Tag Archives: Miles Teller

Mission Accomplished

Top Gun: Maverick

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Sentimental, button-pushing and formulaic, as predictable as it is visceral, Top Gun: Maverick stays laser-focused on its objective.

Attract crowd. Thrill crowd. Please crowd.

Expect bullseyes on all three fronts, as star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski take a couple cues from the Star Wars franchise in reconnecting with friends and re-packaging feelings.

After all these years in the Navy, Pete Mitchell’s “Maverick” tendencies have kept him from advancing past the rank of Captain. And when Pete blatantly shows up Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), he’s in danger of being grounded until Admiral “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) rescues him with orders to return to Top Gun and whip some new flyboys and girls into shape for a secret mission.

One of those young guns is “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of “Goose,” who resents Maverick for more than just coming home alive when his father did not.

Against the wishes of Admiral “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm), it is Maverick who will train the 12 Top Gun pilots, and then pick 6 to take out a newly discovered uranium plant that poses a clear and present threat to the U.S.

Who’s doing the threatening? We never know. Does it matter?

Not in Maverick‘s world.

The screenplay-by-commitee doesn’t stretch anybody’s imagination or talent, with early hotshot dialog so phony it feels like a spoof. But nobody came for banter. We came for nostalgia, flight action, and – god help us – Tom Cruise.

He delivers, in his inimitable movie star way. He cries on cue, runs like his hair’s on fire, and burns charisma. What more do you want?

Romance? Here’s old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who now runs that famous San Diego beachfront bar and just happens to be a single mother who might be looking for someone as ridiculously good-looking as she is. As both characters and actors, they click.

Cruise’s chemistry with a mainly underused Teller – who really looks like a chip off the old Goose – finally gets to show itself late in the film, exposing both tenderness and humor in its wake.

And once we’re in the air, get in front of the biggest screen you can and hang on. Kosinski’s airborne action sequences are often downright breathtaking, every moment in the danger zone moving us closer to that Goose/Rooster/Maverick moment that has no business working as well as it does.

It’s emotional manipulation, but not nearly as garish an act as Val Kilmer’s thankless role. Still, Cruise and Kosinski know it’s nostalgia that flies this plane, and Iceman is part of the plan that starts right from that original Kenny Loggins tune heard in the opening minutes.

From manufactured rivalries to shirtless team building to the entrance of a surprise Top Gun instructor from last night at the bar, Maverick sells us back what we first bought back in 1986.

And dammit, it feels even better this time.

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.

Wolf of War Street

War Dogs

by George Wolf

War Dogs starts with a guy in the trunk of a car and works backward, ending two hours later over the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Though both devices are tactical errors, what’s between them is a fairly effective take on true, undeniably American events.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) was a struggling twenty-something massage therapist in Miami when he re-connected with childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Together, they grew Diveroli’s modest gun selling business into a 300 million dollar contract with the Pentagon to arm our allies in Afghanistan.

As Diveroli is quick to point out, “It’s not about being pro-war, it’s about being pro-money.”

Director/co-writer Todd Phillips, expanding a resume built on comedies such as The Hangover trilogy and Old School, brings a suitable zest to the insanity of this guns-to-riches tale, but falters when the time comes to move beyond his filmmaking comfort zone.

With The Big Short just last year, Adam McKay brought comedic sensibilities to the complexities behind financial corruption, dissecting a scandal with humor, insight, and most importantly, a constant undercurrent of outrage that War Dogs is missing.

It does feature a fantastic performance from Hill, and if you still doubt his acting chops after two Oscar nominations, that’s a YP. Hill is magnetic, making Diveroli a darkly charming sociopath who effortlessly becomes whomever his latest mark wants him to be. Don’t be surprised if nomination number three comes calling in a few months.

Teller is fine, if a bit underwhelming next to Hill, while Ana de Armas is asked to do little more than hold a baby in the embarrassingly cliched role of Packouz’s wife.

Phillips does serve up some hearty laughs and effective set pieces while telling this incredible tale, but too much of the journey feels like a testosterone-fueled romp that’s more about respect for the boys’ brazen ambition than the sad truths it revealed. It’s not that Phillips doesn’t want to dig deeper, he’s just not sure how to do it on his own terms.

More than anything, War Dogs is a film that constantly reminds you of other films. The Hangover vibe is rampant, from the guy in the trunk to the effective cameo by Bradley Cooper, but there are also shots lifted right from Scarface and Rain Man, plus stylistic nods to multiple Scorsese titles, especially Wolf of Wall Street.

That film, like The Big Short, carried a healthy dose of cynicism to dig at the wages of excess. War Dogs doesn’t, and closing with one of the most brilliantly cynical songs ever written only makes that fact more obvious.

It’s clear Phillips knows how to make us laugh. War Dogs is his uncertain step toward making us think, too.



Same as the Old Boss

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

by Hope Madden

For anyone waiting with bated breath for the conclusion of Tris Pryor’s heroic quest through the Divergent series, expect to be disappointed by The Divergent Series: Allegiant. The final book in the series has been split into two films – a choice we should, by this time, expect from a cash cow-ready industry.

For anyone hoping for a bit of entertainment regardless of the split, you should also expect to be disappointed. Director Robert Schwentke’s slick but soulless third act can’t overcome the dull pacing, superficial scripting, or one dimensional characters that have plagued the series since its inception.

Tris (Shailene Woodlely) broke from the factions that kept her society separated, then toppled the dictatorship that sought to oppress her people. Now she sees the same mistakes being made, but she believes there is something more beyond the wall around the city. She and her rag tag group of friends will find what’s out there – but what if it’s just more of the same?

Unfortunately for Tris and for all of us, that is exactly what the film offers. More and more and more of the exact same – all of it handled with far more energy and integrity in the Hunger Games series.

Woodley is a genuine talent, but she doesn’t seem to have the energy to even try, and who can blame her? She’s wasted in one more film where she does little more then look ponderous, then look thoughtful, now fierce but vulnerable.

Miles Teller – another actual talent – also returns as the woefully underused opportunist, and though his dialog is just as flat and obvious as everyone else’s, he does offer the only bright spots in an otherwise endless expanse of blandness.

Schwentke’s visual style offers slapped together images from Seventies SciFi, while his direction goes the extra mile when it comes to telegraphing every line, move, or event in the film. The final product is a by-the-numbers adolescent adventure lacking all energy and imagination.

And there’s still one more to get through.





This Queue Might Get Loud

Get it while it’s hot – Oscar winner J.K. Simmons throws a cymbol right in your home! Whiplash releases for home entertainment today, and it’s a film that must be seen. No film this year ratchets tension like this one, as one musician and his mentor go mano y mano in a battle that makes the Hobbit look light-hearted. Brilliantly written, expertly directed, and boasting two excellent performances (not to mention some really great music!), Whiplash is easily one of the best features of 2014.


Not all youngsters endure punishment in the name of their art – and that’s why punk rock is so much better than jazz! We Are the Best! follows three Swedish teens circa 1982 who find an outlet for their artistic and energetic impulses in punk rock. The film bubbles and bursts with the energy, innocence and sweet-natured idiocy of youth. It’s an absolute joy.

The Beat Goes On


by Hope Madden

Whether you recognize the name or not, you know J. K. Simmons. A that guy among that guys, Simmons has appeared in scores of films and dozens of TV shows – sometimes simultaneously – and he’s never turned in a mediocre performance. Perhaps the most reliable character actor of all time, Simmons finally gets a role that will no doubt draw Oscar attention with Whiplash.

He plays Terence Fletcher, the meanest, most abusive professor at the finest music conservatory in New York. Miles Teller plays the driven young drummer taking the lion’s share of his torment at the moment.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted a unique and immensely tense human drama, and his casting could not have been better. Teller and Simmons offer not an inauthentic moment as both inhabit characters that are not like the rest of us, which is necessary in an environment where the next Charlie Parker could emerge. There is something excruciating and beautiful and dizzying about their bursting volcano of a relationship.

That neither is an entirely good person makes the film that much fresher. Surprisingly, Whiplash is neither victim versus victimizer nor is it a testament to tough love. Chazelle abandons all cliché, rarely taking the predictable course. His provocative choices and his leads’ fearless work set this film far apart from other mentor/mentee pics.

Teller has real talent, a fact made clear in his screen debut Rabbit Hole. He understands the drive, arrogance, need and insecurity roiling beneath the surface of his character. His screen time with Simmons is violent, vibrant magic.

Whiplash takes us to the burgeoning of that solitary, lonesome madness that marks so many artistic geniuses. It isn’t tidy, it isn’t comfortable, it isn’t quiet but it is endlessly fascinating and it sounds good.


Sometimes Actually Spectcular

The Spectacular Now

by Hope Madden

The Spectacular Now suffers slightly from high expectations. National critics quickly heralded the film the summer’s best, and its quirky indie pedigree is tough to argue. The film marks Shailene Woodley’s first feature since her breathtaking turn in The Descendents. Penned by the duo that delivered 500 Days of Summer, directed by Smashed helmsman James Ponsoldt, and starring the charmingly charismatic, damaged doofus Miles Teller, the film’s buzz certainly felt potentially deserved.

A popular, life-of-the-party high school senior rebounds from a break up by dating a quiet, hard-working, nice girl. Brace yourself, there’s no make-over, no peer pressure, no angst.

No angst – what?!

It’s true. In fact, it is the film’s fresh approach that makes the safe decisions and clichés stand out. For a high school romance with an edge, The Spectacular Now is an engaging dramedy boasting stronger scripting and far superior performances than what you find in other likeminded works. Indeed, it sparkles in comparison to similar genre titles – the sickeningly overrated Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.

Polsoldt never drapes his high school romance in nostalgia – a common mistake in films such as these – but looks at the situation with the clear view his protagonist lacks. With a handful of exceptions, the writing holds up, and when it doesn’t, credit Teller and especially Woodley for the sheer talent to buoy the occasional weak scripting.

Woodley, who wowed audiences with her turn as the thoroughly modern, cynical teen in Descendents, shows true range that proves her wealth of talent.

Viewers who remember Teller from his recent work in Project X and 21 and Over may see the young actor as a one-trick pony, again playing the likeable screw up with an alcohol dependency. In his performance here, though, we glimpse a bit of the nuance and power fans of his turn in 2010’s Rabbit Hole will remember.

Unfortunately, The Spectacular Now falls too conveniently into a formula framed by the dreaded college essay. Ponsoldt lets his crisis off the hook far too simply, and where the resolution should have felt appropriately ambiguous, it instead seems superficially settled.

But cast that all aside and drink in two of the most fully crafted teens ever to hit the screen. The team of Ponsoldt, Woodley and Teller plumb for that bittersweet combination of longing, confidence, vulnerability and potential that marks adolescence. While his film may be merely better than average, his leads are truly spectacular.