Tag Archives: Jennifer Jason Leigh

Morgan (2016)

Just about every year, there are a couple of movie releases that will take me by surprise. They kind of popped up out of nowhere, with no buzz or early trailers, but feature a cast of big Hollywood names. Morgan is one such film.

The first time I actually saw snippets of the Morgan trailer and poster was actually the weekend before its release. I had never heard of it and couldn’t believe it when I found out that it starred the likes of Kate Mara, Rose Leslie, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook (soon to be seen as the main villain in Logan), and Anya Taylor-Joy (who was absolutely brilliant in The Witch).

The poster seemed intriguing as well, dominated by a dark, hooded figure I could only presume was the eponymous protagonist (or antagonist, if you will). The trailer gave away wait too much as usual, but essentially, Kate Mara plays some sort of risk assessment manager who ventures into a secluded research facility that managed to genetically engineer a synthetic human being, ie Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Pretty much everyone else in the cast is a scientist or a handler of some sort.

I was definitely intrigued. It seemed like a thinking person’s horror movie, with elements of Ex Machina and shades of the underrated Splice. Yes, it is yet another one of those “man should not mess with nature” or “living creatures should not be kept in captivity” cautionary tales, but the fact that such a great cast had faith in the project suggested to me that it would be worth watching.

Well, I was about half right. Morgan turned out to be borderline watchable. What started off as a compelling premise and some early tension soon crumbled into predictability and genre tropes. We all know Morgan’s not as innocent as she seems and that she will get out of her glass box eventually. But instead of pursuing the more interesting and thought-provoking opportunities the premise offers, Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley (who produced the film), chose to indulge in the usual slasher and horror cliches. The action isn’t handled too shabbily, though it would be a stretch to call it outstanding. Same goes for the horror elements — Morgan (both the character and the film itself) never really scared me.

At some point in the movie, it also became impossible to not guess the “twist” at the end. It’s just so obvious and telegraphed that when it is finally revealed there is no sense of shock whatsoever.

Still, I have to be fair. Morgan is still at least serviceable and better than most of the straight-to-DVD horror-thrillers these days. The initial set-up is interesting, I’ll give it that, and the execution — whether it is the action, tension, or horror — is passable. Throw in a star-studded cast who genuinely seemed to put in effort rather than mail it in for a paycheck, and you end up with a movie that isn’t a complete waste of time but could have been so much better.

2.5 stars out of 5

Anomalisa (2015)

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Like I’ve said many times, I’m not a huge fan of animation. But Anomalisa, the stop-motion passion project of genius writer Charlie Kauffman, is a whole other beast altogether. In the vein of other memorable classics on his resume, like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotlight Mind, this one is unique, utterly unusual, somewhat absurd, and surprisingly full of heart. If I must squeeze the film into the animation category, then Anomalisa is without a doubt my favourite animated film of the year, no small feat considering I really enjoyed Inside Out, the Pixar flick that bested it at the Oscars.

I went into Anomalisa without any idea of what the film is about, which turned out to be both good and bad. As per usual, no spoilers from me, though I think it would be helpful to have an inkling of the premise so you don’t end up completely lost.

Based on a stage play penned by Kauffman, the film follows a middle-aged man named Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) as he heads to Cincinatti for work reasons. The majority of the movie takes place in the hotel where Michael is staying and details his interactions with others people, all of whom are voiced by Tom Noonan and have identical faces (this is important but was lost on me for half the movie). Only one person is different — Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh — and her appearance turns Michael’s life completely upside down.

This is one weird-ass film, but it’s also completely absorbing and riveting to watch for several reasons. First of all, you never know where the plot is heading — it’s a wild, wacky ride, and you simply have to surrender yourself to Kauffman and trust him to handle the rest.

Secondly, the animation is captivating. All the characters are eerily life-like, save for a strange crack on the sides of the heads. But even the expressions and movements have this human quality to them, which is both amazing and unsettling. It apparently took two years to shoot everything, often a second or two of footage a day — that’s how meticulous it is.

Thirdly, the movie is funny — really, really funny. In typical Kauffman fashion, the humour is often awkward and dark, but it sure is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And there aren’t many cheap jokes either — everything is dialogue, characters and situation. Fantastic use of profanity too.

Fourthly, I just couldn’t believe how much heart the film had — not just for an animated film, but any film. I believed in the characters and what they were saying. I connected with their personalities and I felt their emotions. All of this despite the surreal vibe coursing through the entire film. A good chunk of the credit must go to Thewlis, Leigh and Noonan for their phenomenal voice performances. It shows just how much of acting is in the way the lines are read.

The result is a trippy, funny and poignant experience unlike anything I’d seen before. My only real problem is that the protagonist, Michael, is actually a bit of a douche, and as such it’s not as easy to empathise and sympathise with the guy as Kauffman may think. Apart from that, I have nothing but positive things to say about Anomalisa. I embraced the weirdness and loved it.

4.5 stars out of 5

The Hateful Eight (2015)

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The Hateful Eight, the eighth motion picture by master director Quentin Tarantino, was one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. Average, good or masterpiece, every Tarantino movie is an event in my cinematic calendar.

And this one certainly appeared to be promising, with a ridiculous cast featuring Old faces like Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as well as new ones like Jennifer Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum.

The premise itself – even though Tarantino movies are usually more about the situations and dialogue than the actual plot – is also intriguing: a Western and whodunnit mystery rolled into one, with a bunch of nasty outlaws, bounty hunters and gunslingers all trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm.

Still, my expectations were kept in check after some lukewarm scores from critics I follow and a friend who called it one of the worst movies he has ever seen! The film also performed poorly for a Tarantino movie at the box office, though some blame that partly on it crossing paths with Star Wars (and besides, it still made money overall).

Now that I’ve watched it I can say that I understand some of the negative feedback. Tarantino has always been a bit of an acquired taste, though if you appreciate his style you’ll tend to love most of his movies. On the other hand, if you don’t have the patience to learn how to appreciate his style, his films can sour in a hurry.

I saw the general release version, which is a whopping 167 minutes, but still 20 minutes shorter than the 70mm roadshow version. In my opinion, it probably would have been better at about 120 minutes. Told in six “chapters”, the film takes a long time to get rolling and didn’t really get interesting for me until the second half. But once it picked up momentum the film became a well-oiled machine that rampaged all the way until its thrilling finish.

As such, The Hateful Eight was a real a mixed bag for me. There were parts I didn’t care for and parts I consider vintage Tarantino. As usual, you have to pay attention to the dialogue, which is mostly sublime, and the dark humour and racism and violence is of course quintessential Quentin. Tarantino also again gets the most out of his cast, and it’s hard to pick a standout from the bunch. Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen seem very comfortable, as they should be, so I’d probably have to go with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell and Justified’s Walton Goggins.

Conversely, the pace of the movie is often slow – at times dropping to snail-like speed – with the conversation occasionally descending into pure convoluted indulgence. I’ve always indulged Tarantino’s ego and self-indulgence, though this time I felt having absolute free rein to do whatever he pleased may have ended up being a detriment.

Having said that, The Hateful Eight does have its cracker moments, those memorable scenes of hilarious mayhem and carnage only Tarantino can pull off to such perfection. My love for those moments does salvage the overall experience to some extent, meaning I will likely remember The Hateful Eight as a more enjoyable movie than it really is.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Greenberg (2010)

What can you say about a film like Greenberg?

For starters, you can be sure that this unambitious, character-driven comedy-drama would never have been made had big names such as Ben Stiller (actor) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (producer and story — her husband Noah Baumbach directs and co-wrote the screenplay) not been attached to it.  It’s one of those weird movie experiences that’s intentionally awkward, somewhat quirky, and tugs at the heart strings without making it obvious that was the aim.  Is it a bad film?  Not really.  But is it any good?  Not really either.

Greenberg is about Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old carpenter recovering from a nervous breakdown who moves from New York back to LA to “do nothing” while he house sits for his wealthy brother.  It’s also about the relationship Greenberg develops with his brother’s assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aimless, slightly naive 25-year-old girl who says yes to just about everything.  And it’s a little bit about Greenberg’s friend and old band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who is trying to be there for Greenberg despite going through a messy separation.

If that sounds unexciting to you, that’s because it kind of is.  Expectations that something outrageous will happen in Greenberg are understandably low.  After all, it’s all about the characters, their flaws, their life choices and their regrets.  It’s essentially about three people wondering what they are doing with their lives and trying to make sense of a confusing world.

There are some solid scenes of self-discovery and reflection plus a couple of amusing lines in the film, but that’s not enough to save it for me.  My biggest problem with it is that the titular character is not a particularly likable guy and there is no true sense of change or redemption in him.  You simply follow him around as he does one strange thing after another.  Consequently, the film drags through its 107-minute running time.  I wouldn’t call it boring, but it was so uneventful that it gradually sapped away my anticipation for something exciting to happen.

Ultimately, I think Greenberg is one of those films that fans of quirky independent dramas will probably embrace.  For everyone else, it’ll most likely be a forgettable affair.

2 stars out of 5