The Tomorrow Man – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Contrived quirkiness is the main ingredient in this love story about two dysfunctional hoarders: one prepares for a future world disaster and the other hangs onto everything from the past (and then some).

John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in The Tomorrow Man. Photo copyright 2019 Bleecker Street.

Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) is an aging, divorced retiree who blogs about doomsday conspiracies on the internet. His son (Derek Cecil) considers his father to be a paranoid ass—a highly annoying paranoid ass who can’t stop blabbing about an impending disaster for which we should all prepare.

Isolated and Lonely

One day, Ed sees an attractive woman in his age range at the grocery store where he buys his bomb shelter supplies. Despite his isolation and awkwardness, he strikes up a conversation with Ronnie (Blythe Danner) and the two misfits spark an attraction. Ronnie is loaded with quirks—simultaneously shy and outspoken, a bad dresser but stylish in her own way. We soon learn that Ronnie’s only child died as a youngster, and she holds onto memories and physical items as a means of finding connection to something.

During their sweet, but rocky, relationship, the two learn secrets about each other. Old habits die hard, especially among the well-over 60 crowd. Both need to make adjustments to fit into society a little better, and more importantly, maintain their newfound relationship.

Too Many Quirks

Sometimes it feels like the script tries too hard for cute comments, offbeat humor, and general quirkiness. For instance, Ed has an absurd passion for ball bearings, geeky Ronnie works at a very hip gift shop, and Ronnie’s 20-something boss (Eve Harlow) dishes out advice on sex, love, and dating to her much-older employee as if she were a child. When Ronnie sings “Muskat Love” (Ed’s favorite song) on the car radio, he screeches the car to a halt and bolts out the door because it’s all just too perfect.

Although acting and production values are solid, the shaky script provides an interesting story that suffers slightly in the implementation. A few less quirks and a little more authenticity would have helped The Tomorrow Man see a brighter future.

The Tomorrow Man

A man obsessed with the future and a woman stuck in the past find love in a small town.

  • Stars: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Katie Aselton, Sophie Thatcher, Eve Harlow, Wendy Makkena
  • Writer-Director: Noble Jones
  • Genre: Romantic Drama
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some suggestive material)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Tolkien – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

The latest in the recent proliferation of writer-based biopics, Tolkien recounts the early life and young adulthood of J.R.R. Tolkien (portrayed by Nicholas Hoult as a young man), best known as the author of the children’s fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Like the biopics, Rebel in the Rye (also starring Hoult as J.D. Salinger), The Man Who Invented Christmas (starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens), and Goodbye Christopher Robin (starring Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne), this film focuses on the inspiration for what would become classic stories celebrated by generations of readers (and moviegoers).

Nicholas Hoult stars in Tolkien

As the actual process of writing is mostly cerebral and therefore not inherently interesting, the film must focus elsewhere. In this case, Tolkien looks at how the impoverished young Tolkien brothers lose their father and mother before John (the “J” in J.R.R.) turns 13, and must live with an elderly matron who takes in young orphans. While there, John meets another resident, Edith (Lily Collins), who is studying to be a pianist. Their budding romance interferes with his school grades, and is soon halted by Father Francis (Colm Meaney), a well-meaning, but misguided priest who made a promise to John’s dying mother that the boy would attend college and make something of himself.    

A Fellowship of Words and Beauty

Without Edith, John turns to his three best friends for support, classmates Robert (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle), and Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney), with whom he forms an after-school think tank. Together, they plan to change the world through the power of art. Their fellowship of words and beauty, however, is disrupted by World War I, which forever breaks apart their bond. The film is told mainly through flashbacks from the battlefield, as John struggles desperately to find Geoffrey in the heat of a grisly attack.  

One of the film’s chief goals appears to be laying the groundwork for Tolkien’s eventual creation of Middle Earth. We learn of his love for inventing language, his connection to “rings,” his anguished love affair with a woman he is forbidden to see, and horrific battle scenes forever seared into his memory. While providing possible connections from Tolkien’s past to his groundbreaking books, the film leaves much unsaid – merely offering suggestions of where some ideas or images might have originated.

The acting is terrific, and the transition from younger actors to older ones especially so. Music by Thomas Newman is often reminiscent of the feature films based on Tolkien’s work. Production values excel across the board, making Tolkien a must-see for fans of the books and film trilogy.

Tolkien

The adolescent and early adult years of the famed author J.R.R. Tolkien are examined in this drama that explores how his real-life experiences influenced his later books.

  • Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney
  • Director: Dome Karukoski
  • Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
  • Genre: Biographical Drama
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

Film Selections from 2019 Florida Film Festival: Capsule Reviews

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida this year from April 12-21, 2019, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from 41 countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition.

Special guests this year include cast and film crew from The Blair Witch Project (1999) on Sunday, April 14th from 8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater, and Richard Dreyfuss on Friday, April 19th from 7:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater for a screening of the Herbert Ross-directed romantic comedy, The Goodbye Girl (1977).

A sample of capsule film reviews appears below.

Roll Red Roll. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Roll Red Roll

In Competition Documentary Feature. Screens April 13, 2019 at 8:30 p.m. and April 18, 2019 at 4:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

At the center of this disturbing documentary is a rape case where a drunken underage girl was attacked by two teenaged football stars of their high school team, and the crime was photographed and videotaped by their friends. While the details of the rape are heinous, the case is even more shocking by the photographs of the barely conscious victim, derogatory comments about her, and macho posturing on social media by the perpetrators and their friends. When true-crime blogger, Alex Goddard, starts writing about the case, the locals of Steubenville, Ohio, where the crime occurred, rally behind the boys and work to discredit the victim. As a police detective, attorneys, a newspaper reporter, and school officials also get involved, the insidious small-town rape culture is exposed.

  • Directed by Nancy Schwartzman
  • Stars Alexandria Goddard
  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 4 / 5
Radium Girls. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Radium Girls

In Competition Narrative Feature.  Screens Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 11:30 a.m. at Enzian Theater and Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Based on true events, this story set in 1920’s New Jersey concerns young women (particularly two sisters) who work hand-painting glow-in-the-dark watch dials at a factory called American Radium. The radioactive paint is sickening and killing these women at alarming rates, yet the company hides the truth and perpetuates the myth that radium is good for health. The two Caballo sisters (with the help of the local Consumer League) take on the fight against injustice and callous disregard for human life. Beautifully filmed with archival footage blended with original fictionalized footage, the main story is echoed in a subplot about police brutality and racism.

  • Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler
  • Stars Joey King, Abby Quinn, Cara Seymour
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 4/5
Autumn Waltz. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

International Shorts Program #1: Never Let Me Go

In International Shorts. Screens Friday, April 19, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and Sunday, April 21 at 2:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater.

This curious mix of narrative and documentary shorts, placed together by Florida Film Festival programmers, includes an assortment of films about letting go. Sometimes it’s letting go of rules, roles, animals, relationships, or preconceived notions. Although with such a diverse collection, audience members are sure to have favorites, there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Autumn Waltz (directed by Ognjen Petkovic) is a Serbian suspense story about karma set in a surreal environment. Tungrus (directed by Rishi Chandna) is a funny mini-documentary about a Mumbai family being terrorized by their cantankerous pet rooster. The Role (directed by Farnoosh Samadi) is a satisfying, if somewhat predictable, multi-layered look at role playing. All These Creatures (directed by Charles Williams) presents a boy’s trauma surrounding his unstable father and his connection to nature. All Inclusive (directed by Corina Schwingruber Ilic) is a 10-minute documentary about working and vacationing on a cruise line. In its North American Premiere, the highly entertaining Happiness (directed by Maciej Buchwald) follows three people entrenched in the world of self-help as they navigate speed dating, group therapy, and motivational presentations.

  • Total Run Time: 106 minutes
  • Overall program: 4/5 
The Blair Witch Project. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

The Blair Witch Project

An Evening with The Blair Witch: A 20th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. Talent in attendance.

This groundbreaking horror film from 1999 is a fake documentary about three student filmmakers who go deep into the woods to search for the legendary Blair Witch. Sleep-deprived, unnerved, and shooting their own verite-style camerawork, the adventurous actors unwittingly aided the filmmakers in seamlessly blending fact and fiction so well that it’s often difficult to tell the difference. How much was improvised and how much scripted? How scared were the actors and how much was acting? (Audience members screaming in terror, fainting, and vomiting were real enough.) Now 20 years later, many aspects of this film remain a mystery, although “An Evening with the Blair Witch” may reveal some of the secrets which made this a huge hit, social media sensation, and highest-grossing film in Enzian Theater’s 34-year history.

  • Directed by Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
  • Stars Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
  • Run Time: 81 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language)
  •  4/5
Ode to Joy. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ode to Joy

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a rare neurological disorder that causes loss of muscle control under extreme emotions, and in his case, feelings of joy. He lived a careful life avoiding babies, puppies, weddings, and romantic love until one day an exceptionally beautiful and spontaneous woman walks into his library and causes a scene. After this strange initial meeting, they begin a short-lived romantic relationship because of his conflicting desires to be happy and miserable at the same time. The closer he gets to happiness, the more misery he inflicts upon himself (in the form of horrible entertainment choices, unstimulating conversations, and physical pain to damper excitement). His brother and sister complicate the situation further, as does the woman’s quirky co-worker. Sweet, sad, and humorous, this film includes an unusual story, an eclectic cast, and truly funny scenes depicting human frailty to which all of us can relate.  

  • Directed by Jason Winer
  • Stars Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jack Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward, Jane Curtin
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual references
  • 5/5

Click here to read more capsule reviews of Spotlight Films in the Florida Film Festival. For a complete list of films, ticket information, and to learn more about the Florida Film Festival, visit the official website.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

2019 Florida Film Festival Spotlight Selections

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 28th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held throughout Central Florida from April 12-21, 2019, offers nearly 200 narrative features and documentary short films from 41 countries around the world, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, film sidebars, parties, and the American Independent Competition. Spotlight films are hand-picked selections not in competition. A sampling of spotlight film reviews appears below.

Hail Satan? Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival

Hail Satan?

In Spotlight Films. Screens Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 8:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater.

This documentary on The Satanic Temple is not about devil worshippers, but about a group of outcasts and misfits who formed a religious sect now spread around the world to protest combining church and state, and to promote the reproductive rights of women and rights of the LGBTQ community. They adopt Satanic symbols, such as wearing black, using heavy eyeliner, donning devil’s horns, and painting pentagrams mostly to irritate authority figures, according to the Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson, Lucien Greaves. It’s all rather tongue-in-cheek until one rogue sect leader moves away from their tenet of non-violence, and takes the performance art into dangerous new territory. The film presents lots of information—presented in an entertaining manner—but never answers the question about whether or not Greaves takes himself or his Temple seriously, satirically, or a little bit of both.

  • Directed by Penny Lane
  • Stars Lucien Greaves (not his real name) and a cast of other people using fake names
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, and some language
  • 4/5
Ode to Joy. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Ode to Joy

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a rare neurological disorder that causes loss of muscle control under extreme emotions, and in his case, feelings of joy. He lived a careful life avoiding babies, puppies, weddings, and romantic love until one day an exceptionally beautiful and spontaneous woman walks into his library and causes a scene. After this strange initial meeting, they begin a short-lived romantic relationship because of his conflicting desires to be happy and miserable at the same time. The closer he gets to happiness, the more misery he inflicts upon himself (in the form of horrible entertainment choices, unstimulating conversations, and physical pain to damper excitement). His brother and sister complicate the situation further, as does the woman’s odd co-worker. Sweet, sad, and humorous, this film includes an unusual story, an eclectic cast, and truly funny scenes depicting human frailty to which all of us can relate.  

  • Directed by Jason Winer
  • Stars Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jack Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward, Jane Curtin
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual references
  • 5/5
Clara. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Clara

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 21 at 1:30 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.

This Canadian science fiction film makes its Southeast Premiere at the Florida Film Festival. A disillusioned science professor, who has lost faith in love, religion, and life, hopes to find meaning by discovering another Earth-like inhabitable planet. After getting fired from his job at the university because of his bad attitude and disregard of rules, he hires a strange otherworldly young woman named Clara as his research assistant. She’s beautiful, artistic, and wiser than someone with her spotty education should be. She also has an open-mindedness that challenges the professor’s tendency to take things literally and not see beyond his facts and figures. This film is heavy with science that sometimes slows things down a bit, but otherwise is an intriguing look at the possibility of life on other planets.   

  • Directed by Akash Sherman
  • Stars Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Ennis Esmer, Kristen Hager
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • 3/5
The Biggest Little Farm. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

The Biggest Little Farm

In Spotlight Films. Screens Monday, April 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and on Saturday, April 20 at 10:30 a.m. at Enzian Theater.

This documentary focuses on a Los Angeles couple who leave the big city to start a new life managing Apricot Lane Farms in the foothills of Ventura County. In an attempt to create a life in perfect harmony with nature, director-cinematographer John Chester (who also narrates the film) and his wife, Molly (a food blogger and chef), chronicle their eight-year endeavor to live an eco-friendly lifestyle with plants, livestock, and wildlife all working together aided by one farming expert and several others devoted to their cause. Fulfilling their dream came with many physical, financial, intellectual, and emotional challenges, which are detailed in this beautiful and inspiring film for all ages. Stunning close-ups of nature, artistic cinematography (including some clever match dissolves), engaging storytelling, dramatic scenes of birth and death, and profound insights about life and nature raise this film to a masterful level of filmmaking.  

  • Director: John Chester
  • Stars John Chester and Molly Chester
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief language
  • 5/5
Amazing Grace. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Amazing Grace

In Spotlight Films. Screens Saturday, April 13 at 6:00 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village.

This unpolished documentary takes viewers behind the scenes and front row center for a two-part gospel concert by Aretha Franklin at the Watts New Temple Baptist Church in 1972. Intended as a documentary to support the gospel album, technical difficulties prevented director Sydney Pollack from finishing the film and getting it released, so it sat in the studio’s vault for more than 45 years. Now pieced together by director Alan Elliott, the film presents Franklin’s spectacular performances, complete with quirky choir singers, enthusiastic audience members (Mick Jagger attends part of it), and loving commentary by Reverends James Cleveland and C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s father). Shots are often blurry, candid, and inconsequential. Video and audio are occasionally out of sync. Apparently the technical problems also extended to the church’s air conditioning because Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland are drenched in sweat throughout both performances.   

  • Directors: Alan Elliott and Sydney Pollack
  • Stars Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, C.L. Franklin
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: G  
  • 3/5

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

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

The Old Man & the Gun – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sex don’t usually make the news unless the addicts are already famous. In this true story based on a New Yorker article by David Grann, a man named Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) has a life-long addiction to politely robbing banks with a smile (and a gun) that make him newsworthy and notorious.

The Old Man & the Gun stars Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek. Photo copyright 2018 Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Even in his later years when he teams with two other elderly men for his robbery sprees – the early 1980’s are the years covered in this film – Tucker wears a nice suit, tie, and boots while “on the job.” Although he carries a concealed gun and shows it to threaten bank tellers and managers, he’s non-violent and likely never used the gun for anything other than show. Likewise, the other two members of the so-called “Over the Hill Gang” (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) drive, haul the money, and carry out their respective tasks without causing any unnecessary disruption or fear throughout the bank.

A Sweet-Talking Bank Robber

Sometimes no one even knows the bank had been robbed except for the employee who’d been involved. Such is the case when burned-out police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) takes his two children with him to the bank for a quick transaction. He’s as shocked as everyone else when the branch manager announces they’d just been robbed. Suddenly, Hunt becomes intrigued by this sweet-talking elderly bank robber, and the case renews his enthusiasm for his job. It isn’t long before Hunt notices similar crimes across Texas and other nearby states – all with the same descriptions of a suave bank robber.

For his part, Tucker shows little signs of slowing down or changing his patterns. He robs banks, eventually gets caught and incarcerated (18 times), and then breaks out of prison most of those times. Other than one brief marriage as a young man, crime is his way of life. He says for him robbing banks isn’t about making a living, but about living. That is, until he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), an honest, earthy woman with a horse farm…and lots of integrity. How can these two opposites possibly work out a relationship unless one of them is willing to change?

The Hunt and the Jewel

The romantic relationship is secondary to the main story, however, which is the cat-and-mouse game between Tucker and Hunt. Both men seem to enjoy the challenge, and thrive on playing their roles (as do the actors Redford and Affleck who portray these characters). Acting is outstanding among the central characters: Redford (in his announced final role) oozes charm whether he’s robbing a bank, stealing jewelry, lying to his girlfriend, or taunting a police detective; Affleck’s character gradually evolves throughout the film and revives professionally and personally through the biggest “hunt” of his life; and Spacek’s character, Jewel, sparkles so brightly men of any age or chosen career path could fall in love with her. The cars, set design, costumes, and music are a flashback to the early 1980’s that help bring the story alive without much contrivance (although there’s a major continuity error involving a photograph).

Make no mistake. Forrest Tucker is a criminal, not a hero and definitely not a family man. The fact that his house faces a cemetery reveals more truth about this adrenaline junkie than his softly spoken lies, assurances, and compliments ever could.

The Old Man & the Gun

  • Based on a true story, this film focuses on the later years of The Over the Hill Gang, three senior men who rob banks more for fun than profit, led by career criminal Forrest Tucker.
  • Stars: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, Elisabeth Moss
  • Director: David Lowery
  • Genre: Crime Drama
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
  • Click here to watch a trailer for The Old Man & the Gun.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.