Thursday, July 07, 2011

‘Beginners’, ‘Larry Crowne’ & Transformers’ – 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

It was a busy week at the movies! A long holiday week-end with one blockbuster opening, enough for two articles, but in keeping with the timing of the box office and the timing of The Patriot, I am going to try another extended version of Unscripted!

First up: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’; Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky is back as the human friend of the Transformers, a robotic race of aliens that have made earth their home. But do we really care about the actors? Heck, do we really care about plot? Apparently not, as ‘Dark of the Moon’ is all effects and boom with little to no sustenance; 2 ½ hours watching the destruction of Chicago and really, REALLY bad acting – even for animated robots! I can sum up this 1 star mess very simply: if you are in the mood to watch things (anything) blow up, this is the film for you.

Otherwise, skip it and see either one of the next two very high quality films that are out:

In a summer of teeth chattering explosions, bad acting and even worse storytelling, ‘Larry Crowne’ is a refreshing and delightful change of pace. While this will not win any Academy Awards for writer/director and star Tom Hanks, it will further cement his very real image as one of the nicest guys around. That just about sums up ‘Larry Crowne’ – a nice movie; Hanks serves up a light, wholesome, optimistic and (sometimes) corny film that while predictable will leave you smiling from ear to ear the entire time.

Hanks is Larry Crowne, a middle-aged divorcee who is suddenly fired from his job at a very ‘WalMart’ like store. As it turns out, Larry has no college education (even though he spent 20 years in the Navy) and is therefore un-promotable. After failing to find another job, Larry determines the best way back is to get an education where he find himself in a Speech class taught by a very bitter teacher played by Julia Roberts. It is easy to see that the two will fall in love, especially when we get to witness the breakup of her marriage to a jerk, played by one of my favorites Bryan Cranston.

The romance is not the central point of the story however, which is good, as then it would have been just another tedious romantic comedy that would have failed. Instead, Hanks chooses to focus on the reinvention of Larry, someone we can all relate to in this uncertain economy. Without an income and underwater on his mortgage, Larry sells his SUV and purchases a motor scooter to get back and forth to school.

At school, Larry is befriended by a ‘gang’ of fellow students and scooter aficionados. The free spirited Talia (played with extreme cuteness by Gug Mbatha-Raw) takes Larry under her wing, rearranges his house, wardrobe as well as outlook on life.

Only the most brutal cynic would be able to roll their eyes and dismiss ‘Larry Crowne’ as fluff. Yes, there is too cheery of a mood, but there is a very grounded reality to Hanks message and portrayal. So much of our lives can be controlled and changed by our outlook; we are, after all, what we think! We often lose sight of that fact and often wallow in the ‘should haves’ or ‘could haves’ in life. It is not often that we are afforded a second chance, an opportunity to take our lives in a different direction, too often we are on paths because we have thought that this is the way that is should be. ‘Larry Crowne’ is a story about taking a different path, changing that outlook and making life a better place. This 3 star positive message is well worth the trip to the theater.

Speaking of finding a better place and changing your outlook, you will find no better vehicle for this message than in ‘Beginners’; a look at love and death with a message that conveys it is never too late to find true love before death comes knocking at your door.

Ewan McGregor is Oliver, the son of Christopher Plummer (in an Academy Award worthy performance) who, upon the death of his wife, declares himself gay. Plummer’s declaration just happens to coincide with his diagnosis of cancer and what follows is the story of his father’s joyous last months of life as told through the eyes of McGregor.

McGregor’s ‘Oliver’ is a tortured soul, who is obviously grief stricken by his father’s death, but is also struggling with his own personal failures to find happiness and personal peace. The story is multilayered and consuming to the viewer; it is the type of story that you don’t want to end, filled with characters that are rich and real. Told across multiple time periods, lies and truths are as layered as the lives of the characters. There is nothing more tragic than a life wasted in regret and denial, but nothing is more affirming than a life lived with dignity and meaning. ‘Beginners’ portrays this beautifully. We get to know the father (Plummer) only at the end of his life journey, enjoying friends, falling in love, reconnecting with his son all while going through the trials of chemo. But he leaves on mark on Oliver (McGregor) who forms a deep bond with his father’s also grieving Jack Russell Terrier after his death – but it is that mark that leaves Oliver open to the possibility of happiness with another lost soul, a traveling actress played wonderfully by Melanie Laurent.

This 4 star effort is a sharp, smart, endearing, wonderfully romantic and completely absorbing film. Only in limited release, this nearly perfect outing deserves a wider audience, this is worth the trip to the near north side, maybe even two trips!

So, leave ‘Transformers’ to the 12 year old crowd and rush out to see ‘Larry Crowne’ and ‘Beginners’ instead!

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