THE FOUNDER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief Strong Language

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Written by: Robert D. Siegel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern & Patrick Wilson

You might be saying: “Really? A biopic about the guy who made McDonald’s? That doesn’t sound too exciting. What’s next? A biopic about Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, or Wendy’s? ” Oh, ye of little faith dear reader, because it turns out that THE FOUNDER is a deliberately ironic title. Before it was globally clogging arteries, McDonald’s was actually a small little restaurant in California. This fast food joint originally had nothing to do with the main character of this biopic. THE FOUNDER lays out the sleazy success story of Ray Kroc, a man who is often mistakenly credited as McDonald’s creator. It’s a wholly compelling ride through a “rat eat rat” world of business, a look at fast food’s revolutionary effect, and a character study of a total scumbag.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling, over-the-hill salesman. When a special sales order catches his interest, Ray finds himself in San Bernardino and eats at unconventional restaurant McDonald’s. This business’s revolutionary techniques capture Ray’s interest and he eagerly proposes to franchise the company with the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). As time goes on and the burger business is booming, Ray finds himself struggling with the terms of his contract. Soon enough, Ray employs some rather shady means of trying to screw the brothers out of their own business. We get to witness Ray’s back-stabbing moves, snide comments, and borderline illegal strategies. This is all very interesting, entertaining, and mostly (about 90%) true.

Michael Keaton has been a winning streak of performances lately. After portraying a desperate artist in BIRDMAN and a motivated journalist in SPOTLIGHT, Keaton plays Ray Kroc as an all-out asshole. What’s interesting is how Keaton slowly eases the viewer into Ray’s mental state and ambitious nature. We start this film feeling for him and sympathizing with his plight. As the money flows in and his greed grows, Ray’s morals are tossed by the wayside and he becomes a pretty much irredeemable character. Keaton makes this salesman-turned-“founder” so compelling that you likely won’t notice the shift in Ray’s attitude until you’re too far gone in the story. Kroc was a fascinating real-life character and Keaton plays him to perfection.

Though their importance and screen time range, the supporting cast does an excellent job with the material as well. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are great as the McDonalds brothers. Lynch is able to portray a softer and more vulnerable side that I haven’t seen from him before, while Offerman is great as the more strict and defensive brother of the two. Their sibling chemistry is believable and the pair provide two sympathetic antagonists in Kroc’s high-rising path. Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak are solid as two of Kroc’s business partners. Meanwhile, Laura Dern plays Kroc’s neglected wife and receives some of Keaton’s more emotionally abusive moments.

The look of THE FOUNDER is great because it nicely captures the 1950s time period. The script slightly glamorizes Kroc’s rise to power, even at the cost of trampling on plenty of people beneath him. What’s even more impressive is how this film really shows small details in the fast food revolution. The McDonalds brothers were geniuses with their intricate serving system and strived to maintain a strong code of ethics in their kitchens. In Ray Kroc’s hands, those ethics flew right out the door. It’s fascinating to think about how many fast food restaurants today wouldn’t exist without the brothers’ brilliance and Ray’s immoral sense of constant persistence.

THE FOUNDER is sure to linger the minds of those who watch it. This film works as three things: a drama about the fast food revolution, a dark look into the back-stabbing business world, and a character study of a rather unsavory scumbag. However, the script occasionally bites off more than it can chew. There are a few events that are mentioned in passing and then rushed by for the sake of time. While two hours is probably the ideal length of time for this biopic, there are a couple of spots that seem to move a tad too quickly. These hiccups in pacing don’t detract from the film’s many positives though. This is essentially the fast food version of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. THE FOUNDER might as well have been titled THERE WILL BE BURGERS. If that sounds up your alley, THE FOUNDER will probably satisfy your appetite for a compelling biopic!

Grade: A-

MOCKINGBIRD (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Bryan Bertino

Written by: Bryan Bertino

Starring: Todd Stashwick, Audrey Marie Anderson, Alexandra Lyndon & Barak Hardley

In 2008, Bryan Bertino scared the crap out of audiences with THE STRANGERS. That film was a simple, effective home-invasion chiller that was packed with tension and well-executed scares. It seemed to signal the arrival of a new talent in the horror genre, but Bryan Bertino didn’t direct/write another movie for four years. MOCKINGBIRD is Bertino’s sophomore effort and was originally intended for a theatrical release, but Blumhouse effectively shelved it for two years before dumping it onto digital platforms and home video. It’s easy to see why, because MOCKINGBIRD is a mess.

Set in 1995, the film follows three different cameras as they wind up into the hands of four individuals. Married couple Tom (Todd Stashwick) and Emmy (Audrey Marie Anderson) are gearing up for some child-free quiet time. College student Beth (Alexandra Lyndon) is settling down for the night. Momma’s boy loser Leonard (Barak Hardley) just wants something to do. When a camera pops up on the doorsteps of each of these individuals, they believe they’ve won a contest. However, more directions soon follow and it becomes clear that if they stop filming they will die. Two of the storylines are standard home invasion fare and the third storyline follows an annoying dork dressed up like a clown. It’s all boring, tedious, and unbelievably stupid.

I went into MOCKINGBIRD with some hopes. I liked THE STRANGERS. I enjoy when found footage movies surprise me and the premise of this film sounded interesting. Also, a handful of shelved horror films have proven to be stellar in the past. None of these things benefitted my viewing experience of MOCKINGBIRD though, because this film is garbage. Found footage horror films always require some sense of grounded believability to work and this is where MOCKINGBIRD frequently shoots itself in the foot. The acting is terrible from everyone involved. The worst performance easily comes from Barak Hardley as the over-the-top loser. He’s aggravating to watch and I was rooting for him to die from the minute he was introduced.

MOCKINBIRD’s problems don’t just end with the acting, because this film is also boring as hell. This is made even more astounding by the running time being only 81 minutes long. I may have passed through some parallel dimension while watching this movie because those minutes felt like hours. Next to nothing happens in the space of this movie except for: people screaming, people hiding, noises over a loudspeaker, flashing lights, and a jackass clown running around town. It’s a dull-as-dirt story that could have been fun if Bertino was able to harness an ounce of creativity.

MOCKINGBIRD frequently insults the viewer’s intelligence by giving us some of the dumbest characters to ever grace a found footage flick. There’s just nothing to any of these people, except for the momma’s boy clown and he’s borderline unwatchable. It’s constantly made clear that these three cameras have live transmitters on them and not one character tries to take advantage of that. The college student is such a moron that she even takes the camera into a closet where she’s hiding. Yeah, I’m sure whoever is messing with you will have no idea where you’re hiding now…especially because you’re broadcasting it to them.

This movie also uses a twist ending that’s beyond convoluted. The final minutes are ripped off from better films and simply don’t make a lick of sense in this story. It’s also worth mentioning that the conclusion takes place in a house full of red balloons, which means that these final moments are visually incoherent and 100% headache-inducing. I cannot fathom how anyone read this script and said, “Yeah, that conclusion is a great idea! Let’s go with that! It’ll blow audiences minds!” That probably didn’t happen and this shitty script is definitely a factor in why this film sat on a studio self for two years. Bertino is lucky that this piece of cinematic excrement even saw the light of day at all.

In looking back at the many terrible found footage horror films that I’ve seen in my life, I think MOCKINGBIRD just might be the worst found footage horror flick I’ve ever seen. At least, CROWSNEST had the good sense to take its bland events outside. For all its stupidity, AREA 407 had friggin’ dinosaurs. After it soiled most of its running time, AREA 51 used a few neat visuals. Even though it botched the overall execution, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW attempted to be ambitious. MOCKINGBIRD has nothing worth praising, absolutely no redeeming factors whatsoever. This film is everything wrong in handheld horror!

Grade: F

I GIVE IT A YEAR (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Language and some Graphic Nudity

Directed by: Dan Mazer

Written by: Dan Mazer

Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver & Jason Flemyng

Romantic comedies are among the most formulaic films ever made. The “will they or won’t they” dynamic has been played out a million times. 99% of these cinematic stories follow a predictable progression of events that ends in an inevitable conclusion of the two mismatched lovers confessing their love and staying together. There’s 1% of rom-coms that attempt to do something different and these are titles that stick out in the overcrowded genre. I GIVE IT A YEAR is one of these gems that sticks out. It’s not free of clichés and not every joke hits its mark, but a delightfully irreverent sense of humor and the subversion of an all-too-familiar formula make for one very entertaining comedy.

I GIVE IT A YEAR begins where most rom-coms end. Hard-working businesswoman Nat (Rose Byrne) and laid-back writer Josh (Rafe Spall) are polar opposites that have fallen head over heels for each other. After dating for only seven months, the couple decide to tie the knot…much to the disbelief of their friends and relatives. Things seem to be lovely for the newlyweds, but cracks soon begin to emerge in their relationship. The already strained marriage is further put to the test when Josh’s old flame Chloe (Anna Faris) reenters his life and Nat starts a partnership with a charismatic client (Simon Baker). Can Nat and Josh survive their first year of marriage?

I GIVE IT A YEAR mixes loads of wildly inappropriate laughs with genuine heart and (mostly) smart writing. The married couple’s struggles are shown with believably awkward humor that will make viewers laugh, cover their eyes in embarrassment, and shift uncomfortably in their seats. Think a very R-rated version of something like MEET THE PARENTS and you have a solid idea of this film’s tone. The storyline frequently cuts back to Nat and Josh in a marriage counselor’s office, which allows for lots of hilarious comedic flashbacks. These bits that would have seemed slightly disconnected in a traditional narrative flow, but they work well in this non-linear approach.

Besides having lots of great funny moments, this film also levels a degree seriousness into the struggling couple’s problems. Not every awkward moment gets a laugh (though there are still plenty of those) because the film reflects on the sadder aspects of a marriage that simply isn’t working and regrets of other (possibly better) relationships that might have been. Besides functioning as a solid rom-com, I GIVE IT A YEAR also serves as a wonderful cautionary tale about rushing into things too soon. This point is hammered on a tad too sappily during a slow 10-minute stretch in the last act, but concludes in a genuinely hilarious finale that deliberately flips rom-com conventions on their heads in unexpected ways.

As far as performances go, everyone here is hilarious and earns more than their fair share of laughs. Rose Byrne (who was great in both NEIGHBORS films) is quiet and reserved as Nat, letting awkward silences and her facial expressions speak far louder than words. Rafe Spall is convincing as a bumbling oaf who’s simply out of his league in a stressful newfound marriage. Anna Faris is refreshingly down to earth as a dorky gal and gets huge laughs when she tries/fails to get involved in a threesome. Simon Baker plays his suave businessman as an overconfident guy with a good heart. Interactions between the four main characters feel natural and these performers bounce off each other in fun ways.

On the supporting side of things, Stephen Merchant receives a few standout scenes as the worst best friend/best man ever. If nothing else, look up Merchant’s wedding scenes on YouTube to catch two of the film’s funniest bits. His delivery and shameless way of saying horrible things (without realizing they’re horrible) is simply brilliant! Also worth mentioning are Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng as Nat’s sister and brother-in-law. Driver and Flemyng are essentially the British version of Paul Rudd and Leslie Jones in KNOCKED UP, adding great scenes of sheer animosity and beautifully summarizing how marriages work between individuals that seemingly loathe each other on the surface.

I GIVE IT A YEAR isn’t a flawless rom-com. A dull patch in the final third feels more like a formulaic obligation than a necessity, not every joke gets a big laugh, and there are still dusty clichés in the mix. However, those clichés are thrown into unexpected context that flips every predictable rom-com storyline on its head. The script is clever for the most part, the characters are fleshed out, and there are loads of laughs to be had. I was constantly cracking up and many scenes nailed their comedic timing to perfection. I GIVE IT A YEAR is a great date movie for fans of awkward humor, R-rated sex comedies, and hilariously offensive jokes.

Grade: B+