Family Grieves Patriarch In Droll Dramedy Based On Best Seller
When Mort Altman (Will Swenson) passes away, his children return home reasonably expecting to remain in town briefly. After all, despite being raised Jewish, they have no reason to expect to sit shiva, since their dad was an avowed atheist and their psychologist mom (Jane Fonda) is a gentile.
However, after the funeral, Hillary Altman informs her offspring of the dearly-departed’s dying wish that they mourn him for a week in accordance with religious tradition. And then, she announces that they’ve all just been grounded for seven days, as if they’re still children.
This development doesn’t sit well with any of the siblings, since they don’t get along and this is the first time they’ve all been sleeping under the same roof in ages. Furthermore, their dad’s death couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment, since each is in the midst of a midlife crisis.
Judd (Jason Bateman) has just learned that his wife (Abigail Spencer) is having an affair with his boss (Dax Shepard). Meanwhile, brother Paul’s (Corey Stoll) marriage is in jeopardy because his wife’s (Kathryn Hahn) biological clock is ticking very loudly but she’s been unable to get pregnant.
Then there’s playboy baby brother, Philip (Adam Driver), a narcissist with unresolved oedipal issues, judging by the fact that he’s dating a shrink (Connie Britton) old enough to be his mother. He’s such a self-indulgent womanizer, he doesn’t think twice about shamelessly flirting with an old flame (Carly Brooke Pearlstein) right in front of his mortified girlfriend.
Finally, we have only-sister Wendy (Tina Fey). Superficially, she seems to be the most stable of the four as a doting mother of two with a devoted, if emotionally distant, husband (Aaron Lazar) who at least is a great provider.
Barry’s obsession with his career on Wall Street has come at the cost of preserving the passion and intimacy in the relationship. So, the last thing Wendy needs now is the temptation of a duplicitous dalliance being dangled in front of her eyes in the form of Horry (Timothy Olyphant). However, her hunky high school sweetheart is still single, still in shape, and still right across the street, even if he’s brain-damaged and lives with his mother (Debra Monk).
All of these sticky situations serve primarily as fodder for a sophisticated brand of humor in This Is Where I Leave You, an alternately droll and laugh out loud dramedy directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night). Adroitly adapted to the screen by Jonathan Tropper, author of the best seller of the same name, this relentlessly-witty film features some of the funniest repartee around as it simultaneously explores a laundry list of sobering themes ranging from religion and mortality to love and betrayal.
A character-driven examination of a dysfunctional Jewish family about as wacky as they come.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
No Good Deed
Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity
Housewife And Kids Abducted By Killer In Edge Of Your Seat Thriller
It is usually a bad sign when a movie studio decides not to preview a picture for film critics. In the case of No Good Deed, Screen Gems claimed that it was refraining from doing so in order to prevent the spoiling of a surprising plot twist. Well, the butler did it! (Just kidding.)
Skeptical, I had to wait until opening day to see it. And while the movie is by no means a masterpiece, I’m happy to report that it’s nevertheless a tautly-wound nail-biter which keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. And yes, there is a humdinger of a revelation during the denouement, not a totally preposterous development but rather a plausible one which was merely cleverly-concealed.
The movie marks the theatrical directorial debut of Sam Miller, who is best known for Luther, the brilliant BBC-TV series featuring Idris Elba in the title role for which he won a Golden Globe in 2012. The two collaborate again here, with Idris playing Colin Evans, a serial killer who, at the point of departure, slays a couple of prison guards during a daring escape from a Tennessee prison.
He makes his way to his girlfriend Alexis’ (Kate Del Castillo) house in Atlanta only to murder her, too, when he learns she’s already involved with another man. Colin remains so blinded with rage as he drives away that he crashes his stolen car into a tree along a suburban country road.
He subsequently knocks on the door of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson), an attorney turned stay-at-home mom whose husband (Henry Simmons) has conveniently just left town with his father away for a weekend golf getaway. Against the former prosecutor’s better judgment, she lets the tall, dark and handsome stranger enter the house, and it isn’t long before there’s trouble in paradise.
After all, as the proverb suggested by the title warns, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Accordingly, Terri and her two young kids find themselves in the clutches of a desperate maniac until the protective mother’s maternal and survival instincts kick into high gear.
No Good Deed was ostensibly inspired by The Desperate Hours, a suspiciously-similar Broadway play starring Paul Newman which was first adapted to the big screen in 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart, and remade in 1990 with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thanks to Mr. Elba’s menacing intensity, a potentially mediocre variation on the theme ends up elevated into a tension-filled gutwrencher his loyal fans won’t want to miss.
The urban-oriented audience at the screening I attended talked back at the screen a lot in the way that engaged black folks do, and they even applauded heartily as the closing credits rolled, surefire signs that the studio has a hit on its hands, conventional critics notwithstanding.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 84 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening September 19, 2014
Hector And The Search For Happiness (R for profanity and brief nudity) Screen version of the Francois Lelord best seller about an eccentric psychiatrist (Simon Pegg) who embarks on a solo trip around the world in search of the secret to true happiness in order to help himself as well as his miserable patients. With Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Jean Reno and Ming Zhao.
The Maze Runner (PG-13 for mature themes, intense violence and disturbing images) Adaptation of James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic novel of the same name about a teenager (Dylan O’Brien) who wakes up with amnesia and finds himself trapped in a giant maze with 60 other boys suffering from memory loss and a girl (Kaya Scodelario) with telepathic powers. Cast includes Aml Ameen, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden and Blake Cooper.
A Walk Among The Tombstones (R for profanity, brief nudity, disturbing images and graphic violence) Liam Neeson stars in this adaptation of Lawrence Block’s action-driven page-turner as an NYPD cop-turned-rogue private eye hired by a drug dealer (Dan Stevens) to track down the mobsters responsible for his wife’s (Razane Jammal) murder. With Maurice Compte, Patrick McDade and Laura Birn.
20,000 Days On Earth (Unrated) A day in the life documentary chronicling Aussie musician Nick Cave’s celebration of his 20,000th day alive with family and friends.
Autumn Blood (R for nudity, violence and rape) Survival thriller about 10- (Maximilian Harnisch) and 16-year-old (Sophie Lowe) orphaned siblings living alone on a secluded farm in the mountains whose solitude is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of some savage hunters. With Peter Stormare, Annica McCrudden and Gustaf Skarsgard.
The Guest (R for profanity, drug use, sexuality and graphic violence) Dan Stevens stars in the title role of this crime thriller about the grieving parents (Sheila Kelly and Leland Orser) of a fallen Afghan War soldier who, against their better judgment, welcome one of his recently-discharged comrades into their home with open arms. Cast includes Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Candice Patton, Ethan Embry and Lance Reddick.
Keep On Keepin’ On (Unrated) Reverential biopic about 93-year-old jazz legend Clark Terry, trumpeter and flugelhorn pioneer who played with everyone from Duke Ellington to Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie to Quincy Jones.
Life’s A Breeze (R for profanity) Madcap road comedy, set in Ireland, about a family’s frantic search around the streets of Dublin for a missing fortune. Cast includes Fionnula Flanagan, Kelly Thornton, Pat Shortt and Eva Birthistle.
Reclaim (R for profanity and violence) International thriller about an American couple (Ryan Phillippe and Rachelle Lefevre) who put their lives at risk by traveling abroad to rescue their kidnapped adopted daughter (Brianna Roy). With Luiz Guzman, Jacki Weaver and John Cusack.
The Scribbler (R for profanity, nudity, graphic sexuality and violent images) Psychological thriller about a woman (Katie Cassidy) fighting mental illness who tries an experimental machine designed to eliminate multiple personalities. Support cast includes Sasha Grey, Michelle Trachtenberg, Gina Gershon and Eliza Dushku.
Stop The Pounding Heart (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama, set in rural Texas, about a homeschooled 14-year-old (Sara Carlson) with 11 siblings whose Christian values are challenged when she develops a crush on a bull rider (Colby Trichell) she meets during a family outing to the local rodeo. Featuring Tim, Grace, Emma and the rest of the real-life Carlson clan.
Tracks (PG-13 for mature themes, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief profanity) Screen adaptation of the Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) travelogue about her 1,700-mile trek across the Australian desert from Alice Springs to theIndian Ocean, accompanied only by her dog and four camels. With Adam Driver, Emma Booth and Jessica Tovey.
Tusk (R for gore, profanity, sexuality and disturbing violence) Kevin Smith wrote and directed this horror dramedy revolving around the search party organized for a podcaster (Justin Long) who goes missing in the wilds ofManitoba. Ensemble cast includes Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, Michael Parks and Genesis Rodriguez.
The Zero Theorem (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity) Sci-fi fantasy about a computer programmer (Christoph Waltz) close to discovering the meaning of life who becomes distracted from his research by both his boss’ teenage son (Lucas Hedges) and a femme fatale (Melanie Thierry) with a hidden agenda. Co-starring Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis and Peter Stormare.