REVIEW: Bleed for This

3 06 2017

Let’s be honest about what “Bleed for This” is: an excuse for Miles Teller to have a Men’s Fitness spread. It’s a move every bit as calculated as Disney cashing in on some intellectual property. The film is not art but a vessel for professional growth, the means to an end rather than an end unto itself.

“Bleed for This” gives Miles Teller an excuse to bulk up and slim down in the name of acting, a classic and predictable agent or manager’s maneuver. It gives him the excuse to post a #gymselfie with his new six-pack without seeming like too big of a tool. It grants him the leeway to expand his repertoire from charming, accessible boy next door to libidinous sex symbol. Then he can prance around in a thong in the film, completing the star circle and reminding us that this whole endeavor has little to do with Vinny Pazienza, the boxer whom he plays. It’s all about Teller and his journey.

The film itself tells such a familiar tale – promising athlete, devastating accident, impossible recovery, triumph of the human spirit – that it’s all too easy for Teller to run over Pazienza’s narrative with his own. His toned body may be different, but this is the same cocksure Miles Teller we’ve seen in everything from “The Spectacular Now” to “War Dogs.” Writer/director Ben Younger, who arrived on the scene in 2000 with the oblique satirical “Boiler Room” about hypermasculine Wall Street traders, could easily have reined in his leading man. Instead, he’s helpless to stop the Hollywood publicity machine his movie became. C-

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: Fantastic Four

5 08 2015

Fantastic FourIn an world where comic book adaptations are becoming bigger and louder, “Fantastic Four” stands out.  Somehow, it manages to turn exciting material – which worked just fine a decade ago, I might add – into a dull movie that arrives stillborn and never gains a pulse.

Despite a cast of rising stars whose accomplishments and skills easily outweigh their counterparts in the 2005 iteration, writer/director Josh Trank never lets them achieve liftoff.  Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell are all better actors than “Fantastic Four” lets them be.  Every scene plays out like they were each slipped an Ambien right before the camera started rolling, inhibiting chemistry and numbing emotion.

Their energy would have served as a necessary component to make the film pass as even remotely serviceable.  Trank, working with frequent “X-Men” writer Simon Kinberg as well as Jeremy Slater, essentially stretches the plot of a typical Marvel first act to feature length.  What should take about 20-30 minutes plays out over 100 minutes in “Fantastic Four,” and the pace feels appropriately molasses-like.  Trank’s big climax would function as a precipitating event in a normal film.

Apparently no one at Fox paid attention to the cratering of fellow Marvel property “Spider-Man” when Sony rebooted it in 2012.  The diminishing returns of that franchise are largely attributable to the fact that audiences do not want to sit through a slightly altered retread of a story they liked just fine ten years ago.  “Fantastic Four,” like “The Amazing Spider-Man,” returns to the tale of heroic origins to issue a slight corrective that will eventually set the series on a different course.

There is simply too much vying for audiences’ attention, not only on the silver screen but also on televisions, tablets, and mobile devices.  If the creative minds that be want to do something new with familiar material, they had better go ahead and do it.  No one wants to wait around for them to get their act together as they rejuvenate it.  So, naturally, “Fantastic Four” inspires listlessness as it makes us consciously realize the drain on our time as it slips away from us.  D1star

REVIEW: Divergent

20 11 2014

Roger Ebert once wrote, “Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.”  Keeping that in mind, I approached “Divergent,” the latest in a series of hit YA series adapted for the screen, less as a reviewer and more as a phenomenologist.  What exactly is it that this movie is tapping into?  What function is it fulfilling for viewers?

This was actually a great way to watch the film because otherwise, it provided very little entertainment or enjoyment.  “The Hunger Games” somehow manages to maintain a vague sense of artistic integrity; the assembly of “Divergent,” meanwhile, seems the result of focus groups and marketing executives.  Everything from its color-by-numbers plot to its Top 40-friendly soundtrack feels calculated and inauthentic.

But a deeper look into the heart of Veronica Roth’s story (as adapted for the screen by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor) actually reveals some intriguing thematic strands.  “Divergent” follows Shailene Woodley’s Tris, a teenager in a dystopian Chicago, as she attempts to find her place amongst the rigidly divided factions in her society.  Struggles with belonging and discovering one’s developing identity?  Sounds a lot like high school…

“Divergent” stands out in my mind as being the most directly applicable YA series for its target audience in everything from the frightfulness of not fitting completely into a single neat box or having to earn your place in anything.  Unlike “The Hunger Games,” which casts teenagers in very adult situations, this story speaks directly to teenage concerns.  Regrettably, however, it clouds these messages by involving stereotypical oppressive authoritarian entities like Kate Winslet’s Jeanine.

