WOLVES (2017)

March 3, 2017

wolves Greetings again from the darkness. Anthony is a good kid with a bright future. He’s a star basketball player and a bright student, and has a loyal girlfriend and seemingly normal home life. It comes as no surprise that most of those elements either aren’t as smooth as they seem, or are more complex than on the surface.

Writer/director Bart Freundlich (known for his 1997 debut feature The Myth of Fingerprints, and for being married to Julianne Moore) slowly unveils the cracks in Anthony’s (Taylor John Smith) façade. His college professor dad (the always great Michael Shannon) is a drunk, abusive man with a short fuse and severe gambling addiction. He’s the kind of guy who is always working on his great American novel, while juggling gambling debts and throwing down quiet jealousy of his son. His mother (Carla Gugino) has good intentions and clearly wants the best for her son, but she’s just not capable of standing up to the menace. It plays like a Maslow’s hierarchy of crappy parenting.

There are plenty of clichés that we’ve seen in many movies, but it’s a pleasure to see so much real basketball being played. Anthony has a sweet jump shot and a sweet girlfriend named Victoria (Zazie Beetz), and the interpersonal relationships all have nuances that come across as real life. Even Uncle Charlie (Chris Bauer) seems torn about which family member most needs his protection. Emotional-physical-financial strains abound and it all seems to crash down on Anthony as he strives to earn a college scholarship by impressing the coaches from Cornell.

As Anthony navigates the choppy waters towards independence, the film teases us with some sub-plots that could have been further explored. Anthony hits it off with an older, wiser street baller (John Douglas Thompson) who starts mentoring him. We also are given hope that Anthony’s mom will actually do something for her son rather than regretting what she hasn’t done. Lastly there is a quick tease as to an alternative past that would make some sense – though whether that’s real or imagined is left up to the viewer’s perspective.

The film ultimately plays like a Disney film that utilizes an inordinate number of “F-words”, and it even reminds a bit of the Paul Giamatti movie Win Win. It’s the acting and the periodic sequences of real emotion that allow us to remain interested in the characters right up until the end … even if our hopes differ from one of Anthony’s own parents.

watch the trailer:

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SUCKER PUNCH

March 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am actually a fan of director Zack Snyder‘s two most recent films: 300 and Watchmen. Because of those films, I was really looking forward to what he would do with his first original piece. Two things are now very clear. First, Mr. Snyder is a visual virtuoso with film. Secondly, he is not much of a writer.

I’ll start with the bad news. I was stunned at how lousy the story and script were. Some of the dialogue is so bad it comes across as purposefully dumbed down. If that is the intention, then I must ask WHY? It’s clearly not a movie for little kids, so most over aged 13 are quite capable of following a story. Therein lies the biggest problem. There isn’t even a story! The ending makes absolutely no sense and the road to that ending just makes you happy it’s over … no matter the dumb ending.

 The good news is that Mr. Snyder’s visual effects do not disappoint. There are some terrific battle scenes and one of the coolest on screen dragons you’ll ever see. The film is very dark and muted in colors (think Sin City) but that works for the dream sequences and the asylum interiors. Very little color is present other than just before the dance sequences. Speaking of, what’s with the dance sequences? If Baby Doll’s dancing is the key to the film, shouldn’t we get more than just a head-bob?

 The premise is that Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is cast away to an asylum by her step-father. She has five days to escape or she faces a lobotomy. Yes, really. She quickly discovers that her dancing has a mesmerizing effect on all those watching and she can escape into her fantasy world. While there, she meets a Wise Man played by Scott Glenn in a role that would have been perfect for the late David Carradine. The Wise Man tells her what to do to gain her freedom and she quickly enlists the help of some other inmates: Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens)and Amber (Jamie Chung).

The asylum has an even darker side as run by Blue (Oscar Isaac). He forces Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to teach the girls to dance so as to entertain “high rollers” who pay big bucks to Blue to spend time with the girls. Gugino plays her character like a rip-off of Natasha Fatale from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Blue is just a weaselly bad guy who brings nothing to the film … and this film needed a top notch bad guy.

The actresses all seem like they really are into their roles and enjoy the physicality required for the fighting and action scenes. Cornish especially comes off well. Browning in the lead as Baby Doll brings no real baggage to the role as most won’t recognize her. Jena Malone has been an indie film favorite for years and Ms. Hudgens is trying to find a new audience after the High School Musical films.

 This movie was pitched as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”. I believe that is a slap to the face of Lewis Carroll. Watching this movie is like watching someone else play a video game … or a two hour music video of a terrible song. So if you must see it, enjoy the visual effects and don’t think too much about what the characters say or why they do what they do. And let’s all hope that Mr. Snyder’s visuals payoff for next year’s Superman movie … and be glad that Christopher Nolan is working on that script!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you live for special effects and video games on the big screen OR you want to see a really cool dragon fly around for about 3 minutes.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: non-sensical dialogue and a junior high script cause you to scream obsenities (it’s not worth getting arrested)