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The King's Daughter (2022)
8 years sitting on a shelf gives us an absolute mess.
Set in France during the rule of King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan), The King, having grown fearful of his own mortality enlists a ship of fisherman lead by captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker) to find a mermaid (Fan Bingbing) so a ceremony can be performed during an eclipse where The King will consumer her life force and gain immortality. Meanwhile at a convent, free spirited orphan, Mari-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario), has been summoned to Versailles by the king's Father Confessor, Pere La Chaise (William Hurt), at the king's request to be the court composer unaware she's the king's daughter. As Marie Joseph adjusts to the strange and unfamiliar world of Versailles, she finds herself called by the mermaid and befriends her.
The King's Daughter is a very loose adaptation of the 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun, written by Vonda N. McIntyre, better known for her contributions to Star Wars and Star Trek in novel form with aspects such as the given names of Sulu and Uhura rendered canon. The movie had a long development cycle beginning in 1999 with The Jim Henson Company and eventually moving to Walt Disney Pictures where it lingered in development hell. The project was revived I 2013 when Sean McNamara joined the project as director and filming finally beginning in 2014. While initially set for an August 2014 release by Paramount Pictures, three weeks prior to the release Paramount pulled the film from the release schedule without explanation with only vague stories of "additional visual effects work" released through industry trades. The film sat on a shelf for 8 years in limbo with McNamara having released six movies in the interim since filming it. After being retitled The King's Daughter, the movie was acquired by smaller distributor Gravitas Ventures who re-edited the film with some opening and closing narration by Julie Andrews. When the movie was released in the January dumping ground of 2022, reviews were not kind and the film only gathered about $1.8 million against its $40 million budget. The King's Daughter has all the telltale signs of a troubled production that's been attempted to be salvaged by being reversed engineered into a Disney-esque fairy tale, but whatever vision originally intended has been clouded by years of post-production hell and misguided salvage.
From the beginning where our film opens with a CGI rendered book opening as read by Julie Andrews as if we're being told a fairy tale, it becomes painfully clear that this narration and this book was not the original intent. After a "blink and you'll miss it" text dump expositing about Louis the XIV and his quest to find the mermaid, Miss Andrews has the thankless job of repeating the same information over again as we go through a poorly rendered CGI book with pictures that are just stills from the movie run through a filter to make them resemble painting (honestly it looks like it's not that far above most gimmick filters on your average smartphone). The opening act is just a mess with the story jumping between The Convent, Versaille, and the expedition to find the mermaid lead by Yves De La Croix and it's both very choppy and rapidly paced so the audience is being suffocated with a lot of exposition about the mermaid, the state of France's and King Louis's power and standing, or various other aspects of the plot that are just rushed through and not given the buildup they should be given especially in a story where you trying to merge real life people with fantasy elements.
The movie fares maybe the tiniest bit better in the acting department, but even then I'm not sure I'd classify any performance as "good". William Hurt gives regrettably his final on screen performance before his death in 2022 (albeit filmed in 2014) and for what it's worth Hurt does do a decent job of conveying Pere La Chaise as a man torn between his devotion to God and loyalty to his king with Hurt's more subdued delivery fitting well with a character who's supposed to be a man of faith. Pierce Brosnan is entertaining as King Louis the XIV, even if he does flirt with going over the top, and the scenes between Brosnan and Hurt do seem like they're trying to bring something to this movie. Kaya Scodelario plays our main protagonist as Marie-Josephe and while Scodelario has had a successful career since this movie with her part in the Maze Runner trilogy, Crawl, and the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Scodelario is given nothing to work with as she is portrayed in a very clunky fashion that feels like a crude facsimile of a Disney princess archetype. Benjamin Walker also plays Yves as the love interest and the chemistry between the two of them just doesn't come through on camera. Fan Bingbing gets massively shorts rifted here as the mermaid really doesn't have a character down to the fact she can't talk and serves as a glorified macguffin who often doesn't share the screen with live action actors with the mermaid effects falling into the uncanny valley. The movie tries to file down some of its rougher edges from whatever the earlier version of this film was to try and make it similar to one of those Disney live-action remakes, but when you have scenes of King Louis confessing his sexual indiscretions or dry sequences discussing the nature God versus science (with Science represented with a cartoonishly evil strawman), it doesn't seem like the type of movie that's made for a family audience because despite it's attempts to frame this story as a fairy tale, it just isn't and was clearly never intended to be presented this way.
The King's Daughter is just a mess. While there's clear indication the actors are trying, their work is faced with a Sisyphean challenge against confused editing and a story lacking in clarity as to how and why certain things came into being. The movie just doesn't work on any level, but especially not as the family centered fairy tale it's been reversed engineered into.
Unfunny and annoying misfire that tries to ape the likes of Bill & Ted or Dumb and Dumber without the charm or talent.
Two twentysomething slackers Bud (Pauly Shore) and Doyle (Stephen Baldwin) are content in their lifestyle of lazy stupidity while their girlfriends Monique (Joey Lauren Adams) and Jen (Teresa Hill) try to take up causes to save the environment often trying to get Bud and Doyle involved. When Jen and Monique become fed up with Bud and Doyle's latest lame excuse for not joining them on an Earth Day cleanup, the two decide to play a trick on them by calling them and claiming they've been invited to a kegger party with swim team athletes. As Bud and Doyle go to the kegger location only to realized they've been had, the two head on home only stopping for a bathroom break at what they think is a shopping mall, but in actuality is a experiment called Bio-Dome headed by Dr. Noah Faulkner (William Atherton) and his team of scientists. As the Bio-Dome is sealed off for one year with the mission being to maintain 100% homeostasis in a simulation of the Earth's ecosystem, the scientists react with horror that they've been sealed in with Bud and Doyle. Unable to "compromise the integrity of the experiment", the scientists decide to continue on with the experiment with Bud and Doyle living in the Bio-Dome alongside them for a whole year, unprepared for the chaos and destruction the two bring with them.
The debut project of writers Kip Koenig and Scott Marcano, Bio-Dome was one of a number of slacker themed buddy comedies you saw released throughout the 90s with the likes of Bill & Ted, Dumb and Dumber, Beavis and Butthead, and various others that defined that era's comedy. The movie is pretty ingrained in that mindset down to the fact the producers on the film, Brad Krevoy and Steven Stabler, also produced Dumb and Dumber and it's clear this is an attempt to recapture the same zeitgeist that gave Krevoy and Stabler their mammoth hit. Unfortunately while the movie has all the stupid and gross of a movie like Beavis and Butthead or Dumb and Dumber, it can't bring the humor or charm of those films and gives us 90 minutes of non-stop annoyance and unfunniness.
There's really not much of a plot to Bio-Dome as its just a string of sequences loosely strung together of Bud and Doyle being stupid resulting in either poorly timed slapstick or attempts at annoying other characters. Our two lead characters are charmless, mean-spirited, careless, and cynical, and while the movie is aware of it as it builds a very loose environmentalist theme (I think, it feels pretty disingenuous to be honest) we still need to want to watch a movie with these characters and they're not funny and instead are just grating and annoying especially with how often they'll laugh at their own jokes or stunts. Beavis and Butthead had their characters laughing at their own stupid antics, but Mike Judge knew that alone wasn't enough to sustain the premise and created supporting characters and relationships to bounce against those character traits, and when he expanded it to feature length with Beavis and Butthead Do America he placed the two against engaging and fleshed out characters played by recognizable actors serving as straight men to their antics. While there is an attempt (albeit a poor one) to make William Atherton's Dr. Noah Faulkner and his team of scientists straight men to Bud and Doyle, they aren't unlikable and frankly I felt more sympathy for the scientists getting groped, pranked, or harassed by Bud and Doyle's stupidity rather than any humor. What laughs I got were only ancillary at best with some of Henry Gibson's line readings eliciting the odd smirk (it's Henry Gibson, not the material) or a brief "blink and you'll miss it" appearance by Jack Black and Kyle Gass' Tenacious D.
There's really nothing to Bio-Dome other than loud, obnoxious stupidity. If you want stupid screwball antics, you're pretty spoiled for choice with the likes of Ace Ventura, Police Academy, UHF, Dumb and Dumber, Wayne's World, Beavis & Butthead, Bill Ted, or dozens upon dozens of other comedies that have done this sort of thing better and with more charm.
The Lincoln Lawyer (2022)
David E. Kelley gives us a solidly entertaining legal drama with a strong central performance in Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mickey Haller.
Following his recovery from an accident that left him with a painkiller addition, Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) returns to law work after a year hiatus when Haller's friend and associate, Jerry Vincent, is killed. With Jerry dead, Judge Mary Holder (LisaGay Hamilton) assigns his cases and practice to Mickey, including the high profile murder trial of tech CEO Trevor Elliott's (Christopher Gorham) wife. As Haller takes over the Jerry's practice with his friend and investigator Cisco (Angus Sampson) and second wife and legal aide Lorna Crain (Becki Newton), Haller also seeks to regain the trust of his first wife, Maggie McPherson (Neve Campbell) with whom he has a daughter, Hayley (Krista Warner).
The Lincoln Lawyer is the second adaptation of the series of Mickey Haller novels by Michael Connelly, the first adaptation from 2011 was released to solid success and critical acclaim and is widely credited as a turning point in Matthew McConaughey's career towards more serious work. David E. Kelly began developing the Lincoln Lawyer TV series in 2018 at A+E studios where it was ordered straight to series by CBS in 2019, however the series would then be cancelled by CBS in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic and the series was resurrected by Netflix in 2021. After a rocky development cycle, The Lincoln Lawyer serves up exactly the kind of smart and pulpy crime thrills Michael Connelly and David E. Kelly effortlessly excel at.
The show's lead in Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is really solid taking on the role of Mickey Haller and he's a charismatic presence in the series with a relaxed demeanor that makes him effortlessly engaging as a protagonist. Not only does Rulfo nail the dramatic moments, but he's also able to get solid moments of humor in his delivery as he cuts down his opponents in the various cases he takes on throughout the season. Neve Campbell is also quite good as Haller's first ex-wife, Maggie McPherson, as her status as a criminal prosecutor often sees her at odds with Haller as a defense attorney and leads to engaging drama that doesn't always resolve cleanly. Becki Newton and Angus Sampson are also quite good as Haller's second ex-wife and best friend respectively and they serve as solid allies for Haller to take on legal cases. Jazz Raycole is also quite good as a former addict who becomes Haller's driver and also something of a sponsor for his addictions and the two's conversations as they drive through Los Angeles are engaging.
While the central plotline involving a wealthy magnate accused of murder is well trodden ground in the legal thriller space, both Kelly and Connelly know how to add enough spice to crime thriller tropes to keep these kind of well worn plotlines tight and engaging. While some of the investigation sequences can occasionally drag, for every moment that doesn't work there's at least 4 or 5 others that do.
The Lincoln Lawyer delivers an entertaining first season with a solid ensemble that lays the groundwork for a wealth of intriguing stories and characters. While the show uses well worn tropes, it uses them well with a solid creative team guiding the show.
Michael Bay's excess is put to surprisingly good use as a lean and (mostly) efficient throwback to 90s action films.
Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a former Marine with a newborn and a wife, Amy (Moses Ingram), who is also undergoing cancer treatments. After failed attempts at getting the insurance company to pay for Amy's treatments, out of desperation Will reconnects with his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllhenhaal) whom Will severed ties with due to him following in their criminal father's footsteps. Danny is planning a bank heist with several other military veterans with a payout of $38 million which Will reluctantly joins in on. As the heist goes off, the unplanned interference from rookie cop Zach (Jackson White) as well as an undercover team of LAPD's Special Investigation Section (SIS) lead by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) leads to everything going wrong. With $16 million acquired and the rest of the team either dead or captured, out of desperation Danny and Will hijack an ambulance with Paramedic Camille "Cam" Thompson (Elza Gonzalez) and carrying Officer Zach whom Will accidently shot. What follows is a nonstop chase across Los Angeles as Danny and Will try to evade the police while also keeping alive Zach who serves as their only leverage.
Ambulance is an adaptation of the 2005 Danish film Ambulancen. Producer Bradley J. Fischer acquired the rights to the film in the 2010s as a directing vehicle for Michael Bay only for Bay to turn down the offer. Development then went in fits and starts with Phillip Noyce slated to direct in 2015, before Noyce was replaced by Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales before the project ultimately fizzled out. When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, many film and television productions found themselves either adopting new health protocols, delays, or outright cancellation with Michael Bay's upcoming Sony project, Black Five one of the victims of cancellation. Eventually Bay grew tired of not directing anything and set his sights on a smaller more claustrophobic film for Universal which brought Bay back to the Ambulance script he'd previously turned down. Bay sought to make the film more small scale with emphasis on tension between the characters in the Ambulance and taking inspiration from Bay's work on films like Bad Boys as well as other 90s films such as Speed. While the movie is undeniably a Michael Bay film through and through, the fact that it's smaller scale and relatively leaner in comparison to some of his films massively works in its favor.
The movie from the beginning is all about speed as it sets up the stakes and desperation of Mateen's Will character as well as the estranged brother dynamic between him and Gyllenhaal's Danny. Both Gyllenhaal and Mateen have solid chemistry in the film with Mateen sympathetic as a desperate man driven to the edge, and Gyllenhaal playing a more volatile character who's but a hair trigger away from crossing the line. Elza Gonzalez is also quite good as Cam the paramedic who's a brash abrasive cynic but also a strong EMT because of that detachment she carries with her. Garret Dillahunt is also very good as SIS Captain Monroe, and although the role isn't written with much depth, Dillahunt gives a solid antagonist for Will and Danny.
Unlike many of Michael Bay's films, I felt like Ambulance's comparatively scaled down resources really worked to Bay's benefit as there's less of his colliding directorial flourishes of flashing lights, flash cuts, quick cuts, or various other standards we've come to expect, and even Bay's trademarked juvenile humor is dialed back and allowed to be funny (save for some references to Bay's other movies like Bad Boys and The Rock). The action is really solid in Ambulance and was done practically with some of vehicular collisions so intense you wonder "are these stuntmen okay?". Granted you've seen movies like this before such as Speed or the Charlie Sheen vehicle The Chase, but Ambulance manages to put its own unique spin on it with some really solid usage of the ambulance such as one scene where Will and Cam have to be walked through ad hoc surgery in the back of the ambulance by a team of trauma surgeons via video conferencing with a surprising amount of gore work for this type of movie, with all this happening while the ambulance is going down the highway at 60 mph.
Ambulance doesn't quite reach the gold standards of 90s action films, but this might be my favorite Michael Bay movie that I've seen (yes, including The Rock). In terms of its action sequences, its performances, and even its humor it seems like the quality of a Bay movie is inversely proportional to his budget. Maybe Bay should do a Blumhouse movie next, it might be a masterpiece because Ambulance is pretty darn good.
Doesn't quite capture the fun and adventure of the video games, but it does have solid moments.
Orphaned at a young age and having lost contact with his older brother, Nathan "Nate" Drake (Tom Holland) works as a bartender in New York supplementing his income by pickpocketing wealthy and oblivious marks. Nate is approached by "acquisitions expert" Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) who had been working with Nate's brother, Sam, trying to locate the lost gold that was the true purpose of Magellan's famous circumnavigation of the globe. As the two set off to find the keys to the treasure and following the instructions of the captain's journal, Nate and Sully must form uneasy alliances with other fortune hunters, such as Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), and stay ahead of the tenacious Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his mercenaries lead by Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).
Uncharted is the long in development adaptation of the Sony Playstation video game series of the same name developed by Naughty Dog that spans four main games and various spin-offs in other media. Development began back in 2008 one year after the release of the first game, Drake's Fortune, with producer Avi Arad after Arad left Marvel Studios before it scored its biggest success with The Avengers. The film entered development hell with a revolving door of directors and writing teams including David O. Russell, Shawn Levy, Joe Carnahan, and even Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were approached at one point only to turn down the offer due to the comparisons it would invite to Indiana Jones. Eventually the film gained traction in 2019 and even survived a director's switch when Travis Knight left due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Venom and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer. The end result of the movie isn't as good as the Sonic movies, nor is it a disaster like certain other video game movies and is really just okay.
Tom Holland plays Nathan Drake, and while Holland is a good actor and he gets some of Drake's mannerisms down, there's something about Holland's performance that doesn't quite fit the character. While Holland is more the capable physically speaking in tackling action (as seen in the Spider-Man films) he lacks the hardscrabble grit you typically expect from Nathan Drake as seen in the games and Holland's attempts at roguish swagger feel "off" as a result. Obviously the mindset behind Holland's casting is "he's young" and this is an origin story and potential franchise so there's probably a behind the camera belief that Holland will grow into the role over successive entries should they be made. While Holland doesn't quite nail Drake's character, he's certainly more in tune with the character than Wahlberg is with Sully. Wahlberg has been attached to this project almost from the very beginning with Wahlberg initially slated to play Drake in the initial version by David O. Russell, only for development hell on the project to effectively age Wahlberg out of the role and put into the Sully role as a result. Wahlberg does nothing to make himself Sully in this performance, not even sporting his trademark mustache until a post credits scene, and it's basically just another Mark Wahlberg performance interchangeable from dozens of others. Sully never feels like a mentor for Nate in the movie and I think a big reason for that is despite Wahlberg's more advanced age in recent years, he doesn't really carry it on his face and because he's not that old he feels more like an older brother to Nate than a mentor, but Holland and Wahlberg do admittedly have solid chemistry.
In terms of the adventure, it doesn't get particularly interesting until the last third, and rather surprisingly there's not all that much in terms of elaborate action sequences or exotic locales for the first two thirds of the film with the major setpieces in a New York auction house or a church in Spain that's adjacent to a night club and a Papa John's for some reason (that latter is used for a really headscratching fight sequence) and many of the aspects you know from the games like the elaborate puzzles of physical feats of impossible jumps or elaborate puzzles feel more muted than they should be. When the film gets to the 80 minute mark it begins to feel more like Uncharted with a recreation of the cargo plane sequence from the third game, as well as a fun climax involving two Spanish galleons suspended from helicopters and we get some of that energy that's been lacking from the first half or so. Unfortunately, the villains leave a lot to be desired. While Antonio Banderas gets a solid enough introduction as Santiago Moncada, after his initial introduction with him confronting Nate, the character doesn't really do all that much and mostly lurks in the background only to become mostly pointless by the end of the second half. Most of the key antagonist moments come from Tati Gabrielle as Jo Braddock, a former partner of Sully's who leads Moncada's mercenary forces, and while Gabrielle has shown herself to be quite capable in roles like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or You, she never really elevates Braddock to that much of a "boo/hiss" villain because she's not all that interesting and she's also less charismatic in comparison to Banderas which seems like a wrongheaded approach to making an intimidating or memorable villain. Chloe Frazer was okay, and her casting with Sophia Ali was probably the best casting in terms of characters from the game, but she doesn't get to do all that much and it's pretty clear she's being positioned for expansion in a sequels.
Uncharted is okay. While it doesn't rank with the best adventure films it does keep you reasonably engaged with its performances and some solid action beats in the second half of the movie, even if the first half drags a bit and Holland and Wahlberg feel like they've been crudely inserted into these roles rather than eased into them. The movie has franchise ambitions and if they do make another one I'm curious to see where they go (the post credit scenes promise a much more interesting adventure). You'll get a reasonable amount of entertainment value from Uncharted if you're just looking for a passable treasure hunt movie, but it's not exactly breaking new ground nor does it really match the level of its source material.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
Probably the best possible mid '00s version of Alvin and the Chipmunks you could expect to get. Take that for what it's worth
In Los Angeles, Advertising executive and struggling songwriter David "Dave" Seville (Jason Lee) has once again had his songs rejected by Chief executive of Jett Records, Ian Hawke (David Cross), who claims his songs are awful and no one will sing them. Meanwhile chipmunk brothers Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) end up in Los Angeles after their tree is chopped down and brought to Jett Records' lobby as a Christmas decoration. As Dave leaves Jett dejected, the chipmunks stowaway and end up in Dave's home. When Dave discovers the Chipmunks who reveal they can talk he initially wants nothing to do with them, but changes his mind when the chipmunks reveal they can sing. After initial hurdles in selling the concept to Hawke, the Chipmunks become overnight successes with their hit single "Christmas Don't Be Late" as the pop star lifestyle begins to wear them down with the Hawke all too eager to wring all he can from the Chipmunks.
Alvin and the Chipmunks is the third incarnation of the franchise that began in 1958 created by Ross Bagdasarian. The series was a massive success in the 1960s before going into hibernation in the 70s due to Bagdassarian's death from a heart attack, and got a resurgence in popularity thanks to Ross Bagdasarian Jr. Reviving the franchise with A Chipmunk Christmas which in turn lead to the NBC Saturday Morning Sitcom that lasted for about 10 years. During the 90s when the NBC series ended, Universal attempted to revive the brand with a VHS release of The Chipmunk Adventure, as well as production of direct-to-video films Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein and Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman in the hopes of tapping into the exploding children's home video market of the time that gave life to many direct-to-video Disney films and Universal's own Land Before Time series. Along with this plan was a live-action adaptation of Alvin and the Chipmunks that would've been directed by none other than Robert Zemeckis after he'd finished with Contact. No information on this incarnation of the project has ever been disclosed, and Zemeckis apparently lost interest in the project and opted instead to film Cast Away and What Lies Beneath instead. Once Zemeckis lost interest so too did Universal and the brand languished under Universal's stewardship with Bagdasarian Jr. Even initially a lawsuit against the company for neglecting the brand and sinking a property that had yielded $4 million annually to a low of about $70,000 (ouch). Eventually Fox acquired the rights to The Chipmunks and made the film with Simpsons writer Jon Vitti and director Tim Hill, and despite a teaser trailer that prominently featured a scene where Alvin eats..."something", leading many to assume the film would be awful and bomb. Despite negative buzz, the film managed to score a strong #2 opening in Christmas 2007 and managed to gross $200 million in the United States alone and outgrossing larger budgeted films such as Enchanted, Golden Compass, and Fred Claus. Alvin and the Chipmunks didn't make the best impression with its teaser, but while I don't think the movie is good it's at least not awful.
