Movie Review ~ Extra Ordinary


The Facts
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Synopsis: Though an Irish driving instructor has a love-hate relationship with her supernatural abilities, she decides to help a local man and his possessed daughter.

Stars: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte, Claudia O’Doherty, Jamie Beaming, Terri Chandler, Risteard Cooper, Emma Coleman, Carrie Crowley, Mary McEvoy

Director: Mike Ahern & Edna Loughman

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Here’s one of those “bad” problems to have if you’re a movie critic…try not to roll your eyes. Sometimes, I have offers to watch so many screeners that I don’t know which one to choose and I wind up going simply on the logline or the poster – whichever catches my attention first. Then I line them up by release date and start knocking them out, hoping I’ve chosen titles that won’t be eye-rollers like the horror film about a priest that turned into a dinosaur (The VelociPastor) or the latest in a line of rural crime dramas (Inherit the Viper and Disturbing the Peace). At the back of my mind, I’m always waiting for the true diamond in the rough.

It took me a while and even though I’ve been fortunate to see an amazing amount of good movies from the comfort of my home I was so pleased to find Extra Ordinary exceeded all expectations. Here’s a movie that has a description that sounds like a lot of fun, boasts a poster that looks like a wacky ride, produced a trailer that didn’t give all the laughs or twists away, and winds up being one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen so far in 2020. Mixing genres is tough with any combination but comedy and horror is, surprisingly, often the most difficult. The team involved in front of and behind the scenes for Extra Ordinary know what they’re doing and they’ve not only turned out a wholly satisfying blend of gory horror and laugh out loud comedy but they’ve likely created a small cult classic at the same time.

The daughter of a famous paranormal psychiatrist who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, Rose (Maeve Higgins, who also co-wrote the film) is a driving-instructor that enjoys her peaceful life in the Irish countryside. With her love-life non-existent, she hangs out with her pregnant sister (Terri Chandler) and dodges gossip hounds looking for information on her dad and also requesting her services. Seems that while her dad investigated unexplained occurrences, Rose actually has supernatural abilities that manifest themselves in different ways. She can talk to spirits and other objects, which is great for those that want her help but bad for Rose who thinks that her “gift” killed her father.  Meanwhile, making a pact with a demon to resurrect his career is one-hit wonder rock musician Christian Winter (Will Forte, Nebraska) and he’s looking to sacrifice a virgin. When he takes Sarah (Emma Coleman), her father Martin (Barry Ward) enlists Rose’s help in saving his daughter and stopping Christian from bringing forth an evil that wants to do a hell of a lot more than assure success for its minion. Racing against time, Rose must face her childhood fears and put aside her burgeoning feelings for Martin if she’s to save Sarah and herself from certain hell.

If you’re reading this you’d think by now it was some new Blumhouse horror movie but the writers and directors have delivered it all with tongue firmly in cheek and a never ending barrage of one-liners and visual gags that work almost exclusively to its advantage. Truth be told, there were so many asides and small touches that I thought I’d have to watch the movie again in order to catch everything before writing this review.  I’ve seen many compare the movie to Ghosbusters and I can see where that may tie in (those that were grossed out by Slimer in that ’80s movie should brace themselves for a host of icky phlegm appearances here) but I’d liken this movie more to Peter Jackson’s underrated horror comedy The Frighterners or Housebound, mostly because the humor seems in better alignment.  Many movies start out with a bang but can’t maintain that energy or interest but the wonderful thing about Extra Ordinary is that it just gets better, funnier, and more engaging as it goes along.

That’s due in no small part to the enormous charm of Higgins leading the cast of talented players that all fit their roles to perfection. I wasn’t familiar with Higgins before this but I hope to see more of her and I’m betting more people will take notice after this. The way she presents Rose as so relatable without making her some sad-sack or the butt of jokes (an early scene in her kitchen where she eats a microwave meal in nothing but control top pantyhose deserves some kind of Not Giving Zero F***s Award) is exactly the right approach. As the straight man to Rose, Ward supports Higgins well as does Forte who resists the urge to go fully over the top and make the movie more about him than anything else. He tends to push too much at times (as many former SNL players do) but when he gets it right the role hums perfectly.

Likely to be a movie you’ll hear about a lot before you actually see it, make some extra time in your schedule for Extra Ordinary. Sure, you may not be a horror fan or the target audience for this type of film but Higgins and company may convince you otherwise and coax you to their side with their charming whip of frights and fun.

