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Movie Breakdown: Digging For Fire (Noah)

August 28, 2015

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The Impression:

I’ve never watched a Joe Swanberg flick before but, because Joe Swanberg is a prolific man who makes movies like other people use the bathroom, there’s a lot written about his films. The pros, the cons, the impressive amount of – it’s all there. So I feel like I’ve seen a Joe Swanberg picture before, but, you know, I haven’t.

The Reality:

Digging For Fire doesn’t really feel like a movie. It feels like an extension of a series of conversations. As if Joe Swanberg was sitting around his house at a party or at someone else’s house at someone else’s party and heard people talking and saw interactions and thought, “I could apply a little story here, bring a few cameras, you know, make a movie.” And that is, well, pretty much what you get. The film follows two parents (Jake Goldberg and the criminally underused Rosemarie DeWitt) who spend a weekend apart from each other. Not for any dramatic reason (the film doesn’t really play in the drama sandbox), just because, well, they want/need to do some other things. And separate from each other and their child, other things happen – bones are found, digging occurs, there’s near extra-marital affairs – but there isn’t a lot of momentum behind it. The film just sort of moseys along with its characters, listening to them talk about life, fucking things up, stumbling through this one semi-arbitrary moment of their life. It could be boring, and to be honest it is a little, but somehow Swanberg, without ever saying it out loud, makes the fact that this is just another arbitrary moment in this couples life. It isn’t dramatic, and it doesn’t throw its emotions in your face, but for a 33-year old reviewer with a long-time spouse and a child (okay, dog) something about the slow, ambling way the film progresses made it stick even harder. At the end, when the arguments have been resolved (or not) Swanberg suddenly tightens the knot of the film just a bit, pulls the threads so they come together in a moment of more traditional cinematic narrative and somehow, well, the rest of the film seems entirely intentional. That this almost Altman-like progression of scenes and characters and moments all tie together, maybe loosely, maybe a little disjointedly, but in the final seconds, with Dan Romer’s beautiful score swelling in the background, it feels like Swanberg knew what he was doing all along.

The Lesson:

I’ll watch more Swanberg. Especially if Dan Romer is manning the music.

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Movie Breakdown: No Escape (Noah)

August 27, 2015

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The Impression:

I’m always wary of films that star famous people (here Owen Wilson and Lake Bell) but have had absolutely zero hype on the interwebs. Not that every film needs or benefits from hype, just that it’s strange that you spend all this money to get pretty faces in your movies and then you don’t do a thing to broadcast to the world that they, or the movie they’re populating, exist.

The Reality:

I think I’m losing what snobs refer to as “taste.” I can’t figure out if it’s because the summer offerings have been particularly weak this year and the movies I’m enjoying are just a little bit better than the bag-fulls of hobo poo that I usually find myself sleeping through; or, if after a lifetime of watching films, my brain has finally hit a point where all of the important pathways have collapsed under the weight of content digestion, and all I’m left with is a vague, blobbish hole where only the most underformed of content can happily live. So understand, that when I say what I’m about to say, I realize that it may be coming from a context of salvation from absolute mediocrity and/or slight brain damage: I liked No Escape. Yes, I fully understand that a film about four white people in a small Southeast Asian country fleeing from an army of brown-skinned savages hellbent on raping and killing them grapples with a perhaps undiscussed idea of American xenophobia. And yes, I understand that Owen Wilson, crooked nose and rugged blonde good looks on full display, might not be the best casting for a film that sells itself as an action movie. And with all that knowledge bubbling around inside my enormous head, I still liked No Escape. Director John Erick Dowdle (a pillar of the found-footage horror industry up to this point) manages, intentionally or not, to make No Escape feel like some sort of reflection of the simpler days of 80s action films, where there didn’t have to be fussy high concepts, but rather just a protagonist, a threat, and some reason for the protagonist to have to jump into action. In No Escape, our protagonist, bland water engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), and his family are moved into a generic Southeastern Asian country to help bring water back to the people. Turns out that on the day after they arrive, a violent coup occurs and the rest of the movie is spent following the Dwyers as they try to avoid being hacked to death by violent locals. Somewhere Pierce Brosnan (playing a sort of Ricky Gervais take on a bad-ass) appears to kick some ass, probably take some names. It’s a simple film. A lot of running, a lot of shooting, and a lot of hiding. But, what I liked was that Dowdle uses the Dwyer Family as a unit. This isn’t Owen Wilson trying to hunt down those who did his family wrong, and using a plethora of karate chops and machine guns to do so, this is Owen Wilson leading his family away from killers who will, if they catch them, kill them all. And Dowdle makes that both an advantage, an inspiration, a burden (at one point one of the kids asks to go to the bathroom in the middle of a firefight, and it’s pretty scary) and a terrifying prospect (Wilson throwing his daughter off a roof made me cover my mouth). It elevates the fear factor of the movie, lets every corner seem terrifying, every person possibly a threat. The film scoots along for the first two-thirds as The Dwyer’s fight there way through a series of coup-forced obstacles and though it slows down to a sodden crawl by the end, it still works. It isn’t really an action film, it’s a family film with a lot of exploding helicopters and decapitations and a mild amount of American xenophobia. Which, you know, aside from the xenophobia, works for me. It’s nothing special, you aren’t going to go home and tell your children that this film changed your life, but it has that warmth, that texture and believability of a good old fashioned 80s movie and in a world of CG, well, everything, it was at least a little refreshing.

The Lesson:

I’m an easy lay these days. Give me some decent actors and some explosions and I’m sold.

The Lesson #2:

Lake Bell is the real deal. She hits a whole spectrum of emotional notes here and they’re all entirely believable. Cast her more Hollywood.

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Movie Breakdown: Mistress America

August 26, 2015

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The Impression:

Noah Baumbach’s latest stars Greta Gerwrig and seems to be about what all of his movies are about – people trying to find their way in this crazy world.  I’m good to go as long as it’s more While We’re Young than Frances Ha.

The Reality:

Recently I saw The End Of The Tour and really liked the way that it was mostly conversation pieces and not much else.  Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America is sort of the same.  The film follows a freshman college student named Tracy (Lola Kirke) as she bounces around New York City with Brooke (Greta Gerwig), her soon-to-be stepsister, and talks and thinks about a lot different things.  Naturally, the topics aren’t nearly as heady as what’s discussed in The End Of The Tour, but they are done in an equally manic style and come off just as charming and interesting.  Sure, you may not get any closer to figuring out what watching too much TV may one day do to society, but you’ll laugh a lot and gain some insight on that loud person you know who recklessly/obnoxiously/sincerely attempts to talk their way out of every situation presented to them (Brooke) and/or anyone you may be acquainted who just can’t quite figure out how to fit in or find their own voice (Tracy).  That’s a solid trade, I think.

If you’ve been hanging around and calling out for Baumbach and Gerwig to reunite, then I don’t think I need to convince you to see Mistress America.  In fact, you probably already bought tickets.  As for the rest of you, see it if you feel as though a clever, dialogue-heavy film is something you want to get behind.

The Lesson:

One of these days I’m going to actually decide whether or not I truly like Greta Gerwig.

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Movie Breakdown: We Are Your Friends

August 26, 2015

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The Impression:

We Are Your Friends features Zac Efron as a young fella doing his best to make it as a DJ.  It looks ridiculous.

The Reality:

If you’re a fan of movies that aren’t really about anything, then We Are Your Friends is going to impress the hell out of you.  Cole Carter (Zac Efron just existing) wants to be a DJ (you know this because he always has headphones on) but he’s stuck in his dinky hometown with no real opportunities.  Since it’s a movie though and there has to be some glorious stroke of luck, a mega-DJ named James Reed (Wes Bentley – the only thing about the film worth remembering) arrives in his life, they become pals and then KAPOW, Cole now has a chance to do what he’s always wanted to do – push buttons on his laptop in front of a large crowd of people.  Along the way there’s some relationship stuff, talk about what it means to be DJ, info on how to be a good DJ, a few things on growing up, conflicting opinions on drugs and alcohol, a variety of useless moments with Cole’s friends, and somewhere around a million other random tidbits that keep you steadily wondering exactly what the movie is actually about.  Frankly, We Are Your Friends really just needed to be about music and what it takes to make it as an artist, but it’s a film so unsure of itself that it only hints at that and instead sloppily flops all over the place and ultimately says nothing about everything.  Only see it if you’re in the mood to challenge yourself to some kind of weird patience contest.

One last note, through at least the first half of We Are Your Friends I kept thinking it might actually turn out to be a modern Flashdance, Footloose or something similar, but its convoluted, meandering story proved to be unbeatable, and that kind of bummed me out.  The world could use another wave of silly but enjoyable “music” flicks.

The Lesson:

Why the hell is it called We Are Your Friends?  I’m going to be wondering this for hours!

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Movie Breakdown: Hitman: Agent 47

August 20, 2015

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The Impression:

Xavier Gens and Timothy Olyphant failed at making a good Hitman movie in 2007, but Aleksander Bach and Rupert Friend are going to get it right in 2015.  Or probably not.  Nothing about this reboot looks good.

The Reality:

Let’s just get down to it, Hitman: Agent 47 is an awful film.  The plot is muddled and boring, Rupert Friend looks like he’s upset with his actual agent in every scene and the only half shining moment in regards to Aleksander Bach’s direction is somewhere in the middle of the movie where there’s what can only be described as an extended Audi commercial.  “Why does this movie exist?”  This is all I could think while watching it.  I get that Hitman is a popular video game, but how much money is expected to be made off such a blatantly lazy attempt to makeup for the last blatantly lazy adaptation of the series?  My guess is just enough, otherwise there’s just no good reason for the existence of such a poorly conceived and executed film.

You should not even sort of consider seeing Hitman: Agent 47.  Save your money and your time and go do anything else with it.  Anything else.

The Lesson:

If your “action” movie nearly puts me to sleep, you’re doing it all wrong.

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Movie Breakdown: American Ultra (Noah)

August 20, 2015

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The Impression:

I don’t really know where this film came from. One day I’m just surfing the ‘net and there’s this trailer for an action film starring Facebook Guy and Bella where stoners kill people. And if you know me, I love a stoner-turns-awakened-government-assassin film. I mean, honestly, it’s like watching The Bourne Identity if Jason Bourne took bong rips instead of hunting those who’d done him wrong.

The Reality:

When you cast Jesse Eisenberg in a film, you don’t do so because you want his natural confidence to bleed on to the screen. You want that low-level distrust and peripheral uncomfortableness to bleed into the character, the script, the very notion of the film you’re making. You want someone on the screen that might at anytime fuck things up with social awkwardness or, if his turn as Lex Luthor has anything to say about it, just plain evil. Or, if you’re Nima Nourizadeh (director of Superbad-meets-Blair-Witch-Project film, Project X) you cast him as a lovable stoner, trapped within the confines of a tiny town, who, well, is actually a super-secret government agent separated from his memories for “his own safety”. And, wow, it works. American Ultra is exactly the kind of action movie I’m glad to see storming the box offices these days, films that are happy to blow shit up, and knock out teeth, and throw people through windows and so on and so forth, but they do so with the full support of well-defined, interesting characters. Heck, there might even be a good story in there. American Ultra finds Jesse Eisenberg’s Will Howell, a forgetful, panic attack afflicted stoner, living with his equally stoned girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart, showing off some real warmth here). Things go bad quickly, when an FBI agent (Connie Briton) whispers a few secret words and Stoner Will Howell is turned into Stoner-Assassin Will Howell. What works so well here is that Howell’s character is a stoner before he ever enters a secret assassin training program, so the Will Howell we see battling against a gaggle of other secret assassins has all the trademarks of your classic pothead. Sure, he kicks ass (and Eisenberg represents the mixture of pothead and martial artist well, using a sort of loose-limbed flapping technique to attack his opponents) but he also lacks ambition and common sense and leans heavily on his lady for support, in all things. And that’s where I think the film really shines: Phoebe and Will’s relationship. Without the very sweet chemistry between Eisenberg and Stewart, this film doesn’t work – it’s just an overstylized action movie. And sure, at times the relationship grows a little cloying, but Nourizadeh actually, and I only say actually because Project X didn’t seem to be exactly imbued with subtlety, manages to balance out the more cloying moments with humor and action. Nourizadeh is still finding his feet as an action director, and at times the action seems muddled, without the strategic pops that make really good fight scenes work, but they’re interesting and unique and absolutely brutal. In general, as a second outing from a fairly untested director, this is a strong film, one that plays on a time-honored theme in an interesting way, pushing the limits of Stewart and Eisenberg’s acceptable roles in the process.

The Lesson:

Jesse Eisenberg, still uncomfortable smoking a cigarette. It’s as if he never smoked Basic Lights in an alleyway behind his mom’s house.

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Movie Breakdown: People Places Things (Noah)

August 17, 2015

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The Impression:

Though the moniker doesn’t really elevate my perceptions of this past standard indie New York romance, the presence of Jemaine Clement and Stephanie Allynne peaks my interest. Slightly.

The Reality:

People Places Things, James C. Strouse’s new film, is, well, a pretty low-key affair. Which, I suppose, isn’t exactly a bad thing when you’re telling the story of two parents (Jemaine Clement and Stephanie Allynne) and the mild aftermath of their split-up. You know, life happens, usually without dramatic fireworks or clearly marked transitions, and, knowingly or not, Strouse manages to impress that slow transitional feeling on his film. Clement’s Will Henry is a struggling comic book artist and his former lover/”baby’s mama” is an independently wealthy stay-at-home mom who kicks Will to the door when she realizes her life isn’t what she thought of it. A year later, where the film picks up, Will is trying to figure out how to be a single dad, a responsible human being, and a comic book creator. And that’s about it. Sprouse, again purposefully or not, seems to be reflecting the general mundanity of human life and love – we meet, we like each other, we possibly procreate, feelings change, we split up, stop, start, repeat. And sure, this sort of reflection is a truer reflection, but does it make for a good film? Kind of. Though it is nice to see a romantic comedy not push into the “meet cute” tropes, and instead focus on a transitional period (post-love to pre-love), the film doesn’t have much an engine. Will sort of stumbles around in his life, a sort of hipster Mrs. Doubtfire (without the old lady makeup) half-assedly fucking things up while equally half-assedly being schooled by a little thing called life. Without the benefit of standard, well, narrative points (and they are there, just buried beneath modest filmmaking), Sprouse’s film lulls, pretty much constantly, and when the lulling has become too much, he sort of awkwardly stuffs in a bit of plot to shamble the story along. It makes for an undefined feeling piece of cinema, never really touching down on what it wants to be – comedy, drama, family film – instead, just sort of floating above the concept of definition. Jemaine Clement continues to impress as a Will Henry, bringing a sort of sharp-edged stoner-like delivery to every scene. Clearly, he’s a talent, but films like this always make me pine for a Hollywood where a textured human being like Clement could be a leading man. He leads a solid team of actors though, and even if Sprouse struggles to find his film’s place, it never veers from the path of fairly enjoyable. We live in a world where Indie Films aren’t based on budgetary concerns, they’re an aesthetic we strive to fill. And as much as this film falls into that category, it never finds its place within it.

The Lesson:

Jemaine Clement, all day every day. Ooh baby.

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Movie Breakdown: The End Of The Tour

August 14, 2015

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The Impression:

I’ve never read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, but I’m still all in for The End Of The Tour since it looks like the kind of heartfelt, conversation-heavy film that I tend to have a soft spot for.

