Keeping Up with the Joneses


One must keep one's focus sharp when shopping for lingerie.

One must keep one’s focus sharp when shopping for lingerie.

(2016) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Ming Zhao, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Michael Liu, Kevin Dunn, Dayo Abanikanda, Henry Boston, Jack McQuaid, Ying He, Yi Dong Hian, Art Shaffir, Marc Grapey, Karina Bonnefil, Darin Cooper, Angela Ray, Amy Block. Directed by Greg Mottola

 

Neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, everyone knew everyone; we all were in each others’ business. Now, we barely acknowledge each other with a nod of the head. Does anyone really know who their neighbors truly are anymore?

The Gaffneys have a good life. Jeff (Galifianakis) is an HR guy at a big defense contractor. He’s basically a good guy but he hasn’t met a problem yet that he didn’t think could be solved with an aphorism and a stress ball. His wife Karen (Fisher) is an interior designer who has put her career on hold to raise her kids. The cul-de-sac in which they live in suburban Atlanta is well-to-do and close-knit. Jeff is as happy as a clam, Karen a little less so especially now that the kids are gone for the summer. Still, it feels like something is missing in their lives, something that doesn’t appear to be coming back anytime soon – a sense of excitement.

That is, until the Jones family moves in across the street. Natalie (Gadot) is super sexy and capable, absolutely excelling at everything she does; Tim (Hamm) is a travel writer, accomplished, handsome and pretty much an authority on everything. Tim and Jeff hit it off straight away, developing quite the bro-mance. Karen is a little bit more hesitant to connect with the ice-cold Natalie, although she is a little attracted to her sexuality (who isn’t?) to be honest. In fact, perfect Natalie has her a little bit suspicious.

And, it turns out, with good reason; the Joneses are spies and they have their eye on some chicanery going on at Jeff’s place of employment. It involves a mole within the company, a vicious arms dealer known only as the Scorpion and an agency that employs the Joneses who aren’t worried about collateral damage and with the Gaffneys now involved, there’s going to be a whole lot of that.

The ordinary people drawn into extraordinary espionage situations have been popular in the movies with things like True Lies and Spy among others. They act as avatars for the audience, drawn into a world of excitement, glamour and danger. Who wouldn’t want to be a superspy, suave and debonair or beautiful and deadly?

The four leads all interact well among each other, although surprisingly the best chemistry is between Hamm and Galifianakis although considering the two have been friends for awhile offscreen, it may be less surprising than at first glance. The two develop a relationship that is realistic and the kind of friendship most men want to have with other men. The ladies are sexy and made to give each other an obligatory kiss (why is it as a society we find women kissing each other far sexier than men doing it?) but given that Karen are so suspicious of Natalie to begin with whereas the more open Jeff is accepting of Tim right away that the two ladies don’t really develop a friendship as deep as the one the men forge. Perhaps that’s meant to be a commentary on the nature of interactions between women in general. Perhaps not.

The action sequences are for the most part unremarkable and mostly played for last. There is a car chase that’s reasonably cool (given that there are four people in the car that’s being chased rather than the usual two) but again, nothing new is added to the genre here. Of course, it’s not really a requirement that every action sequence has to be innovative.

This is the kind of movie that you really have to turn your brains off for and there’s no shame in that; sometimes what we’re looking for is just pure escapism. Still, you can have escapism without sacrificing story and character development and while the actors do game work here, they are ultimately betrayed by a script that doesn’t give them a whole lot of character to hang their hats on. Maybe the Agency ought to look into that.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between the leads is compelling.
REASONS TO STAY: A predictable tired plot sabotages all the best intentions of the filmmakers.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of espionage action, some rude humor, scenes of sexuality and occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  One of three major studio releases in 2016 with the name “Jones’ in the title, the other two being Bridget Jones’ Baby and Free State of Jones.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Cents

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Broken


Eloise Laurence won't let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it's like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Eloise Laurence won’t let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

(2012) Drama (Film Movement) Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Lino Facioli, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic, Seeta Indrani, Nell Tiger Free, Rory Girvan, Clare Burt, Nicola Sloan, Martha Bryant, George Sargeant, Rosalie Kosky-Hensman, Faye Daveney. Directed by Rufus Norris  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The things that go on in a quiet residential neighborhood. One cul-de-sac may look completely ordinary, the last place you would expect dark goings on taking place, but you never know what’s seething just below the surface of a normal street.