Movie Review ~ Booksmart


The Facts
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Synopsis: On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night

Stars: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Noah Galvin, Diana Silvers, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga

Director: Olivia Wilde

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: We’re right at the crest of the wave where the end of the school year is about to crash into full blown summer and there couldn’t be a better time for a movie like Booksmart to arrive in theaters.  True, being released in the midst of a bevy of bombastic blockbusters might make its chances of doing big business opening weekend a tad slim but this has sleeper hit/future cult classic/definite midnight screening written all over it.  It’s a movie meant to be discovered and then shared, not one you necessarily make an appointment to see.

I’d heard about the film for a while after it received a positive reception at March’s South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX and deliberately avoided watching the trailer or reading anything more about it until I saw it. This is one I wanted to come to on my own without any ideas on what it should be, or pre-conceived notions on what to expect.  The way we are inundated with information on content it’s hard to go in blind to something but thankfully, I was able to come to Booksmart with a blank slate.

So now, after all that talk of going into the movie with little knowledge, of course I’m going to ask you to read a review of what I think about it – makes total sense, right? Really, I won’t be offended if you stop now and come back after you’ve seen the movie.  Seriously – it’s AOK.  But come back!  Promise?

You’re back? Great!  Wasn’t it good?  I know, right?

It’s the last day of school and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird) is ending the school year on top.  She’s class president and set to go to an Ivy League school in the fall.  By keeping her nose to the grindstone and focusing on her studies she has achieved all of the goals she’s set and has her future planned out not only for her but for her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, Beautiful Boy).  We all either knew a Molly in high school or were a Molly so it isn’t hard to completely get this character – and the way she looks down on those that didn’t put the same effort forward in school, or at least the effort she’s deemed worthy.

When Molly finds out that several key people she originally had written off as destined to be losers for life are also moving on to luxe post-high school careers, she realizes she could have had fun all four years of high school and still made it big. Thus begins a quest for Molly and Amy to get their party on by any means necessary, leading them through a seemingly endless night of encounters with oddball characters and a journey of self-discovery before their graduation ceremony the next morning.

Much of Booksmart follows a typical trajectory of high school comedy that feels safe and familiar but the movie is as unpredictable as they come.  You have your stock characters that flow through (jock, tramp, brain, etc) but all are given a neat little bounce by screenwriters Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman (Isn’t it Romantic), and Susanna Fogel.  No one is quite who you expect them to be…and no one ends the film in quite the same way they start out.  Actress Olivia Wilde (The Lazarus Effect) makes her feature directing debut and shows a real knack for establishing a tone and a rhythm for Molly, Amy, and the strange people they find themselves hanging out with over the course of the evening.

Aside from introducing us to a host of interesting characters (and fresh-faced actors), the film is routinely laugh-out-loud funny as the girls find themselves in increasingly bizarre situations. These moments spring forth naturally and the comedy never feels forced, while there is a lot of physical humor there’s quite a bit of verbal banter that elicits laughs.  Audiences are used to being shown what’s funny but it’s rare for a movie to ask them to listen – you’d almost need to see it twice to get all the humor that is thrown in, though I don’t think it would be a hard sell to get people to screen this one a second time.

The movie wouldn’t work at all if the two leads hadn’t had the kind of chemistry they do. As much as romantic chemistry plays a part in convincing viewers that people are in love, chemistry between friends is almost harder to generate because it requires an intimacy that isn’t always physically shown but more emotionally present.  You buy that Feldstein and Dever would be friends in the movie and in real life and while Molly is the more alpha of the two, Amy is no shrinking violet at the end of the day.  We know from the start that Amy is a lesbian and the film wisely starts with the whole “coming out” story long since told – now she’s just finding her way and I appreciated that she was treated like everyone else in the movie looking for love and just as confused as the rest of them.

With so many memorable performances in the movie, from Billie Lourd’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) scene-stealing party girl to Skyler Gisondo (Vacation) as a try-hard looking to impress Molly, it seems wrong to single out just one actor but Feldstein is the true breakout star of Booksmart.  Ably holding her own against Bette Midler on the Broadway stage in Hello, Dolly! two years ago and proving a good foil for Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird (a role quite similar to Molly) in 2017, Feldstein finally steps fully into the spotlight and earns her place in the sun.  As much as Molly deserves to be taken down a notch or suffer through an embarrassing situation…if it weren’t for Feldstein’s irrepressible charm you’d be ready to push her off a cliff but instead you completely get where she’s coming from.

If we must talk negatives, I can drudge up a few. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the soundtrack to this (sorry/not sorry) or an unnecessary subplot involving a teacher-student relationship and that’s what ultimately keeps the movie from being in the true upper echelon of high school comedies. Even that being said, Booksmart almost instantly earns a right to walk the hallowed halls of high school fame.  It’s fun, it’s riotously funny, and I enjoyed having absolutely no clue how it would end — that’s saying a lot for a genre comedy that’s been done many times before.

The Silver Bullet ~ She’s Funny That Way

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Synopsis: When an established director casts his call girl-turned-actress in a new play to star alongside his wife and her ex-lover, a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts: You know what’s not funny?  How many times this movie has changed titles and release dates…never a good sign for an impending release.  Though it’s directed (and co-written) by Peter Bogdanovich, from the looks of the trailer She’s Funny That Way appears to have been made in the style of Woody Allen, acting as almost a sequel to Bullets Over Broadway.  Bogdanovich can do this type of backstage shenanigans well, as evidenced in the flop big screen adaptation of the Broadway play Noises Off! but this whole thing looks beneath nearly everyone involved.  With stars Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Owen Wilson (The Internship), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), and Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) mugging their way through the trailer, it suggests that this could be a guilty pleasure of a watch…but then again it could be another forgettable exercise at one director attempting to capturing the magic of another.

Movie Review ~ Nebraska

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Stacy Keach, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk

Director: Alexander Payne

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  If one were to look at through the seven films that Alexander Payne has directed, one could conclude that the director loves a good road trip.  Four of his films (Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants, and now Nebraska) deal with the central characters making some sort of journey from their home to a destination not totally familiar.  It’s through this trek that they discover new truths about themselves and the people that surround them.

You’d think that after three films this trope would get old but Payne once again demonstrates dexterity as a film craftsman that helps keep Nebraska on a focused course.  He’s not alone in his success, though, thanks to stark black and white cinematography from Phedon Papamichael.  Papamichael’s luscious lensing of the dense tropical locations of The Descendants is countered quite nicely with the way he turns his camera onto the vast open expanses of the Midwest.

Skilled directing and excellent cinematography aside, a movie this delicate has to have the right cast to convey its message and Payne has assembled another ensemble that works in harmony with Bob Nelson’s script to create an array of broken (and hilarious characters).

Center stage is veteran actor Bruce Dern who delivers a career high performance in an already richly celebrated resume of films from the last four decades.  He’s Woody Grant, an alcoholic of creaking bones and wispy hair that could be either drifting into senility or simply not caring what he remembers any more.  When he receives a letter in the mail from a Publishers Clearing House-like compay letting him know he’s a millionaire, he becomes fixated on getting to Nebraska to claim his prize and buy that truck he always wanted.

Much to the chagrin of his brusque wife Kate (June Squibb, About Schmidt), his stereo salesman son David (Will Forte) agrees to pack up his car and take his dad those many miles…because Woody has already tried to walk there on more than one occasion.  During the road trip there’s your typical father/son bonding but a stop in Woody’s hometown for a visit with old family, friends, and friendly enemies threatens to derail the journey altogether.

What Payne does so well is find new ways of exposing family secrets in a way that doesn’t feel trite or forced.  There’s a definite history of the Grant family in this rural rest stop where they find themselves and anyone that’s come from a small town will get a good laugh out of the way that news spreads fast amongst even the most out of touch townspeople.  The funniest moments (and Nebraska has quite a few) spring from the most mundane goings on and that’s the beauty of the discoveries Payne offers up.

Even at nearly two hours, the film doesn’t have a lot of slack moments.  You’d think that once Woody and David get off the road and basically wander around this quiet town that there’d be one or two moments where the film would lose some steam but in fact it only gets more interesting as its then that we truly learn more about Woody’s past and how his character influenced how he formed and raised his own family.

Deeply funny with a hint of a somber future, Nebraska still is one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen this year.  Curmudgeonly Dern and the irascible Squibb are sure-fire Oscar nominees but special mention should also go to Forte for stretching his dramatic chops far beyond the confines of his previous post-Saturday Night Live opportunities.  Hitch your wagon to this cross-country comedy and enjoy the ride.

The Silver Bullet ~ Nebraska

nebraska

Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Release Date:  November 15, 2013

Thoughts: As a fan of the majority of director Alexander Payne’s work (including my favorite film of 2011, The Descendants), I’m eagerly awaiting his latest piece which won lead actor Bruce Dern the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival.  Filmed in glorious black and white, this road trip dramedy looks spiked with Payne’s observant style and wry wit.  It should be interesting to see how Will Forte fares as Dern’s exasperated son, especially considering that up until now he hasn’t had much of a chance to show off any dramatic chops.  This is high on my list of films to see. 

Oh…and I am always excited when I see a director use a retro film logo (David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh also like pulling these out before their films)