Tag Archives: J.K. Simmons

Boston Strong

Mark Wahlberg leads all-star cast in drama built around 2013 Boston bombings 

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Patriots Day
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolff & J.K. Simmons
Directed by Peter Berg
R
In theaters Jan. 6, 2017

After escaping an exploding oil rig just a couple of months ago in Deepwater Horizon, Mark Wahlberg is now back on the job as Boston police officer, hobbled with a bad knee and thrust into the middle of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Both Deepwater Horizon, based on the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and Patriots Day were directed by Peter Berg, who also worked with Wahlberg on Lone Survivor, the 2013 true-life military drama about a team of U.S. Navy SEALs on a mission to capture a notorious Taliban leader.

The two Bergs seem to have a thing for real-life action sagas.

An ambitious, sprawling, detailed dramatization of the events around the bombings that killed three people and injured more than 250 others at the 2013 Boston Marathon, Patriots Day takes its title from the Massachusetts state holiday on which the iconic race has been run for more than a century.

Director Berg, aided significantly by the gritty, street-level, you-are-there cinematography of veteran lensman Tobias Schliessler, packs some serious multiplex meat to the factual framework of the widely reported contemporary event, one that received massive media coverage at the time. He creates a gripping, freshly compelling story by first introducing us to a wide variety of characters that we come to care about, each of whom is intricately woven into the narrative tapestry as the movie unfolds, creating a stirring theme of “Boston strong.”

Kevin Bacon, Mark Wahlberg & John Goodman dig into the case.

Kevin Bacon, Mark Wahlberg & John Goodman dig into the case.

Walhberg gets top billing as Boston police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (a composite character based on several real individuals), who becomes key to the investigation as it becomes a citywide manhunt for the suspects. He’s surrounded by a terrific cast in a spectrum of supporting roles, including Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Termo Melikidze) and his younger brother Jahar (Alex Wolff), who carried the homemade, pressure-cooker explosives in their backpacks before leaving them in the crowd close to the marathon’s finish line.

John Goodman plays Boston Police Commission Ed Davis. Kevin Bacon is FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers, who steps in when the bombing is declared an act of terrorism. J.K. Simmons hovers around the edges as Jeffrey Pugliese, the police sergeant in Watertown, outside Boston, until the fleeing suspects finally arrive there to meet their violent Waterloo.

Melissa Benoist gives a chilling performance, far away from her good-girl type as TV’s Supergirl, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s white, Boston-born Muslim-convert girlfriend. Khandi Alexander (who played Maya Lewis on TV’s Scandal) is riveting as an “undercover” interrogator.

Other, lesser-known actors portray the movie’s real heroes, like Sean Collier (Jake Picking), the MIT campus policeman who refused to let the terrorists take his service revolver, even after they’d shot him. Jimmy O. Yang (from HBO’s Silicon Valley) plays a young Chinese-immigrant college student whose path fatefully crossed with the bombers after the marathon.

Rachel Broshahan (Rachel Posner on the Netflix series House of Cards) and Christopher O’Shea (Jareth Glover on TV’s Madam Secretary) portray newlywed race spectators who were both seriously injured in the explosions but survived. Their mini-story is one of the movie’s most moving, and bookends its overlay of hope, resilience and community-wide, real-life rebound.

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Michelle Monaghan

Definitely stay for the epilogue, when you’ll meet some of the real people—including Jessica and Patrick—depicted in the film.

“These images in my head,” Walhberg’s character tells his wife (Michelle Monaghan) in the bombing’s horrific aftermath, “they ain’t goin’ away.” The powerful images in Patriots Day will linger with for with you for a while, too. But so will its bigger, uplifting depiction of a town and its citizens united—healing, tougher than ever and determined to not let the bad guys win—after an almost unthinkable tragedy.

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Happy Feet

Gosling & Stone sweep you away in sweet sunshine of musical movie magic

La La Land
Starring Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone
Directed by Damien Chazelle
PG-13

I remember, when I was a kid, a Mad magazine parody of the classic movie musical The Sound of Music. That film’s regal Rodgers & Hammerstein theme song begins with the lyric, “The hills are alive…with the sound of music…”

In the Mad spoof, a character all by herself on a hilltop wonders in song, “How come I’m alone—and there’s so much music?”

That’s always been the thing with musicals—stories move along, then all of a sudden characters break out into song or dance. What? Why? And where does all that music come from? It’s all so phony, fabricated, fake—and fabulous, for people who love musicals: the songs, the spectacle, the perkiness and cheer, the sense of something bigger, grander, more expansive and more exuberantly alive than ordinary, day-to-day reality can contain or mere words can express. Movies have always been vehicles for escapism, but musicals crank it up to 11, sweeping viewers away to places where dreams can come true, everyone has magic feet and music comes out of nowhere.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

In writer-director Damien Chazell’s enchanted, visually stunning La La Land (which recently received seven Critics Choice movie awards, including Best Picture), a struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone), and an aspiring musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), meet and fall in love in Los Angeles, where their courtship is wrapped into a tapestry of songs—composed by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle’s Harvard University classmate, with lyrics by the Tony-nominated team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—eye-popping choreography, a visually sprawling love letter to the city and to cinema itself, and a snazzy subplot flowing with the funky fusion-juice of jazz.

A sumptuously old-fashioned movie musical set in stylish, contemporary settings, La La Land will sweep you off your feet with every sequence, beginning with the very first one. Less than a minute into the opening, a traffic jam on a gridlocked L.A. freeway overpass suddenly erupts into a jubilant, swirling celebration of Southern California weather, outlook and optimism, “Another Day in the Sun,” with dozens of dancers and vehicles stretching as far as the eye can see. Like many of the film’s other sequences, it’s one continuous, uninterrupted take, and it’s jaw dropping.

Stone and Gosling, who’ve appeared together in two movies previously (Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love), are perfectly cast and couldn’t be more likeable, more adorable or appear more at ease in their roles. They dazzle in a Fred-and-Ginger-esque song-and-dance number, “A Lovely Night,” set against a Hollywood sunset, and quite literally soar into the stars in the breathtakingly lovely “Planetarium.”

Suffice it to say you will not have seen anything like La La Land in a long, long time. It’s a singing, swinging, prancing, swooping spectacular, full of hopes and heartaches, uplifts and downdrafts. Majestically, symphonically grand, yet intimately, elegantly tender, it’s piercingly sweet, rapturously lovely, fancifully wistful and achingly honest.

Gosling is terrific, but Stone has never been better—and her raw, close-up performance of “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” the final vocal performance in the film, will make you want to stand up and cheer.

J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in director Chazelle’s critically lauded Whiplash (2014), appears as a nightclub owner who prefers Christmas ditties instead of jazz improv. Grammy-winning musician John Legend plays one of Sebastian’s former band mates whose offer of a gig and financial security comes with a downside of compromise.

La La Land, a nickname for Los Angeles, is a place where tradition and innovation—and dreams and reality—collide and comingle, where seasons morph into each other, where the days always seem warm and bright, but the nights can be cold and lonely.

LLL d 13 _2607.NEFIt’s a place where two people can come together, fall in love, and sing and dance and make music all over a crazy, classic town—at least in the movies.

It ends with one of the best scenes of any movie this year, bursting with emotion and built around a montage that zips through time and loops back on everything that’s gone before, and also everything that didn’t, hangs you in midair and finally slaps you back to “reality.” It’s beautiful, bittersweet and breathtaking.

La La Land is a lovely, lush reminder of old Hollywood, with a vibrant jolt of young, exciting energy, pizzazz and romance for audiences too young to remember when singing, dancing stars filled the silver screen. The (Hollywood) Hills are alive again with the sound of (new) music, and wherever it’s coming from, it’s impossible to not be swept up and away in the sweet sunshine of its movie magic.

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Hop To It

Hip, heartwarming ‘Zootopia’ shows how far House of Mouse has evolved

Zootopia

Starring the voices of Gennifer Goodwin & Jason Bateman

Directed by Brian Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Rush

PG

A little girl dreams of leaving her rural hometown, moving to the city, becoming something no one else has ever been and making the world a better place. Sounds like a cliché, you say. Well, maybe—except in Zootopia, the little girl is a bunny, she wants to be a cop, and the city is full of other animals, but no people.

And there’s this: Rabbits are “prey,” like 90 percent of the population of the mammal metropolis of Zootopia, which is also home to predators—lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, jaguars. But over the centuries, prey and predators have evolved past their primal, biological instincts and learned to coexist…mostly.

And Zootopia, the latest Disney film, shows just how far the House of Mouse has evolved from dreamy prince-and-princess fairy tales of decades past. There’s bold new energy and excitement coursing through the studio, and it’s everywhere in this hip, ingenious, wildly creative tale full of wit, emotion and a message of inclusion, understanding and diversity.

To see where the movie gets its mojo, start at the top. Co-directors Brian Howard and Rich Moore’s credits include Disney’s Tangled, Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph as well as The Simpsons.

Zootopia’s first bunny officer Judy Hopps finds herself face to face with Nick Wilde, a fast-talking, scam-artist fox.

The smart, super-sharp story (Jennifer Lee, one of the writers, won an Oscar for Frozen, and Phil Johnson wrote the new Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Brothers Grimsby and the underrated Cedar Rapids) begins with the departure of buoyantly optimistic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) from pastoral Bunnyborough for the teeming Xanadu of Zootopia, where she aspires to become a police officer, the city’s first bunny cop. She does, and quickly hops smack into some deep-rooted prejudice, fears and stereotypes.

An elephant refuses to serve a fox in his ice cream parlor; a tiger is told, “Go back to the forest, predator!” It’s no stretch to substitute racism, sexism and other “isms” for the “species-ism” that Judy finds separating animals that are otherwise friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens.

After Judy encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox who makes his living running small-time scams and hustles, she soon must enlist his help investigating a mysterious case that’s baffled the police chief (Idris Elba, a blustery cape buffalo).

To say much more about the plot—which deepens and thickens considerably—would give away its many delights. The animal animations are outstanding, and the computer artists create special-effect magic melding the menagerie with the personalities of the actors—J.K. Simmons as a lion, Jenny Slate as a sheep, Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) as a “naturalist” yak, pop star Shakira as a sexy gazelle (who sings the movie’s theme song, “Try Everything”).

The movie is a visual feast full of fun, suspense, surprise and adventure. It delivers its uplifting, more serious theme of unity and togetherness in a way that will rarely feel preachy or ponderous for kids. Grownups will keep busy tracking the dozens of pop-cultural riffs, sight gags and in-jokes, including meta-references to other Disney flicks and nods to classic Hollywood, like an especially clever Godfather scene and one of the best cop-doughnut jokes in any movie, ever.

From a talking mouse mascot to a flying elephant and 101 Dalmatians, Disney has always had a thing for animals. In Zootopia, they’re not only running the show, they’ve taken over the world. And they’ve got a very important, oh-so timely message for us all.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Robo Reboot

New ‘Terminator’ bangs, bams, crams and slams across the years

Emilia Clark, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jai Courtney

Terminator Genysis

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke

Directed by Alan Taylor

PG-13

“I’ll be back,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg promised in the original Terminator, back in 1984. And now Ah-nold, THE Terminator, is indeed back, and he’s the biggest, baddest and best thing in the new reboot of the iconic sci-fi franchise.

That Terminator envisioned a near future in a ruined, post-apocalyptic world run by artificially intelligent machines battled by a hearty group of human resistance fighters. Schwarzenegger was cast in his first blockbuster role as a virtually unstoppable assassin “terminator” sent back in time to kill the mother of the child who would grow up to be John Conner, the fiery leader of the resistance, before he was conceived, ensuring the opposition could never take root.

Three sequels and a TV spinoff played off that premise. And now, 31 years later, Terminator Genysis backs up and takes another run at it.

Emilia Clarke

This time around, rebel leader John Conner (Jason Clarke) zaps his young protégé Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) into the past to intercept and destroy the terminator that’s already there, programmed to kill his mother. British actress Emilia Clarke (dragon mistress Daenerys Taegaryen in TV’s Game of Thrones) does a commendable job as the young firebrand Sarah Connor. But the big bang here is the return of the former two-term governor of California, with a now-familiar terminator twist: Schwarzenegger’s cyborg is Sarah’s guardian, not her killer, protecting her from other terminators.

Characters meet up with themselves coming and going across the decades, in overlapping timelines. At one point, Schwarzenegger’s terminator battles the younger version of himself, thanks to modern-day special effects, right out of a scene from the first movie. Oscar-winning J.K. Simmons plays a police detective who remembers the characters from one of their previous eras.

As they zip back and forth through time, our heroes outrun fireballs, shoot and blast shape-shifting, liquid-silver pursuers, throw around phrases like “mimetic polyalloy” and “decay algorithms,” try to shut down a “cloud”-like operating system that will eventually quash all living things, and eventually dangle over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge in a hijacked school bus.

Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor and Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

It’s all very complicated and convoluted, a muddled sci-fi haystack of past, present and future that looks even denser and darker—as many movies do—in 3-D. Thank goodness the characters seem to know what they’re doing and where they’re going, because not only did I get lost, I lost my patience trying to sort through all the bangs, bams, crams and slams—and the echoes and clangs of previous Terminator movies ringing in my ears and through the years.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

For all its motion and commotion, however, nothing can compete with Schwarzenegger’s iconic star power, even when he’s standing still and not saying a word. The 67-year-old actor seems to be having a ball back in the swing and stride of his venerable trademark character. There’s even a running joke about the mileage on his terminator’s odometer. “I’m old, not obsolete,” he says.

Too bad the rest of this time-crunching, overstuffed, underwhelming Terminator installment doesn’t quite feel like it’s aged nearly so gracefully.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Oh My, That Pie

LABOR DAY

Star power can’t keep food-centric romantic drama out of the goop

Labor Day

Starring Josh Brolin & Kate Winslet

Directed by Jason Reitman

PG-13, 111 min.

An escaped murderer from the state prison shanghais a single mother and her 13-year-old son, forcing them to drive him to their New England home. Then he ties the mom to a chair…

At this point, you might be thinking of several places a chilling scenario like this could lead. But only in the overheated, food-fantasy romance-drama that is Labor Day would hunky con-on-the-lam Frank (Josh Brolin) begin spoon-feeding lovelorn, rope-restrained divorcee Adele (Kate Winslet) a hot meal of his homemade chili, then proceed to fill the big, empty hole in her heart.

LABOR DAYBased on a 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is set over the steamy three-day 1987 weekend of its title, as Frank then bonds with Adele and her son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), and they become a “family” despite their unusual, unorthodox and stressful situation. It is hard to have a relaxing barbecue, tune up the station wagon in the driveway or play a game of backyard baseball, after all, with a nosy neighbor (J.K. Simmons) dropping by to remind you of the dangerous felon on the loose, or the local cop (James Van Der Beek from TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”) tacking up “Wanted” posters and constantly patrolling past your house in his cruiser.

If you don’t already know by the time things get to the “pie scene,” those three squishy minutes alone will likely decide just how much of this hook, line and sinker hooey you’re willing to swallow. As Frank tutors Adele and Henry in making a peach confection (“A little bit of tapioca,” he purrs, guiding Adele’s shaking hands to sprinkle the seasoning “like salt over an icy road…”), it’ll either strike you as one of the most beautiful, erotic things you’ve ever seen, or a ridiculous, hoot-worthy spoof the two stars could be doing on an episode of Saturday Night Live.

LABOR DAY

And the movie totally overcooks its symbolism that homemade food means real love, stability and family bonding, while restaurant meals and fast-food milkshakes represent shallow men who leave good women, families split apart by divorce and parents who don’t know how to communicate with their kids.

Director Jason Reitman has made some fine movies, including Juno, Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking, with some real satirical bite and teeth. But this film doesn’t have any bite, or teeth, because it’s mostly goop. Brolin and Winslet, fine actors both, do their best, but they’re fighting an undertow in a sea of cheese, and the movie fails to fan their coals of passion into anything resembling a flame. Young Griffith gets his own subplot as Henry navigates the emotional minefield of teenage hormones.

(If you’re reading the opening credits—and listening closely to the narration—it won’t be much of a surprise to find out the identity of the Recognizable Actor who pops in to play grown-up Henry at the end of the movie.)

“I came to save you,” Frank tells Adele. Well, you might save me another slice of that peach pie, or a bowl of that chili, or one of those breakfast scones, but nothing else on the menu of this preposterous holiday roma-drama is worth reheating.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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