Open 24 Hours (2020)

Open 24 Hours (2020)

Directed by: Padraig Reynolds. Starring: Vanessa Grasse, Brendan Fletcher, Emily Tennant. Released: August 18, 2020 (in U.S; July 20, 2020 in U.K.). Runtime: 1h 42 min.

This review contains some spoilers. Also, if you missed my last post, I interviewed the writer/director of this film, Padraig Reynolds, and that interview can be found here.

Mary (Vanessa Grasse) is recently out on parole and gets a job as on the night shift at a gas station called Deer Gas Market. Mary’s crime is setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, and that whole relationship has made her, as her case file says, “paranoid and delusional” suffering from hallucinations. Naturally, since she’s on the night shift, she’s in for an ordeal.

Padraig Reynolds, writer and director of Open 24 Hours, is able to create a compelling final girl with Mary, one trying to get over her past trauma. She dated the notorious (but fictional) serial killer James Lincoln Fields (Cole Vigue), also known as the Rain Ripper, who killed 35 women. The use of rain as his inspiration to kill people during storms is interesting and the use of Don Clark’s song “Raindrops” as the film’s theme is the perfect choice and makes for some creepy moments.

Back to Mary, being involved with the Ripper, Mary was dubbed by the media as the Watcher, because James made Mary watch the deaths after she found out. Since that ordeal, she’s had paranoid delusions and being on the night shift at a secluded gas station probably isn’t the best thing for her, but it’s a great set-up for horror.

The side of the psychological horror is strong as Mary’s haunted by her past, as we see when Mary first sees her ex-boyfriend killing one of his victims (again) in Mary’s bathroom. Given that he’s a brutal serial killer, the violence is on the gnarly side. There are buckets of blood in a couple scenes, both in the slasher parts and the paranoia.

Open 24 Hours (article)
Vanessa Grasse in Open 24 Hours. (IMDb)

Balancing both slasher and paranoia is an intriguing mix in a horror film, as well. The film’s best horror scene is when Mary goes to the gas station’s outdoor bathroom and the encounter she has in there. This is when some of the craftiest scares happen. There’s a tendency for jump scares in Open 24 Hours, as there is with most slashers, but the creativity around that comes with Mary’s paranoia.

Since a lot of the horror is in Mary’s head, the jump scares don’t feel lazy when things pop out of nowhere, and the possibilities because of that are endless here and it makes for some fun scenes. In other scenes, one scare tactic is repeated on a couple occasions,  as Mary would imagine something, back away from it and run into a real-life person, so it’s not as scary on the third use. The repeated use of this doesn’t hurt the film overall as the atmosphere’s generally strong. There’s also a lot of fun to be had in this gory and rain-soaked slasher, especially when Mary imagines the Rain Ripper set on fire and walking towards her at the gas station.

Speaking of the gas station, the setting is so great. Filmed in Serbia, the gas station is constructed in the middle of nowhere and the secluded setting is great for a night shift horror. Most of what happens in the film happens at this one location, and there are so many rooms in the gas station and on the property in general that it feels so spacious. There are just a lot of possibilities from this one location that it’s fun to see what’s used, especially the outdoor bathroom and a neighboring area that comes into play at one point.

Mary does occasionally have some company on her first night in the form of colleague Bobby (Brendan Fletcher). Fletcher’s good in the role, and when I saw his name in the cast list I assumed he’d be playing the killer, so him playing the earnest colleague is a surprising change of pace here. Vanessa Grasse is also strong as Mary, and their scenes together are solid, especially when Mary shares her backstory.

In terms of story structure, the pacing is good. Interestingly, we as the audience know some secrets well before Mary herself, like the big fact that someone is out there killing people. We’re not certain if it is the Rain Ripper, but we know these scenes definitely seem real. Padraig Reynolds’ screenplay has enough twists and turns that will keep you guessing throughout about the identity of the killer.

Knowing all this before Mary is a worthwhile sacrifice when it means there’s slasher action throughout the runtime. When Mary’s let into the action, there is still doubt in her mind if all of this is real and that keeps some of the paranoia dynamic in play. The transition from psychological horror to slasher is seamless, and I won’t spoil what happens there – other than it’s fun and will please slasher fans and lovers of gore.

Score: 75/100

Irresistible (2020)

Irresistible (2020)

Directed by: Jon Stewart. Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper. Runtime: 1h 41 min. Released: June 26, 2020.

Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a fictional campaign strategist who lost a very winnable campaign in the 2016 election on the side of Hilary Clinton. For his redemption, Zimmer sees an inspiring video online of retired veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) fighting for undocumented immigrants at a town hall meeting in the small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, and Zimmer decides to help him run for Mayor.

On Gary’s first day in the town, he’s not used to everyone’s kindness. He’s there one night and the next morning, everyone knows his name. He doesn’t know how to react, for good reason (but Carell’s reaction is funny). It’s strange. While watching it, I thought their friendliness seems like it could be the set-up for a horror film in a different director’s hands. However, since it’s written and directed by Jon Stewart, it’s of course a comedy and political satire.

Frankly, there’s no satirical edge to this comedy – subtle for much of the film until Stewart makes it clear later in the film as to what he’s satirizing. Politics really go over my head, so to me the film played out like one of Stewart’s opening monologues on The Daily Show – only somewhat funny and I’m understanding the satire occasionally.

I’ve seen a couple of his good monologues when there was absolutely nothing else on TV, but his film lacks the sharpness of them. It’s just flat as it commentates on the media and how governments overspend on elections. The main points are interesting, as are thoughts on the election system in general, but the satire is all so subtle that it plays as a straightforward comedy for most of it.

I am a Steve Carell fan and he plays the role well here, but I just didn’t care about Gary as a person. However, the “relationship” he creates with Jack Hastings’ daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) brings about some refreshing moments when she makes him realize that he condescends to the townsfolk and gestures him to respect them more.

Irresistible, licky
Steve Carell and Rose Byrne in Irresistible. (IMDb)

This is shown mostly in one running gag that at first appears trivial (and sort-of is) where when he first arrives to town he orders a burger and Budweiser at the town’s Hofbräuhaus and the owner sends a busboy across the street to get a burger and a six-pack of Budweiser from a neighboring restaurant because they don’t actually serve burgers and Budweiser. “They’ve been patronizing you,” she says. Other scenes it actually sticks that he’s being a dick – in one headline he uses the term ‘small minds’ – but since he’s a D.C. elite, and because who Gary is as a person, it really never does stick.

Davis only shines occasionally, mostly shifted to the background in a will they/won’t they sub-plot with Gary as she defends her father occasionally. The always good Chris Cooper is solid as Jack Hastings in an election that really isn’t about him. It ends up being an ego battle between Gary and his arch-nemesis Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), a Republican strategist from the 2016 election who comes to Deerlaken when she catches wind of Gary’s involvement in the election.

The film gets marginally more interesting when she comes into play and that competition between them starts as she represents the current Mayor of Deerlaken, the Republican Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). The two main star’s abrasive banter and butting-heads chemistry brings the film’s only laugh-out-loud moments.

Carell and Byrne are such a strong pairing that I wish they were in a better comedy. I also wish that the film were less about the politics and more about their rivalry and just them sparring with each other. The scenes about their rivalry, and the last 20 minutes which came so out of left field it was sort-of entertaining, were the only parts that intrigued me.

Since it is about an election, it’s of course about the politics as we see the behind-the-scenes of the election, as well, as Stewart casts the likes of Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne in underused supporting roles as experts with analytics trying to win the election. All the behind-the-scenes stuff is just not that interesting and I saw a lot of it done better in Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner. Regardless, Jon Stewart’s Irresistible has some clever moments but they’re not enough to merit the runtime. Like his opening monologues on The Daily Show, it’s all a mixed bag.

Score: 50/100

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Directed by: Dean Craig. Starring: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Freida Pinto. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

Love Wedding Repeat is a meditation on how love revolves around chance and fate – described by occasional narration from The Oracle (Penny Ryder), but it’s realy just a standard and often annoying comedy with romance infused.

Jack (Sam Claflin) is aiming to help his sister Hayley’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) wedding day go on without a hitch, as Jack juggles an angry ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Freida Pinto), a misplaced sleep sedative and the girl that got away, Dina (Oliva Munn), as we see alternate versions of the same day.

The film’s based on the 2012 French film, Plan de table, so the alternate timelines always seemed to be the intention of this film, but the one alternate version feels like a cop-out to stretch this film to feature length. Basically, there are only alternate versions because of the sleeping pill in play because of an uninvited guest, Marc (Jack Farthing), trying to ruin the wedding. We see two main versions of the day play out when at the halfway point it goes into the alternate version.

It feels half-baked as the film tells most of its arc in the first hour and then realizes the character dynamics aren’t that deep and it runs out of ideas, and then gives us the, “Alright, what if someone else took the sedative?” The real shame about all this alternate timeline mumbo jumbo is that they switch to a different version of the day as soon as the film seems to be getting interesting. I was actually excited to see where the film would go, and then they reverse back.

I didn’t find this film well-written by Dean Craig (who also directs), as the scenarios, dialogue and character dynamics all felt weak. We do get a taste at several different outcomes but those possibilities are contained to a montage – making it feel like that multiple timelines episode of TV’s Community – but it all feels like an excuse to make a feature film out of a thin premise. That said, the second half is more tolerable than the first version of the day, as the characters aren’t as annoying. This is especially true for Sidney (Tim Key) who learns to listen in this half. He’s a quirky talkative type whose role seems tailored for James Corden or Ricky Gervais in their heydays.

Love Wedding Repeat article
Joel Fry, Sam Claflin, Freida Pinto and Jack Farthing in Love Wedding Repeat. (IMDb)

I disliked everything about the first half, as the characters are boring and the comedy is just putting everyone in uncomfortable situations to see their boring reactions, and most of the comedy is played on their over-politeness to stay in these situations. That’s the case at the beginning of the film when Claflin’s Jack and Munn’s Dina have just spent a weekend together in Rome and he’s about to tell her he likes her when a guy from his past stops that from happening and he’s too polite to tell him to bugger off.

Now, the wedding’s three years later where Jack gets a second chance, but this is an annoying comedy where everything goes from fine to bad very quickly. A lot of the uncomfortable situations are born from who you sit beside at a wedding; like when Munn is sat beside Sidney and he barely let’s Jack talk to her. These situations are more uncomfortable for the audience because the scenarios aren’t funny. I did chuckle a couple times during the film, but the laughs are not memorable.

Some of the film’s characters are useless, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda. Freida Pinto is fine, but she’s just there as another obstacle between Jack and Dina. Worse yet is Amanda’s new boyfriend, Chaz (Allan Mustafa), who is so unfunny because the only thing he ever talks about is how he’s insecure about his penis size and that grows tired quickly.

There are so many character dynamics going on that it just disguises that there’s not much happening in this film. Most of the film is just Jack trying to get with Dina and it’s boring, though the brother-sister dynamic between Jack and Hayley works fine.

There are some aspects I liked in the second half of the film as the schmaltz is dialed up between every couple, and some of it hits. The first half just had so much humour that fell flat on its face, but there’s nothing in either half of the film that made me care about what happened with these characters.

Okay, I suppose I liked Hayley well enough that I cared to know if her wedding was ruined or not, but even she feels very one-note, but Eleanor Tomlinson did a good job in the role. Olivia Munn is also fine, and Sam Claflin does his best as a very dull character. Though, there is one very weak aspect of the film that is just the cherry on top. Out of everything that happens, we never even see the wedding itself. We only get Love Repeat. No wedding for you.

Score: 38/100

Money Plane (2020)

Money Plane (2020)

Directed by: Andrew Lawrence. Starring: Adam Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane. Released: July 10, 2020. Runtime: 1h 22 min.

I love heist films so when I heard about Money Plane, I thought it would be some stupid B-movie fun. It is surely dumb, but it’s not fun. The story follows Jack Reese (retired wrestler Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge), a thief who’s $40 million in debt and is hired by Darius Grouch the Third, a.k.a. The Rumble (Kelsey Grammer) – which, frankly, sounds like a better wrestler’s name than Edge – to rob the titular Money Plane, a futuristic airborne casino with millions on board in cash and cryptocurrency, filled with “some of the baddest motherfuckers on the planet” on the plane, as Rumble explains it and tells Jack some of the betting that happens. “You wanna bet on a dude fucking an alligator? Money plane.”

The film’s weak attempts at comedy have more life than the film’s action scenes (strange for an action film), but everything here is boring. With its small budget, there’s nothing really high-concept about this film; and first hearing about it, its concept reminded me of the 2012 film Lockout, the one on the space prison. However, that film had a budget of $20 million which allowed it to feel authentic, and here, I think the entire budget was spent on Kelsey Grammer and Adam Copeland.

About its “high-concept,” there’s nothing futuristic about the Money Plane other than it’s an exclusive casino in the sky. It just looks like a normal casino on a plane. The sets here are awful and they have the same production value as a 70’s adult film, complete with the similar lighting. At no point is it convincing that this is actually filmed on an actual airplane, especially when Jack and his heist crew members Isabella (Katrina Norman) and Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr.) exit the plane and the plane door’s open to just darkness and there’s a wind machine going. This film would be equally awful if it were set on the ground, and the only reason it’s a casino in the sky is to make the premise more ridiculous and so it could have this title.