As “Divergent” moves from the personal from the political in its second half, any momentum it had built up dissipates rather quickly.  The bloated length of 140 minutes certainly does not help matters, quickly converting excitement into boredom.  I remain unsure as to whether or not I will bother to see any of the sequels to the film.  I seem to at least have some understanding of its appeal now, and I feel pretty content with just that.  C2stars

REVIEW: Whiplash

18 11 2014

WhiplashWhile the film “Whiplash” is about drumming and jazz music, writer/director Damien Chazelle’s intense focus on the physical demands of training and competition essentially transforms art into athletics.  The story follows Miles Teller’s Andrew as he goes through the music conservatory training process, both honing his craft and advancing through the studio ranks.  Andrew aims for nothing short of becoming one of the all-time great drummers, and the quest quite literally claims blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

Chazelle’s filmmaking captures the coexisting violence and agility of drumming with the same sort of madcap, fast-paced artistry.  “Whiplash” probably has the average shot length of a Marvel film, although these fast and furious edits are actually deployed to induce a physiological effect.  Chazelle conducts a cinematic symphony in his quick cutting of extreme close-up shots, cerebrally conveying just how many moving parts have to synchronize in order to create stirring music.

“Whiplash” is hardly a concert film, however, and much of the momentum of these extended bravura sequences comes from attention to and investment in the story and characters.  Chazelle’s script keeps an even keel even with its fairly rapid succession of events, largely stemming from its streamlined attention on Andrew’s quest for musical brilliance.  (Seriously, any more obsessed and he might turn into a swan.)  Even his romantic interest, which seems like a pleasant diversion when first introduced into the film, serves its purpose in advancing Andrew’s plot arc.

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REVIEW: The Spectacular Now

16 08 2013

I really did like the first act of “The Spectacular Now” because it felt honest and real. Miles Teller’s Sutter Keeley felt like someone I would have known in high school, a burgeoning alcoholic with a big unchecked ego. And Shailene Woodley’s Aimee Finicke reminded me quite a bit of myself, someone bookish but a bit insecure and completely unable to picture anyone having romantic feelings about them.

I was so looking forward to the direction that the film was heading … and then Sutter and Aimee share the moment we saw coming a mile away, their first kiss. From there on out, “The Spectacular Now” heads south as the authenticity of the story and the believability of the characters flies out the window. The script, penned by “(500) Days of Summer” scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, descends into a mire of archetypes and cliches.

It’s a little more understandable for Sutter to become a flat character as his personality is so based on living up to a cultural ideal of care-free ignorance. But it’s disappointing to watch Aimee just a flip a switch and become a totally different person. Before the kiss, she was so refreshingly independent and derived her sense of self-worth from within, not from others. Afterwards, Aimee becomes little more than an accessory to Sutter, fawning over him at all times and constantly caressing him.

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REVIEW: Footloose

5 03 2012

I’m no better or no worse for having seen the 2011 remake of “Footloose.”  I really can’t insult it too much; Craig Brewer’s movie is extremely corny to the point where it almost invites self-mockery.  It’s the kind of movie tailor-made to people who don’t want their movies to be sophisticated and crave dialogue that just ridiculously follows a stupid cinematic template.  To compare it to the last movie I reviewed, “A Separation,” does neither justice as this movie relishes being something very far removed from reality.

And indeed, if you can just fade into a world where dancing, not drinking, is the societal evil, then “Footloose” may be just the movie for you.  There are plenty of decently choreographed sequences that catch the eye, but they feel a little out of place without the framework of a Broadway musical.  It wants to be a musical movie without fitting into the musical genre, a hybrid that didn’t really work when Tim Burton tried it in 2007 with “Sweeney Todd” and doesn’t fare any better here.

If you can’t remove the critic in you to watch a movie, then “Footloose” probably just isn’t a movie you should spend your time watching.  Kenny Womald, the newcomer cast as leading man Ren, will undoubtedly irk you.  While it’s admirable that they didn’t just cast a Zac Efron-type for looks, casting an unknown carries risks, and the movie becomes a 101 course on why you shouldn’t cast one in a big role.  He has what Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em would call an annoying “pretty boy swag,” meaning that he struts his body and hair around as a replacement for really acting.

Julianne Hough sure can sing, but I’ll need a few more movies before I can buy her as an actress.  She gets the prickliness of her loose character Ariel right on, but I got the feeling she should have been a little more sympathetic than Hough made her come across.  Leave the emo teenage angst to Kristen Stewart, please.  Miles Teller as Ren’s boon companion Willard is the closest thing “Footloose” has to a scene-stealer, yet knowing that this was his follow-up to the superlative “Rabbit Hole” just made me sad inside.  And Dennis Quaid, once again, puzzles me with his undeniably eclectic role choice as the fire-and-brimstone Reverend Shaw.

I haven’t seen the original with Kevin Bacon, but I feel like I can say “don’t fix something that isn’t broken” to Brewer’s remake just as easily as I can to any other half-baked and uninspired Hollywood retooling.  New faces on an old story … sigh.  It’s ok, many greater directors have tried and failed just like you, Brewer.  Not everyone can be Martin Scorsese; there have to be some directors who can make him look like a saint in comparison.