Finest Hours

from Indy Week 

On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter crashed upon the New England coastline with colossal waves and gale-force winds. The storm was so powerful that not one buttwo massive oil tankers split in half off the coast of Cape Cod.

With four separate floating husks in the water—and four potential rescue situations—the local Coast Guard was stretched dangerously thin. The circumstances ultimately led four very brave men to pilot a ridiculously small boat into a ridiculously big storm.

That’s the set-up for Disney’s real-life seagoing drama, which delivers astounding visuals wrapped in unapologetic hokeyness. The Finest Hours isn’t just set in 1952, it also feels like it was made in 1952. It’s corny and square and actually quite fun.

Chris Pine headlines as Coast Guard greenhorn Bernie Webber, a man so passionate about following rules that he asks his commanding officer for permission to get married. Bernie’s fiancée is Miriam (Holliday Grainger), and the first twenty minutes of the movie are dedicated to establishing their romantic framing story. These are the kinds of scenes that fast-forward buttons were made for.

The real action begins when Bernie and three other Coast Guard rookies steer a very small lifeboat into the maw of the storm to investigate the fate of the oil tanker Pendleton. The massive sea swells threaten to swallow the little boat, and this is where the film’s digital effects artisans start delivering the goods.

Hours is one of the very rare films where 3-D works the way it’s supposed to. We’re put in the middle of that terrible storm, pitching and yawing and looking up to see mountainous waves crashing down. It’s such a pleasure when digital wizardry is properly deployed.

Meanwhile, on the half of the Pendleton that’s still floating, chief engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) leads a group of survivors who are desperately trying to patch up the ship until help arrives. Affleck gives a smart, understated performance. He’s the most interesting guy in the picture.

Director Craig Gillespie crosscuts between the two crews, with occasional glimpses back to shore, until the big rescue scene arrives. He never manages to create anything truly cinematic, which is a shame, because he’s got a hell of a story to work with. Instead, he relies on the film’s insistent musical score to generate emotional effects he can’t conjure otherwise. If you’re unsure what you’re supposed to be feeling in a given scene, don’t worry. The music will beat it into you.

Overall, The Finest Hours is a slight bit of moviemaking, but those immersive digital effects really do lend some weight. The money shots of rogue waves and listing ships trump similar scenes from the film’s most obvious predecessor, The Perfect Storm. It’s fun, family-friendly and utterly inoffensive—Disneyfied disaster porn, with all the sharp parts sanded down.


Dirty Grandpa

from Indy Week

Dirty Grandpa is easily the worst movie of the new year so far, and it will surely be a strong contender at the end of the year, too. In fact, in the dizzying moments after being bludgeoned by this miserable specimen, I was convinced it’s among the worst movies ever made. That’s a rare moment in a film lover’s life, and something to savor, in a weird way.

Zac Efron headlines, ostensibly, as uptight law-school graduate Jason Kelly, who’s preparing to wed his even more uptight fiancée (Julianne Hough, suffering through a standard-issue bridezilla role). Plans are interrupted, however, when Jason agrees to drive his recently widowed grandfather down to Florida.

That’s our dirty grandpa, played by Robert De Niro, who clearly does not, in the twilight of his career, give a single fuck anymore. The very first scene features the two-time Oscar winner fully nude, masturbating to cable-TV porn in his recliner. This sets the tone rather perfectly.

Things only get more embarrassing for De Niro. Director Dan Mazer obviously subscribes to the filthier-equals-funnier theory of comedy, but he has no actual jokes to work with in a script by first-timer John Phillips. Dirty Grandpa isn’t a story, it’s a premise—a decidedly lame one, at that. Jason and his dirty grandpa go to spring break in Florida. That’s it.

In lieu of any real situational or character-driven comedy, the filmmakers provide De Niro and Efron with an unrelenting torrent of gross dialogue and sight gags. Incapable of generating actual comedy, the filmmakers go for shock and revulsion, over and over and over. It’s the comedy equivalent of torture porn.

Poor Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) shows up as a hard-partying college girl with a geriatric fetish. You’d think that setup would pay off with a joke or two, but it doesn’t. In fact, there’s no payoff about 100 times in a row. Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) plays Jason’s love interest, to zero effect, but she at least has the dignity to look embarrassed by it all.

Traditionally, the upside of really bad movies is that they’re fun to make fun of. Not so much with this one. There’s an ugliness to Dirty Grandpa that runs deep, beneath the rape “jokes” and the swastika plot point and the creepy obsession with female anatomical specifics. The story feels like it was thought up by a gang of emotionally stunted sixth graders who heard a story once about spring break.

But hey, at least Robert De Niro picked up a paycheck. That’s something.