Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Lover, Stalker, Killer" Review

 If there's one thing Netflix seems able to consistently churn out it's entertaining true crime documentaries. Slickly produced and well told, they're usually short - running 90-120 minutes either as features or mini-series - for quick consumption. Recent winners have been Bitconned and the infuriating American Nightmare which exposed the police AND FBI has judgemental incompetents who seemed to base their "investigation" on watching Lifetime movies. New to Netflix is Lover, Stalker, Killer, another wildly bonkers true crime tale which still manages to surprise even when I was able to predict the twist really early on.

 It's the story of Dave Kroupa, a mechanic who relocated to Omaha, Nebraska to be close to his children after his marriage ended and his ex moved back home in 2012. Looking for love (or at least Miss Right Now), he signed up on a dating site and was matched with a woman named Liz Golyar, a divorcee with a couple of kids. Dave made it clear he was just looking for something casual and she was down for that and they had a great time together.

One day a woman named Cari Farver brought her car to his garage and he checked it out, but also took a liking to her and asked her out. A single mother, she also agreed to his no strings attached/friends with benefits arrangement and dated for a couple of weeks.

One night, while Cari was at Dave's place, Lisa showed up, ostensibly to retrieve something she'd left there. As Cari left, she and Lisa made eye contact for a few seconds, but nothing seemed amiss. But a couple of days later Cari texted Dave suggesting they'd move in together. Dave replied that he'd made clear that he wasn't looking for anything serious and it was way too soon to be playing house and she replied like a mature adult woman would: By swearing to destroy his life in every way possible.

Which she does with a constant barrage of texts and emails which then advance to vandalism against Lisa - keying her car, breaking into his apartment and slashing Lisa's clothes, eventually escalating to setting Lisa's house on fire, killing her pets, which prompted her to break off her relationship with Dave. When the threats extended to his ex-wife and children, they all had to move and change jobs to try and escape Cari's menace.

If you're wondering why the cops didn't step in to deal with Cari, it's because she had disappeared at the same time she began waging jihad against Dave, Lisa and their families. Cari's mother was looking after her young teenage son and her only contact with her daughter were cryptic text messages that she had moved to Kansas to sort things out in her life. Cari was bipolar and a search of her home found she hadn't taken her medicines with her, but also that she didn't appear to have taken anything with her as all her clothes and effects were still there.

 You can probably guess what was going on - I did - but the looooooong twisting road to get to the end is still fascinating stuff, especially the surprise connections between some parties are exposed or the lengths Cari goes to keep inflicting distress on Dave.

 If you like Netflix true crime docs, you'll like this, too.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Part Lives" Review

 Tonight the Oscars Death March teed up what can be described as the Obligatory Asian Movie - up for Best Picture and Original Screenplay - Past Lives, a melancholic thwarted romance story for people who want to end up feeling worse than the characters themselves.

 It opens with an unseen couple observing a trio at a bar late one night consisting of an Asian man (Teo Yoo), an Asian woman (Greta Lee), and a white man (John Magaro). Are the woman and the white man a couple and who is the Asian man? Are the Asians together and who is the white guy? It ends with the woman looking into the camera from the distance.

Then a title card pops up - "24 Years Earlier" - and we're introduced to Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) and Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) the 12-year-old versions of the couple we saw in their native South Korea. They are classmates and Hae Sung is teasing her for doing better in their class grades as she's usually the top student. They like each other and their parents take them on a play date to the park, but there's little future for them because Na Young's family is emigrating to Canada for unspecified reasons.

 Then we're told "12 Years Pass" and Na Young has changed her name to Nora Moon and lives in New York City pursuing her dreams of being a writer. One day while on the phone with her mother she's looking up random people from her past and decides to look up Hae Sung and discovers he had posted on her father's Facebook page (her father is a filmmaker) that he was looking for her, made difficult due to her name change.

She sends him a Facebook friend request and they begin to have a series of Skype calls talking about nothing in particular, mostly what they're doing in their work lives. They talk about getting together sometime, but various commitments and the whole being on the opposite side of the world thing would make any such reunion something that would take 12-18 months to arrange. Abruptly, she announces that she wants to stop the calls because she's finding herself spending more time looking up flights to Korea than focusing on her goals. She says it won't be a long break, but we kinda know better.

She then goes to a writer's retreat on Montauk and meets Arthur, the third man from the opening scene, and they get very cozy. Meanwhile, Sung has gone to Shanghai for a Mandarin language program and meets someone. Then we're told another dozen years have passed and Sung is coming to NYC to visit Nora, who is now married to Arthur. (Ruh-roh.) He's a published author and she is having a production of one of her plays mounted, so things are going pretty well. Or are they?

 When they reunite, Nora can tell that Sung came more to see her than the sights of NYC. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend and feels his life is too ordinary to get someone to marry him despite being a handsome fellow. Nora goes on about the concept of in-yun, a Buddhist concept that every encounter between people no matter how incidental, like brushing past someone in a crowded room, is a connection which carries from our past lives to future incarnations and it takes 8000 layers of in-yun for two people to be together. Uh-huh.

Naturally, Arthur begins to feel a little threatened by this guy from his wife's past. Did they get together too quickly, shacking up to save on NYC rents, getting married because she needed a green card? She reassures him that she loves him, but will that be enough to hold off destiny?

OK, to be fair I'm wildly overselling the stakes here because Past Lives is (according to my missus whose seen more of these types of movies) like the romantic dramas by Wong Kar-wai (In The Mood For Love, 2046) or The Age of Innocence (which I saw when it came out) - feel bad romances where lovers never get together because it would be The Wrong Thing To Do because reasons and stuff. You intellectually understand why they're kept apart while cursing how you don't get a happy ending.

But my problem with Past Lives is that its entire premise is founding on a case of puppy love between a pair of pre-pubescent kids that reconstitutes itself into a crippling obsession on his part and I'm not quite sure what her angle is based on what we're given. Perhaps I'm undercounting the importance of the in-yun factor to Korean culture, but it seems more like a coping mechanism for dissatisfaction with one's life. "If only me and so-and-so had brushed past each other 8000 times in past lives so we could be together now" is just an exotic take on wishing you had handled your high school sweetheart relationship more maturely.

Are we supposed to root for Nora and Sung to finally achieve their romantic destiny after 24 years and some Skype sessions a decade earlier? Sorry, Arthur, but you were just Mr. Right Now - what they have is REAL LOVE because 8000 layers of Korean mythic stuff. Due to the sketchy nature of the narrative and massive time jumps which the viewer doesn't feel because for us those 12 year breaks occur in 10 seconds so we're still feeling what we felt 10 seconds ago, not what the ill-fated non-lovers have felt (or not) for the ensuing 12 years.

There's a subtle detail in how Nora's ambitions taper down as she grows older. When preparing to leave her homeland, she says that she has to move because you can't win a Nobel Prize for Literature in Korea. When they video call in their early-20s, her goal is now to win a Pulitzer Prize. But when they finally meet her prize is a Tony Award as a playwright. It's as if the more she accomplishes, the smaller her dreams get. Is this meant to be another admission that life's refusal to just serve up your dreams means you just lower your sight or is it a commentary that Hae Sung has never moved past his unattainable childish goal?

Writer-director Celine Song has made a semi-autobiographical debut film - she is originally South Korean, but emigrated to Canada, then went to Columbia University in NYC for a MFA in playwriting in 2014 - and while it's too slight & unsatisfying for my tastes, what nags more is how Past Lives, which was one of those "Sundance hits" feels like a beneficiary of the Academy Awards need to fetishize "diversity" and their need to fill a quota of non-American, non-male, non-white filmmakers.

First it was Parasite (which I liked) winning Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay AND International Feature (formerly Foreign Language); then it was Chloe Zhao winning Best Director for the Best Picture-winning Nomadland (it was OK, but should've been a documentary); then Drive My Car winning Best International Feature and nominated for Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, the Academy just loves slow, bordering on tedious Asian films - Drive My Car was three hours long and if I hadn't been able to speed watch it in just two hours, I would've given up - and Past Lives fits the bill, though thankfully it only spends 1h 45m going nowhere.

As far as the performances, I would've nominated Lee over Sandra Huller or Lily Gladstone as her performance is enigmatic. That there's any doubt as to how this story will go it's because she imbues Nora with an inner life that I don't think Song really put on the page for her. Yoo is less successful because his character is a one-note mopey puppy dog pining for this girl from so long ago. Song gives us scenes of him drinking with his buddies, but we never see his relationship(s?) and thus he seems to only exist to want Nora. Magaro draws the shortest straw as Arthur only exists to be a third wheel wondering if his wife is going to dash on their marriage for some childhood friend like he's Bill Pullman, who was that guy in so many 1990's romance films; the guy whose only flaw was not being exciting enough compared to the guy Sandra Bullock really has the hots for.

While discussing the movie, the missus suggested that perhaps the kids should've been older in the beginning, but my counterpoint was that if they had been hot and horny teens who'd lost their virginity to each other, for instance, then that would establish a more understandable basis for longing whereas by having it founded on what was really nothing but puppy love made the spiritual angle more relevant while also making it seem all the sillier that this is supposed to really matter. (I heckled as one of Sung's pals, "Bro, you held hands when you were KIDS and you're still hung up on the bitch? You're 36 and have a career now. Move on!" I am not a romantic man.) 

If you're a fan of deliberately unsatisfying stories of doomed non-romance, you may enjoy Past Lives despite all my kicking at its shins. But even on its modest merits, it's yet another "not a Best Picture" film which sadly seems to account for so much of what gets nominated these days.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

The trailer makes it look much more love triangle contentious than the actual film & downplays just how much subtitle-reading you'll be doing, which is about 80% of the film.

"The Beekeeper" 4K Review

 I had no intention of watching Jason Statham's latest take butts and kick names action flick, The Beekeeper, until I watched Dan Murrell's absolutely hilarious review where he grappled with just how bonkers and simultaneously terrible AND awesome it was. He's usually pretty sober in his reviews, but when he said that "It's the kind of movie that makes you feel insane while you're watching it....It's the kind of movie that should never come out and also be released five times a year. It is one of the worst movies that I will definitely watch 30 more times in my life." I just had to see what made him give it a split score of Don't Bother AND Go See It! He seemed desperate to find others to discuss this thing with, so I volunteered as tribute along with the missus who has seen even more Statham movies than I have (she likes 'em gruff) and, well, it's certainly a movie alright.

Statham is Adam Clay, a beekeeper who rents barn space from a widow, Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), to process his hives' honey. After clearing a hornets nest from the barn, she invites him to dinner. Before dinner time, she gets on her laptop and it hit with ransomware warning her hard drive is infected and directing her to call a phone number which she does. (Uh-oh.) It connects her to an office which looks like a hybrid dance club and videogame LAN party where she is manipulated into installing a Trojan which immediately allows the hackers to zero out all her bank accounts including a charity fund with over $2 million in it.

Once she realizes she's been robbed, she immediately calls the bank to report it. Just kidding! No, she commits suicide. (Not kidding.) When Statham arrives for dinner, hearing the smoke alarm, he lets himself in and just as he's about to discover Eloise's body is caught by her FBI Agent daughter, Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman, The Umbrella Academy). (If you're wondering why she didn't call her law enforcer daughter instead of killing herself, this will not be the last basic details question you'll be asking along with why was the daughter there in the first place.)

After he is cleared of killing Eloise, he meets with Verona who says that these hackers have been known to the FBI for years, but they can't figure out who they are. Luckily for her, Adam is not just a beekeeper, but a retired Beekeeper, an elite agent of a spy program so secret that the CIA doesn't really know about them. He calls into his old work and immediately gets the number and location of the call center where Eloise called. He goes there with a pair of gas cans and torches the place on his way towards finding the kingpin of scammers, a weaselly tech bro, Derek (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games), who is babysat as a favor to his mother by former CIA Director Wallace (Jeremy Irons) as director of corporate security.

As he closes in on his target, the levels of action and plot twists increase rapidly to the point where he's taking on FBI squads bare-handed and the revelation in the third act of who Derek's mother is cranks the bananas knob to 12.

 Statham has made so many of these action flicks that he can do them in his sleep and frankly for much of the movie, he is so low key in his performance as he mutters about "protecting the hive" - a metaphor for society itself - he may be sleepwalking through this performance. That's not to say he doesn't kick much butt, but that it's oddly subdued.

 Writer Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, Salt, Total Recall (2012)) and director David Ayer (Fury, Suicide Squad - the first one) have a lot of moderately crowd-pleasing pictures on their resume, so that The Beekeeper seems like a low budget knockoff of the movies they've made feels off.

 But what makes The Beekeeper watchable is just how bonkers it gets at points. It makes one wish they'd gone even MORE over the top in the action, though to be fair John Wick movies occupy so much mindshare for bar-raising action perhaps it's not worth trying to compete at that level. Even as you repeatedly wonder why no one seems to do a realistic thing in these situations - like why is an FBI Agent allowed to lead an investigation regarding a man whose rampage seems triggered by her mother's suicide or how come Minnie Driver is playing the current CIA Director, but for only two scenes? - there's some satisfyingly visceral kills and quips and to be honest, ransomware hackers who prey upon the technically naive deserve to get whupped down by a grouchy Jason Statham.

From a technical perspective, the 4K HDR presentation doesn't really do much to merit the upcharge, so watching in standard HD/Blu-ray is fine.

I don't want to file The Beekeeper under the So Bad It's Good category. It's more like Ayer's cursed Suicide Squad - which to be fair was recut by a frightened studio into a mishmash (#ReleaseTheAyerCut) - which by all objective measures wasn't a very good movie, yet was watchable and entertaining and I don't just mean Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn hot pants outfit. Cable TV used to be filled with rainy weekend day action fluff like The Beekeeper and if you approach it expecting more fun than verisimilitude, you'll be fine.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

"The Greatest Night In Pop" Review

Ah, the 1980s - Reagan, MTV, leg warmers and torn sweatshirts, Tom Cruise beginning his 40-years-and-counting run of movie stardom, Generation X coming of age unaware that in four decades they would have a holy mandate to destroy all surrounding generations. But it was also the advent of massive charity records and concerts like Live Aid and Farm Aid.

While there had been charity concerts like Concerts for the People of Kampuchea (to raise funds for Cambodians post-Vietnam War) and No Nukes (to frighten people away from safe, clean nuclear energy), late-1984 through summer 1985 was put into Feed The World overdrive by the tag-team of singles "Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed The World)" by Band Aid, put together by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure, and "We Are The World" by USA For Africa, the recording of which is the subject of the brisk Netflix documentary The Greatest Night In Pop.

 Beginning with "Day-O" singer and activist Harry Belafonte taking note of Band-Aid and wondering why if white English people were trying to save black lives in Ethiopia, why weren't black artists trying to do the same, uber manager Ken Kragen tapped clients Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers to participate in the formless project. Rapidly, Michael Jackson - then the King of Pop in the wake of Thriller selling eleventy bazillion copies - and Thriller producer Quincy Jones were on board. Stevie Wonder was asked to co-write, but never returned their calls.

The logistics of gathering talent for the project were daunting until they realized that most of the people on their wish list would be in Los Angeles on January 28, 1985 for the American Music Awards which were coincidentally being hosted by Richie. If they could get the stars to head to a studio for an all-night session after the show, this could work. However, by having a hard deadline to record the song, Richie & Jackson were under the gun to actually write the song and only finished the rough draft (lyrics would be tweaked right up to the final session) a week before the date. The demo with guide vocals by the pair was recorded the next night and cassettes were FedExed to the vocalists in Jan. 25.

Mixing footage from the epic recording session with new interviews with Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Sheila E., Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Loggins, Dionne Warwick, and Huey Lewis (who inherited the bridge line slated for Prince, who was a no show) along with various production personnel, a cameraman, the session engineer, The Greatest Night In Pop gives a look at how the musical sausage was made beyond what was shown in the music video.

The role of Quincy Jones as simultaneous producer, conductor, traffic cop, psychiatrist cannot be understated as issues arose like Wonder, feeling left out of the writing, almost derailed the show by wanting to insert lyrics in Swahili (which isn't even spoken by Ethiopians) which would've burned already limited time teaching the chorus new lines. (While the documentary makes a big deal about Waylon Jennings saying, "No good ol' boy ever sang Swahili," and walking out, he returned to the session, not that the filmmakers' desire to punch down at supposed redneck racism bothered to clarify.)

Richie's stamina also must be acknowledged because he'd arrived at the Shrine Auditorium to prepare hosting the AMAs at 8 am, hosted the telecast while performing twice during the show, then had to work over eight hours on "We Are The World." He doesn't say how long he slept after that day, but I'd be out for at least 12-16 hours if I'd run that hard. (The missus kept saying, "Cocaine is a helluva drug.")

Being a music production nerd who was alive when these records happened, I'd known about some details shown like Lauper's costume jewelry picking up on the sensitive microphones and Wonder having to teach Bob Dylan how to sing (he looks so lost the whole time) by imitating him to his face, but never seen the footage shown here. Totally new was how Al Jarreau was so drunk that he kept blowing his line which led the soloists at the end of the line to complain that all the starts and stops for earlier mistakes were depriving them of a chance to work into the material and a request that they run through the entire song for each take then go back and punch in the problematic phrases.

The Greatest Night In Pop is also an accidental time capsule of just how far we've come technologically because in 1985, cell phones were rare, there was no email, no Internet, no sending MP3s of demos - it was brute force analog life with cassette tapes sent by messenger or express mail, phone calls - they mention that Kragen would travel with a suitcase full of Rolodexes whose contents15 years later would fit in a Palm Pilot - and recording was done by extremely talented performers stepping up and delivering the goods when called upon without the safety nets of editing in ProTools (which first came out in 1991 and only recorded four tracks) or fixing with AutoTune (invented in 1997). The stress levels of the recording engineers and machine maintenance techs must've been sky high because any breakdown would be catastrophic.

 If there's a downside to The Greatest Night In Pop it will be that you will be earwormed by "We Are The World" for the foreseeable future after hearing it performed in bits for an hour over and over. Now where is the documentary about recording "Do They Know It's Christmas"?

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Lift" 4K Review

 Have you ever wished that someone would do a remake of The Italian Job but with fewer stars & a ludicrous plot slathered in CGI? Well, you're in luck because that film's director, F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton) and Netflix have joined forces to give you Lift, a perfectly forgettable caper comedy starring Kevin Hart. Buckle up for adequacy!

Hart stars as Cyrus, the mastermind of a diverse crew of high-tech heisters who we meet executing a caper in Venice (same as in The Italian Job) involving the faked kidnapping of an artist to goose the value of an NFT (the hottest fad of 2022 when this project was probably greenlit) being sold at auction. But the true purpose of that caper was to distract from the actual theft of a Van Gogh, the pre-sale of which funded the NFT purchase and oh boy it's sure convenient how everything perfectly worked out, no?

Except it didn't. Somehow, it's never really explained, but the art thief part of the gang get busted by Interpol (the crime fighting outfit, not the band) and Agent Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Loki) under orders from her boss, Huxley (Sam Worthington, Avatar), offers Cyrus amnesty for the team if they help Interpol by stealing a half-billion dollar shipment of gold being moved by a terrorism financier, Jorgenson (Jean Reno), who intends to pay a cyber hacker group to wreak havoc while he profits from the chaos which ensues. The catch is that the heist will have to occur while the plane is in midair.

