Green Book

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini
Directed by: Peter Farrelly (“There’s Something About Mary”)
Written by: Peter Farrelly (“Hall Pass”), Brian Hayes Currie (“Two Tickets to Paradise”) and Nick Vallelonga (“Choker”)

When filmmakers step out of their comfort zones, things can sometimes get interesting. This year, we saw gore hound Eli Roth (“Hostel”) craft a spooky, yet kid-friendly flick, with “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” We also got another chapter from the “Halloween” horror franchise, this time from the perspective of drama/comedy director David Gordon Green (“Stronger”). Now, Peter Farrelly — one half of the directing duo known as the Farrelly brothers (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”) — splits from his sibling for the first time and ventures out on his own to make “Green Book,” a charming, crowd-pleasing dramedy that, unfortunately, pulls its punches on race relations.

Set in New York City in 1962, “Green Book” tells the true story of two men who couldn’t be more different from one another — Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), a sophisticated Jamaican-American classical pianist, and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen), a working-class nightclub bouncer with a gift for gab.

The men find themselves on the road together when Don hires Tony to be his driver and security during a two-month-long concert tour through the Deep South. This, of course, was during the Jim Crow era when laws mandated racial segregation. The film’s title refers to the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide blacks could refer to so they could know which establishments (restaurants, hotels, etc.) were considered African-American-friendly. With Tony’s “innate ability to handle trouble,” they embark on a trip that ends with both of them learning about tolerance and true friendship.

Its messaging on race, however, is a little trickier. “Green Book” is serious when it needs to be, but there’s also humor at its heart. Recent films like “The Help” and “Hidden Figures” have also taken a more lighthearted approach to the painful subject of racism, and there’s no denying that it’s a tough balancing act that filmmakers need to be mindful of so they don’t appear flippant on the issue.

“Green Book”’s intention isn’t to preach or hammer a message home with harrowing images or depictions of ultra-realistic bigotry. If audiences are looking for something like that, they should go stream “Mississippi Burning” or “American History X.” Instead, “Green Book” is focused on the dynamic between Don and Tony and how they maneuver beyond their own personal biases to respect each other.

No one ever said racism in this country doesn’t exist anymore because Barack Obama was twice elected President, and no one is saying anything similar because “Green Book,” with all its mainstream appeal and handful of hokey clichés, is an enjoyable picture. Farrelly didn’t produce a flawless film, but he hit an appropriately inspirational and life-affirming theme and tone with ease.

Linda Cardellini – The Founder

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the biographical drama “The Founder” directed by John Lee Hancock (“Saving Mr. Banks”), actress Linda Cardellini (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”) stars as Joan Smith, the wife of a McDonald’s franchisee, who would later go on to marry McDonald’s Corp. founder Ray Kroc (played in the film by Michael Keaton).

During an interview with me last week, Cardellini, 41, who has starred in a number of films over her 20-year career including “Scooby-Doo,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Daddy’s Home,” talked about Joan’s philanthropic achievements, how she is still obsessed with learning more about the Krocs and what it was like working with Keaton.

I’m sure you know the saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Was that the case with Ray and Joan Kroc?

I think so! I think we can credit her a lot for helping him achieve what he achieved. You only see a glimpse of it in the film, but they had a love story all the way until his death. When he died, he left her his fortune and she went on to take that [money] do a lot of things [for charities] that I don’t think were necessarily Ray’s championed charities. She went on to give a lot of money to them.

Yeah, she went on to do some wonderful work as a philanthropist. Of that work, what stands out to you as the most impactful?

The interesting thing about her is that she did a lot of it under anonymity. I mean, there were certain giant, landmark donations that she gave like the Salvation Army. She created the Institute for Peace [and Justice]. She also gave a lot [of money] to National Public Radio. I like to listen to National Public Radio a lot. (Laughs) She did a lot of wonderful things and would help people whenever she could. She didn’t want the credit for it, which I think is funny because Ray, on the other hand, in the movie, would take credit for ideas and things that weren’t his.

Do you think Joan and Ray would be happy with yours and Michael’s portrayal of them in the film? I mean, your character is one thing, but Michael’s Ray is not very likeable in some instances.

Right. I don’t know. I think that’s always a tricky thing about doing true stories. You can never please everybody. But I do think it is a fascinating look at something you truly don’t know the story about. When I watch [“The Founder”], I feel more for the McDonald’s brothers than I do for Ray, of course. I think that’s sort of the wonderful thing about the story—you get to learn about people whose innovation and ideas led to what we all know today.

What kind of research did you do for this role and was there anything specific you were surprised to learn about Joan or her relationship with Ray?

You know, I did as much research as I could find. I’m still a bit obsessed with it. There’s a new book that came out that I’ve been reading that is about the two of them (Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away). It’s all surprising. [Their story] plays out like this very glamorous relationship. They compared it to [the relationship between] Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They had a very tumultuous but very loving relationship, which I didn’t totally realize. We didn’t get into that [in “The Founder”]. That came in the latter part [of their relationship]. The thing that is most revealing to me is her charity and her sense of generosity and what she decided to do with her fortune. It was really impressive.

Joan, of course, passed away about 14 years ago. If you had the opportunity to ask her a question, what would you have wanted to know?

I would’ve loved to know what it was that drove the two of them together and made their relationship last. I think everybody is sort of looking for that thing that keeps people together. I think it’s really interesting to understand how people keep it together.

What was your experience like working opposite Michael Keaton during a time many people consider a comeback for him after his Oscar-nominated role in “Birdman” two years ago?

I never worked with him before, but I always wanted to. For me it was a great joy. I love to watch him. He’s one of those actors who is entirely unpredictable. You sit on the edge of your seat wondering how his character is will react to things. I think that is a very fun quality that not a lot of people have. People can be predictable. He manages not to be. He’s fantastic to work with. He’s a nice, funny, smart and kind person.

Be honest. When was the last time you went through a McDonald’s drive-thru and what did you order?

(Laughs) It wasn’t that long ago. I know I shouldn’t. But I always get a plain cheeseburger. So, it’s not that bad. (Laughs) Well, it’s not that good either. It’s OK every once in a while.

Daddy’s Home

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Linda Cardellini
Directed by: Sean Anders (“Horrible Bosses”)
Written by: Brian Burns (“You Stupid Man”), Sean Anders (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), John Morris (“We’re the Millers”)

If the offbeat dynamic between Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell had you rolling in the aisle with 2010’s “The Other Guys,” the unlikely duo provides more consistent laughs in this domestic comedy from filmmaker Sean Anders (“That’s My Boy”). Just when stepfather Brad (Ferrell) feels he has finally been accepted into the family by his wife’s two young kids, the compassionate radio executive is forced to fight for their affection and attention when their badass biological dad Dusty (Wahlberg) rides back into their lives to prove he’s still king of the castle. Playing the fool might come second nature to Ferrell at this point of his career, but with a little more heart in this movie it’s easier to sympathize with his character, much like Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents. There are moments around the halfway point where the gags lose steam, but the satisfying mishmash of broad and dry humor does the trick more often than not.