‘Maiden’ Review: Tracy Edwards Documentary Sets Sail With Inspiring Tale

Maiden is the true story of Tracy Edwards’ journey in leading an all-female crew in a 1989 yacht race. Back then she was a 24-year-old cook in charter boats who had a singular dream to enter the Whitbread Round the World with only women by her side, and from the jump that goal was extremely hard to reach.

Landing a sponsor to help achieve Edwards’ goal was nearly impossible, and their actual craft (named, of course, Maiden) also needed its share of repair. Add to that a power struggle for leadership, along with sexism from their competitors and journalists who reported their journey, and one has a dream that may crumble before the race actually began.

In its taut, 97-minute retelling of Maiden’s race around the world, the documentary keeps viewers on their toes, and even if one knows the outcome, director Alex Holmes keeps the proceedings at hand at a fever pitch.

Credit goes to Edwards for being honest about her own flaws regarding her leadership, as Maiden could have existed as a saccharine account of this ultimately inspiring story. Growing up in a troubled household thanks to her stepfather, Edwards’ path to success was filled with its share of obstacles, and her steely and stubborn determination ultimately proved doubters wrong.

My only complaint, and this is a slight nitpick, is that the rest of the crew members should have received a bit more screen time to fully flesh out their own experiences in this monumental event. That being said, Maiden is the story of Edwards’ riveting battle against the odds, and for now, that is more than enough. A must see documentary that also packs a powerful punch in the closing moments, Maiden is exhilarating beyond measure, and don’t be surprised if this documentary is remembered come Oscar time.

Maiden, which I also discuss on the latest episode of CinemAddicts, opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 28.

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi

Part Documentary, Part Biopic Asks ‘What Drove John Delorean?’

“I’m too sexy for my car, too sexy for my car, too sexy by far…”

In the first act of Framing John Delorean, you might find yourself humming the Right Said Fred novelty hit as GM’s rising young star takes control of the automaker’s stagnating Pontiac division and transforms it with the introduction of the GTO.

But you might find yourself humming it again later in the movie when Alec Baldwin reveals an interesting little tidbit. Back in the 1980s, when several Hollywood studios were considering a Delorean biopic, the automaker called Baldwin personally to ask if he would consider playing the role. Given the Baldwin brothers’ heartthrob status at the time, Delorean’s self-esteem was certainly not lacking.

Life in the fast lane was in John Delorean’s blood, and he fancied himself as the ultimate sex symbol in an industry dominated by a generation of cookie-cutter engineers and executives. But breaking the mold also meant breaking the rules, and once Delorean started, he found it hard to stop. That’s why, eventually, he found himself on the scrap heap of the automotive business, discredited and discarded after he gambled away his fortune on the car that bore his name.

Framing John Delorean, mimicking its subject, also likes to break the rules. It’s an interesting hybrid — part documentary, part biopic — that frequently breaks the fourth wall. It relies extensively on archival footage of the man himself. You’ll also see plenty of interviews, with his children, co-workers, and even the FBI agents and informants who famously took him down in an undercover sting operation. You’ll see news footage from coverage of his trial. But then, you’ll also see Baldwin and Morena Baccarin as Delorean and his wife, supermodel Cristina Ferrare, in re-enactments of moments from their life together. Sometimes, you’ll see Baldwin acting out the same scenes from the archival footage, as if it was merely another camera angle. And you’ll see Baldwin in his makeup chair several times, offering stories and theories about Delorean as he is being transformed into the character’s various stages of life.

If all of that sounds a bit chaotic, to the filmmakers’ credit, they make it work without too much confusion. On the other hand, the filmmakers remind us many times — maybe a little too often — that Hollywood has always wanted to make a movie about John Delorean, as if they’re patting themselves on the back for finally finishing one.

The rise and fall of John Delorean is, indeed, an intriguing story. And, thanks to that makeup artist we see constantly working on him, Baldwin looks remarkably like Delorean throughout the film.

Ultimately, the film is a bit like the car that Delorean built — at times gimmicky, at times a bit too flashy, and occasionally it rides a little rough, but it gets you from Point A (his start in the auto business) to Point B (his downfall and death) in style. It’s by no means perfect, but if you like compelling true-life stories, it’s worth the ride.

Framing John Delorean now available on VOD.

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Posted Ari Coine

‘Toy Story 4’: One More Time, With A Lot Of Feeling

Everyone thought the Toy Story series had gone out on a high note in 2010 with Toy Story 3, which was loved by fans, critics, and even the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture. But… surprise! Here we are, nine years later, and the franchise is back for what appears to be one last time. Those involved have said they wouldn’t have made the movie had the script not been something special, and they were right. The Toy Story movies have always excelled in hitting the right emotional notes, and Toy Story 4 is no different.

The movie opens, fittingly, on a flashback to nine years ago, when Bo Peep is discarded and leaves the group, despite Woody’s best efforts to keep her. In saying goodbye, Bo Peep gives Woody some sage advice about what it really means to be a toy, words that have stuck with Woody as the film transitions into the present day. Now, the toys belong to Bonnie, who is scared to start kindergarten. Sneaking into her backpack, a neglected Woody helps Bonnie make it through her orientation by unwittingly giving her all the tools she’ll need to create a new toy — Forky, a spork given googly eyes, pipecleaner arms, and popsicle-stick feet. Proud of her creation, Bonnie is no longer afraid of kindergarten.

However, Bonnie doesn’t realize what she’s created — in the presence of the other toys, Forky comes to life, and much of the film’s first half-hour is devoted to Forky’s ongoing efforts to climb back into the trash, where he thinks he belongs.

The movie asks a lot of questions, and Forky’s journey poses the most existential: What is a toy, anyway? All of the others are manufactured, mass-produced toys, but Forky is an arts and crafts project with the most humble of roots (Woody salvaged his parts from a wastebasket). Yet Bonnie loves her new creation just as much — if not more — than the other toys she’s been given.

With a week to spare before school starts, Bonnie’s family hits the road for a short vacation; of course, the toys all come along. That sets the film’s great toy adventure into motion: After Forky escapes from the family’s RV, Woody sets out after him. Once he’s convinced Forky that he belongs and is, in fact, cherished by Bonnie, the two of them try to rejoin the family. On their way, however, they pass an antique store where Woody sees Bo Peep’s old lamp in the window! Could he really be lucky enough to have found the woman he loves? He has to find out. But what he finds in the store is nothing but trouble — a troubled doll with a defective voice box who wants to steal Woody’s! This doll, along with a crew of creepy ventriloquist’s dummies, holds Forky hostage while Woody escapes. But, being loyal to Bonnie and knowing how much Forky means to her, Woody can’t leave Forky behind.

Suffice it to say, it takes a small army of toys to set things right, as the Toy Story stalwarts, along with some new characters, finally figure out a way to reunite Bonnie and Forky.

But as clever as the caper might be, the movie’s true value comes from its emotional weight and the questions it asks. Two of them involve finding your voice: Buzz Lightyear wants to know how to find his inner voice; the defective doll, Gabby Gabby, seeks to find her worth by finally getting a voice of her own. The toys also grapple with issues of loyalty, honor, and love, and they’re expertly expressed in ways that will reach both the children and adults who watch the film.

As always, the film’s visuals and performances are top-notch. He and the character may be older and wiser, but Tom Hanks is still the same old Woody. Annie Potts brings just the right mixture of sassyness and compassion to Bo Peep, Tony Hale brings a quizzical sense of wonder to Forky, and Keanu Reeves adds some energy as Duke Caboom, a daredevil cyclist from north of the border (his catchphrase is “Yes I Canada!”). The only misfire is Tim Allen — as a younger man, he brought fantastic energy to the character of Buzz Lightyear (“To infinity and beyond!”), but Allen’s voice has not aged well, and the gruff sound doesn’t really fit the character anymore. (Perhaps the animators realized this, since they seem to have given Buzz a few more battle scars and scuff marks.)

You don’t need to know the previous Toy Story movies to appreciate Toy Story 4, but knowing the characters’ history does bring a deeper meaning to the movie, especially as the characters face some difficult decisions along the way. The film was clearly written as a love letter — and, most likely, a farewell — to these characters we’ve loved for nearly 25 years, and it succeeds on every level.

If this is, in fact, the final film in the series, it definitely ends the franchise in a satisfying way. And, since the earlier films set the bar high, that’s saying a lot.

