(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) What? Miles Teller playing a cad who learns better?!? Well, yes: for an actor as young as he is, Teller has already developed a strong screen persona that’s part arrogance and part cynicism. Time will tell if he can sustain it (especially given his similarities with a younger John Cusack) but, in the meantime, he’s effective and even entertaining in those roles. In The Spectacular Now, Teller plays a high-school version of a character we usually see in older stages of life: the underachieving boozer/womanizer, getting by on minimal effort and apparently willing to dismiss everything and everyone but secretly harbouring some long-lasting emotional scars. Focusing on a girl as kind of a rebound Pygmalion project seems like a passing fancy at first, but we know it’s not going to be as simple as making his ex-girlfriend jealous so that he can get back with her. Not too far from the recent John Greenish mode of teenage moviemaking, The Spectacular Now does have the grace to play between drama and comedy, with flawed characters, difficult situations, uncomfortable choices and characters growing up. Shailene Woodley is fine as the romantic heroine and Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a remarkable appearance as an older sister, but it’s Teller’s film. The film is remarkable by what it doesn’t do—namely, fall into the traps of the usual teenage dramedies … although I’m a bit worried that, along with The Way Way Back and other John Green-adapted films, it’s forging a set of new clichés for that subgenre. Time will tell, as time will tell whether this will remain a definitive performance for Teller’s early career.
(Netflix Streaming, November 2016) Much has been written about how 10 Cloverfield Lane started life as a small bunker thriller named Valencia (in fact, hilariously enough, on the film’s first day of availability on Netflix Canada, the only way to find it was to search for “Valencia”), only to be radically altered by the addition of a special-effects-heavy ending to tie it to the so-called “Cloverfield” mythos. That certainly explains the weird change of pace toward the end and the feeling that the result doesn’t entirely belong together. Still, there’s a lot to like in the Valencia part of 10 Cloverfield Lane, as a small-scale thriller located in a confined space, with three characters that are only too willing to inflict harm on each other. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fine as a young woman on the run who wakes up from a car accident to find herself stuck in a bunker, but John Goodman is impressive as the bunker’s owner, hovering at the edge of sanity with a dangerous streak of aggression. Director Dan Tratchenberg knows how to milk suspense out of a confined environment, and clearly establishes the setting before using it to good effect. (I’ll be honest: That bunker is so nice that I wouldn’t mind spending a few days in there.) The suspense is handled well, and the film plays nicely with unanswered questions for those who don’t know where it’s going. Still, the ending does stick out quite a bit, and I really don’t care if or how or why this film relates to 2009’s Cloverfield. “Anthology series” seems promising, but it would work better if they didn’t play games with the audience. Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded just getting Valencia.