You People

The most recent Netflix film dropped this weekend that featured a great cast of actors. You People is written by Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill and directed by Barris. Jonah Hill starred with Lauren London.

Ezra (Jonah Hill) was a Jewish man doing a podcast on black culture with his friend Mo (Sam Jay). When he had a misunderstanding over an Uber, Ezra met Amira (Lauren London). They fell in love and, after six months, went to meet their families. Amara’s parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long), was not fond of Ezra, and Ezra’s parents, Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny), were the typically white ignorant people.

The film was both of our main characters dealing with the problems of race and ignorance of their families.

So, You People had some moments that I enjoyed, but there was something that just did not work for me overall. It felt long and the story did not progress well. The end of the film came quick and was rushed. The changes that happened did not feel earned.

There were a bunch of talented actors in cameos and supporting roles here. Others include Travis Bennett, Rhea Perlman, Deon Cole, Elliott Gould, Mike Epps, La La Anthony, Andrea Savage, Molly Gordon, Yung Miami, Hal Linden, Anthony Anderson, Matt Walsh, Bryan Greenberg and Khadijah Haqq.

The scenes between Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy had some moments, but they really were repetitive. The scenes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus were difficult to watch because she was so tone deaf.

In fact, that is the biggest problem with this movie. It was uncomfortable, and not in the good way. It tries to be a film diving in race and relationships, but it never goes deep enough with characters that are not more than what we see. There are parts of You People that are funny and would work if the film was deeper and had more of a chance to be greater than what it is. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

2.7 stars

Shotgun Wedding

This weekend saw the release of Shotgun Wedding on Amazon Prime. It was a rom-com/action-adventure film that featured Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel. The film was like Trip to Paradise was mixed up with The Lost City. My initial thought on the film was that it was going to be a stupid film that tried to be funny. That is kind of on target, but I was entertained by it more than I thought I would be.

Tom (Josh Duhamel) and Darcy (Jennifer Lopez) were off to a tropical island for a family with their entire family. When pirates arrive and take the wedding party hostage, Tom and Darcy were on the run across the island trying to get help, as they struggled with their own personal problems.

Yes, this movie stretches credibility a lot, but it was just silly enough to be fun. Duhamel and Lopez were great together. I believed everything that they did and I could see what a great couple they made, even when their characters did not seem to feel the same.

Much of the action beats of the film were not that realistic, but they are not bad enough to ruin the film. In fact, Jennifer Lopez, especially, really dove into the role and brings a lot of energy in the action.

The supporting characters are all eccentric and played wonderfully by an ensemble cast that stands out. Cheech Marin is excellent as the father of the bride. Jennifer Coolidge is hilarious as the mother of the groom. Lenny Kravitz appeared as Darcy’s old fiancé. Other actors in the ensemble included Sonia Braga, D’Arcy Carden, Desmin Borges, Callie Hernandez, Selena Tan, Alberto Isaac, Melissa Hunter and Pancho Cardena.

Shotgun Wedding did take some time to look at two main protagonists closely, bringing up some deep seeded character doubts that gave a nice flavor to mix with the action scenes.

Unlike a lot of the action rom-coms, this film was pretty violent with its share of blood and killings. There was also several scenes where the movie played on the emotions, especially one where the wedding guests were singing a song (no spoilers here, but this was my favorite part of the film).

Shotgun Wedding is definitely not a film that makes a lot of sense at times, but I enjoyed watching it and I was never bored. I’m not going to dive too deep into it, but as a snowy Saturday afternoon at home, this was worth my time.

3.4 stars

Missing

What has happened to January? Every year, January is the dumping ground for the garbage movies, but something has changed. This month so far there have been three movies that were absolute fire: M3GAN, Plane and now Missing. That is great and it is awesome that I can go to a theater in January without expecting the film I am going to see end up on the worst film of the year list.

A few years ago, there was a fantastic movie called Searching which starred John Cho as a father whose daughter had disappeared and he used social media and her online presence to find her before it was too late. The idea to that film is very similar to Missing, except that this time the missing person was the mother and her daughter was on the computer using her intelligence and online skills to map out the mystery. The people behind Searching are the same involved in Missing.

I think this story in Missing is stronger than the one in Searching. There are some twists happening in the film and they legitimately were keeping me off balance. There were some times that I thought I knew what was going on, but then something flipped and changed my idea. Now, to be fair, because of that, I am not 100% sure that everything fell neatly into place at the end. I would almost like to see it again to see how it played when I was aware of the ending.

The actor playing the daughter, June, was Storm Reid, and I thought she brought it, big time. She handled the difficult scenes and she was able to create tension and emotion while searching though Facebook and hacking into e-mails. Not the easiest of jobs and Reid did it beautifully. I think she has a bright future in movies as her performance here was a highlight for me.

I also loved the character of Javi, played by film veteran Joaquim de Almeida. Javi got involved through a clever idea from June and their relationship over Face Time was one of the best and most supportive of the film. It goes to show that there are good people in the world who will help do what is right.

I loved seeing Ken Leung, who played Kevin. Leung appeared on the last few seasons of LOST as Miles and made me fall in love with him as a performer.

Beside the performances, the story structure was remarkable. I have not felt a story being this active and engaging in a long time, and most of the film was spent clicking on links on the computer or searching through old files for ideas. The script was just so intelligent and clever that it did not fail to be filled with suspense and to push the mystery of the film along. Part of the intelligence of the film was showing how bright June was in finding pathways to clues among the internet and putting her ideas into motion.

As I mentioned, I am not sure everything really links up perfectly at the end, but I did not feel the need to retrace every step of the movie to try and find the gotcha moment. I do believe that if I wanted to nitpick the film, there may be some places where I could.

Do you have to stretch your suspension of disbelief? Sure, but I do not think it has to stretch more than, say, believing Lois Lane can’t tell Clark Kent is Superman because he put on some glasses and combed his hair differently. The implausibility of Missing does not hurt the film at all.

I loved this movie and I was invested in it from the beginning. I love character that are smart and can execute that intelligence effectively and Storm Reid does that in spades.

This is a rare film that could be a Top 10 best film of the year that came out in January. It is my early year favorite movie as of now.

4.75 stars

The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker

I love a good documentary and Netflix tossed a good out recently. Good documentaries tell amazing stories with twists and turns and this story has all of the above.

Proclaimed a hero on the internet and in the media, the man who would become known as Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker parlayed his moment of fame and heroism into an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in 2013. Three months later, the viral sensation was wanted for murder.

The film begin by documenting an incident by a driver who picked Kai up, Jett Simmons McBride, McBride drove his car into another vehicle, spurred on with a racial hatred. He also attacked a woman who had come to try and aid the man pinned in the accident. McBride placed the woman in a bear hug. Kai saw this and removed a hatchet he had in his backpack and attacked McBride in order to help the woman.

Journalist Jessob Reisbeck was able to get an interview with Kai, thinking he was a witness. Kai then told him about the incident and how he hit McBride three times, using the term “Smash” while acting out the attack. The video went viral and began a media firestorm with everyone wanting to get the interview for this supposed hero.

As they were working toward getting Kai on Kimmel, some of the eccentricities of Kai started to come through. Things escalates until he winds up murdering an older lawyer.

This story was remarkably compelling and watching how the world built this guy up, who was a nomad, someone who was a free spirit and living off the land and the kindness of people, to a point where he is now in prison for murder.

Kai, whose real name was Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, appeared in several videos through the doc. We also heard from family members, people from the Jimmy Kimmel show, Reisbeck and police involved in the case.

I was fascinated with the documentary. It showed how celebrity could be highlighted by the media and the public and how it can make things much worse. It is an entertaining doc.

3.9 stars

Plane

Gerard Butler movies are always a crapshoot. Some of them are just horrendously stupid such as Geostorm, Gods of Egypt and Playing for Keeps and some are pretty good like Greenland, Copshop, and Olympus Has Fallen. Most of them are basically the same story. Where would his new film, Plane, fall in the Gerard Butler spectrum? Despite the fairly lame title, Plane did not crash. It was a smooth flight.

Gerard Butler was Captain Brodie Torrance, a pilot who had to fly a plane from Singapore to Japan, before he headed off to see his daughter (Haleigh Hekking). Unfortunately, an accused murderer, Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), was being transported on his flight after recently being captured.

Torrance saw that their flight path was through a bad storm and requested a new path, but the suits in charge told him to stay on the path and fly over it. This was never going to work and, when he tried to follow those instructions, his plane was struck by lightning, knocking out the electrical items on the plane.

