Kris Swanberg rightfully fancies herself as far more than the wife of illustrious mumblecore director Joe Swanberg. She is a filmmaker in her own right. Though she may still be perfecting her craft. With her third film, Unexpected, the female Swanberg sought to thoughtfully divorce “pregnancy films” from the comedic context that it’s been hedged into time and again. Instead, she intended to make some earnest, genuine and from the perspective of an actual woman going through these actual motions. And for the most part, she has succeeded. Read More
Kris Swanberg gives a somewhat too conventional glimpse into unplanned pregnancy in Unexpected, co-written with Megan Mercier and Kris Williams. This marks Swanberg’s third feature film, and notably her first film with known actors and a budget that’s actually workable. While Swanberg said she wanted Unexpected to be a more realistic film, stripped of the usual comedy around unplanned pregnancy and the heightened melodrama of the environment of low income schools, the lack of both elements makes for a charming film of realism indeed, but one that’s too dramatically scarce. Read More
Andrew Bujalski earned an earnest little following out of Austin, Texas from his efforts in building up the mumblecore scene but his star has never shined brighter than it did two festival seasons ago with the debut of his offbeat docu-comedy Computer Chess. Expanding on that last project – which used a blend of professionals and non-actors – Bujalski had to contend with being in a whole new league. The majors to his minors, the Globo-Gym to his Average Joes. He admits that the process was very much the same as it’s always been. “I think directing is the same. Whether they’re professionals or non-professionals, everybody has their own insecurities, and their own approach.” The result is Results, an offbeat and messy gym rat comedy that’s still a little pudgy. Read More
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Toby Jones
Adventure, Action, Sci-Fi
Growing up in the 1940s gives Steve Rogers an excuse to not understand the mechanics of speed dial. But when neo-Nazi’s threaten the freedom of the entire world, you have to wonder why he’s not more focused on contacting his nuclear suit-wearing chum, Tony Stark, or the bad Shakespeare in the park actor/Norse God, Thor. Unless he’s gone on some spirit journey to be explained away in extra Blu-Ray bonus material, Tony’s probably just shambling around Stark Towers in his drawers. His billionaire skyline must be literally cast in shadow by the helicarriers of doom that Captain America’s trying to take down with the only weapons at his disposal: record-breaking sprinting skills and a shield. The fate of the entire world is at stake and here’s good hearted Steve clearly taking a hell of an ass-whopping and he still doesn’t see fit to call up his Avengers pals? Or at least try? I’m sorry but you lost me there.
The one thing that Kevin Fiege and his Marvel Movie Universe croonies tend to get right is they suit the adventure to the adventurer. The threats Iron Man faced in his third outing were largely personal. A wronged colleague becomes a viable villain, he’s forced to deal with PDST from a near death experience and his personal arsenal of humanoid WMDs transforms him from a private citizen into national defense mascot numero uno. There were larger implications at play had he not gotten his guy but Stark at least felt well equipped to handle the charge. Thor’s arc in The Dark World involves intergalactic worm holes, gigantic frost monsters and 8-foot tall Dark Elves. But Thor wields a hammer forged in a dying star that gives him the ability to fly around like a blonde, bearded Superman. Being, you know, a god, Thor was the Avenger best equipped to handle such a mark. Sure, having other Supers alongside wouldn’t have hurt but this was a mission that suited Thor’s pedigree. Equipped only with a hunky body, a pure heart and strips of pure sinew for legs (made for putting fellow long distance runners to shame), Captain America (Chris Evans) just seems out of his depths.
Look at him in The Winter Soldier. His big mission involves a retread task (one we already saw a version of in The Avengers) that he’s simply unfit to handle because, well, his superpowers aren’t really that super. His third act heroics necessitate a flying wingman because he’s simply not equipped to handle the mission solo. Joining him is snarky sidekick Anthony Mackie as Falcon, an ex-Marine with a winged exoskeleton, because calling up Tony Stark or Thor was just… out of the question?
Part and parcel of enjoying these Marvel movies is digesting them with a spoonful of salt, especially when we’re looking at them from a logical standpoint and not a logistical one. Omissions are necessary from a budgetary standpoint and we have to be willing to overlook that… to some degree. But rather than make these shortcomings apparent, smart screenwriting would try to mask the need for the whole gang. This is where Captain America: The Winter Soldier fails hardest; an especially sad reality when contrasted to the contained spy thriller that it’s established as.
Since the events of The Avengers, Cap and his shield shield S.H.I.E.L.D. Before this, Iron Man 2 was the first MMU film to tackle the build towards The Avengers head on and got far too bogged down in the goings on at that shadowy organization to stand as a film itself. The Winter Soldier has becomes it’s Phase 2 predecessor. Like Iron Man 2, it suffers from a fatal diagnosis of teaser syndrome. It’s all about what’s to come, not what’s happening in the now. By the end of the film, the chapter isn’t closed, it’s just beginning. Even it’s titular character, that mysterious Winter Soldier (played by a hollowed out Sebastian Stan), is relegated to a minor role with only an inkling of character.
If only Marvel would realize that not ever venture needed a third-act calamity, that millions must not be dumped on visual effects and that telling a self-contained story is a virtue in itself, then this could have been a rousing triumph. As it is, Cap 2 works so much better when its sights are centered on the smaller scale, when Steve and Scar Jo‘s Black Widow are traipsing around hunting for clues, trying to put a name to faceless villainy.
Give me more super-noir, less hapless explosions. Give me the humor and tragedy of Cap being a man lost in time. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely show savvy sneaking in some current political hot buttons as subtext but fail to tell the more personal story of a lost man adapting to a whole damn new century. But this is bane of the Russo Bros’ film; it takes one step forward, two steps back. Every cheer is followed up with a few jeers. With character resolution left dealt with in post-credit stingers and a third act that may as well have been helidropped in from some other movie, the modest enjoyment one gets from Captain America: The Winter Soldier just doesn’t justify the $170 million dollars spent. It’s too busy shoulder tapping you to go see The Avengers 2.
Directed by Ken Scott
Starring Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld, Bobby Moynihan, Britt Robertson, Jack Reynor, Dave Patten, Adam Chanler-Berat
Whether our viewing sensibilities are just outgrowing Vince Vaughn or people just aren’t writing good showcases for him, it is undeniable that his career is not what it once was. Wedding Crashers came out eight years ago. Let that sink in. I’m of the opinion that the problem has been the material. Ken Scott directs the remake of his own 2011 film Starbuck, which provides an avenue for Vaughn to branch out a little from his typical snarkiness. The result is a surprisingly heartwarming film, if not a bit on the forced side. With some serious revisions, this could have been a great film.
Comedies these days have such farcical plots that you have to just roll with it. If the idea of a man being hunted down by over a hundred of his own illegitimate children doesn’t instantly set off your BS meter, you can probably handle Delivery Man’s multitude of plot holes, inconsistencies, and “yeah right” moments. In reality, the contract of an anonymous sperm donor is rock solid. In the world of Delivery Man, however, David Wozniak has to deal with the fact that 142 of his 500 plus sperm donations are suing to know his identity. On top of this, he has to deal with becoming a “real” father as he accidentally knocked up his on-again-off-again girlfriend.
After Vaughn learns the identity of the lawsuit children, he takes to stalking them and playing guardian angel. Stalking one of his “daughters”, he defends her from catcalls. For a musician “son”, he encourages donations to his street performances. One particularly offensive thing is the way Scott portrays a daughter who overdoses on heroin. Vaughn has the opportunity to send the 17-year old addict to rehab, but instead chooses to take it on faith that she can handle it herself, making it painfully obvious that Scott has never dealt with drug addiction in any capacity. For anyone reading this, in case you didn’t know, send them to rehab. Disappointingly (for the films own potential), she keeps her word to this man she has never met before, presumably kicking her nasty drug habit and becoming a tax-paying citizen overnight. What a great opportunity to teach Vaughn’s character a harsh lesson about parenthood wasted.
Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt plays opposite Vaughn, as his comically stupid lawyer friend. Their exchanges are often hilarious, but still fail to carry the necessary weight, given how much screen time they take up. Pratt brings much of the films comedy, but might conflict a little too much with the realism of the film. It seemed the writers could not decide whether to make Pratt the responsible one of the duo, or to make him Homer Simpson. He alternates between the two, but plays both roles well. In some scenes, he gives lucid legal advice to Vaughn, while other scenes show him being entirely cartoonish. It may be a nitpick, but it just shows another symptom of a sloppy screenplay, that such a crucial character is not entirely focused. His childlike demeanor in the courtroom scenes exist to show just how open-and-shut this case is.
Vaughn’s character also owes 80 grand to some seedy folk, adding a sense of urgency to the film that feels artificial. This is basic screenwriting 101 stuff. A plot device like this should be more ingrained within the film. It ends up being his reason for countersuing the sperm donation facility for defamation. Wouldn’t greed be a much more interesting motivator, though? Also, this falls flat because the stakes of his trial aren’t that serious. There should be some consequences when his children find out who he is. Instead, they are joyous and relieved. This is all fine and good for the feel-good factor, but I wanted some more authenticity added to the stakes.
In the end, Delivery Man doesn’t quite have the comedic chops to be a great comedy, nor does it have the dramatic chops to be a great dramedy. And that is the problem. No matter how much I was enjoying the movie, I just felt it wasn’t something I would ever want to come back to. When I think of any film that I love, I think of those classic moments, moments which were sorely missed in Delivery Man. Still, there are a lot worse films in theaters right now and this one is quite enjoyable.