You may have missed this very funny, even touching Swedish film that has been nominated for Best Foreign Film. It’s no longer in theaters, but you can get it on demand for $1!
Ove, played by the subtle and very funny Rolf Lassgård, is your classic cranky old man. Recently fired from his job, he enforces his neighborhood association’s rules with a dour demeanor. His only distraction is visiting his wife’s grave.
With no angst he reaches a very logical, if drastic, conclusion. His life is meaningless so he should end it. Ironically, this is the funny part. Just when he has stood on a chair and tightened the rope around his neck to hang himself, the doorbell rings. Looking annoyed, he removes the rope and answers the door.
It’s an Iranian family that has moved into the neighborhood, and they’ve dropped by to say hello. Exasperated, Ove is barely civil to them, but they are not discouraged. When he turns on his car in the garage or puts a shotgun to his head, they are at his door again, and he can’t finish the job.
It is not surprising that soon this family, especially the two children, becomes important to Ove and he rediscovers reasons to live. Hackneyed as that may sound, it’s Lassgård’s acting skill that gives this movie life. The humor is dark, but rich, and the supporting actors in the family, young and old, are perfect foils for the neighborhood grouch. Even Ove’s cat is funny.
It’s safe to say that everyone one of us has eaten at McDonald’s. The text epilogue to this film cites an incredible statistic: every day of the year McDonald’s feeds 1% of the world’s population! Whatever the nutritional value, Mickey D’s may be the world’s most recognized brand.
Even for our age group, it’s hard to remember when there wasn’t a McDonald’s close by. But most big companies (Exxon and Apple are good examples) have a messy start. This one is about the founding of McDonald’s and the man who made it renowned in this country and then the world - the nasty, cutthroat Ray Kroc.
In the beginning there was one hamburger stand, and two brothers named McDonald ran it. In those days leggy carhops on roller skates at drive-in hamburger joints were the rage. The teens that congregated there didn’t mind the slow service, because they just wanted to hang out; food and service were secondary. No one called it fast food back then.
The McDonald brothers changed all that. Using assembly-line techniques and a limited menu, the food was served faster than anyone had ever seen. They promoted themselves as a family restaurant, and it caught on quickly, at least in the very limited area of California where they had restaurants.
Then along comes Ray Kroc (the reliable, sometimes brilliant Michael Keaton). A 52-year old, Willy Loman type, Kroc wanted to sell the brothers a milk-shake machine, the latest in a line of dubious products he had pitched over the years. But Kroc saw the ingenuity of the McDonald’s system and quickly made a deal to help them expand.
And like all their subsequent deals, the brothers didn’t realize until it was too late that Kroc had out maneuvered them. His confidence snowballs, and the brother’s control over the name, even company symbols like the Golden Arches, gradually slips away.
The supporting actors are effective, particularly Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the brothers, but it is Keaton who shines as the mildly sympathetic bumbler that becomes the ruthless CEO of an enormously profitable company.
In his relentless drive for money and success, bitterly overdue in his mind, Kroc becomes soulless and unlikeable. Kudos to Keaton for taking on such an unsympathetic character. He plays Kroc so perfectly that you will walk out of the theater saying, “What a bastard!”
Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis, 2h 4min
Allied with heavy advertising and mega-star names created high expectations. It’s a decent movie with a provocative premise, but maybe not as good as you hoped it would be.
Max (Brad Pitt) is a Canadian spy ordered to work with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) of the French Resistance to assassinate the German Ambassador in Casablanca (wink, wink!). Although initially they realize getting involved could compromise the mission, it wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn’t.
Eventually they do marry, settle in London and have a baby girl. Then British Intelligence tells Max he has to find out whether Marianne is a German spy. If she is, he has to kill her or be tried for treason as her accomplice.
There are exciting moments, but the movie turns out to be more of a love story than a thriller. The problem is that you don’t get swept up in their relationship. Cotillard gives Marianne an intriguing combination of strength and confusion, so blame it on Pitt. He’s a handsome, stoic leading man, but with little emotional depth. At least they didn't have him muttering, “In all the gin joints …”
Rules Don’t Apply, written and directed by Warren Beatty, 2h 7min
Apparently Beatty is fascinated with Howard Hughes and has always wanted to do a film about him. I’m not sure many of us still share that passion, and anyone younger certainly doesn’t. If you are interested, I’d recommend 2004’s The Aviator. Maybe Beatty needed to wait for over ten years so that Leonardo DiCaprio’s vivid portrayal of Hughes wouldn’t be so recent. Unfortunately, he waited too long for anyone to care.
The basic structure of the film is a bizarre love triangle between a young actress, a studio flunky, and Hughes. Beatty parades all of Hughes’s eccentricities, as well as his struggles to hold onto his father’s company, and his love for filmmaking and aviation. Unfortunately, he skips around so much that these plot points are never fully developed and the characters, including Hughes, seem shallow.
Rules Don’t Apply feels like a vanity project where no one could tell a legendary star what to cut or when to rewrite.