Tag Archives: Jon Hamm

Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell seems somewhat problematic. He’s power hungry, he’s got no regard for jurisdictional limits, and he thinks he’s a cop when he’s really just campus security. So when he finds a suspicious package under a park bench during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, you can see why the FBI might consider him a suspect. But that only goes so far, and doesn’t explain why the FBI viewed him as the ONLY suspect, or why they leaked his name to the press, or why they tried to coerce a confession from him through a fake training video.  It’s malicious prosecution at its finest, aimed at a guy who was only guilty of being in the right place at the right time.

Richard Jewell also seems like he deserved to be a hero for a little bit longer. He saved lives by finding that suspicious package and getting the bomb squad involved. At first, he got the hero treatment, but within days, he was named as the prime suspect, and then his hero days were done. All he was after that point was the creepy guy who might have done it. The FBI wouldn’t be investigating him otherwise, would they? Turns out that yes, actually, they would, because they had no one else to pin this on.MV5BZmMzMTBiYzktNGIwOS00ZTQ5LWE0MjgtZWJhOGE1ZmU1NmEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

Richard Jewell is profiling gone wrong. Clearly, the American justice system is really shitty to anyone who fits a profile. This case was one where a white man was being profiled, so it became a movie. Just imagine how many minorities have been, and are currently being, similarly pursued because they fit a profile, or were “close enough” to the profile for the FBI to squeeze them into that box.

Clint Eastwood is still looking for American heroes, and Richard Jewell clearly fits Eastwood’s profile. It’s a less dangerous profile than any in use by the FBI as long Eastwood doesn’t ask the heroes to play themselves. Eastwood’s retelling of Jewell’s story ignores any shades of grey, preferring to cast the FBI agents (played by Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez) and the media (led by Olivia Wilde) as corrupt and callous, and Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), his mom (Kathy Bates) and his lawyer (Sam Rockwell) as decent and caring.

As a film, Richard Jewell works well enough (Bates and Rockwell are great as always, and the rest of the cast is solid) but it feels like a missed opportunity. The story isn’t that one poor guy got targeted one time. It’s that the system encourages and rewards this type of police work and this type of media coverage, where getting it right doesn’t matter half as much as finding someone, anyone, to blame.

The Report

The Torture Report is based on real events as I’m sure you’ve not failed to notice. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA went rogue. Or went roguer. It was panicky because as the country’s central intelligence agency, it sort of had a responsibility to avert disasters such as these. And technically speaking, it knew about the specific 9/11 threat and had failed to do anything to stop it. It was embarrassed and tried to cover its embarrassment and perhaps culpability the only way it knew how: with an aggressive show of force. So it started acting both above and below the law, doing whatever it deemed necessary to get things done, but not running anything by anyone else, and not actually getting things done either.

Cut to: Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) puts together a task force led by staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to investigate the CIA’s so-called Detention and Interrogation Program. And the thing is: the work is easy. Their guilt is dripping off each and every report he reads, and poor Jones reads literally millions of pages of documents. Jones of course finds evidence of torture, but also that the CIA then attempted to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and keep things secret from even the highest offices in the country. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the truth was that their torture techniques didn’t even work. Although they were so brutal that more than once the prisoner died while being tortured, not once (worth repeating: NOT ONCE) did their EITs result in information they didn’t already have. So either the torture was ineffective or the prisoners truly didn’t have any dirt to spill, and the CIA couldn’t tell the difference anyhow. In fact, afterward even the CIA admitted that at least a quarter of its prisoners should never have been detained in the first place – and keep in mind that people died in their custody. And that’s just what they admit to.

By ‘things’ I mean torture. They basically invented a whole new kind of torture to get information out of terror suspects and they called it ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EITs) in order to not have to call it torture. But that’s what it was. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is strutting around telling the world that the USA does not torture prisoners, confidently saying as much because the CIA was saying that to his face while crossing their fingers behind their backs.

Adam Driver is playing a desk-sitting paper-shuffler in this, and it can be hard to make that very cinematic but the truth of his performance lays in how passionate he is about the work. After spending more than 5 years in a secure, windowless office, working nights and weekends to put this thing together, and being constantly confronted by the shady, unlawful, and shameful actions of his country, it wears on Jones. He can’t help but be emotionally invested.

The film, directed by Scott Burns, earns its tension in that despite this being his life’s work, and obviously vital knowledge, there are tonnes of people who want to bury the report. Even Senator Feinstein wavers. The CIA is not just torturing people abroad, they’e keeping secrets from their president (and openly lying wherever necessary), and spying on their own people, including on the Congress of the United States of America.

It’s kind of amazing that the film ends up feeling gripping and vital. There’s a momentum to it that really brings the subject alive and Driver injects the thing with urgency and humanity.

 

Between Two Ferns: The Movie

Zach Galifianakis is our tour guide as we enjoy a behind the scenes look at the set of his wildly successful talk show, Between Two Ferns. It’s completely fake of course. And wonderful.

Zach’s “show” is a series of web videos you can find literally anywhere on the internet but most of all on Funny or Die. It looks like a bit of amateur public access television that somehow manages to book very high profile celebrities and seat them betwixt the eponymous two potted ferns. He has interviewed the biggest names: Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, even Obama, but the thing that makes people seek out his videos is that he uses it as an excuse to insult celebrities to their face. He uses his own name but the interviewer character is extremely antagonistic and recklessly inappropriate. As Will Ferrell states, we’re laughing at him, not with him.

The movie’s premise, which is as thin as they come, is just Zach hitting the road in order to film 10 rapid-succession shows in order to achieve his ultimate goal of a network late night show. The plot, if you want to call it that, is flimsy because it’s just a vehicle for random acts of bizarre humour. You either like it or you don’t. It’s on Netflix so it’s low risk, but this is not going to win over any new fans and isn’t trying to. It’s just a 10 course dinner rather than its usual light snack. Can you take that much fern? Can anyone?

“People find you unpleasant,” this according to David Letterman, and he’s putting it lightly. This version of Zach Galifianakis is an asshole, but that’s the fun of his little show: it subverts the usual softball style of celebrity interviews. It looks Jon Hamm straight in the eye and asks whether Bradley Cooper’s success “will open doors for other hot idiots?” If you think it must be hard to get those insults out while remaining deadpan, stay tuned through the credits for proof.

Bad Times at the El Royale

The title promises “bad times” and that’s exactly what this film delivers.  In saying that I am not criticizing Bad Times at the El Royale.  It’s a well-made variation on the multiple perspective crime genre (think Pulp Fiction) and it will keep you guessing until the end as each character is introduced and additional information is gained from each new perspective.  But while Quentin Tarantino mixed a fair bit of humour into Pulp Ficton’s dark brew, writer-director Drew Goddard’s El Royale is a long row of tequila shots without a chaser.  It starts slowly but even then, right from the start, the tense atmosphere tells you that a lot of bad shit is coming.

__5b18c1af51a71The main events in Bad Times at the El Royale unfold over the course of one rainy night on the Nevada-California border.  The El Royale is literally split in half by the state line, so the first challenge for each guest is to decide in which state they’d like to stay.  Unfortunately, things have gone downhill at the El Royale ever since it lost its Nevada gaming licence, so the hotel is essentially deserted.  Ringing the bell doesn’t summon the desk clerk; it takes several seconds of beating on the “staff only” door to wake him.  Once he’s up, the guests are able to check in – there are four at first, and two more will show up before the night is done.  Hardly any of the guests are what they seem, and only a couple of them will live long enough to check out in the morning.

While the movie doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, the solid premise and excellent cast still make this film worth watching.  It’s absolutely packed with talent, as demonstrated by the always-excellent Nick Offerman being relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss it role (though he does get to do some woodworking, of sorts, so that was probably reason enough for him to sign on).  Bad Times at the El Royale gave me a tense, suspenseful night chock full of hardboiled twists and turns, and that’s all I could have asked for before the sunrise.

Tag

Tag is a movie about grown men playing tag. They’ve played every month of May for the past 30 years, since they were kids. They’re crazy competitive about it, and it rankles that Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one who’s never EVER been tagged. Not once. In 30 years. But this May Jerry’s getting married, and that seems to the rest of the gang (Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm) like the perfect opportunity to finally make him IT.

This movie is based on a true story, which sounds absurd except I knew a couple of brothers who did something similar – they played a game they dubbed Touch You Last (you can probably extrapolate what it involves) throughout their adulthood. In MV5BMjNjYzVkNmMtY2VhNC00ZDg2LTlkNmItMzYzOTI4NzIwYTQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMxMjkwMDg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_the movie, the guys find it a good excuse to get together and stay close well past the time that most friendships fall to the way side. Wives and girlfriends (Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Isla Fisher) are not allowed to play because they made the rules when they were 9 (no girls allowed) but over the years the game has been mythic and this year a reporter from The Wall Street Journal is following them around so the stakes are extra extra high and nothing, believe me NOTHING, is sacred.

The film is a mashup between comedy (hit or miss) and absurd and insane stunts that no grown, sane man should attempt in the name of a game of tag, or ever, unless a bear is chasing you AND you owe that bear money AND that bear has ties to organized crime AND your hair is on fire.

The script isn’t overly strong but there’s a lot of funny people in this (I might give the win to Hannibal Buress, who delivers a straight-faced one-liner like nobody’s business) so it does have its moments. It’s just not in danger for being mistaken for a classic, or, you know, an actual good movie. Which is not to say it’s bad. It’s just pretty content to be a medium-funny diversion which you may or may not wait to see as a rental rather than in theatres, where you damn well better make me laugh out loud.

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?

Marjorie Prime

In the future, grief will be obsolete. If you are missing your partner of 50 years, all you’ll have to do is invest in a good hologram, tell it some personal stories, and all of a sudden you’ll have a spouse 2.0 sitting on your plastic-encased sofa, reminiscing about all the good times you shared. Is it a little creepy? Depends who you ask. Certainly when elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith) chooses to see her departed husband Walter as the handsome, middle-aged man she first met (Jon Hamm), her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) thinks it’s a little weird. Tess doesn’t want anything to do with her hologram Daddy but Marjorie is quite enamoured with him.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-7-29-47-pmThe film makes you think about memory, and what that means, and how it is shared, and if it is real. And it makes you think about humanity and what makes us truly ourselves, and if we can separate ourselves from memory, or if indeed that’s all we are is our memories. And it makes you think about love: can it be recreated, does it live on after death, does it exist independently outside a couple, is it found in the details or does it truly live in our hearts? So if you’re in the mood for a talky, thinky piece with very little action, Marjorie Prime may just be the film for you. Based on a play, most of the film takes place within just one room. But within that room, the acting is superb. Lois Smith is a phenom. Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins orbit around her, fueling her sun.

The movie feels haunting and intriguing, and maybe it isn’t fair to say this, but it raises such interesting ethics that I almost wanted more from it, more cud to chew on. At times the film feels a little redundant: you have to feed the hologram in order to make it more believable, more “real.” But no matter how many perspectives you feed it, it will always be missing its own. These “primes” strikes me as an excellent opportunity for Sean to finally construct a Jay he’s always dreamed of: one that doesn’t talk back, who doesn’t know sarcasm, who doesn’t remember the time he told a naughty story about her in front of his mother. But the thing is, if Sean invested in this Jay Prime because he missed her, what good would she be if she didn’t roll her eyes at him?

Even with its faults, I enjoyed Marjorie Prime, for the watching and the thinking it inspired afterward. Watch it, and tell us what you think: would you be comforted by a hologram of your mother or your spouse or even your dead dog?