Lots to get through this week, including the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron comedy Dirty Grandpa, Oscar-nominated financial comedy The Big Short, Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton in Our Brand Is Crisis, Feng Xiaogang in mainland gangster drama Mr. Six and Japanese musical shenanigans in La La La At Rock Bottom.
On the last day of the year it’s our last show of the year, in our newer, longer format. Which means more time for movie discussion! This week I review David O. Russell’s Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, which may finally bag Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar, and Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy’s Home.
Originally marketed under the name Malavita, The Family sees Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the parents of the Manzoni family, hiding in France under assumed names (Blake being the latest), under the watchful eye of Tommy Lee Jones and the FBI witness protection programme.
One assumes The Family is meant to be a comedy, or at least a farce. But, very few of the setups really deliver. This is especially the case with the subplots involving the Manzoni/Blake’s two teenage children, played by Dianna Agron (best known for her role on Glee) and John D’Leo (also known for TV roles on Law & Order: SVU and How to Make It in America). And, while calling the family dog “Malavita” (pidgin Latin for bad life), it’s yet another joke that doesn’t land to name the film the same.
Luc Bresson’s direction perhaps best explains why The Family looks better than it feels and only really finds its rhythm in the build up to each action sequence. Put simply, this film lacks the verve and menace to work as a thriller and lacks the imagination and timing to work as a comedy.
The storytelling itself lurches too often between the implausible and the incoherent as The Family tries to shoehorn a conventional “crims on the run” plot into shell of a French Pastoral farce. In the end, this disappointing film is not all bad. It has its moments, mostly between De Niro and Agron, but they are too few to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.
A riveting late 90s, post-cold war action film, John Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998) came at a time when the genre was changing and speeding up. Gritty fast moving scenes combined with a Hitchcockian plot device and perhaps the best car chase scene ever filmed, Ronin is loaded with good performances (Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Michael Lonsdale and Jonathan Pryce) and stands up well to repeat viewing despite coming before The Bourne Identity.
A serious contender for worst film of the year. Robert De Niro plays the despicable patriarch of an estranged family, who must come together despite their myriad petty feuds to celebrate the wedding of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes). The parents of his bride-to-be (Amanda Seyfried) are somewhat against the union due to their lingering racist tendancies, while Aljandro’s Columbian birth mother is a devout Catholic and as a result, De Niro and his divorced wife of a good decade, played by Diane Keaton, must pretend they are still together. All this despite the fact father has been living quite happily with new partner Susan Sarandon for some years now.
However, the mind-numbing contrivances of the plot are not the film’s biggest problem, rather the detestable nature of all concerned, and the baffling notion that is incessantly hammered home, that infidelity, polygamy, promiscuity and general sexual deviance is all absolutely fine, so long as you follow your heart and don’t let society tell you how to behave. While I am no prude, the flippancy with which this film handles its code of ethics had me flummoxed. I did laugh once – at an actualy joke in the actual script – for which I feel somewhat ashamed, but beyond that this was a baffling, painful and detestable experience from beginning to end.