Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rapid Reviews: St. Vincent and Men, Women & Children

The Philadelphia Film Festival delivered a special treat on its Opening Night. With Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman as the main attraction, the evening also featured a viewing of Theodore Melfi's directorial debut, St. Vincent, starring the legendary comedic performer Bill Murray.

St. Vincent is a charming little film that's rough around the edges thanks to Murray's wonderful title-character turn as a grouchy Vietnam War veteran who's cornered into taking his new neighbor's son under his wing. Broke and desperate for a steady source of income, Vin becomes an unconventional babysitter of sorts as he leads young Oliver on trips to the race track and teaches the boy how to defend himself. This appealing tale transforms the typical anti-hero into a special kind of role model on the backbone of Murray's innate ability to muster up the laughs. In addition to Murray, comedic forces such as Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd offer their own bright spots to St. Vincent and the overall effect is a winning effort for the film's first-time director.

Although St. Vincent is nothing groundbreaking or exceptional, it's a solid film that's destined to please the mass audiences. Fans of Murray will not be disappointed, as the actor gives the level of performance that has an outside chance of earning him the type of awards season recognition he hasn't seen since in nearly a decade.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Just prior to the onset of the Philadelphia Film Festival, I was able to catch a screening of Jason Reitman's technology centered drama, Men, Women & Children. Reitman's career got off to a brilliant start with adored titles such as Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, all of which represent a caliber of filmmaking that catches people's attention. However, Reitnman's more recent work has fizzles into mediocre lately with last year's Labor Day and now his newest release.

Weaving together multiple interconnected stories between local families in a small community and the effects that technology has on their lives, good or bad, Men, Women & Children is an ambitious attempt that never feels as grand as its obvious intention. Adam Sandler embraces a return to dramatic acting and performs well in his role as the husband of a distanced couple who both test the extramarital affair waters. Yet, the most intriguing story of the bunch comes from two phenomenal young talents, Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) and Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12 and Laggies), who most effectively capture the emotions of the audience. However, their gripping love story can only take the film so far and Men, Women & Children is otherwise bogged down by multiple hollow stories.

Reitman's ambition is certainly commendable, yet his final result never quite stacks up. 2013 delivered a similar themed film called Disconnect that also shed light on technology's powerful force on human life and interaction, but did so in a much more impressive fashion. While I would suggest skipping on Men, Women & Children, I highly recommend seeking out Disconnect for anyone interested in the film's subject matter.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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