AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You starts off strong, then loses its way, despite having an A-List cast with the chops to achieve something far greater. Perhaps it was the script. Or the over-abundance of family dysfunction that seemed to loom larger than the fake boobs proudly (and often) exhibited by Jane Fonda’s matriarch character.

Here’s the gist: When their father passes away, the four grown Altman siblings are forced to return home and live under the same roof for a week with their over-sharing therapist mother (Fonda) who used her kids as fodder for a bunch of best-selling books on family dysfunction. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The siblings spend the week confronting their past, present and future, with an array of spouses, exes, significant others, kids, friends and foes added to the mix- for occasional comedic and dramatic effect.

The Trip to Italy

I did not see the first of this series, but it is now on my list. In the first one, called simply The Trip (2010) the same two men, comedian/actors Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon, traveled around the the north of England eating and talking while ostensibly writing an article for a newspaper. This one takes them to one of my favorite places on earth, Italia! And there they dine at six fabulous restaurants and continue their silly conversations, frequently doing impersonations of actors from Pacino to Christian Bale to a contest of who can do Michael Caine best. (Brydon does a pitch perfect Hugh Grant a few times.) The film is not really about the food, though the director does shoot the chefs and the presentations lovingly, and Coogan and Brydon do ooh and ahh from time to time. It is really about the witty repartee covering an uneasy feeling that both men’s lives are in flux, and each is struggling to find his next move.

Mood Indigo

Writer/director Michel Gondry brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , one of the more strangely inventive stories of the 21st century. With Mood Indigo he returns with a French novel adaptation that is every bit as odd, though maybe not quite as effective. It begins as Colin discovers that his best friend Chick has found love, which sends him on a quest to find his own. His chef/friend/lawyer Nicolas, the beautiful Omar Sy from The Intouchables, has a neice who is having a party, and there Colin meets Chloé, the lovely Audrey Tautou of Amélie. He is instantly smitten. And their romance is all fun and sweet and beautiful until she falls ill with a water lily growing in her lungs and the world turns dark.

Lucy

I generally like Luc Besson movies — The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita. He writes some pretty interesting female characters who frequently have to fend for themselves in a very violent world. And that is just what the title character in his latest flick Lucy does. Played by Scarlett Johannsen, Lucy is an American student in Taipei who is forced to be a mule for a very interesting new designer drug, and then through a series of unfortunate events, pretty much all hell breaks loose as she turns into superhuman.

If I Stay

If I Stay is a tear-inducing chick flick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… unless you’re trying to stay in ‘happy summer mode’ a few more weeks. This movie is kind of a downer, aimed primarily at angsty teens. The trailer (below) pretty much says it all. So does the YA novel by Gayle Forman. But in case you haven’t watched the trailer, or read the book, here’s the gist: Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a mature high schooler with a loving family, a cute rocker boyfriend (Jamie Blackley), and a passion for playing the cello. But her life changes in an instant when a car crash wipes out her family and puts her in a coma. The movie then weaves in and out of her past and present as Mia – having a sort of out-of-body experience – ultimately weighs if it’s worth waking up to a very different life, or just letting go.

When the Game Stands Tall

We sent ‘Guest High School Chick’ Gabby Rhoades to a screening of When the Game Stands Tall, figuring she was better qualified to speak to its potential appeal to High Schoolers in particular – and the broader audience in general. The screening itself was flawed by technical difficulties (sorry ’bout that!), but we appreciate her sticking it out and offering up this review:

When The Game Stands Tall is a great and inspiring end-of-summer movie to get the public ready for football in the fall. Inspired by a true story, the De La Salle High School Football team, the Spartans, hold the nation’s highest winning streak of high school football games in all of history. This movie is not just another cliché plot where the football coach tries to change the lives of boys learning to become men and them trying to find clarity on the field. It’s a story of one of the nation’s most talented football teams losing for the first time in many aspects of life, and learning to pick themselves back up as a team.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is a good, entertaining summer flick filled with humor, sarcasm, sci-fi superhero angst, and action. But don’t make the same mistake I did… which was to expect something close(r) to the brilliance of the classic Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest. Guardians is good, but it’s not THAT good. Chris Pratt (aka Andy on Parks and Rec) proves he is definitely leading-man material, playing Peter Quill, a half-human, half-alien who likes to refer to himself as ‘Star-Lord’ and wants others to do the same.

Boyhood

Boyhood, the new film from Richard Linklater (Before Midnight, Bernie, Dazed and Confused) is getting a lot of accolades because of the way it was shot, over the course of 12 years with the same cast. In it you actually watch a boy named Mason (and his sister) grow up, from being a typical a 5-year-old to his first day at college, along with all the trials and tribulations that get him there, as well as the expanding and contracting family that he is a part of. I was worried it might be just a gimmick but Boyhood is the ultimate coming of age flick and it mostly keeps you engaged through almost 3 hours.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey has all the ingredients for an arty-mainstream crossover dish, ala The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It doesn’t hurt that the film has the producer power of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey behind it, and the star power of Helen Mirren. But it’s also got a solid cast and a relatable story peppered with drama, comedy and romantic chemistry. It is, quite simply, a feel-good movie with intergenerational appeal.

Get On Up

Get On Up is on par with the recent Frankie Valli biopic, Jersey Boys, and the bottom line is the same: if you like the music, it’s worth checking out the movie. The film traces the life of the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown, from extreme poverty in the deep South to musical stardom around the country and across the globe.