Tag Archives: Catherine Keener

The Croods: A New Age

So the last time we met the Croods, back in 2013, Grug (Nicolas Cage), the overprotective patriarch of a caveman family, was struggling to adapt to his teenage daughter Eep’s (Emma Stone) new modern friend Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Guy has new ideas, new inventions, and Grug senses that his position as leader of the hunt is threatened by this little punk. But out of pure necessity they agreed to work together, Grug searching for safety for his pack, and Guy seeking the ever elusive “tomorrow.” Eventually Grug is forced to admit that Guy’s modern thinking is in fact better for their survival, and he must have been right because the family’s still intact for a sequel.

They’re all still following the light toward “tomorrow,” but Eep and Guy are starting to think of starting their own pack, which Grug takes rather hard. Any plans for splitting up are put on hold when it seems they may have found tomorrow: huzzah! In fact, it’s a gated community, a lush oasis, an exotic land of safety and plenty. Its inhabitants, and in fact creators, are Hope (Leslie Mann) and Phil (Peter Dinklage) Betterman, and their teenage daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), who are actually family friends from Guy’s childhood. The Bettermans are beyond ecstatic to be reunited with Guy, who would make the perfect mate for their daughter (not that there are any other options), and to show off their better way of living. Indeed, their treehouse is the absolute zenith in modern living, with every convenience, every comfort, and best of all, loads of food. Grug doesn’t necessarily appreciate its “privacy” or Phil’s emphasis on individualism, but wife Ugga (Catherine Keener) and the rest of the family seem awfully keen – even Eep, who is rather happy to have her first female friend, at least until she starts to see Dawn as competition for the one and only teenage boy in the vicinity. And after all, Guy is a modern human like them; what could he see in a cavegirl like her?

There’s lots of adventure to be had in A New Age, new lands to discover, new characters to sneer at, and plenty of wacky, zany stuff, like land sharks and punch monkeys, which may make tough critics like my nephews, who will not appreciate the teenage romance aspects, feel a little more forgiving. And while parents won’t be as keen to watch this as, say, Soul, which is hardly fair comparison, I’m sure we can all relate to fearing change, especially when it comes to family. There is a balance between the modern and the traditional that every generation must find for itself, and according to Dreamworks, that’s been true since before humans walked fully upright.

Incredibles 2

Taking up pretty much where the last film left off, Bob, Helen, and the whole Incredible family are in hot water for the havoc they’ve been wreaking while saving the world, and even the super hero witness protection program is folding. Luckily, a rich benefactor named Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and his genius-inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), step in with a plan to bring supers out of hiding and back into the light.

To do that, they need Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to don her tights to pull some major super hero moves while Mr. Incredible stays home to be Mr. Dad to daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash, and baby Jack Jack, who is just starting to come into his own powers. MV5BNTZhODcwN2EtYWI3ZS00NGU1LTlkYWEtMzgzNmY0MGViYmI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc1MTQ5MTI@._V1_Mr. Incredible is feeling more like Mr. Second Banana being relegated to the side lines, but Pixar is famous for doing a protagonist switcheroo for its sequels: Finding Nemo became Finding Dory, Monsters University was about Mike instead of Sully, and Cars 2 followed Mater rather than Lightning McQueen. I think it’s a great idea, in 2018, to give Elastigirl top billing (even if it’s still the 60s in the Incredibles’ universe), but I wish they had kept that messaging consistent enough not to have her waist be about the same size as her neck, or to have her fighting crime in thigh-high pleather high-heeled boots that would have Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman blushing.

Other than those qualms, Incredibles 2 (they dropped the The!) is a pretty fun ride. It feels less emotionally complex than some of Pixar’s most beloved offerings, and Matt thought Elastigirl’s new kickbutt attitude came at the expense of a real character arc for her. But Incredibles 2 is full of giggles. There were a lot of kids in the audience around us (some of them in adorably muscled Mr. Incredible cosplay), and they laughed at the most unusual, nonsensical times (not just the fart stuff!), which made me grin as well.

Baby Jack Jack is not a new character but the sequel finds him in the process of discovering his new powers, which both thrills and terrifies his proud and exhausted dad. Jack’s powers include but are in no way limited to: combustion, levitation, duplication, and laser eyes! The more ridiculous his powers, the funnier it plays. He’s a baby AND he’s a weapon of mass destruction! Imagine having to babysit that!

Incredibles 2 isn’t quite as incredible as its predecessor but it’s got some really cool set pieces (planes, trains, and incredimobiles!), and both the old guard and new friends are fun to spend time with. Most of all though, I have to say the animation itself was spectacular. You can see the wrinkles in Mr. Incredible’s linen shirt. That’s how specific and crisp the animation is – what a discernible difference 14 years makes! Incredibles 2 is a visual delight and has massive appeal for the whole family, whether you’re super or just really, really great.

Please Give

Kate and Alex own a successful, upscale second-hand furniture store; they buy estate items from grieving families and turn a tidy profit. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) also own the apartment next door to theirs, and are impatiently waiting for its former owner and current occupant to die before they can knock down some walls and start the renovations. The old lady is cantankerous enough that they don’t feel particularly guilty about this, though their repeated run-ins with her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet) are increasingly awkward.

That sounds kind of brutal, but what writer-director Nicole Holofcener has created in Kate is actually a very interesting, nuanced character who’s experiencing some of that white woman, liberal guilt that comes with middle age and introspection. Kate is living MV5BNTM0OTU5ODY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzgwNzUzMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,997_AL_in complex economic times that challenge her notions of propriety. She can’t pass a homeless person without contributing to their cup, which makes her privileged teenage daughter somehow feel deprived. There’s something really fascinating about Kate; she’s complex, and not afraid to have conflicting emotions. She has mastered the world in which she lives but while she isn’t comfortable holding the reins, she’s not a hypocrite, and she knows deep down she wouldn’t want it any other way. Meanwhile, the women next door, in less than ideal circumstances, provide a nice contrast to Kate’s guilty affluence.

Catherine Keener continues to be under-rated but she’s really terrific in Please Give – it’s inspired casting. Kate’s empathy and ambition give her a complexity that’s rarely seen and difficult to pull off, and I can imagine it being a lot less successful in almost any other hands. The movie feels a little slight at times, a little thin in plot, but everyone has a point of view and the film maker trusts us to sit with the themes and experience our own version of existential reckoning.

Nostalgia

John Ortiz plays Daniel the insurance guy. He knows he’s talking to you on the worst day of your life. He knows you don’t want to talk to him. Whether you’ve been robbed or had a fire or lost a loved one, he’s the guy who helps you determine what you’ve lost, what you still have, and how much it’s all worth. But insurance guys stop at the dollar value. What, really, are those objects worth to you?

Nostalgia explores grief, loss, memory, and our attachment to the things in our lives. The movie hosts several vignettes that help unpack this notion of the valuable item. An old man (Bruce Dern) is dying, and believes his home is filled with nothing but trash. A widow (Ellen Burstyn) suffers a fire and saves only one item, one she prizes only because it was once important to her dead husband, and clashes with her grown son (Nick Offerman) over keeping it. A brother (Jon Hamm) and sister (Catherine Keener) sift through their late father’s possessions ahead of selling his now empty house. Some nostalgia_09people want to keep everything, even if they cannot bear to look at it. Some people want to toss everything, keep only memories. There is no right answer. Toughest of all, the movie also explores the notable difference between losing an elderly father and discovering the hand-written love notes he once sent your mother while traveling on business, and losing your teenage daughter and discovering that without her passwords you have no access to any of the dozens of pictures she took every day of her short life.

This movie takes on some tough subjects and inevitably it’s not always a comfortable watch. It can be challenging, but only because it touches our own raw nerves. It’s also surprisingly beautiful, as if with flaring sunlight director Mark Pellington wants to cleanse us of the heaviness we might otherwise take from one tile of the mosaic to another.

This movie made me think and feel. It’s a meditation more than a narrative, a sense of melancholy meant to wash over you. Sometimes it’s maddeningly vague but it’s also expertly acted (Keener and Burstyn are of course favourites and stand-outs). There are quiet gaps meant to be filled with your own reminiscence. You will surely relate to one ore more of the vignettes.

When we think of fire or flood threatening our homes, we think also of which valuables we’d grab if we had the time. There are two kinds of valuables: we’d grab the ones worth the most money, like the jewelry, and we’d grab the ones worth the most sentiment, like the photos. But later, sifting through the ashes, would you have regrets? Would you miss the pots and pans you’ve used to lovingly feed your family for the past thirty years? Would you miss the wallpaper you painstakingly picked out and pasted up with blood, sweat, and tears? What items are worth saving, and what items are worth leaving to someone else? What are YOUR valuables, the ones you hope to pass on, or the ones that have been left to you?

November Criminals

Addison is a precocious high school student who is only too happy to take time out from grieving his recently deceased mother to lose his virginity to elusive beauty Phoebe and apply to college. But while he’s pursuing these quintessentially teenaged dreams, a friend of his is gunned down in a nearby coffee shop. Kevin is well-liked, a good student, an inquiring mind, but because he’s black the cops seem to dismiss the crime as “gang related” and Addison is crushed that no one is looking for his killer.

If it works at all, November Criminals has two likeable leads in Ansel Elgort and Chloe Grace Moretz; their chemistry makes up for some of the defects in their characters which are ENORMOUS AND UNFORGIVABLE. Ansel Elgort is tasked with playing a thoroughly hero_November-Criminals-2017unlikeable kid, and Grace-Moretz simply gets assigned the not-fully-realized female costar who heals his sadness by touching his penis. It’s not remotely their fault but November Criminals is maybe the most undercooked movie I’ve ever seen – like, on a scale from rare to well-done, it’s a bloody, oozy, thoroughly blue kind of undercooked that’s bound to give you worms. I’ve read the novel upon which it is based and half-remember it, and even that half-memory is more fulsome than the script for this thing, which feels like it’s missing about 75% of its content and 100% of what would make it understandable or good. The film offers up a small slice of the story, with an inadequate beginning and hardly any end, and such an abbreviated middle you’ll wonder if perhaps we’re still in the opening credits. But while the movie needs at least another two hours in order to tell its story, the mere thought of having to sit through a single moment more than its 85 minute run time is upsetting. This film never justifies any reason for its existence and wastes every frame of its film.

Even in a post-hipster culture, teenagers who willfully carry beepers are just knobs. White kids who become vigilantes for their black friend’s death out of sheer boredom are intolerable. This movie serves up so much that is objectionable I could hardly stand to see it all the way to the end. Maybe the teenage angst coupled with a murder mystery was supposed to invoke Veronica Mars but the movie is troubled, voiceless, neutered. Don’t bother.

Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane. ¬†She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.