REVIEW: Table 19

6 03 2017

Even as it resorts to some familiar tropes about the forced cohesion created within a band of misfits, Jeffrey Blitz’s “Table 19” still manages to do enough within a familiar framework to create a memorable moviegoing experience. There are some good running gags, like the ubiquity of the wedding photographer’s flash and how one character’s outfit looks suspiciously like the waitstaff’s getup. The script, which shares a story credit with the Duplass Brothers, also throws a major wrench in the expected turn of events at the midway point which proves truly surprising.

It’s a shame that Blitz bites off a little more than he can chew in an 87 minute film. Setting up and resolving six different narrative arcs for a wedding rejects table proves a lot to handle in such a short amount of time, and the sheer volume of events and conversations often overwhelms and clouds out quality. The quantity also overshadows some of the more intriguing storytelling that Blitz attempts in “Table 19.” For example, the pattern of conflict resolution takes on a much less straightforward direction, and the general story propulsion comes from strung-together tension and awkwardness.

The film is at its best at the outset when the characters are defined by how they relate to the room, not by how they relate to each other. In one of the most enjoyable sequences in “Table 19,” Anna Kendrick’s Eloise narrates a self-aware taxonomy of the wedding reception table layout. It’s genuinely perceptive about the unwritten rules of nuptial rituals, so it’s too bad that the characters largely lack the depth of thought given to the roles they play in the ceremony. B

Advertisements




REVIEW: The Accountant

11 02 2017

In big-budget cinema these days, I’m looking to get a lot of bang for my buck. So are most Americans, many of whom are far more inclined than I am to browse for a better option on Netflix. Whatever Gavin O’Connor does in “The Accountant” gives me plenty of bang, but the noise comes from lots of big bullets being fired indiscriminately from a sniper rifle.

The film, written by Bill Dubuque, smashes several movies into one. There’s the Jason Bourne-like super assassin narrative, which is the one you sell during sports games. Then there’s the bit about an autistic wunderkind, Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff, uneasily assimilating into corporate America, which can be emphasized to select audiences to give the film an appearance of thematic heft. And don’t forget an awkward platonic romance subplot between said autistic man and his fumbling co-worker, Anna Kendrick’s Dana Cummings, for … wait, who exactly cares about this aspect?

All of these aspects compete for airtime in “The Accountant” with the latest Greengrass ripoff winning out most often. Whatever extra intrigue that Wolff’s condition might add to the film gets nullified by Affleck’s weak acting, which treats autism like an affect that turns on and off when convenient. The connective tissue of this closet killer to a larger scheme of financial malaise is weak, too, spoiling any chance for a sideshow to serve as pleasant diversion.

In fact, the only thing that O’Connor does manage to do well is advertise. “The Accountant” might represent the most elaborate promo for a Ford F-150 I’ve ever seen. If any clips of these scenes of Wolff driving were posted on social media, I should hope they were tagged with #ad or #sponsoredcontent. C2stars





REVIEW: Get a Job

9 09 2016

get-a-jobDylan Kidd’s “Get a Job” shot in 2012 but did not see release until 2016 – a four-year gap that did not serve the film well. Rather than an imperfect snapshot of its moment, the “comedy” now plays like a period piece of the recent past. This story of recent college graduates’ rocky entrance into the professional world appears completely oblivious to the kind of pain present in the post-recession economic landscape.

Miles Teller’s Will Davis heads to what he thinks is the first day of work at LA Weekly after years of “building [his] brand” … only to find himself shuffled out the door unceremoniously. In what could play as an “Up in the Air”-style ironic twist (which would have been perfect given the presence of Anna Kendrick), he ends up putting his filmic skills to work creating video résumés at an executive placement firm. Sign of the times? Not really, mostly just a setting where his creative millennial mindset can clash with the stodgy virtues of the company.

The job really only starts to take a topical turn when Will’s dad, Roger (Bryan Cranston), begins to require their services. Despite being a thirty year company man, Roger finds himself looking for a new line of work at the same time as his son. Again, Kidd has another opportunity for topicality through a character displaced in an economy that values ruthless efficiency over loyalty. Still … nothing.

