The Kill Team (2019)


In battle there is brotherhood.

(2019) War (A24Alexander Skarsgǻrd, Nat Wolff, Adam Long, Jonathan Whitesell, Brian Marc, Osy Ikhile, Rob Morrow, Anna Francolini, Oliver Ritchie, Edd Campbell Bird, Adam James, Elham Ehsas, Tunji Kasim, Ian Attard, Taz Skylar, Zackary Momoh, Luka Schardan, Julio Perillan, Edward J. Bentley, Andreas Karraas, Amani Zafdoe. Directed by Dan Krauss

 

War is far from simple, although it is sometimes characterized that way. There are those who see it as the ultimate expression of masculinity, the place where young men go to prove themselves men. Others see it as institutionalized murder. It does require those who go to war to kill or be killed, putting them in a constant state of high stress. It also asks of them to violate some of the most sacred precepts both from a societal standpoint as well as a moral one – thou shalt not kill.

18-year-old Andrew Briggman (Wolff) has enlisted following high school. He wants to make a difference, to protect his country from terrorists and perhaps to some extent, be all he can be. Earning the pride of his father (Morrow), he goes to Afghanistan with a young man’s expectations. He quickly learns that Afghanistan is nothing like what he expected. Fortunately, he has a sergeant (Ikhile) who is a hearts and minds kind of guy, trying to win over the Afghan people with kindness. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well for him.

Enter Sergeant Deeks (Skarsgǻrd) who is of the “speak softly and carry a big gun” persuasion. He is far more interested in winning over the hearts and minds of his command than in those of the locals. To Deeks, everyone is a potential enemy and he has no trouble sorting out the good from the bad – they’re all bad in his view and treats them accordingly. He appeals to the machismo of his men, rewarding them for their more bloodthirsty tendencies.

At first, Briggman buys into it but as he sees his platoon fall further and further from decency to the point where they are executing locals for sport, he is horrified. When he tries to report what he’s seen, he discovers Deeks has friends in all sorts of places and with Deeks falsifying reports, it boils down to the word of a three-tour decorated veteran versus a young wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

Briggman realizes that out in the field he is at the mercy of his comrades who are all trained killers. Soldiers survive because they know their brothers-in-arms have their backs; when you go out into the field not only uncertain whether your platoon has your back or might just shoot you in yours, it is not a place to be, to say the least. Briggman finds himself at odds with his conscience as well as his survival instinct.

Krauss based this loosely on a documentary that he directed back in 2013 (Florida Film Festival attendees may recall it and for those whose memory needs a jog, you can read my review here). That was a bit more of a morality play, chronicling a family’s encounter with the military justice system as the young soldier fights for the truth with his supportive family behind him. This version is fictionalized and the names are all changed, and the focus here is more on what the soldier endured and how it affected him. None of the film depicts the fall-out from the soldier’s accusations.

The role of Deeks is tailor-made for Skarsgǻrd and he responds with an intense performance. The actor underplays the role, giving the character a whole lot of menace. He certainly holds our attention on-screen. Wolff gives his character the right amount of naivete and gung-ho machismo to make him very relatable. Unfortunately, none of the other characters get much development.

Krauss also proves himself to be adept at building suspense and creating an on-screen tension that will keep audience members on the edge of their seats (or couches, as the case may be). The action sequences are a bit on the low-key side but they are adequate – in a lot of ways, the movie has the feel of a lot of recent war movies dealing with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the moments in the film are truly terrifying and really hit you in the gut. There are enough of these to give the film a solid recommendation, but be warned that not all of the movie is like that and there is an awful lot of SSDD when it comes to modern war films. The Kill Team has been available on DirecTV for about a month and is just now hitting a limited theatrical release as well as being available on most streaming platforms. It’s not a must-see but then again you won’t go too far wrong if you do take a chance on it.

REASONS TO SEE: Truly harrowing in places, building the tension up nicely. Skarsgǻrd is absolutely amazing.
REASONS TO AVOID: The violence is curiously understated.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a cornucopia of profanity, war violence and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Skarsgǻrd and Ikhile were both in The Legend of Tarzan.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Few Good Men
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness kicks off!

Stella’s Last Weekend


Ollie is certainly no angel.

(2018) Dramedy (Paladin/The Orchard) Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Polly Draper, Paulina Singer, Nick Sandow, Julia Macchio, Julia Abueva, Leo Heller, Lisa Darden, Patricia Squire, Will Cooper, Norm Golden, Simon Maxwell, Joseph Satine, Shawn Allen McLaughlin, Kelly Swint, Adam Enright, Christopher Halliday, Alex DiMattia, Kareem Williams, Courtney Leigh Goodwin, Harriet Weaver. Directed by Polly Draper

 

Personally, I’ve never had a brother. I grew up with a sister who was less than a year younger than I (my parents believed in getting the childbearing phase out of the way quickly). I know from experience with my sibling though that we talk in our own peculiar shorthand. In-jokes that mean nothing to the world at large never fail to elicit smiles from one or both of us. There are still jokes that I can reduce my sister to helpless tears of laughter with while outsiders look on in puzzlement. It’s that way between siblings.

Ollie (A. Wolff) and Jack (N. Wolff) are that way as well. Jack is returning home from college where he is studying Marine Biology to witness the last days of the beloved family dog, Stella. Their mother Sally (Draper) has decided to throw a farewell party for the dog, much to the bemusement of her sons and the confusion of her boyfriend Ron (Sandow) whom the boys mercilessly rib and whom they appear to despise. He seems like a high-strung traditionalist who can’t understand why kids of today don’t respect their elders the way his generation used to. Believe me, Ron, I hear you.

Ollie is also picking this weekend to introduce his family to his new girlfriend Violet (Singer), an aspiring ballerina: “Violet, this is everyone I love. And Ron.” Ollie is head over heels in love with Violet and confesses to his brother that she sent him some racy pictures on Snapchat of her underboob. Jack realizes that he’s met Violet before and that the two of them had a mini-fling which ended with her not returning his calls. He’s been obsessing with her ever since and now she’s apparently in love with his brother. He’s trying to step aside in favor of his brother but his feelings for her are too strong and as it turns out, she still has feelings for him.

Ollie is blissfully unaware of the drama going on alongside him. He’s too busy needling the mean girls in her ballet class, skewering poor Ron and doting on Stella who is gamely trying to live out her last days with as much dignity as she can muster, but the pain is beginning to get to be too much, which Sally acknowledges in a truly poignant moment. However, when the secrets the boys have been hiding from their mom and each other comes out, it tears a big hole in what was a close-knit family. Can they recover?

Ollie is an expert in put-downs and his potty mouth sometimes drives Ron to pulling out what little hair he has left; Ollie has no compunction at nailing Ron to the wall over his comb-over. Alex plays Ollie as a high-strung, energetic kid with a terrific brain – he’s already outdoing Jack in the courses that are leading Jack into a career in Marine Biology. Ollie is witty and quick-witted; the punch lines come rapid fire between the two boys. He is also capable of being a first-class asshole. Jack, on the other hand, is quieter, less acerbic and no less quick witted; he can hold his own with his brother but is generally less talkative with others. I can’t vouch for how the two interact off-camera but their banter sometimes sounds overly scripted; it’s hard to come up with the perfect comeback at every opportunity and Ollie seems to do so effortlessly. It’s possible he’s that quick but not likely and so the heart of the film, the byplay between the brothers starts to sound forced and unnatural.

Despite the clever dialogue, the chemistry between Nat and Alex is genuine as you would expect between siblings. The affection between the two is genuine and even when things break down between the two, everything that happens in their relationship feels authentic; at times though the audience clearly feels like outsiders witnessing a conversation they weren’t meant to hear.

There are some genuinely poignant moments as I alluded to above; there are also some really funny one-liners, mostly courtesy of Ollie. There is definitely chemistry between the brothers; after all, this isn’t the first time they’ve acted together before (some might remember them from the Naked Brothers Band show they did about a decade ago) and the affection is obvious. Still, at times the dialogue seems to be a bit forced and the events a little too contrived.

Stella’s Last Weekend turns out to be a bittersweet relationship movie that to its credit doesn’t coast too often. The film earns most of its emotional responses which is to be envied in a day and age when most movies are lazy about their emotional manipulation. The movie isn’t always successful but when it is, it is. Unfortunately, when it’s not it’s not.

REASONS TO GO: There is some nice family bonding moments.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers are trying too hard to make it witty and cute.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, crude gestures, some sexual content and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Wolff brothers are Draper’s sons in real life; the dog that played Stella is also the family dog (who is alive and well as of this writing).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Only Living Boy in New York
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
London Fields

New Releases for the Week of September 8, 2017


IT

(New Line) Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton. Directed by Andy Muschietti

Beneath the streets of Derry, Maine, lives an evil that periodically rises to take the town’s children. Four particularly brave and prescient kids are aware of what’s going on and they are ready to fight but they are up against a monster without pity or seemingly without limits. Pennywise the Clown will haunt your dreams, courtesy of the mind of Stephen King and this movie.

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

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language)

9/11

(Atlas) Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Gina Gershon, Luis Guzman. On one of the grimmest days in the history of our country, five total strangers are in an elevator in the World Trade Center when an airplane crashes into their building. Trapped and without a hope of rescue, they must work together and find a way out, not realizing that the clock is ticking and time is running out.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for language)

Crown Heights

(Amazon/IFC) Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Adriane Lenox. Colin Warner, an immigrant from the Caribbean living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, was accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Despite only the testimony of unreliable eyewitnesses, he was convicted and sent to prison. His best friend, Carl “KC” King and his childhood sweetheart Antoinette stood by Colin despite a system that had taken everything from him, believing that one day they would set him free and justice would prevail. This is their incredible true story.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

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

Fallen

(Vertical/Destination) Addison Timlin, Jeremy Irvine, Lola Kirke, Joely Richardson. A 17-year-old girl with an attitude is sent off to a reformatory after being unjustly blamed for the death of another student. Once there, she is drawn to two different boys, each of whom has an incredible secret. In the meantime, she is experiencing inexplicable events and strange visions, leading her to the conclusion that she must figure out the secrets of her own past in order to navigate a very rocky road that could lead to a cataclysmic destination. This is based on a series of young adult fantasy novels.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violent images, some sensuality, language and teen partying)

Home Again

(Open Road) Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff, Lake Bell, Michael Sheen. A woman newly separated from her husband and raising their kids on her own agrees to allow three young men to live in her home and share expenses. However, things get super complicated when her ex-husband decides to try and win her back especially since she’s developed feelings for one of the guys.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic and sexual material)

I Do…Until I Don’t

(Film Arcade) Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Paul Reiser, Mary Steenburgen. Three couples, all in different places in their marriage, are the focus of this ensemble comedy from writer/director/actress Bell who has made some compelling films recently both in front of and behind the camera.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for sexual material and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Daddy
Gunshy
The Midwife
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Calle 54
The Good Catholic
The Last Mentsch
The Limehouse Golem
Man in Red Bandana
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Gunshy
The Limehouse Golem
Rememory
True to the Game
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk
Yuddham Sharanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

England is Mine
Love You to the Stars and Back
True to the Game
Yuddham Sharanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Crown Heights
Home Again
It
Man in Red Bandana
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

The Intern


"I'll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head."

“I’ll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head.”

(2015) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Celia Weston, Steve Vinovich, C.J. Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Erin Mackey, Christina Brucato, Wallis Currie-Wood, Molly Bernard, Paulina Singer. Directed by Nancy Meyers

Our culture is going from youth-oriented to youth-obsessed. We tend to marginalize the elderly, joke about their inability to decipher technology. As much as we dismiss the elderly, at the same time we don’t want to die young either. We want to live long, full lives. We also tend to ignore that in order to do that, we have to age.

Ben Whittaker (De Niro) has done that. He’s aged. He turns around and finds himself to be 70 and alone, his beloved wife passed on, retired from a successful 40-year career printing phone books. Even the industry he devoted so much of his life to has gone the way of the horse and buggy.

He tries to fill his days with tai chi sessions, Mandarin lessons and lattes. He also finds himself spending an unsettling amount of time at the funerals of his friends. He is busy but curiously unfulfilled. Even some flirtations with a lady his age (Lavin) – most of the flirtation coming from her end – leave him empty and even more cognizant that his life lacks something.

Ben has the wisdom to figure out that what he’s missing is purpose. Getting up early and going around and doing nothing productive just isn’t in his genetic code. When he sees an ad one day for senior interns at an e-commerce women’s fashion company, he decides to go for it.

Jules Ostin (Hathaway) is the CEO and founder of About the Fit, an online store that guarantees its clients that the close they buy will fit them precisely. How she does that is a miracle of epic proportions but hey, this is Hollywood so just go with it. Anyway, she doesn’t particularly need nor want an intern of any age but especially one who’s older and reminds her that her mother (Place) is judgmental and hyper-critical of her success. Jules is a bit of a workaholic whose company in 18 months has become a real player in e-commerce and has grown to more than 200 employees. The investors are beginning to get nervous; not despite the success but because of it. They don’t know if Jules has the experience and drive to grow the company into the next level so they are pushing to get an experienced CEO who can take them there.

Jules doesn’t necessarily want that to happen but on the other hand she is tired of being absent in her own home. Her husband Matt (Holm) is a paragon of support, giving up his own promising career to let her soar with eagles. Their cute as a button daughter Paige (Kushner) misses her mommy but seems cheerfully resigned to the fact that she doesn’t get to see her much.

Jules is a bit of a control freak and is looking for reasons that the easygoing Ben should not be her intern; he’s too observant, she complains to her right hand man (Rannells) as she orders a transfer but she soon comes to realize that Ben has become indispensable, giving her the confidence to be a better boss, a better wife and a better mom but will she learn the lessons Ben has to teach her in time to save her business…and her family?

Richard Roeper describes director Nancy Meyers as “reliable” and he’s right on that score. She doesn’t get the credit she deserves but yet she turns out consistently entertaining films albeit on the lightweight side but that may also be the secret of her success; even her movies with somewhat weighty topics (as this one which looks at women in the workplace) tend to be low-key and rarely rock the boat with strident opinions.

Here she is given the opportunity to take on how working women tackling entrepreneurial success are treated and the answer is pretty much not well, but she doesn’t hit her audience in the face with that revelation (which isn’t a revelation at all, really) but rather allows you to come to that conclusion organically. The point here is that there is a balance between career and family that can be achieved and when it is, both thrive but when out of balance, both suffer. It’s not really a subversive point at all and yet she sneaks it in out of left field with few people noticing at all that she’s actually communicating with her audience. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman?

De Niro has had some forgettable performances in the last decade but it’s forgiven because, hey, he’s De Niro. That’s not the case her as he utilizes his expressive face to go beyond the script with a well-timed roll of the eyes, shrug of the shoulder or grimace, he creates a character that’s living. That’s a good thing because Ben as written is a little too perfect to be believed; he always knows the right thing to say, do or be. He’s the magical Grandpa.

He also has great chemistry with Hathaway who also is a very emotional actress. The two have a great moment when discussing their marriages in a hotel room while on a business trip to San Francisco to interview a potential CEO (don’t ask why an intern would be on such a trip or how he got into her hotel room while both are in pajamas and robes), but Hathaway reminds us in those moments why she is such a powerhouse actress and along with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams is the cream of the crop of talented young actresses that has come to the forefront of Hollywood the last five years or so.

