The Silver Bullet ~ Knock Knock

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Synopsis: When a devoted husband and father is left home alone for the weekend, two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Release Date: October 9, 2015

Thoughts: Director Eli Roth first made a splash with the campy grotesqueness of 2002’s Cabin Fever before helping to coin the term torture porn for 2005’s Hostel and it’s deplorable 2007 sequel.  Briefly jumping in front of the camera for a few films, he’s back in the director’s chair for two movies in 2015 and both look like more exercises in excess.  While the trials and tribulations of The Green Inferno are legendary in Hollywood circles, Roth took on this small thriller while he was waiting for The Green Inferno to make it through some legal woes.  Starring Roth’s wife Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas (Oscar winning actresses neither appear to be) as two vixens that terrorize family man Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin, John Wick) the trailer for Knock Knock does no one any favors…least of all audiences trying to make up their mind to see the film or not.  It looks like a loud, obnoxious film…much like most of Roth’s work up until this point.  I’m more interested in The Green Inferno with its cannibalistic storyline than this cheap-o psychosexual thriller made only as a time-killer for the director.

Movie Review ~ Mistress America

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A lonely college freshman’s life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister.

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Heather Lind, Michael Chernus

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I think it’s only fair to say that I went into Mistress America prepared to hate it.  Like, really hate it.  The preview alone made my eyes want to roll right out of their sockets and hide in a dark corner. How could I possibly go for a movie featuring a director/actress combo that so angered me in the past?  Could I get over my past feelings and my preconceived notions and take Mistress America for what it was and nothing more? It was sure to be a test of my mettle and I’m happy to report that I showed some serious moxie and came out on the other end with a cap on the poison pen I had prepped.

In 2012, director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig teamed up for Frances Ha, their black and white NYC fable following a spirited woman figuring out her place in the world.  Gerwig was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work (she also wrote it along with Baumbach) and the film achieved some major indie cred for its two collaborators. Lots of people loved it and I…didn’t.  It was a mish mash of pish posh scenes presented more than performed and so rough that it felt like the motto on set was “One take only…no second chances!”.  The result was, for me, a tiresome 86 minutes.

So you can understand why the first trailer for Mistress America, touting the same collaborators working together again, had me fearing the worst.  And while Gerwig still grates on my nerves and speaks the majority of her lines as if she was reading the ingredients on a tuna can, overall the film is a pleasant gem of a picture that has snappy (if ever so highfalutin) dialogue and nicely tuned performances.

Tracy (Lola Kirke, Gone Girl) is a freshman at Barnard College struggling to adjust to the college experience and living in The Big Apple.  Her mother is about to remarry and, upon hearing that her daughter is stressed, suggests she look up her soon to be stepsister that also lives in NYC.  Brooke (Gerwig) is a fast-talking, big-dreaming social butterfly that has a lot of ideas but no realistic plans on how to achieve her goals.  The two hit it off quickly, with Tracy looking up to her big (step)sister with admiration and using her as inspiration for a short story she’s hoping to submit to a snobby writing society at Barnard.  A road trip for Tracy and Brooke (with two college acquaintances tagging along) to Greenwich, NY proves to be their Waterloo as both women confront certain realities involving their future.

What I found myself enjoying about Mistress America was the rhythm that Baumbach and Gerwig provide for this tale.  There are moments of casual, laid-back dialogue punctuated by rapid-fire exchanges (expertly edited by Jennifer Lame) that can leave the viewer (and the actor) slightly breathless.  A conversation between Brooke and a high school classmate starts small but builds to a comically unexpected climax, as does a late in the game argument between Tracy and a variety of naysayers who call her out on her writing ethics.

Kirke makes for an interesting central figure, not quite deep enough at the beginning but perhaps a bit too knowing by journey’s end.  She is, after all, not yet 20 and I find it hard to believe that a month or two worth of life experiences could influence her so completely.  As mentioned before, Gerwig never met a line she couldn’t go halfway with but you can’t say that her character is one dimensional or without nuance…her best work actually comes when she’s not speaking at all but listening and taking in.  Special mention should also go to Heather Lind are Mamie-Claire, Brooke’s rival for popularity and love.  Lind’s character manages to be both villain and hero of the film without it seeming out of place.

This is probably the first Noah Baumbach movie I’d willingly watch again.  At 84 minutes it flies by and there’s enough comedy goings-on to warrant another look to catch what you may have missed the first time.  Gerwig continues to grow on me and if the two keep making movies as self-assured and entertaining as Mistress America, I’m willing to leave my poison pen at home in the future.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Transporter Refueled

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Synopsis: A reboot of the story of transporter Frank Martin.

Release Date:  September 4 2015

Thoughts: My first thought when seeing the trailer for The Transporter Refueled was more surprise than anything that the franchise was getting a reboot a little over ten years since the first film was released.  Then I remembered that Sony has rebooted Spider-Man TWICE in the last two decades and decided to give this one a (slight) pass.  After three films, original star Jason Statham (Spy) declined to reprise his role as special-ops badass Frank Martin so newcomer Ed Skrein hops behind the wheel in the part.  Skrein seems to have the same steely grimace the role calls for and with its early September release I can see the film turning a small profit but not breaking any box office records.  I opted out of this franchise after the first film but after a summer of heady action films this could be a nice excuse to check my brain at the door and let The Transporter take me away. 

Movie Review ~ We Are Your Friends

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Caught between a forbidden romance and the expectations of his friends, aspiring DJ Cole Carter attempts to find the path in life that leads to fame and fortune.

Stars: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Ferhandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal.

Director: Max Joseph

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The few times I saw the preview for We Are Your Friends, my head hurt.  Lots of flashing lights, quick edits, pounding music, and Zac Efron feeling the beat in a tank top under the California sun gave me little hope that the finished product would amount to much.  Then early reports indicated that the film was like Flashdance meets Saturday Night Fever with a dash of Cocktail…and I was officially sold. While the film starts off pretty rough for the first half hour or so, there’s something ultimately winning about it.

Efron (That Awkward Moment) headlines the picture as Cole, a DJ with a heart of gold struggling to break into the big leagues.  Living with a buddy (Jonny Weston, an annoyance in the beginning before graduating to valued asset) and working as promoters of a local club with two other friends (Shiloh Fernandez, Evil Dead, and Alex Shaffer) they live for the Thursday nights that are their reward for a job well done.

But, as in all movies with similar themes, they all dream of something more and the chance to “get out” and make something of themselves.  While the others all have admirable aspirations, it’s Efron that gets the focus as he makes the move from clap trap backroom DJ to working posh pool parties and headlining a summer music festival with his music.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about the DJ culture but I do understand that it’s more than just working two turntables and knowing when to scratch and mix the tunes together.  And, to its credit, the film makes an attempt to explain how it all works, but it’s not enough to clue most audiences in on what exactly is happening when Efron intensely turns one knob up high while turning another one down low.  The only thing we know, from Efron’s brow sweat and dilated pupils, is that it’s important stuff and he’s very good at what he does.

Being mentored by a DJ that many feel has sold out (Wes Bentley, Interstellar) has repercussions for the young upstart.  He learns to follow his internal turntable to churn out better music, yes, but also falls in love with the DJ’s assistant/girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski, Gone Girl, Entourage, with lips like life preservers) in the process.  At the same time, he’s supporting himself by working for a shady real estate investor (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose methods put him into an even greater emotional spiral.

What’s nice to report about the film is that it’s probably Efron’s best performance to date.  Ignoring a flawed attempt at emoting near the end (must every Efron movie feature him with tears in his eyes?) Efron ably carries the picture to success and seems at ease with the complexities of the DJ scene.  Passages between Efron and Bentley are the best of the bunch, with both actors doing solid work and never coming off as merely pretending to understand what they’re talking about…but actually believing it.

Music obviously plays a big part in Max Joseph and Meghan Oppenheimer’s script and with Joseph directing, the film feels alive with rhythm from the first frame until the last.  Again, I couldn’t tell you a good beat from a bad one but there are enough music consultants and musicians listed in the credits that I’m confident the movie hits all the right notes.  Brett Pawlak’s cinematography may favor lingering on sweaty body parts a little too much (one sequence covers every inch of Ratajkowski’s flesh several times over) but generally it’s a nice mix of California sun and hypnotic club lights.

Owing a lot to the aforementioned Cocktail, the movie may find itself becoming a guilty pleasure down the line.  It’s relatively inoffensive and pleasant enough to not hold too many of its faults against it, buoyed by Efron’s considerable charisma and Bentley’s commanding performance.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pan

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Synopsis: The story of an orphan who is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny — to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan.

Release Date:  October 9, 2015

Thoughts: It’s probably a good thing that Peter Pan never ages because how else would Hollywood continue to find new ways to tell the same story?  Over the past few years Peter Pan has turned up on television (in an ill-advised live broadcast), been on Broadway (TWICE! Once in the thrilling Peter and the Starcatcher and more recently in the testy musical Finding Neverland), and now director Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina) is readying his origin story for how Peter became Pan, how Hook became a captain, and how Tiger Lily came to lead her people.  Peter Pan has always been a favorite character of mine and Wright usually hits all the, er, right notes when it comes to production values.  With a cast that includes Hugh Jackman (Prisoners) as resident baddie Blackbeard, Rooney Mara (Carol) as Tiger Lily, and Garret Hedlund (Unbroken) as Hook this looks like a fun fall fantasy adventure, ably adding some early chapters to a famous literary character.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Program

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Synopsis: An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong’s performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances. With this conviction, he starts hunting for evidence that will expose Armstrong.

Release Date:  TBD 2015

Thoughts: Boy, do people hate Lance Armstrong.  And with good reason.  The disgraced former champion cyclist famously used performance enhancing drugs during his career and employed various methods of deceiving the standardized tests to keep him racing.  The deception was tragically documented in the 2013 documentary The Armstrong Lie, putting to film Armstrong’s very public fall from grace.

Now director Stephen Frears (Philomena) is heading up John Hodge’s (Trance) dramatization of Armstrong’s career and the investigation that ultimately proved what so many suspected for years.  As Armstrong, Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) looks a heckuva lot like Armstrong and he’s joined by Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) as the journalist that made it his mission to uncover the truth.  With supporting work from Dustin Hoffman (Boychoir) and Lee Pace (Lincoln), I’m hoping The Program is more than just another (deserved) jab at Armstrong.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Final Girls

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Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.

Release Date: October 9, 2015

Thoughts: The concept of meta-horror was ushered in by Scream in 1996, spawning hundreds of imitations with diminishing results. The idea of a high concept horror film was jettisoned in favor of all out torture porn or found footage cheapies that did little to show there was any life in the fading genre.

With the revitalization of Scream as a television show on MTV and Scream Queens premiering on Fox this fall, meta-horror seems to be coming back in style so I’m interested to see where The Final Girls falls on the spectrum. Don’t get this one confused with Final Girl, another 2015 entry starring Abigail Breslin…especially confusing because both movies feature Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor) in a prominent role.

I’m not sure yet how this one is going to wind up – it’s either going to be a total 80s throwback gem or a stinker you want to throw back from whence it came. The rather long trailer seems to give away much of the overall joke and production values look questionable…but with a game cast featuring Malin Akerman (Rock of Ages), Adam DeVine (Pitch Perfect 2), and Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring) it’s definitely worth taking a shot on.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ By the Sea

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Synopsis: Set in France during the mid-1970s, a former dancer, and her husband travel the country together. They seem to be growing apart, but when they linger in one quiet, seaside town they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as a local bar/café-keeper and a hotel owner.

Release Date: November 13, 2015

Thoughts: I was really looking forward to Angelina Jolie’s big screen adaptation of Unbroken and while the film hit most of the right notes, it failed to hit the most important one in my book…resonance.  I was strangely unmoved by the heroic tale, and I think it was partly Jolie’s fault in how she assembled the film and partly the fault of a screenplay that only told part of the story.

For her third trip behind the camera, Jolie (Maleficent) is taking on directing, writing, and acting duties…and bringing her husband…some bloke named Brad Pitt (World War Z) along with her.  I gotta say, this has a very Eyes Wide Shut feel to it but working on a smaller scale may be the key to unlocking Jolie’s directorial talents and it will intriguing to see it the Jolie-Pitt match-up results in the same chemistry they found a decade ago in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  This first teaser for By the Sea is a nice appetizer that satiates instead of filling you up

The Silver Bullet ~ She’s Funny That Way

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Synopsis: When an established director casts his call girl-turned-actress in a new play to star alongside his wife and her ex-lover, a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts: You know what’s not funny?  How many times this movie has changed titles and release dates…never a good sign for an impending release.  Though it’s directed (and co-written) by Peter Bogdanovich, from the looks of the trailer She’s Funny That Way appears to have been made in the style of Woody Allen, acting as almost a sequel to Bullets Over Broadway.  Bogdanovich can do this type of backstage shenanigans well, as evidenced in the flop big screen adaptation of the Broadway play Noises Off! but this whole thing looks beneath nearly everyone involved.  With stars Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Owen Wilson (The Internship), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), and Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) mugging their way through the trailer, it suggests that this could be a guilty pleasure of a watch…but then again it could be another forgettable exercise at one director attempting to capturing the magic of another.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hateful Eight

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Synopsis: In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?

Release Date:  December 25, 2015

Thoughts: It’s still hard to believe that Quentin Tarantino has only directed eight feature films (I not counting the outings where he did additional filming or directed as part of an anthology)…but it’s impressive that each one has been a not-so minor classic.  Anyone that has an appreciation for film should also have an appreciation for what Tarantino (Django Unchained) does, cinematically, with each of his films.  From the cast to the score to the script to the production design to the cinematography, Tarantino shows time and time again in each and every frame that he celebrates film through and through.  True, his proclivity for extreme subjects doesn’t leave him open to be fully embraced by audiences with quieter tastes, but his fans (myself included) always look forward to his next endeavor.

The Hateful Eight is one to get excited about.  Filled with a stable of Tarantino favorites (and a few that you can’t believe have never worked with him before) and made in “glorious 70MM” this western drama takes place primarily on one set over one night…a bold move to make from an already bold director.  This first teaser is a sight to behold, it gets the juices flowing and gives me faith that I can make it through another busy holiday schedule if this is going to be my reward.  Can’t wait.