Tag Archives: Jonah Hill

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Comet

Don’t Look Up

by George Wolf

Since Adam McKay shifted into “political” comedy with The Big Short and Vice, it’s become most convenient to label him a satirist. But Don’t Look Up, his latest as writer/director, is more proof that pure satire isn’t quite McKay’s forte.

Not that his work isn’t funny, or astute, or politically charged – it’s all of that. But what McKay does best is his own special blend of outrage, farce, skit-based comedy and yes, moments of satire. The best of the modern satirists – Armando Iannucci, for example – are almost always commenting on one thing by talking about something else. McKay, though, fires slings and arrows that are so often on-the-nose they toe the line between shedding light and making it.

Climate change and disinformation are in McKay’s sights this time, and it isn’t hard to imagine Don’t Look Up being inspired by some exasperated bit of conversation.

“What if some giant, cataclysmic comet were heading straight for Earth? Would that get somebody’s attention?”

Astronomy PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers just such a comet, and along with her anxiety-prone professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates it will destroy the Earth in precisely 6 months and 14 days.

Sounding the alarm proves harder than they realize.

President Orlean (Meryl Streep, a bit too SNL) and her chief of staff son (Jonah Hill, in pitch perfect Don, Jr. mode) want to “sit tight and assess,” so Kate and Randall take their message to the people. But after an appearance on vapidly positive morning cable news chat, Kate is vilified for her severe bangs and shrill warnings while Randall gets tagged as a PILF and starts getting cozy with TV host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett, glorious).

Meanwhile, weird tech CEO Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) determines the comet could really be a good thing! It’s composition could be worth billions, so he pushes the administration toward a Star Wars-worthy plan to break it up in pieces small enough to harvest, as uber-angry broadcaster Dan Pawketty (Michael Chiklis) instead wants to focus on the real problem of topless senior caregivers.

What’s left for the little people to do except take sides?

With the clock ticking and the comet now visible overhead, the anti-science crowd preaches “don’t look up” while pop diva Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) belts out a soaring (and surprisingly tuneful) plea to “get your head out of year ass, just look up, turn off that shit FOX News.”

The fertile ground of current pandemic disinformation makes McKay’s mash of Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks! seem a little extra urgent. And while Don’t Look Up never matches the satirical majesty of Kubrick, McKay is able to nicely cop the disinformation industry’s circular strategy of reframing evidence against it as evidence supporting it. He knows how his film’s worldview will be attacked, but also how some calculated ridiculousness can be a pre-emptive strike.

But is McKay’s film going to change anyone’s mind? Seriously? No, no it’s not, but he knows that, too.

Hey, if you think our current situation is too dire to have fun with, that’s understandable. But if you can relate to Grande singing, “Celebrate or cry or pray, whatever it takes,” then this is funny stuff. Just don’t mistake the laughs in Don’t Look Up – and there are plenty of them, including a priceless running gag about expensive snacks – for a lack of outrage or conviction. McKay and one of the year’s best ensembles find space for all three.

Sit tight for mid-credits and after-credits stingers, too. And trust me on the snacks thing.

Board in the U.S.A.

Mid90s

by George Wolf

More than just a time stamp, Mid90s emerges as a completely engaging verite-styled slice of place and person, a clear-eyed and visionary filmmaking debut for writer/director Jonah Hill.

While not strictly autobiographical, the film is Hill’s rewind button back to the Los Angeles skateboarding culture so omnipresent during his own coming of age.

13 year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) watches a tight knit group of skaters in his neighborhood, envious of the camaraderie missing from his life at home with an angry 18 year-old brother (Lucas Hedges – impressive yet again) and a self- absorbed 36 year-old mom (Katherine Waterson).

Stevie hangs around the skate shop until the boys slowly welcome him with a brand new name: “Sunburn.” With that, Ray (Na-kel Smith), “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt), “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin) and Ruben (Gio Galicia) become Stevie’s new family, instantly giving him the sense of belonging and male role models he is craving.

Though the film does feel like a labor of love for Hill, it’s not draped in undue nostalgia, but rather a gritty sense of realism resting comfortably between 1995’s “Kids” and Bing Liu’s current skateboarding doc “Minding the Gap.”

The group of skaters moves like an animal pack, and Suljic (Killing of a Sacred Deer, House with a Clock in Its Walls) perfectly captures the attentive innocence behind a young boy grasping at masculinity.

The group of actors in Stevie’s skater family boast little screen experience but are long on authenticity. Smith and Prenatt especially impress as Ray and Fuckshit, two lifelong friends slowly moving in different directions. When Ray quickly and gently admonishes Stevie’s behavior, it is a touching moment that rings with genuine concern borne from experience.

Hill treats his characters with equal trust, presenting their lives without judgement, apology or condescension. He’s equally confident is his mechanics, crafting the film with abrupt cuts, a fluid camera and alternating blasts of sound and silence that help define the mood of longing masked by bravado.

An often funny, sometimes startling and endlessly human film, Mid90s is a blast from the past that points to a bright filmmaking future for Jonah Hill.





Hot Wheels

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

by Hope Madden

In case you are missing it, Joaquin Phoenix is having one hell of a year. The inarguable talent is fresh off the relentlessly wonderful You Were Never Really Here (watch it right now!). Later this year we’ll get the chance to see him in Mary Magdalene as well as Jacques Audiard’s Western, The Sisters Brothers—both films boasting extraordinary casts.

Sandwiched in between his turns as gun-for-hire (YWNRH) and Jesus (MM), the clearly versatile actor portrays cartoonist John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.

Portland-based Callahan used creating cartoons as an outlet for his frustration, creativity and humor following a car accident that left him paralyzed. His simple visual style (both arms and hands were badly compromised by the paralysis) and his dark, taboo-driven humor found favor and protest in his hometown newspaper.

Phoenix charms and breaks hearts in equal measure as Callahan. What the actor conveys in breathtaking fashion is discovery. After Callahan’s accident and through his fleeting moments of clear-headedness, the character affords Phoenix many opportunities to recognize, accomplish or notice things for the first time. His interaction with an adorably saucy sex therapist, for instance, is pure joy.

His is not the only wonderful performance in the film. Jonah Hill effortlessly conveys a wearied tenderness that reminds you how truly talented an actor he is. Jack Black has a small but gloriously Jack Black role, and the AA group (Udo Kier, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Kim Gordon and Ronnie Adrian) offer rich and interesting characters regardless of their minimal screen time.

Rooney Mara, on the other hand, seems like she’s acting in an entirely different film. I fully expected her character to be a figment of Callahan’s imagination, pulled intact from another movie.

Van Sant bounces back from a creative lull (The Sea of Trees, anyone?), showing, among other things, his remarkable knack for period detail.

And while the 12-step structure feels both too stifling and too familiar for such an irreverent central figure, Van Sant bursts through that frame with a non-chronological series of vignettes and wild antics. As the film progresses, step by dutiful step, Van Sant fills gaps with quick jumps back and forth through drunken episodes and pivotal moments.

As interesting and entertaining as these flashes are, the chaotic lack of chronology fits so poorly with the rigid timeline of the film around it that the whole feels like an experiment gone wrong.

But so much of the film goes very, very right—thanks in large part to another award-worthy performance by Phoenix.





Wolf of War Street

War Dogs

by George Wolf

War Dogs starts with a guy in the trunk of a car and works backward, ending two hours later over the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Though both devices are tactical errors, what’s between them is a fairly effective take on true, undeniably American events.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) was a struggling twenty-something massage therapist in Miami when he re-connected with childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Together, they grew Diveroli’s modest gun selling business into a 300 million dollar contract with the Pentagon to arm our allies in Afghanistan.

As Diveroli is quick to point out, “It’s not about being pro-war, it’s about being pro-money.”

Director/co-writer Todd Phillips, expanding a resume built on comedies such as The Hangover trilogy and Old School, brings a suitable zest to the insanity of this guns-to-riches tale, but falters when the time comes to move beyond his filmmaking comfort zone.

With The Big Short just last year, Adam McKay brought comedic sensibilities to the complexities behind financial corruption, dissecting a scandal with humor, insight, and most importantly, a constant undercurrent of outrage that War Dogs is missing.

It does feature a fantastic performance from Hill, and if you still doubt his acting chops after two Oscar nominations, that’s a YP. Hill is magnetic, making Diveroli a darkly charming sociopath who effortlessly becomes whomever his latest mark wants him to be. Don’t be surprised if nomination number three comes calling in a few months.

Teller is fine, if a bit underwhelming next to Hill, while Ana de Armas is asked to do little more than hold a baby in the embarrassingly cliched role of Packouz’s wife.

Phillips does serve up some hearty laughs and effective set pieces while telling this incredible tale, but too much of the journey feels like a testosterone-fueled romp that’s more about respect for the boys’ brazen ambition than the sad truths it revealed. It’s not that Phillips doesn’t want to dig deeper, he’s just not sure how to do it on his own terms.

More than anything, War Dogs is a film that constantly reminds you of other films. The Hangover vibe is rampant, from the guy in the trunk to the effective cameo by Bradley Cooper, but there are also shots lifted right from Scarface and Rain Man, plus stylistic nods to multiple Scorsese titles, especially Wolf of Wall Street.

That film, like The Big Short, carried a healthy dose of cynicism to dig at the wages of excess. War Dogs doesn’t, and closing with one of the most brilliantly cynical songs ever written only makes that fact more obvious.

It’s clear Phillips knows how to make us laugh. War Dogs is his uncertain step toward making us think, too.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





It’s Only Make Believe

Hail, Caesar!

by George Wolf

Coen Brothers films can be brilliant (No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man), or not (The Ladykillers, The Hudsucker Proxy), but they’re always crafted with interesting ideas. Hail, Caesar! offers a few too many of those ideas and not enough places for them to fully take root.

The setting is Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of the 1950s, when Hail, Caesar! is the new “story of the Christ” epic being produced by Capitol pictures, and starring their biggest asset, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the square-jawed, no nonsense Capitol studio “fixer,” which means he’s the one dealing with kidnappers who are demanding 100,000 dollars for Whitlock’s safe return.

But there’s more.

Swimming-pool starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson) is facing a scandalous pregnancy, singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is having trouble adjusting to his new image makeover, and communists may have infiltrated the studio!

Looks like Eddie picked a bad week to quit smoking! No, really, he promised his wife he would quit, and his tobacco guilt is just one of the issues that makes a regular in the confession booth.

Crisscrossing situations combine for a madcap romp that homages various classics of the era, including musical numbers recalling Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Roy Rogers. The Coens’ writing is as witty and eccentric as ever, but save for two specific bits, rarely more than amusing.

Eddie’s consultation with a roomful of religious elders about the studio’s depiction of Jesus leads to some nice one-liners, while Hobie’s struggle to wrap his cowboy drawl around more refined dialogue finally turns funny after how-long-can-this-go-on repetition and the growing disgust of Hobie’s proper English director (Ralph Fiennes).

Like Fiennes, more famous faces (Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill) come and go quickly, all beautifully framed by esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins, but the parade of glorified cameos only makes the film’s eccentricities seem more disconnected.

Still, Hail, Caesar! is a fine looking swing that just misses. Beneath all the old Hollywood glamour is familiar Coen territory: faith, folly, finding your purpose and just trying to live a good life.

They’ve done it worse, but they’ve done it better.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Get Ready, Get Ready to Jump

 

22 Jump Street

by Hope Madden

I’m not sure how it is that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller keep surprising us. By now, no matter how inane the project may sound, we should expect big things from the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. And yet, who’d have guessed they’d deliver the goods yet again with their sequel, 22 Jump Street?

Self-aware without being glib, and fueled by the same good-hearted energy that marks the duo’s work, the film is both a hilarious send up of sequels, and the natural progression of a bro-mance. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) go undercover in college, where a new drug has killed a kid and may go global if it isn’t contained. This, except for the college part, is the identical plot of the first installment. Of course, that’s on purpose.

The meta-sequel is short on character development, but does take some time to explore a relationship that may have grown stale, that spark in their partnership starting to dim. Is it time for Jenko and Schmidt to investigate other suspects?

Rampant silliness continues to be the driving force in the franchise, and Hill and Tatum – as the doughy neurotic and chiseled dunderhead, respectively – are enjoyably, even masterfully silly. Again.

Expect a lot of the same, but enough differences to make the bumbling police work fun, and more than enough sight gags and wordplay to distract you from any other weaknesses. A little slam poetry, one walk of shame, and an unexpected Benny Hill bit are some highlights from a film absolutely littered with jokes. Some hit, some miss, but they just keep coming.

The always-dastardly Peter Stormare lends his talents in the villain role, while Jillian Bell (Workaholics) and Nick Offerman contribute their share of deadpan laughs. There are some pretty great cameos, as well, but I cannot tell you how much I hoped to see James Franco when the investigation headed to the beach for Spring Break.

Besides that missed opportunity, 22 suffers from a few lags in its otherwise frantic momentum. It would have behooved Lord and Miller to trim about 10 minutes from the effort – just not the ten that play over the credits, brainstorming assignment after assignment, sequel after sequel, in glorious fashion.

Whatever its faults, like its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is no classic but it is good for a lot of laughs. Few have made “more of the same” look so good.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 





A Movie Worthy of the Awesomeness of Legos

The Lego Movie

by Hope Madden

Legos! Has there ever been a cooler toy? It’s ideal for unbridled creativity as well as meticulous attention to directions and every tendency in between, so basically, it’s perfect. And it’s a weirdly apt building block for a movie.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – writers and directors behind the surprise hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as well as the even more surprising 21 Jump Street – return to animation with this artistic gem that pleases on all fronts.

Regular guy Emmett, construction worker and follow-the-directions type, falls into an adventure with wild idea creatives who are fighting to keep evil Lord Business from ending the Lego world as they know it.

It’s a solid, even familiar premise, and it offers these talented filmmakers a lot of opportunities. The tone is fresh and irreverent, the direction endlessly clever, and the voice talent spot-on.

Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman anchor the tale, with great cameos (Jonah Hill and Billy Dee Williams are the biggest hoot) and talented supporting turns helping to keep every scene interesting.

A clear love of Legos infects the entire proceedings, with hilarious Lego pieces and familiar characters and creations popping up everywhere. But the core ideas are even stronger and more thoughtful, the satire bright and evident, and the final themes appropriate for the kids you took with you as your excuse to see this movie.

Lord and Miller manage to entertain every possible audience here, poking fun at modern blockbusters and reveling in youthful creativity. They are aided immeasurably by animators who offer vivid, imaginative action sequences that embrace the themes of the film and mirror the energetic fantasy world of childhood.

The result is a joyous voyage, a perfect match between content and presentation, and a super cool movie.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Oscar Countdown: Snubs Galore

The Oscar nominations always cause a stir, what with the Academy’s glaring myopia when it comes to certain films. This year, the snubs were fewer and less harsh than in years past (like that year they totally ignored three of the best films of the year in Drive, Take Shelter and Young Adult, and failed to nominate the year’s best lead actress performances). We may never get over 2011.

Still, as always, there are some very curious omissions. Here we run down our 5 biggest gripes.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The magnificent Coen brothers’ immersive character study set in the unforgiving winter of the Greenwich Village folk scene garnered no love for its outstanding lead performance or its pristine screenplay or its rich and textured direction or even its music! That’s a lot of snubs for one film. It would certainly have been tough to find room for the wondrous Oscar Isaac in a leading actor field more crowded than most, and though the Coens are perpetual competitors for best director (by Oscar’s standards or anyone else’s), who would we bump this year? Scorsese? That’s a hard choice.

When it comes to original screenplay, we may have dumped Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Llewyn. There’s no question that we would have given it the best picture nod over Philomena.

 

2. Stories We Tell

The Academy had their heads up their asses with this one. In fact, there are a number of documentaries better suited to the award than this lineup suggests, but Sarah Polley’s deceptively complicated, brave and clever film cries out for recognition. Not only among the best documentaries of the year but one of the very best films overall, we would certainly have knocked Dirty Wars from the list in favor of Polley’s film. Truth be told, the only film in the category more deserving is The Act of Killing, so we’d have been fine with kicking any of the others to the curb to make room.

 

3. Her

The most imaginative and lovely film of 2013 went without acknowledgment in acting and directing, which is sinful. Our first order of business would be to get Scarlett Johansson a best actress nomination, even though the studio pushed her for supporting. Let’s be honest, regardless of the fact that she’s never onscreen, she plays one of two lovers in a love story. She’s the lead. And in a brilliant voice-only effort, she easily deserves Sandra Bullock’s spot. (In fact, we’d pick Johansson over Bullock, Streep or even Dench this year.)

Joaquin Phoenix should have edged out Leo (though we loved Leo’s work, it’s just a very tight race this year!). Director is as tight as actor, and while Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are 1) geniuses and 2) nominated for outstanding work this year, we’d have given one of their places to Spike Jonze for crafting a beautiful love story set in an unerringly crafted near-future, and doing so without a hint of cynicism or derivation.

 

4. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Apparently France couldn’t get off its cheese eating ass to get the film released in time for Oscar consideration, which is an absolute tragedy. The film should, by all accounts, boast two nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Actress. The fact that Adele Exarchopoulos’s career-defining turn in this romantic drama will go unacknowledged is a crime.

 

5. And the Rest

We’d rather see Julie Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) for Best Actress than Meryl Streep. We know that sounds like heresy, but her performance in August: Osage County is so hyperbolic that it’s more exaggeration than acting. True, the weak direction of A: OC is most likely to blame, but the end result just doesn’t measure up.

We would also have given either Daniel Bruhl (Rush) or James Gandolfini (Enough Said) the nod over Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.

 

For more on our Oscar picks, listen to George’s stint on the Sunny 95 (WSNY Columbus, OH) morning show.

 





BiggerLouderFasterMore

 

by George Wolf

So, how rich do you want to be?

In the opening minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street, 26 year old Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells us making 49 million dollars in a year only pissed him off, because he really had his heart set on a million a week.

How did he ever pay the phone bill?

Belfort, the real life stock market wizard who hit it big in the 1990s and wrote the memoir the film is based on, was more concerned with paying for drugs, hookers, yachts and lavish parties, as well as staying one step ahead of the Feds who were looking to bring him down.

No doubt, the man has an incredible story to tell, and director Martin Scorsese tells it perfectly, uncorking a terrifically frenzied, wickedly funny three hour showcase of unchecked hedonism.

This is no hand-wringing reflection on the wages of sin, just a swaggering, appropriately superficial and completely entertaining lesson in the American dream.

DiCaprio is nothing short of electric, giving perhaps the most can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him performance of his career. He takes Belfort from a wide-eyed Wall Street rookie (under the unhinged tutelage of Matthew McConaughey in a priceless cameo) to a drug-addled zillionaire with the perfect blend of vanity and paranoia, always leaving you anxious for his next move.

As Belfort’s partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff, Jonah Hill again delivers a terrific supporting turn, and one particular scene with he and DiCaprio wrestling over a telephone, both characters locked in a quaalude stupor, is alone worth the price of admission.

Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter strike just the right tone with the story of Belfort’s rise and fall. They invite comparisons to both Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech and Scorsese’s own Goodfellas, then remind you this is another era entirely as DiCaprio breaks the fourth wall, speaking asides directly to the audience as if we were accomplices. Which, of course, we are.

The ridiculous degree to which America worships the uber-rich deserves the riotous, foot on the gas, keep up or get out approach Scorsese employs.  Belfort and his ilk knew only one credo:  bigger, louder, faster, more. That’s exactly what TWOWS delivers.

Sit down, shut up, and get ready for a helluva ride.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Weekend Countdown: Best films..so far..in 2013

The year’s half over. What were the  best films so far? Well, #1 opens this week at the Gateway. Have a look!

 

5. Evil Dead

Fede Alvarez remakes Sam Raimi’s beloved indie splatter fest with the right amount of respect (to the original), humor, and more than enough gore. This infectious bloodletting surprises even the most ardent fan of the original with ingenious twists, solid performances, and a script doctored brilliantly by Oscar winner Diablo  Cody.

 

4. This Is The End

Seth Rogan’s posse gathers for an end of the world party to lampoon their own images and spin a hilarious yarn about celebrity, the rapture, and Michael Cera’s cocaine habit. Jonah Hill’s demon possession is inspired comedy, but the film’s a clever, weirdly good-natured laugh riot from start to finish.

 3. Much Ado about Nothing

Thank God for nerds. Joss Whedon turns his considerable skill to breathing new life to Shakespeare, with the second big party on the list. Mining the Bard’s comedy for actual laughs, Whedon stacks his cast with hyper-talented buddies, and a scene-stealing Nathan Fillian alone is worth the price of admission.

 

2. Mud

Writer/director Jeff Nichols follows up his flawless (and criminally underseen Take Shelter) with another exquisite film. This coming of age tale about a boy, a disappearing way of life, and a fugitive named Mud charms and surprises.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv30J05U2nI

 

1. Stories We Tell

A fascinating, thoroughly entertaining documentary from Sarah Polley.  While laying bare the secrets in her own family history, Polley expertly speaks to all families, and the questionable truths in which we often take comfort.

 

Runners up: Star Trek Into Darkness, Before Midnight, Frances Ha, World War Z, To the Wonder, The Bling Ring, How to Make Money Selling Drugs  and The Iceman. Happy viewing!