“Get a Job” has a wide ensemble, too, each with their own occupational hazards. Will’s girlfriend Jillian (Kendrick) takes on a position at stalwart P&G that seems sure to launch her career into the corporate stratosphere – until it doesn’t. He also shares a pad with three other pals, each of which trod fairly traditional routes: finance (Brandon T. Jackson’s Luke), education (Nicholas Braun’s Charlie) and start-ups (Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s Ethan). Kidd fashions them as a “Knocked Up” gang of harmless manchildren existing irrespective of time, but their activities suggest that they are really just schlubby stoners who can barely be bothered to turn off their video games.

The message imparted through their turbulent launches into the “real world” is neither timeless nor timely. Perhaps that is par for the course from a film that shrugs off any responsibility to say anything about the world we inhabit. The milieu of “Get a Job” is one where characters can barely achieve any professional success and still sit around slacking off and dreaming big in a cushy bungalow. The characters suggest a celebration of the millennial mindset while the plot gives it a rebuke. Kidd doesn’t send mixed messages, though. Just incoherent, half-baked ones. C2stars





REVIEW: The Hollars

23 08 2016

The HollarsSundance Film Festival

With a tender blend of comedy and drama, solid work from a big ensemble cast comprised of some surprising players as well as an acoustic-heavy soundtrack, John Krasinski’s “The Hollars” more or less epitomizes the kind of film that put Sundance on the map. And yet precisely because Krasinski earnestly embraces just about every indie cliché, the film manages to move and delight.

Sure, we could probably do without Krasinski’s John Hollar, another struggling artist (a graphic novelist) who fumbles when it comes to commitment. But he’s worth taking a journey with since Krasinski endows him with the kind of idealized everyman charisma that he perfected in 9 years behind a desk in “The Office.” John does not hesitate to break down as his world collapses around him, and Krasinski is there with vulnerability and empathy.

Yes, we likely do not need another dying mother like Margo Martindale’s Sally Hollar, whose sudden brain tumor discovery brings John home from New York. A few minutes into her spewing Southern fried wisdom, however, and you hope she never stops. Sally knows exactly what to say to people while also possessing the uncommon gift of knowing when people need to hear her sharp observations. She’s the glue holding together the lives of her husband and two sons, and Martindale approaches her character’s dawning acceptance of the the inevitable with a truly moving grace.

Fine, we might not need the vast array of supporting turns. Anna Kendrick is delightful, per usual, as John’s newly pregnant girlfriend Rebecca, although the script gives her little to do besides constant worrying and supporting about her boyfriend. Charlie Day provides nice comic relief as a jealous ex-high school rival of John; the fast-talking pipsqueak routine is very in line with his persona, though. Richard Jenkins turns in another excellent performance as an emotionally distraught patriarch. (The only real surprise of “The Hollars” is Sharlto Copley, in his first non-effects driven film, as John’s unexplainably neurotic brother Ron.)

Complain all you want about this movie existing. Point out all the boxes it checks. But “The Hollars” is here whether you like it or not, and Krasinski welcomes all with a wide embrace and an open heart. Be it your first or umpteenth indie family dramedy, the genuineness of the film can be disarming for those willing to let their guard down and just fall for its charms. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

6 07 2016

Did we need a new “Wedding Crashers?” Serious question because I wouldn’t know if we do; my family stops it every time it plays on TBS and laughs all the way through to the finale. Over a decade later, it still has them cackling. (I have always been a little less sold, even from the beginning.)

Regardless of whether we need a new version of the film, we just got a Millennial-fied one in “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” Jake Szymanski’s raucous nuptial comedy replaces the successful thirty-something professionals with fresher, younger comedic blood in Zac Efron and Adam DeVine’s lovable yopro slacker brothers. Tied together by biology but living together supposedly still by choice, these hapless fools get a wake-up call from their family when told to curb their antics for the upcoming wedding of their sister.

Mike and Dave were the party crashers of family gatherings past but now must clean up their act with a classy broad on their arm to keep them in check. Rather than just showing up magically in the right place like John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, they seek their magical connection in the classiest of fashions – the Internet. Mike and Dave’s destination date plea ends up in the lap of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). Semi-talented actresses, they respectively pass themselves off as a hedge fund manager by talking about Fannie Mae and Bernie Mac as well as a teacher from what feels like a schoolboys’ fantasy.

The film then takes off to Hawaii, where a dual “Step Brothers”-style dynamic takes place between each gendered camp. They all have hilarious internal bickering before attempting to put on a game face for all the guests. Then a further division of tracks appears in Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s script, one that oddly mirrors “Wedding Crashers” once again. Dave and Alice play into a sincere, honest romantic plotline, while Mike and Tatiana end up playing ribald, raunchy broad comedy surrounding her decision to withhold sexual contact.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” unfolds quite pleasantly and hilariously because it breaks off its four talented leads in such a way and allows each to play to their strengths. Efron and Kendrick are the actors of the bunch, just as Devine and Plaza are the comedians. But the film might have benefitted from just going for broke and keeping the all-out humor throughout. “Neighbors 2” demonstrated Efron has the comedic chops to rival a giant like Seth Rogen, and practically every Anna Kendrick film role or press interview shows off her immense wit and charm. Their balls to the wall material, assuming it exists, could easily have functioned in the finished film – not just as deleted scenes on a Blu-Ray extra. B / 2halfstars





REVIEW: Digging for Fire

1 09 2015

Digging for FireAs writer/director Joe Swanberg wanders the corridors of marital discontent in his latest film, “Digging for Fire,” I could not help but wonder if this is what Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” would look like when refracted through the lens of low-budget indie cinema.  Over the course of a weekend spent apart, previously unknown rifts and fault lines appear between Tim (Jake Johnson, also a co-writer on the film) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) while they amble and converse freely.

Each’s journey appears cross-cut with the other’s, and the spouses might as well be occupying entirely different films.  Tim hangs out to drink beers and smoke pot with his buddies – one of whom arrives with a young woman on each arm – but proves unable to put his mind at ease about some suspicious bones he spotted in the yard.  Lee, meanwhile, drifts between scenes and choose mostly to let the words of others trigger her thought process.  He is aggressively verbose in expressing his own frustrations; she reacts to hearing those from others.

At moments, “Digging for Fire” shows real insight into the listlessness of marriage and parenting.  Johnson feels especially at home since he gets to speak (presumptively) dialogue he helped write.  When Tim expresses his frustrations and anxieties, they clearly come from someplace personal and resonate accordingly.  For all those looking to use art to deal with their own life, try to model this to avoid self-indulgence.

Swanberg, though, sometimes gets carried away by his posse of ever-ready actor pals.  Since his movies shoot so quickly and efficiently, it makes sense that these stars want a chance to flex their muscles in between the paycheck gigs.  In this case, the ensemble of comedians and dramatists alike can detract attention from what might have played more effectively as a tighter two-hander.  Between the screen time allotted to Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, and Anna Kendrick, “Digging for Fire” can sometimes feel like a party at the Swanbergs for which he provided a loose plot and great camerawork.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: Pitch Perfect 2

16 06 2015

While I was a repeat listener of the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack, I most certainly had no desire to return to the film itself.  In my (admittedly harsh) review of the first film, I dubbed it “a comedy that inspires more groans than laughs and thinks it has a whole lot more insightful things to say about growing up than it actually does.”

So color me surprised to count myself a fan of “Pitch Perfect 2,” the rare Hollywood sequel that actually learns the correct lessons from the success of the original.  The music is tighter and catchier than before; the message, more potent and impactful.  The characters, too, are more relatable and hilarious the second time around.

Writer Kay Cannon, returning to script the series’ follow-up, cuts down the “aca-nnoying” pun humor to much more reasonable levels and finds great hilarity in just having the Barden Bellas interact with each other.  At times, she does this to the point of fault, as the many subplots of “Pitch Perfect 2” often overpower the main narrative of the group trying to regain their former glory after an ignominious display at the Kennedy Center.

That preoccupation with the personal hardly does harm to the movie, though, as these scenes are the highlight of the film.  Watching Anna Kendrick’s Beca attempting the tricky balance of professional exploration at a music company with her duties to the Bellas rings so true, and it also gives the actress a chance to showcase her vibrant range of emotions beyond the scowl she was limited to in the first “Pitch Perfect.”  Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is another undeniable highlight, given a hysterical romantic arc with Adam DeVine’s Bumper; the two play off each other with remarkable comic intuition.

Read the rest of this entry »