Reel Opinions

Friday, February 25, 2022

Studio 666

The guys who make up the music group, the Foo Fighters, are not real actors.  Not that it matters here, as Studio 666 is not a real movie.  It's a lark where a bunch of friends got together to make a blood-soaked tongue-in-cheek horror comedy film, probably had a blast making it and cracking each other up, and now hope that the audience finds the stuff as funny as they obviously did when they were making it.

This is the kind of movie that doesn't belong on the big screen, or even on streaming.  It's best watched in a basement, surrounded by the guys who made it, with lots of food and drink to go around.  Unfortunately, few if any of us will get the chance to watch it in such ideal conditions, so the average filmgoer has to judge it for what it is - A movie that's not scary enough to be a horror film, and not funny enough to be a comedy.  Oh, it gets some things right.  They not only got John Carpenter to compose the film's theme song, but he makes a cameo as well.  And even if the band members who make up the main cast can't act very well, they obviously have a comfortable chemistry with each other up on the screen, and are having fun.  And I admit to smiling a few times, and laughing out loud during a sequence that concerns a surprise cameo from Lionel Richie.  However, these are the few moments of pleasure it provides in its overlong 106 minutes.

Let it be said that the Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl (who is credited with the story), throws himself into playing a caricature of himself as a struggling artist, stumped with writer's block and with a deadline for a 10th studio album looming.  Sensing his desperation, the head of the record label (Jeff Garlin) sends Dave and his bandmates (Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett, and Rami Jaffee) to a broken down old house that has a dark and ominous history concerning the mysterious death of a rising band that was recording an album there back in 1993.  The guys settle in to work, and before long, Dave is unearthing a secret basement room in the house with a gutted raccoon nailed to the wall, and an ancient demonic text buried under the floorboards.  Dave becomes possessed by whatever evil entity haunts the home, and the other guys look on curiously as he develops a taste for raw meat.

He also becomes obsessed with completing an unfinished rock song that he finds in the hidden room, and his madness consumes him so completely that the song turns into a 40-minute rock epic.  There's a snoopy woman who lives next door who might know more about the house than she claims (Whitney Cummings), and as the bandmates start slowly unearthing the truth behind the mystery, the movie resembles a gory episode of Scooby-Doo, with various people falling victim to Dave's newly-formed cannibal appetite.  I definitely get what director B.J. McDonnell and writers Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes are going for, but the movie just never gains the momentum that it should.  It works in bits and pieces, but there were long stretches where my eyes started to glaze over, and I was getting restless.

Studio 666 pays homage to a lot of horror conventions, such as shadow people lurking in the woods and graphic death scenes, but it stops there.  It's simply paying lip service, while never actually stepping up its game and taking the next step that would truly make it memorable.  It's not enough just to show two people get cut in half with a chainsaw while they are having sex.  Yeah, it's an impressive effect, but that's all it is here, because there's no build up or pay off.  Think back on Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, which I think this one is emulating.  There was inventive camerawork, and the way those movies mixed the bloodshed and carnage with slapstick humor was nothing short of inspired.  Here, I got the sense that the band brainstormed some gruesome death scenes, and insisted the writers toss them in.  Nothing builds, so we get a mediocre tribute to horror with some big kills, but little to hold our interest the rest of the time.

This is a movie that I can admire in a way, and I'm sure it was great fun to make.  But if the audience doesn't get to share in that fun, the movie simply becomes a private joke between the cast and the crew projected onto the screen.  I was happy for the people up on the screen, but I also found myself asking more than once what the point of it was.


Sunday, February 20, 2022


marks Channing Tatum's first on-screen leading role since 2017's  Logan Lucky, as well as his filmmaking debut, as he co-directed the film with Reid Carolin.  The end result is a crowd-pleasing film that, despite a lot of familiarity, does throw in a few curves, and manages to be easy to watch.  It's a simple road trip comedy-drama film about two wounded soldiers, one a veteran and the other a military dog, and whether they can help each other.  I'm sure the conclusion the film reaches won't surprise anyone in the audience, but Tatum shows his usual on-screen charm, and also shows that he's learned quite a bit from some of the famous directors he's worked with over the years.

Tatum's Jackson Briggs is a former US Army Ranger who has been having a hard time adjusting back to civilian life, as well as having to deal with the frequent physical pains that come from a traumatic brain injury that he endured.  He's doing his best to hide the pain so that his superior officer will sign off on him doing a private security job.  The plot kicks off when Briggs is entrusted with a former Army Ranger canine named Lulu, and must drive her cross country so that she can attend the funeral of her former handler.  The handler, a friend of Briggs', had not been the same since coming home from war, and drove his car into a tree.  Now his family wants the dog to be there at his funeral.

The thing is, Lulu has not been the same since leaving the war either, and is highly aggressive.  The military has been unable to adapt her to a civilian life, and so after the funeral, they are planning to euthanize her.  Jackson must drive Lulu to attend the handler's funeral, then he must drop her back off at the base so that she can be put down.  I'm sure there will be little suspense within the audience as to whether or not Jackson and Lulu will be able to form some kind of bond, and help one another heal their own individual after effects of serving their country.  And yet, the journey that the two take has a few unexpected details.  The characters that they meet along the way are not the usual plugged in "oddball" types that usually inhabit these road trip movies.

Dog may not be surprising in its narrative, but it finds small ways to stand out.  For one thing, I think this may be the first Hollywood movie set around a dog in a very long time that does not feel the need to include a poop joke.  It also finds a few fresh ways to handle some familiar scenes.  When Jackson makes a brief stop in order to visit his ex-wife and young daughter, we wait for the inevitable confrontation scene, yet the way the movie handles it is much more quiet and sad, making it heartbreaking and defeating instead of an acting showcase.  We actually don't get to see the conversation itself, but the way the movie handles it is much more effective dramatically than if we had.  It's also nice that the movie focuses not on war flashbacks for its human lead to overcome, but rather he's fighting migraines and random seizures.  He is constantly trying to convince himself that he is okay, but finds himself fighting a losing battle, and it leads to a scene with Lulu that is touching.

There is a sadness to the film, but it is not overwhelming, and the movie is also certain to have some fun with its premise, such as when Jackson cons his way into letting Lulu and him stay overnight in a suite at a luxury hotel.  And yet, even during its lighter moments, the movie does not let us forget that these two are headed for a funeral of someone who meant a lot to both of them, and that these might be the dog's final days.  Yes, the conclusion is predetermined, but the movie is still able to hold our interest, because it so expertly mixes the comic dog antics with a genuine heartfelt and emotional story.  And for his first time behind the camera, Tatum shows that he's willing to let certain shots linger just long enough, and to let some scenes be quiet when they need to be.

is highly effective at what it sets out to do, and while the ad campaign is heavily centered on the dog antics, this is not really a kid's film.  The movie earns its PG-13 rating with some scenes dealing with the harsh reality of soldiers coming home.  It may not be the most surprising movie out there, but it knows what it's doing, and earns its emotions without too much forced sentiment.


Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Cursed

What a crime that such an effectively moody and atmospheric thriller as this must be graced with such a generic title as The Cursed.  I assume that this was a studio mandate of some sort, as when the film played at the Sundance Film Festival last year, it went by the name Eight for Silver.  Regardless, it doesn't take away the fact that writer-director Sean Ellis brings some much needed life to the werewolf genre here, and brings us a film that is genuinely unnerving at times.

Despite the familiarity of the monster in question. Ellis tries a lot new here, while also paying homage to some traditions.  While we have the silver bullets, bands of gypsies, and frightened villagers that come with the werewolf territory, he also gives us a new design for the creature that I have never seen before, and some truly astonishing physical effects.  And yet, he also knows the key rule of horror in which the less we see of the monster, the better.  He lets us have a good look, but there's still a quality of mystery to the creature.  He also understands how to create a menacing atmosphere, even when the creature is not lurking about.  He uses long, voyeuristic shots that sometimes makes it look like we are watching a horrific scene from afar, and are helpless observers.

This aspect is most effectively used during a scene that kicks off the plot.  In the late 19th Century, a land baron named Seamus (Alistair Petrie) has learned that a band of traveling gypsies have settled on his property, claiming it is rightfully theirs.  Not wanting to deal with them, he hires a band of mercenaries to remove them by force.  We witness the violence from afar for a majority of it, and it is mainly during the horrible aftermath that the camera finally brings us up close to the cruelty at hand.  We watch a helpless gypsy woman place a curse upon the land while she is buried alive, while a man is strung up like a gothic scarecrow, and has his hands and feet removed.  This "scarecrow" image is one of the more effectively chilling images I've seen in a recent horror film, and Ellis makes great use of it, making it a key figure in his story.

Not long after this happens, all of the children in the local settlement start having vivid nightmares about the scarecrow, and about something that is buried in the spot underneath it.  This includes Seamus' young son Edward (Max Mackintosh) and daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch).  All of the village children decide to visit the site that they see in their dreams, and I will have to be careful not to dip into spoiler territory here, but a tragic event occurs where Edward seems to have been attacked by a wild animal.  Despite his wounds, he mysteriously disappears in the middle of the night from his home, and not long after, there are a string of similar vicious animal-like attacks.  When one of the local children turns up horribly mauled, a pathologist named John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) is called in to investigate.  As he searches for information, he finds a number of similarities to a tragic event he experienced years ago, and begins to fear that the curse placed upon the land is getting stronger as more mutilated villagers begin to turn up.

The Cursed has a beautiful, gloomy old world look that is something I have not seen from a major film since 2012's The Woman in Black.  Like that film, it creates a quiet and tense atmosphere with overcast skies, fog-drenched landscapes, and the sense that a strong, supernatural evil can strike at any time.  And yet, Ellis does not get caught up in the trappings of his settings.  He's making a thriller, not a "costume drama", and he creates an unshakable feeling of dread.  Starting with that horrific scarecrow image, he goes on to give us a creature that is clearly a werewolf, but looks nothing like one that's been captured on film before.  Using practical effects, he creates some memorable images, most notably a scene where John McBride cuts open a monster.  I won't reveal what he finds within, but it's truly a surprising moment.

This is the kind of movie where you simply get lost in the mood that it creates.  You could argue that these are not the most complex characters out there, but they're developed enough so that they never come across as being thin.  The emphasis here is on transporting the audience into its story, and at that, it is undeniably successful.  I was fortunate enough to watch this film in a theater where I was the only one in attendance, so I was able to let the images and story wash over me.  Of course, this also means that its time at your local theater will be very brief, so definitely seek this out while you can.  It's the kind of effectively chilling and quiet thriller that can still startle you with its violent images.  This can be a gory film, but it is used sparingly, and in such a way that it's striking and not exploitative.  

Besides, Ellis is not making a "gore show" here.  We're not supposed to hoot and cheer at the kills like in some horror films.  The Cursed is the kind of movie that effectively gets under your skin in the best way, and it's surprising how seldom modern horror films can do that.  It's the perfect blend of quiet atmosphere, mounting tension, and gruesome viciousness. 


Friday, February 18, 2022


Stuck in Development Hell for over 10 years, and based on the long-running Sony PlayStation franchise, Uncharted joins the long list of video game adaptations that should be home runs on the silver screen, but instead end up merely being mediocre. (Past victims to this curse include Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill.) Here is a movie that somehow ends up feeling more shallow and less character-driven than the game that inspired it.

The problem with adapting something like Uncharted is that in the original video game, the storytellers have hours to tell their story and develop their characters.  And because a player spends hours at the controls of the main character, they feel a connection with them and the supporting cast by the time it's done.  Trying to cram that experience into a narrative that runs just under two hours is not going to quite be the same to the fan base.  But there are deeper problems than inherent ones here.  There's the casting, the overly green-screened action set pieces that seem as artificial as anything seen in the past few Fast & Furious movies, and the weak adventure that is supposed to hold everything together.  But before all that, I got a bad feeling from the moment its hero, Nathan Drake (played here by Tom Holland), walked on the screen.

Nathan is intended to be a world-weary explorer and treasure hunter.  The kind of guy who brings to mind Indiana Jones, and is capable of swashbuckling heroics, charming the ladies, and being a bit of a con man on the side.  To say that Holland does not exactly fit that description would be an understatement.  He comes across as a kid more often than not.  Yes, this is intended to be an origin story, and takes place before the games do.  Still, Holland just cannot sell this kind of character.  He seems out of place, and often looks like he's cosplaying as an adventurer who knows all the angles, rather than playing one.  Holland can also be charismatic, but he just seems off here, and never connects with his co-star, Mark Wahlberg, who plays Nathan's mentor, Sully.  We don't sense the bond that's supposed to be there, and Wahlberg, talented though he is, just can't bring his character or his material with Holland to life.

The two join up in order to find some lost gold.  Apparently Sully was partnered with Drake's brother, Sam, whom Nathan has not seen since they were kids in a pointless prologue that opens the film.  Wanting to know more about his brother, and drawn in by the treasure itself, Nathan begins what is supposed to be a globe-spanning adventure as our heroes, who are eventually joined by a third fortune seeker named Chloe (Sophia Ali), race against some bad guys who are led by Antonio Banderas, and are complete non-entities when it comes to villains in these kind of movies.  Think of the kind of villains Indiana Jones (the film's obvious inspiration) found himself going up against, and you'll have to agree some crooked treasure hunters (one of whom speaks with such a heavy Scottish accent, no one can understand what he's saying) is underwhelming.

Uncharted races its characters through ancient tunnels and caverns, long lost crypts, and across not one but two improbable action scenes that take place in the air, and look so heavily green screened, we're watching effects, not actors or stuntmen.  The only memorable action scene in the film is one that takes place within a Papa John's restaurant (I kid you not), and that's because it's probably the most blatant use of Product Placement I've seen on the big screen in a while. (The fact that Nathan is constantly chewing Bubble Yum gum seems subtle in comparison.) But for all of its sense of adventure, nothing clicked with me.  Not the performances, not the characters, not the comedic banter, and surprisingly not the exotic settings, which range from Spain to the Philippines.  There is a cold feeling here, when it should be transporting audiences to far off places and amazing sights.  The film is mechanical and workmanlike, while the games feel lived in.

The film has had a troubled history, with various directors, cast, writers and scripts being thrown at it since 2008.  Watching Uncharted, you get the sense that you are watching a product, not a movie with a soul.  It's lost all identity, and is now just a brand name to bring in an existing audience.  They will come to see their favorite characters brought to life, and will walk away with an empty shell of an experience. 


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Death on the Nile

Adapting (and starring in) Agatha Christie for the second time, Kenneth Branagh brings a certain bombastic energy to a low key mystery story in Death on the Nile.  He swings for the fences here, giving us a lavish production, a star-studded cast that seem to be enjoying themselves as much as Branagh is returning to the role of Detective Hercule Poirot, and some pointless CG sequences that show animals devouring each other in a heavy-handed display of symbolism.  Despite the over the top grandeur and some unnecessary additions to the original story (Ever wonder why Poirot has a mustache?), the movie worked for me.

Besides, the excess seems to fit the story, which at its very core is centered around a bitter love triangle between a power couple and a jilted lover.  The couple in question are the lovely Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), while the role of the jilted lover is filled by Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma McKay), who used to be best friends with Linnet and was Simon's fiance, until she introduced the two, and they quickly began their romance.  Now Simon and Linnet are married, and Jacqueline seems to be stalking the couple.  Detective Poirot, who claims to be vacationing in Egypt at the same time as the newlywed's honeymoon, is hired by the couple to keep an eye on Jacqueline, as they're afraid her obsession will lead to tragedy.  Even when the party moves to a private luxury ship for the couple and their many friends and business associates, Jacqueline still finds her way on board.

Of course, Jacqueline is not the only one with an ax to grind concerning the couple, as it seems that nobody on board the ship is completely innocent.  When the wealthy Linnet is eventually found dead from a gunshot wound in her own bed, the list of suspects include Linnet's socialite godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), as well as her personal nurse Mrs. Bowers (Dawn French), the jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her niece Rosalie (Letita Wright), and even Poirot's dear friend Bouc (Tom Bateman).  There are more characters, such as the couple's lawyer (Ali Fazal) and a medical doctor (an unrecognizable Russel Brand, good in a rare dramatic role) on board, just to name a few.  Everyone seems to be gripped by some kind of greed or jealousy regarding the couple, and as Poirot gathers the details and a few more bodies turn up, it's obvious that this goes much deeper than a simple love triangle, and that something more sinister is at play.

Death on the Nile works on the strength of its cast, even the ones whose careers have been hit by various scandals since the film was originally shot back in 2019. (It was delayed numerous times.) It also works because, despite its roughly two hour length and somewhat uneven pacing, it managed to hold my attention.  Yes, it would have been nice if the crimes had been kicked off a bit quicker than they are, and some bits of sleuthing have been reduced to dialogue rather than actual investigations, but the movie's beautiful settings, sense of atmosphere, and the performances lift the material up above any shortcomings.  Everyone in the cast seems to be relishing the chance to be nasty to one another, especially Gadot, who is playing a vain and entitled woman who is as far from her Wonder Woman image that she can get.  This is the kind of movie you can get lost in, and just enjoy yourself.

For all of the grand flourishes that Branagh has brought to his direction of the film, this still feels like an intimate mystery story, and the various characters and performances come through, and never once get drowned out by the spectacle surrounding them.  Maybe the film's excess could have been trimmed, but I still found myself wrapped up in this one.  More so, while some changes have been made to the overall story, I don't think too many purists of the original work will be up in arms here.  The story has been filmed before (most famously a 1978 movie with Peter Ustinov as Poirot), and despite the familiarity, the movie still feels fresh and engaging.  Maybe that's why Branagh felt he needed to go so grand with his vision for this film, in order to give the audience something they hadn't seen.  Regardless, he gets the mystery itself and the characters right, and that is more than enough.

But most of all, the movie has a sense of fun that carries through as the film plays out.  It's also the old fashioned kind of mystery that we seldom get these days.  Sure, it's no Knives Out, but it's usually greatly enjoyable when a movie like this manages to hit the screen these days, and Death on the Nile is no exception.


Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza
gets its name from a chain of record stores that existed in the early 70s in the Southern California area.  It has nothing to do with the film itself, but according to writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, the name evokes a feeling for that time period for him, which his story is set in.   The film itself is an episodic and loose coming of age story made up of various young triumphs, embarrassments, and romantic awkwardness.  Watching the film, you get the sense that Anderson is not so much making a plot-driven film, but rather showing a few months in the life of an average teen, who has a few amazing experiences along the way, as well as more than a few everyday ones.

The film's focus is 15-year-old Gary Valentine (played by newcomer Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who appeared in many of Anderson's past films), who starts the film out as a child actor, but during the course of the film, will get into selling waterbeds, and opening his own pinball arcade.  Anderson loves using actual people for the inspiration in his stories, and in this case, Gary is inspired by former child actor and Hollywood producer, Gary Goetzman, who did many of the entrepreneur adventures in his youth that we see in the film.  In the opening scene, Gary has a chance encounter with the 25-year-old Alana Kane (played by recording artist Alana Haim) at school picture day, and becomes immediately smitten by her.  This is also supposedly based on a real life experience that Anderson witnessed once, and the friendship that slowly builds between the two feels true.

One of the many pleasures within Licorice Pizza is getting to watch Hoffman and Haim together.  Both are relative newcomers when it comes to acting, but they display real star-quality here, both individually and whenever they share the screen together.  The movie also beautifully handles the relationship between the two.  When they meet, she's the assistant to the school photographer, and he tries to impress her with the list of films and TV shows that he has appeared in.  The two will meet up again, and eventually, she agrees to be his adult chaperone to an acting job in New York.  Gary is awkward, but also confident.  Maybe that's what Alana likes about him.  He's willing to throw his hands in so many business ventures at such a young age.  Meanwhile, Alana still lives at home with her parents and sisters (all of whom are played by Haim's real life parents and sisters), and seems to be going nowhere in her life.  It's not that she truly believes in Gary's many business ideas, but maybe she's inspired by his youth and energy.

The movie follows both their personal and business relationship together, and follows them through a number of moments where they encounter film producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), as well as other figures based on Hollywood icons of the time, and deal with the oil crisis that came about in the early 70s.  Watching it, you get the sense that Anderson is not so much making a nostalgic film, as he is simply showing what life was like back then.  These are not personal memories of the era, rather he is touching on various events of the time, and putting the sweet and awkward relationship of the two leads in the middle of it all.  This is a loose and light film, but it never comes across as being flimsy.  The performances and the central relationship are strong enough to carry this material, and the dialogue that Anderson has provided is quiet and witty in a way that few modern day screenwriters can match.

But best of all is how Anderson handles the relationship that is its main focus.  There is a jealous immaturity between the two that feels natural.  It is awkward and messy, but it is also genuine, and we understand what Alana sees in him, since Gary is one of the few people who seems genuinely interested in her and her worth.  Yes, the age difference between the two characters might be questionable to some, but again, the movie handles the situation with great and quiet precision.  Alana knows that Gary is a kid, and that it's strange that she spends so much time with him and his friends.  At its core, it's a sweet and innocent relationship that will eventually lead to something more, which we do not see.  Still, the movie contains some achingly romantic moments, such as the scene where Gary is briefly arrested for a crime he didn't do, and as soon as he is released, Alana embraces him fully, and they run down the streets together joyfully.  

Licorice Pizza is made up of a lot of small, intimate moments of awkward, early love like that, and it's part of why the film is one of the most memorable and very best of 2021.  It's also able to create the time period so that the movie doesn't feel like a throwback, but feels more like an actual film from the era.  There is stunning and clear cinematography here that perfectly captures the films of the time its set in, and unlike Anderson's own earlier film, Boogie Nights, it doesn't feel like a tribute to the time.  It's an intimate time capsule, and also probably the director's sweetest and most down to Earth film.  I have been a long admirer of Anderson's work, but this time, he has surpassed some of his earlier success, and made a truly beautiful film.

This is the kind of movie you want to watch again as soon as possible when it's over, and one that is not easily forgotten.  It's also my pick for the best film of last year.


Saturday, February 12, 2022

Marry Me

Marry Me
is a formulaic romantic comedy that succeeds solely on the pairing of its lead actors.  You have Jennifer Lopez doing what she does best, playing a glitzy and fashionable pop star with a good heart, and Owen Wilson doing what he absolutely does best, playing a likable dork who seems to be holding back from blurting out "Aw, shucks..." every few minutes.  The script itself may be more than a little hard to swallow, but they're able to make it work.

That's what sets it apart from another movie this weekend, Blacklight.  Both have been written in such a way so that you already know all the major plot developments walking in, but this movie has life to it and the performances, so it goes down easily enough.  Like 1999's Notting Hill, or more recently Finding You from last year, the film is an old fashioned romance about an ordinary person falling in love with a celebrity, and how their different worlds clash.  Lopez, naturally, plays the superstar, Kat Valdez, who is in all the tabloids and talk shows, and is planning to get married to her fellow superstar lover, Bastian (recording artist Maluma) in front of thousands of cheering fans at Madison Square Garden in a concert/wedding/media event hybrid.  Wilson is Charlie Gilbert, a divorced Middle School Math teacher with a preteen daughter (Chloe Coleman) who couldn't care less about celebrity and fame, until he is dragged into it through circumstances that seem far fetched even by Hollywood formula standards.  

How's this for a Meet Cute set up?  Charlie and his daughter just happen to be at Kat's concert/wedding thanks to Charlie's friend from work, Parker (Sarah Silverman), who hooked them up with tickets.  Just as Kat and Bastian are to exchange vows on stage, social media blows up with a story that Bastian has been having an affair.  A heartbroken Kat takes the stage alone, and in a desperate move, decides to pick a random man from the audience to take the stage and marry her.  No prizes for guessing that Charlie is the guy in the crowd she chooses.  This down to Earth ordinary guy becomes attached to the most sought-after woman on the planet, and instantly becomes a celebrity himself.  Kat's manager (John Bradley, recently seen in Moonfall) wants to pay Charlie off, and put this whole mess behind them, but Kat actually wants to spend some time and get to know this random guy from the crowd.

Wouldn't you know, it turns out Kat and Charlie are a good match, and they start getting closer the more time they spend together.  Will their potential budding romance be threatened by Bastian's efforts to fix his mistake?  Will Charlie and Kat break up temporarily, because Charlie just thinks he doesn't belong in her world?  Will the movie climax with one of the characters having to run to join the other at some kind of important event at the last minute?  I assume you already know the answers to each of these questions.  Marry Me might be predictable throughout, but the sweet romantic chemistry that Lopez and Wilson bring make it worth watching.  This is a movie that holds no surprises, but it wins you over in other ways.

There are some genuinely sweet moments here, such as a scene built around the musical Camelot, or when Kat makes a couple surprise visits at Charlie's school.  And despite the ludicrous premise, the movie does have a very low key tone to it that helps keep it grounded in some kind of reality.  In fact, the only time the movie grated on me just a little are some of the "wacky" supporting characters, such as Silverman as Wilson's best friend, who comes across as a forced comedic live wire character, and doesn't show any of the wit or intelligence that I know the actress is capable of.  Luckily, the film is smart enough to focus on the central relationship, and doesn't get too distracted with unnecessary characters or subplots.  

Marry Me
works as romantic escapism, as long as you don't think too much about it.  Luckily, thinking is not required in a movie like this, and it has enough charm that I didn't mind checking my brain for it.  It's a quiet, sweet, and unassuming little movie, and that quality definitely helps its over the top premise go down easier. 




"In hindsight, I suspect I made a poor career choice" - Liam Neeson in Blacklight

When I heard that line, I couldn't help but wonder if it was his character (a tough as nails FBI operative) talking, or Neeson himself, reflecting on his decision to appear in Blacklight.  This is one of those movies that credits its screenplay as written by director Mark Williams and Nick May, but instead should have simply listed the long list of action thrillers it lifts from.  It's a poor assemblage of bits and pieces from other movies.

I don't ask for originality in my movies.  I simply ask that they maybe offer some wit or intelligence to show that the movie wasn't completely written on autopilot.  With the right amount of energy, any tired old idea can seem new.  But this is a tired, defeated movie, where nobody looks like they wanted to actually make it.  It's filled with all the shootouts, fist fights, and car chases that you expect, but it's all done in such a curiously low key and flat style that we're never thrilled.  We in the audience simply get to check off the cliches as they show up, and wonder what projects these actors turned down in order to appear in something this uninspired.  When a movie like this comes along that seems bent on wasting a talented and expensive cast of actors, you just have to wonder what they did to amuse themselves behind the scenes.

Here are just a few of the plugged in action thriller elements that the movie uses.  There's a government conspiracy that's been going on for years, and now a journalist is on the brink of blowing the whole operation, and bringing it down.  Neeson plays Travis Block, a guy who has been in the business of taking out the bad guys for too long, and is now starting to question everything, especially about his past.  He has an adult daughter who he was never there for growing up, who is now a single mother with the required moppet daughter, and Travis now wants to be there for his granddaughter, and do the things he didn't get to do with his own kid.  But, darn it, the agency just won't let him go.  An undercover agent named Dusty (Taylor John Smith) is going to blow the whole corrupt thing wide open by talking to the press, and the head of the FBI (Aidan Quinn), who also is Travis' best friend, wants Travis to keep things quiet.  Naturally, the deeper Travis goes, the more he begins to realize that Dusty is not wrong, and he has to turn against everything he knows.

