Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Miles Ahead, Everybody Wants Some!!, Standing Tall (La Tête Haute)

Miles Ahead
Everybody Wants Some!!

Standing Tall (La Tête Haute)

A light and mostly weak week of movies:

Don Cheadle sounds like he’s come down with the croup – or whatever Harrison Ford had in “Morning Glory” (anyone remember that P.O.S.?) – as Miles Davis in the supremely strange biopic “Miles Ahead.” Impersonations of legends rarely make my favorite performances, and you sense that if Sony Pictures Classics saw a nomination in it, they wouldn’t open it the first week in April. I call it strange less because it focuses exclusively on Davis’ fallow, reclusive period during the late 70’s than because Cheadle – who also directed and co-wrote – chooses to make the MacGuffin of a top-secret session recording (his only one during the five-year span) the centerpiece of a double-crossing action plot that wastes Ewan McGregor as an intrusive Rolling Stone reporter and Michael Stuhlbarg as a smarmy and duplicitous record agent. The biggest takeaway from “Miles Ahead” – besides Cheadle and Davis’ music, a personal favorite – is the inviting newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi as Miles’ wife and muse Francis. Watching the two make love, we’re reminded how rarely the movies show us black bodies in sexual congress (it’s a particular strength of Spike Lee’s). Corinealdi could make any man crave a chocolate sundae.

The trailer for Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” was easily the best of 2014, though the movie itself earned only two stars here. The trailer for his new personal project, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” though, makes the flick look one step up from “Porky’s.” And, lo and behold, it is. Blake Jenner plays Linklater’s surrogate Jake, an incoming Class of ‘84 freshman who arrives a week early to practice with the university baseball team (he’s a pitcher). The community has donated two houses to accommodate the team, and the hijinks are those you’d expect from a couple dozen none-too-bright frat bros. As with all Linklater films (I named his “Before Midnight” the best of 2013), the dialogue is the thing. I suppose some will find poetry in these young men’s attempts to find their place in the societal microcosm that is college, but I found the level far below that of which Linklater has proved capable. His eye for period detail is impeccable – and regular readers know my fondness for the era – but the objectification of women is of similar vintage, and the nearly two-hour runtime undue.

I was the only one in my group who enjoyed Emmanuelle Bercot’s French import “Standing Tall” (“La Tête Haute”). Maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word. It’s the harrowing story of a juvenile delinquent named Malony (Rod Paradot), whose father dies when he’s four and whose mother (Sara Forestier) abandons him – she’s a wreck herself and can’t even – though she shows up again whenever she’s in a good place. The other key figures in Malony’s life are a children’s magistrate (Catherine Deneuve), his caseworker (Benoît Magimel), and a new love interest (masculine Diane Rouxel). “Standing Tall” is as much a portrait of a system – the French youth justice system – as of a person. It's a repetitious, frustrating film – Malony fucks up again and again; Deneuve and Magimel give him chance after chance – but it bears the ring of truth. Some of the touches are so goddamned French you have to laugh: facials to improve juvenile offenders’ self-esteem?

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