Destination Wedding 2018 ****

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In some alternative universe, instead of costumed figures punching each other in pursuit of the financial reward some wordless lowest common denomenator, we’d be looking at a cinema bursting with thrillers, dramas and rom-coms; perhaps in that world, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder would be the Hepburn and Tracy of our day. Alas, Destination Wedding, a smart two hander from writer/director Victor Levin, barely saw the inside of cinemas when it finally trickled out, but streaming may offer some salvation; with big stars giving fun performances, it’s exactly the kind of quality indie that used to pack them in. Reeves play Frank and Ryder plays Lindsay, two malcontents who sit at the back of a Paso Robles wedding exchanging snide comments and gradually striking up an attraction in their misanthropy. Sex follows, and buyers remorse hangs heavy, and it’s clear this isn’t going to run Before Sunrise smooth. But Reeves and Ryder are terrific performers, and they do a great job in bringing two difficult people to life. Rom-coms are rare like like hen’s teeth; this one is sharp and acerbic, and should be treasured.

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Stranger Things 1-3 2016-2019 ****

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The brightest jewel in the Netflix crown is the Duffer Brothers riff on the kids sci-fi genre that apes Stephen King and various 80’s horror fads; with the latest series (3) taking place largely at a 4th of July carnival, Stranger Things is a cross-generational funhouse that, according to Netflix’s hall-of-mirrors figures, every sentient member of every household in the western world watched several times each within seconds of being put online. Stranger Things somehow found a sweet spot by fusing elements of King’s Firestarter (a girl on the run from authorities with telekinesis), plus the small-town kiddie-gang adventurers from It, then throws in the gelid alien attack from The Tommyknockers to boot. The big-draw name above the title name was Winona Ryder, although the series success has made pretty much everyone in the well-assembled cast a household name; Millie Bobbie Brown makes a big impression as Eleven, David Harbor exudes a gruff chemistry as police chief Jim Hopper, and the kids are great, with a smattering of 80’s names (Sean Aston, Paul Reiser, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes) to keep older viewers engaged. As well as nailing the key font for the titles and the cod Tangerine Dream score, the key to the formula, kids and adults joining forces to fight to creatures leaking through government experiment portals, is that Stranger Things presents a warmly aspirational world, more focused on the likable characters than on the monsters. If the second series was too similar to the first, the third manages to balance up the gender issues and freshen up the team to good effect; Netflix need a dozen series that command loyalty like this to survive the streaming wars, so it’s likely that various expanded-universe incarnations of Stranger Things will be around long after the original lightning-in-a bottle cast have moved on.

https://www.netflix.com/watch/80057281?source=35

Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael 1990 ***

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Something for a diamond in the rough, Jim Abraham’s 1990 vehicle for Winona Ryder failed to make much impression or critics or audiences, but is a simple, affecting drama about small-town life. Ryder plays Dinky, a girl from Clyde, Ohio whose town is eagerly awaiting the return of Roxy, who Dinky believes might be her mother. The feeling for teenage life is as good as a John Hughes movie, and Ryder gets good support from Jeff Daniels and while the failure to realise Roxy’s character left a number of the film’s view viewers unsatisfied, Welcome Home is a Waiting For Godot story in which the anticipation reveals more than any Hollywood ending could.

https://tensecondsfromnow.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/welcome-home-roxy-carmichael-1990/

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992 ***

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Francis Ford Coppola scored a significant hit with his baroque version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale, helped by a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Gary Oldman. Whether under an immense powdered wig or strutting around England in a top hat and shades, Oldman exudes menace while providing plenty of off-beat comedy. While the rest of the cast are somewhat mismatched in acting styles; Keanu Reeves is a stiff Jonathan Harker and his British accent has been the subject of much merriment, as has Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. But Coppola pulls together a rich and sumptuous production design, from the shadow-play opening to the various silent movie in-camera tricks to capture the supernatural action. Winona Ryder looks great as Mina, and the romantic link between her and The Count is cleverly set up in a prologue that establishes their thwarted history. It’s more Coppola than Stoker, but with the likes of Tom Waits and Monica Bellucci in support, the result is consistently exciting to watch.

Heathers 1988 ****

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Coming on the back of John Hughes’ success, essentially creating the teen movie as a genre that didn’t rely on sex or schmaltz, Michael Lehmann’s 1988 film brought a new black humour and spiky with the high school. Veronica (Wynona Ryder) struggles to deal with the cliques at her school, notably the trio of girls called heather who have a tight control over the social scene. JD (Christian Slater, doing his best Jack Nicholson) feels the same, but has a more direct approach; bumping off those who get in his way. The wave of high-school shootings has soured the joke of Heathers to some extent, but Lehmann’s film is more of a comic parable; with acidic and quotable dialogue (I’ll call you when the shuttle lands’), it’s the jumping-off point for everything from Mean Girls to Easy A.

Looking For Richard 1996 ***

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Al Pacino’s passion project is a welcome insight into the actor himself, and specifically his passion for Shakespeare’s Richard III. Annoying as it was to see Pacino riffing on Adam Sandler vehicle Jack and Jill by ripping scenes from The Godfather, placing it in the context of a performance of Richard II at least gives a specific context; for a method actor, Pacino has an endearing willingness to send himself up. Looking for Richard alternates his thoughts on the modern day relevance of the play with scenes from an incomplete version of the play. With Pacino as the king, Alec Baldwin as the Duke of Clarence, Winona Ryder as Lady Anne and Kevin Spacey a perfect Earl of Buckingham, the results are surprisingly good, and enough to make it regrettable that Pacino didn’t go the whole hog. His interviews with British actors suggest the American actor felt that the play’s Britishness would prevent him from doing a definitive version, but Looking For Richard suggests Pacino would still have the chops for it.

http://www.amazon.com/Looking-Richard-Al-Pacino/dp/B001LH1B6S/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1393973794&sr=1-1&keywords=looking+for+richard