Friday, April 29, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" Review


This is it. The superhero film you've been waiting for is finally here.... for the most part.

Captain America: Civil War lacks the cohesiveness of its direct predecessor but still manages to be one of Marvel's better films to date. Now overseers of the franchise, writers Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely (along with sibling directors Anthony & Joe Russo) weave a yarn that proves they understand how to make all these characters work inside of the same 2.5-hour run time. Joss Whedon proved it could be done in the first Avengers movie, and now that he's moved on, the Russos have crafted a more urgent Avengers sequel than Age of Ultron.

At the end of the last movie, the Avengers lineup looked a bit different. As such, Cap (Chris Evans) appears to have led these "New Avengers" on several missions between the end of Age of Ultron and the start of Civil War. It appears the core lineup is now Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the Vision (Paul Bettany), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) joining in occasionally.

We pick up with the team in Lagos where they appear hot on the trail of Crossbones (Frank Grillo), one of Cap's classic nemeses from the comic books who was teased towards the end of Winter Soldier. During the operation, Scarlet Witch makes a foolhardy move that accidentally claims the lives of several innocent civilians (although, to this reviewer, the Avengers have appeared to do far worse damage before). This act proves to be the final straw to the United States government who feel some type of way about having their team of super-powered operatives making a mess of the entire world (see just about every "phase two" MCU film). The "Sokovia Accords" are passed as legislation requiring all super-humans to register with the United Nations or face retirement. This divides the Avengers in two, with #TeamIronMan in favor of the new law and #TeamCap looking to continue operating without oversight in order to eradicate evil wherever it may lurk rather than where the UN says it does. The greatest superhero clash in the history of movies ensues.

Although this reviewer is part of the minority which enjoyed the hell out of Batman v Superman, Marvel's superhero battle is every bit as satisfying as one could hope. Those disappointed in the marquee fight in DC's movie should be pleased with Civil War. Although it'd be great if the MCU films took a cue from their Netflix counterparts and gave the stunt choreography more room to breathe, a few sequences here aren't entirely masked by quick cuts and camera movement. The "money" fight scenes look incredible and contain some of the hardest-hitting action of the franchise. That said, it never gets quite as brutal as Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

By now, fans are eagerly anticipating the arrivals of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Rest assured, they are both perfect. Civil War left me wanting to watch Ryan Coogler's Black Panther solo movie immediately, while our now-third cinematic Spider-Man proves to be the most comics-accurate of the bunch. If you originally balked at the idea of yet another rebooted Spider-Man, wait until you see Civil War. This is the breath of fresh air we never knew the franchise needed.

So, what's wrong with all of this? Well, Civil War just has so many important characters to stuff into each scenario that it just ends up feeling like a more bloated version of Winter Soldier. This is, by and large, a Captain America movie in which the real emotional conflict can be nailed down to Cap's ongoing struggle to bring his pal Bucky / the "Winter Soldier" (Sebastian Stan) "back to the land of the living," as they say. Enter Iron Man on the other side of the aisle, and you have an interesting exploration of the costs of friendship and brotherhood. Basically, this is what you get when you explore indie-film themes with a $200 million budget.

In the end, Civil War doesn't quite shake things up for the MCU like Winter Soldier did. For that, the film comes off as a bit of a disappointment. It's a worthwhile journey despite feeling fundamentally like another stepping stone. Still, these characters are great, the performances are stellar, and the action is as satisfying as billed. Though it may not be the perfect "savior" for the genre that some are saying, Captain America: Civil War demands your attention. Not to be missed.

B+

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Ratchet & Clank" Review


Ratchet & Clank is based on the series of popular PlayStation video games. Rainmaker Entertainment worked in conjunction with developer Insomniac Games and Sony Computer Entertainment to produce this new presentation of the characters' origins. Gramercy Pictures distributes. Fans will be delighted to know that the core voice talent from the original games reprise their roles here with some recognizable Hollywood names rounding out the cast.

The Ratchet & Clank movie is vibrant fun for longtime series devotees and should captivate young kids who are new to the franchise. All others need not apply.

The story brings us in on Ratchet (voiced by James Arnold Taylor), a mechanic with dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers and becoming a hero alongside his idol Captain Qwark (voiced by Jim Ward). When Dr. Nefarious (voiced by Armin Shimerman) and Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti) re-emerge with a bigger scheme, the Galactic Rangers must recruit an additional member to help fight back. We can all guess who gets the gig. On his way to intergalactic superstardom, Ratchet meets Clank (voiced by David Kaye), an android created as a defect during the manufacturing of Dr. Nefarious's killer robot army. Through a series of slapstick moments, Ratchet, Clank and the Rangers take on overwhelming odds and learn the importance of friendship and teamwork.

The best thing about Ratchet & Clank is that the story allows for plenty of charming character moments without losing its overall focus. Eagle-eyed PlayStation fans will get a kick out of the scene where Clank scans Ratchet in order to figure out what species he is. One of the potential matches is another beloved PS2 character. Between this scene and the introduction of various characters and favorite weapons from the Rangers' arsenal, there's a satisfying bit of fan service at work. 

Some may go as far as calling Ratchet & Clank the best movie adaptation of a video game ever made, and perhaps it is. The bar isn't terribly high right now; the potential savior may still be coming down the pike in the form of Justin Kurzel's Assassin's CreedThat said, almost every big animated film released in the past couple of years has turned out to be thematically rich, emotionally dense, artistically stunning, and just plain entertaining to boot. Looking at you Lego Movie, Inside Out, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, How to Train Your Dragon 2... 

Since we've been spoiled so much lately, it's hard to turn the brain completely off for Ratchet & Clank's brand of Saturday-morning buffoonery. It's fun, and a bit nostalgic, but there are plenty of other, better, films out there offering the same thing. Ratchet & Clank ultimately gives us nothing that we haven't seen before in Toy Story, Star Wars, or in episodes of "Jimmy Neutron." Level-headed adults and teens too young to recall the games are better off finding their entertainment elsewhere, but twentysomething fans and young children should enjoy it.

C

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Midnight Special" Review


Indie auteur Jeff Nichols (Mud, Shotgun Stories) makes the leap to studio filmmaking with Midnight Special, a bold, new sci-fi adventure that's a little bit Bonnie & Clyde crossed with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In the film, Roy (Michael Shannon) and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are purported to be armed fugitives who have kidnapped a small boy. Turns out, that boy is Roy's son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and Roy has stolen him away from a religious leader (Sam Shepard) who alienated Roy and adopted Alton as his own son. Roy and Alton once lived on a ranch in Texas run by this cult whose entire theology centers around Alton and his unique abilities. As Alton's health begins to deteriorate, the conflict becomes a race against time, federal authorities and religious fanatics who all want to exploit the boy for different purposes.

The film itself is deliberately paced but consistently engaging. Nichols' indie roots are felt throughout the production in the choices he makes with the narrative and the characters. Despite B-movie ingredients, this is a very intimate, grounded production which values human emotions and interactions over extraneous visual effects. It doesn't feel "slick" or polished like last year's indie sci-fi darling Ex Machina. Midnight Special feels gritty in the way Nichols' previous work has, but it never gets overbearingly dreary. Alton is the key to maintaining a subversive sense of childlike wonder and discovery for the audience, and both Nichols' direction and Lieberher's performance deliver on that despite the external forces bearing down on the protagonists.

The most distressing part of this whole production is that Shepard's character is underused, and one gets the sense that much of his role was relegated to the cutting room floor. How do you get Sam Shepard for your movie and then hardly use him? Hopefully he'll get his due diligence in the Blu-ray deleted scenes.

Some audiences may also find fault with the way the film ends. While it's refreshing that things aren't exactly tied up in a bow, the climax sees Nichols perhaps overplaying his hand with "the big reveal." If you saw 10 Cloverfield Lane, the payoff feels similar; not completely void of merit but perhaps a little more than necessary. As a whole, though, Midnight Special is a unique sci-fi adventure that's worth taking, especially for indie fans.

(F.Y.I. - Midnight Special is NOT based directly on the folk song, although a new cover version is used over the end credits.)

A-

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Barbershop: The Next Cut" Review


The third trip to everyone's favorite South Side Chicago barbershop is set against a backdrop of the area's rampant gang violence. Where the similarly-set Chi-Raq explored the problem and potential solutions in an engaging, forward-moving way, Barbershop: The Next Cut doesn't offer a meaningful narrative to push things along. It's really just a series of harmless character moments set in and around the shop. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that; the film is, at best, consistently entertaining. But when Ice Cube is the cornerstone of your dramatic experience, something isn't quite right.

Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver offer a script directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Jokes are delivered at a modest pace with crowd-favorite Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) easily stealing the show. The film shines when everyone is in the shop trading barbs, especially to such an impassioned point where Jerrod (New Girl's Lamorne Morris) accidentally shaves an extra patch off someone's head.

The film could stand to be even funnier because too often, the jovial mood is shattered by ill-advised dramatic moments. There's a love triangle between Rashad (Common), Terri (Eve) and Draya (Nicki Minaj), a brothers' quarrel between Rashad and Calvin (Ice Cube), as well as subplots involving Calvin's son Jalen attempting to initiate in a gang and Calvin's attempt to secure shop space in the North Side without telling his colleagues. All the while, everyone in the shop tries to unite the community by offering free services during a 48-hour ceasefire. That's the catalyst behind these subplots. It would be fine if we ever got a sense of the real change the event sparked, but as such, it boils down to keeping young Jalen from joining the Bloods rather than ending the war in the streets. By the time a certain NBA star walks in for his big cameo, the film has all but jumped the shark.

In terms of performances, it's hard not to adore Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie for the unabashed goofiness he brings to a production that would otherwise have neither a heart nor soul. Common makes some of the dramatic scenes tolerable as he's proven himself time and again in more serious roles before. Minaj has a sizable part and delivers a surprisingly consistent, confident performance. However, the jury is still out on whether she'll be booking Godard or Malick next...

On the whole, Barbershop: The Next Cut offers an entertaining, occasionally funny catch-up with faces old and new. The setting is timely, but twelve years between films should indicate how sparse the demand is for another "cut." You could do much worse, especially in theaters right now, but there are far too many entertaining, even funnier, movies out there to make Barbershop 3 essential viewing.


Grade: C+

"Criminal" Review


All your favorite supporting characters from all your favorite superhero movies unite for a different brand of "Justice." Or "Avenging" if that's your thing.

Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight trilogy), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face in Batman Forever, Col. Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Ryan Reynolds (the title character in both Deadpool and Green Lantern) star in Criminal, a new film from director Ariel Vromen (The Iceman).

Costner plays the violent criminal Jericho Stewart who is recruited by Quaker Wells (Oldman) and the CIA for an experimental brain operation. This operation, headed by Dr. Franks (Jones), would transplant the memories and knowledge of deceased undercover agent Billy Pope (Reynolds) into a fresh body capable of recalling the classified information inside Pope's mind. The CIA needs it to finish the mission Billy started. Jericho seems like a good candidate because nobody would care if he died in the process.

At first, Jericho has some hilariously awkward encounters as he comes into his own following his release from prison. Things get a bit more serious as he starts to recall everything about Billy's professional and personal life. The stakes rise as he reaches out to Billy's wife Jill (Gadot) and the couple's young daughter. To save them, Jericho must complete Billy's mission at all costs.

Immediately after seeing Criminal, my first thought was how much I loved the fact that the film hearkens back to the "everyman action hero" movies of the 1980s and '90s. A name like "Jericho Stewart" belongs right alongside the likes of Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, Richard Kimble and John McClane. Also, Criminal isn't entirely self-serious. There are loads of lighthearted moments peppered throughout that use Jericho as a catalyst for sometimes unexpectedly big laughs. This is not a comedy film by any means; just a decent script that narrowly avoids being too dour. Many should find that refreshing after the relentlessly brooding tone of Batman v Superman. Costner is more than up for the challenge of delivering a consistent performance regardless of which scene he's in, whether it's played for laughs, intimate human drama or the thrills of a big set piece.

Among the supporting players, Gadot stands out as Jill. While some may interpret her scenes with Costner as melodramatic, Gadot shows a bit of nuanced restraint that makes her character easy to empathize with even before things really hit the fan. Easily her best performance yet, and if this is any indication, we should all be entirely sold on next year's Wonder Woman.

If for nothing else, Criminal deserves a recommendation as an occasionally silly but endlessly entertaining R-rated action movie that's well-and-truly made for grown-ups. Comic book aficionados need not necessarily apply. That alone ought to be refreshing for anybody.

B+

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Eye In the Sky" Review


Helen Mirren leads a solid cast in Eye In the Sky, a timely, white-knuckle thriller about the ethics of drone warfare. Gavin Hood co-stars and directs from an original screenplay by Guy Hibbert.

The story follows several hours in a joint operation between British, American and Kenyan authorities. The mission is headed by Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) in England who receives intelligence that three of the top five "Most Wanted" fugitives on their list are meeting in the same house in a peaceful Kenyan village just outside Nairobi. Kenya is an ally to both England and the United States, which makes the idea of dropping a missile that much more dangerous. The trigger man and pilot are at an Air Force base in Nevada - Pvt. Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) pilots the drone while Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is in charge of firing its payload. On the ground, Kenyan intelligence do everything they can to spy on the terrorist operation. Agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) positions a remote-controlled camera inside the house while he tries to stay under the radar of the occupying military force. Back in England, General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman) sits in a situation room with Powell's superiors debating the legality and the potential fallout of the operation. Without their approval, the mission cannot proceed. Just as Powell thinks she's covered and Watts' finger is on the trigger, a small girl sits in the kill zone to sell bread. Intrigue and edge-of-your seat tension ensue.

This may be the best script of any film I've seen so far this year. The pacing is perfect, and each character is given their due as they stake their individual claim/blame in the operation. Everyone has a satisfying bit of agency to them, and the performances live up to this. Mirren is routinely excellent, and Paul captures the pathos of a man grappling his moral compass with his duty to the operation. Rickman is also quite good. It's great to see him in one last non-franchise production.

Perhaps the best part about Eye In the Sky is that the ending isn't tied in a bow. War isn't, so why should this be? There are no easy solutions, and the audience is left to discuss the true ramifications for themselves. For a taut, plot-heavy experience, you can't do much better than Eye In the Sky.

A

"The Jungle Book" Review



Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) delivers a mind-blowing adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book for Walt Disney Pictures. Favreau works from a script by Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li).

Disney's newest live-action iteration finds impeccable balance in maintaining the crowd-friendly lightheartedness of the 1967 cartoon and the darker, more frightening edge of Kipling's original stories. This is an adventure picture that everyone in the family will get something out of no matter what. It's just that much fun.

Favreau's The Jungle Book picks up with the "man-cub" Mowgli (Neel Sethi) well-established as a member of the wolf pack overseen by Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o). On the day of the "water truce," in which all animals from the jungle are welcome to drink from the same watering hole, Mowgli receives an unwelcome threat from the tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) - "leave the jungle forever or perish." When Mowgli flees, Shere Khan decides to go back on his deal and hunt the man-cub down anyway. As he treks across the jungle, Mowgli undergoes a journey of self-discovery where he meets a slew of characters - some good, like the bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), and some bad, such as Kaa the python (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie the orangutan (voiced by Christopher Walken).

The artificial world that Favreau and everyone from the production designer to the art directors to the VFX wizards create together is the most immersive and lifelike since Life of Pi, maybe even Avatar. As wondrous as Pi's vast ocean and the planet of Pandora were, Favreau's jungle gets the edge because it feels the most plausible. Talking animals are most certainly the stuff of fantasy storytelling, but this jungle feels like a real location, and the animals themselves maintain a photorealistic appearance even while speaking. Nothing about this jungle's textures and foliage is stylized or "Seussified." Everything is modeled after real, tangible plant and animal life.

In two separate scenes, the camera follows Mowgli at the bottom of a landslide and later across a sloshing river with Baloo. In respective instances, mud and water speckle the lens as if filming on location, even though the end credits clearly state "Filmed entirely in Downtown Los Angeles."

Everyone loves to pooh-pooh the use of CGI in Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, but when it's used almost as a character in and of itself to supplement the larger story, and it's completed with such an eye for lifelike immersion, the artists and storytellers deserve nothing but praise. Save maybe Rogue OneThe Jungle Book should have little to no competition on its way to the next Best Visual Effects Oscar.

