Synopsis: After being involuntarily discharged from the Army, James Harper joins a paramilitary organization to support his family in the only way he knows how. Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Eddie Marsan, Florian Munteanu, Kiefer Sutherland, Nina Hoss, Amira Casar, Fares Fares, J. D. Pardo Director: Tarik Saleh Rated: R Running Length: 103 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: The Contractor. The Contractor? Really? Will they ever learn? Here we go again with a more than decent film saddled with the most cardboard brown-colored title you can imagine, though it was filmed under one that had a little more flair. When actors Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gillian Jacobs signed on to Tarik Saleh’s muscle-y military film, it was for a script named Violence of Action. Still, it was not entirely descriptive or exemplary enough to set it far apart from the direct to video junk starring a washed-up fourth-billed actor from a late ‘90s cop show, but…at least it had some movement to it. The Contractor could be any movie.
Title qualms aside, and I had to put them aside, this is a surprisingly brisk and engaging action thriller that deservedly was bumped from a wide theatrical release in favor of a streaming debut. It doesn’t have the full-bodiness to warrant that trip to the cinema but fits nicely with the new niche carved out for starry vehicles that need a home. Orphaned by its original studio, Paramount snapped this one up, and they’ve made a wise purchase. While it won’t ever be high on the resume for anyone involved, it acquits itself nicely as an otherwise engaging action thriller that keeps moving and doesn’t sag under easy-to-spot oncoming twists.
Sidelined from service due to a bum knee, Special Forces Sergeant James Harper (Pine, A Wrinkle in Time) struggles to provide for his family and is watching the bills pile up. When he meets up with old army bud Mike (Foster, The Finest Hours), who appears to be living beyond his means, he finds out about Mike’s side work running covert jobs for Rusty Jennings (Kiefer Sutherland, Flatliners). Bringing his friend into the fold, Mike leaves out a few key details. James figures these out quickly as he’s thrown into a dangerous mission exposing shady alliances that put his life and the well-being of his wife (Jacobs, Life of the Party) and child in jeopardy.
Six years after their runaway hit Hell or High Water, Pine and Foster have skilled onscreen chemistry, making them an ideal pair. Director Saleh doesn’t have to spend much time establishing their history because both actors play their roles so convincingly that we don’t need a lot of backstories to understand their relationship. That takes The Contractor only so far, though, and eventually, audiences will have only the standard plot mechanics of J.P. Davis’ script to carry them forward. It’s not that Davis hasn’t crafted a strong three-act action-thriller; it’s just that nothing you can’t see coming a mile down the road happens.
Compelling enough to not feel like a waste of time but routine in overall execution, The Contractor is best when it’s letting Pine and Foster continue to develop their non-action dramatics. Once the mission takes over, interest starts to wane, and you’re in overly familiar territory. The upside? You’re likely watching it for free (or far less than usual prices) at home, so you haven’t sunk movie theater prices on the watch.
Synopsis: Mickey Pearson is an American expatriate who became rich by building a marijuana empire in London. When word gets out that he’s looking to cash out of the business, it soon triggers an array of plots and schemes from those who want his fortune
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery
Director: Guy Ritchie
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: When he first started out, director Guy Ritchie was able to deliver films that felt like rough and rowdy brawlers. They were British to their core, authentic in their design with deliriously off the wall characters that didn’t come off as cliché stereotypes or too arch to be taken seriously. Finding a crossover hit early on in the US with 1998’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels he scored and even bigger hit (and married Madonna) in 2000 with Snatch starring mega-star and super fan Brad Pitt and his career in Hollywood was officially off and running.
Briefly distracted by an ill-conceived remake of Swept Away starring his wife, he found his way back to the grittier gangster pics (albeit with bigger budgets and more formal studio involvement) for Revolver and RocknRolla. That’s pretty much the last time the Ritchie who was heralded as the next big thing in the early 2000’s was seen because the director has largely toiled in high profile franchise or tent pole fare for the past decade. His two Sherlock Holmes films were fun but didn’t play to his strengths and while the big screen adaptation of television’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t the sizable hit it should have been, it felt like Ritchie was getting back to what he was good at. By the time Ritchie signed on to oversee the live-action adaptation of Aladdin that was released in 2019, I think even he was surprised at where his career was sitting.
Perhaps that’s why he’s starting 2020 off with the release of The Gentlemen, an interesting return to form for Ritchie that’s a good reminder of what he can do with material he feels some affinity toward. Serving as both writer and director, Ritchie has assembled some top tier talent from the UK and US but don’t let the title, poster, or other marketing fool you. This isn’t a refined “ol chap” sort of crime caper but a hard-nosed, foul-mouthed, not always linear crime drama that often gets lost in its own maze of double crosses and deception.
After years of building a successful drug trafficking empire in the UK, American businessman Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar) has tired of all the extra precautions and risk and is ready to sell his business and retire with his wife Roz (Michelle Dockery, Non-Stop). News of his plans spreads quickly and attracts the attention of a quietly treacherous billionaire (Jeremy Strong, Serenity) who thinks he can outsmart Mickey and drive down his asking price and ambitious Chinese mobster Dry Eye (Henry Golding, Last Christmas) looking to make a play for his own piece of the London underworld. With the two men vying for the whole mincemeat pie, they’ll resort to any method of skulduggery to get what they want and that may involve working together…or are they all being outsmarted by an entirely different puppet-master?
This being a Ritchie film, there has to be several subplots going that will eventually loop back around to tie into the central story line. One involves a flighty (and foppish) tabloid journalist (Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins) attempting to extort money from Mickey’s right hand henchman (Charlie Hunnam, Pacific Rim) who knows where all the bodies are buried and isn’t above digging another hole for the reporter. Also factoring in the mix are a team of young amateur boxers and wannabe rap viral video stars who raid the wrong drug house and need their exasperated coach (a divine Colin Farrell, Dumbo) to get them out of a jam.
How these threads get braided together, tied off, trimmed up, and sewn shut makes for an entertaining final act of The Gentlemen but it’s that first 75 minutes or so that are a bit rocky to get through. It’s a fairly slow opening and one that is, at times, hard to follow with Ritchie jumping around in timelines which can make it difficult to track the action and the characters. There’s a smart way of doing these shifts (think Pulp Fiction) and it starts with a strong screenplay that’s well defined, razor sharp. Unfortunately, Ritchie’s script isn’t all that dynamic so even if the double crosses and twists that emerge aren’t exactly easy to identify, it’s mostly because we’ve been deliberately not given information that would have helped us piece together the puzzle. One scene has us not being able to decipher what people are saying in a key moment because there’s something in the way blocking our view yet when the scene is replayed later on that obstruction has vanished and we can clearly hear that one nugget that would have clued us in. In a way, that’s cheating the audience through trickery.
Along with a rather inspired soundtrack (always one of Ritchie’s strengths), the cast helps to sell the movie, even with these narrative blips. I liked McConaughey’s weary and wary kingpin, he’s clearly been in the business long enough to know when to lose his temper and when to keep his cool. Some may find the performance “lazy” but I found it appropriately conserving energy for the characters Mickey interacts with that deserve more of his output. I wasn’t ever totally sold on Hunnam playing such a buttoned up fellow that keeps the dirty work out of Mickey’s hands – there’s just something that doesn’t fit and I would much rather have seen Golding take on this role because I also didn’t believe him as a short fused petulant gangster.
Freed from the frocks as Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, Dockery looks like she’s having a ball as Mickey’s no-nonsense wife and while Ritchie has never been great with female characters…he at least gives her a nice zinger of a scene, small as it is. I’m torn on Grant’s fey reporter act, half horrified at how uncouth it is in this day and age to play a part so literally and half enjoying seeing Grant continue to take on roles that are a far cry from his mop-top romantic leads that made him a star nearly three decades ago. Stealing the show completely is Farrell as a tough love trainer who isn’t willing to let his young acolytes pay the ultimate price for a stupid mistake. If Ritchie were to want a spin-off of this movie, he could easily find another film story for Farrell and the boys…and I’d happily see it.
Recently, 2019’s Uncut Gems was called out as having the seventh most f-words in film history and I’d be willing to bet The Gentlemen would rank just as high for the most use of the dreaded c-word. Now in the UK that verboten word doesn’t carry quite the same weight it does on our shores but it still has a significant impact over the course of 113 minutes. I’m a fan of these kind of crime films and so it’s worth seeing The Gentlemen if only to make sure Ritchie continues to go back to making movies like this and doesn’t make a movie musical with Will Smith as a Genie again. This is clearly a world and material he has a meter and rhythm for and while the overall orchestra isn’t quite in tune yet they’ve been warmed up nicely.
