Mini Reviews (March 2017)
I don't feel at home in this world anymore., Fist Fight, Get Out, The Lego Batman Movie, Before I Fall, Tickled, CHIPS
I don't feel at home in this world anymore. (March 2/17)
Written and directed by Macon Blair, I don't feel at home in this world anymore. follows Melanie Lynskey's Ruth, an affable pushover, as she discovers a new sense of purpose after her home is burglarized - with the narrative detailing Ruth's efforts at recovering her possessions alongside an oddball neighbor named Tony (Elijah Wood). First-time filmmaker Blair delivers an opening half hour that essentially plays like a low-key character study, with the emphasis placed on Ruth's day-to-day exploits and the degree to which she's disrespected on a seemingly hourly basis (eg a neighbor's dog constantly poops on her lawn, a book is spoiled for her by a chatty barfly, etc, etc). It's compelling stuff that's elevated by Blair's strong visual sensibilities and by Lynskey's tremendously ingratiating turn as the sympathetic central character, with the movie, admittedly, losing a little steam as it progresses into its sometimes overbearingly off-the-wall midsection. (The film is rarely predictable, that's for sure.) There's little doubt, then, that the escalating nature of I don't feel at home in this world anymore.'s storyline paves the way for an impressively engrossing third act, as Blair closes the proceedings with an blistering, unexpectedly violent stretch that confirms the movie's place as a decidedly singular piece of work - which ultimately does bode well for Blair's future endeavors behind the camera.
Fist Fight (March 2/17)
Fist Fight follows Charlie Day's Andy Campbell, a well-meaning teacher, as he's goaded into battling a fellow educator (Ice Cube's Strickland) after school, with the narrative detailing Andy's progressively frantic efforts at extricating himself from the sure-to-be disastrous bare-knuckle brawl. It's a thin premise that's executed to watchable (yet entirely forgettable) effect by first-time filmmaker Richie Keen, as the director has infused Fist Fight with a briskly-paced sensibility that's heightened by a series of affable performances - with Day's likeable turn as the timid protagonist matched by a strong supporting cast that includes Dean Norris, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tracy Morgan. There's little doubt, however, that the movie's less-than-fleshed-out atmosphere paves the way for a handful of lulls in the narrative, which Keen attempts to compensate for by emphasizing instances of clearly improvised comedy - with the most obvious and aggressive example of this virtually everything involving Jillian Bell's stale character. The episodic nature of Van Robichaux and Evan Susser's screenplay contributes heavily to the erratic vibe, to be sure, and it's ultimately obvious that Fist Fight benefits substantially from a growing sense of momentum as the picture moves into its final stretch. (It doesn't hurt, certainly, that the third act boasts a tremendously entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny sequence set at a grade-school talent show.) And while the title occurrence probably goes on just a little too long, Fist Fight's fairly exuberant climax confirms its place as a perfectly amiable comedy that runs a rather brisk 91 minutes (which in itself is something that should be commended).
Get Out (March 2/17)
An erratic yet ultimately rewarding horror flick, Get Out follows Daniel Kaluuya's Chris Washington as he and his girlfriend (Allison Williams' Rose) head to the country to spend a few days with her parents (Bradley Whitford's Dean and Catherine Keener's Missy) - with problems ensuing as Chris is confronted by increasingly sinister happenings as the meet-the-parents weekend progresses. There's little doubt that Get Out fares much, much better in its second half than it does in its first, as writer/director Jordan Peele delivers a rather repetitive opening stretch that's rife with uninvolving, implausible elements - with the movie's less-than-engrossing vibe perpetuated by a spinning-its-wheels midsection (ie it often feels that Peele has nowhere to go beyond the emphasis on thinly-veiled racism from both white and black folks alike within Dean and Missy's country estate). It's clear, too, that Peele's decision to stress elements of a decidedly quirky exacerbates the uninvolving atmosphere, with the best and most obvious example of this virtually everything involving Chris' off-the-wall best friend (Lil Rel Howery's Rod) and his eventual efforts at rescuing Chris (including a pointless sequence set at a police station). Get Out's transformation from mediocre to thrilling, then, is triggered by an increasingly engrossing third act, as the movie's final third, which kicks off with a genuinely surprising plot twist, is far more absorbing and gripping than one might've anticipated - with the effectiveness of this stretch heightened by Peele's unabashedly visceral and violent approach to the material (ie there's ultimately no mistaking this for anything other than an R rated horror flick). The satisfying conclusion cements Get Out's place as an above-average debut that'll probably improve upon repeat viewings (which is in itself, given the genre, no small feat), and it's clear that Peele has instantly established himself as an up-and-coming filmmaker worth watching.
The Lego Batman Movie (March 2/17)
A spinoff of 2014's The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie follows Will Arnett's title character as his ongoing fights with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) eventually force him to question his solitary existence. There's little doubt that The Lego Batman Movie proves that, as one might've suspected in the wake of The Lego Movie, this incarnation of the World's Greatest Detective works best in extremely small doses, as the protagonist grates to an increasingly palpable degree as the overstuffed, overlong narrative slowly unfolds. (Why on earth is this movie even one second longer than 80 minutes?) The film opens with promise, however, as director Chris McKay delivers an blisteringly-paced opening stretch detailing an epic battle between Batman and the Joker, with the effectiveness of this first act, which could easily stand on its own as an above-average short, hardly indicative of the noisy and repetitive narrative that ultimately follows. It becomes more and more clear that The Lego Batman Movie has been geared primarily to small children, as the picture, for the most part, boasts a less-than-subtle feel that's reflected in its many, many broadly-conceived attributes (eg the whole thing is just so relentless and loud). The predictably larger-than-life climax ensures that the movie ends on as underwhelming a note as one could envision, and it certainly goes without saying that the narrative's importance-of-family message falls completely flat - which finally does confirm The Lego Batman Movie's place as a fairly misguided endeavor that grates more often than it entertains.
Before I Fall (March 3/17)
Based on a book by Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall follows Zoey Deutch's Samantha Kingston as she finds herself reliving the same day over and over again until she gets it right. It's an annoyingly superficial spin on Groundhog Day that grows less and less interesting as it progresses, and there's little doubt that the lack of compelling characters certainly ranking high on the movie's list of less-than-engrossing elements - with Deutch's hopelessly bland turn as the dull protagonist mirrored by a supporting cast that's rife with one-dimensional figures (eg all of Samantha's friends are shallow airheads). The nature of the film's premise paves the way for a midsection that's often oppressively repetitive, as scripter Maria Maggenti proves unable to deliver a narrative containing anything worth getting excited about or invested in - with Before I Fall's terminally uninvolving vibe compounded by, among other things, an almost total absence of momentum (ie the whole thing is just so pedestrian and by the numbers). By the time the predictably misguided final stretch rolls around, in which Samantha learns a series of eye-rollingly obvious lessons, Before I Fall has undoubtedly confirmed its place as a seriously ill-advised adaptation of an admittedly decent young-adult novel.
Tickled (March 11/17)
Tickled follows journalist David Farrier as he attempts to look into a mysterious online tickling competition, with the movie detailing the progressively oddball (and sinister) path of Farrier's investigation. There's little doubt that filmmakers Farrier and Dylan Reeve effectively grab the viewer's interest right from the get-go, as Tickled comes off as a compellingly in-depth look at a bizarre subsection of the internet. As intriguing as this early portion of the proceedings reveals itself to be, however, Tickled eventually segues into a seriously (and often aggressively) repetitive midsection revolving around Farrier's investigation into one particular online company. And although some of this stuff is admittedly interesting (ie the degree to which that company's employees attempt to throw Farrier off the trail is fairly impressive). There reaches a point, then, at which Tickled essentially transforms into an Inside Edition-like expose of the tickling underground, with the emphasis placed firmly on Farrier's efforts at tracking down the mysterious figure seemingly behind everything. The single-minded (and less-than-engrossing) third act paves the way for a hopelessly unsatisfying climax, with the inability of this stretch to justify the minutia of everything preceding it proving fairly disastrous - which, in turn, seems to indicate that Tickled would've been better off as a short segment on 60 Minutes.
CHIPS (March 23/17)
Based on the '70s TV show, CHIPS follows mismatched police officers Frank Poncherello (Michael Pena) and Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) as they're forced to put aside their differences and work together to solve a case involving crooked cops. It's worth noting that CHIPS fares surprisingly well in its early scenes, as writer/director Shepard delivers a fast-paced and thoroughly irreverent comedy that's rife with appealing elements - with, especially, the strong work from both leads playing an instrumental role in cementing the movie's initial success (ie even when it starts to go downhill, CHIPS still benefits from the lighthearted banter between the protagonists). The film's downfall is triggered by a disjointed midsection that seems trapped between two extremes, as Shepard attempts to balance the narrative's origin-story vibe with a progressively tedious plot involving the aforementioned crooked cops - with the filmmaker's almost total inability to infuse the latter with compelling attributes ultimately proving fairly disastrous (and paving the way for a surprisingly interminable and intolerable climax). It's a shame, really, given the palpable potential afforded by CHIPS' easy-going first act, and there is, in the end, no denying the movie joins the ranks of several other misguided comedic remakes of '80s television series (eg 21 Jump Street).