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Screenwriting competition reader and short film competition judge.
I, Tonya (2017)
A Brilliant Film About Clashing Forces
"I, Tonya," evokes lurid attention similar to the rubbernecking that occurs when passing an auto accident. Part pseudo-documentary and part biopic of an abused women who struggles within a sports system that disavows her, "I, Tonya" presents a true story to clear Ms. Harding's reputation in a stranger-than-fiction story.
Given the gift of being lightning on skates set against a truly abysmal, trailer trash environment, Tonya glides on ice under extreme mental and emotional duress meted out by a stage-mother-from-hell, a trope redefined by a brilliant Allison Janney who steals every scene. Too, "I, Tonya" thumbs its nose at inspiring sports films where underdogs succeed against all odds to make it big. An unrecognizable and equally brilliant Margot Robbie tells us so with acid in her voice by breaking the fourth wall as if in a documentary.
The events leading to what's called "the incident" (the attack on Nancy Kerrigan) are too insane to be believed. Harding, we're told, is not entirely an innocent victim, but her complicity is fairly portrayed - and payback for breaking the rules in a genteel sport where Tonya's blue-painted fingernails, self-made costume and rock song accompaniment are not welcome. At the end, she is banned for life from skating competitions even after pleading to the judge to send her to prison instead of taking from her the only brightness in her awful life.
The brilliance of "I, Tonya" stems from juxtaposing Ms. Harding's skills against the struggles of her personal life. Her familial abuse spills over to choosing a husband who beats her for no reason. She is not a Phoenix rising from the ashes but rather a bird who tries to flap unsuccessfully from the fire only to fall back incinerated. An argument could be made "I, Tonya" is a feminist film but without mawkish sentiment for a poor, powerless waif. She divorces her scumbag husband only to bring him back in her life when she needs him which leads to his twisted arrangement of "the incident."
This is God's joke on her. Powerlessness, no education (she drops out of high school to skate), an unsupportive family and the settling for abuse align. The eight hours a day practice cannot overcome the gaping hole in her soul and psyche.
"I, Tonya," minus the skating, is the story of America's low-income underbelly where crassness is a way of life and abuse is mistaken for love. It is also a story of how people cling to insane beliefs they are something they are not because there is nothing else in their miserable empty lives. This is underscored by Shawn (a fine Paul Walter Hauser) who pretends to be an obese, overeating expert in intelligence with an IQ of ten.
The intercutting of documentary footage adds spice to the proceedings, and the behind-the-scenes of Olympic worthy skating is illuminating.
With rich layers, a search for truth, exciting skating scenes and a perverse underdog story, "I, Tonya" succeeds in every sense. The acting is Oscar-worthy for Janney and Robbie. Don't miss it!
The Orville (2017)
Lost In Space
The course of "The Orville" is random because the man at her helm, the overrated and banal Seth Macfarlane, hasn't the slightest idea where to steer her.
Is this a comedy? No. It's not funny. Drama then? No. Too many attempts at comedy. A confused, derivative, awful mess? Bingo! Fox should be peeing its pants waiting on a CBS lawsuit for continuing the Enterprise's five year mission. There's also a big chunk of the far superior, confident "Galaxy Quest" in "The Orville."
The attempt at charting a thoughtful, but thoroughly phony, course of discovery by naming the ship after Orville Wright (including a model of the Wright's aircraft on the captain's desk) does not gel when juxtaposed against a blue alien ejaculating through its eyes. In fact, infidelity is trivialized in this moment and underscores the wildly varying tone. Should we laugh at his wife cheating on him or empathize. What occurs naturally is anger at being made fun of by the creator's manipulation of the audience.
Prediction: There won't be a second season of this abomination. With any luck "The Orville" will disappear into a black hole by the third episode
A Masterpiece (of Emotionless Boredom And Nolan Trickery)
Crow the critics are about Nolan's latest, "Dunkirk." A stunning masterpiece say many. Masterpiece my ass.
Snookered by the hype and war film fandom, ducats were placed on counter, a ticket for admission passed back. Lights dimmed, anticipation mounted, and... nothing. Nothing. Save lurching between disparate, battle set pieces featuring people for whom little or no empathy exists. Lacking investment in the characters, what remains are merely adequate, bloodless war scenes easily outgunned by the recent "Fury" and, farther back, "Saving Private Ryan." For example, a young boy is killed but we know nothing of him, nothing of his motivation for climbing aboard a civilian, Dunkirk-bound boat at the last minute. We feel nothing for him because he's simply a cardboard cutout.
As the actors barely register emotion, boredom set in and not to be shaken off. The characters move as wind-up toys. There are few actors who bare their soul like Cillian Murphy, here a shell-shocked survivor. As directed, he sleepwalks with the depth of an amateur in a high school production. He's not alone. All the actors turn in measured performances with identical blank looks and monotone deliveries. Particularly wasted is the actor's actor, Kenneth Branagh.
Certainly the bravery and sacrifice of civilian and military in the Dunkirk evacuation is celebrated in "Dunkirk." Thank you. However, this historical action occurred in 1940. Films echo the zeitgeist of the time in which they're produced. It's an odd choice to make a large (bad) film about an evacuation three-quarters of a century past. There's a stink of political agenda afoot in "Dunkirk" that's intolerable. The enemy, unseen in "Dunkirk," lurks and kills from safety by air and ground. Surrounded with backs to the the Atlantic, the very survival of a way of life is in question, as portrayed in "Dunkirk." (Spoiler Alert: The Allies Won The War.) The enemy's attacks are isolated like terrorism. The result is "Dunkirk" weaves a cautionary allegory mirroring religious extremism bent on destroying all non-believers.
Subtle propaganda is dangerous. "Dunkirk" fits that bill. Either that or Nolan is a complete idiot who hasn't a whit of sense. It's a toss-up based on a filmography including the lackluster borefest "Interstellar," and the beyond inane "Inception."
Nolan remains static in his career with "Dunkirk." His films are half-baked, underwritten, detached, and emotion-free. "Dunkirk" plays like a rough cut by a bad director who expects the viewer to emotionally fill-in-the-blanks. "Dunkirk" even lacks the courage of its convictions in being bloodless - there are no graphic deaths. At least Spielberg had the courage to rub the viewer's nose in the stench of death in "Saving Private Ryan." The first half hour of that film is unprecedented in the depiction of carnage (one can almost taste the grit of raining sand from nearby mortar strikes). Nolan sanitizes-for-your-own-protection. Yet he chose a violent topic and punked out; a war movie detached from death is not a film about war. By design, war cannot include gratuitous violence, just insanity - an element also lacking in "Dunkirk."
The wall-to-wall dramatic, but mixed low, score loses its effectiveness and becomes annoying. And, the constant, ham-handed crosscutting between stories further waters this already thin soup by stopping a scene's dramatic momentum.
A short scene in "Mrs. Miniver" (1942) featuring civilian Walter Pidgeon returning from Dunkirk in his shot up runabout says more in the visuals and a few lines of dialogue about the evacuation than the entirety of "Dunkirk." As Trump might Tweet, "Sad!"
American Honey (2016)
Like Being On A Hamster Wheel
Masterpiece. That's what's being flung in the direction of "American Honey." Seems 'masterpiece' has several definitions: 1) a person's greatest piece of work, as in an art; 2) anything done with masterly skill; 3) a consummate example of skill or excellence of any kind.
This film certainly is not three. Nor two. Not being familiar with the filmmaker's other work, this may be the first definition. That means the filmmaker's other works are more boring and indulgent than "American Honey." That's hard to fathom. Reminder: don't watch any other Andrea Arnold films.
This pseudo-documentary cements its painfully redundant and overlong structure with meaningful scenes that are too few and too far between. A look at the watch at sixty-three minutes in brought terror as there remained another one hour and forty minutes. The film had all it had to say at sixty-three minutes. Cut that one hundred minutes by about seventy minutes and this might have been a damn good cinematic experience - though derivative of many far better films. You know them. Name them.
There are forty-some-odd minutes of essentially the same footage, from the same angle with similar sing-a-long, of the magazine crew in the van bopping down the highway to Rap music while silent Star looks wistfully at the passing landscape. Forty Fricking Some-Odd Minutes! Sure, we'd like a sense of the repetitive nature of the character's lives, but we don't want to be as bored as them. Fire your editor, Andrea. No! Fire yourself.
"American Honey" is not without merit. There's a rawness and truth in the rootless lives of these magazine urchins, and subtle commentary of the gulf between haves and have-nots. However, Shia LaBoeuf and Sasha Lane (her first film) have zero chemistry. Further, LaBoeuf minces around as if in an amateur production shot with your uncle's video camera. His un-tethered performance, Lane's callowness, and the length, sink this film. The one bright spot is Riley Keough's Krystal. At least we know she's alive. However, we don't know anything more about any of the characters due to a lack of arc or development by final credits.
Amazing this film is mentioned on many critics 2016 Top 10 lists. In a year as patently lackluster at the box office as 2016, "American Honey" is a dim bulb on a vast ocean of darkness. That's not wan praise. It's no praise for this bore of a film.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
The Donald Trump Of Films
Even in the Popcorn Movie oeuvre this film is a major disappointment: Soulless, insipid, insulting to one's intelligence. But boy are the SFX great! (Who cares.)
It's twenty years too late, for one. Truly despicable, for two. Films created specifically to launch other films, that is. Cobbing an idea from "Falling Skies," "ID: R" finds a friendly ally to fight an intergalactic war against the Universe-Hopping-To-Suck-Your-Planet-Core aliens. You know, kinda like the Borg, but far less believable. I wonder how the alien light drives work fueled by magma. Must be some special gas, er, magma tank to withstand hotter-than-the-sun 11,000 F molten metal. Maybe the magma cools. Oh, I see. It's really a drive running on iron. Guess these aliens haven't figured how to mine iron from unpopulated worlds (and heat it to molten?).
Then there's a queen. All that's missing from those scenes is Ripley shouting, "Get away from my planet's core, you bitch!"
Brent Spiner is ecstatic. Lot's more screen time, and the final word. The rest - Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch the biggest perpetrators - either phone it in or sleepwalk through contrived scenes in a story so predictable eyes flutter with drowsiness waiting for it to unfold. And how did Hirsch, all alone, find his son in that huge desert? It's best not to ask questions as these for the resultant desire is to self-flagellate for sitting through this excruciatingly awful mess.
There's much to be said for brainless entertainment where one allows the idiocy to run down the back like water on a duck. Then there's braindead entertainment such as this useless, bland sequel to a better, far more fun film. Attend a showing if you must. You've been forewarned - your IQ will fall sixteen points, but get used to it.
Current BO is $50M domestic, $115M international. More and more crap will be made for foreign markets, notably China.
Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)
So Lightweight As To Almost Float
You like her. You really, really like her. Sally Fields, at 70, is an American Treasure. From Gidget to Aunt May, her commitment to craft is unparalleled. She is not the problem with "Hello, My Name Is Doris." It's a script both twee and padded.
It's a shame those who write stories about those afflicted with mental issues find easy routes out of the depths of the disease with a deux es machina. In this case, a man. With a snap of the finger, his spurning heals lifelong hoarder Doris. It rings so false eye rolling follows.
Further, hoarding with hallucinations/delusions are symptoms of schizophrenia - a far more serious affliction. The author simply dipped a cup in the DSM V for a few convenient issues. That's bad form and disrespectful to sufferers.
Tragically, for a serious, women-centric film, "...Doris" just barely passes the Bechdel test.
That Doris is looked upon as a cute little curio (outdated clothes being Fresh!) by the younger generation is an interesting slant. It's predictable the millenials quickly move on to the next shiny thing catching their short attention. The juxtaposition between old and new generations is one bright spot in an otherwise flat and only modestly engaging film.
This feature was expanded from a short. That means contrivances were needed to flesh it out. These contrivances - i.e. self-help Guru Peter Galalgher - are introduced simply as filler adding little to the story.
Some may cringe at the December-May romance. So be it. With no chemistry, it never convinces anyway. What is cringe-worthy is Doris' desperation - another affront to women portrayed as waiting to be saved by a man.
The supporting cast does its best with the slight material. There are no stand outs which is a real problem for the hunky yet vapid male lead Max Greenfield.
See this if you love, really love Sally Fields. She elevates the questionable, flat material, and looks great in spandex. Please God, don't allow this to be Sally Fields' last film appearance. She deserves it to be material far more worthy her acting chops.
Take a number of hasbeens or neverweres, fold in a truly bad, derivative script with neither surprise nor finesse, add indifferent direction, lackadaisical editing, shake well, fling onto a screen. The resulting drips form this sorry excuse for a film.
The screenwriter also owns a food delivery service. He should continue to only deliver bologna to Angelenos too stoned to shop for themselves instead of trying to feed it to viewers. Oh, wait. He did write that "Brady Wives" episode.
Trace Adkins would never leave the confines of a paper bag if purposed with escape through acting. Michael Pare? Really? Is he still alive? It's difficult to determine as he zombie-walks through this role to give 'phoning it in' a new definition. It is again good to see Kris Kristofferson's trademark face screwing and teeth gnashing. This Director, like all others Kris worked for, couldn't tame these tics either. When did Sizemore get released from prison?
Oh, the plot. I haven't seen a film plot like this in a good fifteen minutes. Yada yada daughter kidnapped. Yada yada track kidnappers down. Yada yada bang bang kill kill. Nothing new. Nothing original. Thank me now for saving you from this - the softest word I can use without expletive - snoozefest. Okay, POS. You figure it out.
Who puts up money for dreck like this? I suppose when you're Michael Pare and offered a few ducats you take them. Good thing he found time with all the buzz about his tour-de-force performance in the TV remake of "The Philadelphia Experiment."
It rankles bux are put into useless celluloid as this when there are thousands of scripts far more worthy of entertaining an audience. This film is not only bad, it's a tragic indicator of a deal regardless the outcome. Wake up money men. You're going to lose your underoos on this. Have some cojones and mount better films.
NOTE: IMDb delayed this review until opening weekend was over, and there's noting more desperate than filmmakers who plant reviews from users who've just joined (and consider this the best film ever made) or are either obsessed with, or work for, Trace.
Horace and Pete (2016)
A Rare, Uncompromising And Raw Viewing Experience
Going boldly back to the stagy, early days of TV dramas - minus the live - Louis C.K. created ten mesmerizing chapters in the life of the family Wittel, a damaged and battered family operating, for one hundred years, a dive bar in Brooklyn USA.
At once funny, tragic, shocking and lewd, "Horace and Pete" is an uncompromising truth beyond rare in contemporary entertainment filled with phony sentiment and easy solutions. The episodes - ranging from sixty-eight to thirty minutes - ultimately rips the heart from viewers courageous enough to sit quietly and take the ride along with Louis and an amazing cast whose work deserves every award imaginable. (If ever a show deserved a Peabody, it is "Horace and Pete.") It's doubtful anyone will look at Alan Alda or Jessica Lange in the same way.
It's a pleasure to watch a groundbreaking show setting the storytelling bar at a new, almost unreachable level for future shows to scale. Fair warning, "Horace and Pete" is not for those easily shocked or upset by raw depictions of a family in, to say the least, desperate ruin. Its universal themes of extreme family dysfunction and decades of patriarchal abuse may resonate deeply and touch within or send some searching for a convenient pillow to hide the proceedings from sight.
Not residing in the same Universe as "Cheers," even Bukowski, the vagaries of politics and contemporary life are bandied about by barflies whose wisdom is directly proportional to their alcohol intake. They're not despicable, eschew your pity, and will spit judgment back in your face. They just are with neither delusion, apology nor rationalization. They're someone you know. Or a family member (God help you).
In one extraordinary episode among many, the venerable Laurie Metcalf - playing Louis' ex-wife - admits infidelity against her second husband in a locked down closeup held for ten minutes without a cut.
The production is raw, too. Especially the first episode. There is camera shake, and audio is disrupted when actors thump chests near body mikes. Oddly, a missed match-frame edit making a slight jump cut is allowed to pass. No editor worth their salt would allow such a glaring error. It seems Louis might be underscoring the story rawness within the production. Or he wished to make it look cheap for fund raising purposes. It's really irrelevant as the tech credits are generally fine. Story and character are king here, not pretty pictures.
Enough gratitude for this show cannot be expressed. A show mounted by Louis on a prayer by asking viewers to pay a few bucks per episode - a self-distribution model working well for a show Louis would never offer to networks who wouldn't touch it anyway.
There are not enough kudos to lay at the feet of Louis C.K. and the brave cast. "Horace and Pete" is an unforgettable experience that just might haunt you. Do Not Miss It.
Midnight Special (2016)
A Highly Disappointing SF Film Mashup
It's partially the casting, partially the direction sinking this film. Mostly it's a script cobbed together from "ET," "Starman," a dash of "CE3K," the Superman legend, "Village of the Damned," and generic child-in-jeopardy tale. That's the most amazing, and disappointing, aspect of "Midnight Special" - that the creative and original Jeff Nichols wrote a shamefully derivative script filled with plot holes large enough to fly a mothership through.
After a compelling first act, "Midnight Special" turns into a boring chase/race-against-time story of an extraordinary, luminous boy with 'powers and abilities far beyond that of mortal men' sought by the Feds and a cultish church who venerate him because he speaks coordinates in tongues. This boy comes from "a world-on-world" whose inhabitants watch over us. (Given the state of the world, they're doing a crappy job.) The explanation tracks more like angels from another dimension than aliens.
The boy, played by Jaeden Lieberher, fails to create sympathy through all the chaos. The wonderful Kirsten Dunst has never been more wasted in a placeholder role as the boy's mom. Shannon is his hulking father. Edgerton only serviceable as a tag along State Trooper. They dodge bullets on a lumbering path to specific Florida coordinates where the boy has a date with destiny; the merging of dimension X and our pitiful dimension. Other luminous beings spirit the boy away and POOF - the convergence disappears. Big deal! A most unsatisfying and anticlimactic end that does not inspire the wonder the special effects technicians hoped it would despite Mom's mugging at the otherworldly architecture.
It might occur this is a Jesus allegory with a 'birth' of a messiah from common parents. There's not a glimmer of that (save some 'fire from Heaven'). Early on, there was promise of social commentary about our over-surveilled lives. Nope. That's not present either. Also lacking, commentary about people steeping in religious fervor to fill absences in themselves. The church members, including Sam Shepherd, are caricatures.
"Midnight Special" adds neither subtext nor exposition to a story begging for some. Even the title derived from the song doesn't track. "Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me." Okay, he did shine light, but the Feds - after everyone within a hundred mile radius sees the other world - still prosecute and jail Dad and the Trooper. That we're deaf, dumb and blind in a mysterious Universe is not a lot to be left with after two hours.
Too much mystery ruins a film - the slight flash of light in Dad's eyes at fade out an example. Without context, too much mystery makes "Midnight Special" an uncooked, epic misfire in this dimension or any other. Give it a pass.
Er ist wieder da (2015)
Brilliant Commentary Of Contemporary Society Through A Forties Lens
"Look Who's Back" posits Hitler floats down - from somewhere - to land in an abandoned Berlin lot seventy years after his suicide. A bold idea backed up by a smart, funny and incisive script (that closely follows the book) delivered by a good cast. The resulting package is thought provoking, shocking and, at times, hilarious.
Initially seen a laughable street performer, a foggy Herr Hitler walks Berlin's streets searching for the Führerbunker and wonders what happened to the thousand year Reich. He takes selfies with bemused tourists, and gets into a fight with a mime who's ticked-off his thunder is taken by an icon of terror.
Hitler falls in with a hapless TV journalist who becomes his traveling companion on a cross-Germany trip to learn what's bugging people, and what they desire. They honestly tell him - believing he's an actor and not the real thing - about wages and education. Mostly, the people are vocal with despicable hate for immigrants. Here, Muslims fill in for Jews who are barely mentioned.
In a brilliant bit of dialogue, a working class German states Muslims have IQs of fifty or sixty. Hitler asks what is the average German's IQ. The worker tells him eighty. (80-89 — Below average: Can perform explicit routinized hands-on tasks without supervision as long as there are no moments of choice and it is always clear what has to be done.)
Hitler discovers TV and wonders why this technological marvel broadcasts mostly cooking shows. He quickly becomes computer-literate. Young adults latch onto him believing he's the joke du jour. Before you know it, Hitler's polemics have millions of social media hits.
He becomes a regular contributor on a very popular TV show where his nationalist speech (more passionate and even tempered versus the wild-eyed rants of yore) strikes a chord. Honestly, those who are awake in contemporary society will find grains of truth in what this monster says.
Then the Fuhrer writes a book that's the source for a film.
This multifaceted film tackles a number of important issues: the permanence of racism and xenophobia, the danger of projecting darkness onto a manipulative figurehead (eerie in the Trump era), life in a dumbed-down world, lack of personal responsibility, and much more. It's also a history lesson presenting just how Hitler rose in the Thirties.
The tone veers serious when the journalist learns, through viewing videotape, that this is no actor, this is The Hitler. No spoilers as to what transpires.
"Look Who's Back" is brilliant satire, biting social commentary, and entertaining. It's well worth a view as long as you don't mind a psychopath telling you what's wrong with society.
Welcome Back, Will Smith
After a series of career missteps in truly awful films, Will Smith returns with a vengeance in "Concussion." Smith is nearly unrecognizable as Dr. Omalu, the Nigerian immigrant who takes the powerful NFL to task for the deaths of players due to the brain disease he discovers.
While the plot is a very familiar Little Man David – Corporate Goliath story, the film is elevated by not only Smith's work but terrific supporting players in regretful Alec Baldwin and supportive Albert Brooks. There's particular note of David Morse, a C level, sixth billing actor who continually shows his impressive chops. Morse plays to great effect Mike Webster, a Steelers player who goes quietly insane – pulling teeth and supergluing them back, shocking himself with a Taser – and finally succeeds at suicide. As a Pittsburgh Coroner, Dr. Omalu's scientific curiosity regarding the death of the otherwise healthy Webster sets the ball in motion.
Thing is, Webster is a former football God in Steeler's town where fans take the game far more seriously than a sport ever should be. The pressured Omalu persists, pays out of pocket for expensive tests while the complications quickly pile up.
"Concussion" adds subtext about what it means to be an American. Smith places Heaven just slightly above America. Surely a large corporation who knows they're killing people will take swift and direct action to stop the deaths and forget the billions at stake. That's what America stands for. Or so the not-yet-a citizen Omalu believes. Then the very rude awakening alarm clock goes off.
This ripped from the headlines story also adds a love interest for Omalu that's sweet but neither here nor there.
One laughable scene finds Omalu courted by the Fed to be the US Coroner. The interviewer touts the government's honesty. Omalu doesn't take that corrupt bait.
There's sincerity in these proceedings. A Capraesque quality. "Concussion" successfully walks the tightrope between earnestness and cynicism - quite an accomplishment in contemporary cinema. "Concussion" offers good acting, a solid story that's part forensic mystery, part Don Quixote quest, part pledge of allegiance. It's satisfying and worth a look.
No Drama + No Comedy - Stakes = Zero Story
Mostly, the everyman applauds when another everyman struggles against odds to find success. Sometime those struggles are herculean. Not the case in "Joy." While the real life, inventive Joy deserves kudos, the bottom line is this is a feature film about the creator of a better mop.
Russell struggles, unsuccessfully, to portray as harrowing the path to the mop. Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), deals with a houseful of kids, only a few of them children by age. The motley crew in a small house is not on Joy's side. She is the breadwinner, the adult, the rock whose imagination is a liability to those overly dependent on her. It's a paint-by-numbers affair from there – familial jealousy, dirty financial dealings, the nightmare foretold by the old saw, "Do not do business with your family."
The only one with an eye on Joy's genius is Grandma (Diane Ladd). Joy uses her small crumb of encouragement to build a mop prototype. She brings it to QVC where the initial sale segment bombs. Slick QVC huckster Bradley Cooper takes a chance and allows Joy to showcase the mop herself. Bingo! The mop sells out. Success? Nope. The parts supplier is screwing Joy, every sale of the mop loses money, and the family wants their money back. Financial ruin follows. Then Grandma dies. But the plucky Joy womans up to settle all scores financial and emotional. Hoorah!
In lieu of dramatizing a woman overcoming, Russell instead created a painfully unfunny comedy. His palette is broad with a spectrum of quirkies mincing about with a family dynamic that could only exist in a poorly written movie like "Joy." The spot-on Russell eventually had to fall. "Joy" is the X marking the spot.
Made-for-this-film, unfunny soap opera segments are unmotivated. There is no subtext pointing to the off-TV characters. There's also no payoff. There are out-of-left-field scenes of the soap in the first quarter and it's never seen again. What's the point?
The Cooper-Lawrence chemistry bright and vibrant in past screen pairings is absent in "Joy." Here, it's given way to forced discomfort. There's a sense Lawrence, Cooper and DeNiro at some point knew "Joy" was a dog and tried hard to not phone it in. That or their direction was, "You've just been hit by a phaser on stun."
The tonally confused "Joy" offers little on the path to an unsatisfying end where Joy makes it big, big, big and helps others succeed.
There's little sympathy for Joy. The stakes: not living to one's potential and living with unfulfilled dreams. Her children are healthy. Her dad, DeNiro, runs a going concern and could help financially if push came to shove. She's smart and capable of working. Poor Joy.
One wonders about the scores of courageous men and women who daily struggle against far greater odds, wolves at the door, to put bread on the table. Where are tales of these folks? It's an odd and tragic choice for Russell to highlight Joy's story (and insensitive in the current economy where one in seven US children go to bed hungry). The can-do attitude of a person overcoming trials is powerful. Open your eyes, Mr. Russell. There are far better underdog tales to make. They're just not sexy as Lawrence dancing with a mop.
The Revenant (2015)
Miserable; Not Only The Character's Life But The Film Too
At 156 minutes, "The Revenant" is unwatchable, so it wasn't. After an hour, instead skipped to watch a minute every three or four through to the last twenty minutes which encapsulates the final conflict between John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Hugh Glass). Nothing was missed for in between is Glass grimacing left then right.
There is a harrowing, savage bear attack leading to Glass hanging to life by a slender thread. Oddly, all that came to mind is how the effects were accomplished. That goes to a lack of empathy for protagonist Glass.
This is a film of unquestioned artistic merit. Though some gush about the cinematography, it is merely serviceable. It's not the cinematography that's beautiful, it's the wilderness. All that's required of an available light cinematographer is to set the frame and F-stop. The actors most likely kissed pavement back in civilization after shooting this demanding film. They did well under the circumstances, particularly DiCaprio. The villain is the director and the unreachable allegory he wrote on the script pages.
In "Jodorowsky's Dune," the titular director made a few memorable Seventies' films. When pitching "Dune," the studios requested a standard length film - 120 minutes (not viable for a film from a story this complex). But Jodorowsky wondered why it couldn't be ten hours or twenty hours. He was clueless why the studios weren't funding him. The doc is in part the story of a delusional, out-of-control ego. The viewer may wish to slap his face. Enter Alejandro González Iñárritu who also appears to have an ego of the same dimensions.
God bless the artists, but not those who trade their expression for self aggrandizement. Not only is "The Revenant" a vanity project, it is Oscar bait.
Awards should be given to those brave enough to sit through this slog. It is a simple story raised to the power of crashing bore. "The Revenant" is nearly incomprehensible, and filled with spiritual mumbo-jumbo even Iñárritu most likely can't explain.
See this if you relish masochism. It's a bet this film will bomb. Maybe that will awaken Iñárritu. He's a genius. He just doesn't know how to connect with an audience. He certainly doesn't here.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Wild Fun That Comes With A Big Price Tag
Based on the 168 minute version.
There's no denying Quentin Tarantino's twisted genius and perverse vision. His films are unapologetic challenges to share the roller-coaster as long as one accepts Tarantino run the ride. No one seems to mind. It may be time to challenge that precept.
In a "Playboy" interview, Tarantino stated, "I just don't want to be an old-man filmmaker." Pure Tarantino, "The Hateful Eight" is poetic, profane, laconic, really nasty, bloody as all hell, and meditative; the first half - uncharacteristically old man-y, moody and brooding with meaningful dialogue sharp as a razor. There's promise of a re-think as if Tarantino's voice finally broke to adult from adolescent. Then the film derails to the usual Tarantino / Three Stooges high jinks.
This filmmaker is a master at creating tension; cinematic foreplay teasing and teasing until big, sweet, orgiastic release in blood and guts. He also deconstructs and spins plot twists and turns into gold. That task is easy in, essentially, a stage play with eight trapped in one room. A Tarantino film with social commentary as text, the subject under the microscope is race hatred. Setting the film post-Civil War allows the saying of things unacceptable in contemporary society. Like "Django Unchained," nary a few minutes pass without a "ni**er." And the room is divided into North and South.
The length works against this film. At 168 minutes it was quite enough. The added twenty-odd minutes in the roadshow version might make the experience interminable. The film runs out of steam as it plays out and plays out with dialogue between the bang-bang – and there is plenty of blood.
Then there's misogyny. "The Hateful Eight" revels in the abuse of Jennifer Jason Lee, even with her portrayal of a scheming, cold-hearted killer. Her multiple beatings and battered face appears as if a domestic violence victim – most unappealing.
The cast does well with the material. There are no standouts, really, but Tim Roth channels Cristoph Waltz who must have been busy.
The cinematography is spectacular. Not necessarily the lighting, but the incredible use of the wide screen frame. The look and feel is evocative of David Lean epics Tarantino emulates even to the use of 'Roadshow', a practice that passed out of favor fifty years ago. Films are no longer shot this way. In this regard it was a pleasure to watch.
If Tarantino wished to create the emotion of hate in the audience, he succeeded. The hate spills over the footlights, but there is a fine line between using verbiage and posture to underscore race hatred and making a racist (and misogynistic) film. More than in other films, "The Hateful Eight" crosses that line. Racists hide in plain sight and race bait. This film again leads to question Tarantino's personal attitude. He becomes more suspect peppering scripts with "ni**er" - even in his contemporary films (joining real life "Black Lives Matter" protesters notwithstanding). Every use of "ni**er" is another nail in the coffin. Also, his neurotic mentions of big black c**k in several films (here, sucking) skews toward wish fulfillment. As Black critics have said, "Something is wrong with this guy (Tarantino)."
This is a very ugly, distasteful, caveman film within grand entertainment. That push-pull leads to a zero sum, and self-reflection as to what exactly is entertaining about "The Hateful Eight." Given the dichotomy, not a lot.
Episode IV Remade In JJ's Image
After so many years of waiting it is a thrill to inject into the arm a new film in the franchise. The ST: TFA fix is short lived. Like a sugar rush. Inexorably, time ticks on. The high subsides and one is left, well, empty.
It's difficult to imagine all the talent in H'Wood and beyond combined their creative juices to make this very familiar tasting drink. In fact, it's Episode IV Cola in a new, politically correct container. Wait! At the helm, JJ Abrams, rapist of the Star Trek franchise and all-around hack. That explains it.
SW: TFA is too long, too homage-y (was there really a reason to crank up the chess game on the Falcon?), and absent an original idea for your pleasure. Thank the Maker there were no Jar Jars. That's not exactly high praise. Why exactly does Kylo Ren wear a Vaderesque mask? Mr. V's mask was utilitarian. Questions as these seep in while scanning for the Civic in the parking lot.
Cynics crow SW: TFA is a money making machine. Rabid fans stand ready to eviscerate those not drinking the Kool Aid. More moderate fans might pine for the time their virgin eyes watched desperate Luke consider his future in the twins setting before him on the sandy horizon to John William's brilliant score. Those who venerate will. Those who grew up in the flickering light of the preceding trilogies might take pause and remember. Remember.
Sure it was fun. Glad to see some of the old crew again. There was emotion and humor. Too, there was promise. It evaporated like an ice cube in the Tattoine desert. For that, Mr. Abrams, you will not be forgiven. Place your voodoo doll of Abrams for Ep VII next to Lucas' doll for Eps I and II. Feel free to stick pins at your convenience.
Some films become cultural touchstones. "Star Wars: A New Hope" is one. SW: TFA is not. It's just another film. Perhaps the failure is the audience. With lofty expectation there's bound to be disappointment. Maybe not. SW: TFA wrought heartache.
Fails To Plumb The Subject's Depth
A poor kissing cousin to "Stockholm, Pennsylvania," "Room" is a backyard shed creating the world's limits to a kidnapped young woman and her by-the-adbductor son.
Snatched at seventeen, Joy (Brie Larson) is imprisoned for seven years by a standard, un-dimensional psycho holding the power of life and death over her. (Cross him in the least and there's no electricity or heat.) At the start, Joy's son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), is angry and semi-feral yet quite content following silly rules in the only world he knows. Their pointless days come to an end when Joy contrives Jack's death forcing the psycho to bury the allegedly dead child. Well-rehearsed, Jack escapes and the dominoes fall leading to their escape to a world that has passed by Joy and one in which Jack has zero knowledge (a first encounter with steps mystifies him).
Yellow ribbons and celebrations follow. With opposite effect. Joy's parents have divorced, high school chums have moved on. A formative slice of high school track star Joy's life is missing. Joy's biological dad harshly judges her; mom and daughter fight at the same level of a rebellious teen railing against parental control.
Due to his age, Jack is 'plastic', his societal integration much easier. Soon he's knocking around a ball with neighbor kid. But, a reporter's insensitive question causes Joy to break down which leads to a brief institutionalization. And she's released all better.
However, the treatment of an inherently dramatic subject matter of abduction and reintegration here falls short. The sunshine and rainbows, feel good ending, while moving, is mawkish. Everyone is healed and the horror of what was lived through for nearly a decade is forgotten. It is also a cheap device when children are wiser than adults. All these problems of the script.
The balance of the failure of this film rests squarely on Brie Larson's shoulders. Her portrayal, as others, is at arms length with the character and hit a wall keeping her from connecting with feelings. Many crow her portrayal is spectacular. For her it is. In the annals of effective acting it is middling. Therefore, this is her tour de force - by default.
"Stockholm, Pennsylvania" took the protagonist's story to a far more logical, satisfying and shocking conclusion. On the base, sensational end of the spectrum, TV's "Cleveland Abduction." Find "Room" between the two. Either a good movie-of-the-week or poor indie sidestepping, and in some ways trivializing, a horrific subject.
Watch "Stockholm, Pennsylvania" instead.
The 33 (2015)
FLASH: Hollywood Invades Chile
Given a full-on H'Wood treatment, the compelling story of "The 33" trapped miners becomes tasteless fodder for international audiences.
The Chilean government and mining corporation accepted the deaths of these miners even as they still lived and breathed. The filmmakers also treat this story with a carelessness further burying these brave men. There's a roster of stars wringing hands and fretting in an embarrassing and juvenile dramatic fashion. The only fireworks from scrappy Juliette Binoche who drives the continued efforts to save these men. The rest of the cast simply deliver predictable lines in a contrived, static plot based on a novel by one of the survivors. Was it really that calm and boring among these men?
The setup is too short to provide empathy. That may be a function of the sheer number of men. However, it leads to a lack of emotional investment in them. Portraying caring relatives above does not pay off the investiture in those below. Even two-way video messaging between trapped and relatives is flat and dull. Their release from the grip of the mine is therefore anti-climatic and borders on "so what."
Having never been in a mine, nor being an engineer, when the initial pilot hole misses by thirty feet due to rock dynamics a question arose, "why not drill for the variance." It took the cinematic engineering geniuses another hour of screen time to figure this out. That and the 'Mericans save the day through perseverance after other drills quieted. What would Chile do without the good ol' US of A (a question those who suffered torture and death at the hands of CIA-backed puppet Pinochet in 1973 might best answer).
That the dialogue is English with a few non-subtitled Spanish passages is a condescending pat on the head to the countrymen whose language was not used.
It takes firm resolve to take a highly dramatic story and churn it into baby food, and the filmmakers succeeded. Give this film a pass.
400 Days (2015)
The Idiots Who Made This Forgot The Story AND An Ending
Let's save ninety-some-odd minutes. Thank me later.
An intriguing premise: four unfortunates sequestered in an underground environment to test the effects of long term isolation in anticipation of a similar length (400 day) space flight. So far so good. The possibility of many complications arise in a four person play akin to people trapped together in a car during a long journey.
And the complications do arise. Each of the quartet reacts differently to the isolation. There are altercations, hallucinations, injections of who-knows-what, plot twists and turns, and finally an escape to what looks like a lightless town in the Q Continuum. After arriving, two of the four are never to be heard from again. (In fairness there are inexplicable scenes of one. The other, Dane Cook, an Executive Producer, disappears. It's hoped he stays disappeared after not only acting in but bringing this crap to the screen.)
The two remaining astronuts (sic) - a man and a woman - return to the environment. Seems they were a couple when she broke up with him - just before embarking. An interesting complication but not plausible.
Then this opus of already questionable quality just cuts to black. - Fin - The End. Why explain the dozen or so unanswered questions that are left dangling. If you have any sensibilities you will be livid and lash out at the screen. Or wish the filmmaker's necks were within your grasp to crush.
Another film from the 'Ambiguous Or Non-Existent Ending School Of Dramatic Non-Writing'. Let's just end it and not take any knocks for, "THAT'S what it is!" With better writing, including an ending, then the journey for all - filmmakers and audience alike - would have been far more pleasant.
I suppose a case can be made for madness, hallucination, corporate experimentation, or some other nonsense. A careful second view while taking notes to pick up the crumbs of clues might illuminate exactly what's going on. That the viewer's hand is not held, or their brains not filled with expository dialogue, is fine. Except the central idea of what happened to these people is left unanswered. That is wholly unacceptable since the rest is a muddle anyway. Giving the impression of being clever does not make one clever.
Thanks are now due for saving your valuable time. Pass on this. Please.
Addicted to Fresno (2015)
Aims Low and Misses
This low budget tale follows two sisters - one a lesbian seeking a soulmate, the other a sex addict seeking the nearest convenient penis - as they plot to get rid of the body of a scumbag the addict accidentally kills.
More than half the script is delicious, sharp and lively (and filthy) with more than a few pretty good laughs. Unfortunately, the story runs out of steam too early and what's left is padding in scenes like selling a cartload of stolen purple dildoes at a lesbian softball league dinner. (It sounds funnier on the page than it turns out on screen.) Same goes for a completely lame Bar Mitzvah party with celebrant crooning a filthy rap song - obviously much to the chagrin of parents and Bubbee.
A lowlight is a padded scene finding Greer teaching how to perform fellatio on a purple dildo.
Kudos to the venerable Judy Greer - the sex addict here - who evidently can powerlift off the page the text of any script thrown at her. Natasha Lyonne is also quite good and holds her own in battling cinematic sibling Greer.
