(On Cable TV, December 2017) If Going in Style feels familiar from the first few moments, it’s not just your imagination: there’s been a glut of “old guys going wild” movies in the past half-decade, and they often feature the same actors. Alan Arkin can play old crusties like the best of them, and he almost reprises his The Stand-Up Guys character here to good effect. Morgan Freeman also reprises another character (from Last Vegas), while Michael Caine regrettably doesn’t go full Harry Brown as a pensioner seeking revenge. This is all very familiar stuff, going back to the idea that Hollywood, having maintained those great actor personas for decades, would rather reprise them (with laughter) than dare anything new. Still, under Zach Braff’s direction, Going in Style may be generic stuff but it’s well-made generic stuff. Even knowing where it’s going, the film plays at a pleasant rhythm, the expected set-pieces all falling into place in a comforting rhythm. The actors know what they’re doing, the audience know what they’re doing, and the critique of the excesses of modern American society is carefully kept to a merest whisper as so not to give anyone any ideas. Going in Style is as average as any other Hollywood release these days, but it gets back most of its points on actor appeal and rhythm of execution.
(On Cable TV, August 2013) For years, I’d heard about Garden State as being either a terrific voice-of-a-generation film, or horrifyingly self-indulgent emo-pop. After seeing the film, well, I have to ask: why can’t it be both? The first few minutes are unexpectedly skillful, as writer/director/lead Zach Braff sketches an efficient portrait of an emotionless young man forced back home after the death of his mother. As he reconnects with old friends, the film gives him one epiphany after another and reveals his secrets until he’s supposed to be half-way normal. It’s easy to make fun of such oh-woe-is-
me-my-character self-flagellating filmmaking, but there are some really good directorial moments in Garden State, even though they get less distinctive as the film advances. Natalie Portman gets to play an eccentric girl that would be insufferable in real life, but is here supposed to be charming beyond belief. The soundtrack is a collection of meowing, moaning, self-pitying slow ballads (your mileage may vary) that show better than anything else how I’m not supposed to be the target audience for the film. While I’d be interested in seeing other directorial efforts by Braff, he can probably leave the episodic journey of self-discovery by a damaged protagonist thing behind.