Monthly Archives: August 2019

Falling Again

Gerard Butler returns to his post in bullet-riddled franchise sequel 

Angel Has Fallen_4 (72)Angel Has Fallen
Starring Gerard Butler & Morgan Freeman
R
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

If your toilet’s clogged, you call a plumber. When your shingles are shot, it’s time for a roofer. Need a new transmission? See a mechanic.

But if your government is under attack, the only name you need in your little black book is Mike Banning, Secret Service agent, former U.S. Army Ranger, protector of presidents and other heads of state.

Banning—as portrayed by Scottish actor Gerard Butler—has dodged many a bullet (both physically and figuratively) in two previous movies, not to mention a number of other, much more combustive close calls.

Banning, the character, and Butler, the actor, both return to their posts in Angel Has Fallen, which continues in the tradition of Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016). It’s a red-meat grinder of gunfire and pyro built atop a gonzo storyline of implausible political implosion, an astonishing amount of carnage and, at this particular moment in time, a tone-deaf disregard for the mood of much of the nation for seeing dozens of people mowed down by all kinds of military-grade weaponry, often at point-blank range.

DSCF6523.RAF

Morgan Freeman

In Angel Has Fallen, Banning is framed for an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). In previous films, Trumbull was speaker of the house, then vice president. Who better than Morgan Freeman to work his way up into the Oval Office? The versatile Oscar winner, whose all-star movie resume includes Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, the Batman/Dark Knight franchise, Se7en, The Shawshank Redemption and Now You See Me, certainly gets my vote! (But wait—after being God, in Bruce Almighty, isn’t president a bit of, um, a demotion?)

Anyway, of course, Banning—loyal as a collie, smart as a sheltie, protective as a pit bull—didn’t do it. But who did? And why? That’s what you’ll spend half the movie wondering, until the movie conveniently lays it all in your lap (make sure you’re finished with your popcorn). Then you’ll wonder how Banning—by then a fugitive, on the lam—clears his name, where it’s all headed and how it’ll get there, when the prez will pop out of his coma, and where Banning acquired all the tools in his amazing, secret-service skill set. How did he learn how to pick open a set of handcuffs (in the dark!) with a scavenged, paper-clip-sized part from an assault rifle? How does he know (just know!) the geo-satellite coordinates of a tiny, remote, rural spot of nowhere? How does he walk through a thicket of woods right up to what has to be the only remaining roadside pay phone in all of West Virginia?

In a clunky, overtly obvious attempt to appear timely, the script drops in pointed references to Russian collusion, election tampering, hackers, the dark web and press leaks. One timely thing never noted, however—mass shootings in schools, places of worship or shopping centers. That probably wouldn’t do, in a movie with a plot dependent on more gunfire than lines of dialogue, more bullets flying than anyone could conceivably count, and an entire hospital (with people presumably inside) turned into one big bomb and a pile of smoldering rubble.

Angel Has Fallen_3

Jada Pinkett Smith plays an FBI agent…who doesn’t like what she sees.

Danny Huston has a significant role as Banning’s old Army buddy, Wade Jennings, who now runs a private paramilitary contracting enterprise and training facility. “War is deception,” he tells Banning. Those words ring true, in a couple of ways, before the movie is over.

Piper Perabo plays Banning’s wife, Leah, now a mother to their toddler daughter (who appears to be genuinely traumatized by one truly traumatizing scene). Tim Blake Nelson (best known for his role as Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) is the VP, who takes over when Trumbull becomes incapacitated. You may recognize Lance Reddick (he was Cedric Daniels on The Wire, and he plays Charon in the John Wick movie franchise) as David Gentry, the head of the White House Secret Service.

But you’ll have to wait a little while for the main supporting-actor attraction. It’s Nick Nolte, who plays Banning’s long-estranged father, Clay. Looking a bit like a nicotine-stained, hermit-hillbilly Santa Claus, Clay’s a crusty Vietnam vet now living way off-the-grid, but still with a few jungle-warfare tricks up his sleeve. He hasn’t forgotten how to light up the night, and Nolte certainly brightens the movie. A former A-list leading man with a trio of Oscar nominations and more than 100 roles on his resume, he’s a tasty bit of old-salt and vinegar seasoning, especially in a sentimental scene when Clay connects for the first time with the daughter-in-law (and granddaughter) he’s never met.

And be sure to stay after the credits begin for a whimsical scene with Nolte and Butler. After the punishing bombardment of shooting, stabbing, scuffling, sky-high explosions and the ridiculously high body count that’s preceded it, its comical coda is a soft landing that at least ends this rough ride on a bit of a cushion.

At one point, Bannon leaves the president in a safe spot but assures him he’ll return, after he’s checked to make sure everything is secure. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he tells him.

Banning’s a man of his word. And given the regularity with which these Fallen movies seem to set ’em up and knock ’em down again and again, he could very well be back.

This is lowbrow entertainment for an audience that likes good guys to win, bad guys to lose, and doesn’t mind too much if everything around them becomes collateral damage in the process.

Somehow, it all gets reset before the next movie. Just wait—oh, about three years—and you might get to see who, or what, “falls” next.

In theaters Aug. 23, 2019

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Naughty & Nice

Childhood innocence clashes with R-rated raunch in randy coming-of-age comedy

Film Title: "Good Boys"

Keith L. Williams, Jacob Tremblay and Brady Noon are ‘Good Boys.’

Good Boys
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon & Keith L. Williams
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
R

The little boys in Good Boys aren’t bad boys—but boy, do they ever get into some wickedly funny stuff!

But be prepared—this is no TV after-school special. Co-produced by Seth Rogen, and with a writer-producer pedigree that includes Superbad, Neighbors and Sausage Party, this R-rated romp is a randy coming-of-age comedy about a trio of 12-year-old best friends who find their first couple of weeks of sixth grade a wild ride of f-bombs, sex toys and illegal drugs.

And no, I never thought I’d be writing a sentence that strings together “comedy,” “12-year-old,” “f-bombs,” “sex toys,” and “illegal drugs.”

It all revolves around Max (Jacob Tremblay, from Room and Wonder), who has a crush on a fellow student, Brixlee (Millie Davis, who played Gemma on TV’s Orphan Black, and now appears on the PBS kids’ series Odd Squad). When one of the coolest kids in Max’s class, Soren (Izaac Wang), invites him to a “kissing party” at his house, Max knows he has to be there—especially when he finds out Brixlee will be there, too.

Film Title: "Good Boys"But first he and his friends, Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), have to learn how to kiss. This sets them off on a frantic suburban scavenger hunt that involves internet porn; a drone; spying on two older neighbor girls (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis); accidentally coming into possession of someone else’s stash of the drug molly; an escape from a frat house; a mad dash across a busy freeway; and a close call with a cop.

Much of the scabrous humor involves the comedic clash of the kids’ basic decency and naiveté with the craziness and debauchery of things they encounter. Their young lives are too sheltered to know the difference between nymphomaniac and pyromaniac, or what, exactly, Thor’s parents’ extensive stash of “marital aids” are supposed to be. They think a sex doll is a (very lifelike!) CPR dummy. And why not use an, ahem, erotic stimulation aid as weapon, or another as a necklace? It sure looks like one!

At some point, the novelty and the shock of watching kids fumble around in a grownup—sometimes smutty—world, proving they can be just as potty-mouthed as anyone else, wears a little thin. No one will be surprised, after all, that 12-year-olds can curse, swill beer or discover their parents have sex. But the witty script by writers Lee Eisenberg and first-time director Gene Stupnitsky, who also teamed up for the movies Bad Teacher and Year One, does make their young characters feel genuine. (How ironic that none of them are old enough to see their own movie without their parents.)

Film Title: "Good Boys"

Busted! Tremblay with Midori Francis (left) and Molly Gordon

The three friends, who call themselves the Beanbag Boys, have been inseparable since kindergarten. The movie shows how adolescence is a time of shifting sand, when even the strongest of childhood bonds can be tested as interests begin to change, hormones start to boil and bubble and peer pressures push and pull. Thor, an impressive singer and budding theater geek, puts his plans to audition for the school musical on hold after a group of other kids make fun of him. The super-sensitive Lucas, who wears his feelings painfully close to the surface, is having trouble dealing with the divorce of his parents (Lil Rel Howery and Retta). And Max has to break it to his besties that he’s moved on to more “grownup” things, like girls, while they’re still into role-playing games and kid stuff.

Film Title: "Good Boys"

Spin the Bottle with Brixlee (Millie Davis)

Good Boys is a movie where childhood innocence—a game of Spin the Bottle, bike rides through a sprinkler, the camaraderie of young friendship—intersects with a profane punch of wild, rollicking, ribald comedy, purified with the sunshine of genuine sweetness. These Good Boys really are good boys.

After one tiff threatens to pull the Beanbag Boys apart, Lucas’ mom tells him about a hermit crab he once owned, and how crabs outgrow their shells and have to find new ones. The Beanbag Boys, she tells Lucas, are growing up, and are going to have to find new, bigger shells.

Is your shell big enough for a comedy about tweens, f-bombs, molly and sex toys? If so, Good Boys is a good one.

