Saturday, December 24, 2016

La La Land - Movie Review

La La Land (PG-13) 128 mins B+
There will be singing and dancing.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Hemky Madera, Jason Fuchs, and Finn Wittrock.

I'll tell you up front, musicals are not my favorite. But, I went into La La Land with an open mind and a certain amount of expectations. Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), the film has already garnered the most Golden Globe nominations (seven) for next month's award ceremony. Not to mention, it's a critical darling and likely Oscar favorite. The film opens with plenty of beautiful people singing and dancing on the Los Angeles freeway (so much for easing into it). Immediately, I worried that the entire film would be a bright and shiny homage to old school cinema ala Singin' in the Rain. But, once I settled into the magic that is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the film was enchanting despite the sudden outbursts of song and dance.

The story is familiar - two talented wannabes trying to make it in Hollywood. Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz musician trying to resurrect jazz. It's easy to see the romance brewing between Mia and Sebastian early in the film. But, without giving too much away, the film won me over because just like real life things got hard, things got complicated, and the film didn't necessarily take the easy way out.

Recommend to those who like romantic musicals and/or Hollywood nostalgia 2016 style.

The trailer (courtesy of YouTube/Lionsgate)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Allied - Movie Review

Allied (R) 124 mins C
We'll always have Casablanca

Allied is the latest film by esteemed director Robert Zemeckis (Flight, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future). It's high on suspense, fashion and Hollywood beauty. But, unfortunately the rest of the film feels like an imposter. The WWII thriller begins with intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) parachuting into a vast desert before being mysteriously picked up and delivered to Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter. The two are undercover as husband and wife. Their mission is to assassinate a specific high ranking Nazi official. Max and Marianne eventually fall in love, and when you think the love birds can't get any happier the unspeakable is suspected (anyone who has seen the film's trailer knows what I'm talking about).

The first half of the film is overreaching- elaborate clothes, Pitt looking debonair, and Cotillard doing her best impression of a 1940s fashion model. The pace is slow and pedantic- and there's that scene where Marianne gives birth outside during an air strike, it's ridiculous. However, the film gains traction during the second half. The acting is dialed up a notch, and the best plot line (the one teased in the trailer) really takes shape. At the film's high point, I was just as puzzled as Max and just as smitten with Marianne. The film plays on a certain sensibility- classic love and war Hollywood style. For some, that alone might make Allied worthwhile. For me, it was a decent escape for two hours and nothing more.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, August Diehl, Camille Cottin, Charlotte Hope, Marion Bailey, Anton Lesser

Check out the trailer courtesy YouTube of

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hungry Heart - Book Review

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing
Jennifer Weiner B-
Published Oct 2016
Jennifer Weiner changed my life before I ever read her books. During the fall of 2004 I reluctantly attended one of her readings. Subsequently, I was hypnotized by her charm, her wit, and her story of becoming a bestselling novelist. She inspired and motivated me that evening. A few days later I enrolled at a local community college. A few years later I graduated from a local university. All because of that chance encounter.

Since then I have enjoyed several of her novels (Good in Bed and Fly Away Home are my favorites), and the film adaptation of In Her Shoes (very underrated). I've never been Weiner's "target" audience, and that never mattered to me. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, she changed my life. Now, twelve years after that initial encounter I still follow Weiner on social media, TiVo her on GMA (Good Morning America), and remain interested in her writing. Hungry Heart, her first nonfiction book, was especially exciting because it presented an opportunity to learn more about her life and her writing process. Plus, the book boasted that "no subject is off limits."

In this collection of essays, Weiner discusses all the usual suspects - weight, love, parenting, family, writing, etc... Some of which felt familiar (about her mother), some not so familiar (about her father), some I thoroughly enjoyed (the success of Good in Bed/the film adaptation of In Her Shoes), and some I couldn't relate to (motherhood). Hungry Heart is thoughtful and warm, but it only confirmed what I've been feeling lately- we've grown apart. Many times during this book I was struck by how impactful Weiner's experiences might be for young female writers. At times, It felt like I was privy to a conversation that wasn't meant for me, even though I was welcomed to listen.

I appreciate Jennifer Weiner. She's a fabulous role model and a champion for women. But, I'm afraid we don't have much in common, and maybe we never did? I guess this is why I'm not her target audience... and why should I be? There are plenty of books for jaded middle-aged men (like me) to draw inspiration from. Nevertheless, it's always a good idea to read broadly (it's great for the soul!).

Highly recommended for her targeted audience, you know who you are.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Manchester by the Sea - Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea (R) 137 mins A
Uncomfortably Numb

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges, Erica McDermott.

Manchester by the Sea is a strong contender for my favorite film of 2016. Casey Affleck has never been better, and in limited screen time Michelle Williams steals every scene in which she appears. With this film writer-director Kenneth Lonegran has created one of the most authentic and honest meditations on sadness, seclusion and grieving you'll see at the theatre this year. But, don't let that scare you... or do.

Manchester by the Sea introduces us to Lee (Affleck), a handy man/janitor who lives a quiet and lonely life in Boston. His life is severely uprooted when he gets a call from Manchester (a 90 minute drive north) that his brother Joe is seriously ill. By the time Lee gets to the hospital, Joe has died. Suddenly, Lee is faced with new responsibilities and a new life. Neither of which he's capable of handling. This is an emotionally dark drama intertwined with moments of humor. I love that Lee is a realistic anti-hero; His desolation feels familiar. Furthermore, he's proof that sometimes you can't go home again.

The trailer courtesy of YouTube