Friday, September 30, 2022

A Wicked Sigourney Weaver Elevates The Light Comic Addiction Drama, THE GOOD HOUSE

Now playing at a indie arthouse or multiplex (mostly multiplexes) near you:

(Dir. Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky, 2022)

New England realtor Hildy Good is a very familiar character. As portrayed by a wickedly sardonic Sigourney Weaver, she could be a younger third wheel to Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s Grace and Frankie, as she also had a homosexual hubby for decades, with her denial over her excessive drinking likewise being par for the course (“I was born three drinks short of comfortable, that’s all,” she confides).

The 72-year old Weaver breaks the fourth wall to bring us into her world, in which she drives around the fictional seaside town of Wendover, Massachusetts (looks exactly like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) stressing about her struggling real estate agency, schmoozing with potential clients, and pretending that she’s living a sober life after an intervention from her constantly fretting family.

But Hildy has been enjoying multiple glasses of wine in cozy night hangs with her friend Rebecca (Morena Baccarin), who is having a secret affair with a local psychiatrist friend of Hildy’s (Rob Delaney). Our lush of a lead is also having romantic thoughts about an old flame named Frank, played by a crusty Kevin Kline, who previously starred with Weaver in DAVE (1993), and the ICE STORM. Kline’s scruffy construction contractor character is a welcome sight right off the bat, essentially summoning an older version of his persona in THE BIG CHILL as he dances to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” at the gas pump.

After telling us that “Thanksgiving is a lot to ask of a sober person,” Weaver’s Hildy sneeks vodka throughout the holiday dinner evening with her ex-husband (David Rasche), her daughters (Rebecca Henderson and Molly Brown), but the evening goes by without incident, charmingly even, until her shaky drive home, that we learn the next day she blacked out on.

Another thing about Hildy is that she’s a descendant of the Salem witches, and has slight psychic abilities, but this isn’t a fleshed out element, and only serves for a connection in the third act conflict involving a missing child. Considering all of Hildy’s issues, intertwining a tinge of the supernatural in her milieu seems a bit silly, but perhaps it had more meaning in Ann Leary’s original novel.

The love story between Hildy and Frank injects some kooky charm into the proceedings as Weaver and Kline have a cute, lived-in chemistry, but their romance, or fling, seems more like a subplot, or sideline that could’ve been cut, and not affected the rest of the narrative much.

There’s enough juiciness in its wit and warmth to recommend THE GOOD HOUSE, but its real merit is in what Weaver brings to it. It’s surprising that the iconic actress has never won the Oscar in her career over half a century, especially as she’s won nearly every other award (Golden Globes, BAFTA, Screen Actors, even a Grammy). This film, even if it doesn’t make much of a splash, could lead to her fourth Academy Award nomination when her peers give their For Your Consideration screener of it a whirl. 

Deserving nomination or not, Weaver, with just a little help from an in-his-aging-element Kline, and a capable but unspectacular supporting cast, elevates this light comic addiction drama with her “Yankee stiff upper lip,” as Frank calls it. 

As I’m a former drinker, Hildy’s brand of denial hit home for me with cringy moments like of the secret drinking during Thanksgiving scene, and I so hated that I related to her lying exchanges with concerned friends and family, but by the end, I was content with my time with the actress/character, and didn’t mind that the mechanics of the movie that houses her weren’t up to her scale.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

CONFESS, FLETCH: Jon Hamm’s Fletch Chases Chevy’s Lazily

CONFESS, FLETCH (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2022)

After decades in development hell, investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher returns to the big screen, albeit in a limited release that will largely not be noticed. For those not in the know, Fletch is a character created by Gregory Mcdonald for a series of popular comic mystery novels that kicked off in the mid ‘70s, and is best known from his incarnation as Chevy Chase in two movies in the ‘80s - one a comedy classic, FLETCH (1985); the other, FLETCH LIVES (1989) not so much.


For the last three decades, the concept of rebooting FLETCH has come and gone a bunch of times. From all accounts, it began with Kevin Smith in the late ‘90s planning a project dubbed SON OF FLETCH, which would’ve involved Chase, but that fell through when Chase was an asshole to Smith or something. Then the project later became FLETCH WON, based on the tenth book in the series, and names like Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, and Jason Lee (Smith’s choice) were batted around. 


That’s how it would go – every now and then, word would spread about a FLETCH reboot, some names like Zack Braff (yeah, right), John Krasinski, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, and even Dave Chappelle are thrown around, then the project disappears. But out of the blue last summer, a trailer appeared featuring Jon Hamm of Don Draper/Mad Men fame smarming his way through some decent one-liners in a new comic thriller, and 33 years later, Fletch lives again.


But is Fletch really such an iconic character that needed resurrecting? His detached, above-it-all master of the sarcastic arts demeanor has been done to death by dozens of comic actors in countless comedies – it was an archetype long before Fletch came around, but Chase’s straddling of the line between being a witty, yet edgy charmer, or being an sexist, inappropriate asshole has branded the role. I’m not saying that Fletch as a character concept is problematically out-of-date, just that his persona just isn’t that appealing or funny as Mottola’s film thinks he is. 


This is despite a valiant effort by Hamm to fill Chase’s shoes. In the film’s first moments, we watch our the preppy-attired Laker’s fan enter a luxury apartment in Boston to find a woman’s dead body lying on the carpet. This cold opening, involving Fletch trading forgettable banter with police detectives played by the slightly embarrassed looking actress, Ayden Mayeri, and The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr., sets the movie’s stylishly lackadaisical tone. When Fletch que the film’s title card with the line “I’m an open book,” it doesn’t have any impact or sense of any excitement – it’s almost as if the film wants us to react to it with a “meh.”

From there we are taken into a plot concerning the kidnapped father of Fletch’s girlfriend Angela Di Grassi (Lorenza Izzo), with the ransom being a Picasso painting worth millions. While a suspect for murder, and switching identities more often than his underwear (not really, but that was the tagline on the original’s poster), Fletch does his unctuous, self-amused thing in talky set-pieces engaging quest stars like Kyle MacLachlan as a snooty germaphobe art dealer who has a cringy EDM dance scene, Annie Mumolo as a flighty free-spirited trainwreck of a neighbor (the film’s oddest scene tone-wise); most embarrassingly, Marcia Gay Harden as the horny cliché of an Italian Countess; but most thankfully, Hamm’s Mad Men co-star John Slattery as Fletch’s former editor for a welcome newsroom, and drink at a bar bit cameo.

The stakes with the stolen art, the murder mystery, whatever, feel so low that it’s hard to care or remember details while the movie rolls on. In Ritchie’s first FLETCH, the premise was simple but had teeth, and the film lived from quotable quip to quip (the Onion even once satirized its reputation with “Area Insurance Salesman Celebrates 14th Year of Quoting Fletch), but here, the lines are so-so, with maybe every fourth or fifth one being slightly chuckle-worthy, and the whole vibe, and energy doesn’t seem to even try to gel.

I still like the idea of Hamm as Fletch, and feel that there could’ve been something more here if there was more of a spark or fresh take on the material as the 1976 novel it came from was an acclaimed award winner, and could’ve served for a weightier adaptation. I bet director, and co-writer Mottola, and first-time screenwriter Zev Borow’s script could’ve gotten there in a few drafts.

While this is a certainly a sturdier, and better crafted film than Chase’s last turn as Fletch was given, that lame film actually had more laughs. CONFESS, FLETCH is a half-assed reboot that probably would’ve been better as a Hulu series or on some such platform as Fletch just doesn’t feel like it could or should be a cinematic deal these days. This type of snarky storytelling with its lazy plotting, light twists, and jaded jokery is the stuff of television anyway.

And that’s where you can find Hamm’s first foray as FLETCH - on a bunch of streaming services (Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, etc.) now for $19.99, then next month on Showtime (premieres on Oct. 28, 2022) for whatever that service costs. I’d suggest putting it on the Underhill’s bill. 

