REVIEW: “THE JUDGE” (2014) Warner Bros.

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Before I even start this review…I want to note that my heart & thoughts go out to Robert Downey Jr. who lost his mother this week and as he would usually be out promoting this film, instead he put out a beautiful tribute to her (http://www.eonline.com/news/583342/robert-downey-jr-s-mother-dies-read-his-moving-candid-tribute-to-elsie-ann-downey) in the wake of this movie opening, which in a weird twist of fate, has the plot starter of the loss of the mother bringing his character home for the funeral. #RIP

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Now down to the movie here. I’m just gonna say I liked it and thought it told a good story.  Could the pace of it have been better..yeah..did it have some spots that lagged.. yeah..but it told a good story. As it started off I thought ‘oh no, another dysfunctional family film, I’ve just seen one of those last week and it wasn’t so good (see review https://peggyatthemovies.com/2014/09/20/review-this-is-where-i-leave-you-2014-warner-bros/) but then the story starts to unfold and it’s you realize it’s much more than that.

The film starts off with “Hank Palmer” (Robert Downey Jr.) who is a very good lawyer, (and I gotta say, wears a good cut suit like no other here), though possibly not really a ‘good’ man as he knows the people he is defending are all pretty much guilty, but he has a knack for making ‘reasonable doubt’ happen and makes a boatload of money doing it. In the middle of a big trial, he gets called home as his mother has passed.  He hasn’t been home nor spoken to his father since before law school as seems he had gotten into a few to many scrapes as a kid/teen and was shipped off to a more disciplinary school type deal.                                                   judge 3

Still Downey makes this character likable and you begin to remember that yes, before Iron Man, he was a really good dramatic actor,can carry & hold his own and that says a lot about him here because while he is still his fun self, he’s also much more. As we delve into the main part of the story here where Hank’s father, “Judge Joseph Palmer” (Robert DuVall) the ‘Judge’ of the small town in Indiana where all of this takes place, is arrested.  The prosecutor, “Dwight Dickham” played by Billy Bob Thornton, makes it clear that in many ways, Downey Jr. and his accused murderer father are actually kind of the bad guys here. It’s up to the jury to decide in a fun scene with Downey Jr., & Dax Shepard, who plays the country bumpkin lawyer hired because initially the Judge doesn’t want Hank representing him in this case but in reality, the court case is really secondary and there’s no big mystery to be solved. It’s first and foremost a father-son story, the main hook being whether or not Downey and his somewhat unfriendly, estranged father will be able to come to terms with each other, and not whether he’ll be convicted and go to jail. The success lies in the fact that ultimately you are rooting for these two guys to sort out their issues with each other, even if both are headstrong and often exasperating.  judge billy bob

With that in mind, this movie is not a complete success in all the way around. For one, the characters of his older brother, “Glen” (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his younger, somewhat mentally challenged younger brother “Dale” (Jeremy Strong) are almost completely irrelevant to the story for exception of a bit of background in that Glen serves a purpose as when they were teens he was a star baseball player and got in a car accident with Hank, who was driving while under the influence of basically everything, was injured and never could play again which led to the estrangement between father and son. The same thing could be said for the character of “Samantha” (Vera Farmiga) who plays Hank’s old girlfriend/new possible love interest with a kinda icky sub-plot of her daughter “Carla” (Leighton Meester) whom Hank has a torrid make-out scene with, but whom could possibly be his daughter.  All of this, plus a bit more even, are the lagging parts I previously spoke about and easily could have been cut-down which would have made this movie a much more manageable watch time-wise.  There are a lot of sub-plots going on here as Hank is going through a possible divorce, wants to see his daughter more, Duvall’s character has numerous things going on all over the place and to get into detail about them all would not only be time-consuming, but spoil the movie for you.  Needless to say, they all get woven in together quite well I think due to the fact you have strong actors playing the two lead roles who also mesh well together on screen and in this movie.

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I don’t think “The Judge” is going to win any awards and I’ve been wrestling with my own ‘grade’ of the pic.. because I think it does tell a good story, has the makings to do somewhat well at the box office considering the star power of the cast, and it has that ‘feel-good/tug at your heart’ thing going for it. It also has definite entertainment value and it does work on a lot of levels.  With all that going for it, it is far from perfect but yet, is a crowd pleaser. With that.. I’m giving it ….

Grade:  C+  (above average)

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REVIEW: “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” (2014) Warner Bros.

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this is where

I went into this movie knowing it was another one of the genre of ‘family dysfunction’ movies that either go over really well..or not.  With the cast at hand, I really was looking forward to at least a somewhat decent flick and expected some top-notch dark, comedic moments.  And Jane Fonda.. Can I just say how badly I want to look like Jane Fonda when I am her age..hell I want to look like her NOW.. But truly, even with the almost always funny, Jason Bateman & Tina Fey, sadly nothing could save this movie from being completely mediocre.     this is where 2

This whole middle-class.suburban angst type genre movies were all the rage about a decade ago, but it’s tapped itself out as there’s only so many movies about the upper classes and their problems that you can take if they’re not bringing something new to the table. “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” doesn’t fit the bill, in that’s it’s an incredibly familiar story we’ve seen done too many times before and it’s become rather boring and lackluster.  The rundown of the film is the ‘heard it so many times before’ story of the kids coming home to reunite in the wake of their father’s death. No one wants to be really be there, and the fighting starts almost immediately.starting with the newly separated son “Judd Altman” (Jason Bateman) having been called home by his sister “Wendy Altman” (Tina Fey), with him having just a few months earlier been cheated-on by his wife, “Quinn” (Abigail Spencer) caught in the act with his boss “Wade Beaufort” (Dax Shepard) no less. but then able to find quirky new love interest who just happened to have a crush on him years back, “Penny Moore” (Rose Byrne) within hours of his return ~ can we just give a big YAWN here already?!  And to make it somewhat even less plausible, though the father was an atheist, everyone is told by family matriarch “Hillary Altman” (Jane Fonda) that they all must stay as he wanted them to ‘sit shiva’, which from what I understand is a Jewish religious custom where the family sits & receives guests for a set amount of days. So you would think at least some comedy would ensue here riiiigghhtt??!!!  *sigh*

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The funeral is an awkward affair to say the least. Judd’s older brother “Paul Altman” (Corey Stoll) has taken to his new role as the head of the family with an overly-controlling bullying attitude and whose wife “Alice” (Kathryn Hahn) is comically desperate to get pregnant. Wendy is busy with her two children, considering that her husband “Barry” (Aaron Lazar) is an inattentive workaholic and makes her want to run back to her past also with the brain-damaged boy next door “Horry Callen” (Timothy Olyphant). The rest of the Altman family ranges from oh soooooo annoying youngest brother “Phillip Altman” (Adam Driver) the bratty black sheep of the family, who comes with his rich older girlfriend in tow “Tracy Sullivan” (Connie Britton) who happens to be a psychiatrist just like his mom..yeah you get the jist where that is going.  One thing we do get plenty of is Fonda’s smothering mother and her grotesque boob job, with the boobs almost so comic that they feel out of place in some somewhat serious moments. They provide easy laughs, but this itself suggests a problem, when they are the funniest thing of the movie.

 

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So, yes there is a surprise at the end of the movie that only ever so slightly redeems it, but at that point, it’s basically too little too late.  Bateman’s performance is decent, Fey’s also, though you don’t get ‘comedy’ from either of them and no one’s is outstanding in the least. By far the most annoying character & portrayal comes from Adam Driver, when I would have liked to have seen say Olyphant’s character of Horry more developed as at least as the bit we got of him, was interesting.  To be honest, this isn’t the worst movie out there right now by far, but I think audiences are expecting more from it than they are going to receive, especially now that we are gearing up for the year-end slew of Oscar contenders sure to come.  This movie will not be one of those contenders.

Grade: C-  (below average)

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