And Spirited knows that’s not everyone’s idea of heaven, which just becomes another part of its holiday charm.
Director and co-writer Sean Anders (Instant Family) takes a cue from Wicked by spotlighting the little-known good side of a classic villain. What happened to Ebenezer Scrooge after his change of heart? Well, he re-teamed with Jacob Marley in the Great Beyond, leading a firm that haunts more Earthly souls into redemption.
And the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) has a tough assignment in Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). Clint’s a smug mix of “Mussolini and Seacrest,” a media chaos and disinformation specialist that Marley (Patrick Page) calls unredeemable.
But Present, Past (Sunita Mani) and Yet-to-Be (voiced by Tracy Morgan) get the assignment, which only gets more complicated when Present’s attraction to Clint’s assistant Kimberly (Octavia Spencer) has him contemplating a return to human form.
It’s high concept, but the ensemble cast is all in, the production design sparkles and the original songs from The Greatest Showman‘s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul feature at least a couple of future holiday classics. Okay, “Good Afternoon” might not technically be a Christmas song, but it’s Pasek and Paul’s hilarious answer to Scrooge‘s “Thank You Very Much” and is going on my playlist right now.
And while there are no great singers here, that’s a detail rendered more and more minor as the surprise cameos, meta asides and winks thrown at musical tropes create a “let’s all sing and dance” vibe that’s hard to resist.
Ferrell and Reynolds share a likable chemistry only old Scrooge himself would dismiss. But underneath all the jokes and pizzazz, you will still find some character arcs here, and one surprisingly dark turn on Clint’s toe-tapping road to redemption.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Ferrell’s done Christmas (some of us have been counting), and it’s easy to see why he thought Spirited was the big ticket item he couldn’t pass up. Yes, the two-hour run time would benefit from a slight tree trimming, but this is a film some households will make required viewing for plenty of seasons to come.
Johnson is FBI agent John Hartley, and he’s on the trail of Nolan Booth (Reynolds), the 2nd most wanted art thief in the world.
Who’s number 1? That would be The Bishop (Gadot), a mysterious criminal who always seems one step ahead of Booth in the quest to reunite three priceless jeweled eggs that Marc Antony once gave to Cleopatra. Yes, Cleopatra.
After a snappy, parkour-heavy chase to open the film, Hartley offers Booth the chance to move up to the top spot on Interpol’s Red Notice (highest level arrest warrant) list. All he has to do is help Hartley and the Feds nab The Bishop.
And the game is on!
Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence, Skyscraper) has assembled three charismatic A-listers for a globe-trotting adventure with glamourous locales, double crosses and a script full of quippy banter. And it takes barely thirty minutes to begin wondering how it all went wrong.
You would think that watching Gadot, Reynolds and Johnson do anything together would be at least a marginal hoot, but nobody seems comfortable. What chemistry there is feels forced, at best, and none of the three stars bring much beyond the personas they’ve earned in better films. Reynolds carries most of the comedic weight, but with schtick that’s nearly interchangeable from his two Hitman’s Bodyguard films, a stale odor appears early and often.
There are a few LOL moments, most notably Hartley and Booth arguing about Jurassic Park and the real Ed Sheeran showing up to fight some federal agents. But with direct references that include Indiana Jones and Vin Diesel, plus multiple outlandish wardrobe changes (Johnson can’t exactly buy off the rack, so who had the tailor made safari outfit?), Thurber ends up navigating an awkward space that teeters on spoof.
Is Red Notice really trying to launch a new action/comedy franchise? Or is it just riffing on the genre? Either way, it ends up on the naughty list. Even those two Hitman‘s Bodyguard films embrace their own ridiculousness to deliver some dumb, forgettable fun. Red Notice manages two out of those three, and that ain’t good.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a great movie – heck it’s barely a good movie – but it is a fun movie. And that last part means the film does have pretty great timing.
Because with so many of us returning to movie theaters for the first time in a long time, what is the majority looking for?
A good time. And this film does deliver it, even if it is just one Fat Bastard away from parody.
In case you’ve forgotten, this is a sequel to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and returning writer Tom O’Connor gets us up to speed via Michael Bryce’s (Ryan Reynolds) final therapy session with a doctor who can’t wait to be rid of him.
Bryce has lost his AAA bodyguard license, which is going to make it difficult to win the Bodyguard of the Year award he dreams of. Bryce has also sworn off guns, which becomes a problem once the bullets start flying and director Patrick Hughes (also back from part one) rolls out more direct head shots than a zombie apocalypse.
Bryce doesn’t let the lack of licensing stop him from guarding Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), a spitfire who has no problem shooting first – from the hip or from the lip. Plus, she happens to be married to Bryce’s old nemesis Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). So while Bryce and Darius are bickering about old grudges, Sonia and Darius argue about starting a family (don’t bother thinking about their ages – just go with it).
The dangerous games come from an evil tycoon (Antonio Banderas on a steady diet of scenery) who’s fighting back against E.U. sanctions on Greece, and from a frustrated federal agent (Frank Grillo) who decides his best bet is to work with bad guys in hopes of catching worse guys.
Hughes proves adept at quick-paced action and satisfying set pieces full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but excess. There’s plenty of globe-trotting to beautiful locales, lo-cut costume changes for Hayek and enough all around ridiculousness to make you wonder when Reynolds and Jackson are going to switch faces.
But the starring trio seems to be enjoying it enough to be in perfect sync – with each other and the level of material they’ve been handed. All three may be on auto-pilot, but their banter is an expletive-laden, rapid fire hoot that’s consistently mischievous and sometimes downright hilarious.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard isn’t high art, but it isn’t trying to be. In the words of Bret Michaels and Sam Jackson: it ain’t nothin’ but a good time, motherf^*%$#.
At least two things have happened since we met The Croods seven years ago. One, we’ve forgotten about the Croods, and two, Dreamworks has plotted their return.
A New Age gets the caveman clan back together with some talented new voices and a hipper approach for a sequel that easily ups the fun factor from part one.
The orphaned Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) has become part of pack Crood, which is fine with everyone except papa Grug (Nicolas Cage), who isn’t wild about the teen hormones raging between Guy and Eep (Emma Stone).
The nomadic gang is continuing their search for the elusive “tomorrow” when they stumble onto the Stone Age paradise of Phil and Hope Betterman (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann, both priceless). The Betterman’s lifestyle puts the “New Age” in this tale, and they hatch a plan to send the barbaric Croods on their way while keeping Guy for their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).
But a funny thing happens along the way. Check that, many things happen, and plenty of them funny, in a film that nearly gets derailed by the sheer number of characters and convolutions it throws at us.
The new writing team of Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman and Paul Fisher keeps the adventure consistently madcap with some frequent LOLs (those Punch Monkeys are a riot) and even topical lessons on conservation, individuality and girl power.
Or maybe that should read Granny Power, since it is Gran’s (Cloris Leachman) warrior past that inspires the ladies to don facepaint, take nicknames and crank up a theme song from Haim as they take a stand against some imposing marauders.
Director Joel Crawford – an animation vet – keeps his feature debut fast moving and stylish, drawing performances from his talented cast (which also includes Catherine Keener and Clark Duke) that consistently remind you how important the “acting” can be in voice acting.
By the time Tenacious D drops in to see what condition the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” is in, the whole affair starts to feel like some sort of animated head trip.
Yeah, a little sharper focus wouldn’t hurt, but A New Age delivers the good time you forgot to remember to wonder where it’s been.
Somewhere around its 6th installment, the Fast & Furious franchise tweaked its direction, abandoning logic and embracing ludicrous action as it jumped cars from skyscraper to skyscraper and waterskied off the back of launched torpedoes.
But things took off for real around Episode 7 when some mad
genius decided to pit mountainous government operative Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)
against Limey nogoodnik Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), each of them playing a
self-lampooning version of themselves. Fun!
Where to go from there? How about we drop that whole car
heist and espionage thing, expel Vincent Toretto and gang, bring in Idris Elba
and see what happens?
And for the very first time, I was kind of looking forward to a F&F film.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw boasts more than ampersands. Internal logic? Cohesive plot? Thoughtful insights on man’s inhumanity to man?
Cheeky fun? Indeed!
The film indulges in the best elements of F&F (action lunacy, self-aware comedy) and dispenses with its weaknesses (schmaltz, Diesel). F&F: H&S consists primarily of fistfights, gun fights and vehicular chicanery stitched together with comic lines. Unfortunately, there is a plot, but it doesn’t get in the way too much.
A virus meant to thin the herd falls (or is injected!) into the hands of a rogue (or is she?!!) MI6 agent. The CIA (or is it?!!!) pulls together the two old enemies for no particular reason, but Ryan Reynolds shows up in a decidedly peculiar cameo (one of several to look out for) that draws your attention away from the first of many gaping plot holes.
By this point (about 7 minutes into the film) we’ve been
through three separate fight sequences, each meant to articulate the character
of one of our leads: down-and-dirty badass (Hobbs), smoothly lethal sophisticate
(Shaw), smart and efficient and highly contagious (Vanessa Kirby as MI6 virus
thief Hattie), and Black Superman (Idris Elba, who gives himself the name, but
if it fits…).
Right. Enough with plot, on to stupifyingly illogical and imaginative action. Hobbs & Shaw offers quite a spectacle.
It bogs down when it gets away from the explosions, wheelies and punches. Whether devoting excessive time to pissing contests or to dysfunctional family backstories, director David Leitch—who proved his action mettle with Atomic Blonde—too often forgets that words are not this franchise’s strongest suit.
Still, there is something compelling about watching Black Superman V Samoan Thor. I don’t know that there’s enough here for a franchise springboard, but there’s plenty for a wasted afternoon.
When my son was small and we played pretend, I made believe I was Snorlax so I could lay on the couch and do nothing. Does that make me a bad parent? Well, a lazy one, anyway, but the point is, I logged countless hours on that couch watching all manner of pocket monster.
I was dragged unwillingly into the world of Pokémon. No, I am not exactly the target audience for Pokémon Detective Pikachu (read: I am in no way the target audience for this movie). But, when Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds at his Ryan Reynoldsiest) says, “Mr. Mime is the worst,” I know enough to understand that shit’s the truth.
So, there is a plot. It involves loads upon loads of daddy issues, primarily (but not exclusively) those that hang over Tim Goodman (Justice Smith). In looking for his father he falls into a mystery involving a Pikachu who is not only adorable (he admits as much himself at least twice), but is also connected to Tim. Tim can understand him.
For the uninitiated, Pokémon just repeat their own names over and over and over again in a manner that makes you want to take your own life, and yet you tolerate it because you really do love your son.
But not this Pikachu! Sure, others can only hear his cute “pika pika,” but Tim can hear actual words, and those words are telling Tim, in a humorously snarky way, that he needs to unravel this mystery and work on his interpersonal skills.
Bill Nighy shows up as an entrepreneur/philanthropist/genius. Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe languishes with bafflingly limited screen time as a detective who is, let’s be honest, not very good at his job.
Kathryn Newton is a plucky would-be investigative
journalist, her trusty Psyduck in tow. (Note: Psyduck is also the worst.)
Part of the entertainment value here is the genuine fondness for the content director Rob Letterman and his army of screenwriters bring to the table. Good looking CGI, committed performances and a solidly comedic but not too ironic tone also help.
The film doesn’t shoot over the heads of the youngest fans, does embed scads of references and homages for those there for nostalgia, and throws around enough kid-friendly Reynoldsisms to entertain parents who mercifully missed out on Pokémon Gen 1 and 2.
Is it a colossal waste of Ken Watanabe’s talent? Oh God,
But honestly, otherwise I don’t have a lot of complaints.
Machine gun fire gags, self-referential comments, foul language, meta laughs, gore for the sake of comedy and fourth-wall bursting—it appears the sequel to 2016’s surprise blockbuster Deadpool cometh.
Since we left Wade/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the avocado-faced super-anti-hero spends his days dispatching international criminals and his nights snuggling tight with his beloved Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When tragedy strikes, Wade spirals into suicidal depression and finds himself in the titanium arms of X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), by the side of troubled adolescent mutant Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and then in the path of time-traveling mercenary Cable (Josh Brolin, having a good year).
In the midst of all this, Reynolds never stops cracking wise on every comic book or pop cultural reference that can be squeezed into two hours. Bursts of laughter pepper the film’s landscape like mines. It’s fun. Hollow, but fun.
Origin stories are tough, but following a fresh, irreverent surprise of an origin story might be even tougher. Deadpool’s laughs came often at the expense of the gold-hearted, furrow-browed, money-soaked superhero franchises that came before it. Now a cash machine of a franchise itself, riffing on that same bit is a difficult sell. Deadpool 2 has essentially become the butt of that very joke.
Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick return, sharing the pen with Reynolds this go-round. Atomic Blonde director David Leitch takes the helm, promising the inspired action that made his Charlize Theron spy thriller so very thrilling.
But Leitch’s action feels saddled and uninspired, and Reese and Wernick’s screenplay is basically a reimagining of a truly excellent time-travel flick from a few years back (that will remain nameless to avoid spoilers).
Deadpool 2 is very funny, often quite clever, and sometimes wrong-minded in the best way. An Act 2 parachuting adventure feels magical, and the new blood brings fresh instinct to the mix. Dennison straddles humor and angst amazingly well, and Zazie Beetz brings a fun energy to the film as the heroically lucky Domino.
Brolin, for the second time in a month, commands the screen with a performance that has no right to be as nuanced and effecting as it is.
Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds, but he’s just so good at it.
The film’s cynical, hard-candy shell makes way for a super-gooey inside that Reynolds doesn’t have the capacity to carry off. Worse still, it undermines the biting sensibility that made the first Deadpool such an antidote for the summer blockbuster.
But I guess that’s what happens when you become the thing you mock.
Who remembers Safe House, the passable 2012 action flick that sees Ryan Reynolds in over his head trying to keep an international assassin, played by Denzel Washington, safe?
Well, lobotomize Safe House, swap in Samuel L. Jackson for Denzel, trade grit for humor and you have the mid-August version of an action comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
Jackson is Darius Kincaid.
No he isn’t. He’s an underwritten tough guy, filled out with characteristic Jacksonisms: foul language and swagger. He’s Samuel L. Jackson, motherfucker.
Likewise, Reynolds may go by Michael Bryce, but this is prototypical Reynolds, all sarcastic charm and self-loathing.
Bring them together: glib meets badass. They take a bullet-riddled road trip, Bryce trying to keep Kincaid safe long enough to testify against the former president of Belarus, a war criminal and all-around evildoer, played, naturally, by Gary Oldman.
Of course he is.
No, not a lot of acting muscles are being overworked in this one.
Writing muscles either, for that matter. The film coasts on mostly ludicrous but sometimes fun set pieces energized by the silly sniping happening as the Jackson/Reynolds bromance blossoms.
Director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3 – did we know there were 3?) relies heavily on his cast and their individual brands. It’s like shorthand. No reason for character development, which is a good thing because scribe Tom O’Connor isn’t strong.
Hughes has trouble balancing the action, humor and unexpected romance. Reynolds’s security expert pines for the Interpol agent that left him; meanwhile, Jackson’s assassin misses his Mrs. (Salma Hayak, funny).
But, hey, do you like Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman? Because the three of them play the three of them in a disposable action comedy coming out this weekend.
Horror has not always treated the mentally ill very well. Many filmmakers twist notions of “crazy” into varying degrees of evil, but rarely with any real thought to the pathology behind it.
Some films and filmmakers make an attempt to examine illness and mine it for both humanity and fear, since nearly all illnesses of any kind are marked by both. Here are our five (OK, maybe six) favorite films dealing in mental illness.
5. The Crazies (1973/2010)
We’re cheating here, but George Romero’s 1973 insanity plague flick offers much, as does its 2010 reboot by the otherwise useless Breck Eisner, so we’re combining.
Just three years after Night of the Living Dead, the master found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Two combat veterans are at the center of the film, in which a chemical weapon is accidentally leaked into the water supply to a Pennsylvania town. Those infected go helplessly mad. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film.
Romero may not have always had the biggest budget, best actors, or best eye for composition, but his ideas were so far ahead of their time that modern horror would not exist in its current form without him. His ideas were not far-fetched, and they fed the imaginations of countless future filmmakers. You can see Romero’s ideas and images from this film repeated in 28 Days Later, Return of the living Dead, Signal, Cabin Fever, Super 8, even Rambo – and, obviously, in the remake.
Eisner’s version offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection before introducing the greater threat – our own government. Eisner’s greatest strength is his cast. The eternally under-appreciated Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, unerringly realistic as husband and wife, carry most of the grisly weight, aided by solid support work from folks who are not afraid to be full-on nuts.
4. Split (2017)
A transfixing James McAvoy is Kevin, a deeply troubled man harboring 23 distinct personalities and some increasingly chilling behavior. When he kidnaps the teenaged Casey (The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy) and her two friends (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Suva), the girls are faced with constantly changing identities as they desperately seek an escape from their disorienting confines.
Meanwhile, one of Kevin’s personalities is making emergency appointments with his longtime therapist (Betty Buckley, nice to see you), only to show up and assure the Dr. everything is fine. She thinks otherwise, and she is right.
The split personality trope has been used to eye-rolling effect in enough films to be the perfect device for Shyamalan’s clever rope-a-dope. By often splitting the frame with intentional set designs and camera angles, or by letting full face close-ups linger one extra beat, he reinforces the psychological creepiness without any excess bloodshed that would have soiled a PG-13 rating.
Still, it all might have gone for naught without McAvoy, who manages to make Kevin a sympathetic character while deftly dancing between identities, often in the same take. He’s a wonder to watch, and the solid support from Buckley and Taylor-Joy help keep the tension simmering through speedbumps in pacing and questionable flashbacks to Casey’s childhood.
3. The Voices (2014)
Director Marjane Satrapi’s follow up to her brilliant animated Persepolis is a sweet, moving, very black comedy about why medicine is not always the best medicine.
Ryan Reynolds is Jerry. And Mr. Whiskers. And Bosco. Which is appropriate, because all three characters are all the same, too. Jerry hears voices. They are the voices of his pets a kindly dog (Bosco) and an evil cat (Mr. Whiskers).
As Jerry sees it, his house is a cool pad above a nifty bowling alley, his job is the best, his co-workers really like him, and his positive disposition makes it easy for him to get along. Bosco agrees.
But Mr. Whiskers thinks Jerry is a cold blooded killer, and though Mr. Whiskers is OK with that, Jerry doesn’t want to believe it. So he should definitely not take his pills.
An outstanding cast including Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver and Gemma Arterton join Reynolds in a really touching film that looks sideways at mental illness. While the film certainly find reason to fear the outsider, it’s also surprisingly sympathetic to his plight.
2. They Look Like People (2015)
Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is killing it. He’s benching 250 now, looks mussed but handsome as he excels at work, and he’s even gotten up the nerve to ask out his smokin’ hot boss. On his way home from work to change for that date he runs into his best friend from childhood, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), who’s looking a little worse for wear. Christian doesn’t care. With just a second’s reluctance, Christian invites him in – to his apartment, his date, and his life.
But there is something seriously wrong with Wyatt.
Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s film nimbly treads the same ground as the wonderful Frailty and the damn near perfect Take Shelter in that he uses sympathetic characters and realistic situations to blur the line between mental illness and the supernatural.
Wyatt believes there is a coming demonic war and he’s gone to rescue his one true friend. Andrews is sweetly convincing as the shell shocked young man unsure as to whether his head is full of bad wiring, or whether his ex-fiance has demon fever.
The real star here, though, is Dumouchel, whose character arc shames you for your immediate assessment. Blackshear examines love – true, lifelong friendship – in a way that has maybe never been explored as authentically in a horror film before. It’s this genuineness, this abiding tenderness Christian and Wyatt have for each other, that makes the film so moving and, simultaneously, so deeply scary.
1. Psycho (1960)
Was Norman Bates psychotic from the start? Or was he smothered into madness by his mother?
Hard to say – Mrs. Bates can’t speak for herself, can she? Although Norman’s mother is not a character in Hitchcock’s classic, her presence is everywhere. But to be fair, we don’t get to see her as she was, we only get to see her as Norman sees her.
Whatever the case, Norman has an unhealthy attachment to his late mother, a single parent whose relationship with her son may have driven him to some very bad deeds. Part of Hitchcock’s skill in this film is to play with our expectations of the characters.
The heroine has done some questionable things. The villain is the most sympathetic character onscreen. The most relevant character in the story isn’t even in the film. Was Mrs. Bates really a bad mom, or does she just seem like that to us because we see her through Norman’s eyes, and he’s a psycho?
Life comes at you fast. Real fast, when it’s a hyper-intelligent Martian lifeform hell-bent on survival. In Life, a seemingly unstoppable alien terrorizes the isolated crew of a spaceship. Is the plot eerily familiar? You bet. Does the film do enough to merit its obvious Alien comparison? Surprisingly, yes.
Director Daniel Espinosa makes the most of the zero-gravity settings on the International Space Station—first with inspired long takes introducing the cramped passages, and later with the haunting, creative blood spurts that will soon saturate them.
Inhabiting the ISS is a multinational crew who has recovered alien life from Mars. All the diverse archetypes are on board, including a wisecracking specialist (Ryan Reynolds), a world-weary veteran (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a suspiciously reserved biologist (Miranda North). Plus a few more alien appetizers, but this paragraph is already more backstory than most of the crew members receive.
Excitement quickly turns to horror once scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) finds a way to bring the cell to life. The astronauts are no match for “Calvin,” as those blissfully ignorant down on Earth have christened the creature. The more astronauts Calvin feeds on, the bigger it gets until it balloons to a nightmarish love child between an octopus and the Xenomorph.
Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the team responsible for Zombieland and Deadpool. And the film allows a few—very few—quiet moments to shade in some character depth. But these quasi-philosophical pauses just get in the way of the movie’s strengths.
And the biggest strength Life has going for it is that the film is a whole lot of fun as a dumb thriller. Well, that and a way-too-qualified cast who can add some pathos to the almost methodically expectant death scenes. (Did I mention how nifty those blood spurts are?)
Much like the ISS crew, the film comes dangerously close to running out of gas by the end. The familiar setup wears itself thin, and Calvin has too much CGI aloofness to win our affection like the Alien did.
Overall though, Espinosa mostly succeeds at keeping the action moving. Life trades in the languid dread of its forebear for a breakneck (among other appendages) pace that requires little thought and demands no frame-by-frame viewings. But while this monster might be a bit immature, it packs a vicious punch.