Friday, April 15, 2016

"The Boss" And the Week in Reviews

[I review the new Melissa McCarthy comedy "The Boss" and DVDs "Youth" and "Concussion." The Book of the Week is "X - Child Stars:  Where Are They Now?"  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project with the W.C. Fields comedy "It's a Gift."]




The Boss


Melissa McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, the 47th richest woman in America until she loses everything when she is imprisoned for insider trading.  When she comes out, she needs to rebuild her fortune.

Michelle is a cross between Suze Orman and Joel Osteen, part financial advisor and part televangelist. She treats her fans with big productions and big ideas. She started out as an orphan who, after being adopted, kept getting returned to the Catholic orphanage (as in several times).  That turned her into a tough cookie and she vowed she would get her revenge by becoming very successful.  Which she did.

Now she is one of the richest women in the world with a real, honest-to-goodness "Yes Man (Tito, played by Cedric Yarbrough)" and personal assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell). However, she made some enemies along the way, especially Renault, who is really Ronald from New Jersey (Peter Dinklage), who gets his revenge by reporting her for insider trading.  She is imprisoned and when she comes out four months later, she has nothing.  Claire has moved on to another job, but Michelle begs her to let her live with her and her daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson) until she gets back on her feet.  Claire cheers her up with one of her brownies from her mother's recipe that Michelle declares the best brownies she has ever tasted. The brownies will figure prominently in the film.  Stick with me. 

Rachel is a Dandelion (read: Girl Scout) and when Michelle takes Rachel to one of her Dandelion meetings where they discuss cookie sales, Michelle sees the money to be made selling cookies and decides her next fortune will be selling Claire's brownies, which Michelle thought were absolutely awesome (see?  I told you the brownies would figure prominently).  She dubs the brownies "Darnell's Darlings." Claire quits her dead-end demeaning job and joins forces with Michelle to start a business. Claire makes the brownies and Michelle markets them.  To do that, Michelle recruits some local girls to sell door-to-door and instructs them to use threats and intimidating tactics, if necessary, which results in a West Side Story-like rumble between the Dandelions and the "Darlings" when the "Darlings" try to sell door-to-door in Dandelion territory. It gets a little uncomfortable when the Moms get into it too and we see adult women beating up little girls.  Remember, it's just a movie!

The "Darlings" are enterprising.  Selling outside of marijuana stores is genius and something that the writers took from real life when some Girl Scouts used that same marketing strategy.  Should work!

All is running smoothly, but Renault is not done with our Michelle.  Now he wants her brownie business and Michelle signs a contract to give the brownie business over to Renault, thus selling Claire out.  Michelle didn't become the 47th richest woman in America by being nice, but when she realizes she has just screwed Claire and her daughter, the closest thing she has to a real family, she gets a twinge of guilt, has a change of heart and the movie turns into a heist film as Michelle and Claire try to break into Renault's office to steal back the contract.

There are some laughs to be had here if the audience I was sitting with was any indication, but I didn't find it particularly funny.  This film wasn't nearly as good as McCarthy's last film "Spy."

I am thinking that perhaps Melissa McCarthy ought to stop collaborating with her husband, Ben Falcone.  He wrote and directed "Tammy" which was bloody awful and now this, which is hit and miss at best when it comes to the comedy department, whereas "Spy," which was NOT directed or written by her husband was a charming, and might I add FUNNY, comedy.  Melissa has to shoulder some of this, too as she also co-wrote "Tammy" and this one.

But the thing about Melissa McCarthy movies is that you have to really like Melissa McCarthy.  And if you really like Melissa McCarthy, the stale jokes and pratfalls don't really matter because it's McCarthy doing her thing that you have come to see. I happen to like McCarthy. I can do without the physical humor and the fat jokes, which mercifully are not in abundance here, but her mugging and comic timing make me laugh, so this film had some funny moments, especially where she helps get Claire ready for a date by hoisting up her bra, but there were not enough laughs for me to tell you to go out and plunk down your hard-earned cash at the theatre.

And one more thing. McCarthy wears a very high turtleneck with every costume change in every scene and I kept waiting for that to be explained.  It never was and it irritated the hell out of me.

Kristen Bell is a warm, lovely presence and Ella Anderson is actually a kid actor I liked.  None of that overly precocious stuff that seems to be popular kid characterizations in films.  Peter Dinklage overacts which I think he meant to do here, and it's fun to see Kathy Bates again as Michelle's mentor who she also screwed over on the way to the top.

But despite a funny premise, McCarthy's schtick and an able supporting cast, the film doesn't really measure up to much despite my fondness for McCarthy.

I am waiting for the new all-girls "Ghostbusters" to redeem her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...You can wait for the DVD on this one or watch "Spy" instead.


 

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now Out On DVD




Youth (2015)


A retired symphony conductor (Michael Caine) and his best friend, a film director (Harvey Keitel) are on vacation in the Swiss Alps which gives them ample time to reflect about their lives. 

Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired internationally known symphony conductor, who is on vacation at a Swiss spa resort. He is approached by an emissary of The Queen.  She wants to give him a knighthood but she also wants him to come out of retirement to conduct his famous "Simple Songs" in a Royal Command Performance. A famous soprano has been lined up to sing it. Fred refuses saying he only conducts that piece for his wife who is the only person who ever sang it and she can no longer sing.

Fred's best friend, Mick Boyle, a director trying to come up with a new script for his final film masterpiece, is also at the spa. The two are co-fathers-in-law.  Fred's daughter (Rachel Weicz) is married to Vic's son, Julian, and he has just deserted her for a pop star who is "good in bed." Fred and Mick meet every day to discuss their prostates and compare how much urine they had been able to produce that day...and they also talk about life and regrets.

Also at the spa is an assortment of other characters: Paul Dano is Jimmy Tree, a Johnny Depp-type actor who wants to be taken seriously.  He has acted in many films but everyone remembers him for "Mr. Q," where he played a robot and that rankles.  There is also a Buddhist who is rumored to levitate from time to time, an overweight soccer player, a couple who never speak at dinner but have wild noisy sex in the woods, and a homely young girl who appears to like to have sex with old guys.  Speaking of old guys, there are lots of naked old people in this film and I don't need to see that.  I see enough of that at home.

With all of the strange characters, this feels like a Wes Anderson film but not as good and not as funny and less accessible.  I didn't really get it.  Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, whose film "The Great Beauty (I didn't get that one either)" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014, the film is about aging, the disconnect between the young and old, the resentments our children feel toward us and getting one more chance at life, all topics that would be of interest to old folks.  But there is an irony here. This is aimed at people of a certain age, but its lack of accessibility will send them running and screaming to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."  That's a shame because much of the dialogue and sentiments will ring true.

Michael says about his daughter that he did things for her so she would remember them but now he realizes she won't remember "a single thing."  He also says that raising children requires tremendous effort with a modest result.  That we will forget our parents.  And there is a great scene with a telescope where Mick says, "When you are young, everything looks very close.  That's the future.  When you are old, everything seems really far away.  That's the past."  It's a tale of regret even after a long life, even with a long life of success, that we are not immune from regrets. As you can see, the film is full of some really great quotes.  Unfortunately, they are not backed up with an understandable story.

I am a huge Michael Caine fan.  I will see anything he is in. I am glad to see that he  looks his age and has not gone the plastic surgery route.  Here we see him with his turkey neck and age spots.  However, Harvey Keitel is an actor I have never really warmed up to.  I think I have never gotten over him in that naked scene in "Bad Lietenant."  If you see it, you will know what I mean.  I have never been able to get that nude scene out of my mind and it's not a good memory.

Jane Fonda makes an appearance.  She looked old which is something she rarely allows to happen.  However, since she is old, if that wasn't makeup making her look old, then I applaud her for letting herself look like that.

Well acted, beautifully photographed with a lush score by David Lang, I wanted to like this film because I think old age should be celebrated (We've made it this far! Yay!), and I like seeing our older actors getting center stage.  I also like that it's an intelligent film about life and aging, but there are just too many strange characters and strange situations obfuscating the message.  It's too "arty" and that stands in the way of the impact this film should have.

Paul Dano and his angst about horror and playing Hitler is a distraction who doesn't need to be there. The Buddhist finally levitating. Huh?  And then Miss Universe and Jane Fonda show up. Another "huh?"  All of those scenes detract from the real story - getting old and our disconnection from youth, our own youth and the youth around us. Instead of letting the message sink in, I found myself spending too much time going "Huh?"  I would have preferred this to be presented more like "My Dinner With Andre," the two men talking about life over dinner or just walking around with the beautiful Swiss scenery as a backdrop.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I will watch anything with Michael Caine starring in it, but if you understood everything that was going on in this film, will you please let me know?  Thanks.




Concussion (2015)


Will Smith plays Bennet Omalu, the real life doctor who discovered that professional football players were incurring brain damage through the course of normal play.

The film starts in 2002 with a backstory.  An ex-football player is acting erratically.  He's Mike Webster (David Morse) of the Pittsburg Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, a center who played in the NFL from 1974-1990, was in four winning Super Bowl games and was a member of the Football Hall of Fame.

Then we see Dr. Bennet Omalu testifying at a murder trial.  He is a forensic pathologist and he has a passion for his job, so much so that he has this little quirk of speaking to the dead bodies he is working on, asking them to help him discover what happened to them. He is also a Nigerian immigrant who is a clean-cut church-going guy.  He is such a good guy, in fact, that his minister asks him to house a young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who has just arrived from Kenya.  And I think, whoa, what kind of a minister entrusts a single man with a single woman to stay in his apartment?  They eventually get married, so I guess that's OK. 

The film moves back and forth between Omalu's personal life and the deterioration of Mike Webster. Webster eventually kills himself. Why?  And why did it seem that so many other ex-football players were dying young?  When Omalu conducts an autopsy on Webster, he discovers the brain abnormalities that shed light on the whole concussion issue and the discovery of CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  Dr. Julian Bailes (Alex Baldwin), the team physician, reveals to Omalu that the NFL knew all along about the concussion issue. Omalu fights to be heard so the truth can be known but the NFL tries to discredit him.  We can't have anyone saying bad stuff about our favorite Sunday pastime, can we, especially someone who isn't from here and doesn't even understand football?

The film shows an interesting counterpoint between Omalu believing that telling the truth about CTE is part of being a good American and those good Americans over at the NFL doing everything they can to stop him.  He finally gets heard by the NFL and they have a Concussion Summit where he gets to make his case with an impassioned speech because these whistleblower films always end with impassioned speeches. But this is still an issue that the NFL has not come to terms with.

Despite some melodrama - "Are you more afraid of what you will find or what you won't?" - and the second half of the film getting a bit preachy and earnest, this is a well-made film that showcases Will Smith's talents and brings into focus the threat that football poses to its players.

This movie, written and directed by Peter Landesman (based on "Game Brain" by Jeanne Maria Laskas, a 2009 article in GQ Magazine) is enough to make any parent not want his or her child to play football, especially when they see the part where Bennet shakes a brain around in a jar to show how it would bang against the head and helmet when hit by a 300 pound lineman.  Omalu says "God did not intend for us to play football," to which the NFL replies. "If just 10% of all mothers decide football is too dangerous for their sons, that's the end of football."

This is usually not my kind of movie as I am not much of a sports fan, but this one got me.

David Morse was particularly outstanding as Webster.  All of the other supporting cast - Albert Brooks (as Cyril Wecht, Bennet's real life mentor), Paul Reiser, and others were a believable part of the ensemble.

Of the brouhaha about black actors being shut out of the Oscar race, a case could certainly be made for why Will Smith should have been nominated.  He was very, very good here. His accent was believable and he totally inhabited his character.  I never once thought of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or some of the other smart-ass characters he has played. 

Was he better than those who were nominated?  Eddie Redmayne for "The Danish Girl;" Michael Fassbender for "Steve Jobs;" Bryan Cranston for "Trumbo;" Matt Damon for "The Martian;" or Leo (who ultimately won) for "The Revenant?"  And if so, who of those nominees would he replace?  

See this film and let me know what you think.

Rosy the Reviewer says...This is a brave and important film that will make parents think twice about letting their kids play football.



 


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
 


252 to go!

Have You seen this classic film?



It's a Gift (1934)


Henpecked Harold Bissonette (W.C. Fields), a New Jersey grocer, inherits some money and, despite the protests of his overbearing wife, moves his family to California where he has bought an orange grove.

Fields made a career of playing the hen-pecked husband which in turn gave him fodder to do his schtick.

Harold's Uncle Bean is dying and his wife says if he inherits any money, he had better not buy an orange farm in California.  Well, guess what.  He does and he does.  Off they go from New Jersey to California in a car piled with their belongings a la "The Beverly Hillbillies."  Unfortunately, things don't turn out as planned.

In Fields' films, women are shown as shrill nags or dominating the household.  When the daughter walks into the bathroom while Harold is trying to shave and she takes over the mirror, Harold accepts his fate and goes through all kinds of gyrations and contortions to continue shaving.  Since he is using a straight razor, that gag is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat...I guess...all of which gives Fields ample opportunities to clown and mug for the camera. Pratfalls and precarious situations create almost a stressful viewing as Harold makes one bad decision after another.  At every moment he is one step from disaster so I suppose that is where the humor lies, though I don't get it.

The last name is Bisonette which everyone keeps pronouncing "Bissonet" and to which Fields keeps correcting them to say "Bisonay," because his wife is a social climber and insists on that pronunciation.  Very much reminded me of the British TV show "Keeping Up Appearances" where the lead character, Hyacinth Bucket, the quintessential social climber, insists on pronouncing her name, "Bouquet."  She answers the phone "The Bouquet residence. The lady of the house speaking."  One of my favorite shows that seems to pay homage to this film.

These early films are so politically incorrect, it is difficult to take them seriously. There is one whole scene making fun of a blind and deaf man.  And the nagging wife verges on offensive.

Fields' films don't have much plot. The thin plots are just vehicles for Fields to do his thing - make stupid decisions, react to noises when he is trying to sleep, be subjected to a nagging wife, fall into a garbage can and put his foot in the waste basket all without complaint.  You get the idea.

And you know that thing about obnoxious, precocious child stars?  It's got that too, though I liked Baby Leroy because he didn't talk.

I am not a fan of slapstick humor and never got on board with Fields.  The quotes attributed to him are far funnier than his films, in my opinion. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...I sat through most of it shaking my head and wondering why I had to see this one before I died.  It's shortened my life by 68 minutes.


 

***Book of the Week***





X Child Stars: Where Are They Now? by Kathy Garver and Fred Ascher (2016)


Ever wonder what happened to the child stars in your favorite TV shows from your childhood?  Well, look no further.  It's all here.

Child stars have a bad reputation for not adjusting to adulthood and getting involved with drugs and alcohol (Anissa Jones from "Family Affair" died young as did Dana Plato from "Diff'rent Strokes") but Kathy Garver, herself a child star (she was Cissy on "A Family Affair") wants you to know that most child stars have either achieved stardom in adulthood (Ron Howard, Christina Applegate) or at the very least found happiness in life. 

Garver and her co-author Fred Ascher have put together a chronological compendium of TV shows from the 1950's through the 1980's featuring the kids who starred and telling us how they are doing. Ever wonder what happened to Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess?  Well, he was a staple as a dancer on The Lawrence Welk Show, got married, has four kids and is still dancing.  And if you have been kept up at night worrying about what happened to Tony Dow who played The Beaver's brother on "Leave it to Beaver," well, don't, because he is now a recognized sculptor. 

It makes me sad to see Patty Duke, one of my favorites, on the cover of this book.  We know she grew up to be an acclaimed adult actress but sadly, her life was not a happy one and we just recently lost her too soon.

We Baby Boomers who grew up with these child stars will have fun looking up our favorite shows and reading about what happened to the kids who starred.  The book is very comprehensive and every kid from the Mouseketeers to the "Eight is Enough" kids to "Family Matters" and everyone in between are included.

My only criticism is that the writing is not good.  It has an immature quality to it that gets annoying after awhile, but since this is a book you probably wouldn't sit down and read cover to cover anyway, it's a minor concern.

I mean, my life would not have been the same if I hadn't found out that Leo DiCaprio had been on "Growing Pains" or that David Faustino ("Married With Children") had been arrested for marijuana possession "but now that he is a father, watches his intake."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun walk down TV's memory lane.

 

That's it for this week!


Thanks for reading!


See you Tuesday for



"The Story of a Refrigerator,

or

How to Get Your Complaint Heard in a World That Doesn't Want to Hear You"
 
 

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