Joy


Jennifer Lawrence anticipates another Oscar nomination.

Jennifer Lawrence anticipates another Oscar nomination.

(2015) Dramedy (20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Röhm, Susan Lucci, Laura Wright, Maurice Benard, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Ken Howard, Donna Mills, Melissa Rivers, Ray De La Paz, John Enos III, Marianne Leone, Drena De Niro. Directed by David O. Russell

The world isn’t designed so that the little guy achieves success. It is even less designed so that the little gal achieves it.

Joy (Lawrence) is not your ordinary housewife. For one, she is surrounded by a family that seems tailor-made to bring her down. Her father Rudy (De Niro) owns a body shop and after being tossed out on his ass by his girlfriend, moves into the basement of Joy’s house where Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Ramirez), a budding Latin singer, is living. Also in the house is Joy’s mother Terry (Madsen) who has withdrawn from everything, staying in her bedroom and watching her soap operas. Only Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Ladd) – who is narrating – believes in Joy other than maybe her daughter and her son. Also in the mix is Joy’s super-critical and bitter half-sister Peggy (Röhm).

Joy has always had an imagination and a willingness to make things but has been held back by circumstances; she is basically the one who cooks and cleans in her household; she also is the breadwinner, although her Dad helps with the mortgage. Then, after an outing in which she is required to mop a mess of broken glass and ends up cutting her hands when she wrings the mop – regularly – she comes up with an idea for a mop that not only is more absorbent and requires less wringing, but also wrings itself. She calls it the Miracle Mop.

But a good idea requires money to become reality and she is forced to convince her Dad’s new girlfriend Trudy (Rossellini) to invest. Attempting to market and sell the mop on her own turns into dismal failure but it’s okay because that’s what everyone expects out of Joy. Heck, that’s what she expects of herself. But with the unflagging support of her best friend Jackie (Polanco), she takes her product to something new – a home shopping network on cable called QVC and an executive there named Neil Walker (Cooper) and a legend is born, not to mention a whole new way to market and sell new products.

Loosely (make it very loosely) based on the life of the real Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, the movie has a lot of David O. Russell trademarks; a dysfunctional family that seems hell-bent on destroying the dreams of the lead character, resolve in the face of insurmountable odds and an extraordinary performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

Say what you want about Russell (and there are critics who make no secret of the fact that they think him overrated) but he seems to be a muse for Lawrence. Perhaps the most gifted actress of her generation, Lawrence has received most of her Oscar attention (and she’s pretty much a lock for a nomination here after winning the Golden Globe last weekend) in films she has been directed in by Russell, including her win. Some have criticized the film for a variety of reasons, but you can’t fault Lawrence. She has given yet another outstanding performance as Joy, going from a nearly abusive lifestyle that seems bound to keep her down to becoming a wealthy, self-confident self-made entrepreneur whose success is like a protective shield. In the latter part of the movie, there is an almost emotionless feel to Joy who has erected barriers even when expressing warmth to women who were in similar circumstances to herself. I found Lawrence’s range inspiring, and even though her character keeps a lot in, it’s there if you know where to look for it.

In fact, most of the cast does a terrific job here, with De Niro once again showing he can do comedy just as well as anybody, and the trio of Rossellini, Ladd and Madsen all wonderful as older women with at least some sort of quirky characteristics to them although Ladd is more of a traditional grandmother as Hollywood tends to imagine them. Madsen in particular impressed me; she has been to my mind underutilized throughout her career which is a shame; she has given some terrific performances in films like Creator.

Where the movie goes wrong is in a couple of places. For one, the middle third is tough sledding for the viewer as the pace slows to a crawl. The ending is a little bit off-kilter and I left the screening curiously unsatisfied, sort of like craving good Chinese food and eating at Panda Express. One of the complaints I’ve noticed about the film is that most of the characters in the film are really not characters as much as caricatures. I understand the beef; there are actions taken by some of them that for sure don’t feel like things real people would do. However, I think this was a conscious decision by Russell and although at the end of the day I don’t think it worked as well as he envisioned, I understood that this was part of the comic element of the film in which Joy’s family was somewhat ogre-ish, particularly towards her dreams.

I blow hot and cold when it comes to Russell; I think he has an excellent eye for good cinematic material but other than The Fighter there really hasn’t been a film of his that has blown me out of the water. Joy is in many ways the most meh of his movies, neither hot nor cold, good nor bad. It hasn’t lit the box office on fire and quite frankly I’m siding with the moviegoers on this one; it’s certainly one worth seeing on home video but there are plenty of other movies out there in the theaters that I would recommend you see before this one.

REASONS TO GO: Another fine performance by Lawrence. She gets plenty of support from the rest of the cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Lags in the middle. The ending is ludicrous.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joy Mangano, one of the main sources for the Joy character, developed the Miracle Mop (as seen on TV) in 1990 – the same year Jennifer Lawrence was born.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jobs
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Carol

The Wedding Ringer


A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

(2014) Comedy (Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Affion Crockett, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Colin Kane, Jenifer Lewis, Alan Ritchson, Mimi Rogers, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby, Whitney Cummings, Ignacio Serricchio, Nicky Whelan, Patrick Carlyle, GloZell Green. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Weddings are meant to be rituals in which two separate people are formalized as a wedded couple. It is meant to be a celebration and a solemn step – a pledge of troth between two people til death do them part, although that aspect is a little less usual these days. Nonetheless, it is meant to be a major life-changing moment, one worthy of respect. It’s not supposed to be the source of the kind of stress that the modern wedding creates.

And yet we still spend small fortunes to give our little princesses their moment in the sun. The role of the groom is to shut up, be supportive and not to get frustrated when his bride-to-be is fretting over the smallest, most insignificant detail in order to make the day absolutely perfect, her Dream Wedding, the one she has been planning since she was a little princess getting glitter blown on her at the Bippity-Boppity Boutique at Disney World.

Doug Harris (Gad) is that groom. Basically a good-natured, decent fellow, he has been so hung up on making a career that he scarcely had time to date, much less develop the bonds of friendship with other guys. So when a supermodel-beautiful Gretchen Palmer (Cuoco-Sweeting) agrees to go out with him, he is surprised. When she agrees to marry him, he is shocked – but thrilled.

Now she’s planning the Wedding of the Century, one that would make British royalty green with jealousy. Even the salad dressing must be just right. So wedding planner Edmundo (Serricchio) needs the info on the seven groomsmen including the Best Man for the programs, Doug has been putting him off – mainly because he doesn’t have a best man, much less seven groomsmen.

Getting a tip from Edmundo, Doug visits Jimmy Callahan (Hart). This enterprising young charmer has made a lucrative business off of the issues of men just like Doug – men getting married without the support system that most brides develop over the years. He masquerades as best man for a price, providing groomsmen and whatever the groom needs to look irresistible to his new bride, sealing the deal on the wedding night.

However, seven groomsmen is a tall order, especially with the wedding date just ten days away. “What you’re talking about is what we joke about,” he tells Doug. There’s even a name for it; the Golden Tux. It doesn’t appear on any brochure because it’s never been done. Nonetheless, true love must win out, so Jimmy agrees to help Doug out – for a fee, with the understanding that he’s not buying a friend but renting a best man.

Newly christened Bic Mitchum – mainly so Kevin Hart can say “Bic Bic Bic Bic Bic” during the film – the CEO of Best Man Inc. sets out to find seven groomsmen in a hurry. Because of the time crunch, Jimmy – I mean, Bic – has to take what he can get rather than get the best. His motley crew are as Doug himself best described them; “It’s as if the Goonies grew up and became rapists.”

With Gretchen and her younger sister Alison (Thirlby) getting a little suspicious of the best man and the groomsmen, meeting the family including Gretchen’s imposing dad (Howard) and patrician grandmother (Leachman) is more than a little formidable, particularly when it turns out that Bic is supposed to be a priest – army chaplain to be exact – gets worse when Doug in a moment of panic nearly creates grandma flambé but nonetheless Jimmy seems to be pulling it off, but now the issue is that Jimmy and Doug are actually taking a liking to one another, and Jimmy is taking a liking to Alison too. Still, coordinating all this takes a massive set, and a lot of luck. Will Jimmy get Doug to the altar on time?

Hart has been particularly hot of late and his cinematic winning streak doesn’t look like it’s going to end here. While the movie isn’t the runaway success that Ride Along was, it’s still doing decent enough box office and should make enough to make a tidy profit with a relatively low production cost behind it. If there’s a good reason this movie is successful, it will be Hart who is rapidly moving into the Will Smith role of engaging and likable leading man while also taking the Chris Rock mantle of edgy comedian. That’s a very difficult tightrope act to manage but Hart makes it look easy.

Gad is starting to show up on the radar of big budget Hollywood producers, having made a name for himself as the voice of Olaf in Frozen and appearances in Wish I Was Here and the upcoming Pixels. He is ostensibly the straight man but he has an impeccable comic timing and he gets a few moments of his own, but this is definitely the Kevin Hart show in many ways and Gad wisely lets the comic take center stage and makes quite the second banana.

Some critics have complained about the portrayal of women as conniving Bridezillas but guys, this is about one bride, not all brides. Let’s not let our liberal guilt get in the way of a good time. Frankly there are some pretty good comic moments and I was adequately entertained throughout. which is gold when your movie comes out in January. If you go in expecting to have a game-changing comedy that is going to change the face of the medium, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However if you go in expecting a sweet-natured movie that will be occasionally inappropriate but generally funny throughout, you might actually enjoy this. Sometimes it pays to have low expectations because when you get a movie that is this good, it’s like a grand slam from a career .150 hitter in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Hart and Gad.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit predictable. Occasionally crass and bro-centric.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language, some sexual references as well as crude sexuality, brief drug use and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was originally meant to be starring vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Black or White

New Releases for the Week of January 16, 2015


The Wedding RingerTHE WEDDING RINGER

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Jenifer Lewis, Olivia Thirlby, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

When a socially awkward young man finds the girl of his dreams and she agrees to marry him, it’s a time for the support of his friends in getting him to and through the big day. However, this particular socially awkward young man doesn’t have any friends. With his bride-to-be expecting seven groomsmen and a best man, he needs to do the impossible but fortunately there’s help – Best Man, Incorporated whose charismatic CEO is willing to be a best man for hire. The groomsmen may be not all what they could be, but the socially awkward young man is gearing up for the time of his life.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette, premiere footage 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: R (for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity)

American Sniper

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes. Chris Kyle went to Iraq as a Navy SEAL and a sharpshooter and became the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. This is the story behind the numbers, told as only Clint Eastwood can tell it.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: War
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)

blackhat

(Universal/Legendary) Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother. Ruthless cyberterrorists are proving more elusive and deadly than conventional authorities can handle. Using the adage that it takes a thief to catch a thief, law enforcement turns to a convicted hacker who may be the only one who can stop the hackers from plunging the world into literal chaos.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)

I

(Aascar) Chiyaan Vikram, Amy Jackson, Suresh Gopi, Upen Patel. A deformed hunchback, an internationally recognized male model and a champion bodybuilder – all played by the same actor – whose interactions with a beautiful supermodel form the basis of events here which are told in a non-linear fashion.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace & Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: NR

Listen Up, Philip

(Tribeca) Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter. An arrogant writer feeling alienated as his second book is about to be published sees his relationships disintegrating. When his literary idol offers his summer retreat as a refuge, he takes it so that he can focus on himself – his favorite subject. Instead, though, he begins to feel the absence of his connection with the city and those he spent time with in it.

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: NR

Paddington

(Dimension) Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins. A family returning home one evening discover a talking bear from Peru alone in a railway station with a tag around his neck “Please look after this bear.” Naming the creature Paddington, they bring him home out of the kindness of their hearts and get thrown into all manner of mischief and chaos but their resolve will be tested when a museum taxidermist takes a particular interest in the talking bear.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Spare Parts

(Lionsgate/Pantelion) George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Esai Morales, Jamie Lee Curtis. Four Hispanic students in an economically challenged high school form a robotics club under the leadership of a charismatic science teacher. With $800, some used car parts and zero experience, they enter a national competition where they will face teams that have enormous budgets, state-of-the-art facilities and loads of experience, led by national champion MIT. These odds don’t deter them; they go in with the expectation that they will make something more of what they have.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal The Loop
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and violence)

The Judge


The awkward moment when Vincent D'Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

The awkward moment when Vincent D’Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

(2014) Drama (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare, Sarah Lancaster, Lonnie Farmer, Matt Riedy, Mark Kiely, Jeremy Holm, Catherine Cummings, Tamara Hickey. Directed by David Dobkin

The relationship between a father and a son is often a difficult thing. Men have a tendency towards competitiveness. Fathers love their sons fiercely and want them to be successful which is, after all, a reflection on them as dads. However, there is a part of every dad who is terrified that the day will come when his son surpasses him as a man. That’s where the difficulty comes in.

