“Been in kind of a dark, existential place, to tell you the truth and then… I met your mom.”
The marketing and casting of Cyrus created expectations for an offbeat comedy, confusing audiences who received more of an unsettling indie flick, written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill both offer surprising performances, Hill through understated creepiness, whilst Reilly flexes his nuanced acting abilities in role of an affable, neurotic and world-weary man with hints of the star turn he would take a few years later in Wreck-It Ralph. Marisa Tomei deftly makes the unusual central relationships believable. The film flounders structurally, taking over an hour of its 91-minute running time to set up the conflict between John and Cyrus, leaving its final act feeling hurried and lacking in any real depth. On the other hand, the time devoted to John and Molly’s relationship ensures that the audience remains invested in its success. Cyrus flirts with a darker tone but never really commits, resulting in a pleasantly unusual film without the edge it might have had in different hands.
“A lot of the time we feel that our life’s the worst, but I think that if you looked in anybody else’s closet, you wouldn’t trade your shit for their shit.”
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a nostalgia-soaked homage to the Los Angeles streets of his youth, following 13-year-old Stevie as he balances a questionable home life and a newfound friendship with a crew of skaters. Youthful aimlessness captured through grainy, low-fi production (shot on 16mm film) recalls Kids as well as early Richard Linklater. Befitting many of his acting roles, Hill demonstrates a well-attuned instinct for the awkwardness of male bonding, and the poor adolescent advice that accompanies it (“don’t thank people — they’re gonna think you’re gay,” Stevie is initially warned before the crew’s leader disabuses him of the notion). The unvarnished presentation of the reality of risk-taking and adult behaviour amongst children rarely feels forced, though its recurring theme of subconscious self-harm is only addressed at the end. Setting the film over two decades in the past also reduces its relevance to today’s teenagers. Mid90s may not be a stellar debut, but it demonstrates that Hill has skill behind the camera that indicates a bright future.
“A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? Actors. They’ll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there’s room, you guys will come.”
If Ocean’s 12 was an excuse for Clooney and his actor friends to hang out at his Lake Como villa, This Is The End dispenses with the pretence entirely as Seth Rogan, James Franco and friends play themselves riding out the apocalypse at Franco’s house. The main cast toy with their public perception, though the film’s best conceit is the suggestion that, if the Rapture were to occur, no one at a Hollywood house party would notice. Most of the cameos are fun but forgettable, the standouts being those who play against type — a shameless Michael Cera and a violent Emma Watson. One imagines the general lack of female presence is a product of the fraternal nature of the friendship group behind This Is The End, but the near total absence of women is disappointing and to its detriment. The script is peppered with hilarity and entertaining moments strung together by lazy writing and tired gross-out humour. Comedies like this typically lose traction the longer they run but, despite frequently lagging in the middle and perhaps aided by a wafer-thin plot which requires little conclusion, the film closes surprisingly strongly, leaving a better overall impression than I would have expected halfway through.
“Everyone’s fighting over the same pie and ignoring the crumbs. I live off crumbs.”
The true story of how two reunited schoolfriends in their twenties found themselves awarded lucrative arms contracts by the Pentagon is as unsettling as it is absurd. Director Todd Phillips channels Scorsese but falls into the same trap as The Wolf of Wall Street — in striving to entertain, the film inadvertently glamourises what it seeks to criticise. Jonah Hill is excellent as Efraim, inducing revulsion whilst also demonstrating how his partner is drawn in. Unfortunately, David is sketched blandly and — with the story narrated from his perspective — it hamstrings our connection with the subject matter. The human cost of the arms trade lies largely outside the scope of this film (in contrast to the powerful opening of Lord of War), with David’s eventual disillusionment coming from the strain that deception places on his relationships and his safety, rather than from real character growth.
I don’t think I have felt so bittersweet about ending a trilogy since The Lord of the Rings concluded 15 years ago but, fittingly, at its heart the final film is about letting go. Unlike Pixar’s recent string of sequels, Dreamworks Animation is driven more by storytelling than cashing in on nostalgia (writer/director Dean DeBlois conceived the second and third films together), although there are wonderful flourishes that refer back to original film through dialogue, through actions, and through the score. Building these characters over the course of a decade allows for emotion to be conveyed subtly, like a silent gaze from Astrid as she realises how her adherence to values of traditional masculinity unintentionally hurts Hiccup. Viking society continues to provide an excellent backdrop against which to explore modern notions of masculinity (as in the underrated Norsemen TV series), particularly as Hiccup shoulders new burdens as chief. Although the discovery of a female “Light Fury” is the inciting incident that takes the whole village of Berk on the move, the changing relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is the real focus. The swashbuckling action is impressive and keeps the energy high but it rarely feels as compelling as spending time with the characters from Berk, leaving the dragon-poaching subplot often feeling like a distraction (or, more likely, a concession to viewers new to the franchise). These movies have always excelled in presenting majestic vistas and here the exceptional eye for detail is kicked up a notch, in a few places the realism of the environments even making the stylised characters seem a little out of place. Overall this is a delightfully satisfying conclusion that, although lacking the freshness of its predecessors, still retains their magic.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team… we’ll have changed the game. And that’s what I want. I want it to mean something.”
Billy Beane, General Manager of Oakland Athletic, bucks tradition by adopting statistical analysis to identify undervalued players to fill his team’s roster on a limited budget. Despite being based on a true story, we are given relatively little insight into the statistical philosophy behind “Moneyball”. There is plenty here to enjoy for those uninterested in baseball, but it is clearly designed to resonate more with fans of the game, with significant time dedicated to reliving Oakland Athletic’s winning streak. The film then meanders, uncertain how to conclude, and feels overlong as a result.