Change My Mind

Replicas

by Hope Madden

Sometimes, dead is better.

That Stephen King quote flashed through my mind as I watched Replicas, Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s SciFi thriller starring Keanu Reeves.

Reeves is William Foster, a scientist working nobly to put human consciousness into robots because this way we can save so many dying soldiers. I’m confident they would totally want to come back as robots.

Foster quickly loses his family in a car accident, his bestie (Thomas Middleditch) conveniently dabbles in cloning, and the mad duo concoct a plan to combine their specialties and bring the Foster family back to life.

Back one step: Will Foster loses his family in a car accident. This requires Reeves to emote.

I would call that Problem #1, but I already covered the plot.

Nachmanoff and writers Chad St. John and Stephen Hamel deserve credit for quietly upending the ages-long moral conundrum at the center of any cloning/Frankenstein/AI film. Good for them for opting out of Judeo Christian finger-wagging.

Also, Alice Eve—when she’s allowed to do something besides look good sleeping—offers a nuanced and often funny performance that makes the most of the moral quagmire the story articulates.

How capable is Reeves at lobbying back answers to her profound and life-altering accusations?

I think you know.

Reeves has proven to have some heretofore unimagined talents via recent supporting turns in The Bad Batch and Neon Demon. His hollow performance in John Wick works strangely well, too. But as a scientist struggling with enormous moral choices and debilitating grief? It is distracting enough that I almost didn’t notice those plot holes I kept falling into.

That King quote didn’t flash through my mind as I thought about the Foster family and their existential paradox. I was thinking about me having to sit through this movie.

 

JLo Goes Low

Second Act

by Brandon Thomas

1998 was a good year to be a fan of Jennifer Lopez. She had just come off of a great turn as Selena Quintanilla in Selena, and her performance as Karen Sisco in Out of Sight made even more people stand up and take notice. Unfortunately, in the following years, movies like The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan and Gigli showed that the promise of 1998 was an outlier. Second Act continues that storied tradition of mediocrity.

On the surface, life looks pretty good for Maya (Lopez). She has a job she excels at and enjoys; has a great partner (Milo Ventimiglia); and is surrounded by supportive family and friends. After she’s passed over for a promotion due to her lack of a college education, Maya’s confidence in her life choices start to crumble. When her genius nephew spruces up her resume with a few white lies, Maya lands an opportunity that allows her to use her natural skills, but also forces her to pretend to be someone she’s not.

Second Act is a confusing mix of several different kinds of comedies. There’s the romance straight out of the romantic comedy, pratfalls and potty humor from the Apatow camp, and a gee-whiz camaraderie angle that left me wondering if magic pants were about to come into play.

None of these approaches works.

Lopez is completely out of her element with the physical comedy. She sells tripping over a barrier about as convincingly as Denise Richards did playing a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough. Not helping is her complete lack of comedic chemistry with co-stars Leah Remini, Treat Williams and Dave Foley. When the top comedic performance of the movie is delivered by Charlyne Yi… there’s a problem.

The film’s entire structure is supported by the worst kind of cliches: Maya’s lie and the hoops she has to jump through to keep the lie alive; the workplace competition that was tired in 2013 when The Internship did it; and a lazy second act reveal so bad it’d feel out of place in a Hallmark Christmas movie. Second Act is a Frankenstein’s monster of plot points from already terrible movies.

This is a movie that your mom who sees one movie a year will probably love. For the rest of us, it’s the worst movie of 2002 that somehow got released in 2018.

The Badness of King George

Rampage

by Matt Weiner

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I miss the cohesive vision of Battleship, a movie that is no longer the dullest adaptation of a game. That’s because Rampage exists, the latest video game adaptation to suggest that Hollywood is intentionally tanking these things to convince audiences that movies are a superior medium.

To be fair, there are far worse adaptations out there. Rampage reunites director Brad Peyton with disasters, Dwayne Johnson and green screen destruction, last seen together in San Andreas (2015). Peyton knows how to keep the action moving along, and Johnson is extremely adept by now at oozing charm no matter how nonsensical the material.

Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye, whose beloved gorilla George is one of three beasts who fall victim to rogue genetic engineering and cut a destructive path through the country as they all converge on the company responsible for their mutation.

Because some tension is needed to pad out the sparse story, Okoye is joined by genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) and government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who all have reservations teaming up at first but come to learn that they have more in common than not. For example, they are the only three people involved in the relief effort who think maybe it’s not a good idea to level a major American city.

Sure, the plot is inane and the dialogue breaks new ground in expository heights—especially from the film’s human antagonists, corporate baddies Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Åckerman and Jake Lacy, who do about as much as possible for being tasked with Explaining Things We Just Saw a Minute Ago).

Rampage’s script-by-committee strives to meet some golden ratio of one-liners and world-ending peril. And the cast is game, plainly knowing what they’ve signed onto. But something still feels off, and it’s a fatal problem for a movie like this when the biggest tension isn’t onscreen but rather a nagging conflict between millions of dollars and who knows how many studio honchos never quite committing to whether this should be a serious property or a popcorn flick.

While the Rampage video game series managed to pay tribute to its monster movie conventions as much as it tore them down, all of that gets ignored for something so by-the-numbers that the number of people credited for the screenplay is the only thing less believable than the movie’s treatment of genetics. (Also physics.)

And as if Rampage needed any more off-screen problems, Warner Bros. isn’t doing themselves any favors by reminding people of King Kong and Godzilla at a time when the studio’s “MonsterVerse” is giving those properties insightful, visually distinct and even daring reboots.

If you’re under the age of 13 and might enjoy seeing The Rock swap crude jokes with a CGI gorilla—or if you’re over the age of 30 and have an inexplicably intense connection to a niche video game series—then there’s a chance Rampage is for you.

Otherwise, it’s a muddled genre substitute for the real thing. Save your quarters.

 

 

The Longest Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight

by Hope Madden

Have you ever wondered what kind of chaos would ensue if both Optimus Prime and Megatron just disappeared?

Nope? Well, what if we could work the Transformers story and the King Arthur story into one?

No interest?

Cars, robots, explosions, needless sentiment and a girl who looks alarmingly like Megan Fox in tight clothes?

Let’s be honest, either you’re going to see Transformers: The Last Knight or you are not. Nothing I say is going to sway you one direction or another. But I had to see it. So I’m saying some stuff.

The latest installment in Michael Bay’s toy franchise might actually be more palatable than any of its predecessors. The story borders on being coherent. The action is far more clearly presented than usual. The racism is somewhat muted. There’s less sentimentality.

Also, Bay – not known to have a sense of humor at all – flirts with self-referential comedy now and again. Sure, he steals whole cloth from Alien, Terminator, Star Wars, Short Circuit – but he jokes about it, so it’s cool.

There’s also a strong female character – Vivian (Laura Haddock). We shouldn’t question her strength just because she’s convinced to do something when a male character yells, “Do it. Now!”

Twice.

But the costume changes have to raise an eyebrow. In the car ride she wears one outfit, she gets out of the car in another, goes back home to change, goes directly to a submarine in another outfit, gets off the submarine in another outfit – where are all these clothes coming from?!

And, in case you’re betting, Michael Bay is not above shooting down the shirt of an under-aged girl (Isabel Moner – here playing Needless Emotional Youngster).

All of which could have been almost tolerable, until it occurred to me that we were 70 minutes in and the plot had still not been explained. Then more than 90 minutes in and the hero (not Mark Wahlberg, the real hero) hadn’t joined the cast.

Transformers: The Last Knight is long.

So.
Fucking.
Long.

So needlessly long. So unendurably long. It’s a movie about toy trucks that turn into robots who fight with each other. For the love of God, can we cap it at 2 hours?

Nope.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

What About Above Her Neck?

Below Her Mouth

by Hope Madden

In a world where thin, beautiful, braless women look hot at work, stare longingly at each other and writhe sensually across the screen, are we supposed to see art where art is not just because Below Her Mouth is a film made by and (ostensibly) for women?

Writer Stephanie Fabrizi and director April Mullen – with an entirely female crew – bring to life the threadbare tale of an uptight good girl whose wild side is ignited by a chance encounter with a bad boy.

The fact that the bad boy is female is beside the point.

No, unfortunately, it is the only point.

Dallas and Jasmine – I swear to God, those are their names – are stiffly played by Erika Linder and Natalie Krill, respectively. Both cut impressive figures and are clearly comfortable with nudity.

Their chemistry is forced and inauthentic, their dialog weak, their storyline nearly nonexistent. What little plot there is – straight, engaged Jasmine indulges her fantasy with Bowie-esque roofer Dallas while her beau is out of town – feels more like porn than like a real movie.

There’s a reason for that.

Below Her Mouth is bound to garner comparisons to Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color – to its terminal detriment. Though Blue has its flaws, it tells a powerful story very well and boasts utterly brilliant performances. And, like Alain Guiraudie’s equally sexually graphic Stranger by the Lake, Blue’s vivid – almost exhausting- carnality supports the narrative.

Below Her Mouth strings together almost enough narrative to frame a dozen or two sex scenes.

Is there something to be said for taking that oh-so-heterosexual film structure (good girl/bad boy, not porn) and upending it? Shouldn’t Mullen be praised for subverting ideas of sexual objectification – if that’s what she’s doing? (We can objectify us just as much as you can – is that the theme at work here?)

Should she be applauded for bringing an entirely female-made film to our theaters?

No. Because the movie sucks.

Verdict-1-5-Stars

Do You Smell That?

Mechanic: Resurrection

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Who smells hot trash? Is it a dumpster fire?

No, it’s just the latest Jason Statham movie.

Mechanic: Resurrection revisits the by-the-numbers Statham character Arthur Bishop. Back in 2011, Statham reprised the role first held by Charles Bronson in a middling-to-fair remake of The Mechanic. That film inexplicably merited a sequel that was not direct-to-home-viewing. Why that is confounds us.

Get nervous Gods of Egypt and London has FallenMechanic: Resurrection wants that “worst film of the year” award, and it is not above soiling itself with incompetence to get it.

“WHO SENT YOU??!!”

Bishop faked his own death years back so he could escape his pointless existence as an assassin, but an old enemy has tracked him down. And brought henchmen! And kidnapped master thespian Jessica Alba! Damn this confining shirt!

“WHERE’S CAINE?!!”

Statham removes his shirt no fewer than 8 times in the film’s 99-minute running time. That’s almost once every ten minutes. The man is 49, so good for him, and for that core audience he’s built over a career of shirtless man-on-man action.

“PLAYTIME’S OVER!!”

Alba’s character development is more nuanced. She keeps her shirt on, but it’s always clingy and sometimes…even wet.

Remember how great Statham was in last year’s Spy? His turn as Rick Ford, uber-macho super agent, was hilarious specifically because it was sending up ludicrous movies just like Mechanic: Resurrection.

Bishop criss-crosses the globe with nary a toothbrush, yet at a moment’s notice he has access to countless bomb-making chemicals, ammunition, kick ass scuba equipment and multiple expensive watches. Then, before Bishop has to dive into shark-infested waters, the film is careful to show him applying a shark repellent lotion (patent pending), just to keep it real. Come on, by that point we’re expecting any sharks to have lasers on their heads on a direct order from Dr. Evil.

The sad thing is, this movie could have been saved. Make a few edits, give it a new score, call it Spy 2: Ford Gets His Own Movie, and you’ve got comedy gold. As is, this film is so bad John Travolta is jealous.

Verdict-1-0-Star

Falling Hard

London Has Fallen

by Hope Madden

If Antoine Fuqua’s 2013 “Die Hard in the White House” effort Olympus Has Fallen felt too PC, too artistic, too restrained, too competent for you, you are in luck! The cinematic dumpster fire of a sequel that is London Has Fallen has arrived.

Gone are the ludicrous but gorgeously choreographed set pieces Fuqua is known for, replaced by generically brown villains, incompetently choreographed action, and jarringly stock footage stitched together with badly mismatched sound stage shots.

But Gerard Butler and his super convincing bad ass act are back!

Butler’s secret service agent Mike Banning – torn between the dangerous job he loves and the unborn baby he wants to spend more time with – must travel to London with BFF/President Benjamin Asher (granite jawed Aaron Eckhart) for a state funeral.

But wait! Some poorly explained, amazingly convenient, ridiculously performed terrorist attack kills the world’s heads of state while decimating props that almost look just like the stock footage of London landmarks we were seeing moments ago!

Jesus, this film is incompetently made. Set aside, for a moment, the irredeemable bloodlust and jingoism at the heart of the screenplay. Forgive, if you will, the heinous dialog spilling from the mouths of talented actors like Angela Basset, Melisa Leo, and Morgan Freeman. Let’s focus, for a laugh, on the wild lack of directorial skill behind this action epic.

London Has Fallen looks like something you’d see on SyFy network on any given Saturday afternoon. Director Babak Najafi’s one set piece really meant to wow – a single-take shoot out in a London alley – has the feel of a video game recreated by high school kids on a gym auditorium set made of paper mache.

But maybe that’s OK with you. Maybe you’re in it for the knife fights. Hope you’re OK with all talk and no blood, though. For all of Banning’s overtly racist sadism with that big ol’ knife, the wounding itself is always conveniently out of frame.

But at least you’ll never get lost trying to follow the story because, luckily, every so often Najafi cuts back to a group of far-too-talented actors sitting in a room together, watching the action on a screen and explaining the entire plot to each other. Whew!

You have to give Butler credit, though. It is hard to put out two films in back to back weekends that are so memorably awful. Between Gods of Egypt and London has Fallen, he’s made quite a mark.

Bravo, sir.

Verdict-1-0-Star
 

Fright Club: Oscar Nominee Skeletons in the Closet

The Oscar nominations are out, and – as is the case every year – the nominees with horror movie skeletons in their closets are fully accounted for. We’ve discussed the great Mark Ruffalo’s not-so-great The Dentist in previous podcasts, so we’ll leave that one in the closet this week. Rooney Mara just missed the cut, as well, with only a cameo in her sister Kate’s Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. The only problem with Tom Hardy was basically determining which bad horror movie to choose (which basically means Tom Hardy is filling in for George “Oh So Many” Clooney this year.)

Who made the grade? Who might take home an Oscar regardless of this horrific offense in their background? Provocative!

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

5. House at the End of the Street (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence starred in three films released in 2012 – The Hunger Games (maybe you’ve heard of it?), Silver Linings Playbook (winning her first Oscar), and House at the End of the Street. One of these is not like the others.

Lawrence plays Elissa, high school badass who moves into a secluded new house with her single, doctor mother (Elisabeth Shue). Legend has it, out in the woods behind the house roams the crazy-ass, murdering sister of the cute if damaged neighbor boy, Ryan (Max Thieriot).

House at the End of the Street is a smorgasbord of ideas stolen from better films and filmmakers, although it is not a god-awful mess. Whatever success it has is thanks to Lawrence, whose talent knows no bad screenplay, no clichéd character, and cannot be overshadowed by a tight, white tank top.

4. Blood Creek (2009)

What would be more compelling viewing than Superman Meets Batman? Henry Cavill’s run-in with a Nazi zombie played by Michael Fassbender. Clearly.

A Nazi scientist finds a Viking runestone on a West Virginia farm, where blood sacrifice turns him into an ageless monster, and a weird, runestoney ritual keeps him bound in the farmer’s basement. That guy – that Nazi zombie – is played by Michael Fassbender. Whose mind is blown?

Cavill comes into the picture when his character Evan reunites with long lost and presumed dead brother Victor (Dominic Purcell). Some crazy farmers have had him locked up all this time, taking his blood for god knows what purpose.

Truth be told, Cavill offers a fine turn full of longing and regret, and Fassbender is mesmerizing. The guy cannot turn in a bad performance. He’s completely feral, totally unhinged. It’s like he has no idea that the movie he’s in is so, so, so very bad.

The effects are terrible, the medieval Viking hocus pocus is beyond ludicrous, Purcell cannot act, and the script’s lack of logic actually makes you long for director Joel Schumacher’s better efforts, like Batman and Robin or 8MM.

Seriously, that’s how bad this is.

3. Critters 3 (1991)

Long before Django Unchained, Titanic, or even What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a barely pubescent Leo DiCaprio donned a day-glow t-shirt and a pre-teen scowl to battle Gremlin rip-offs in Critters 3.

They are furry, toothy, ravenous beasts from outer space and, until episode 3, they were content to terrify rural folk. But now they’re in the big city, and (in a clear rip off of the not-quite-as-terrible film Troll), they are pillaging a single apartment building and terrifying all those trapped inside. It’s a comedy, really, the kind with farting furballs and dunderheaded people. Which is to say, one that’s not particularly funny.

Serving up the same derivative comedy/horror pap you can find in one out of every three films made that decade, Critters 3 has a lot of hair in scrunchies, oversized blouses belted over colorful leggings, stereotypes, and actors on their careers’ last legs. And Leonardo DiCaprio, which will forever be the only reason this movie was released to DVD.

2. Minotaur (2006)

Oscar nominee Tom Hardy is truly one of the most talented actors working today, and I’m sure he’s proud of all his films. Except maybe this one.

The film plays like Jabba the Hutt’s palace set in Middle Earth, except in place of Jabba we have Candyman (Tony Todd, whose actual character name is Deucalion, but he’ll always be Candyman to us). Todd is king of the realm, and beneath his castle lives a Minotaur who requires a blood sacrifice. Periodically he rounds up youngsters from Theo’s (Hardy) village and drops them down below.

Hey – just like the Rancor!

Theo secretly takes the place of one of the sacrificial lambs and hits the underground to slay the Minotaur and reclaim his (probably long dead) love. Hallucinations, danger, and stilted medieval dialog await below the castle, while up above, Deucalion wants to get it on with his sister, who wants to get it on with Theo.

The sets are pretty terrible, as are the accents, props, costumes. Oh, and the Minotaur! He’s like an angry Muppet. But Hardy acquits himself reasonably then quickly goes on to better things.

You will, too, but why not indulge?

1. Dead Space (1991)

A distress signal from a research lab on the planet Fabon draws in maverick space cowboy Steve Krieger (Marc Singer, from such superior films as Beastmaster 3) and his cyborg shipmate Tinpan. Oscar nominee and billion-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston plays an infected scientist more sympathetic to the creature he’s created than to the crew this merciless muppet feeds upon.

Jesus God this movie is bad.

The story is utterly nonsensical. No, not that scientists removed from earth have unwittingly created a monster. But why do they feel obligated to share all their secrets with some rando space ranger, why does he take charge of the vessel, why does everyone wear blue unitards underneath their lab coats, who on earth thought Laura Mae Tate could act – well the unanswerable conundrums are legion.

But Cranston tries. He tries to create a character, tries to generate chemistry with other actors, tries to be both villain and victim, tries not to look like a mannequin when the giant mutant tears his head clean off. He totally fails, don’t get us wrong, but damnit, he tries.

Bad Doctor

Victor Frankenstein

by Hope Madden

As Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor begins to spin his Gothic yarn in voiceover, he tells us that everyone knows about the monster, but too few people know about Victor Frankenstein.

Here is the first problem with this movie.

In fact, only James Whale and Boris Karloff did Frankenstein’s monster proper. Everyone else – everyone else – has been preoccupied with the mad scientist whose compulsion to create life went wildly out of control.

Still, Paul McGuigan’s film invites us, not just to the headspace of the mad doctor, but to the bond between scientist and assistant, because VF is, at its heart, a buddy picture. In fact, we learn a lot more about Igor than we do the title character.

Radcliffe’s performance is tender and sincere as the malformed and bullied young man, rescued by the anatomically obsessed surgeon. As Victor, James McAvoy waffles between a believably wounded and vulnerable genius, and some hammy overacting.

Neither McAvoy nor Radcliffe are the issue, though. Max Landis’s screenplay meanders hither and yon without the slightest focus, from circus to laboratory to ball to medical college to isolated castle without a clear narrative path or sense of purpose. Worse still, the utterly baffling leaps in logic. (Igor is crippled circus clown who’s never known anything but cruelty; he is also the circus doctor. I’m sorry – what?)

McGuigan’s pacing only exacerbates the situation. The film feels twice as long as it is, and the very-late-entrance of the monster only makes the balance of the running time feel that much more tedious. Though he pastes together eye-catching images now and again – the twirl of a red skirt, an oversized medical sketch on the floor, enormous advertisement heads atop a building – on the whole he can’t capitalize on either a visual aesthetic or any sense of movement.

Victor Frankenstein is as stagnant and bloated as his corpses.

Regardless of all that, the question is, who needs another doctor with a God complex? Whale was right. It’s the monster who’s interesting.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

I Don’t

The Wedding Ringer

by Hope Madden

Kevin Hart bears a terrible burden in Hollywood. After salvaging a number of mediocre-to-poor films by sheer virtue of his manic comic talent, Hart has been sentenced to a lifetime of awful scripts and off-peak release dates. Got a weak-to-terrible comedy? Stick Hart in it and release it in January when there’s nothing else to see. Maybe it can be the next Ride Along.

Such is the case with The Wedding Ringer. In what amounts to I Love You, Man meets Hitch, Hart plays a best man for hire. Josh Gad plays the lovable dork about to marry up who has no friends to speak of. He needs to drum up 7 groomsmen to keep from admitting his loserhood to his bride-to-be (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting).

Oh, but it’s more than that. The Wedding Ringer is the cautionary tale of a man who failed to uphold the sacred man-vow: bros before hos.

How quickly you tire of The Wedding Ringer depends largely on your tolerance for gay jokes and misogynistic humor. Even if you’re a big fan of both, eventually the film’s lazy scripting, derivative plotting and general mean-spiritedness will likely turn you off. It’s hard to believe this dreck came from the same writing/directing team that brought us The Break Up – hardly a masterpiece, but at least a competently written and well acted comedy.

To be fair, this film contains a handful of real laughs, and Hart and Gad – another proven comic talent – have genuine chemistry. But every gag drags on minutes longer than necessary, and most zag into territory too unimaginative to be provocative in its tastelessness.

What if a romantic (or, in this case, bro-mantic) comedy chose not to depict the story of a schlubby guy who deserves help to nab a vacuous hottie? What if, instead, the film paired this decent, funny, worthy-if-overweight and nerdy fella with an equally overweight, worthy, decent woman? I would die of a coronary, that’s what would happen – but I’m probably safe, because where in Hollywood would they find the female lead?

A good movie for Kevin Hart may be just as unlikely, but I would love to see what he could do with a decent script.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars