Movie Review: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).


Movie Review: End of Watch [2012]

End of Watch [2012]

End of Watch [2012]
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez
Running Time: 109 minutes

End of Watch is a police movie that nails one aspect that many others often neglect: the virtue of humanity.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena spent five months riding along (for 12 hours at a time) with several different Los Angeles law enforcement agencies in order to prepare for their roles as police officers Brian Taylor and Miguel Zavala, respectively. This commitment to their roles is extremely noticeable in their performances, as the duo feel like a pair of real life cops with their authentic banter (much of which was improvised).

End of Watch [2012]

End of Watch doesn’t have a typical plot. Most of the film feels like a hybrid of the TV show Cops and a buddy cop movie, but with an even greater air of authenticity thanks to its use of handheld cameras (more on that later). The pair of officers perform some questionable acts — such as Zavala openly brawling with a suspect in a fit of testosterone-induced action — but they remain mostly honest cops who are willing to risk their lives to save others.

When the officers stumble upon the shady underworld of a Mexican cartel, the shit hits the fan. Suddenly they find themselves entangled with the wrong group of people. As they go deeper and deeper into some truly disturbing stuff, they struggle to maintain their personal lives. Zavala is married with a child on the way, and Taylor has a blossoming relationship with fellow twenty-something Janet (Anna Kendrick). These women are well aware of the risks their men take on the job, something they are reluctantly forced to live with.

End of Watch [2012]

As mentioned earlier, part of what makes End of Watch stand out from other like-minded films is its reliance on handheld camera work. At the beginning of the movie, Taylor is shown filming everything in sight for a class project. We are often shown the perspective from his lens, but there are also many other camera angles used, most of which use the same handheld “shaky cam” technique. The transition from different angles is jarring at first, especially since the beginning of the film seems to insinuate this will be using footage from Taylor’s camera. Some of the car chase scenes using the in-dash video are tough to stomach, as are a handful of the especially-shaky action moments. While I can appreciate director David Ayer’s decision to experiment with these different techniques, I almost wish he were a little more consistent. There were also times where the camerawork made it feel as if I were watching a video game, as evidenced by its occasional “first person shooter” viewpoints, and this ultimately grew to be distracting.

While the camerawork is hit-and-miss, the sense of realism is an absolute high point. Gyllenhaal and Pena have impeccable chemistry, and the tight-knit bond between their characters feels legit. The rest of the supporting cast, led by Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick as their significant others, also do well in their given roles.

End of Watch [2012]

One aspect that the film scraps with is its overabundance of foreshadowing. There were far too many dialogue exchanges that spoke of impending doom, and they were laid on so thick that the film ultimately became predictable as a result. Perhaps the outcome wasn’t too unfamiliar at the beginning anyway, but I could have done without the ominous remarks.

At any rate, End of Watch is still an entertaining ride that is well worth seeing just for the partnership between Gyllenhaal and Pena. The film looks at the lives of police officers in a different light, and the character relationships make it stand out from the rest. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that it sets out for.


Movie Review: 50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]
Director: Jonathan Levine
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Cancer sucks. There’s no denying this. It’s especially devastating when the disease strikes a young person, someone who hasn’t even come close to living a full, healthy life.

This is the story of 50/50; the title, naturally, meaning the odds of beating this form of cancer.

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old healthy male, the type of guy who doesn’t drink or smoke, and one who regularly jogs throughout his hometown of Seattle. He works at the National Public Radio, has a long-time girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and a devoted best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen). By all accounts, he is a normal dude who is enjoying life.

Lately he has been having lower back pain. It’s a minor hindrance at first, but the pain never goes away and starts to get worse. He goes to the doctor and hears one of the scariest words in the English language: CANCER. As in, he has a rare form of spinal cancer that has a 50/50 survival rate. Commence shock.

50/50 [2011]

Adam’s only real option is to undergo chemotherapy in an attempt to reduce the tumor. He also sees a psychologist, the very inexperienced Katie McCay (Anna Kendrick), who goes through the protocol on how to help cancer patients. In a nutshell, his world has spun upside down.

As he tells his friends and family, they all react differently. Adam’s mother (Angelica Huston) naturally panics and wants to move in with her son, but she already has her hands full with her husband (Serge Houde), who has Alzheimer’s disease. Adam’s girlfriend, Rachael, has a hard time coping with the illness and does not act in the most appropriate manner. His buddy Kyle is sympathetic, but frequently pushes him to use cancer as a way of getting laid.

It’s obviously a difficult situation for all involved. 50/50 chronicles all of this, showing equally the plights, feelings and emotions from Adam, as well as everyone in his life. This is a battle for all of them.

With such a dark subject matter, 50/50 could easily be nothing more than depressing. While the film certainly has a bleak feel to it, there are plenty of well-timed moments of humor to break up the sadness. This is largely thanks to Seth Rogen, who is much-welcomed comic relief, even though his character often acts like a complete knucklehead.

50/50 [2011]

While Rogen helps with the laughs, Joseph Gordon-Levitt absolutely shines in the lead role. This guy sure has come a long way since his 3rd Rock from the Sun days, hasn’t he? His portrayal of Adam is amazing, as he flawlessly shows us the entire gamut of emotions that are natural to the cancer process. Shock, anger, sadness, acceptance. Hell, he even shaved his head on camera for the role. Yeah, he was great in Inception and (500) Days of Summer, but I think this is going to be his coming out party.

I would be remiss not to mention the performances from Philip Baker Hall (Bookman!) and Matt Frewer, two fellow cancer patients that Adam meets during chemotherapy. Hall, in particular, is a favorite of mine, and it was great to see him in this small, but important, role.

Movies like 50/50 are a rare breed. This is a film that will tug on your heartstrings just as often as make you laugh. I am not the kind of guy who cries during movies, but I was holding back major tears during this. Everything felt so REAL, and it’s absolutely tragic that people have to go through something like cancer. 50/50 is one of the best movies to come out so far this year. See it if you haven’t already.