LOVE & MERCY

Where does genius end and madness begin? It is certainly a fine line and one that may not have a clear definition. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson has toed that line for his entire life. The examination of that line is what drives LOVE & MERCY. The brilliant script by Oren Moverman (I’M NOT THERE) and Michael A. Lerner gives us glimpse at the life of Wilson as a young man and an older man. The younger Wilson is played by Paul Dano, the older by John Cusak. They are both wonderful in their own way. Yeah, maybe they could have used make-up to make Dano appear older, but this works just as well. Maybe better. The young Wilson is already dealing with bipolar disorder. He can’t tour anymore, so he stays home while The Beach Boys go on tour. While they are touring, Wilson stays home and writes and records the classic album Pet Sounds. He has to deal with an insensitive, overbearing father and the politics of being in a successful band. Wilson has a creative voice that needs to be heard, while Mike Love wants more hits. Love wants to be The Beach Boys. The older Wilson is in a hell created by a mix of his own mental illness and the controlling asshole, Dr. Eugene Landy, played by the wonderful Paul Giamatti. Landy keeps Wilson controlled by over-medicating him to the point where he is more crazy. Wilson meets Melinda Ledbetter (the equally wonderful Elizabeth Banks) while shopping for a Cadillac, and she sees Wilson’s kind heart and Landy’s evil one and slowly learns what is going on. But she is powerless to stop it. LOVE & MERCY shines a light on how Wilson’s mental illness came to the surface and how he had to overcome it with the help of a woman who would eventually become his wife. I am not a Beach Boys fan, but Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums of all time. This honors the music and the creative process while examining how a genius toes that line that leads to madness. It’s a wonderful film. Entertaining, heart wrenching and triumphant. LOVE & MERCY is a winner. — Alan Yudman

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JURASSIC WORLD

  I liked it better the first time, when it was called DAY OF THE DOLPHIN. Seriously, it’s a tentpole, nothing more. Uninspired product you’ve already seen, right down to the fight sequences (humans imperiled by dinosaurs who at the very last second are eaten by larger dinosaurs) and the scares (the old monster’s-face-inches-away bit). There’s too much talking, and when they do, it’s ethics for 9th-graders — animal rights, gene splicing — married to a subplot about Military Industrial Complex baddies (Cf. …DOLPHIN). Spielberg only produced this time, but his sticky-sweet fingers are all over the movie, right down to the standard issue cheerful mophead and his sullen but goodhearted teen heartthrob brother, kids on a thrilling adventure that’s never too scary for a “humorous” one-liner. (Bryce Dallas Howard is also cursed with having to make with the jokes while in the middle of mortal terror.) Also, out of nowhere, a looming divorce backstory pops up for a few unearned tears and is never alluded to again. That scene, like those between Howard and Chris Pratt, keeps shifting tone, to confusing effect; the humans don’t seem any more warmblooded than the dinosaurs. [I know. Dinosaurs are no longer universally believed to have been coldblooded. The line was too good to resist.] So anyway, how about those dinosaurs? One of the movie’s main themes is Jurassic World’s need to come up with a bigger, fiercer animal (created in a lab) because the initial thrills of Jurassic Park had become passé. The problem is, that “bigger, fiercer animal” isn’t as fearsome as it should be; it’s just a little larger than the other raptors and such, which sometimes lumber like mechanical models and other times seem more natural. Also,the crowd scenes are clumsy and ridiculous (in the midst of massacre, the stars don’t get a scratch), in much the same way as in Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. And while Michael Giacchino scores a lot of big movies, he’s no John Williams; there isn’t a musical moment that registers here. Or any kind of moment, really. — Jeff Schultz

The original JURASSIC PARK movie was something we had never seen before. There was wonder and amazement. It was scary, thrilling and spectacular. JURASSIC WORLD? Uh, not so much. It’s cool. It’s fun. I enjoyed the whole thing. The dinosaur effects were better, but how could they not be given advances in technology. The filmmakers didn’t ignore its history, and without spoiling anything, wove it into the storyline. But there are problems here. The overarching theme is that the military industrial complex is evil and out for profit and we should be wary of it. Thank you. Dwight Eisenhower as screenwriter. That didn’t stop the producers from loading the film with product placement. It rivals the last Transformers movie in that respect. So I was feeling mixed messages to say the least. The two kids fit too easily into stereotypes. The younger is way too into dinosaurs given his apparent age. The older is ruled too much by his hormones. They are paper thin characters. It was also way too easy to guess what was going to happen and who was going to die. To use a baseball analogy, they were telegraphing their pitches. All that said, I really like Chris Pratt. How could you not. He is the new version of Harrison Ford. Likable, good looking, decent actor. He will be this generation’s action hero. Given its record opening weekend box office, I know we’re going to get a sequel. The big creative question is, why? — Alan Yudman
 

INSIDE OUT

  When Pixar was at its peak, movies like Toy Story and Finding Nemo both entertained and tugged at the heartstrings. In recent years, with the exception of the first 15 minutes of Up, the last few have been fun, but not really moving. Well guess what? Inside Out is Pixar at its best. A not so original concept explodes with cleverness, humor, and originality. At times hilarious, and many more times extremely emotional, this has to be one of the best movies of the year. The casting is perfect, the story is tight, and the whole world created on screen is fascinating and inspiring. Childish while very much adult, Inside Out works for both children, grown ups, and the child in all of us. — Stormy Curry

Do you register what emotions you are feeling as you make it through your day? What goes on inside your head as your feel fear, anger, sadness, joy or disgust? Those questions are “answered” in an enormously entertaining and emotional movie, the latest from Pixar, INSIDE OUT. Briefly, Riley is a kid who is uprooted and moved from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco. Nothing is going right. How do we know? Because we see how she is feeling. Pixar takes us inside Riley’s head where Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Anger (Lewis Black) work to make Riley who she is. The casting is absolutely perfect. Each actor brings their unique talent and voice to each character. The star among them is Smith’s Sadness. Pixar has the unique ability to make the movie entertaining for kids while also giving adults to keep them interested. And that is too basic a description where INSIDE OUT is concerned. The kids will love the slapstick, physical humor. The adults will appreciate the message that the Pete Docter and company are trying to get across. There is no one emotion that can exist without the others. Every memory is framed against fear and joy, or sadness and joy. No emotion exists in a vacuum. But the point is made without beating you over the head and the climactic scene will make you sloppy cry. Bring tissues. Lots of tissues.  My top Pixar movies are (in no particular order) TOY STORY 3, WALL-E and UP. Now add INSIDE OUT to the list. This isn’t just a good animated movie. This is a great movie. It should get serious consideration for best picture come Oscar time. — Alan Yudman

A DEADLY ADOPTION

A fat fizzle whose idea seemed better (in our eager anticipation, thanks to a crafty, if not deceptive, marketing campaign) than what got made. But what was the idea? The casting yells comedy. In fact, it’s listed as (Comedy) in Time-Warner Cable’s online show description. But the joke… is that they’re playing it straight. Meta gone nuts. It’s simply, and simplistically, Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig starring in a typical Lifetime movie — in this case a dumbed-down, clunky knockoff of thrillers like THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE. The clunkiness may be the satiric point: a way of calling out Lifetime for making crap. If so, that at first seems ungenerous on Ferrell’s part, as producer. But think about that some more, and it throws even greater shame on Lifetime executives for being willing to shit on their product if they can make money doing so. After 20 minutes, deflation set in with growing fear that the deadly serious beginning was not after all a grand setup that would lead to a hard and funny turn. There’s no turn. Three years ago, Ferrell made the brilliantly funny CASA DE MI PADRE, played entirely straight and entirely in gringo-understandable Spanish 101, just like the title. It was hilarious, filled with laughs. More to the point, think of Ferrell and Wiig in the better parts of the 70’s mini-series spoof, IFC’s deadpan THE SPOILS OF BABYLON. Both of those paid off. As for ADOPTION, my advice is to send this baby back. — Jeff Schultz

SPY

You’ve gotta me kidding me. This is the “laugh riot” everyone is raving about? The jokes are as bland and generic as the title in this middling Melissa McCarthy vehicle. A few hours after seeing it I can remember only one witty line (at the very end, referencing Phantom of the Opera), one action sequence (girl fight in a kitchen), and one, maybe two performances: Peter Serafinowicz (who should do a father-son movie with Armand Assante) as the woman-crazed Italian (?) driver, and Björn Gustafsson, a bit part really, driven to tears by McCarthy. The plot is complicated but sure, who cares; it’s there to serve the comedy. If only there were more comedy! Too many car chases, too many stale Bondian takeoffs (Michael McDonald as a Q-like high-tech spy gadget creator), plus dick shots and a grisly death that are puzzling additions because the rest of the movie is tame enough for kids. I like Melissa McCarthy when she has balls, but here, she’s lost shuttling between ballsy and vulnerable-pathetic, even somewhat at the end. — Jeff Schultz

SPY

I loved The Heat. I loved Identity Thief. I loved Bridesmaids. Why did this Spy leave me out in the cold? A surprising misfire from Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig…this comedy is short on laughs and looooooong on action sequences that seemed to belong in another movie. I think the biggest problem is that McCarthy’s character is meek and lacks confidence for more than half the movie….and is the constant butt of jokes and putdowns. When she finally does loosen up…it’s part of her “cover” and shifts between her funny tough persona and her mousy one. She’s the Sandra Bullock character from The Heat in her own movie while everyone around her gets the bigger laughs. It was amusing but more of a rental than a must see. It should have and could have been so much funnier.

Stormy Curry

SPY

spyMelissa McCarthy and Paul Feig. Sometimes a director just knows how to bring out the best in an actor. For the old-timers, think John Ford and John Wayne. Or maybe Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. For comedy, Put McCarthy and Feig in that category. First with BRIDESMAIDS, then with THE HEAT, the two have a rhythm that brings out the best in McCarthy. SPY is just the latest proof of their success. From the opening sequence featuring a very Bond-like Jude Law, to the opening credits with a very Bond-like song (sung by Ivy Levan) you get the general idea of what you are in for. Law is a dashing CIA operative who relies on the expertise of McCarthy back in Langley. While on a mission, Law is killed by the daughter of an arms dealer played by Rose Byrne while McCarthy is watching. With all of their field agents identities compromised, McCarthy volunteers to go into the field, catch Byrne and stop the sale of a suitcase nuke to terrorists. But she is also bent on avenging the man she loves. There are several different comic themes at play here. Making jokes about McCarthy’s appearance is a running gag. But the brilliance is they turn that easy joke on its head because McCarthy has mad skills. She is a great field agent. Another running gag is McCarthy’s fake identities. She longs to have a cool name with a cool job. Instead she’s always portrayed as a loser or divorced mother and her frustration is never not funny. Feig also turns a lot of spy tropes on their heads with genius results. Jason Statham is a loose cannon agent who feels the need to cite his completely unbelievable resume at every opportunity. Byrne’s detached menace works great with her smoldering sexiness. Her banter with McCarthy is hilarious. In case you think this is merely string of jokes, you’d be missing out on a pretty good spy story too. Take the comedy away and this would be a decent thriller. Insert the comedy and you have a brilliant movie that is thoroughly enjoyable and hysterically funny. This is a formula that could work as a continuing franchise because it’s not just about McCarthy’s “fish out of waterness”. I look forward to what they come up with for a sequel. — Alan Yudman