Baywatch


Ladies, you are most welcome!

(2017) Action Comedy (Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Amin Joseph, Jack Kesy, Oscar Nuñez, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Clem Cheung, Belinda, Charlotte McKinney, Izabel Goulart, Arian Foster, Vernon Davis, Eros Exarhou. Directed by Seth Gordon

 

Television shows, particularly popular ones, tend to be products of their own era. They reflect the tastes and mores of their times; that doesn’t always make them dated so much as it makes it easily identifiable when they were made. Nobody can doubt, for example, that Welcome Back, Kotter was a product of the 70s, 21 Jump Street was a product of the 80s or that Baywatch was a product of the 90s. When transferring these products to the big screen, a certain amount of updating is necessary for them not to seem hopelessly anachronistic. That generally requires a change in tone from serious to self-mocking.

Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) is not only a lifeguard, he’s the lifeguard. He leads a crack team that includes CJ Parker (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Hadera). It’s that time of year when new trainees are being welcomed into the program and this year’s group is an odd lot, including the overweight nebbish Ronnie Greenbaum (Bass), the perky but serious Summer Quinn (Daddario) and the disgraced ex-Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) who is only there because he’s doing community service for a drunk and disorderly conviction.

Affable Mitch and arrogant Matt take to each other like hurricanes and small Caribbean islands, but they are more or less stuck with each other. When a body washes up on the beach, Mitch is suspicious. Eventually the evidence points back to Victoria Leeds (Chopra) a sexy but amoral real estate developer who intends to make the Bay private. Of course that doesn’t sit well with Mitch to begin with and when the local cop (Mateen) expresses disinterest, he decides to investigate on his own with Matt protesting that llifeguards aren’t crime fighters.

Nonetheless the Baywatch team takes on Victoria’s band of thugs and killers and she outsmarts them, leading to the breakup of the team. The only way for the Baywatch family to remain intact is to prove that Victoria is behind the infusion of drugs into the area and the murders that will allow her master plan to flourish.

I expected to really hate this and given the dismal reviews it got, it’s not hard to understand why. I was surprised that it was actually not that bad – not earth-shattering stuff mind you but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. This is, after all, based on Baywatch folks, not Shakespeare in the Park. This isn’t meant to be anything more than entertaining and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

As you might imagine, this isn’t your pappy’s Baywatch. This is far raunchier than the 90s version – I don’t recall ever seeing someone’s junk getting caught in a sun chair on the show – and there is a self-deprecating tone that I’m pretty sure was missing from the original, although I must admit that I wasn’t really a fan of the show; having lived near beaches almost all of my life the sight of buff tanned bodies in skimpy swimsuits really doesn’t do anything for me when it comes to making choices for regular TV viewing. If I want to see that, I just have to drive no more than 45 minutes and I’ve got all I can handle. But I digress…

Johnson is perfect for this kind of role. He has that easygoing persona with a core of “I can kick your ass anytime I feel like it” below the surface. He’s always had a natural comic timing so action movies with a comedic bent have always suited him best, although he’s just fine at straight action also. He’s one of the most charismatic leads working in Hollywood currently, on the level of Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg. This is right in his wheelhouse.

Efron has shown in the two Neighbors films that nobody does snarky like he does. He plays one of those characters here that you can’t stand from the beginning but who deep down isn’t a bad guy. Eventually you just know he’s going to turn it around and he does; Efron has to make the change believable and he also does.

This is in many ways the ultimate summer movie; light, mindless, amusing and utterly forgettable. You can smell the sun screen, feel the rays warming your skin and hear the gulls squawking above the surf hours after the movie is over. If you’re looking for a movie that is going to push the boundaries of cinema, this isn’t it. This was never going to be it. If however you’re looking for something that is going to take your mind off of things for a couple of hours, keep you entertained and maybe even get you to laugh out loud a couple of times, you’ve found what you are looking for and as the fall and winter begin to turn temperatures colder, some of you are going to need this movie to keep you going until the next summer rolls around.

REASONS TO GO: It was funnier than I expected it to be.
REASONS TO STAY: Its welcome is worn out quickly.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including crude sexual humor and innuendo as well as brief but graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Johnson and Daddario previously worked together on San Andreas.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 19% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lifeguard
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Crown Heights

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Killbillies (Idila)


Slovenia: Land of natural beauty and bored models.

Slovenia: Land of natural beauty and bored models.

(2015) Horror (Artsploitation) Nina Ivanisin, Lotos Sparovec, Nika Rozman, Sebastian Cavazza, Jurij Drevensek, Manca Ogorevc, Damjana Cerne, Matic Bobnar, Damir Leventic, Ajda Smrekar, Liza Marija Grasic, Kaja Janjic, Klemeth Nadler, Polona Torkar, Luka Zivec, Kristof Modic, Jana Nucic, Robert Sercer, Alen Rupnik, Gregor Janez, Tina Jenko, Nastasia Koncina, Nada Bozic. Directed by Tomaz Gorkic

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It is often the most idyllic countryside that is the most remote. Those places that are for the most part unspoiled by modern society seem to be the most beautiful. They can also be the most dangerous.

Zina (Ivanisin) is an amateur model who is very much aware that she is no longer in demand and that the time for career success as literally passed her by. Unpopular with her fellow models for her no-bullshit attitude, she is honest to a fault and sometimes pisses off people with her straightforward opinions. She goes out for a night of drinking with three other girls who also dabble in modeling at a bar that can only charitably be described as a dive, but one of the girls likes the home-brewed liquor they served, all of it coming out of bottles with a curious whorl pattern on the label and nothing else. The ladies gossip amongst themselves until Zina is accosted in the unisex bathroom and has to resort to kneeing the guy who won’t take go to Hell for an answer right in the family jewels.

The next day she has a photo shoot with veteran photographer Blitcz (Cavazza) who also brings ditzy Mia (Rozman) for the outdoor shoot. They are joined by make-up artist Dragica (Ogorevc) who is a former model herself. They head out to a meadow way in the boonies of Slovenia and one has to admit, the location is beautiful but not so well-chosen; they are in short order approached by Francl (Sparovec) and Vintlr (Drevensek), two inbred redneck types whose country bumpkin look belies their sinister intent. They manage to overpower the four of them and transport them to a basement.

It turns out that these two yokels are moonshiners and their liquor is very special – it is distilled from the essence of fluid extracted from the human brain. It is an extremely painful process and one that is fatal to the person unlucky enough to be distilled, so to speak. Zina realizes after one of their number is brutally bludgeoned to death in front of her that they will all die if she doesn’t find a way out of the basement, but beyond it there are miles of forest that her captors know well – and she knows not at all. It will take all her wits and will to live to survive.

I wasn’t expecting much to be honest; I admit I’m not terribly familiar with the Slovenian film industry and I had my doubts that this would be anything more than a Grade Z cheapie. Instead, it turned out to be a suspenseful little action-packed gem with some pretty decent performances, particularly from Rozman and Ivanisin and some pretty spectacular gore effects that would do a big-budget Hollywood film proud.

The movie is pretty much divided between spectacular outdoor shots in the countryside and cramped, claustrophobic interiors. Both look pretty darn good, although some of the interiors are a little too dimly lit. Still, the last twenty minutes or so which is essentially one long chase scene is almost all outdoors and done with extreme effectiveness.

There isn’t a lot of sexuality here, although the ladies are gorgeous and one of the inbreds does seem like he’s going to rape one of the models midway through the movie but for the most part sex here is almost all unwanted by the ladies which makes for some interesting psychology. There is also a clear urban vs. rural divide here that hearkens back to classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of 1,000 Corpses that clearly have influenced the work here.

The behavior of the models with the exception of Zina is pretty much shallow and irritating, so some viewers having to listen to Mia prattle on interminably might get a little bit done with her before the film is done with her but she is dang pretty to look at. There is also a ton of smoking in the film; I found it somewhat amusing that all the gorgeous models smoke like chimneys but the horribly mutated hillbillies do not.

The effects make-up on Francl and Vintlr are also pretty nifty; Francl has a bulbous nose and a sunken right eye with pock marks and pustules turning his skin into a teen’s worst nightmare, while Vintlr has an elongated face, teeth only a Brit could love and also his share of skin issues. Both of them are about as ugly as you can imagine and while I wish there would have been more use of Mia’s shallowness about good-looking guys be laid bare by her revulsion to the spectacularly ugly country boys, the monsters here are satisfactory, although as things turn out, the worst monsters might be the ones who look normal.

In any case, this is in Slovenian with English subtitles but it’s well worth checking out, particularly this time of year. It’s a really fine film that you’ve never heard of so if you’re looking for something a little different to push your fright buttons this Halloween, this is truly a find you might appreciate.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s a surprisingly well-made film that cranks up the suspense in the last 20 minutes. The locations are beautiful.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the acting is a little bit over-the-top. Some of the shallow behavior of the models might be irritating to some.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of gore and violence, some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first full-length horror film to be produced by and in Slovenia.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Amazon Prime, Vimeo
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hills Have Eyes
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Day 2 of Six Days of Darkness!

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)


Francois Cluzet is late for the bus.

Francois Cluzet is late for the bus.

(2006) Suspense (Music Box) Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze, Andre Dussollier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Francois Berleand, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Marina Hands, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Lefebvre, Florence Thomassin, Olivier Marchal, Guillaume Canet, Brigitte Catillon, Samir Guesmi, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Jalil Lespert, Eric Savin. Directed by Guillaume Canet

One of the joys of a good thriller is that you don’t always know where it’s taking you. Getting there is half the fun; figuring out how you got there before you actually show up – priceless.

Alex Beck (Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Croze) have been sweethearts since they were children. Alex, a pediatrician, loves his wife with a passion but things aren’t all roses and soda pop; for one thing, this is France so it’s roses and wine thank you very much.

 

They’re on vacation in an idyllic lake setting and they get into one of those silly, meaningless arguments that married couples sometimes have. They are on a float in the middle of the lake; Margot takes off swimming for shore in a huff. A short time later, Alex hears her bloodcurdling scream. Terrified, he swims like an Olympian for shore but once he gets there, he is hit in the head, hard enough to put him in a coma for several days, and falls back into the water.

When he comes to, he discovers that Margot is missing and presumed dead. Worse yet, he is presumed to be her killer. The damning thing is actually his head wound; he was comatose but when discovered he was on the dock, not in the water. If he was in a coma how did he get there?

Alex has no explanation. He’s devastated – despite the fight his wife was everything. Seven years pass and Alex continues to be a shattered man going through the motions of life. However, he has never really escaped the murder as police still think he did it but can’t prove it. When two bodies are found in a shallow grave near where Margot was last seen, the old charges are brought up again. More disturbing still, Alex gets an e-mail with video depicting a woman who looks like Margot only a little older and begging him to “tell no one.” Is Margot still alive? Or is the killer messing with Alex in an attempt to further destroy him?

 

This is a story worthy of Hitchcock although it was actually written not by a Frenchman but by an American mystery author named Harlan Coben. From pretty much the opening scene you are on the edge of your seat and once this thing really gets going you feel like you’re on one of those teacup rides only without the vertigo. Canet constructs this beautifully and manages to cram an awful lot of story into two hours running time.

The hangdog Cluzet makes an excellent lead actor here. His anguish is apparent and his desperation equally so. He is being chased by the cops and like a trapped animal he does what it takes to survive. There is a chase scene through the streets of Paris which is as good as any action film chase you have ever seen and should be a must-see for any aspiring filmmaker who wants to film one. It is taut, dramatic, exciting and innovative without rewriting the whole book of chase scenes.

There is a great cast of supporting characters from Alex’ lesbian sister (Hands) to his lawyer (Baye) to his sister’s lover (Thomas) to a corrupt politician (Rochefort) to a sympathetic detective (Berleand) to his suspicious father-in-law (Dussollier) to a helpful criminal (Lellouche). Each of these is well-developed beyond being means to an end within the plot even though that’s what they essentially are. However, you never know for the most part how they are going to fit into the puzzle.

 

And that’s really what Tell No One is to be honest – a nice, big jigsaw puzzle. While it isn’t always easy to figure out and the ending is a bit of a cheat with characters surfacing near the very end who take the plot in unexpected directions, this is still absolute must-viewing for any aficionado of the suspense/thriller genre. Don’t let the subtitles scare you; there’s plenty else in the movie that will make your heart beat faster as it is.

WHY RENT THIS: Extremely taut. Cluzet makes for an everyman kind of hero. Takes unexpected turns.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hard to follow in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A smattering of violence, a fair amount of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The novel this was based on was originally offered to Hollywood, but author Harlan Coben was contacted by Canet who, Coben says, understood that the story was a thriller second and a love story first; therefore when the option fell through, Coben  awarded it to Canet instead. With the success of the Canet version, Hollywood has now optioned the novel where it sits currently in development hell.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an outtakes reel on the Blu-Ray edition.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.4M on a $15M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Stream), Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes (rent/buy), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cache (Hidden)
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: If I Stay