Tag


Jeremy Renner knows he’s better than you.

(2018) Comedy (New LineEd Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Isla fisher, Lil Rel Howley, Hannibal Burress, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Nora Dunn, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, Steve Berg, Indiana Sifuentes, Trayce Malachi, Jock McKissic, Thomas Middleditch, Al Mitchell, Sebastian Maniscalco, Vince Pisani, Kurt Yue, Kate Kneeland.  Directed by Jeff Tomsic

 

There’s a line in the movie that really rings true; “We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.” Keeping that child-like part of ourselves alive means we’re ever changing, ever growing. Play can be a part of that; it teaches us about ourselves, if nothing else.

Hoagie (Helms), Jerry (Renner), Bob (Hamm), Chili (Johnson) and Sable (Burress) have been playing the same game of tag for thirty years. They’ve grown up a little bit since then; they’ve relocated all over the country from their native Spokane and have gone on to their own lives and their own families. But for one month every year – May, as it turns out – they are fair game to a no-holds-barred take-no-prisoners form of the children’s game.

It has helped keep their bonds strong even though they lead separate lives but for four of them, there’s a unifying factor – Jerry has never ever been tagged “it,” not even once, in thirty years. This will be the year, even though financier Bob has a reporter (Wallis) trailing him, even though Hoagie’s wife (Fisher) is about to lose her mind with competitive fire and even though Chili will be back in the territory where his ex-wife (Jones) dwells. For this will be the last year; Jerry is taking himself a bride (Bibb) and this will be his last year playing the game.

The filmmakers could have gone a few different routes with this and they elected to try and go down two different paths at once; the raunchy one and the heartwarming one. As fellow critic Roger Moore observed, they may have missed an opportunity by going the PG-13 route and thus attracting a larger audience pool but as it was, they didn’t do so badly.

The raunchy stuff isn’t as raunchy as other comedies that go there but it is enough to warn home viewers from letting their tweens and youngsters get hold of it. The element that gives the viewer some good warm fuzzies is well-earned without being too treacly, although there is a bit of a twist that was a little over-the-top.

As far as the comedy bits (mostly having to do with the lengths the players will go to tag Jerry and the lengths he’ll go to keep from getting tagged) while they were generally well-executed, some bent the boundaries of suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. That aside, this was a little bit better than I expected it to be although not quite as good as Game Night.

REASONS TO SEE: Occasionally heart-warming comedy about the bonds of friendship.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the comedy is a bit far-fetched.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, brief nudity, some crude sexual content and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is loosely based on an ongoing game of tag played by four friends in Spokane, Washington.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Go, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hangover Part II
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel

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Life, Animated


The world is Owen Suskind's oyster.

The world is Owen Suskind’s oyster.

(2016) Documentary (The Orchard) Owen Suskind, Ross Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walt Suskind, Gilbert Gottfried, Jonathan Freeman, Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, Emily, Michelle Garcia Winner. Directed by Roger Ross Williams

 

Autism can be a frightening thing to both parents and the children afflicted with it, and of course to the siblings not afflicted who only know their brother or sister is “different.” The thing is that there’s no one way to treat it and no right thing to do; it’s trial and error and sometimes, just error.

Writer Ross Suskind of the Wall Street Journal got to learn this first-hand when his son Owen was diagnosed at three with autism. He had been a normal toddler up to then, but all of a sudden he became withdrawn. Instead of communicating normally, he spoke in a kind of gibberish. His motor skills deteriorated. His mother Cornelia was frantic; his older brother Walt wasn’t sure what was going on with his brother. When the doctor made his diagnosis, the family was devastated. Nobody knew what to expect next.

It was years of silence; Owen was unable to communicate with his family normally and no matter what they did Owen seemingly couldn’t understand what they were trying to get across. It was a frustrating time for the entire family but they hung in there. There came a few years later an unusual breakthrough; Owen repeated dialogue from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. At first Ron and Carnelia were ecstatic but their doctor warned them that this was likely just echolalia, vocal parroting and somewhat common among autism sufferers.

But Ron figured out differently; he used a puppet of Iago from Aladdin to actually have a conversation with his son. Eventually the family and therapists used the Disney animations as a means to help find a way into Owen’s world. Owen, for his part, used the animations to help make sense of the world. They were timeless and unchanging in a world that was changing rapidly.

Most of the film, we see Owen at 23, getting ready to graduate to independent living in an apartment complex that his girlfriend Emily – also autistic – lives in. Owen seems on the surface like an attractive, normal guy until you hear him muttering gibberish to himself. He runs a club for like-minded autistics who connect to the world through Disney – there are a lot more of them than you’d think.

