STUBER – movie review

STUBER
20th Century Fox
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Dowse
Screenwriter: Tripper Clancy
Cast: Kumal Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/2/19
Opens: July 12, 2019

Stuber Poster 2019 Movie Dave Bautista Kumail Nanjiani Film Print 24x36" 27x40" - 11x17" / 27.94x43.18 cm

Nobody expects “Downton Abbey” or “Last Year in Marienbad” to open in the summer. We expect movies to take in our air conditioning with violence, with sitcom romances, maybe a few Marvel Studio entries. But “Stuber” represents a new low even for a July opening. It has the violence, the comedy, even a romance of sorts, but the funny parts aren’t, the violence leans toward the non-stop, the romance involves one of the principals emailing a woman he’s been dating, the woman virtually harassing him to come right over and they’ll “have sex.”

Co-star Karachi-born Kumal Nanjiani is best known as a stand-up comedian and for his role in “The Big Sick.” Time magazine calls him one of the hundred most influential people in the world, presumably because he is Pakistani-American, and newscasts rarely focus on Pakistan as one of the world’s centers for comedy. “The Big Sick” deals with cultural barriers; Nanjiani co-wrote that film with his wife Emily Gordon. This time, however, he faces off with a big guy who insists “I’m not white” the difference being of personality rather than ethnicity. Vic (Dave Bautista), a cop, is obsessed with finding and bringing to justice a drug dealer, Teijo (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner during one of the several fight scenes in the film.

The never-ending set-up for jokes takes off from Vic’s Lasik eye surgery, which leaves him legally blind for a day and obviously affects his ability to catch the drug dealers. His daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) sets him up with a phone app to allow him to spend the day Teijo-hunting, but Vic, a virtual techno-phobe, instead hails an Uber driven by Stuber (Kumal Nanjiani), which is not his real name but a combination of “Stu” and “Uber.” The two share a fragile bond: if Stu does not do what the cop says, he may die at the hands of the criminals. Even worse, he will get a one-star review on Yelp, which could sink his career, as he had received a stack of one-star comments from racist passengers.

Believe it or not, in this comedy based on physical violence that has people slammed into walls, shot at, racing around to catch up with Teijo, there is a sentimental core. Two people who only intermittently show themselves not to be dumb as doornails advise each other on dealing with significant others. Stu is in love with Becca, a friend with benefits (Betty Gilpin), but is afraid to declare his secret love for the lass. Vic lets Stu know how to get around the dilemma. To square away an obligation, Vic is required to listen to Stu’s cajoling: Vic does not pay enough attention to his daughter, a sculptor, who in one scene has opened a show, her work going far over her dad’s head.

This road-and-buddy moves along the two drive around California, hitting spots in Koreatown and Compton among other areas. A struggle in a veterinary office, in which Vic winds up adopting a pit bull, does not lead to an arrest, and police captain McHenry may be other than she seems. The story, which lacks anything in the way of nuance and fills the screen with the kind of violence that some audiences are unable to get enough of, may remind you of those Amazon reviewers who say “I would have given this product zero stars if I could.”

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

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

 

COLD PURSUIT – movie review

COLD PURSUIT
Summit Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenwriter: Frank Baldwin, Kim Fupz Aakeson, loosely based on Moland’s 2014 movie “In Order of Disappearance”
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, David O’Hara, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emma Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi
Screened at: Dolby 88, NYC, 1/29/19
Cold Pursuit - Poster GalleryOpens: February 8, 2019

 

 

If you’ve given up sugar because you think it’s white poison, what can you use as a calorie-free substitute? Try a movie with a theme of revenge. It’s sweet, so they say, and the public must love the theme or why else would there be umpteen pictures about it? Yet happily, “Cold Pursuit” is not just one of those umpteen pictures about revenge. This is no horror tale written and acted for the benefit of teens and sadistic high-school kids who want nothing more than for heads to roll. Of course heads do roll in “Cold Pursuit,” or how could you otherwise call it a revenge picture? But using Frank Baldwin and Kim Fupz Aakeson’s screenplay, director Han Petter Moland is able to weave in quite a bit of wry humor, self-deprecating manifestoes, and down-home looks at what two of the good guys (they’re police) talk about when they don’t talk about crime.

Hans Petter Moland is known for “In Order of Disappearance,” taking place in the snowy peaks of the director’s Norway, involving igniting a war between a vegan gangster and a Serbian mafia boss. The mere mention of “vegan gangster” in his 2014 black comedy clues you in on a director who would not be content with running a cast through the motions of a genre gangster movie, and in fact “Cold Pursuit” highlights a regional drug lord who is a loving father to a 10-year-old boy who micromanages the kid’s diet. (Never mind that somehow the boy downs a bowl of Fruit Loops.) “Cold Pursuit,” following the themes of Moland’s previous movie, pits a regional drug lord in Denver and surroundings who becomes involved in a turf war with an indigenous gang and who, by killing the innocent son of a man whose job is to keep the roads clear in a Kehoe Colorado ski town, in tracked down by the lad’s father out for blood as well.

