Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Family Get-Together/Reunions

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies related to the week's topic and telling us about them!

I have a complicated relationship with my family. I love them, but I don't necessarily like being around them, particularly my extended family. I mean, they're nice, but they are so so different from me that we rarely have much to talk about. A few sentences updating each other on our lives and we're done. Commence another few hours of stuffing my face because I don't have anything more to say.

Although honestly, not many of the families in these films are much better...

This Is Where I Leave You (Shawn Levy, 2014) As unfortunately so often happens, the tricky, interesting tone of Jonathan Tropper's novel doesn't quite survive the transition from page to screen, despite one of the best casts in recent years. Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll, and Adam Driver return to their childhood home for their father's funeral. Naturally, their mother, Jane Fonda, wants them to do certain things and behave in a certain way and they don't quite want to listen. Hijinks ensue. I so wish this was better, although it's not bad.

August: Osage County (John Wells, 2014) Again, Tracty Letts's searing family dramedy doesn't quite survive the transfer from stage to screen, but here it's mostly the fault of the director John Wells, who doesn't really have a good feeling for staging, camera movement, or rhythm, all of which are of supreme importance to the material. Thankfully, the cast mostly makes up for this with tremendous performances: Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis are perfection as three sisters who  return to home after their father goes missing. Their mother (Meryl Streep in one of her more "actorly" performances) is a venemous dragon lady with cancer of the mouth (both literally and figuratively), and Margo Martindale is her sister who tries to smooth things over. Needless to say, things don't go well ("EAT YOUR FISH, BITCH!").

Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007) The best of this bunch, and - go figure - the only one not adapted from another source. Steve Carell is a lonely widower and syndicated newspaper columnist with three daughters who meets the perfect woman (Juliette Binoche, of course) at a bookstore on the way to the annual family get-together. Unfortunately for him, she shows up at the gathering, too, on the arm of his brother (Dane Cook, because.... really?!?!?). Will Dan gain the courage to stand up for himself and go after the woman of his dreams? Yeah, it's pretty predictable, but this is never less than enjoyable, and performances kick it up to great.

Death at a Funeral (Frank Oz, 2007/Neil LaBute, 2010) Go ahead, pick one: British with swoon-worthy Matthew McFadyen or American with raucous Chris Rock. They're both hysterically funny. and they both have everyone's favorite imp, Peter Dinklage, and terrifically funny stoned performances from Alan tudyk and James Marsden respectively.


  1. Death at a Funeral!!!!!!! Love them! I slightly prefer the British version, a combination of seeing it first (and stumbling upon it at that when the original film I went to see was sold out), being an Anglophile, loving Matthew MacFayden and Rupert Graves about equally and being hugely entertained by Alan Tudyk's performance as that poor sonofabitch Simon. Marsden was terrific in the second but he doesn't have the rubber faced grace of Tudyk. Both versions are hugely enjoyable though.

    Oooo a theme within the theme!! Love that! Agree that This is Where I Leave You didn't come together as well as it could have but I liked it and anything that gets Jane Fonda back in a sizable role is worth my time.

    I liked Dan in Real Life when I watched it but have barely any memory of it now.

    Osage County was a stinking pile with only one redeeming quality, Margo Martindale, as far as I'm concerned. Hate hated it, the whole time I was watching I kept thinking that Meryl's part should have been played by Jessica Lange. Though I could have seen Jane Fonda making it work too all I know is that for once Meryl was floundering.

    My first this week is not necessarily a family one but it is a reunion and I love it so I stretched a shade but all the others hew to the straight theme.

    The Last of Sheila (1973)-A year after his wife is, as one character so compassionately puts it, “bumped through the hedges” in a hit and run Hollywood director Clinton Green reunites, on his yacht in the Mediterranean, the group that was at his house party that night. A long time practical joker he insists they play a game where each is assigned a secret that the others must solve. Since the group is for the most part a bunch of opportunists and grabbers pleasantries are interwoven with insults but everything seems fine until a series of accidents start happening and the game turns deadly. Terrific puzzle of a picture with a sensational cast of stars from the seventies, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch and James Mason among them, was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Even the title is a clue!

    The Lion in Winter (1968)-It Christmas time 1183 and King Henry II has decided to let his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine out of her imprisonment for a family reunion with their three rapacious sons. At stake? The decision of succession and the fate of England. Acting fireworks provided by the whole cast but in particular Oscar winning work from Katharine Hepburn and should have been Oscar winning work by Peter O’Toole. When those two greats go head to head it’s wonderful to behold.

    Pocketful of Miracles (1961)-Apple Annie (Bette Davis) a boozy Broadway peddler during Prohibition is the good luck charm of gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) and his gang, including right hand man Joy Boy (Peter Falk) and moll Queenie (Hope Lange). Annie, who runs her own organization of the denizens of the street, has for years been corresponding with her daughter Louise (Ann-Margret)-growing up in a convent in Spain thinking that her mother is a frail society matron. One day Annie receives a letter from Louise. She’s fallen in love and is engaged to a young Spanish count…also she’s on her way to visit with fiancée and his father in tow. Annie goes on a drunken binge but the Dude and his gang step in to try and turn this rough duckling into a queenly swan and make her reunion with Louise a face saving dream. The Capra corn is pretty high in his last feature but this has a gossamer charm with delightful performances from the entire cast, Falk was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar.

    Honorable Mention-Crimes of the Heart (1986)-Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek play a trio of quirky Southern sisters who reunite when the youngest sister Babe shoots her husband. Part joyful reunion part hashing out of old resentments this film, based on Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play which she adapted, is stagy at times but wonderfully acted by the three leads.

    1. I, too, prefer the British Death at a Funeral just slightly, mostly because of Tudyk.

      The recasting possibilities are ENDLESS with August Osage County. I personally wanted Lange or Debra Winger or maybe Jane Fonda in the Violet role (or Estelle Parsons, who tore into the part on Broadway), and Laura Linney as Barbara. Julia Roberts was fine but Linney still is, as far as I'm concerned, the ONLY choice for the role. I agree Martindale was fantastic, and I thought Julianne Nicholson was great, too as the forgotten middle child. As was Juliette Lewis in a very atypical part for her. That said, I don't think Streep ruins the film. You can SEE her acting throughout the whole thing. It's not necessarily a BAD performance, but it is completely at odds with the very real world of the play/film.

      OH I can't believe I didn't think of Lion in Winter for this!!! Preposterously entertaining. That script! Hepburn just tears into the role - as far as I'm concerned it's her best performance. O'Toole also turns in one of his best performances and the young Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton as (the future King) Richard and his scandalous friend the French Prince respectively.

      And I ADORE Pocketful of Miracles. I know people are all about that OTHER Capra film this time of year, but this is the one I prefer. It's so sweet and fun, but never too much thanks to Davis's smart underplaying.

    2. I'm torn between this and Long Days Journey Into Night as Hepburn's best. So opposite, here she's in complete control of every situation and tearing everybody to shreds with her tongue and in Long Days so searingly lost and out of control. A unique portrayal in her gallery.

      So happy that you love Pocketful! SO much to enjoy in it and Falk has never been so endearing or funnier.

  2. I've only seen Dan in Real Life...and I kind of adore that movie. I mean, I don't like love it or care to watch it again or anything, but it was charming and likable and so easy to watch and much better than it's forgotten merits would cause you to believe.

    1. Yeah I've never seen it since that first viewing, but I often find it coming up in one context or another and I always remember it fondly.

  3. I, too, wish that This is Where I Leave You had been better. It just became very meh for me by the end. Dan in Real Life was a solid little movie. Didn't love it but remember liking it quite a bit. August: Osage County just didn't appeal to me. I just don't dig Julia Roberts for some reason. Streep is the shit though. I'll get to it eventually. Need to see both Death at Funeral versions. Great picks!

  4. The first two were okay, I wasn't crazy about them but they had good moments. I never saw Dan in Real Life. The Death at a Funeral remake was actually really good, I was not expecting to like it as much as I did.

    1. Totally feel the same as you about the first two. Good moments, not so good overall. You should see Dan in Real Life. I was totally expecting the Death at a Funeral remake to suck but I laughed my ass off all the way through! Totally on the same level as the original.

  5. Oh wow-I am slipping! I blame Christmas nutsy time. I love watching the trailers. I think Dan In Real Life is quite a good film ans shows Carrell at one of his finer moments. Osage County is quite good and I didn't mind Streep in this although must they nominate her every single time? I read Joel's comment and agree about Jessica Lange. OK I must see This is Where I Leave You and Death at a Funeral-both versions because they look great! I can see the style differences between the British version and American.

    1. What's amazing to me about Death at a Funeral is how different in style the two versions are, but they both still work! It proves that the material is undeniably solid. Agree that Dan in Real Life is one of Carell's best performances.

  6. I've been wanting to see Death at a Funeral but it's so hard to find locally.

    I rather like August: Osage County too; I think I've picked it before for one of the family topics.