This past weekend at the movies, men behaving badly were all the (often literal) rage.
Evan Glodell’s debut, “Bellflower,” is a visually stunning, occasionally funny and deeply disturbing study of extended male juvenilia.
I use the word “study” because the film has been mistaken by a few as misogynistic. That would be a fair charge to level were the picture not so fully aware of its characters’ shortcomings. The movie observes an immature male revenge fantasy without actually embracing it.
In the film, Glodell (doing double duty as director and lead actor) plays Woodrow, a young man who has moved with his best pal, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), from Wisconsin to California to live out a slackerish existence.
The duo, who do not appear to hold jobs, have crafted designs for a “Mad Max”- inspired muscle vehicle named Medusa with an exterior engine and a flamethrower.
Their post-apocalyptic fantasies are interrupted by Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a spirited young woman whom they meet during a cricket-eating contest at a local dive bar. Woodrow becomes smitten and his focus drifts from shooting flames from his car to sparks of a romantic nature.
Woodrow idolizes Milly, focusing on specific elements of her personality that lead him to believe he is in love. He ignores her warnings that she might end up hurting him. That is, until she ends up doing just that.
The film undergoes a very dark shift about halfway through following the dissolution of the couple’s relationship as well as a severe car accident.
Suddenly, the two young men’s plan to transform Medusa into an instrument of speed and violence takes center stage. The movie’s finale is hallucinatory and calls into question matters of what is real and imagined.
“Bellflower” is one of the better debuts of the past few years. At first, the hipsterish dialogue is mundane, but it soon becomes apparent that Glodell is crafting his characters through their mannerisms and modes of speaking.
The picture is a perfect way to cap off a summer chock full of escapist films during which young men live out unrealistic hero fantasies. Glodell’s movie is a frightening portrayal of stunted maturity.
On the other hand, David Dobkin’s “The Change Up” is a celebration of that same subject.
The film, among the summer’s worst offerings, is a crass body-switch comedy that manages to squeeze something offensive into nearly every spoken line of dialogue.
In the movie, Jason Bateman plays the steady hand, a responsible attorney with three kids and an adoring wife, while Ryan Reynolds is his reckless best buddy, whose bed is never empty and even picks up pregnant women at Lamaze classes.
Through a twist of fate (and bad plotting), the two characters switch bodies and, of course, must come to terms with each other’s lifestyles. Bateman gets to walk on the wild side, while Reynolds faces responsibility.
Look, I’m no prude, but there’s something woefully wrong when a film’s male characters consistently refer to women in the most vulgar terms, and then the filmmakers pull a switcheroo and ask us to sympathize with them.
Both Bateman and Reynolds can be funny and charming, and it appears that most of this picture’s problems are in the script department. “The Change Up” is fairly unpleasant and not particularly funny.
The week’s surprisingly solid mainstream offering is “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which marks the seventh film in the long-running series and the best since the 1968 original.
The movie is a prequel, but a clever one. James Franco plays a scientist who is testing a drug to cure Alzheimer’s on chimpanzees. He finds that the drug he has discovered not only helps to retain memory in the apes, but also makes them smarter.
The focus of his project is an ape named Caesar, who is played by Andy Serkis (Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”) in one of the best digitally driven performances I’ve seen.
As the experiment continues, Caesar begins to view humans in an unflattering light. After he is shipped off to live with others of his kind and kept under the watch of a cruel father-son team (played by Brian Cox and Tom Felton, of “Harry Potter” fame), Caesar plans a revolt with his fellow primates.
But rather camping the story up and filling the frame with action as Tim Burton did in his 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes,” director Rupert Wyatt saves his biggest set piece – an ape riot on the Golden Gate Bridge – for the finale. “Rise” is a solid cautionary fantasy and one of the summer’s genuine surprises.