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

MOONAGE DAYDREAM: A Sensory Overload Of A Bowie Biodoc Blast

Now playing at indie theaters, multiplexes, and, with hope, an IMAX near you:

(Dir. Brett Morgen, 2022)

It’s fitting that preceding this film’s IMAX presentation, one has to wade through a bunch of trailers for upcoming sci-fi-themed blockbuster wannabes because Brent Morgen’s David Bowie biodoc (of sorts) epic posits its subject as an alien visitor who came and conquered our planet way back when.


Of course, that’s the premise of Bowie’s iconic 1971 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and it’s a great starting off point for this artsy AF two hour and 15 minute sensory overload of footage (both classic archival, and never-seen-before film and video), photographs, drawings, paintings, unpublished writings, interview clips, and every possible Bowie-related scrap of material imaginable.


Morgen, previously responsible for such top notch docs as THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, and KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, sculpts a thriving portrait that captures Bowie’s career in an dazzling fever dream of a driving narrative that beautifully bathes the audiences in its immersive, non-stop imagery. It’s like the psychedelic sequence climax in 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY became this Bowie movie, if you can go with that – I sure can.


In its opening set-up, we hear the voice of intellectual television personality Dick Cavett give the then up and coming glam rock star a colossal build-up intro on his 1974 talk show: “Rumors and questions have arisen about David, such as who is he, what is he, where did he come from, is he a creature of a foreign power, is he a creep, is he dangerous, is he smart, dumb, nice to his parents, real, a put-on, crazy, sane, man, woman, robot, what is this?” Whether or not Morgen’s 


Cavett, and a few other interviewer’s voices can be heard throughout the film, but it’s largely Bowie’s own softly spoken tones that take us through his journey or journeys as each incarnation whether it be Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, Halloween Jack, or even the mainstream ’80s era “Let’s Dance” dude has his own intertwined path. Speaking of “Let’s Dance” – it’s far from my favorite Bowie, but cut to Morgen’s expertly edited montage of choreographed dance bits spanning our beloved entertainer’s career, it’s a joyous delight.


One framing device involves video of a bleached blonde Bowie from around the shooting of Nagisa Ôshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE in Java, in Indonesia in the early ‘80s. We witness a demure superstar-in-hiding casually walking around his hotel, and surrounding town, and get a sense of him as the genuinely open-minded, and curious chap that can make a big splash when he wants in an explosion of make-up, costuming, and ultra flashy theatrics, but somehow doesn’t come off pretentious when he tries to explain his artistic intents.


As for the music itself, Bowie’s incredible back catalog is well represented with booming live footage from familiar sources such as D.A. Pennebaker’s ZIGGY STARDUST concert doc (1973), Alan Yentob’s BBC doc, Cracked Actor; various music videos, and TV appearances in which such classics as “All the Young Dudes” (a hit he wrote for Mott the Hoople, but Bowie would reclaim live), “Life on Mars,” “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” and dozens of other crowd-pleasers are delivered in all their popping glory which kept my head bobbing throughout.


A powerful highlight for me was Bowie’s belting out a definitive rendition of his 1977 near standard “Heroes” to a mesmerized stadium of crazed fans on the Isolar II: 1978 World Tour. It’s a piece of grainy, dark film, but the clarity of Bowie’s tour de force performance is stunning, while the song passionately churns forward.


MOONAGE DAYDREAM obviously isn’t a conventional, straight forward documentary so don’t go looking for defined dates, details, or the chronological context - it does adhere somewhat to a timeline, but skips around within various eras - that other such films will provide. I consider it to be a living, breathing collage of the best bits of Bowie’s Sound+Vision manifesto that might bombard non believers, but will undoubtably satisfy long-time disciples, and bring new converts into the fold.


Having listened to Bowie for decades, and having had the immense pleasure of seen him live twice (in 1990, and 1995), I can attest that Morgen has amassed a spectacular sensory-overload of a portrait of an artist in his many primes. See it on the biggest screen you can, while you can, and let the children boogie.


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