THE WAY BACK. A friend asked, after initially mistaking it for The Way Way Back (2013), if this is "that remake of Hoosiers." It's neither but fair enough for asking. The title doesn't give us much to go on and the story of a hard-luck high school basketball coach bringing together a group of underdogs has some notable antecedents — see above. Moving beyond the easy comparisons, though, The Way Back is more than the sum of its (admittedly familiar) parts.
Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) seems like a nice enough guy; a little anti-social, maybe, except when he's at the bar, which is most nights. His apartment could use a freshening up but it's just a place to drink a case of beer in one sitting and pass out, or to be carried back to after an evening at the watering hole. He makes it to work when he's supposed to, albeit supported by a coffee cup full of clear liquor. Estranged from his wife (Janina Gavankar), frequently at odds with his sister (Michaela Watkins), Jack clearly suffers from (and attempts to self-medicate) some unseen, unhealed wound.
But then comes an offer to coach his high school's basketball team, once a storied dynasty led by a breakout star (Jack himself) now, like that star, fallen into disarray.
In the broad strokes, The Way Back could fairly be called derivative, but director Gavin O'Connor (Warrior, 2011; The Accountant, 2016) finds a clean line around the more tired tropes of the genre to get at something honest and emotional. Affleck gives a full, raw, sometimes uncomfortably authentic performance and the script (by O'Connor and Brad Inglesby), with its tough second-act turn and refusal to bow to a clichéd redemption through-line, yields yet another example of genre moviemaking as medium for storytelling of depth and significance. R. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GREED. Writer-director Michael Winterbottom has a long and complicated list of credits, a great number of them collaborations with Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People, 2002; Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, (2005); the various iterations of The Trip, 2010-present). He's capable of moving across/transcending genre with seeming ease, his work more recognizable for its tone than its visual style. More often than not, that tone is satirical, although it frequently hews so close to earnestness that it can be discomfiting or even confusing.
Which, despite its objective quality and my general enjoyment, are both words I could use to describe my reaction to this, Winterbottom and Coogan's latest collaboration. Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), a discount fashion magnate drawing near his 60th, has planned a Roman Empire-themed birthday bash on the island of Mykonos. His ex-wife (Isla Fisher) has decamped from her mega-yacht in Monaco with her French boy-toy in tow. Sullen youngest son Finn (Asa Butterfield) reluctantly attends, overshadowed by his golden-child brother Adrian (Matt Bentley) and histrionically inclined sister Lily (Sophie Cookson), who has a "reality" TV production crew in tow. Nick (David Mitchell), a biographer tasked with wrangling Sir Richard's questionable exploits into a story that can be sold, serves as our eyes and ears.
Against the crass, toneless luxury of the birthday party, Winterbottom plays out McCreadie's origin story, from his private school days hustling cards, through his Art of the Deal ascension to the High Streets of the world, to his subsequent bankruptcies and dismantling of his companies for his own financial gain, to eventual inquiries by the British government. As further counterpoint, he gives us a group of Syrian refugees living on the beach in front of the resort where the party is to be held and a functionary on the McCreadie payroll whose mother fell victim to a Sri Lankan clothing factory fire. Yeah, it's a lot; maybe too much.
The tone and ostensible theme of Greed seem fundamentally at odds with one another; if this is intentional, I would expect it to create unease and narrative tension. Instead, it feels as though the people making the movie were working on a different project than what I watched. The movie seems to attempt to vilify and humanize the super-rich simultaneously, with McCreadie as avatar for that predatory class. And while it is undeniably well shot, acted and edited, it feels unsuccessful in achieving its goal. R. 104M. MINOR.
SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL. I kind of remember the Robert Uhrich series Spenser for Hire. No matter, really, except that this is a kinda-sorta reboot based on the same (seemingly innumerable) series of books by Robert B. Parker.
Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) used to be a cop: He was too honest for the Boston PD and went to prison for assaulting his captain. Returning home, he teams up with an odd-duck MMA fighter named Hawk (Winston Duke) and his long-suffering friend and coach Harry (Alan Arkin) to clean up all the corruption in New England.
Director Peter Berg and Wahlberg have worked together a number of times, often quite successfully (Lone Survivor, 2013; Deepwater Horizon, 2016) and, for better or worse, make a certain type of hyper-masculine, heart-on-their-sleeve blue collar movie. The collaboration makes sense, as Berg has an eye for action that's both concise and fast-and-loose, which suits Wahlberg's onscreen persona.
Spenser is decidedly second-tier work for both of them, feeling a little like a made-for-TV movie at its worst (maybe especially because it so aggressively teases a next installment). But it is a more competently made action movie than most and is generally inoffensive and charming-ish. R. 111M. NETFLIX.
John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BIG TIME ADOLESCENCE. A high schooler (Griffin Gluck) hangs out with his older sister's reckless ex (Pete Davidson) way too much. R. 91M. MINOR.
BLOODSHOT. Vin Diesel plays a superpowered soldier who's reanimated and brainwashed to kill. PG13. 109M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
CORPUS CHRISTI. Polish language drama about a young, religious convict (Bartosz Bielenia) who poses as a priest in a small town with skeletons in its closet. NR. 115M. MINOR.
EMMA. Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Jane Austen's matchmaking heroine. PG. 124M. BROADWAY.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005). Let the Triwizard Tournament begin. PG13. 157M. BROADWAY.
THE HUNT. A dozen people are kidnapped and hunted for sport. Starring Hillary Swank and Betty Gilpin. R. 89M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
I STILL BELIEVE. Biopic about young Christian singer Jeremy Camp (K.J. Apa). PG. 115M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE. Love story about an 18th century painter (Noémie Merlant) who must surreptitiously paint the wedding portrait of another young woman (Adèle Haenel, the badass who yelled "shame" when convicted child rapist Roman Polanski won a César award). R. 122M. MINOR.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the buddy cop franchise set in Miami. R. 123M. FORTUNA.
CALL OF THE WILD. Harrison Ford stars in the Jack London adaptation opposite a computer-generated dog that looks computer generated. PG. 140M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
EXTRA ORDINARY. Irish comedy-horror about a reluctant medium trying to save a possessed girl from a has-been rock star/bumbling Satanist. R. 134M. MINIPLEX.
IMPRACTICAL JOKERS: THE MOVIE. Hidden-camera buffoonery on the road. PG13. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE INVISIBLE MAN. Leigh Whannell directs Elisabeth Moss as woman whose abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) stalks her after his supposed death in a smart, original and modern take on the monster classic. R. 124M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND. Documentary on the iconic band and its frontman. R. 100M. MINOR.
ONWARD. A pair of elf siblings (Chris Pratt, Tom Holland) in a fantasy suburbia try to save their dad in this animated Pixar adventure. PG. 102M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG. After Cats, this will probably be fine. With Jim Carey, Ben Schwartz and James Marsden. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill