REVIEW: “SKIN” (2019) A24

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“SKIN” is a gritty true life tale that started off as a short film by Guy Nattiv and turned into this full length feature film featuring some stellar acting and a story, that while it might seem kind of familiar and possibly a bit formulaic, makes into a solid feature.

Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a long-term member of the Vindlanders Social Club, run by Fred Krager aka ‘Hammer‘ (Bill Camp), who inducts down-on-their-luck young kids into his gang by offering them food and shelter, all the while drip-feeding racist bile into their mindset.  As we first meet Bryon, he’s already beginning to question his membership in the organization, even though he is getting ready to participate in one of their horrible missions to burn up a building with his fellow Neo-Nazi’s.   This self-examination of what he is doing in his life, intensifies when he falls for Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a tough young mother with three kids ranging from 5-13, who has cut her ties with the Nazi ideology.  When he starts to see new recruit Gavin (Russell Posner) go through the same process as he did, he starts to look for ways to get out.

This is where things get tricky.  As Bryon’s journey is inter-cut with intense scenes of his tattoo removal process, which is in and of itself, a hard watch.  We also have to bear witness to him follow through with the mission of hate crimes they commit which then get him put on the Federal most wanted list of criminals. He then himself, has to go underground and work in the same type of situations the people he once so cruelly hurt do.

While the story might fall into traps of it’s own making and be similar to the kinds of movies that deal with this subject matter, i.e., American History X comes mostly to mind, as our main character starts off the movie with strong prejudices and views which throughout the course of the film he starts to question. So why even watch it if we know what’s going to happen I hear you ask? We watch it because we want to see the journey he takes that helps him reach the point of wanting to change, and for me this is where the movie fell down a little, the story felt a little rushed at times. For example I felt that more time could have been spent exploring the family gang-style dynamics because it was that family dynamic that shaped his racial views, but it all felt very glossed over.  I had no idea how large this “gang” was or how much power money influence they had because the movie didn’t tell me.

I thought this film was a credible, true story of what living with the consequences of your actions can be, but also with the hope that there is still time to change. I always have a problem with UK/Aussie actors trying to come in and do strong southern accents as they are extremely difficult and I can usually spot faults with it immediately and here we have not only Bell (British) but Macdonald (Aussie) as leads. That being said, Jamie Bell was phenomenal here and pulled this character off completely, though Vera Farmiga was just criminally underused as Mom.

This film can help change mentalities. I was sucked into seeing the differences of some people whom actually live within this world and make these decisions believing they are doing good in the world.  All in all it’s a good film, I’d say it’s not as powerful as other similar films like the aforementioned ‘American History X’, but then again this a true story and that alone makes it an interesting watch. Not only to see how a real person so entrenched in hate culture can change their lives for the better of not only themselves, but everyone around them as well.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West LLC/A24

“SKIN” HITS THEATERS ON FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019

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REVIEW: “STUBER” (2019) 20TH Century Fox

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So I’m sure we’ve all heard the recent comments from Dave Bautista stating how he would never do a Fast & Furious type film noting he would “rather do good films”.   Well Dave, I’ve got a news flash for you. If “STUBER” is what you are bringing to the table instead, then you might want to re-evaluate that comment just a tad.  The past few Fast & Furious films, while by no means great, are Award material in comparison to ‘Stuber’  as at least they are so bad that they are good. And that my friends is not an easy accomplishment.   ‘Stuber’ on the other hand,  is really just brutal, absurd, unfunny, and tasteless, with very few if any, redeeming qualities.

The film centers around a highly aggressive LAPD officer Vic (Dave Bautista), looking for a brutal heroin dealer, Teijo (Iko Uwais).  However, he cannot drive to the locations that he needs to go to due to his recent Lasik surgery affecting his vision. As a result, he gets in an Uber with the mild-mannered Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) who is desperately trying to keep his star rating up, as he needs this second job because he has just invested in his secret crush’s Becca (Betty Gilpin) fitness business.  In one of the most implausable storylines ever written, he instead ends up having to keep going around with Vic to various crime scenes and assisting him no less, to stop the dealer.

Basically – Imagine every cop movie cliche: death of a partner, neglected and resentful daughter, a case that’s being “kicked up to the Feds,” a big score that’s “going down” right when the cop is supposed to be at his daughter Nicole‘s (Natalie Morales) big art show, a crooked cop, and on and on. Then add massive gunfights with plenty of heads spurting blood, a death in the first five minutes of a character meant only to give the cop another reason to be on the case. Give the cop Lasik surgery so he has to stumble around and use Uber. Add “jokes” that are as limp as cooked spaghetti and as dated as The Terminator, plus the ongoing humiliation of Nanjiani’s Uber-driving character as well as of the actor, and you have “Stuber” in a nutshell.

Given the popularity of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, I thought the idea for a buddy comedy about this could be both entertaining and timely.  Unfortunately, this was a dreadful attempt at action comedy that has some surprisingly visceral action scenes, yet fails miserably at virtually every other aspect.  The film’s plot generally consists of going from point A to point B and point C, which is fine, but the story’s narrative never manages to take any structural risks. As a comedy, “Stuber” falls pretty flat.  None of the jokes or “points” of the narrative really add up to much significance.  The more over-the-top moments in the film tend to rely on shock value just for the sake of it, unlike the better R-rated comedies that balance wit, irony, and strong writing with over-the-top content that we’ve seen this year.

Bautista’s acting is so bad that I am embarrassed for him – and while the saving grace of comedy jokes here is by far Nanjiani, he is just not strong enough to carry an entire film.  The only thing worse than Baustista’s acting was hearing so many people in the audience laughing at the violence and not at the jokes. And while Bautista has a huge fan base that I’m sure will love him in this, I can only speak for myself when noting this might be the one that changes their minds.  The film’s supporting characters are also embarrassingly written as their characterization is both paper-thin, most especially our villain Teijo who doesn’t even speak till the very end. You know my motto ‘a good villain can make or break a film’.

While the film’s surprisingly intense and violent action is generally well-choreographed, that is the only thing recommendable about this otherwise disastrous action-comedy. Even though Stu wants to earn a five-star rating in this movie, the film itself is only deserving of 1 star.

Grade: D

@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, July 2, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

“STUBER” WILL BE IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2019