Movie Review ~ The Peanut Butter Falcon


The Facts
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Synopsis: A young boy with Down Syndrome runs away to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal

Director: Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Coming off a summer chock full of movies that seemed to only love us for our money, it would be easy to approach The Peanut Butter Falcon with a tiny bit of wariness.  Is this character-driven drama really asking us to just sit back and enjoy ourselves?  Shouldn’t we be figuring out what supporting players will be getting their own franchise spin-off or deciding whether or not to stay until the lights come up in case we miss any post-credit stingers?  Don’t we need to steel ourselves to debate with our friends and followers the merits of how well the screenwriter and director have brought a beloved character from the page to the screen?  Not so fast.  It’s with a grateful heart I can say that originality and a tender spirit are the key ingredients in this sweet film that has no ulterior motives.

I have to admit, when I first heard of this film the title didn’t exactly set my world on fire because I couldn’t ever seem to remember if it was a kids movie or not.  I kept getting it confused with 1985’s The Peanut Butter Solution which, incidentally, was the first flick to include a Celine Dion song. Anyway, I hadn’t heard anything about The Peanut Butter Falcon because it largely flew under the radar on its way into theaters, buoyed by a strong performance at the 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX.  I also should be up front and say I outright skipped several advanced screenings of it in favor of other more mainstream films but the good buzz on this kept coming back my way and so I turned a movie night with a friend into an opportunity to see what the low hum hype was all about.

Without a family to care for him, 22-year old Zack (Zack Gottsagen) lives in a North Carolina nursing home where he is looked after by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, Suspiria) and shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern, The Hateful Eight), a wily man over a half century older than he is.  Far too young to live the rest of his life surrounded by old people, Zack dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and train with his idol, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church, Hellboy).  Though a high functioning man with Down syndrome, Zack doesn’t have the resources to live on his own so, for the time, being he has to stay where he is.  After a botched escape attempt, Eleanor cracks down on Zack and finally puts bars on his window to prevent him from stealing away when no one is looking.

Nearby, local fisherman Tyler (Shia LeBeouf, Lawless) has gotten into trouble again for fishing without a license and winds up vandalizing the equipment of Duncan, a thorny shoreman (John Hawkes, Lincoln) that doesn’t forgive and forget.  Escaping in a boat and pursued through the marsh by the angry fisherman, Tyler discovers Zack has stowed away on his boat, having escaped from the retirement home in the middle of the night with a little help from Carl.  Though lone-wolf Tyler has plans to start over in Florida, he can’t leave Zack behind and finds some purpose and promise of redemption in helping him get to the wrestling school…even if it means a few extra days of avoiding potential violence from Duncan and his henchman.

Reviews have mentioned Tyler and Zack’s journey to the home of the Salt Water Redneck as a modern day Huckleberry Finn tale, something Mark Twain would have had great fun writing, and that comparison isn’t wholly off the mark.  Heck, at one point the two men even build a raft and sail down the river like the characters in Twain’s stories often did.  When Eleanor tracks them down and makes the duo a trio, it adds a new dimension to an already intriguing premise.  Along the way they meet a blind man of faith that affords the film some honest-to-goodness soul stirring passages and eventually come to their destination which might actually be the start of another journey altogether.

Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have a little gem on their hands here and they’ve given it a fine polish.  While the story might feel the slightest bit warmed over treacle at times, there are enough moments that subvert the expected and yield something more interesting.  Though Johnson sinks believably into the role of an invested caregiver to Zack, the script wants her to take on another role for Tyler’s benefit that doesn’t feel as well-developed and certainly not as warranted.  Thus, Eleanor starts to feel shoe-horned into the latter half of the film, like Nilson and Scharwartz expanded the role once Johnson signed on.

The best parts of the movie are watching Gottsagen and LeBeouf converse and react off of each other.  I’m not sure how much of what is presented was the result of improv between the two or scripted developments but there’s a lightness and geniality to their quickly developed friendship that feels authentic.  LeBeouf, often given to going too far inward in his roles, is fairly fantastic here, haunted by memories of his late brother (Jon Berenthal, The Accountant) and clearly far adrift in his life.   Gottsagen, too, is an electric presence onscreen and by the time the movie reaches it’s apex we’ve fallen for his character so much that we want everything to go his way.  Separately, the actors are absorbing but together they are dynamite.

Though Nilson and Schwartz biff the ending a bit with some confusing narrative choices and a final shot that I outright disliked, what came before it was an incredibly winning and rewarding night at the movies.  It’s another film that, I feel, will play better at home because it feels like it wants to find a place in your heart.  With it’s rich soundtrack and down home charm, I can easily see why this understated film appealed to the crowds that flock to the Texas film fest and why it’s proving to be an appetizing alternative to audiences at the end of their summer blockbuster rope.

Movie Review ~ Hellboy (2019)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Hellboy and his closest allies battle an undead sorceress who has the intention of destroying the world

Stars: David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Brian Gleeson, Alistair Petrie

Director: Neil Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I believe it’s best for me to out myself right at the top of this review. I was not a comic book kid so have never been well versed in the mythology of the characters that have turned up in the pages over the years. From Marvel to DC to the Dark House imprint that published the Hellboy comics, it was just never something that I found any traction with so I was left to be a happy fan that would see these characters come to life for the first time on the big screen. I mean to show you how out of the loop I was, when The Avengers was first announced I thought it was another remake of the UK series from the 1960’s.

I give this disclaimer at the beginning of my review of Hellboy because I’m coming at this with no knowledge of what the characters SHOULD be or what the tone of the comics was. All I can report back on with my modicum of authority is the quality of this rebooted product taken as an outsider. Though it starts off with some verve and vigor, far too soon it becomes packed with the kind of noise and shoddy CGI that overwhelms the audience instead of impressing them.

The road to this Hellboy restage has been a long one, with plans for a third film under director Guillermo del Toro’s watch being abandoned in favor of starting fresh. That meant del Toro (who would wind up winning an Oscar for The Shape of Water) and original star Ron Perlman (Pacific Rim) were out and director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Tales of Halloween) and David Harbour (Suicide Squad) were in. Further separating this film from the 2004 original and its 2008 sequel was a desire to bring the character back to his darker roots and away from the more outwardly heroic (and PG-13) character del Toro and Perlman created. This new Hellboy was going to be an R-rated brawler pitted against a host of ghastly foes.

Marshall makes it clear from the opening that his approach will be different. The first shot of the film finds a crow picking the eyeball out of a corpse while Ian McShane (Jack the Giant Slayer) narrates a prologue littered with foul language. It’s here we’re introduced to the evil witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich, Zoolander 2), known as The Blood Queen, who is defeated by King Arthur and cut into pieces that are spread around the world so her powers can never again be restored. Jumping ahead to introduce Hellboy as he searches for a missing agent within a nest of Tijuana vampires, the bloodletting continues.

These early scenes kick off the movie with some semblance of charm and hint there is some playfulness afoot in Andrew Cosby’s screenplay that mixes Arthurian lore with tales of vampires, witches, giants, and various other ghoulies and beasts. It’s when Hellboy’s dad (McShane) sends him off to England to assist members of The Osiris Club take down a trio of ugly giants that the film begins its gradual decline into less interesting territory. It’s also when the two weakest links in the film are introduced.

Daniel Dae Kim (Allegiant) and Sasha Lane (American Honey) become allies of Hellboy as he hunts down Nimue and her warthog henchman and you’ll wish he were working alone. As Ben Daimio, an agent harboring a dark secret, Kim barely registers as Hellboy’s opposites attract sidekick who starts off trading barbs with the red devil before softening the more he gets to know him. While Kim may struggle with his British accent it’s nothing in comparison to the abysmal effort from Lane as Alice Monaghan, a woman abducted by faeries as a child that has the ability to speak for/as the dead. Everything about Lane is wrong, from her atrocious accent (when it’s there) to her basic line readings that often arrive without inflection – if ever a single performance could ruin a movie, this is it.

As our main guy, Harbour brings the requisite attitude to the proceedings, with his Hellboy a more tortured soul haunted by his past than Perlman chose to play him. I feel like Perlman still has the edge on the role, though Harbour makes his Hellboy wholly separate and his own. The person that seems to be having the most fun and who recognizes what movie she’s actually in is Jovovich as the villainous Blood Queen seeking to find a king to rule alongside her. Reaching out to Hellboy as a possible contender for the throne, Jovovich manages to find some strange sparks with Harbor – it’s not exactly sexual chemistry but something a little more meaty and wicked. Jovovich has been relegated to Resident Evil sequel hell for years and it’s nice to see her show up in something different.

Most of the practical make-up effects are quite impressive, from Hellboy’s detailed horn stumps to the truly terrifying character of Baba Yaga. Their meeting in a nightmare-scape is a highlight of the film and I wished that Baba Yaga was given more screentime, though it feels like the studio is holding onto her for intended future installments. It’s the CGI effects that are uneven throughout. Some of the visual effects look downright terrible, a few notches up from something you would see on the SyFy channel. We’re supposed to be immersed in this world yet the sub-standard effects keep jarring us back into the reality we’re in a theater. Some late in the game scenes of extreme gore (think innocent Londoners literally ripped in half) are kind of a hoot but wind up so fake looking that the impact isn’t what the filmmakers intended.

I’ll be interested to hear what fans of the Hellboy comics think of this new film and if it aligns more with their vision of the character. Two post-credit scenes signal intentions on keeping this franchise going and if a sequel ditches Kim and Lane, improves the effects, and maybe uses make-up that is more practical than computer generated it might smooth out some of the rough edges of this reboot.

Movie Review ~ Daddy’s Home

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A mild-mannered radio executive strives to become the best stepdad to his wife’s two children, but complications ensue when their freewheeling and freeloading real father arrives, forcing him to compete for the affection of the kids.

Stars: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress

Director: Sean Anders

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  The last time stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg teamed up was in 2010’s The Other Guys, a better than average twist to the cop/buddy movie that played nicely into the strengths of its leads.  Neither actor was required to travel too far out of their comfort zone and instead of it coming off as lazy, it felt like a cohesive mix of actors putting a shine on characters they could play in their sleep.

For a time there was talk of a sequel to The Other Guys and while that still could happen sometime in the future, Ferrell and Wahlberg must have been itching to work together again and signed on for Daddy’s Home in the hopes of reclaiming some of that good will directed toward them in their previous collaboration.  Well…this Daddy has issues and it never rises above a mediocre comedy irresponsibly trying to lure families into ponying up their holiday dough to see this unpleasant gunk.

Ferrell (The Campaign) is a benign lump of good-nature as man trying to be the best stepdad he can be to his two new stepchildren.  Unable to have children due to an unfortunate dental accident (just one of the precious few inspired bits the film has to offer), he’s the superman of stepfathers whether staying on top of school activities or making sure the kids are fed.

That Ferrell’s character has been met, wooed, and wed his wife (Linda Cardellini, Avengers: Age of Ultron) without ever meeting the father of her children seems pretty hard to swallow…but it’s a paltry oversight of a set-up for the first time old dad (Wahlberg, Ted) meets new dad after he decides to enter back into their lives, causing a host of troubles along the way.  Wahlberg is the motorcycle riding tough guy with pecs that pop mighty unhappy his wife has moved on without him…so unhappy that he spends the majority of the movie trying to ruin Ferrell’s career and relationship with his new family.

It’s here the movie starts to rack up a host of losing points in my book.  The plot reads like the logline of a domestic thriller from the ‘90s and Wahlberg comes off as a middle-aged version of the crazed psycho he played in 1996’s Fear.  Ferrell and Wahlberg engage in a battle of the dads to see who can come away with the most affection, resorting to buying love rather than trying to earn it.  The ruse for hoots results in a genuine discomfort in the viewer as we watch all of this nastiness play out in front of the children.

Co-written by director Sean Anders (who also penned We’re the Millers), it’s a cheap looking film too…with special effects that appear like first passes inserted as placeholders.  Anders and his co-writers don’t bother to flesh out any character other than Ferrell and Wahlberg, leaving Cardellini in the dust and wasting valuable time on irksome supporting characters like Thomas Haden Church (We Bought a Zoo, looking more and more like that vein on your neck that bulges when you get angry) and the completely useless Hannibal Buress (Sleepwalk with Me).  Buress gained notoriety recently for unknowingly igniting the Bill Cosby scandal during his comedy act…he should be more proud of that than anything he’s doing here.

Are there a few laughs to be had?  Sure…and I laughed at them.  However, I kept coming back to fact that the movie relies on laughs that come at the expense not just of manly pride but the respect of the impressionable minds both men should be trying to be role models for.

The Silver Bullet ~ Max

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Synopsis: A dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan returns to the U.S. and is adopted by his handler’s family after suffering a traumatic experience.

Release Date:  June 26, 2015

Thoughts: Warner Brothers is betting big on the Max moniker in 2015.  In May the studio releases their forever-in-production highly anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road and a month later Max arrives.  While the trailer, sadly, falls victim to the widespread epidemic of previews giving simply too much away, I think this one looks like a surefire winner, especially considering the massive popularity of the similarly war themed American Sniper (also released by Warner Brothers) in 2014.  The at-risk situations for man’s best friend will have even the most stoic gent sobbing into their hankies and Max looks ready to wring those tears out with the best of them. 

The Silver Bullet ~ Heaven is for Real

heaven_is_for_real

Synopsis: A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.

Release Date:  April 16, 2014

Thoughts:  The good news here is that this isn’t a sequel to Greg Kinnear’s dreadful 1996 “comedy” Dear God.  No, Heaven is for Real looks like the kind of PG-rated schmaltz that won’t do much harm should you happen to find yourself at the theater with nothing to take your mom to.  These heavenly movies can be a bit weighty; sacrificing story and character development for the pushing of a message the filmmakers are hell-bent on getting across.  Kinnear is a likable actor but has never been someone that demands attention from audiences so it’s nice to see the more interesting Kelly Reilly (snubbed for a Best Supporting Actress last year for her work in Flight) on board as Kinnear’s wife.  Aiming to inspire, I’m interested to see if Heaven is for Real can find a balance in its lofty message without resorting to cheap tearjerker ploys.