Tag Archives: Thomas Haden Church

[Review] – Killer Joe

16 Aug

Title: Killer Joe
Year: 2012
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracy Letts, based on his own play
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church
MPAA Rating: NC-17, graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality
Runtime: 103 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 62

I never in my life would have thought I would say this about any year, but 2012 really is shaping up to be the year of Matthew McConaughey. I mean, he’s always been a seriously charming guy, and I liked him, but I didn’t really think he was a good actor. When you think of pre-2011 good roles of Matthew McConaughey you have roles that didn’t require him to act so much as they did for him to be himself and just be charming, like Dazed and Confused‘s David Wooderson or Ed Pekurny from Edtv. He got to coast by on charm and looks (and abs) alone.

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[Trailer] – Killer Joe

8 May

William Friedkin, who won an Oscar for The French Connection and got nominated for another one for The Exorcist, is back with a new movie. Granted, those two landmark films happened in the 70’s, but still, this is worth talking about. His new film is called Killer Joe, has been stamped with an NC-17 rating, and it just looks strange. Maybe strange in a good way, maybe in a bad way. I don’t know. Check out the trailer for Killer Joe after the cut.

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We Bought a Zoo

28 Dec

Title: We Bought a Zoo
Year: 2011
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Angus MacFadyen, Patrick Fugit, J.B. Smoove, Peter Riegert
MPAA Rating: PG, language and some thematic elements
Runtime: 124 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Metacritic: 58


I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thoroughly disappointed by We Bought a Zoo. Okay, maybe not thoroughly disappointed, but disappointed, certainly. Cameron Crowe is the guy that made Almost Famous, one of my ten or twenty favorite films of all-time, not to mention he’s also the guy that gave us Jerry Maguire and Say Anything. However, in 2005 he did Elizabethtown, a film most remember nowadays for being the one that made critic Nathan Rabin coin the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character, which is just as well because the film was quite forgettable, a step down for such a great director. It seemed as though the critical and commercial failure of that film did a number on Cameron Crowe, taking a long six years off. He returned this year with Pearl Jam Twenty, a great documentary about a band he loves so much (I gave it an A-), but this was the one that mattered. And while it’s a very good film, it’s not great, and that to me, considering I waited six years for it, is a disappointment.

The thing that made this one a disappointment is that it was just overly-sentimental, and shamelessly so, not in a nuanced way that Cameron Crowe is so incredible at, but in a way that was just too schmaltzy, not hiding the fact that it wanted to tug your heartstrings that just didn’t do it for me. An even bigger pity considering that Matt Damon actually does a pretty wonderful job in the lead role, getting us to really sympathize with his story and really grounding the whole film with his presence alone. It’s because of him, such a fine actor, that this film works as well as it does, making the film truly funny and sweet no matter the incredulous amount of corniness surrounding it. Maybe I wanted a new Almost Famous, a perfect film, but what we got is a director bouncing back from a previous failure (though personally I thought Elizabethtown was okay), showing he still has impeccable taste and feeling, even if he goes a bit overboard with it in this one.

The film tells the truly extraordinary real-life story of Benjamin Mee, though with some creative alterations, a recenlty-widowed single father with two kids in tow who one day decides to move his family, to get a fresh start, and relocates them to a zoo they’ll now call home, and, alongside his family and a series of new friends, he starts the work of getting the zoo back to how it was in its glory days. Few directors are as unapologetically romantic as Mr. Crowe, whether it’s the boombox blasting ‘In Your Eyes’ or telling a girl she completes you, this guy is a genius at making romantic quotes because he never shies away from such an open sincerity, and We Bought a Zoo has that romantic vibe to it as well, it’s just that instead of it being between two people, it’s between a whole entire family, extended friends and recently-purchased animals included.

This may not be Almost Famous or Jerry Maguire, true enough, but just take a look at that cast, it’s incredibly likable and you can be damn sure they’ll make for good company for a couple of hours, not to mention that Mr. Crowe makes actors he directs be great (he’s the reason why the words “Academy Award winner” go before the name of Cuba Gooding Jr.). As the film opens we see Mr. Damon, who seems truly sincere every time he’s on screen, quitting his job at the L.A. Times with a confidence and easiness that just doesn’t ring true in this economic climate, but still, he just goes ahead and quits his job, not wondering for a second how he’s going to provide for his children or anything like that, just selling his house and buying a new house with a great view, and lions and tigers and a zookeeper that’s played by Scarlett Johansson, Kelly, who of course is single.

You can probably know how much of the film is going to turn out. The zoo starts getting repaired bit by bit, we get to see Patrick Fugit as an employee which will be a treat to Almost Famous fans, we get to see Thomas Haden Church who’s always delightful, and we get to see Elle Fanning, a young actress who’s on the road to greatness, play Lily, a cousin of Kelly’s who’ll of course be paired up with Dylan, the fourteen year-old sulking son of Benjamin. And he was my biggest problem with this film, the role of Dylan, because Mr. Crowe pays a lot of attention to the tension that starts building between him and his father, and instead of us finding the heart that’s in the rest of the movie there, it ends up feeling as though Dylan is just a typical moaning adolescent and not a kid grieving over the death of his mom.

As many clichés as We Bought a Zoo may have, of which there are some, this is still a winning film. Everything is just beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto (the cinematographer of choice of Alejandro González Iñárritu and an Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain) and the performances by absolutely everyone are really great here. Especially that of Mr. Damon, a man who brings this kind of sweet touch to the role, never once over-selling a single scene with a co-star, acting on pure honest instinct that’s just great to see. I thought We Bought a Zoo was a disappointment, that’s true, but that’s because I was expecting a pretty much perfect film. It may have been off-base to expect so much after a six year absence, and at the very least We Bought a Zoo is a film that approaches that greatness, comes close to it, doesn’t achieve it because it’s just too much of a saccharine ride, but it still has a handful of excellent performances that show us why Mr. Crowe is a director unlike any other, unafraid to go to that place of raw sentimentality. Here’s for not having to wait an extra six years.

Grade: B+

Another Happy Day

19 Dec

Title: Another Happy Day
Year: 2011
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Starring: Ellen Barkin, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, Ezra Miller, Demi Moore
MPAA Rating: R, teen drug/alcohol abuse, pervasive language including sexual references, and brief graphic nudity
Runtime: 115 min
IMDb Rating: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Metacritic: 45


Last night I saw Tyrannosaur, a really great film (I gave it an A-) but that was at times too unpleasant to endure, but the performances in it made it well worth it to do so. Another Happy Day is kind of similar, the film itself is certainly a few notches below Tyrannosaur, but it’s the same case in that the characters we are presented with here are at times too unlikable to endure for a couple of hours, but if I managed to do so and actually liked the film it’s all because of the performances, especially the one given by Ellen Barkin. This film revolves around a family reunion as Ms. Barkin’s character, Lynn, travels with her younger children to her parents estate in Annapolis where her estranged eldest son is getting married. So we get a lot of your typical situations that arise at a dysfunctional family gathering, except that there’s really not one character you can particularly get behind here. But, like I said, at least every actor brings their A-game to the festivities.

Or maybe there is a character you can get behind, and it’s just that I didn’t, all I know is that the characters prevented me from loving this film as much as I easily could have otherwise considering we had such a performance from Ellen Barkin, an actress that I really like and that has the most entertaining Twitter account in the world. The whole film feels overly melodramatic in order to attract our attention to the anguish of the characters here, but too much so, there are too many players here. And the fact that this film is just so loud and busy with them means that each character is just all over their own issues and far too busy to listen to those of anyone else.

The thing is that Another Happy Day is purely an actor’s kind of film, the characters, if badly constructed, are here to provide a lot of really neat material for actors to play with, and thankfully the cast of this one is really good, and the performances that they deliver are more than enough to anchor the film through whatever missteps it may take. This is the debut film from writer-director Sam Levinson, and yes, if the name sounds familiar it’s because he is indeed the son of Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man, but I think it’s great that Another Happy Day, imperfect as it may be, doesn’t have the younger Mr. Levinson relying on his dad. I mean, Ms. Barkin obviously had her big break on the senior Mr. Levinson’s Diner back in 1982, and his name obviously helped land some actors, but it’s not as though he’s listed as a producer or anything in this film, and Sam Levinson’s sensibilities are decidedly darker than his dad’s, his vision a provocative one that’s all his own to claim and develop.

And we must talk some more about Ellen Barkin. As the twice-married mother-of-four she kind of reminds us that once upon a time she used to be an incredible actress and it’s a pity she hasn’t been up to much lately; memorable roles of hers other than this one in the past few years I can only think of the one she gave in Oceans’ Thirteen, which wasn’t so much a memorable role as it was just a reminder that she could still do her thing and be seriously awesome. There’s something great about watching a late-career resurgence like this, seeing an actress like Ms. Barkin deliver such an intense performance, both hilarious and compassionate at the same time. At the hands of a lesser actress Lynn would be the character that gets our sympathy, but she makes giving it to her challenging by making her such a complex character. She’s the reason why you should check out Another Happy Day, a film that, if the rest of the parts were half as good as her, would have her squarely in the discussion for that Best Actress Oscar that will, hopefully, go to Meryl Streep two months from now (no, I haven’t seen The Iron Lady yet, it’s just that she’s Meryl Streep, she should get the Oscar every year).

Lynn’s estranged son that’s getting married is Dylan, she lost custody of him in the divorce years ago which means he was raised by his dad, played by Thomas Haden Church, with his new wife, played by Demi Moore, and she got their troubled daughter that cuts herself, who’s played by Kate Bosworth. Another vital part of this story, and the best performance other than Ms. Barkin’s, is Elliot, her teenager son who’s just out of his latest stint in rehab and has some very cutting commentaries to throw around at free will at his family. Elliot’s played by Ezra Miller, an actor with a lot of screen presence and a huge amount of talent and who’s of course in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin in what’s supposedly his huge breakout role. I’m dying to check that film out, because Mr. Miller’s performance here is awesome, if Ms. Barkin’s portrayal of the many issues that Lynn has make the film great, it’s Mr. Miller’s portrayal of the many things Elliot does that keeps it interesting.

Sam Levinson makes a debut that, while not all that great, shows he is a filmmaker that certainly has a great deal of promise, and even though he overstuffs this one with some situations and characters we could have done without, he still shows a keen eye on how he handles such an extensive cast and writes a very biting and clever screenplay that make his a very authentic voice to show in a debut film, and I’m certainly very curious to see what he’ll be up to next. Yes, in Another Happy Day less would have been more, but you can never fault a young director with being ambitious, especially not when he’s directing such an incredible performance from an actress like Ellen Barkin who really deserved a late-career bright spot like this one.

Grade: B

Easy A

14 Oct

Title: Easy A
Year: 2010
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Alyson Michalka, Stanley Tucci
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material
Runtime: 92 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

If there is a Top 5 Actresses I Have A Crush On list (and there is), Emma Stone would most certainly be in that Top 5, right along with Zooey Deschanel, Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman and Ellen Page, so yeah, I was damn excited to see Easy A, Ms. Stone’s first real stab at a leading role. And I’m happy to say that with this film she should most definitely finish cementing herself as one of the best young actresses around, a distinction she has been shaping up with solid supporting roles in Superbad and Zombieland in the last few years. With this film she proves she has what it takes to carry a film as the sole lead actress, a fact that shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody who has been following her in the past few years. Plus she has already signed up for Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot, so yeah, we’ll have plenty of Emma Stone on our screens for years to come, and that’s a very good thing to have.

Ms. Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a girl who attends a high school in Easy Ojai and that goes by her highschool life without many people really noticing her, she’s not an outcast, but she’s not the most popular girl in high school, either. The high school Olive attends is unlike any other high school in America it would seem, because losing one’s virginity while still in high school is apparently the most appalling thing one could do and is basically unheard of. And then Olive makes up a rumor that she lost her virginity, so that she doesn’t have to admit to her persistent best friend that she spent a whole weekend alone at her place. She tells her friend only to get her off her case at first, tells her she did it with a college boy so that no one could know him, but they are overheard by Marianne, the school’s uber-religious girl who spreads the rumor to make Olive the example of what not to do. But instead, obviously, she becomes the most talked-about girl in school and her popularity sky-rockets.

And so we follow Olive through the consequences of said rumor, and its a really fun ride, mostly because this movie just has a tremendous cast. Not only is Ms. Stone pitch-perfect in the leading role, but Easy A was lucky enough to get Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson to play her parents, and they provide with some really funny scenes. And so it is, Olivie now becomes the center of attention at her school, and she uses the fact that she’s seemingly the only one at her school that’s not a virgin to her advantage, telling people she’s slept with some outcasts at her school so people stop bullying them, having the power to grant them new reputations, and pretty much becomes the leader of the high school social ladder, at one point pretending to have wild and loud sex with her gay bestfriend so that the other guys at the school stop bothering him.

I thought Easy A was just a pretty damn impeccable high-school comedy, because not only is it very funny, but also because it’s relentlessly smart, and that’s an unfailing combo that hasn’t been put to such amazing use since that other redhead-starring high school comedy, Mean Girls. This is one seriously witty film, with a really intelligent sense of irony and it works so damn well because of Ms. Stone, she’s amazing and she makes Olive and seriously great for the audience, and these films need the audience to love the leading character, and that’s all on Emma Stone, who should become a bonafide leading actress after this film, which has already made over $50 million on its very cheap budget of around $8 million, so yes, these are all great signs.

The performance Ms. Stone gives, while obviously no Oscar bait because of the genre and tone of the film, is still a tremendous performance for the type of film this is, the sort of performance hasn’t been seen since Lindsay Lohan’s in the aforementioned Mean Girls or Alicia Silverstone’s in Clueless. Though, from what I’ve seen from Ms. Stone’s public appearances, she won’t go down the Lohan route, and the Spider-Man reboot will probably be amazing, unlike what Batman & Robin was for Ms. Silverstone when she played Batgirl.

Another thing this one shares with Clueless is the fact that they both took some inspiration from literature, Clueless was of course loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, and this one takes quite a lot from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the book Olive’s English class is currently reading and that inspires a bit of her story. She sows an ‘A’, her own scarlet letter, into her clothes, which start becoming more and more suggestive as her notoriety grows, and sees parallels between her life and the novel as she tells the story to us.

This is of course an idealized high school world. As I said, nowadays losing your virginity in high school is no biggie, and in the real world anyone who looks like Emma Stone wouldn’t go through high school unnoticed unless said high school was full of daft guys with bad taste in women. But we don’t mind it because the movie is charming as hell, and with Ms. Stone as the lead, Mr. Tucci and Ms. Clarkson as the liberal parents, and Penn Badgley as the prince charming who was Olive’s eighth grade crush and is now looking at her, it will go down as the best movie of its type for a while to come, and one I won’t mind at all to grant repeat viewings once it comes out in blu-ray.

Grade: A-

Don McKay

15 Apr

Title: Don McKay
Year: 2009
Director: Jake Goldberger
Writer: Jake Goldberger
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Elisabeth Shue, Melissa Leo, M. Emmet Walsh, Keith David
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violence
Runtime: 87 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%

Oh Don McKay is a really interesting film, a mix of quirky comedic bits with noir elements thrown into a thriller, a true genre-bender. Thomas Haden Church is the titular character, and he’s really great as him, a quiet school janitor who’s past comes back to him as an ex-girlfriend gets him to come back home because she’s dying, or is she? Every single person in this film is shady as fuck, and when you have actors like Mr. Haden Church, Elisabeth Shue, who plays Sonny, the ex, and the great Melissa Leo, who plays Sonny’s housemate you gotta love how it all comes through.

This is writer-director Jake Goldberger’s feature debut, and while he does get some parts right the majority isn’t right, it’s kind of right, but not entirely there yet, and what is actually really right is not that much because of him as it is because of Thomas Haden Church, who really gives a powerful performance here and because every single element that’s outstanding in this one came out from the playbook the Coen brothers used in Blood Simple, and Goldberger is obviously no Coen. Just sayin’.

Grade: C+