There is a lot of contrivance in the plot which I suppose is to be expected because the story is so thoroughly a fairy tale but if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you and you don’t mind feeling the warm fuzzies as you exit the theater (or, if you are reading this a year from when this was published, as you turn off your TV or computer), this might just be what the doctor ordered. Da Queen found it to be much more than she expected from the trailer and I understand what she means; while Meyers can’t help the old fart jokes that pepper the film, there’s also a healthy respect for the difference between experience and wisdom that Hollywood sometimes mistakes for one another.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming without getting too treacly. Good chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway.
REASONS TO STAY: Ben is a little too perfect. Kind of fairy tale-esque.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexually suggestive content and brief rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead roles were at one time held by Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :The Internship
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Meet the Patels

Paper Towns


Cara Delevingne wait to see if the coast is clear.

Cara Delevingne wait to see if the coast is clear.

(2015) Drama (20th Century Fox) Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono, Josiah Cerio, Hannah Allgood, Meg Crosbie, Griffin Freeman, Caitlin Carver, RJ Shearer, Susan Macke Miller, Tom Hillmann, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Jay Duplass, Kendall McIntyre, Emma O’Laughlin, Yossie Mulyadi. Directed by Jake Schreier

Figuring out who we are is a lifelong pursuit. Some of us learn early on and either go through a life of self-hatred or one of self-satisfaction, or at least self-acceptance. For others, we search and search, grabbing at maddening clues that seem to lead us somewhere but ultimately lead us back to ourselves. For some of us, the search is what makes us who we are.

Quentin (Wolff) is a senior in high school. He is one of those guys who everyone knows but nobody particularly cares one way or the other about him other than his two best friends, Radar (Smith) and Ben (Abrams). Quentin has his whole life planned out; he’s been accepted at Duke, intends to go to their prestigious medical school, become a doctor of oncology and meet someone special and have lots of babies and have a great life. The end.

Except he’s already met someone special, as far as he’s concerned. Her name is Margo Roth-Spiegelman (Delevingne) and she lives right across the street. She’s lived there ever since they were children and Quentin has had a crush on her from the first day he saw her. They couldn’t be more opposites; Quentin has a plan, tends to play things safe and wants his life on the straight and narrow. She, on the other hand, is adventurous, loves a good mystery and isn’t afraid to live her life outside the box.

That’s why they inevitably drift apart during high school. Oddly, she becomes part of the in crowd, the girlfriend of Jase (Freeman), a jock who has been cheating on her with her best friend Becca (Carver). Disillusioned, she shows up at Quentin’s window one night, needing a getaway driver. That’s because she wants to get revenge on those who betrayed her as well as those who knew about the betrayal and didn’t tell her, which would include her other best friend Lacey (Sage) and Lacey’s boyfriend (and Jase’s best friend) Chuck (Shearer).

The vengeance is complicated and bittersweet. Quentin is at first a reluctant participant, not wanting to get caught and have his carefully laid plans ruined, but as the night goes on he finds himself feeling alive like he never has before. He feels that old connection with Margo and it seems as if that feeling is reciprocated as she wonders in a sort of melancholy way how things might have turned out if she hadn’t abandoned him for the in crowd and stayed with him.

The next day, Margo doesn’t show up for school. Nor the next and the next. The police become involved but Margo’s mom (Miller) throws up her hands in disgust. This isn’t the first time Margo has run away from home and she’ll come back when she gets bored or runs out of money. She declines to file a missing persons report, earning her a parent of the year award from an incredulous Quentin.

He resolves to find her himself and of course his trusted friends are all in. Ben, in particular wants the opportunity to hang out with Lacey, who it turns out didn’t know what Jase was up to and is as concerned as to her whereabouts as Quentin is.

Margo has always been wont to leaving clues and this is no exception. Bribing her little sister Ruthie (Crosbie) to let her examine Margo’s room, Quentin discovers a volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass which seems to indicate her state of mine. He also finds a scrap of paper with an address of what turns out to be an abandoned tourist memorabilia shop in a dicey part of town, which will lead him and his friends on the adventure of a lifetime.

This is based on the young adult book of the same name by John Green (who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars) which should have given it a built-in audience but the early box office returns have been less spectacular than the other film. Not bad, but not spectacular. The movie will make a tidy profit, but not nine figures like the first film did.

Part of the issue with the movie is that the leads are really not easy. Quentin is as white bread as they come, a little bit boring even. His obsession with Margo flies in the face of his carefully prepared life, and of logic – admittedly however teen hormones trump logic every time. Margo on the other hand is as self-centered a lead as you’ll see in the movies. Everything she does is about her and about her needs, and as it turns out, nobody really notices except for the astute Ben who tells Lacey “She doesn’t deserve a friend like you” and he’s right. She’s the sort that an adult can see right through, from the pretentious use of capital letters and her aphorisms which sound a lot wiser than they are. If Quentin is the average high school student, Margo is the high school student that doesn’t exist except in the mind of John Green. Which of course means she probably does.

The writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have an ear for dialogue, even more so than Diablo Cody and Kevin Smith who both write excellent dialogue but in a more clever vein. These kids talk the way kids really speak and that genuineness is part of the movie’s highlights. For me – and I admit this is strictly my own viewpoint – I found it refreshing that this movie, set in my home town of Orlando, portrays Orlando as a city where people actually live, even though Margo despises it so. She probably never hung out at the Enzian Theater. She’d have had a different opinion.

I would go so far as to say that this captures the bittersweet elements of one’s senior year in high school. It is a time of transition without those who are living it knowing it. Only towards the last weeks we realize that we are hanging out at the burger place for the last time, eating pancakes at our best friend’s house for the last time, going to science lab for the last time. Suddenly we realize we are being pushed out into adulthood and as eager as we are to grow up, a part of us is kicking and screaming.

The best part of the movie is the relationship between Quentin, Radar and Ben which is surprising since the movie is ostensibly about Quentin and Margo, but the bonds between the three boys becoming men are so genuine and so real; to their credit, the filmmakers realize that (and I think Green probably does as well) and at the end of the day, when Quentin is given a choice, he chooses to return home to his friends, even though after the summer they’ll all go their separate ways. It is a bittersweet ending, but the right one.

I have always thought that people latch onto a movie because they see a little bit of themselves in the characters, but I no longer believe that is true. I think we latch onto a movie because we see ourselves the way we want to be in the characters, and surprisingly, the character I saw myself wanting to be the most was Radar, whose loyalty to his girlfriend Angela (Sinclair) is sweet and admirable in many ways; I wish I had that kind of commitment when I was his age. I like to think I would have. In any case, while this movie isn’t going to set teen hearts aflutter, it might appeal to jaded adults like myself more than you might expect. Who would have thought that.

REASONS TO GO: Gets the bittersweet senior year nicely. The bonds between the guys are genuine.
REASONS TO STAY: A mite too pretentious for its own good. Margo is a little too self-centered to identify with.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mildly bad language, teen drinking and partying, partial nudity and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ansel Elgort makes a cameo as a gas station convenience store clerk.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/4/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Say Anything
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Crude

New Releases for the Week of July 24, 2015


Paper Towns

PAPER TOWNS

(20th Century Fox) Nat Wolff, Carla Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono, Jay Duplass, Ansel Elgort. Directed by Jake Schreier

A high school boy, who has his future all mapped out, has a crush on a mysterious neighbor. When she climbs in his window one night, the two embark on an adventure he never would have conceived for himself in his somewhat ordered world. When she disappears the next morning, he realizes that he is meant to find her again. Bringing along his best friends and hers, they embark on a journey not just to find Margo but to find themselves as well. From the novel by John Green, author if The Fault in Our Stars. Yeah, I know there’s a bigger budget movie on this list but something tells me this is going to be the (not-so) surprise hit of the summer.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens)

American Heist

(Lionsgate) Hayden Christensen, Adrien Brody, Jordana Brewster, Akon. Two brothers have gone down the path of lawlessness and have been caught committing a crime. When one of them takes the rap for it, the other struggles to turn his life around and get back on the straight and narrow. When his brother is released from prison, he turns to the brother whose freedom he protected for one last job to get him back on his feet after attempts to find legitimate work are fruitless. Can the two truly change their lives with one last score, or will it be the key for them to lose everything they both have?

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexual material and brief drug use)

Dark Was the Night

(Image) Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Steve Agee. When a logging company awakens something that should have never been disturbed in the forest surrounding a small town, it is up to the sheriff and his trusted deputy to save the town and the loggers from the evil that now stalks them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: NR

The Little Death

(Magnolia) Bojana Novakovic, Patrick Brammall, Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman. Five suburban couples living in Sydney cope with the various sexual fetishes that unite or sometimes divide them, and try to navigate the sometimes troubled waters of modern sexuality within the confines of relationships. This played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and returns for a limited run at the Enzian (it is only playing at 9:30pm most nights).

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie on Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sex Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Pixels

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan. When aliens who misinterpret a video feed of classic arcade games as a declaration of war against them, they attack the earth using the games as models for their various assaults. The President is forced to turn to his childhood friend, once a champion gamer back in the day, and other arcade legends to find a way to beat the aliens or else the human race will be annihilated.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Sci-Fi Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and suggestive comments)

Southpaw

(Weinstein) Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent. A middleweight champion boxer sees his life torn apart and thrown into disarray after a tragedy outside of the ring. Deserted by those he relied on, his daughter taken from him by child protective services, he turns to the crusty manager of an urban gym to find guidance and a way back not to glory necessarily, but to win back the trust of those he cares about the most. But glory would be nice, too.

See the trailer, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, and some violence)

Unexpected

(The Film Arcade) Colbie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, Elizabeth McGovern. A teacher discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant. At the same time, one of her most promising students also finds out she’s pregnant. Both women will forge an unlikely friendship as they try to navigate the difficulties of pregnancy even though they come from vastly different circumstances.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: NR

The Vatican Tapes

(Lionsgate) Michael Pena, Kathleen Robertson, Djimon Hounsou, Dougray Scott. When a woman is apparently possessed by something demonic, the Vatican is consulted and experts brought in. When the entity possessing the woman turns out to be far more evil, ancient and malignant than at first thought, one brave priest must stand up and fight not just for the soul of a single woman but for the fate of the entire world.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent content, and some sexual references)

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding


Living the hippie life.

Living the hippie life.

(2011) Comedy (IFC) Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Ann Osmond, Rbert Bowen Jr., Marissa O’Donnell, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen, Joyce Van Patten, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Joseph Dunn, Chace Crawford, Rosanna Arquette, Katharine McPhee, Denise Burse, Teri Gibson, Poorna Jagannathan, Terry McKenna, Wayne Pyle, Alison Ball, Laurent Rejto. Directed by Bruce Beresford

When things are going wrong in our lives, it is a natural instinct to run back home to our parents. Sometimes, we just crave the comfort of being next to our figures of security but other times, it’s their wisdom that we truly need.

Diane (Keener) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who is used to being in control. When her husband (MacLachlan) announces that he wants to divorce her, it shakes her to her very core. Needing a refuge, she decides to go home to mom in Woodstock. The trouble is, Diane’s mom Grace (Fonda) is something of a free spirit who hasn’t really left the 60s and the two women, as different as night and day, haven’t really spoken in 20 years.

But Diane has more than her own pride to think about. Her young son Jake (Wolff) is terribly shy and lacks self-confidence. That might just be because her daughter Zoe (Olsen), a budding poet, is terribly judgmental about things and people. Her kids need a support system while Diane tries to put her shattered life back together.

All three find Grace to be more than a little irritating at first and Woodstock a bit too sedate for their liking. However, all three find romantic interests; Jake falls for Tara (O’Donnell), a waitress at the local coffee shop; Zoe, a vegan, against all odds develops a crush on Cole (Crawford), a butcher. Even Diane finds time to become romantically involved with Jude (Morgan), a budding musician.

As the family finds healing in the love of others, Grace and Diane begin to find common ground. Can the two women, at war with each other for over two decades, finally make peace? Maybe there’s hope for the Middle East yet if these two can mend their differences.

Australian director Bruce Beresford has some pretty nifty movies to his credit and while he hasn’t really made it to the top tier of Hollywood directors, he is nonetheless well-respected and has had a consistent career. This movie isn’t one that is going to be a resume highlight but it nonetheless has its own kind of charm.

Chief among its charms is Fonda, who rarely gets lead roles these days and usually plays crusty old broads, curmudgeonly old mothers-in-law or this one, the eccentric granny. We tend to forget what an amazing career Fonda has had, with Oscar-caliber performances in Klute, Coming Home and On Golden Pond.

Also of note is the village of Woodstock. Famous for the music festival (which actually took place on a farm 60 miles away), the town – if this movie is to be believed – has capitalized on the notoriety of the festival and has become kind of a high-end Berkeley (those of you who live or have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area will immediately know what I mean). Think of it as a college town permanently stuck in a by-gone era.

This isn’t an inconsequential film mind you, but it isn’t something you have to overthink. It’s a charming, pleasant diversion that might bring a smile to your face and is nicely performed and directed. It won’t necessarily change your life any although the lessons it teaches about living life at a pace that doesn’t burn you out is well-taken (the ones about being in love solving all your problems, not so much) and you’re never really hit over the head with them. It’s one of those movies that gives you the warm fuzzies and sometimes, like a hug from your mom, that’s all you need.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong female roles and performances. Woodstock is a charming location.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit scattershot. Seems to indicate that the secret to happiness is romance.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few sexual references and some comedic drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although two films she performed after shooting this one were released before it, this was actress Elizabeth Olsen’s first cinematic acting job.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590,700 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Georgia Rules
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Insidious Chapter III

The Fault in Our Stars


In order to make an omelet...

In order to make an omelet…

(2014) Drama (20th Century Fox/Fox 2000) Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Mike Birbiglia, Emily Peachey, Lotte Verbeek, Ana Dela Cruz, Randy Kovitz, Toni Saladna, David Whalen, Milica Govich, Allegra Carpenter, Emily Bach, Tim Hartman, Bethany Leo, Alexis Hodges, Jean Bressard, Carly Otte, Elyse Alberts. Directed by Josh Boone

Life in general is rarely fair, but for teenagers who must deal with a deadly disease it is particularly unfair. Watching their lives ebb away, knowing that in the end their stay in this life will end prematurely, they try to find some meaning in their brief lives. It is hard to find much drama in the ins and outs of teen angst when you know your death is just around the corner.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley) has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She is unable to breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank. At age 13, she very nearly died, her tearful mother (Dern) whispering that it is okay to let go but that’s not in Hazel’s DNA. She’s a fighter and she survives, managing to stabilize her deteriorating situation by undergoing an experimental treatment that she refers to as her miracle.

She is withdrawn and reads the same book incessantly – An Imperial Affliction by Peter van Houten, a reclusive American author who has exiled himself to Amsterdam. The book intrigues her because she can relate to the cancer-stricken heroine but also because it ends mid-sentence, indicating that the heroine has died. She wants to know what happens to the supporting characters after the lead character has expired but van Houten has consistently refused to answer questions of that nature despite many entreaties by fans of the book to do so.

She reluctantly attends a support group that meets at a local church with a well-meaning youth pastor (Hartman) who rolls out a giant rug with a portrait of Jesus and abjures his group of cancer-stricken kids that they are literally meeting “in the heart of Jesus.” Hazel isn’t really looking to reach out and make friends – what’s the point – but she attracts the attention of Augustus Waters (Elgort), a free-spirited survivor who was there to support his friend Isaac (Wolff) who is soon to have surgery that will render him permanently blind. Isaac at least has the comfort of a girlfriend (Peachey) who asserts that she’ll love him “always” but is eventually freaked out by the reality of his situation and dumps him.

Augustus had bone cancer which eventually cost him the use of one leg. Before the amputation, he had been a star basketball player in basketball-mad Indiana. An unlit cigarette dangles rakishly from his lips to symbolize that he is embracing his cancer but not giving it power over him. Not the most realistic of symbols, but he’s a teenager and entitled to do things that in the long run don’t accomplish the desired effect.

She attempts to keep the irrepressible Augustus at arm’s length but we all know (including Hazel Grace herself) that eventually he will win her over. Her mom and dad (Trammell) are both overjoyed that Hazel has connected to someone else. The two grow closer but the real kicker comes when Augustus uses his wish with a Make-a-Wish type group to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet van Houten (Dafoe). Hazel would have used hers but at 13 she had used it instead to go to Disney World. Priorities, after all.

While the meeting with van Houten doesn’t go exactly as planned, it still ends up being a memorable trip although it concludes with devastating news – Augustus’ cancer, which had been in remission, has reappeared and it has spread everywhere. They both know that Augustus has been given a death sentence but they are determined that now that they are comfortable with being in love with each other that they will make the most of the time they both have left.

This is a movie that I am conflicted about in many ways. As most of you know, the movie is based on the bestselling novel by John Green that in turn was based on his experiences working with support groups of the sort Hazel made fun of early on in the film (and Hazel herself is based on a real person, Esther Earl, who died of thyroid cancer at the age of 16. Green, who was very involved in the production of the movie, pulled no punches in the book although for time constraints some of the suffering  at the hands of the disease that the protagonists had to deal with had to be left out – but then again, the movie isn’t about their suffering per se.

Shailene Woodley is one of the best young actresses working today and already has an Oscar nomination under her belt. She may well get another one here although Academy voters are not known for remembering good work from summer films. She captures the many dimensions of Hazel and keeps her real. A role like this could easily lose its humanity with actors trying to play her too heroically or not heroic enough. Hazel is an ordinary hero, a young girl living with lungs that don’t work properly and the prospects of a short life. She does tend to push people away but as it turns out there’s nothing wrong with her heart in the least.

Elgort is a handsome guy with an engaging grin, but the part is rife with cliches – the free-spirited dying kid who is full of life. Not that there aren’t kids like that running around, but there are a disproportionate number of them in Hollywood. Hazel narrates that she’d like to say that Augustus kept his sense of humor (after the cancer returned) but that wouldn’t be true, but then the writers go ahead and make it true. Don’t say that a character changes without having them change. It’s dishonest. None of that is Elgort’s fault by the way – and I don’t doubt he has a fine career ahead of him.

You need to keep a couple of things in mind when seeing this movie. First of all, it’s manipulative. Holy Christ is it manipulative! How could it not be, considering the subject matter? Brave kids facing a painful death? And yes, you will be anywhere from misty-eyed to outright sobbing when the end credits roll. Expect it and deal with it.

Secondly, this is a movie aimed very squarely at young teen and pre-teen girls. Augustus fits into the young female fantasy of a sensitive, caring boy who happens to be breathtakingly hot and free-spirited, willing to accept the love of his life as she is and wait for her when she’s not certain. He’s loyal, loving, affectionate, funny…if he pulled out a guitar and played a love song he wrote for every girl in the audience he couldn’t have been more perfect. And of course Hazel herself is brave, beautiful, and of course in mortal jeopardy but never backs down for a moment, fighting for her life with dignity and grace.

There are those who sniff that this movie isn’t about cancer, but that’s disingenuous. No, the movie isn’t about cancer – you’re not going to learn the ins and outs of the disease from watching this film – but cancer informs this movie. There’s no movie (or book) without it. This movie isn’t about cancer in the same way The Godfather isn’t about the Mafia.

There are some beautiful truths here to be had here but you have to plough through some fairly predictable elements to get to them. I would have liked to see the characters be less perfect and more human. I would have loved to see Augustus scream at the faulty stars at the raw deal he’s getting. I would have liked to see Hazel lash out more than she does. I would have liked to see the movie pander less to the target audience and respect them more. However, that doesn’t mean this movie won’t satisfy their needs and strike a powerful chord in their hearts, and who am I to dismiss a movie that can accomplish that as well as this one does?

REASONS TO GO: Woodley shows off her Oscar-nominated form. Not a typical teen romance.

REASONS TO STAY: Manipulative and maudlin and unnecessarily so.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, occasionally salty language and mature thematic content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s title is a reference to a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; “The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 50/50

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Miss Bala

New Releases for the Week of June 13, 2014


How to Train Your Dragon 2HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, Djimon Hounsou, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill. Directed by Dean DeBlois

Hiccup, the Viking who united Vikings and dragons, is faced with a new and darker challenge – a warlord who controls some fierce dragons of his own and wants all of them under his thumb. Hiccup will have to organize his own tribe with the aid of someone unexpected whom he literally never thought he’d see again – his mom.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, B-roll video and footage from the premiere here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for adventure action and mild rude humor)

22 Jump Street

(Columbia/MGM) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens. Fresh from their triumph of breaking up a high school drug ring, the two misfit cops go undercover – in college. However, their experiences there lead them to question their partnership as the two overgrown teenagers are dragged into manhood, kicking and screaming.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, footage from the premiere and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action Comedy

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

Palo Alto

(Tribeca) Emma Roberts, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolff. Four teens – a popular soccer player, a promiscuous loner who seeks validation through sex, an introspective artist and his increasingly reckless and irresponsible best friend, try to navigate through very complicated situations that may destroy their lives – or perhaps even end them. Based on a series of interlinked stories written by Franco. Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, makes her directing debut.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and pervasive language – all involving teens)

The Signal

(Focus)  Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne. Three college students on a Southwestern road trip make a harrowing detour into a waking nightmare that has them as the focus of a government investigation.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements, violence and language)

Admission


Two people who know just how cute they are.

Two people who know just how cute they are.

(2013) Romantic Comedy (Focus) Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Nat Wolff, Michael Sheen, Gloria Reuben, Wallace Shawn, Michael Genadry, Christopher Evan Welch, Sarita Choudhury, Rob Campbell, Sonya Walger, Olek Krupa, Travaris Spears, Camille Branton. Directed by Paul Weitz

Getting into a good school can make all the difference in life. Princeton University, as one of the best schools in the nation, has to rigorously check potential students, culling out the wheat to get to the chaff. Looking for the best and the brightest isn’t always easy.

Portia Nathan (Fey), as one of Princeton’s top admissions officers, has that unenviable task. The simple math is that there are far more applicants than there are open spots so much of what she does is telling young students that their application has been declined.

This year it’s particularly vital because the director of admissions (Shawn) is stepping down at the end of the year and he doesn’t want to go out as number two, which Princeton has fallen to for the first time in years. His position will go to either Portia or Corinne (Reuben), her supercilious rival. Portia, whose territory is the northeast, is given the directive to find some new blood from schools not normally associated with Princeton.

Then she gets a call from John Pressman (Rudd), a former classmate at Dartmouth with Portia who knew her roommate well. He’s got a progressive school called Quest Academy in New Hampshire and has a student he’s particularly high on that might make a nice addition to Princeton’s student body. He invites her to talk to the student body about the advantages of going to Princeton. Oh and by the way, the student in question – Jeremiah (Wolff) – may possibly be the child she gave up for adoption just after she graduated from college. Whoops.

Of course now this puts her maternal instincts on overdrive and her impartiality on vacation. In the meantime her personal life is in chaos as her longtime boyfriend (Sheen) has dumped her for a bitchy English professor (Walger) and her relationship with her goofy feminist mom (Tomlin) is pinballing around her life like a pachinko machine gone berserk. On top of that John is looking kinda cute and sexy, even though she tells herself she wants no part of him. Which of course means she does.

 

Weitz, who’s made some pretty nifty pictures in his time (including About a Boy and American Dreamz) doesn’t quite have that kind of material here. This is, to be honest, a pretty pedestrian story, full of your basic romantic comedy clichés. Fortunately, that’s not all it is – there’s a bit of satire on the higher education system and how cutthroat it has become. There’s also something about embracing the differences, and understanding that people are more than the sum of their parts.

Fey and Rudd make appealing leads and that should come to nobody’s surprise – they are two of the most likable actors in Hollywood. They are not only an attractive couple, they play off of each other well. Both of them are pretty low-key however; there is nothing frenetic here and so the movie has a curiously muted feel. I suspect Weitz didn’t want to play this strictly for comedy (despite casting comedic actors in nearly every role) and wanted a dramatic edge to it but it winds up really settling into a middle ground that is neither funny nor dramatic.

Tomlin makes the movie worth seeing alone. One of the greatest comedians of all time (male or female), she infuses Susannah with just enough grouchiness to be funny, but just enough tenderness to give her the potential for redemption. Tomlin is definitely the comedic highlight here, which I’m sure that Fey as a longtime admirer doesn’t mind.

I actually liked the movie overall – but I didn’t love it (obviously). I wish it had been written a little bit better – perhaps Fey, one of the better writers working today, should have had a hand in it. Having not read the novel that is the source material, I can’t say for certain whether the fault lies in the source material or the adaptation but either way the plot is far too predictable – one of the main twists was predicted by Da Queen early in the movie and not to say that Da Queen isn’t a savvy moviegoer (she is) but it shouldn’t have been that easy for anyone to get it. With the summer blockbusters just a month away from the theaters, this is probably easy to overlook and is just as viable a choice for home viewing as anything else out there.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Fey and Rudd. Pleasant and charming in places.

REASONS TO STAY: Formulaic. Lacks big laughs. Is curiously lacking in energy.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of language and some sexuality but not a lot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While some of the scenes were shot on the campus of Princeton, more of it was shot at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100; the reviews are mixed, trending a teensy bit to the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wanderlust

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Burning Plain