REVIEW: Tanner Hall

17 02 2016

Tanner HallWithin the walls of any boarding school, there are many stories that can be told. Tatiana von Fürstenberg and Francesca Gregorini’s “Tanner Hall” chooses to tell far too many of them.

There’s the bookish Fernanda, played by Rooney Mara, who sees her fragilely constructed milieu disrupted by the arrival of an old friend, the spontaneous rabble-rouser Victoria (Georgia King). She’s also flirting with an older, married Gio (Tom Everett Scott).

Then, there’s Brie Larson’s Kate, a charismatic troublemaker who loves to tease their dorm room advisor, Mr. Middlewood (Chris Kattan). That eventually turns into all-out advances on him, exploiting his sexually frustrated marriage with his aggressive wife (Amy Sedaris).

Perhaps if a single story thread had gotten the full-length feature consideration, “Tanner Hall” might have more pop to it. But with all crammed into 90 minutes, each character gets short shrift. Every part of the film feels unsatisfying and underdeveloped.

The chief fascination of “Tanner Hall” now is how the film presages the rise of Mara and Larson, with each giving performances that so neatly represent the actresses they have matured to become. Mara is every bit as pensive and withdrawn as she is in a film like “Carol,” while Larson remains a ball of energy and charm. C-1halfstars





REVIEW: Hits

18 02 2015

HitsHits” begins with a title card that recalls the one preceding 2013’s “American Hustle.”  This one says, “Based on a true story … that hasn’t happened yet.”  In other words, it marks writer/director David Cross’ way of saying that he wants to kvetch endlessly about the present day under the guise of satirization.

Maybe I’m still a little bit defensive about that horrendous TIME Magazine cover calling millennials “The Me Me Me Generation,” as if the generations before us have a spotless record and never posed any worry for their parents.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but get annoyed by vast generalizations about the youth these days as disgusting, device-addicted narcissists.  It is certainly true of many people, and I will not deny it; the world just needs some positive images of us.

That virality is one of the chief virtues of our society is certainly no secret, nor is the triumph of fame over hard-earned success.  Cross, though, seems to act as if he is delivering a message sent from heaven to enlighten us idiots.  “Hits” aims to pick only the lowest hanging fruit and juice it for cheap laughs.  (At least he picks up on an equally ludicrous breed, the self-righteous Gen X social media activist.)

Beyond the handicap of simply recapitulating the obvious, Cross’ first foray into feature filmmaking just cannot sustain its 90 minute runtime.  The characters that populate his ridiculous universe scarcely possess the depth for a comedy sketch; expecting them to remain entertaining and engaging for an entire movie is preposterous.  They might work well for a web series, however, if Cross could add some depth of thought to an only slightly revamped stereotype of the vapid fame-seeker.   C2stars