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Thursday
Oct192017

Killing Gunther (2017)

The found-footage aesthetic died years ago, but no one told Killing Gunther, which shambles about in a slobbering, unholy imitation of life that should be put down for everyone’s safety. I say this not out of spite, but disappointment. I can’t recall another found-footage action comedy, and it’s a shame that writer/director/star Taran Killam couldn’t drag his unique premise across the finish line: Killam plays Blake, an assassin who forms a team of misfit colleagues to take out Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the world’s greatest hit man. The total outright laughs could fit into an SNL Digital Short—fitting, considering how much of the cast have appeared on that show. At an hour-and-a-half (ten percent of which actually features Schwarzenegger, who pulls a Blade Runner 2049 on us), the movie feels at once too cartoonish and too sincere. It’s like watching Wile E. Coyote in therapy, with an occasional Road Runner sighting.

Tuesday
Oct172017

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

You’ll rarely catch me saying that an Awards Season movie needs to be longer, but Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a startling exception. Writer/director Angela Robinson’s take on the forbidden academic love triangle that produced comics’ most iconic heroine is tremendously acted and visually welcoming. But the first hour’s slow-burn seduction of a college student (Bella Heathcote) by a pair of married professors (Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall) gives way to a You Tube-compilation-worthy accelerated timeline that doesn’t quite earn its climactic moments of transcendent tenderness. The main cast ably capture the tortured dual identities of characters whose unorthodox passions could only be expressed in secret or translated through wild four-color adventures. But the drama requires greater social context and a sturdier exploration of the Marstons’ unique family dynamics in order to fully take hold. The characters were ahead of their time. Their story gets ahead of itself.

Monday
Oct162017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Adam Sandler’s Netflix curse has ended, at least for now. A few years ago, the actor signed a huge original-content development deal, and the resulting “comedies” turned his association with the streaming service into a punch line. Sandler roars back to life in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, a kind of grounded Royal Tenenbaums in which an aging also-ran artist (Dustin Hoffman) gathers his three dysfunctional children (Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) to attend a gallery show and (they learn) oversee the dismantling of his legacy. As he did with While We’re Young, Baumbach stares into the abyss of youth-and-fame-obsessed modernity and reports back with a sharply-written, powerfully acted cautionary tale about narrowing one’s scope in the quest for meaning to the self and to the family. Sandler establishes and maintains the film’s delicate, tragicomic tone. Also, I'm happy to report there's not an ounce of donkey-diarrhea in sight.

Monday
Oct162017

Swing Away (2017)

It’s a rotten thing when personal prejudice gets in the way of a fine movie-watching experience. But here I am, confessing to mild disappointment in Michael A. Nickles’ Swing Away. The film stars Shannon Elizabeth as Zoe, a professional golfer who retreats to her grandparents’ idyllic home in Greece, following an on-camera meltdown that led to her suspension from a big tour. She mentors a local girl in the ways of the green, and rallies the town to wrest control of a dilapidated golf course from a heartless developer (played with downright Presidential oafishness by John O’Hurley). Swing Away is a picturesque, unabashed love letter to Greece; to women in sports; and to bread-making (Zoe’s grandfather kneads out a tactile, touching life lesson). Unfortunately, it’s also about golf, and I found the climactic twenty-five minute tournament devoid of the first hour’s lightness, romance, and purpose. Your mileage may vary.

Saturday
Oct142017

Moscow Never Sleeps (2017)

If I had to guess, America's mind's-eye conception of Russia looks like a grey building under greyer skies, atop which sits Vladimir Putin, ever stoking Sauron's flaming eye. For those caught up in the twenty-four-second news cycle, it's easy to confuse "The Russians" with "Russians", which is why Johnny O'Reilly's Moscow Never Sleeps is not only refreshing, but important. Imagine a less sappy Love Actually, pulsing with Victoria's heightened emotional undercurrent, and you'll understand why this story of strangers' lives intersecting on Moscow City Day is so effective. From the dying comic legend trying to make peace with his wife and mistress; to the architect juggling a crumbling relationship and a government takeover of his greatest project; to the bickering teen step sisters working out their own messy definition of "family", these characters are as relatable in their disappointments, drudgeries, and dreams as any ensemble in a mainstream American drama.