May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is in its 18th year, having aired 165 episodes, not counting endless reruns in syndication. A huge part of the series’ success is the comedic talent and writing ability of Charlie Day. That success has put him in a position to direct his first feature film, and how does he proceed? By attempting to skewer and mock the same Hollywood system that has made him rich and famous. Fortunately for Day, many of his friends have joined in, and most of the mocking falls pretty flat. So, he hasn’t jeopardized the likelihood that he will, in fact, work in this town again.

Our first glimpse of Day’s character is in a mental hospital where he has been diagnosed as non-verbal with “the mind of a Labrador retriever.” With no means to pay and no government plan to compensate the hospital, he is unceremoniously dumped on the street. Before trouble strikes, he is picked up by a Hollywood Producer (the late Ray Liotta) due to his striking resemblance to a temperamental and troubled movie star (also played by Day). Despite having no comprehension of what’s being asked of him, he ends up with a whirlwind acting career and a new name … Latte Pronto.

It doesn’t take long for us to realize Day has attempted to blend the comic (and silent) genius of Charlie Chaplin with the ‘oddity’ of Chauncey Gardiner in the Hal Ashby classic BEING THERE (1979).  Those friends of Day who make appearances include Jason Sudekis as a big-time director, Common as an action hero, John Malkovich as a backroom power broker, Jason Bateman, Glenn Howerton, Edie Falco as a super-agent, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Day’s real life wife), and Dean Norris. In more substantive roles we find Adrien Brody as an alcoholic actor prone to wild times behind the wheel, Kate Beckinsale as a movie star attracted to Day’s overnight fame, and Ken Jeong as Lenny, the struggling publicist who latches onto Latte Pronto as his only client.

Day certainly has a knack for physical comedy and it’s on full display during his “Wipeout” dance, however, without the use of his trademark scratchy, whiny voice, he lacks the charm of Chaplin (who doesn’t?). More significantly, the script lacks the sharpness needed to effectively poke fun at the lure of celebrity, and the greed, self-interest, and insecurities tied to the fluff of Hollywood. There is an attempt to make this about friendship and human connection, but maybe what it does best is remind us how most people would rather talk, and are therefore attracted to a listener … even if he doesn’t understand the words coming out of their mouth.

In theaters beginning May 12, 2023


AIR (2023)

April 10, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. “Where’s the Beef?” That iconic Wendy’s TV commercial featuring Clara Peller is but one of the many references flashed during the opening montage designed to ensure every viewer understands we are headed back to 1984. Yes, it’s been nearly 40 years since Michael Jordan was drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls. An important point to make is that this is only tangentially a basketball movie, and it’s certainly not a Michael Jordan profile. SPACE JAM (1996) had more basketball and more Jordan than this one. Instead, this is a rare business movie … specifically the story of how one decision by Nike not only saved their basketball shoe division, but also revolutionized the entire sports shoe market and the relationship between shoe manufacturers and athletes (at all levels, though the focus here is the NBA).

Chicago native Alex Convery’s script (his first feature film) had long been on Hollywood’s blacklist of screenplays, and it wasn’t until lifelong friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon got involved that the project gained legs. The two buddies previously won an Oscar for their GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) screenplay, and Affleck won a Best Picture Oscar for producing ARGO (2012). This time, in addition to their script tweaks, Affleck appears as Nike CEO Phil Knight (he of the grape Porsche), while Damon stars as Nike recruiting expert, Sonny Vaccaro.

At this point in 1984, Nike has recently gone public, having built their reputation on running shoes. However, the basketball division has never really succeeded due to the dominance of industry leaders Converse and Adidas. In fact, Vaccaro has been warned by Knight that the division could be shut down by the board of directors if this year’s budget isn’t turned into a pot of gold. Vaccaro, a recognized guru in scouting basketball talent, seems to be working from a point of desperation … or perhaps it’s excitement … when he becomes obsessed with signing Michael Jordan. Hilarious and profane exchanges with Jordan’s powerhouse agent, David Falk (Chris Messina) offer little hope, so Vaccaro sees only one chance at success – a personal visit to the Jordan home in North Carolina. This is typically a taboo move, and one that causes grief for Vaccaro from all sides.

It’s at this initial meeting with Jordan’s parents, Deloris (EGOT Viola Davis) and James (Julius Tennon, also Ms. Davis’ real life husband) where the door cracks for Vaccaro due to his sincerity and idealism. The battle at the corporate office finds Phil Knight reminding Vaccaro who’s in charge, Vaccaro reminding Knight of the risk-taking that built the company, and marketing director Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) doing what he can to inject rational thought, while hoping to keep his job. As the big presentation approaches, it’s shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), who pulls a rabbit out of the hat with his design and name for the shoe. Maher is fabulously awkward during his scene-stealing. There has always been conflict on who came up with “Air Jordan”, Moore or Falk, and the film handles this admirably.

Damon gets a few scenes to rattle off big moments of dialogue, but none matches his peak inspirational soliloquy during the presentation. And this despite the rapid-fire musings of Chris Tucker. Tucker, in a rare big screen appearance, plays Howard White, who would become Jordan’s personal handler (and friend) for Nike over the years. As you might guess, it’s the always terrific Viola Davis who outshines everyone. Her final phone call with Vaccaro is a thing of beauty, and a moment that will likely find her in awards discussion at year end.

Three-time Oscar winning cinematographer (and 10-time nominee) Robert Richardson finds the perfect throwback look for the film, while Costume Designer Charlese Antoinette Jones captures the frumpy look of Vaccaro and the arrogance of Knight and Falk. The only real weakness here stems from director Affleck’s insistence on over-doing the “remember 1984” moments with music and cultural references … including cracks at the expense of Kurt Rambis and the late Mel Turpin. No real suspense exists since the entire world knows Jordan signed with Nike, but the risk-taking in business is reference numerous times. While many kids truly dreamed of being like Mike, many Business majors and CEOs dreamed of being like Knight. The best comparison here is probably MONEYBALL (2011), since at its core, this is the story of an underdog.

Currently showing nationwide in theaters, will stream on Prime Video later this year.


THE GIFT (2015)

August 9, 2015

gift Greetings again from the darkness. Joel Edgerton has become one of the more interesting actors working today. His projects range from indies like Warrior and Animal Kingdom to award winners like Zero Dark Thirty and big budget releases like The Great Gatsby. He has written screenplays, and now comes his feature length directorial debut … and an impressive debut it is.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are seeking a fresh start as they relocate to Los Angeles from Chicago. A new house and new job are an attempt to put an unfortunate situation regarding an unborn child behind them. Things get off to a great start for them as they buy a beautiful house, and Simon is put up for a promotion. An encounter with Gordo (played by Edgerton) leads to some awkward social interactions and some downright creepy stalking.

The film will work best the less you know about it. The psychological thriller aspects never devolve into the slashfest we have come to expect. Instead the film blurs the lines between good guys and bad guys. In fact, it brings into debate what makes a good person … it even states “you may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with you”. Do our past misdeeds ever totally fade? What about high school bullies … do they mature?  Can the proverbial zebra change its stripes?  All of these questions and themes are touched.

While you may struggle to identify the protagonist and antagonist, the performances of both Edgerton and Bateman are fun to watch. And it’s Ms. Hall who is the grounding force who initially trusts both men, before questioning everything. There is also a very nice, understated performance from Allison Tolman as an understanding neighbor. Ms. Tolman was terrific in the first year of the “Fargo” series.

Don’t allow anyone to tell you much about this before you see it … just know that it will remind you of the importance of the Golden Rule. Treat others how you would like to be treated … or know that bygones are never bygones.

watch the trailer:




July 30, 2015

lego Greetings again from the darkness. Toys can be fun, educational, relaxing, challenging, and yes, even profitable. No toy exemplifies all of these characteristics better than LEGO. Co-directors Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge go “Beyond the Brick” (the film’s original title) as they explore the history and community of these fascinating plastic pieces.

Founder Ole Kirk Christiansen (of Denmark) began as a maker of wooden toys, but in 1947 he discovered a plastic molding machine which, within a couple of years, revolutionized his company and the toy industry. The company is still family-owned and is now a $4 billion company and the second largest in the industry despite competing in only one category of toys. It’s a remarkable business case study, and an equally remarkable study in social impact. If you own LEGO pieces from 1955, they will still work with the bricks and pieces being produced today … planned obsolescence is not part of the LEGO business strategy.

The film introduces us to the designers, the master builders, and the community of LEGO aficionados known as AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO). We also learn of a LEGO language filled with acronyms that permeate the competitions, fairs, and conferences.

In the early 2000’s, the company posted its first ever loss, but quickly rebounded by listening to their loyal customer base and making the necessary product changes. Last year’s award-winning animated THE LEGO MOVIE has stimulated even more interest in the tubes and studs … as well as permanently stamping our brains with the “Everything is Awesome” song.

Jason Bateman narrates the film – as a minifig – and adds a splash of color and visual acumen to the story telling process. It’s important to note that visuals are a key factor in some of the breathtaking creations of the brand’s most committed devotees. This includes the work of one who re-creates classical artwork for a gallery in NYC, and a stunning life-sized model of the Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter in Manhattan. We also see how LEGO plays a role as Autism therapy for kids, and even for mock-ups at NASA.

The LEGO community is most impressive. They actually participate in suggesting and designing new products, and the online network of LEGO stop-action short films act as a combined marketing strategy and challenge to other users. LEGOLAND doesn’t draw much attention here, but the loyalty and creativity of the customers is quite something to behold. It’s a reminder that the smartest companies collaborate with (rather than dictate to) their customer base … but most can only dream of this deep LEGO relationship with AFOL.

watch the trailer:



September 21, 2014

this is where Greetings again from the darkness. After watching this movie, I thought about researching whether the boobs of a 76 year old actress had ever been as front and center as they are in this dramedy from director Shawn Levy – not counting Calendar Girls which was for a worthy cause. Luckily I came to my senses, and realized that’s not a topic anyone should google … except maybe a 76 year old man.

Jane Fonda is the actress whose enhanced assets are so prominently featured, and she plays the mother of four adult children brought together to mourn the death of the family patriarch. This is based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper and though it’s watchable enough, it could have benefited from a better script adaptation and a less mainstream comedy director. Mr. Levy provided the popular and entertaining A Night at the Museum, as well as a long list of simple minded movies that didn’t prepare him for the depth of Tropper’s story.

The four “kids” are played by Corey Stoll, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver. Also joining them under a single roof are Stoll’s desperate-for-a-baby wife Kathryn Hahn, Fey’s two kids and self-professed a-hole husband (Aaron Lazar), and Driver’s engaged-to-be-engaged much older woman played by Connie Britton. If you think that’s an outstanding cast, note that also appearing are Timothy Olyphant (Fey’s brain-damaged former lover), Rose Byrne (she always lusted after Bateman), Dax Shepard (sleeps with Bateman’s wife played by Abigail Spencer), Ben Schwartz as an oddball Jewish rabbi, and Debra Monk (the helpful neighbor and more).

Obviously the issue with so many characters and talented actors is that screen time is limited. Somehow each of these have one key moment in the film, and that may be the biggest issue. Some of these we want to know more about (Olyphant, Byrne, Brittain), while others could have been written out of the script altogether (Lazar, Schwartz, Shepard) and the movie wouldn’t have suffered, and might have improved.

Most of the story revolves around Bateman and his situation – crumbled marriage, lost job, dead father, plus even more. Going through that and facing his sit-com worthy dysfunctional family provides an unending stream of none-too-subtle moments: a basement sleeper/sofa that won’t fold out, roof top talks with his bossypants sister, and even fisticuffs inside the family and out.

This is another in the Suburban-angst sub-genre, and the numerous contrived scenes and formulaic sequences are salvaged only by the talented casts ability to squeeze the moment from the next one-liner. There is so much rage and resentment in this family that we viewers are willing to find humor in the toddler toting his portable potty with him everywhere, or even Bateman taking the expected prat fall in an ice rink. There is little edge to this material, but it’s not difficult to glimpse how the right director could have approached the genius of The Royal Tenenbaums or the original Death at a Funeral, rather than a generic blend of Garden State and August:Osage County.

Britton, Byrne and Batemen all have their moments, and the movie is certainly watchable … though it could have been exceptional as either a straight out comedy or an indie-type drama. No need to email me if you come up with additional films featuring 76 year old boobs.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are up for the challenge of keeping track of the seemingly endless number of characters who have “a moment” during this one

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you share the sentiment with me and Jason Bateman’s character that there is no need to focus on Jane Fonda’s “bionic breasts”

watch the trailer:



April 14, 2013

disconnect1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s an impressive cast. The director, Henry Alex Rubin, gave us the excellent documentary Murderball.  Unfortunately the material here is mostly obvious and cliché-filled with no real message, other than our dependency on technology is leading us to be less “connected” to those real life people we live with. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this … other than the characters in this movie?

I’m calling this movie “Crash on the World Wide Web”. Crash was the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It had multiple story lines andworked extremely hard to appear very important, just like this one does. Disconnect shows us the Boyd’s – a family comprised of a workaholic lawyer dad (Jason Bateman always on the blackberry), a teenage daughter (Haley Ramm), a teenage loner son, and a mom (Hope Davis) who has no close bond with any of them. The boy (played by Jonah Bobo from Crazy Stupid Love) is cyber-bullied by two cruel boys (Colin Ford from a We Bought a disconnect3Zoo, and Aviad Bernstein).

We also meet a married couple played by Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard. They learn they are the victims of identity theft and the source could be her online support chat room (grieving the loss of their young son) or his online gambling problem. They hire a cyber-crime expert (Frank Grillo) to help them track down the alleged perpetrator (Michael Nyqvist). This expert also happens to be the father of Colin Ford’s character – the cyber-bully from story 1.

disconnect4Finally we see an ambitious local TV reporter (Andrea Riceborough) who stumbles onto an online sex chat room featuring young stud Max Thieriot. As the trust builds between these two, we know disaster is fast approaching.

The two father-son relationships take a turn after both fathers “invade” the privacy of the boys’ online accounts. What they learn is painful and enlightening. The real point or message of the stories seem to be that technology is killing real communication and human interaction. This is the disconnect that is occurring while online connections are thriving. Did we really need a movie to tell us this?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are somehow oblivious to the inherent dangers of online communication OR if you are unaware that teenagers can be cruel and loneliness is open to all ages OR you want to see why I prefer Jason Bateman in dramatic roles rather than comedies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have been the victim of identity theft or cyber-bullying … no need to re-live that pain

watch the trailer: