Movies to See Right Now

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

Don’t miss the political documentary Weiner – it’s probably the best documentary of the year. Weiner has more than its share of forehead-slapping moments and is often funny and always captivating. It also provokes some reflection on the media in this age.

Also in theaters:

  • Love & Friendship – a sharply witty adaptation of a Jane Austen story with an adept turn by Kate Beckinsale.
  • The Nice Guys – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a very funny mismatched buddy movie from the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise.
  • Julianne Moore, along with supporting players Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, shine in the amiably satisfying little romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan.

You can find a thrilling political docudrama with a stellar performance playing on HBO. It’s All the Way, the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before.

Stay away from the dark comedy The Lobster. A grim and tedious misfire, it’s the biggest movie disappointment of the year.

My video recommendations this week are smart and engaging recent romantic comedies – all written by women.

  • Zoe Kazan’s Ruby Sparks is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • Rashida Jones’ Celeste and Jesse Forever is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.
  • Tess Morris’ Man Up is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.
  • And a bonus: Lake Bell’s In the World…, is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

Tomorrow night, Turner Classic Movies resurrects the great, great comedic performance by George C. Scott as the con man Mordecai Jones in The Flim-Flam Man (1967).  Mark Twain would have loved this movie.

George C. Scott (right) with Michael Sarrazin and Slim Pickins in THE FLIM-FLAM MAN

George C. Scott (right) with Michael Sarrazin and Slim Pickins in THE FLIM-FLAM MAN

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DVDs/Streams of the Week: Three smart romantic comedies written by women

A dream girl comes to life in RUBY SPARKS

Just when I had branded the entire genre brain dead, several smart and engaging romantic comedies have popped up – all written by women. In Ruby Sparks,  a shy writer writes about his imagined perfect love object until…she becomes real. Yes, suddenly he has a real life girlfriend of his own design. Ruby Sparks takes this fantasy of a perfect partner and explores the limits of a partner that you have designed yourself. The biggest star in Ruby Sparks is its leading lady Zoe Kazan’s ingenious screenplay – funny without being silly, profound without being pretentious, bright without being precious. Ruby Sparks is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Also co-written by its female star, in this case Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever is about a couple that is now working on an amiable divorce and are still best friends. Once you accept the comic premise that this couple is made for each other but not as a married couple, everyone’s behavior is authentic. Sure, he wants to get back with her when she isn’t in a place to do that – and, then, vice versa – but the characters resolve the conflict as they would in real life. Here’s a mini-spoiler – this movie is just too smart to end in rushing to the airport or disrupting the wedding or any of the other typical rom com contrivances. Celeste and Jesse Forever is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

The grievously overlooked romantic comedy Man Up had a very brief US theatrical run  that did not even reach the Bay Area. British television writer Tess Morris weaves the story of Nancy (Lake Bell), who is on a four-year dating drought and has given up all hope when she inadvertently stumbles into a blind date meant for another woman. She’s intrigued with what she sees in Jack (Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead) and decides to impersonate his real date. As they get more and more into each other, the elephant in the room is when she will be exposed.  Morris authentically captures dating behaviors and female and male insecurities.  Man Up is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

Note:  I posted about Man Up last month and I’ve received more appreciative feedback from my readers for that recommendation than for any other this year.

And here’s a bonus if you enjoy Lake Bell in Man Up. The very talented Bell wrote/directed/starred in the American indie comedy In the World…, which I really, really liked. It’s available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

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Movies to See Right Now

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in WEINER

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in WEINER

Don’t miss the political documentary Weiner – it’s probably the best documentary of the year. Weiner has more than its share of forehead-slapping moments and is often funny and always captivating. It also provokes some reflection on the media in this age.

Also in theaters:

  • Love & Friendship – a sharply witty adaptation of a Jane Austen story with an adept turn by Kate Beckinsale.
  • The Nice Guys – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a very funny mismatched buddy movie from the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise.
  • Julianne Moore, along with supporting players Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, shine in the amiably satisfying little romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan.

You can find a thrilling political docudrama with a stellar performance playing on HBO. It’s All the Way, the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before.

Stay away from the dark comedy The Lobster. A grim and tedious misfire, it’s the biggest movie disappointment of the year.

On June 21, Turner Classic Movies presents Jack Nicholson as the iconic 1970s anti-hero in Five Easy Pieces. It’s a profound and deeply affecting study of alienation. Nicholson plays someone who has rejected and isolated himself from his dysfunctional family. Then he must embark on the epic road trip back to the family home. Amid the drama, there is plenty of funny, including the funniest sandwich order in the history of cinema.

FIVE EASY PIECES

FIVE EASY PIECES

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MAGGIE’S PLAN: Julianne Moore sparks a rom com with a twist

Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore in MAGGIE'S PLAN

Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore in MAGGIE’S PLAN

I only saw Maggie’s Plan because The Wife DRAGGED me to it, but I was surprisingly entertained by this amiable romantic comedy.  A typically floundering mumblecore Millennial (Greta Gerwig) finds herself in an affair with an older man (Ethan Hawke). When she awakens to his relationship-killing self-absorption, she decides the ease the breakup by handing him back to his overachieving ex-wife (Julianne Moore).

Hawke, of course, excels in playing the unreliable man (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Boyhood, Born to Be Blue).  Gerwig (the reason I didn’t want to see this movie) is not nearly as annoying and tiresome as she has been to date in her career. But it’s Julianne Moore who really elevates Maggie’s Plan, along with Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, who are hilarious in supporting roles. Aussie Travis Flimmer shows much promise in a very minor, but eye-catching role.

It all adds up to an amiable and satisfying rom com with a fresh twist.

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WEINER: behind the punchline

WEINER. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

WEINER. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Don’t miss the political documentary Weiner, probably the best documentary of the year.   It also provokes some reflection on the media in this age.

You may remember Anthony Weiner as the politician forced out of Congress in a sexting scandal.  A couple of years later, he tried to make a comeback by running for mayor of New York City.  Weiner is the inside story of that campaign, which self-immolated when the sexting scandal popped up again. Weiner is a marvelously entertaining chronicle of the campaign, a character study of Anthony Weiner himself and an almost voyeuristic peek into Weiner’s marriage to another political star, Huma Abedin.

Co-director Josh Kriegman served as Weiner’s Congressional chief of staff and left politics for filmmaking.  When Weiner was contemplating the run for mayor, Kriegman asked to shadow him in the campaign, and Weiner agreed.  Kriegman and co-director Elyse Steinberg shot 400 hours of backstage footage and caught some searing moments of human folly, triumph and angst.

In office, eight-term New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was a firebrand, pugnacious and a master debater with a vicious sense of humor, always eager to mix it up.  He is married to Huma Abedin, a close Hilary Clinton advisor often described as “Hilary’s other daughter”.  Huma is as reserved as Anthony is ebullient, and her own distinguished career in politics has been behind the scenes.  He lives for the limelight, but she is uncomfortable in it.

Anthony begins his comeback with brutally painful media launch.  The press is in a complete feeding frenzy – all revisiting the scandal and nothing else.  One of the highlights of Weiner is a montage of talking heads reviling Weiner, including Donald Trump, who bellows, “We don’t want any perverts in New York City”.

But when Anthony goes on the campaign trail, the electorate begins to really respond to his passion and feistiness. Weiner unexpectedly surges into the lead 10 weeks to go.  We are treated to a first-class procedural and see what only political pros see – the banal opening of a campaign office, rehearsing speeches, shooting commercials, dialing for dollars.

But then the scandal re-opens when a publicity-seeking bimbo releases a photo of Anthony’s penis that Weiner had texted her.  We see his Communications Director as the new scandal unfolds in real-time, her eyes becoming lifeless; my day job for the last thirty years has been in politics, and I have gotten some bad news, but nothing like this.

Amazingly, we see Anthony calling Huma and telling her.  When the screenshot of Anthony’s penis shot goes viral, we watch as Hums see it for the first time on the Internet, and her anger builds into rage.  Anthony finally kicks out the camera.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in WEINER

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in WEINER

New York Post prints headlines like “Weiner: I’ll Stick It Out” and “Obama Beats Weiner”. Anthony tells his shell-shocked and pissed off staff “nobody died”, but nobody’s buying it.  Anthony has masterfully redefined himself to be more than the punchline once, but the second set of revelations make him indelibly a punchline – and no one can come back from that.  From behind the camera, Kriegman plaintively asks Weiner.”Why did you let me film this?”.

Anthony’s pollster gives him the bad news:  “There’s no path anymore to get to a runoff” and “So this is a solo flight”.  The smell of death is about the campaign at the end, but Anthony is in “never quit” phase.

Anthony’s best moment is when he is obligated to face a hostile neighborhood meeting in the Bronx neighborhood of City Island.  He knows that he is doing poorly there, and there aren’t many voters out there anyway, but he keeps his head high and delivers a courageous effort.

Anthony’s worst moment may be when he is re-watching himself in a mutual evisceration of a TV host on YouTube.  He is relishing the combat, but Huma, behind him, is appalled by Anthony’s Pyrrhic victory.   He smugly thinks that’s he won the verbal firefight, but Huma just says, “It’s bad”.  She’s right.

I saw Weiner at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) at a screening with co-directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg.   Kriegman said that he “intended to show the humanity behind the headline – the nuance that is Anthony”.    Steinberg noted that “the most exposed are the least revealed”.   As of the SFIFF screening on April 23, Anthony Weiner had to date declined to watch Weiner.  In Weiner, Anthony looks back after the campaign and ruefully sums it up, “I lied and I had a funny name”.

Weiner has more than its share of forehead-slapping moments and is often funny and always captivating. It’s almost certainly the year’s best documentary and one of best films of 2016, period.

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Movies to See Right Now

WEINER. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

WEINER. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Don’t miss the political documentary Weiner.  I haven’t had the chance to post about it yet, but it’s probably the best documentary of the year.  Weiner has more than its share of forehead-slapping moments and is often funny and always captivating.  It also provokes some reflection on the media in this age.

Another movie that I enjoyed but haven’t had the opportunity to post about is the nice little comedy Maggie’s Plan.

Also in theaters:

  • Love & Friendship – a sharply witty adaptation of a Jane Austen story with an adept turn by Kate Beckinsale.
  • The Nice Guys – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a very funny mismatched buddy movie from the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise.

You can find the best movie out right now on HBO. It’s All the Way, the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before.

Stay away from the dark comedy The Lobster. A grim and tedious misfire, it’s the biggest movie disappointment of the year.

My Stream of the Week is Meet the Patels, both a documentary and a comedy – and ultimately, a satisfying crowd-pleaser. Meet the Patels is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. It’s hilarious and heart-warming, so don’t miss it.

Wow – Turner Classic Movies should keep your DVR humming on Tuesday, June 14. TCM will be broadcasting one of the great movies that you have likely NOT seen, having just been released on DVD in 2009: The Earrings of Madame de… (1953). Max Ophuls directed what is perhaps the most visually evocative romance ever in black and white. It’s worth seeing for the ballroom scene alone. The shallow and privileged wife of a stick-in-the-mud general takes a lover, but the earrings she pawned reveal the affair and consequences ensue. The great Italian director Vittorio De Sica plays the impossibly handsome lover.

And ALSO on June 14, TCM will present The Graduate, The French Connection, The Last Detail and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Just for fun, on June 16, TCM will screen a series of Lupe Velez’ Mexican Spitfire movies from the early 1940s. I find startling similarities between Velez’ Mexican Spitfire and Sofia Vergara’s character of Gloria on Modern Family.

The Earrings of Madame de...

The Earrings of Madame de…

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Least Convincing Movie Monsters

Killer Shrew mask

Tomorrow, June 10, Turner Classic Movies is airing two films on my list of Least Convincing Movie Monsters.   We’ll get to see The Black Scorpion and The Killer Shrews.

In The Killer Shrews, the voraciously predatory mutant shrews are played by dogs in fright masks. Yes, dogs. As you can see from the bottom photo, the filmmakers have also applied shaggy patches to the sides of the dogs and ropy rat tails to their backs. [SPOILER ALERT: When humans escape from their island, the killer shrews die of overpopulation.]

The Killer Shrews is only #3 on my list.  Visit Least Convincing Movie Monsters to see the two even sillier movie monsters.

Killer Shrews shag and tails

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Stream of the Week: MEET THE PATELS – a documentary funnier than most comedies

MEET THE PATELS

MEET THE PATELS

Meet the Patels is both a documentary and a comedy – and ultimately, a satisfying crowd-pleaser. Over several years, filmmaker Geeta Patel filmed her own brother Ravi and their parents in their quest to find a wife for Ravi. Ravi and Geeta’s parents were born in India, had a traditional arranged marriage which has resulted in decades of happiness. Their American-born kids, of course, reject the very idea of an arranged marriage. But Ravi finds the pull of his Indian heritage compelling enough to dump his redheaded girlfriend and try to find a nice Indian-American girl. His parents try to help him with unbounded and unrelenting enthusiasm.

Meet the Patels is very funny – much funnier than most fictional comedies. It’s always awkward when parents involve themselves in their child’s romantic aspirations. That’s true here, and produces some side-splitting moments. It helps that the Patel parents are very expressive, and downright hilarious. The dad is so funny that I could watch him read a telephone book for 90 minutes, and the mom is herself a force of nature.

We learn that the Patels of Gujarat have adapted an entire menu of marriage opportunities unfamiliar to mainstream American society: a matchmaking profile system called “biodata”, matrimonial fairs, “the wedding season” and more.

Meet the Patels has its share of cultural tourism and the clash of generations. But it is so damn appealing because it’s much more than that – it’s a completely authentic saga of family dynamics, dynamics that we’ve all experienced or at least observed. The family members’ mutual love for each other drives family conflict and, finally, family unity.

I saw Meet the Patels at the Camera Cinema Club last year, and it had a brief theatrical run in the Bay Area. Meet the Patels is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. It’s hilarious and heart-warming, so don’t miss it.

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Movies to See Right Now

Bryan Cranston in ALL THE WAY

Bryan Cranston in ALL THE WAY

Another week with good choices – two outright comedies plus a comedy-within-a-thriller:

  • Love & Friendship – a sharply witty adaptation of a Jane Austen story with an adept turn by Kate Beckinsale.
  • The Nice Guys – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a very funny mismatched buddy movie from the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise.
  • A Bigger Splash – a sensual travelogue turned comedy turned thriller with a raucous and oft-naked performance by Ralph Fiennes.

You can find the best movie out right now on HBO. It’s All the Way, the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before.

Stay away from the dark comedy The Lobster. A grim and tedious misfire, it’s the biggest movie disappointment of the year.

My Stream of the Week is the TOTALLY OVERLOOKED romantic comedy Man Up (and another good rom com written by a woman). Man Up is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

On June 8, Turner Classic Movies presents Born to Be Bad. Joan Fontaine is a manipulative evildoer, who is trying to finagle the affections of Zachary Scott away from his goodhearted fiance, all while canoodling with Robert Ryan. Classic movie fans will enjoy the casting against type – Fontaine usually played goodie goodies and Scott was often a slimeball (which he’s not here).

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

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Peter van Eyck: the Nazi who wasn’t

Peter van Eyck in THE WAGES OF FEAR

Peter van Eyck (left) in THE WAGES OF FEAR

During World War II, Hollywood looked for cruel-visaged actors to play Nazi characters that were cruel-looking and who could accomplish evil with chilling efficiency.  With his Aryan poster boy looks and German accent, Peter van Eyck became Hollywood’s favorite on-screen Nazi.  The irony is that, in real life, the German-born van Eyck was a fervent anti-fascist who had fled just before Hitler took power.

Van Eyck bobbed around the world doing odd jobs until he landed in New York and befriended Aaron Copland, Irving Berlin and, finally, Billy Wilder.  Van Eyck’s first attention-grabbing performance was in Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo, which airs tomorrow night on Turner Classic Movies.

His role as Lt. Schwegler in Five Graves to Cairo is embedded in a sequence of nine straight German soldier movie roles during 1943-44.  Sometimes his roles didn’t even have names – “German officer”, “SS Captain”, “Gestapo”.

Back to real life – van Eyck served as a film officer in the US Army’s occupation of post-Germany.  Returning to Hollywood, his roles diversified to the point that he was only playing a German officer about half the time.  He ended up with 94 screen credits on IMDb, including high-ranking Wehrmacht officers in The Longest Day (1962) and The Bridge at Remagen (his final film in 1969).  One of Van Eyck’s most notable roles is as one of the drivers in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s hyper-suspenseful The Wages of Fear.

It is said that acting is pretending.  Typecast by looks and accent, van Eyck was a refugee who happened into a prolific acting career – playing exactly what he wasn’t.

the young Peter van Eyck (center rear) in FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO

the young Peter van Eyck (center rear) in FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO

a more mature van Eyck in THE LONGEST DAY

a more mature van Eyck in THE LONGEST DAY

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