Third Course

The Trip to Spain

by George Wolf

“I’m asking you if you’ll come with me.”

Steve Coogan may be inviting his travel buddy Rob Brydon to join another tasty road trip, but he may as well be asking us if we’re game to ride shotgun.

Once again it’s a witty, breezy, sometimes utterly hilarious getaway.

If you’re hip to The Trip, The Trip to Italy or even the original The Trip TV series, you know what’s coming. For the uninitiated, it’s Steve and Rob playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour a particular region to sample the finest restaurants and write reviews for the U.K. Observer.

This time out The New York Times is in on the action, too, as our boys are off on The Trip to Spain. They’ll eat well, deliver sarcastic barbs (Rob: “We welcome Philomena back to the conversation, it’s been a good 5 or 6 minutes.”), and of course try to one up each other with dueling celebrity impersonations from Bowie to Brando and Mick Jagger doing Shakespeare.

But in Spain, Roger Moore becomes the new Michael Caine. After trading rapid-fire imitations, Steve detours into a lecture on the Spanish history of the Moors while Rob continues on as Roger.

It’s LMAO funny and the film’s most uproarious bit.

Director Michael Winterbottom is back for this third go ’round as well, and while you’re right to expect more of the same, all involved sense a need to deepen the characterizations.

Understandable, but ultimately a bit of a double edged sword.

There’s bittersweet humanity mined from how Steve and Rob have settled into separate lives, but as the running time begins to feel bloated, the sense that this premise is treading water makes the slightest of appearances.

Not enough to derail the journey, mind you. These boys are still good fun, and so is The Trip to Spain.



Goon Baby Goon

Goon: Last of the Enforcers

by George Wolf

Seven years ago, we got three successive blasts of fresh air released in roughly 18 months: Kick-Ass, Machete and Goon. Sequels for the first two quickly followed, each doomed by an approach that seemed oblivious to all that made their origin stories so appealing.

It’s taken quite a bit longer, but Goon: Last of the Enforcers is here to complete the unfortunate trifecta.

Lovable hockey goon/overall simpleton Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is touched to be named captain of his Halifax Highlanders squad, but when he’s beaten to a bloody mess by new goon on the block Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), Doug faces some tough decisions.

His girl Eva (Alison Pill) is pregnant and really doesn’t want him fighting anymore, so Doug takes a sad gig handling “insurance documents.” But with his team in disarray and a familiar itch to scratch, Doug starts training with old foe Ross Rhea (Liev Schrieber) for a possible return to the ice.

Familiar sports movie cliches follow, but that’s not what makes this new Goon so disappointing. The problems come from forgetting to give us any authentic reasons to care about Doug, or any attempts at humor that rise above sophomoric.

Jay Baruchel returns as co-star/co-writer, and takes the big chair for his debut as a feature director. His vision falls well short of the bawdy bulls-eye the first film delivered, sorely missing the script input from original co-writer Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express, This Is the End, Sausage Party, Superbad). Goldberg’s smart brand of humor is just what this film needs more of, as it relies instead on silly gags aiming for the lowest hanging fruit.

Also gone is the goon so easy to love. Doug is much too broadly drawn this time, reduced from a big-hearted brute we rooted for to a village idiot merely there to laugh at, not laugh with.

Goon was an underdog winner. Last of the Enforcers earns the penalty box.


Tale of Two Spitters

Patti Cake$

by George Wolf

Glamorous dreams in a hardscrabble town. Local rappers “spitting” in free-style battles, gunning for the neighborhood respect they that can’t get at home or work. A rousing hip-hop anthem showcasing star making talent.

Sure, Patti Cake$ often smells what 8 Mile was cooking, but writer/director Geremy Jasper’s feature debut is loaded with enough exuberant sincerity and earnest button-pushing to succeed on more levels than it probably should.

And since somebody mentioned star making, just try to turn your eyes away from Danielle Macdonald’s lead performance as Patti Dombrowski, a twenty-something bartender in New Jersey who stares across the river and dreams of NYC stardom.

While the kids still call her “Dumbo,” Patti calls herself “Killa P,” rapping her original rhymes with constant support from her pharmacist friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and no support from her drunky mom Barb (Inside Amy Schumer’s Bridget Everett).

But when scary new musician friend “Antichrist” (Mamoudou Athie, The Get Down‘s Grandmaster Flash) turns out to be pretty handy with the beat boxes and recording equipment, a homemade CD just might punch Patti’s ticket out of Jersey poverty.

Macdonald, a television vet plenty worthy of this move to features, keeps the entire film grounded in authenticity, which is good, because this entire film needs some grounding in authenticity.

While contrived events and manipulative strings may be pulled around her, Patti’s daily struggles never feel false. The ways she deals with drunks at her bar, a potential new boss at a job interview, or the failing health or her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty, nice to see despite being too young for the role) are filled with a mix of exhausted resignation and cautious optimism well known to countless Americans just trying to get ahead.

Jasper throws in enough stylish dream sequences and weirdly awkward close ups to expose both his inexperience and potential. What Patti Cake$ lacks in originality is made up in creative spirit, because like Patti, Jasper is a talent dreaming big.

With Macdonald as a perfect muse, he’s making sure his own homemade CD has too much fairy tale pixie dust to ignore, with a final track too proudly shameless to resist.

I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of August 28

Cutie pies—that’s what’s available for home entertainment this week. Whether you’re in the mood to eyeball ab-tastic beach bods or baby pandas (and we will totally judge you if you pick the wrong one), what hits your screen will be far cuter than it should legally be.

Click the title for a full review. And as always, please use this information for good, not evil.



Born in China


Fright Club: Best Hammer Horror

With more than 200 films to their credit, there are almost too many directions you can take when whittling down the best in Hammer horror. Ingrid Pitt could have her own countdown, and fans of the sultrier side of Hammer may be disappointed with this countdown. Fans of Terence Fisher should be pleased, though, but there are still many other films in their repertoire worthy of note, which is why Phantom Dark Dave joins us with his own list!

5. The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Terence Fisher directed many—most—of Hammer’s best films. The Devil Rides Out was his last good movie.

We open on Christopher Lee, tall and brooding, his hair slicked back and his goatee dark. He is the picture of Luciferian evil. But he’s the good guy, which is just one of the ways the film toys with you.

Lee is the wealthy, occult-intrigued de Richleau, and he’s trying—God help him!—to save the life of his young friend whose very soul is in the hands of the evil Mocata. (Rocky Horror’s Charles Gray, which, let’s be honest, may be why we love this movie. The man has no neck! It’s just a jump to the left! We digress.)

There’s a black mass followed by a white mass followed by a black mass. What more do you want from a Hammer film?

Well, if you want loads of extreme close-ups of Charles Gray’s evil looking eyes, then you are in luck!

4. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

It turns out, we have kind of a thing for Terence Fisher. Did not even know that until we started working on this list.

In this late-life sequel in Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise, the idea of the female equivalent gets upended in sometimes fascinating ways. The film’s prelude, as a little boy sneaks to watch his drunken father’s execution, sets the stage for a surprisingly touching yet moralistically ambiguous film. Hooray!

Yes, Hammer dried this well up, returning to the Frankenstein tale for sequels and re-toolings throughout the sixties and into the seventies. One constant – Cushing – never fails the picture. Committed to his evil doctor – whom he based on the real-life British Dr. Knox he would later portray in earnest in 1960’s Flesh and the Fiends – Cushing excels where the films around him fail.

This time, it’s the human soul (as well, of course, as the idea of the ideal woman) that preoccupies the doctor and the film. It’s a topic that generates surprisingly little traction in the world’s many Frankenstein efforts, and though this one is hardly flawless, it’s still consistently intriguing.

3. Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Beginning in the late 1950s, Britain’s Hammer studios begin making lurid period horror, banking on the awesome duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Their first collaboration was longtime Hammer director Terence Fisher’s take on the Shelley text, Curse of Frankenstein.

All bubbling potions and bunsen burners, Cushing’s laboratory (don’t forget to pronounce that middle ‘o’) is as fine a home to unholy alchemy as any. Jovially laissez-faire in matters of a moral nature, his sinister acts in the name of science are well played.

Cushing’s mad doctor is, at heart, a spoiled child. His behavior is outrageous, repugnant, but fascinating.

Christopher Lee made a fantastic Dracula – all elegance, height and menace. As Frankenstein’s monster, he’s rotty flesh, dead eye and sutures. Nasty! But the film’s real moment of genius was in making the doctor such a nonplussed agent of evil.

2. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

The great, sultry, unseemly Oliver Reed makes his big screen debut in this one as Leon, the stricken ward of Spanish wealth with a hairy, toothy secret. So, that is awesome, but it is hardly the most interesting thing about this Terence Fisher movie.

Set in 18th Century Spain, the film opens on a cruel nobleman’s imprisonment of a beggar, who rots in a dungeon for decades, his only reminder of humanity the jailer and his lovely mute daughter. Naturally, that daughter is nearly raped by the nobleman, tossed into prison, and subsequently raped by the beggar. The territory is about as dark as Hammer gets, and it raises a lot of questions. Like, why is his offspring a werewolf?

Never explained, but a wealthy man takes pity on the dying girl’s offspring, raises him up and protects him from his own darker self. This is where Oliver Reed shines, because very few actors were ever more convincing when it came to the idea that they had unsettling impulses.

Fisher’s real fascination here is just that duality of man, and with Hammer flourish and Reed’s overacting, he makes a big splash in investigating it.

1. Horror of Dracula (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but it’s Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher (what?!) uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still, the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

The Screening Room: Dreaming and Connecting

Click HERE to join us in the Screening Room to break down Leap!, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, Whose Streets?, Lemon, In This Corner of the World and what’s new in home entertainment!

Single White Follower

Ingrid Goes West

by George Wolf

Oh, look, some Hollywood elitists want to wag a finger in our general direction and lament how our obsession with social media connections keep us from making real ones. Can’t wait.

Hold on, Ingrid Goes West is smarter than your average wag, and the feature debut from director/co-writer Matt Spicer sports a welcome swagger that holds the film’s satirical bite just when you think it’s going soft.

Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid Thorburn, a shall-we-say “high strung” young woman in Pennsylvania who earns some mental health evaluation after an unsavory incident at a friend’s wedding. Ingrid’s spirits are lifted when she comments on a post by Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), and Taylor actually responds.


Newly motivated, Ingrid is off to California, where she finds a way to insert herself into Taylor’s perfect life, maybe make a boyfriend out of her Batman-obsessed landlord Dan (Straight Outta Compton‘s O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and definitely live out her social media fantasies.

Though Spicer freely uses contrivance to set up and maintain his narrative, the comedy is deliciously dark and the characters keep us invested even when they’re far from likable. Plaza (earning another producing credit) easily makes Ingrid an appealing mix of sympathetic and psychotic, while Olsen crafts the perfect embodiment of insufferably attractive hipster.

The metaphors aren’t always subtle, but Ingrid Goes West finds a delicate balance in its travels, one that understands the allure of a volatile facade.









by Hope Madden

Lemon announces itself immediately.

As a documentary on the horrors of war plays on a TV, the camera pans a drab living room, finding a man asleep upright on a sofa. He wakes to realize he’s wet himself.

He is Isaac. Isaac is a lemon.

The documentary Isaac had slept and peed through provides the context for a story in which one man can so obliviously wallow in self-inflicted misery.

In quick succession, Isaac will dismiss what his (randomly blind) girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer) has to say before publically humiliating a female student (Gillian Jacobs). Both are too focused on themselves.

Why aren’t they focused on him?

Co-writer Brett Gelman plays Isaac, a send-up of sorts of the self-pitying hero of so many indies.

Director/co-writer Janicza Bravo borrows and rebrands independent film stylizing – from Wes Anderson to Jared Hess to Todd Solondz – to deliver a wry satire of the quirky worlds they create. Her framing, color palette, set design and timing offer spot-on re-renderings of the atmospheres created in a generation of arthouse movies that follow the unraveling lives of misunderstood, entitled outcasts.

Bravo peppers the film with a handful of perfectly discordant scenes: Isaac running up a road with a stroke-impaired old woman in a wheelchair; Isaac awkwardly threatening and then kissing Michael Cera; Isaac and his profoundly dysfunctional family participating merrily in a rendition of the song A Million Matzoh Balls.

Individually, these scenes are amazing. Truly. But they don’t string together to form a cohesive image or a compelling narrative.

Gelman’s intentionally weird and flat performance engages, in a trainwreck sort of way that suits the effort. You believe him. And many – most – of the performances around him are clever, individual and memorable. Their interactions and the story, slight as it is, strain the imagination, though.

Nia Long’s Cleo, for instance, seems included solely to allow for a new series of awkward moments. Long’s performance rings true, from her friendly introduction through her polite if wearied response to Isaac’s racist flirtation.

Her actions, however, defy logic in a way that exposes a narrative weakness you’re less likely to find in the films of Anderson, Hess or Solondz.

Todd Solondz knows what to do with an unlikeable protagonist. You won’t enjoy it, but he will not pull any punches and you will have closure. This is the problem with subverting the work of superior filmmakers – your film invariably suffers by comparison.

Which is not to say that Lemon has nothing to offer. It offers a pantload of intriguing character work and suggests the vision of a worthy director. The script just needed another draft.


Brother’s Keeper

Good Time

by Hope Madden

Regardless of the film’s title, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) does not appear to be having a Good Time.

Connie is trying to keep the system away from his mentally impaired brother Nick (Benny Safdie, who also co-writes and co-directs). He uses what means he has, none of which are legal.

After a botched bank robbery sees the brothers separated and Nick incarcerated, Connie engages in ever riskier behavior in a desperate attempt to save his brother.

Safdie, alongside his real brother and filmmaking partner Josh, once again explores an urban underbelly. The two have proven with films like their 2014 festival favorite Heaven Knows What that they can tell a deeply human story set on the fringe of society.

Good Time is a bit more high energy than Heaven Knows What, but once again the Safdies create a world that’s simultaneously alien and authentic. It’s hard to believe people live like this, and yet every moment of Connie’s increasingly erratic evening rings true. Nuts, but true.

Pattinson delivers his strongest performance yet. His glittering vampire days long behind him, he’s shown versatility in recent projects including Cosmopolis, The Rover and Maps to the Stars. Here he balances a seedy survival instinct with heart-wrenching loyalty and tenderness.

Everything Connie touches, he poisons. In Pattinson’s hands, he’s righteous enough to believe in his own cause, even when it means convincing himself that he’s protecting someone – his brother, a teenage girl, another lowlife looking for a score – who’d be better off without him.

Benny Safdie impresses in front of the camera as well as behind. His understated performance shows no sign of artificiality, and his skill as a filmmaker has never shined more brightly.

His gift for pacing that matches the hustle – the constant shifting, shuffling and scheming needed for survival – keeps Good Time both exhilarating and exhausting.

The film showcases the kind of desperation that fueled many a New York indie of the Seventies, Midnight Cowboy among them. The urgency of a quick con that could lead to freedom but will undoubtedly end in tragedy seems the only kind of choice Connie ever makes.

It’s a grim film full of bruised people, but it never loses hope entirely.


Timing is Everything


by Hope Madden

Who was not delighted and surprised by David Bautista’s runaway comedic performance in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy?

And truth be told, his turn in the sequel was funnier still. Dave Bautista is comic gold!

Drama, on the other hand, is still just a tad outside his grasp.

Bautista stars with Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) in Bushwick, a real-time(ish) survival adventure.

Lucy (Snow) brings a new beau home to her Brooklyn neighborhood Bushwick to meet the fam. Weirdly, there is not a soul in their subway station – aside from that screaming man who’s on fire. That’s extreme, even for New York.

Bombs, snipers and general mayhem greet the two as they try to leave the underground and head to Lucy’s grandma’s place. What is happening?

Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott want to take a minute before laying it all out for you. It’s not a bad narrative decision – having the audience share in Lucy’s confusion. The directors make a handful of worthy choices, the most provocative and obvious of which is the sleight of hand used to make the film look and feel like one long take.

Beyond the visual trickery employed to minimize the noticeability of cuts, most scenes are delivered as if caught in one take. Actors stumble over lines, for instance, in much the same way humans might when conversing.

There’s even a chance it could have even worked to generate urgency and underscore the raw, wild ride of the adventure if the writing weren’t so bad and the actors had talent.

Snow could not be more irritating or less believable and Bautista, God help us, is asked to deliver an earnest, emotionally devastated monolog.

He’s awful, but he’s not alone. Everyone is. In fact, the most common comment in my notes from the film: This is so bad.

The one reason the film may stick out this weekend is its utterly amazing timing.

Bushwick has been invaded by a well-armed, organized militia of entitled racists.

Shut the F up.

The film won’t satisfy your blood lust, your peaceful dreams or your hope for a decent movie. But damn, its timing is eerie.