Tag Archives: Ron Livingston

Glass Half Empty

The Tender Bar

by George Wolf

Look past the tabloid fodder and you’ll see that onscreen, Ben Affleck is having a fine second act. Last year’s impressive turn in The Way Back showed him more than comfortable in his older skin, and his standout support in The Last Duel is generating some Oscar buzz for this year’s best supporting actor race.

This focus on substance over leading man style is a smart one, but while Affleck digs into his pivotal role in The Tender Bar, the film itself struggles to find anything truly relevant to say.

Based on J.R. Moehringer best-selling memoir, it’s an account of his journey from a poor, dysfunctional household to a Yale education and a career in writing. Guided by voiceover narration from adult JR (Ron Livingston), we’re introduced to little JR (Daniel Ranieri) when he and his mother (Lily Rabe) are moving back into the Manhasset, New York home of Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd), Grandma (Sondra James) and Uncle Charlie (Affleck).

JR’s violent, alcoholic father (Max Martini) is a radio deejay who’s rarely around, so 11 year-old JR looks to Uncle Charlie as a role model, often soaking up life lessons found at “The Dickens,” the Long Island bar where Charlie works. Young adult JR (Tye Sheridan) continues the barstool education until it’s time for the Ivy League, new friends, and a hard-to-really-get new girlfriend (Briana Middleton).

Director George Clooney and screenwriter William Monahan craft a respectful and well-meaning adaptation, but it’s sadly lacking any hint of why they found the source material so moving. From Charlie’s advice to JR’s awakenings, the messages are broadly drawn, well worn and self-satisfied, too generic for even the Oscar-winning Monahan (The Departed) to polish into inspirational shape.

And where is the eye for vibrant period detail that helped bring Clooney that well-deserved directing nomination for Good Night and Good Luck? Here, soundtrack choices and costume design blur the stated timeline, while the young actor playing JR at 11 looks closer to 8 and shockingly unlike Sheridan. Even the “golden voice” we’re told that JR’s deejay dad possesses never materializes when he finally speaks.

A film such as this needs authenticity to resonate, but this true story never feels like one, and the chance for us to really connect with JR is derailed at multiple turns. While Affleck adds another fine showing to his current winning streak, there’s not much else in The Tender Bar to convince you the book was worth a big screen adaptation at all.

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.

 





One Scary Movie Every Day in October! Day 22: The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)

Out today on DVD, BluRay and streaming is the scariest movie of 2013: The Conjuring.

Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.

The farmhouse’s previous residents may be dead, but they haven’t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the couple’s cases.

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch. The usually sublime Lili Taylor is uncharacteristically flat as the clan’s loving mother, unfortunately, but there’s more than enough to distract you from that.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ





I’ll Have What She’s Having

 

by George Wolf

 

Hey look! It’s that hottie and that cutie, and the guy from Office Space and that other guy from TV in a romantic comedy about drinking beer. Nice!

Well, as it turns out, Drinking Buddies may not be quite what you’re expecting, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than a by the numbers rom-com with a comfortable ending designed to send the folks home happy, writer/director Joe Swanberg delivers a loose, observational drama that focuses on small moments in unfulfilled lives.

Olivia Wilde takes the lead as Kate, who works at a Chicago brewery with her best buddy Luke (Jake Johnson from TV’s New Girl). Though Luke is talking marriage with his longtime girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate has just started seeing Chris (Ron Livingston), the co workers continue to nurture their “why don’t they just do it already” friendship.

Though not quite a full on mumblecore project, Drinking Buddies certainly passes through the neighborhood. Many scenes meander with a highly improvised, aimless approach, while Swanberg keeps the film bathed in the gritty look of persistent realism.

The action rarely gets beyond hanging out, drinking, and talking about relationships, but you slowly come to appreciate how little the characters do what you think they will. After the two couples spend a weekend at Chris’s lakeside cabin, certain priorities are re-evaluated, and the film’s soft focus on the quest for knowing what you want becomes increasingly clear.

The actors all mesh well, with Wilde giving her most assured performance yet. Kate is a damaged soul, and Wilde is able to get beneath the “one of the guys” party girl persona to reveal  layers of vulnerability, hurt and anger.

Though it’s far from the When Harry Met Sally treatment of platonic friendships,  Drinking Buddies has a charm, wit and wisdom that may make it the perfect reboot for today.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars