Monthly Archives: June 2017

Girls Behaving Badly

ScarJo’s Bachelorette Party Goes South in ‘Rough Night’

Rough Night

Rough Night
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Krazitz, Jillian Bell & Kate McKinnon
Directed by Lucia Aniello

Yes, we know women can be as funny—and just as raunchy—as men.

Rough Night is very funny, very raunchy and very dark, a brazen comedy about what happens when a getaway bachelorette party weekend takes a very, very bad turn.

The bachelorettes get together a decade after their rambunctious college days to fete Jess (Scarlett Johansson), now a buttoned-down candidate for state senator. Meeting up in Miami for the wild weekend are lesbian activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer from Comedy Central’s Broad City) and her one-time crush, real-estate mogul Blair (Zoë Krazitz); unbridled schoolteacher Alice (Jillian Bell); and Pippa (SNL’s Kate McKinnon), Jess’s wild-child Aussie chum from her year of studying Down Under.

It’s a dynamite cast, and the jokes fly fast and furious as the women reunite to recapture some of their college good times—and help the uptight Jess loosen up just a bit. “It would mean so much to me if you would do just a little bit of cocaine,” Alice implores her.


Kravitz, Bell, Johansson, Glazer and McKinnon get the party started.

Cocaine is done, indeed. Booze flows. And then someone decides they need to call a stripper.

That’s when things go south—and the movie takes a screeching, abrupt turn. Suddenly, it’s not so funny.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know it isn’t a spoiler to reveal the guy doing the striptease dies. He’s killed, actually, in an accident caused by the “overenthusiasm” of one of the women. The rest of the movie involves what happens as Jess and her friends scramble to cover up the act, hide or dispose of the corpse and deal with the ripples created by what they’ve done.

In her movie debut, director Lucia Aniello, who honed her craft on Broad City, shows she definitely knows how to make a long-form comedy ensemble click. There’s a lot to admire about Rough Night, especially in the way its strong cast interacts, riffs and rolls with each other in the course of a story that isn’t exactly smooth sailing.

But the movie patches together things that feel too familiar from other films—the pre-nup antics of Bridesmaids, prop-up-the-dead-body jokes of Weekend at Bernies, the bachelor party mishap in Very Bad Things, when a prostitute dies and Jon Favreau and Christian Slater try to cover it up. The lack of originality smothers its sparks of spontaneity and its sense of bold, brave excursion into places where humor begins to get a bit uncomfortable. And the gags, which started off sharp, feisty and freaky, start to feel slapdash, crude, frantic and cobbled together.

And at the root of the “humor,” the heart of the comedy, in Rough Night is the fact that a person dies, in a particularly messy, undignified manner. Sure, death is part of the spectrum of the human comedy of life—but just how funny you’ll find it when you see a pool of dark red blood expanding behind this guy’s head, spilling out onto a pristine white floor, under these circumstances, will depend on your particular comedy settings.

After Ghost in the Shell and Captain America: Civil War, it’s great to see Johansson in a role that lets her show her comedy chops. Jillian Bell, a terrific supporting player in Fist Fight, Office Christmas Party, 22 Jump Street and The Night Before, and a featured player on TV’s Workaholics, Supermansion and Idiotsitter, is a spewing geyser of off-color brilliance.

Ty Burrell;Demi Moore

Demi Moore & Ty Burrell

And McKinnon, the live-wire breakout star of Saturday Night Live, galvanizes the camera with wide-eyed, comedic virtuosity. Stay for the credits to hear her character’s hilarious ode that puts a crazy, improbably pretty musical bow on the wild events of the movie.

Ty Burrell from TV’s Modern Family and Demi Moore ham it up as a couple of horny neighbors, and Paul W. Downs, one of the screenwriters—who also appeared on Broad City—adds some additional comedic spice as Jess’s concerned fiancé.

Raw, proudly raunchy and often riotously funny, Rough Night isn’t for everyone. But if you like your fem-centric humor with a dark, decadent twist, well, this bachelorette party’s a summer sizzler to die for.

In theaters June 16, 2017

Summer Means Sharks

‘This Is Us’ star Mandy Moore goes deep in underwater thriller

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47 Meters Down
Starring Mandy Moore, Claire Holt & Matthew Modine
Directed by Johannes Roberts

Ever since Jaws in 1975, it hasn’t really felt like summer without sharks.

That landmark movie officially introduced the ocean’s alpha predator to pop culture, and the shark has remained an entertainment staple ever since.

So come on in the water!

The Discovery Channel launched its hugely popular block of Shark Week programming in the 1980s. Since 2013, there have been five Sharknado movies, schlocky horror-comedy disaster TV flicks about tornados filled with sharks. Last summer, Blake Lively played a surfer menaced by a great white in The Shallows. (72)_rgb

Kate (Claire Holt) and Lisa (Mandy Moore) prepare to take the plunge.

Now, in 47 Meters Down, two sisters on a vacation getaway in Mexico find themselves trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean, running out of oxygen in their scuba tanks, cut off from communication with the excursion boat above them—and yes, surrounded by sharks.

