Apart from Pretty Women (1990), which made hundreds of millions, Garry Marshall films tend to triple or quadruple their money. For this reason, the octogenarian is still employed by Hollywood moguls to produce preening schmaltz orgies with titles like New Year's Eve (2011) or Valentine's Day (2010) with heavyweight ensemble casts.
Next on the calendar-themed chopping block for Marshall and his acting Rolodex is Mother's Day, which, as the name suggests, seeks to mine plenty of saccharine rom-com goo from the occasion.
Only no one thought to pack the "com" element. The five writers credited here (of which Marshall is one) should hang their heads in shame for the can't-be-arsed script which the illustrious cast (Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, Julia Roberts) have to pedal out.
It spoils everything because Mother's Day could have yielded a great return from its cast. Aniston is effortlessly well-suited to the terrain as Sandy, a divorcée watching her sons hit it off with her ex-husband's young partner (Shay Mitchell). After tripping over herself during an encounter with Sudeikis's widowed (and thus irresistible) father, she lands a job with Roberts's celebrity author. Meanwhile, Sandy's pal Jesse (Hudson), hasn't seen her white-trash mother in years.
In those spaces between the insultingly lame gags, there are aggressively mawkish interludes that even the wussiest Nicholas Sparks fan would roll their eyes at. Avoid at all costs. 1 Star
Where to Invade Next
Cert: Club Cert; Now showing
In the six years since his last, and rather downbeat, documentary Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore seems to have had a change of heart. Not in terms of politics or message - he remains the provocateur who is to right-wing Americans the poster boy for dreaded socialism - but in terms of tone. Here he offers hope, telling his fellow Americans in this lighter-toned doc that they deserve not more, but better.
The film title is a little, and presumably deliberately, misleading. Rather than an expose of US militarism, it uses invasion as a hook for Moore to go around mostly European countries examining what works there. Rather than barge in, Moore shuffles to countries including Italy, where he admires their life-friendly work hours; Portugal, where they have decriminalised drug use; Slovenia, where university is free; Finland, where education is about experience over achievement; France, where childhood nutrition is sacrosanct; Norway, where prison is about rehabilitation, not revenge; and Iceland, where women in power bolster democracy. The tone is light with some hard-hitting moments, like the manner in which black men in America have been so literally disenfranchised.
The agenda is clear and it is propaganda of a kind, and disingenuous at times in what it omits, but it is still very interesting viewing about what really works when it comes to quality of life.
Cert: 15A; Now showing
It would be churlish to say that Melissa McCarthy's rise to Oscar-nominated stardom is a by-product of her convention-smashing image and brilliance at physical comedy.
This is indeed part of what made McCarthy (of Co Cork stock, apparently) stand out in 2011's Bridesmaids, but there's also a fierce comic intellect to her delivery and timing.
The Boss, a second crack at the directing cherry for her husband, Ben Falcone, also an actor, is not the place to find McCarthy at her finest. But it will keep fires burning until Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot. Here, she stomps around as Michelle Darnell, a vulgarian capitalist who is seemingly modelled as a slightly less revolting female Donald Trump. When she is busted for insider trading and emerges from prison, she is forced to move in with long-suffering PA Claire (Kristen Bell) and her young daughter. When she cracks on a business scheme involving Claire's brownies, redemption, both commercial and spiritual, is at hand.
Bell makes for a plucky foil and Peter Dinklage is dependably dotty as a rival captain of industry. If only there was just a bit more meat on The Boss's funny bone. 3 Stars
Hilary A White
Embrace of the Serpent
Cert 12A. Selected cinemas
It says a lot about your commitment to the subtleties of the human condition when you shoot a film in the Amazon in black and white.
A darling of film festivals over the last 12 months and a best foreign language Oscar nominee, Embrace of The Serpent somehow manages to make the jungle throb louder in monochrome.
Colombian director Ciro Guerra conjures the mesmeric tones of Conrad and Herzog in this time-jumping fable about a shaman guiding two white explorers in search of a rare plant, 31 years apart. 4 Stars
Hilary A White
Miracles From Heaven
Cert PG; Now Showing
In the 1990s there was a certain style of real-life stories made into feature films. They were dramatised often for their worthiness rather than for dramatic content and Miracles From Heaven is reminiscent of the style. And the clue that this is in the worthiness genre is very much in the title.
Anna, a perfect, "God-fearing" 10-year-old from Texas (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with an incurable disease of the digestive tract only after much suffering and many wrong calls. The family are all part of a church with a jaunty pastor (John Carroll Lynch), whose members rally round, although not financially apparently, when one of their own is in trouble. Anna's parents, Christy (Jennifer Garner) and Kevin (Martin Henderson) place their faith in God and doctors but as time marches on and no cure happens, some of the church members suggest Anna might deserve her illness because of some sin. Christy, although a model mother and wife, suffers a crisis of faith along the way.
The film is based on the real life story of the Beam family from Texas and the ending is never in doubt. It is good on how getting a diagnosis can be difficult and the trauma of a parent knowing there is something more than what doctors diagnose, and it's good on the child's point of view, fear and depression. And Garner really does give her all. Otherwise, director Patricia Riggen once again delivers emotion with a sledgehammer. Sick kid, be sad. And here's some sad music in case you didn't get it. Believers and fans of uplifting, unashamedly emotional stories will enjoy this. Non-believers will struggle with the message and tone. 2 Stars
When Marnie Was There
Cert: PG. Selected cinemas.
Many feared that the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, along with their animation Midas touch, might spell the end of the Japanese anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli. It hasn’t, but if this sumptuous Oscar nominee had been their swansong, it would have been some way to bow out.
The fantastical creatures of, say, Spirited Away are parked in this ghost fable in favour of rich characterisation, sentiment and the sensuality of nature. Anna is a shy adopted girl struggling with her sense of self. Her adoptive parents send her to a quiet coastal village to stay with relatives. The fresh air does her good — but the biggest effect on her is made by a mysterious mansion across the mudflats. She begins dreaming about a blonde girl called Marnie, before encountering her at the mansion one night after she sees lights on in the long-deserted building. A bond develops, but Marnie remains elusive.
Marnie’s story reveals itself and Anna finds herself sucked into the girl’s realm, a place of abandonment and hurt. It echoes loudly with Anna’s own situation and inner demons until a very definite harmony is struck.
The wind stirs through the grasses and clouds tumble past as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and the animation wizards craft something of aching breadth and beauty. It is then wedded to the soundtrack by Takatsugu Muramatsu and US singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn, and the effect is akin to slipping into a warm bath. What makes this a standout of the studio’s already glittering catalogue is the strong root psychological motive of the central character, which could just have you reaching for the hankies by the end. 5 Stars
Hilary A White
Sunday Indo Living