There are Saturday Night Live alums present - Fred Armisen and Molly Shannon - but they are no reason to tune in (along with the rest of the flaccid, and in some cases awful, cast).
Another misstep is the addition of a neither-here-nor-there LGBT agenda which doesn't mix well with the main story. The inclusion of a mentally challenged character was a risk, yet it tracks cheap and exploitative.
The ending has a tacked on feel. It's at once aw-shucks corny, inane and unsatisfactory.
No great shakes; a bit of fun with two good actors doing pretty damn good in a familiar story. Be forewarned: it'll disappear from memory fairly quickly.
Look at me! My film is brilliant, the rest are crap
While there are strokes of brilliance and humor in "Birdman," the sum effect is shock at the narcissistic disdain the director holds for audiences.
The plot is simple enough: a huge action star (Keaton) refusing to add another franchise film to his resume attempts to break away by mounting a pretentious, overstuffed play based on Raymond Carver's writings. A coterie of malcontents and neurotics abet Keaton. Using an experimental brush loaded with mysticism, surrealism and existential angst, Iñárritu follows the on and off stage drama in one take. (Acclimating to the lack of cuts takes a few moments, but an unbroken shot does not really add to this story just as it failed in Hitchcock's "Rope.")
The good is aforementioned. Unfortunately, the bad tilts the scale way over.
Partly meant as commentary about the nature of art and distilling culture to the lowest common denominator, the director beats a dead horse, resuscitates, and then beats it to death again.
Add obvious commentary about the craft of acting on stage and film and blithely stumbling upon success.
Ironically, those who are drawn by this big budget art film have the sophistication to realize the message already. Those who wouldn't see "Birdman" on a bet, the audience whose nose elitist Iñárritu tweaks, will never receive the message. Why should they? People like what they like, and if they like cotton candy let them go forth and eat. Only one with a huge ego – this director – would have the temerity to call anyone on their preferences.
Then add whining actors portraying every showbiz cliché while the film spools on and on and on.
Then add the irony of effects like those in frowned upon action tentpoles are what made the single shot possible in "Birdman."
The actors bought into this story. They give it their all and do good work, particularly Edward Norton. However, Zach Galifinakis proves he's out of his depth outside man-child roles for which he's best known. One wonders if Galifinakis was cast to prove the director's corollary.
Slow, boring, distasteful and insulting does not offer a pleasant experience. The best to be said is "Birdman" tried for heights others fear to attempt. Like Icarus, the wax melted.
Murder of a Cat (2014)
Strives To Be Mundane
Check any screen writing manual for definitions of plot point, twist, rising action. Then the RomCom playbook: meet girl, lose girl by self, regain girl, lose girl to externals, win girl.
The script for "Murder of a Cat" is a textbook example. Each move is telegraphed. Each line moves toward the big twist right on time at minute 77. It may not be enough to discount this, or any film, but sadly there's nothing else to recommend it.
The chemistry between Nikki Reed and Fran Kranz is nonexistent. The former sleepwalks through a thankless, underwritten part while the latter, a sexless man-child living with Mom, was surely directed to angrily shout every line. Even the venerable J.K. Simmons phones it in, as does Greg Kinnear. Only Blythe Danner turns in a nuanced performance.
Further, Fran Kranz isn't a character, he's an annoying, trite and insulting caricature that's an affront to sensibility.
That leaves only plot: a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew quest for the killer of Franz' cat. The yawn-inducing trail leading to the killer is paved with inane set pieces rolled in obvious that the filmmakers incorrectly believed was quirk.
There's a slapdash, let's-get-this-over feel to the proceedings which may derive from a tight shooting schedule. That might be forgiven, but when the cast isn't invested that feeling wafts over the footlights to hapless audiences. That conceit is the worst aspect in this useless film.
"Murder of a Cat" is an unfunny, undramatic, unwatchable insult not worthy of anyone's time. Maybe your cat will like it. (Maybe they'll wish for the same fate as the cinematic feline.)
Gone Girl (2014)
The Film "Gone Girl" Is What "Gone Girl" Is About
The misanthropic ingredients in the "Gone Girl" blender result in an unappetizing drink smacking bitter.
"Gone Girl" is what stoners call a 'Goof,' i.e. a stupid joke played on those high to have a laugh at their expense. A step further; "Gone Girl" is self-reflexive and abets itself. The script for the film is part of the story of the film which is a soapy, broad slice of rancid Americana.
Simply, if Affleck/Pike were to snuggle and watch a film within "Gone Girl" it would be "Gone Girl."
"Gone Girl" is a social/media satire, and could have been one of the best ever except it both takes itself too seriously and relentlessly rubs the audience's nose in ugliness and extreme cynicism.
The filmmaker's tongues are also too far in the cheek. There are dumb as posts Ozark Dwellers/Thieves. A caricature 'Bad Girl' who gets away with murder. The insensitive, cheating dumbbell hubby. The beyond-catty Nancy Grace stand-in Missi Pyle. Even the choice of openly gay in non-cinema life Neil Patrick Harris as an obsessed former suitor underscores the satire. Like what you see? According to the filmmakers they're you.
Those who rant and rail about the lapses in logic, nuances of plot, and motivation miss the point. There is no point except to allow junk-media-obsessed America a cold hard look in a mirror. Stand back and inspect the story. Scene after scene, this film is so over-the-top as to be laughable. Except the joke, told by elitists, is on you.
Though meant to be acerbic, this satire bites too deep into the hand that feeds it. "Gone Girl" is terribly misguided. It misses greatness through lack of restraint and balance.
Still Alice (2014)
A difficult film to dislike, "Still Alice" has its heart and head in the right place. Julianne Moore's performance, as always, is terrific. However, on the whole, it falls flat.
This story of a brilliant, vital women afflicted by a rare, congenital form of early onset Alzheimers fails in not fully exploring the emotion in the relationships between her and family, particularly hubby Alec Baldwin. Adding to the gap between audience and film is an excess of documentary education regarding this awful disease. All that and the redolence of Oscar bait.
Plainly, hubby acts a moron. His motivation in the midst of his wife's swift decline is a plum new job. He literally abandons her to move to Minnesota from New York. Throughout he is neutral by maintaining a cold, clinical outlook. He speaks nary a word regarding the intellectual and emotional loss of a wife he's spent decades beside. The filmmakers, either intentionally or not, portrayed his exit as a convenient way to move on. The tears he sheds before splitting smack of relief, not grief.
It's not only hubby foregoing real emotion. Moore's eldest, pregnant daughter reacts with an "It's okay" after discovering she has the gene and is doomed to a similar fate. While hysteria would push the story into unwanted melodrama, the non-reactive portrayal is similarly unwanted.
Moore's great concern with her youngest daughter is nagging about eschewing acting for the stability of a college education. It is this daughter who volunteers to caretake Mom. An odd final scene finds the daughter reading the play "Angels In America" to a far gone Moore. As if trying to wring something from her she is unable to give, the daughter asks, "What is the play about?" to which Moore haltingly replies, "Love." "That's right. Love," the daughter replies. Saying 'Love' does not infuse a story with the emotion. Showing love does, and it's absent here. Those close to Moore simply look at her with a morbid curiosity reserved for strangers.
Moore's decline is heartbreaking, particularly when a pre-planned suicide fails. It's a shame she's surrounded by matter-of-fact robots.
Audiences should not be required to fill in blanks of emotion between Moore and others. There have been far more affecting Disease of the Week made for TV movies. Disconnecting to emphasize the least important aspects of dealing with a person afflicted by this awful disease is more tragic than this story.
A Film Feigning Importance
Somewhere on the path to juxtaposing the story of the imminent death by starvation of humanity on Earth against a desperate search for a new planetary home (hopefully to not similarly despoil), the authors of "Interstellar" forgot to consider the audience and instead created a far too long, far too arcane and far too pet film. "Interstellar" is a kissin' cousin to the equally pet, pseudo mind-blowing, con man sleight-of-hand "Inception."
A bitter taste is left in the mouth by a self-satisfied script constantly trumpeting a specialness that, alas, is not at all special.
Audiences have been beat to death by the tropes, plot elements and dialogue seen so many times before. For example, the "Pursued By Demons Retired ______ Forced Back Into Service" trope.
Women, as in most films, are relegated to the back of the bus. When will writers and filmmakers wake up to the richness in woman's hearts and minds - even a cold scientist's ticker and noggin?
Face-down-death awaits the character with the fewest lines and closeup. (Much like the Bic 'Red Shirts' in "Star Trek" you knew would never make it to the end credits.)
An intelligent young woman becomes hysterical because Daddy's leaving, yet her intellect does not grasp his mission is important: To save her and the rest of the world. Beside, Daddy didn't explain, at least not on camera.
Matt Damon resurrects from hypersleep to wreak havoc as in the hackneyed "Don't Astronauts on "The Twilight Zone" Pass Basic Psych Tests?" plot element.
Don't forget the Dead Wife and Wise Grandpa tropes.
Wonder is non-existent. That's quite a feat as few films have led us through a wormhole. "Black Hole" did a better job. At least the mysterious passage in Disney's opus didn't suggest injection into a globule borrowed from the coda of "2001: A Space Odyssey." (Also cobbed from Kubrick's masterpiece are the more human than humans (articulated) computers.)
Cinematic corn served warm with a schmear of butter is quite delicious. Corn served cold by trying-too-hard actors sittin' on the porch waxin' philosophical is a dish best passed to the person sitting on your right.
There are nonsensical interviews of dust storm survivors who describe what the special effects department has just shown. There's no lack of understanding why the run time is 169 minutes. The dogged determination to not self-edit and lose script pages underscores either Nolan's lack of being a good audience or not caring about audiences - the latter a quality indicative of too many contemporary filmmakers.
The ending leads to head scratching that, in another film, would elicit laughs from the audience. Poltergeists my patootie!
"Interstellar" veers uncomfortably close to complete train wreck, but there are a few nice touches. While derivative, the articulated computers are cool. That mankind can solve mankind's problems without an advanced alien intelligence, God or other deus ex machina is the one original idea - and it's a good one.
Save very few elements to recommend it, "Interstellar" is a really, really long bore pretending importance. There's nothing worse than films of that ilk.
Bad Words (2013)
Redefines How B-A-D Is Spelled.
There's certainly plenty of room for comedy in our lives; whether a co-worker telling a joke, a TV show or film. Some comedy is universal. Some highly personal. That's why some comedians prosper in lengthy careers while others founder and take that long, lonely trip to obscurity.
Then there's edge. In the right hands it is quite effective (like "Bad Santa" and most of "Bad Grandpa"). In the wrong hands - like these filmmakers - the result is gratuitous wallowing in ego with the belief you're right and everyone else doesn't know what's funny; The 'I Hate Myself But You're Not Cool If You Don't Like This School.' Edge without an equally effective counterbalance results in pure vileness. There you have it!
To the point. "Bad Words" is a cringe-inducing, the opposite of funny, misogynistic, misanthropic, self-loathing, racist piece of crap not suitable for human consumption presented to potential viewers on an ugly platter as a comedy.
The ubercontrived story, if you care, follows an 8th grade dropout seeking a spelling bee prize in competition against wunderkinds seeking same. His agenda lies in reaching the father who abandoned him, and who just happens to hold office as head of the spelling bee. You were spared 90 minutes of time you could have used watching paint dry - a more amusing pursuit.
High, or more appropriate, low points include: placing ketchup on a young girl's chair then congratulating her for menstruating to shame her out of the contest; leading a 10 year old kid to a bar and sneaking drinks to him under the bar then hiring a prostitute to expose her breasts to him; calling a fellow Indian contestant (the Bar kid) every possible racist term used for the race; whispering to another contestant that panties Bateman hides in his pocket belong to his mother and are a post-coital gift; telling off an angry mother by noting the flexibility of her vagina - in front of the kid. And that's just a bit of the awfulness.
Jason Bateman's co-conspirator is Kathryn Hahn; a reporter filing a story on why a 40 year old is in a kid's competition. Her portrayal of repulsion/attraction to this Peter Pan (she allows him to have sex with her but doesn't allow him look at her) is creepy. The funny she brought to the (at least) semi-bearable "We're The Millers" was wrung from her every cell here. And she's the best thing in this alleged film, one that can not be elevated even by the venerable character actor Philip Baker Hall and the wonderful Allison Janey (who is accused of being Gay and asked who wears the strapon).
Indie film has moments of brilliance. Outside Studio constraints courageous stories sometimes flourish. Some might call "Bad Words" courageous as it's unapologetic. Perhaps, but it is just not funny. More disturbing is the targets of this particularly nasty humor are pre-teen children. But, if schadenfreude is your thing... watch "The Three Stooges." (It's doubtful those who enjoy "Bad Words" have a clue about either.)
Bateman is a funny guy. His work on "Arrested Development" and other TV shows and films is excellent. The best one could hope is no one will ever let him Direct again, and that the screenwriter suffer some experience leading him to an epiphany to reflect on what he's dumping on the world.
Actually, the best outcome is all traces of this film are E-X-P-U-N-G-E-D from the planet.