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Blockbuster Bye Week: What to Watch?

Hope Madden Hope Madden Blockbuster Bye Week: What to Watch?Photo via IMDb.
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It’s a breather week between the big box office bonanzas, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do but go see Infinity War again. I mean, you can. No one will blame you. But there are some great, small flicks peppered across the CBUS landscape. Just steer clear of Overboard, right?

Tully

The character Tully doesn’t show up ’til nearly 40 minutes in, but by then the film Tully has its anchor: a sensational Charlize Theron.

The Oscar-winner excels as Marlo, an exhausted, frazzled mom in dire need of a break. Marlo and her inattentive husband Drew (Ron Livingston) already have a young daughter, a younger son with some behavior issues, and now (surprise!) a brand new baby girl.

Lucky for Marlo, she’s also got a rich brother (Mark Duplass) whose baby gift is a “night nanny” named Tully (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis — a keeper). Once Tully shows up, Marlo can get what every new parent craves…sleep.

After two winners together in Juno and the criminally ignored Young Adult, writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman make their third collaboration a wonderfully natural extension of the first two.

Cody is a gifted writer, her dialogue often insightful without preaching and timely without pandering. Here, she creates two characters whose unlikely friendship speaks to the changing roles women will play throughout their lives, and the heartache those changes can sometimes bring.

That being said, it’s hard to imagine the film working as well as it does without Theron. She makes Marlo’s every emotion feel real, and the character absolutely human even when Cody’s script takes some chances not all will appreciate.

Reitman, back in form after the dreadful Men, Women & Children, also helps in that department, keeping the film grounded in a world many will recognize. This isn’t the heartwarming comedy the TV ads want you to think it is, nor is it the casual dismissal of postpartum depression that others have charged.

It is one woman’s story, with moments of humor, absurdity and truth, a bit of cliche and even some fairy tale optimism. And with all of that, there’s enough brash boundary pushing to make Tully feel like a film we haven’t seen before, and one we’re glad that’s here.

Grade: A-

Overboard

More than 30 years ago, Garry Marshall directed one of those 80s films: good-heartedly hateful and contrived in that colorfully rom-com way, Overboard.

It is the ridiculous story of comeuppance wherein a small-town carpenter (Kurt Russell), cheated out of payment by a scantily clad, uppity billionaire (Goldie Hawn), concocts a plan to get the money he is due when she washes ashore with amnesia.

Rob Greenberg’s update sees Kate (Anna Faris) as a single mom just trying to pass that damn nursing exam so she can quit her two jobs (pizza delivery, carpet cleaner) and offer a better life for her three daughters. Then this awful billionaire insults her and costs her one job.

Now she’ll never get that nurse’s license!

Comeuppance comes when he washes ashore and she makes him her slave so she can study.

The premise is no fresher or more believable this time around, though they do update in a couple of interesting ways. Leonardo is a Mexican heir; the day laborers he now works with only speak Spanish and most of the pizza crew is bilingual Mexican American, so about fifty percent of the film is subtitled.

This is an interesting choice, since the point of both versions of Overboard is the hideous gap in work ethic and morality you can find between the rich and poor. Choosing not to “Roseanne” that image of the American working poor was a solid decision. Not that it can help this movie.

This is simply not a premise that has the strength to stand the test of time. The original was a success on the charm and natural (and obviously abiding) charisma of its stars. Why was it successful? Goldie Hawn was a comic genius, Kurt Russell was gorgeous, and it was the 80s. That is it.

The remake has none of those things going for it. Greenberg, updating Dixon’s script with Bob Fisher (Wedding Crashers), can’t write his way out of the contrivance. Though Faris is certainly a talent, she lacks the charisma to carry a film.

Perhaps most damaging is the utter absence of chemistry between the leads, making every inch toward romance feel unnatural and, honestly, almost creepy.

Grade: C-

Foxtrot

From its opening shot — a slow, dizzying swirl above a patterned kitchen floor — Foxtrot commits to a cornerstone of disorientation. Through both narrative and camerawork, writer/director Samuel Maoz keeps you off balance as he constructs a deep, moving dive into one family’s struggle with loss and regret.

Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), a soldier in the Israeli Army, is going about his mundane duties in a remote outpost when a tragic twist of fate occurs. Jonathan’s father Michael (Lior Ashkenazi delivering his usual excellence) and mother Daphna (Sarah Adler — also terrific) take the news of the accident, along with the news of a second, very unexpected development, very differently.

Maoz’s visuals, sometimes anachronistic, bold and darkly funny, are never less than fascinating. His writing is incisive and brilliantly layered, confidently moving toward a shattering finale without stopping to worry about whether you’re connecting every loose end.

Just when you may think you know where Maoz is going, you don’t. But the rug isn’t pulled by cheap gimmickry or emotional manipulation, but rather perfectly arranged pieces assembled by deeply affecting performances.

Grade: A-

The Endless

There is something very clever about the way Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s movies sneak up on you. Always creepy, still they defy genre expectations even as they play with them.

Camp Arcadia offers the rustic backdrop for their latest, The Endless. A clever bit of SciFi misdirection, the film follows two brothers as they return to the cult they’d escaped a decade earlier.

The directors themselves play those siblings. Though Moorehead and Benson have had cameos in their previous films Spring and Resolution, as well as a handful of other horror flicks, The Endless, penned by Benson, is the first film they anchor.

Their acting chops are mainly solid, although perhaps not lead-worthy. Moorehead’s innocence and whining sometimes feel forced. Meanwhile, Benson’s character’s motivation is at times suspect, and he’s unconvincing as a sheltered, shell-shocked, co-dependent.

Though the lead performances sometimes undermine the agile storytelling, the turns the directors draw from their ensemble are strong across the board. Welcome familiar faces in a third-act surprise prove the filmmakers’ nimble skill with a fantasy storyline that could easily collapse on itself but never does.

The pair’s storytelling skill continues to impress. Their looping timelines provide fertile ground for clever turns that fans of the filmmakers will find delightful, but the uninitiated will appreciate as well.

Grade: B

Also opening in Columbus:
12th Man (NR)
A or B (NR)
Bad Samaritan (R)
Godard, Mon Amour (R)
The Trough (NR)
The Workshop (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast THE SCREENING ROOM.

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