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Josh Reviews Tully

Tully marks the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody.  Their first film together, Juno, got a lot of (well-deserved) acclaim, but I liked their second film — Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt — even more!  It’s been a delight following their collaboration through these three movies, and I hope they continue to make lots more films together!

In Tully, Charlize Theron is again the lead, this time as Marlo, a harried mother of two who, when the film opens, is pregnant with her third child (who was unplanned).  Marlo loves her kids and her husband (Drew, played by Ron Livingston), but she already seems to be at her wit’s end even before entering the gauntlet of the sleepless-nights-filled experience of parenting a newborn.  At the instistence of her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), Marlo eventually relents and hires a night nurse, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and things begin to change for Marlo almost immediately.

Tully is an interesting film. It’s extremely well-made, though I respect the craft on display a little more than I actually loved the film.  Part of that is because of how unflinchingly honest the film is about the unglamorous parts of parenting.  The film spends a great deal of time highlighting the minutae of being a parent of young children, the sort of stuff you seldom see portrayed on screen.  Even for those of us who have not suffered from the sort of emotional distress that Marlo goes through over the course of the film, or had to deal with a child with the needs that her son has, there is a lot to recognize here, and it is painful!  Watching Marlo deal with all of these harries and hassles of day-to-day life, and slowly crumble under the weight of it all, is (intentionally) tough to sit through.  So there are long stretches of Tully that are not exactly a fun watch.  However, my main hesitation about the film is connected to what happens in the final ten-ish minutes.  I will get into this a little later in this review.

First, let’s lavish some praise on the cast.  Mr. Reitman is a great director and Ms. Cody is a grat writer, and there is no question that these two have an electric alchemy.  They seem to balance each other’s strengths.  Each of their three collaborations has had a distinct energy and tone.  But for me, when Tully really sings it is because of the terrific cast.

Charlize Theron once again demonstrates that she is a fantastic actress.  (Those of us who saw Young Adult and Mad Max: Fury Road, among many other great performances by Ms. Theron, already know … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Four!

And so we arrive, at last, at my five favorite movies of 2015.  Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteenClick here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.

And now, my five favorite movies of 2015!

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5. Inside Out Another triumph from Pixar, this hugely original film explores the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl.  I am blown away by how magnificently well thought-out the film is, how carefully considered every detail is.  The film is a complete fantasy, and yet it’s a remarkably sophisticated presentation of the way the emotions inside a young girl might actually work!  This is genius-level filmmaking here, with brilliant philosophical ideas wrapped in a deeply moving adventure tale.  The film is elevated into the stratosphere by its magnificent casting, with the absolute perfect actor chosen to represent each of Riley’s five main emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The film is very funny and also absolutely heart-breaking.  (Has the great Richard Kind ever been better than he is here is Bing-Bong?)  Inside Out is a master class in the how animation can be best utilized to tell a remarkable story, a story that couldn’t possibly be told any other way.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Avengers: Age of Ultron I can’t believe how under-rated and under-appreciated is Joss Whedon’s spectacular follow-up to the smash hit that was 2012’s The Avengers.  Yes, Age of Ultron doesn’t have the never-been-done-before thrill of that first huge super-hero crossover film, which was the culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One, bringing together all the characters from the proceeding individual films.  (This was something that had never, ever been done before, a fact easily forgotten now that Marvel’s model is being widely imitated by every studio in Hollywood.)  It’s incredible to me that now, only a few short years after The Avengers, the extraordinary achievement that is Age of Ultron is being dismissed as ho-hum.  Just look at pretty much any frame of this film and marvel (pun definitely intended) at how amazing is it how Joss Whedon and his team have brought all of these wonderful characters to life on film!  Who ever would have thought such a thing would happen?  Who ever would have thought we’d ever see the famous comic-book villain Ultron depicted on film (brought so brilliantly to life in the film by James Spader)?  Or The Vision???  (Paul Bettany’s performance combined with note-perfect make-up effects and CGI made it feel … [continued]

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Holy Shit! Mad Max: Fury Road!!

Based on the awesome trailers and the strong early reviews, I had high hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road, but holy cow, I was not expecting the masterpiece I have just beheld.  Fury Road is a triumph, a guts-gripping thrill-ride filled to overflowing with extraordinary visual inventiveness, absolutely bonkers insane action, wonderfully compelling characters with rich emotional arcs, humor and horror and fun all wrapped up together in a breathtaking cinematic package.  I stand amazed.

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This movie really should not exist.  George Miller directed a trilogy of low-budget Mad Max films back in the seventies and eighties, with Mel Gibson in the lead.  I’ve been reading for decades that Mr. Miller wanted to mount a fourth film, but it seemed like his chance had long-since passed.  This franchise felt well and truly done.  The last Mad Max movie was back in 1985.  In the last twenty years, Mr. Miller has only directed four films, one of which was a TV documentary and two of which were the animated Happy Feet and its sequel.  It didn’t seem to me that Mr. Miller had ANY films left in him, and if he did, the chances that they would be any good seemed slim.  And returning to a thirty-year-old franchise?  I can’t think of a single example of that happening and working — the most well-known similar examples of a sequel made after many years had passed all resulted in enormous levels of fan disappointment.  (I’m thinking of the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Godfather Part III.)

But my goodness has seventy-year-old George Miller blown the barn doors off of my expectations.  Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most astonishing films I have seen in years.  This is a big-screen film if ever there was one.  Every frame of the film is filled with extraordinary creativity, and this is a movie worth soaking in on the very biggest screen you can possibly see it on.

Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max film, but it completely stands on its own.  Everything you need to know about Max is established in the film’s opening minutes, and all of the other characters and situations in the film are completely original to this film.  (The Mad Max films have always had a very loose sense of continuity — see Bruce Spence appearing as two entirely different characters in The Road Warrior and then Beyond Thunderdome.  And that continues to be the case here, as Max somehow has his iconic car back when the film begins, despite the fact that it was destroyed back in The Road Warrior.)  The film’s opening is clever.  I loved … [continued]

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Catching Up! Josh Reviews Whiplash, The One I Love, and A Million Ways to Die in the West

I’m catching up with reviews of movies I’ve seen over the past several months!  Onward:

Whiplash (2014) — Every bit as compelling as I’d heard.  Miles Teller first came to my attention in the excellent film The Spectacular Now (click here for my review), which made me eager to see his follow-up work.  He shines in writer/director Damien Chazelle’s film, playing Andrew, a drum student looking to stand out at an elite music conservatory in New York.  Andrew catches the eye of the brutally tough instructor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), who invites him to join his studio band.  What seems at first like great fortune for Andrew sours as we the audience experience, along with Andrew, the vicious way in which Fletcher pushes the student musicians who idolize him.  The film is a fascinating exploration of a teacher-student relationship and the tough questions of where is the line between a teacher taking someone with the potential for greatness and pushing him/her hard to achieve that greatness, versus crossing the line into abuse.  These are thorny questions, and the film leaves a lot of room for an audience to reach their own conclusions, which I enjoyed.  There is some spectacular music in the film, which is a delight.  But the real reason to see this film is to relish J. K. Simmons’ barn-busting performance.  Mr. Simmons grabs every iota of the viewer’s attention every second he is on screen.  It’s a bravura performance and deserving of every ounce of praise that Mr. Simmons has received.  This is a great film.

The One I Love (2014) — This is a delightfully weird film, an indie relationship film with a sci-fi twist.  Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple having trouble in their marriage.  Their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends that they visit a place he knows, where they can have a romantic weekend together.  When they arrive there, they find the estate has a mysterious cottage in which they each encounter what appears to be an idealized version of the other.  But these doppelgängers only appear when either Ethan or Sophie are in the cottage alone — they vanish if both Ethan and Sophie enter together.  While at first their instinct is to flee the estate, eventually Ethan and Sophie agree to stay for the remainder of their weekend and see where these interactions with these idealized versions of one another go.  Things get twister from there but I fear I have already told you too much.  The One I Love is an intriguing investigation of a troubled relationship, using the sci-fi device as a hook into the story.  Both Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Prometheus

Sigh. I guess I’m just never going to see another good Alien movie, am I?

Who’d have thought it would be so hard? Ridley Scott’s 1979 original seemed ripe for further exploration, not one of those movies that would be impossible to ever sequelize.  And let’s not forget, A GREAT ALIEN SEQUEL HAS ALREADY BEEN MADE!  I’m speaking, of course, of the very first sequel to Alien: James Cameron’s magnificent Aliens. That film happens to be one of the very best sequels ever made, and it’s so good that to this day people debate which is better: Alien or Aliens.

But since then, it’s been strike-out after strike-out. (One of the very first posts I wrote for this site contained my lamentations at the way the Alien franchise had gone off the rails.)  I had high hopes for Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe, Prometheus. (And make no mistake, despite all the perplexing statements in the press by Ridley Scott, writer Damon Lindeloff, and other members of their team in which they claim that Prometheus is NOT an Alien prequel, from the film’s very first trailer it was obvious that it was.)  I mean, surely Ridley Scott, one of the finest filmmakers of our time, and the man who directed the original Alien back in 1979, could finally craft another worthy follow-up to that film?

Sorry, my friends, such is not the case.

Prometheus is jaw droppingly gorgeous. The film is a real work of art, the stunning product of a brilliant director who has the visual effects tools to create anything he can imagine, and the complete mastery of how to use those tools to greatest effect. Plenty of other directors with budgets far larger than that of Prometheus have used CGI effects in garish and ugly ways, but Prometheus is staggeringly beautiful.  The other space effects, the look of the Prometheus itself, the realization of the Engineer’s lair that Dr. Shaw and her teammates discover, image after gorgeous image unfold, each more mysterious and beautiful than the next.

Too bad, then, that the story of the film is so maddeningly incomprehensible.

OK, SPOILERS AHEAD so please beware.

I repeat: SPOILERS.

The original Alien has a simplicity that is impressive.  In the first half of the film, the crew of the Nostromo answer a beacon and investigate the extra-terrestrial space-ship they discover.  In the second half, they are mercilessly hunted by the Alien creature they unwittingly unleash, and try to survive.  That’s it, that’s the film.  And for all that the Alien is, let’s face it, made-up sci-fi hogwash, there’s still a simplicity to the life-cycle of the creature that is elegant and easily understood … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!

5.  Young Adult Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what?  During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome.  The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others.  A phenomenal film.  (Click here for my full review.)

4.   The Adventures of TintinShould anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold?  This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish.  The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film.  The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already.  This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt.  I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct).  (Click here for my full review.)

3.  BridesmaidsKirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run.  The film is … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Young Adult

In a season of generally serious movie-fare, Young Adult is a blazingly funny film that still carries some serious dramatic heft.  It’s an absolute knockout of a film from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (who previously collaborated on the great 2007 film Juno).

Charlize Theron plays Mavis.  She was clearly the queen bee of her high school, though her life these days seems to be anything but great.  She’s divorced, living alone in the city, and the line of high school-set young adult novels that she’s been ghost-writing has been cancelled.  When she receives an e-mail notification that her old high school flame, Buddy, has become a father, Mavis decides to head back to her small home-town of Mercury to win back her old beau (his wife and child be damned).

Ms. Theron has never been better, in my opinion, than she is as Mavis.  Mavis is still gorgeous on the outside, but Ms. Theron (guided by Ms. Cody’s take-no-prisoners script) is fearless in showing us how absolutely twisted and broken she is on the inside.  Mavis is a terrible, terrible person, and of course for the whole film you’re rooting at her to fail in breaking up Buddy’s family.  But at the same time, Ms. Theron is able to create a character who doesn’t totally turn off the audience.  She’s so hysterical in her bad behavior that she’s completely compelling as the lead character in the film.

The comedian Patton Oswalt is equally terrific as Matt Freehauf, a high school classmate who Mavis bumps into at a bar when she first returns to Mercury.  Matt was (and still is) a geek, and to say that he and Mavis travelled in different circles in high school is to put it mildly.  And yet, the two strike up a weird sort of friendship during the week that Mavis is in town.  There are a few times when the film hits the “geek” aspect of Matt’s personality a bit too hard (there are plenty of lonely geeky guys out there, I’m sure, who don’t still play with action figures), but for the most part I found Matt to be nearly as interesting a personality as Mavis.  Most of that is due to Mr. Oswalt’s energy and charisma.  Matt is a depressed, lonely guy, someone who contains a lot of pain and sadness inside, and yet even as Matt says he hates his life, Mr. Oswalt gives him an almost childlike joie do vivre that I found tremendously entertaining.  Physically and personality-wise, the pairing of Mavis and Matt (and Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt) is an inspired study in contrasts, and yet the two are both so similar in their loneliness.  … [continued]