Monday, February 26, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons
DIRECTOR: John Francis Daley, Jonathon M. Goldstein
GENRE: Dark Comedy/ Mystery/ Suspense

It ain't over till it's over. In cinematic terms, that phrase was never more appropriate than to Game Night!

Max and Annie (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams) are the nucleus of a group of friends who love their game nights! Charades, Pictionary, Jenga--you name it--they play like their lives depend on it. Ironically, that's just what develops when Max's more successful older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up and invites them to play at his house. It's a murder mystery party--great fun, eh? But it becomes all too real when a group of violent thugs invades the premises and kidnaps Brooks. All part of the game, right? The couples proceed on that assumption, as they begin a frantic search to find him. Hey, there's a classic Corvette Stingray that goes to the winners! But they will run into some truly scary hombres along the way, and suddenly it's confusing as to what may be real and what may be part of the game. 

Joining Max and Annie on the adventure are Ryan and Sarah (Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan)  and Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury). Each couple has its own quirky relationship issues that play out against the action/mystery/suspense backdrop. The pacing of the plot sometimes takes a back seat to the personal relationship gags, but the little detours are comically rewarding and well worth it. Don't worry, there's plenty of wild and crazy action to spades!

Inventiveness abounds, as in the rugby metaphor where a priceless Faberge egg is being tossed about like a hot potato...everything's a is a game!

Stealing the show is Max and Annie's deadpan somber policeman neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons). Gary makes Keely Smith look like the life of the party (ya gotta be pretty old to remember her routine with Louis Prima--uh, I'm only familiar with it through YouTube videos!)  Needless to say, Gary is a buzz kill, and the running gag is that he wants to join the couples on their game nights, with Max and Annie using every comically transparent deception to throw him off the scent and convince him there's "nothing to see here." 

Game Night, brilliantly conceived and executed, is the wildest and goofiest ride you're going to take all year, and it'll keep you guessing right up to the final moment. It truly is the most fun you can have with your clothes on! 

Grade:  A     


(Or your clothes off, as far as I'm concerned.) Game Night is a winner all around. If you don't see any other film this month, or year, or in your lifetime, go see this one! It's a laugh-out-loud, movie trivia buff's orgy of a movie. If you've seen the trailer, or read Tim's review, you already know what you're getting into. What you don't know is how engrossing it is. The audience where I was—disappointed that they couldn't get into the theater playing Black Panther—forgot feeling miffed the minute Game Night started. Like me, they were hooked!

If any of you have see Jason Bateman in the Netflix original Ozark, you already know what a good actor he is. And if you seen Kyle Chandler in the Netflix original Bloodline, you know what a good/bad guy he can turn into. A word I seldom use but feel compelled to in describing this script, skillfully penned by Mark Perez, would be "seamless." Not a false moment slinks by. And each pair of game-players has an individual story that'll entice you even further. But be forewarned: you'd better suspend your disbelief at the door!

As a flaw-finding film critic, I'm at a loss to point out anything in Game Night that I didn't enjoy.  And if you, like the rest of us, are currently experiencing bad weather?  (It's cold as a witch's you-know-what here in Del Mar!)  This movie will make you forget your woes entirely. It's Entertainment Personified!

Grade: A

Monday, February 12, 2018

THE 15:17 TO PARIS (2018)

Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
GENRE: Drama

We're all familiar with the inspirational story of three young American buddies who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015, saving the lives of the 500 passengers on board. In The 15:17 To Paris, director Clint Eastwood brings the story to the big screen in a way that no one else likely would have dared--he got the real heroes to portray themselves. The film is peppered with teaser shots of the intense and masterfully done climactic scene in order to tide us over through the somewhat bland but not uninteresting backstory of their lives.   

Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone is singled out to be the fully developed character, ostensibly because he had the biggest--or at least the bloodiest--role in subduing the heavily armed bad guy. We follow Spencer from the schoolyard (he was something of a rebel) through Air Force basic training, and much of the first half of the film plays like a recruitment video for the military. But to Eastman's credit, he's not jingoistic about it. No veiled jabs at Muslims. He's telling a story and everything in the story speaks for itself. 

Eastwood's bold, and as it turns out, brilliant move in casting the real heroes as themselves has likely created more buzz for the film than anything else.  For me, the curiosity factor of how these non actors would do was the major reason I wanted to see it---that and the fact that it's a totally compelling story. 

Eastwood used non actors before in Gran Torino, with some embarrassing results, and I was hoping that these guys could raise that bar at least a bit. No problema. They're not going to win any Oscars, but their chemistry together is quite literally the real thing. It helps that they are affable guys...the kind you'd bring home to mom (or mom might bring home after a night out at the beer joint).

The three of them end up backpacking through Europe together. We're treated to panoramic views of Venice, and the introduction of a comely American girl who decides to tag along with them. If only they could have come up with something more authentically Italian than "Volare" to be playing in the background. That's like going to a French restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger, but then The 15:17 To Paris is tailored to heartland American tastes. Ah, but just when you start thinkin' it's gonna be goody-two-shoes all the way, they throw in a sexy, let-it-loose disco scene with some unmistakably European babes shakin' their booty! 

Stone has premonitions, and the theme of fate has something big in store for us is played up throughout. The train rumbles toward Paris as the film proceeds toward its inexorable climax, the scene we've all been waiting for. The ten minute terrorist take-down sequence, filmed in real time is riveting, soul-stirring cinema at its best. Well worth the wait. And at just over an hour and a half in duration, The 15:17 To Paris doesn't take an interminably long time to get you there. 
Grade:  B +  


OMG. I can't believe two reasonably intelligent, visually savvy people could differ so wildly. But this is one case where I couldn't disagree more with Tim's assessment of Eastwood's latest faux film. I think he chose to cast the real guys because he realized that, without them, there was no story. (I hate to tell you, Clint, but there still was no story!) Yes, there was an incident on a train that was, indeed, brave and heroic. But since everybody in the audience knew that from the get-go, building a movie around it—with three basically bland characters to work with—was a challenge that would've had even Willie Shakespeare pulling his hair out.

Of the three non actors, I felt Anthony Sadler was by far the most authentic. I had to laugh at the striking physical resemblance between non actor Alek Skarlatos and actor Scott Eastwood. (I'll just bet he was furious that his dad didn't cast him in the role!)

The only redeemable thing in this paean to patroitism was the score which I was certain Clint Eastwood had composed himself. I was shocked to find that Christian Jacob scored the film. (He also composed the score for Sully so he's good at disaster-avoidance flicks.) But one cheap musical shot I just have to point out was a scene in Germany, where the tour guide corrects our third hero Spencer Stone about where Hitler and Eva Braun are buried. As he cycles away, he sings "Springtime for Hitler In Germany...." A song fromThe Producers that was totally out of place. (But Mel Brooks must have been pleased.)

Save your money!

Grade: D- 

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike
DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper
GENRE: Western/Action-Adventure

I like a good western now and then. Part of it, I think, is because back then men looked like men. They had facial hair! (And they weren't waxing their chests.) So I was looking forward to seeing Hostiles because not so many of these manly pictures come around anymore. And from some of the buzz about it, I thought there might be a message in there. 

And indeed there is one in the opening two sequences. Some white settlers are slaughtered by Comanches. After that, some Indians are brutally murdered by the paleface. Graphic stuff, and a pretty clear message that war is futile. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong. In retrospect, of course, we know who was right and who was wrong, if defending your homeland against alien invaders is what any noble people would do.   

It's 1892, and U.S. army captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) has been charged to lead a mercy mission of escorting a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to their native lands in Montana. That's a long ride on horseback. Blocker balks at first. He's seen too much killing, and he hates those "savages" with every fiber of his being. He reluctantly gives in (after being threatened with court martial) and the party sets out. Along the way they'll be attacked by marauding Comanches and nefarious types of his own race. Blocker is quickly faced with the reality that if his little band of soldiers and Indians are to survive, they must all stick together. He must dig down and find the humanity in himself, so he can recognize it in others.  

Christian Bale's Joe Blocker is one of the best fleshed out characters I've seen in some time. We see his internal struggle all the way through. Can't say as much for the rest of the cast, as there are some uneven acting performances--some pretty good, some not so hot. But what really bugged me throughout the film was that many of the characters--especially the Indians in the traveling party--didn't look authentic. Their faces (other than the old chief) weren't weathered enough. Their skin is baby smooth, lacking the character lines that a hard life of subsistence upon the prairie would bring. They look more Hollywood actors!  

If little "details" like this don't bother you, and you're willing to trade believability for edge-of-your-seat action and suspense, you'll enjoy Hostiles. As I heard a guy who was heading for the exit after the movie say: Whole bunch of Indians gettin' shot and killed...and white people too!

