The Founder

John Lee Hancock’s story of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc lacks the flavor and commentary of what “The Social Network” was to Facebook.

The Founder PosterI can imagine a sleazy, slick talking huckster pitching the idea for “The Founder” now: Let’s make a movie about a capitalizing asshole who stole an idea from two entrepreneurial brothers, but let’s wrap it in a sunny package and sell it as a story for the whole family! We’ll remind people how hard work and financial loopholes can help you build an empire on the backs of somebody’s namesake, and we’ll call it a crowd-pleaser. Do you want fries with that too?

“The Founder” is to McDonalds what “The Social Network” was to Facebook, except director John Lee Hancock lacks the irony and social commentary that someone like David Fincher could bring to this material. He’s all wrong for it, and “The Founder” needs more spice and flavor if it wants to be anything but bland. Continue reading “The Founder”

Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt’s modest drama feels as slow and contemplative as her previous films

certainwomenposterKelly Reichardt makes minimal, contemplative character studies about women in modest conditions. They exist in the world and respond to their environment. In “Wendy and Lucy” Reichardt told the story of a homeless woman and her bond with her missing dog. In “Meek’s Cutoff,” she took the romance out of the Oregon Trail. And in her latest “Certain Women,” she examines three stories of women who don’t get the respect for the hard work they do.

But if there’s one commonality between all three films, it’s that they are horribly boring. They’re studious, academic movies made to be interpreted in the gaps between the words left unsaid, and there are a lot of them. And like the nature in this small Montana town, its actual story and depth are bone dry and desolate.

Laura, Gina and Beth all live in a small town called Livingston and share very loosely connected narratives. Laura (Laura Dern) has a law office and a particularly troublesome client named Fuller (Jared Harris). His life was ruined due to a construction accident but who accepted a settlement and waived his right to sue. For eight months Laura has been trying to explain why she can’t help him, and in a visit with one male lawyer, all her work is undone. He’s a potential danger to himself and others, and she has to balance her own frustration with her empathy for him. Continue reading “Certain Women”


Jean-Marc Vallee’s follow up to “Dallas Buyers Club” features a great performance by Reese Witherspoon and makes a strong feminist statement.

The beginning of Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Wild” shows Cheryl Strayed at the top of the world yet screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s made it an impressive, remarkable distance on her own and overcome pain so unbearable she can’t even remove her socks. And yet she’s knocked her boot off the edge of this cliff she’s conquered, and she may as well be stuck in a hole.

Vallee’s film grapples with the inspiring nature of Strayed’s mission and the more harrowing, cynical nature of her mental adventure. Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed as a negative, bitter and sharp-tongued woman ready to quit at any moment, but her sheer resolve and toughness on the trail make her feel real, not just some strong female movie character conquering impossible odds.

Based on Strayed’s own personal memoir and adapted by novelist Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”), “Wild” tells the story of a woman who hiked 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon and Washington. The journey itself is not spectacular or unusual for many who have tackled the trail before, but Strayed took it upon herself to make this journey after a series of personal hardships that left her far down the road in the wrong direction. This hike is a spiritual journey above all. Continue reading “Wild”

The Fault in Our Stars

The adaptation of John Green’s book by Director Josh Boone lacks the attitude that made the novel distinctive.

The blockbuster YA novel of today has become so closely aligned with all the Hollywood clichés of the last decade: dystopian futures, chosen one teenagers, dark overtones, epic CGI battles for the fate of all mankind and one book needlessly split into two films.

“The Fault In Our Stars” by John Green is as big as they come but has been adapted into a single, trim, two-hour love story and tearjerker, and a modest one at that. Both the success of the book and the movie is that they can take big, melodramatic themes of death, disease, heartbreak and even oblivion and make them feel intimate and personal.

Green’s novel is the story of a 17-year-old cancer patient named Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) who meets 18-year-old and now cancer-free Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at her cancer support group. He’s forward, strangely eloquent and a bit awkward, and she’s sarcastic and pessimistic with a slight frump and eye roll to send his way. Gus dubs his crush with the new identity of Hazel Grace and they soon fall in love, but she fears the damage she’ll do to both Gus and her parents when she inevitably passes away.

The screenplay by pair Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (“500 Days of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now”) follows the source material as well as any major YA adaptation, even lifting full passages out of the book, but it’s missing the punchy, brash and flippant energy to Green’s novel. Continue reading “The Fault in Our Stars”