Category Archives: Crime

REVIEW: “THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT” (2022) Lionsgate

The Man. The Myth. The Legend that is Nicolas Cage.

If “THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT” had been made with and about anyone other than Nicolas Cage, it probably wouldn’t have worked. That being said, it is and it does. The film was written to highlight some of Cage’s best moments in his career, leaving the viewer with Easter eggs galore. Director Tom Gormican, who wrote the film as well, along with Kevin Etten, takes the direction of the film and taps into the action genre while still being a true comedy. And then, just when you think it’s just a comedy, it switches gears into a crime drama, and then just when you think it’s a crime drama, it shows it’s heart and gives us the family moments. This film is truly candy for your soul.

The premise is pitch perfect with Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage), realizing his life is a mess not just personally, but professionally and biggest of all, financially. So he accepts a crazy one million dollar offer from his agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), to attend the birthday party of super-fan Javi Guiterrez (Pedro Pascal). Javi is either his best friend or a villain, and we are not sure which for some time, and there-in lies the bromance fun. Nick somehow winds up being recruited by Vivian (Tiffany Haddish), and Martin (Ike Barinholtz), and working for the CIA to find a kidnapped young girl.

If you love whacky and crazy then Nic Cage and Massive Talent is the film for you. Between this fictionalized version of the star and the younger Moonstruck/Peggy Sue got Married version he sees in his head, the references to the actor’s past films fly left and right. To be clear, this is a downright crazy-fun, goofy movie and everyone involved knows it, which is all part of it’s charm. Cage isn’t the only one taking this film by storm as the scene stealer here is Pascal, who is delightfully charming as the purported cartel kingpin. Pascal’s portrayal of Javi is so over-the-top fun, as he doles out his fandom praise onto Cage at every turn, ensnaring the persona of the actor into every part of his orbit, including the big reveal at the end. Adding in tons of side plots like that of Javi’s brother Lucas Guiterrez (Paco León), and even a romantic sidebar with Gabriela (Alessandra Mastronardi), adds to the film as it never stops moving and making it all work together.

With a supporting cast of Tiffany Haddish and Neil Patrick Harris backing you up, it would be hard for them not to add to the fun, and they do in their key supporting roles. Sharon Horgan is the perfect opposite for Cage, playing his ex-wife Olivia, and Lily Mo Sheen as his daughter Addy Cage, whose whole life has been playing second fiddle to her dad’s career. But it’s the chemistry between our two leads Cage and Pascal, playing off each other that is nothing short of brilliant and  whom deliver it all in one fail swoop of comedy, drama, action, and family combined.

The cinematography brings you to the gorgeous paradise of the film’s setting as the story is incredibly self absorbed and is essentially a film about film where they talk about making a film and maybe will make a film. It has its slower heart-felt moments, but they are timed perfectly and never boring, as it then it flips the script and hits you with belly laugh-worthy bouts of comedy, and true action. For as strange a film as this is, Gormican brings it all together and has everyone playing ball for the same team. Massive Talent is a tight, albeit almost looney film that works from beginning to end. It’s good original fun and goes to show audiences that in order to make a great movie – you do not need to be from the Marvel/DC Universe or more than two hours to be an excellent film. Seems as though all you really need is Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal.

Grade: A+

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Review screening: Tuesday, April 7, 2022 ~ courtesy of 42West PR/Lionsgate

“THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT” FROM LIONSGATE IS OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY, APRIL 22, 2022

REVIEW: “THE OUTFIT” (2022) Focus Features

Bringing us back some old school Al Capone-type gangster with it’s opening, director Graham Moore makes his directorial debut here with “THE OUTFIT”, giving us a proper whodunnit mystery that pops along at a decent pace without ever giving too much away.

Mark Rylance takes the lead here as Leonard Burling, a master tailor, or “cutter” as he says a tailor “sews buttons and does hems”. Leonard nicknamed “English” by some of his less than savoury customers, who immigrated over from the U.K., runs a small, high-end tailor shop in Chicago along with his assistant, Mabel (Zoey Deutch). As you watch, we note the shop is possibly also being used as a money drop point for local Irish gangster Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale). When son-of-the-boss Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien), and his side henchman, Francis (Johnny Flynn), find an envelope with dangerous information from an organization known only by their insignia and secret name “The Outfit”. This makes the shop, along with Leonard himself, caught in the middle of a dangerous game between the rival gangs of the city, all of whom buy his suits.

(L to R) Johnny Flynn as “Francis”, Alan Mehdizadeh as “Monk” and Zoey Deutch as “Mable” in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Nick Wall / Focus Features

With the entire film being shot in a single location is a wonderful choice here by Moore with the camera never leaving the confines of the shop, it allows us to see an the entire expansive world of the mystery unfolding before us, and recognizing small details that show up within to add to the makeup of the film. We watch as Leonard has to try to outwit these enemies to make it through the night, and within the singular walls of the store, it lets the characters develop, lets tension build, and keeps everything contained. As well, it let’s the production design sets the mood for the era and elegance within this high-end shop that it all takes place in. The costume design is beautifully done and hits the era of men wearing hats with their beautifully tailored suits, with the musical score helps keep pace with all that is going on around with each character in the shop.

Good acting by the two leads, Mark Rylance who is such a treasure as an actor, and just the gem that makes this film shine, along with Zoey Deutch, who gives her role a snark of sarcasm and confidence that makes one take note. The supporting cast of O’Brien, whose thick Chicago wise-guy accent is distracting at first as it’s so overdone, but he turns it all around with his good turn for the dramatic here, as well Flynn who plays his backstabbing best friend who isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to get to the top. Adding in a nice surprise at the end with Nikki Amuka-Bird as Violet, leader of her own Chicago-bred gang, brings a bold note to the film, all the while keeping us guessing as to her true intentions. Note here again to costume design, as Amuka-Bird is flawless in her hat/coat of the time look.

Nikki Amuka-Bird (center) stars as “Violet” in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Focus Features

While not without it’s distractions, ‘The Outfit is not a film of ‘big’ moments happening or filled with big shoot outs or heavy violence, if you’re looking for the tommy gun shootouts between men in big suits riding side-car on cars while shooting up the streets, this is not your movie. If you’re looking for sophisticated decently done whodunnit that unfolds with time, this is your watch and I hope it doesn’t fly under anyone’s radar as it deserves to be watched.

Grade: B

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Review Screening: Monday, March 7, 2022 ~Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

Focus Features will release THE OUTFIT in theaters this Friday March 18, 2022

REVIEW: “THE BATMAN” (2022) Warner Bros

Sitting down to write this review, reminding myself that there is really only three comic book characters I have ever truly cared about. The X-Men, which I devoutly every Saturday morning at 11am; Superman, along with having a weird connection to a few of the films – which is another story entirely, and you guessed it, Batman. Batman defied logic for me as he didn’t need a super power, his super power was being Bruce Wayne as well, as he fought off The Penguin, The Riddler, or The Joker, whichever villain you pick. And he always did it with the help of Alfred, who not only took the role of the dad figure in his life, but helped him become The Batman in every way. Sometimes there was Robin by his side, sometimes there wasn’t, but even from the beginning in order for Batman to be, there must be Bruce Wayne as well. And while there have been many actors portraying him, numerous takes and variations of him as well during the years, this time we have Robert Pattinson picking up the baton here in dual role of The Batman/Bruce Wayne.

This 2022 version of the film is directed by Matt Reeves and as noted, stars Robert Pattinson (The Batman) and features quite a few villains, bringing back The Riddler (Paul Dano), and The Penguin as his true self here, Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), in two very different plot arcs. The Riddler here as well, brings a very different look to what we normally see as his costume as revealed in the trailer. Dano wears what basically looks like a full head cover with goggle type eyes looking more Unabomber-ish than what we expect and know The Riddler to be, with his identity not being fully revealed for some time. And Farrell as The Penguin/Cobblespot is completely unrecognizable as himself with some incredible makeup/prothesis done here. As well, helping defend Gotham City on the law and order side is James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), who seems to be the only law enforcement that is on Batman’s side, but alas still with the inevitable mustache.

And yes, the story line is very much the usual fare of villains courting danger in the city of Gotham and one of our most prominent ones here is Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), who is running an underground club, and may or may not have connections to The Penguin as well. As always trusty Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), is there to help The Batman through all the ups and downs of dealing with a city that has a love hate relationship with him. Speaking of a love/hate relationship, back again as well is Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), and one of the true highlights of the film. And how can you not love that they take it back old school somewhat, as even in the cheesy TV show, Batman & Catwoman had constant love/hate relationship and here, that story line features again. As well Kravitz gives it back to the old school ‘exotic’ as well, heralding back to the days of Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeiffer, bringing back to the role something essential that had been sorely missed.

To delve into this entire movie after you see it is like unpacking after a long vacation, and I mean really long vacation as this is a very long movie with a lot to unpack. You won’t find me giving away any storyline spoilers here but there are moments to love, from the dark gritty mood of it all, to the set pieces, to the cinematography, and the remarkable film score are all simply wonderful. The action is good throughout most of the film, but slows itself down at times almost a second to much with making this Batman into more ‘detective’ versus a Caped Crusader who just gets summoned by the infamous bat signal to help whatever crime is occurring in the Gotham City. It also felt like it could’ve ended at least three different points in times before it did and left us with a bit of hanging suspense for what’s to come. The ending as is, plus the post-credits scene almost betrays the fact and leaves one to realize this is definitely not a one off Batman like they have professed it to be.

And then we come down down to performance as we all have our favourite Batman and on everyone’s mind is how Robert Pattinson will fare as The Caped Crusader himself, The Batman. For me your Batman is only as good as your Bruce Wayne, it’s a fine line and both have to be equally as good for a true Batman to be. But Pattinson doesn’t connect here at all with the Bruce Wayne aspect of the character, to the point where I had flashbacks to him reminiscent of his Twilight character days. His Bruce Wayne portrayal here is not done in the usual classy, almost elegant manner of the billionaire who hides behind his mask. Now, on the better point is his Batman isn’t bad, not great mind you, but definitely not bad enough to distract through the movie as a whole, but enough to distract when being Bruce Wayne. In other words, he is good, but not great. Farrell however is very good as Cobblepot and again, you wouldn’t know it was him had we not known in advance who was under that look. And Paul Dano, while not the best Riddler look, his performance of the character, especially at the end was nothing short of spectacular. But there is also one huge standout here and that my friends is John Turturo as Falcone. He is a perfect villain and gives everyone on the screen a go for their money with his role being as decadent as it is. And lastly we have Catwomen who with her eyes made up, brilliant and beautiful as Selina Kyle, add her cat mask and ‘adventures’ on her motorcycle, and again, the love/hate relationship with Batman done with some very real chemistry, here she is a big meow in all the right ways.

(Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

All in all as you unwrap it all in your head to process it, and it will take a more than a moment to do so, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that it was good, just maybe not great. But as well it’s probably, no it’s most definitely too long and it’s a bit unclear on the direction they will go next, but it’s a solid, entertaining time in the seemingly never ending line of Caped Crusader contenders. Where it rates for each person, will be just that, up to each individual person.

Grade: B

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Review Screening: Thursday, February 24, 2022 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“THE BATMAN” FROM WARNER BRO. PICTURES WILL BE OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 2022

REVIEW: “TED K” (2022) Super LTD

One questions always arises as you begin to watch what might seem like another movie about a someone who did so much harm to so many. In essence, Ted Kaczynski was one of America’s first ‘domestic terrorists’. “TED K” is the latest in a slew of films based on one of America’s worst and longest active domestic terrorists. The film by co-writer/director Tony Stone’s biography of Ted Kaczynski, was known during the decades-long manhunt for him as “the Unabomber,” portrays him as a mathematical genius of a man whose idea that the outside world is encroaching on him and he has had enough, a self-perceived righteousness so to speak, to enable him to take action against everything and everyone who contributed to this.

Ted K’ begins with a prologue of basic details, most of what we already know – Kaczynski was a Harvard educated math genius who dropped out of society and moved to the Rocky Mountains in Lincoln, Montana, which as we know, is home to many of these nationalists groups and there has been found evidence that Montana was once selected “for the development of a white Aryan homeland to be used as a base of operation”. So it should come as no surprise this is where Ted picked to live off the grid. Following that, the opening sequence sets the stage as we see Kaczynski hiding in the forest while loggers tear down the forest around him, snow mobiles whiz by with vacationers on them – all feeding his imagination that modern technology, will be the end of humanity as it is and feels this is so wrong, that even though he wants no part of it, he finds himself bowing to it to carry out his ‘ideals’. All the while, trying to convince as many people as he can of the same philosophy.

That’s how the movie’s Ted Kaczynski, is played here by Sharlto Copley. But therein lies the danger here in doing this as Copley is actually so good at points, that the movie approaches the thin line of romanticizing not just the man, but in an odd way, what he stood for as well as you can’t deny some of his predictions ring with a bit of truth in today’s world. So instead of seeing him as the monster he was, you look at him as a flawed human being – when that is just not the case, but it is good acting. The showing of who this man is, how he holds grudges, erupts in rages to everyone from the phone company to verbally abusing his family, all the while begging them to send some money his way. For Ted it seems it was always someone else’s fault for what happens to him in life, and that, more than any of his crazy demands in his 25,000 word manifesto of which this film is based primarily upon, is what defines the man. The deluded thoughts of a man who considered modern technology to be evil and used a hit list to identify the targets for his homemade bombs – bombs by the way, that often injured unintended victims and not his intended targets.

And so it comes to the conclusion that we already know, but that still rings hard with the fact that under the threat bombing of another target, his manifesto makes it to the pages of the Washington Post, therein leading to his downfall after the longest manhunt in history, betrayed I’m sure in his own delusional mind, by his brother who recognized the writings. And so brings us to the end of this long chapter in life, sadly we were to see many more domestic terrorists come to fruition, and even just recently, almost lost our country to them – and maybe that is why it is important to sometimes still watch a film like this. Superbly acted, but also to keep us aware that all amongst us are not with us.

In the end, Ted was just a sexually frustrated misogynist who became a dysfunctional, delusional and dangerous man. Sadly, he won’t be the last.

Grade: C+

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“TED K” premieres exclusively in theaters Friday, February 18, 2022

REVIEW: “WEST SIDE STORY”(2021 aka the Steven Spielberg revelation) 20th Century Studios

Who would have thought we would see the day where Steven Spielberg makes a musical – and not just any musical, but a remake of the very famous classic “WEST SIDE STORY”. The original which was nominated for 11 Oscars, going on to winning 10 including Best Picture. It was a film that at the time, that defined the acting careers of Natalie Wood and the wonderful Rita Moreno, as well, it further established musical theater phenoms Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (RIP) as bona fide household names. This movie, based on the 1957 Broadway musical, of which I actually have an original poster of that I acquired in the late 1990’s from an agent I worked for as a parting gift – right after I had finally seen the 1961 original, which is of course based loosely on the classic Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet story. Could there really be a bigger challenge for Spielberg after his long and industrious career? Probably not. The question is: Does he succeed?

Original Broadway poster on my wall

Even in our remake/reboot/sequel/MCU clogged movie world, doing a film like this is still a massive undertaking and also a bit fun for some to complain or discuss the “why’s” of any and all big screen reboots, even if they’re brought to life by oh, just one of the greatest directors of the past 4 decades, Steven Spielberg. Having had the filming pushed back for more than a year due to various pandemic-related issues, the last few months have only further primed audiences to wonder exactly this. Why?

Giving a few early answers: Spielberg and his team wanted to cast differently than the original version, he looked into a variety of Latinx stars in the Shark parts i.e., more roles tailormade for actual Puerto Rican actors versus the 60’s where makeup was used to make them ‘look’ as though from Puerto Rico. Also seemingly wanted to lean into the sense of the actual division between people as it were, and the from my understanding, shifting the arrangements of the musical numbers to better reflect the original musical stage production from 1957.

Moving on as all that sounds well and good, adding touchups and all, but something like “West Side Story” stands tall all on its own, so did it really need those touchups? Turns out, yes it did, as Spielberg’s first musical is not only vibrant, rich with colour, somewhat wild, and a satisfying show of an updated version of the classic. While fans might initially take exception at if and how faithful it seems to its predecessor, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner take and use those familiar beats to find some new ones as well, in this classically loved story which is pretty much the same, and the one thing I couldn’t help thinking is it might not actually be the greatest story ever told. Girl meeting boy from wrong side of the tracks, and falling in love in what seems like minutes, then to run away together to avoid family strife and a street gang fight. Which is of course not successful as the fight between the Jets (white immigrants) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) is one of the major plot points and highlights of the film.

Early on, we get our first conflict between the rival gangs, which introduces us to Riff played by one of the Broadway play breakouts, and truly wonderful in this role is Mike Faist – who as the quick-tempered Jets leader so desperate to protect the neighborhood. Then we have Ansel Elgort as Tony, the former leader of the Jets attempting to find a new path for his life after spending a year in prison for nearly killing an Egyptian immigrant in a rumble, with all the singing skills and charisma of a wet blanket. Rounding out the men’s side is David Alvarez as Bernardo, Maria’s older brother and proud leader of the Sharks – whose goal is to carve out a place in the new land as equal citizens. And then there is Chino, Maria’s ‘date’ to the dance who is clearly enamored with her, played by Josh Andres Rivera. And the dance is also the first run-in with local cops, Officer Krupke (Brian d’Arcy James) and Lt. Schrank (Corey Stoll), neither of whom care what happens to whom, just as long as it doesn’t happen on their watch. But make no mistake here who rules this movie as I’m getting to that. I covered the men and again, Faist as Riff is wonderful and a force to be reckoned with throughout the movie, but the characters of Tony (Elgort), who is dry and listless, and Bernardo (Alvarez), who while he can dance and sing well, there just was something missing from his portrayal and maybe I just had to much 1961 Bernardo (George Chakiris) imagery in my head, but he just didn’t do it for me. In a way most things related to The Jets a bit on the insufferable side, and to be honest, most of The Sharks are as well. And you ask why.. well it should come as no surprise that the ladies here do all the heavy-lifting.

Which leads me into getting into the nitty gritty of this film and that my friends is hands down the three amigas all giving such strong performances. This is Zegler, DeBose, and Moreno’s movie without a doubt. This film is by far ruled in every way possible by first-time star Rachel Zegler as Maria, whose voice is a massive revelation that I don’t think too many saw coming, but it’s also the the other straight-from-the- Broadway production, actress Ariana DeBose as Anita, who is so fierce when she takes the lead on “America”, making one of the most inspiring and fun musical numbers ever on screen. In addition to her singing and beyond terrific dancing skills, DeBose delivers a superb performance in the role that won an historic Oscar for none other than the original herself, Rita Moreno in the 1961 film. Speaking of the one and only Rita Moreno, who is still wonderful and beautiful at 89 years old – she also appears as Valentina, the widow of Doc as she now runs Doc’s Drug Store and is somewhat of a surrogate mother-figure to Tony. It’s certainly no cameo, and though there is no dance number, she does get to sing “Somewhere”, and breaks your heart with her version and this time she is on the valiant end of the rape scene. She is the connect to the original film gives the film a presence where needed.

And while this is the update Spielberg version, you have to give kudos to Justin Peck for some truly masterful work that builds on the brilliance of what Jerome Robbins originally created. It’s not perfect by any means, but the casting of a more actual ethnic cast – as in no makeup to make anyone ‘look’ like something they are not, to the role ‘Anybodys’, a non-binary, always watching things, character played by Iris Menas, to the Spanish dialogue without subtitles where the strong acting and situations make clear what the scenes are whether you do or don’t speak the language. But for my mind, if you’re going to do a re-make and make positive changes, then why keep the slurs of character words still in there – why make a scene completely of Jets where they gain sympathy in the police station. But again, these overlooked parts is what made it not perfect for me – still highly enjoyable, with just beautiful dance scenes where you see such colour and grit.

At the end, you realize it’s a nostalgic, yet contemporary version that may not have you completely charmed in one way or another, but it WILL have you in awe with the story, dancing, music, acting, and story.

Grade: B+

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Review Screening ~ Monday, November 29, 2021 Courtesy of @RosasReviews as her guest.

“WEST SIDE STORY” from 20th Century Studios is in theaters beginning on December 10, 2021

REVIEW: “QUEENPINS” (2021) STX FILMS

Coupons. On the by and large one would not equate coupons with high stakes crime and yet here we are with “QUEENPINS”, a story based on the true life of some couponers gone criminal, written and directed by husband and wife team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. Mind you, while the story is real enough, the four main characters of the film are Pullapilly and Gaudet’s very enjoyable creations and they put it all together to make it work quite wonderfully, bringing an almost surreal story to the forefront. It’s a little bit dark comedy, some silliness & hijinks, actual laugh out loud comedy, but not without having it’s really touching moments as well.

Let’s get down now to the brass and tacks of what ‘Queenpins’ is all about as it’s quite the story. Taking place in 2012, the story follows a pair of friends, bored suburban housewife Connie (Kristen Bell), and her ‘aspiring influencer’ neighbor JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). While Connie, our former three time gold medal Olympian medalist in the oh-so-underappreciated category of race walking (yes. you heard that correctly, race walking), is perky and happy on the outside, within she and her husband Rick (Joel McHale), have drifted apart after she loses a baby and they go into high debt with fertility treatments that have never worked. JoJo, on the other side, is a victim of identity theft which makes starting up a business almost impossible, that and to top it off, she’s had to move in with her mother, Mama Josie (Greta Oglesby). This is the sad side that is periodically dropped in to remind you of why these ladies have decided to band together and put their super-saver couponing skills to multi platinum use. Basically CVS and their mile long receipt can stand down when it comes to how well these two shake their lives up by stealing fake coupons and selling them online, scamming millions of dollars from multinational corporations. 

Kirby Howell-Baptiste as JoJo Johnson and Kristen Bell as Connie Kaminski in QUEENPINS. Credit: Courtesy STX Films

But behind the de-facto Robin Hood-esqeness of how this caper starts off for the ladies, with the desire to pay off their debts, it quickly evolves right into what one would expect when suddenly faced with boatloads of cash – downright greed and money. But not for long, as there is another duo working for the other side lurking in the background. Mr. Coupon Prevention Officer Ken Miller (Paul Walter Hauser), who works for a large chain of grocery stores, takes his job very seriously, most especially so when alerted to thousands of unaccounted-for coupons popping up all over the Southwest. And here is where the story truly takes off giving us the type of storytelling that has the viewer invested in and actually rooting for the women to make it all work and get away with the millions, mostly because Bell and Baptiste give us two strong female leads that we can relate to.

Queenpins takes some twists and turns along the way that you don’t necessarily see coming, but Ken finally meets up with Simon Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn), a U.S. Postal Agent, who realizes the crimes can be investigated as mail fraud. While we’ve seen Hauser in this type of character before, what we haven’t seen is him paired up with Vaughn, and once their chemistry clicks, is when both characters are at their best. Hauser has a way with comedic roles which can make audiences laugh without really having to try, and again, here with Vaughn, who has a natural ability to play off his costars which keeps the pacing of the humour in step. Add in Tempe Tina (Bebe Rexha), who hands down, might be one of the funniest side characters created as a perfectly placed completely out of context ‘Identity Thief/Computer Hacker extraordinaire’ – she really makes her mark in a small, but so perfectly done role. Along, with Stephen Root, Dayo Okeniyi, Francisco J. Rodriguez and Lidia Porto rounding out the supporting cast, you’ve got a true little fun caper film on your hands.

Paul Walter Hauser as Ken Miller and Vince Vaughn as Simon Kilmurry in QUEENPINS. Credit: Courtesy STX Films

While not a perfect comedy, Queenpins has heart and focuses on the friendships new and old, with a high point being it altogether avoids the female cliche trap where women are constantly pitted against each other, and instead sees them stick together no matter where they end up. Without the two female leads providing some great chemistry, this film might not have worked out as well as it did. Bell and Baptiste really put the ‘chem’ in chemistry working together with some iffy moments, to make it real enough to not just believe, but laugh at. Not a simple recipe to pull off.

Original comedies are hard and honestly in a sea of reboots and Marvel films, this is no easy feat to pull off – but at 110 minutes run time – this one deserves the your watch.

B-

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“QUEENPINS” from STX Films – is in theaters on Friday, September 10, 2021 and comes to Paramount+ Friday, September 30, 2021 –

Review Screening ~ Courtesy of STX Films

TRIBECA 2021 REVIEW: “CLEAN”

“CLEAN” from director Paul Solet, is the Tribeca Film Festival offering in the crime-action genre. It also gives us Adrien Brody as writer/lead and impressive as that is, I can’t say I’m rolling out the ‘Welcome’ mat to Brody as an action star from this one.

Clean (Adrien Brody), seems to be just a simple salvage pick-up guy working the graveyard shifts and has a knack for fixing up items he picks up that can be repaired. Cool vintage stuff that actually brings in money and he has somewhat of a friendship with the pawn shop guy played by RZA. Then there is the random fact he always stops off to give a young girl Dianda (Chandler DuPont) lunch and make sure she gets to school. More like protecting her from the neighborhood, but we really aren’t clued in as to why.

On the other hand, we have the usual gaggle of Eastern European mobsters led by Michael (Glenn Fleshler), and he runs the neighborhood drug trade through his grandfathers old business, a fish market, smuggling the drugs in through fish. He’s also trying to teach his fresh out of jail, wanna-be gangsta rapper son Mikey (Richie Merritt), the trade, though things aren’t going well in that area.

To make a long story short and leave out the middle-man so to speak, we know from moment one that Clean is way more than a salvage man. We slowly find out his mobbed up background as he once was called ‘The Grim Reaper’ – I kid you not – as we also find him with a full tattoo of the Reaper on his back. This is right after we are slowly finding out why he is even protecting Dianda and her mother from harm as she it seems, reminds him of his daughter, whom has passed years earlier due to negligence on his part while being the Reaper. After he finds Mikey and his crew ready to take advantage of her and beats not only the whole crew to mere pulps, but Mikey to within a inch of his life. Of course his mobster dad isn’t pleased, and sends a gaggle of the mobsters after them all, which is where all of the ax/wrench/screwdriver/gun killings of dozens of people by only Clean himself all happen.

All in all, while not completely a mess, ‘Clean’ does fail to pass the spick and span test and is a messy story that we’ve seen all too many times before.

‘C-‘

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Tribeca 2021 Review: “No Man of God”

It’s hard to like a film about a serial killer as ‘like’ might just be too inappropriate a word to use. With that being said, “NO MAN OF GOD” is a familiar, yet still an intriguing look at the psychological tug-of-war so to speak, that went on between Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood).

The film starts us in 1985, shortly after Bundy’s capture and conviction. The story told here is from a bit of a different perspective as the numerous others we have seen in the past, this one being from the view of analyst Agent Hagmaier, who is in the early days of what is now known as being a criminal profiler. Being an analyst in the early days meant going in and listening to hours upon hours of what Bundy did and how, in an attempt to learn more about the psyche of those who commit these heinous crimes. Most of what takes place is one on one, in an interrogation room with the religious Hagmaier being one of the few the Bundy will speak to.

This is essentially a movie about two people, and each gets almost equal focus. Wood plays Bill as the newbie who doesn’t really want to be there, but feels duty prone. Bundy, who was known for intensely disliking anyone in law enforcement or government, has turned down a TV special for $50,000, but Bill is convinced that he can be the one to get Bundy to open up. Bundy thinks the cops are all “liars in cheap suits.” and is playing them all hard at the end saying he has tantalizing tidbits to reveal about some unknown victims to avoid the death penalty. Despite numerous warnings like “when you get too close to a guy like this, you could lose your way,” Bill talks with Bundy year after year as his revolting in-detail, tales begin to overshadow into Bill’s home life. On the other hand, Kirby portrays Ted with a cool calculated indifference, an almost unnerving calm, that feels as though it reaches through the screen at you and carries a whole lot of intimidation along with it. As Bundy’s ‘friendship’ with Bill morphs into more, you begin to feel a layer of the almost filmy slime forming on your skin, the kind that makes you feel you need a shower. While I might be baffled a bit by the casting of Kirby though, as the impression was that Bundy had these beautiful blue eyes that made him so irresistible and helped lure in the women to him, it’s fair to also point out he could make his eyes almost black because yes, he was a very dark human being. Whichever it is, both acting portrayals here are top of the line, including the small supporting cast of Robert Patrick as Roger Depue, Bill’s boss, and Aleska Palladino as Carolyn Lieberman, Bundy’s death penalty lawyer who was rumoured to have been having a prison affair with him, though the film does clear this up once and for all.

Director Amber Sealy doesn’t take us into any new or unknown territory in ‘No Man of God’, it does give us probably the best acted and darkest Bundy to date. Oddly, I hope this is the last one as the obsession of serial killers being ‘all the rage’ of our society and the fame they achieve doing it, is not really something to be celebrated.

C+

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Tribeca Virtual screening ~ courtesy of KWPR

NO MAN OF GOD” OPENS IN THEATERS AUGUST 27,2021

REVIEW: “CRUELLA” (2021) Disney Studios/Disney+

Estella or Cruella… This new offering of the old traditional story from Disney, definitely delves into a completely different outlook on this once cute story of a villainess and her adorable Dalmatian puppies. This prequel from director Craig Gillespie, is quite possibly the “CRUELLA” we didn’t know we needed, until we actually did.

To begin with, this version is a bit darker than any previous interpretation, animated or live action, and it is fun to watch Emma Stone take a deep dive into this character and come out sparkling. The story told here starts with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), on their way to start a new life in London in the 1960s. She aspires to be a fashion designer as like her mother, she is quite talented with a needle and thread. Young Estella struggles with her identity with her strictly parted down the middle, half black/half white hair, as Catherine tries to teach her how to lay low, and to fend off teasing and bullies, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have the best self control over. Tragedy ensues and with that past defining her, we get to see how she eventually becomes Cruella De Vil.

After said traumatic events, we find Estrella alone on the streets of London, where she is befriended by a pair of young street thieves, Jasper and Horace, and ends up with them. She ensues in working a life of crime and grift with the two, who come to appreciate her street wise sensibilities and they become a family of sorts. Flash forward to the 1970s and Estella (Emma Stone), is plodding away in a store as a cleaner versus her dream job in the world of fashion. When fate accompli happens and places Estella in the path of self-centered fashion magnate, The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), takes her under her wing and uses her talent for her own benefit. The Baroness treats those around her terribly and with this vile treatment, intimidates Estella. But her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser); see this as an opportunity to rob from the Baroness (per Horace: there is ALWAYS an angle) and as Estrella’s designs start to gain attention, this places them at odds with one another – that is – until Cruella shows up. Cruella soon takes the fashion world by storm with her penchant for the theatrical. Her bold designs and innovative looks, give her the power to upstage the Baroness at every turn, placing her front and center for the camera at major events, but also putting her in the crosshairs of The Baroness’ narcissistic tendencies of revenge.

Emma Thompson delivers one her best performances in recent years. She takes the extremely over-the-top character of the cartoonish Baroness and makes her strangely realistic and relatable. Almost sort of like an exaggeration of a stereotype, but still resembling actual people from the real world (I might actually know a few of these). The other Emma – Stone – gives Estella heart, to where you care about her and want the best for her, even if the Cruella side of her character doesn’t always make the best choices, Stone lets you enjoy both. Fry as Jasper and Walter-Hauser as Horace, have some of the best comedic moments in Cruella, and are truly hilarious together as the famous street wise duo of thieves who like nothing more to “Pick a pocket or two.” John McCrea as Artie is a hoot as the second-hand storekeeper and could’ve been more of a voice within the film, as his fun-loving character seems a bit underutilized. I wish that there was more to his and the other supporting cast’s roles, as it feels like Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an afterthought given the ‘darling’ nature of her childhood friendship with Estella, and then having a hand in making Cruella famous. John (Mark Strong), Roger (Kayvan Novak), and Gerald (Jamie Demetriou) play characters of henchmen/housemen variety as well, and all kind of shuffle on screen just to be shuffled right back off. One could question why some of their characters were even put forth, but in the long run, it does serve the story.

The biggest stand out that doesn’t involve the acting ensemble is of course, the stunning costume design giving us true works of art featuring cool retro, edgy storytelling from costume designer Jenny Beavan, as well as the gorgeous makeup and hair lead by Nancy Stacey. Not to be outdone, is the wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie, and perhaps my favourite of all, the soundtrack from music supervisor Susan Jacobs. There doesn’t seem to be many talking about it, but this soundtrack is packed with wonderful song choices from Blondie, The Rolling Stones, Queen and The Clash – to name a few. For me, it was a lovely highlight I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t stop myself from singing along and yes, grooving out!

Perhaps one of the few downfalls is the length of the film. At two hours and fourteen minutes – it did run a bit long, but don’t get up out of your seat just yet, as make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, as it hints at what’s to come.

B

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Review Screening: Courtesy of Disney Studios and Disney+

CRUELLA” AIRS ON DISNEY+ AND OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

REVIEW: “THE DRY” (2021) IFC Films

There is nothing like the surprise of finding a really good thriller watch unexpectedly and this wonderful, well-paced whodunnit from the steady hand of director Robert Connolly, “THE DRY”, fits the bill just perfectly. It also didn’t hurt that Eric Bana came back to his roots here, not just with an indie film, but with his own accent as well, something that’s always to be appreciated.

Adapted from the 2016 novel by Jane Harper, writers Harry Cripps and Robert Connolly, tap into something elemental about growing up around the Australian bush. Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), who grew up in the small town of Kiewarra, returns to his childhood home for the funeral of his boyhood friend, Luke Hadler (Martin Dingle Wall). Luke’s wife Karen (Rosanna Lockhart), and young son Billy (Jarvis Mitchell), have been killed with only the young baby being spared, and it is assumed that it’s a murder/suicide and Luke is the culprit. Luke’s parents Gerry (Bruce Spence) and Barb (Julia Blake), refuse to believe Luke could kill himself and his family like this and at the funeral, they ask Aaron, who is now a Detective in Melbourne, to do some unofficial investigating. He is hesitant and definitely not welcomed back by the townspeople. Only Luke’s old girlfriend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), is open to seeing him again. There is a reason for this. But he goes against the threats thrown at him by them and teams up with the young local policeman Sergeant O’Connell (Nick Farnell), and comes up with some unexpected twists and turns around each corner.

While the murder/suicide is the forefront story, we are actually dealing with two mysteries here, the one that is recent, and another that occurred twenty years previously. The film, told with flashbacks back to Aaron as a teenager (Joe Klocek). While teenage Luke (Sam Corlett) and teenage Gretchen (Claude Scott-Mitchell), were a couple, Luke was actually first attached with the beautiful Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt). The group swam in the river and drank together in the back woods outside of town. Aaron and Ellie’s romance begins to flourish as Luke’s jealousy grows, and through a note given to her at school, he invites her on a river date. She never shows, and is later found drowned. For reasons you will have to watch to suss out, Luke and Aaron concocted a story that they told of being together ‘out shooting rabbits’ – which was never really believed by anyone. In the present, Aaron confronts the deep-seated distrust from the entire town who believes he is responsible for Ellie’s death, as the killings reveal multiple sinister motives behind what could’ve really happened to her.

This film really captures the atmosphere of a small Australian country town and a really good Australian ensemble cast hold together the intriguing storyline. Bana underplays his character to let the story do the talking and just when you decide it’s right in-your-face-obvious who the obsessive killer is, and there is enough information to wrap things up 100% of what links two crimes, they throw in some extra ingredients to throw you off the scent. Again, Eric Bana is fantastic in the lead role and Genevieve O’Reilly excellent, but the younger Ellie played by Bettencourt, and younger Aaron, played by Klocek, do steal some of the show as well. There is a moment where Bettencourt sings acoustically, a haunting version “Under the Milky Way”, by the campfire, that even a week after seeing the film, I find myself still singing because it was so profound. With the characters all so complex and grey with hidden motives galore, psychological dysfunction and layering to mask them all, along with the stories behind them and the town, it creates a wonderful tight and gripping drama. The filming is beautiful but it’s not the environment that is predatory per se’, rather is the characters that move and circle one another that creates the tension and unease. 

The absolute only thing missing is a complete definitive ending, as we do have and odd moment of a blunder that seems a little suspect, but beyond that, the slow-burn and build up for the first 45 or so minutes, leads us into the last 45 minutes of all thrills and suspense.

It really makes you realize, all secrets eventually come to the surface.

‘B’

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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ IFC Films

“THE DRY” IS OUT IN THEATERS AND ON DEMAND FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021