January, February, March 2016 Capsule Reviews

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Zoey Deutch

***1/2

Like sliding into a perfectly drawn bath; Richard Linklater’s quasi follow up to both BOYHOOD and DAZED AND CONFUSED, is the perfect antidote to a crappy day at work; a warm blanket to distract you from this current run of gloomy weather. Aimlessly structured within a 3 day period before the first day of class at a Texas University, following a collegiate baseball team as they navigate the first days of a fall semester- the film has a relaxed attitude that gives it an authentic lived-in feel. Unlike a lot of contemporary coming of age indie-films where lack of story is also accompanied by endless ad-libbing by the cast; Linklater’s script is tight, each member of this baseball team having their own unique quirks and point of view that become apparent through interactions with one another – the punchlines and jokes building on each other as self-referential material that evolves over time. It honestly reminded me of how in-jokes among my friends always used to evolve into complex references that no one else would understand without a great deal of contextual explanation. Linklater adds this film about a college experience in the 80s to a lineage that now expands to a film about the last days for students at a high school in the 1970s,  a trilogy about a single relationship and a film shot over 12 years about a single adolescent  – all interconnected in terms of how they explore important moments of contemporary life. Forget about Marvel or DC, Linklater has crafted my favorite cinematic universe. Following this charming group of underage dumbasses as they traverse the cultural landscape of the self-contained slice of America that is any university (featuring party and dance scenes that playout like Saturday Night Fever by way of Animal house) is an absolute delight.  I want to live in this weekend.

 

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

***

An enjoyable little B-movie thriller, that manages to get an astonishing amount of tolerable screen time out of a tissue paper-thin premise. So loosely connected to the original CLOVERFIELD that I’d surmise the original script was written completely independent of the 2008 found footage monster movie. I  thought for the most part Matt Reeve’s 08 genre exercise fell apart once I was over the gimmick of experiencing Godzilla attacking New York City in first person; completely bogged down by the nauseating sub-genre of found footage horror combined with a cast of amateurs and unknowns who may have well actually been swallowed by the 70 story-monster. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE thankfully ditches the handheld-shaky cam gimmick for a cat and mouse thriller with a few delicious twists that arrive as full-count hammer curves every 20 minutes or so. The film thankfully features actual actors for this iteration, complete with a menacing John Goodman swallowing every square inch of the scenery, and an opening title sequence that nearly had me flying out of my chair. This is a lot of fun. 

 

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina

**

Some interesting notions about the war in Afghanistan that are probably worthy of a 45 minute HBO pilot that ultimately wouldn't get picked up, get washed away in the aimless desert affairs and skirmishes making up this Afghanistan War dramedy. A handful of charming moments and delightful performances (Billy Bob Thornton’s character should get his own spin-off) are thwarted by some hideous casting choices and a cringe worthy climactic scene in which Tina Fey’s character attempts to validate her arc by visiting a veteran acquaintance’s home so he can assure her that the events leading up to him losing his legs were not her fault. Wildly uneven moments of visceral tragedy clash against the lighter sense of humor of this sometimes entertaining biography, which features about 80 minutes worth of good material stretched across 112 that feel like 150. Too much playing around in the sandbox of the first 10 minutes of THREE KINGS, with not enough meat on the bones to justify the wild tonal shifts. The quintessential war in the Middle East film for modern time remains David O’Russel’s 1999 masterpiece, ironically made years before the war in this film even started. 

 

TRIPLE 9

Directed by John Hillcoat

Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

**1/2

Dumpuary is the term coined to describe the period (post Oscar sweeps) starting mid-January and running through basically all of February  where studios toss movies they have no faith in, at the box office wheel of fortune - hoping that something will stick as people scurry from of the cold and into multiplexes for warmth. These typically garbage cut all losses misfires desperately serving as an alternative to the miserable drudgery of early year winter. Boy do I wish more of these early calendar releases were like TRIPLE 9, a simple well-acted Atlanta police potboiler – with some delicious scene chewing by Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet. This is exactly what a February movie should be, forgettable but admirable entertainment that makes its budget back now and plays on Sunday afternoon cable indefinitely afterward. 

 

 

DEADPOOL

Directed by Tim Miller

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller

***

I’m happy Hollywood found a home for Ryan Reynolds after a decade long pursuit of a blockbuster franchise to call his own. Always finding Reynolds charming in roles as remarkably successful, smug assholes; I rooted for his box office bombs to succeed despite making no effort to see them myself. I guess Reynolds charm speaks to the power of first-impressions, as I really enjoyed him in early work like WAITING.. and want him to succeed 11 years later even though I think I’ve liked only one of his movies since. Reynolds was perfectly cast in last year’s little seen MISSISSIPPI GRIND as a guy (opposite a brilliant sad-sack Ben Mendelsohn) that made his own luck and rolled with whatever punches came his way – an unintentional allegory for his movie star track record; “another bomb from Reynolds?... how about 2 more in a completely different genre!” Facing expensive failures coming one after another up until as recently as last July’s SELF/LESS… another critically maligned mess that I skipped,  Reynolds keeps showing up in front of the camera – and now finally he’s the star of probably the most unexpected hit of the year. As far as the movie goes:  I enjoyed DEADPOOL a lot when I saw it, appreciating its vulgar and violent spin on the now tired Marvel affair – but literally have not thought about it since. 

 

HOW TO BE SINGLE

Directed by Christian Ditter

Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm  

**

Featuring a whole bunch of people from trailers of things I have never seen – and also Rebel Wilson of PITCH PERFECT and its much more racist sequel fame; HOW TO BE SINGLE is a film about the lives of mostly 20 something New Yorkers and their navigation of the Manhattan Singles scene.  This is high-stakes stuff folks as characters deal with such dire circumstances like living in an apartment the size of a warehouse while somehow being unable to pay for high-speed Wifi. Distracting aesthetic choices make it look like something that should be running on The CW; scenes that are clearly shot on location in Manhattan still look like they’re on a gigantic sound-stage.  The film plays out like some sort of unfortunate amalgamation of a crappy Garry Ross Holiday movie and deleted scenes from an overlong Judd Apatow flick, its few moments of charm fail to weigh down rampant erratic shifts in tone. Rebel Wilson in particular clashes with the film’s otherwise grounded proceedings, providing gratuitous comic relief with the subtlety of a sledgehammer while Dakota Johnson’s new boyfriend explains why he isn’t over his dead wife quite yet. This is an uneven experience.