Diana Vacc sees “The Founder”

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

Last week, I watched The Founder, a film I found accidentally, through a friend. It follows the life story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who took a local fast food eatery owned by a couple of brothers and turned it into the world’s largest restaurant. (McDonald’s is a restaurant, isn’t it? Even though healthy eaters might not agree?)

THE GOOD:

  • The story of McDonald’s is so interesting that I was on the edge of my seat. Well, metaphorically anyway. Writer Robert D. Siegel has made this a story full of intrigue and excitement. Not only was I amazed by all the historic elements of this story and how much I didn’t know about Mickey D’s, I was astonished at how the script made me care.  I expected a kind of infomercial and instead found drama and humor that swept right into me.
  • Michael Keaton delivers an astonishingly layered performance as Ray Kroc. When we meet him, he’s a struggling salesman who can’t seem to sell a milkshake mixer. Then he goes to the original McDonald’s and is blown away by its speedy system of making and delivering the food. Kroc talks Dick and Mac McDonald into joining with him and franchising the business. It’s a tough road, and the script pushes all my “rooting for the hero” buttons as the franchise becomes a success. And then the twist hits us: Kroc gets too greedy and screws the brothers over. I felt as though my heart was torn out. Well, okay, that’s metaphorical too. But my belief in human nature took a very nasty turn.

THE BAD:

  • Watching this film, there was nothing I did not like…except for Ray Kroc’s horrific hustling and inability to see himself as the shameless huckster he really is…and since creating this ambivalence is the whole point of this film, this “badness” is all to the good of the theme.

THE REST:

  • Go and watch this film.  The Founder gives insights into greed and the lengths one will go to to get the almighty dollar that may help you understand our current political situation more than just a bit better.

Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Diana Vacc sees “Back to the Future” Throwback Thursday Review

It would sound weird, wouldn’t it, if we changed this to “The future was now!” And yet…?

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—
Although This Film is Over 30 Years Old So is There Really Anything to Spoil?

Released back in 1985, Back to the Future follows the story of Marty Mcfly, a 17 year old teenager who takes part in a hilarious time travel experiment and finds himself stuck in the 1950’s and hanging out with his own parents as teenagers.

THE GOOD:

  • There is so much delicious goodness here. Let’s start with the fun fact that the writer-director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale used the late, lamented and so very exotic Delorean automobile as the time machine. I don’t know which I love more – that concept or that so-cool car.
  • Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown is mind blowingly eccentric in the role. Everything he brought to the character was  original.  The hair, the clothes, and the voice. He was far more than the Doctor Who or Rick (of Rick & Morty) some recent critics have compared him to.
  • Great cast all around.  Michael J. Fox as our hero Marty McFly brings innocence and humor to his role as a young man who brings his family back from the edge of extinction.  Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines/McFly, Fox’s mother, is so full of warmth and sweetness that you’re completely hooked into wanting her to find true love with Marty’s teenage father, George McFly (Crispin Glover).
  • The filmmakers give us a tale that seems as fresh and original as it was when it first came out, mixing family and sci-fi with such energy that you can’t help but watch over and over again.
  • So much more! The way Marty’s then teenaged mother falls, hard, for a teenager she doesn’t know is her own son! The pseudo-science gobbledygook! Fox’s amazing – and perfect – physical humor. You name it, Back to the Future has it.

THE BAD:

  • Some people in our currently repressed age may be a bit creeped out by the Marty/Mommy sort-of-a-romance, but there’s a reason this film has become such a classic ala It’s a Wonderful Life.

THE REST:

I can’t recommend Back to the Future (and its sequels) highly enough. The good news is that it’s available just about everywhere, on so many different media.  You can watch on dvd, on-demand, via netflix. You name it. Binge watch the whole series with your families and have some great fun!


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Diana Vacc sees “Titanic” Throwback Thursday Review

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—
Although This Film is 20 Years Old So is There Really Anything to Spoil?

With the popularity of “Throwback Thursday” on social media and the current lack of quality in both film and television as of late, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on some classic films. Titanic follows the story of star-crossed lovers Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) aboard the ill fated luxury liner.

THE GOOD

  • The chemistry of DiCaprio and Winslet is reminiscent of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone With The Wind and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.  These two actors have created an onscreen couple for the ages.  The audience can feel the love the characters have for one another.
  • Writer/Director/Editor James Cameron had his hand in everything. This is the true testament to a legendary director.  He even did the drawing of Rose (Winslet) featured in the film.  He brought a story to life that has moments of laughter and brings you to tears, especially the end.
  • Billy Zane’s portrayal of the villainous Cal Hockley was breathtaking.  There were moments when I hated him more than that boss I once had who – never mind. But there also were moments that filled me with empathy for the character.  An example is when he watched from afar Rose and Jack’s kiss when they were reunited.  In this small moment you I definitely felt his pain as he realized he had lost his fiance.
  • The costumes, the sets, the scenery, every little detail was carefully considered by the filmmakers and crew and led to an overall feeling of reality.

THE BAD:

  • Total spoiler alert just in case: I still wish that Jack didn’t die at the end of this film and instead he and Rose livee happily ever after.  But then, I’m a sucker for happy endings.


THE REST:

  • Since there isn’t much at the theaters these days I highly recommend you watch or re-watch this classic film, which can be found just about everywhere, online and off. I confidently predict you’ll be very glad you did.

Diana Vacc sees “The House”

Sorry, but this isn’t in the film. Not that even a scene like this could have saved THE HOUSE

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Last weekend, The House, starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, opened in theaters all around the U.S.  This film follows Ferrell and Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen, who find out that their daughter Alex has lost the town scholarship that has made it possible for her to pay for her college tuition.

Since Will and Amy can’t afford said tuition, they get to work raising the money.  Hijinks ensue as they decide to open an underground casino.

 

THE GOOD:

  • The concept is relevant to today.  The struggle to pay a college tuition and the hardship it can bring into a family’s life are are part of our current middleclass crisis.  Millions of Americans can and, unfortunately do, relate to it.

THE BAD:

  • Writer/Director Andrew Jay Cohen script can’t seem to pull off the laughs that we are used to from his previously work on Neighbors and Neighbors 2.  As I entered the multiplex I was expecting to find myself rolling on the floor laughing when the film bagan. However, as you can tell reading this review – and from the fact that you probably haven’t found many other reviews of this, um, well, a disaster is what The House is – I never fell down laughing. Not once. In fact, I didn’t laugh at all.
  • Probably the worst part of the whole thing was when Ferrell character Scott transforms into a butcher and cuts someone’s finger off… and then promptly chops off the arm of another character. The blood shoots everywhere, and while I would like to believe that was an attempt to establish that this is comedy and therefore fake and acceptable, you know what? It wasn’t, and isn’t acceptable. Not one bit.
  • I’ll spare you more details because I don’t want The House to ruin your day as much as it ruined mine.

THE REST:

If you want to enjoy a new film, The House is not for you. In fact, it isn’t for anybody, for any reason whatsoever. To put in the simplest of terms, this film is a redefinition of the word “awful.”  I definitely do not recommend it.


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Going in Style ‘

Going in Style – The Over the Hill Gang strikes back!

by Lew Ritter

CAUTION: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

You probably haven’t seen or even heard of this film. That’s a situation we’re rectifying right now!

GOING IN STYLE is a remake of the 1979 heist film that starred comedy legends George Burns and Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, acting coach extraordinaire as a trio of retired gentlemen who plan a bank robbery. In the 2017 version, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman take over the roles of the three long- time friends.

THE STORY:

Set in the 1960s, GOING IN STYLE tells the tale of three men who, afraid of being screwed out of their pensions for, well, the usual reasons in this day and age, decide to rob the local bank that handles their pension accounts. The seniors plan the heist with the precision of the D-Day invasion and then off they go, off to get justice by – oh, you guessed it – getting even.

THE GOOD:

During the bank robbery, a little girl sees Morgan Freeman’s face by peering under his mask. When she’s called to identify the robbers in a lineup, she nevertheless refuses to identify him as one of the bank robbers.

After completing the heist, the protagonists honor their promise to take care of their friends. They leave a large stack of bills for Mitzi, the put-upon waitress, and the members of the “Knights of Hudson” lodge discover a thick layer of dollar bills hidden underneath a birthday cake at a lodge celebration.

Matt Dillon plays a plodding police detective who believes he is the reincarnation of TV’s Lt. Columbo and is confident that he is one step ahead of the seniors…until the end, when he discovers that he has been outplayed all the way around.

In addition to the leads, also in the cast is the still radiant Ann Margaret as an employee of the local supermarket who has a crush on Arkin. John Ortiz and Kenan Thompson from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE do fine jobs as well.

The movie never denies the aging heroes their dignity by indulging in cheap senior jokes. Arkin’s character is still an enthusiastic member of a jazz band, and Arkin and Ann-Margret have a delightful romance as old age lovebirds. Freeman is a sophisticated computer geek who skypes with his grandkids.

Zack Braff, (SCRUBS) brings an exuberant energy to the director’s chair. The screenplay was written by Theodore Melfi, who also co- wrote the screenplay for this year’s surprise hit HIDDEN FIGURES and last year’s sentimental hit ST. VINCENT starring Bill Murray.

THE BAD:

The movie descends into slapstick for the scene in which the seniors perform a dry run of the robbery, stuffing meats and fruit from the local supermarket down their pants and racing away from the scene of the crime on a mobile shopping scooter chased on foot by the store’s overweight security guard.

Although the heroes do escape being portrayed as old-age cliches, Christopher Lloyd, who has made a career out of playing wild-eyed eccentrics like BACK TO THE FUTURE’s Doc Brown and Reverend Jim in the classic TV comedy series TAXI seems to have been hired just to pick up the slack. In GOING IN STYLE, does what is now a tiresome shtick as an over the top senile stereotype.

CONCLUSION:

GOING IN STYLE is a feel-good entertainment that runs on the charm of its three main actors. It is entertainment with a heart that lets you sympathize with the trio, as they developed their plot. It seems geared to please the Baby Boomers who grew up watching each of the stars in their many film roles, producing the same thrill the World War Two generation felt watching Burns and Art Carney in what turned out to be their last film roles.

Overall, this is a diverting evening featuring an all- star cast, a pleasant movie that for me goes a long way toward making up for all the over-produced, over-long, over-promoted superhero movies that Hollywood has been inflicting on the audience in recent years.


Lew Ritter is a teacher, freelance writer, and  TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

Diana Vacc sees ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

Not sure about this pic. Maybe it’s Ms. Vacc holding on the gun this film?

by Diana Vaccarelli

No spoilers here because it’s already spoiled!

On February 10, 2017  Universal Pictures released the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, the not-so-cleverly-titled Fifty Shades Darker.  This film follows the continued relationship of Anna Steele and Christian Grey and their constant struggles to be completely honest with one another and how sex drives their relationship.      

THE GOOD:

  • After the battles behind the scenes of Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel were not asked to return for the sequel.  Instead the writing went to novelist and writer of the Fifty Shades trilogy E.L James’ husband Niall Leonard.  Leonard has written several television series and films such as Horatio Hornblower.  I mention this because this change from the first film to the sequel was a great success.  Leonard has shown that the characters have a relationship outside of intimacy. Better yet if you’re into this sort of thing, he also gives us some very real-seeming B &D. 
  • Director James Foley of House of Cards and Billions, brings the book more to life then Taylor Johnson did.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much Fifty Shades Darker film followed the book. Looks like sometimes it pays to leave control of a property in the hands of the creator.
  • The music continues in this franchise to be excellent.  It shows Christian Grey’s inner darkness and how his emotions change when he is around Anna.

THE BAD:

  • The main issue I continue to have with this series of films is the casting of Anna Steele. Dakota Johnson is, in a word,  drippy and doesn’t give the character one single ounce of personality.  On top of that, she speaks in the kind of monotone that would make anybody want to tie her up, preferably in another room…or city…or country.
  • It’s based on one of the most justifiably reviled novels of this century, which means that no matter how well made this film may be it still may make your skin crawl.

THE REST:

  • If you’re a fan of the books you will definitely appreciate the changes from the first film to the sequel.  If you’re a fan of films that have great music this film might make you smile…but a copy of the soundtrack would be a better choice. For my part, I give Fifty Shades Darker an overall two stars out of five, but my friends have always said that I’m generous to a fault.

    Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the best people we know. Find out more about her HERE

 

Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Hidden Figures’

HIDDEN FIGURES: Soaring into the history books

by Lew Ritter

CAUTION: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

In the late 1950‘s, America and Russia (then the U.S.S.R) were locked in a space race. Each nation was determined to place the first man into orbit around the Earth and eventually land a man on the moon. It culminated with Neil Armstrong being the first American to land on the Moon in 1969.

