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‘Downsizing’ is a Big Waste of Talent

Downsizing (1)

This marks the second film to premiere at the Venice Film Festival to have a great director, talented writing team and a cast headed by Matt Damon to end up falling flat on its face.


“Downsizing” stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to undergo a medical procedure that will shrink them down to five inches tall. When the wife backs out last minute, the husband must adjust to life in his new mini community. Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau and Jason Sudeikis also star as Alexander Payne directs and co-writes.


I am a fan of Alexander Payne. I adore “Sideways” and “Nebraska,” a film that until this year was considered the “worst” of his career. “Downsizing” was on my 2017 watchlist because of the impressive cast and premise, and got generally positive reviews from critics after debuting at Venice. However as autumn wore on and it screened at more and more festivals it got less and less praise, and will now likely be universally considered the weak point of Payne’s career.


For the most part, Alexander Payne’s films all follow a similar topic involving some sort of small-scale journey about self-discovery. “Downsizing” certainly shares some of those points but does mark a bit of a step outside Payne’s comfort zone. With a budget of $68 million it is the most expensive film of his career and the science-fiction twist is also something new. Some of the effects here are fine but at other points, especially when the shrunken people are interacting with normal sized ones, the green screen is obvious.


Pretty much everyone in here that is not Matt Damon or Hon Chau is an extended cameo here and play fictionalized versions of themselves. Damon doesn’t too much stretching of his acting playing a mild-mannered guy who feels he has no sense of purpose in life (“We Bought a Zoo,” “Elysium,” etc). There’s really not much to his character and he just goes through the motions for most of the runtime.


Hon Chau is the most interesting part of this film, for a few reasons. Her character is a Vietnamese activist who was shrunk by her government against her will and now works as a cleaning lady in the small community. Chau, who was born in Thailand but raised in New Orleans and speaks English perfectly fine (based on interviews), talks in a broken accent and at times it is unintentionally comical, others uncomfortable. She has one scene where she gets to cry and it is one of the film’s few genuine moments; all the trademark Payne deadpan moments of dark humor and satirical human interactions are nowhere to be found.


The film as a whole is shockingly not-very-interesting but the third act just takes a massive turn into WTF territory. The whole concept of people “downsizing” themselves is to help overpopulation and to save the environment, so clearly Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor are trying to offer up some sort of commentary about the modern global warming situation. Cool, fine. However suddenly the film puts it at center stage and the world is about to end, nothing we can do, time to start over. It is so sudden and in your face that it make you wonder if the scientists of the film even know what they’re talking about.


First Damon had the failed social commentary in “Suburbicon” and now the environment is addressed here; it has been one woke award season for Jason Bourne.


Also, there is a scene where Damon kisses a sleeping character and when the person wakes up he says “sorry, I misread that signal.” It would be weird under normal circumstances however given the current #MeToo climate and Damon’s own comments on sexual harassment and consent it just transforms to jaw-on-the-floor baffling.


“Downsizing” has the cast and crew to result in a great film but it wastes them both as well as an idea-rich premise. There are moments of actual intrigue or well-acted and sharply written conversations but they are so far, few and in between that it is in no way worth the price of admission or even a rental (this thing runs 135 ungodly minutes). I look forward to see how Alexander Payne rebounds with his next film, and I have no doubt he will, but the sooner he and Damon put this one behind them the better.

Critics Rating: 4/10

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is a Safe, Funny Adventure

Jumanji_Welcome_to_the_JungleJust let Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson co-host the Oscars already, it’s long overdue.


“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a standalone sequel to the 1995 cult hit that starred Robin Williams. This time, instead of the board game coming into the real-world, four teens are transported into the jungles of Jumanji (now a video game, because, 21st century) and must beat the game in order to escape. Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale star as Jake Kasdan directs.


I only saw the original “Jumanji” one time when I was 10 at a sleepover, but I remember not being overly enamored by it. In fact, despite its cult status, the film did not receive positive reviews back in 1995 but has since grown to develop a following, mostly due to Robin Williams. When this 2017 film was announced, some people were afraid it was a remake and others just saw it as a pointless sequel. But since the cast looked solid and I had no real attachment to the original film I was able to walk into this with an open mind and (overall) was pleased.


Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have starred together before, like in last year’s “Central Intelligence,” and have also done Instagram videos from set that shows that they have great chemistry. They again play off each other well, and much like “Central Intelligence” Hart is a little toned-down from his normal hyper self which was refreshing to see. They quip and insult each other but are good in their hearts, and continue to show why they’re two of the more likable and bankable names in Hollywood.


Jack Black hasn’t been in too much the last five years but it was great to see him back in a starring role, and he arguably steals the show; I feel if ten years ago you were told that “Jumanji” was getting a sequel the first thing you would assume is Jack Black was going to be the star of it. Black plays a popular teenage girl who has been transported into the game and placed in the avatar of “an overweight middle-aged man” and he walks a great line between effeminate stereotype and still having the Black mannerisms that he has become known for.


I love Bobby Cannavale, he has shown that he can be funny and charming in things like “Danny Collins” but dark and serious in the likes of “Boardwalk Empire,” but he is a complete waste here. He plays the film’s villain and he is one-note and cheesy in the worst ways and given nothing to do. Nick Jonas pops up and he shows that he has solid acting chops, although I’m sure playing the rugged cool guy wasn’t too much of a stretch of his acting chops.


The film’s plot is pretty one-note: the characters must go from one point of the jungle to the other to return a stolen jewel. I won’t fault the film for its simplicity too much, although the video game-style “level progression” narrative does create some awkward pacing at points.


Also, as with 2016’s “Ghostbusters” reboot, the film is directed by a man who is normally making $30 million R-rated comedies, so suddenly giving him a $100 million blockbuster to helm will result in some stilted action sequences and bad special effects (on more than one occasion the green screen is painfully noticeably bad).


“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has absolutely no reason to exist, and is related to the 1995 film by title only, but it is a safe, family-friendly adventure that does do a solid job at entertaining you in-the-moment. If anything, it is just a showcase for some funny people to do some funny things and have you desire to see them in future projects together but as we approach the end of 2017–a year that has been so divisive and at times hard to swallow–maybe bonding over some laughs isn’t the worst thing.


Critics Rating: 6/10


‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ Coasts on Incredible Performances


How can anyone not love Sam Rockwell?


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother of a recently murdered daughter. After no arrests are made by the police after several months, she takes out ads on three billboards in order to draw public attention to the case. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage also star as Martin McDonagh directs his own script.


Martin McDonagh doesn’t make too many movies (this is only his third) but when he does he swings for the fences. His debut film “In Bruges” got him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and his follow-up “Seven Psychopaths” is fantastically fun (he also won an Academy Award for Best Short Film). His latest film “Three Billboards” is his most sobering and grounded to-date, still maintaining the dark humor and sudden violence he has become known for, and while it hits some bumps along the way he draws great performances out of a stellar cast.


Like I said up top, I love Sam Rockwell and feel he is a national treasure. He stole the show in “Iron Man 2,” was the highlight of McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” and here gives possibly a career-best performance. Playing a mama’s boy police officer, Rockwell is a good-hearted but ill-tempered man with a lack of boundaries and self-control. He beats people up for no reason and starts yelling when situations don’t require it but he is loyal to Woody Harrelson’s sheriff.


Frances McDormand plays the mother and even though there is anger, frustration and sadness behind her eyes she rarely lets it show, waiting until late to let her emotions finally boil over. It is a layered performance that surely will rank among her best and she and Rockwell hold the film up during its weaker points.


Harrelson is the middle-ground between Rockwell and McDormand, a man who is gentle when he needs to be but also calculating. It is somewhat of a deus ex machina role but Harrelson does it well and it is always nice to see him show up in films.


McDonagh’s script isn’t as sharp or funny as his previous works but he does find a nice balance between the dark humor and human drama. Character motivations are unclear and a person who may seem the relatable and sympathetic in one scene will flip and become an awful human in another. Every character in the film has a dark side and lets it show but they almost all get some sort of redemption.


It may the film’s intention because it is the whole point of the story but there is a growing sense of unease and frustration as you watch. Characters get away with actions that should land them in prison but nothing comes about it; it could be a plot hole or it could be McDonagh’s way of reiterating that, like the murder of McDormand’s daughter, not all crimes get the punishment they deserve.


Certain aspects of the film seem pointless or draw away from the stories we are invested in, like McDormand being flirted with by Peter Dinklage and being guilt-tripped into a date. It adds little to the film and plot short of a few laughs and one quick loose-end tie-up, and I just wanted to get back to what Rockwell was up to.


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a film that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and I’m still trying to let it marinate in my mind. To me it is in between McDonagh’s other two films, with “Seven Psychopaths” still being his best work, but thanks to great work from Rockwell and McDormand most any flaw here is overlooked.


Critics Rating: 7/10


‘Justice League’ is Ugly and Incoherent

220px-Justice_League_film_posterI wonder if this is how all those people who thought “Batman v Superman” sucked felt after watching it…


“Justice League” is the fifth installment of the DC Extended Universe and is the first time the titular team, consisting of Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Aquaman and Cyborg, is depicted together on the big screen. The film stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher, with Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds in supporting roles. Zack Snyder directs (technically, but more on that in a minute).


The DCEU has been a mixed bag for most people. “Man of Steel” is fine but not very good. I am a defender of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (and the Ultimate Edition is genuinely great). “Suicide Squad” is barely a movie. And, as with most everyone’s list, “Wonder Woman” is the best (until it isn’t). Needless to say, as a Batman fanboy and fan of two of the three past films of the series, I was looking forward to “Justice League.” And it absolutely crushed me.


The one thing that works here is the cast. As with “BvS” and her own film this past June, Gal Gadot is the charming glue that holds scenes together and manages to look incredibly stunning even when she is busy kicking butt. Ezra Miller steals the show as the comic relief Flash, even if some of his jokes fall flat and others are out of place. Ben Affleck is serviceable as Batman but it’s a step down from his feature debut and even “Suicide Squad” cameos. Oh, and after an awkward re-introduction, this gives us the best and most cheerful Superman portrayal by Henry Cavill of this universe (I refuse to take part in Warner Bros.’ charade that Superman is dead; the man is second billing in the cast list).


I enjoyed Ray Fisher as the emotionally conflicted Cyborg and Jason Momoa is *fine* as Aquaman. Just like with every other DCEU film, the cast and characters are not what the problem is.


One of the things people complained about “Batman v Superman” is that it is too dark—both visually and tonally—but for me that was fine. Zack Snyder had a clear vision and if the director’s cut is any indication, if the studio had not mangled his work then it could have been something great.


With “Justice League,” Warner Bros. demanded a runtime of 120 minutes (the previous DCEU films all run around 150). This is dumb and damning because it limits artists like Snyder and forces rushed exposition. Which is this film’s biggest flaw.


If you know nothing about the comics, this film is going to be practically incoherent to you. The villain, Steppenwolf, comes to Earth to find Mother Boxes. What are they? Why does he want them? Where is he from? I know the answers but I’m a nerd; most moviegoers have better ways they spend their time than obsessing over comic lore.


Speaking of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), he is such a lame villain, made purely out of CGI, that it makes the Marvel list of bad guys look like Heath Ledger’s Joker. You’re never intimidated and half the time you’re laughing. Which is also how the first ten minutes of the film are spent after a baffling Batman sequence followed by a cover of the Leonard Cohen song “Everybody Knows” playing over the credits.


I had to hold back giggles and cringing.


I haven’t even gotten to the post-production drama involved here. Zack Snyder and his wife Deborah (also a producer here) left the project in May following the death of their daughter and Joss Whedon, writer/director of the “Avengers” films, was hired to watch over reshoots. He added his normal quippy banter and it’s a mixed bag; sometimes the lines are hilarious and other times they’re awkwardly out of place.


This feels like the safest movie of Zack Snyder’s career, and I feel bad for him. He clearly got an ear-full after “Batman v Superman” so he tried to make a colorful, basic studio superhero film and it just doesn’t work. He is an ambitious director, not a narratively sound one, and the whole film feels like a checklist of things that we have to see the team do.


And of course, as with every single DCEU film before it, the climax takes place in a wasteland and features the heroes getting into a CGI disaster porn throwdown with the villain. It gets boring real quick.


“Justice League” is a letdown of massive, almost unprecedented proportions. Say what you will about “Batman v Superman” but at least that film had ambition and goals; this is just aimless and ugly. I would love to see standalone pictures for all these heroes under different directors than Snyder because, while I feel for him both for his personal loss and because the studio was breathing down his neck, this franchise just needs new blood at the helm (*cough* Patty Jenkins or Joss Whedon).


Critics Rating: 4/10

Warner Bros

Warner Bros

‘Lady Bird’ a Warm, Honest Dramedy

Lady_Bird_posterBetween Jordan Peele with “Get Out,” Aaron Sorkin with “Molly’s Game” and Greta Gerwig here, 2017 has been a great year for directorial debuts.


“Lady Bird” stars Saoirse Ronan as a high school senior living in 2002 Sacramento. In her final year before going off to college, she deals with boys, popularity and her turbulent relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet andBeanie Feldstein also star as Greta Gerwig writes and directs.


It seems that despite being 23-years-old, Saoirse Ronan can’t seem to escape playing a high schooler. “Brooklyn,” “Lost River,” “The Host,” just like Emma Roberts she is stuck in her teen years on-screen. But it seems to be working for her, as she nabbed her second career Oscar nomination for “Brooklyn” and will likely get a third for her work here, as her Christine (self-named “Lady Bird”) is a young woman who means well but can’t seem to find out where she is supposed to fit in the world.


The performances and script are what make this movie work. Ronan and Metcalf play well off each other as a mother-daughter combo who rarely see eye-to-eye. They have moments of bonding and mutual laughs that will quickly turn to arguing, mostly due to Metcalf feeling her daughter is not appreciative for the life that her and her husband have struggled to provide for her.


Lucas Hedges (incredible in last year’s “Manchester by the Sea”) plays an awkward teen much like last year’s Oscar-nominated role and he is solid here. Hopefully he doesn’t fall into the same high school typecasting as Ronan but much like her if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Timothée Chalamet (an impending Oscar nominee for this year’s “Call Me by Your Name”) is solid enough, but he mostly keeps to himself and spouts radical anti-establishment theories; if you watched him here you probably wouldn’t guess that he has an Academy Award nomination in his near-future.


Gerwig’s script is honest and relatably funny, even though I never had a toxic relation with my mother or attended Catholic school. There are some bits of dialogue that hurt my sides I was laughing so hard, even when the line wasn’t even meant to be a genuine joke (Ronan’s friend asks if she’s worried about terrorism in New York City and she responded “don’t be such a Republican.” I don’t know, I laughed out loud).


What holds the film back from being truly great, despite all its great moments, is its structure. The plot is set over one year but a lot happens in Ronan’s life and it seems a little contrived, and she seems to move on from some major life events rather quickly. The film almost feels like a bunch of vignettes, with some subplots are randomly introduced and then never addressed, like a supporting character being seen being treated for depression and then quite literally not appearing in the film again.


“Lady Bird” at some times is brilliant and at others frustratingly mundane but the overall product is still something worth seeing. Gerwig, whose star has been rising for a few years now, shows that she has the chops to one day possibly create a truly great piece of cinema because as far as directorial debuts go, this is a very impressive first step and leaves us excited for her career.


Critics Rating: 8/10



‘The Flordia Project’ Depicts a Life You’re Glad You’re Not Living

The_Florida_ProjectIt’s like “Moonlight,” except with white people.


“The Florida Project” follows a 6-year old named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a motel with her mother (Bria Vinaite) in Florida. Together they find ways to get into trouble and make ends meet. Willem Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones also star as Sean Baker directs and co-writes.


When I say this is a lot like “Moonlight” it is because they depict a young impoverished child living in south Florida, who must deal with the sins of their mother and learn that the world is not always the rainbows and smiles that the imagination of children would paint it to be. Just like “Moonlight” too, this features colorful cinematography, a solid musical score and an anchoring supporting performance from a father figure, while also suffering from some narrative flaws.


Right off the bat, Brooklynn Prince is a star in the making. She plays Moonee, who is equal parts lovable and annoying. She is the type of child you know means well but you can also tell that if she doesn’t get the right leadership she is going to grow up and fail to make anything of herself. Prince swears, ignores adults’ directions and gets other kids in trouble and does it with a smile on her face the whole time; she will get plenty of work moving forward in her career.


Wiliem Dafoe plays Bobby, the manager of the motel and he acts as the father figure for both Moonee and her mother, Halley. Dafoe has his normal growling way about him, but also realizes that this impoverished lifestyle is all Moonee and her friends have so he tries to give them as many benefit of the doubts as possible. He is a guardian angel character and on more than one occasion steps up to the plate to be a hero, which makes it all the more heart-breaking when he is powerless to come to the aid of Moonee and her mother when circumstances get out of his control.


As I said, the film looks and sounds great with the backdrop of Florida, with all of its graffiti and palm trees, acting almost as a character in its own right. It really shows that while cities like Orlando may be filled with tourists and gift shops, citizens of those areas rarely see the money brought in and struggle to make a life worth living.


The film’s biggest issue lies in its narrative, because despite running for 115 minutes there is only about 90 minutes worth of content in here. Characters get into trouble and then move on to the next plot point, with no real development happening along the way. They attempt to throw in a small plot twist towards the end however most people will see it coming the very first time it’s hinted at. And, without spoiling anything, by the time we reach the climax the final five minutes are over-the-top and not what the movie deserved to end on.


“The Florida Project” is well acted and does a nice job depicting a life rarely shown in cinema. While you will be thankful you never have to live in the same circumstances as its characters—and even more thankful that you won’t have to spend time with them in real life—it is an honest film that on the rare occasion scratches the surface of great.


Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is Solid, Formulaic Marvel Fun

Thor_Ragnarok_posterFor what it’s worth, this is the best of both the “Thor” trilogy and the recent Marvel entries.


“Thor: Ragnarok” is the 17th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and features the God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) needing to team up with his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a scavenger (Tessa Thompson) to defeat his evil sister (Cate Blanchett). Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban and Anthony Hopkins also star as Kiwi director Taika Waititi helms his first Hollywood film.


I enjoy the first “Thor” overall, I certainly think it’s more enjoyable than people give it credit for, however the second film, “The Dark World,” is hands-down the worst Marvel movie and arguably the only genuinely bad film of the franchise. So while I wasn’t over-the-moon excited for “Ragnrok” it is a Marvel movie so obviously I was going to check it out, and it ended up being a fun film that sticks to the Marvel formula, for better or worse.


Chris Hemsworth has shown in films like “Vacation” and “Ghostbusters” that comedy may be his true calling, and he has always been able to deliver some nice deadpan lines in Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” films. After noting he was getting “bored” with the character, here he is given a chance to give almost a straight-up comedic performance with quips coming left and right, even in some of the film’s more serious moments. This is one of the film’s flaws, same with any Marvel film, because a somber or intense moment will be ruined because someone just *had* to crack a one-liner.


The supporting cast all do a great job, with newcomers Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum standing out. Thompson is beautiful yet intimidating and is a welcome addition to the MCU while Goldblum basically plays his witty, neurotic self as the leader of the planet Thor lands on. And, of course, Tom Hiddleston is fantastic fun as fan-favorite Loki.


Cate Blanchett joins the MCU as Hela, the goddess of death, and…I mean at least she seems to be having fun(?) She hams it up, wears an antler helmet and thick black eyeliner, and the bar to be the second-best Marvel villain behind Loki is very low. However her character and story feels almost unnecessary, as there is already a lot going on with Thor trying to escape a planet. Cutting back to her every ten minutes to remind the audience she exists creates narrative and pacing issues, and by the time we return to Asgard we feel no real threat or cause for her mission and she just feels like an afterthought.


The action and effects are some of the best I’ve seen in a Marvel movie, with two fights in particular being very fun (there’s something about Thor throwing down with his hammer that always puts a smile on my face). However (if you’re catching the trend) the film suffers from the same fate as previous Marvel films where the climax is just faceless bad guys getting killed in endless waves by our heroes.


There is a lot to like in “Thor: Ragnarok” and it kicks off a blockbuster-filled final two months of 2017. It is better than the previous half-dozen Marvel films (not including “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and serves as a nice return-to-form for the Marvel formula, and for most popcorn loving audience members that will be enough.


Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ is Not the Worst Thing Ever

220px-BooMadea2PosterAlways refreshing when a movie is exactly what the trailers and cast imply it’s going to be.

“Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” is the sequel to last year’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” (very clever naming going on here) and the 10th installment of Tyler Perry’s series. The film features Perry again playing several characters, including the titular one while rocking drag, and follows Madea and her friends trying to rescue her niece from a haunted lake. Perry writes and directs.

Last October, my friend and I saw the first “Madea Halloween” on a whim following the bad taste left in our mouth following “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” and it was a blast. After they announced a sequel, I was ironically excited because the first film was so trashy yet funny and was a great theater experience. And I wasn’t disappointed, as “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” is lazy, juvenile and fundamentally flawed and it was everything I wanted it to be.

From a filmmaking perspective, the “Madea” films aren’t very sound. The cinematography is uninspired, the editing drags and the writing is barrel-scraping. Nothing is new here, with the film looking like one that was made for just $25 million in Georgia.

Everything that was an issue with the first film remains here, with scenes lasting for far too long and the plot running out of steam about halfway through the 100 minute runtime. Perry writes all the best lines for himself and leaves scraps for the rest of the cast, so whenever Madea, Brian or Uncle Joe aren’t delivering dialogue, expect it to be exposition or a cringe-inducing swing-and-a-miss joke.

Also, as with the first time around, Patrice Lovely’s character is gratingly annoying with her slurred speech and twisting hands and facial features. I didn’t find her amusing the initial go-around and it didn’t work for me here.

Perry has said that he initially submitted the film and it received an R rating so he did some edits to get it down to PG-13. Those changes are very noticeable, as there are parts where the characters mouth the f-word or say “bullcrap” but their mouths clearly are being dubbed over the original dialogue. Once or twice is fine, most movies have audio glitches, but this occurs about ten times during the film and it was distracting when it did.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “David, you said you enjoyed the film, why are you knocking it so hard?” And that’s because I have to do my job as a critic and be honest with you; this film is not that good.


The audience and my friends and I were laughing hysterically throughout the show, and as with the first one this is a film that demands to be seen with either alcohol or in a crowded auditorium. From Perry’s Uncle Joe character continuously saying “bruh” to his sister to just the physical sight gag of a grown man in a dress and wig getting in a verbal confrontation, there is just something endearing to me about how dedicated Tyler Perry is to his films (it helps motivate you when your annual salary is $80 million, but).


If you can the forgive flaws of basic plots and scenes that run on for far too long with seemingly no purpose, then as with the first film I really do think that this is a fun time at the movies. The critic in me wants to tell you to stay away and spend your time checking out something like “Only the Brave” or “The Meyerowitz Stories” but then my 23-year-old mind takes over and realizes that at the end of the day, flaws or no flaws, we see movies to be entertained. And for one reason or another, “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” does just that.


Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ a Dysfunctional Family Dramedy That Excels

The_Meyerowitz_StoriesYou know the apocalypse is approaching when one of the year’s best films stars Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller.


“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is the latest film from writer-director Noah Baumbach and stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as a dysfunctional family living in New York City.


Netflix has had a rough start to their Oscar-hopeful campaigns, seemingly unable to land enough momentum to get the likes of Idris Elba recognition from the Academy (although they have several Best Documentary nods). Here’s hoping they can figure out how to copy Amazon’s success, because “The Meyerowitz Stories” is a funny, touching film with some incredible performances and a sharp script.


Adam Sandler has long been a Hollywood punchline, with him owning some of the most critically-panned films of the past decade (“Jack and Jill” and “That’s My Boy” among them). However he has occasionally taken breaks from his slapstick Happy Madison schlock to give darkly comedic and successful performances in films like “Drunk-Punch-Love” and “Funny People.”


In “The Meyerowitz Stories,” Sandler plays a divorced father who has to live in the shadow of his ungrateful father and successful brother, all while dealing with sending his daughter away to college. Sandler is still playing a man-child of sorts, a role he is all too familiar with, but he is able to show a sympathetic side, and it makes us not understand why he keeps trying to impress and appease his father when it’s clear the feelings are not reciprocated.


Ben Stiller essentially plays himself, but is given two scenes—one of shouting and one of tears—that let him flex his real acting muscles and it is probably the best performance of his career (for whatever that’s worth to you).


Dustin Hoffman gives a welcome return to form as the boys’ father and his quick, often-unrelated responses are very entertaining. It’s always nice to see Emma Thompson pop up in things, but she feels like an extended cameo playing Hoffman’s fourth wife.


Baumbach’s script is Aaron Sorkin-esque at times, with rapid fire delivery and offbeat retorts from characters. A running joke is Sandler limping and when a character calls him on it he responds “it’s always worse after I’ve been sitting;” I don’t know, I laughed every time.


My biggest complaint with the film is its final act, which gets a little abstract and artsy. It’s just such a random diversion from what the first hour 30 is that it was a bit off-putting and almost feels like it was directed by a different person.


“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” showcases arguably career-best performances from Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller and features a welcome turn from Dustin Hoffman, offering up some relatable family dramedy in the process. I really enjoyed this movie and implore you to check it out on Netflix, because the more people see and talk about it the better the chances its cast and crew get the recognition they deserve.


Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Happy Death Day’ Worth Taking a Stab At

happy_death_day_posterI’ve seen people comparing this film to “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” but have we all forgotten about this past February’s “Before I Fall?”


“Happy Death Day” stars Jessica Rothe as a college girl who is murdered on her birthday, only to wake up and realize she is reliving the same day on a loop. In order to break the cycle, she must find out who her killer is and stop her own murder. Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine and Rachel Matthews also star as Christopher Landon directs.


I’m not a huge scary movie guy, mostly because I just don’t get frightened by them very often so it’s a lot like not laughing at comedies. That being said, two of my favorite scary movies are “Scream” and “Disturbia;” their meta humor and slasher kills are a great time (director Landon wrote the latter film). So while “Death Day” isn’t going to rewrite the genre like “Scream” did 20 years ago, it is a fun time with just enough wit to overpower its more simplistic flaws.


A film like this really needs to just succeed at giving the audience a good time and at that it very much does the job. Jessica Rothe’s Theresa starts out snobby and short (my friend leaned over to me in the first 30 seconds and said “ugh she deserves to get stabbed”) but as the film goes on Theresa learns how to be a better person. Along the way, Rothe is able to keep the edge about her character, while showing some vulnerabilities and dark humor along the way.


The film’s masked killer is no Ghostface—kids won’t be wearing the one-toothed baby face for Halloween anytime soon—but it is unsettling enough to see standing at the end of a darkly lit tunnel or peep out from around the corner.


The film’s reveal and twists are simultaneously clever and dumb for reasons I won’t get into, but I guess just know that while the payoff likely isn’t as satisfying as one could hope, the film doubles-down on jumping the shark in the final act and I did appreciate that.


The reveal also throws continuity and plausibility out the window but in a film like this who cares?


There really isn’t much more to say about “Happy Death Day;” it’s just a fun time. It has some flashes of creativity and originality and others of basic horror film tropes but we can’t expect game-changers like “Scream” to come around all-too-often. If you thought the trailers to this film looked stupid [raises hand], trust me, the final product is a lot more satisfying than the cover suggested.


And just like our main character, I wouldn’t mind going through and experiencing it again.


Critics Rating: 7/10