Note to readers: I have started going to movies in the theaters, having received my two shots and passed the two-week standby period, wearing a mask at all times and following social distancing. Most of the films I am reviewing are still movies that I watched at home, but I will note in the review if I saw them in a theatre. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
My View: Dear Evan Hansen (2021) PG-13 Following the suicide of a fellow classmate, Conor, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a high-school-senior with Social Anxiety disorder, goes on a journey to find acceptance and self-discovery. A letter Evan has written will change not only his life but will touch so many more. It’s always hard to translate the power of a Broadway theatre experience to the screen. Dear Evan Hansen’s production on the stage was a Tony-winning phenomenon, but that feeling and power of a live performance doesn’t translate to the screen in this adaptation. The songs are still there, and that is what saves this film, as the songs, including a few new ones, make this film watchable. Unfortunately, the film's storyline is a bit of a mess, and its message, so meaningful on the stage, seems lost in an attempt to add a bit of flash to the production, trying but not succeed in making this film not feel predictable. I enjoyed Ben Platt’s voice, but his performance on the screen feels a bit too stagy. A lot has been made on social media about Platt’s appearance (he is playing a high-school student while he is 28), but it never bothered me. Amy Adam's part is small, and her lovely singing voice is rarely used. I did enjoy the performance of Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Conor’s long set upon sister, who Evan secretly loves from afar. A couple of the musical numbers, where the cast has also to dance, are a bit painful to watch, so maybe just buy the soundtrack or see the musical the next time your local theatre group puts it on. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Dear Evan Hansen Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
My View: The Guilty (2021) R It’s an ordinary day for 911 operator Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he gets his standard calls of people asking for help, but this morning will be different. As a wildfire threatens the city and grounds air support, Joe receives a call from a woman in a car and is being held against her will. Now it's a race against time as Joe tries to trace down the woman whose last words on the call are ‘I’m going to die.’ This is a remake of a Dutch film of the same name that I really liked a couple of years ago. Unlike a lot of remakes that Hollywood does of foreign films, this one works with Jake Gyllenhaal giving an outstanding performance as the troubled cop with anger issues that is trying to find a woman who has been abducted. Gyllenhaal gives us a complex hero that you are probably not going to like very much. Gyllenhaal gives Joe an intensity that is constantly blowing over. Joe can’t seem to control his anger and outrage as his character becomes increasingly frustrated that he can’t just get out on the street and find this woman himself. The Guilty is an intense character study of a man whose world is crashing down around him as he tries to make a difference one more time and save a life. My Rating: Full Price The Guilty Website Now playing in select theatres and available on the Netflix platform on Oct. 1st.
Indiefest: Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan (2020) Documentary on pioneering artist Jim Denevan, who started out creating giant works of art on beaches and then started combining his art with a radical alternative to conventional dining. This is one of those documentaries where you would probably not want to be Jim’s friend or even co-worker, but boy, oh boy, will you ever want to be part of his dining productions. The film does an unbelievable job of giving you an insight into a highly complex man who creates artwork on beaches and other areas that will only be visible for a short time and have to been seen from the air (or at least a hilltop) to fully appreciate the art in all its glory. Fortunately for us, Jim also is a chef (his journey to become one is equally impressive), and he creates these one-of-a-kind dining events that combine his love of nature, art, and cooking to new heights. You will be astounded by his artwork and jealous of the people that have sat at his long, long dining table. His dining events are a tough ticket to get, so watching this film is probably about as close as most of us will get, but at least we have this film to watch a fantastic artist work his magic. My Rating: Full Price Man in the Field Website Now playing in select theatres and On Demand including the Apple TV+ platform.
My View: This is the Year (2021) Pining away for a girl, Zoey(Alyssa Jirrels) he believes is way out of his league, Josh (Lorenzo James Henrie), a high-school senior, decides to enlist his friends to go on a road trip, promising Zoey he can get her into the biggest concert of the year. It seems this is the year for revisiting the old 80s teen films, but this movie has a bit of a change of pace; Josh wants his life to be like his favorite 80s teen movie, a movie he has watched over and over since he was a kid, right down to the girl choosing him over the hunk that she is with. Add to the fact that his best friend, Molly (played by the always impressive and energetic Vanessa Marano), is his ‘wing-woman’ who has her own 80s movie fantasy of having her first kiss be full of magic and fireworks. This is the Year is the classic teen road trip with a crazy group of kids that trouble seems to find them just as they think they have hit the promised land of music and good times. The film even throws in the funny high school teacher (played by Jeff Garlin), who is cool, witty, and has a final paper that Josh must write in order to graduate. This allows our lead character (like in The Breakfast Club and a few other classic 80s teen films) to sum up his experiences at the end of the film. This is the Year is a fun, feel-good film that plays on those 80s teen films and gives them a push into the 21st century with a cast that makes you want them to succeed. Somehow you know that they will always prevail, and everyone we want to end up together will. I mean, isn’t that how all those 80s films ended? Of course, with the exception to the rule, Pretty in Pink…Duckie rules! Am I right?! My Rating: Bargain Matinee This is the Year Website Now playing in select theatres.
My View: Hudson (2019) R After his mother’s death, Hudson (David Neal Levin) enlists his distant cousin, Ryan (Gregory Lay), on a road trip to scatter her ashes in a family favorite gathering place. Along the way, they meet an unusual hitchhiker named Sunshine (Mary Catherine Greenawalt), and the three go on a journey that will involve a broken-down Volvo, haiku's, mini-golf, and self-discovery. This is one of those films you discover at a film festival and fall in love with. It’s predictable, and not a lot happens on this small road trip, but the characters are so adorable that you won’t mind that the journey isn’t for long. Hudson, the character played by David Neal Levin, is a droll, dry little man who has a one-track mind, a man who lives for retelling stories from the past about himself and his cousin Ryan. Sunshine, who they pick up at a gas station after she fixes their car, becomes their travel guide and a welcome buffer between the troubled Ryan, who is going through some sort of meltdown, and the grieving Hudson, who steadfastly must scatter his mother's ashes at a place that the family used to picnic at. So spend an afternoon on the road with this strange trio as they have a few laughs, get lost in a corn maze, and eat pretend ice cream at 7 in the morning. You will be glad you were along for the ride. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Hudson Info Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: Lady of the Manor (2021) Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) is a hot mess who would rather smoke pot than get a regular job. When forced to work, Hannah gets a job as a tour guide, portraying Lady Wadsworth at the historical home, Wadsworth Manor. Work isn’t going great when she meets the ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer), who tells her if Hannah doesn’t change her wild ways, she will haunt her until she does. I am a massive fan of both Judy Greer and Melanie Lynskey, and I am a regular listener to Justin Long’s podcast, but this film that Long wrote and directed with his brother Christian is just painful to watch. The jokes fall flat, Greer is given nothing to work within her character of stuffy Lady Wadsworth, and Lynskey’s comedic talents are wasted in a role that is so beneath her acting level. The film also wants you to believe that Justin Long’s character, a history professor, would be interested in Lynskey’s character, who, frankly, is an idiot who has trouble finding her way in a building that is clearly marked and keeps assuming that the professor is having affairs with his students. I had high hopes for Lady of the Manor due to its cast, but I’ve seen better student productions at local film festivals than this film. My Rating: You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again Lady of the Manor Website The film is playing in select theatres and is available On Demand.
Forgotten Film: Period of Adjustment (1962) It was 1962, and Hollywood had no idea what to do with Henry Fonda’s daughter Jane. So they gave her a ridiculous hairdo, a bad southern accent, and outfits to make her look like Marilyn Monroe, and you have Fond’s performance in this comedy. Add to the fact that it is based on a Tennessee Williams play and directed by George Roy Hill (Oscar winner for The Sting and nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and you get a strange comedy that is fun to watch. A newlywed couple (Fonda, Jim Hutton) has their honeymoon interrupted by the troubles of a married couple (Anthony Franciosa, Lois Nettleton). The film has an outstanding supporting cast, including veteran character actor John McGiver, and a young-looking Jack Albertson. Look quick, and you will see a wet behind the ears John Astin. The film doesn’t always work, but it’s fun to watch Jane Fonda in a role that she would soon leave behind for much better fare. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Period of Adjustment Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Dear Evan Hansen: COVID-19 Secretary
Coming Soon to Screen Near You: Finch (2021) PG-13 In a devastated world full of sandstorms, incredible heat, and no water, Finch (Tom Hanks) decides he has to move on because of a coming storm. Finch will now take his new family, a dog and a talking robot, on an adventure in a dangerous and ravaged world. Tom Hanks and a talking robot is enough but add in a dog as your companion, and you’ve got me. Finch Website