The title is why I wasted my time on this and got my attention. The fact that it’s directed and co-written by Andrew Lawrence is why it got my curiosity. He was on on the 90’s sitcom Brotherly Love with his brothers Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World, The Hot Chick) and Joey Lawrence (TV’s Blossom) who also have supporting roles in this film. Andrew Lawrence acts as one of the heist crew members, Iggy, who’s the tech guy on the ground during the operation, but he gets little to do. His acting is stronger than his writing and directing here, though. The action scenes are sloppily shot and choreographed and so awkwardly directed – especially an awkward fight scene in the cockpit with Jack and the co-pilot – and the writing is terrible, from the dialogue to execution of the concept. The blame isn’t solely on him, there, co-writing this with Tim Schaaf, but you can tell where Lawrence wrote his own voice in, like when he comments on his own premise when Jack explains the Money Plane plan and Iggy says, “It’s insane, I love it.”

Money Plane
Kelsey Grammer in Money Plane. (IMDb)

The concept really is insane, and this film could be watchable with a larger budget and someone who could legitimately direct action. As it is, the project feels amateurish. The writing hurts the film the most as none of the characters are interesting and the heist itself is one of the most boring heists I’ve seen, devoid of any tension as the script mostly just wastes time with the betting games and the heist is basically just Isabella, disguised as a flight attendant, searching for the vault room. There are also a couple fights but it feels so uneventful. It’s such a wasted opportunity, especially when it’s pitched as a casino filled with very dangerous criminals and the criminals are more annoying than threatening and barely feel like legitimate threats to the characters. They’re barely involved in the story as villains except for one boring fight – and most of the criminals are just there to play the casino’s stupid games. The plot tries to add in some double crosses during the storyline but you can see everything coming a mile away.

Some of the writing is so stupid it’s kind-of funny. I enjoy the fact that Jack is a former poker player who has accumulated $40 million in debt playing high-stakes poker and now he’s robbing an airborne casino where he does, for one scene, play poker. We learn all this in an exposition-y scene with Jack and his best friend Harry (Thomas Jane in a bit role) and there’s this whole thing about Jack trusting his instincts. “Ever since I lost that hand, I don’t know if I can,” says Jack. About Adam Copeland, he seems like he’d be fine in other things like TV’s Vikings, but here his character is just so boring, defined solely as a family man trying to do right by them. Kelsey Grammer at least puts more into his performance because he’s just totally chewing the scenery in every scene he’s in, but the dialogue is so awful.

Anyway, Andrew Lawrence’s direction of just about everything from the action to basic conversations feels awkward, and as a poker enthusiast I found it sloppy when he actually showed us Jack playing a hand on the Money Plane. Remember, Jack is established as a strong poker player, but when he semi-bluff shoves against two opponents, it’s no wonder $40 million in debt. Still, on the plane it could just be an expensive punt so we can stop playing cards and get into the heist of the film, but I’m still undecided.

Jack’s bluff – he has a pair of fours on a dry board – gets called by a cowboy named JR Crockett (Matthew Lawrence who looks like Yosemite Sam here) and it’s the one somewhat funny thing in this film as he slams his hand on the poker table and says, “God damn it, thanks for making me feel alive, I call.” The drama in the hand is made more boring because the dealer doesn’t make them show their hands until showdown for ultimate drama even though they’re all-in.

The Money Plane is established as a legitimate casino that has an emphasis on rules – where The Concierge (Joey Lawrence) shoots a man in the back of head when he catches him cheating – and when I’m a viewer who knows how poker tables work, it’s annoying because that feels inaccurate to not show hands as soon as everyone’s all-in. I know I’m being nitpicky of a dumb B-movie called Money Plane that’s ridiculous through and through. To quote Andrew Lawrence’s own character T.J. Detweiler from Disney’s Recess, this film “whomps.”

Score: 25/100

7500 (2020)

7500 (2020)

Directed by: Paul Vollrath. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel.  Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: June 18, 2020.

Paul Vollrath’s 7500 starts with soundless footage from an airport’s security camera at the Berlin Tegel Airport – showing people going about their days. There’s a disconnect watching these people and that disconnect lingered throughout the film. This is because we are confined to the cockpit of a Berlin to Paris flight for the entirety of the film with co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the plane is hijacked.

Thrillers set on airplanes are one of my favourite sub-genres – like Red Eye, Flightplan or Snakes on a Plane, I love those kinds of films. 7500 is more in the speed of something like true story United 93, where there are only some bursts of action. Of course, the lack of consistent action is expected in 93. In 7500, I was expecting more action and was just bored throughout the film.

The film’s innovative in concept as a hijacking told in real-time from the point-of-view of the co-pilot told from the cockpit, and that’s fine if you want a film that looks like it’s filmed in a flight simulator. The sense of claustrophobia is strong here as is the anxiety – especially as the hijackers consistently pound on the cockpit door – and Vollrath’s script would be strong as a stage play, but as a film there are so many boring stretches. Still, there are some pros. The intensity of the terrorists’ first charge at the cockpit is excellently staged, as leading up to it the curtain between the cockpit and the plane’s cabin shifts as the terrorists listen for the cockpit door opening to let a flight attendant inside.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some powerful moments as Tobias, especially when the hijackers try to get into the cockpit by taking hostages and threatening to kill them. The only way they survive is if Tobias opens the door. Tobias is helpless because opening the door would break protocol, and all he can do is watch on a small TV attached to a surveillance camera that shows the action in the cabin. This is how we watch most of the action unfold. He can’t really do much to help the passengers, other than suggesting they charge the terrorists because their weapons are just knives made from glass.

Tobias is our only connection to any other character, and honestly, he’s just boring as a father trying to survive the situation. If we’re going to be confined to a cockpit (that word gets funnier every time I write it) with him for 90 minutes, it shouldn’t be too big of an ask that he be a compelling character.

The only other characters besides the terrorists that we interact with are the captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), as well as Tobias’ flight attendant girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel). The terrorists themselves don’t seem to have a lot of motivation. One of them, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), gives a monologue of their intentions but this feels basic and vague. The youngest hijacker, Vedat (Omid Memar), seems pressured into this whole situation by his brothers. He also forges a connection with Tobias, but it’s still very boring.

There’s also such a disconnect from the passengers as we only see them being greeted by the flight attendants as they get on the plane. This disconnect is what hurts the film greatly. We don’t know their names or stories, and we are told there are 85 souls on board, but these passengers and crew might as well just be a number or names on a ledger. That could be director/writer Patrick Vollrath’s intention, as Tobias trying to save them isn’t a personal thing, it’s a duty because they’ve trusted him to fly the plane. Regardless, not knowing any of the passengers just made this feel cold.

I’m simple and I guess I like to explore the plane before the action and see the hijacking unfold among the passengers, feeling the panic that way. Instead of knowing the passengers during take-off, we actually see the plane take-off. That’s kind-of interesting – and there is a lot of technical dialogue about flying a plane and the procedures, so the research that went into this screenplay is there. The concept of this film is interesting, as it’s different being put in the shoes of a co-pilot as in so many of these films the captain and co-pilot is dead by the mid-way point.

This film feels more like a human drama, but I expected way more action. It’s not like I was expecting JGL to kick ass like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop or say one-liners like Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane, but memorable action still could have happened. This just isn’t that type of film. I also just didn’t feel the stakes of the film consistently, as since I didn’t know the passengers or care much for Tobias, I simply wasn’t invested throughout or interested in the final outcome.

Score: 50/100

The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

The High Note article
Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

Force of Nature (2020)

Force of Nature (2020)

Directed by: Michael Polish. Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: June 30, 2020.

Force of Nature feels like the writer of the film, Cory M. Miller, watched 2018’s The Hurricane Heist and said, “Yeah, I’d like to write something like that, but worse.” At least in The Hurricane Heist there’s an aspect of it where it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and it could be fun to mock with friends, but Force of Nature is much too boring for those purposes.

The basic premise makes sense but the story feels haphazardly put together. During a hurricane in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a gang of thieves – led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) – target a building for a heist. They encounter trouble, however, when Officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) are on evacuation duty and try to get a disgruntled ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), an elderly recluse called Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and Griffin (William Catlett) to leave the building and go to the storm shelter. Then, when John the Baptist and his crew come in, all hell breaks loose.

There are a lot of working parts about Force of Nature that try to come together but never mesh, and that’s with all the attempts at actually creating characters with backstories. It also makes the film feel like it takes itself way too seriously at times. Cardillo is developed as a character with a dark-ish past that everyone knows and Ray immediately doesn’t trust him because of Cardillo’s history. Cardillo has a lot of demons and we meet him sitting on the shower floor with a gun in his mouth. This type of characterization is fine in a drama, but the writing’s not strong enough to create a believable person. I get it, he has demons, but he’s a bit of a boring dickhead.

