Daily Archives: July 15, 2016
Loose in narrative and derivative in nature, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a raunchy comedy that entertains thanks to the comedy interplay of its four leads. The “inspired by a true story” tale follows two rowdy screw-up bros, Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron), who are given an ultimatum by their frustrated family: bring dates to their little sister’s wedding in Hawaii or don’t come at all. The guys’ online ad goes viral and two down-on-their-luck party girls, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), answer the call, posing as “nice girls” for a free tropical vacation. What follows is a comically episodic series of hit-or-miss set pieces, and yet what really shines is the energy between the foursome and the unexpected jokes. Kendrick and Efron, playing a very similar part from Neighbors, are positioned as more straight foils to the loud, obnoxious Plaza and Devine, though every member gets a chance to shine. Special mention must go to actress Sugar Lynn Beard, as the much beset bride, and her deft physical comedy skills. Mike and Dave is a movie that had me laughing fairly consistently and was mellow enough not to grate when it dipped into its fleeting dramatic portions. There are plenty of Neighbors vibes with the movie, not just from Efron’s efforts but also because this movie shares the same writers. It’s not quite as well developed nor are the characters as fleshed out. I’d rate Mike and Dave a small notch below Neighbors 2; it’s fun and consistently funny though hardly memorable. Something I found interesting, and I may be alone in the universe, is that all of the female nudity in Mike and Dave is played for laughs instead of titillation. Usually male nudity is the one played for laughs and discomfort. If this one small step toward progress, let the acceptably lowbrow Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates exist as a footnote of history.
Nate’s Grade: B
Well meaning and somberly recreated, Free State of Jones is a historical drama that wants to illuminate the story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) who deserted from the Confederate army and seceded from the very people who seceded from the United States. Knight and the people of Jones county Mississippi declared themselves independent and awaited the consequences. At first the Confederate army is annoyed, but as armed skirmishes increase and Knight’s team swells with poor farmers and runaway slaves, garnering Robin Hood-esque folk hero status, you’re expecting an escalating level of force that will doom Newton. We’ve seen this kind of historical drama before where men (usually men) of courage and politics ahead of their time are stamped out by the forces of oppression and we then celebrate their noble sacrifice. I kept waiting for Jones to go this route, and then (slight historical spoilers) the Civil War ends and instead the last half hour is an episodic history tour that includes the rise of the KKK, registering freed black men for voting, and early voter suppression acts. There is also a storyline strewn throughout that takes place in a 1940s Mississippi courtroom. At first you’re left scratching your head about the flash forwards, and then the connections come to bear. We’re watching Knight’s (great?) grandson and his legal troubles because the courts don’t know whether he’s the byproduct of Newton’s first wife (Kerri Russell), who left him, or his common law second wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a former slave. It’s a storyline that just doesn’t really gel with the movie as a whole and really only serves to remind you that 100 years later Mississippi was still a pretty terrible place to live. Free State of Jones’ failure is that it doesn’t make this slice of history emotionally engaging. We don’t get a strong sense of whom Newton is as a person except for his 99% rabble rousing. His relationship with Mbatha-Raw’s character is the most engaging part of the film given its inherent conflict, and I’ll credit writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) with how restrained he is about dealing with her sexual abuse from slavery. The relationship is treated very tenderly and Mbatha-Raw aces her scenes. Also warning to dog lovers: there are several sequences of violence against man’s best friend that will be hard to watch. Free State of Jones works better as a history lesson rather than as a fully formed movie.
Nate’s Grade: C+
What once seemed like a premise fit for ridicule has become a franchise I actively look forward to now and swallow whole any incredulity. The Purge: Election Year is something of a lateral move from its predecessor, Anarchy, as it’s not an improvement but it’s still a fun and thrilling entry that provides just enough satisfying gonzo political commentary to temper its action. Finally with the second movie I got the Purge movie I wanted, experiencing the event itself outdoors, and Election Year continues this trend. We follow a small group of minority characters trying to survive the night, escaping from one location to another as they encounter a menagerie of weird, murderous citizens trying to make America great again. A presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) wants to do away with the barbarous Purge practice, and so this makes her a top target during that 12-hour free-for-all. Her head of security, and lone source of protection after an ambush, is played by Frank Grillio, returning from Anarchy and reminding you early and often just what a great action hero he can be. I enjoyed the ongoing shaping and texture of writer/director James DeMonaco’s kill crazy world, whether it was “murder tourists” coming over to America to experience consequences-free killing, the idea of a religious ceremony deifying purging, and even stuff I know is pure trailer candy, like an all-girl gang dressed in creepy masks, princess dresses, and chainsaws. There is some seriously unsettling imagery and moments, though the presence of a white supremacist hit squad dilutes some of the film’s tension simply by being a constant antagonist chasing down our heroes. There aren’t as many new set pieces to further illuminate the depravity of this world as there was with Anarchy. Still, there’s more than enough nasty bite in this franchise. How is this franchise not been turned into an open world survival video game yet? I wonder why everybody just automatically wants to murder during the Purge. I would just probably cheat on my taxes (don’t audit me IRS for this statement!).
Nate’s Grade: B