Quick Review – La La Land (Dir. by Damien Chazelle)

la-la-land-full-poster-image-691x1024Hype is a dangerous thing.

Too little of it will leave a movie’s showing with tons of empty seats. Too much, and you raise skepticism in the masses. The movie never lives up to the growing expectations and tanks before you know it.  Tonight (as of this writing), preview audiences are going to be packed with fans waiting to catch the latest Star Wars film. While I hope it works out for them, there’s another film moving into a wider release this weekend that deserves just as much love. Right now, La La Land is heavily hyped, and hopefully will be part of every major awards run. I still want to try to catch some of the other soon to be nominated films for the Awards season, but I’m good for right now. I’m that kid in the corner, totally content with that one little Transformer he always wanted while other presents still need to be opened. Unless I run into another film that captures my eye (and ears) like this one, La La Land is easily my go to pick for everything this year. It’s a fun little love story wrapped up in musical dance numbers, my feel good movie.


I really, truly loved La La Land. 

For me, that’s saying a lot. Outside of the usual Disney film, I don’t see too many musicals. I can count on one hand a few favorites – Frank Oz’s movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, both Muppet films and of course West Side Story. However, I’ve never watched Singing in the Rain, or any of the Astaire/Rogers numbers. The opening dance sequence in Ted 2 might be the closest I’ve come to all that, or maybe the French Mistake in Blazing Saddles. However, I walked out of La La Land with a huge smile on my face, one that prompted me to run right back in for the next showing. This isn’t meant to convince you to see the film or not. If you do, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine. I just know that I’ll be scooping this up come the Blu-Ray release. This review is me, geeking out.

La La Land is a very simple story. In Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a lover of Jazz who’s fighting to keep it alive. Both individuals are fighting to fulfill their dreams, and it’s hard not to root for them. This leads to a friendship that grows, surrounded by great music. For the story, that’s all you really need to know, and to go into more detail risks going into spoiler territory. It’s a classic Boy Meets Girl in the Big City situation.

Having worked together in Gangster Land and Crazy Stupid Love, Stone and Gosling already have some great chemistry. The dialogue pops between them and is very reminiscent of some of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films. With the conversation style, coupled with Damien Chazelle’s writing, it all feels very natural. Both of their characters come across as passionate individuals when it comes to the talent of their choice. The cast also includes singer John Legend, Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch), Jessica Rothe (Better Off Single), and Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina). If I have one problem with La La Land, it would just be that I wanted to see more of the co-stars, but the film truly belongs to the leads. At least in a film like Grease, you were at least aware of the supporting cast and their stories. It’s a tiny nitpick, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story’s progression.

Visually, La La Land is full of rich colors and deep shadows. When there’s a change in lighting or a focus made, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) does a great job here and I’m adding him to my list of Cinematographers to keep an eye on. The movie feels like a classic film from start to finish. The editing deserves some kudos as well. Every scene feels like it grew naturally from the one before it, and there’s rarely a moment where you ask yourself if one scene needed to be there if there were any holes to be found. If there was an editing mistake in La La Land, I couldn’t find it.

As with Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench & Whiplash, it wouldn’t be a Chazelle film without music. Justin Hurwitz is on music duty here and La La Land’s music is in some places snappy. I picked up the soundtrack after the movie, and there’s a good chance that some of that music is going to get stuck in your head. Emma Stone may get some recognition come awards season with one song in particular, but overall it’s difficult not to listen to some of these and not want to nod your head with the crowd. On my exit after the second showing, there were people humming and/or whistling the tunes.

Overall, La La Land is a wonderful film that reminds one of the beauty of the Cinema Experience, with a pair of characters that make you want to cheer them on. Really, if you have a chance to see this in the theatre, do so. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself with a spring in your step too on the way out.

Insomina File No. 16: Kill The Messenger (dir by Michael Cuesta)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!


Last night, if you were awake and unable to get any sleep at 1:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2014 conspiracy thriller, Kill The Messenger.

Kill The Messenger opens with one of those title cards that assures us that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story.  We are then introduced to Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a California-based reporter who we know is a rebel because he has a precisely trimmed goatee.  Gary is interviewing a suspected drug smuggler (Robert Patrick) at the smuggler’s luxurious mansion.  Suddenly, the DEA storms the house, shouting insults and roughly throwing everyone to the ground, including Gary.  It’s actually exciting and promising opening, one that perfectly establishes both Gary as a truth seeker and the U.S. government as an invading army that’s fighting a war that’s full of collateral damage.

Gary, of course, has nothing to do with smuggling drugs.  He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If he was treated unfairly by the DEA, it’s just because the government is serious about winning the war on drugs!

Or is it?

Following up on a tip, Gary comes across evidence that, in order to raise money for pro-Amercian rebels in Central America, the CIA not only helped to smuggle drugs into the U.S. but also arranged for the drugs to largely be sold in poor, minority neighbors where, in theory, no one would notice or care.

When the story is finally published, Gary is briefly a celebrity.  Not surprisingly, the government denies his accusations and start tying to discredit him.  However, Gary also finds himself being targeted by his fellow journalists.  Angry over being outscooped by a relatively unknown reporter, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both launch their own investigations.  Instead of investigating Gary’s allegations, they jealously and viciously investigate Gary himself.

Soon, both Gary’s career and his family are falling apart and Gary finds himself growing more and more paranoid…

Remember when everyone was expecting Kill The Messenger to be a really big deal?  It was due to come out towards the end of 2014, right in the middle of Oscar season.  Jeremy Renner was being talked up as a contender for best actor.  Then the film came out, it played in a handful of theaters for a week or two, and then it sunk into obscurity.  Some commentators even complained that Focus Features buried the release of Kill The Messenger and that the film was ignored because of its leftist politics…

Of course, it’s just as probable that Focus Features realized that The Theory of Everything was more likely to charm audiences than a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic.

Or it could have just been that, despite telling a potentially intriguing story, Kill The Messenger was an oddly bland film.  Other than one scene in which he admits to cheating on his wife, Gary Webb is portrayed as being such a saint that it actually causes the film to lose credibility.  (Don’t get me wrong.  For all I know, he was a saint.  But, from a cinematic point of view, sainthood is never compelling.)  This is one of those earnest films that gets so heavy-handed that, even if you agree with what the movie is saying, you still resent being manipulated.  (Of course, some of us have grown so cynical about the media that we automatically doubt the veracity any movie that opens with those dreaded words: “Based on a true story.”)  Watching Kill The Messenger, one gets the feeling that a documentary about Gary Webb would probably be more compelling (and convincing) than a fictionalized dramatization.

(Unfortunately, if you think it’s difficult to get an audience to watch a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic, just try to get them to watch a documentary about … well, anything.  I know most of our readers would probably happily watch a documentary but that’s because y’all are the best and a thousand times better than the average person.  Love you!)

Here’s what did work about Kill The Messenger: the performances.  Jeremy Renner, who also produced this film, gives an excellent performance as Gary, especially in the scenes where he realizes that both the government and the press are now conspiring about him.  Rosemarie DeWitt has the traditionally thankless role of being the supportive wife but she still does a good job.  And finally, Ray Liotta shows up for one scene and is absolutely chilling in that way that only Ray Liotta can be.

Kill The Messenger doesn’t quite work but, thanks to the cast, it is, at the very least, a watchable misfire.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Film Reviews: Avengers Grimm, Bad Asses On The Bayou, Hayride 2, Insurgent, Poltergeist, Tomorrowland

Here are 6 films that I saw during the first half of 2015.  Some of them are on Netflix and some of them were major studio releases.  Some of them are worth seeing.  Some of them most definitely are not.


Avengers Grimm (dir by Jeremy M. Inman)

Obviously made to capitalize on the popularity of Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers Grimm opens with a war in the world of fairy tales.  Evil Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien) uses Snow White’s (Laura Parkinson) magic mirror to cross over into our world and he takes Snow White with him!  It’s now up to Cinderella (Milynn Sharley), Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), and Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) to cross over into our world, save Snow White, and defeat Rumpelstiltskin.  Also sneaking over is rebellious Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Petersen) who is determined to kill Rumpelstiltskin’s henchman, The Wolf (Kimo Leopoldo).  

