updated 10/24/2013 AT 4:40 PM ET
•originally published 10/25/2013 AT 7:30 PM ET
Bad Grandpa does just what it’s supposed to, But you’ve watched The Counselor’s glittery stars in far better material.
PEOPLE’s critic weighs in on what to see and what to skip this weekend at the movies.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
All you can do is embrace the shame. Bad Grandpa, in which Johnny Knoxville resurrects his 86-year-old Irving Zisman character, is puerile, gross, sexist and borderline racist. It’s also pretty damned funny.
Rather than just a single sketch, this time Irving gets the whole movie to himself – well, himself and his grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicholl), a sweet but salty kid whose mom is headed to prison and whose dad sees him as a golden ticket to get on the dole. Grandpa’s mission (which he’d rather take than raise some kid who’s going to cramp what passes for his style) is to get Billy to his dad across the country. Road trip!
The best bits bookend the film, starting with Grandma Zisman’s funeral and ending with a side jaunt to a kiddie beauty pageant, which I won’t even consider spoiling for you, But there are some gems in the middle. Plus, Grandpa’s running patter is priceless: “I may be too old to stir the gravy,” he tells one woman, “But I can still lick the spoon!”
The film hinges on the chemistry between Knoxville and Nicholl, who turn out to be kind of great together – a dastardly duo with a hint of sentimentality. When Billy isn’t trying to charm ladies with tales of his crackhead mom, he’s approaching strange men, calling them “dad” and asking if they love him. It’s awkward and creepy in all the best ways. The bonus is that, either because of the kid or the fact that Knoxville is now in his forties, there are a lot fewer I-hurt-myself-for-attention stunts. Basically, it’s more Grandpa, less Jackass.
Still, there’s the shame factor. Isn’t what Grandpa and Billy do kind of mean, relying as it does on the kindness of strangers, and their occasional desire to call the police? After all, Borat – which used the same conceit – inspired half a dozen lawsuits, it was so cruel (and funny). But Knoxville takes care of any lingering apprehension with clips over the end credits showing the good-natured reactions of the strangers he’s conned. If they can laugh at themselves, it would almost be rude not to join them.
If you’re getting jittery, Armageddon-y feelings right about now, that might be because somehow the Jackass movie is better than this semi-prestige picture featuring an A-list cast, screenwriter and director. But all that talent can’t compensate for a weak script, making The Counselor the most frustrating movie of the year.
In the film, which is based on an original screenplay by best-selling author Cormac McCarthy, Michael Fassbender plays the unnamed Counselor, a lawyer who’s just gotten engaged to the luminous Laura (Penélope Cruz) and, aided by his nutty client Reiner (Javier Bardem), decides to dabble in the drug business, Only, the Counselor gets sucked right in, as the deal goes terribly awry, endangering everyone including Laura and Reiner’s associate, Westray (Brad Pitt). The only one unfazed By the hubbub is Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), a blinged-out, conscience-free vixen.
Those sound like pretty good bones for a thriller, But director Ridley Scott lets too many of McCarthy’s dippy, pseudo-intellectual speeches get in the way, as characters baldly refuse to talk like human beings. You’ll hear blather about how grief “transcends value” yet is “worthless,” whatever that means. And that “the extinction of all reality is a concept no resignation can encompass.” Scrap all that, and what’s left is a disappointing, violent thriller clogged with extraneous scenes and that only succeeds in coming up with cool new ways to separate people from their heads.
But Seek This Out
Blue Is the Warmest Color
You may already have heard of this Cannes Film Festival winner for two reasons: the shocking, extended sex scenes Between Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lèa Seydoux that gave the film its NC-17 rating, and the actresses’ subsequent war of words with director Abdellatif Kechiche over the grueling five-and-a-half month production. But there’s more to Blue than its baggage.
Exarchopoulos plays Adèle, an insecure high-school girl whose head practically swivels when she sees blue-haired college student Emma (Seydoux) crossing the street one day. It’s her first inkling that she might be attracted to women, and it hits her with all the force you might expect. The young women later meet at a lesbian bar and soon engage in a fierce, wildly passionate love affair that engulfs them both, though it’s Adèle who loses more of her identity.
Years pass and Adèle becomes a teacher and Emma a celebrated artist, But are they still right for each other? Blue slowly morphs from a coming-of-age film about Adèle into a raw, Bruising look at what keeps people together, and slowly pulls them apart. Kechiche takes three hours to unravel the story, with lengthy set pieces that feel as uncomfortable and real as if we were living them. That includes the famous sex scenes, and I confess that after a while, they made me uncomfortable as they walked a fine line between explicit and exploitative. But they do make a viewer understand the underlying force that draws these two women together, whether or not it can keep them there.