4 Minute Mile
Runs Fri., Aug. 1–Thurs., Aug. 7 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated PG-13. 96 minutes.
It’s probably unfair for a former track runner to judge this movie by the standards of his sport, but I’m going to anyway. Filmed around Seattle, this routine sports melodrama is weak on athletics and no stronger on story. There’s a swift but troubled teen (Kelly Blatz) being raised by a single mother (Kim Basinger); his older brother (Cam Gigandet) is a tattooed ex-con; and living next door is a cranky old alcoholic (Richard Jenkins) who used to coach record-breaking milers. The kid needs to win a scholarship to Berkeley to follow his crush (Analeigh Tipton), and the coach needs redemption. On your mark, set, go!
Lap one: The hackneyed script and stereotypical characters put director Charles-Olivier Michaud at an immediate disadvantage. The movie falls to the back of a pack of superior running pictures like Pre and Chariots of Fire. Blatz, a bland and vaguely LaBeouffian TV actor, is too blocky for the role. And Basinger, the most intriguing casting choice here, just stands around looking haggard and sad, with nothing to say, eloquent in her character’s resignation. At 440 yards, we’re already in last place.
Lap two: But wait, here comes Jenkins! Oscar-nominated for The Visitor, he’s a go-to character actor with decades of experience and a little running background himself. (Recall his FBI agent on acid in Flirting With Disaster: “You can’t catch the wind!”) And that girl Tipton, of Lucy and Warm Bodies, has a gawky, saucer-eyed charm: Audrey Hepburn meets Illeana Douglas. The movie pulls back into the pack at the half-mile mark.
Lap three: The transitions among Seattle locations are all wrong, but it’s fun to tease out how wrong they are, as in Sleepless in Seattle. The kid lopes on long-distance runs—some to mule drugs for his brother—through downtown and along the Duwamish. The coach has him do wind sprints in the briny shallows by the Ballard locks and quarter-mile repeats on the hard concrete of Fisherman’s Terminal. He races in flats, not spikes. (All this is wildly inaccurate, as any boxer would tell you of Rocky; but The Karate Kid is more the model here.) “You got to face that fear,” the coach tells the kid. Prepare for the final kick.
Lap four: The bell sounds. 4 Minute Mile aims to be inspirational, not realistic; but you almost wish it were one of those stealth evangelical projects, just so you could guess its pious agenda. The uplifting outcome here is easy to divine. The kid does, in fact, face his fear during a kind of Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus training run. And his final race turns out to be a solo time trial—first place is the only place, winning beside the point—with an implausible final number on the stopwatch. Sayeth the movie poster, “The hardest race is against yourself.” The filmmakers might’ve considered the same challenge. Brian Miller
PGuardians of the Galaxy
Tint/[Black] 25%25Opens Fri., Aug. 1 at Majestic Bay and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 121 minutes.
The giant apparatus required to create a 21st-century comic-book/sci-fi/action movie is expensive and unwieldy. Little wonder so many of these behemoths eventually collapse under their own weight, content to destroy a city while laboriously setting up the next installment in the franchise. Even the good stuff—Robert Downey Jr.’s antic presence in the first Iron Man, or the cheeky political thrust of Captain America: The Winter Soldier—must make way for grim destruction.
Therefore, give thanks to the Marvel gods for Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’ve ever had to suppress a giggle at the sight of Thor’s mighty hammer, this movie will provide a refreshing palate-cleanser. First, understand that the Guardians of the Galaxy tag is something of a joke here; this is a painfully fallible batch of outer-space quasi-heroes. Their leader is an Earthling, Peter Quill (Lake Stevens native Chris Pratt, from Parks and Recreation, an inspired choice), who calls himself “Space-Lord” even though nobody else does. In order to retrieve a powerful matter-dissolving gizmo, he has to align himself with a selection of Marvel Comics castoffs, who will—in their own zany way—end up guarding the galaxy. There’s green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana, changing hues from Avatar), adopted daughter of galactic villain Thanos. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a CGI rodent-y mutant with leadership qualities; his sidekick Groot (voiced, to limited but potent effect, by Vin Diesel) is a tree-like creature also concocted by computer. Rounding out the quintet is Drax (humorous pro wrestler Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound convict whose inability to understand irony is the source of many good gags.
The movie has lots of action and 3-D effects. They are well-executed, if that is important to you. But director James Gunn (Super) understands that getting character right—and keeping the story’s goals simple—can create a momentum machine, the kind of movie in which one scene keeps tipping giddily over into the next. Guardians isn’t great, exactly—Gunn’s fondness for an oldies soundtrack feels warmed-over, and one wishes we got to enjoy the villains more—but it comes as close as this kind of thing can to creating explosive moments of delight. Perhaps the powerful gizmo could tip the balance of the universe and destroy the civilization of the good guys (Glenn Close and John C. Reilly are on their side), but Gunn and his cast understand that the interplay among the quirky Guardians is what matters. The next Avengers movie already looks silly by comparison. Robert Horton
Llyn Foulkes One Man Band
Runs Fri., Aug. 1–Thurs., Aug. 7 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 82 minutes.
It’s a bit of a shock to see Dennis Hopper show up, suave and healthy, as a source in this long-gestating documentary about the maverick Los Angeles artist Llyn Foulkes. He and Hopper ran in the same avant-garde ’60s circles along with Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, and company. Some of those artists prospered, but Foulkes dropped out of the gallery scene for decades, becoming a curio musician who performed his Dixieland-meets-Weimar cabaret music on The Tonight Show as a novelty act, like Tiny Tim. But Hopper is now dead and deserving of his own documentary, while Foulkes was doggedly and sympathetically followed for seven years (to age 77) by filmmakers Tamar Halpern and Chris Quilty.
I wish I could report their faith was more well-placed. Various curators and peers testify to Foulkes’ young talent, but his landscape and political/historical tendencies make him seem revanchist even today. He missed the boat on conceptualism or Pop, stubbornly changed course when any painting series proved popular, then spent futile decades cutting up and reworking a few large assemblages-on-plywood, the paint heaped high for depth, animal carcasses and even TV sets appended into the textured tableaux. “Political art” is what he calls his work, much of it an angry, even macabre reaction to corporate might—symbolized by Mickey Mouse—and the desecration of the American frontier.
Perhaps because that art hasn’t sold too well, Halpern and Quilty focus more on the man than his oeuvre. Foulkes is like some old cowboy sage in a Sam Shepard play, both rueful and wise about his past misbehaviors toward ex-wives, tastemakers, and gallery owners. “I coulda played the game . . . ” he begins; then, like one of his paintings, he abruptly edits the thought: “Nah, I couldn’t have played the game.” One Man Band is an engrossing if overlong portrait of an overlooked artist. Still, some artists remain overlooked for a reason. And for all their determined effort to rescue Foulkes from obscurity, Halpern and Quilty had to leave the final happy coda for the press notes, after they completed filming: Foulkes finally sells one of his big works, 20 years in the making, to Brad Pitt. Dennis Hopper would’ve smiled at that. Brian Miller
Opens Fri., Aug. 1 at Varsity. Not rated. 94 minutes.
Michel Gondry’s capacity for imagining wacky designs and adorable contraptions is so boundless he makes Santa’s elves look like dull-witted slackers. The French director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind is on some kind of perpetual adolescent overdrive, his brain inventing new bits of business as though nobody’d ever asked him to be normal. In his best films, this can be charming. In Mood Indigo, it results in a fun opening half-hour followed by an increasingly tiresome hour of hyperactivity. (This is a truncated 94-minute cut of the 131-minute European release.)
Gondry’s source novel, L’Ecume des jours, is by Boris Vian, a big mid-century cult figure in France but little appreciated in the States. We meet a young man named Colin (Romain Duris) whose wealth allows him to fritter away the days with his multifaceted advisor/manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy, from The Intouchables) and a talking mouse. Colin invents things, such as a piano that mixes cocktails based on the melody being played. His best friend is Chick (Gad Emaleh), an obsessive fan of the famous philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. Yes, you read that right. Colin meets the right girl in Chloe (Audrey Tautou, not so far from her old Amelie stomping grounds). They fly above Paris in a mechanical cloud and perform a dance that makes their limbs stretch out to Plastic Man-esque proportions. Such bliss cannot last, and Chloe soon contracts an illness that involves a water lily growing inside her lung.
If you could isolate this film’s scenes, looking at Mood Indigo would be highly enjoyable. Colin’s contraptions are fun. I liked the mouse. Tautou and Duris—he’s the wolfish leading man also lately seen in Chinese Puzzle—are cute. There’s a rainstorm that falls in half the screen, so one character gets wet while the other stays dry. It all comes at you lickety-split; and for the record, we should note that perhaps the full-length version catches an appropriate rhythm that this cut doesn’t. No kidding, Gondry is a kind of wizard. Nobody does a four-minute music video with as much magical inventiveness, but there’s a vast miscalculation here about how this amount of whimsy wears over time. Wes Anderson is positively grave by comparison. Robert Horton