When we were in Mexico I was reading a book about cyber warfare – not your typical beach read mind you but very informative and interesting (David Sanger’s The Perfect Weapon). Among many things it discussed the Sony hack. Basically, North Korea was very mad about a Seth Rogen movie called The Interview that involved the assassination of their leader. Apparently North Koreans can’t take a joke. I mean, lots of North Americans don’t find Seth Rogen particularly funny either, but most of them don’t commit cyber crime in retaliation. They released a whole bunch of very embarrassing emails for Sony but it actually had the opposite effect. Whereas the big whigs had been debating pulling the plug on The Interview, now they HAD to release it so that the terrorists didn’t win or some such American flag-waving sentiment. So they got a theatre and VOD release and a bunch of us watched it just to see what the fuss was all about.
I rewatched it out of curiosity but found that I’d already reviewed it on this site and I was shocked to find that we’ve been at this that long (it came out in 2014) but my opinion hasn’t wavered much. It is profoundly dumb and yet if you’re a fan of Rogen’s, you will find a chance or two to chuckle. But the movie really did benefit from North Korea’s interference, spurring a marketing campaign that money couldn’t buy and Hollywood couldn’t think up.
On a Seth Rogen kick, I gave Observe and Report a second chance as well. And the truth is, I found it even harder to laugh at this one. Rogen plays mall security guard Ronnie, hopelessly in love with makeup counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris) and even more hopelessly determined to be a real cop. When a flasher starts haunting the mall, Ronnie sees it as his opportunity to shine and does not take kindly to a real detective, the surly detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), stealing his thunder.
Possibly it’s hard to genuinely laugh at Ronnie because he’s dubbed bipolar and his single-minded delusions just come off as illness. Or possibly it’s because the film has a real mean streak. But probably it’s because the script is bad and director Jody Hill didn’t have the chops to wrangle his cast and crew. The film is simply too sloppy to guess whether Hill’s script is subversive or actually deeply racist and misogynistic. I can tell you that it feels like laughter borne in ignorance and I’m just not comfortable joining in. We deserve better, and frankly, so does Ronnie.
Martin Scorsese has finally married the two sides of his personality: the one who delights in showing us the excess of sin (think: Wolf of Wall Street) and the one who is concerned about the state of our souls (think: Silence). It has taken him some 25 films and 77 years to get here, which is possibly why this film lacks the verve of his other gangster movies. The Irishman is mournful – perhaps even an elegy.
The films revolves around Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in his position as hitman for the Bufalino crime family. There are three distinct timelines in the film: 1. old man Sheeran recounting his crimes at the end of his life; 2. middle aged Sheeran on a road trip with mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and their wives; 3. “young”ish Sheeran as he meets Russell, befriends Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), starts a family and makes a living putting bullets through people’s heads. Scorsese navigates between these timelines with relative ease (shout-out to editor extraordinaire Thelma Schoonmaker!), though it does take some time and attention to get used to. He keeps the camerawork clean and businesslike, almost as if the camera were just a fly on the wall, observing unobtrusively.
De Niro et al are given the “de-aging” CGI treatment so they can play the parts in all 3 timelines, which is not my preference. I’ve seen de-aging used well (meaning sparingly, like Carrie Fisher in Star Wars) but De Niro always looks a little off, and the trouble doubles when he’s got his shirt off. Plus it’s startling when De Niro is meant to be doing something more physical. When Frank is meant to be stomping on someone lying in the street, De Niro may have a young face but his kicks are that of an old man (the actor is 76). But his performance is quite good, and complex, and possibly the least showy of his career. Which is polar opposite to what Al Pacino does in the film, and I’m still not certain what to think of that. On the one hand, I do believe Hoffa was a bit of a ham himself. On the other hand, Pacino’s acting seems to have devolved into an over-the-top impression of himself. I’m not even sure it’s conscious. I’m not even sure he could stop. Although I confess I could watch him scrape the bottom of an ice cream sundae while screaming “cocksucker!” all day long, and at 3.5 hours, I pretty much feel like I did. His volume’s turned up to 11, and when it crashes into De Niro’s coiled repression, gosh, what a sight. What a symphony.
Scorsese seasons the story with all kinds of various wiseguys and goombas (Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemmons, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano, and not least of all, Harvey Keitel) and it makes a fair point about how Frank views the world: there are friends, and there are acquaintances. He can make peace with having to whack a mere acquaintance. But tighter ties would be a problem. He keeps people at a distance, or at least that’s the justification. The truth is, Frank is a sociopath and throughout the film we watched as his humanity is leeched from him. The money might be good, folks, but the job does take its toll. But Sheeran is such a stoic, melt into the background guy that we never see it. He is scary because we don’t ever know what makes him tick, what motivates him. If he has any inner life at all, we can only guess.
Meanwhile, mortality emerges as Scorsese’s other major theme, and it’s one we imagine hits quite close to home for him. Frank is looking back on his life, confessing his sins – but does he feel remorse? Can he feel anything at all? Frank has four daughters but at the end of his life, he’s fixated on Peggy (Anna Paquin), the one who won’t speak to him. Peggy is one of the few female characters in the film (sure there are “wives” but they’re about as important and present as background actors) and she says almost nothing. Her silence is judgment, revulsion. She has seen her father for who he is and she wants nothing to do with him. Even as a small child she has always felt the same about Russell Bufalino no matter how hard he bribe her with gifts; Peggy is in many ways the moral centre of the film, alarming since she’s on screen for about a total of 4 minutes out of the film’s 209. Speaking of Bufalino, Pesci does a startlingly good job of portraying a man who has completely blurred the boundaries between work and evil that he is absolutely, coldly, rotten to the core and doesn’t even seem to know it. This may be the stand-out performance of the film for me.
This all sounds like some pretty epic, pretty heavy stuff, and it is, but at times it’s also funny, surprisingly so. Most of the characters are introduced to us with one important statistic: the date and manner of their death. On their own it’s often quite comedic, but time after time, bullet after bullet, death clearly stalks them all. And when the bullets run out, time starts cutting them down, and old age is often more brutal than violence. It’s slower, and crueler. In the end it’s coming for Frank too, and he’s left to face it alone, everyone else either dead or just done with him. Does he regret his choices? Does he even believe they were choices? The story is based on a memoir that’s fairly contested in terms of facts, but Scorsese isn’t interested in the history, he’s interested in the allegory, and, at this stage of his career it must be said, the legacy. Whereas his earlier gangster movies left a more glamourous impression, The Irishman leaves no room for doubt: mob life is no life at all.
Is this a prequel or a postquel, I wondered, until the movie threw me into a Breaking Bad recap which I badly needed but basically indicated that the movie would pick up where the show left off – why else refresh events? In fact the movie picks up exactly where the show left off, with Walt dead and Jesse driving off madly, and I do mean madly, in an El Camino (says Sean – I can only identify it as far as subcategory “real ugly car”).
This story is told in two parts: the immediate minutes and days following the show’s big shoot-out finale, during which Jesse Pinkman has been liberated from his cage and is finally free from Walter White’s tyranny and all the fallout, and in flashbacks to the time of his captivity leading up to the show’s finale. I found it really difficult to tell the difference between the two despite Sean constantly reminding me “he has a beard!” (which means it’s a flashback”) or “no beard” when it wasn’t. I really should have been able to pick up on that myself, it’s a pretty handy little metric, but it was embarrassingly challenging for me. I’m much more confident in your own ability to keep things straight.
Now truth be told, I needed more than just a 30 second recap. I either have a “piss poor” memory or a “craptastic” one – I can never remember which – but either way, I meant to look up like a nice, meaty 20 minute supercut on Youtube and I guess I forgot to do that too. I annoyed the heck out of the Sean with two main questions that I ran on a loop: who is that guy, and isn’t he dead?
Anyway, poor Jesse survives Walter White, survives cooking in captivity, survives crooked cops and coked up ghosts only to come up $1800 short for taking the Saul Goodman ultimate escape plan route. That’s a tough break after 5 straight seasons worth of bad luck on AMC. Jesse Pinkman arguably deserves a break, but El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie isn’t about to give him one.
It’s kind of nice, after 6 years, to get another little taste of the blue stuff. It’s also nice to revisit old friends. Breaking Bad ended on a bloody and dark note, so it’s kind of nice to have this caveat on a story many of us followed obsessively. Aaron Paul is better than ever and writer-director Vince Gilligan insists on giving us an authentic Breaking Bad experience. While not exactly essential, it’s a nice addition to the canon and proves that every once in a while, you can go home again.
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.
Barry Seal is a bit of a dick; he’s the kind of pilot who will inflict fake turbulence on a whole plane full of people just to wake up his snoozing co-pilot. So it’s rather a good thing that he gets out of the piloting business and into, well, okay, the piloting business, but this time for the CIA, where he’s a lot less likely to toss the cookies of poor little Jay Asshole as he tumbles me across the skies.
Barry is taking aerial reconnaissance pictures of whatever his CIA contact tells him to. The pay is peanuts but it’s exciting work, and Barry is exactly the kind of guy who would get off on it – in fact, he can’t help making videos of himself “confessing” to all of his secret CIA missions, boasting to an unseen, future audience, even though it’s the 1980s and the selfie wasn’t even technically invented yet.
If you’re picturing this guy as cocky, then you’ll understand why Tom Cruise is the perfect guy to play him. Of course, when the missions go from photographing Escobar to running drugs for him, both the money and the thrills (which the rest of us would call “risk” or even “danger” and quite possible “a really bad idea”) increase exponentially. In real life, Barry was, erm, a bit of a heavy set guy; the cartels referred to him as El Gordo, as in, the fat one. In the movie, the only fat thing about him is his wallet. And forget wallets – this guy had nearly every single person in a small town working for him, driving fancy-ass (and super conspicuous cars), his wife draped in jewels like she wandered off the set of a rap video. The town even built him his own bank vault. Barry was a lot of things, but he wasn’t real great at hiding money.
The movie turns out to be an interesting mix of recklessness and cynicism. There’s a lot of energy and action pumping in all directions but not a lot to insight as to the corruption and compromise. Fun but forgettable.
I’ve had such bad luck with comedies lately that I saw this trailer with nothing but dread and skepticism. Of course I saw it anyway, but only because many of my reliable film buddies made it sound relatively watchable. And I’m happy to say they’re right. This is no comedic gem, no future cult classic, probably not even a movie you’ll discuss or remember with any fondness or clarity on the car ride home. But it is a solid movie with some laughs and an unexpectedly great performance by Jesse Plemmons – that alone is worth the watch.
Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are famous among their friends for hosting ultra-competitive game nights. It’s the best part of everyone’s week, and the only blemish is having to hide them from creepy next door neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemmons) who’s been disinvited ever since he and his wife split up. But a new blemish has popped up in the form of Max’s big brother (and the source of his low self-esteem and sperm count), Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks is rich and successful and has never lost at anything, ever. Max can barely stand to be around him. So when Brooks proposes the latest in rich-guy game nights, the incredibly realistic murder mystery, with Max’s dream car up for grabs by the winner, you bet every single one of them is raring to go.
Except of course it’s possible that the game gets intersected with some real kidnap and murder shit that’s all but impossible to sort out. And Annie and Max keep playing the game with criminals who really aren’t.
McAdams, nearly 40, and especially Bateman, who is pushing 50, are a little old to be playing the young couple who’s only now wondering about starting a family, but the directors are confident they’re believably 30-somethings, so go with it. It’s also kind of difficult to believe that their group of friends are actually somehow friends, but go with that too. Stick it out for Jesse Plemmons. Watch and see if he cracks a smile even once, though he’s playing the most absurd character on screen.
There’s some memorable flair to the direction (I liked the establishing shots), and it mostly stays away from the groan-inducing lowest-common-denominator stuff that seems to be the bulk of comedy scripts lately. The cast is solid (McAdams in particular looks like she’s having fun), the premise is fairly fresh, and it’s a pretty entertaining night at the cinema.
Do you and your friends get together for game night?
How would your life change if tomorrow you read in the newspaper that science had confirmed the existence of an afterlife?
A scientist does just that in Netflix’s The Discovery, and his announcement shakes the world. Suicides skyrocket immediately. Is he responsible?
Robert Redford plays Thomas, the scientist in question. A year after the big announcement, he’s basically a recluse, still working on his theories in secret with his son Toby (Jesse Plemmons) and a cult’s worth of helpful believers. He’s pushing the envelope, wanting and needing more and more confirmation – if not for the world at large, at least for himself. It’s personal.
Another son, Will (Jason Segel), estranged from his father since the discovery, returns home. On the return journey he meets a woman named Isla (Rooney Mara) who has her own reasons for questioning the afterlife.
This film provokes a lot of existential questions that not everyone will be comfortable with. But there’s a beauty in finding meaning in life. Believer or not, it draws you in to its essential mystery. Unfortunately, the seed is strongly than the story. It’s a great what-if idea but lacks the terrific follow-through I was hoping for. Your enjoyment of this film depends on how well you deal with great thoughts vs great plots. If you like the ethereal quality of Vanilla Sky, this might be your jam. I certainly enjoyed it, perhaps especially for the thoughtful discussion it generates after viewing.
Would such a discovery be best kept secret? Can you even keep something like this secret? And if the meaning of life and death are in flux, is suicide even the end game – mightn’t some take it a step further? This movie’s a little ambitious for its britches, but I admire that.
Redford does great work in his juiciest role in quite a bit – the mad scientist is off-kilter and complex, and perhaps hasn’t quite thought through all the consequences. His sons provide interesting counterpoint: Toby’s adoration and Will’s skepticism temper Thomas’s zeal. Plemmons is delightfully madcap while Segel plays the stoic. The Discovery is well-cast and thought-provoking and worthy of your time.
Cancer is what happens to other people. It just so happens that right now, the Mulcahey family are those other people. It’s happening to them. Technically, it’s happening to matriarch Joanne (Molly Shannon) but her last year is having quite an effect on the whole family – on her husband, Norman (Bradley Whitford), on her son David (Jesse Plemmons), on her two daughters, her colleagues, her friends, her extended family, on a whole bushel of people who are grieving even as she still lives, dealing with a loss that is still happening before their very eyes.
David has moved home to care for and spend time with his mother. He lives in New York City, and is trying to be a writer, but the pilot he was working on didn’t get picked up and he hasn’t had much other luck. His return is complicated by his religious family’s refusal to accept his sexuality. Ten years after he came out to them, his mother is trying to make amends but his father is still unable to come to terms with it.
The movie avoids most of the cancer cliches and rewards us with a more subtle look at loss. Plemmons is really great, and I like Zach Woods in a small role as his boyfriend. But I’ve been holding onto a dirty secret for two whole paragraphs now and it’s time to air it: I really dislike Molly Shannon. I disliked her on SNL and I’ve disliked her in every thing since. She just bothers me, but for some reason I feel like a bad feminist admitting it. In this century, all of the greatest SNL talent has been female, but in the 90s, that wasn’t true. With the exception of the truly great – Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Jan Hooks – female cast members were tokenish, ill-used, mistreated up until Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started turning things around. But Molly Shannon was a break-out, and some of her characters even got movie deals. I just didn’t like them. I thought she was brash, over the top, and obnoxious. I still do. But in this movie, as they dying mother, she’s none of those things. I still don’t like her, but she was easier to stomach when he’s mostly occupied evacuating hers. Is that a terrible thing to say? Yes it is. But it’s the truth.
This movie blends comedy and drama successfully, with a touch of cynicism and just enough compassion. Cancer isn’t exactly new ground to break in an indie film, but you’ll find that writer-director Chris Kelly finds truth in small things, and those add up to a pretty satisfactory whole.