Mini Reviews (November 2015)
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Leisure Class, Bound to Vengeance, Dear Zachary, a letter to a son about his father, Love the Coopers, Afternoon Delight
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (November 17/15)
An uneven yet passable horror comedy, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse follows three aging boy scouts (Tye Sheridan's Ben, Logan Miller's Carter, and Joey Morgan's Augie) as they're forced to team up with a street-smart stripper (Sarah Dumont's Denise) after their town is overrun by the undead. Filmmaker Christopher Landon kicks things off with an incredibly promising (and incredibly funny) sequence that immediately grabs the viewer's interest and attention, with Blake Anderson delivering a typically irreverent turn as a clueless janitor who inadvertently unleashes the zombie unbreak. From there, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse winds a rather erratic route through a fairly predictable storyline - with the narrative containing (and suffering from) a handful of hackneyed, by-the-numbers elements. This is especially true of Miller's less-than-subtle turn as the occasionally insufferable Carter, as the actor infuses the character with virtually all of the most annoying traits one has come to anticipate from the generic, wisecracking best friend. It's clear, then, that the movie benefits substantially from the ongoing inclusion of better-than-expected sequences and interludes (eg a hilarious Die Hard reference, an attack by a zombie-fied cat, etc), while scripters Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, and Landon's sporadic emphasis on the protagonists' use of their scout skills to survive is, at the very least, innovative (ie the screenwriters deserve credit for infusing the super saturated zombie genre with something one hasn't seen before). The expectedly larger-than-life finale is agreeable enough, to be sure, and it's ultimately clear that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse fares better than its initial stretch might've indicated.
The Leisure Class (November 18/15)
The Leisure Class follows Ed Weeks' William as his impending marriage to a senator's daughter (Bridget Regan's Fiona) is threatened by the arrival of his off-the-wall brother (Tom Bell's Leonard), with the movie detailing the increasingly dark happenings that occur almost entirely within the confines of said senator's (Bruce Davison's Edward) palatial estate. It's clear immediately that first-time filmmaker Jason Mann, working from a screenplay cowritten with Pete Jones, is going for the feel of a frenetic, fast-paced farce with The Leisure Class, and yet, for the most part, the movie comes off as a sluggish piece of work that suffers from an almost total lack of laughs. Far more problematic are Mann's ongoing difficulties in establishing a consistent tone, as the film ultimately fails to achieve liftoff as either an outrageous comedy or a dark familial drama - with this erraticness extending also to the various protagonists. Bell's Leonard, for example, comes off as an overly (and aggressively) weird figure that could only exist in a movie, while Regan's Fiona undergoes a character arc that could have been interesting but rings totally false here (ie her wild attitude shift seems to turn on a dime). It is, in the end, difficult to entirely discern just what Mann set out to accomplish with The Leisure Class, as the movie, for the most part, comes off as a half-baked idea that clearly needed more time in the writing phase.
Bound to Vengeance (November 18/15)
Though it begins with a certain amount of promise, Bound to Vengeance ultimately becomes as tedious and interminable a horror endeavor as one can easily recall - with the movie's absolutely ludicrous premise effectively (and definitively) cementing its downfall. The storyline follows kidnap victim Eve (Tina Ivlev) as she manages to turn the tables on her abductor (Richard Tyson's Phil), with the remainder of the narrative detailing Eve's ongoing efforts to free other girls held captive by Tyson's sleazy character. It is, obviously, immediately difficult to swallow that Eve wouldn't just call the police, with this flat-out stupid plot twist essentially coloring everything that follows and ensuring that Bound to Vengeance grows more and more interminable as it progresses. This is despite an impressively strong performance from star Ivlev, with the actress delivering an intense turn that is, for the most part, far better than the weak picture deserves. (Tyson, no stranger to villainous roles, does a fine job as the movie's reprehensible bad guy.) The violent final stretch is, comparatively, kind of watchable, although it goes without saying that it's impossible to care about any of this by that point - with Bound to Vengeance having long-since confirmed its place as a thoroughly ill-advised misfire.
Dear Zachary, a letter to a son about his father (November 27/15)
An uneven yet frequently heartbreaking documentary, Dear Zachary, a letter to a son about his father details the life and murder of a much-beloved doctor named Andrew Bagby at the hands of his girlfriend, Shirley Turner. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, like most documentarians, proves unable to effectively fill up the feature-length running time to completely consistent and engrossing effect, with large swaths of the proceedings suffering from a decidedly padded-out feel that both disrupts the movie's momentum and tests the viewer's patience. (This is especially true of the film's early emphasis on the relentlessly positive comments about Bagby from his friends and family.) It's clear, then, that Dear Zachary, a letter to a son about his father is at its best when focused on the details surrounding the tragic case, as there's certainly something inherently interesting (and sordid) about Bagby's final few days and, as well, the myriad of twists and turns that ensue in the weeks and months afterward. Such twists and turns pave the way for an unexpectedly emotional stretch around the one-hour mark, with the newfound sob-inducing vibe ensuring that Dear Zachary, a letter to a son about his father ends a heck of a lot stronger than it starts - which confirms the movie's place as a solid doc that probably would've benefited from a shorter runtime.
Love the Coopers (November 27/15)
Though it doesn't exactly turn the Christmas-movie genre upside down, Love the Coopers, for the most part, comes off as an affable comedy/drama that profits from its strong performances and smattering of unexpectedly engrossing asides and moments. The movie follows the title clan as they prepare to celebrate Christmas at the home of Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), with problems ensuing as each and every member of the family encounters a problem on their way to the predictably boisterous meal. It's a decidedly familiar setup that's employed to often better-than-anticipated effect by filmmaker Jessie Nelson, as the director, along with scripter Steven Rogers, places the almost uniformly charismatic selection of characters within the context of several agreeable subplots (eg Olivia Wilde's Eleanor meets, befriends, and brings to dinner a handsome soldier, Marisa Tomei's Emma spends some time in the backseat of a police car after shoplifting, Sam and Charlotte confront the possible end of their marriage, etc, etc). There is, as a result, far more substance here than one generally associates with movies of this ilk, and it's clear, too, that Love the Coopers' genial vibe is perpetuated by smaller, seemingly random moments that provide the proceedings with bursts of emotion. (There is, for example, a fantastic aside in which a security guard flashes back to a lifetime of kisses with his wife after spotting two teenagers making out.) And while the film falters with the inevitably chaotic family dinner (ie it's just so routine), Love the Coopers recovers for an effectively heartwarming conclusion that ensures it'll be remembered as an above-average holiday flick.
Afternoon Delight (November 30/15)
Anchored by Kathryn Hahn's phenomenal performance, Afternoon Delight comes off as a decent drama that isn't, in the end, able to reach the heights that writer/director Jill Soloway is clearly aiming for. The narrative follows Hahn's Rachel as she attempts to pull herself out of a rut by inviting an affable stripper (Juno Temple's McKenna) to live in her house, with the situation garnering concern and amusement among her friends (including Jessica St. Clair's Stephanie and Michaela Watkins' Jennie) and husband (Josh Radnor's Jeff). First-time filmmaker Soloway admittedly does a fantastic job of infusing the early part of Afternoon Delight with an authentic, relatable feel, as the movie boasts a number of cogent (and truthful) comments on the state of modern relationships and families - with Hahn's superb work ensuring that her character never becomes the whiny, self-involved figure one might've feared. It's equally clear, however, that Soloway's efforts to push the proceedings up to feature length results in a second half that is, to put it mildly, erratic, with the less-than-consistent vibe exacerbated by a newfound emphasis on aggressively conventional elements (including, unfortunately, the always-dreaded fake breakup). Afternoon Delight is ultimately a decent debut from an obviously-talented filmmaker, and it's likely that Soloway is destined for bigger and better things from this point on.