Here are at Deadshirt, we watch a lot of movies. In The Deadshirt Screening Room, we talk about new stuff in theaters, flicks that just dropped on Blu-ray, or just whatever we’re nodding off to on Netflix right now.
Max Robinson is watching…
The Night Before
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie
Aside from Trainwreck, I’m hardpressed to name a major comedy release from this year without going to Google. The Night Before, which dropped a full week before Thanksgiving, is luckily a pretty solid comedy and handily the best Christmas comedy since Bad Santa. The Wackness director Jonathan Levine’s yuletide caper finds longtime friends Ethan (JGL), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) drifting apart as adult demands collide with their annual tradition of getting loaded on Christmas Eve. They decide to celebrate one last debauched December 24th together, and hijinks, naturally, ensue.
The Night Before does a surprisingly good job of making our three leads actual characters rather than joke delivery devices: Rogen’s anxiety about his impending fatherhood feels genuine, and I thought the dynamic between him and Jillian Bell (as Isaac’s wife) felt very natural. Similarly, Mackie’s own guilt about his unearned NFL super-stardom and inability to face his mother is equally honest. G.I. Joe notwithstanding, you can put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in anything and he’ll deliver a good performance; here, he just does a great job playing a guy with serious depression. The only thing that really bugged me here is that Lizzy Caplan’s relegated to a pretty flat love interest role for Gordon-Levitt. There was an opportunity to do something interesting there that was steamrolled in favor of a tidy ending.
The Night Before’s comedy formula revolves around throwing our cast in weird situations with even weirder celebrity cameos. On paper that sounds iffy, but the laugh to chuckle ratio over the film’s 101 minutes is quite solid. Highlights include Nathan For You’s Nathan Fielder as a creepy limo driver, actual Miley Cyrus Miley Cyrus and, best of all, Michael Shannon as a super-intense magic realism drug dealer (Shannon’s “You are all my children” while looking distantly at a joint is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a movie in 2015).
The Night Before isn’t quite the holiday classic, say, Scrooged is, but there’s a total “lets put on a show!” vibe to everything that really endeared me to this flick: It’s a 2015 White Christmas but with controlled substances and puking.
Mike Duquette is watching…
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Starring Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning
There’s a lot that’s confusing about Legend, the true-crime biopic about the Kray brothers, notorious London gangsters and indirect subject of one of Morrissey’s best songs. For one, it’s unclear how that title got there—Reggie and Ronnie Kray were arresting figures in a fascinating time and place (1960s London), but I don’t know that American audiences would consider them on par with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. (Plus, the last Legend I saw involved Tom Cruise in a loincloth and Tim Curry decked out with insane prosthetic makeup.)
What’s more confusing is that Brian Helgeland, who ably adapted two crime novels for the screen in the last two decades (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) and has a handful of varied work as a writer/director from A Knight’s Tale to 42, turns in a film that fails to deliver on its promises. Beyond the perfectly-executed center of the film (Tom Hardy), there’s a lot of half-thought details and warmed-over style that doesn’t do its lead justice.
Hardy has been on fire since his supporting turn in Inception exposed me to his work, and his appearances in blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max: Fury Road have only brightened his star in my eyes. As both Reggie, the conflicted planner who can’t abandon crime even for his young wife (Emily Browning), and Ronnie (a psychopathic bruiser with a mouth full of marbles and a for-its-time shocking embrace of his own homosexuality), Hardy infuses each role with distinctive energy that begs for a better film. Supporting characters are quickly introduced and rarely focused on, while the script beats plod along, sinking under tricky East London dialogue. In a better movie, two Hardys might be better than one; here, it’s just a reminder of what Legend could’ve been.
Patrick Stinson is watching…
X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender
Singer’s return to the franchise he created in 2000 can only fairly be described as triumphant. He took full advantage of the new culture created around comic book movies (denser, more faithful, more action-packed, less exposition needed) to expand and complete the saga of mutant kind.
This version of the film is a recent direct-to-Blu-ray expansion of the already epic Days of Future Past. In terms of its marketing and structure, it’s very comparable to the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions. The movie worked without all the additions. But, all of the added material is awesome and enhances the existing action and themes.
The Rogue Cut adds a great deal more meat to the future sequences by giving dialogue and agency to the mutant redshirts, and a beautiful action sequence featuring Patrick Stewart’s Xavier, Ian McKellen’s Magneto, and Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman. It also makes the Sentinels feel a bit more plausible by revealing that their masters have been experimenting on Rogue. (Remember, she’s the one who takes mutant powers by touching them, not Mystique!) Rather than a simple framing story, the future scenes now have a plot and logic all their own, as the characters must choose between aborting Wolverine’s mission prematurely or exposing themselves to Sentinel attack.
Not to be outdone, the past sequences are also given more dialogue and texture. The one frustrating addition is a scene between Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast that is a pleasure to watch, but leaves the third act of the movie feeling too overstuffed. Everything else not only adds to the film itself, but to its role as a culmination and celebration of the Fox X-Men universe to date. It benefits from the same “I know and understand these characters” feeling in the audience as, say, Harry Potter does, without actually being based on a work of literature. But rather than that series’ careless “you already read the book, nerds” plot holes, here we are rewarded for watching the previous X-Men films with additional emotional context for a standalone, well-crafted story.
The Rogue Cut probably isn’t for everyone. If you’re a casual fan who values brevity, you aren’t missing anything essential. But if you need selling on a 2.5 hour epic film based on “Days of Future Past” featuring about 25 X-Men, were we ever really friends?
That’s what we’re watching right now, how about you?