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Films I Neglected To Review: Beer, Bones And Crud
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Drinking Buddies," "Jobs" and, God help us, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."

Fans of the previous films of director Joe Swanberg, one of the leading names of the so-called "mumble-core" movement, may well be appalled with his latest effort, "Drinking Buddies." After all, instead of the usual rambling storylines that rarely leave the main characters' apartments enacted by a cast comprised of virtual unknowns and/or Greta Gerwig, this one contains a solid and propulsive narrative, a cast of reasonably familiar faces and not a smidgen of Gerwig to offend the eye. Here, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson star as a couple of theoretically platonic pals who work together at a Chicago microbrewery. Although both are currently seeing other people (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively), there is an undeniable spark between the two of them and when both couples wind up breaking up in the aftermath of a weekend in the woods, the two struggle uneasily with the notion of becoming something more than just friends.

Truth be told, I have never been much of a fan of Swanberg's previous efforts--like most mumble-core movies, they usually felt like the exceptionally tedious home movies of people that I had no interest in spending any amount of time with--and I was therefore surprised to discover that this one kind of worked for me. Sure, the story isn't exactly surprising and Olivia Wilde is not exactly the person who leaps to mind when I try to picture a lovelorn employee of a Chicago microbrewery. However, Wilde is, despite that, pretty good in the part--this may be her best screen performance to date--and she and Johnson make for an eminently watchable pair even when the story threatens to derail in standard rom-com nonsense. Swanberg also demonstrates a nice eye for depicting the streets of Chicago in a way that is more interested in capturing the local flavor of the streets instead of the usual postcard-ready sights. This is not a great film by any stretch but it is a good one that has the bravery to deal with people instead of machines and at this point, after a summer of absurd contraptions, it goes down as smoothly as a cold beer on a hot day

After enduring the jaw-dropping inanities of the recent biopics "Lovelace" and the inexplicably popular "Lee Daniels' The Butler," the comparatively run-of-the-mill idiocies of "Jobs" almost come across as a refreshing respite. The film chronicles the life and accomplishments of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), the entrepreneur helped build the personal computer industry through his company Apple, lost control of his creation in a power struggle with his corporate-minded masters, regained control of the company years later and took it to new heights with creations like the iPod and the iPad. It is a fascinating tale, one that has already been told a number of times, but this version almost seems to be going out of its way at times to make it as drab and uninvolving as possible. By presenting a portrait of Jobs that juxtaposes his dreamy visionary public persona with the unlikable nerd that he could often be behind the scenes, the film is clearly inviting comparisons to "The Social Network" but while that film did a great job of telling the story of a generally unpleasant person who genuinely changed the world, "Jobs" asks us to care about someone who is an unpleasant jerk and credit hog but fails to present any reason for us to do so and then, to make matters worse, it abruptly ends at precisely the point where the story might begin to generate some sympathy for him. (So abruptly, in fact, that you get the sense that these later scenes were filmed and then deleted at some late point in the proceedings.) As Jobs, Kutcher isn't bad but he doesn't have much of a character to play, just a series of obnoxious tics and beatific expressions that offer little understanding of the man and his work. In the end, "Jobs" may be a film celebrating all things Apple but it is so clunky and awkward that it feels as if it was produced by a Commodore 64 on its last legs.

A film without an original bone in its body or an intelligent thought in its head, "The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones" is a would-be fantasy spectacular so derivatively conceived and incompetently executed that it makes that "Percy Jackson" nonsense seem virtually watchable by comparison. Based on the YA novel by Cassandra Clare (and quite loosely at that, to judge from the repeated comments of my guest at the screening), the film stars Lily Collins as a seemingly ordinary young woman who suddenly discovers on her birthday that there is another world out there filled with werewolves, vampires, faeries, demons and pansexual leather-clad warriors who sneeringly dismiss simple humans as "mundanes." It seems that most of these creatures are all searching for an enchanted cup with vaguely defined powers that only she has the ability to find and, with the help of pretty boy Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower, who comes across here as a less substantial version of Christopher Atkins) and his fellow Shadowhunters (this is one of those stories in which two regular words are randomly jammed together in order to make something sound mystical), she sets off to recover it before some damn thing or another can either begin or end.

The film doesn't so much so much tell a coherent story as it does randomly jam elements stolen outright from other sources--among the unwitting donors are "Harry Potter," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Twilight," "Underworld" and even "Star Wars" at one exceptionally risible point--in the hopes that something will stick. Throw in incoherent action scenes, lame performances, chintzy-looking visual effects and one of the least-inspiring heroines to come along in recent memory (she is supposed to be tough and resourceful but she spends an awful lot of time either getting rescued by the pretty boy or flat-out fainting at the first sign of trouble), all under the aegis of typographically-challenged hack Harald Zwart, and the result is as spectacularly useless as anything that you will see in your life. Sadly, I understand that the producers are so convinced that there will be enough bored teenage girls out there to make it successful that a follow-up is already in the works--now I am beginning to feel faint.

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originally posted: 08/23/13 08:46:24
last updated: 08/23/13 09:51:18
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