Saturday, July 16, 2016

By the Sea


I wonder if back in the heady days of Tomb Raider anyone could have guessed what a chilly director Angelina Jolie would turn out to be. Unbroken was a dull film of a great story, and in By the Sea Jolie (who here wrote and directed under the name Angelina Jolie Pitt) goes the High Art route in telling a story of a failing marriage. Roland (a game Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie) arrive at a French seaside hotel - we're sometime in the late '60s/early '70s - where Roland hopes to do some writing. Is Roland a successful writer who's blocked or merely an someone with aspirations to greatness? Good luck figuring it out, because the film fails to convey anything about the act of writing. Vanessa is unhappy for reasons which aren't revealed until late in the film but which aren't hard to guess. Roland's writing sessions turn into drunken conversations with a bartender (Niels Arestrup) who also serves as a Dispenser of Truth while Vanessa alternately sulks, reads, and spies on the honeymooning young couple next door.

 That's right, honeymooners next door. Is By the Sea Jolie's attempt to write an Albee play? This insistently theatrical conceit finds Vanessa and Roland playing voyeur while Lea and Francois (Melanie Laurent and Melvil Popaud) enjoy the first days of their marriage. While Jolie's performance contains some moments of touching vulnerability, her script leaves Vanessa a mystery in the end. An extra on the DVD suggests that Jolie regards Gena Rowlands as something of a guiding spirit. Excellent choice, but By the Sea only brushes up against the volatility of Rowlands' greatest work. Jolie can direct, but here's hoping her next film has more fully fleshed out material.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is loosely inspired by a Craigslist post written by Mike and Dave Stangle (Adam Devine and Zac Efron), two brothers looking for dates for a family wedding. Given its origins the film is funnier than it should be, and that is due to the way the leads fully commit to playing dumb. Efron's Dave is marginally smarter than his brother, but the two are embracing the bro life much to the displeasure of their father (Stephen Root). Ordered to bring "nice girls" to the wedding of their sister (Sugar Lyn Beard), Mike and Dave take their search to the Internet and wind up minor celebrities on the Wendy Williams show. Down and out best friends Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) see the brothers' on television and quickly devise a plan to manipulate the Stangles into a trip to Hawaii. Mike and Dave works best when everyone is being crazy; Efron has already proven in the Neighbors films that he can play an almost baroque level of stupidity, while Kendrick reveals a previously unseen talent for broad comedy and the ever sarcastic Aubrey Plaza is used perfectly. Supporting roles are filled out by funny actors like Mary Holland, Alice Wetterlund, and especially Kumail Nanjiani.  The energy sags when the plot requires people to start being nice to each other and reevaluating their lives, but until then Mike and Dave will do for a fix for those missing their summer dose of Apatow.