film

Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, “The Meyerowitz Stories (new and selected)” is a Netflix original movie about the inherent drama in family life and how it can be both tragic and at times, hilarious. There is a plot at hand prodding characters into rooms with each other, but the film is mostly concerned with how each of these family members interact with each other rather than involving any sort of macguffin to pursue. After months of devouring films soaked in science fiction and battered in fantasy laced with imagination, this was quite the reprieve from my more genre based consumption and I really did enjoy it quite a lot actually. Speaking of which, barring any all-encompassing Holiday errands I’ll be trying to get into showings of both “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, but back to the film at hand. As the film is divided into sections with title cards, I’ll mirror that and give each major character their due diligence.

 

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                                        -Danny-

The film begins with a title card, “Danny” and the briefest of introductions in a second card which began the film with “Danny Meyerowitz was trying to park”. The scene plays out in much the same way that Danny’s own life has, trying to find a spot, but always missing the opportunity. He desperately tries to fit in, but never quite makes it. Adam Sandler finds in Danny Meyerowitz a similar well of history and emotion to draw from that he’s occasionally brought to the odds and ends of his film work, his work here is evocative of his “Punch Drunk Love” character in his quietly building rage and incandescent sadness. Danny is the closest we come to a protagonist in the film, the first third of the story is predicated by bringing his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) to his father’s house in New York the night before she’s to begin college. In a brief scene with Eliza and Danny playing and singing at the piano of house Meyerowitz we see a caring father who was once a musician with potential. In the following scenes we get to understand the inner workings of the family Meyerowitz in how Danny reveals past neglect from his father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Harold was a sculptor turned academic that was never discovered and therefore never truly obtaining the royal treatment from the intellectual crowd that he so desires. There are years of conflict buried in the way Harold dominates conversation with his sons. He’s a character so self absorbed by his own projects and failures that he could have been a real monster if portrayed by another, but Hoffman plays Harold with enough shades of brevity and aloofness that it never slides into blatant cruelty. A perfect example of this happens when Danny and Harold go to an art show that Harold’s far more successful friend L.J. (Judd Hirsch) was hosting in which Harold tries to share a moment with L.J. but is seemingly forgotten by the crowd of New York Elites clamoring to meet L.J. We even get the briefest of cameos by Sigoruney Weaver as herself as L.J. introduces her to Harold, but she seems to question this introduction as if saying “Who is this person you’ve introduced me to L.J. and why?” Though she does this without malice or scorn. Danny seems to be the only one that listens in the Meyerowitz family, but even he has his outbursts, a tool for Sandler that allows for character moments to shine through his shlubby shouting. Danny really is the heart of the family, and of the film.

 

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                                        -Matthew-

Matthew had just arrived on the red-eye from LA, as we’re told with another brief vignette opener. The youngest child of Harold’s and the most successful of the Meyerowitz clan, Matthew’s relationship with his father has a far more antagonistic trait weaved into it. He’s removed himself from the weight of Harold’s expectations by physically living on the opposite side of the country, but also in his career choice. He’s a financial accountant for creative artists that don’t quite know how to handle their money. In Matthew’s introduction we’re greeted by a quick cameo of Adam Driver as the musician/artist/entertainer that’s having building renovations done. Stiller’s Matthew talks Driver down from needing a saltwater pool in his two floors of renovations showcasing his ability to negotiate and play to the off-kilter, quirky, personalities that embody the world of artists. Though he doesn’t look forward to his interactions with his father because of their constant competitive nature being at odds with each other, Harold does heap most of his adoration onto Matthew, the son that wants and needs it least. This second vignette of the film ends with Matthew yelling “I beat you! I beat you and you know it!” at his father as he drives off into the Manhattan night. Love in a family this dysfunctional doesn’t always look or feel correct, but there’s enough done by Noah Baumbach’s direction and the cut of the edit to show that there is connection there, even if it’s not the healthiest of relationships.

 

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                              -The Group Show-

The disparate family eventually comes together after they all learn of Harold falling and hitting his head, forcing a long gestating hospital visit. The rest of the film is devoted to all of Harold’s family working together to take notes from the various doctors and specialists they’re flung back and forth to while sharing shifts at Harold’s bedside. This shutdown of Harold’s incessant chatter allows his children to assess their relationships with him and how to best move forward in life rather than holding onto the past. Just as the film nearly forgets about Harold’s third child Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) at times, I mustn’t neglect her presence as well. Jean’s the forgotten child, She and Danny came from Harold’s second marriage, and Matthew the third. Quite the opposite from Marvel’s previous roles in “House of Cards” and “Homeland”, Jean is the quiet and most awkward of the three, but even her presence being shadowed by her brothers is ingrained in her story and is relevant to her progression later as she helps Danny’s daughter Eliza by starring in her college films-which I might add are quite the homage to the overly sexualized youth of college age film-making wannabes, but the family treats it as a creative outlet all the same, no matter how much nudity and sexual obscurity fly off the screen when they check-in on her. It would be remiss of me to forgetting to mention Emma Thompson’s performance of Maureen, Harold’s fourth and current wife. Maureen’s a mixture of meshing in with the artistic and elite intellectual crowds through her 1960’s clothing to her drunkenly making Shark soup.

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” turned out to be a fairly funny dive into familial dysfunction with enough nuance to keep the characters grounded and relatable. The relationships of each family member evolve based on reactions of other actors inputting their knowledge of our cast and the choices they made or the way they lived their lives, thereby informing us where the main characters may not have been the most reliably honest keepers of their own histories. It’s a fairly solid movie in a similar vein to Woody Allen’s films, so if you have the time or the curiosity, give this film a shot. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is currently on Netflix at the time of this review.

Final Score: 1 Artistic Patriarch and a Poodle named Bruno

 

 

 

film

Review: Independence Day Resurgence or “We’re gonna need a bigger planet”

The sequel to 1996’s biggest blockbuster has arrived. The question at hand is, ‘yeah, but is it any good?’ That answer takes a bit of unraveling. The first “Independence Day” is a fun and cheesy sci-fi romp that doesn’t necessarily age well, but it knew what it was, namely brash and bold in its own certainty of itself. This film doesn’t quite hold to that charming confidence, but it does have some aspects that really do shine through.

This film starts off slow. Slow compared to the first film that is. I didn’t have that immediate sensation of dread like the first film with the alien spaceships invading right off the bat. Be that as it may it kind of makes sense now that this film’s universe has been dramatically altered from our own with the advancements that the alien technology has brought. Which while this is actually a pretty fun idea, it does separate the audience from the immersion that the first one had just by the very nature of the fact that aliens were invading our planet, this version of earth is very similar to ours, its just not quite ours. However once the invasion begins the film doesn’t really drop its pace which is both welcome and necessary in this sort of movie.

Lets get the easy stuff out of the way now. Jeff Goldblum is great here and is one of the best parts of the film, in fact he and the other returning characters from the first film help to instill that 90’s sense of fun that you’ve been looking for. Throughout the runtime Jeff Goldblum is having a great time and getting even weirder with his character, he’s a joy to watch onscreen again. However, the rest of the cast has some issues. Jesse Usher in particular was simply a poor shoe-in to replace the void left by Will Smith’s captain Steven Hiller. We all knew we’d feel the loss of his presence in the sequel, but when the character that is supposedly his son happens to not only be uncharismatic but also noticeably bad at acting, we notice that lack of charisma that much more. His lines aren’t exactly Oscar worthy to begin with but he doesn’t do much with what he’s given. Liam Hemsworth is serviceable here and does a fine job with his material but never really becomes a fan favorite, he’s just there to fly ships and shoot aliens, and he does a pretty good job at it. Judd Hirsch on the other hand.. he probably should have just been a cameo at best, his arc was the least essential by far and just distracted from the rest of the film. I have to take the time to mention Deobia Oparei’s character here, he’s an African warlord that hunted down aliens after a ship landed in central Africa during the first film. He’s got a little bit of that 90’s inspired characterization of what an African warlord would look like and act like, it wasn’t too overdone, but almost. Anyways, his inclusion was honestly pretty cool, his backstory of hunting down aliens and killing them with dual machetes would be one intense story, fan fiction anyone?

Then there’s Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner. Bill Pullman has an interesting arc here, but it never quite reaches the heights that you want it to. There is no fist pumping moment of rousing integrity and grit here.When the first film had that unbeatable speech it would assuredly be hard to top, but how they handled a certain moment in this film speaks to the unique issue that this film has. Bill Pullman’s former president Whitmore has a scene in a hangar where he begins to give a speech meant to inspire, and at first it does, but all of a sudden, it just ends. Wait.. why? His best line is also undercut by the sense that the film doesn’t know what to do with itself. Pullman’s Whitmore meets a giant alien face to face and proclaims “On behalf of the people of Earth, happy Fourth of July!” That line should have been exciting and quotable until the end of time, but the way the film handled it leaves the audience with a whimper when it should have easily been a bang!

This is a film where some actors and ideas are meshed within the world that the first film inhabited while the rest of the film and actors are in this new world where blockbusters are now grim and dour. Long gone are the quips of the past or that sense of fun. In fact Brent Spiner’s character, Dr. Brakish Okun, is the one that embodies the spirit of the first film the most! He was just a side character we all thought died in the first film, but he really nails the inherent cheese and knowing charm that is missed in the rest of this film. This is captured perfectly after he wakes from his twenty year coma and finds out we have integrated the alien technology and giddily exclaims, “We have alien guns now?!” with wide eyes and accompanying grin. The film would have benefited greatly by including more of that.

 

The things I enjoyed most in this film where some of the world building that came with the advancement of time and technology. The giant mothership clasping to Earth’s side like an enormous tic was just the right amount of ridiculous “The Ship is landing in the Atlantic ocean!” “Which part?” “All of it!” That, that’s just great, exactly the right amount of cheese for me personally. They also give a reason as to why the aliens are invading and the scale of their galactic threat. I personally quite enjoyed that there were reasons behind the alien’s actions now, I don’t believe the first film touched on that and I approve. There’s also a lot more alien action in this one, you see them up close and they have more of a physical threat in this installment. My absolute favorite moment of the entire film however was a quick nod to the White House moment from the first film. Of course they rebuilt the capitol building, and as soon as I saw it I expected something. Just know that it pays off in a short comedic beat. More charm like that and the film could have been much greater.

 

The film ends with a pretty direct tie in to another sequel and at this point I would see it. This installment didn’t do enough to tarnish the franchise for me and it got enough right that I found myself enjoying more than not. They just need to connect with the spirit of the original more than copycatting the more current blockbuster tropes.

Final Score: 3/5