Saturday, March 14, 2020

Movie Review: “The Hunt”

The Hunt

**** 1/2 out of 5
89 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout
Universal Pictures

Article first published at The

Given the ever-changing times we’re currently in — more than ever we need some escape. For myself, going to the movies always has, and always will be, my preferred way to check out of the world. Unfortunately, that’s been put on hold. And if The Hunt is the last film I see in a theater for a little while, it could’ve been way worse. Taking shots at both sides of the political spectrum, director Craig Zobel’s wicked, pitch-black comedy takes its writers’ screenplay — from Nick (son of Carlton) Cuse and Damon Lindelof — it clearly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For interested parties looking for some catharsis as both the left and right take some well-deserved hits, The Hunt is worth venturing out for. Especially anyone who’s been waiting for this — after it was wisely pulled last September.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer — which was also pulled until a new release date was announced — a group of strangers wake up in the middle of the forest. They have no idea how they got there — or why. Before they know it, things go from bad to worse as they realize they’re being hunted. Turns out, a small band of liberal elites have brought them together — and in classic Lindelof fashion — The Hunt, aka “Manorgate,” is absolutely not what you’d guess. Will anyone be left standing by the time the credits roll? I’ll leave that up to viewers to discover.

The Hunt has had an ugly shadow over it ever since it was deemed deplorable by anyone who had never seen it — including our Tweeter-in-Chief. Now that folks finally have, what Zobel, Cuse, and Lindelof have done is thrown a whirlwind of topics and scenarios into a blender and hit pulverize. The main idea that resonates hardest, is that there are horrible people on both sides of the aisle. Deplorables snowflakes, elites, etc. get thrown around at will. The biggest surprise may be that the bad guys aren’t even who you’d think. Not that you can trust anyone in this scenario to begin with.

Constitutional amendments, personal politics, liberals, alt-right, Animal Farm, and the ol’ chicken-before-the-egg are all on tap. Zobel owes a lot of debt to the Kill Bill films, particularly Vol. 2. The finale plays out like the kitchen scene from Vol. 1 transplanted onto the end of Vol. 2. Knock-down-drag-out! Having producer Jason Blum’s backing clearly gave the filmmakers the freedom to make the film they wanted. And huge kudos to Universal Pictures for finally releasing it. The Hunt is brutal, hilarious, gruesome, and — definitely — topical. This also isn’t the first time a film like this has been made and it won’t be the last. Not everyone is going to like what it has to say, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Movie Review: “The Gentlemen”

The Gentlemen

**** 1/2 out of 5
113 minutes
Rated R for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content
STX Films

Article first published at The

It’s hard to believe Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels came out 20 years ago. Since that time, Ritchie has certainly proved himself to be a man of many hats. There’s the good — Lock, Stock, RocknRolla, both Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — the bad — Snatch and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — and the ugly — Revolver and Swept Away. He also directed the underrated live action Aladdin. For those who like their Ritchie pure and uninhibited, he’s gone back to the basics with The Gentlemen — one of his best films yet.

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the reigning king of weed in the UK and wants to retire. He’s in the midst of accepting a $400 million buyout from Matthew (Jeremy Strong) when his right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), gets paid a visit by tabloid photographer — and now aspiring screenwriter — Fletcher (Hugh Grant). Fletcher offers Ray the plot of a lifetime. Rife with powerful wives — Mickey’s, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery); scheming gangster underbosses — Dry Eye (Henry Golding); Fletcher’s own vengeful editor, Big Dave (Eddie Marsan); and Coach (Colin Farrell), all trying to get their hands on the prize: Mickey’s empire.

If there’s one thing Ritchie knows, it’s sudden bursts of violence, hilarious dialogue, and twisty plots. He’s always been a pseudo Tarantino from across the pond, but that’s not a slight in the least. The Gentlemen is definitely one of his most polished. Ritchie has found a way to keep exposition — which could have been tedious and repetitious — going for an entire film here. Then there’s Grant and Farrell stealing every scene. McConaughey does an amazing spoof of his onscreen persona — the opening scene feels like there’s a Cadillac commercial attached — and this is the most enjoyable Hunnam has been since Pacific Rim (maybe even since Undeclared).

Ritchie can’t help but get a little indulgent here and there. Thankfully, it somehow all makes sense by the end, extra kudos there. It’s Ritchie’s version of a crowd-pleaser melded on top of his films from yesteryear and it winds up a perfect concoction. While some may find the violence off-putting, they probably shouldn’t be seeing a Guy Ritchie movie anyway. This is pure Ritchie from start to finish and it’s about time the old chap finally got back to his signature style.

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

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”


**** 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

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

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:

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”


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

Article first published at

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”


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

Article first published at
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.