Buffalo (Dollar) Bills

Buffaloed

by Brandon Thomas

Phone solicitors are a menace. Political campaigns? Blech. Offers to buy your home “as is” for cash? Get out of here. Timeshare schemes? Block that number.

Oh, and debt collectors? The absolute worst. 

What’s that? Debt collectors are the heroes in Buffaloed? Tell me more.

From an early age, Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutch) had money on her mind. After a bad ticket scalping endeavor lands her in the joint, Peg racks up some massive legal fees. With career opportunities slim and her optimism fading, Peg discovers the lucrative world of debt collection. Accompanied by a flimsy moral code and a ragtag group of associates, she sets out to eliminate her debt and make a small fortune along the way.

Within its first few frames, Buffaloed announces that it’s not about to be your standard rags-to-riches tale. There’s a sense of whimsy apparent as director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) introduces us to this heightened version of Buffalo, New York. Whimsy with an edge, that is. 

Buffaloed threatens many times to veer into the familiar. A down-on-their- luck group trying to defy the odds? Yeah, we’ve seen that before!

Not so fast.

A clever script by Brian Sacca doesn’t let these characters off the hook easily. They make mistakes, learn from them, then make even worse ones. The nimbleness of Buffaloed’s kinetic story is one of its greatest assets. Peg is always zigging when she should be zagging.

Deutch has been building a solid resume over the last few years. Her recent turn in Zombieland: Doubletap stole the show from long working veterans like Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Emma Stone. There’s a crackling energy to her performance as Peg that’s a perfect fit for the character’s chaotic actions.

Equally good is Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, Terminator Genysis) as Peg’s sleazy and dangerous competitor. Courtney has become an online punching bag over the years for appearing in bad sequels and/or comic book movies. Here, he’s allowed to flex some pretty incredible comedic muscles that don’t involve him interacting with a green screen.

With an offbeat story, and memorably eccentric cast of characters, Buffaloed charms and impresses with the miraculous feat of making debt collectors sympathetic. 



Battle Scars

Man Down

by George Wolf

Before it makes a hard left turn down Lifetime Lane, Man Down sets a decent hook. The cast is uniformly splendid, while director/co-writer Dito Montiel displays some effective understatement in the early going, establishing a confidence in the destination that he can’t quite reward.

Shia LeBeouf is outstanding as Gabriel Drummer, a Marine searching for his son in a near future ravaged by some manner of deadly outbreak. Teamed with fellow Marine and boyhood buddy Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney), Gabriel scours the terrain for any survivor who might have seen his little boy.

Slowly, Montiel weaves in the backstory, with flashbacks to bootcamp, a happy home life with wife Natalie (Kate Mara), dangerous patrols in Afghanistan and sessions with a Marine counselor (Gary Oldman) who gently pushes a shaken Gabriel to talk about “the incident.”

LeBeouf, regardless of his personal antics, can deliver the goods. Though his character’s arc isn’t presented in linear fashion, LaBeouf mines the resonant layers. Gabriel’s early naivete, hardened intensity and haunted conscience are all fleshed out, while the separate angles LaBeouf  employs in intimate scenes with Mara and Oldman (both stellar) buoy all three performances.

Montiel (Fighting, Robin Williams’s final film Boulevard) again has fine intentions, but is too content to satisfy them with dated predictability. What he’s saying isn’t new, and how he’s saying it is even less so. You’ll most likely guess one major plot revelation early on, then sense the other coming with an “are we going there – yes, I guess we’re going there” type of dread.

There are interesting characters here and fine actors to inhabit them. They just need somewhere equally interesting to go.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

 





Back, Just Like He Said

Terminator Genisys

by George Wolf

It would be nice if Terminator Genisys put the final ribbon on the iconic franchise. Not because this fifth installment is that bad, but rather because it’s just good enough to leave you with more satisfaction than disappointment.

Much of that comes from the blast it generates rehashing the pasts of parts 1 and 2 – hugely popular films that have earned a permanent place in pop culture – and conveniently dismissing 3 and 4. Smart move.

To get there, though, we have to wade through a script overloaded with time-hopping threads requiring repeated explanations that still can’t quite keep the head scratching at bay.

In 2029, Resistance forces led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) have won a critical victory against Skynet, but John knows there is still work to be done.

His goal is the destruction of their time machine. He finds it, but too late to prevent Skynet from sending a terminator back to 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah (GoT‘s Emilia Clarke). John’s right hand man, a certain Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back and protect her. Sound familiar?

So Kyle basically drops in on the first film, but things have changed. Sarah knows what’s up, the original terminator is met by an “aged” model (Arnold) already serving as Guardian, and then the “liquid metal” version from T2:  Judgement Day wants to play, too!

Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier set a nice hook (young Arnold fights old Arnold!) but when the altered timelines and memory fragments keep coming, you may need to choose between keeping up and giving up.

The saving graces are the moments of fun that do cut through, usually via Arnold and his “old, but not obsolete” machine on a mission. Director Alan Taylor (Thor: the Dark World) gives him some impressive, if not entirely original set pieces, but others don’t seem worthy of the blockbuster budget. It’s a hot then cold scorecard the film can never shake.

It wants to do so much, but is never able to sustain any solid momentum. Snappy dialogue sours, action is derailed by more exposition, and sci-fi complexities mount. In short, the polar opposite of what made the first two films such a hoot.

But that steel, hard-to-kill heart still beats in Terminator Genisys, just enough to use every ounce of good will it earns.

So is this really hasta la vista? Check box office totals for the final answer, but stay past the credits for a pretty big clue.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars