Love and Friendship

Microbe & Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil)

Sounds like a science flick, but it’s actually a sweet little French coming-of-age film. Theo meets Daniel when he transfers into his school, and as two outcasts often do in movies, they immediately hit it off. Théo (Théophile Baquet) is into tinkering around with motors and has a distinct odor, hence the kids dub him Gasoline, and Daniel (Ange Dargent) is pretty small for his age and known as Microbe. Gasoline is tougher and takes shy Microbe under his wing, helping him meet the girl of his dreams and even exhibit his drawings in a gallery. But when summer comes around, they hatch a plan to get away from their dysfunctional families and adventure ensues.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters is an okay reboot of a comedy classic. It has funny moments, but falls far short of hilarious – and that would have been the case regardless of the gender of the leads. The dominance of estrogen over testosterone in this “Ghostbusters for a new generation” has everything to do with what makes the movie entertaining, and nothing to do with what makes the narrative fall flat. These talented ladies deserved better material from director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), but that said, they make the most of what they got.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Secret Life of Pets; Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates; Life, Animated; Zero Days

The Secret Life of Pets is one of those movies that is probably critic-proof because the trailer is so darn cute and promising that kids (and many adults too) will be eager to see it, no matter what. Still, I would be remiss to give it a glowing endorsement when I was, in fact, disappointed. I loved the first 15 minutes and the last 10 minutes of this movie. But everything in between dragged for me as the tone of the movie turned rather dark. The premise is awesome — what kind of lives are our pets leading when we leave them home alone for hours at a time? They party! They get together for walks! They watch telenovellas! The characters (dogs, cats, bunnies, snakes, etc.) are all well-drawn, and well-voiced by the likes of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, and Albert Brooks. My issue is with the shift in tone from fun animal adventure to animated crime saga. The Secret Life of Pets is certainly way better than recent duds Ratchet and Clank, Norm of the North, and Angry Birds… but not nearly as good as Finding Dory and Zootopia. Oh well. I may not have loved The Secret Life of Pets, but I do predict the movie will boost attendance at theaters, animal shelters, pet stores, and dog parks! There’s also a cute short before The SLOP that features the Minions of Despicable Me fame.

The Innocents

The Innocents is a brutally beautiful film based on the true story of a young woman doctor sent to Poland with the French Red Cross to aid survivors of the concentration camps after WWII. She reluctantly agrees to help a local nun only to discover a convent filled with pregnant sisters, shamed victims of the victorious Soviet soldiers’ horrifying gang rapes. Co-written and directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Channel) the film is a multi-layered exploration of faith tested to its limits. But fear not! It is not a downer flick. It is thoughtful and ultimately uplifting.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Legend of Tarzan; The BFG; Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Legend of Tarzan – Does the world need another Tarzan (movie)? No. But at least it’s way better than I – and most everyone around me – expected it to be. The Legend of Tarzan offers a new take on an old tale, with a healthy dose of eye candy. Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) plays John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke aka Tarzan. John has traded in the jungles of Africa for a gentrified life in London with his sassy and beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He’s perfectly content to be free of the Jungle (“It’s hot there”), but he is roped into accepting an invitation to return to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he’s being set up by a nasty Belgian dude (Christopher Waltz in his usual creepy, sneering role) who plans to turn Tarzan over to an African chief bent on revenge. The movie has elements of a lot of genres – there’s romance, drama, action, (CGI) animals, comic relief (from Samuel L. Jackson as an American, George Washington Williams, looking to expose an illegal slavery and mining operation) — but it all hangs together surprisingly well. The Legend of Tarzan feels a lot like a standard superhero flick, which makes it perfectly fine summer fare for the older kid/adult crowd.

Wiener-Dog

Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) doesn’t make mainstream movies. They’re dark and quirky and you either buy into his sad worlds or you don’t. In this one, he uses a dachshund to connect four tales of people at different stages in life grappling with meaning and mortality, as the dog moves mutely from owner to owner.

Genius

Growing up in small town Asheville, North Carolina, we didn’t have many famous people we could claim. But the great writer Thomas Wolfe was ours. So when they made a movie about him, we had to see it. Genius isn’t just about Wolfe (Jude Law) though. Adapted from “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg, the film looks at Wolfe’s relationship with Perkins (Colin Firth), the editor who had an out-sized role in crafting his masterpieces and was his closest friend. Given the subject matter, the film should have been a lot better.

Marguerite

Every few years two movies come out about the same subject at the same time, and one is lauded, while the other is overlooked. I hope that doesn’t happen with Marguerite, a truly wonderful French film “inspired by” the story of tone-deaf but passionate opera diva wannabe Florence Foster Jenkins. An American film starring Meryl Streep will be covering her story again in a few months time. But it is hard to believe that Meryl can top Catherine Frot’s performance, though if anyone can… And what a character she is! In the French version, she is known as Baroness Marguerite Dumont and she is heart-breakingly delightful!

Central Intelligence

Yes – Central Intelligence is kinda stupid. But in a week dominated by one tragic news story after another, I was happy to take the levity wherever I could find it. And I did get a few decent laughs out of this twisted buddy comedy with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin “perennial sidekick” Hart. It’s the tale of two guys reunited (via Facebook friend request) on the eve of their 20-year high school reunion: Bob Stone, the oft-bullied overweight geek formerly known as Robbie Wierdicht who grew into a lethal CIA agent (Johnson), and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner, the popular jock/most-likely-to-succeed prom king who became a mild-mannered accountant leading a stable but staid existence devoid of excitement and drama. See where this is going?

Finding Dory

#JustKeepSwimming I don’t know why I’m suddenly obsessed with that Dory-inspired hashtag, but it’s my new favorite motto. Finding Dory is a worthy sequel to the 2003 Academy-Award winning animation blockbuster, Finding Nemo, about a neurotic clownfish named Marlin who traveled across the ocean to find his son Nemo, who’d gotten trapped in a dentist’s fish tank. In case you didn’t know – all’s well that ended well, with Marlin and Nemo reuniting, with the help of a host of creatures including a blue tang named Dory who suffers from short-term memory loss. Fast-forward a year (in movie time), and Dory, Nemo and Marlin are like family – living comfortably in their underwater corner of the world, respecting the boundaries of the open ocean to avoid becoming fish bait. It’s all going swimmingly until Dory suddenly remembers that she has a biological family – a mother and father, and a home that she’d forgotten about, but now must find. And so another cross-ocean adventure begins.