Tag Archives: C-

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

Producer: Leslie Morgenstein and Elysa Koplovitz Dutton
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Writer: Tracy Oliver
Stars: Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo, Jake Choi, Keong Sim, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cathy Shim and Miriam A. Hyman
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

C-

What might “Brief Encounter” look like if rewritten for the YA crowd? An answer is provided by Ry Russo-Young’s “The Sun Is Also A Star,” adapted from a book by Nicola Yoon, whose “Everything, Everything” made for a slushy weepie a couple of years ago. (One wonders whether Yoon chose the title to make people think of “The Fault In Our Stars,” hoping to piggy-back on one of the genre’s biggest hits.)

The plot of what’s for the most part a two-hander is awfully thin. Natasha (Yara Shahidi) is an undocumented young Jamaican scheduled, along with her parents (Gbenga Akinnagabe and Miriam A. Hyman) and younger brother, to be deported the very next day. She intends to make a final plea with the immigration service, but all a sympathetic worker there can do is to refer her to a lawyer friend (revealed in time as John Leguizamo).

Meanwhile Korean-American Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) is being pressured by his parents (Keong Sim and Cathy Shim) to go to Dartmouth and become a doctor, though he wants only to be a poet. He’s scheduled to meet with an alumnus for an interview.

The two strangers are joined after both wind up at Grand Central Station, where Daniel, who’s been people-watching from the rafters with his buddy Omar (Camrus Johnson), is struck by the fact that she’s wearing a jacket with the words “Deus Ex Machina” on it, a phrase he’d been toying with earlier in the morning. A complete romantic, he takes this as a sign they’re destined to be together, and after he saves her from being run over by a speeding car that has just forced an unlucky bicyclist off the road (keep that in mind for inclusion among the movie’s catalogue of coincidences), indicates as much.

But Natasha, a science-loving rationalist who loves studying the constellations (her hero is Carl Sagan), dismisses Daniel’s emotional dream as ludicrous; she thinks that love is nonsense, since its existence can’t be scientifically proven. Still, since they both have time to kill before their appointments, they agree to spend some of it together, Daniel arguing that he can get her to fall in love with him over the course of the day and Natasha scoffing at the idea. Who do you suppose will turn out to be right?

Their adventure mostly involves walking around the city—a lot of the running-time is devoted to woozily-rendered establishing montages of neighborhoods and tourist sites—though they do take the opportunity to stop off at a planetarium and what appears to be a private karaoke room (during which Russo-Young inserts a dreamy “what if?” montage of their married life together), and have a brief snuggle. They also visit Daniel’s dad and his surly older brother Charlie (Jake Choi) at the family shop—which sells black hair products, of all things (triggering what amounts to a documentary-style history lesson on how Koreans have come to dominate the wig trade!). As if to balance things, there will also be a scene with Natasha’s parents.

Without spoiling things overmuch, suffice it to say that matters wind up in that lawyer’s office, thanks to yet another coincidence. But the movie isn’t satisfied with that: it adds a postscript that piles another absurdity on what we’re already witnessed.

Shahidi and Melton are, of course, extremely attractive young people whose appearance will probably make the tween hearts in the audience beat faster. They’re not terribly good actors, posing more than performing, but that won’t really be a concern to the target viewers. Nobody else matters much, with even Leguizamo looking ill-at-ease; but Choi stands out for his truly abrasive turn. It’s not his fault, though; as written Charlie is such an odd character, not just jealous of his brother but positively nasty toward him (until he isn’t, of course), that he seems to have come from another movie.

The other major character in “The Sun Is Also a Star” is New York City. Indeed, at times the movie feels like a virtual travelogue, and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw swoons over the images of the Big Apple as much as he does the beaming faces of the leads (he favors intense close-ups); there are so many of both clichés that they become positively oppressive. It takes little imagination to conclude that though the picture isn’t all that long, editor Joe Landauer could still have improved it with further shortening. The overbearing score—by Herdis Stefansdottir, with plenty of pop tunes added to the mix—adds to the sense of heaviness.

“The Sun Is Also a Star” is an awfully annoying movie, a tearjerker that’s more jerky than tear-inducing. But it has the singular virtue of making you appreciate Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (and its two sequels) all the more. It might also make you think that it could be improved by adopting the technique of Linklater’s “Slacker,” quickly moving from the couple to somebody they pass on the street, then from that person to another, and so on. That would have been more interesting than following Natasha and Daniel around for a full hundred minutes, cityscapes or no.

POMS

Producer:  Kelly McCormick, Alex Saks, Andy Evans, Ade Shannon, Celyn Jones, Sean Marley and Rose Ganguzza
Director: Zara Hayes
Writer: Shane Atkinson
Stars: Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Celia Weston, Rhea Perlman, Charlie Tahan, Bruce McGill, Alisha Boe, Carol Sutton, Ginny MacColl, Patricia French, Phyllis Somerville, David Maldonado, Alexandra Ficken, Jessica Roth and Dorothy Steel
Studio: STX Entertainent

C-

The message that “you’re never too old to fulfill your dreams” itself seems quite hoary when delivered as clumsily as it is in a movie like “Poms.” Though it wants to uplift us by celebrating the spirit of women of a certain age, the execution is so poor that it ends up depressing us instead. (The British seem able to pull off this kind of thing far better.)

That’s despite the presence of Diane Keaton, who gives the flimsy material everything she has as Martha, a crusty, solitary New Yorker who sells off all her belongings after receiving a cancer diagnosis and goes off to a Georgia retirement community to die. She’s appalled by the cheeriness of the place, presided over by self-proclaimed queen of the walk Vicki (Celia Weston), and is initially irritated by her intrusive next-door neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver). But she quickly grows fond of the gregarious buttinski, and as she unpacks finds what is quickly revealed as her personal Rosebud—an old cheerleading costume that brings back memories of how she had to leave the squad to care for her ailing mother.

With a little prodding from Sheryl, she decides to form a cheerleading club at Sun Springs, as the community is called, much to the chagrin of sourpuss “southern belle” Vicki. She and Sheryl begin holding auditions for members, and a bunch of eccentric golden girls eventually signs up. They include mousy Alice (Rhea Perlman), whose disapproving husband’s prohibition is removed by his convenient death; Olive (Pam Grier), a tango dancer whose husband proves more receptive to her dancing; aerobics lover Ruby (Carol Sutton); yoga master Evelyn (Ginny MacColl); baton-twirler Helen (Phyllis Somerville); and line specialist Phyllis (Patricia French). But with the exception of Helen, who has to deal with a chauvinist son (David Maldonado) who’s also decided to be her “protector” (read, jailer), none of them gets much in the way of character; each is simply a walking stereotype, frequently with a “naughty” quality added.

The plot employs cliché after cliché to set up conflicts and obstacles. Vicki is a constant irritant, of course, refusing the girls rehearsal space. And when Sheryl responds by securing them a gig at a pep rally at the high school where she’s a (supremely bad) substitute teacher, their bumbling routine spawns an internet video that goes viral, bringing Chloe (Alisha Boe), one of the school’s repentant cheerleaders, on as a coach who whips them into shape. Sheryl’s geeky grandson (Charlie Tahan) not only becomes the club’s D.J., but his infatuation with Chloe turns into something more. And the squad impulsively decides to enter a competition where they can strut their stuff and become a web sensation. And lurking in the background, of course, is Martha’s illness, and the end she prepares for by watching some TV funeral commercials that are meant to be hilarious but fall flat, though they do provide a limp “triumph in the face of tears” twist in the end.

There are some bright spots in “Poms.” Despite the fact that Keaton is topbilled and milks the part for all it’s worth, it’s Weaver who really carries the picture as the sex-crazed, blunt-talking Sheryl. Both of the actresses mug furiously, as does virtually everybody in the cast—there are more reaction shots here than in a movie with a lovable dog (happily, one cliché omitted here), but without them the mixture of comedy and sentiment would be truly insufferable. Grier, Perlman and Somerville each has a moment or two, Bruce McGill is amusing as the Sun Springs security director, and Boe and Tahan are pleasant enough as the youngsters in the group.

But there are plenty of low points on the other end of the spectrum as well: the characters played by Weston and Maldonado, for example, as well as the dreadful caricature required of Dorothy Steel as Doris, McGill’s decrepit deputy, or the bug-eyed intensity of Jessica Roth as a competition official (who really should have been instructed to tone it down). Much of this can be chalked up to the lackadaisical direction by Zara Hayes, a documentarian making her first fiction film; the bland cinematography of Tim Orr; and the flaccid editing by Annette Davey.

As much as one might appreciate the good intentions behind a movie like “Poms,” you’re likely to come out of it wondering why such talented actress as Keaton, Weaver, and their comrades have been forced to struggle to breathe some life into such inferior material. They deserve better, as so does the audience.