The Spy Who Dumped Me

photo: Lionsgate
Kate McKinnon as “Morgan” and Mila Kunis as “Aubrey” in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. Lionsgate
Name a big budget Hollywood comedy that is written or co-written by a woman, directed by a woman, and stars 2 women. The Spy Who Dumped Me is the first one I can think of that matches this description. It is directed by Susanna Fogel, co-written by Fogel (with David Iserson) and stars Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. It cost $40 million to make, was produced by mega-producer Brian Grazer, and was released in 3,111 theatres on August 3. It is considered a major motion picture, so, by that fact alone, I celebrate it with gusto. There has been a spotlight recently on the fact that there are way too few movies directed by women, let alone written and directed by women, and even rarer to star women. So, yes, I am happy The Spy Who Dumped Me even got made.

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About Those Oscar Changes….

I should have seen this coming. I knew that last year’s Oscar telecast had the worst ratings in a long time—44 years, to be exact—so I knew the Academy would be falling all over itself to try to right the ship, but I had no idea they’d do THIS.

Today, on Twitter, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced:

“Change is coming to the #Oscars. Here’s what you need to know:
– A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.
– We’ve set an earlier airdate for 2020: mark your calendars for February 9.
– We’re planning a more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.”

With that one tweet, the Academy caused a thousand film bloggers’ heads to explode, including this one. The tweet announces the first major changes to the Oscar telecast since the addition of the Best Animated Feature Film category in 2001 and the expansion of the number of Best Picture nominees in 2010. While those additions were welcome and widely applauded, the changes announced today are filling me with a massive sense of dread and disappointment. If the Academy decides to go through with these changes, the Oscars as we have known (and loved) them for 90 years will change forever. Worse than that, however, is the message the changes are sending, especially now.

Let’s go through them one by one.

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Hearts Beat Loud

photo: Gunpowder & Sky
Gunpowder & Sky
So here’s the thing about summer. Yes, it’s a time for the big blockbusters, the movies with merchandise tie-ins and numbers after their titles, but there’s a little-acknowledged joy about summer that has nothing to do with superheroes and sequels: it’s the perfect season for adult movies.

Normally, we equate summer movies with kids and big budgets, and it still is dominated by movies aimed at the restless youth and the overseas market, but the little-known secret of the movie industry is that summer is also the time for quality adult movies. The beginning of the year (Jan-April) is usually the dumping ground for movies that have come in below expectations and are not going to deliver much, from critics, awards or box office. The last part of the year (October-December) is reserved for awards consideration, where the best of the best compete, and only the strong survive. However, if a studio has a movie that they are really happy with, but they know it can’t compete with the big boys of Oscar season, for whatever reason (marketing budget, lack of stars, lack of pedigree), releasing it in the summer has proven to be a goldmine. A low budget, grown-up movie of quality can find a foothold in the summer because—guess what—most adults aren’t interested in the typical summer movie. Some good examples of adult movies that were released in the summer that made a splash (and lots of cash): The Big Sick, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Blair Witch Project, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mamma Mia and Bridesmaids. Not every adult movie released in the summer will make money, but it is still worthwhile to see what’s out there, in the land beyond the blockbusters, because there just may be a hidden gem or two.

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Ocean’s 8

photo: Warner Bros
Warner Bros
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. The new movie Ocean’s 8 is not a remake, per se, of Ocean’s 11, or even Ocean’s 12 or 13, but it is easily made in the style and substance of those precursors. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem with it. The creators of Ocean’s 8 seem to be trying so hard to mimic the tone and artistry of the Steven Soderbergh 2001 movie that it takes away from so much this movie could and should have been.

So that’s a good place to start. Ocean’s 11, the Steven Soderbergh version, is one of my all-time favorite movies. George Clooney and Brad Pitt headline a cast of misfits pulling off the heist of the century in a glamorous setting with many moving parts. It had style, humor and lots of pinache. It had two sequels, 12 and 13, which were both bad (one was MUCH worse than the other—you can figure it out), but the original (which was itself a remake) was so good, it will stand the test of time. What made Ocean’s 11 work so well was not only the actors, who were cast as much for their personalities as for their acting skills, but the director. Soderbergh was at the height of his talents in 2001, and he displayed all of his gifts in Ocean’s 11.

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Why I Didn’t Love Disobedience

photo: Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street
I saw Disobedience in the theatres last week. It may have gotten lost for everyone else amid the Avengers: Infinity War hurricane, but I made an effort to seek it out because it stars two of my and my wife’s favorite actresses, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. Yes, it did have a gay theme as well, which also intrigued me, I confess. But, even with their star power and the subject matter, there was something about Disobedience that just didn’t move me the way I expected it to. I was having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me, so I took some time to write a review.

