The Post Movie Review

If you could envision a picture made in a factory for Best Picture consideration, The Post might be it. Two-time Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg? Check. Three-time winner and most nominated actress ever Meryl Streep? Yep. Two-time recipient Tom Hanks? Indeed. A historical context that has connections to what’s happening today? Present. Luckily, the film itself manages to be an often engrossing experience that is (surprise) quite well-acted and directed. Does it match the high mark of some other journalistic features that cover similar ground? Not in my view.

The Post opens with State Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in Vietnam in the late 1960s and his growing realization that the conflict has no end in sight. Ellsberg has access to classified government docs and by the early 1970s, he wishes to expose the top secrets of the U.S. Government’s involvement overseas from the Truman through Nixon administrations. He first leaks some information to the vaunted New York Times, but attention soon turns to The Washington Post, which at this juncture is considered more of a hometown paper. That paper is run by Katharine Graham (Streep) and she’s the first woman to run such an operation. She inherited the Post after the deaths of her father and husband. While the film’s attention is mostly centered on the impending giant story that they may break, we also witness the difficulties Graham experiences as a woman working in a man’s world. This provides some of the best moments and more examples of Streep’s limitless abilities as a performer.

Graham runs in the D.C. social circles and she’s close with many of the figures her journalists look to expose, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The paper’s editor is Ben Bradlee (Hanks), a hard charging type who doesn’t think of the corporate exposure landmines that go along with spilling these secrets. Graham must do so because her business is about to go up for public offering and President Nixon isn’t exactly warm-hearted when dealing with media types.

Therein lies the drama with The Post as Graham and Bradlee struggle to do the right thing. The pic clearly reveres it main subjects and the virtuous acts they took. It also adores the bygone and pre-digitized era of the news. There are lovingly crafted shots of the newspapers being developed for print and frenzied reporters furiously typing their copy to meet their deadline. We also witness occasional spurts of dialogue that border on preachy. Screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer craft a couple of monologues that could warrant a bright red MESSAGE signal across the screen while its actors are speaking.

That said, the story itself is inherently fascinating and it’s told in a well-crafted manner. There are plenty of actors who pop up in supporting roles, including a very nice performance from Bob Odenkirk as an editor who goes way back with Ellsberg and is instrumental in the paper’s expose. This is primarily the Streep and Hanks show, however. And in case you didn’t know, the two can act. Hanks is playing a part made most famous by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men (for which he won a gold statue). It is that movie that you may wish to draw comparisons with. The Post isn’t in that league, but few reach that level of greatness. The Post, rather, is exceedingly competent.

*** (out of four)

 

 

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Paterno Movie Review

Paterno opens during an important football game as the 84-year-old Penn State coaching legend is going for a personal NCAA record in wins. The elderly team leader sits up high in a press box and not on the sidelines, plotting out the victory. He’s removed, but involved. It’s an allegory for what follows. This is the central question of the massive scandal that follows and the rendering of the subject’s legacy in the public view. How removed was Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky saga? Or how involved was he?

The HBO effort marks the second collaboration of director Barry Levinson and leading man Al Pacino for the cable network. Their first was 2010’s You Don’t Know Jack, in which the Oscar winner played Dr. Kevorkian. Levinson also made last year’s The Wizard of Lies, which cast Robert De Niro as Ponzi scheme maker Bernie Madoff. That picture had some issues with its story structure and so does this.

The tale unfolds in November 2011 over a week’s period of time that feels like an eternity for those in Happy Valley. When former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with multiple accounts of child sexual abuse, the focus soon turns to what the iconic Paterno (Pacino) knew and when. It’s a startling turn of quick events that results in the coach’s dismissal, as well as others involved with the college.

Breaking the explosive story is local reporter Sara Ganim (Riley Keough), whose sordid tale is ignored for a bit. And then everyone in the world pays attention. It’s this work that would result in a Pulitzer for her and the downfall of a living and breathing institution. This journalistic expose is done in a setting where many of the Penn State faithful are in a haze and in denial about what’s happening. Many don’t want to believe Paterno could have done any wrong in failing to report his knowledge of Sandusky’s evil.

This plot line of the bravery of reporters and the victims to shed light on Sandusky’s crimes and the inability of university officials to do the right thing is the fascinating one. However, Paterno the movie spends most of its running time holed up in Paterno the man’s home as he’s in crisis control mode with his family and advisors.

It does provide Pacino an opportunity for a choice role, just as his other HBO projects have in the 21st century (both Jack and 2003’s Angels in America). He is successful in mimicking the look and mannerisms of the coach. Paterno is played as a man seemingly incapable of understanding the gravity of the unfolding storm around him. The same goes for many in State College.

There’s a remarkable sequence where people take to the streets to protest JoePa’s firing as Sara watches. She knows that she is largely responsible for their vitriol, but also instrumental in putting away a monster. A deeper dive into how that happened could have been intriguing. Paterno largely removes itself from that process while providing a slightly disappointing but well-acted experience from those involved.

**1/2 (out of four)

Blockers Movie Review

Perhaps Emoji decoding will be a term that is looked upon as a dated reference years from now when one views Blockers with fresh eyes. However, it’s one that’s used to humorous effect in 2018 in a comedy that lands more comedic punches than it misses. This is a raunchy confection laced with an often surprising amount of sweetness. Director Kay Cannon, making her directorial debut after writing the Pitch Perfect franchise, is careful to mix them well and she’s got a game cast along the way.

The plot is straightforward: three high school seniors make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. In the 1980s when these types of flicks were more prevalent, it would usually be just the boys plotting these actions. In Blockers, it’s the girls. Julie (Kathryn Newton) is ready to do the deed with her beau and she’s got ultra clingy single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) constantly breathing down her neck. Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) has overprotective pops Mitchell (John Cena) and a date who amusingly uses his culinary skills for mind expanding purposes. Sam (Gideon Adlon) has a strained relationship with her party boy dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) and a fedora clad prom partner that doesn’t match her personal preferences.

When the trio of parents discover their daughters plans, they set out to disrupt the deflowering scheme and go to humiliating lengths to do just that. At one point, that means butt chugging at an after party for a certain wrestler turned thespian. Not exactly high brow stuff, but a funny sight gag nonetheless.

At other junctures, Blockers deftly portrays its teens as both naive due to their age and occasionally more intelligent than their over reactive folks. They’re not bad kids solely focused on sex, even though their elders focus is centered on stopping that for varying reasons. The whole coddling storyline with Mann and Cena’s characters is a well-worn one. However, both performers shine in their sometimes familiar scenarios. Barinholtz’s arch with his daughter is little more unique and a bit fresher – and he winningly avoids making his character one-dimensional. Of the three young women, Viswanathan is an actress to keep an eye on in the future.

There’s sex, drugs, and Hailee Steinfeld songs in Blockers, where sin and sentiment manage to coincide well most of the time. The thumbs up emoji applies.

*** (out of four)

Ready Player One Movie Review

In a time when much of our popular entertainment is now made by 1980s kids who worshipped at the altar of Steven Spielberg and others, Ready Player One often feels like a loving homage to the product he made. Except it’s made by Spielberg himself and based on a 2011 Ernest Cline novel that also placed Spielberg’s works among its many cultural references. Such an experience runs the considerable risk of collapsing upon itself in a meta avalanche. Yet there’s a reason Spielberg is considered the best in the blockbuster game and he mostly avoids the potential self congratulating pitfalls here. It doesn’t belong in the same stratosphere as his most delicious popcorn offerings, but it contains enough sweetness and eye-popping visuals to be reasonably filling.

We begin in the dystopian future of 2045 where the majority of the Earth’s populace lives in slum conditions. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is among them. He’s an 18-year-old in Columbus, Ohio with deceased parents and a sad life living with his trashy aunt. Wade’s existence matches that of many and their only refuge from squalor is The OASIS. That’s a virtual reality world created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric developer whose nostalgic tastes inform his fantasy universe. Those preferences include a whole slew of 80s flicks and tunes and more. Players can select alternate identities when they slap on the VR goggles. Wade takes on the persona of Parzival and he cruises around in the iconic DeLorean from Back to the Future. Wade/Parzival isn’t just a run of the mill player. He’s a good one. And he’s among a small group of high level participants known as Gunters.

Following Halliday’s death, it’s revealed he hid an Easter egg in the OASIS and the first player to find it will inherit control of the whole shebang. Wade has noble intentions should he win. So does Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), an expert gamer who attracts Wade’s admiration and his heart. There’s also those who want control of this trillion-dollar game for more devious purposes. That includes Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), corporate overlord of IOI (Innovative Online Industries). That conglomerate envisions total control of this product and go to dangerous lengths to prevent ace players like Parzival and Art3mis from succeeding.

Ready Player One quickly establishes this dense new world to us without making it seem too complicated. We quickly accept the dual nature of these heroes and villains in the depressed looking capital of Ohio and the shimmering alternate reality of the OASIS. In the latter, players can become whoever they want and the programmers can insert anyone in. That allows a lot of references to characters we’ve seen elsewhere. If you have ever imagined King Kong, The Iron Giant, and the murderous Chucky doll in the same feature, your wish is granted.

Much of this is an excuse for dazzling adventure sequences and many of them truly are. There’s a notable horror pic that is the centerpiece of a key scene. Going much more into it would feel like spoiler territory, but I’ll say it’s a pretty amazing highlight. Some of the battles take on a sameness vibe eventually, but the OASIS is consistently a visual wonder to behold.

Leads Sheridan and Cooke are both stellar. Rylance and Simon Pegg as Halliday’s former business partner are memorable. Mendelsohn (as he did in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) brings a satisfying  sinister turn as the bad guy.

Spielberg’s classics have become so because of their heart. Ready Player One is not a classic, but there are moments when the beats of them are well replicated. The picture may be best appreciated by an audience whose nostalgia glasses are usually half full. I’m among them. While you might be watching closely for pop culture references, there’s an overall message of balance between adoration of the past and appreciating the present. The director behind the camera here is deservedly revered for his great past, but he can still provide the goods presently.

*** (out of four)

All the Money in the World Movie Review

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is made with all the competence in the world you would imagine from this filmmaker retelling one of the most famous kidnappings in modern history. It’s a story built for a cinematic rendering that’s moderately successful in its execution. The screenplay from David Scarpa takes liberties with what really happened on occasion, but sticks to many of the bizarre facts surrounding the taking of John Paul Getty III.

In 1973, 16-year-old Getty (Charlie Plummer) was living a carefree life in Rome when he was abducted.  The demands for ransom were based on good cause. Getty’s grandfather is J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to the actor playing his grandson). Not only is the elder Getty currently the wealthiest man on Earth, the oil tycoon is the wealthiest man to ever walk it. There’s one significant issue: he’s also notoriously stingy and his potential heirs are not enjoying his riches.

That means young Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) must ask her former father-in-law for the $17 million demanded for his safe return. Paul’s father (Andrew Buchan) is essentially out of the picture both literally and figuratively – off somewhere in a drug induced haze. Mr. Getty has no interest in paying. Some of his reasons seem valid as he figures it will be open season on all his grandkids if he acquieses. Most of his actions re-enforce his reputation as a persnickety cheapskate.

Mr. Getty does direct one of his advisers, former CIA man Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to investigate. He believes at first that Paul may have set up the snatching himself for a generous payday. When that wrongheaded theory proves false, a lengthy negotiation develops between Gail, Mr. Getty, and a rather large group of crime figures involved in Paul’s capture.

All the Money in the World, of course, has its own notable backstory as Kevin Spacey filmed the entire role portraying Mr. Getty. When numerous sordid allegations came forth about him, director Scott made the unheard of decision to recast the role with Plummer just weeks before its release. You wouldn’t know of the behind the scenes drama upon viewership. The 88-year-old gives a strong performance as the unlikable billionaire who never seems to recognize normal human emotion or find a dollar he doesn’t attempt to stretch as far as humanly possible. Similar acclaim goes to Williams as the mother desperately trying to come up with solutions when everyone else assumes she can just snap her fingers and cash magically appears. Another solid performance worthy of mention is Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers who develops a bond with Paul and is far more sympathetic to the situation than his grandpa is. The weak spot is Wahlberg. He’s an actor capable of fine work, but I never managed to fully buy him here as the hardened CIA man.

Some of the events depicted here are accentuated for dramatic effect, including an ending for Mr. Getty that didn’t follow until years later. Most of the time, the picture glides by on Scott’s sturdy direction and its inherently compelling tale of inheritors with a bad benefactor.

Phantom Thread Movie Review

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread serves up a recipe that is both deliciously lush in its look and sickeningly pitch black in its sneaky comedic sensibilities. It’s a fascinating concoction to behold with an alleged swan song performance by Daniel Day-Lewis where he’s occasionally upstaged by the women around him.

The three-time Oscar winner is Reynolds Woodcock, a brilliant fashion designer in 1950s London. He’s the go to dressmaker for high society and he delves into his work with the serious and intense manner in which, well, Day-Lewis inhabits his roles. Reynolds is a forever bachelor who worships his deceased mother and holds an extremely and maybe too close relationship with sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who assists with his thriving and thrifty business.

A trip to the countryside introduces Reynolds to Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress. He asks her to dinner and in quick succession, she’s moved in with him. Alma serves a dress model at first, but is soon his latest muse (we imagine there’s been several) and love interest. She quickly realizes that her new and fancy world revolves around Reynolds and his routine that he despises being disrupted. He’s a tortured genius and egomaniac. Yet the roads we foresee this union dissolving into are not always what writer/director Anderson has up his sleeve.

That’s partly because Alma doesn’t turn out to be just a needy girlfriend. Some of the film’s biggest surprises and key moments come from her choices on how to deal with Reynolds. Krieps gives us a feisty and fantastic performance to behold. Manville’s work is quite impressive as well. Sister Cyril is an intriguing presence – always steps away from Reynolds and bizarrely attached to him. She’s also the only person who can speak any truth to him until Alma enters the frame.

And there’s Day-Lewis, an actor who can do more with a line reading choice or facial expression than nearly anyone else. With Reynolds Woodcock, we have one more memorable and unique creation. He’s seemingly incapable of nothing less.

Anderson, of course, already directed Day-Lewis as the unforgettable oil baron in There Will Be Blood. They mix well together. Like all of Anderson’s work, this is a visually sumptuous experience where the gorgeous score from Jonny Greenwood and costume design from Mark Bridges are especially noteworthy.

Phantom Thread hides some of its best tricks for the end. It may have you wanting to watch the off kilter courtship of its subjects a second time – or to again watch a great auteur in fine form with a trio of performances to match.

***1/2 (out of four)

 

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)

 

Good Time Movie Review

There’s a moment in Good Time where Robert Pattinson takes a brief respite from the chaos around him to watch an episode of “Cops”. The rest of the 100 minutes show our main character’s overwhelmed thief and those around him engaging in activities that might land them on the long running program. They do keep their shirts on, but their level of criminal sophistication is on that low bar level.

The hand-held camera work from the aforementioned TV show is present as well. Yet brothers and directors Ben and Josh Safdie employ plenty of other creative touches to create a crime flick far more interested in style not substance. The film’s title could only be described as ironic as no one’s time here is that. It’s frenzied and panicked. And almost everyone here is up to no good.

Connie (Pattinson) is a two-bit crook in New York City with a mentally challenged brother Nick (played by co-director Ben Safdie) that he’s overprotective of. We begin with Connie breaking him out of a therapy session and taking him to a bank robbery gone wrong. Nick gets arrested and thus begins a night long odyssey of Connie trying to bail him out.

That journey involves all sorts of vile types that match Connie and some that he takes advantage of. His erratic older girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) belongs in the former category. A sixteen year old girl (Taliah Webster) whose grandmother’s apartment he hides out in is more the latter. Connie also unexpectedly teams up with fresh out of jail alcoholic low life Ray (Buddy Duress), who manages to be a more clueless delinquent than our main subject.

For a stretch, Good Time mostly succeeds due to Pattinson’s commitment, a pulsating electronic score from Oneohtrix Point Never, and a couple developments in the crazy night that are surprising. Bringing Connie to a bizarre amusement park to retrieve acid and cash is an admirable left turn. So is a journey into Ray’s backstory of an idiotic first day out of the slammer.

Eventually it grows tiresome. There’s been plenty of crime tales with no one to root for, but these characters can’t manage to sustain the time worth spending with them. The Safdie brothers have plenty of impressive visual flourishes. Maybe next time the storyline will be a better time spent with bad people. It happens occasionally here, but not enough. I’ve watched “Cops” marathons with similar types that held my interest longer.

**1/2 (out of four)

Downsizing Movie Review

Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor enter new genre territory with Downsizing, but it’s filled with the themes found in their previous efforts. A central character searching for meaning in life, marital strife, and classism are on display. Unlike prior features, science fiction elements and a bigger budget are in the mix. This is a story loaded with intriguing prospects  that doesn’t lead to a totally rewarding whole.

A prologue shows the advent of a monumental discovery by Norwegian scientists – the ability to shrink humans to only five inches tall. The reasoning to do it is to save the Earth by significantly reducing pollution and overpopulation. Not all citizens who choose to go through the procedure are hardcore environmentalists. There’s also the added bonus that downsizing is a financial boon. Every dollar in big world translates to about a grand in the smaller one.

This is the primary reason why occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) choose their new path. The Omaha couple agree to downsize and populate the colony of Leisureland. In Nebraska, they’re scraping by. They will be millionaires post op. A surprise happens on the way to the procedure. Paul goes through with it, but Audrey backs out and leaves him.

Lonely Paul must adjust to his tiny new surroundings and life. His eventual divorce agreement causes him to trade his Leisureland mansion for an apartment (albeit a pretty nice one). Up to this point, Downsizing is pretty nifty. The leadup and explanations of how this new world works are fascinating. There’s some prejudice involved with the full size humans meeting those about to become small. Should they get full voting rights, for instance? We also discover there’s nefarious governments that forcibly shrink their dissidents.

Further exploration of themes like these could have made a potentially rich experience. Downsizing goes a different direction. Paul’s upstairs neighbor is a party animal played with expected gusto by Christoph Waltz. It’s through this freewheeling character that Paul meets Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political activist who was punished by that government. She’s an amputee and cleaning lady with a heart of gold. Ngoc Lan takes Paul to the slums of Leisureland where he begins to medically assist its poor residents. He also begins to fall for his companion.

The picture, at this juncture, largely abandons its sci fi leanings and concentrates on issues of self-worth, love, and political themes. Of course, all these things have been present in many great science fiction efforts. However, the tone of Downsizing is a shifty one. There’s moments of satire that aren’t biting enough and an earnestness that can come off cloying. That latter description could sometimes apply to Damon’s work. Payne has directed a number of actors to Oscar nominations. His lead here displays the same syrupy conviction in which he once bought a zoo. Chau is a different story. She creates a character whose backstory might have been really rewarding if shown onscreen. Unfortunately, Ngoc Lan eventually becomes just the love interest to the blander protagonist.

Payne and Taylor deserve a degree of credit for crafting this odd concoction. There’s some original thoughts here and some sequences are truly impressive, especially the downsizing procedure itself. That said, the emotional payoff the filmmakers are reaching for never quite reached me. There are moments in About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska that did so more often and with an appreciated higher level of subtlety. So while I admire Downsizing for some big ideas, the overall impact is smaller.

**1/2 (out of four)

A Futile and Stupid Gesture Movie Review

David Wain’s A Futile and Stupid Gesture centers on a Golden Age of comedy while attempting to tell a conventional biopic story line somewhat unconventionally. At times, it succeeds. In others, it strains itself. The overall effect is a retelling of moments that led millions of us to some of our biggest laughs in print and onscreen, even if the humor here is hit or miss.

The film’s central figure is Doug Kenney (Will Forte) of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (as he constantly reminds us). He grew up in that affluent Ohio suburban setting in the 1950s with uppity parents and a family tragedy that seems to inform his feeling of self-worth. However, he’s got one whip smart sense of humor and it translates to his time at Harvard. He partners with fellow humorist – the ironically pipe smoking Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) and they excel at producing the “Lampoon”, the university’s premier comedy publication. While this Ivy League duo could pretty much get any job, Doug convinces Henry to expand the magazine nationally. Hence the “National Lampoon” and the treasure trove of history that follows.

Kenney and Beard’s venture turns out to be a runaway success that provides a platform for brilliant writers such as Michael O’Donoghue and P.J. O’Rourke and performers Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray to shine. It’s obvious to say that “Saturday Night Live” never would have existed without Kenney and Beard and that’s acknowledged here. Some of these later famous faces are given seconds of screen time and others considerably more. In a movie about the advent of ironic comedy in many respects, there’s some casting irony here. Joel McHale is Chevy Chase, an actor who dealt with the well-documented difficult nature of Chevy himself on the set of “Community”. Martin Mull is the narrator of Gesture as the older man who Kenney himself never became. The screenplay gleefully acknowledges the many clichés that come with making a biopic. The drug use, strained romantic relationships, and family drama are presented here, but with a winking eye.

The picture often plays like a greatest hits of Kenney’s accomplishments. His contributions to the big screen were short but monumental with National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack. The screenplay doesn’t linger long on either and perhaps it could have benefited with more minutes spent on the party atmosphere of the former and the coke fueled chaos of the latter.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is clearly made by a team who reveres its central subject. It doesn’t delve too far into Kenney’s considerable issues in an attempt to keep the tone fairly light. Yet it also doesn’t fully enjoy the opportunities to spend time with these young upstarts who would become comedy legends. That creates a sometimes unwieldy mix. Forte certainly impresses in the lead and there’s a few memorable supporting turns, including Matt Walsh as the magazine’s beleaguered financier and Ed Helms in a brief, but devastatingly biting scene as interviewer Tom Snyder.

There are segments of Gesture that remind us to thank our lucky stars for the existence of the people chronicled here. It doesn’t fully succeed as a stand-alone movie that ironically apes the biopic genre that it finds itself in, though it tries hard. In fact, it sometimes tries a little too hard to be ironic. The makers of the “Lampoon” shown here probably would have known how to make it a little funnier and let the serious moments be a tad more subtly rewarding.

**1/2 (out of four)