Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The hardships faced by a woman raising children while giving birth to another—with little help from the dad—are given the Diablo Cody treatment in Tully, the second time screenwriter Cody, director Jason Reitman and actress Charlize Theron have joined forces.

They worked together on the caustic comedy Young Adult, and Tully makes that one look like an ice cream social party featuring bounce houses and unicorns. (For the purpose of this analogy, the unicorns would need to remain outside of the bounce houses to prevent people from being impaled on their majestic horns.)

Theron is all kinds of magnificent as Marlo, a mother of two getting ready to give birth to her third—while getting her ass kicked physically and emotionally. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), while not complete scum, should probably take off the headphones at night and go the extra mile to help keep the household in order, and keep his wife sane. Their young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), has been dubbed “quirky” by his school, and finding a new one has become an unwelcome priority. Their daughter, Emmy (Maddie Dixon-Poirer), is slightly neglected, yet one of the more-together people in the movie.

Marlo’s well-off brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), gets his sis a special gift: a night nanny to help with the baby and household chores so she can grab some sleep. After the baby is born, Marlo is reluctant at first, but finally relents and calls the number her bro has provided.

Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives like an angel in bohemian clothing and immediately helps by brightening Marlo’s downer moods. She has an instant, mother-like rapport with the new baby, miraculously cleans the house overnight, and even bakes cupcakes for Jonah’s class. She also provides much-needed friendship to Marlo, who has fallen out of touch with Drew and has become prone to snapping at people in public. In short, Marlo has been close to a meltdown in a bad bout of postpartum depression. Tully helps Marlo rise above and power through.

The movie isn’t just about a mother in need getting a helping hand; that would be mighty conventional compared to what actually happens in Tully. Cody has had two children since her scripting debut with Juno, her first pairing with Reitman. For her sake, I’m hoping little of what Marlo goes through in her latest script is autobiographical. Marlo has it rough.

Theron makes physical and mental exhaustion totally enthralling, and the moments when Marlo can’t take it anymore and lets the world have it are barnburners. Theron is a miraculous actress, and she gets a nice counterpart in Davis, who represents the type of free spirit Marlo could never become. I’m doubting 2018 will give us many screen duos as captivating as this one.

I do have a minor quibble: Drew gets off the hook a little too easy in this movie. Granted, dudes are let off the hook everyday by moms taking on most of the challenges of child-rearing, but the last shot of Tully reeks a bit of over-compensation for the trials and tribulations that happened before it. It feels a little too cute.

However, there’s no denying that the rest of the movie is one of the more brutally honest depictions of the challenges (and undeniable blessings) of parenting. Yes, the price paid is often worth the reward, but Marlo definitely gets put through the wringer here, and Theron makes her pain and struggle real.

She also provides laughter with the shocks and sorrow, further proving she’s one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the screen. Reitman and Cody give Theron great stuff to work with—and once again, she’s in Oscar-worthy form.

Tully is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

As far as “found footage” films go, this is of the better ones. That’s because Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed, The One I Love) and director/co-star Patrick Brice seem to be acknowledging that this particular way of movie-making is a little ridiculous.

Per usual, characters in great peril continue to film the perilous goings-on when it would be much better to just drop the camera and run. Duplass and Brice make this scenario kind of funny, even if they are telling a horror story, of sorts.

Brice plays Aaron, a cameraman who answers a personal ad asking for somebody to come film him for a day. When he arrives at the home of Josef (Duplass), he finds out the guy is dying and wants to film a day in his life for his future child, just like Michael Keaton in My Life.

Josef takes Aaron on a long hike, where he pulls pranks and scares him. Later that night, things get stranger and stranger as more about Josef’s strange personality is revealed. The second half of the film is better than the first, and works up to an ending that is actually quite inspired.

Yes, this is a found-footage movie, so I really can’t love it. But I do like it—mostly because Duplass and Brice treat it all like a sick joke.

Creep is available on iTunes, and is coming to Netflix on July 14.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A husband and wife (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) struggling in their relationship visit a retreat on the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson)—and they make a startling discovery in one of the guest houses.

That discovery in The One I Love is beautifully clever—and plays like something from a really cool Twilight Zone episode.

Ethan and Sophie are bombing in therapy, and the therapist is not amused. He has the couple strike keys on a piano as a test of their compatibility. He asks them age-old questions, like, “Say, are you two having sex?” When it appears there’s nothing he can do to help, he hands the couple a pamphlet for a place that has worked wonders for some of his past patients.

As a last-ditch effort, the two head for the resort, where they find immediate comfort. They’ve escaped their surroundings, and can crack open a bottle of wine and try to unwind. It’s nothing that resembles a breakthrough, though, so it appears as if Ethan and Sophie might be going through the motions.

Then … the strange thing happens.

This strange thing is the basis of the whole movie, and I would be a major dickweed if I were to reveal the exact details. So, yes, I’m going to attempt to get through the rest of this review without giving away the big twist, which fuels the whole movie. The big twist propels the film into becoming one of the better romantic comedies in years—one with a big brain and strong insight. Calling The One I Love a “romantic comedy” is almost an insult, but it has romance and it is funny, so I suppose it falls into that particular genre.

Charlie McDowell has made an impressive directorial debut, utilizing a solid, brutally honest script from Justin Lader. The movie is about seeing your inner potential fully realized, and the ability to solve mutual emotional problems with self-sacrifice and compromise. It’s also about the healing powers of bacon.

Duplass is making a name for himself as an understated, offbeat romantic-comedy lead. (He starred in another great recent romantic comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed.) Ethan starts off as a sort of undercover douchebag—a mild-mannered guy who has allowed his insecurities to overtake him while committing egregious relationship errors. He’s generally unlikable, and Duplass makes Ethan’s transition seem very realistic.

Moss (best known for starring on Mad Men) has had a movie career spanning two decades, but The One I Love makes it feel like she’s just arriving. She has an arsenal of “looks” in this movie that will make many men shrink in their seats. She successfully taps into both the sinister and sweet sides of Sophie, making Sophie perhaps the most memorable character of Moss’ movie career.

I hope I’ve aroused your curiosity, because The One I Love is the sort of movie many folks in a humdrum relationship—as well as those who are single—should take the time to watch. It’s also a chance to see two performers fully embracing their illuminating characters. Prepare to laugh—but also prepare for some post-movie headaches, because your forehead is going to endure some “I should’ve done that!” palm smacks.

The One I Love is now available via video on demand and online sources, including iTunes and

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Melissa McCarthy takes most of the blame for Tammy, yet another bad comedy in which she plays an uninteresting mess of a human being.

She co-wrote the film and stars as the title character, a fast-food worker who wrecks her car, gets fired and finds out her husband (Nat Faxon) is having an affair—all in the same day. She winds up hitting the road with her alcohol-swilling, diabetic grandma (Susan Sarandon).

Despite the great cast, virtually nothing works as far as laughs are concerned. The script by McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone (Falcone also directs) tries to mine laughs out of grandma being a trashy party girl, and Tammy eating too much pie. It wastes the talents of everybody involved, including Gary Cole as a philandering barfly, and Mark Duplass as Tammy’s love interest.

When Tammy holds up her former burger-joint employer, it’s almost funny—but most of that scene is covered in the preview trailer.

McCarthy can be hilarious—her best film moment may be the outtake that shows during the This Is 40 credits—but she can also be tedious, as she is here and was in last year’s Identity Thief.

Her next film is St. Vincent, co-starring Bill Murray. Let’s hope that erases this one from our memories.

Tammy is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This gem of a movie stands out as one of the year's best.

When a newspaper investigates an advertisement seeking a time-travel partner, everyone figures the person who placed it will be a real kook. Such is the case when journalism-intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) meets wannabe time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass). He's an obsessive sort who wants to travel back in time to save an ex-girlfriend, and Darius can't help but find his scheme endearing.

There are wonderful side stories involving Darius' boss (Jake Johnson), who uses the investigative-journalism trip to hook up with an old flame. And there's co-worker Arnau (Karan Soni), a shy virgin who happens to look really good when he puts on sunglasses.

Johnson (funny as the principal in this year's 21 Jump Street) is a real standout, delivering hilarious and heartfelt work as an aging playboy who has a strange way of trying to help others. This guy has monster comic timing. Duplass is also great as the crazy love interest who thinks he's being followed—but he won't let that deter his training.

However, this is Plaza's movie. She is a genius of deadpan humor on TV's Parks and Recreation, and she puts that to work here. She also shows that she can handle dramatic and heartfelt moments with the best of them. She's got a good career in front of her.

This is, in many ways, a little movie with grand ideas, and those ideas are played out perfectly. No movie this year has left me smiling like this one did. It's one of those movies that come out of nowhere to charm you.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Blu-ray is a bust when it comes to special features: You only get a short about the original ad on which the film is based, and a quick look behind the scenes. A Plaza and Johnson commentary should've been a must, but is nowhere to be found. Boo!

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing