THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON (2019) – Story of Down Syndrome Youth One of Year’s Best

0
peanut-butter-falcon-

Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and newcomer Zack Gottsagen in THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON (2019).

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON (2019) is certainly a feel-good movie.

It tells a winning story, and with its talented, experienced cast, it delivers the goods.

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is the story of a young man with Down syndrome named Zak (Zack Gottsagen, making his film debut). His family abandoned him, and so he is living in a retirement home. Even though he receives attentive care from his case worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak is unhappy.

He continually watches a video featuring pro-wrestler The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) which advertises the wrestler’s pro-wrestling school in North Carolina. Zak wants to travel to that school, meet his idol, and become a wrestler. With the help of his roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), Zak escapes.

On the run, Zak crosses paths with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a drifter who’s on the run himself, fleeing from some undesirables who are out for revenge after Tyler purposely damaged some of their property. Tyler is an unhappy man who’s trying to exorcise some personal demons, most involving the death of his older brother. Tyler initially wants no part of Zak, but after saving Zak from a bully, he changes his tune and listens to Zak’s story of wanting to meet The Salt Water Redneck.

Tyler promises to get Zak to North Carolina, and the two embark on a journey to fulfill Zak’s dreams, while being pursued by the men who are after Tyler.

Meanwhile, Eleanor learns that the retirement home is not going to report Zak’s disappearance to the state, and they task her with finding him herself. Furthermore, the home intends to transfer him to a facility which houses some rather dangerous occupants. When she finally catches up with Zak and Tyler and sees the bond which Zak has formed with the drifter, she’s not in any hurry to bring Zak back to an uncertain future with the state, and so she joins the two on their quest to make Zak’s dream become a reality.

It may sound sappy, but it’s not. Far from it, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is a heartwarming film that has a lot to say about relationships and how to treat people with disabilities.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Eleanor first catches up with Zak and Tyler and instantly becomes very protective and parental with Zak, and Tyler tells her to stop acting that way, that Zak is more than capable of taking care of himself. In fact, Tyler teaches Zak how to swim, how to shoot a gun, and most importantly, how to believe in himself.

I really liked the way Zak was depicted in this movie, and I thought the portrayal of a man with Down syndrome here was extremely accurate.

The film does such a powerful job with its story elements, that the film’s climax, which involves Zak’s finally getting his chance inside a wrestling ring, at the same time that the men chasing Tyler close in for the kill, actually produced audible gasps from the audience. It’s been a while since I experienced that in a theater. [Okay, it hasn’t been that long, as there were plenty of gasps at the end of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), but before that, it had been a while!]

The cast here is awesome.

Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome in real life, makes his film debut here and is flawless in the role of Zak. He obviously nails the authenticity of the role, but more than that, he possesses a screen presence and timing that someone who does not have acting talent would not have been able to do. When Tyler asks him to repeat Rule #1 to him, and Zak says “Party!” not only is it a fresh moment in the movie, but it was also ad-libbed by Gottsagen.

I’ve never been a big fan of Shia LeBeouf, but he knocks it out of the park here, in a role that was originally intended for Ben Foster. It just might be the best screen performance I’ve seen LeBeouf give. He makes Tyler real, gritty, and earthy, and he makes him just as authentic a character as Gottsagen makes Zak.

Dakota Johnson is also perfect as Eleanor. I’ve enjoyed her in other movies, films like BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) and NEED FOR SPEED (2014), and I’m so glad she’s moved on from the awful FIFTY SHADES OF GREY movies. She’s a talented actor, and I can’t wait to see what she will do next. Here, in THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, she creates in Eleanor a character who’s sincere, well-meaning, and also cognizant that the state isn’t really the best provider for a person with Zak’s needs.

Thomas Haden Church also does a fine job during the film’s climax as Zak’s wrestling hero, The Salt Water Redneck. And any time you can have Bruce Dern in a movie’s cast, even in a small supporting role, it’s a major plus. He only has a couple of minutes of screen time, but he makes the most of it, similar to what he did earlier this year in Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019).

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON was written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, and they do a phenomenal job. The characters are all sharply written, no clichés here, and the story moves along at a solid pace that keeps the audience riveted to the story throughout. It’s also beautifully photographed, in the southern waters of Georgia and North Carolina.

The Peanut Butter Falcon refers to the name Zak chooses to be his wrestling alter ego when he’s in the ring.

I really enjoyed THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON.

It’s one of the best movies of the year.

—END—

 

READY OR NOT (2019) – Relentless Thrill Ride Lots of Fun

0

ready or not poster

If you like your horror bloody and full of dark humor, you’ll love READY OR NOT (2019), a comedic yet brutal thrill ride about a deadly game of hide and seek.

It’s also a pretty funny take-down of the super rich.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) and by doing so marry into the ridiculously wealthy Le Domas family and empire. The Le Domas clan made their money in games and sports. Alex warns Grace that his family is weird and that she still has a chance to back out of the wedding, but she says she’s all in as she is in love with him.

Shoulda heeded that warning, Grace!

It turns out that Alex’s family is as strange as advertised, and then some. After the wedding, Alex informs Grace that it’s a family tradition that at midnight they all play a game, and after this experience, then Grace officially becomes part of the family. She doesn’t have to win the game. She simply has to agree to play. Grace loves games and so she sees no problem with this arrangement.

Inside the enormous game room of the Le Domas mansion, the patriarch of the family Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) explains the history of their empire, how his great-grandfather took possession of a mysterious box which Tony now holds in his hands, and how he made an arrangement with the box’s previous owner, that if he and his progeny agreed to play a game named in the box, then the stranger would finance the Le Domas business. This arrangement continues to the present day, and is the source of the Le Domas’ money.

However, there is one particular game that the Le Domas family fears playing, and that game is hide and seek, which just happens to be the one that Grace pulls from the box. See, it’s not just a game of hide and seek. In this version, after Grace hides, the family not only has to find her, but they have to kill her. The thinking being that every few years or so to continue their supernatural source of money, they have to provide a sacrifice. Otherwise, they will all die by dawn. As much as they don’t want to play this game, they have no qualms doing so.

However, in this case, things turn out to be not so easy, because once Grace finds out what’s going on, she fights back, and fights back hard.

READY OR NOT may sound like a lurid, ugly thriller, but it’s not. This is not a variation of THE PURGE movies. From the very first murder, when the ultra nervous Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) kills the wrong victim, and one of the family members asks, “Does this count?” it’s clear that this tale is being played for laughs, and it’s a game this movie plays well. The laughs are loud and frequent.

The screenplay by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy is as sharp as the axe which lops off a person’s head in this movie. The funniest parts are the reactions of the Le Domas family. They’re aloof and impervious to the violence.

And it’s a good thing the story is played for laughs because the reasons behind the hide and seek hunt are rather ridiculous. This one would have struggled to work as a serious thriller.

The cast is solid and is more than up to the task of pulling off the bloody shenanigans. Samara Weaving is perfect as Grace, the hunted wife who refuses to be a victim and fights back, giving the Le Domas clan all they can handle. Weaving was phenomenal in THE BABYSITTER (2017),  a movie in which she played a murderous babysitter. That film was also quite humorous, and in that one she played the hunter rather than the hunted. Her performance in THE BABYSITTER was more memorable than her role here as Grace, but not by much. I like Weaving a lot and hope she continues to land leading roles. She’s exceptional.

The rest of the cast do marvelous jobs as the bizarre Le Domas family, especially Henry Czerny as patriarch Tony Le Domas. Other standouts include Melanie Scrofano as the hyper Emilie, and Elyse Levesque as the cold and deadly Charity Le Domas, who doesn’t mind killing to stay in the family, as she says her past life before she married into the Le Domas clan was far worse.

Mark O’Brien is fine as Grace’s new husband Alex Le Domas. He insists that he’s different from his family and vows to help Grace escape, but family ties run deep. Adam Brody is also very good as Alex’s older brother Daniel, an alcoholic, who is also sympathetic to Grace’s plight. And Nicky Guadagni nearly steals the show with an over the top performance as the tight-lipped evil eyed Aunt Helene.

Also in the cast is Andie MacDowell who plays matriarch Becky Le Domas. Even though MacDowell has been working steadily over the years, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen her in a movie. Here, she pretty much plays things straight, and her scenes are mostly about trying to reconnect with her son Alex, refuting his claims that Grace has shown him the light, stealing her son’s thunder with the cutting remark that there’s no way a girl he’s known for only a year knows him better than she does. Ouch!

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett keep the action fast and furious. The killings are graphic, bloody, and brutal, the weapons of choice include axes, crossbows, and guns, yet you’re more likely to laugh than shield your eyes and groan, although there is one wince-inducing scene involving Grace’s already mangled hand from a bullet, and a very large nail. Well, in spite of the laughter, this is a horror movie after all.

And the laughs from the audience were loud and frequent. It was clear that everyone in the theater was having a good time.

There are also plenty of swipes at the ultra rich, thematic elements which include the notion that money gives people power to do whatever they want without consequences, and how this is just accepted. Of course, here, as Grace fights back, that’s not how things go down this time.

I really liked READY OR NOT.  While I prefer horror that is more serious than this tale, I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun watching this one.

So strap yourself in and get ready for one relentless thrill ride.

Ready or not!

—END—

 

 

GOOD BOYS (2019) – R-Rated Tween Comedy Surprisingly Sincere and Nonstop Funny

0
good-boys

Brady Noon, Jacob Tremblay, and Keith L. Williams in GOOD BOYS (2019).

GOOD BOYS (2019) is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself laughing at things you know you have no business laughing at.

That’s because it’s an R-rated comedy about tweens, three boys who are about to enter 6th grade. Its story features raunchy language, drugs, and sex, among other things, but the fundamental reason GOOD BOYS works so well is its screenplay by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky is incredibly sincere and sensitive.

The tweens act like tweens, and that’s part of the comedy. When the three boys inadvertantly find themselves in possession of illegal drugs, they don’t break open the container and get high. They scream about the dangers of drugs and try to get rid of the stuff. When they discover a bunch of sex toys, they have no idea what they are and use them for all sorts of different things. When they discover a sex doll, they think it’s a CPR doll.

The writing is sharp and on the mark, the laughs fast and furious.

The story in a nutshell involves three tween boys, Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) who are best friends and call themselves  “The Bean Bag Boys.” When they get invivited to the cool kid’s party, they are overjoyed until they learn that it is a “kissing” party, and as much as they want to kiss the girls there, they have no idea how to kiss.

And so they decide to find out. One complication leads to another, and before they know it, they are in some serious sh*t.

Depending on how judgmental you are about movies, you may or may not like GOOD BOYS. If the idea of having 6th graders involved in comedic adult situations turns you off, you probably won’t enjoy this one.

I liked this one because it’s genuine and remains true to its characters. The boys here never act like adults. They act exactly the way 6th graders act, and when placed in these outrageous comedic situations the combination of their innocence with the zany proceedings results in constant hilarity.

One thing working against GOOD BOYS, which is no fault of the movie, is that the film’s trailers gave away an awful lot. While there are still funny scenes not shown in the trailers, most of the film’s funniest bits I had seen already.

Even so, the laughs really never stop. Director Gene Stupnitsky keeps this one funny from start to finish.

The tween cast is terrific. Jacob Tremblay, a talented young actor who has already made his mark in such notable films as ROOM (2015) and WONDER (2017) where he played Auggie, plays Max here. Of the three boys, Max is the most interested in the kissing party because he wants to kiss Brixleee (Millie Davis) his first real crush, and who he says he may marry one day. Incidentally, Millie Davis also starred alongside Tremblay in WONDER.

This plot point opens the door for a subplot towards the end of the movie where the boys realize they are changing. For example, of the three, Max is the most mature and the first to be interested in girls, and these changes put a strain on their friendship. It also allows the tweens to talk about respecting women, and they are constantly talking about seeking the girl’s consent before kissing. It may not sound like much, but the climactic kissing scene near the end is even more moving when Max approaches Brixlee and before kssing her asks, “Can I kiss you?” and she says, “Yes.”

Keith L. Williams plays Lucas, and his storyline introduces divorce to the story, as his parents are separating. The scenes with his parents are both hilarious and sad, which is no easy feat, but this movie pulls it off with ease.

And Brady Noon plays Thor, who is the recipient of the most bullying and peer pressure of the three, so much so that even though he loves to sing, he drops out of the school musical. Noon’s performance as a boy who likes to sing rises above the traditional cliche.

Later, when he’s dared to break the beer drinking record, it’s not about the number of beers one drinks. It’s about the number of sips. The record is three sips, by the way.

Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are fun as the two older teens who “go to war” against the boys after they discover the boys spying on them with a drone. The chase scene where the girls pursue the bike-riding boys both in their car and on foot is a highlight. As is the sequence where they send the boys inside a college frat house to buy drugs. Some of the loudest laughs of the entire movie came when the boys gave the frat boys their comeuppance.

And I saw this one in a crowded theater, and the laughs were frequent and loud.

Molly Gordon has been busy lately, as she also starred in supporting roles in BOOKSMART (2019) and LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018). She was notable in both.

Isaac Wang  shows some presence as Soren, the tiny cool kid who hosts the kissing party.

And comedian Lil Rel Howery has some comical moments as Lucas’ Dad. Howery recently showed up in a couple of high quality horror movies, BIRD BOX (2018) and GET OUT (2017).

Nearly all the jokes work. But one of the sequences that didn’t work as well was the scene where the boys had to cross a busy highway. It reminded me an awful lot of a similar scene in a comedy from some years back, BOWFINGER (1999) starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Too derivative for me.

But all in all, GOOD BOYS is nonstop funny and entertaining. And for a comedy, you can’t ask for much more than that.

—END—

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (2019) – Shark Sequel Scary, Claustrophobic, and Unremarkable

1

47 meters down uncaged

Shark movies have become a trope.

Throw a few sharks in the water, mix in some unsuspecting swimmers, preferably of the teen variety, have lots of screaming, and you’ve got the makings of a horror movie. Trouble is, like the slasher film before it, the shark movies have become carbon copies of each other, and most of the time, they’re not very good.

This is the biggest thing that 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (2019) has working against it. Even though it tries to be different, it’s still a shark movie, which takes away from some of the solid scares it manages to deliver.

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (2019) is also a sequel. The first film, 47 METERS DOWN (2017) was a movie I liked but didn’t love. The good news here is 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED has nothing to do with that first movie. It’s got all new characters and an all new story. The only connection between the two are the sharks, and the location. Both movies take place in Mexico.

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED is the story of two sisters. The movie opens when one of the sisters Mia (Sophie Nelisse) is pushed into a swimming pool by a group of mean girls at their all girl private high school. When the film starts off, it looks like it’s going to be CARRIE meets JAWS, which incidentally might have been a better movie, but that’s not where this one ultimately goes, as the bullies take a back seat to the two sisters.

Mia’s half-sister Sasha (Corinne Fox) doesn’t get along with her either, and to remedy this, their dad Grant (John Corbett) arranges for them to spend some quality time together on a glass bottom boat shark tour, where they’ll be able to see some great white sharks, which doesn’t really seem like the best parenting idea to me, thrusting two daughters together who really don’t like each other, but of course, this is a shark movie, so you know where this one is going. They’re going to have to put aside their differences once their lives are on the line.

Anyway, they don’t ever go on the tour because Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) show up to whisk them away on a private swimming date. For a moment I thought Sasha was going to ditch Mia, but at least she agrees to take her sister along.

The girls go swimming in a beautiful secluded area, which just so happens to be where Mia and Sasha’s dad has been diving and exploring some ancient underwater caves, as he is busy discovering an underwater city. The girls decide to dive there and explore the underwater city themselves, only for a few minutes.

But things go awry when they discover that inhabiting the underground city are a bunch of s-s-sharks!!! The rest of the film follows the girls as they have to battle the sharks as they try to find their way out of the underwater city.

In spite of this being yet another shark movie and a sequel, there was a lot in 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED that I actually liked. The underwater scenes in the submerged city are done very well. Director Johannes Roberts gives this one a claustrophobic feel with lots of attention given to confined spaces and dark narrow tunnels. The camera stays in tight as the characters navigate through the confining underwater caves.  Roberts also directed the first 47 METERS DOWN. I guess he likes shark movies.

Speaking of sharks, the shark scenes here were definitely scary. I thought they were handled better here than in the first movie. The fact that the girls are fighting off the sharks in underwater caves helps, and these just aren’t any sharks. Since they’ve been living in darkness for ages, they’re blind. So, if you’re real quiet, they won’t be able to find you. Hmm. Where have I heard this plot point before? (Hello A QUIET PLACE [2018], as well as DON’T BREATHE [2016]). Trouble is, for some reason, the girls are anything but quiet. They constantly make noise, and as a result, they are constantly under attack.

But that being said, the shark scenes are quite effective and provide the film with lots of tense moments.

Working against the movie is its poor pacing. With its brisk 89 minute running time, I wouldn’t call it a slow-paced movie, but it also has no sense of urgency. It doesn’t use pace to its advantage, as the film never really builds suspense.

It also goes to the well once too often, and its conclusion is nothing short of ludicrous.

The screenplay by Ernest Riera and director Johannes Roberts creates likable characters with the four teenagers and puts them in a dire situation, but it doesn’t do anything above and beyond to make this one stand out. And as I said, the ending is completely unbelievable.

The acting is fine. All four main actors do a serviceable job, Sophie Nelisse as Mia, Corinne Fox as Sasha, Brianne Tju as Alexa, and Sistine Rose Stallone as Nicole. Stallone is Sylvester Stallone’s daughter, and this is her film debut.

The sharks don’t actually look that bad, but they’re not great either. They’re helped by the fact that most of the time they’re seen in the darkness of the underwater caves. Still, I’ve yet to be impressed by a CGI created shark.

Since the bulk of this film takes place in confined spaces, it reminded me somewhat of this year’s earlier release CRAWL (2019) about a daughter and her father terrorized in the flooding basement of their home by hungry alligators during a monstrous hurricane. I liked CRAWL better. For one, it wasn’t about sharks, and it also told a more compelling story and featured stronger acting.

47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED will barely register on the shark movie meter, but judged on its own merits, it’s really not half bad and does provide a decent amount of shark scares in a dark claustrophobic setting of underwater caves.

You can do a lot worse, so if you like shark movies, you may want to check out 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED. Otherwise, don’t take the bait.

—-END—

 

BRIAN BANKS (2019) – Inspirational True Story of One Man’s Fight to Clear His Name

1

brian banks

BRIAN BANKS (2019), based on the inspirational true story of Brian Banks, a black man wrongly imprisoned for rape who fought his way back to clear his name and eventually play football in the NFL, offers no surprises.

None.

The story plays out exactly as you expect it to, and yet, this hardly seems to matter because at the end of the day, BRIAN BANKS is a solid, well-told story that makes its point and moves its audience to tears.

Sure, it’s safe and sanitized, the type of movie that easily could have been the TV movie of the week back in the day. It’s not gritty. It’s not R-rated. Some would call this inferior filmmaking, missing an opportunity to tell a story well and make an impact. For me, it all comes down to how a film is executed. I like safe sanitized movies as well as hard gritty ones, as long they do a good job telling their stories. BRIAN BANKS tells its story well.

Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) was an up and coming football star, breaking school records and attracting attention of college football scouts. But when he was 16 years old, he was accused of rape, a crime he said he did not commit. Encouraged by his attorney to plead “no contest” which would be the same as “guilty” but would most likely mean no jail time, the youth agreed, only to watch in horror as the judge slapped a six-year jail sentence on him, as well as requiring him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Most of BRIAN BANKS takes place after Brian has been released from prison, although his prison experience is shown via flashback. As a young man in his twenties, an ex-con and registered sex-offender, Brian struggles to find work, as no one will hire him, and he lives with his supportive mother Leomia (Sherri Shepherd). He also has to contend with an overbearing parole officer (Dorian Missick) who constantly reminds Brian when he’s too close to a school or playground.

Brian finds it next to impossible to move on with his life, but he knows he’s innocent, and so he contacts attorney Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) who specializes in fighting for people who have been falsely convicted of crimes. Justin empathizes with Brian, but tells him that unless he can come up with some new and extraordinary evidence, his case will not be overturned, and so Brian sets out to do just that.

As I said, BRIAN BANKS offers no surprises. You know where this one is going to go, but since it’s going to a satisfactory place, the predictability of it all is not a problem.

At first, the screenplay by Doug Atchison raised an eyebrow. As Brian tells his story to Justin Brooks, he explains that he and the female student went to the section of the school known as a place where students make out, with the express intent of making out with this girl, but when a teacher walks by, it spooks Brian and not wanting to do anything that jeopardizes his future career, he changes his mind and walks away, leaving the spurned girl to make up the charge of rape.

Well, that’s believable.

Not.

You walked away? On your own? And the girl made the whole think up?

I don’t think so!

But the film covers its tracks by having Brian’s current girlfriend Karina (Melanie Liburd) be a sexual assault victim herself. When Brian first tells her his story, she apologizes and then leaves him alone at a restaurant table. But as she gets to know him, she finds herself believing in him, and eventually falls for him.

BRIAN BANKS really isn’t about the he said/she said of sexual assault. The film never really calls into question Brian’s innocence. He’s innocent. The system failed him. That’s the message of the film.  What BRIAN  BANKS really is about is resilience.

In prison. an angry and bitter Brian meets a wise old man, played by an uncredited Morgan Freeman, who becomes Brian’s mentor. He teaches Brian to let his anger go, and presents him with a creed that states that life is not about what happens to you, but how you respond to life’s adversities.

And that’s really what BRIAN BANKS is about and why the film ultimately succeeds. Brian Banks is a man who simply refuses to give up, who believes that the one thing he can control is how hard he fights for his freedom, and it’s a fight he refuses to give up on. As depicted in the movie, Brian really is an inspirational character.

Doug Atchison’s screenplay deals with sexual assault and the failings of our legal system but largely avoids race issues. The fact that Brian is black is hardly mentioned in the film. More than a story about race, it’s a story about perseverance and the pursuit of truth.

Director Tom Shadyac takes what could have been a hard-hitting gritty story and sanitizes it to the point where it could have been made by Disney. But since Banks’ relentless pursuit of the truth is so admirable, it hardly seems to matter. Shadyac is a director known for his comedies, films like BRUCE ALMIGHTY (2003), THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996) and ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994). There’s nothing comedic about BRIAN BANKS, and Shadyak seems quite comfortable telling this story.

Aldis Hodge is solid and sympathetic in the lead as Brian Banks. He captures Banks’ spirit and makes his journey a believable one. Hodge has been in a bunch of things over the years, from HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) to the TV shows BLACK MIRROR (2017) and THE WALKING DEAD (2014) to name just a few.

Likewise, Greg Kinnear is very good as attorney Justin Brooks, who eventually is won over by Banks and decides to take his case. Although Kinnear has been working steadily, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him on the big screen. I believe for me it’s been since LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006).

Both Sherri Shepherd as Brian’s mom and Melanie Liburd as his girlfriend also turn in strong performances, as does Xosha Roquemore as Kennisha Rice, the woman who as it turns out falsely accused Brian of rape.

Likewise, Tiffany Dupont makes her mark as Alissa Bjerkhoel, who works for Justin Brooks and who was instrumental in encouraging Brooks to take Brian’s case.

And Dorian Missick is very good as the hard-nosed parole officer Mick Randolph. Missick has also been in a ton of things, from playing “Cockroach” on LUKE CAGE (2018) to appearances on LUCIFER (2016) and BETTER CALL SAUL (2015).

