Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie Review: “Ready or Not”

Ready or Not

**** 1/2 out of 5
95 minutes
Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use
Fox Searchlight

Article first published at

Sometimes going into a movie blind can be wonderful. When that movie finally manages to deliver on its ending, it makes it even better. Endings have been a very sore subject for modern horror. They leave on a sour note and never deliver the goods. Such is not the case with the new horror comedy, Ready or Not. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (aka Radio Silence, V/H/S) set up the scenario in the first scene, and carry through to the big finale. With a likeable cast, and an ending that’s best not spoiled, a new cult classic is on the rise.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry the love of her life, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Heir to the Le Domas gaming empire, Alex is far more worried about their impending nuptials than Grace. He propositions her with an out, offering for them to run for the hills once they’ve wed, but Grace is all in. Little does she know, come midnight, the family will gather in the game room where Grace draws a card to play hide and seek. Now, she comes face-to-face with the realization that the Le Domas plan to hunt and kill her, in a time honored tradition of the utmost satanic superstition.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett make the most of Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy’s wicked screenplay. Even if the tone can sometimes feel a little scattershot. There are times where things are played completely straight and the film starts to take itself too seriously before jarringly coming back to the hilarious black comedy tone that works best. Weaving makes for a fantastic newlywed up to her neck in piling bodies, while everyone else — particularly Adam Brody and Andie McDowell as Alex’s brother and mother — get a few chances to try to steal the spotlight.

Blood and hilarity are par for the course — it’s particularly hilarious who the first few people to die are, and how. And the story keeps hinting at some pretty over-the-top plot mechanics. Lucky for us, as soon as it looks like the directors are about to pull their punches, the action kicks into hyperdrive and saves the day. There’s also a nail hit right on the head involving Nat Faxon as a customer service agent named Justin that could be used in many customer service training videos if it weren’t for the expletives.

At a scant 95 minutes, the film also doesn’t wear out its welcome. Here’s hoping Disney keeps allowing Fox Searchlight to deliver on the quality we’ve come to expect after 25 years. Ready or Not, this is one horror comedy that deserves to be seen in a theater full of fellow gorehounds that completely delivers on all counts. Just make sure to not ruin the ending.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Movie Review: “Good Boys”

Good Boys

**** 1/2 out of 5
89 minutes
Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout - all involving tweens
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Audiences love rambunctious kids. Perhaps it’s the waxing nostalgia of youth. With the 23rd season of South Park upon us — and Superbad released more than a decade ago — we were bound to find out what tweens were up these days. And while it doesn’t take the super realistic approach of Eighth Grade, co-writer/director Gene Stupnitsky — along with writing partner in crime Lee Eisenberg — still manage to hit quite a few nails on the head. With Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jonah Hill are on board as producers, it should clue you in that the characters in Good Boys can only try to live up to the title. But it also should prepare you for the level of raunch and heart only they can serve.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon), are the “bean bag boys.” Because they have bean bags, duh! The epitome of BFFs, the trio are soon up to their necks in misadventures. All they want to do is learn how to kiss a girl — after being invited to a party by the school’s most popular kid, Soren (Izaac Wang) — with Max having his eye on his schoolgirl crush Brixlee (Millie Davis). But soon enough, Max’s dad’s (Will Forte) drone is captured by Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Francis) when they get caught spying on them. Now, the boys are holding Hannah’s bag hostage, but quickly learn there’s MDMA in it and the girls want to make a swap. Meanwhile our intrepid trio just want to get the drone home before Max’s dad gets back from his business trip. And make it to the party on time!

Stupnitsky and Eisenberg may be best known for their work on The Office, but they’ve more than made up for the amusing — but lackluster — Bad Teacher. The cast displays all the awkward idiosyncrasies that come with being tweens — they repeatedly tell everyone they’re not kids. And as hilarious as the youngsters may be, even the adults get plenty of chances to steal the spotlight. From Stephen Merchant as an is-he-or-isn’t-he pedophile, to Sam Richardson’s exhausted Officer Sacks.

But the real spotlight thieves are Lil Rey Howery and Retta as Lucas’ divorcing parents. An entire spin-off movie is more than welcome! Your capacity for debauchery will let you decide if Good Boys is for you, or not. It’s Superbad turned up to 11, but thankfully has way more heart than you’d expect, and never dives into American Pie territory. Max just wants to kiss a girl, and something as sweet and innocent as that may be wrapped up in hilarious filth, the message still comes through just fine.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Movie Review: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

**** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.
111 minutes
CBS Films

Article first published at

When your movie is called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it better be is scary. With Guillermo del Toro shepherding the production, hopes were skyhigh. Then came the quick teasers scattered throughout the Super Bowl and it appeared they’d hit the nail on the head. At least it looked like a movie based on Alvin Schwartz’s beloved “children’s” books. Stephen Gammell’s creepy AF illustrations had come to life and looked scary as hell.

Unfortunately, the movie never completely lives up to its name. Creepy in moments, hilarious in others, but never shocking or unsettling. And while bumping the film up to an R rating wouldn’t have necessarily helped — there’s plenty of gruesomeness on display — Del Toro and director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunters) have at least delivered a slick, fast-paced exercise in ’80s “Steven Spielberg Presents” nostalgia.

It’s 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania and Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her best friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) head out for one last night of trick or treating before they’re officially too old. A prank on school bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) goes south, interrupting Tommy’s “date” with Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn).

After seeking refuge in Ramón’s (Michael Garza) car at the drive in, they all wind up at the local haunted Bellows house. Things turn from bad to worse after Stella takes a book home — belonging to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) — cursing them all to face fate as the stories and monsters in Sarah’s book become real and looking for all of them.

A sense of adventure and humor go a long way to keep the Scary Stories moving along. There are enough Scary Stories to tell, but at almost two hours, it’s maybe just a tad too long for its own good. Thankfully, the Spielberg vibe makes the film a lot of fun and the cast have great rapport and you feel for the kids safety, even if Dan and Kevin Hageman’s screenplay is a bit episodic.

Øvredal employs his monsters to great effect with plenty of practicality lending a physical sense of threat. Where Scary Stories could have been overstuffed with CGI — and I’m sure there’s still plenty — it’s used to enhance scenes, rather than the scenes rely on them. There’s also a surprising lack of big boo moments, which is a nice change of pace. This Scary Stories lends itself more to the suspense/thriller genre than outright horror. Something that’s not usually found with youth-geared horror movies.

An air of mystery gives a Scooby Doo atmosphere — even if the denouement has been played out a million times. But, hopefully the audience sets its anticipation correctly and doesn’t go in expecting a hardcore horror flick. The Spielberg touch keeps the film from taking itself too seriously, even if The Jangly Man will wind up being one of the creepiest visuals of the year.

From stew to chimneys, to corn fields and restrooms, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has plenty of fun up its sleeve and even ends with room for a sequel. Here’s to hoping the weekend proves the audience remains for Schwartz and Gammell’s twisted tales and can get even scarier from here. Hopefully it unites fans who read the books as kids since it gives us the ultimate opportunity to pass them along to scare a whole new generation.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Movie Review: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

**** out of 5
135 minutes
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

When a franchise’s two biggest stars can’t get along, what do you do? Give one of them their own spinoff movie. And thus the ludicrously double ampersanded Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw was born. With directors now constantly shifting gears, it makes sense to bring in yet another new director for Hobbs & Shaw.

Thankfully, Universal knows what makes these films work and director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps the action as overblown as expected. Writer Chris Morgan — along with Iron Man 3’s Drew Pearce — also loads stars Dwayne Johson and Jason Statham with hilarious banter to keep things moving along at a quick quip between set pieces.

MI:6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) is on the lam in London after injecting herself with a programmable super virus. Self-described “bad guy” Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) is hot on her trail, bringing Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) to find her. Together, they have 72 hours to keep the virus from going airborne and killing billions of people. That is, of course, if they can keep from killing each other first.

Hobbs & Shaw is ridiculous. If that’s not your cup of tea, well, why are you reading a review for a movie in the Fast & Furious world to begin with? Johnson and Statham continue to have the hilarious chemistry established throughout the seventh and eighth F&F entries. And Kirby adds a new level as Deckard’s sister, with good old mum (Helen Mirren) returning for more fun as well.

As absurd as it all is, there’s no denying these movies are fun. They’re not trying to be high art and never pretend to be anything more than the epitome of big dumb fun. To keep things fresh, Leitch has brought along some fun cameos. To spoil them would be criminal, but let’s just say one of them doesn’t rhyme with “Pulverine.” It’s also nice to see Leitch hasn’t lost his touch for crafting huge action scenes where you can always tell what’s happening. Even if he still can’t resist the cheapness of shaky cam during a few of them.

There are going to be haters who feel like this is just a way to milk the cow dry while the beef settles between Johnson and Vin Diesel. But for the rest of us, we can sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s big, bright, flashy, hilarious, action-packed, and even a little meta. It’s particularly hilarious seeing Brixton essentially being turned into a human jaeger like something right out of a bad Pacific Rim sequel. Hobbs & Shaw may not be much more than a way to keep the franchise idling, but it’s a damn fun ride from start to finish.