Thursday, February 14, 2019

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC

Rebel Wilson     Priyanka Chopra      Liam Hemsworth     Adam Devine     Betty Gilpin


     How long has it been since you saw a creative, really romantic rom-com with new ideas?  I daresay not since the 1990’s and maybe early 2000 (e.g., When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, High Fidelity).   Isn’t It Romantic is predictable based on all these earlier films and it, unfortunately, borrows from Melissa McCarthy’s playbook in having the heroine blunder, stumble, and tumble time and again.  But hey!, these antics are always good for a laugh in the audience somewhere.  
     The set-up here is that Natalie—apparently a very good architect—is filled with cynicism about love and romance, belittling her assistant for watching rom-coms—not because it’s at work, but because she is disdainful of such stories—and being oblivious of every admiring glance, compliment, or invitation that comes her way.  The basic concept is introduced realistically by having Natalie’s mother delivering rather constant skepticism about anything touching on the romantic, especially where Natalie is concerned because she is heavy-set.  (“Give up those dreams, girl; that will never happen to you!”) The story also brings home the resulting lack of self-worth that Natalie has developed, as in “Sure, I’ll take your trash and dispose of it”, “Sure, I’ll call the printer repairman”, etc.
     What transpires in an expected way is that Natalie has experiences that finally bring home to her—that is, she gets—what she has been missing; that despite the feedback from all her friends, not only does she miss the denigrations, she misses the positives coming her way.
     The journey it takes to get to insight for Natalie involves encounters with doctors, a suave charmer (Hemsworth) at the office, and her best-friend office mate (Devine).  
     The film ends up modeling basically good principles that highlight the value of substantive human connections, but it essentially repeats what its predecessors have already portrayed.  So I have to ask about the reason for the film.  Is it meant to titillate viewers with the high life (private planes, yachts, extravagant parties), and then expect to pull them in with heartfelt values?
     Rebel Wilson is a gifted actress who, like McCarthy in her movies, is using slapstick to make light of being heavy, which overshadows their acting ability. How I wish both of them would find/pick  scripts that portray them as normal people with interesting problems that ignore their physical appearance.  It seems to me that the Europeans are much better than Americans at casting actresses based on their ability to portray all kinds of characters irrespective of their physical appearance.  This movie runs the risk of promoting a stereotype when it’s trying to do just the opposite.
     It’s the acting that will save this film—if anything will—not the hackneyed story.

Rom-com about a heavy-set woman having dreams that are fulfilled—just not in the way she expects.

Grade:  D+                        By Donna R. Copeland


Thursday, February 7, 2019

LEGO MOVIE 2

Voices of:  Chris Pratt     Elizabeth Banks     Tiffany Haddish     Will Arnett 
Alison Brie     Channing Tatum     Maya Rudolph     Will Ferrell


     Following upon The Lego Movie (2014), this sequel continues the adventures of the “Master Builders” who started out as resistance fighters against Lord Business and his army of Micro Managers. Emmet (Pratt) and Wyldstyle (Banks) were heroic in the previous story and ended up as best friends in a happy town, Bricksburg, where everyone is special.  It should be noted that Wyldstyle (Lucy as she is now called), is more pessimistic and skeptical, in contrast to Emmet’s sunny outlook. Each would like for the other to change just a bit. 
     Their town now is a darker, chaotic--maybe cooler--Apocalypseburg that is changed significantly from the sunnier Bricksburg. Within the backdrop of an exciting confrontation between their city and some invaders coming in from outer space (who are wrecking everything faster than it can be rebuilt in a city of Master Builders), Emmet and Lucy become significantly changed for the better.  Emmet is both helped and hindered by making the acquaintance of Rex Dangervest (also Pratt, signifying polar opposite traits in the same person), who is brash and confident and easily counteracts Emmet’s diffidence. When Lucy gets kidnapped, Emmet enlists the help of Rex Dangervest in getting her back.  Their struggles increase insight for Emmet and Lucy; however, Rex’s issues are more complex.
     This sequel continues the psychological journeys of the characters that were begun in the first rendition.  And in this sense, the movie seems addressed more to the adult audience than to children.  For example, themes of and questions around romance, marriage, self-actualization, and détente between warring factions make the film more interesting for adults.  The production design and animation are so engaging (almost to the point of overpowering the characters and the story), children are likely to enjoy that aspect of the film; I just don’t know how much of the import of the story actually gets through to them. I suspect little of it.  The beginning scenes are so laden with special effects, it’s often hard to decipher what is going on, especially when the chorus sings, with lyrics that are hard to decipher.
     At any rate, there are exciting scenes showing colorful vignettes of the invaders led by Queen Wa’Nabi (Haddish) and the heroic efforts of the Apocalypseburg trio (Emmet, Rex, and Lucy) to protect themselves.  The invaders are clever in “brainwashing” others to join their ranks, including Batman (Arnett) who is seduced into wedding the queen, despite his fiercely avowed bat-chlerhood.   [The manipulative clichéd means by which Queen Wa’Nabi seduces him are some of the scenes I hope do pass over the heads of children.]  But there is a quick twist toward the end of the story that seems to discount the charge of brainwashing.
     Tiffany Haddish is clearly the star in this production, with her character’s chameleon-like presentation and witty dialog.  Haddish is perfectly cast, managing to be both outrageous and lovable.  Pratt and Banks also capture their roles in a way that makes them as believable as real people. Numerous cameos of the likes of Richard Ayoade, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ralphe Fiennes, Will Forte, Will Arnett, and still others popping up throughout, do their part in increasing the entertainment value of Lego Movie 2.

The continuing adventures and personal development of Lego characters Emmet and Lucy/Wyldstyle.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

WHAT MEN WANT

Taraji P. Henson     Josh Brener     Aldis Hodge     Richard Roundtree
Tracy Morgan     Shane Paul McGhie    Erykah Badu


     What Men Want is counterpart to Nancy Meyers’ earlier film, What Women Want, with essentially the same plot.  In this version, sharp-edged sports agent Ali (Henson) has to contend with the macho men in her company who are disparaging and pass over her in subtle and not so subtle ways.  But having been brought up by her boxing pro father (Roundtree), she has no trouble throwing her own punches, leading the men around her to regard her as a ball buster.  She, in turn, is dismissive of her gay assistant Brandon (Brener) and his aspirations to become a sports agent in his own right.  
     There are some entertaining and funny scenes of a poker game (which Ali crashes) and when the firm wants to become the agent for a budding basketball star, Jamal (McGhie), with a helicopter parent (Morgan).  After the front-line male agents put together an appalling video to promote him, Jamal is horrified, and Ali thinks she has a good chance to win him over.  With the plot turn of her visiting a psychic and gaining the ability to read men’s minds, she starts being very successful in poker as well as winning over Jamal and his father.
     But Ali’s penchant for topping everyone causes her to cut corners and run roughshod over anyone who can be of use to her, all of which she will have to answer to by the end of the film.  
     The kind of humor in this film and in its predecessor is not especially appealing to me, although I can understand how others might find it very entertaining. The audience in the screening I attended seemed to have a great appreciation for it.  However, I would have liked to ask them what they thought of the sex scenes, which were rather insensitive in their portrayal by apparently being intended primarily for laughs.  I also wonder if the gay community will have something to say about the way in which sexual orientation is presented, which is in a rather stereotypically humorous way.
     I have admired Taraji P. Henson ever since I first saw her in television’s “Person of Interest”, in which she played a slightly dowdy but sharp witted and stubborn city cop.  Of course, she has gone on to much grander roles in, for instance, Hidden Figures and the TV series “Empire” and become more glamorous in her appearance.  She shows a wide range of skills here, from brash and unheeding to sexily fun-loving to thoughtful and penitent.  Other standouts in performance include Richard Roundtree playing a loving father who understands the shortcoming of his parenting efforts, Erykah Badu playing a wondrous eccentric psychic, Tracy Morgan playing a kind of crazy parent, and Aldis Hodge as a gorgeous hunk with values.

Light comedy is the order of the day here, along with a few life lessons.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland