“Masterminds”

LOUISA: 5 STARS MATT: 5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m still laughing the day after seeing “Masterminds,” the latest wackadoodle comedy from director Jared Hess. This one is an audience divider for sure (our screening had a walkout), but if you enjoyed any of Hess’ previous work (“Nacho Libre,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Gentlemen Broncos“), you’ll probably like this one.

The bizarre humor is targeted to a very, very specific audience (during most of our busy screening, Matt and I were the only two people in the audience who were laughing), and those who are familiar with the Southern way of life will find an even deeper appreciation of the humor. I laughed heartily and consistently throughout the movie from beginning to end, and I have no qualms declaring “Masterminds” not only one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years but THE funniest movie of 2016.

This action / comedy is loosely based on the true story of David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a regular Joe who works (well, used to work) for an armored transport company in North Carolina in the late 1990s. When David develops an unrequited crush on co-worker Kelly (Kristen Wiig), she and her white trash criminal friend Steve (Owen Wilson) lure him into robbing the company. Turns out, this robbery was one of the biggest in U.S. history with a record-breaking $17 million stolen by this one dude and his not-so-smart ‘masterminds’ behind the operation.

This is wacky niche comedy done correctly, and the film never hits a wrong note with its bumbling quirkiness. It’s loaded with very physical slapstick comedy and perfectly ridiculous deadpan humor. You have to pay attention to discover and appreciate the humor, it’s not spelled out for you.

Galifianakis is funny to look at anyway, but watching him prance around in a 60s cowboy outfit while strutting down the street in Mexico is campy gold. Add in the pedigreed supporting cast and you’ve got yourself the perfect comedy. There are reliably kooky turns from Jason Sudeikis as a slightly inept lunkheaded hitman, Leslie Jones as a sass-talking special agent, Kate McKinnon as a flatulent weirdo (seriously, this lady is a national comedy treasure), and an all too brief stint from Ken Marino as an FBI informant neighbor. With a cast like this, you can’t go wrong.

This movie is darkly funny and loaded with white trash jokes that are riotous because they are based in truth. (Just wait until you see Steve’s high-rise double wide). This movie reminds me so much of this year’s hysterical “The Bronze,” only without the vulgarity.

Without a doubt this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and I will be quoting it for the rest of my life. I was laughing so hard that I had tears streaming down my face more than a handful of times (yes, really). I highly encourage you to see this one if you laugh at the absurd.

MATT SAYS:

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. They also say that “Masterminds,” the new movie from director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite“, “Gentleman Broncos“) is based on a true story. How much of it is true and how much of it is fiction I don’t know, but what I do know is this: “Masterminds” is one wild, hilariously funny movie. And boy is it ever strange.

Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a southern boy with very low ambitions who works for an armored car company. David becomes infatuated with sometime coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig), who on behalf of her friend Steve (Owen Wilson) talks David in to stealing money from the company vault. $17 million worth, to be exact, making it one of the largest cash robberies ever on American soil. The actual theft goes off unusually well; it’s what happens after, when the co-conspirators must face the reality of having suddenly become obscenely wealthy, that things start to get really crazy.

And I do mean crazy. Masterfully madcap crazy. These good ol’ boys and girls from North Carolina, having spent most of their lives in trailer parks (including a “high rise double wide”), have absolutely no self-control. David gets shipped off to Mexico by the crew with a very small cut of the money while the others live the high life, the kind of which these formerly poor rednecks could only dream about. As the southern folks would say, they are “country come to town.” They spend extravagantly, buy expensive toys, and wear “fancy” clothes. When they become worried that Ghantt is going to finger them for their participation in the robbery, they hire the services of an insane and inept hit man to take him out of the picture. Put simply, they can’t cope with being rich and act like fools.

I’m not from the South but Louisa is. Having lived with her for a long time, I think I have a better idea than most about Southern culture. Having this perspective is probably essential to appreciating “Masterminds,” which has a bit of a Foxworthian sense of humor. Not that all of the jokes are cultural, necessarily; there are quite a few bits that are funny all on their own, without reference to background.

As a comedy, “Masterminds” is incredibly well-constructed. The characters are not one-dimensional and the film expertly walks the line between playing to stereotypes and devolving into caricature. Scenes are set up and people act according to type and personality, and the comedy flows naturally from it. Galifianakis is perfectly cast as Ghantt, playing the part with a pitch-perfect sense of timing and delivery. Wiig is reliably strong but is easily outshined by her “Ghostbusters” costar Kate McKinnon. Jason Sudeikis is hilarious as the hitman, and Ken Marino is given very little to do but has one of the best side-splitting scenes in the movie.

I realize humor is subjective. Many people are going to scratch their heads at “Masterminds,” and lots of people won’t enjoy it (our screening featured only one outright walkout but Louisa and I were mostly the only ones laughing). Having given you that warning, I will say with confidence: “Masterminds” not only tops “The Bronze” as the funniest movie of 2016, it is one of the funniest movies of this decade.

“Don’t Think Twice”

LOUISA:  3 STARS MATT: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Don’t Think Twice” celebrates the craft of improvisational comedy and offers an intimate glimpse into what creative types think of their chosen profession. Real life comedian Mike Birbiglia takes on the dual duties of writer and director, so it’s no wonder the film is an immensely insightful and astute observation of the live comedy scene. In fact, I think this film suffers because it is a bit too insightful, making it difficult for people outside of the industry to relate to the characters and situations presented. I’m not a performer myself but I understand how the entertainment world works, and that definitely added to my enjoyment and understanding of the movie.

Do not go into this film expecting to laugh because it’s not funny: this is more of a savvy drama about the struggles of chasing mid-level fame, and it has a deeply melancholy tone at times. There are two improv phrases that are repeatedly uttered throughout the film: “don’t think” and “got your back,” both a brilliant way of expressing the themes on display.

Best friends Miles (Birbiglia), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard), and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) are members of the small New York City comedy troupe, The Commune. They perform to a small audience of $5 ticket holders at night and hold down menial (hummus peddling at the supermarket) to respectable (teaching improv classes) day jobs to pay the rent. In between, there’s a lot of pot smoking, creative writing, and casual sex to fill their days. When one member of the troupe makes it to the big time and is cast on Weekend Live (read: Saturday Night Live), the remaining five pals are overcome with an overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal.

This film paints a painful, honest, and raw picture of what it must feel like to be a struggling comedian and explores the need for constant validation and approval. There’s a certain competitive streak that’s a part of human nature, and it’s something that most friendships cannot survive. It’s close to heartbreaking to watch the characters one by one coping with not only outright rejection, but also with the realization and eventual acceptance that their big break is never coming.

The movie is bogged down with an ending that’s far too sappy, but the performances from the ensemble cast are strong and poignant. You’ll find yourself rooting for these people even if you can’t relate to their life choices. Their suffering feels so real that you’ll care about what happens in their (fictional) lives.

“Don’t Think Twice” is a bittersweet ode to resentment and friendship, but ultimately is a swan song about growing up.

MATT SAYS:

A small “Second-City”-esque improv comedy troupe lives and performs together in New York City. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) heads the group that includes his friends Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), and Bill (Chris Gethard). Many of the troupe’s performers have gone on to be featured on or write for an SNL-like show, but others like Miles tend to be overlooked by the show time and again. When one of the close-knit group gets called up to the majors, jealousy takes over and infighting threatens to tear the friends apart.

Written and directed by comedian Birbiglia, “Don’t Think Twice” is a fresh look into something most of us know little about: the lives of professional improvisational comedians. We follow the performers through their daily lives; we observe them warm up to go on stage every night, we see them prepare for auditions, and we watch them watch other comedians and critique them. Although the movie isn’t shot in a documentary style, the pedigree of each of the actors (each of whom has experience in sketch or stand-up comedy) lends it an air of authenticity that you rarely find in a narrative film.

It’s also entertaining in its own right. While it’s not precisely a comedy, there are a number of genuinely funny moments. Driven by their obvious affection for the subject matter, the performances by the actors are all heartfelt. The writing is clever, and Birbiglia’s direction is self-assured. Films this insightful are uncommon, and it’s a pleasure to have discovered this one.

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“Blair Witch”

MATT: 2.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

“Blair Witch” is yet another unnecessary “requel” that neither improves on its predecessor or presents any meaningful justification for its existence. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s also hard to understand why the people involved with making it felt that it was worth doing.

The Blair Witch Project” took the world by storm in 1999. It’s still respected as one of the top horror films of all time, and for good reason: many people remember it fondly for having scared the wits out of them when they first saw the film, and its found-footage style has inspired scads of imitators. Through the haze of memory, most people don’t remember that “The Blair Witch Project” was 85% repetitive and sort of boring, with the only real scares coming at the climax, with that end scene. But oh, what an ending scene that was. It’s still by far one of the scariest sequences ever committed to film, and for that reason the movie stays in our collective consciousness.

Which is apparently why some folks thought a sequel, set 15 years later, would be a good idea. This version of the story comes from genre darling filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (“You’re Next” and “The Guest“) but lacks the usual flair or originality that I’ve come to expect from them.

Although the film does reference its predecessor, “Blair Witch” really does feel like a remake that does the same thing as the first movie, only with updated technology (smaller cameras, a drone, GPS locators, etc.) that, while cool, does really nothing to measurably advance the story. The sequel hook is that in this film, James (James Allen McCune) is the younger sibling of Heather Donahue — one of the trio that went missing in the first movie — and he incredibly believes that she may somehow still be alive (!!!) and organizes a group to go and try to find her. That premise is so farfetched that it puts an initial taint on the “Blair Witch”, but that alone would not have been insurmountable if the update was good enough to stand on its own.

The key problem here is that since the original movie was released, so many found footage films have been made that retelling the same story with new and different characters is no longer going to be good enough. While the technical specifications (video quality and sound design) are markedly better in this version, there really isn’t much else to differentiate this one from its predecessor. . . that is, until the final scene.

But whereas the first film benefits from a lean approach that does maximizes its scares with a short ending scene that is legitimately terrifying because of what you don’t see, “Blair Witch” takes the opposite approach; its final scene is about four times as long and it shows you everything. Drawing things out like that takes away a lot of the dread factor, and being shown the source of the thing that goes bump in the night is ultimately unsatisfying.

“Blair Witch” isn’t terrible, but it’s not going to re-invent the genre, either.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

“Storks”

LOUISA : 1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

The quirky and original story idea behind the new animated film “Storks” should’ve made this family friendly movie soar. Instead, it never really gets off the ground. The end product delivers a movie that’s not very creative, not any fun, and not any good.

After an unfortunate mishap at the baby factory caused storks to give up on the baby delivering game years ago, the birds now deliver consumer packages instead of infants. Junior (Andy Samberg) is the top delivery stork at Cornerstore.com and is on the fast track to become the new boss. When Junior’s human friend Orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) accidentally activates the baby making machine and creates a little girl, the pair scramble to deliver the kid to her new family before angry CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) finds out.

The story sounds charming and original, and it is. That’s not the problem. The real issue stems from the dreadful script and god-awful dialogue. The bright and peppy visuals can’t take away from the ridiculous, overly talky nonsensical ramblings, poor direction, and overall lazy filmmaking.

The movie is just plain dumb too. It has something that’s even more stupid than the truck driving octopus from this year’s “Finding Dory“: a pack of wolves that can join together to create everything from a bridge to a working submarine to an airplane.

Everything about the movie feels awkward and uncomfortable, from the lackluster voice talent to the unlovable and off-putting characters. Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman) is one of the ugliest and most annoying animated characters in recent memory, and Jennifer Aniston should never be hired to voice an animated character ever again. Like never ever. Her emotionless monotone as mom Sarah is proof that she has no business doing vocals. Thank goodness for Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as a pair of over-excited wolves. If not for them, I probably would’ve walked out.

Warner Animation Group is competent enough at creating pleasantly colorful animation, but even their artists can’t save this bummer of a movie. Your kids deserve better.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Snowden”

LOUISA: 2 STARS MATT: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Oh, Oliver Stone. You’ve never once strayed from your signature bloated directing style. “Snowden” was pretty much what I expected: an overly long, boring, visually pompous, clumsily constructed, yet well acted retelling of the story of the whistleblowing government employee who, after leaking classified documents regarding a secret NSA mass surveillance program, is accused of espionage. Most folks know Edward Snowden‘s story so I won’t go into that here, and you’d think it would be compelling enough to make a truly kick-ass fictional film. The 2014 Oscar winning documentary “Citizenfour,” which tackles the same exact subject, is the better movie. And that’s not saying much.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt really becomes the titular character with an astonishing commitment to detail, imitating Snowden’s mannerisms and speech patterns (he’s by far the best thing about the film). Levitt’s Oscar bait performance is bolstered by fine supporting turns from Melissa Leo (Laura), Shailene Woodley (Lindsay) and Tom Wilkinson (Ewen). But we need more than good actors to make a good movie, and “Snowden” is just plain boring.

Everything about this biopic feels tired, dated and safe. Although it’s stuffed to the brim with too much information, the film still manages to be told in a simplistic way that makes it accessible to most audiences. This film doesn’t even come close to sailing over anyone’s head, but you also won’t learn anything new. The attempts at orchestrating moments of thrilling dramatic tension fail miserably (we all know Snowden makes it out with a flash drive full of information, so stop pretending that he might get caught), and the whole thing feels stale.

Too bad Stone chose to play it safe with this compelling material. Snowden is viewed as an irresponsible traitor to some and a civil liberties hero to others, and it would’ve been a more interesting experience had this discord been explored instead of the one-sided portrayal Stone presents. There’s a good dramatic retelling of the documentary and its director Laura Poitras (Leo), but it all seems a little more than pointless — why not just watch the doc instead?

MATT SAYS:

You all know at least part of the story of Edward Snowden, the man who turned over to news agencies massive amounts of data demonstrating the extent to which the United States government and its agencies (particularly the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency) spy on both its own citizens and those of the world. Regardless of your political leanings or personal views, Snowden’s story is one worth telling. And it’s been told twice now, once in documentary form (“Citzenfour“) and now with this narrative version of his life.

In this version, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden. Melissa Leo is Laura Poitras, director of “Citizenfour” who herself has become part of the story through her interaction with Snowden during the days leading up to and following the leak. Zachary Quinto is Glenn Greenwald and Tom Wilkinson is Ewen MacAskill, reporters for The Guardian who originally broke the story. They work together well: Gordon-Levitt has Snowden’s tics, mannerisms and vocal style down pat, Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast as Snowden’s slightly off-balance CIA instructor, and Shailene Woodley turns in another convincing performance as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills.

As a director, Oliver Stone has been a bit uneven throughout his career. He hasn’t had a movie that’s made much of an impact for more than a decade — and for good reason: his directorial approach has (at times) been more style than substance — even though that style hasn’t always been that great in the first place. But he is clearly in his comfort zone with this material, a story of a would-be patriot that has the courage to speak out in a country he loves but a government that he doesn’t. It’s presented well, interspersing the story of Snowden’s early career with scenes of his days in the Hong Kong hotel with Poitras, Greenwald and MacAskill as the story broke. By switching between recent and older history, the story moves better and more quickly than the documentary (which was highly acclaimed but, in my view, was slow and a little bit boring). As compared to that other film, “Snowden” is much better as a piece of entertainment. Still, however, it’s largely forgettable.

Other than rather pedestrian direction, the key problem with the movie is that it looks at its lead character with glasses that are so obviously rose-colored. Instead of giving us depth of character, the Snowden we get is idealized; a righteous, patriotic, highly intelligent man who has single-minded focus on what is right and wrong, at all times. Look, I don’t expect a movie by Oliver Stone to be an evenhanded character study, but by refusing to show his protagonist as a flawed human being Stone does his picture a disservice. Even if you agree that Snowden did the right thing by releasing the data, it’s hard to trust this film as reliable source material because it comes across so heavy-handed and partisan. For that reason, a film that so clearly wants to sway public opinion will probably fail to change many minds.

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“The Light Between Oceans”

LOUISA:  4 STARS MATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Light Between Oceans” reminds me of a Nicolas Sparks movie that’s made to target a more sophisticated, artistically intellectual audience. The unhurried pace mixed with a deeply thoughtful story about morality, love, duty, and doing the right thing is sure to divide audiences with its deliberate, assured style and substance.

World War I veteran Tom (Michael Fassbener) needs to escape his demons after years in combat so he accepts a job as a lighthouse keeper on a very remote island. He relishes the isolation until he meets the beautiful Isabel (Alicia Vikander) on the mainland. The two soon marry and Isabel joins Tom on the island. All is wonderful until Isabel suffers two tragic miscarriages and slowly begins to lose her mind to grief. When a mysterious rowboat harboring a starving infant and a dead man washes ashore, the pair decide to raise the child as their own and become entangled in a dramatic, heartbreaking melodrama of their own doing.

There’s so much to this story (based on novel by M.L. Stedman) that it’s impossible to discuss all of the plot points. As with most films based on literary works, this one is packed with far too much story in an obvious attempt to cram in as much of the original novel as possible into the screenplay. This really becomes evident as the pacing becomes a bit too rapid with event after event stuffed into the film’s final half hour, and it doesn’t fit in well with the rest of movie’s purposefully slow pacing. There’s simply too much story towards the end of the movie; not that it matters much because the first half is fantastic and dare I say it, nearly perfect in every way.

There’s an overwhelming sense of isolation and regret that’s fully realized by director Derek Cianfrance‘s visual style. This movie looks absolutely gorgeous throughout and is beautifully shot and framed. The delicate, dreamy realism is just lovely. Anyone who loves the medium of film will adore the cinematography in this movie.

As in Cianfrance’s previous works (“Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines“), he has a clear, confident vision that’s fully realized. The material is an ugly story that turns out to be a little bit beautiful, and his restrained visuals elevate the heartbreaking elements while firmly keeping the film from devolving into nothing more than a commonplace manipulative tearjerker. Sure it’s calculated to tug at your heartstrings, but the subtle emotion feels realistic and the actors’ commanding performances lend more than just a passing air of authenticity.

The chemistry is off the charts between Vikander and Fassbender. Their wildly romantic onscreen relationship never falters. Fassbender finds just the right mix of reserved aloofness and quiet desperation, and the uber talented Rachel Weisz adds yet another memorable performance to her resume as a grieving mother who undergoes her own tale of tragedy and loss.

The performances are all fairly restrained — for the most part. There’s an unfortunate scene where Vikander grossly overacts by wailing and dropping to the floor; I didn’t want it to be funny but sadly, it was. What’s interesting is that none of the characters here are very sympathetic, yet I found myself genuinely caring about them all. There’s so much moral ambiguity in each of them, yet at times I sided with and understood every person’s motivation (no matter how kind or how selfish). That’s a testament to how fantastic these performances are.

This is a skillfully crafted and beautiful film throughout. Highly recommended.

MATT SAYS:

Derek Cianfrance is a bit of an enigma as a film director. He seems to have a flair for telling stories in a short format, but when it comes to sustaining a feature-length picture, he struggles a bit. This truth was particularly apparent in “The Place Beyond the PinesThe Place Beyond the Pines” — what essentially was three stories in one that were all linked to one another — but the same can be said about his latest effort, “The Light Between Oceans.”

Louisa recommended that I not recap the story here (as is my tendency) so I won’t. It’s hard to explain the plot, anyway. But I will say that the first part of this story — in which Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) travels to a small coastal town and takes a job as the keeper of a lighthouse on a remote island, and then falls in love with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) — is well-done. Life maintaining a lighthouse on a lonely island after the first World War is something I know nothing about, and I watched with great interest as Tom moved to the island and started writing letters to Isabel.

Fassbender and Vikander have palpable chemistry, and perhaps that is why the first part of the movie is so compelling. Their life and love alone together on a remote island is the stuff of the Hallmark channel and the paperback Harlequin romance novels my grandmother used to buy by the sackful, but the authenticity that each brings to their characters and their relationship makes it interesting.

And then the baby stuff starts.

I felt my interest start to wane when the couple becomes obsessed with having a child. The miscarriages are tragic to be sure, and the arrival of baby Lucy-Grace (Florence Clery) amps up the drama a bit. But the inevitable confrontation between the Sherbournes and Lucy-Grace’s birth mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) didn’t arrive nearly soon enough. Many times I felt myself reaching for the imaginary fast-forward button, just waiting for SOMETHING to happen in this movie. And when things do start to happen, they do so on a pace that is frustratingly languid.

I saw this film because of its pedigree. There can be no question that Fassbender, Weisz, and Vikander are some of the finest actors working today. Cianfrance is a director worthy of note, having made the incredibly insightful relationship drama “Blue Valentine.” And 1/3 of “The Place Beyond the Pines” was excellent; if that one story stood on its own, it would have been in my top 10 list for 2012. But having an awards-bait cast and director doesn’t always equate to a great movie, and that was certainly the case here.

While Cianfrance was undoubtedly able to tease some insightful moments out of his actors and the cinematography was, at times, gorgeous, there just wasn’t enough in the story to hold my interest. Perhaps I would have felt differently if it lost about 45 minutes of running time, but as it currently stands I can’t recommend this movie.

“One More Time”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The underwhelming “One More Time” is just another pointless movie about a rich, dysfunctional family with problems that seem far too superficial to the rest of us. Aspiring musician Jude (Amber Heard) is falling apart. She’s addicted to a string of one night stands and pays her rent by recording radio jingles. When Jude is evicted, she moves back home to the Hamptons with her retired singer dad, Paul (Christopher Walken), and his fifth (or is it sixth?) wife, Lucille (Ann Magnuson).

There are some juicy moments in this reunion, from Paul trying to plan a comeback to Jude struggling with her polar opposite sister Corinne (Kelli Garner) and family advisor and agent Alan (Oliver Platt). It’s obviously a very personal movie (written and directed by Robert Edwards), but something is very standoffish about it all. It’s almost like we are invited into someone’s home to share their intimate story but when we get a bit too close, a door is slammed in our face. Instead, we get to listen to affluent people complain about their (for the most part) cushy lives.

No doubt it’s determined, but the film just can’t quite live up to the high bar that it sets for itself. There’s an undeniable chemistry between Heard and Walken, a screen pairing that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Walken is both perfect yet distracting in a role that his die-hard fans will surely enjoy. He’s a little over the top but it works, and I could see this performance becoming sort of a cult classic among his legion of fans (not saying this is a good film, but his performance delivers). Platt is almost always an asset to any film in which he appears, and Heard is perfectly cast as a struggling musician at a crossroad in her life. The actors are great but would’ve benefited from a much more detailed script to work with. I wanted so much more than the surface glimpses of these characters. Instead of making them complex and relatable, they all come off as privileged whiners.

The real elephant in the room is that there’s far too much singing by folks that, let’s be real here, aren’t at all enjoyable to listen to. I don’t need to listen to actors pretending to be musicians.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Intervention”

LOUISA: 3 STARS MATT: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Intervention” is basically “The Big Chill” for today’s thirtysomethings except instead of gathering for a buddy’s funeral, the gang’s all here to stage a secret intervention for their unhappily married friends Ruby and Jack (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza).

The group of affluent pals is led by commitment-phobe alcoholic Annie (Melanie Lynskey) and her fiancée Matt (Jason Ritter), a sweet guy who just wants to settle down and have a wife and a family. Ruby’s sister Jessie (Clea DuVall) is on hand with her long time girlfriend Sarah (a fantastic Natasha Lyonne), as well as recently widowed Jack (Ben Schwartz) and his new young fling of the month, Lola (Alia Shawkat).

There’s a genuine, sincere camaraderie among the actors which adds to the overall credibility of the story. The acting is authentic and raw (with the exception of the over-the-top, annoying Lynskey, one of my least favorite indie actresses working today). This small, low budget film stays afloat because of the chemistry of the actors.

These characters are all a complete mess but I found each of their stories compelling. Not too much is revealed about the main characters; we only learn of their own personal issues and motivations through their actions (and lack thereof). Observant viewers will be rewarded and as is the case with most dramatic independent films, it’s not the sort of movie where you can simply turn off your brain and tune out. The film also features the most realistic portrayal of a lesbian couple that I’ve seen since “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” and the script (written by DuVall, who also directs with much sophistication) is surprisingly wise.

In the tradition of the mumblecore film movement, “The Intervention” can be trying at times, making the viewer feel uncomfortable as if we are sitting there watching a trainwreck unfold right in front of us. We all know relationships can be stressful, so there’s a lot of yelling, a lot of talky discussions, and a lot of crying. But at this film’s heart is a brutally honest look at love and friendship.

MATT SAYS:

Four unhappy and unpleasant couples gather in a home for a long weekend. One of the couples doesn’t know the real purpose, which is a staged intervention to address their crumbling marriage.

“The Intervention” is like a cut-rate version of the Adam Scott movie, “The Overnight,” featuring characters that are more unpleasant played by actors who are less appealing (I’m not talking about you, Jason Ritter — I still love you, especially in “Another Period“). The movie plays as a potent reminder of why it’s important to have characters that are either relatable or sympathetic; to make them so, you must give the audience something to relate to. For the couples in “The Intervention”, we get nothing. The people ARE there issues. Every single couple is introduced by one or more of their defining problems… and then we get nothing else, nothing to hold on to, nothing to make us like them more.

If watching a bunch of unpleasant and unlikable couples fight with one another for 90 minutes appeals to you, then “The Intervention” is the movie for you. But if you want a little bit of sweet with your sour, then skip this one.

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“War Dogs”

LOUISA: 4 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“War Dogs” tells the incredible true story of two ambitious twentysomething junior high buddies who make mega bucks by selling arms to the U.S. government. It’s a dark, troubling story, a tale of immeasurable greed and corruption that will make you angry while at the same time make you cheer.

I give huge credit to director Todd Phillips for making this material tremendously entertaining. There’s no new stylistic ground explored in terms of filmmaking (it’s a little lazy to rely so much on voiceover narration and the jarring, unnecessary use of snippets from popular rock songs), but Phillips’ snarky, sarcastic directing style perfectly fits the subject matter as well as the arrogant real-life personalities of his lead actors.

In the early 2000s, Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) go into business together with plans to make money off the Iraq war by bidding on lucrative government military contracts. After they land a multi-million dollar deal to supply thousands of rounds of bullets to Afghan forces, the pair find themselves in business with some very, very shady people. That this film is based on real events is absolutely incredible.

Newly rich and flush with cash, the guys spend their payday by acquiring fancy penthouse apartments, entertaining high dollar hookers, and consuming massive amounts of drugs. Some scenes tend to glamorize the arms business but as soon as you start to think “hey, I could do that,” a gun wielding encounter with a scumbag on the terrorist watch list and a tense, near-death ride through Iraq’s “triangle of death” quickly quashes those delusions.

There’s an incomparable chemistry between the two leads, a pair of actors who are just plain unlikable on their own but when paired together are pitch perfect. It’s actually fun to watch them do exceedingly stupid stuff, casually observing from a distance as their greed and relaxed moral compass inevitably brings their eventual downfall. These two young actors are at the top of their game in this film (it’s not easy to create their own versions of semi-deplorable characters that audiences still want to root for). It’s simple to see that they had a blast chewing on these roles, and I had a blast watching them.

“War Dogs” doesn’t attempt to make some bold, profound statement on society’s obsession with guns, wars and money; instead it delivers a highly entertaining, genuinely compelling, completely engaging look at the lengths some people will go in order to live their own distorted version of the American dream.

MATT SAYS:

Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) are two twenty-something guys who become international arms dealers equipped only with a couple of computers and a encyclopedic knowledge of the weapons of war.

They say truth can be stranger than fiction. We’re told that “War Dogs” is based on a true story, and what a story it is. Reminiscent of “Boiler Room” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it’s a tale of and for our times: the never-ending quest to get very rich, very quickly doesn’t exist only in the world of finance and Bernie Madoff. These guys figured out how to exploit loopholes in the bid process for government contracts, which incredibly anyone with a small business could compete for. That’s right, anyone. If you could find a source for a million rounds of ammunition and 1000 handguns, you too could have bid to fill one of the thousands of contracts that were open for bidding in the mid-2000s.

Although neither Efraim nor David are particularly likeable, it’s hard not to admire them and their ingenuity. Hill and Teller were made for these roles: both equally cocky and off-putting, they are perfectly suited to play two arrogant, reckless, and uneducated guys that figured out how to game the system created by Dick Cheney’s America. Bradley Cooper is entertaining as shady arms dealer Henry Girard and Ana de Armas turns in a solid performance as David’s wife, Iz, who is perhaps the only sympathetic character in the film.

While noticeably different from director Todd Phillips’s (“Old School”, “The Hangover”, “Due Date”) usual fare, in his hands this material works. The real story is so outrageous that he doesn’t need to make it any more so: the comedy that we do get is organic, not forced. At just under two hours, it’s paced well and the writing is good, occasionally great.

A decidedly adult dramatic comedy for our times, “War Dogs” is worth a watch.

DVD Roundup: September

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Check out our newest feature, the DVD Roundup. Each month we’ll be posting a handy review recap of movies that will be released for home viewing. Simply click on the film’s title to read our original reviews and to see the star rating for each movie. Movies that we split on will have the star ratings averaged to find the appropriate category. Films are listed alphabetically in each category regardless of DVD release date. All films below have scheduled DVD release dates from September 1 – September 30, 2016.

“Now You See Me 2”

Highly Recommended

“Money Monster”

Worthy Rentals

“Central Intelligence”

You Can Do Better

“Love & Friendship”

Skip It