Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Daughter of Darkness

The Addams Family 2

by George Wolf

Two years ago, The Addams Family returned to their cartoon roots with an animated feature that leaned heavily on little Wednesday Addams for its few sparks of macabre fun.

Despite turning to a more convoluted plot line, AF2 doesn’t do much to improve the family reputation.

Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) is still the standout here, putting the creepy and kooky in the 3rd grade science fair. She’s denied a prize thanks to a new “everybody wins” school policy, but her brilliance catches the eye of shady scientist Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader).

Worried she’s being dumbed down by the idiots around her, Wednesday rebuffs cheer up attempts from Dad Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Mom Morticia (Charlize Theron) when a pushy lawyer (Wallace Shawn) comes knocking with a bombshell.

His clients believe Wednesday may actually be their daughter and are requesting a DNA test. What else can Mom and Dad do except pack Wednesday, Pugsley (Javon “Wanna” Walton, stepping in for the now deeper voiced Finn Wolfhard), Fester (Nick Kroll) and Lurch (Conrad Vernon, who again co-directs with Greg Tiernan and newcomer Laura Brousseau) into the haunted camper for that fallback device for hastily-connected hi jinx, the road trip!

It’s a three week trek to (where else?) Death Valley and back, stopping in Miami, San Antonio, and the Grand Canyon long enough to catch up with more family (Snoop Dogg’s Cousin It) and try out some mildly amusing gags.

Only a precious few – like the guy who keeps trying to propose to his girlfriend and “Thing” trying to stay awake while driving – actually land, and it’s up to Moretz and her perfect deadpan (“I’ve been social distancing since birth”) to remind us of what makes this family dynamic.

The script from Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit veers off into wild Dr. Moreau territory, adding even more baggage to a film that would have been wise to pack lighter. Inspired soundtrack choices (from Gordon Lightfoot to Motorhead) give way to forced pop and hip-hop, and the film’s attempt at an “own who you are” message seems half-hearted at best.

But what’s really lost is the inherent fun The Addams Family brings to wherever they are. When the world goes light, they go dark. That’s a fun and funny idea ready to be exploited.

Once again, Wednesday’s just waiting for the rest of the gang to get back to the family business.

John Cena’s In This One

F9: The Fast Saga

by George Wolf

So if this is the ninth installment, that means all laws of physics went out the window 7.5 Fast films ago. Just remember that when there’s a Plymouth Fiero in space for reelz.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have been trying to live a quiet life in the country with little Brian, but they’re going to need a sitter.

Seems Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) sent the gang an S.O.S. not long after he captured Cipher (Charlize Theron). Now Mr. N. is missing, Cipher’s on the loose, and everybody’s trying to get their hands on both halves of a device that, when made whole, will take control of every weapons system in the world.

And you know who already has one half? Dom’s bigger little brother Jacob (John Cena). We haven’t heard about Jacob until now because the boys have serious beef about who was to blame for their father’s death in a 1989 stock car race.

So Dom’s ad nauseam mantra of “family” has its limits.

Lighten up, right? Don’t take it so seriously, this franchise is about the action! I get it, and when the tone is right (like it was with director James Wan in Furious 7) I’m right there with you.

But this film takes itself waaay too seriously. Director/co-writer Justin Lin is back for his fifth go ’round, and after an opening filled with the usual auto gymnastics, settles into a story surprisingly heavy on the spy game.

Cena gets no chance to flash his charismatic mischievous side, as he and Diesel seem intent on making steely stares and jaw clenching an Olympic sport. Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) try to fill the playful void left by Hobbs and Shaw, but their hi-jinx seldom rise above silly wise cracking.

Plenty of familiar franchise faces return (Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Helen Mirren, Jordana Brewster and Sung Kang), often bringing with them a good amount of exposition explaining what their characters have been doing or why they aren’t really dead.

There’s so much nostalgia, you’d think they were actually trying to put a bow on this whole thing if the film wasn’t simultaneously inventing new threads. And as the running time keeps running, it all starts to feel pretty tedious.

But if you want your flying cars and electro-magnet explosions on the biggest screen possible, F9 will eventually give that to you (even in IMAX where available). Just don’t expect the self-awareness to realize how close they are to self-parody.

Also, hang through the credits and you’ll get a stinger with a big clue about what’s coming in the tenth round: a Prius on top of Mt. Everest.

Not really. But at this point, why not?

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet, 2020

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year! Oh, our favorite thing about Oscar nominations is the excuse it gives us to dredge up those old horror flicks lingering in every good and bad actor’s past. This year’s crop was especially ripe, too. Here are the handful that made the final cut.

5. Al Pacino & Charlize Theron: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A guilty pleasure, this one. Theron’s screen debut just two years earlier came from an uncredited role in the clearly inferior Children of the Corn 3, but she has no lines in that and how do we pass up a two for one like this movie?

Al Pacino plays to type as Satan, disguised as NY lawyer John Milton who invites unbeaten Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) to join the firm (after Lomax knowingly gets a child molester acquitted). Lomax and his saucy wife Mary Ann (Theron) head north, but Milton keeps Kevin working late and Mary Ann becomes isolated and then paranoid and then possessed.

Theron’s performance is solid throughout and Pacino’s a lot of fun chewing scenes and spitting them out. Reeves is Reeves. But this is such a ludicrous, over-the-top morality play—one that Theron plays for drama and Pacino plays for camp—that Reeves’s goofball in the middle feels somehow right.

4. Tom Hanks: He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Tommy’s first show biz performance came by way of Armand Mastroianni’s bride stalker, He Knows You’re Alone.

The first problem with the film is the plot. It is absolutely impossible to believe that any knife wielding maniac is scarier than a bride just 24 hours before her wedding. She’d kick his ass then slit his throat, all the while screaming about seating arrangements.

The bride thing is a weak gimmick to introduce a slasher, so we watch a shiny knife catch the light just before slicing through some friend or acquaintance of bride-to-be Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney).

In the film that’s little more than a smattering of ideas stolen from Wes Craven and John Carpenter, surrounded by basic stock images and sounds from early 80s slashers, the only thing that stands out is Hanks. In an essentially useless role, Hanks introduces the idea of comic timing and natural character behavior. Too bad we have to wait a full hour for his first scene, and that he only gets one more before his girlfriend’s head finds its way into the fish tank and he vanishes from the film.

3. Renee Zellweger: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)

Written and directed by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper’s co-scriptor for the original, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation amounts to one bizarre cabaret of backwoods S&M horror. You’ll think for a while it’s a regular ol’ slasher, what with the unlikable teens, broken down car, and bad decision-making. But if you stick it out, you’ll find it tries to be something different – something almost surreal, kind of madcap. It doesn’t work, but it counts that they tried, doesn’t it?

A profoundly unconvincing set-up involves Renee Zellweger as well as several colleagues no longer in the acting profession. They deliver teen clichés while wandering into a truly weird situation. The four prom-goers are terrorized by Matthew McConaughey, now leader of Team Leatherface, and his bizarre band. It’s not necessarily weird in a good way, but weird is rarely ever entirely bad.

There’s a visit from a limo-driven S& M maestro of some kind, paranoid delusions of Big Brother control, a more clearly cross-dressing Leatherface, but absolutely no tension or terror, and shocking little in the way of horror, either, regardless of Freaky Limo Guy’s line: I want these people to know the meaning of horror.

(Hint: they should watch the original.)

2. Brad Pitt: Cutting Class (1989)

Someone’s killing off folks at the nameless high school where Pitt, as Dwight Ingalls, portrays the horny, popular basketball star repressing rage concerning his overbearing father. Perhaps he’s bottling up something more?

Sexual frustration, no doubt, as he spends every second on screen trying to get somewhere with girlfriend Paula (Jill Schoelen, frequent flier on bad 80s Horror Express).

Usually, when you look back on a superstar’s early career and find low-budget horror, one of two trends emerges. Either the superstar stands out as clearly the greatest talent in the film, or else they just cut their teeth on a very small role. Sometimes both. In Pitt’s case, well, at least he looks like Brad Pitt.

Still, it’s fun to see him try on some tics and idiosyncrasies he’ll come to rely on in later, better roles. (Like Pitt’s Oceans character Rusty Ryan, Dwight eats in every scene.)

The freakishly uneven tone, the film’s episodic nature, each scene’s seeming amnesia concerning other scenes’ actions, and the whiplash of comedy to psychological thriller to comedy all add up to an exercise in incoherence.

1. Laura Dern: Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)

Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.

Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually probably happened).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B4EyMoMmzY

Atomic Blondes

Bombshell

by Hope Madden

Bombshell, Jay Roach’s depiction of the unrepentant sexual harassment that poisoned the work atmosphere at Fox News, is equal parts cathartic and depressing.

Buoyed by strong lead performances in a trio of unerring talent—Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie—the film also leans on an incredible and sizable ensemble to deliver a surprisingly nuanced look at the shades of grey, of complicity and responsibility when it comes to sexual harassment.

“It’s no one’s job to protect you,” Theron’s Megyn Kelly tells newbie Kayla (Robbie).

“It’s all of our jobs,” she disagrees.

No surprise the script comes from The Big Short scribe Charles Randolph. Roach’s film benefits from the same kind of thoughtful, informative, funny and “can you believe this?” approach, but Bombshell lacks much of the rage and outright comedy of an Adam McKay film.

Like McKay, Roach left comedies behind in favor of headier, sharper, more political material. Also like McKay, his comedic sensibilities breathe some life into the efforts, helping this film serve the dual purpose of entertaining and informing. And, like McKay, Roach knows how helpful a well-placed comedian can be.

Kate McKinnon actually does a lot of the film’s narrative heavy lifting. (Is it wrong I wanted her to play Rudy Giuliani as well?) As a Bill O’Reilly producer who befriends Kayla and helps her better understand the Fox New world, she allows Roach to make salient points about the network and the way it’s run, but because McKinnon is naturally funny and incredibly talented, it feels organic.

Her character’s position when it comes to rocking the boat also offers a clear-eyed take on why toxic work environments can go unchecked for so long. Since McKinnon’s character is in many ways the one the audience will most relate to, this is a sly and successful maneuver to keep us from feeling too superior and enabling us to better empathize with characters we may not like as well.

Enough cannot be said for the work of Roach’s makeup department, especially that of prosthetic make up designer Kazu Hiro. Theron’s imperceptible prosthetic—along with her own posture and voice work—turn her into an alarming replica of Kelly. Ditto Nicole Kidman, and John Lithgow, whose performance as Roger Ailes also delivers a wallop.

Not that any of this matters if the three central performances lacks in any department. They don’t. Characteristically, Theron, Kidman and Robbie deliver exceptional work, each willing (as they always are) to depict a woman who is not always (or, in some cases, is rarely) likable but who deserves respect and empathy for her suffering and courage.

Wisely, Roach and team don’t get swept away by the bracing change and empowerment of victory. Indeed, Bombshell’s final act is a smack I still feel. But its power is its honesty.

More Spooky, Less Ooky

The Addams Family

by Hope Madden

Has anything ever embraced the outcast narrative with as much macabre panache as Charles Addams’s single-panel cartoons, The Addams Family?

Their pride in themselves and obliviousness to the reaction of those around them continue to offer opportunity to pick at society’s weakness for sameness. Rooting a story of individuality versus conformity with the two pre-adolescent characters (Addams children Wednesday and Pugsley) makes good sense.

This should totally have worked.

The voice talent ensemble is a thing of envy: Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Elsie Fisher, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Snoop Dogg. That’s two Oscars, three nominations and one Snoop.

The standouts here are Janney and Moretz, each the funhouse mirror opposite image of the other. Janney’s zealous believer in conformity, Margaux Needler, is a home improvement guru with a reality TV show and a motto: “Why be yourself when you can be like everyone else?”

Moretz delightfully counters that energy with an entirely deadpan Wednesday. Moretz’s every line is delivered with the emotion of a month old corpse. She’s perfect.

Wednesday chooses public middle school, Pugsley (Wolfhard) preps for a family ritual of manhood, Margaux plots to rid her perfect neighborhood of that eyesore mansion on the hill in time for her TV show’s big season finale. The collision of those three stories bogs and slogs, though, each of the subplots championing individuality.

Which is fine. And that’s what this film is. It’s fine.

Kroll gets a funny bit about where his Fester is and is not allowed to travel. Lurch is reading Little Women. Thing has a foot fetish—that bit’s kind of priceless, actually. But on the whole, the film just kind of lays there. Like a cadaver, but not in a good way.

Co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (who also lends his voice) proved they could envision a highly irreverent cartoon with 2016’s Sausage Party, but have trouble finding solid ground between fornicating lunch meats and Thomas the Tank Engine (Tiernan’s claim to fame).

Co-writer Pamela Pettler (writing here with The Christmas Chronicles’ Matt Lieberman) offers a resume more in line with the concept: The Corpse Bride, Monster House, 9. Yes, she has her goth bona fides. But she struggles to give the story any bite.

The Addams Family is unlikely to charm longstanding fans and will likely bore young moviegoers. It might entertain a slim swath of tweens, but this family deserves better than that.

Power Couple

Long Shot

by George Wolf

Long Shot‘s first success comes before the opening credits even start rolling. It’s right there on the movie poster: “Unlikely, but not impossible.”

So before you can scoff at the idea of Charlize Theron giving Seth Rogen the time ‘o day, your protest of the premise is a) acknowledged, and b) set aside, leaving plenty of loophole to just appreciate an R-rated romantic comedy that’s brash, smart, timely, and pretty damn funny.

Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a scruffy, sweatsuit-loving online journalist known for cutting-edge exposes such as “F*&^ You, Exxon,” and “The Two Party System Can Suck a D&^%.” When media monarch Rupert Murdoch, er, I mean Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) buys the digital magazine Fred works for, he quits in protest.

Theron plays Secretary of State Charlotte Field, a graceful, brilliant stateswoman who’s ready to make a run for the Oval Office and could use a speechwriter. Back in her teens, Charlotte was Fred’s babysitter (!), and after they cross paths at an ill-fated fundraiser, he’s brought on to give Charlotte’s speeches a little of that Fred Flarsky feeling.

The surprising (but not impossible!) romance that follows doesn’t thrill Team Charlotte (the slideshow explaining how it might impact her poll numbers is a scream) but credit writers Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah (The Post) for having more on their minds than a dude makeover.

Keeping just enough of that Rogen stoner-comedy vibe, Long Shot skewers Bernie Bros, female candidate double standards, romantic comedy tropes, celebrity presidents and, most pointedly and hilariously of all, Fox News.

Theron and Rogen elevate every bit of it, working as a comedic power couple out in front of an ensemble cast full of standouts, most notably June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s disapproving Chief of Staff and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Fred’s motivational best friend.

Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50, The Night Before) keeps things grounded and character-focused. Just when the parody or implauseability is in danger of running amok, he gets us back in the semi-real world of crowd pleasing entertainment.

And though that does mean a third act that gives in to overt sentimentality, Long Shot has the heart, charm and hilarity to win you over long before then.

Hey Lady, You Lady

Tully

by George Wolf

The character Tully doesn’t show up ’til nearly 40 minutes in, but by then the film Tully has its anchor: a sensational Charlize Theron.

The Oscar-winner excels as Marlo, an exhausted, frazzled mom in dire need of a break. Marlo and her inattentive husband Drew (Ron Livingston) already have a young daughter, a younger son with some behavior issues, and now (surprise!) a brand new baby girl.

Lucky for Marlo, she’s also got a rich brother (Mark Duplass) whose baby gift is a “night nanny” named Tully (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis – a keeper). Once Tully shows up, Marlo can get what every new parent craves…sleep.

After two winners together in Juno and the criminally ignored Young Adult, writer Diablo Cody  and director Jason Reitman make their third collaboration a wonderfully natural extension of the first two.

Cody is a gifted writer, her dialogue often insightful without preaching and timely without pandering. Here she creates two characters whose unlikely friendship speaks to the changing roles women will play throughout their lives, and the heartache those changes can sometimes bring.

That being said, it’s hard to imagine the film working as well as it does without Theron. She makes Marlo’s every emotion feel real, and the character absolutely human even when Cody’s script takes some chances not all will appreciate.

Reitman, back in form after the dreadful Men, Women & Children, also helps in that department, keeping the film grounded in a world many will recognize. This isn’t the heartwarming comedy the TV ads want you to think it is, nor is it the casual dismissal of postpartum depression that others have charged.

It is one woman’s story, with moments of humor, absurdity and truth, a bit of cliche and even some fairy tale optimism. And with all of that, there’s enough brash boundary pushing to make Tully feel like a film we haven’t seen before, and one we’re glad that’s here.

 





The Trouble With Harry

Gringo

by George Wolf

Gringo roll call: Theron! Edgerton! Oyelowo! Seyfried! Copley! Newton! Even M.J.’s daughter, Paris (better call her Miss Jackson, in case we get nasty).

The point is, there’s talent a ‘plenty here. The question is why?

Director Nash Edgerton (Joel’s brother) never fully commits to either madcap romp or suspenseful manhunt, settling for black comedy that’s never really dark or funny, and a tired, “wrong man” adventure propped up by tired cliches.

David Oyelowo gives it is all as Harold, a pharmaceutical exec who accompanies his bosses (Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron) on a business trip south of the border. The deal, like most everyone around Harold, is shady, and quickly dissolves into mistaken identities, multiple kidnappings, and one drug lord who will kill you for bad mouthing the Beatles.

That drug lord goes by the name “Black Panther,” a minor point that only reinforces how forgettable this film is. The script, from Anthony Tambakis (Warrior) and Matthew Stone (Intolerable Cruelty) offers scattershot bits of promise, but nothing that provides any solid clue to why all these people signed on.

Maybe they all had a good time. Great, but Gringo runs in many directions without ending up anywhere worthwhile, and you’re left wondering just what the point was anyway.

 





Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blonde in Me

Atomic Blonde

by Hope Madden

Charlize Theron is a convincing badass. (You saw Fury Road, right?) She cuts an imposing figure and gives (and takes) a beating with panache.

Director David Leitch understands action, having cut his teeth as a stunt double before moving on to choreographing and coordinating action for the last decade. With the help of a wicked soundtrack and about a million costume changes, he also makes 1989 seem cool – which is a real feat.

Together, Theron and Leitch take on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City, under the far more rockin’ title Atomic Blonde.

It’s Berlin in ’89. The wall’s about to come down, the Cold War’s coming to an end, but there’s this pesky double agent issue to contend with, and a list of coverts that has fallen into the wrong hands. MI6 sends in one lethal operative, Lorraine Broughton (Theron), to check in with their embedded agent Percival (James McAvoy) and work things out.

What to expect: intrigue, Bowie songs, boots – so many boots! – and a great deal of Charlize Theron beating up on people. Mayhem of the coolest sort.

From the opening car crash through half a dozen other expertly choreographed set pieces to the action pièce de résistance, Theron and Leitch make magic happen. Each sequence outshines the one before, leading up to a lengthy, multi-villain escapade shot as if in one extremely lengthy take. (It isn’t, but the look is convincing and the execution thrilling.)

Theron delivers. Reliable as ever, McAvoy is once again that guy you don’t know whether to love or hate – probably because he always looks like he’s smiling and crying simultaneously. He makes for a wild and dicey counterpoint to Theron’s sleek, ultra cool presence.

Precise and percussive, the action propels this film. Leitch’s cadence outside these sequences sometimes stalls, and not every casting choice works out.

Sofia Boutella, saddled with an underdeveloped character who makes idiotic choices, suffers badly in the role. Other supporting characters, though – including the always welcome Toby Jones and John Goodman – take better advantage of their limited time onscreen.

The storyline itself is equal parts convoluted and obvious, with far too many conveniences to hold up as a real spy thriller. But unplug, soak up that Berlin vibe and appreciate the action and you’ll do fine.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Fate of the Furiosa

The Fate of the Furious

by Matt Weiner

Maybe it was when it rained cars down on 7th Avenue in New York. Maybe it was the shootout on a plane with a baby. Or maybe—just maybe—it was when the gang attacked a nuclear submarine with sports cars gliding across a tundra.

However naturally each absurd setup manages to segue within the operatic universe of the franchise, the totality of The Fate of the Furious finally answers the question: how much is too much Fast and the Furious?

In the eighth installment of the series, the gang goes up against one of their own: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) breaks bad to abet a criminal hacker (Charlize Theron) in mass genocide, and only Dom’s makeshift family of gearheads and misfits can save the day.

(If you need to review how Dom’s crew went from outlaw street racers to extralegal super-spies over the last 15 years, there’s Wikipedia—or there’s the fact that it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t matter, you’ve either bought into these movies by now or you haven’t.)

To help take down Dom, the gang has to work together with a former foe, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). It’s not an original twist, but the chemistry between Statham and Dwayne Johnson is the most pitch-perfect sendup of action movie homoeroticism since Hot Fuzz—maybe more so, given how truly gifted the two men are at contrasting their action figure physiques with deadpan comedy.

If the film has one glaring weak spot besides a wanton disregard for physics, it’s that Cipher is a too-aptly-named villain. Charlize Theron does her best to inject some genuine fear and malice into the character, but all the effort in the world can’t change a flimsy backstory and the fact that she’s basically just there as the catalyst for Dom vs. Everyone Else.

When the film sticks to that hook, director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton. The Italian Job) delightfully serves up the best and worst of the franchise. There’s more excess, more teenage boy wish fulfillment, more glib treatment of women, more stereotypical wisecracking—and since more is more, there’s over two hours of it.

Which brings up the question: has the series gone too far? The Fate of the Furious without a doubt sacrifices some of the franchise’s ramshackle charm in order to deliver a smorgasbord of winking action comedy.

But it would be unwise to accuse this franchise of jumping the shark. Really, it would be unwise to mention sharks anywhere near these movies. If the crew ever does come across a shark, they’re just as likely to punch it in the face, strap sticks of dynamite to it, launch it at some larger, angrier target and keep moving without missing a beat. Isn’t it comforting to have a family you can rely on?

Verdict-3-5-Stars