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photo: Focus Features
Focus Features
The artistic collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman has been fruitful so far. 2007’s Juno yielded a Best Director Oscar nomination for Reitman and an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay for Cody, and even though 2011’s Young Adult didn’t garner any Oscar love, it still impressed the critics. Now they are back with their third installment in the Cody/Reitman partnership, Tully, an homage to motherhood. We will see how it is received, but, for my money, Tully is just as good as Juno, with all the same heart, humor and humanity.

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Avengers Counter-Programming

photo: Paramount (DreamWorks)
Paramount (DreamWorks)

photo: USA Films
USA Films
It’s only four days in and I already have Avengers fatigue. “The biggest movie of all time” opened on Friday and I really couldn’t care less. Avengers: Infinity War has already broken opening weekend box office records, and could be well on its way to breaking every record. And yet, I still have no interest in seeing it. For those of you who feel the same way I do, I thought I might offer some viewing alternatives to fill the time until movie theatres become habitable again.

One of the biggest draws of Infinity War is that it brings together all the Marvel superheroes in one movie. Well, most of those superheroes are played by great actors, all of whom have some fantastic credits in their resume—some you may know, some not. So, in lieu of seeing each of these actors for five minutes (or less) in Infinity War, may I suggest something else from their filmography—something you might like much, much more.

Here are my favorite movies/roles for most of the Avengers, all of which you should seek out, if you’ve never seen them (and MUST seek out if you’ve only ever seen these actors in spandex):

There are many to choose from, and I really love his performances in Less Than Zero (1987), Chances Are (1989), Zodiac (2007) and his Oscar-nominated Chaplin (1993), but I’ve got to say what he does in Tropic Thunder (2008) is not only jaw-dropping, but truly spectacular. Everyone knows this guy can act, but to act like this? If you’ve never seen it, and have no idea what it’s about, rent it. You won’t believe what you’re seeing.

While I do love him as Thor, I have to tell you he made me laugh out loud in the Ghostbusters (2016) reboot and he impressed me with his actual acting chops in Rush (2013). Definitely more than a pretty face.

Another alum of the Zodiac school for excellent acting, Ruffalo was also great in You Can Count on Me (2000), The Kids are All Right (2010) and Spotlight (2015), but my recommendation is definitely Foxcatcher (2014), a movie in which he plays third fiddle to Channing Tatum and Steve Carell, and still steals the movie right out from under them.

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Isle of Dogs

photo: Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight
As we were in our seats prior to seeing Isle of Dogs, my companion leaned over as the lights dimmed and said, “here comes the whimsy.” Whimsical certainly is a good word to describe director Wes Anderson’s stylistic and storytelling flavor. His movies are an acquired taste and I myself have had an on-again-off-again relationship. I disliked Rushmore (1998) and Royal Tenenbaums (2001), but I absolutely adored (nee LOVED) Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Since the former pair of movies were early in his career and the latter have been more recent, I was excited to see Isle of Dogs, Anderson’s latest creative endeavor. Creative is another good word for Anderson. Unique would be another. Isle of Dogs definitely belongs in the love side of my love-hate relationship with Anderson’s movies, and I’m happy to say that even as a cat person.

I actually have never seen Anderson’s first stop-motion animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), but now that I’ve seen Isle of Dogs, I will definitely seek it out. Stop-motion animation feels like a lost art, in this age of digital everything, but Anderson goes old-school and creates his animated movies the real (and right) way. Stop-motion is a painstakingly detailed and time-consuming process in every way. Over 1,000 puppets were hand-built and over 240 miniature sets were created—every part of the production design and cinematography process is done shot by shot, literally frame by frame. And the result? An absolutely delightful feast for all the senses.

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Black Panther

photo: Buena Vista
Buena Vista
It does feel like there is a reckoning happening in Hollywood. Yes, there are the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that are making an emotional impact, but beyond those, there seems to finally be a move towards more inclusivity. Diversity in Hollywood has always been a challenge, but the tone-deafness reached a nadir in 2016, when every single one of the Academy Award acting nominees were white, prompting the #OscarsSoWhite fury. Since then, the Academy extended invitations to thousands of new members, most of them women and people of color. Beyond that, the widespread cultural demand for more diversity has been reflected in the movies that are being made, and how they are being made. There was no way Hollywood could continue down the path of being for and about white men any longer. Don’t get me wrong, white men still rule in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera (and where it really counts—in the executive offices), but the time’s, they ARE a’changin’.

Consider these facts:

• The top three domestic box office money makers in 2017 all featured women in the lead roles (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman)

• The third highest-grossing movie of 2017 (domestically), Wonder Woman, was directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins)

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