Masterminds

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Release: Friday, September 30, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Bowman; Hubbel Palmer; Emily Spivey

Directed by: Jared Hess

Masterminds didn’t need to be masterfully made to be effective, but a little discipline could have gone a long way.

Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre), the film is a comedic dramatization of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The story made national headlines when an employee made off with $17.3 million from the bank’s vault, making it at the time the second-largest cash heist in American history, second only to a Jacksonville, Florida incident seven months prior in which the same bank lost $18.8 million to the driver of an armored vehicle transporting the cash. Not a great year for Loomis Fargo, admittedly.

The details of the heist seem ripe for the tabloids, or even a solid comedic outing. Hess adopts the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction angle by going balls-out on the zaniness and slapstick elements, employing star Zach Galifianakis‘ trademark gooberisms to often irritating effect. Masterminds is a film stuck on one setting and it never demonstrates aspirations to become something more . . . not even important, but watchable. A collaborative screenplay is only ever interested in puerile jokes, making fun of “simple Southern folk” and accommodating Galifianakis and his weirdness.

David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) is the focus of this southern-fried farce. He’s a loyal employee of his local bank although quite the simpleton. He has a crush on a girl he works with, a Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) who suddenly quits her job because it sucks, basically. She falls in with a rough crowd and cozies up to the bad news Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), who has this idea to take that branch for all it’s worth. Good thing Kelly happens to know someone on the inside that she can manipulate/seduce into pulling it all off.

Masterminds is aggressively unfunny. Having absolutely no faith that the sheer absurdity of the actual circumstances will do much of the work for them, the filmmakers overcompensate, aiming for the lowest common denominator as loud farts, sweaty redneck culture and Wiig’s cleavage become major talking points. Galifianakis tries his best to make us empathize with David but he can’t. And he doesn’t get much help from the rest of the ensemble, as Wiig looks bored, Owen Wilson is still just Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon lay two distinctly rotten eggs — the former playing the world’s worst hitman and the latter David’s psychotic country bumpkin fiancée. (If you somehow make it through the film’s opening 10 minutes or so, you might as well stay. McKinnon features prominently here and she’s the worst part of the film.)

You’d think with Wilson’s casting there’d be an element of Bottle Rocket to proceedings in this heist film, but sadly that film with made-up characters feels more authentic than this one based upon real individuals. What we have here are caricatures who shout dumb things, make weird noises and enthusiastically check off items from a master list presumably titled ‘Things Everyone Who Has Never Lived There Hates About the South.’ The movie doesn’t mean to offend but it does when the whole thing is just so inept.

Recommendation: Offensively low joke-to-laugh ratios can be found in Masterminds, an ill-advisedly goofy recreation of a bizarre real-world bank heist. If you have love for any of the actors in this movie, I have to say you should try and keep that love going by outright skipping this turkey. A deep-fried, southern turkey covered in about as many stereotypes as you can think of. Zach Galifianakis is only as good as the material he works with, so here I have to say he’s actually pretty awful.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “Katie Candy Cane . . . is she a stripper?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Lost River

 

Release: Friday, April 10, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Ryan Gosling

Directed by: Ryan Gosling

On a scale of crypticness, Lost River sits right in between the obtuseness of garden variety Terrence Malick and Ryan Gosling’s second collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn, though the distances are pretty great on either side. It doesn’t come close to even appearing to profess thematic profundity like Malick’s work, though it doesn’t share a disdain for accessibility quite like Only God Forgives.

Given a chance to have full artistic control of his own project, Gosling proves his oddness runs deeper than his strong-but-silent types as of late, for Lost River is its own world, one which few are likely going to want to visit anytime soon. Rampant with poverty, violence and haunting (haunted?) characters, the titular town epitomizes economic collapse. It’s a ghost town strewn with a few souls still desperately hanging on to life. A horror film in which reality has been forsaken for surreality and an oppressive sense of hopelessness. If it sounds like I enjoyed this piece, it’s because I did.

Then again, for all its indulgences in style and a plethora of other barricades to most reasonable viewers, maybe ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong term. For a time I sat in awe of what Gosling was trying to express through a melange of vivid, bizarre images comprised mostly of things on fire and buildings being swallowed up by natural environs. That was before I tired of drinking in admittedly gorgeous visuals, my brain thirsting instead for real, useful information. Around 30 minutes in Gosling’s inexperience writing a story and directing it with focus and purpose becomes all too evident.

Some semblance of story revolves around single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her son Bones (Iain de Caestecker), scrambling for the money to keep a roof over their heads. Billy is told by a corrupt bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) that he knows of a way she can cover at least the next three months’ payments, but she’ll have a hard time saving face — almost literally — by taking up this unscrupulous offer. Meanwhile, Bones goes searching for scrap copper wiring from which he hopes to earn whatever cash he can by selling it to a junkyard. Or is that a cleverly concealed graveyard for anyone who has tried to make something of themselves in this place?

Bones is more successful instigating the ire of the psychotic Bully (Dr. Who‘s Matt Smith) who gets a thrill from parading through the town, terrorizing anyone within earshot (of a loudspeaker) from his armchair affixed atop a white convertible. All that’s missing from the scene is a justified second gunman on the grassy knoll. Someone please snipe this bastard. On the flip side of the coin: Billy now finds herself working at the burlesque night club from Hell, where performances, led by Eva Mendes’ Cat, emphasize realistic murders designed to titillate audiences whose tastes in entertainment would be pointless to elucidate they are so baffling. So off-putting. A seeming reflection of how most have come to regard Gosling’s directorial debut.

The kicker though, is that I don’t think my finding of that parallel is forced by some twisted means of trying to defend the film. While Lost River meanders (and it does it so much it isn’t a film to watch with the lights off I’ve found out — not so much for the nightmarish imagery but the slumber it can cast you off into) the scenes in the night club encapsulate Gosling’s obsession with distancing himself from the typical narrative package. Acquired taste? Yes. Do I smell a hint of pretentiousness here? Also, yes. But let’s, for a second, pretend that word doesn’t exist and recognize Gosling’s strengths as an actor first and foremost and quite likely as an individual second. He’s one with uncommon style, an expert on esoteric self-expression, though none of that ever fully justifies his shortcomings as director and writer.

The film ends miserably — not thematically but in terms of satisfaction — and this is where any reasonable defense similarly must come to an end. If the joke has been how ridiculously abstract a film can be made with a limited budget and even more limited experience, the punchline isn’t a punchline. Gosling fucks up the joke. I was, for the most part, humored by some of the things he was presenting in the form of the downtrodden, the sleaziness of an ever-reliable Ben Mendelsohn, the purity of Matt Smith’s mania. Or maybe I was in some weird way trying to humor him by putting myself through a film that I can’t deny is far too reminiscent of Refn, Malick and any number of established filmmakers who have made a career out of the abstract and thematically impenetrable. David Lynch seems to be cropping up often in the conversation as well.

I hope I’m not patronizing too much here by saying that Lost River is, at the very least, eye-catching. It spills forth from Gosling’s mind, a stream of consciousness showered in stark imagery that won’t disappear easily from your own.

Recommendation: Lost River represents Ryan Gosling echoing perhaps too loudly the stylistic flourishes of those he looks up to but it’s a gorgeous film and a curious one that I’d recommend to anyone who thinks Gosling and Refn have something unique to offer. And if you gave a thumbs-up to Only God Forgives, there’s no reason you won’t be able to find things to like with this one. Lost River will fail to attract many outside of those circles, though and that’s unfortunate.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Everyone is looking for a better life somewhere else.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Purge: Anarchy

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014

[Theater]

The Purge: Anarchy offers you yet another chance to let it all out with a second blood-splattering of twisted social commentary.

Instead of running around blindly inside a house defending ourselves from masked invaders as we had done only last summer with the Sandins, now we band together with several nondescript characters in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. It’s the year 2023 and the sixth annual purge is set to commence. Get your shotguns ready, kiddies.

There was so much lost in the transfer of The Purge from script to screen. This grisly thriller was so ineffective in selling its audiences that a sequel became necessary as if to say, “Oh yeah! Wait. Here’s what we meant.” Though the acting isn’t much of an improvement, getting out of the house has proven to be the healthiest thing for this possible franchise-in-the-making.

One of the great missteps made by DeMonaco and company last year was stunting the growth of some of the admittedly intriguing concepts, about how one man’s choice to kill a fellow human being would invariably differ from the man standing to his left or his right. Or about how class struggles between the very wealthy and the destitute could make the choice to murder a much easier, and possibly even an economical one. What The Purge boiled down to was a luke-warm home invasion procedure, where audiences were relegated to surviving jump scares and a few squirts of blood as forms of entertainment.

The Purge: Anarchy actually stumbles just as much as its predecessor, almost as if it were stabbed in the gut, but the novelty of this evening and the concept manifest themselves in more convincing ways this time around. There’s more to focus on here. More by which to become distracted from the cheesy dialogue and over-acting. Rather than running into dead ends and hallway doors every ten minutes, DeMonaco’s new script presents more characters, more creative kills and more ethical dilemmas to mix up the tension, the violence and the surprises in a much more engaging way that The Purge simply wasn’t able to. Instead of centering around an average family that failed to really gain our sympathy, even as they were being invaded on this horrible night, we now become drawn into a cauldron of desperation and panic via three different walks of life.

We are firstly introduced to a mother-daughter dynamic between a woman who works in a diner, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). Eva’s working hard to earn a raise so she’ll be able to afford her father’s medicine, medicine that’s apparently not having much of an impact on whatever his ailment is. The second perspective comes in the form of a young couple fallen on hard times and actually considering separating soon — Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez portray Shane and Liz who are driving to a safe place before the commencement of the purge before they predictably break down in an unsafe part of town. Then, of course, we get the requisite battle-hardened man, a man who knows what real loss feels like. Frank Grillo seems somewhat suited for the job and is Anarchy‘s most interesting character by a long shot.

He’s relatively boring still. And a bad cliché at that. This is to suggest the rest of the ensemble are completely stock characters, and they are. There’s not a single trait among the four others that rings the bell of originality, and oftentimes many of them are completely frustrating. Cali’s infatuation with Sergeant is most vividly irritating, though the dynamic between them is not as bad, ironically, as the one between her and her on-screen mother.

But we’re not here to scrutinize every last performance. To do so in Anarchy would render this review a rant, for at least The Purge had Ethan Hawke. It wasted Ethan Hawke, but it did have him in it. Maybe it ought to be considered a consolation prize being dubbed a waste in these films. Hawke was underused and underwritten in 2013 whereas Grillo has to contend with a thoroughly expressionless and stiff character whose ultimate trajectory is one of complete predictability.

Fortunately, the bloodletting and the overarching narrative that is Anarchy isn’t quite as much. Each group of characters journey through this night in different stages of shock and each have different reactions, which allows for easier access into this world as compared to a snooty family being protected by a modern fortress. Far be it from me to tell the director how to shoot his own work, but this approach to his curious ethical dilemma here is far more interesting and says much more about the human condition than whatever it was that he came up with a year ago.

If you want to remember all the good the purge does, may I recommend you see this film rather than what came before it.

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“O fuck’s sake, this again?”

2-5Recommendation: Though still engorged with its share of narrative flaws, character woes, and thematic tenuity, The Purge: Anarchy is, at the end of the day, a mark of maturity. There are expansions in almost every direction and the most rewarding one is the physical: the setting helps to actually crank up the tension, whereas the home setting in the previous did everything it could to water down what could have been an additionally chilling indictment of a culture increasingly infatuated with violence as a means of self-expression. And I honestly would give the rare recommendation of seeing the second film before the first.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “People like us don’t survive tonight!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Basketball Diaries (1995)

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The fourth and final installment in the NBApril segment of Throwback Thursday is already here. Well, goodbye April. Sorry you couldn’t stick around for longer. . . . . . . . . . . And also, apologies that this month could not have ended on a better note. I guess this is just going to be one of those times where a little bit of forethought or organization to the list of movies I was planning on watching this month might have helped. A little secret: not all of the films on this feature are ones I have seen before and technically speaking they are brand-new films to me, and therefore some reviews may be different than the ones I might or could write if I had memories about the film in question. Therefore, I kind of am breaking my rules for the TBT set-up a little bit, but I’m young and unruly and get out of my way or you’ll pay, listen to what I say. And with that attitude in mind, let’s jump right into blabbering on about 

Today’s food for thought: The Basketball Diaries. 

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Release: April 21, 1995

[Netflix]

Less about basketball than it was about addiction to hard drugs, The Basketball Diaries was a tough film and an even tougher film to appreciate, much less enjoy. Though it boasted a thoroughly gripping performance from an incredibly young Leo and saw Markie-Mark transitioning nicely from hip-hop headphone to the grainy celluloid of the mid-90s, the film ultimately failed to amount to anything more than an aggressively anti-drug public service announcement.

The Basketball Diaries is the kind of movie I imagine would function fairly effectively as a freshman and/or sophomore phys-ed or wellness class educational film. The St. Vitus Cardinals might have gone down in high school legend as the definitive cautionary tale of students pondering a life road less traveled. . .for damn good reason. I

Granted, this was a fact-based adaptation — a loose one at that — of the autobiography written by Jim Carroll, who had later gone on to become a published writer after a brush with death when he fell into a serious drug addiction at the age of 13, quit his basketball team and dropped out of school.

Clearly, the film had no commitment to presenting any sort of crowd-pleasing elements considering it was charged with depicting such terrible and alarmingly commonplace poor decision-making in the underprivileged youth. This was (and remains) a disturbing reality for millions, though after sitting through The Basketball Diaries just one time, one wished they had had just a little more time to prepare themselves for the unexpected sermon that was to come.

An in-diapers DiCaprio was tapped to portray 12-to-16-year-old Jim Carroll, who’s first seen as part of an unstoppable high school basketball team in New York’s Lower East Side. Twenty-one-year-old DiCaprio imbued Jim, a young boy with few healthy outlets or interests, with an aggressive and voracious appetite for finding trouble. Jim’s refusal to play by the rules was impressive work considering it was little Leo’s fourth or fifth big-screen appearance. Jim’s friends were perhaps even worse, particularly the loud-mouthed and brutish Mickey (Wahlberg). A quiet kid named Pedro (James Madio) and the comparatively level-headed Neutron (Patrick McGaw) — ohhh!!! I get the nick-name now! — rounded out the rat-pack of tragic city-bound gadabouts.

The Basketball Diaries made one simple but glaring error in its harrowing depiction of several lives corrupted by narcotics. It forgot to create empathetic characters. Equally possibly, it refused to. Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey in particular was impossible to care about as he remained a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (Rare is it in a film when one finds themselves so turned off by the characters they wind up rooting for their demise.) Jim and company fall so hard the punishing scenes later on became redundant.

The film’s sloppy, underdeveloped writing didn’t help matters either. While the stalwart performances from Leo and Markie-Mark managed to make up for whatever character depiction was also probably missing in the script, the two budding actors couldn’t save the film’s lack of true suspense-building as every step of the way was one predictable fall from grace to the next. Slumming it through The Basketball Diaries felt akin to playing a game of Mario where all you do is fall down the levels, never able to catch a break and ascend back up.

Well-intentioned, The Basketball Diaries was frustratingly one-note and challenges the viewer to the extreme in terms of offering reasons to empathize, provided the obnoxious characters and the cold indifference of their self-created realities. The script made stabbing attempts at making Jim three-dimensional at the very least, using the occasional voiceover by DiCaprio to instill some sense of passion for life that the boy still clung to, even during his most desperate days. The rest, meanwhile, remained helpless as the script damned them to their predictable fates. Since getting close to these people wasn’t possible, it felt more like good riddance than it did good-bye.

Unfortunately, the film failed to go to the more thoughtful, reflective places more often. Jim’s ability to write about his world offered fleeting moments of lucidity and even hope, though wallowing in darkness and despair was favored more often, as was relying on the cold calculations of the world to provide answers to whatever it was these lost people were looking for in life. A largely unsatisfying yet jarring film experience.

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2-5Recommendation: The Basketball Diaries is an effective piece of D.A.R.E. propaganda (with which I have no arguments against, death at the hands of hard drugs like heroin is a terrible tragedy) but it borders on being too heavy-handed and monotonous. Leo DiCaprio fans should probably see it for another good, early performance but for anyone out of the loop on this, they aren’t missing much by not venturing down this dark avenue.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “You’re growing up. And rain sort of remains on the branches of a tree that will someday rule the Earth. And it’s good that there is rain. It clears the month of your sorry rainbow expressions, and it clears the streets of the silent armies… so we can dance.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.soundgardenworld.com; http://www.imdb.com