Digging for Fire - Review

R  |  85 min  |  Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters August 28th*

Synopsis: The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.

Review: The good news of the ultra indie film world is that friends can get together with a vague plot line and churn out a full length feature film. The bad news of the ultra indie film world is that friends can get together with a vague plot line and churn out a full length feature film. This is our future.

In DIGGING FOR FIRE we have this interesting concept that is a decent idea for a film; if something happened. But nothing ever really transpires over the 85 minutes. It is easy to get frustrated and look at the filmmakers as being pretentious. As if we the audience have nothing better to do than to watch their films, regardless of the entertainment value. We will watch it just to be cool. If you are not careful you will quickly become jaded and bitter. Which is never good for the genre.

Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are house-sitting for friends when Tim unearths a gun and a bone on the property. He immediately suspects buried bodies and a crime scene while she thinks it is just a random find. When Lee leaves for a few days Tim has his drinking buddies over for some casual common place dialogue. He shows them his find and they spend the next several hours chugging beers, flirting with young girls, and looking for clues. The end.

Obviously Tim and Lee are at a stagnant time in their relationship. While apart they both find pleasure in chatting up and harmlessly flirting with members of the opposite sex. If this is supposed to be a twist in the plot it fails miserably. It comes across more like a disjointed side note than a deep character analysis.

As a huge fan of this casual, organic way of storytelling I was very disappointed in this one. I did not completely care for the characters or what happened. Even worse I was less intrigued by what Tim found than Lee was. There was very little to engage with. The film is only 85 minutes long which tells me that even the writers had little to say. They must have been at as big a loss of where to take the story as we were in watching it unfold.

When I mentioned that friends get together to make a movie I was not kidding. There are many familiar and respected actors in this one. Orlando Bloom, Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Brie Larson, Melanie Lynskey, and Anna Kendrick just to name a few. At first glance it is a super solid casting job. Again I love this film as a template for future film makers. I want to see the indie film world move to this type of art form. But the story has to be front and center.

DIGGING FOR FIRE is rated R for language including some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. It is an adult film for sure but little is offensive. The language being the main issue. Fans of Johnson should see it on VOD that will come sooner than later. I give it 2 out of 5 yawns. A how to text book rather than a ground breaking story.


Mistress America - Review

R  |  84 min  |  Comedy 
Review - Matt Mungle

**Now in theaters*

SynopsisA lonely college freshman's life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister.

Review: I have been a fan of Greta Gerwig since I first saw her in Frances Ha. Not sure why it took me that long to notice her since she had been around the indie film world for several years by then. She has an infectious spirit that is immediately likable. It is that spirit that drives MISTRESS AMERICA and makes it a must see comedy. 

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a mousy introvert heading off to college in the big apple. She doesn't know anyone and her tendency to shy away from others isn't helping. When her mother suggests that Tracy reach out to her future stepsister Brooke (Gerwig) - who lives in NY - she takes the awkward plunge and dials the phone. The soon become fast friends with Brooke's exuberant personality a perfect balance to Tracy's reserve. Together the two take on a new business adventure, battle ex-best friends, and offer up hilarious but deep rooted conversations. With Brooke doing most of the talking of course.

The film is directed by Noah Baumbach who also co-wrote the screenplay with Greta. The two have been in a relationship for several years and this chemistry and bond shines through in their film-making and ability to tell a story. Noah manages to wrangle in Gerwig as he allows her the freedom she needs to explode across each scene while still staying rooted in the narrative. The way she delivers dialogue in syncopated streams of emotion and perspective lends itself to improv. The fact that she is actually following a script is fascinating. The flow and authenticity of her speech binds her character to the words she is speaking. It feels not like an actress quoting the written word but a beautiful character randomly sharing an antidote or sudden thought. 

Kirke is fairly new to the big screen and those who saw her in last years GONE GIRL will barely recognize her here. She looks like the typical NY college kid; eyes big with wonder at her new found lifestyle. Tracy is intrigued by Brooke and infected with her passion for life. This draws her out of her shell a bit and gets her to lighten up. Tracy at times watches Brooke like a science experiment, full of wonderment and awe. 

The highlight of the film is when Brooke, Tracy, Tracy's school mate Tony (Matthew Shear) and Tony's Girlfriend take a road trip to confront an old friend of Brooke's. The conversation on the trip and the antics that take place once the arrive are creative and super funny. These are carefully crafted characters that fluidly support one another and the story.  

Many will appreciate this type of loose knit comedy. Others could find it too thin and want something more buttoned up. It all depends on what your idea of funny is. We get to see Brooke and Tracy grow in their bond and friendship organically. It is not forced or manipulated. There is a time and place for Adam Sandler or Judd Apatow jokes. This is not it. There are no stereotypical comedic crutches. That is what makes this so fun and airy. Plus the wit and writing is rapid fire and hilarious; without the constant innuendo. 

MISTRESS AMERICA is rated R for language including some sexual references. Brooke does not shy away from expletives and uses them as an expert chef might use an over powering spice. She knows when and how to use it so it doesn't ruin the dish, but just gives it a personal kick. I was delighted by this film and again by Greta Gerwig's performance. I give it 4 out of 5 book reports. Such a breath of fresh air in the world of adult comedy. 

Z for Zachariah - Review

PG-13  |  95 min  |  Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters August 28th*

SynopsisIn the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

Review:  There is a lot more depth to this story than the synopsis eludes to. Granted the film can't go as deep in to the characters as Robert C. O'Brien's book but thankfully the scripts and performances draw it out in different ways.  

Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) is a young woman surviving on her own - so she assumes - in the wake of a nuclear disaster. Luckily her family farm sits in a valley that somehow has been able to withstand the after effects of the radiation. She is a quiet, spiritual woman who has grown accustomed to being alone. When Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a scientist, stumbles onto her property the two quickly form a bound and start finding ways to build a sustainable living environment. Her knowledge of farming and his ability to build and engineer soon have them on their way. It is only when Caleb (Chris Pine) mysteriously shows up that things start to get a little shaky. Two's company, three's a crowd they always say. 

The cast work wonderful together which is a must. They are the only three people in the entire film and if one of them is a tad off the whole effort would collapse. The minimal casting gives it the stage drama allure which helps to ground the dialogue and the story. This is not a perfect film and it does have a few flaws but none of that can be blamed on the writing or performing. It you were to find fault it would be in the editing which even for a 90 minute film feels lengthy. Some scenes hang on a tad too long. The lack of pacing doesn't ad to the atmosphere but instead makes the film slow and you walk away willing to forget the whole thing. 

It was enlightening to see Robbie in this role. Having only seen her in dolled up, look at my figure, roles in WOLF OF WALL STREET, FOCUS, and ABOUT TIME watching her stripped down and simple proved she is more than just a photo-shopped face. Ann has a pure almost innocent naivety about her that Robbie conveys convincingly. We all know that Ejiofor can emote the drama so it was not surprising to see him master this one. The chemistry between the two characters was believable for a post WWIII environment. 

The addition of Caleb into the story is the twist that revs up the tension. It goes from an outward survival story to an internal human struggle. The root of jealousy and love and fear transcends any moment in time. Decisions of the heart are often harder than any other choice we make. And what we truly are inside shines brightly in these moments. 

Z FOR ZACHARIAH is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language. The adult scenes are brief, non offensive and in no way gratuitous. You would see worse on Lifetime or Bravo. That said this is an adult story in its themes and dialogue. Safe for teens but certainly not of interest. I give it 3 out of 5 waterwheels. Solid acting and a thought provoking story; one that should stir you to read the book. 


ZIPPER - Review

R  |  103 min  |  Drama, Thriller
Review - Matt Mungle

**in theaters August 28th*

SynopsisSam Ellis is a man on the rise -- a hotshot federal prosecutor on the cusp of a bright political future. But what was meant to be a one-time experience with a high-end escort instead turns into a growing addiction. His moral compass unraveling, his new demon threatens to destroy his life, family and career. 

Review: Once you get past a title that lacks any sort of creativity  you will find that ZIPPER is a not too shabby drama. The plot is engaging and the characters will remind you of some popular and current creations. 

Federal Prosecutor Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is tapped for the fast track up the political ladder. He seems to have it all. The white picket fence family, soft spoken humbleness, and a charm that would get votes with ease. He even seems to have his inner struggle with the opposite sex in check. He tries his best to avoid temptation and circumvent any snare along the way. But when a client turns him on (literally) to a classy escort service things begin to unravel. What Sam was once able to keep at bay bursts forth in ferocious fashion. 

The poster for the film has a bi-line that reads, "Why take the Risk?". If you asked Sam that question he would more than likely shake his head and mumble an answer close to "I don't know." This character is not a Francis Underwood from House of Cards. He doesn't wear his depravity with a smug smile. Sam is more likely to be found fighting for the little guy in a John Grisham novel. (Which would more than likely be called The Zipper). His wife Jeannie (Lena Headey) is loving and supportive and there is no reason for him to do the things that he does. But what a common tale.

Though full of graphic sex and nudity this is not just a titillating tryst. It is an edgy drama about a man trying to stay a step ahead of a complete downfall. When the FBI starts investigating the Escort service, Sam is sure they will find out his involvement. Add to this a political journalist (Ray Winstone) who isn't quite in Sam's camp and a campaign director (Richard Dreyfuss) driving Sam's career and you get a mix of legal tender that is actually very intriguing. 

Wilson is superb in this and captures both the confidence of a Prosecutor and the shame of a man unable to overcome his addiction. You see the struggle on the lines of his face and in the catch of his voice. He is the poster child for a Grisham book cover and sells lawyer role nicely. Heady is a strong figure as his unsuspecting wife. As the truth comes out so does her backbone. What you first take for southern submissiveness you soon see as calculating wisdom. 

All that is the good news. The not as good news is that this looks and feels like a made for TV movie; and would be an upstanding one if so. The pacing and editing make you expect a commercial break at any moment. The dialogue is always delivered grandly but is written as if for the small screen. Of course the content is very graphic and would end up on the premium channels. All this makes it a fantastic renter but just an on-par box office flick. 

ZIPPER is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and brief drug use. As mentioned it is a very adult film and doesn't put the sex in the shadows. I think it could have been more subtle and still delivered the same thrilling punches. The meat of the film is Sam and his struggle. We know what happens behind closed doors and the more interesting part is what happens to him in the light of day. I give it 3 out of 5 ATM withdrawals. An edgy thriller best viewed on your couch and not the high price theater seat. 


New on DVD / Blu-ray - 08.25.15

SYNOPSISIRIS pairs legendary 87-year-old documentarian Albert Maysles with Iris Apfel, the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even in Iris' dotage, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire.

REVIEW: Often you come across a personality that has to be captured on film. None is as visually entertaining and outspoken as IRIS. 

Iris Apfel is a fashion and style icon. She has been dressing up people and homes for much of her 90 years. This documentary from legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles perfectly displays her uncanny talent and eye for creativity. Iris is not a flamboyant person but instead allows her clothing and jewelry to speak for her. She has no problem wearing a $25 broach with a $1000 shirt. Because she is more concerned about what works than what the price tag is. This ability has made her one of the most respected people in the fashion industry. READ MORE


Jeff Dauler & Friends 1973 Tour

Jeff Dauler, radio personality on the nationally syndicated The Bert Show, is taking his stand-up comedy show on the road this fall. Jeff Dauler & Friends 1973 Tour kicks off in Dallas, TX, on Thursday, Sept. 17 followed by stops in Atlanta, Nashville, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Joining Dauler for the very funny tour will be comedians Jamie Bendall, Stephen Donovan, Jarrod Harris, Lace Larrabee, Dan Mengini, Last Comic Standing’s Mia Jackson.

Tickets are $15 and are on sale now. For more information and tickets go to www.jeffdauler.com/1973tour.