Toy Story 4
Forgot your password?
Don't have an account? Sign up here
and the Terms and Policies,
and to receive email from Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango.
Already have an account? Log in here
Please enter your email address and we will email you a new password.
No user info supplied.
LOSS IN TRANSLATION - My Review of PAPI CHULO (3 1/2 Stars)
Films dealing with grieving often face an uphill battle when an audience feels forced to identify with a character in mourning that they've just met. Great filmmakers and actors find something specific in visual terms or in character detail to latch us in, while others end up with less than engaging experiences. Writer-director John Butler (Handsome Devil) gets our attention in its opening scene as we witness a meltdown by gay TV Meteorologist Sean (Matt Bomer) who processes the end of a relationship while on air. Asked by his Station Manager, in a beautifully understated performance by Wendy McLendon-Covey, to take a leave of absence, a jittery Sean takes time out in his now empty hillside show palace.
Bomer, who showed off his gifts in The Normal Heart, really shines here as a man who can't control his emotions or his motormouth. Sometimes Bomer's almost perfect features can work against him, but here he taps into a whole host of identifiable traits, making this one of his most accomplished, tricky and lovable performances. Sean has a knack for over-sharing, over-staring, and just plain making people feel uncomfortable. Clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he decides to rid himself of the last vestiges from his ex Carlos by selling a potted tree on his back patio. In doing so, he exposes an unpainted circle on the wooden porch, so off to the hardware store he goes. When he discovers that handyman work and he do not exist in the same universe, he does what many privileged Los Angelenos do and hires an immigrant day laborer in the form of Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño from The Bridge, Weeds, and known to many in L.A. for his role as Bossman from the longstanding stage comedy troupe Chico's Angels).
With cultural, sexual, and language differences as barriers, the two form an unlikely but beautiful bond. Sean's frazzled nerves wonderfully plays off of Ernesto's almost stoic, silent reactions, and soon, Sean forgets about the work at hand and pretty much pays Ernesto to be his pal by taking a boating trip around Echo Park or as his guest to an all gay male party. Because Ernesto can't speak English and says very little, Sean projects so much onto him that he's almost like Chauncey Gardiner, the indelible blank slate by Peter Sellers in the great Being There. Patiño, in his first starring role in a film, he's like the classic silent film star version of Chauncey, showing off an incredible range of emotions while seemingly doing very little. In one of the film's best scenes, the pair bond over Madonna's classic "Borderline" while in the back of an Uber, reaching adorable heights with every one of Patiño's seated dancing moves or Bomer's ability to finally connect with a human being on a natural level.
A small, independent film, Papi Chulo has its flaws. It has some shaggy storytelling moments where a little more clarity would have sufficed, and some may find this to be another immigrant story as filtered through a white person's perspective. I strongly disagree as the film offers both mens' points of view and instead of focusing on sexual orientation or country of birth, the film gives us two men who can both empathize with feelings of loss. As such, it's a generous, warm, poignant story…and trust me, I hate the word poignant! It implies an almost Hallmark level of sentiment, yet those sentiments exist and they feel earned here.
Bomer keeps things from getting to sickly sweet by presenting a character in almost slapstick levels of crisis. He falls often, gets whacked by objects, and cuts himself on shard of glass with a regularity that borders on insane, but he superbly walks that fine line between comedy and pain with a facade that tells us everything's ok when the world has clearly crumbled around him. At one point, he takes a huge tumble in front of a large gathering and delivers a monologue filled with so much anxiety and hurt, that I felt like we shouldn't be eavesdropping on him. Moments later, Patiño contains everything so well until he can't anymore, defending his new friend with one single, withering line. It's in this moment that the film finds its true humanity. It's a little slice of life. It may not change the world, but it makes you feel good about living in it.
THE DEVIL WEARS TJ MAXX - My Review of LATE NIGHT (3 Stars)
Growing up, I always had a soft spot for big budget American studio films. I subconsciously knew most lacked subtlety and sophistication, but man was it fun to watch Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase rappel down the side of a building in Foul Play or see Liza Minnelli, Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds share the screen in the forgotten programmer Lucky Lady. That silly, loud American spirit meant something to me that the French New Wave or "Art Films" couldn't provide. I have also always loved a good workplace comedy, and for me, nothing has ever come as close to perfection as Broadcast News. It was around that time, in fact, that my tastes started to change. I got tired of the formula, the laziness, and I started to crave jump cuts, handheld cameras, and brazen audacity. For me, the studios rarely made anything but forgettable eye candy. To a degree, they still do, with an occasional rare gem shining out from a giant turd pile.
It's with this older, wiser, more cynical and, yes, perhaps bitter eye that I came to Late Night, a new workplace comedy written by and starring Mindy Kaling. Despite coming from a good place and pushing all of the correct "woke" buttons, it's no Broadcast News. Hell, it's no The Devil Wears Prada either, despite feeling like its distant cousin from your Great Uncle's side of the family. Kaling, whose own career trajectory somewhat mirrors that of her character, plays Molly Patel, a worker in a chemical plant who finds herself as a diversity hire on an all-male writing staff for a network talk show. Its host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a volatile, cold boss, has coasted for such a long stretch that the network has now considered replacing her. Can she find the energy to save her show and maybe give her good qualities a chance to shine? Can Molly contribute to this and find her voice as a writer, and maybe, just maybe, find love? If you've seen big budget American studio films before (and full disclosure, this was an independent film, but it sure feels like a programmer), then I think you know the answer.
Along the way, we meet Molly's co-workers, a ramshackle group of guys not unlike those portrayed on 30 Rock, and they include Hugh Dancy as her romantic interest, Reid Scott (Veep), unexpectedly showing a sweet side to his usually wiseass persona as Newbury's chief monologue writer, Max Casella as the lifer, and the talented but underutilized John Early as the maybe gay writer who never gets a backstory, so we'll just put a pin in that one for now. We also meet Newbury's husband (John Lithgow), whose marital problems with her have a way of exposing her humanity, while also giving Lithgow some wonderful scenes.
All of this is to say that I had a good time watching this film, but make no mistake, it's standard issue all the way. Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn), who has shown with her prior work that she has a great visual sensibility, does a bland, faceless but professional job here, because that's all this movie aspires towards. It wants to entertain, nothing more, nothing less. On this front, we get a terrific performance from Thompson. You love to hate her when she calls her writers by numbers instead of their names, yet you root for her when she makes an effort to show up for someone. Kaling has written such a fantastic part for her, that it seems she forgot to do so for herself. Molly has a fun, adorable personality, especially when she puts her head on Katherine's shoulder when the press start taking pictures of them, but her sudden rise as a writer and her feistiness didn't draw me in as much as Thompson's shoot for the moon style. Molly feels somewhat superfluous, making this more Katherine's journey than her own. Still, it's a classic three act structure and it does have something to say about busting through the patriarchy as a woman and as a person of color.
But….it lacks those singular moments. When I think of Broadcast News, I think of Holly Hunter unplugging her phone every day and crying. I think of Albert Brooks flop-sweating on live TV. I think of William Hurt faking tears to get a story. I think of Joan Cusack running with the tape. When I look back on Late Night, alas, I'm going to say, "I think I saw it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The best moment is depicted in the poster. " Ahhh, America.
A LITTLE SPIKE - My Review of THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (4 Stars)
So many people in the world have felt it. Things aren't the same as in the past. We can't afford to live in our dream locations anymore, if we were ever even able to in the first place. We can't go home again. We've lost touch with what makes us feel good, feel whole, feel alive. In a city such as San Francisco, the quaint bohemia has given way to unaffordable housing, a rise in homelessness, and your average Joe fleeing out of necessity. We can't help but miss the way things used to be, and out of this ruefulness and despair comes a remarkable new film called The Last Black Man In San Francisco. It's the directorial debut of Joe Talbot, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rob Richert, based on a story by Talbot's lifelong friend, Jimmie Fails, who also stars.
On the surface we follow a man who can't seem to give up his childhood home, which he was forced to leave many years prior, but it's how the story gets told that sets it apart. Talbot uses a highly stylized, theatrical presentation, aided greatly by his gifted cinematographer, Adam Newport-Berra, which feels like a cross between the magical realism of Do The Right Thing-era Spike Lee and many of Spike Jonze's music videos. We feel it right in the opening moments as we follow a young girl skipping along the street only to encounter a man in a HazMat suit preparing to face the poisonous waters in the San Francisco Bay behind them. Moving past them, the camera lands on a black street preacher who warns his audience that his people are systematically being killed off. His listeners include Jimmie and his best friend Mont (a fantastic Jonathan Majors last seen in Captive State). Tired of listening to the preacher and no longer willing to wait for a bus, they take off together on Jimmie's skateboard to the city. This sequence really sets the tone for the film with its majestic shots of the pair gliding through the streets. It brings us back to that woozy feeling we get when we're traversing a dream environment.
They land on a Victorian house, Jimmie's aforementioned former home. While Mont sketches, Jimmy sneaks through the gate and paints the window sills of this neglected property. One small problem…a couple lives there and have grown tired of Jimmy's intrusions, despite his good intentions. A chance occurrence allows Jimmy and Mont to move out of the tiny room they've been living in with Mont's blind father (Danny Glover) and into his old house. Although basically squatters, these friends build a life together which we know in our guts cannot last.
It would have been so easy to tell this story as a gritty, handheld indie, but it would have lost its depth of feeling. Fails exudes a gentle kindness and an intense focus on preserving the history of a house he says his grandfather built by hand. The lyricism in his beautiful performance and in the wonderful framing would have been lost with an artless shaky cam approach. Emile Mosseri's lush, emotional score also underscores the fairy tale aspects of this film. The soundtrack also includes some unexpected songs, including a lovely version of the classic "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" by Mike Marshall. This formalized style of filmmaking may not appeal to everyone, but I truly felt something. Yes, we have a very current subject matter at play, but it's the depth of feeling and the assured directing which elevates it. Many may find it sluggish, but I kept focusing on the heart in Fail's approach. There's a fantastic scene in which a group of tourists on Segways pulls up to the house and hear of its history. Jimmy, from a balcony, gives an impassioned speech about his grandfather, and in this moment, we feel the gravity and the beauty of history.
Veteran actor Rob Morgan gives a low-key yet commanding performance as Jimmy's estranged, judgmental father. I also loved seeing Tichina Arnold, who memorably played Crystal, one of the three members of the Greek Chorus in Little Shop Of Horrors, as Jimmie's aunt. She represents an earthy, funny and much-needed lifeline to our protagonist. This film has a Greek Chorus of its own, a gang of Jimmy and Mont's neighbors who taunt them with homophobic slurs and a resentment that the pair haven't stuck with their old friends. We're also treated to an ominous performance by Finn Wittrock as a cutthroat real estate agent who doesn't exactly love that the men have set up house on a valuable property. It all adds up to paint a picture of San Francisco we rarely get to see. We feel the loss of a city that once seemed like it belonged to a utopian society give way to a rampant, heartless consumerism.
The film stumbles a bit in its last act, when people gather to watch a play. It's here where its themes get shouted in an overstated, obvious way. Secrets and lies get exposed as everything falls apart. It came across as a very bad play that I didn't believe any audience would sit still for, and I don't think that was the intention. It's a minor misstep as Talbot and company stick the landing with a haunting, indelible ending. Sure, The Last Black Man In San Francisco has its pretensions, but it has so much heart, skill, and importance, I allowed myself to get swept up in it just the same.
THE SEMICIRCLE OF LIFE - My Review of ROCKETMAN (4 Stars)
My mother took me to my first concert when I was a young teen. Ever the stylish trailblazer, she wore a halter top, hot pants, go-go boots and a cape as she led me into a giant arena in Cleveland to see none other than Elton John. She stood and sang the whole time and frequently would yell to him, "You're the king! You're the king!" When surprise guest Kiki Dee hit the stage to perform their iconic duet, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", I swear my mom lost her sh*t. She couldn't find it. It was gone! Around that time, Elton had just come out as bisexual, which cemented his icon status with me even further. Here was this masterful singer, pianist, and songwriter who embraced his own fabulosity and had bravely for the time tip-toed towards his queerness. He was, and has always been, my favorite. It's my way of saying that I came into Rocketman predisposed to loving it.
Director Dexter Fletcher (who, with his taking over the reins on Bohemian Rhapsody, knows a thing or two about gay rock icons) and screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) have turned Elton's life story into a phantasmagorical, full-blown musical, which, while riddled with the usual rock star cliches, manages to evoke the feeling of his music, and it's an exhilarating experience. Additionally, when not bursting with kaleidoscopic energy, the film brings us the painful and intimate story of a young boy whose demons seem to stem from a lack of parental love. Despite achieving superstardom, Elton, with his crippling shyness as a child turning to drug, sex and alcohol excesses as an adult, along with a diva's temperament, seems to cut to the heart of Jennifer North's famous statement in Valley Of The Dolls, "You know how bitchy f*gs can be!" This film, in its quieter scenes, painfully shows us how the judgment and coldness Elton experienced can lead to anger, depression, addiction, and suicide.
Taron Egerton gives a brilliant performance as Elton. Unlike Rami Malek's Freddy Mercury, Egerton does his own singing, realizing a similar tone and a gorgeous, wistful energy to a couple dozen songs from a remarkable catalog. We first meet him sporting an outrageous orange devil's outfit as he bursts through the doors of a rehab center. Faster than you can say, It's A Wonderful Life, Elton talks about his 1950s English childhood, as a full-blown song and dance number to "The B*tch Is Back" erupts on the screen. Following his younger self through his old neighborhood, we're then treated to a quieter series of scenes in which we explore his lonely home life and emerging talent as a natural piano player. While his distant father (Steven Mackintosh) and indulgent, uncaring mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) find ways to denigrate him, his grandmother (Gemma Jones) recognizes and nurtures the specialness in him.
From here, we witness Elton's rise to the pop stratosphere, including his chance meeting with Bernie Taupin (a warm, engaging Jamie Bell), who will become his lifelong lyricist and great friend. He meets John Reid, who will eventually take over as Elton's manager and boyfriend, until the usual betrayals and ugliness ensues. Between how Aidan Gillen played the role in Bohemian Rhapsody and by Richard Madden's commanding turn here, you get the sense that Reid himself hasn't had a very good year. For me, he seemed like the harsh voice of reason, but I'm willing to bet audiences will hiss him.
Some sequences work better than others. The songs tend to serve the narrative rather than adhere to chronology, so we breeze through his younger years with a fun, trippy number set to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting". When Egerton makes his first young Elton appearance in this number, it's a knockout blast. Later, we watch him literally levitate, along with the audience, in a career-launching stint at the Troubadour to "Crocodile Rock", despite the song being written years later. It doesn't matter, as these sequences have fluidity, grace, and a rush of energy. Rocketman has been billed as ‘Based On A True Fantasy", and this approach goes a long way towards smoothing over some of the film's clunkier aspects. Many of the events of Elton's life feel cookie cutter, but through the filmmakers' almost abstract interpretation of it, we get a propulsive, exhilarating ride nonetheless. He may yada-yada through key moments, such as Elton's meteoric rise, but Fletcher stays focused on Elton's internal struggles. It's not the deepest of biopics, since it really doesn't go too far into all of the known story beats, opting instead to give us an experience through pure musical feeling.
At times, I felt like Fletcher was simultaneously tipping his hat to Ken Russell's Tommy, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, and in its early scenes, John Boorman's Hope And Glory, yet the controlled rage of Egerton's performance, especially in some devastating silent glances, make this its own unique experience. Try not to die a little inside when adult Elton visits his father and sees that he dotes on his new children, having never done the same with him. Egerton's work here broke my heart. As much as I loved the splashy numbers, the quiet ones, such as a goosebump inducing scene in which Elton writes his classic "Your Song", moved me more.
Some collaborators worth mentioning include a hilarious turn by Tate Donovan as the Troubadour owner, Doug Weston, Julian Day's splashy, spot-on costume design, and George Richmond's 70's perfect cinematography. From London to Los Angeles, on private jets and inside gaudy mansion drawing rooms, the film provides a rush of visuals. It may feel like a messy hodgepodge of looks and tones, but doesn't that describe Elton's life? He went from one musical style to another, sometimes forgetting what day it was or what town he was in, but he wrote a lot of amazing melodies.
Yes, people break out in song and dance throughout the film, or things turn surreal, such as in one sequence which starts out at the bottom of a swimming pool and culminates in Elton literally blasting off into space. As such, the film benefits from its fearlessness in never shying away from being a musical. Some numbers fall flat, such as Elton's kinda lame "walk and talk" as he sings "Tiny Dancer" at a Hollywood party. Other moments get the music video treatment, while a song like "I Need Love" gets sung by various characters who, quite obviously, could use a little more of it. A key moment in the film begs for his classic "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" but instead goes with his upbeat "I'm Still Standing". I understand the decision, but felt the former would have resonated on a deeper level and put a nice capper on his beautiful relationship with Taupin. The film also suffers by never allowing any of the songs to be sung in their entirety. Some get as little as one line whereas others get cut too short. A little breathing room, especially on the title track would have been nice. But with songs this great, and with Egerton's fearless, sometimes vicious, sometimes delicate performance, Rocketman soars. I wish my mother was still around to see it, as she would have risen from her movie theater seat, thrown a go-go boot at the screen and screamed "You're the king!" one last time.
SUPERGOOD - My Review of BOOKSMART (4 Stars)
So many great films have come from the "Teens Hanging Out All Night" genre. From AMERICAN GRAFFITI to DAZED AND CONFUSED to SUPERBAD, they've careened from one crazy real time scenario to another and left us taking that ethereal walk of shame in the morning. Now, just in time to queer up this tradition, comes BOOKSMART, the feature directorial debut of actor Olivia Wilde, and written by a committee of women (Katie Silberman, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, and Sarah Haskins), and it's a hilarious, charming, slyly subversive addition to the canon.
BFFs, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), start their last day of high school at the top of their class after a lifetime of hard studying. While their peers seemingly partied their futures away, these two social outcasts seem to have laid the groundwork for what lies ahead. Of course, the rude awakening occurs in the first act, when Molly learns her classmates have all either gotten into prestigious colleges or scored great jobs while simultaneously enjoying all their hormones and boundless energy have to offer. Now, with one night left before graduation, Amy and Molly decide to have one wild night together. The basic plot may seem…well…basic…but the chemistry between our leads and a stellar supporting cast make it sing.
From the opening scene, in which Amy and Molly literally dance into our lives, this film shines with a verve and spirit often missing from teen comedies. Amy, an out lesbian who has yet to have sex, and Molly, the assured, balls out Class President, make a truly wonderful comedic team. While Amy can't get up the nerve to ask out her crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), an always happy skateboarder, Molly has been blind to all of the students she's looked down on, and only together can they really find their happy places in life. The journey may seem trite as we literally watch them hope from party to party in search of the ultimate one, but the emotions ring true while never turning to mush.
Feldstein, in her young career, has already stood out in NEIGHBORS 2 and LADY BIRD, but with her first starring role, she seizes the moment and attacks every second with a similar sense of danger to that of her brother Jonah Hill and, dare I say, that of the late, great John Belushi. She also delivers emotionally in several key scenes which brought this silly comedy to a higher level. By the end, she wasn't the only person with tears in her eyes. With such stiff competition, Dever goes toe-to-toe with Feldstein and makes Amy an equally wild, fully fleshed-out character. Whether it's watching them pull crazy faces in a speeding car or feeling the discomfort of a very public fight, you want to follow them anywhere. With such archetypes as these two, you would expect Feldstein to carry the gross-out comedic aspects, but Dever steps up here and winningly sells scenes such as the unforgettable moment she lets her fingers do the walking. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it.
BOOKSMART populates itself with a ton of fantastic supporting characters, from Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy's doting parents, Skyler Gisondo (THE SANTA CLARITA DIET) as a rich kid who carts around a hot mess called Gigi (a hilarious Billie Lourd) and awkwardly crushes on Molly, to Molly Gordon (ANIMAL KINGDOM) as a student with a bad reputation but with more layers than you'd expect. Diana Silvers has a sly way with her lines as another potential love interest for Amy and I loved what Jessica Williams did with a small amount of screen time as a teacher who clearly refuses to morph into an adult. I also loved Noah Galvin (THE REAL O'NEALS) and Austin Crute as a hilarious pair of gay theater queens who have never met a RuPaul catchphrase they didn't sell to the back rows.
Olivia Wilde, who, along with her cinematographer, Jason McCormick, don't reinvent the wheel, but display a propulsive, sometimes beautiful cinematic sensibility. One gorgeously shot underwater sequence really stood out as did the overall pacing, which starts off at 11 and never slows down. She could have dialed back on the endless music cues and some of the whiplash energy which prevented some of the jokes from landing. This would have allowed the film to breathe more, but I chalk that up to first-time director excitement she must have felt when she cut the film together and saw that she had something special. The film reminded me of last year's BLOCKERS but without as much of a parental presence and with a much more cinematic eye. Both featured strong young female characters who took a big bite out of life, but BOOKSMART has its own unique charms. It's not perfect, but it's a blast. As a whole, BOOKSMART earns its place in the pantheon of its predecessors all the way up to the way it undercuts its big emotional moment for one final, funny exchange as it smash cuts to black.