Reel Opinions


Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Goldfinch

John Crowley's The Goldfinch has an air of self-importance to it that it does not earn or deserve.  It's a pompous and ponderous slog through a plot that should be emotional, yet never is.  That's because all vitality and life seems to have been drained from every aspect of the production.  The performances, the confused out of sequence narrative, and especially the interminable two and a half hour running time all add up into an experience that is dead in the water from the word "go".

The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, and while the narrative is more or less the same, nothing else from Tartt's original work has survived in the translation.  All nuance, character, and naturally the wording of the novel is missing.  What we have left is a lifeless and dreary reenactment of events from the book that hold almost no distinction or dramatic weight.  The disastrous and deadly dull screenplay is credited to Peter Straughan, who was responsible for another misguided adaptation just two years ago, 2017's The Snowman.  Either Straughan just simply stinks at adapting novels for the screen, or he has lousy luck with the filmmakers chosen to bring his vision to life.  Whatever the case, if I were a studio executive, I would start rejecting his scripts based on novels based on recent evidence.

The title of the film refers to a famous painting that plays a major part in its hero's life.  Young Theo (Oakes Fegley) was visiting New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother, when a terrorist bombing occurred that took his mother's life, as well as many others around him.  Theo survives and takes the painting, and the film follows the journey that both take over the course of 20 years or so.  Among the ruins of the museum, Theo also happens to meet an old dying man who gives the boy a ring, and tells him to give it to his partner Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), a kindly man who runs an antique shop.  With no family to speak for him (his dad is an alcoholic who is currently missing), Theo finds himself adopted by a wealthy family headed by Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman), while also learning about antiquing and the difference between a genuine work of art and a replica by Mr. Hobie.

Just as Theo starts to adapt to his new life, his drunken lout of a dad (played by a miscast Luke Wilson) suddenly shows up back in his life, and drags him out to a mostly abandoned desert neighborhood in Las Vegas.  While all this is happening, the movie is constantly making time jumps to when Theo is an adult (now played by Ansel Elgort), having a hard time keeping his life and impending marriage together due to his drug and alcohol use.  Again, none of this connects in the slightest, and anyone who has not read the original novel is likely to be confused, and also wonder why this story is so acclaimed in its original form.  All the complexities and nuances have been stripped away.  In the original novel, Theo narrated in the first-person and shared his inner thoughts.  Here, he comes across as an empty void of a character that we never get to know, and simply reacts to everything and everyone around him.

Because of this, The Goldfinch not only lacks any kind of emotion that an audience can connect with, it also doesn't make a damn bit of sense at times.  The time-jumping, out of sequence narrative has little rhyme or reason, and plays more like an act of confusion rather than a stylistic choice.  There is also something just a little off about the performances here.  Despite talented performers like Kidman and Wright in the cast, nobody seems to be able to rise above this material.  We also get a strange disconnect between the two actors who play Theo at different ages.  While the young Oakes Fegley is fine, Ansel Elgort as the adult is completely one-note and shows no sign of personality.  It's hard enough to relate to these people given their stilted dialogue.  It makes it even harder when you see actors who you know are much better than this giving portrayals that are frequently stiff.

What we have here is a case of something that worked beautifully on the written page, because the author had the time, space and talent to truly explore the depths of these characters.  Take all of that away, and just leave nothing but the basic narrative, and you have what is easily one of the worst films of the year.  This is a failed prestige project that certainly looks beautiful and has attracted some strong talent, but to what end when you're not even going to bother to tell the story properly?

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Hustlers

If seeing Jennifer Lopez giving her best performance since her acting peak in Selena and Out of Sight was the only reason to see Hustlers, that would be reason enough.  Her performance is transformative here, reminding us of what she can truly do when she's paired with a great script and a director who knows how to bring out the best of her.

Fortunately, writer-director Lorene Scafaria has given us so much more than Lopez's best on screen work in almost two decades.  Hustlers is just a ton of fun to watch, full of energy, and is the rare film that left me wanting more in a good way.  I wanted the film to run longer than it did, so I could spend more time with these characters, and exploring their relationships.  In telling the true story of a group of strippers who lured in wealthy Wall Street moguls, drugged them, and then took them for millions, Scafaria confidently strides the line between telling a compelling crime drama narrative, and a genuinely entertaining female-bonding comedy.  She is obviously drawing from Scorsese's Goodfellas here, using some of the same camera and visual techniques, as well as a fun but a bit on the nose soundtrack scoring the scenes.  However, she still finds a way to make this story her own, make it engaging, and most of all, make it tremendously entertaining.

Inspired by an article run in New York magazine, we are introduced to the movie's world through a young woman who goes by the stage name of Destiny (Constance Wu), who seems to be in over her head when she first starts working at a strip club, entertaining wealthy Wall Street clients who are flush with cash.  She's in the line of work to support the grandmother who raised her since she was a child (Wai Ching Ho), and when she first starts out, she doesn't seem to have the slightest clue about what to do.  Men are attracted to her, but she hasn't yet learned the ropes.  That's when she meets Ramona (Lopez), the most popular lady at the joint, who sees something in Destiny, and wonders why she isn't making the big bucks like she does.  Ramona was once a cover girl for magazines, but now she's here, supporting a young daughter, and making huge amounts of money as one of the club's leading attractions.

With Ramona's help, Destiny learns the tricks of the trade, as well as starts both a personal and professional relationship, with both women creating a seductive routine together for men's pleasure.  Destiny starts making some real money, buys some nice things for herself, and helps her grandmother.  She's even able to leave stripping behind for a short while.  But then, Destiny goes through a bad marriage, has a baby, and the 2008 recession hits.  She goes back to the club she once worked at, only to find it in a slump.  The Wall Street people who once occupied the joint just don't have the money to spend anymore, and most of her friends from her past days are now gone.

Needing to make some real money again, Ramona concocts a scheme.  Destiny helps her develop a drug made of MDMA and ketamine, and then they go out looking for wealthy and powerful married men.  They flirt with the men, drug their drink with the mix they develop, and then drag the men back to the club in order to drain his credit card while he's in a stupor.  If the men complain about the massive amount of money suddenly missing from their account, the ladies will just tell them they had a great time, spent too much, and that they probably shouldn't tell their wives about what happened.  They recruit two other women from the club into their scheme - Merecedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), and this creates the strong bond between the four women that carries most of the film.

Hustlers follows the four through their highs and lows, and expertly juggles the multiple angles that the film requires.  We see Ramona and Destiny developing a truly strong bond with each other, and as the other ladies enter the scheme, we see that bond grow larger and stronger.  It is important that the film stay laser-focused on their lives and relationships, otherwise the lead characters would probably come across as shallow or horrible.  There is definitely a fun, party vibe to a lot of the film, but there are also hard doses of reality throughout, such as when Destiny is brought down by financial difficulties, which leads to the hatching of the scheme in the first place.  The screenplay could have definitely focused a bit more on the moral questions about what these women are doing, but the emphasis that it places on the women at the center of it helps us at least see their desperation, and allows us to follow them to the end, when the plan inevitably starts to fall apart at some point.

Of the performances, it will obviously be Lopez who gets all the attention, with the effortless way she plays all the sides of Ramona.  She's a mentor, a warm mothering type, and a scheming ringleader who is willing to do whatever it takes to stay on top.  She is more commanding than she's been in a film in a long time.  However, this should not take away anything from Constance Wu's performance, which is just as strong, and as the most definitive arc.  She starts as a wide-eyed innocent, becomes a pro, willingly helps develop the scheme to fleece the money, and creates such a powerful, dramatic portrayal in certain scenes that she shows even more star potential than she did in last year's Crazy Rich Asians.  We feel for her, and we feel for the sister-like relationship that she builds with Lopez.  It makes the film's final moments between the two women all the more cutting and emotional.

This time period after the Summer blockbusters have gone, and the big Fall films are on the horizon, is usually quite slow, so to have a total blast of energy like Hustlers hit theaters right about now is very welcome indeed.  It's not just a great time, it's also a truly engaging experience from top to bottom.

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Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon

With a title like The Peanut Butter Falcon, a movie has a lot to rise above.  Fortunately, it manages to do just that, and is even sort of engaging, which is good when you consider how corny and almost hokey the movie can get.  This is a big hearted modern day take on The Adventures of Huck Finn that manages to rise above its somewhat cliched narrative.

The big attraction here is its lead star, Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down Syndrome who manages to deliver a sweet, funny and compelling performance as Zak, a young man who has been shunned by everyone because of his disability.  His family has abandoned him at an old folks home, because he has no one else to look after him.  Zak spends his days watching an old VHS tape of a popular 1980s Pro Wrestler called the Salt-Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and plotting ways to escape the home so that he can make the journey to meet his Wrestling idol.  With the help of his elderly roommate (a funny Bruce Dern), Zak does manage to escape, although he has to discard most of his clothes to do so.  Dressed only in his underwear, and with no money or means of transport, Zak's journey at first seems impossible.

But then he runs into another young man who is on the run for his own reasons.  Tyler (Shia LaBeouf, more sincere and honest than he's ever been on the screen) is a self-destructive fisherman with a tragic past who encounters Zak when he stows away on Tyler's boat.  They form a reluctant bond and before you know it, the two become reliable friends.  For Zak, Tyler knows the way to get him to his goal, and also is the first person in his life who doesn't treat him as being different from everyone else.  All his life, Zak has been told he can't do certain things, but because of Tyler, he feels confidence for the first time.  As for Tyler, he has been in a constant downward-spiral since he caused an accident that took the life of his brother (Jon Bernthal in flashbacks), and young Zak is the first friend he's had since then.

The two begin a journey down the river by any means necessary, whether it be Tyler's boat, or a make shift raft at one point.  All the while, both are being pursued by different people for different reasons.  Tyler is in trouble with some dangerous goons who want to hurt or possibly kill him for stealing their fishing profits, while Zak's caretaker from the home (Dakota Johnson) is trying to find him before he gets in trouble.  There are encounters with a blind Bible-thumping old man, run-ins with colorful characters along the way, and quite a lot of implausibility here.  But, The Peanut Butter Falcon rises above it all, thanks to the performances of both Gottsagen and LaBeouf, who share a warm chemistry.  And yes, we do eventually figure out what the title means, as it becomes Zak's Pro Wrestling name.

The film ultimately works not as a journey picture, but because of the emotional journey both men take in order to improve themselves.  Zak learns that he is capable of much more than he ever dreamed of, while Tyler finally decides to forgive himself for his past mistakes.  There were moments where I was kind of wondering where the movie was going, as it seemed to be dragging its feet, but I was constantly engaged by the winning performances.  Even the somewhat out of the blue romantic relationship that LaBeouf and Johnson start to develop kind of won me over by the end.  The movie is laid back, but not deadly dull.  This is the kind of movie where we admire the scenery, the pleasant soundtrack, and the performances on display, rather than a gripping narrative.

The Peanut Butter Falcon could have easily gone wrong in so many ways.  It could have been sappy, or made its Down Syndrome lead into a "cute" little comedian.  But, you can tell that first-time feature writers and directors, Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, cared about this project and their young star too much for that.  The story goes that the filmmakers met Gottsagen while volunteering at a theater camp, struck up a friendship, and promised that they would make a movie starring him.  Not only have they done that, but he has returned the favor by giving one of the more truly inspiring performances of the year.

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It: Chapter Two

Like a lot of sequels, It: Chapter Two ups the ante over the original horror blockbuster from exactly two years ago this weekend.  There's more blood, more eerie voices rising from the sewers, a lot more ghouls to terrorize the heroes, and naturally, more of the diabolical Pennywise the Dancing Clown (once again played by Bill Skarsgård).  Also like a lot of sequels, because it goes bigger in so many ways, it ends up losing some of what made the first movie such a great entertainment.

Oh, there's still plenty of stuff that works here.  It's well made, and the performances are great.  There are just more setbacks than before.  This is a much longer film than the original, clocking in at about three hours, and because of that, it feels a lot less focused.  The plot meanders a lot, especially during the very long middle portion of the film, and the whole production just kind of feels overstuffed.  It's never boring, but it does seem to be spinning its wheels a lot.  We get a lot of scenes where the characters intentionally do stupid things (like sticking their hand down a sewer grate when they hear voices coming up from within) when they obviously should know better.  They do it, because the movie needs another special effect shot of some kind of monster.  This time, the effects seem to be the main attraction, and not the story or the characters we grew to love before.

The original It was obviously a great thriller, but it was also a wonderful coming of age dramatic comedy and an exciting adventure.  That film focused on a group of likable kids played by some wonderful child actors who joined up to battle a supernatural evil that was terrorizing their town.  But it wasn't just about the kids having to rise up against the demonic entity that was stalking them.  The kids themselves felt real.  They had real dialogue, relationships, concerns, and bonds with one another.  When they faced danger from the local bullies or were threatened by the evil that usually manifests itself in the form of a clown, we genuinely cared about them.  We wanted to see them succeed.  The sequel is set 27 years later, so we are introduced to these same characters as adults.  And while the group is played by some fine adult actors, and they are all giving strong performances, they don't quite have the bond that we remember them having when they were young.  The kids were more interesting than who they grew up to be.

I can say this with certainty not just because I have recently watched the original again to prepare for the follow up, but also because the sequel contains a number of flashbacks where the kids return, and their scenes just strike me as being so much better.  Again, this is not the fault of the adult actors.  All of them fit the roles they're given.  They just seem to have been written with less personality for some reason.  Of the returning heroes, Bill Denbrough (played by Jaeden Martell as a child / James McAvoy as an adult) has become a horror writer who has trouble coming up with endings, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis / Jessica Chastain) is married to an abusive lout who comes across as a cartoonish, screaming villain of a bad domestic melodrama, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer / James Ransone) has become a risk assessor with a needy wife, Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor / Jay Ryan) has lost weight and become a successful architect, and Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard / Bill Hader) is a stand up comedian, so that means everything that comes out of his mouth has to be a one liner or a quip, no matter what may be happening. 

The group is reunited by Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs / Isaiah Mustafa), the sole member of the group of friends who never left their original hometown of Derry, Maine.  He is the first to realize that the evil entity that they battled as children has come back when there are a new rash of murders and child kidnappings around town.  He summons his friends home to face it once again, as this time, he thinks he's found a way to defeat the shape-shifting monster once and for all.  It's kind of interesting at first to see these characters reunite as adults.  We look forward to the film developing them, and showing us how they have changed.  Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what the filmmakers are going for.  Aside from learning that Ben still secretly longs for Beverly, we don't really learn much about what's happened to these people in the past 27 years, aside from what I told you in the previous paragraph.  I wouldn't call them boring, as the performances from the adult actors is enough to hold our attention.  But they definitely come across as underwritten, and not quite as complex as their young counterparts in the flashbacks.

Once all the friends are back in Derry, It: Chapter Two suffers from a lengthy and unfocused middle section where the individual characters explore the town, and are usually menaced either by the monstrous Pennywise, or some kind of CG ghoul that include zombies, vomiting demons, entities that can disguise themselves as harmless old ladies, creepy crawlies coming out of fortune cookies, and an awful lot of creatures that resemble spiders to the point that you wonder if the movie has some kind of strange fetish when it comes to arachnids.  It was during these moments that my heart sunk a little, and I realized that this sequel was not really interested in further development of the characters, and was instead going to be a spookhouse thrill ride where computer generated monsters leap out and scream at the camera repeatedly.  Not only are these moments repetitive, they just are not scary in the slightest.  All of the monsters are so blatantly computer animated, they often don't fit in with the live actors or settings.  The most embarrassing attempt is when the movie tries to create tension in the audience with a statue of a lumberjack that comes to life.  The effects used are not convincing in any way, and it kind of looks like we're being menaced with a deranged CG cartoon character.

There is an over reliance on special effects that really kills the tension.  The first movie kind of had the same problem, but nowhere near the extent as here.  That's because last time, the filmmakers were confident enough in the memorably creepy performance of Bill Skarsgård as the clown who lures in children, then murders them.  They emphasized his innocent, almost child-like nature that he would use to gain the trust of his victims.  This time, Skarsgård is overpowered by the CG effects and monstrosities, and at times becomes a special effect himself, such as when he turns into a giant half clown-half spider.  There are only two scenes where he gets to stand out like he did last time, one involving him luring a little girl under the bleachers during a baseball game, and the other involving a fun house mirror maze.  The rest of his screentime is devoted to short bursts where he shows up to threaten the heroes, then disappears, or is replaced by an unconvincing effect. 

There are moments throughout It: Chapter Two that work, but the movie doesn't come across as the fully realized and satisfying entertainment like the first half.  Maybe this was inevitable, as it has always felt to me like the stuff involving the adults was never as interesting as the stuff with the kids.  It was true of Stephen King's original novel, it was true of the 1990 TV Miniseries, and it's unfortunately true here.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Angel Has Fallen

2013's Olympus Has Fallen was nothing great, but at the time, I said it was a better Die Hard movie than some of the recent sequels in that particular franchise had been, and it was.  The movie became a surprise hit at the box office, so we got London Has Fallen in 2016, which I felt suffered a huge dip in quality, and was needlessly cruel, using images of violence and terrorism, not for any purpose, but purely for "entertainment" value.  That one was less well received by critics and audiences, but apparently the people at Lionsgate think there's enough juice in this franchise, as here is Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman back for Angel Has Fallen. (The rest of the main cast from the last two have decided to sit this one out.)

At least Freeman kind of lucks out, as his character is comatose for about 70% of the film.  He barely registers as a cameo.  Butler has the misfortune of running, shooting and mumbling his way through a script that reads like it was cobbled together entirely out of ancient action movie cliches.  It's also completely absurd and ludicrous.  But hey, a lot of action thrillers are.  This one, however, makes the unwise decision to have its tone be solemn and serious.  It's the kind of movie that you desperately want to laugh at and have fun with, but it won't let you, because it keeps on wanting to be "important".  Part of the charm of the first film is that it fully embraced how ridiculous it was, and allowed the audience to have fun.  This one only comes to life when Nick Nolte, playing Butler's survivalist "off the grid" father, is on screen.  Looking like a drunken and surly Santa Claus, and constantly ranting about the government, Nolte seems to be the only one in this film having any fun.

As for Butler, his returning hero, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, seems to be falling apart physically.  Due to his exploits in the past couple films, he's now popping pills like candy in order to combat migraines, and is suffering from spinal problems.  He keeps this a secret from the President he's been sworn to protect (Freeman), and from his loving wife (Piper Perabo, stepping in for Radha Mitchell, who played the part in the last two), mostly because he wants to stay in active service, and the thought of a desk job scares him.  Not that we can tell much of this, as Butler plays his role largely as a blank slate here.  Only through his dialogue do we know much about his dilemma.  The only one he feels he can share his fears to is to an old military buddy, Wade (Danny Huston), who feels the same way Mike does about aging and having to leave the game of combat.

The plot involves a mysterious group of mercenaries who plot to assassinate the President, and pin the blame on Mike.  The movie tries to hide who is the mastermind, but just about any sentient audience member should be able to guess the culprit in no time.  It's almost like the film thinks we're as stupid as it is.  Banning must now go on the run from his own government that is hunting him down, because the President is unconscious from the attack, and cannot exonerate him.  Even worse, whoever is behind it has linked Mike to a Russian connection, making it look like he was colluding with them to kill the President.  During the whole "on the run" sequence, the movie resembles a low-rent remake of 1993's film adaptation of The Fugitive.  Only, Butler doesn't have the screen presence of Harrison Ford, as he mostly resorts to puffing his chest and flaring his nostrils in his performance.

Angel Has Fallen is the kind of action movie that cranks up the volume or throws in a car chase when it can't think of anything else to do, which is quite often.  The rest of the time, it tries to touch on some issues, such as the trouble soldiers have when their tour of duty ends, or shady government officials who want to lead the nation into a senseless war.  Naturally, none of these issues are elaborated on in any successful way.  The writers just threw them in in order to give the characters something to talk about when they're not engaging in overly edited action scenes that are cut rapidly and with little concern for coherency.  This is a textbook example of a by the book sequel that was clearly thrown together quickly, and is being quietly pushed out in late summer in the hopes it can maybe have a good weekend at the box office, before it fades from the mind of everyone who sees it.

Let's face it, nobody needed this movie, and it didn't need to be made.  The actors showed up and got paid, which is about the level of energy they give to their performances here.  You have to wonder what a talent like Morgan Freeman does to entertain himself on the set, especially when the role requires him mostly to be unconscious when he's on camera.  A documentary about what he does behind the scenes when he's stuck in a movie like this would be more interesting than anything on display here.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ready or Not

I think I would have enjoyed Ready or Not more if the trailers had not already revealed so much.  I'm going to have to tread lightly in this review, as I don't want to ruin more of the experience that the studio already has with their ad campaign.  It's not so much that they've revealed the whole movie in advance, but that they have given us too much information, so we know what to expect long before it starts happening.

The movie is a bloody satire on the wealthy 1% that aims to be a survival thriller, but at the same time, doesn't want to take itself seriously in the slightest, and revel in over the top comedy and bloodshed.  Think The Most Dangerous Game, crossed with the low brow humor of Monty Python.  The combination is sometimes successful.  I will admit to laughing out loud from time to time.  But again, I think the trailer reveals too many highlights.  This is a thin concept propped up by some lovely dark cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, and a fast-paced tone set by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil's Due).  The movie looks great, and the cast is obviously game.  It's the screenplay by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy that my issues start with.

First off, I want to say that I am commonly not offended by vulgarity in movies.  What does offend me is when it is not used well.  Vulgarity is an art, and a good screenplay knows how and when to use it.  A perfect example would be last weekend's Good Boys, which reveled in four-letter words, but used them wisely, and got big laughs from them.  In contrast, Ready or Not uses many of the exact same words, but exploits them in such a way that it just sounds dumb.  It reads like young kids who have just discovered these words, and want to use them in the dialogue as often as possible to show how "mature" they are.  When a movie resorts to repeated vulgar words simply for shock value, I tend to get bored.  It doesn't feel earned here.  The dialogue in this movie often sounds forced, immature, and kind of dumb.  People don't swear this way.  It sounds like the words were slipped in, like the writers thought they were getting away with something, just by having the characters curse repeatedly, and sometimes giving a long string of vulgar language all at once. 

It's hard for me to fully get into a movie when I keep on cringing to myself at the lines the actors are being forced to speak.  There were things I did like here.  The movie has an effective premise, where a young bride (Samara Weaving) has just married into an insanely wealthy family, who insist that she must play a game with them at the stroke of midnight in order to be fully accepted into their family.  The game that is chosen is hide and seek.  While the unsuspecting bride goes to find a place to hide, the other family members load up with guns, axes and crossbows, and begin hunting her.  That's all you really need to know, and all the trailers should have said.  The reason behind the deadly game should have remained a mystery, but the ad campaign even hints at that. 

I am reminded of the Pet Sematary remake from earlier this year, where the ad campaign gave away a crucial twist that the filmmakers made in order to deviate their movie from the source material, and the earlier film adaptation.  If you walk in with this information in advance, there's not much to discover.  I have no idea why studios feel we should have most of the information before we see the movie.  Of course, this is nothing new in Hollywood.  Some have even defended this practice, such as filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, who has often said that people want to know exactly what they're going to get when they go to the movies.  He likened going to the movies to the menu at McDonald's, where you instantly know what the menu is walking in.  It angered me when I initially read this statement back in 2000, and it still angers me.  If there are no surprises to be had, it's often not a fun experience at the movies.

Ready or Not veers strongly from camp humor to equally campy thriller, and doesn't seem all that concerned with anything other than keeping the body count high.  There are a couple moments that hint at suspense, but they are brought down either by a cheap laugh, or some overly CG blood and gore.  I can see how this movie will be a lot of fun for some people.  Heck, like I said, I even found myself laughing from time to time.  But I never fully got invested.  I don't know if it was the fact that I felt like I already knew most of what was going to happen beforehand, or if it was the fact that some of the dialogue just landed with a crashing thud for me.  I wanted to have a lot more fun with this than I was.  It's not a bad movie by any means, and you may like it.  If you're a fan of cheesy humor and gore, you definitely will.

I can easily see this getting a cult following, and I wish the movie all the best.  I just felt like I had already seen it all, except for the stuff that wasn't good enough to be in the trailer, sometimes for obvious reasons.  I don't regret watching it.  I regret watching the trailer beforehand. 

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

No Review of 47 Meters Down: Uncaged This Weekend

Hello, everyone, and I hope you all had a great weekend!

I am writing to inform that I will not be reviewing 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, as it is not screening locally, and is not really the kind of movie I think I will go out of my way to see.  It's been a busy weekend of reviews already anyway.

I will be back very soon, with reviews of Ready or Not on Wednesday, and Angel Has Fallen on Friday, so I hope you all will join me then.

Enjoy the week ahead, and take care, everyone!

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

It's clear that Where'd You Go, Bernadette has been made by talented people.  I found myself admiring a lot of what I saw up on the screen, such as the performances and the settings.  What the movie failed to do was make me feel involved.  This is a dry, disconnected film that never left much of an impression, and pretty much left my head as soon as the end credits started.  This is the last thing we should expect when your movie is directed by Richard Linklater, and stars Cate Blanchett.

In adapting Maria Semple's best-selling novel, Linklater (who co-wrote the screenplay with two others) never quite gets to the emotion that's supposed to be behind the story.  This is a story about a woman named Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who once was viewed as a star in the world of architecture, and had even won the MacArthur "Genius" Grant for her work, until some unfortunate circumstances cut her dreams short.  Now, she's a wife, a mother to a bright young daughter named Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson), and frequently argues with other local mothers, who genuinely don't like her.  Her chief rival is is her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who passes herself off as a "Supermom", with everything under control, but secretly doesn't know how to deal with her own drugged out teenage son. 

It's obvious that everyone in this story is a frustrated, angry individual.  That much comes across loud and clear.  But it constantly feels like Linklater is merely scratching the surface, and that there is so much more to tell here.  I have not read the original book, but I could tell just by watching the movie that something was missing.  The story behind what led Bernadette to end her legendary career seems largely truncated, as if huge pieces of it are missing.  We're not getting all the details, and the script doesn't give what's there the dramatic weight that it needs.  There is something off here.  The characters are always talking about things that should be dramatic and powerful, but they don't quite have the intended effect.  We learn that Bernadette suffered multiple miscarriages before she gave birth to Bee, but the scene where she shares this information seems like it's just kind of pushing this information out there, rather than giving it the impact it should have.  At one point, Bee says that her mother is her best friend, but we don't really get to see that, as the movie never quite touches upon their relationship as strongly as it should.

The whole movie is kind of like that.  I wanted to get involved with these people, and I kept on waiting for the movie to really kick into gear and let these performances by these actors truly stand out.  Instead, the film just kind of meanders along, not really making much of an impression.  This also causes the relationship with Bernadette's husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), less fulfilling than it should be.  This is strange, as it plays such a huge part in the story.  Her husband is clearly worried about her wife's behavior in recent years.  He fears she is suffering from depression, due to her current state and what happened in her past.  Of course, he is not home around enough to truly notice his wife.  Still, he stages an intervention, which leads Bernadette to literally run away, leaving her life behind, and making her way to Antarctica, so that she can do something on her own, and truly live again.

I assume that all of this works better on the page, where we can truly get inside the minds of these characters.  Up on the screen, Where'd You Go, Bernadette gives us just enough information to go on, without really telling us more than it needs to.  We don't fully understand why Bernadette is so manic, sometimes standoffish, and at times borderline rude.  We don't understand much about her rivalry with many of the local moms.  We don't get much feeling between the relationship with both her husband and teenage daughter, which seems to be a big part of the story that is being told.  Most of all, when Bernadette does decide to run away from it all, we don't get much self-discovery, or much of her finding herself again.  It seems that Blanchett is trying to work overtime here, giving a memorably quirky performance, but she just can't carry this leaden screenplay all by herself.  Neither can the rest of the cast, all of whom are very good, but are not given enough to play off of by the script.

Maybe I would understand these characters better if I had read the book, which I think I might do.  I was intrigued by a lot of the possibilities that this movie points at, but never acts upon.  For a movie about trying to find your creative spark again, this is very cut and dry.  It's been made with some skill, and some of the scenes work, but it simply never resonated.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Good Boys

Good Boys is being advertised as a raunchy comedy about three 12-year-old boys who drop "F-bombs" in their dialogue like they are being paid by the amount of times they say it, and get involved in situations involving sex toys, drugs and alcohol.  Having seen it, I can definitely say that it lives up to that reputation.  But, it's also surprisingly sharp and wise, both in its humor and in its depiction of what it's like to be at that "tween" age.  It's also kind of sweet and likable, without going all soft and gooey, like a lot of "edgy" comedies often do.

The kids are innocents who have been plopped into a Hard-R comedy, and that's part of the fun.  They talk about adult things, but often don't know what they're talking about in the first place.  This is funny, and very true to boys of the age.  At one point, one of the kids says that a nymphomaniac is someone "who has sex on both land and sea".  Not only does that line get a laugh, but it has a ring of truth to it.  Boys that age clearly don't know about these kind of things, but like to pretend that they do.  Some of the best gags in the film are built around the idea that these boys keep on finding themselves in over their heads, but don't want it to show.  At one point, a teenager starts talking about taking molly, and one of the boys reasonably asks, "Who's she?".

But the movie is also largely about adolescence, and that strange period in everyone's life when they start Middle School.  Max (Jacob Tremblay), and his two best friends Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are at that pivotal age.  They've just started sixth grade, and they plan to face it together the same way that they faced elementary school - with each of them constantly having each other's backs.  But only two weeks into the school year, there is already signs that they may be going down different paths in life.  Max is starting to show an interest in girls, and wants to talk to who he is certain is his forever love, his young classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis).  Thor loves singing, has a great voice, and dreams of auditioning for this year's school musical, Rock of Ages.  However, he's much more concerned about being seen as "cool" by the popular kids, so he is constantly bragging about how much sex he's had, and how many beers he's stolen.  As for Lucas, he's the naive and sweet natured member of the trio.  He's the one who's still interested in trading card games, and fully believes that his two friends still feel the same way he does about things like cartoons and video games.

Like many coming of age stories, Good Boys covers a pivotal moment where their friendship will be tested, and go on an adventure.  In this movie's case, the adventure is kicked off when Max accidentally breaks his dad's (a funny Will Forte) prized drone.  His dad's away on business, so the kids have two days to get another one to replace it.  If they don't, Max will not be able to go to the "cool kids" party that he got invited to, and he won't get to have the chance to kiss Brixlee.  This leads to a series of run-ins with cops, angry frat boys, and the most mysterious creatures of all to boys of this age, teenage girls.  All the while, they try to learn about kissing via various means, as they don't want to be seen as lame when they eventually go to the big party.  This leads to some unfortunate searches on the Internet, and learning that Thor's parents have some very kinky interests judging by the stuff they have in their room.

I can easily see how a movie like this could have gone wrong, but co-writer and director Gene Stupnitsky (Bad Teacher) handles this material by giving it a certain innocence, and some genuinely funny dialogue.  While the humor and language is often crude, it never goes to such offensive extremes that I was turned off.  The movie is first and foremost a lot of fun, and when it places these boys into horrible situations or ones that they could not and should not understand at their age, it gets laughs out of how the young heroes so wrongly react to them.  When Max gives the girl he likes a gift (which I won't spoil here), the humor comes not from what it is, but the fact that both he and the girl are too young to know what it is.  The film also impresses in how it creates a genuine and honest friendship between the three boys.  The young actors work wonderfully with each other, and never seem to be playing for the cameras, like many lesser child stars.

Good Boys might have a dirty mind, but it also has a lot on its mind.  Most of all, it knows how to express these ideas it has, and do so with genuine humor and more heart than you might expect.  The trailer might convince you that it just wants to be a good time.  It certainly is, but fortunately, it's a lot more.

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