The Reality:

The End Of The Tour is one of those films that will either fill you with delight or make you want to roll your eyes right out of your head.  It consists of a series of conversations between two writers – David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and David Lipsky (Jessie Eisenberg) – and that’s about it.  There’s no sweeping climactic moment or anything like that.  It’s really just two guys who are hanging around, eating bad food and doing their best to figure the other person out in the short time they’ve been allotted together.  I loved it.  It’s easily the best thing Jason Segel has ever done (Jessie Eisenberg is good too, but like always, he’s just portraying Jessie Eisenberg), James Ponsoldt’s direction is nearly flawless and I found every single conversation in the film to be interesting and worth paying attention to.  I, however, can totally see how someone could find The End Of The Tour to be a pretentious wad of doom.  There’s a lot of talk about fame, what a means to be a writer and so on, and it’s not a stretch to think that some folks will just find it to be entirely snobby.

My recommendation for you in regards to The End Of The Tour is to see it as soon as you can.  Unless, of course, you’re not really into artsy, talky films.  Then you shouldn’t see it.  Because it will probably make you want to run out of the theater.

The Lesson:

I should read Infinite Jest.  But I won’t.  That thing just seems like an enormous undertaking.

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Movie Breakdown: Straight Outta Compton (Noah)

August 13, 2015

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The Impression:

I’m horribly opposed to “entire career/life” biographical films, but, I love rap music. Thus, a film following the entire career of a rap band is a bit of moral quandary for me.

The Reality:

Biographical films, as a whole, don’t work for me. Too often, directors attempt to funnel the wild complexities of a human life into a story shaped mold, highlighting big, Hollywood-ready moments between an arbitrary start and stop point (usually a death). They turn the peaks and valleys of human emotion and experience into a flat, palatable film – more a chronicle of events, then an actual representation of the person on screen. F. Gary Gray falls into this trap in his two and half hour film about the rise, fall and general importance of Compton rap group, N.W.A. Though it starts strong, with a beautifully tense and violent scene featuring Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and a drug deal gone horribly wrong, with at times, graphic depictions of the struggles of growing up in Compton in the 1980s, the film quickly falls into the rote routines of films of this ilk. We watch Dre (Kevin Durant lookalike Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (Cube’s own son, and eerie likeness, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and MC Ren (the wide-eyed Aldis Hodges) slowly come together, slowly produce music we all know will be revolutionarily inspirational and then, with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in full phone-in “I’m the only person ever cast as a manager” mode) behind them, become, gasp, a rap group with the power to change the world. Parties are had, big houses and cars are purchased, and then, gasp again, success changes them, and we watch the group’s decline, and then, third gasp, their inevitable attempts at a reunion. It is, quite frankly, every music biography ever, but with a hip-hop soundtrack. It isn’t bad, F. Gary Gray manages to imbue it with a sort of raw energy that reflects the spirit of the group and the actors, though saddled with cliches and platitudes seemingly pulled from the biographical music film bible, ably bring, with some dalliances into imitation, their own takes on these rap legends. It hums along for a while, skating on the thin ice of nostalgic remembrance, but after a bit, once it becomes clear that this will be a film firmly playing in the sandbox of other films just like it, it sort of becomes a sodden trudge towards the inevitable, historical conclusion. It’s hard to say if this is the film’s fault or the film’s lackluster intention to chronicle instead of comment, but whatever it is, it relegates what could be great to merely fair.

The Lesson #1:

Aside from a bevy of boobs and sex (in a slice of scenes) this film is surprisingly un-gritty. I expected every scene to be filled with blunts and babes, but Gray seemed to check off a few boxes for “40s”, “blowjobs” and “weed” and then expected the rest of the film to maintain the texture of this notoriously hard-partying group. Let’s not stereotype our rap celebrities, but let’s at least show the reality of the situation.

The Lesson #2:

Gray balances a fine line here of chronicling the gratuitous spending, drug use and misogyny and glorifying it. Are we supposed to cringe when Ice Cube pushes a half-naked woman (just moments earlier giving head to Eazy-E) into a hallway and telling her to get the fuck out or cheer? My audience thought cheer. That’s a problem.

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Movie Breakdown: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Noah)

August 13, 2015

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The Impression:

Guy Ritchie, post-crime-flicks and post-Swept-Away has actually developed into a consistently entertaining, stylish director. I look forward to his films. And with this one starring Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) and two slabs of rock chiseled into the shape of men, I’m borderline excited.

The Reality:

If you’re looking for subtext and strong character development and a plot that’s full of twists and turns – go watch one of Mendes’ Bond flicks. But, if you want a bunch of very attractive people playing some solid spy archetypes over a fantastically stylish pastiche of a whole bunch of the best of the 60s spy films? Well then my anonymous friends, this is the film for you. Over his last three movies Guy Ritchie has ably managed to tweak his filmic style away from, at times, unwatchable and hyperkinetic, down to something more akin to his early work. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t shy away from style – in all honesty, it’s pretty much a very well done exercise in visual aesthetics – but also allows Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, and Alicia Vikander to revel in the uber-cool silliness of their stock spy characters. Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, a former thief and now, super-American spy who’s tasked with partnering up with K.G.B. behemoth Illya (Mr. Hammer) to find and protect Gabby Heller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a nuclear physicist. In short, things happen, bad guys appear, so on and so forth – but mostly, the three leads get to embody the very essence of bad-ass 60s spy. Hammer, though saddled with a Russian accent, plays a giant of a man with a pained interior with gusto though I wished we could’ve actually seen the violent rage that they merely hinted at. Cavill’s Solo is the very best kind of one note, pearly-smiled cardboard cutout that Ritchie bounces scenario after scenario against, slowly revealing the edges of his character. I’ve been curious about Cavill since Man of Steel, and after seeing his edgy charm in this film, I’m curious to see what’s next. Vikander is the best of the lot, the sort of girl next door character (if the girl next door was an extremely attractive Hollywood actress) that fits right in with the statues she calls male co-leads. Aside from acting though, this is Ritchie’s film, a beautifully slammed together mish-mash of style that feels like Tarantino-lite. No stylistic device is unused – split scenes, tracking shots, huge over-the-top crane shots, etc. – and somehow, it never feels oversaturated. What Ritchie does best though is music, gracefully soundtracking the film with a barrage of obscure, and not so obscure, 60s hits that create the backbone and the rhythm for which it moves. Songs start and stop as the action progresses, and more than once I felt the need to pump my fist as a song roared back to life. This isn’t Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, hell, it isn’t even Mission Impossible, but it’s fun, and after a summer of stupid blockbusters that hit my brain like a napkin full of wet bird shit, dumb fun done well, was just what I needed.

The Lesson:

I’m giving Ritchie some serious credit here for turning his shit around, but don’t get me wrong, all of this credit will come crashing to the ground post-King Arthur.

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Movie Breakdown: Straight Outta Compton

August 12, 2015

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The Impression:

The story behind the beloved/infamous hip hop group NWA is now a film directed by F. Gary Gray (his last quality effort was 2003′s Italian Job).  If anything, the music will be good.

The Reality:

Straight Outta Compton turned out to be a lot different than I was expecting it to be.  I figured it would detail the rise and fall of NWA, slap some “and here’s what happened later” bits of info on the screen and then call it a day.  Nope.  While it definitely chronicles the rise and fall of NWA, there’s also Ice Cube’s solo debut, the later dealings of Ruthless Records, the creation of Death Row Records, Dr. Dre’s solo debut and on and on until you get an update on what the former members of the group are doing right at this very moment (seriously, like, right now).  This, as you can imagine, makes for a long film (the runtime is just under two and a half hours) that features a whole lot for your brain to follow.  Thankfully, most of what you get to see is either entertaining or interesting, and if you’re a fan of NWA (or just hip hop in general) then I think you’ll appreciate all the extra details.  Where the film stumbles though – and what ultimately makes it feel long – is with its quieter moments, which just aren’t handled particularly well by director F. Gary Gray.  They’re all fairly cliche and too melodramatic, and when the film is constantly ping ponging around between that stuff and engaging, lively showcases of NWA’s cultural impact, Straight Outta Compton becomes a grind by the time you get to the final act.  So in other words, the movie is good and totally worth your time, but don’t be surprised if at some point you start shuffling in your seat and wondering when it’ll end.