Skunk (Laurence) – that’s what everybody calls her but really nobody remembers what her real name is – lives on just such a quiet cul-de-sac. Her father Archie (Roth) is a barrister although not an especially important one. He’s just trying to make it through after his wife and her mother abandoned them. Skunk has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant monitoring. Archie has enlisted a nanny, Polish Kasia (Marjanovic) to keep an eye on her and her older brother Jed (Milner).

Kasia has a boyfriend, Mike (Murphy) who also happens to teach at Skunk’s school – and who also happens to be the object of Skunk’s crush. It’s all rather sweet and melancholy at the same time. Skunk also has a boyfriend of sorts; Dillon (Sargeant) who at first treats her like crap but gradually they become real affectionate-like.

One day out of the blue, one of her neighbors, Mr. Oswald (Kinnear) seemingly without provocation attacks Rick (Emms), an emotionally and mentally challenged boy who lives across the street from Skunk. As it turns out, one of his two daughters – Sunshine (Bryant) and Susan (Kosky-Hensman) had a condom discovered in her room by dear old dad and to cover herself she accused Rick of raping her. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence but not until Rick began to break down emotionally and had to be committed, much to the dismay of his Dad (Lawson) and Mum (Burt) who seemingly has problems of her own coping.

Things begin to spiral into further troubles. Kasia breaks up with Mike who utilize Skunk as a kind of go-between in an effort to get Kasia back. Sunshine and Susan turn out to be nothing short of psychotic, bullying kids around school (and beating up Skunk), continuing to level false rape charges against others and in Susan’s case, getting pregnant by sleeping with Jed. But as Rick finally comes home, his fragile mental state is far more explosive than anyone could have predicted and the neighborhood will never be the same.

This is Norris’ first feature film. He’s been a successful stage director, so I was curious to see if the movie would look static and stage-y and it did in a couple of places, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with such a theatrical background. It helps a lot that he has a compelling story, some fine actors.

I’ve come to expect fine performances every time out from Roth and Murphy and they don’t disappoint here. Murphy’s Mike is far from perfect although he’s trying his darndest to be. He constantly tries to do the right thing, often with catastrophic consequences. In other words, just like thee and me.

Roth rarely gets the good guy roles; he’s usually a villain or a bulldog-like cop. Here he plays a loving father who is distracted by all the drama around him which nearly ends up in tragedy. He is trying to create a normal life for himself and his children in an environment that’s anything but. Roth gives Archie a kind and gentle manner, very loving and very protective although he can show some iron when he has to.

The real surprise here is Laurence. This is her first production, and she performs with the self-assurance of a grizzled veteran. She has an engaging presence that stands out onscreen, enabling her to hold her own with some pretty accomplished actors. I don’t know if Miss Laurence has any ambitions regarding a film career but she’s got a bright future if she chooses that path.

The denouement of the film was a little on the melodramatic side, and there are some scenes during the movie that don’t have the same intensity as other similar scenes in the movie. That however doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film which is considerable.

This has been playing the festival circuit, although that aspect of it’s journey seems to be coming to an end. Film Movement, a tiny indie distributor, has the distribution rights to the film although as of yet any sort of theatrical run hasn’t been announced. Hopefully it will make a few big screens here and there before heading to home video. If not, be sure and catch it anyway – it’s a terrific film.

REASONS TO GO: Very taut, edge of your seat stuff. Fine performances from Roth, Laurence and Murphy.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally loses its focus.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some sexuality (quite a bit actually), a fair amount of bad language, some teenage drinking and drug use and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2008 novel of the same name on which the movie was based was heavily influenced .by To Kill a Mockingbird according to author Daniel Clay.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; while it appears the reaction is mixed, it’s still too early to tell for certain.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lovely Bones

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cockneys vs. Zombies