Mini Reviews (June 2016)
The Man with One Red Shoe, I Won't Come Back, Careful What You Wish For, One More Time, Me Before You, Cell, The Legend of Tarzan®
The Man with One Red Shoe (June 6/16)
A remake of the 1970s French film The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, The Man with One Red Shoe follows concert violinist Richard Drew (Tom Hanks) as he's randomly picked out of a crowd and made the object of intensive CIA surveillance - with the character's progressively perilous situation initially hindered and eventually helped by a fetching young agent named Maddy (Lori Singer). (It's the contentious yet somewhat baffling rivalry between Dabney Coleman's Cooper and Charles Durning's Ross that initially kicks the plot into gear.) The Man with One Red Shoe is certainly watchable enough for the duration of its relatively short running time - Hanks is as affable and charming as ever here - but the movie's less-than-cohesive storyline prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the material (ie it's never entirely clear just why Cooper and Ross are putting Hanks' character through these deadly shenanigans). Filmmaker Stan Dragoti, working from a script by Robert Klane, generally proves unable to infuse the proceedings with more than a stop-and-start momentum, and it's clear that one's mild interest dips considerably each and every time Hanks' character is offscreen. The action-packed (yet fairly tedious) closing stretch ensures that The Man with One Red Shoe ends on a seriously underwhelming note, which ultimately confirms the movie's place as an entirely forgettable entry within Hanks' early filmography.
I Won't Come Back (June 9/16)
An almost unreasonably subdued drama, I Won't Come Back follows Polina Pushkaruk's Anya as she goes on the run after being falsely accused of possessing drugs - with the narrative primarily detailing the friendship (and, eventually, road trip) that ensues between Anya and a 13-year-old orphan named Kristina (Vika Lobachova). It's an exceedingly simple story that's told in as deliberate a fashion as one could possibly envision, as director Ilmar Raag takes a seriously meandering approach to Oleg Gaze and Yaroslava Pulinovich's screenplay that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. It's a shame, really, given that I Won't Come Back is actually quite intriguing in its early stages, with star Pushkaruk delivering an impressively sympathetic turn as the movie's troubled protagonist. (She's so good, in fact, that the film is at its best when focused on her solo attempts at finding safety.) There's little doubt, then, that the movie's grip on the viewer begins to falter once Lobachova's character is introduced, as the overly familiar dynamic between the two figures ensures that their scenes together are rarely compelling. (This is despite the periodic inclusion of admittedly engrossing sequences, including one in which Anya, after mulling it over for a few seconds, saves Kristina from the clutches of an obvious pervert.) And while the ending improves vastly on most of what came before, I Won't Come Back ultimately feels like the sort of aimless, padded-out drama one expects to encounter at a run-of-the-mill film festival.
Careful What You Wish For (June 10/16)
Careful What You Wish For casts Nick Jonas as Doug Martin, an affable teenager who arrives with his parents (David Sherrill's Brian and Kiki Harris' Emily) to spend the summer at the family's small-town cottage - with the arrival of new neighbors Elliot (Dermot Mulroney) and Lena (Isabel Lucas) paving the way for Doug's illicit affair with the latter. There's virtually nothing that occurs within the entirety of Careful What You Wish For that the majority of viewers won't see coming from miles away, as scripter Chris Frisina seems, for the most part, has crafted a flabby and uninvolving storyline that seems to have emerged directly from a template for erotic thrillers (which makes the movie's toned-down, PG-13 approach seem all-the-more baffling). It is, as such, not surprising to note that there is exceedingly little here to get invested in, with Jonas' competent yet decidedly less-than-charismatic turn as the bland protagonist compounding the pervasively tedious atmosphere (ie Jonas' generic performance ensures that Doug is impossible to sympathize with or root for). And given that the viewer is always about a hundred steps ahead of the characters and plot, Careful What You Wish For only grows more and more interminable as the narrative's various "twists" start to emerge - with the movie's midsection, as a result, containing little in the way of watchable elements. The anticlimactic finish ultimately cements the film's place as a thoroughly bottom-of-the-barrel cinematic endeavor, and it's certainly impossible not to wonder what drew the always-compelling Mulroney to this second-rate material.
One More Time (June 18/16)
An appealingly low-key dramedy, One More Time follows a struggling, rebellious musician (Amber Heard's Jude) as she attempts to connect with her famous father, Paul (Christopher Walken) - with the narrative detailing the subdued happenings that transpire over a few days at Paul's remote estate. One More Time's mild success is, it becomes increasingly clear, due mostly to the affable work of its various actors, as writer/director Robert Edwards does an effective job of establishing a core group of compelling characters and filling those roles with better-than-average performances - with, especially, Walken delivering a loose, irresistibly off-the-cuff turn that remains an ongoing highlight in the proceedings. It's apparent, too, that the movie benefits substantially from Edwards' easygoing approach to the material, as One More Time, though meandering at times, boasts a handful of impressively compelling sequences that enthrall without resorting to hackneyed conventions (eg an engrossing conversation at the dinner table, Jude's heartfelt performance at an open-mic night, etc). The lackadaisical atmosphere does, however, ensure that One More Time begins to run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark, with the wafer-thin plot slowly-but-surely buckling under the weight of a feature-length running time - which paves the way for an anticlimactic finish that's rather disappointing, to be sure. It's a fairly minor complaint for a movie that is, for the most part, a lot of fun to sit through, with the impressively strong musical sequences elevating the proceedings on an ongoing basis.
Me Before You (June 24/16)
Based on the book by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You follows quirky twentysomething Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) as she takes on a job as a minder for a recently-injured quadriplegic (Sam Claflin's Will Traynor) - with the narrative detailing the pair's relationship and its inevitable progression from disdain to mutual respect. There's little within Me Before You that one hasn't seen countless times before in other films, and yet the movie is, for the most part, a fairly engrossing little drama that benefits substantially from strong performances and a palpable chemistry between stars Clarke and Claflin. The actors' compelling work generally proves effective at compensating for the less-than-subtle bent of Moyes' screenplay, with, likewise, filmmaker Thea Sharrock's movie-of-the-week sensibilities generally allayed by a smattering of unexpectedly emotional interludes. It's in terms of the latter that Me Before You ultimately succeeds, as the film accumulates an emotional momentum that grows more and more difficult to resist - with the second half containing one heartbreaking, sob-inducing sequence after another (eg Louise and Will attend a classical-music concert, Will surprises Louisa with a thoughtful birthday gift, etc, etc). It is, in the end, clear that Me Before You stands as one of the most effective (and affecting) tearjerkers to come around in quite some time, with the somewhat hackneyed material and execution ultimately rendered moot in the face of a seriously moving (if unabashedly manipulative) story.
Cell (June 24/16)
One of the worst Stephen King adaptations ever, Cell details the chaos that unfolds after a mysterious mobile-phone signal turns users into blood-thirsty, mindless zombies - with the narrative following a small collection of survivors (John Cusack's Clay, Samuel L. Jackson's Tom, Isabelle Fuhrman's Alice, and Owen Teague's Jordan) as they attempt to make their way to safety. Cell announces its less-than-competent atmosphere right from the get-go, as the movie, which suffers from the most low-rent opening credits one could possibly envision, kicks off with a depressingly underwhelming sequence detailing the initial transformation (and attack) by the aforementioned zombies - with director Tod Williams' flat-out incompetent approach draining this interlude of the visceral excitement it should've possessed (ie the shaky camerawork, overuse of zooms, and rapid-fire editing renders this portion of the proceedings unintelligible). From there, Cell segues into an episodic midsection that consists of one hopelessly underwhelming and downright tedious segment after another - with the far-from-engrossing vibe compounded by a series of lazy, directionless acting turns. (Cusack, unfortunately, delivers what just might be the worst performance of his career here.) And although the film boasts a very small handful of effective scenes (eg Clay laments his decision to leave his wife and son years earlier), Cell builds towards a climax that's almost laughably incoherent and devoid of context or meaning - with the baffling final few minutes certainly confirming the movie's place as a wretched and wholly disastrous horror flick.
The Legend of Tarzan® (June 29/16)
Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories, The Legend of Tarzan® (the registered trademark is inexplicably included in the onscreen credit) follows Alexander Skarsgård's John Clayton, who spent his childhood and adolescence growing up among the apes of Africa, as he's convinced to return to the jungle as a trade emissary and is inevitably forced to return to his more savage persona after a corrupt official (Christoph Waltz's Leon Rom) kidnaps his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie). It's immediately apparent that the biggest hindrance to The Legend of Tarzan®'s success is director David Yates, as the filmmaker, working from Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer's screenplay, takes an incongruously solemn approach to the material that remains a distraction from almost start to finish - with the hazy, slick visuals compounded by a disastrous overuse of computer-generated special effects (eg large swaths of the proceedings possess all the reality of a video game cutscene). The arms-length atmosphere is, at the very least, generally allayed by Skarsgård's stirring turn as the title character, as the actor, bulked up to an extreme extent, manages to portray the legendary figure's raw physicality without sacrificing his humanity. (Samuel L. Jackson, cast as an American adventurer, brings a good amount of levity to the proceedings, although Waltz, unfortunately, delivers a now-typically one-note performance as the moustache-twirling villain.) There reaches a point at which The Legend of Tarzan® seems to be morphing into the fun, fast-paced adventure movie one might've anticipated, with the midsection boasting a small handful of genuinely exciting sequences and interludes (eg Clayton single-handedly takes down a train-car full of soldiers) - and yet the momentum-building vibe comes to an abrupt end as the film enters its somewhat tedious third act. It's ultimately difficult to label The Legend of Tarzan® as anything more than an ambitious failure, as the movie, for the most part, is saddled with a hopelessly inconsistent and thoroughly erratic feel that grows more and more problematic as time slowly progresses.