Review: Good Boys

good boys headeradam reviewGood Boys.

This movie had me worried when it was touted as “From the makers of Sausage Party.” I wasn’t even really planning on seeing this, until I started to hear rumblings that it might actually be good (unlike Sausage Party). So, I took a risk and went to check it out.

The gist.

We follow three 6th graders, as they prepare for their first ‘kissing party.’ The first of the three boys is Max (Jacob Tremblay), who has a crush on this girl named Brixlee (Millie Davis) and he must attend this party so that she doesn’t kiss somebody else. He uses his dad’s drone to spy on the neighbors, hoping to catch a glimpse of kissing, to see how it’s done. Well, things go sideways and the boys are now set on an adventure that will either end with kissing or with all of them being grounded. The second boy is Lucas (Keith L. Williams), who discovers his parents (Retta and Lil Ren) are getting divorced, though he can’t work up the courage to tell his friends that. Lastly, we have Thor (Brady Noon), who has the voice of an angel but gives up his passion when he’s made fun of by the cool kids in school, so he’s on a journey to prove himself to them.

We also have two high schoolers (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) who are planning a crazy weekend when the boys accidentally steal their drugs, so these girls are trying to track down our leads for the movie’s length.

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What works?

I have to say, this movie surprised me in a lot of ways.

First off, while it’s rated R and touted as a perverse and obscene raunchy comedy, it’s actually fairly tame yet still managed to get some big belly laughs from me. It didn’t need to resort to truly gross content, which feels like a lowest common denominator approach. This was jam packed with comedy that worked, yet did push the limits for what we’re used to seeing with child actors.

I think this movie ultimately works so well because it has a heart and innocence to it. These kids aren’t raunchy intentionally, they’re stumbling through scenarios that they know nothing about. They don’t know the verbiage or the lingo, they don’t understand how things work, so it’s cute and innocent, even when approaching the vulgar. This heart really comes from our three leads, who all absolutely work. It’s no doubt that Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) would deliver, but these other two relative unknowns do a fantastic job as well. They’re all likable and interesting and downright hilarious.

While this movie has plenty of f-bombs and shocking moments, it also has some great emotional moments. I teared up in the finale, as this movie really is about kids and growing up, either growing together or growing apart. The way that these kids learn this is actually poignant and relatable, as I know I had many grade school friends that eventually you grow apart from, as you take on your own hobbies and interests. I was surprised that this movie had any sort of higher message at all, nonetheless one that I’d connect with so much.

What doesn’t work?

While it isn’t as crude as I expected, it may still be a bit much for you if you can’t handle (or don’t want to see) sixth-graders saying every profane word or phrase in existence. This is still an R-rated comedy at its core.

And I’ve also read criticism of this film for trying to hit the same beats as movies like Superbad but that movie was almost 15 years ago, so I think it’s fair game to pay some homages to that film. I didn’t have an issue with this movie’s originality.

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Overall…

This is shocking, but I really loved this movie. It had me laughing harder than most comedies in recent years have, and it really struck an emotional nerve with me as well. I teared up, I laughed, this movie really delivered on everything I wanted. It’s not a fantastic film, as it really doesn’t subvert any expectations you might have had, but it will make you laugh and maybe even remind you of your own youth and innocence. The only warning is that, yes, it’s still an R-rated movie that pushes the limits, but if that’s not a concern, this movie should leave you thoroughly entertained.

4

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Review: The Farewell (2019)

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The Farewell.

I had heard a lot about The Farewell, praising Awkwafina for her performance here. So, my wife and I went out of the way a bit to find a theater that was showing this. Did it live up to the hype?

The gist.

Billi (Awkwafina) has been living in New York, disconnected from her family in China. She returns back to China when it’s discovered that her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou) has cancer and is dying. Here’s the kicker: she doesn’t know. In China, a family can choose to not disclose this, so the family chooses to lie to the grandmother and let her live in ignorance. They also stage a fake wedding as a ruse to get the entire extended family together to say goodbye to her, though she has no idea. Will Billi go along with the lie? Or tell the truth to her dying grandmother?

Almost the entire movie is in Mandarin, with subtitled English. Other stars include Tzi Ma and Diana Lin as Billi’s parents.

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What works?

The biggest strength of this movie is its heart. It’s a family with very relateable problems and convincing relationships. Some of our characters aren’t actors, including Nai Nai, the grandmother who is the crux of this entire film. It feels authentic and realistic, like we’re just peeking into this world. Awkwafina does a decent job here, especially considering her past performances have all been comedic roles. I don’t think she’s the revelation that others have hyped her up to be, but she does a fine job.

I also think they’ve made China a character unto itself. The locations are all intriguing, at once feeling both foreign and familiar. It’s a very different China than is usually showcased in major films that hit the United States, so it was refreshing.

What doesn’t work?

There’s a few things that really dropped this a few pegs for me, potentially because it was so overhyped and my expectations were maybe too high.

First off, this movie can really slow to a standstill at times. The director Lulu Wang has only one other full-length movie on her resume, so I chalk some of this up to inexperience. There are plenty of slow motion moments with people walking, or zooms into people’s faces. Things that don’t really add anything and instead slow the film to a crawl. There’s not a lot of plot here, so it feels like they padded the runtime a bit.

My other major gripe is how the film ended, so I can’t really get into it without spoilers. You don’t really get the sort of release or climax that you expect and it ultimately undercuts the whole experience. As the credits rolled, I didn’t get the experience that I wanted or expected from this film.

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Overall…

This is a fine film. It showcases a Chinese family in a way that isn’t often shown in mainstream Hollywood and it characterizes the country itself in a unique way as well. It’s got heart, but ultimately undercuts the emotion and doesn’t deliver the sort of climax you might be hoping for. Awkwafina does a fine job, though I wouldn’t put too much stock in her winning any awards for this.

3

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Review: The Kitchen

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The Kitchen.

In this 1970s era crime drama, we see three wives in the wake of their husbands’ arrests. Their husbands were powerful men in the Irish mob scene of Hell’s Kitchen, New York, so the wives step in to fill this vacuum, quickly discovering they have a knack for it. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) steps up to make connections with nearby families, while Claire (Elizabeth Moss) struggles to learn how to defend herself and take care of loose ends. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) fears for her life following her husband’s arrest, so she makes aggressive moves to secure her place. To help them make moves, they recruit Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson) to teach them how to kill, how to get rid of bodies, and ultimately to provide protection. This story follows their rise to wealth and what happens when their husbands eventually get released from prison and the implications of their wives now running the territory.

What works?

Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Moss run the show here, delivering our most powerful and impactful moments. While it might be hard to take McCarthy serious, I feel like she’s done enough serious pictures now to start to wear that reputation down. I also want to give kudos to Domhnall Gleeson, who plays a completely detached sociopath pretty easily.

This movie also offers lots of “WHOA WHAT” moments, so if you want something that leaves you guessing and you never know what will happen next, you’ll find plenty of that here, right up until the last shot of the film.

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What doesn’t work?

While there are plenty of shock and awe moments, it can feel a bit familiar. Most movies revolving around the mob feature plenty of “What the! They killed them!” moments. It also lacks a punch at the end, all of these big twists ultimately feeling a little underwhelming. As the credits began to run, I didn’t really feel much of anything, so the whole journey felt a little inconsequential, including squandering Domhnall Gleeson, who they built up to be something and instead they disappointed.

I’m also conflicted about Tiffany Haddish here. There were plenty of times when her line delivery caused the audience to laugh, but I don’t know if it was really meant to be a punchline. We’re just so used to seeing her in comedies, this first outing in a drama might be a rough transition.

