Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By debbie lynn elias
Observer Film Reviewer 

The Adderall Diaries ● One More Time ● Criminal

This week's unsung movie winners

 

Adderall

Lots of good stuff opening in theatres this week, as well as on a concurrent digital/VOD platform, including the much anticipated Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK. Normally, I would devote full coverage to this Disney film, but given the review embargos were lifted some time ago and reviews have been flooding the marketplace leading up to the April 15th release, we're going to look at some of the unsung winners of the week in this column today.

But, suffice to say, when it comes to THE JUNGLE BOOK, it is one of the "bear" necessities of moviegoing for 2016. Jon Favreau's hat should be tossed into the ring now for possible Oscar nomination for Best Director. The film is a technical marvel using new technologies that go beyond the photorealism we saw in "The Good Dinosaur", so much so that you'll find yourself asking, "Is it live or is it Memorex?" (Those over 40 will get that reference.) Voice casting is exemplary (Christopher Walken as the Orangutan Gigantopithecus, King Louie, is to die for) and the story goes beyond that of the 1967 animated film, incorporating more from the Rudyard Kipling "The Jungle Book", which you may recall is a compilation of stories. To borrow from lyricist Terry Gilkyson who wrote the unforgettable "Bare Necessities" for Disney's 1967 animated classic, forget about your worries and your strife and go see THE JUNGLE BOOK. It's the swingingest jungle around!

ONE MORE TIME

Seems appropriate to go from Christopher Walken voicing King Louie to Christopher Walken being, well, Christopher Walken, in the charming comedy ONE MORE TIME.

Paul Lombard was a star back in the day. Crooning a-la Sinatra he had hit after hit after hit. But as happens with time, the fans disappear. Not content to sit back and watch time pass him by, Paul spends his night secretly updating his Wikipedia page with more glowing adjectives than stars in the heavens. Ever the egotist, rationalizing all that he does as being for his family, Paul is hot to make a comeback. He has a new song. One he's written. He's just not getting the familial love and support he thinks he should have. His daughter Jude, an aspiring singer-songwriter -punk rocker who can't get out of her own way or Paul's shadow can't make it singing the occasional jingle and facing eviction, moves back home with Paul and his wife ____ in the Hamptons. Unfortunately, Jude has always been deemed the black sheep of the family thanks to her free-spirited lifestyle and various addictions, something she blames on her father. On the flip side of the sibling coin is little sister Corrine aka Little Miss Goody Two Shoes. A champion brown-noser, Corrine's big problem is that she feels ignored by Paul as he says she has no talent. She, of course, thinks she does. Adding a little more dysfunction to the familial mix is the fact that Corrine is married to Jude's ex-boyfriend Tim.

As Paul's excitement builds on learning not only is his new song going to be released as a single to see where it charts, he's the opening act for the Flaming Lips, something Jude belittles at every opportunity, going so far as to call him a "dancing monkey", a laughing stock at the gig. Unapologetic, Paul retorts with an "I know. You think I don't know that? Who cares?" Priceless in story. Platinum when delivered by Walken.

Many forget that Walken is a Broadway singer and dancer but he sure does remind all in ONE MORE TIME. Much akin to Al Pacino's recent turn in "Danny Collins", in a perfect role that blends Walken-ese eccentricities with the heart of family, Walken shines as Paul Lombard. This is deadpan comedic Walken-ese at its best.

A perfect foil to Walken is Amber Heard who makes us feel the rapier frustrated love of a daughter for dad. And while not a big fan of her singing, she held her own. Kelli Garner is snooty sibling perfection as Corrine while Hamish Linklater is puppy dog charming as Tim. Oliver Platt brings his own level of enjoyment to the mix as Paul's lawyer and manager, Alan.

Written and directed by Robert Edwards, is charm personified. The family dysfunction and sibling jealousy, while ultimately rallying together for Paul when he gets himself in a sticky situation is so authentic, so resonant and beautifully unfolds. The sibling barbs between Jude and Corrine are terrific and again, resonant to every sibling watching. A welcoming and familiar lyric flow embodies the family dynamic, especially in scenes where all are together.

Lensing is beautiful thanks to cinematographer Anne Etheridge. The digital polish is perfect as a metaphoric touch to the veneer Paul wants to put on his life. Scott Kuzio's production design is well done, nicely apportioned.

The music is simply marvelous, particularly the songs for Walken. And make sure you stay through the credits as the end titles are their own little story utilizing play on words of album titles and album cover homages, adding a lovely kitsch touch.

THE ADDERALL DIARIES

Can't get enough Amber Heard? Then make sure you catch THE ADDERALL DIARIES where she's paired up with none other than James Franco.

Written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky based on the book by Stephen Elliott, "Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder", James Franco takes center stage as the flawed but fascinating unreliable memorist Stephen Elliott, a best-selling author who is forced to confront the truth about his past when a father he has written as being dead and having abused Elliott as a child, appears at a book reading, dashing all credibility Elliott has built to date. Aghast at his father's appearance and the vitriol being spewed, Elliott goes down the rabbit hole into what plays out as an examination of editing moments of life to fit our own personal script.

Along for Elliott's ride is New York Times crime reporter, Lana, a woman he meets at the trial of a man accused of killing his wife and children. Elliott obsesses with the trial, seeing it as his way back into the good graces of the literary world, believing a book on this trial, this man, could be his "In Cold Blood." As Elliott and Lana start exploring masochistic sexual tendencies together, possibly imitating some of the evidentiary allegations put forth in the trial, they are both oblivious to the fallout happening in the world around them. Lana was on hand for the appearance of Stephen's father, giving her an edge on what's really going on in Stephen's life and mind.

Once the cat is out of the bag as to Stephen's lack of veracity, he starts having flashbacks. Faint at first, but intensifying and becoming more vivid as he spirals further away from reality, even more disassociated from the truth thanks to self-destructive overdoses of pills and alcohol. And somewhere along the way, Lana has enough, leaving Stephen to find his own way back - if he even wants to, or can.

Stephen Elliott was tailor made for James Franco. He shines, mesmerizing us when regaling stories of others who were once a part of his life. Smoldering with a questioning intensity, Franco makes us feel as if he's holding something back, that something is just below the surface but can't break through. It's a gift that he has always had with his performances, and here he excels with the raw edginess and frustration of facing actual truth as opposed to his edited truth. As Lana, Amber Heard is a perfect counterpoint to Franco, exuding unspoken sexuality while leading him deeper into the rabbit hole of doubt and frenzy. Another star turn by Ed Harris as Neil Elliott. The anger, the taunting, the toe-to-toe verbal battles with Franco are rock solid but it's the tenderness as a parent admitting his own flaws that is touching and unexpected. Not to be missed is Christian Slater as the man on trial. Powerful work when on the witness stand or when ultimately speaking with Stephen, aided by deft editing with flashbacks and supposition as to what happened to the wife and children.

Not an easy book to adapt, Romanowsky had her work cut out for her from the start given a multiplicity of themes, a fast paced story and continually shifting POVs. Using voice-over and flashback techniques in dialogue and visually, everyone proves to be an unreliable narrator. Standout are the tacit discussions that arise from the themes of memories vs POV, truth vs lies, fact vs fiction and how all are affected by self memory. Notable is that with the character of Stephen, she has stripped him down emotionally, filling the bill of a writer suffering from writer's block; there is a blank slate, blank emotion and its only through finding true emotion can the pages be filled.

Cinematographer Bruce Thiery Cheung plays with objective and subjective interpretation through his visual grammar of lighting and lensing. Montages, thanks to some deft and often beautiful editing of Marc Vives, enhances Cheung's visuals, particularly use of color. Pops of neon color judicially populate the film as does saturation of color as Stephen releases his self-made memories of darkness and feels the light.

Completing the picture is a score from Mike Andrews with a softness that underscores the overall film.

CRIMINAL

How can anyone pass up a Kevin Costner film where his character of Jerico Stewart reads like a combination of that in "Mr. Brooks" and "3 Days to Kill"? Then toss in Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot and Tommy Lee Jones with a script by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook and the directorial eye of Ariel Vromen who last brought us "The Iceman". Quite simply, you can't. A unique take on a CIA spy thriller with a Frankenstonian spin, CRIMINAL is a hard hitting, tech-savvy, high octane adrenaline rush with underlying social and moral implications ripe for discussion.

Ryan Reynolds is CIA undercover operative Bill Pope. Tracking an informant known as "The Dutchman" who has accessed the means to take over the weaponry of the U.S. military's Central Command, Pope is killed mid-operation. Problem is that no one knows where Pope was to meet The Dutchman and exactly how deep into the Dark Web the investigation went, something that infuriates the CIA's London chief Quaker Wells, always ten steps behind and totally manic (a man who should be having a stroke any minute with the tantrums and hissy fits he throws). But there may be a way to learn all that Pope knew.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Franks has been working on cutting edge medical science that will take the synapses from one man's brain and link them to that of another, thus transferring all memories. (Seems Japan has already been testing the procedure on humans while Franks has only been working with lab rats.) Wells wants to use Franks as his "hail Mary" play and have him perform the operation on a man. For Franks, the subject must meet certain specifications. Enter Jerico Stewart, a sociopathic death row convict who suffered brain damage as a child, leaving him with no emotions. He is the ideal candidate.

Flying Franks, his team and a mobile hospital facility to London, Franks complete the surgery. Rather than allow time for the synapses to start firing, Wells screams, yells and threatens Jerico - and Franks - as in Wells' eyes the surgery was a failure. He orders Jerico killed. Realizing Jerico is in pain and hoping for surgical success, Franks slips Jerico a pill to aid in his recovery which, it obviously does, as Jerico is soon employing al of Pope's stealthy techniques to escape Wells and elude capture.

Trying to come to grips with Jerico's own instincts and the memories and instincts of Pope, Jerico finds himself at Pope's home, breaking in (although technically not as he remembers the security code), ready to rape Pope's widow, but unable to harm her or daughter Emma.

Action intensifies as Jerico starts assimilating Pope's memories and all the information pertaining to The Dutchman. But someone else is after Jerico - besides Wells, who still may or may not want him dead. And it's not just visual memories Jerico now experiences, it's the emotion of family and love.

Costner is riveting, capturing both the intensity and confusion of a man battling the inner struggle of mind over mind. The emotional transformation we see take shape is touching and resonant. Gary Oldman is a scream with his performance, as Wells actually provides much comedic relief. Nice to see Costner and Tommy Lee Jones reteam for the first time since "JFK". As Dr. Franks, Jones plays against type with a vulnerability that is refreshing and human. A once again unrecognizable Michael Pitt mesmerizes as The Dutchman. And it bears mentioning that as we have seen in so many films over the past few years with Costner, his chemistry with child actors is stellar and here is no different as he enchants with Lara Decaro as Emma.

Adderall

Influenced by the works of futurist Ray Kurzweil, scribes Weisberg and Cook (who penned the Tommy Lee Jones vehicle "Double Jeopardy") take it a step further with a nod to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" in its conceptualization. Kudos to Vromen for his attention to detail, particularly with the futuristic science of the film, and notably, the surgical procedure. Actual surgical theatre and equipment utilized for a procedure such as that performed plus a neurosurgeon as consult, provides moments of edge of your seat pins and needles. A multitude of chase scenes - and bloody violence - takes place via large set-pieces throughout a less familiar London, something at which Vromen excels, intercutting action and Dana Gonzales standout handheld lensing with Danny Rafic's rapier editing between the real world/action/CCTV feeds/Jerico memories, giving grit and texture to the visual grammar. Jon Henson's production design is eclectic and telling as world collides.

Are there moments of confusion? Absolutely. And while typically that would detract from the film, here it works to its advantage and the mind of Jerico Stewart.

 

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