Four Dramas from Fox
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (July 23/15)
Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl follows Thomas Mann's Greg as he's forced to befriend a neighbor dying of cancer (Olivia Cooke's Rachel) - with the movie subsequently revolving around the very real bond that eventually forms between the two characters. There's little doubt that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, working from Andrews' script, does a nice job of capturing the feel and tone of Andrews' book, with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's narrative containing many of the touchstones associated with the teen-movie genre - including a central character who learns to come out of his shell and a rebellious teacher with a special connection to his students. The film does, however, also boast a sardonic, almost spoof-like approach to the admittedly familiar material, as Gomez-Rejon peppers the proceedings with convention-skewering asides and gags that perpetuate the somewhat fresh atmosphere. And yet it's equally clear that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl never quite becomes as engrossing as one might've expected, with the persistently caustic vibe draining the film of its emotion and, for the most part, preventing the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to the plight of the characters. The protracted third act doesn't do the movie any favors, and while the performances are all top-notch, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is ultimately unable to stave off relative mediocrity to become more than just perpetually watchable.
A well-intentioned yet hopelessly ineffective drama, October Baby stars Rachel Hendrix as Hannah - a depressive, suicidal college student whose life takes a surprising turn after it's revealed that she's adopted. Far more traumatic for the aspiring actress is the shocking news that she actually survived an abortion, with the film subsequently following Hannah as she attempts to track down her birth mother - much to the concern of her adoptive parents, Jacob (John Schneider) and Grace (Jennifer Price). (Hannah's efforts are inevitably assisted by a hunky fellow student, Jason Burkey's Jason.) It's immediately clear that filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin aren't looking to offer up a subtle narrative here, as October Baby has been infused with a hit-you-over-the-head sensibility that's perpetuated by its often on-the-nose dialogue and solemn, deliberate pacing. There is, as such, little doubt that the movie is rarely as engaging or interesting as the Erwins have clearly intended, and while star Hendrix delivers a personable turn as the conflicted central character, the directors' blunt execution prevents Hannah from becoming anything resembling a three-dimensional, wholeheartedly compelling protagonist. The movie's persistently tedious vibe is compounded by the Erwins' reliance on sappy-ballad montage sequences, to the extent that, if such moments were removed, it almost feels as though half the running time would immediately vanish. It ultimately goes without saying that the big emotional revelations of October Baby's third act fall completely flat, and it does seem, in the end, that the maturity of the material exceeded the skill and ability of the sibling filmmakers.
Paper Towns (July 23/15)
Adapted from John Green's eponymous book, Paper Towns follows high schooler Quentin (Nat Wolff) as he enjoys a wild night with a fellow student (and long-time crush) named Margo (Cara Delevingne) - with the movie subsequently detailing Quentin's quest to track Margo down after she disappears in the aftermath of said night. There's little doubt that Paper Towns improves immeasurably as it progresses, with the film's initial emphasis on Delevingne's character preventing one from wholeheartedly embracing the material - as Margo comes off as precisely the sort of ultra-quirky figure that could only exist in a movie. (It is, however, worth noting that both Wolff and Delevingne are lacking in the unreasonably glamorous looks that actors tend to boast in films of this ilk, with the two actors possessing an everyday, far-from-stunning appearance that's nothing short of refreshing.) The film, then, improves immeasurably once Quentin begins his search for Margo, as Wolff's charming performance effectively pushes the narrative forward and it's clear, too, that the movie benefits from actor's chemistry with several key periphery figures. (Austin Abrams and Justice Smith respective performances as Quentin's close friends are affecting and authentic, to be sure.) Filmmaker Jake Schreier's confident, John Hughes-like sensibilities effectively heighten Paper Towns' affable atmosphere, and although the movie boasts an emotional climactic stretch, it's rather disappointing to note that the actual impact of the movie is ultimately non-existent (ie there's just not enough invested in Quentin and Margo's would-be relationship) - which does, in the end, confirm the picture's status as a completely watchable (yet far-from-memorable) teen drama.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (July 23/15)
Tora! Tora! Tora! details the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War, with the film following the exploits of several American and Japanese characters in the buildup to the deadly raid. Directors Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, and Toshio Masuda have infused Tora! Tora! Tora! with an excessively dry and deliberate pace that results in an almost interminable first hour, with the relentlessly matter-of-fact execution lending the picture the feel of war transcripts that happen to have been filmed. There's been absolutely no effort to develop any of the movie's many, many characters into interesting, three-dimensional figures, and it's clear that, for the most part, Tora! Tora! Tora! has been designed to appeal solely to history buffs (ie casual viewers will find almost nothing to embrace within the film's first half). Having said that, things do admittedly perk up once the Japanese soldiers' attack becomes more and more inevitable - with, in particular, the ongoing (and increasingly desperate) efforts of E.G. Marshall's Lt. Colonal Bratton to get the word out providing the movie with a rare, much-needed burst of energy. (And of course even this aspect of the proceedings is dragged out to an unreasonable degree.) The climactic attack is quite well done, to be sure, but it's ultimately difficult to get worked up over this stretch given the tedium of everything that came before, which finally does confirm Tora! Tora! Tora!'s place as an informative yet entirely uninvolving war picture.