Daughter of Darkness

The Addams Family 2

by George Wolf

Two years ago, The Addams Family returned to their cartoon roots with an animated feature that leaned heavily on little Wednesday Addams for its few sparks of macabre fun.

Despite turning to a more convoluted plot line, AF2 doesn’t do much to improve the family reputation.

Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) is still the standout here, putting the creepy and kooky in the 3rd grade science fair. She’s denied a prize thanks to a new “everybody wins” school policy, but her brilliance catches the eye of shady scientist Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader).

Worried she’s being dumbed down by the idiots around her, Wednesday rebuffs cheer up attempts from Dad Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Mom Morticia (Charlize Theron) when a pushy lawyer (Wallace Shawn) comes knocking with a bombshell.

His clients believe Wednesday may actually be their daughter and are requesting a DNA test. What else can Mom and Dad do except pack Wednesday, Pugsley (Javon “Wanna” Walton, stepping in for the now deeper voiced Finn Wolfhard), Fester (Nick Kroll) and Lurch (Conrad Vernon, who again co-directs with Greg Tiernan and newcomer Laura Brousseau) into the haunted camper for that fallback device for hastily-connected hi jinx, the road trip!

It’s a three week trek to (where else?) Death Valley and back, stopping in Miami, San Antonio, and the Grand Canyon long enough to catch up with more family (Snoop Dogg’s Cousin It) and try out some mildly amusing gags.

Only a precious few – like the guy who keeps trying to propose to his girlfriend and “Thing” trying to stay awake while driving – actually land, and it’s up to Moretz and her perfect deadpan (“I’ve been social distancing since birth”) to remind us of what makes this family dynamic.

The script from Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit veers off into wild Dr. Moreau territory, adding even more baggage to a film that would have been wise to pack lighter. Inspired soundtrack choices (from Gordon Lightfoot to Motorhead) give way to forced pop and hip-hop, and the film’s attempt at an “own who you are” message seems half-hearted at best.

But what’s really lost is the inherent fun The Addams Family brings to wherever they are. When the world goes light, they go dark. That’s a fun and funny idea ready to be exploited.

Once again, Wednesday’s just waiting for the rest of the gang to get back to the family business.

Lukewarm Runnings

Olympic Dreams

by Matt Weiner

You have to admire the chutzpah when the first feature film ever to shoot on location at the Olympics has the star athlete’s event be over immediately after the opening ceremony.

But it’s an anticlimax that sets the tone for the rest of Olympic Dreams. Cross-country skier Penelope (real-life Olympian Alexi Pappas) is at a crossroads in her life. Young in years but already worn out in a world that measures time in all-consuming four-year spans, she spends the rest of her time at the Olympic Village wandering around, talking to fellow athletes and delaying the inevitable return to reality when she has to go back home.

She meets volunteer dentist Ezra (Nick Kroll, foreshadowing an effective mid-career transition to these reined in dramedy roles), an outgoing Olympics nerd who’s just happy to be there.

The two hit it off, united by a vague sense of longing for… well, something. It’s a movie with modest aims, which are often dwarfed by the impressive settings. The story (by Pappas and Kroll along with Jeremy Teicher, who also directs) feels like it came long after securing the PyeongChang Olympic Village as the setting.

There’s the barest of plots, a sort of fish-out-of-water romcom that plays like a mumblecore Lost In Translation. As endearing as the two leads are, there’s not a lot of scaffolding to help them out. The film relies less on subtle characterization and more on a safe bet that you’ve seen these particulars enough to fill in the blanks yourself.

It’s a shame because Kroll and Pappas excel in their elements. Between Kroll’s deadpan improv with the various athletes and Pappas’ sincere empathy for the sacrifice and emotional highs and lows constantly unfolding in the background, it’s a wonder the filmmakers didn’t play it straight as a documentary.

The film has plenty of warm moments, with Pappas especially managing to balance a range of heartbreak, uncertainty and charm in a way that doesn’t get to come through in the official behind-the-scenes featurettes during the Olympics.

There’s just not enough there to back her up. The film might take us to the finish line, but just barely.

Death and the Malkin

Operation Finale

by George Wolf

“Whom did you lose?”

“We lost six mill-”

“I’m asking about YOU!”

Operation Finale may be an often gripping take on the hunt and capture of elusive Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann, but it finds emotional power in the intimate characterizations of two truly gifted actors.

Sir Ben Kingsley is Eichmann, the SS “Head of Jewish Affairs” who lived under a false identity in Argentina until an Israeli Mossad unit tracked him down. Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent who entered into a psychological duel with Eichmann while negotiating his extradition for trial in Israel.

Director Chris Weitz handles well the shifting timelines and changing locales, propping the historical dramatics up with tense staging reminiscent of Argo. And, as he’s not had any recent head injuries, Weitz knows when to stay out of the way and let his two leads do the masterful things they do.

The trouble spots in Operation Finale come mainly from Matthew Orton’s script, which is ironic because many isolated moments are quite effective.

Much of the dialogue is breezy and even funny, which humanizes the supporting characters (with fine work from an ensemble including Melanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson and Nick Kroll) but can feel a bit flippant inside such weighty history.

And in weighing that history, Orton’s first feature screenplay aims for meaningful statements on the casualness of evil and the moral ambiguities of war, but settles instead for well meaning generalities that don’t amount to any unique vision.

Kingsley and Isaac (who also earns a producer credit) provide their own. Their scenes together become a richly-drawn cat and mouse game, a face off between personifications of genocide and exterminator. Somehow, they make subject matter this unpleasant a joy to watch unfold, elevating Operation Finale with a moving contrast of soul.

 

 

 





Senior Buckets

Uncle Drew

by George Wolf

So Kyrie Irving has parlayed his Pepsi commercial into a full-length Uncle Drew feature?

As a Cleveland sports fan I’m conflicted, I ain’t even gonna lie.

A little history: when Irving first put on the old man makeup and schooled some unassuming playground ballers, he was a Cleveland Cavalier.

Then he hit the shot that propelled the Cavs to The Land’s first championship in 52 years. Mad love for you Kyrie!

Then he demanded a trade out of Cleveland. (Al Pacino voice) Kyrie, you broke my heart.

The point is, I need to get over it, I mean the point is, what made the original Uncle Drew work was the prank. Like the Jeff Gordon version when the NASCAR champion put on a disguise, took a test drive and nearly gave his car salesman a coronary, the fun was being in on the stunt.

That jig is up, and expanding a marketing idea to feature length means filling the void with more basketball stars in disguise, a few reliable comedians, and some warmed-over attempts at warm fuzzy life lessons.

Dax (Lil Rel Howery) has dreams of winning New York’s legendary Rucker Park street ball tournament, taking the 100K prize money and vanquishing his longtime basketball nemesis, Mookie (Nick Kroll).

But just before tourney time, Dax loses his team and his girl (Tiffany Haddish), leaving playground legend Drew as his only hope.

In true Blues Brothers fashion, Drew reforms his (very) old band (Shaq, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson) to break some ankles and get some buckets.

With a cast light on actors and a script light on substance, director Charles Stone III (Drumline) has his hands full. He tries to balance the athletes’ often painful emoting with the solid timing of the actual comics, and a few good laughs come out in the process (mainly in the first act and the closing blooper reel).

Basketball fans will appreciate a few self-aware inside gags (Chris Webber is a good sport), but with the novelty of the superstar-in-disguise long gone, Uncle Drew feels like little more than the corporate branding love child of Pepsi and Nike.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some 2016 NBA Finals highlights to cue up….

 

 

 





Yes, It’s a Weiner

Sausage Party

by Christie Robb

I was expecting to hate this movie. At worst I was anticipating a series of increasingly forced dick jokes and at best a munchie-induced fever dream. Instead, I gotta say, Sausage Party stands up with the South Park movie as a pretty offensively entertaining animated movie for adults.

The film is set in a Shopwell supermarket where every morning the products sing about their desire be chosen by “the gods”—those big things wheeling the carts—and travel to the Great Beyond (via a song composed by Alan Menken—the guy who co-created the songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin).

Little do the foodstuffs know what terrors await them on the other side of the pneumatic doors. It’s not nirvana. The Gods fucking eat you.

As the Fourth of July approaches, Frank—a hot dog voiced by Seth Rogan—eagerly anticipates hooking up with his honey bun (Kristen Wiig) in the Great Beyond. But after they are chosen, they and a bunch of other products are separated from their packaging and fall to the supermarket floor.

Forced to traverse the enormous grocery, the fellowship has to navigate the aisles to get back to their packages, interacting with their fellow foodstuffs in various ethnic-food aisles, partying in the liquor aisle, and generally trying to evade the villain—a vampiric and increasingly unhinged literal douche.

The movie certainly employs a fair amount of wiener-based humor and a variety of food-centric ethnic stereotypes (for example, the sauerkraut jars are a bunch of fascists bent on exterminating “the juice”, the bagel’s voice is a Woody Allen impression, and a Peter Pan “Indian”-style pipe-smoking bottle of firewater dispenses wisdom), but the movie turns to a surprising exploration of faith vs. skepticism and the extent to which religious belief fosters divisions, hostility, and repressed sexuality.

Although the movie manages to provide enough offense to go around, the majority of the jokes are actually quite funny. The cast is certainly strong. Rogan and Wiig are joined by Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson, David Krumholtz, and Paul Rudd, and the sex-positive food porn scene exceeded my expectations of what was bound to happen once the wiener and the bun finally got together.

Seeing Sausage Party ain’t a bad way to pass the time. But, for the love of God, please don’t take your kids.

Verdict-3-5-Stars