I felt like I missed something with Rudderless, but jumping online lead me to believe that, no, the film is just manipulative. There’s a revelation made about halfway through the film that will come as a big surprise, and is supposed to transform what you think of certain characters and their actions. But I stopped and thought “wait, that’s what happened?” And it took me right out of the experience because I was thinking back on how the film kept this information from us.

Our plot follows Sam (Billy Crudup), a successful advertising executive who opens the film by closing a big deal. He calls his son to celebrate, telling him to blow off classes. The son refuses, going to class anyway. At the bar, Sam sees the worst possible news: There has been a school shooting. Yes, his son becomes one of the victims. Sam eventually loses his job goes to live on a boat several hours outside of his previous home, and Rudderless then picks up a couple of years later. Sam now paints houses for a living and is every bit the grumpy man that one can become after experiencing the loss of a child.

Sam sometimes goes to the bar and listens to local musicians play their songs. Sam’s son was a songwriter, and Sam was the one to keep all of the music. One day, he decides to play one of his son’s songs at the bar. He finds an admirer, Quentin (Anton Yelchin), who proclaims him the best thing ever. Eventually, Quentin convinces Sam to form a duet with him. And then a full-blown band. Sam sees some of his son in Quentin. From here, the film enters spoiler territory, so I’ll leave the plot here.

It’s emotionally manipulative. It drops a bomb on us but doesn’t quite know why or what its ramifications are — it just wants to shock us and to make us think back on earlier moments. Perhaps we’ll want to watch some earlier scenes again in order to truly understand them — especially now that we have new-found knowledge. At least, that’s Rudderless‘ goal. In reality, a scoff at the revelation will be a more likely reaction.

Rudderless is supposed to be touching. It’s hardly that. It comes across as too false, and doesn’t quite understand how its emotional moments should make us feel. Some scenes are set up as big and dramatic, but fall flat, while smaller scenes that are passed over were more likely to affect the audience. It’s a matter of tone and importance. William H. Macy made his directorial debut — he’s also a co-writer and has small role as the local barkeep — with this film, and it’s likely just inexperience that led to these problems. Give him another film or two and I think he’ll surprise us.

Many of the best scenes in Rudderless are when musicians are playing on-stage. This is when the film has its most energy. It helps that the music is good (or funny), but the way they’re shot and edited together make you think that, yeah, Macy has talent. Whether or not it’s really the actors singing doesn’t matter; the musical moments are good, and you might just find yourself wanting to find a Rudderless soundtrack after watching it.

Billy Crudup starts the main part of the movie as a bitter drunk, and slowly but surely turns into a nice guy thanks to the involvement of Anton Yelchin’s character. Yelchin is a bit too whiny to be taken seriously, especially in a scene where we learn why he’s socially awkward, which was supposed to be important but, quite simply, isn’t. Supporting roles go to Laurence Fishburne, as a kind music store owner, Selena Gomez, as Sam’s son’s girlfriend, Felicity Huffman, as the son’s mother, and Macy, as the barkeep.

Rudderless showed some promise, but it squandered much of its potential by being emotionally deceitful and manipulative. When the twist comes, you think on the way the film kept its secrets from you, not on how it impacts the story or alters your perception of its characters and their actions. And with it being such an important aspect to the story being told, that robs Rudderless of much of its power. The musical scenes are staged well, and the actors are pretty strong, but it’s hard to care a whole lot or recommend Rudderless because of the way its story is fumbled.


Disturbing Behavior

Being the new kid in a small town isn’t the easiest experience on the best of days. Everyone else already knows each other; you stand out from the crowd without so much as saying a word. Now imagine being the new kid in a town where the most prominent faction — the Blue Ribbons — are all perfect angels. Except that they might actually be pure evil, and that you are the only person who will be able to stop them. Such is the life of Steve (James Marsden), who begins Disturbing Behavior moving to Cradle Bay, a coastal town.

Steve immediately befriends some outcasts. Gavin (Nick Stahl) is a stoner. U.V. (Chad E. Donella) is also a stoner. Rachel (Katie Holmes) is “the girl.” She’s friends with the stoners so she’s probably also a stoner. A rundown of the cliques and factions occurs, and we’re shown the Blue Ribbons, and how perfect they are, even if something doesn’t seem right about them. It’s like they’re too perfect, and also people sometimes wind up dead. Former outcasts are met by Blue Ribbons and instantly “converted.” It’s almost as if mind control is being used…

More and more people start becoming Blue Ribbons until it’s eventually time to do something about it. So, Steve and co. have to both uncover just exactly what’s going on with the Blue Ribbons, and then put a stop to them. That is assuming, of course, that something is actually wrong with them. I wouldn’t want to give that away, now, would I? Wait. Of course I would. Something is definitely wrong with them. We wouldn’t have a movie if there wasn’t.

In theory, Disturbing Behavior is supposed to be a horror movie, or perhaps a semi-scary thriller. It is neither. There are no scares or thrills to be found. There is also no character development, good acting, competent dialogue, or anything beyond a kind of interesting premise. I’m not sure what someone is supposed to get out of Disturbing Behavior but it’s something that I wasn’t able to find. From almost start to finish, there was nothing to enjoy about this production. It was dull and dumb.

There are barely enough ideas here to make a feature film. Disturbing Behavior runs just over 80 minutes and about half of that probably could have been trimmed. The film’s director is David Nutter, whose greatest prior success was probably directing some X-Files episodes. At 44 minutes long, Disturbing Behavior probably would have been more successful. It would play well on the small screen, too. Consumed with commercial breaks and all, it would distract for an hour of TV while you wait for the next sports game to come on, or right before bed.

But as a feature film? It’s just not good. The standards are raised when you’re asking your audience to pay ten bucks or however much to view your product, and when it’s not even as good as a mystery TV show they could watch for free, you’ve got some problems. The only reason to watch Disturbing Behavior is if it’s on late-night cable and you can’t sleep. Chances are that it’ll put you right to sleep. Writing about it now is giving me just that sensation.

There’s a good chance that the film was made quickly and cheaply, done when the actors had some free time over a couple of weeks just to try to turn a quick profit. You know those comedy films that show up every now and then that look like buddy hang-out projects? Same kind of thing, except I have no idea if the actors here are friends in real life. I do know that they’re bland and don’t show any acting talent in this film, but I don’t know if that’s a fair indication. I don’t know how easy it would be to show enthusiasm for this project.

Disturbing Behavior probably had a decent idea for a movie buried somewhere within it, but that premise doesn’t shine through in the finished product. This is a dull, drab, and dumb movie with very few, if any, redeeming qualities. It’s not scary, it’s not thrilling, it doesn’t make you think, it doesn’t make you feel, and it won’t make you appreciate a single aspect about it. There are TV shows with better episodes that require half the time and none of the financial investment (assuming you have cable). Watch one of those instead.


Raw Review (October 20, 2014)

Spoilers follow for the October 20th episode of Raw.

We’re up to the last Raw before the Hell in a Cell PPV, which means that we should almost finalize the card. Or, at least give us reason to care about Cena/Orton #27.

Triple H, Randy Orton, Kane, and Seth Rollins are out to kick off Raw. The cell is above the ring, because we’re promoting the PPV. Triple H begins by hyping our main event, which is a handicap match. Orton, Kane, and Rollins vs. John Cena and Dean Ambrose. Triple H then moves onto hyping the PPV. Seth Rollins eventually gets the mic, and he says has a new nickname. “Undisputed future of the WWE.” He gets booed. Orton eventually jumps in and says his match against Cena is the true main event at Hell in a Cell. Triple H stops them and says it’s a double main event. Then we’re told that the winner of Orton/Cena will get a title shot.

Sheamus and The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) vs. Goldust, Stardust, and The Miz (with Damien Sandow)

Before the match, The Miz puts Damien Sandow in the match instead of him. So, I guess that actually makes the match different from the one we got on Smackdown. Well, that’s … something. The Miz instead decides to join the commentary team.

I’ve been hoping for a while that Sandow would start thinking he’s a better Miz than Miz, and that would lead to him getting a title shot and a face turn. There’s a chance this could happen here. Miz’s team didn’t win when they did this match on Smackdown, but if they win here — especially if Sandow gets the pin — Sandow could claim that he’s the reason there was a different result. Continue this for a few weeks and you’ve got a storyline.

The match works about how you’d expect. Sandow stays most of the match not getting in. Once he does get in, Sheamus dominates him for a while. Eventually, the other team members all hit moves and do distractions. Sheamus hits a Brogue Kick on Stardust, and then Sandow rolls him up for the win. We very well might be building toward Sandow/Miz.

Match Rating: **1/2

After the commercial, Triple H and Randy Orton are seen talking backstage. Orton will make Triple H proud, he says. He also says he needs to find Seth Rollins and “thank” him.

Then another Wyatt Family vignette airs. It’s for both Harper and Rowan this time. I think it’s a combination of both solo vignettes. Maybe there’s some new footage, too. It’s so hard to keep track.

Then AJ Lee comes out, because WWE decided to go from creepy to adorable in a split second. That’s not jarring at all.

AJ Lee vs. Alicia Fox (with Paige)

Alicia Fox dominates the majority of the match. AJ mounts a comeback, and eventually Paige and Alicia do a fakeout that distracts AJ and allows Alicia to get the win. This was a longer match than you’d expect, which was nice, although the finish was a little weird.

Match Rating: **

Randy Orton thanks Seth Rollins backstage after the match. He wonders why Seth Rollins looked out for him. If Orton doesn’t win at Hell in a Cell, we very well might be doing this feud next.

Following the break, Randy Orton comes down to the ring. He’s still in a suit. We’re an hour into the show. This is a new record, probably. Orton talks about the long history between himself and John Cena. Eventually, Cena comes out. Cena calls him old and stupid. They jab back and forth for a while, and deliver a pretty intense promo.

Then Paul Heyman decides to come out. His laidback nature works so well against the intensity that the two Superstars delivered. Heyman talks down Cena and Orton. Cena picks up Heyman for an AA, but eventually puts him down. Orton RKOs Cena (out of nowhere). Heyman laughs and Orton walks around the ring. Then Orton RKOs Heyman to end the segment.

Big E vs. Rusev (with Lana)

Wow. Big E. In a match. On Raw. This is new. Not a good thing, mind you, since Big E sucks, but, hey, he’s another body for Rusev to beat down (again).

We did this on PPV. Big E has almost been out of action since then. Rusev has only gotten better. Tell me why we’re supposed to think Big E has any chance of winning. Big E does get some offense in, keeping this from being a squash match, but the outcome is never in doubt. Rusev wins by making Big E tap to The Accolade. Big E doesn’t tap right away, which makes the move seem deadlier. Take note, jobbers.

Match Rating: **

Lana and Rusev cut an anti-Big Show promo after the match. They try to have the Russian flag come down after the match, but it doesn’t. Big Show appears on the Titantron, makes a face, and then the American flag comes down instead. Ha. Ha. Rusev then tries to rip it down. An American soldier jumps in from the crowd to make the save, only for Rusev to kick his face. Rusev and Lana are then escorted to the back.

Big Show is in the ring after the commercial. He’s in tears, because he’s so patriotic and stuff. He talks about lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Big Show eventually calls out Rusev. Because how dare Rusev defend himself from an assailant. Rusev doesn’t come out. Big Show says he’ll come to Rusev if he won’t come down, so he heads backstage. He kicks open the door to Rusev’s dressing room, but the room is empty. Duh. We’re saving this for the PPV.

Dean Ambrose is then shown watching See No Evil 2 backstage, because it’s out tomorrow and you should buy it. John Cena asks him what he’s doing. They then talk about how they’re teaming up, and how they need to take it seriously, and all that good stuff. They talk strategy. And superheroes.

Brie Bella vs. Summer Rae

The Divas work a slow and uninteresting match. Summer Rae is the Randy Orton of the Divas division when it comes to submissions. Eventually, Brie picks up the win with a facebuster. And then immediately stops selling the injury she had right before it. Just like her husband does.

Match Rating: *1/2

Dean Ambrose is out during our Monday Night Football halftime segment — the one WWE really, really want us to watch — which just cements him as the WWE’s hottest star right now. Ambrose drags out a Seth Rollins dummy and places it, sitting down, on a steel chair. He proceeds to rip apart and beat up the dummy.

Eventually, Seth Rollins comes out to the stage, and talks down to Ambrose. He has Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble behind him. Rollins and Ambrose go back and forth for a bit, with Rollins eventually making his way to the ring. But then Mick Foley comes down. Yes, Mick Foley! Wow. What a surprise! Foley does some good talking, gets a “Thank you, Foley” chant, and then Ambrose and Rollins continue going back and forth. Eventually, Foley bids them adieu, Rollins and Ambrose go their separate ways — not peacefully — and the segment ends. Well, that was a nice surprise, WWE.

Cesaro vs. Dolph Ziggler

Surprise! Cesaro and Ziggler work a really solid match together. I know, you’re shocked. It’s not like we’ve seen them work really well together before, or anything. I hope these two get a PPV match soon, because this is the type of contest that deserves no commercials and slightly higher stakes.

I don’t know why Cesaro got to win with an uppercut, but whatever. He does.

Match Rating: ***1/2

Cesaro hits the Neutralizer after the match. Because he’s a heel.

Rollins, Orton and Kane are shown arguing backstage. Triple H shows up and declares Kane team captain for the match tonight. Kane yells at Rollins and Orton. Their match is next. But first, a Hell in a Cell highlight package and a Wyatt Family vignette.

Handicap Street Fight: John Cena and Dean Ambrose vs. Kane, Randy Orton, and Seth Rollins

So, the match starts out as a mess, despite all the competitors, for some reason, still obeying the “tag in and out” rule — without disqualifications. Whatever. Soon enough, weapons get involved. You didn’t think these men would do anything other than a couple of big bumps on the Raw before a PPV, right?

Well, surprisingly, after we come back from a commercial break, Rollins and Ambrose are wrestling a real match. Why? I have no idea. A table was going to get involved right before we took a break. The match once again becomes a weapon-fest. A table does indeed get involved. So does a chair and the steel steps. And the announcer’s table (kind of).

Oh, yeah, and the cell gets brought down, too. Kane brought it down when Ambrose was outside, but Ambrose crawls under the cell just before it gets lowered completely. A kendo stick gets involved. Orton says a choice four-letter word, which got muted out of the broadcast. Finishers are hit, Orton pins Dean Ambrose, and Orton wins. Then Seth Rollins Curb Stomps Orton. The end.

Match Rating: ***

The Good: Ziggler/Cesaro. Main event.

The Bad: Brie/Summer.

Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Cesaro.


Drinking Buddies

Aimlessness and ambiguity are often two factors that define the independent film. The justification is almost always the same: “That’s how life is.” To me, this often seems like a cover for the true motivation: “I couldn’t write a definitive ending or a story more properly motivated.” It’s true that the former story is likely true in some cases, and we’ll never know how often it is or isn’t what’s actually happened, but I’d wager it’s used as a cover more often than it should.

Drinking Buddies is a film that is aimless and I suppose also ambiguous in its ending. It follows two main characters, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), both of whom work at a Chicago brewery and are very good friends. So good, in fact, that it seems like they’re destined to be a romantic couple. In most movies, they would be. Maybe they are in this one, too. They both begin the film in a relationship with someone else: Kate is with Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick). These are also good pairings, but not as perfect as Kate and Luke — or perhaps Chris and Jill.

There isn’t much of a plot. The characters hang out together and talk. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they wind up kissing, but mostly they just talk and try to figure out what to do with their lives, if they’re happy, etc. Most of the time, this is done over alcohol, hence the title. These are real-world problems, and while a lot of movies do wind up discussing them, the time Drinking Buddies dedicates far exceeds the majority of films out there.

I suppose in this regard the film succeeds. It allows its characters to talk for 90 minutes about real-world issues, never really solving them because “that’s how life is.” Problems don’t just go away after one discussion. This is true. But for an audience, hearing about them over and over — and they’re kind of petty, melodramatic issues, too, a lot of the time — is a grating experience. It also doesn’t help that some audience members will be dealing with similar issues in real life. This isn’t an escapism movie.

Sometimes, you go to the movies not to be simply entertained, but to learn more about people. Drinking Buddies wants to be one of those movies. But its aimlessness and lack of resolution prohibits that. You watch these characters talk for 90 minutes and get little, if anything, out of it. You’d be better off watching an episode of Dr. Phil — and that won’t even cost you a full hour and a half. I’ll save you the time: People are complicated and you can’t solve everything instantaneously.

In fact, anyone you meet in real life will be almost infinitely more complex than the ones you watching in Drinking Buddies. Day-to-day interactions are often very shallow — when’s the last time you had a heart-to-heart conversion with your billiards buddy? — and this movie captures that well. But it doesn’t allow for anything deeper. The fights and conflicts displayed in more personal moments are just as shallow — and even more laughable — than what goes on in front of the curtain.

It probably doesn’t help that much of the dialogue feels improvised, as if the actors were given vague motivations, told to drink some beer, and act out what they thought their characters would say. I suppose that could work, but some sort of firm plan is generally a more productive approach than simply letting the actors wing it. Count the number of “ums” in this film. (Of course, “that’s how it is in the real world.) Improv works best as comedy, and while Drinking Buddies has a few funny moments, it’s much more of a drama than a film designed to make you laugh.

I hate to simply come out and say that Drinking Buddies is boring, but that’s how I feel and there’s no point denying it. The characters aren’t interesting enough, the dialogue meanders as the actors try to come up with their lines, and not a whole lot happens. There’s constant tension — both of sexual and non-sexual in nature — but very little of it is acted upon. Just more talking about the same types of things they were talking about earlier.

The only reason that Drinking Buddies winds up being watchable at all — apart from the pretense of being “realistic” — is the actors. These are naturalistic performances, in large part because of the improvisational nature of the production. The actors have to be good and raw because they’re not entirely sure what they’re going to be doing. You can’t really prepare for a role like this one. These are good actors, and watching them play off one another is about the only enjoyment I got out of the film.

Drinking Buddies is an aimless and meandering film that purports to be a realistic portrayal of adult relationships. Is it that? Sure, I guess, but it’s also repetitive and doesn’t actually have as much to say as it thinks it does. Sure, it might be “like real life,” but lots of real life is boring and if you’re not going to inject your film with richer characters or more meaning, there isn’t much point. The actors try hard to keep the film at a watchable level, but I can’t recommend watching Drinking Buddies.


Camp X-Ray

You kind of know the type of movie you’re getting into when its opening shot depicts the terrorist attacks that happened on September 11, 2001, don’t you? This isn’t a movie that’ll make you laugh; it’s a king of brutal drama about war. However, unlike most movies, it takes place in Guantanamo Bay, and primarily follows two characters talking and learning about each other, even though they’re really not supposed to. If they fell in love, it’d be Romeo & Juliet, except one of them might be a terrorist.

I’m … making light of it a little bit, possibly because the story is a touch unbelievable and is more difficult to take seriously than it should be. The film wants to, just maybe, make us think that people are more complicated than the labels to which we initially attribute them, while also drawing attention to the treatment of detainees — not prisoners, since they get rights — at Guantanamo. And it does this … by having one if its female guards (Kristen Stewart) strike up a semi-friendship with one of the inmates (Peyman Moaadir).

I’ll backtrack. PFC Amy Cole (Stewart) has finally left her hometown and is in the army. She’s assigned to guard duty at Guantanamo Bay — or perhaps she chose it; I don’t know how these things work — and spends most of her day pacing back and forth in the same section. Sometimes he hands out food or books. One inmate, Ali (Moaadi), begins to talk to her. He wants to know if she has the last Harry Potter book. And, let me tell you this: it’s kind of inherently funny listening to Kristen Stewart talk about Harry Potter.

Ali is apparently the only detainee in this block that speaks English, so he spends lots of his time peppering Cole with questions. She’s not supposed to reveal anything personal, but before long, she has. I questioned at this point whether this was a ploy by Ali to get inside her head, get preferential treatment, or maybe even plan an escape. No, he’s just a curious fellow, even if he does sometimes act up. He is imprisoned for life, after all. That can drive anyone a little crazy.

From here, the film deals with Ali’s treatment — and the treatment of all of the detainees at Guantanamo — as well as the way that the military deals with its female members, how dehumanizing being a guard at this place can be, and essentially just how little fun life is. Even in its only real scene that shows its characters experiencing joy, Camp X-Ray has to ruin the fun by throwing negativity into the mix. It’s a bit much, actually.

This is a talkative movie. You learn about its two main characters through the dialogue they share with one another, and sometimes the rest of the characters actively try to make sure you get to hear as little as possible, since they’re really not supposed to be sharing anything. Oh, and it all might be a power ploy, even though the film hints at that at the beginning but then never pushes that angle. It was just me thinking that, really. I get why they’d bring it up, but to never mention it again loses a potentially exciting element.

What Camp X-Ray will probably be noticed for the most is that it reaffirms Kristen Stewart as a strong dramatic actor, even though people paying attention would need the reaffirmation. Look at her non-mainstream body of work and you’d already know it. This film shows her as someone who has to struggle to keep an emotionless demeanor, occasionally showing cracks in that mask. And she’s really good at it. Not to be outdone is Peyman Moaadi, who provides more heart to the picture than he probably should have had to.

Camp X-Ray is a good film, although it will be a tough watch for some people. It consists primarily of talking, and doesn’t allow for many moments of levity throughout, meaning you’re going to be wading through a lot of depressing negativity as it plays. But it has strong leading performances, and it does take a look at some serious themes, which makes it a rewarding watch for those who are willing to sit through it. Is it sometimes difficult to take seriously? Sure, but stick with it and you’ll be able to get something out of it.