The heart of the movie is the connection between Owen and his family; clearly the love and patience that they have for each other are extraordinary and it does this jaded critic’s heart good to see it. Older brother Walt expresses concern about Owen’s future; when Ron and Cornelia pass away, who will take care of Owen? Walt knows it will be him and frankly, is more than willing but certainly not looking forward to the prospect.

The movie uses animation effectively; it is kind of stream-of-consciousness and generally depicts what Owen’s world looks like inside his head. There is an almost impressionist look to the animation which I found truly effective; in them Owen is always depicted as a little boy, and I found that somewhat apropos. I’ve always felt the use of animation to enhance documentaries was a brilliant idea, although it has been somewhat overused of late. In this instance, it truly does enhance the experience in that it gives us insight into Owen and how he views the world.

There are plenty of Disney clips used in the film, and Disneyphiles are going to love this; in a lot of ways, it confirms the healing power of movies, although in a kind of unquestioning manner. The book that Ron wrote that this is based upon also mentions that the Disney therapy is just one of many things that Owen responded to over his years of learning how to function despite the noise going on in his head. The movie gives the impression that Disney saved Owen and quite frankly that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I have to wonder what Owen made of the cameras. Clearly some of the scenes are staged, as when Owen watches Disney films in his room. While his actions of delight are genuine, it seems a bit too contrived for my comfort. The movie works best when it is simply capturing what happens in Owen’s daily life, including a lovely moment when Aladdin voice actors Gottfried and Freeman attend one of the meetings of Owen’s Disney club.

This shouldn’t be taken as a primer on how to deal with autistic family members – there is, as has been mentioned, no one right way. This also isn’t a movie about how Disney can be used to save autistic children; there’s no real telling what things autistic kids will focus in on, be it trains, baseball, playing cards or grocery stores.

What it is in reality is an account of how one kid made it through and how his family loved and nurtured him despite everything. At the end of the day, that’s the kind of movie that is well worth watching and the best part of what I get to do for a living.

REASONS TO GO: This is an unexpected, life-affirming treasure. Disneyphiles will dig this hard.
REASONS TO STAY: Leads one to wonder how much the presence of the cameras affected what we saw on the screen.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are complex; there is also brief mild profanity and some conversation that is a little suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The animations are supplied by the French animation firm Mac Guff.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: David and Lisa
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Hollywood Beauty Salon

A Mighty Heart


Angelina Jolie reads her reviews.

Angelina Jolie reads her reviews.

(2007) True Life Drama (Paramount Vantage) Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan, Will Patton, Sajid Hasan, Denis O’Hare, Aly Khan, Adnan Siddiqui, Perrine Moran, Jeffry Kaplow, Ahmed Jamal, Demetri Goritsas, Mohammed Azfal, Ahmed Jamal, Imran Patel, Veronique Darleguy, Gary Wilmes, Jean-Jacques Scaerou, Jillian Armenante. Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Our Film Library

On January 23, 2002, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal investigating ties between “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Al Qaeda was kidnapped from the streets of Karachi, Pakistan by a group of Muslim extremists. His wife was five months pregnant with their son at the time.

The kidnapping of Daniel Pearl (Futterman) is today a fairly well-known occurrence by most Americans. His wife, Mariane (Jolie) would write a biography of her husband which described their life together and the harrowing last days of his life, before he was beheaded by his captors on February 1 despite her many pleas for clemency and denials of the terrorist assertions that Pearl was a CIA spy (to this day there have been no links shown between Pearl and any intelligence agency).

The movie made from her book mostly shows Pearl through flashback in almost idyllic tones. Most of the film’s plot revolves around Mariane’s ordeal as she tries to remain as composed as possible considering the extraordinary circumstances as well as the efforts by the United States Diplomatic Security Services, exemplified by Special Agent Randall Bennett (Patton), the Department of Justice and the Pakistani Capital City Police, exemplified by Officer Mir Zubair Mahmood (Khan) to track down the kidnappers and bring them to justice.

Throughout she is supported by close friends like Asra Nomani (Panjabi) and colleagues of her husband such as his WSJ editor John Bussey (O’Hare) and Steve LeVine (Wilmes), ultimately this is an ordeal Mariane must go through alone. That she went through it with such grace and dignity is a credit to the triumph of humanity over depravity.

Jolie delivered a performance that may be the crowning achievement of her career in this film. It was certainly Oscar-worthy, although the movie’s June release date and box office failure likely were the causes of her not receiving a nomination for Best Actress. She plays Mariane with a good deal of emotional control, although the scene in which she is informed of her husband’s death is absolutely devastating. There is also a sense of her concern early in the film as she has some friends over for dinner, but the place setting for her husband who was on his way to an interview remains empty; her glances in the direction of the empty chair are subtle yet telling.

Both Jolie and Futterman resemble their real-life counterparts somewhat eerily (particularly in Futterman’s case). In fact, I would have liked to have seen Futterman as Pearl a bit more in the storyline; after all, Mariane Pearl wrote the book about her husband and not about herself. However, the focus of the movie is entirely on Mariane and Daniel is almost an afterthought in many ways except in flashbacks which show an almost idyllic lifestyle between the two. Oddly, these flashbacks seem a little overly manipulative and overly idealized. Daniel Pearl is in many ways not present in the film that is ostensibly about his wife but is in reality more about his death. In my mind, that does a disservice to not only the good man that he was but also the work that he did.

That said, I found it troubling that the casting of Jolie was groused about by some critics who said that they found her celebrity distracting when viewing her performance. Personally, I think film critics who can’t get past the celebrity of an actor are probably not in the right profession. Every actor brings something of their own personality and experiences into the performance of their roles; if you are judging a performance by what TMZ is saying about an actor, you aren’t doing your job. But I digress.

Winterbottom adopts an almost documentary style in telling his story, although the flashbacks tend to put paid to the documentary feel of the film. After watching the film, I did feel that I wished I knew more about Pearl the man; those who feel similarly can get more of a sense of who he was should probably see the Emmy-winning HBO documentary The Journalist and the Jihadi which tells Pearl’s story with some background on his life in addition to the story of his kidnapping and execution.

At the end of the day, what happened to Daniel Pearl was barbarous and undeserved. However, it also must be said that he was more than just the last days of his life – he was a loving husband, a dutiful son, a proud Jew, a skilled writer, an insightful journalist and a thrilled father-to-be. Looking at his life as a tragedy tells only half the story. However, one cannot deny that Mariane Pearl makes for an interesting film subject as well and Jolie’s performance is truly inspiring. I can’t help feeling however that the film would have benefited from more of her husband’s presence, rather than being just a memory. He was and remains more than that to her.

WHY RENT THIS: A magnificent performance by Jolie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Manipulative and focuses less on the late journalist than it does on his wife.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some horrific violence herein as well as some sexuality and its share of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A featurette on the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists which rose out of this incident as well as a Public Service Announcement for the Pearl Foundation.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: $18.9M on a $16M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harrison’s Flowers

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The conclusion of Our Film Library!

Green Zone


Green Zone

Matt Damon gets medieval on some critic's ass.

(Universal) Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Khalid Abdalla, Igal Naor, Said Faraj, Jerry Della Salla, Raad Rawi, Michael O’Neill, Nicoye Banks, Sean Huze, Paul Karsko. Directed by Paul Greengrass

Perhaps one of the most important questions of our time is why we invaded Iraq in 2003. It is the standard by which the United States will be judged as a nation as we move forward into the 21st century; our actions in invading a sovereign nation without true justification have tarnished our reputation forever.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) is in charge of a team of soldiers whose mission is to locate and neutralize weapons of mass destruction the Iraqis have hidden in caches around Baghdad and the surrounding areas. It is early in the war, and the country is still waiting on definitive proof that the Saddam Hussein had been indeed manufacturing WMD.

He is sent to a location which is being peppered by a sniper in a nearby tower. Iraqi citizens are looting the industrial site like crazy and Miller is concerned that some of them may be getting away with dangerous material that could be used against Iraqi civilians or coalition soldiers. Despite the fact that the site isn’t secure, he orders his men to go in and take out the sniper, which they do in a professional, efficient manner. Once he gets into the site, however, he discovers nothing there – no weapons, nothing dangerous, only toilet parts and years worth of pigeon droppings.

This turns out to be the third straight supposed WMD site that the team has been to that has been completely devoid of anything resembling weapons. Miller knows that the intelligence they have been getting is faulty. While the military command is taking the position that the Iraqis had moved the weapons from these sites, Miller knows that there had never been weapons there. He questions the intelligence at a staff meeting attended by CIA analyst Martin Brown (Gleeson) who approaches Miller afterwards, completely in agreement with Miller that there is something fishy going on. He gives Miller his card with the request that he keep him in the loop as to what Miller’s team finds on their next mission, which Miller agrees to do.

In the meantime, Clark Poundstone (Kinnear), a high-ranking functionary in the White House with Pentagon connections, is escorting an Iraqi exile (Rawi) home to Baghdad. Poundstone is eager to install him as the new leader of Iraq. Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Ryan) is covering the trip; it was her articles on government reports about WMD that helped turn the public towards invasion. She knows that most of the government intelligence came from a single source; a high-ranking Iraqi government official known only as “Magellan.” Because no WMD had turned up despite the Army’s best efforts to find them, she is concerned that her story asserting that they were there may turn out to be false. She wants to talk to Magellan directly but Poundstone demurs, stating that the debriefing process is ongoing.

While on his next assignment fruitlessly digging for a possible underground WMD site, Miller is approached by an Iraqi national named Freddie (Abdalla) who informs him of a meeting taking place in a nearby home of high-ranking Iraqi officials. Something about Freddie’s story rings true to Miller and he decides to go investigate, even though Wilkins (Della Salla), his second-in-command, worries that they are being led into an ambush.

The soldiers enter the house to find that such a meeting is indeed taking place and that one of the participants is none other than General Al-Rawi (Naor), Saddam’s highest-ranking military official and certainly the man who would have the most information about any WMD that might be hidden in Iraq. Although Al-Rawi escapes, he leaves behind a notebook which Miller is anxious to deliver to his CIA contact Brown. However, when the prisoners taken from the meeting are abducted by American Special Forces soldiers led by the arrogant Briggs (Isaacs), Miller knows that something is more than just terribly wrong.

This is ostensibly an action thriller and it is by no means meant to be a documentary about actual events in Iraq. The premise, however, is valid – to this day we have yet to locate any WMD in Iraq and the entire premise for invasion has been justifiably labeled a sham. Whether Greengrass’ theory is true or not, it is merely that – a theory – and certainly our government is guilty at the very least of incompetently not fact-checking to make sure that there were indeed WMD in Iraq.

Some of the events here happened as portrayed. The CIA was left out of the WMD loop and CIA sources reported at the time that there hadn’t been any WMD since the first Gulf War. President Bush did land on an aircraft carrier and proclaim “Mission Accomplished,” which was a premature pronouncement of historic proportions. Public opinion was turned towards a series of news articles and television reports that reported the presence of WMD in Iraq that later turned out to have been false. The American people were indeed lied to.

But that’s neither here nor there as far as this review should be concerned. What is important is that the movie is worth seeing, and it is indeed that. Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass had previously collaborated on the second two movies of the Bourne trilogy, and those are still regarded as some of the best action films of recent years. Green Zone does indeed meet those standards and Damon is one of the primary reasons why.

As Roy Miller, he is a professional soldier, assiduously trained but with a mind of his own. He sees bad information at every turn and no matter how many times his commanders tell him just to look the other way and do his job without question, he can’t bring himself to do it. Yeah, he’s a bit of a super-soldier in that he seems incapable of being stopped but quite frankly, that’s okay in an action film where we expect our heroes to be somewhat unstoppable.

Kinnear makes for a smarmy villain, a viper in weasel’s clothes that exploits political necessity and is willing to do whatever it takes to cover up his crimes. Kinnear, who of late has been playing lighter roles, excels here in a role that is a bit outside his comfort zone. Gleeson, who is one of the best character actors working today (see In Bruges if you don’t believe me), is solid here. He is gruff, grumpy and a grizzled veteran of the Middle East who sees through the bull pucky and understands the situation for what it is; a cover-up. He is jaded and worn down from years of being assigned to one of the most complex, volatile regions on Earth, but still maintains his own principles nonetheless.

Greengrass utilizes the hand-held camera quite a bit during the action sequences to convey the chaos of the scene, and while I don’t necessarily have a problem with the concept, I think he overuses it here. After awhile, I actually had to  turn my head from the screen in order to stave off the dizziness and queasiness that accompanies that kind of cinematography. A little bit of hand-held goes a long way, gentlemen.

What I like most about Green Zone is that it is a morality play disguised as an action movie. While the filmmaker’s leanings are quite easy to suss out, it does invite you to think also about what blindly accepting the word of any government. After all, even the best governments are made up of human beings, and those human beings often have agendas of their own, agendas that might not necessarily be in the best interest of their own country. That’s the scariest part of the movie.

REASONS TO GO: This is a morality play wrapped in an action movie framework. Damon is rock-solid as Miller.   

REASONS TO STAY: Greengrass uses the hand-held camera to such an extent that even audience members without vertigo issues were getting dizzy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence, including some scenes of torture and foul language throughout. Only for mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Lawrie Dayne is loosely based on Judith Miller of the New York Times.

HOME OR THEATER: As one of the first big action movies of the year you may be tempted to see it in the theater, but quite frankly, the overuse of shaky hand-held cam shots make this a better fit for the home screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: 12 Rounds