So they come up with a wildly complicated scheme involving a experimental party plane converted into a stealth plane, drones and cloned transponders, laser safe cracking, and lurking underneath is the fact that Cyrus and Abby had a brief fling in the past. Gee, will those two crazy kids fall in love again? Will this complicated caper with zero room for error work out?

While Lift is just another one of Netflix's disposable entertainment products like Red Notice or Heart of Stone - I defy you to tell me what either of those were about - the fact it's the director of The Italian Job doing an anemic knockoff of that movie 20 years later makes its deficiencies even more glaringly apparent, starting with the cast.

TIJ had Marky Mark, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Mos Def, and Donald Sutherland. Lift has Hart, Mbatha-Raw, Worthington, Vincent D'Onofrio as a bad "master of disguise", then some hot Spanish actress (Ursula Corbero) and a hot Korean actress (Kim Yun Jee) I've never heard of, a British Indian actor (Viveik Kalra) I've never heard of and some other white guy (Billy Magnussen) I've never heard of.

But being unknown wouldn't matter if screenwriter Daniel Kunka, whose only other credit is the 2009 John Cena vehicle 12 Rounds, gave these characters something interesting about them. D'Onofrio's mediocre skills are given the most time, but never actually factor into any of the plan's elements. Compare that to the scene in TIJ where Charlize Theron's safecracker has to pose as a cable TV repair tech to case bad guy Edward Norton's mansion which was bought with the proceeds of the opening heist which led to his double-crossing the team and murdering her father. Or how Mos Def had a bad experience with dogs. Or the scene where Seth Green imagines Statham's conversation with a cable tech whose ID they need to steal for Theron's part.

But more critically is that with a few exceptions like can you really blow up an Los Angeles street to drop a armored truck down into a tunnel, much of what is shown in TIJ is technically possible and was done practically with Mini Coopers which could fit into hallways and storm sewer tunnels to haul the gold. (Even the target is the same!) Lift relies on CGI effects - many of which are pretty obvious, especially how exterior scenes were clearly shot on green screen stages - and almost none of it could really happen in real life and combined with the lack of danger to anyone (they should've killed one of the unknowns) means the stakes are nonexistent.

 For those shelling out the $23 for top tier Netflix service where the 4K content is reserved - Amazon Prime and Mouse+ don't charge extra for 4K, but Max (formerly Hobo Max) just pulled this crap on linear subscribers - get Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos sound and it's shiny  and bright, but lends to the disposable & plastic vibe of the whole endeavor.

While Lift isn't really a drag, it doesn't soar as we're supposed to believe. If you've run out of books to read and watched every other thing on Netflix, it suffices as something to look at, but if you're looking for a good caper flick with charismatic stars and plausible exciting action, stick with the original.

Score: 5/10. Skip this & watch The Italian Job instead.

"Eileen" Review

 Two days into the new year and we may already have our Worst Movie of 2024 winner identified with 364 days still to go. Take a bow, Eileen! You're terrible!

Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) stars as the titular Eileen, a 24-year-old woman who lives with her widowed alcoholic former police chief father, Jim (Shea Whigham, recently seen being Tom Cruise's frustrated pursuer in the latest Mission: Impossible), and works in a boys prison in a small Massachusetts town in the 1960s. Eileen is the type of girl who watches a couple making out in broad daylight in a car from her car and then grabs a handful of dirty snow to stuff down her skirt to chill her nethers. Then she fantasizes about acting out the Divinyls big hit song at work while looking at one of the guards. Swell gal.

Into her humdrum world comes the new prison psychologist, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway aka Yummy Girl!), who we know is a change agent because she drives a red Thunderbird in a lot of neutral colored sedans, wears matching red leather gloves and has glamorous bleached blonde hair, literally standing out from the locals. She pays attention to Eileen and encourages her and Eileen begins to change in response.

Now you're probably thinking that this is leading to some sort of lesbian relationship and for the first hour the plot wades through molasses with hints and teases, but nothing particularly titillating. Then on Christmas Eve Rebecca invites Eileen over for drinks. She gets dressed up and goes over, but something seems off about things. Then Rebecca drops a bombshell which sends the story off on a bonkers tangent which actually got me interested in where this was going...before getting just stupid, unbelievable, then annoying as it ends on inconclusive notes which sent me looking up the source novel's synopsis.

The missus's immediate reaction was, "How did this get made? Why did this get made?!?" I knew almost nothing going in, but was leery of the spread between the 85% Rotten Tomatoes critics score vs a 57% audience score which is why people disregard critics, but that over half of the public thought this was good explains a lot of why our representative democracy is collapsing because if you think Eileen is good then you shouldn't be voting for anything more important than American Idol.

 Director William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) working from a script co-written by the novel's author, Ottessa Moshfegh, manages to make everything feel somnambulant with the 98-minute runtime feel much longer with little story or character to fill it. 

The cast has dense Bawstan accents bordering on parody with the usually good Hathaway - who was one of the few bright spots in either of Christopher Nolan's awful The Dark Knight Reloaded Rises and Interstellar (where she somehow managed to make the ludicrous speech about how love is the 5th dimension not become the funnest moment of 2014) - sporting a persona on top of it suggesting she'd been given a note to play Rebecca as 1940s Lauren Bacall. From Bawstan.

 McKenzie does a bit better, but as written she's such a cypher that it's hard to tell whether she's got issues or what's going on with her fantasies of suicide and murder. She's good at dreamer characters like she played in Last Night in Soho, but there's little substance to chew on here.

 All we wanted from Eileen was some soapy melodrama or some slap and tickle, but instead we got a maddeningly incomplete tale which could've risen a bit if it'd simply attempted to bite on the rich list of optional themes and plots. Gone all-in on something. A Simple Favor is a marvelously trashy movie that succeeds in its modern noir sensibility because it floors it where Eileen parks and suffocates on its own self-regard.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"Dream Scenario" Review

Sometimes a movie has an intriguing germ of an idea, but not enough of that idea to tell a satisfactory story and the latest example of that sort of thing is A24's Dream Scenario which takes a very good, restrained Nicolas Cage performance and an intriguing premise about as far as it can go before wandering off lost in the woods because there is no real point to be made.

 Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a college biology professor for whom the term "nondescript" implies much more pizazz than he exhibits. He's got a wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown), and two teenage daughters, Hannah (Jessica Clement) and Sophie (Lily Bird) and lives in a very nice home, but his students don't really pay attention in class and he's feeling professionally disrespected, if not ripped off by a colleague who seems to be basing her work on his concepts. But being a dull man in an oversized parka with a fuzzy fur collar, who cares, right?

 Things get more interesting when he notices strangers looking at him more than seems called for even without the coat, but the reason isn't known until an old girlfriend of his, Claire (Marnie McPhail Diamond), approaches him and Janet after seeing a play, telling them that Paul as been appearing regularly in her dreams. She asks if she could write about this odd occurrence on her blog and he agrees, but wakes up shortly thereafter to have 100+ messages on FaceSpace from people who found his profile and shared that they too have been seeing him in their dreams.

Regardless of what the dreamer's scenario is - teeth falling out; being chased by a monster in a surreal landscape; trapped in an earthquake; holding a dying friend - the common element is that Paul appears, but says and does nothing and seems disconnected from the situation. Of course the media hops on this curiosity and Paul immediately goes viral.

However, sudden fame has its downsides as a mentally unbalanced man breaks into the family home and tries to kill the man from his dreams. Trying to make a produce stand out of these dreamy lemons, Paul takes a meeting with a branding marketing startup called Thoughts? run by Trent (Michael Cera, not at all like he used to be) who wants to use Paul's fame to influence dreamers into drinking Sprite. Paul wants a book deal, but for a hard science book, not some instant fame cash-in, so there's not much agreement to be found.

 After the meeting, he goes for drinks with Trent's assistant Molly (Dylan Gelula, who played Xanthippe, Jane Krakowski's hot surly daughter on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) who confides in him that she had a really hot sex dream with him and wants him to come over to reenact it. This goes about as well as you'd expect for a guy who wears that coat, but things in general take a very dark turn as the multitudes who have Paul in their dreams start to find him to be an increasingly hostile visitor and the backlash begins.

At the center of Dream Scenario is a very good performance from Cage who has been tinkering with the balance between paycheck gigs to actual acting roles lately with a wrongly Oscar-snubbed performance in Pig and his self-deprecating take on himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. With a male pattern baldness coif and those dad clothes, Cage's Paul is a decent, but weak man, who tries to ride out an increasingly bizarre situation that is wholly out of his control yet entirely not of his making. He didn't purposely intrude on people's dreams, he doesn't control what they experience, yet the whole world holds it against him.

There are several concepts that Norwegian writer-director-editor Kristoffer Borgli attempts to play with - the fleeting fickleness and shallowness vapidity of viral fame, the semi-emasculated condition of some men at the hands of conniving women, the way today's snowflake Zoomer generation can't cope with the slightest adversity - but he never plunges wholly into any of them with much teeth or gusto. If only he'd picked a topic nailed its absurdities.

It doesn't help that when the dreams stop and the concept of a gizmo which allows people to enter other's dreams - BOUNDARIES, ANYONE?!? - which becomes just another influencer marketing racket (hot on the heels of the latest South Park episode mocking this), it all fizzles out into a underdeveloped last movement which reveals that Borgli had a good idea, but that idea just couldn't prop up a satisfying feature-length narrative. (It's like so many Saturday Night Live sketches which just trail off because they can't write a button for it.)

