Film Review: Sunset (dir by Jamison M. LoCascio)

What do you get when you mix sanctimonious liberalism with the type of production values that one would normally associate with an evangelical-produced film about the rapture?

The 2018 film, Sunset, opens with a birthday party and it’s all downhill from there.  Elderly Henry (Liam Mitchell) may have just wanted to celebrate the fact that his wife Patricia (Barbara Bleier) had managed to survive another year despite being in poor health and almost constant pain but he made the mistake of inviting Julian (Austin Pendleton,  who always seems to get cast in roles like this) to the party and all Julian wants to do is talk politics.

Julian is concerned that the United States has been carpet-bombing the Middle East.  Henry thinks that the Middle East is getting what they deserve because a group of terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles and apparently destroyed the West Coast.  Julian isn’t so sure that the destruction of Los Angeles justified the destruction of the rest of the world.  (Take that, City of Angels.)  Fortunately, before things can get too intense, Chris (David Johnson) says, “Let’s get this party started!” and all of the political talk is abandoned.

However, the next morning, everyone wakes up to discover that missiles will soon be hitting the East Coast!  (This movie made me happy to live in the middle of the country.)  Everyone is making plans to evacuate the coasts and move to the red states, where they’ll presumably demand a state income tax and a Wawa on every street corner.  (To quote the Texas waitress in Hell or High Water, “Some asshole from New York ordered a trout.  We ain’t got no goddamned trout.”)  However, Patricia refuses to leave her house because she’s old and in constant pain and she wants to end her life on her own terms.  Of course, since Patricia refuses to leave, that means that Henry is now obligated to stay there with her and die as well, despite the fact that he has a sister in Missouri who would probably take him in.  Way to go, Patricia.

While Patricia is getting ready to kill her husband, the other people who were at her party are making plans as well.  Chris uploads a YouTube video where he talks about how scared he is about the end of the world.  Ayden (Juri Henley-Cohn) and Breyanna (Suzette Gunn) do a Google search on the effects of nuclear war and they decide that they don’t want any part of that.  (I wouldn’t want any part of it either.  Nuclear war sounds gross.)  Smarmy little Julian pops up occasionally and basically spouts the type of boomer political blather that makes Stephen King’s twitter feed so tedious.  Every few minutes, someone turns on a radio or television and we hear a reporter talking about how the world is about to end.   This is a low-budget film so we don’t actually see any of those reporters, we just hear their voices.

Usually, this is where I would point out that the film at least has good intentions regardless of its aesthetic shortcomings but …. eh.  Good intentions can only go so far and the aesthetic short comings here are dramatic.  This is one of those films where people are dealing with a huge, emotional event but everyone seems to spend their time speaking as if they were a Wikipedia article come to life.  Add to that the fact that Patricia’s desire to die in her house seems more selfish than noble and you’ve got a film that really doesn’t work.

That said, I did like the final five minutes of the film and not just because they indicated that the film was almost over.  Those final five minutes do give the film a much-needed sense of grace.  One gets the feeling that the entire film was made so that the director could have those final five minutes and, regardless of how bad the rest of the movie may be, the ending does have an isolated impact.  If you just saw those five minutes (and not the 80 minutes that came before them), you would be sincerely moved.

Anyway, as far as films about the end of the world go, Sunset didn’t end it quickly enough for me.

A Movie A Day #20: First Family (1980, directed by Buck Henry)

first-familyLike any newly inaugurated President, Manfred Link (Bob Newhart) faces many new challenges.  The biggest challenge, though, is keeping control of his family and his White House staff.  His wife (Madeline Kahn) is an alcoholic.  His 28 year-old daughter (Gilda Radner) is so desperate to finally lose her virginity that she is constantly trying to sneak out of the White House.  General Dumpson (Rip Torn) wants to start a war.  Press Secretary Bunthorne (Richard Benjamin), Ambassador Spender (Harvey Korman), and Presidential Assistant Feebleman (Fred Willard) struggle and often fail to convince everyone that all is well.

President Link needs to form an alliance with the African country of Upper Gorm, a country that speaks a language that only one man in America, Prof. Alexaner Grade (Austin Pendleton), can understand.  The President of Upper Gorm (John Hancock) orders that the kidnapping of Link’s daughter.  Holding her hostage, he demands that Link send him several white Americans so that the citizens of Upper Gorm can know what it is like to have a minority to oppress.

First Family not only featured a cast of comedy all-stars but it was also directed by one of the funniest men in history, Buck Henry.  So, why isn’t First Family funnier?  There are a few amusing scenes and Newhart can make a pause hilarious but, for the most part, First Family feels like an episode from one of Saturday Night Live‘s lesser seasons.  Reportedly, Henry’s first cut of First Family tested badly and Warner Bros. demanded that certain scenes, including the ending, be reshot.  Perhaps that explains why First Family feels more like a sitcom than a satire conceived by the man who wrote the script for The Graduate and whose off-center perspective made him one of the most popular hosts during Saturday Night Live‘s first five seasons.  Famously, during one SNL hosting gig, Henry’s head was accidentally sliced open by John Belushi’s samurai sword.  Without missing a beat, Henry finished up the sketch and performed the rest of the show with a band-aid prominently displayed on his forehead.  Unfortunately, there’s little sign of that Buck Henry in First Family.



Film Review: Finding Dory (dir by Andrew Stanton)


Finding Dory, the latest film from Pixar, tells the story of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang (for our readers in Vermont, that’s a fish) who suffers from short-term memory loss.  You may remember her from Pixar’s previous movie about fish, Finding Nemo.  In that movie, she helped a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (voiced, in Finding Dory, by Hayden Rolence).  In the sequel, it’s Marlin and Nemo who are now helping Dory to find her parents.

Dory has spent years searching for her parents.  Of course, it would be easier if she didn’t suffer from short-term memory loss.  It seems that every time she sets out to track her parents down, she ends up getting distracted and forgets what she was doing.  However, while helping to teach a class about migration, Dory has a sudden flashback to her parents (voiced, quite charmingly, by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  She sets out once again, determined to find her parents.  This time, Marlin and Nemo are accompanying her.  As Dory continually frets, she’s can’t do it alone because she can’t remember directions.

Though her memories are fuzzy and her flighty nature leads to some conflict with Marlin (who is just as cautious and overprotective of Nemo as he was in the first film), Dory eventually finds her way to where her parents were last seen.  And, in doing so, Dory discovers that she and her parents originally lived at a water park, the California Marine Life Institute.

(One of my favorite parts of the film is that apparently, Sigourney Weaver recorded several greetings and other messages that are played continuously over the Institute’s PA system.  “Hello, I’m Sigourney Weaver and welcome to the Marine Life Institute.”  Dory becomes convinced that Sigourney Weaver is some sort of God-like being who is leaving personal messages for her.  At one point, Dory exclaims, “A friend of mine, her name’s Sigourney, once told me that all it takes is three simple steps: rescue, rehabilitation, and um… one other thing?”)

Since this is a Pixar movie, Dory meets the usual collection of oddball and outcast sealife at the Institute, all of whom help her out while overcoming their own insecurities, providing properly snarky commentary, and hopefully bringing a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded of viewers.  Finding Dory is full of familiar voices, everyone from Idris Elba to Bill Hader to Kate McKinnon.  But, for me, the most memorable of all the voices (with the exception of Ellen DeGeneres herself) was Ed O’Neill’s.  O’Neill brought Hank, the bitter but ultimately good-hearted seven-legged octopus, to poignant life.  I imagine that, should there be another sequel, it will be called Finding Hank.

Finding Dory continues the annual tradition of Pixar films making me cry.  Finding Dory is an incredibly sweet and truly heartfelt movie but, at the same time, it’s also an extremely witty comedy.  This is one of those Pixar films where the joy comes not only from looking at the amazing animation but also from listening to truly clever dialogue being delivered by some of the best voice actors around.  DeGeneres does such a great job bringing Dory to life that, as the movie ended, my first instinct was to run out and buy a regal blue tang of my very own.  But then I read an article on Wikipedia, which explained why I shouldn’t do that.

(Basically, blue tangs may look cute but they have big, scary spikes that can cut up your hand.  As well, they don’t do well in captivity.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Dory of your very own, you might be better off just rewatching this movie…)

It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you cry.  Finding Dory is another great film from Pixar.

Film Review: The Thief Who Came To Dinner (1973, directed by Bud Yorkin)

0033bee5_mediumIn The Thief Who Came To Dinner, Ryan O’Neal plays Webster McGee, a Houston-based computer programmer.  After deciding that living in a capitalist society means that everyone steals from everyone else, Webster quits his boring job and decides to become a real thief.  Figuring that they can afford to lose a little wealth, Webster only targets the rich and powerful.  After he steals some incriminating documents from a crooked businessman (Charles Cioffi), Webster uses those documents to blackmail his way into high society.  Soon, Webster owns a mansion of his own and is living with a gorgeous heiress (Jacqueline Bisset, who played a lot of gorgeous heiresses back in the day).  Webster also has an insurance investigator after him.  Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) knows that Webster is a thief but he also can not prove it.  As Dave obsessively stalks him, Webster plots one final heist.

Until I saw it on TCM on Monday, I had never heard of The Thief Who Came To Dinner.  Directed in a breezy style by Bud Yorkin, The Thief Who Came To Dinner was an early script from Walter Hill.  Though the film is much more comedic than his best known work, it’s still easily recognizable as coming from Hill’s imagination.  The obsessive Dave and the coolly professional Webster are both prototypical Hill characters and their adversarial yet friendly rivalry would be duplicated in several subsequent Hill films.

The Thief Who Came To Dinner is an engaging movie that doesn’t add up to much.  The normally stiff Ryan O’Neal gives one of his better performances, though he struggles to hold his own whenever he has to act opposite the far more energetic Warren Oates.  Ned Beatty, Gregory Sierra, John Hillerman, Michael Murphy, and Austin Pendleton all appear in minor roles, making the film’s cast a veritable who’s who of 70s character actors.  And, of course, the film features Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest.

The Thief Who Came To Dinner may not be well-known but it is an enjoyable and satisfying piece of 70s entertainment.

A Quickie with Lisa Marie: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Dir. by Oliver Stone)

Sometimes, words escape even me. 

I’ve been trying for about three days now to figure out how to explain why Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is one of the most disappointing films of 2010.  Notice I didn’t use the term “worst film.”  There’s enough in the movie that works (Michael Douglas is fun to watch as Gordon Gekko and there’s a handful of scenes that perfectly capture the modern atmosphere of financial panic) to keep it from being a truly awful movie.  But just because the movie isn’t awful, that  doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good.

Oh, Wall Street — how did you fail?  Let me count the ways.

1) Michael Douglas gives a great performance but he actually has less screen time here than he did in the original Wall Street.  Yes, it’s fun to watch Gekko claw his way back up to the top but, once you take those scenes out of the equation, you still have about 1oo minutes of non-Gekko material to slog through.

2) Instead most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf.  Let me repeat that — most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf.  In this film, Shia plays a cocky young financial genius.  Let me repeat that.  In this film, Shia LeBouf plays a genius.  Back before Shia became the human face of the Transformers franchise, I’ll admit that I thought he was kinda cute in his geeky, awkward way.  However, in Wall Street, his character isn’t supposed to be geeky or awkward.  He’s supposed to be some sort of financial genius.

3) We’re also supposed to automatically sympathize with Shia LeBouf’s character because, while he’s a part of the system that created the recession, he’s also dedicated to funding some sort of green energy project.  Much like James Cameron in Avatar, Oliver Stone trots out a simplistic environmental theme here and expects to be praised just for mentioning it.  The message is: “Love my film or Mother Earth gets it.”

4) The film’s plot: Shia LeBouf’s mentor and boss — played by Frank Langella — commits suicide after being run out of business by evil millionaire Josh Brolin.  So, Shia takes a job working with Brolin.  Meanwhile, Shia is also engaged to the daughter of Gordon Gekko.  This leads to him taking Gekko on as a mentor.  Shia apparently wants to take Brolin down.  Or does he?  Unfortunately, LeBouf doesn’t seem to know for sure and that comes across in his performance.  As a result, the majority of the film is about as exciting as watching anyone else go to work.

5) Josh Brolin’s the villain here.  We know he’s a villain because everyone else in the film keeps insisting he’s the villain and Brolin plays the role as if he’s auditioning for a role in the next James Cameron film.  Which is to say, Brolin gives a dull and lifeless performance.

6) The little guy who is creating this alternate source of energy that Shia is so obsessed with?  The little guy is played by Austin Pendleton who, I swear to God, is one of the most annoying character actors ever.  Seriously, Pendleton, stop fucking smiling all the time! 

7) Having seen both this and the original Wall Street, I can now say that I have no idea how the stock market works and I really don’t care to learn.  I just want everyone to stop yelling and throwing paper all over the place.  Seriously, Stone tries to make the “market” scenes exciting here but, once you get over the fact that Stone knows how to use a zoom lens, they’re pretty dull.  Lucio Fulci and Jean Rollin — they would have found a cool way to film those scenes.  Stone just resorts to the same old tricks.

8) That little smiley face looks so cute with his sunglasses on.

9) As with the original Wall Street, this is yet another film about little boys and their daddy issues.  Which father figure will Shia choose?  Meanwhile, Shia’s mother (a grating performance from Susan Sarandon) and his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) are portrayed as total fools.  Mulligan, after her performance in An Education, especially deserve better than to be stuck playing some sexist fantasy of a human being.  Sarandon is blamed for the housing collapse while Mulligan’s character is cheated out of a fortune towards the end of the film.  The message here, I guess, is don’t let women have money because we’ll just fuck everything up.  I love how I can always count on “progressive” filmmakers to prove themselves to be a bunch of pigs at heart.

10) Charlie Sheen shows up for a really awkward cameo.  He’s supposed to be playing his Bud Fox character from the original film but, watching his performance, you get the feeling that Charlie doesn’t remember being in the original film.  Showing up at a charity dinner with a separate date on either ar, Bud Fox is presented as being just as corrupt as Gordon Gekko.  Michael Douglas, quite frankly, looked somewhat embarrassed by the whole scene.  However, as awkward as the scene was, it did manage to perfectly capture the theme of this movie:

Eventually, even Bud Fox will grow up to be Charlie Sheen.