January Capsule Reviews (2016)

Once the conflict began, I did feel the tension taking place initially. I actually thought to myself, "This might not be too bad." But once again, I began to get a headache with the how little control Bay has over the camera. Shakiness does not equal intense immediacy. Credit where credit's due: the focus here is on the courageous men who single-handedly engaged in conflict and less focused on flag-waving. The politics are almost completely removed from the equation, so I think Bay just wants you to get caught up in the violence and the confusion and the chaos. It really becomes about being in "the moment," and the actors do their best to acclimate themselves to the situation at hand.

I would say that this film is intended to be a heroic tribute, but the end result did not sit well with me. The main issue, which is the case with all of Bay’s films, is with the way he shoots action scenes - the haphazard cinematography that is gritty and jarring to create a sense of urgency fails, and doesn’t belong in the same league as more assured films like BLACK HAWK DAWN or the final moments of ZERO DARK THIRTY. It’s loud, it’s assaultive, and as usual, it’s incoherent. George Miller or Kathryn Bigelow needs to teach Bay a thing or two about how to pull off a memorable sequence. As you’d expect, a couple of one-liners start to fly, we get POV shots of the bullets as they descend and our heroes suffer the consequences in explosive slow-mo. There were maybe a couple of tense moments early on as things began but it really becomes a chore, as immersive and bombastic war films go. I just felt that Bay is clearly not the right director for this material despite it being a more "restrained" Bay this time. By that I mean it's devoid of racism and sexism. I walked out exhausted from the experience of watching this and although it’s not quite as bad as PEARL HARBOR, it still has enough signature Bay-isms that continue to grate on me so I cannot recommend this one. It came across as a disservice to those who fought, rather than a tribute. Many others are giving it a pass, so it's possible that maybe Bay will just never work for me no matter what the context.  D+

The Benefactor (2016)

A familiar psychological drama starring Richard Gere as a guy named Franny who is a philanthropist with rather disconcerting social skills at times. He can be loud, flamboyant, kind of a like a crazy drunk uncle that drunkenly sings "My Girl" at weddings at the top of his lungs. The reason for his unruly behavior stems from the fact that he has developed a morphine addiction and due to the guilt he feels after a car accident in which he survived, but his best friend and his best friend’s wife were killed. We have a clear case of survivor’s guilt here, guilt which he then misplaces into his best friend’s daughter who re-enters his life as she moves back home, and they reconnect mostly through how generous Franny is with his money.

So we have kind of a John DuPont story with a rich dude eager to share his wealth even when it’s not wanted, seeing as how Dakota Fanning’s husband is a doctor and doesn’t even need the extra income. All the while, Gere struggles to stay afloat just as his prescription for morphine has run out so you can imagine a lot of histrionics and hysterics ensue, including a scene that takes place at a pharmacy which will make you long for Julianne Moore in MAGNOLIA. The only reason I can say that might be worth your six or seven dollars, is to see Richard Gere do his best with an incredibly subpar script. He injects a lot of heart and humanity into the character. I prefer him more in films like ARBITRAGE and INTERNAL AFFAIRS, but he at least held my interest as he goes to extremes dealing with his addiction. But man, have we seen this movie a million times before and lines like “You are a junkie with guilt, man” doesn’t service the film much. It hints at subtexts that never come to fruition, like maybe he’s attracted to Dakota Fanning’s husband a little bit, but in the end, you feel robbed at the end of this movie which easily could fall into the Lifetime category. Give this one a pass unless you’re a huge Richard Gere fan and want to see him grow a Grizzly Adams-style beard at one point which he dramatically... SHAVES OFF!!!!  Indicating that he's changed.  Oh, now I get it.   D

Intruders (2016)

Hate to sound like a broken record but much like THE FOREST from earlier this month, this is another psychological horror film that starts out intriguing enough, but devolves to such a ridiculous degree that it's hard to hone in on its strengths. Almost as if what happens later negates the investment I had early on for the lead character as she struggles with loss, agoraphobia and being a homebody for so long. But the movie seems to go "Hey wait, you think it's going to zig, instead it's going to zag." And the zagging is nothing new whatsoever, as it seems to shoot for a moral character stance the likes of HARD CANDY only comes across as a SAW knockoff.

The architecture of the house is baffling and soon enough, logic quickly goes out the window. It's kinda fun to see Martin Starr as a total psycho I guess and the lead actress isn't terrible but I counted at least a half dozen times a character calls someone "a fucking bitch." What starts out as a promising home invasion thriller becomes rather reprehensible and not the least bit involving or cathartic the further it goes along.   D+

Lamb (2016)

Ross Partridge adapted a highly acclaimed novel of the same name here, and this is his debut feature as a director. It’s a very simple premise in which a 47-year-old man who just lost his father upon driving back from the funeral, in a random strip mall parking lot, strikes up a conversation with an 11-year-old girl which then he gives a ride home to. Then the next day, he runs into her again, picks her up, and impulsively decides to take her on a road trip since she seems a little depressed. He wants to cheer her up and get her away from a neglectful family. That’s really all to the story as it kind of becomes a little like a less dreamy road trip version of LOST IN TRANSLATION only it’s far more questionable of a connection given the age difference, and way way more uncomfortable with how close they become despite not an inkling of intimacy occurs. If you don't find that too creepy, and are somewhat curious, I say give it a look despite it doing very little to stand out among the crowd other than its initial premise.

It’s just about two very different people forming an emotional attachment, and it’s very difficult to watch at times due to the circumstances involved. So I am really torn on this movie. I think the performance by Oona Laurence is fantastic as the 11-year-old who really starts to experience a gamut of emotions on this trip. Ross Partridge is fine too, but the movie really didn’t do anything spectacular to standout visually. It’s a bit too restrained and feels like a first-time feature, and I wish it could’ve had some more reflective David Gordon Green-esque kinda moments since a lot of their trip is surrounded by rural landscapes. There are a couple of really nice scenes, and an unexpected wallop at the end, but also, as the credits rolled, I was left wanting to know what became of these two people after this experience particularly with the response of the parents of the little girl or just something more than what we get here. I am torn on recommending it because of the subject matter and to me, a lot of it seemed to exist just a piece of provocation rather than a consistently fascinating character study which I think could’ve been stronger in the hands of a more assured director. As it stands, it’s a pretty good drama if you can get past the creepiness of what takes place. I will take the 1983 movie SAVANNAH SMILES any day of the week over something like LAMB. SMILES to this day brings tears to my eyes for how much it meant to me as a five-year-old. Perhaps LAMB will do the same for others if you end up invested.  C

Moonwalkers (2016)

This movie kinda pissed me off because it starts off so promising with its quirky premise. I was on board for a half hour even. MOONWALKERS could've been a goofy romp the likes of O'Russell or The Coen Brothers but ends up falling completely flat by the end, complete with a cliche CREDENCE song to close out the movie. The screenwriter wrote both versions of DEATH AT A FUNERAL which I found to be highly amusing. This is another case where I liked the idea and how it starts out but it really becomes kind of a mess tonally. There are wacky Mafia gangsters and a climax that is practically lifted from TRUE ROMANCE. The moment I completely turned on this movie to the point of opening up my laptop with disinterest, was when Perlman smoked pot and passed out. From there on, he becomes "straight man does crazy shit" for a good stretch.

I want a moratorium on “accidentally taking acid” montages where we get to see about five minutes of psychedelic imagery. As a cartoonish stoner comedy, it falls flat, as a satire, its targets are missed. The representation of 60s hippie culture is really lazy here. Again, very likable performers stuck in a hackneyed messy script that had potential, and maybe with a rewrite or two, could’ve been something special, but as it stands it’s just another misfire. Oh, and please please please, no more slo-mo violent action scenes a'la Guy Ritchie.  I highly recommend seeing Matt Johnson's OPERATION AVALANCHE instead since it actually has a spirited style and originality behind the same premise.  D

James Laczkowski