Post Date Jun 11

The Do-Over

Unrated but contains graphic language, sex, nudity, violence and drug use throughout.
Running time: 108 minutes.
One half star out of four.

So I actually made myself watch “The Do-Over” for a What the Flick?! review and I actually took notes because I’m a professional, dammit, so I figured, what the hell? Maybe I should write a little review, too, just for posterity — even though it feels a bit like beating a dead horse at this point. Nevertheless, here it is.

“The Do-Over” is typical Adam Sandler fare in every way, from the raunchy humor to the inclusion of his buddies to the deplorable view of women to the vacation disguised as a movie shoot to the forced sentimentality in the final act. It’s the latest in Sandler’s four-film deal with Netflix, which also brought us “The Ridiculous Six,” which earned a zero-star review from me last year. (Not that receiving critical praise is high among Sandler’s priorities.)

This time, Sandler stars as Max, who meets up with his childhood buddy, Charlie (David Spade), at their 25th high school reunion. While the swaggering Max seems to have gone onto a life of adventure (or so he says), the milquetoast Charlie has stayed in town, in the same house with the same job. Only now he’s married to the woman who was his high school crush: the trashy, scantily-clad Nikki (Natasha Leggero), who uses the occasion of the reunion to cavort drunkenly on the dance floor with her obnoxious ex (Sean Astin), the father of her bratty twin sons.

Do you see a theme emerging here? Everyone in “The Do-Over” is abhorent. And director Steven Brill (“Little Nicky,” “Mr. Deeds”), working from a script by Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas, expects us to spend nearly two hours with these people.

But Max has an idea that will improve Charlie’s life and his own at the same time: They’ll fake their deaths. First, though, they party on a yacht and persuade the bikini-clad MILFs on a nearby boat to flash their boobs; the “payoff” of that joke is that Max shoots a flare gun at the ladies when they laugh at Charlie’s meager junk in response. Hilarious!

Max’s boat, by the way, is called the “Fish ‘n’ Chicks.” And it contains a Bud Light Party Ball. We know this because even before Charlie steps aboard, he sees the Bud Light Party Ball and exclaims: “That’s not a Bud Light Party Ball?!” (Later, they will order Jameson’s at a biker bar, just to mix things up.) Product placement is, sadly, pretty standard in movies these days, but Sandler tends to take it to an egregious extreme.

Then again, that’s keeping with his usual theme of using production as vacation. This time, the destination is Puerto Rico. After faking their deaths, Max and Charlie find a key that leads to a safe deposit box filled with cash, which leads to a mansion and a Ferrari on the scenic territory. There, they get shot at a lot in an elaborate case of mistaken identity, but Charlie also gets to engage in a three-way with Catherine Bell and Luis Guzman, who drips ball sweat on his face.

I will say, though — and this is why “The Do-Over” gets a half-star as opposed to zero — that eventually, it’s actually trying to be about something. It’s about finding a cure for cancer. No, really. I’m not saying the movie is successful in being about something. But the sentiment it aims to achieve feels vaguely less wedged-in than it does in most Sandler movies. Sandler himself looks less bored this time than he has recently. He might even be trying to act, an effort he seems to have abandoned since … oh, maybe “Funny People” back in 2009.

Paula Patton doesn’t fare quite so well, despite her efforts and her usual charisma, as the widow of a doctor caught up in Max and Charlie’s scheme. She’s basically called upon to look sexy, which culminates with her character taking part in a slow-motion girl fight with Kathryn Hahn’s to Madonna’s “Crazy for You.” Between this and “Warcraft,” Patton needs to have a serious talk with her agent.

She also must suffer the indignity of having Spade’s character beat the crap out of her for laughs: “I’m so tired of women lying to me and fucking me over!” he cries as he’s punching her in the stomach. But that’s basically the thrust of most recent Sandler movies: The only people you can trust are your bros.

Post Date Jun 9 — Warcraft

Warcraft Movie Review“Warcraft,” based on the video game, is easily a contender for the year’s worst movie: an effects-filled fantasy extravaganza that’s unattractive, hard to follow and (worst of all) boring. My half-star review, where I’m guessing I’m very popular in the comments section.

Read the review here

Post Date May 27 — The Ones Below

The Ones Below Movie ReviewWriter-director David Farr takes the giddy, heady days of early motherhood—the frustration and isolation, the exhaustion and confusion—and mines them for creepy, paranoid thrills in “The Ones Below.” Anyone who’s had a child will relate, but you don’t have to be a parent to get wrapped up in the tension. My review.

Read the review here

Post Date May 27 — The Idol

The Idol Movie ReviewPalestinian director Hany Abu-Assad tells the true story of Mohammed Assaf, the singer from Gaza who became an international symbol of hope when he won the second season of the “Arab Idol” TV singing competition. But the musical elements aren’t even the most compelling parts — in fact, they’re surprisingly clunky. My mixed review.

Read the review here

Post Date May 20 — Maggie’s Plan

Maggie's Plan Movie ReviewEchoes of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach are unmistakable in Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy about narcissistic, intellectual New York academics falling in and out of love with each other. Writer-director Rebecca Miller’s comic dialogue sparkles, but the dramatic underpinnings don’t work quite as well. My mixed review.

Read the review here

Post Date May 13 — Money Monster

Money Monster Movie ReviewDrop Jim Cramer into “Network” and you have “Money Monster” — and yet the result never ends up being quite as thrilling or thought-provoking as that premise sounds. Jodie Foster’s direction is lean and efficient, though, and George Clooney and Julia Roberts have crackling chemistry as always. My mixed review.

Read the review here

Post Date May 11

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War Movie ReviewWalt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Running time: 146 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

With “Captain America: Civil War,” directors Anthony and Joe Russo have found the tricky balance that eluded the ordinarily reliable Joss Whedon with last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

They’ve made a movie that’s both self-referential and self-reverential, thrilling and heady, packed with giant set pieces and sly pop-culture quips in equal measure. Yes, there’s probably too much going on here: too many characters, too many subplots, too many gears keeping the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe grinding ever forward toward world domination. And at nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long sit — although Nicolas, at age 6 1/2, was thoroughly engaged the whole time. (Then again, he’s inordinately Marvel-savvy. Your mileage may differ.).

But “Civil War” remains entertaining throughout, even as it turns introspective. The Russos, who also directed Chris Evans & Co. in the excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from 2014, have reteamed with the writers of that movie, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Like “The Winter Soldier,” “Civil War” is relevant and resonant without becoming heavy-handed or self-serious the way, oh, say, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. It’s got some intelligent, important matters on its mind but also finds a way to deliver in terms of  summer thrills.

Now, I don’t want to divulge too much in terms of plot. I’d like to avoid spoilers for both of the people on the planet who haven’t seen “Civil War” yet. (For a spoiler-tastic review of the film, please enjoy our What the Flick?! discussion.) But I do want to touch on the main things the movie gets so right, as well as the few it gets not quite right.

An inadvertent deadly attack on an office building in Lagos, Nigeria — the result of the Avengers trying to do the right thing, as usual — prompts the U.S. government to question whether these superheroes should be allowed to continue functioning autonomously. A quick montage of the massive urban destruction that has occurred in the past few Marvel movies makes an awfully persuasive case: Yes, they’re using their powers for the greater good in all these instances, but the collateral damage is undeniable. The fact that a Marvel movie dares to question the big, shiny spectacle that is its bread and butter — and acknowledge that untold thousands die in the name of entertainment — seems rather novel. At the same time, “Civil War” approaches this topic in brisk, smart fashion rather than languishing in perpetually rainy, philosophical doldrums the way Zack Snyder’s “BvS” did earlier this year.

As the Avengers and their newfound allies take sides on the issue of whether to sign a treaty agreeing to international oversight or continue with their current strategy of world-saving, no matter the cost, it’s fascinating to see who falls where. It doesn’t shake out the way you might expect; there’s a bit of role reversal here. The typically brash, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), better known as Iron Man, is surprisingly conservative when it comes to the group’s use of power. He’s seen some things and thinks General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) has a point in seeking oversight and accountability. Meanwhile, Evans’ Steve Rogers — the earnest do-gooder, Captain America — takes an if-not-now-when, if-not-us-who approach. He wants to maintain the status quo and refuses to sign.

As Steve’s old childhood friend-turned-enemy Bucky (Sebastian Stan) returns from obscurity to unleash his full potential as the reprogrammed killing machine The Winter Soldier, the Avengers must side with either Iron Man or Captain America as the latest and greatest threat to world peace looms ever larger. We’re talking about a lot of people here, folks — so many that you may lose track of who’s on which team in the midst of major battles. Maybe that’s the point, though — the futility of war and whatnot. All I know is, the next day, Nicolas and I had a hard time recalling who was Team Cap and who was Team Iron Man. (Luckily, the ubiquitous billboards throughout Los Angeles helped jog our memories.)

There’s also the revelation of a deep secret that provides a surprisingly emotional underpinning to the ideological feud between Iron Man and Captain America. It arrives during a moment of beautiful dramatic in snowy Siberia, and it’s the film’s most gorgeous, memorable image (the work of cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot “The Winter Soldier”). And that’s about all I want to say about that.

As for the performances — because yes, they do matter, even in a blockbuster about comic-book heroes — an enormous cast gets even bigger with the addition of characters from Marvel movies past and future. Everyone gets a brief moment to shine but it’s often tantalizing and perhaps not enough. Besides Evans and Downey — who seem to feel these characters in the very fiber of their being by now — there’s also Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany as Vision. The tremendously versatile Chadwick Boseman, who’s already played Jackie Robinson (“42”) and James Brown (“Get On Up”) in just the past few years, provides excitement both physically and emotionally as newcomer Black Panther — and he’ll get his own movie, directed by Ryan Coogler, in 2018.

But the best part of “Civil War” for me was the reintroduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It is THE highlight of the movie. Tom Holland finds just the perfect tone as the webslinger, whom we’ve seen in countless other incarnations. Tobey Maguire was quippy and Andrew Garfield was angry and both played this iconic role with varying degrees of success. Holland gets the boyish giddiness of having superpowers; his joy is infectious, and his banter with Downey positively crackles.

And unlike the Black Panther movie, you only have to wait until next year for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Because regardless of how good any of these movies are individually, they’re all just cogs in the massive Marvel machinery.


Post Date May 5 — A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash Movie Review“A Bigger Splash” is simultaneously sumptuous and startling — a true feast for the senses, featuring four superb performances from Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and especially Ralph Fiennes. He absolutely tears up the screen as well as the film’s idyllic setting on an island off the coast of Sicily. Director Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to 2009’s “I Am Love” isn’t quite as gorgeous or great, but then again, what could be? My review.

Read the review here


Post Date May 2

Mother’s Day

Mother's Day Movie ReviewOpen Road Films
Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material.
Running time: 118 minutes.
One half star out of four.

“Mother’s Day” is so terrible that it inspired me to start my list of the worst movies of 2016.

January and February are traditionally dumping-ground time, so a lot of truly awful movies usually have paraded past my eyes by this time each year. But “Mother’s Day” felt like a particular milestone, one that I wanted to commemorate with great alacrity — like, as soon as the credits started rolling and I could turn my phone back on again.

Garry Marshall just needs to stay away from holidays altogether. “Mother’s Day” is the veteran director’s third ensemble comedy based on a beloved event on the calendar following “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011). I had vague hope that this one might actually be better, given that it didn’t come from the writer of those first two movies. But they just keep getting worse. The wacky antics and mawkish sentimentality of A-listers colliding into each other have given way to complete incoherence this time around.

There isn’t a single authentic moment in this entire movie which, mindbogglingly, runs all of two hours. As a mother myself in my early 40s, I am your target audience, and I did not witness anything that moved me in any emotional direction beyond extreme discomfort. There is exactly one scene that maybe kinda-sorta works briefly, and that’s just because Julia Roberts is really good at crying on cue.

Basically, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson and Britt Robertson and Sarah Chalke and Margo Martindale are moms and Roberts might be a mom and Shay Mitchell is a stepmom and Jason Sudeikis is a dad. They all live in Atlanta, where their lives intertwine in ways that are both contrived and mundane and where it’s warm much of the time, giving Aniston and Hudson the opportunity to exercise outdoors quite a bit (in pieces from Hudson’s Fabletics line of workout gear, no doubt).

Aniston stars as Sandy, who’s amicably divorced from Timothy Olyphant’s Henry, with whom she has two young sons. (One of them has asthma, which will provide a crucial plot point later. It’s like Chekhov’s Inhaler.) But Henry recently has eloped with his much younger girlfriend, the bombshell Tina (Mitchell), which sends Sandy into a cliched, middle-aged panic of shrill, existential angst.

Sandy also happens to be friends with Hudson’s character, Jesse, who’s secretly married to a man of Indian descent (Aasif Mandvi) because her conservative, racist parents in Texas (Martindale and Robert Pine) wouldn’t approve. She also has a child with his man, which is also a secret. Across the street, Jesse’s sister (Sarah Chalke) is also secretly a wife and mother — with her longtime partner, a woman named Max (Cameron Esposito). When Mom and Dad pull up to Jesse’s house in their RV unannounced, madcap hilarity ensues. “Mother’s Day” might be trying to show how diverse and progressive it is in representing every kind of family, but it’s a laugh track away from “Three’s Company” levels of subterfuge. (The script, for the record, comes from Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker and Tom Hines.)

Robertson, meanwhile, plays a cocktail waitress named Kristin. She’s the mother of an infant with her longtime boyfriend, Zack (Jack Whitehall), a Brit who also happens to be the least funny stand-up comedian in America. His lame sets are prime examples of the excruciatingly awkward editing strategy at work here, with repeated cutaways to audience members laughing hysterically at moments when Zack isn’t even telling an actual joke.

Finally, there’s Sudeikis as a recent widower named Bradley. His wife (Jennifer Garner, seen only in cheesy karaoke video footage during a moment of reminiscence) was a Marine lieutenant who died in battle in Afghanistan, leaving him to raise the couple’s two daughters alone. Ten bucks if you can figure out which single-mom character he’ll eventually end up with.

Roberts flits in and out of these storylines as Miranda Collins, a home-shopping style maven who peddles jewelry, including cheap-looking pendants that change color depending on your mood. She may be related to somebody else in “Mother’s Day”; her close-cropped orange bob, however, is related to no human being on the planet. (But Marshall, who directed Roberts to super-stardom a quarter century ago in “Pretty Woman,” does manage to wring the movie’s one fleeting, decent moment out of her here, too.)

Marshall veers wildly between hokey moments that are meant to be humorous and saccharine moments that are meant to be sentimental. Sudeikis’ painful rap routine to a sanitized version of “The Humpty Dance” is meant to be both simultaneously. The characters never feel like real people, even though they’re constantly explaining themselves to us. (“I have abandonment issues,” Kristin says while discussing why she won’t marry Zack.) And their antics are lighted in a flat, bright way that creates a distracting feeling of detachment.

If you love your mother — or even if you hate your mother — take her to see something else this Mother’s Day. A revival of “Mommie Dearest,” maybe.

Post Date Apr 21 — The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The Huntsman: Winter's War Movie Review“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is for people who liked “Frozen” but thought it wasn’t angry enough. It’s a sorta-prequel, sorta-sequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” and it’s a total mess. The costumes are gorgeous, though. My 1 1/2-star review.

Read the review here