For three weeks at the end of July/early August, there were a whopping three (count them – 3!) wide releases in theaters. How do the studios make up for that? Release 13 films over the next three weeks! To honor the glut of riches at the movieplexes, here are some quick reviews for all of the films I’ve seen in the last two weeks. Enjoy!
The best films that rely on extreme, raunchy behavior start with a strong, heartfelt center. Without that, all you’re left with is a series of gross-out shenanigans with no meat. Good Boys tries so very hard to find the heart behind its tween-kids-gone-bad premise, but when it comes down to it, the only thing the film really has going for it is witnessing a group of loud pre-teen kids watch porn, steal beer, and cause accidents while attempting to retrieve a drone so they can go to a popular kid’s kissing party. Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams are fine in their respective roles (and do produce some funny moments), but Jacob Tremblay is the glue that holds the whole thing together. Without him, the film would simply be obnoxious kids screaming all of their lines while doing things kids shouldn’t be doing. The film is fun, but is that enough to make it worthwhile? I’ll let you be the judge. B+
Based on a comic book series of the same name, The Kitchen follows the wives of three criminals rise through the ranks of the Italian mob in 1970s Hells Kitchen after their husbands land in prison. The leader of the pack, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), takes the reigns despite not having the guts to do what’s necessary. That job goes to Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), who passive-aggressively controls the complications the girls find there way into. Both of these characters remain quite stagnant throughout the film and don’t truly evolve as characters. That honor goes to Claire (Elisabeth Moss), who transforms from being incredibly docile to the strongest of the three women, especially after she falls for Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson). It’s a shame her performance is overshadowed by predictability and lack of balance between gritty crime noir and girl-power machismo. B
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
I’ve never read the novel that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on, so I have no comparison for the film, which I think worked in my favor. Guillermo Del Toro is a master of creepy things that go bump in the night, and as co-writer (along with Dan and Kevin Hageman) and producer of Stories, his signature style is all over the film. It’s too bad he didn’t also direct the film, as André Ovredal doesn’t seem to capture the creepiness the film deserves. When Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends visit an abandoned home, she steals a book of stories written by one of the old residents, who has a typical horror-movie backstory. Suddenly, everyone who was in the home at the time of the burglary begins to perish as the woman (Kathleen Pollard) writes her scary stories about them. The story flows naturally from one death to the next, but like the scene where spiders burst from a girls cheek, the power of the ideas doesn’t quite match the execution. A-
Blinded By the Light
Blinded By the Light is a sweet love letter, both for Bruce Springsteen and for romantic coming-of-age stories. Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a young man who’s lost in his own world. All he wants to do is write, but his domineering father (Kulvinder Ghir) keeps him from doing anything that goes against supporting their family, who, as Pakistani’s in 1980s Great Britain, feel out of place and ridiculed for no other reason than because they’re different and misunderstood. When Javed is introduced to the song styles of Springsteen, his whole world is transformed as he finds the courage to live the dream he’s always wanted. The performances are excellent and the story is told with wonderful nuance, with several layers of love (from that of a first date to that of family responsibility) defining the process of finding the confidence one needs to live happily ever after. A
Faith-based movies aren’t known for their professional acting due to the fact that a lot of them, especially those written and/or directed by Alex Kendrick, use a lot community volunteers. This is an awesome aspect to these films and for the most part, it doesn’t usually affect my enjoyment of the film because the message is strong enough to counter the inexperience. Unlike films like Courageous and Fireproof, however, this isn’t quite as true for Overcomer. Though there were some good performances, especially from Cameron Arnett as an older blind man fighting for his life against diabetes in the hospital, and some other terrific moments that really hit your core, what Kendrick is trying to say here isn’t as strong as those aforementioned films, mostly because the script is a little all over the place, wherein plot points and character traits, such as Aryn-Wright Thompson’s tendency for kleptomania, aren’t developed enough to warrant the power of the message. In other words, Overcomer, while a good effort, just can’t seem to sustain energy in the way other faith-based films have been able to accomplish. B+
Ready or Not
Every year, there are a handful of movies that surprise you. When I first saw the trailer for Ready or Not, I thought it was interesting but didn’t strike me as a must-see. The more I saw the trailer, though, the more I was eager to see it. Then I saw the film and was hooked by its tenacity. The film is pretty standard horror fare on the surface, but it finds a way to rise above the familiar tropes because of the terrific performances of the cast, each of whom create a very unique character that blend perfectly into a mess of a family unit as they chase down the new bride (Samara Weaving) of their youngest son (Mark O’Brien) to sacrifice her to their dear-old great- grandfather. What clinches the film as one that will be remembered is the climax, which is both infuriating and pleasantly surprising, all rolled into a grotesquely disturbing bit of hysterical absurdity. A
47 Meters Down: Uncaged
A sequel in name only, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged doubles down on the females in peril and strips it of any character. Though, as the title suggests, there is no cage from which the girls are trapped, it can be argued that the characters are trapped in a different type of cage—a series of flooded, interconnected tunnels. What this does is beg the question: where are all of these sharks coming from? We know by several close encounters that the sharks can’t fit through the tunnels, and yet they keep showing up to chase Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and her friends as they try to find there way to the surface after choosing to go spelunking instead of on a great white shark tour. There is nothing to distinguish the characters from one another, so by the time the predictable third act comes around, it’s hard to care whether the survivors make it out or become just another piece of chum. B-
There are still a couple of movies out there (Angel Has Fallen and The Angry Birds Movie 2) that I’ll catch up with next week, along with yet another crop of films, including Don’t Let Go. If you would like to see a review of these or any other film out next week, please let me know in the comments below.