New Releases for the Week of January 10, 2020


1917

(Universal) George Mackay, Dean Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, Pip Carter. Directed by Sam Mendes

Two young British soldiers during the height of the First World War are given a nearly-impossible task; in a race against time, they must cross enemy territory to deliver a message to a battalion of soldiers who are walking into a trap – one of them the brother of one of the messengers. This won the Best Dramatic Movie at last weekend’s Golden Globes and is almost certain to be a major contender for the upcoming Oscars.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: War
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, some disturbing images, and language)

Chhapaak

(Rising Star) Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey, Madhurjeet Sarghi, Ankit Bisht. The story of a woman in India who had acid hurled into her face, causing irreparable damage. Her refusal to accept an indifferent legal and medical system proved to be an inspiration to women all over India.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: NR

Just Mercy

(Warner Brothers) Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson. A young lawyer just out of Harvard takes on a case in Alabama of an African-American man wrongly accused of a murder – and convicted of it, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. The lawyer refuses to give up however and continues to defend his client despite an array of political power against him. Foxx’s name has come up in discussion for the Best Supporting Actor nominations.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Legal Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content including some racial epithets)

Like a Boss

(Paramount) Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Coolidge. Two best friends who have built a cosmetics company from the ground up find themselves in over their heads financially. A buyout from a legendary industry maven seems to be the solution, but it’s only the beginning of their problems.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language crude sexual material, and drug use)

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior

(Viva) Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Sharad Kelkar. The story of a legendary 17th century Marantha warrior who fought for his king and his people and led them to a dazzling victory at Kondana Fort, leaving behind a legacy that illuminated the Indian imagination for centuries.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Underwater

(20th Century Fox) Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick. A group of underwater researchers find themselves facing a dire situation when an underwater earthquake devastates their facility and in their quest to reach safety they find themselves being stalked by something from their worst nightmares.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

3Pol Trobol
Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
The Corrupted
Darbar
Reality Queen!
Sarileru Neekewaru
Three Christs

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

3Pol Trobol
Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
Darbar
Dawn
Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike DeGruy
Inherit the Viper
Sarileru Neekewaru
The Sonata
The Song of Names
Three Christs

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

3Pol Trobol
Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
Because of Sam
Darbar
Sarileru Neekewaru

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
Darbar
Sarileru Neekewaru

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

1917
Just Mercy
Like a Boss
The Sonata
Underwater

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Dunedin International Film Festival, Dunedin FL
Miami Jewish Film Festival, Aventura FL
Sunshine City Film Festival, St. Petersburg FL

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


Git along, lil’ doggies.

(2018) Western (NetflixTim Blake Nelson, Clancy Brown, David Krumholtz, James Franco, Stephen Root, Ralph Ineson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Jefferson Mays, Prudence Wright Holmes, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly, Chelcie Ross, Jonjo O’Neill, Jordy Laucomer, Brett Hughson, Thea Lux, Danny McCarthy, Harry Meling, Jiji Hise. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers have been one of my favorite directors going back to Raising Arizona. Their mix of cynicism and quirky humor have made even the lesser efforts highly watchable. When they’re on their game, there are none better.

They have always had a soft spot for the American West – many of their films are set there, if not out and out westerns – and this, their newest film is an anthology of six tales set in the old West. The opening tale which gives the movie its name features Nelson as a singing cowboy who turns out to be a cross between Gene Autry and Clint Eastwood. There are moments of horrific violence and wicked humor which ends in an unexpected way. This is my favorite segment of the six (and the shortest) and ranks right up there with some of their best work ever.

“Near Algodones” stars Franco as a bank robber and keeps up the momentum. Franco plays the luckiest – and most luckless – thief ever. While less unexpected than the first segment, it nonetheless is entertaining. “Meal Ticket” starts the film overall towards a darker turn. It stars Neeson as an impresario who employs an armless and legless thespian (Meling) who does soliloquys in a wagon that converts into an impromptu stage until…well, you need to see for yourself.

“All Gold Canyon” features Tom Waits as a prospector who strikes it rich but then must do battle with a claim jumper. It’s loosely based on a Jack London short story. “The Girl Who Got Rattled” is about a young woman (Kazan) traveling with a wagon train who is looking for love – and finds it. I also liked this segment, nearly as much as the first one. Finally, there’s “Mortal Remains” in which a group traveling in a stagecoach are treated to a tale told by a foppish bounty hunter (O’Neill). In many ways this is the deepest segment from a philosophical standpoint but it does make for an odd way to end the film.

This isn’t as cohesive as the best Cohen brothers movies are – it couldn’t be, given that it’s an anthology – but when it is at its best (the first and fifth segments) it is a riveting piece of filmmaking, from the beautiful cinematography in “All Gold Canyon” to the ironic wit in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” There is a definitely cynical tone here; it feels like over the past decade the films of the Coen boys have taken the point of view that there is nothing to recommend most people and the best thing we can do with our lives is die. I think I hold out a little more hope than all that, but they at least make their cynicism entertaining. Although I wish I could have seen this on the big screen, Netflix subscribers should make a point of adding this to their queue if they haven’t already seen it.

REASONS TO SEE: Has all the quirkiness you come to expect from the Coen brothers. The opening chapter is one of the best things they’ve ever done.
REASONS TO AVOID: Waffles between hysterically funny and bleaker than bleak.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the longest film the Coen brothers have ever directed, and the first to be shot on digital media.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rustler’s Rhapsody
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Sonata

The Report


Going through millions of pages in government reports could turn anybody into Kylo Ren.

(2019) True Life Drama (AmazonAdam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Corey Stoll, Linda Powell, John Rothman, Victor Slezak, Guy Boyd, Alexander Chaplin, Joanne Tucker, Ian Blackman, Tim Blake Nelson, Fajer Kaisi, Scott Shepherd, Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Rhys, Kate Beahan, April Rogalski. Directed by Scott Z. Burns

 

As Americans, we have always held ourselves to certain standards. We are strong, true and follow the law. We do the right thing. There came a time though, that our self-image took a pounding.

Young Daniel Jones (Driver) is ambitious, ready to keep America safe after 9/11. He was anxious to make a difference the best way he could – behind the scenes as a Congressional aide. When Senator Diane Feinstein (Bening) asks him to look into recordings of interrogations that the CIA had reportedly destroyed, he uncovered something terrible; evidence that the CIA was torturing prisoners for information.

Calling the effort “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” or EIT, the program was put in place by a pair of contractors with backgrounds in psychology and the military. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that the two men had never conducted an interrogation before, or that evidence was strong that torture almost never yielded any actionable intelligence. The program went on and keeping it covered up seemed to be the main focus.

Jones and a small team of researchers worked in a basement office in a CIA satellite office for five years, working crazy hours going through more than six million pages of documents. Despite reluctance by the CIA and certain segments of Congress, Jones pressed and pressed until he uncovered the shocking truth.

The story is an important one, one that is especially relevant these days. Not every important story makes a good movie, however; much of what happened involved researchers sitting in front of a computer screen in a jail cell-like atmosphere. The dramatic tension here is not very strong. It doesn’t help that Burns doesn’t really develop Jones much as a character; we never see much of his personality except for that he’s driven and almost obsessive. He’s passionate about what he’s looking for and sometimes gets frustrated when others don’t share his outrage.

Bening and Driver are both outstanding actors and they don’t disappoint here. Driver is definitely in a much more different kind of role than we’re used to from him and it’s a good fit. I’m impressed by his versatility as an actor and he really stretches himself here. Bening is an actress who doesn’t always get the due she deserves; she probably won’t get a ton of accolades for her performance here but she really brings Feinstein’s personality to the forefront; that’s not surprising considering the two are friends in real life. Good casting is important in any cinematic endeavor.

I can see where those who are politically conservative might not like this much; the Conservatives don’t come up covered in glory here. Still, it’s an important story about how easy it is for the way to be lost, and how wanting to preserve our security can sometimes lead to compromising our soul. It’s a chilling tale and one that needs to be committed to memory.

REASONS TO SEE: A compelling story chilling in its implications. Strong performances by Driver and Bening.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overall the movie is a bit more underwhelming than the story deserves.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing depictions of torture, violence, plenty of profanity and graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Daniel J. Jones attended the film’s world premiere at Sundance and received a standing ovation from the audience.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zero Dark Thirty
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Last Color

New Releases for the Week of August 23, 2019


ANGEL HAS FALLEN

(Lionsgate) Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Piper Perabo, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

An assassination attempt on the President leaves his trusted Secret Service agent and confidante Mike Banning wrongly accused. He is forced to go on the run to clear his name, keep his family safe and root out the real threat to the country and stop it before it’s too late.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

After the Wedding

(Sony Classics) Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn. The administrator of an orphanage in India gets an unexpected and generous donation from a mysterious benefactor in New York. She must go to the Big Apple to accept the gift in person but there is much more going on there than meets the eye.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some strong language)

Luce

(NEON) Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth. Ten years after adopting their son from Eritrea, a pair of suburban white parents believe their son has a bright future ahead of him. An academic all-star, well-regarded in the community and an example for his peers, Luce turns in a term paper with a troubling point of view. His African-American teacher begins to fear the worst which puts her into direct conflict with his parents.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, nudity and some drug use)

The Nightingale

(IFC) Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman. In early 19th century Australia during the penal colony days, a woman suffers repeated sexual assault at the hands of a British officer. When her husband intervenes, the officer murders both her husband and her infant. Destitute and bereft, she goes on a journey to exact revenge. This previously played at both the Miami Film Festival and Florida Film Festival; you can read the review by clicking on the link in the “Scheduled For Review” section below.

See the trailer, a video featurette and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for strong violent and disturbing content including rape, language throughout and brief sexuality))

Overcomer

(Affirm) Alex Kendrick, Priscilla C. Shirer, Shari Rigby, Cameron Arnett. When a small town is devastated by a plant closing throwing thousands out of work, the local high school basketball coach wonders what sort of future he has in the town. Pressed into service to coach the girl’s cross country team, he encounters an extraordinary athlete whose faith may very well move mountains.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

The Peanut Butter Falcon

(Roadside Attractions) Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern. A young man with Down’s Syndrome and a yen to become a professional wrestler, confined to a nursing home because the State doesn’t have an opening at a proper facility for his care, runs away to find his wrestling hero who runs a wrestling school. He falls in with an ex-con on the run from some angry fishermen as the two search for a place where they can live life on their own terms.

See the trailer, a clip and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking)

Ready or Not

(Fox Searchlight) Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny. A young woman marries into a wealthy family who have an eccentric tradition; a game must be played at midnight on the night of the wedding to welcome the new member of the family. When she selects a game of Hide and Seek, she discovers that the game is no laughing matter and she is in a fight for her very survival.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Mike Wallace is Here

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Best Summer of My Life
Comali
Tel Aviv on Fire

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Jacob’s Ladder (2019)
Tel Aviv on Fire
Tone Deaf

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Comali
Twice the Dream

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Angel Has Fallen
The Nightingale
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Ready or Not

New Releases for the Week of May 10, 2019


POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

(Warner Brothers) Ryan Reynolds (voice), Justice Smith, Ken Watanabe, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Suki Waterhouse. Directed by Rob Letterman

When Detective Harry Goodman mysteriously disappears, his 21-year-old son Tim goes on the hunt to find his Dad, acquiring along the way Dad’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu. Tim turns out to be a gifted but unrealized Pokémon trainer, allowing him to communicate with Pikachu in a way nobody else has. The two of them come face to face with a monstrous conspiracy that threatens to unravel the entire Pokémon universe.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements)

Her Smell

(Gunpowder and Sky) Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Eric Stoltz. A femme punk icon from the 90s is having a tough go of it now. Relegated to smaller venues, their front woman has become a disaster of drug abuse and alcohol, Hollywood-crazy cults and lost inspiration. Having messed up a recording session and a national tour, she is forced to turn her life around or lose everything. In all honesty, I saw this at the Florida Film Festival and walked out after an hour, not being able to take the constant whining and unpleasantness of the lead character. I have friends who think this is one of the best movies of the year; I have other friends who think the film is absolute trash. I won’t try to make your mind up for you but be aware going in this is a very acquired taste.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)

The Hustle

(MGM) Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Tim Blake-Nelson, Alex Sharp. An elegant, sophisticated con artist takes a rough and crude Aussie under her wing as they attempt to fleece the visitors to a resort town on the French Riviera. Loosely based on the hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content and language)

Poms

(STX) Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman. A woman moves into a retirement community and tired of not fulfilling the things she wants most out of life, starts a cheerleading squad. Joined by fellow seniors, they discover in their journey that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

See the trailer and clips here
em>For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some language/sexual references)

Shadow

(Well Go USA) Chao Deng, Li Sun, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang. A general, severely wounded by an opponent who has captured an important city in his kingdom, is not who he seems to be in this lush and gorgeous production by master director Yimou Zhang. It has previously played both the Miami and Florida Film Festivals prior to beginning this short run at the Enzian. A link to a review for the Miami Film Festival appears below.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Student of the Year 2

(Fox STAR) Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, Ananya Panday, Aditya Seal. The sequel to the 2012 Bollywood hit.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Tolkien

(Fox Searchlight) Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi. The story of the man who would go on to create Middle Earth and entrance billions of readers for almost 75 years with the tales of brave hobbits and noble kings.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)

Wild Nights with Emily

(Greenwich) Molly Shannon, Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, Brett Gelman. We’ve always pictured Emily Dickinson as an austere, passionless spinster but recent unearthed letters have revealed that the Poet Laureate of Amherst was far from that. This film takes a revisionist look at one of the greatest American poets to have ever lived.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biography
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Casi Fiel (Almost Faithful)
Charlie Says
General Magic
Mahafrshi
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Uyare

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Casa Fiel (Almost Faithful)
Charlie Says
Iyengar: The Man, Yoga and the Student’s Journey
Maharshi
The White Crow
Wine Country

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

100
Kee
Maharshi
The Professor and the Madman

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Maharshi
Uyare

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Charlie Says
The Hustle
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Shadow
Tolkien

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (Sidney Hall)


The Hollywood version of a writer hard at work.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deidra and Laney Rob a Train


Deidra and Laney are on top of the train situation.

(2017) Young Adult Comedy (Netflix) Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson, Missi Pyle, Sharon Laurence, David Sullivan, Danielle Nicolet, Myko Olivier, Sasheer Zamata, Arturo Castro, Kinna McInroe, Brooke Markham, Cj Strong, Deborah Lee Douglas, Tua Kealoha, Lance Gray, Chad Wright, Gerry Garcia, Nick Moceri, Kami Christiansen, Monica Moore Smith. Directed by Sydney Freeland

 

When you’re a single parent, making ends meet can be no easy task, especially if your employment options are limited and your ex isn’t paying the child support they owe. It’s a difficult situation, one which can go from precarious to catastrophic in a single moment.

Deidra (Murray) is the class valedictorian in a small Idaho town where she is the oldest of three children, including her middle sister Laney (Crow) and her youngest brother Jet (Gray) who likes to play with action figures. They live on the wrong side of the tracks (literally; the train tracks border their back yard) with their mom Marigold (Nicolet) who works at a Best Buy-type electronics store.

One afternoon she unexpectedly loses it at work and goes on a rampage, smashing a big screen TV to pieces. Her erstwhile employer not only presses charges, they insist on making her out to be a domestic terrorist, raising her bail to unaffordable heights. There are bills to pay and Deidra realizes that not only can they not afford to keep food on the table or the electricity turned on, a social welfare worker (McInroe) is threatening to move Jet into a foster home if they can’t demonstrate that the environment is suitable.

In desperation, Deidra visits her ex-con dad Chet (Sullivan) who works as a technician for the railroad. He only has $13 to give them but he gives Deidra something much more valuable; an idea for a way out. He offhandedly mentions that there have been a spate of train robberies lately that have gone unsolved and the railroad brass has sent a security specialist named Truman (Nelson) to investigate. Vaping incessantly, he also has a checkered past in which he’d been drummed out of law enforcement for excessive use of force. He is clearly not a man to be trifled with.

Nonetheless Deidra figures out that she can hop aboard a freight car, break the lock and take whatever she can find in them. She knows she can’t do this alone so she enlists her sister Laney – who is embroiled in the Miss Teen Idaho pageant which she had only entered to support her “friend” Claire (Markham) who immediately turned her back on Laney when Laney was also selected as a finalist . Laney is at first reluctant but when things start to get desperate she agrees to help.

Deidra also enlists her ex-boyfriend Jerry (Olivier), who she dumped for selling pot, to sell the stolen merchandise on E-Bay. She’s set a goal of $12,000 which would be sufficient to catch them up on their bills and get their mom out on bail. She’s also pressured by the guidance counselor Ms. Spencer (Zamata) who believes that if she can get just one student out of town on a scholarship she’ll get promoted and Deidra is her best shot at it. With all this going on, the social worker and the railroad dick both sniffing around their lives and her dad trying to make up years of neglect to his kids, can this high school senior and her sister pull off the larceny they need to get their family whole again?

Those who have paid attention to my reviews over the years should by now realize that I’m not a big fan of the programming on the Freeform cable network. This movie positively reeks of the things that really make me frown about the cable network’s offerings. The script is absolutely ludicrous; for one thing, can you imagine a mother, particularly one who realizes she is the sole support for her kids, melting down like that and then treating her jail time as a vacation? None but the most irresponsible of parents would react that way and even then if they were of that nature they likely would have had their kids taken away from them long before. For some reason (and this goes back a long ways before Freeform was a gleam in Disney’s eye) kids movie/TV show writers delight in making adults be absolutely incompetent so that they can show how kids can solve their own problems.

Of course, normally Freeform and other Disney outlets don’t approve of using crime to solve the problems that their heroes and heroines are grappling with, but these are interesting times. For the working class, these types of conditions are reality and while the mom being hauled off to jail would in reality have ALL the kids taken to foster care, life for the working class particularly in rural towns is bleak and hopeless in a lot of ways – you can see why they chose to vote for the maverick outsider when it seemed like neither political party gave a rat’s behind about their situation. The movie reflects that frustration.

Murray, who also starred in the CW series Riverdale this spring, is a find. She plays Deidra as smart without being condescending and compassionate while being fierce. She avoids the clichés that so many young adult actresses fall into. Sadly, the material she has to work with here isn’t really up to her performance.

While the movie is entertaining for the main part, it’s clearly meant for a young adult audience and will offer little for audiences with a “two” or more as the first number in their age. I’m of the perhaps misguided belief that you can write terrific material for young adults without talking down to them as this movie does; it creates a world where the right thing to do is the wrong thing to do also. While empowering the girls in the movie, it also empowers them without consequences to their actions, something that really doesn’t happen often in the real world, even for adults. I applaud the filmmakers for making this an inclusive film that looks at the real economic situations faced by working class families everywhere; I just wish they could have presented real solutions and real information that kids who find themselves needing to be empowered can do so without fear of being jailed for it.

REASONS TO GO: Murray avoids young adult actress clichés. There is a decent entertainment value here.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a Freeform/Afterschool Special vibe (not necessarily a good thing). The ludicrous plot is clearly meant for youngsters, not adults.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and some just as mild violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The high school scenes were filmed at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hell or High Water
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Meghan Leavey