“The Spectacular Now”
How to deal with the high school movie in modern cinema? This is a question the late, great John Hughes devoted years of his life writing about in the ’80s – “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” These films are diverse stories where drama and comedy balance. There’s wit and one-liners, but there’s also poverty, abuse, suburban malaise, alcoholism, material excess, bullying and a list of other social ills. This is what this film does and does well. It also kick starts a chemistry between lead actors Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. This chemistry will be seen again in the “Divergent” series this week in theaters. The writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”) paint a timeless place and channel their inner-Hughes with characters we can care about and laugh at. It isn’t spectacular but it’s well worth a watch.
“Out of the Furnace”
Let’s get this out of the way – this film is dirty and hard-hitting and intended for dudes. That’s not to say there aren’t women out there who will enjoy it, but it’s a movie about brothers, fathers and sons, and the evils men are capable of. The lineup is indicative of the content – Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. Zoe Saldana is the only female actor with any real role here. Essentially, this is an underdog story, and director Scott Cooper knows a thing or two about the underdog tale, having helmed “Crazy Heart” back in 2009. All of the performances burn strong. The settings are covered with an ashy grit. It sears in a social point about returning veterans, and it’s worth a watch.
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Actor Oscar Isaac has been making films for about eight years, but chances are you’ve never heard of him until now. And for the most part, this is one of the Coen Brothers’ most lackluster films to date. But Isaac still stands out. As with most Coen Brothers’ films, the reason is the soundtrack. This soundtrack is essentially the movie, dealing with the New York music scene circa 1961. Llewyn Davis is just another folk singer in a sea of folkies. The Coens deftly capture the mood of a changing time, filled with iconic figures. The music is recorded on screen as it’s made, and it makes for scenes alive with one musical gem after another. The problem with the film is there are too many somber characters. There’s no pop to parallel Isaac’s doldrums. We’re used to seeing the Coens rub their colorful characters against their bland ones until the traits blend, accentuate one another. But here, there are only shades of grey. Here’s the thing – If anyone else made this film, it would’ve been called genius. The cast is phenomenal (too long to list), and in time, it’ll get more play and respect, but for now, it’s not a classic, but still worth a watch.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge