Category Archives: Movies

Goon: A Heartfelt Sports Comedy

A down-and-out bouncer discovers he has a talent for dolling out beatings in the hockey rink in Goon (2011), a surprising independent Canadian sports comedy film written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse. Aside from being well made, Goon features a solid, nuanced performance by Seann William Scott.

Despite dismal box office returns, Goon is almost universally praised by critics. It currently has a rating of 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I overlooked it many times, because although Seann William Scott has had funny side roles in some of my favorite comedies, I just couldn’t imagine him as a leading man. I was so wrong. In Goon, Scott proves he is a competent actor capable of breaking out of the fratbro trope.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a tough but polite simpleton, is working a dead end job as a bouncer. His friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel), hosts a public access hockey call-in show. One night at an Orangetown Assassins minor league game, Doug gets into a fight with a player and the Assassins coach invites him to join the team as their “enforcer.” When his skills on the ice improve, he’s recruited to play for the Halifax Highlanders and protect their star player, Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin), who is slow to recover from a brutal knockdown.

Along the way, he falls in love with Eva (Alison Pill), an adorkable hockey fan who sleeps around with hockey players, but is in a relationship, and discovers he might one day have to confront Ross “the Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who was responsible for knocking out Xavier LaFlamme. Will he get the girl and defeat his rival?

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The Nice Guys: Film Noir for the Disco Era

An unlikely duo must team up to find a missing girl before a secret cabal has her murdered in The Nice Guys (2016), a comedic crime drama written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi and directed by Shane Black. Set in 1977 Los Angeles, The Nice Guys is a film noir for the disco era, but wasn’t originally written as a period piece. Thankfully, the writers decided to rework the concept and what resulted was one of the best films of 2016.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a muscle-for-hire who Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) pays to dissuade private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) from looking for her. March, an alcoholic who lives with his preteen daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), believes Amelia is somehow connected to the death of porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Misty’s aunt, Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith), hired March to investigate Misty’s death because she believed Misty might still be alive.

When two anonymous men (Beau Knapp and Keith David) show up at Jackson Healy’s apartment to press him for details on Amelia’s whereabouts, he decides to pay March to help him locate Amelia before they do. Together, they discover Amelia and Misty were connected to an underground adult film allegedly exposing a conspiracy on the part of auto manufacturers to suppress the catalytic converter. Several people involved in the movie turned up dead.

Things get really complicated when Amelia’s mother, Judith (Kim Basinger), a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, pays March and Healy to find her daughter. When Amelia literally falls into their laps, she accuses her mother of being part of the conspiracy. March and Healy slowly put the pieces together, but will they rescue her and the last remaining film reel in time to expose the truth?

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Ingrid Goes West

A social-media obsessed woman with borderline personality disorder moves to Los Angeles to insert herself into another woman’s life, severely disrupting the lives of everyone she encounters in this dark comedy by debut writer-director Matt Spicer. Ingrid Goes West (2017) has a lot to say about contemporary American society, but despite being shot and promoted as a comedy, there’s really nothing funny about it.

Its humor comes from Aubrey Plaza‘s performance as Ingrid Thorburn, the unfortunate young woman just looking for a best friend. Her portrayal is awkward, charming, and at times frightening. But even though we’re invited to laugh at her fumbled personal interactions, there are no jokes or one-liners. This lack of overt-comedy is not a deficit.

As the film opens, a distraught Ingrid maces a bride for not inviting her to the wedding and is committed to a mental hospital. Upon release, she sees Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) in a magazine and begins following her on Instagram. Ingrid comments on a photo and Taylor replies, inviting her to check it out next time she’s in LA. Coincidentally, Ingrid’s mother dies, leaving her with a $60,000 inheritance. Ingrid uses that money to move to LA and rent a house from aspiring screenwriter and Batman fanboy Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.).

Once in LA, Ingrid remakes her personality and appearance in Taylor’s image and plots to insert herself in the woman’s life, going so far as to kidnap her and her husband Ezra’s (Wyatt Russell) dog so she can return it. Ingrid and Taylor become friends, but their relationship is complicated by the appearance of Taylor’s drug-addict brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), and fashion blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff), who begin to monopolize Taylor’s time.

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A coroner and his son attempt to solve the mystery of how a seemingly unscathed woman’s corpse ended up in a murdered family’s basement in this psychological-horror film from Norwegian director André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) doesn’t have a complicated story, but is creepy and compelling enough to rise above its peers.

Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) run a routine practice in a small town morgue, but the discovery of the pale, lifeless body of a black-haired woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) in a murdered family’s basement changes all that. Austin has plans to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to the movies, but something doesn’t feel right when the sheriff wheels in a fresh corpse from a crime scene, so he postpones the date.

As Tommy and Austin begin the autopsy on the mysterious woman, they uncover clues to how she died. All her injuries are internal, and they discover evidence that she’s much, much older than she appears. The more they cut into her, however, the more unsettling events begin to manifest around the morgue. Something unseen traps and pursues them, with predictable results.

It’s eventually revealed Jane Doe was a witch who was brutally tortured and magically bound in a prison of her own flesh in seventeenth-century New England. She inflicted torment on everyone who had custody of her body, so it was shuttled around until ending up in the morgue, where only Tommy and Austin had the tools and expertise to solve the mystery.

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The Secret Scripture: A Romantic Irish Tale

An elderly woman with an enigmatic past pines her days away in an asylum, until a doctor begins investigating her case and ultimately gives them both a second chance at life in The Secret Scripture (2016). It is a romantic tale filmed on location in Ireland and is one of those films audiences seemed to like but critics panned. Beautiful cinematography and emotional depth masks an otherwise ridiculous plot.

The Secret Scripture is based on a novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, author of A Long Long Way (2005). It was released in Canada and the U.K. in 2016 but came to the U.S. in October of this year. It was adapted for the screen and directed by Jim Sheridan, who also directed My Left Foot (1989) and The Boxer (1997). Both Sebastian Barry and Jim Sheridan were born in Dublin and have focused their careers on highlighting the Irish experience.

The film centers on Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave), an elderly woman in a mental institution who allegedly murdered her child. Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana) comes to evaluate Rose to see if she is sane enough to live on her own, because the institution is being remodeled into a spa. Dr. Grene becomes fascinated with her life story after discovering a journal she’s kept, written on the pages of a Bible.

As a young woman, Rose (Rooney Mara) lives in Belfast with her sweetheart, Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor). He leaves to join the British air force during World War 2. She moves to the Irish countryside to escape the German bombing raids, only to run afoul of local conventions. After being exiled from her aunt’s cafe to an isolated cottage, Michael just so happens to be shot down in her backyard and she hides him from Irish partisans.

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Suburbicon: A Suburban Gothic Crime Drama

A disgruntled middle manager’s insurance scheme unravels in an idyllic 1950s suburb in Suburbicon (2017). Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is a middle-aged man with a disabled wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), and a young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). Their world is shattered when two thugs (Glenn Fleshler and Michael D. Cohen) seemingly break into their home and murder Rose with an overdose of chloroform.

In the wake of the tragedy, Rose’s sister, Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore), moves in with Gardner and Nicky, over the objections of her brother, Mitch (Gary Basaraba). Meanwhile, an African American family, Mr. and Mrs. Mayers (Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook) and their son Andy (Tony Espinosa), move into the all-white community. This ignites a controversy that forms the backdrop for the film.

Suburbicon was written by the Coen brothers and directed by George Clooney (who revised the screenplay). Joel and Ethan Coen originally wrote the script in 1986. Their effort at finding whatever was laying around for their next film payed off by finishing 9th at the box office on its opening weekend. Suburbicon is Matt Damon’s lowest performing film and it has a current rating of 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Suburbicon is modeled after Levittown, New York, a planned community built by William Levitt between 1947 and 1951 and the nation’s first modern suburb. Levitt, who was Jewish, believed whites would not want to live in Levittown alongside black neighbors, so the original rental agreement excluded non-Caucasians. Levittown remains 88.9 percent white.

In Suburbicon, white mobs subject the Mayers family to 24-hour harassment, culminating in torching their car and hanging a Confederate battle flag in their broken window. Nicky and Andy, however, form a bond, suggesting a more tolerant future.

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Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

Christina Ricci stars in this made-for-TV dramatization of the 1893 trial of Lizzie Andrew Borden for the murder of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The highly-stylized production recounts events immediately surrounding the murders and subsequent trial. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) was later developed into a TV Mini-Series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015). It blends a modern soundtrack with historic events to create an oddly entertaining take on the controversial case.

At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden (Christina Ricci), 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan (Hannah Anderson), to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew (Stephen McHattie), slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby (Sara Botsford), Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.

Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma (Clea DuVall). Despite efforts to start a new life, Lizzy Borden was ostracized from Fall River society, since many people believed she was the murderer.

There are several alternative theories about “who done it,” but Lizzie Borden Took an Ax doesn’t entertain any of them. It openly implies Lizzie was the murderer, even going so far as to imagine Lizzie confessing the crime to her sister, causing her to flee their home in disgust. In fact, the two sisters split in an argument over a party in 1905, 12 years after the trial. We’ll never know what the sisters said to each other in private conversation, so this is creative license at work.

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Grindstone Road: A Forgettable Canadian Horror Film

A young couple moves into an old farmhouse, only to experience a series of strange events. Is the ghost of a missing child reaching out for help from beyond the grave? In capable hands, Grindstone Road (2008), written by Paul Germann and directed by Melanie Orr, had the potential to be an entertaining (if not very original) horror film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a made-for-TV movie.

Melanie Orr is a script supervisor (oversees a film’s continuity) who has directed episodes for a number of television shows. Grindstone Road was her sophomore effort. Paul Germann is a sound effects editor who has written a grand total of one film. Grindstone Road must have been so bad he never got another script optioned. It was like he had a weird dream and decided to make a movie out of it.

Somehow they tricked Fairuza Balk into starring in their cliched and mediocre Canadian horror film. Balk appeared in some popular movies in the ’90s, including The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), and The Waterboy (1998), then dropped off the public’s radar. She always embraced “alternative” roles, and wears a goth-ish outfit for one scene in this movie, but otherwise plays a conventional housewife. That’s like asking Jackson Pollock to paint an idyllic country cottage. It’s just not right.

As bad as Grindstone Road is, at least it has an interesting story. Wracked with guilt over a car accident that left her son Daniel (Felix Pennell) in a deep coma, Hannah (Fairuza Balk) begins having strange experiences in her new home. Her husband, Graham (Greg Bryk), is oblivious and blames the antidepressants she takes to help ease the pain. Their neighbors, an elderly couple named Ted (Walter Learning) and Linda (Joan Gregson), alert them to the possibility their house is haunted.

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