My oh my, has it been a busy week. With the Oscars dominating most of my watching hours over the course of the past few weeks, last week had too little Weekly Review material to post and so all that material was pushed back. At home, I revisited Birdman, Whiplash and Gone Girl, three of my favorite films of last year and found that my love for the first two has only intensified while my feelings for Gone Girl have ever-so-slightly quelled. I still really like it but would definitely notch it lower in my year’s end rankings if there were such thing as a do-over in life.
The theater held screenings of the punishing Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Disney’s running Mexicans underdog story McFarland, USA, and the absolutely hysterical vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows but I managed to discover an absolute wonder at home with Girlhood, nowing playing in select theaters including Seattle’s SIFF Uptown. All that and more to come, this time on Weekly Review.
THE GAMBLER (2014)
A perfect example of a movie that thinks its playing with a full house and winds up with two dinky pairs, The Gambler is a trump card short of being any good. In a role that he dropped an unnecessary forty pounds to play, Mark Wahlberg does the part of douchey gambler justice though the despicable nature of his selfish, implosive character is more likely to curl audience members’ patience than attract them and win over their empathy. As a pitiable genius/offspring of old-world money, Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett gets in over his head with gambling debts just to sample the many flavors of chaos. Only once someone he truly cares about/respects life is put on the line does he even attempt to get his head out of the proverbial toilet bowl. This supplies The Gambler some screwy, cigar-chewing, money-loaning antagonists but also flaunts its fundamental and fatal flaw: it’s hard to root for a guy who’s jamming at his own self-destruct button. (C)
THE VOICES (2015)
For my money, there’s two Ryan Reynolds: the studio lackey – a big ball of ham too willing to play fetch – and the actor – the deeply buried thespian who’s fitfully reared his head in Reynold’s past. Buried underground, Reynolds can be quite brilliant. In The Voices, the snark is gone, the sarcasm has said sayonara and in its place, Reynold’s outlook reflects a damaged, tender psychopath battling dark desires with an urgently comic tinge. Urged on by his evil anthropomorphized cat (he of the pesky, titular voices), Jerry falls into a little bit of a killing spree and the resulting internal turmoil is both laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. Director Marjane Satrapi‘s atmosphere is brightly foreboding and yet often psychedelic and humming with dark humor. She allows Reynolds to shine a crazy shade of diamond in this weird, off-kilter murder comedy sure to be enjoyed by fans of Dexter and Barton Fink. (B)
Last night, we saw Boyhood lose the Oscar and if all goes according to the law of averages, 2015’s losers will have to include Girlhood. Unfortunately, it won’t likely even be in the conversation. Girlhood, despite being an all-around phenomenal look at a girl hood living in a hood going through girlhood, digs much deeper than the premise of Boyhood in terms of its cultural breadth. Céline Sciamma‘s portrait of the hard knocks in the dead-end district of Parisian projects breathes life into corners that don’t often get their moment in the spotlight and for it is both illuminating and heartbreaking. Girlhood follows Marieme’s 16th year of life as she contents with low grades at school, an abusive brother, a troop of new, older, “badder” friends and, ultimately, the prospect of taking the easy route. Sciamma’s tale is rousing and pure – accented by her fine-tuned ear for musical numbers (including a near-breathtaking sequence to Rihanna’s “Diamonds”) – and most certainly one that’ll undeservedly be seen by far too few patrons. Do yourself a favor and find this diamond in the rough. (A-)
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004)
I’ll admit that I hate-watched my way through all of Friday Night Lights‘ five season run. That’s not to say that I “hated” the show, it just happened to make me roll my eyes and scoff at the screen with its middle America values and blatant close-mindedness more than any other show that I watched in its entirety. Assuming it was time to finally check out where it all came from (and take in another Billy Bob Thornton performance), I turned to the 2004 flick that inspired it all, to mixed results. The film itself charters no new territory and is surprisingly congruous to the television show in terms of its storyline. It’s not that that was a surprise so much as the story works so much better stretched out over the course of an entire season. Billy Bob’s good in the role, though lacks the complexity of Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor. Ultimately, it’s a minorly fine film that just lacks much oomph, especially in light of the series that followed it. (C)
COFFEE TOWN (2013)
I’d heard stirrings of the College Humor produced comedy Coffee Town starring It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton from quite a few sources and when a screener I needed to watch was bugging out, decided to pop it on HBO for a viewing. First things first, the comedy itself is offensive and off-colored, including unfunny AIDS jokes and “retard fights”. So if you’re easy jarred by this brand of low-brow humor, you’re advised to steer clear because there’s not much else here. Howerton proves that he doesn’t have to play the churlish playboy as he’s given much more of an everyman role here and does fine with the material – though I’m not convinced that it’s quite the role his CV needs to make a convincing Hollywood case. As Will, Howerton bands together with immature friend Chad (Steve Little) and unscrupulous cop Gino (Ben Schwartz) to rob their local coffee shop to prevent it from being converted into a hip bistro. What these boys do for their coffee. The one saving grace of this largely dead-in-the-water comedy is Josh Groban, playing a d-bag barista and proving once and for all that Opera singers can indeed play bit parts in low-budget comedies. (D+)