Tag Archives: movie

Special Event Review: ‘Train Station’

TrainstationPoster-300Fate, if one believes in such a metaphysical force, can be a devilish provocateur. Or perhaps one believes that the individual creates his or her own destiny. Either way, Daniel Montoya’s Train Station toys with the idea…. alongside 40 filmmakers from 25 various countries.

Known as CollabFeature, Train Station takes a single narrative thread of a man who misses a train that may never arrive and spins off a myriad of possibilities after this event. Every few minutes, a single cut introduces us to new people  playing the same characters. One second we’re following an English speaking couple, and the next, this couple have been replaced by an Iranian speaking couple, continuing the story. Think of it as a multi-national rift on “Waiting For Godot” if the mysterious impetus of Godot was a train. Not shying away from any type of gender, age, sexuality or nationality, Train Station is a truly collaborative effort.

Intermittently returning to a central point (mostly the man on the train platform deciding whether to stay or leave), the film sweeps through numerous permutations of genre. In one “episode,” it becomes a thriller full of wounded bank robbers, stolen cash and black marketeer organ thieves. If that tawdry story line doesn’t excite, the next “episode” turns into a domestic drama of missed opportunities, tragedies and ill-timed sexual misadventures. If nothing else, like the weather here in Texas, if you don’t like it, wait a bit and it’s certain to change.

Like so many anthology or collab films, Train Station does suffer from bouts of inconsistency. Certain filmmakers seem to have a better visual handle on things, such as the final, contemplative and quite magical final portion. Other sections (and actors) don’t fare as well. I was scratching my head during one prolonged golf course brawl and scared to look at the screen when a group of German-speaking clowns overtake the drama. Yet those are quickly forgotten as the film rolls along, breathlessly, in another language and part of the world.

In this wired age of Kickstarter and crowdfunding, I can certainly see the benefits of communal filmmaking and its desire to seamlessly share a myriad of voices and ideas. Train Station may not be the most perfect example of that, but its trying and that’s all that matters.

Locally, Train Station will be playing free of admission at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday March 22, 2017 at the Latino Cultural Center of Dallas located at 2600 Live Oak St.

Review: ‘Get a Job’

dfn-get_a_job-poster-300In Dylan Kidd’s straightforwardly titled Get a Job, the anxiety and awkward stress of finding and then maintaining a job becomes the central crux of the film’s narrative. It’s a problem faced by a variety of characters, both in age, gender and race.

And did I mention it’s also a comedy? Albeit not in the same whip smart and economically staged manner as Adam McKay’s The Big Short – a recent film that dares to put humor behind the soul crushing ills of society’s darker moments – Kidd’s film touches on some genuine fears of a world that seems too busy to stop and notice when it’s stepping on the little guy. Regrettably, Get a Job attempts to mine these unfortunate truths while also being a raunchy comedy whose misguided laughs feel like they were ripped from a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg script.

The only one of four housemates to actually have a job when the film opens, Will (Miles Teller), summarily loses it the first day he shows up for work as a non-intern. Specializing in video production and making a small name for himself via You Tube videos, Will begins looking for another job in the same field. It doesn’t help his pride when pal Charlie (Nicholas Braun) accepts a position as a high school chemistry teacher (who still smokes lots of pot, naturally) and third roommate Luke (Brandon Jackson) seals the deal for his dream job as a stockbroker. The fourth friend of the bunch, played in usual form by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, barely registers as anything more than the extension of the character he’s played in films since Superbad.

Also, Will’s girlfriend (played by Anna Kendrick in a fairly thankless role), faces her own bouts of uncertainty while trying to remain positive for him.

Lending even more fuel to Will’s despondency is the fact his own father (Bryan Cranston) also loses his job in his company after 21 years of management. In a piece of dialogue that rings true for so many people at the whim of corporate downsizing, he states that he did his job so well that he ended up streamlining himself out of a job.

Will does eventually find something with a mega corporation led by the ultra-ruthless Katherine (Marcia Gay Harden) in which he can ply his visual trade, but he struggles with the rules of compliance. You know, little things like wearing a suit and tie and not arriving as a cocky know-it-all to every staff meeting.  Get a Job follows these various tangents as the characters struggle and deal with their new found “adult” lives. Or, in the case of Cranston’s forty-something-has-been, his uncelebratory  emergence back into a job market far leaner and more cutthroat than the one he entered years ago.

Director Kidd, who scored a name for himself in the indie world almost 14 years ago with the verbose and witty Roger Dodger, doesn’t come close to the incisive nature of that film. Written by Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel and shelved for more than a couple years now, Get a Job feels oddly dated, as if it were made to capture the queasy zeitgeist of the 2008 recession without directly name-dropping it.

Even odder is the juxtaposed swings between drama and hard-edged comedy. The most egregious example lies in Will’s time at the job placement firm where he eventually finds work. One co-worker (Alison Brie) continually makes sexual advances towards Will. Gay-Harden, as the aforementioned ruthless CEO, ultimately  gets her comeuupance in ways that are easily identified early on. And numerous comments about the “size” of chairman Wilheimer’s (Bruce Davsion) certain body part all add up to cringe-inducing moments that placate the scatological humorist in the audience and nothing more. And don’t even get me started on the extremely gross acts forced upon young Luke at his stock firm, part hazing and part machismo.

All of this undercuts the tone of a film that seemed to have something serious to say about that tenuous time post-college and pre-adulthood where confidence, ability and individuality are formed. I kept thinking it’s unfortunate that a film so dead set on stressing the perils of conformity eventually becomes a conformist comedy with nothing more than puke, pot and sex on the brain.

Get a Job opens on Friday, March 25 in limited release at the Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley.




Review: ‘Sleeping With Other People’

'Sleeping With Other People'
‘Sleeping With Other People’
I suppose it’s official, but the twenty-first century ‘rom-com’ is snide, emotionally vacant and replete with self serving egomaniacs who convey little truth in relationships or the basic ways in which we connect with each other. Okay, maybe not all ‘rom-coms’, but at least in the case of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People, a film whose ambitions are tethered with two of the most unlikable characters on-screen this year and whose relationship is centralized around the basic fact they’re both emotionally stunted individuals when it comes to monogamy and healthy partnerships. Sometimes, this makes for compelling and disturbingly good cinema. But here, it alienates.

In fact, even their obligatory “meet-cute” reeks of pointed genre inversion as college student Jake (Jason Sudeikis) hears a commotion in his dorm room hallway and sees fellow student Lainey (Alison Brie) pounding on the door of neighbor Matthew (Adam Scott). After a brief explosion of profanity and sexually explicit directives when Matthew won’t open the door, Jake saves her from being kicked out of the dorm by allowing her into his room.

See, Lainey’s plan of losing her virginity to Matthew didn’t go as planned, and as she and Jake talk through the night, they rambunctiously go at it themselves, giving their virginity away to each other in an impetuous moment.

Cut to years later as we watch Jake being publicly dumped by his current girlfriend Hannah (Margarita Levieva) on the sidewalks of New York when she finds out he slept with another woman. Via a monologue that sounds as if David Mamet inserted a chunk of twisted logic into Jake’s mouth on why and how Hannah is so upset over his dubious actions, Jake is revealed to be a highly intelligent but smart-ass sexual addict, something confirmed when we next see him attending a sex addicts meeting and running into older Lainey at the same meeting.

Equally unhappy in her own sexually subjugated life, the two draw closer and closer as they decide not to have sex, but engage in a friendship that sees them weave in and out of destructive relationships with old flames and new ones, such as Jake’s boss played by Amanda Peet.

Along the journey of their hither and yonder abstinent friendship, we’re treated to a scene where they show up blitzed on ecstasy pills to a children’s birthday party, numerous scenes of Sudeikis showcasing his wit with an over-cooked script, and numerous secondary performances (such as that of Peet’s) that often feel more developed and heartfelt than the central ones of Sudeikis and Brie. All of this situational comedy is wrapped around the basic question of will they or won’t they end up together? At least in that regard, Sleeping With Other People is somewhat old fashioned.

Also written by Headland, Sleeping With Other People is, perhaps, a comedy for the new times. Like Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, it’s a film that elides the nuanced presence of previous comedies and instead foregrounds the deviant undercurrents of its men and women. Sexual addiction. The inability to break free of destructive impulses. Non stop inner dialogue that attempts to mask the ripples of hurt and insecurity. It also doesn’t hurt that Amy Schumer and Jason Sudeikis are virtual opposite-gender-twins in both their outlook on sex and their eventual warming up to the ideas of monogamy through the slow emotional hammering of their on-screen partners.

All of this is to say, if one appreciated that film, they’ll probably bask in the muggy hipster glow of Sleeping With Other People. For me, it became yet another suffocating example of two people surfing the vagaries of modern love with a screwed up compass and even less resonance.

Sleeping With Other People opens in Dallas-Fort Worth on Friday, September 25 at the Angelika Dallas and AMC NorthPark.

Review: ‘Straight Outta Compton’

'Straight Outta Compton'
‘Straight Outta Compton’

Soaring into the stratosphere before tumbling back down to earth, Straight Outta Compton could be called a team bio-pic.

Set in the turbulent musical world of the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s, the movie purports to tell the true story of N.W.A., a group that exerted great influence on the popular culture of the period. Primarily, it’s the story of three young men, known by their stage names: Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins). The narrative beats fall easily into bio-pic rhythms, and while the telling occasionally becomes lacerating, more often it’s adulatory.

This is, after all, an authorized biography, with the principals serving as executive producers, with the presumptive powers that come along with those positions. Director F. Gary Grey is a longtime collaborator with the real-life Ice Cube, having worked with him on 1995’s Friday, as well as a number of music videos. So the idea that the movie will present the unvarnished truth behind the polished official story should be stowed.

Still, that doesn’t diminish the cumulative power of the first part of the movie, as the three heroes steadily coalesce into a roaring, collective blast of thunder. As the movie begins, Eazy-E has established himself in the drug trade with a steadily rising income and accompanying dead-eye stare; Ice Cube walks around with a notebook, scribbling down poetry that will be transformed into lyrics; and Dre alienates himself from his mother by his pursuit of musical beats as a disc jockey at a local club.

Soon enough, Dre has convinced Eazy-E to invest some of his hard-earned cash into the production of their first record, and then pushed him into rapping, which he’s never done before. The immediate success of the record attracts the interest of an older white man named Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who sells himself to E as manager and then insinuates himself into the tight structure of the group.

The group expands to include other artists, including Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and then starts performing live, attracting a rabid fan base and a record deal. They pour their lives into the words and music — most notably a nasty episode in which local police officers assume they are gangsters and shove them to the ground — and when the record is released, it’s a sensation. They tour the country, stirring audiences and authorities nationwide.

On the tour, however, the financial divide between Eazy-E (and Jerry) and the rest of the group becomes apparent, leading to Ice Cube’s departure and rivalries that plague the remainder of the running time. It’s also at this point that the narrative drive stalls, leveling off to focus more on a series of relatively petty financial matters and issues of control than on the larger societal pressures that everyone else in the country was experiencing.

Even so, Straight Outta Compton remains a vital ride, full of spit and vinegar. Sure, various imperfections are polished up before the final credits roll, but that’s what happens when bio-pics are made by the people involved.

The film opens today in theaters throughout Dallas.

Review: ‘Focus’

Will Smith and Margot Robbie in 'Focus'
Will Smith and Margot Robbie in ‘Focus’

Buried in the end credits of Focus, the latest drama vehicle for star Will Smith, lies the annotation to someone named Apollo Robbins and gives him credit as con artist supervisor and pickpocket designer. If the various deceptions and complex deceits pulled off within the film are cribbed from his real life, then I definitely would love to see the documentary on him.

Regardless, this is fiction and Focus trades in that unseemly netherworld where Nicky (Will Smith) defiantly tells his nubile and beautiful new partner-in-crime Jess (Margot Robbie) that there are two types of people in this world: hammer and nails. From their “meet cute” after a con-gone-wrong on her part, the rest of the film spins its deviant wheels as we observe the pair (and Nicky’s whole elaborate crew) trying not to become the nails.

After the initial character setting of the pair, in which Nicky teaches Jess the head-spinning rules of the game, Focus moves quickly. Transposing the action to various electric, neon-lit locales and very expensive (yet over decorated) looking hotel rooms and ocean side villas, Nicky searches for the big con, eventually settling on the high stakes world of Euro-car racing and one of the circuit’s owners, Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro).

But complicating matters is Garriga’s suspicious partner, Owens, played by Gerald McRaney in a terrifically gruff performance and Nicky’s own confused feelings for Jess. As any purveyor of the con-game genre knows, things only get sticky when feelings enter the picture and Focus slowly blurs the line between professional and personal as the pair try to straddle their grifter lifestyle and navigate the normal emotions of attraction.

Will Smith has been derided for some unusual choices lately (After Earth, anyone?) but with Focus, he’s given a safe and even modest role as Nicky, the suave gentleman criminal we might admire. There are even a few flashes of greatness, such as the long take that holds on his face during an incredibly tense scene of the film that allows all shades of remorse, reflection and quick-thinking to gleam from his eyes. It’s in a quiet moment like this that reminds one of his star-making poise.

Less successful is Margot Robbie as Jess, easy on the eyes to say the least, but failing to invest her carnal-induced performance with anything other than carnality. Buried within the soulless interiors and expensive cars, she simply becomes part of the furniture, which is a detriment to the overall impact of the film since her connection to the action should be its beating heart. In her previous effort, The Wolf of Wall Street, that level of  plasticity was warranted in her role. Here, it feels redundant.

Yet, part of the fun of Focus is continually trying to stay ahead of the con. Accustomed (and expecting) to having the rug pulled out from underneath us within such a film, writers and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa understand the necessity of surprise, never telegraphing any of their moves and allowing the film to find an amusing, brisk rhythm.  If the unconvincing repertoire between Smith and Robbie feels a bit undercooked, they make up for it through impeccable cosmetic beauty where even a hard thrown punch or gushes of tears don’t smear their make-up or make them any less unhandsome. After all, Focus isn’t meant as a hard-core treatise on the mores of society, but an entertaining romp where the consequences are just as transparent as the elaborate con.

The film opens in wide release across North Texas on Friday, February 27th.

Review: ‘The One I Love,’ Good Fun, Told With Bracing Honesty

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in 'The One I Love'
Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in ‘The One I Love’

In real life, relationships are tough. In movies, they’re impossible.

The One I Love, written by Justin Lader and directed by Charlie McDowell, begins with a couple at the breaking point. We don’t know much beyond that about Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), though it appears Ethan is to blame for this particular crisis. But as a session with a therapist (Ted Danson) reveals, they’ve both fallen into patterns of conduct and speech that reflect the fractured state of their relationship.

The therapist suggests visiting a guest home in the countryside for the weekend in order to try and work things out. Upon arrival at a beautiful, isolated house, Ethan and Sophie are both open to reconciliation, yet it’s obviously a fragile thing that could smash into a thousand pieces at almost any moment. They pass a little time together in peace, and then Sophie visits the guest house on the back part of the property. From there, things take a decidedly unsettling turn, opening the weekend up to many possibilities that neither Ethan nor Sophie could ever have imagined.

The main thrust of the movie revolves around Ethan and Sophie as they try to reconcile their differences and make the relationship work as it did in the past. Neither is violent nor unreasonable, which makes The One I Love a very relatable experience; they want their relationship to endure, despite all the challenges they’ve been facing lately. Still, like any loving couple at a turning point, they both recognize that a desire for things to work out is no guarantee that they’ll be able to achieve their mutual goal, especially since each one has different ideas on how to resolve matters.

Duplass and Moss are well-matched in age and temperament, though Moss is a better all-around actress; she can deftly shift from the lighter, humorous moments to the darker emotional depths without demonstrating any strain. Duplass is an able comic performer, though he’s much more limited when called upon to convey the dramatic turmoil suffered by his character. As a result, the very funny comic highlights shine more brightly for the couple than the more intense sequences — but only by a tick.

Lader’s script is above-average and so is McDowell’s direction, which burbles with conflicting moods and tones that are generally quite effective in their mixture, until certain repercussions play out with a heavier hand as things begin to wind up. Those missteps are easy to overlook, however, because by that point Ethan and Sophie have become a winsome, winning couple, fully deserving of a satisfying romantic resolution to solve their problems.

Do they get it? That becomes less important than the beguiling, appealing manner in which they struggle to achieve what every couple wants.

The film opens exclusively at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, August 22.