Saturday, January 18, 2020

Movie Review: “Bad Boys for Life”

Bad Boys for Life

** out of 5
123 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at The ReelPlace.com

Nostalgia may be all the rage these last few years, but I don’t know anyone who was clamoring for another Bad Boys movie. Considering Michael Bay didn’t even bother to come back to direct, it makes no sense for Bad Boys for Life — a nonsensical title if there ever was for a third outing — to exist. Try as they might, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah aim for some classic “Bayhem,” but still lose a fighting battle with Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan’s screenplay settling for jokes strictly set on aging and mortality.

We catch up with Detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) in a standard street chase which is just the set up to a punchline. Mike is rushing Marcus to the hospital to welcome his new grandson into the world. This also puts Marcus on the path to retirement, much to Mike’s chagrin.

See, they’re supposed to be bad boys for life — hence the title — and always planned to ride together/die together. But just wouldn’t you know it, along comes the escape of Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) from a Mexican prison, plotting revenge on everyone involved in the incarceration of her drug cartel-leading husband. Now, Isabel unleashes her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to pull off her roaring rampage of revenge, leaving Mike and Marcus no choice but to work together one last time.

As ridiculous as it already is, there’s also a subplot involving witchcraft. Yup, Isabel is a witch, using the spirit of Santa Muerte to do her bidding. The writers also try to make the series feel like an R-rated Fast & Furious, but nowhere near as fun as any of those. Faint praise, but at least BB4L is not be as mean spirited as Bad Boys 2. However, it takes an eye rolling turn for the sentimental which is never earned and comes off as lazy, obvious, and calls for an end credit sequence no one wants.

It’s also extremely boring. It takes 45 minutes just to get to the first action sequence. And at least another 30 minutes until the second. While that one sequence is kind of fun, the rest feels interminable. And at just 123 minutes, you’d expect a film like this to rush along to the big finale. A finale featuring a rainstorm, an abandoned hotel, a helicopter, raining shards of glass, and blazing fires. I hate to say it, but I’d rather have seen Michael Bay back at the helm.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Movie Review: “Underwater”


Underwater

**** out of 5
95 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Underwater has all the makings of a January release. It’s a big studio horror movie with two stars who audiences will have heard of — Kristen Stewart and T.J. Miller — and a poster featuring a lone diver standing in front of a giant mouth full of teeth. Low and behold, director William Eubank — along with writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad — hold horror movie tropes close to their heart and revel in cliché. Where others may be annoyed by the constant riffs from sci-fi/horror classics of yore — everything from Alien, Leviathan, The Descent, and even a splash of Deep Blue Sea and The Meg — and that’s exactly what makes it work. It’s 95 minutes of constant fun with a dash of gore and its tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Seven miles deep in the Mariana Trench, Norah (Stewart) and Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) barely escape with their lives when what could be an earthquake wrecks their station. They start to make their way through the rubble, picking up Paul (T.J. Miller) along the way. Eventually, they meet up with Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Liam (John Gallagher Jr.), and Emily (Jessica Henwick). The group hatches a plan to keep themselves alive, and try to make their way to their only chance of survival: the Roebuck station. Little do they know, that they aren’t alone, and there may be more to fear than just drowning or imploding.

At a scant 95 minutes, Underwater swims along at a quick pace. The station explosion seen in the trailer is literally the second scene and it’s non-stop from there. Claustrophobic, occasionally gory, intense, disorienting, and even humorous, Eubank makes the most of the material. There’s even a few chances for the audience to catch their breath and give the characters some room to develop. We also get a nice, expository opening credit sequence followed by a dizzyingly creepy descent to the ocean floor.

But don’t worry, the poster and trailer promise a creature feature and that’s exactly what we get. The cast keep things interesting with a good rapport — although it was kind of surprising to see the script kill off the black character first. There’s also some fun nods to other horror films sprinkled throughout and it never tries to be more than it is. What Underwater is, is a nice blast of horror fun from beginning to end that’s a quick escape from reality for those who know what they’re getting themselves into.

Movie Review: “Like a Boss”


Like a Boss

* out of 5
83 minutes
Rated R for for language, crude sexual material, and drug use
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

As surprising as it was that Underwater wound up being the best kind of January movie, on the flip side, Miguel Arteta seems bound and determined to make you forget how good he used to be. The man who gave us Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, and Cedar Rapids comes the same kind of shrill chaos he brought to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

This a film “made for” women, strictly by men. We already know Arteta directed, but it’s also written by two dudes who have no understanding of comedy: Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly. Something that comes as a shock considering Tiffany Haddish is an executive producer and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel is credited with the story.

