J.D. Vance has a story to tell – his own. Many would call it a rags to riches story, or perhaps a successful escape from an impoverished childhood; director Ron Howard and the movie studio went with “inspiring true story” but all of these seem slightly condescending. Vance himself went with “elegy,” a tribute to the place he came from and perhaps a lament to its end.
Older J.D. (Gabriel Basso) has overcome some rather humble beginnings to attend law school at Yale. It’s interview week, especially crucial to him because even with financial aid and 3 jobs he can’t afford next semester’s tuition without a summer internship. Meeting prospective employers over dinner, he’s overwhelmed by the trappings of etiquette and fine dining that seem to come so easily to others. It’s clear he doesn’t feel he belongs, and a phone call from back home only cements it. It’s his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), calling to say that mom Bev (Amy Adams) is in the hospital. Again. A heroin overdose. His help is needed, urgently.
Over the next 24 hours of trying to install Bev in yet another rehab manage a facility despite Bev having let her insurance lapse, J.D. is flooded with difficult memories from his challenging childhood.
Critics have been plenty harsh about Hillbilly Elegy, and I can appreciate their concerns. It delivers heavily on the Oscar bait melodrama, and instead of inspiring important conversations about cultural and economic gaps, it’s got some pretty soft platitudes instead of real insight. Not that a Netflix movie was going to solve the wage gap or cure the generational impacts of trauma.
No one can deny that Glenn Close and Amy Adams give everything to their roles. Close manages a bark that bites, with just a nibble of vulnerability, a terrific performance that just doesn’t have anywhere to go, there’s no arc, it’s mostly just an act of observation. Amy Adams’ character, on the other hand, is more like a series of attacks. She gnarls and gnashes her teeth and we get small glimpses or what triggers her explosions, but it’s not enough to piece together something truly satisfying. The characters lack insight and we can only guess that this cycle will be very hard to break.
Giselle is a typical Disney princess who lives in a tree and has bird and chipmunk friends who sing with her and help her sew a wedding dress so she can marry her prince. But Disney movies always have an evil Queen – in this case, Narissa, who interrupts Giselle on her way to marry prince Edward and instead shoves her down a magical well which turns cartoon Giselle into live-action Amy Adams, and spits her out in Times Square.
Live-action Giselle is still fairly blessed – sure her tiara is stolen by a homeless man, but ultimately a gentlemanly lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), takes her in and gives her his couch despite her being a crazy woman in a poufy-sleeved wedding dress claiming to be a princess. And her magic hasn’t deserted her completely: when she leans out Robert’s apartment window to summon some animal friends to help her tidy up, they still respond. But it’s New York City, so the respondents are rats and pigeons. Oh, and cockroaches. Which are ostensibly worse than the dust, but Giselle seems not to notice as she prances about singing her happy songs.
Giselle proves to be quite a disruption to Robert’s life – especially when it comes to his intended (Idina Menzel) and his young daughter Morgan. Luckily her prince charming is so devoted that he throws himself down the same magical well in pursuit and goes through the same cartoon-to-human transformation (James Marsden). Queen Narissa sends her bumbling sidekick Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) down after him.
The film has some wonderful casting, other than Patrick Dempsey who could have been replaced by almost anyone and don’t I wish that he was. James Marsden is wonderfully game to play a toothsome prince. Idina Menzel, Broadway star and future voice of Frozen’s Elsa, is the only lead in the film NOT to sing. But this movie belongs to Amy Adams. I don’t think anyone else could play Giselle. She’s wide-eyed and naive and full of love bubbles, but it never looks ridiculous on her.
