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Writer Richard Curtis knows how to create a Christmas film. His 2003 yuletide hit "Love Actually" has been on our annual must watch list for two decades! His new holiday comedy GENIE is loaded with laughs and plenty of heart, thanks to a great cast. Paapa Essiedu is terrific as Bernard, a workaholic assistant at a Manhattan Auction house owned by the extremely entitled Mr. Waxman (Alan Cumming). As the film opens, Bernard works late yet again, missing a skating evening with his daughter Eve (Jordyn McIntosh) on her 9th birthday and wife Julie, played by Broadway star Denee Benton. By the time he gets home, Bernard's lost Eve's gift and the last measure of Julie's patience. She suggests that they need some time apart and she and Eve leave for Julie's Mom's house outside the city. Not many laughs so far. Those arrive in the fine form of Genie Flora (Melissa McCarthy) who is conjured out of an ancient jewelry box that Bernard brought home from the auction house. McCarthy is hilarious, playing off of Essiedu's perfect incredulity at her possibly being a genie. What I liked most about Curtis's script is that it never takes the easy road to obvious jokes. Sure, Bernard manages to wish for some things we'd all like ($100k red sports car anyone?) but he's more concerned about using them for the other people in his life. Their trip to Bloomingdale's is hilarious, as are Flora's attempts to adapt her look to 2023 NYC. Running jokes about her knowing Jesus last time she was out of the box cracked me up. "Oh no, I thought he was kidding....!" Eve's Mom isn't a throwaway character, she's well played by LaChanze and comedian Mark Maron has surprising chops as Lenny, the doorman of Bernard's building. Every scene between McCarthy's Flora and Maron's Lenny feels organic, ad-libbed and full of surprises. McCarthy has a blast playing a fish out of water in her first time out of that box in a couple thousand years. She's playfully vindictive against anyone who doesn't have Bernard's back. A dinner with Bernard's entire dysfunctional family in which she grants them all three wishes is a highlight of the film. As Flora notes after dessert, it's hard to imagine those three wishes being used any worse than the hilariously bad choices made here. It's also great to see SNL vet Ellen Cleghorne back on the screen as Bernard's mother, she lands every punch line. Essiedu is a find. He's got great heart and creates real empathy for Bernard, whose only dream is to bring his family back together. Alas, even with a magic genie in your corner, reigniting true love proves to be an elusive dream. When Flora replaces Bernard's framed Messi jersey with a well known artwork, international implications arrive in the person of NYC Detective Perez. Veteran actor Luis Guzman (Magnolia, Carlito's Way) brings big laughs as he interrogates Bernard and Flora in separate rooms. Like Curtis's other hits including "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral", the last act brings plenty of heart into the mix and McCarthy handles the drama with ease, delivering a heartfelt holiday movie that leaves a big smile on your face. Lightweight holiday fun with plenty of feel-good moments up its sleeve, GENIE spreads enough holiday cheer to earn a solid B.
- Silent Night
Action Director John Woo has delivered a holiday gift to theaters today, SILENT NIGHT, his first American film in 20 years! Is it worth unwrapping? Joel Kinnaman (fantastic in Apple TV+'s "For All Mankind" series) stars as a father in torment. As the film opens, he's running toward the camera in an ugly Christmas sweater, a jingle bell hanging around his neck, bouncing around in traditional John Woo slow-motion glory. We get glimpses of him covered in blood. He's chasing two vehicles whose occupants are members of rival gangs. They hang out the windows of their cars, unleashing hundreds of rounds at each other with massive weapons. One of those rounds has taken his nine year old son, playing innocently on his new bike on Christmas morning. We only know this father by his last name, Godlock. He faces off against the two cars and is gunned down with a bullet through the throat by a vicious gang-leader who's branded with dark tattooed slashes across the entire right side of his face. Unable to speak, with his wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) at his side, Godlock slowly, painfully and hesitantly crawls back to life. The moments in which he returns to their house, with all the remnants of that Christmas morning still in place, are almost unbearable. Kinnaman and Moreno are both very good in these scenes, but they're difficult to sit through. As someone who has lost a child, the moments of heartbreaking loss are almost too well executed. Godlock sinks into an alcoholic stupor, until the day his front porch memories snap him viciously toward vengeance. He circles the following Christmas Eve on his calendar and writes "KILL THEM ALL" on the day. Woo kicks everything up a notch. Godlock heads to the police station to meet the Detective that came to his bedside, Detective Vassell, played by rapper/actor Kid Cudi. But the meeting at the police station isn't what you think it's going to be. Woo stages the entire, hour and 45 minute film almost dialogue free. Police radios and breathless grunts of violence represent most of the voices captured. Like Eastwood's Man With No Name, Godlock lets his weapons do the talking. Marco Beltrami's music score is almost like a silent movie score. It's ever present, punching up the action scenes and pulling on your heartstrings at the right moments. Beltrami (World War Z, Knowing, Plane) creates an enormous amount of music and it's damn good. Woo takes his time, bordering on too much time really, moving Godlock slowly through his grief and into what seems like a 30-minute long Rocky training montage as he bulks up, learns to shoot, buys the appropriate car for an avenging angel and starts observing the gang all the way up the ladder until he finds the man who stood over him that Christmas morning and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, Kinnaman is up to the task. His anger is palpable, his transformation from angry, terrified father to killing machine carries 100X the weight that Charles Bronson ever did in his 'Death Wish" series, which this clearly resembles. The last forty minutes shows us that the 67 year old Woo can still serve up his brand of explosive action scenes in grand style. Like George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Woo never blinks as Godlock mows down gangbangers by the dozens, moving up the ladder toward his prey. Miller's latest Mad Max films managed to break new ground in film-making while they paid homage to the original 80's films in the series. I'd be hard pressed to find tangible evidence of Woo taking things to the next level here and that does occasionally feel like a let down. Kinnaman's long hand-to-hand battle up the boss's staircase is visually incredible and thrilling, but is it better than Daniel Craig's battle up the stairs, one of the few highlights of the second half of "No Time To Die"? No. Godlock's car stunts as he wields his Mustang like a four legged variety, flying in between towers and around other cars is exciting, but pales next to any car chase in "John Wick 4". What you're left with is a perfectly good John Woo action film. Is that enough? I was so thankful there weren't a thousand slow motion doves flying around that I was able to sit back and enjoy this for what it is, a brutally violent, graphic & bloody action flick, anchored by the real emotional father's loss at its core. Woo hasn't lost any of the excess flourishes that tend to grow tiresome after awhile, but after two decades, they didn't bother me at all. I was clearly ready for his unmistakable style, which SILENT NIGHT delivers in a massive Christmas sack loaded with ammo. Nothing is calm, Nothing is bright, but this SILENT NIGHT gets an appropriately unholy blood covered B, leaving you exhausted in its wake.
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights
I am a HUGE Mel Brooks fan of his films from the 60's and 70's, but ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS pales in comparison to his earlier works. Spoofing the legend and even more so, the 1991 Kevin Costner film version, some of the gags are now pretty dated without the other film as context. Don't get me wrong, this goofy farce has its moments, but its plagued by a pretty low land rate among its endless pratfalls and burlesque style humor, especially in the first half. It was fifteen minutes in before I even smiled, and that was upon the arrival of a young Dave Chappelle, who's hilarious any time he's on screen as Ahchoo. Issac Hayes appears as his father, Asneeze. That pretty much sums up much of the humor here. If you think that's funny, you're going to love this movie. Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as Robin Hood is a perfect straight man for all the absurdity that surrounds him. Maid Marian's Everlast chastity belt is pretty funny, but Amy Yasbeck is dull and one-note. Richard Lewis is a crack up as Prince John and Tracey Ullman steals the show as Latrine, the hideous sorceress he consults. The soldiers in armor falling like dominoes is a great sight gag as is the "Men in Tights" song, which is sure to knock any snowflake off their steed in its political incorrectness. Mel Brooks is hilarious as the traveling Rabbi Tuckman and his entire scene is a blast. He's peddling circumcisions and after initially volunteering, Ahchoo yells out, "I forgot, I already got one!" Dom DeLuise nails a perfect Brando impression as Don Giovanni. Those two scenes are the best ten minutes of the entire film. I loved Cary Elwes' belting out an old fashioned (horribly dubbed) love song to Marian as his gang of Merry Men watch behind the curtain. When he goes for the high note and blows her hair back, I cracked up. Mike Myers would seriously up the misinterpreted shadows laughs featured here in his Austin Powers films. Seeing Robert Ridgely back from "Blazing Saddles" as the same hangman is a highlight too. His taunting of Robin in the hangman's noose is a lot of fun. For a truly great comedy about knights and legends, I always go back to "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Any five minutes of that brilliant film has more laughs than this entire one hour and 44 minutes in Sherwood Forest. However, these MEN IN TIGHTS do provide thee occasional laughs, so I'll dub this with a C.
- Leave the World Behind
Part cautionary tale, part disaster film and riveting after its shaky start, LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND is a fascinating mystery. The film opens with Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) almost done packing as she surprises her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) with the fact she's booked a surprise weekend escape. She says its a chance to get away from the madness of their Bronx apartment and reconnect with their teenage kids Archie (Charlie Evans) and his younger sister Rose (Farrah MacKenzie). The problem with the opening scene is that Amanda's dialogue feels unnatural. This isn't the way people talk, it's the way screenwriters think they'd talk in an especially clever moment. It's all forced. Then we dive unto jarring main title graphics and a theme song that seems all wrong. I'm five minutes in and I'm thinking, "what the hell is this mess? A comedy? A satire?" Thankfully, the film then finds its groove. The Sandfords settle into the stunning country home, loaded with every modern convenience and luxury accessory. They make a morning trip to the beach that ends in spectacular, grand scale intrusion. It's the first sign that something is really wrong, and it's a big one. The internet seems spotty, going from slow and grainy to downright dead. Cell phones follow soon after, leaving this modern family disconnected, with all the angst and frustration that would generate. That evening, there's a knock at the front door. Julia tells Clay to grab a bat and Clay asks "Why would I have a bat?" as he picks up a solid piece of expensive modern art as a potential weapon. At the door is the tuxedo clad GH Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his early twenties daughter Ruth (Myha'La). He introduces himself to Amanda by name and explains that this is his house, he is the man that rented it to them. A major blackout has hit NYC, so they have returned home. Amanda's responses are blatantly racist, implying there is no way that a black man could own this home. Clay cringes at Amanda, he's trusting and believing. Ruth despises Amanda immediately, reading every bit of Amanda's prejudice. It's a fascinating sequence as GH clearly demonstrates that he indeed owns the home , but there's just enough reasonable doubt to make you question if he is who he says he is. Clay falls back to trite and polite responses. Of course they should stay the night and everything will be better by the light of day. But Writer/Director Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) is just getting started. Twists and turns abound. There are some spectacular events that happen over the next 24 hours. The less you know going in, the better. Ali and Myha'La are both fantastic. GH is clearly a powerful, connected man, but Ruth seems to have a better hold on the state of the current world when things start going to shit. Hawke is one of my favorite actors and he's superb here in one of the quieter roles, making his terror all the more palpable when it intrudes. His solitary journey into town is loaded with great moments. Roberts is brave playing such a wholly unlikable "Karen" who detests people and lives her days with her anger out front. She clearly cares for her children, although I never felt she had any love left for Clay. Kevin Bacon is very good in the role of Danny, a town handyman who GH knows well. But Danny is a flag waving patriot whose single-minded goal of protecting his own leaves little room for empathy. But what happens when all the conspiracy theories that you thought Danny was a kook for believing, start happening in front of your eyes? Esmail build incredible tension throughout, weaving a thoughtful tale with hints of Hitchcock, especially "The Birds" and "North by Northwest". He's aided nicely by the ever escalating creepy score by Mac Quayle. The last couple minutes of the film kind of fell flat for me, with Rose almost ignoring everything important around her during a self-centered discovery. It paints her in the same light as Archie, who is one of the most selfish, unsympathetic teens ever portrayed on film. With no personal interaction skills and all of life happening on your cell phone, is this the generation ahead? Only when personal tragedy strikes does Archie share any human emotion. Everything between the opening scene/main titles and that final Rose scene soared for me. The suspense was real, the mystery confounding and the dramatic scenes are gut wrenching. We talked a lot about the film after it was done. We all agreed on the brilliance of its mystery and the fact that it made us think about the current state of the world. Have we ever been more divided? I loved GH and Clay's final scene together. You find yourself plugging yourself into one of those roles and realizing the IMMEDIATE importance of the world finding common ground. We MUST, and we must QUICKLY. I loved the sense of urgency that we felt to explore those connections post-viewing. Let's stop talking about what we disagree about and start finding the parts of life we agree on and start sharing those on a human level. Here's hoping that LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND sparks similar conversation across everyone who watches it. For me, it's an inspirational and disturbing A-. There is no going back to normal.
- The Holdovers
The perfect showcase for Paul Giamatti's one-of-a-kind quirk, THE HOLDOVERS reunites Director Alexander Payne and Giamatti for the first time since "Sideways" nearly 20 years ago. From the opening frames, an old-style R rating announcement and ancient Focus Features logo, Payne immerses you into 1970, even layering old film pops and scratches into the opening moments. It takes you back to a different time. Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a venerable and very grumpy History teacher at a high school populated by sons of the very rich. He's hilariously rude, swooping in to drop finals papers on each desk with grades slashed across them in huge red letters. F+ is my favorite. At the last minute, he's selected to stay at the school and oversee the Holdovers, the kids that, for whatever reason, wont be going home for Christmas holiday. The kids range in age from about ten to high school seniors. They're a real life mix of cocky, lonely, brainy and sad. Senior Angus Tully stands out. He's the quiet, best student in Hunham's class, an emotional powderkeg. Newcomer Dominic Sessa is fantastic as Angus, driving huge laughs as he goes toe-to-toe with his teacher. More Dictator than educator, Hunham berates and destroys, insulting the boys in Latin and comparing their ambition to Greek history. Da'Vine Joy Randolph (The Lost City) is terrific as lead cook at the schools, Mary Lamb. She's recently lost her son in the Vietnam war and Hunham offers the softer side of his personality up to her exclusively. She, in turn, tries to inject just a fragment of humanity in him, introducing him to "The Newlywed Game" and sharing a glass of bourbon with him in a quiet moment. Writer David Hemingson unwinds the two weeks of holiday break with realistic dialogue, many emotional twists and turns and some brilliant choices, setting up a path for Hunham, Angus and Mary to take a "field trip" to Chicago. Moment after moment surprises, offering a very different take than a predictable "grumpy teacher softens up" story. As great as Giamatti is, Sessa and Randolph equal him. There isn't a false move in Randolph's performance as Mary, catering to sons of the rich after losing her own son in a meaningless war. This is Sessa's on-screen debut. Before filming, he had only acted on stage in college plays. He's a find. I can't wait to see what he does next. Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt) continues his legacy of creating seamless blends of comedy and drama, capturing real-life in all it's unpredictable mess. Giamatti is perfect, from his first scene to the final camera shot. After the movie, my wife said "I'd love to see a sequel ten years later to see where they are in their lives." She's right. It's a testament to Hemingson and Payne that they've created characters that you truly invest in. This is a film you'll still be thinking about long after those 70's style end credits roll. THE HOLDOVERS is a perfect, adult, heartfelt holiday film. I'll grab Hunham's favorite red grading pencil and give this one a well earned, giant A.
- The Creator
With hints of "Children of Men" and "The Terminator" and bathed in the spirit of "Aliens", THE CREATOR emerges as a brilliant, original epic from Gareth Edwards. The film opens with a clever news real showing how AI robots have made life on Earth easier, from mundane tasks like walking the dog, to driving our cars. It ends suddenly with the depiction of the AI system we created to protect us nuking downtown Los Angeles. The world splits into two factions. New Asia embraces AI as the natural evolution of life and lives side by side with them. The West bans AI and is devoted to wiping every measure of them off the planet. Edwards uses time in interesting ways to tell the story. We meet Joshua, a retired soldier with incredibly realistic artificial appendages to replace the ones lost in war. He's relaxing with his very pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan from "Crazy Rich Asians"). They're in love and loving life. The reliably fantastic John David Washington (Tenet, BlacKkKlansman) inhabits Joshua, springing to life when two warring forces descend upon their beach side home. US forces arrive at the same time as the AI led police. Maya is lost and Joshua joins his US team in the quest to kill The Creator, the elusive architect of AI seeking to create a world changing weapon. Allison Janney (I, Tonya) is excellent as Colonel Howell, commander of Joshua's strike team on the mission. The entire "drop down to the planet and dust off the attack team" raises chills of James Cameron's "Aliens" in all the right ways. The production design and sound effects are spectacular, with state of the art effects throughout taking you to an Earth 40 years in the future that's unrecognizable, yet very familiar. Jaw-dropping is too cliche a phrase for the look of the film. Edwards vision here is every bit as revolutionary as Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", with which it shares some innate part of its replicant DNA. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) is excellent as Harun, a lead AI soldier whose known Joshua for many years. The center of the film is the mysterious young AI Alphie, the prize that both sides desire. Madeline Yuna Voyles makes her big screen debut as Alphie and she's terrific. Any "Aliens" fans out there remember the opening of the film, when the robot unit breaks into the escape pod and finds Ripley, scanning the inside of the ship with that quickly moving wall of blue light that made a giant THX "THUMP" when it went past the camera? Edwards does. The massive US orbiting weapon lays out that blue light in huge grids, targeting people or entire ships with destructive weapons. Film fans will also see strong flavors of "Apocalypse Now" as well. The action scenes are fantastic and numerous. Edwards brings the same incredible style and action prowess that he did to the best Star Wars spinoff ever made, "Rogue One", a film I would argue is better than 90% of the entire Star Wars series. But here, Edwards has created his own story, his own atmosphere, his own world. He's teamed up again with his "Rogue One" co-writer, Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and managed to develop a story and characters that never preaches, but elegantly grasps numerous bigger topics. War, religion, global politics, free will, loss & grief, humanity in general all emerged for me. If it sounds "woke" or agenda ridden, it's not. It never is. But it's smart enough in creating characters that you live through, to raise all those questions in your mind. Is AI the terrifying menace that the Terminator films proposed? Answer that question before you see the film and then ask it of yourself again afterwards. Fascinating. As Shipley says to Joshua, "Whose side are you on, huh?" Hans Zimmer's music is powerful and soaring, with Asian influences that also weave through the title cards that begin each major section of the story. Zimmer is a chameleon. I'm convinced there's no such thing as a "Zimmer" music score. I could pick a Danny Elfman score, a John Williams or a Jerry Goldsmith score out blindfolded. But Zimmer? He's incredibly elusive, and our ears are all the better for it. The final act is brilliant, soaring past expectations. The last five minutes are as perfect as film gets. THE CREATOR is one of, if not my favorite film of the year. Inspiring, exciting and heartfelt, it gets an A+.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
30 years after it hit theaters, Tim Burton's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS still stands as one of the most visually stunning animated films ever made. Burton's choices as creator and producer of this modern classic are flawless. Legendary film composer Danny Elfman created quirky songs to match the visual madness and he also supplies the singing voice of Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King. "What's This?", "This is Halloween", "Sally's Song" and my favorite "Oogie Boogie's Song" get in your ear and hold on like one of Burton's creepy crawly creatures that populate every frame of the film. Jack (speaking voice provided by Chris Sarandon) is growing bored as the leader of Halloween Town. After stumbling into a portal in the forest that leads to all holidays, he announces his plan to give "Sandy Claws" a break and take over yuletide duties for a year. What could go wrong? Catherine O'Hara (Best in Show) delivers great singing and voice work as Sally, a female frankenstein created by mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein (William Hickey from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"). She seems to be the only citizen that sees just how bad Jack's idea is. Ken Page (Dreamgirls) delivers as Oogie Boogie and the set piece in which he holds the real Santa Claus hostage in a massive glow in the dark, voodoo casino set is a jaw dropper. Page stops the show and Burton's visuals reach their peak. Listen for the voice of Paul Reubens as Lock, a member of the nastiest kid trick or treat trio on record. As I watched the film again, I kept laughing at the amount and intensity of dark content that Burton crams into the film, perfectly balanced by the musical score to keep it fun. What other family film can you think of loaded with skittering cockroaches, a character with an axe buried in their brain, a female lead who has to keep re-attaching her limbs and terrifying creatures hiding under your bed. Somehow, some way, Burton has pulled it off for multiple generations and families that come back to revisit this holiday classic year after year, including ours. A timeless blend of stop-motion, traditional animation and puppetry, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS gets an A.
- Albert Brooks: Defending My Life
In the mid 1970's when Albert Brooks' short films would appear during the first years of SNL, they went way over my head. As a teen, his clever satire fell flat, so it's great to revisit his body of work and career with new perspective in ALBERT BROOKS: DEFENDING MY LIFE. The new documentary is a loving tribute from his lifelong best friend Rob Reiner. The two sit down across from each other and share stories, laughing and revealing a lot of insight behind the bits. It's a conversational base that serves the film well. Ahead of his time and always the most clever kid in the room, we see many of the routines that brought Brooks fame as a young, cutting edge comedian. The memories he shares around each one are often as funny as the routines themselves. The doc is loaded with clips, including some classic bits with Johnny Carson that really took me back. I'll never forget watching Johnny absolutely lose it over Brooks' bit about using different spices to do great impressions. Johnny's facial expressions during the routine are so honest you couldn't help but roar along with him. David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Steven Spielberg, James L. Brooks, Chris Rock and many others share their memories of Brooks as well. It's interesting watching how much he struggled to get his first film made and hilarious to hear how the studio nearly ruined it's release, thinking Brooks' humor would play better in the sticks than Manhattan. That movie, 1979's "Real Life" foretold reality TV decades before it ruled our television screens. My appreciation for Brooks exploded with his films of the 80's and 90's. "Lost in America" and "Defending Your Life" are both smart and laugh out loud hilarious. I was also blown away when I saw his dramatic portrayal of the brutal Bernie Rose in "Drive". Almost unrecognizable, he's terrifying as a man that getaway driver Ryan Gosling crosses. If you haven't seen "Drive" put it on your must see list. Brooks followed that up with another fantastic dramatic performance in one of my favorite films of all time, 2014's " A Most Violent Year". I loved that both of these roles are featured in the doc, along with his hilarious role as himself in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which he stages his own funeral to see what all his friends would say about him. Reiner directs the documentary with an easy hand, breezing through 90 minutes that feel as enjoyable as sitting down with old friends. Whether you're a casual fan of Brooks work or a devotee of his films, this new HBO doc should hit the spot and provide plenty of laughs. It made me want to watch "Broadcast News" again and see two of Brooks' works that I haven't seen yet, including "Mother". For that alone, it earns a solid B.
- Expendables 4
DOA and completely devoid of any redeeming moments other than a few with Jason Statham, EXPEND4BLES is the definition of $100 million poured into a cinematic sewer. Where the hell did all the money go? I can only assume to the cast, all of whom, save Statham and Andy Garcia, who clearly knows he's slumming for a paycheck, are awful. The first couple Expendables films were modern, violent takes on The Dirty Dozen with stars like Bruce Willis, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Jet Li and Harrison Ford showing up with a wink. The fourth installment features a bunch of dopes I don't even know and a couple like Megan Fox and 50 Cent that really should have hung up their acting cleats a long time ago. The writing is mid-century locker room, with cringe inducing dialogue, punchlines that land with a thud and a complete lack of coherent thought on display. I see that the writer Kurt Wimmer was also responsible for the total crap "Point Break" remake in 2015. But wait, he also wrote the fantastic "Thomas Crown Affair" remake with Pierce Brosnan? I'm baffled. So at least the action is great, right? $100 million MUST buy some great action scenes! Nope. After they paid the cast, I think they had about $100k left for some very very bad CGI, including the worst plane crash I've ever seen in a major motion picture. Woof. The plot doesn't matter, it's just our barrage of "good guys and nasty girls" trying to stop some bad terrorists and industrial complex stooges from starting WW3 with a stolen nuke. Wow, original. In his recent biography, "Sly", Stallone kept referring to his three major franchises. These movies should never be mentioned in the same breath as Rocky and Rambo. Stallone intended this mess to be the start of a new trilogy. Stallone is just going through the motions here. After dying quickly at the box office with a worldwide box office of about $33 million and a nearly $70 million loss for the studio, this old geezer action series has thankfully been taken off life support. What a mess. Finally living up to their title, EXPEND4BLES is dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. Statham deserves better. Stallone knows better. The rest of these dolts are right where they belong. It gets an F. Here's the R Rated Red band trailer below. It's better than the movie, but just as dumb.
- The Killer
It's been nine years since we've been able to immerse into a true David Fincher thriller. He's back. His explosively brilliant new film THE KILLER is everything you want and then some, a "Dexter/Day of the Jackal" deep dive into a professional killer. As the film opens, our nameless assassin is holed up inside a WeWork location in downtown Paris. He's quietly observing his current target across the boulevard, who appears to command at least the top floor of an expensive, old-world hotel. Michael Fassbender appears in his first film in four years as The Killer. Each of his movements is carefully planned. Sleep is a luxury savored in small doses. He monitors his heart rate and yoga sessions while watching the neighboring flat through a rifle scope. Fincher's sound design is flawless, as is the cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt (Mank, Manhunter). Fincher immerses you into the day and night sounds of Paris, while his camera follows The Killer's scope from room to room, front door to cafe, popping across the wet streets like Jimmy Stewart's snooping camera in Hitchcock's "Rear Window". Fassbinder's lethal character narrates the story to us, weaving through the quiet moments in what appears to be his inner monologue. Or is it a confessional? As the killer chooses his actual words in life very carefully, the narration is our only view into his thoughts. When the assassination goes wrong, the film explodes into a flurry of non-stop action. Watching the Killer cover his tracks is fascinating. Like the excellent 1973 thriller, "The Day of the Jackal", his everyday routines appear mundane, quiet. While that film spent two hours getting to the assassination, Fincher spends only about the first 20 minutes getting to the attempt. We're then whisked off on a globe hopping adventure as The Killer returns to his enclave in the Dominican Republic, realizes he's compromised and then begins a lethal quest to eliminate any collateral damage from his failed job. To say more would be criminal, let Fincher pull you down those avenues. One of the my favorite Fincher films, and also one of my favorite films of all time is his 1995 thriller, "Se7en". Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote that film, writes this one as well. Adapting the graphic novel by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon, Walker creates distinct chapters that take place around the world. Each one may as well be another planet, as Fincher offers up New Orleans and Florida in ways you've never seen them before. Balanced with the narration, you're half laughing at The Killer's descriptions, while Fincher sinks below the tourist maps to much darker parts of town. You'll recognize the Fincher-isms that we've all come to love. Time jumps. A journey from the airport in which no camera shot lasts longer than three seconds, yet you as the viewer never get lost. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide the music score, a pulsing, modern take that gets under your skin and stays there. No one plays with swirling spatial sound like Reznor and Ross and they add to their growing legacy of film scores (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) with another seductive, propulsive score that pulls you in and never lets go. The supporting cast is strong. Tilda Swinton is The Expert. Arliss Howard is The Client. Charles Parnell is The Lawyer. All are great. But they all are in service of Fassbender as The Killer. He's excellent. He's the slow burning core at the center. I loved that I couldn't quite figure out what his next steps were going to be, or where he'd draw the line. Only in the final moments did I realize I actually already knew the answer to those questions. I loved his aliases used on credit cards and airline tickets. Every child of the seventies will. No one creates a modern thriller like David Fincher. He's precise, intelligent, violent and creates a fully-modern take on the suspense film in cinema. A Hitchcock for our time, he deserves to stand alongside Hitch as a visionary. Since the 80's I have loved Brian De Palma as a modern Hitchcock, but his films always felt like tasty, nasty homages to the master, loaded with more graphic blood and sex than Hitch would ever have felt comfortable with in his day. But for me, Fincher stands as the more complete filmmaker, creating unbearable tension by introducing a killer into our everyday life. It all feels as logical and ridiculously unpredictable as life itself. We're just collateral damage to the events he depicts. As in "Se7en", the events in motion cannot be contained. Fincher has added another masterpiece to his film legacy with THE KILLER. It slays without hesitation or remorse, earning an A+.
As a longtime Sylvester Stallone fan, the new Netflix documentary SLY left me wanting more, much more. Let me be clear, I don't need any more of Stallone talking to the camera, that's well covered here. But I was dying for other voices to be heard and more coverage of the ill-fated films in his filmography. ("Staying Alive" anyone?) More of a vanity piece than a true documentary, it's not without it's power. Stallone believing in himself enough to insist that he starred in the original "Rocky" is legendary. They offered him nearly a half million dollars of 70's cash to sell the screenplay and go away. He refused. The rest is legend. Rocky II and Rocky III ruled the box office in the late seventies. They were HUGE. I've always felt like there were true gems among Stallone's lesser seen films as well. 1978's "F.I.S.T." is excellent, a full blown character drama and period piece that's loaded with drama. It's nicely delved into here. 1981's "NIghthawks" with he and Billy Dee Williams tracking an international terrorist across NYC is a blast of a thriller. It's overlooked. The film is framed inside Stallone's massive Los Angeles mansion as he packs everything up and gets ready to move East. He sees it as an opportunity to revisit all the pieces of his life and save what's important. He shares plenty about his physically and mentally abusive father, a figure that haunts him for decades, constantly in silent competition with his famous son. But we see nothing about his over-the-top Mother, who became a radio talk show regular for decades, spilling her own brand of vanity and ego for attention. We see brief glimpses of his son Sage as Stallone discusses the failed "Rocky V" and a brief mention of the fact that Sage died in 2012, but no mention beyond a subtitle showing that he passed away. It's glossed over and there are no mentions of Stallone's increasingly famous daughters, save a few family photos. The doc basically focuses on Stallone's franchises, Rocky and Rambo. The first five Rocky films are nicely covered, but only "First Blood" gets its due, with the incredibly successful sequels only superficially mentioned. The last film gets plenty of attention as a statement to Stallone's commitment to his characters, but it's the worst film in the series. There are desperate attempts to claim he had three huge franchises, but "The Expendables" is so bad that I just cringed whenever it's brought up in the same breath as the TWO R's. It would have been so much more fun and revealing to see behind the scenes clips or other actor interviews from then or now around Stallone's major hits. At one point, Sly says "If I would have known I'd only make around 25 films, I would have made some better choices". GREAT! Let's expand on that! Nope. Director Thom Zimny lets Stallone change the subject back to his abusive Dad and a polo match in the 90's. Meh. Where is "Cliffhanger"? "Tango and Cash"? "Victory"? ANY of the Creed films? I know Stallone is pissed off as he's lost creative control of the past few Creed films, but they've been superb and have featured some of Stallone's best acting. Don't they deserve mention? No, lets get back to more shots of movers wrapping up trinkets and moving the Rocky statue. His brother Frank Stallone gets plenty of screen time and offers up some of the film's best insights. His perspective on Sly's success and the impact it had on Frank's career is fascinating. I personally think he's luck he had his brother. Anytime Schwarzenegger or Tarantino or Talia Shire were on camera, discussing Stallone's impact or style, SLY delivers. But giving him a platform to justify the horrible dialogue at the end of "First Blood" should not be this bio's purpose. I was half expecting him to demand a Pulitzer Peace Prize for the "If we can change, then the whole world can change" speech at the end of Rocky IV. Stallone deserves a better career retrospective than SLY, but this seems to have been made with his full involvement and control. More "Over the Top" than "Rocky", SLY mumbles along to a C, leaving us all unenlightened and slightly punch drunk from paternal beatings.
- Five Nights at Freddy's
Having never played the game, I had no preconceptions finding out if I could survive FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY'S. I thought I was in for a "Chuck E. Cheese goes full Chucky and murders a bunch of dolts". Well, kind of, but dare I say there's a lot more going on here than that. Not very effectively, but certainly more than I expected. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) stars as Mike, a troubled young man wandering from one dead end job to another as he tries to provide for his young sister Abby (Piper Rubio). His parents are out of the picture, devastated by the unresolved kidnapping of Mike's younger brother when they were both very young. Mike lands an all-night security job at the long defunct Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. It's a creepy joint, with the rotting remnants of the bulky, goofy 80's animatronic characters still on stage. His nights are spent reliving his brother's kidnapping when he falls asleep and exploring the menacing kids restaurant when he manages to stay awake. His days are filled battling against his wicked Aunt Jane (a slumming Mary Stuart Masterson) who's determined to get custody of Abby. The Aunt Jane character is a red flag, simply a plot device with no real motive or resolve in the story. If you're going to add characters just to flesh out the running time, don't waste actors like Masterson playing them. Hutcherson is very good and his Mike seems to find support in a young local sheriff deputy Vanessa, played by Elizabeth Lail, the opposite of Masterson on the thespian talent chart. Sadly, Matthew Lillard apparently still thinks he's in "Scooby-Doo" putting the OVER in overacting. Painful. About halfway through the movie, Mike's realistic dreams of the kidnapping of his brother set a tone that I thought the movie was going to explore. It conjured up similar feelings to "Doctor Sleep" in the sheer willingness to put kids in danger. But very soon afterward, all those beloved Freddy's animatronics took center stage in the film and the movie falls off a cliff from potentially interesting to really, really dumb. I'm guessing fans of the video game (and clearly there are millions based on the impressive opening weekend box office) will enjoy seeing Foxy and Golden Freddy and the others whom I cant really be bothered to remember, come to life. Meh. The good: Hutcherson is terrific. All of the murderous characters are not CGI, they're brought to life by Jim Henson's creature shop and they're kind of fun. NEVER scary if you're older than 12, but kind of fun. The music score by The Newton Brothers (The Fall of the House of Usher, Doctor Sleep) is very good. The bad: This thing made over $130 million against its $20 million budget it's first three days. So there's going to be a LOT more of these. Let's hope the next one is rated R, so it plays more like a horror movie and less like an afterschool special about Stranger Danger. FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY'S only scares up a C.