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

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REVIEW: Grandma

6 09 2015

GrandmaPaul Weitz’s “Grandma” gets underway once teenaged Sage (Julia Garner) shows up to humbly solicit funds for an abortion from Lily Tomlin’s Elle Reid, her estranged grandmother.  While Sage might be necessary to kickstart the story, there is no doubt the titular character really drives the engine of this compact road trip.  The journey is for Sage, but it is about Elle.

Weitz wrote the role of Elle for Tomlin, and the part fits like a glove.  Among the many traits of this multifaceted character, Tomlin gets to play up two qualities present in her most memorable performances: intelligence and idiosyncrasy.  Elle is a poet who peaked professionally in the ’60s and never quite found her footing again, scrapping together income to stay afloat from teaching and lecturing.

Now, widowed and still grieving the loss of her beloved partner Violet, the kooky Elle is even more stuck in the past than ever before.  She cuts up her credit cards for fun and tosses around the phrase “pod person” as if “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were as recognizable a cultural touchstone as “X-Men.”  Sage needs the most immediate help to procure her procedure, to be sure, but Elle also requires an attitude adjustment of her own.

As she drives her vintage car around town to solicit funds – and giving Sage a boot camp in Second Wave feminism in the process – Elle has to confront the pains of her past and decide the face of her future.  Decades-old layers of resentment frequently lead to some acerbic interactions, especially with her own daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden).  But the brilliance of Tomlin’s performance is that she never loses track of Elle’s raw emotion or her beating heart; she and Weitz nail the balance between sardonic and sincere.  The voyage with Elle proves all too short (only 79 minutes?!), though each moment along the way feels poignant and completely fulfilling.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Parkland

22 11 2014

The JFK assassination drama “Parkland” comes courtesy of Tom Hanks, who was dubbed America’s “history maker” by Time.  Sounds like a legitimate enough credential to qualify the film, since, after all, Hanks is one of the people behind widely acclaimed HBO series like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

But “Parkland” falls short of the prestige of such premium cable programming, instead feeling more in the vein of another History Channel special attempting to cash in on mourn the passing of our slain leader.  Everything about Peter Landesman’s film seems of low production value, a quality that shows when accompanied by such acclaimed actors as Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, and Paul Giamatti.

The movie follows a wide variety of supporting characters who found their lives changed by the shocking events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  “Parkland” includes everything from Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) filming his notorious home movie at the scene, to the medics trying to save Kennedy’s life (Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden), and even Lee Harvey Oswald’s wacky mother (Weaver) in this broad catchall of perspectives left out of most history books.  Most get ignored for a reason: they are secondary narratives

Perhaps if each story received feature-length treatment, they would provide some sense of satisfaction.  But “Parkland” can only dip a toe into a single narrative with its prevailing approach breadth over depth, and it gives a distinct impression of shallowness.  Landesman’s film can really only excite and enlighten in the rare expertly realized moment: the second when the hospital crew realizes the gravity of their task, the efforts to fit Kennedy’s casket on board Air Force One, the first glimpse of the Zapruder film.  C2stars





REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009’s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Whip It

27 03 2010

The big question for me going into “Whip It” was Ellen Page. Can she play someone other than the spunky Juno MacGuff or is she truly a one-trick pony?

The answer? Basically, yes.

Page’s latest character, Bliss Cavander, the rebellious Texas teenager is very much a darker shade of Juno. But that didn’t make her any less enjoyable to watch. Page manages to remain fresh doing some similar schtick, and finding a niche at such a young age is truly an accomplishment.

The surprise of “Whip It” was actually Kristen Wiig. No, I’m not surprised that she was absolutely hilarious; Wiig had three supporting roles in 2009 and managed to steal every movie. She’s a great talent who will hopefully land a lead role securing her rightful place in the comedic stratosphere, but her surprise in “Whip It” was that she absolutely nailed the most crucial dramatic scene. It’s rare to find someone with this kind of range, and Wiig showed herself to truly be the full package.

Another big question was Drew Barrymore in her first time directing. Can she pull herself together and create something special?

The answer? A resounding yes.

“Whip It” is a comedic delight, with laughs and wit and quirks lurching at every turn. It follows Bliss as she secretly joins the underground world of roller derby, where the skates shred the track and the women are tough as nails. A bold name is also necessary for success with the fans, be it Smashlee Simpson (Barrymore), Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), or Iron Maven. Bliss settles upon Babe Rutheless, and with her moniker, she becomes the new poster child for the sport. But she has to keep her success a secret from her strict mother (Marcia Gay Harden) who wants Bliss to become the beauty pageant queen that she could never be. How much of this movie’s excellence came from Barrymore is unknown, but I feel like I had as much fun watching “Whip It” as she had making it. B+ /





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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