Marry Me


Do you take this pop star to be your unlikely wedded wife?

(2022) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Sarah Silverman, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Buteau, Khalil Middleton, Kat Cunning, Taliyah Whitaker, Diego Lucano, Brady Noon, Connor Noon, Ryan Foust, Léah Jiménez Zelaya, Tristan-Lee Edwards, Scarlett Earls, Olivia Chun, Jim Kaplan, Jameela Jamil, Hoda Kotb. Directed by Kat Coiro

Rom-coms have their own peculiar kind of logic. They play on our romantic fantasies of finding true love despite apparently insurmountable odds. One of the most popular sub-genres is what I call the Pretty Woman effect, in which a ridiculously wealthy and/or famous person falls for an ordinary person from an entirely different world, and we get to see those worlds collide. But, like all rom-coms, true love eventually prevails – and that shouldn’t be a spoiler to any fan of the genre.

Pop star Kat Valdez (Lopez) came up from the streets of Brooklyn to become an international pop sensation, whose every move is chronicled on social media. She is about to hit a publicity bonanza; her hit song “Marry Me,” performed with her fiancée Bastian (Maluma) has spawned a huge tour, at the conclusion of which she and Bastian will perform the song together live, and then have their wedding ceremony onstage, live-streamed to more than 20 million viewers and an in-house audience at the venue.

In that audience is Charlie (Wilson), a middle school math teacher who doesn’t even want to be there. He got tickets to the exclusive event through the school’s guidance counselor Parker (Silverman) – who also happens to be his best friend – whose two guests had bailed on her. Charlie’s daughter Lou (Coleman) is a huge fan, so he agreed to go for her sake.

But just before the ceremony is to take place, word races through social media that Bastian cheated on Kat – with her assistant, no less – and the devastated bride-to-be comes onstage with a tearful excoriation of her love life, which had been carefully planned, only to end up with three divorces and now this never-happened. When she sees Charlie holding his daughter’s sign that says “Marry Me,” she is inspired in her grief and pain to propose to him. Charlie, thrust into the spotlight unwillingly, goes with the moment, not wanting to humiliate the already-devastated pop star further and says yes. The two are then married.

Kat’s manager (Bradley) wants to make sure this is spun in a way that doesn’t make Kat look more psycho than she already does, so they convince Charlie to hang in there and play husband for a few months, at which time she would make a generous donation to his school. He agrees…for the kids, of course. And if you know rom-coms at all, you know how this one will go.

The formula is so ingrained that Da Queen and I even before the movie started had bet that certain things would happen – and every last one of them did. To say that this movie is predictable is to underestimate predictability; unless you’ve never seen a romantic comedy before, you are just as likely to figure out how this movie will turn out and what steps it will take to get there.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if the filmmakers pull off the steps with a certain amount of style (they do) and the leads are interesting and root-worthy (they are). There’s nothing here that’s surprising or innovative, but Coiro is a good director who knows that she’s making a movie written by algorithm; rather than fight it, she goes with it and even revels in it to a certain degree. I’m not a particular fan of Lopez, but she’s essentially playing herself here, or at least a version of her, and so she makes the character at least reasonably charming. The soundtrack is mostly performed by her (and in duet with Colombian pop star Maluma) and is fine if you like modern top 40 music, which to be honest I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the songs are bad for what they are. It’s just not my taste. Anywho, getting back on track, Wilson has relied on a certain amount of frayed-around-the-edges charm since his career began, and he in many ways is the best thing about the movie, delivering the kind of performance we have come to expect and appreciate from him.

It can be said that both actors are a bit long in the tooth for their roles (both are in their fifties, playing characters who appear to be in their thirties) but that doesn’t really matter; they may be middle-aged at this point in their careers, but they have the experience to pull off this kind of movie without putting up much of a sweat. The result is a movie that has enough charm to see it through, but not enough to make you realize that you’ve seen this before and done better.

The movie is currently playing in theaters but is also available on the Peacock streaming service. Choose your method of seeing it according to how willing you are to drive to your local multiplex and see it.

REASONS TO SEE: Wilson has the kind of warmth to carry the film and Lopez has enough charm to get audiences to root for the couple.
REASONS TO AVOID: Encumbered by too many rom-com cliches.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Believe it or not, this is the first time Lopez has used her own singing voice in a film; the only other film she sang onscreen in was Selena in which she lip-synched the songs of the title character.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Peacock
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Music and Lyrics
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Highwaymen

Dracula (1931)


Look into my eyes…

(1931) Horror (Universal) Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles Gerrard, Moon Carroll, Josephine Velez, Michael Visaroff, Cornelia Thaw, Geraldine Dvorak, Dorothy Tree, Barbara Bozoky, Anna Bakacs, Tod Browning (voice), John George, Wyndham Standing, Bunny Beatty. Directed by Tod Browning

As the silent era drew to a close and talkies became the “in” thing, Dracula – based on a stage play and not directly on Bram Stoker’s novel, although the play certainly used it as a starting point – became for Universal, the beginning of the studio’s long tenure as the monster studio. Together with Frankenstein which appeared later the same year, it became part of the one-two punch that would land legendary movie monsters like the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man at the studio and terrify generations of moviegoers and kids watching creature feature TV shows.

Real estate agent Renfield (Frye) goes to Transylvania to meet up with a client to close a leasing of property in London. The superstitious villagers warn him not to go to the Castle Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains, but he fails to heed their warnings and takes an unusual coach trip – a coach with no driver. Once at the castle, he meets Count Dracula (Lugosi) who turns out to be a man with a supernaturally intense gaze and a dislike of wine, which he never drinks. But the Count turns out to be more than a man – he is a vampire, the undead, as Renfield discovers too late – being driven mad and becoming the Count’s servant.

When the ship Renfield booked passage on returns to London, the horrible discovery is that the crew is all dead, there are a number of coffins aboard and only one survivor – Renfield, who is locked away in the asylum of Dr. Seward (Bunston). Seward’s daughter Mina (Chandler) is engaged to the handsome John Harker (Manners) and is close friends with Lucy Weston (Dade), a neighbor of the property the Count has leased. But the Count recognizes Lucy as a potential meal, and transforms her into a fellow vampire.

Fortunately, professional vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Van Sloan) arrives, in hot pursuit of the Count. He knows Dracula for what he is, and knows how to kill him. But can he and Harker possibly defeat a nearly immortal creature that has 500 years of experience in defeating foolish mortals like themselves?

This is a movie that is a classic in every sense of the word. The brooding, gothic sets; the wonderfully atmospheric cinematographer of Karl Freund, a German cinematographer who worked with F.W. Murnau on Metropolis and The Last Laugh and whom some credit with co-directing the movie, so important were his contributions. Browning chose to release the film without a score; music has since been added, but if you’ve ever seen a version without music, you’ve seen it as the director intended.

But what makes the movie is Lugosi. A Hungarian émigré, his English is heavily accented which would dog Lugosi throughout his career; however, the Eastern European lilt is perfect for the role as are Lugosi’s expressive eyes. Lugosi came from a theatrical background and often uses grand gestures in his performance here, a product of that background. That kind of thing was less noticeable back in the early sound era, when many stage actors were recruited for the talkies as silent actors often had voices that didn’t reproduce well (as with John Gilbert) or who gave stiff readings of their dialogue. The intensity of Lugosi’s performance here, though, is unquestioned and for nearly a century since the movie was released, is the performance most associated with the role, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella notwithstanding.

There are strong elements of melodrama in the screenplay, and Browning’s direction is often stiff and stagey, and for those reasons there are some who feel that the movie doesn’t hold up weel, but I disagree. Freund’s tracking shot as Renfield enters the castle is a breathtaking introduction to the Count, and the terrifying coach ride through the Carpathians is creepy even today. Not only is this a true Halloween classic and perhaps the ultimate Universal monster movie (credited with keeping the studio afloat through near-bankruptcy during the Depression), it is one of the most perfect adaptations of the Dracula legend ever. For all lovers of scary cinema, this is truly a must-see.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully atmospheric. A legendary performance by Lugosi. Classic in every sense of the word. Still spooky even by modern standards. Certain scenes still give me the heebie-jeebies.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might feel a bit quaint and dated for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is implied violence and sexuality, and some mild terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie began life as a Broadway play; Lugosi had originated the title role on the Great White Way and along with Van Sloan and Bunston, are the only actors to transition from the stage version to the screen.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Peacock, Redbox, Spectrum, TCM, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; ;Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nosferatu
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Crutch

The Invisible Man (2020)


Don’t look now…

(2020) Thriller (Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie, Renee Lim, Brian Meegan, Nick Kici, Vivienne Greer, Nicholas Hope, Cleave Williams, Cardwell Lynch, Sam Smith, Zara Michales, Serag Mohammed, Nash Edgerton, Anthony Brandon Wong, Xavier Fernandez, Amali Golden. Directed by Leigh Whannell

 

One of the unexpected side effects of #MeToo is that women are beginning to take back horror. Until recently, they were cast mostly as victims waiting to be slaughtered by a monster or a human monster. Yes, the final girl thing was a bit of a sop, but it was clearly understood that putting women in jeopardy had a sexual element to it. Horror films were often an allegory for how women were perceived in our culture; virtuous and plucky (final girls were almost never sexual) or sexy and not too bright, or at least prone to panicking when the chips were down, playing right into the killer’s hands – often literally.

That’s changing, as yesterday’s horror review illustrated, and it’s even more true of this film, inspired VERY loosely by the 1897 novel of H.G. Wells. Cecilia Kass (Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship by a controlling billionaire who keeps her under 24/7 surveillance. Pushed to her absolute limit, she plots her escape, aided by her sister Emily (Dyer) who picks her up when she flees from the high-tech home she shares with her domestic partner Adrian Griffin (Jackson-Cohen), just barely getting away. Emily drives her into San Francisco where she bunks with her good friend James (Hodge), who happens to be a cop, and his teenage daughter Sydney (Reid).

Then word reaches her that her ex has committed suicide, and his creepy brother Tom (Dorman) gives her the news that he left her a sizable inheritance, enough to help Sydney with her college plans and to give her some financial relief. Too good to be true, right?

Right. Soon strange things begin to happen, merely annoying at first and growing exponentially more disturbing. Cecilia gets the feeling she’s being watched, and her paranoia only increases. Soon she seems to be coming unhinged, unglued, or at the very least, having a complete breakdown. But WE know that there is something else going on. After all, we saw that knife floating around by itself. We saw the footprints in the carpet. Is it Adrian’s ghost, or something more tangible – and ultimately more terrifying?

As horror films go, this one is long on tension but short on scares. In fact, I think it would be justifiably be considered more of a thriller than an out-and-out horror film, although there are definitely some horrific elements – they are just few and far between.

Whannell seems more intent on making a point than creating a legitimately scary movie. Fortunately, he has one of the best in the world at playing emotionally fragile characters in Elisabeth Moss (who will always be Zoey Bartlet to me) and she gets to exercise that particular skill to near-perfection here. She is certain that something sinister is going on and tells her circle of friends so, but nobody believes her. It’s no accident that her last name is Kass…could be short for “Cassandra.”

She gets some good support from Hodge (who will always be Alec Hardison to me) as the kindly but skeptical cop and Reid (who will always be Meg Murry to me) as the savvy teen. Dorman (who will always be John Tavner to me) lends sufficient creepiness as the late tech billionaire’s brother.

Part of the problem is that we don’t get much of a sense of who Adrian is. He’s essentially brilliant, vindictive and cruel, but we never really get to know much more than that. I tend to like a little more depth to my villains, even if they are ostensibly dead for most of the movie. Plus, there are few scares and that is a bit of a letdown, considering Whannell’s pedigree (he has been involved with two major horror franchises) and the fact that this is using the title of a classic horror movie. The audience can’t help but expect a horror movie when they sit down to watch.

Jilted expectations aside, the movie does a fair job of making its points about how women are portrayed, and although at times Moss can get a bit shrill she still makes a decent enough heroine, particularly in the mega-satisfying denouement. However, I can’t honestly say that the movie made a connection with me and thus I can’t in good conscience give it anything more than a very slight recommendation which is being damned by faint praise indeed.

REASONS TO SEE: Nobody is better than Moss than getting women on the edge of hysteria.
REASONS TO AVOID: The villain was not really developed properly.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some pretty intense violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was originally intended to be part of the Dark Universe, Universal’s classic monster-oriented shared cinematic universe, but after the box office failure of The Mummy, the concept collapsed and Universal opted to go with individual stories rather than having a shared background.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Cinemax Go, DirecTV, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hollow Man
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Continuing Adventures of Six Days of Darkness!

Kipchoge: The Last Milestone


The face of African wisdom.

(2021) Sports Documentary (Universal) Eliud Kipchoge, Peter Nduhiu, Patrick Sang, Barnard Lanat, Augstine Choge, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, Denis Noble, Yannis Pitsiladis, Julien Wanders, Jos Hermans, Sir Jim Ratliffe, David Brailsford, Bobby Kotchell, Dr. William Ruto. Directed by Jake Scott

 

Kenya has produced some world class distance runners, from Kip Keino on to Eliud Kipchoge, who many consider the greatest marathon runner of our time. He owns the world record of 2 hours, 3 minutes set in 2018 at the Monza marathon. He has also won nearly every major marathon, including Boston, New York, and the Olympics. However, the Kenyan legend had his eyes on a different sort of prize.

What Kipchoge proposed to do was something that nobody had even considered before; to run a marathon in under two hours. In order to do it, he would need optimum conditions; a closed course in Vienna was selected. The course had to be as perfectly level as possible, the payment without blemish. The weather would have to be coolish, but not too cold.

In the first half hour of the movie, we meet Kipchoge and there is almost a hero-worship going on; he is depicted as a humble, disciplined, inspirational and driven man who is beloved as a national hero in Kenya – all of which is true. Mr. Kipchoge has one of those faces that holds your interest; it is the face of African wisdom, older than time and just as permanent. But a lot of what he says sounds like it came out of a Nike commercial, a self-help handbook, a positive message poster, or all of the above.

It is only when we get into the nuts and bolts of the preparation for the historic run that the movie takes off. We see the immense preparation that takes place as well as the cutting edge science that is used to give Kipchoge every advantage in breaking the milestone. When he runs, a phalanx of pace runners are ahead of him in a Y-shape in order to cut down wind drag on the Kenyan runner. For that reason, when Kipchoge does achieve the impossible (it is not really a spoiler to pass on this information, any more than it is to mention that the Titanic sinks at the end of the movie) it is not considered an actual world record because the conditions were not marathon race conditions.

Still, the achievement is incredible, something to gape at in helpless admiration. As someone who would time his own marathon with a calendar, I could truly feel awe at the achievement. Clearly the filmmakers did as well, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it did feel like they didn’t really explore the man Kipchoge too deeply during the film; he remains more of an icon than a human being throughout the movie and that’s a shame because from what glimpses we do get, the man Eliud Kipchoge seems to be a man who viewers would likely be very interested in getting to know better.

REASONS TO SEE: It’s hard not to admire someone taking on a challenge that is seemingly impossible.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sort of a hagiographic collection of self-help aphorisms.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jake Scott’s father, Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott, was a producer on this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Flix Fling, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Barkley Marathons
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Tupac and Biggie

Ma


Everyone ready to party with Ma?

