There's not a single likable character to be found in Bodies Bodies Bodies, and for once it's not the result of bad writing or lack of character development. This is a murder mystery with a devilish glee behind it as a group of shallow, entitled young people hold a "hurricane party", and what is supposed to be a party game turns into a bloodbath.
The joke here is not that these people are getting killed. No one, no matter how shallow or entitled, deserves to die. The joke of the film is that these people are too stupid not to lead to the film's ultimate tragic outcome. Watching the film, I was reminded of the infamous Darwin Awards. Those are of course the internet awards that set to "honor" people whose deaths might wind up improving the human race. Anyone who sets foot in this film is a likely candidate. It's often customary in some thrillers to root for the monster. People who watch the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street series eventually see Jason or Freddy as some sort of antihero, and cheer them on as they slice and dice their way through stupid, horny teens. This movie might create the same response in its audience, even though nobody is being menaced by a supernatural evil, just their own cluelessness.
The film opens with a group of long-time friends descending upon the mansion home of the spoiled and standoffish David (Pete Davidson). Said friends include our lead protagonists, lovers Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Sophie (Amanda Stenberg), but they are also joined by David's actress girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her older (but not very mature) boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace), and Jordan (Myha'la Herrold), who in this group might as well be considered the "brains" of this gathering. As so often happens when long-time friends get together after years of being apart, they immediately get on each other's nerves, and decide to ease the tension with a murder mystery party game known as Bodies Bodies Bodies.
In the game, someone draws from a hat the role of being the murderer, and everyone has to roam about in the dark, figuring out who is the killer. An argument quickly ensues between the players, and not long after, an actual murder has happened. (I won't say who.) The survivors naturally turn on each other, and things escalate to such a degree that it's kind of amazing at first, but maybe not. These are very shallow individuals who probably have been bred not to have to think, and that their inherent wealth and good looks could solve any problem. Now they're faced with a real crisis, and none of them know how to react, other than to accuse and sling mud at each other.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is often wickedly satirical, and just a lot of fun. Beyond the razor sharp screenplay that mercilessly skewers buzzwords and online culture war division, the movie is slickly shot, with brilliant use of lighting from glow sticks and cell phones creating a genuinely eerie vibe. And while I did not exactly like any of these characters, the performances used to bring them to life are first rate, with former child actress Stenberg as Sophie and Sennott as the narcissistic Alice being the stand outs. And while I wouldn't dream of spoiling the ending, it really does finish on the perfect note, and perhaps the only one it could have landed on.
This is the kind of movie that sneaks up on you. I expected a clever murder mystery, and got it, but it's clever in its writing, use of characters, and atmosphere. It's confident, witty, and joyful in its meanness. Sure, the characters within it are cruel, but I couldn't help but wonder if the real cruelty would be letting these dopes go on with their wealthy yet uneventful lives.
Like last weekend's Fall, Beast takes a simple, adrenaline-fueled premise, and runs with it, creating a lean and effective thriller. It's certainly a B-Movie creature film through and through, and never once lets us forget it. But, the acting on display is better than you might expect, and it works in a couple other ways as well.
One thing I do want to focus on are the effects. The movie centers on a lion in South Africa that has gone rogue, and has started killing humans at random after the rest of its pride is wiped out by poachers in the opening scene. The effects used to bring the lion to life are obviously generated by a computer, and yet, never come across as cartoonish or like a video game, as in some other films. (The recent Prey was a victim of CG animals that just didn't look believable in some scenes.) For a movie like this, that is vital. We have to believe in the threat, and I personally bought it. When you build your entire story around a special effect, you'd better get it right, and I applaud the effects team for creating a villain that seems to have real weight, and exist in the same space as the human cast.
Said human cast is headed by Idris Elba, who plays New York-based medical doctor, Nate Samuels. He brings his preteen daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) to South Africa for a long-planned vacation in order to learn more about their late mother, as this is where Nate had initially met her. They are joined on the trip by Nate's friend and guide, Martin (Sharlto Copley), and what begins as a picturesque tour of the local area becomes a nightmare when their vehicle is attacked by the mad lion that is no longer hunting for food, but simply to kill. I admire the way that the screenplay by Ryan Engle mixed the B-Movie action thrills, with some successful character moments that explore the strained relationship between Nate and his daughters. (He was in the process of separating from their mother when the cancer that took her life was discovered.)
Unlike the previously mentioned Fall, the script also doesn't fish for soap opera-like surprise revelations in order to hold our attention beyond the simple yet effective premise. It's a lean and tightly wound thriller that knows how to keep up the suspense during it's roughly 90 minute run time. I found myself actually caring for these people, thanks in part to the strong performances that probably help lift Engle's dialogue a little. Elba is acting his heart out here, whether he's sharing an emotional scene with his girls, or staring down a killer lion. I also appreciated that the movie favors suspense over grisly kills and death scenes, and makes its characters fairly intelligent for a movie of this sort. There are only a couple moments where characters do incredibly stupid things because the movie needs a body count here.
Beast is the kind of movie that delivers on what it promises, and does so in a way that seems a bit smarter than I would have expected walking in. You don't go to a movie where Idris Elba wrestles with a killer lion for nuance and subtlety, obviously. But, it wisely doesn't throw away all common sense, either.
I can picture something like Fall working as a short film, or perhaps at 80 minutes or so, but at 107 minutes, the film can't help feel a bit padded. And yet, it's undeniably effective in a lot of ways. It's certainly a technical feat and a marvel of stuntwork. It's only the padded script that fishes for surprise revelations that holds back my enthusiasm.
The premise centers on two thrill-seeking best friends, Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner). In the film's opening scene, they're scaling the side of a mountain with Becky's husband, Dan (Mason Gooding), when tragedy occurs, causing Dan to fall to his death. One year later, Becky is a depressed wreck, drowning her sorrows in alcohol and pills. Her father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is concerned for her, and so is Hunter, who convinces her to go on one more adventure. They will climb to the top of a 2,000 foot abandoned TV tower in the California desert, and scatter Dan's ashes when they reach the top. During the climb to the top, the ladder breaks, and now the two women are trapped on top of the tower, with no cell service, and having to face the elements like storms and vultures.
Fall does certainly work on a technical level, and on a primal level as a simple but spellbinding thriller. It uses its premise, surroundings and setting to the fullest, and it's all been expertly headed by director Scott Mann. It finds ways to keep its stationary yet thrilling set up consistently engaging with its addition of the elements, and the added danger of dehydration and starvation constantly in the back of the audience's mind, not to mention the injuries that the girls suffer from during their attempts to signal for help. The blending of the special effects, stuntwork, and performances from the two leads blend seamlessly, so the spell the film does create in a visual sense is never once broken.
It's only when the script tries to add something unexpected to the scenario that the film kind of lost its hold on me. I can understand that writers Mann and Jonathan Frank were probably fishing for ideas to build this idea to feature length, but I'm not sure if surprise revelations that Hunter brings up while they are trapped on top of the tower was the way to go. It feels like something out of a soap opera, and honestly, the life-threatening scenario they're in is enough to hold our interest that we don't really need it. If this was the only wrong turn the script made, I could forgive it, but there is yet another surprise revelation in the final 15 minutes that left a bad taste in my mouth, and felt like a desperate attempt to again spice up a basic scenario. I won't go into spoilers here, but it just seems like a desperate attempt to add an unwanted element of fantasy at the last minute in what should be a tense and realistic scenario.
Fall is one of those movies that doesn't fully work, but it does hold a certain spell over you, because of how well it's been made. It also should be seen on a big screen, as it's sure to lose something should you watch it on your laptop. Regardless, the movie is effective where it matters, and succeeds at being a simple and primal story of survival.
Mack & Rita is a scattershot and airheaded comedy that wastes the talents of the invaluable Diane Keaton in a role that forces her to overact to extremes. She's up there on the screen, expelling massive amounts of energy, but to what end? Yeah, I admire her for plugging away at her age, but I also felt sad if this is the best kind of material she can get.
The film kicks off with 30-year-old Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail), a writer who grew up idolizing the grandmother who raised her, and so she's always felt like an old woman in a young person's body. While her friends are obsessed with the latest trends and music, Mack has always secretly envied the older women who seem so knowing and wise. While on a bachelorette trip for the upcoming wedding of her best friend (Taylour Paige), Mack sneaks away to a tent run by a guru (Simon Rex) who claims he has a pod that can reveal who you truly are inside. Mack lies down in the pod, and when she comes out, she's aged 40 years, and is now played by Keaton. Mysteriously, the guru has vanished, a plot point that should be important, yet the movie completely forgets to address until he shows up again at the end, again without any explanation.
Mack panics, allowing Keaton to do a lot of forced slapstick that she's way too good of an actress to be doing, even at her age. Seeing her screaming, flailing her arms, and doing "funny" falls into swimming pools made me sink low in my seat. Soon, however, she creates a ruse that she is Mack's Aunt Rita, and that she is doing a house swap. At least, that's what she tells her sexy neighbor, Jack (Dustin Milligan), whom Mack initially hired to watch over her dog, Cheese. (Yes, Mack has a dog named Cheese, which tells you this movie's level of humor.) Jack starts flirting with "Aunt Rita" (something Mack was always too shy to do), and "Rita" even becomes a hit on social media as an influencer.
All of this is done at a sluggish pace, which makes Mack & Rita's relatively brief 95 minute run time feel like two and a half hours. Toss in an unfunny script, and absolutely no insights into its topics of love and aging whatsoever, and you have probably the most witless and unnecessary movie I've sat through this year. If you want to know how desperate this movie is for laughs, the film actually has a scene where "Rita" becomes convinced that if she drinks tea made of psychedelic mushrooms, she will regress back to her proper age. Again, no explanation as to why she would think this would work. It's all a set up for a bizarre sequence where she starts hallucinating that her dog is talking to her, with the dog being voiced by Martin Short.
Again, I feel the need to ask, is this really the best script that a genuine talent like Diane Keaton can find at her age? Yes, I know she's 76, and I'm sure she's grateful for what she can get. But, she must have been able to tell that this script is manure? Was there no one there to stop her and say, "You've worked too long and too hard to settle for an extended slapstick scene where you try to use a Pilates machine"? And while the romantic subplot involving Jack and Rita is supposed to be sweet and heartwarming, it simply rings false, and ends up just being weird. After all, he thinks he's hitting on his neighbor's aunt, and she wants him to think she's her aunt. Do writers actually get paid for dreaming up plots like this?
With its wish-fulfillment age fantasy angle, Mack & Rita obviously aims to be thought along the lines of 1988's Big or 2004's 13 Going on 30. Instead, it's likely to leave audiences just bored, confused, and wanting to forget they ever bothered to watch it. That's exactly what I plan to do as soon as I finish writing this sentence.
Prey is a stripped down and effective take on the Predator formula. Said formula involves an alien hunter arriving on Earth, who comes in contact with a human warrior of some kind. And even though the alien hunter holds advanced technology, the human uses their cunning and wits to outsmart the creature, and emerge victorious. It's the same plot that most of these films have had for the 35 years the franchise has been running. What matters is what the filmmaker does with it.
Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and screenwriter Patrick Aison takes the concept to its bare essentials, and manages to create a tense atmosphere. By setting the film in the early 18th Century, and focusing on a young woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder, giving a commanding performance) who belongs in a male-dominated Comanche tribe and longs to prove herself worthy as a hunter, it creates an intriguing narrative without drawing too much attention to itself. The dialogue is direct and minimal, but never feels underwritten. Naru feels underestimated, even in her own family, where her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) gets to go out and protect her tribe, while she must stay behind and learn about medicines and healing the injured. When Naru is the only one who notices a cloaked spaceship making its way through the clouds, she sees it as a spiritual sign that she is destined for more.
She is invited along for a hunt by her brother and some other tribesmen who clearly don't want her there, and begins to notice tracks that are too large for any animal, and disturbing sights, such as a snake and buffalo that have been completely skinned and slaughtered. Deciding to go off on her own (with only her loyal dog at her side) to prove that she is worthy of being a warrior, Naru eventually finds herself staring down the Predator, and having to use her wits to outsmart this advanced and deadly creature. Just like Schwarzenegger back in 87, Naru is dragged into a deadly game of hunted and hunter, and the movie genuinely creates some strong tension as to whether she (or her dog) will survive this encounter.