Got all that?

Avengers Grimm is another enjoyably insane mockbuster from The Asylum.  The budget’s low, the performances are intentionally melodramatic, and it’s all lot of fun.  Casper Van Dien has a lot of fun playing evil, the women all get to kick ass, and Lou Ferrigno is well-cast as a labor leader named Iron John.

Avengers Grimm is currently available on Netflix.


Bad Asses On The Bayou (dir by Craig Moss)

Apparently, this is the third film in which Danny Trejo and Danny Glover have respectively played Frank Vega and Bernie Pope, two old guys who kick ass in between worrying about their prostates.  I haven’t seen the previous two Bad Asses films but I imagine that it really doesn’t matter.

In this film, Trejo and Glover go to Louisiana to attend a friend’s wedding.  When she’s kidnapped, they have to rescue her and impart some important life lessons to her younger brother.  It’s all pretty predictable but then again, it’s also pretty good for a film called Bad Asses On The Bayou.  This is a film that promises two things: Danny Trejo kicking ass and lots of bayou action.  And it delivers on both counts.

In fact, I would say that Bad Asses On The Bayou is a better showcase for Danny Trejo’s unique style than the better known Machete films.  Danny Trejo is a surprisingly adept comedic actor and he gives a performance here that shows his talent goes beyond mere physical presence.

Bad Asses On The Bayou is currently available on Netflix.


Hayride 2 (dir by Terron R. Parsons)

I should admit up front that I haven’t seen the first Hayride film.  Luckily, Hayride 2 picks up directly from the end of the first film and is filled with so many flashbacks and so much conversation about what happened that it probably doesn’t matter.

Essentially, Pitchfork (Wayne Dean) is a murderous urban legend who turns out to be real.  He killed a lot of people in the first film and he stalks those that escaped throughout the 2nd film.  Like all good slasher villains, Pitchfork is a relentless killer.  He’s also an unrepentant racist, which leads to a genuinely unpleasant scene where he attacks a black detective (Corlandos Scott).  Say whatever else you will about the film, Hayride 2 deserves some credit for being on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to turn Pitchfork into an anti-hero and the movie is relentlessly grim.

Hayride 2 is an odd film.  The film’s low-budget is obvious in every single scene.  The pacing is abysmal and the performances are amateurish.  And yet, when taken on its own meager terms, it has a dream-like intensity to it that I appreciated.  Then again, I always have had a weakness for low-budget, regional horror films.

Hayride 2 is available on Netflix.


Insurgent (dir by Robert Schwentke)

Insurgent is both the sequel to Divergent and was also 2015’s first YA dystopia film.  Shailene Woodley is as good as ever and I guess it’s good that she has a commercially successful franchise, which will hopefully inspire audiences to track down better Shailene Woodley films like The Spectacular Now.  

All that said, Insurgent often felt even more pointless than Divergent.  For a two-hour film featuring performers like Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, Insurgent has no excuse for being as forgettable and boring as it actually was.  The next installment in The Hunger Games can not get here soon enough.


Poltergeist (dir by Gil Kenan)

When a family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new house, they discover that everything is not what it seems.  For one thing, they come across a bunch of creepy clown dolls.  They also hear a lot of scary sounds.  They discover that the house was built on an old cemetery.  Their youngest daughter vanishes.  And finally, someone says, “Isn’t this like that old movie that was on TCM last night?”

Okay, they don’t actually say that.  However, as everyone knows, the 2015 Poltergeist is a remake of the 1982 Poltergeist.  Since the 1982 Poltergeist still holds up fairly well, the 2015 Poltergeist feels incredibly unnecessary.  It has a few good jump scenes and it’s always good to see Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt in lead roles but ultimately, who cares?  It’s just all so pointless.

Watch the wall-dancing original.  Ignore the remake.


Tomorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!  Wow, is it ever boring!

Actually, I feel a little bit bad about just how much I disliked Tomorrowland because this is a film that really did have the best intentions.  Watching the film, you get the sinking feeling that the people involved actually did think that they were going to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, their idea of a better world is boring and almost oppressively optimistic.  There is no room for cynicism in Tomorrowland.  Bleh.  What fun is that?

