Category Archives: J.K. Simmons

Being the Ricardos-2021

Being the Ricardos-2021

Director Aaron Sorkin

Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem

Scott’s Review #1,426

Reviewed May 7, 2024

Grade: B+

Aaron Sorkin who has written or directed such efforts as A Few Good Men (1992), Moneyball (2011), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is typically associated with mainstream films.

While quality projects, he will never be accused of being a dangerous or auteur director. Since he is in the director’s chair for Being the Ricardos (2021) I knew going in that the film would be more or less a safe venture.

Ironically, the film that tells the story of famous comedian Lucille Ball played by Nicole Kidman, and her husband Desi played by Javier Bardem is not a comedy. It’s a drama mixed with a biography for those audiences unfamiliar with the duo explaining who they are.

For those of us at least mildly familiar with the iconic black and white show ‘I Love Lucy’ that pivoted television shows into the spotlight in the 1950s, Being the Ricardos serves as a slice of nostalgia.

The film depicts many aspects of the relationship of the pair and the challenges that went into producing the hit television show every week. But it also delves heavily into their rocky marriage, political smears, and cultural taboos that the show helped break.

Whoever thought that a pregnant character or a Cuban leading man would have stirred so much controversy?

But in the 1950s things were different and anyone even open to the idea of Communism faced career ruination.

Sorkin successfully treats the viewers to lengthy debates in the writers’ room, contentious star feuds, and the creative process in general.

More subtly, we see how a powerful woman in show business was the exception, not the rule, and how norms were very different for women.

The events of the film mostly surround one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy.”

J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda play loveable Fred and Ethel, Lucy and Desi’s comical next-door neighbors in the sitcom. In real life, the actors despised each other frequently hurling insults at each other.

Comedy legend Linda Lavin makes a surprising appearance as Madelyn Pugh. The then-older television writer provides interviews along with other writers and producers to explain the earlier events.

Kidman is center stage as the icon. A brilliant actor in any role she is cast she does effectively depict the breathy voice and the mannerisms of Lucille Ball but she doesn’t look like her. Originally, Cate Blanchett was attached to the role and I’m very curious how she would have played her.

The obvious choice might have been television’s Debra Messing, brilliant on Will & Grace even portraying Lucy in one fantasy episode. My hunch is that Messing was too great a risk of lowering the film to sitcom standards and she isn’t a ‘movie star’ either.

And again, Being the Ricardos isn’t a comedy.

So, Kidman delivers the goods with some reservations mostly revealing what a strong woman Ball was and how she created many of the hilarious skits she is known for while not making the character seem like an idiot.

Bardem is also good in the role of Desi. He mixes conservative machismo with a thirst to be daring and challenge the mold. His womanizing would ruin their marriage but he was a savvy businessman and the film shows this.

An entertaining biopic that probably will be forgotten over time Being the Ricardos (2021) nonetheless shines a spotlight on the early days of television as a new medium and the hurdles its stars had to face in the woeful days of early apple pie and white picket fences that defined America.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Javier Bardem, Best Actress-Nicole Kidman, Best Supporting Actor-J.K. Simmons

I Love You, Man-2009

I Love You, Man-2009

Director John Hamburg

Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, Rashida Jones

Scott’s Review #1,311

Reviewed October 24, 2022

Grade: B

I Love You, Man (2009) is another one of these ‘feel-good’ types of ‘bromance’ comedies to grace the silver screen in the 2000s. It takes a familiar storyline of two male friends bonding, usually involving a female in the mix to complicate matters, with hilariously awkward moments thrown in.

It’s nothing groundbreaking or overly severe but rather a mildly satisfying ‘guy film’ that a female audience can also enjoy too because there exists a romance and a happily ever after.

I’m simplifying the specific gender tastes quite a bit but what I mean is the film is light and there can be something for everyone to enjoy.

While there are some innocent homoerotic playful moments between the men, for laughs, of course, the genre avoids anything LGBTQ+ related other than a gay supporting character who cleverly teaches the straight male how to ‘meet’ men.

Director, John Hamburg, is involved in similarly themed projects like Meet the Parents (2000) and Along Came Polly (2004) so he knows the common premise required for a film like I Love You, Man as well as what the audience wants.

As his wedding day approaches, nerdy Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) realizes he has no one to serve as his best man. Through a series of “man-dates,” he finds abrasive Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), and the pair become instant friends.

But as Peter’s “bromance” with Sydney grows stronger, it threatens his relationship with his intended, Zooey (Rashida Jones), forcing Peter to make a choice.

It’s not a bad effort and Rudd and Segal have good chemistry as polar opposite characters. The differences are a big part of the laughs but Jones is somewhat unnecessary to the plot other than the required female component to satisfy the formula.

She dutifully plays her role as the straight woman immersed between two goofballs but has very little to do other than get in the way and be a roadblock to the guy’s fun.

It’s not a great role for her and the chemistry is lacking between her and Rudd but maybe that’s just the point. I’m not too sure but I found the humorous moments entirely left to the boys to provide.

My favorite section of the film is one that many may dismiss or deem secondary. The legendary progressive rock band Rush makes an appearance as a way that Peter and Sydney ultimately bond.

Any fan of music, especially a thinking man’s band like Rush, can attest to the genuine bond that can be created between followers of a specific group.

Rush is legendary for just that and it makes I Love You, Man feel fresher than it otherwise would have. Besides, other than Led Zeppelin is there a better example of a ‘guy’s band’?

Otherwise, the film is particularly run-of-the-mill. There are familiar arguments, misunderstandings, breakups, and makeup to be endured.

Events start with a marriage proposal and unsurprisingly end with a wedding ceremony so anything in between is rather superfluous since we can see the outcome a mile away.

Naturally, as much as Zooey wants Peter to have more male friends she becomes suspicious and otherwise threatened by the new blood, feeling left out.

There is a hint that Sydney may be trying to manipulate and pull the wool over Peter’s eyes over a financial loan but things work themselves out just fine.

As predictable as I Love You, Man (2009) is there is a sentimental, even heartwarming sensation to be left with, and a few good chuckles along the way.

Young Adult-2011

Young Adult-2011

Director Jason Reitman 

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt

Scott’s Review #1,267

Reviewed June 17, 2022

Grade: A-

I am a big fan of Jason Reitman films.

Though classified as comedies, they lack the qualities I most dislike in many mainstream comedies: slapstick, formulaic, gag setups, and potty jokes, that feel completely staged and redundant.

Instead, he incorporates wry, sardonic humor, cynicism, and intelligence into his films that enhance the writing and make the characters’ motivations clear.

Most of his characters are damaged and unhappy, suffering from inner conflict or instability, but the result is witty humor providing laughs to those able to think outside the box and immerse themselves into the character’s heads.

Thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Diablo Cody the thoughts and conflicts of a female character take center stage.

Reitman’s best films are Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and Young Adult (2011) right up there with the others providing a darker tone than especially Juno contained.

Along with Reitman and Cody is a terrific performance by Charlize Theron who rightfully should have received an Oscar nomination. This is tough to achieve with a comedy performance and she had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination instead.

Just looking at the movie poster for Young Adult reveals a lot about her character. With an annoyed and flabbergasted look, wearing pajamas, she immediately gives off the vibe of being slovenly, fed up, and looking for a fight.

Theron is great at playing take-no-prisoners, tough characters with a bit of edge and a no-bullshit attitude.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a successful but frustrated writer of teen literature who realizes that her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has just become a father with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).

Mavis decides to return to her small hometown and cause trouble.

She feels her life is getting away from her and she’d love to steal Buddy away from Beth and ride off into the sunset for presumed happiness. She also knows that life usually doesn’t work this way.

Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), who has also found it difficult to move past high school.

The two connect in the unlikeliest of ways since they didn’t exactly travel in the same circles during high school. Matt has his own powerful story since he was gay-bashed causing him to be permanently disabled.

Matt and Mavis are both relatable characters to most of the audience. Who hasn’t ruminated over their past life in high school? For some high schools are glorious years filled with memories of pep rallies, parties, and graduation.

For others, the mere thought conjures up memories of insecurity, moodiness, and awkward experiences. There can also be some of both for most people.

Mavis, Matt, and Buddy have each not closed out their high school chapters in different ways so the fun is seeing the feelings of each character come to the surface shrouded in conflict. With Matt and Mavis turning to all-night drinking binges eases their pain.

The best scene that showcases Mavis’s anger and Theron’s exceptional acting skills occurs at an outdoor party in celebration of naming Buddy’s daughter.

As the entire town is gathered on the front lawn Beth spills punch on Mavis’s dress causing Mavis to fly into a rage, insulting Beth, and finally confessing that she was once pregnant with Buddy’s child but had a miscarriage.

The hateful Mavis, the hurt Beth, and the embarrassment of the townspeople are on full display. The scene is wonderful and shows the cohesive value of the events to the rest of the story.

Reitman brings complexity to his characters in Young Adult (2011) and proves that dark comedy, especially character-driven, provides emotional power amid the laughs.

I love that the ending is ambiguous rather than wrapped up in a nice bow like too many comedies.

Thanks to wonderful acting, insightful writing, and wise direction, the film is well-remembered and undoubtedly a source of inspiration for upcoming comedy writers and directors.

Up in the Air-2009

Up in the Air-2009

Director Jason Reitman

Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Scott’s Review #573

Reviewed December 30, 2016

Grade: A

Up in the Air is a fantastic film, but for some odd reason, circa its release to theaters in 2009 it was categorized as a romantic comedy. While there is a bit of romance involved, the film is a dark romantic drama.

The content is perfect for this period in history- the terrible economy, and the unemployment rate rising sky-high.

The acting by the principles is excellent and is worth watching, but do not expect a happy, uplifting film.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate “downsizer”, who travels the country firing employees from companies that hire him. Ryan has no qualms about what he does and enjoys traveling around the country.

He mentors a young employee, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who is more sympathetic to the people whose lives she changes.

Ryan meets another frequent flyer, businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an affair. He becomes a more sympathetic character as he develops real feelings for Alex, but will Alex return the affections?

The tone of the film is sarcastic and sardonic, and Clooney is dynamic in the lead role- carrying the film. He is charismatic and energetic, performing his work duties in an emotionless way.

We slowly get to know him better and realize, through Alex, that he does have a heart. Alex is a more mysterious character, and Farmiga is equally as engaging in the role. When a big reveal is learned about Alex, the audience does not see it coming.

As the years go by, I hope that Up in the Air is remembered for being a film that was released at the perfect time, given the difficulties many were going through.

I love how the film carries smart dialogue- the characters questioning each other’s motivations and becoming intertwined.

Jason Reitman and the screenwriter craft an exceptional film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Jason Reitman, Best Actor-George Clooney, Best Supporting Actress-Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Best Adapted Screenplay

True Grit-2010

True Grit-2010

Director Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #525

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Reviewed November 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Having not seen the original, 1969 version of True Grit,  starring John Wayne,  I cannot compare the two, but the remake in 2010  is excellent.

I do not profess to be the greatest fan of the western genre as the stereotypes are usually peppered throughout and the good versus bad cliches done to death, but True Grit is a different, contemporary western.

Fantastic looking with numerous big, current stars, humor, and quirkiness.

True Grit is a mainstream (in camera and style) Hollywood Western (the Coen Bros. usually are more gritty in their stories), but a well-made one.

The odd supporting characters make this film fantastic and there is an edge to it that enamored me. The film also contains some Quentin Tarantino elements making it left of center in some ways.

It tells the story of a tomboy-like fourteen-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), also the narrator of the film, who hires an aging U.S. Marshal to avenge her father’s death.

The story is well told, and the cinematography and attention to detail are great, giving off a crisp feel of really being in the Wild West.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Best Actor-Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actress-Hailee Steinfeld, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design

Whiplash-2014

Whiplash-2014

Director Damien Chazelle

Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

Scott’s Review #192

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Reviewed November 13, 2014

Grade: A

Whiplash (2014) is a film about an aspiring nineteen-year-old Jazz drummer, Andrew Neyman, played by rising star Miles Teller (known for 2013’s indie teen drama The Spectacular Now), who is attending one of the most revered musical schools in the country, the Schaffer Conservatory in New York.

He is mentored and terrorized by his intense and sometimes sadistic conductor, Terence Fletcher, portrayed by J.K. Simmons.

Andrew aspires to be the best drummer and worships Buddy Rich, a famous Jazz drummer from the 1930s and 1940s, who he constantly listens to and emulates.

While Andrew aspires to make the school orchestra that desperately needs a new drummer, he meets a cute girl, Nicole, at the concession stand of his favorite movie theater, and they bond.

Also in the mix is Andrew’s father, played by Paul Reiser. Once an aspiring writer, who never made it big, he struggles as a high school teacher. Andrew’s mother left the family when Andrew was just a toddler leaving just father and son.

The film mainly centers on the tumultuous relationship between Andrew and Terence and Andrew’s determination to be the best drummer in the world.

J.K. Simmons is mesmerizing in his role of Terence and is wonderful to see as Simmons has struggled as a character actor for years.

He gives a powerhouse performance and plows full steam ahead in his viciousness and extreme brutality towards the students, and on more than one occasion reduces a student to tears. If the tempo is not to his liking he shakes his clenched fist in disapproval.

The audience wonders if Terence is mean and sadistic or is tough on the students to make them work harder and achieve great things.

Throughout the film, I wondered if I should hate this character or sympathize with him for wanting the students to excel.

The sexuality of Fletcher is ambiguous.

He belittles and ridicules the students with fat jokes. He hatefully taunts an overweight student about Mars bars and happy meals, uses Irish digs, and inevitably gay slurs on other students, but is he hiding something in his personal life? Is he a closet case? His private life remains a mystery.

As brutal as Terence can be, there are moments of sensitivity that the character exhibits. He tearfully tells the orchestra a heartbreaking story of a former student, whom he admired, who recently died in a car accident.

In another scene, he warmly bonds with a friend’s young daughter.

As brilliant as Simmons is we must not forget to recognize the immense talent of Teller. The young actor does a fantastic job of portraying determination, drive, anger, and vengeance.

Andrew has a wonderful relationship with his dedicated father, a love/hate relationship with Terence, (are they bitter enemies or do they have the respect of a mentor/student?), and a sweet yet uneven relationship with Nicole.

He successfully portrays a myriad of different emotions throughout the film.

Paul Reiser is wonderful in an overlooked and thankless role as Andrew’s unsuccessful, yet forever faithful father.

Thankfully the film chose to center on the conductor/student dynamic. The romantic relationship with Nicole did not take center stage and usurp the main story, as I felt that the dynamic between the two was of lesser importance to the whole.

The finale, an intense concert performance scene focusing on the intensity between Terence and Andrew, is superbly done. The close-up camera shots of the two add much to the climax.

In fact, throughout Whiplash, extreme close-up shots of sweat and blood and intensity during performances and practices add to the overall rawness of the film.

Whiplash (2014) is an intense, sometimes brutal, assaulting experience, but an amazing film.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-J.K. Simmons (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Film Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature, Best Director-Damien Chazelle, Best Supporting Male-J.K. Simmons (won), Best Editing (won)

Labor Day-2013

Labor Day-2013

Director Jason Reitman

Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #116

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Reviewed July 17, 2014 

Grade: B+

Labor Day (2013) is quite simply a modern love story.

Set in 1987 on a hot Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire, a boy and his mother are approached by an escaped convict pleading for help.

They reluctantly agree and what follows is a weekend of mixed emotions and bonding between the three individuals.

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin have nice chemistry as the two leads, and although the film felt like it was decorated to be 1987, it looks quite modern.

The woman is divorced and insecure and bordering on being a shut-in. The son is more like the parent, taking care of her, and running errands.

The film is narrated by an older version of the son (played by Tobey Maguire). Questions run through the viewer’s mind throughout the film, which is a major positive.

Can the convict be trusted? Is he guilty or is there more to the story? Is the mother falling for him or pretending to escape?

All the action plays out over one weekend while the town is on high alert and everyone is searching for the escaped con and most of the action takes place in the family home, lending a stage production feel to the film.

There are some tense moments and flashbacks of both the convict and the woman and their lives before meeting so we, as viewers, get to know them well.

Despite their differences, the couple has a rooting value to them thanks to Brolin’s and Winslet’s talents.

Labor Day (2013) is a well-made film that received little recognition.