Hank Palmer (Downey) is a high-powered defense attorney in Chicago. When asked how he is able to defend the guilty, he quips “the innocent can’t afford me.” If Tony Stark were a defense attorney, he’d be Hank Palmer.

In court one afternoon he gets the devastating news that his mother has passed away suddenly. Not really looking forward to it, he returns to his small town Indiana home for the funeral. There he meets up with his two siblings; older brother Glen (D’Onofrio), once a promising baseball phenom, and younger brother Dale (Strong) who has emotional challenges and usually can be found using a Super 8 camera to record snippets of his life which he edits into films that have no context for anyone other than Dale.

And then there’s Hank’s dad (Duvall), whom Hank refers to as “The Judge” – not Dad, not Pop, not Father but the title. It’s not just Hank defining his father by his chosen career as a dispenser of justice, but also coloring the relationship he has with him. Talk about daddy issues.

The two get along like Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid jostling for space in front of the news camera and Hank is only too happy to return home despite reconnecting with Samantha Powell (Farmiga), an old flame. Hank is in the market at the moment as his marriage to his wife Lisa (Lancaster) has collapsed after her infidelity. His precocious daughter Lauren (Tremblay) is torn between her two parents when it comes to who she wants to live with.

Hank is sitting down in his seat on board the plane when he gets an urgent call from Glen – the Judge has been arrested for a hit and run accident. The victim was Mark Blackwell (Kiely), a man the Judge had put away in prison but had recently been released. The two have an unpleasant history.

With a suave district attorney (Thornton) looking to put the Judge away for good, it will take all of Hank’s skill as a defense lawyer to keep his dad out of jail. But said father isn’t necessarily being the most cooperative defendant ever and there are things that Hank discovers when he begins digging that turn his perception of the case – and his father – on its ear.

Dobkin, whose career thus far has been fairly uneven, has a solid winner here and it starts with the casting. Duvall is one of the world’s best living actors and at 83 he still can deliver a powerful performance. He lends gravitas to the movie as well as a kind of moral certainty. Downey who at one time was on the road to being one of America’s most promising serious actors until his career was briefly derailed, moves back into proving that his Oscar nominations for Chaplin and Tropic Thunder were no flukes. This may be his best performance ever, showing a deeply conflicted man wrestling with the demons of his past and the guilt that accompanies the decisions he’s made. D’Onofrio is the rock of the family in many ways now that his mom is gone and his performance is also very compelling. Farmiga as the girlfriend who got away continues to amass an impressive resume of performances.

Some of the plot points seem to come right out of the TV lawyer handbook and that can be distracting. Not that this is a police procedural in any sense of the concept, but it is definitely something of a legal procedural, although the movie tends to spend less time with the nuts and bolts of preparing a case and more with what happens during a trial. In its favor, the movie’s ending isn’t neat and tidy by any stretch of the imagination. Like most human endeavors, court case rarely end with satisfaction over the outcome by everyone involved.

Dobkin cast this movie extremely well and has given us a very strong courtroom drama that is also portrays a dysfunctional family dynamic which sets this apart from other courtroom dramas. Downey references Atticus Finch and to be sure this is no To Kill a Mockingbird but the performances here make this something worth seeking out for anyone who appreciates strong acting.

REASONS TO GO: Duvall brings gravitas. Downey, D’Onofrio, Farmiga and Thornton all give strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Has kind of a TV drama quality to it.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language with some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature release from Team Downey, the production company that Downey and his wife started.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: August: Osage County
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Book of Life

A.C.O.D.


Adam Scott knows that Reading is Fun.

Adam Scott knows that Reading is Fun.

(2013) Comedy (Self-Released) Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke, Jessica Alba, Jane Lynch, Adam Pally, Ken Howard, Valerie Tian, Clare Bronson, Steve Coulter, Leland L. Jones, Liana Loggins. Directed by Stu Zicherman

It is a fact that 50% of all marriages here in America end in divorce. That means when you say your I do’s it’s just as likely to work as not. That’s a relatively recent development; we’re beginning to see what the effect of divorce is on the adult children of those divorces.

Carter (Scott) seems to be a relatively well-adjusted man. He owns a successful restaurant, has a gorgeous girlfriend named Lauren (Winstead) who is incredibly understanding and seems to be pretty together. His little brother Trey (Duke) seems a bit less mature and lives in his garage but has impulsively decided to marry his girlfriend Keiko (Tian) after only going with her for four months. They geek out to all the same things.

While Carter is a little uncertain as to the chances for his brother’s relationships, he nonetheless is supportive. However the issue is their parents. Hugh (Jenkins) and Melissa (O’Hara) divorced when Carter was nine and by divorce I mean went to war as contentiously and as bitterly as is humanly possible for two people to get. They’ve barely spoken to each other in years other than through lawyers and can’t be in the same room with each other. They are both re-married to other people – he to the self-absorbed Sondra (Poehler) whom he calls the Countessa (minus the “O”) and she to the easygoing Gary (Howard). Trey wants Carter to get his parents to attend the wedding, a daunting task.

Still, Carter knows it will make his brother happy so he gives it a try. At first his parents are predictably hostile towards the idea, refusing to attend if the other is there. All of the vitriol brings back unpleasant memories so he decides to see Dr. Judith (Lynch) to whom he spent hours talking about his feelings an issues as a child. To his shock, he discovers that she wasn’t really a psychiatrist but a researcher writing a book on the effects of divorce on children. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 48 weeks as a matter of fact. When he reads the book he is horrified to see all his pain and suffering laid out for public viewing, even though she’d changed his name to Ricky. In fact, the visit has inspired Dr. Judith to write a follow-up book on how these children of divorce are faring as adults. Carter, secure in the knowledge that he has gotten past all of this stuff to lead a happy, successful life, agrees to take part.

That’s when his whole life becomes unglued. As you might guess, Carter’s attempts to get his parents to co-exist take a strange left turn. Not only that, Carter soon discovers he’s not all as together as he seems to be and it doesn’t take much for his world to crash down around him.

Yes it’s a comedy and a very funny one at that. First time director Zicherman (who has an extensive writing background in movies and TV) has a good sense of the rhythms of comedy and moves at a pace guaranteed to maximize laughs. This is more of a character-driven comedy rather than a situational one; while certainly the relationship between Hugh and Melissa is a driving force, the comedy is mostly generated by the characters and not the physical.

The cast is obviously impressive. Scott, best known to American audiences as Poehler’s love interest on the Parks and Recreation sitcom has been doing some pretty impressive work on the big screen as well. Here he shows that he has the charisma in him to carry movies in the same vein as Ben Stiller and Paul Rudd, whose easygoing charm and handsome looks he shares. Carter here isn’t perfect – he makes some pretty awful mistakes – but his heart is in the right place.

Winstead is one of those actresses that Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to utilize properly. This is really the first time I can remember really appreciating that the role she’s in fits her talents properly. She is strong, supportive, sexy and a good woman patiently waiting for her good man to get on the right page. In that sense she’s like a lot of women who have to sometimes show patience ad understanding for men who have commitment issues – which is to say most men.

Jenkins and O’Hara pretty much steal the show, particularly O’Hara who might be better than anyone at doing neurotic. Poehler is her ever-wacky self with a brief but memorable role. It was nice seeing Ken Howard in a role that wasn’t a corrupt politician; he’s one of my unsung favorite actors. Alba is also strong in a brief role and Duke continues his fine work from Hot Tub Time Machine. Lynch is also strong as usual. In fact, the whole cast is.

I was fortunate to see this at the Sundance USA program at the Enzian, the second straight year the Enzian has been part of it. This has been one of the more acclaimed movies to come out of Sundance this year. It doesn’t have a distribution deal in place yet but it surely will. Personally I think this is as good or better than any comedy you’re going to see this year – the major studios would do well to put this out in wide release. I think it would be a big hit.

It will probably be awhile before it gets any sort of release but keep an eye out for it. A.C.O.D. is clearly one of the funniest movies of the year and one of the best you’re likely to see period. It will strike a deep chord among those who have been through a divorce – but even if you haven’t it’s still a movie worth going out of your way to see.

REASONS TO GO: Hysterically funny. Will hit chords in anyone who has ever been divorced or had parents who have.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too earnest in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality, some foul language and some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alba got temporary tattoos on her left bicep and on her lower back for the role.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: N/A. As this has only been screened at Sundance it’s too early to really give a critical consensus.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Parenthood

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Parker

J. Edgar


J. Edgar

Armie Hammer and Leonardo di Caprio get a look at the critics who complained about their make-up.

(2011) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Josh Lucas, Ken Howard, Geoff Pierson, Dermot Mulroney, Zach Grenier, Denis O’Hare, Damon Herriman, Stephen Root, Lea Thompson, Christopher Shyer. Directed by Clint Eastwood

Like the subject of yesterday’s documentary review, J. Edgar Hoover is a polarizing figure. There are those who believe he was the nation’s greatest lawman, a tremendous organizer and meticulous planner who built the Federal Bureau of Investigation from a powerless joke to perhaps the most elite law enforcement group in the world.

However, there are many who look at him as more of a cautionary tale, proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely. His confidential files on many prominent Americans destroyed lives and created a climate of fear that lasted for half a century. Eastwood, a prominent Libertarian, takes on a figure who remains enigmatic more than thirty years after his death, one whose private life was a source of great speculation but of which little is truly known.

Hoover (di Caprio) is embroiled in a feud with Martin Luther King, whom he considers to be a dangerous subversive. He also finds that his legacy is being tarnished and he feels that it is time to remind America just what an important part he played in keeping the country safe, deciding to dictate his memoirs to a parade of agents over the course of several years.

Starting with the Palmer Raids in 1919 when as a lawyer for the Department of Justice, he instituted a task force of Bureau of Investigation agents who would arrest anarchists after a series of bombs (including one at the home of then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (Pierson) who eventually appointed Hoover to his post).

Hoover’s bureau is at first toothless; not allowed by law to make arrests or carry firearms, they function mainly in an advisory capacity and aren’t taken too seriously in the law enforcement community. Hoover recruits men he feels will be above reproach both morally and professionally, including Clyde Tolson (Hammer), a young man that Hoover fancies. However, homosexuality is completely taboo back then and if Hoover has feelings for Tolson, he must hide them well.

Not only from the bureau but from his mother (Dench) who tells him she would rather have a dead son than a live daffodil, referring  to the nickname of a gay acquaintance of the family who killed himself after being outted. Hoover lives with his overbearing mother even though he is the chief of an important bureau in Washington.

Once prohibition begins, the age of the gangster commences. Hoover turns his attention from anarchists and communists to gangsters who are not only running around lawless (and escaping justice by crossing state lines) but have captured the popular imagination. Hoover demands and gets legislation that allows his FBI officers broader powers, including the power to make arrests and carry firearms. When Hoover is criticized for not having personally arrested anyone, he stages arrests to make it look like he was the agent in charge when in reality he was just showing up for the press cameras after the dangerous work was done.

The kidnapping of the son of Charles Lindbergh (Lucas) becomes a game changer. Hoover endures the ridicule of supercilious cops (Mulroney) and watches them bungle the investigation, refusing to use the modern investigative techniques that Hoover (to his credit) was instituting at the FBI. Of course, history records the fate of the Lindbergh baby but it was the FBI who arrested Bruno Hauptmann (Herriman) for the crime.

Eastwood makes clear that Hoover used the tragedy to further his own agenda, which in particular allowed the FBI to be in charge of a central repository of fingerprints . He also used it as publicity to establish the FBI as an organization to be admired; a series of comic books came out portraying Hoover as an action hero, taking down criminals himself (when in fact he did not).

It was about this time that Hoover began keeping private files on public figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, which he used as potential sources of blackmail to get what he wanted but also to keep an eye on people he considered subversive. Those files would cover figures from politicians to Presidents, actors to musicians, writers to journalists and go well into the 1970s.

The movie deals with Hoover’s private life gingerly, including the rumors of cross-dressing and homosexuality, both of which are disputed to this day. Eastwood intimates that both were in the background but never really acted upon.

The movie is long (but then again it deals with a 50 year career in the public eye) and it drags a bit towards the end. Some critics have complained that Eastwood doesn’t give Hoover an excoriation for his abuses of power (which I think was unnecessary – there have been plenty of calling to accounts for Hoover to render another one unnecessary) and that the old age make-up used by Hammer and di Caprio were distracting (which I found untrue).

After a subpar effort with Hereafter Eastwood returns to form with a potential Oscar contender. Di Caprio delivers a powerful performance that has to be considered an early entry into the Best Actor race. He makes Hoover relatable and human in some ways, while enigmatic and unapproachable in others. He never demystifies Hoover but never makes him a demagogue either. He is a man with an agenda, one which mostly involved cementing his own power, authority and position. He was also a man who yearned for acceptance and admiration.

Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, is the glue that holds the movie together. He is the conscience of the king in many ways, and his Clyde witnesses some egregious violations of civil liberties and common decency but he is above all else loyal both to the bureau but more to the man.  It is at times heartbreaking to watch.

Less has been said about Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, the woman who served as Hoover’s executive assistant and in most ways the keeper of his secrets. She was a formidable woman in her own right and according to the movie anyway, rejected a proposal of marriage from Hoover. Watts gives her that inner strength as well as making her easy on the eyes. It’s a very strong performance that may well get some Oscar consideration of its own, although I’m less sure of that it will personally.

Is this the definitive film biography of the former FBI director? It certainly is for now but I’m not 100% sure that there isn’t a better movie on his life out there to be made. For my money, this is a very good movie that works not only as a biography but a look at the trappings of power and how seductive they can be. It truly is a cautionary tale and one which I sadly suspect we haven’t learned from as a species yet.

REASONS TO GO: Oscar-caliber performances from di Caprio and Hammer. A return to form for Eastwood.

REASONS TO STAY: The bouncing around of timelines sometimes gets confusing.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language here and there and some sexual themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Armie Hammer’s great-grandfather was oil tycoon Armand Hammer who was suspected by Hoover of having communist ties; Hoover was said to have had a confidential file on him.

HOME OR THEATER: This would probably look just as good at home as it would in the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Creation (2009)

New Releases for the Week of November 11, 2011


November 11, 2011

J. EDGAR

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas, Ken Howard, Ryan McPartlin, Dermot Mulroney, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Root, Lea Thompson. Directed by Clint Eastwood

One of America’s icons takes on another icon. Clint Eastwood undertakes to tell the story of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the FBI. Long one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th Century, the legends and myths around America’s top cop have grown regarding his personality, his sexuality and of course his paranoia. He kept files on all sorts of Americans, ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to John Lennon. Who was the man behind the myth? Eastwood aims to expose the man J. Edgar Hoover was.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for brief strong language)

Immortals

(Relativity)Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke. Director Tarsem Singh, with such visual treats as The Cell and The Fall to his credit, takes on Greek mythology. Specifically in this case, the story of Theseus, a young stonemason out to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of a power-mad King bent on not only conquering all of Greece but destroying the Gods as well.

See the trailer, a promo, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody violence and a scene of sexuality)

Jack and Jill

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Katy Holmes, Al Pacino, David Spade. An advertising executive in Los Angeles trying to get Al Pacino to do a Dunkin Donuts commercial finds the hook when Pacino falls for his identical twin sister who is visiting from New York. Adam Sandler in two obnoxious roles? Oy vey!

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some language)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

(Fox Searchlight) Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson. A woman who has escaped from a violent cult seeks refuge at the home of her older sister. She is reticent to talk about her experiences until her memories begin to surface, leading to increasing paranoia that she is being stalked by the cult who wish to reclaim their lost member. As this occurs, the line between reality and delusion begins to blur.

See the trailer, a clip, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language)