Enchanted is, if nothing else, a love letter to all things Disney. The film and the script are bursting with references to Disney films future, past and present. Sean has never seen this movie before (and in truth seems to be sending a larger than usual amount of work emails during it), and I’m trying my best not to shout them all out as I see them:
- Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel herself, plays Robert’s secretary
- Narissa tires to poison Giselle with an apple, just like in Snow White
- Giselle and Robert eat at an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Lady & the Tramp
- The apartment elevator looks like the Tower of Terror in Disney parks
- Giselle takes off her heels and leaves one behind, like in Cinderella
- The old man dancers in Central Park are chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins (not to mention Julie Andrews narrates the film)
- We often hear pieces of classic Disney theme songs
- Narissa turns into a dragon, like in Sleeping Beauty
- Judy Kuhn, voice of Pocahontas, appears as a neighbour answering her door
I could go on and on – director Kevin Lima assures us there are “thousands” of little Easter eggs that an astute Disney fan might notice. That’s why this movie is the perfect way to celebrate our own trip to the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. My own love letter involves eating a poison apple cupcake on Main Street and visiting Ariel at her grotto and letting Sean (making Sean?) nudge a meatball over my way, and wearing my own Mary Poppins dress. We have an ambitious schedule and 10 days to fit everything in, so do play along on Twitter (@AssholeMovies) to see what we’re up to right now – 10 points if I’m standing next to a castle.
This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).
Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!
It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.
Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.
At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.
Rose is a single mother who has a son who’s just a little weird. A complete genius according to grandpa Joe, but his school doesn’t want him back. So Rose (Amy Adams) needs to make some serious cash in a hurry, to pay tuition fees at a private school where weird kids can thrive, and cleaning houses just doesn’t cut it.
So she assembles a crack team consisting of herself and her flaky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and together they start cleaning crime scenes. Blood and guts equal serious hazard pay. Of course, there are also serious hazards. And I’m not just talking decomposition smells and bodily fluid leaks and brains on the ceiling. I’m talking about emotional hazards, like bereft widows who don’t know how to deal with husbands of 50 years being reduced to a blood stain in the living room. Not to mention the fact that Rose and Norah’s mother committed suicide when they were young girls. So, you know, this is potentially triggering work, and Rose and Norah aren’t hardened enough yet to have strict professional boundaries.
As the title suggests, director Christine Jeffs puts a sunny spin on a macabre subject. Well, sunny-ish. Overcast anyway, which is pretty amazing considering the long shadows cast by tragedy. Sunshine Cleaning is a low-key movie. It’s intimate, with a light touch. Amy Adams is the sun at the centre of its universe. Everyone orbits around her, basking in her glow. Although I’m sure her character would not describe herself thusly, Rose is a fighter, a quiet fighter maybe, but she doesn’t give up. She persists. She’s seen hardship but you rarely see the cracks, which she deftly caulks with hard work and optimism. She’s the kind of character you root for even though she doesn’t ask for your sympathy – still, you feel she’s earned a break or two, and you hope to see her get them. Is that how life works? Not really. But it’s nice to dream.
So Dick Cheney is an evil piece of shit. You may remember him from such roles as acting like a cardboard cutout of the American Vice President while he secretly usurped the president’s powers to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, orchestrate wars, and author ISIS.
Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is a power-hungry beast who doesn’t let anything stop him from acting as the Leader of the Free World – not ethics, not the well-defined roles of President and Vice President, not democracy, not NUTHIN. Adam McKay’s film, Vice, shows Cheney’s reluctance to be George W.’s running mate. Even though Cheney views VP as a “zero job,” he is always thinking dozens of steps ahead; he’s not going to sit around waiting for the president to die so he can wear the crown. In W., Cheney found a moron so empty, so distracted, so willing to give away all the actual power, and Cheney’s astute enough to surreptitiously pull the oval office throne right out from under Bush Junior. McKay brings Cheney’s machinations to the silver screen – every scheme, every lie and every gory detail.
This movie takes some big risks and its story-telling bravely exists outside the normal narrative bounds (though fans of The Big Short won’t find it nearly so fresh). With such big swings, there are inevitably some big misses. This movie didn’t always work for me, but I still admired it for having such a distinct voice.
Christian Bale undergoes quite a transformation to play Cheney, though I never forgot I was watching Bale like I did when I was watching Sam Rockwell play Dubyah. Credit to the actors of course, but I believe the incredible hair and makeup effects team will be recognized for astonishing work – Tyler Perry as Colin Powell is a prime example. Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney round out an enviable cast doing some very fine work.
Unfortunately, the script isn’t consistent. This isn’t really a Dick Cheney biopic, it’s the incredible true story of how a rogue Vice President hijacked George W. Bush’s entire administration. It would be a monumentally impressive heist if it wasn’t so mind-meltingly devastating to the world at large. But to tell the story in sufficient detail, McKay has to take some moon-gravity-sized leaps. Decades of Cheney’s life are not just gone, but forgotten, which results in some swiss-cheese-plot-holes that were hard to forgive – though a liberal sprinkling of heart attacks like sea salt on fries went a long way.
The truth is, though, that Sean and I dissected this movie backwards and forwards and then we poked at it from the side too, over Doritos-dusted mac and cheese bites, and while that doesn’t mean Vice is a flawless movie, it must mean that it’s a good one, a worthy one. In fact, part of its brilliance is how it draws you in at the end, turning audience members into characters partially responsible for these atrocities. Vice depicts events of recent history, and like it or not, we’re complicit, and McKay inspires us to take a hard look in the mirror and a cold drink at the well of social responsibility.
“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.
“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.
“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.
“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.
“Whatever,” he replies.
That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.
I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.
Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.
Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen/The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.
The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.
As the film opens, Susan (Amy Adams) feels guilty for not being happy, despite having ‘everything’ – Armie Hammer plays her current husband, but apparently they were maybe never truly supposed to be together.
A successful art gallery owner, Susan’s home is perfectly styled, filled with lacquered objets, beautiful things, much like herself, impeccably dressed, heavily made up. Her “bare” (movie bare, of course) face comes as a shock when she curls into bed to read a manuscript that has arrived that earlier that day, a surprise from the ex-husband she hasn’t heard from in 20 years.
She’s immediately engrossed in the story, which we see recreated as a movie within a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher play two halves of a couple travelling down a remote road at night. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a sinister man threatening them. It’s immediately tense. Disturbing. Distraught, Susan slams the book shut.
But that’s not the end, is it? No, she keeps going. And things get darker, and trickier. Director Tom Ford pulls a nasty trick on us: in casting Isla Fisher, he is intentionally making her a very easy substitute for Amy Adams (Isla Fisher once sent Christmas cards to friends and family with Amy Adams photo-shopped in her place, and no one noticed). But we’re not the only ones to notice the similarities: Susan starts to feel a little unsettled too.
This is only Tom Ford’s second film; I was blown away by his first effort, A Single Man. He has a distinctive style, he’s incredibly visual, but the story in A Single Man held up. More than that: it crawled right into my soul and crushed it, just a tiny bit. Colin Firth was robbed when he didn’t win an Oscar for it (well, he lost to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart, and that was certainly deserved as well; luckily Firth one the very next year for The King’s Speech). You may know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer, but that’s clearly not the only trick up his sleeve. His direction is not a gimmick (it likely helps that he leaves the costuming to someone else, and that no Tom Ford suits appear in the film). Maybe it’s little more style than substance, but it’s not without substance, or merit, or worth. Nocturnal Animals is dark and moody and horrible. It is sometimes graphic, and psychologically tortured, and stunning.
It’s the kind of movie that will haunt you for days. There are lots of performances worth talking about: Amy Adams, and the sadness she can convey in her downturned eyes; Jake Gyllenhaal’s fire, and his anguish. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his supporting skeevy work here, but I think it’s Michael Shannon who maybe deserved the nomination, mustache and all. Can this man do any wrong? Oh wait…
Most people bill Nocturnal Animals as a work of revenge, but I feel it’s more about regret. I suppose your interpretation may rest on the ending, which is intentionally vague, but I believe an indictment on Susan’s character. What did you think?
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a Texas congressman, a jolly womanizer but otherwise fairly low-level until his good friend former beauty queen Joanne (Julia Roberts) convinces him to take time away from his hot tub shenanigans to make a little trip to help the Afghan people.
In the early 80s he visits the Pakistani president who is frustrated with inadequate American support in opposing the Soviet Union. Pakistan is flooded with Afghan refugees (a fifth of them!), but thousands of others have been slain. They send Wilson to a refugee camp and he can’t help but be moved by what he sees there. Going home a changed man in his heart, he rallies around the cause. His personal life, though is still a shambles: US Attorney Rudy Giuliani is leading an investigation against him for allegations of cocaine use.
Philip Seymour Hoffman provides brilliant support as a maverick CIA guy who is leading the covert US effort in Afghanistan. Wilson ultimately multiplies the American contribution by a hundred fold, and it becomes a huge part of the foreign policy of the time, but there aren’t exactly a lot of easy answers here and Hoffman’s crazy windmilling arms tell us a lot about the near-impossibility of his job.
Julia Roberts is of course poised as hell, the perfect choice for a controlled, smart, beautiful woman who knows what she wants, and how to manipulate men to get it. The few scenes she shares with Amy Adams, playing Wilson’s administrative assistant, are quite punchy, their rivalry crackling. Emily Blunt makes a brief appearance in her underwear as well, which means I didn’t know who Emily Blunt was back in 2007 when I would have seen this for the first time.
Tom Hanks is commanding as always, but I have to wonder whether he was the right man for the role. Some of the juiciest material of this “true story” seems to have all but disappeared, his drug use played down (have we ever seen Hanks snort cocaine?), his DUI unmentioned, and his worry about what happens when the US inevitably disengages from Afghanistan only vaguely alluded to.
The truth is, there were unintended consequences to this involvement. When Afghanistan lay in ruins, the US pulled out, washed their hands of death and destruction they had funded, and this left a vacuum for Osama bin Laden to emerge as a power player. I have read from multiple sources that Tom Hanks couldn’t deal with the 9-11 implications, so they were largely written out, with just the identifiable sound of a plane flying over Washington hinting at what was to come. The film is quite good, almost great, but I do wonder if someone else was bringing it to life, could it have maybe been a Dr. Strangelove for a new generation? I guess we’ll never know.
Is this movie worth watching for Paul Rudd’s douchey earring?
Jason Bateman plays a dick very well. Unfortunately, Zach Braff plays a dick very naturally himself. Like, even when he’s not supposed to. Even when he’s supposed to be the sympathetic character. Does anyone actually like Zach Braff?
Tom (Braff) is a NYC cook who loses his job on the very day his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) gives birth. As punishment, they move to Ohio where Tom will work with Sofia’s dad at some new-agey ad agency while she stays home to care for the baby. Tom is mentored at work by Chip, the son his father in law never had, and incidentally Sofia’s ex-boyfriend. Chip (Jason Bateman) is a grade A ass but for some reason only Tom (and we) see it, possibly because Chip is in a wheelchair and kind of milks that for all it’s worth. But as hard as Bateman tries to steal the scenes with smug, smarmy schtick, he just can’t keep this stinker afloat.
The Ex has been disowned by nearly everyone who made it. The credited screenwriters, David Guion and Michael Handelman, insist that most of what you see isn’t really their material, nor the director’s, come to think of it. “It was unfortunate because the director, Jesse Peretz, is great and very talented, but the movie was ultimately taken out of his hands.” I’m not sure if that’s true – certainly there’s not a lot of evidence of capable direction in the film. It feels half-cooked, sitcomy, and oddly truncated, like someone was just washing their hands of it rather than actually finishing it. And yet it’s been presented to audiences like it’s a real film that you should watch. And it just isn’t (despite the fact that I’ve seen it twice now). Viewer beware.