By Alex McPherson

A glossy, warm-hearted romantic comedy that slightly exceeds expectations, director Kat Coiro’s “Marry Me” ticks all the necessary boxes while being elevated by the charming chemistry of its leads.

Based on Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name, the plot involves an unlikely romance between a celebrity superstar and an ordinary plebeian. Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is a pop music sensation, strutting her stuff onstage while singing basic, yet still kinda catchy, lyrics. She’s preparing to marry her bad-boy fiancé, fellow singer Bastian (Maluma), at a concert before legions of fans, mostly to promote their new single, fittingly titled “Marry Me.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s divorced dad and high-school math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), who lives a mundane existence spending time with his daughter, Lou (Chloe Coleman), boisterous co-worker Parker (Sarah Silverman, delivering some toned-down raunch), and his trusty canine companion. He’s also preparing for a school mathalon with a group of adorably geeky kiddos unafraid to indulge in some blatant product placement. Having been accused of being “boring,” Lou reluctantly agrees to attend Kat’s concert with Lou and Parker.

Mere seconds before their big moment, Kat learns that Bastian’s been cheating on her with her assistant. In a defiant, impulsive leap of faith — after speechifying about the importance of following new paths when what’s assumed and expected fails — she picks out Charlie from the crowd, who happens to be holding a “Marry Me” sign, and asks him to marry her. Charlie, shocked, takes pity on Kat and wants to impress his daughter, so he agrees. Afterwards, even though both Kat and Charlie aren’t serious about starting a relationship, they somehow agree to keep the act going until the media storm dies down, with some encouragement from Kat’s manager, Collin Calloway (John Bradley). And guess what? They start falling for each other. Wow.

Although “Marry Me” has an opportunity to explore the tumultuous realities of celebrity culture, Coiro’s film largely bypasses nuance in favor of providing rom-com fans exactly what they hope for. Wilson and Lopez keep this decidedly old-fashioned narrative on-track, making the film’s shallowness easy to overlook.

Lopez and Wilson help buoy the film through its predictable framework, each giving just enough effort to lend their characters likability beneath the generic archetypes. Lopez — effectively playing a version of her real-life persona — slips into the role of Valdez easily, bringing some self-aware gusto to a person who secretly wants to follow her own path, away from the ever-present cameras and glow of smartphone screens. In elaborate concert sequences and numerous musical interludes — interrupting the action for some literal self-promotion — Lopez shines, even though she’s never really allowed to be vulnerable due to the film’s insistence on remaining upbeat above all else. 

Wilson is his expected, laid-back self, possessing an everyman charisma that nicely contrasts with Lopez’s initial bombast. There’s not really much to his character, and we never learn much about his previous marriage, but Charlie’s a simple man who wants to be there for his amusingly blunt daughter. Charlie has absolutely zero interest in Kat’s way of life, but as the two of them become friends and then, unsurprisingly, fall in love, their improbable romance ends up being relatively low-key and wholesome, even as Bastian tries to barge in to take back Kat. Indeed, it’s pleasing how the ludicrousness fades into wholesomeness by the conclusion, with a properly schmaltzy finale.

Regarding the omnipresent grip of technology, “Marry Me” depicts it aggressively, erratically framing scenes through paparazzi cameras and copious amounts of smartphone screens. It’s all a bit garish, and the film makes a few basic jabs at how little privacy celebrities like Valdez are given in their daily lives, where the music itself is sometimes an afterthought in the public eye. In these moments, we see the film that could have been, but who expects any sort of meaningful commentary in a story as absurd as this?

As far as rom-coms go, “Marry Me” isn’t revolutionary in the slightest, but it should fit the bill nicely as a Valentine’s Day watch, where love triumphs over all.

“Marry Me” is a 2022 romantic comedy directed by Kat Coiro and starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Sarah Silverman, John Bradley, Chloe Coleman and Maluma. It’s rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material and the run time is 1 hour, 52 minutes. Starts streaming on Peacock and in theaters on Feb. 11. Alex’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
Think New Yorker meets Highlights for the literary geek chic. As a paean to print, “The French Dispatch” is a glorious reminder of how turning pages, enraptured in an article, can take us away to other worlds.

