Posts Tagged ‘Miles Teller’

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When a movie about a crew of wildland firefighters tells you that it’s “based on true events,” you can pretty well guess that things aren’t going to end well. So it is with “Only The Brave,” an effectively moving but narratively thin telling of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who battled the deadly Yarnell Fire in 2013.

While a sense of foreboding hovers over the movie, writer Sean Flynn and director Joseph Kosinski wisely avoid framing the plot as a collision course with tragedy. It focuses instead on the members of the hotshot crew, investing the bulk of the film’s running time on their personal lives and training.

The result is a much more human and reverential story, compared to similar films that telegraph their third-act disasters early and make, sacrificial offerings of their protagonists.

But “Only the Brave” swings a little too far in it’s human focus, leaving too little time for the Yarnell Fire and robbing its Big Bad blaze of narrative heft. So while it presents a touching tribute to the real life men who lost their lives, its also anticlimactic. When the hotshot crew finally comes face-to-face with destiny, the closing credits aren’t far behind.

By way of summary, James Brolin plays Eric Marsh, superintendent of the Prescott Fire Department’s wildland fire crew, who — when we meet them — are working toward Hotshot status, a designation that would put them on the front lines of major burns. After slots on his team open up, he takes a chance on Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a junkie burnout looking to turn his life around after the birth of his daughter.

There is interpersonal drama sprinkled throughout, including marital troubles for Marsh and his wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) and resistance-turned-comraderie that McDonough experiences as he proves himself in a series of training and firefighting sequences. The real priority is memorializing the men of the Granite Mountain  Hotshots before the third-Act blaze.

Kosinski is perhaps better known for sense of visuals than his mastery of storytelling (he directed Oblivion and the poorly-received but eye-popping Tron: Legacy) and his fire photography here feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a more down-to-earth plot than his previous work, but the raging infernos on screen are robbed of urgency and menace by Kosinski’s realistic approach.

“Only the Brave” has many winning components for a tale of ordinary men battling the threat of nature. But it misses opportunities to lean into its strengths, offering something like the film equivalent of a memorial plaque: moving, informational, and stiff.

Grade: B-

“Only the Brave” opens nationwide on Friday, October 20.

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*Note: This review was first published during coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

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I like Miles Teller. I liked him in The Spectacular Now, I liked him in the Footloose remake and I liked him in the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be 21 And Over. But his performance in Whiplash is what I like most.

In Whiplash, Teller eschews his typical Gen-Y Vince Vaughn cool guy to play a drummer named Andrew so singularly-driven by his desire to be the best that he is misanthropic, abrasive and willing to undergo what can only be described as emotional (and sometimes physical) torture at the hands of his director, a terrifyingly volatile and terrific J.K. Simmons. Insulted and occasionally assaulted, Andrew only hunkers down further to practice until his hands literally bleed.

It’s hard to explain exactly how he does it, but (the shockingly young) director Damien Chazelle portrays a series of jazz music performances with the same pulse-pounding tension of a Paul Greengrass car chase. In J.K. Simmons he creates a true villain, sneering and dangerous, and the cat and mouse between teacher and student escalates to a fever pitch typically reserved for thrillers where lives are at stake.

The movie is not seamless. Outside of the central duo the supporting characters serve mainly as placeholders. Paul Reiser, as Andrew’s father, is never quite established as supportive or discouraging and a throwaway plot with a romantic interest is introduced in what could only be a design to illustrate just how myopic Andrew’s interests are. In other words, she’s little more than a prop that demonstrates just how committed the musician is to his art.

But those critiques are minor, as Chazelle has crafted a film that is ambitious in its simplicity and utilizes sound to an at-times uncomfortably visceral level. Whiplash will leave you exhausted in the way that a runner feels after a sprint, pulsing with adrenaline and perspiring.

Grade: B+

*Whiplash opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 7.

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Whiplash-5547.cr2

Whiplash

I like Miles Teller. I liked him in The Spectacular Now, I liked him in the Footloose remake and I liked him in the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be 21 And Over. But his performance in Whiplash is what I like most.

In Whiplash, Teller eschews his typical Gen-Y Vince Vaughn cool guy to play a drummer named Andrew so singularly-driven by his desire to be the best that he is misanthropic, abrasive and willing to undergo what can only be described as emotional torture at the hands of his director, a terrifyingly volatile and terrific J.K. Simmons. Insulted and occasionally assaulted, Andrew only hunkers down further to practice until his hands literally bleed.

It’s hard to explain exactly how he does it, but (the shockingly young) director Damien Chazelle portrays a series of jazz music performances with the same pulse-pounding tension of a Paul Greengrass film. In J.K. Simmons he creates a true villain, sneering and dangerous, and the cat and mouse between teacher and student escalates to a fever pitch typically reserved for thrillers where lives are at stake.

The movie is not seamless. Outside of the central duo the supporting characters serve mainly as placeholders. Paul Reiser as the father figure is never quite established as supportive or discouraging and a throwaway plot with a romantic interest is introduced in what could only be a design to illustrate just how myopic Andrew’s interests are.

But those critiques are minor, as Chazelle has crafted a film that is ambitious in its simplicity and utilizes sound to an at-times uncomfortably visceral level. Whiplash will leave you exhausted in the way that a runner feels after a sprint, pulsing with adrenaline and perspiring.

Grade: B+

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Meet Sutter, a high school senior who is master of his domain. He’s popular, charismatic and has a car, a job at a clothing store and a beautiful girlfriend. What more could a 17-year-old possibly need, right?

But after a breakup sends Sutter on an all-night bender, he awakes in the morning to find himself laying supine on a stranger’s lawn and staring up into the face of classmate Aimee Finnicky, a quiet bookworm Sutter has never noticed at school before.

The two strike up a friendship which quickly turns romantic, with Sutter explaining to confused friends that he’s simply trying to throw Aimee a bone to help her out. He invites her to a party, he steals a kiss during a walk through the woods and, in a move that may or may not have been a hasty attempt to instill jealously in his ex, asks her to accompany him to the high school prom.

It’s familiar stakes, and told in the most familiar of ways, but The Spectacular Now is not interested in finding it’s protagonist holding a boom box over his head or winning a bet on prom night. As Aimee and Sutter spend more and more time together it’s clear to the audience that his feelings for her are genuine and that it is she that is helping him, not vice versa. It is Sutter’s slow, reluctant realization of that fact that drives the film as he begins, ever so slightly, to confront the demons he’s buried beneath nonchalance and the silver flask he keeps inside his jacket pocket.

The movie is more than a simple story of young love. Under the veneer of his boyish grin, Sutter is a damaged man who reels from the abandonment of his father – a brilliantly understated and atypical performance by Friday Night Light’s Kyle Chandler – and a crippling fear of adulthood. He glorifies the carefree nonchalance of the titular present because he can not, or simply refuses to, envision a future for himself and, when backed into a corner by the march of time, self-sabotages in a way that is both disappointing and oddly commendable.

In The Spectacular Now, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber abandon the bells and whistles of their indie-smash (500) Days of Summer for a bare bones, deeply emotional plot. With their script, and under the direction of James Ponsoldt, high school as an age of transition and self-discovery has rarely been more successfully captured on screen. The story manages to avoid cliches while still portraying the universal experiences that shape the audience’s recollection of teenage years.

If there is a fault, it is the under-utilization of its supporting cast, particularly Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk as Sutter’s employer and The Wire’s Andre Royo as his teacher. These acting talents add heft to their scenes but are largely sidelined for another glimpse of Aimee and Sutter cuddling sweetly over matching solo cups.

As Sutter and Aimee, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley deliver effortless characters whose actions and motivations are as organic as they are relateable. Teller, who’s characters typically exude the fast-talking prater of a young Vince Vaughn, dials back his energy and casts a soulful tone as the conflicted and magnetic big man on campus. Woodley, for her part, inhabits Aimee’s skin with the same ease that she did in 2011’s The Descendants and adds another feather to her cap as one of Hollywood’s most promising young talents. In other hands, Aimee could have become just another manic pixie dream girl, but instead Woodley gives us a wholly-realized, flawed character who acts precisely her age.

The Spectacular Now is a rare example of a film that stays perfectly within the tone and stakes of the world it has created. There are no sweeping declarations or grand swells of force-fed emotion. It is simply a story of two teenagers coming of age that engages the audience with its effortless sincerity.

Grade: A-

*The Spectacular Now opens in Utah on Friday, Aug. 23

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Reviewing raunchy teen comedies is a difficult thing to do. On the one hand, they’re clearly not “good” movies. But on the other hand, I’m a firm believer in rewarding projects for meeting their objectives, whatever those objectives may be.

The simple reality of life is that not every movie can be, or should try to be, Citizen Cane. I thought Amour was spectacular, but after two hours of literally watching a woman die, slowly, before your eyes, a marathon of the Transporter franchise sounds like a warm blanket.

After sitting through 21 And Over, the latest entry from the post-Hangover “one-crazy-night” genre, I find myself a little at a loss for words. My expectations were exceeded and I was admittedly entertained…but I would never watch this film again and, frankly, could have gone for about 30 minutes less male nudity, projectile vomiting and screwball shenanigans. As such, I’m going to write this review a little differently.

The plot: High school best friends Miller, Casey and Jeff Chang (always referred to by first and last name, a funny albeit racially insensitive gag) reunite for Jeff Chang’s 21st birthday, which happens to fall on the eve of Jeff’s uber-important med school interview. Upon the insistence of Miller (Footloose‘s Miles Teller, who prattles incessantly like a bad Vince Vaughn impression), the boys ignore the stern warnings of Jeff’s father, deciding to go out on the town with the idea that they’ll take it easy and get home early so Jeff can rest up for the big interview in the morning.

The inevitable occurs with Jeff Chang getting blackout wasted after a balls-to-the-wall bar crawl that fills up ACT I and makes for the least interesting portion of the film. Strangers in town, Miller and Casey have to then find their way back to Jeff’s house, providing the MacGuffin for the movie and setting up the steady stream of escalating hi-jinx that ensue.

The good: Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) keeps the show grounded as the likeable straight-man Casey. On paper he’s a combination of college-age cliche’s (the too-mature, never-has-any-fun-anymore business major, or essentially Breckin Meyer’s character from Rat Race) but Astin’s delivery of the movie’s best dialogue and the sincerity he brings to the completely nonsensical pratfalls the characters find themselves in is fun to watch. Conversely, Miles Teller simply never stops talking and so in the process manages to land on a few genuine laughs. Throw enough mud on the wall, some of it sticks.

The movie employs a nice blend of absurd college fantasy and practical relatability. The story gets mired for a while in a Sorority house (“Gee,” you say to yourself, “no one’s ever thought of doing that before!”) but moments later makes up for it with a late-night pep rally that involves, among other things, a wild Buffalo getting lose and later an all-night rager where our two heroes have to compete in a series of drunk idiot party games to advance up the “Tower of Power.”

The Bad: For a movie about a long night of drunk debauchery, 21 And Over actually over-extends itself with a number of unnecessary and, at times, tonally dissonant subplots. I’ll give them 10 minutes to address that the three friends have drifted apart over the years, but oh wait, Jeff Chang is overstressed and dealing with mental health issues and oh wait, we need to reconcile Ferris Bueller-style with Jeff Chang’s stern father, but oh wait, Miller is a college dropout who needs to wake up and take some responsibility, but oh wait, Casey is too responsible and just needs to chill out, and wait, there’s a love interest (natch). I get that all the pieces fit with a group of mid-20s millenials, but do we have to resolve every problem in these guys’ lives in one keg-standing night?

The big light-bulb resolution in ACT III is also overly lazy and convenient as the writers go for the same “It was there the whole time!” twist of The Hangover, only to a considerably less amusing and plausible result. Sara Wright, as the resident and obligatory crush is a pretty face, sure, but it’s hard to characterize her dry line-reading as “acting”.  Also Jonathan Keltz, as male cheerleader and romantic rival Randy, turns in a quirky villain with a pair of dimwitted cronies, but every time he appears on screen I found myself wishing I was watching Fired Up!‘s Dr. Rick instead.

Unavoidable Comparisons: 21 and Over is less than The Hangover but greater than The Hangover Part 2. It’s less than American Pie but greater than AP’s straight-to-DVD sequels. It’s far inferior to the 90’s opus Can’t Hardly Wait but also far superior to last year’s abysmal Project X.

Grade: B

*21 And Over opens wide in theaters on March 1

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