The Rewrite (2014) Unrated (PG-13?)
Starring: Hugh Grant (Sense and Sensibility), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Director and Writer: Marc Lawrence (Music and Lyrics ; 2007)
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Witty romantic comedy with some meaty lines
For a romantic comedy, the following lines come as a surprise from Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) as he is teaching a screenwriting class at Binghamton University:
“Disney and Bergman are dead. Their great art did not save them. It fades. It turns to dust. Don’t be under the allusion that this will bring you immortality or happiness…You will be rewritten, discarded, fired, forgotten, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to work in the first place.”
Yet, it rings true from a victim who’s been briefly celebrated, then devoured and spit out by fickle Hollywood producers. But fear not. It is not a heavy-duty depressing movie. Writer and director, Marc Lawrence, does a marvelous job balancing the drama, witty exchanges, and the romance. The story is simple enough. A middle-aged screenwriter who won an Oscar for his first movie 15 years earlier has not written another hit film. His agent tells him about an opportunity to be a “Writer-In-Residence” at Binghamton University in upstate New York.
Despite his misgivings, Michaels accepts, but quickly makes some wrong moves by getting involved with a student in his class (there is no sex scene, you just see her in bed next to him the next morning), and dismissing the class for a month to finish their screenplays. Of course, the tenured Jane Austin professor gets wind of it and threatens to bring it to the Ethics Committee unless he leaves quietly.
Fortunately, he meets another, older student, Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), who is a spunky single mom with two young daughters. She immediately sees right through him and gives him no slack as she tells him in a later scene that a man who is “spiritually empty seeks to fill the void with alcohol and young women.” She also encourages him to call his estranged son with the words: “As long as you are alive, you can forgive and be forgiven. Once you’re dead, it gets significantly harder.” She also prods him not to give up on his teaching job so easily.
One of the funnier exchanges is with Billy, a Star-Wars-obsessed student, after he tries to join a fraternity and fails.
Billy: They think I’m an idiot.
Michaels: You’re not an idiot, Billy. You know, you’re weird, but half the successful people in Hollywood are weird.
Another cast member, J.K. Simmons, as the Department Head Dr. Lerner, does a great job providing more comic relief as a husband and father of four daughters who tears up every time he talks about his family. For example, Michaels turns to Lerner for support after he bashes Jane Austen books in front of the other English teachers. Lerner says curtly in response: “I am married with four daughters. I have no opinion.”
I do, however, have an opinion about this movie. It ranks above the others in its genre. Grant is at his dry, witty, best; Tomei is a good match; and the truth is served with just the right pinch of salt.
*Some things that may offend include: The spurned young student uses the F word to his face and tells him to read her script in hell. Michaels looks at a clothed female’s rear.
“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable…” (Proverbs 15:2a)
Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris (2011) PG-13
Starring: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachael McAdams, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter, visits Paris with his fiance (Rachael McAdams) and her parents. He is working on his first novel, but lacks confidence and inspiration to finish it. He goes out alone one night and an amazing thing happens. When the church bells strike midnight he is transported to his favorite time period, the 1920s, where he encounters his literary and artistic heroes including Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, among others. All of them seem to accept him as an equal and Gertrude Stein even agrees to look over his book and give her opinion. He also meets a lovely French woman (Marion Cotillard) with whom he becomes romantically intrigued.
Easily one of Allen's best films (it won the 2012 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and was his highest grossing film ever). The dialogue is witty and it's fun seeing Pender interact with famous people. Hemmingway's character is hilarious--coming across one moment as super melodramatic and then brutally honest the next. The following is the dialogue between Pender and Hemmingway when they first meet:
Pender: "Will you do me a big favor? Will you read it?"
Hemmingway: "Your novel?"
Pender: "It's like 400 pages long and just looking for an opinion."
Hemmingway: "My opinion is I hate it."
Pender: "I mean you haven't even read it."
Hemmingway: "If it's bad I'll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it's good I'll be envious and hate it all the more. You don't want the opinion of another writer."
Although there are no sex scenes or nudity, there are several lines with sexual references, as is typical of Allen's movies, and the usual brief discussion about his fear of dying.
Overall, the film is artistically well made. The cinematography of Paris throughout the movie is beautiful with a great soundtrack, the acting is terrific, and the question the movie asks us--were other periods in history really better to live in than our own?--is a valid one. However, I think we can apply that question even closer to home when we may be tempted to romanticize our own pasts.
"No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Secondhand Lions (2003) PG
Starring: Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment
Director: Tim McCanlies
Writer: Tim McCanlies
Distributor: New Line Cinema
A young, 14-year-old boy, Walter Caldwell (Haley Joel Osment), is abandoned by his mother on the doorstep of his two great uncles' house (Hub played by Robert Duvall and Garth by Michael Caine) in Texas who are rumored to be independently wealthy through mysterious and, possibly, illegal means. Although at first Walter tries to run away and find his mother, he eventually learns to appreciate his eccentric relatives and adapt to their crazy lifestyle. Some of their leisure-time activities involve sitting on the porch with loaded shotguns to shoot at the next daring salesman who tries to sell them something. Other hobbies include buying an exotic animal, planting a massive garden, and teaching some young bullies at a restaurant proper respect toward their elders.
Walter becomes intrigued when he finds an old photo of a beautiful woman in the attic and asks Garth about it. His uncle tells him that she is the only female Hub ever loved and then expands his storytelling to their adventures in the French Foreign Legion. He paints his brother Hub as a man's man who fights dangerous sheiks and their hordes to rescue his beloved Jasmine.
Real problems arise, however, when Walter's mother returns with a con man who wants the uncles' treasure. The man thinks it will be like taking candy from a baby but it ends up, with two clever, old codgers and Walter, more like trying to extract a tooth from a lion.
The acting is superb from Duvall and Caine as well as the young Osment. Duvall is hilarious especially when he takes on the bullies at the restaurant and then takes them home to tend to their wounds (that he inflicted) and give them his "man talk." Caine plays the phlegmatic, stable brother well and is a perfect foil to Duvall's moody and more daring character. Osment is perfect as the rejected, sensitive boy who eventually becomes a successful man, despite his unusual upbringing.
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you" (Isaiah 46:4).
Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) PG-13
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant
Writer: Nicolas Martin
Director: Stephen Frears
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
If you are determined to see this horrible film, my advice is not to have fruit or vegetables within reach because you will, inevitably, want to thrown them at your screen.
The story is about a wealthy patron of the arts, Florence Foster Jenkins, who is under the delusion that she is a great opera singer. Unfortunately, this lie is perpetuated by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant), who is constantly feeding her empty flattery and preventing her from seeing scathing reviews of her "concerts."
Despite being legally married, Bayfield cohorts with a mistress--with Madame Jenkins' blessing. We see his "devotion" to his wife during his nightly ritual of pulling off her wig, pecking her on the cheek, calling her "bunny," tucking her into bed, and then running out to party and sleep with his lover.
Bayfield's supreme act of manliness comes after he is shafted by his girlfriend. Ready? He lays on the bed next to his wife for a whole night (with his suit on, of course). Okay, I forgot to say that Ms. Jenkins contracted syphilus from a previous husband so maybe old Bayfield wasn't taking any chances.)
What astounds me about the film is how filmmakers could actually think people are so enamored with Meryl Streep that they will pay money to see this actress sing terribly in multiple scenes. Once is funny. More than that is irritating. I am glad I did not go to the cinema to see it.
If you want to see a good movie with Streep, see Julie and Julia (2009). Watch The Rewrite (2014) with Hugh Grant for one of his best.
"An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies" (Proverbs 12:17).
In this movie, love is lying to your wife, being unfaithful
to her, and then calling her...
The Wedding Plan
The Wedding Plan (2016) PG
Starring: Noa Koler, Ronny Merhavi, Oz Zehavi
Writer: Rama Burshtein
Director: Rama Burshtein
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
This is an excellent comedy/romance movie to watch on your anniversary. The story is about Michal (Noa Koler), a young, Jewish woman who is sick and tired of the dating, matchmaking game and decides to just set a date for her wedding, invite friends and family, and boldly believe that God will provide her a groom at the appointed time. Her mom is embarrassed by this rash behavior and invites their rabbi to talk some sense into her.
Meanwhile, Michal continues to meet a colorful variety of potential husbands including a deaf man, an orthodox Jew who refuses to look any woman in the face except his future spouse, a popular singer, among others.
Throughout the movie you are kept guessing which one(s) will show up, or if anyone will appear at all.
Don't let the subtitles keep you away. Listen to the music of the Hebrew language and enjoy the cultural experience. Sometimes having faith makes you irresistible. The film may even challenge you to believe for the impossible.
"With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27).
Downsizing (2017) R
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau
Writers: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Director: Alexander Payne
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
This movie gets an “A” for originality and creativity. The plot itself is hilarious. A couple of hyper-environmentalists decide to join a “small community” to reduce planet pollution and to make themselves instant millionaires. That means they will undergo a process that makes them five inches tall and live in fabricated structures designed for their size. Paul Safranek (a chubby Matt Damon), a naive occupational therapist, gets suckered into joining the little society along with his wife Audrey. There is a funny scene in a bar when a drunk man confronts the couple and says they should pay as much taxes as the big people.
Things get off to a hilarious start for us, but terrible for Paul, when he gets a call from Audrey after he has been “downsized.” She says, “Don’t be mad but I could not go through with it.” Of course, Paul is livid because he is now permanently small. They eventually divorce and Paul is obligated to live in an apartment underneath the one of an immoral and entrepreneurial Serbian named Dusan (played marvelously by Christoph Waltz) and take a job at a call center.
Dusan sees Paul as “pathetic” and a guy who never has things turn out for him. Paul, however, is a good-natured man who has a heart of compassion and likes to help people. For example, he sees a Vietnamese woman, Ngoc Lan Tran, with an artificial leg, cleaning in Dusan’s house, and he offers to fix her leg because it is obviously hurting her. Tran tells him to follow her and help someone really in need. They take a bus to a ghetto-type area just outside the dome community. The woman she referred to is dying of cancer and Tran tells him: “Talk with her. Make her feel better.” It becomes apparent, even in what is billed as a utopian society, there are the poor, the rejects and the outcasts.
Unfortunately, the film includes some unnecessary scenes such as when multiple men are lying nude on tables awaiting their “downsizing.” Although the camera shots are far away, they are inappropriate. This could have been conveyed without the graphic nudity. There is also a wild party scene where there is some flashes of nudity (I read this in another review but it went by so fast I did not see it), sensuous dancing, and drug taking. A Christian woman is also seen getting turned on by a massage and then allowing the man to have sex with her. The sex scene is not shown but the compromise of the Christian woman is disappointing, especially after showing her at a worship service . Later, this same character confronts the man with crass multiple choice questions whether he did it out of love, self-pity, or lust. There are also needless multiple f-bombs in the movie.
On the whole, although I loved the idea, the witty dialogue, the amusing scenes, and the comic acting I would not recommend the film for the things that I just mentioned. If, however, the film was seen through Clearplay’s filtering system, I would heartily endorse it.
*As amazing as it is, there was a true ultimate "downsizing" event that took place in history more than 2000 years ago when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. This act of love, however, was not to "save" the planet, but to save something much more precious to God--the souls of the people who live(d) on it.
"In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)
Yesterday (2019) PG-13
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry
Writers: Jack Barth (story), Richard Curtis (screenplay)
Director: Danny Boyle
Distributor: Universal Pictures
This nonsensical romantic comedy directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) is about a young British man with Indian (from India) descent, Jack Malik, who is trying to make it as a musician. His manager is his long-time friend, Ellie Appleton, who was convinced of his musical gift at a school talent show and has been managing his gigs for years. What Jack is oblivious to is the fact Ellie is in love with him. The show opens where Jack is performing to what appears to be another lackluster crowd. At the end, he confesses to a shocked Ellie that he is done.
Yet, something strange happens. There is a global blackout and Jack gets hit by a bus riding home on his bike. When he awakes he discovers that no one seems to know the Beatles music except him. He begins to play their songs in his own style. He gets the attention of big music companies and soon professional handlers take over Ellie’s role and he is off to fame and fortune…leaving Ellie in the dust.
Some amusing parts include how contemporary culture has changed since the sixties. A black music executive exclaims incredulously with a pained expression: “A white album!” When Jack submits Hey Jude for recording the title is changed to “Hey Dude.” We also find out later that other things have been erased from society’s collective consciousness.
Although Jack enjoys his new success, he is tormented by the fact he is lying to everyone by saying that the songs are his. He also begins to see how much Ellie means to him. Then he suspects there are people who also know about the Beatles and he is certain he will eventually be exposed as a fraud. What does he do?
Overall, the movie is fun, romantic, and entertaining. The new versions of the Beatles songs are fresh and will perhaps evoke a mini-revival of their music. In terms of Christian themes: a woman makes a brave decision not to engage in a one-night stand, but she later sleeps with the same man before their marriage (intimated not shown); Rocky, a friend of Jack’s, makes crude comments; and there are several strong swear words--mostly by a greedy publicist who is only interested in Jack for his ability to make her rich.
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25).