Reel Opinions


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Show Dogs

Watching Show Dogs, I was reminded of a movie from a couple summers ago called Nine Lives.  That was the movie where Kevin Spacey was a New York businessman who slipped into a coma and found his soul transported into the body of his daughter's new cat, and how he learned to be a better father by being a cat, and with the help of a mysterious pet store owner played by Christopher Walken.  I was reminded, because just like that movie, this one represents a new low point in both children's entertainment and talking animal movies.

Now, Nine Lives was a lousy movie.  I even named it one of the 10 Worst Films of 2016.  But, at least it was kind of interesting, because it had a premise that was bat-crap crazy, and actors who had no place being anywhere near it.  Show Dogs, on the other hand, is a fairly routine movie about a police dog named Max (voice by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) who is teamed up with a human FBI agent (Will Arnett, who is slumming it here, and seems to know it) to go undercover at a Las Vegas dog show that is acting as a front for a criminal gang that has stolen a rare baby panda from a zoo, and are planning to sell it.  The movie shows us how Max the dog learns how hard it is to be a "show dog", and learns to trust his human partner as well.  Meanwhile, his human partner learns how to love dogs.  So, it's kind of like Miss Congeniality meets Turner and Hooch.  The Tom Hanks dog movie actually gets mentioned in the dialogue a couple times, but the Sandra Bullock film does not.

All of the dogs in the movie talk with the aid of unconvincing special effects that often looks like lip flap, or a film loop on repeat.  In my experience, I prefer it when we get to hear what an animal is thinking, rather than using special effects to make it look like the animal is talking.  It's also kind of confusing how the movie treats its talking animals, as it often seems like the human characters can't hear or understand what the dogs are saying.  And then, sometimes it seems like they can.  If the special effects used to make the dogs talk are terrible, then the ones used to show the dogs doing stunts are flat out abysmal.  During the film, we see Max leap off of walls Matrix-style, and swing from ropes to perform a daring rescue.  In the film's most embarrassing moment, we get a fantasy sequence where Will Arnett and the dog recreate the climactic dance scene from Dirty Dancing, with the dog lifting Arnett up into the air.  Yes.

I don't ask a lot from talking dog movies.  Maybe a clever line of dialogue, or a sweet moment or two.  Show Dogs is bankrupt not only in the realm of special effects, but also in terms of writing, acting and directing.  The actors who provide the voices for the various dogs that aid Max in his mission include the likes of Stanley Tucci (also slumming it), Shaquille O'Neal, Gabriel Iglesias, Jordin Sparks, RuPaul, and Alan Cumming.  This film serves as yet another odd career note in Cumming's resume, who is normally a fine actor, but often finds himself drawn to garbage kiddie films like this, Son of the Mask and The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas.  None of the animals or their accompanying voices get to make much of an impression, but it works out, since the writers forgot to give us an interesting human character.  Meanwhile, the direction by Raja Gosnell (who has been responsible for other talking dog movies, like Scooby-Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua) is so flat, the movie often looks like a direct to DVD movie, which is really what it should be, rather than taking up valuable theater space.

Here is a movie that shows us that dogs can dance, pose, and even fly airplanes or drive cars.  What it can't do is create any entertainment value from these images.  You would think that would be hard to do.  At the very least, the filmmakers have pulled off what would seem to be impossible.  Maybe next time they'll pull off a movie worth watching.

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Book Club

Book Club is a perfectly standard and sweet movie that is lifted up by the incredible cast it managed to rope in.  Even if the movie is nothing to shout about, it's likable, and it's also a lot of fun to watch the actors play off one another.  How can it not be fun when you have Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen sharing the screen?  Throw in winning performances by Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss and Craig T. Nelson as the men in their lives, and it's almost impossible not to enjoy yourself.

The plot finds the four leading ladies as best friends since their college days, who get together for their Book Club where every month, they pick a book to read and, at their next meeting, they discuss their thoughts.  Vivian (Fonda) is the owner of a luxury hotel, and the most flirtatious and sexually active of the group.  Diane (Keaton) is a recent widow who is trying to live her life, but her overly protective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) constantly fret over her, and are afraid of her living on her own.  Sharon (Bergen) is a Federal Judge who is still hung up on her divorce from 18 years ago, and is taking the first steps into on line dating.  Finally, Carol (Steenburgen) is a successful restaurant owner who is desperately trying to liven up her relationship with her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who has become emotionally distant and uninterested in physical intimacy since his retirement.

At their latest meeting, it is Vivian's turn to pick this month's book, and she has chosen 50 Shades of Grey.  Her friends initially don't seem enthused about reading a "sex book", but as they start to read it, they are all captivated by the kinky exploits of the novel's heroine and her sexual awakening.  The movie misses ample opportunities for satire regarding the trilogy of Grey books, but it's really not important, since the books serve as a jumping off point for the plot, not the basis.  Each of the women find their own love lives reignited around this same time.  Vivian has a hook up with a former flame named Arthur (Don Johnson, whose daughter Dakota starred in the film versions of the 50 Shades books).  He proposed to her once, and she rejected, but has never forgotten him.  Now he's back in her life, and their love is rekindled.  Diane finds herself having a fling with an airline pilot named Mitchell (Andy Garcia, charming and funny here) that could lead to a real romance.  Sharon has a dinner date with a man from the dating site named George (Richard Dreyfuss) that could grow into something more.  And Carol becomes more determined than ever to spice up her relationship with Bruce.

Book Club is a movie that has been written with a predetermined path and destination, and is another one of those movies where you could walk out of the theater for a half hour, come back, and amaze your friends by accurately guessing what has happened while you were out.  And yet, the movie does have plenty of small laughs and even some big ones here and there, which helps liven things a little.  But it is the chemistry of the actors that really makes the film worth watching.  After all, a romantic comedy like this lives and dies on the fact that we want to see the characters get together in the end, and that we like the characters or the performances.  Here, we not only get some great scenes when all four of the lead women are together (they give off a comfortable vibe that helps with the illusion that they have been friends for over 50 years), but we also get a lot of great individual romantic scenes with the women and their respective men.  In particular, Fonda and Johnson create a lot of sparks in their scenes, as do Keaton and Garcia.  Everyone brings a certain warmth and personality to the film that you eventually don't care if you've heard the story before and better.  You just enjoy the company.

If I were to single out my favorite couple in the film, it would easily be Keaton/Garcia.  Keaton is sweet as a woman who finds her life worth living again, while Garcia delivers the film's funniest performance, getting off some great one liners.  Fonda and Johnson are wonderful together as well, particularly during a scene when they share a conversation in a diner that holds a lot of memories for them.  Steenburgen and Nelson don't stand out as much, but this is intentional, since their relationship is supposed to be mostly distant.  That being said, the climax to their story is probably the most memorable.  Only Bergen is a semi-weak point, as the movie doesn't do enough with her personal journey.  Her best moments are when she is with the other women. 

I wouldn't say that Book Club has any deep insights into love and relationships, but it doesn't pretend to.  It's just a sweet movie that serves as a nice alternative for older viewers looking for their own summer movie the same weekend that Deadpool 2 is gobbling up the young adult market.  The movie is charming enough to work, and the performances only help lift it.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Deadpool 2

As a sequel, Deadpool 2 is not interested in advancing the plot or the characters from the 2016 original.  It's entire purpose is to give the audience more of what worked the first time around.  If that's all you want, you will likely enjoy this film.  Or, if you're like me, you'll find it a lot of fun for the most part, but it also starts to wear on you a little past the halfway mark.

Here's Ryan Reynolds back once again as the red-suited mercenary who frequently breaks the fourth wall in order to address the audience (at one point, he stops a scene in order to discuss the domestic gross of his last movie), or make numerous pop culture references.  The references this time around range from Barbara Streisand in Yentl, to 80s mainstays like The Goonies and Say Anything, and naturally, we get to hear his thoughts on both the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes up to this point.  He's as foul-mouthed as ever, and the tone of the film once again resembles a Mad Magazine take on the Marvel Film formula.  Not much has changed for our hero, and despite a new director at the helm (David Leitch, of John Wick and Atomic Blonde), the movie looks and feels the same, except maybe a bigger budget which allows for some larger action set pieces.

For the most part, it works.  It was probably smart not to stir the pot too much and shake things up.  After all, these movies are not about the plot or character development, they're largely an excuse to laugh at some raunchy jokes at the expense of comic book movies in general, and the X-Men franchise in particular. (In one of the film's best gags, we get to find out why Xavier's Mansion is so empty whenever Deadpool drops by.) The jokes are hit and miss, as is to be expected, but you always admire the movie for trying.  The cast clearly loves making these movies, and while I don't know if there is enough fuel in this franchise for the approach to work a third time, you feel like the cast would be ready to show up at work again tomorrow if it meant working together again.  The energy of the cast prevents Deadpool 2 from feeling like too much of a retread. 

As the film opens, we find Deadpool's true identity, Wade Wilson, in a suicidal slump after Wolverine was killed off at the end of last year's Logan, as well as some other recent events that have hit him hard.  However, he is brought back into action when a soldier from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin, the Marvel Movie Heavy Du Jour) travels back in time in order to assassinate a young boy with mutant powers (Julian Dennison) that will supposedly bring about an apocalyptic event unless he is stopped before his powers can grow to their fullest.  To combat the threat, Deadpool must form his own superhero team, which he dubs X-Force, but mostly partners up with a mutant named Domino (Zazie Beets), whose superpower is built around luck, and is definitely the stand out of the new characters introduced in this film.  No offense to Brolin, who does a fine job, but Beets not only holds her own against Reynolds' motor mouth comic routine, but gets to kick a lot of ass during the action sequences as well.

There are celebrity cameos (one of them is literally a blink and you'll miss it moment) and in-jokes a plenty.  There also seems to be a much stronger emphasis on big action set pieces this time around, which while well-staged, do get a bit tiresome and probably could have been trimmed back. (This is a longer film than the last one, and it feels like it while you're watching it.) What saves the action from being too overwhelming and prevents the audience from completely zoning out over the 9th or 10th car being flipped over are the intentionally odd soundtrack choices that are used to score these scenes.  Hearing Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" chime in while Deadpool slaughters a room full of thugs, or "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" from the musical Annie playing over a scene of mass destruction at least gives the movie a bit of distinction over the usual blockbuster fare. 

It's all in good fun, but like I said, it can be a bit much.  Due to the longer running time, Deadpool 2 does come dangerously close to being a joke stretched too thin, especially during the last half hour.  However, just when you think the movie is starting to be washed up, it will come along with a big laugh that puts you in a better mood.  Trust me, this is one time you don't want to leave when the end credits start, risk of missing some of the best jokes in the film.  Fortunately, they come early enough in the end credits, so you don't have to sit all the way through. (There's nothing after the very end.) I realize that this is a long-winded way of saying that the movie is uneven but ultimately it works, but hey, the movie can be pretty long-winded too.

Deadpool 2 is almost certain to be a massive hit over the coming weeks, but I'm kind of hoping that the studio leaves it here.  Of course, that's not how Hollywood works, so I'm sure we'll be seeing Reynolds donning the costume again soon.  If the deal Disney is making with Fox currently goes through, I'm sure we'll be seeing even more of him.  Regardless, you pretty much already know if you will like this movie or not based on your feelings toward the last one.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Breaking In

Breaking In, the new home invasion thriller, is being advertised as a Mother's Day movie, because it's about a mom (played by Gabrielle Union) trying to save her two kids from a bunch of crooks who break into her house.  I feel like I've just given away the entire movie with that one sentence, because that's literally all there is to this.  Oh, I forgot to mention, the criminals she faces against are so dumb, they make Harry and Marv, the burglars from the first two Home Alone movies, look like masterminds.

As the film opens, Shaun Russell (Union), and her two kids Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) are taking a ride to the wooded area of Wisconsin, where Shaun's late father had a high-tech fortified fortress of a mansion where he used to do some shady and illegal dealings.  She never had a good relationship with her dad, and hasn't seen him since she was a child.  But, she figures his place could draw in a nice profit if she sells it.  Why she is bringing the kids along to a known felon's hideout, instead of leaving them behind with her husband (Jason George), only screenwriter Ryan Eagle knows for sure.  They arrive at the massive and sprawling house, which has been set up with every advance security and computer-controlled contraption known to man.  And before the home invaders show up, we get a good 10 minutes of Shaun wandering around the house, mostly calling out for her kids. (She says "Glover" so much during this sequence, it could inspire a drinking game where you take a shot each time she says his name.)

