All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

Producer: Houston King, Sam Bisbee and Sam Slater
Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Stars: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette and Sasha Lane
Studio: Gunpowder and Sky

C

Well, at least they aren’t named Partridge.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is Brett Haley’s follow-up to his two modest, and moderately successful, films about older characters, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (with Blythe Danner) and “The Hero” (with Sam Elliott). Danner takes a supporting role in this film, but it’s not nearly as effective as either of them.

The focus of the script, written by Haley and Marc Basch, is Frank (Nick Offerman), a widower who runs a store in Red Hook where used vinyl LPs seem the sole items on sale; it’s a business that, not surprisingly, is not a smashing success (especially since he sees no need to treat his few customers with much attention), putting him in danger of falling behind in paying the rent to his landlady Leslie (Toni Collette). She’s not pushy about it, though, even suggesting that she can help the shop by adding a coffee bar, but he’s resistant to the idea. It’s also obvious that she’s attracted to him, but he’s too proud even to ask her out.

Frank’s daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a bright girl at the point of leaving New York to study for a medical degree in California. She’s serious and studious, but also in the midst of a romance with Rose (Sasha Lane), whom she met at an art exhibit.

And Frank has another issue to deal with: his mother (Danner) has incipient dementia, and is periodically forgetting to pay for the items she picks up while out shopping. The police are sympathetic, but it’s clear he’s going to have to make new arrangements for her.

Despite all his troubles, Frank’s main preoccupation remains his love of music. He’s an aging wannabe who still harbors the childish dream of making it as a singer-songwriter, a dream that his friend Dave (Ted Danson), a bartender at a local water hole, suggests he might be wise to abandon.

Frank has long encouraged Sam to play keyboard to his guitar, and despite her protests that she has to study, she indulges him, and in one of their improvised sessions, they come up with the song that serves as the movie’s title. Frank posts it online as being performed by “We’re Not a Band,” and it takes off, eventually even garnering an offer of representation from a record executive. Frank cajoles Sam into collaborating on some additional songs, but when he suggests that she consider giving up, or at least postponing, her medical school plans to grab the chance at a career as his band partner, their very different dreams diverge.

To be honest, this is pretty thin cinematic gruel, and it certainly isn’t made any more palatable by the songs that have been newly fashioned by Keegan Dewitt, which have the blandly formulaic sound of most of today’s pop tunes—there’s so familiar they wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary Broadway musical. The notion that they would excite listeners in major numbers stretches credulity.

But the cast is agreeable. Offerman overdoes the laid-back ex-hippie bit somewhat, but he at least keeps Frank from becoming a strident stage dad, and Danson, whose character is identified as an erstwhile actor who gave up his aspirations to stardom, as he encourages Frank to do, complements him nicely. Clemons shows promise as the daughter who doesn’t want to disappoint her dad but won’t give up her own dreams, but Collette is stuck in thankless role, and the plot thread involving Danner doesn’t go anywhere. On the technical side, the movie is adequate, though its occasional use of musical montages is, as usual, a mistake, italicizing a lack of storytelling imagination.

Ultimately “Hearts Beat Loud” is a good-natured, inoffensive little movie, though it’s as instantly forgettable as the generic tunes its father and daughter compose together.

INCREDIBLES 2

Producer: John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Brad Bird
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Minter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, Bill Wise, John Ratzenberger and Barry Bostwick
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

B-

After moving to live-action fare with some success in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” but then flopping badly with “Tomorrowland,” writer-director Brad Bird has returned to his comfort zone—following the pattern that Alfred Hitchcock called “running for cover” whenever one of his pictures failed with moviegoers—by mounting a long-rumored sequel to his greatest hit, 2004’s “The Incredibles.” Though that movie wasn’t really one of Pixar’s best—it was pretty much a standard-issue superhero spoof, though with splendid visuals—it was a smash, so a return to it must have seemed a Bird sanctuary.

Though separated from its predecessor by nearly a decade-and-a-half, “Incredibles 2” takes up shortly after the original left off, and with one exception the central voice cast remains the same. Once again the animation is spectacular, but on a narrative level the picture treads an all-too-familiar path, not just in its action trajectory but in terms of present-day bromides about girl power and family dynamics.

The clan—Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Watson), his wife Helen, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox)—are supposed, like other superheroes, to refrain from using their powers and lead quiet lives. But when their old nemesis Underminer (John Ratzenberger) reappears, they spring into action. Though they prevent him from robbing a bank, the level of collateral damage brings further governmental restrictions, even compelling the family’s handler Dicker (Jonathan Banks) to close down his limited program entirely.

Fortunately the superhero cause is taken up by wealthy mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who propose that Elastigirl come out of hiding to become the city’s protector. While she’s away, Bob will be a stay-at-home dad. As such he has to contend with Dash’s desire to go super. More importantly, he’s confronted by Violet’s anger over Dicker’s using his amnesia machine on Tony (Michael Bird), the boy she likes, who saw her in super-action but now doesn’t even recall knowing her, and the emergence of unpredictable powers in the Parr infant, Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). The pressure eventually convinces him to leave the baby with Edna Mole (Bird), who quickly rejoices in the opportunity to train him.

Meanwhile Elastigirl is forced to deal with a powerful new villain, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), who uses radio waves to hypnotize and control people through what they watch. Eventually she, Bob and a bevy of other superheroes—including the family’s closest friend Lucius Best, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson)—fall under his spell, and it’s up to the kids to mount a rescue. Can they free their parents from his control and save the world? Let’s just say it seems likely.

The action-adventure portion of “Incredibles 2” is, quite frankly, trite stuff, not unlike the sort of thing you’d find in live-action/CGI examples of the genre. A runaway train sequence, for instance, might put you in mind of the one from “Spider-Man 2,” or even more recent flicks like the last “Maze Runner” movie or even “Solo.” It, along with the other action sequences, are well enough done, but the only thing that distinguishes them is that, being animated, they don’t look phony in quite the same way as the artificially-enhanced ones in the supposedly live-action movies of this type.

Those sequences, moreover, don’t contain much humor, nor does the “who’s the villain?” material afford much surprise; even a child will probably figure out the identity of the ultimate bad-guy before it’s revealed. Most of the fun comes from the domestic part of the script. The “bachelor father” theme might have sitcom roots, but Bird and company manage to use it to some good comedic effect, especially in terms of Jack-Jack’s antics, while the Violet-Tony subplot adds a touch of teen romance, nicely handled. And, of course, everyone is bound to enjoy the reappearance of Edna, the wittiest aspect of the first installment, who certainly makes the most of her relatively brief scenes here.

Among animated superhero spoofs, “The Lego Batman Movie” certainly exhibits greater imagination and pizzazz than either of the “Incredibles” movies. But they have more heart, which probably explains why they are so popular. This sequel can’t match the first, but it’s good enough to make folks forget “Tomorrowland” and give Bird the chance to take a greater risk next time around.