Book Club: The Next Chapter
Verdict: couldn’t wait to put it down
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Verdict: candid and touching
The 2018 movie Book Club was like a decent novel dropped into a swimming pool, in that it once looked promising on paper, before quickly turning into a soggy mess.
It starred four friends, played by Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, whose monthly Los Angeles book club had met for 30 years, and whose stagnant love lives were rekindled by E. L. James’ Fifty Shades Of Gray trilogy.
With such a classy cast (including Don Johnson and Andy Garcia), it could – should – have been fun.
In fact, it was pitiful: full of laborious double entendres that, let alone EL James, would make Sid James shudder. Still, it did good business at the box office and spawned this sequel that, rather impressively, is twice as bad.
Mary Steenburgen stars as Carol, Candice Bergen as Sharon, Diane Keaton as Diane and Jane Fonda as Vivian in Book Club: The Next Chapter
This time, after lifelong commitment-phobe Vivian (Fonda) announces her engagement to her twinkling beau (Johnson), our aging quartet heads to Italy for an elaborate “bachelorette party.”
They start their journey in Rome. “I love this city, Rome,” says one of them, which is a great help to those of us who had confused the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps with the industrial suburbs of Turin.
Soon, however, they have left the Eternal City (Rome) and are on their way to the City of Water (Venice), though not before their luggage is stolen by the only two Italian men they encounter who are neither inveterate flirts nor explainable idiots.
You might think this is a holiday-destroying disaster, but after we reported the incident to the police, where Venice’s wildly charming police chief is personally handling their case, our plucky retirees hardly give a second thought to their lost cause.
No sooner have they left the police station than the movie’s persistently upbeat Italian music strikes again to remind us that losing all your luggage, in a bad movie, is one little bug bite of an accident.
But at least it introduced us to the rugged charmer who later emerges at the helm of a patrol boat and then the controls of a helicopter, as police chiefs do. That’s the kind of movie this is. Nothing piles up except the clichés. We’re expected to believe that the characters played by Fonda (85) and Johnson (just 73) were lovers in their twenties, as if any of us could be fooled into believing by her alarmingly extensive cosmetic work that they really could be contemporaries.
After lifelong commitment-phobe, Vivian (Fonda) announces her engagement to her twinkling beau (Johnson), our aging quartet heads to Italy for an elaborate “bachelorette party”
I know it’s terribly indecent to call attention to the fact that one of the great beauties on screen is starting to look like an animatronic wax figure of Jane Fonda, but it’s impossible to ignore.
The script, on the other hand, is far from being operated on enough. It’s really awful.
In every conversation between the four women, each of them comes up with a quip or a platitude, almost as if their agents are standing by with a stopwatch to make sure their client gets the same number of lines as the others.
Meanwhile, the narrative signposts are in fluorescent yellow. We see Carol (Steenburgen) clumsily learning the accordion in lockdown, so she later turns up at a Venetian restaurant and plays it like an accomplished French busker.
We also hear her refer to an Italian “hottie” she met in cookery school a “billion” years earlier… and he’s quite the standout, too. Comedies can take such liberties, of course, but they also have a duty to be funny. Book Club: The Next Chapter, like the first film directed by Bill Holderman and again co-written by Erin Simms, is about half as funny as walking through the pouring rain to Waterstones, only to find it closed. It’s likely to be another hit.
Michael J. Fox’s life was blessed with hits, until it was suddenly destroyed by Parkinson’s disease. It is now receiving the attention of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who has created a deeply moving, sometimes funny, often sad, life-affirming film.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (in select cinemas and streaming on Apple TV+) follows his life chronologically, captivating and candidly guided by the star himself.
He wasn’t even 30 when he woke up with a raging hangover and noticed his little finger was shaking uncontrollably. He blamed the roaring hooley he’d had the night before with his friend Woody Harrelson, but it was, in fact, the first overt sign of Parkinson’s. It took him another seven years to publicly admit he had the disease.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (in select cinemas and streaming on Apple TV+) follows his life chronologically, captivating and candidly guided by the star himself. (Pictured with wife Tracy)
But this film is about much more than Parkinson’s (for which Fox has helped raise more than $2 billion in research funding). It’s also about the preciousness of a close-knit family and the oddity of becoming a movie star.
“Actors don’t become actors because they’re brimming with confidence,” says Fox, recalling the “acid bath” of insecurity he had to scramble out of, even when he was Hollywood’s golden boy, between the sets of smash-hit sitcom Family Ties and classic film Back To The Future from 1985.
Honest, insightful and engaging.
Scarlett, Depp, De Niro – my bucket list for Cannes
Johnny Depp playing King Louis XV, in French, is the seductive (or, if you prefer, bizarre) curtain raiser for the 76th Cannes Film Festival next week.
The film is called Jeanne du Barry and the glamorous French actress Maiwenn, who also wrote and directed, plays the title role as King Louis’s socially climbing mistress.
If Depp’s own highly publicized legal battle wasn’t enough to pique the interest, Maiwenn has also recently been accused of assaulting a journalist at a Paris restaurant, allegedly grabbing his hair and spitting in his face. The journalist has filed a report. But whatever happens, it won’t be as bad for Maiwenn as it was for Madame du Barry, whose life ended on the guillotine.
As for the English-language films at Cannes this year, there are some very intriguing prospects.
I like the sound of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City billed as both a sci-fi movie and a rom-com. It stars Scarlett Johansson (pictured)
For starters, we’ll see if Harrison Ford, now an octogenarian, can still make it as a fearless action hero in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny, starring Britain’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Toby Jones.
I’d be more looking forward to Martin Scorsese’s period drama Killers Of The Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, if it wasn’t nearly four hours long. Someone needs to tell the big man to tone it down a bit.
But I’m pretty sure the movie will have a lot of virtues. It tells the true story of a series of murders of Native Americans in the 1920s, after oil was discovered on their land.
I like the sound of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City billed as both a sci-fi movie and a rom-com. Even though I didn’t care for his last picture, The French Dispatch (2021), he sure can weave magic, and only the cast stands out: Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Jeff Goldblum and… Jarvis Cocker.
I’m also excited about Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of the Martin Amis novel The Zone Of Interest – not so much because of the source material, but because it’s Glazer’s first film since his captivating Under The Skin a decade ago. Watch this space.