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!

"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.

"Anatomy of a Fall" Review

Anatomy of a Fall first popped on my radar in November when an acquaintance raved about it after seeing it at a film festival. It won the Palm d'Or at Cannes and is now up for five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, and Editing. In a controversial situation, it was not submitted by France for the Best International Film category, allegedly because the director, Justine Triet, criticized French President Macron for repressing protests. (Didn't she know she could protest Trump instead? /sarc)

The premise is simple, Sandra (Sandra Hüller, who also co-stars in The Zone of Interest) is being interviewed at her chalet outside Grenoble, France but the session has to be cut short because her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is blasting obnoxious music while working in the attic and it'd be picked up on the recording. Their blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) goes for a walk with his dog Snoop (Messi), but returns to find his father's body laying in the snow outside the chalet.

 While Sandra believes Samuel fell out of the attic window, the presence of head trauma before he landed - one theory is he hit the shed roof, another that Sandra bludgeoned him and tossed him from a balcony - and Daniel's inconsistent recollection of events leads the police to charge her with his murder.

The bulk of the film is her trial which seems alien to American viewers because of the format of how the trial is conducted, especially regarding the defendant being able to sound off against the prosecutors directly during their presentation and other wrinkles. In typical legal trial story form, there are many revelations that recast what we think is going on including her affair with a woman a year before which may've fueled her husband's resentment of her flirting with the female interviewer, his previous suicide attempt and a secret recording of an argument that escalated into violence taped the day before his death.

While Anatomy of a Fall holds your interest through the trial because it seems to be building to something, it punks out at the end by not explaining what actually happened. There's a time and place on occasion for ambiguity in movies like whether Deckard is a replicant in Blade Runner, but whodunnit legal thrillers ain't one of those instances. When your first response to a movie is to immediately Google whether you missed the denouement somehow, that's not good. When you discover that the filmmaker deliberately wanted you to make up your own ending, that's bullsh*t. Imagine if Titanic wasn't told in flashback by Old Rose, but told linearly up to the part where Jack and Rose are in the water and it ended and the credits rolled without telling you if they survived or not. Not very satisfying, is it?

 Hüller's performance wasn't particularly impressive to me, partially because the nature of the character is meant to be possibly duplicitous and thus untrustworthy in a movie full of unreliable points of view. (Especially the blind kid.) Part of the trial is the alternate placing of the victim on trial along with the defendant while using non-murder-related aspects of her life like her writing (in a detail cribbed from Basic Instinct) or her sexual behavior to contend that if she's a plagiarizing bisexual wife, then surely she's a murderer, too. Since the mystery is whether she dunnit or didn't, her flat affect is appropriate, but I didn't read much inside to give much of a hint at the truth.

If it wasn't such a stacked year for Supporting Actor, it's likely Machado-Graner may've scored a nomination as well. (There's no one I'd bounce in favor of him, so just a tough break.

Justine Triet's screenplay, co-written with her partner/baby daddy (she's French, so is marriage still a thing there) Arthur Harari, is the film's foundational weakness because of its choice to tell 99% of the story and leave it to the viewer to fill in the last two pages with how they feel about it. Maybe it's a European art snob thing, but it undercuts the point of spending 2-1/2 hours watching the story, which is probably the point because European art snobbery.

While the tone of this review seems negative, it's not a poorly made or told film; just an unsatisfying one. If you go in aware of how it will leave you hanging, perhaps the journey may be worth the time as long as you don't expect to arrive at a destination.

Note: While it's a French film, a hefty chunk is delivered in English for a weird reason relating to Sandra's German background versus her husband's linguistic capabilities. So it's about 60% subtitled.

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

"The Holdovers" 4K Review

Oscar darling Alexander Payne returns with The Holdovers, a retro-themed drama that so deliberately tries to feel like a movie from the time that the opening credits put the copyright date as 1971. It's nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Editing.

Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a misanthropic classics teacher at fictional Massachusetts boarding school Barton Academy. It's the last day before the Christmas break and he gets roped into babysitting the handful of students who won't be going home for the holidays including Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a smartmouth teenager who was boasting about his plans for travel to the Caribbean before getting derailed by his mother and stepfather deciding wanted to go on their honeymoon despite having married earlier in the year. Also staying on is the school cafeteria manager, Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who along with Robert Downey, Jr. are the free spaces on your Oscar pool bets because she's an absolute lock to win), who is grieving her son's recent death in Vietnam.

Paul isn't liked by, well, mostly anyone because he's a strict disciplinarian who enforces the rules which puts him in bad favor with the school headmaster after flunking an alumni Senator's son, costing him a Princeton acceptance and the school a hefty donation. His students hate him for assigning a ton of reading for over the break as well.

After a few days, one of the other holdover's father arrives in a helicopter offering to take everyone to the ski resort he's taking his son to, but because Angus's folks can't be reached for permission, he can't leave so is again left behind with Paul and Mary. What follows is a fairly standard series of events of everyone getting on everyone else's nerves before eventually mellowing out and learning that everyone isn't so bad and have their reasons for how they are.

(It's ironic that major turning point in Paul's life involves a plagiarism scandal while attending Harvard when the unqualified diversity hire President of Harvard was forced from her position a few weeks earlier due to massive plagiarism in nearly everything she wrote being unearthed in the wake of a disastrous Congressional hearing appearance where she refused to condemn violent anti-Semitism at Harvard.)

With a not-particularly-original story, the weight of The Holdovers rests on the performances shoulders beginning with Giamatti's, which is why he's got a 50-50 shot (against Oppenheimer's Cillian Murphy) to win Best Actor. While it seems like another Giamatti role where he's a frustrated downtrodden lumpen sad sack bubbling with subsumed rage, he is able to make Paul a man worthy of empathy because most of his life's choices have been more reactive than proactive. While responsible for the consequences, he didn't wake up as a child and decide he would spend his life at war with the world. He's a smart man dealt a bad hand which he plays aggressively and loses most of the time.

Due to her size, Randolph has been cast in "obese loud black woman" roles in series like Only Murders In The Building and The Idol, so it's quite a change to see her able to tap into her surprisingly deep classically-trained theater background to make Mary a stoic, but sad woman whose job is to feed others children while her only child is gone. She gets a couple of showcase scenes where her quiet pain and resilience are front and center. She's not having any of Paul's nonsense, but it's not cliched.

If there's weak leg to the tripod, it's Sessa, who is making his film debut here after being found in auditions held at his school which was serving as the shooting location. With a background on stage, his performance is a tad big for such an intimate film and Payne should've dialed him back because acting on camera works best when the actor isn't ACTING for the back of the theater. Angus is supposed to be a bit of a spoiled brat with a hurt soul, but it just doesn't gel as well as it should.

The screenplay debut by David Hemmingson after a quarter-century of television writing and producing is a mixed bag owing to the stock tropes of the characters and situation. What lets it down at the end is the weak conclusion which feels both rushed and incomplete and thus unsatisfactory.

Payne, whose first two movies - Citizen Ruth and Election - I enjoyed and then seemed to avoid everything since (other than the first 15 minutes or so of The Descendants) nails the vibe of a movie made in 1971 with long interludes of period appropriate needle drops over lengthy takes of people walking in bleak snowy environs with flat cinematography reminiscent of Harold and Maude which also came out in 1971. It also results in the movie feeling somewhat sluggish and overlong at 2h 13m.

While not quite an unqualified success, The Holdovers is a refreshingly mature attempt at a character-driven drama where the special effects are the performances. 

As for the 4K presentation, due to the flat look, it doesn't really benefit from it beyond enhanced detail and color depth.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Peacock.)

Note how the trailer continues the retro pastiche by having a narrator!

"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.

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