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Films I Neglected To Review: Mary Mary, Where Are You Sailing To?
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Addams Family," "Entangled," "The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash," "Lucky Day" and "Mary."

Considering the ways that the studio distributing it seemed to be suggesting by their actions (such as holding press screenings until the last possible moment and then putting a heavy-handed embargo on said reviews), one might get the sense that "The Addams Family," an animated version of the beloved Charles Addams cartoons about a ghoulish family that had previously inspired a still-popular Sixties TV series and two live-action films in the Nineties, was just another misfired attempt to present a familiar property to a new audience without demonstrating any real idea of what made it work in the first place. That was certainly the impression I was getting from it and I was therefore more than a little surprised to discover just how much I enjoyed it despite the bad vibes. Granted, the plot threads are not exactly bustling with originality--Gomez and Morticia (the perfectly cast Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron) find themselves in conflict with the smarmy host (Allison Janney) of a home renovation show who want to get rid of them in order to sell homes in the perfect planned community that she owns, Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) finds herself rebelling against her mother by putting a unicorn pin in her hair and introducing colors into her wardrobe and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) struggles to practice a sacred dance that he has to perform at a ceremony signifying his move into adulthood--and the parallels between the story and certain real-life incidents (such as the host rallying people against the Addams by describing their presence as "an infestation") are not subtle. However, it has been stylishly designed (though I do wish that it had been done in black-and-white), it has a smartly cast array of vocal talents (including Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Snoop Dogg, Elsie Fisher and a teaming of Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara that finds them deploying voices that will bring smiles to “SCTV” fans) and, perhaps most importantly, it is frequently very funny, scoring big laughs from big set pieces and throwaway gags alike (including a musical interlude that I will not spoil for you but which I hasten to add is practically worth the price of admission all by itself). The film may not be a masterpiece and it does begin to slog a little bit in the final scenes as it wraps things up with something suspiciously close to sincerity. However, if all you require for your entertainment needs at the moment is 90 minutes of cheerful silliness that will amuse kids and adults in equal measure (though not necessarily always at the same time), "The Addams Family" is fleet and funny enough to make such a task seem like a snap.

Remember the old skits that they used to do on "Saturday Night Live" when Dan Aykroyd, in the guise of the eminent Leonard Pinth-Garnell, would present "Bad Performances," a sort-of anti-"Masterpiece Theater" where he would feature supremely awful examples of theater, ballet and other artistic pursuits, concluding each performance with "There, that wasn't so good now, was it?" If they ever had an episode dedicated to "Bad Softcore Erotica," "Entangled" is pretty much exactly the kind of film that might have been included. In this achingly pretentious work from writer-director Milena Lurie, Ana Girardot plays Marin, a woman who is still dealing with the psychological repercussions of a recent miscarriage and is upset that her longtime boyfriend (Peter Mark Kendall) seems to want to just get past it and act as if nothing has happened. Over the course of a long weekend, she tries to take stock of her life and what she wants to do, at various points meeting up with an old ex-boyfriend (Gregory Fitoussi) and an intriguing new prospect (Jonathan Cake) that she comes across in a bar. This setup might have developed into something worthwhile if Lurie had bothered to develop Marin into an interesting character who made us sympathize with her as she tried to see her way through her intensely personal trauma. Apparently, that was a little too difficult so instead we are treated to an endless array of scenes in which we see her showering languidly, bathing languidly, posing in lingerie languidly, attending lingerie fashion shoots languidly and bantering with the possible new men in her life in a manner that is not nearly as captivating or seductive as the film clearly believes her to be. All of this is stitched together with a narration comprised of such purple prose that one might think that the entire thing was actually a super-subtle satire of old-school "art" movies until realizing that humor is just one of the rainbow of emotions that it never demonstrates any working knowledge of at any point. Formless, aimless and flimsier than the underwear on constant display, "Entangled" is such a dreadful and pretentious bore that even those with a pronounced interest in female-driven cinema will find it all but unendurable.

Having already made celebrated documentaries about such musicians as Bruce Springsteen (including the upcoming "Western Stars") and Elvis Presley ("Elvis Presley: The Searcher"), filmmaker Thom Zinny has now elected to tell the story of the legendary Johnny Cash in "The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash," an effectively-made work that makes the case (not that it needs to be done at this point and time) for Cash as one of the best and most authentic voices in American popular music without ever succumbing to the easy mythologizing that often mars films of this sort. Using the voices of such cannily selected interview subjects as Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Buffy Sainte-Marie, poet Paul Muldoon and Cash's children John Carter and Roseanne, not to mention the more-than-distinctive rumble of Cash himself taken from recordings that he made with writer Patrick Carr when they worked together on his 1997 autobiography), the film uses the famous 1968 Folsom Prison concert (the basis for perhaps his most famous album) as a springboard to give a mostly chronological examination of his life ranging from his hardscrabble beginnings to his classic early songs to his late career resurgence through his recordings with producer Rick Rubin. The film is not a hagiography by any means and much time is spent on the demons that he faced along the way--guilt over the death of his brother, various artistic/commercial stumbles and problems with booze and drugs that threatened his seemingly storybook marriage to June Carter--all of which are handled in a tough but ultimately forgiving manner. The only real flaw with a film like "The Gift" is that at 90-odd minutes, it just seems a little too short for the subject at hand--one could easily make a film on Cash that was twice as long as this and still only scratch the surface of who he was and what he meant to so many people over the years. Someday, someone may wind up make just such a soup-to-nuts examination of Cash's life and work but until that time comes, "The GIft" will more than suffice.

With this month marking the 25th anniversary of when "Pulp Fiction" arrived in theaters and helped to revolutionize American cinema, what better way to commemorate it than with a film that looks and feels like one of the countless ripoffs and retreads that it helped to inspire? That is clearly the thinking behind the release of "Lucky Day" and while this super-gory crime-comedy hybrid may come a little closer to the source than most of the imitators--it was written and directed by Roger Avary, who collaborated with Quentin Tarantino on "Pulp Fiction"--it still misses the mark by a long way. After spending two years in prison, safecracker Red (Luke Bracey) returns home to his French wife (Nina Dobrev) and young daughter (Ella Ryan Quinn) with vague plans to walk the straight and narrow. Determined to interfere with those plans in the messiest manner possible is Luc (Crispin Glover), a crazed professional killer who blames Red for the death of his brother (who was killed during the job that led to Red's arrest) and wants to get revenge by killing Red, his family and anyone else who wanders into his eyeliner. The result is the usual array of arch dialogue, oddball soundtrack cuts, wild gore (including a shootout in an art gallery that turns the current exhibit into an inadvertent Jackson Pollack homage) and other weirdness but none of it sticks--the whole thing has a weirdly dated feel that lets one even more fully appreciate how Tarantino has grown and evolved as a filmmaker over the years. The only particularly memorable aspect of the film is the performance by Crispin Glover that is bizarre even by his usually outre standards--using a deliberately cartoonish acting style and employing a French accent that Pepe le Pew might find dubious, his work is singular, to say the least, and while it doesn't ultimately make "Lucky Day" worth watching in the end, his efforts at least help pass the time when he is on the screen.

Borrowing equally from the mystery of the Mary Celeste, the merchant ship that turned up adrift in the Atlantic Ocean completely deserted, and any number of novels by Stephen King, "Mary"{/i] offers viewers a maritime-based horror-thriller that is so silly and scare-free that most will come away from it wondering "How is it that Nicolas Cage isn't in this movie?" Instead, Gary Oldman is the Oscar-winning actor inexplicably slumming in this dopey saga of David, a man who impulsively decides to purchase a dilapidated old boat, named Mary, that was discovered abandoned at sea with the dream of fixing it up and starting his own charter boat business. After the repairs are made, he takes it out on a voyage along with his wife (Emily Mortimer), his two daughters (Stefanie Scott and Chloe Perrin), the older daughter's boyfriend (Owen Teague) and a trusted boat hand (Manuel Garcia-Ruffo) and it isn't too long before things start getting strange--the younger daughter, who is also named Mary, suddenly develops an imaginary friend, the boyfriend goes violently crazy, everyone keeps getting shut up in locked spaces and the ship seems to be deliberately going off-course to some unknown destination--and secrets are revealed that suggest that the boat itself may be evil. The conceit of taking a standard issue haunted house scenario and placing it within the relatively limited confines of a boat at sea sounds intriguing and director Michael Goi (who also served as cinematographer) does conjure up a few appropriately atmospheric shots during the early moments at sea. However, the screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski (who also wrote the far-more-interesting "The Shallows") runs out of inspiration fairly quickly and not even the efforts of the better-than-it-deserves cast can help it overcome its numerous failings, including thinly drawn characters, clunky dialogue and a framing device that seems to be going out of its way to sink the entire enterprise practically before it has stated. As a half-hour "Twlight Zone" episode, "Mary" might have made it as a reasonably adequate time-killer but even at a relatively slim (though seemingly endless) 84 minutes, this chronicle of a death ship is itself nothing but deadly.

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originally posted: 10/11/19 09:46:47
last updated: 10/11/19 23:18:08
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