Just as with Netflix's Leave The World Behind a few weeks ago which stretched a Twilight Zone episode's premise over a 400% longer runtime, Dream Scenario also feels like it would've been a good Twilight Zone episode in the 45-minute-long range. As it is, it's not a nightmare but just a dream that ends just as it could've gotten good.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" 4K Review

After The Hunger Games tetralogy (what Alien fans know as "quadrilogy" after that 4-film DVD release) wrapped up in 2015, it's been quiet in the young adult dystopian future business after the Divergent series flamed out one movie short of its conclusion. (Divergent was the GoBots of Hunger Games books/movies. I tried to read the first one and bailed halfway through because the writing was so bad.) So when the trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes dropped, my reaction was puzzlement as to where this came from and who exactly was asking for a prequel movie about President Snow, who was played by Donald Sutherland in the original series? Apparently series author Suzanne Collins had published this in 2020 and here we are.

 Set 64 years before the events of the first Hunger Games film, BoS&S (not typing that full title) tells the story of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blythe in a star-maker performance), the 18-year-old son of General Crassus Snow whose father was killed in the civil war between the Capitol of Panem and the Districts. He lives in poverty with his sister, Tigris (Hunter Schafer), and Grandma'am (Fionnula Flannagan) while attending the Academy, but any hopes of attending University ride on winning the Plinth Prize scholarship.

But on the day he expects to be named winner, a whammy is dealt in the form of an announcement by the Academy's dean and creator of the Hunger Games, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage sporting a goatee that doubles his body mass), that the Plinth won't be awarded to the top student as Snow expected, but there would be an additional judging criteria, namely the 24 students would be assigned mentorship roles to one of the tributes from the Reaping for the upcoming 10th Hunger Games.

Adding to the pressure is the appearance of current Head Gamemaker, Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis, eviling it up), who complains that the ratings are down and the citizens of Capitol are bored of the Games, so ideas for boosting ratings would be appreciated. Meanwhile, Highbottom has saddled Snow with the girl tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a musician whose reaping may've been rigged by the Mayor of the District.

 Snow comes up with a proposal for people to sponsor the tributes and donate funds which could be used to supply food, water, medicine, etc. to those in the arena and visits Lucy at the zoo where the tributes are held prior to the Games. While visiting the arena to plan strategy, rebels set off bombs which kill several tributes and mortally wounds the President's son.

But the Games go on and while Highbottom instructs the mentors to concentrate on making their tributes entertaining, Snow wants to keep her alive, which he does by providing assistance which when discovered leads Highbottom to expel him from school and sentence him to 20 years as a Peacekeeper in a District. Initially assigned to District 8, he bribes someone to ship him to District 12 in hopes of finding Lucy.

 Which he does and begins to have a surreptitious relationship with her, but her possible involvements with the rebels along with his friend Sejanus (Josh Andres Rivera) seeming to go native to the cause puts Snow in a bind between friendship, love, duty, and wanting to get back to the Capitol or escape with Lucy to freedom in the wilds.

BoS&S has an odd three-part, but not three-act, structure with each chapter given titles - The Mentor, The Prize, The Peacekeeper - and contributes to a 2h 37m runtime that feels like half of a sequel has been appended onto this prequel. Previous installments had structures with the first half leading up to the Games and the second showing the Games with the 2nd and 3rd films ending on cliffhangers to pique interest. I didn't note the time, but it felt like there was another 45-60 minutes of story after the Games conclude and what happens didn't really illuminate what turned Snow from an empathetic young man into the cruel monster Sutherland embodied.

The hook of the Star Wars prequels was we would learn how a little boy would grow up to be a Jedi Knight only to turn to the Dark Side of the Force and become Darth Vader. Since we know where he ends up, in an walking iron lung, the trip is everything as he is meant to be a tragic fallen hero. But we know he wasn't always bad because Obi-Wan Kenobi mentioned that Luke Skywalker's father was a good friend (while hiding the connection to Big Black Badness until The Empire Strikes Back) so we go in knowing we'll see a good guy break bad. What was the hint that President Snow had a softer side when he was young?

Still that we're even interested in this superfluous tale rests on the performance of Blyth who handles the spotty script's turns ably. The missus was taken by his resemblance to David Bowie, even calling out his closing costume as a direct homage to Station To Station-era photos - someone book the biopic stat! - while apparently the Internet found his buzzcut Peacekeeper look more Eminemesque. I have no idea if they're going to make more Hunger Games Snow Saga movies, but they've got the right guy for the job.

Zegler's performance is more problematic - not because of her off-camera antics being a spoiled brat and mouthing off so much about Snow White that she's cost Disney untold tens of millions of dollars to reshoot their cursed live-action remake to undo the damage caused by their woke take on the material and her unhelpful comments - but because she plays Lucy with a syrupy twang that sounds like a modern girl mocking Dolly Parton. She has a great singing voice - she was Maria in Steven Spielberg's unnecessary West Side Story remake - but Lucy is written too thinly and cryptically for her to embody what it is that makes Snow go to such lengths to save her then try to be with her only to, well, you'll see.

Dinklage is money, as usual, making us wonder why he seems to have it in for Snow while constantly reminding us how he was his father's best friend. The revelation of just why he visits the sins of the father on the son is a twist at the end.

Davis chews the scenery as Dr. Gaul, reveling in the "muttations" she makes for the Games like the titular snakes and the living tape recorder jabberjays. It's a coin toss as to which villain Davis plays - Gaul or Suicide Squad/Peacemaker series' Amanda Waller (which is basically Oprah right down to the murdering) - is the bigger bad, but she's having a ball. 

Honorable mention goes to Jason Schwartzman who plays "Lucky" Flickerman - presumably related to Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman in the original films - the weathercaster who also hosts the Games broadcast. He is our representative of the vacuity of Capitol's residents.

Director Frances Lawrence, who directed the last three Hunger Games movies, does a good job with the material and it's interesting to see how modest the early Games were with combat in a rather small enclosed arena (not the massive outdoor environments we're accustomed to) and the tributes held in a zoo pen to be gawked at instead of styled and showcased like contestants on Panem Idol before being sent to die for the entertainment of the Capitol. But with small scale games and way too much intrigue in that third chapter, there's not much he can do for excitement.

While an odd cash grab telling an unneeded story, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes isn't especially bad, but bloated and unfocused, paying too much attention to some things while short shrifting others. But if there was another installment, I'd give it a look, so we'll see if the franchise's odds are in their favor.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

"Christmas Bloody Christmas" Review

For some reason the missus didn't want to watch any of the usual Christmas movie fare this year, but suggested the Shudder Original Christmas Bloody Christmas which was described as "robot Santa goes on killing spree on Christmas Eve." Not very reasony for the seasony, but OK.

Riley Dandy (Netflix's That's Amor, and reminds me of Gillian Jacobs) stars as Tori, the owner of an independent record store in a small California town. It's Christmas Eve and she's planning on a Tindr hookup, but is talked out of it by her employee Robbie (Sam Delich), who's attracted to her. He convinces her to go to the bar with him instead and on the way they stop at the toy store where their friends Jay (Jonah Ray) and Lahna (Dora Madison) work. 

Also at the toy store is one of the robot Santas (Abraham Benrubi, ER) which an opening news report informs us are being recalled because there have been reports that they're reverting to their original firmware programming. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that these Santas were repurposed military combat droids - basically Terminators in red suits and white beards. What could go wrong? A: Everything, which is why we have this movie.

 While the overall production feels low budget from the occasionally questionable casting to the budget special makeup effects to the luridly lit cinematography which I mistook for cheap digital freaking out over all the red, green, and blue neon lights (it's actually film!), there's one aspect which elevated this basic story above your general slasher flick ilk: the writing. (No! Yes!)

 The banter between the characters, especially Tori and Robbie and their friends then later with a bartender, is elevated in a movie chatter style, but doesn't get into the "everyone talks like Kevin Smith and is an expert on comic books" territory. The characters are distinct and we get to know them beyond mere two-dimensional cartoon archetypes awaiting their inevitable slaughter so when they start getting whacked, he feel their loss.

The ending Final Girl vs. RoboSanta battle drags on a bit and the final shot is poorly considered and leaves the viewer on an unsatisfying note, but overall Christmas Bloody Christmas is a pleasantly surprising option for those unable to decide whether they want to watch a horror movie OR a Christmas movie. Why not both?

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (It's on Shudder.)

This trailer pretty much gives away the whole movie, so skip it if you plan on watching the movie proper.

"Silent Night" Review

 You probably didn't notice, but it's been 20 years since legendary Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo - who made his name with action-packed crime dramas like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled then had a decent run in Hollywood with Broken Arrow, Mission: Impossible II, and the best, Face/Off - has made a Hollywood movie, 2003's Paycheck. He's been working back in China, most notable the two Red Cliff films, but now he's back with Silent Night, a unique premise for a Christmas-set movie that was met with middling reviews and audience disinterest, resulting in a rapid trip to streaming in a few weeks.

 Silent Night is about Brian (Joel Kinnaman), a grieving father whose son was killed by a stray bullet when a rolling gun battle between rival gangs passed their home. When he tried to chase down the participants, one gang banger, Playa (Harold Torres), who sports a questionable face tattoo choice shoots him in the throat, robbing him of his voice and providing the movie its hook: There is almost no dialogue spoken by anyone.

After a month in the hospital, he returns home with his wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace), where he becomes withdrawn, spending his days guzzling straight booze in the garage. After a few months of this, he decides to do something with his life. He gets a calendar, writes "KILL THEM ALL" on the block for December 24, the anniversary of his son's death, then gets down to training to do this. While in the beginning he can't do a single pull-up and seems to hit the ceiling of the range more than the target with his gun, as the deadline nears he gets ripped and on target.

 However, in one smart nod to reality, the first time he tries to use his new combat skills learned off YouTube against someone other than practice dummies, he is almost killed because someone is actually fighting back. He's not Rambo and theoretical practice only gets you so far. That said, his night of vengeance sees him up his game, especially driving and shooting, though never to John Wick level, naturally.

 At its core, Silent Night is a bog standard revenge flick which I'm normally friendly too, but here the conceit is the only distinguishing factor and the gimmick is distracting because it's so unnatural. Other than radios giving dates to mark the passage of time (as if the calendar couldn't provide that) or police chatter, there is no reason why no one else speaks other than the gimmick. This makes for a lot of free time for viewers watching at home to provide their own MST3K/Rifftrax commentary such as when Brian goes into his son's untouched bedroom with stuffed animals strewn on the floor and I cried, "Oh no! No one fed the animals for four months and they starved!" Yes, it undercuts the emotional intent of the scene, but we make our own fun at times.

Kinnaman has one gear for most of his performances - glowering - and he does that here as well with a side of grief. Moreno has little to do but grieve and Kid Cudi as the silent police detective who is peripherally involved does what he can with what little there is to do.

As for Woo, he still has it in his mid-70s and checks a couple of his signature move boxes (yes to shooting with two guns, but not while diving; yes to slow-motion donning of a coat; no to doves scattering in the middle of a gunfight) and there are a couple of really gnarly kills, but this all seems like an experiment which at 1h 44m is much too long for what it does. 

If you want good vengeance, stick with the John Wick series. If you want a violent "Christmas" movie full of bloodshed, but you've seen Elf too many times, check out Violent Night (currently on Prime Video).

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Leave The World Behind" 4K Review

 It's Prestige Movie Season which means Netflix is putting its big awards bait movies in theaters for brief runs before bringing them home to streaming. This week's arrival is the adaptation of a 2020 novel Leave The World Behind starring Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon in a film written and directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. So prestige. Much stars. Wow.

Roberts is Amanda, a brittle misanthropic advertising exec who wakes up her college professor husband Clay (Hawke) one morning with news that she'd booked a rental of a luxurious home out on Long Island for them and their two kids - 16-year-old Archie (Charlie Evans, who looks like a more butch Timothee Chalamet) and 13-year-old Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). They head out and arrive and settle in before going to the beach where their sun and sand are interrupted by a massive oil tanker running aground right where they were sitting.

 Already rattled by that, the WiFi and cable TV at the house goes down and there's no cell service which really irritates Rose because she's been binging Friends and was about to watch the final episode and can't wait to learn what happens. (She gets off the plane, kid. SPOILER ALERT!) With little else to do, the kids turn in while their parents stay up when there's a knock at the door.

They find a talk black man in a tuxedo and a young woman in an evening dress and they claim they're G.H. (Ali), the owner of the house and his daughter, Ruth (Myha'la). They were in NYC for a Philharmonic concert, but there was a blackout and with G.H. unable to climb 14 floors of stairs to their Park Avenue Manhattan home, they decided to come to their Long Island place. Amanda is extremely suspicious, but with no way to bring up their emails and G.H. conveniently having left his wallet in his checked coat, there's no proof of their identity. (More on this later.)  Ultimately, Amanda and Clay agree to let these folks stay in their own home, down in the basement in-law suite, after G.H. give them $1000 cash refund on their rental.

 The next day, there is still no communication with the outside world so Clay tries to go into town to get a newspaper and see if anyone knows anything while G.H. goes to a neighbor's a couple of miles away to see what they know and what they find is confusion and horror involving leaflet-dropping drones and crashing passenger planes. Meanwhile back at the ranch, animals are acting very weird and deafeningly loud noises which crack windows and tablet screen increase the feeling of unease.

While Leave The World Behind seems to be a decent premise (more on that later as well), its failing is due to too few details stretched out over a way too long runtime (2h 21m) with so many superfluous scenes and ultimately no point it's trying to make. Is it about racism as the wealthy white couple (who can afford $2000+ for a weekend lark) is suspicious of the even richer black people? Is it about our dependence on technology for everything and how the moment the system crashes, we can't survive such primitive lives like they were way back in, say 1995? Is it about some evil people triggering societal collapse for power? Is it about how we mistreat the environment? All or none of the above or somewhere in between?

The problems begin with Esmail's script. There are too many scenes which could've been cut without being missed beginning with an encounter Clay has with a Mexican woman who doesn't speak English and we spend a couple of minutes with her frantically speaking to his uncomprehending ears before he drives away. A scene where Archie tries to freak out Rose with the proposal someone was watching her room from a shed in the woods is more suited for a younger child and not a 13-year-old who watches The West Wing but "only the Aaron Sorkin seasons." And the scene where Amanda, who was being nasty to G.H. minutes before, and he dance to an R&B song culminating in their having to proclaim they love their spouses so this moment couldn't go on is both telegraphed and out of nowhere. 

He never seems to want to land on a firm point either. With the film executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, you'd expect some heavy-handed moralizing about how extremely wealthy black people are the real victims here, but Esmail limits the race-baiting to some snark from Ruth. There's an irony that the one character the audience is supposed to see as a someone to look down on, G.H.'s contractor, Danny (Kevin Bacon), a Doomsday prepper stereotype who probably votes for not Democrats is the one they run to for help since he's exactly one of "those people" who can handle the end of the world. 

But even more basically, it does what The Walking Dead always did to drag out tension and distrust which is to have people refuse to do or say basic things which would diffuse distrust. How many times on TWD did various groups fear each other because no one bothered to ask, "Hey, what's your story?" Nope, it was always six episodes of glowering and suspicion. Why didn't G.H. just say something like, "In the music room is a wall of vinyl albums and on the leftmost column about eye level, in the Ds, is a copy of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew signed by Miles reading, 'Stay cool, G.H.'" Because we would be denied 10 minutes of Amanda seeming racist or paranoid.

Then there's Esmail's direction. While he uses a few of his Mr. Robot framing tropes, he seems to have watched David Fincher's Panic Room and decided to see how many impossible camera shots he could include as the camera moves through floors, walls and windows with the magic of CGI. When done properly, the viewer probably doesn't even notice the impossibility of a movie camera to pass between railing spindles or a coffee pot handle. 

In Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, there's a 2-1/2 minute scene where the camera follows a minivan careening down a highway while the camera circles around and through the vehicle but the viewer is so riveted by the drama they may not realize what they saw was impossible to film as shown. Here Esmail wants the viewer to notice every time he uses these tricks like when the camera passes through a doorwall then the CGI glass appears then the reflection in the glass. Suddenly you're not paying attention to the story, you're distracted by the technical showoffery.

There's also a question of the geography of the location. Presumably they're in the semi-rural east end of Long Island, but everything seems to be more like farm country where houses are miles apart, except there's another mansion a short walk through the woods. But some shots towards the end make it look like they're just across a river from the City except you'd have to be on the west end where Brooklyn and Queens are. Everything is very close or extremely far at random.

The performances are solid across the small cast with Ali delivering his usually solid work as a man who gradually realizes he may've been more forewarned then he realized. Hawke is OK, but you pity that he's married to Robert's one-note harridan. There's a scene which tries to explain why she hates everyone, but it's like everything else, too little, too who cares?

But the biggest problem is that pretty much the entire scenario was told in two whole fewer hours in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (S1E22) which is about a cul-de-sac which experiences a power and communication outage and after a kid says he read in a comic book that aliens may be behind the event and that they send advance scouts who look human to blend into the neighborhood, everyone immediately goes DEFCON 1 and suspects each other with disastrous consequences. It's a very memorable episode and it only takes 25 minutes to tell its tale. (It's on Amazon Freevee if you'd like to watch it.)

 While I can't recommend Leave The World Behind it's probably the highest-scoring Skip It movie I can recall. Nothing about it is especially bad, but it's simply not very good, especially at this runtime. Movies running too damn long is a chronic problem and it really needs to be addressed by Hollyweird. If it was chopped down to 100 minutes, it'd be far more effective by still be four times as long as The Twilight Zone's version.

Technically, the Atmos sound mix (limited to those in the most expensive Premium tier) has some cool overhead effects with planes flying around and the positioning of sounds around the environment. Visually, the Dolby Vision doesn't offer much bright highlights, but helps with shadows and color.

Score: 5/10. Skip it. Watch The Twilight Zone instead.

"Bullet To The Head" Review

 After the tedium & vacuity of Killers of the Flower Moon, we needed something less pretentious and quick, so it was time to catch up on Bullet to the Head, the 2013 Sylvester Stallone-topped crime drama which also co-starred Sung Kang (Han from the Furry Fastness series), Jason Momoa (Broseidon), and Sarah Shahi (Sex/Life).

 Sly is Jimmy Bobo, a career criminal and hitman whom we meet with his partner, Louie (Jon Seda), as they pose as cops to gain entry to a New Orleans hotel room where they execute their target, Greely (Holt McCallany). While checking for witnesses, Jimmy finds a hooker in the bathroom, but doesn't kill her because he's a nice hitman. They go to a noisy bar to have a post-murder drink, but when Jimmy goes to the bathroom, Keegan (Momoa), fatally stabs Louie and almost gets Jimmy, but since we're only a few minutes into a 91-minute movie, he survives and Keegan gets away.

 At the police station, Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwan (Kang) arrives and announces he's interested in the hotel killing because Greely was his former partner, a cop gone bad and fired, but still his ex-partner. He learns that Jimmy was a known associate of Louie, a suspect in the Greely's death, so goes after him.

Meanwhile, Keegan, at the behest of the shady developer Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mr. Eko on Lost) and his lawyer Baptiste (Christian Slater aka Young Jack Nicholson in everything), is dispatched to retrieve the blackmail dossier Greely had passed to a local mobster and the scene where he does so while killing at least a dozen guys is some John Wick-grade stuff.

As for Kwon, he finds out the hard way that the Crescent City's cops aren't that honest and ends up with a bullet in his.....shoulder. Rescued by Jimmy, he's taken to Jimmy's daughter Lisa (Shahi), who runs a tattoo parlor and thanks to a convenient year of med school, can also patch bullet wounds. After fixing him up Kwon reluctantly agrees to team up with Jimmy as he tries to find out who set him up and is trying to kill Kwon. Buddy cop movie hijinx ensue.

There's not much to discuss with a movie like Bullet in the Head. There's lots of violence and, you know, bullets in heads, and Sly wisecracks in an over-it mumble. Kwon isn't as cool as Han, but Kang does with it what he can. Shahi is hot. (Oink.) It's odd seeing Momoa as a clean-shaven babyface, but the missus likeyed.

Director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Streets of Fire) is an old hand at this hard-boiled tough guy buddy flick and he has a bit of 48 Hrs. bickering between Jimmy and Kwon and echoes the bonkers sledgehammer fight of Streets of Fire with a climatic fireman's axe duel between Jimmy and Keegan, but he's hamstrung by a fairly rote screenplay by Alessandro Camon, who I was genuinely surprised to see shared a Best Original Screenplay nomination for his previous film, 2009's The Messenger. (He works mostly as a producer.) There are few surprises and while entertaining enough, it's no John Wick.

 Bullet to the Head falls into the "something to watch when there's nothing else on" category, but considering the excessively long run times of today's prestige flicks - you could watch this almost FOUR times in the time it takes to watch Flowers of the Killer Moon and Leave The World Behind once each - it now falls into the desperately needed "movies that don't require a nap and a large coffee to get through in one sitting" category. 

Ultimately, it delivers what it says on the tin: Macho tough guy bluster and bullets to heads.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Lady Ballers" Review

 While there has been a recent resurgence in raunchy comedies in recent years, it seems to have been mostly limited to female-led films like Girls Trip, Rough Night, Joy Ride, and No Hard Feelings. Part of this trend is likely a "Why not let the ladies be pigs?" premise, but a lot of it is that comedy in general is crippled by fear and timidity due to the rampaging woke mobs who are seeking to be triggered and then cancel anyone who offends these snowflakes.

A movie like Blazing Saddles could NEVER be made today (and frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been ordered destroyed by the government for being all -ist and -phobic). When Tropic Thunder was in production, there was a minor freakout over Robert Downey Jr. being in "blackface", but when it came out it was hailed as a genius performance and even garnered an Oscar nomination. (He may've even won if not for his competition being Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight, which no one was going to not lose to.) Nowadays, the performance probably wouldn't be allowed in the first place and the movie protested at theaters because no humor is allowed in the world unless it's directed at the only permissible targets: straight white male Christians. You can beat those monsters up at will.

So into this environment comes the oddball sports comedy from conservative news and nascent entertainment producer Daily Wire, Lady Ballers, a mashup of sports comedies like BASEketball and Dodgeball with a dollop of withering social commentary about the current fad of cheering men beating the hell out of women in sports if they "identity" as female and has led to many female athletes having their sports dreams sacrificed on the altar of wokeness. (Sorry, ladies, men are just better women than you!)

 Director, co-writer, and lower-case G lower-case K god-king, co-founder and CEO of the Daily Wire Jeremy Borering stars as Coach Rob, a three-time Tennessee state high school basketball champion whose last victory was in 2008 and is currently reduced to attempting to get kids at a rec center to put down their phones and play sports and stop stealing the catalytic converter off his car. He's divorced and his hot ex-wife, Dharby (Lexie Contursi), is now shacked up with a weird hippie, Kris (Matt Walsh), who has put "In this house..." signs and rainbow flags all over.

 One day while picking up his 8-year-old daughter, Winnie (Rosie Seraphine Harper), from school, Rob is horrified to learn that a "girl" showed "her" penis to her in the bathroom and the other woke trash that kids are being indoctrinated in these days. He then goes to apply for a job at a place he used to work 25 years before and discovers that it has been turned into a restaurant where all the servers are men dressed in drag (take that, Hooters!) including a former player from the 2008 team, Alex (Daniel Considine). 

When he realizes Alex still has good speed for his age, combined with Winnie's information about how men can be women, he decides to have Alex compete in a local women's sports competition to win the $5000 prize. Naturally, being a much larger and stronger man he mops the floor with the poor biological women and wins all his events, attracting the attention of a local reporter, Gwen (Billie Rae Brandt), who tells of this stunning and brave woman.

With a Global Games open competition coming, Rob and Alex decide to get the old team back together to enter as women. They then round up brawling brothers Jake and Blain Crain (hosts of Daily Wire's Crain & Co. sports talk show), center David Cone (who was a University of Michigan quarterback in real life and is also on Crain & Co.), and short team equipment manager/bullying target turned millionaire Felix (Tyler Fischer) and with Gwen handling the media exposure, march their way to the glory by walloping the female teams, garnering sponsorships from Bud Light (heh) and cosmetics companies and tons of social media followers. (Felix vlogging on her first day as a sports girl is wicked.)

 Evaluating Lady Ballers is a little complicated due to its origins and market targeting. At the most basic level does it do the core task of any comedy: Is it funny? Yes, it is, with many more laughs than the woeful Freelance (written by a Jimmy Kimmel Live writer, which explains the lack of funny) delivered. It mocks the sports movie tropes of inspirational speeches and montages set to cheesy power-rock tunes (by Will Borering, presumably a relative of the director) and the absurdity of big men clobbering women in sports to the cheers of people who either don't know this is ridiculous or are, more likely, too afraid to speak out against these travesties.

But while the liberal media is setting their hair on fire over Lady Ballers, falsely accusing it of being "transphobic" (really working hard there, hacks) and anti-Semitic (an absolute lie with the only trace of religion being noted Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro wearing a kippeh during his cameo as a referee), their hysterical reaction only confirms the truth of the joke "How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?" "THAT'S NOT FUNNY!!!!" Liberals are so humorless, uptight, miserable, and devoid of joy that they cannot allow themselves to laugh at anything, least of all themselves and their insipid woke ideology.

The joke of Lady Ballers isn't to mock those poor souls suffering from mental illnesses that cause them to reject their biology and seek comfort in mutilating their bodies to match their warped self-image, but to call out the inconvenient truth that the vast majority of "trans" athletes are men who can't compete against other men, so have invaded women's sports where even the top female athletes can't compete against the most mediocre men. William "Lia" Thomas was a mediocre men's swimmer until he declared he was a female and became the NCAA women's champion. (The fact that he has a fetish where he gets off walking around in front of women with a full erection of his lady penis and if the girls have a problem with it, they're the bigots, is just a bonus.) 

So when a female wrestler is picked up and slammed to the mat by a guy a foot taller (yes, that wouldn't happen due to weight classes), it seems absurd, but it also comments on how there have been "trans" MMA fighters who have fractured the skulls of bio-female opponents and bio-female volleyball players with concussions from having a dude spike the ball in their face. 

But off the court the mental pretzels people tie themselves into to go with the zeitgeist's demands that we applaud these men as braving and stun in dominating women is amusingly dealt with as we watch a pair of TV news anchors (Brett Cooper and Michael Knowles) go through so much sensitivity training that they transform into, well, you'll see. 

But beyond the meta commentary on gender and sports, there's a good set of character arcs about the various men learning what it truly means to be a winner. The "guy who never stops talking about how he won the Big Game in high school" trope is a stock story element, but resolved nicely. While Gwen is openly aware that she is a shameless journalist who will drive a narrative for her own purposes, she also gives a telling mini-lecture about the damage divorce does to children concluding, "Didn't you guys think to Google this before blowing the world your child lives on up?" While it's mocking AND succumbing to the apropos of nothing soapbox moments many movies shoehorn in where someone randomly spews statistics about some pet liberal cause ("Ma'am, this is a Wendy's.") it's also unique in the message coming from the Right encouraging parents to think of the children for a change.

Which leads to the next odd element of Lady Ballers, the casting. When they say it's a Daily Wire+ film, they mean it literally in that nearly every role is played by Daily Wire show hosts with those not in main roles making cameos. Apparently, when Borering was casting the film, actors who'd previously expressed interest in being in DW projects or had been cancelled suddenly got cold feet at the subject matter (genuinely surprised Gina Carano and Rob Schneider, who voices the father on the Bentkey cartoon Chilla Time don't appear) so it was all staff on deck supplemented by actors who are sadly probably going to be blackballed by Hollyweird for leaving the plantation.

But despite most of the lead cast (the Crain brothers, Cone, Walsh, Borering) not being actors, the performances are better than you'd expect, better say than the cast of Clerks. My girlfriend didn't recognize Borering from the classic Jeremy's Razors announce trailer and thought he was just some indie actor and he does a fine job in the lead role as a man struggling with his mantra of "Winners are just losers who win" and disgusted with what he's done to win.

Also a standout is Brandt making her acting debut as the conniving reporter. She's got a Halston Sage/Scarlett Johansson vibe and should be able to have a career except she's probably on a blacklist somewhere because to those who control Hollyweird, working for THOSE PEOPLE is like appearing in something called Why The KKK Is A-OK. Contursi is hot as evidenced by her five episodes as a Laker Girl on Winning Time, but her career is also likely dead as are the guys who dared participate in what will be portrayed as a "transphobic cinematic hate crime" by liars who own the Criterion Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot and are so irony-deficient as to not see what they're doing.

Which leads to the final question: Who is Lady Ballers for? Apparently an attempt was made to put it in theaters and no one wanted to touch it. But considering half the fun is seeing Daily Wire personalities on screen (especially What Is A Woman's Walsh as a hippie dippy twerp or Shapiro as a foul-mouthed over-it ref), would it land with as much with gen pop audiences? Probably, because it is funny enough and the total lack of familiar faces didn't damage Clerks. Also sports comedies, which were common in the 1990s and 2000s, seemed to go extinct after 2007's Blades of Glory (where Will Ferrell and Jon Heder became a male pairs figure skating team) so why wouldn't it be a potential modest box office success?

I have been critical of Daily Wire's strategy of confining their movies to the ghetto of their Daily Wire+ service because it allows the dominant liberal media to pigeonhole them as "trash for conservative rubes" and it puts content that politically agnostic audiences may enjoy behind a paywall that is too high for the meager movie offerings therein. Daily Wire is by its nature conservative-oriented and even though they have deliberately not made their movies particularly political - Run Hide Fight and Shut In were good small dramas; I wasn't very too fond of The Hyperions beyond its style - unless someone wants the video versions of their podcasts (which are available for free on X/Twitter) or the Jordan Peterson and Prager University stuff as well as the non-political Bentkey children's edutainment service (which was initially going to be called DW Kids until they realized the associating with the parent site would make it seem political), no one is paying for the handful of movies. (I just let my subscription run out because I never watched their content and their app didn't download podcasts, so what's the point?) If you know where to look online, you can find their movies (nudge wink), but why they aren't making them available to rent/buy on iTunes/Vudu/Amazon/YouTube remains a mystery. Disney just put out 4K discs of WandaVision and Loki, so don't tell me you can't sell streaming exclusives outside the platform.

The fact that all these sidebars, explainers, and digressions which complicate what should be a straightforward review illustrates the actual "problem" Lady Ballers has: It's a funny-enough sports comedy (though a bit too long as everything is these days; anything over 90 minutes is suspect to me) with surprisingly good performances from its non-thespian cast; a good story with well-drawn characters (as far as these types of movies go) and something to say about masculinity, femininity, and how there doesn't need to be a war between the sexes - there's a great scene where Rob cheers up Winnie by explaining that while men will always be bigger and stronger, without the civilizing influence of women, there would be no civilization, so who is really the most powerful - while rightfully lampooning the woketarded political correctness which currently controls our culture to the point where you can't even laugh at it without being called a hater.

But the fact that the uptight Anti-Humor Police are openly lying about Lady Ballers is also the point. It doesn't "punch down at trans people" (who are not a thing), but punches up at the cultural Marxists who demand we play along with the Emperor's New Gender Politics OR ELSE! As Rush Limbaugh said, it illustrates absurdity by being absurd, but it never really mounts a soapbox to scold the audience and in fact one character who genuinely seems to be having struggles with his sexuality is treated compassionately. It tells its silly story - one player is holding a team mascot hostage due to his PTSD from a college game - with sufficient laughs and a lack of mean-spiritedness some comedies trade in.

Like all art forms, comedy is subjective. I have never been more stone-faced that the times I attempted to glean what people appreciated about Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory and my near-total boycott of Adam Sandler for the past quarter-century is legendary, so if one doesn't laugh at Lady Ballers, they're not necessarily wrong; different strokes and all. But anyone who likes sports comedies and isn't emotionally crippled by liberal media diktats should gave have a good time with Lady Ballers.

Score: 7/10. Watch it however you choose to access it.

"Freelance" Review

 After the dour bummer of May December we were in the mood for something more entertaining and superfluous. Unfortunately, we chose Freelance as the follow-up.

Let's get this over with: Jon Cena stars as a former Special Forces operator Mason who was badly injured and half his squad killed when a mission to assassinate the dictator of fictional South American nation of Paladonia, Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba), goes sideways after his chopper is shot down. Incapable of soldiering, he goes back to law school, marries Jenny (Alice Eve, playing mom roles already?), has an adorable little girl, and starts a small legal practice and generally hates his dull life. (Because being married to Alice Eve is a bummer?)

 One day, former Army buddy Sebastian (Christian Slater) shows up with a proposition. He's started a private military services company (read: mercenaries) and wants Mason to handle an easy personal protection gig for a reporter, Claire (Alison Brie), who is going to interview Venegas. Naturally, Mason isn't too warm on the idea of having to play nice with a man he blames for his lot in life, but with his marriage on shaky ground and Sebastian offering 20,000 reasons to take the gig, he reluctantly agrees.

Arriving in Paladonia, they are going to Venegas' ranch when they are attacked resulting in the dictator's men being killed and Mason killing all the attackers. A coup has been launched by Venegas' idiot nephew who's being puppeteered by Evil Corporate Forces after Paladonia's rich natural resources. Traveling on foot, Mason, Claire and Venagas have a series of wacky hijnks and near death scrapes.

The fundamental problem with Freelance begins (as usual) with a mediocre script by first-time writer Jacob Lentz (who was a writer for Jimmy Kimmel which explains why it's not funny) which doesn't know if it wants to be a bloody military action flick or a frothy bickering odd couple/fish out of water comedy. Compounding the tonal mess is the reliance on change-ups, double-crosses, sudden reveals and twists which get to the point where you don't care about the revelations because you expect another inversion to be right around the corner. The twists involving Venegas and the doomed mission and whether Sebastian was involved are also a mess. (I'm not even counting the silliness about how Claire was supposedly a disgraced journalist for not verifying what a source told her when the New York Times and Washington Post won and refused to return Pulitzer Prizes for their fictional reporting of the debunked Trump-Russia Collusion story.)

While the major selling point is that it was directed by Pierre Morel (Taken, District 13), it looks cheap like an episode of The A-Team and he can't balance the tonal goulash and the action sequences are dull. With not much of a script to work with, the performances are passable. Cena glowers, Brie bubbles, Raba is a chipper despot, Eve looks tired.

A more talented writer than Lentz may've been able to whip up a frothier adventure comedy - I kept rewriting scenes in my head as I watched - but we can only watch what they made and Freelance needs to be unemployed.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Bye Bye Barry" Review

I frequently joke that I grew up in a city without a pro football team: Detroit. I also joke that the reason the terminally woeful Detroit Lions haven't won a championship since 1957 (predating the Super Bowl) and only ONE playoff game since then is because team owner William Clay Ford ran over an old Gypsy woman and thus the team was cursed for eternity.

Legions of great players have wasted their careers in Detroit; Heisman winners trapped here because the Lions have always had high draft picks thanks to their losing records. Occasionally some escape for greener pastures like Matthew Stafford who was traded to the L.A. Rams and won the Super Bowl the following year, but most play their pro careers here like Hall of Fame receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and the greatest running back ever, Barry Sanders, whose sudden retirement is explained somewhat by Bye Bye Barry, a documentary on Amazon Prime.

With interviews from teammates, family members, and celebrity fans like Eminem, Jeff Daniels, and Tim Allen, as well as Sanders himself, we're given an overview of his career from his surprise Heisman Trophy win to being drafted third overall in 1989 to his shock retirement on the eve of training camp in 1999. While this was always treated as some great mystery - Was he looking to get traded? Did he just get tired of losing? - the ultimate revelation (mostly the latter along with concerns about a debilitating injury) is both anti-climatic and a quarter-century later, irrelevant.

I'm not a big sportball fan (being in a city of mostly losing teams does that), so there were a few factoids about Sanders that I picked up from Bye Bye Barry. He is a modest man who wasn't motivated by fame or acclaim; he bypassed the opportunity to set the rushing record his rookie year by pulling himself from the game with five yards to go. Unlike the other Sanders drafted his same year, Deion, his quiet let-the-playing-do-the-talking demeanor earned respect from teammates and fans. A class act whose own sons reflect the example his strict father inculcated in Barry and his siblings.

Bye Bye Barry could've probably been trimmed down to an even hour like an ESPN special, but if you're a fan of the sportball and the greatest player stuck on the worst team, you'll probably get more from it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Amazon Prime.

"The Killer" 4K Review

Something has gone wrong with David Fincher. Despite a career filled with seminal work like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network, the past decade has consisted of just two made-for-Netflix features - 2020's airless successful Oscar-bait Mank, which somehow made filmmaking, the production of Citizen Kane and Gary Oldman tedious (it took me three sittings to slog through its not excessive 2h 11m runtime) and now The Killer, an empty and meaningless waste of two hours which reunites Fincher with his Se7en screenwriter, Andrew Kevin Walker, adapting a graphic novel.

 Michael Fassbender stars as the titular Killer and we meet him as he's on a stakeout in Paris, camping in an under construction WeWork office across from his target's apartment. He's been waiting nearly a week for the mark to arrive and passes his time doing yoga and nattering on endlessly in voiceover. When the target finally arrives, he somehow manages to botch the hit and has to flee the scene as cops swoop in, disposing of his weaponry as he makes his way to the airport.

He arrives in the Dominican Republic and heads to his beach home, but immediately spots something is amiss. Arming himself, he infiltrates his abode finding signs of struggle, damage and blood. Turns out his girlfriend, Magdala (Sophie Charlotte), was home and brutally tortured by two assailants, but managed to survive and escape. Now that it's personal, the Killer proceeds to hunt down those responsible for this attack.

That's pretty much the whole story and while I'm normally a fan of the Unstoppable Killing Machine On A Vengeance Quest movies (hello, John Wick series), The Killer somehow manages to do everything wrong beginning with making the Killer a massive screwup. We learn of all the storage units filled with supplies and weapons he has across the country and watch him use various techniques and ruses to gain access to his targets, but the execution (no pun) is almost always haphazard and nearly fails repeatedly. He messes up an attempt to torture information out of one person causing them to die before they talk. He executes a cab driver who didn't do anything other than get the fare to take the goons to his house while allowing someone more culpable to survive.

There is one good scene between the Killer and Tilda Swinton's character though my enjoyment was tempered by the fact I have told the joke she tells and had to wait a minute for the punchline to arrive. The acting is good from her and Fassbender, but so what? The script thinks it's being deep when it's just self-impressed. 

Of course if The Killer hadn't botched the hit in the first place, none of this would've happened. That's what happens when you listen to The Smiths and use lamer aliases than Sam and Dean on Supernatural did.

 Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Quiz Lady" 4K Review

 So much of what is meant to be entertainment these days is so lackluster, formulaic, or just plain bad that it's more than a pleasant surprise when you get something unexpectedly good in spite of how it's being sold. Recently it was the weird "queer Fight Club" comedy with an all-time worst title, Bottoms, and now it's the Hulu Original Quiz Lady, which turned out to not only be better than expected, it was much better than it needed to be.

Awkwafina stars as Anne, a drab 30-something accountant who lives alone with her old dog, Mr. Linguini,  next door to a crabby old woman, Francine (Holland Taylor), who's always hectoring her for packages being left in front of her duplex door. The sole joy in Anne's life is a game show called Can't Stop The Quiz, a pseudo-Jeopardy type thing hosted by kindly Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell) that airs live and was her solace as a child of a broken home.

One day the nursing home caring for her mother calls to inform her that her mother was gone. Not dead, gone, as in took off with her boyfriend for Macau. Fed up with her rules-breaking, the home isn't going to let her come back and tells Anne to take mom's stuff with her. While handling this, her estranged older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) shows up at the nursing home and when it's realized she's been living in her car, Anne reluctantly allows her to stay with her. Jenny was always flighty and self-centered, so they're not close.

 One night, Jenny secretly tapes Anne playing along with Can't Stop The Quiz, capturing her answering everything faster than the current obnoxious champion, Ron (Jason Schwartzman), and posts it online causing her to become an overnight viral sensation, the "Quiz Lady." (Roll credits!) Unfortunately, the attention also puts Anne on the radar of mom's loan shark, Ken (Jon "Dumbfoundead" Park), who is owed $80,000 and he dognaps Mr. Linguini as collateral.

Since they don't have the money, Jenny suggests they road trip to Can't Stop The Quiz's open auditions in Philadelphia where all Anne needs to do is overcome her crippling shyness to win the game and earn the cash to ransom her dog. Road trip hijinks ensue with the odd couple sisters learning about each other and their secrets and all that heartwarming stuff. Any guesses as to how the game show goes?

 If the broad outline of the plot sounds a bit formulaic and predictable, it's because it's meant to be. By not wasting much effort on the skeleton of the plot, screenwriter Jen D'Angelo (Hocus Pocus 2, Totally Killer) goes berserk with so many little details & throwaway bits that a second viewing seems necessary to catch them all. Things like Anne's accounting employer being called "CPYay!", the headlines about her being a viral sensation and why not liking her is racist, but liking her may be more racist, and a preposterously extended runner involving a Ben Franklin-themed B&B and its employees. The only times the story lags is when it pulls over to hit the obligatory story beats of this genre, but those are brief.

Awkwafina seems to annoy a lot of people with her usual persona (I'm fine with her), but she's a much more restrained, repressed character here which leaves Oh as the surprise to those who only know her from Grey's Anatomy or Killing Eve as her Jenny is a brash hustler who refuses to dress or act her age. (Also, if you saw her hilarious turn as Tischy on this SNL sketch, you know she can do bonkers comedy.) Ferrell is also good channeling Alex Trebeck and Mr. Rogers for McTeer, deepening what initially seems to be a caricatured performance in a touching scene where he soothes Anne while discussing what various bowties represent to him.

 The only thing preventing a recommendation of Quiz Lady as a "fun for the family romp" is the preponderance of F-bombs which give it its R-rating. As a salty talker myself, it wasn't offensive, but it was unnecessary. Just be aware if you're sensitive to bad words. Otherwise, Quiz Lady is a sweet and unexpectedly funny film which doesn't get gross to deliver big laughs. Cherkitert!

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on Hulu.

"Bottoms" Review

 What's in a name? Entertainment right now is in a state of near-irreparable decline due to woke Hollyweird's decision to declare open warfare on their audience with subpar content marketed with confrontational and abusive tactics like "fanbaiting" where the paying customers are told before the movie opens that everything they go to the movies for (storytelling, entertainment) has been replaced with agenda-driven agitprop which is meant to offend "those people" (i.e. who vote incorrectly for the wrong team) and when the movies flop because people took Hollyweird up on their "don't see our movie if you're not down to be lectured" promotion, they're slammed for being -ists and -phobes who hate [insert supposedly "marginalized" group here].

A prime example was was the 2022 gay romcom Bros, which blew it's own horn as "the first gay romcom by a major studio" (a tenuous claim because Jeffrey - a very funny gay romcom worth seeing - came out in 1995, albeit as an indie release) and received rapturous reviews from critics (because who is going to earn a rep as a -phobe by dissing the gay romcom?) and completely crashed and burned at the box office, prompting co-writer and star Billy Eichner to savagely attack the general public as brutal homophobes who failed to be allies to the wealthy homosexual filmmaking community, you bigots! Nevermind that, judging by their percentage of the population, gay people didn't see it either, it's the horrible deplorable straights who are the problem.

And let's not even go into what Disney has become.

So, into this contentious environment comes the absolutely horribly-named Bottoms (itself a gay term) which has been marketed as a "raunchy queer movie for Gen Z" and the press has been working the "Will straight people be able to handle it?" so the narrative is set that this is just another salvo in the Culture Wars which have divided the public into in and out groups of oppressors and oppressed. It sounds like a sequel to Bros which is further toxicity. But the missus overcame it to watch the trailer and suggested we give it a look. So how is Bottoms?

It's a total hoot which has had its wacky charms buried under a terrible title, propagandistic off-putting marketing, and does so in an environment where people are sick of being bullied and preached to by dominant subgroups.

It opens with our meeting besties PJ (Rachel Sennott, last seen in HBO's smutty trashfest - and I mean that as a complement - The Idol, where she played Lily Rose Depp's put upon assistant, and also co-wrote the script with director Emma Seligman) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri, The Bear), teenage lesbians who are also virgins and are fretting about getting laid before going to college. PJ is a loud, obnoxious, foulmouthed cretin and Josie is a shy introvert who is crushing on Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), a cheerleader who is dating the school's quarterback, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine). PJ has the hots for cheerleader Brittany (Kaia Gerber, Cindy Crawford's daughter who got mom's looks). If you're getting Superbad vibes off this setup with PJ as the Jonah Hill character and Josie as Michael Cera, you are correct.

After an incident at a school fair involving the girls, Isabel and Jeff, buzz around the school is that PJ and Josie beat Jeff up and that they'd done time in juvie over the summer. Facing expulsion, PJ convinces the principal that they were actually practicing for a feminists self-defense club which would be handy considering a female student was assaulted by students at a rival school ahead of the Big Game. Using woke buzzwords ("ally") to corner the principal, they're given the go-ahead to run their club in the gym and they recruit a teacher, Mr. G (Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, the former Seattle Seahawks running back), to be the adviser.

Their friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz) promotes the fight club and a small assortment of girls show up representing all the diversity checkboxes of appearance, color, etc. They're there for feminist empowerment and how to protect themselves unaware that the club is just a scam to bang cheerleaders, who do show up and participate. As the members go through the school with scrapes and black eyes, their popularity grows. Naturally, this offends Jeff and his body man Tim (Miles Fowler), who are offended that the girls are distracting from the football team's natural apex position and they set out to blow up PJ and Josie's club.

 I'm giving the synopsis short shrift because I don't want to spoil the insanity of what Bottoms achieves because it is truly bonkers for what it is, but more importantly, what it is not. As noted, the promotion for this movie (and that gawdawful title) have pigeonholed it and pretty much told 95% of the public "this ain't for you" when a whole lot of people who simply like to be entertained and have a taste for the off-center would probably enjoy it.

For starters, it's shockingly NOT woke in the sense that it's not played as "poor queer victims of the homophobic patriarchy of straight white men" (like Barbie skirted) because PJ and Josie aren't picked on for being lesbians, but for being "ugly, untalented gays" as they're paged to the office. We see a gay guy getting warmly greeted by skater boys at the festival while the girls mope about how good he is. (While their lockers are initially vandalized with the F-word, as the story goes on the graffiti becomes more complimentary.) The core of the story has little to do with their being gay and a lot to do with being lying a-holes.

Sidebar: The problem with most gay storytelling is that the sexuality is made the ONLY important detail. Characters are GAY and then everything flows from that in the way straight character stories have the sexuality either unmentioned or inconsequential. Think about it: What words come to mind when thinking of Batman? Rich guy, orphan, detective, superhero, tortured, crime fighter, etc. Does anyone really think "hetereosexual"? Now think of gay protagonists in gay movies - it starts with "gay" and pretty much calls it a day, doesn't it. Velvet Goldmine thought the most important thing about glam rock was being gay, not that gender-bending was more a "shock the squares" pose than anything. Gay movies sabotage themselves because they make the least important thing the most important thing. There's a difference between a characters who is gay and a gay character.

 Back to the review - while the story follows the typical teen movie beats including the scam being exposed and everyone hating them for their duplicity, it's not played any differently than "straight movies" (which isn't a genre for some reason) would play it. How many movies have done the She's All That plot where the handsome guy bets he can transform the geek girl into the prom queen only for him to fall in love with her then she discovers it was all a prank and yadda-yadda-yadda? Exactly.

It's the little throwaway details which set Bottoms apart like how the girls never put down pads on the gym floor to soften the impacts yet no teacher or parent seems to notice their students/daughters looking roughed up and how the football team roams the school in full uniforms and pads every day (not just wearing their jerseys on game day like happens in the real world). The final Big Game scene results in such mayhem that it's clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

 But under the bizarre and outrageous details is a warm sweet heart that's not divisive or exclusionary to the 95-97% of the world who isn't queer. It may be too raunchy or weird for some audiences, but so was Superbad. If you could handle that, you can handle Bottoms. The title is still the worst.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on cable.

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