BRIAN BANKS is the type of film that at first seems difficult to recommend. It’s pretty straightforward, and the direction its story takes is pretty much a no-brainer.

But what it does do well is create a sympathetic and inspirational character, albeit based on a real life person, in Brian Banks, so much so that you can easily buy into his plight, feel his pain, and celebrate his victory.

—END—

 

 

 

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019) – Takes Its Horror Tropes Seriously

1

scary stories to tell in the dark

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019), the new horror film based on the books Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3: More Stories to Chill Your Bones (1991), all by Alvin Schwartz, hits all the right marks, especially if you’re a fan of traditional genre horror.

We’ve been fortunate in recent years to have seen a good number of highbrow artistic horror movies make their way through the cinemas, films like GET OUT (2017) and this year’s MIDSOMMAR (2019) for example, films that raise the bar and do more with horror than just revisit standard tropes.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is not one of these movies. Instead, it hearkens back to these standard tropes and then proceeds unapologetically to deliver the goods. There are decent scares throughout SCARY STORIES, mostly because it takes its subject matter seriously, in spite of the fact that the stories deal with the supernatural, scarecrows that come to life, undead corpses back for revenge, and creepy monsters from childhood nightmares. A lot of filmmakers would have taken this material and turned it into high camp. That’s not the case here. The stories are told in deadly earnest. I liked this.

Give credit to director Andre Ovredal. Not only does he craft some spine chilling scenes here, but better yet, he builds suspense. So many horror films I see these days surprisingly struggle with building suspense. They’re a series of scary scenes that fail to build into anything cohesive, leaving endings that simply fall flat. Ovredal avoids this pitfall by making each subsequent story scarier than the previous one, and with some effective editing, saves the best stuff for last. I really liked how this one was constructed.

Likewise, I loved the script by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo del Toro. It tells a gripping story with real characters and situations, in spite of the heavy dose of supernatural creatures. I also loved the dialogue.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK takes place in  the fall of 1968. While kids are gearing up for Halloween, the real world is dealing with the war in Vietnam and the election of Richard Nixon as president.  On Halloween, high school friends Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) decide to trick or treat one last time as the following year they’ll be off to college, but rather than candy, they’re more interested in pranking their school bully Tommy (Austin Abrams). When that doesn’t go well, they flee from Tommy and his buddies and seek refuge in a car in a drive-in theater whose lone occupant is a teen Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) who’s not from town.

They become friends with Ramon, and since it’s Halloween decide to take him to their local haunted house, the Bellows House, where legend has it children had disappeared there. The story goes that years ago the influential Bellows family had a daughter named Sarah who they kept locked in a room, and who told visiting children horror stories through the walls, stories that would come true and claim the lives of the children.

Stella and her friends break into the abandoned house, and amazingly, they not only discover Sarah’s secret room, but the book with her stories, seemingly written in blood. Stella, who loves horror stories and writes them herself, takes the book with her, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize this was a bad idea, as she watches in disbelief as a story writes itself about one of her friends, and the next thing she knows that friend disappears.

Gulp!

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is completely predictable and doesn’t really present anything horror audiences haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being scary and fun. And that’s because everything in this one is expertly handled and taken seriously.

The story where the scarecrow comes to life is as creepy as they come. I especially enjoyed the look of the scarecrow.  I also enjoyed the look of the other creatures in this one. Even though Guillermo del Toro only worked on the screenplay and didn’t direct this movie, the various creatures here have del Toro written all over them.

The young cast also acquit themselves quite nicely. Zoe Margaret Colletti is excellent in the lead role as Stella, as is Michael Garza as the young stranger in town, Ramon Morales. I also enjoyed Gabriel Rush as Auggie and Austin Zajur as Chuck. Austin Abram was also memorable as bully Tommy.

A couple of veteran actors round out the cast. Dean Norris plays Stella’s father, and Gil Bellows plays the local police chief.

And don’t let the fact that SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is based on a collection of children’s horror stories fool you. This is the real deal. Sure, it’s rated PG-13, and so it’s not a heavy hitting R rated horror flick.  But it is a well-written, directed, and acted horror treat.

And yes, its supernatural elements really aren’t all that believable, but because everyone in this one both in front of and behind the camera took it seriously, that doesn’t really seem to matter. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK really works, from beginning to end. And it even sets itself up for a sequel and does so in a way that makes perfect sense and is not based on some silly tacked on ending where the monster suddenly jumps back to life. There really isn’t anything silly about SCARY STORIES.

I went into SCARY  STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK not really expecting much, but I left the theater pleasantly surprised.

I highly recommend SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. It’s one of my favorite horror movies of the year so far.

—END—

 

 

 

FAST AND FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW (2019) – Amiable Action Comedy Fast and— Fluffy.

0

Hobbs-Shaw

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never seen a FAST AND FURIOUS movie.

Until now, that is.

Way back when the first THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) came out I just wasn’t that interested, but then they kept coming, and word of mouth and critical reviews said they were getting better and better. But still I resisted, mostly because I hadn’t seen the previous films, but I’m guessing at some point I’ll sit down and eventually start watching these.

Anyway, after eight FAST AND FURIOUS movies, here comes the series’ first “spinoff,” FAST AND FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW, a tale featuring characters who appeared in prior movies but who weren’t part of the main core of the cast. I mainly wanted to check this one out because I like the three principal leads, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, and Idris Elba. My expectations were low, but I figured, it might be fun to watch some mindless action scenes featuring these generally entertaining actors.

And I was right.  The action and the dialogue is all very fast, though not so furious. A more apt title for this one would be fast and funny, because really, from beginning to end, this one is played for laughs. I didn’t take any of it seriously, and that was okay.

The plot involves a deadly virus that could wipe out the population of the world, just like that! Yikes!  A former spy (Vanessa Kirby) steals the virus, and a super-charged baddie named Brixton (Idris Elba) will stop at nothing to steal it back. Good guy Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is charged with saving the day, and he’s paired with former villain turned hero Shaw (Jason Statham) because the former spy who stole the virus happens to be Shaw’s sister.

Trouble is, Hobbs and Shaw hate each other and refuse to work together, but work together they do, which sets the stage for plenty of banter and one-upmanship throughout.

If you like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, you’ll enjoy this movie because the two actors are likable throughout and do share a fun chemistry together.  Their banter while not hilarious is certainly comical and amusing. There’s a good-natured amiable vibe all through the movie, even though its plot is about a potentially catastrophic virus, and that’s because the film is about as believable as a wrestling match.

Director David Leitch fills this one with exciting action scenes and chases, especially one near the end involving a helicopter and a bunch of cars. Again, fun, but not believable, which for me, pretty much kept this one from being anything special. Technically, it looks great, but it’s all fluff. Leitch also directed DEADPOOL 2 (2018). Speaking of which, Ryan Reynolds is also in the cast, and he gets to ham it up in a couple of scenes. These bits are okay but not overly funny.

The screenplay by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce has fun with its Hobbs and Shaw banter but that’s about it. Morgan has written a bunch of other FAST AND FURIOUS movies, and Pearce wrote HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018) which I enjoyed a lot.

While Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham don’t disappoint, Idris Elba doesn’t fare as well. Elba doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, and his villain in spite of his superpower enhancements is pretty one-dimensional. Elba deserves better.

Vanessa Kirby is very good as Shaw’s sister Hattie, a kick-ass character who can hold her own against the likes of Hobbs and Shaw, although she’s clearly a secondary character here, unfortunately.

As I said, Ryan Reynolds shows up for a couple of scenes, as do Kevin Hart and Helen Mirren. None of these folks make much of an impact.

I liked HOBBS & SHAW well enough, but it’s all fluff, and other than its agreeable leads and well-choreographed action sequences, there’s not a whole lot going on. I’m a story guy, and this one’s story is pretty sparse, which for me, kept this one from being anything special.

It’s not riveting, there’s no edge of your seat excitement, and there’s no intrigue. Instead, there’s playful banter and sanitized action sequences that are mostly played for laughs.

Fast, yes. Furious, not so much.

—END—