How did they get there? Well, the spunky younger sister, Kate (Claire Holt, who played Rebekah Mikaelson on The Vampire Diaries and now on its spinoff, The Originals) convinced Lisa (Mandy Moore, from TV’s This Is Us) to do something brash and daring to help shake off the funk of a recent breakup with her boyfriend.

Watching sharks is perfectly safe, some locals tell them. “Like you go to the zoo, except you’re in the cage,” one says.

“Think of the photos!” says Kate excitedly, envisioning some awesome underwater Instagram and Snapchat posts.

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Taylor (Matthew Modine) prepares his customers for their dive in the shark cage.

So Kate and Lisa agree to hop aboard a rust bucket of a boat, the Sea Esta, for a shark excursion. Their captain and guide, Taylor (Matthew Modine), takes his vessel far out into open water, gives the sisters a crash course in their gear and assures them everything will be fine. Taylor’s assistant chums the water with a bucket of fish heads and blood. “Here fishy, fishy…” he calls out.

In just a moment, a 20-foot-long great white breaks the surface.

Taylor tells Kate and Lisa he’ll lower them in the cage to about five meters, or about 16 feet, below the surface, and they’ll be in constant radio contact through their scuba masks.

Almost as soon as Kate and Lisa go underwater in the tank, they drop their waterproof camera. It falls through the rusty metal bars of the cage and floats into the murky water below—where it’s immediately swallowed into the massive maw of a huge shark, who sweeps out of nowhere and comes so close that the girls can almost touch it.

Then the unthinkable happens. The wench unspooling the cable to the cage breaks loose from the boat, sending the whole setup plunging down, down, down to the bottom—47 meters down, more than 150 feet.

47MD_Still021_rgb (72)British director Johannes Roberts knows how to startle, spook and surprise. Even if you didn’t see any of his previous flicks, the titles alone—The Other Side of the Door, Forest of the Damned, Hellbreeder—should give you a pretty good indication that he loves poking around dark corners, keeping audiences guessing, and cranking up the suspense.

The underwater sequences were filmed in a tank and the sharks are computer-generated, but Kate and Lisa’s situation feels “real” enough that audiences will get several good, genuine jolts as their circumstances go from very bad to even worse and their resourcefulness—and desperate survival instincts—come into play.

Moore and Holt do commendable jobs, sealed up inside scuba suits, delivering their lines via radio transmitters in their masks and performing most of the movie submerged. Director Roberts and his two aqua-actors spin a tight, concise little water web of peril, tension and excitement—and build to something you totally won’t see coming, unless someone spoils it for you, at the end.

“The shark almost got me!” an alarmed Kate says at one point.

Ok, it’s not Shakespeare, but hey, it is summer—so come on in the water!

In theaters June 16, 2017

Mummy Nation

The Mummy Breathes New Life Into Ancient Tale

Film Title: The MummyThe Mummy
Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe & Annabelle Wallis
Directed by Alex Kurtzman

She’s dark, sexy, mysterious and dangerous—and 5,000 years old.

She’s the freshly resurrected cadaver, the mummy, in Universal Studio’s big-budget, big-star reboot of one its classic horror franchise flicks.

Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (from Kingsmen: Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond) steps into the spotlight as Ahmanet, the former Egyptian princess awakened from her crypt with a serious chip on her mummified shoulder.

Film Title: The Mummy

Tom Cruise

Superstar Tom Cruise gets most of the movie’s screen time, however, as Nick Morton, a U.S. Army specialist on duty in Iraq whose sideline of treasure hunting leads to the discovery of Ahmanet’s tomb and the release of her malevolent powers.

Annabelle Wallis (from TV’s Peaky Blinders and the movies Annabelle and King Arthur) has a major costarring role as archeologist Jenny Halsey, who cautions Nick that he’s stumbled across “antiquity’s darkest secret.” Russell (Gladiator) Crowe has a hammy ball as London’s Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll), constantly trying to rein in his explosively nasty id, Mr. Hyde.

Film Title: The Mummy

Russell Crowe

Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance, who played attorney Johnnie Cochran on TV’s American Crime Story, appears briefly as Nick’s no-nonsense superior, a U.S. Army colonel.

The Mummy puts a new, energetic, action-packed spin on the age-old saga as Nick and Jenny spend most of the film fleeing from—or fighting with—Ahamanet and her resurrected mummy minions. (Think Mission: Impossible—Mummy Nation.) Nick soon figures out he’s been cursed, “chosen” by the princess to become her immortal partner. But he’s not at all interested, especially as it involves some unpleasant business with a big curved dagger and letting his human body become the vessel for the Egyptian god of death.

Following typical modern-blockbuster ratios and proportions, quips, comedic zingers and romantic conflict balance out the scares.

Alex Kurtzman, a former producer and writer whose only previous directorial feature was the 2012 Disney/Dreamworks comedy-drama People Like Us, steps up impressively into the big leagues. Boutella’s slinky, slithering mummy, wrapped in tattered strips of gauzy linen, her skin covered with tattoos of Egyptian hieroglyphs, is a bewitching villainess of terrifying, exotic beauty. But beware her kiss—it’ll literally suck the life right out of you.

Film Title: The MummyThere’s a spectacular escape from a military transport plane in a death-spiral nosedive, a sandstorm that sweeps through downtown London, and attacks by swarms of spiders and rats that will give almost anyone giddy goosebumps. An underwater chase by a horde of swimming mummies shows just how far everything has come from the lumbering, shuffling brutes in their earliest Hollywood incarnations at the dawn of the 1900s.

Speaking of which, hasn’t anyone in this movie ever seen a mummy movie before? Don’t they realize you can’t raid a creepy Egyptian tomb without likely running afoul of something awful? Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “Wow! It’s just like in the movies!”?

The mummy is one of our most enduring pop-cultural artifacts, featured on the big screen in more than 30 different titles for over a century, since the days of silent films. Horror fans hold Boris Karloff in high esteem for starring in the classic version in 1932, a year after he played “the monster” in Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee and dozens of other lesser actors have gone under wraps for the role. Though they weren’t mummies, Brendon Frasier and Rachel Weisz starred in a 1999 remake and its 2001 sequel.

Film Title: The MummyBut this Mummy is the biggest blowout yet, a $125 million spectacle of marquee stars, eye-popping special effects and flashy setup for Universal’s Dark Universe, a franchise-wide relaunch of its movie-monster properties of yore, including The Invisible Man, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.

As Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll says, “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”

Indeed—and as The Mummy ends, it’s obvious something bigger is just beginning to get unwrapped.

In theaters June 9, 2017

Too Many Barnacles

Fifth Pirates flick is waterlogged, overstuffed & a-swirl with bustle and swill

nullPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Starring Johnny Deep, Javiar Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario & Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

“A pirate’s life,” muses captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), covered in mud, soaked in rum and being led away by British soldiers in the fifth movie sprung from Walt Disney’s theme park ride of the same name.

In Pirates 5, let’s just call it, Sparrow is searching for the Trident of Poseidon, a legendary staff said to hold “all the power of the sea.” Of course, it don’t come easy. A nasty new villain, Salazar (Javier Bardem), has risen from his watery tomb in the Devil’s Triangle, with a crew of murderous zombie not-so-jolly rogers, looking for the same mythical doodad—and he has a serious bone of revenge to pick with Jack Sparrow.

And Jack’s old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), also gets drawn into the fray.


Kaya Scodelario & Brenton Thwaites

Two other new characters provide the movie’s fresh faces—and its spark of romance. Spunky, handsome Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, who played Prince Phillip in the movie Maleficent) is on a lifelong quest to find Sparrow, the renowned captain who alone holds the key to breaking a curse that binds his father, William (Orlando Bloom), to Davy Jones’ sunken Flying Dutchman. And Carina (Kaya Scodelario from the Maze Runner franchise) is a fetching young astronomer whose love of the stars causes her to constantly be mistaken for a sorceress.

There are a lot of moving parts in Pirates 5: a lot of characters, a lot of elaborate effects, a lot of things meant to razzle and dazzle. The movie is part of a huge franchise, one that’s made nearly $1.3 billion since 2003.

Now, after sailing around for nearly 15 years, it feels like something that’s taken on too much water, too many passengers, too many back stories and too many barnacles. A new pair of directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, bring a few new ideas to some of the swashbuckling spectacle and the slapstick—like Jack and Carina’s escape from their botched execution, a bank robbery that involves stealing an entire building, and a getaway from the ocean floor up a massive chain of a ship’s anchor.

But the whole enterprise feels overstuffed and waterlogged, all a-swirl with bustle, swill and bilge, despite its attempts at “deeper” messages about treasures of the non-material kind and navigating by maps don’t exist on paper. It probably reaches its lowest, most ludicrous point when Sparrow, Henry and Carina escape a group of ghost sharks. The phantom fish crunch their row boat, nip at them and leap (in slow motion) overhead before Capt. Jack hooks one to speed-tow his little vessel ashore.

I kept imagining how much better the scene would have been with music from Gilligan’s Island.


Javier Bardem

As the maniacal undead Salazar, Bardem channels the bad-guy charisma that made his character of the psychopathic killer Anton Chagurh in No Country For Old Men so bone-chillingly memorable. He’s a wheezing, ghostly white wraith, dripping blood and literally falling apart in flecks of deep-sea, computer-generated ghoul dreck. And he’s the best-looking pirate in his motley, monstrous crew.

You’ll find out in Pirates 5 how and why a young Jack (a very strange looking, slenderized, un-accessorized, computer-enhanced Johnny Depp) and Salazar got off to such a bad start, how the lives of other central characters overlap and intersect, which British rock legend makes a cameo (hint: It’s not one of the Rolling Stones), and which of the franchise’s original stars pop back in for the finale.

“What be our headin’, cap’n?” crewman Gibbs (Kevin McNally, from TV’s Designated Survivor) asks Sparrow as they set sail in the movie’s final scene. “We shall follow the stars!” replies Jack.

Methinks it’s finally time the stars led Jack and his “pirate’s life” into port for good.

In theaters May 26, 2017