Do you want to know how it ends? A meteor. That’s how we go. For the people of Earth, that day is today. It’s the last day of Earth, and Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones) has been invited to a party. The meteor is the least interesting thing about How It Ends, and its only certainty.
Liza’s initial inclination is to spend her last day alone, getting high and eating cookies. It’s a pretty solid plan, but unfortunately her Younger Self (also named Liza of course) (Cailee Spaeny) vetoes. Plan B involves checking off items on a list of regrets en route to the pre-apocalypse party. On Liza’s list of regrets: exes, former friends, estranged parents. Truth is the theme for the day, and if that doesn’t keep her honest, her Younger Self sure will. Liza and Young Liza hoof it across Los Angeles, encountering a pretty eclectic cast of characters, but most of all bonding with and taking care of each other.
How It Ends is oddly playful for the pre-apocalypse, but as both co-writer-director and its star, Zoe Lister-Jones certainly has the right sort of presence to pull it off. She’s got excellent chemistry with Spaeny, which you’d really sort of have to, or the whole thing would be an utter failure. It’s a fascinating philosophical experiment, to have two versions of the same person interacting with each other so naturally. I loved the relationship between the two, and felt a little jealous of it. I enjoyed laughing with them, eavesdropping on their most intimate conversations, and indulging in a double dose of Lister-Jones’ unique brand of charm.
Frequent collaborators Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein manage to take a quirky premise and ground it with self-aware performances. As the meteor draws ever nearer, we dread it not because of the impending doom of humanity, because it means the movie itself will end, and we’ve been having too much fun to want to say goodbye.
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.
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.
It’s the last day of school, and best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are ready to bid high school goodbye. They’ve been serious students, buttoned down and focused, and their hard work has paid off: they’re off to Yale and Columbia respectively. But their pride is tamped down a little when they learn that that many of their classmates are also headed for the Ivies – this despite the fact that they rarely seemed studious, and made lots of time for parties and fun. “I’m incredible at hand-jobs but I also got a 1560 on the SATs,” says one.
Molly is particularly devastated; sure she’s the valedictorian, but did she sacrifice fun for nothing? She doesn’t want to show up at college in the fall a party virgin. Her whole worldview is sliding down a crap chute, and her instinct is to dive in after it. Luckily, they have one last night before graduation, and Amy’s departure for a summer of volunteering in Botswana. One night to make up for 4 years of skipping parties and feeling left out of the in-crowd. They set their sights on Nick’s party – the most effortlessly popular kid in school (played by Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Gooding Jr).
The ladies do not get from point A to point B without boatloads (and sometimes they are literal boatloads) of shenanigans. This is Superbad, only because it’s girls, it’s much smarter. And it seems like this one night of trying to party teaches them more about themselves than the previous four years of high school. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?
The movie gets so much right even as we learn how much the girls have gotten wrong. Molly always assumed she was purposely excluded, but it turns out these kids are all too happy to greet her socially; her exile was self-imposed. How maddening, isn’t it, to discover that too late – and a good reminder for us all to check in with ourselves. How often do we impose our own limitations? Amy tackles her fears while Molly checks her ego, and her assumptions. The two women in the lead have amazing chemistry and it’s a lot of fun to witness the particular dynamic of their friendship. You and I know that college will test the bonds of their friendship, and inevitably change it if not crush it outright. They’re starting to have inklings that this might be so. So this last night out has some tangible pressure to it. Beanie Feldstein is a cinematic lantern, lighting up every screen she’s on, and lighting the way for others. Kaitlyn Dever is an excelling pairing for her, able to play off her energy in a more conservative and subdued way, while still holding her own.
Olivia Wilde tries out the director’s chair and seems to find it a pretty comfortable fit. She’s got an eye for letting actors do their thing; so much of the best bits feel spontaneous and are the best kind of weird. She’s also got an amazing feel for music – she introduces characters and themes with pop songs, and it really took me back. I bet most of us can come up with a soundtrack of our own high school experience. Music is such an important part of that time in our lives. I still surround myself by music constantly, but I will never again spend the day on my bedroom floor inhaling lyric booklets, or spend hours recording stuff off MTV like I did then. I know which songs I kissed to, slow-danced to, had sex to. Which ones we played on repeat as we drove recklessly and restlessly around parking lots doing donuts, which ones played at the diner as we split an order of fries, which ones we cried to when boys were mean to us, which ones accompanies us down the aisle at our own graduations and commencements. Wilde seems to have an intuitive sense of that, and I caught it.
There’s a theme in Booksmart that is hinted at but never spoken of: class. As in economic and social class. Molly points out the school’s 1% (Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo, whom Sean finds uproariously funny), but it’s clear that the Los Angeles high school as affluent as heck. Everyone, it seems, except for Molly. Not a single thing is ever said about it, but we see that she lives in an apartment building while everyone else has a McMansion, and her parents are absent from the film. So when Molly discovers that all her other classmates also got into good schools, she berates herself for having skipped the fun when she didn’t have to. But you and I know that she probably did: that kids like Molly have to earn their way in, but kids from rich families do not. They have legacy status, they know alumni who can pull strings. Their families donate money to schools. And, as we’ve seen in the news recently, they pay money to fake their way in on a little-used athletic scholarship or some other fraudulent means. College admissions are not the meritocracy we want to believe they are. There are very valid reasons why Molly worked so hard and others did not, even if the film never states them. So maybe Molly’s takeaway was to loosen up a bit, and experience life, which are not bad lessons. But for us, it’s a little bit more than that.
Even with these subtle layers, Booksmart never stops being fun. The cast is lively and diverse, the tropes are thankfully on the unexpected side, and the movie has a great pace. Plus it has an exception friendship at its centre. Just when you think we’ve said all there is to say about high school, Boomsmart is a charming, genuine and clever addition to the field.
If you watch Dan Fogelman’s This is Us, then you know what to expect from the writer-director: a love story to make you swoon, a family saga to make your heart swell, emotional manipulation to milk your tearducts dry. Life Itself is This Is Us on steroids, and with swearing.
Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) have the kind of love story only found in movies and imaginations. She’s wounded in a sexy way, he’s wildly devoted to her, they’re both unbearably attractive, he talks about his feelings, which are grandiose and pointed solely toward her, she doesn’t complain when he kisses her with stubble.
But – record scratch – this isn’t some ordinary rom-com, this is Life Itself! We can’t stop there. No, Dan Fogelman grows the concept to include generations that cross continents. The ensemble cast includes Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris- Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Mandy Patinkin, and Jean Smart. Like his hit television show, Life Itself is not so much about the destination but the journey. Fogelman plays around with the chronology, as he does, and with an unreliable narrator and its delicious implications.
I love the casting. I loved seeing Jean Smart. Oscar Isaac was a stand-out for me. He’s playing Prince Charming, only sexy, and he sells it. Coming from almost anyone else on Earth I’m sure I would have been rolling my eyes but for Oscar I was nodding and tilting my head, and wanting desperately to touch him lightly on the forearm. Alex Monner was also really solid. His part isn’t huge, but he leaves quite an impact. And I loved that his story line shot in Spain was done in Spanish and subtitled in English. I think there’s been a trend in films lately to see more characters speaking in their native tongue, and I’m all for it. It worked really well here and I hope to see this trend continue.
But before you start thinking this is to good to be true, to be honest, I had some problems with the film. Specifically with the direction taken by some of the characters that just didn’t feel right to me. I admit those choices fit the narrative; Fogelman knew where he was going and he got us there. Does that excuse it? Ugh. I’m struggling because the movie gave me emotional release, I had such a satisfying, cathartic ugly-cry that I sort of want to excuse it anything. But the truth is that no, you shouldn’t shit on your characters. If you’re going to ask me to buy some pretty extreme things, you shouldn’t spend so much time letting me get to know them first, know them well enough to call bullshit when they suddenly start acting out of character.
In the end, fans of This Is Us are extremely likely to like this movie if they aren’t too shocked by Dan’s potty mouth. I liked it myself. I can’t help it! This movie hits you right in the feels and there’s no use trying to logic it away.
Sadie picks up her messages. There’s a code phrase, and then a woman’s voice, shaky and furtive. She wants to leave her abusive husband. She needs help. Can Sadie come?
Sadie is a one-woman vigilante ass kicker. She gets bad husbands gone, and if they won’t go quietly, she will mess them up. It’s not just the krav maga that makes her strong, it’s the history she shares with her clients. But no matter how many women she helps flee violent situations, she can never truly escape her own, because her husband is still out there, never brought to justice for his sins.
Writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson wanted to make a film about domestic violence that would really speak to the urgency and the desperation and the severity of the issue. She did scrupulous research, and the details that come through – like the fact that New York state will pay for the funeral of anyone murdered during your escape (fucking think about that for a moment) – are depressingly, frighteningly authentic. Real-life abuse survivors make up the support groups which Sadie attends. They share stories that will haunt you.
But this is Sadie’s story. Sadie is intent on being strong now, for herself and for others. But as badass as Olivia Wilde is in the role, we never forget that Sadie’s husband, though no longer in the picture, still has a hold on her. It sounds easy to leave, and logical to move on, but abusive relationships are a sickness, one that keeps you coming back. So while Sadie may have trained herself to assault any man she has to, her trickiest opponent will always be the demons in her own head, and it’ll take more than physical fitness and a bunch of clever disguises to defeat those.
The film is interesting because we get to see themes like control and confidence evolve throughout. We get to know Sadie and her story through flashbacks, but the film keeps a forward momentum that manages to keep its pressure building. This movie is not exactly an easy one to watch, but neither is living with the reality of domestic violence, and for that, I think we can all dig down and find a little inner bravery.
Liam Neeson is a writer doing writerly things in Paris, estranged from his wife (Kim Basinger) after a family tragedy, and making up for lost time with his damaged young mistress (Olivia Wilde).
Mila Kunis is recently a NY hotel maid, the latest in a string of terrible jobs she can’t hold onto. Her lawyer (Maria Bello) is losing patience with her flimsy excuses for constantly missing court – should the custody battle she’s locked in with her ex (James Franco) be her first priority?
Adrien Brody is in Italy to track down designs he can knock-off when he runs into a beautiful woman in a bar (Moran Atias) with a sob story about stolen money and the smuggler who’s holding her daughter ransom.
Three couples, three cities, three stories, 1 movie, by the king of interwoven story lines himself, Paul Haggis. What do they have in common? Kids? Rocky relationships? Trust issues? Wonky coincidences? Unreliable narrators? A weird triangle with an awkward “third person”? Or something a little more…literary? I found this flick on Netflix and wondered how such a monstrously recognizable cast had flown under the radar.
There are definitely small details scattered throughout Third Person that deliberately do not make sense, yet are major hinges to the plot. The stories are vaguely interconnected, but shouldn’t be. They should be divided by the rules of time and space which our universe obeys, but aren’t. It’s damn subtle though, ambitious in its reach. The kind of thing that’ll itch your brain, make you squint at the TV, make your constantly ask your partner “Okay, what?” Haggis’s gimmick overwhelms the movie, and the cracking chemistry between stars just isn’t enough to make up for it.
As frustrating as the film’s structure is, there’s also an underlying message that to me was even more disturbing. The men are all pricks and the women are all passive victims. In one vignette, a character actually says “Women have the gift of being able to deny any reality” but you know what, Paul Haggis? This woman is staring reality in the balls and calling it what it is: a waste of talented actors, pretentious without being smart, and a bit of a bore.
The Longest Week – Jason Bateman plays a dependently wealthy man-child chronically working on (or at least thinking about) the great American novel until one day his parents cut him off, he gets evicted, and he shows up on his best friend’s (Billy Crudup) doorstep, begging for a place to stay. And this might have gone well if he didn’t immediately start crushing on and sleeping with his best friend’s girl (Olivia Wilde). Likeable leads. Aiming for quirky but falls into been there, done that.
Touchy Feely – Rosemarie DeWitt plays a massage therapist suddenly stricken with a complete aversion to touch. She can’t do her job anymore but that’s the least of it: all of her personal relationships start to suffer too. Luckily her brother the dentist starts to do really well healing his patients thanks to his daughter (Ellen Page) breeching protocol. The uptight family does some X and wander around and just like this movie, they never really go anywhere.
Life of Crime – Tim Robbins is a rich old white guy with a young, hot wife (Jennifer Aniston) but leaves his wife for a younger, hotter mistress (Isla Fisher). Too bad some dumb criminals pick this exact moment to kidnap the wife and demand a hefty ransom. Sure he has the money, but now that he thinks about, he wouldn’t mind if his wife just disappeared – in fact, it would save him on alimony. Not the best Elmore Leonard adaptation but solid, and sometimes charming.
The Giant Mechanical Man – Jenna Fischer plays a woman who’s a little too old to still not know what she wants to be when she grows up. Temping isn’t paying what it used to and she has to move in with her uppity little sister. She feels comforted by the giant mechanical man (Chris Messina) when she spots him around the city – one of those street performers who dress up like a metal statue and never move. Turns out the mechanical man is going through a transition period himself. His girlfriend’s left him because he spends his day wearing silver paint rather than being gainfully employed. The two finally meet when they both take jobs far below their stations, and bond over their common loserdom. It’s quietly sweet, but it’s hard not to think that Pam belongs with Jim, and Danny with Mindy. Call me crazy.