Join 615 Film for a Nashville screening of ‘5-25-77’

Join 615 Film for our first installment of our Screening Series!


Join 615 Film for our first installment of our Screening Series!

Hello, 615 Film-ers!

We’re gearing up to host our very first 615 Film Screening Series installment with Nashville’s first (we think) showing of the coming of age dramedy 5-25-77.

The screening will take place at the Regal Hollywood 27 on Thursday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m., but to ensure we’re able to hit the number necessary to host the show, we’ll need YOU (yes, you, you reading this article) to book your ticket now to let the good folks at Gathr know you’re coming!

Writer/director Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out, Dragonheart) will join us for the screening to participate in a Q&A and meet-and-greet at a soon-to-be-shared location post-film.

High Five: The Podcast is co-hosting this screening with us!


A self-autobiographical labor of love from veteran filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson, 5-25-77 tells the tale of an aspiring filmmaker (played by Freaks and Geeks star John Francis Daley) who gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be the first person to get a glimpse of a galaxy far, far away, and how this chance encounter affects his future. The film has been in production for years (literally — principle production took place in 2004-06, with extra footage added nearly ten years later), and finally hit theaters last year. But, it’s still to make it’s Nashville debut (…as far as we’re aware).

You can help make that happen! 

For the cost of a typical movie ticket you’d buy on Fandango, come and join the 615 Film team and local film fans for a fun night with door prizes, a special introduction and a post-film discussion.

We’re excited for this event and plan to host more in the future. But, first, we need you! Come out for this exciting opportunity to see a film years in the making with all your fellow 615 film fans!


Review: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ a Potent Antidote to Calendar Year

The Mr. Rogers documentary washes over you like an antibiotic to an infection you didn’t even know you had.

The Mr. Rogers documentary is a needed balm in desperate times.

RATING: ★★★★ (out of four stars)

Few people can pin you to your seat like Fred Rogers.

No, he’s not a fiery evangelical super-church pastor with a football-wide throat and sweat beads to fill a community pool. No, he’s not a big-eyed politician who throws out promises like free buttons at unsuspecting voters. No, he’s not a big-voiced huckster shelling out his snake elixir to whatever bald doofus wants a full head of hair again.

He’s a mild-mannered man in a sweater who plays with puppets and tells you that you matter.

In 2018, that’s the stunner that’ll leave a mark.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? walks softly and carries a big stick. It’s a tidal wave of emotions about a man who entered each episode of his beloved children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with the calm and ease of a gentle wave brushing past your feet. He’s the silent warrior of emotions that disarms you with compliments, and love. If this moment in history had a Pied Piper that would lead us all right back to where we belong, he would be named Fred, and would be oh, so glad you stopped by.

Director Morgan Neville gives audiences the SparkNotes on Rogers’ career, spanning from his days as a sickly, reserved child to one of entertainment’s most prolific voices. It’s as flattering a portrait as could be, very rarely taking detours into the darker aspects of Rogers’ life, but the darkness is easy to empathize with. This man is as close to a saint as you’re likely to see on a screen this year, and Neville raises the glass with proper respect and adoration. Fred Rogers was the man worthy of a thousand toasts.

What Rogers did was revolutionary. At a time where television was a budding medium,  treating kids like lab rats for what would stick, and what would sell, the future public television icon wanted to make programming that would engage a child’s emotions, not just sell them the latest Ovaltine shake or toy gun. He wanted for kids to deal with the feelings they had deep down, to love the face they saw in the mirror, to extend the Golden Rule and a warm smile to whomever they ran into on the street. A minister at heart, Rogers wanted to use empathy as a motivator for his young audience. It was his vocation to send the trolley away to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

He had a way with people that was uncanny, and unmatched. The famed Sen. John O. Pastore hearing for PBS funding feels like you’re watching a miracle: the gruff, unmoved Pastore’s complete visage dropping at a meek, unprepared Rogers saying the exact, piercing words of wisdom and love that gave public television its lifeblood. The way he worked with children was, in and of itself, a revelation — he treated them all at once like kings and queens and old friends, deserving of regal distinction and playful camaraderie. He treated his co-workers like they were working for free and were doing him a life’s favor. His loving wife and children nary had a bad thing to say, either, even if it was clear that Rogers had some trouble with transitioning out of his television aura at home.


His kindness is a balm that will stretch over his era to ours, and how fitting that Neville’s film comes in a time where knives at throats are more regular than bear hugs. There’s a rancid little clip from a Fox and Friends segment in the film that stands as the summer’s scariest villain. In it, the hosts garble back and forth about how Mr. Rogers’ message of self-worth and love “ruined” a generation into thinking they were entitled, the great excuse for life’s natural progressions. To them, the Neighborhood is where water crystallizes and forms one million snowflakes. It’s the wicked mirror into our malfeasance, where Fred Rogers’ ideals are seen as stumbling blocks to the powerful and mighty. No Trump Towers raise in this Neighborhood; only snowflakes fall there.

But, really, you sense the sadness in the clip, and wonder what a good talk with Rogers would do for these Fox and Friends. Maybe, they’d do well with Daniel Tiger, the conduit for Rogers’ own faults and fears. So often, bullying covers up longing for love. Fred Rogers never met a bully he couldn’t fix.

We needed an experience like this in 2018. There will be better films to come along, but few will carry the necessity. This one soaks over you like an antibiotic to an infection you didn’t even know you had. The affirming score by Jonathan Kirkscey lulls you in, the talking heads preach Fred’s gospel, and archival clips of Rogers tell you the words your soul longs for.

Don’t be surprised if the box of Kleenex is empty, and the theater is quite still by the time you say farewell to this neighbor. Just like Rogers, this quiet, empathetic act of reassurance will make you long for a world where there are more Rogers than Trumps, more songs about loving your friends than speeches about making America great again, more random acts of kindness than feats of strength.

Y’know, being a good neighbor isn’t just local to that little studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the handmade sets and quaint puppetry. Maybe hold the door for someone on your way out of the theater, ask a stranger what they thought of the movie, cast a smile and a kind word to the college kid taking your order at dinner, maybe even secretly buy the ticket for the person behind you in the line out front, and tell them to enjoy the show before you go and get your popcorn.

Never have we so desperately needed a film to escape the screen. After all, this is documentary; not fiction.

Mr. Rogers isn’t just a television character; he’s an example.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is currently playing at The Belcourt. 

The Prism: ‘Ocean’s 8’, ‘Amadeus’

The Prism returns with a look at how confidence helps Debbie Ocean, and sinks Salieri.

Each week, 615 Film’s resident overthinker Cory Woodroof will attempt to reflect the week’s releases against each other, new or repertory, showing how they intersect and blend to bring forth ideas about themselves in part and as a whole. Maybe it’ll form a rainbow when we’re done – who’s to say; science has a mind of its own. Welcome back to The Prism.

The pangs of mediocrity ring through the haunted halls of Antonio Salieri’s memories like a toddler smacking a piano, playing nothing of note, but so, oh, so many notes.

The whiffs of mediocrity get whirled away in a slick heist of confidence in Oceans’ 8.

The tortured Italian could’ve learned a thing or two from Debbie Ocean and company – if you’re going to play in Texas, you’ve got to have a fiddle in the band.

The latest Ocean’s installment comes at the perfect time. Hollywood is finally playing catchup on female-driven franchise films, and as a sign of the progress being made, it’s wonderful to see women get to have their own familiar-yet-enjoyable-enough tentpole release, free from guzzball fanboy hatred.

Ocean’s 8 is a very mediocre movie that thinks it’s as good as anything that’s come before it. That, believe it or not, comes quite in handy when you’re playing a cover version of a much better song. But, Ocean’s 8 doesn’t care about how familiar it is, or how every step has been stepped in before, or how this heist just ain’t quite as thrilling as when her brother Danny and the boys jacked up Vegas.

Ocean’s 8 is as confident as any film released in 2018 – it makes it look easy, even though, uh, what they’re doing is, er, quite easy. Call it a poker face, call it a bluff. Whatever it is, it scrubs your mind of anything else but robbing diamonds and doing it in style for nearly two hours and gets out at the last minute making you feel like you’ve watched a real original.

Check your pockets, folks. Ocean’s 8 is the heist of the century.

Gary Ross, whose career spans from Seabiscuit to The Hunger Games to, no kidding, Pleasantville, is a perfectly fine director, and here, he does a perfectly fine job. One wonders if, ahem, a woman would’ve brought a bit more pizazz to the proceedings, but c’est la vie, it’s refried Ocean’s, the serving was always going to taste the same.

Ocean’s 8 is the movie where there’s no such thing as a spoiler. Here, Debbie Ocean gathers a team of quirky personalities (the first crime squad to ever pass the Bechdel Test!), plans a heist of a rare set of jewels on the neck of a snappy Hollywood starlet (Anne Hathaway, having an absolute ball deconstructing her personal image) and tries to make out of Dodge all the richer and wiser. Toast the glasses and walk out in style – this is an Ocean’s movie, same as the last movie. These films are Mad Libs, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

To call this film average would be to deny its uncanny ability to entertain. Whether it’s relative newcomer Awkwafina dropping gags in a Subway, or Daniel Pemberton laying down a sleek bit of music over a snappily-edited flashback, or comedy queen Sandra Bullock spending just enough time on a facial reaction to something that’s going on, this film is bedazzled in strengths. It’s not inherently strong, but it knows how to make you smile. What else can you ask of a movie where the inevitable outcome could be screamed at you as you walk in the theater, and have no direct affect on the experience?

This film doesn’t slouch, and it’s not afraid to ask the boss for a raise (or, well, pick it right out of his back pocket). Sometimes, these spinoff films can be a bit mawkish in trying to be something different. Ocean’s 8 feels no pressure to do anything differently, and by all means, does nothing differently. This is a movie where *Cate Blanchett* blends into the scenery. Cate Blanchett! What kind of mediocre-ass movie makes a two-time Oscar-winner lack in personality?

Ocean’s 8 does, darn it. And you’re going to love it anyway.

Rarely has something so mediocre come across so cool. Maybe it’s best if we handed our franchises over to the ladies.

Sometimes, it takes a woman.

In Amadeus, Salieri lacks the cool and composure to do anything but blame God for making him not as good at music as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Yes, Mozart, the womanizing, bug-eyed man-child who lets out a siren of a laugh when he gets nervous and quite literally farts all over Salieri’s labor of love in private. Mozart, the genius who can’t escape his father’s shadow and never met a bottle of booze he didn’t like. Mozart, the bane of his existence, who will always be better than Salieri, even if Salieri is, at the core, still quite good at what he does.

Amadeus, the late, great Miloš Forman’s symphonic epic on the dangers of covetousness, and when brilliance goes unchecked, is anything but mediocre. It’s a big, lout statement, a slam dunk that shatters the glass, a film so confident it lasts for nearly three hours and doesn’t even blink. If film is adrenaline, then Amadeus is three cans of Red Bull and a gigantic slice of extra-chocolate chocolate cake. You feel positively alive when you watch it, and mentally exhausted when it’s finally over.

Requiem for a sugar rush.

Forman tells the tale of Mozart and Salieri in the way it was likely told in back rooms over post-opera coffees between friends after the former’s passing. It’s a tall tale with unfounded basis in reality featuring two of that era of music’s more prominent names. Though, you don’t play Salieri when your baby needs to take a nap, and the local orchestra doesn’t host Salieri nights at the park. Mozart won the legacy game, whether it was played or not, so how riveting that we got this perhaps fully fictionalized, perhaps as true as true can be fable for the cavity that decays decent men when they don’t get their way.

F. Murray Abraham, who won the Oscar for this, tells his story in impeccable makeup to a slightly-bothered priest. You see, he feels like he killed Mozart. He certainly wanted to kill Mozart, making it his life’s mission to set the young musician in a labyrinth that has to be the musician’s equivalent of The Cask of Amontillado. Whether it actually works is up to you as you watch it. Abraham wrestles his silent, rotting admiration for Mozart with his desire to see him fail; Mozart (played with jumpy, sleazy wonder by Tom Hulce, nominated by the Academy for his turn) wrestles with his own petulance, daddy issues and the burden of being brilliant. He only registers Salieri as a friendly, apathetic contemporary, not as the harbinger of his doom. The mouse has no idea he’s being chased by the cat; the cat enraged he wasn’t created a mouse. Tom and Jerry are killing each other out of pure coincidence. It’d be kind of funny if it weren’t so pathetic and wasteful.

Though, that’s what covet does to us, isn’t it? It’s the pointless quest for “more” even when you already have. If Salieri couldn’t tell a G-flat from an apartment, and his heart had called him to a career in music, you can understand the frustration. But, the cruel irony comes when we actually hear Salieri’s work. It’s not bad! He’s still talked of as an influential musician for his time. Now, he’s not Mozart, and therein lies the conflict. Salieri didn’t want to be a great musician; he wanted to be the best musician. Absolute power, or the search for it, corrupts absolutely. The guy lacked the confidence in his own work, forcing it to be measured up to literal Mozart. No wonder he went off the deep end. Like the best cautionary tales, the red flags wave with zeal here.

By the end of this bombastic masterpiece, your heart racing every other minute when Forman shows off his impossible skill to match his actors with the awing spectacle of the music and the staging, you see Salieri hail himself patron saint of the mediocrities. His lack of self-worth when an all-time talent lived next door drove him mad. How funny: the simmer of not being “quite as good” as somebody else drives home one of the greatest movies of all time.

Y’know, Salieri ain’t Debbie Ocean. Confidence is key, right?

Review: ‘Hereditary’ Takes the Horror Genre to Unsettling Heights

A24’s fourth horror film in five years is worth all the hype.

A24’s fourth horror film in five years is worth all the hype.

RATING: ★★★1/2 (out of four stars)

If there’s one thing that’s been the most consistent about A24 since they were founded in 2012, it’s their dedication to the arthouse horror subgenre. 2014 would be the year of Under The Skin, which paired harrowing imagery and an unnerving score to an abstract narrative that blended elements of atmospheric science fiction and cosmic horror to create a haunting but thought-provoking commentary about beauty, sexuality and what it ultimately means to be human. Two years later, A24 would release The Witch, a period horror piece that took the risk of grounding its dialogue in the dialect of colonial-era England to tell its haunting tale about a family banished from their homeland only to be haunted and driven to paranoia by supernatural forces. Then there was the extremely divisive It Comes At Night, which was sold as a post-apocalyptic horror film centered around a family trying to retain their existence after a disease wipes out the majority of humanity around them, but turned out to be an unsettling mindbender of a psychological drama.

Now this weekend, A24 is poised to release Hereditary, the directorial debut of Ari Aster, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to an unprecedented level of praise. While only time will tell if Hereditary is one of the scariest movies of all time, it certainly is terrifying in its own unique way, and takes the horror genre to new heights through its stylistic choices, deliberately slow pacing, and a knockout lead performance from Toni Collette.

Hereditary begins with an obituary over a black screen for Ellen Graham, which in true newspaper fashion makes note of her deceased parents and husband, as well as the surviving members of her family, most notably her daughter Annie (Toni Collette), who is having as difficult a time coping with the loss of her mother as she is with completing an elaborate showcase of miniature houses and buildings complete in time for an important art exhibit while raising her own immediate family, from her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and her young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), while her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) elects to keep to himself and focus on his work as a therapist.

Right from the get-go, it’s made clear that this family has a tumultuous relationship, from the sparse conversations they do have with each other before heading off to partake in their menial but quirky hobbies; Charlie draws sketches of creepy monsters and Peter socializes and smokes cannabis with his friends. But Ellen’s death is the catalyst for Annie to find herself and her family haunted by terrors that may be of mental, supernatural, or even ancestral origin, and sets out to discover their true source despite her mental vulnerability.

From that synopsis, Hereditary sounds like a straightforward horror film, but what earns it all the hype and critical praise is the assured direction from Ari Aster. In his debut feature film, Aster does the unprecedented and sets a new bar for the horror genre by fusing a variety of subgenres to create a film-watching experience that’s uniquely terrifying from beginning to end. A particular example of existential horror comes in the film’s opening shot, where the camera zooms in on one of the many miniature houses in Annie’s workshop until the bedroom takes up the entire frame, just in time for Peter to wake up and have a brief conversation with his father standing in the doorway. The tilt shift lens used for this opening adds to the existential perspective of Hereditary by making these characters look like dolls in this proverbial dollhouse, suggesting that the horrors they go through in the next two hours are inescapable and beyond their control.

Meanwhile, elements of psychological horror permeate throughout Hereditary through Annie’s mental anguish, conveyed by a powerhouse lead performance from Toni Collette. Forever a character actress, Collette makes the case for a Best Actress Oscar nomination with every breakdown at her grief support group, outburst at her family, and drive to discover the secrets of her family history. As the film progresses and Annie’s search takes her down a psychological rabbit hole, one is left wondering in a pivotal scene if Annie is having nightmarish visions, possessed by a spiritual force or crying out to her mother in helplessness from her situation, and Collette sells the ambiguity of Annie’s emotional state with an unflinching intensity.

Aster also succeeds at keeping Hereditary suspenseful for the entirety of its run time through a plethora of aesthetic choices which give the film a consistent, unsettling ambience from scene to scene; from wide shots that isolate the characters, to long takes and painfully unhurried camera movements that contribute to a deliberately slow pace that only builds the tension more and more as the audience comes to learn about the Graham family and the unhinged baggage they carry. Even the resentment everyone in this family has for each other, and the familial pressures Peter feels as a teenager are played for scares, only adding a layer of domestic horror on top of the film’s existential and atmospheric dread. It’s worth noting that Aster went the extra mile to make his first horror feature fresh and new by crafting it devoid of jump scares. When audiences finally see the force that’s really haunting the Grahams lurking behind them, their only choice is to watch in between fingers and pray our characters escape, or survive sight unseen.

But in a film with many twists and turns, Hereditary does take one for the conventional in its third act resolution. It’s especially deflating because it follows a conclusion full of disturbing imagery and haunting atmosphere that succeeds at making one’s skin crawl. Meanwhile, the film’s slow pace and just over two hour runtime can really test the patience of causal moviegoers. But for those up to the challenge, Hereditary is a fresh, hypnotic take on the horror genre that will leave audiences on the edge of their seats for its consistent, unrelenting atmosphere, demented turns in its story, and inventive merging of genres into an experience that’s terrifying in its uniqueness. It’s deserving of all the hype and positive criticism it’s gotten up to this point, as it’s the type of film that will leave its viewership wishing to stop feeling scared as much as these characters wish to stop living with each other.

The Prism: ‘Adrift,’ ‘Action Point’

Welcome to our new weekly review column, The Prism.

Each week, 615 Film’s resident overthinker Cory Woodroof will attempt to reflect the week’s releases against each other, showing how they intersect and blend to bring forth ideas about themselves in part and as a whole. Maybe it’ll form a rainbow when we’re done – who’s to say; science has a mind of its own. Welcome to The Prism.

We’re all just out here trying to survive, right?

The cinema has long been a place of disaster-ridden escapism, with some macabre film executive long ago deciding that it would be fun to watch people survive in fictional (or “based on a true story”) scenarios on the big screen, so that the audience can munch on popcorn while an island-bound Tom Hanks laments at the loss of his volleyball companion Wilson, or poor park guests try not to become the early bird special for 65 million years plus crowd. Your big queen-size bed waiting for you at the end of the show makes it easier to stomach.

No masked slasher or ne’er-de-well gunslinger has amassed a higher body count than Mother Nature, and in Adrift, she comes to kill a sullen romance on the high seas.

Building a good romance is a bit like tossing dough to make a pizza crust. You’ve got to pound and roll the dough around to firm it up, but the deftest of touches completes the process in the air. You’ve got to do the leg work to cast the likeable leads, make sure the script doesn’t sick the starstruck lovers in dialogue that would come out better in chunks (yes, those chunks) and ensure that whatever journey the romantics go on doesn’t hold back the genuine lovey-dovey-ness of all of it.

Misery loves company, so it’s no wonder so many romances are predicated on an afternoon gone wrong. Adrift sends Shailene Woodley, who plays a carefree globetrotter with no set destination, with Sam Claffin, a carefree globetrotter with no set destination and a beard, into a tropical depression. The two meet on land in Tahiti, and drift into each other’s arms, their shared love of all things nautical and free-spiritedness the, ahem, anchor to their swoon. It sounds corny, but it’s a real story, and Woodley and Claffin have a comfortable chemistry with each other. It’s not exactly Bogart and Bergman, but you believe that these two make sense for each other. It makes sense that Miles Teller, Woodley’s real-life on-screen Bergman, was once cast in this role.

Baltasar Kormákur, whose ignored 2015 against-the-elements drama Everest will have you reeling the next time your morning hike hits a hill, has found a nice little niche in telling big stories that nest their humanity in little moments, and while Adrift is far from his best movie, it’s the best example of his patience. He’s not going to barrow you with waves and desperation every second – he wants you to care about the couple headed into the maelstrom, and care, you do. Everyone involved buys into the story, even if the story itself begins harder and harder to buy into once the switch gets flipped.

Well, there’s a bugaboo of a plot twist that nearly drowns the entire affair, though it’s not one the film exactly could’ve avoided. Y’know, real story and all. Once the ship goes sideways, and Woodley and Claffin are in survival mode, the film takes on an added layer of worry and weariness, and survival comes full circle. Here, the two lovebirds learn what it means to really love another person, for better or for worse. Both actors deepen the once-relaxed romance in the moments of turmoil, cementing in why they’re made for each other – the two haggle over whether Woodley can break her vow of killing and eating meat when fish becomes necessary for their diet at sea, they share awkward peanut butter salvation when a rogue jar washes into sight on the dingy, they sing together, they share fears of surviving their ordeal, Woodley tend to Claffin’s beat-up leg like it were her own. It’s what love is supposed to be; not just what they typically show you in those dime back disaster romances.

But, the waves continue to bellow against what works so well, because, once again, this is a real-life story, and this is a film where the creative minds involved decided to mix around scenes of the surviving at sea with scenes building up the aquatic ardor, and how they got to the aquatic accident. It’d be a simple fix to just put the film in chronological order, but it’s a dead weight as it’s composed. Again, *this is a real-life story,* and the film’s late twist bellies up like a catfish in a vat of chemical waste. But, that’s really how it went, so you’re appreciative and thankful that’s how the boat actually goes into dock. The real-life trauma endured isn’t ever lost on you, but one retroactively wonders if this would’ve have been better staying on the shelves at your local Books-a-Million from a story-sense. But, then you’d lose what’s in between. Certainly a quagmire for the Queequeg.

Adrift somehow survives the late reveal, and the awkward structure, to remain an alluring meditation on the kind of love that carries water. You might not make it all the way to shore, but you don’t regret setting sail with this kind of silent wisdom, and these lovely leads.

Survival can go past what we typically expect – how about surviving an afternoon New Jersey’s most dangerous amusement park?

In Action Point, the latest Jackass mini-reunion, the crotch-shots just don’t land as hard as they used to.

Make no mistake, it still hurts like a hill of beans to get pegged square in the family jewels and is still as funny as all get out when you’re not the bullseye. But, even ball jokes have an event horizon.

In the film, Johnny Knoxville, the merry king of Jackass’ crash dummy court, brings his old pal Chris “Party Boy” Pontius along for his latest shenanigans, all at once a piece of fan mail and a eulogy for a by-gone era where theme parks like Action Point could exist.

At Action Point, the only rule is to have fun. That sounds fine in theory, but when kids are falling through the slides and cutting their legs open, and are smoking at the ticket booth, and are flailing about like they’re at The Three Stooges’ version of Disney World, it’s fair to feel like a few rules would do this venture some good. It’s the Most Unsafe Place on Earth, just the way Knoxville and company like it.

The park’s story is told through Knoxville in aging makeup as the grandpop version of his main character D.C., because no actor loves to get decked out in elderly disguise and make a fuss like he does (not even Eddie Murphy). This character is the kind of old fogey who bemoans the era of the helicopter parent, and would love to take a flamethrower to anything “politically correct.” Early in the film, he spouts out a racially-crude epitaph, only to begrudgingly correct himself. At least he’s trying?

D.C.’s daughter comes into town for the summer, but so do the winds of change. A local business schmooze (Dan Bakkedall) named Knoblach (a name perfect for R-rated alterations) wants to tear Action Point down and use it for development land, and as the rickety park struggles to make end’s meat, D.C. and his band of “Shitbirds” (a little family of flunky, frolic-loving park employees) devise a plan to save their stomping grounds. If this sounds like a spec script that dropped into the back of some studio exec’s filing cabinet in 1983, you’d be right. The thing is a formulaic as doing the Macarena in neon pants.

Knoxville and company want to not only homage the raunchy 80s fight-the-man comedy, but, indeed, the times themselves, when you rubbed dirt on knee scrapes, didn’t mind your mouth and didn’t worry about having anything but a good time. Times change, and we get older. Hypersensitivity can be a blessing and a curse, and while it’s been refreshing and needed to adjust the way we view things like concussions, racial awareness and, particularly for this slice of film, the way we treat and view women, one does kind of get where Action Point is coming from – maybe we do need to loosen the stick in our butts just a hair, just enough to sit a bit more comfortably than normal. Trumpism pulled the stick right out and smacked progress in the face with it, so there are extremes to avoid, of course.

But, the film needed more duct tape to hold its shaky ends together. It’s a vapid affair, one that’s spliced together with Jackass-approved stunts (that was the key to the marketing campaign), a father-and-daughter routine performed as frequently as “Free Bird” is at country cookouts, pathetic attempts to meet the “R” threshold and enough rally the troops brouhaha to paint that Bill Murray recruiting poster from Stripes. It’s a pale comparison to what’s come before, and, let’s be real honest here for a second, what came before really wasn’t all that great in the first place.

Though, Action Point puts forth an anarchistic streak that feels good to shake around in, because, yeah, the man does suck, and screw that guy. And, it feels like an act of catharsis for Knoxville and Pontius, who have seen Father Time and Vine make their Jackass stunts impossible and irrelevant for modern audiences. Who wants to pay to watch a jackass when your next-door neighbor just uploaded his latest screw up to YouTube for free? These guys are getting older, and the evening sun is setting low. A few more days, and they must go.

Knoxville is the fixed point here, and it’s fascinating to watch him maneuver in the film. He takes his stunts in stride, but they feel lonelier than usual. Most of his big gags are surrounded by random young actors we don’t know, and while they, and we, laugh at the shenanigans, you miss the comradery of the Jackass days, where even the most painful of nipple pinches or trips on the ice were met with instant pats on the back or bear hugs. Those guys loved to get hurt, but they also loved each other. Knoxville looks a bit weary, a little tired, not quite as spry, but still somewhat game. A blooper in the closing credits shows one of the less-dangerous stunts taking a toll on Knoxville’s body. The crew applauds when he gets up, instead of running over to slap his butt and send him off for another go.

Something’s off.

The familiar pranksters have indeed thinned out, and Knoxville and Pontius are left to corral about in a mediocre studio comedy, and do their best to keep the spirit alive. The former’s swagger is reminiscent of John Wayne in his farewell film, The Shootist. There, a sickly cowboy ventures into town to effectively find his death bed, and is only greeted with friendly familiarity by Jimmy Stewart’s local doctor, who shoots the breeze with Wayne about the wilder days and offers him some medicine to make the dyin’ a little easier for the old pilgrim. Everyone else around either wants to kill him, or ogle at his former glories. He’s still got his shot, but it ain’t gonna last much longer.

Pontius reminds you a bit of Stewart here – he’s the goofy, loveable oaf who just hangs around because he’s supposed to be there, the kind of character who would show up on Jackass and blend in just fine. That architype doesn’t exactly work for most fictional movies (typically, characters need to serve something grander), but for something trying to desperately recapture whatever magic still exists in a nut shot, he’s more than welcome.

Action Point is Knoxville’s The Shootist, or perhaps his Unforgiven. It’s kind of a lukewarm movie, but it’s also got moments of beauty and melancholy for what it means for those involved. One in particular finds D.C. and his kid at a diner, where the latter begins to bring her insecurities about her father to the forefront. How can you take care of me, she asks, when you can’t quite seem to take care of yourself? The rugged days of being a beer-guzzling Peter Pan to a gang of Shitbirds have to come to an end at some point, right?

Knoxville looks her square in the face and shows his hand. It’s you who gives me fear, not the death-defying tricks and lack of a helmet, he quietly shares, the actor’s teary eyes transcending fiction and reality. You wanted to see a real stunt? Well, here it is, the actor’s finest moment, square in the middle of a movie where he also chases after a porcupine and gets pricked in the leg.

Knoxville is 47 now, an actor whose name isn’t actually “Johnny Knoxville.” He was born Philip John Clapp Jr., in Knoxville, Tennessee. Johnny Knoxville is a stage name, and one wonders if “Johnny Knoxville” the personality is long for his world. He treats Action Point like it’s a precious farewell, and in that moment of staggering vulnerability with his fictional daughter, shows why Knoxville the actor might have a second wind beyond the demands of what being “Johnny Knoxville” has always called for. He needs to play back that scene at the diner and use to leverage some more dramatic roles. He’s clearly got the chops for it, and drama doesn’t require you to take countless hits in Mr. Johnson’s sack of potatoes. He’s free to take a breather; nobody’s going to question the guy’s status as a gifted slapstick comedian anytime soon.

By the end of Action Point, Knoxville’s D.C. gets everything he wants – he sticks it to the jerk business guy, saves the spirit of the park (if not the land itself), and wins back his daughter. Through all the celebrating, though, you can’t help but wonder if this is really it for Knoxville and his jackassery. Just how many times can a guy approaching 50 be slung by a trebuchet into a wooden barn? That final blooper of him slowly recovering from a stunt gone awry is the last thing you see before the final credits roll. That doesn’t feel like an accident.

The Jackass-style of comedy has its place in comedy history, a hallowed one in the medium. But in an age where kids eat Tide pods, and snort condoms up the nose, and Dumbass Davy is trying to be Facebook’s billionth idiot savant in his dive onto the flaming cardboard table, perhaps it’s time professional stunt comedy is retired. It’s never going to go away in terms of media, but maybe that warning before each and every Jackass episode has lost its prohibitive edge. When we’re all jackasses, should anyone really be a Jackass?

If Action Point really is it, and Knoxville about to hang up the tricks for good, consider this as fitting a farewell vehicle as he could’ve asked for. There are scratches and dings all on the sides of the car, the wheels are flat, and the bumper is missing. But, Johnny Knoxville is not John Wayne, nor does doesn’t need a classic to go out on. Just a humdinger of a jalopy that makes loud “pow” sounds out of the tailpipe, is good for a giggle every now and again and has enough room for everybody that wants in.

That still doesn’t work as a great movie, at least in the format Knoxville and company might be physically able to endure nowadays.

There aren’t any more pranks in the valley.

Maybe that’s a good thing, for Knoxville, and for us.

That’s how you survive, and make that survival count.


Cory’s 2018 Nashville Film Festival Diary: Part Two

Read Cory’s conclusion to his diaries of NaFF titles.

615 Film’s Cory Woodroof was on the ground for the 2018 Nashville Film Festival, and well, saw a lot of movies in a week’s time. Here’s the second rundown of the films he saw at the festival.

Every now and then, a film will fall from the sky and beam you right in the noggin, and you’ll never want to get rid of the bump it leaves on your forehead. For me in 2018, that film is Thunder Road, the feature debut from relative newcomer Jim Cummings. Cummings stars, writes, directs, co-edits and provides some of the music for this self-effacingly humane dramedy about good-hearted police officer Jim Arnaud, who breaks down in spectacular fashion at his mother’s funeral, and sees the plight of Job ascend on his slightly-nebbish, slightly-agitated, always-well-meaning person. A teary-eyed Arnaud goes from silently miming failed dance moves to honor his mom to fighting to keep his daughter in a nasty custody battle in snap fashion, and Cummings maneuvers the rickety bridge that connects tragic comedy to not-so-funny tragedy with an explorer’s confidence.

For stretches, Thunder Road hits you like an oxygen mask after a surprise one-hundred-yard dash. The swells of bracing action after moments of lull, backed by goosebump-ready musical cues and smash-bang edits into the fervor, cement Cummings’ explosive filmmaking talents. And the lulls, oh the lulls, the little moments of life in crisis, the dead-on depictions of depression and grief. Don’t forget the bombastic monologues and awkward encounters that mark Arnaud’s life notching further and further down the rabbit hole of unfair and self-inflicted strokes of rotten chance….in no short order, this is the power of film on rudimentary, open-hearted display. Cummings’ performance, writing, direction, editing and musical decisions are all as good as anything you’ll see in 2018. It’s overwhelmingly great.

Thunde Road
Jim Cummings in the film “Thunder Road”

Cummings follows in the line of guys like Richard Linklater (a fellow Austinian), Sean Baker (of with Thunder Road shares similarities to his 2017 masterpiece The Florida Project), Kenneth Lonergan and James L. Brooks in that tragicomic blend of humanity that is seen too infrequently in dramatic storytelling. Cummings, one film in, already stands shoulder to shoulder with those guys, and has given 2018 one of its definitive works. This, bizarrely, doesn’t have a distributor yet, but here’s to hoping it’s just a matter of time. It’s the best indie debut I’ve seen since Destin Daniel Cretton’s towering Short Term 12, and one of the decade’s great human dramas. So, it’s pretty firmly the best thing to come out of the festival.

Someone needs to pick this bad boy up, distribute it, and rank in the Indie Spirit nominations (and more, if you play your cards right!). You can read staff writer Grant Townsend Moore’s detailed review here.

Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap (pictured up top) joins Thunder Road in being the other best thing I saw at this year’s fest, and one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years. It’s hyperbole, but when you see something that represents the best of what documentaries can do, the word begin to fade into grand gestures.

Liu’s film is part autobiographical and is totally immersed in intimate, revealing perspectives. Liu and his childhood Zack and Keire all share a love of skateboarding, and have all gained community from the likeminded skaters in town. The three also share in the absence of strong familial structures. None of them had particularly loving upbringings, and found the understanding and care they so desperately yearned for on the half-pipes with folks of similar benediction. It’s so moving to see these guys just spend time together, throwing care into the wind of a downhill skate or in a backyard get-together. Liu wants you to get to know he and his friends, and empathize with them, before really digging down to the brokenness that lies beyond the surface.

But, once you acclimate, it’s time to get real. Liu’s journey into his own story and into his friends’ reveal hidden pockets of frustration, of self-loathing, of fear for the future, of long roads ahead. For one of them, you’re forced to rectify with disturbing tendencies anchored by alcohol use, for another, the sobering reality of coming to terms with who your father really was, and how he raised you. For Liu, the documentary morphs into a tale of forgiving his mother for years of mistreatment from a stepfather, and into a tale of better understanding his friends.

I’ve never been as heartened to see stills from a red carpet as I was when I googled the young men in the film after seeing the doc to try and find out how they were doing. All three young men stood, smiling with Liu on the red carpet. They look like they’ve been doing well, and it’s been some time since the film shot. Perhaps they’re all in much better places than they were when the filming took place. I sure damn hope so. What power the documentary has – to make your heart hurt and celebrate all at once for strangers on a screen. Film can be the ultimate machine for empathy, with the doc its knuckle-ball.

Sgt. Edwin Raymond in the documentary “Crime + Punishment”

Stephen Maing’s explosive look at the NYPD, Crime + Punishment, feels like something ripped from the world of David Simon or James Mangold. It’s a film about duty and honor, and what happens when the body you serve no longer wishes to uphold the laurels it’s built on. What do you do? For the NYPD 12, they put their careers and well-beings on the line to reveal the malpractice that was a work in a New York City’s police department that supposedly had outlawed quotas on arrests and citations. He also follows a determined private investigator, who spends the film’s runtime trying to exonerate a young man accused of a shooting and spends his life exposing quota-driven arrests of young minority men, who can rack up seven or eight unlawful arrests at a time that make money for the city and damn the innocent young person into splotched records.

Corruption and government sadly go hand in hand, and Maing’s film will exhaust you with a righteous blitz of undercover footage, first-hand accounts and slice-of-life examples to patch together an image of the courage of the NYPD 12 and of the investigator, who must power through a system not too big on self-correction. It’s a story that’s got all the drama and intrigue of the best crime stories, but also pulls the audience down to the street level to see what happens when punishment goes awry, and grabs hold of innocent bystanders. It’s a sobering watch, and one that’s vital in our ongoing discussion of police conduct, and police practice. It’s no surprise Sgt. Edwin Raymond pops up on Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas each episode to provide his insights into policing in America – he’s a fascinating subject, and a firm example of what happens when good cops push against bad systems.

Speaking of government corruption, Kimberly Reed’s Dark Money follows the trail of anonymous contributions into often-dishonest campaign efforts that usurp government regulation, but don’t skip past the watchful eye of Montanans and diligent members of the press. In a time where Citizens United allows for corporations to donate to political campaigns, and the federal government doesn’t limit their efforts to anonymously fund attacks on various politician’s through dummy companies, Dark Money serves as a well-researched, dire warning to all who overlook campaign finance issues as major threats to the democratic process.

It’s as compelling as it is frustrating, but it gives you hope in the collective of Americans who still believe in the basic tenants of the democratic process. Here, journalists work with lawful government representatives as professionally as possible to uncover the dark web of who funds what for what politicians. The documentary can crackle along with the best journalism capers, but also carries a pang of regret for the decline of traditional media.

Journalist John S. Adams is the primary fixed point for tracking down the dark money, and his story is as important as any told on a screen this year. Even when nefarious actors try to backhand the process, watchdogs in journalism, government life and in the citizenry still stand up to the dishonesty. You’ll all at once get the grim wakeup call to a little-known slice of democratic decadence, and a good reminder that there are good people who still care to hunt it down and call it out.

Brian Welch
From the documentary “Loud Krazy Love”

Rounding out the better documentaries I saw at the festival is the strong doc Loud Krazy Love, a heartening redemption story about KoRn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch and his daughter Jennea. The rock-to-redemption narrative can be as tired as a neighborhood band covering “Freebird,” and one can only hear so many times of how rocker X used to trash hotel rooms and drink too much beer before changing his or her path for the better.

It’s not that it’s not inherently good to know people have turned their lives around, but buzzwords and repetitive imagery can only do so much good, particularly when trying to tell a compelling story. The switch to a life in faith will bring one much peace and joy, but it’s by no means the cakewalk and finished task that many likeminded stories try to portray it as being.

Loud Krazy Love shows that the healing process doesn’t finish with a dunk in the water and a good feeling. Welch refuses to gloss over the real scars and dark moments that can encapsulate the lifestyle of a global celebrity, particularly when the person involved clearly might not be ready for the attention, and for the opportunity for malevolent practice with no immediate consequence. He’s open and frank about his conversion to Christianity, what it took to leave his addictive tendencies behind from his early KoRn days, and how he worked to learn what being a Christian, and, by turn, a father, is really all about.

Directors Trey Hill and Scott Mayo bring enough visual flourish to the film to give it a spark, but it’s all about Brian, as good as a subject for a film like this as you can find, and Jennea, and their embracing of new norms as both learn truly what a redemptive tail encapsulates. It’s a work of responsible, reflective Christianity, and of immense goodwill.

Leave No Trace
Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in “Leave No Trace”

Also Screened:

  • Legendary filmmaker Paul Schrader returns to the world of dogmatic dissections of men in crisis with First Reformed, a holier art Taxi Driver with a scorching performance from the always stalwart Ethan Hawke and as generous and frank a read on the faithful life that has been screened this decade. It joins the pantheon of essential religious cinema and can’t be missed. Look for further thoughts on this one elsewhere from me when it opens in Nashville next month. You can peep Grant’s review for 615 Film now.
  • The Timothée Chalamet Experience rolls through town with A24’s moody 90s teen drama Hot Summer Nights, or, Kewl Largo, where Goodfellas meets The Sandlot, and a wayward New England youth throws himself into the world of dazed and confused drug dealings and falling in love in preppy neon shirts with a gnarly hurricane barrowing on the horizon. The Life Chalablazed, if you will. Everyone’s new boyfriend brings in his patented, brooding curiosity, but it’s Alex Roe as Chalamet’s bruised and broken partner in crime and Maika Monroe as Timmy’s world-weary summer fling that give the text its depth. Newcomer Elijah Bynum lets his obvious cinematic influences guide the narrative and style, but the buzzed sense of self and mood feel exciting, if a bit too relaxed. All involved can, and will, go on to do better things, but many debuts have fallen for more traps, and have shown less promise, than this one. Also, Emory Cohen needs more to do in everything he’s in. It’s a perennial problem for such a great, young actor for him to consistently get such little to do with such striking characters. Look for this one to roll in on VOD later in the summer.
  • Debra Granik’s return to feature directing, Leave No Trace, is a humble, carefully observed look the importance of a supportive community in the life of a child. No man is an island, though family can be found in the forest. Promising up-and-comer Thomasin McKenzie and sure-bet character actor Ben Foster rummage around the woods of the West Coast in search for a new home after the government seizes their national park hideaway. Foster is a veteran with severe PTSD and inhabits the role with grace and hidden turmoil. McKenzie calmly goes through the various pratfalls and stops on the road as the loving, whip-smart daughter who’s growing tired of roaming. She’s going places for her career, even if her character would rather settle down. Granik’s has the patience to let a story like this tell itself without a lot of manufactured flair, and the trust that her actors can sound the toll for the film’s heart. We don’t get a lot of films like this, which underscores how important it is when we fall in our laps. This one should be out in Nashville around late summer.
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA flows with the same haunting grace that latches itself on to one of Sakamoto’s iconic scores or compositions. The virtuoso Japanese composer stares down his own mortality as he recovers from a cancer diagnosis while working on the score for the 2015 film The Revenant and his next solo effort, an homage to Andrei Tarkovsky’s films. He also stares down the devastation of the Japanese tsunami from earlier in the decade that laid waste to parts of the country. The best artists feel their environment and carry the weight of society’s ailments into their work. Sakamoto is a gentle giant in his world, and Stephen Schible takes just enough time to follow Sakamoto around through a day in his fascinating life, where walks in the woods and gentle taps on a symbol morph into sonic masterpieces about possibility and consequence. It’s one of the finer looks at the creative process to come along in some time, and serves as a dutiful ode to an overlooked master of music.
  • hillbilly, the festival’s closing selection, is a first-hand look at a stereotype often overlooked in the conversation of accurate media representation – that of the Appalachian. Through damning examples of media misuse and illuminating portraits of Appalachia’s finest, Sally Rubin and Ashley York take viewers on a path of soul searching about one of America’s ignored, put-upon regions. It’s an instructive view, and one that might make you feel a bit uncomfortable in your seat for the times you’ve played into the ugly renderings of the people in the mountains. There’s more, complex conversations to be had about the region’s genuine flaws and points of commendation, and a tougher talk to be had as to why the folks in the country flocked to Donald Trump so fervently in the 2016 election, that the film just doesn’t have time for. But, as a start to a larger conversation, hillbilly’s a pretty great place to start, to listen and to learn.

That wraps up my quite-lengthy rundown of the films I saw at the Nashville Film Festival in 2018. Here’s to whatever’s on the horizon for next year’s festivities.

Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Showcases Ron Howard’s Skill With Thrilling Heist Film

Ron Howard saves this film from the production troubles.

Ron Howard saves this film from the production troubles.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

Solo: A Star Wars Story has taken a long and arduous path to finally hitting the big screen. Between the original directors being fired two weeks before production was wrapped and Ron Howard stepping in to reshoot nearly 80% of the film, Solo has every reason to be dead on arrival. Despite all of this, Solo proves itself as one of the more fun Star Wars films. It is a confident origin story for one of the franchise’s most beloved characters, and opens up the galaxy to much more beyond the Empire.

Following the story of a young Han, audiences ventured through the beginnings of their favorite smuggler. The film picks up with Han on his home planet of Corellia, struggling to survive on the streets. Just before he came make his escape to greater things, he is separated from his Qi’ra (the love interest played by Emilia Clarke) and forced to join the Empire to keep from being imprisoned. During his tenure as a Stormtrooper, Han links up with a band of thieves. Han deserts the army, hoping that this one big heist will get him the ship he needs to get home and save the girl.

It shows just how competent of a director Ron Howard is with what he was able to with Solo. What easily could have been a fan service film to fill the gap between episodes eight and nine turned out to be a really fun heist film. Howard keeps the pacing tight while delivering some of the most exhilarating actions sequences of the franchise. Howard’s direction, coupled with the stunning cinematography of Bradford Young, make for one of the most visually appetizing chapters in the Star Wars universe.

The cast is impeccable here. Each actor holds their one in an intimidating role. Alden Ehrenreich wears the Han Solo character like he was born to play him. The rugged charm that fans loved so much when Han first made his debut in a new hope wafts of Ehrenreich with his first scene. Emilia Clarke finally lands the role outside of Game of Thrones that proves she possesses that chops to land meatier roles deserving of her talents. Donald Glover fits into the role of Lando Calrissian effortlessly. There is no discernable between his and Billy Dee William’s performance in the original trilogy. While some may pining for more screentime with Glover, he presents Lando in the manner he has always been in Star Wars.

There isn’t a lot to dislike about the film. Aside from Paul Bettany’s rather one note villain, the world of the film is air tight. The antics of Han and Chewy first meeting are some of the best scenes in the series. The best thing the film does is expand the Star Wars universe. As beloved as the franchise is, it has always been a story about the Skywalkers and the Empire. This is the first film to delve into something beyond that scope, dealing with the criminal world that has developed under the rule of the Empire.   If these are the kinds of stories to be expected from the Star Wars films outside the main saga, then the franchise is better for it. Solo is a must see Star Wars Story for any fan of the franchise.