That pretty well sums it up.

Grade:  C +


(Ha, ha.) That guy in the audience pretty well summed up Hostiles. I do, however, want to add a codicil to Captain Blocker being threatened with a court martial if he didn't escort those "savages" to Montana. For me, the game changer was when his superior threatened him with the loss of his pension. Something any modern day racist can readily identify with... ("Money talks, bullshit walks.")

This was a long movie. It had to be in order to make the attitudinal changes believeable. But as this was oh-so-slowly happening, I got to wondering how the average western loving movie goer would react to such psychological meanderings. 

The scenery was gorgeous. Those aerial shots made me aware, as every western does, of just how vast this country is. (Or was.) And if I knew how to say 'great job' in Cheyenne, I'd certainly tell Oklahoma native Wes Studi he was terrific. The final words he shared with homesteader Rosalie Quaid (ably played by yet another Brit, Rosamund Pike) really moved me. But they also made me think about how today's Native Americans would react to this retributive film. Forgiveness—like the proverbial rattlesnake—is a slippery creature....

For me, the slowness of this tale got in the way of the story.

Grade: C

Thursday, February 1, 2018

I, TONYA (2018)

Rated:  R

STARS: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
GENRE: Drama

No wonder Tonya Harding was a train wreck. Her nasty-ass, white trash mother may have thought she was dispensing tough love by driving her daughter relentlessly, smacking her around both verbally and physically--all in the name of developing her into a champion--but if the events as portrayed in the movie are anywhere near accurate, it was child abuse. 

It's all there in tragicomic style in  I,Tonya, from the precocious 4 year-old on skates to her rise to international prominence--competing in two Olympic games--and her subsequent downfall resulting from her involvement in the brutal attack that put rival Nancy Kerrigan out of commission. 

Australian Margot Robbie is five inches taller and too pretty to play Tonya Harding, but as the film progresses you forgive these things because Robbie nails this role like a triple axle. But if anybody deserves a perfect score (and her Oscar nomination), it's Allison Janney as LaVonna Golden, Tonya's steely-hearted mom. Man, is she nasty!

The Nancy Kerrigan subplot with hubby Jeff Gilooly (Sebastian Stan)--while essential to Tonya's story-- could have been tightened up some because it slows  down the pace, especially when juxtaposed against the dizzying high of the skating scenes (brilliantly edited) where Tonya Harding triumphed--and what made the story of her fall from grace (which she had in her skating but not in her life) so tragic.    

You'd naturally wonder--as did I,Timmy--how much of the actual skating Margot Robbie did. Kudos to her for learning to skate from scratch, training for weeks to become competent enough to do the more basic moves. Two professional doubles, Anna Malkova and Heidi Munger, were inserted, seamlessly, to land the difficult jumps. 

I,Tonya ain't no Ice Capades, so I wouldn't take the kiddies, but it's a real eye opener into the gritty world of someone who remains to this day a household name--for better or for worse--Tonya Harding. 

Grade:  B + 


The trouble with co-writing these reviews is that Tim writes his opinions first – so I'm left with the challenge of not sounding repetitive. In this instance, however, I am going to repeat what Tim has already said: Allison Janney should win this year's Best Supporting Actress. Although she's up against some pretty stiff competition (Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird, Lesley Manville,Phantom Thread, Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water), her performance is unforgettable. (On a part with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.)

A few weeks ago, I saw a documentary on TV about the real Tonya Harding and, as much as the interviewer tried to make us like and sympathize with her, Tonya came off as a bona fide bitch. True, her mom was no saint (the real mom looked a lot prettier than Allison Janney) but there's no doubt in my mind that Tonya played a big part in the Nancy Kerrigan debacle.

I liked this movie. A lot. The filming was imaginative; the skating sequences breath-taking; the violent scenes visceral. I especially enjoyed the bumblers who committed the assault on Kerrigan. Even though his part was minimal, I tip my hat to the crowbar-wielding Ricky Russert for his scared-as-shit performance. I also loved the portrayal of a fat-kid-gone-wrong by Paul Walter Hauser, as well as Bobby Cannavale's interpetation of local reporter Martin Maddox.

As disgusting as the real life events were, I, Tonya makes you laugh in spite of yourself. But if colorful language isn't your idea of fun, I'd stay clear of this foul-mouthed film...

Grade: B +