Donald Cried


Donald gets in Peter's face.

Donald gets in Peter’s face.

(2016) Dramedy (Electric Chinoland) Kristopher Avedesian, Jesse Wakeman, Louisa Krause, Ted Arcidi, Kate Fitzgerald, Shawn Contois, Donny Fite, Patrick Languzzi, Jeremy Furtado, Robby Morse Levy, Peter Lewis Walsh, Tyrone Alcorn, Alexander Cook, Tom Kilgallen, Kyle Espeleta, Nick Reiss, Matthew Barletta, Allie Marshall, Ariana DeFusco. Directed by Kris Avedesian

Florida Film Festival 2016

We’ve all had that friend; the one who isn’t really a bad person but they just try too hard and end up causing all sorts of awkward moments. We roll our eyes at their approach and often these are the ones who have a really hard time growing up past a certain time in their lives.

Peter Latang (Wakeman) has returned to the Rhode Island town he grew up in and left 20 years ago to settle the affairs of his grandmother, who raised him after his parents died. Peter isn’t all that eager to be there, and true to form things start going wrong right away when he loses his wallet on the bus he took from Manhattan (where he works in the financial industry) to Rhode Island. The realtor who is putting grandma’s house on the market is comely Kristin (Krause) who seems to remember Peter fondly although he doesn’t have a clue who she is.

Without transportation and without cash, Peter is forced to suck up his pride and walk across the street to see his best friend in high school, Donald Treebeck (Avedesian). Donald is a bearded man-child who worshiped the ground Peter walked on back in the day and is absolutely thrilled that the two are reunited. Peter is clearly uncomfortable but he’s in a bind and Donald is essentially his only way out, so he reluctantly agrees to spend time with his old friend.

Thus begins a journey to old haunts, old friends and old flames as Donald, who clearly has absolutely no filter, puts Peter in one uncomfortable predicament after another. It soon becomes evident that Donald has endured bullying, distance and rejection far beyond perhaps what he deserves. Sure he’s stuck doing the same old things that he did in high school; listening to heavy metal, smoking pot, getting into mischief but when push comes to shove he’s there.

Soon it becomes evident that Donald isn’t the misfit we mistook him for at first, nor is Peter the stable, successful guy he makes himself out to be. The bonds of friendship were always tenuous on one side of this equation, but there is no doubt that both men are going to need to rise above their own limitations if they are to grow as people and the one more capable of it just might surprise you.

As I watched this at the press preview, I have to admit that at first I wasn’t terribly impressed. The movie seemed to be rife with indie cliches, The situations were so awkward as to be annoying to watch; it seemed like I as doomed to be spending an hour and a half with one of those annoying guys who I went out of my way to avoid spending time with.

Then a funny thing started happening. I started getting into it. And the more I found out about Donald and Peter, the more interested I became. I found suddenly that rather than Peter being the guy I wanted to spend time with, it was Donald. Sure, he’s a bit of a screw-up and a stoner and prone to inopportune behavior, but there was so much more to him than met the eye. He’d been given a role to play; not one he particularly wanted, but it was his and he contented himself with playing it as best he could. Most of us don’t have that sense of grace.

Peter on the other hand, becomes less of a stand-up guy the longer the movie goes on. You begin to understand that he’s a self-centered jerk and always has been. The more you watch him, the more you think back to the early part of the movie and realize that you really hadn’t noticed what a dick he was being. That’s masterful acting but it’s also masterful writing and direction.

In fact, I find that even after the movie was finished, I was getting more into it and the more I thought about it, the more I like it which likely means by Independence day I’ll likely have this in my top ten of the year. Or maybe it will plateau right around where it is now. Still, this is a fascinating study in human relationships and how we interpret them. They’re not always the way they seem to be on the surface. In fact, they rarely are.

REASONS TO GO: A lovely bittersweet vibe. Grows on you more after you’ve seen it.
REASONS TO STAY: A couple of indie cliches here and there. Takes awhile to get its footing.
FAMILY VALUES: Among other things, nudity, profanity, some drug use and sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was originally made as a short and was then expanded into a feature.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gabriel
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

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Uncle John


Uncle John spies Axel Foley coming down his driveway.

Uncle John spies Axel Foley coming down his driveway.

(2015) Suspense/Romance (Self-Released) John Ashton, Alex Moffatt, Jenna Lyng, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Cynthia Baker, Don Forston, Laurent Soucie, Gary Houston, Tim Decker, Mark Piebenga, Janet Glimme, Michael Sassone, Matt Kozlowski, Eli Rix, Carol Sekorky, Charles Stransky, Andy Cameron, Ian Pfaff (voice), Donna Steele, Tammy Newsome, Adria Dawn, Ashleigh LaThrop. Directed by Steven Piet

Florida Film Festival 2015

Most of us have some sort of secret or another; few people are completely transparent. Maybe it’s a secret crush we harbor for someone we work with or maybe it’s a dark deed done in the heat of passion. Maybe it’s just how we feel about the man who raised us.

John (Ashton) is an aging man who lives on a Wisconsin farm he inherited from his dad but is no longer a working farm. He has managed to keep the land but has turned his skills to carpentry, where he installs and repairs cabinets or builds furniture in the small town near his farm. Generally his social life involves hanging out in a diner with his friends, men he’s known and hung out with likely since childhood. They’re all old men now, chattering about gossip like you’d expect from old women. The main source of gossip is the disappearance of Dutch (Soucie), a former roustabout who had found Jesus and was trying to make amends to everyone he’d wronged which was a fairly sizable list.

Ben (Moffatt) is a young man working for a digital animation studio in Chicago that handles a lot of advertising accounts. He works long hours and doesn’t have much time for a social life. His latest project has a new producer, Kate (Lyng) who is a very attractive young woman. Ben is instantly attracted, and it soon becomes clear that the feelings are mutual but both are aware that office romances can be career killing things, so they keep things cordial but the fire is clearly smoldering. The two are forced to spend a lot of hours working together and naturally begin hanging out after work, a post-work cocktail here, a late dinner of Thai food there. Even though Kate is trying to get Ben laid with hook-ups at their local bar, Ben bicycles home late at night with Kate on his mind.

When the client for the project that Ben and Kate are working for demand some late changes, a weekend work session begins to take its toll. Ben suggests some pastries at the best bakery he knows – in the small Wisconsin town he grew up in. Kate is all in and they take a road trip to visit Ben’s Uncle John, the man who raised him after his parents passed away.

In the meantime Dutch’s brother Danny (Blevins) is certain that his brother is dead despite the fact that no corpse has been found. He is also certain that his brother has been murdered, even though signs point to a fishing accident. His suspicions land on John, whose behavior arouses Danny’s instincts and while the genial John denies it, Danny is certain he knows a lot more about the situation than John is letting on. With Ben and Kate arriving for a visit, both stories begin to swirl towards the inevitable; will Kate and Ben give in to their feelings for each other and will Danny confront John with the violence that is clearly bubbling beneath his surface?

Piet is attempting the rather ambitious task of filming two different stories in two disparate genres and then entwining them together in a single movie. The effect is not unlike switching channels on broadcast television between two different movies whenever a commercial interruption occurs. It’s an intriguing notion on paper.

For the most part, Piet does achieve what he seems to be aiming for – the two stories make their way through the course he lays out for them. It’s like they’re both swirling down a drain as they reach a denouement, moving faster and faster towards their conclusions before joining and merging at the bottom of the drain. Some of the best moments in the movie occur when all four of the main characters are together.

Oddly, Piet then chooses to separate the stories again with Ben and Kate in the house and John and Danny out in John’s workshop across the yard in a converted barn. The sex/death metaphor is a bit hoary for the most part but effective as the two stories reach their conclusions and the questions outlined earlier are answered. We end up very much full circle in a lot of ways.

Ashton, who most know as the by-the-book Sgt. Taggert in Beverly Hills Cop, does some of the best work of his long career here. John is a pillar of the community sort who seems to be a genuinely nice guy. He’s a widower and lives alone, even though there’s at least one woman in the community who wouldn’t mind a little canoodling with him. However, his affection for his nephew seems very genuine and the chemistry between Ashton and Moffatt is really the adhesive that binds the film together.

How well the movie works for you is going to depend first of all on how patient you are as the two stories move closer and closer together. As I sat through the film, I found myself wondering if there was going to be some sort of destination but the swirling around the drain metaphor is apt; the further into the movie we go, the faster the two stories seem to get towards merging into a single story. The two stories are pretty compelling with a slight edge towards the suspense story of John and Danny – there are too many awkward courtship moments in the Ben-Kate romance for my liking. Still, if you stick with it, the reward here is worth the effort. I admire the audacity of the filmmakers to purposely make two stories that seem as different as can be and then attempt to join them seamlessly together; it’s not 100% successful in that venture but it is close enough to it that I think this is worth keeping an eye out for on your local film festival circuit. Hopefully the movie will get some distribution and also bring back Ashton’s career as he has been absent from the screen for far too long.

REASONS TO GO: Ballsy move, incorporating two disparate stories. Ashton delivers a fine performance and has good chemistry with Moffatt.
REASONS TO STAY: Two stories merge and yet stay separate. Takes maybe too long in delivering payoff.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence, some sexuality and a smattering of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moffatt is a past member of Chicago’s esteemed Second City troupe.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rope
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

22 Jump Street


The ladies are all smiles but for Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum it's strictly business.

The ladies are all smiles but for Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum it’s strictly business.

(2014) Crime Comedy (Columbia) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Ice Cube, The Lucas Brothers, Nick Offerman, Jimmy Tatro, Caroline Aaron, Craig Roberts, Mark Evan Jackson, Joe Chrest, Eddie J. Fernandez, Rye Rye, Johnny Pemberton, Stanley Wong, Dax Flame, Diplo, Richard Grieco, Dustin Nguyen, Kate Adair. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

The thing about sequels is that they tend to be bigger, more expensive and more over the top of the original. The trick about them is that the filmmakers need to retain as much of the original film that audiences connected with without remaking the film verbatim, which is a certain kiss of death and franchise killer.

After their successful bust in 21 Jump Street, detectives Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) have moved on to other undercover operations with less success. After a botched operation causes a drug smuggler known only as The Ghost (Stormare) to escape, harried Deputy Chief Hardy (Offerman) busts them back to the Jump Street team. Except that now the Jump Street crew has moved across the street to 22 Jump Street where their success has bought them a near unlimited budget and an impressive headquarters where Captain Dickson (Cube) has an office in the center of the former Vietnamese church in a clear plastic office (which prompts Schmidt to say “His office looks like a cube…of ice!” in one of many, many instances of self-aware gags).

This time, the two detectives are sent to investigate Metro City State University – yes, the cops are going to college even though they look old enough to be professors. They are sent in as freshmen however and while their age is a source of constant japes, they nonetheless infiltrate the school with Jenko getting into a jock fraternity and becoming a football star, developing a bromance with Zook (Russell), the quarterback. This makes Schmidt a little bit jealous.

However Schmidt has made some inroads of his own, hooking up with Maya (Stevens), an art student who was close to a student who had died in a suicide after taking WhyFhy, a new party drug and the reason that Schmidt and Jenko are there. Surveillance footage implicates Zook as the supplier, which Jenko has a hard time believing. The friction between Schmidt and Jenko threatens to split up the two former BFFs, which would be disastrous considering that the unit is counting on them to solve the case (which might mean their careers if they don’t) and the real supplier behind WhyFhy is looking to take these two pesky cops out…permanently.

 

I will give the filmmakers props for making a much different movie than 21 Jump Street. This one is a bit self-referential, constantly referring to the increased budget and how important it is to follow up success by doing the exact same thing. The self-aware stuff is a hoot, but this feels more of a lark than a film. There is a parade of celebrity cameos, including Queen Latifah as Captain Dickson’s wife (who proclaims that she’s “Straight Outta Compton” while her husband is from Northridge, a reference to Ice Cube’s time in NWA) and appearances by Rob Riggle and Dave Franco from the first film although the best parts of that scene are in the trailer.

The chemistry between Hill and Tatum remains stellar; one of the best scenes of the movie has a school counselor mistaking them for a gay couple in his office for a therapy session, to which they are forced to play along to mask the fact that they were searching his office for evidence. However, there is a feeling that the writers have already kind of worn out their welcome. The end credits sequence, in which the trailers of future sequels are shown is maybe worth the price of admission all by itself.

The plot is way too cliche, the gags too hit and miss and the action too underwhelming to recommend this. I know a lot of critics have been kind to this movie but I just don’t see it; I left the theater feeling curiously unfulfilled, like eating a meal and walking away hungry. This movie may be less filling, but it sure doesn’t taste great.

 

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments (detailed above). Hill and Tatum have great chemistry. In-jokes up the wazoo.

REASONS TO STAY: Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Lots of gags fall flat. Too many cliches.

FAMILY VALUES:  You can expect a goodly amount of foul language, some drug content, bit of sexuality and brief nudity and finally some (mostly) comedic violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Original Jump Street television actors Richard Grieco and Dustin Nguyen make cameo appearances.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/26/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starsky and Hutch

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Purge: Anarchy