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Almost everything wrong with modern cinema is exhibited in the first five minutes of this 2016 loose remake of the John Sturges classic. The bad guy (Peter Sarsgaard) arrives to plague a town, the surrounding land of which he needs to rape, er, mine.  He tortures a child, burns a church, shoots an unarmed man in front of his wife, and then, one of his men throws an axe into the back of a fleeing woman churchgoer.

That’s what the filmmakers believe is necessary for you to give a shit.

It ain’t nearly enough.

It’s an execrable film.  The score is excessive and deafening. The western garb is better suited to a Manhattan runway. The heroes escape no demons, and no one ever misses a shot.  Everyone is twirling a gun or a knife or a mustache. Marvel movies have more depth and gravitas. Video games carry greater danger.

Worse, the film is plotted by a moron. In a seminal scene, Chris Pratt (aka, Billy Rocks, I shit you not) takes all of the money from a poker table, yet within 15 minutes, he miraculously does not have the five dollars to buy back his own horse. Thus, he is enticed by Denzel Washington to save the town!

Speaking of Pratt, he is fundamentally, constitutionally unserious and insubstantial. He’s perfect for light, wiseacre comedy. He can’t do much else, and when he tries the hard stare, Lord, is it painful.

Five more dummies sign up for the suicide mission because, well, just because. I suppose some inducement comes in the form of a frontier gal whose husband was shot in front of her. Her pitiful story serves to secure Washington‘s agreement to save the town. Or maybe it was her cleavage, which seems discordant to her “I am just a simple farm woman” mien.

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Come on.

After Washington and Pratt, we get syrupy Southerner Ethan Hawke (hand to God, his name is Goodnight Robicheaux, and he had “23 confirmed kills at Antietam” – ha ha ha ha ha, you can’t make this dreck up); Vincent D’Onofrio (who comes off like Steinbeck’s Lenny had Lenny become a bounty hunter); the inevitable Indian (Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, who is mystical, perfectly painted and manicured, and accompanied by his own tom-tom score); and two other total nobodies, all of whom join up for similarly unexplained reasons.

Red Harvest is the easiest touch.  Washington tells him, “we go to fight wicked men.  Probably we all die” and Red Harvest is in.  Washington did bring the gal with the ample bosom to this recruitment meeting, so maybe that did the trick. It is all I can figure.

Before signing on in cement, Red Harvest (which upon reflection sounds like a maize-based cereal rather than a fearsome warrior) does cut the heart out of a deer and makes Washington eat it. Later, Red Harvest kills a bad guy Indian, to whom he says, “You’re a disgrace.”

All to the tom-tom-tom-tom-tom-tom-tom score.  Just in case we forgot Red Harvest was an Indian.

Of course, we learn in the end that Washington has a personal score to settle.  Turns out Sarsgaard had men rape and murder Washington’s  homesteader mother and sisters.

Which makes the recruitment effort by the buxom farm woman superfluous, as Washington should have been spending his every waking moment hunting Sarsgaard sintead of playing coy.

He needed to be talked into this?

The whole flick is a violation.

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Wow.  Somebody remade the goddawful Sisters.  But instead of unfunny sisters, it is unfunny moms.  A lot of slo-mo partying, over use of the words “tits” and “vagina” by women – FOR WOMEN- some celebs (JJ Watt, Martha Stewart), and a weird veering between cartoonish and melodramatic.  In the midst of this asinine film, we get real tears from Mila Kunis’ daughter and an alt-something duet as defeated Mom Kunis breaks down JUST BEFORE THE BIG PTA VOTE!  But don’t worry.  She gives a big speech to all the other moms and . . .  well, I won’t spoil it.  But one word: uplifting.

 

So hellbent on being tough and gritty, it doesn’t realize how ridiculous it presents.  Dirty cops, ex-vets, drug addicts, hard asses, double dealers, all on the mean streets of Atlanta.  When these men commiserate, well, shit gets real, and words like “family” and “brother” and “trust” are bandied about.  Because, “Out here, there is no good and there is no bad. To survive out here, you’ve got to out monster the monster. Can you do that?”

Yeesh.

Add a hilarious Kate Winslet as a Russian mobster  with hair from Married to the Mob, a lazy crazy Woody Harrelson phoning in his standard quirky drunk cop with a nose for the perps, a cheezy industrial score, a bunch of young actors testing out their hard stares (Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus), and a boring end that I suppose was meant to be anti-climactic, and you get this poser of a crime flick.

Plot-wise, the entire caper rests on having an innocent cop shot in the darkest and dankest housing project so his dirty cop partner can call in a “999”, whereupon, at least in Atlanta, every cop in the city’s 3300 square miles drives like a bat out of hell to the scene, and thus, we have a diversion, so other dirty cops can steal a case for the Russians that just happens to be housed in the Atlanta office of the Department of Homeland Security.

Got that?

This idiocy is made even more noticeable because when the “999” is called in, indeed, every cop lights out for the scene, Woody Harrelson leads the charge and almost kills dozens of civilians in the process in what is meant to be a bravura car chase scene.  But it is not a chase scene.  It is a race to get to a destination, a race made dumber by the fact that Harrelson is screaming at his partner “Do you know who was shot?” (Affleck was on scene and he is Harrelson’s kin).  And for what?  When Harrelson gets to the locale, there are already dozens of cops on the scene drinking coffee and showing vacation pics to each other, and Affleck looks relaxed, like he just had a backrub from Atlanta’s newest Tactical Massage Unit.  And why didn’t Harrelson’s partner call any of the dozens of cops on scene to ask who was shot?

Also, why do these jamokes actually have to kill an innocent cop instead of shooting some rounds and getting on the radio and just saying “999”?  Then, when every cop bugs out for the location, the dirty cop can just say, “My bad.  I thought he was shot.”   Hell, have the cholo in the housing projects who was contracted by the dirty cops to shoot the innocent cop and instigate the “999” just bonk the innocent cop on the head, shoot a round in the air, and then the dirty cop can call on his radio, “Hey, 999”, as the cop is, technically, down.  Or just have a shootout and get on the radio and have the cops screaming, “we are getting shot up in here.”  Will all of the cops in Atlanta just keep playing Candy Crush because they didn’t hear “999” but instead , “Shots fired.  At me!!!!”

And what is with this stupid “999”, anyway?  Is “999” the equivalent of “Candyman” and if you say that word three times in a mirror, cops jump in their cars and go berserk like bees to the queen?

Besides, Homeland Security ended up having its own SWAT team, who, apparently, were taking a collective bath when the caper began.

And of all the cops to shoot, why choose Affleck, who has previously demonstrated he’s bad-ass in a gunfight?

Not only is Affleck bad-ass, he’s also the Sherlock Holmes of the A.T.L.  He cracks the case because he checks the wallet of the cholo contracted to shoot him and Ay Caramba!  It has the address and time of the shooting (8th and Washington, 4 pm).  What is it with Latino gang members and a) their inability to remember a few easy things and b) their predilection for semi-cursive?  Affleck then goes to the dead cholo’s  neighborhood and asks the first Latino kid he sees what’s what, and wouldn’t you know, that kid just gives it out like candy.

Director John Hillcoats’ The Proposition and Lawless were similarly moody and slow, but I don’t recall them being stupid.  That distinction must be laid at the feet of first time writer Matt Cook.

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Key & Peale skit that goes on about an hour and 35 minutes too long, made even more tedious by the immobile camerawork of director Stephen Hawk . . . .er . . . Peter Attencio, whose resume’ consists of . . . directing Key and Peale episodes.

Alternative reviews, considered but rejected–

Kean-poo!

Keanu tell me if this movie sucks? Yes, I ke-an.”