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Posted Ari Coine

 

CinemAddicts Podcast Spotlights Diane Keaton Romantic Comedy ‘Hampstead’

Hampstead centers on Emily (Diane Keaton), a widow who’s living in the upper class confines of London’s most desirable neighborhoods. Emily’s sheltered life takes a turn for the unexpected after she meets an Irish squatter named Donald (Brendan Gleeson) who has been living off the land across her apartment. For years Donald has lived off the land, living in a makeshift cabin and doing his best to keep to himself.

When his home is threatened when real estate developers come knocking on his door, Emily teams up with Donald to stop the process and keep his home. These mismatched loners ultimately form a romantic bond, but can it weather the stress caused by their respective fight against this planned development?

Keaton and Gleeson both deliver resonant work in what ends up being a light and engaging comedy. Now playing in select theaters and available on VOD, Hampstead is worth a watch if you’re a fan of romantic comedies and are enthusiasts of the lead actors. Other films covered on the latest episode of CinemAddicts include Funan, I Am Mother, and Maiden. Take a listen below!

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi

“Men In Black: International” Is Flawed & Forgettable, But Fun

It’s ironic that there are cineplexes currently playing both Aladdin and Men In Black: International. After all, Aladdin finds Will Smith filling the shoes of another actor’s iconic performance in the original Aladdin; Men In Black finds an actor trying to fill the shoes of Smith’s iconic performance in the original MIB.

First, let’s get something straight — though entertaining, the stories were never the main attraction behind the original MIB films. It was the “opposites attract” chemistry between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones that drove the movies, bolstered by a bevy of amusing animated aliens.

Fortunately, chemistry is one thing International’s leads, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, do have. Honed over the course of their work together in the Marvel universe, the two share an easy rapport when they’re on the screen together. In this case, though, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

Whereas the work relationship between Smith and Jones developed through the brash newcomer and the grizzled veteran butting heads while they learned to function as a team, the relationship between Hemsworth’s Agent H and Thompson’s Agent M develops because, well, M thinks the H stands for hot. While that brings a playful sexual tension to the proceedings that obviously wasn’t in the original partnership, it ultimately makes the partnership less interesting.

There’s also a role reversal that feels a bit jarring — in MIB: International, it’s the newcomer who’s all business, much more competent in her new role than the experienced agent who supposedly saved the world.

Granted, it’s a job M’s been training for ever since she was a little girl, when she witnessed the MIB in action after a cute, furry, Gremlins-like alien turned up in her family’s New York apartment and she avoided the agents’ infamous Neuralizer. Yes, she’s been obsessed with the MIB organization and extraterrestrial existence for years, going so far as hacking into NASA’s computers to do her own real-time research on alien activity. But when her trial-by-fire first field assignment lands her in the midst of an alien dignitary’s murder and in possession of the most destructive weapon in the universe, you might expect a few more newbie nerves. Instead, Thompson plays M as someone who was born for the gig — a cool, collected bundle of kick-ass energy, always ready to go where the action is.

By contrast, Hemsworth’s Agent H is portrayed as a bit of a hard-drinking, womanizing buffoon who’s able to coast along on his reputation as one of the agents who once helped defeat a nefarious alien species called The Hive. He’s also an inferior fighter compared to M — one clumsy effort to attack an oversized alien brings about the movie’s biggest laugh, a cheeky reference to the actor’s time spent playing Thor. (In all fairness, the film’s resolution does partially explain the character’s behavior, but it doesn’t explain all of his deficiencies.)

In the grand scheme of all things MIB, however, these things are forgivable, because Hemsworth and Thompson are fun to watch, there’s plenty of action, and yes, you’ll find aliens galore. One new character, Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), looks a bit like an animated acorn with a skin disorder, and he walks a line somewhere between Groot and Jar Jar Binks — he would be grating if used too much or in the wrong way, but stays just on the right side of sanity in this film. Rebecca Ferguson also gets to camp (and vamp) things up as a sexy, four-armed alien who once had a fling with H, but must now be defeated in the MIBs’ quest to save the world.

You’ll also find a couple of formidable actors, Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson, co-starring as the New York and London MIB bureau chiefs, and they bring a bit of gravitas to the proceedings, though the roles themselves are hardly Oscar-caliber.

Again, the plot — Alien threat! New weapon! Mole in the MIB! — is secondary here, and it’s just serviceable enough that the movie doesn’t fall apart. But it’s not quite good enough to make the film stand out as anything special. Given a better script — and with their characters’ introductions out of the way — Hemsworth and Thompson could be a formidable duo if they continue to extend the franchise. And with the film largely succeeding as an effects-laden popcorn movie, chances are we will see them again. Because as long as CGI designers keep coming up with new aliens, there will always be new jobs for the MIB.

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Posted Ari Coine

Dark Phoenix’ Gives X-Men’s Jean Grey A Flare For The Dramatic

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is really two different films: One is a deeply personal story about a young woman confronted with serious identity issues; the other is a big-budget, effects-laden superhero movie. While both are done well by first-time director Simon Kinberg (who also wrote the script), the former is the more interesting movie. The movie revolves around the Jean Grey character, played again by Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner, who took on the role in the previous X-Men movie, Apocalypse. We first see her as an 8-year-old, when she wants her parents to change the station on the car radio. (It’s certainly no coincidence that the song playing is Glen Campbell’s classic “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”) The disagreement sparks her telekinetic powers and causes the accident that orphaned her into the care of Professor Charles Xavier and his school for mutants.

Flashing forward 17 years to 1992, Jean is all grown up and a full-fledged member of the X-Men team, though she still lacks confidence in her superpowers. Sure enough, those powers are put to the test when the X-Men — now so revered that they have a Batphone-style hotline to the Oval Office — are called upon to rescue a crew of astronauts when the space shuttle is badly damaged by what appears to be a solar flare. Jean helps rescue the final astronaut from the shuttle’s cargo bay, but doesn’t make it out in time as the flare engulfs the shuttle. However, instead of being engulfed and destroyed by the flare, she seems to absorb its energy.

After the X-Men return to a heroes’ welcome on Earth, a medical exam reveals that Jean’s powers are now “off the charts.” But that amplification comes with two side effects: 1) Her psychic energy surges into dangerous Hulk-like territory when she experiences emotional trauma, and 2) Professor Xavier’s “mindscaping” (read: brainwashing) of the young Jean is undone, When she discovers that her father is alive and well, she runs off to visit him, hoping for a happy reunion and answers to the emotional problems that have plagued her since childhood. The reunion doesn’t go well, though; Jean flies into a rage that leaves a beloved X-Men team member dead, along with several police officers. The tragic outburst puts the X-Men on the government’s persona non grata list once again, and it’s at this point where the movie starts to mutate into its second skin.

While Jean continues to grapple with her increasingly violent emotional outbursts, we’ve discovered that the force driving them was no solar flare — it was a planet-destroying alien life force, and there’s a cadre of aliens trying to harness Jean’s power for their own means. Meanwhile, the X-Men are also after her; while some want to protect and help her, others seek vengeance for their dead ally. And, of course, now the U.S. military is after them, too, as the government once again wants all mutants seized and quarantined.

As those three storylines converge, the action ramps up, building to a climactic battle that, as is standard in superhero movies these days, is a CGI feast for the eyes.

It’s a testament to Kinberg’s love for this series and his characters that he’s able to wrap up both the emotional and superhero aspects of the film simultaneously. He’s been with the series since 2006’s The Last Stand, and this is the eighth X-Men movie he’s been involved with. As such, he went into his first directing gig knowing exactly what he wanted out of his actors; since many of the actors (including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, and Jennifer Lawrence) have played these characters before, it was easy for them to deliver. Called upon to bear the lion’s share of the film’s emotional weight as Jean Grey’s tortured soul takes her into Phoenix territory, Turner turns in an admirable performance. Jessica Chastain gives a decent amount of nuance to her alien character as she tries to nurture, then destroy the Phoenix, though we might have expected a little bit more from an actor of her considerable Oscar-nominated talents.

There’s no denying that the film is very well made. The only problem? The X-Men’s Marvel cousins, The Avengers, have set the bar high for superhero teams, and you can sense the stretching as Kinberg tries his best to reach that bar with his team of uniquely powered mutants. Between the quick cuts between fights, the bursts of CGI energy, and the massive destruction, the sound and fury unleashed in the battles become a bit disorienting, taking you out of what is otherwise a pretty intimate film (as far as superhero movies go).

It’s that intimate feel that ultimately makes X-Men: Dark Phoenix a worthwhile movie. As the Avengers series has proven, superhero movies don’t have to skimp on the emotional element to be powerful, and seeing a close-knit X-Men family torn apart from within certainly generates enough pathos to provide that storyline.

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Posted by Ari Coine