In theaters Aug. 16, 2019

Married to the Mob

Gender-flipped gangster saga ‘The Kitchen’ is like a gal-centric ‘Goodfellas’

180523_Owens_Pub_Women_Kevin_Duffy_Little_Jackie_Backroom_Ext_As

Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish & Melissa McCarthy: gangsta gals

The Kitchen
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish & Elisabeth Moss

Directed by Andrea Berloff
R

Three women who are married to the mob take over their husband’s work in this gritty gangster drama set in the late 1970s in the New York City borough known as Hell’s Kitchen.

Based on a DC Comics series of the same name, The Kitchen follows the story of Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) after their mobster men are sent to prison. Other members of the local Irish gang of thugs offer them little in terms of support or protection; they’re outsiders, they’re women, and they’re on their own.

“They’ve been tellin’ us forever that we’re never gonna be good for nothin’ except havin’ babies,” says Ruby, indignantly.

So Ruby, Kathy and Claire decide to take matters into their own hands, muscling in on the gang’s rackets and skimming off their neighborhood protection money. Soon enough, they’re known around the Kitchen as “the Irish Girls,” they’ve got connections with labor unions and cops, they’re comfortable using guns and knives—and they’ve attracted the attention of a big-cheese Italian mob boss (Bill Camp) across town, in Brooklyn.

As you may have guessed, this isn’t a comedy—even though there are moments of dark, grim, gallows humor. McCarthy and Haddish both certainly know how to find the funny and shake out the silly. But just not in this movie.

180524_Owens_Pub_Gabrielle_Kathy_Ruby_Gang_00328.dngThe Kitchen is a character-driven crime drama, a period-piece that rocks its time and place with serious attention to detail. The streets look appropriately grungy and grimy, down to random bits of trash and puddles of mystery goop. The fashion is right-on, even when it’s basic or frumpy. Music from Heart, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., Montrose and other acts from the era help set the scenes—as does a well-chosen cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” by the new country-rockin’ act The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires).

180615_Liquor_Store_42nd_ST_Sidewalk_00061.dngThe three main characters are fully fleshed out; they’re complicated women, each in a different, difficult situation. McCarthy’s Kathy is a loving mom, raising two children with a husband (Brian D’Arcy James) who’s resentful of anything she tries to do outside the home. Haddish plays it tough and sassy as Ruby, a double outsider—she’s black and female, even though she’s the wife of the son (James Badge Dale) of the mob’s maleficent mol, Ma (Margo Martindale). Claire’s toxic relationship with the abusive Rob (Jeremy Bobb) melts away when he goes away to prison—and Gabriel, the intense Vietnam vet-next-door (Domhnall Gleeson), moves in. Moss, the Emmy-winning star of The Handmaid’s Tale, gets perhaps the movie’s sweetest—and grisliest—subplot as Claire and Gabriel bond.

We watch all three women break out of their shells. “I’m not gonna get knocked around ever again,” vows Claire. She certainly doesn’t use her bathtub for bathing ever again, either, at least not very often—well, you’ll find out when you see the movie.

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Common

Rapper-turned-actor Common plays the FBI agent assigned to surveille the Irish mob. He spends a lot of time in a cramped cargo van.

Bullets fly, blood spills, splats and spatters, bones crunch. This is a different kind of ladies’ night, for sure. It’s a mobster movie with a gender flip. But that’s glossing over something even bigger—The Kitchen has a top-down message about female empowerment. (The movie opens with Etta James singing her version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s World,” which continues with the line, “…but it wouldn’t be nothin’ without a woman, or a girl.”)

It’s the first feature film from director Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Oscar for her screenwriting (Straight Outta Compton). Award-winning French cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler) gives everything a washy, time-capsule, Kodachrome-like sheen that recalls vintage 35mm flicks from the 1970s.

It’s not an epic piece of filmmaking; it’s a little too loose and too uneven. And there are a few too many goombah meatballs in the thick Irish stew, mostly unnecessary palookas that sop up time that could have been spent on colorful, much more interesting characters like Gleeson’s Gabriel—clearly haunted by terrible things he hints he’s seen and done—and Martindale’s Ma, the Bible-quoting mob matriarch who’s ascended to the top of her neighborhood’s otherwise male-dominated criminal cartel. But the movie is solidly grounded by its trio of outstanding lead actresses, and it’s a treat to watch them dig into roles that let them blast away at 1970s notions of what women could, should—and shouldn’t—do.

There are twists, turns, gotchas and spoilers that I wouldn’t dare divulge. There’s murder, muck and messes to mop up, and the movie brings up issues about power, control and the cold, hard costs of doing business when you decide to play big and get down and dirty.

“You go to war,” Brooklyn mob boss Alfonso Coretti tells them, “there’s no coming back.”

In other words, if you can’t stand the heat…stay out of The Kitchen.

In theaters Aug. 9, 2019

 

Diesel Fumes

Buckle up for a fuel-injected mix of banter, ballistics and beefy, bone-crunching beatdowns

Film Title: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & ShawFast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Starring Dwayne Johnson & Jason Statham
Directed by David Leitch
PG-13

Buckle up—Hollywood’s high-octane franchise peels out in a super-charged spinoff featuring two tough guys teamed up to save the planet from a cyber-enhanced mega-villain.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is federal agent Luke Hobbs, and Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, a rogue British Special Forces assassin, both reprising their roles from previous Fast & Furious flicks. In case you’ve lost count, there’ve been eight, starting with The Fast and the Furious back in 2001.

The F&F films—now Universal Pictures’ highest-grossing franchise of all time, with a total box-office draw of some $5 billion—came to be known for over-the-top action, spectacular  vehicular stunts, bombastic fights and a colorful core of misfit, muscle-bound motorheads. The movies weren’t high art, but they became the go-to for bountiful cinematic buffets of shoot-’em-up, blow-’em-up, beat-’em-up guilty pleasures, built upon the fuel-injected, chop-shop charisma of leading-man Vin Diesel and his late co-star, Paul Walker (who died in 2013) and a cadre of supporting actors. I’ll always have fond memories of the times they dueled with tanks, raced submarines and parachuted cars out of an airplane.

Film Title: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & ShawHobbs and Shaw weren’t always teammates, as F&F fans well know. They started out on opposite sides of the playing field—with Shaw as an outright baddie—but became begrudging colleagues, and fan favorites, after an heroic act of redemption by Shaw (see The Fate of the Furious, 2017).

Now they’re called back into action to track down a virtually indestructible criminal, Brixton (Idris Elba, the star of TV’s Luther), who’s been reverse-engineered with cyber technology to become the vanguard of a shadowy movement that purports to become the “future of mankind.” Brixton will do anything to get his hands on a deadly proto-virus—a programmable apocalypse—with the power to wipe out all humanity and start over again.

Film Title: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Idris Elba is “black Superman.”

“I’m black Superman!” he decrees.

Hobbs and Shaw need to get to the virus first, and fast—not only to save the world, but also for an extremely personal reason.

Fast cars? Explosions? Fights? Yes, yes and yes! This is a Fast & Furious property, after all. There’s a rip-roaring chase through downtown London with a supercool convertible McLaren 720S Spider and Brixton’s “smart” motorcycle, and another through the collapsing, exploding ruins of a decrepit Ukrainian factory—and bonus points for a clash-of-the-titans, three-way smackdown that continues onto the back of a moving flatbed truck.

And that’s all before the action moves to Samoa, where the fighting takes a “traditional” twist as Hobbs reconnects with his family there—and he and Decker lasso Brixton’s helicopter with a giant chain from a wrecker.

Vanessa Kirby (she played Princess Margaret in The Crown on Netflix) is a total badass as Shaw’s sister, Hattie, an MI6 field agent with a secret—and a combustive, combative skill set that puts her right alongside other formidable females in in the F&F lineage, including Michelle Rodriguez, Gal Gadot and Charlize Theron. There’s the great Helen Mirren, reprising her previous role from The Fate of the Furious as Shaw’s mother, Queenie, now in prison—and adapting quite well, thank you. And a couple of surprise comedic cameos (I won’t spoil it by giving them away) add to the tasty flow of quick-fire quips and humor.

Johnson and Statham, both alpha-male movie stars, fall easily into the movie’s heady, diesel-fuel mix of banter, ballistics and beefy, bone-crunching, balls-to-the-wall beatdowns. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) has a good grip on combining outrageous action with good ol’ buddy comedy, and he understands that the supercharged engine of the Fast & Furious movies has always purred with the warm, steady hum of another f-word, family.

At one point in Hobbs & Shaw, a multi-vehicle pursuit seems to lead into a dead end. Oh, no! Was it in London? Or the Ukraine? Or that narrow mountain road in Samoa, with four or five cars and trucks daisy-chained to a helicopter, about to pull them all over a cliff, and Hobbs holding them all together, like Hercules?

“We’re running out of road!” shouts Hattie.

Not to worry. With two more Fast & Furious movies already in the pipeline, an animated Netflix series this fall, and maybe even another spinoff coming down the pike, there’s still plenty of room for the F&F franchise to roam, a lot more road to ride. It’s a big, wide world, there’s always somewhere else to go, and just look around—there are so many places that haven’t been destroyed yet!

In theaters Aug. 2, 2019

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