Friday, October 24, 2014


Rated: R

Stars: Adam Sandler, Rosemary DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Ansel Eigort, Judy Greer, Kaitlyn Dever, Dean Norris, Olivia Crocicchia, Elena Kampouris, Emma Thompson

Director: Jason Reitman

Genre: Drama 

Two high-schoolers are texting each other in the hallway, standing close enough that they could have easily walked up and spoken in person. Just some of  the irony in Men, Women, & Children, which attempts to deliver a message about social media and its effect on our lives. But it does so by giving us caricatures instead of characters with any real depth.

The most exaggerated stereotype here is Patricia (Jennifer Garner), whose teen daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) just wants to lead a normal life-- have a boyfriend and so forth--but her every move is tracked by her overbearing and overprotective mother through the girl's cellphone. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have stage mom Donna (Judy Greer), who is intent upon getting her own teenager into showbiz by hook or by crook, including a website featuring photos of questionable taste that the starstruck daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) is more than willing to pose for.  

Adam Sandler plays it straight (which is about as disconcerting as watching Steve Carell in a deadpan role) as a guy whose wife (Rosemary DeWitt), is bored enough to investigate an online site where married folk can hook up and engage in affairs  And like the story line of "The Pina Colada Song," hubby is looking for some extra curricular activity of his own with a working girl. 

Ansel Elgort gives one of the more thoughtful performances as Tim, a star high-school football player who quits the team because he thinks sports is meaningless, then gets hooked on the even less meaningful world of fantasy video games.

Other subplots also tie into the movie's central theme, which seems to be that social media has created a world that never existed before. A world that, in some cases, panders to the worst instincts in ourselves. But like nuclear energy, it's still up to us to use it for good...or for evil.   

Grade:  B -


Here's an irony for you. After seeing Men, Women & Children, I went home and my internet and cable TV had stopped working! Kaput. Nada. It's one thing to watch a film about the negative effects of too much social media. It's quite another to have it hit home so personally. They scheduled an appointment for me a day and a half later. By the time the guy arrived, I felt like a junkie in need of a fix. This made me appreciate even more the exaggerated characters' dilemmas in Men, Women & Children. It also made me realize how addicted all of us are to being connected to an invisible world.

For all the actors mentioned in Tim's review, the person I'd give the most credit to is the one in charge of graphics. Would that be Bruce Curtis, the production designer? Art Director Rodney Becker? Or the thirteen people listed under "Visual Effects By"? Whoever was responsible for putting text messages, emails, websites, Facebook pages up on screen while the live actors were doing their thing, deserves applause. (Or a smiling emoticon?) Still, I felt a bit sleepy in parts of this film. I also wondered how someone who wasn't computer literate (do they still exist?) would handle it.

Since Tim has scolded me for being too easy to please lately, giving an A and an A+ to the last two films we've reviewed, my grading for this one should make him happy.

Grade: C +

Friday, October 17, 2014

THE JUDGE (2014)

Rated: R

STARS: Robert Duvall, Robert Downey Jr., Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga

DIRECTOR: David Dobkin

GENRE:  Drama

There is a reason why curmudgeonly judge Joe Palmer (Robert Duvall) is estranged from his hot-shot city lawyer son, Hank (Robert Downey Jr.) It's buried in the past, and to learn what it is will be one of the reasons why you'll hang in there with The Judge.  

Hank is returning to his old Indiana home to attend his mother's funeral, and in the process faces off with his father, who is about as stiff to him as Joan Crawford sitting on an ice floe. But their relationship will take an unexpected turn when the judge, who may be dealing with the onset of dementia, is charged with vehicular homicide involving an incident he can't remember. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and Judge Joe agrees to let Hank be his legal counsel and defend him at his trial. This is where The Judge veers into soap opera land on the wobbly wheels of an unrealistic script, where the presiding judge refrains from picking up his gavel while father and son hash out their long standing personal issues in front of the court.

A lot of things turn out predictably in The Judge, though the ending has a couple of nice twists. But see this movie for the standout performances from Duvall, Downey, Billy Bob Thornton, and the underrated Vincent  D'Onofrio.

Grade:  B


Well I, for one, bought into Samuel Taylor Coleridge's phrase "the suspension of disbelief" when viewing The Judge. After all, movie courtroom dramas often veer into unrealistic face-offs. RememberA Few Good Men? ("You can't handle the truth!") Suffice it to say that The Judgehas produced two definite 2015 Oscar nominations. Alas, they will probably cancel each other out. But both Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. deserve them. Father/son battles are the stuff of which great screenplays are made and The Judge is no exception. 

Wading through the credits, I see that director David Dobkin shares "story credit" with Nick Schenk, who shares screenwriting credit with Bill Dubuque. What amazes me is that Dobkin's other big movie credit isThe Wedding Crashers which is about as different from this movie as silly is from serious. Hats off to someone who can direct such diametrically opposite films.

Another actor who deserves mention is Vera Farmiga who plays Samantha Powell, Downey's high school sweetheart. Aside from her mesmerizing eyes, I totally bought her hometown yet liberated character. My advice? Go see this movie. NOW!


Friday, October 3, 2014


Rated:  R

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda (and a cast of seemingly thousands!)

Director: Shawn Levy

Genre: Comedy-Drama

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is having the shittiest day of his life. He walks in on his wife boinking his boss. There goes his marriage and his job in one fell swoop. Then his dad dies. I was immediately drawn in by And This Is Where I Leave You because I have had that day. That very same one. The circumstances were a little different, but the emotional impact was the same.

And so Judd, of the Altman clan, which includes more characters than you can shake a script at or easily keep track of,  spends most of the rest of the film in a state of semi-shock--while the matriarch of the clan, Hilary Altman (Jane Fonda), dictates that the assembled offspring who've come to pay their respects to dad must "sit Shiva" (try to say that real fast several times), meaning they'll have to put up with each other in that house together for seven days.

There will be comparisons to The Big Chill,  as the siblings and their own extended families interact, reminisce, air their frustrations and regrets, ruminate about missed chances and what might have been, or lament what actually came about. In other words, This Is Where I Leave You  drives home the point that nobody is ever really happy. We're all in a continual state of suppressed angst, or "quiet desperation" as Thoreau so eloquently put it.

It's an impressive ensemble cast--too unwieldy for all of the characters to become developed. The true standout, though,  is Tina Fey as Wendy Altman, Judd's sister. This is Fey's coming out party, and she emerges as a serious actress of surprising depth. Yep, she was holdin' out on us all this time with all those SNL skits! Bateman is excellent here as well.

Jane Fonda's fake boobs also give a standout performance.

Grade:  B +  


First off, let me say I really, REALLY loved this movie. Much as I hate the term 'dramedy,' This Is Where I Leave You embodies it. There's plenty of humor but the film is equally steeped in family trauma. I guess you'd have to say the main story line centers around Judd Altman, played to perfection by Jason Bateman. For me, Bateman has some of the same qualities as Steve Carell, or even the great Charlie Chaplin. No matter what role he's playing, or how ridiculous the situation is, you immediately like and/or sympathize with him. 

Aside from Jane Fonda's fake boobs and incredible body, Tina Fey's well delivered one-liners, and Adam Driver's ever-youthful flakiness, I must say my biggest kudos go to the scriptwriter Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the novel on which the movie is based). Why? Because each character is incredibly well-defined, with his or her own issues and questionable coping skills. This Is Where I Leave You is truly an ensemble piece where everybody gets their moment to shine. And the story keeps moving forward—or unraveling--with delightfully unexpected resolutions.

If I had to nitpick, I'd say my only criticism would be the choice of a title. I would've called it Sitting Shiva.