Parentus Interruptus

Blockers

by George Wolf

Is it me, or is there an encouraging trend building here? In the last few years, mainstream teen comedies such as The Duff, The Edge of Seventeen and Love, Simon have shown more smarts and diversity, with less reliance on the same old same old pandering.

Blockers starts with a cliched teen sex premise – gotta get some before college! – and turns it sideways, managing solid laughs (and some self-aware winks at romance fantasies) in the process.

Julie, Sam, and Kayla (Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan) are three Chicago-area high school seniors who vow to all turn in their V-cards on prom night (so they can commemorate the occasion every year at the Olive Garden).

The girls’ respective parents (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) uncover the plans for “sexpact2018” (after a hilarious bit of emoji code-breaking) and set their own quest in motion: less cocking and more blocking.

Veteran writer Kay Cannon (30 Rock, the Pitch Perfect films) makes her directing debut, giving some nicely paced zest to the winning script from Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe. Even the film’s most outlandish moments (a “chugging” contest gone way wrong) seem to serve the film’s purpose.

Young adults are capable of making intelligent choices, and young women don’t need saving. Adults can be juvenile in their own self-interest, and some raunchy laughs can be had making all of those points.

Yes, the points come on a bit strong time and again, but the cast (especially Mann) keeps it  lively and relatable. If Blockers means this movie trend is working, keep ’em coming.

Giggle.

 

 

 

 

 

Shush!

A Quiet Place

by Hope Madden

Damn.

So, John Krasinski. That big, tall guy, kind of doughy faced? Married to Emily Blunt? Dude can direct the shit out of a horror movie.

Krasinski co-writes, directs and stars in the smart, nerve-wracking gut-punch of a monster flick, A Quiet Place.

Krasinski plays the patriarch of a close-knit family trying to survive the post-alien-invasion apocalypse by staying really, really quiet. The beasts use sound to hunt, but the family is prepared. They already know sign language because their oldest, played by Millicent Simmonds (Wondertruck) is deaf.

A blessing and a curse, that, since she can’t tell if she makes noise, nor can she tell if a creature comes calling.

Simmonds is wonderful as the conflicted adolescent, her authenticity matched by the tender, terrified performance given by Noah Jupe (Wonder) playing her younger brother.

As their expecting mother, Emily Blunt is magnificent, as is her way. Simultaneously fierce and vulnerable, she’s the family’s center of gravity and the heart of husband (onscreen and off) Krasinski’s film.

But you expect that from Emily Blunt. She’s amazing.

What you may not expect is Krasinski’s masterful direction: where and when the camera lingers or cuts away, how often and how much he shows the monsters, when he decides the silence will generate the most dread and when he chooses to let Marco Beltrami’s ominous score do that work for him.

The script, penned by Krasinski with horror veterans Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, stays one step ahead of your complaints. Just as you think, “Why haven’t they done this?” a clear explanation floats across the screen, either as translated sign language, a prop on a table or a headline in Dad’s gadget-laden basement bunker.

It’s smart in the way it’s written, sly in its direction and spot-on in its ability to pile on the mayhem in the final reel without feeling gimmicky or silly.

And the monsters are kick ass. That’s a big deal.

At its heart lies a sweet sentiment about family, but sentiment does not get in the way of scares. A Quiet Place works your nerves like few films can.

Who’s a Good Dog?

Isle of Dogs

by Hope Madden

First note in my Isle of Dogs screening notebook: God damn it, I want a dog.

Second note: Wait, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton are in another film that appropriates Asian culture? Come on!

And that about sums up the conflicting emotions Wes Anderson generates with his latest stop-motion wonder.

Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s second animated effort, coming nearly a decade after another tactile amazement, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. A millennia-long feud between the Kobayashis of Megasaki and dogs comes to a head when corrupt Mayor Kobayashi uses a dog flu outbreak to whip up anti-canine sentiment and banish all dogs to Trash Island.

But his orphaned ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a miniature prop plane and crash lands on Trash Island looking for his beloved Spots (Liev Schreiber).

The little pilot is aided in his quest by a scruffy pack including Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum, a riot), King (Bob Balaban), and reluctant helper/lifelong stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston).

Other voice talent as concerned canines: Johansson, Swinton, F. Murray Abraham and Harvey Keitel.

Explained via onscreen script in typically Anderson fashion, dog barks have been translated into English and Japanese remains Japanese unless there’s an electronic, professional or exchange student translator handy. The choice shifts the film’s focus to the dogs (in much the way Peanuts shows remained focused on children by having adults speak in squawks). It also means that moviegoers who speak Japanese are afforded an enviably richer experience.

But for a large number of American audiences, it means that Japanese characters are sidelined and the only human we can understand is the white foreign exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig). From Ohio, no less.

Between an affectionate if uncomfortably disrespectful representation of Japanese culture and Gerwig’s white savior role, Anderson’s privilege is tough to look past here, even with the scruffy and lovable cast.

The animation is beyond spectacular, with deep backdrops and meticulously crafted characters. Atari’s little teeth killed me. The voice talent is impeccable and the story itself a joy, toying with our dictatorial nature, the need to rebel and to submit, and how entirely awesome dogs are.

Set to an affecting taiko drum score with odes to anime, Ishiro Honda, Akira Kurosawa and every other Japanese movie Anderson watched as a kid, the film is clearly an homage to so much of what he loves. His skill remains uniquely his own and nearly unparalleled in modern film.

And Isle of Dogs is a touching, flawlessly crafted animated dream. That probably should have been set in America.

Life is a Highway

The Leisure Seeker

by George Wolf

Pairing up Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland is a welcome idea with exciting potential. Much of that potential is left unexplored by The Leisure Seeker in favor of embarrassing schtick and cheap sentiment.

The veteran actors star as Ella and John Spencer, a senior couple in Massachusetts who bust out their old RV and run from the concerned grasp of their kids for a bucket list trip. John is a retired literature professor who has long idolized Hemingway, so Ella decides it’s time to visit the Hemingway House in Key West before John’s memory fades away completely.

This road trip setup, from the novel by Michael Zadoorian, is more organically sound than most, but soon gets exploited with easy pickings from two crops of low-hanging fruit.

Director and co-writer Paolo Virzi (Like Crazy) strings together the random, disconnected hijinx this genre seemingly demands, while also poking cliched fun at old people riding motorcycles, talking sex or packing heat. This laziness comes much too frequently, with punchlines based on age not action, bringing a stale odor to the goodwill earned from putting these two endlessly likable stars at the forefront.

Mirren and Sutherland are worth a better investment, and both end up working much too hard selling these warmed-over tropes, but the missed opportunities extend beyond the cast list.

Some worthy issues on aging come into view, only to be passed by or, worse yet, made light of, all in service of a maudlin conclusion you could see coming in the dark with no headlights. Expecting every film on senior issues to carry the magnificence of, say,  Amour, would be unrealistic, but The Leisure Seeker hardly wanders beyond the Going in Style end of the pool.

Bad trip, man.

 

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of April 2

What’s new in home entertainment? Three movies you probably missed in theaters that deserve your attention and one dog. Choose wisely. Let us help.

Click the movie title for the full review.

Jane

Thelma

Sweet Virginia

Insidious: The Last Key