(2020) Horror (Blumhouse/UniversalOctavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Tanyell Waivers, Dominic Burgess, Heather Marie Pete, Tate Taylor, Luke Evans, Margaret Fegan, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Matthew Welch, Skyler Joy, Nicole Carpenter. Directed by Tate Taylor

High school is a time when we find ourselves, or at least begin to. One of the things we explore is alcohol. It’s illegal – forbidden – so naturally, we have to check it out. Teenagers are natural contrarians to begin with, so telling them they can’t do something is tantamount to giving them incentive to do just that. A friend of mine who fancied himself a wag once said that the only way to get his teenage daughter to do her homework was tell her she wasn’t allowed to do it.

Young Maggie (Silvers) has moved to a small town in Ohio with her freshly-divorced Mom (Lewis). Her mother grew up there and still has a lot of her friends living there. Maggie is a bit on the shy side, but quickly makes a bunch of friends and just as quickly finds out that there’s not a lot for kids her age to do in town other than to score some alcohol and find a place to party, mainly in places that are probably not ideal for a bunch of drunk kids to hang out in.

Trying to get an adult to buy some liquor for them proves to be difficult until along comes Sue Ann (Spencer), a veterinary assistant who remembers what it’s like to be young. She offers her basement for the young people to party in, once she buys the laundry list of liquor that they provide her. She just has a few ground rules; no spitting on the floor, no taking the Lord’s name in vain, and under NO circumstances are the kids to go upstairs.

At first, the situation seems to be ideal – a safe place to get hammered, and Sue Ann turns out to be a fun party thrower. She gets everyone to refer to her as Ma, and soon she starts to become more and more entwined in their lives. It starts to get more than a little creepy and when the kids start to push back, they start to realize there’s something seriously wrong with Sue Ann.

Spencer won her Oscar under the direction of Taylor, so it’s no surprise that she turns in another brilliant performance here. Sue Ann is a complicated emotional creature and often her moods spin on a dime, from motherly to sexual to full-on rage-aholic. Sue Ann isn’t completely evil; there’s some pathos to her story and Spencer makes the audience believe that here is a seriously wounded psyche. We feel bad for her – until she snaps.

The problem here is that the most relatable character here is Sue Ann. The teenage kids with the possible exception of Maggie are all seriously self-absorbed and borderline cruel. Most of them are pretty much interchangeable. The adult roles have some strong actors, including Janney, having a ball as a bossy vet, and Lewis who for my money has been criminally underrated throughout her career.

The movie takes a while to get moving, but once it does Taylor knows what to do with it. Spencer is definitely the reason to see this, but she’s got some decent support – although not enough to elevate this out of middlin’.

REASONS TO SEE: Spencer gives her usual strong performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Hard to root for anybody in this typical “teens in trouble” romp.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence – some of it brutal – as well as sexual content, teen drinking and drug use, profanity throughout, and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taylor previously directed Spencer and Janey in The Help.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Uncle Peckerhead
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness concludes!

Us


The strangers in your skin.

(2019) Horror (UniversalLupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Napiera Groves, Lon Gowan, Alan Frazier, Duke Nicholson, Dustin Ybarra, Nathan Harrington, Kara Hayward. Directed by Jordan Peele

Some movies seize on an idea and do their level best to expand on it, explore it or otherwise concentrate their efforts on that single idea. Of course, some movies don’t have aspirations even that lofty. Then, there are movies like Us that are ao layered with ideas that it’s hard to sort all of them out. That can be a double-edged sword.

As a young girl (Curry), Adelaide (Nyong’o) had a terrifying encounter in a mirror maze on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Now, as a married woman, her husband Gabe (Duke) is bringing her back to the scene of her greatest fear, and she’s uneasy about it. Along for the ride are her teenage daughter Zora (Joseph) and her younger son Jason (Alex).

They are joined at the seaside by their bickering friends Josh (Heidecker) and Kitty (Moss) as well as their prissy twin daughters Becca (C. Sheldon) and Lindsey (N. Sheldon). But more importantly, they are joined late that night by a startling and frightening appearance of their doppelgangers, who mean to replace them and take over their lives.

While ostensibly about a family’s fight for survival, there are all sorts of subtexts going on here – not full-on allegories, but more like suggestions of same. There’s some subtext about the difference between poverty and success and how thin that line can be; there’s subtext about racial politics in the late 2010s; there’s subtext about the inner battle we have with our own dark sides and there’s subtext about how we perceive our own identities and deal with our selves.

\Peele with only two movies (this and 2017’s Get Out) has become perhaps the pre-eminent horror director in America. He knows what frightens us, but more importantly, how to stage those fears to the very best advantage. The terror here is palpable and relatable, leading to a kind of stomach-churning feeling that this could be happening, right now, to you and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it. A good horror movie will affect you that way.

Much has been said about Lupita Nyong’o’s masterful performance here, I won’t add any more superlatives to that conversation – largely because other critics have already used them all up – but suffice to say that the most egregious snub at the most recent Oscars was the lack of a nomination for Nyong’o for her performance here. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Sometimes, you just want to have the bejezus scared out of you and this movie is absolutely perfect for the job. Although it does take perhaps a little too long to get rolling (particularly after a really unforgettable prologue), it takes one of those rare truly original ideas and does something spectacular with it. This is a can’t-miss for any self-respecting horror film fan and for serious cinephiles as well, and how often does that particular conjunction ever occur?

REASONS TO SEE: Scary in a gut-wrenching way. The concept is very original. Nyong’o gives a masterful performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes a bit too long to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: This is profanity, violence and images of terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some filming took place at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where The Lost Boys (1987) was also filmed; in fact, the Boardwalk has essentially remained unchanged since then.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews, Metacritic: 81/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The fourth day of Six Days of Darkness.

Glass (2019)


Just because we’re crazy doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

(2019) Superhero (Blumhouse/UniversalJames McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson, M. Night Shyamalan, Shannon Ryan, Diana Silvers, Nina Wisner, Kyli Zion, Serge Didenko, Russell Porter, Kimberly Fairbanks, Rosemary Howard, Leslie Stefanson. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

 

Glass is the conclusion of a trilogy that began almost 20 years earlier with Unbreakable and then continued in a stealth sort of way in his 2016 film Split. It is director M. Night Shyamalan’s take on the superhero mythos and America’s obsession with it.

It features three characters from those first two movies; heroic David Dunn (Willis), virtually invulnerable and known in the press as the Overseer; Kevin Crumb (McAvoy), possessed of multiple personalities including a super-powered one known as the Beast, and Mr. Glass (Jackson), a criminal mastermind with impossibly brittle bones.

As Dunn chases Crumb, who has kidnapped several cheerleaders and is holding them hostage to feed to the Beast, eventually both of them are captured by the police and sent to an asylum where a psychiatrist (Paulson) tries to convince the three of them that they have no superpowers. Of course, we know that they do and it sets up a coda between the Overseer and the Beast that will lead to one of Shyamalan’s patented twist endings.

Shyamalan conspicuously avoids world-building here, preferring to set things in the real world with three extraordinary individuals. Each has someone who is a civilian counterpart; David’s son Joseph (Clark), Glass’ mom (Woodard) and Crumb’s escaped victim (Taylor-Joy). Shyamalan and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis use color-coding – purple for Glass, yellow/ocher for Crumb and green for Dunn. It gives the movie an almost comic-book feel that I found appealing.

While the soundtrack is wonderful and the performances by Jackson, Willis and particularly McAvoy marvelous, the movie is bogged down by Shyamalan’s attempts to make his film mythic but when push comes to shove, it comes off more pretentious and long-winded than what I think he intended. I had high hopes for this film, especially since Split had been one of Shyamalan’s best films, but was ultimately disappointed in that the movie was merely okay.

REASONS TO SEE: Willis, Jackson and McAvoy are all strong.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tries very hard to be mythic but doesn’t quite get there.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and gore, some adult thematic elements and regular profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to retain creative control on the film, Shyamalan mortgaged his own house to co-finance it.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Plus, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/31/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews, Metacritic: 43/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
IO

Welcome to Marwen


A bunch of living dolls.

(2018) Drama (DreamWorks/Universal) Steve Carrell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Weaver, Janelle Monáe, Elza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Falk Hentschel, Matt O’Leary, Nikolai Witschl, Patrick Roccas, Alexander Lowe, Stefanie von Pfetten, Neil Jackson, Samantha Hum, Siobhan Williams, Eric Keenlyside, Clay St. Thomas, Kate Gajdosik, Veena Sood. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

Welcome to Marwen is a dramatic version of the acclaimed 2010 documentary Marwencol (which if you haven’t seen, stop right now and see it) which is the story of artist Mark Hogancamp, who was viciously beaten outside of a bar in 2005 by a bunch of guys who objected to the fact that he likes to wear women’s shoes. The men got off lightly; all of them had been released by the time the documentary came out.

Here, Hogancamp (Carrell) has no memory of his life before the attack (as was the case for the real Hogancamp) and used a fictional Belgian village populated by action figures, mostly modeled after women that Hogancamp knows – from his physical therapist (Monáe) to the clerk at the hobby shop where he buys his supplies (Weaver) – and Hogancamp himself (an idealized heroic version of himself he calls Captain Hogie) set during World War II. Mark’s lawyer is trying to get the reclusive artist to appear at the sentencing hearing of his attackers but Mark is very reluctant; anything that reminds him of that night sends him into severe panic attacks.

Helping matters is the appearance of a new neighbor, Nicol (Mann) who is compassionate and kind, and whom Mark develops an instant crush on. She could be his way out to normalcy or a reminder of past traumas that will send him spiraling hopelessly back into near-catatonia.

Critics tended to hate the film (see below) which I can understand; it’s not an easy story to get across and quite frankly, Zemeckis was not an awe-inspiring choice to make it. His sentimentality tends to rub critics the wrong way, but I found it affecting here, and there are some scenes when Carrell, who is absolutely wonderful at times, just breaks your heart. The romance between Marc and Nicol is absolutely realistic as well.

The movie ends on a bit of a predictable note and might turn people off – the dolls can look a little bit creepy. Some find men playing with primarily female dolls to be un-woke, but in the context of a man badly traumatized trying to deal the best way he can, I think it’s forgivable. Not the greatest movie Zemeckis has done, but it is entertaining and heartwarming enough to be enjoyable.

REASONS TO SEE: Carrell does a good job. Nice special effects.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is predictable. A bit creepy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence, some of it bloody. There are also disturbing images, some brief sexual references and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real life doll village Marwen is based on is called Marwencol, which is a combination of Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The Nicol character is based on Colleen, but her name was dropped from the town’s name.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30//20: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic:  40/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marwencol
FINAL RATING: 6,5/10
NEXT:
The Wretched

Mortal Engines


A dystopian vista.

(2018) Science Fiction (UniversalHera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Jihae Kim, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Colin Salmon, Mark Mitchison, Regé-Jean Page, Menik Gooneratne, Frankie Adams, Leifur Sigurdarson, Kahn West, Andrew Lees, Sophie Cox, Kee Chan, Sarah Peirse, Mark Hadlow, Caren Pistorius, Poppy McLeod. Directed by Christian Rivers

 

Bigger, as we have all come to learn, is not necessarily better. More often than not, bigger is just…not as small. When it comes to movies, we do love our big loud blockbusters, but sometimes we take a gander at the trailer, mutter “I can’t even” and move on to another podcast.

Based on the four-book young adult series by Phillip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set a millennium into the future when the surface of the earth has been razed by wars. Cities have become motorized literally – they are on wheels – and roam the landscape like pirate ships, absorbing smaller cities and using their innards for fuel. Think the opening sequence of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life but on a grander scale

Young Hester (Hilmar) lives in the dystopian future and she has a thirst for revenge against London’s heroic leader Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving) and attempts to assassinate him but is foiled by historian Tom Natsworthy (Sheehan) who discovers Valentine’s terrible secret. For this he is ejected from the city along with Hester, both of whom are left to make their way in the blasted landscape. The two hook up with swashbuckling Anna Fang (Kim) while trying to elude homicidal cyborg Shrike (Lang).

The images here are fantastic and the premise is imaginative, if impractical and somewhat illogical. Peter Jackson co-wrote this and was a producer on the project which explains it’s nine figure budget. Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted and full of outright thievery from other franchises (Star Wars in particular) that once you get past the overwhelming visuals you are left with a plot that isn’t very good and characters that aren’t very interesting.

While I admit to being a junkie for Hugo Weaving (and he does elevate the movie significantly), he is offset by Hilmar who is the lead. She has almost no personality which is the fault of the writers, and no charisma which she has to look inwardly for. Putting a young person at the forefront of a big budget tentpole is always risky, but in this case that risk didn’t pay off.

This is still wonderful eye candy but little else. It the writers had put as much creativity to the story and characters that the special effects teams did to their craft, this would have potentially the start of a bold new franchise. Instead, it will go down in the annals of Hollywood as one of the biggest flops of all time.

REASONS TO SEE: The visuals are impressive and imaginative. I’d see Hugo Weaving in anything.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story is nonsensical and borrows too liberally from Star Wars. Hilmar has almost no presence whatsoever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sci-fi action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leila George, who plays Katherine Valentine, is the daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio and Greta Scacchi.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews; Metacritic: 44/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: City of Ember
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Welcome to Marwen

Night School (2018)


Kevin Hart is THIS tall…

(2018) Comedy (UniversalKevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Taran Killam, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Keith David, Anne Winters, Fat Joe, Ben Schwartz, Yvonne Orji, Bresha Webb, Jeff Rose, Donna Biscoe, Owen Harn, Zach Osterman, Janet Metzger, Tim Ware, Miriam Kulick, Curtis Washington, Maria Legarda. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

 

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are two of the funniest and most successful comics alive. You would think that a movie starring the both of them would be funny, no?

No. Hart stars as Teddy, a high school dropout who manages to literally burn his last place of employment to the ground. Desperate to find a job, he just needs a GED in order to win his girlfriend (Echikunwoke) and get a high-paying job at a merchant bank that his friend (Schwartz) has secured him.

Getting that GED won’t be easy. He has to return to his alma mater, whose principal (Killam) is now the nerd that Hart bullied back in the day and the teacher (Haddish) is a no-nonsense sort who isn’t falling one iota for Teddy’s streetwise hustler charm, particularly since it’s obvious that Teddy isn’t planning on putting much – if any – effort into the task.

San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle (who was far more generous than his review than I am) gets the movie’s main problem down quite well; Hart is an aspirational comedian, one who makes his living off playing characters who want to better themselves but sabotage themselves at every turn. Haddish is more of an anarchic comic, one who excels by causing chaos and then resolving it. The two styles don’t really mix well, and the victim here is Haddish whose style is suborned to Hart’s, which turns out to be a colossal waste of her talents.

That doesn’t mean that the movie is without laughs – with the kind of talent in this cast top to bottom it would be impossible not to at least chuckle from time to time. Sadly, though the movie starts out as a ponderous monolithic bore basing most of its comedy on fart, butt and poop jokes, or at least humor on that level. Hart is much better than that. However, I will admit that if you stick with the movie, it does get better as it goes along…just not enough for me to really recommend it.

REASONS TO SEE: Gets better as it goes along.
REASONS TO AVOID: Predictable and unfunny. Not enough chemistry between Hart and Haddish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, crude and sexual humor throughout, some drug references and a bit of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although hart has written several of his comedy specials, this is his first feature film writing credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews: Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Summer School
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
The Predator