Tag Archives: sarah silverman

The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.

Advertisements

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, a tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs thought of a great way to become relevant again: he challenged current champion Bobbie Jean King to a game. No, not just challenged her: assured the world that he would win, because he was male, and that was enough. Bobby Riggs probably didn’t truly believe in most of the chauvinistic slogans he chanted, but he knew they’d get him attention in the era of “burning bras” and “women’s libbers”, and he was right. He was a Kardashian of his time; he knew how to work the media and how to gain attention for himself. It just so happened that the women’s movement generally, and women’s tennis particularly, needed exactly this kind of opportunity.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-posterSteve Carell does an excellent job of making the buffoon Riggs more than just a brash loud mouth; in fact, Carell was probably my favourite part of the film. And that’s maybe a little sad considering this really should have been Billie Jean King’s story to tell. And to some extent, it is. It’s just that I thought Emma Stone’s version of her was pretty beige. She’s more than just a prominent pair of glasses with a side of closeted lesbian.

But at least the film is layered and tries to establish the game within the context of its time, not just within the characters’ lives but societally as well. The film may bear the name of The Battle of the Sexes but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to know that the most interest part of the conflict happened off the court.

This film hit theatres in a very timely fashion – a reminder of how incredibly not very far we’ve come. Now that it’s available to rent, why not watch it as a drinking game, and take a shot of female empowerment every time a Grand Slam title champion is referred to as a “little lady.” On the press circuit, the real Billie Jean King reminded us that at the time, a married woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name. But here we are in 2018 (happy new year) and you just know this movie didn’t get made without someone getting sexually harassed. In 40 years, what will the #MeToo movie say about us?

Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special

Peak 1990s Michael Bolton was a cheesy, long haired dude who belonged in my mother’s cheesy CD collection, not mine. He was “adult contemporary” in the worst way imaginable. But then he cut off his mane and hooked up with Lonely Planet. The result?

 

Wait a minute: Michael Bolton has a sense of humour about himself? Indeed he does. And if you thought the above three minutes were worth a hoot, then you should definitely check out his Valentine’s special on Netflix because it’s a whole hour worth of laughs. If you’re anything like me and can’t handle sappy movies without copious eye rolls and squirms, and you think the softcore porn of Fifty Shades of Whatever is just plain undignified, finally we’ve got something you and your hunny can curl up to.  Laughter makes couples stronger – trust me, it’s science.

But you certainly don’t need to be a couple to enjoy this as its basic function is to poke fun michaelboltonsbigsexyvalentinesdayspecial_2at the whole romantic notion anyway. The premise, which is a generous way to describe it, is this: Santa needs an extra 75k babies to deliver presents to by next Christmas, so Michael Bolton agrees to host a sexy telethon to inspire love\baby making. Answering the phones of this telethon include seldom-thought of celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Sinbad, and Janeane Garofalo. But that’s hardly the limit as far as celebrity cameos go. Bolton is helped by the likes of Michael Sheen, Maya Rudolph, and very briefly, his best friend Adam Scott. Plus about 2 dozen more.

Bottom line, it’s stupid. It’s quite stupid. It was the kind of stupid I enjoyed because it’s skeweringly silly, raunchy, sparkling with tongue-in-cheek homages. It’s quite reminiscent of the Bill Murray Christmas special, A Very Murray Christmas. And the truth is, Michael Bolton still sounds good. So on the rare occasion when he actually does sing, it’s perfectly pleasing. But it’s never, ever with a straight face. And that’s what makes it stupidly glorious.

 

[It also begs the question: what’s next? Murray got Christmas, Bolton got Valentine’s…who would you like to see tackle a holiday?]

I Smile Back

I Smile Back is tough to watch from the start, and it only gets worse.  It tells the story of Laney (Sarah Silverman), a housewife struggling with “drugs and daddy issues”, whose primary question of her therapist is, “which do you want to talk about first?”  Laney is married with two young children, so her apparent drug and sex addictions are significant problems for a whole number of reasons.

I am by far the least qualified i-smile-backasshole to diagnose Laney, being the only one who’s not a mental health professional.  But since Jay’s in a pain and morphine-induced haze right now, and Matt hasn’t seen the movie, you get stuck with me as your tour guide!  So here we go.

First, the easy part.  Silverman is excellent in the lead role, and is well-deserving of the acclaim she has received so far (nominated for a SAG Award for Best Actress).  I found her very believable as a woman who loves her family and truly wants to be part of it despite struggling with all sorts of stuff.  That Silverman is so good makes the movie all that more difficult to watch.

Beyond that, it gets much tougher.  Because of how difficult the movie is to watch, looking at I Smile Back critically is very hard for me.  I did not like watching itsmile-back but I know I was never supposed to.  Nothing that happens in Laney’s life gives us a lot of hope that things are going to get better, and the movie does not end on a happy note (in fact, at the end things are at their very bleakest).  Silverman has made us care about Laney by then.  I wanted Laney to get better and repair her relationship with her husband Bruce (Josh Charles), so I was hoping for a typical Hollywood ending.

Suffice to say, I did not get a happy ending, and after reflection I think that was the right decision by writers Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman (the latter of whom wrote the book on which the movie is based).  But something still was missing, and after staring at this computer screen for a while, I think I have put my finger on it.  In a meta sense, the movie is worthwhile because it gives Silverman the chance to show a whole other dimension to her acting.  But within the movie itself, I Smile Back didn’t give me anything meaningful.

The only meaning I can find within the movie is that anyone may be struggling with mental health and it’s not easy to recover even if he or she really wants to.   And while that’s something I agree with, it’s something I already felt coming in and the story in I Smile Back really didn’t go beyond that basic notion.  Everything in the movie was consistent with that idea but it felt like we were on a fixed path because of it.  Looking back, almost all the characters we meet other than Laney are primarily plot devices to give Laney a chance to make another bad decision, and she rarely misses the opportunity.  The opportunity that feels missed is on the part of the writers, who rather than fleshing out characters or situations, just keep things moving by giving Laney more chances to do bad things.   Because of that, I never felt that seeing these awful things happen onscreen was worth the pain.  I never felt any payoff for my discomfort within the movie and I needed there to be something.

Overall, this movie was worth checking out for Silverman’s performance but it’s really not great otherwise.  I give it a score of six out of ten.