READY OR NOT – movie review

Fox Searchlight Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenwriter: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 8/13/19
Opens: August 21, 2019

Image result for ready or not movie poster

Jokes are often made about marriages of Hollywood actors. They have elaborate ceremonies, their receptions are written up in People, interviewers ask all sorts of personal questions such as “How many kids to you plan to have?” Then two years later, four years later, “in sickness and in health” becomes the big lie. Divorces are common after short periods. If you really want to see an extreme version of this as though satirizing the concept, look into “Ready or Not,” featuring a marriage that lasts all of twelve hours. Blame it on the in-laws. Though “Ready or Not” is fiction, some viewers may think that it’s a send-up of the one percent, the belief that any family that is rich enough to be in that bracket must have gained their wealth through stealth, even murder somewhere along the line. Still, that would be a difficult thesis to prove, nor do Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, who share directing credits as well for “Devil’s Due,” about a newlywed couple on their honeymoon facing an earlier than expected pregnancy.

Unlike “Devil’s Due” the couple may or not have an unexpected pregnancy, but they have one hell of a bad honeymoon. Nor is the bride favored by in-laws, an eccentric group of people living in a mansion with rooms that may be larger than the cubic feet of an apartment in New York’s Trump Tower. (The pic is filmed by Brett Jutkiewicz in Oshawa, a suburb of Toronto, considered the safest place in the area where kids can play at night—but tell that to the people in this film.)

Samara Weaving anchors the activities as Grace, whose history as a foster child compels her to want a family. She lucks out, or so she thinks, in meeting Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) not realizing that she is being set up like Chris Washington by Allison Williams in Jordan Peele’s superior film “Get Out.” After an outdoor ceremony on the grounds of the estate, she returns with Alex to meet the family—one which could be compared, except in appearance, to the folks in Charles Addams’ cartoons. These are people bound by tradition, as shown in an opening scene thirty years earlier. A satanic pact has been made with the ancestors, agreed to by the family to pay back the man who originally made the money by creating and selling games.

Told that she must pick a card, any card from a deck featuring games, Grace selects Hide and Seek, the worst choice she could have made. As the family counts to 100, she is delighted to run away, hide in the dumbwaiter, and then think of a less cozy place. Soon enough she sees that if she cannot escape from the mansion by dawn, she will die at their hands, nor can she count fully on her husband Alex, who loves her but is conflicted by the pact of which he too is a part. Soon she is hunted down by Alex’s brother Daniel Le Domas (Adam Brody with Etienne Kellici as the young Daniel), Becky Le Domas (Andie MacDowell with Kate Ziegler as young Becky), Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun) who needs help in using a crossbow), Tony Le Domas, the majordomo of the outfit (Henry Czerny) and Helene (Nicky Guadagni), the aunt who most resembles a Charles Addams character.

As is customary in horror pictures, people get picked off, one by one, in this case by crossbow, weights smashed on their heads, strangulation, gunshots, and ultimately by a Götterdammerung of a conclusion that comes off more like a deus ex machina than a scene that you might expect. While some critics believe that Adam Brody comes off tops in his role as the bride’s brother-in-law, also with conflicted feelings, I have high regard for Henry Czerny, who is the epitome, or perhaps society’s stereotype, of a chief executive. Czerny, who delivered a powerful performance as a pederast in John N Smith’s 1992 “The Boys of St. Vincent,” has a lesser role here but his depiction of the family’s leader is compelling. Best of all, Samara Weaving, whom we have seen in Joe Lynch’s “Mayhem” about a virus that causes white collar office workers to act out their worst impulses, is perfect for the role. She starts out in her bridal dress, a long white gown, innocent in the ways of people whose riches she could only imagine. She reflects the tension that all feel, with a terrific depiction of fear, shaking, breathing hard, tearing her dress to allow her to run, then becomes an angel of vengeance.

The visuals are great. An estate with wall paintings of ancestors becomes symbolic of the home of the super-rich, though weighed down by a pact with which only some are enthusiastic with others conflicted. The music, which includes sections of Beethoven’s Ninth and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, is perfect. There is one serious weakness, found in Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s freshman feature screenplay. The film, distributed by Fox Searchlight which has served as the highbrow companion of 20th Century Fox, has the visual quality of its traditional art-house fare. But the dialogue, with its incessant use of the f-word and the s-word, is vulgar, not warranted except to draw in those moviegoers who never get tired of the profanity used well beyond its function in the movies. Screenplays are important: some consider writers, not directors, to be the most important elements of a movie. The juvenile language amid the paintings of the masters and a soundtrack that includes Beethoven and Tchaikovsky is incompatible.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

STAN & OLLIE – movie review


Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon S. Baird
Screenwriter: Jeff Pope
Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/26/18
Opens: December 28, 2018

Stan & Ollie Movie Poster

Even if you read the gossip magazines like “People” with news about divorces, births, miscarriages, and off-set fights, you may still think that actors do not have personal lives. Or maybe you believe that in the personal lives, they act in the same manner as they do on the big screen. Take the example of Laurel and Hardy; i.e., Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly). During their skits—and they had quite a few during their long careers on the stage and screen—Laurel would play the simpleton while Hardy would be the more sophisticated one who’d look with condescension on his teammate. Never mind that Oliver Hardy was fat, and that the excess weight would contribute to heart problems that found him losing 100 pounds, down to 138 in his final year. And that Stan Laurel was slimmer, handsomer, and a writer. Both were klutzy on stage, but to paraphrase George Orwell, some people are klutzier than others with Laurel having to take guff from Hardy regularly. To prove the point, along comes “Stan & Ollie,” made by the Scottish-born director Jon S. Baird. Baird is known mostly for TV episodes but he did have two other feature films: “Filth,” about a corrupt junkie cop with bipolar disorder, and “Cass,” about an orphaned Jamaican baby raised by a white couple in a white neighborhood. Interesting stuff, offbeat like Baird’s current feature.

Baird’s “Stan & Ollie” does spend time reviving the stage shtick, concentrating at first on exposition with their producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) and their first pic together in 1921. In 1953 their careers looked ready to be wrapped up during a tour of Britain and Ireland playing to disappointing numbers at the box office in the UK countryside. Yet they sprang back to life in London drawing a full house of laughing, applauding, and greatly appreciating the duo that they remember so well from the films and stage appearances of the past. They owe much to the marketing savvy of their British promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones).

Much is owed in this movie to the make-up team, twenty-one people, each concentrating on getting John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan to be the spit-and-image of Laurel and Hardy. Reilly did not have to gain 40 pounds as Christian Bale did to play the lead role in “Vice.” Instead he was given a prosthetic double chin along with the padded belly while others in the make-up department styled hair, special effects teeth, contact lenses, leaving some work for the mould maker and silicone technician. Solid supporting roles come from Shirley Henderson as wife Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as wife Ida Kataeva Laurel. The two women add to the comic touches; Henderson with her squeaky voice and our visual disbelief of being a foot or more shorter and much slimmer than Reilly; Arianda showing off her Russian accent and her assistance with her husband’s drinking problem which she solves by grabbing each glass he picks up and drinking the liquid herself.

Laurel and Hardy did not always get along in their private lives though they seem to be as close as conjoined twins, traveling with each other, and dining together with their wives. They are savvy enough not to break up like so many duos who have always performed better as a team, though Ollie resented that Stan went on to act in a movie without him while Oliver was stuck in a contract. Their bond is shown most when Ollie collapses with a heart condition and later dies. Stan refuses all offers to perform without his favorite partner though he continues to serve as a comedy writer.

The movie is a genial one filled, if not so much by the belly laughs that Laurel and Hardy evoked throughout their careers, then with gentle humor. We may smile rather than laugh, but nothing will stop us in the audience from doffing out caps to the duo that was named in a poll of UK comedians “the seventh best comedy team ever.”

98 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+