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Movies, Movies, Movies: Highlights of What’s Playing in Cineplexes


It’s the in-between season of movie-going. The studios have released nomination-worthy product, and now it’s time for another round of adult drama, interestingly with a heavy slate of musician bio pics. The majority of cinema now playing has rewards, even with two or three that could have hit higher marks. Rush to get a seat, for Memorial Day weekend will mark summer blockbuster season when class product will be evicted in favor of mind-numbing CGI and sound so loud Mr. Dolby might have regrets.

Here are worthy highlights of what’s in the cineplexes.

Marguerite (Cohen Media Group; French, English titles) ~ Not enough can be said of veteran French film and TV star Catherine Frot (1998’s The Dinner Game; 2012’s Haute Cuisine) tour-de-force performance in the art house hit, where, as Marguerite Dumont [a wink at Groucho’s memorable foil, but only in majestic statue and elegant dress], she’s an enormously wealthy 20s socialite and opera diva wannbe burdened with a huge problem: she’s tone-deaf. The story runs parallel to our Florence Foster Jenkins, so awful she actually became a recording star. [Meryl Streep just wrapped a bio picture on her/ August release.] Froth’s poignant, often heart-breaking portrayal, was honored with France’s Caesar [their equivalent of the Oscar]. Director Xavier Giannoli helms an exquisite film that borders on being a black comedy. It only loses steam when he bores with a secondary, less-than-interesting story. In excellent supporting roles are Denis Mpunga as Marguerite’s major domo and André Marcon as her long-suffering husband.

I Saw the Light (Sony Pictures Classics) ~ The film chronicles the frantic life of and prolific songs written by Hank Williams, the pioneer of modern country-western music, who died at 29. Even in that brief time he created one of the greatest bodies of work in American music [“Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Ramblin’ Man,” Lovesick Blues,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Blues Done Left Me,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” and “Jambalaya”]. He went from rural poverty and being mentored by a black Alabama street musician to status as one of the most influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th Century.

Tall, lanky Williams recorded 35 chart-topping singles (five released posthumously) – 11 bulleted to Number One. He was ill-prepared for his meteoric rise to fame; and also dealt with an addiction to pain pills for a back injury and alcoholism. He became so unreliable he was fired from the Grand Ole Opry and reduced to playing dives. He was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame and honored in 2010 with a Pulitzer Prize citation “for his pivotal role in transforming country music.”

Tall, lanky Brit and sometime classical actor Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, Thor), who’d never sung, does a creditable job capturing Williams’ persona. Elizabeth Olsen has a field day as his fame-seeking first wife Audrey, mistakenly determined she could stand her own against him onstage. It’s no surprise to theater fans that Tony-winning Tennessee native Cherry Jones has a commanding presence. She has a few meaty scenes as Williams’ no-nonsense mother, Lillie, reputed to be a tough broad. It would have been great to have Jones with more screen time to sink her teeth into her. Marc Abraham, a sometime actor/writer mainly known as a producer, in only his second feature as director, also co-wrote the screenplay with Colin Escott, based on his Williams bio written with George Merritt and William MacEwen. Given the research available, the film would be so much better had the writers delved more into Williams’ dark side.

Miles Ahead (Sony Pictures Classics) ~ Don Cheadle inhabits jazz composer, trumpeter, million-selling artist, and rebel Miles Davis far more impressively than he does in his directorial debut. He gets the look [hair, death stare], voice, attitude, and Davis’ later cocaine-fueled paranoia right. On the other hand, as Cheadle has admitted, the screenplay he co-conceived and co-wrote, is more fiction than fact. Told with a mix of straight forward narrative and too many flashbacks, it’s not always easy to follow. One of the key figures in the history of jazz, Davis began his New York journey at 18 at Julliard, where he soon dropped out – criticizing its focus on classical European and white elements while acknowledging the music theory insight he learned.

Among the greats he worked with were his idol Charlie Parker and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Davis’ brilliance as a musician was overshadowed by a minefield of marital abuse accusations, drugs, fierce temper, and a notable run-in with the law [after being punched by a policeman in Times Square]. The film’s improvisational spirit is in tune with Davis’ improvisational riffs, so with such a huge body of his music featured, it’s a draw for jazz aficionados. Emayatzy Corinealdi is stalwart as Davis’ wife Frances. Michael Sthulbarg plays an unscrupulous manager, with Ewan McGregor as reporter out to tell Davis’ story. Miles Ahead was the closing night feature at the 2015 New York Film Festival.

Hello, My Name Is Doris (Roadside Attractions/Stage 6) ~ Yes, two-time Oscar-winner Sally, we still really, really like you. In her best and most acclaimed role since her nominated portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in the Spielberg epic; and her Nora Walker in Jon Robin Baitz’s TV series Brothers & Sisters. Who says there’re not roles for women over 40? Frumpy old maid, the 60-ish Doris is stuck in park in and caring for her ailing mom with only romance novels to supply fantasy. Best friend and fully-charged spitfire, a standout portrayal by Tyne Daly, takes her to a self-help seminar.

Afterward she’s determined “not to end up as one of those weird old New Yorkers who chokes on a peanut and no one misses.” She begins to pursue life. In spite of Daly’s protestations to bring Doris to her senses, she heads into a world of youth, which constantly flummoxes her, and falls head-over-heels with a sweet, handsome office executive half her age – played by Max Greenfield (TV’s New Girl; The Big Short). Prolific TV writer Michael Showwalter, also an actor and producer, directs. He’s filled the film with an excellent supporting cast that includes Peter Gallagher, Natasha Lyonne, Stephen Root, and Elizabeth Reaser.

Born to be Blue (IFC Films) ~ Ethan Hawke gives a fierce, virtuoso performance fierce interpretation of 50s/60s trumpeter Chet Baker, whose tumultuous life is reimagined with high drama and wit. As is the case with Miles Ahead, it’s more fiction than fact. Baker, one of world’s most famous musicians – renowned as “The Prince of Cool” on the hep West Coast jazz scene and New York where he interacted with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, was all but washed up by the 60s. His life and career were in shambles due to fight injuries predicted to wreck his career and, yes, the inevitable heroin addiction. Director Robert Budreau zeroes in on Baker’s life as he attempts to a hard-fought comeback, spurred in part by a romance with a new flame (Carmen Ejogo). Not always a pretty picture, with some moment reminiscent of Sinatra’s bold performance in The Man with the Golden Arm. As with Miles Ahead, the rich score will please jazz lovers.

The Clan/El Clan (Fox International; Spanish, English titles) ~ Harrowing true story based torn from a sorrowful period in Argentina’s history when during what’s referred to as “the dirty war” in the 70s when thousands of “desaparecidos” were kidnapped for ransom. Current president Mauricio Macri was among those kidnapped. Unlike so many, instead of being killed and dumped on the street after ransom was paid, he was released. Under cover of a middle-class family seeming to live normal lives, the father, Guillermo Francella, in a calm, calculating, brutal performance, is a cold-blooded killer.

Living a double life as a star rugby player and shop owner, his oldest son (Peter Lanzani) seems to have no choice but to be pulled into this world of torture and murder. When the truth emerges, their lives, like so many that they ended, are shattered. Written and directed by Pablo Trapero, The Clan broke Argentine box office records, was selected for the 2015 Oscars’ Foreign Language Film category, won Venice’s Silver Lion Best Director Award, and was showcased at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film doesn’t wince from brutal torture and bloodletting. Some scenes aren’t for the faint-hearted.

Demolition (20th Century Fox) ~ There’s plenty of ear-shattering demolition in this film where Jake Gyllenhaal returns to inhabit the persona he utilized in Moonlight Mile (2002) and Southpaw (2015): a man struggling not to go off the deep end after the death of his wife. This time around, he’s an investment banker at the top of his game and living the good life whose life unravels after losing his wife in a car crash. Featured are Naomi Watts, whom Gyllenhaal’s Davis meets in a novel way: writing complaints to the company where’s she’s a customer service rep; Chris Cooper as the father-in-law; and Broadway veteran Debra Monk.

Hardcore Henry (STX Entertainment; English and Russian, with some titles, not that they help) ~ Immediately forgettable, ultra violent and filled with non-stop mayhem and bloody gore, the film, which never has a clear narrative and hardly makes any sense, is distractingly shot from a first-person perspective – so for all but a few minutes you feel like you’re on a dizzying amusement park ride. Henry is among the dead resurrected through bio-engineering and built into a killing machine designed to obliterate the entire world – or at least Los Angeles and Moscow. Tim Roth is billed, but don’t blink or you’ll miss him. This is only for hardcore blood and guts fans.

The Boss (Universal) ~ In spite of critical drubbings in her last two high-grossing comedies, a major studio gave the go-ahead to this mostly embarrassing, mostly flat, unfunny feature even after reading the script (which took three to write!). So, WOW!, it is all about the money! Here, you have a sort-of plot, actually mainly set-ups for pratfalls, that had the potential to be a fresh, riotously funny movie. However, even those proverbial chimps of lore could put together something far superior.

McCarthy, one of the most lauded and in-demand comedic actors and known as one of show business’ hardest workers, idles in this one. No overnight success, she came up the ranks doing stand-up and improv; and countless supporting roles. She struck gold as Snookie on TV’s The Gilmore Girls); and as raw, machismo, “balls out,” atrociously-attired in butch drag Megan in Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s Bridesmaids, a role that garnered her an Oscar nomination; and with her Emmy-winning lead on CBS’ Mike & Molly.  

McCarthy is quick with the ab-libs, but in this film, based on the blowhard business titan Michelle Darnell she created 16 years ago with L.A.’s Groundlings, you quickly forget her acclaimed comic timing and are embarrassed by the R-rated raunch.

Her vision was a woman with “Shellacked hair. Turtlenecks. Makeup that never smudges, no matter what (who is) harsh … demanding … powerful.” As Michelle, there’s plenty of make-up, but instead of shellacked hair there’s an awful wig and, for some reason, the distracting ruse of turtleneck-like blouses rising above her chin – as if to hide a tumor. The majority of her costumes, big on bellowing bows, are worthy of circus clowns. The use of doubles in many stunt moments is much too obvious.

Things don’t always improve with age. As a writer and director, McCarthy’s actor/director husband Ben Falcone (also a veteran of the Groundlings, where they met), needs to take refresher courses. Co-written by McCarthy and actor (Identity Theft, Tammy – both with McCarthy)-turned-writer Steve Mallory, things get off to a hilarious start as we see Darnell being returned again and again at various ages to an orphanage – something that leads her to determination to succeed.

It quickly goes downhill faster than McCarty on skis in Aspen when we meet her as the 47th wealthiest woman in America. Two beats later, she’s on her way to prison for insider trading [now that situation would have made for some funny situations]. When she emerges to rebrand herself, she finds enemies are out to get her.

Co-starring as Darnell’s assistant, and later only friend who mistakenly goes into business with McCarthy creating an empire from selling brownies, Kristen Bell of the radiant porcelain hydro-boost skin and Veronica Mars alumnae – not to mention the voice of Princess Anna in Frozen. Other than the opening, the funniest sequence is argument she has with Darnell over a baggy sweater.

Kathy Bates has a cameo as an immensely wealthy entrepreneur [she rides horses (actually a double does it) in full make-up, beautifully-coiffed, and dressed to the nines. Diminutive Peter Dinklage plays Darnell’s former lover and billionaire magnet seeking revenge. The less said about their “hot” scene and his acting ability, the better.

Let’s hope that McCarthy doesn’t follow in Macbeth’s footsteps. His tragedy is slowly destroying his good in the pursuit of power. Change power to fame and hope for McCarthy’s redemption in the upcoming reboot of Ghostbusters.


Ellis Nassour is an Ole Miss alum and noted arts journalist and author who recently donated an ever-growing exhibition of performing arts history to the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the best-selling Patsy Cline biography, Honky Tonk Angel, as well as the hit musical revue, Always, Patsy Cline.

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