TABLE 19 (2017)

March 3, 2017

table-19 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/director Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound) takes the approach that many wedding guests would prefer – he skips the wedding and heads straight to the reception. Another wise move by the filmmaker is assembling a very talented ensemble of funny folks. This cast proves they can wring a laugh from dialogue and moments that would probably otherwise not elicit much of an audience reaction. Instead, the full house on this evening had quite boisterous responses on numerous occasions.

The initial set-up drags a bit as we are introduced to the characters that will soon enough populate Table 19 at the reception. Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel bellhop) is Renzo, the longing for love (or anything similar) high schooler who might be a bit too close to his mother (voiced by the great Margo Martindale). Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are the Kepp’s, a mostly unhappily married couple who own and run a diner together. June Squibb is Jo, the bride’s long-forgotten nanny who sees and knows more than most. Stephen Merchant plays the outcast nephew/cousin who has been recently released from his prison sentence for white collar crime. Lastly we have Anna Kendrick as Eloise, the fired maid of honor and former girlfriend of the bride’s brother (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the best man and now dating the new maid of honor.

This is the island of misfit wedding guests known as Table 19, and purposefully placed in the back corner as far as possible from the family and favored guests. Of course we know immediately that this Team Reject will unite for some uplifting purpose at some point, and the movie improves immediately once that goal has been revealed. Comedic timing in a group setting can often come across on screen as forced, and it’s a tribute to the cast that these characters come across as human and real.

Make no mistake though, this is Anna Kendrick’s movie. She plays Eloise as we would imagine Anna Kendrick in this real life situation. Sure, a wedding reception is low-hanging fruit for comedy, but it’s the third act where Ms. Kendrick’s talent really shines. Comedy drawn from emotional pain is the most fulfilling because we’ve all been there. The melodrama that creeps in is pretty predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. The scenes with Ms. Kendrick and Wyatt Russell (Everybody Wants Some!, and Kurt and Goldie’s son) are the best, and it leaves us wishing for more attention to both.

Don’t worry, the film features the required wedding cake mishap, a flirtatious wedding crasher (Thomas Cocquerel) and a drunken mother of the bride singing karaoke to Etta James’ “At Last”. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and mostly succeeds with a nice blend of silly, cute, and emotional tugs.

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EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (2016)

April 10, 2016

Everybody wants some Greetings again from the darkness. Richard Linklater’s now twenty-five plus years of filmmaking are loosely tied together with his constant desire to explore and observe how, within the confines of society, people connect with each other (or don’t). In what he has termed a “spiritual sequel” to his cult classic Dazed and Confused, the filmmaker takes us down memory lane to a college campus as the 1970’s devolved into the 1980’s.

Many of these characters and moments are undoubtedly snatched from Linklater’s own experiences as a college baseball player at Sam Houston State (after graduating from Bellaire High School). Linklater knows these guys. Heck, he WAS one of these guys! The cinematic kinship goes beyond Dazed and Confused, and influence can be seen as the follow-up to his Boyhood film, with some flavor from Animal House and a dose of Bull Durham.

The film opens with Jake (Blake Jenner) driving his 442 muscle car up to the baseball house while “My Sharona” from The Knack blasts from his car stereo. What follows is a look at the behind the scenes tribal nature of a sports team, and how that blends with the predictable manner in which 18-21 year old boys handle a sudden shot of freedom. Conversation and activities center on three things: baseball, girls, and beer … with priorities shifting given the circumstances of the moment. What’s never missing is the ultra-competitiveness of these individuals raised to be the best. Whether it’s nerf basketball in the living room, foosball at the bar, or flicking knuckles, the goal of that point in time is to be better than the other guy … even a friendly game of ping pong turns hyper-tense as it nears game point.

Linklater has assembled a terrific cast that not only succeeds in capturing the time period, but also the essence of the age group. Some of the faces will be familiar, and each character fits nicely into the profile. Tyler Hoechlin (Tom Hanks’ son in Road To Perdition) is team captain McReynolds, Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt and Goldie) plays elder statesman and team spiritualist Willoughby, Juston Street (former Longhorn player) plays the jacked-up overly intense freshman pitcher, J Quinton Johnson is the sometimes rational second baseman, and Glen Powell is a real standout as the smooth-talking and philosophical Finnegan … also a master of pranks. Despite the ever-present quest for girls, Zoey Deutch’s Beverly is the only female character with much screen time, and she makes the best of it as a smart, ambitious love interest for young Jake.

I’ve always believed that the music of our youth goes a long way in defining each generation. Linklater seems to agree (the soundtrack is spot on) as this group is bounced between the fading days of disco, the sterile and soulless transition to Urban Cowboy Country music, and the desperate pleas of new edge Punk Rock. Within the 3 days we are with the guys, they take their athlete swagger to each venue type, and even mix in a party thrown by Beverly’s “artsy-fartsy” group. Figuring out where one fits is a rite of passage not to be missed.

Linklater ensures that our tight knit teammates fill our ears with an endless stream of quips, wise-cracks and put-downs, each designed to register dominance – if only for the briefest moment. We even get a sequence featuring the ballplayers actually playing ball, and though their tone shits once on the field, the personalities remain evident. In addition to adding “f***withery” to our vocabulary, the production design is brilliant and captivating all by itself. The album and book covers, cars (a Gremlin sighting), stereo equipment and costumes all provide the throwback feel necessary for the film. Though it lacks any real plot, and feels meandering (just like its characters), Linklater provides the best insight yet into the driving forces of young male primates of 1980. It’s not always pretty or something of which to be proud, but … that’s what I’m talking about!

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22 JUMP STREET (2014)

June 14, 2014

22 Greetings again from the darkness. In this day of 3 minute trailers that give away the best gags, if one can walk out of a comedy having laughed a few times, it must be deemed a success. Such is the case with this sequel to 21 Jump Street (2012), which was borne from the 1980’s hit TV show of the same name.

A couple of years ago, officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) went undercover at a high school to bring down drug dealers. This time, they head to a local college for the same purpose. If that sounds like a re-tread, at least the film acknowledges such. In a scene with Nick Offerman, a few minutes of self-parody are devoted to the misgivings of re-do’s … even with double the budget! Co-directors (back from the first, and fresh off The Lego Movie) Phil Lord and Christopher Miller make this film the butt of its own joke, and for the most part, that approach works.

The best buddy comedies work because of two things: the script and the rapport of the leads. The pairing of Jonah and Tatum works very well, even when we get the predictable split into liberal arts and sports (take a stab which actor gets which assignment). There are a couple of actresses who play vital supporting roles – Amber Stevens as Schmidt’s love interest, and Jillian Bell in an offbeat and quite funny take as the nemesis. Oddly enough, Jenko’s relationship is a bro-mance on the football team with the QB played by Wyatt Russell (Kurt and Goldie’s son). One of the poor decisions was to quadruple the screen time for Ice Cube … his antics are funny in more limited doses. Very limited.

There are some terrific “old man” jokes, more than 25 songs, and references to Maya Angelou and Tracy Morgan … both who have been in the news for less-than-uplifting reasons lately. Most will find the best sequence to be after the movie ends and before the credits begin. The mock sequels (23 Jump Street, 24 …) appear in rapid fire mode with a couple of cameos and some creative “schools”. While the movie wobbles between spot on and over-the-top, it delivers what we expect … a funny enough sequel to a funny enough tribute movie.

**NOTE: this sequel offers up a Richard Grieco cameo rather than the Johnny Depp cameo from the first one

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: mindless comedy hits the spot during the summertime OR you enjoyed 21 immensely and have been anxiously awaiting 22

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting another Johnny Depp cameo OR Ice Cube yelling and scowling is an annoyance you prefer to avoid

watch the trailer: