Tag Archives: 3stars

Tragedy Girls

[ 3 stars]

A bit like Heathers gone even a little bit madder, with a touch of Final Girls and any CW show thrown in. Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool 2) and Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon) really take the screen and shake it by the neck with confidence in this very dark comedy; this is their film. I can’t say you are cheering them on through their story, but you do watch with a certain amount of dark glee as they exercise and improve their skills.

The duo are helped along by a few familiar faces and many new ones. Chief among the known supporting cast are Kevin Durand (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and Jack Quaid (Rampage). Durand gets to have a bit of fun, though it isn’t much of a stretch for him. And Quaid gives us a perfect boy-next-door against Hildebrand’s brand of psychosis. There are a host of other familiar faces if you’re looking, and they all help the story succeed, but the movie is really focused around them.

Director and co-writer Tyler MacIntyre (Patchwork) slaughters the slasher genre with glee and verve. It isn’t that we haven’t seen similar approaches before, but this one is solid from beginning to end, and probably a bit too raw for a lot of audiences. However, if you like your nearly believable gooey endings with humor, you’ll enjoy the ride of this blood fest. What it has to say about society and current culture, well, that’s a discussion for another day, but certainly one worth having. But for an evening of evil popcorn munching, this is a fun and well-done choice.

Tragedy Girls

Please Stand By

[3 stars]

For all its effort, cast, and moments, this movie never quite achieves liftoff, though it is sweet and panders wonderfully to Trekkies and sci-fi geeks alike. Dakota Fanning (Now is Good) carries the story well and manages to make her performance empowering and a touchstone for anyone who’s felt challenged by the world around them. Her character is also full of enough Trek knowledge to shame the best of us (or embarrass those of us who actually did know some of it to start with).

Toni Collette (Unlocked) and Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness) work alongside Fanning well. Due to the character’s situation, there is little direct collaboration, but it isn’t unemotional. Two small roles worth noting were given life by Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day) and  Patton Oswalt (Freaks of Nature). Neither gets a full storyline, but their scenes are very effective, particularly Oswalt’s.

Michael Golamco (Grimm) adapted his own play for this script. The shift in media is smooth and there is no sense of a stage play lingering in the result. However, the story is somewhat…easy, for lack of a better word. And the timeline, particularly around Eve’s house and choices, is less than clean. However, director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) works well with the cast and the script to make it diverting and fun while still also providing some nice emotional punch. I could feel the movie teetering at the edge of something much better than it achieves, but it is still worth seeing and will leave you with a feeling of positive possibility.

Please Stand By

Life of the Party

[3 stars]

Some films live on one scene, and this is definitely in that category. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t entertaining nor that there aren’t many entertaining bits. But, there is a single scene worth your price of admission (or rental) in this bit of popcorn silliness that should live in the halls of humor for years to come. It cracked up my audience and had them groaning, shouting, gasping, and laughing out loud. You’ll know it when you see it and I’ll say no more.

This is a female dominated cast and story. Melissa McCarthy (Ghostbusters) and Molly Gordon (Love the Coopers) make an amusing mother/daughter pairing and drive the story in a nice, light way. Gillian Jacobs (Don’t Think Twice) and Heidi Gardner get to tackle and breathe life into a couple unconventional characters that each have contributions to make. Maya Rudolph (We Don’t Belong Here) delivers some great side-kick moments alone and with her screen partner. The rest of the sorority and side-characters deliver as well. And on the male side, Luke Benward provides a surprisingly genuine and grounded love interest who manages to do his part without ever taking over the screen (in a good way).

Generally, this is better than I expected, but still not a great film or classic. Like all of Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone (The Boss) movies it takes short-cuts, though it avoids most of the cliche pitfalls, and never quite how far not to take a joke. The result leaves the story fairly predictable and the characters and choices often way too broad for credibility. They do keep trying to come back to center to keep the wheels on the crazy bus…and they succeed enough to make the story enjoyable.

Like I said, this film really survives on one scene, so I can’t deny its success. Absent that moment, it would have been fairly empty and forgettable. But for that moment, which they work for and set up beautifully, make time to catch it eventually. It doesn’t have to be on the big screen, so there’s no rush, but you owe yourself that solid a belly laugh at some point.

Life of the Party

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

[3stars]

Annette Bening (20th Century Women) does a wonderful job of recreating Gloria Grahame with a sort of Marilyn Monroe at the Grand Hotel vibe. Grahame had a tragically fascinating life, full of huge successes and personal regrets. But the film never feels like a biopic. Writer Matt Greenhalgh (Nowhere BoyThe Look of Love) didn’t fall prey to assuming we already knew Grahame and were invested in her. He brings us to her just as Jamie Bell (Fantastic Four) and his family, Dame Julie Walters (Brooklyn) and Kenneth Cranham (Bancroft), come to and become attached to her.

Director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) also navigated the complicated plot and characters with confidence. He doesn’t make excuses for the characters, but allows them to be honest as he unpacks the truths over the course of the story.

I didn’t know about Grahame going in. In fact, I didn’t even realize the film was biographical till the end. It is simply an interesting story told and acted well. Benning, in particular, brings her A game to a very layered, and at times desperate, woman. This film would also make a great double-feature with Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.

Film Stars Don

Mute

[3 stars]

Mute is not a feel-good romp nor even what could be termed a fun distraction. Its roots are in films like Blade Runner, but without the history to support it. However, it has its own sort of magnetic pull thanks to director and co-writer Duncan Jones’s (Warcraft) efforts in this noirish confection.

The film unfolds at Jones’s typical laconic, but compelling, pace. The story and genre aspects aren’t entirely right, but it is consistent in its approach which allows it to work. And Jones’s nod to his previous release, Moon, is both subtle and amusing… it took me a few minutes to even realize what I’d just seen. Nods like that, which also fit into the world that has been built, you have to respect.

Most dystopian stories are about overthrowing the status quo so that sanity and justice can reign. Not this tale. This dark story is small and intimate against the background of the greater darkness of a totally screwed-up world that looks all-to-familiar. Mute also takes time weaving its its multi-threaded story into whole cloth. And then it heads down a corridor that almost ends on one of the darkest moments I’ve witnessed (we’re talking Oldboy dark). Fortunately it goes beyond that to get to someplace more palatable, but still not what one would really call happy.

The main dance is between a near silent Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan) and a hyper-juiced Paul Rudd (The Fundamentals of Caring). Their paths intersect over and over, eventually pulling them into the same story. Around these two are a bevy of odd characters. Justin Theroux (The Girl on the Train) as Rudd’s sidekick is creepy if not entirely believable. And Robert Sheehan (Geostorm) gets to totally tear it up with his outlandish character, but still manages to give him a bit of heart. Just a bit. I was also surprised to spot Dominic Monaghan (The Day) and Noel Clarke (Star Trek Into Darkness) in a couple of smaller and nastier roles.

This movie had a long road to screen. That it landed on the little screen rather than the large is probably for the best. While it has visual scope, it definitely would have had a narrow audience appeal. However, the restrictions of theatrical release may have also forced Jones to tighten up his final cut a bit as well; sort of a dual sword. The story-telling and conceits of the result, particularly the unique blending of cultures he works with, make this an interesting couple hours. Just don’t go in depressed or angry as this will only feed that spiral.

I enjoy Jones’s willingness to try new things and difficult story lines, and to tell them at his own pace. His opus definitely isn’t for everyone, but there is a talent there that is still developing and one worth watching. He got great a great performance out of Skarsgård and took Rudd some places I’ve not seen him do…and even managed to guide him to just enough humanity to pay off the plot. If you like Jones’s previous work, you should give this your time. If you haven’t yet discovered Jones, you can try this, but you might want to start with Moon and decide if his style jibes with yours first.

Mute

Den of Thieves

[2.75 stars]

When the writer of London Has Fallen, Christian Gudegast, decided to write, direct, and produce this bit of caper-violence, I didn’t hold out much hope despite its surprisingly good reception on release. The result is mixed. It is either hyper-realistic, like The Departed without the careful control, or slow and boring with little understanding of pacing, depending on your point of view and likes. On its side, Gudegast really tries to create characters with depth on all sides rather than cardboard cutouts. The problem is that there isn’t a single likable character in the tale and it is clear from early on where the story going to end up, at least it was for me.

The two sides are led by Gerard Butler (Geostorm) and Pablo Schreiber (American Gods). Both are powerful actors and each brings some levels to these fairly flat characters. They each have a crew of misfits and some have families, but no one really stands out as anything special.

The plot is very much in the spirit of Oceans 11 (remake or the original) and Logan Lucky, though without the humor. In fact, the characters lead lives of fairly obvious desperation.  The plan is clever and the cat-and-mouse game with the police is intriguing. However, much of the police part lacks credibility and the final heist is a bit unexplained and unseen. Regarding the latter, it isn’t that you can’t guess what happened, but a few shots are missing to make it clear.

Overall, this will appeal to those who like dark and violent crime stories with exceedingly flawed characters. It isn’t so much a tragedy as it is a clusterf@*# on all sides. For Gudegast’s first time directing, it is an impressive show of juggling, and his script is better than some of his previous, but it isn’t a high recommendation. Basically, this is a distraction for the right audience, but it isn’t something that will demand rewatches to appreciate any nuance that may have been missed.

Den of Thieves

I Feel Pretty

[3 stars]

Sure, this is exactly what you expect it to be…though, actually, it’s probably a bit better. Despite over-reaching a few times on the humor it still manages to be effective. Frankly, I was surprised as I’m not a fan of self-deprecating, broad humor based on silly or stupid choices. But Amy Schumer (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) manages to pull it off by embodying the fears and insecurities (and ultimately the egos) we all have. Yes, this is directed at women, heck you even get to hear the film pitch in the climax, but the message is pretty much universal.

While Schumer’s personality and delivery make this work, it is only because first-time directing and long-time writing duo, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, knew when to pull back and reset the boundaries. Their script is passable, but their control of the acting and the pace keep you there. And though this deals with some adult subjects, it really does stick to its PG-13 intent without losing its impact.

Opposite Schumer are a few roles that serve a grounding purpose. Yes, there are her friends played by Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps with rather obvious and surfacey efforts. But it was more Lauren Hutton and Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman) that gave her something to bounce off of. Williams, despite an inconsistent, if very funny, portrayal creates an hysterical character of insecurities and depth. Sadly, it doesn’t get paid off as completely as you’d like, but doing so would have delayed the the ending. What these two women manage in their short scenes is still very entertaining and pivotal to the story.

There is actually something in this flick for men as well. Rory Scovel’s (Those Who Can’t) non-traditional character helps mirror Schumer’s for men. That is highlighted by Tom Hopper (Merlin), whose not-quite-nere-do-well role is almost throwaway, except for his moment of catalyst related to Scovel’s.

There is nothing surprising in the plot of this film. It is pure entertainment with a message. And the message is simple, but rather important these days. It is actually a great delivery mechanism for anyone doubting themselves in just about any way. And, yeah, it’s a bit of amusing distraction as well. Whether you see it now or the small screen, when you’re looking for this kind of humor, you won’t be disappointed.

I Feel Pretty

Proud Mary

[2.5 stars]

Coming on the heels of Atomic Blonde and John Wick 2, this movie felt like it had a lot to prove. It wasn’t helped by the miss-promotion of it as a kissing cousin to Jackie Brown. But it really isn’t any of these. The reality is that it owes more to the 1980  classic Gloria. In fact, one of the co-writers, Steve Antin, even worked on the 1999 remake of Gloria. And Gloria, of course, was also reflected of the equally classic Léon: The Professional. But Proud Mary is a pale reflection of all of these because it isn’t really anything on its own.

The heart of the issue is that Proud Mary relies on a single thing to sell it: all women want to have kids. Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) is better than that, but I can understand why she took the role despite its weaknesses. How often do you get to drive a Maserati and play action hero? But the films from which it takes its roots got around the parenthood issues by removing that from the equation. Gloria and Léon were drawn into  protecting their wards by circumstance, not desire. It is the struggle of them finding a human connection again that drives the stories. It isn’t that they want to be parents, it is that they want to be human.

Proud Mary does attempt to set up the reasoning for Henson’s path, but we don’t really see any transition from guilt to love, though there is lip service to that being the case. Of course, director Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) isn’t the most subtle or capable of guides, though he gets a great sense of 70s films at the outset of the movie. But, frankly, if that’s what you’re looking for, just rewatch Jackie Brown.

So basically, yes, skip this unless you have a real jonesing for Henson or Danny Glover…because though Jahi Di’Allo Winston (Everything Sucks!) does a fantastic job as the young man, the rest of the film and the performances are really pretty mediocre at best.

Proud Mary

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (Psiconautas, los niños olvidados)

[3 stars]

A surreal romp about finding hope in hopelessness. At least that’s what I took away from it this viewing. Pedro Rivero and
Alberto Vázquez (with additional help from Stephanie Sheh [Your Name.] and Joe Deasy) give us a landscape that borders on Bakshi’s Wizards: post-apocalyptic, mutated, venal, self-absorbed, and still focused on the value of the past rather than providing life for the future.

The main characters are children; children who are trying to survive and find purpose in a broken world. Somehow that part of the story feels very contemporary in terms of the feelings and challenges if not the specific events and issues. The overall plot echos the global trend toward migration, economic disparity, and the ecological disaster that is picking up steam with every year. But this is less warning than it is the (merest) suggestion that there is a solution if we can just hold on to what makes life worthwhile and control the darkest parts of our own selves. It makes for a pretty packed 76 minutes.

For the animation alone, this film is worth it. It isn’t grand, highly CGI’d animation, rather it is a reflection of its graphic novel roots. It is simple, but effective. The result is fascinating, inventive, and gripping at times. It refuses to blink from horror, but also often twists it to something of beauty or potential beauty. If you like the craft and enjoy challenging animation, this is worth your time.

Furlough

[2.5 stars]

There are many things that can draw you to a movie. On rare occasions, such as this one, it is the cast alone. With billing for Melissa Leo (The Equalizer) , Anna Paquin (Bellevue), Whoopi Goldberg, and Tessa Thompson (Annihilation) I wanted to see how that bucket of talent came together. The answer is that it sort of doesn’t. Leo and Thompson drive the story and do play well off each other. However, though Leo makes a credible inmate, Thompson doesn’t really strike the figure of a credible prison guard. And while you can suspend disbelief for chunks of time, it crumbles again and again due to her decisions and actions.

To be fair, the choices are more on Surgatz’s script, which is a bit forced and not particularly believable. But a larger, more imposing woman may have worked better. Even had Thompson brought her angst-ridden Valkyrie persona to bear from Thor, I don’t think she could have dominated Leo’s personality nor made us believe the plot.

Another missed opportunity was Whoopi. She is lost in this tale, there more for cheap comic relief than real impact. Of the cast, Paquin probably has the best role. It is small, but rich in unspoken emotion. A lot of groundwork from Leo and Thompson goes into that moment to pay it off, but it still Paquin that gets to take it away.

The faults in this movie are really more with the material than the actors. Collyer’s (SherryBaby) direction helps them to some good moments, but overall it never really sustains itself nor finds a rhythm. It wants to be a road movie with kooky side-stories that mound up into a tale of redemption and moving forward for Leo and Thompson. Instead, what we get is vignettes with some funny moments and some some touching moments, but no feeling of fulfillment at the end. I can’t really recommend the movie, but if you like the actors enough, you may find it fills an evening.

Furlough