REVIEW: We Are Your Friends

10 07 2016

Zac Efron, at least until recently, was far more known for his impressive abs than his impressive acting. His actual body received more attention than his body of work. Beginning with 2014’s “Neighbors,” Efron turned his weapon of seduction into a weapon of self-deprecation, making his tabloid good looks the butt of the joke rather than an unironic selling point.

But what happens when Efron tries to be just … Zac Efron? Not a performance of himself, but just any other actor who wants to live and die by their work alone. As of publication, 2015’s “We Are Your Friends” is really the only film to date that allows Efron to be just any other performer. It never calls back to our cultural associations as a teen idol or sex symbol; in fact, the only time he appears shirtless appears incidentally and not as a deliberate courting of lust and/or jealousy.

As Cole, an aspiring EDM DJ awaiting his big break, Efron probably had to act more than ever to get into the mindset of the character. Talented though he may be, Cole dwells in mediocrity. He languishes in the San Fernando Valley, tucked away from the bright lights of Los Angeles, with three fiercely loyal but stagnant chums. (The illegitimate cousin of acting, pornography, thrived in this area during the ’70s.) Luckily for Cole, his medium of artistic expression rewards its participants on the basis of a single hit track.

Director Max Joseph sets up Cole as a sonic scientist behind the mix table before even establishing him as a creator or a person. His technique stems from an ability to physiologically affect his audience using principles of rhythm and frequency. It stands in marked contrast to the thespian in his friend group, who refers to himself as “a movie star” in a sea of actors. On a meta level, “We Are Your Friends” begs the question … is this calculated, methodical artist a reflection of the Efron that is? Or perhaps the one that could have been without the meteoric success of “High School Musical” that until recently hung like an albatross around his neck?

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




REVIEW: Win Win

10 10 2012

It’s been well over a year since “Win Win” hit theaters, and I’ve somehow managed to avoid writing a review.  It was my favorite movie of 2011, and I’ve seen it no less than five times.  Why the wait?  I think I admire Thomas McCarthy mastery far too much to shame it with words that don’t accurately describe just how stirringly brilliant this movie is and how strongly it resonated with me.

I don’t even think it’s hyperbolic in the slightest to say that if Frank Capra were making movies today, they would look a whole lot like “Win Win.”  Light-hearted while tackling serious themes and always celebrating the decency of the average American, McCarthy captures all the buoyancy of the old classic comedies but doesn’t fall into a trap of idealistic naïveté.  The writer/director finally strikes gold after “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor” just barely missed the mark.  (He did co-write “Up” as well, which is as close to pitch-perfect emotionally as you can get.)  This movie, for my money, puts him in the highest echelon of modern humanist filmmakers alongside Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman.

McCarthy’s film, much like Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” is one distinctly of its time but also for all times.  “Win Win” shows how the specific money crunch resulting from the recession can cause us to commit immoral deeds, but it’s also a more general parable about weathering hard times by standing firm in our convictions.  The movie never feels like a morality play, though, because McCarthy never preaches.  He just tells a story by truthfully depicting human emotion and conscience.  That’s where the best drama always comes from, and the conflict that plays out is so compelling because we never doubt its authenticity.

Read the rest of this entry »