still has to battle his evil uncle (Jude Law) for the right to reign until the credits.

I always thought that King Arthur, while orphaned at an early age and never knowing his parents, still managed to have a non-traumatic enough youth, what with having a kindly foster dad and a magician for a tutor who transformed him into all kinds of beasts and birds and…okay, scratch that. Here there are many CGI-fantastical beasts and birds, but no one transfigures themselves. Instead Charlie witnesses the death of his parents (which will haunt him in flashbacks for most of the movie) by Jude as a small boy and takes refuge in a boat which drifts down the river to a brothel in a bustling city. He is raised by the women there with no knowledge of his origins, until he is grown. Then, when he’s taken in by a group of dynamic knights-to-be, including Tom Wu (“Kung Fu George,” yes, really), Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen and a female mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). At first, you wonder if she’s going to be a love interest (her name is Guinevere), but no, there isn’t time for that. After he gets his “but you’re a wizard!” moment, he spends about fifteen minutes protesting and saying he doesn’t want the job of leading the “Resistance” (yes, really), but eventually, Charlie caves and agrees to be their leader.

To prepare for battle, Charlie visits a creepy island and slays a great many fantastical creatures. He also winds up having to meet with Jude bare-handed, after Jude manages to ensnare Charlie’s friend’s little boy. Eventually, he gets to fight Jude with his magical sword, Excalibur, but is also forced to grapple with flashbacks as he does so. Jude winds up having some kind of magical power that allows him to glow like hot coals as he fights. Why Charlie doesn’t just dump a bucket of water on him, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I do not know. Probably not as dramatic as the way Charlie actually defeats Jude. In the end, everything works out, and Charlie shows off his new Round Table, remarking “Why have enemies, when you can have friends?” It’s a good question, and the viewer might wonder, as he or she watches the movie, “why watch another “King Arthur” remake when you could be doing….pretty much anything else?” The film is long on action sequences and special effects, and short on character development. If you want to watch a prime summer movie blockbuster, however, you could do worse.

A Look Back: Angus

Typically if you are a character in a Hollywood teen movie, you want to stay as far away as possible from proms – or their equivalent. If you’re unpopular, the chances that you’ll be humiliated are sky high; if you’re a bully, those chances will rise even higher; and even if you’re neither, something bizarre – such as discovering that your date is really of the opposite gender – might occur. You can never tell. But if characters avoided proms, there would be no moment where the protagonist develops the oratorical powers of Winston Churchill and delivers a speech that produces stunned silence and then a slow clap. In “Angus,” based on the short story by young adult novelist Chris Crutcher, the prom climax is predictable but thanks to the performance of the lead, Charlie Talbert, still satisfying enough. Who doesn’t want to see the villains get their comeuppance, especially if they’re as smirky as the one played by James Van Der Beek here.

“Angus,” also features perhaps the only onscreen adolescent football player to suffer from a lack of self-confidence. Even odder is the fact that Charlie also excels at academics, particularly science, a combination which one would assume would not sap your esteem, but being overweight makes him shyer around girls, especially his hopeless crush (Ariana Richards). His loyal sidekick (Chris Owens) may be outwardly more confident, but still harbors insecurities over his own looks. His nemesis, James Van Der Beek, sadly only gets more good looking every time he taunts Charlie to the point of breaking his nose. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) Unfortunately, James is also plotting something truly evil when the film begins: mainly rigging the election results so that Charlie is given the honor of dancing with Ariana at the upcoming dance. However, Charlie may have an unexpected outlet as he has the chance to transfer to a magnet school. So he does have a bolt hole should things get too unpleasant.

In the short story, the main character has gay parents, but that has been revised for the movie, and Charlie now lives with single mom, Kathy Bates, and his crusty but loveable grandfather, George C. Scott, who provides moral guidance even if he has odd ideas about what is appropriate to wear to a school dance (a purple tuxedo). Only marginally more helpful is Chris who attempts to teach Charlie how to dance – something that will be used against him at the prom, thanks to the ever nefarious James. But Charlie, who obviously has his head on straight to begin with – at least compared to most movie teens – just needs some time and guidance to make the right choice. And then he will discover that Ariana liked him all along – for his character, not his looks. And James will be satisfyingly humiliated, even though he remains a self-centered jerk. But as “Revenge of the Nerds,” showed us earlier, there’s a lot more Charlies out there than there are of the “beautiful people.” Which is a lesson worth reiterating.

A Look Back: Accepted

Attending college in this day and age typically requires sacrifices on the part of the child and his/her parents. Such sacrifices are portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in Hollywood movies ranging from the plausible to the completely irrational. In the upcoming “The House,” Will Ferrell plays a father who decides that opening a casino in his basement will greatly aid him and his wife when it comes to financing their daughter’s college career. Given what higher education costs these days, that strikes me as plausible. About a decade earlier, the movie “Accepted,” dealt with what happens when a college applicant is rejected from all his schools – though his family does have the financial means. It stars Justin Long as the protagonist with Jonah Hill as his best friend. Last year, someone wrote a piece analyzing the various wigs, glasses, etc. that Jonah has worn in movies, but “Accepted,” is the only one (to my knowledge) where he dresses up as a giant wiener. Seriously.

In “Accepted,” everyone assumes (why wouldn’t they?) that Justin has gotten in at least somewhere, and he goes along with it because like 99 percent of movie teens, he has evil parents who withhold their love unless he measures up to their expectations. So he decides to invent a college. It’s the South Harmon Institute of Technology (check out that acronym), and he backs this up by having Jonah design a web site. However, Jonah goes so far as to put a link where “admission is just a click away.” This becomes a lifesaver for the many misfits out there who didn’t get into their dream schools. Fast forward a bit, and the duo finds an abandoned mental institution to transform and hires Jonah’s uncle (Lewis Black) to serve as the “dean.” A squirrelly guy shows up on the “first day,” and they initially mistake him for an inmate, but no, he’s just there to learn. More freshmen follow. Many, many more.

And so the fun begins, as S.H.I.T. quickly becomes the refuge of the tired, the poor, the minority athlete too injured to play, the attention deficit disordered, etc. With their parents’ tuition checks, they do things like build a skateboard ramp to study aerodynamics. Strippers become fashion designers; former psychotics become chefs, and so on.”What courses are you taking?” Justin’s dad asks him via cell. “Uh,” Justin replies, watching a girl suggestively insert her hand under her shorts, “Anatomy!” Meanwhile Jonah has trouble of his own at the school he goes to, mainly centering around frat hazing. Also, the evil dean of the real Harmon College (Anthony Heald) wants to buy up their real estate to expand his school. But eventually, justice prevails, and Justin gets the girl (Blake Lively) and after a courtroom speech that’s inspiring to anyone who hasn’t seen a movie before, his own college as well. I don’t know what became of Justin, but Jonah currently has a decent acting career, even if he might have to put up with wiener jokes at Hollywood roasts.