Tag Archives: JK Simmons

TIFF18: The Front Runner

Jason Reitman has been busy lately. It’s been just four short months since the release of the bizarre but undeniably interesting Tully but the Oscar-nominated director was at the festival this year with a new movie and a very entertaining live read of the original Breakfast Club script to host.

Tully was the kind of movie that takes a couple of days to digest and decide how you feel about it. The Front Runner is a much more straightforward, Altmanesque look at three dramatic weeks during the doomed Presidential campaign of Gary Hart. I’m just young enough to be too young to remember Hart (played here by a fantastic Hugh Jackman) but even I know that his campaign was derailed after a story broke that he’d been cheating on his wife (Vera Farmiga).

When we first meet Hart, it’s 1987 and he’s the clear front runner for the Democratic nomination to run against George Bush. Hart just wants to talk about the issues and resists the distractions of talking about his private life and pandering to voters with cheap campaign stunts. His campaign manager (a rarely better JK Simmons) supports this approach and watching he and his staff debate strategy and plan campaign events while twelve things seem to happen onscreen at once is just a blast. Both Altman and Sorkin would be proud. Even as scandal begins to dampen everyone’s spirits, the pace rarely slows down. Intimate character moments of two people alone on screen tend to be so few and far between in this movie that it makes those moments resonate all the more.

I try not to read too many reviews before I post one but I can already see that critics have tended to respond to The Front Runner less enthusiastically than I have. On the one hand, I can understand why. It’s easy to get burnt out at this point on movies and conversations about how much political campaigns and political discourse has changed so much. Despite its clever dialogue, fast pace, and excellent acting, I can’t claim The Front Runner has much to add to the discussion nor does it give its audience much to debate or think about after.

I would argue that there is one very important subplot that keeps The Front Runner from being a classic case of all style and no substance. Hart’s scandal didn’t just affect Hart, his family, and his campaign. Young Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) was thrust into the public eye with little support from anyone except for one sympathetic Hart campaign volunteer (very well played by Molly Ephraim). A lesser movie wouldn’t have given Rice so much screen time (or at least have lost interest in her after the sex scenes).

Still, I’ll concede that maybe we didn’t need this movie. It’s less an Important movie than it is an impeccably made one. Which is really all I need. I plan on seeing again next chance I get.

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Extract

Chances are, every pantry has a little bottle of pricey vanilla extract on its shelves. It’s practically ubiquitous in baking. Just try to make a cookie without it. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? No. And neither have I. But that’s not going to stop Jason Bateman from trying to tell us.

Joel (Bateman) is one of those classically sad, back-boneless middle aged men who aren’t particularly effective at home or at work. He owns the extract company, but it’s barely profitable and the employees bully him. At home, his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) dons her sweatpants in a nightly ritual to thwart his bedtime advances. They’re going through a dry spell. So when Cindy (Mila Kunis), an alluring young woman, comes looking for a job at the factory, can we blame Joel for wanting to give her something else? I mean, yes. We absolutely can. And even Joel is a bit wishy-washy on the whole thing, so it takes the bad influence of his best friend (Ben extract-02.jpgAffleck) to come up with this convoluted plan: they’ll hire a teenage gigolo to seduce Suzie, leaving Joel free to have an affair guilt-free. That’s a legit loophole in the vows, right?

Anyway, turns out Cindy’s a conwoman who’s trying to influence a former employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Joel for the loss of his testicle. So who, exactly is going to get a happily ever after?

From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge, I expected a lot better from Extract, and I probably shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s funny. And there are a lot of great cast members really selling their parts (David Koechner is a scene-stealer in a part that will infuriate you). None of these things add up to anything significant, but if you can live with some ridiculous, and often ridiculously funny, bits and pieces, you might be able to make this work for you. It’s no Office Space; like the extract itself, a little goes a long way, but if you’ve got a hankering for some ethical flavouring, Extract has the essence.

The Bachelors

Bill’s wife died suddenly and quickly, and left her husband and teenage son devastated. She was the love of Bill’s life and the emptiness without her is unbearable. Trying to outrun his pain, he packs up his son and moves cross country to beautiful California where his son Wes attends and Bill teaches at a private school.

There, Wes (Josh Wiggins) will meet Lacy (Odeya Rush), a student haunted by her own searing pain, and Bill (JK Simmons) will meet Carine (Julie Delpy), the beautiful andsmart French teacher who couldn’t possibly fill the hole left by his dead wife. These women are the jolt of electricity they’ll need to venture outside their mourning and start to admit that life goes on. Sadly, though, it’s not quite that easy. Grief is complicated, and depression lurks behind it, ready to steal away one’s remaining parent.

This sounds like a downer but actually that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s laughter coupled with the sorrow, and the two co-exist quite comfortably for two reasons. First, it’s a good script, grounded in reality where nothing is black and white, where even 121024depressed people can retain a sense of humour, where sadness and happiness often coincide, are two sides of the same debit card (who carries coins anymore?). Second, there are some very humane performances, particularly by JK Simmons. Writer-director Kurt Voelker manages to respect each of his character by giving them each an arc of their own. He manages to traverse some shaky ground by transcending the genres and making a film that is uniquely his.

There’s a stirring masculinity on display, showing grief and depression in their many forms, which are sometimes more difficult to identify in men. The emotions are no less visceral and Voelker keeps them accessible, making sure that honesty is at the forefront, and that no one is identified solely by their loss. Sean will love the Pacific Coast Highway views from a Mustang convertible, and the rest of us can enjoy a naked performance from a great actor unafraid to be vulnerable in his tightie whities.

Father Figures

On her wedding day, Helen (Glenn Close) lets loose a secret bombshell to her grown, fraternal twin sons, Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Pete (Ed Helms): their deceased father is not in fact deceased, or in fact their father. Their actual father, she confesses, is hard to pin down, since she was a bit of a slut. So they do the only thing a couple of twins who can scarcely stand each other can: they embark on a quest to find out their true parentage.

First stop: Terry Bradshaw. First, but not last stop on a long tour of hearing about how MV5BYWZjNDdmMzctZDI0Yi00NGVhLTlmY2EtOWRmNmJmN2FmMjM1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3NTA3NzI@._V1_much of a cum dumpster their mother was.  The movie suffers an identity crisis very early on: is this a raunchy comedy? A movie full of surprise twists? Sentimental slop? Buddy stuff? A road trip movie? Or just an excuse to slut-shame sex-positive Glenn Close?

It wasn’t awful, let’s start there. I laughed, probably more than I laughed at almost any other comedy this year, with the notable exception of The Big Sick. But a loose collection of vacuous laughs don’t really amount to much. Father Figures can’t even replicate the success of The Hangover, or Wedding Crashers. It’s just an intermittently funny movie that you’ll forget, possibly even while you’re watching it – the movie goes off on enough side tangents that it’s hard to keep track.

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms are good, but they’re acting against such an inconsistent backdrop it’s hard to really gain any traction. There’s no urgency to seeing this movie and certainly no reason to see it in theatres – at this time of year there are much better options. Pick any.

All Nighter

Ginnie takes her boyfriend Martin to meet her father. Martin is a vegetarian with an allergy  to red wine who plays the banjo for a “living” (it’s not much of one). Does Dad (let’s call him Mr. Gallo) hate him on sight? Of course he fucking does. The dinner does not go well.

Cut to: six months later, Mr. Gallo (JK Simmons) is pounding on Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) door. He’s in town just for the day and can’t seem to locate his daughter. Martin’s not all-nighter-trailermuch help since they broke up 3 months (and 9 days, but who’s counting?) ago. Does Mr. Gallo take no for an answer? No he does not.

So Martin sets out on an epic adventure with his ex-girlfriend’s disapproving dad to track down the woman he’s not really over. It becomes increasingly clear that she is over him, has gotten over him with lots of different guys in lots of different places. But where is she now? It’s a little alarming that none of her friends can say.

JK Simmons puts in a solid performance, his character a pretty comfortable fit for his on-screen persona. Emile Hirsch is a capable, sorry sidekick for him. If this is a buddy comedy, it’s a truly strange one, with an extremely oddball duo engaged in some extremely forced bonding. And while I was at least mildly entertained by All Nighter (at least one chuckle was audible), it’s the kind of movie you forget as soon as you turn it off. Director Gavin Wiesen seems intent on making the blandest choices possible until he just says fuck it and lets the thing descend into madcap absurdity. The bizarre set pieces aren’t even that interesting. Damn it, Hollywood: JK Simmons has a lifetime of incredible character-actor roles under his belt and now he has a damn Oscar from a star-making, powerhouse performance. What more do you want before you give this man some material worthy of his time? All Nighter’s not even close.

Spider-Man

The year was 2002. Spider-Man, the comic, was 40 years old that year, so it was about damn time somebody finally made a good movie about a character that had been iconic for decades. The movie rights had been in limbo for years, but with Sam Raimi, a dedicated comic book collector, in the director’s chair, it finally came together.

I was married to the wrong guy at the time, and none too pleased about being dragged to the midnight viewing of a movie I was sure I wouldn’t care for. I bet lots of you were there spiderman.pngtoo: Spider-Man set the record for highest gross in a single day, and then broke the record for achieving $100 million dollars the fastest – in just 3 days.

Raimi had liked Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules, feeling that character embodied a lot of what Peter Parker should be. The studio, however, was thinking more along the lines of Tobey’s pussy posse playmate, Leonardo DiCaprio, who James Cameron had wanted for the part when he was working on it in the 90s (Charlie Sheen campaigned hard for it, but Cameron didn’t bite). Failing that, maybe Freddie Prinze, Jr.? James Franco tried out for the part, and so did Scott Speedman. Wes Bentley was rumoured to be the favourite. Stan Lee had always envisioned John Cusack for the part, but the in end, Raimi got his way, and Tobey Maguire hit the gym.

Spider-man’s suit went through about a billion different designs before they landed on the one seen in the movie. The suit itself was one piece (except for the mask), excruciating to peel on and off; eventually the costume department relented and built in a little slit so Maguire could pee.

Kirsten Dunst got the part of Mary Jane after Kate Hudston turned it down to make Four Feathers. Alicia Witt, Mena Suvari and Elisha Cuthbert all auditioned for the role. Eliza Dushku’s screen test can be seen in the DVD’s special feature. In the end, Dunst got word that Maguire had been cast and thought the project sounded just indie enough for her taste.

The Green Goblin was maybe hardest to cast of them all. The role was intended to be played by Billy Crudup, who dropped other projects to be available before eventually being told he was too young. Robert De Niro and John Travolta both turned down the part. spider-man-and-the-green-goblin-2002.pngNicolas Cage and John Malkovich were also considered. Finally Bill Paxton was settled upon, but a few meetings later, Sam Raimi was convinced Willem Dafoe was right for the part, so they dyed James Franco’s hair brown to make them look more like father and son, and the rest is history. Bill Paxton got the shaft of course, but his dad still appears in the film, as the Osborns’ elderly housekeeper. The Goblin costume was no picnic either. Originally designed to be quite bulky, it was streamlined when Dafoe decided to do his own stunts (reportedly about 90% of them). In the end, the suit was made up of 580 pieces that took a teak half an hour to put on him.

jk-simmons-jameson-spider-man-2002.jpgJK Simmons seemed a perfect fit for J. Jonah Jameson, but it’s not who Stan Lee would have chosen. His first choice? Himself! He’s very complimentary of Simmons’ portrayal, however. And Jameson’s costume was much simpler, of course, though it did necessitate Simmons’s donning of a wig. Not content to have just one iconic comic book role, JK will soon be appearing as Commissioner Gordon in The Batman and Justice League.

Hugh Jackman was supposed to have been in the movie, in a Wolverine cameo, but on the day he showed up in NYC to film, the crew couldn’t get his costume from the X-Men set!

The CGI in this movie was really advanced for its time, and the special effects wowed the pants off audiences worldwide. Sadly, post-911, some effects had to be used to digitally asset-version-09400601fb-2016-09-07-01_15_16-world-trade-center-in-spider-man-1080p-pt_-1-youtube.pngremove the World Trade towers from several scenes. And a couple of scenes were done the old fashioned way. In one, Tobey Maguire magically catches Mary Jane’s tray full of food. It took 156 takes and a little crazy glue on the tray, but eventually he got it! In another, during that famous upside-down kiss that capture romantic imaginations, Maguire suffered big time, the pouring rain filling up his nostrils and flooding his nasal cavities, making it hard to breathe.

Spiderman is Sean’s favourite super hero. We didn’t get to see these films together, but we did get to see Julie Taylor’s Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark on Broadway. The mounting of it was plagued with difficulty because the stunts were so technical and precise, but seeing Spiderman actually swinging from webs and being dazzled by aerial fight scenes was worth it. With music from U2’s Bono and The Edge, it was a rock-opera-circus show, and a lot of fun. Reeve Carney played Peter Parker, who you may know from Penny Dreadful.

What Sean and I have seen is basically every other comic book movie released since we were together, including those not-very-good Amazing Spider-Man ones with Andrew Garfield. Sean is a comic book lover from way back, having spent hard-earned paper route money on them every time he could convince his dad to drive him to his favourite store in Toronto. His mother made costumes for him and his brothers, and he even got suspended from school over a comic that he drew when he was a teenager (one of his co-conspirators now writes for Marvel and has his own graphic novel series).

So what better way to celebrate Sean’s 40th birthday than with a super hero party? The dude’s in good company. Joe Manganiello, who played Flash Thompson in the 2002 Spider-Man, also turns 40 this year (and will play Deathstroke in The Batman). Corey Stoll, who played Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, turned 40 this year, and so did Michael Pena from the same film. Alicia Silverstone, aka Batgirl, turned 40, and so did Colin Farrell, who played Bullseye, a character that first appeared in the Daredevil series 40 years ago this year. Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange himself) also turned 40 this year, as did Green Lantern\Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds. So it’s a big year for lots of super heroes, but I’m most proud of the one who wears a suit to work rather than tights and fights for justice in a courtroom instead of in the sky. We’ll be toasting him with cocktails like Spidey’s Love Potion, and Superman’s Kryptonite, and they’ll come in little caped cups, just a friendly neighbourhood shindig to celebrate my favourite Asshole. xo

 

The Late Bloomer

A sex addiction therapist endures a severe kick in the nuts that leads to a hospital visit, that leads to the discovery of a brain tumor. That’s the good news. The brain tumor is benign, and has been leaning heavily on his pituitary gland this whole time, which means 30 year old Peter (Johnny Simmons) has NEVER gone through puberty. Buckle up, folks: he’s about to!

And he’s pleased as punch. He’ll finally get to have sex! Finally know the joys of erections and masturbation and third base! The opening title card warns us we’re in for “some ridiculously fucked up shit” and they’re not wrong. They took a “true story”, made it unbelievable and yet generically raunchy, and stripped it of any humour. The situation is bursting with potential but director Kevin Pollack decided nah, let’s just be basic and boring about it. And be sure to completely waste the supporting cast while we’re at it.

It feels like the stuff that Judd Apatow left on the cutting room floor after editing The 40 untitled.pngYear Old Virgin, and the fact that Jane Lynch is in both is just a painful reminder that this subject actually CAN be funny, should be funny, and in fact probably took a lot of effort to screw up this badly. How much effort, you ask? Well, by my count: there are 2 credited with “story by” and FIVE credited with screenwriting. Five! All dudes, naturally. Dudes who like visual jokes about morning wood and sneaky semen. And that doesn’t even count the guy who wrote the book, you know, the REAL guy that this actually happened to.

His name is Ken Baker. The real dude spent one season as pro hockey’s “oldest rookie” and is a “journalist” who has worked for People magazine and the E! network. He is not and never has been a sex therapist, which is an unnecessary layer added by lazy writers who thought it would be funny and in fact is just plain stupid. How someone smart enough to earn a PhD would refuse to see a doctor about his condition but deem it a good idea to give advice to people about an act of intimacy he’s never done himself and is in fact biologically incapable of completing is just unacceptable. Do not insult me with such stupidity.

If you surf by this one on Netflix, don’t be fooled by the recognizable cast. It is not worthy of your time. It will fail to incite a single laugh. It should be flushed down the toilet like a used condom.