When the crooks do arrive, it turns out that they murdered her father in order to get at a safe that's hidden inside the house, and supposedly holds millions of dollars.  They cut the power to the security system, which according to this movie, gives them 90 minutes to find the money and get out before the police show up.  You would think cutting power to the security system would notify the police much quicker, but logic has no place here.  The bad guys did not expect anyone to be home, and quickly kidnap the two kids.  They try to grab Shaun also, but she apparently has the same "certain set of skills" that Liam Neeson possessed in the Taken movies, and can stay one step ahead of them and dispatch them with brute and deadly force.  There are quite a few scenes of brutal violence, but they have been cleverly edited so the movie can have the "golden" PG-13 rating.  I guess the filmmakers wanted a movie where the criminals slit a woman's neck, and the hero stabs someone to death with his own knife, to be one that the whole family could see together.

The four villains who are holding the kids hostage are Eddie (Billy Burke), the cold and calculating leader, Peter (Mark Furze), who seems to have the closest thing to a conscience, as he doesn't want to hurt the kids, Duncan (Richard Cabral), who is a raving psychopath, and Sam (Levi Meaden), who gets dispatched so quickly in the film that we never really get to see what part he played in the scheme. (The dialogue tells us he was the tech guy of the operation.) The thrill of the film is supposed to come from seeing an ordinary woman like Shaun rise up and fight to protect her kids, and it would be thrilling, if Shaun ever came across as being an ordinary woman  She has the fighting and stealth skills of a trained assassin, and seems like she has been waiting her entire life for the moment when she would get to save the people she loves from incompetent crooks.  I kept on waiting for the scene where we would actually find out about this woman and where she trained, but it never comes.  We actually learn nothing about her.

The only way a movie like Breaking In could work is if it delivered on some simple and cheap thrills, which it never does.  Even at 88 minutes, the movie seems to drag its feet to the inevitable conclusion that we all know is coming.  Director James McTeigue (2005's V for Vendetta) does give the film a certain slick look, but it's all at the expense of a story that is too stupid, and characters that are barely there.

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Life of the Party

I'm willing to admit that the problem lies with me.  I detested Life of the Party with such ferocity and with every fiber of my being that I have to wonder if the movie really is as bad as I remember it being.  This is a film that rubbed me the wrong way from beginning to end.  It's not just that this is yet another comedy with no laughs.  It's toothless, pointless, and just obnoxious.

After my screening, I found myself going back over the movie in my mind, looking for any scrap of honesty or inspiration.  I found none.  There's also not a single second that seems to be based on real life.  The movie is just a colossal miscalculation on every level.  For one thing, I don't think the movie is even really all that interested in being funny.  It would rather be nice, and is so concerned with having us fall in love with its characters that it forgets to be funny.  Comedy works best when there is an edge, or a kind of truth behind it.  This movie just wants to be a pleasant time, but goes about it all wrong, making its characters into insufferable saps who are brainless and dull.

The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, a 40-something woman who gets dumped by her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) in the film's opening scene.  He's fallen in love with another woman (Julie Bowen), and kicks her out of her own home.  With nowhere to go and her life seemingly at a dead end, Deanna begins to think back on how she dropped out of college right before her Senior year, because she became pregnant with her only daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon).  With Maddie herself now about to start her Senior year at Decatur University, Deanna decides to join her and enrolls in an archeology course so that she can finish school.  What she plans to do beyond this, the movie never clues us in.

If you want to see this exact same idea done with actual humor, go and watch Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 film, Back to School.  Like I said, Life of the Party just wants to be nice, and not ruffle any feathers.  It's so insistent on not letting its audience think, that it virtually has no plot.  It's simply 105 minutes of failed sketches that revolve around Deanna bonding with Maddie's sorority sisters, helping cheer up her depressed and gloomy goth roommate, getting into arguments with a couple of mean girls who pick on her, and falling in love with a guy at school who is much younger than her.  None of these plots go anywhere, mean anything, or build to any substance.  Some don't even get resolved, the movie just seems to forget about them.  There's also a curious subplot dealing with Deanna being nervous about having to give an oral report in her class, because she's afraid to speak in front of people.  I say it is curious, because throughout the movie, Deanna frequently dances or performs in front of hundreds of people, even getting up on stage and singing with Christina Aguilera in concert at one point.  Someone who could get on stage and match dance moves with a pop star in front of thousands of cheering fans would have no problem giving a speech in class.

Also curious is how the movie treats the character of Maddie, the daughter.  It never seems quite sure what she thinks about her mom going to school with her.  When she first hears the news, she naturally seems nervous, and maybe embarrassed.  But then, a couple scenes later, she's supportive and encouraging Deanna to come to a frat party with her and her friends.  Later in the movie, when Deanna finds out that her ex-husband is getting married to his new woman, Deanna and her friends decide to crash the wedding and trash it.  Maddie, who happens to be attending her dad's wedding, again seems embarrassed.  But the very next scene, she's helping to arrange a big party that can raise money to keep Maddie in school, since her ex-husband has cut her off financially after her stunt.  We never get the expected scene where mother and daughter work through their problems and explore their relationship.  I guess the filmmakers feared that scene would take away time from more pivotal scenes where Deanna wears funny clothes, falls over things, and does funny dances.

I would normally say that Melissa McCarthy (who is usually much better than the desperately unfunny performance she gives here) was probably roped into this project somehow, but it turns out she co-wrote the script with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the film.  So, this is clearly her vision, and the movie she wanted to make.  If that's true, I can only chalk this up to a moment of complete and utter lack of judgement on her part.  I'm sure she'll be back to her senses soon.  I can only hope, because I don't know if I can take another movie like this.  Life of the Party is so bad, it makes Billy Madison with Adam Sandler look like a thoughtful and quiet meditation on the education process.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Overboard

WRITER'S NOTE: As I stated last weekend, the remake of Overboard did not arrive at my local theater, so I was not planning to review it.  However, it did show up this weekend, and so I have seen it, and now, you are reading my thoughts.  My apologizes to Mr. Elmer Homero. (See his comment to my post from last weekend about not reviewing it.) All I can say is that I hope you appreciate what I do for you readers.


1987's Overboard has never been a favorite of mine, but it at least has a kind of energy to it, and a likable leading team up by real life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.  By contrast, this 2018 remake seems to have had all the life drained from it to the point that the film becomes a slow, meandering slog.  The movie picks certain moments to recreate from the original, only in a manner that can only be described as "Dead on Arrival".  It doesn't help that the lead stars Anna Farris and Eugenio Derbez possess no chemistry up on the screen, and often seem as bored as the audience likely is with this material.

Now both Farris and Derbez can be likable with the right material, but this movie gives them nothing to work with.  We are supposed to be watching them fall in love, and watching Derbez transform from a spoiled and entitled wealthy heir, to a genuine family man.  However, I didn't buy a single second of their relationship, not even when they start out hating each other, because the two stars sleepwalk through their individual roles.  I also didn't buy the premise, which suggests that a woman with three young daughters would allow a strange man she barely knows to live with her and be around her kids, acting as their father.  I know, the original movie has the exact same premise, only gender-reversed. (In the original, it was the Hawn character who was the spoiled and entitled brat, and Russell as the family man with the kids.) The idea was hard enough to swallow in 1987.  In 2018, it's nearly impossible.

Farris plays Kate, a single mom juggling trying to raise three precocious daughters who talk and act like they stepped out of a sitcom (Is this a good time to point out that the film's director, Rob Greenberg, has worked solely in television up to this point?), while also holding down two jobs as a pizza delivery driver and a carpet cleaner, and studying to take a nursing exam.   One of her carpet cleaning jobs brings her face-to-face with Leonardo (Derbez), a billionaire playboy living off his father's fortune, who has never worked a day in his life, and spends all of his time sailing on his luxury yacht.  When Kate is hired to clean the carpets on the yacht, the two instantly are at odds with one another, and it all ends with Leonardo pushing her off of his ship, and throwing her cleaning equipment into the water.  Some time later, Leonardo ends up falling off his own ship in a drunken stupor, crashes into the sea, and winds up losing his memory.

He washes ashore in the small town of Elk Grove, Oregon, and checks himself into a local hospital, where a doctor happens to observe that there was an amnesia case just like this "with a pretty blonde woman back in the 80s". (So, if the people in this town are aware about the events in the original, is this a sequel that just happens to have the exact same plot, or what?)  Kate finds out about Leonardo having lost his memory, and under the urging of her best friend (Eva Longoria), sets up a scheme where she convinces Leonardo and everyone else that he is her husband and father to her three kids.  Her plan is to take revenge on him by having him cook and clean for her, and also do backbreaking labor for a friend's construction company.  She also makes him sleep on a cot in a shed in the backyard, instead of allowing him to sleep in the house.  But, little by little, Leonardo turns out to be a wiz in the kitchen, and great with the kids.  Kate starts to fall for him, and also starts to feel terrible about what she is doing to him.

As a movie, Overboard barely has a pulse.  It simply goes through the motions, recreating famous moments or lines of dialogue from the original, and throwing in a few nods here and there that fans can point at.  When it's not playing on our memories, it's a lifeless and dreary affair.  The movie can barely muster enough enthusiasm to give us scenes where Leonardo is supposed to be changing his ways and bonding with Kate and her girls.  Speaking of Kate's kids, they're basically treated as a throwaway plot device used only when convenient.  He helps the youngest daughter learn how to ride a bike without training wheels, and has a scene where he talks to the oldest 13-year-old girl about boys, but that's about it.  We never get a sense of any real personal connection.  It's even more pathetic that we never feel any sort of connection between Kate and Leonardo at any time.  The script doggedly tries to tell us they're falling for each other, but due to Greenberg's lifeless direction and the hollow line readings by the stars, we feel absolutely no electricity.

It's almost as if the filmmakers knew that the central romance was a lost cause, because it keeps on trying to distract us with subplots about Leonardo's scheming sister trying to fake his death so she can take over father's company herself, and a bunch of tired pratfalls when Leonardo tries his hand at manual labor for the first time working for the construction company.  This leads to a lot of unnecessary scenes that the movie would be better off without, and would have made it shorter and perhaps more bearable. (As it stands, the movie runs an overlong two hours.) This is such a drab little movie that generates little to no laughs, and makes you wish you were watching the two talented lead stars lending their abilities to something else.  There are few more depressing experiences at the movies than watching a film that is completely and utterly bankrupt in inspiration, and watching the stars doing their best to put on a brave face, but their misery still manages to show through.

Overboard is a witless and unnecessary remake of a movie that wasn't very good the first time around, but glows in comparison to what's on display here.  Its sole purpose seems to be to gender swap the two lead roles, and it seems to have lost any sort of meaning after that decision was made.  If you don't have enough inspiration beyond changing the genders of the main characters, maybe you shouldn't be making the movie in the first place.

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Saturday, May 05, 2018

No Review of Overboard This Weekend

I was planning to see and review the new remake of Overboard starring Anna Farris and Eugenio Derbez this weekend, but for whatever reason, my theater decided not to carry it.  And since it's not exactly the kind of movie I'm going to go out of my way to seek out, I will not be reviewing the film.

I already have reviews of both Tully and Bad Samaritan up for this weekend, and that will be it until next weekend, when I will be reviewing the new Melissa McCarthy comedy, Life of the Party, and the thriller, Breaking In.

Until then, I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the weekend, and has a great week ahead!

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Bad Samaritan

Filmmaker Dean Devlin is most famous for having a hand in big budget spectacles like Independence Day, 1998's Godzilla, and last year's Geostorm.  But with Bad Samaritan, he tries his hand with a smaller budget, and tells a thriller story that's one part Hitchcock, one part Saw, and almost completely nuts.  It's a ludicrous thriller that happens to work if you're in the right frame of mind.  The film is shot very well, and it does have a few suspenseful moments.  It's not a great or exactly a smart movie, but then it's not pretending to be.

Despite a more stripped down budget than he's used to, Devlin seems to relish telling the story here of a small-time con artist who finds himself in over his head when he accidentally steps into the world of a madman serial killer and torturer.  The movie is loose, fun a lot of the time, and is filled with actors who know what kind of movie they're in, and go full tilt.  This is especially true of former Doctor Who star, David Tennant, who plays the serial killer with the kind of insane gusto that gives new meaning to the expression "chewing the scenery".  He's completely unhinged up on the screen, and he doesn't apologize for a second.  As the small-time con artist who serves as the titular "bad Samaritan", we have up and coming Irish actor, Robert Sheehan, who is likable as a kid who has made some bad choices in life, but at least knows right from wrong.

Sheehan plays Sean, a budding photographic artist who takes a job as a valet at a fancy restaurant in order to make money on the side.  Not wanting to live off just on tips, he and his friend at work Derek (Carlito Olivero) run a pretty simple scheme.  They take your keys, but instead of parking your car while you go inside to eat, they use your car's GPS to find out where you live, swiftly take any small valuables that they think you won't notice are gone right away, and then bring the car back by the time you finish dessert.  Sean and Derek do have a sort of ethics code.  They only go after rude, wealthy people who will probably stiff them on the tip anyway.  The movie's not exactly making these guys out to be heroes, but it does have a lot of fun in showing their criminal exploits, and it even leads to some moments of humor. (There's an almost slapstick-inspired sequence when Derek comes across a dog while he's robbing a victim's house.)

One night, the wonderfully-named Cale Erendreich (Tennant) pulls up in his Maserati, and immediately strikes a tone of a self-important wealthy jerk who thinks that himself and his various shady business dealings are more important than anything or anyone else around him.  He gives Sean and Derek explicit orders not to touch his car in any way after handing them the keys, acting like it's the greatest thing in his self-obsessed universe.  In other words, he's a perfect mark for the two guys.  Sean gets the task of scoping out any valuables in Cale's house, which is only three minutes away from the restaurant.  After swiping a new and unopened credit card and stealing some personal information for identity theft, he finds a locked room, and inside he discovers a woman (Kerry Condon) tied up and gagged in the corner.  He also finds a variety of torture tools in a different room just off the garage.

Naturally, Sean freaks out, and eventually chickens out when he has the opportunity to save the woman.  Right then and there, he denounces his criminal life, but he can't get the vision of the woman out of his mind.  Sean becomes obsessed with trying to help the woman.  He goes to the police and even the FBI, freely admitting what he was doing in the house to begin with, and trying to get anyone to listen.  But, whenever the police pay Erendreich a visit, they find nothing.  It doesn't help that Sean has a sketchy past and a record with the law, so they're not exactly keen to believe him to begin with.  Thus begins a battle of wits, as Sean tries to use his skill with technology to uncover the truth about Cale and expose him, while Cale meanwhile is an unhinged psychopath with money to burn, who uses his vast fortune and resources to destroy Sean's life, hurt his friends and family, and even blow up his own multi-million dollar house when he knows that Sean is inside looking for answers.

Bad Samaritan veers dangerously close to being a tacky thriller, such as not really giving its characters a lot of motivation for some of their actions.  Aside from fleeting flashbacks to a moment in his childhood, we don't really know why Cale is such an unhinged psycho to the point that he has a cabin in the woods furnished with a large cage for which to hold his prisoners, complete with a voice activated shock collar that he puts around their neck.  What saves the film is that while there are plenty of moments of bad taste and shock value, it does not revel in it to extremes.  The movie is far too silly and over the top to take seriously anyway, and the filmmakers strike a good balance between genuine thriller elements, and sheer goofiness, such as pretty much any moment Tennant is on camera and gets to monologue.  Sheehan also manages to be sympathetic and kind of clever as the anti-hero who has been doing wrong most of his life in order to support his dreams, but now wants to do the right thing.  He creates a fairly rounded and likable character from a fairly thinly written outline provided by screenwriter Brandon Boyce.

It also has to be said that for all of its silliness, the movie is effective in some simple ways.  Yes, there are a bit too many "jump scares" than a movie like this needs, but it must be said, the scenes where Sean is exploring Cale's house, or trying to stay one step ahead from his psychotic tormentor do have some genuine thrills to them.  The fact that it manages to deliver some genuine thrills, when so many movies fail to do even that, shows a certain kind of effectiveness at the filmmaking level.  This is not a great movie, but it's been made with skill, and there's enough here that I enjoyed that I am recommending the film.  Devlin doesn't exactly show nuance or subtlety with his directing here, but he at least shows that he has a sense of atmosphere and suspense when the need arises.  The movie has a cold and sleek look to it that I admired, and seemed to fit the tone of the film.

Bad Samaritan is goofy enough to work as a basic guilty pleasure, but it at least has a style to it that lets you know that the cast and crew were determined to make something out of it.  To me, they succeeded.  The only consequence that I can see coming from this is that parking valets may be eyed a bit more suspiciously from now on.

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Tully

Tully is the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, their previous efforts being 2007's Juno and 2011's Young Adult.  This film marks a maturity for both of them, and continues to show how their teaming up brings out the best in both of their talents.  This is a movie that revels in the truths and uncomfortable realities about motherhood, combining a dry sense of humor with the deeply personal as well as the magical.

There is plenty of Cody's trademark snarky humor on display, as well as her ability for strong dialogue mixed with humorous pop culture references such as Epcot Center, Pinky and the Brain and Monster High.  However, she also shows a a wisdom and a certain quiet honesty that she hasn't before in her previous screenplays.  Tully feels deeply personal, and I was not surprised to learn that this film was inspired by the birth of her third child.  The impact that this event has had on her life allows her to be very raw and emotional.  It is also an intimate film, and the way the narrative wraps you under its spell is so unexpected.  It doesn't even seem all that plot-heavy for a majority of its running time, but after the final scenes played out, I found myself thinking back on everything before it more and more.  This is a movie to slowly savor before we get the rush of summer blockbusters in a couple weeks.

And carrying the entire film is the superb performance by Charlize Theron, who has never been afraid to appear unglamorous on the big screen.  This time, she dives head-first into the dark side of being a mother, frequently disheveled, and seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  It's a brutal, frequently honest, and funny performance.  She plays Marlo, a suburban mom with two kids already, and a third due any day as the film opens.  This pregnancy wasn't planned, and at 40-years-old, she thinks she's too old to be going through raising a baby again.  Her other two kids are the insecure Sarah (Lia Frankland), and six-year-old Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who is autistic and struggling in public school kindergarten.  Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) is supportive, and helps make the lunches and with Sarah's homework.  But he is also dragged down by his job, and has to travel a lot for work.  When he plays video games in bed before going to sleep, he's not ignoring his wife or her problems.  It's just that he needs to unwind himself in his own way, and they never have time to talk about what's going on.

Marlo gives birth to a baby girl named Mia, and seems detached from most of the process of having a baby.  She is in a zombie-like state as she struggles to take care of this new child, while setting time aside for her other two kids and their needs.  The stress brings about horrific nightmares, and if Marlo seemed like she was on the verge of a breakdown before, by this point, she looks like she's had multiple.  Her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) notices this, and offers to hire a night nanny for her, someone who can take care of the baby and everything else in the house every night so that Marlo can catch up on her sleep and rest.  Marlo is not keen on the idea, thinking the idea of inviting a strange woman into her house to take care of her baby "sounds like a Lifetime Movie" that would not end well.  But then she meets the nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and little by little, she seems like the miracle that Marlo has been waiting for.

Tully is essentially a free-spirited Mary Poppins with a perfect body, and the kind of optimistic look on life that can be contagious.  She's wise beyond her 26 years, and seems to have advice that suits any and every situation.  She even has time to clean up the house while everyone is sleeping, and can bake an array of cupcakes for Jonah to bring to his class.  The more time Marlo spends with her, the more she begins to remember who she used to be before she got married, and a friendship begins to grow between the two women.  They have a deep and personal understanding with one another, and frequently spend time talking.  However, both characters are much more complex than they initially appear, and as Cody's screenplay slowly builds their relationship, we learn to love these women.  We also fall in love with the easy chemistry that Theron and Davis display in all of their scenes together.

As a movie, Tully goes to some unexpected places that I will not reveal here.  But even before it starts surprising us, it has a lot of honesty and truths to say about the pressures of raising a family, and how important it is to take care of yourself, even when it is your job to take care of everyone else around you.  It expresses these views in ways that are smart, funny, and subtle.  It's also a film filled with small, wonderful moments.  There is one scene where a teacher at school helps little Jonah calm down after he becomes upset that is so beautiful.  It has nothing to do with the plot really, but you're glad it's in the final cut, because it's one of the most truthful scenes depicting calming down an autistic child I have ever seen in a film.  This is a mature and heartfelt film that feels like it's been made from experience.  You can feel how personal a project this was while you're watching it, and you can sense it in the writing, directing and performances, all of which have a sense of reality we seldom see from Hollywood.

This is the rare kind of film where I found myself wanting to spend more time exploring these characters, and learning more about them.  Even when the movie takes a hard turn into some unexpected territory, it's still grounded in some kind of reality, mostly due to the two lead actresses and the down to Earth nature of the dialogue.  Tully is an unexpected surprise that ends up being funny, heartfelt and ultimately touching in ways you may not expect.

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