American Animals


These aren’t your father’s Reservoir Dogs although they may look it.

(2018) True Crime (The Orchard) Evan Peters, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Udo Kier, Jared Abrahamson, Drew Starkey, Lara Grice, Jane McNeill, Wayne Duvall, Gary Basaraba, Kevin L. Johnson, Whitney Goin, Jason Caceres, Gretchen Koerner, Elijah Everett, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk, Betty Jean Gooch. Directed by Bart Layton

Everything looks easier in the movies. Real life is significantly harder. In real life, the hero doesn’t get the girl let alone ride off into the sunset with her, luck doesn’t side with the virtuous and crime never ever pays.

In 2004, Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky was rocked by the violent robbery that took place in their rare books section. It was further rocked when it turned out that the perpetrators were students attending the university (and the neighboring University of Kentucky). All of the criminals came from well-to-do or at least comfortably middle class families. None of them had a history of criminal behavior. So what happened?

Layton, a veteran British TV documentarian with one previous feature film (The Imposter) to his credit, fuses comedy and drama along with the documentary in this his first narrative feature film in a startling mash-up that moves at a frenetic pace like the best of Steven Soderbergh’s heist movies. He casts a quartet of talented young actors to play the leads and then utilizes the actual subjects themselves to insert commentary that is often contradictory as human recollection often is, and at times even interact with their fictional selves.

The mastermind is Warren Lipka (Peters), a young man who suspects that he will lead an unremarkable life, a fate worse than death in his opinion. If he doesn’t have the temperament or the skills to do something for the betterment of all, well it’s better to be infamous than un-famous. His childhood best friend is Spencer Reinhard (Keoghan), who while touring his university is shown the John James Audubon first edition Birds of America, one of the most valuable books in the world and one that happens to be housed at Transylvania University. When he remarks upon it to his friend, the wheels begin turning in Lipka’s mind as he sees it as the way to make his mark. He’s seen enough heist movies to know what is needed to make the robbery work.

At first the discussions are all very theoretical but gradually over time these discussions cross the line into planning an actual robbery. The two know they could never pull this off on their own so they rope in fellow students Eric Borsuk (Abrahamson), a mega-organized math whiz, and entitled jock Chas Allen (Jenner) who will drive the getaway car. Their only obstacle; the kindly middle-aged librarian Betty Jean Gooch (Dowd) who is physically present in the library at all times. The boys are confident they can overcome the security measures protecting the book.

While the movie doesn’t have the pizzazz, the flair or the star power of the Oceans franchise, it does have a tone all its own and a unique viewpoint. While the gimmick of conflicting testimony has been used in other movies before (notably and most recently I, Tonya) it is utilized brilliantly here and doesn’t seem gimmicky at all.

This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival; it was also at Sundance where it made a notable splash. There is good reason for both of those facts; this is a wildly entertaining and occasionally poignant film with enough teen hubris to choke a horse. It’s just now completing its theatrical run at the Enzian and will shortly be available on VOD although I would highly recommend that readers in Orlando check it out at the Enzian. While there is one brutal and shocking scene of violence that might be difficult for the sensitive, this is essential viewing and all efforts should be made to see this movie one way or another. The real crime is if you fail to do so.

REASONS TO GO: This is a refreshingly original take on the heist film. Layton mashes up drama, comedy and documentary into a new genre all its own. The pacing is perfect. Fine performances by Keoghan and Jenner.
REASONS TO STAY: There is one scene that may be a little bit too much for those sensitive to violence.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some drug use and a scene of brutal violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the film is set at Transylvania University in Kentucky where the events actually happened, the movie was filmed in North Carolina at Davidson College.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bank Job
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
A Quiet Place

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New Releases for the Week of August 10, 2018


THE MEG

(Warner Brothers) Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson. Directed by Jon Turteltaub

An oceanographer is terrorized by what he claims is a 70-foot shark. Ridiculed and disbelieved, when it turns out that the creature indeed exists and is a prehistoric Megalodon that has somehow survived in the depths of the ocean, he must put aside his fears in order to rescue a trapped submarine.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG -13(for action/peril, bloody images and some language)

A Prayer Before Dawn

(A24) Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai, Vithaya Pansringarm. A young British boxer is incarcerated in two of Thailand’s most brutal prisons. He is allowed to enter a Muay Thai tournament to fight for his freedom, but every fight could be his last  as no holds whatsoever are barred. Based on a true story, the film has been available for DirecTV subscribers for about a month now and is just now seeing a limited theatrical release.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong violence including a brutal rape sequence, drug use and language throughout, some sexual content and nudity)

American Animals

(The Orchard) Evan Peters, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner. A group of young men plan an audacious heist to steal priceless books from a University library. No less audacious is the way director Bart Layton tells the story with the actual participants offering peanut gallery comments. This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material)

BlacKKKlansman

(Focus) John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin. Spike Lee’s latest is based on the true story of an African-American cop who manages to get an in with the KKK over the phone. He is forced to recruit a white cop to play him for face-to-face meetings.

See the trailer, interviews and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references)

Dog Days

(LD Entertainment) Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Eva Longoria. The lives of several L.A. dog owners (and would-be dog owners) intersect through the efforts of their dogs in this ensemble piece that looks  at how our four legged best friends enhance our lives.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude and suggestive content, and for language)

Slender Man

(Screen Gems) Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Javier Botet. A group of friends in a small town in Massachusetts discover the Internet creepypasta figure the Slender Man and set out to disprove his existence. When one of them mysteriously disappears however, their own skepticism begins to crumble.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website</a
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Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language including crude sexual references)

Vishwaroopam 2

(Reliance) Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Shekhar Kapur, Pooja Kumar. After foiling an Al Qaeda plot in New York in the first movie, anti-terrorism expert Wisam chases his quarry as they plan an even more infernal plot to undermine the world’s most stable democracies – including India.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Along Came the Devil
Hope Springs Eternal
On Chesil Beach
Our House
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ashke
Cuban Food Stories
Goodachari
McQueen
Puzzle
Satan’s Slaves
Sergio and Sergei
Srinivasa Kalyanam
Summer of ‘84
What Keeps You Alive

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Far From the Tree
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bag of Marbles
Eating Animals
Srinivasa Kalyanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

American Animals
Blackkklansman
Eating Animals
Far From the Tree
The Meg
Our House
Slenderman
Summer of ‘84

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (Sidney Hall)


The Hollywood version of a writer hard at work.

(2017) Drama (A24) Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Kyle Chandler, Janina Gavankar, Margaret Qualley, Nathan Lane, Blake Jenner, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Drayer, Christine Brucato, Alex Karpovsky, Darren Pettie, David Alan Basche, John Trejo, Danny Cullen, Richard Beal, Ryan Willard, Cris Williams, Stephanie Purpuri. Directed by Shawn Christensen

 

From time to time, people who are at the top of their field, wrapped in success and fame, who simply walk away. It’s an irresistible story for the rest of us who wonder why those folks give up what the rest of us dream of. It is a sign of the prurient side of ourselves.

Sidney Hall (Lerman) is a gifted writer. Ask him; he’ll tell you so. We meet him in a high school writing class in which he has been tasked with writing an essay on the meaning of life. What he delivers is a treatise on his willingness to masturbate over a popular cheerleader and his feeling that he’s wasting his efforts on it. Needless to say, this doesn’t impress the tightly wound English teacher much.

Duane (Abdul-Mateen) knows that Sidney is just breaking the balls of the teacher who doesn’t understand him. He acts as kind of a mentor (and later a literary agent) to Sidney, delivering him to a prestigious publishing house and it’s acerbic editor (Lane). Sidney’s first novel, about the suicide of a high school student, becomes not only a bestseller but a cultural phenomenon and makes him wealthy and a bit of a rock star.

But Sidney’s personal life is a shambles. He left home, getting away from his shrill and controlling mother (Monaghan) and with his high school sweetheart Melody (Fanning) who later becomes his wife. But success breeds some not so pleasant side effects and Sidney’s marriage is crumbling as he becomes more and more self-absorbed. After losing the Pulitzer to another writer and devastated at the end of his marriage, Sidney abruptly disappears from public view.

A series of arsons in bookstores and libraries in which Sidney’s books alone are targeted for burning puts a detective (Chandler) on the trail of Sidney, who has at this point become something of a hobo, riding the rails with his dog Homer. But what motivated Sidney to walk away from everything? What is inside the mysterious box he dug up with his jock friend Brett Newport (Jenner)? Who is the mysterious detective chasing him and why is he so keen to find him? There are ghosts haunting Sidney Hall and perhaps that is why he wants to become one himself.

Director Shawn Christensen has enormous talent; it was clearly on display in his last movie Before I Disappear and there are moments where you can see it in this film. Unfortunately, this is much more of a mess than his last movie was. Christensen has three separate timelines interweaving with one another; Sidney’s last weeks in high school as his relationship with Melody begins and his relationship with Brett is explained. There’s also the apex of his career as a successful writer in his 20s in which his nascent ego has reached full flower, alienating him from just about everyone including his wife. Finally we see him as a lonely and just about psychotic wanderer, cloaked in self-loathing and with only a dog for company.

There are a lot of revelations in the film and to be honest some of them work, others are more on the ludicrous side. Lerman is a fine actor but he’s unconvincing here particularly in some crucial scenes which quite frankly undermines the whole she-bang. He also has almost no chemistry with Fanning whose character is so massively cliché that we’re banging our heads against the wall in frustration.

There are a lot of clichés on display here; the writer in his study, a glass of whiskey beside him, cigarette smoke curling up from his keyboard as he ponders the weight of his next few words. There is in fact a great deal of pretentiousness here, from the condescending dialogue to the portrait of the writer as a young snot. Although we find out near the end of the film that Sidney has suffered greatly at the hands of life, by that time it’s really too late to rescue the character from being someone we can’t stand to be around for very long – and we’re forced to hang out with him for nearly two hours.

Yes, the movie is much too long and feels padded out with gratuitous misery. We get it, Sidney’s life sucks and success isn’t all it’s cut out to be yadda yadda yadda. It doesn’t help that the leaping back and forth from timeline to timeline is done with leaden hands, leaving the audience frustrated yet again.

The sad thing is that there really is a good film somewhere in here. The cast is strong top to bottom and the performances are for the most part compelling; Nathan Lane brings some well-needed levity to the movie and Blake Jenner is surprisingly strong in his role as well. This just feels like a director trying to spread his wings but for whatever reason he plummets from his perch to make a great big ker-splat on the ground. I’m hoping this is just a misstep for Christensen and that we can still expect better things from him in the future. This isn’t going to be one of the highlights on his resume though.

The film is just hitting theaters after a month-long run on DirecTV. It is also still available there for subscribers to that satellite service. Expect it on a larger array of streaming services in the near future if you’re of a mind to see it.

REASONS TO GO: Nathan Lane is always a hoot. There are some really nice cinematic moments. The cast does pretty well in general.
REASONS TO STAY: The storytelling is disjointed and frustrating. The movie goes on way too long. The dialogue and plot are way too pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lerman plays Sidney as a high school student, in his 20s and lastly in his 30s; Lerman is actually 25 years old.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 10% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Listen Up, Philip
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Submission

New Releases for the Week of November 18, 2016


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemFANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

(Warner Brothers) Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, Dan Fogler, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz.  Directed by David Yates

Young magizoologist Newt Scamander is returning home to Hogwart’s after a global tour collecting and cataloging all manner of magical creatures but is stopping in New York City briefly before the final leg home. However, things go dreadfully wrong when a No-Maj (that’s the American term for Muggle) starts a chain reaction of events that leads to the escape of some of the creatures locked in Newt’s magic case which could lead to dire consequences for both the Wizarding and No-Maj worlds. This prequel to the Harry Potter series, penned by J.K. Rowling herself, is set in 1926.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some fantasy action violence)

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

(TriStar) Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund. A 19-year-old soldier becomes a hero after a harrowing battle in Iraq. Returned home for a victory tour, his story is told in flashbacks culminating in a spectacular halftime show at a Thanksgiving Day football game in which he and his fellow soldiers of the Bravo Company are meant to be an integral part. The movie has received some acclaim for the innovative filming techniques used by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee in immersing the viewer in the battle sequences like no other film before it.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content and brief drug use)

Bleed for This

(Open Road) Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds. The pride of Providence, RI, boxer Vinnie “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza is on top of the world. He has just won the world championship and everything is going according to plan. Then, he is involved in a near-fatal car accident and ends up with a broken neck. Surgery that will guarantee that he’ll be able to walk again will end his boxing career so Vinnie elects to go without the surgery, although he could end up in a wheelchair. Told by everyone around him that he can’t do it, Pazienza is determined to go back into the ring – less than a year after the accident took him out of it. This is based on the inspiring true story of a boxer who didn’t have any quit in him.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images)

The Edge of Seventeen

(STX) Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner. There’s nothing more awkward than high school, particularly when you aren’t one of the chosen few. However, when you’re golden boy older brother starts dating your best friend, awkward doesn’t even begin to describe it.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drinking – all involving teens)

Gimme Danger

(Magnolia/Amazon) Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, James Williamson, Scott Asheton. The story of Iggy Pop and the Stooges who came out of Ann Arbor, Michigan in the 1960s and essentially created punk rock a decade before its time, and kicked a hole in rock music during an era when anything and everything went from a musical standpoint. Acclaimed filmmaker Jim Jarmusch takes us through the career of the Stooges and their front man, Iggy Pop, who continues to make relevant music today.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Friday, Saturday and Sunday only)

Rating: R (for drug content and language)

Loving

(Focus) Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas. The important story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in Virginia at a time when living as man and wife was restricted to one’s own race. The two spent nine years fighting the draconian laws that would keep them separated and took their fight all the way to the Supreme Court. The landmark decision made interracial marriage the law of the land.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements)

The Take

(High Top/Focus) Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly. A pickpocket inadvertently foils the plans of a powerful but corrupt group in the French government to steal millions from French banks. He is set up to look like a terrorist and finds himself on the run. A rogue CIA agent realizes what’s happening and the two must join forces in order to take down the conspirators before they’re taken down themselves.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for violence, language and some nudity)

Everybody Wants Some!!


The 70s become the 80s.

The 70s become the 80s.

(2016) Comedy (Paramount) Blake Jenner, Juston Street, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Glen Powell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Courtney Tailor, Taylor Murphy, Christina Burdette, Zoey Deutch, Sophia Taylor Ali, Austin Amelio, Tanner Kalina, Forrest Vickery, Jonathan Breck, Ernest James, Justin Alexio, Celina Chapin, Shailaun Manning. Directed by Richard Linklater

College circa 1980 was a different place than it is now. Back then, there were no cell phones, no laptops, no Internet. There was a lot of sex and while there were sexually transmitted diseases, they could be cured with penicillin. There was a lot more facial hair and your music collection didn’t fit in a small box; you used a milk crate to carry your records around. A lot of things though, haven’t changed.

Linklater, whose last film was Boyhood and elevated him to perhaps the most successful indie director in the business, calls this film a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. None of the characters from that film appear here but I can see his point – while that film took place in the last year of high school, this one takes place in the first year of college.

It follows the members of the fictional Southwest Texas University baseball team during the three day weekend prior to school starting and the fall preview games for the team. It is August in Southwest Texas which means, well, heat, lots of beer and pretty girls wearing hardly a thing. There’s a lot of what we now call “Classic Rock” on the radio (but back then we just called it rock) and it’s about to be morning in America.

Jake (Jenner) is our proxy amongst the jocks. We see things unfold through his eyes. He’s smart enough to know that while he was the star of his high school team, he may not be talented enough to be a starter on this team and as for moving on to the major leagues, probably only McReynolds (Hoechlin) has a shot. But in the meantime, he’s making friends with the other players, including Willoughby (Russell), a California stoner who is kind of a Deepak Chopra of the pitcher’s mound, Finnegan (Powell) who knows that this will be the best time of his life and plans to make the most of it, Jay (Street) with an explosive temper, and Beuter (Brittain) who is an unsophisticated rube.

Over the weekend, the guys bang back beers, smoked a little leaf and do whatever it takes to get laid. All of that rings true to the college experience, then and now. Jake meets a comely freshman theater major (Deutch) and the two begin to hang out and develop something of a romance. Where it will lead is anyone’s guess – after all, we’re talking about the first weekend at college for the both of them.

I think that for the most part Linklater nailed the period (as he usually does) with a few quibbles; the guys play The Legend of Zelda which didn’t come out until the following year, for example nor would it have been likely that a college student had a VCR, which retailed for about $600 back in August 1980. Still, he gets the flavor of the period right.

This is very much a guy’s picture; only the theater major is given any sort of character and most of the women in this film are reduced to being the sexual prey of the baseball players. In a sense, we’re getting the worldview of the jocks – all bros and no hoes. Some viewers might have a problem with that. Still, this is a Linklater film so it’s thoughtful right?

Not so much. In many ways, this is one of his most mindless films yet. I kinda got the sense that this was almost a throwaway movie, one that he didn’t give a lot of thought to (even though it arrives in theaters a year and a half after his last one). To me, it doesn’t have the depth of character that is a hallmark of Linklater’s movies; the characters all seem much more to be stereotypes.

The acting is a little bland as well. The cast is largely unknown and while Jenner stands out by default, the rest perform their roles without distinction but at least without making a mess of it either. Damned by faint praise, I know.

But there is more to the movie than just a great soundtrack (and it really IS great) and capturing its era nicely. This is a Richard Linklater film and even though it will likely not be considered one of his best works, there are still moments that show you how good a director he is and how gifted he is at structuring comedic sequences. There are some really good light-hearted moments. Not the big laughs of a big Hollywood comedy, but the introspective chuckles of recognizing something as ridiculous that perhaps you took part in when you were younger.

I will admit that I’m definitely the target audience for this thing. While I didn’t go to college on an athletic scholarship, I knew some who did and I was there during this precise era (in August 1980 I was starting my Junior year). While I like to think I wasn’t quite so sex-obsessed as these guys were, I probably was – guys that age are hormones on legs. So while this isn’t one of Linklater’s best, it certainly isn’t his worst and even a subpar Linklater movie is worth checking out, and this clearly is worth checking out.

REASONS TO GO: Gets the era dead to rights. Terrific soundtrack. Some really funny sequences. Doesn’t overstay its welcome.
REASONS TO STAY: Might be a little sexist. Bland cast. Not as thoughtful as previous Linklater films.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of profanity, plenty of drug use, a good deal of sexual content and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The credits include one for a cat wrangler credited to Bernie Tiede, who was the subject of Linklater’s 2011 film Bernie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dazed and Confused
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Angry Birds Movie