Overall…

This movie is fine, which is pretty much what I expected. McCarthy, Moss, and Gleeson carry the film, while Haddish is a little more hit or miss. The story will keep you engaged and has plenty of twists and turns, but ultimately lacks the punch and impact in the climax, leaving you feeling apathetic about the adventure you just went on. It’s fine if you’re looking for some air conditioning for a few hours, but this won’t top any Best of 2019 lists for sure.

3

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Review: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

67093945_2177053719254720_6959023862033940480_nadam review

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

This is the ninth movie by Quentin Tarantino. By now, you probably have an idea if this is your cup of tea or not. You might love these films or you might be incredibly put-off by them. If you’re already a Tarantino fan, why are you even reading this? It’s a no-brainer, you’ll go see this. If you’re not a fan, I’m not sure this movie will be the one to convince you.

The gist.

It’s 1969 and we follow actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton is going through a rough patch and is trying to redeem his name, while Cliff gets distracted by a woman (Margaret Qualley) who it turns out is part of the Manson Family, a cult following Charles Manson who ended up murdering people. One of their famous victims is the actress Sharon Tate, played here by Margot Robbie.

Now, I think it’s important that you know that the Manson Family was involved in the death of Sharon Tate because the movie doesn’t really tell you much, I don’t even think the word “Manson” is said at all, they only allude to the character as “Charlie.” If you don’t know this history or what these people were up to, I think this movie would be much more confusing, so I’m telling you now.

We also have supporting characters played by Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Luke Perry (in his last movie role), and Timothy Olyphant.

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What works?

There’s a few things you can always rely on Tarantino for. Firstly, the movie is gorgeous, bringing that era to life completely. They drive through Los Angeles and you can tell a lot of work went into either physically or digitally transforming the city. His shots are long, allowing these incredible actors to just breathe. Some of the movie’s best moments are seemingly inconsequential, just these characters living in this world.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely shine here. DiCaprio has much more of an arc, as he struggles to remain relevant, but Pitt’s character gets plenty to do as well. These are two of today’s best performers, so undoubtedly they deliver here.

Our supporting cast also shine, including a hilarious performance from 10-year-old actress Julia Butters, whose back and forth with DiCaprio is one of the highlights of the film.

If you’re looking for a high-level movie that might challenge you and not handhold your experience, this might be it.

What doesn’t work?

This movie isn’t a solid pick for casual audiences. If you’re just looking for escapism, this movie’s nearly 3-hour runtime might discourage you. And in those 3 hours, very little happens. This movie, like some of Tarantino’s other films, doesn’t have much of a plot. I could spoil the entire plot in a line or two. This is just characters living and doing, sometimes planting seeds for things that never come to pass.

The biggest complaint I can see coming is Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, a real life actress. If you’re not familiar with Tate and her unfortunate death in real life, you may be wondering the whole time who she is and what she has to do with this movie, and there’s no payoff for her character. If you do know and can see what’s coming, you might find the movie’s climax a little more interesting.

So, if you’re not interested in the journey, a lot of this movie can feel slow and uneventful, plenty of long driving shots with no dialogue. It’s beautifully shot but may feel unnecessary.

Also, there is some violence in the climax that made me incredibly uneasy. Now, I loved films like Kill Bill so I understand Tarantino’s penchant for violence in his movies, but some of these shots still made my stomach turn, so a warning to those of you with weak stomaches.

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Overall…

This is a mixed bag, so I’m going right down the middle. However, this means some of you might absolutely love this film. You’re okay with the slow pace, the performances are solid, and you knew enough about the history to appreciate what Tarantino has done. On the flip side, some of you will hate this. You don’t appreciate the stretches of silence, you don’t know the history and so Margot Robbie’s character felt pointless and disconnected, and you ultimately felt it was a waste of time. This is a hard movie to rate, since it’s likely so dependent on YOUR attitude going in. For me, it was right down the middle.

3

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Review: The Lion King (2019)

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The Lion King.

Disney has a hit or miss track record with these remakes. Luckily, the highlight for me so far as been The Jungle Book, which is directed by Jon Favreau (who also directs The Lion King). So if The Jungle Book was a test for how to create realistic talking and singing animals, that should mean The Lion King is a surefire thing right? Well, we’ll see.

The gist.

As “Circle of Life” plays, we see the African plains unfold, introducing us to the king Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and his queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard). Their newborn son Simba (JD McCrary) is the next in line for the throne, which Mufasa tries to prepare him for throughout our first act. You know who’s not happy about this new addition to the family? Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who recruits a pack of hyenas to help him take the throne. If you’ve seen the animated The Lion King, what happens next should not be surprising to you.

We cut to Simba all grown up (and voiced by Donald Glover), who is reunited with his childhood friend Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter). Also voicing characters, we’ve got Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, John Oliver as Zazu the bird, and John Kani as the monkey Rafiki.

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What works?

The star of the show here is how absolutely breathtaking this film looks. If I didn’t know any better, it appears like actual live animals have been trained to sing and dance, it looks that good. The Jungle Book really paved the way for this and The Lion King delivers in very much the same way. BUT. These are two very different movies. In The Jungle Book film, they cut a lot of the music numbers, whereas The Lion King, they fully embrace them. So how does a photorealistic lion cub emote and dance and sing in the same way as its animated counterpart? It can’t and that poses some problems, which I’ll get to in the next section.

In terms of our immense voice talent, the (surprise) highlights are Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. You know Rogen but if you don’t know Billy Eichner, welcome aboard and check out his hilarious Billy on the Street YouTube channel. These two bring the movie to life, after a somewhat slow first half. Once they arrive, the second half of the film is drastically more electric and more interesting.

The recent Aladdin divided fans because that film made some significant changes to the original, including a few new songs, new characters, and more. Here, if you want the exact same story as the animated film, you’re in luck. It’s nearly shot for shot, even line for line, the same. My audience even quoted the movie as it was happening because the dialogue was lifted right from the animated film. I wouldn’t say this a pro, but a lot of you, this may be what you want.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, this movie does nothing new. There’s a new Beyonce song that plays over a travel montage and the song “Be Prepared” was drastically changed, but most of the movie is absolutely the same. So is this movie necessary? I’d argue no.

I also mentioned that these animals are incredibly lifelike. But that becomes a problem here, as it’s impossible to mimic the sort of range and emotion that we need. When major tragedy occurs (you know the one), it’s hard to get any sort of emotion from a lifelike cub face. It’s hard to believe that John Oliver’s voice is coming from a bird that only clack its beak together, appearing more like a dub over an Animal Planet special, than a real Hollywood film. It takes away the impact and kind of distances you from these characters, as you’re always cognizant of this voice dissonance.

And while Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner stole the show, almost every other voice was somewhat forgettable to me. Unfortunately the weakest link was probably Donald Glover, who did a decent job with the songs but faltered on his normal dialogue, undercutting the massive climax.

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Overall…

They mastered the art of making photo-realistic animals with The Jungle Book, but I think they pushed it too far here, expecting these lifelike animals to sing and dance convincingly. It doesn’t work and an especially slow first half of the film suffers from this inability to really connect with them. The movie comes to life in the second half, with the killer duo of Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, who are this movie’s saving grace and probably the biggest reason to see it.

3

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Review: Stuber

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Stuber.

This is a refreshing movie at this time of year. Most big summer blockbusters have high stakes or are part of massive franchises, so this feels nice, to have a one-off simple comedy. But that being said, does this deliver on that promise?

The gist.

LAPD officer Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) has a vendetta out for a heroin trafficker named Tedjo (Iko Uwais). And it just so happens that a big shipment is being delivered on the day that Manning receives Lasik surgery, so he can’t drive himself. His daughter (Natalie Morales) shows him how to use the Uber app on his phone, which is how he connects with Stu (Kumail Nanjiani). Stu hopes to do one more ride and then connect with the woman of his dreams (Betty Gilpin), who he’s loved forever and has finally broken up with her boyfriend. However, this ride takes much longer than expected as Stu now has to drive Vic throughout Los Angeles to track down and stop this heroin supply.

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What works?

We know from experience that both Bautista and Nanjiani have comedic chops but it’s their dynamic together that really elevates this film. Bautista delivers plenty of great moments, both comedic and action, and he actually gets a few moments to really shine in ways he hasn’t before. Nanjiani doesn’t have to try so hard, his comedic style is dry and flies under the radar, little quips that sneak up on you. Together, you’ll laugh a lot and have a generally good time here.

It’s also a refreshingly quick-paced film, with the opening scene immediately throwing you into the action. Things happen quickly and you shouldn’t feel bored or be checking your watch, it all flows perfectly.

So if you want laughter, you’ll find it here. This is R-rated, so some of the comedy can be a tad raunchy, but most of you likely expect that going in.

What doesn’t work?

While there is some action here, the fight sequences weren’t as impressive as I would’ve hoped, considering Bautista’s experience paired up with The Raid‘s Iko Uwais. Director Michael Dowse hasn’t done many films, nonetheless films with an action emphasis, so he likely just didn’t know how to capitalize on these two talents.

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Overall…

This is a brief review because it’s a simple one. This is a great comedy and is a no-brainer if you’re looking for some hilarious escapism. The action moments fell a little flat, considering who they had at their disposal, but it still makes for a great time at the movies. It’s all made even better seeing Nanjiani and Bautista’s real life friendship that has developed after this film.

4

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Review: Yesterday (2019)

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Yesterday.

Imagine this. One night, the power goes out all around the world for 12 minutes and when the power comes back on, only one man in the world seems to remember the band The Beatles. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) makes the most of this, performing all the hits of The Beatles and eventually becoming the world’s largest singer songwriter, burdened by the guilt that he’s stolen all of these songs. His manager Ellie (Lily James) pines for Jack the whole movie, wishing he would just notice her, but he’s become too distracted by fame to see her.

The first big name to recognize Jack’s newfound talent is Ed Sheeran, playing himself, and Sheeran’s agent (Kate McKinnon).

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What works?

If you’re a fan of The Beatles, this movie should be really intriguing to you. The music is great, with Himesh Patel putting his own spin on many of the songs. He’s charismatic and likable, though it’s really Lily James who is the heart of the movie. I didn’t especially like her in other films (like Cinderella or Baby Driver), but here, she’s absolutely perfect and really puts Jack’s fame in perspective, what he’s missing out on while searching for the spotlight.

I also really appreciated Ed Sheeran, who is really just playing an exaggerated version of himself, but he stole the scenes he was in and provided much of the movie’s comedic relief.

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This movie is quirky and weird but I think a lot of you may like it. It reminds me actually of my favorite movie Stranger Than Fiction. It’s not the best movie, but it’s niche and it’s weird and it will appeal to a certain set of people. A lot of you may love this movie, while others just don’t get it. That makes it hard to put a score on this.

What doesn’t work?

Why some of you won’t like this film… It leaves a lot of mysteries unanswered. You expect the other foot to drop during this whole movie and you don’t really get resolution for a lot of the questions that the movie has you asking. And they make it more complicated by revealing that The Beatles aren’t the only things that no longer exist, yet we aren’t offered any sort of answer as to why that is.

This lack of resolution can go either way. Some folks might find it jarring and dissatisfying. Others might find that it doesn’t go the predictable route and instead takes you somewhere else, providing a different climax than you likely expected. How you react to this will likely determine your overall happiness with this film.

Overall…

I found Yesterday to be really charming and unique, with both Hamish Patel and Lily James doing incredible work. The music is great and the comedy almost always lands. Some folks will love the absurdity and this will become a cult classic for them, while others might get hung up on the lack of answers and resolution, saying this film absolutely missed the mark. For me, I found it delightful and a great time at the movies.

4

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