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All Nighter – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

All Nighter35

J.K. Simmons.

I was thinking of leaving that as my entire review, but you deserve more….more J.K. Simmons that is!  I love J.K. Simmons, and this movie just kept that love going.  Simmons plays Frank Gallo, the no-nonsense, businessman father of Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) ex-girlfriend Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton).  Six months ago Martin had a disastrous “meet the father” night with Ginnie and Mr. Gallo, where he did everything wrong.  He didn’t pull out Ginnie’s chair for her, he sat down before her, he is a musician, he’s a vegetarian, he spilled wine on her father.  Things could not have gone worse.  Flash forward to today when Mr. Gallo knocks on Martin’s door looking for his daughter, not knowing that Martin and Ginnie broke up a few months ago.  Martin takes Mr. Gallo on a wild chase all across Los Angeles, meeting an array of characters, and following hints and slim leads that might lead them to Ginnie, who isn’t answering her phone.

As the night goes on, what you expect to happen pretty much does happen; Martin and Frank slowly warm to each other and end up forming a friendship.  They learn a bit about each other, and so do we.  We learn a bit about why Ginnie and Martin broke up, we learn a bit about why Frank broke up with Ginnie’s mother, and those same reasons are why he has a strained relationship with his daughter to this day.  The film was funny and just what I was expecting.  It carefully  balanced sarcasm and relatable situations with mild slapstick humour.  I think the term “predictable” is used too often when talking about movies.  I wouldn’t say that All Nighter was entirely “predictable”, I’d call it more of a “comfortable” movie.  I was comfortable with the way things unfolded because while a lot of what happened was what I expected, they also didn’t do the most expected things.  Martin did not get back together with Ginnie, and I’m glad he didn’t.  His character had fallen into alcohol and depression when she left, but the night with Frank did help him and moved him out of that funk.  To simply get them back together would have been a waste of every discovery Martin had made about himself that night.

The acting was very good, and I loved J.K. Simmons as the tough guy, sarcastic, smart-ass, in-charge-of-every-situation, father-knows-best character.  Emile Hirsch was very relatable as Martin and I think he wins the audience as a bit of an underdog.  The supporting characters were interesting, from Ginnie’s former co-workers to her former roommates.  Kristen Schaal and Taran Killam as Ginnie and Martin’s friends Roberta and Gary were funny at first, but in my opinion overstayed their welcome making their characters more annoying than humourous.  The other supporting characters simply did their job and didn’t stick around or return.

Overall though the film had some solid laughs and a decent narrative arc.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and would easily recommend it if you’re looking for some light entertainment for 86 minutes.

Bottom Line: I want J.K. Simmons to be my movie dad.


The Accountant – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Accountant40

It took me months to watch The Accountant, and an equally long time to finally review it!  Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, on the surface an accountant and a math savant, but underneath he’s something more.  When a low level accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a major robotics and prosthetics company discovers some discrepancies in their financial records, the head of the company (John Lithgow) brings in Wolff to “uncook” the books and perform a forensic audit on his company to figure out where funds are being leaked to and by whom.  Wolff is a highly functioning autistic math savant so solving the numbers case is simple to him; much simpler than dealing with the staff of the facility, especially Kendrick’s character Dana who shows genuine interest in the problem and wants to help.  But Wolff prefers to act as a “lone wolf” and it takes barely a day for him to confirm the findings and get a lead on who might be behind them.  As he gets closer to the truth though, the suspects start dying.  Unknown to his employers, Wolff is not just an accountant, he’s also a professional assassin who likes to take matters into his own hands when he sees a wrong that needs to be righted.  As the plot thickens Wolff is brought into conflict with another assassin hired by the person responsible for stealing the company funds.  Unbeknownst to Wolff, the other assassin is his estranged brother Brax (Jon Bernthal).  Naturally the two meet in the film’s climax, but what will be the results?

Very few actors are as polarizing to audiences as Ben Affleck.  He’s one of those actors who it seems people either love or hate.  I’m probably in the minority here, because I’m more “middle of the road” with him.  I haven’t seen that many of his films, but of those that I did see, there were some I liked, and some I didn’t.  I really liked him in Gone Girl where I think he did a tremendous job of making me forget he was Ben Affleck.  I didn’t really like him in Argo, where I found his directing solid, but his own performance very bland, and very “Ben Affleck”.  Here though I enjoyed him.  His performance was confident, and once again, he didn’t seem too “Ben Affleck” for the part.  He clearly did his research when it came to playing an autistic character, and he was very expressive in his performance.  The action scenes too were very good, and kept me entertained and engaged.  I really like Anna Kendrick, and she was her usual fun and slightly quirky self in the role as a junior accountant, but she may have been a little underutilized, and at the same time a little forced into the script.  J.K. Simmons as a director at the Treasury Department who has been on Wolff’s trail for years (but not exactly for the reasons we expect) was excellent as always.  I’ll go out of my way to watch any movie with J.K. in it, no matter how small his role.  A real treat in The Accountant was Jon Bernthal as Brax.  I had only known him as Shane from the first few seasons of The Walking Dead, and didn’t really have an opinion of him one way or another.  Here, he really shined, and I don’t think the part could have been any better cast.  I’ve heard good things about his performance as the Punisher in the Marvel Netflix Daredevil series which I believe has earned him a spin-off solo series, so I look forward to watching those too.

Quite entertaining, and it threw a few twists at you along the way as the suspense and the mystery deepened.  Who was eliminating the fraud suspects?  Wolff?  Brax?  It wasn’t 100% clear until the end.  What were Agent King’s interests in Wolff?  Did they have a past?  Who was the computerized voice that appeared to be working for Wolff, but was also seemed to be giving tips to the Treasury Department?  All these led to a very solid action-thriller….which is nothing what real accounting is like I’m told.

Bottom Line: The final shootout scenes reminded me a lot of John Wick, which is never a bad thing.

The Meddler – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Meddler3.0 Stars

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who also did Seeking a Friend For The End of the World (which I quite enjoyed) comes The Meddler, a story based on her own life.  In the film however we are treated to Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne in a mother/daughter story that was very very real.  Sarandon plays Marnie who is recently widowed and moves from New York to Los Angeles to be near her screenwriter/director daughter, Lori.  When she can’t fit herself into her daughter’s life, she pushes her way into the lives of her daughter’s friends and other people she meets in L.A., such as the young man working as an Apple genius.  There was a lot of Apple product placement in this film, it almost seemed like a commercial at times when I was told how to zoom in on an iPhone, how much memory to get on my phone or tablet….  Oh well, product placement is what helps finance projects right?   Eventually Marnie does develop a life of her own, but feels guilty for it when her daughter is having a hard time with both her own personal life and while still dealing with the death of her father.

The story was well acted, and well presented, but I felt that there were maybe a few too many storylines going on at once.  I guess that Marnie really is a meddler, she babysits for Lori’s friends, she plans a lesbian wedding, she helps a kid get through his college exams, she dates a retired motorcycle cop named Zipper (J.K. Simmons), she sits in on the set when her daughter’s tv show is being filmed, she tries to set her daughter up with a guy, she meets up with her old New York friends and family….phew, how do you fit the daughter’s story in there too?  Somehow they managed it though, and I think that the skill of the cast is what made it what it was: fairly enjoyable, but not earth shattering.  I think the film (and the performances) were very realistic, maybe a little sensationalized but still grounded in something that we can relate to.

Bottom Line: Hey, this had two of my favourite actors in it; J.K. Simmons and Lucy Punch!

Break Point – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details3.5 Stars

Why would I watch a tennis movie?  J.K. Simmons.  That’s why.  The man is one of my favourite actors and has never disappointed, regardless of how big or small the film or role.  This time out he’s the father/coach to a pair of estranged tennis playing brothers. Jeremy Sisto plays Jimmy, an old but immature player who should look at retiring from the game, and David Walton  plays Darren, his responsible brother who left the game years ago to become a substitute teacher.  As Jimmy burns through his latest partner on the eve of a grand slam tournament that will put him back on the doubles tour, he reaches out to his brother and childhood partner whom he dropped years ago.  Can the brothers bury the hatchet?  No, probably not.  Darren’s really not ready to forgive Jimmy or play tennis again.  But one of his students, a naive and impressionable 11-year old named Barry, talks him into trying.  The two brothers team up, begin training, fight a few times, and try to re-discover and repair their game as well as their relationship…and then they break up again and get back together again all while playing tennis.

Pretty typical stuff really, there was nothing really unexpected in Break Point.  I’d call it a “reunion” comedy maybe?  Two people who have fallen out have to find common ground and defeat the odds/enemy/whatever.  What makes Break Point better than the standard is that it is pretty funny.  The jokes are crude, and Sisto’s Jimmy gets most of the best lines to Darren’s straight man routine, but Joshua Rush as Barry makes it fresh.  He holds his own with the humour and manages to bring the heart back to the brothers’ relationship.  J.K. Simmons as well fits perfectly as their father and Jedi master figure.  Aside from the humour, the film seemed realistic.  Okay, maybe not realistic that two feuding brothers could join up and play competitive tennis again after some fifteen years apart, but their overall brotherhood seemed realistic.  The way they treated each other and the way they fought and the way they joked seemed “true” to life.

Solid laughs, a bit of heart, good cast, good acting and some tennis action? Entertaining and worth watching.

Bottom Line: are there any other tennis movies out there?  I guess there’s Match Point, but that probably isn’t as fun Break Point….well, maybe if you’re actually playing tennis a match point would be better than a break point.  I don’t really understand tennis though.

Murder of a Cat – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Product Details4.0 Stars

You know that they had me after “J.K. Simmons” right?  Now, I’m not just a bandwagon jumper who suddenly loves Simmons after his Oscar win for Whiplash.  I’ve enjoyed him since his early days as Dr. Emil Skoda on Law & Order.  Remember?  He was the “other” psychiatrist” they used on the show when they wrote out Dr. Olivet.  He was great in Oz, but absolutely perfect in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films as J. Jonah Jameson.  I’ve probably said all of this before in other reviews involving Simmons, and I’ll probably rehash this on his next film I review because I’ll watch pretty much anything he’s in now, and I’ll likely forget I’ve already said all these things again.

When Clinton (Fran Kranz) awakes to discover that his cat (Mouser) has been killed, his world is torn apart.  But when he discovers that Mouser was actually murdered, and apparently leading a double life, this adult child gets out of his mother’s basement to try and solve the case, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons).  It turns out that Mouser wasn’t just Clinton’s cat, on those days he had wandered off he was Greta’s (Nikki Reed) and he went by the name Horatio.  Was the killer after Mouser?  Was he trying to frighten Greta or was it all a plot to unnerve Clinton?  Conspiracies abound as Clinton suspects the owner of a local warehouse store (Greg Kinnear) who used to be Greta’s boss.  Then he suspects some of Greta’s former co-workers, then he suspects Greta, then  he suspects himself….of falling in love with Greta.

I will say that I was surprised how well the plot came together and how the mystery was resolved.  Usually I find when you have a humourous murder mystery movie that either the humour or the plot will fail as the writers and directors will focus only on one of the aspects.  I didn’t find that the case with Murder of a Cat.  The plot wasn’t overly complicated or intense.  It didn’t have huge underlying values or extreme hidden meanings.  The humour wasn’t simply an add-on and it wasn’t there as a distraction.  It was not a gag a minute like some films try to do, but there were quite a few genuine laughs to be had.  This may seem odd, but the humour was equal parts light and comically dark, which was something I really enjoyed.  Sometimes not over-thinking your script is the best way to create a good movie, and I’d say that the balance achieved in this one helped to make it excellent.

Top marks to the acting talent.  Kranz and Reed were very enjoyable as the leads, and of course Simmons shone again in support of them both.  If you’re looking for a few good laughs and a decent story to go with it, I’d recommend Murder of a Cat in an instant to you.

Bottom Line: Not only did I enjoy the feature, but I enjoyed all the trailers before the film too!  Now if only I could remember what that second one was…

Whiplash – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details4.5 Stars

When you’re hot, you’re hot.  It seems every movie I’ve watched this week has been excellent.  Last night I watched Whiplash and two thoughts kept going through my head as I watched this remarkable film: first J.K. Simmons definitely deserves the Oscar, and I don’t think I’ll ever like any character Miles Teller plays.

Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a young drummer at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City where he drives himself towards perfection.  Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, his intense teacher who has an incredible ear for talent, and an incredibly harsh way of teaching.  He belittles the students by yelling at them, calling them names, humiliating them, and even throwing things at them, as he tries to bring out the best of their musical talent.  Andrew practices his heart out and plays incredibly well, but never seemingly up to the levels his teacher wants, expects and demands.  He manages to become the first drummer in the school’s competitive jazz band, when he can play a piece by heart that the former lead could not.  Now that he is seemingly rising to the top of his craft, the problems and stress only get higher.  Realizing he only wants to drum, he breaks up with his girlfriend.  At a family dinner, he mocks his cousins who play football (it’s only class C) and are on the model UN teams at their schools.  Andrew has no friends, he simply drums now.  When a big competition looms, can he satisfy himself?  Can he satisfy Fletcher?

Full of incredible music and capped off by brilliant performances, I really enjoyed this film.  I’ve liked J.K. Simmons in everything I’ve ever seen him do, the man is extremely talented.  He’s already won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor, if Simmons does not walk out with Oscar gold this Sunday, I’ll be incredibly surprised and disappointed by the Academy.  Is Fletcher incredibly cruel to the students in the film?  Yes he is, but in his mind, he’s just incredibly driven and trying to be a proper inspiration to them.  As the film progresses, we see a more human side to Fletcher, but only glimpses as when the spotlight is on, or he’s in the classroom, he is all business.

I opened this review by saying I haven’t liked any character Miles Teller has played, and that is true.  Every character I’ve seen him play has been a jerk, and the same is really true in Whiplash.  That isn’t to say that I don’t like him as an actor.  I think he is very talented, it is just ironic that he’s does such a good job of making me dislike his dislikeable characters.  Again I give credit to Teller, as he drummed all his own music during the film.  He had been a drummer for ten years, in and out of different bands, but they were rock bands, and while the skills are similar, he had to take intense lessons to become a believable jazz musician.  He did more than become believable, he was very good.  The film was written and directed by former jazz drummer Damien Chzelle who also helped coach Teller in his playing, though not to the degree that Fletcher would have.

Bottom Line:  If Sony wants to know why their Amazing Spider-Man films failed, it’s because they didn’t have J.K. as J.J.J.

The Words

Product Details4 Stars

A story within a story, and three characters who may all have been the same character.  That’s what The Words gave me tonight.  This was not a popcorn film; if you watched, paid attention, related to, and thought about everything presented before you, you were rewarded with a wonderful work of fiction.

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is a writer, well he would be if anyone would publish his “angry young man style” of writing. Settling in and growing up, Rory takes a job as a mail clerk at a publishing house so his bills can be paid, so his life can go on (even if not in the exact direction he hoped), and so he can get married. On their honeymoon in Paris, his wife Dora (Zoë Saldaña) buys him an attache case from an antique shop as a gift. On the night that he breaks, and confronts his “failure” of a life, Rory finds a manuscript hidden in a pocket of his case. It is the greatest novel he’s ever read. He reads and loves these stories of a young man in France after the close of WWII.  Stories of his wife, his love, and his loss. Rory feels the emotion of these Words as he retypes them into his computer, word for word, and line for line. His wife discovers the novel, and urges him to submit it, as this story shows her everything she knows that her husband is, and is capable of.  Yes, unfortunately, they are not his Words… Naturally the book becomes a best seller, gaining Rory wealth, fame and accolades; as well as getting his other novels published; but all things come at a cost.

We, the viewer are told of Rory’s story through Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), an author who is giving a reading of his best-selling book to a packed house; a novel about Rory and his deceit and the novel he had published as his own, and a story about the old man (Jeremy Irons) who recognizes the Words he wrote so long ago in Paris and had lost on a train.  The old man finds Rory and reveals to him his story, and that he knows Rory’s own.  At this stage, are any of these characters, or these stories fictitious or real?  By the end of the movie you are left to wonder if any of the characters in Hammond’s book may be real, or even if they may be Hammond himself.

The Words does not give the audience a nice, neat, Hollywood ending; instead it gives a great story, with great; though flawed; characters, played by very good actors.  I thought a little about Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, and even Hamlet at times while watching The Words, mainly due to the “story within a story” or “play within a play” idea.  The cast was tremendous, as I really enjoyed Jeremy Irons as the “old man”, and Ben Barnes as his younger incarnation, giving a great performance with very few actual lines.  I may have known it from the trailer, but I was still very pleased to see that one of my favourites; J.K. Simmons; appeared as well, always a good thing, I think.

The parallels between the lives of the three “writers” really made this story work, as The Words unfolded we saw how each of the characters fell into the trap of loving the words, more than those around them.

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