Was there a single element of that plot you were not able to predict long before you read it?  Blacklight is a paint by numbers job where the creators obviously had no inspiration to be better than they had to be.  It's a conspiracy thriller that doesn't surprise in the slightest, because it does nothing to hide its inspiration.  Apparently, the filmmakers thought it was enough just to let us see Liam Neeson kicking ass again, and that's just not enough to make this threadbare enterprise work.  It doesn't help that we've seen him do it better than here, and seen it surrounded by better material.  Studios like movies like these, because they're easy to sell.  The story writes itself, you just have to give them dialogue that sounds vaguely familiar to stuff people said in other movies just like it.  

To all budding screenwriters out there, if you want to write a script, it's not a sin to take an idea that's been done before.  Just add your own unique style.  After all, a great singer can make an old song new again.  Movies like this might sell, but they won't help your career, and you'll probably wind up sweeping it under the rug when you inevitably do something better down the road.


Sunday, February 06, 2022

Jackass Forever

I approached my screening of Jackass Forever not sure what to expect.  Oh, I knew that I would be seeing Johnny Knoxville and his buddies pulling off insane stunts and pranks on themselves and others in order to entertain their long-time fans.  But, I walked in with the knowledge that the guys are not as young as they used to be (Knoxville hit 50 last year.), and wasn't sure if what I was about to watch would be more sad than amusing. 

I also should probably point out that  I do not personally hold much nostalgia for the MTV franchise, although I have always appreciated what the crew behind these movies and the original show do.  Anyone who is willing to do the kind of things these guys do in order to amuse others is a special kind of crazy, after all, and we need that kind of crazy in this world.  This is an excuse to laugh and cringe (often at the same time) at guys who are willing to take multiple blows, hits, stings, and welts in all corners of their body, even the ones any sane person would not want to see such things. (And since this is a Hard-R film, we get to see these cuts and welts in places that probably would be better off left in our imagination.  Or not.) And yet, painful as it is, there is a sense that these guys are still enjoying themselves, and that's what works.

Jackass Forever has the sense not of meanness or cruelty, but of a bunch of crazy guys who love each other, and are trying to crack each other up.  And although I didn't always laugh, that sense of joy carries through the movie.  This is not a film you can review in traditional means.  There's no real plot or structure, so you can just judge the film on how you reacted to the various stunts and pranks displayed within.  There are some creative ones on display this time around, involving Knoxville himself being shot out of a cannon as he "flies too close to the sun", similar to Icarus.  And there are some stunts I probably would have been better off not seeing, particularly the one including a variety of bees and a poor individual's groin.  There are also some that resemble a twisted take on childhood games, such as a game of musical chairs where the seats are equipped with airbags that send one guy flying.

And then there are the stunts designed to make you wince, where the team have to be inflected to various forms of torture, like licking "an electric lollipop" (a taser) without screaming, or when one of the crew has to suffer various blows to his groin in order to test the durability of a cup.  Again, these stunts carry the same sense of fun as the more elaborate ones, but I found it a bit hard to laugh here.  Not as hard, though, as the stunt involving a bull that reportedly sent Knoxville to a hospital, where he suffered broken ribs and a concussion.  It's one of the few times where I found myself genuinely concerned for the safety of one of these guys.  The rest of the time, the movie is largely joyful.  I may have not always been laughing out loud, but I was smiling.

I've always thought of Jackass as a bunch of guys who never grew out of their love of doing stupid and dangerous stuff, and Knoxville himself sums it up best when he says, "20 years later, and we're still doing the same stupid s***".  There are some new cast members here who I assume are going to carry the torch at some point, and ensure that these movies are as forever as the title implies.  So, while I can't count myself as a devotee to these guys, I do recognize the purpose they serve, and it's a kind of escapism that's like nothing else on the screen.


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