Saturday, February 16, 2019

Neglected Gem: Life with Mikey (1993)

Nathan Lane, Christina Vidal and Michael J. Fox in Life with Mikey (1993).

Life with Mikey was director James Lapine’s second movie, released two years after Impromptu, a high-toned 1991 farce with a dream cast that included Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and Emma Thompson. Lapine was previously known as a prominent Broadway director and librettist, who had collaborated with both Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George) and William Finn (Falsettos). Impromptu was well-received, although it didn’t set the box office afire. Life with Mikey’s budget was a third of what Impromptu cost, yet it grossed more than three times more as much as that first film. That would seem to qualify it as a success, yet Lapine has never made another film. (He did direct an adaptation of novelist Anne Tyler’s Earthly Possessions for HBO in 1999.)

It’s a bit of a stretch to call Life with Mikey a “gem.” (All right, more than a bit.) The screenplay, by journeyman Marc Lawrence, who’s written some movies I’ve liked (Music and Lyrics) and many I haven’t (Miss Congeniality, the remake of The Out of Towners), is sitcom fodder glazed with an almost opaque sentimentality, featuring a pot-holed plot that strains credulity. But the movie has lingered in my memory since I first saw it, due to the perfect casting of Michael J. Fox in the title role and the generous, quirky milieu that surrounds him.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Puzzle Pieces

Kelly Macdonald in Puzzle.

Agnes, the Bridgeport, Connecticut working-class housewife played by Kelly Macdonald in Puzzle, seems to live on the periphery of her family. We don’t know how long she’s felt remote from her husband Louie (David Denman) and (to a lesser degree) from her two sons, Ziggy (Bubba Weiler), who works with his dad in his car repair shop, and Gabe (Austin Abrams), who is revving up for college and whose forthright – and somewhat irritating – girlfriend (Liv Hewson) professes to be a Buddhist. Agnes loves her sons; she’s the parent who exercises sensitivity with them, while Louie’s immediate response to anything they do that doesn’t fit into his old-school masculine vision is a mixture of bafflement and stubborn opposition. It’s clear that she cares for Louie, too, but his stubbornness wears her down. When he throws a birthday party for her, she does all the work, and he doesn’t make a fuss over her; if it weren’t for the birthday cake (which she has baked) and candles, you’d think it was just a get-together of friends and family.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Contrarian View: BlacKkKlansman, The Sisters Brothers, Shoplifters and Burning

Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman.

The following contains a spoiler for the film Shoplifters.
It’s always illuminating to read film critics’ year end best-of lists in specialty magazines like Film Comment and Sight & Sound as well as mainstream mags and newspapers like Time and The New York Times. Overall, the critical community tends to hew to a predictable pattern, extolling art-house films, both foreign and English-language movies, much more than accessible (but quality) American or Hollywood fare. I’m not referring to Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s superb Roma, his semi-autobiographical tale of his family maid in the '70s, which is a masterpiece and deserves all its accolades, but to other films whose rave reviews leave me cold. Here are four movies that don’t deserve the love they’re getting from critics.