Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list. (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see. December is going to be a busy month.) With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.
1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)
Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film. I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas. The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.
At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons. First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me. Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies. Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.
2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)
Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love. (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.) I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.
About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall). All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears. The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.
3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)
In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate. Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college. She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore. Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack). Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé. However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).
Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it. The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws. Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way. Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.
4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender. In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together. It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.
Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing. It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks. The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.
Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.
5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)
School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve. In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect. Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white! You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?
On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James. As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.
6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)
In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars. He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children. After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress. Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production. Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet). However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye. He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia. When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her. It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…
I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film. As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone. The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy. As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.
And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws. If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.