Monday, April 1, 2013

Hello Celest(e)ial Robots!

     Today we shall be offering up DVD reviews for the most unlikely buddy/caper film in recent memory, and two odd romantic comedies about divorce.  Sounds cheerful, right?  Diving on in...

  Celeste and Jesse Forever - First it was Jonah Hill in Moneyball.  Then it was Seth Rogan in Take This Waltz.  Now it's Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever.  One by one, this new generation of goof-ball comedians that I had (apparently unfairly) written off as total clowns are going to pull Bill Murrays and demonstrate that they are perfectly capable of handling roles with a little more dramatic meat to them.  What's more, they all manage to still be funny (FUNNIER, to my tastes) while doing it.  I was highly impressed by Mr. Samberg's performance as Jesse which is refined, reserved, and sincere.
     There is a reason, however, that Celeste's name comes first.  Rashida Jones's performance in this film could actually be a Froggy contender.  The actress also wrote the screen play in collaboration with Will McCormack (who also appears in "Celeste") and I can't help but think that there is some auto-biographical element at play here.  The story is such a highly insightful look at a couple who is divorcing but trying to remain friends, that it makes me think that at least one of the minds behind it must have some experience in this arena.  Regardless, it is a remarkable first effort for the young screen writers.
     The film is directed by Lee Tolland Krieger, whose previous works (The Vicious Kind, December Ends) I have not seen.  It is certain that he got some nicely nuanced performances out of a cast of actors much more well known for far broader comedy fare.  I'm going a little against the critical grain on this, but I really liked Celeste and Jesse Forever...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Hello, I Must Be Going - I am unfamiliar with the previous works of director Todd Louiso and this is the first script from actress Sarah Koskoff so I cannot really compare this film to other points in their careers but Hello, I Must Be Going (a Marx Brothers reference that I didn't get) left me a little bit cold.  To be fair, I did watch it right after Celeste & Jesse and it may have suffered mostly by comparison.  We've seen this sort of inappropriate age difference romance that begins in a moment of weakness before, but this one is a little morally ambiguous.  It could read as a reflection on how love should be embraced, no matter how unlikely the source but I'm not sure I'm quite ready to buy into the ending (which I won't give away, put your eyes back on the page).
     What DOES make this film worth watching (once, anyway) is Melanie Lynsky in the lead role of Amy.  Trust me, you've seen this actress in numerous supporting roles (Ever After, Up in the Air, Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc.), but we've rarely gotten an opportunity to see her leading a film.  She does so marvelously, with a sort of slovenly elegance that is uniquely her own.  While I'm still not CRAZY about the material here, she pulls the best out of every line she utters and every scene she steals.
     The film is also elevated somewhat by the supporting performances, particularly Blythe Danner (who I just love) playing Amy's mom.  There is something about this woman's voice that sends every syllable straight into your brain like a scalpel.  No one plays cloying mother better, and her break downs are worth the price of admission.  John Rubinstein is reliably capable as Amy's dad, if a bit overshadowed by his onscreen spouse.  Relative newcomer Christopher Abbott (the inappropriately young love interest) also does a fine job.  He possesses a great deal of screen charisma and I am interested to see how, when, and if his career takes off.  I'm guessing it will.
     Like I said, there is some great acting here, but I found the story to be somewhat unremarkable and a little bit uncomfortable in a way that I'm not entirely sure was intentional...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Robot and Frank - This, the debut feature (lots of creative debuts in this post) from director Jake Schreier is sure to land the young film maker a slot on The Froggy's (or Best of 2012 series...coming soon) list of first time directors this year.  Quite "Frank"ly I loved this picture and it was one of the happiest surprises I've gotten from a movie in quite some time.
     I don't know why I didn't expect more going in, honestly.  Frank Langella is always stellar.  Susan Sarandan is one of the best actresses working and seems to be in a minor career upswing at the moment.  Neither disappoint at all.  Liv Tyler turns in her best post-Altman work to date, and James Marsden holds his own capably beside the two living legends who lead the cast.  Oh, and let's not forget Peter Sarsgaard's voice work as the Robot.  Without his ability to portray the character with so much human and inhuman quality the picture would never have worked. 
     I guess I just expected a flick about the frustrations of getting old and not being able to do things for yourself.  I sympathize with the theme, but it has been covered in cinema often enough and well enough that I require some unique and original elements to really grab my attention.  The Robot & Frank script (by writer Christopher D. Ford) has them in spades.  It was a film about friendship and acceptance.  It was also a film about the way that technology is changing the world that we live in.  I would have given this a five star grade if not for the fact that the big plot twist is taken almost verbatim from an even SMALLER indie pic called Lovely, Still from a couple of years ago.  Robot & Frank handled said twist with a lot more panache, so I won't judge it TOO harshly. Oh, and watch the closing credits.  They tell a story all their own...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: Jiro Waltzes With Vampires (Take This Waltz review), Perks of Being Samsara's Impostor (Perks of Being a Wallflower review)


  1. Thanks, Kieron! I try...sometimes too hard...I'm working on it. Robot & Frank was one of the happiest surprises of the year for me. It's also going to fit well into my Running Themes article on Aging (along with Amore, Marigold Hotel, A Simple Life, This Is 40 and others) coming soon to TheMovieFrog!!!!

  2. Ooh that sounds interesting! I look forward to it!
    Agree too that R&F was a total surprise - I saw it at random and didn't know what to expect but huge fan now.

  3. The series is going to be a heavy focus in May (helping to bridge the post-Oscar gap where most of the new DVD releases were things I reviewed when they were in theater). Believe it or not, I've shuffled all my 4, 4 1/2 & 5 star rated films from the last year into ten groups. The first is actually going to be called Genius vs. Insanity. Main courses are 5 star rated Silver Linings & Perk of Being a Wallflower. Early May.