Mini Reviews (July 2017)
Paris Can Wait, Viral, Don't Hang Up, The House, SiREN, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Paris Can Wait (July 8/17)
Innocuous and forgettable, Paris Can Wait follows Diane Lane's Anne as she takes a road trip through France with an associate (Arnaud Viard's Jacques) of her husband's (Alec Baldwin's Michael) - with the thinly-plotted storyline detailing the sightseeing and conversations that transpire along the way. Filmmaker Eleanor Coppola, making her narrative debut here, delivers a lackadaisically-paced diversion that often feels more like a pleasant travelogue than anything else, as the writer/director offers up sequence after sequence of the two central characters visiting ornate tourist attractions and eating elaborate meals in fancy restaurants. And although both Lane and Viard are quite good here, the actors' complete and total lack of chemistry together prevents the viewer from working up any real interest in their continuing exploits. (It's clear, too, that the movie's almost total paucity of dramatic heft contributes heavily to its gossamer-thin atmosphere, as there's never a point at which there seems to be anything real at stake for any of these people.) And while the movie boasts a handful of engaging sequences - eg Anne and Jacques visit the Lumiere brothers museum - Paris Can Wait, for the most part, feels like a watered-down take on Before Sunrise that never quite justifies its existence.
Viral (July 9/17)
Though relatively well made and acted, Viral suffers from an overly familiar storyline that's compounded by an often disastrously uneventful atmosphere - with the movie, for the most part, playing like a short film that's been awkwardly expanded to feature length. The narrative follows sisters Emma (Sofia Black-D'Elia) and Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) as their bland high-school existence is thrown into disarray after a deadly virus begins to spread, with the bulk of the picture detailing the siblings' efforts to stay safe within a town that's been quarantined by the military. Viral seems to hold a fair bit of promise in its by-the-numbers yet competently-executed opening stretch, as filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman effectively establish the central characters and their small-town concerns (eg boys, school, etc) - with the directors' decision to weave in background elements relating to the aforementioned virus cultivating a palpable undercurrent of suspense. The movie's transformation from passable to interminable, then, is triggered by a spinning-its-wheels midsection that's almost entirely devoid of compelling sequences, with the movie, which transpires mostly within the claustrophobic confines of Emma and Stacey's parent-free home, detailing the protagonists' uneventful exploits and their ongoing efforts at avoiding infected neighbors and strangers. And although Joost and Schulman have peppered the thin narrative with a small handful of tense moments (eg Emma comes face-to-face with a now-blind carrier of the deadly virus), Viral ultimately builds to a climax that couldn't possibly be less interesting and stirring - which ensures that it is, in the end, not difficult to see why the prolific Blumhouse Productions decided to keep this one out of theaters.
Don't Hang Up (July 12/17)
Don't Hang Up follows friends and YouTube pranksters Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett) as they're terrorized by a mysterious figure named Mr. Lee, with the movie, which transpires over the course of one very long night, detailing the pair's efforts at extricating themselves from an increasingly deadly situation. The degree to which Don't Hang Up eventually peters out is especially disappointing given the effectiveness of its pre-credits sequence, as filmmakers Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot deliver an impressively engrossing opening revolving around the victim of one of the protagonists' mean-spirited internet gags - with the movie, past that point, segueing into a stagy, claustrophobic midsection set entirely within the confines of Sam's house. Saddled with amateurish performances and almost impressively unlikeable central characters, Don't Hang Up simply isn't able to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time during its spinning-its-wheels midsection - as scripter Joe Johnson emphasizes Sam and Brady's often excessively tedious exploits (ie there's a whole lot of fighting, bargaining, and scheming during this portion of the proceedings). The ongoing inclusion of a few admittedly tense moments (eg Sam and Brady slowly realize the full depth of their troubles), coupled with Macé and Wajsbrot's stylish, Fincheresque directorial choices, prevents the movie from becoming the full-on bore one might've feared, and it's clear, too, that Don't Hang Up benefits substantially from a memorably cruel climax that ensures it ends on a strong note - and yet such positives are simply not enough to compensate for a second act that just doesn't, on the whole, entirely work.
The House (July 12/17)
After the funding for their daughter’s (Ryan Simpkins’ Alex) college education falls through, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) decide to take matters into their own hands by opening an illegal casino in a friend’s (Jason Mantzoukas’ Frank) house – with the trio’s early success eventually threatened once word begins to spread around their small town. The House squanders a fairly promising setup and affable opening stretch to become just another unfocused, lackluster contemporary comedy, as director Andrew Jay Cohen, working from a screenplay co-written with Brendan O'Brien, delivers a wafer-thin narrative that’s been suffused with misguided and excessively improvised set-pieces – with the desperation inherent in such moments contributing heavily to the movie’s progressively tedious atmosphere (ie the performers are practically begging for laughs on a recurring basis). Cohen’s willingness to indulge the various actors’ every whim paves the way for a hopelessly erratic, momentum-free midsection, with the decision to erase any trace of recognizable human behavior from the proceedings ensuring that very little of this stuff is actually funny. The making-it-up-as-they-go-along vibe results in an especially problematic third act, as The House trips and stumbles over itself multiple times on the way to its almost laughably ineffective conclusion - with the movie ultimately standing as the latest in an increasingly long line of misbegotten Ferrell comedies. (It is, as the very least, pretty short.)
SiREN (July 22/17)
Expanded from a segment in the 2012 horror anthology V/H/S, SiREN follows four friends (Chase Williamson's Jonah, Hayes Mercure's Rand, Michael Aaron Milligan's Mac, and Randy McDowell's Elliott) as they run afoul of a mystical, deadly creature (Hannah Fierman's Lily) during a bachelor party. It's perhaps not terribly surprising to note that SiREN only works in starts and fits, as the movie simply doesn't possess enough content to comfortably sustain a feature-length running time - with scripters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski delivering a patchwork narrative that's rife with needless, padded-out sequences. (The most obvious example of this is the protagonists' initial arrival at the picture's sinister strip club, as director Gregg Bishop infuses this overlong interlude with a hazy, drug-fueled sensibility that grows tiresome almost immediately.) There's little doubt, as well, that SiREN's less-than-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by an emphasis on the characters' run-and-hide exploits, with the sporadic inclusion of memorable moments ensuring, at least, that the movie never quite becomes the all-out bore one might've anticipated. (There is, for instance, a pretty solid scene in which one of the characters attempts to escape while Lily wreaks havoc all around him.) It's ultimately fairly clear that SiREN doesn't really succeed as a full-length feature, which is too bad, really, given the effectiveness of the premise and of Fierman's haunting performance.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (July 25/16)
Written by the Lonely Island guys (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone (and directed by the latter two), Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping follows former boy-band member Conner (Samberg) as he attempts to navigate the perilous waters of solo success – with the movie, which boasts a fake documentary structure, detailing the character’s ongoing efforts at sustaining his fame through a series of personal and professional setbacks. It’s clear immediately that filmmakers Schaffer and Taccone are looking to replicate the feel of the Lonely Island’s infamous, occasionally iconic SNL Digital Shorts, as Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is packed with a number of broadly ridiculous songs and music videos – with, perhaps predictably, many of these moments as memorable and catchy as they are laugh-out-loud funny (eg “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” is classic Lonely Island). The affable atmosphere is perpetuated by Samberg’s typically charming (and unapologetically goofy) turn as the dimwitted central character, and there’s little doubt, as well, that Schaffer and Taccone’s perpetually irreverent approach heightens the film’s gleefully absurd vibe. And although the mockumentary format serves the material well, generally speaking, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping does suffer from an erratic execution that’s especially evident in the somewhat meandering second half – with Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone’s screenplay containing a handful of fairly pointless, wheel-spinning diversions. This is a relatively minor complaint for a film that's otherwise consistently likeable and entertaining, and it does seem likely, ultimately, that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is one of those comedies that improves upon subsequent viewings.