Reel Life mini-review: "Violet and Daisy"
If Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow's comically shallow BFFs from "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" worked as teenage mob assassins to earn spending money, they would probably be funnier and more consistent that the titular characters in Geoffrey S. Fletcher's erratic black comedy "Violet and Daisy."
Teens Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) want to take a break from their after-school work as mob hitgirls. But when their iconic pop star idol Barbie Sunday creates a new line of dresses, the duo decides to do one more job for their boss Russ (Danny Trejo).
They're caught off guard when they arrive at the home of their target, a sad middle-aged guy named Michael (James Gandolfini, adding some useful gravitas). He treats them to milk and homemade cookies.
He wants to die for reasons revealed later, and his would-be killers can't right away bring themselves to do their job, allowing time for other assassins to invade the apartment and for Michael to engage dazed Daisy in some serious dad/daughter-like chats.
Fletcher, who wrote the tight, Oscar-winning screenplay to "Precious," struggles to replicate a cult movie template here. His girlie co-stars play Patty-cake and hopscotch and ride a tricycle, as if to suggest they're mere children, which begs the question: Why not cast real children as the hitgirls?
The bouncy, blackly comedic cartoon that begins this movie segues into a suspense-challenged, severely sincere drama that winds up, much like Violet and Daisy frequently do, without any bullets.
"Voilet and Daisy" opens at the 600 North Michigan Theaters, Chicago. Rated R for violence, language. 88 minutes. ★ ★
'Star Trek' defended
Dear Dann: I wish to make a few points about your defense of your review of "Star Trek Into Darkness." Aside from a few similar events, comparing to, or even referencing "The Wrath of Khan" is invalid. Khan begins "The Wrath of Khan" with 25 years of hatred built up against Kirk.
He has no such baggage in the current movie; in fact, he doesn't even know Kirk exists for a while. (And Khan has been awake for at least a year.)
In this new timeline, Admiral Marcus is the one who woke Khan, used him for his own purposes and held Khan's compatriots as hostages. Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise are merely supernumeraries in Khan's chess game with Marcus. Khan's goals are to rescue his crewmates and kill Marcus, not to seek vengeance against Kirk.
It is only when Khan believes his crewmates are dead that he goes off against the Enterprise. This is indeed a totally different story than "The Wrath of Khan" and in no way a retelling of it, either.
I find that J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" movies are difficult to review as I have nearly 45 years of history with Roddenberry's universe. I have decided to totally ignore what had gone before when I review/view these new creations.
If using Goethe's questions led to your rating, then it is justified. I do not see it that way. Long ago I decided to look at the plot of the "Star Trek" movies as excuses to see how a group of ensemble characters, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov interact and banter with each other, sort of a "My Dinner With Andre" on a cosmic scale.
The action motivates them, but is always secondary. With that in mind, I believe that "Into Darkness" worked beautifully. -- Bill Pohnan Jr., Streamwood
Dear Bill: You make a persuasive case for embracing "Into Darkness." But we must agree to disagree about Abrams' sequel, for if any "Trek" movie approaches the philosophical level of "My Dinner With Andre," that would be "Wrath of Khan" with its discussion topics of aging, death (Bones urges Kirk to go into action "before you really do grow old"), personal sacrifice, plus the burdens of fatherhood and leadership.
Remember, Bill, I'm not suggesting "Into Darkness" is a bad sequel, merely one that fails to live up to Abrams' own "Star Trek" reboot. -- Dann
Clint makes our day
Back by popular demand! Join me and film historian Raymond Benson for our second meeting of Dann & Raymond's Movie Club at the Palatine Public Library, 700 N. North Court, Palatine, at 6:30 p.m. Monday when we present "The Films of Clint Eastwood."
We'll have clips from Eastwood's career highs and lows, including "Tarantula," "Paint Your Wagon," "Dirty Harry," "Million Dollar Baby" and 10 others. Free admission. Go to palatinelibrary.org for details.
Reel Life film notes:
• The After Hours Film Society presents Sally Potter's 1962-set coming-of-age drama "Ginger & Rosa" at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 10, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Elle Fanning (13 at the time of the filming) joins Alice Englert as best buds struggling to survive the Cuban Missile Crisis. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com.
• Attention Judy Blume fans! The author will conduct a Q&A in person after a screening of "Tiger Eyes," the first major movie to be based on her books, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Muvico Rosemont 18 Theaters, 9701 Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. tigereyesmovie.com.
Reel Life mini-review: "The East"
Depending on your political leanings, the slightly ambiguous "The East" either shows how terrorists can be created or illustrates how enlightened people become saviors.
This smart, second collaboration between director/writer Zal Batmanglij and star/producer/writer Brit Marling expands upon the cult trappings of their 2011 drama "Sound of My Voice."
Sarah (Marling) works as an undercover operative for a corporate intelligence firm run by a formidable Patricia Clarkson. It's dedicated to spying on eco-terrorist organizations such as The East, a disruptive group that targets exploitative industries that pollute the Earth.
Sarah infiltrates the ragtag cultlike renegades, among them a fanatic young Izzy (Ellen Page) and a charismatic leader named Benji (Alexander Skarsgard).
She begins to understand and accept the validity of the East's purpose and tactics. Marling's corporate soldier undergoes a crisis of conscience that pushes her on a personal journey, one devoid of the overwrought suspense mechanisms of most Hollywood features.
Still, this detailed, modestly explosive espionage thriller bubbles with tension, expertly fitted with a lengthy and intricate fuse.
"The East" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated PG-13 for violence, nudity, sexual situations. 116 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Reel Life mini-review: "Kings of Summer"
Here we go again with another one of those age-appropriate movie conundrums. The viewers most likely to identify with the main characters in "The Kings of Summer" can't get in to see it because they're too young for R-rated movies.
Same thing happened to "Stand By Me," a splendid movie that spoke adolescent truth in appropriately R-rated terms.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, mostly known for creating the "Mash Up" Comedy Central series, makes his directorial debut with a shrewdly observed adolescent fantasy that captures the rough transitional period in which boys stretch out to be men while their emotionally ill-equipped parents flounder about.
Young Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) has enough to do handling his hormonal life without his neurotic, self-absorbed, widower dad ("Parks & Recreation" regular Nick Offerman) adding to his stress level.
When Joe and his wrestler best pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) -- himself the victim of relentlessly insane parents Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson -- find a clearing in the woods, they decide they'll build their own utopian club house as a refuge against the world.
They acquire a mascot of sorts in Biaggio (Moises Arias), an oddly affable kid who speaks in strange non-sequiturs. Together, they assemble a teen's idea of a house, a pieced-together shack that barely holds the elements at bay.
"The Kings of Summer" doesn't traffic in the pain, loss and tragedy that befalls people in real life.
Vogt-Roberts, working from Chris Galletta's comically insightful screenplay, spins this affectionate coming-of-age drama with wistfulness and whimsy as it affirms the really important things in life: friends, truth, and a secret hideaway with a Boston Market conveniently nearby.
"The Kings of Summer" opens at the Century Centre and the River East 21 in Chicago, plus the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated R for language and teen drinking. 92 minutes. ★ ★ ★
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!