2015 IN REVIEW: Everything in Between That I’ve Seen
Finally! We’re on the films that I watched! I know. I’m excited, too! These are the middle of the road films I watched this year. They are neither awful nor great films that I watched in 2015. Some of them are bad, some of them are decent, but none of them are truly great, in my opinion.
Now, keep in mind, there may be some mediocre movies that may not show up here. Don’t freak. They probably won’t show up on my Worst of 2015 list. The way I do things here is have a list of My Favorite Films of 2015, so they might not be the best, but I might have really enjoyed them, too!
So, if you don’t see the movie here by this point, it’s either that I hated it, really liked it, or just flat out didn’t see it. These? These you can pick and choose from and figure out if you like them yourself. You may not, but I don’t think you’ll be clawing your eyes out at them, either.
The D Train – 1/23/15 – 49%
In an desperate attempt to make it in with the cool crowd from his high school, middle-aged and discontented Dan Landsman attempts to convince the most popular guy from his class, Oliver Lawless, to attend their twentieth high school reunion after spotting him on a national commercial for suntan lotion, and, in the process, he becomes unexpectedly infatuated with him. Jack Black gets to flex his tragicomic acting skills, while James Marsden also gets to play against type as a Z-list celebrity who is soaking up all the attention he can get. The story isn’t terribly compelling, but the cast, which includes Kathryn Hahn as Dan’s wife and Jeffrey Tambor as his overly trusting longtime boss, is likeable and gives the roles at least enough weight to hold your attention.
Results – 1/27/15 – 83%
The trailer for this kinda oversold this movie for me. It made it seem like a lot of it was going to be more of a non-stop acerbic humor type deal. This previously showed up on my list of films I didn’t see, and I mentioned there that I did want to see it, too. I could have used a movie like it at the time I watched it. Or, at least, I could’ve used a movie like what I thought it was going to be, based on the trailer. I totally thought this would be some kind of goofy, love triangle-focused, fast-paced movie about two guys turning into rivals over a girl crazy for fitness. The triangle actually gets resolved pretty quickly and then… well, then it just goes into autopilot. I’m not basing my opinion of it based on my expectations being ruined based on the trailer – the movie was always going to end up somewhere in the middle, I think, but I did feel the need to divulge that, just in case. Results isn’t a terrible movie by any means – the performances are pretty good, too. Guy Pearce in particular imbues his enthusiastic fitness guru with a lot of endearing humanity, and Kevin Corrigan, in particularly schlubby mode, keeps the rich but depressed Danny rooted in a desperate melancholy that can still be humorous but never unrealistically so. You laugh with him in spite of his issues, rather than at him because of them. The problem is, however, that I started caring less and less about the characters as the movie went on, with Cobie Smulders’ Kat in particular being the one sore spot for me. Smulders is fine in the role, but the way the character is written, I had a hard time seeing what the other two saw in her. She seems two-faced about her personality, and she shows her true colors in one scene where she chews out a waitress, and yet it’s presented as kind of endearing somehow when, in fact, she just comes off as kind of awful. And that’s exactly where she stays, too, so there’s really no growth. That is what soured me on this movie somewhat.
Jupiter Ascending – 2/06/15 – 26%
Okay, technically speaking, this movie is a huge mess. There are so many plot threads, it’s hard to keep track of them all. There are plenty of revelations about the origins of myths in our world being inspired by “actual” (that is, within this universe) facts, like how werewolves are technically just alien mutated soldiers… who use hover boots. Then you have the insanity of what the actual plot is, with a villainous dynasty seeking to harvest the human resources they’ve sewed on Earth. These people are led by a gasp-voiced Eddie Redmayne as despot with an oedipal complex and a need for rejuvenating face cream. I’d say it would make sense if you just saw it, but I’ll have to warn you that it won’t be by much. Jupiter Ascending isn’t a very smart sci-fi action film, nor is it the Wachowskis’ best work, but it is damn insane enough to be pretty entertaining, and I quite enjoyed the performances from Redmayne, Channing Tatum, and Mila Kunis, who all seem to know what kind of movie they’re making and are having fun doing it. My first thought about this movie as I left the theatre was how it seemed like they stumbled upon their Trapper Keepers full of stories they wrote as kids and decided to adapt them all in one big amalgamation of crazy sci-fi concepts. I was far too entertained by this movie to even consider it as being anything close to worthy of being “worst” of the year. See it if you like crazy crap and don’t care about logical explanations.
Seashore – 2/06/15 – N/A
Yes, some of you may be wondering, I did in fact watch this. The movie kept showing up in recommended films for a while on Netflix, and so I, having had a few beers, decided to take a chance. Seashore (Beira-Mar in its native Brazil) is the story about two best friends, Martin and Tomaz, who are heading out together on an errand for Martin’s father at his estranged grandparents’ home, staying together at one of Martin’s father’s houses nearby, beside a beach. As Martin makes some headway in reconciling his relationship with the extended family that he barely knows, Tomaz, who is clearly trying to maintain a connection with his best friend, is still struggling about his secret feelings toward Martin. The film is beautifully shot, and while the pacing is sometimes painfully slow, it also allows for a lot of observational acting from the two leads, Mateus Almada and Mauricio Jose Barcellos, who do feel like genuinely good friends with one another in the roles. That being said, much about this film feels eye-rollingly fantastical and, in my opinion, cheapens a lot of what came before.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water – 2/06/15 – 79%
Cashing in on the superhero hype, Nickelodeon releases SpongeBob Squarepants’ second theatrical film, wherein the titular sea sponge and his friends must go ashore to confront the villainous Burger-Beard, who has used a magical book that makes anything written in it true to steal the secret Krabby Patty formula for his own business. The CG animation once the creatures hop ashore is surprisingly fantastic, maintaining the look of their hand drawn equivalents while still meshing well with their live action surroundings. Antonio Banderas is also clearly having a gleeful time as Burger-Beard. It’s not terribly highbrow entertainiment, and I admittedly got bored at certain points, too, but Sponge Out of Water is a decent enough family flick that will likely please fans of the show while not driving non-fans completely nuts.
What We Do in the Shadows – 2/13/15 – 97%
A New Zealand documentary crew gets permission to follow a group of roommates as they live their lives while waiting I’m not going to lie – I don’t get why this is considered to be so fantastic. It’s not awful, nor is it even bad – it’s pretty darn entertaining, actually, but I just didn’t find it nearly as clever nor as hilarious as plenty of others have said. Does that make… me a monster?
All the Wilderness – 2/20/15 – 68%
A bit too pretentious and shoe-gazey, All the Wilderness is still a visually engaging and strongly acted coming of age story about a clean-cut but depressed teenage boy makes some eccentric new friends who introduce him to a new world while helping him cope with the experience of having witnessed his own father’s suicide. Kodi Smit-McPhee continues to be a strong young actor in the lead role, but I can’t say that the film resonated with me all that much by the time the film ended.
