DESTINATION WEDDING – ODD ROM COM THAT WORKS AGAINST EXPECTATION

SHORT TAKE:

Unusual tale of how two unpleasant people create a positive relationship through a series of conversations at a weekend destination wedding.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Absolutely only adults and preferably married ones at that for: profanity, casual blasphemy and an explicit, albeit genuinely funny and fully clothed, scene of realistically portrayed sexual intimacy.

LONG TAKE:

A love story with a twist. To my knowledge this phrase was coined by my friend Franklin. He claims it an apt description to ANY movie. That may be so, but Destination Wedding really is one.

While the movie doesn’t exactly turn the standard for the rom-com on its head it does view it obliquely. Destination Wedding certainly follows the formula: somewhat unlikely couple meet, after a few coincidental further encounters they find they have common interests, fall in love, run into obstacles to the relationship, etcetera. What’s different about Destination Wedding is both the structure of the movie and the characters.

Written and directed by Victor Levin, (who penned 29 episodes of the adorable rom-sitcom Mad About You),  the movie would transit to the stage with ease. Much like a mobile My Dinner with Andre, the leads are the only people who have dialogue. While My Dinner with Andre took place almost exclusively at a dinner table in a restaurant, Destination Wedding wanders all over different events’ settings: an airport, an airplane, the rehearsal dinner at a restaurant, the outdoor wedding, hotel rooms, etc. But the settings are barely noticed. The entire focus of the film is on the conversations between these two unlikely lovers, Lindsey and Frank.

You know the romance involved will be a bit different  when it begins with the subtitle: “A narcissist can’t die because then the entire world would end.”

Frank is played by Keanu Reeves, the titular action movie hero from John Wick. Lindsey is played by Winona Ryder, most famously and recently as the frenetic mother, Joyce, desperately trying to protect her family from Stranger Things.  Although there is no violence or supernatural killers in Destination Wedding, looking at the pictures from the lead actors’ current most notable respective roles one can see why there is a natural chemistry between the actors.

Reeves here contributes to his too small stock of comedies. Reeves deadpan delivery is perfect for the emotionally distressed and extremely subdued Frank,  who comes from a family which is extravagantly dysfunctional, and includes his half-brother, the groom. Cynically, Frank’s opinion of romance is summed up in his response to whether he believes there is someone for everyone. Frank retorts, “Close. I believe that there is nobody for anyone.” Lindsey, on the other hand, has a stable family background, but her problem is that she is still in love with the groom, and expresses her bitterness and frustration in self-absorption and constant critiques of others.

I once heard Dr. Laura Schlessinger describe her philosophy of a healthy relationship as finding someone whose quirks you don’t mind who doesn’t mind yours. Lindsey and Frank certainly have the quirks. The story examines whether their quirks will mesh comfortably or grind each other to pieces. Like two oddly shaped puzzle pieces, the two rub each other the wrong way from their first casual conversation. But as they are both depressed outliers at this matrimonial celebration who find mutuality in hating the groom, avoiding the relatives and thinking the bride has “all the sense God gave a toaster,” they repeatedly end up ignored and forgotten by the wedding party at the different events – together.

Extreme dislike, like love, is a strong emotion which can be flipped on its head and the audience is entertained by watching for how, when and if Lindsey and Frank will catch up with the idea that they are in some bizarre way made for each other.

Their major winning personality trait is their honesty about themselves and others which they employ to strip each other bear emotionally and psychologically. But like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader both are in desperate need of this personality scrubbing of the emotional dragon scales with which they have armored themselves, and to which scrubbing, to their credits, they reluctantly but patiently submit.

The acting is quiet and amusing. You would not think listening to these two dissect the wedding party and each other for 87 minutes would be fun, but it was. These two weirdly mismatched people slowly grow on the audience and each other. And we can not help but wonder what will next be revealed as each layer is removed and healthier more vulnerable parts of their souls begin to emerge. This is the fourth movie for Ryder and Reeves to do together, and their chemistry is light-hearted, easy and evident.

The cinematography is simple and straight on as though you WERE watching a play, with the beautiful setting of San Luis Obispo California, wine country, as merely a frame to this clever little romantic snapshot. It was shot in 10 days with no close-ups and few if any retakes.

Along with the casting of these two who have been friends since the 1980’s, there are a couple of other in-“jokes” as well. Lindsey suggests they play “Devil’s Advocate” in a discussion of their future as a couple, an offhand allusion to the movie The Devil’s Advocate in which Keanu Reeves starred. Frank alludes to his father’s new girlfriend as, “Being a senior while he [the father]was a freshman,” which is pointedly similar to a quote by Reeves’ character’s best friend, in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, when Ted refers to Reeves’ character Bill’s very young stepmom.

Also, as an interesting side trivia, like their characters, though having been in serious relationships before, neither of the actors have ever been married. In addition, there’s a running cinema legend that the two actors have actually been married to each other for 25 years, having appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula during which a real Romanian priest was engaged for the wedding ceremony of their characters.

This is a movie for adults only, for language, conversation subject content, and a graphic scene of sexual activity. Although no skin is ever seen the clothed behavior is vivid and explicit although genuinely funny in its very artlessness.

So if you are an adult in the mood for an individually peculiar, romantic comedy of two broken people searching for their complementary parts, you could do worse than follow Lindsay and Frank as they literally and figuratively go off the beaten track to find their awkward match.

And — welcome back to your rightful home in comedy Mr. Reeves!

DARKEST MINDS – DERIVATIVE TEEN ROMANCE DRESSED UP AS WEAK DEPRESSING SCI FI

SHORT TAKE:

Paint-by-numbers teen-romance/sci-fi full of plot holes and borrowed ideas.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid to older teens only, for language, X-Men style violence and a couple of aggressive advances by pervy bad guys.

AND IF YOU LIKE THESE REVIEWS PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! THEN YOU'LL GET     EVERY NEW REVIEW SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR E-MAIL!!

GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LEFT HAND SIDE AND TYPE YOUR E-MAIL IN – IT (SHOULD BE) THAT EASY. ANY PROBLEMS PLEASE SEND ME A COMMENT AND I'LL DO MY BEST TO RESOLVE YOUR ISSUE.

LONG TAKE:

Combine Divergent with the new/retro X-Men then flavor with a teaspoon of Children of Men and you have Darkest Minds.

Based on a series of books by Alexandra Reagan, the premise is that a virus infects all children. Most die but the survivors are left with superpowers. The government is afraid of them so, on the pretext of looking for a cure, rounds them up into prison-like camps, where they are overseen by abusive soldiers, given menial tasks to do and occasionally euthanized. One of the internees, Ruby, (Amandla Stenberg from Hunger Games) gifted with mind control, escapes with the help of a sympathetic doctor, Cate (Mandy Moore) and seeks sanctuary with other runaways.

There are so many weak, illogical and unappealing features to this movie that I will only hit upon the highlights.

The two favorite whipping boys of the lazy liberal screenwriters are corporate CEOs and the military. Our military are the scapegoats in this one. All are seen as cruel and abusive to the last remaining children on the planet. Not only is this stupid, but would be an enormous waste of incredible powers displayed by the children. For example, heightened intelligence children are sent to polish shoes. Why? Why are they not put to work creating super gizmos?

Set ups are never paid off. In one scene, our protagonist is cornered by a pervy-acting soldier and another girl deliberately makes him angry to distract him. She is taken away, presumably for punishment, but we never see her again.

Ruby sends a bounty hunter off into the woods to walk herself to death. Then the kids walk off into the same woods without ever mentioning her again. Also, this is almost exactly the punishment Wolverine's dying girlfriend, Kayla, metes out to Stryker at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Along with enhanced intelligence, powers of other children in the camp include telekinesis and the ability to control electricity.

Children who demonstrate more powerful abilities such as mind control or fire breathing are euthanized.

If a corrupt military had access to this kind of firepower, the idea that these children would be either killed or corralled and simply housed is ludicrous. Why would they not at least weaponize them?

There is no reveal as to what was going on in the rest of the world. If it was only in the United States, we would have a significant advantage with a race of super children. Was the virus a pandemic? Where did the virus come from? Was it manufactured ? of alien origin? Was it supposed to be a natural part of humans' development? The writers seem more interested in making the military look inherently evil and jumping right to the teen drama than writing a solid coherent story.

The performances of the children are adequate but fairly banal and what you might expect in a teen romance film dressed up as a Sci-Fi.

It's a shame because they had the skeleton ideas for a really good movie. One thread they could have followed was when the runaways come upon an abandoned farm and one of the older kids mentions simply but insightfully: no children, no economy.

This is common sense the global warming cultists and the abortion mentality fanatics fail to grasp. Putting aside the Holocaust level atrocity of the philosophy that there are too many of us and that children, thereby, are at best an inconvenience and at worst a plague to be minimized or eliminated, it is a basic fundamental of economics that a population does not grow also does not thrive.  This is a concept that the far superior Children of Mendid not just glance at but understood and embraced.

The devastated and abandoned areas in Darkest Minds the children come across are one of the few accurate portrayals of the outcome of the loss of our next generation. To do a crossover moment, this is the landscape that Thanos and those others who believe in overpopulation, would create. Darkest Minds could have been a kind of Children of Men spinoff but this point was never followed up.

Another really good idea which was little utilized was Watership Down, a brilliant story by Richard Adams seen from the point of view of a group of adventuring rabbits. The idea of a group of intrepid outcasts, wandering from one dysfunctional society to another in the wake of a massive catastrophe, rejecting them all, seeking sanctuary and finding it in family would have been a real upgrade to this plot. Instead, Ruby, the main protagonist, finds this book to read to the youngest child in their group. The blessing that God gives to rabbits is quoted: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning." Ruby applies it to her love interest, Liam (Harris Dickinsen), but this is unearned. "The Prince with A Thousand Enemies" is a clever trickster leader who brings his family through a series of dangerous adventures. Liam, while a nice young man, is merely one of a group of kids trying to survive. He's not an especially strong leader, nor shown to be particularly adept at thinking outside the box. If they wanted to make this Watership Down analogy work they should have set it up properly, instead of just throwing it in hoping it would stick by virtue of having been mentioned. This tactic does not work.

Ruby kills somewhat randomly, though not without reason.  She forces soldiers to shoot into an opposing group, gets a helicopter pilot to do a suicide dive, and makes the pervy soldier shoot himself in the head. I only bring this up because elsewhere in the movie the group she is with objects to the idea of joining an anti-government group call the Children's League. They are afraid the League would train them to be soldiers and kill people. Seems a bit inconsistent without at least some espoused rationalization. The screenwriters need to pick a side and stick to it. Is it okay to use these powers lethally or not?

Essentially, this is a so-so forgettable teen romance with about as much originality as Eragon, set against a background of sci-fi which plays out like a first treatment idea instead of a fully fleshed-out screenplay.

Finally, I must wonder why screenwriters almost always see the future as dystopian. Granted a conflict is useful in the creation of an interesting story, but there's no reason a functioning healthy society couldn't be challenged, instead of starting from the assumption that life sucks. Star Trek, Dr. Who and the Avengers – three of the most profitable and long lasting frachises in all of cinematic history – all celebrate more often than not, the advances, achievements, creativity and essential goodness of humanity – and that sentient life is the most valuable thing in the material Universe. You'd think the writers of such depressing movies as Hunger Games, Divergent, Ready Player One, The Road, Book of Eli, 12 Monkeys, Blade Runner, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, and Brazil would start from a more optimistic threshold. After all, what is the point of fighting for a world which will not get any better? Not that these are all bad  movies – on the contrary many on the list are classics. It's just you'd think the truly creative might come up with a more positive outlook on life and our future. As Trek and Who, in particular, have shown, it is possible to have conflict and even make intelligent social commentary and still have a more optimistic view of life. Just sayin'.

WARNING: A little bit of language, some X-Men style violence of gunshots, fire breathing, explosions and people being thrown around, along with the pervy antagonist scenes, makes this suitable really for older teens and up only. If you were comfortable with your kids seeing X-Men, this would likely be fine.

BAO – DISTURBING SHORT IN FRONT OF THE INCREDIBLES 2 YOU MAY WANT TO MISS

 

Bao

There is a strange little short at the beginning of The Incredibles 2 called Bao (meat or vegetable filled dumpling) about a dumpling which comes to life for a lonely woman, so is spared from being eaten, until it grows to an age where he wants to leave home and marry, at which point the mom EATS the dumpling! The movie has nothing to do with The Incredibles 2 plot, except perhaps as a counterpoint DYSFUNCTIONAL family dynamic, making the strong family of Incredibles look even better. This is some fairly disturbing imagery, softened very little by the revelation that the "dumpling" is merely a reflection of her real life son, an only child, who left his parents to marry. While there is reconciliation with said son in the end, brought about by his understanding father, and acceptance of the non-Asian wife as she learns dumpling making from her mother-in-law, I could not get the unsettling imagery out of my head of the mother willingly eating her child rather than allow him to mature and leave home. This is a short you may want to either get in late enough to avoid or prepare to discuss with your kids later.

For anyone interested in what Domee Shi, the young lady writer-director of Bao has to say about her film, please click : Bao Director Interview.

THE GLASS CASTLE: A TRAGIC LOVE STORY BETWEEN A FATHER AND DAUGHTER

Every daughter, some day, has to face the fact that her father – her hero, her protector, her guide through life, her knight in shining armor, her story teller and provider – is human. The Glass Castle is an incredibly beautiful parable of a child’s arc from hero worship through reality check to genuine appreciation of the good man and father he has been their whole life. Jeanette Walls lived this parable – albeit an extreme version – and tells about it in her autobiographical novel turned film.

Her father, Rex Walls is very intelligent, fiercely loyal and protective, devoted husband and father. Doting, creative, skilled, anxious to spend and share every moment of his life with his children. Unfortunately he is also an irresponsible alcoholic whose drinking loses him job after job, forcing his family to live a nomadic life in a series of decreasingly appropriate homes. Rex is a class tragic hero – a noble man with one serious flaw which brings down himself and everyone around him. His wife has either personality or mental issues as she blithely spends all her free time and attention painting while her children go without food for days. The four children, as a result, essentially raise each other.

The movie is seen through the eyes of the second oldest daughter, Jeannette. When we first meet her, she is a successful and wealthy journalist who finds that circumstances, and her parents decision to follow her to New York, forces reminiscences of her childhood and teenaged years to the surface. Her and her siblings’ life experiences growing up ranged from magical to tragical as Rex spun yarns of plans we know he will never fulfill but which his children believe in wholeheartedly — for a while. The tragedy emerges with the slow realization by Jeannette, his favorite child, that Rex lives his entire life as a could’ve-been. The title Glass Castle comes from the enduring myth Rex creates of building a home made of glass through which they can always see the outdoors and, most importantly, the stars at night. He talks of and draws working blueprints on and off for decades but never actually completes any significant steps towards accomplishing this goal. Sadly, Rex was gifted, trained, creative and intelligent enough to probably really build it had he been able to stop drinking. But, despite one several month period of abstinence, drinks himself towards death – the death of himself as well as his dreams.

The Glass Castle has brilliant visual as well as interpersonal metaphors. For example, the site of their planned "castle" home is, piece by piece, eventually neglected, forgotten and finally made into the family garbage dump. The image of a glass castle itself is a brilliant analogy for the preposterousness of Rex’ lifetime plans, the transparency with which Jeanette bares her honest and self aware soul and family warts and all to her audience, the concept – unspoken – of the emperor’s new clothes which are nothing more than fabrications made of spun words which a trusted child will eventually expose, and finally the fantastic dream which Rex had for his children of a magical childhood which he would never provide.

Harrelson is positively amazing in this role which could have gone wrong so many ways: too much and he would have been a jester to be ridiculed. Too little and he would have just been pathetic and contemptuous. But Harrelson at once conjures a character who is adorable, somewhat frightening, occasionally cruel, the ideal father, and a parental nightmare – all together and sometimes all in the same moment. Harrelson’s performance would have deserved an Oscar – if the Oscars were the legitimate award they once were and not the politically correct token they have become.

Brie Larson does a heartbreaking job of portraying the grown Jeanette Walls – forced to put up emotional walls (Jeanette’s last name a GIFT of verbal analogy with which she was born) and Naomi Watts is solid as the selfish self-indulgent facilitator mother who has mental and emotional issues of her own.

But serious kudos also belong to Ella Anderson who plays the young Jeanette who travels from adoring believer in all of Rex’ plans and the last to lose faith in him to the disillusioned angry young woman who unites her siblings in a contract to escape from the deteriorating reality of their parents’ lives. While there’s nothing more zealous than a convert, as MY father used to say, there’s nothing more vengeful than a betrayed devotee. And the young Ella lays the groundwork for the character of Jeannette with which Brie Larson follows through and the baton passing from Ella to Brie is a masterful and convincing accomplishment.

But for all of the depressing moments in this sometimes difficult to watch film, there is an underlying foundation of optimism and a deep abiding love between Jeanette and Rex which can not help but break through like sunlight dappling through fall colored leaves. Rex’ betrayals of her trust is the source of Jeannette’s biggest disappointments but his unconditional uncompromising love and belief in her is the wellspring of her strength. Go see The Glass Castle – a tragic love story between a father and daughter ………….. then go hug your Dad.