Review: There’s a feeling you get while watching Second Act that you’ve been magically transported back to the early 2000s when movie studios were still making mid-range comedies that weren’t based on a comic book or an established franchise. This was a time when a 30 million-dollar movie could get greenlit on star power alone and make its money back in the opening weekend before going on to enjoy a healthy life with repeat viewings on cable or well-worn DVDs. Alas, this is 2018 and even if Second Act isn’t the same kind of slam-dunk destined for repeat viewings guilty pleasure we want it to be, it’s certainly a nice blast of nostalgia with several modern twists that keep it interesting.
When she misses out on a big promotion at her Wal-Mart-ish job she more than deserves that coincides with a milestone birthday, Maya (Jennifer Lopex, The Boy Next Door, radiant as ever) is feeling down in the dumps. Though comforted by her best friend Joan (Leah Remini) and boyfriend Trey (Milo Ventimiglia, Kiss of the Damned) she can’t get over the fact that just because she doesn’t have a college degree it means she can’t advance in her career even if she has earned it. Thanks to Joan’s whiz-kid son, with a little fancy internet tweaking and resume fudging Maya lands and interview and eventual consulting job with a beauty company in New York City.
I’m going to stop right there because that’s what the previews for Second Act have told you and it’s better if I let you see for yourself how the story develops. Let it be known that Second Act isn’t exactly the movie it has marketed itself to be (sorry ladies, an early shirtless Ventimiglia scene is the closest you’re going to get to romantic territory) and that’s not entirely a bad thing. You can see why Lopez, who scored so many early hits in the rom-com genre got the script for this and found it to be worthy of her time and producing effort. It’s formulaic as all get-out but it works in ways that surprised me more than I thought it would.
Playing to its target audience by sending Maya on a Cinderella-esque story from rags to riches (with stops at all the major designer stores along the way) and putting her up in a swanky NYC apartment, the only thing screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas don’t give Maya is much of a personality. Lopez sells the material well but Maya is often the passive viewer in her own life story, acquiescing to the wishes of others and not standing up for herself. Case in point, though she has told him over and over again she wants to advance in her career Ventimiglia’s character keeps giving her a guilt trip about delaying starting a family — why doesn’t Maya ever say “No, dude, I don’t want to start a family…I’m 40 years old and want to be an executive!” In all honesty, the entire Ventimiglia storyline could be excised without losing anything major…except for a small sampling of its female demographic.
Director Peter Segal (Grudge Match) doesn’t do anything special from a technical perspective but he gets the right people in the room and lets the charm of the collective hive carry the movie through some of the cheesier fare. Aside from Lopez (who seems to change into one glorious costume/hairstyle every 30 seconds), Remini scores a win as Maya’s smart-acre sidekick (you can absolutely tell the two are besties in real life) and I got a kick out of Annaleigh Ashford (Frozen), Charlyne Yi (The Disaster Artist), and Alan Aisenberg as Maya’s coworkers who bring their own comedic oddities to their screen time. Only Vanessa Hudgens (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as Maya’s corporate rival struggles to stay convincing, though Lopez tends to elevate her anytime they share a scene.
With so many movies out this holiday season, I’m guessing this isn’t going to make that big of a dent in the box office but will likely find a better audience when it’s available to watch at home. It likely will play better on the smaller screen, too, and might have even made a bigger splash as, say, a Netflix original film. Still, for those like me who mourn the death of these types of smaller genre films Second Act is a nice reminder that they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Synopsis: A woman struggling with insecurity wakes from a fall believing she is the most beautiful and capable woman on the planet.
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Thoughts: It’s refreshing to see an actress like Amy Schumer continue to find roles that she seems a total natural for. I’d imagine the script for I Feel Pretty was written with Schumer in mind and the timing for this one feels right. Posed as an early summer comedic alternative to the rambunctious blockbusters set to invade theaters, the directorial debut of screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein casts Schumer (Snatched) as a woman who bumps her head and suddenly finds her inner goddess. Buoyed by a strong (and surprising!) supporting cast featuring Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World), Lauren Hutton (American Gigolo), and Aidy Bryant (The Big Sick), I Feel Pretty put a smile on my face with the trailer alone…looking forward to getting the full view.