The DUFF – 2/20/15 – 71%
Not quite Mean Girls, but surprisingly charming all on its own, The DUFF is one of those films that presumes a certain set of rules that exist in teenage social settings that must be adhered to, whether or not they’re ever spoken of or not. The central conceit of this film is that there is always a “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” amongst a group of otherwise hot and popular individuals, and Bianca is only just now learning that she’s seen as the DUFF within her trio of friends and grows increasingly self-conscious about the situation, seeking the help of the popular jock and boy next door, Wesley, to reinvent herself as a more outwardly attractive person. It sounds like your typical teenage film fare, but The DUFF manages to be charming and acted well enough, particularly from its leads Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell, to overcome any stereotypical expectations one might have about the film. Not going to go down as a classic, but it’s a welcome addition to the list of unexpectedly decent high school romantic comedies you could trot out when you’re feeling nostalgic for your own teenage years (as I’m sure the two leads, far too old for their roles, would also agree).
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – 2/20/15 – 14%
This just barely didn’t make my Worst of 2015 list, but I actually didn’t think it was awful enough to put there. The movie had enough gags that made me smirk, and even though it ditched the original star, John Cusack, it replaced him with Adam Scott as his son, and… yeah, he does a good enough job. The film moves the cast into the future this time, where they must solve the mystery of who attempted to kill Lou (Rob Cordry). Not nearly as unexpectedly humorous as the original film, this was a welcome enough idea, but, in execution, it’s pretty lazy and light on the laughs. I didn’t feel like gouging out my eyes from it, though, like a lot of other critics. It’s not a good film, but hardly worst film of the year, either.
McFarland, USA – 2/20/15 – 80%
Yet another based on a true story inspirational sports dramedy from Disney – a formula they’ve been repeating seemingly endlessly since Remember the Titans back in 2000 – I really wasn’t looking forward to seeing this generic “white hero leads ethnic kids to greatness in selected sport” film, but a good friend of mine actually went to see it on a whim while on a date and actually came out pretty pleased and suggested I give it a go. And, I gotta admit, McFarland, USA is a lot better than I was fearing and isn’t exactly the White Savior hero worship flick trailers seemed to suggest. Fairly strong performances, even from Kevin Costner, and an all-around good-natured story makes for a likable enough inspirational family film without getting too maudlin.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – 2/26/15 – 63%
While not an awful film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel certainly comes off as the most unexpected and needless sequel to a better film in quite some time. Most of the original cast returns in some capacity here and are joined by newcomer Richard Gere as Dev Patel’s Sonny Kapoor seeks to open a second retirement resort while also juggling duties as a husband-to-be. It’s not exactly detrimental to the first film, but I can’t see why anyone who saw the first one felt like there was any need to follow up on the stories of these characters, particularly with how some of those stories ended the first time around. Pointless to a fault, but at least it’s charming enough, thanks to the actors, to be somewhat watchable.
Focus – 2/27/15 – 57%
A fairly decent and well-acted first half gives way to an intensely boring second half in this romantic heist film about a veteran con artist, Nicky (Will Smith) who takes on an eager and attractive apprentice, Jess (Margot Robbie) who winds up falling in love with him. Focus looks fantastic and contains one or two truly engaging and entertaining sequences, but I really couldn’t tell you from memory what happened in the second half, after the timeline skips forward a few years, where everything suddenly becomes a lot more mind-numbingly dull.
Run All Night – 3/09/15 – 61%
“Not Liam Neeson’s worst action thriller of the year” is probably the best thing I can say about the forgettable Run All Night, in which Neeson plays a former mob enforcer who must work to save his estranged saint of a son (Joel Kinnaman) after he becomes a witness to some grisly murders at the hands of some of Neeson’s former colleagues. Dull action and plotting and some pretty phoned in performances, particularly from the flavorless Kinnaman, can’t save Run All Night from being anything more than the cheap bargain bin thriller it is.
Zombeavers – 3/20/15 – 67%
A purposely B-grade horror comedy, Zombeavers definitely wins this year’s Most Absurd Portmanteau of the Year Award. It’s pretty much the type of movie you’re expecting from a post-modern, self-ware title and concept, complete with cheesy and “horrific” zombie beaver puppetry and the expected dose of humor to let you know that the filmmakers aren’t nearly insane enough to take their film that seriously. Not especially funny, but not without its charms, Zombeavers was an unexpectedly pleasantly unpleasant.
Home – 3/26/15 – 46%
I didn’t think I would come close to liking this movie, particularly since I’m not so keen on animated family movies that try to not only cash in on pop culture references so heavily, but also try to create them so blatantly themselves as means of marketing, as with the Minions and the cute kids in Despicable Me. Here was a movie with an alien who thinks his name is “Oh” because everyone groans that word whenever he shows up because everyone hates him. And he gets stranded with a human girl while on Earth and gets introduced to pop music that he can’t help but dance to ‘cause HEY HE’S JUST LIKE US! “Oh no! My hands are in the air as if I just do not care!” Yeah… … I didn’t hate this movie. Don’t get me wrong. There are some quite annoying parts, and sometimes the alien speech patterns can become grating on one’s nerves, but they’re scattered around enough among the decent things that I actually kind of got invested in the characters. Even Rihanna’s voice acting didn’t strike me as being particularly awful (though it’s very annoying that the girl LISTENS to Rihanna, and it’s not even played for a joke), and I admit, I chuckled a few times at Jim Parsons and Steve Martin doing the fish out of water thing as the invading aliens. The animation is also pretty nice and colorful, which is a generic thing to say, but… well, it was. It’s not an especially great movie, and am not at all dying for a sequel, but Home was fine family fluff, and I was cool with that.
Woman in Gold – 4/01/15 – 53%
Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds have good chemistry with one another in this film, based on a true story, about a young, smalltime lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, who represents an elderly woman, Maria Altmann, who fled Austria after the Nazis took over. In the process, she left behind loved ones, as waell as a painting called Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, informally known as “The Woman in Gold,” a painting of her aunt which was taken from them by the Nazis when she still lived there and which remained in the Austrian government’s possession even after the end of the war. Together, they fight for her right to reclaim it, as well as the rights of other survivors to reclaim what was stolen from them and then kept by a government that cared more about its heritage than the rights of the oppressed. The film feels as though it’s definitely a copy of a somewhat similar previous movie, Philomena, which also saw an unlikely pairing with a sweet, often cute older woman being assisted by a younger man in her journey. Woman in Gold doesn’t feel nearly as emotionally authentic as that film, though I have no real qualms with the performances – it just fits in those big moments a bit perfunctorily for this to be that film’s equal.
Danny Collins – 4/10/15 – 77%
Didn’t expect to like this one. Al Pacino plays an aging musician who wants to move on in life rather than perform the same old hits that his fan base of middle aged baby boomers demand from him. When he discovers that a letter he wrote to John Lennon several decades ago actually was answered and he simply didn’t receive it, however, he gets inspired to not only sequester himself away to write an album of newer, bolder, more personal work, but also reach out to the son he basically abandoned through his complete and total absence. The film is purportedly inspired by the story of English folk singer Steve Tilston, who also discovered 34 years later that John Lennon (and Yoko) had written him a letter in 1971 regarding his work, though the film pretty much runs with fiction from that point onward. Pacino is notably subdued in this role, and somehow manages to make Danny genuinely charming, despite his personal issues and residual smarm from being a pampered rock star for the past several years. I also liked his relationships with Annette Benning as the uptight hotel manager and Bobby Cannavale as his estranged son. The film even manages to be a bit unpredictable, at least to me. Perfectly decent and a very nice surprise.
Dior and I – 4/10/15 – 81%
The reason I watched this one is actually kind of hilarious. I heard from a few word of mouth comments that this was a pretty good film, and so when it showed up at the Redbox, I did a blind rental, because I’m up for almost anything. The thing is, though, I didn’t know it was a documentary. Based on the title and apparently a big misunderstanding, I assumed this was some kind of biopic, conversation-driven dramatization about fashion designer Christian Dior and whoever the other protagonist ended up being. Imagine my surprise when I got it, popped it in and… it was a documentary… about a guy named Raf Simons (who looks like he could’ve been played by a younger Ralph Fiennes, I might add) working at Dior and with their teams to design a line of clothing prior to a show, interspersed with information about the history of the company’s founder. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but that turned out to be mostly alright. As someone who has barely any interest in fashion beyond maybe getting in the mood for The Devil Wears Prada every so often, this was admittedly pretty fascinating for what it was, and the people in it, particularly the people who do a lot of the manual labor, are pretty entertaining characters. Simons himself seems rather annoyingly high strung, but it is worth noting this was his first show for the line, and he had to prove himself worthy, so this may not have been him at his most personable. He’s not a monster, though, and it’s impossible to fault the film itself for its subjects’ genuine reactions – just how it presents it, and for that, I’d say that Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary does a fine job of even getting this slob interested enough to keep watching, despite the misunderstanding.
True Story – 4/17/2015 – 44%
Too slow, and at times confusing in its editing, I was still pretty taken in by the central relationship that is built up ever so slowly (sometimes too slowly) throughout the course of this movie. A shamed journalist, Michael Finkel, is attempting to revive his career after he makes the mistake of partially obfuscating some facts in one of his articles, which cost him his job at the New York Times. When a fugitive named Christian Longo is caught in Mexico using his name, however, Longo offers him exclusive rights to his story, provided Finkel provide him with writing lessons. The film is based on the true story of the relationship between the two men, particularly Finkel’s difficulty in figuring out the truth behind Longo’s guilt – and whether or not Longo was truly innocent, as he claimed, or not. The film is a fascinating, disturbing story, but I’m afraid everything in the film is kind of off. Both Jonah Hill and James Franco seem to be drifting through their roles as Finkel and Longo, respectively, and while Felicity Jones gives her all to her role as Finkel’s wife, there isn’t much for her to do beyond existing in the shadow of her husband. This may well have been true, for all I know, but then why give her as much time as she has? Mostly to convey how big a toll this is taking on Finkel’s marriage, I guess. There’s also something pretty off about the pacing, and I feel as if the film is playing up the question of Longo’s innocence for far too long. This movie could’ve used a bit more variety.
Welcome to Me – 5/01/15 – 72%
A socially awkward, mentally ill woman, Alice Klieg, wins the lottery and buys herself airtime for a talk/variety show on a local broadcast network. The subject? Herself, and everything she’s interested in. Welcome to Me is a particularly bizarre comedy that’s actually kind of endearing and strangely moving. This is in large part thanks to the lead performance of Kristen Wiig, who basically specializes in these types of awkward and unusual characters, having no qualms about talking frankly about socially awkward topics that pop into her head, and no matter how close to home the subjects are. The shift the film goes through by the end is refreshing, honestly, as it doesn’t quite go in quite the direction I expected. While I very much enjoyed Alice, though, I also really enjoyed the side characters, particularly the befuddled but desperate network heads played by Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Joan Cusack, as well as Tim Robbins as Alice’s psychiatrist. It’s not for everyone, but fans of socially awkward, deadpan absurd comedy with a heart will probably enjoy it.
Maggie – 5/05/15 – 54%
Zombie movies, at least the best ones, have almost always had a subtext in their stories, giving them a purpose beyond just providing audiences with a few scares and gory effects. Typically, the subtext has greater meaning for society, given that they typically involve hordes of these creatures. Maggie, however, aims to be different by turning the concept of zombification into a metaphor for terminal illness, and I’d say it’s pretty darn successful at doing so. The film stretches out the typically short transition into a much longer, painful process, in which the infected must say their goodbyes and make plans for after their own death alongside their friends and family. Most of the film takes place at a remote home, where Wade, his daughter Maggie, and his wife and Maggie’s stepmother Caroline are staying for the time being. As the film’s title would suggest, Maggie is the one who only has a short time left, and they’re all trying to come to terms with the inevitable. I admittedly have a proclivity for a decent zombie film, and Maggie managed to press all the right buttons with its much more personable take on a genre so laden with clichés. Also worth noting is that the core performances are quite good, too. Abigail Breslin usually is, but it’s the unlikely casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger that is most effective. Who knew the man could sell us on playing a weary father already grieving for the eventual loss of his beloved daughter?
Pitch Perfect 2 – 5/15/15 – 66%
I stated before that I wished the first Pitch Perfect could have been a bit nastier in its sense of humor, and with its inevitable sequel, now directed by Elizabeth Banks, that’s pretty much what I got. What I didn’t want, though, was basically a less interesting and less personable retread of the first film with the more acerbic humor thrown in sloppily, but that’s pretty much what we got with this. Don’t get me wrong – I still mostly liked this movie, and if I saw the two together in a discounted movie pack, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy them and watch them back to back occasionally, too. I like these actresses, and I like these characters, I like this crazy idea of having a pushing-R-rated PG-13 comedy series about seriously competitive a cappella singers be an actual thing we get to revist now and then, and I even like that it makes so many annoying songs sound much more tolerable somehow. But I kind of hope that the inevitable third film in this trilogy strays from the idea of having the Bellas having the rug pulled out from under them by a kickass group of intimidating rivals and then learning to work as a team again before kicking ass in the big finale.
Poltergeist – 5/22/15 – 31%
This remake, like a lot of remakes, is completely unnecessary. As with a lot of discussions about remakes, it’s unnecessary for me to mention that remakes are completely unnecessary in most cases, too. That being said, it’s especially unnecessary for Poltergeist to have been remade, as there’s absolutely nothing a remake could do better than the original beyond the special effects and probably making the role of the older sister a bit more substantive. This movie could only hope to shine just bright enough on its own to not be completely eclipsed in the shadow of its predecessor. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Perhaps if you haven’t seen the original, maybe it has a chance, but there’s really no reason to choose this almost identical but inferior one over the original, even to see what’s different. You know what’s different? I’ll tell you right here. They recontextualized it to be about the recession and joblessness… but that’s also kind of tossed aside after a while since it has no bearing on why the curse has happened. The older sister does have a bigger role, but it’s mostly so that the staticky ghost thing can now extend to the use of cellphones as well as HDTVs, because 21st century – which actually makes the staticky ghost thing make less sense since everything is digital, but I guess that’s what’s spooky about it? And the Zelda Rubinstein character is now a male host of a ghost hunter show who was in a relationship previously with the paranormal doctor who brings him to the family. Oh, and they now have CGI, which they use liberally to contort faces into creepier ones, jerk people around by unseen forces, and then literally send us into the poltergeist dimension, where it’s just a bunch of spectral hands reaching out and moaning. Riveting. This isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not at all justified in its existence.
Tomorrowland – 5/22/15 – 50%
I’ve never seen such a movie get so much hate that I didn’t understand. I actually kind of loved this movie, regardless of its flaws. The villainous robots were hilariously disturbing with their constant smiles, and the little girl in the film was actually pretty badass and got a few laughs out of me. I’ve heard the film being described as being too much of a downer, and while I understand it to a point, there have also been complaints about it being too nostalgic to even care about the future to the point of hoping to regress. With all due respect, that’s a load of nonsense, as I don’t think the film is lamenting a doomed future as much as people’s obsession with what would be inevitable if they kept it up with that attitude. The way I see it, Brad Bird is attempting to convey how we used to be more hopeful about our futures and thus innovated in areas of technology that bettered society and got us to the point we’re at, but now it seems as though we’ve reached a decline in that ingenuity, seeing nothing but doom ahead and then merely accepting it. If anything, the film remembers a time when we weren’t so jaded and reminds us where we’ve been so that we can be inspired to go forward and continue to innovate and make the world better. Case in point: so many of us, tragically, do not care about the space program, when it used to be that we were excited and hopeful for the day we could casually fly to the moon for a weekend getaway. Tomorrowland is a generally fun movie that, while in need of more wonderment itself (we barely get to see the titular city in its prime), is very much invested in encouraging kids to press forward, even when the world seems so obsessed with our eventual demise.
San Andreas – 5/29/15 – 50%
San Andreas is essentially 2012 on a smaller scale. Here you get to see Los Angeles (and a few surrounding areas around the San Andreas fault) get torn apart and its buildings shatter into millions of pieces while people run away from them, only to be sucked into a chasm that’s erupted just in front of them as California sinks into the ocean, causing further damages. Meanwhile, a family is caught in the middle, with the daughter separated from her divorced parents who inevitably going to learn to fall in love with one another again as they search for their missing daughter, all while the missing daughter finds new love herself. I think the few positive things I can say that this film has going for it are a few exciting scenes of competent CGI action as well as the fact that the daughter isn’t useless, even if she is eventually in need of saving. Also, Dwayne Johnson is almost always a fun presence, as is Paul Giamatti clearly realizing he’s delivering really tired stock lines necessarily delivered by his seismologist character.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – 6/12/15 – 82%
Somehow, despite the much more humorous tone, I liked this movie a lot less than The Fault in Our Stars. I think it may have been just one step too far in the hipster cool direction, with the lead guys making these purposely terrible parodies of movies and one of the guys’ dad being this ultra-hippie, whereas The Fault in Our Stars may have been far more melodramatic, but it rang more authentic because it wasn’t trying so hard to make you like everyone. Not that this movie doesn’t have likable characters, and the actors all go a long way towards making them so, but overall it feels much more like it’s a performance, with jokey situations and dialogue throughout, even in the tragic moments. Plus, there are stretches of the film that dragged, particularly since I felt as though I could have gotten to know these characters a bit more than what the film gives us. I feel bad that every film like this is going to be inevitably compared to The Fault in Our Stars, because there’s no way that film should be a gold standard, either, but… yeah. This one just didn’t click with me as much as I had hoped.
Infinitely Polar Bear – 6/19/15 – 79%
I liked this movie quite a bit more than I was expecting to, particularly given the fact that it’s a movie about a main character with a mental illness. Mark Ruffalo plays Cameron Stuart, father of two girls, husband to Maggie Stuart, and bipolar disorder sufferer. When the latter results in his inability to work, his wife decides it’s time to take action and earn herself a better education, leaving their daughters Amelia and Faith in his care in the meantime. The movie is primarily about his efforts to cope while also building the unusually strong bond between Cameron, Amelia, and Faith. What I liked most about this movie, apart from the very strong performances, was the fact that it plays up both the tragedy and the comedy of their situation without wallowing in either. I wouldn’t say it’s presented as a fact of life, as there is some serious drama that’s specific to the situation. It’s understandable, as their circumstances are pretty extraordinary, and yet the movie treats this as something they accept and adapt to. This is likely due to the fact that director Maya Forbes based the movie on her own similar experiences growing up, so she knows the delicate balance to strike without seeming too exploitative. I also really liked the relationship between Ruffalo and Zoe Saldaña, who plays Maggie, both as actors and characters. The “will they/won’t they?” aspect of their relationship, in regards to splitting up in this case, was definitely too much of a primary focus for Maggie, who could have used more personal development, but they feel like a realistic, loving couple that has hit an extremely rough patch and are seriously concerned about whether they will lose the other. It’s not a profound movie, but it is an authentic, humorous, and lovable one.
The Overnight – 6/19/15 – 81%
Do not watch this movie if you are easily offended. I’m just going to say that now. This strange movie goes to some very intimate and bizarre territory to mine its humor. Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play Alex and Emily, a couple who has moved to a new city, Los Angeles, where they are desperate to make a connection with another set of adults. When their son makes a new friend at the park, however, his dad, Kurt, invites them over so that the two families can get to know one another. Of course, Alex and Emily have no idea just how intimate things are going to get once the kids are put down for bed… Yup. You can see where this is going. And, honestly, I don’t mind that kind of humor, personally, but there’s something so off-putting about the way that The Overnight goes about its business. There’s a certain smugness about the movie in pretending as though this is just how things are and how we’re all just too afraid to acknowledge it. I want to tell it, “No… not really. But I appreciate your efforts.”
Ted 2 – 6/26/15 – 46%
You’d think that working on a sequel to the film he would have rather made instead of Family Guy would have encouraged Seth MacFarlane to not be so lazy as to repeat jokes from the show, but Ted 2 seems to suggest that he doesn’t mind so much doing that, so long as he can put them in the mouths of characters not from that show. Here, Ted is attempting to prove his personhood because he and his new wife wish to adopt a child, thus necessitating that he and his Thunder Buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) seek out the legal advice of Samantha Lesley Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), whose name is an obvious means of making a joke about how her name sounds like that one black guy. Morgan Freeman also shows up. There’s a road trip to Comic Con, where a very boring climax takes place. Semen samples are spilled all over John at one point, prompting Ted to share pics of and use hashtags out loud. And there are weed jokes. Tired, repeated weed jokes. I liked the first quite a bit, but, as soon as I saw in the trailer that they were reusing that joke about asking if someone had a soul and Ted began singing “At This Moment,” I kinda had a bad feeling about this.
Boulevard – 7/10/15 – 52%
Robin Williams’ last onscreen role has the usually comedic actor turning in a mostly satisfyingly dramatic performance as Nolan, a middle aged bank clerk who has been leading a quiet, mundane, and predictable life with his wife, Joy, when, suddenly, one step in another direction has him suddenly acknowledging a secret that he’s been holding back all along: Nolan is gay. Based on a similar experience had by screenwriter Douglas Soesbe, Boulevard is a mostly well done indie drama that provides moments of true humanity and tenderness towards its main character, but I feel like the film took too sharp a turn into feel-good, “It gets better” territory to feel like my investment in the story was fully justified. I’m not necessarily saying that it should’ve ended on tragedy, but the film really could’ve been a bit more aware of the hurt that was being held in not only by Nolan, but his longsuffering wife, too, who the film inexplicably almost vilifies through its inept handling of the finale. Even so, it’s a worthy enough effort and a really good performance from an actor who wasn’t afforded as many opportunities as he should have to show off those talents.
Jenny’s Wedding – 7/10/15 – 15%
A film that made a lot of other “Worst of the Year” lists, to the point where I sought it out, Jenny’s Wedding ultimately didn’t feel impactful enough for me to feel that strongly about it, even considering the fact that it stars Katherine Heigl, who has seemingly tried to restart her career with unprecedented roles this past year – playing a murderous housewife in Home Sweet Hell and now here playing Jenny, a lesbian who is getting married to her longtime girlfriend and who is now struggling to deal with her family not being able to deal with her coming out and getting married so suddenly. The movie costars Tom Wilkinson and Linda Emond as Jenny’s parents, Grace Gummer as her lawn-obsessed and miserable sister Anne, and Alexis Bledel playing Jenny’s fiancée, Kitty, who may as well have been Jenny’s actual housecat, given the amount of investment the film inspires towards her. At least then the film would’ve been an interesting absurdist take on the whole slippery slope idea of gay marriage eventually leading to sanctioned matrimony between man and beast. The actual movie itself is pretty innocuous, though, with everyone trying their best to sound like they’re playing a big important movie that stands as a sort of microcosm of what it’s like to be in this situation, but the way that Jenny’s written, she’s mostly just shouting at people and acting like a teenage girl who isn’t getting her parents’ blessing to run away and get married at such a young age. I’m not buying that this is putting a strain on the parents’ marriage, as a result. And I have no idea where Anne’s getting the insane idea of how her lawn is the final sign of how her marriage has fallen apart, either. Anne, your marriage isn’t falling apart because the lawn didn’t get watered – it’s falling apart because your husband is a douchebag who steps all over you. I can understand how that might drive you to say such crazy things, but seriously, get a grip! Still, I don’t know about worst of the year. I can understand that it’s a pretty bad movie, sure, but I didn’t care enough about it to consider it among my worst. Maybe if they went with the satirical bestiality angle, I would’ve actually probably added it to my list of favorite comedies of the year, though.
Minions – 7/10/15 – 55%
Fans of the Despicable Me series have done their best, it seems, to subvert the Minions’ zany image by putting words of frustrated common sense observations into their mouths and thus force them into the role of purportedly common sense reasoning on social media. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that crazed, gibberish-speaking henchmen had such strong opinions about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, though. It’s still quite puzzling, however, that fans’ misappropriation would stray so far from the source material they apparently love. Luckily, the yellow pills of crazy got their own movie this year to remind us all of how ridiculous these things really are meant to be. Minions is a prequel/spin-off of Despicable Me that tells the story about how these guys came to be, why they are, and basically what they did before they ever met Gru. Basically, the apparently immortal creatures served quite a few evil masters before him, including a carnivorous protozoan, a T. rex, a caveman, a pharaoh, and all the way up to Napoleon before sending themselves into a depressive, icy exile for several decades until we’re at the 1960s (thankfully sparing us any hint of what their dilemma would have been like in choosing their villainous leadership during the 1940s). Tired of sitting around, three brave Minions head out to find a new leader, settling on Scarlet Overkill, a Sandra Bullock-voiced, megalomaniacal anglophile who is seeking to steal the crown and throne of Queen Elizabeth II. Naturally, the inept yellow things throw a few monkey wrenches into her plan, and they ultimately become heroes, until they’re not again. It’s a straightforward movie, with plenty of noise to keep the kids’ attention spans focused on the TV. I’d say that there’s not enough humor there to entertain adults, but as I already pointed out, I’m clearly wrong about that. It’s harmless, though, and I kind of like that it has a dark sensibility about its humor, though I kind of wish it was willing to push the envelope a little further. But hey, that’s just me. What do I know? [insert shrugging Minion meme]
Paper Towns – 7/24/15 – 56%
This follow-up to the previous John Green novel adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, once again addresses teenage angst, only this time with a less tragic angle and, thus, a less impactful one whose flaws aren’t nearly as easy to overlook. The film is about teenage boy Quentin, who has held on to a secret crush on the girl across the street from him, Margo. He and Margo were close friends as kids, but as the years went on, the two of them drifted apart, but Quentin’s unrequited crush remained a major facet of his young life. When Margo, now a teenager, discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her, however, she enlists her old friend Quentin to help her get revenge, and the two of them seem to be drifting back towards each other – until she then disappears completely, seemingly leaving behind clues as to where she can be found. Quentin, knowing that the school dance is on its way, takes this as a hint and, with his friends, sets about putting the clues together. The film (and I presume the book) deconstructs the idea of the teenage dream girl (or even just the Manic Pixie Dream Girl) and becoming obsessed with the one crush you might have while neglecting the experiences you could have had had you not been so focused on that one aspect of life. It’s sort of a teenage-appropriate (500) Days of Summer, and I liked that, and I thought that most of the performances were pretty good, too. That being said, even knowing she was meant to be aloof, Margo as a character just didn’t resonate. I didn’t get the reasons why everyone liked her, most of all Quentin himself. The weight of her presence should still be felt when she is not there, at the very least, so that the stakes remain high for the characters seeking her out. Instead, I felt like the movie mostly used her as a concept and wasted screentime on her. In fact, had the film just never introduced her on screen, start post-disappearance, and then just have the characters talk about her occasionally while going on this mission to find her, leaving her an enigma to the audience, the film likely would have been stronger for it, and Margo, the disappeared girl that everyone liked, would have actually been far more interesting in our own heads.
Shaun the Sheep Movie – 8/05/15 – 99%
Probably one of my most disappointing films of the year was this animated film from Aardman, which everyone who paid attention to it couldn’t’ stop raving about. The high Rotten Tomatoes score and everything implausibly overhyped the movie for me, but I have liked many of Aardman’s films quite a bit, so I was really quite eager to go see this. So what went wrong? Well, I guess it’s mostly down to the fact that I found the fact that it was nonverbal to be particularly annoying. I’m not saying that I need dialogue to enjoy a film. I’m glad they stuck to their guns on this and made what basically almost amounts to a silent film for kids – but that’s not really what they did. And I think I took issue with the movie for one sole reason: the characters may not speak, but they do mumble quite a freaking bit. And, my God, does it get really freaking annoying. By the time the film ended, it felt like an eternity filled with grunts and mumbling had passed, and it was only 1 hour 25 minutes. I’m not kidding when I say that this seriously destroyed my ability to enjoy the movie, and I wish the DVD had a No Mumbles soundtrack option I could have selected. I would be lying if I said that the movie overall is destroyed by this one facet. It is enjoyable and cute and will undoubtedly entertain most kids and adults with Shaun’s antics in the big city. As for me, I struggled so much to stay with it because of that one element. Ugh.
Ricki and the Flash – 8/07/15 – 64%
I honestly thought this was going to be another year where Meryl Streep received an Oscar nomination for a role in which she was perfectly adequate and yet not really deserving of that kind of recognition. I probably would have agreed more with a nomination for this than I did Into the Woods, though. Here she plays an aging wannabe rock star, Ricki, who mostly performs gigs in the same bar with the same old band, The Flash, and doing the same old covers of classic rock standards (though they make a few amusing attempts to branch out). It’s not glamorous, but she seems to love the work, she seems to love her audience, and she seems to also have a thing for her lead guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield). What she doesn’t love, though, is her family – or at least, that’s their perception of her, since she basically up and left her husband and kids to go perform, and they haven’t really had any contact since. However, when her daughter Julie finds out that her husband cheated on her and Julie becomes suicidal, Ricki decides it’s probably been too long and goes out for a visit. What I liked about this movie is that it surprisingly holds its lead character accountable for her neglectfulness and poor behavior without vilifying the people holding a grudge against her. She has a lot of atoning to do with everyone – her kids, her ex-husband, her guitarist, and even the ex’s new wife, who might actually have one of the best scenes in the film, if only because it’s probably the only time you’ll see the “new wife” justifiably emotionally butcher the more entertaining lead character and remain likable. The film is directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Diablo Cody, though anyone who sees the name and expects Juno-levels of snark to make fun of will be disappointed. This is more like middle aged Young Adults, only… not quite as good as that one was. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was charmed by this movie.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – 8/14/15 – 67%
In a year when Kingsman, a new Mission: Impossible, Bridge of Spies, and a new James Bond movie all released, you’d think that you’d have all your bases covered when it comes to the various types of spy movies you could have, but then you’d be forgetting about The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie’s Cold War-era spy comedy thriller adaptation of the TV series. I honestly can’t recall many of the details of the plot beyond the two spies from competing governments being forced to set aside their differences and stop some plot involving nuclear weaons and the organization who wants to sell and/or use them. No matter. The highlight here is the classy, straight-faced, but completely ridiculous spy adventure that happens along the way, rather than the villains, and Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer forming an unlikely friendship while wearing very nice clothes and competing for the affections of Gaby Teller, played alluringly by Alicia Vikander (who had a pretty good 2015, I might add). I had fun with this movie, and I admired how it didn’t feel the need to adapt the material by being a parody of itself. It makes no apologies for itself, regardless of its silliness, and maintains that suave cool about it. There were definitely times when I felt fatigued by it all, though, and wanted desperately for it to do something a bit more over-the-top on a more regular basis. That’s probably on me, for the most part, but there’s still no denying that this could’ve packed more oomph.
People Places Things – 8/14/15 – 76%
Infinitely Polar Bear is in reasonably good company with indie comedy People Places Things. Jemaine Clement plays Will, a professor who is experiencing a change in life situation after he catches his wife, Charlie, having an affair and is promptly informed that she doesn’t love him anymore. One year later, and he’s stuck in a rut, and it’s beginning to reflect in his work, while his daughters have grown accustomed to their soon-to-be-stepfather’s presence and way of life, and so, to help, one of his students, Kat, sets him up with her perpetually single mother, Diane – just when Charlie might be reconsidering. The movie isn’t all that riveting, but Clement’s sour performance and line delivery saves the movie from feeling too caught up in melodrama, and he has great chemistry with Regina Hall, who plays Diane. I don’t feel like I ended up liking Charlie nearly as much as the film needed for me to, however. She’s wishy-washy and, while she lectures Will on his own actions on a regular basis, she’s not exactly a prize herself. That is the point, but ultimately the movie does ultimately want us to like her and for her to be happy, much like Will does. She’s more of a presence than Diane, even, which I found irksome. In the end, though, this is a decent enough relational comedy with solid enough performances, even from the kids.
American Ultra – 8/21/15 – 44%
A neurotic stoner, Mike, and his stoner girlfriend, Phoebe, fritter away their young lives in a tiny West Virginia town when, unexpectedly, the stoner finds himself the target of a government program and all their best agents, who all want him dead – and somehow the slacker is beating them all, quite literally. Turns out, he’s a sleeper agent who was retired and reprogrammed into his current persona for safekeeping, and now they need to clean house, and now he has to deal with what this means for both him and Phoebe. I liked this movie quite a bit, and I thought the relationship between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, as Mike and Phoebe, was surprisingly realistic and, for such a violent and crude action comedy, even kind of sweet. The two of them have very good chemistry, possibly thanks to their previous work together, and the dilemma they face brings about some good drama, too, never feeling extraneous or forced. I even enjoyed Topher Grace’s ridiculously dislikable government agent character who’s calling all the shots in the mission to take Mike down. He’s nasty and just the sort of weasel you love to hate, particularly since many of his barbs are directed at the far more likable Tony Hale and Connie Britton characters. If I had any serious criticisms, it’s that I felt that the wraparound story device, which puts most of the movie in the position of being a flashback, was completely unnecessary. I also can’t really put my finger on why this movie also didn’t feel like it ascended to greatness, since I ended up liking it so much more than most, but, regardless, this is certainly one to give a try.
Z for Zachariah – 8/28/15 – 78%
Nuclear war has wiped out most of humanity and poisoned most of the world’s livable land, water, and food, and Ann, who lives on a farm in the mountains, fears she may be the last person on earth. Of course, she isn’t, and she comes upon a lonely scientist, John, who is suffering from radiation poisoning. Helping him recover, she develops a romantic bond with him, which he reciprocates, but to what extent begins to come into question when a third party shows up in the form of Caleb, who also takes a great interest in Ann. Z for Zachariah is an adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s posthumously released novel, and, in skimming the book’s summary, I can already tell you that a lot’s been changed for the film adaptation – most of all the fact that Caleb does not exist in the book, and Ann is most definitely a teenager. Knowing this puts my dislike for the film into better relief. Despite only featuring three characters throughout the runtime, the film still feels as if it’s crowded, and the rivalry that develops between the two men over Ann feels like unnecessary drama that, despite having two men compete over her, actually manages to diminish the theme of exploring the idea of Adam’s ownership of Eve, Eve gaining agency in that role, and Eve considering whether human existence is even worth repeating if it means that people like John will repopulate it and inevitably bring destruction, once again. As it is, the film adaptation focuses entirely too much on an uninteresting romantic triangle more than anything. It’s a lot like the Will Smith-starring adaptation of I Am Legend in that it feels like it completely missed the point and made inferior alterations that are only tangentially similar to the source material without even at least becoming a companion to it. At least there are some very strong performances in this film, particularly from Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Creep – 9/02/15 – 95%
Mark Duplass has a knack for exploring awkward humanity, a skill he usually channels into equally awkward comedies and dramas alongside his brother, Jay. Here, though, he returns to Baghead territory by teaming up with producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse and countless awful (and some not so awful) horror films and co-writer and first time director Patrick Brice to produce one of the better found footage-style horror films in a while. Duplass and Brice costar in this film about a cash-strapped videographer, Aaron (Brice), being hired by a man named Josef (Duplass), who wants Aaron to document his life for his unborn son, who may never meet his father due to a terminal illness. Things get unsettlingly weird, of course, once Aaron arrives and meets the bizarrely awkward Josef face-to-face. Creep is undoubtedly a horror film, and it is indeed quite creepy, but, being a Duplass production, there’s an undercurrent of self-aware humor going on, as well, which helps the whole gimmick go down a lot better. Creep doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s solid entertainment.
The Last Five Years – 9/07/15 – 59%
I hold to the idea that a film adaptation needs only the right execution in order to do the source material justice. While I haven’t seen the stage play of Jason Robert Brown’s musical that simultaneously explores the beginning and end of its central relationship, I can definitely tell from the film that the material would be much better served by either being on the stage or from being staged much more abstractly than what we get in the film adaptation. There are a lot of close-up shots of actors’ faces and tight framing within cramped spaces, which I can’t imagine would be a problem with a big open stage. It may very well be just the limitations of the film’s relatively tiny $2 million budget, but it’s a limitation that isn’t easily overlooked when assessing it. Even so, I did generally like The Last Five Years movie, thanks in large part to the performances of Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as well as the clever way in which the story unfolds – having the female-focused storyline run backwards from a heartbreaking divorce notice and the male-focused storyline run forwards from their first hookup and having the two not only meet in the middle at the proposal. What’s more, the stories don’t stop there for a feel-good false happy ending, and instead continue to go in their separate directions to explore the other half’s side throughout the time frames we’ve already seen, offering further revelations about what part each played. The impact of seeing who did what and how that affected the other and then ultimately simultaneously looking back on what was and what it became is pretty damn devastating, but satisfyingly so. I still think that the stating could have been more creative and hinders the movie greatly, but at least the songs are entertaining, the performances solid, and the story compelling by way of a clever gimmick.
The Visit – 9/11/15 – 64%
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film has been called a comeback by many. I think they may be a bit too optimistic, honestly, but, sure, why not? The Visit is a perfectly acceptable PG-13-rated horror “comedy” that is, in fact, his best movie in years. I dreaded this one, though, since it was also trying to cash in on the found footage craze long after people started getting sick of the found footage craze. Not only that, the movie starred kids in the leads – always risky, particularly for Shyamalan – who were dealing with creepy grandparents who were clearly hiding a scary secret. Is it a demonic possession? Is it aliens? Is it witchcraft? The answer maybe isn’t exactly surprising, but it is refreshing and genuinely pretty freaking scary. The actors were all mostly fine, including the kids, though the script has them doing and saying some pretty dumb stuff. It’s a solid flick, though, that’ll make you cringe both from the awkward humor and unsettling shenanigans going on.
Black Mass – 9/18/15 – 75%
Johnny Depp. The guy can act, but even when he’s trying to play it straight, as in Transcendence, the movie itself can often go off the rails in its crapulence. The trailers for Black Mass made it look like that was a distinct possibility, once again, with Johnny under gobs of makeup and prosthetics to make him look like Whitey Bulger – and it wasn’t very good. Still, a friend convinced me to go with her, and I’m happy to say that Black Mass isn’t nearly as bad as Transcendence, though the makeup is seriously distracting. There are times when you can see where the fake hairline begins, and the contacts, while obviously meant to be exaggerated to emphasize the cold ice blue of his eyes, just make him look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Depp’s performance is decent underneath it all, though. The story? Surprisingly dull for a movie about one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history.
The Walk – 9/30/15 – 85%
I was really bummed when I managed to miss this movie in theatres, as I planned on actually seeing it in 3D. Robert Zemeckis looked to have been using the medium to great effect, which probably looked spectacular. Unfortunately, it didn’t do so well at the box office and was pulled in a mere two weeks, despite the box office draw of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. If you’ve seen the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, you know the story of The Walk: French performance artist and high wire performer Philippe Petit sets his sights on the World Trade Center towers and, together with his girlfriend Annie and a few collaborators, they go on a clandestine mission to set up a rig between the two towers. Much of the film is about Petit’s motivations, planning the mission, and a bit of the romance between him and Annie Allix, a fellow street performer he meets in Paris. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is decent in the role, and reportedly even learned how to walk the wire on his own from Petit himself. As such, he should have a handle on Petit’s mannerisms and speech, but it does seem as though the direction is forcing him to be a little too “on” most of the time. There’s a bit of a lull in the story, as well, but once Petit is out on the wire, it is pretty exciting. It’s fluff, but it’s entertaining, and that’s perfectly fine. I still wish I’d seen it on the big screen in 3D. Maybe then some of the things flying into the camera wouldn’t have been so silly looking…
Crimson Peak – 10/16/15 – 69%
Guillermo del Toro returns to directing horror with this fantastic-looking and incredibly creepy tale about a young woman, Edith, who has the ability to commune with spirits. She finds herself taken with a man who is seeking investments, however, and soon finds herself marrying him, despite receiving some warning from beyond. Moving in with her new husband, Sir Thomas Sharpe, and his tempestuous sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe, in their dilapidated mansion that rests at the top of a mountain of red clay, it’s not long before Edith begins to uncover a dark secret about the place that make her realize that, just maybe, she should have heeded the spirits’ warnings. Crimson Peak isn’t necessarily scary as much as it is an atmospheric, gothic soap opera romance, so I can only imagine that horror film fans who were expecting to be frightened rather than merely creeped out were pretty upset. Luckily, I went in a few weeks after release with the proper expectations and came out relatively satisfied. The film looks fantastic, and the actors are all pretty top notch, too, with Jessica Chastain being the highlight as the bonkers Lucille. It is a little too slow, however, particularly since some of the revelations are a bit obvious, but I’d still take this more contemplative and ponderous approach any day over a garbage jump-scare-filled funhouse movie. That being said…
Goosebumps – 10/16/15 – 74%
I’m a little bummed that Goosebumps went this kind of Jumanji-style direction, quite honestly. I was a pretty big fan of the books as a kid as well as the TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and so I was hoping for more of a straight up horror film for kids deal in the same vein as those, but instead we just have a movie that treats the books with so much reverence that they even make the author, R.L. Stein, out to be a sort of eccentric hero in the film based on his own books, by having him be this guy who primarily wrote the books in order to contain the real life horrors that were loose in the world. Naturally, the kids in the movie – one a new kid in town, another being a huge nerd with the crazy quirks, and the other the girl next door and love interest to the new kid in town – accidentally unleash them, causing a ton of mayhem at the hands of the books’ various monsters. It’s fun enough, and kids obviously enjoyed it, but I was still kinda disappointed that it wasn’t its own thing.
Woodlawn – 10/16/15 – 83%
I had to rent this, as it was the only Christian film released this year that was getting decent reviews, and I didn’t want to seem like I was going to just harp on the whole Christian film business by highlighting only the bad ones (which is pretty much all of them, though we’ll get to those later). Woodlawn is based on the true story of how the Woodlawn High School football team inspired a post-segregation community to unite and get over its prejudices through the power of sports and Jesus Christ, with future Miami Dolphins running back Tony Nathan leading the charge. Woodlawn is certainly probably the best of Pure Flix’s releases, at least that I’ve seen, and it’s certainly the best acted. It’s directed by brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, who previously directed Mom’s Night Out, which I didn’t necessarily like but was at least impressed by how much it resembled an actual film instead of a mere sermon disguised as one. Woodlawn is similar in that regard, and it’s better acted, too, with Nic Bishop and Caleb Castille as the coach and Tony Nathan, respectively, being solid, believable leads. The film does feel like Remember the Titans Lite, however, and the spirituality stuff, regardless of how much of it was true, feels 100% forced into the plot and even manages to allow the filmmakers their one little dig in pointing out that society is going downhill because people are protesting a public school program bringing in a Christian Evangelist to preach to the students during their practices. Sorry guys. I’m a Christian, too, but I can’t support that, either. I did get quite bored, as the film goes through a lot of the usual motions, but at the very least the film was mostly coherent and competently acted, and I guess that’s something, particularly when grading these movies on a curve.
Man Up – 11/13/15 – 80%
Simon Pegg doesn’t have the best track record for non-Edgar Wright or J.J. Abrams-produced materials, particularly in the romantic comedy genre, but Man Up actually provides the otherwise likable actor with a charming vehicle to work with, pairing him up with Lake Bell as Jack and Nancy, a couple that comes together by accident when Jack mistakes Nancy for his blind date and she, in turn, decides to go along with it. What’s nice about the movie is that the reveal comes partway through at just the right time, with Nancy realizing how much she actually likes the guy and feeling guilty for having deceived him. The ensuing drama between the two results in a lot of funny banter as the two of them let their guards down, the two of them so focused on bickering that they still don’t ever really want to leave each other’s company. The two actors have great chemistry, and despite the tension between the two, the film overall is perfectly pleasant, feel-good stuff that is careful not to mistreat even side characters. I liked it.
The Night Before – 11/20/15 – 67%
Drug humor abounds in this bro-bonding holiday-themed comedy from the guys that brought us This is the End, Neighbors, and “almost The Interview” (which was a weird way of wording it since it still came out, albeit in limited capacity, but whatever). The Night Before differentiates itself from those, whoever, by attempting to throw in a little bit of heart, and, you know what? It mostly works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, a perpetually single manchild who every year talks his buddies into going out on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday and get wasted. However, Ethan doesn’t quite realize that his friends are desperate to move on, with Isaac (Seth Rogen) starting a family and Chris (Anthony Mackie) currently focused on his rising star as a famous football player. Both Isaac and Chris, however, promise to do it one last time, which just so happens to be the time when Ethan manages to get his hands on an invite to one of the most exclusive Christmas parties in all of New York: The Nutcracker Ball. As is to be expected, there’s quite a bit of partying going on and the film ends up being a series of crazy events that also shines light on the emotional baggage the three friends have been carrying for some time, both regarding their lives and towards each other. The Night Before could be funnier, and the editing a bit tighter, but when the jokes do manage to land, they’re pretty hilarious, with most of the laughs coming from Rogen. The emotional stuff is also pretty strong and doesn’t feel like it’s intruding on the hilarity at all, offering a nice respite from the raunch and drug stuff, which the film is perhaps a little too reliant upon.
Sisters – 12/18/15 – 60%
I don’t know how a movie starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as sisters could end up being such a great disappointment, but here we have it. Sisters is basically an excuse to gather a lot of familiar faces from the two comedians’ various shows into one place and have them interact with one another in an R-rated house party comedy. It’s reminiscent of that horrendous Project X movie, minus the found footage style, and starring middle aged celebrities instead of unknown teens and 20-somethings who play them. It isn’t as bad as that, thankfully, and provides a few chuckles, but the nearly 2 freaking hour long film could have seriously used some editing, while the actors really should’ve been more beholden to a script. Ad-libs are usually pretty great, here and there, but you have to be judicious in choosing only the good parts for that to work, and this movie just seemingly throws every take at you to see what sticks. And I seriously don’t understand why Amy Poehler’s character is considered such a disappointment by their parents, considering how she’s actually pretty responsible until they decide to throw the house party. Tina Fey I can understand, since she’s been evicted and clearly has issues holding a job, but even then I don’t really buy that she’s been quite as irresponsible as the movie shows her to be at the party, and she clearly just needs to be given a break in life. I was kind of sick when I saw this movie a few weeks ago, miserable feeling but just anxious enough to be willing to get out of the house, and so I decided to see this instead of what I was planning on seeing, Creed, because I needed something to make me feel better. While this wasn’t the worst movie I saw all year, it was certainly among the most headache-inducing. I did eventually see Creed, though. I’ll get to that one later…