The Only Living Boy in New York Review

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While he displayed flashes of inspired creativity with a slew of music videos and the clever, genre-bending (500) Days of Summer, it seems as though director Marc Webb’s inventive spark was only a fluke. After two less than spectacular Spider-Man flicks and this year’s paint-by-numbers child prodigy slog Gifted, Webb is no longer pretending to be anything other than a Hollywood hired gun. His latest, The Only Living Boy in New York, is another dud, and, unfortunately, one that falsely believes itself to be utterly profound.

In a watered down replication of lower tier Woody Allen, the film finds Callum Turner (War & Peace, Tramps) as Thomas Webb (presumably no relation to the director), a pouty and aimless twenty-something who spouts out clichéd observations as if they are honest-to-goodness philosophy. He is passively drifting through life, hopelessly infatuated with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons of Dope), who assures Thomas that their one night of passion won’t materialize into anything substantial.

A new tenant moves into Thomas’s apartment building in the form of W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), a wise, yet unhinged, drinker who seems to have all of the answers to the self-pitying dilemmas Thomas faces. The pair begins the sort of mentor/mentee relationship that rarely exists in the non-cinematic realm after Thomas spots his father (Pierce Brosnan) out on the town with his mistress Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). When Thomas rushes to confront his father’s new lover, the two begin an affair of their own.

The Only Living Boy in New York is credited to screenwriter Allan Loeb (Collateral Beauty, The Space Between Us) and the script is oozing with all of his usual calling cards. The dialogue is never believable nor insightful, spewing out of the mouths of characters that not even our charismatic leads are able to make sympathetic. For the cherry on top, much like Loeb’s other recent efforts, there is a laughably unnecessary third-act reveal that retroactively detracts from the few aspects of the screenplay that actually hinted toward competency. The movie then craps out a cheerful ending that it is never willing to work for.

Worst of all, The Only Living Boy in New York is spilling over with self-righteous smugness. It is the story of New York elites living out their fantasies and then complaining about the city that they’ve allowed to define them. Supposedly intelligent characters project commentary about how New York City has lost its soul, with all the disdain and forethought of an overly confident college freshman. The movie is never anywhere near as perceptive as it believes itself to be. There will almost assuredly be groans sprinkled throughout the audience when our protagonist sermonizes that “New York’s most vibrant neighborhood at the moment is Philadelphia.”

When the movie flirts with a concept that it doesn’t know how to visually demonstrate, Jeff Bridges is asked to pull double duty as the film’s narrator. With his sage wisdom and seemingly omniscient knowledge of every character, you begin to wonder if W.F. Gerard is God or simply a figment of Thomas’s imagination. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t willing to take any risks of that nature. Instead, the opening voiceover has Bridges tell us that young adults equate love to a movie scene with a couple kissing in the rain, a statement that proves to be more and more hypocritical with each sequence that follows it.

The Only Living Boy in New York is charming enough in brief spurts and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh is serviceable (to borrow a term from the movie), but there’s no there there. Buried deep beneath the surface, you can sometimes see the far superior story that could have been. It is a dumb movie being marketed toward smart people, which never works out for anyone. The Only Living Boy in New York isn’t Manhattan; it’s not even Garden State. It’s a movie about insufferable people who don’t even have the courtesy to be interesting.

Drink Every Time: a male character explains how women operate.

Grade: C-

Kidnap Review

Halle-Berry-KidnapFew performers have had quite the harsh post-Oscar win drop-off that has become as synonymous with Halle Berry as any of her performances. Since taking home the gold, Berry hasn’t exactly taken on roles that showcase her talents. Unfortunately, her latest film, Kidnap, continues to race off in the wrong direction. It’s fascinating to see Halle Berry try her hand as an executive producer, but hopefully her next project won’t be the kind of movie where tires screech when they glide across a field of grass. The value-priced chase movie is aggravatingly harebrained as it combines a single-minded thriller with a Lifetime original movie, without ever having the courtesy to give the audience the self-aware camp promised by that pairing.

In the sticky heat of New Orleans (a setting that is less relevant to the plot that it is to the film’s budget), Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) struggles as a waitress in a diner while battling for custody over her son, Frankie (the endlessly adorable Sage Correa). On a trip to the park, Karla loses sight of her son, only to find out he’s been abducted by money-hungry hillbillies (Lew Temple and Chris McGinn). In order to save her child, she opts to take the law into her own hands and go after her son’s captors.

Kidnap came straddled with a troubled production, and it shows. Nearly every aspect of the movie falls short of even the lowest of expectations. If Halle Berry weren’t attached to this project (and for some reason it was still able to find a home) it would be buried at the bottom of a DVD bargain bin. The performances, both from the supporting cast and from the Academy Award winner herself, are so horrendous that you wonder whether or not the movie is an intentional parody. Not to mention that every frame is all but literally painful to look at. The quick, choppy editing is akin to what you would find on daytime television, with action sequences cut with split-second fades as if they are themselves a trailer for a movie that was never actually made.

It’s rare to find a movie – even one in a genre so laden with clichés – with such an affinity for the unoriginal. Kidnap seems to be enthusiastically gunning for low-hanging fruit, with a criminally thin plot that never even entertains the possibility of setting itself apart from the pack. Director Luis Prieto (Pusher, Bamboleho) and screenwriter Knate Lee (Cardboard Boxer) have repurposed exact plot beats from countless other schlocky, low-budget thrillers, and they didn’t even have enough sense to steal from the good ones. However, just in case a viewer can’t keep up with the tired storyline, Halle Berry is constantly coddling the audience by talking to herself in order to move the plot along. Spoiler alert: she isn’t telling you anything you couldn’t piece together for yourself.

As the movie drags on, Karla goes through a swift and severely undeserved Breaking Bad-esque character transformation, wherein she leaves behind her life as a meager, incompetent single parent in order to support her vengeful rampage. Several people meet an untimely end in the service of finding this one boy, taking the lengths a mother will go to protect her child to the absolute extreme. Still, it begs the question: was any of the destruction even worth it?

Kidnap is endlessly entertaining, but never in the way it aims to be. There’s no script to speak of, nor are there any alluring action set pieces. This is a garbage movie that might be offensive if it were any more memorable. If you were after a comeback, Ms. Berry, better luck next time.

Drink Every Time: there is a gratuitous shot of the speedometer.

Grade: D-

Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk Review

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“It’s a conversation with society, and often, it’s an argument,” declares narrator Iggy Pop in a statement providing context for punk rock in the opening of Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, and it doesn’t take long for the film to construct a convincing argument. Executive produced by the members of Green Day, the documentary is the feature-length debut of director Corbett Redford, who clearly has a passion for the music scene that swept Gilman Street for over three decades, along with the non-profit DIY club that continues to take up residence there. While lengthy, Redford has assembled a comprehensive reflection on a pivotal site in punk rock history that is often overlooked for the sexier scenes of New York and London.

Despite a run time that comes close to edging the three-hour mark, the film’s pace cranks along with the high energy of one of the songs it features. Redford never gets bogged down in the expansive history of the genre, mainly because he rarely steps outside of Gilman Street. Turn It Around is not a punk rock documentary – viewers are expected to come in with at least an elementary knowledge of the genre. Instead, it’s an extensive overview of a single resilient neighborhood that would become a beacon for punks everywhere.

More than the music itself, Turn It Around chronicles the formation of a tight community. East Bay punk rock tapped into the violent sensibilities of a disassociated youth. The movement saw itself as a continuation of the free speech movement, while still being a rejection of the hippie culture their parents’ generation had so spiritedly subscribed to. There was a supernova of creative energy as the rebellious masses made their pilgrimage to the Bay area. The music gave into its incestuous nature, with many musicians stepping in for performances in each other’s bands.

Punk rock is about attitude and personalities as much as it is the music. The Gilman Street crowd weren’t simply constructing a new sound, they had found a new approach to experiencing music. Anyone who was willing to put in the work could form a band, with performances taking place in abandoned warehouses and empty garages. The concerts themselves were unlike anything that had come before, often through the inclusion of literal garbage onstage. Performances evolved into a competition in absurdity between musicians, much to the satisfaction of the fans.

Parts of the documentary are narrated by none other than Iggy Pop. Though he was not born out of the East Bay scene, he certainly paved the way for it to come into being. He has been such a driving force in the world of music, and any of the stories he tells about the entertainment industry immediately sound momentous, with a voice that oozes that punk-rock vibe. The audience can feel the disgust in his voice with the era punk promised to bring an end to.

Through the use of animated re-enactments in the style of the punk zines of the era, timeless intimate photos of blossoming punk pioneers, and testimonials of so many major players, Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is a collection of anecdotes that come together to paint a complete portrait of an unstoppable movement. The East Bay punk scene drew from an act of emotional expression that transcended the boundaries that we create for one another. Countless punk fans will see this movie as a religious experience, and those unfamiliar with the genre will be compelled to make the trip to their local record store for further education.

Drink Every Time: the executive producers emphasize their own role in music history.

Grade: B

Amnesia Review

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In the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, many concerned citizens around the world were forced to face the demons which had plagued their nations for half a century. No one felt the wave of emotions more than the Germans, particularly those who were old enough to have seen first-hand the anguish and torment brought about by the Second World War. With Amnesia, whose title references both the popular Ibiza nightclub and Germany’s willful blindness toward its troubled past, Swiss director Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Single White Female) reopens old wounds to provide a history lesson coupled with its emotional context in the lives of average observers.

Set in 1990, the film showcases Martha (Marthe Keller), a reclusive German expat living in Ibiza after fleeing her homeland from the horrors it allowed to occur. She is forced adjust to life after she finds herself with a charismatic new neighbor, Jo (Max Riemelt), a DJ who is looking for his big break amongst the blossoming local music scene. Although they make for a somewhat unusual pairing, the two leads strike up an immediate friendship, bonding over their mutual connection to music and the country they left behind.

Martha and Jo form a relationship based on commonalities, even though they each struggle to wrap their mind around the other’s worldview. Jo is too young, and too preoccupied with the convenience of escapism, for the past to have any weight on him whatsoever. On the other hand, Martha has taken her disdain for German culture to its extreme. She refuses to speak her native language and won’t even entertain the idea of riding in a Volkswagen, proclaiming “The world is full of Hitler’s Beetles. It is like he had been forgiven by all of those millions of drivers.”

While they respect one another’s viewpoints, the neighbors go out of their way to push each other to expand their horizons. Upon finding out that he never learned how to swim, Martha knocks Jo into the open ocean. Conversely, once Martha tells Jo that she doesn’t drink alcohol during the daytime, he nudges her to join him in a toast (“I think you should break your rule. It’s worth it, I promise.”) There is a constant give and take, as the film never validates one character’s perspective over the other. Instead, our protagonists take great pleasure in learning from one another and finding a serviceable compromise between their worldviews.

Though the film had been facilitating a compelling discussion, fully realizing its characters in an impressively short amount of time, Amnesia loses momentum the moment it abandons faith in the level of awareness its viewers possess. Schroeder brilliantly touches upon multiple facets of a complex issue, but then, for some reason, he feels the need to ditch all subtlety in order for the characters to directly verbalize the lessons they’ve learned. A plot contrivance brings in other Germans to weigh in on their past, seemingly so the movie can tell you precisely what’s on its mind without allowing you to do any of the heavy lifting. Spelling out the themes of any creative endeavor works to negate its potency, all while taking away autonomy from its audience.

There is something unnervingly human about Amnesia. While it is propelled by a discussion that runs the risk of outstaying its welcome, the underlying themes are as relevant today as they would have been during the film’s setting. Framed against a breezy Ibiza backdrop, Amnesia makes for an alluring, if limited, exploration of how to go about working through the skeletons in one’s closet. We could use a movie like this set in the United States so we could dissect one or two of the blemishes on our past.

Drink Every Time: the movie directly tells you exactly what’s on its mind.

Grade: B-

Chasing Coral Review

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Many people, regardless of where they stand on the issue, are apt to roll their eyes a bit when they hear a new global warming documentary is set to be released. The public opinion has shifted significantly since 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth (which has a sequel due out at the end of the month). You no longer need to convince most rational thinkers that the polar ice caps are melting. While climate change docs may feel like they are preaching to the choir, in his latest film Chasing Coral, documentarian Jeff Orlowski has tweaked the standard gospel. In an hour and a half, this unexpectedly affecting film will make viewers do a complete 180 on a natural phenomenon that they never thought they’d empathize with: coral reefs.

“I’ve always been drawn to the magic of the ocean,” declares successful advertiser-turned-activist Richard Vevers in the film’s opening. Chasing Coral then proceeds to put its money where its mouth is, as it uses unbelievably stunning aquatic shots to truly capture the overwhelming beauty of the sea. This is an educational film, but even as we are being fed informational tidbits, they are paired with breathtaking underwater vistas. In terms of visual clarity, we’ve come a long way from the days of Jacques Cousteau.

It is this picturesque view of nature that really gets a foot in the door for the film’s message. The average person doesn’t put much thought into what goes on beneath the surface of the ocean, so they don’t really give much weight to the problems occurring there, even though they have a detrimental global impact. As a species, we have pretty much collectively agreed to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to interacting with the world around us. Chasing Coral’s crowning achievement is that it humanizes its subject, something we don’t even normally think of as being alive. In film, coral is normally shown as a dangerous obstacle (such as in Cast Away or Moana). Orlowski has done the impossible by making us actually care about it.

The scientists in the film, both the talking heads and those actively researching in the field, make a point of continuously comparing the motivation of coral to that of human beings. This is typically in response to its resilience, its drive to go out swinging. One of the early signs of doomed coral is bleaching, which the film describes as being similar to body’s fever response to fight off illness. These relatable analogies help to put the peril into perspective, particularly because a stretch of white coral looks absolutely gorgeous to the unfamiliar eye.

Toward the end of the documentary, one of the young scientists gets an opportunity to interview his idol, leading coral expert Dr. John “Charlie” Veron. In responding to his pupil’s question about the environmental impact he’s witnessed, you can hear the pain in his voice as Vernon responds, “I’m glad I’m not your age.” This is a man who has devoted his life to understanding marine life, only to see it gradually being wiped off the face of the earth. The interview is the emotional climax of the film, and it is sure to rope in the more reluctant members of the audience.

Thankfully, like most compelling documentaries, Chasing Coral uses its final moments to find a more optimistic note. While much of what preceded it felt like the precursor to an apocalyptic science fiction movie, the film’s resolution revolves around testimonials from impassioned citizens from every corner of the globe agreeing to take a stand. The film is being released on Netflix, so hopefully it will be able to utilize its wide reach to inform the masses. This cautionary tale is far more grand than coral, and once we realize as much, perhaps we can reverse the consequences before it is too late.

Drink Every Time: Vevers ties his pursuits back to his time in advertising.

Grade: B

A Ghost Story Review

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Don’t let its name fool you: A Ghost Story isn’t the latest horror flick. Instead, it is a graceful take on loss and isolation, a quiet, imaginative film that offers a needed break in the tedium of blockbuster season. Once again, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) has probed deep into the human psyche to find the nugget of truth buried underneath, and once again, he has created something beautiful in the process.

A Ghost Story is a brilliant collection of engrossing aesthetic choices. Similar to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the film capitalizes on vibrant sunsets and open fields, making every shot irresistibly gorgeous. Not a movie for the impatient, it maintains a magical, cosmic rhythm, driven by a ghastly silence. In this universe, time isn’t linear – at least not in the sense we’ve come to know it – and yet the progression of the world never strays from the guiding rules writer-director David Lowery has established for it.

In choosing a squared aspect ratio with rounded corners, the frame immediately draws attention to the claustrophobic nature of the story, with the image perfectly tailored to fit a single character at one time. It also highlights the recurring themes of facing nostalgia, as the frame feels like it belongs in a photo album or an old Super 8 home movie. As the tale unfolds, you almost expect it to be accompanied by the clicking of a slide projector.

Truly a brilliant study of observation, A Ghost Story forces its protagonist into the role of a passive spectator. He is tethered to the physical realm, even though he has no way of effectively communicating with it. As our spectre is propelled down the path toward acceptance, we see his attitude shift from bitterness to curiosity. The further he is able to distance himself from any emotional attachments he has carried over from his life, the more he is able to appreciate the celestial wonder of existence itself.

It’s probably a tired cliché to point it out, but A Ghost Story says a tremendous amount without saying a word. We have been treated to a masterpiece of magical realism, the likes of which don’t grace our screens nearly often enough. There is a sequence in which Rooney Mara eats a pie as a part of her grieving process, and it is surprisingly the most captivating image we’ve seen on film so far this year. This is a must-see for film lovers.

Drink Every Time: there is a needless fade-to-black transition.

Grade: A

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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No one, least of all diehard comic book enthusiasts, was jonesing for a new Spider-Man movie in 2017. Homecoming is the sixth stand-alone film for Marvel’s sarcastic web-slinger in the last fifteen years, and only about half of those are worthy of a second viewing. Fatigue for the character paired with a screenplay penned by six different credited writers (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and director Jon Watts) seemed to be a recipe for certain disaster. Against all odd, however, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a reminder of how exhilarating a summer blockbuster truly can be.

After pulling his weight in the massive fight sequence in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) can’t help but find returning to life as an average teenager to be unnervingly monotonous. He can’t wait to swing into action again, and when powerful alien technology falls into the hands of a disgruntled salvager (Michael Keaton), he may have just found his chance.

Hands down one of the funniest movies of the year so far, Spider-Man: Homecoming leans heavily into the humor elements of its source material. Watts captures the snarky character from the comics, which comes as a refreshing change from the brooding Spider-Man we keep seeing in the film adaptations. The movie does a great job showing that Peter’s an actual teen, and he’s just excited to be experiencing any of this. Homecoming humanizes him by making him guileless and spunky, just like a kid should be.

An origin story that assumes knowledge on the part of the viewer, we don’t spend any time learning how Peter gained his superhuman abilities. Instead, the script shows us his journey by focusing on the little realities that are normally overlooked by superhero movies. We see an unbroken shot of how much of a pain it is to change clothes in an alley on the way to battle, we are with him as he’s dealing with unappreciative citizens, and, most importantly, we watch as he falls on his face (often literally) while learning to manage his newfound powers.

There is tremendous characterization to be found here, even in the supporting cast, but there is also great attention given to the lavish action set pieces. The high energy sequences are creative, clever, and actually edited in such a way where the audience can see what is going on. Unlike many other major action blockbusters, Spider-Man: Homecoming never becomes an indiscernible goop of CGI explosions. In fact, it stays grounded in reality as firmly as it can while still acknowledging the strangeness of its own universe.

Looking past the superhero overload and the level of product placement we’ve come to expect from a Sony production, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an absolute blast from start to finish. Its lengthy runtime whizzes by, and it is one of the rare gems that makes an argument for having a new superhero flick at the multiplex every other week. It breathes new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that continues to jump rope with our threshold for excitement over its installments. Let’s hope it puts out movies like this one.

Drink Every Time: a celebrity stops by for a cameo.

Grade: A-