With his piloting skills, Torrance was able to navigate the plane in an emergency landing on a nearby island, but, sticking with his luck, the island was a dangerous location, run by a local army and warlord Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor). Torrance needed to search for help and he recruited Gaspare to go with him, and they found nothing but trouble.

This is absolutely a film that is much like many of Gerard Butler’s previous films, but there was some cool things about this. I enjoyed Mike Colter (Netflix’s Luke Cage) and his chemistry with Butler. They did not go too deep into his backstory or why he had been on the run for so many years. They touched on it at a surface level, but I still liked him very much.

Then there was the co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) who was undeniably relatable and played off Butler beautifully. We also go Tony Goldwyn as Scarsdale, one of the head honchos with the airline who was taking no crap from any of the pencil pushers involved. It was great to see a character come in and not question every choice Butler made, which felt different than most films. It was also nice to see Goldwyn, who was the President of the United States in TV’s Scandal for several years.

The absolute best part of the film was the scenes of the plane crash and any time that Captain Torrance was trying to fly the plane. The crash sequence was literally one of the most tense and white knuckle rides I have seen in the movie theater in a long time. The way director Jean-François Richet shot these scenes was fabulous and put me right there in the cockpit with the pilots. It was a thrilling sequence and worked amazingly well.

The film moved rapidly through the scenes, nicely paced. There were some time to feel the tension in each scene, but it never had moments that did not feel as if they belonged. This was a nice, tight hour and forty + minute movie and it moved along wonderfully.

Admittedly, there were plenty of scenes that require you to suspend disbelief because it just would not work any other way. Some of the scenes were the typical action movie fare, but they fit these in with some solid work. The passenger characters were all basic and stereotypical for this type of a film, and they responded in the way that you would expect them to respond. None of the passengers stood out much at all and could have been played by anyone.

I had a lot of fun with Plane. The title was not very good, but it makes sense considering how important of a role the plane played in the story. The story was predictable but exciting. The action was great and those piloting sequences were exceptional. January, which is typically the dumpster for bad films, has been pretty decent so far. Fingers crossed.

4 stars

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

I am a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. The problem is that, though he has been portrayed several times over the years in movies, I have never seen one that truly worked well. Last year’s Raven’s Hollow was the most recent failure of Hollywood bringing Poe to life on screen.

That was why I was excited when I heard that Christian Bale was headlining a film called The Pale Blue Eye that would include Edgar Allan Poe. Bale was not playing Poe, but Bale is such a strong actor, he would bring credibility to the movie.

Bale played Augustus Landor, a detective who had been recruited to investigate the murder of a West Point cadet. During the investigation, Landor met Cadet Edgar A Poe (Harry Melling) who brought some insight into the case.

I will say it now. Harry Melling is now my favorite version of Edgar Allan Poe on the big screen. I found him just perfectly cast as the macabre poet/author, before fame struck him. He had an unusual appearance, striking for playing Poe, and he brought the melancholy aura associated with the poet.

I also think it was a smart move not to make the murder case an obvious allusion to one of Poe’s works. They tried to do that in Raven’s Hollow and it simple did not work. Perhaps one could make an argument that this could tie into The Tell-Tale Heart, but you have to stretch the movie’s plot to make it fit that concept.

Christian Bale was great, as he always is. There was a pain within him that was there beneath the surface and made this character work so well with Poe. Bale and Welling have a strong connection, helping each other with their awesome performances.

There was a strong cast around these two as well. Gillian Anderson, who has been choosing amazing roles since her days as Dana Scully on the X-Files, was wonderfully off -balance and loony as Mrs. Julia Marquis, the wife of the doctor involved in the case, Dr. Daniel Marquis, played by the ever epic Toby Jones. Robert Duvall was Jean Pepe, a friend and mentor of Landor. Timothy Spall, Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films, was another historical figure appearing in the movie, Superintendent Thayer, who was known as the “Father of West Point.”

I enjoyed this movie a lot and I especially loved the ending. As I said, I found Harry Melling’s work a Poe to be maybe the best to ever make it on the screen and the rest of the cast brings some fantastic work. The pacing may be a little slow, but I thought gave the characters some good space to breathe and give us plenty of red herrings to keep the mystery mysterious.

The Pale Blue Eye arrived on Netflix this weekend after debuting in selected theaters in 2022.

4.3 stars

A Man Called Otto (2022)

The first film in theaters this year that was actually released in the previous year was Tom Hanks’ A Man Called Otto. These films are the ones that are released in limited release in order to qualify for the Academy Awards consideration.

Otto (Tom Hanks) is a grumpy curmudgeon who has appointed himself as the authority within the community that he lives. Griping about cars going the wrong way on the street or recyclables not being in the proper containers, Otto is quick with his
snipe. The other residents of the community seem to take Otto well though.

When a new family moves into the area, including a pregnant mother named Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and a lovable doofus father named Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Their neediness guilts Otto to take his attention away from his own plans and forces him to give aid to the new family.

There was a definite amount of darkness in the story, especially in the background of Otto, which we experience in flashbacks with Tom Hanks real life son, Truman Hanks, playing a younger Otto. By the end of the film, you definitely know why Otto was such a snarky character.

A man Called Otto was absolutely a predictable film, but there is a lot of heart in it and a very entertaining film that had a surprising amount of darkness. I did not expect the film to start off where it did, but it made a lot of sense after we discovered the tragic past of Otto.

The best part of the film was the characters that interacted with Otto, especially Mariana Treviño, who had amazing chemistry with Hanks. The pairing was an exceptional father-daughter type vibe and they were remarkably entertaining together. Other characters really worked well with Hanks’ Otto too including Garcia-Rulfo, Cameron Britton as the eccentric neighbor Jimmy, Anita and Reuben (Juanita Jennings and Peter Lawson Jones), a couple who were once close friends, and Malcolm (Mack Bayda) a young student who was once in Otto’s wife’s class.

Speaking of Otto’s wife, Rachel Keller played Sonya in flashbacks and she appeared to be a shining light in every scene she was in.

Otto started out an unlikable character, but the film knew that the audience was not going to dislike him because Tom Hanks is so beloved. It was clear that the audience wanted to like Otto and gave him the benefit of the doubt because of who was playing the role.

A Man Called Otto was funny, filled with enjoyable characters and had its share of dark drama as well. Yes, the film’s story is fairly predictable and you can see where it is heading, but this is one of those occasions where the predictability is not a drawback and you just enjoy the ride.

3.9 stars

M3GAN

It is January now and we have a horror movie. January typically is the dumpster of the movie release dates. It is the month where the studios drop the films they think are not very good because the studios know people aren’t going to go see them. Every year in the Year in Review Worst List there are films from January in the Top 10 (some in the top 5 even). Most of the time, my expectations are low during the month.

There are exceptions to that rule and M3GAN is one of them. This movie was fun and highly entertaining. Silly perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.

Young Cady (Violet McGraw) lost her parents in a car accident involving a snow plow on their way to a ski trip and had to go live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who was a toy designer for a huge company. Gemma was working behind the scenes on a project to create an interactive and engaging life-like girl robot named M3GAN (pronounced Megan) which stands for Model 3 Generative Android.

M3GAN and Cady bonded and became close. Gemma told M3GAN that her prime directive was to protect Cady, both physically and mentally, above all else. As things start to get tougher and Cady started to show strains from the loss of her parents, things started to get dangerous.

The tone of this was awesome. It bounced between a silly, almost humorous tone and tense and anxiousness one. When M3GAN was going through murderous sprees, the film was filled with dramatic moments and an uneasiness fairly earned. And yet, there were many funny, almost ridiculous moments as well and they blended together extremely well.

Jenna Davis was the voice of M3GAN, who was played physically by Amie Donald. Jenna Davis is great as both the caring robot and the menacing killer. Her voice work was exceptional. And the look of the character of M3GAN was sensational. It had the necessary creepiness of the robot doll.

Although many may see this as a female version of Chucky, I think there is more characterization of M3GAN than there was with Chucky. Where as Chucky had an evil spirit involved, M3GAN is that well known theme of the technology gaining sentience and becoming a danger. We have seen this in plenty of other films but this worked well.

The new film from Blumhouse overcame the curse of January and delivered a remarkably engaging and fun film with plenty of violence and some excellent kills and shocking moments. Admittedly, some of the secondary actors felt like they were not the best of actors, but the main performers were great. M3GAN was a much better film than I thought it would be.

2023 is starting off strong.

3.75 stars