Showing posts with label Decline of the American Empire (Film Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Decline of the American Empire (Film Review). Show all posts

Friday, April 17, 2015

Al Pacino's new movie "Danny Collins" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Danny Collins" and DVDs "A Most Violent Year" and "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb."  The Book of the Week is Sophia Loren's memoir "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow."   I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project: "The Decline of the American Empire"]


Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a hugely successful rock star but jaded and aging.  When he discovers a letter written to him 40 years ago from John Lennon he is inspired to change his life.

Based on a true story (sort of...a bit), the film begins with Danny, a serious young singer/songwriter being interviewed by an editor of "Chime Magazine."  He is just starting his career and the editor tells him he is going to be BIG.  The young Danny looks horrified at the prospect.  You see, Danny is serious about his "art."

Fast forward 40 years and Danny indeed became BIG, but now he is playing big arenas and just singing what everyone wants to hear.  He hasn't written anything in 30 years.  He drinks, snorts cocaine, has a girlfriend half his age and drives a fancy sports car...all of the trappings of fame... but he's not happy.

It's his birthday and his manager, Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a gift, a framed letter that had been sent to Danny 40 years before from John Lennon. Lennon had read the interview with Danny in "Chime Magazine" and sent a letter of encouragement to Danny, telling him not to worry about fame and fortune being a detriment to his talent.  Lennon included his home phone number telling him to call him. Unfortunately the letter was sent in care of the magazine and was waylaid by the editor, who thought he could sell it to a collector, which he did, and there it stayed until Frank presented it to Danny on his birthday, thus creating the catalyst for Danny to want to go back to his roots. He can't help but think what his career might have been like had he gotten that letter 40 years ago and called John Lennon.

Danny abandons the big house, the young girlfriend and his upcoming tour and moves into a suburban New Jersey Hilton Hotel to find, Tom, the son he has never met (Bobby Cannavale), and along the way Tom's wife (Jennifer Garner) and hyperactive daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg).  He also forges a relationship with the manager of the Hilton, Mary (Annette Bening).
There is nothing like Al Pacino chewing the scenery, and in this he doesn't disappoint, but in a good way.  Pacino hasn't done much since his bravura TV performance as Phil Spector, but Pacino is BACK!  Here he puts in an Academy Award worthy performance that is natural, nuanced and laid-back.  It's a quieter performance than we have come to expect from him and it is wonderful to behold.  It's too bad this film was released so early in the year, though, as it could be forgotten when Oscar nomination time rolls around.

Christopher Plummer also could get a nod with his fatherly role as Danny's manager, adviser and loyal friend.  He gets most of the good lines. Benning is a good foil for Pacino and displays her usual warmth and charm.  Cannavale is usually associated with thugs and mobsters, but here does a great turn as the son who can't quite get over the fact that his Dad didn't seem to take much of an interest in him growing up. Jennifer Garner has a small part as Tom's wife, but she has a warm, affecting quality that she brings to her roles. 

But despite the fact I usually find children in films annoying because they are too often little wise-cracking savants that don't seem to be real children, little Gisele Eisenberg, playing a child with an almost debilitating ADHD that figures prominently in the plot, is a stand-out - funny and real.

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman, "Danny Collins" sometimes verges on sentimentality, but not quite.  But sentimentality is OK, because this is the story of a man of a certain age trying to go back in time to capture something that was lost.  When you do that, it's often a sentimental journey. And add to that the film's score using John Lennon's songs, I challenge anyone alive in the 70's to not feel sentimental.

If I had one complaint, it's a very minor one. The product placement here was pretty blatant. Hilton Hotels must be very happy and Mercedes got quite a pitch too.  But like I said, a minor blip in what was a wonderful movie experience.

Rosy the Reviewer says...The best movie I have seen so far this year. Don't miss it!

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
It's 1981, statistically the most dangerous and crime-ridden year in New York City history and Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) fights to save his oil business from poachers. 
Abel Morales is an immigrant to the U.S. and wants to run a legitimate business.  He runs an oil business that he bought from his wife's father, a less than legitimate guy.  He is in the midst of securing a large property of oil storage containers that will significantly expand his business, when one of his oil trucks is kidnapped.  More and more, his trucks are getting nicked and unsavory types are prowling around his property.  He wants to know who is behind it. When he goes to complain to the D.A. he finds out he is under investigation for possible illegal accounting practices. All of this turmoil is hurting his chances to get that property he needs and he only has three days.
The film explores the dangers inherent in doing business, not just in this "most violent year," but any time. However, I couldn't stop thinking about what a strange little film this was.  It was well-written and directed by J.C. Chador, but I had a hard time caring about the oil wars of 1981.  I know it was a metaphor about how hard it can be to do business and how our values are often compromised to succeed, but it was also a very minor little slice of life.

Oscar Isaac seemed to come out of nowhere to get Oscar buzz for his fine performance in "Inside Llewyn Davis." Now he's everywhere ("Two Faces of January," "X-Men: Apocalypse" and the new upcoming "Star Wars:Episode VIII.)"  He puts in a fine performance here too.
David Oyelowo plays Lawrence who is investigating Morales and Jessica Chastain plays Morales' hard as nails wife who shows her true colors later in the film.  Chastain was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance and it was deserved.  She is another actor who seems to be everywhere these days and can be counted on for a great performance.
 Rosy the Reviewer says...See it for the acting.

Larry (Ben Stiller) is back for a third installment of this franchise, this time traveling to the British Museum to try to save "the magic."

After two other movies, Larry is now completely comfortable with everything in the museum coming alive at night.  In fact, he's so comfortable that the museum is now holding programs at night for the public showcasing it and making big money.  But on one particular fund-raising night where everything is scripted for a huge spectacle, something happens.  The Egyptian tablet that is the source of the "magic," i.e. everything coming alive at night, also seems to be cursed. It is deteriorating and causing the exhibits to go nuts.  Ben and his friends travel to England to the British Museum to try to find the answer.

Everyone is back:  the crazy monkey, Jed, the cowboy (Owen Wilson), Octavius, the gladiator (Steve Coogan), Attila (Patrick Gallagher), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) and Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, sadly in his last role and Ricky Gervais as the museum manager.

Rebel Wilson plays the guard at the British Museum and she adds her usual raunchy fat girl humor and Dan Stevens, once again stepping out of his Matthew Crawley role, plays Sir Lancelot, a "knight in shining armor."  We've also got Ben Kingsley, Hugh Jackman, Andrea Martin, Dick Van Dyke and a cameo from Mickey Rooney, also his last film role.  You would think with all of that star power this film would indeed be magical.

Sorry.  The magic has died.

Ben Stiller's deadpan reactions usually make me laugh but they are not as much in evidence here as he plays it straight, and though Wilson and Coogan are funny and the fight inside the Escher painting was original, none of that nor the all-star cast are enough to save this sad attempt at comedy.

What is it about sequels?  Exhibits in a museum coming to life was funny in the first movie, but how many times can you work that premise?  Two sequels later it's not funny anymore.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this should have been called "Night at the Museum: The Curse of the Sequel."  The magic has indeed died and these exhibits need to stay asleep.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
267 To Go!


Four male French-Canadian academics are preparing a meal while talking about sex.  In the meantime, their female guests are working out at a gym, and, guess what?  They are talking about sex too.

Why its a Must See:  " a radio interview, one of the women asks whether the 'frantic drive for personal happiness' is 'linked to the decline of the American empire.' Atcand's film ironically explores this question. All the characters are hell-bent on finding happiness; yet everyone is frustrated and desperate...This, Arcand hints, is the fallout of a society where sexual gratification is elevated over all other values...[This film] is at once bleak and funny; we may not like these people, but they're ceaselessly fascinating to watch."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

I wouldn't go that far.  The idea was a good one, but not very well executed. Right, I didn't like these people, and in fact, at times, I found this film quite offensive.  The characters reminded me of "The Real Housewives," --- even the men!  Except "The Real Housewives" don't even talk about sex as much as these folks. Could be my age, but I find endless discussions about sex boring, whether it's on film or in real life, so I have to disagree that this was "fascinating to watch."
It's also all very 80's with the Mom jeans, the headbands, the big glasses and the shoulder pads and doesn't translate well to the 21st century.  I felt like I was in an Olivia Newton-John music video.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I could have slept easily in my grave without seeing this one.
(In French with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life by Sophia Loren (2014)
 Loren finally tells her story.

Born in 1934 and growing up in poverty in war-torn Naples, Loren overcame her nickname of "Toothpick" to become one of the screen's most beautiful and voluptuous actresses.  Raised by a single mother, she was able to travel to Rome after winning a beauty contest and through hard work and perseverance, she rose quickly to stardom in Italian cinema.  From there she was discovered by Hollywood and went on to have an acting career that spanned six decades and included two Academy Awards.

Loren comes off just as you would expect her to.  She is confident of her beauty, her accomplishments and herself.  But she pulls no punches.  She shares the story of her love affair with Cary Grant, her difficult pregnancies, her 17 days in jail and the difficulties she and husband Carlo Ponti had getting their marriage recognized in Italy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a satisfying autobiography from a screen legend.

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"How You Know You Are Not Just Getting Old,

You Are Already There!"



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