NOBODY (2021)

March 25, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Revenge movies have long been popular because they let us live out the fantasy of getting even … a chance real life rarely offers. Of course, few of us actually cross paths with Russian mobsters or have a secret life that requires our government personnel file be redacted. But all of the above is in play for director Ilya Naishuller’s first feature film since his debut, HARDCORE HENRY (2015), an innovate POV action/sci-fi movie.

While watching this, numerous other movies kept popping into my head, but front-and-center were the JOHN WICK movies. It wasn’t until afterwards that I discovered this film’s writer was Derek Kolstad, the creator and writer of the first three John Wick movies to date. Knowing that leads to the obvious comparison of leading men – Keanu Reeves versus Bob Odenkirk. Yep, the same Bob Odenkirk who owns the Saul Goodman role from “Breaking Bad” and its terrific spinoff, “Better Call Saul”. And nope, he’s not as cool as Keanu, but it’s the risk of casting against type that prevents this from being same old, same old.

Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a suburban husband and father, working as a bookkeeper at the shop owned by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside, TOTAL RECALL, 1990). A brilliantly edited opening sequence shows us the daily drudgery of Hutch’s life. The rapid cuts tell the story of a man whose existence involves taking the bus to a dead-end job, filling his coffee cup, receiving little respect or affection from family, and yelling at the backend of a garbage truck. Things only get worse when, one night, intruders break into his home. His teenage son (Gage Munroe) springs into action, but Hutch freezes, and is viewed as weak by just about everyone.

It’s at this point where Hutch awakens – his secret past coming back to life. Now you might chuckle a bit at the thought of Odenkirk playing a man who once was so dangerous, he was known as an “auditor” … the last person you want to see at your door. Well, that’s not likely to be your last chuckle, because the over-the-top moments are just getting started. Hutch fights a group of thugs on a city bus, and the one that dies just happens to be the little brother of Russian mobster kingpin Yulian, played with gusto by Aleksey Serebryakov (LEVIATHAN, 2014). Like us, Yulian underestimates Hutch, and most of the movie is spent with every living Russian gangster trying to end Hutch.

Hopefully by now you have intuited that Naishuller’s movie is cartoonish in nature, and has no sense of realism or logic. If you’re not quite sure yet, you should know that 82 year old Christopher Lloyd (as Hutch’s ex-FBI father) joins in on the action – and I mean, he actually joins in on the shootouts. Think of “Mayhem” from the Allstate commercials and you get some idea of the exaggerated shoot ‘em up/ blow ‘em up nature of the action. Connie Nielsen (GLADIATOR, 2000) plays Hutch’s wife and RZA plays Hutch’s equally talented brother.

If one squints and twists, there is some insight into today’s emasculated male – those more likely to bake lasagna than take down an intruder. But mostly it’s just exaggerated revenge action in a way that mirrors John Wick, rather than DEATH WISH (1974) or STRAW DOGS (1971). Director Naishuller gets extra credit for poking fun at the never-ending ammo issue in most action movies, and it might have benefitted from a bit more humor along the lines of the kitty cat bracelet. Fans of the John Wick movies will likely find enjoyment here, but probably “nobody” else … especially those looking for Saul Goodman cleverness.

This film opens March 26, 2021

WATCH THE (Red Band) TRAILER


SENIOR MOMENT (2021)

March 25, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Making concessions to age is something all of us deal with … even former test pilots – although some of them might be a bit less inclined to adapt. Such is the case with Victor Martin. He’s in his 70’s and still enjoys ogling beautiful younger women and zipping around Palm Springs in his vintage Porsche convertible. Some might call it cliché or even pathetic, but Victor and his lifelong pal Sal Spinelli are enjoying life.

Director Giorgio Serafini is working from a script by co-writers Kurt Brungardt and Christopher Momenee, and the first thing viewers must overcome is the casting. See, Victor is played by William Shatner and Sal by Christopher Lloyd. Yep, Captain Kirk from STAR TREK and Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE are the senior citizen buddies living it up. Both actors seem to be having a good time, and seeing the two men on screen together is quite pleasing.

All good things come to an end, and when the city’s new DA cracks down on dangerous elderly drivers, Victor has his license revoked and his treasured car impounded. He’s frustrated, but by happenstance meets Caroline Summers (a terrific Jean Smart). The two are polar opposites, yet there’s a clear connection. She’s a former National Geographic photographer who now owns and runs the local Cuckoo Café – so named despite the titular time piece not being in working order. Caroline is a free-spirited former hippie, and her organic diet contrasts with Victor’s processed honey buns.

Victor admits he’s “still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up”, but he soon realizes his attraction to Caroline has impacted him more than he expected. It’s an awkward romance made more challenging by the presence of artist Diego Lozana (Esai Morales) and Caroline’s mystical belief in the story attached to the cuckoo clock. The film is loaded with lunacy and is not one that benefits from viewers who prefer thoughtful messages. This is designed to be mostly light-hearted fun with an element of late-in-life romance tossed in for good measure.

As a gift to its target audience, Ruta Lee (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, 1954) makes a brief appearance, and of particular note is the final screen appearance by Kaye Ballard (she died at age 93). Also appearing in the supporting cast are Don McManus, Joe Estevez, and Jack Wallace. Maja Stojan plays Sonja, Caroline’s daughter, Carlos Miranda plays Pablo Torres, and director Serafini’s wife, LaDon Drummond makes an appearance as one of Victor’s former flings.

The film has faced numerous delays since it wrapped, and lead William Shatner just recently turned 90 years of age. It’s rare when a movie involves a broken cuckoo clock and a tortoise photo, but it’s even less common for the focus to be on humor and a romance between senior citizens. This is one that plays to its intended audience, and doesn’t much care about the rest.

In theaters and On Demand on March 26, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


CLUE (1985) revisited

October 12, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. All movie watchers have at least two categories of films: those they will watch any time of any day, even if they can only catch a few minutes; and those they can’t imagine ever watching again since the first time through was so painful/miserable/boring/unentertaining. Now you may have other sub-categories as well, but you likely have at least those two. For me, the first category (the good one) includes both GODFATHER movies, PULP FICTION, THE RIGHT STUFF, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, JAWS, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, REAR WINDOW, and well … there are actually far too many to list!  The second category is comprised of: THE BOUNTY HUNTER, PROBLEM CHILD, BORAT, TORCHLIGHT, DEATH BECOMES HER, CADDYSHACK 2, just about every Jerry Lewis movie without Dean Martin, and well … there are plenty more, but I’m getting a bit nauseous thinking about this.

The point is that for 33 years, CLUE has been on my ‘never-watch-again’ list. All these years later, I’m unable to provide any specifics about my initial viewing experience, other than it featured Martin Mull (never been a fan) and was entirely too silly and over-the-top for my ‘highly refined’ tastes (although I like “The Three Stooges” and Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panther movies)  A friend, whose movie judgment I trust, has been encouraging/goading me into giving CLUE another try … to the extreme that she recently gifted me the DVD, thereby removing inconvenience as an excuse for avoiding it any longer. Anyone familiar with my “revisited” blog entries will know that what follows won’t be a traditional movie review. Expect some scattershooting.

So here I sit, pondering the movie universe and the ramifications of my having very much enjoyed this second viewing of CLUE – laughing many times and making note of just how clever it is … even amidst the packaging of silliness and slapstick in which it comes wrapped. There are, as you might imagine, some odd things associated with the film. First of all, it’s based on a Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) board game. Would you be excited about a Checkers movie?  How about Yahtzee or Candyland? Doubtful. Next, few films have a writer/director like Jonathan Lynn. Mr. Lynn is Cambridge educated, has written best-selling books, is known for a popular British TV series, produced and directed many stage plays, is an accomplished actor – he even played Hitler on stage (in a comedy), and has directed other comedy films such as MY COUSIN VINNY (1992) and THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (2000) . In yet another odd twist, Mr. Lynn co-wrote the CLUE screenplay with John Landis, who of course, directed the comedy classics ANMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980).

Set in a creepy New England mansion on a stormy 1954 evening – replete with on-cue thunder and lightning – the twice Oscar nominated composer John Morris (he co-wrote the BLAZING SADDLES theme with Mel Brooks) greets us with a tongue-in-cheek score seemingly sampled from every late night horror movie from the 1950’s. A group of splendidly dressed guests are arriving for a dinner party after each received a mysterious and provocative letter from the evening’s anonymous host. We soon learn that the letters’ connective tissue is that each of these folks are somehow associated with … GASP … the government!  Even in 1985, this was a sure-fire way to characterize people as villainous.

It doesn’t take long for the first murder to occur, and other dead bodies are soon to follow – each in mysterious ways – leaving much doubt, and no shortage of suspects, as to the identity of the culprit. In fact, no one is to be trusted (other than possibly those already murdered). The confined environment of the mansion adds to the suspense, confusion, and comedy of the proceedings – as does a stellar cast of actors who know how to be funny in a serious kind of way.

Tim Curry stars as Wadsworth, who we assume is the butler and the fast talker and walker who seems to be running the show for the unknown host. Mr. Curry, of course, is forever enshrined in midnight movie lore as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Wadsworth is assisted in the evening’s affairs by Yvette, played with jiggly wonder by Colleen Camp in a French maid uniform barely able to contain her assets. Ms. Camp has been a hard working actress since the 1970’s, was a two-time Razzie nominee in the 90’s, and can also be seen in this year’s THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. The guests include Mrs. Peacock, played by Eileen Brennan, best known as the sadistic Drill Instructor in PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980) and the heart-of-gold waitress in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971); the dressed in black Mrs. White, played by comedy giant and two-time Oscar nominee Madeline Kahn, so terrific in her memorable roles in BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN; Mr. Plum, played by Christopher Lloyd, his shock of white hair highlighting the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise; Mr. Green, played by Michael McKean who only the year before was David St Hubbins in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, has been recently seen as savant lawyer Chuck McGill on “Better Call Saul”, and is likely the only relative of a signer of the Declaration of Independence in the movie; Colonel Mustard, played by the aforementioned Martin Mull whose career covers stand-up comedy, songwriting, TV series, movies, pro football, and his love of art; Miss Scarlet, played Lesley Ann Warren, nominated the previous year for her role in VICTOR VICTORIA, the star of one of my favorite offbeat 80’s films CHOOSE ME, and whose ex-husband John Peters was executive producer on CLUE; and finally, Mr. Boddy played by Lee Ving, known best for his punk rock band Fear. There are also a few cameos worth noting: Howard Hesseman from “WKRP in Cincinnati” appears as The Chief; Jane Wiedlin, a founding member of the band The Go-Gos who had a mega-hit with “Vacation” has a brief appearance as The Singing Telegram Girl; and Bill Henderson appears as a cop – this after a jazz singing career that crossed paths with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and others. Sharp-eyed viewers might also recognize the stranded motorist as actor Jeffrey Kramer, seen in JAWS as the deputy putting out ‘Beach Closed’ signs.

Filmmakers Lynn and Landis drew inspiration not just from the board game, but also such films as Neil Simon’s MURDER BY DEATH (1976, with Eileen Brennan), Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945) and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965, based on Ms. Christie’s stage version), and William Castle’s classic horror film HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959). CLUE has a very theatrical look and feel, as something that would work equally well on stage as on screen. The strong presence of Tim Curry almost forces us to notice some similarities to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, though CLUE offers no musical interludes – other than the exceptional use of the song “Life is But a Dream”.

As far as I know, CLUE was the first film to be distributed to theatres with three different endings (quite a feat for a murder mystery). With the initial release, you were likely to see a different ending than someone at a theatre across town. Fortunately, the Blu-Ray version provides all three – none more likely or reasonable than the other (that’s part of the gag). Fox recently announced a remake of CLUE starring Ryan Reynolds is in the works. Expect it to look much different than the 1985 version. Many of the jokes from the film wouldn’t be acceptable or tolerated in this current age of political correctness, yet Madeline Kahn, with her impeccable comedic delivery offers up the timeless line: “Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage”. Yes, the film is campy and screwball and filled with slapstick. However, it may also be described as a crackling-dialogue-driven, whip-smart whodunit movie dressed up as an outrageous slapstick comedy … something I failed to recognize on my first viewing more than 30 years ago. Consider that mistake corrected.

watch the trailer:

 


BOUNDARIES (2018)

July 6, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the more recent cinematic trends has been stories involving an adult child facing the plight of caring for an elderly parent. Some have chosen the comedic route, while others lean towards the all-too-real burden carried by care-givers. Writer-director Shana Feste (COUNTRY STRONG, 2010) continues her streak of tolerable fluff in this tale of a stressed single mother raising a challenging teenager while also dealing with daddy issues, and the octogenarian daddy at the source.

The film opens with said stressed mother Laura Jaconi (played by Vera Farmiga) in the midst of a therapy session as she talks through those long-simmering daddy issues … and we get the feeling these same discussions have occurred numerous times over the years. As an actress, Ms. Farmiga is at her best in frazzled mode, and here she’s a perfect fit. Her son Hoyt/Henry (Lewis McDougall, who was so good in A MONSTER CALLS) is a social misfit at his school, thanks in part to his mostly unwelcome and quite vivid artwork depicting faculty (and others) in various unclothed states. When he is expelled, private school becomes the best alternative, and Laura’s need for cash coincides with her estranged father’s (Christopher Plummer) simultaneous expulsion from his retirement center … for morality reasons.

Daughter Laura has her dad listed as “Don’t Pick Up” on her cell phone, and we understand before her that he is a rascal with a criminal streak. He even serves up an extremely rare pedophile joke – at the expense of his grandson. Laura’s ongoing challenges are intensified when circumstances require her to drive her and her son cross country in a classic Rolls Royce that never comes close to blending in with the surroundings. The purpose of the road trip is so the father/grandfather can make secretive pot-selling trips along the way. This allows for cameos from such recognizable folks as Peter Fonda, Christopher Lloyd and Bobby Cannavale, the latter of which is Laura’s ex-husband and biological father of her son.

Adding to the frenzy is Laura’s commitment to her real lot in life – that of serial animal rescuer. Dogs are EVERYWHERE throughout the film – to the point that her father labels her the Pied Piper of mange. These type of interactions, along with the ruse of adult diapers and a bow and arrow sequence keep the film on the verge of slapstick; however, we can never accept that we are supposed to get a comedic kick out of Laura’s too-much-to-handle lot, since it’s mostly depressing.

Kristen Schaal as Laura’s sister and insecure California goofball is always a welcome addition to any film, and Yahva Abdul-Mateen II brings a nice touch to one of the few characters we’d like to get to know better. Lousy childhood memories connected to present-day adult troubles just don’t combine for effective humor in the light that the filmmaker seems to be aiming for. Though well-acted, a grown woman still in need of daddy’s approval is just a bit too predictable and too much of a downer to work.

watch the trailer: