Movie Review ~ The Hustle

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Two female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, team up to take down the dirty rotten men who have wronged them.

Stars: Rebel Wilson, Anne Hathaway, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver

Director: Chris Addison

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Just a few short months ago I was praising actress Rebel Wilson for her starring role in the February rom-com Isn’t it Romantic, remarking that I was glad she seemed to be less reliant on her usual fallback shtick to get laughs. The respite from this broad comedy was brief, though, because The Hustle has arrived on the scene as a stealth counter-programming move to the unstoppable blockbuster Avengers: Endgame and it finds Wilson back in well-worn territory that doesn’t do anything to convince her naysayers she’s capable of surprising viewers.

That’s too bad, too, because there was real potential for The Hustle to be more than it winds up being. A more faithful remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which itself was a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story) than I originally thought it was going to be, it gives Wilson her best co-star to date in Oscar winner Anne Hathaway but doesn’t seem to really know what to do with either lady. Therefore, it winds up being a modestly entertaining time waster providing some gentle chuckles (and one riotously funny sequence) but it’s mostly content to sneak away with your summer money…much like the two female thieves at its center.

After a frothy animated title scene (side note: boy, do I miss a nice credit sequence in movies) we meet up with Penny (Wilson, Pitch Perfect 3) as she’s sidling up to catfish a man (Timothy Simons, The Boss) in a bar. Penny wants people to like her for who she is on the inside not the outside…but she’s going about it in all the wrong ways. Luring the man to the bar using a picture of a different girl, she waits until he proves himself to only care about looks before justifying swindling him out of cash.  This scene is totally unnecessary to the overall plot of the film and seems to only be in there for a visual gag that’s already been selfishly spoiled (as many, many, many of the jokes have) in the trailer.

The movie starts to show some life when Penny meets Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises) on a train to Beaumont-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera. Amused after observing Penny’s efforts in conning an easy mark, Josephine comes to realize Penny might be more competition than she original thought and decides to take her under her wing. After some brief training passages involving physical comedy at the expense of Wilson’s nether-regions and a nice reimagining of a memorable scene from the 1988 film, Penny has graduated and is ready for the big time cons.  Together, the two women grift rich unsuspecting men until one guy (Alex Sharp, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) comes between them and the stakes are raised even higher when love comes into the mix.

By far, the funniest sequence in the film has Wilson posing as a blind innocent hoping to get money for an experimental therapy…only to have Hathaway show up as the German therapist Wilson created as part of her scheme. Watching Hathaway “test” the extent of Wilson’s blindness and try to cure her had me absolutely crying with laughter. Perhaps it was just the mood I was in or the fact that the rest of the film was so weary in its doling out of genuinely funny moments, but this section of the movie alone is enough for me to give it a recommendation.

With Oceans 8 and now this, Hathaway seems to be trying to politely shed the twee persona that became so aggravating around her Les Misérables days, anxiously sinking her teeth into another unapologetic man-eater role. She takes on a befuddling basso profundo Brit accent as Josephine and I couldn’t quite tell if she was actively trying to be bad or if director Chris Addison didn’t have the heart to tell her it stunk.  Thankfully, she gets into her groove right around the time she takes on the German therapist persona and rides that nicely for the rest of the feature. As I mentioned before, she’s matched nicely with Wilson and they seem to get along swimmingly – you get the impression the scenes were cut off right before the actresses burst into laughter.

When the film sticks to the skeleton of its predecessor it really hums and that’s a testament to how well Dale Launer’s script has held up over the last three decades. There’s a few amusing references to the earlier film that fans will likely catch and I liked that there were times I couldn’t tell if this was a remake or a sequel – I half expected original stars Steven Martin or Michael Caine to make an appearance at some point. Yet with too much reliance on Wilson’s same-old comedic foibles and despite the best attempt by Hathaway to drag her co-star away from the obvious jokes, it can’t make an assertive enough play to be remembered as a lesser-than remake of a more joyous film. Still – I’d be totally lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself more than I thought I would for the majority of the 90 or so odd minutes the film occupied my consciousness.

Oh…and stay until the very end of the film. There’s a post-credit scene that’s decently long with one very good joke in it.

Movie Review ~ Tolkien


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Craig Roberts, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Genevieve O’Reilly, Laura Donnelly, Pam Ferris, Sir Derek Jacobi

Director: Dome Karukoski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: As biopics of famous authors have proved, finding a way to depict the life of someone so renowned for his or her storytelling can be a tricky game. One needs only to look at the curious flatness of Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Becoming Jane, or even as far back as 2003’s Syliva, to see that a screenwriter has their work cut out for them if they want to take on a well-known literary scribe. On name recognition alone, J.R.R. Tolkien is by far one of the bigger names to get the “this is your life” treatment on the big screen and for a man who was so closely associated with fantasy it’s rather pleasant to note his biopic is one that is most grounded in reality.

The life of Tolkien could easily have been covered as a multi-part mini-series on HBO, Netflix, or Amazon Prime (where they are getting ready to film their own series based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels) because the man certainly lived a life. Raised with his younger brother by a poor single mother who died when he was 12, he went to live in an upper-class boarding house that afforded him the opportunity to go to a good school and get into a prestigious university. Marrying his first love before serving in the war, he returned home to teach and began writing the novels that would be his legacy. These events even read like the plot of a movie we’ve all seen before and would seem to lend itself well to a similar treatment, which would have been just fine. Thankfully, the filmmakers took a different approach.

The movie centers on the friendship that develops between Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) and three other young men he meets in school and remains close with as they go to college and join the war effort. At first an outcast from the boys in his class, Tolkien eventually finds they are really no different from him with their own set of personal problems in life and at home. Robert Gilson (Patrick Gibson, The Darkest Minds) is the headmaster’s son living in the heavy shadow of his emotionally withdrawn father, Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney, Dunkirk) struggles to make a name for himself as a musician, and Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle, The Lost City of Z) is a sensitive poet who becomes Tolkien’s closest friend.

Screenwriters David Gleeson & Stephen Beresford (Pride) give us a light sketch of the early life of Tolkien and a brief dab of his post-War life but their film mostly focuses on his teenage years through his time at the Battle of the Somme. For director Dome Karukoski, this is more than enough meat to cook a fine feast that doesn’t rely on trickery (or much pre-knowledge of the author) to be fulfilling. While there are some interesting visual cues during Tolkien’s war experience that veer to the fantastical, such as seeing dragons in fire raids or ominous evils in plumes of smoke, Karukoski’s movie has its feet on the ground. I was bracing myself for the movie to feature hints along the way of how Tolkien came up with the stories and characters that would earn him a place in the history books. Thankfully, aside from a wise teacher that has a twinkle of Gandalf in his eye, there’s no crusty janitor at Oxford that could have inspired Gollum nor is there a squat gentleman at the local pub enjoying a fine meal who reminds us of Bilbo Baggins. No, the screenwriters and director have held back on being too on-the-nose with these elements and have conveyed instead how the books came out of the collective whole of Tolkien’s life up until the point he put pen to paper.

While it doesn’t exactly stretch his range, Hoult’s performance as Tolkien is admirable in its presentation because many general fans of the author likely aren’t too aware of the personal life of the man behind the majestic worlds he created. So there’s a bit of freedom for Hoult to make the role, more or less, his own. Whether he’s muddied up on the battlefields, in natty tweeds lounging around Oxford, or walking through the woods talking to trees, he always seems to be on the right track. As his sweetheart and eventual wife, Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) turns in her best performance to date by giving some decent nuance to a role that could easily have been tossed away as the “supportive spouse” part. Recognizing her limitations in society, Edith’s one night out with the boys turns from joy to sadness as she realizes that she’ll never (in her lifetime) be able to have the same privileges as the man she loves. If there’s anything that feels truncated in the film, it’s the love affair between Tolkien and Edith which is the first thing to take a backseat in favor of other plot points.

All three of Tolkien’s friends provide good supporting performances, namely Boyle as Tolkien’s best ally and the one he desperately tries to find during the war. Hoult and Boyle have some good scenes together, as does Holt with Genevieve O’Reilly (The Kid Who Would Be King) as Geoffrey’s mother who sadly comes to realize she doesn’t know her son as well as his friends do. In his few brief scenes, Sir Derek Jacobi (Tomb Raider) challenges Tolkien to push himself further as a writer/scholar and it’s not too hard to discern where the genesis of a certain white wizard came from. The only nitpick I have is that there’s a lot of dark-haired guys in the film and during some of the war scenes it was hard to keep track of who was who.

Arriving in the still massive wake of the Avengers: Endgame box-office juggernaut, I fear Tolkien might get lost in the mix because it’s not loud enough to attract much attention outside of fans of the author that know it’s coming. There was some buzz in the news a few weeks back when it came out that Tolkien’s family did not endorse the film, though they hadn’t even seen it at that time. While that may give you pause to see this film, it’s helpful to know that most biographies don’t have the support of the family and sometimes that allows the author of the work to, sure, take a few liberties with the material but also not be as beholden or precious to their subject. In the case of Tolkien, it’s clear everyone involved had a great respect for the late author (he died in 1971) and were invested in this tale of his first valued fellowship.

Movie Review ~ Pokémon Detective Pikachu


The Facts
:

Synopsis: When a private eye goes missing, his son is prompted to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Pokémon and Harry’s former partner: Detective Pikachu.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ken Watanabe, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora

Director: Rob Letterman

Rated: PG

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: By the time Pokémon made its debut in 1995, I had graduated from being the target audience for the global franchise. Starting as video games, as so many million-dollar empires do, before expanding into books, tv shows, comics, toys, etc. the brand was revitalized in 2016 when Pokémon Go became all the rage. Finally tapping into a more adult base, this scavenger hunt game was a sensation and the subject of many issues with players traversing onto private property or into oncoming traffic to “capture” their Pokémon. During the summer of 2016, you were either playing Pokémon Go or rolling your eyes at those who were.

If there was one area left for the Pokémon to conquer, it was live-action film. Over 20 animated films were released over the past two decades but when Pokémon Go reignited interest in this country, studios looking to capitalize on the craze sought out the rights to bring the characters to new life on the big screen. Using the popular 2016 game Detective Pikachu as inspiration, four screenwriters collaborated on Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Warner Brothers locked down an A-list star to provide the voice for it’s title character. Now…would the audiences come out and play?

The relationships between humans and Pokémon have evolved at the start of Pokémon Detective Pikachu. While they still “choose” their own Pokémon who become their semi-sidekicks, humans are no longer training them to do battle against others. This is all thanks to the vision of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, About Time), the creator of Rhyme City where everyone co-exists in harmony. In the prologue, an experimental laboratory comes under attack and a dangerous next-gen Pokémon is released, causing mayhem and what looks like a deadly car crash.  Jumping outside of Rhyme City, we catch Tim (Justice Smith, Paper Towns) and his friend Jack (Karan Soni, Safety Not Guaranteed) trying to locate a Pokémon for Tim. Once interested in being a trainer, now Tim has his eyes set on climbing the corporate ladder for the insurance company he works for. Everything changes with the news his private detective father has died in Rhyme City, and when Tim starts to dig into the secrets his father was trying to expose it brings him face to face with his father’s Pokémon, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Life).

Usually, only the human that choses the Pokémon can understand what their little friend is saying but somehow Tim hears Pikachu loud and clear. Pikachu has lost his memory, only being able to piece together that he was also in the crash with Tim’s father. Just as invested in finding the evil Pokémon and who might be behind their actions, Pikachu teams up with Tim and they begin to sleuth around the city for answers. Along the way they encounter an eager junior reporter (Kathryn Newton, Ben is Back), a gruff police detective (Ken Watanabe, Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a plethora of wacky Pokémon.  In one particularly notable bit, Pikachu and Tim have a run-in with Mr. Mime, an excellent but mischievous pantomime with an act that was a highlight of the film.

Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) knows how to work with blending live action and the computer animated Pokémon creations and most of the visual effects are impressive. It’s not as seamless as it could be, though, and that gives the film a second-tier feeling that doesn’t befit a release from a first-rate studio. The screenplay is fairly basic and hinges on a twist that becomes rather obvious within the first thirty minutes. Smith is not that appealing as a leading man (already proven by audiences actively asking for him to be eaten in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and the charismatic Reynolds is relegated to being merely a voice which only gets at half of what makes him so engaging. Yet, the film bounces along, working almost in spite of itself with a handful of nice gags and chuckle humor that was appealing. It’s not the raucous comedy of Long Shot but it doesn’t elicit deadly silence either. For what it’s worth, my audience absolutely roared with laughter at obvious insider Pokémon references that went right over my head. One thing is clear, the film wants you to invest in the Pokémon brand – it’s almost a feature length commercial for their line-up of characters which will equate to mass dollars being spent on products.

I can’t honestly tell you what a fan of Pokémon will think about Pokémon Detective Pikachu but as an uninitiated viewer I found the film to be sporadically funny, rarely boring, but almost instantly forgettable. The kind of ho-hum pre-summer flick that arrives before the bigger players in the hope of cashing in quickly before vanishing from screens in time to be a back-to-school gift on BluRay. There’s nothing particularly bad to report but it’s all so pedestrian and uninspired you’d think a little more effort would be put in to mask the blatant consumerism on display.