By Bob Grimm
on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 12:00 PM
Director Todd Phillips, a man generally responsible for slob comedies like The Hangover and Old School, goes a more serious, satirical route with this one. The results are mixed, but it’s ultimately entertaining.
Based on an article in Rolling Stone magazine that described real-life gun-runners who bilked the government and screwed each other over, the film plays out as a sort of The Wolf of Wall Street with weapons and Albania instead of stocks and the Financial District. Contributing to that Wolf vibe would be Jonah Hill (who stars in both) playing Efraim Diveroli, a diabolical, narcissistic weapons dealer who puts profit before morality and friendship.
Even though Hill throws in an annoying laugh that should’ve been discouraged, the core of his performance is still funny, and brutal when it needs to be. Miles Teller plays his partner, David Packouz, a massage therapist who can’t keep his career in line and needs to straighten out fast—especially because he has a kid on the way with his wife, Iz (Ana de Armas, far less scary here than when she was torturing Keanu Reeves in Knock Knock).
The film is at its best when the two are delivering a shipment of guns to Iraq on the ground in a beat up truck. Both Hill and Teller are good here, even when the film treads into familiar territory. This isn’t a great movie, but especially in a summer that’s stunk, it’s one of the season’s better ones.
By Bob Grimm
on Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 9:06 AM
Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter shine as Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson on their first date in this ultra sweet, enjoyable account of when the future President and First Lady got together for a day and eventually went to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
Writer-director Richard Tanne, above all things, does a great job of capturing the spirit of the late eighties with his period piece, placing the two icons in a very believable, low key environment.
Sawyers (a dead ringer for Obama) and Sumpter capture the spirit of the couple without exaggerating any of their characteristics. It’s a blast watching a young Robinson, who was actually Obama’s mentor and advisor at a law firm he worked for that summer, keeping a persistent Obama in check with his romantic pursuits. It’s also funny to see the future president lighting up many cigarettes during the course of the movie, including his very first scene.
Tanne’s approach to the subject matter is beautifully understated, allowing for his performers to show us a couple of real people getting to know each other slowly. We all know how things turn out for the couple, but it’s fun to see them starting in Obama’s crappy, smoke stained jalopy with an unimpressed Michelle in the passenger’s seat.
By the end of the movie, he’s managed to impress her on a level that just might lead to a second date.
By Bob Grimm
on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 12:43 PM
An improv group called the Commune faces an uncertain future when their theater is closing and members of their team are faced with life changing events. Writer-director-actor Mike Birbiglia plays Miles, an improvisational actor in his mid-thirties who feels passed over, while Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) finds himself in line for a role on The Weekend (the film’s less copyright infringed stand-in for Saturday Night Live). Gillian Jacobs (who is having a nice year with this and her role in the excellent Netflix series, Love) plays Jack’s girlfriend Samantha, who also has a chance to advance her career. They, and other members of the troupe, must decide between real money-paying gigs and doing what they actually love, that being getting up on stage and making stuff up for free.
I personally, can’t stand watching comedy improv, so that perhaps knocks the film down a peg for me, because there’s a lot of bad improv in this movie. Balancing things out for the better would be the performances from all involved, especially Key and Jacobs, who should do more projects together. Birbiglia does a nice job of portraying that artistic need to do one’s art in the face of all adversity.
By Bob Grimm
on Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 9:55 AM
Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster all destroy their parts in this absolutely terrific modern western from director David Mackenzie.
Pine and Foster play two brothers who come up with a bank-robbing scheme to save the family farm, and Bridges is the soon-to-be-retired sheriff trying to stop them. Pine takes his career into all new territories with his work here, making you forget he’s Captain Kirk and totally disappearing into his part. Foster, an actor I couldn’t stand when he was younger, just gets better and better with each film, with this being his best work yet. Pine’s brother is supposedly the more sensible one, while Foster’s is the nut. What’s great about the writing here is how those roles sometime switch, and the acting by both makes it mesmerizing to watch.
What else can you say about Bridges at this point? He’s one of the best actors to have ever walked the Earth, and this further cements that fact. Mackenzie, whose most notorious prior film was the underrated Starred Up, takes a step into the elite class with this one. His staging of car chases and manhunts is nerve shredding. It’s simply a movie without a bad frame in in it.
It’s a masterpiece, one of only a few to be released so far this year.
By Bob Grimm
on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 9:00 AM
In 2013, soul singer Sharon Jones was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a major operation and chemotherapy. Well, that didn’t slow her down much at all, as this documentary from director Barbara Kopple shows.
When Jones got sick, she just shaved her head and kept on performing. The film shows her appearances on stage, in church services, on shows like Ellen and Jimmy Fallon, and her energy never dissipates. In the stretch between her diagnosis and now, she performed, released a Grammy nominated album (Give the People What They Want), and, unfortunately, her cancer returned (She informed people at the premiere of the film in Toronto in 2015 that she was starting another round of chemo that Wednesday). The film offers a convincing argument that a good, positive, strong attitude qualifies as one of the better weapons against disease. While the film is mostly about her personal struggles, the moments showing her performing will certainly inspire soul lovers to dig deeper into her catalogue and seek out filmed performances. She’s definitely one of a kind.
By Bob Grimm
on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 12:30 PM
Friendships when you are younger are a big deal. Writer-director Ira Sachs is very much clued into this reality with this beautiful little movie about a family moving to Brooklyn after a relative has left them a home.
Greg Kinnear, in his best role in years, plays Brian, an actor on the downside of his career, who moves with wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and son Jake (Theo Tapiltz) to the new Brooklyn home, where Jake instantly befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri). They go to the same school together, play video games, and aspire to become artists. Tony’s mom (Paulina Garcia) operates a business in the home Brian has inherited, and her rent is too low. When he tries to raise the rent, problems ensue and despite the best of intentions, relationships are affected. Everybody is terrific in this movie, especially Tapiltz and Barbieri, who come off as real kids. Kinnear, looking world-weary and just a little beat up, is a testament to how tough his chosen profession can be. Garcia has a few moments that are appropriately scary, while Ehle continues to be one of those actresses that quietly amazes.
Sachs is a director with amazing power of observation; his film is full of moments that are deeply moving and strike chords. This is one of the year’s more wonderful under-the-radar films.