[Early Review] Angel Has Fallen (2019)

or “Someone Please Help Mr. Boreanaz Up”

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson Piper Perabo, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston

Screenplay: Matt Cook, Robert Mark Kamen, Ric Roman Waugh

120 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Wow, someone worked really hard to get the title of this film into the dialogue, and it doesn’t work at all.

Since the events of London Has Fallen, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) has become the new President of the United States, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) is still a member of the Secret Service. When a drone attack seriously injures the President and seemingly implicates Banning, though, Mike is forced off the grid and on the run as a fugitive with FBI agents hot on his tail. He must work quickly to ascertain exactly who set him up and why before Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Are Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) uses intel about the assassination attempt to start a war with Russia.

I recently watched the first two installments of this franchise for the first time, and I was very vocal that the second film was a big step down in quality, and it seems that trajectory is continued in Angel Has Fallen. Gerard Butler was very hands-on with the story of this one, stating that it will be similar to Logan, a darker, grittier, and more character-driven film. I cannot disagree with that statement more. First of all, dark and gritty do not a Logan film make. To add to that, stop trying to copy Logan and just make a good film. Finally, the note that this is a more character-driven film is rather laughable. The only characters with any real development in this is Mike and his father Clay (Nick Nolte, Warrior, A Walk in the Woods), and their arcs feel like such a complete divergence from where Mike is in the first two films that it doesn’t even really feel like a sequel to the franchise. In fact, many of the theatergoers at my screening didn’t even know this was a sequel.

The screenplay is pretty predictable. I joked to myself, not more than five minutes into the film, that I knew who set up Mike, and I was right. It’s cliché to the point of self-parody. This is a trilogy capper that feels so much like Tak3n down to the simplistic frame-the-hero plot and the FBI team that can’t see the answer right in front of them for most of the film.

The only true winner for this film is the addition of Nick Nolte as Clay, the father. Yes, his character seems out of place here, but working with what I’m given, it’s nice to see some semblance of where Mike gets his thought processes. His dad is a guy who is always thinking several steps ahead and planning for the worst-case scenario, and I kind of get where Mike, as a character, comes from. That being said, there’s no set-up for his character and he just kind of appears. Much of the dialogue from his first few scenes attempts to build a lot of exposition in not a lot of time. Each line is overflowing with information that nobody would ever actually feel the need to say.

Angel Has Fallen is the weakest film in the trilogy. I feel like no one is really here to play in this installment. The plot is clunky and thin, the dialogue isn’t very strong, and no character outside of Nolte is really engaging to watch. It’s unfortunate to say that this franchise may have fallen…for the last time.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, click here.

For my review of Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, click here.

[Early Review] Ready or Not (2019)

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell

Screenplay: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy

95 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.

 

I won’t lie to you. I hadn’t heard or Ready or Not until about six weeks ago when the single trailer dropped for this movie. I don’t think Disney wants to market much of the Fox stuff that they don’t have faith in. The trailer looked silly and fun, and it made me very excited to see it. It could be because I love horror movies, or it could be because I love board games, but something about this one just got me in the trailer. Watching that trailer every time I went to the theater for the past six weeks rocketed this movie up into my Most Anticipated list, and it was so worth it.

It’s a beautiful day for bride Grace (Samara Weaving, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s SMILF). She’s just married the love of her life, Alex (Mark O’Brien, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire), and not even his snide and disapproving family can ruin the wedding for her. That is, until the wedding night, when she is introduced to the family’s tradition. Alex is a member of the Le Domas family, a wealthy dynasty of the board game industry, and their tradition is to play a game whenever someone new joins the family. Every wedding night, this tradition is kept, and the game for tonight is Hide and Seek, but this isn’t just a game for the Le Domas family or Grace. Their version of Hide and Seek involves crossbows, axes, shotguns, and blood. Now, Grace has to survive until dawn to win and survive, but the Le Domas family are very competitive when it comes to this game, and they will do anything to find her.

This is definitely a film that you need to understand before you go in, but it’s also one I would suggest skipping the trailer for if you are interested (a lot of my favorite moments in the film are revealed in the trailer). Ready or Not is silly and goofy and gory and a hell of a good time. Now, this isn’t the type of horror film to keep you up at night, but for a brisk 95 minutes, it was so much fun. It never takes itself too seriously (because, c’mon, how could it?) and its colorful cast of eccentric characters make for quite an enjoyable experience.

Samara Weaving makes a strong case here for a new scream queen. She belts out some seriously guttural yells in this, and she makes for a compelling and accessible heroine. All she wants at the onset of the film is to be accepted by a family, something she’s been missing her whole life, and now she is thrust into the most absurd of circumstances and forced to fight her new family to save her life. You could make the argument that she gets real violent, real quick, but I would also say that she has an edge about herself from her years of living in fear of being alone that she hardened up.

The Le Domas family is full of very fun characters. Each of them has a specific role to play in the night’s events. I personally loved patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny, Mission: Impossible, TV’s Sharp Objects) as the family leader and his loving-but-firm wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day, The Last Laugh), but each member of the family has something about them that made them fun to be onscreen.

My one problem with the film is that it puts all of its cards on the table rather early on and I would have liked some of the crazier elements to be slowly unfolded as the film moves along. I think it would have felt less-forced in the narrative to slowly reveal what’s ready going on as opposed to just laying it all out so early.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, Southbound) have crafted a fun action-horror-comedy hybrid tone for their film which works so very well. I’m doubtful that the new Fox Searchlight regime would want to press forward on a sequel, but I could see a lot of ways to make this into an interesting and fun franchise. Ready or Not is the perfect palate-cleanser for a rough summer movie season. For horror fans, seek this one out. Immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Devil’s Due, click here.

[Early Review] Good Boys (2019)

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Lil Rey Howery, Will Forte, Midori Francis

Screenplay: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky

89 mins. Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens.

 

Can we just congratulate Good Boys for being the first film to receive an R rating with the phrase “all involving tweens.” What a time to be alive.

Good Boys is the story of three tween friends: Max (Jacob Tremblay, Room, The Predator), Lucas (Keith L. Williams, Sadie, TV’s The Last Man on Earth), and Thor (Brady Noon, TV’s Boardwalk Empire). When Max is invited to a kissing party at a popular kid’s home, he needs to learn how to properly kiss. With the help of Lucas and Thor, Max sets off on a wild adventure that involves a hostage drone, a potential drug run, and a lot of profanity as the group discover that adolescence is a lot tougher than they expected.

You could call Good Boys a gimmick movie. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly how it’s being marketed, and it isn’t an incorrect assumption. The entire move hinges its comedy on the idea that three kids are getting involved in a lot of adult situations and swearing a lot. That’s the movie, but for what it is, it works rather well. I found a lot of comedy in the things that they don’t understand about adults than by the things they do. It’s a hard-R comedy that never really gets mean-spirited but knows what it is trying to accomplish, and it’s probably the most I’ve laughed at a movie in a long time.

Jacob Tremblay shines in just about everything he’s in. He’s even solid when the movie isn’t, but thankfully, Good Boys and the screenplay from Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg give him a lot to work with. I’ve not seem much from Williams or Noon, but they each stand on their own in the film fine enough. What’s great about the writing and performances is how I could genuinely believe that these three kids are friends and yet each of them is their own person with drastically different views on their growing-up. It’s the believability of their acting combined with the basic human fact that I was just as foul-mouthed as a kid that bridges that realness to how a lot of kids actually are. It feels like Stand by Me, It, and Dreamcatcher (all from Stephen King) viewpoints of youth.

Good Boys is very funny, and it’s only real flaw comes when the narrative hits a brick wall about 2/3 of the way through. It recovers quite nicely but there is a noticeable wearing on the shtick as the film gets closer to the end. There’s no chance this thing is winning awards but it knows what it’s trying to be and is quite successful in that endeavor. It’s problem with pacing near the end isn’t a major one and the comedy laced throughout works so well that it didn’t ruin the experience for me. This is, without doubt, the funniest movie of the year so far.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Kitchen (2019)

Director: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

102 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.

 

Andrea Berloff has a pretty solid resume for her writing, but The Kitchen is her directorial debut. The film, a 1970s-set Hell’s Kitchen gangster picture, is a perfect showcase for her talents.

When three New York gangsters are sent to prison in the 1970s, their wives must find a way to make ends meet. They’ve all kept relatively out of the family business, and when the family promises to help them financially, they still can’t afford to pay their bills. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) decide to take matters into their own hands and actually provide protection to all the businesses who pay money to the crime family, but their plan creates an internal struggle within the family as the balance of power drastically shifts in Hell’s Kitchen.

I want to start by stating that I’ve not read the comic-book miniseries that the film is based on. I will say that, for a first feature, Berloff jumps a lot of hurdles that could have really been problems in this film. She has three strong actresses leading the film, and each one has a unique take on their situation. Kathy has a loving husband and just wants to survive until she begins to like the power. Ruby has never been loved by mother-in-law and family head Helen (Margo Martindale, August: Osage County, Instant Family) because of her skin color and sees this as an out. Claire has been beaten on a daily basis by her husband and decides that she isn’t going to be a victim when the men all go to jail. Claire develops a bond with the unstable but doting Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Peter Rabbit).

The film has some nice cinematography and the editing keeps everything moving pretty nicely until the final act, which I felt was more stretched out than it needed to be. One of the reasons it’s all the more noticeable is that some of the most surprising story beats in the final 30 minutes are brushed by while some of the more expected plot points are drug out far more than they needed to be.

The only other flaw in the film for me is that certain events play out a little too easily for our main characters. I kept recalling throughout the film that these three wives were never really involved in the family business and yet they took to it so easily that they were able to hold their own against more seasoned gangsters with ease. I would have liked more struggle for them as they make mistakes and learn from them early on. That’s the story that would’ve engaged me more.

The Kitchen is a stylistic pulpy gangster film that sees a pretty standard “rise to power” tale from the point-of-view of characters that don’t normally get to be a part of that type of story. Andrea Berloff keeps a nice mix of tension and comedic relief that kept me guessing, even if the story beats occasionally drifted to tropes. The dialogue is snappy and the performances, especially from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, are the true strengths here. It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s one I would gladly see again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

or “Dora Jones and the Last Crusade”

Director: James Bobin

Cast: Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo

Screenplay: Matthew Robinson, Nicholas Stoller

102 mins. Rated PG for action and some mild impolite humor.

 

Yes, I braved the long lines at an early screening and sat in front of a kid who kept kicking my seat, but I did it. I saw Dora and the Lost City of Gold. I’m not really sure what I expected going into it. I mostly like James Bobin (The Muppets, Alice Through the Looking Glass) as a director. I’ve really enjoyed actress Isabella Moner’s (Transformers: The Last Knight, Instant Family) work as she develops her skills. But Dora? A live-action Dora? How would that even work? Upon seeing the film, I can honestly say I’m still not sure how it works.

Dora has spent her whole life in the jungle with her parents and her monkey Boots, exploring and adventuring and learning. But when she becomes a teenager, her parents want her to experience normal life in a normal school with other kids while they adventure out to find Parapata, the Lost City of Gold, a quest they have spent years trying to complete. They send her to stay with her cousin Diego. Dora has trouble making friends until a school field trip ends with her, Diego, and a few other students getting kidnapped by treasure hunters who want to use her to find Parapata. The students team up with a professor who knows Dora’s parents, Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez, Instructions Not Included, Overboard), to escape the treasure hunters and find the Lost City of Gold first.

The way the film starts, I expected it to be a very self-aware comedic approach to the silliness of the property without completely lampooning it, much in the same way Land of the Lost and 21 Jump Street went about adapting their properties. Sadly, most of that attitude and humor are swept away early on in the film and it becomes a very simple adventure movie that borrows 98% of its journey from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Seriously, you can nail down large chunks of the plot and characters as being ripped from the Last Crusade. I kept waiting for one of the characters to exclaim “No ticket.”

Isabella Moner is a fabulous actress, and I think she understood what this version of Dora the Explorer needed to be. I think she’s someone who we will be talking about a lot more in years to come. I liked what she did in the Transformers film she was in, even if she didn’t have much to do, and I really liked her performance in Instant Family.

Director James Bobin should have steered more into a tone like The Muppets, but I don’t think he achieved it here, sticking too far into the family-friendly tone and losing some of the flavor that I think he’s capable of hitting. As the film went on (and it went on about 20 minutes too long), I found it becoming far too formulaic and far less fun as it hit all the necessary bits required in an adventure movie. The students that join her and Diego on the adventure could have been eliminated because they provide virtually nothing to the film.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold has some fun elements to it. It isn’t the dumpster fire that one might expect it to be. It makes fun of itself at times and if I had my niece or nephews ask me to watch it, I wouldn’t be upset. It’s just that the film could have been so much more. There’s an aspect of missed potential to it when you see the way Isabella Moner has fun with the character and some of the inherently silly attitude is at times. It’s a fine movie, but it could have been a great one.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

[Early Review] Child’s Play (2019)

Director: Lars Klevberg

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill

Screenplay: Tyler Burton Smith

90 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout.

 

The new Child’s Play film has had one of the best marketing campaigns of the year, skewering the fact that the film has the same release date as another living toy movie, Toy Story 4. This remake of the horror classic proves, though, that a great marketing campaign never guarantees a great movie.

The recent move for the Barclay family has been tough on Andy (Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out, Benji), so his mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed, TV’s Legion) decides to give him his birthday gift early. Andy is surprised to find that his mother has given him a Buddi doll, a toy from the Kaslan Corporation which connects to all of his other Kaslan products through the cloud, similar to a toy version of an Amazon Echo. There’s a problem, though, for this Buddi doll, named Chucky (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: A New Hope, Con Man) has something wrong with its safety protocols, and Andy soon finds that his new Buddi has no problem committing violent acts and murder in the name of protecting Andy, his Best Buddi to the end.

I actually went into Child’s Play with good feelings, wanting it to succeed, and generally excited. I think the idea to take the story in a completely different direction was a good idea, especially because  I think the movie’s existence is a big dick move to the original series. For those of you that may not know, the original Child’s Play series is actually still running strong. The last two films, Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky (which came out 2 years ago), have scored generally good reviews, so much so that a limited series is in the works for television to continue the story of the Brad Dourif-voiced Chucky further. MGM doesn’t own the rights to anything but the first film, and so I think remaking it is a dick move. All that being said, though, I went into it with good vibes which were quickly dashed as the movie began.

First of all, I want to call attention to the elements that actually work in Child’s Play. I think the update to the character of Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) works for the most part, and I like Henry’s interpretation of the character for a bulk of the film. I also really liked the voice work of Mark Hamill as Chucky. The biggest problem with these two generally solid performances is that Henry and Hamill are in the wrong movie. If Mike Norris’s character arc were actually interesting, it would lead to a more solid and conflicted character as the film progresses. Hamill’s Chucky is one that is more contemplative and less an A.I. toy learning that killing is okay. In another reality, if Brad Dourif had passed on the role, Hamill’s voice would have fit better in a Charles Lee Ray killer-in-the-body-of-a-doll movie way better than this version of things.

I also like some of the updates and changes made to the mythology. I think that’s when a remake actually stands a chance. I like the idea of an A.I. toy going off the rails as an interesting new wrinkle, but then why did screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith and director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid, The Wall) go so far into reminding people that it’s a remake. Don’t call the kid Andy. Don’t call the detective Mike. Don’t call the doll Chucky. And don’t design a doll that looks like a shittier version of the Good Guy doll.

If I may point out as well that the design of Chucky is awful. How is it that the Good Guy doll was the 1980s looked more realistic than this new version in 2019? His lips and cheeks move really awkwardly, his expressions don’t create menace and instead just make him look really dumb. There’s nothing outside of Hamill’s voice work that creates anything but a junky piece of plastic.

What bothered me so much in the film was not the changes to the lore, it was the fact that the filmmakers got so lazy in telling the story. They shouldn’t have the guys was the marketing team make this movie, it may have turned out more fun. The movie is just riddled with confusingly dumb plot points. Events in the film seemingly don’t matter to the film. Chucky is loved in a cabinet at one point in the film, only to break out through the glass door. There’s likely glass everywhere, but Andy’s mother doesn’t ask about it and nothing about it is ever mentioned again. Andy, upon discovering one of Chucky’s victims, doesn’t go to the police or his mother. He implicates his brand new friends by inviting them over to take a look at Chucky’s handiwork, not knowing for certain if they’ll go to the police, and they proceed to cover up the evidence by launching things down a garbage shoot. No fourteen-year-old would be dumb enough to make themselves an accomplice to murder and then get rid of the evidence down a garbage shoot where it can easily be found.

The way the film tries to maneuver us through set pieces is dull and boring too. There’s a sequence meant to evoke fear and horror when one character is suspended over a sawblade that is spinning that couldn’t have been more set up if the director walked on screen and announced ten minutes earlier exactly where he was guiding things. I audibly groaned in the theater.

There are logic errors and continuity problems abound in Child’s Play. As I stated earlier, for a film to work so hard on a marketing campaign to scrounge it with the finished product is disappoint and sad. This movie is an absolute trainwreck and I’d rather this new attempt at a franchise just be returned to the story it was bought from; there’s clearly a defect in Child’s Play.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Murder Mystery (2019)

Director: Kyle Newacheck

Cast: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Gemma Arterton, Luke Evans, John Kani, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Terence Stamp

Screenplay: James Vanderbilt

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence/bloody images, crude sexual content, and language.

 

I haven’t been big on Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation) since Funny People. I was such a huge advocate for Funny People, I told everyone I talked to about it and how great and introspective it was. I still think it’s Judd Apatow’s best movie. The point is, Adam Sandler, to me, has been making movies only to hang out with his friends and make a lot of money. He hasn’t been interested in being good since Funny People. Well, I caught an early screening for his newest film, Murder Mystery, and I can report that it’s probably the best movie he’s made since then. It just still isn’t very good.

Nick (Sandler) and Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston, Dumplin’, TV’s Friends) have been married for fifteen years, but they still haven’t gone on the honeymoon that Nick promised Audrey. Since then, Nick’s been struggling to become a detective, but he keeps failing the exam, so now he’s lying to Audrey about passing. He also lied about taking her to Europe on the honeymoon they never had, and on the plane, Audrey meets Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Ma), a rich and suave gentleman who invites them onto his uncle’s yacht for the weekend. The yacht is full of interesting characters that are all seemingly out of the murder mystery stories that Audrey likes to read, and when Charles’s uncle, the rich and successful Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Viking Destiny), is murdered aboard the yacht, Nick and Audrey find that their fake background in detective work will have to help them solve this murder and find the killer before they become just another couple victims.

The screenplay, by James Vanderbilt (Independence Day: Resurgence, Truth), gets a lot of homage and story from Clue, and it’s not a horrible screenplay, but there are elements of logic that come into play and seemingly make the characters less likable and, at times, extremely dumb. The police on the tail of Nick and Audrey throughout the film are really clueless. The Spitz’s are not world-class detectives nor are they world-class villains, and yet they are able to elude police for a large chunk of the film with ease. There’s also the sense that Nick and Audrey are not concerned at all with the fact that they have become the prime suspect in the murder of Malcolm Quince. They have a huge cliché romantic comedy argument in the middle of the film outside near the flashing lights of the police. I don’t think I would behave with that level of disregard over being in a foreign country and being the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Both Sandler and Aniston have some pretty funny moments in the movie when they aren’t arguing and nitpicking at each other. They are a frustrating duo because both performers are capable of comedy gold and they have terrific chemistry, but they have moments throughout the film where they become unbearably annoying. There are some moments I would consider to be really funny dialogue and physical comedy, but it is packed with some leads that don’t want us to like them.

The rest of the cast is rather fun in the sense that they are all essentially archetypes. They are cliché dime-store murder novel characters, but that’s kind of the idea. We are presented with two people who are interested in mystery and detectives, and they find themselves in a mystery that they may be able to solve, so in that way, I didn’t mind that they were clichés. As I said earlier, this movie borrows a lot from Clue, which had the very same kind of conceit.

Murder Mystery is funny enough for a movie on Netflix. I wouldn’t tell people to go out, spend money, and hit it up at the theater, but my screening was filled with people enjoying the movie. I enjoyed it myself for the most part, but my mind kept getting caught up on the inconsistencies, the plot holes, the annoyances of some of the characters. I really want Sandler to care about comedy again, and he just doesn’t show it here. It’s his best movie in years, but it still isn’t the Adam Sandler we remember.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

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