Friday, August 31, 2018

The Happytime Murders

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Ryan Tran, & Elizabeth Banks
Director: Brian Henson - Rating: R - Score: 1 1/2 Stars

I really didn't know what to expect from The Happytime Murders, and that's why I went to see it. I wasn't sure if I'd be getting Team America or Roger Rabbit, maybe even a combination of the two. Despite the tagline, that the film wasn't suitable for children, I did expect some level of juvenile humor, but I thought if it has a edge to it and if the mystery is somewhat compelling, maybe it would surprise me, it didn't. Much in the same way that Roger Rabbit had humans and toons living together, with an extreme bias against toons, this world has humans and puppets living together, with a bias against puppets. Phil Phillips (Ryan Tran) claim to fame was as the first puppet to be a police officer, but now he's washed up, and it's brother's fame and his TV show, The Happytime Family, that overshadows him. Phil doesn't care about anything anymore until someone starts killing off the Happytime gang, including his brother, that's when he wants back in, even if his human partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) wants nothing to do with him anymore. The tagline said this film was not intended for kids, but I disagree, because that's exactly who this film is intended for. The comedy is nothing but sex and jokes aimed at a very young crowd. There is no way that adults are going to find most of the comedy in this film even remotely funny. As for the "dramatic" side of the story, the mystery isn't such a mystery, it's so simplistic that you'll know before the first murder even happens. But what about the star of the film, Melissa McCarthy? Well, she plays the same role in just about every film doesn't she? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, here she just adds to the futility of everything. The bottom line on The Happytime murders is that the story is too basic, the backstory is a complete rip off of Roger Rabbit, and the jokes are so low-brow, that I think even Trey Parker and Matt Stone would pass on using them in a similar film. The true joke here is that this film was ever made.

Run All Night

Starring: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, & Boyd Holbrook
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra - Rating: R - Score: 3 1/2 Stars

Thirty years have passed, the competition is gone, the cops are off their backs, for a mob boss and his hit-man, every thing is peaceful. Until one night, when their adult children come into conflict. One commits a murder, the other is a witness, and when one of them ends up dead, the family is torn apart with one on the run and the other on his heels. It honestly took me a while to watch this movie, because I was tired of Liam Neeson and his very particular set of skills, but his character wasn't what I expected. While not having the popularity of Taken, Neeson's performance in this film, was better than any performance he's given in an action film to date. Paired with the ultimate crime boss, Ed Harris, and The Killing's Joel Kinnaman, this movie had a cast that couldn't fail. Watching this compelling story, I couldn't help but think that this would have been an amazing ending for the Sopranos. Run All Night was surprising in the way that it was done, because it wasn't your typical mafia movie, but it wasn't an action film either. The writers very cleverly combined elements of both to combine the thrilling action of a Falling Down, with the crime story of a really good Sopranos episode. The film wasn't just about the incident and the chase and that's why it was special. They even managed to get Law & Order's Vincent D'Onofrio to play the lead detective in the case, and we all know the intensity he can bring to a role. It was a slow start and a somewhat predictable ending, but in the middle, Run All Night was so good, that I could have stayed up and kept watching it all night.

Shadow (2009)

Starring: Jake Muxworthy, Karina Testa, & Nuot Arquint
Director: Frederico Zampaglione - Rating: NR - Score: 3 stars

For years I'd heard how twisted and truly horrific Italian horror films were, but I never saw one. I just can't get into something when I have to sit there reading subtitles for two hours. That's why I was excited when I heard about Shadow, an American movie written and directed by Italian horror filmmakers. The film is centered on David (Jake Muxworthy), a soldier who has just come back from Iraq, who is on a European bike trip. David is looking to clear his mind with his favorite activity, when he comes across a beautiful woman being harassed by hunters. He intervenes, gets the girl, and in the process becomes a target. That is when this film takes a big one-eighty, because during the chase, they enter a creepy area of the woods, run into something far more sinister, and all wind up in the same boat. I've said it time and time again, today's horror films are almost always poorly written gorefests, full of jump scares, that aren't scary anymore. Shadow has the gore, some truly horrific and brutal gore, but aside from that, this film is genuinely creepy and very frightening. I don't know how or where they found Nuot Arquint, but the man put a chill in my bones. Arquint and Muxworthy were terrific on opposite ends of the spectrum, but the rest of the cast left a lot to be desired. This was a debut for the Director and many of the actors, so Shadow wasn't without it's mistakes and weak points, that being said, I just love the fact that it scared me, and for as scary as the film was, it may have been the cleverly written twist in the end that was the most horrifying of all.

The Humanity Bureau

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Lind, Jakob Davies, & Hugh Dillon 
Director: Rob King - Rating: R - Score: 2 1/2 Stars

In the not too distant future a second civil war has taken place. In the aftermath, with limited resources, the productive members of society are protected. Those who are not, are investigated by The Humanity Bureau. If deemed unproductive, they are sent to live in the wastelands, where life is difficult. Noah Kross (Nicholas Cage) is one of the Bureau's top investigators, but when he discovers a secret about the wasteland, he decides it's no place for a single mother and he son, and decides to risk everything to bring them to freedom. It seems like every week a direct-to-video film like this comes out starring either Nicholas Cage or Bruce Willis, and they are always somewhat entertaining, due to the talent of the lead actor. Some, such as The Humanity Bureau, are better written than others, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are better films. The backstory here is highly imaginative and there were so many different directions for this story to go in, but it took the easy way out and simply became another chase movie. The good guys on the run, the bad guys always on their heels, and keep watching to find out who wins. I loved the story here, the characters all had backstories and secrets, and this film could have absolutely been something special, but it wasn't. Instead we got one big chase, filled with a lot of inexperienced actors, who quite frankly were in over their heads. Nicholas Cage was terrific, the writing was really good, but in the end, The Humanity Bureau fails to live up to the hype.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Rover

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, & Scoot McNairy
Director: David Michod - Rating: R - Score: 3 1/2 Stars

In the very near future, the government of Australia has completely collapsed. The cities are run by the military and the outback has turned into the wild west. A daring crime has just taking place, four men took out an army barracks, and only three returned, but while fleeing, they crashed their car, luckily, there is one by the side of the road. That car belongs to a man named Eric, and he really loves his car. Eric (Guy Pearce) jumps into the damaged car and chases after the men, only to lose them. He attempts to track them, when he's approached by a man claiming to be the fourth man left for dead, and Eric promises him, if he doesn't help him get his car back, the man will be dead for sure this time. The Rover certainly is a bizarre story and I honestly couldn't believe some of the place it went to, but in the end the story was really ingenious. Guy Pearce stars in his best role since Momento. I mean he really was the perfect choice for Eric and fit this role like a glove. Pearce is paired with Rob Pattinson who I couldn't stand until I saw this movie. My only experiences with Pattinson to this point had been a brief appearance in Harry Potter, and a couple of god awful Twilight movies. I honest thought he was just another one of these good looking guys, who couldn't act, but I was wrong. His character had so many dimensions to it, having to deal with a mental illness, while trying to understand conflicting emotions that he never had to deal with before. It was a tremendous performance. The film does have it's slow points and some of scenes are just sick and twisted, much better suited for a different genre, but all in all I really enjoyed this film. It was something different for a change in a unique setting. While it lacked any kind of background and the dialogue was almost nonexistent, one almost felt like you didn't really need it to understand or enjoy this film.

Ice Blues: A Donald Strachey Mystery

Starring: Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, & Daryl Shuttleworth 
Director: Ron Oliver - Rating: R - Score: 3 1/2 stars

Richard Stevenson's novels about Private Investigator, Donald Strachey, have been described as eye opening and ground breaking. They have launched a film series and there are even talks of a television series, but what makes these different than any other detective stories, Donald Strachey is gay. The whole point of the series is to show that despite his sexuality, Strachey is just the same as every other cop turned private investigator, he has the same problems, works the same cases, faces the same dangers, there is absolutely no difference. The first film in the series, Third Man Out, didn't capture that. The film series aired on the LGBTQ movie channel, Here!, and was so far over the top and full of gay everything, that I thought the series would die right there. Fortunately, they gave the series another shot, corrected the mistakes, and the second time around, filmmakers got it right. Ice Blues is much closer to Stevenson's novels and characters than the original film was. It starts when Strachey's long time partner, Tim Callahan (Sebastian Spence) receives a large campaign contribute from an anonymous man, who is murdered right in front of him. The police come to investigate, but find no proof, not even a body, so he hires his partner, Donald Strachey (Chad Allen), who doesn't know what to think. That all changes the next morning, when the body turns up, in the couples drive way, with a note attached to it. Chad Allen was so much better in this film than in the first. In the first movie he was a gay private investigator, in this film, he's a private investigator who happens to be gay. It's a part of the story but not the main focus of everything. Ice Blues is centered on the case itself, which is what a film should be focused on. The mystery was solid, the twist in the end was terrific, I would have liked to seen some more action and better casting, but overall a very solid film, especially for one that was made for TV.