Screening Room: ‘We Are Your Friends’

Zac Efron feels the beat (Warner Bros.)

It’s been about 40 or so years since DJ Kool Herc started spinning in the Bronx, but every few years the culture wakes up to the idea that, Hey, this DJing thing might be its own kind of creative expression. Thusly, ever so earnest films like We Are Your Friends, with Zac Efron as a striving DJ from the San Fernando Valley trying to make it in a cold, cruel world.

My review of We Are Your Friends, which opens this week, is at Film Journal.

The trailer is here; dance on:

Screening Room: ‘Mistress America’

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke take Manhattan in 'Mistress America' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke take Manhattan in ‘Mistress America’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

For his second film of 2015, Noah Baumbach left aside the dyspepsia of his Ben Stiller aging comedy While We’re Young for the fizzier retro ’80s irony of Mistress America, the latest of his off-kilter comedies with his partner Greta Gerwig.

My review of Mistress America, which opens Friday, is at Film Journal:

Like its hero-villain, Brooke, Mistress America tries on many styles in an effort to make something stick. There’s a bleak coming-of-age story here, a breathless escapade through glorious neon Manhattan, a manic-pixie giggle-montage, a satire on writers mining their lives for material, high-toned irony, and a stagy farce. It’s a busier film than Noah Baumbach usually delivers, and not always a cohesive one, with its disparate plot shards often crashing at right angles to each other. Sometimes those collisions make for stinging, loopy, oddball comedy. At other times, they simply confuse…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Cop Car’

Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson have a good old time in 'Cop Car' (Focus)

Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson have a good old time in ‘Cop Car’ (Focus)

Two kids come across a police cruiser in a clearing, seemingly abandoned. They’ve already run away from home, so why not one more transgression? While they joy ride across the prairie, the car’s owner, a corrupt and drug-addled sheriff (Kevin Bacon) who’s just buried a man is coming after them.

Cop Car is playing now. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Gift’

Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall get real uncomfortable in ‘The Gift’ (STX)

When we last saw Jason Bateman, he was deadpanning his way through the reboot of Arrested Development and doing (as always) a crackerjack job of it. Now, with actor Joel Edgerton’s debut film as writer/director, Bateman is playing against type as one half of a threatened couple in a stalker story with a twist.

The Gift is playing now. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Best of Enemies’

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)

In 1968, the third-place network ABC wasn’t sure how to make a splash with its presidential convention coverage. Since they didn’t have much money, they went for a gimmick. Over the course of ten nights, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley would debate the issues of the conventions. Or just throw insults at each other.

Best of Enemies is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Best of Enemies is a fascinating film about brilliant people behaving stupidly. It would be reassuring in a way to think that in the distant past, there was a time when American intellectuals could duke it out on the public stage before a mass audience held rapt by the sight and sound of ideas being wrestled into coherent form. We know such things don’t happen anymore. How many Americans can even name two intellectuals to have such a debate?…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Trainwreck’

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in 'Trainwreck' (Universal).

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in ‘Trainwreck’ (Universal).

After midwifing Lena Dunham’s Girls onto HBO, Judd Apatow is directing the off-key work of another comic of the moment. In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer plays basically the girl of her standup: a self-obsessed disaster. But will she find true love?

Trainwreck opens wide tomorrow. My review is at PopMatters:

… the film focuses on Amy (played by Schumer), another variation on the stock character from her TV show. Narcissistic and cutting, she’s racked up several lifetimes’ worth of one-night stands, terrified of commitment, and inclined to over-share. While the character tends toward dirty humor, she’s not so much intentionally shocking, a la Sarah Silverman, but rather, so self-involved that she’s unconcerned with how anyone else might take her revelations, as when she compares sleeping with her pseudo-boyfriend Steven (John Cena) to “having sex with an ice sculpture”…

Screening Room: ‘Magic Mike XXL’

No need for shirts in 'Magic Mike XXL'  (Warner Bros.)

No need for shirts in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ (Warner Bros.)

For Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh took an effortlessly charming Channing Tatum, an impeccably entertaining Matthew McConaughey, threw them together with some classic rock hits, male stripper dance moves, and a backdrop of economic insecurity, and made it into one of the most unlikely successes of 2012. Now there’s a sequel, and quite incredibly it beats out the original in every way.

Magic Mike XXL is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s no criticism to say that Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have a lot at stake. Following Magic Mike‘s model, it’s got a low budget and simple concept, and will likely clean up on its July 4 opening weekend. But this just-tongue-in-cheek-enough sequel, unlike the frantic and insecure Jurassic World, carries a devil-may-care casual confidence that wins you over precisely because it’s not trying to go bigger and bolder. Instead, it brings the further adventures of a merry band of male entertainers who love what they do, know they can’t keep doing it forever, and want to go out on a high note…

Here’s the trailer: