Tag Archives: Susan Sarandon

Sex, Truth and Videotape

Ride the Eagle

by George Wolf

Small casts working on limited sets with wide open spaces. We’ve seen plenty of these films lately, and we’ll see plenty more. Because even under pandemic rules, creators adjust and create.

Director/co-writer Trent O’Donnell and star/co-writer Jake Johnson adjusted to the tune of Ride the Eagle, a lightly sweet lesson in living your best life while you still can.

Johnson is Leif, a harmless California stoner who plays bongos (oh, sorry, “percussion”) in a band called Restaurant. Leif’s been estranged from his mom Honey (Susan Sarandon, in a role that seems tailored to her) since she left to join a cult when he was 12.

But now, Honey’s dead, and she’s left behind a couple things especially for Leif. The first is her sweet mountain cabin up near Yosemite, which he can take possession of only if he pays close attention to the other thing Mom left.

It’s a VHS tape, filled with a to-do list that comprises Leif’s “conditional inheritance.”

“Is this legal?” Apparently, it is.

And luckily, Mom’s VHS player isn’t dead. So Leif dutifully goes about the tasks that Honey hopes will teach him things she regretfully did not: express yourself, eat what you kill, call the one that got away.

Sarandon’s on tape, and ex Audrey (a charmingly flirty D’Arcy Carden) is on phone and text, so this is nearly a Johnson one man show. Good thing he’s in his likable comfort zone, using his talks with dog Nora as an endearingly organic way to both inform and crack wise.

It’s all perfectly warm and amusing, but in need of precisely the jolt delivered by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as Carl, Honey’s ex-lover who’s not shy about detailing their love life.

“That’s probably not what her son wants to hear, I guess.”

No probably not, but we do. Simmons’s cameo punctures the bubble by putting two humans in the same room to reflect on the passing of another human. It’s funny and it’s fuzzy and it goes a long way toward making sure these ruminations on forgiveness and regret actually resonate.

The Honey do list isn’t preaching anything new, but Johnson and O’Donnell never pretend that it is. Ride the Eagle is a casual, come as you are and wherever you are affair, like some comfort food two guys thought was worth another serving during a worldwide crisis.

And they’re not wrong. Some golden rules are always worth a rewind, even on VHS.

Ride the Eagle comes to theaters, VOD and digital July 30th

Family Matters

Blackbird

by Darren Tilby

Based on his own Danish-language film Silent Heart, writer Christian Torpe partners with director Roger Michell for the Anglo-American remake, Blackbird. You likely know the story already: an ailing matriarch invites her fractured family around to stay for one last weekend of joy and festivities before she plans to end her life through euthanasia. But, as is so often the case in films like this, everyone’s a long way from even pretending to play happy family.

Susan Sarandon stars as Lily, the head of the family unit. Sam Neill puts in a career-high as Paul, Lily’s husband, who proceeds with a stoic, removed air about his wife’s illness and impending self-death.

Kate Winslet’s Jennifer is the first to arrive, early, along with husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Johnathan (Anson Boon). Straight-laced and proud, Jennifer is the polar opposite of her younger sister, Anna (Mia Wasikowska); a flighty young woman who traipses in late, “looking like shit,” with girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) in tow.

Completing the family unit is Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s oldest and dearest friend.

As you can probably tell, the film’s main attraction is its star-studded cast. A sea of riveting performances is what awaits us and Torpe’s well-written, character-establishing (and building) dialogue make these people come alive and feel genuine—even if some of their actions don’t. Indeed, Michell relies heavily on the strength of his actors to deliver the emotional clout the movie promises. There’s no denying the cast is up to the task, although other aspects of the film feeling like an afterthought.

The plot mechanics are hackneyed and unoriginal, while Peter Gregson’s score feels generic and uninspired. Mike Ely’s crystalline visuals, though, are an absolute delight, and effortlessly reflect the beauty and tragedy of both life and death.

It’s unoriginal, and it’s certainly not perfect, but this is a beautiful piece of filmmaking about the celebration of life, love and family, rather than the sadness of death and loss. And it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.

Susan and the Snakes

Viper Club

by Rachel Willis

After a freelance journalist is kidnapped in Syria, his mother tries numerous avenues to get him home. With Viper Club, director Maryam Keshavarz seeks to draw attention to the plight of kidnapped journalists and aid workers around the world.

When we’re first introduced to Helen (Susan Sarandon), we learn quickly that her son, Andy (Julian Morris), was kidnapped more than two months prior by a terrorist organization. At the direction of the FBI and US State Department, Helen has had to maintain silence regarding her son’s plight. No one in her life knows the anguish and fear she carries on a daily basis as she waits for someone to rescue her son.

It’s clear that her faith in the US government has waned in the months since her son disappeared. When ransom demands arrive, Helen expects an immediate response. What she gets is the runaround from the FBI.

Susan Sarandon is nearly always impeccable, and her performance here is no exception. She ably conveys the frustration and distress of a mother incapable of saving her son. When the government fails to act, she decides to reach out to a network of people (the titular Viper Club) willing to negotiate her son’s release.

Aside from Sarandon’s convincing performance, the rest of the cast can’t seem to muster the energy to care. It’s not hard to see why. The supporting characters are shallow. The focus is rooted so completely on Helen’s plight that it’s strange the film introduces so many additional characters.

Flashbacks in the film attempt to humanize Andy, but strangely, we only get to see him as an adult or a ten-year-old boy. It’s as if no other period in his life made an impression on his mother, as the memories are filtered to the audience from her perspective. The impact would have been greater if we’d seen more of what led to Andy’s final trip to Syria and been spared the sentimental moments from his childhood.

It’s hard to root out the point of Viper Club. In trying to avoid the murky politics surrounding the negotiation for the release of kidnapped Americans, Keshavarz sends an equally murky message. In not addressing the deeper implications of Helen’s actions, the movie misses an opportunity to address the plight of journalists working in dangerous situations. The film skirts a number of issues, and in the end, doesn’t say much of anything.





Those Aren’t Sugar Plums

A Bad Mom’s Christmas

by George Wolf

“Okay, fine, we’ll go caroling, but I’m not wearing that ridiculous costume.”

Man, what a setup. When we see her wearing that ridiculous costume two seconds later it’s really, really…not funny at all, much like the other 103 minutes of A Bad Mom’s Christmas.

The original Bad Moms might have been completely superficial and a champion of equal rights for cliched, underwritten male characters, but at least it managed some chuckles from three talented leading ladies.

And beyond all that, it was a box office smash, so the moms are back to do Christmas this year, mainly against their will.

Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are tired of being overworked and under appreciated every Holiday season, so they make an oath to “take Christmas back” and just chill this year.

But they’re barely done giving lap dances to a mall Santa when they all get visits from more easily identifiable cliches, gift-wrapped as their own mothers! What the?

Amy’s mom(Christine Baranski) is the demanding perfectionist, Kiki’s (Cheryl Hines) the stage five clinger and Carla’s (Susan Sarandon) is the party hound. All three are here to make their daughters feel overworked and under appreciated, at least until everybody learns something today.

Writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover trilogy) return from the first film to surround even more talented ladies with lazy, condescending attempts at comedy and female bonding.

The obvious gags rarely rise above the level of women talking dirty and little kids dropping F-bombs. Sure, that can be funny, but not when the women and kids are the only reasons it’s supposed to be funny.

Like the bedroom of Amy’s teen daughter that bears two-too-many “I love soccer” banners, Lucas and Moore are desperately trying to not only show they can write funny women but also that they are finely tuned to what makes women feel fulfilled as mothers and daughters.

A Bad Mom’s Christmas is contrived and forced at every turn, and by the time a mother/daughter heart to heart disrupts Midnight Mass while the congregation never takes one eyeball off the choir, a gift receipt is in order.





In Like Flynn

The Last of Robin Hood

by Hope Madden

Errol Flynn was a bad dude, but charming and rich enough to get away with it. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s accounting of his scandalous last days, The Last of Robin Hood, sidesteps the tawdry details and tries to shed some light on how it all could have happened.

For the unenlightened, Flynn is best known for his Hollywood swashbuckling films of the 30s and 40s and just slightly less known for his wicked ways. He died at 50 in the arms of his teenaged lover, whose mother was later charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for her involvement in the affair.

The film avoids lurid antics, mercifully, and treats young Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) with respect throughout. Fanning’s performance is an understated wonder, animating a person who accepted people at face value, refused to be a victim, and managed to respect herself though everyone else saw her as a lovable pawn.

Equally wonderful is Susan Sarandon as Beverly’s scheming mother. Layered with desperation, naiveté, cynicism and star-struck gullibility, the performance reminds you of just how talented the veteran is.

As Flynn, Kevin Kline looks surprisingly like the old swashbuckler, but his performance skirts caricature. Worse still, though he certainly manages to showcase Flynn’s charisma and oily charm, he isn’t able to find the ugliness inside. His performance is too generous, which is the film’s greatest weakness. Glazer and Westmoreland seem to hold all involved relatively blameless. For that reason, their film has no teeth.

It’s a curious approach, partly because of the way Lolita – both the book and Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film – is worked into the narrative. It would appear that Flynn recognized the similarities between his situation and that of Nabakov’s lead. While many would use this fact as an avenue into Flynn’s twisted perception, the film and Kline convey it as almost sadly self congratulatory. The tone is of melancholy rather than repulsion, or even indignation.

Perhaps the filmmakers saw no real villainy in a story where a mother passes her 15-year-old daughter off as 18 and a lecherous old perv takes advantage of the situation. There are certainly those who believe Nabakov dismissed the repugnant behavior of his character. But perhaps Nabakov had faith in a reader who could recognize an unreliable narrator, and he used that device to explore the mind of a predator who can barely recognize his own criminality.

The Last of Robin Hood could have benefitted from the same wry, weary wisdom. Instead, it chooses to point its finger nowhere in particular, leaving us with a villainless tale of a by-gone era where things were less wholesome than we’d imagined.

Verdict-2-5-Stars