Movie Watch: Amarillo film options for the weekend of Sept. 30
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
In Amarillo theaters this week: A look at America's biggest oil spill, an inspirational chess champion, some comedically awful thieves, life in an improv comedy troupe and teens with good reason to feel like outcasts.
Don't Think Twice
Though the title of this new indie comedy-drama makes it sound like a horror film, the subject matter of Don't Think Twice is far more frightening (to me, at least) than any supernatural boogieman — improv comedy.
Comedian/actor Mike Birbiglia wrote and directed this affectionate yet candid examination of The Commune, an improv troupe in New York, and what happens to the members when one of their comrades lands a big break just as their theater is about to shut down.
Birbiglia knows this world well, and it shows: Don't Think Twice gives the viewer an intimate look inside improv, from voiceovers at the opening that explain not only the history of improv but also its three big rules, the most important of which is saying "Yes, and ..." to any idea thrown out, all the better to form a collaborative spirit. (Commune members, as is typical, teach improv classes when they're not performing, which helps with the exposition.)
We watch as the troupe — played by Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher and Birbiglia — comes together as a team on stage and off, even as we see their natural competitiveness peek through in good ways and bad. Birbiglia has affection for this world, but he's realistic about it, too: Life isn't always fair, and everyone isn't equally talented or ambitious.
Though each character has a well-formed story arc, some get more attention than others, including Key's Jack and Jacobs' Samantha, a couple whose different philosophies about success come into play, and Birbiglia's Miles, who's still coasting on the fact that he once auditioned for Weekend Live, a Saturday-night sketch TV show that should totally remind you of Saturday Night Live. But all of the Commune members take a look at their lives and realize that, after nearly a dozen years together, maybe it's time to look in a new direction. Unlike a lot of showbiz stories, this is a movie about what happens when those big dreams don't come true.
It's not as depressing as that sounds: Don't Think Twice is genuinely one of the funniest movies of the year, but the laughs often are bittersweet. Birbiglia, in fact, could have been a lot more brutal, but he has an affection for his characters that the audience will share. It's a warm film, even when it's relentlessly honest.
Birbiglia's cast is exceedingly well chosen, as well. Key, who knows a thing or two about sketch comedy, is fantastic as a man whose ambitions are pushing him beyond the Commune stage even as he still delights in performing with them. Jacobs, an actress without significant improv training, is equally good, and though Gethard, Micucci and Sagher (a writer for 30 Rock, among other shows) don't have roles that are quite as big, they each create fully formed characters. Birbiglia saves the most divisive role for himself and always keeps Miles relatable, even when his behavior is questionable.
Don't Think Twice will play for at least a week on the indie screen at Westgate Mall 6. (R for language and some drug use; Premiere Cinemas Westgate Mall 6, 7701 W. Interstate 40)
"Don't Think Twice" trailer
Director Peter Berg, whose fascination with everyday heroism comes through in films like Friday Night Lights (and its TV adaptation) and Lone Survivor, explores the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster is the largest petroleum spill in the country's history, but Berg focuses more on the actual incident — in which 11 people were killed — than he does on the ecological impact. "Anyone looking for a nuanced, serious exploration of either the environmental, political and economic fallout from the (disaster) ... or the corporate culture that contributed to it probably should avoid (the film)," writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Cary Darling. "But as an effects-driven disaster movie starring two totems of testosterone (Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell) ... Deepwater Horizon is alarmingly effective." That's enough for many critics, but not all. "(M)oving beyond the its basic qualities, the whole movie’s existence is politically, morally and ideologically vexing," writes The Wrap's Sam Fragoso in a complicated take. "While art as activism is dangerous, so too is a movie profiting off the pain of others. Even if it is entertaining." (PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language; United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.; Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)
"Deepwater Horizon" trailer
Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson try to pull off a $17 million heist in this comedy based on a true story. The film was scheduled to be released last summer, but the bankruptcy of its studio put that on hold. It's not being screened for critics, but you can probably expect some off-kilter humor to emerge from the team of Galifianakis, Wiig and director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite). (PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence; AS-14, H-16)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland) tackles the popular YA novel by Ransom Riggs about a orphanage where the inhabitants, all of whom have peculiar powers and appearances, are trapped in one day in 1943, forced to live it over and over again. Between the unusual abilities of the children and its setting, it's no wonder that the film is being called a gothic take on the X-Men. For some critics, that's a good thing: "Burton, though his output lately has been bumpy (let’s all agree to forget about Dark Shadows, shall we?), is one of those rare filmmakers with a clear, distinctive style, and it’s well suited to this material," writes the Seattle Times' Moira Macdonald. For others, even though Burton is more successful here than he has been lately, the film is too formulaic: "(T)he old-school-Burton pleasures of Miss Peregrine’s are eventually subsumed by the demands of franchise-building, including a superhero melee climax and a cop-out conclusion," writes theAV Club's A.A. Dowd.
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" trailer
Queen of Katwe
Reviews are rapturous for director Mira Nair's adaptation of the true story of a young Ugandan girl who becomes her country's champion chess player. Newcomer Madina Nalwanga stars as Phiona Mutesi, whose story was told by Sports Illustrated's Tim Crothers, with Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o as her mother and David Oyelowo (a should-have-been-Oscar-nominee for Selma) as her coach. "There's no question that the feel-good elements of Queen of Katwe naturally work against its picture of the Ugandan slums, adding a studio gloss that takes away from any claim to authenticity," writes NPR's Scott Tobias. "But seen from a more generous angle, Nair works hard to emphasize the hand-to-mouth hardships of a family whose long-term hopes are squelched by the short-term fight to survive another day. ... Nair insistently pleads for awareness not only of African poverty, but of the patterns that reinforce hopelessness and despair." Slate's Dana Stevens also acknowledges that the film softens some of the harsher aspects of Phiona's story, but she's OK with that: "The existence of a female teenage chess champion who grew up in a Ugandan slum legitimately is something to feel good about. If you want to take your kids to an uplifting and quietly feminist sports movie that will also give them a glimpse of a part of the planet that too often gets presented as a vale of tears worthy only of the Western world’s condescending pity, you ought to show them Queen of Katwe." (PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material; AS-14)
"Queen of Katwe" trailer
"Young Frankenstein" trailer
The uproariously funny and loving parody of old monster movies gets a big screen revival in the wake of star and co-writer Gene Wilder's recent death. The Mel Brooks-directed film will screen at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Amarillo Star 14 — a perfect primer before heading to Amarillo Little Theatre's staging of the musical adaptation in December. Brooks will introduce the screening and pay tribute to Wilder, as well. (PG; AS-14)
Blair Witch (AS-14); Bridget Jones's Baby (AS-14); Don't Breathe (AS-14); Ghostbusters (WM-6); Ice Age: Collision Course (WM-6); The Legend of Tarzan (WM-6); The Magnificent Seven (AS-14, H-16); Nerve (WM-6); Snowden (AS-14); Star Trek Beyond (WM-6); Storks (AS-14, H-16, Tascosa Drive-In, 1999 Dumas Drive); Suicide Squad (AS-14); and Sully (AS-14, H-16, TDI).