To start off on a positive note, the effects used to bring the Chipmunks to life created by now defunct visual effects house Rhythm and Hues Studios are well done. While the Chipmunks don't look perfect, they do look much better than the models used in films like Bill Murray's Garfield movies, Scooby-Doo from those movies, or the model work in Cats & Dogs. While the Chipmunks don't translate seamlessly to live-action with the movie bending over itself pretty clumsily in trying to justify certain elements like why the chipmunks wear their signature outfits, why Simon wears glasses, or why they live with Dave, it does have some genuinely solid work integrating the CG elements with the live-action elements. The Chipmunks personalities are kept mostly intact, especially Theodore whose good natured simplistic innocence is well conveyed in both the model work as well as Jesse McCartney's delivery (who apparently is a fan of the franchise and watched the 80s series for reference). Simon while still identified as the "smart one" doesn't feel like he captures the same anchoring/voice of reason role he played in the show or previous films and he feels like he's a little too willing to go along with Alvin's shenanigans in this movie. Alvin I really wasn't a fan of in this movie, while Alvin was a trouble making schemer in the previous incarnations, he was also a caring character who was able to show he really cared about his brothers, Dave, or even random people such as A Chipmunk Christmas were he gives his prized harmonic to a sick child as a Christmas gift. Alvin in the 2007 film feels like he's written to be a chaos engine who's lacking in self awareness and I'm not a fan of these types of characters because it has the consequence of divorcing character from them. Jason Lee is hit and miss as Dave, on the one hand he occasionally has some solid work as a down to earth counterpoint to the Chipmunks, but on the other hand he's not all that adept in the more over the top scenes of slapstick or Dave's trademark "Alvin!!!" yell. David Cross on the other hand is really good as antagonist Ian Hawke who sells the sleazy record producer character very well and his delivery on certain lines alone makes them funny. There's also the added question of why we needed "name" actors to play the Chipmunks if they're just going to speed up their voices and render them unrecognizable.
In terms of plot, the movie feels like it's a very middle of the road sitcom. It has sitcom stakes, sitcom dilemmas, a sitcom plot, and while the original Chipmunks TV shows were more or less sitcoms (especially the 80s cartoon) when you put something into film format you're expected to up your game a little in scale and scope (such as The Simpsons movie). The 80s Chipmunk movie The Chipmunk Adventure may have been a very silly jewel smuggling plot, but it was also animated by ex-Disney staff and featured a globetrotting adventure with unique and memorable locales and characters, granted not always for the best (looking at you out of place parody of 1921's The Sheik) but still had clear ambition and effort even if it didn't strictly speaking work. I will say however that Jon Vitti does take this very standard rags to riches/price of fame plot and puts it to good use showing the behind the scenes misery of stardom and the exhaustive indifference of the music industry and there are some scenes that are sweet and kind of funny such as Dave getting Simon some glasses for his poor vision or Theodore sleeping in Dave's bed after he has a nightmare, but those moments are balanced out with some moments that land with a thud or exist solely for creating visual noise. As for the songs it'll be a case of either you like them or you don't, some of the renditions of Chipmunked songs sound perfectly fine, while others are more middling, though admittedly that may just speak to my general dislike of mid 2000s musical trends and how they're incorporated.
Alvin and the Chipmunks was the best possible version of this franchise we were going to get given its time of release. The movie isn't great, but it's nowhere near as bad as we thought it was going to be from that awful teaser trailer. It's a movie that plays strictly to young children, whether it does so successfully is a matter of opinion but when you have movies more notorious attempts at children's entertainment I maintain you can do worse.
Blake Edwards goes scorched Earth on Paramount in a biting Hollywood satire
When producer, Felix Farmer's (Richard Milligan) latest epic, a $30 million G-rated musical romantic comedy titled Night Wind, is a massive flop, Felix's life begins to deteriorate. Capitol Pictures president, David Blackman (Robert Vaughn) orders a recall of all prints of Night Wind, Fleix's wife and Night Wind's leading lady Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) initiates a separation, and Felix falls into a state of suicidal despair. Night Wind's director, Tim Culley (William Holden), Felix's physician Irving (Robert Preston), and press agent Ben Coogan (Robert Webber) put Felix on suicide watch and try to cheer him up by bringing wild parties to his home. Following a failed suicide in the midst of an orgy held at his home, Felix becomes inspire to reshoot his flop as soft-core pornography. When Blackman refuses to finance Felix's idea, Felix buys back the film himself with intent to self-distribute with Sally Miles learning that her own assets are now tied to the film and she will have to do a topless scene contrary to her squeaky clean image.
S. O. B. (short for Standard Operating Bulls-t) is a 1981 satirical comedy from director Blake Edwards whose previous film, "10", became one of the highest grossing films of 1979. Beginning development in 1976, Edwards drew upon the negative experiences he'd had working with Paramount on the massive flop musical comedy Darling Lili that lead to a downturn in the careers of Edwards and lead Julie Andrews through the 70s that lead Edwards to making his films in Europe free from executive interference. Initially intended to be released by Orion who'd distributed "10", the project went into turnaround until it was acquired by Lorimar for distribution by United Artists, only for Lorimar to end their contract with UA and sign with Paramount, much to the ire of Edwards who'd still carried a grudge against the studio. While Paramount had no direct involvement in the final cut of S. O. B., they did, according to Edwards, sabotage the movie by releasing it during less than ideal release dates and cancelling press junkets which Edwards financed himself. The movie underperformed at the box office making only $14 million against its $12 million budget, while critical reception at the time was mixed with Siskel and Ebert highly recommending it, while others were more derisive including the Golden Raspberry awards nominating the film for Worst Screenplay. While the movie has many of the issues present in Edwards' films, it's a consistently funny and delightfully mean-spirited scorched Earth take on the inanity and excess of the Hollywood Studio system.
From its opening musical sequence from Night Wind with Julie Andrews singing "Polly Wolly Doodle" in an elaborate nursery themed sound stage which is then contrasted with the harsh reality of a once beloved supporting actor dropping dead on a beach with no one noticing for an absurdly long time, S. O. B. Makes it clear its intention is to peal back the veneer of beauty and glamour of showbusiness and put on a spotlight on the cynicism, greed, and incompetence. As Felix Farmer tries to commit suicide multiple times (and fails) we see a man who's value is defined solely by the success of his last project with no other factor into consideration, S. O. B. Is essentially a portrait of a man who while once respected is driven to the brink where he at first seeks to destroy himself, but instead uses the movie as an implement to destroy the veneer of showbusiness itself by creating, in his words "a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah". As Felix's increasing eccentricities go on, Edwards contrasts his antics with a solid selection of supporting cast members with William Holden, Robert Preston, and Robert Webber particularly good as Felix's longtime friends and colleagues, Julie Andrews playing an actress whose image bears thinly veiled similarities to her on screen person from The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and Robert Vaughn as a sleazy opportunistic studio president. The movie uses its supporting cast very well and their reaction to the absurdities of the situation of taking a G-rated musical epic and retrofitting it into a porn film make for some solid bits of humor. The only major drawback I'd say of this movies is that maybe the character of Felix Farmer could've been more fully realized because we don't really see him before his depression and mental breakdown and it probably could've helped flesh out the character a little more. The movie also runs about 2 hours when it really didn't need to, with the last 20-30 minutes of the movie featuring a sequence that takes place after Felix Farmer's story has concluded and seems like it's there solely for the sake of being there.
S. O. B. Is a solidly funny film from Blake Edwards and feels like it serves a purpose as both a comedy and a source of catharsis for the man's bad blood with Paramount over Darling Lili. While the length and pacing isn't as perfectly refined as it could be, and Richard Mulligan's performance as Felix maybe starts a little "too fast" out of the gate in terms of eccentricities, S. O. B. Is nonetheless a delightfully mean spirited scorched Earth satire of filmmaking business excess and inanity.
Blake Edwards' sexually charged farce delivers deceptively intelligent laughs and nudes aplenty
Successful composer and playwright, George Webber (Dudley Moore), has recently turned 42 and is not handling that fact well. Despite his success with his best friend Hugh (Robert Webber), and loving actress girlfriend Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews), George finds himself fixated on distractions by sexualized superficiality such as the late night orgies and swingers parties his neighbor throws that George routinely observes through a telescope. While driving around Beverly Hills, George catches a glimpse of a beautifully young bride (Bo Derek) which spurs George on a strange to find this woman whom George claims isn't only a perfect "10", but may be an "11".
Following the critical and box office failure of Darling Lili in 1970, both director Blake Edwards and wife Julie Andrews experienced a "cool" in their careers in the 70s with Edwards maintaining his relevance and bankability with a trio of back-to-back Pink Panther movies. Towards the tail end of the 70s, Edwards began work on a much more bawdy comedy with "10" which was slated to begin production for Orion Pictures with George Segal and Julie Andrews, when Segal left the production (supposedly unhappy with Andrews' expanded role in the film), "10" came very close to being cancelled with Orion and Edwards imitating lawsuits against Segal, until Dudley Moore came on board as a last minute replacement with Moore's very similar sex themed comedy, an adaptation of The Joy of Sex, stalling at Paramount (that released in 1984), with Moore opting for "10". The movie received great box office becoming the 7th highest grossing film of 1979 and even solid critical reception with Roger Ebert even putting it at number 10 on his year's best list. While "10" is anchored to a particular point in time, it nonetheless stands as a very funny and insightful look at aging masculinity and a character study of holding onto a misguided perception of youth tied to superficiality.
Dudley Moore is really solid in the role of George Webber as he plays a successful but very flawed man who's now convinced his best years are behind him. George isn't particularly likable as a character as he's quite abrasive to his girlfriend Samantha and his homosexual best friend/writing partner Hugh played by Robert Webber, but despite being a flawed character Edwards uses those flaws to tell a story and examine a character who's something of a microcosm for misguided notions of masculinity and does offer moments of redemption and humanity for George to create a complex character. Edwards creates some really solid characters for George to play off against such as Julie Andrews' Samantha Taylor who serves a great straight man to George's antics (a scene where Andrews and Moore discuss the term "broad" is particularly humorous and insightful), the always welcome Dee Wallace gets a very solid as Mary Lewis who has some very heartbreaking lines during one of George's encounters in Mexico, and even Bo Derek is put to good use here as Edwards keeps her dialogue to a minimum and uses her admittedly strong beauty as setup for a punchline involving Maurice Ravel's Bolero that serves as the penultimate crescendo the movie's farcical but cutting approach to the superficiality of the times. The movie is much smarter than its heavily sexualized marketing campaign would have you believe, because despite being a "sex comedy", the movie uses the sexuality and nudity present throughout the film in an intelligent manner. If there's a drawback to the movie, it'd probably be in the 2 hour runtime which it really didn't need to have, and Blake Edwards incorporates some of his trademark slapstick which sometimes works and other times doesn't feel like it fits.
"10" is a solid sexually fueled farce that distinguishes itself from others of the genre by giving commentary and insight to its female characters as well as analyzing the flawed but fascinating character of George Webber. The movie features some great dialogue exchanges and performances across the board and provides a very funny and smart experience regarding sexuality, aging, and masculinity. Some of the pacing drags in stretches and not all of Edwards' slapstick sequences feel like they fit, but "10" is nonetheless a very solid film.
Black Site (2022)
A bare basics action film with no style or engagement from the cast that exists to take up time and space
Following the loss of her husband and child to a terrorist bombing of a medical facility in Istanbul, Turkey, CIA analyst Abigail "Abby" Trent (Michelle Monaghan) lobbies to be taken out of the States to a foreign position so she can hunt the perpetrator of the attack. 10 months later, Abby is now second in command and running psyops at a CIA black site in Jordan codenamed: "Citadel" where suspect Farhan (Simon Elrahi) has given intel to find terrorist Mercenary, Butcher (Jason Clarke), who orchestrated the attack in Istanbul. When Butcher is capture by a strike team, he is extracted to Citadel for enhanced interrogation only for Butcher to escape leading to a lockdown and severed communications with Langley that will result in a drone firing upon the location for security measures. With Butcher loose along with several other detainees, Abby finds herself in a fight for survival that is only the tip of a larger conspiracy.
Black Site is the first film from Asbury Park Films, a joint venture between Thunder Road Films (Best known for Sicario and the John Wick series) and rental kiosk company Redbox. Asbury Park's primary output is smaller scale films ranging any where from $10-12 million dollars and consisting of genre fare like action and thrillers. Black Site is the debut for director Sophia Banks and writer Jinder Ho who between them are mainly known for a handful of short films. It's rather appropriate that Black Site was made primarily in mind for Redbox kiosks because it's pretty much the definition of a bare basics action product that reminded me of the types of films you'd see lining the bottom shelf of Blockbuster of explosive but bare basics action fare you forget immediately upon it ending.
The movie is a very standard limited location thriller that you've seen time and time again in this type of movie (in fact One Shot from last year had a near identical plot but was much more stylish and ambitious), and aside from having higher level names like Jason Clarke, Michelle Monaghan, and Jai Courtney in it, does little to distinguish itself from other stock action-thrillers that you routinely find in Redboxes. The production design is about as bare basics as you can get with Citadel's interchangeable hallways of grey corridors not all that visually interesting and pretty lacking in terms of what kinds of action or thrill sequences you can mine from them. While I've seen movies with bland locations before that worked, that was usually because they tried to add personality to the characters to make them "actors' movies" and you do not get that here. Pretty much every character in Citadel falls into a "type" with not much more than surface level details to distinguish them, one character is identified as being a Christian and his name is, no joke, Chaplain....that's the entirety of his character. Other characters are mostly on the same level as Chaplain with a Mossad agent named Yuri, or a sadist private contractor named Miller played by Jai Courtney, or others who don't really get anything and are just there to pad out the body count.
I understand character and plot aren't all that important to a movie like this for its audience, but even those looking for a "turn off your brain" action experience will be disappointed because there's not all that much action in it, and what is there isn't particularly good. Jason Clarke's villain Hatchet is one of the major reasons this movie doesn't work because not only is Clarke very stiff and overly stoic in the role, but we never even get a good look at how he orchestrates his escape despite being shackled and the camera in the first act has an annoying habit of obscuring his actions because the filmmakers couldn't think of a way to show him escaping, so they just had the surveillance cameras malfunction and pretend he had some ingenious escape planned. The one fight scene that approaches passable is a kitchen/rec room set brawl between Clarke and Jai Courtney that's okay, but it's still not all that impressive especially as it's the highpoint of the action in this movie. And of course like many films of this type involving shadowy CIA shenanigans there's a typical "reversal" (several of them in fact) where nothing was what it seemed and the "true villains" were where we least expected it, and by "we" I mean Abby because anyone who's seen the previous 25 years' worth of espionage films will see this coming a mile away.
Black Site feels like a mediocre repackage of a plot you've seen done better on TV shows like The Blacklist filtered by way of a slasher film only with no substance or charisma from the former or trashy thrill from the latter. Black Site is the definition of a time waster as the movie repackages tried and true generic action cliches which can be put to good use, but here aren't given any engaging characters or creative action beats leaving the film dull and lifeless if competently but frugally made.
The Valet (2022)
One of the better reamkes of a French comedy I've seen
Antonio Flores (Eugenio Derbez) is a parking valet from Los Angeles who lives with his mother cecilia (Carmen Salinas) during a separation from his wife Isabel (Marisol Nichols). During a spat with married billionaire real estate developer Vincent Royce (Max Greenfield) and his mistress prominent actress Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) over Vincent's repeated delays in leaving his wife, Antonio inadvertently collides with them as the paparazzi photograph them. When Vincent's wife, Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) sees the photos in the tabloids Vincent concocts a story that Olivia was actually dating Antonio. When Antonio is approached by Vincent's lawyer, Daniel (Alex Fernandez), he tells him of the deal to pretend to be dating Olivia Allan which Antonio accepts for a modest fee he intends to pay of Isabel's debts. Over time Antonio and Olivia form a friendship as complications aplenty arise.
The Valet is an adaptation of the 2006 French comedy of the same name by Francis Verber. Development began in 2014 with Eugenio Dubez slated to star and produce the film for Latin American aimed production house Pantelion Films whom the comedian had scored massive success with 2013's Instructions Not Included that served as something of a breakout(in the U. S.) for Dubez who although big in Mexico, had a less than ideal introduction to the United States with roles in the likes of Jack & Jill and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The Valet fell into development limbo with Dubez prioritizing other projects like Overboard, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, or providing voices for the Spanish dubs of American films such as Secret Life of Pets or The Grinch. The film makes its debut on Hulu and surprising manages to retain the appeal of the French original, while also putting its own unique identity on the material.
The movie follows the key events of the original Verber film pretty closely with the impetus for the lie and various developments in the jealousy of characters like Isabel and Vincent that are parallel to developments in the French original without being complete 1:1 copies. While details have been changed such as the mistress now being an actress instead of a supermodel or the billionaire being a real estate developer instead of an industrial magnate, the movie maintains the original core premise of a simple down to earth guy whose life gets enveloped in an elaborate and contrived farce. Much like the French original, there's a sweetness to this movie I the main character played by Eugenio Derbez and his humility and goodness is nicely contrasted against the glamour and excess he's thrown into, Samara Weaving is really good as Oliva Allan and much like the original film the characters of Olivia and Antonio maintain a plutonic relationship of friendship rather than a romantic one. The movie is longer than the original film by about 40 minutes, and while an increase in runtime is usually not good for a comedy, the movie plays itself a bit differently from the zippy farce of the original film and instead makes itself more of a character based dramedy and refines loose ends of the original material. For example in the original film, the billionaire was dealing with striking factory workers who didn't really tie back into the main plot, and in this film the developer is gentrifying Antonio's neighborhood which creates a greater sense of audience investment in seeing him get his comeuppance. The movie also gives character expansion to Vincent's wife Kathryn as well as expanding upon Olivia's role and it makes the characters richer as a whole. I also liked the refinements they made to how the lie is ended and it's definitely an improvement from the final gag in the original film that hasn't aged particularly well in an otherwise good movie.
Deviating from the track record of American remakes of French comedies, the makers of The Valet manage to pull off an upset and produce a solid adaptation of the material that uses the same basic idea while also allowing its own mark to be placed on it. The movie features a strong ensemble of lovable characters and stands on its own apart from the original film. Key elements from the original story are kept while expanding or adding new material and I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this movie.
The 'Burbs (1989)
An entertainingly dark look at suburbia and small town horror through the demented lens of Joe Dante and his strong ensemble.
Suburban husband/father Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) is currently on a weeklong vacation from work and has opted to stay home for the week rather than travel. As Ray goes about his week, he begins to notice strange lights, noises, and odors from new next door neighbors the Klopeks who seem to have arrived without explanation as no one has seen them. Ray's neighbors. Dimwitted and gluttonous best friend Art (Rick Ducommun) and across the street neighbor and paramilitary survivalist/Army surplus salesman Mark (Bruce Dern) suspect the Klopeks may be ritualistic murderers or Satanists while Ray's wife Carol (Carrie Fisher) and Mark's wife Bonnie (Wendy Schaal) write off the Klopeks as harmless eccentrics. As Ray, Art, and Marks suspicions become further aroused, the trio go to increasing lengths of investigating the Klopeks.
The 'Burbs was written by writer Dana Olsen who began his career writing sitcoms such as Laverne & Shirley and Joanie Loves Chachi before transitioning to screenwriting. Olsen based The 'Burbs off his own middle class suburban upbringing where despite living in an idealized suburban lifestyle, you'd read about macabre subject matter in the newspapers regarding acquittances or neighbors. The concept attracted the attention of director Joe Dante and producing partner Michael Finnell. The movie soon cast Tom Hanks who accepted the role with enthusiasm playing with the rest of the ensemble soon falling in with the project. Joe Dante gave a very relaxed approach to the material encouraging spontaneity and improvisation among the cast with many of the cast giving their own unique spins to the material (such as Carrie Fisher and Tom Hanks suggesting their characters play along with Jeopardy!). The movie gave Dante a much needed hit after the back to back underperforming Explorers, InnerSpace, and Amazon Women on the Moon making $50 million against its $19 million budget, despite critical reception being rather negative at the time. The movie has found itself as a cult film and is an enjoyable funny and slightly macabre look at paranoia in suburbia.
The 'Burbs has a fantastic ensemble cast with the likes Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Wendy Schaal, Rick Ducommun, and Corey Feldman making for an engaging set of eccentric suburbanites who react to the atmosphere of strange and macabre that permeates the neighborhood from the Klopeks dilapidated lawn-less home that looks like a less inviting version of a residence belonging to the Addams or Munsters. Tom Hanks does well playing a tightly wound working family man on vacation who's pretty down to earth, but finds himself drawn into the flights of paranoid fantasy by his neighbors Art and Mark, played well by Rick Ducommun and Bruce Dern respectively, much to the ire and annoyance of wives Carol and Bonnie, played by Carrie Fisher and Wendy Schaal. Despite Dana Olsen's impetus for the premise stemming from his own childhood, you can definitely see some more contemporaneous satire with how bored suburbanites busy themselves in rumors, paranoia and moral panic and the film can be seen as a reflection to the "Satanic Panic" of the 80s with things like the McMartin daycare case or the book and TV movie Mazes and Monsters (weirdly starring Tom Hanks in an early role, go figure) that created this lingering paranoia among bored middle class traditionalists of looming invasion by Satanic or occult forces. One particular dream sequence is delightfully macabre but with added silly elements that complement that dark set dressing in a good way. Every character gets a chance to make an im-pression be it Corey Feldman as the teenage rubbernecker who delights in watching and commenting on his neighbor's paranoia along with his friends and girlfriend, Carrie Fisher as the more down to Earth presence trying to keep everything grounded, or the eccentricities of Rick Ducommun and Bruce Dern with their excessive and elaborate snooping of their neighbors.
The 'Burbs is solid entertainment. With a likable cast of characters and a twisted take on suburban culture and paranoia, it's no question why The 'Burbs has endeared itself to those who've seen and is still fondly watched and remembered. What else can I say except "it's good, go see it!"
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)
The Scooby-Doo franchise is revived for the 90s with a daring sense of edge that lovingly celebrates its formula while also breaking from it in a unique way.
The five members of Mystery Inc. Have since gone their separate ways with Fred Jones (Frank Welker) and Daphne Blake (Mary Kay Bergman) having a successful TV series, Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake, as producer and host respectively, Velma Dinkley (B. J. Ward) running a book store, and Shaggy Rogers (Billy West) and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) working as customs agents. As Daphne prepares for her series called "Haunted America" where she plans a road trip across the United States looking for real ghosts as opposed to crooks in rubber masks, Fred arranges a birthday surprise for Daphne reuniting Mystery Inc. For new adventures. After encountering several haunting sites that turn out to be the usual "man in a mask" explanation, Daphne finds herself fed up with the lack of "real hauntings" for her show during a stopover in New Orleans when a woman named Lena Dupree (Tara Strong, credited as Tara Charendoff) overhears them and tells them of her employer, Simone Lenoir (Adrienne Barbeau), owns a plantation supposedly haunted by the ghost of pirate Morgan Moonscar. The gang travel to the plantation in a secluded bayou eager to investigate with Fred maintaining skepticism and Shaggy and Scooby their cowardice as the gang find themselves face to face with real terror.
Following the end of the A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the franchise entered a period of hibernation with the franchise off the airwaves for the first time with no new incarnation in 22 years, save for a 1995 Burger King advertisement. When Turner Broadcasting System purchased Hanna-Barbera in 1991 as a way to fill programming for the 24/7 cable channel dedicated to animated properties, Cartoon Network, many older Hanna Barbera properties were rebroadcast and given renewed life especially Scooby-Doo. With the Scooby-Doo franchise the most recognized legacy property of Hanna-Barbera on Cartoon Network, this gave executives enough faith to test the waters on a direct-to-video film. The team assembled included a large assortment of veterans of the industry and were given limited input from executives and complete creative freedom. Using the unfinished Swat Kats: The Raidcal Squadron episode "The Curse of Kataluna" as a foundation for some of the ideas (particularly the "real' monsters) and mixing those elements with Scooby-Doo's time tested formula. While originally planned for a theatrical release, Warner bros. Saw more potential in the exploding home video market (with the success of Disney sequels, Universal's Land Before Time sequels, and Warner Bros. Own batman movies like Mask of the Phantasm and Subzero) opted for a direct-to-video release. While sales numbers are hard to come by, the film exceeded WB's expectations and the team would go on to work on subsequent Direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films (with diminishing returns as WB scaled back creative freedom). Not only did Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island reinvigorate the dormant Scooby-Doo franchise, but it is a solidly entertaining film that doesn't require working knowledge of the franchise.
The movie does quite well in simultaneously referencing and celebrating the Scooby-Doo formula, while also laying the groundwork for the team to break from it. The opening act of this movie takes us through the bare basics of a typical Scooby-Doo adventure with the team encountering a variety of monsters and ghosts only for them to be revealed to be fakes (with a montage set to a Skycycle's "The Ghost is Fake") and it's a loving sendup of the formula that also works as celebration of it and why it has endured as long as it has. By the end of the third act where Daphne is lamenting how the ghosts are always fake, it sort of works as metacommentary on the franchise with how ingrained the formula is to this series but it never feels like it's being derisive about it as other characters like Velma look upon it as "the good old days" and it feels natural to the characterizations established over twenty years. Once we get to the central mystery in the beginning of the second act with the gang investigating the haunted plantation in Louisiana bayou, the movie ups the intensity and atmosphere with the sense of dread and creepiness dialed up considerably. Despite the movie's incorporation of Zombies as the primary antagonist (and well-designed ones too reminiscent of what you'd see in EC Comics or Swamp Thing) the movie is creepy without being overly scary or grotesque as the film places its emphasis on buildup and atmosphere while also keeping the trademarked Scooby-Doo humor as part of the adventure. Scenes of actual ghosts, transformations, voodoo, etc. Are all well done, and it makes itself just scary enough without becoming full on nightmarish (nothing in this movie tops the clown from Brave Little Toaster). I'd also be remised if I didn't credit the excellent soundtrack and music from the movie as the Third Eye Blind cover of the Scooby-Doo theme song and Skycycle's songs "The Ghost is Here" and "It's Terror Time Again" are catching songs that work great in their key sequences.
Scooby-Doo does a difficult but not impossible task of making a Scooby-Doo movie that feels both familiar and nostalgic whilst also allowing itself the freedom to break from the norm and try something new. The movie reinvigorated the Scooby-Doo franchise and it's safe to say were this movie not what it is the franchise would be in a very different place than it is today. The movie will please both new and old Scooby-Doo fans and will continue to serve as a gateway to the Scooby-Doo franchise.
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
With a solid cast, strong visuals, and a creative adventure, the movie delivers on all fronts.
Having become best friends since elementary school rambunctious goofball Dale (Andy Samberg) and mature down to earth Chip (John Mulaney) hone their talents and go to Hollywood where they eventually land their own hit TV show with Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers in the late 80s. After season three where Dale bailed on the show to pursue his own pet project Double-0-Dale, the show was cancelled leading to a falling out between Chip and Dale. Now present day Dale banks off the nostalgia of fans through social media and fan conventions while Chip works as an insurance salesman. When former cast member Monterrey Jack (Eric Bana) is kidnapped Chip and Dale decide to reunite to help look for him with the help of LAPD ally Det. Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne). They soon find out that Peter "Sweet Pete" Pan (Will Arnett) is behind not only Monterey's disappearance, but the disappearance of several other toons where they're being "bootlegged" by being kidnapped and forced to star in cheap foreign knock-offs.
Running from 1989 through 1990, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers was one of a number of iconic Disney produced TV series that made up the programming block The Disney Afternoon and became a mainstay of children's TV both in first run syndication as well as subsequent re-airings on Disney Channel and Disney XD (Fka Toon Disney). Development began on an adaptation of the series in 2014 with Robert Rugan slated to write and direct the film as an origin story for the Rescue Rangers done in the style of the 2007 Alvin and the Chipmunks film with fully CGI rendered models, this version got stuck in development limbo and was scrapped with project successor Akiva Schafer replacing Rugan, and writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand where the film would be a more self-referential and "meta" take on thye property similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Looney Tunes: Back in Action wherein the film creates a world where cartoons are treated like "real" people. Andy Sandburg, who had worked with Schafer on films such as Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, was cast as Dale while John Mulaney was cast as Chip. Now arriving on Disney+, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers delivers in the best possible way.
The movie is really solid, despite being marketed as a commentary on reboots the movie doesn't build itself upon references alone and remembers to build characters and a story around its references. Both John Mulaney and Andy Samberg have great chemistry as Chip and Dale respectively with Mulaney's more sardonic style well suited to Chip's grounded and serious nature while Samberg fits Dale's laid back and care free personality excellently. You really buy the two of them as former friends who've had a falling out and they make for an engaging duo making good jokes even better and bad jokes tolerable (though there aren't too many of those). The movie keeps itself to a lean 90 minutes and avoids many of the ramble and awkward pause type jokes you see in a lot of comedies of this type which is a major plus in its favor. The mixture of animation styles on display be it Dale's CGI model or Chip's traditionally animated model work great in the context of the world created with lots of fun references in both the foreground and background that I'm sure will lend themselves well to repeated viewings. The supporting cast are well utilized with the likes of J. K. Simmons, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Bana, and Dennis Haysbert put to excellent use (so nice to see J. K. Simmons in a good movie after the awful Marmaduke), but stealing every scene he's in is undeniably Will Arnett as a villainous older pot bellied version of Peter Pan named "Sweet Pete" who's plan is basically kidnapping and mutilating cartoon characters and forcing them to star in Video Brinquedo or Dingo Pictures level schlocky rip-off animated films being a delightfully silly but slightly macabre plan that lends itself to solid humor. In many ways Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers feels like the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action clearly wanted to be but wasn't.
Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers is a lot of fun. From its solid cast, rapid fire pace, creatively realized world filled with background and foreground details, and solid humor, the movie gives you not only the best version of this take you didn't know you wanted. I really enjoyed this movie and can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.
Below average shark movie that spins its wheels with the barest minimum paid to character or investment
College friends Nat (Holly Earl), Nat's boyfriend Tom (Jack Trueman), her best friend Milly (Catherine Hannay), and remaining friends Tyler (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) and Greg (Thomas Flynn) are vacationing in Mexico during spring break. The morning of their final day, the group steal two jet skis for a joy ride. When the group play a game of chicken injuring Greg and sinking one jet ski while damaging the other, they find themselves stranded in open water with the tide pulling them further away from shore. Things only get worse as a great white shark begins picking off the group one by one.
Shark Bait comes to us from British director James Nunn, well known for his low budget action films and thrillers like Tower Block, Marine 5&6, and most recently One Shot, and writer Nick Saltrese who got his start on British TV writer for soap operas such as Eastenders before transitioning to screenwriting with co-writing credit on the biography film A Prayer Before Dawn. Shopped to international distributors during the American Film Market in 2020, Shark Bait (then known as Jetski) was one of the productions filmed during the pandemic in Malta (like Jurassic World: Dominion) thanks Malta's more relaxed Covid protocols. The movie is pretty standard for the type of low budget shark movie you've seen in the likes of Open Water, 47 Meters Down, or even previous years Great White where you strand your cast somewhere in the ocean while periodically having the shark come get them. It's well made enough, but there's very little to this movie and it does little to distinguish itself from dozens of other shark movies.
The movie begins with our main characters partying and shouting on the beach with very little character development and it's almost setup like a slasher movie. With Nat being the "good girl", Milly being the "partier", Tom being the "jock d-bag" and Tyler and Greg just being "there"(they don't get anything to distinguish themselves) these are basically kill fodder you'd expect in a slasher film down to the fact the movie even has its own equivalent of the crazy old man from Friday the 13th with Manuel Cauchi's legless beggar character who tells them of how a shark ate his legs. Once we're out on the water with these characters there's really not much that happens and because the characters are so thin personality wise the writers come off with hackneyed cheating revelations to wring some semblance of something happening in the movie. The shark effects look fine in some instances, but when the movie has to do the more elaborate attack sequences you've seen in the trailer the low budget really starts to show with compositing during a chase scene in the climax looking particularly bad or the shark sometimes feeling like it's crudely pasted into a shot. Nobody in the movie is really all that engaging because the characters are so lacking in personality that you don't care when one of them dies and because you're so uninterested it's long stretches of not much happening as we wait for the next kill sequence with about 20 minute waits between the Shark appearing as the shark disappears for no real reason for long stretches (but we know the reason, it's to pad this movie to feature length). Also I know this is a predominantly British cast and crew, but as the group are established as being from Kansas, no American refers to the flashlight function on their phone as "torch". If you're going to make your cast subdue their natural accents, at least commit to it and proofread your terminology.
Shark Bait is yet another bare basics shark movie that's just "there", It's not smart or engaging enough to stand out like The Shallows, nor is it campy or cheesy enough like The Meg or Bait 3D to be cheesy fun. It's a movie that takes up time, ends, and then you forget about it. Maybe if you're a die hard shark movie fan you'll find something to appreciate here, but for anyone else just stick to what you know.
An immersive and gritty war drama with a solid performance from Humphrey Bogart and a strong ensemble.
Set in Libya during 1942, the crew of U. S. tank Lulubelle attached to the British Army commanded by Master Sergeant Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) becomes separated from their unit following an ordered retreat after the fall of Tobruk. Gunn, along with Waco (Bruce Bennett) and Doyle (Dan Duryea), traverse the desert hoping to reconnect with HQ and along the way pick up British Army medical officer Captain Halliday (Richard Aherne) and his five soldiers, Sudanese Sergeant Major Tambul (Rex Ingram) and his Italian prisoner, Giuseppe (J. Carrol Naish), and captured Luftwaffe pilot von Schletow (Kurt Kreuger) as the group traverse the harsh desert.
1943's Sahara takes inspiration from the 1927 novel Patrol by Philip MacDonald, and the 1936 soviet film The Thirteen by Mikhail Room. Prior to the casting of Bogart the role of Joe Gunn had been offered to Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford and Brian Donlevy with Donlevy briefly attached but as Donlevy was tired of war films and Bogart was tired of gangster pictures the two exchanged projects with Bogart taking the lead in Sahara while Donlevy took the Once Upon a Time (which would later be made with Cary Grant). Reviews of the time were positive with many critics praising the gritty sense of desperation as well as the performances of the ensemble. The movie also earned three Oscar Nominations including Best Soung, Best Cinematography by Rudolph Mate (who'd later direct D. O. A.) and Best Supporting Actor for J. Carrol Naish as Giuseppe. Sahara was one of the best war films of its time and from its simple story with emphasis placed on character and atmosphere you can see how influential the film has been on war films while also being an entertaining film in its own right.
The movie takes place entirely around the group and the tank Lulubelle, aside from a few scenes detailing other areas once we're with this tank crossing the desert there's very few interactions with other characters until the climax. The story is pretty simple with commander Joe Gunn simply trying to get back to HQ and keep his men alive. There are strong feelings of desperation throughout the film as the desert photography creates an immersive feeling of being stranded in the desert with the heat and sandstorms tangible in every frame of film. The core group are made up of your traditional war story types with talk of "girls back home" or reminiscence over freeing one's homeland, but there's a strong sense of comradery among the cast that makes you care about these characters and want them to survive. J. Carrol Naish deservedly got a nomination for his performance as Giuseppe and you can definitely see why, especially in a scene where he delivers a tear down to von Schletow that is just so wonderfully cathartic to hear. The battle sequences are great with a good sense of scale and immersion especially in the final act where you wonder "are these extras okay?". The climax is tension filled and thrilling and while it does make a few leaps here and there it's still very strong.
Sahara is a solid war film. With its great cinematography, sense of scale, and strong characters and performances you can see how this film has influenced the approach to other war films such The Beast or Fury. What else can I say except it was good then and it's still good now.
Frozen Assets (1992)
A terrible comedy of sub-sitcom level brainlessness that fails to get a single laugh in its punishingly long 90 minute runtime
Junior executive at TGC Zach Shephard (Corbin Bersen) following the nervous breakdowns of one of TGC's vice presents approaches the CEO about a possible promotion. In order to get the promotion Zach must prove himself by turning around the financial situation of the Family First Bank in Hobart, Oregon. Once there, he meets the manager of Family First Dr. Grace Murdock (Shelly Long) only to find out it's not THAT kind of bank, it's a sperm bank. With options dwindling Zach arranges for a massive sale of sperm by encouraging the entire town to donate samples as part of a contest wherein whoever has the highest sperm count wins a $100,000 cash prize.
Produced and co-written by Don Klein and directed by Goerge T. Miller, Frozen Assets was independently produced and sold at the American Film Market utilizing promotional condoms that the Film Market forced the producers to clean up after the mess they made in the in the trade handouts and a real life "Stud of the Year" contest wherein participants could enter by donating sperm with the highest count winning an all expenses paid vacation to Mexico. The movie was acquired by RKO for distribution and bombed at the box office making only about $500,000 and critical reception was also dismal with Siskel and Ebert calling the film one of the worst of the year on their TV program. Frozen Assets has not seen a release beyond VHS and there's a very good reason for that, namely that Frozen Assets is awful.
The movie's more or less your standard "big city guy gets transferred to small eccentric town" narrative with all the cliches that entails with the movie instead primarily built upon its gags which are about as hackneyed as you can get from the moment are first gag with a man wearing underwear on his head and screaming at the top of his lungs into multiple phones setting the stage for the brainless stupidity that follows. The movie tries for many gags and bungles every one of them because try as they might this small town sperm bank isn't nearly as funny as the filmmakers seem to think it is despite their efforts to bash their humor into the audience with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Even from a technical perspective, the editing, staging, and filmmaking feel very cheap and amateurish with the level feeling like that of a TV sitcom (I can't imagine how poorly this would've played on a theater screen.
Frozen Assets is a terrible comedy that just isn't funny. It's humor is all very base, low brow, and poorly timed, and the characters never act like human beings as they oversell their delivers to an abrasive and annoying degree.
No Escape (1994)
Covers very familial ground, but Martin Campbell's direction, Ray Liotta's lead performance, and a solid ensemble elevate the material somewhat
In the year 2022, the penal system is run completely by corporations with prisoners sent to isolated prisons sequestered from society. Former soldier, Robbins (Ray Liotta) is sentence to such a prison after he kills his commanding officer and having since escaped two lower security prisons. When Robbins flagrantly disobeys the orders of the Warden (Michael Lerner), Robbins is sent to the island of Absolom which is feared even more than the prison and consists of savage untamed wilderness where the prisoners fight amongst themselves with the only rule being "might makes right". Robbins soon finds himself between two groups on the island, the savage and sadistic Outsiders ruled over by Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson), and the peaceful and benevolent Insiders ruled over by The Father (Lance Henriksen).
No Escape aka Escape from Absolom is an adaptation of the novel The Penal Colony by Richard Herley. The film was the third American Film for Kiwi/British director Martin Campbell following Criminal Law and Defenseless and was released a year before Campbell's career skyrocketed with the release of the first Brosnan fronted Bond film Goldeneye. Positioned by short lived indie distributor Savoy Pictures as a major Summer release including commercial tie-ins with a SNES and Genesis video game and a three issue comic series from Marvel Comics, the movie did open at the top of the box office, but didn't have much in the way of staying power and quickly fell from the top earners in the coming weeks facing off against films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, With Honors, and Brandon Lee's posthumously released The Crow. The movie received mixed reviews from critics pointing out the familiarity of the film to other previous films like Escape from New York, Mad Max, or various prison films but on a strictly action oriented level there's solid entertainment value on display.
From a purely technical perspective, No Escape looks great. From the sterile and harsh futuristic aesthetics we initially see of the world to the lush jungle environments filled with savage marauders, the movie feels like a fully realized world of this land that's out of time and out of place where the world's criminal rejects are living in a primitive state of tribal societies and warfare. Admittedly it's very standard dystopian future stakes with the setup of the villainous Outsiders versus the more morally righteous (by comparison) Insiders more or less the same setup we saw in Mad Max: The Road Warrior albeit with the added external element of The Warden, but it's a solid enough setup for action packed futuristic nonsense. The societies of the Insiders and the Outsiders are visually distinct and have some nicely designed sets and culture building with some particularly amusing points coming from Kevin J. O'Connor as the Insiders' salvage expert who has an amusing bit of laying claim to Robbins' boots should he die, or the always reliable Lance Henriksen as the leader of the Insiders. The movie's also quite unique in how it envisions this prison society with only men unlike Escape from New York which just threw in every criminal together and it makes for an interesting approach to this type of material that creates unique dynamics.
One of the drawbacks however is the fact that the movie is cobbled together from familiar parts so you definitely do find yourself remembering what elements of No Escape you saw elsewhere previously. The movie's also too long for the type of movie it is clocking in at just under 2 hours and I did feel there were several moments in the middle of the movie that dragged because while Campbell attempts to create character and a sense of culture to this island prison, the characters and culture aren't all that interesting beneath the aesthetics. Liotta is okay as our lead Robbins though his redemption arc kind of robs him of the mystique you look for in this type of character like you saw in someone like Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. The movie delivers on the action with solid practical effects and some impactful and creative action sequences, but the parts between them drag and just don't have the character or substance needed to sustain the wait between sequences.
There's ambition with No Escape and despite only coting $20 million it looks on par with something more expensive like Waterworld, but it also isn't interesting or substantial enough to justify its 2 hour runtime or avoid comparisons to prior movies of this ilk. It's a decent enough time killer on its own and you'll get some solid action and kill sequences, but you need to sit through some dead space to get to the good parts.
Short Time (1990)
A solid enough premise that doesn't really embrace the cruelty and darkness of its premise, but Dabney Coleman is REALLY good in it.
Soon to be retired Seattle Police Detective Burt Simpson (Dabney Coleman) is a fastidious man who makes it a point to keep his risks low and his plans high often to the annoyance of his best friend and partner Ernie Dills (Matt Frewer). When Burt goes in for some routine bloodwork as a pre-requisite for life insurance, a mix-up with another patient results in Burt being misdiagnosed with a terminal illness that will kill him in mere weeks. Wanting to provide for his ex-wife Carolyn (Teri Garr) and son Dougie (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), Burt pulls double duty in the hopes that taking on more dangerous criminals will lead to the lucrative payout for his survivors should he be killed in the line of duty. This puts him on a collision course with psychotic arms dealer Carl Stark (Xander Berkeley) who has stolen a large number of high end military weaponry.
Short Time is a 1990 action-comedy and directorial debut of Gregg Champion who'd previously worked as a producer on films such as Blue Thunder, Short Circuit, and Stakeout. Written by first time writers John Blumenthal and Michael Berry, the movie was filmed in Canada with a $9 million budget. When the film was released in May of 1990, it opened at #10 behind a number of holdovers such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pretty Woman, as well as the opening of Tales from the Darkside the movie and disappeared from theaters within two weeks. Critical reception was equally frosty with critics deriding the premise and Siskel & Ebert even called it one of the worst films of the year. For me personally I think the film has a really solid premise for a dark comedy, but it doesn't execute it all that well but I do recommend the movie because it is carried by Dabney Coleman's performance in the lead and some solid work by the ensemble.
Dabney Coleman is simultaneously really good in the movie as well as the primary reason it doesn't work. There's a sincerity to Coleman in all of his performances that the material surrounding him, regardless of the quality, never snuffs out (save for Hot to Trot, but that was doomed from the get go). Coleman is just really likable as an actor and while he is playing a typical straight laced cop archetype you do get very sincere scenes from Coleman with Frewer, Garr, and Eriksen as his best friend, ex-wife, and son respectively and you do find yourself getting invested in Burt as a character because of that sincerity. The movie also features some solid stunt and action work, particularly a lengthy car chase sequence where Burt engages in a high speed pursuit to ridiculous degrees as his vehicle deteriorates more and more as the chase goes on as he tries to goad the crooks into killing him.
Despite Coleman being very good in the movie, this leads to the major issue with the premise: Namely that it feels like it's played too light and too soft for material that when you step back and look at it is quite cruel and mean and is begging for the type of "black as pitch" humor you'd expect from Coen Brothers or Danny DeVito. The scenes where Burt realizes all his planning for his son's future and his retirement are out the window are quite sad and the moments of emotionally vulnerability like where he talks down a suicide bomber are played straight (and quite well) by Coleman but Coleman's so likable as a character that it becomes uncomfortable to laugh at the scenes where he's trying to get himself killed (he even goes to lengths to make sure there's no innocents or collateral damage). If the movie had been about a corrupt cop who was estranged from his ex-wife and son played by someone like Jack Nicholson or Harvey Keitel maybe the movie would've played better to critics and audiences as a way of stomaching the material. As is, Short Time plays itself like a conventional cop action-comedy that just happens to have a morbid premise.
I enjoyed Short Time for things that did genuinely work, but considering the rather bouncy and zany way the marketing pitched this movie only for audiences and critics to be subjected to scenes of genuine sadness crudely mixed in with buddy cop conventions of the era it makes sense to a degree why critics and audiences rejected the film. I certainly don't agree with Siskel and Ebert's assertion of this being one of the worst movies of 1990 (it probably wouldn't even make it to the top 30 of exclusively theatrical releases), but when the marketing promises a zanier experience than you get it can give the audience a sense of whiplash. Taken on its own and with the performances you get some really good moments, but it doesn't play them as well as they should.
Suicide Kings (1997)
A post Tarantino crime flick that doesn't do much to distinguish itself, but does serve as a testament to Christopher Walken's prowess as an actor.
High level gangster Charlie Barret (Christopher Walken) who used to go by the name Carlo Bartolucci, has a chance encounter with three young men Avery (Henry Thomas), Max (Sean Pattrick Flannery), and Brett (Jay Mohr) at a restaurant where they get to talking after realizing Charlie is acquaintances with Avery's father. After convicing Charlie to come with them, they kidnap Charlie and take him to the home of unwilling participant Ira (Johnny Galecki) who is shocked that this wasn't the promised game of poker night, and medical intern T. K. (Jeremy Sisto). Avery explains that his sister, Elise, has been kidnapped and unable to get help from the police or his parents, kidnapped Charlie in the hopes of getting the $2 million ransom the kidnappers are demanding for her release. As Charlie directs his enforcer Lono (Denis Leary) and lawyer Marty (Cliff DeYoung) to get the wheels in motion on the ransom drop and also find his location, he learns that one of his group of five captors may in fact be in on the ransom.
Suicide Kings is based on the short story The Hostage by Don Stanford. The Peter O'Fallon directed film was one of a number of "hip" post modern crime noirs that were attempts by other filmmakers to copy the zeitgeist of Quentin Tarantino's films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs that redefined the genre. Upon release the film received mostly mixed to negative reviews with critics unfavorably comparing the film to Tarantino's own films but the movie did eventually gain a cult audience from home video and cable viewings. The movie on its own isn't good, but it does feature some individual moments that genuinely work and some solid performances from its cast.
The whole movie is held together thanks to Christopher Walken's central performance as Charlie Barret. Christopher Walken had played these gangster archetypes a number of times at this point with the likes of Last Man Standing, The Funeral, True Romance, and King of New York serving more or less as variations on the same character, but the movie does give us something unique to this performance where Walken needs to remain intimidating while tied to a chair for 60% of the movie and with a lesser actor that would not have come through, but Walken makes it work. As Walken's Charlie deals with the overprivileged buffoons who've decided the best way to deal with a kidnapping is to kidnap a mob boss, Walken despite the script calling for him to remain seated and of limited mobility is still very compelling in the role. Denis Leary is also quite good as Charlie's bodyguard, Lono, who definitely gets the most "Tarantino-ish" stuff going on with a running point being the subject of his $1,500 stingray boots and appreciating quality footwear owing a debt to the Tarantino school of dialogue exchanges where pointless but entertaining exchanges are sprinkled throughout. While Leary is funny in the role, he's also quite intimidating as an actor (anyone who saw Judgment Night will attest to that) and Leary does get the opportunity to be threatening and intense.
What doesn't work as well is our core group of Charlie's characters who are the most boring and unengaging part of the movie. While Johnny Galecki is memorable in the role of Ira who's horror that his father's home is being used for a kidnapping/blackmail plot, the rest of the group are pretty bland and don't really stand out all that much from each other. While like Reservoir Dogs the story in Suicide Kings is a limited location mystery, the characters outside of Ira aren't all that memorable and I kept forgetting their names because they left so little of an impression on me. The group are played by good actors such as Jay Mohr who's talented in both comedy and drama (see the criminally underrated show Action! For proof of that), but the characters have little meat to them for their characters to chew on and because there's so little to them, revelations and reversals have a tendency to fall flat with a feeling of "so what?". I also feel that O'Fallon struggles with the tone of the movie as it plays the drama to an aggressively overwrought level in the final act to a point that feels unearned and unfitting for the type of movie this is.
There's some solid performances and exchanges in Suicide Kings, especially from Walken, Leary, and Galecki, but the rest of the movie never comes into a cohesive whole and falls short of the standards set by Tarantino crime films. If you're looking to see Walken and Leary act intense you'll get that in spades and there's worse sources for that, but there's also better ones.
Off Beat (1986)
Underrated comedy featuring Judge Reinhold as a likable lead alongside a solid ensemble.
Joe Gower (Judge Reinhold) is a likable librarian who's currently in a bit of a slump with his girlfriend having left him and being passed over once again for promotion. Joe's best friend Officer Abe Washington (Cleavant Derricks) is assigned to a dance program for charity that will be done entirely with police officers, and not wanting to deal with it calls in a favor from Joe to take his place after Joe inadvertently blew a sting operation. Joe takes on the persona of "A. Washington" and meets another cop, Rachel Wareham with whom he falls in love.
Off Beat was one of three comedies Judge Reinhold released in 1986 alongside comedy classic Ruthless People and other comedy Head Office with both Head Office and Off Beat going mostly ignored at the box office. Written by Mark Medoff, better known for more serious minded content like Children of a Lesser God, the movie was marketed as a more zany madcap hijinx comedy in line with films such as Stripes or Police Academy when it was a much more lowkey character based comedy with a romance element. The movie did get solid responses back in the day including from Roger Ebert who declared it one of the year's best comedies, but other reception seemed to have been colder and the film failed to recoup its $10 million budget petering out at $4 million. Off Beat is one of the more obscure films in Reinhold's filmography and has been mostly neglected from further home video releases or releases on digital storefronts and that's a shame because while Off Beat isn't perfect, it's a likable film with solid leads that's quite enjoyable.
Reinhold is undeniably what makes this movie. With his likable good natured simplicity he's really the perfect fit for this lovable underdog and the sequences of him dancing alongside harder edged cops Such as Joe Mantegna who make their disdain for dancing quite clear. Meg Tilly makes a nice counterpart to Reinhold and the two have believable chemistry that helps sell the core romance in the film. The movie also has a nice set of supporting actors including an early turn by John Turtoro as Reninhold's rival Pepper, Penn Jillette has fun playing Reinhold's Travis Bickle esque co-worker Norman who spouts nonsensical tirades about mailing explosives to TV stations for cancelling Family Feud of all things, and even Harvey Keitel makes an appearance as one of a pair of robbers in the climax that are played almost how you'd expect in a serious crime thriller making them a welcome point of comic contrast to the farcical nature of the material. Not every bit works as Mantegna's character feels like he's setup to be more important than he actually ends up being and some of the material surrounding Cleavant Derricks' Abe Washington character doesn't hold much water even when accounting for "comedic logic", but the movie is so likable and good natured I find it easy to recommend.
Off Beat has been unfairly forgotten and the fact that it's not available on digital storefront or current home media is disappointing. I've seen other failed comedy films from around this time that are disgustingly easy to get access to (Hot to Trot and First Family certainly come to mind) but this movie despite not being a comedy classic really should've been given more of a chance. It's not a laugh riot by any stretch, but it's a nice little movie with likable characters and a solid enough execution of a high concept.
A bare basics 70s Disney comedy featuring a once prominent TV leading man pre-Rural Purge, of course it's not good.
Tightly wound and traditional lawyer and family man Charlie McCready takes a lot of pride in his daughter Wendy (Kathleen Cody) but disapproves of her group of friends collectively known as "the Gang" whom she has known since childhood and especially Wendy's boyfriend Bart (Kurt Russell) because he believes them to have no ambition and are a drag on Wendy. As Charlie tries to wrest Windy from her carefree friends towards more eligible persons, complications arise.
Superdad's origins begin in 1966 when the film was under the working title A Son-in-Law for Charlie McCready. Originally intended for Gig Young in the lead role, Gig dropped from the film due to "creative differences" and was replaced by Bob Crane who had found himself less in demand following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes. Superdad was yet another entry in the formula comedies that served as Disney's primary output during the 70s and comes to us from writer Joseph L. McEveety who gave us the mediocre Dexter Riley films and the surprisingly decent Barefoot Exectuvie, and is directed by Vincent McEveety who's film The Million Dollar Duck stands as one of the dumbest of this era of Disney comedies. Superdad doesn't feel like a movie and instead feels like three episodes of a not particularly good pre-Rural Purge sitcom daisy chained together and presented to you as a movie.
Like many Disney comedies from around this time, Superdad's approach to culture clash and generation gap humor feel about 10 to 15 years out of date. Much like the Dexter Riley films or Million Dollar Duck, despite a teenage cast they spout hokey dialogue that hasn't evolved much beyond the approach taken from The Absent Minded Professor in 1961. The Scooby-Gang from the original run of Scooby-Doo in 1969 had more believable attempts at character and that was a cartoon with a talking dog, but it also helps that Scooby-Doo didn't treat 60% of its cast as a singular hive-mind character spread across a dozen actors. Bob Crane is massively unlikable as Charlie McCready and while the movie does try to address the generation gap by saying there's no fundamental difference between the teenagers of "today" versus 20 years ago, the movie wants to have its cake and eat it to because despite a message of tolerance and understanding throughout the film the movie also takes potshots at the counterculture movement in what amounts to pretty pandering and toothless commentary.
Superdad is what it is: A bad Disney comedy that feels like a sitcom projected on a bigger screen with no laugh track. There's a reason most people know of this movie from its mention in the heavily fictionalized Bob Crane biopic Auto-Focus or its appearance in the subway scene of the first Charles Bronson Death Wish, because the movie itself is only interesting as a curiosity or background novelty in relation to other more interesting topics. It's not as bad as Million Dollar Duck by virtue of not being as brazenly annoying and stupid, but it's also much lazier.
Most Dangerous Game (2020)
Decent enough take on the well worn formula
Struggling real estate developer Dodge Tynes (Liam Hemsworth) is underwater on his project, the Carrington building, having exhausted all possible lines of finance and credit. Now supporting his expecting wife, Val (Sarah Gadon), Dodge is already desperate when things take a turn for the worse as he's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor giving him weeks at most to live. Through contacts at the hospital, Dodge is put into contact with Miles Sellars (Christoph Waltz) who supposedly helps desperate individuals like himself. Miles tells Dodge of a game he organizes where wealthy clientele hunt volunteers for sport and should the prey hunted survive the full 24 hours of the hunt a total of $24.5 million will be awarded. With no options left Dodge takes part in the hunt and the run for his life begins.
Most Dangerous Game was one of a number of inaugural shows for the short lived streaming service Quibi where episodes for what was called "movies in chapters" were below 10 minutes long and intended to be viewed on one's phone. Most Dangerous Game, inspired by the short story of the same name by Richard Connell, came from CBS Studios and Nick Santora who also created the procedural drama Scorpion. The show received middling reviews but apparently did well enough with Quibi's initial user base that Quibi ordered a second series of the show before it closed and will be streamed on Roku who acquired all of Quibi's assets in a firesale. Most Dangerous Game has since been repurposed as a traditional feature and snuck onto streaming services such as Amazon Prime and when viewed as a traditional feature film it's mostly successful, but there's some clunkiness that's left over from when this was a Quibi series.
Most Dangerous Game is pretty bare basics and streamlined as far as entertainment goes with Liam Hemsworth positioned as a likable everyman who's backed against a corner and takes a desperate deal in the hopes he can at least provide for his family before he dies. Liam does reasonably well in the role and you buy him as an everyman who's capable of action feats. Christoph Waltz is good as the facilitator of the hunt even if it's admittedly a very familiar role on Waltz but he does bring his all to the performance. The action sequences are fine and get pretty creative with good establishment of internal logic and appropriate stakes, but sometimes the hunt seems like it doesn't adequately prepare for very foreseeable and preventable things such as Val getting suspicious of alerts of money randomly appearing in her and Dodge's joint account. The story also runs a bit too long for the type of story it is as the movie version of Most Dangerous Game runs a little over two hours long and when you're doing this type of story it's desirable to make your story as streamlined and quick as possible so we don't have time to think about it. The show/movie also does some lore/mythology building regarding the hunt that feels unnecessary and was probably only put in as a running thread for future installments as the ending feels rather anticlimactic.
Most Dangerous Game as cobbled into a film feels like an above average VOD thriller you'd see released for $6.99 only with an unusually large running time that's 30 to 40 minutes longer than average. For the most part it uses the well worn Most Dangerous Game formula well with good establishment of desperation and environment, but the extraneous elements like some of Val's scenes or the attempts at world building don't work all that well. It'll kill some time, but it's a pretty rote take on this well worn framework so just know what you're getting into.
A masterful portrait of violence and sexuality studying a set of characters as compelling as they are repulsive.
Producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) have an open marriage where they share details of their various encounters with passionless sex between them. When James is involved in a vehicular collision that kills the husband of Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) this opens the door to a macabre subculture of car crash fetishists who, through a sleazy character named Vaughn (Elias Koteas), escalate to more extreme combinations of sex and vehicular violence.
Crash is a 1996 adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name by author J. G. Ballard that explores an underground culture of car crash fetishists. With its mixture of sex, violence, and the taboo, you can certainly tell why it attracted director David Cronenberg who previously explored the relationship of sexuality and violence with his previous film Videodrome. The movie was controversial and divisive (as was the original novel) with its premier at the Cannes Film Festival met with boos and walkouts and vocal disdain by Jury president Francis Ford Coppola. While the audience and critical reception was mixed, the book's original author J. G. Ballard was a very vocal supporter of the film even going so far as to declare it better than the book. The movie's still as divisive and repellent as it was upon initial release, but its in service of a fascinating character study that utilizes its taboo imagery to do an in depth portrait of escalating sexual fetishism.
The cast all create fascinating characters as we go on a strange journey through this fetishized subculture of vehicular collisions with Spader and Unger quite compelling as the bored wealthy married couple who stumble into this world by accident. As they're guided through this subculture by their guide Vaughn played in a deliciously unpleasant performance by Elias Koteas we're taken through greater and greater escalations of grotesque displays of sexuality mixed with reckless driving and collisions that leave the viewer unnerved because there's always the feeling "how far are they going to take this?" lingering in the back of your mind and making you unnerved that the scenes will turn bloody or deadly. Crash isn't an easy movie to view especially in how unlike VIdeodrome there's not really much in the way of plot for the audience to grab onto and its more a series of escalations that build and build until the ultimate crescendo. But for those who are able to stomach the graphic displays of sexuality both homosexual and heterosexual interspersed with lingering shots of bodily injury, you'll find some of the most repellent but ultimately fascinating characters you've seen in an erotic thriller from around this time especially in comparison to others like Color of Night or Body of Evidence that were just sleazy not all that interesting mysteries with some sex added in for shock value.
Crash is a movie that will disgust some viewers and I can't fault anyone for disliking or even outright hating this movie. It's a movie filled with ugliness and excess but presented honestly as portraits of an extreme type of sexual fetishism. If you're interesting in this type of no holds barred character study that's well-made and well-acted, you'll find a compelling piece of cinema that dives into ugly repellent areas where safer movies wouldn't dare travel.
La doublure (2006)
Solid work from Verber and his ensemble, even if it's not him at his height
Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is a cash strapped parking valet who lives in a studio apartment with his friend and fellow valet Richard (Dany Boon). Following Francois' proposal being rejected by his crush Emilie (Virginie Leodyen), Francois inadvertently ends up in a photo with unscrupulous and unfaithful CEO Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) and his supermodel mistress Elena Simonsen (Alice Taglioni) whom he repeatedly promises to leave his wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), for. When the phot of Pierre and Elena appears in the tabloids and catches the attention of Christine, Pierre makes an excuse that it is actually the blurred out man with whom Elena is having an affair. Seeking to avoid a messy and expensive divorce from his wife who owns the majority in his companies, Pierre has his lwayer, Foix (Richard Berry), track down and approach Francois and make a deal with him to live with Elena and pretend they are a couple which causes complications in Francois' life and misunderstandings aplenty.
2006's The Valet is at the time of the writing the final major release to be directed by noted French comedy staple Francis Verber (aside from a 2008 re-adaptation of Verber's "A Pain in the Ass" which appears to have not done well). The film features Verber's signature style and tropes and sees him reunite with a number of prior actors and comedians he worked with resulting in a comedy that doesn't have the scathing bites of Verber's work like The Closet or The Dinner Game, but is an agreeable light hearted farce with a protagonist you root for.
The centerpiece of the movie is unquestionably Gad Elmaneh who makes a likable underdog protagonist who's about as good natured and simple of a man as you can get. By happenstance Elmaneh's Francois just wanders into an elaborate farce involving spiteful rich and their extramarital affairs and when given the opportunity for any price he only asks for enough money to clear Emilie's debts on her bookstore. The relationship between Francois and supermodel Elena is quite sweet with Francois all too aware of the ridiculousness of the situation and treeting Elena more as a friend than a sex object as Elena is often all too used to. There's a very sweet friendship that arises from Francois and Elena's time together in the farce and it makes for a likable and lighthearted dynamic that's easy to root for. The supporting cast all have solid work with Daniel Auteuil having fun as a despicable and duplicitous billionaire who's riddle with a bad temper, jealousy and insecurity despite having as much power and money as he does and the mind games played on him by his cuckolded wife Christine are delightful scenes of beautifully cruel schadenfreude that's well in line with Verber's comic stylings. Not every gag works as there's a running gag with Michel Aumont's character The Doctor where he visitis patients only to give treatment to himself that's not all that funny, nor is the subplot with Richard's alcoholic mother particularly funny, but the movie's quick pacing and energy means we never lingered on failed jokes too often.
The Valet isn't the pinnacle of Verber's comedic work, but it's very good and pleasant viewing that makes for an agreeable sit. The movie has a solid ensemble who work well together and beneath the vindictive farce is a very sweet story that you can't help but like.
A few good or decent moments, but stands in the shadow of a flawed but superior predecessor
Years after taking part in a study involving a hallucinogenic compound called LOT-6 coordinated by quasi-government agency Department of Scientific Intelligence, "The Shop" as college students, Andrew McGee (Zac Efron) and Vicky Tomlinson (Sydney Lemmon) live with no digital presence having had a daughter Charlene "Charlie" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) who possesses the ability to create and manipulate fire in a technique called Pyrokinesis. Following Charlie's loss of control at her school, The Shop becomes alerted to their location with The Shop's head Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) initiating the hunt for them. When assassin John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) takes up the task of catching Charlie Vicky is killed in the process while Andrew and Charlie go on the run.
Firestarter is an adaptation of the 1980 Stephen King novel of the same name that was previously adapted in 1984. While the original film did only middling business at the box office, it did find greater success on home video and cable. In 2017, Universal announced a reboot of Firestarter from Blumhouse productions to be written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, but Goldsman dropped out while remaining a producer on the project along with his company Weed Road. The movie is the sophomore feature of Keith Thomas who had previously helmed 2019 horror film, The Vigil, and is written by Scott Teems whose most prolific work was on the TV series Rectify and recently wrote Halloween Kills. The new Firestarter is well made enough and tries to give a different experience from the 1984 film, but despite trying to go a different direction it doesn't really improve upon what was already one of King's more "so-so" stories.
I will say that Zac Efron is good as Andy McGee and makes the character and performance his own rather than copying the beats from David Keith's performance. I also thought Ryan Kiera Armstrong does well as Charlie who tries to keep a lid on her destructive powers. Kurtwood Smith is also in the movie in an extended cameo as Dr. Joseph Wanless and while underutilized he does make his all too brief performance in the movie engaging. The score by John Carpenter and his son Cody is also quite good and gives the movie a separate feel from the Tangerine Dream score of the original
The movie is more compressed and linearly structured in comparison to the 1984 film which put us right in the middle of Charlie and Andy evading pursuit by The Shop and unfortunately this restructuring doesn't result in a stronger product. Vicky's character is given "expansion" in this version of Firestarter which on paper isn't a bade idea but with the way how they enroll Charlie in public school and make her a social outlier who doesn't use tech without explaining to Charlie why they don't it makes Vicky and Andy seem dumber as characters in comparison to the original especially with how they should know that psychological stress sets off Charlie's powers and why they'd take the risk of having Charlie go to school and get bullied where it turns into a public spectacle. But our protagonists aren't the only downgrade in this story. While The Shop was at the lower end on the spectrum of competence in the original 1984 film, they served as just enough of a credible threat to be taken seriously as antagonists. While Hollister and Rainbird were pretty two dimensional villains in the original film, Martin Sheen and George C. Scott gave some added energy and intensity to their performances that made those characters engaging despite being rather flat. Gloria Reuben plays Hollister in this version and she's a fine actress, but she's playing the role so muted it feels like she's bored. Rainbird on the other hand has had his edges softened as a character, while it's nice they got indigenous actor Michael Greyeyes to play the Native American assassin character Rainbird, that's the only improvement they've made while everything else about the character is just gone. George C. Scott's take on Rainbird from 1984 portrayed him as a cold remorseless assassin who was also a master of manipulation and social engineering to get people to trust him, Michael Greyeyes take on the character is an overly stoic and borderline mute brute who's barely above the disposable kill fodder in the movie Charlie goes up against and takes a route in the end that makes this movie feel more like a TV pilot than a proper film.
Firestarter 2022 isn't terrible and is well made enough, but there's not really all that much improved upon from the original. The additions and tweaks made to the story don't fundamentally change the basic chase nature of the story or in some cases like the revisions to Vicky or Rainbird's characters make the story weaker. It's not meritless or effortless, but it's also not particularly good either.