The voice acting is mostly magnificent, with Murray, Elba, and Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera standing out. Elba's work, combined with the fine digital rendering of the tiger himself, make this Shere Khan one of Disney's nastiest all-time villains. He may even crack some "Best Movie Villains Ever" lists. Though Shere Khan certainly asserts dominance over Cruella de Ville and Ursula, time will tell how he stacks up against the likes of Darth Vader, Hans Gruber and Ledger's Joker. For me, it's pretty close.

Probably the most pleasant surprise out of all the recognizable voices was that of the late Garry Shandling who has a bit role as Ikki the porcupine. It's a riot to listen to Shandling spout lines one last time as he scuttles around claiming sticks and rocks for his home like an anal-retentive fusspot. Credit Favreau for affording the film the kind of breathing room that allows small moments like Ikki's to shine while maintaining the story's larger focus.

Not all the performances are A-grade however. Newcomer Sethi is as decent a choice as any to play a live-action Mowgli inspired by the cartoon. But some of his dialogue delivery feels corny, as if he's not really feeling it and is just saying lines because someone told him to. I also didn't care for Walken as Don Corleo - I mean - King Louie. As the monarch of the monkeys, Walken does his best Brando impression and then tries to sing Louie Prima. It's awful, and with Richard Sherman's retooled lyrics, this was easily the most grating sequence in an otherwise swingin' production.

It's just barely saved by a sly wink to Walken's classic "More Cowbell" skit from Saturday Night Live.

Thankfully these flaws never outweigh the film's senses of fun, humor and danger. The Jungle Book is an adventure well-worth taking with the entire family. The astonishing visuals pop even more in 3-D, and several sequences beg to be experienced in IMAX. If IMAX 3-D is an option in your area, don't think twice.

A-

Monday, April 11, 2016

"Hardcore Henry" Review


You may remember a number of years back a pair of music videos that appeared on YouTube for a band called Biting Elbows. These two videos - "The Stampede" and "Bad Motherfucker" - were filmed from a first-person perspective and involved the main character leaping, chasing, punching and shooting his way through suited bad guys. "The Stampede" happened in an office building, and then "Bad Motherfucker" took the action all across a grungy cityscape.

After demonstrating their skills on YouTube, Russian-American filmmaker Ilya Naishuller and producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) thought it'd be a fun idea to make a feature-length action picture filmed entirely from the first-person point of view. So Naishuller strapped some GoPro Hero 3 cameras to a rig worn around one's head like a mask and set to work on Hardcore Henry.

In Hardcore Henry, the titular hero awakens with no memory as he is reassembled from bionic parts by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). After a warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) attacks Estelle's lab, Henry sets out to rediscover his identity and to rescue his wife before an army of bionic soldiers is unleashed on the world. Helping Henry along the way is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, in a delightfully bonkers turn), a cripple who uses various bionic copies of himself to prepare for any situation. There's ghillie suit Jimmy, punk-rock Jimmy, RAF Jimmy, cokehead playboy Jimmy, hobo Jimmy, and secret agent Jimmy just to name a few.

The warlord Akan (Kozlovsky) throws all the bad guys he can at Henry and Jimmy (quite literally in a rooftop fight sequence set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now"), and in the process makes for non-stop bloody mayhem as you've never seen it before this side of Call of Duty.

Endlessly exciting and deliriously unpretentious, I could never look away from Hardcore Henry. The gimmicky visuals worked. Somehow, the migraine never set in. Those especially accustomed to first-person shooter video games should be fine.

At one point during production, someone advised Naishuller that they should include a health bar and ammo HUD (heads-up display) on-screen at all times as a joke to gamers. Wisely, Naishuller declined to let the gimmick go quite that far. Hardcore Henry remains a fun, mindless little movie, and if it had included a HUD, I probably would've brought an Xbox controller to the theater. As much as companies like Microsoft want to close the gap between film, television and video games, I prefer at least a shred of differentiation.

The biggest negatives to take away here are that the story is rather weak, and character development is slim-to-none. Akan is a nasty villain, but the first-person gimmick doesn't allow us to explore his character at all. The most well-developed character is Jimmy, and it's not even his movie. The narrative doesn't answer enough of its own questions and seems content to serve as a thin excuse to string together action sequences. The ending is abrupt, yet just cynical and funny enough to be satisfying. That said, I don't think anyone will be clamoring for Hardcore Henry 2.

Those looking for an action movie that breaks the mold should find some satisfaction in Hardcore Henry. Though the plot may be thin, the first-person gimmick, breathless action sequences, and "Looney Tunes"-sense of humor make for a fun time.

B-

Saturday, April 9, 2016

"I Saw the Light" Review


Loki and Scarlet Witch team up for... Hank Williams?

Tom Hiddleston stars as the legendary country singer, and Elizabeth Olsen makes a supporting turn as his first wife Audrey.

Although writer/director Marc Abraham manages to wring nuanced performances from his talented cast, almost everything else about I Saw the Light remains in the dark.

The story picks up with Hank in his early 20s at the end of his small-town radio career. He begs his handlers to give him a shot at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee which has been a dream of Hank's for as long as he can remember. When his first appearance goes off like gangbusters, it seems Hank finally has the world at his fingertips.

Now, we all know Hank Williams the singer/songwriter, but how well do we know Hank Williams the man, the alcoholic who died in the back of his car at the age of 29?

Turns out, we know him quite well. I Saw the Light joins a long list of now-vanilla biopics about tragic, self-destructive "artists" and fails to adequately explore the pathos behind these real-life characters. Abraham's script can't be bothered to differentiate Williams' story from any standard biopic that's been released in the past 10-15 years. We get a good sense of what's on the surface but never an understanding of the driving force behind the man.

The first half-hour is also very poorly edited. Cuts, dissolves and cross-fades are placed at two or three scene transitions before the preceeding sequence is finished. Fortunately, this mistake is cleaned up as the film goes on, but there's really no excuse for ignoring basic filmmaking techniques in a modestly-budgeted, A-list production.

If this had been released 10 years ago during awards season, Hiddleston would likely be up for an Oscar. His assured performance keeps the film watchable, and his singing is quite good. It occurred to this reviewer, however, that as often as we consider Williams a musical "genius" and credit him with the invention of an entire genre of music, every single one of his songs sounds the exact same.

*Cue Kermit the Frog sipping tea*

If you've seen Ray and Walk the Line, you've seen I Saw the Light.

D

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Demolition" Review



Demolition is the new film from Jean-Marc Vallee, the director of Wild and Dallas Buyers Club. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper.

Fans of the Gyllenhaal can expect another great performance, and the film overall is quite good despite reveling in one too many clich├ęs. This is a much better movie than his other latest, Southpaw.

Gyllenhaal stars as Davis, a man struggling to cope with the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind). 

Davis works for his wife's father Phil (Cooper) at a high-end investment bank in New York City. He has a life most of us can only dream about, yet he feels almost completely dead inside. He claims that Julia's death and the subsequent - and quite literal - dismantling of his marriage is the first time he's "felt something" in years. At the hospital mere minutes after Julia dies, Davis buys a pack of peanut M&Ms from a vending machine. The one and only thing he wants for himself in the event of his wife's death are these M&Ms, and they get stuck in the machine. He writes a series of letters to the vending company which come across as confessional diary entries more than official complaints. Davis's letters catch the attention of customer service rep Karen (Watts), and the two form an unlikely relationship. Davis befriends Karen's young son Chris (Judah Lewis) who is going through an identity crisis of his own. The three serve as positive influences on each others' lives in ways none of them expect, and they help pull each other out of their respective ruts.

Demolition is in keeping with Vallee's recent work in that, like Wild and DBC, these are stories centered around distraught protagonists who find catharsis in unique ways - be it dismantling one's multi-million-dollar home by hand, hiking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, or selling drugs to AIDS patients.

At times it feels as though Demolition can't quite balance the mix of sweet and sour in Davis's life, but I think it works because the cast is just too good. All across the board, we feel for these characters precisely how we're meant to. Is it corny that Davis buys a backhoe off of eBay and has it delivered directly to his front door so that he can tear down his own house? If it was any other story or any other character, absolutely. But these grand, goofy gestures are so in tune with Davis's character that the hokey stuff is easy to accept. Bryan Sipe delivers a fine original script which this reviewer was shocked to find was not based on previously published material. It feels like an adaptation of a New York Times bestseller. Whichever elements are pastiched from other films/stories seem to fit Gyllenhaal and Vallee just fine.

B+