Danny Collins

Danny CollinsDirector: Dan Fogelman

Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, and Jennifer Garner

Most people have wondered “what if?” at some point in time in their lives. But what if your “what if?” happened? And what if you never knew? And what if your “what if?” was John Lennon writing you a handwritten letter of appreciation and advice? That’s the true story that inspired the new film, Danny Collins.

In the film, Al Pacino plays Danny Collins, a tremendously successful entertainer who makes boatloads of money filling arenas and performing the hits from his 40-year career. When his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) tracks down a 40 year old letter written to Danny from John Lennon, Danny decides to rethink his life and his choices.

Lennon’s letter suggested that it is not money and fame that corrupt us, but ourselves. These words lead Collins to cancel his current tour, appropriately named The Greatest Hits Vol. 3 Tour, and move to New Jersey in the hopes of rediscovering his passion for music as well as connecting with his adult son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale) who he has never met.

Danny Collins treads paths that ultimately feel familiar, but while formulaic, the redemption Danny seeks takes him on an enjoyable ride. Pacino is finally not chewing on scenery here. It is fair to say that the 2000s have not been kind to Pacino and watching him in films like Jack and Jill, 88 Minutes, and Two For the Money makes me yearn for the days of The Godfather…or at least Scent of a Woman. But breathe a sigh of relief, as Pacino gives a real performance here, and he is very fun to watch.  In fact, his string of hollow films in recent years appropriately reflects the inner-struggle Danny Collins faces in this film.

The best part of Danny Collins though is not the inner-search for creativity gone missing, but the father-son story between Danny and Tom. Both actors play off each other very well and Collins’s desire to repair the desperately broken relationship is endearing. Equally endearing are Jennifer Garner as Tom’s wife Samantha and Giselle Eisenberg as his adorable daughter, Hope.

An additional romantic subplot involving Danny and Annette Bening who plays the manager of the hotel Danny stays at never really finds its footing, but the “patter” between them is fun.

Danny Collins is a surprisingly good movie, although it should be less surprising when taking into account it is written and directed by Dan Fogelman who also made the remarkably entertaining 2011 film Crazy, Stupid, Love. In the same way that Fogelman used The Scarlet Letter to emphasize the mood and themes of that film, he uses the music of John Lennon to do so in Danny Collins. Lennon’s words saturate the film through a soundtrack layered with much of the late musician’s solo work from the 1970s. This is a nice touch and Lennon serves as a constant reminder about the importance of love no matter who you are or where you find yourself. B+Lennon letter

Danny Collins is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. Stay a few minutes through the credits for a brief clip of an interview with the real-life Danny Collins, folk singer Steve Tilston who truly did receive a handwritten letter from John Lennon 40 years after it had been written (see image, right). 

‘Welcome to Unity’ to Show at the Capital City Film Festival

welcome to unityEvent: Capital City Film Festival

When: April 9 – 12, 2015 in Lansing, Michigan

Independent film scored a pretty big win this year when Richard Linklater’s Boyhood dominated awards season. Still most independently funded films are not fortunate enough to get the exposure that Boyhood received. Thank goodness for film festivals! This week, the Capital City Film Festival in Lansing, Michigan will be featuring a heart warming and sweet documentary called Welcome to Unity, which just so happens to share some of the thematic magic that helped make Boyhood the beautiful film that it became.

Welcome to Unity follows a group of seven foreign exchange students from various European and Asian countries as they adjust to American life in the tiny rural town of Unity, Oregon. The film was mostly shot by the exchange students who were given Flip cameras to document their school year in their new surroundings.

I was fortunate to attend the Michigan premier of this film with the student Movie Club that I sponsor. We all appreciated the warm- hearted nature of the film and like Boyhood, the film truly resonates with both adults and high school aged kids.

Director, Katharine Mahalic will be in attendance at the festival when her film screens at 6:00 PM, April 10 at the Knapp’s Center, 300 Washington Square in Lansing, MI.

For more info visit http://capitalcityfilmfest.com/event/welcome-to-unity.

2015 CCFF Teaser from Lansing Public Media on Vimeo.