Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer, Pam Grier, Jon Seda, Nia Vardalos, Ian Gomez (Directed by Tom Hanks; Written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos; Universal Pictures)
Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts clicked as a team in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Sharp, earthy and intimately in sync, they were strictly star stuff. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Mike Nichols on the scene working his directorial wizardry on Aaron Sorkin’s artfully textured screenplay.
Will history repeat itself in “Larry Crowne,” the new Tom & Julia pairing? Maybe, but it doesn’t sound like a slam-dunk to me. This time, in place of Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin, we’re getting Tom Hanks and Tom Hanks. That’s right, the Oscar-winning actor has directed his own big-screen scenario for the first time since “That Thing You Do!,” a feeble, out-of-tune 1996 flick in which he played the manager of a band of post-juvenile musicians.
So who is this Larry Crowne and what does he want? He’s a middle-aged victim of the epidemic known as downsizing, and what he wants is a job. Three things stand in Larry’s way to prosperous employment: the trend in his godforsaken community is firing, not hiring; he’s middle-aged, going on senior citizenship; and he has no special skills. Yet he is not a total loser, as evidenced by his shrewd decision to enroll in a local college, where he plans to soak up the smarts that will morph him into a Very Irreplaceable Person.
Naturally, he becomes a big man on campus, especially with the lunatic fringe, and he even manages to snuggle up and do some A+ homework with his public-speaking prof. Happily, she’s the brilliant, ravishing Julia Roberts, the teacher who has everything. Including a husband! Don’t be surprised, however, if her hubby flunks out.
Did I forget to mention that Tom Hanks did not concoct this daring, social-notworking tale all by himself? He got by with the help of an old friend—writer/actress Nia Vardalos. You may recall that Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, served as producers on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Vardalos’s wildly popular, screamingly unfunny 2002 comedy. (I still think of it as a Greek tragedy.) For the record, Nia’s husband, Ian Gomez, is also in “Larry Crowne.” What role does he play? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet that he has at least one scene with Nia. –Guy Flatley Now Playing Hey, was that a bomb I heard going off outside of the box office on opening day? It certainly was!
Directed by James Marsh; BBC Films, Passion Pictures, Roadside Attractions
Why can’t we teach our chimpanzees how to speak? Well, that’s a no-brainer. The mastery of grammar and diction and the structuring of a fancy vocabulary are obviously beyond the reach of a chimp. Still, with intensive human help, couldn’t this primate charmer at least master sign language and eventually learn to ape the way human beings think and act and communicate with one another?
That was a possibility Herb Terrace, a Columbia University professor, set out to explore back in the early seventies. And for more than 25 years, Terrace--a natural-born hustler--and his revolving battery of pot-smoking, sexually adventurous female assistants toiled in and out of the lab to do a radical makeover on a spirited scamp named Nim Chimpsky. The results of the experiment, which turned out be both more and less than the self-promoting professor anticipated, are scrutinized here in astonishing depth by James Marsh, whose “Man on Wire” won the Oscar for best documentary of 2008.
I urge you to rush out and see this extraordinary film, but let me first caution you not to expect a comical, fuzzy-warm Disneyesque fable. Steel yourself instead for the obscenely inhumane treatment of a defenseless animal--a newborn chimp stolen from his shrieking mother by a wealthy New York airhead who had been sent to a remote region of Oklahoma on this mission by her occasional lover, Columbia University pseudo-science prof Herb Terrace. For a while, Nim is pampered like a prince in a Manhattan brownstone by Terrace's lady friend, her hippie-poet hubby and their children, as well as on the college campus (where the chimp is subjected to bogus sign-language lessons). He is also incited to extreme violence, a situation that results in a grotesque attack on one of his "teachers." It is at this point that Professor Terrace, fearing a major scandal and a likely loss of income, scraps Project Nim and unceremoniously dumps the chimp back in Oklahoma.
Before long, in a sequence of events so harrowing that you may feel compelled to close your eyes and press your fingers to your ears, Nim is seized and bound and electrically jolted into an experimental medical program, ostensibly for the purpose of controlling disease among the human population. It saddens me to say that this lengthy, brutal endeavor carried the seal of approval from New York University! So much for the connection between higher education and benevolent science.
And, yes, still more horrors are visited upon Nim, who should never, ever have been taken from his mother. But not all men are beasts; there was one true hero who managed to extend the gift of freedom to the chimp before his peaceful death at the age of 26. In a sense, Nim died a champ. Need I name the academic who is this story's biggest chump? –Guy Flatley Now Playing
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Julie Walters, Ciaran Hinds, Timothy Spall, Bonnie Wright, Kelly Macdonald (Directed by David Yates; Written by Steve Kloves; Warner Brothers)
All good things, even spectacularly commercial things, must come to an end one day, and if we are to believe the poster above, this particular franchise reached the end of the line July 15, 2011. What’s more, it has been hinted that Harry Potter himself will end with a bang, one delivered by Lord Voldemort himself.
Yet, if you are just the least bit cynical, you can easily imagine that the resilient Harry will resurface in a brand new installment, young and vigorous as ever, in the great cinematic hereafter, just the way Brad Pitt, Sean Pitt and the rest of the harried time travelers did in “The Tree of Life.” --Guy Flatley Now Playing
Written and directed by Errol Morris; Moxie Pictures; Sundance Selects
Errol Morris’s latest documentary is a whopper of a tragicomedy—uproarious, raunchy, surreal, outrageous and, in the end, seriously heartbreaking. Not at all what you might expect from the passionate documentarian responsible for “The Fog of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure.”
Nobody in “Tabloid” gets tortured or blown up. But somebody does get manacled and seduced. And you can be sure that the somebody is not Joyce McKinney, the baby-doll blonde Beauty Pageant queen from North Carolina who moved to Utah and instantly fell obsessively, incurably in love with Kirk Anderson, a tall, dark and virginal Mormon.
It is apparent in “Tabloid” that Joyce is now a senior. But, as illustrated in her intimate chats with Morris, she is still earthily articulate, laugh-out-loud funny and blessed (sometimes cursed) with total recall. And there is plenty to recall, most of it revolving around Kirk, the professional virgin.
According to Joyce, Kirk declared his love for her on their first date and proposed to her soon after. For a while, they shared a little dream house, but not a bed. Then, one day Joyce came home and found many of Kirk’s belongings, but she didn’t find Kirk. The slippery dodger had vanished without so much as a bye-bye, baby to the shattered but unswervingly infatuated Joyce.
What to do? For Joyce, the answer was easy. Hire a private detective and a bodyguard to help her catch Kirk. (The sequence showing hunks-in-briefs auditioning for the bodyguard gig are enough to make Anthony Weiner throw in the towel.) Eventually, Joyce hires a pilot to fly her and other wannabe Kirk catchers to East Ewell, Surrey, where her runaway, wrong-way paramour is about to become a bona fide Mormon missionary. How, you may wonder, does born-poor Joyce finance her little game of search and deflower? Don’t bother to ask unless you are eager to rummage through nasty rumors about call girls, paid escorts, and bondage models.
Kidnapping Kirk in East Ewell proved to be a breeze, and Joyce and her cohorts whisked him off to a swell cottage in Devon, where Joyce cuffed poor, pure Kirk to a king-sized bed and robbed the rogue of his precious virginity. Joyce has always claimed that for Kirk, the belated consummation was a case of goodbye chastity, hello lust. She says he even surrendered his sacred undies to her and looked on approvingly as she put a match to them (this is not a movie I’d recommend to Mitt Romney). So gung-ho was Kirk about his future with Joyce that he promised to buy a ring and finally make her an honest woman.
Which is why she was startled a few days later when they arrived in London and she was arrested by the bobbies, hauled into court, accused of rape by the-once-again-unavailable Kirk, and sent to the slammer, whereby she became the hottest, most scandalous, most photographed and written about sex goddess of London’s swinging seventies. To this day, she still boils and bubbles and bellyaches about the manner in which she feels she was smeared by the bloody, lying, cheating, blistering, thieving, conniving, vicious British tabloid reporters, a couple of whom are interviewed to colorful effect in “Tabloid” about their coverage of Joyce’s brush with fame and misfortune, British style.
Oddly enough, Morris seems to admire these reporters and has in fact always been hooked on the tabloids. But probably not as hooked as he is currently on Joyce McKinney. Which makes me wonder: Could a performer win an Oscar for playing herself on film? If so, newcomer Joyce has my vote. –Guy Flatley Now Playing
Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene, Katarina Cas (Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh; Sony Pictures Classics)
They are an odd-going-on-bizarre couple. One, played by Brendan Gleeson, is a sloppy, alcoholic, obscenity-spewing, hooker-cuddling, bigoted Irish cop; the other, played by Don Cheadle, is a dapper, cerebral, disciplined, articulate, occasionally clueless African-American F.B.I. agent. Together—though seldom in harmony—they do their best to track down three sinister thugs who have smuggled a half-billion dollars worth of drugs into Ireland and murdered a rookie policeman in the process.The question is, can this not-quite-A-Team achieve its goal, remain alive, and perhaps begin a beautiful friendship?
If film festival acclaim is a reliable barometer, this comic thriller could be a real crowd pleaser, since it was big at Sundance, Tribeca, Los Angeles and Berlin. “The Guard” was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of playwright Martin McDonagh, who wrote “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “A Behanding in Spokane” and made his debut as a feature film screenwriter and director with “In Bruges,” starring Brendan Gleeson. A special bonus: The incandescent Fionnula Flanagan plays Gleeson’s Irish-to-the-core old mum in “The Guard." --Guy Flatley Opens 7/29