Tag Archives: Jon Hamm

Full ‘O Shenanigans

Wild Mountain Thyme

by Hope Madden

“Welcome to Ireland! My name is Tony Reilly and I’m dead.”

So begins Wild Mountain Thyme, a romantic comedy so cartoonishly Irish you’ll expect the Lucky Charm leprechaun to drop by for a Guinness.

Writer/director John Patrick Shanley can be very good, especially when he’s working from his own plays. Shanley won an Oscar for penning Moonstruck, and drew a nomination when he adapted his stage play Doubt for the screen.

He also directed the latter, a film that soared thanks to a quartet of nearly perfect performances (Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams—each the most exquisite piece of casting imaginable).

Though considerably lighter, Shanley’s latest boasts an impressive cast as well. Not Doubt impressive, but what is?

Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan anchor the film as two unreasonably attractive and weirdly single neighbors in rural County Mayo. Rosemary and Anthony have known each other all their lives, and even though many (including Anthony’s father Tony, played by Christopher Walken) have given up on the union, Rosemary will have her beloved Anthony one day.

Let’s stop a sec on Walken. He’s a great actor, a beloved icon, a cool dude. What he is not is Irish. Does that really matter—Walken’s accent isn’t exactly American, right? It’s just, well, Walken.

The point is that Shanley couldn’t be less interested in authentic Irishness. Wild Mountain Thyme’s authenticity rivals that of Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Oh the whimsy! The blarney! The third act reveal that outshines any act of nonsense you are likely to find on screen this year. How much Jameson’s did Shanley down before committing this to film?

It’s beautiful, don’t misunderstand. The verdant farms as well as the cast (Jon Hamm joins Blunt and Dornan as the Yank looking for an Irish farm and an Irish lass). It’s just so Irish-Spring-ad ridiculous.

It’s nice, though. Its belabored whimsy kind of clubs you into a stupor by around the third or fourth rainstorm (what, no rainbow?!). The story meanders. The symbolism serves only to further confuse things. The magic Shanley weaves can’t transcend the film’s lunacy long enough to give Wild Mountain Thyme the fairy tale quality it desperately wants.

Still, Blunt and Dornan are engaging and you have to give the film credit for sheer shamrock audacity.

Hero Takes A Fall

Richard Jewell

by George Wolf

Richard Jewell is a film Clint Eastwood has reportedly been trying to direct for years, and no wonder. It’s the story of a heroic man forced to fight against bureaucrats and parasites who question his heroism, which seems to be Clint’s favored genre.

Jewell, of course, was a hero at the Centennial Park bombing during the Atlanta olympics in 1996. A security guard who first spotted the bomb and was helping clear the scene when it exploded, Jewell was later named as the FBI’s prime suspect, and had his life turned upside down for months until the feds gave up.

It’s a pretty clear case of a man wronged, and a compelling story clearly worthy of a film. But while Eastwood and writer Billy Ray tell much of it well, their zeal for painting broad-stroked villains is hard to overcome.

After years of standout supporting roles (I, Tonya, Black KkKlansman) Paul Walter Hauser takes the lead as Jewell and grounds the film with a terrific and often touching performance. As suspicion around Jewell grows, the bonds created with his lawyer and his mother (Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates, both great) show Eastwood and Ray at their nuanced best.

The law and the press don’t get off so easy. That’s not to say they should get a pass, far from it, but Atlanta Journal reporter Kathy Scruggs is drawn so one dimensionally, Olivia Wilde might as well be twirling a mustache every time she’s onscreen.

The Journal is currently threatening legal action over the depiction of Scruggs (now deceased, as is Jewell) trading sexual favors to an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) for info, but the film’s slut-shaming isn’t reserved for just one reporter. They’re all whores.

And in case you miss the strategically placed sticker in the lawyer’s office that reads “I fear the government more than I fear terrorism,” Eastwood returns to it more than once. That’s grandstanding, not character development, and ends up undercutting a layer we could have gotten so much more intimately solely through Rockwell’s performance.

Richard Jewell‘s story is a good one, a tragic one, and a cautionary tale that deserves telling. And the film it deserves – the one where a common man finds the will to fight for his dignity – is in here, you just have to wade through some blanket scapegoating to find it.

No-tell Motel

Bad Times at the El Royale

by George Wolf

A priest and a vacuum salesman walk into a bar…

Well, one may not be a priest, the other might not be a salesman and the bar is really part of a nearly abandoned motel, but the point is all hell breaks loose in writer/director Drew Goddard’s stylish thriller, Bad Times at the El Royale.

Lake’s Tahoe’s El Royale sits straddling the Nevada/California border in the late 1960s. Before the East side lost its gambling license, the El Royale had been a hot spot and Rat Pack hangout, but lately bellboy/desk clerk and bartender Miles (Lewis Pullman) is pretty lonely.

Then the priest (Jeff Bridges), the salesman (Jon Hamm) and a singer (Cynthia Erivo) check in, followed by a hippie (Dakota Johnson) who’s got an F-you attitude and someone in her trunk (Cailee Spaeney). Their respective reasons for stopping at the El Royale are separate and shady, but as the characters reveal dark pasts and true intentions, the quiet hotel quickly becomes a battleground for survival.

Goddard’s follow-up to 2012’s ingenious The Cabin in the Woods is anchored with the same inventive zest, and built with time-jumping back stories and placards that bring Tarentino to mind. And while El Royale can’t completely deliver on its promise, it offers a gorgeous blast of color, sound and plot twists that are pretty fun to watch unravel.

The entire ensemble is splendid, each digging into their characters with a relish that only elevates the impact when our feelings about them change, and change again. Who’s a villain? Who’s a patsy? Who’s being framed and who’s just looking for redemption? Though Goddard’s pace gets bogged down at times, his visual style and careful placement of 60s pop hits make sure chasing those answers is always a retro hoot.

The film’s biggest disappointment stems from the arrival of the sinister Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), a violent charmer who’s come to settle a score with someone in the El Royale’s guestbook. As past histories and current events collide, the film reveals a late-stage moralistic vein as hopes for a type of Cabin in the Woods-style showstopping finale slowly fade away.

Those final fifteen minutes are fine for any typical noir crime thriller, but not quite worthy of El Royale‘s previous deliciously indulgent two hours.





Don’t Touch Me

Tag

by George Wolf

The premise is ridiculous. It’s also attention-grabbing, and mostly true.

A film could have worse starting blocks, and Tag makes sure they’re put to good use. TV vet Jeff Tomsic flashes sharp directing instincts in his feature film debut, blending a snappy pace with sharp characterizations, some effective physical comedy and just enough heart for a solidly funny good time.

Five years ago, a front page Wall Street Journal article hipped the world to a group of 10 friends who’d been playing the same game of tag for over twenty years. Adhering to their original rules, and then amendments to those rules, they’d stalk each other every February.

For the film version, the month has changed to May and the group scaled down to the four (Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Hannibal Burris and Jake Johnston) that think they finally have a plan to tag the fifth (Jeremy Renner), who has never, ever been “it.”

The WSJ reporter who tags along (Annabelle Wallis) becomes an effective device to organically handle the questions we’re wondering about, and the entire ensemble quickly establishes a chemistry that feels true.

Hamm, Johnston and Renner carve out layered characters with ease, while Helms and Burris are basically leaning on their usual, but reliably funny, personas. Nice assists come from Isla Fisher as Helms’s highly competitive wife, and some assorted memorable weirdos (Steve Berg, Nora Dunn, Thomas MIddleditch).

The script, from Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilin, stays funny and hip throughout, pausing just long enough to reflect on friendship and adulthood without getting sappy. It’s more than enough fuel for this likable ensemble to play with and come out a winner.

 

 





Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing

Baby Driver

by Hope Madden

Start to finish, the soundtrack-driven heist flick Baby Driver has a bright, infectious charm – and you can dance to it.

It needs to be good, though. The third film in as many years about a mixtape, a rag-tag gang and a dead mom, this movie needs to bring something genuinely mesmerizing.

If there is one thing writer/director Edger Wright knows how to do, it’s propel a film’s action. That’s hardly his only talent, but few excel here quite the way he does. Scene to scene, set piece to set piece, he makes sure your eyes and your ears are aware that things are moving at a quick clip.

Never has this been more true than with Baby Driver.

Wright edits in time with his expertly curated mix tape, creating a rhythm that keeps his lead dancing, his film moving, and his audience engaged.

The beats offer more than a gimmick to ensure the flick dances along – the tunes getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has buzzing through his ear buds give rhythm to his impressive high speed antics.

Baby is the one constant in the teams Doc (Kevin Spacey) assembles to pull off his jobs. A reluctant participant making good on a debt, Baby keeps his distance from the crew – whether it’s the oily Buddy (Jon Hamm, marvelous as ever), his sketchy girlfriend Darling, (Eiza Gonzales), or the straight-up psycho, Bats (Jamie Foxx – glad to see you in something worthwhile again).

Of course, the tension comes in when Baby tries to leave the robbery biz behind, egged on by feelings for the cute waitress at his favorite diner (Lily James).

If you’ve ever seen a movie, you’ll know that getting out is never easy.

Wright’s agile camera keeps tempo with his killer playlist. Whether back-dropping romance at the laundromat with gorgeous color and tongue-in-cheek visual call-backs, or boogying through back alleys, on-ramps and highways, Baby Driver is as tasty a feast for the eyes as it is the ears.

The game cast never drops a beat, playing characters with the right mix of goofiness and malice to be as fun or as terrifying as they need to be. For all its danceability, Wright’s film offers plenty of tension, too.

Like much of the filmmaker’s work, Baby Driver boasts a contagious pop mentality, intelligent wit and sweet heart.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Slumdog Maguire

Million Dollar Arm

by Hope Madden

Disney – the studio who brought you Miracle, The Rookie, and Invincible – needs a family-friendly sports movie for the summer. It must be based on a true story. It requires one or more underdogs, a romantic subplot, and plenty of opportunities for lessons learned. Fish out of water are a plus.

The only surprising thing about Million Dollar Arm is the group of people who convened to answer Disney’s ad for a blockbuster.

Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and screenwriter Thomas McCarthy join a talented cast who, collectively, have no business making a predictable crowd pleaser like this. McCarthy, in particular, had a flawless resume up to now, having written and directed the brilliant Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win and having written the Pixar masterpiece Up. What’s going on here?

The two inexplicably crafted a film from the true(ish) story of down-on-his-luck sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his plan to find the next great MLB pitcher in India. And while Million Dollar Arm is equal parts Slumdog Millionaire and Jerry Maguire, and is obvious as all get out, it’s somehow pleasant and appealing.

The filmmaking duo seem to embrace the cliches of their topic, and they manage to expose some ugly realities – sports capitalism, for instance – while they’re at it. They are aided immeasurably by a cast that, too, has far too much talent to be involved with this film.

Jon Hamm embodies the flawed humanity of his character beautifully. While his romantic entanglements are as unmistakable as the hard-won lessons in his near future, his grace and humor provide enough distraction to almost overcome the lack of surprise.

Likewise, neighbor/love interest Lake Bell and potential MLB phenoms Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) charm in roles that could easily have been one-dimensional. Instead, the three develop a sweet chemistry and find a little believable complexity for their characters.

Alan Arkin, on the other hand, offers the same performance we’ve seen from him in his last 20 or more films, while Bollywood star Pitobash settles for broadly drawn comic relief.

Together it’s a mish-mash effort that has no business entertaining as much as it does. Even penned inside a formula, McCarthy can write, Hamm can act, and Gillespie can make it all appear fresh regardless of the fact that we know from the opening credits exactly what we’ll see by the time those credits roll again two hours later.

Verdict-3-0-Stars