 

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Tina Fey’s foray as a film lead has been nothing short of disastrous.   Other than the tolerable Date Night (where Steve Carell helped with the lifting), her movies have been execrable and her attempts to re-brand the Liz Lemon character that served her so well for a time in 30 Rock have failed.  In Admission and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, it was hard to determine what was less convincing: Fey’s stabs at being thoughtful or her attempts to fill the garters of a romantic lead.  For introspection, Fey rarely can provide more than a smirking Hamlet-lite, asking the audience “is this a macaroon I see before me?”  And when Fey is asked to fill the shoes of a sexual being, as she was In This is Where I Leave You (former high school loose girl) and this film (former and current), it’s like asking Richard Dreyfus to play Rocky Balboa.  Some of this is attributable to run-off from the Lemon character, a neutered geek who substituted sex –which she approached as if it were vampirism – with food.  But Fey is many years away from that character, and the fact is, she simply exudes no sex.  Not appeal, interest or even curiosity.  In Whiskey Tango, which is ostensibly a romantic comedy, she could only bed Martin Freeman when she was near wasted, the coupling looked more like two cats in a bag, and the morning after, she looked at Freeman with the disgust of someone who “can’t believe they ate the whole thing.”

Yet, in Sisters, she’s supposed to be the wild, sexually adventurous one.  Oooph.

Fey’s other huge problem is that she is wholly unlikeable.  In 30 Rock, she was parceled out in little bits as part of a pretty big ensemble cast, and she made herself the butt of every joke, which was endearing and at times, very, very funny.  But she’s lost that gift and now, she’s re-presented as a different woman and no matter what she does, she comes off as condescending.  Indeed, the fact that Fey as corporate pitchwoman for American Express is damn near insufferable in a 30 second ad (her quippy, snide, self-absorbed shopper rings of the person who is most amused by their own cleverness), tells us all we should know about her freshness as a film actress.

It’s not just Fey that sinks Sisters.  The film has no real humor; it’s just a “last party” flick where folks who aren’t even characters say things that are supposed to be zany and hilarious.   The set-ups (drugs that look like sugar!  A glop of hair gel on the floor that will factor prominently later!) are asinine, and when Fey and her film sister Amy Poehler get in trouble, they riff.  The riffing is painful, and frankly, given Fey’s attacks on other comics who do not meet her exacting cultural standards, watching her “do black” (repeatedly) when she appears to be struggling is a strange mix of uncomfortable and satisfying.  I imagine she’ll avoid the pitchforks from the p.c. Brown Shirts, but she should step lightly.  They just took a pelt off of Lena Dunham!

The script, such as it is, has the odor of weak improv.

 

 

 

 

 

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Paul Rudd lost his young son in an accident and compensates by taking a 6 week caregiving course for the disabled. His first client is a plucky, wheelchair bound Brit named Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and an over-inflated sense of his own cleverness. For example, to shock Rudd, he pretends he’s choking or having a seizure, a real gut buster. Rudd later pretends he has misplaced Trevor’s lifesaving medicines, so . . . relationship established.

Both parties learn life lessons, but to better cement them, they–

A). Make love
B). Take a road trip
C). Join a white supremacist sect
D). Enter into a suicide pact

Of course the answer is B), but the other answers would have made for a better film, for those options would not have resulted in their meeting bad girl hitchhiker Selena Gomez. How do we know she is bad? She–

A). Smokes
B). Curses
C). Is a white supremacist
D). Smokes while cursing

Oh, if it had only been C).

Gloppy, lazy, hackneyed gruel.

Nick Kroll is a pretty big deal in New York City until his Google-glassish innovation goes busto and he loses all his money and all the money of his so-called friends, so he seeks solace by retreating to the icky suburbs and his childhood home in New Rochelle, NY, currently inhabited by his harried sister (Rose Byrne), her swarthy, down-to-earth home builder husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their charmless 3 year old boy.  There, Nick becomes intertwined in their lives, much like Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins, who went home to Nyack, NY after a trauma.  Kroll discovers Cannavale is having an affair, much like Hader’s sister Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins.  Coincidentally, in The Skeleton Twins, Wiig was cheating on her husband Luke Wilson, who was also a blue collar guy, just like Cannavale.

Crazily, Kroll reveals the fact of the affair to Byrne, again, like Hader to Wilson in The Skeleton Twins.  And that results in a heartfelt discussion about how Kroll ran out when their mother was dying of cancer, and the discussion is reminiscent of the recriminations and regrets of Hader and Wiig about their father, also dead by suicide.   In The Skeleton Twins.

For a few easy laughs, the town is populated by faintly ridiculous folk from high school who Kroll can look down upon.  Much like Hader in The Skeleton Twins.  And there are places that inexplicably have Christmas lights up even though it is not Christmas.  Just like the town in The Skeleton Twins.

And Kroll grows, growth which is signaled by the fact he chooses the welfare of his sister’s son over his new job.

Just like James Caan in Elf.

Torture that at its best is mildly diverting.

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Screenwriter Diablo Cody made a big splash with the clever Juno, and showed real growth with the acid Young Adult. But that was a while ago.  This trite stinker, in the mold of so many dramadies about the travails of rich families as they negotiate the perilous path of monied suburbia, is a massive step backwards.

Cody offers Ricki, a talentless front woman for a cover band who has come home to her estranged, affluent ex-husband and adult children after a long hiatus.  She chews with her mouth open, says dirty words, and attends a family wedding.

But hey, it’s Meryl Streep, so we’re okay, right?

Right?

Wrong.  Streep is just terrible, whether slumming as the hip cast-off or leading the worst bar band ever. She’s in-authentically grungy and gratuitously down-to-earth and when she visits her erstwhile family, led by the kind ex-husband (Kevin Kline), it is cringe-inducing, not because of the fish-out-of-water stuff (this is the kind of movie where the denizens of the tony enclave practically say, “Well, I never!”), but because there’s not a word of it that feels real.  There is no way Streep’s character would even be a distant cousin to these people, much less the former matriarch.

Kline has, of course, remarried a protective earth mother type who raised the abandoned children while Ricki honed her craft covering Tom Petty.  Others who Ricki abandoned include a nice son about to get married to the most stuck-up bitch imaginable; a fragile daughter who has had a breakdown because her marriage of three seconds failed (you’d think she’d been a captive of Boko Haram, so extreme is her distress); and a son straight out of gay central casting (he is furious because Ricki called his gayness a phase and voted for W . . . twice!)

All of which would be humdrum but bearable twaddle save for the fact that Ricki and her shit band play about 7 numbers in this picture, including a version of Wooly Boolie so bad we could have won the war on terror years ago had it been utilized at Guantanamo.

Worse, Ricki’s version of Springsteen’s My Love Will Not Let You Down starts more like a Quarterflash tune and ends with your head in a bucket.

After August: Osage County and this, I am not saying Streep is at that Pacino point, where she thinks she can just fart in a bottle and call it potpourri.

But she’s veering to the off ramp.

Least likely sentence I ever expected to write?  Rick Springfield, who plays the lead guitarist for the Flash and Ricki’s love interest, deserved better.

 

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Execrable.  Anita Hill as Jesus Christ, Clarence Thomas as Impenetrable Sphinx, the story so stacked in her favor it’s a liberal wet dream. Then, there is this laughable coda where the hard charging female Kennedy aide says to the more judicious female Biden aide, “who’d you believe, him or her?” like any response other than “her” was possible given the hagiography that preceded the exchange.

Not only is the mythology laughable (apparently, Anita Hill will be replacing someone on currency sooner than we think), but the presentation is lackluster and vanilla.  It’s not Kerry Washington’s fault that Hill is so dull.  She’s written as nothing more than a platitudinous victim, and her emotional response to any given development is a self-pitying, dew-eyed disappointment in how mankind has failed her.  Wendell Pierce’s Thomas is no better, occasionally rising above catatonic, always in the corner, ruminating, obsessing, zzzzzzzzzzz.  The Democrats are hands-tied, decent truth-seekers, the Republicans hysterical street brawlers, not a scene surprising or enlightening.

It’s a shame.  The story of Hill and Thomas is, in the seams, the story of two people who worked together, she relied on him for advancement, but clearly developed a grudge at some point.  He said some Long Dong Silver shit to her, and then she, for whatever reason, took her shot at him on the eve of his confirmation, with the naively hopeful guarantee of anonymity.

And then wham!  She’s outed (a mere anonymous statement will not stop the Hope from Pinpoint, Georgia) and the process takes them both to places they never imagined they’d be, where he must play a hard race card against a cheap smear, and she must feign dramatic victimhood.  Their champions bloody and bruise the protagonists.

She tried a back alley stilleto and it wasn’t enough. He replied with a daylight, streetfront 2×4 and overcame.  They both became emblems of something larger, which, given the picayune roots of their antagonism, is the essence of the tragicomic.

Could have been a great movie.

This may be Daniel Craig’s last Bond, which is a shame, because it’s really awful and his turn revived the series. Like Skyfall before it, we again find ourselves delving into Bond’s psyche, but unlike the previous installment, the action sequences in Spectre are humdrum, the plot is even simpler and more obvious, its execution is lazy (at one point, without even a hint of foreshadowing, Bond procures a plane in a matter of 30 seconds, and he ain’t on an airfield), it recycles (an old building collapses in Mexico City, just like an old building collapsed in Venice in Casino Royale) and the bad guy – Christoph Waltz – is barely part of the film.  When Waltz’s true, hilarious motive is revealed, I guess his scarcity makes some sense.  That motive is the only thing that hints at a sense of humor but the inducement of chuckles was assuredly unintentional.  Otherwise, we are apparently supposed to take this seriously.

Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) doesn’t help matters by focusing on visually striking images above all else. Bond seems to simply appear from the mist in every scene, impeccably and nattily tailored, and after enough of these fashionista turns, the movie feels more like a cologne or car commercial than a picture. Bond romances a woman (the underused Monica Bellucci) against a big mirror in the vast open room of a Roman villa, and you can’t believe the scene does not end with “Obsession. By Calvin Klein.”

Spectre is also cursed by the most vacuous Bond girl since Tanya Roberts. Leya Seydoux is the daughter of his nemesis. In, I am guessing, her late 20s, she is a brilliant and accomplished psychologist with inconvenient but lush offices in the Austrian Alps (she actually has Bond fill out a medical questionnaire; oh to have seen his answers under the section “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”). She’s also weightless and dull as dishwater. It’s as if the producers went out of their way to find a French Taylor Swift.

Finally, Mendes has elevated Bond to the status of super hero.  As he escapes Waltz’s lair (Waltz is experimenting on him with drills for reasons that still don’t make any sense to me but harkens uncomfortably back to Dr. Evil), he manages to blow the entire installation up with a gunshot while killing a dozen heavily armed henchmen with a handgun.  After taking a vicious beating at the hands of a new thug – Dave Bautista, who promises to be a recurring figure ala’ Jaws – Bond and Seydoux are quickly dusted off for a quickie looking no worse for wear; indeed, they actually look better.  And at the end, Bond simply snaps cuffs off of his wrist, one presumes by the mere force of his personality.  Yes, Bond is an exceptional assassin, but one of the joys of Craig was the return to a gut-level, human 007.  Now, he’s Captain America.  Or Captain England.

Even the Sam Smith song is godawful, as is its accompanying, bizarre title sequence.  Poorly done all around.