Friday, June 5, 2015

Spy - 2 1/2 stars

Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who sits behind a desk and radios instructions to a spy out in the field.  She’s basically doing the same job Simon Pegg did in Mission Impossible 3.  Or Tom Arnold in True Lies. 

The spy she works with is Bradley Fine (Jude Law).  Things go wrong, agents are killed, identities are compromised, and she’s the only one their enemy won’t recognize.  So she’s sent to Rome to stop Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) from selling a stolen nuke.

I was getting tired of Melissa McCarthy playing the same type of character.  Between Heat, Identity Thief, and Tammy, she played loud, obnoxious characters who were basically buffoons.  So it was really refreshing this time to see her play a likable, competent character.  Susan is a fully trained CIA agent, and even though she’s stuck behind a desk and doesn’t have any field experience, she’s smart and knows how to take care of herself.  And the humor doesn’t come at her expense.  The movie doesn’t make any fat jokes, and she doesn’t save the day through sheer luck.  She’s no Paul Blart.

I just wish the movie was funnier.  I really didn’t laugh very much, and it was especially painful watching Jason Statham try to be funny.  The movie tries too hard to be a serious spy story, and the story itself just wasn’t compelling enough.  Maybe if they cut 20 minutes or so it would have worked better.  But as it is, I couldn’t sit through this movie again. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tomorrowland - 2 1/2 stars

Tomorrowland is kind of a mess.  As far as I understood it, Tomorrowland is a place that exists in another dimension.  It was either discovered or created by people like Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and Jules Verne.  It was established as a place where the brightest, most creative thinkers and inventors could let their imaginations run wild without the problems of bureaucracy or politics.  For some time, it thrived with amazing things like jetpacks, rocket ships, and swimming pools suspended in mid-air (those were really cool).  Then something happened and now it’s deserted and run down.  At the same time, the end of the world is coming unless one person can do something to stop it.  The movie never explains what that one thing is, but then I don’t think that’s the point of the movie.

The movie opens with Frank Walker (George Clooney) narrating his part of the story.  When he was a boy, he went to the 1964 New York World’s Fair where he enters a competition for inventors.  The jet pack he created doesn’t really work, but he meets a mysterious girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy).  Athena gives young Frank a special pin and leads him to Tomorrowland, a place where anything is possible. 

The look of Tomorrowland is incredible.  It’s hard to be impressed by digital effects anymore but the imagination on display just blew me away.  If the movie had stuck with young Frank for a while, it would have been much better.  Instead we immediately shift to Casey (Britt Robertson) who starts narrating her part of the story.  We jump to the present day and watch as Casey tries to sabotage the cranes that are demolishing the Cape Canaveral launching pad.  She gets arrested and when she gets out, she finds a Tomorrowland pin.  When she touches it, she’s able to see Tomorrowland and this is where the movie takes off.

For a while, the movie gets pretty interesting.  Casey starts investigating, meets Athena (who hasn’t aged a day) and the old Frank, who doesn’t want to get involved in whatever’s going on.  There are mysterious robots out to kill them and gun fights ensue.  Bit by bit, Frank tells Casey about Tomorrowland and what it all means.

Basically the first half of the movie is really fun and interesting.  Then we get to the halfway point and it all goes downhill.  The more things are explained, the less interesting it seems.  And the movie starts to get overly preachy with its message about not giving up hope and nurturing imagination and creativity.  Those are good messages, but it’s just too on the nose and overly melodramatic.

There are also too many details left out.  I really wanted to learn more about what happened between young Frank and Athena, or why Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland, or what day to day life is like there.  Are people living there and raising families, or are they just working?  As cool as Tomorrowland is, too much of the movie is set on Earth.  It’s like the movie kept building and building the anticipation, then instead of delivering it just started to drag. 

At the same time, it’s hard to hate this movie.  Its heart is in the right place and there is a really good story in there somewhere.  I feel like one or two rewrites and some tighter editing could have made this something special.  Director Brad Bird just wanted to do too much with this story and he made the movie overstuffed and uneven.  So I guess it’s not a bad movie, just a disappointing one.

