Bob F. Odenkirk and More in Movies This Week
Sandwiched between Snyder’s Cut and King Kong’s battle with Godzilla, this week comes at us with an unusual mix of options. Some are really good. One is extremely bad. Most are fun. Here’s the low down.
by Hope Madden
On the surface, this film feels really familiar.
Nobody was written by Derek Kolstad, which should surprise, well, nobody. Kolstad wrote 2014’s John Wick. I assume you’ve seen it: a humble widower is moved to reignite his highly trained assassin’s nature when his dog is in jeopardy.
Kolstad’s next project? Acolyte. What’s that about, I wonder? According to IMDb: When his wife is kidnapped, a simple man reveals himself to be anything but as he assembles his old crew to rescue her.
Nobody is exactly every other film Kolstad has ever written, and its execution has all the earmarks of director Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry): precise action and a weird song and dance number.
The one and only thing that separates Nobody from dozens and dozens of expertly crafted, wildly interchangeable “underestimated badass” films is the utter brilliance of its casting.
And by that, I mean exclusively the perfection of Bob Odenkirk in this role.
Every beat is the same. The ideal placement of ’60s Soul classics, the meticulously timed car sequences, the underlying daddy issues, and most of all, the struggle between the hero’s natural brutality against the unnatural pull of domesticity—all of it second-by-second constructed as you would expect.
Constructed well. Air tight. Shoot out choreography is like ballet—better than anything in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It’s all interchangeable with every other really well made carbon copy.
But god damn, Bob Odenkirk? I’m not saying he makes this a comedy, but his timing is comic perfection. His placement at the center of the film not only sells the “average guy” masquerade better than Liam Neeson ever could, but it makes his inner struggle and his displays of violence actually stand out.
Regardless of the fact that you’ve seen this exact movie a dozen times, you just don’t expect it. It’s great!
Plus, Christopher Lloyd?! Yes, please. And Michael Ironside, who is forever welcome in any role. Connie Nielsen, on the other hand, is—characteristic of the genre—grossly wasted as the wife who’d probably love him more if he showed his badass nature more often.
Aleksey Serebryakov also sells the mad Russiah villain pretty well. There are certain scenes—one climactic across-the-table, in particular—where neither lead conveys the gravity of the situation. I’m not asking for Walken/Hopper in True Romance, but this moment is pivotal and needed to feel like it.
Still, Bob F. Odenkirk. Right on.
by George Wolf
If we were going to add a third certainty to join death and taxes, how about the fact that heist movies are fun?
A good one makes you want to go assemble your crack team to trade quips, try on parkas and steal a Picasso. A bad one just makes you want to watch the good ones again.
The Vault (formerly titled Way Down) borrows from a host of similar films, keeping the formula familiar, the pulse quick and the scenery exciting for a ridiculous caper that never takes itself too seriously.
Freddie Highmore is Thom, a 22 year-old engineering genius fresh from the University of Cambridge. Bored by all the job offers from Big Oil, his interest is piqued by a mysterious opportunity to “change his life.”
Adventurer Walter Moreland (Liam Cunningham) offers Thom a spot on his “salvage” team, and the chance at untold riches. The plan? Break into the Bank of Spain and steal a centuries-old treasure first buried by Sir Francis Drake. The vault holding the booty is a puzzle of engineering yet to be solved, and Moreland is counting on Thom to be the big brain that outsmarts it.
The upper-crust thieves will have a timely distraction on their side. Spain’s World Cup final will be shown on a Jumbotron set up right outside the bank, meaning that during the match, all security cameras will be pointed at the huge crowd of soccer fans flooding the street, and not at the bank itself.
The script-by-committee mentions “Danny Ocean” early on, which is just stating the obvious. The Italian Job and Now You See Me, Now You Don’t will also come to mind, but director Juame Balagueró ([REC] and [REC2]) isn’t pretending he’s breaking new ground, just trying out a new playground.
Balagueró keeps his pace impatient from the opening minutes. Expect a succession of fake outs, multiple “We’re screwed!” exclamations and a shameless amount of “all is lost” moments. Realizations come only at the most fortuitous junctures and the tests to Thom’s genius never seem quite that strenuous.
And the effect of all of that on the film isn’t nearly as deadly, or taxing, as it should be.
The two hour run time feels about half that. Balagueró gives his camera a stylish flow and keeps us supplied with plenty of opportunities to feel like we’re in on the con, and have a stake in the success of the heist.
And you know what that is?
Shoplifters of the World
In theaters and streaming
by Matt Weiner
Never meet your heroes. That goes double for present-day Morrissey, frontman for the Smiths. But Shoplifters of the World looks back at a more innocent era in 1987, the day the band broke up, and conjures up a time when the Manchester rock band was the Beatles for disaffected teens who traded in mop tops for asymmetrical haircuts.
And Denver, Colorado—if you believe the urban legend that inspired the film—was ground zero for overenthusiastic Smiths fans. Director Stephen Kijak reimagines the night that distraught fan Dean (Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood) held a radio station hostage, forcing the DJ to play nonstop Smiths songs.
While Dean remains holed up at the radio station with the DJ, Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello, perfection as a heavy metal himbo), Dean’s friends grieve and celebrate one last big night together before figuring out their lives post-high school.
That includes college, the Army, and for Cleo (Helena Howard), a general sort of Linklater malaise that seems to befall suburban teens on the eve of life’s next big adventure.
The film sets Cleo and the gang’s exploits to Smiths songs, along with contemporary interviews with band members that serve as a reminder of how much the Smiths meant for music, especially pop and indie rock, in an age of big hair and even bigger power chords.
Even though the film is a love letter to the Smiths, it’s as much about the insular obsession of finding meaning through art. Even diehard metalhead Mickey comes to appreciate the way all these young fans have experienced an era-defining shock in their young lives.
Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that the entire night’s events come down to a group of surly teens gatecrashing a bunch of parties to force everyone to listen to their music instead of having a good time… and yet everyone is still exceedingly polite to all the assholes in eyeliner.
This is also a painfully recognizable part of both obsessive fandoms and a good coming-of-age story. The mix of low stakes self-discovery and winsome leads helps keep their night out more charming than cringeworthy. Shoplifters is content to go big on soundtrack and mood, and it’s a choice that works.
There isn’t a ton of depth to the ensemble friends—the film is often too busy setting up just the right music cue. But when you have the music rights to take those cues from the likes of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, a little bit of charm goes a long way.
Six Minutes to Midnight
At Marcus Crosswoods and on VOD
by Hope Madden
Eddie Izzard always brings an unexpected charm and wit to roles, most of which benefit from the surprise in casting. Shadow of the Vampire, several different Oceans movies, and the beloved Get Duked! come to mind.
Between those films and Six Minutes to Midnight, Izzard changed pronouns. (Go girl!) This is relevant only in that I will be referring to Izzard as she, regardless of the fact that she plays British intelligence agent Thomas Miller, a he.
Miller finds himself filling in as substitute teacher at the prestigious Augusta-Victoria College at Brexhill-on-Sea in England. It’s August of 1939, which means England is days away from being drawn into WWII, and the institution is a finishing school for wealthy German girls.
It was a real school, run with Nazi ideals. It went so far as to contain a swastika alongside the union jack on its official school logo and badge. The existence of this anomaly in British history inspired the screenplay by Izzard and co-star Celyn Jones.
The idea also drew a stellar cast including Judi Dench, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent and Carla Juri. Each member of the supporting ensemble offers a strong, sometimes unexpected performance in a film that feels intentionally stilted.
The physical difference between Dench and Juri matches their characters’ emotional gap, an excellent metaphor for the schism in the school itself. Darcy is much fun, and Broadbent is never less than wonderful, as you would expect.
Director Andy Goddard, who’s done a lot of TV, keeps the thrills intimate, using the coastal setting to create a sense of isolation. Goddard’s frequent collaborator Chris Seager lenses the film with a throw-back elegance that suits it.
What works best in Six Minutes is an understated theme of culture clash, and a reminder that England contained plenty of German sympathizers who felt the only opportunity to survive, should this war come, was to embrace the concept of hail to victory.
Izzard, unfortunately, doesn’t work as well. There’s a melancholy to the character that is effective, but as the central figure in a spy thriller, Izzard seems miscast. There is a great deal of running—so, so much running—which eventually comes off as comedic even when it should not.
The writing is often rushed and the plotting superficial. Goddard has trouble finding and sticking with a tone, and regardless of the time-bomb of a title, the film feels less like a mad dash to end a cataclysm and more like a series of bumblings that somehow turn out OK.
It’s not enough to ruin the effort, but it’s enough to keep Six Minutes to Midnight from leaving a lasting impression.
by Hope Madden
Call me superficial, but I really enjoy those old school, pre-credit scares in horror films. (I am also a sucker for post-credit stingers, if I’m being totally honest.)
Done well, they set a tone, freak you out, and make you simultaneously afraid to watch the rest of the film and unwilling to turn away. Writer/co-director Justin Harding knows this, obviously. With a brief but exceptionally chilly opening sequence, he and co-director Rob Brunner dare you to finish their film, Making Monsters.
Christian (Tim Loden) and Allison (Alana Elmer) are planning for their wedding, beginning steps toward IVF, and struggling with the changes this is going to mean in their relationship as well as their livelihood. Apparently, their whole gig is a popular online prank show consisting of Christian scaring the poop out of Allison twice a week.
And she’s marrying him?
They run into an old friend, he invites them to his rustic new digs way out in BFE, and they sneak away for a quiet weekend. Or is it another prank?
If you think the viral prank horror premise is weak and tired, you are spot on. Luckily, Making Monsters doesn’t beat it to death, nor do they rely on found footage or a ton of shaky cam or even a lot of slickly produced viral videos. It’s all in there, but some of it serves a narrative purpose and none of it really wears out its welcome.
Elmer is especially solid, delivering a nuanced and believable character who loves and accepts Christian and remains optimistic that he, too, is ready to grow up. Allison is dimensional, and though it takes some time to realize it, so is Christian.
Jonathan Craig is a good time in a weird role, although he pulls too many tricks from Mark Duplass’ bag of magic to be truly fresh. Still, he’s fun in his own way and the rapport among the three main players rings true enough to elevate the material around them.
Not everything lives up to that first shock, but the next 80ish minutes of Making Monsters are worth a watch.
by George Wolf
How much better would 2001 have been if there were helpful onscreen text explaining the motives of the monolith?
Use that bone as a weapon and you won’t starve.
None. The answer is none better.
A habit of over-explanation is just one of the weights pulling down Doors, a science fiction drama presented in three separate acts by three different writer/directors.
Jeff Desom fares best with the opening segment entitled “Lockdown.” As high schoolers in a classroom hear their locked-up cellphones buzzing, planes overhead and vaguely ominous announcements, some nice tension is built via mystery and subtlety.
And then both are gone.
A late night podcaster quickly sets the stage. Imposing, sentient “doors” have appeared around the world, and in the rush for answers, volunteers called (what else?) knockers are answering the invitation. The “Knockers” segment, from Saman Kesh, features Josh Peck and Lina Esco as a couple who find a greatly distorted reality awaits them on the other side.
Dugen O’Neal’s final segment, “Jamal,” carries a fine performance from Kyp Malone as a reclusive man successfully communicating with a door in secret. When an unexpected betrayal brings outsiders, the onscreen text brings mood – spoiling clarity to what the door requests.
Extended exposition via a podcaster is at least an organic device, but text? Since none of the characters can see these messages, they are only for our benefit as viewers, and land as the most inexplicable aspect of this entire cosmic trip.
This film starts with an intriguing setup to a decent sci-fi premise, but can never find resonant avenues for development. Some confidence in its audience, better performances, a more compelling score and crisper sound mix would be steps forward, but the most gaping hole is the absence of one clear storytelling vision.
Without it, Doors is an awkward anthology in search of an anchor, as well as a satisfying reward for opening it.
Donny’s Bar Mitzvah
by Christie Robb
According to Jewish Law, a bar mitzvah is when, at 13, boy becomes a man and can be held accountable for his actions. The film Donny’s Bar Mitzvah seems to have been written by a 13 year-old who needs to be held accountable for his actions.
Seriously. It’s gross.
Ostensibly a found footage VHS cassette, this cinematic gem depicts a 1998 Oscar Night-themed party for Donny (Steele Stebbins) – It’s the The First-Annual Donny Awards! – shot and edited by a hired videographer. There are a few nods to ’90s culture that might make the olds smile (remember giant cell phones, pop-up video, the Whassup commercial?).
But writer/director Jonathan Kaufman’s film’s raison d’etre is a celebration of the random, repellant, and pubescent that transcends decade. And like the lukewarm buffet offerings at a reception, it offers a variety of things, none of them particularly done well. You want butt chugging? It’s got it. You want small dick jokes? There’re plenty of ‘em. Recurrent vomiting? No problem. Tits? There is a pair.
The wooden acting, sometimes bizarre plotting, and sound design reminiscent of ASMR performed by a hot dog and a jar full of lubricant, isn’t quite terrible enough to elevate Jonathan Kaufman’s film to the level of a masterpiece of BAD MOVIEDOM like The Room. But I imagine that with the right people watching it and the appropriate amount of brain cells murdered beforehand, this thing could be fun to watch.
Oh, and I guess Danny Trejo is in it for a little while?
Follow George and Hope on twitter @maddwolf and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.