Jason Bateman

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush)

Ah, the socially responsible children’s movie, or: the progressive soulless capitalism of the Walt Disney Corporation, twenty-first century iteration. I went into Zootopia waiting for it to be great–I assumed the filmmakers would take responsibility for the big questions they imply–then I waited for it to be good, then I waited for it to be over. It’s a perfectly competent, perfectly satisfactory outing. Girls have a positive role model in Ginnifer Goodwin’s protagonist, the first rabbit cop, and boys will be positively reassured of their superior position in society thanks to Jason Bateman’s rogue sidekick. Watching Zootopia, you can just imagine Disney drones toggling between Buzzfeed and The Toast for concepts.

And not in a bad way, right? I mean, it is just a kid’s movie about anthropomorphized mammals. It’s not going to do any permanent damage, is it? It’s just a movie about how predators and prey can live together as long as predators are okay with the prey thinking they’re socially and morally inferior than the prey. Oh, wait, no, it actually seems like a big question and Zootopia tries to walk back from it immediately after every time it comes up. It flares. Someone who rewrote the screenplay added this occasional flaring up of really gross social commentary. It might be unintentional, but it’s gross. And obvious.

But it’s well-acted and the plotting is fairly strong. Directors Howard, Moore and Bush do better when handling suspense than action. Zootopia is kid’s CG and the animals are stylized not just to be more genially anthropomorphized, they’re also made adorable. It’s manipulative, it’s Disney, it means what could be amazing action set pieces are just passible CG animation instead. There’s great potential in a chase sequence through a “mouse metropolis” and the filmmakers go with plastic-y CG for the setting instead of any realism. It looks like a toy commercial, it’s got limited potential. But when Goodwin and Bateman are doing a James Bond movie action sequence, it’s awesome. It’s a shame everything’s so uneven.

In the supporting roles, Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons do well. There aren’t a lot of good parts. Even Simmons and Elba don’t have good parts. I mean, Goodwin doesn’t even have a good part, not really. Even Bateman has some really weak material–Zootopia’s so confused it can’t even commit to its charismatic antihero love interest dude.

And Jenny Slate’s not great. Her part’s crap, but she’s not great. The part needs some kind of greatness.

Still, it’s a kid’s movie. For me, I just wish it was better directed. But for a kid’s movie, I wish it didn’t fumble with its social message. I wish it comment on real world racial stereotypes with absurd entries in a “Friends Against Humanity” game. I wish the directors and the writers took it seriously, but Disney isn’t even Disney anymore. It’s just progressive soulless capitalist filmmaking, what should one expect from it? It’s not *Animal Farm*, after all, it’s just a kid’s movie.*

* Of course, *Wind in the Willows* is just a kid’s book and it’s thoughtful about how it anthropomorphizes its animals.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush; screenplay by Bush and Phil Johnston, based on a story by Howard, Moore, Bush, Jim Reardon, Josie Trinidad, Johnston and Jennifer Lee; edited by Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, David Goetz and Dan Cooper; produced by Clark Spencer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Idris Elba (Chief Bogo), Jenny Slate (Bellwether), Nate Torrence (Clawhauser), Bonnie Hunt (Bonnie Hopps), Don Lake (Stu Hopps), Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton), Alan Tudyk (Duke Weaselton) and J.K. Simmons (Mayor Lionheart).


Bates Motel (1987, Richard Rothstein)

Bates Motel is one of those “has to be seen to be believed (but isn’t worth spending any time on)” movies. It’s even better because it’s a late eighties TV movie slash pilot with a lot of contemporary television personalities guest starring, “Love Boat”-style. But it’s also a sequel to Psycho.

It’s also a complete mess of all those elements.

First, there’s lead Bud Cort. Having grown-up in the eighties and nineties, I eventually heard of Bates Motel, but I thought it was about Cort being this creepy motel manager and Jason Bateman being his assistant, possible victim, young adult lead. Like a mystery show.

Nope.

Bates Motel is about how Robert Picardo, in a high contrast, black and white flashback, gives just institutionalized Norman Bates a friend. It’s ludicrous, but writer Richard Rothstein really runs with it. And since he also directed the Motel, he’s always very nostalgic for Norman. Cort carries an urn with his ashes around the entire movie.

It’s nuts. Only it’s saccharine. Because Bates Motel, which actually does a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end, isn’t about being scary. It’s about being life affirming. Rothstein writes it for the commercial breaks; the break provides some transition, whether in the present action or just in Cort all of a sudden becoming the protagonist instead of a possible psychopath. Then Lori Petty shows up and everything goes crazy in a different direction.

Both Cort and Petty are bad, but Petty’s doing a schtick. She’s trying to sell herself (or the network is trying to sell her) and she doesn’t do a bad job of being calculated and commercial. As far as her terribly-written part? Well, no, she doesn’t do much with it. She’s unlikable, but better than Cort. And still bad.

