7 items from 2017
Harriet Lauler is not a nice women. Taught to be pushy and proud in her days leading an advertising agency in a small California town that still has a daily paper, like much of the town — which also includes a hip indie radio station — she is a dying breed. Beat by beat, though, Lauler (played by the stellar Shirley MacLaine) “evolves” in Mark Pellington’s predictable dramedy The Last Word. Cinematic comfort food comes to mind, and rest assured, mom and grandma will probably have a nice time.
The story features a bit of darkness as Lauler, an intentional women whose gardener and stylist aren’t doing things to her liking (she’s proud enough to rip the clippers out of both of their hands), decides to control her death. No such luck as she overdoses, only to find the obituary of an old nemesis covered in red wine. This »
- John Fink
Shirley MacLaine affirmed her commitment to making films about older people as she accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Texas Film Awards. “I am so thrilled now at my age to be part of the independent film world,” she said. “I want to thank you for reminding me that I am not going anywhere, and anyway I would come back right away.”
In his introductory remarks, Austin-bred filmmaker Richard Linklater touted “Terms of Endearment,” “The Evening Star,” and his own more recent film, “Bernie,” as three Texas films starring MacLaine that made her “an honorary Texan.”
Read More: SXSW 2017: 13 Must-See Films At This Year’s Festival
The beloved actress opened her acceptance speech with a political joke, suggesting that Austin progressives “Should build a wall around this city.” Taking a more serious turn, the actress affirmed her commitment to making films that “serve the quadrant that is forgotten and underserved, »
- Jude Dry
The sci-fi short “Rise,” starring the late Anton Yelchin and directed by David Karlak, will be made into a feature. Producers Johnny Lin (“Bernie”) and Brian Oliver (“Black Swan”) —from Filmula and Cross Creek, respectively— obtained the feature rights from Warner Bros., as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
The short is based on a screenplay written by Karlak with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (the “Saw” films, “The Collector”). Here is the official description of the short film: A dystopian future, where man’s attempt to create artificial intelligence has spun wildly out of control, leading to a war between man and machine.
“Brian and I are extremely excited to have an opportunity to build a film franchise based on »
- Yoselin Acevedo
Kudos to Jack Black for trying new things. The actor seems to be on a mission to expand his comedic (and dramatic) palette with interesting turns in smaller fare like Bernie, The D Train and now The Polka King. Written and directed by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (also responsible for recent Sundance flick Infinitely Polar Bear), the film tells the true story of Jan Lewan, famed Polish polka singer and Ponzi scheme scammer in Pennsylvania (try saying that five times fast). Based out of a novelty store in Hazleton, Jan wraps himself up in the American Dream. Playing everything from weddings to county fairs and other senior citizen-heavy venues, his polka fanbase grows as he continues to expand the number of band members, much to the chagrin of friend and band clarinetist Mickey (Jason Schwartzman).
Jan is a untenable ball of ambition, determined to become rich and famous while remaining well-loved by all. »
- Dan Mecca
Here’s a new movie rule: If you’re going to sit through a Sundance “crowd-pleaser,” complete with cardboard situations and cheeseball snark and life lessons, it’s always better if that movie stars Shirley MacLaine. In “The Last Word,” she plays — what else? — a cutely difficult pie-eyed pixie-curmudgeon who is always scolding everyone and telling them how to improve themselves. I can think of many films where she played a similar role that outclass this one — like “Terms of Endearment,” “In Her Shoes,” “Bernie,” or “Postcards from the Edge.” Those were real movies. “The Last Word,” written by Stuart Ross Fink and directed by Mark Pellington, is an eager assemblage of quasi-fake setups and two-stroke characters. It makes “Little Miss Sunshine” look…organic. (It’s also not nearly as well-made.) Yet MacLaine, who isn’t above falling into high-concept shtick herself, hasn’t lost the gift of spontaneity. At 82, she’s spry and fearless. »
- Owen Gleiberman
He has played an ape’s showman in King Kong, a sweet mortician-turned-murderer in Bernie and now a polka maestro/Ponzi scheme impresario in The Polka King. Larger-than-life characters seem embedded in Jack Black’s DNA, so playing the real-life Polish immigrant Jan Lewan — a Grammy nominee, friend of Pope John Paul II, gift shop owner, ex-con and loving husband — makes perfect sense. Black received a copy of The Man Who Would Be Polka King, the documentary on which Polka Ki… »
One of those conspicuously talented comics who nonetheless can be tricky to cast, Jack Black has rather surprisingly found some of his best big-screen roles portraying liberally dramatized versions of real people, à la “School of Rock” and “Bernie.” (No, “Drunk History” doesn’t count.) Featuring Black’s most eccentric true-life character yet, “The Polka King” amply plays to its star’s strengths, yielding a hilariously tough-to-believe biopic that should easily prove one of the bigger commercial breakouts of Sundance’s 2017 edition.
Co-directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky’s affectionately farcical comedy is based on a loopy 2009 documentary about Jan Lewan, a colorful Polish émigré turned “Polka King of Pennsylvania” turned convicted Ponzi-scheme felon. Perfectly cast down the line, this bizarre tale of the American Dream gone kitschily awry introduces Black’s Jan in 1990, when he’d be well on his way to realizing that dream, if only the finances would cooperate. »
- Dennis Harvey
7 items from 2017
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