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Thu08222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Nick Robinson delivers a breakthrough performance as the title character in Love, Simon, a sweet throwback high-school comedy about a gay teen who—thanks to email and social networking—may need to come out sooner than expected.

The film leans towards the formulaic, with a lot of similarities to the works of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), thanks to some typical characters and a synth-heavy soundtrack. While the Hughes and Clueless comparisons are part of its charms, the film does feel a bit generic at times—but by the time the movie plays out, the formulaic plot mechanics are mostly forgivable, because, well, this movie is pretty damned adorable. Based on the Becky Albertalli novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (which would’ve been a much better movie title), the screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker has enough original and sincere notes to earn smiles and tears.

Simon finds out that somebody at his high school is gay and closeted, thanks to a social-media post. Because he’s in the same predicament, Simon creates a Gmail account, contacts the student and begins a pen-pal relationship. Over the course of the emails, Simon falls in love (or, well, the high-school version of love) with the anonymous student, and is constantly scanning his classmates for clues to his identity.

Those classmates include best-friend Leah (Katherine Langford), who may or may not have a crush on Simon; new girl in school Abby (Alexandra Shipp), the apple of buddy Nick’s (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) eye; and Martin (Logan Miller), the resident class clown/annoying guy. All of these characters are enjoyable, with the exception of that of Miller, who plays the “annoying guy” role so well that he becomes genuinely, unappealingly annoying.

Director Greg Berlanti balances Simon’s school life with a heartwarming, beautifully depicted family life. Jennifer Garner, an underrated actress, is awesome as The. Best. Mom. Ever., while Josh Duhamel is equally terrific as Simon’s goofy, trying-to-be-cool dad. Talitha Bateman rounds out the family as the little sister who wants to be a cook.

Jack Antonoff is the executive musical producer on the film, so that means a bunch of songs by his band Bleachers appear on the soundtrack. The generally chirpy, happy momentum of the Bleachers tracks serves the film well, along with well-placed songs from Whitney Houston, The Jackson 5 and The 1975. Credit Antonoff for coming up with a nice cinematic playlist, John Hughes-style.

Robinson gives us a seemingly real kid with Simon. He’s heavily reliant on emails and social media when it comes to expressing himself—a modern reality. When the screenplay takes his character into unfortunate territory (there’s a silly emotional-blackmail subplot), Robinson survives the wrong turns with a consistently warm and funny performance. He’s somebody you root for from the moment he walks onscreen, even when the script isn’t up to par. His work here should take his career to the next level.

There’s a moment in this film when two high school kids tell each other that they love one another. They aren’t romantically involved, and they never will be, but they love each other in a way with which many high school students, past and present, can relate. I’m betting a few more kids will be telling their buddies that they love them like this after seeing Love, Simon.

Love, Simon is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In Wakefield, Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a dude who comes home one night, chases a raccoon into a room above his garage, and decides to stay there for a while … a long while.

After a rough stretch with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and a dissatisfying time at work, Howard is feeling a little underappreciated. The room over his garage seems like a good sanctuary for a few hours, a place where he can take inventory of things before returning to his routine. He can see his family having dinner through the window. Then he sees his wife throw his dinner in the garbage can. Something breaks inside of him.

Cut to a bearded, disheveled Howard many months later; he’s rummaging through garbage cans for food and peeing in bottles, Howard Hughes-style. He’s taken up residence in the apartment above the garage like Fonzie in Happy Days, and nobody knows he’s there. Much to his bemusement, life goes on in his household, to the point where the family still goes on vacation and puts up a Christmas tree.

Cranston is very good here. He occupies the majority of the movie; most of it is just him staring through a window and thinking to himself. The movie goes off the rails a bit in the final act when Howard befriends some neighbor kids, but that doesn’t take away from the power of Cranston’s work.

Overall, Wakefield is an interesting observation on what would happen if we decided to switch off our phones and sit in a quiet room for a spell. Would you find yourself? Would you lose everything? Would you have a better understanding of that raccoon living off your trash? Take in the Cranston performance, and then check that storage room for any squatters.

Wakefield is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s been 12 years since the great Al Pacino has been involved in a project worthy of his talents. (His Roy Cohn in 2003’s Angels in America was his last great role.) He’s become a bit of a caricature in the last decade, appearing in some of its worst movies (Ocean’s Thirteen, Gigli, 88 Minutes, Jack and Jill and Righteous Kill to name a few) and hamming it up to the point where he’s nearly unwatchable.

Danny Collins isn’t a return to absolute greatness for Pacino, but it does serve as a relevant and crowd-pleasing vehicle for the former Michael Corleone. Pacino steps up as the title character, a Neil Diamond-like rock singer who has spent the past 40 years touring and performing “the hits.” No longer a productive songwriter, he’s come to rely on the comfort of crowds reacting happily to his most popular hit, “Baby Doll.” He’s also heavy into drugs and alcohol, and is engaged to a girl half his age.

On the eve of his birthday, his manager (a delightfully acerbic Christopher Plummer) gives him a special present: a framed letter to Collins that John Lennon wrote many years ago that was never delivered. Lennon had once read an article about Collins, was moved, and sent correspondence from him and Yoko, with his phone number. He was offering some fatherly advice to the confused young Danny—but a scummy collector got his hands on the letter, and Danny never got it.

The gift throws Danny into a tailspin, as he wonders what life would’ve been like if he could’ve called Lennon and been pals. Trivia note: This element of the story is based on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, who received a similar letter from John Lennon 34 years after it was written, phone number and all.

Danny packs his bag and heads to Jersey, where he takes up residence in a Hilton and commits to finding his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale). He puts a piano in his room and tries to rediscover the artistic hunger that drove him 40 years prior.

Perhaps Pacino saw the “redemptive” angle in the script as a nice parallel to his own career. His last great cinematic venture, besides the HBO effort, was 2002’s Insomnia, which capped a long stretch of good-to-great vehicles for the American icon. Pacino dives into the role of Danny with much aplomb, and employs the sort of nuance that has been missing from his work for too many years. He’s fully engaged in the movie, which helps him to rise above the schmaltz and make it something entertaining, moving and funny. He gets help from a stellar supporting cast, including Cannavale, Plummer, Annette Bening as the hotel manager on whom Danny has a crush, and Jennifer Garner as the daughter-in-law he’s just meeting.

Cannavale deserves special notice. His character is given a disease-of-the-week plotline along with the abandoned-son routine—in other words, enough clichés to torpedo any performer. Somehow, Cannavale turns the whole thing into his best screen work yet. It’s a pleasure to see him exchanging lines with Pacino.

The biggest stretch in this film is buying Pacino as a singer. Pacino is a shitty, shitty singer, and he seems to know it, so the couple of scenes during which he’s onstage are a bit comical. Yet they have a lot of appeal.

Danny Collins might not mark the return of the great Pacino, but it does stand as proof that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. I think he should do a little tour as Danny Collins. It would be fantastically awful to the point of being awesome.

Danny Collins is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Director Jason Reitman delivers a boring, lethargic and woefully predictable look at humans and the way in which interact with the Internet: Men, Women and Children winds up being nothing more than an ugly commercial for the Ashley Madison dating services.

Adam Sandler plays a sex-addicted married man who jerks off to Internet porn and eventually begins using an escort service. Meanwhile, the wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) has started having sex with men she meets on Ashley Madison. Oooh … the Internet is bad.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Garner plays a mother who obsessively stalks the Internet activity of her daughter (Kaitlyn Dever), while Judy Greer plays a mom who has no problem creating a provocative website for her daughter (Olivia Crocicchia). That darned Internet!

Everybody in this movie is either maddeningly morose or completely deranged. Reitman may think he’s delivering some sort of time-capsule movie showing how technology is the destroyer of relationships and real human communication, but there is absolutely nothing provocative or probing about what he’s saying in this movie. It’s a total drag, squandering a talented cast and offering nothing new.

Men, Women and Children is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

In a film that feels more like a TV series than a theatrical release, Kevin Costner plays Sonny, general manager of the NFL's Cleveland Browns. It’s draft day, and Sonny has some big decisions to make after he trades for the No. 1 pick, much to the dismay of his head coach (Denis Leary). This is all happening after finding out he’s having a baby with a member of his staff (Jennifer Garner), and shortly after the death of his dad.

If there’s a big problem here, it is that we watch Sonny go through all of this stuff on draft day, and never get to see the fruits of his labors. The film ends after the draft day is finished; we never even get to see the team play.

Still, Costner is good in the role, and director Ivan Reitman—who usually directs straight comedies such as Ghostbusters—has constructed something that is entertaining, while not altogether groundbreaking.

Draft Day is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews