REVIEW: “QUEENPINS” (2021) STX FILMS

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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

REVIEW: “FREAKY” (2020) Universal Pictures

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“FREAKY” gives us another run from Director Christopher Landon from “Happy Death Day” fame. In fact, he repeats the formula by merging the slasher genre again with another exploited trick that we’ve all seen in many previous films throughout the years: the old switch-a-roo of bodies. Some of these have been magically good, some not so much as they truly all depend on the timing, actors and just a twist of originality at their core.

It starts with a stereotypical slasher scene right after a discussion about the towns “Blissfield Butcher” myth, that is told every year at Halloween throughout this small town high school scenario. No one thinks the story is real until of course it is. Our very own ‘Blissfield Butcher‘ is actually a very real serial killer played by Vince Vaughn, who after stabbing a 17-year-old Millie (Kathryn Newton) with a mysterious Aztec knife, sees their bodies exchange and Vaughn becomes a high school girlNow Millie must try to not only convince her two best friends Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’ Connor) and to somehow go unnoticed all the while controlling this gigantic new body she has. Meanwhile the Butcher totally enjoys his new body by being able to infiltrate an not only the school, but initiates a party outside of town when the Homecoming dance is canceled – full of potential victims. To stop the spell, the teenage version of Vaughns’ Butcher character must stab her original body again with the exact knife within 24 hours or remain forever trapped in each others bodies – oh the drama!

The question the is inevitable brought up is “Does this have some originality to it or at least enough to make it interesting?” Sure it can if you disregard some of the very basics here such as the quote of “You’re black, I’m gay. We’re screwed!” that Josh shouts out, or the very bloody graphic gory deaths, most especially of Wood Shop Teacher (Alan Ruck) who for some reason seems to pick on Millie only for the fact that she isn’t one of the popular kids. Or the fact that to top it off, she is the school mascot. It could go on some, but in all honesty, it feels like it’s has it’s originality because Vaughn goes back into some of old school, most fun performances here. Newton is good for me, but her droid-dead stare like performance when she is in ‘serial killer’ mode just didn’t do it as much for me.

All in all, it’s just fun and in true form, entertaining and that folks is all we are looking for right now, fun entertainment.

Grade: C+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“FREAKY” IS OUT FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2020 IN THEATERS (WHERE OPEN) & DRIVE-INS

REVIEW: “FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY” (2019) MGM

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A movie, whether based on a true story or fictional one, may be a blend of both facts and fictionalized scenes and events. “FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY” seems to be case in point depending on whom you speak to.  But instead of pointing out fact v. fiction, just sit back watch and enjoy this one folks.  Let go of the being overly critical all the time as ‘Fighting with my Family’ might have its flaws and not be completely true down to the line, it definitely does have its charms.

Probably the first thing you will do is a double take on the director and writer and make sure if it is THE Stephen Merchant doing triple duty here writing/directing/starring in this film. Turns out it is, which immediately ups the ‘interesting’ level a notch or two.  Even more crazy is to think that Merchant did not know a thing about wrestling before taking on the project.

Inspired by the story of the Knight family, the film tells the story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh) and her desire to become a female wrestler.  With the odds against her, along with a family of completely wrestling crazed parents in dad Ricky (Nick Frost), mom Julia (Lena Heady) and brother Zak (Jack Lowden), all of whom put on wrestling shows and train others in Norwich, a small suburb in the UK.  Paige and her brother get called up for a WWE tryout, but with only Paige making the cut, Zak is completely devastated and Paige must deal with not only this, but the drastic change her life is taking and the hard road to living out her dream of being a WWE Superstar.

The next hour is filled with what it’s like to attend the WWE school of hard knocks led by Hutch (Vince Vaughn), and how to alienate and then make best friends with your competition.  This part can sometimes just be all to consuming as we’ve seen this type of story many times before.  Overcoming adversity to win the challenge at the end and it’s here that the film can’t help feeling clichéd. The saving grace here is the flashbacks to Zak being left behind in Norwich and where his life is heading, or seemingly not heading to and it’s got some truly lovely, heartwarming story line.  But training montage footage galore, sibling rivalry leading to a profound confrontation that resolves the issue, and the underdog overcoming the odds gives no surprises to the ending.   Now of course, it’s going to pump in the Hollywood magic to try to help the movie. The Rock is throughout the movie, and while he wasn’t truly vital to Paige’s career, his scenes are fun. The actors do an amazing job with their roles, and have very good comedic chemistry. This movie is witty and charming but at times, it’s all over the place.

The initial presentation of the Knight family rang true, authentic and affable. Putting it in their actual home was a good idea. Frost and Headey were great in the roles as Paige’s parents and Puge did a very good job as Paige. Lowden as her brother made a good mentor, but it also tried to take the high road and make Paige an angelic character.  However, from what I understand, if you are a fan of Paige or the Knight family at all, you will quickly start to see fictionalized moments, exaggerations and inaccuracies. These are something that as a viewer who has no knowledge of the wrestling world, will not impact in the slightest.  No matter this situation, everyone will recognize names such as Hulk Hogan and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – and of course The Rock with his signature “If you smell what The Rock is cooking” done a few times for good measure – makes you realize how far this guy has come.

Overall, the film maintains a good balance of comedy and drama and you don’t need to know anything about WWE or sports entertainment to enjoy the film. Merchant does a good job for his first run here.

Grade: C+

@pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening Monday, February 11, 2019 ~  courtesy of LAFTV meetup

REVIEW “HACKSAW RIDGE” (2016) Lionsgate

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Let’s start off by acknowleding that “HACKSAW RIDGE” is not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly violent in its war scenes as it tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army medic that refused to carry a weapon as not a ‘conscientious objector’ but as a ‘conscientious participator.’ This, until now, untold story of Doss, is one that will stick with you long after the film is over.
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Of course you wonder going in can Mel Gibson redeem himself after so much has been made of his lack of judgment, drunken rants, and his anti-semitic rhetoric and in essence, being blackballed these last 10 yrs. as yes, though he is perfectly capable of doing so, it’s a long climb up.

Turns out it would be hard not to do with this story. The film starts in the sober times of WWII around 1944, Desmond Doss, the son of Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), an alcoholic Army man who served in World War I and is suffering from what we now know is PTSD. Doss & his family, while patriots, are also devout Seventh-Day Adventist’s. His brother, Harold Doss (Nathaniel Buzolic) joins the Army leading Desmond to join also, against their father’s wishes, in the fight against Japanese in some of the final battles of WWII.
Doss is in love with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer, a nurse’s aide who is scared that she’ll never see him again, especially after the persecution he is sure to face when he refuses to touch a gun in training camp and is facing being court marshaled for this refusal by his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) & Captain Glover (Sam Worthington).
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From there we move onto who Doss actually becomes as he proceeds during the stand-off at ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ to show his true being and save as many lives as he possibly can while dodging bullets and hand grenades, all without a gun. There are moments you want to scream at him “Just pick the damn thing up” whereas at other you are with him 100% for not doing so. Not being religious myself, it would be hard not to realize both sides have their points which anyone, whether religious or not, can understand and decide on their own.

My only and very few beefs were: The beginning had a lot of fluff & cheesy-ness to it. Second: While I realize Mel is an Aussie, but to put so many Aussie & Brits as leads in a southern film trying to do southern accents, just doesn’t always quite go up to par and here was the same. As decent as most of the acting is, it’s still very detectable that they don’t have the accents down pat. We also at one point, lose the brother. He literally get’s up from dinner, and we never see him again, nor do we know what happened. Lastly, the supporting cast is truly amazing here and bring so much to this film, although the age-range of the actors might have been off some. They were starting off at playing young 19-22 yr. old’s and frankly almost all look quite a bit off that range including Garfield himself.
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As for the rest, truly I must say I don’t think anyone does battle scenes as well as Mel Gibson does. Again, It’s extremely violent and graphic as well, real war actually can be. I had to turn away a few times, but the story Gibson puts up there of all of the terribleness of war is just so well done. I was brought to tears when they quoted “During peacetime, sons bury their fathers, during war, fathers bury their sons.” It got me.

Conclusion: Many will walk into this film wanting to dislike just because of Gibson, most of them will walk out knowing they just saw a really good film.

Grade: B-
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup Group
Nationwide Release: Friday, November 4, 2016