That Thing You Do (May 22nd, 2016)
Director: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Johnathan Schaech, Liv Tyler, and Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks is one of our most cherished actors living today. Hell, of all time. The man is the rare talent that is genuinely as talented at comedy as he is at drama, and he is masterful at both. There’s also an easy charisma to him that makes his work seem effortless. He’s just a charming bastard. But he’s more than just an actor, he’s a man who has many interests outside of his most well known profession. And while he hasn’t done it much in his career since this movie, he has shown an interest in directing. While his sophomore movie isn’t a slam dunk, this debut picture of his behind the camera is a well liked movie by most who see it. This is the story of a band that end up as one hit wonders in a time period that has been a point of interest for Hanks, the early 60s. It’s a very poppy and upbeat movie, showing off the high points of this ride and allowing the comedown to come towards the very end and even then it sidesteps the tragic outcome for the band by having a romance blossom in the ashes. The cast is all game for the light and fluffy entertainment at hand. The song that catapults the band to stardom is a catchy tune that definitely fits in with the time. It’s got a good visual style that doesn’t overdo the period setting by trying to show off. It does feel like a typical actor directed movie with more focus being put on the actors than the visuals, but it’s never bland. It’s a charming little movie that kept me entertained but never really connected to me on a deep level. It had some laughs. I will say that I didn’t care too much about the love story the movie ends on, feeling like it was tacked on to make the movie end upbeat instead of a natural storyline. I’m not gonna say that I’m devastated Hanks hasn’t directed much since. I’ll say I’m glad he made this one, cause it felt passionate and not some tossed off vanity project.
Contagion (May 25th, 2016)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet
It’s interesting to see Soderbergs work towards the end(?) of his career in film, seeing how his style would become what it is in TV. The Knick is like the stew of everything he does, so much so that this movie feels like a beginning chapter in this new part of his life. Even if he does shake things up with each new project, there is a style to his work. Very crisp and handheld digital photography and a clinical tone to it. Even the Oceans movies have that feel, albeit in a super fun way. So this movie is very much right in his wheel house, taking an almost documentary style to an outbreak of a super deadly disease across the world. It’s almost a companion piece to Traffic, where he has alot of characters knocking up against the subject at hand. There’s regular people dealing with the disease, as well as doctors and journalists and politicians. It’s very much a procedural and clinical movie. The biggest weakness of the movie is that it doesn’t really have too much time getting into the lives of these characters to get us to care. But Soderbergh is the kinda guy who actors will drop anything to work with him, so he gets a cast of ringers to bring life to these people and make them alive in ways the script really doesn’t as well. Soderbergh is also talented enough to make such uncinematic material the kick and the verve it needs, with the help of Cliff Martinez’ pulsating score. Soderbergh plays with the procedural elements, but he also plays with the horror of it too. Not outright genre stuff, just enough of the filmic language to put us on the edge of our seats. We wonder when the shoe is gonna drop and everything goes further down the drain than it already is. I’m so trained by movies that I assumed the end of the movie would have the hope of a cure but then turn out to be wrong, leading to the end times. But this isn’t a movie with a strict narrative structure, with none of the characters really having an arc. It’s mainly just survival and the ways people react to a tragedy. The only structure of the movie is going from the beginning of the outbreak to it’s ostensible end. It’s a serious movie and one that is dark at times, but Soderbergh leaves things on a positive note so you don’t wanna kill yourself at the disgusting nature of life. So while he may be a clinical director, he isn’t so detached to humanity that he’d make a nihilistic movie. No, it’s a human movie amidst the scientific narrative. And I like that.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (May 28th, 2016)
Director: Nicolas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Chloe Moretz
Comedy sequels are very rarely a good idea. If we’re being honest, almost all of them are bad. They tend to rely on the same joke as the one before it, making the experience lacking. There’s no freshness and the qualities that made you laugh have now been diluted. You just gotta go back a few months to see this play out in Zoolander 2, a sequel everybody wanted until they actually got it. Same thing with Anchorman 2, a sequel that’s been in high demand for nearly 10 years when it came out, and now it’s pretty much forgotten to the sands of time. And for as wide ranging as he has been in comedy for the last decade or so, Seth Rogen has smartly not taken a dip into sequel territory. Until now, where he comes in with a sequel to his hit frat bro vs parents movie. And of all his movies, this one didn’t seem necessarily the most ripe for a sequel. It seemed like a one and done story, one in which would have seemingly felt obnoxiously repetitive if another frat house moved in next to them. But yet somehow, him and his crew have managed to make a sequel that somehow overcomes any potential repeats, but has also topped the original in laughs but also in smarts. Because it doesn’t simply repeat the same story with a new frat. It brings in a sorority. Which may seem like a simple gender swap to reach the same result, but it isn’t. Because this is a movie that isn’t simply about growing up and learning to be responsible, but also about being your own person and progressive feminism. As the movie states, sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties if they are apart of the Greek system. So the sorority that moves in next to Rogen and Byrne are outliers. They are rebels, trying to buck the system that allows toxic masculinity and an environment of fear for women that dare to enter these mens lives. So Moretz, the leader of this ragtag group of girls, aren’t simple retreads of the guys from the first movie. They aren’t dicks trying to party just to party. For these girls, it’s an act of rebellion and an act of solitude, showing the world they won’t stand for the patriarchal bullshit. Which makes the inevitable showdown between the two houses all the more interesting, because they’re both in the right and the wrong. And the way they bring Efron back in is quite ingenious, continuing his journey as the uberbro, still wallowing away with no drive and the desire to still be a frat bro. And just to show where Rogen and company fall on the message they are sending, Efron is the way they land their points. As the resident frat guy, his realizations to how awful those guys are to women is great but also kinda poignant. It’s not just that these guys are mustache twirlingly evil, but completely ignorant to the world around them. This movie is much smarter than it really needs to be, which has sidetracked me to how funny it is. Because it is. There’s one scene in particular that had me in tears. And the whole thing is great, calling back to the original in ways that aren’t lazy but show that this is a world that remembers what happened before. It’s vulgar and gross and completely full of heart. So essentially, the Seth Rogen special. And this might be his best movie since This Is The End. Although it doesn’t necessarily reach that movies’ absurd heights, it comes close at points. This is so far the surprise of the summer, outside of X-Men apparently being worse than Batman V Superman. It’s not my favorite comedy of the year, which goes to Everybody Wants Some. But it’s the one that makes me laugh the most, if that makes any sense. If not, oh well. This is a must see comedy.