Tag Archives: popcorn

A Simple Favor

[4 stars]

Dark, funny, sexy, twisted, this mystery-cum-satire is a great ride, expertly executed by cast and crew alike. It has barely a misstep as it navigates its path to the end, and it sustains its off-plumb approach till the final credits.

The movie is led by a perfectly cast duo, Anna Kendrick (TrollsPitch Perfect) and Blake Lively (Cafe Society). What introduces itself as a simple tale of rich suburban hell slides into something quite different very early on when these women meet and become friends. Stuck in the crossfire of all the complexity is Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), with a gullible savvy. The trio are the main engine of the story and keep it humming along.

But there is a host of great smaller characters as well. Linda Cardellini (Bloodline), Andrew Ranells (Why Him?), Rupert Friend (The Death of Stalin), Jean Smart (The Accountant), and Melissa O’Neill (Dark Matter) are just a few of the cameos. Each adds something to the tale, to one degree or another, thanks to a very tight script byJessica Sharzer. Sharzer is no stranger to the dark side of things having worked on American Horror Story and Nerve and it served her well here. You know you’ve come across something special when you can get ahead of it and it still doesn’t matter…because you really don’t get entirely ahead of it anyway.

As director, Paul Feig (Ghostbusters, and the MCU) took her script and ran with it, hitting just the right tone with his actors: allowing them to be utterly aware of the absurdities of their lives and still commit to them. The level of snark and sarcasm on screen is probably well above FDA standards, and incredibly funny. Smart, broad comedy is about the hardest to pull off because it is so self-conscious and also invites criticism due to its audience because no one can claim they don’t know what’s going on. But A Simple Favor needn’t worry, it can take it, dish it back, and come out on top. Make time for this one, it will surprise you.

A Simple Favor

Predator (2018)

[3.5 stars]

The first Predator was popcorn malicious monster mayhem. Then there were a few…let’s just say misfires with a brief the amusement of AVP.  Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and co-writer Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) bring back the action and enhance the humor to bring us a silly romp with lots of fun and, actually, moderated gore despite all the violence. They even open the story with clear nods back to the first movie to anchor us before it starts to veer off. The resulting plot is very much a sequel, but with a reboot feel.

The latest collection of misfit commandos are led by Boyd Holbrook (Logan), who brings brains and brawn to our defenders. But, of course, they are defending against monsters of both alien and human-kind. The latter led by Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther) who chews and chews the scenery until it is a fine, pulpy mass. Fighting alongside Holbrook is a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of souls.  Thomas Jane (AXL), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Trevante Rhodes (Song to Song), Keegan-Michael Key (Why Him?), and Augusto Aguilera are all more than a little forced (for humor, more than anything else) but they do entertain.

And then there are the outliers that try to broaden the plot and give it a bit more meat. You’ll have to decide for yourself how credibly that is achieved. Jacob Tremblay (Book of Henry) and Yvonne Strahovski (I, FrankensteinHandmaid’s Tale) are each fine in their roles as Holbrook’s semi-estranged family. Tremblay is a bit inconsistent, but Strahovski gets in some good levels. Finally, there is Olivia Munn (Ocean’s 8) who gets to kick some butt and have some fun, but not really much of a purpose. And this is where the movie lost some of its rating for me. There are a lot of intentions toward a complex plot, but not much delivery, just lip service.

Basically, the trick with this film is to not look too closely. Despite many attempts to bring story and explanation to the tale, and some very self-conscious exposition (purposefully done), the story doesn’t really hold up to close inspection. That said, when do they ever? This is entertainment, pure and simple, with a sequel setup and the likely event of there being more to come. It does manage to recreate the fun of the first film again. I laughed, I flinched, and I enjoyed the heck out of the hunt and tech. But this isn’t groundbreaking, just entertaining (which, honestly, can be enough).

The Predator

Cargo Space is Cold

[2.5 stars]

I wanted so much more than I got out of this movie. There are some interesting ideas in here, but none are entirely new, even in the combination they are put together. There are riffs and nods to all manner of other films from Alien to Event Horizon, not to mention The Matrix and so many others. Which isn’t to say the plots were copied, but the production design and some sequences echo very loudly.

The film does tackle some of its ideas head-on, however, rather than leaving them as a surprise ending. For that I do give it credit. But the writing is very hit and miss. Some aspects of physics and space they nail and then follow it up with a scene or interaction that is a short-cut or blatantly stupid choice. Frustrating.

On the up side, at least this story does try to make a point and make you think. Admittedly not too hard, but at least there is an intention to use science fiction at its best rather than as just trappings for special effects and scares alone. It is just enough to get you through to the end, if you have a mind. But, to be brutally honest, you wouldn’t have lost much never having seen it either.

Cargo

Kin

[2 stars]

Sometimes bad films happen to good casts. This is one of them.

Myles Truitt (Queen Sugar) does an admirable job carrying the film. Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Zoë Kravitz (Gemini) support him nicely. Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose ) does well with what he has to work with. Though, honestly, I couldn’t get James Franco’s Future World performance out of my head while watching this variation on his  damaged (and stupid) bad guy. They all try hard to make what is a weak script with lousy plot choices better, but none of them can overcome its inherent weakness.

There are so many ways this movie goes wrong. Some of them are not its fault. There are intentional choices, that I respect, but which were executed poorly. The intent was to make a small, intimate and personal film about family and a kid coming of age in extraordinary circumstances. That shouldn’t have precluded making it more dynamic and interesting, but in this case it did. The pacing is slow and while the stakes are high, the emotions just aren’t there. The other problems were just bad choices and bad writing. And there is lots of both.

To be fair, I really was hoping for something a bit more Attack the Block than Sleight. In the end it was really just a weak prequel to a story we’ll never see. It comes off more as a bad TV pilot rather than a franchise launch. All of that is at the feet of Jonathan and Josh Baker and their writer, Casey, who penned the adaptation of their previous short film, Bag Man. In expanding that small idea into something new, the group made the fatal error of holding back all the interesting ideas till near the end. In trying to make a film about family, despite its trappings, they completely misjudged their opportunities when it came to the story. You aren’t left at the end looking forward to seeing what comes next, you’re wondering why the heck you had to slog through what came before to get left hanging just as it got interesting.

There are moments and short sequences that really show some directing promise from the Bakers; I would definitely give them another chance. Certainly their judgement to take the script they did is suspect, but there is ability there. However, I wouldn’t waste your time on this first outing in theater. If you want to check it out on disc or stream at some point where you can yell to your heart’s content at the characters or simply walk away without guilt, do that instead.

Kin

Terminal

[3 stars]

This beautifully designed Alice-in-Wonderland noir is a fever dream of dark delight. Rather than pretend there is a hidden agenda, everyone’s agenda is pretty much on the table from the beginning. The interesting bit is watching it all play out.

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin) as femme fatale is perfect casting. She is magnetic on screen and has just the right level of crazy dancing behind her eyes. Imagine her Harley Quinn character with complete self-control or her Tonya Harding with a lot more brain power and focus. It is a salacious and undeniably disturbing performance.

Into her orbit drift a collection of folks. Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible: Fallout) provides a nicely down-trodden and quiet soul struggling with life. Dexter Fletcher (Cockneys vs. Zombies) and Max Irons (Dorian Gray) make an interesting pair, if more than a little cliché, for her to play with. And, finally, Mike Meyers was practically unrecognizable in his own fun and twisted role at the periphery of it all.

For his first major film as writer/director, Vaughn Stein delivered a strong vision visually and story-wise. The production design evokes Blade Runner, creating a not-quite-our-world sensibility but not a world that couldn’t exist here and now.  And the game of Lewis Carroll references is fun. The story rushes near the end and flies just a bit off the rails in intent, but was worth the ride completely. There is plenty to feast on, from a craft point of view as well. Though, admittedly, if you don’t like noir it will probably leave you wanting. Coming on the heels of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, this movie got a bit lost in the shuffle. Personally, I had a great time with it and I’m curious to see what Stein can come up with next.

Terminal

Quatermass and the Pit

[3.5 stars]

I would have sworn to you that I’d seen this before. But when I got the opportunity to “re-watch” it recently, I discovered I was very wrong. What I had seen was 5 Million Years to Earth. That flick is a condensed, movie-version of this 6-part serial by the same writer, Nigel Kneale. Confusing matters is that 5 Million Years to Earth is also a title that has been used for the series at times through the years.

[As a side note if these titles sound familiar, don’t confuse it with their contemporary, 20 Million Years to Earth, which is a whole different thing and a classic in its own right.]

Like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, the show is a victim of its era, but it is also decidedly ahead of it in some ways. In fact, it is rather on point for today’s rise in xenophobia. It’s even brave enough to reuse film from the Blitz as part of its action and message barely ten years after the events. Also, the female assistant,  Christine Finn, who’s voice you might recognize from the original Thunderbirdsis about the most competent of the adults in the room.

Now, it also depicts government types as bullheaded and uneducated… OK perhaps that’s on point for our times as well more than we’d like to admit. However, generally, it was just an easy way out to write the plot, which is more complex and deeper than you’d expect for a 1958 genre classic. And, of course, there are the buckets of tea made by characters when things get dicey.

Adding to the fun and the history of it all is that Quatermass is also a direct pre-cursor to Doctor Who, which would launch 5 years later. Whether in the air or as an influencer, it is an unavoidable comparison. Seeing the bones of what inspired Who was really quite eye opening. The first Doctor even has a lot of the same mannerisms and demeanor as André Morell’s Quatermass, particularly in this sequence of the on-again, off-again show. By the way, his colleague in the plot, Cec Linder, and he both worked in TV and film until they died…these were two solid actors who gave it their all, even in this off-beat BBC offering. 

But the Who link isn’t the reason to make time for the series. Quatermass tackles questions that are still debated today and, unabashedly, suggests some answers. Given the recent discovery of a liquid lake on Mars, perhaps not entirely nutty answers. Yes, it is low-fi in its presentation, but it dose a lot with what it has, often by only inferring what you see. Yes, the plot is pushed along by less than delicate means at times. But it is just as often surprising and is undeniably captivating if you enjoy the genre at all. Make sure you see this rather than being sure you have. It wouldn’t be a waste to rewatch it, but it would certainly be a shame to never have.

Quatermass and the Pit

A-X-L

[2.5 stars]

A dirtbike riding teen with a robot dog, how could this go wrong? Well, many ways. There are some things that go right, but this is a generally forgettable movie with a standard plot aimed at a pre-teen/tween audience.

What they did well was Becky G (Power Rangers), who was actually the sharpest pencil in the box. And, despite how they dressed her, well in control of herself and the situations around her. And the movements of the CGI dog were pretty spot on. Thomas Jane (The Expanse) was also nicely nuanced in a small role, but one with impact. As the capable, but slightly dim and rash lead, Alex Neustaedter (Colony) is OK, but the script did him no favors.

On the other hand, Alex MacNicoll (13 Reasons Why) was just such a stock character it was disappointing. MacNicoll didn’t do poorly with what he had, again the script just didn’t allow him much quarter. Dominic Rains (A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightAgents of SHEILD) didn’t even manage to rise above the script to credibility.

For a first film, Oliver Day held together the pacing and heavy effects issues well. Unfortunately, he also tried to write the script, which he didn’t execute as cleanly. He aimed at too young an audience for the subject matter and situations he wanted to address. Because of that, he glossed how some things work (the military, high security research bases, relationships, etc.). The result feels like an old TV show with a bit more budget and scope, but not much.

It isn’t that I didn’t feel entertained by Day’s result, but you could see the better movie hiding within its skin. Certainly it showed some ability, and for a younger crowd it may suffice for some distraction. Worth it in the theater? Not really…queue it up for a rental down the road.

As a sidenote, this flick will also go down as the movie that broke Global Road’s back. After the failure of Hotel Artemis and and AXL, bankruptcy seems the final destination for the recently formed studio collaboration.

AXL

The Happytime Murders

[3.5 stars]

This isn’t the first R-rated puppet story put out to the public. There was the brilliant Smile Time episode of Angel, Avenue Q on Broadway, and, of course Ted. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, as does this silly and fun Brian Henson confection.

One of the things that really makes this work is that Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party) isn’t actually the lead. Back in a supporting role capacity she adds character and her antics don’t dominate the story. The lead is Muppets veteran Bill Barretta, whose tough talking private dick hits just the right note of felt-noir to carry this all off.

There are a few supporting roles that really help as well. Maya Rudolph (Life of the Party), in particular, knew what she was in and went for it completely. Her love-lorn Bubbles is a hoot. And Elizabeth Banks (Power Rangers) had some fun with her part as well.

The world is amusing, but it never quite leaves its Muppets roots. When Angel did this, they didn’t act like puppets, they acted like, well, characters. The muppets in this tale, by plot design, are very much puppets of fluff. And the movie truly missed it opportunity to discuss prejudice in a unique and effective way, especially with McCarthy’s storyline. I will grant Henson one important directing kudos, unlike Ted, he knew when to back off a joke (most of the time).

I had fun with this, even with the “what it could have been” thoughts. It is a great end of summer escape. It is definitely unique for this year’s releases, and it is done relatively well with sense of both mystery and whimsy (even if a lot of the mystery is obvious). The first few stars are because it is a fun watch. That extra half star in my rating is for its guts to do the movie in the first place.

The Happytime Murders

Escape Plan 2: Hades

[2.5 stars]

The first Escape Plan was silly at best, but it boasted the buddying up of Stallone (Creed) and Schwarzenegger. This sequel dropped Arnold and added Dave Bautista (Blade Runner 2049), sort of. The two headliners are really more in the side action than the main plot.

The real focus of the story is Xiaoming Huang. He certainly has the martial arts chops for the role, but he isn’t the most emotive. Established as Stallone’s protege, he spends portions of the film “hearing” Stallone in his head. Let’s just say that Stallone’s voice isn’t the most mellifluous nor the most understandable inner voice to listen to as Huang’s companion.

Wes Chatham (The Expanse), along with Jesse Metcalfe (Dallas) are the primary players fighters alongside Huang. And Chenying Tang is there to add some level of story to it all…admittedly not much of one. The biggest, and oddest, surprise was Titus Welliver (Bosch) in a small but pivotal role. I’m guessing he took it for the action opportunity because, despite trying to add some depth to his character, there just isn’t much there to work with. Basically, a waste of his talents.

Stallone clearly sets this up for a third installment (Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station now in post-production), in some kind of a weird trilogy. If they can get some better writing and not wait too long between releases, they might pull this story back on track. However, I suspect it will continue to diminish over time given that this went straight to video and it is the same writer again.

If you just want some clever ideas and occasional moments of nicely choreographed fights, it isn’t an intolerable 90 minutes, but you could do much better.

Escape Plan 2: Hades

Crazy Rich Asians

[4 stars]

So all that joy, surprise, and summer delight that I had hoped Mama Mia! Here We Go Again would bring me is here in this movie. It is a broad rom-com to be sure, but it manages to go a bit beyond that. By the end this is more about real love than it is about idealized stories. Not that this isn’t a fantasy, it surely is, but it is one that does what it wants to do well and you’ll willingly go along with it.

In the leads, Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and relative new-comer Henry Golding make a wonderful couple with great chemistry. You can believe and invest in them, even when Golding’s choices are a bit less than supportive around his family.

And it is Golding’s family that is at the core of challenges, with Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: DiscoveryThe Mechanic: Resurrection) as his mother. A side-plot with Gemma Chan (Humans) as his cousin is also well-delivered. In many ways, Chan’s presence actually starts to steal the movie, but that is kept in check by limiting her story’s screen time.

Wu’s Rachel has her own set of friends in Singapore, led by Akwafina (Ocean’s 8) and her crazy family. These are the broadest characters we meet. Given her father is Ken Jeong (The DUFF), that isn’t much of a surprise. Only Nico Santos (Superstore) matches their antics as part of the story. We expect a certain amount of this in a rom-com, but it sometimes skirts the edge of the cliff if it isn’t your type of humor. There are some side characters that actually jump off that cliff, but they don’t really matter for the plot in any real way.

After the bomb of Jem and the Holograms, director Jon M. Chu is probably breathing a huge sigh of relief at the success of this release. He manages the story well, never quite letting it get out of control and delivering the wrap-up with a solid punch. It leaves you smiling, tapping your feet, and celebrating love (and wishing you, too, were super rich, of course). This is a great piece of escapist fun and, as you’d expect, a great datenight flick.

Crazy Rich Asians