REVIEW: “THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS” (2018) STX ENTERTAINMENT

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I truly wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Happytime Murders”Brian Henson’s (son of Muppet creator Jim Henson)foray into the adult puppet genre’ aka #MuppetsGoneBad, but it wasn’t a VERY adult comedy about puppets to be sure. But fear not, this isn’t Ernie and The Cookie Monster doing puppet porn, however it could be described as a bit of #Muppetsoncrack..or should I say sugar, as snorting sugar is their ‘crack’.

In The Happytime Murders, a private detective named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) picks up a new case, which leads him directly into a series of brutal puppet homicides. Someone is targeting the cast of The Happytime Gang, a once popular sitcom whose cast has hit hard times, and Phil has to team up with his old partner Det. Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the case. In addition to McCarthy, whose slapstick performance comes off as rather effortless, you’ll also encounter Maya Rudolph, portraying Bubbles, the noir P.I. secretary to Philips, Elizabeth Banks as ex-human girlfriend Jenny, and (a sadly under-utilized) Joel McHale as smarmy FBI Agent Campbell.

The murder mystery in and of itself, isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – neither is the twist at the end. These cute puppets though are revealed as porn addicts, drug addicts, plastic surgery addicts, sex addicts and worse, in other words, just like us. But that’s really what the joke of the whole film is – as they make due on jokes of puppet racism, puppet stuffing, what happens to puppets in jail, and to be honest, some of it was quite funny. It’s a somewhat weird, crazy and ingenious idea to be honest. It’s like Henson knew he had this one opportunity to tell an adult-oriented puppet story that entertains comedically, has an actual storyline and isn’t a cartoon type film. But when I say it’s for adults, it’s because it truly not a family-friendly movie in the slightest. It’s over-the-top heavy on sexual humor, along with violence, although how ‘violent’ is it really to shoot a puppet and stuffing blows up – or have a dog-attack on a puppet when 5 yr. old’s tear their dolls apart like this everyday. Well, it could be used in the context of point, because subtlety won’t make the point that puppets can be used to tell stories, but also have something meaningful to say in that story. But it’s mostly effective due to Bill Baretta and Melissa McCarthy being talented comedians who know how to make their sillier jokes feel like extensions of their characters and the relatively absurd reality in which they live.

The humor in The Happytime Murders can be raunchy and sophomoric, and its story will no doubt be too simplistic for some, but those who don’t suspend disbelief and go with the flow of imagination here, are missing out on what was intended to be an hour and a half of some good laughs.

I expect The Happytime Murders to be a hit among McCarthy and adult Muppets fans alike, as well as those seeking a don’t-take-it-so-seriously fun comedy in the closing days of summer.

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

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REVIEW: “THE DARKEST MINDS” (2018) 20th Century Fox

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Starting us off somewhere in the future, “THE DARKEST MINDS” throws us in into a world where 98% of American kids were wiped out by a mysterious disease called IAAN aka Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. 10-year old Ruby Daly (Heaven Hightower) is one of the survivors and is taken along with other survivors of the plague by the government and put them in a camp – yes, it is eerily reminiscent of not only what has happened in the past, but what is happening right now in the US.

Here, the kids are classified by color, based on the special ability that they possess: Greens are geniuses. Blues are telepathics. Golds have electrical powers. Reds and Oranges are rare, but are also considered dangerous and terminated on site. Ruby is diagnosed an Orange, but thanks to Cate (Mandy Moore), a doctor from the resistance Children’s League who helps Ruby escape the camp. From that point on, she has to discover how to use her power in order to survive.

Ruby (Amandla Sternberg) now a teenager, finally escapes her camp – she meets and makes friends with a group of fellow runaways, namely Zu (Miya Cech), Charlie ‘Chubbs’ to his friends (Skylan Brooks) and Liam (Harris Dickinson). They seek out and find refuge in EDO, a camp for survivor kids. And of course, as in every YA film, a romance blooms between Ruby and Liam, while Chubbs provides the comic relief third wheel and Zu gives us a ‘silent’ performance that isn’t terrible.

I went into this film not knowing that it was based on the first book of a young adult book series written by Alexandra Bracken. Her “The Darkest Minds” series started in 2012, and shockingly is now already into its fifth installment. Maybe had it been done then vs. now it might seem as something new. As it was, this whole film felt like a ‘Maze Runner/Divergent’ retread. And that my friends, is wherein the problem lies with “The Darkest Minds,” it comes out too long after this trend has run out of steam.

Up and coming young actress Amandla Sternberg has lovely quality and screen presence about her and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to predict that she’s got a great career in front of her, though hopefully something with a bit more ummph to it.
Harris Dickinson, who impressed me so much with both ‘Beach Rats’ & his portrayal of J.Paul Getty Jr.,in ‘Getty’, sadly disappoints here playing rebel leader and Ruby’s love interest. Patrick Gibson is the villan of sorts, Clancy Gray, the son of the US President and a fellow Orange who took a special interest in Ruby, steps it up some and helps make the last 35 minutes of this film interesting. Mandy Moore just gave me a “This is Us” mom-vibe for her role and Bradley Whitford as US President Grey, a nasty character that could probably give Trump a run for his money. Which brings us down to our least used star whom I love, Gwendoline Christie. She only has a few scenes as Lady Jane, a bounty hunter chasing runaway kids, but made them work.

Watching “The Darkest Minds” gave me a “been there, done that” feeling. I could not help but see it as just another rehash of all the previous YA adventure series. But what started off quite terribly, picked up the last 35 minutes to make it not a completely wasted watch as it did have its own twists, particularly regarding a certain power that only Ruby can perform. But it will take sequels to explore how this story will proceed from the familiar set-up it has begun with here. But again, it’s 2018 – and the time for this YA genre is long past it’s due date. I predict this one will be in and out of theaters before your mind can go dark.

Grade: C–
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
‘THE DARKEST MIND’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE // WORLDWIDE RELEASE STARTING FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2018