Tag Archives: film reviews

100% Pure Adrenaline

Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton

by Christie Robb

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.

A Grateful Nation

Thank You for Your Service

by Hope Madden

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.

Bring a Shovel

The Snowman

by Hope Madden

The Snowman, a Norway-set serial killer thriller, runs like a 3-hour flick that someone gutted for time without regard to sensibility, leaving a disemboweled and incoherent pile in the snow for audiences to puzzle over.

Not what I had expected.

I love director Tomas Alfredson. Well, I love his 2008 gem Let the Right One In and so, by extension, I love him. His writing team, adapting Jo Nesbø’s novel, includes the scribes behind such bits of brilliance as Drive (Hossein Amini) and Frank (Peter Straughan), and Michael Fassbender is the lead. Rock solid, that’s what that is.

And yet, The Snowman went horribly, embarrassingly, head-scratchingly wrong.

Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole. (I swear to God, that’s his name.) He’s a blackout drunk in need of a case to straighten him out. He finds it in one misogynistic mess of a serial killer plot.

All he and his new partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) know is that the killer leaves snowmen at the crime scene and has complicated issues with women. What follows is convoluted, needlessly complicated with erratic and unexplained behavior, ludicrous red herrings and a completely unexplained plot point about prescription pills.

The Snowman is not the first in Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, so a lot of “catch us up on this guy” exposition gets wedged in. From there, the writing team took a buzzsaw to Nesbø’s prose, leaving none of the connective tissue necessary to pull the many, varied and needlessly lurid details together into a sensible mystery plot.

It all leads ploddingly, frustratingly to an unearned climax heavy with needless flashbacks and convenient turns.

Everybody smokes, so it almost works as a cigarette ad, but as an actual story? No.

Fassbender, an inarguable talent, offers little to a clichéd character whose tics are predetermined—a shame because this is an actor who can dig deep when it comes to character tics. Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Hole’s ex, fare even worse. And an entire slew of heavy hitters gets wasted completely, including J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones and a weirdly dubbed Val Kilmer.

Alfredson films snowcapped carnage with a grotesque beauty few directors can touch, but that’s hardly reason enough to sit through this muddled mess.

The Screening Room: Back to the Future

Click HERE to join The Screening Room Podcast, where we hash out our thoughts on Blade Runner 2049, The Mountain Between Us, and what’s new in home entertainment – The Survivalist, A Ghost Story, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Goon 2.

I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of September 30

Two of the best and most criminally underseen films of the summer are now available for your home viewing pleasure. Watch them! And also, there are a couple we think you might want to skip.

For the full review, click the film title below.

A Ghost Story

Survivalist

(DVD/BR)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales


Goon: Last of the Enforcers

(DVD/BR)

Do Not Stop in Willits

Welcome to Willits

by Alex Edeburn

In their debut feature, Trevor and Tim Ryan welcome us to the backwoods of Northern California where the weed, meth and aliens are bountiful and the yokels are creepy. The town of Willits—known as the Gateway to the Redwoods—attracts a young group of hikers looking to enjoy a weekend in the woods, who only get lost and spend the night near a cabin shared by a pair of strung-out conspiracy theorists.

Brock (Bill Sage) and Peggy (Sabina Gadeki) believe aliens are after the powerful batch of crystal meth the two have been cooking and smoking. “Emerald Ice,” as the locals call it, brings on intense hallucinations, exposing the user to the nefarious creatures visiting Earth, and in some cases, inhabiting human bodies.

Brock has no other option than to stand his ground and fend off the aliens he can only see through meth-tinted glasses. This proves problematic for our unsuspecting hikers when they eventually find themselves in Brock’s crosshairs.

The comedy of the film mainly relies on lazy stoner-humor courtesy of Possum, played by Rory Culkin. A Willits local who tags along with the hikers, Possum also provides the explanation for the UFO sightings and other spooky happenings around the town. Except his “explanation” is more of a half-assed paraphrasing of an Ancient Aliens episode.

The central question of the film: Does “Emerald Ice” actually expose the hidden truth about aliens, or are these visions part of a drug-induced psychosis? The narrative attempts to answer this by setting characters on a collision course with butchery. It’s a nice idea that just doesn’t work out since scenes with lost hikers or a homicidal Brock are too short for us to feel invested.

Given the cavalcade of circumstances, the premise seems promising for a science-fiction/horror romp. But the lack of tension and careless writing cripple a film that could have been frightening and fun.

If you’re looking for something with scares and laughs, try watching conspiracy theories on YouTube before watching this movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvhOiwnh5zA

Separation Anxiety

Super Dark Times

by Hope Madden

Super Dark Times opens ominously enough: a broken schoolroom window, a trail of blood running through empty classrooms and into a cafeteria. Though the outcome is not what you may expect, it sets an eerie stage for the 90s-set coming of age thriller.

Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are best friends, not yet driving, not yet dating, not yet determined if they are permanently dorks or just “awkward stage” dorks. They both like Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), both tolerate Daryl (Max Talisman).

Thanks in large part to a weirdly believable cast, writing that dances past clichés and confident direction, Super Dark Times creates the kind of charming but clumsy authenticity rarely seen in a coming-of-age indie.

Eighties high school flicks, mainly of the John Hughes variety, focused on right- versus wrong-side-of-the-tracks, popularity and the pressures parents can put on us. That is to say, they focused in most ways on the same worries that had plagued adolescent-focused films since the Fifties.

Contemporary films dealing with high schoolers require the ubiquitous presence of social media. But there is a particular darkness that entered the global consciousness about adolescents in the 90s, and Super Dark Times tries to tap that, using it to color the tone of its nostalgia and cusp-of-adulthood energy.

Kevin Phillips, making his feature debut, leans on his experience as a cinematographer to ensure the film looks as appealing and authentically nostalgic-90s-coming-of-age as possible. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski are unafraid to drop contextual clues without burdening characters with too much backstory, just to go on to upend expectations now and again to keep you on your toes.

Super Dark Times develops a thriller atmosphere fueled by the paranoid, confused logic of an adolescent. It’s all a fascinating and realistic journey—until it isn’t.

At a certain point in Super Dark Times, the film settles. It becomes something it didn’t have to become—like the teen who’s cool to hang onto that Subway job when he really needs to ditch town and make something of himself.

It’s an enormous credit to Philips and his young cast that this unnecessary cop-out doesn’t ruin the film. Together they have drawn so much investment in these characters and their futures that you can’t help but stay tuned and attentive.

But they could have done more.

Dream Baby Dream

Woodshock

by Hope Madden

Do you know the Suicide song Dream Baby Dream?

For some, it’s a profound and moving meditation. For others, it is the longest, most unendurably boring song on earth. It figures prominently in one scene in the film Woodshock, becoming maybe the strongest (perhaps unintentionally as well as intentionally) metaphor in the picture.

The film, written and directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy—better known as fashion icons Rodarte than as filmmakers—follows one woman as she descends from melancholy to full-blown madness.

Theresa (Kirsten Dunst, doing much with very little) works part-time at a legal pot dispenser somewhere in California’s logging country. Marijuana is legal; assisted suicide is not, but many of the shop’s clients are suffering greatly—including Theresa’s terminally ill mother.

The film opens on Theresa dripping some kind of liquid into the contents of a joint, then holding her mother as she passes painlessly from this life.

Painless hardly describes the future Theresa has found.

Hers is a slow—very slow—downward spiral. Woodshock is a character study. Unfortunately, Theresa’s conflict and chaos happen internally, so we spend an enormous amount of time watching her do basically nothing. At the one hour 29 minute mark, she does something. That’s a long wait.

The Mulleavys attempt to offer glimpses into Theresa’s psyche with dreamlike imagery. Their lawless style is equal parts mesmerizing and frustrating. For the power they infuse in their visual presentation they deserve praise. They need to stop ignoring story, though.

Terrence Malick films can sometimes become a confoundingly beautiful amalgam of free-form imagery, episodes disguised as story providing the whisper of a plot. The reason Woodshock doesn’t hold together as well is that the few plot points provided are each of profound importance to character development. Rather than a meditation, the film becomes a highlights reel padded with hallucinatory imagery.

The sisters’ work is formally confident, and rightfully so, but their investment in story is too weak to hold attention. Woodshock offers style to spare, but it’s too shy with substance.