The Films of Craig Gillespie
Though sprinkled with a few genuinely funny moments here and there, Mr. Woodcock ultimately comes off as a tedious and hackneyed effort that surely (and hopefully) marks Billy Bob Thornton's final appearance as a comedically misanthropic curmudgeon (following Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, and School for Scoundrels). This story follows self-help author John Farley (Seann William Scott) as he horrifyingly discovers that his mother (Susan Sarandon) is dating the feared gym teacher (Thornton's Mr. Woodcock) of his youth, with the bulk of the movie revolving around Farley's efforts at breaking the pair up. Even if one were willing to overlook the seriously illogical premise at the film's core - ie why would Farley's mom, portrayed as sweet and kind, continue to date a man who isn't even trying to hide the fact that he's a jerk? - one would still have to contend with the almost uniformly hackneyed plot developments offered up by scripters Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert. The pair spend the majority of the film's running time proffering an exceedingly tired storyline in which Scott's John must convince others of his castigator's villainy, although - of course - nobody believes him until the third act. That Carnes and Gilbert eventually turn the whole thing around by forcing John to fight for his mother and Mr. Woodcock's crumbling relationship is nothing short of absurd, and - though the performances are all fine and the movie is mercifully short - Mr. Woodcock is generally as ineffectual and instantly forgettable as most of Thornton's comedic output as of late.
Lars and the Real Girl
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Fright Night (June 17/12)
Fright Night follows affable teen Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) as he discovers that his charismatic neighbor (Colin Farrell's Jerry) is, in fact, a vampire, with the film subsequently detailing Charley's ongoing efforts at evading Jerry's malicious advances and, eventually, killing the psychotic bloodsucker. It's a strong (albeit familiar) premise that's immediately threatened by a surprisingly (and distractingly) low-rent visual sensibility, as filmmaker Craig Gillespie, along with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, has infused Fright Night with a hackneyed artificial darkness - ie it's almost as if the pair were trying to emulate the appearance of David Fincher's movies - that both holds the viewer at arm's length and highlights the laughably unconvincing computer-generated special effects. And while Farrell is admittedly quite good as the smooth, charismatic Jerry, Yelchin is simply unable to become the compelling protagonist that the narrative clearly requires - with the actor's less-than-engrossing performance matched by an underwhelmingly bland supporting cast (eg Toni Collette, playing Charley's concerned mother, is hopelessly wasted here). The movie's various problems are compounded by its regrettable lack of strong horror elements, as Gillespie places a consistent emphasis on set-pieces of a decidedly lifeless nature (eg there's a palpably awful Children of Men-like sequence in which Jerry attacks a car full of potential victims). By the time the nigh endless climax rolls around, Fright Night has certainly established itself as just another in a long line of needless horror remakes - with the movie's failure especially disappointing given the strength of Farrell's engaging performance (and it's also worth noting that David Tennant does manage to inject some life into the proceedings with his small role as a Vegas vampire hunter).
Million Dollar Arm
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm follows struggling sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) as he hatches a scheme to transform two Indian athletes into professional baseball players. It's an inherently compelling premise that is, in the movie's early stages, employed to familiar yet watchable effect by Craig Gillespie, as the filmmaker, working from Thomas McCarthy's script does a nice job of infusing the proceedings with a compulsively watchable feel that's heightened by Hamm's typically appealing work as the protagonist. The simplicity of the setup, however, finds itself more and more at odds with Gillespie's deliberate sensibilities and McCarthy's reliance on superfluous, hackneyed narrative threads, with, in terms of the latter, the film unfolding in an almost eye-rollingly predictable manner that's compounded by the trajectory of Hamm's charismatic character (ie J.B. ultimately learns to slow down and appreciate life, in the sort of transformation that used to be represented by a shift from slicked-back hair to a more natural coif). There naturally reaches a point at which the movie's more appealing elements - eg the culture clash experienced by various characters - are lost beneath its padded-out, lumbering atmosphere, and it's clear, too, that the feel-good final stretch is unable to even partially pack the uplifting punch that Gillespie has intended. Million Dollar Arm might've worked had it topped out at 90 minutes, and yet it ultimately seems obvious that this material is inherently not able to sustain a feature-length endeavor.
The Finest Hours
Inspired by actual events, The Finest Hours follows Chris Pine's Bernie Webber as he and three fellow members of the Coast Guard embark on a perilous quest to rescue the crew of a damaged oil tanker - with the movie also detailing the efforts of said crew to stay afloat until help arrives. It's ultimately clear that The Finest Hours is at its best in its relatively propulsive first half, as director Craig Gillespie, working from a script by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, does a nice job of establishing the the central characters and the dangerous circumstances in which they find themselves - with the screenplay, which also emphasizes the ongoing exploits of Bernie's girlfriend (Holliday Grainger's Miriam), generally juggling the various narrative threads to seamless effect. There's little doubt, however, that the movie begins to palpably run out of steam as it enters its overlong, padded-out, and repetitive midsection, with Gillespie's difficulties in developing the story's periphery figures, coupled with an atmosphere of unrelenting darkness, ensuring that it becomes more and more difficult to both sympathize with the protagonists and discern just what's going on. (This is to say nothing of the sometimes impenetrable accents, which are often drowned out by Carter Burwell's aggressive score.) By the time the fairly interminable post-rescue stretch rolls around, The Finest Hours has essentially squandered the goodwill afforded by its decent opening stretch and confirmed its place as a sporadically engaging yet hopelessly uneven true-life tale.
I, Tonya casts Margot Robbie as notorious athlete Tonya Harding, with the movie detailing her tough upbringing and eventual rise through the ranks as a competitive ice skater. Filmmaker Craig Gillespie has infused the early part of I, Tonya with a blisteringly-paced sensibility that's admittedly quite difficult to resist, and it's clear, too, that the movie benefits substantially from Robbie's immersive turn as the far-from-likeable central character. (Robbie's strong work is matched by a top-notch supporting cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, and Allison Janney.) Gillespie, working from a script by Steven Rogers, does an effective job of painting a somewhat less-than-flattering portrayal of the protagonist's hard-scrabble existence, with the strength of the film's opening stretch standing in sharp contrast to a middling midsection that grows less and less interesting as time progresses. It's the inevitable emphasis on Harding's rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan that triggers I, Tonya's marginal downfall, as Gillespie, in addition to padding out this portion of the narrative to a somewhat unreasonable extent, simply doesn't have the skill required to wholeheartedly pull off this decidedly over-the-top aspect (ie Gillespie's no Martin Scorsese, that's for sure). The end result is a decent biopic that could and should have been better, with Robbie's transformative performance trapped within the confines of an overlong, overblown disappointment.