Nerve (2016)


Isn't it hip to stroll into a party fashionably late?

Isn’t it hip to stroll into a party fashionably late?

(2016) Thriller (Lionsgate) Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Juliette Lewis, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jeffreries, Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker, Brian Marc, Ed Squires, Rightor Doyle, Josh Ostrovsky, Eric D’Alessandrio, Samira Wiley, Albert Sidoine, Chris Breslin, Wesley Volcy, Damond McFarland, Deema Aitken, Michael Drayar, Kim Ramirez. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

 

In this age of instant Internet gratification, it seems sometimes that those of a certain generation are fame-obsessed. They document every aspect of their lives, as if they were famous; some achieve a kind of fame on YouTube or Instagram or other websites with videos, music and art. Some even become mainstream media sensations as well.

Vee (Roberts) – short for Venus but nobody calls her that – is a high school senior in Staten Island and if there is a metaphor for boredom that’s better than that, I don’t know what it is. She is a bit of a milk-toast, unwilling to take chances. She’s been accepted at Cal Arts but is too afraid to tell her clingy Mom (Lewis) the news. Instead, she prepares to go to college locally with her mother as her “roommate.” You can imagine how enthusiastic she is at the possibility.

Her best friend Sydney (Meade) is much more of a risk-taker. She introduces Vee to an online game called Nerve in which you sign up either as a player or a watcher. Players are given time-sensitive dares to perform on camera of increasing difficulty and danger with cash awards increasing the more dangerous the dare. Watchers pay $19.99 for 24 hours and can suggest dares to be performed and follow their favorite players; the most popular players end up in a tournament of champions where the players can win big money – and everlasting fame.

Vee impulsively signs up as a player after she is embarrassed in front of the guy she’s crushing on. Despite her nerd friend Tommy’s (Heizer) misgivings (and let us not forget that he is crushing big time on her) she goes on her first dare – to kiss a stranger in a diner for five seconds. That stranger turns out (perhaps non-coincidentally) to be Ian (Franco), another player. Vee and Ian are thrown together in another dare which involves trying on ridiculously expensive clothes in Bergdorf’s before they are forced to leave the store in only their skivvies – although the clothes they were modeling mysteriously turn up for them to wear outside, bought and paid for.

As Vee’s popularity grows, the dares begin to get more and more serious – including riding on a motorcycle at 60 MPH with the driver blindfolded – and her popularity grows, becoming an instant Internet sensation, which infuriates her friend Sydney who has always been the attention-getter in their relationship. Still, as the stakes get higher and higher Vee discovers that leaving the game isn’t an option for her – and what seemed to be harmless fun has become something far more sinister. How far will she go to take the game down?

Let’s get something straight right off the bat; this movie is seriously aimed at an audience that is likely no older than 20. It is aimed at a generation that thinks anyone over that age is hopelessly techno-illiterate, hopelessly uncool and hopelessly clueless. The arrogance of youth is in perfect representation here; the feeling of invincibility that comes with someone who has a 1 or a 2 in front of their age (single digits only, wise-asses).

The look of the film is part of that. It’s cool and slick, almost like live action anime. This is the prettiest B-movie you’re likely to ever see; the lighting is superb. Roberts and Franco are perfectly cast; Roberts the good girl with a bit of a dark side and Franco the wisecracking player who’s kinda cute and kinda sweet. Both actors play what are essentially archetypes (and I don’t know if the characters come off that way in the Jeanne Ryan-penned young adult novel) and sadly, have about zero chemistry together. You never get a sense of attraction between the two of them which is one of the main faults of the movie. Perfectly cast individually yes, but the two actors can’t seem to forge a connection that is perceivable on the screen.

A lot of the stunts that the players are supposed to do don’t really generate a lot of tension; crossing between buildings on a ladder which plays to Sydney’s fear of heights seems almost anti-climactic. You never get a sense of jeopardy The same goes with the motorcycle stunt. By the time the final confrontation comes with the “evil” player TJ (Baker) there doesn’t seem to be any sort of tension whatsoever. Joost and Schulman are excellent directors visually, but this won’t go down as one of their best works. Something tells me that there are better things down the road for these guys. I certainly hope so.

REASONS TO GO: The look of the film is very cool and modern.
REASONS TO STAY: A very shallow look at fame, a very shallow subject. None of the stunts were really all that convincing.
FAMILY VALUES: The film espouses risky and dangerous behavior as entertainment, condones teen drinking, drug use and sex. There is also some brief nudity and plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kimiko Glenn and Samira Wiley appeared in Orange is the New Black as a romantic couple.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gamer
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Tallulah

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Bridge to Terabithia (2007)


Things are looking up for AnnaSophia Robb.

Things are looking up for AnnaSophia Robb.

(2007) Drama (Disney/Walden) Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, Kate Butler, Devon Wood, Emma Fenton, Grace Brannigan, Latham Gaines, Judy McIntosh, Patricia Aldersley, Lauren Clinton, Isabelle Rose Kircher, Cameron Wakefield, Elliott Lawless, Carly Owen, Jen Wolfe. Directed by Gabor Csupo

Sometimes a great friend comes along when we least expect it. Someone who broadens our horizons, turns our perspectives upside down and makes us look at the world differently. Sadly, sometimes great friends also leave us when we most need them.

Jesse (Hutcherson) doesn’t have the most ideal home life. Sometimes, he feels like the invisible boy. His dad (Patrick) and mom (Butler) dote on his little sister May Belle (Madison) and all his other little sisters. They have way too much on their minds though to spare much of a thought for him – money is tight and that alone is enough to get him bullied by Janice Avery (Clinton), a large sadistic girl.

There’s a new girl in class though – Leslie Burke (Robb). Jesse has always taken solace that he’s the fastest kid in school, but Leslie beats him in a race, netting him further grief from his tormentors. On the bus ride home, he discovers that Leslie lives next door. Irritated with her victory, he rebuffs her attempts to make friends.

Eventually she wins him over, especially when she expresses her admiration for his drawings in the notebook he carries around with him at all times. She tells him about her love for fantasy stories. Together they go exploring the woods near their home, crossing the creek on a fallen log. They find an abandoned treehouse and a broken down old truck near it. They decide that this is their castle and this is the world of Terabithia, populated by gnomes, trolls and all manner of fearsome beasts. They are the King and Queen of their little world which comes to life in their imagination.

Leslie has had a rough time of it, moving from place to place and having trouble making or keeping friends. Even though her parents are wealthy and loving, Leslie has been a lonely little girl. Jesse is really the first and best friend she’s ever had, so Leslie’s parents embrace him as one of their own. Leslie discovers that Janice has had an even tougher time of it. She is the victim of abuse from her father. Leslie befriends her, a turning point in Janice’s life.

Leslie isn’t the only one noticing Jesse’s talents. Ms. Edmunds (Deschanel), the music teacher Jesse has a secret crush on, invites him on a trip to the art museum. Although he tells his mom where they are going, she is half asleep and he takes her mumbled response for approval for his trip. He has the opportunity to take Leslie along but at the last moment he doesn’t, wanting the experience all for himself. Spending the day at an art museum on a stormy day seems like absolute heaven to him.

However, his trip to the art museum will have unintended but devastating consequences as tragedy will strike very close to him. Jesse’s life will never be the same afterwards.

The movie is based on the award-winning children’s book by Katherine Paterson which is in turn based on the real life experiences of her son David (who wrote the screenplay for the movie). Perhaps that is why the kids seem realistic to me and their relationship organic and natural. Robb who has also turned out impressive performances in Race to Witch Mountain and later in Soul Surfer is a lustrous beauty even at this age who seems almost angelic. Hutcherson who has gone on to star in the Hunger Games movies, shows some solid acting chops. While he doesn’t have Robb’s screen charisma, he is nonetheless more than adequate for the role.

Disney marketed this as a straight up fantasy movie which it isn’t really at all, although there are certainly digital creature effects thanks to WETA (which are better than average, by the way). This is a coming of age drama essentially with elements of fantasy which are meant to highlight the imagination of the children – we see what they see. Some people who saw the movie left disappointing, expecting something along the lines of a Harry Potter movies. There are also those who went into the film expecting another disappointing young adult fantasy movie and emerged pleasantly surprised.

There is a great deal of depth to this movie and it deals with a lot of things that kids deal with – bullying, economic hardship, fitting in, loneliness, imagination, feeling left out, and loss. Some of these things can be difficult for parents to help their kids with and in fact the parents in this movie don’t have all the answers. Just like most of us.

Still, I highly recommend this for not only pre-teen kids but their parents as well. There are some terrific opportunities for dialogue between parents and children to be opened up here. Not only that, this is as satisfying a movie for adults as it’s going to be for their kids. Highly recommended.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly candid and insightful. Pulls no punches. Terrific performances from Hutcherson and Robb, with Deschanel her usual solid self.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Fantasy sequences can be a bit cliche.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are depictions of bullying and peril as well as a few mildly bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would be cinematographer Michael Chapman’s final film as he retired after filming was completed.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a music video for the song “Keep Your Mind Wide Open” from cast member Robb, as well as a discussion about the book by cast members, educators and most insightful of all, author Katherine Paterson.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $137.6M on a $20M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flipped

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Need for Speed

Broken


Eloise Laurence won't let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it's like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Eloise Laurence won’t let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

(2012) Drama (Film Movement) Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Lino Facioli, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic, Seeta Indrani, Nell Tiger Free, Rory Girvan, Clare Burt, Nicola Sloan, Martha Bryant, George Sargeant, Rosalie Kosky-Hensman, Faye Daveney. Directed by Rufus Norris  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The things that go on in a quiet residential neighborhood. One cul-de-sac may look completely ordinary, the last place you would expect dark goings on taking place, but you never know what’s seething just below the surface of a normal street.

Skunk (Laurence) – that’s what everybody calls her but really nobody remembers what her real name is – lives on just such a quiet cul-de-sac. Her father Archie (Roth) is a barrister although not an especially important one. He’s just trying to make it through after his wife and her mother abandoned them. Skunk has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant monitoring. Archie has enlisted a nanny, Polish Kasia (Marjanovic) to keep an eye on her and her older brother Jed (Milner).

Kasia has a boyfriend, Mike (Murphy) who also happens to teach at Skunk’s school – and who also happens to be the object of Skunk’s crush. It’s all rather sweet and melancholy at the same time. Skunk also has a boyfriend of sorts; Dillon (Sargeant) who at first treats her like crap but gradually they become real affectionate-like.

One day out of the blue, one of her neighbors, Mr. Oswald (Kinnear) seemingly without provocation attacks Rick (Emms), an emotionally and mentally challenged boy who lives across the street from Skunk. As it turns out, one of his two daughters – Sunshine (Bryant) and Susan (Kosky-Hensman) had a condom discovered in her room by dear old dad and to cover herself she accused Rick of raping her. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence but not until Rick began to break down emotionally and had to be committed, much to the dismay of his Dad (Lawson) and Mum (Burt) who seemingly has problems of her own coping.

Things begin to spiral into further troubles. Kasia breaks up with Mike who utilize Skunk as a kind of go-between in an effort to get Kasia back. Sunshine and Susan turn out to be nothing short of psychotic, bullying kids around school (and beating up Skunk), continuing to level false rape charges against others and in Susan’s case, getting pregnant by sleeping with Jed. But as Rick finally comes home, his fragile mental state is far more explosive than anyone could have predicted and the neighborhood will never be the same.

This is Norris’ first feature film. He’s been a successful stage director, so I was curious to see if the movie would look static and stage-y and it did in a couple of places, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with such a theatrical background. It helps a lot that he has a compelling story, some fine actors.

I’ve come to expect fine performances every time out from Roth and Murphy and they don’t disappoint here. Murphy’s Mike is far from perfect although he’s trying his darndest to be. He constantly tries to do the right thing, often with catastrophic consequences. In other words, just like thee and me.

Roth rarely gets the good guy roles; he’s usually a villain or a bulldog-like cop. Here he plays a loving father who is distracted by all the drama around him which nearly ends up in tragedy. He is trying to create a normal life for himself and his children in an environment that’s anything but. Roth gives Archie a kind and gentle manner, very loving and very protective although he can show some iron when he has to.

The real surprise here is Laurence. This is her first production, and she performs with the self-assurance of a grizzled veteran. She has an engaging presence that stands out onscreen, enabling her to hold her own with some pretty accomplished actors. I don’t know if Miss Laurence has any ambitions regarding a film career but she’s got a bright future if she chooses that path.

The denouement of the film was a little on the melodramatic side, and there are some scenes during the movie that don’t have the same intensity as other similar scenes in the movie. That however doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film which is considerable.

This has been playing the festival circuit, although that aspect of it’s journey seems to be coming to an end. Film Movement, a tiny indie distributor, has the distribution rights to the film although as of yet any sort of theatrical run hasn’t been announced. Hopefully it will make a few big screens here and there before heading to home video. If not, be sure and catch it anyway – it’s a terrific film.

REASONS TO GO: Very taut, edge of your seat stuff. Fine performances from Roth, Laurence and Murphy.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally loses its focus.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some sexuality (quite a bit actually), a fair amount of bad language, some teenage drinking and drug use and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2008 novel of the same name on which the movie was based was heavily influenced .by To Kill a Mockingbird according to author Daniel Clay.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; while it appears the reaction is mixed, it’s still too early to tell for certain.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lovely Bones

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cockneys vs. Zombies

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)


Gulliver's Travels

You think YOUR day is going badly - Jack Black is getting a wedgie from a Transformer.

(2010) Comic Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, T.J. Miller, James Corden, Catherine Tate, Emmanuel Quatra, Olly Alexander, Richard Laing. Directed by Rob Letterman

The dreaded updating of a classic usually spells utter disaster. When moving Jonathan Swift’s iconic novel into the 21st century, will the filmmakers retain its essence or go for the cheap laughs?

Score one for the cheap laughs. Lemuel Gulliver (Black) – and I find it unbelievable that not a single joke was made about someone with the unfortunate first name of “Lemuel” – has been working in the mail room of the New York Tribune for ten years; for nearly that long he’s had a crush on the comely travel editor Darcy Silverman (Peet). He’s been content to worship from afar and play Guitar Hero on the job. When he trains a new young buck in the mail room (Miller), he is mortified to discover that his trainee has been promoted to the Mail Room manager, which sucks big time.

Then again, Lemuel is too afraid to even talk to other employees at the paper, let alone approach them about career advice. On the spur of the moment, he picks up an application for the position of travel writer and Darcy urges him to submit some samples. Lemuel spends the entire night trying to write some scintillating prose – only to discover that he has no game. Desperate, he plagiarizes sections from Frommer’s Guide and other travel icons and gets the job. Darcy sends him out to Bermuda to check out a tour into the legendary Bermuda Triangle.

He falls asleep at the wheel of the boat (apparently this tour comes sans guides) and is steered directly into a gigantic waterspout. When he awakens, the boat is wrecked and he has been tied up by lots of tiny little people, led by a tiny little General Edward (O’Dowd) who takes him to the King of Lilliput (Connolly) and his MILF queen (Tate). The giant Lemuel is chained in a cave along with Lilliput’s only other offender, Horatio (Segel) who had the effrontery to glance soulfully at Princess Mary (Blunt) who happens to be Edward’s betrothed.

When the sworn enemies of Lilliput, Blefuscia, attack, it is Gulliver who comes to the rescue. The grateful king pardons Gulliver and makes him “vice-general” of the army which doesn’t sit well with the pompous Edward.  He plots to allow the entire fleet of Blefuscia attack but Gulliver inexplicably saves the day again. Edward defects in disgrace and guilds a giant robot which he defeats Gulliver with. Gulliver reveals himself to be a lowly coward and a liar (having told the Lilliputians outrageous tales of his life) and is exiled to the Island They Dare Not Travel To, which turns out to be inhabited by giants (by Gulliver’s standards – to the Lilliputians everyone’s a giant). However, Darcy has washed up on the shores of Lilliput having set out after Gulliver. Can the disgraced protector find his inner giant?

If you loved the Jonathan Swift novel, keep walking when you get to the box office; other than having a Lemuel Gulliver wash up on the shores of Lilliput and be tied up by its army, there is almost no relationship between the book and the movie. What this is mostly is a Jack Black vehicle, designed to showcase his talents as a comedian and his usual shtick. The jokes are mainly unfunny; playing foosball with Lilliputians, having Lilliputians re-enact scenes from Star Wars and Titanic and claiming that these are moments from his own life; hardy har har har.

While I was a big fan of Black in High Fidelity, I have to admit that he was a bit tiresome here. When you look at comedians who inhabit a certain persona (like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams), they become like one-trick ponies, constantly reprising the same role in movie after movie. It works for the first few films of their career but eventually the audience gets tired of it. Sometimes, as in the case of Williams, they broaden their range and make movies that are more mature but when they don’t, they tend to fall by the wayside much faster.

I have to admit the visuals here are pretty good. Lilliput has a quasi-Victorian feel. In some ways, it’s almost steampunk and that’s not a bad thing – I kind of wish they had pushed in that direction a little bit further.  However, and I must emphasize this, what they have works just fine as it is.

Besides Black, you have the very likable Segel as the second banana and the lovely Blunt and Peet both make fine romantic foils, but this is clearly Black’s show. Even Connolly, one of the most brilliant comedic minds of the past decade, is curiously humorless in his role.

As comedies go this is pretty mediocre stuff. I can’t really recommend it with too much enthusiasm, although I can’t really say “avoid it at all costs” either. It’s just kind of there as an alternative when you want something light and brainless and seeing Tangled for the umpteenth time is not in the cards.

REASONS TO GO: It’s a nice-looking movie and there are some funny moments as well as some heart-warming moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Jumps the shark with the musical number at the end. Too much mugging from Jack Black and not enough real human emotion. The film felt more like a product.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of crude humor (Jack Black is not going to get any points from firefighters) and some mildly bad words but otherwise, pretty much suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Blunt was originally cast as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 but backed out to do this movie.

HOME OR THEATER: I imagine the scale of the visuals looks better on a big screen than a small one, but hey, they’re little people – on a smaller TV screen they still look little.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: RocknRolla