Ray is also just angry because his health is bad and Mel Gibson is just on one level the entire film – pissed off. The other attempt at serious character development is with Griffin, and his development feels relevant politically as he’s a black man who has problem with police because of run-ins with the past. He also has a killer lion or jaguar – I couldn’t tell, we only see it in a split second shot of it – whom he’s trained to attack cops in uniform. There’s also a layer with Bergkamp who’s a German who must learn to be tolerate others. This all just feels out-of-place for a dumb action movie with a hurricane and a heist. It is a dumb action movie and the attempt at characterization is fine, but the writing is so flat they don’t really ever come alive. It also just feels too serious, and the dialogue is wooden and any attempts at emotional scenes come off as laughable.

The heist is boring as hell, too, and the twist for it is dumb. Major spoilers, but basically John the Baptist is a criminal but also an art enthusiast who has caught wind of an art collection in the building owned by Bergkamp, whose father was a Nazi so he has a bunch of paintings from his Nazi days. This film really feels like if The Hurricane Heist, any action movie with an apartment building as the main setting (it’s too bad to compare this specifically to The Raid: Redemption) and The Monuments Men had a weird baby and this is the product that no one wants. And, while John is an art enthusiast and knows the value of these paintings, he doesn’t mind shooting someone in the back of the head so their brains fly all over a priceless painting. End spoilers.

He gets very little characterization – other than that these people are big into heists in Puerto Rico – and he’s supposed to be threatening just because he doesn’t mind killing his own men if they’re expendable, half the time for no reason. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he killed as many of his own guys as our heroes killed.

The hurricane itself feels inconsequential to the story, really just a framing device designed to get the cops to the same building where the gang is stealing from, and the hurricane also cuts off communication between Cardillo and Jess and their precinct. The hurricane also looks super ugly, and not much of a factor other than some flooding and filming in the pouring rain. In The Hurricane Heist the hurricane was because it was just a stupidly fun mix and at least there were action scenes in the hurricane, and in Crawl at least the hurricane served a purpose in getting the gators to the house. I mean, I guess the hurricane does get the cops to the building, but it never feels like an important factor. The same bad film could be made without the presence of a hurricane, and that could allow more action with more tenants in the building.

Score: 25/100

Scoob! (2020)

Scoob! (2020)

Directed by: Tony Cervone. Starring: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: May 15, 2020.

In Scoob!, we see how Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) meet when they’re kids. Then they meet the rest of the gang – Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez). It’s not much of a prequel story as this happens for about 10 minutes, but they investigate a local haunted house and this is when it feels like classic Scooby-Doo. Enjoy this while it lasts, as 10 years pass and Shaggy and Scooby find themselves in a generic superhero story to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from unleashing a dogpocalypse onto the world.

Usually, the Mystery Gang will simply help local townsfolk with a mystery, solve their spooky problem and then get called meddling kids. Here, as the plot shows it won’t please long-time Scooby fans, the Mystery Gang join forces with superheroes, not even solve a mystery and instead try to save the world, and then get called meddling kids.

This film is intended to be the first in a shared Hanna Barbera universe as Warner Bros. shoves lesser known HB characters into a Scooby-Doo film, as they join forces with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) from the Hanna Barbera show Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The villain of this film is also Dick Dastardly of Wacky Races fame. I’m a ‘90s kid so I’m only vaguely familiar with Dastardly, and I don’t care about them. The voice acting is strong as these characters, though, and it could intrigue long-time Hanna Barbera fans to see these smaller characters on the supposed-to-be-big-screen.

However, this all makes Scoob! feel like a product more than something truly creative, as this shares the same mistake with 2017’s The Mummy as Warner Bros. puts a focus on jumping straight into a cinematic universe instead of first making a strong Scooby-Doo film. As a film for kids who might be seeing Scooby for the first time, this would be fine, but it would be a shame to make them think that this captures any of the spirit of Scooby-Doo because it does not. It’s just a film with colourful (and great) animation with non-stop action so their attention span never wanders.

It’s also strange that Fred, Daphne and Velma are turned into side characters. They get little to do and Fred never once tells anyone to split up, and Velma never says “jinkies” and she never loses her glasses. Okay, that’s false, she loses them in an image during the credits as director Tony Cervone and writers tease a real Scooby-Doo mystery, but we don’t get to enjoy it. To tease us like that after the nonsense of this film is honestly a cruel joke.

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Frank Welker and Will Forte as Scooby and Shaggy in Scoob!

As for the voice casting, Frank Welker reprises the role of Scooby-Doo and he’s great, but it’s strange that Scooby talks in complete sentences and is able to have conversations with Shaggy. Will Forte is fine as Shaggy and I like him as an actor, but he isn’t Shaggy. Matthew Lillard is my Shaggy. He started playing the character in the 2002 live-action film Scooby-Doo and has been voicing Shaggy in the television shows and films since 2010, so hearing Forte give it the old college try is kind-of a bummer.

The rest of the core cast is good in their own right in other films, but Zac Efron feels flat as Fred as he’s just playing himself and he’s such a big star that it kind-of distracts. Amanda Seyfried, though, feels like she actually fits Daphne but she has little to do. My biggest issue is Gina Rodriguez as Velma and that’s because she doesn’t even make an effort to make Velma sound like Velma. She doesn’t sound nerdy and she just showed up, did her regular voice and it just does not fit the character at all. This trio also barely has any laughs, but most of the humour in the film doesn’t work.

It feels so dated to the mid-2000’s, strange since Shaggy and Scooby sing a rendition of “Shallow” from A Star is Born to Simon Cowell (yep) that shows this is at least 2018. The music choices are kind-of odd as the film opens to Tupac’s “California Love” and then Shaggy shuffles through five songs about loneliness to show he needs a friend. That loneliness bit feels forced, but Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship is the core of this film and that’s played okay.

However, since this does not feel like my Shaggy and Scooby (the only time I really had fun with them is when they pretend to be restaurant workers at the bowling alley), I couldn’t love their friendship. I cared more about Dastardly’s super cute robots (reminiscent of the minions from Despicable Me and just for the merchandise) who have replaced Dastardly’s usual sidekick Muttley.

While this film surely ups the ante of a normal Scooby-Doo story to make it feel cinematic, it totally forgets that the Mystery Gang is simply a group of twenty-somethings who solve goofy and creepy mysteries that have no implications on the fate of the world. I’ve highlighted the good parts but this film is more frustrating when it flashes its clever side because there’s so much here that is uninspired.

Score: 38/100

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Directed by: Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith (co-director). Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

The Trolls are back in a new adventure, as the queen of hard-rock, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) aims to unite all the trolls under one music: rock. When Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), of the Pop trolls, learn of Barb’s plan, they set out to stop her.

First, they learn about the origins of their land and how all trolls had six strings to represent the kinds of music at the present at the beginning of their world. Those are Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. These types of music are represented by strings, and that’s Barb’s objective: Go on a world tour from town to town, pillage, and collect these strings and play a righteous tune on her guitar that would unite them all under her vision. The premise literally sounds like she’s Thanos who watched Tenacious D: In the Pick of Destiny too many times.

The story is more interesting than the first film where the trolls learned to be comfortable with your differences and you don’t always have to be happy to be a troll. Here, the same tune is played as they learn (again) that their differences are what makes them united and makes them individuals. Unfortunately for adults in the audience, that message is obvious long before the summarizing message for the kids at the end of the film.

There’s a better secondary message of listening to others and their points of views and opinions. That’s shown through Princess Poppy who always gets an idea in her head, sticks to it, and fails to listen to her friends like Branch. Kendrick and Timberlake are both still solid as the two main characters, but, like the adventure, it feels like they’re going through the motions. The listening aspect is the only character work that feels like there’s effort given to it, as most of the returning characters feel stunted in growth because they learned most of these lessons in the first film.

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Rachel Bloom and (spoiler) as Queen Barb and King Thrash in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

Trolls World Tour is also more obnoxious than I remember the first film being. Much of that comes from Queen Barb. Her music is solid, but as a villain she’s so irritating. Her rock posse roll around in a convoy copy and pasted from that of Mad Max: Fury Road (complete with a drummer instead of flame guitarist). Barb shreds a version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” specific to the film’s message in this scene, and it’s legitimately fun, but her actual dialogue is cringeworthy. The only tolerable thing about her scenes is the musician voicing King Thrash (I won’t spoil), but it would be nice if he had more to do than just hum “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

The voice talent for the new characters is impressive. The most interesting casting choice is Sam Rockwell as Hickory, a centaur-type troll that Poppy, Branch and Biggie (James Corden) meet in the country town. He helps them escape prison after they show the country citizens pop music through an obnoxious mash-up that would make Kendrick’s character in Pitch Perfect beg them to stop.

The juxtapositions between the music is bizarre, as they enter the town when Queen Delta Dawn (Kelly Clarkson) is singing an original called “Born to Die.” Poppy comments on the melancholy song that feels out-of-place in a colourful film: “They must not know that music is supposed to make you happy, that’s awful.” There is some clever commentary like that here, but it’s few and far between. Clarkson is a solid casting choice, but the fact that she barely has any actual dialogue is strange. She’s just called to sing an original song on the soundtrack basically, and I think that shows the priority here is making a soundtrack that bops, and not an enjoyable film.

