Wednesday, November 19, 2014

John Herzfeld is back with the ensemble piece REACH ME -- his best work in nearly 20 years

It was the fall of 1996 when a small ensemble film called Two Days in the Valley burst upon the world of us inveterate movie-lovers. This very-unusual-at-the-time movie conflated crime and love, work and play in smart, funny, sometimes shocking ways that proved sublimely entertaining. Within the movie's second-tier but hugely talented cast was a young woman named Charlize Theron, in her first credited film role, and she's a knock-out. (You can rent the movie, which finally came out on DVD a year or two back and will be available on Netflix streaming come December 1. If you've never seen it, do.) At the time of its release, I hadn't heard of its writer/director John Herzfeld, but after seeing this little gem of the we're-all-connected-but-in-pretty-bizarre-ways variety, I knew we'd be hearing from him again.

Then we didn't much -- except for a good cable movie, Don King: Only in America and the not-so-hot 15 Minutes. All of which goes toward delighting me no end that I can now report that Mr. Herzfeld, shown at right, is back again -- and, hallelujah! -- he's in the mode of his earlier 2 Days/Valley success. His new film, REACH ME, is all about the reclusive author (Tom Berenger) of a suddenly mega-popular self-help book and the search to find this man. Like his earlier ensemble piece, this one connects a bunch of disparate people in ways that are funny and entertaining. Although there is some crime involved here, what happens is not nearly as dark and shocking as some of the occurrences in 2 Days/Valley. Herzfeld keeps things on a lighter, more buoyant note this time around, and if his new one doesn't quite come up to the earlier level, it's a very enjoyable and beautifully acted romp nonetheless.

In the ensemble cast are a lot of "names," none perhaps quite as surprising as that of Sylvester Stallone, one of my least favorite actors, playing the role of a big-deal gossip blogger (think maybe a male version of Nikki Finke?). And damned if Stallone isn't first-rate. Who knew?

The rest of the estimable cast includes the likes of Thomas Jane (above), Ryan KwantenKyra Sedgwick (below),

Lauren Cohan (below), a terrific Kevin Connolly, (two photos below), Omari Hardwick, Danny Aiello, Tom Sizemore, Nelly (shown at bottom), Kelsey Grammer (in the penultimate photo) and a whole bunch more -- even the filmmaker himself does a cameo here.

Reach Me (the title of both the movie and the motivational book around which it circles) moves like a house afire and has incredible energy all the way along. Herzfeld's secret, considering how many characters are involved here and how fast the plot unfurls, would seem to be an ability, via his dialog and crack cast, to make every moment strong and true.

This carries us along beautifully, and the movie's subject -- something special and dynamic tossed into today's world of tweets and online immediacy -- makes what's happening seem important enough for us to tag along, and most of the characters are needy and sweet enough, if a bit deranged, to gain our sympathy.

There's a lot of funny dialog that initially adds to the mystery of who's who and what's what but that also seems believable and true. If we lingered longer over events, they might fall apart, but the filmmaker gives us little time for that.

In the end, we've spent 95 fast-paced minutes of crazy, joyous connection that leaves us a bit out of breath, but absolutely grinning with satisfaction.

Reach Me, from Millennium Entertainment and running a sleek 95 minutes, opens this Friday, November 21, in New York City at the AMC Village VII, and via On Demand and digital download.


Moviefanman76 said...

Hey there. Nice review of this movie. I was surprised myself to see the overall polar difference in approval ratings on Rottentomatoes critics vs the audience. I too enjoyed the film. My review is on this website link -

Feel free to check out my other reviews and leave a comment, the feedback would be appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you.

A fellow reviewer.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Moviefanman76! I checked out your site and read your take on REACH ME, and even though we disagree about the level of the writing, I, too, was surprised at the dismal response to this film from almost all the critics. I'm afraid that there is often a real "herd" mentality to our culture guardians, so I am glad that you and I more or less agree that Mr. Herzfeld's interesting movie is worth a viewing.

This is definitely a movie that audiences seem to enjoy a lot more than did the critics, and since it is nothing like one of those stupid, all-CGI-effects blockbusters, I think this bodes well for an independent cinema that is able to reach out to the mass audience.