Cineast: ‘Bad Grandpa,’ ‘The Counselor,’ ‘Spinning Plates’

Bad Grandpa, The Counselor and Spinning Plates come to theaters this week.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The basic premise of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa should be familiar to those who have followed the Jackass series. It’s a reality-TV inspired concept, where ordinary people are filmed reacting to outrageous behavior that they (supposedly) don’t know is planned and/or it’s faked. A concept as old as Candid Camera, in Bad Grandpa it’s surrounded by a backstory. Johnny Knoxville plays 86-year-old Irving Zisman who’s taking a road trip with his 8-year-old grandson Billy. The trip becomes a rampage as the “old man” commits all manner of atrocity and petty crimes against “real people” as the young Billy tags along. Of course, no effort is made to make Knoxville actually look 86, and his clumsy costuming and acting would not fool anyone with two eyes in their head, but leave that aside. Designed for a target audience of teenage boys who will laugh at videos of people purposely wiping out on skateboards, Bad Grandpa seeks to shock in its tastelessness but will likely only bore with its strained transgression.

The Counselor
Tailor-made for those who despise lawyers, The Counselor looks to be the A-list thriller of the year. The lawyer, played by Michael Fassbender and referred to only as “Counselor,” has the touch, and everything is going his way: money, cars, palatial home, and gorgeous fiancée Laura, played by Penelope Cruz. Whether unprepared for the pressures that can be brought to bear against successful people, or just because he figures he can do no wrong, the counselor is talked into a teensy little drug deal. Whoops. Bring in the big stars doing their criminal acts. Brad Pitt plays Westray, a white-suit-wearing sleazeball. Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz are the Teutonically-named couple Reiner and Malkina, all kinds of sinister. The dependably garish Rosie Perez plays Ruth, a prison inmate and one of the lawyer’s clients. The director is Ridley Scott.

Spinning Plates
Whether it’s locavorism in the posh precincts of Manhattan or the healthy-eating focus of First Lady Michelle Obama, it seems that America is becoming more food-obsessed by the hour. This obsession has given rise to an explosion of food programs on TV and to numerous documentaries about food issues and, of course, restaurants. At the same time, in many places, it seems like fast food has taken over completely. Spinning Plates explores three different kinds of restaurants: there’s the high-priced high-art urban critics’ choice, there’s the small-town comfort food landmark, and there’s the immigrant striver’s dream of building a life out of a talent for tacos. What they have in common is that they make their food—these are not franchise operations that reheat food shipped in from New Jersey—and thus they represent a challenge to the homogenization and low standards of chain restaurants. In many parts of the country, such restaurants are an endangered species.

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