Movie Review ~ Palm Springs


The Facts
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Synopsis: When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.

Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, Tyler Hoechlin, J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes

Director: Max Barbakow

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Most movies are written, produced, and edited months and months before their intended release date so it would be impossible for any film to truly predict where the world would be when the project is revealed for public consumption.  Occasionally there are times when a movie is released at an opportune time that just happens to coincide with a major event and it seems like the creators had a kind of crystal ball in predicting the future.  An example off the top of my head is when The China Syndrome was released in March of 1979, a mere twelve days before the nuclear incident at Twelve Mile Island which bore a striking resemblance to the events depicted in the movie.

So you have to imagine that aside from general feelings of concern for their family, friends, and loved ones the creators of the Sundance hit Palm Springs were just a little happy to see their movie expressed tracked from its original theatrical release by distributors Hulu and Neon and sent right to Hulu’s streaming platform in time for the fourth of July weekend.  After all, by this time countless potential viewers had been cooped up indoors since early March and had been living what felt like the same day over and over again.  What better way to reward them than by offering up relatable laughs in a smart, funny comedy about a guy and girl stuck in a similar situation?

Waking up on the morning of a friend’s wedding he doesn’t want to attend with a girlfriend he doesn’t like, Nyles (Andy Samberg, Hotel Transylvania 2) is already over it.  He goes through the motions of the day and barely makes an effort to stay present at the wedding or the reception after.  His interactions with the guests seems strident at times, gregarious at others…like that fun guy at the party who can turn on a dime if he has one drink over his limit.  He does wind up having too many and saves maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti, The Wolf of Wall Street) from making a speech she clearly doesn’t want to give.  Finding a kindred soul also having a terrible time, Sarah is intrigued by Nyles and follows him for the rest of the evening…eventually leading her to a cave in the desert with a special power.  She enters and then wakes up the next morning…which is the same morning as the one before.

Turns out the cave holds a portal in the time space continuum and Sarah has joined Nyles in a never-ending time loop where they have to relive the same day over and over again.  It doesn’t matter how far they drive or where they are when the day has ended, they’ll always wake up in exactly the same place they woke up the day they went into the cave.  Nyles has lost track of how many days he’s been the loop but Sarah is determined to find a way out, mostly because she’s harboring a secret of why this particular day is one she’s not eager to relieve for eternity.

Obviously, the easy comparison to make here is Groundhog Day and there are flashes of that classic Bill Murray film in some of the concepts found in Andy Siara’s screenplay.  There’s also a little Happy Death Day 2U with a brief diversion into death not being a way out of the loop.  Yet Palm Springs is very much its own individual film and that’s due in no small part to Siara balancing the humor with a few reality checks along the way.  That’s especially surprising giving the people involved behind the scenes who aren’t usually known for living with two feet on the ground.

As an actor, I’ve found Samberg to be mostly obnoxious in a number of his roles but was pleasantly surprised to witness his grounded and wry take on a man resigned to relive a crappy day forever.  We meet him long after he’s accepted his fate so he’s laid-back and carefree…and Samberg wisely avoids making the character such a one-note bonehead that we can’t imagine spending 24 hours with him, let alone infinity.  He’s more than well matched with Milioti, finding that rare thing called chemistry.  She’s got the harder role to navigate because everything is new to her and she’s the one reacting to the situation for the first time.  How she responds dictates how the audience will respond to her and thankfully the role feels fleshed out and is performed with a sharpness not always found in high-concept comedies like this.

In addition to capturing commendable performances from the stars, director Max Barbakow fills the supporting roster with a nice array of character actors that slip in from time to time.  As another looper with a grudge against Samberg, J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man: Far from Home) is used in a utilitarian fashion but the simplicity of the role makes a scene late in the movie land with more impact.  Dale Dickey (The Guilt Trip), Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), June Squibb (Nebraska), and Peter Gallagher (A Bad Moms Christmas) also show up for little moments here and there, not reserving all the good stuff for Samberg and Milioti.  When a script has extra jokes for small supporting performers and is willing to share, you know it’s the sign of something above average.

The only downside to Palm Springs is I’m not sure it’s a film I’d put on my list to watch again.  It’s entertaining as all get-out and Siara’s script is so strong and on the mark it could easily get some awards recognition at the end of the year.  All the same…I just don’t know if it will hold up on repeat viewings.  That first time through was such a fun discovery, I feel like revisiting these characters wouldn’t capture the same magic.

The Silver Bullet ~ Fifty Shades Darker

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Synopsis: While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

Release Date: February 10, 2017

Thoughts: Though 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey was a sizable (if controversial) hit for Universal, even its most ardent supporters agreed there was something amiss in the big screen adaptation of the first book in author E.L. James’s trilogy. Perhaps it was the well-documented disagreements between James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson that left the the movie having no real voice.  Or maybe it was the rumored mutual hatred stars Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) and Dakota Johnson (Need for Speed) had for eachother, leading to questionable chemistry and giving Dornan pause to reconsider coming back for the final two entries.  The paycheck (or perhaps lawyers) prevailed and Dornan returns along with Johnson for Fifty Shades Darker which looks just as inscrutable and sudsy as its predecessor.  Adding Kim Basinger (Final Analysis), Hugh Dancy, Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), and Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) and bringing in James Foley to relieve Taylor-Johnson of her directing duties, it will be interesting to see if this sequel can win back its target audience.  With the final movie almost completed, there’s no stopping this machine even if we wanted to.

Interview ~ Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, & Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some!!

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Though I’d always been interested in movies and how they are made, I’ve strangely never felt the need to be the one that sits down and talks to filmmakers, actors, and production crew to get the skinny on what efforts went into making the film.  I figured I’d leave that to those with a bigger vocabulary, better follow-up questions, and less inclination to get too star-struck.  However, in my time as a Midwest movie critic I’ve had several opportunities to have some face to face conversations with the actors and/or creative personnel and found that I’ve started to enjoy the chance to ask the questions I, as a critic and more importantly a fan, wanted to know.

This latest interview with three of the stars of Everybody Wants Some!! felt like I had snagged an invitation to the cool kids table.  Here were three handsome actors on the rise that had a unique experience in making the film and though one of them appeared a little sleepy (understandably so) when they stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe in the Mall of America, all three were gracious with their time and thoughtful in their responses. They may have been asked similar questions on their whirlwind promotional tour but they sure made their answers feel individualized and not the least bit like a canned reply dictated by their studio.

In a group interview with fellow local critics Ryan Sanderson of Minnesota Connected,  Paul McGuire Grimes of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, and Jonathon Sharp of WCCO, Ryan Guzman (The Boy Next Door, Jem and the Holograms), Tyler Hoechlin (best known for MTV’s Teen Wolf), and Blake Jenner (TV’s Glee and Supergirl) reflected on their time on the set of Everybody Wants Some!!, what it was like to work with director Richard Linklater, how they prepared for their roles as college kids in the days before school begins, and what they took away from the process.

Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.

Asked about the different approach Linklater took between high school and college, Guzman responded “I think high school is more ‘succumbing to the man’, being told what to do, living under a regime. College is more of a free experience, finding out what you’re capable of. Two different experiences, two different time periods, two different ways of telling a story.” Much of the cast isn’t that far removed in age from the characters they’re playing, though living three decades after the film takes place means there were different take aways for each guy.  Jenner commented that “with all of the distractions there are today with social media, Twitter, Instagram, everything’s so abrupt and direct and immediate. You find yourself thinking about the past and the future a little bit more than you should. I think what this movie does so well is teach everyone to live in the now, and be grateful for the first three days of something because it could affect you for the rest of your life. You might look back on it and write a movie about it.”  Guzman added, “I think there are many messages throughout the whole film. There’s a couple that stick out to me. One is letting your inner strange out, not letting judgment force you or put you in a corner. Just being true to yourself and going that route, among other messages.”

As the more senior member of the trio, Hoechlin reflected that he loved “the way Rick {Linklater} can have a movie that’s this much fun but have so many moments that are profound. You sit there and think, “Oh wow, that makes me think and feel something.” One of my favorite scenes is where Wyatt Russell’s character is speaking with Blake’s character and says ‘just be weird’ and when you do that you bring who you are and never who they want and that’s when it’s fun. There’s something great about that. It’s just so much more fun when you stop trying to be something that’s an expectation as opposed to embracing what you are and running with it.”

Everybody Wants Some - Movie Trailer Review - Visit MovieholicHub.com

In reading the press notes before the interview, I noted that all three of the guys had some history with sports before the acting bug bit (or in the case of Hoechlin who started acting at 9 before focusing on a baseball career, re-bit).  Since the movie deals so much with sports and the camaraderie between players, I wanted to know how their history with sports influenced their acting. Hoechlin felt that “Baseball, specifically, is such a game of failure, and you learn more from your failures than success. It definitely helps with being persistent. You have a bad game, go 0-4, and you have to get up the next day and play again. It’s the same thing with acting. You have a lot of auditions, and you get a few of those jobs. I think the mental aspect to just brush it off and keep going has been the most helpful thing for me.  Guzman was a pitcher in college and learned that you have to take it “second by second. A good hitter these days is hitting .300. He’s only getting 3 out of 10. That’s kind of crazy, so the competitive aspect too. I always compete with myself rather than anyone else. The second I try to outdo someone else’s performance; I take away from my own. There are different things to take and give from the athletic word to the theatrical world.”

What struck me the most about the movie was how well cast it was and how it seemed to me like everyone had formed a backstory of relationships that came across throughout the film.  After the audition process which, Jenner remembered, consisted of “an interview talking about yourself, your hobbies, what you liked to do, what kind of person you are. After that, we were invited back to play with some dialogue. We were asked to put a baseball tape together of our baseball experiences/talent. Then after that, a couple of more auditions and that was it,” Linklater gathered all of the men at his Texas compound for a few weeks of male bonding where the group would watch movies (Animal House was a favorite, as were documentaries on baseball legends Doc Ellis and Augie Garrido), play baseball, and workshop the script in which they ultimately helped shape their characters (they even selected items from a make-shift costume shop to pick clothing they felt their characters would wear) .  All three found this process to be most unique, as Hoechlin recalled that “we had three weeks of rehearsal beforehand, and then we would go have a script reading every day. Some days we would work more on the page but he would encourage us to talk about different ideas away from the reads to see what we would come up with. Some days he would say, ‘Feel free to try some stuff this time,’ and if he liked it, he would make notes and it would be in the next draft of the script. We worked it out really well. Every once in a while on set something would happen, and he always encouraged that if an accident happened to go with it to see where it goes.”  “We lived together for two and a half weeks at Rick’s place in bunk beds,” recalled Guzman, “We were literally sleeping on top of each other and just hanging out. Anytime we weren’t working, we would come to set and hang out and watch, cheer the guys on. Those were some of the best times I’ve ever had being part of a production.”  Jenner agreed, “I always say 100% that some of the most important homework we could have done was living together for two weeks so we could really get to know each other and really got to form a bond. We got to form our own little inside jokes. I’m totally grateful for that time.”

Fans of Linklater’s previous films, when asked to single out their favorite it turned out that each guy had their own unique choice among their director’s roster.  Hoechlin favors Linklater’s landmark 2014 film that was nominated for six Oscars, “I really loved Boyhood. I thought that was such an amazing accomplishment. I love the fact that it’s one of those movies that over the course of that many years, you would assume that there would be that one moment in the movie that would be that life-shattering altering moment, and I loved that by the end of it, it was just these little moments and conversations in life that can shift it and that can skew your opinion about something and make you who you are. I loved it. Absolutely loved that about the movie.”  Guzman couldn’t land on just one so he gave us three, “Dazed and Confused. I love the Before series (Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight). A Scanner Darkly.”  Jenner is surprised no one mentioned School of Rock but even though he has a musician’s past, it’s not Jenner’s favorite but “it’s one of them. One that I really enjoy watching is Waking Life. I really dig that; tapping back to what I said about living the now. There’s something a little different that anyone could take away from it when they watch it.”

With the film wrapped and the guys on to new projects (Hoechlin will appear in the two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey while Jenner is onboard September’s The Edge of Seventeen), Hoechlin was asked to reflect on how his time on the set compared to working with Paul Newman and Tom Hanks on the 2002 Sam Mendes film Road to Perdition. “What was great on that set was that those guys were, in a weird way, similar to Rick in that they were very much trusting that I was able to do what I was supposed to do and needed to get done. So really what I got was through observing. They were more than happy to have a conversation about whatever would come up, but it didn’t feel like I was being watched and judged by my coaches. That’s what we were doing here too, just trying to find a way to make a great movie.”

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Read my review of Everybody Wants Some!!

 

 

Movie Review ~ Everybody Wants Some!!

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Stars: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman, Juston Street, Glen Powell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to director Richard Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.  Even though there are no overlapping characters between the films, it’s not hard to imagine Blake Jenner’s leading player in EWS!! as a college-ready version of the character Wiley Wiggins played in the earlier film.

For EWS!! to play well as an almost sequel to a much loved near-classic that’s now become almost as much of a cinematic rite of passage as the various hazing sequences it showcases, it has to have something that sets it apart.  Once again, Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight) shows his knack for perfect casting by bringing together a host of handsome stars on the rise to populate his otherwise plotless observances of the last days of summer for a college baseball team.

Incoming freshman Jake Bradford (a winning, mellow Blake Jenner), arrives at his off campus housing on a Friday and spends the next three days getting to know his teammates, his surroundings, and himself.  Clearly influenced by Linklater’s own life, the character isn’t your typical meek newbie nor is he a loutish oaf that scores high on the d-bag meter.  Actually, even with its brief divergences into misogyny (there’s but one female role in the film that isn’t there to bed or bitch about), the film largely avoids the stereotypical frat boy trappings by providing actual personalities for its competitively horny young males.

Originally brought into the fold by team captain McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, reminding me of a young Matt Dillon), Jake starts to learn the ropes from teammates like Glenn Powell’s (The Expendables 3) Finn, who can talk about anything from girls to gentrification and Wyatt Russell’s (22 Jump Street) Willoughby, a stoner that encourages everyone to “just be weird”.  There’s also the requisite dimbulb (Temple Baker), the sensible voice of reason (J. Quinton Johnson), a county-fried roommate (Will Brittain), and an easily provoked pitcher (Juston Street, the only faulty bit of character machinery in Linklater’s otherwise smooth engine of a movie) that pop up throughout the film to join in the weekend hijinks.   As the lone prominent female, Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) more than holds her own as a matched equal to Jake that isn’t your typical co-ed. It’s not hard to picture Deutch’s mother Lea Thompson playing the same role had the film been made thirty years ago.

Since the casting is top notch, that means the acting is skilled too and the three weeks the actors spent rehearsing all day at Linklater’s Texas compound pays off well because you walk away totally buying the characters you just watched, flaws and all.  It has the same sharp wisdom and warm hope Linklater is so good at injecting into his films and pleasantly goes against the structural norm of these college set film by following these guys only up until the first bell rings on Monday morning.

It’s not often I leave a theater already figuring out when I can swing by and catch it again but I left EWS!! plotting a return visit.  I appreciate that Linklater has a way of making his films so accessible that it’s easy to watch them over and over again and, even if you don’t get anything new out of each watch, still be entertained.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Everybody Wants Some

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Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Release Date:  April 15, 2016

Thoughts: For his follow-up to a career-high achievement with Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater has created a “spiritual sequel” to his popular 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused.  Trading D&C’s long hair, bellbottoms, and ‘70s high school setting for the porn staches, tight shorts, and college campus parties of the ‘80s, Linklater has assembled another cast of barely-knowns, several of which are likely wondering who’ll be the next breakout star ala Matthew McConaughey.  Linklater has had this one on his mind for some time and if Boyhood’s miraculous results after its slow gestation is any indication, good things come (Link)later.