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

Advertisements




REVIEW: Trumbo

30 11 2015

TrumboThe potential criminalization of thought. The stoking of Americans’ fear of immigrants. The incessant blabbering that the media is infecting the world with its supposed invective.

No, that’s not the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s the late 1940s and early 1950s as depicted by Jay Roach in his new film “Trumbo.” But certain similarities inevitably come to light, of course. Fortunately for the team behind this project (but unfortunately for the world), the aftermath of the Paris attacks that occurred just a week after its theatrical release have only made this history lesson all the more pressing to revisit.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Communists were merely self-respecting left-wingers just slightly more extreme than the average Democrat. But once the Cold War began and the Soviet Union was no longer an ally, Communism was the primary menace to the security of the United States. A number of activists, such as Bryan Cranston’s screenwriting whiz Dalton Trumbo, were left to answer for a militaristic ideology they never intend to espouse.

The film shows, in heartbreaking detail, just how quickly the red panic overtook the country and instituted a reign of terror headed by Congress’ HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee). Worse of all, Hollywood became complacent in imprisoning and exiling talents like Trumbo. These self-fashioned patriotic moralists, led by John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), drove the industry to create its notorious “blacklist” of known communists that could never be hired again.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Godzilla

8 06 2014

GodzillaIn 2010, Gareth Edwards unleashed the ultra-low budget flick “Monsters” on the world.  It was a striking debut, and it also wound up serving as an audition tape for the job of reenergizing the “Godzilla” franchise.  Indeed, if there was anyone to scoop up from the world of independent cinema for large-scale filmmaking, Edwards seemed like a natural due to the way he emphasized human relationships over flashy computer graphics.

Sadly, what ultimately hits the screen in “Godzilla” is something far more in the mold of Marvel than Edwards’ own “Monsters.”  The plot structure resembles the paradigm perpetuated by films like “The Avengers;” I’d like to call this formula “30-40-50.”  The first 30 minutes of the film introduce us briefly to the characters and cap off with an inciting event that sets up a climactic clash with an opposing villainous force.  The next 40 minutes vamp up to this giant conclusion, showing the various heroes and their preparations.  And it all caps off with 50 minutes of destructions, explosions, collapsing buildings … you know the drill.

The scariest part of “Godzilla” is not the monster; it’s realizing how quickly the art of screenwriting has transmuted into an engineered science.  It favors empty computer graphics over real suspense and rewarding characterization.  Edwards’ penchant for thrilling action goes woefully underutilized as he settles to provide a standard entry in the genre “Monsters” so ably defies.  He gets to be somewhat ironic on occasion but never subtle.

Actors can often rescue movies that sag under the weight of a bloated effects budget, but no such salvation is available for “Godzilla.”  Here, Bryan Cranston is forced to play a Walter White-lite variety and acclaimed actresses such as Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche are relegated to serve perfunctory roles on the sidelines.  But don’t worry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson fruitlessly channels Mark Wahlberg trying to save the day, an archetype he’s ill-equipped to play.

But hey, who needs actors when you can watch a giant lizard destroy the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of San Francisco?  Not like we got to see it terrorized in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  Or the “Star Trek” movies.  (Heck, even the animated “Monsters vs. Aliens” got in on the action.)  Sure, it’s probably more extensive here in “Godzilla,” but it all just feels so familiar and generic.  No better way to sit through the threat of near-apocalyptic extinction than comfortably numb, right?  C+2stars





REVIEW: Argo

1 11 2012

Every year, one movie speaks to a sense of now.  Whether intentionally (“Up in the Air“) or unintentionally (“The Artist“), their messages resonate with current concerns and taps powerfully into the zeitgeist.

I highly doubt that any movie in 2012 comes along and captures that spirit better than “Argo,” and if it does … then I’ll have to upload a picture of myself with a foot in my mouth to my Facebook page.  Some of the similarities to the current times could not have been foreseen, and no one wanted to foresee the tragic loss of four Americans to an attack on an overseas embassy.

Regardless, it happened, and it makes sure the immaculately constructed and taut opening that depicts the siege of the embassy in Tehran is viewed through an entirely different lens.  We think not only of the people trying to escape a volatile 1979 Iran but also of Ambassador Steven and his slain colleagues.  The painful coexistence of the now with the then is deeply unsettling, and it sets the tone for a movie that entertainingly and thrillingly historicizes the contemporary.

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: First 2012 Predictions

5 08 2012

It’s never too early to start guessing, right?  With Cannes yielding little to start Oscar conversation, the pressure is on for the fall to deliver in a big way.  Film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will begin to churn out candidates and weed out pretenders in just a few weeks now.  Then a number of big-name films that forewent the festival circuit will have to face the gauntlet of critics and audiences. By the time the year-end lists start rolling off the presses, the game will be predictable and boring.  So let’s speculate now while it’s still fun and actually involves educated guessing!

UPDATE 8/6: I can’t let these picks become dated within hours of them being posted, so I’ve replaced my predictions that included “The Great Gatsby.”

Best Picture:

  1. The Master
  2. Les Miserables
  3. Lincoln
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Django Unchained
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  7. Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Argo
  9. The Great Gatsby Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The Master” just seems like the movie of the year to me from this distance.  Tom Cruise has seen the movie and HATES it, that’s enough for me.  If the movie is really going to take on Scientology, it could really be a pop culture centerpiece for the fall.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix returning from his bizarre performance art stunt in “I’m Still Here,” Philip Seymour Hoffman fresh off two major supporting roles in Oscar-nominated films in 2011, and three-time Best Supporting Actress bridesmaid Amy Adams, it could certainly be a force to reckon with in the acting categories.  It’s also a period piece that could register impressively in the technical categories.

Oh, and it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  In the ’90s, his films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” each scored him a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  In 2007, “There Will Be Blood” scored him nominations for writing, directing, and producing since the film was up for Best Picture.  The argument will be made – convincingly by the Weinstein Company, no less – that Anderson’s time has come.

Indeed, it has.  The narrative is in place.  It can easily score over 10 nominations and march towards victory.  The film just needs to not suck.  And according to people at the first public showing on Friday (a surprise screening after a showing of “The Shining” in Los Angeles), it doesn’t suck.  It’s awesome.

Though of course, that path won’t be uncontested.  However, three out of the last five Best Picture winners – “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The Artist” – asserted their dominance from the beginning of the season and never looked back.  So who knows?! As the triumph of “The King’s Speech” showed us in 2010, Oscar bait isn’t dead.  In fact, it’s thriving … and there is still a big portion of the Academy that succumbs to it.

In 2011, “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” both cracked the Best Picture field despite facing a number of harsh critics and tepid response from other industry groups.  Nonetheless, the Academy likes what it likes and refuses to apologize for it. So I doubt they will think twice about nominating “Les Miserables” for Best Picture.  The Tony Award-winning musical has everything that could possibly ever appeal to an Academy member: drama, emotion, catharsis, noble prostitutes, solid acting, historical setting, impressive craftwork … and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, the man who made them feel so good they gave him Best Director for a movie that required very little directing.

Granted, everyone thought “Chicago” was going to usher in a new Renaissance for American film adaptations of musical theater.  While the Golden Globes seem to be relishing in all the musicals, the Academy has ignored “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Producers,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Nine” (all of which were Best Picture nominees in the Musical/Comedy field for HFPA).

“Dreamgirls” was even being tipped to win in 2006 and was a surprise snub on nomination morning (“Nine” could also have cracked the field in 2009).  So musicals are still iffy, but “Les Miserables” is in a league of its own.  Those other musicals are nice, but none are based on a Victor Hugo novel.  The story is made to win awards.

Also falling in the bait category is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents.  Spielberg’s films since “Schindler’s List” have practically all been presumptive frontrunners, yet “Saving Private Ryan” is his only film afterwards to win an Oscar.  “Munich” and “War Horse” have both slid in on residual respect, but how far does that go?  Do they still owe a man who has won Best Director twice?  Helmed eight Best Picture nominees?

The same questions can be asked of Day-Lewis, who clearly has a ton of respect as shown by his two Best Actor trophies.  However, the Academy felt no shame in shutting him out of the 2009 Best Actor race in favor of first-time nominee Jeremy Renner.  Granted, Renner’s “The Hurt Locker” was worlds better than Day-Lewis’ “Nine,” but it’s still fair to wonder if the Academy is done with him like they are done with Clint Eastwood.  Unless you are Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson (or John Williams), two is basically the magic number.

People have been raving about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” since its presentation of footage at CinemaCon back in the spring, and I think the coupling of a respected, Oscar-winning director tackling 3D will be the “Hugo” of 2012.  It will also probably score no acting nominations and plenty of tech nods like Scorsese’s 5-time winner from last year.

Beyond those four heavy-hitters, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps I guessed the overdue writer/director incorrectly, and the Academy will choose to fete Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  People counted out “Inglourious Basterds,” and it wound up with eight nominations.

Beasts of the Southern Wild” has certainly proven to be the art-house hit of the year, winning major prizes at Sundance and Cannes, stealing critics’ hearts, and racking up enough money to where it can’t be dismissed as totally esoteric.  There’s certainly precedent for a summer indie favorite to sneak into the Best Picture field – “Winter’s Bone” in 2010 and “The Tree of Life” in 2011.  It will need the critics groups to come out in favor for it in a big way or the pint-sized star Quvenzhané Wallis to be a unanimous and strong first-choice in the Best Actress race.

Some people think the inclusion of “Beasts” might leave out the other summer indie sleeper hit, “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To that I say, look to last year when “Midnight in Paris,” a funny crowd-pleaser, cracked the same field with “The Tree of Life.”  I think the Academy could decide the time is here to honor Wes Anderson’s peculiar gifts.  If they could accept “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno,” I see no reason why “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t be a Best Picture nominee.

“Argo” could also be a sleeper to watch in this race.  Ben Affleck’s directorial skills are definitely improving with each movie, and his last film, “The Town,” was definitely just on the outside looking in at the 2010 Best Picture field.  Could getting out of his native country of Boston put him in the race this time?  We’ll know after its Toronto premiere.

Baz Luhrmannn’s singular work “Moulin Rouge” tickled the Academy’s fancy in 2001.  His 2008 “Australia,” a more refined, baity piece, only netted a Best Costume Design nomination.  Which will his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” be?  My gut says a hit like “Moulin Rouge” because I’m so in love with the source material, but that love could be blinding me.  This will either be a big hit or a big flop.

And who knows if the Academy field will extend to ten this year, but I’ll go ahead and predict ten.  Could lighting strike for the fourth time for Peter Jackson with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?”  Will “Hyde Park on Hudson” be more than just a feel-good biopic?  Can Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” finally get the franchise the recognition it deserves?

These are big “if”s, so I’m just going to choose safe (because my wild-card predictions in years past have spawned picks of “It’s Complicated” and “Never Let Me Go”) and predict Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”  It could be bold, daring, and thrilling if it succeeds.  The expectations will be high since the production has been so guarded.  But if it works, it could be a major player.

And for the hell of it, why not say that the decidedly middling “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” becomes the low-brow film that makes the cut and makes me curse the Academy once more. Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

23 06 2012

I had just finished sixth grade when the first “Madagascar” film came out, and I must say, I enjoyed it probably as much as the six-year-olds in the theater.  Then I was in tenth grade when “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” hit theaters, and I disdained it like a ten-year-old who thinks he’s too cool for school and animated kids entertainment.  Now, I’m heading into my sophomore year of college while “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is taking over screens in three dimensions.  Regardless of your age watching this movie, if you can just accept the inherent childishness of the series, you can enjoy it.

DreamWorks Animation found a way to reclaim what they do best (and thus separates them from their main competitor, Pixar): providing a family movie experience that creates a bottom line of ridiculous, zany antics for the kids while also littering the film with very sophisticated wordplay and adult humor that flies right over the little ones’ heads.  Pixar tries to level the playing field and get child, parent, and grandparent to view the movie from the same viewpoint; that’s what makes “Up” one of my all-time favorites.

But only DreamWorks provides maturely humorous animation that you can watch the tykes around, and it’s pretty ingenious how they can create two totally different intellectual experiences.  I know you probably don’t expect to hear intellectual tossed around in many reviews of the “Madagascar” series, but it’s a smart way to make money and maybe turn that ticket stub into a DVD purchase.

If you can’t handle Chris Rock’s ludicrous “Circus Afro” song or any of the New York Zoo crew’s antics, then maybe your appetite for humor will be met by their numerous pot shots at Europeans.  Kids aren’t going to get all the jokes about European labor laws and culture, but if you’ve tuned into CNN in the past year, you might get a kick out of it.  (Seeing this just two days after coming back from Europe sure made me chuckle – these movies may ask you to suspend reality, but they sure nailed Europe.)  I’m not saying that any sort of comedic brilliance exists in the DNA of “Madagascar 3;” however, I will say I think you’ll be hard-pressed to sit through the movie without having a few good laughs.  B /





REVIEW: Drive

3 10 2011

I don’t know whether “Drive” feels like such a radical movie because of its own merit or because Michael Bay and the “Transformers” culture have made violence and art antonyms in the cultural thesaurus.  Regardless, anyone who realizes that the two can coexist will rejoice in seeing someone approach the genre like a painter with a palette, not a 12-year-old with plenty of testosterone to exude.  Through his stylization and aestheticization of action, director Nicolas Winding Refn gives us hope that the “impending Dark Age,” as Roger Ebert coined it, is not inevitable at a cinema near you as long as people are still willing to take bold risks like combining the art film with the heist film.

Much like his viscerally charged “Bronson,” a career-launching vehicle for Tom Hardy, “Drive” is a dazzling visual experience that struts across the screen with swagger and confidence.  Refn’s film comes with that increasingly rare sense that every moment and every frame have been carefully and purposefully constructed, and as a result, his film will be watched again and again.  Maybe in a few years, this movie will be a textbook for how to actually direct – and not just supervise – an action movie.  (I can dream, can’t I?)  The times call for a new “New Hollywood” movement, and directors like Refn and Steve McQueen are entering mainstream consciousness at the perfect time to lead it.

Read the rest of this entry »