Even Moses Gunn is bad, but in his case it’s because Rothstein can’t stage a scene. Bill Butler’s photography is actually pretty good too. Bates Motel isn’t cheap (I had always assumed it was cheap, it isn’t); it has good production values. It just has a crap script, crap direction and crap acting.

Except from Khrystyne Haje. Against all odds, she’s good. Jason Bateman, who has no scenes with Cort, is terrible. As the primary “Love Boat” guest star, the one in need of life affirming, Kerrie Keane is bad. You want to like her, but you can’t. I guess she does earn some pity, but it’s for being in the movie.

The super sweet music from J. Peter Robinson just makes it even more of an awkward, unpleasant misfire. However, it’s hard not to watch the first act, as Motel desperately tries to engage a vague franchise awareness with its viewer, and see it as a proto-franchise reboot.

Bates Motel is, just as I always thought, a piece of crap. The only surprise–besides Haje being good and Petty being worse than expected–has to be Cort. I expected to have sympathy for him being wasted in this crappy TV movie knock-off Psycho, but I didn’t. His performance is so distant, so cocky-eyed, it’s like I’d never seen him before and had no attachment (big problem for a TV pilot, incidentally). Rothstein can’t do anything right, not even cast Harold as a socially isolated, middle-aged man intrigued with death.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Rothstein; teleplay by Rothstein, suggested by a novel by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Dann Cahn; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky; aired by NBC.

Starring Bud Cort (Alex West), Lori Petty (Willie), Kerrie Keane (Barbara Peters), Gregg Henry (Tom Fuller), Robert Picardo (Dr. Goodman), Moses Gunn (Henry Watson), Jason Bateman (Tony Scotti), Khrystyne Haje (Sally), Lee de Broux (Sheriff) and Kurt Paul (Norman Bates).


Horrible Bosses (2011, Seth Gordon), the extended cut

It would have been nice if one of the three credited screenwriter of Horrible Bosses thought enough to write characters for the protagonists. Instead, the script–and director Gordon–rely on the “charm” of the three leads. Only, Charlie Day (as a lovable buffoon) and Jason Sudeikis (as a somewhat absent-minded buffoon) and Jason Bateman (as the one suffering having two buffoons for best friends) aren’t charming. They’re trying. Most of the movie is them running around together and it’s lame.

The funny stuff comes with the guest stars. Horrible Bosses has guest stars–the titular bosses are basically guest stars. Or Donald Sutherland and Jamie Foxx popping up and giving the film some semblance of quality before Day and Sudeikis ruin another scene. The three bosses are Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell. Farrell’s in a bald cap, which is impressively believable, but he has no comic timing. Aniston is fantastic. Spacey’s good, but he’s done the role many times so he should be good at it.

The movie actually doesn’t start too bad, opening with Bateman–who can carry this kind of nonsense–and relying heavily on the guest stars. But once Sudeikis and Day take over, it quickly goes down the drain.

Maybe if Gordon was in some way a compelling director, but Bosses is very boring looking. Lousy music from Christopher Lennertz too.

The easy joke would be to call Bosses horrible, but it’s not. It’s just pedestrian. Tiresome and pedestrian, not even horrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Seth Gordon; screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, based on a story by Markowitz; director of photography, David Hennings; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Christopher Lennertz; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Brett Ratner and Jay Stern; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jason Bateman (Nick Hendricks), Charlie Day (Dale Arbus), Jason Sudeikis (Kurt Buckman), Jennifer Aniston (Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S.), Colin Farrell (Bobby Pellitt), Kevin Spacey (Dave Harken), Donald Sutherland (Jack Pellit) and Jamie Foxx (Dean ‘MF’ Jones).


Paul (2011, Greg Mottola)

Maybe Simon Pegg needs Edgar Wright or maybe Nick Frost just shouldn’t be writing because Paul should be great and it’s not.

Some of the problem comes from having Seth Rogen voice the titular, CG alien. Rogen does a fine job but he’s such a dynamic presence, Pegg and Frost sort of fade into the background. But it’s also a really busy script, with Jason Bateman hunting down the fugitives, Kristen Wiig meeting up with them and then John Carroll Lynch (as her father) chasing them down too.

Oh, and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as Bateman’s subordinates.

It also occurs to me it’s Pegg’s first American film (as a co-writer and production force) and that factor might be the damning one. Mottola is the wrong director for this film. He brings no personality to it and he probably got Hader and Wiig the jobs. Hader’s awful and Wiig’s mediocre. And whoever casted Sigourney Weaver should have realized his or her mistake when her painfully unfunny comic performance showed up in the dailies and done something about it.

However, it’s got a wonder part for Blythe Danner. If the film had been more Danner and less everyone (except the alien), it would have been a lot better.

Jeffrey Tambor is pretty funny in an unfortunately tiny role.

Still, it’s not awful and is mildly entertaining. The jokes in the script are pretty funny, it’s just not a good script.

Paul even manages to bore in its obvious shortcomings.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy), Nick Frost (Clive Gollings), Seth Rogen (Paul), Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs), Jason Bateman (Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil), Bill Hader (Agent Haggard), Joe Lo Truglio (Agent O’Reilly), Jane Lynch (Pat Stevenson), Sigourney Weaver (the Big Guy), Blythe Danner (Tara Walton), Mia Stallard (Young Tara Walton), John Carroll Lynch (Moses Buggs), David Koechner (Gus), Jesse Plemons (Jake) and Jeffrey Tambor (Adam Shadowchild).


The Switch (2010, Josh Gordon and Will Speck)

I suppose if someone wanted to think really hard about it, there’s something to be said about adapting short stories for Hollywood. Jeffrey Eugenides’s source short story was in The New Yorker. Is it ripe for mainstream Hollywood adaptation? Given the adaptation, The Switch, failed at the box office, one might say no. But then if people don’t see good movies (or read good fiction), maybe a New Yorker short story is a good starting place for a mainstream movie.

The Switch is a completely predictable family comedy. It’s not really a romantic comedy because the romance between Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is tertiary to Bateman forming a relationship with the son he never knew he had, played by Thomas Robinson.

The opening third is set seven years before (odd how Aniston and Bateman didn’t age a day) and has a different tone. It’s a lot funnier. The film opens on a hilarious urban sequence. Then the supporting cast–Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson–get introduced and they’re a lot funnier than they get to be when there’s a kid around.

Gordon and Speck earn a bunch of good will and basically spend the last hour of the film using it and it works. It doesn’t hurt the film’s got one of the single best romantic comeback lines since, I don’t know, Empire Strikes Back.

Bateman’s really good here. All of the casting is good, but Bateman’s performance suggests he’s capable of great things.

It’s totally fine.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck; screenplay by Allan Loeb, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by John Axelrad; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jason Bateman (Wally), Jennifer Aniston (Kassie), Patrick Wilson (Roland), Jeff Goldblum (Leonard), Juliette Lewis (Debbie) and Thomas Robinson (Sebastian).


State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


The Ex (2007, Jesse Peretz)

The Ex reminds me of a 1980s comedy, but maybe not. Maybe more a 1990s comedy. I knew it did, but I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized it’s all about the information given the viewer. The Ex starts in New York and moves to Ohio in the first seven and a half minutes and there’s no establishing and no confusion. Regardless of the title and the trailer–the film’s original title, Fast Track, is better but not quite right either–the film doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s a slight, amusing comedy about a couple orienting themselves with a baby. I wasn’t expecting Amanda Peet to be in the film much as a lead, but she and Braff are really partners. Their days are juxtaposed and The Ex has got a really nice present action too–it takes place over about a week. Five days, not seven.

As a leading comedic actor, Zach Braff is amazing. I’ve never seen him in anything before (I tried watching “Scrubs,” but after five minutes I was dislocating my shoulder going for the remote) but from the first second, he runs this film. I can’t even think of a comparable leading comedic actor (except maybe late 1970s Chevy Chase). It’s a joy to watch him. But then Peet shows up and she’s got her own thing going and she’s fantastic too. I always say how much I like her but before The Ex, I’d only seen her in two things. Now it’s three. They’re perfect together.

Jason Bateman. Remember when one thought “The Hogan Family” hearing his name? Now, it’d be “Arrested Development.” It’s never going to be The Ex one thinks about, but it’s going to be something in the future. Bateman acts with this ease and self-assurance–it’s like a comedic De Niro (back when De Niro was good).

Maybe the performances are why The Ex works as well as it does. Charles Grodin shows up as Peet’s father and he’s got some funny moments, but mostly it’s just a Charles Grodin supporting role. Donal Logue’s funny in his bit. But the three leads command the viewer’s attention like leads are supposed to command a viewer’s attention.

The Ex is so fleet-footed it races past some bad traditional comedy snags, but also some requisite storytelling ones. A lot is inferred in a few moments, including things like character motivation. I think the filmmakers realized it too, because they take care of it real quick at the end.

I’d complain it should go longer, but the film’s thin–it has maybe three subplots, with one of them contributing heavily to the main action–and it gets out at just the right time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jesse Peretz; written by David Guion and Michael Handelman; director of photography, Tom Richmond; edited by Tricia Cooke, Jeff McEvoy and John Michel; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, John Paino; produced by Anthony Bergman, Marc Butan, Anne Carey and Ted Hope; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Zach Braff (Tom Reilly), Amanda Peet (Sofia Kowalski), Jason Bateman (Chip Sanders), Charles Grodin (Bob Kowalski), Mia Farrow (Amelia Kowalski), Donal Logue (Don Wollebin) and Amy Poehler (Carol Lane).


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