Juno is one of those movies that was hyped to death by the media, upon release, and therefor could never have lived up to that hype when one finally caught up with it. That being said, Juno is a charming, funny, poignant story of a teenage girl (billed as Ellen Page at that time) who suddenly finds herself pregnant and the father/boyfriend (Michael Cera) not being much help. Now the teenage girl must figure out what is right for her and her unborn child, while she forms a relationship with a Yuppie couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) potentially interested in adopting her offspring.
An excellent cast, also including J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s parents, is supported by a good script from Diablo Cody and a quirky, but not too quirky, film style from director Jason Reitman. It can be funny, sentimental and sweet, but also, refreshingly, doesn’t stray too far from the more realistic side of it’s portrayed situation. Not to say it’s perfect, it’s not. Juno’s smart-ass wisecracking starts to grow tiresome about halfway through, but luckily, the film changes tone somewhat, as the birth draws near, and we see less of her acerbic wit. The slow pace both hinders and serves the movie, but as it’s not an action film, that’s not a major problem. No, not worthy of all the hype, but a good movie without a doubt. On a side note…does anyone else feel Jason Bateman is one of the most underrated actors around?
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY (2016)
Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) is the screw-up branch manager of the Chicago offices of the Zenotek Company. His hard-nosed sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the interim CEO and arrives on Christmas Eve to announce massive lay-offs, budget cuts and the canceling of that night’s company Christmas party. She threatens to close the failing branch down if they don’t turn things around. Clay holds the party anyway, to try to impress a potential client (Courtney B. Vance), while his Chief Tech Officer Josh (Jason Bateman) and his head of tech/love interest Tracey (Olivia Munn) try to save the company. Things start to fall apart as the party spirals out of control and Carol is stranded in Chicago and heads back to the office.
Raunchy holiday comedy is directed by Josh Gordon from a script by Laura Solon, Dan Mazer and Justin Malen. It’s a routine comedy in every way from the loser needing to triumph in the face of adversity to the divorced Josh finally working up the courage to pursue Tracey. None of that stops it from being a fun and naughty comedy thanks to buoyant direction from Gordon, some actual wit in the script and a very energetic and entertaining cast. Kate McKinnon steals many a scene, Anniston has a blast as the tough and all business Carol and the underrated Bateman and Olivia Munn have a really nice on-screen chemistry both comedically and romantically. To a degree, this comedy could have been set at any time of year, but does get a chance to have naughty fun with many Christmas traditions and clichés. Routine and familiar…yes. A raunchy, fun holiday comedy for grown-ups…that, too!
THE GIFT (2015)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
Simon Callum (Jason Bateman) is living a charmed life. He has a successful career and has just moved into a upscale suburban house with his beautiful wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). A chance meeting with Gordon Moseley (Joel Edgerton who also wrote and directs), a former classmate from high school, changes his idyllic existence as Moseley starts making uninvited stops at Simon’s house, especially when Robyn is home alone. As Simon fears the man is obsessed with his wife, he finds another game may be afoot and one whose revelations Simon may not like. What does Gordon know and what is Simon hiding?
A very impressive debut from actor Joel Edgerton as both writer and director as he creates a tense thriller that fools you into thinking you’re watching one type of story, but it turns into another. At first we think we are watching yet another Cape Fear scenario with straightedge Simon and Robyn being stalked by the strange “Gordo”, but Edgerton has some surprises up his sleeve and we get revelations uncovered that may change our perspective on the true nature of our characters. His script gradually unravels a far more complicated story, as Robyn begins to ask questions as to just what the relationship was between the two men in the past and what happened between them. She finds that neither man may be who she thought they were and neither has been telling the complete truth. Edgerton skillfully takes us on the investigation and we learn the shocking truths as she does. This is far more than a simple creepy stalker plot and to reveal any more would be to spoil a tense and suspenseful thriller that subtly pulls the rug out from underneath you as to what you know about our players. You may find your sympathies shifting once all is said and done…or will you? It’s a very offbeat thriller from the first-time director.
Our small cast is very good. Jason Bateman is strong in a non-comedy role as an ambitious man who has it all. His Simon is likable at first, but as our script slowly let’s secrets become uncovered, Bateman handles the character changes deftly and we respond appropriately. Rebecca Hall is good as Robyn. She is a supportive wife, but as the movie progresses she becomes a woman with many doubts and questions and possibly some demons of her own. Edgerton is excellent as the weird and unsettling Gordon. Like Bateman, when character aspects are revealed, Edgerton helps us see his character in a different light, though he always remains purposely a bit off, as Gordon is an emotionally troubled man regardless of what we find out.
I liked this thriller. It had me thinking I was watching something oft seen before, but slowly revealed layers to the story that changed my perspective. Characters are presented as one thing, but as we proceed, deeper secrets are revealed and we realize that we don’t know these people like we thought. There are games and lies being played out here, but it may surprise as to the who and whats in the details. An engaging thriller and a very auspicious debut from Joel Edgerton as writer and director.
3 and 1/2 gifts.
Another teen-centric sci-fi movie based on a book series. This one by Veronica Roth has a post-war walled city of Chicago where society is separated into 5 groups referred to as ‘factions’ that each serve a purpose to support the city. If you think this is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the high school class structure, it just shows how obvious it all is. Subjects are tested when they come of age to determine which group they are best suited for but, are ultimately allowed to choose their own faction… which kinda negates the point of the test. Enter Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) who is born into the Abnegation (the good kids) faction but, yearns to be in the Dauntless faction (the rebels, cool kids) who protect the city and maintain law. But, her aptitude test brands her a ‘Divergent’… someone capable of being in any of the five groups… and thus she must try to hide her designation, as being whoever you want to be, is frowned upon in this high school… ah-hem, futuristic society. Throw in her efforts to succeed as a Dauntless, falling for her hunky Dauntless trainer ‘Four’ (Theo James) and saving the city from a coup d’etat and we have all the paper thin messages about being who you are, being whatever you want to be, overcoming adversity and first love that any pimpled teen could want. The saving grace is that director Neil Burger (Limitless) moves everything at a brisk pace, takes this teen angst metaphor seriously and gets good work out of his cast especially leading lady Woodley, who is no Jennifer Lawrence and her ‘Triss’ is no Katniss, but, she is charming and endearing enough and makes a feisty heroine. Overall, it’s actually manages to be somewhat entertaining despite how obvious and derivative the material is. Also stars Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson and Jai Courtney.
BAD WORDS (2014)
Actor Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut in this deviously funny and delightfully inappropriate comedy about 40 year old grade school drop out Guy Trilby (Bateman) who exploits a loophole in the rules to enter a children’s national spelling bee. Trilby obviously has an agenda, other than embarrassing a bunch of 10 year olds, as he drags a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) along and enters in a friendship/rivalry with a precocious Indian boy (Rohand Chand) who also wants the championship. Andrew Dodge’s script has some blisteringly funny moments, though there are a few sentimental ones too, and director Bateman gives a really hilarious performances as the bitter and angry Trilby, who will stoop to any level to mow down his pre-adolescent competition. Bateman also gets very good work out of his fellow cast members, including young Chand, and crafts a movie that is not afraid to ‘go there’ and present it’s young spelling bee contestants in hysterically inappropriate spots. Suffers slightly from a routine, sentimental climax but, otherwise is a daring and very funny work from first-time director Bateman and writer Dodge. Also, at 88 minutes the movie knows not to wear out it’s welcome.