Set in an outpost of an American newspaper – the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun — in a fictional 20th century French city. It brings to life a collection of stories published in the final edition of the newspaper empire’s Sunday magazine, following the death of the editor (Bill Murray).

Experiencing a Wes Anderson film is like being transported into an illustrated picture book with stunning artistically complex worlds both familiar and of wonder – feeling new and nostalgic at the same time.

It is always a unique event that I look forward to with great anticipation, having listed “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” among my favorite movies of the 21st Century. And his whimsical stop-animation features “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Isle of Dogs” (his last movie in 2018) are genius.

No matter if they connect or not, all his films of the past 30 years are painstakingly detailed works of art that offer something different – and feature wit, eccentric characters, superb music accompaniment, and striking composed visuals as common threads.

Therefore, it pains me to say that while “The French Dispatch” is a love letter to journalists and has considerable quirky charms, with dizzying fanciful techniques and the director’s distinctive symmetrical style, color palette and designs, it is at once too much and not enough.

‘THE FRENCH DISPATCH.’ (Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Set in the truly inspired metropolis Ennui-sur-Blasé (which translated, means “Boredom-on-Apathy,” with a wink), this sophisticated exercise is an overstuffed toy box that melds too many concepts to be as satisfying as his top three. And despite its splendid cast, there isn’t a single character that emotionally resonates.

This anthology, running 1 hour 48 minutes, is crowded with enough content for 10 movies. Anderson’s offbeat screenplay, with a story conceived with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Hugo Guinness, is divided to fit the magazine’s sections: arts and artists, politics/poetry and tastes and smells, but starts and ends with the life and death of diligent editor Arthur Horowitz Jr. – played by Anderson all-star Bill Murray, just as droll as ever.

In “The Concrete Masterpiece” by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), which goes off the rails two-thirds in, Benicio del Toro plays Moses Rosenthaler, a psychopathic artist who paints critically acclaimed abstracts in prison, uses Simone (Lea Seydoux), a female prison guard as a nude model, and attracts the attention of Cadazio, an imperious, impatient art exhibitor played by Adrien Brody, backed by his two businessmen uncles (brief appearance by Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban).

“Revisions to a Manifesto” has student radicals protest, which leads to “The Chessboard Revolution,” with rebel leader Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet), who gets the attention of no-nonsense scribe Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand). This meanders and should have ended midway.

The third is “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” as recounted by urbane food writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) in a television interview with talk show host (Liev Schreiber). This is a complex crime caper involving multiple characters, many locations, and quite a roster of talent.

At times, these short stories seem indulgent, rambling, and tedious. Sharper pacing would have helped with the storytelling, which does benefit from the gifted performers who find their rhythm and deliver crisp dialogue in the earnest manner one expects in these idiosyncratic tableaus.

Owen Wilson, who has been in eight Anderson movies, second only to Murray, is good-natured staff writer Herbsaint Sazerac, who takes us on an amusing tour of the city. Anjelica Huston, aka Mrs. Tenenbaum, capably handles narration duty this time –a lovely addition.

One of the pleasures of this film is to see such a star-studded array of repertory players, and more – among them, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Steve Park, Lois Wilson, Fisher Stevens, and Griffin Dunne.

The pandemic delayed this film’s release by a year, which heightened expectations and allowed a clever literary marketing campaign to enchant with graphics and snippets, modeled after venerable periodicals from days gone by. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July, where it received a nine-minute standing ovation.

Having spent nearly a half-century working at publications, the editorial office setting was the most intriguing yet the least focus — an aperitif instead of an entrée. With every bon mot that Murray tossed off as the veteran editor corralled correspondents, I wanted more of that colorful staff.

The sight of Murray taking a pencil to hard copy, as ink-stained editors once did in non-cubical newsrooms, should make journalists yearn for a grizzled authority figure to cut their long-winded prose and hand the typed papers back with gruff remarks and certain expectations. Writers may weep at the sight of a proofreader and a layout guy trying to fit linotype into a grid, for it’s part of a cherished past.

As a film, tightening those long-winded vignettes would have made a difference.

Nevertheless, the production elements are exceptional, especially from frequent Anderson cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, flipping between black-and-white and color, and other collaborators Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (for “Grand Budapest Hotel”) and costume designer Milena Canonero, four-time Oscar winner including “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and composer Alexander Desplat’s score.

Still, a Wes Anderson movie is like hanging out with erudite English Literature majors, some of whom are raconteurs and iconoclasts, who motivate you to add books and adventures to your to-do lists.

The French Dispatch” is a 2021 comedy-drama directed by Wes Anderson and starring Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson and Elisabeth Moss. It’s run time is 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language. In theaters Oct. 29. Lynn’s Grade: B.
Portions of this review were published in the Webster-Kirkwood Times and discussed on KTRS Radio.

By Alex McPherson

Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” is an experience as eye-popping as it is utterly overwhelming.

“The French Dispatch,” largely inspired by writers at The New Yorker magazine, including James Thurber, James Baldwin, Mavis Gallant, and others this Gen Z critic has never heard of, recounts the experiences of four writers at the French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas, Evening Sun newspaper based in a fictional French town. These writings take place within “Ennui-sur-Blasé” (Boredom-on-Blasé), which proves to be far from boring. The editor-in-chief, a strict yet sentimental chap named Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), has just died, leaving behind one final issue of the paper filled with eccentric happenings and colorful characters. 

Anderson’s film is structured like an anthology narrated by the author of each “article,” opening with a biography of Howitzer and ending with his obituary. We get a scene-setter from a beret-wearing cyclist, Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson). Sazerac sets the scene, showcasing a French town packed with people of all sorts, as well as hundreds of rats and cats. We then delve into an arts report by JKL Berenson (Tilda Swinton) as she gives a PowerPoint presentation on an (in)famous incarcerated painter named Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), his muse/prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux), and a greedy art collector named Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) wanting to capitalize on Moses’ works.

Afterwards, viewers are launched into a rather intimate profile, written by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), of a young, insecure revolutionary named Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet), who amid the student uprising in 1968 engages in high-stakes chess matches with authority figures. “The French Dispatch” saves the best for last, however, as food columnist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) — a gay Black man — discusses on a talk show a profile he wrote of Lt. Nescafier (Stephen Park), an esteemed chef of a local police chief The Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric). Both Wright and Nescafier are dragged into a life-or-death situation. 

Timothee Chalamet as Zefferelli

If this sounds like a lot to digest, you’d be correct. There’s so much movie here that it’s hard not to be mentally swamped. This lessens the impact of individual vignettes that are, by themselves, quite profound. Nevertheless, “The French Dispatch” provides a nonstop barrage of aesthetically pleasing eye candy that holds attention even as the overstuffed whole threatens to undermine the compelling characters on display.

Ennui-sur-Blasé is a meticulously crafted setting, a cinematic dollhouse that refuses to be categorized in simple terms. In typical Andersonian fashion, everything moves like a clockwork machine coming to life. A quiet neighborhood suddenly fills with activity upon the rising sun, sets transition between one another as characters walk from room to room, and elegantly symmetrical shot compositions are once again used in full force. Interestingly, “The French Dispatch” also alternates between black-and-white and color photography shot-to-shot — perhaps representing timeless bursts of humanity that transcend the written word. 

Each section utilizes Anderson’s style in different ways, paying homage to French filmmakers like Jacques Tati and François Truffaut, as well as cartoonists from The New Yorker. That being said, “The French Dispatch” knows when to subvert its rules to emphasize the darker elements of this charming, albeit troubled dreamworld, particularly concerning the existential threats that tinge Wright’s perspective with sadness and dread. For brief moments, the madcap fades away to zoom in on true, deeply felt emotions. Alexandre Desplat’s score perfectly accompanies the action, eliciting joy and melancholy.

Of course, there’s an outstanding amount of acting talent here (including some cameos I won’t spoil), and everyone brings their A-game, even if we only spend a few minutes with them. Murray, Del Toro, and Wright are standouts — lending their characters a sense of three-dimensionality that’s all the more meaningful in such cartoonish locations. Although some performances are more effective than others — Chalamet is somewhat one-note, for example — they’re perfect vessels to deliver Anderson’s signature playful, occasionally irreverent dialogue that seems even more obsessive than usual.

Although some might say “The French Dispatch” is style over substance, Anderson’s film grows more meaningful the more I think about it, stretching my Film Studies muscles to approach coherent conclusions. We see a literal tortured artist being exploited for profit, an aging journalist mourning her youth, childish revolutionaries blinded by idealism, and outsiders seeking comfort in an alienating world. While the second portion featuring McDormand and Chalamet comes across as a bit precious and rushed in places, there’s rarely a dull moment. Despite the sections’ differences, they’re thematically bonded through exploring concepts of belonging, passion, storytelling, and the creation of art itself with a whimsical edge that likely benefits from repeat viewings. 

Additionally, the notion of this newspaper traveling all the way back to corn-covered Kansas holds its own significance. Stories should be universal, after all, and “The French Dispatch” underlines how this form of humanistic journalism shouldn’t be discarded amid the changing media climate. As a tribute to artists of all kinds and a wistful thesis on the future of print, this is a film that deserves to be mulled over, and I’m eager to research the people who influenced it. Tighter pacing and more focus could have made it one of Anderson’s best, but “The French Dispatch” is most assuredly worth opening up.

Jeffrey Wright and Liev Shreiber

The French Dispatch” is a 2021 comedy-drama directed by Wes Anderson and starring Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson and Elisabeth Moss. It’s run time is 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language. In theaters Oct. 29. Alex’s Grade: B+.

Benicio del Toro, Lea Seydoux


By Lynn Venhaus
A hot mess of a movie, “Bliss” travels between reality and computer simulation, but do we ever know what is real? And more importantly, do we care?

A mysterious woman (Salma Hayek) convinces a troubled man (Owen Wilson) that they are living in a simulated reality, but even with chemical enhancement, their newfound merry world begins to bleed into a cruel ugly world. So, what is real and where do they belong?

Owen Wilson is Greg, a glum, recently divorced guy who goofs off at work and takes pills for an undisclosed ailment. His boss has been trying to get his attention, and certainly does when he fires him.

After a shocking development, he meets Salma Hayek’s difficult Isabel across the street in a bar, Plato’s Dive, and for the next hour and a half, we have philosophical drivel, a nonsensical love story and a bizarro world that alternates between utopian and dystopian.

The writer-director Mike Cahill, whose earlier low-budget movies, “Another Earth” and “I Origins,” put him on the indie map, has crafted what started as an ambitious sci-fi into a complex narrative that spirals out of control.

One can’t keep up with intentions – and why would you keep trying – because at every turn, characters leaps into the rabbit hole. They are on the street, then they are in paradise – it’s jarring and jerky.

“Bliss” is more like an abyss. There is so much confusing “Matrix”-like mumbo-jumbo and the main characters are irritating. Hard-shell Isabel is taxing and selfish, her motivations suspect and very often, cruel. She’s more loathsome than lazy Greg, who is just a tool.

And miscast. Wilson and Hayek do nothing for their careers with these unsympathetic roles. When they play with their powers, people get hurt – and that is painful to watch them derive pleasure from it.

Do we ever know the endgame here? “Bliss” is a superficial movie that aimed high, but its concept could not be executed in any believable way. I want 103 minutes of my life back.

“Bliss” is a sci-fi drama written and directed by Mike Cahill, starring Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper and Ronny Chieng. It’s
rated: R for drug content, language, some sexual material and violence, and runs 1 hour, 43 minutes. An Amazon Original movie, it is available on Prime Feb. 5. Lynn’s Grade: F