Tag Archives: Paul Giamatti

All Is Bright

I’ve been watching and reviewing all manner of holiday movies for this site for several years now – how did I miss one starring Paul Rudd? And Paul Giamatti? And Sally Hawkins?

Dennis (Giamatti) is fresh out of a 4 year prison sentence and returns home to find that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has moved on, and his young daughter thinks he’s dead (of cancer – “You suffered,” his ex informs him, not entirely without glee). This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Well, the first part. I think the dead part was a bit of blow. But anyway, he’s not got a home he’s welcome in and no money in his pocket and since it’s only about a month before Christmas, there are no jobs to be had either. “Live off the land,” his parole officer counsels him, super unhelpfully. His only option to earn cash “on the up and up” is by partnering with his friend Rene (Rudd) to take some nice Canadian Christmas trees down to New York City to sell them at inflated prices.

There’s a few problems with this: first, the Christmas tree margin isn’t much; also, earning money the honest way is hard; and lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Rene is the one schtupping is wife. Does it make it better or worse that Rene loves her, plans to marry her?

New York City isn’t super friendly to them, but then again, they aren’t overly friend to it, either. They live like bums on a street corner they’ve claimed for their little tree operation, but as two barely reformed criminals, they don’t exactly have a lot of business savvy. Their only friend is Olga (Sally Hawkins) who’s barely an upright citizen herself.

Although undoutedly set at Christmas, All Is Bright is lacking in the cheer department. It’s not happy or wholesome or merry or, well, bright. It’s bitter and broken. Dennis is a grumpy, unlikeable guy – perfect for Giamatti who grumbles about looking deranged and unwashed. Rudd, on the other hand, slips easily into the role of charming French-Canadian able to sweet-talk almost anyone into almost anything. But his earring signals something a little douchy, and indeed the films wants and expects us to root for Dennis and boo Rene even though they’ve cast Paul Rudd, America’s Sweetheart, in the role. It’s not the easiest ask.

I’m not sure I really liked this movie. For me, it’s hard to pair the holidays with such cantankerous despair. And their redemption? Not exactly heroic. In fact, I’d say they’ve not only learned very little, but cemented their positions on Santa’s Naughty List. You might find it worth a watch only for the two strong performances, but they’re not enough to save a meandering, aimless script.

The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

Private Life

Rachel and Richard are a couple their niece Sadie looks up to – their tiny NYC apartment has cachet because of they live and work in the arts. When she drops out of college, it is natural for her to turn to them for support and a place to crash – much cooler than her parents’ place in the suburbs.

But as Sadie’s parents know, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) aren’t exactly living a carefree life. They are deep in the throes of a fertility struggle. They’ve tried everything, and they’re still trying multiple strategies at once, which requires MV5BMTUyNTMyODc4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk5ODg1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_careful juggling and judicious lying (the adoption people want to hear that IVF is behind you). Like any couple wanting a baby they can’t have, they’ve suffered heartbreak. As the technologies and treatments proliferate, so too does the potential for loss. These people have suffered in ways my privileged uterus hasn’t even heard of – including a catfishing scam I can only wonder at. Still, Rachel and Richard persist, even in the face of their family’s disapproval and the strain on their bank account and the stress on their marriage. But they balk when the doctor suggests an egg donor – or Rachel does, feeling cut out of the deal. But then the young woman living in their home starts to feel like an option – it’s just a delicate matter of how to ask the vulnerable, tetherless niece to do something that will affect her profoundly for the rest of her life? Is that even fair?

This is a movie about fertility, but even more so, it’s a movie expressing rage against the lie that women can have it all. Rachel has delayed kids for career and the price is high. Her husband is sympathetic but ultimately this is her worth as a woman being questioned and her body betraying them, even as she ravages it with attempt after attempt. Private Life is about the ebb and flow of hope and what it does, long-term, to a marriage.

 

I Think We’re Alone Now

Everybody in the whole world dropped dead on Tuesday afternoon. They seem to have  died suddenly, no pain or suffering or foreknowledge, on the toilet or in front of the TV. Del (Peter Dinklage) was asleep when it happened. When he got up to work his night shift at the library, everyone else was dead. He is alone, utterly alone.

Del has spent the last however many months or years methodically cleaning out the houses in his town. He is respectfully burying all 1600 residents. He tidies their homes, scrounging commodities like batteries and gas, and empties their refrigerators. Entropy is why: one less case of chaos in the universe. Then he searches for unreturned library books, marks the house, and leaves it behind, unsentimentally, ready for the next one. Sure he’s alone but so, apparently, was he in his life before.

MV5BMTk4MjM3NDUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU4MzgyNDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_You’ll never guess what’s coming. Okay, I bet you already have, more or less. Grace. Grace (Elle Fanning) is coming. She careens into his town one night and refuses to leave. That he wants her to is interesting, isn’t it? They make a grudging peace, but his solitariness is destroyed, and Grace, of course, is a big ole blob of chaos herself. But she challenges him in unexpected ways. He’s been able to manage this post-apocalyptic world because he didn’t lose much. Grace has lost everything – family, friends, lovers. She thinks Del is cold.

Of course, Grace is not as forthcoming as she’s presented herself. Who knew the end of the world could get so complicated? I wasn’t crazy about the tonal twist in the end and I’m not sure why the screenplay by Mike Makowsky veers off so dramatically when it’s been so low-key up until then. I like a script that has he space to leave some questions unanswered. And Peter Dinklage is very good at filling in the gaps. The opening scenes, largely dialogue-free, are not unreminiscent of a human version of Wall-E. But we get a sense of our solitary man, how comfortable he is with the routine. He’s alone, but he’s not lonely.

If I had some problems with the story, I had none with how I Think We’re Alone Now looks. Director Reed Morano, before she got her Emmy for directing The Handmaid’s Tale, was a cinematographer on films like Frozen River. She was the youngest person admitted to the American Society of Cinematographers and 1 of only 14 women (out of approximately 345, yuck). Morano’s the real deal, and so much of Del’s world looks incredible. I love what the camera will linger on, I love which colours are emphasized and when. I just wish the story delivered on the film’s promise.

 

Jim & Andy

The official title of the documentary is Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton and it’s ‘about’ how Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman in order to portray him in the 1999 movie Man in the Moon.

Andy Kaufman was a comedian who defied definition. There wasn’t and hasn’t been anyone like him before or since; Kaufman existed outside the normal conception of stand-up comedy. For a lot of people he was simply too much – so who better to play him than this generation’s over the top comedian, Jim Carrey?

Having watched the documentary, it’s hard to decide who’s crazier. Maybe Andy MV5BMjM3OTY1OTAxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI0MTUxNDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Kaufman just didn’t give a fuck – but Jim? The documentary has a tonne of footage from the set of the movie, which was filmed 20 years ago. A documentary was planned at the time (shot by an old girlfriend of Andy’s) but Universal pulled the plug, for fear that the public would discover their beloved Jim Carrey to be an asshole. Cut to 2017 and the cat’s pretty much out of the bag. And maybe asshole’s not even the right word, but there is no one right word: he’s a space cadet, a depressive, a nonsensical philosopher. And those things are all apparent in the documentary, which also features an interview with him present day. And it’s hard to know who to detest and pity more: the Jim Carrey on the set of Man on the Moon was was never Jim Carrey at all because he was so deep in the character Jim never showed up to work, or the Jim Carrey today who at times seems downright bewildered even in his own skin. He talks about fugue states and telepathy, but bottom line, he believes that the spirit of Kaufman inhabited his body during filming. When director Milos Forman or colleagues like Danny De Vito or Paul Giamatti tried to address Jim on the set, “Andy” would be angry and\or defensive. “Andy” was always on, and always creating a ruckus. You can see how that would wear thin. The real Jim Carrey, whoever that is, has recently claimed to have had a spiritual awakening, and depending how woke you are yourself, what he spouts is either enlightened or crazy.

Either way, it’s hard to watch. And while it starts out to be fascinating in a voyeuristic, train wreck kind of way, my tolerance for it eroded before the 94 run time was up. And I’m a little uncomfortable eavesdropping on the scattered thoughts of a man who is perhaps not mentally at his best. Having battled depression for years, he has lately taken to ascribing meaninglessness to everything, coming off loopy in red carpet interviews. And he’s still staring down the barrel of a wrongful death lawsuit, accused by his dead girlfriend’s mother and estranged husband of having introduced her to hard drugs, prostitute, and at least 3 STIs. Carrey maintains the the lawsuit is simply a shakedown. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the whole method acting thing was nutty to begin with and is downright unhinged the way he does it. Maybe it’s the counsellor in me talking, but watching this just made me think: this man needs help.

 

Ratchet And Clank

I was just saying that animated movies were very strong in 2016 – I loved The Little Prince, Zootopia, Kubo And The Two Strings…and likely many more. What I did not love, or even like, was Ratchet And Clank.

ratchet-and-clank-screen-06-ps4-eu-02jun15A cute nearly-puppy looking protagonist named Ratchet is “trying out” to join a team of alien super heroes, the Galactic Rangers. He’s not strong or fast, but he has “heart” and lots of failed inventions and a robot sidekick named Clank. Sounds promising on paper but it just wasn’t interesting in practice. Small children may make it through but even they’ll know there’s just better stuff out there. It does nothing to distinguish itself. It has an admirable message lost somewhere amid the chaos about the surprisingly thin line between heroes and villains, but it’s so obviously just going through the motions that it fails to inspire. Even my idle curiosity and need to kill an hour and a half weren’t fulfilled by this in any way. If it’s mediocre animation you’re after, try Kung Fu Panda #Whatever, or The Secret Life of Pets.

This movie is based on a video game I know nothing about, nor do I want to after this exposure. Ratchet and Clank, as far as I’m concerned, can go back to living underneath the rock I accidentally unearthed. Bye, Felicia.

The Little Prince

A little girl has a bright future ahead of her. How do I know? She and her mother (Rachel McAdams) have her whole life planned out. A life plan so intense she’s more like her mother’s Senior VP than her daughter. Her mother’s best compliment: “You are going to make a wonderful grownup.”

But the crazy old man (Jeff Bridges) next door draws her out of her mature little shell with his fanciful inventions and his beautiful story-telling. His stories and drawings come to life in animation within the animation: the story of The Little Prince.

Growing up it was always Le Petit Prince to me, but even en anglais, the timeless story warms the heart. The main story, starring the little girl, and the crazy man’s story, starring the little prince, are distinguished with different styles of animation. The little girl is done in familiar CG style; the little prince is stop-motion, done not in clay but in paper. Both are lovely, 210b0b20-a7ab-11e5-88e2-828a3e695a05_1280x720but I confess a fondness for the nostalgia and simple loveliness of the latter.

The voice cast is incredible: Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, Albert Brooks, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, and more. It’s a real testament to just how cherished the book is, around the world. The Little Prince is a sweet children’s book but it can be read and enjoyed by adults, with many layers of themes to interpret. The same goes for the movie, faithfully and lovingly adapted from its source.

The little girl, too grown up for her own good, rediscovers childhood lp-garden-rgb-5kthrough friendship with the batty old guy next door. But anyone who knows the story knows that along with sweetness, there is also sorrow. The first half of the movie is all poetry and imagination. The second half falters a bit when it gets further away from Saint-Exupéry’s ideas and ideals. The movie is a little less fanciful than the novella, a little more down to earth. But The Little Prince has always been the stuff of dreams, too good, too ethereal for Earth. It’s still lovely though. It’s still one of the loveliest things I’ve seen all summer.