Friday, August 15: The Expendables 3, The Giver and What If open in wide release
Check local listings for showtimes and pricing.
Ugh, these Expendables movies. It should not be that hard to make serviceable action movies with an all-star cast, but you wouldn’t know it based on the two previous movies, each of dubious quality. The first movie suffered from a meaningless plot alongside bland, non-distinct action sequences (although it should be noted, there’s an amazing Mickey Rourke monologue stuffed right in the middle of the inanity that makes the first worth seeing based solely on its existence) whereas the second spruced up the action quotient a little bit but did so in the service of an equally meaningless plot and with a winking sensibility whose appeal can be summed up by explaining that Chuck Norris makes a brief cameo in which he makes a Chuck Norris joke about himself. Oops! My eyes just rolled so quickly my face looked like a slot machine. Perhaps the third time is the charm for this franchise. Casting a wider net in terms of casting doesn’t exactly inspire hope (the movies could use focus instead of the sprawl of a cavalcade of celebrities), but the action does appear to be better lensed than in the previous films. We’ll see this weekend.
It’s been decades since I read The Giver, so I can’t feel any outrage toward perceived plot changes from the trailer as it appears to capture the broad strokes of the book I liked so much as a kid. In a world of Divergents I can understand why the movie is being packaged and sold the way it is, and Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep create a bit of cache that overcomes the overwhelming ABC Family vibe I get from the younger members of the cast. There’s a chance this might rise above the bland din of YA dystopias we’ve been given on the big screen recently. Here’s to hoping.
I saved the best for last. The latest film from Director Michael Dowse, of the underrated hockey comedy Goon (go watch it) and with What If, has done it yet again. He’s made a movie that in other hands could’ve felt like a tired retread that instead comes to life thanks to the crackling chemistry between its leads and a game-supporting cast. Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harold Potts and the Decanter of Steam) play two 20-somethings who kindle a close friendship that can only be just that. Kazan’s Chantry (yup, that’s her name) is in a committed relationship and Radcliffe’s Alan respects that. Circumstances allow for their friendship and time spent together to grow, leading the pair to question whether the true love they seek is sitting right in front of them. Romantic comedies succeed on the quality of the cast’s chemistry, because while What If works hard to make itself distinct from other romcoms it can’t escape the fact that it definitely is one, so luckily the cast has exquisite chemistry and a witty-enough script to power past any generic deficiencies. Of particular interest is the best friend character played by Adam Driver and his girlfriend in the picture played by Mackenzie Davis. They’re a magnetic presence on screen and supply standard scenes of people shopping for groceries and records while talking about their relationships crackle with electricity that might otherwise lie limp. This is a worthwhile film after a year of pretty disposable rom-com fodder, well worth seeking out.
Friday, August 15: Land Ho! and Calvary open at the Landmark Oriental and Downer theaters
Check the Landmark Theaters website for showtimes and pricing.
Two acclaimed indies make their local bow this week as well, the buddy road trip comedy Land Ho! and the stirring drama Calvary. Thought as different as can be tonally, both films have been well-received by national critics and both are deserving of your time and attention. Land Ho! follows the story of two friends whose bond was forged through marriages that made them brothers-in-law reconnecting over the course of an Icelandic vacation. Lauded for its performances, beautiful scenery and depiction of friendship amongst men somewhat advanced in age, Land Ho! is a feel-good comedy smack dab in the middle of a moviegoing season that could use just such a thing. Calvary, on the other hand, looks to be a riveting drama from Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), following a priest attempting to make sense of a murder threat made anonymously in confession by one of his parishioners. Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran and many others round out the cast of a film that has been getting unanimous praise for its unique mystery format combined with a jet-black streak of gallows humor running through it. Reviews for both should run at the end of this week.
Friday, August 15: The Sandlot screens as part of the Marcus Center’s Peck Flicks
7:45 p.m./Dusk @ Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. (FREE!)
This Friday finds a series of competing outdoor movie screenings in the Milwaukee area, so all I can do is present the options and allow you to make the best decision possible. First up is the delightful kid’s comedy The Sandlot, a movie that has nestled itself quite comfortably into the ‘warm memories’ section of many of my generation’s brains. The flick follows the lazy summer of ’62 and a group of youngsters who spend it playing baseball, receiving CPR and being pursued by gigantic dogs. The Sandlot didn’t achieve great fame during its theatrical release, instead becoming a cult classic in the intervening decades, with its amiable cast and gentle evocation of what it’s like to be 12 and in the company of friends you assume you’ll have forever. If you want to take out the young ones this Friday night, this might be the option for you.
Friday, August 15: Ride Along continues the Point Fish Fry and a Flick Series
Dusk-ish @ 500 N. Harbor Drive, just outside Discovery World (FREE!)
You could opt for this slightly more adult option if you don’t have kids in tow. A surprising box office success at the beginning of this year, Ride Along is also surprisingly decent as a comedy itself, humming along with ease once Ice Cube’s grumpy police detective is paired with Hart’s boundlessly-enthusiastic police hopeful who also happens to be engaged to marry Cube’s sister. They have good chemistry with one another, so while the film as a whole might be a bit generic, their rapport elevates it to the realm of pleasant surprises.
Friday, August 15: Inglourious Basterds screens as part of the Milwaukee Bike-In Movie Series
Dusk @ South end of the Holton St. Viaduct across from Trocadero, 1758 N. Water St., (FREE!)
If you want to opt for the spiciest of the meatballs this Friday, then go with Inglourious Basterds. As explicitly stated by characters within it at the movie’s end, this might just be Tarantino’s masterpiece – a bold, viciously violent and gut-churning bit of revisionist history that introduced the world at large to Christoph Waltz and gave us film critics the pleasure of being represented by Michael Fassbender as a suave undercover agent. It’s bloody, bawdy and brilliant. The chance to see it in a setting such as this should only add to its raucous nature. So depending on who you’re bringing with you or what you’re looking for this Friday night, there are plenty of outdoor movie options to choose from.
Saturday, August 16: Thor: The Dark World as part of the Summer Nights Movies Series
Dusk @ Gift of Wings Kite Store in Veterans Park, 1010 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive (FREE!)
Although time may prove it to be the Iron Man 2 of the second phase of Marvel’s cinematic takeover, Thor: The Dark World is aided by its endlessly charismatic leads and a sense of fun that the original Thor could not discover for its Dutch angles. While Christopher Eccleston’s dark elf villain may be poorly served/defined by the plot (he needs a whatzit so he can take over all nine realms), Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor have amazing chemistry together, and the film pairs them in a way we haven’t seen yet in the Marvel movieverse, and the opportunity to see them working alongside one another is titillating. The film also does well by strongly integrating the human element into the material without deserting us in a boring Earth setting, using Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings more effectively than in the previous installment. I stand by my review, so this will be a fun way to spend your Saturday night.