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Jamie Dornan as Chaz in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

My favourite part of this film are bounty hunters that Queen Barb hires to find Poppy, but they are so underutilized. The hunters include a smooth jazz specialist named Chaz (Jamie Dornan), a reggae group called the Reggaeton (led by J Balvin), a K-pop gang and the yodelers. They get some screen time but I was much more interested with them as the villains than Barb, and how they branched off from the main strings of music and made their own tunes.

There’s much more time focused on a mediocre solo journey of self-discovery with Cooper (Ron Funchess). It leads back into the story, and I’m a Funchess fan, but there are no laughs on his quest. In fact: For a well-animated, colourful, free-spirited movie, where cotton candy seems like the main food group, there are more eyerolls than chuckles here. You’ll tap your feet to the music, especially when the film unleashes the “funk,” but the humour leaves a lot to be desired. That’s the major problem with Trolls World Tour, it has bursts of creativity but so much of this just feels like a passionless product.

Score: 40/100

The Hunt (2020)

The Hunt (2020)

The Hunt posterDirected by: Craig Zobel. Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: March 13, 2020.

This review contains spoilers.

I was really looking forward to The Hunt when it was to be released last August before it was delayed because due to mass shootings. Now, when there’s reason to delay movies, the film sneaked into theatres for a week before the close of many all over because of COVID-19, and the film will be released On Demand tomorrow.

The reason it was delayed last August was because of its content. 12 Americans are kidnapped from all over and brought to a mansion in what appears to be rural Arkansas, as they wake up in a clearing and are hunted for sport by liberal elitists in The Hunt, also known as #ManorGate.

It’s called #ManorGate because there were rumours that wealthy liberals, who really appear to be social justice warriors who wouldn’t allow people of colour to be hunted because that’s too far, were hunting people for sport. The reasoning behind the Hunt is kind-of disappointing as it works into its commentary and satire.

I get the commentary and satire, though some of the political aspects would surely go over my head, but it’s not super effective. It’s written by Nick Cuse (TV’s Watchmen and TV’s The Leftovers) and Damon Lindelof (show runner for Watchmen and The Leftovers). Craig Zobel also directs it well (and he’s known for some directing work on Watchmen and The Leftovers so it’s a real reunion), and I am a fan of his film Compliance, one of those disturbing films that’s great but you never want to watch again. Zobel’s film here has more rewatchability.

The Hunt’s commentary doesn’t always work, much of it includes characters walking on eggshells afraid to offend anyone, but there are some strong moments. A great visual gag includes a tense moment of opening a crate, and a pig fitted with Shakespeare clothes jumps out. The film is usually more action than horror, but it’s solid. As for its commentary, I’m not sure what the film is exactly trying to say, other than that the jackrabbit always wins as Crystal (Betty Gilpin) tells in a dark story.

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Betty Gilpin in The Hunt (IMDb).

It is Gilpin’s performance that makes this fun, and some well-timed jokes, too. Gilpin embraces her character and shows she is completely within her element, and we learn throughout that Athena (Hilary Swank) has picked the wrong person to include in this Hunt. Without Gilpin, this wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is. Most of the characters don’t pack much of a punch, but she does.

My main complaint is some of the Hunt participants that seem like they could be key players get killed off quickly and one is particularly disappointing, because I think seeing the character interact with Crystal would have been fun. It subverts expectations and establishes that there’s no central character, at least for the first 20 minutes. The first 20 minutes are fun, but it becomes a real blast when Gilpin comes into play, especially in the action scenes. I think this film works better as just a regular action movie than a commentary.

It’s also really entertaining seeing Ethan Suplee (I’m a fan since his Boy Meets World days) and he plays racist bigot very well (as he shows in his best known role in American History X). The film feels like Game of Thrones in how anyone could be killed at any moment in this kind-of film – so don’t get attached to your favourites (Crystal is the exception).

I enjoy these Battle Royale sort-of films with a high body count (WWE Studios’ The Condemned is a guilty pleasure for that reason), but keep in mind that, while this film manages to be memorable, there’s nothing new in this action thriller. As I’ve said before, Gilpin and the action make it worth the watch, but if you just wanted to watch (or re-watch) Battle Royale or even The Hunger Games again, I wouldn’t blame you. Still, if you want a good R-rated version of The Hunger Games, The Hunt entertains for 90 minutes.

Score: 70/100