7/9/13: Boy, Would You Rather, The Power of Few, Admission, Spring Breakers

Boy (NR, 2010, Kino Lorber)
Boy (James Rolleston) — that’s what he calls himself — is a daydreamer, an exasperated older brother, a huge Michael Jackson fan, perpetually confused by girls and a believer in every tall tale his dad ever told him. All of which, in the mid-1980s, makes him like millions of other boys. His little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) idolizes superheroes and is convinced he has powers that have accidentally been used for ill. And when their dad (Taika Waititi as Alamein) returns from who knows where to retrieve a bag of money (“treasure”) he’d previously buried in a nearby field, it’s abundantly clear where both boys got their appetite for imagination. Though questionable as a parent, Alamein — wannabe gang leader, wannabe samurai, wannabe everything but a responsible adult — has infectious personality to spare. So does Rocky, so does Boy, and so especially does “Boy,” which may be the most jubilantly silly piece of nostalgic 1980s Americana you see all year — except it was filmed, is set in and is very proudly a product of Waihau Bay, New Zealand, pet goat and all. How’s that for bridging cultural gaps? If “Boy” must be classified, it could make a safe landing in the coming-of-age category. But “Boy,” which is as comfortable telling its story through animated Rocky drawings and imitation Michael Jackson videos as it is through tried-and-true methods, is every bit as much a staying-of-age story — a very funny, very clever, incredibly sweet and occasionally heartbreaking tribute to the magic of imagination and the fight to protect it at all costs when real life wants to take it away. It took three years for this gem to arrive on these shores in an accessible format, but the wait is beyond worthwhile.
Extras: Short film “Two Cars, One Night,” Kickstarter update videos, interviews, B-roll footage.

Would You Rather (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
Would You Rather has traditionally been a hypothetical game of “what if,” but if that method ever thrilled Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), it’s long since lost the ability to do so. Instead, Shepard prefers to recruit a handful of strangers in financial need and promise them a shot at life-changing wealth under the condition that they win his version of Would You Rather. That, of course, means that the choices are neither hypothetical nor easily made. And by the time our contestants discover just how difficult those choices are, the option to decline playing has been rescinded. “Would You Rather” follows a story premise that’s grown so prevalent in recent years as to become a genre unto itself, and it cannot escape some of the predictable elements that somehow ensnare every movie of this sort no matter how hard they fight it. But “Rather” also scores by not playing games with its mastermind’s identity. Who could be so cruel as to play with people’s needs and lives like this? Shepard Lambrick can, that’s who, and he’s all too happy to explain why. That kind of malevolent charisma can do wonders for a staling formula, and while “Rather” makes the misstep of giving one contestant more narrative weight than the rest, it is unarguably Shepard — and, by extension, the genuinely unnerving game that unfolds in his design — that drives this movie forward. Brittany Snow, Jonny Coyne, Eddie Steeples and Lawrence Gilliard Jr., among others, also star. No extras.

The Power of Few (R, 2013, Vivendi)
Be it joy, anger, sadness, boredom or something in between, every movie elicits a response. And so long as acute, paralyzing bafflement at least technically counts as a response, “The Power of Few” is no different. “Few” is one of those movies that tells multiple separate stories that eventually intersect due to place, time and circumstance, but the handful it rounds up — touching on but not limited to a bomb threat, a sick baby, a couple would-be thefts and multiple occasions for gun violence — are so cumulatively dire as to border on cartoonish. When “Few” compounds that by flashing a weird sense of humor and utilizing Christopher Walken and Jordan Prentice as a bizarro-world Jay and Silent Bob, all bets are off on whatever message all these crisscrossing stories are supposed to convey. And yet, none of this holds a weirdness candle to what happens after “Few” reveals the actual meaning of its title. Too much talent turns in too much good work to let “Few” descend into bad movie territory, but the entire premise and execution is way too jumbled to lift the movie to the great heights it presumably has eyes on from the start. Sometimes an entertaining and well-meaning mess is the best one can hope for, and for all its missteps, “Few” at least is never dull. And that, given how disastrously this could have gone in less talented hands, will do.
Extras: Deleted scene, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature,

Admission (PG-13, 2013, Focus Features)
Dozens of thousands of very smart and very hopeful high schoolers apply annually for a Princeton education, and elevens of thousands of them get rejected. Along with a select group of others, admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is the face of that rejection. And given what a personal mess she appears to be as her story begins, it’s enough to qualify “Admission” as a horror film for any 17-year-old who sees it amid the terror show that is college admissions season. For the rest of us, “Admission” technically is a comedy. But with an opening third that’s narratively productive but exceptionally comedically lukewarm, it’s a comedy that needs more benefit of the doubt than a college application with three misspellings in the opening paragraph of the cover letter. It’s around the bridge to the second act, by way of one of those hopeful students (Nat Wolff) and the teacher (Paul Rudd) lobbying for his acceptance, where “Admission” drops its big narrative bombshell. And it’s around that same period where the movie’s shaky comedic approach starts making sense, if not necessarily scoring with everyone who came into a Fey/Rudd with considerably different expectations. “Admission” gives Fey a chance to switch gears and try some sappy heart-on-sleeve earnestness on for size, and yes, it’s jarring. And no, it won’t be to every Fey fan’s taste — a few laughs aside, the comedy never develops any kind of real edge. With all that said, though, it merits saying also that at no point does “Admission” ring hollow or find its cast laughably out of their league. The clumsy gameplan manifests itself in the uneven presentation, but the conviction and talent from all involved is every bit as prominent, and that doesn’t count for nothing.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Spring Breakers (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It’s a joke, right? It has to be a joke. How else to describe “Spring Breakers,” which practically dares you to stop watching with an explosive opening montage of scenes that mixes aggressively bad dubstep, inane stock party footage and gloriously vapid inner and outer monologuing from the characters with whom we’re presumably stuck for the 75 or so minutes that remain? “Breakers” has its parable in the form of four naive girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) who sneak out and scam their way into a spring break trip, only to get arrested and subsequently bailed out by an opportunistic full-time spring breaker (James Franco) who drags them into a dangerous world of drugs, guns and people with very bad intentions. By the halfway point, a dark cloud has formed around “Breakers” that is both credibly unsettling and strangely pleasantly surprising given how unreachable such dramatic heights seemed only a few scenes earlier. But a mere few scenes later, “Breakers” is back to thrashing its arms in a truly bizarre attempt to reconcile a dark, deep and brooding mood with a sequence of events that’s a cross between a 13-year-old’s power fantasy short story and a music video that was conceived, written and shot in a couple hours. As a parody with self-awareness to spare, “Breakers” is mildly entertaining, if a bit overlong with the joke. But one suspects “Breakers” isn’t really in on its own joke, but instead is simply a roundly, wonderfully awful movie that reaches for profoundness, misses and takes a tone-deaf tumble for the ages down a staircase that ends only when the credits come to the rescue. Viewed on that level, and preferably not alone, “Breakers” is an absolute blast to witness. It just isn’t the blast it probably had in mind.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scene, five behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.