The Lesson:

O’Shea Jackson Jr. looks so much like his dad that I’m just going to assume he’s actually a clone.

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Movie Breakdown: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

August 12, 2015

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The Impression:

Guy Ritchie’s first non-Sherlock Holmes film in six years is a big screen version of a 60s TV show.  I guess I’m excited?  The trailers have mostly just shown off the movie’s roster of pretty faces – Henry Cavill, Arnie Hammer, Alicia Vikander – and not a lot else.

The Reality:

2015 has already delivered two great spy flicks – Kingsmen: The Secret Service and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.  The former is a stylish, edgy film and the latter is a big, fun summer blockbuster.  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seems to want to be a mix of both Kingsmen and Rogue Nation, but it doesn’t quite get the formula right.  On one hand it looks and sounds fantastic because Guy Ritchie knows how to stimulate the senses (and the main cast is made up only of really beautiful people), but on the flip side there’s just not much else worth noting.  There aren’t any big, memorable action scenes, most of the characters aren’t given much to do outside of simply quipping at one another, and the story itself just isn’t all that interesting (something something the bad guys have a nuclear device).  It is, as a wise man once said, all style and no substance.

By the way, I will totally acknowledge that I’ve never seen a single moment of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV show, so it’s entirely possible that the movie is just like it and will make those of you who are fans all super giddy and whatnot.  If you’re not a hardcore lover of the show though and you just want to see a good spy movie, I think you could do a whole lot better than the big shoulder shrug that is The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Wait for this one to hit the small screen before bothering with it.

The Lesson:

Henry Cavill is a really chiseled one trick pony, isn’t he?

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Movie Breakdown: The End Of The Tour (Noah)

August 11, 2015

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The Impression:

I have to say that a film about a 6-day interview between David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky does peak my interest. But I also spent four months reading Infinite Jest. So, my level of non-bias prediction is probably low.

The Reality:

James Ponsoldt isn’t a man that wants his movies to hurry. He made The Spectacular Now and Smashed, two slow, even pensive documentations of deeply flawed relationships. Both of them are beautiful, strangely engrossing films, but neither would be, by anyone but a cine-sloth, referred to as pulsing with energy. No sir. These are films about the slow, natural rhythms of life, and Ponsoldt has no problem with just putting that out there. Thus, The End of the Tour, a feature film recreation of the six-day interview between Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal – and yes, you can believe the hype) and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), is a perfect sort of film for him. Don’t go into this thinking with a traditional narrative mind. It doesn’t have big moments, it doesn’t have a sneaky reveals, it doesn’t have romance or explosions or a blatant 5-act arc to lull our media saturated brains into silence. No. It’s really, honestly, just a beautifully shot film about two writers learning to know and enjoy each other’s company. At least on the surface. The six-day trip that followed the end of DFW’s Infinite Jest book tour certainly illuminates what was a seminal friendship for Lipsky and it certainly gives free reign for Ponsoldt and Segal to let the brilliant brain of DFW out on to the screen (his speech about shyness and using his significant others was a particular favorite of mine). But what got me, what continues to linger in my brain, is the just-below-the-surface study of the interplay between writer and subject, interviewer and interviewee; the way as a journalist, our interactions with, well, everyone are tainted by this insatiable, at times horrible, curiosity. Lipsky and DFW in the film are, ostensibly, friends (or people who enjoy each other at the least) but the power dynamic between them exists just below the surface, spurned on by DFW’s constant acknowledgement of said power dynamic. The moments in the film that pop (and, purposefully, there aren’t a lot) do so because Ponsoldt lets this idea stagnate between them, entangling them in the structure of friendship, before pulling the carpet out from under them, exposing what really lies below. Ponsoldt never staggers into melodrama, or barely drama, but the way he manages to craft this relationship between two people on opposite sides of so many creative spectrums is fantastic. There’s a real comfort to the film. Ponsoldt uses the tropes of a road-trip film – nasty car, ladies, diners, etc. – but by placing two brilliant minds within them, it lowers the dislike of quotable smart people, and makes the audience a willing tag-a-long. This is a film I could sit and dissect for hours, or, and this is because of the charm of the cast and the direction, a film I could just have rolling in the background, a companion, a hirsute friend who likes to chat.

