Small Summer Movie Roundup

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Eden

Is a movie bad when its peripheral characters have more interesting lives than its protagonist? That’s a question Eden forces you to grapple with during the two hours it spends lamenting on music, dreams, money and friends and their fluctuating successes and downfalls. Specifically, it’s about Paul (Felix de Givry), a struggling disc jockey whose life has been devoted to serving garage music to Paris’ underground clubs. This begins as a hobby and stumbles into a job when he and a friend form their own duo, touring local French raves, hoping their samples will fall into the right producer’s pockets.

For the most part, they don’t. The peak of their fame grants them an international tour to New York and Chicago, but their niche genre, and Paul’s unwillingness to evolve, drains any of their fame. Meanwhile you watch a similar duo exponentially rise toward it. They happen to be Daft Punk, and the movie swells with their presence and music, taking over New York City or a small pub basement. Their notoriety, given marginal attention by director Mia Hansen-Love, works to show at once the difference and the randomness of their success, while also highlighting Paul’s struggle to accept it.

Within this profile features a few friends, and girlfriends (namely, Greta Gerwig), that pass through Paul’s life, raging, partying, moving, settling down. The movie skips ahead a few years several times, but Paul remains the same, determined to make his passion a career, caught up in his nostalgia. It doesn’t help that he’s nose deep in cocaine, a “healthier” drug he’s told, receiving weekly scorn from his mother.

Hansen-Love doesn’t convey Paul’s intense love for house music with the same fervor of its soundtrack. One scene beautifully captures an intoxicated crowd, the kind Paul stands and spins before, and you see how it might be easy to lose yourself to that spirit. But there isn’t enough of it. Eden is better, though not as entertaining, when it’s quiet. Near the end, after spanning nearly 20 years of Paul’s life, he listens to Daft Punk’s “Within,” from their latest album “Random Access Memories.” It’s slow, sad and soulful. “There’s a world within me that I cannot explain,” goes a verse. Two famous Frenchman with robots for heads have produced a song that feels like it should have come from Paul instead.

3/5

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Paper Towns

It’s not unfair to assess Paper Towns, another adaptation of a John Green novel, as an ordinary young-adult fiction movie. That’s largely because the young adult at its center, the narrator and lens into the drab world of suburban Orlando, is Quentin Jacobson (Nat Wolff), known as “Q,” a rather ordinary high school senior. The novel does a better job of expressing this, mostly because it stays inside Q’s head, while the movie chooses to stay outside it as much as possible.

This is mostly thanks to Margot Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevigne), the “miracle,” as Q calls her, who moved into his cul-de-sac during childhood. He fell for her then, and keeps this crush years later in high school. There, she is the part of the popular crowd, the small group atop the social hierarchy that looks at Q as though he were invisible. Before graduation, he reappears on her radar.

The movie, directed by Jake Schreier from a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, responsible for adapting Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, begins its mild descent into mystery when Margo skips town and leaves Q a variety of clues to find her. They include music albums, poetry and road maps and Q enlists the help of a few friends to aid his search. This plays as a teenage Gone Girl of sorts without any of the attached violence or heaviness. It’s as tame as the minivan his parents buy him for a graduation present.

In fact, none of it comes close to any real drama. The minor thrills associated in the search party are dampened with inconsequential stakes of their mission. What happens when they find her? As long as Q has made some personal growth, that’s what counts. Wolff has now proven he can play the average white kid that knows how to give a cute smile at the right time. And Delevigne has the screen presence and mischief to keep you captivated here. But something is missing. Consider that Q’s English class just happens to be reading “Moby Dick.” Naturally he’s tempted to equate himself with Captain Ahab. In the book, and left out of the movie, the closest he comes to that is breaking into SeaWorld.

2/5

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Trainwreck

Part of what makes Amy Schumer’s comedy so sharp, and therefore so funny, is how she takes a familiar setup and flips its payoff. She’s always one step ahead in her jokes so that you’re laughing when you don’t expect to be. That brilliance is encapsulated in her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, which outdid itself this season in its satirical and critical deposits on feminism and gender norms. But most of that is missing in Trainwreck, a star vehicle that sputters more than it revs.

Some of that sputtering is disappointing because it feels antithetical to Schumer’s comedy. Take a scene halfway through the movie, where Amy (she plays a variation of herself) sits with women at a baby shower for her older sister (Brie Larson). They play a game, admitting embarrassing things they’ve never told anyone. All of it is harmless. But then Amy perks up and offers a raunchy confession, which is way funnier than how it’s received by the circle. It makes her feel insensitive, and not, as she is accustomed to being, on top of the joke.

It really serves as a window into this disjointed comedy, tugged back toward conventionality and predictability by director Judd Apatow, who never finds the real wreck in the film’s title. Amy has a drinking problem to be sure. She likes to smoke pot. And, most importantly, she can’t settle down with a man. That’s probably influenced by her father, who in an early scene tells her and her sister that “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Cut 23 years later and she’s embraced that lifestyle, drunkenly bedding strangers. When she wakes up in Staten Island one morning, she takes a shameful, though at this point normal, high-heeled walk to the Staten Island ferry where she makes a redeeming Titanic pose.

But things must come together. She meets a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader) after she’s assigned to write a profile for S’nuff, the lad magazine that employs her. The movie quickly follows the familiar tropes of its genre, tethered to a dated moralist worldview that includes a scene where Amy throws all her booze away, so she can land a man! You just never get why these two are really together in the first place. Apatow hopes a montage of them dating and meeting LeBron James is enough. But if you’re going ask Amy to settle down, make sure it’s with someone you, and she, believes is worth it.

2.5/5


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Tangerine

“Los Angeles is a beautifully wrapped lie,” someone says in Tangerine, a film that attempts to emphasize the point as honestly as it can. It’s directed by Sean Parker, and shot all on an iPhone 6, which might seem like a gimmick were it even noticeable. The production value – something that, at least in headlines, overshadowed the filmmaking — should really be a footnote for an otherwise engaging little film.

This is a story that starts out with a conversation about a cheating boyfriend in a donut shop between two transgender women and proceeds to follow them throughout LA’s bright, colored boulevards beneath pumping techno. You’re used to seeing this city through car windshields. But Los Angeles actually has buses and a subway system, and Parker follows characters onto both of these modes of transportation when they aren’t strutting in heels, catching the eyes of lascivious men.

One pair of vigilant eyes is an Armenian taxi driver who has, let’s just say, unusual sexual preferences. We’re introduced to his family – the entire film takes place on Christmas Eve – and he makes excuses to keep working, driving around town late at night. He’s become friends with the two protagonists, Sin-Dee (Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who aim to track down Chester (James Ransone), Sin-Dee’s pimp, who she thinks is husband material to the amusement of others. The acting gets better as the film progresses, especially when it reaches its climax back in the donut shop. Before the credits roll and both characters have wasted a night chasing unfulfilled desires, something tragic happens. The two of them enter a Laundromat and lick their wounds. Los Angeles might be a lie, but, in this moment, Rodriguez and Taylor have unfolded something authentic.

4/5

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Self/less

There are too many Ryan Reynolds movies that are forgettable, and a few more you actively want to forget (though his new movie Mississippi Grind appears like he’s getting back on track). This movie falls into the former’s category, which is a shame because it feels like a missed opportunity. Reynolds seemed like he was the next go-to actor in Hollywood, but then Bradley Cooper and Channing Tatum pushed him aside. Some of it was them being better and some of it was Reynolds making bad choices.

It seems like he’s past that now, but it takes a while for an actor’s stock to catch up. A movie like this – flavorless and antiseptic — doesn’t really help. It’s not his fault this time though. Reynolds spends most of the movie attempting to solve a mystery that occurs inside his head. A Manhattan real estate magnate dying from cancer named Damian Hale, played by Ben Kingsley, pays a hefty price to move his soul into Reynold’s body, if only to extend his life by another 40 years. His old body is buried and given a fake funeral.

But of course this bizarre new scientific progress, being constructed by a mischievous Matthew Goode, has its consequences. Few questions are asked about how this transfer – using two MRI-type spinning machines – is actually made and what side effects it produces. That becomes the point of contention when Edward, Damian’s new name, starts acquiring violent memories from this 35-year old body. Tarsem Singh directs this movie, which quickly turns into a spy-action thrill ride, and there are some clever ideas at work here. There are even a few flashy scenes in New Orleans with girls and basketball and jazz. But when the climax ends up in a warehouse, you realize this movie is stuck in its genre’s limitations. It needs to transfer out of them.

2.5/5

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