BLONDE (2022) – Netflix’ NC-17 Rated Fictional Account of Marilyn Monroe Major Disappointment

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Some movies have “it.” Others don’t.

BLONDE (2022), unlike its subject, Marilyn Monroe, doesn’t have “it,” which is too bad because Ana de Armas is terrific in the lead role as Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe, but this fictional account of the life of Monroe based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates just never came to life for me. It didn’t grab me at the outset, nor did it pull me in later as it went along, and for a movie that runs nearly three hours, that’s a long time to be uninvolved. A very long time.

The first issue I had with this movie is why do we need a fictional account of the life of Marilyn Monroe? Wasn’t her real life fascinating and tragic enough? I couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea. Sure, it’s based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel, but again, why? I was especially distracted by this in this day and age where a growing number of political leaders make their living promoting fictional accounts as true, and so this whole notion didn’t sit well with me here in 2022. That being said, I went in with an open mind, and was ready to enjoy this one regardless, but the film itself prevented me from doing so.

BLONDE, which is rated NC-17 for strong sexual content, nudity, rape, and child abuse, is now streaming on Netflix and playing at some theaters. Most of the content here is typical of R rated films. The one exception is a rather vulgar scene between Monroe and JFK, vulgar in the way the President treats Monroe. But this is all fiction so… it doesn’t resonate as it otherwise would.

The film opens with a young Norma Jean living with her alcoholic and abusive mom (Julianne Nicholson), giving the film a very unpleasant first few minutes which seem to go on forever before finally cutting to an adult Norma Jean (Ana de Armas) as she first breaks into the film industry. And in this story, she gets her first role after being raped by the studio head. He has his way sexually with her, and then he gives her the role. Again, fictional account. This never happened.

The rest of the movie follows Monroe’s traumatic life and career, following its factual path through movies she made and the lovers she had, but all with a fictional twist, right up until her tragic death in 1962 at the age of 36.

BLONDE tries to be stylish, and director Andrew Dominik mixes black and white cinematography into the mix, as well as different variants of color photography, and even inserts de Armas into real scenes from Marilyn Monroe’s movies where de Armas stands side by side with the real actors from those movies. Yet, none of this worked for me. In terms of style, BLONDE is vastly inferior to another bio pic from earlier this year, ELVIS (2022) by Baz Luhrmann. That film had me hooked within its opening seconds and it never looked back. BLONDE, in spite of all its technical innovations, labors from start to finish.

A large part of the problem is its pacing. It moves like a snail, and never builds on what has come before it. It just moves from one plot point to another. It really could have used some serious editing.

There are some impressive acting performances. I’ve been a fan of Ana de Armas for a while, and she is making a ton of movies these days. We just saw her in THE GRAY MAN (2022) and before that in the James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE (2021). Her performance as an A. I. being was one of the better parts of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017).

Here, she gives it her all as Marilyn Monroe, and at times she is good enough to lose herself in the role, and you think you are watching the real Monroe. Other times, however, de Armas’ Cuban accent is still detectable. If BLONDE had been a better movie, this distinction would have worked better because it would have supported the notion that this is a fictional account and not a true biography, but the film just isn’t up to the task, and so I imagine de Armas’ accent will only irritate Marilyn Monroe fans.

Bobby Cannavale turns in a fine performance as the “Ex-Athlete,” based of course on Joe DiMaggio, who famously married Marilyn Monroe, and Adrien Brody is even better as “The Playwright,” based on Arthur Miller, who married Monroe after she and DiMaggio divorced. Neither one of these two have much of an impact here though, since neither actor is in the movie all that much.

The screenplay by director Andrew Dominik based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates falls flat, and then some. I was amazed at how much I did not like this movie. Considering the subject matter, Marilyn Monroe, the actor in the lead, Ana de Armas, and the impressive looking cinematography.

None of it comes together. The story struggles. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the narrative because it’s a fictional account of a real person, and so these traumatic events which shaped Monroe’s life— didn’t actually happen, at least not in the way as depicted in this movie.

For me, the bottom line is this: did this really happen to Monroe? No. So, why do I care?

The short answer? I don’t.

So, in spite of tremendous potential, BLONDE was a huge disappointment.

Monroe and her fans deserve better.

I give it one and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

JOLT (2021) – Kate Beckinsale Action Flick An Exhilarating Thrill Ride

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Kate Beckinsale kicking ass in a high voltage action movie. What’s not to like?

Actually, there could be a lot not to like. I am not a fan of Beckinsale’s UNDERWORLD vampire action series, as I find those movies poorly written and terribly boring. That being said, today’s movie, JOLT (2021), a new action flick now available on Prime Video, is actually a lot of fun.

In JOLT, Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) suffers from an unusual condition in which she cannot control her anger and as a result kicks the living sh*t out of anyone who makes her angry. If this were a Marvel superhero movie she’d be turning green and shouting “Smash!” In fact, she and the Hulk would be perfect for each other. JOLT is also marketed as a comedy, and while you won’t be laughing throughout, there are some laugh out loud moments here and there, but more importantly, the humor serves as a reminder that this film certainly does not take itself too seriously. So, Lindy’s condition is treated lightly. This is not a movie about angst.

Lindy finally finds some relief when her psychiatrist Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci) provides her with an experimental exoskeleton of electrodes that zap her with jolts of electricity which help manage her temper. Dr. Munchin also advises that she get out more and go on some dates. She takes his advice and meets Justin (Jai Courtney) who immediately sweeps her off her feet. She feels so good that she declares to Dr. Munchin that she’s now cured! But her joy is short-lived when Justin is murdered the next night. Her new hopes shattered, Lindy makes it her mission to find out who killed Justin and when she does to make them pay. She needs to stay one step ahead of the two investigating police detectives, Detective Vicars (Bobby Cannavale) and Detective Nevin (Laverne Cox), and her quest for justice doesn’t get any easier when she learns that Justin was involved with some very powerful and very dangerous people. Of course.

The worst thing that can be said about JOLT is its plot is threadbare. Lindy and all her talents are stuck in a plot in which she’s investigating the murder of a guy she dated twice. That’s as intricate as it gets, folks. And the plot twist at the end I saw coming a mile away.

But the rest of the screenplay by Scott Wascha is very good. The dialogue is fun and witty, and the characters fleshed out pretty darn well for a fast paced action movie. Of course it helps that JOLT is blessed with an impressive cast.

Leading the way is Kate Beckinsale. She makes for a believable action hero even in a film where believability isn’t always key. Just as the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, there’s a lot of playfulness in Beckinsale’s performance even as she is taking out the deadly bad guys in some pretty violent scenes. She’s in most of the movie, and she easily carries this one.

Stanley Tucci, who is always a joy to watch, is really good in his scenes as Dr. Munchin, and he and Beckinsale share a fun chemistry. Every time she bursts into his office, he pulls a handgun from his desk drawer to protect himself. And when she fights to control her anger over things he’s saying, she imagines herself killing him, and when she returns to the here and now, Munchin calmly asks her how she killed him this time. Asphyxiation? And she tells him no, punctured artery. And he nods and the session continues.

Bobby Cannavale is excellent as Detective Vicars. He is instantly attracted to Lindy, and he goes out of his way to help her. Cannavale and Beckinsale also share a strong chemistry. The characters and their relationships really come to life in this movie, which for an action flick, surprised me.

I also enjoyed Laverne Cox as Detective Nevin. Unlike her partner, Nevin doesn’t trust Lindy at all and makes it her mission to single-handedly capture the woman, and their spirited confrontations make for some of the livelier comedic scenes in the film.

Jai Courtney is charming as Justin, the boyfriend who meets an untimely death, and the film boasts a couple of notable villains as well. Ori Pfeffer plays Delacroix, a cool henchman and enforcer who Lindy tangles with on more than one occasion, and their final confrontation is a good one. And David Bradley makes for an icy cold deadly recluse Gareth Fizel, the villain who is pulling all the strings.

Even Susan Sarandon shows up as a mysterious woman with no name.

But the best part of JOLT, even better than the stellar cast, is the direction by director Tanya Wexler. JOLT is full of impressive and exciting action scenes, and even more so, thrilling chase scenes. JOLT features some of the more exhilarating chase scenes I’ve seen in a long time. The camerawork in these scenes is amazing. While the hand to hand fight scenes aren’t quite as impressive as similar scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) or EXTRACTION (2020), they come close.

The chase scene in which Detective Nevin pursues Lindy through a hospital is phenomenal, and the car chase sequence where Lindy steals Nevin’s car and is pursued by Nevin and Vicars is even more exciting.

Wexler also directed BUFFALOED (2019), a dark quirky film I really enjoyed, but I think I liked JOLT even more. There’s just so much spirited energy in JOLT. Other than its ho hum standard plot, JOLT as a comedic action flick really soars.

With Kate Beckinsale leading the way, JOLT is an enjoyable thrill ride that will give you quite the charge.

—END—

THUNDER FORCE (2021) – Latest In Long Line of Unfunny Movie Comedies

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I was really in the mood for a comedy this weekend. I needed to unwind and laugh and was looking for a movie to help me do just that.

Sadly, I chose THUNDER FORCE (2021), the new Netflix superhero comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer.

THUNDER FORCE is the latest in a long line of movie comedies that simply aren’t funny. I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: the movie comedy right now is the one movie genre that is in the most trouble. You just don’t see many good ones any more. Where have all the great comic geniuses of the world gone? They’re not out there making movies, that I can tell you!

THUNDER FORCE also isn’t helped by its plot, the idea that every day people suddenly inherit superpowers and become superheroes. This theme has been overdone in such recent films like UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) and PROJECT: POWER (2020), two serious superhero movies that also weren’t all that good.

But the biggest problem with THUNDER FORCE is it is simply not that funny. Director/writer and Melissa McCarthy hubby Ben Falcone has written a script that includes potentially humorous scenarios but without clever crisp jokes to pull these scenes off, leaving the audience with nary a chuckle. I barely laughed. In fact, within the first few minutes of this one, I was seriously bored, and the film runs a very long one hour and forty six minutes. That’s an excruciatingly long time to not be funny.

And to be bored by a movie which stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, two actors I really enjoy, says a lot!

McCarthy and Spencer play best friends Lydia and Emily, and they’ve been friends since high school, and the movie actually spends a good chunk of its opening minutes playing out their entire back story, which is as dull a way to open a superhero comedy as one can imagine! You have to wait 10-15 minutes before McCarthy and Spencer even show up. They live in Chicago during a time when evil super powered Miscreants terrorize the world. Spencer’s Emily lost her parents to Miscreants, and she has vowed to defeat them in her parents’ name. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I’m surprised she doesn’t live in a cave and have a butler named Alfred. Anyway, Emily has worked her entire life on finding a way to give ordinary people superpowers, and one day while hanging around inside her best friend’s lab, Lydia accidentally receives those powers, and the next thing you know, she and Emily are a pair of unlikely superheroes who go by the name of Thunder Force taking on the city’s villainous Miscreants, led by the corrupt politician The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his henchmen The Crab (Jason Bateman) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).

Yawn.

Actually this plot would have been fine had the jokes been funny. But they’re not. This is as unfunny a comedy as I’ve seen in a while. If you want to understand the level of humor here, it reminded me of another awful Netflix comedy which also used Force in its title, the excruciatingly mundane TV series SPACE FORCE which starred Steve Carell and John Malkovich. Both of these projects are prime examples of forced humor!

This is also about as unfunny as I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy, and I’m a fan. She has a few minor moments here and there, but that’s about it. Octavia Spencer pretty much plays it straight, which means she fits in with the overall tone of the movie, which in spite of supposedly being a comedy, can’t seem to garner a laugh.

The villains fare the best, which isn’t saying much. Bobby Cannavale as The King is at least interesting to watch, even if the running gag of him not knowing his henchmen’s names is never all that comical. Jason Bateman enjoys the best moments in the movie as The Crab, a human Miscreant hybrid with crab claws for hands. He gets some of the better lines in the movie, and he pulls them off with ease, and his scenes with Melissa McCarthy were about the only times in the movie where I felt compelled to pay attention. The rest was a snore fest.

If Pom Klementieff as Laser looks like she walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie, that’s because she plays Mantis in that Cinematic Universe, and the two characters resemble each other. She’s actually funnier as Mantis.

Melissa Leo is completely lost in a nothing role as Allie, the third member and behind the scenes operative of Thunder Force.

Ben Falcone has written and directed other Melissa McCarthy movies. I didn’t see their most recent collaboration, SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020), but their film before that, LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018), which also opened to negative reviews, I actually liked and laughed quite a bit. Not so here with THUNDER FORCE. Too much time is spent on the super hero plot, which is lame and forgettable, and not enough time is spent on honing the humor.

If you are looking for laughs, you’ll need to keep on looking because you won’t find them in THUNDER FORCE. It’s one of the dullest comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

—END–

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) – Light, Fun, Another Marvel Hit

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Evangeline Lily and Paul Rudd in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018), the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a comedic vehicle that will have you chuckling throughout, which is just what Marvel fans needed after the devastating AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) earlier this year.

After breaking the law by teaming up with Captain America in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. He sees his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and he’s visited by his business partner Luis (Michael Pena), but he cannot leave his house, which explains his absence from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Speaking of which, the events in this movie take place just before the events in INFINITY WAR.

Scott’s also not supposed to have any contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) or her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) since they designed the Ant Man suit which he wore when he fought against Iron Man and half the Avengers when he joined Team Captain America. Hope and Hank are considered fugitives from justice. And Scott wants no part of seeing them since his house arrest ends in a matter of days.

But that all changes when Hope and Hank extract Scott from his house, telling him they need his help to find Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) who was lost years ago in the subatomic realm and considered dead, but since Scott had been reduced to a subatomic level and returned, Hank now believes it’s possible his wife is still alive. Scott reluctantly agrees to help them.

But along the way they find resistance from a shady business contact Sonny Burch (Walter Goggins) and a mysterious being with super powers greater than their own, both of whom want to steal Hank’s technology.

So, as you can see, the plot here is nothing heavy.  Ant Man is not trying to save the world, and after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, that’s fine with me.

How does ANT-MAN AND THE WASP compare to the first ANT MAN movie?  It’s as good if not better.

One of the strengths of the Marvel movies has always been that they have very strong scripts, and the screenplay here by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari is no exception.  It goes all in on the comedy and is light and funny throughout. Writers Barrer and Ferrari are new to the Marvel Universe, while Rudd worked on the screenplay to the first ANT-MAN (2015), and McKenna and Sommers were on the team that wrote the highly regarded SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017).

The other strength of these Marvel movies is the impressive casts they always assemble.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant Man, and he’s about as likable a superhero as you’re going to find in a movie, mostly because he’s an unlikely superhero. He doesn’t see himself as much of a hero. In fact, he knows he usually messes things up pretty bad.  Rudd is fun to watch because of both his easy-going personality and his sharp comedic timing.

Rudd’s scenes with Abby Ryder Forston, who plays Scott’s daughter Cassie, are precious. The scene where she says she wants to be his partner is a keeper. And Forston also gets plenty of comedic moments as well.

Rudd enjoys fine chemistry with both Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas.  Lily is perfect as Hope/Wasp, as she’s both bitter and in love with Scott, and their scenes together have the necessary sexual tension and honed humor. Lily also makes for an impressive bad-ass superhero.

Michael Douglas gets plenty of opportunities to shine as Dr. Hank Pym. When he’s not chastising Scott or saying lines like “are we going to get out of here or are you two going to stare at each other all day?” to Scott and Hope when they become preoccupied with each other rather than escaping, he’s devoted to finding his wife.

And it was fun to see Michelle Pfeiffer back on the big screen in a superhero movie, something she hadn’t done since her phenomenal performance as Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS (1992). Pfeiffer’s not in this one much, but she appears early on in a flashback as the first Wasp, thanks to some CGI/motion capture effects, looking years younger.

The rest of the cast is largely there for comedic relief.

Michael Pena has a field day as Scott’s business partner Luis, and as the movie goes along, he becomes more involved in the plot. Luis, along with associates Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), form a team who when helping Scott are about as useful as the Three Stooges.

Likewise, Walter Goggins, who’s played some very serious villains in his day, in films like DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015), plays baddie Sonny Burch strictly for laughs. The scene where Sonny and his goons capture Luis, Dave, and Kurt and plan to use “truth serum” on them is hilarious.

Judy Greer returns as Scott’s ex-wife Maggie, and Bobby Cannavale returns as her new husband Paxton, and their scenes are comic as well this time around. And Randall Park plays lawman Jimmy Woo, also, you got it, for laughs.

The emphasis on humor would be bad if the film wasn’t funny, but it is, very much so, and all these actors excel in their roles. The result is a highly entertaining two hours which fly by incredibly quickly.

About the only two folks in the film not playing things for laughs are Hannah John-Kamen as the mysterious Ghost, and Laurence Fishburne as Hank’s former colleague Dr. Bill Foster. Hanna John-Kamen is okay as Ghost, but the character, in spite of an interesting background story, isn’t developed all that well.

Laurence Fishburne fares better as Dr. Bill Foster. He’s a man who’s often at odds with Hank Pym, but he’s trying to do the right thing. The scene where he puts his foot down with Ghost when she suggests they go after Scott’s daughter for leverage really resonates. When he tells her in no uncertain terms that going after children is wrong and that he will not be a part of using a child to get what he wants, it’s a telling moment.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP was directed by Peyton Reed, who also directed the first ANT-MAN movie. He handled both films very well, and I think he outdid himself with this second film, as he pretty much got everything right with this one. The humor works, the action scenes are edited well and fun to watch, and the pacing is perfect. The special effects are also spot-on.

If there’s any flaw it’s I would have liked more Wasp.  I really enjoyed Evangeline Lilly as Wasp and would have loved to have seen her in even more scenes as the bad-ass superhero.

And while comedy ruled the day in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, the events from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which have not happened yet loom like a cloud over the proceedings, which makes this story even better.

In the Marvel movie tradition, there are two after-credit scenes. The first is the big one, the one you definitely do not want to miss, while the second, at the very end of the credits, reverts back to the comedic.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is yet another high quality superhero movie from Marvel, as the studio continues its amazing run of entertaining movies, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the studio is having an extraordinarily exceptional year, as all three of their releases so far in 2018, BLACK PANTHER, AVENGER: INFINITY WAR, and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, are among the best films of the year.

And since Ant-Man wasn’t involved in the devastating conclusion to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, he’s suddenly a very important superhero going forward. Be sure to catch him in this light adventure now, because the next time we see him in the next AVENGERS movie, things no doubt will be a bit darker.

Yup, the next time we see him he’ll be going up against Thanos.  Gulp!

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blu-ray Review: Danny Collins (2015)

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In DANNY COLLINS (2015) Al Pacino plays an aging rock star.

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to wrap my head around Pacino playing a Neil Diamond-type— his onscreen persona just seems too intense— and after seeing this movie, I’m still not sure, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying him or the movie.

Al Pacino is Danny Collins, a Neil Diamond-type rock star who is in his waning years and has let his life pretty much go down the toilet.  He does drugs, he’s married to a trophy wife who he doesn’t love, and he barely has the stamina to get through a performance anymore.

His life changes when his agent Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a gift:  a letter written to him from John Lennon nearly 40 year ago.  Lennon’s letter was written to him in response to a magazine interview Collins had given early in his career where he had expressed doubts about his music.  Lennon’s letter offered him personal encouragement.  Lennon had sent the letter to the magazine, and the editor had kept it rather than give it to Collins.  After the editor’s death it had gone to a private dealer, where it remained until Grubman tracked it down.

The letter inspires Collins to make some life-altering changes, and number one amongst them is to finally reconnect with his estranged adult son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his family.  And this is what DANNY COLLINS is ultimately about, and is why it becomes such an enjoyable and rewarding movie.

Al Pacino, in spite of my misgivings, is terrific as Danny Collins.  I still can’t picture him as a rock star, but that doesn’t really matter because in this movie he’s playing a rock star who just doesn’t have it anymore, and in that regard, he pulls it off just fine.  But more importantly,  this story is about him reconnecting with his son, which is no easy task since his son wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and it’s here where Pacino shines.

My favorite part of Pacino’s performance here is that it’s much more understated than his usual work.  He plays Danny Collins as a man who is weary and tired, and yet when he needs to be fiery, he rears back and pulls energy from deep within, and in scenes where he has to break through his son’s defenses, he does it with ease.  He exudes sincerity and caring, and from a character who’s reputation is anything but, he makes it all very believable.

Pacino receives fine support from the rest of the cast, led by Bobby Cannavale as his son Tom.  Cannavale is perfect as the working-class husband and father who wants nothing to do with his rock star father who basically disowned him for his entire life, and when Collins shows up at his door to make amends, it’s not pretty.  However, Collins is persistent and makes it clear he really does want to become part of his son’s life, and as this persistance gradually chisels through Tom’s hardened construction worker exterior, Cannavale effortlessly handles these nuanced changes.

I’ve enjoyed Cannavale in films like LOVELACE (2013), CHEF (2014), and ANT-MAN (2015) to name just a few, but I don’t think I’ve seen him better than here in DANNY COLLINS.

Annette Bening also adds fine support as Collins’ new love interest Mary Sinclair, who runs the hotel where Collins is staying.  They hit it off instantly and share a flirtatious chemistry throughout.  Jennifer Garner is also very enjoyable as Tom’s wife Samantha.  Garner, from the TV show ALIAS (2001-2006) is very good here as the lovable mother and wife, who takes to Collins immediately and helps ease the tensions between father and son.  And young Giselle Eisenberg  makes for a very cute and entertaining little daughter Hope.

And Christopher Plummer enjoys a scene-stealing performance as Collins’ agent Frank Grubman.  It’s the type of wise-cracking role Alan Arkin has played recently.

DANNY COLLINS was written and directed by Dan Fogelman, who wrote CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (2011), one of my favorite comedies of recent years, which starred Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone.   Fogelman keeps the tone of DANNY COLLINS light, and as a result the film in spite of some of serious moments remains playful and fun throughout.

You also can’t beat the music score, as it’s peppered with John Lennon songs.  How cool is that?  Original song “Hey Baby Doll” which is supposed to be Danny Collins’ signature tune and the one that his aging audience always wants him to perform, sounds just like a Neil Diamond ditty and is perfect for this story.

I’m still not sure I buy Pacino as an aging rock star.  But I certainly buy him as a once absent father desperately trying to reconnect with his adult son.  And in the story that DANNY COLLINS has to tell, that’s all that really matters.

—Michael