Ugh! No movies worth watching come out this week for home viewing. Yes, Halle Berry and Idris Elba are lovely, so if you want to just stream these with the volume off, we understand. But you do not want to watch them.
Imagine the most fun you’ve ever had in your life. Then prepare to watch a dude who is having 100 times more fun Every. Single. Day. That’s Laird Hamilton, pro surfer and quite possibly the luckiest guy alive.
The documentary Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton details the life of the 53-year-old adrenaline addict who, though disdainful of participating in any one-on-one competition with mere mortals, affords an ocean-front, surfing day everyday lifestyle by falling into modeling gigs with Vogue, landing roles in some bodacious surf movies, and nabbing sponsorships from choice beachwear companies.
Nice work if you can get it. (Especially if you refuse to lower yourself to auditions.)
As the movie starts, you are introduced to an aging Poseidon who trains aggressively to combat the injuries sustained in a lifetime of wipe-outs: arthritis in the hip, a fused arch in one foot, numerous shoulder injuries, and an ankle that has been crushed seven separate times. His goal is to ride a foilboard on the biggest waves of his life.
The foilboard is something Hamilton pioneered—a surfboard that hovers several feet above the water, suspended via a strut using hydrofoil technology developed by America’s Cup engineers.
But this isn’t the only novelty that Hamilton’s been into over the years. Over the course of the documentary you get to watch the glint in his eye as Laird recounts how he big-dogged his way through the line-up at some of Hawaii’s top big wave surf spots, figured out how to use industrial strength Velcro to strap himself to his surfboard (allowing for X Game-style tricks), adopted the sport of windsurfing in its infancy, and co-invented tow-in surfing. (You know, when a jet ski tows you improbably far out so you can surf a 40 to 50 foot wave that’s located directly in front of a cliff face.)
You also see the envious and sometimes irritated faces of Laird’s friends and family as they recount his sometimes douchey exploits and marvel at the fact that his body is still basically intact while some of his contemporaries sport gnarly scars and spin yarns about the times they were playing with him and almost died.
Via a mix of vintage footage, interviews, and camerawork worthy of the cover of National Geographic, Take Every Wave provides an epic escape into the radical world of an almost uncomfortably handsome and fortunate top athlete.
It’s Halloween, and after a seven year absence, Jigsaw is back with more evil tricks in store for some unrepentant sinners.
But is it the real Jigsaw, back from the dead? Or maybe just a fanatical copycat?
And can you, after 15-20 minutes of the movie Jigsaw, keep your mind from wandering away to that viral video of the guy trying to live with tiny Jigsaw for a roommate?
Come on, that video’s pretty funny.
After six sequels to the over-achieving original, the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination) attempt to revive the franchise with a suspense-free mystery of ridiculousness that confuses close ups of mutilated body parts with actual scares.
Those dead bodies are turning up with Jigsaw calling cards carved in conspicuous places, and the local detective (Callum Keith Rennie) naturally assumes it’s a copycat, as the infamous killer has been dead for ten years. The cop’s suspicions soon fall on a medical examiner (Hannah Emily Anderson), despite the objections of her supervisor (Matt Passmore), while somewhere on a remote farm more sinners are begging for release from deadly puzzle games.
And somewhere in a darkened theater, you watch what passes for dramatic tension between Anderson and Passmore and wonder why they didn’t just do a porn version called Bonesaw and be done with it?
Writers Josh Stolberg and (let’s just call him Dr.) Pete Goldfinger know you’d like a twist ending so give them credit, they come up with a pretty decent one. But ultimately, that just calls attention to the faint glimmer of hope this project had before it wilted under warmed-over ideas well past their prime.
It’s a fitting tribute to the range of Harry Dean Stanton that his career could’ve ended with just about any role and you could decently argue, “Well, that makes sense.” But to give us Lucky at the end of a decades-long career is nothing short of one last cosmic joke at the non-religious character’s expense: God not only exists, but is a huge Harry Dean Stanton fan.
Lucky is the debut feature from John Carroll Lynch, who is, like Stanton, a gifted character actor probably used to being called “ohhh that guy!” And with Lucky (written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja), the collaboration between Lynch and Stanton is pitch-perfect.
As Lucky, Stanton carries more weight than his brittle frame should bear. Lucky is a 90-year-old World War II veteran who has seemingly outlived everything save death. A minor fall and a visit with the town doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) prods the tequila-drinking, cigarette-smoking atheist Lucky to maybe, finally, reflect on his mortality, which he does begrudgingly through a series of interactions with local friends and strangers.
With little more than a light of his cigarette or a hoarse whisper of “bullshit,” Lucky makes it clear that he hasn’t the time or interest in what comfort God or religion has to offer in a world of horrors and loss. Yet the film is deeply—reverently—spiritual.
Lucky is the spiritual heir of Max von Sydow’s knight from The Seventh Seal, if he got to live out his days through the funhouse of America. The oppressive Lutheranism of Ingmar Bergman has been replaced by a more searching acceptance—and both films uncomfortably force us to make our own peace with the time we have.
If Lucky doesn’t waver in his beliefs, he can still realize a sort of spiritual enlightenment. You get the sense, with his age and relative good health, that Lucky is more afraid of being immune to destiny than of dying, and how can anyone find meaning in that?
Thankfully, the film gives Lucky perfectly cast sounding boards to figure it out by way of the supporting characters, especially a show-stealing turn from David Lynch as a man in mourning for his lost tortoise, President Roosevelt. (That this doesn’t crack the top five strangest moments in the history of David Lynch/Harry Dean Stanton collaborations is saying something.)
John Carroll Lynch chooses to leave us with something hovering between resolution and reservation, as if Lucky is one long Zen koan. But knowing how things end doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to discover. Watching Stanton in any performance is to see flashes of some elusive truth buried within his characters. Watching him as Lucky is an untouchable capstone.
In these turbulent times, who doesn’t long for a return to that simple life, when everything was just so peachy and America was…what’s that word? Great!
Suburbicon is hardly the first film to cast satirical aspersions onto idealized visions of 1950s Americana, but few have created such a biting bridge to the present while doing it. Just when you might think it’s being too obvious in its messaging, the powerhouse pedigrees of almost everyone involved remind you there must be something more at work here.
There is, something that’s often deliciously dark, twisted and satisfying.
The village of Suburbicon is peddled as the pinnacle of modern living for the upwardly mobile families of the 1950s. It’s a community proud of its diversity…until a black family moves in. Mr. and Mrs. Mayers (Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook) are careful to mind their own business, even as the angry crowd outside begins to grow.
Right next door to the new unwelcome neighbors, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (also Julianne Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are dealing with the consequences of a violent home invasion. An insurance claim follows, which brings a visit from an eager fraud investigator (a scene-stealing Oscar Isaac).
It’s a film loosely loosely built from the story of the first black family to live in a 1957 Pennsylvania suburb, as director George Clooney and frequent writing partner Grant Heslov resurrect a decades old script from the masterful Coen Brothers to mine both the ridiculous and the profane.
Connecting the Lodge and Mayers households only through the uneasy friendship of Nicky and young Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa), we see the Suburbicon residents threatened not by the dangerous lunacy of their white neighbors, but by the mere existence of anything that disturbs their own privilege.
The eye for crisp detail that helped Clooney nab both writing and directing Oscar noms for Good Night, and Good Luck is on full display here, along with stellar performances from a standout ensemble.
But Clooney’s heart is on his sleeve as usual, and surrounding a tale of racial violence with such kitsch and exaggerated satire brings a danger of condescension that the film keeps at arm’s length through a commitment to its long game.
Beyond the tired metaphors of fences and observant children lies the point that this is the history so many want to “take America back” to, and it was far from great.
American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall moves behind the camera for his thematically similar big screen adaptation, Thank You for Your Service.
Where the Clint Eastwood-helmed Sniper dealt in large part with its hero’s bumpy re-acclimation to civilian life, Thank You deals almost exclusively with veterans’ troubles on the homefront.
Miles Teller is Adam Schumann, returning permanently to his wife and two small children after his third tour in Iraq. He’s joined by buddies and platoon-mates Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole).
Too earnest for its own good, Thank You for Your Service shadows these three servicemen as the responsibility for and repercussions from their actions overseas haunt their post-war lives.
This is a film about PTSD, but more than that, it’s about a country both ill-equipped to serve those who served, and often disinterested in trying.
Hall’s storytelling can’t rise above cliché, but he manages to tell his painfully heartfelt tale without cloying manipulation or judgment. Though Thank You buzzes with impotent rage—that of the filmmaker as well as that of the protagonists—it never feels preachy or even pessimistic. Hall articulates these veterans’ helplessness and frustration in a way that is genuinely rare in our current glut of flag-waving dramas, big screen and small.
Teller, always strong when playing a likable goof who’s just hanging on, is in his comfort zone as the soldier with the best chance to make it. He and Haley Bennett, playing Schumann’s wife Saskia, share believable, well-worn chemistry and there are moments between them when Hall’s gift for naturalistic writing shines.
At other times, the dialog forces too much explanation at the audience, as if Hall doesn’t trust us to understand the extent of the problems plaguing our veterans. A newcomer to directing, Hall’s unsteady craftsmanship can’t overcome that weakness in the same way that Eastwood was able to.
This is a tough film to criticize, though. Hall and crew do get an awful lot right, and the film surprises with periodic bits of gallows humor, selfishness and other glimpses at human frailty that make the film feel far more authentic than Sniper or most any other veteran-themed film.
The flaws can’t go unseen, though, and Hall either needed a better writer or a director who could take some of the obviousness of this screenplay and find a fresher way to approach it.
Charming is the first word that comes to mind while watching the Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles documentary, Dina.
From the first moment, the audience is given an unfiltered look into Dina’s world. At a dentist appointment, she reveals her discomfort to the hygienist who offers to hold her hand while the dentist drills. It seems an odd moment to begin this intimate look at a woman’s life, but as the film unfolds, it’s a piece that fits into the larger puzzle that is Dina.
After a few more scenes in which we’re privy to Dina’s day-to-day routines, her fiancé, Scott, is introduced. In most ways, Scott and Dina are just like any other couple preparing for and anticipating their wedding day: there’s excitement, some trepidation, and a few hurdles to work through if they’re going to succeed in the long run.
But Scott has Asperger Syndrome and Dina has “a smörgåsbord” of mental disabilities (per her mother). Still, Santini and Sickles show us that Dina and Scott are a couple like any other.
At times, as the film navigates the sexual side of the couple’s relationship, it tends toward voyeurism. As they page through a copy of “The Joy of Sex” and Dina relays her sexual frustrations, the film skirts the line.
But the directors approach the subject with sympathy and compassion. The openness Dina and Scott have reveals the comfort between subject and documentarians. Never does the film feel exploitative or mocking.
It’s easy to like Scott and Dina and the more time spent with them only deepens the affection.
It’s a testament to the filmmakers, who make the audience feel like they’re spending time with old friends. It’s also a testament to Dina herself. Her past is one of hardship. She’s a widow and a survivor of a terrible ordeal at the hands of a boyfriend. But she is full of optimism and warmth.
Scott and Dina are exceedingly polite to each other, but the warmth behind their words reveals their love. In fact, the world would probably be a lot better if we all treated our friends, family and spouses the way Dina and Scott treat each other. While they have their problems, as every couple does, their polite natures, their openness, offers hope that their marriage will stand the test of time.
As a love story, Dina is exactly what the audience wants it to be.
Heathers meets Scream in the savvy horror comedy that mines social media culture to truly entertaining effect, Tragedy Girls.
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are looking for more followers to improve their brand, and they have been doing a lot of research to make their content more compelling. The Tragedy Girls plumb their small Ohio town’s surprising death toll with more insight than the local police seem to have. Where do they get their knowledge?
Tyler MacIntyre directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Chris Lee Hill and Justin Olson. The trio wade into the horror of a social media generation with more success than anything we’ve seen to date. A great deal of their success has to do with casting.
Hildebrand and Shipp (both X-Men; Hildebrand was the moody Negasonic in Deadpool while Shipp plays young Storm in the franchise proper) nail their characters’ natural narcissism. Is it just the expectedly shallow, self-centeredness of the teenage years, or are they sociopaths?
Mrs. Kent (Nicky Whelan) would like to know. The spot-on teacher character offers the film’s most pointed piece of social (media) commentary when she points out the traits encouraged in a snapchat world, where shallowness and parasitic, even psychotic behavior is a plus.
The film is careful not to go overboard with its commentary, though, and the final product is the better for it. MacIntyre’s affectionate, perhaps even obsessive, horror movie nods receive at least as much of his time and attention.
The result is both mean and funny. Josh Hutcherson’s small, image-lampooning part is an absolute scream proving that MacIntyre and company have pop cultural insights to spare, and proper comedic timing to boot.
McIntrye loses his snidely meta tone briefly with a lengthy sidetrack focusing on Craig Robinson, which becomes more zany and broad than anything before it. The director can’t entirely find his footing again, as the resolution of the film gets mired a bit too much in the genre tropes.
Still, the details are priceless (she lends him a copy of Martyrs! Dig that ringtone!), the performances impress and the whole thing is a hoot.
Some great stuff rolling out for couch potatoes this week, including one of the most riveting summer blockbusters, a sequel to make you weep for our future, and proof that Kristen Stewart can act. What?!