Then Playing — Laggies; This Changes Everything; Buck and the Preacher

Laggies (Lynn Shelton, 2014). There are other films that depict a twenty-something character’s panicked retreat from the looming responsibility of adulthood, but few make the minor insurrection as charmingly pathetic as Laggies. Directed by Lynn Shelton (working from someone else’s … Continue reading Then Playing — Laggies; This Changes Everything; Buck and the Preacher

Branagh, Brooks, Leigh, McGrath, Trank

Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh, 2015). It’s grading on the most generous of curves, but as a crass attempt to develop a new revenue stream for a beloved Disney animated class, the live action Cinderella isn’t so bad. It’s certainly a damn sight better than the grotesque senses assault of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which basically established this type of cinematic tomb raiding. Similarly, Kenneth Branagh’s directing is more tightly controlled and snappily efficient than anything else he’s done in ages, the stricter corporate oversight perhaps taming his penchant for dragging indulgence. Most of the acting is merely perfunctory, save for … Continue reading Branagh, Brooks, Leigh, McGrath, Trank

Landis, McDonagh, Nichols, Parks, Trevorrow

The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980). I routinely think of this musical-action-comedy as the strongest film of the many that have been spun off from Saturday Night Live recurring characters, though we’re admittedly looking at a shallow, fetid pool. A recent fresh viewing suggests I might have been inflating in, undoubtedly on the basis of how freely I and my cohort of dopey high school friends quoted it, as if reciting a bar order of “three orange whips” at a purportedly clever moment would position us as comic geniuses. The movie is more slapdash than I remembered and spotted with … Continue reading Landis, McDonagh, Nichols, Parks, Trevorrow

Then Playing: Unfriended

I usually reserve the longer reviews for films still playing in theaters, but sometimes a title I’ve caught up on later merits a few extra words. Appropriately, the conversation took place on Facebook Messenger. I was discussing Unfriended with my friend Khaetlyn, who had recommended the film in the first place, offering the assurance that it was far more than the trashy, cheapo found footage horror film it appeared to be from all the floridly urgent promotion around it. Shortly after seeing it, I was about to let her know that she was correct, when she framed her curiosity about my reaction … Continue reading Then Playing: Unfriended

Auer, Bateman, Halperin, Nelson, Newley

Bad Words (Jason Bateman, 2014). The feature directorial debut of Bateman has a nifty story hook and an admirable nasty streak. It’s especially nice to see Bateman fully tap the vein of dark consternation that pulses through his best, smartest comedic work. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Andrew Dodge also relies on a adult-child friendship that feels patently phony and is also fairly hackneyed for this sort of dark comedy. That there are a few slightly more clever notes played between Bateman and Rohan Chand (playing a more appropriately-aged rival in a national spelling bee that Bateman’s disgruntled adult has pushed … Continue reading Auer, Bateman, Halperin, Nelson, Newley

Abrams, Benson and Moorhead, Fosse, Jones, Roach

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015). As a piece of nostalgic reclamation, the latest “Episode” of the Star Wars saga does its job so efficiently that its hard to get overly enthused about it as cinema. In a strangely fitting turnabout, the film series that fundamentally changed the business of U.S. moviemaking has turned into a follower, adhering closely to the mighty Marvel model. There’s little indication that The Force Awakens is laying the groundwork for vaster, interconnected stories, but it’s all introduction and reassurance, a tapping of the baton before commanding the symphony to life. The sense of … Continue reading Abrams, Benson and Moorhead, Fosse, Jones, Roach