Dog Days – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

In the tradition of ensemble dramatic comedies including He’s Just Not That Into You (2009), Valentine’s Day (2010), and  New Year’s Eve (2011), this new film focuses on the dog days of late summer when the lives of attractive Los Angeles residents with shiny white teeth interconnect through their adorably quirky dogs.

Adam Pally co-stars in the ensemble cast of Dog Days. Copyright 2018 LD Entertainment.

The stories include a Gertrude-Stein obsessed barista named Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) who lusts after a handsome veterinarian (Ryan Hansen), but fails to notice a daily customer (Jon Bass) who’s fallen in love with her. When Tara finds a tiny chihuahua hiding behind the coffee shop, she learns that the vet is more fascinated with himself than with animals, and her coffee customer conveniently runs an animal adoption business.

Interconnected Stories

Tara lives in a no-pets-allowed apartment building, which explains why she can’t adopt the dog and turns little “Gertrude” over to the animal adoption business. Her crazy musician neighbor, Dax (Adam Pally), sneaks in a huge canine that he’s watching for his sister, who’s pregnant with twins. Dax’s experiences with the slobbering, ill-mannered mutt are among the funniest in the movie.

There’s also Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), a television anchorwoman who visits a dog therapist (Tig Nataro) to help herself get past a bad breakup. There’s turmoil on the television set, as well, when a former athlete, Jimmy (Tone Bell), is hired as her co-anchor without her knowledge or consent. When their dogs form a canine companionship, their owners do likewise.

Happily Ever After

Other interconnected stories involve a flaky dogwalker, a lonely widower who lost his dog, a dog-loving pizza delivery boy, and a withdrawn adopted child who desperately needs a pet. With so many stories, it’s a sure bet that people will fall in love, tempers will flare, good guys will get rewarded, bad guys will get punished, and at least one dog is going to die. As with the other ensemble films that came before it, these stories have only two hours to be resolved and reach the happily ever after endings.

The least funny story may be the most compelling. Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry portray the new parents of an adopted little girl. The child takes no delight in any of the beautiful toys and luxury items they purchased for her. She’s unresponsive to their attempts to nurture, engage, or entertain her, and only finds happiness with the chubby pug that mysteriously enters their life. Longoria delivers a heartfelt performance in which her self-doubt, eagerness to please, and longing to love threaten to overtake her at any given moment. Yet, they don’t, and she remains a strong character who keeps the long-term goal of creating a family as the primary motivation for everything she says and does.

Overall, Dog Days is lighthearted entertainment compared to the big-budget special effects summer blockbusters. It’s a fluffy little poodle among cinematic pit bulls.

Dog Days

  • Dogs help bring people together in Los Angeles through interconnected comical and dramatic stories.
  • Stars: Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Lauren Lapkus, Eva Longoria, Jessica Lowe, Adam Pally, Thomas Lennon, Tone Bell
  • Director: Ken Marino
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG (for rude and suggestive comment, and for language)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of 200 Love Lessons from the Movies and the newly released Scantily Clad Truths.

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.

 

 

 

Finding Your Feet – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Though comparisons to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are inevitable, Finding Your Feet is more like Quartet, except with dancing instead of singing. Filled with charming British actors and actresses in their 60s and 70s, the story is not the best and is less than exotic, and instead leans toward the predictable and stereotypical.

Imelda Staunton and Timothy Spall star in Finding Your Feet. Photo copyright 2018 Roadside Attractions.

Lady Sandra (Imelda Staunton) lives her pampered life as the wife of a highly regarded, retired Scotland Yard police chief. They live in a glorious mansion and associate with other highbrows, many of whom have gathered for Sandra’s and Mike’s (John Sessions) 40th anniversary party. It’s during this party that Sandra discovers Mike’s long-term affair with her best friend.

Dance Lessons

Forsaking her wealthy friends who may have been aware of the affair or even conspired against her, Sandra takes refuge with her older sister, Bif (Celia Imrie), in her cluttered London apartment. Bif’s irresponsible, fun-loving lifestyle, which includes dance lessons at her local senior center, is the opposite of Sandra’s rigidly structured daily routine.

Likewise, Bif’s free-wheeling sexuality conflicts with Sandra’s only-been-with-her-husband mentality. The unsubtle stage is set for mutual compromise, and that’s exactly what happens. Compromise doesn’t come easily though. Both women manage circumstances beyond their control.

Acclaimed British Actors

Bif’s friend, Charlie (Timothy Spall, after tremendous weight loss), is not only her frequent dance partner, but her closest friend. Anticipating the future when Sandra will be divorced and Charlie will be a widower (his wife is living in a treatment facility) and they will need each other’s support, Bif fixes them up on a date that the audience knows is coming long before Charlie and Sandra do.

With a cast comprised of so much established talent (and including David Hayman and Joanna Lumley), the movie doesn’t totally miss the mark. However, overused story elements and movie cliches make this feel-good film about aging and the rejuvenating powers of romance and dance feel more tired than anything else. There’s isn’t much new material here, but fans of Staunton, Spall, and Imrie will enjoy watching these stars delivering performances that excel beyond the script.

Finding Your Feet

  • When a snooty titled English woman learn her husband of 40 years is having an affair with her best friend, she takes off for London to live with her estranged free-spirited older sister.
  • Stars: Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie, David Hayman, John Sessions, Joanna Lumley
  • Director: Richard Loncraine
  • Genre: Romantic Drama
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material, brief drug use, and brief strong language)
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.

Forever My Girl – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

This prodigal-son themed romance based on a young adult novel offers many tired romantic tropes and few surprises.

Forever My Girl. Photo copyright 2018 Roadside Attractions.

Liam Page (Alex Roe, who trades his British accent for a Southern one) left his beautiful young bride-to-be, Josie, standing alone at the altar while he fled town to pursue his country music career. Now eight years later at age 27, Liam is an international celebrity, sleeping with groupies, throwing money around foolishly, putting toxic substances into his body, and doing all the other things prodigal sons do before they return home ready to repent for their sins.

Returning to Saint

When his best friend from high school dies unexpectedly, Liam ventures back to his hometown of Saint Augustine, Louisiana (conveniently nicknamed Saint), where he symbolically sits outside the church while his father (employed as the pastor) delivers the eulogy. Inside the church, Josie (Jessica Rothe) sits with her overly protective brother (Tyler Riggs) and precocious young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). The little girl (who has Liam’s dark brown hair) talks like an adult who works a day job as a mechanical engineer and spends her weekends doing standup comedy at the Improv. (In all fairness to Fortson, she is adorable and likely delivered the performance exactly as directed.)

Why didn’t Josie, the prettiest woman in town, ever marry in those eight years? Why did Josie name her seven-year-old daughter after Liam’s dead mother, Billy? Why does Liam’s father suddenly begin preaching about forgiveness when his son returns home? Why does Josie’s brother appear to have no life outside of caring for his sister and niece, and shaming Liam for his former behavior? Why did Liam save his old cell phone with Josie’s message on it?

Faith-based Romantic Drama

If you’ve ever seen a romantic drama before, you probably can guess the answers. If you’ve ever seen a faith-based romantic drama or read a Christian romance novel, you’ll definitely know the answers. Even if this were the first movie you’ve ever seen, there’s still the title giving away the central idea. The slow-paced scenes, unsubtle morality messages, overly familiar storyline, and predictable dialogue make for a lackluster 104 minutes for cinema-savvy movie lovers, although the very young (under 20) and very old (over 80) seemed to enjoy the film at the promotional screening I attended.

Forever My Girl

  • Based on the YA novel of the same name by Heidi McLaughlin, this tame romance unites a wayward country singer with his hometown love.
  • Stars: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey, Abby Ryder Fortson, Tyler Riggs, Peter Cambor, Gillian Vigman, Travis Tritt
  • Screenwriter-Director: Bethany Ashton Wolf
  • Genre: Romantic Drama
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements including drinking, and some language)

The Shape of Water – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Describing Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasy-horror-romance as Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Splash provides a good idea of the types of characters involved and where the story may be headed, but this genre-defying film contains too much beauty, poetry, and depth to be confined to an elevator pitch.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones (as the creature) in The Shape of Water. Photo copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The other-worldly tale is set in Baltimore in 1962 where a top-secret government facility hides a large aquatic creature known as “The Asset” (Doug Jones) taken from the Amazon, where it was worshipped as a god. Here in the USA, however, it’s considered a monster and subject to verbal taunts and brutal assaults by its captor, Strickland (Michael Shannon), a sadistic misogynist who views the creature as an affront to God.

A Personal Vendetta

Strickland’s personal vendetta (renewed with vigor after the creature tears off two of his fingers in retaliation for one such assault) plays out on a semi-public stage when after condemning the aqua man to death, it mysteriously disappears from the facility. Strickland’s career – and very life – depend on finding the creature that he thinks may have been stolen by Russian spies or some competing Government team.

As Stickland nervously chomps on pain pills and nurses his gangrenous reattached fingers, the creature (who is definitely male) is now happily living in the bathtub of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor employed at the facility who fell in love with him while cleaning the room in which he was imprisoned. Aided by her chatty co-worker (Octavia Spencer), lonely gay neighbor (Richard Jenkins), and a laboratory scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg), Elisa masterminded the escape for her interspecies love interest.

Two Silent Interspecies Outcasts

As creepy as it may sound, the onscreen romantic element between these two silent outcasts seems natural and inevitable. Watching beautiful blue lights streak across the creature’s body as he responds sexually to Elisa makes an elegant contrast to Strickland’s ugly animalistic efforts in bed. In fact, comparisons and contrasts abound in this film – part of what adds to its poetry. There are multiple depictions of how various people eat food, mend wounds, initiate romance, display anger, and use water. And, of course, there’s the question of what constitutes a god and a monster.

Although it’s primarily Elisa’s story of finally finding her “voice” and becoming complete, it’s also Strickland’s story of losing his control and acknowledging failure for the first time. Her growth and development make an interesting juxtaposition to his deterioration and regression. Beautiful cinematography (including an underwater dream sequence and retro-fantasy scene) combine with eccentric storytelling and masterful performances by Hawkins, Shannon, and Jenkins. It’s the kind of film you can watch over and over again, and see something new each time.

The Shape of Water. Photo copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The Shape of Water

  • Set in the 1960s, a mute janitor working in a high-security laboratory forms a relationship with an aquatic creature being studied in a classified experiment.
  • Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
  • Genre: Romantic Fantasy
  • Run Time: 123 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, and language)
  • Watch the trailer.