Poltergeist (2015) - 2 stars

The original 1982 movie was the first movie that really scared me.  I think I was 7 or 8 when I first saw it, and I remember being so freaked out that I couldn’t sleep that night.  One of the things about that movie was that it felt so real to me.  Like other Spielberg movies from the 80s, the characters were so well developed and the suburban setting so realized that it felt like everything happening in the movie could really happen anywhere.  Of course the fact that I was so young could have had something to do with that too …

Anyway, they remade Poltergeist.  After movies like The Conjuring and Insidious, this one feels like a knock-off.  The original does a great job of first establishing the characters and slowly ratcheting up the tension.  This one wastes no time and jumps right into the scary stuff, which doesn’t work as well.

The best thing about this movie is Sam Rockwell.  He’s always interesting to watch, and he has a few really funny scenes.  But once Carol Anne Madison is kidnapped by the ghosts in the TV, Rockwell has nothing interesting to do.  It’s surprising how quickly the parents accept the haunting as normal.  Aside from being confused about what’s going on and what to do, it doesn’t really seem like they’re ever freaked out or amazed that they live in a haunted house, or that spirits have kidnapped their daughter. 

Just like in the first movie, the family first enlists the aid of paranormal researchers from the local college.  And once again, they need help from a spiritual medium to help get Maddie back.  But instead of Zelda Rubenstein, we get Jared Harris playing Carrigan Burke, a celebrity medium who hosts a reality show where he ‘cleans’ haunted houses.  And it’s quite a coincidence that the researcher from the local college just happens to know Carrigan Burke, and is able to get him there on the same day.  It’s even harder to believe that he’s so willing to help them when they tell him that they don’t want this filmed for his show.  He’s got a successful cable reality series – you would think he has a pretty full schedule.

Anyway, there are a few good scares in this movie, but then that’s easy to do.  Just show a character standing there in an empty room, move the camera away for a second, move it back to show a ghost standing there and have a loud boom on the soundtrack, and the audience jumps.  It’s much harder for a movie to create a real sense of dread, and this movie never really does that. 

It also feels too short.  It’s at least twenty minutes shorter than the original, and it feels rushed.  When they get Maddie back from the other side, I looked at my watch because I couldn’t believe how quickly that was resolved.  Once again, another unnecessary remake that will be forgotten in a week.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - 3 1/2 stars

I don’t think I’ve seen the first three Mad Max movies all the way through.  I know I rented the first movie once.  I vaguely remember bits and pieces of it – I know there’s a scene where Mel Gibson handcuffs a guy to a motorcycle that’s about to explode and leaves him with a hack saw.  I don’t remember hardly anything from The Road Warrior, but Beyond Thunderdome was on HBO all the time when I was a kid. 

Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max movie, and it’s just incredible.  The movie drops you right in the middle of this post-apocalyptic world without giving us hardly any backstory.  All we know is that there is no more system of government, and gas and oil are hard to come by.  Max (now played by Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys, an army ruled by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe, who has a really cool breathing mask that looks like the grin of a skull. 

For the first half hour or so, Max is a prisoner.  He wears this iron mask over his face and he’s being used to supply blood to Nux (Nicholas Hoult).  When the War Boys head out to capture Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Max is tied to the front of Nux’s car like a hood ornament. 

The movie is basically one big chase, and it’s the most thrilling chase I think I’ve ever seen.  Furiosa and her War Rig are being chased by an army of War Boys led by King Joe.  Eventually Max will team up with Furiosa and help her try to get away.  The stunts in this movie were mostly practical rather than CGI, and it shows.  This movie was exhilarating and I saw things that I have never seen in a movie before.  The level of creativity and imagination used to bring the movie to life is just off the charts – the design of the vehicles, the look of the army, everything is just amazing to look at.  

Another thing I loved is the music.  It’s over the top at times but that just adds to the fun.  It’s got this old fashioned sweeping musical score with some heavy metal guitar added in there.  Make sure you see it movie on the biggest screen you can with the best sound possible.   

Pitch Perfect 2 - 1 1/2 stars

I’m not in the target demographic for either of the Pitch Perfect films, but I still enjoyed the first one.  It poked fun at the concept of college a cappella groups without making fun of them.  Beca (Anna Kendrick) was a good lead character, and it was a typical underdog movie.  We got to know Beca and the rest of The Barden Bellas and we rooted for them.  And there was a lot of funny stuff in that movie.

But the sequel isn’t half the movie the original was.  I didn’t laugh much and I didn’t care about what happened to the characters.  At the start of the movie, the Bellas are performing at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for President Obama.  Fat Amy has an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, and the Bellas are kicked out of the national a cappella league or something like that.  Even though they won the competition at the end of the previous movie, this infraction prevents them from going on the rest of their victory tour. 

But they still get to go to the international competition for some reason.  If they win that, they’ll be back in the good graces of the a cappella judges and their suspension will be over.  But of course no American team has ever won the international competition, so the odds are against them.  It doesn’t make sense that the color commentators (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are the ones who get to decide on their suspension, but whatever.

Beca has taken an internship at a recording studio but she’s keeping it a secret from the rest of the Bellas.  She’s still dating Skylar but he only pops up in a couple scenes.  Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is seeing Bumper but keeping it a secret from everyone.  And Benji has a crush on the new Bella, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), but the movie doesn’t do much with their relationship.

That’s probably the biggest problem with the movie.  There are some good ideas but they’re not fully developed.  Just when the Benji and Emily relationship is starting to get interesting, the movie doesn’t know where to go with it.  By the time they’re comfortable enough with each other to have a conversation at a party, it’s just shown in a montage. 

This movie just bored me.  Fat Amy didn’t make me laugh, and neither did the color commentators.  The music was ok but I don’t think the soundtrack will sell anywhere near as much as the first one did.  This is one of those sequels that we didn’t need.  The only reason it was made is because the first movie was an unexpected hit.  Hopefully this one doesn’t do as well and we won’t have to sit through a third one.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Maggie - 3 stars

There was a time when zombie movies were straightforward horror movies about people killing zombies and trying not to be eaten.  Now zombies are so main stream that you can have a romantic comedy about them (Warm Bodies), a buddy comedy (Shaun of the Dead) or a number one rated network series (The Walking Dead). 

This movie is about Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin).  She’s just been bitten by a zombie.  When Wade picks Maggie up from the hospital, the doctor tells him that she will start to show signs of aggression.  She’ll lose her appetite … and then she’ll get it back …

Instead of being a horror movie, this movie is more of a drama.  There are a couple of scenes of zombie killing, but most of the time we are just observing how Wade and his family deal with this tragedy.  Watching it I really felt the horror that Maggie was experiencing.  She keeps picking at her bite like it’s a sore.  We watch as her eyes start to turn a milky white and her veins turn black. 

In the movie, the zombie outbreak has been going on a while.  Society hasn’t broken down like in The Walking Dead – there are still police officers and working hospitals – but there are stores and gas stations left empty.  It’s somewhere in between normal society and The Walking Dead.  When someone is infected and is close to turning, they are sent to a quarantine zone.  There’s a really great scene where Maggie goes camping with her friends and they try to pretend that life is normal.  They sit around a campfire talking about what it’s like in the quarantine, but they could be sitting around talking about normal high school stuff.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been known for his acting abilities, but he’s pretty good in this movie.  He gets a couple of zombie killing scenes, but for the most part he’s just a dad trying to keep his family together.  If you go in looking for an exciting zombie movie, or a typical Schwarzenegger action movie, you’ll be disappointed.  I enjoyed the movie for what it was.  It creates a great sense of dread and suspense as you wait for the moment when she’ll turn on her family.

Hot Pursuit - 2 stars

I think the filmmakers were inspired by The Heat.  Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) is a lot like Sandra Bullock’s character – she’s uptight, by the book, and nobody likes her.  But the heat was a funny movie with well-developed characters and an intelligent script.  Hot Pursuit has none of those things.

I chuckled now and then, but I don’t think I ever laughed out loud.  There’s a running gag where every time they reference Cooper and Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), Cooper’s a little shorter and Riva’s a little older.  That was ok, but the physical comedy just didn’t work.  Things like Cooper and Riva trying to climb out of a bathroom window, or driving a bus and shooting out the window while handcuffed together, those scenes are just obvious and not funny.

The movie also has the requisite dumb disguises.  When Cooper is sneaking into a drug lord’s house, she’s dresses as Justin Bieber.  Then five minutes later, she changes and dresses like a waitress.  Why abandon the first disguise?  Because costume changes are funny, right? 

Even the outtakes during the closing credits aren’t funny.  Save your money and wait for Netflix.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Welcome to Me - 2 1/2 stars

Kristen Wiig stars as Alice Klieg.  Alice has borderline personality disorder and she has just stopped taking her meds.  As the movie begins, she has just won $86 million in the lottery.  So she moves into a room at an Indian casino – don’t ask why – and she pays $15 million to a small TV station so she can star in her own talk show.  The station is losing money fast, so the owners – brothers Rich (James Marsden) and Gabe (Wes Bentley) - agree to all her demands. 

This is a really quirky movie.  Alice obviously needs help, but the only person trying to help her is her therapist Daryl (Tim Robbins).  Daryl tries to get her to go back on her meds but there isn’t much he can do.  The crew at the TV station rolls their eyes but they go forward and agree to every one of Alice’s requests, which include things like singing her own theme song and riding into the studio in a swan.

Kristen Wiig is always hilarious, but this is maybe the most serious work she has done.  At first we laugh at this character making a fool of herself on TV, but as the movie goes on we realize how messed up she is.  There’s a scene late in the movie when she hits rock bottom and wanders naked through the casino and we really get a sense of how lost and alone she feels.  Even her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) leaves her when she can’t put up with Alice’s narcissism anymore.

The movie made me laugh at times, but as her talk show went on it just got tedious.  The stuff she does on her show is only funny for about two minutes.  I got tired of the bits where she has actors re-enact painful moments from her past, like the time someone stole her makeup at camp.  As good as Wiig is, the movie just didn’t work for me.

The D Train - 2 1/2 stars

Dan Landsman (Jack Black) is the self-proclaimed chairman of his high school’s alumni committee.  He takes his job very seriously, and we get the impression that the rest of the committee doesn’t like him very much.  When they go out for a drink after a meeting, they don’t invite him.  They’re working on planning their 20th reunion and they’re not having much luck getting people to RSVP. 

But one night, Dan sees a Banana Boat commercial.  The actor in the commercial is Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the most popular guy in their graduating class.  Dan decides to make it his life’s mission to recruit Oliver to come to the reunion.  He figures if Oliver says he’s coming, the rest of the class will follow suit. 

This is a pretty interesting role for Jack Black to play.  Dan has a wife, two kids and a good job, but he doesn’t really have any friends.  And he tries really hard to get Oliver to like him - so hard that it gets awkward and uncomfortable to watch.  First he calls Oliver, who barely remembers him.  Then Dan flies to Hollywood to hang out with Oliver, and I won’t spoil what happens, but it messes up Dan’s head quite a bit.

As good as Jack Black is in this movie, James Marsden is even better.  He does a great job of playing the cool guy and it’s easy to see why everyone in the movie wants to be his friend.  But the best performance in the movie comes from the great Jeffrey Tambor.  He plays Dan’s boss, and I just love the way he’s a total luddite when it comes to the internet and cell phones.  Dan lies to his boss early on and spends the rest of the movie trying to cover it up.  His boss doesn’t trust the internet as it is, so it’s easy for Dan to evade every one of his boss’s questions by invoking Google or something like that. 

So why am I only giving this 2 ½ stars?  This was a tough call, but I really didn’t enjoy the movie very much.  Even though it’s an interesting story and the performances are good, I was just so uncomfortable watching Dan be so pathetic and annoying around Oliver.  It gets to the point where he yells at his wife and son for daring to talk while Oliver is telling a story.  I like awkward humor sometimes – most of Ricky Gervais’s best stuff is cringe humor – but this movie wasn’t funny enough to make up for it.  I really felt bad for Dan and wished someone would just take him aside and knock some sense into him.  So it’s a close call but I’m not recommending the movie. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 - 1 star

The first Hot Tub Time Machine was a good movie.  Three friends – Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) – along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) are magically transported back to 1986.  Unlike other time travel movies like Back to the Future, there is no danger of them running into their 1986 selves.  When they look in a mirror they see the young versions of themselves, except for Jacob who wasn’t born yet. 

The movie was funny and the filmmakers knew the premise was ridiculous.  By the end of the movie, they had all improved their lives.  Lou would use his knowledge of the future to invent Lougle (instead of Google) and become the father of the internet, and Nick became a successful musician. 

In the sequel, Lougle isn’t doing well and everyone hates Lou.  Nick became successful by recording hit songs himself before the original artist has a chance to record it.  We see him filming the video for Stay (I Missed You) and he runs into Lisa Loeb, who is working as the cat wrangler.  Lou’s story makes sense, since he stayed behind in 1986 at the end of the last movie.  But Nick went back to 2010, so I don’t understand how he could have the future knowledge to write and record all these songs.  Not to mention that Stay was recorded in 1994, not 2015.

But details like that aren’t important in a movie like this.  What is important is the laughs, and there are none in this movie.  I chuckled here and there, but this movie really isn’t funny.  The only funny moments are things they repeat from the first movie, like when Nick and Lou sing about Jacob being a nerd. 

The plot concerns someone coming back from the future and shooting Lou.  Nick and Jacob drag him into the hot tub intending to go back in time to prevent him being shot.  Instead, they end up in 2025 where Jacob is rich, bald and married to the hot girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day in 2015.  She also hasn’t aged a day in 10 years, but whatever.  Lou is now a homeless drunk and Nick has become a joke.  It seems he recorded an original song that nobody liked and his career never recovered.

Jacob figured out that someone from the future went back to 2015 to kill Lou, so now they have to figure out who that is and stop them.  Since the hot tub is the only form of time travel, it would seem like a good idea to stay near the hot tub and make sure nobody else uses it, but that doesn’t occur to them.  They decide to find Adam, thinking he might be the killer. 

They don’t find Adam – John Cusack either wanted too much money or he got a look at the script – but they do find Adam’s son, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott).  They arrive just in time for Lou to get Adam into drugs and mess up his wedding.  I wonder who the killer turns out to be?

The filmmakers throw a lot of futuristic ideas in this movie, like holographic phones and really cool transparent iPad things.  There are smart cars that drive themselves and have personalities, and the most popular game show involves contestants being forced to do humiliating things to themselves and other people.  None of these things are written with any wit or humor.  It’s like the screenwriter had a bunch of ideas but didn’t bother to develop them in any way. 

I’ve gone on far too long about this stupid movie.  It might be worth watching on Netflix one day if you can’t find anything else to watch, but don’t waste money on this movie.

Kingsman: The Secret Service - 3 stars

This is a really unique movie.  It’s kind of a parody of James Bond movies, but at the same time it’s also a pretty serious action movie.  For the first 45 minutes or so, the tone wasn’t working for me at all.  But then the movie got more and more fun, and by the end I was loving it.

The Kingsman is a secret service organization.  The members are all named after members of King Arthur’s knights – the trainer is even named Merlin.  Their headquarters is a tailor shop on Savile Row, because even when fighting for your life and saving the world, a spy should look and act like a gentleman.

The movie mostly focuses on Eggsy, a young troublemaker whose father was a kingsman.  Years ago his father was killed saving the life of fellow agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and Harry recruits Eggsy to join the service.  The training program is over-the-top ridiculous, involving things like their room suddenly filling up with water while they sleep.  They have only a minute to figure out how to escape or they’ll be drowned.  Another exercise involves them jumping out of a plane and one of them doesn’t have a parachute.

While Eggsy is being trained, internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is threatening to unleash something that will kill like 99% of Earth’s population.  Jackson speaks in a weird lisp that was kind of off putting at first, but it grew on me.  Valentine has a henchwoman with mechanical legs loaded with machetes, which is just awesome.

As the movie gets closer to the climax, it gets crazy.  I couldn’t believe how far it was going, and it was hilarious.  I won’t spoil it, but just wait until the sequence in the church.  It brought the house down at the screening I attended.

Overall I liked the movie.  It took a while to get enjoyable for me, but the last half hour or so more than made up for the weaknesses in the first half. 

50 Shades of Grey - 1 1/2 stars

I admit I had reservations going in.  I haven’t read the book, but I heard that this series started out as Twilight fan fiction.  Two reasons to worry right there.

This is the story of how Anastasia, a virginal college student, begins a very messed up relationship with Christian Grey.  Christian is rich, good looking, runs his own company, and he’s also into BDSM.  Rather than date women, he likes to just have kinky bondage sex with them.  Since Anastasia hasn’t even had sex before, this is a big eye opener for her.

There isn’t much story here.  The screenwriter doesn’t sweat the details.  We don’t learn anything about Christian’s business or how he got so successful.  We don’t know much about Anastasia’s friends or family.  Even the two main characters aren’t developed very well.  The dialogue is bad and the characters’ motivations make no sense.

At times, the story did interest me.  It is interesting seeing Anastasia get more self confidence and stand up to Christian.  And I was curious to see where their relationships would go.  But I got tired of them having the same conversations over and over again.  She keeps asking why they can’t have a normal relationship, and all he’ll tell her is that that’s what he’s into.

This could have been an interesting story if it was written better.  But most of the time I was just bored.  Some of the lines were unintentionally funny, and even the 50 Shades fans who were there laughed quite a bit.  This movie is critic proof, meaning the people who want to see it will go no matter what I say.  But if you’re not a fan and you’re just curious, don’t bother.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sundance review: A Walk in the Woods - 1 1/2 stars

Robert Redford plays an author of travel books.  After attending the funeral of a friend, he gets restless and decides to hike the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail.  His wife (Emma Thompson) insists that he can't do it alone, so he brings along an old friend, played by Nick Nolte.

It's kind of like Wild crossed with Sideways, but poorly written.  Redford and Nolte have good chemistry together, but they don't have anything interesting to say to each other.  There are no real stakes and no consequences.  They just go from one encounter to the next and by the end, the journey felt kind of pointless.

I was bored watching this movie.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sundance review: Best of Enemies - 3 stars

From the Sundance film guide:

In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult—cementing their opposing political positions. Their explosive exchanges devolved into vitriolic name-calling. It was unlike anything TV had ever broadcast, and all the more shocking because it was live and unscripted. Viewers were riveted. ABC News' ratings skyrocketed. And a new era in public discourse was born.

It's a lot of fun watching these two insult each other.  They have such a command of the English language that their insults almost sound like poetry.  Besides watching their debates, we get political scholars and other experts commenting on Vidal and Buckley's history, the political landscape at the time, and ABC's ratings.  One commentator said if they wanted to end the Vietnam War, all they had to do was put it on ABC and it would be canceled within a few weeks.  They also said there were only three networks at the time but somehow ABC was still fourth.

I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I don't think it's for everyone.  It helps if you're a political junkie.  As much fun as the debates were, by the end of the movie I felt underwhelmed.  But Dick Cavett is one of the interview subjects, so that makes it worth watching right there.

Sundance review: The Tribe - 3 stars

From the Sundance film guide:  

Sergey, a new student at a boarding school for the deaf, must navigate through the institution’s social hierarchy, led by a gang of students reveling in crime and prostitution. Initially shunned, he is eventually initiated into the crew, inheriting the role of pimp to two giddy best friends. After saving up money for a sexual encounter with Anna (notable both for its explicit nature and cinematographic restraint), Sergey begins to fall in love, risking the rest of the tribe’s wrath.

This movie is a unique cinematic experience.  A title card at the beginning prepares us:  there are no subtitles and no voiceover narration.  The characters communicate by sign language, and there isn't even a musical score.  So the movie is almost completely silent.  Even though we can't understand exactly what the characters are saying to each other, we start to understand what's going on.  

I admit there were times I would have loved subtitles to explain a few things.  I was a bit thrown when at first, the gang makes Sergey strip and give them his money, then all of a sudden he's friends with them.  And when the gang goes outside to rob and beat up homeless people, I couldn't help but be reminded of Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange.  You would think that people would figure out that it's dangerous to walk by the school at night after several people were mugged there.

The movie did drag at times.  Ukranian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy likes long, unbroken takes and there were times where I wish he had done a little more editing.  I got a little tired of watching the characters walk from their dorm room to the outside, or watching the prostitutes and Sergey walk around the lot full of parked semi trucks looking for customers.  

It's not a movie I'm eager to see again, but it was a unique accomplishment and I'm glad I saw it.