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Jon Stewart, Dave Bautista & Ella Fitzgerald for Your Weekend

George Wolf George Wolf Jon Stewart, Dave Bautista & Ella Fitzgerald for Your WeekendMy Spy - photo via IMDb
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What do you want to watch? You can put your mask on and check out the vintage fun screening at Studio 35 and Grandview Theater, you can take advantage of Wexner Center’s free streaming of our own Paul Hill’s documentary Cincinnati Goddamn, or you can check out these new flicks, dropping straight to your TV, tablet or phone. They will surprise you!

Irresistible

by George Wolf

Some of the best moments during Jon Stewart’s years on The Daily Show happened when his guest was some smug politician who had not done their homework.

Because Jon always did his, and the squirming politico would realize pretty quickly that Jon could throw some heaters. This funnyman was whip smart, too, and pretty handy with the b.s. detector.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Irresistible, Stewart’s second feature as writer/director, employs some purposeful, intelligent comedy as it sets about skewering today’s ridiculous political climate.

Daily Show vet Steve Carell is Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer. Stinging badly from the 2016 election, he’s inspired by a YouTube video of a former Marine hero dressing down the city council in tiny Deerlacken, WI.

Zimmer decides right then that Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) and his “redder kind of blue” appeal could be the centerpiece of a new nationwide project to expand the Democratic base. And it all begins with getting Hastings elected Mayor of Deerlacken.

This does not go unnoticed on the other side. Once GOP strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) and her crew come to town, the mayoral race in Deerlacken starts carrying some pretty high stakes – including one hilarious sexual side bet between the two opposing operatives.

After an impressively dramatic filmmaking debut with 2014’s Rosewater, Stewart returns to the satirical stomping grounds where he became a respected (and, to some, reviled) voice that drove many worthwhile conversations.

Though the bite of this screenplay may be a bit softer, his narrative approach betrays a long game that trades the sharper knives for the chance at a wider reach. Because the cure for what’s infecting American politics is not going to spread through niche marketing.

Sure, you could call that a sellout, and for the first two acts of this movie you might be right. The “all politics is local” premise is certainly not new, nor are many of the talking points. But thanks to the two veteran leads, those points are just funnier.

Carell’s default manner is perfect for the quietly condescending Zimmer, an elitist who confuses nobility with blind ambition, and somehow thinks he has a shot with the Col’s much younger daughter (Mackenzie Davis).

The real treat, though, is seeing Byrne finally dig into another role worthy of her comedy pedigree. With the right material, Byrne is a comedic MVP, as she reminds anyone who’s forgotten that fact by making Brewster one hilarious, shameless, priceless piece of work.

Stewart may be known for his progressive leanings, but both the left and the right are in his sights here, along with unchecked political cash and obsessive pundits complicit in fostering the fear and shame game.

Easy targets? Sure. But if you don’t think Stewart’s smart enough to know that, than you never saw him blindside a back-slapping incumbent on late night TV.

Irresistible caters to your expectations just long enough to make you think you knew where it was going all along. The unassuming way the film upends those expectations might seem overly convenient, but it feels right, as if Stewart is practicing what he is taking care not to preach. And that’s just what might make it hard for mainstream America to resist.

Grade: A-

My Spy

by George Wolf

I may not be ready for my close up, but I’m finally ready for my movie poster quote. Check it out:

My Spy is the best huge-former-wrestler-stars-with-little-kid movie I have ever seen.

Or, if it helps: “My Spy is the best…movie I have ever seen.” I’m flexible, just remember it’s Wolf, no “e” at the end.

There must be a page somewhere in the wrestler handbook that says the transition from mat to marquee must include some generic whale out of water antics with a precocious wee one. The Hulkster, Rock and Cena all paid their dues with insufferable projects. Now it’s your turn, Dave Bautista.

What the? This is pretty entertaining.

Bautista is JJ, a former special forces hero trying to make the transition to CIA operative. His ride is not smooth, so he and a wannabe partner (Kristen Schaal) are assigned to boring surveillance duty.

They set up in a Chicago apartment down the hall from Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her lonely 9-year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). The ladies have some bad-niks in the family who the Feds are hoping will make contact, because arms trading, plutonium, stolen hard drive, the usual.

The point is, Sophie sniffs out the neighboring spys in a matter of minutes, gets them on video, and uses the footage to blackmail JJ into being her friend.

Do you think Sophie’s hot mom will warm up to him, too?

Yes, it is predictable, drags in spots and is assembled from parts of plenty of other films. But director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, Get Smart) and screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED, The Meg) find some solid self-aware laughs poking holes in plenty of film tropes, from action scenes and tough guy catch phrases to over-the-top gay neighbors (Devere Rogers and Noah Danby, classic) and the very idea of little kid sidekicks.

Guardians of the Galaxy proved Bautista has charisma and comic timing. My Spy lets him flash a little self-deprecating charm, and a sweet chemistry with his pint-sized partner. Coleman (Big Little Lies) brings plenty of cuteness, but also a vulnerable layer that goes a long way toward keeping the eye-rolling at bay.

And anyone who saw Mr. Nanny, Tooth Fairy or Playing with Fire will appreciate that. I know I did.

And you can quote me on that.

Grade: B-

The Truth

by Matt Weiner

Actors getting lost in a role can become the stuff of legends, or the butt of jokes—as Olivier’s advice allegedly went to Dustin Hoffman, “Why don’t you just try acting?” In The Truth, director Hirokazu Kore-eda takes one of film’s most iconic actresses and sets to demolishing the notion that an artist could ever separate who they are from what they have to say.

The film is Kore-eda’s first foray outside of Japan, and a worthy follow-up to his masterful 2018 drama Shoplifters. The drama, also written by Kore-eda, has a lighter touch in The Truth, but it’s no less arresting thanks to a brilliant self-referential performance from Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve plays Fabienne, an idol of French cinema now at a point in her life when she’s ready to look back on her storied career. Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) has brought along her family from America to pay Fabienne a visit. When Lumir gets an early look at Fabienne’s memoir, she lashes out at the wide gulf between Fabienne the myth and Fabienne the mother, the one who pursued her art to the detriment of everything else in her life.

One family’s drama becomes a delightful interrogation of memory and art. And as if the unreliable memoir weren’t enough to drive the point home, Fabienne is also currently filming a new movie against an up-and-coming actress playing her younger version.

The film’s quirky sci-fi twist forces Fabienne to face her younger self, and the grande dame of French cinema isn’t quite ready to relinquish her fading star power to what she sees as a poor imitation of her own youthful rise to celebrity.

Kore-eda blurs the lines even further by referencing Deneuve’s breakout years, specifically Belle de Jour, with posters and costumes dotting Fabienne’s house and still exerting a powerful hold on her sense of self-worth. (Ethan Hawke’s understated turn as Lumir’s bohemian husband Hank also feels like an alternate universe version of Jesse from the Before trilogy… but that might also just be Hawke’s natural “these are my ‘just chilling in France’ vibes.” Either way, the man is living his best life.)

The result is a family drama that manages to humanize the dysfunction without fully absolving anyone. Fabienne might be a legend, but she’s still only human. Living an entire life unmoored, unable to process anything in the moment without layers of artifice to mediate any real emotion, seems like it should be punishment enough.

Grade: A-

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Available to stream from Wexner Center for the Arts.

by George Wolf

Just One of Those Things has plenty of things going for it, but catch it right now, and you can add “timing” to the list.

Really, there’s never a bad time to be swept away by one of music’s all time great voices, but these 90 minutes seem even sweeter right about now.

Director Leslie Woodhead assembles a wealth of performance footage, archived interviews and even some home movies to trace Ella’s rise from reform school and homelessness to concert stages across the globe.

Buoyed by the tender narration from actress Sophie Okonedo, Ella’s story becomes one of happenstance, perseverance and one-of-a-kind talent.

Her original aspiration was to be a dancer, but when other dancers at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night in 1934 were too good, 16 year-old Ella decided to sing. From that night until her death in 1996, she mastered jazz, big band, the great American songbook, and of course, be-bop swing.

In fact, the film’s non-performance highlight is a truly fascinating, nearly clinical deconstruction of the otherworldly ability that made Ella perhaps the greatest “scat” vocalist the world has ever known. Watch and learn, hepcats, it’s amazing.

Though the bulk of the film is given a linear, by-the-numbers presentation, the musical history it recounts is essential. An important and timeless biography, Ella‘s got that swing.

Which, as you may have heard, means a thing or two.

Grade: B+

Daddy Issues

by Cat McAlpine

Henrietta (Kimberley Datnow) is fumbling through life as an almost stand-up comedian in her mid-20s. She’s not very tactful, she’s definitely a mess, and she can’t address a group of people without holding a prop microphone (or pencil). Also, her dad just died.

Skyping into her father’s funeral with her one-night stand in tow seems like the tip of Henrietta’s daddy issues iceberg.

But we never learn about Henrietta’s father or her relationship with him. He leaves her his LA home, trusts her with a board position at his company, and writes her an ominous letter threatening that if she can’t turn things around, his whole life will have been wasted. Henri proceeds to drink and smoke her way through the rest of the film, bumbling about without making too many revelations or relationships.

Penned by John Cox and Amy Datnow, the story follows three different college friends as they try to figure out what they want. Henrietta is taking another stab at comedy. Alice (Alice Carroll Johnson) waffles in her relationship and tries to find a new career in the gig economy. Nolan (Tanner Rittenhouse) has taken five years to finish a deck project and can’t get his girlfriend to take him seriously. While all three characters build relationships with one another, they rarely connect to discuss or help with each other’s struggles. This general lack of connection and fluidity plagues the whole of Daddy Issues.

The story lacks momentum. Moments meant to be absurd or wacky stay dry, shot and edited with the same pace as the lonely and sad portions of the film. The funniest moments are often small asides that feel like improv from secondary characters.

Director Laura Holliday’s experience is mainly in shorts, as you might guess. She focuses well on small moments, like a brewing cup of tea, but loses pace in bigger scenes.

Daddy Issues spends too much time being lost in itself, and we miss most of the resolutions. Other important moments come too late in the story and feel rushed. While it skillfully captures the essence of being at a loss with what comes next, the film suffers from the same nervous halting as its protagonists. 

Grade: B-

Yummy

Streaming on Shudder.

by Hope Madden

Hey, are you squeamish?

Does Shudder have the movie for you!

It’s hard to do zombies well anymore. Mainly, you have to either come up with an entirely novel concept or hope that the bloody mayhem works in your favor.

In Yummy, the concept is only marginally original, but the bloody mayhem is more than on target. Co-writer/director Lars Damoiseaux assaults your gag reflex with a viscous mess of a horror flick. Blood and entrails, of course, but expect a pretty inspired use of pus, liquid body fat, tendons and other tissues and goos.

It makes for some slick surfaces, I tell you what! Plus some unexpected little monsters keep things interesting and fun.

Set inside a cut-rate Eastern European cosmetic surgery clinic, the film follows a mother, daughter and her boyfriend into a very bad decision. Mom (Annick Christiaens) is after a series of nips and tucks; daughter Alison (Maaike Neuville) wants breast reduction; boyfriend Michael (Bart Hollanders) is just a good dude willing to drive everyone even though he’s afraid of blood.

Here is a ripe premise for horror. Mom is a Cronenberg-esque vehicle for body horror as well as vanity shaming. Alison provides comedic possibilities (no one in the clinic can begin to understand her point of view). Hemophobic Michael offers the clear hero’s arc. (Or he’ll simply die of shock by the gooey second reel.)

And no, it’s not incredibly novel—zombie movies so rarely are. But it’s smart, witty and fun. Damoiseaux accomplishes much with his budget. Practical effects are great, performances are delightful, and nothing beats a little well-placed Stooges. (The band, not the knuckleheads.)

Yummy represents Damoiseaux’s feature debut as director and writer, but he’s garnered attention and awards for years with his work in shorts. Award winning co-writer Eveline Hagenbeek (Rokjesdag) channels her affinity for conversational comedy into a script that may follow a familiar structure but delivers a believable, funny edge that the game ensemble takes advantage of.

Their collaboration is no masterpiece, but it is a lot of sloppy fun.

Grade: B

Read more from George, Hope and gang at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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