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Bad Grandpa

The Counselor

October 31, 2013

Bad Grandpa (** ½) R

Bad Grandpa is the kind of film they call ‘critic proof.’ In other words, nothing that I write in these pages can possibly persuade or dissuade one from seeing it. This, of course, makes it a bit tough for me to do my job of critiquing the thing. It’s the kind of film that comes complete with its own built in audience, most of whom have already sat up and paid attention to all of the entries in the Jackass franchise, a series which sprang from the psyche of the star of Bad Grandpa, Johnny Knoxville.

The surprising thing is that whereas the Jackass films consist mostly of middle aged men performing death-defying stunts of a gross-out nature, with no semblance of a story thread to hold things together, Bad Grandpa is a narrative driven endeavor. Sure the latest Knoxville concoction features the requisite amount of gross-out gags that fans have come to expect, but there is also a story that’s attempted to be told, even if it’s a threadbare one. The choice to give the film a story arc seems to work in the film’s favor and provides the glue that holds things together when some gags fall flat (and many do).

The Bad Grandpa of the title is actually 86 year old Irving Ziskin (Knoxville).

Knoxville & Nicoll in Bad Grandpa

His character served as the basis for some of the gags in the other Jackass films, although I don’t recall anyone referring to him by name in those. At any rate, the film opens with a gag involving Irving getting his genitalia stuck inside of a soda machine while a hidden camera documents the astonished looks of bystanders with whom Irving pleads with for help. You get the picture.

The story kicks in soon after as Irving is notified in a hospital waiting room of the death of his wife Ellie. Acclaimed actress Catherine Keener plays Ellie in later scenes, mostly lying outstretched in a coffin and pretending to be a corpse.

Then there’s a funny scene wherein Irving declares his happiness at his wife’s death, all to astonished onlookers. Irving’s glee is short lived when he is notified that it will be his duty to become his eight year old grandson’s (Jackson Nicoll)v caregiver (the boy’s mother is incarcerated), or at least until he can drive the boy across several states and get him to his drug-addled father.

Along the way, grandpa and grandson wreak havoc at every possible opportunity and bond. Most of the best moments are in the film’s trailer and I won’t reiterate them here. 

Truth be told, I enjoyed Bad Grandpa a bit more than the Jackass films. I think maybe it’s because that at its heart, the new film has a gentle side, illustrating a maturing of Knoxville and his shtick, at least to some small degree. That’s not to say that Bad Grandpa doesn’t have its fair share of gross-out moments. It does, but they just seem to be a little easier to take this time around.

The Counselor (* ½) R

I have a theory regarding The Counselor, the much ballyhooed cinematic collaboration between celebrated novelist Cormac McCarthy and veteran director Ridley Scott, and that theory is that there may actually be a potentially interesting film lurking inside what passes for the finished product. Unfortunately, the thing is such an overstuffed soufflé, filled with unnecessary passages of dialogue and scenes that don’t advance the plot one iota, that if all the filler were removed the running time might actually clock in at around the one hour mark, according to my estimation.

A one-hour film, of course, would be hardly what you call a feature length film endeavor and I guess that’s what I’m getting at; there simply isn’t enough of a story to justify the existence of The Counselor. As it stands, the film is confusing, confounding, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Equally depressing is the amount of talent involved, the majority of which are given mostly nothing of interest to do, with the notable exception of Cameron Diaz. If you choose to see the film, you’ll see what I mean regarding Diaz when she removes her undies before giving actor Javier Bardem a peep show of some sort via the windshield of his car.

Fassbender & Javier Bardem in The Counselor

The scene, of course, doesn’t really serve much of a purpose, like too many other useless sequences in the film.

I’m sure, on paper at least, the idea of Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road, All the Pretty Horses) turning in his first original screenplay sounded like something to get excited about. And that’s where it should have stayed, on paper. The film’s script, particularly the dialogue, has a ring to it that sounds awkward, but probably read well on the printed page. When the actors voice the lines they are given, it’s cringe-worthy.

Michael Fassbender is the legal counselor of the film’s title. He’s madly in love with his wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz) but unwisely chooses to put her life in jeopardy by getting involved with a Mexican drug cartel. The counselor is warned away by Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt), two shady men who know about these types of things. They attempt to get the counselor to think about what he’s getting into.

Of course it isn’t long before things go from bad to worse and people start to die in some really horrific ways. In fact, two of these death scenes are so inventive as to almost make it worth sitting through the film—but not quite.

The worst thing about the The Counselor is that it’s the kind of thing that isn’t so bad that you want to get up and just walk out. You always have a feeling that something interesting is about to transpire. Then nothing happens and you’re ready to kick yourself for sitting through the entire thing and not having the good sense to leave when you should have. Take my advice and skip it all together.

Both of these movies are playing at the Carmike in Hickory, and other theaters.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at



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