Tag Archives: John Lithgow

“Daddy’s Home 2”

MATT:     1.5 STARS


Christmas is the time of year when craptacular yuletide entertainment like “Daddy’s Home 2” is forced upon the moviegoing public, slung like a bucket of slop into your local cineplex by money-hungry studio suits. Think of it as the cinematic version of a lump of coal in your stocking.

This unnecessary, formulaic sack of disappointment has few laughs, is excessively mean-spirited, and has repeated disturbing, tone-deaf attempts to make comedy out of generally unpleasant situations like teaching a young boy how to grope women, joking about dead hookers, laughing at 10 year olds getting drunk off spiked eggnog, and giving a little girl a hunting rifle on a dare.

The film is barely 90 minutes long yet when it’s over, you’ll feel as though you just spent three weeks in a secluded cabin with your red state cousin who wears a ‘Country Thunder’ t-shirt and rants about his ideas to make ‘Murica great again.

Formerly dueling co-dads Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) are back, and this time they join forces so their kids can have — wait for it — the perfect Christmas! As is the norm with most Hollywood sequels, the film tries to make things interesting by parading out — wait for it again — the men’s own daddies! Dusty’s dad Kurt (Mel Gibson) is a macho misogynist while Brad’s dad Don (John Lithgow) is overly emotional and slightly goofy. Can you believe the night and day difference in the two dads? I know I can’t!

Of course the dream of snowflakes and candy canes is swiftly ruined by the complete and utter idiocy of slapstick antics like characters falling down, getting hit in the face, getting hit in the groin, falling down, getting hit in the face, falling down, getting electrocuted, getting hit in the ear, falling down, getting hit in the head, falling down, falling down again, and getting punched in the stomach. We don’t need no stinking script, it’s like the movie writes itself!

There are a couple of decent jokes sprinkled around that miraculously don’t land with a thud (including a pretty fantastic one-liner about divorce and improv), but it’s mostly dumb and nonsensical pratfalls of the most inane variety that are played for laughs — and the laughs never come. The film is devoid of all merriment and holiday fun, and the cast (and audience) deserves far better than this overstuffed turkey of a movie.


“Daddy’s Home 2” is a movie designed for idiots. Specifically. As in laboratory-tested, focus-grouped, workshopped and engineered to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In the very best comedies, jokes are either constructed (with the film carefully laying the foundation that leads to the payoff) or they’re experiential (relying on the audience’s outside knowledge about the world). In movies like “Daddy’s Home 2,” you get neither. Instead, a joke is someone getting hit in the face with a dodgeball. Or a snowball. Or a tree. Or a kid on a swing. Or Christmas decorations. For movies like this one, the film treats it as the absolute height of hilarity for a person to get hit with something or fall down. “OH!” or “OUCH!,” the audience exclaims. And sitting among them, I feel my hope for the future of humanity quickly draining away. This is “Ow My Balls!” as blockbuster entertainment.

All of that being said, the movie’s not unwatchable. Maybe it’s because I found myself being so amused at how effectively this laugh-cue extravaganza appeared to work on my fellow audience members. Maybe it’s because Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, and Mel Gibson are still eminently watchable, even in a poor excuse for a comedy like this one. Or maybe it’S because the movie tries so shamelessly to ingratiate itself to the public as a classic Christmas movie like  “Christmas Vacation,” “Elf,” or “Surviving Christmas” (Louisa and I continue our quest to single-handedly make “Surviving Christmas” a beloved holiday movie). It’s probably all of these things.

“Beatriz at Dinner”



I can wholly appreciate what screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta are attempting to convey with their mildly incendiary satire “Beatriz at Dinner,” but it’s just too bad that neither could figure out a rewarding ending for this political drama. The story of a Mexican immigrant (Salma Hayek) who finds herself uncomfortably thrust into position as a guest at a 1%-ers dinner party is not exactly enjoyable, but it sure is unforgettable.

Hayek is Beatriz, a kind and hardworking immigrant from a very poor town in Mexico. She has a spiritual sensibility and promotes natural healing and massage to aid cancer patients in Los Angeles. After making a massage house call to the mother (Connie Britton) of one of her former patients, her car breaks down and she is invited to stay the night — and join the group for their business dinner party. The evening’s guests include a cutthroat, endangered species slaughtering billionaire (John Lithgow) and a young couple celebrating their newfound wealth (Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny), environment be damned. These are pretty damn unlikable white people and as the lone truly kindhearted person, never mind her plain clothes and instantly being mistaken for “the help,” Beatriz is already the odd man out.

This is a very interesting idea for a film, and it’s as timely as it is disarming. Add this to another in the long list of fantastic performances from Hayak, an actress who is coming into her own lately. Here she has an alarmingly intense yet soft delivery that gives a great sense of what it feels like to be a true outsider among the elite. It’s a fish out of water tale that, while it’s undeniably a liberal fantasy story, is sure to spark many heated discussions.

Think of it as being a little preachy but with a whisper of subversiveness. This isn’t an action-packed film where much really happens on the surface, but its clear condemnation of the detrimental aspects of capitalism and the loss of basic human decency in the ‘Age of Trump’ are themes that I wish weren’t as relevant as they are. That being said, the movie could’ve done so much more to bring the point home.

The film’s breezy 83 minute run time means nothing ever feels slow, and watching as the interactions between the “haves” and the “have-not” start to take their toll on Beatriz’s mental state feels unrelentingly real. Lithgow’s slimy criminal real estate developer is a man you instantly hate as soon as he appears onscreen, and the evening grows more uncomfortable as drinks are consumed and truths are no longer left unspoken.

The film unfortunately ends with an unsatisfying (yet haunting) conclusion that feels more like the screenwriter was flailing around and scrambling for ideas at how to bookend a final chapter on his story than something profound. The finished product is executed well enough, but I left wanting so much more.

“Miss Sloane”



Having spent over a decade living and working in Washington, D.C., I can tell you that “Miss Sloane” gets a lot right, especially when it comes to the “good old boys” network that is Capitol Hill and the absolutely spot-on portrayals of lobbyists and think tank managers. It’s accurate in its fantasy — and I don’t know if that’s something that should scare me even more than it already does.

Jessica Chastain steps into the shoes of the ruthless Miss Sloane, a no-nonsense, overworked, calculating and unwaveringly devoted political power lobbyist. She blurs the lines between fact, fiction, and ethics, but she never loses. When she finds herself fighting for background checks on the opposing side of a huge gun lobby, her opponents embark on a bureaucratic witch hunt to destroy her career.

This story sounds like something that could be ripped from the headlines and it works as a satisfying, intelligent, adult political thriller for the most part. A few components of the story feel contrived, phony, and borderline campy, periodically making the film come across as sort of a muzzled version of “House of Cards.” At times I was thinking how awesome I’d love to see Miss Sloane take on Claire Underwood in a live t.v. debate. Talk about the fight of the century! Chastain’s performance is terrific; she gives equity to near despicableness as well as real, human empathy. Yes, I cared about her while simultaneously despising her.

The supporting performances are fantastic and authentic too, with John Lithgow (Sperling) as a Congressman who is forcibly coerced into an uncomfortable situation; Mark Strong (Rodolfo) as the “hippie in a suit” boss at a smaller, do-gooder lobbying firm; Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Esme) as an emotionally abused assistant and awkward sometimes-friend; and Jake Lacy as a charming midnight cowboy (Ford). Some of the best scenes in the film are the ones between Lacy and Chastain not only because of their undeniable chemistry, but because the scenes aren’t overwritten.

Everything gets a little too hokey towards the end, when countless twists and turns and plot surprises come thrashing out of nowhere, all hitting the audience at once. But this is a go-for-broke type of movie, and its messiness is welcomed as a work of art that manages to be both a criticism and a celebration of our broken political system — and the real deal makers and back slappers who keep the engine humming. Checkmate.