Anyway, the film basically steals its general idea from the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.  Tomorrowland is a secret place that is inhabited by inventors, dreamers, and iconoclasts.  Years ago, Frank (George Clooney) was banished from Tomorrowland because, after learning that the Earth was destined to end, he lost “hope” in mankind’s future.  Fortunately, he meets Casey (Britt Robertson), who is full of hope and through her, he gets to return.  They also get a chance to save the world and battle a cartoonish super villain played by Hugh Laurie.  (Why is he a villain?  Because he’s played by Hugh Laurie, of course!)

After all the hype and build-up, Tomorrowland turned out to be dull and predictable.  What a shame.  The Atlas Shrugged trilogy was at least fun because it annoyed the hipsters at the AV Club.  Tomorrowland is just forgettable.

And here are The Independent Spirit Nominations

The Gotham Awards aren’t the only awards regularly given to films that the majority of filmgoers will never get to see.  The Independent Spirit Nominations are also dedicated to recognizing the best of independent film and they tend to get a bit more attention than the Gothams.  With the early Oscar talk being dominated by mainstream studio films like Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables, indie films like Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom are going to need all of the help that they can get.



Beasts of the Southern Wild

Keep The Lights On

Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook


Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom

Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks

Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On


Fill the Void

Gimme the Loot

Safety Not Guaranteed

Sound of My Voice

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void

Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed

Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank

Rashida Jones & Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever

Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – (for features under $500,000)

Breakfast with Curtis

Middle of Nowhere

Mosquita y Mari


The Color Wheel


Linda Cardellini, Return

Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed


Jack Black, Bernie

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On

Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

Wendell Pierce, Four


Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister

Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere


Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere

Michael Péna, End of Watch

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths

Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom


Yoni Brook, Valley of Saints

Lol Crawley, Here

Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Roman Vasyanov, End of Watch

Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom


How to Survive a Plague

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present

The Central Park Five

The Invisible War

The Waiting Room


Amour (France)

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Turkey)

Rust And Bone (France/Belgium)

Sister (Switzerland)

War Witch (Democratic Republic of Congo)


Nobody Walks, Alicia Van Couvering

Prince Avalanche, Derrick Tseng

Stones in the Sun, Mynette Louie


Pincus, director David Fenster

Gimme the Loot, director Adam Leon

Electrick Children, director Rebecca Thomas

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (given to emerging documentary filmmaker)

Leviathan, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

The Waiting Room, director Peter Nicks

Only the Young, directors Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (for ensemble cast)

Starlet Director: Sean Baker Casting Director: Julia Kim Cast: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Karren Karagulian, Stella Maeve, James Ransone

Moonrise Kingdom Wins At The Gotham Awards

Well, it’s Oscar season and that means that, over the upcoming month, a bunch of otherwise obscure organizations are going to be handing out a lot of awards to a small group of films.  Last night, the Gotham Awards were awarded to the “best” in independent films.  The Gothams aren’t exactly known for being a reliable Oscar precursor but they do signal start the awards season and I, of course, am an awards junkie.

Here are the winners:

Best Feature: Moonrise Kingdom
Gotham Independent Film Audience Award: Artifact
Best Ensemble Performance: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Breakthrough Actor: Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Breakthrough Director: Behn Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Documentary: How to Survive a Plague

Of course, the “best” is in the eye of the beholder.  I, for one, greatly enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom.  However, I also thought (and continue to think) that Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most overrated films of all time.  Seriously, didn’t Voltaire end the myth of the noble savage with Candide?  It’s also interesting to note that, despite racking up a lot of nominations and being two of the best films of 2012, neither The Master nor Bernie won any awards.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Watch (dir. by Akiva Schaffer)

Earlier today, Jeff and I went down to the AMC Valley View and saw the new sci-fi comedy The WatchThe Watch has been getting universally negative reviews and it’s proving to be a bit of a bust at the box office (including Jeff and me, there were about 10 people at the showing we saw) but it was still a film that I was looking forward to seeing.  This is largely because the film stars three actors — Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, and Vince Vaughn — who are rarely popular with film critics but who almost always seem to find a way to make me laugh.

