Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), a Review

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Director – Richard Linklater

Writer – Richard Linklater

Starring – Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Blake Jenner, Glen Powell

Dazed and Confused will always hold a very special place in my heart. Not only was it a note-perfect en capturing of the 70’s (Which I never personally experienced, but have always loved), it was also one of the most quotable films of all time, and without doubt the greatest high-school movie ever made. Twenty-three years later, Linklater has attempted to recapture lightning in a bottle, and create a spiritual successor, this time a love-letter to the 80’s, and college. Whilst Everybody Wants Some!! is a fine cinematic experience, it sadly fails to live up it’s predecessor.

In Texas in the fall of 1980, college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) – a hotshot pitcher in high school – moves into the house he will be sharing with other members of the fictional Southeast Texas Cherokees college baseball team, and meets several of his new teammates; including his roommate Billy (Will Brittain), who has been nicknamed “Beuter”, because of his White Southern accent. He joins Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), Dale (Quinton Johnson), and Plummer (Temple Baker) and goes out cruising for women and living the college experience, attempting to find himself in the process.

As with Dazed and Confused, the plot is light and meandering, more an experience than a narrative. Unfortunately, while the meandering plot suited a film named Dazed and Confused, for obvious reasons, it doesn’t hold up quite so well here. To offer up a simple example, in the former, every character underwent a clear character arc over the course of the night, learning more about themselves as people. With Everybody Wants Some!!, nobody seems to be particularly different by the end of proceedings. Other than Jake getting his girl,;which seems, for somebody with Linklater’s mercurial ability, to be a rather simplistic plotline that we’ve seen, arguably better depicted as well, thousands of times before.

This only underpins the film’s main issue; it lacks the panache of it’s cousin, that feeling you had watching it that you were seeing something truly inspired and brilliant, a cut above your usual high-school shtick. Everybody Wants Some!!, though, sadly, doesn’t feel the same. This could, other than the Linklater trademarks that elevate it somewhat, be any old college film, following the same typical formulas, never subverting it in the same way Dazed and Confused did.

The cast is also, sadly, not quite as good as the original. While Linklater deserves acclaim for deciding to follow the same template, that being to hire relative unknowns and give them a chance for a break-out, the experiment doesn’t pan out quite as well this time. The primary difference is the natural charisma. When you consider than Ben Affleck, Matthew McCanaughey and Adam Goldberg all found their way into the same movie, and have all turned into fantastic and charismatic stars (Even if Goldberg gets a lot less mainstream attention), it’s not a surprise that the new cast can’t quite live up to it. Put simply, there’s only one Matthew Mcanaughey, and that kind of instant electricity is hard to conjure up artificially.

Jenner does a decent job, and he’s certainly likable, but he doesn’t sparkle in the same way. He has the makings of a fine actor, but I can’t see him reaching megastar status. In fact, the closest thing we get to Mcanaughey is Glen Powell, who is the star of the show by some distance. He has the same natural charisma, albeit less of it, and his pseudo-philisophical ramblings are a joy to listen to. He sparkles, certainly. The rest of the cast is very good, but as I previously alluded to, they just don’t sparkle as bright. The performances would be best described as solid, but not spectacular.

In case I’ve mis-sold the film thus far, please don’t take this as me declaring Everybody Wants Some!! is anything less than a good movie, because it certainly is. Quite simply, Linklater doesn’t make poor films. It just happens that some of his movies shine brighter than others, and by his own lofty standards, this is a bit of a step-down in quality. The script, as one would expect with a Linklater film, is seemingly loose and flexible, but with enough of his atypical philosophical undertones to not be considered fully improvised. If there’s one thing Linklater’s always done very well, that will always allow him to stand out from the pack, it’s the way he gives his actors breathing room to perform. He typically gives his actors bullet points, as opposed to meticulously scripted dialogue, and allows them to free-flow the conversation based around the general points.

This allows for spontaneity, natural reactions, and a general feeling of authenticity that allows us, the audience, to buy in more to what is happening on screen. In Dazed and Confused, for example, MCanaughey’s now classic ‘Alright, alright, alright’ and ‘I think you should ditch those two geeks in the car and get in with me, but that’s alright, we’ll worry about that later.’ lines were completely improvised and became immortal. Again, it’s clear here a lot is improv, but as previously alluded to, the cast lacks McCanuaghey’s charm and can’t quite pull it off the same way. Nevertheless, the dialogue is beautiful and believable, and Linklater continues to be one of the best screen-writers walking the Earth.

The visual elements are also great, typically being smart and effective as opposed to lambastic and overstylised. It’s ‘to the point’ film-making, but every shot is still wonderfully composed and aesthetically pleasing, without ever diverting attention from the characters and dialoge.  The one thing he does truly nail in terms of Dazed and Confused’s spirit is the riveting and wonderful eclectic soundtrack. Sounding like the 80’s screaming in your ear for ninety minutes, there’s a lot to enjoy, and a lot of iconic tunes are deployed.

Fans of Dazed and Confused expecting more of the same will probably find themselves as I was; thoroughly entertained throughout the runtime, but quickly forgetting the film in a way that was impossible with the original. Whilst Dazed and Confused burrowed under your skin and etched its place in both the annals of cinematic history and your mind, Everybody Wants Some!! entertains before fading sadly into the background. A fun ride that captures the spirit of the 80’s nicely, as well as being a decent representation of the college lifestyle, it is truly a good film that will always sadly live in the shadows of a better one.

 

Final Rating – 4

 

Joshua Moulinie

Suicide Squad (2016), a Review

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Director – David Ayer

Writer – David Ayer

Starring – Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delivinge

After the critics played the bear to Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice’s Leonardo Di Caprio, and gave it a right bloody mauling, despite I personally finding it to be a great piece of Blockbuster cinema, Suicide Squad had all the pressure of the world upon its shoulders. Tasked with not only re-igniting public interest in the DCEU (D.C Extended Universe), it also had the thankless task of re-introducing The Joker after Ledger’s Oscar-winning, character-defining portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece The Dark Knight. So no pressure then. Unfortunately, Ayer doesn’t quite pull it off, and the film itself is a bit of a mess. Thankfully, Leto himself is incredible, but we’ll get to that later.

In the aftermath of Superman’s death, intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of dangerous criminals—at Belle Reve Penitentiary and places them under command of Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnerman), to be used as disposable assets in high-risk missions for the United States government. Each member has a small bomb implanted in their neck, designed to detonate should any member rebel or try to escape. One of Waller’s intended recruits is Flag’s girlfriend, Dr. June Moore, an archaeologist who is possessed by a witch-goddess known as “Enchantress”, after touching a cursed idol. Enchantress quickly turns on everyone, deciding to eradicate mankind for imprisoning her. She besieges Midway City with a horde of monsters, begins creating a weapon, and summons her brother, Incubus, to assist her. Meanwhile, The Joker’s back in pursuit of Harley Quinn, and promises to throw a spanner into the works.

The plot, as highlighted above, is sadly bargain basement nonsense designed merely as a vehicle to get each character introduced to the universe, and then taken from point A to point B whilst trying to flesh out backstories that arguably would have worked better in stand-alone movies. That’s Suicide Squad’s biggest issue, certainly, that being the threadbare plot. For all of Batman V Superman’s supposed flaws, it’s hard to argue that what you were watching was not at least interesting and engaging, regardless of how much you loved it.

Here, unfortunately, the same cannot be said. It almost feels, at times, more like a series of sketches as opposed to a motion picture. The idea that some ‘big bad’ appears, causes C.G.I havoc, and then the squad have to assemble and learn to function as a team in order to see out the day, is, well, basically the plot to Avengers Assemble. Especially when one considers Loki was Thor’s brother, and hear Enchantress is Flagg’s girlfriend, there’s even the parallel of a member being close to the villain. The big difference is Flagg seems genuinely interested in saving his lost love, whereas Thor seemed quite content to slap the piss out of Loki. The similarity is worrying, as it suggests that D.C may be trying to emulate the Marvel template after the rejection of Batman V Superman’s more cerebral and metaphorical attempt at storytelling. It’s worrying, because that template has grown relatively stale, and Marvel themselves seem to be trying to edge away from it with the likes of Captain America: Civil War.

Part of the problem is that the dynamic between Flagg and Enchantress isn’t engaging enough to warrant audience interest. The two’s ‘love’ is shown through a montage, and we the audience don’t have a hope in hell of giving a damn whether or not they get back together. Kinniman gives a listless performance, and as such Flagg has the personality of ash tray., and the less said about Delevingne’s performance the better.

She’s clearly a model playing actress, and it shows. She sounds like a pantomime villain, which is horrific for all the wrong reasons, and even her kinetic performance is weird. Considering a model is paid to pose, you’d have thought she’d have picked something better than ‘Odd quirky dance.’ It’s just..bizarre, and distracting, and somewhat hilarious. Put simply, it causes the entire plot to collapse, as your interest depends primarily on how much you care about her, and view her as a genuine threat.

It’s not all terrible, though, and there is actually a lot of hints at a much stronger movie; a movie that focused more on the Harley Quinn/Joker relationship that is, without doubt, the most engaging and interesting part of the film, despite being mainly a side-story.

Quinn is brought to the big screen for the first time by Ayer and Robbie, and, thankfully, it’s absolutely spot on in terms of comic accuracy. The accent is correct, the sex appeal is there, as is the ‘quirky’. Also, what is truly fascinating, is that she isn’t overly crazy. In fact, there’s a strong narrative hint that she hates the way she is, hates the way her Mr.J is, and wishes only for a normal life with a family. It’s an incredibly subtle piece of character tweaking that makes her, other than Deadshot, who I’ll get to, the most fleshed-out character in the film. And as for Leto’s latest ‘Mr.J’? Why, he’s simply mesmeric.

At first, with Ledger’s performance so fresh in the memory, you do feel a bit thrown off by his clearly unique and different approach. Gone are the likable factors, the ‘cool quotes’. The grungy symbol of anarchy that Ledger portrayed is gone, replaced by a Joker that somewhat goes back to the character’s routes,  that being ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’.  Leto’s Joker is more of a gangster than an agent of chaos, but make no mistake about it, he’s still batshit crazy, pun intended. He also is far more narcisssistic and obsessed with image, looking stylish and flamboyant, whereas Ledger looked like he’d just crawled out of a Sex Pistols concert.

Whereas Ledger had almost a charm to him, Leto’s Joker is a pure animal. He grunts, he snarls, he mumbles as opposed to talks, and his posture and body movement is akin almost to a sexual predator, which of course is necessary considering his arc with Harley. He is more snake than he is man, a creature of instinct, all traces of humanity gone. This is, for better or worse, the comic book Joker brought to the big screen.

The only problem is that we don’t get enough of him, as he plays a glorified cameo and sadly doesn’t affect the plot in a major way. Although, it must be stated that clearly some footage was left out of the final piece, as the trailers hinted at a lot more Leto, so perhaps an extended cut will alleviate this somewhat. For now, what we did get is mesmeric, and unfortunately steals the attention from anything happening around him. We will, judging by the ending, be getting more of him very soon, and I for one cannot wait.

It’s  unfortunate as the Harley-Joke stuff could have been an utterly compelling tale, instead it’s a side story to a much less interesting narrative. Fortunately, Will Smith’s Deadshot pops up to provide us with some emotional depth, and his care for his daughter is believable and at least gives us something for ourselves to care about. Smith is clearly playing Smith, but he does it well enough to carry some of the weight. El Diablo is worth pointing out as well, as he has a very interesting narrative that isn’t quite explored enough to matter, but hints, again frustratingly, at something better we could have gotten. The rest of the squad have some good moments, but not enough to really warrant discussion over, and certainly none of them will be carrying their own vehicles anytime soon.

We did get a Flash cameo as well though,which is nice subtle world-building, and Superman’s death was addressed, so the universe is at least building quite nicely. While Suicide Squad may fail miserably as a stand-alone piece of cinema, it does at least fulfill his secondary objective as a work of universe crafting. Lots of elements are introduced, arcs are carried over, and it at least gives Justice League a good platform to spring from.

It’s a shame, because the incredible marketing and wonderful soundtrack, as well as Ayer’s pedigree, suggested it could have been a hell of a lot better. Even the visuals are inconsistent, as the cinematography is incredible, but the CGI is atrocious, meaning we get horrible effects that are framed nicely, counteracting one another. It’s not terrible though, that much must be said, and there are certainly worse ways to spend two hours of your life. In fact, if you just wish to be entertained and aren’t particularly interested in a deep experience, you’ll probably have a blast with this. Leto is absolutely fantastic, and Robbie manages to play Harley Quinn decently, but does need to work on her acting, as she does sound quite wooden at times. Ayer clearly had good ideas and themes, but too much editing room meddling led to the good stuff being removed, the bland stuff being kept, and the film becoming decidedly average as a result.

 

Final Rating – 3.2

 

Joshua Moulinie

Buried (2010), a Retrospective Review

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Director – Rodrigo Cortés

Writer – Chris Sparling

Starring – Ryan Reynolds

Singular location movies are a rare breed of animal, seldom seen because traditional audience expectations tend to lead to a rejection among the mainstream audience, so, when done, they tend to be a unique and refreshing experience. Even more refreshing, is when we get a single actor alongside the single location, such is the case with Rodrigo Cortés English-language debut, Buried , starring Ryan Reynolds, before Deadpool launched him into the upper pantheon of superstars.

On October 23, 2006, Paul Conroy, an American civilian truck driver working in Iraq, wakes up and finds himself buried alive in a wooden coffin, bound and gagged, with only a Zippo lighter and a Blackberry phone at hand. Although he initially has no idea how he got there, he starts to piece together what has happened to him. He remembers that his and several other trucks were ambushed by terrorists, who killed his colleagues; he was hit by a rock and passed out. He receives a call from his kidnapper, Jabir, demanding that he pay a ransom of $5 million by 9PM or he will be left in the coffin to die. He then desperatly tries to do everything within his power to survive this ordeal, and not die alone, lost in a box, in a foreign country.

The concept is wonderfully unique, featuring a very neutral tale in terms of political leanings; America is far from the heroic saviours they are oft-depicted as in glitzy Hollywood, and the ‘terrorist’ responsible for Paul’s position is a complex individual, desperate for vengeance for the family that was taken from him. What’s even more interesting is that the ‘terrorist’ makes it clear that this is not a personal thing against Paul, but more a lashing out against America as a whole, because of the ludicrous march into Iraq in 2003. Very rarely, in film, is America’s less than solid moral approach to war-mongering taken into account and blatantly explored, here it is, and, in some aspects, America, and the F.B.I in particular, play the villains here.

Crucially, in order for us to continuously sympathise with his position while America itself is criticised, Paul is depicted as not a soldier, but an innocent trucker, just trying to support his family the best way he can. This gives him a very humanising aspect, as the innocent victim in a war between a war-hungry government, and the regime and people it destroyed in it’s supposedly heroic conquest, while also creating a parallel between Paul and his captor, the ultimate in cruel ironies.

Adding to the levels of sympathy is Reynold’s believable and captivating performance as Paul. He is very human, very convincing, and very realistic. The twist that he has an anxiety order is also a nice one, and is turns a shit situation arguably even shitter, if that was possible. Reynold seems to have a natural knack for a one man scenario, as, despite it featuring more than one character, it would take a brave man to try and claim that Deadpool wasn’t a one-man show. However, while Deadpool was carried by Reynold’s effortless charisma and showmanship, Buried is carried by his believablility and very human performance. They do both have one thing in common though; Reynold’s is clearly a very likeable character, the sort of guy you can’t help but want to cheer for. The Daniel Bryan of cinema, if you will.

Writing a screenplay under this format must be somewhat of a thankless task for even the greatest penman, as the nature of the film means the plot cannot be shown as opposed to told, because one can only see whatever happens within a very dark and confined space, thus breaking the cardinal rule of cinema. Traditionally, one should try and tell as much as a story as feasible visually, and only use dialogue when necessary to embellish story and characters. Here, the screenwriter has no choice but to use extensive expositional dialogue, which could easily fall into a rabbit hole of clunky lines and boring monologues.

Fortunately, he scripts the phone interactions reasonably well. While it isn’t perfect, and a few lines seem forced, as a rule it works absolutely fine. The twists, while necessary, at times seem like too much, as though Sparling was trying his hardest to think of ways to stop the plot stagnating and keeping tension rising, yet, they still mostly work, and do little to derail this surprisingly well-paced thriller. Special kudos for the ending as well, which is a real gut-puncher. Possibly easy to figure out if you watch for the clues, as I did personally, it nevertheless is emotionally effective and truly saddening.

Sadly, no film is without flaws, and this film falls down quite spectacularly in terms of cinematography. While I commend director of photography Eduard Grau’s attempts to keep the film visually engaging by trying some dynamism, sadly, it just didn’t quite work. Once you write a film like this, the cinematographer should, in my humble opinion, keep things simple, allowing the audience to focus on the story and not be distracted by the camera work.

This sort of film is about the writing and performance, not the visual elements, and sadly, nobody told Grau this. He keeps performing unnecessarily complex shots, such as tracking around Reynold’s body, simply to keep the action moving. This is more annoying than stimulating, leaving you to wonder ‘why am I looking at Ryan Reynold’s ass/foot?’. It’s not film-breaking, just distracting, like a couple getting freaky in the row in front of you at the cinema.

Regardless of the overblown visual elements, Buried remains a tightly plotted and engaging thriller that may well change the way you view single location/character pieces, should you have been wary of them previously. Reynold’s continues to add to his gimmick of most likeable actor in the world not named Chris Pratt, while Cortés makes a very solid and unique piece that should cement him as an enigmatic talent in Hollywood. This if the type of cinema we need, that which engages and captivates whilst innovating. Put simply, a solid and unique effort elevated by an incredibly affecting (if perhaps predictable) ending.

 

Final Rating – 3.9

 

Joshua Moulinie

Rebirth (2016), a Review

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Director – Karl Mueller

Writer – Karl Mueller

Starring – Fran Kranz, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Whelan

It’s that time again; that time where I review for you, the wonderful reading audience, the latest Netflix original that I happened to stumble across, on one of those lonely nights, the type of which are seemingly too frequent for me these days. Rebirth is an interesting little yarn; an exploration of morality, oppression, contemporary society and the nature of anarchy, albeit a flawed one. The second feature length work of Mueller, after Mr.Jones, and starring Fran Kranz, of Cabin in The Woods fame, as well as featuring Adam Goldberg, known for his starring role in Linklater’s masterpiece Dazed and Confused; Rebirth is a mature but somewhat confusing endeavour.

A white-collar suburban father Kyle (Fran Kranz) who is surprised at his office by long-lost college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg). Zack is as wild and crazy as ever, brimming with excitement about the self-actualization program he’s just finished called Rebirth. He talks Kyle into going on a weekend-long Rebirth retreat,handing over his keys, wallet, and phone. Thus begins his journey down an bizarre rabbit hole of psychodrama, seduction, and violence.

There are two major glaring issues with Rebirth, and it’s not too far into the film before both become horrendously apparent. The first of these lies in the characterisation of Kyle. Sure, the whole film kind of hinges on the idea that he’s become boring and rooted into the mundane nonsense that is contemporary society, yet, he’s more than simply boring. Frankly, he’s whiny, irritating, annoying and a bit of an idiot. The film is framed via his viewpoint, so, we the audience are no more privy to the situation he finds himself in than he is. The mystery unfolds for both him and us simultaneously. Yet, despite this, Kyle seems to simply not get what is happening, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

He seems to be reluctant to accept obvious evidence, and obnoxiously ignorant throughout, leaving us not to be entertained or enthralled by the mystery. Rather, we end up frustrated at Kyle, and no longer feeling any sympathy for his position. In fact, I found myself practically screaming at him to go against his morals just so the film became somewhat interesting for a while. Instead, he confronts every scenario offered to him like a devout Christian, refusing to ever do anything remotely daring or interesting, save for the final twenty minutes. It’s not admirable, either, as it’s hard to admire a flat-out moron. Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s the point. Perhaps Mueller was trying to make a point about how we, the members of traditional society paradigms are blinded too the facts around us, the facts about how shit are lives are. Unfortunately, as we’ll get too later, if this is the case, it’s too ambiguous for us to buy.

When you the audience wish to see the Protagonist fail and fall flat on his face, you know you’ve done something wrong in the writing process, which leads me nicely into my next point. The worst part of it all is that it’s heavily implied Kyle used to drink the same Kool-aid as Zack, and Zack is merely trying to bring the old Kyle back out of his shell. Sadly, we are told this, but never actually shown it, as Kyle never even appears to be having a moral struggle. Then -Spoiler Alert – at the end, he drinks the metaphor kool-aid for seemingly no reason, doing a complete U-turn on his entire character throughout the movie, for no obvious reason other than they wanted an ambiguous and shocking ending. Sadly, it’s less a ‘My God, that blew my mind’ and more of a ‘What the fuck? That hurt my brain’.

To Kranz’ credit, he plays the part pretty much perfectly, and is genuinely annoying throughout. So in terms of actual acting performances, Rebirth is far from terrible. With talent such as Kranz and Goldberg on board, the acting quality was never likely to be an issue, and they do their best to bring life to their woefully underdeveloped characters.

The writing is, for a lack of better term, piss-poor. It’s full of pseudo-philisophy that basically screams ‘ ‘Have fun, don’t be boring, fuck capitalism’. Yet, as alluded to earlier, it never makes it abundantly clear whether it’s criticising society and praising anarchy (a la Fight Club), or whether it’s actually against these ideas and the film serves as a ‘Be careful what you wish for’ fable, and is in fact trying to tell the audience that sometimes a boring routine life is safe and fine. Perhaps Mueller wasn’t trying to send any form of message whatsoever and was just trying to make an entertaining film. If so, you wonder why he bothered, as the film is somewhat interesting, yet never truly entertaining. Not even in an emotionally moved way. You feel nothing. You smile, cry or laugh at no point. It’s just a whole lot of nothing.

Which is a huge shame because the premise is actually incredibly engaging, but, like a really attractive woman who brings you home and genuinely intends nothing more than a coffee, you find yourself waiting around for the interesting part that never actually seems to happen. You want it to, and the multiple ‘test’ rooms are incredibly fascinating, but we don’t see enough of them, and the incredible premise is effectively wasted entirely.

Clearly though, Mueller is a finer director than he is a writer, as the visual elements are incredibly well shot, and the whole film has a muted colour palette that leads to a dreary and depressive feeling that permeates the entire picture, while giving it a slightly surrealist feel. Unfortunately this is like being a horrible human being with ridiculously good looks; it looks fantastic, but what lies beneath is nothing particularly impressive.

The first few Netflix originals were absolutely incredible, peaking with the fantastic home-invasion flick Hush. Sadly, the quality seems to be dropping off slightly, and Rebirth is possibly a signal that this era is coming to a sad end. It’s a great premise, with a wonderful cast, but everything falls sadly flat, with a protagonist that encapsulates this spirit perfectly. If you want to be incredibly frustrated and yell at your laptop/phone/Television scream constantly, then this is the film for you. If this doesn’t interest you, which it shouldn’t, then I suggest you don’t drink the Kool-Aid and give this a miss.

 

Final Rating – 2.5/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

Directing – 3

Writing – 2.5

Performances – 4

Visual Elements – 4

Score – 2.5

 

Final Rating – 3.2