I Feel Pretty – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

What do you get when you cross the movies Big and Shallow Hal? Something a lot like I Feel Pretty, Amy Schumer’s newest rom-com.

Amy Schumer stars in I Feel Pretty.Photo copyright 2018 STX Films.

Schumer portrays Renee, a plus-sized woman with low self-esteem who undergoes a transformative process after a head injury at spinning class. Shortly before the accident, she makes a wish into a fountain that she were beautiful (ala the boy’s wish to be big in Big) and hears a motiving pep talk from the fitness instructor that when she looks in the mirror she will see who she wants to see (similar to Hal’s hypnosis to see the beauty in others in Shallow Hal).

A Confidence Boost

Sure enough, after cracking her skull on the gym floor and having a clump of hair ripped out by its roots, she looks into the mirror and sees a supermodel, instead of her pudgy average-looking self. At first, this confidence boost is exactly what she needs to forget about being overlooked in the bar scene, body-shamed by store clerks, and ridiculed at the gym for her large feet and hefty size. She now flounces around in mini-skirts and heels and assumes that everyone likes her and all men want her. She even has the confidence to apply for a high-profile receptionist job at the elitist cosmetic company headquarters where she has toiled away in obscurity for years in its online sales division.

What could possibly go wrong? If you’ve watched many rom-coms, you already know the answer. Renee previously suffered from a lack of confidence, and now her newfound over-confidence will become her flaw. Her situation changes from bad to worse until she finds a warm happy place in the middle of those two extremes. And, of course, realizes that she was beautiful all along, and never physically changed during the transformation.

Feeling Invisible

Schumer delivers a consistently funny performance, accentuated by moments of sincerity. Most of us can relate to feeling invisible and marginalized at some point in our lives, and Renee endures many such cringe-worthy experiences. Her best friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) get a little more screen time than the typical friends-in-the-thankless-sidekick-roles.

Renee’s new boss (Michelle Williams) has all the physical attributes most women desire, in addition to money, power, and prestige, yet her squeaky little-girl voice and out-of-touch business practices make her reliant on the brash new-hire working the front desk. Renee’s new love interest, Ethan (Rory Scovel), displays the appropriate emotions of someone dating a flamboyant kook with fluctuating self-esteem. Scovel reflects the inner conflict of a man who has one foot out the door ready to run and the other foot firmly planted to see what crazy shenanigans Renee will do next (a memorable bikini contest is one such example).

This is light comedy with a fine cast, but a well-worn message about recognizing one’s inner beauty – and even that tired message gets diluted by the cosmetics company subplot. It’s too bad that Renee wasn’t employed by a more inner-beauty-affirming company – a humanitarian non-profit, for instance. Oh wait a minute…that was Shallow Hal.

I Feel Pretty

  • After a head injury, a woman with low self-esteem believes herself to be undeniably pretty.
  • Stars: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel, Busy Philipps, Aidy Bryant, Naomi Campbell, Tom Hopper, Lauren Hutton, Emily Ratajkowski
  • Directors-Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language)
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.

 

 

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Betty White: Myth, Mirth, and Merch

By Leslie C. Halpern

Although she has detractors, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has evolved into the Betty White of the legal system. Most people – even young people – lovingly embrace this living legend. Now 85 years old, the diminutive Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is the subject of the documentary RBG, a full-length feature directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. Tickets for the one-time screening at the 2018 Florida Film Festival on Saturday, April 14th sold out quickly after going on sale a couple of weeks before the show.

Myth

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in RBG. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a life-long crusader for women’s equality and basic human rights for all, and has a reputation around Washington D.C. as an outspoken liberal queen who, though reviled by many conservatives, is adored by nearly everyone else. It’s often assumed that she has an opinion on everything and sits on the edge of her chair eager to give the dissenting vote. In reality, her children and late husband, Marty, (interviewed in RBG) describe her as quiet, reserved, ladylike, and serious, not prone to emotional outbursts. In the documentary, she comments on her often-quoted observations about politics, “Never respond in anger because it’s self-defeating.”

Likewise, Betty White (now well into her nineties) has myths surrounding her. Although Ms. White gives the appearance of being the same adorable eccentric off-screen that we see onscreen, she’s actually an intelligent actress, comedian, and businesswoman who has proven herself willing to take on vastly different roles during a television and film career spanning more than 60 years. She’s also adaptable enough to change with the times in order to remain relevant with her loyal fans and younger generations just discovering her.

Mirth

RBG meme

According to the documentary RBG, Justice Ginsburg rarely cracks a smile or makes a joke. That was her late husband’s job – in addition to the cooking. Though she’s known for being erudite and articulate, there’s also something inherently amusing about the feisty 5’ 0½ ” octogenarian in her over-sized glasses and drab black Justice robes adorned with frilly collars.

Kate McKinnon’s impression of her is a popular character who shows up frequently on the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live. McKinnon’s over-the-top version depicts the same philosophies of Justice Ginsburg, but the opposite personality, expressing sexual innuendo and biting barbs, often punctuated with an energetic dance and the taglines: “And that’s a Ginsburg” or “He just got Ginsburged.”

Betty White meme

Betty White also has a strong connection to Saturday Night Live. Older audiences grew up watching her on television, but younger audiences became aware of her after she starred in recent television series, such as Hot in Cleveland and Boston Legal, and films (The Proposal and You Again), and perhaps most notably in a Super Bowl commercial for Snickers.

Her newfound popularity with the younger generations of fans included a successful Facebook campaign launched to have her host Saturday Night Live. She claims to have been asked several times to host the show, but feared performing in front of a live audience. She eventually hosted the show in 2010 after the Facebook campaign.

Merch

Another similarity between the two women is the merchandise – the mugs, the tee shirts, the socks, the DVDs, and other items. Amazon.com even offers a “Dissent Collar Necklace” for sale in Justice Ginsburg’s honor. And books, there are lots of published books. There’s Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley, The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong…and You Can Too by Bryant Johnson, The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Coloring Book by Tom F. O’Leary, and others, including her best-selling memoir My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Mary Hartnett. Try Googling Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ll get more than 467,000 results.

The Golden Girls

Ms. White is no literary slouch either with several published books to her credit including her New York Times bestselling memoir If You Ask Me: (And Of Course You Won’t) and dozens of other books written about her by others, including the comic book, Female Force: Betty White by Patrick McCray and illustrated by Todd Tennant. Her image also is represented in a Funko POP TV action figure, mini cutout standee, celebrity mask, and posters, plus many more items where she’s joined by fellow cast members from The Golden Girls, Hot in Cleveland, You Again, and other productions.

Youth-Oriented Culture

With our youth-oriented disposable culture that promptly dismisses obsolete celebrities after their 15 minutes of fame, it’s amazing how these two significantly older women have captured the imaginations of so many and maintained this public interest over the long term. Perhaps even more curious is how the two women have overcome the initial surprise of their late-in-life popularity and accepted their status with grace and humor. In the documentary RBG, Justice Ginsburg (who recently celebrated another birthday) notes in disbelief: “I am 84 years old and everyone wants to take a picture with me.”

It’s anybody’s guess who’ll become the next non-traditional, over-age American icon who serendipitously captures the fluctuating zeitgeist.

For More Information

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg on IMDB
  • Betty White on IMDB

 

Documentary Capsule Movie Reviews From 2018 Florida Film Festival

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 27th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida from April 6-15, 2018, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition. A sampling of documentary capsule reviews appears below.

Three Identical Strangers. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Three Identical Strangers

In Spotlight Films. Documentary. Screens April 11, 2018 at 8:45 p.m. and April 14, 2018 at 5:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

This compelling documentary tells the story of three young men living in New York who learn at age 19 that they were triplets separated at birth and adopted by three different Jewish families. Their strange reunion – combined with their handsome faces and outgoing personalities – got them on the cover pages of print media and invited on talk shows around the country. Their incredible similarities were noted: they smoked the same brand of cigarettes, liked older women, and were on their high school wrestling teams. They became best friends and lived together, and even opened a restaurant called Triplets. The story takes a dark turn when their three sets of parents start demanding answers about why the boys were originally separated. A journalist becomes involved in their case, and things get even messier. This story is told effectively through some re-enacted scenes, which are more utilitarian than artful, but they help elicit emotions in the viewer. Old home videos, news footage, and current interviews with family, friends, and researchers shed some light on the mystery of their separation, but viewers – like the brothers – are still left with questions when the credits roll.

  • Directed by Tim Wardle. Stars David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland
  • Run time: 96 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 4 / 5

Ramen Heads. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ramen Heads

In the Food Films Sidebar. In Japanese with English subtitles. Documentary Feature. Screens April 8, 2018 at 1:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

This mouth-watering documentary presents ramen noodles in an entirely new way for those not living in Japan, where a fanatical culture exists for the slurp-able noodles found in this everyday treat. The story centers mainly on Tomito Osamu, a chef who keeps winning Best Ramen awards for his unique broth that stews for three full days before serving. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of his tiny restaurant, he enlists the aid of two other well-known ramen chefs to help him prepare something special for that day. Just as his ramen combines a “witch’s brew” of ingredients, this documentary includes a little bit of this and that. In addition to Tomito’s professional and personal life, the film peeks inside other ramen restaurant for tips from their chefs, provides an animated history of ramen noodles, visits a ramen festival, and then returns to the 10-year restaurant anniversary party. It’s a strange mix of ideas that ultimately satisfies.

  • Directed by Koki Shigeno
  • Stars Tomito Osamu
  • Run time: 93 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 3.5 / 5

King Cohen. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

King Cohen

 In Midnight Movies. Documentary. Screens April 13, 2018 at 10:15 p.m. and April 15, 2018 at 9:45 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

This clip-driven documentary reveals the raw, exploitative, low-budget genius of writer-producer-director Larry Cohen. While not much of his childhood or young adulthood made it into the movie, there is a brief mention that Cohen originally worked in standup comedy. The ability for quick-thinking improvisation stayed with him even when he left the world of comedy and branched out into writing for series television. After creating the premise and writing great scripts for multiple TV programs (including Branded, The Invaders, and Coronet Blue), he moved on to independent filmmaking where he could be a triple-hyphenated threat making violent movies, such as It’s Alive, that really pack a punch. Often shooting without permits, permission, or insurance, Cohen is a true indie who doesn’t like to collaborate. Although his films and working style are examined thoroughly in this documentary that includes interviews with Cohen, other directors, and some of the actors who starred in his films, the man and his motivations remain much of a mystery.

  • Directed by Steve Mitchell. Stars Larry Cohen, J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Fred Williamson, Joe Dante, John Landis, Traci Lords, Eric Roberts, Yaphet Kotto
  • Run time: 109 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 3 / 5

For a complete list of films and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.

 

 

 

Narrative Features Capsule Reviews From the 2018 Florida Film Festival

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 27th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida from April 6-15, 2018, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition. A sampling of narrative features capsule reviews appears below.

Back to Burgundy. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Back to Burgundy

In the Food Films Sidebar. In French, Spanish, and English with English subtitles. Narrative Feature. Screens April 7, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

This heartfelt narrative drama captures the intoxicating ambiance of the French vineyard where most of the film was shot. Jean’s father drove him away from home with his cold criticism, and now 10 years later his father draws him back. The return visit has far more significance than the departure, because his father is dying. As his father’s life ends, Jean’s new life begins. The oldest of three children – all bequeathed the house and vineyard equally – Jean must decide if he wants to stay, rent, or sell his stake in the long-time family business. Using this time to sort out his feelings for his siblings, his relationship to his father, and the separation from his wife and their child, Jean is faced with important decisions, and this time he can’t just run away. Lush, rich, and layered, this film features beautiful cinematography, delightful performances, and a story worth telling. Enjoy it with a glass of wine.

  • Directed by Cedric Klapisch
  • Stars Pio Marmai, Ana Girardot, Francois Civil, Jean-March Roulot, Maria Valverde
  • Run time: 113 minutes
  • MPAA rating: Not Rated
  • 4 / 5

Borg McEnroe. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Borg McEnroe

In Spotlight Films. Narrative Feature. In English and Swedish. Screens April 8, 2018 at 8:30 p.m. and April 15, 2018 at 3:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

This sports drama begins as a character study of Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason), the cool controlled tennis phenomenon from Sweden. Flashbacks reveal how he learned to suppress his emotions, which now threaten to undermine his 1980 attempt to maintain his place as the top-ranked tennis player in the world. Ultimately pitted against the hot-tempered American tennis sensation, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), both men need to keep their emotions in check to master their opponent. The two actors seem perfectly suited for their roles – both emotionally and physically, they fully embody their volatile and athletic characters. The background story on Borg is interesting, as is his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, and McEnroe’s explosive temper tantrums establish his personality. However, by far the most engrossing part of this film is the Wimbledon championship as Borg attempts to achieve a record-breaking fifth-straight win.

  • Directed by Janus Metz
  • Stars Shia LaBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard
  • Run time: 107 minutes
  • MPAA Rating R
  • 3.5 / 5

The Feels. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

The Feels

In the American Independent Competition. Narrative Feature. Screens April 9, 2018 at 8:45 p.m. and April 13, 2018 at 1:30 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

Although sexual feelings – particularly same-sex feelings – are the obvious focus of this film, deeper problems surface as the story slowly progresses. Set in a secluded house for a weekend-long bachelorette party, this film starts out as a low-budget lesbian version of Bridesmaids, (complete with the coarse Melissa McCarthy character, only this time played by Ever Mainard). There’s jealousy, tension, doubt, lies, and hurt feelings among the entire wedding party, including the token male (Josh Fadem), a platonic friend who longs for more. Brief “interviews” with each character shed some light on the early sexual experiences that shaped their current status. Several improvised scenes combined with a slow-moving script delay the important discussions until the final third of the movie. Until then, it’s mostly scenes of sexual innuendo, alcohol consumption, and drugs intended to be comical, but not quite hitting the mark.

  • Directed by Jenee LaMarque
  • Stars  Constance Wu, Josh Fadem, Jenee LaMarque, Angela Trimbur, Ever Mainard
  • Run time: 90 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 2.5 / 5

For a complete list of films and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.

 

Isle of Dogs – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Fur will fly, snouts will sneeze, and drums will pound in Wes Anderson’s newest feature film, an animated adventure about a Japanese boy’s attempts to reunite with his beloved dog.

It’s an alternate reality – a futuristic version of Japan in which corrupt mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) exiles all dogs (strays, house pets, and therapy dogs alike) because of a canine flu that causes odd behavior. To set an example, the mayor sends his 12-year-old ward’s dog, Spots, to Trash Island as the first exiled animal. But young Atari (Koyu Rankin) misses Spots too much and steals a plane to go search for him.

The Little Pilot

Atari crash lands on the isle of dogs to find a civilization of scavenger canines. Four former house pets (the voices of Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Jeff Goldblum) and one stray (Bryan Cranston) come to his aid in finding Spots. Other dogs around Trash Island also agree to help the boy. Known among the talking dogs as “the little pilot,” Atari must be reunited with his dog because as the former show-dog, Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), proclaims: “He’s a 12-year-old boy. Dogs love those.”

Back in Japan, Kobayashi and his feline-loving regime do whatever it takes to stop a team of scientists working on a dog flu vaccine. An American exchange student studying journalism (voiced by Greta Gerwig) delves deep into a suspected conspiracy about the dog exile and the research team working on the cure. When she learns about Atari’s brave rescue attempt, she develops a crush on the boy even though they’ve never met. Despite its darker elements, the story contains plenty of humor in various forms, from throwaway lines to sight gags, and even the occasional pun.

An Assortment of Talent

The look and sound of this film are its strongest assets. The animation includes depth and texture that makes the dogs look cuddly enough to pet their fur or pat their heads as they stare with puppy eyes in their canine anticipation. Likewise, the humans appear soft enough to touch or embrace. Anderson’s films often have a painterly feel to them, and Isle of Dogs is no exception. Filled with perfectly placed refuse from its previous usage, the island makes a distastefully artful background for Atari’s planned search and rescue mission.

The voice talents are exceptionally good, including many frequent Anderson collaborators, such as Bill Murray and Edward Norton. The music creates a decidedly Asian ambiance that adds to the authenticity and excitement. Some of the Japanese is translated into English by Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand), though much of it is spoken without translation or subtitles. Curiously, the dogs speak English, but can’t understand Japanese. These quirks are part of the overall package that viewers can embrace as delightful or discard as unrealistic.

And the story – well, that may be the weakest element of all. Is it a respectful tribute to Japanese culture and a testament to the unconditional love that dogs have for humans or is it a tasteless display of ethnic stereotyping where the only white American character (a child at that) is able to see the truth and fight for it? Yes, it’s all of those things and more. It’s an animated collage of humor, music, voices, language, race, species, science, technology, corruption, and love. It’s a Wes Anderson film.

Isle of Dogs

  • When the dogs of Japan develop a dangerous canine flu, they are exiled to an island full of trash.
  • Stars the voices of: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bab Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono
  • Director: Wes Anderson
  • Genre: Animation/Adventure
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and some violent images)
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.

Other Films Directed by Wes Anderson Include: