Tag Archives: Rachel McAdams

‘Game Night’ is a Great Dark Comedy

When executed properly, I don’t think there is anything better than a black comedy.

“Game Night” follows a group of friends (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury) who get involved in a possible kidnapping mystery during their weekly game night get together. Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons and Jeffrey Wright also star as John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein direct.

I have enjoyed every project that John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have done, grant it to varying degrees. I love “Horrible Bosses” and despite its critical backlash I liked the unflinching mean-spirit of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Their directorial debut, the “Vacation” reboot, has a decent amount of chuckles (many from Chris Hemsworth) and they also had a hand in the Frankenstein script of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” They didn’t write this film, that credit goes to Mark Perez (although the duo apparently did an uncredited rewrite) but their trademark dark comedy touch is on it and thanks to a talented cast this is a fun film that works.

The names on the poster of this film are incredible and Daley and Goldstein get A-games out of them all. I adore Jason Bateman and his trademark deadpan shines here yet again and partners well with Academy Award nominee Rachel McAdams’ simple charm. McAdams made a name for herself with “Mean Girls” but actually doesn’t do too many comedies so here’s hoping this opens up the demand for her to star in more.

Lamorne Morris has some great impersonations and reaction shots (he’s basically playing his “New Girl” character) and there are several cameos I won’t spoil that add a layer of mystery and fun to the film.

The absolute scene-stealer is Jesse Plemons, who plays a socially inept neighbor. Absolutely crushing his toe-to-toe deadpan matchups with Bateman and using dictionary-level vocabulary, Plemons is so wonderfully awkward and dark that a lot of the time the audience didn’t know if and when to laugh because the uncomfortable pauses he creates are so masterful. Really, I enjoyed every performance here and have a big crush on J̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶B̶a̶t̶e̶m̶a̶n̶ Rachel McAdams but Plemons is the hands-down best part of this film and it’s no coincidence that he is featured in its best scenes.

The whole selling point of the film is the “what is real, what is a game” aspect but that really is just all it is: a selling point. There are a few twists along the way but nothing you haven’t seen before (and probably done better) and the film does lag a bit toward the end of the second act (even though it only runs 100 minutes).

“Game Night” has gross-out gags, deadpan and mean-spirited deprecation, all of which are right in my comedy wheelhouse so this was always going to be my slice of pie. I do think that it has enough broad humor for audiences who just want a fun time at the movies, though, and with a cast like this it would be hard to go wrong.

Critic’s Grade: A–

‘Spotlight’ a Well-Acted, Infuriating True Story

Spotlight_(film)_posterMichael Keaton probably should’ve started this whole “drama acting” thing a while ago. He could have a lot more Oscar nominations.

“Spotlight” tells the true story of the Boston Globe team of journalists (Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) that worked to uncover the child abuse by Catholic priests, and the extents the church went through to cover it up. Tom McCarthy directs and co-writes.

Keaton earned his first career Oscar nomination for last year’s “Birdman,” and many think he could score another nomination for his work here. Keaton, along with pretty much the entire cast, does solid and nuanced work in “Spotlight,” a film that is more about the little moment and aftertaste it leaves in your mouth than the wide scope.

The story told in “Spotlight” is something many people may have heard of, but few likely know the extents the journalists went through in order to uncover the conspiracy involving the Catholic Church. As a journalism major, I appreciate a film that shows the work newspapers go through to break a story and the inner-conflicts they have on how and when to run them.

Director McCarthy does a very good job subtly showing the power and influence the Church has over the institutions and families of Boston, by doing things like showing churches in the background of many establishing shots. The script, which he co-wrote with Josh Singer, has some nice interplay between the characters, and gives each actor an individual scene to shine.

The real stars of the show to me, however, are Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci. Ruffalo is arguably the lead of the ensemble cast, given the character with most emotional weight. He has one scene that will likely be used as his “For Your Consideration” reel, and the scenes that he and a small but effective Tucci share are when the film is at its best.

The film does take a little while to get going (the team kicks the story around before they realize the magnitude it could have), and at times people throwing out names of so many priests, lawyers, and victims, half of which never get a face placed to them, can get confusing in-the-moment.

The film will make you angry that so little was done to stop and punish the priests who abused so many children, but that is just good filmmaking. At the end of the film is lists cities that have since had sex abuse scandals brought up against the Church, and it’s enormous.

“Spotlight” isn’t groundbreaking cinema, and it isn’t intense throughout the entire runtime as it is in some individual moments, but those moments that do excel are as effective and entertaining as anything at the movies this year.

Critics Rating: 8/10



‘Southpaw’ Packs Too Weak a Punch

imageJake Gyllenhaal has quickly become one of Hollywood’s next great actors, mixing Christian Bale’s rapid weight change with Leonardo DiCaprio’s ability to get overlooked by major award circuits.

After losing 20 pounds to play the psychotic Lou in “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal bulks up to play boxer Billy Hope (subtle) in “Southpaw”. After tragedy strikes, Hope is separated from his daughter and must put his life back together, and he turns to an aging trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get him back in the ring. Antoine Fuqua directs.

Just as he has done in his recent films like “Prisoners” and the aforementioned “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal again dominates the screen with his method-acting presence. It may not be his strongest performance, and it almost certainly won’t win him any awards, but his Billy Hope is a heart-wrenching, torn character that Gyllenhaal dives into. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the movie doesn’t pack the same punch (boxing puns).

Most of the film is done so heavy-handed and in such workmanlike style that it doesn’t add anything new or fresh to the genre. Director Fuqua (known best recently for action films “Olympus Has Fallen” and “The Equalizer”) continues to go for style over substance in his films. In “Southpaw,” he never misses a chance to shove a visual metaphor down the audience’s throat, such as Gyllenhaal standing at the bottom of a dark staircase looking up (get it? Because he’s got to climb his way back up out of the darkness to the top!). Fuqua also feels the need to put the camera close to the actors, in an effort to force us to feel their pain (this is a pretty bleak film), instead of letting the actors do what they’re paid to do and convey the emotions naturally.

Speaking of said actors, every one of them brings their A-game; “Southpaw” would be nothing without its leading cast of Gyllenhaal, Whitaker and Rachel McAdams. Gyllenhaal and Whitaker have believable albeit not too moving chemistry as boxer-and-trainer, and McAdams crushes every scene she is in as Billy’s wife. The daughter in the film (Oona Laurence) gives one of the better performances by a kid actor that I’ve seen in a while, having to portray a young girl who has lost contact with her father and is confused and angry with the world around her.

Unfortunately, everything comes back to the standard narrative in “Southpaw.” The cliché story of redemption can be expected, but on numerous occasions plot points are dropped or overcome far too easily. For example, Forest Whitaker’s character says he doesn’t drink, yet a few scenes later we see him drunk in a bar, with the only excuse being, “what, a guy can’t pick up a new habit?” There is also a shooting in the film, and in several instances the film mentions how they still don’t have a suspect. Spoiler alert: that case is never brought to resolution, it kind of just fades away. Which is lazy for the plot, but also frustrating because you are genuinely interested in who pulled the trigger, as it isn’t clear in the scene.

For those who demand very basic storytelling and just want to see tales of redemption of broken men, “Southpaw” may work. But I found that the great acting and admittedly moving finale were not enough to overcome the film’s familiarities and slack storytelling, which is a disappointment because Gyllenhaal deserves better than to be stuck in an average film. All these actors deserve better (well, except maybe 50 Cent).

Critics Rating: 5/10


Hoffman Great, ‘Most Wanted Man’ Not

A_Most_Wanted_Man_Poster            Sometimes a performance in a film is so good that it actually takes away from the film itself, and makes you realize how average the movie surrounding the performance is. It happened with Denzel Washington in “Flight” and it happens with Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man”.

Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring Hoffman in his last non-Hunger Games role, “A Most Wanted Man” is a thriller based off a John le Carré novel. When German intelligence receives word of a possible terrorist hiding in the city of Hamburg, Günter Bachmann (Hoffman) and his team must act quickly in order to stop a possible threat, as well as bring down a terrorist funding operation. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright all co-star.

In my 20 years on this earth, I have found there are two kinds of espionage thrillers:  ones that are non-stop, pulse pounders, and others that are slow-burning and dry. There really is no in between. Unfortunately, “A Most Wanted Man” falls into the latter category, despite yet another immensely dedicated performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman plays a German in the film, accent and all, but he is never campy. Despite having seen him in over a dozen films, and having personally graduated from the same American high school he once attended, I never doubted Hoffman as a German. He smokes, drinks and growls his way through the film, portraying a man who sticks to his guns, even when every other person around him is doubting the flimsy evidence. When Hoffman is on screen you cannot take your eyes off of him, and when he is not there you instantly notice his lack of presence.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is not as engaging. The film wants to have you constantly guessing whether Hoffman’s target is actually a terrorist or simply just a misunderstood refugee, yet it only really feeds one side of the argument. You never really feel conflicted or question whether or not Hoffman’s team is making a mistake. You know exactly how to feel about the suspect and that takes away from some of the suspense.

The film also takes a while to get going to where it wants to get going to. Early on it makes it out to seem like the whole film will be a manhunt for a character, but then they quickly absolve that situation and then linger for about thirty minutes before finally realizing the big fish they really want to go after has been there the whole time.

There are worse espionage thrillers out there (just look at “Paranoia”, for example), but “A Most Wanted Man” is nothing special or memorable in its own right, either. The real enjoyment from the film comes from watching Hoffman on screen for one of the last times, and with every scene that passes we are reminded that we truly lost a legend. It is just a shame that everything surrounding Hoffman is nowhere near as interesting as his character. The narrative is just too bogged down and most characters outside Hoffman’s are just too underdeveloped.

There is a part in the film where Robin Wright’s CIA agent asks Hoffman, “What is it you want to achieve here?” I wanted to ask the film the same question.

Critics Rating: 5/10