A full synopsis is pointless. For anyone who wants to see the film from start to finish, I present to you the NSFW trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quiGRsBwrJ8&t=9s

This is literally the entire movie!

I watched the trailer a few days before the screening and couldn’t help but wonder why I was having such a huge sense of déjà vu. It also gives you an idea of how atrocious it is. The characters are only tolerable on any level thanks to the cast. Rose Byrne is one of the funniest actresses working today and Haddish is every bit as hilarious — with the right material. As it stands, a group of dudes got together to hatch up horrible caricatures, leaving the cast scrambling to try to improv their way to funny.

It’s an embarrassing shame for everyone involved. Watching the film is a huge chore as it plods along through its 83 minute runtime. Not counting credits brings the film down to roughly 78 minutes. This is barely a film. It feels like a botched TV pilot and should be banished as such. But for those of you who think smoking pot in a room with a newborn and cracking jokes about Obama’s penis are the height of comedy, don’t say I didn’t warn the rest of you.

Movie Review: “1917”


1917

**** out of 5
119 minutes
Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

The first time I saw 1917 was over a month ago. An instant review probably would have hailed the film as the year’s best. However, upon a second viewing, a little something was lost—namely the immediacy of the plot. It’s a race against time for Lance Corporate Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his sidekick Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) as the two set out on a mission to save 1,600 men—along with Blake’s brother—from a trap set up by the German’s in occupied France during WWI.

Director Sam Mendes has a long line of brilliantly directed films: American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Away We Go, Skyfall. With the exception of some heavy handedness along the way (Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) and some clunky storytelling (Spectre) the man can cover any ground from drama, to action, to comedy. If I was going with gut instinct from last year, this would have been a full-blown five-star extravaganza. Unfortunately, once you’ve seen it, you start to become distracted by the gimmick.

1917 is beautifully filmed by Roger Deakins and made to look like it all takes place within one continuous shot. While these types of films are few and far between — Birdman and Rear Window are the only two that really matter — the acting starts to fall flat when the urgency is out the window. If you’ve seen the film, you obviously know how it’s going to end, surprises lay by the wayside, the acting becomes a little dull, and you’re very distracted by the technicalities of the filmmaking.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a brilliantly made film. It’s just a shame that the story doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. I would never go so far as to say that the film is simply a two-hour trick. However, for something to be declared “best film of the year,” it should probably be able to hold up to repeat viewings. Maybe it was a case of watching it again too soon. Once available in 4K, touting a surely raucous Dolby Atmos track, perhaps it can make for a better rewatch.

As it stands, 1917 is still a film that shouldn’t be missed in theaters on the biggest and loudest screen possible. But it’s not something you’re going to be rushing out to see again any time soon. Nominations are sure to be poured on come Oscar nominations being announced — and they’re absolutely warranted — but seeing the film once may be best to ensure maximum shock and awe.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Movie Review: “Cats”


Cats

* out of 5
110 minutes
Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com
 
The first trailer for Cats was a textbook example of nightmare fuel. A second trailer was released which didn’t look quite as bad and offered the hope of something possibly fun. Then the press screening came along and confirmed everyone’s fears: Cats is the worst film of the year. Filled to the brim with horribly staged, awkwardly shot/edited dance sequences, sketchy CGI, and absolutely no plot or characters. Try as co-writer/director Tom Hooper might, Cats is even worse than it looks.

The plot is surprisingly simple. Victoria (Francesca Hayward) has just been thrown out by her human and the surrounding Jellicle alley cats whisk her away on an adventure to find out who Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) will grant access to the Heviside Layer to come back to a new life as a Jellicle cat.

Seriously, that’s it. Oh sure, Hooper — who also directed the ill-conceived Les Miserables and allowed Russell Crowe to “sing” — tries to flesh things out a little. There’s a new subplot involving the “Sphinx Theater” where auditions for a new 10th(?) life is held. But the film is so head-scratching it’s amazing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has been a thing for 40 years. Universal scrapped their intended Wicked adaptation for this?

I do love a good trainwreck, but to be so-bad-it’s-good has to be earned. This is just straight up bad from start to finish. Taylor Swift may show up to try and liven things up, but can’t keep her accent from line-to-line. Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson and James Corden are relegated to fat jokes, Idris Elba surprisingly can’t sing—despite his so-called rap career, and Ian McKellen simply mopes around when he’s not licking milk from a saucer. (And that’s not a euphemism for chewing scenery.)

It doesn’t help that Hooper can’t keep the film in perspective. What size are these cats? It seems to fluctuate from shot-to-shot and from set-to-set. There’s no scale whatsoever. Combined with the haphazard CGI — one characters face literally looks as if it’s floating — and frantic editing, you never get to grasp any sense of wonder into the feline world.

Universal has themselves a mighty huge cat-astrophe. It’s too boring to keep the target audience captivated and too unsightly for the uninitiated. The last musical number also comes off as condescending with Dench’s tone during “The Ad-dressing of Cats” and even Jennifer Hudson’s “Memory” is boring and by the numbers. The only sequence that passes for entertaining is “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat,” but you’ll forget it even happened once you suffer through the mundane repetitiveness of “Mr. Mistofelees.”

If you really wanna do yourself some mental harm, load up on “catnip,” sit back, and revel in the year’s biggest dumpster fire. After all, that’s pretty much the only way to describe such a horrific curiosity. Hopefully it won’t kill your holiday season.

Movie Review: “They Shall Not Grow Old”


They Shall Not Grow Old

***** out of 5
99 minutes
Rated R for disturbing war images
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Typical documentaries have a tendency to come with their own agendas. In the case of Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, Jackson has set out to show us World War I as never before: in remastered, colorized, 3D. Never one to shy away from technical accomplishments, it’s an incredible sight to see. Adding in sound effects and enhancing the overlying interviews, Jackson skips the usual filmmaking narrative for an immersive experience about a war that still seems to have an air of mystery surrounding it.

Cutting down 100 hours of footage and 600 hours of interviews with 200 WWI vets — of which 120 made the cut — They Shall Not Grow Old feels like a behind-the-scenes exposé. Some of the footage looks so good you’d swear it was happening now. There are no dates, names, or locations throughout the entire film adding authenticity and anonymity. There’s also some surprising aspects when you hear how many lied about their age, at least one as young as 15.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a marvel of a technical achievement — Jackson didn’t even receive any payment for making the film. And it shows he put his heart and soul into shining a long overdue spotlight on the men of WWI and works as a loving tribute to his grandfather, Sgt. William Jackson, to whom the film is dedicated.

Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

**** out of 5
142 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com
 
Most folks have all kinds of stories involving the Star Wars films. Mine is pretty simple. I was not the Star Wars fan I am now prior to my wife buying me the original trilogy on Blu-ray. She couldn’t believe I didn’t own them, and truth is, back then I didn’t love them. One one hand, these films are not as personal to me, but I at least came to realize what I’d been missing.

And while I may not be a fanboy — I know plenty — my life has become pretty steeped in its pop culture. As I write this, I’m wearing the fleece BB-8 jacket my mother-in-law made me. So as far as The Rise of Skywalker closing out a nine film story arc goes, it works extremely well at both providing some fun moments of fan service and trying to wrap  up a world that spans 42 years of Episodes and spin-offs, TV shows, holiday specials, video games, and comics.

A mysterious broadcast has been heard throughout the galaxy. The phantom Emperor — Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) — is scheming something big and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is tracking him down. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to piece together her training while confronting her past. Meanwhile, the Final Order is on the rise under the tyranny of Supreme Leader Ren, in spite of a mole feeding information to the Jedi resistance. A definite end is nigh for both camps as the ultimate duel inches closer.

Considering the amount of backlash unleashed upon Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, insurmountable expectations were placed upon co-writer/director J.J. Abrams’s shoulders. Returning to the helm without missing a beat, fans get more of that nostalgic Star Wars tone he brought to The Force Awakens, while trying to tie up all the loose ends brought on by TLJ. How you feel about The Rise of Skywalker comes down to one thing: how you felt about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

On one hand, it almost feels like TLJ barely exists. Skywalker continues to build upon both films, but at the same time, the tone is so much more Force Awakens, you would never be confused if you happened to skip TLJ. That’s no slight to Johnson, it just feels like Abrams — along with co-writer Chris Terrio and producer Kathleen Kennedy — took the high road and continued making the series their own. Whether some like it or not.

We’ll never get to see how George Lucas would have ended his own franchise, but that’s what he gets for selling out to Disney. Granted, we might have never seen any more Star Wars films had it not been for the media conglomerate.  At the end of the day, the cast and crew give it their all and that’s about all we can expect. I encourage everyone to head out to see it so they can make up their own minds.

The cast and crew swing for the fences. They know they’ll never be able to make everyone happy, but damn if they don’t try. From here on, there are no more Skywalker movies in the pipeline and we all should just be ecstatic that a finale even exists. The Rise of Skywalker is the culmination of most people’s entire cinematic lives so far. This is it, folks, it’s really over. You won’t find any spoilers here. I would never do that and neither should anyone else.

The Rise of Skywalker is probably the epitome of “critic proof.” So the best advice is to gather up your friends, head on out to the theater, buckle in tight, and bid farewell to one of the biggest franchises on the planet.