The Death of Stalin


Stalin has the literal last laugh.

(2017) Comedy/Satire (IFC) Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Richard Brake, Dermot Crowley, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Paul Whitehouse, Cara Horgan, Karl Johnson, Diana Quick, Jonathan Aris, Dave Wong, Eva Sayer. Directed by Armando Iannucci

 

While history is often written by the victorious and comes from that point of view, there are some things that transcend opinion. For one, tyrants like Hitler and in this particular case, Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, were homicidal monsters who are to be reviled rather than revered. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good for a laugh or two

Stalin (McLoughlin) barely makes an appearance in the film; he has his life-ending cerebral hemorrhage about 20 minutes into the film, but his presence hangs over the entire proceeding as a power struggle develops between secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Beale) and the politically canny Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi). The rest of the central committee, including the spine-challenged Georgy Malenkov (Tambor) and the flip-flopping Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin) are busy scrambling to make sure they don’t get caught in the fallout that is sure to come once one of their number assumes control of the Soviet Union.

While the movie compresses a period of about three years into a few days (the final denouement which is shown here to take place shortly after the funeral actually occurred three years after Stalin was laid to rest), the historical facts as we can come by them seem to be pretty accurate. That the movie is based on a French graphic novel makes that a bit astounding but in this era of fake news and bald-faced lies that come from our own politicians, not surprising.

Buscemi has always been something of an underrated comic performer but this might be his best role yet. He plays Khrushchev as paranoid and somewhat high-strung, relating funny stories from the siege of Stalingrad including one of sticking a private’s finger in warm water in order to cause him to wet himself which turns out to be somewhat ironic since Stalin himself would shortly do exactly that (which is historically accurate; the hemorrhage caused him to lose control of his bladder).

Iannucci has created such spot-on satires as the HBO series Veep and the seminal British show The Thick of It but while those tend to be somewhat harder edged than Stalin he manages to concoct a story that is both timely and of a specific time simultaneously. We here in the West understand that being near the top of the political heap in the old Soviet Union was inherently dangerous to life and limb and we pat ourselves on the back to say “it was never like that here” but then we look at the current White House and its revolving door and wonder if it wasn’t a lot more similar than we think.

There are some moments of wonderful nonsense, such as when Beria and Khrushchev (neither one of whom are particularly athletic) racing through the woods of Stalin’ s dacha in order to be the first to greet his daughter Svetlana (Riseborough), or when war hero Grand Marshall Zhukov (Isaacs), then in charge of the Red Army, arrives at the Kremlin dripping with medals and roaring “What does it take for a soldier to get lubricated around here?”

Not everyone will find this funny. The Russians have banned this movie, claiming that it was insulting to Russian history which I suppose it is – if the Russians did a satire on the death of President Kennedy I suppose we wouldn’t be laughing much either. But then again, Putin has a lot more in common with Stalin than Trump has with JFK and I don’t doubt that those who are Trump supporters may find this to be a thinly veiled dig at their hero. I don’t think it is in particular, but parallels can certainly be glimpsed.

Da Queen found the film to be a bit long-winded and she has a point. I also have to point out that I was laughing out loud hysterically the first time I saw it but the second time I saw it with Da Queen it wasn’t quite as funny. That may mean that it won’t lend itself to repeated viewings although comedies rarely do. However, the first viewing really got me into the somewhat anarchic and zany world that Iannucci created and while it may not have been too laugh-inspiring at the time, at least today we can look back on it and see the humor – not so much in the situation but in how we react to it.

REASONS TO GO: Much of it is hysterically funny. Buscemi is at the top of his game. The dialogue is wickedly funny. Those who love Monty Python are going to enjoy this.
REASONS TO STAY: The subject matter may make laughter a somewhat uncomfortable reaction. It’s a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is consistent profanity, adult themes, violence (some of it graphic), sexual references and intimations of rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was banned in Russia, two days before it was due to be released.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monty Python’s Life of Brian
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
La Familia

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of March 23, 2018


PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

(Universal/Legendary) John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Burn Gorman, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Max Zhang, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight

The son of heroic Stacker Pentecost from the first film unites with survivors of the original Kaiju attack to take on a new peril from the gigantic enigmatic creatures. This time they are bigger and badder than ever and they mean to wipe out everything that isn’t Kaiju. Only a few good men (and women) can stop the threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX-3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX-3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)

The Death of Stalin

(IFC) Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor. In 1953, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died suddenly, leaving a power vacuum at the top. Commissars and politicians scrambled amidst the chaos to avoid being shot and to grab what power they could in the brave new world. Armando Iannucci, mastermind behind such powerful satires as Veep and In the Loop takes an irreverent look at this pivotal moment in Russian history based on the graphic novel of the same name.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy/Satire
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, violence and some sexual references)

Getting Grace

(Hannover House) Daniel Roebuck, Madelyn Dundon, Dana Ashbrook, Duane Whitaker. A teenage girl who is dying of cancer is curious as to what will happen to her body once she’s passed on. To find out more about it, she befriends the local funeral home director, a shy and retiring man who has spent his life with the dead to the point where he’s forgotten how to live. These two wildly different personalities may just be what they each needed in this film co-written and directed by Roebuck.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and some suggestive material)

Midnight Sun

(Open Road) Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard. A young teenage girl, stricken by a disease that makes her violently allergic to sunlight, lives in a world of perpetual darkness until she meets a sweet young teen boy who falls in love with her – and she with him. This is apparent teenage girl with a serious illness week at the movies.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some teen partying and sensuality)

Paul, Apostle of Christ

(Columbia) James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley. Paul, the apostle of Christ, awaits his death sentence in a dank Roman prison. As he recalls the events of his life – the years of persecuting those who followed Jesus, his conversion to the cause, the letters that unbeknownst to him would inspire billions over more than two millennia – he wonders if his life has been a worthwhile one. I’m guessing the answer will be “yes.”

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and disturbing images)

Sherlock Gnomes

(MGM/Paramount) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor. When their fellow garden ornaments start disappearing mysteriously, Gnomeo and Juliet recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes to investigate the mystery and return the missing to their home. This isn’t going to be easy but with music by Elton John you can’t really go wrong now can you.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive humor)

Unsane

(Bleecker Street) Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Jay Pharoah. A young woman goes to a mental health clinic to talk about the stalking incident that haunts her. When she is tricked into signing papers that result in her being committed to the hospital against her will, she discovers to her horror that her stalker is working there as a nurse – or is he just a part of her delusion?

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

MLA
My Perfect You
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Claire’s Camera
Followers
Foxtrot
Hichki
I Kill Giants
Itzhak
The Last Suit
Loveless
MLA
Needhi Naadhi Oke Katha
On the Beach at Night Alone
Rajaratham
Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hichki
Isle of Dogs
Itzhak
Poomaram
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Death of Stalin
Isle of Dogs
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Sherlock Gnomes
Unsane

The Accountant (2016)


Ben Affleck sets his sights on those who criticized his casting as Batman.

Ben Affleck sets his sights on those who criticized his casting as Batman.

(2016) Thriller (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger, Alison Wright, Jason Davis, Robert C. Treveiler, Mary Kraft, Seth Lee, Jake Presley, Izzy French, Ron Prather, Susan Williams, Gary Basaraba, Fernando Chien, Alex Collins, Sheila Maddox. Directed by Gavin O’Connor

 

Most people have an idea of autism that is decidedly out of step with reality. The truth is that there all sorts of different types of autism and all sorts of different types of autistics. Some are low functioning, unable to take care of themselves and who are requiring of supervision. These are generally the types of autism that we tend to picture when we think about autism at all. Others are high functioning, some to the point where you wouldn’t know they were autistic if they didn’t tell you. The myth about autism that is most pervasive and most untrue is that autism goes hand in hand with mental retardation. Some autistics can be brilliant. Some can even be deadly.

Christian Wolff (Affleck) was born with a gift – a genius at problem solving. He’s a math whiz and able to ferret out patterns you and I could never see. He is also autistic, unable to interact well socially although he’d like to. He has rigid habits that govern his life; his breakfast is the same, every day, arranged on the plate in the very same way. He has his silverware in a drawer, arranged exactly the way he wants them – with no extraneous flatware to clog up his drawers. He likes things simple in his life.

Perhaps that’s because his job is so complex. You see, he’s an accountant and not just for anyone; he uncooks the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, ranging from drug kingpins to assassins to terrorists to warlords. This has attracted the attention of the Treasury Department and it’s lead agent, Ray King (Simmons) who is getting ready to retire but who has been chasing the accountant for years. He wants to get him as a crowning achievement to his career so he enlists agent Marybeth Medina (Addai-Robinson) who is even more brilliant than he.

In the meantime, Wolff has been brought in by a biomedical robotics firm called Living Robotics to investigate some irregularities in their accounting, irregularities unearthed by a junior accountant – the chirpy Dana Cummings (Kendrick). CEO Lamar Black (Lithgow) wants these irregularities cleared up before he takes the company public. Wolff begins his investigation and turns up something – something that puts he and Dana in mortal danger, as a killer named Braxton (Bernthal) shows up to clean house at Living Robotics.

I like the concept here a lot; a high-functioning autistic action hero and Affleck is the perfect choice to play him. Affleck can play closed-off as well as anybody in the business and he shows that skill here. Christian is socially awkward and a little bit wary of social interactions. When Dana starts flirting with him, he’s attracted but he doesn’t know how to react. The scenes between the two are some of the best in the film. The other supporting roles are solid here as well, although Lithgow may have left a few too many tooth marks on the scenery for comfort.

One of the issues I have with the film is that I don’t think O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque were quite sure whether they wanted to make a thriller or an action film. Perhaps they wanted to make a hybrid of both but the pendulum kept swinging in one direction or the other and it ended up being unsatisfying in that regard. Worse yet, there are several plot twists, including one regarding the Braxton character which may as well have neon arrows pointing to them and blinking graphics screaming “HERE! PLOT TWIST! YOU’LL NEVER GET THIS ONE!!!!!” and of course anyone with a reasonable amount of experience at the movies should figure it out early on.

I like Affleck a lot as an actor; always have, even when his career was in a slump. Heck, I even liked him in Gigli which is saying something. He does elevate this somewhat, as does Kendrick and to a lesser extent, Addai-Robinson and Tambor (whose scenes are all too brief as Wolff’s mentor). It’s enough for me to give this flawed film a mild recommendation. It’s not a movie to write home about but neither is it one to troll Internet forums over. It’s a solidly made bit of entertaining fluff that will keep you occupied and be promptly forgotten. That may be enough in a lot of ways, especially in these stressful times, but it could have been a whole lot more.

REASONS TO GO: Affleck is terrific here and his chemistry with Kendrick is authentic.
REASONS TO STAY: Most of the plot twists are telegraphed and the movie falls apart towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence as well as regular occurrences of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film is set in Plainfield, Illinois (just outside of Chicago) it was shot in Atlanta where the production company got much better tax incentives than Illinois offered.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 51% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Transporter
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Keeping Up with the Joneses

New Releases for the Week of October 14, 2016


The AccountantTHE ACCOUNTANT

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson. Directed by Gavin O’Connor

A young high-functioning autistic boy grows up to be a CPA, a math savant who has Einstein-like genius when it comes to numbers. As an adult, he works under the cover of a small, insignificant CPA office in the Rust Belt with an unbelievable secret to hide. He in fact works for some of the most dangerous criminal organizations on Earth, uncooking their books and protecting their wealth. When he takes on his first legitimate client, a robotics firm where an accounting clerk has uncovered some discrepancies in the books, he discovers that the deadliest clients aren’t always the ones operating outside the law.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

American Honey

(A24) Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi. A young adolescent girl living in a house that is nothing like a home impulsively runs away with a crew that sells magazines door to door. Feeling like this is where she belongs, she begins to adjust to the lifestyle of lawless days, hard-partying nights and eventually, the onset of love among the ruins.

See the trailer and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website
.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol abuse – all involving teens)

Blue Jay

(The Orchard) Mark Duplass, Sarah Paulson, Clu Gallagher. A pair of former sweethearts from a small California mountain town has returned home for separate reasons and meet up unexpectedly in a grocery store. Although both have gone on to separate lives they find themselves reconnecting as if no time at all has passed. Filmed in black and white and starring the irrepressible Duplass who was one of the guests of honor at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Denial

(Bleecker Street) Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott. A history scholar is sued for libel in Britain when she is accused of labeling a writer a Holocaust denier. In order to prove her innocence (in the United Kingdom, the burden of proof is on the defendant in libel cases) she must prove that the Holocaust actually occurred, a much more difficult feat as it turned out than at first it sounded.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language)

Desierto

(STX Entertainment) Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño. A group of immigrants navigating the treacherous border crossing from Mexico into the United States find they have an additional obstacle to overcome. They are being stalked by a psychopath with a high powered rifle who starts picking off the group one by one.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: R (for strong violence and language)

The Greasy Strangler

(FilmRise) Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex. A degenerate father and his brow-beaten son run a disco-themed walking tour of L.A. When a sexy young woman takes the tour, both father and son end up competing for her attention. At about the same time, a serial killer of women begins a reign of terror in Los Angeles. This gross yet compelling film played at the Florida Film Festival this past April.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Kevin Hart: What Now?

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Ed Helms. Last year Kevin Hart performed to 50,000 people in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Stadium, the first time a stand-up comic had performed to capacity in a stadium venue. The show was filmed for theatrical release, but some framing material, casting Hart as a sort of tiny James Bond is also included.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy/Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for some sexual material, and language throughout)

Max Steel

(Open Road) Maria Bello, Andy Garcia, Ben Winchell, Josh Brener. A young boy who has the ability to generate a powerful energy force is befriended by a techno-organic alien. The two together form Max Steel, a superhero more powerful than any on Earth. Unfortunately, they have enemies after them – from this world and beyond.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

Miss Sharon Jones!

(Starz Digital Media) Sharon Jones, Alex Kadvan, Austen Holman. Sharon Jones is one of the greatest soul singers of the 21st century. She and her band the Dap-Kings have been wowing audiences all throughout the world over the past couple of decades. The challenges that she faced in the music business were nothing like what she faced in her own life, as this documentary captures the essence of an exemplary artist who is also a strong, brave woman.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Priceless

(Roadside Attractions) David Koechner, Joel Smallbone, Jim Parrack, Bianca A. Santos. A widower, already reeling from the death of his wife, loses custody of his daughter on top of his bereavement. At rock bottom, he gets a new job driving a truck cross country – no questions asked. When he discovers what the cargo is, however, he’ll be confronted by an agonizing choice.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of May 8, 2015


Hot PursuitHOT PURSUIT

(New Line) Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew del Negro, John Carroll Lynch, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Mosley. Directed by Anne Fletcher

After the death of a drug kingpin, the Texas underground is turned upside down as it appears his widow may be telling the secrets of her late husband to the authorities. With murderous gunmen and crooked cops gunning for her, it is up to a serious, by-the-book Texas Ranger to keep her alive and deliver her to the courts to make her testimony. That is, if the Ranger doesn’t kill the outrageous, outgoing, sexy and impulsive widow first.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material)

The D-Train

(IFC) Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor. Dan Landsman aspired to be the cool guy in high school but could never quite rise above the strata of nebbish that he had been assigned to. Now years later planning the big reunion, he finally gets his chance if he can bring to the party the coolest guy in school – who happens to be the face of a national tanning lotion ad campaign.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Selected Theaters
Rating: R (for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use)

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

(Music Box) Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Shmil Ben Ari, Gabi Amrani. In Israeli society, there are no civil marriages; every marriage takes place within the Jewish faith and can only be dissolved if both parties give permission and a tribunal of rabbis agree, Viviane Amsalem has been trapped in a loveless marriage and has been attempting to secure a divorce for three years, but her devout husband refuses to give her one despite the fact that he has been as miserable in the marriage as she has. This Oscar-nominated film points out the absurdity of the system as everything, no matter how minute, is brought up for scrutiny by the rabbis.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Ride

(Screen Media) Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, Luke Wilson, David Zayas. When her son drops out of college to surf and find himself, a New York mom flies to Southern California, ostensibly to talk him out of this course of action. Unable to sway him, she decides instead to try and understand him and takes up surfing herself with the unexpected effect of finding herself.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for some language and drug use)

Welcome to Me

(Alchemy) Kirsten Wiig, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Tim Robbins. A slightly mentally unstable woman wins the lottery and puts the money to good use – by buying herself a talk show in which the daily subject is…herself. This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use)

A Merry Friggin’ Christmas


Not the road trip you want to take on Christmas Eve.

Not the road trip you want to take on Christmas Eve.

(2014) Holiday Comedy (Phase 4) Joel McHale, Robin Williams, Lauren Graham, Clark Duke, Candice Bergen, Oliver Platt, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tim Heidecker, Pierce Gagnon, Bebe Wood, Ryan Lee, Amara Miller, Mark Proksch, Jeffrey Tambor (voice), Amir Arison, Steele Gagnon, J.J. Jones, Gene Jones, Matt Jones, Barak Hardley, William Sanderson, Karan Kendrick. Directed by Tristram Shapeero

The Holly and the Quill

Christmas is a time for family, no matter who that family is. Sometimes we’re about as happy to spend time as family as we are to be serving a stretch of hard time in San Quentin. Not all families do all that well together.

Boyd Mitchler (McHale) is a successful hedge fund manager in Chicago. He has a loving wife Luann (Graham) and a couple of pretty great kids, daughter Vera (Wood) who is riding into teen hormone-land on a white horse and son Douglas (P. Gagnon) who at seven still believes in Santa Claus despite beginning to suspect he’s fake. Boyd wants him to believe as long as possible as his own father, Mitch (Williams) tore all his fantasies down when Boyd was just five.

Boyd and Mitch don’t get along, so much so that they haven’t been in the same room for seven years. When Boyd’s brother Nelson (Duke) calls and tells him that he’s a dad and wants Boyd to be godfather to his son at the christening, Boyd is honored – but when he discovers that the christening is on the 24th of December, he’s horrified – for that will entail spending Christmas with his family. Luann however prevails on her reluctant husband to go to Wisconsin and be with his family.

His mom Donna (Bergen) is overjoyed to see him, his father not so much. He’s a mean curmudgeon who owns a port-a-potty business and quite frankly isn’t a nice person to be around, particularly when he’s drinking, Even when he’s not, he can be an S.O.B. – while the rest of the family is served chicken for Christmas Eve dinner, Boyd gets squirrel filled with buckshot. Like I said, an S.O.B.

When Boyd discovers that through mis-communication with his wife his son’s presents, from Santa, have been left behind in Chicago, he means to drive back home, pick them up and return before dawn. Car troubles force Boyd to rely on his dad to bail him out and the two must make the long drive to and from. On the way they’ll have to deal with a persistent state trooper, an unexpected stowaway and a drunken Santa (Platt). Either the two will re-connect or kill each other. Neither one is a safe bet.

Williams completed this movie before his untimely passing and it was the first of the three that were in the can to be released. It didn’t get any critical love as you can see by the scores below, but it wasn’t as bad as all that. Williams always dominates the screen whenever he’s in a movie and this is no different. For sure this isn’t one of his better performances but it’s good enough to carry the movie over a pretty impressive cast.

What bugs me about the movie is that it tries way too hard to make the family eccentric. Along for the ride is Heidecker as Boyd’s redneck brother-in-law who has a son (Lee) training to be a competitive eater while his wife (McLendon-Covey) – Boyd’s sister – goes through therapy . Nelson has PTSD despite having been discharged from the military without going into combat. And of course, there’s the dysfunctional Mitch himself.

The writer really tries to force the eccentricities until the family doesn’t feel real. I suppose there’s some irony in rooting for a hedge fund manager who are not renowned as being the nicest people ever, but that’s beside the point. The humor also feels forced at times, a kind of desperation to make the audience laugh that fools nobody that it’s anything other than what it is.

However, I did find some humor here, particularly with Williams, and there were enough of those to make this worth watching. It is a little bit on the dark side, tonally speaking and the Christmas-y happy ending doesn’t quite fit in quite well with the rest of the movie, but you can’t go wrong with Robin Williams – ok, you can but not often and not here – and everything else in the film doesn’t quite measure up to him, it is at least a bit better than you might expect if you read the reviews.

REASONS TO GO: Robin Williams as always does stellar work. There are moments when the comedy works.
REASONS TO STAY: Tries too hard to make the family eccentric. Doesn’t really offer any sort of insight into family dynamics.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of foul language and crude humor throughout the film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first Christmas film Robin Williams was credited for (he was in Noel but in an uncredited role).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bad Santa
FINAL RATING: 6/19
NEXT: Fracture

Flypaper (2011)


Patrick Dempsey auditions for a TV cop show role.

Patrick Dempsey auditions for a TV cop show role.

(2011) Comedy (IFC) Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Mekhi Phifer, Matt Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, John Ventimiglia, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Curtis Armstrong, Rob Huebel, Adrian Martinez, Natalia Safran, Octavia Spencer, Eddie Matthews, Rob Boltin, James DuMont, Judy Durning, Joseph Nemmers, Monica Acosta, Kasey Emas. Directed by Rob Minkoff

Greed is a big motivator. It attracts us like a magpie to shiny things. We want more, we want it all. Well, that’s true for some of us anyway.

It’s closing time at a bank which is about to receive a major security software update. Once the doors are closed the bank will be locked down for the night, its security systems offline. The employees are getting ready to go home when a trio of armed bandits come in through the back. They’re well-armed and professional.

As if things weren’t bad enough, a couple more robbers come in through the front door – two bumblers named Peanut Butter (Nelson) and Jelly (Vince). They aren’t affiliated with the other gang – they’re just there to take down the ATMs. Still, you can’t have two gangs in the same bank without a gunfight and that’s precisely what happens. An innocent bystander gets shot and killed in the crossfire, further raising the stakes.

Locked in the bank now, the last customer of the bank, a compulsive man named Tripp (Dempsey) suggests that both gangs can have what they want. An uneasy truce is negotiated between PB&J and their rivals (Phifer, Ventimiglia, Ryan). Tripp and the remaining bank employees – obsequious manager Blythe (Tambor), the creepy security guard (Martinez) and tellers Kaitlin (Judd) and her sassy colleague Madge (Spencer) are herded upstairs and told to wait in a conference room.

But Tripp, the obsessive sort that he is, can’t let go of the nagging thought that there’s someone else pulling the strings. Too many coincidences. So he decides to investigate. That can be a very dangerous thing when amidst trigger-happy thugs who take their place on the FBI’s most wanted list quite seriously.

Minkoff is best-known for directing The Lion King and Stuart Little. He hasn’t done a lot of non-family films and he went after a script penned by the co-writers of The Hangover. This isn’t on par with any of those films except for maybe Stuart Little.

It’s not for lack of effort. Dempsey is one of the most engaging actors today. It’s incomprehensible that he isn’t an A-list star by this point but most of his romantic comedies have done solid but not spectacular business. Here he shows some real skill. His character is full of tics that could easily have overwhelmed the film but Dempsey wisely plays them down and let’s his character serve the story rather than the other way around.

Judd is a usually reliable actress who has been flying under the radar of late. She does a credible job here but she really doesn’t have much to work with. She does have a bit of a romantic subplot with Dempsey’s character but it really doesn’t burn up the screen nor prove to be anything more than a brief distraction.

Nelson and Vince make a good team as Peanut Butter and Jelly, with a kind of earthy bumpkin charm to the both of them. They make an ideal counterpoint to the other three who are straight men with an edge. Phifer deserves better.

There are some real funny moments but not enough of them for my taste. The twists and turns are pretty predictable to the moviegoer with even below average intelligence and the characters other than Tripp aren’t particularly well-drawn. Still, it has its own innate charm and that can’t be discounted. You can seek this out if you’d like to but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time looking for it.

WHY RENT THIS: Dempsey should be a bigger star than he is. Some funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough funny moments. The twists are pretty predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, a fair amount of bad language and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tripp’s medication, Depakene, is a mood stabilizer normally prescribed for Bipolar disorder patients, implying that is what Tripp is suffering from.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some one-on-one interviews with members of the cast and crew.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.1M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dog Day Afternoon

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Godfather