Prior to HIDDEN FIGURES, movies depicting the Space Race, such as THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13, focused on the exploits of the white astronauts, who were the pioneers of the space race. HIDDEN FIGURES is a historical drama about three hitherto unknown participants in the American space program. Most remarkable is that these unsung heroes were three African American women. Their contribution to the American space program went overlooked for half a century.

In the early 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. The African American women who worked for NASA were employed in a supporting role called “Computers.” It was essentially a data entry role, as the giant IBM mainframe computers were still in their infancy

The three women featured in the story are Katherine Goble (Tariji Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). Each of the women were ambitious and desired to advance in the program, but were denied advancement based on their skin color.

THE WOMEN

Mary Jackson ( Monae) was denied entrance into the engineering program. She was offered the excuse that she lacks the necessary credentials to qualify to be an engineer. Undaunted, she launches a lawsuit that would allow her to take the necessary night classes at the hitherto segregated high school in Norfolk. The judge resolved the lawsuit in Mary’s favor and she goes onto become an engineer..

Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) is denied the role of supervisor by the testy Mrs. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Undaunted, she borrows a book on FORTRAN, an ancient coding program for computers that used punch cards. Soon, she becomes the most capable Fortran programmer on the huge new mainframe IBM mainframe computer. She becomes the first African -American supervisor in NASA.

Katherine Gobel (Henson) moved from being an accessory “computer” into a vital member of the engineering team. Her ability to calculate precise coordinates and elliptical orbits astonished her white compatriots.

Act Three depicts the events of the John Glenn’s flight in the “Friendship Seven.” After orbiting the Earth several times, the heat shield begins to fail. The capsule heads for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. For a few dreaded moments, Glenn’s capsule disappears from the radar and they lose contact with the capsule.

The control room fears that the capsule burnt up upon reentry into orbit. Everyone holds their breath, fearing the worst. After agonizing minutes, Glenn’s voice booms over the radio and his capsule splashed down safely in the ocean.

THE GOOD:

The cast is uniformly excellent. Henson and Costner are the standouts. However, all of the other actors deliver terrific performances and deserve Oscars for their roles. The dialogue and action is an accurate depiction of the 1960’s. The space mission scenes are a mix of live action mixed with documentary footage featuring such real people as Jules Bergman, the ABC News Science correspondent.

The most entertaining bit of type casting was Jim Parsons (BIG BANG THEORY). He is perfectly cast as the stiff necked scientist, who views Katherine as not his rival, or even part of the same team. He refused to add her name to any of the research reports or let her attend the all – male staff briefings.

Kevin Costner is solid as Al Harrison, the head of the project. He seems more obsessed with the success of his mission than the skin color of his employees. At the beginning of the movie, the women are told not to speak to him. He is either too aloof or busy with the space program.

Slowly, he begins to notice that Katherine, his “computer” works faster than most of her co- workers and has a knack for utilizing the complex Analytic Geometry formulas needed to calculate accurate re-entry coordinates. By the end, he becomes dependent on Katherine’s abilities to project changes in trajectory and safe landings.

The best scene in the movie is when Harrison grows annoyed that Katherine seems to disappear for several times during the day. Outraged, she confesses that she is forced to run half a mile to the segregated ladies room across the campus. Harrison strides into the far-away building and takes a sledge hammer to the sign “Colored Ladies Room.” He has the best line of the movie. ”From now on, he intones, everyone in NASA pees the same color.”

The screenplay is well structured. All of the women get a large chunk of screen time to have their professional and personal stories told. Theodore Melfi has established himself as a major director following his admirable work on last year’s poignant movie ST. VINCENT starring Bill Murray.

THE BAD

I certainly haven’t found anything “bad” here!

CONCLUSION

The movie was released in January, when studios traditionally dump movies they lack confidence in to recoup their investment. HIDDEN FIGURES has emerged as a surprise hit. Unheralded, it has dominated the box office during it’s first weeks in theaters. The movie has become a crowd pleasuring sentimental hit with audiences clapping loudly at the final credits. It will go onto become an Oscar favorite and perhaps a classic of it’s genre in the future.


Lew Ritter is a teacher, freelance writer, and  TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.