REVIEW: Results

10 06 2015

ResultsAndrew Bujalski’s comedy “Results,” which revolves around a number of characters in the fitness business, recalls far too many of my own workouts.  That is to say, it starts strong with a big burst of energy that fizzles out fairly quickly and then plods along at a moderate pace.

Bujalski primarily follows three characters: rich schlub Danny (Kevin Corrigan), who wants to gain the ability to take a punch, hires hardcore trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders) from a gym owned by the toned Aussie Trevor (Guy Pearce).  Their relationships are in constant flux, moving well beyond provider-client and boss-employee over the course of “Results.”  Individual scenes are well-written and directed, but they fail to unify because Bujalski never decides on a protagonist.

Bujalski is far more successful at finding hilarity in mundanity than he was in 2013’s “Computer Chess,” and he certainly demonstrates an incisive understanding of how ulterior professional and romantic motivations cloud judgment and communication.  Even as it sags somewhat in the back half, “Results” still entertains with these moments of insight into its characters and how their appearances reflect but also belie their personalities.  B2halfstars

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REVIEW: Breathe In

8 12 2014

Breathe InWriter/director Drake Doremus’ “Breathe In” begins with obvious symbols abounding: a carefully curated family photoshoot, a tower of Jenga blocks, the copy of Jane Eyre lying about.  If you cannot predict what will happen the Reynolds’ take in an English exchange student, Felicity Jones’ inquisitive but indeterminate Sophie, then your high school english teacher owes you an apology.

Doremus, thankfully, does not just lay all the sexual tension out on the table from the outset.  Instead, there is a gradual, more lifelike build in Sophie’s burgeoning attraction to her host father, Guy Pearce’s Keith.  This restraint provides some reason to stay attuned to the story, which is otherwise too clichéd to draw us into Sophie’s psychology.  (And thankfully, Jones looks quite a bit older than high school age, thus eliminating any vibes of their relationship resembling something dangerously close to statutory rape.)

Sophie’s tale, that of a British girl who comes to live with a family in New York for a semester only to find her peers superficial and self-involved, just never feels particularly compelling.  All these scenes really seem to highlight is that Sophie possesses a wisdom beyond her years, an attribute highly accentuated by another highly perspicacious performance from Felicity Jones.

Pearce gets a somewhat more interesting story to work with.  His Keith is a frustratedly immobile cellist who has never been able to achieve the recognition for which he yearns.  Instead of playing in a symphony, he is relegated to teaching at a high school in order to support his family.  Sophie offers him the opportunity to fulfill his desires, not his responsibilities, and his internal vacillation is much more fascinating because it carries those high stakes.  Unlike the rest of “Breathe In,” Pearce’s performance proves quite subtly effective.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Hateship Loveship

13 08 2014

Hateship LoveshipCraig Johnson, director of the upcoming Kristen Wiig vehicle “The Skeleton Twins,” remarked that even in her funniest moments, there’s a certain sadness to the characters Wiig portrayed.  I had never really thought of the comedienne in such a way, so I scoured YouTube to examine her work through such a lens.  Sure enough, the undercurrent is there in everything from her bit part in “Knocked Up” to her infamous Penelope sketches from “Saturday Night Live.”

In “Hateship Loveship,” we can see what’s left when you drain all the humor out of Wiig – and, as it turns out, it’s quite a morose sight.  She plays her character, Johanna Perry, with all the quietude of a church mouse.  Such restraint turns out to be devastatingly effective in creating a believable woman who is so passive that she practically lacks a personality altogether.

Sadly, the film veers off into such unbelievable directions – particularly in its second half – that it undermines the potential for Wiig’s performance to be a major breakthrough.  The premise of “Hateship Loveship” starts off with promise: Johanna moves into the home of an aging man (Nick Nolte) to be his caretaker and gets catfished by his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) in a rather mean-spirited prank.  Yet right when the film seems ready to veer into the realm of the tragic, it takes an unexpected turn.

After this rather shocking development, “Hateship Loveship” seems rather detached from reality.  Characters’ motivations seem hardly plausible, casting a shadow of doubt over the entire film.  The tone gets rather wonky, too.  It’s a pity that director Liza Johnson didn’t model her helming on the restraint and good judgment that Wiig brought to her character.  C2stars





REVIEW: The Rover

25 06 2014

The RoverUnlike many “apocalyptic” movies of our era, David Michod’s “The Rover” does not weigh itself down in giving the audience details of the calamity that befell civilization.  We get a few vague hints along the way, sure, but Michod lets us know all we need to know the characters populating the frame.  An opening close-up of Guy Pearce’s Eric, sitting motionless with anguish while flies land sporadically on his face, tells us far more than fake stock footage ever could.

For once, it’s the characters, not the catastrophe, that drive the action.  Without highly specific circumstances explaining their actions, “The Rover” assumes the feel of a tone poem.  It mulls over the trials of the human spirit amidst a desolate landscape as well as the need for connection in isolating times with its sweltering cinematography and pared-down screenplay.

Michod’s script, co-written with Joel Edgerton, follows Eric as he hunts down his stolen car in the unwelcoming Australian desert.  We don’t know why he wants the car back until the very end of “The Rover,” and a part of me almost wishes his motivation wasn’t realed.  Since Eric doesn’t seem to place any extreme importance on the vehicle, the quest takes on an existential dimension that yields far more insights into Eric’s character.

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REVIEW: Iron Man 3

18 06 2013

History will look back at the summer of 2013 and remember most of all the precipitous decline of the “Hangover” series.  However, there’s another franchise that has brought me disappointment this summer as well.

In the summer of 2008, I was over the moon for Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man,” so much so that I rushed out on opening night for the disappointing “Iron Man 2.”  By the time Tony Stark suited up for “The Avengers,” I really could have cared less.

Perhaps it’s most telling that the way I saw Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3” was on a Thursday afternoon when a combination of rain and wind knocked out my Wi-Fi.  Otherwise, I would have been content to sit in bed and watch a movie on Netflix.  But the big event film of the summer, the $175 million dollar opener that was second-best ever, to me was just another movie.

It was really just a box to check.  Since I’d invested 4 hours in Tony Stark’s story already (6 if you count “The Avengers”), I figured I probably ought to finish it.  And seeing a film out of misplaced obligation instead of real desire isn’t necessarily the most fulfilling feeling.

“Iron Man 3,” all in all, was entertaining.  It could have been a lot worse, and it was an improvement from its predecessor.  But it’s such a stark decline from the first installment that being more bad than good can hardly be considered a victory.

The visuals are good, although that ending sequence seemed to be more or less lifted from the lackluster summer 2010 bust “The A-Team” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin.”  The story manages to move along at a decent clip without ever boring too much, yet it lacks the effortless engagement encouraged by the original film.

The biggest difference, though, is Robert Downey Jr., who moved from being the series’ X-factor to its hidden liability.  His Tony Stark began as an endearingly sardonic character whose spiny personality could be accepted as just the inability to look at life seriously.  Over the course of the series, the scribes have tried to harden Stark to hide the fact that Downey Jr. had grown smugly complacent to the point of disdaining the other characters.  The darker, somber tone hasn’t worked because, well, Jon Favreau and Shane Black are not Christopher Nolan.

I’ve also felt that Downey Jr. has disdained the audience as well, as if every icy quip is played with the subtext of “I’m making millions of dollars for being the jerk you can’t be.”  While “Iron Man 3” seems to say goodbye to Tony Stark (or at least Robert Downey Jr. playing him), it’s not a good riddance.  But I’m certainly not choked up or even upset.  Not at this level of mediocrity.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Prometheus

17 12 2012

It’s rare to see any movie delve into deep theological, ontological, and existential questions that have puzzled humanity for millennia.  “Prometheus” isn’t even a pensive indie – it’s a blockbuster – and it still ponders them deeply in the far reaches of our universe to satisfying and intellectually stimulating effect.

Director Ridley Scott and screenwriters Damon Lindelof and John Spaihts don’t pretend to have any answers.  Thankfully, they don’t have that kind of hubris.  After all, these are the quandaries that have kept philosophers twiddling their thumbs.  But it doesn’t ever feel like a cop out or negligent writing.  They effectively stage a thoughtful drama in outer space and pose the questions to a new audience in an freshly compelling frame.

A number of people have quibbled about the small things in “Prometheus,” such as its fidelity to the “Alien” franchise, the plausibility of various events, the nature of the “engineers” that serve as the mysterious beings for the film, and the motivations of certain characters.  And if you really wanted to nitpick Scott’s film, I’m sure you could find some flaws and holes in the plot.  I, for one, really want to know why people are apparently unable to run laterally a century from now.

But to harp on the fine print is to miss the point of “Prometheus” entirely.  It’s a layered cerebral and psychological drama that just happens to use the framework of science-fiction.  The film finds fascinating parallels between the mysteries of extra-terrestrial life and the mystery of our own origins and existence.  Then, it heightens our senses and gets the heart racing.  The mind, naturally, wants to catch up and runs in overdrive after the movie to ponder what it just experienced.

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SAVE YOURSELF from “The Road”

27 11 2012

The RoadI’m in a semi-minority when I say that John Hillcoat’s film “The Road” is a dreadful movie.  However, I know I’m in a vast minority when I say that Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road,” the book Hillcoat’s film is based on, is just as bad – if not worse.  Yes, I’m taking issue with the novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and Entertainment Weekly‘s distinction of the best book of the past 25 years.

To all the haters who are sure to be drawn out of hiding by this pan, I assure you that I’m not some uneducated Philistine who is quibbling with McCarthy’s unconventional prosaic style.  Sure, it makes it a difficult read, but I actually quite enjoy it.  The experience is tough but refreshing, particularly in McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.”

But “The Road” is just tedious and boring.  Yes, I know that’s the point!  But beyond a certain point, I get it.  I understand how the man, played with vigor in the film by Viggo Mortensen, and the boy, portrayed by then newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee in a rather impressive debut, feel on the road.  I don’t need to spend hours of my time reading them do the same things and having minor variations of the same conversation, day after day.  It makes for a great short story or short film, but stretched to novel and feature film lengths, monotony ensues.

Perhaps Hillcoat was fated to displease me with “The Road” since many of my issues with the text and story seem to be rather systemic, foundational quibbles.  Yet the upstart Australian director had made a capable, taut thriller in “The Proposition” before he tackled McCarthy’s work.  (“Lawless” had its issues as well, but I still admired the work on display.)

Joe Penhall’s script tries to add some sensationalism to make the story more tolerable (and commercially viable, I can imagine), but the attempts fail miserably.  Making The Man’s wife a larger character in the narrative adds nothing to the story, even when she’s played by the talented Charlize Theron.  Adding further dimensions of terror to their foes on the road don’t make the movie any more thrilling.  Instead, we are left with a film that ambles slowly and uninterestingly towards bleak nothingness and can’t succeed at the one thing that should have been a no-brainer for it: a deep character study of the Man and his Son.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLgszfXTAY