Tuesday, July 12, 2016

This Week's DVD Releases

The Divergent Series: Allegiant *

The Divergent series — a derivative saga of family, factions and overstressed females — soldiers within sight of the finish line with its third installment, Allegiant. But a story that kicked off two years ago at a reasonable gallop has now slowed to barely a limp.

The first film in a two-part finale (the second, Ascendant, is expected next year), Allegiant sends Tris (Shailene Woodley), her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and her hunky squeeze, Four (Theo James, even more expressionless than usual if that’s possible), fleeing from a still-walled-in Chicago. One shower of toxic rain and a blasted landscape later, they wash up at the gleamingly pristine Bureau of Genetic Welfare, where David (a smugly sinister Jeff Daniels) presides over unspecified hanky-panky with the human genome.

Spouting biological balderdash with a commendably straight face, David declares Tris "pure," a designation that comes with all-white outfits and an all-access pass to David’s private aerie. (This doesn’t sit well with Four, who, being "damaged," is stuck below, wearing Mad Max’s postapocalyptic castoffs.) Ill-defined and padded with tame special effects, these scenes are so lacking in narrative momentum that we can almost hear the hum of a plot idling in neutral.

Tris, too, seems becalmed and unsure, vacillating between David’s professed humanitarianism and Four’s insistence that evil is afoot. Woodley, previously such a strong anchor for a series that’s casually dominated by powerful female characters, feels disengaged here and a little tired. And a sidelined Octavia Spencer, playing the leader of the former peace-loving Amity faction — now reborn as a resistance group known as Allegiant — appears similarly detached.

A flaccid blend of eugenics, purloined children, memory-wiping gas and laughably unlikely scuffles, Allegiant (directed by Robert Schwentke) offers a weak bridge to the series’ conclusion. Whether viewers will still be allegiant after crossing it remains to be seen.

Everybody Wants Some!! ***½

Finally, an Animal House movie for the generation that can remember seeing Animal House. Maybe.

Everybody Wants Some!! — and those exclamation points are totally earned — is set in the summer of 1980, as Southeast Texas State University welcomes some freshly baked frosh. And they're ready to learn a lot: About keggers, about Everclear, about bongs. Also about crashing parties, meeting girls and standing by your buds. About literature, philosophy and organic chem? Eh, not so much.

Director Richard Linklater has described this as a "spiritual sequel" to his '70s high-school flashback Dazed and Confused, but Everybody Wants Some!! is a gentler, looser movie. There's no real plot, and not much conflict. (The only villain is a pretty easily handled jerk.) The characters, all on the school baseball team, are as simple as a college memory. Hey, remember that guy who bet on everything and always lost? Or that pick-up artist who always scored? What a madman.

Luckily, the young and mostly unknown cast is a lot of fun, particularly Glen Powell, who plays cocky upperclassman Finnegan, and Wyatt Russell as the California stoner Willoughby. Blake Jenner is a little flat as our supposed hero, Jake, but adding gentle class to this gang of jocks is Zoey Deutch as Beverly, a performing-arts major who still hasn't chosen her path. (On one dorm room wall: a Patti Smith poster. On the other: Cabaret.)

And Linklater, always a detail guy, gets such period stuff absolutely right — like the bitchin' Pioneer tapedecks, the raggedy jean cutoffs and a soundtrack that kicks off with My Sharona and never lets up. There's never an emotional moment here to compete, or even compare, with his last film, Boyhood. But there's not supposed to be. Everybody Wants Some!! is as laid-back and low-pressure as a Saturday afternoon at someone's dorm room.

So, go ahead, clear those empties off the futon. Grab a Schlitz. Hang out for a while in the summer of 1980. There’s almost nothing better.

Green Room ***

Patrick Stewart has a blast playing against type as a soft-spoken white supremacist holding a punk rock band as his temporary prisoners in Jeremy Saulnier’s nicely crafted, low-budget comedy-thriller.

The struggling band, the Ain’t Rights, have unwisely accepted a fill-in gig at Stewart’s concert venue in the Oregon wilderness, and compounded their mistake by performing the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks F?-?-?k Off to an unappreciative audience while surrounded by Confederate flags. The unnerved musicians then accidentally become witnesses to a murder while retrieving a cellphone from the venue’s squalid green room.

Saulnier gets lots of laughs and builds plenty of suspense in this effective (if gory) little tongue-in-cheek sleeper. He’s abetted by solid performances from Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Alia Shawkat as the musicians whom Stewart’s minions are trying to methodically eliminate to cover up the crime.

Other releases this week:

13 Cameras
Belladonna of Sadness ***
The Dark Horse ***
Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang ***
Marguerite & Julien *
Miracles from Heaven
Mountains May Depart ***
My Big Night ***
My Golden Days ***½
The Preppie Connection *
Road Games
Sworn Virgin ***


**** Excellent.
*** Good.
** Fair
* Poor
No stars Abysmal

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