Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about the best movies and television to watch this weekend including Golden Globe winners “The Mauritanian” and “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” and a new coming-of-age movie on VOD “My Salinger Year.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including Disney’s animated action flick “Raya and the Last Dragon” (Disney+ with Premier Access and theatres), the long awaited sequel “Coming 2 America” (Amazon Prime Video), the biopic “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” (VOD), the legal drama “The Mauritanian” (premium digital and on-demand), the coming-of-age story “My Salinger Year” (VOD) and the look at the war on drugs “Crisis” (on digital and demand).
Set back in the days when e-mail was “a new trend that will phase out,” “My Salinger Year,” now on VOD, is a coming-of-age story of an aspiring writer who finds herself enmeshed in the shadow of one of the great, reclusive authors of the twentieth century.
Tired of analyzing other people’s work Joanna (Margaret Qualley) drops out of Berkeley to move to New York City to write. “Isn’t that what aspiring did?” she says. “Live in cheap apartments and write in cafes?” She gets a foot in the door with a job with Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), the old-school literary agent of “Catcher in the Rye” author J. D. Salinger. The reclusive author is alive and well, and still writing but unwilling to actually publish any of his work.
Margaret has lots of rules. No computers, no opened toed shoes and no need to wear stocking in the summer. Above all, no talking to Jerry, as in Jerry Salinger. “Jerry doesn’t want to hear about how much you love ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ she says, “and he doesn’t want to hear about your stories. Just say, Yes Jerry, ‘I’ll tell my boss you called.’”
Jerry also doesn’t want to hear from his readers, even though fans send letters by the truck load. Instead, the letters are read, that’s the bulk of Joanna’s new job, and responded to with a form letter.
Soon though, her secretarial role takes on a different dimension when she finds herself emotionally invested in the letters; the stories from fans about how Salinger’s work affected their lives. “I can’t send them a letter that says, ‘Dear Kid, J.D. Salinger doesn’t care about you.” Instead, she secretly begins personalizing the letters, discovering a new inner voice.
“My Salinger Year,” based on the 2014 memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff, is a coming-of-age story about pushing insecurity aside to find a path in life. Far from another “The Devil Wears Prada” knock-off—although Weaver has fun playing Joanna’s cantankerous, computer-hating boss—it’s subtler than that.
It works best when it focusses on Joanna’s time at the literary agency. Less so when she’s washing dishes in the bathtub of her cheap NYC apartment she shares with her Socialist boyfriend Don (Douglas Booth). Joanna’s relationship with Salinger (Tim Post, heard but barely seen) and Margaret are the gateways that define her need to step away from the life she knew; to be extraordinary. That’s the film’s most compelling journey, the rest feels shopworn.
“My Salinger Year” is about momentous changes in Joanna’s life, but it doesn’t feel momentous. Qualley is effective but emphasizes the character’s naiveté in a way that underplays Joanna’s journey. A third act dance number, one that visualizes Joanna’s reaction to reading “Catcher in the Rye,” brings the life the story deserves, but by then it’s too little, too late.
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies, “Alien: Covenant,” the return of one of the most fearsome alien species ever, the Xenomorph, the continuing adventures of Greg Heffley in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” Liev Schreiber as the real-life Rocky in “Chuck” and the edgy rom com “The Lovers.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the Xenomorphic Alien: Covenant,” the whimptastic adventures of Greg Heffley in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” Liev Schreiber as the real-life Rocky in “Chuck” and the edgy rom com “The Lovers.”
Chuck Wepner goes by many names. To some he is The Champ, a heavyweight boxer who once went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali. To others he is the Bayonne Bleeder, a fighter sometimes sidelined by his tendency to bleed out all over the ring. Still others call him the Real Rocky in reference to the rumour that his career inspired the Sylvester Stallone movie. He’s an American brawler played by Liev Schreiber in a new movie simply called “Chuck.”
Wepner became a local hero when he was tapped to take on boxing legend George Foreman. There was just one catch. Foreman had to beat Muhammad Ali first. The odds were in his favour but, in an upset, Foreman lost. That defeat should have put Wepner out of the running but the Ali fight was being positioned as a battle of the races and since he was the only white boxer on a long list of fighters qualified to take on the champ, he got the gig. The odds against him were 40-to-1 but the lure of a $100,000 payday was too great to resist. As expected he lost but the fact he shared the ring with Ali burnished his reputation, if not his bank account.
And thus the template of Wepner’s career was set. He’s an also ran, a man who can see the brass ring but never quite grab hold of it.
In the wake of the Ali fight Wepner’s life was turned topsy-turvy. He coulda been a contender but instead moonlighted as a liquor salesman. He was a star at night, hanging around clubs, cheating on his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) and developing a cocaine problem. His notoriety increased with the release of “Rocky,” the Stallone movie reportedly semi-based on Wepner’s life. A failed audition for “Rocky 2” forces the fighter further down the rabbit hole into a “Requiem for a Heavyweight-esque” life outside the ring.
“Chuck’s” story is little known but feels familiar. The “Rocky” twist and Ali fight add some nice colour to the tale, but this is, essentially, another retelling of an arrogant also ran boxer whose life outside the ring spiralled out of control. In Schreiber’s hands it’s easy to see why people were drawn to Wepner. He’s charismatic and despite his myriad flaws, likeable.
Good supporting work also comes from Moss (in an underwritten role), Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan as Wepner’s manager and best friend respectively but the movie, directed by Philippe Falardeau, like it’s main character, feels workmanlike. It covers large sections of the man’s life when it feels like a concentrated version may have been more compelling.
“The Good Lie,” a new drama starring Reese Witherspoon in full-on Sandra “The Blind Side” Bullock mode, shines a light on an important story but does so in a familiar way.
The story begins during Sudan’s civil war, a brutal conflict that forced thousands of people—most of them little more than children—to walk thousands of miles to flee the violence. Almost all ended up in refugee camps, some for years. “The Good Lie” is aboutleft four “lost” boys and girls who were given a chance at a life in America. Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Mamere’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are the recipients of humanitarian aid and relocated to the US, but due to a bureaucratic rule Abital is separated from the men.
In charge of finding work for the new comers is Carrie (Witherspoon), a case worker who, at first, is looking to get their file off her desk but soon becomes involved in their lives and their need to be reunited as a family.
Academy Award-nominated “Monsieur Lazhar” director Philippe Falardeau is straightforward in his telling of this story, mixing the human interest story with large dollops of humor and humanity, but echoes of other movies, like “The Blind Side” and “Dangerous Minds” reverberate throughout.
Falardeau focuses on the story of the refugees but the inclusion of Carrie, Witherspoon’s well-meaning case worker, shifts attention away from the crux of the story, as if the Sudanese somehow has more gravitas if told through a North American lens.
It is, however, a well-intentioned, feel good movie, nicely performed by Witherspoon and the Sudanese cast—Duany and Oceng are stand-outs—that is more successful at raising a smiles than awareness.