The Lesson:

In the words of my friend David Gardner, “Jesse Eisensberg looks uncomfortable doing everything, but he looks especially uncomfortable smoking a cigarette.”

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Movie Breakdown: The Look Of Silence (Noah)

August 11, 2015

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The Impression:

I didn’t see Joshua Oppenheimer’s original documentary, The Act of Killing, about the mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960s, but from everything I’ve heard it was fantastic. Brutal, but fantastic. I’m imagining this, a companion piece, will follow suit.

The Reality:

Writing about a film like The Look of Silence isn’t exactly easy. I can’t just write, this film was good, or this film was bad, or wow, I sure did/didn’t like this film because the film itself is such a heart-wrenching peek into the horrors that live in seemingly every human – it sort of belies criticism. Oppenheimer, calling this a companion piece, follows Adi Ruskan, the brother of a man murdered for being a Communist, as he speaks to the men who ordered the killings, enacted the killings, and their families. Spliced together with interviews with his family, and moments of him watching Oppenheimer’s original film, The Look of Silence creates a small, subtle portrait of the irrevocable damage this sort of mass trauma inflicts upon a populace, and the ways we as humans try to bury it. Ruskan speaks to men who talk, without remorse or disgust or apparent regret, about killing men and drinking their blood, about cutting off penises, and slaughtering hundreds. He speaks to their families who feign ignorance or try to convince him that their parents are good people, caught up in the tide of something terrible. Even Ruskan’s uncle, old and wasting away in a retirement community, admits to guarding the prisoners. There is no escape but, seemingly, forgetting, for the people affected by these terrible killings. Is the film good? It’s powerful. It’s beautifully shot. It skews away from the standard talking head interview/documentary footage structure of, well, every documentary these days. And, best of all, it isn’t specific about what’s it trying to show you. Yes, clearly, these men are bad, horrible even, but Oppenheimer doesn’t make this film about how awful they are, instead, he makes a film about the affects of how awful they were. On them, on Adi Ruskan, on the entire country. And it is a quietly brutal experience. Did I like this film? Who cares. Should you watch it? Yes.

The Lesson:

Oppenheimer is two films in and already established as one of the great documentarians of our time. Not bad Joshie.

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Movie Breakdown: The Gift

August 7, 2015

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The Impression:

Things get weird for Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall when Joel Edgerton opts to make himself a part of their lives.  I’m in, if only to see Bateman do something other than be sarcastic.

The Reality:

The Gift is, well, a gift.  Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are in need of a fresh start, so they make a big move and in the process of getting settled they happen to get re-acquainted with someone that Simon went to high school with.  All seems fine, but Gordo (Joel Edgerton in full-on maybe-he’s-bad-or-maybe-he-isn’t mode) is too eager to please, too intrusive and too socially off, so Simon brings their friendship to an abrupt and awkward end.  Normally, this where most thrillers change gears, become horror-enthused and allow the jilted party to start murdering people and shit.  Thankfully, The Gift doesn’t do this.  Edgerton (here making his directorial debut) instead pushes you further down the rabbit hole.  Is Gordo actually crazy?  Is Simon just an asshole?  Is Robyn too nice?  Why won’t Simon talk about he and Gordo’s time in high school together?  Why do each of them seem to be hiding something?  What’s everyone after?  There are a lot of threads to explore, and Edgerton wonderfully touches on each them while leaving you completely torn in regards to whose side you should be on.  Hell, even when The Gift wrapped and the credits hit the screen, I was still split on who won and who lost.  Well played, Edgerton.

I won’t say that Edgerton’s first go-round in the director’s chair is perfect – it moves a little slow and feels a tad bit long – but overall it’s a stellar psychological thriller that will give your head a nice swirl.  See it immediately.

The Lesson:

Joel Edgerton is a quality storyteller and I’m very much looking forward to whatever he directs next.

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