But beyond that, Prey creates a compelling narrative by having its young heroine not just facing against a supernatural enemy, but also the elements. She is menaced by bears, mountain lions, and even quicksand before the creature makes its presence known to her. (It watches her cloaked in invisibility from time to time before it truly shows itself.) With its combination of lush, natural scenery and genuine tension, this probably would have been a blast seeing on the big screen with a large audience. But, due to the fact the last time the Predator showed his ugly face on the screen didn't go over so well (2018's The Predator, which suffered from studio interference, and a tone that veered from thriller to slapstick comedy at the drop of a hat), I can understand why the studio was nervous, and dropped this on Hulu instead.
And while this entry doesn't really do anything new, it finds some interesting angles to grab your attention, to the point that this is probably the strongest sequel we've gotten from this franchise. The only thing that could have used some work is the CG which, perhaps given the smaller budget, looks a bit off from time to time with Naru being threatened by largely cartoon looking animals, and an alien design that can't match with the physical effects work Stan Winston and his studio did back in the original. Still, I managed to be engaged by the unique setting, and a strong female character that I hope will be brought back in a future film.
My only advice is that you watch this film the way it's meant to be seen. Hulu is offering the film in a Comanche track with English subtitles, and it's definitely the way to go. This is the most atmospheric entry the franchise has seen since the original, and it's only fitting to have the natural dialect playing to fully pull you in.
The funniest moments in Easter Sunday are surprisingly the ones that are the most awkward and have nothing to do with anything, yet they allow the film's star, Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy, to do what he does best. That would be his stand up routine. There are a couple moments in the film where he suddenly launches into what his essentially his stand up act, and he gets some big laughs. He's less successful as a leading man in a comedic narrative, in which this is his first attempt.
I don't want to dissuade him from trying again, just maybe get a better script next time, or maybe write one for himself. He has a real confidence when he's just being funny, and a lot of his humor rings true. He also has great interactions with other comedians, such as Tiffany Haddish, who has a funny cameo as an ex-girlfriend who is now a cop, and savors over the fact that she's pulled him over for speeding. He shows a lot of potential here, but the material when he's not doing his stand up falters. I'm talking about the stuff that seems recycled out of ancient sitcom cliches, such as the hurried dad who's too busy to appreciate his teenage son, and especially the stuff about the violent gang that get dragged into the plot. Koy is so funny just being himself, it's a shame he has to be burdened with this kind of material.
In the world of stand up, he has made a name by creating a likable act centered around his family and culture. The movie tries to play upon this from time to time, and there are some nice touches that Filipinos will recognize. As someone who has been dating a Filipino for the past five and a half years, and have been getting a crash course in the food and culture, I certainly appreciated these moments. I would have appreciated them more if they were attached to an actual plot that didn't read like it was written after a marathon binge watch of 90s television. It creates an odd disconnect in the film, where the representation of the culture and Koy's material seems fresh, while the character he's playing and the plot itself feel like reheated leftovers from 30 years ago.
Koy plays Joe Valencia, a rising comic and struggling actor who is most famous for starring in a series of beer commercials, and is remembered by everyone for his obnoxious catch phrase. Joe has a chance for a lead supporting role on a sitcom, but the network wants him to play the role with a funny accent, due to his ethnicity. While his agent (the film's director, Jay Chandrasekhar) urges him to do the accent and take the role, Joe finds himself torn. Meanwhile, his mother (Lydia Gaston) is pressuring him to come home to celebrate Easter with the family. He brings along his distant teenage son, Joe Jr. (Brandon Wardell), who is struggling at his private school; a plot that is introduced and forgotten about as soon as Joe Jr. meets a pretty teenage girl at a park.
At home, Joe is reunited with his scheming cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero), who owes $40,000 to a gangster (Asif Ali), who wants his money by the end of the day. As the guys are racing about the city to get the money, there is also a family feud between Joe's mother and her sister Theresa (Tia Carrere) that has been going on so long, they've probably forgotten what they're still fighting about. Throw in a cameo from Lou Diamond Phillips (having fun kidding himself and his career), a lot of underwritten roles for the rest of Joe's family, including his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, and some knowing humor aimed at Filipino culture, and you have an uneven movie that is pleasant, but only works from time to time.
Easter Sunday benefits whenever it's letting its strong comic cast just play off each other and improvise, which it doesn't do as often as it should. I was more interested in what these characters were saying, rather than the plugged in plot elements of missing money, gun-toting gang members, and repairing a distant father and son relationship. This is why I am hoping that Koy gets to write his own screenplay, as he seems smart enough to carry his own brand of comedy through an entire film without having to resort to these cliches. You can see it in his performance. He's much more animated when he's improvising. When he has to stick to the script, he's likable, but not as magnetic.
As for why this movie is being released in August, rather than the spring, your guess is as good as mine, but I fear the studio is just pushing it out quietly. Jo Koy deserves better, and hopefully he gets it the next time around.
Bullet Train often plays like an explosion at the screenplay factory. It's overstuffed with witty assassins who know they're witty, and take every opportunity to show it. A movie like this needs a straight man. Instead, you have every actor in the movie trying to one-up everyone else, and act more silly, ironic, or smarter than anyone else.
The problem with a movie like this is that there's no human element for the audience to attach themselves to. When everybody in an action thriller talks like a stand-up comic, the audience knows that it's all an act. Nobody talks or acts like these people do. If you were in a room with people who talked like this, you'd go nuts wondering why nobody bothered to give you any one liners or smart remarks to say. I get that this movie is trying to be a live action hyper-violent cartoon for adults, that I'm not supposed to think too much, and just enjoy. But in a movie like this, where everybody's over the top and trying to be the most memorable thing about the film, it starts to resemble a competition. They're not characters or people, they're just actors being silly for the sake of getting attention.
The film kicks off with a hired assassin using the code name "Ladybug" (Brad Pitt), who has had terrible luck with his last few missions, and is trying to get back in the game. He only got this mission because the guy who was supposed to do it called in sick. It's a simple mission. He has to board a bullet train headed from Tokyo to Kyoto, grab a specific briefcase, and get off at the next stop where his handler (Sandra Bullock, the first of many cameos the movie throws at us) will be waiting. Naturally, the job's not going to be as easy as all that. There are other hired killers on the train as well, and even a poisonous snake that's been stolen from a local zoo, and has gotten loose.
Our killers include brothers "Tangerine" (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and "Lemon" (Brian Tyree Henry), who are working for a crime lord known as the "White Death" (Michael Shannon), and are trying to bring the briefcase and his son back safely. There is also "The Prince" (Joey King), who poses as an innocent schoolgirl, but is secretly the most psychotic of all on board. Also along for the ride is "The Father" (Andrew Koji), who wants to avenge his son who was pushed off the roof of a building, the Mexican killer "The Wolf" (musical artist "Bad Bunny"), who is seeking revenge for a hit on him, and "The Hornet" (Zazie Beetz), who specializes in poisons, and likes to torture her victims.
By this point, are you feeling restless? Am I just going to be listing nicknames and personality traits for the rest of this review? Well, reader, that's often what this movie feels like. Bullet Train is overstuffed with character and plot, but never gave enough for me to be involved. It tries to compensate by giving every one of its killers dialogue that sounds like scripted comedy material to the point that I felt like I was watching a bizarre open mic night at the improv where all the acts were trying to murder each other. Believe it or not, there's even more characters who get involved other than the ones I listed above. I had to stop myself, or else I'd be listing characters and nicknames for another paragraph.
From time to time, the humor works, but when everybody is in on it, and trying to be the most outrageous one in the movie, it starts to feel overstuffed. You know your movie is a bit too full when one of your characters is someone who dresses up in a Japanese mascot costume while on board and poisons their victims, and yet, she's only a minor character with about five minutes of screen time. Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz is trying to balance all these bizarre people, their backgrounds, their reason for being on the train, and their connection with one another, but never comes across a way to make it seem not like contrivance.
In order to be transported into a movie, I need to feel a connection. Bullet Train feels like total audience manipulation from beginning to end, and I just didn't buy a second of it.
I am a rabid movie fan since 1984 who calls them as he sees them. Sometimes harsh, but always honest, I offer my 'reel opinions' on today's films. I don't get money for my reviews, and I have to pay to get into every movie I see (even the really awful ones), so what you will see here is the true reaction of a man who is passionate about film. - Ryan Cullen