In The Watch, Ben Stiller plays a suburbanite who deals with his frustrating existence by forming clubs and obsessing over his job as the manager of the local Costco.  (Costco, by the way, is actually a major plot point in the overall film and I would say that close to 60% of the actual film either takes place in Costco or involves characters talking about how much they love Costco.  Unlike a lot of critics, I’m not morally offended by blatant product placement but, even for me, The Watch went a little bit overboard with all the Costco hype.)  Wen the security guard at the Costco is brutally murdered, Stiller decides to form a neighborhood watch so that he can track down the killer.  After giving an impassioned speech at a high school football team, Stiller is able to recruit three more members of the neighborhood watch.  Vince Vaughn is a goofy guy who is overprotective of his daughter.  Jonah Hill is a psycho with a knife and a frustrated desire to be a policeman.  And Richard Ayoade is … well, he’s kinda strange but that’s explained away by the fact that he’s apparently English.

And together, they solve crimes!

The solution in this case is that the suburbs have been invaded by aliens.  Those aliens have a diabolical plan of their own and it’s up the Neighborhood Watch to stop them.  And did I mention that all of this somehow involves Costco? 

Because it totally does.

I think The Watch can best be summed up in one word: Forgettable.   It’s not a great film but it has a few funny moments.  Director Akiva Schaffer got his start directing comedic short films for Saturday Night Live and that’s pretty much the same approach that he brings to The Watch.  Every scene feels like a self-contained short film and the end result is a wildly uneven movie that never finds a consistent tone or really seems to be sure just what type of story it’s trying to tell.  The mix of raunchy comedy, sci-fi drama, and sentimental bromance never quite gels and, as a result, watching the film almost feels like being forced to try to concentrate on three different movies at once, never being allowed to truly focus on a single one of them.  

However, taking all of that into account, I still have to say that I laughed out loud several times during The Watch.  I may not have laughed quite as much as the 300 lbs. gentleman, sitting two rows behind us, who sounded as if he might choke to death every time Vince Vaughn delivered the line, “It feels like cum,” but I still laughed.  The Watch is a funny movie.  Quite frankly, with a cast like this, there’s no way that the movie couldn’t have been funny.  The main thing that I love about watching Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill is the way that both of them bring an almost earnest sincerity to even the most ludicrous of roles.  As a result, Hill and Vaughn are actors who can get laughs out of even the weakest of jokes and they certainly get a oppurtunity to prove it in The Watch.  Meanwhile, Ayoade gives a wonderfully bizarre performance, scoring a lot of laughs just from being so consistently odd.  Ben Stiller does his usual uptight suburbanite routine and makes a good straight man for his 3 co-stars.  The Watch is at its best when it just lets its four stars hang out and play off of each other.

For such a forgettable film, The Watch has been the subject of some controversy.  The film was originally titled Neighborhood Watch until, earlier this year, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a member of a real life neighborhood watch.  The title was changed to avoid being “insensitive.”  Regardless of the film’s title, I have to admit that I did cringe a little at a rather lengthy joke that involved the film’s heroes — all wearing their “neighborhood watch” jackets — firing several bullets into the body of an apparently dead alien.  That said, The Watch is ultimately neither pro nor anti-neighborhood watch.  In the end, the only thing that the film seems to truly believe in is the universal importance of Costco.

Lisa Marie Does The Company Men (dir. by John Wells)

The Company Men is the first film to be directed by veteran television producer and writer John Wells.  Previously, Wells worked on ER, The West Wing, Southland, Third Watch, and a whole host of other shows that I’d rather die than ever have to actually sit through.  With The Company Men, Wells attempts to tell the story of the current economic recession and what its like to go from being a high-paid executive to just another unemployed statistic.  The end result is a deeply uneven film that comes so very close to succeeding but ultimately fails.

The film opens in 2008 and indeed, most of the film takes place in ’08.  It always amuses me how any film that comes out now that deals with either the economy or the wars in the Middle East (the Hurt Locker being an obvious example), the filmmakers always go out of their way to let us know that their movie is taking place during the Bush administration and not the Obama Administration.  Some people would call that “ass kissing” but I just find it to be amusing. 

Anyway, getting back on track here, the films follows three corporate executives who all work for a fictional company called GTX.  There’s a rich, white guy played by Ben Affleck.  And then there’s a richer, white guy played by Chris Cooper.  And then finally, I guess to add some variety to the mix, there’s a white guy who is really, really rich and he’s played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Anyway, Affleck, Cooper, and Jones are all cheerfully doing their thing until one day, the recession hits and boom!  Suddenly, Affleck is told that he has become “redundant.”  He’s given a severance package and sent off on his merry way.  Meanwhile, Cooper worries that he’s about to face the same fate while Jones — who is one of the company’s vice presidents — tries to keep GTX’s satanic CEO from putting anyone else out of work. 

It’s Affleck and his story that commands most of the film’s running time and, to his credit, Affleck actually gives a surprisingly good performance here as he starts out as smug and self-centered before eventually becoming desperate and insecure until finally, by the end of the film, he’s reached a state of acceptance.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that he finally humbles himself into accepting a job with his blue-collar brother-in-law, a homebuilder played by Kevin Costner.

A word about Kevin Costner in this film: I could have done without him.  First off, I understand his character is supposed to be a blue-collar, plain-spoken, salt-of-the-Earth type but honestly, he just comes across like a overlymacho asshole who probably voted for Lyndon LaRouche at some point in the past.  I guess he’s supposed to be John Wells’ version of the noble savage or something.

But with that one glaring exception, The Company Men is a remarkably well-acted film.  Even though Jones and Cooper are saddled playing predictable characters, they both bring a real unexpected poignancy to their portrayals.  Cooper, especially, is strong and always sympathetic even though you know everything that’s going to happen to him from the minute he first shows up on-screen.  Rosemarie DeWitt has the rather thankless role of being Affleck’s wife but she brings a lot of strength to a thinly written character and she and Affleck have a real chemistry.  When they’re on-screen together, you believe in their marriage which is more than you can say for most screen couples.

The cast of The Company Men is such a strong ensemble that you really find yourself hoping (and sometimes even believing) that the overall film will succeed as well.  But, alas, the film fails and it manages to fail for all the obvious reasons.  John Wells is best known for his work in television and The Company Men never really shakes that made-for-TV feeling.  For every scene that offers up an unexpected insight or a subtle piece of characterization, there’s a hundred more that feel glib, smug, and ultimately forced.  For every honest note, there’s a false one waiting right around the corner to pounce on it and beat it into submission.  This is the type of movie where Tommy Lee Jones walks around a deserted shipyard and delivers a monologue about the way things use to be to a character who has absolutely no logical reason for being there beyond the fact that Wells needed to find an excuse for Jones to deliver the whole long speech to begin with.  Don’t get me wrong — Jones delivers the words beautifully but so what?  The scene still feels safe, predictable, and ultimately false.   

And what’s the deal with Maria Bello in this film?  She plays Sally Wilcox who is apparently in charge of “downsizing” at GTX.  She’s also having an adulterous affair with Tommy Lee Jones despite the fact that all Jones ever does is criticize her for even existing.  Never mind the fact, of course, that Jones is a part of the entire corporate culture that’s responsible for the Sally Wilcoxes of the world to begin with.  It’s hard not to feel that her character is there to largely let Jones off the hook.  It’s not Jones’s fault that everyone who works under him ends up unemployed and, in one really obvious plot development, dead.  No, it’s that evil Sally Wilcox with her blonde hair and black lingerie.  And what you can’t blame on Sally, put the blame on Jones’s wife and toss Cooper’s wife in there as well since they’re both portrayed as being heartless wenches (as opposed to DeWitt who is a good wife because she supports Affleck no matter what).  The Company Men is full of sympathy for depressed, self-pitying white guys but it has next to none for the women who have to live with them. 

Wells is obviously trying to say something about the Recession but what?  Obviously, he lays a lot of the blame at the doorstep of greedy CEOs like the one played, in this film, by Craig T. Nelson.  Unfortunately, you get the feeling that Wells seems to think that he’s the only person in the world who has managed to figure out that excessive corporate greed can be a bad thing.  He may think that he’s educating but really all he’s doing is preaching and the only ones listening are the choir.