DOWNTOWN – Of the half-dozen films Third Coast Review takes a look at this week, only a couple appear to be worth the price of a ticket (and popcorn, and candy and drinks and…). Dan Fogelman, creator of the tear-jerker (and some might say emotionally manipulative) NBC hit television show “This Is Us” tries to hit the same notes in Life Itself, to disastrous effect, while Eli Roth, best known for intense, gruesome horror films like Hostel and Death Wish, ratchets down his brand of scary for a family friendly, if uneven, The House With a Clock in Its Walls.
Documentaries save the week, as a thoughtful, fond look back at the career and life of comedian Gilda Radner proves thoroughly enjoyable to anyone with even a passing interest in the history of American comedy, and Michael Moore lends his bombastic, stunt-driven style of filmmaking to Fahrenheit 11/9, exploring the confluence of events and policies that brought us the current administration.
3100, Run and Become (Steve Prokopy)
It’s easy to be impressed by someone who completes, or even runs, a traditional marathon. Now try to imagine running one that is 3,100 miles long and takes more than 50 days to complete. As impossible as that may sound, add to that the fact that those competing are doing so around one square block (approximately a half-mile once around) in Jamaica, Queens, New York, requiring them to cover nearly 60 miles per day on average. They can run at whatever pace they want, take breaks, eat drink, nap, but most are in such total control of their bodies that they have to be forced to stop for any reason by those tracking their progress.
A Happening of Monumental Proportions
The title of this film betrays its true nature, but the fact that A Happening of Monumental Proportions marks the directing debut of actress Judy Greer is something to celebrate. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast, this low-key comedy gets by on a whole lot of charm even when it’s somewhat lacking in actual story.
Written by Gary Lundy, the movie follows a crew of characters, most of whom work at, have kids attending, or otherwise have business at the same school. The films opens with the discovery of the dead body of a janitor, whose body must be hastily removed by some administrators before the school opens and Career Day begins.
If you’ve been paying any kind of attention to advance reviews on this film, then you know that it’s one of the worst-reviewed movies of 2018—and deservedly so. Writer/director Dan Fogelman is the creator of NBC’s “This Is Us,” as well as a credited writer of such films as Cars, Tangled, and Crazy Stupid Love, all wonderful movies. His only other film as a director is Danny Collins, starring Al Pacino, which is a mixed bag of a comedy-drama, but I still found things to enjoy about it.
I’ve never seen “This Is Us,” but like that show, his new film Life Itself is a time-jumping, emotional journey that is meant to find power in big reveals (most of them tragic in nature) and impossible coincidences that are supposed to make us believe that something out there is guiding our fate, because we’re so important.
The latest from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9 (the date refers to the day in 2016 when we all learned that Donald Trump would be America’s next president and that polls don’t mean shit), works as much because it gives us both exactly what we’ve come to expect from Moore as well as a few key surprises that elevate the film to something more than a handful of gotcha moments and funny jokes. Probably the most shocking thing about the film is that Trump doesn’t play a major part in the narratives being told. Instead, he’s treated more as the end result of a traceable trend of behaviors and political shifts that Moore sees going back to the Clinton years; he’s more interested in the path to the current president than the man himself.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls
The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a very bad title for a movie. The unfortunate tagline—”This house knows what makes you tick.”—is even worse.
Fortunately, the film to which both the title and tagline do a disservice is actually an entertaining if slightly uneven adaptation of John Bellairs’s 1973 mystery novel, brought to the screen by an acting and directing team that deliver just about to expectations (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
Love, Gilda, a documentary about the life and way-too-early death of “Saturday Night Live” cast member Gilda Radner, is almost too easy a subject to make a film about. Naturally, anyone with an interest in the show, the history of American comedy, the early days of Second City or a peak into Gilda’s private life (shared with husband Gene Wilder) will appreciate this one.
And while Love, Gilda gives insight into all of those things, it also leaves a few gaps that were probably necessary to get her family’s approval of and cooperation for the movie. Still, the details are tremendous, especially the impressive amount of archival video and audio on Radner, including her earliest years in sketch comedy and her time with a Toronto comedy troupe that included pretty much the entire cast of SCTV, including her on again/off again boyfriend Martin Short.
This weekend film guide was created by Third Coast Review, which has been bringing Chicago news, previews and reviews about theater, film, music, visual arts, books, food, museums and beyond since January 2016.