Dramatic action begins when the son of snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neesen) and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) is kidnapped on the orders of Viking (Tom Bateman), injected with heroin, and dumped in the snow to lead authorities to believe he overdosed. Knowing that his boy was never a druggie, Nelson “Nels” Coxman (Liam Neesen) is determined to find the killer or killers, setting out in Kehoe, Colorado, to bring justice in a place where you could not expect much from the two town cops Gip (John Doman) and his partner (Emma Rossum). Gip in an early scene dissuades his partner, aggressive about upholding the strict word of law, to ignore a group of kids smoking weed. “I know it’s legal to buy and smoke, but only in your own house,” she demurs.

As Nels proceeds to pick up the gang members one by one, including the owner of a bridal gown establishment who, upon seeing Nels suspects the man’s motives and reaches for his gun, the various groups chit chat, building a character study to what could have been a juvenile horror tale. Officer Gip encourages his partner to get back together with her boyfriend leading her flirtatiously to converse with the ex on the phone promising a good time if he would give me information on the perps. Viking for his part must negotiate custody for their ten-year-old son Ryan with his estranged wife, who appears to be the only person not worried about the consequences of dealing with a serial killer.

The whole ensemble rises to the occasion with particular credit to White Bull (Tom Jackson), who is as determined to get rid of the white gang in a turf war as is Nels.

This is a first-rate thriller designed to bring in the crowd that would never bother with simple revenge movies and features terrific scenery captured by Philip Øgard in the town of Kananaskis Alberta, and Fernie, Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia standing in for the Colorado ski resort. The outstanding performance from Liam Neeson should surprise no-one, yet who would have suspected that a 66-year-old actor could play through a great role as the angel of vengeance, taking down some gangsters with his bare fists?

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

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

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN – movie review

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN

A24 and DIRECTV
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Screenwriter:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Cast:  Joe Cole, Billy Moore, Preecha Vithaya, Pansrigarm, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/20/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Hurricane Films » A Prayer Before Dawn
Prisons in Norway allow even murderers to have their own rooms complete with kitchen knives and the accoutrements of middle-class living.  If you think those cells are more comfortable than the jails in Thailand, you’re just guessing, aren’t you?  To check your answer, you’ll have to see “A Prayer Before Dawn,” based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 which went on to the best-seller lists.  One might wonder whether the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand, nicknamed the “Bangkok Hilton” by people who are aware that Senator John McCain stayed for five years in the so-called Hanoi Hilton, can be brought out by the book. After all, with  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s movie, the pure physicality is in your face.  Sauvaire, whose freshman narrative feature “Johnny Mad Dog” deals with child soldiers in an African country, is the obvious man to chart the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.

The book cannot replicate the punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem, but with some imagination, the powerful writing of Billy Moore draws you into the violence you’ll see in this film.  Take for example this wording: “The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited.  That night, he slept next to a dead man.  It wouldn’t be the last.”

Sauvaire does indeed show Billy sleeping next to a dead man, who is carted off nonchalantly by the staff, and the most horrific scene does not take place in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai.  It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation.  Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.

The film does frustrate the viewer in that we don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner, but his memoir notes that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England.  That’s strange.  Would he not be better off staying in Western Europe to attack his demons?  Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.  And the masochists who indulge are lucky if the Thai promoters bother giving you a mouth guard, but I would not personally indulge even if they gave me knee pads, a helmet, a bulletproof vest, and an opponent who weighs 90 pounds.

When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and cannot even let a fellow bum a cigarette.  The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating.  Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.

This is all about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.  He converts to Islam; strange since 95% of Thais are Buddhists and most of the rest Islamic.  As principal actor Joe Cole has had prominent roles in other physical dramas, a standout being the character Reece in Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” which finds a punk rock band forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.  “A Prayer Before Dawn” shows him with mostly neutral emotional makeup, until he gets a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring.  In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is…Billy!  He looks terrific but who needs to go through the crunches and the displaced bones before being redeemed?  Outside of Joe Cole, the actors are all Thai and, I believe, mostly former prisoners. You can catch an interview with the director here: https://deadline.com/2018/03/a-prayer-before-dawn-jean-stephane-sauvaire-sxsw-interview-1202339121/

Rated R.  116 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

REVIEWS

Take Your Pills Movie Review

Photo from Take Your Pills.

Take Your Pills

TAKE YOUR PILLS
Netflix
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alison Klayman
Screenwriter: Alison Klayman
Cast: Dr. Anjan Catterjee, Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Wendy Brown, Dr. Martha J. Farah, Nicolas Rasmussen, Stephen P. Hinshaw, Eben Britton, Michael “Blue” Williams
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/14/18
Opens: March 16, 2018

The principal theme: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to focus clearly without distractions for hours on end.

In Sonnet 103 Shakespeare warns, “Were it not sinful then, striving to mend, To mar the subject that before was well?” In other words, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If only people especially in America would honor the wisdom of the Bard and instead live the way Italians do with their five weeks’ vacation, ample time for parental leave, and leisurely lunches under the Duomo in Rome! Instead we rush through salad-bar offerings at our desks and remain always wary of the competition, of the people who appear to have more drive than we do and might be on the fast track to the Executive Board (or the graveyard). This striving for perfection and productivity may have catapulted the United States to its current prosperity, but at the same time the U.S. has been judged by a reputable poll to stand only eighteenth in happiness, well behind all the Scandinavian residents.

This striving to do quicker, better, best begins for some in pre-school where parents are already pushing their four-year-olds to prepare for Harvard, but now, in college—if you believe the young women interviewed by this documentary, “Everybody does it.” Does what? Hooking up? No. Nobody mentions that but we know that ambitious college students have no time for dates and romance, so quickies will do. Everyone takes pills, probably not heroin, maybe not cocaine, but the title drug, Adderall. The drug is amazing, and in fact though director Alison Klayman—known to cinephiles most recently for her “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about the Chinese artist and activist who regularly clashes with his government—presents so much evidence for the positive effects of Adderall that despite warnings from doctors about its side effects, viewers will want to experiment.

Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) is prescribed for some, Ritalin (methylphenidate) for others, all with the purpose of treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). We probably know Ritalin because it’s being used by kids from grade school through high school because they have been reported by their teachers for fidgeting, restlessness, running around the room. Some of the parents speak to Julia Liu’s lenses with mixed feelings, worried that their youngsters would become addicted. But for academic circles, more time is given to college students, the ones who say “Everybody does it,” because there is pressure in college not to relax and have a good time but fiercely to compete with one another for the jobs in white shoe law firms, Silicon Valley, and the medical profession. Once again: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to have a clear focus with no distractions and to continue at a single task for hours on end.

We’re also aware that in professional sports, doping is de rigueur (see the Oscar-winning movie “Icarus” about Russians eliminated from competition because they’ve been stimulant positive). NFL player Eben Britton used Adderall to boost his game, and often went beyond the usual limits because of the high he received thereby sustaining multiple injuries.

If you’re a Marxist, you’re likely to blame capitalism for the special interest that New Zealand and the U.S. have in Big Pharma, as the only countries in the world to allow TV commercials for pharmaceuticals. When you’re tapping away at your computer in the office, you’re next to someone on your left and on your right who might be faster; more productive; willing and even eager to work a sixteen-hour day, so what’s a person to do to get ahead? Be like them. With sports, school, and business, with the emphasis on competing as a factor more important than relationships, with all the money we dole out for health insurance, real estate taxes, Beemers, two or three kids, who can relax? Take your pills.

Here’s one caveat: don’t think all the schoolboys and schoolgirls are killing themselves with study, soccer practice, big league sports, and the like. From my 32 years’ experience as a high-school teacher, I have found that only the academically brightest, those who get put in honors classes and who are likely to be tutored for the SAT and stay up nights studying, are pushing themselves. The others either don’t know what they’re in for when they “grow up” or do know and have simply given up.

The film is loaded with humorous animation including excerpts from “The Simpsons.”

 The major problem with the doc is that it is far more likely to encourage non-users to play up to their doctors and request scripts for Adderall than to serve as a warning, as do the movies that get shown in high schools every year talking up the side effects. The harmful effects of Adderall and Ritalin are skipped over lightly: this kid gets headaches and can’t sleep; maybe somebody’s liver is attacked and destroyed as alcohol might do. But that’s it. Just a scant few minutes in this 86-hour presentation on what’s bad, and you’re likely to skip over that and go for the pills.

Unrated. 86 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

GRINGO – movie review

GRINGO

Amazon Studios/STX Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Nash Edgerton
Screenwriter:  Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone
Cast:  Joel Edgerton, David Oyelowo, Amanda Seyfried, Charlize Theron, Yul Vazquez, Thandie Newton, Sharto Copley, Harry Treadaway
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 3/1/18
Opens: March 9, 2018

Gringo

A cartoon that appeared the other day in the New Yorker magazine online finds a husband reading the newspaper and saying to his wife, “February 29 flew by without a single mention of corruption in Washington.”  We’ve gotten so used to corruption in government since the Trump administration took over—and some of us have been around enough to know about Richard Nixon’s forced resignation—that we are no longer shocked in the slightest when the next wave of same ol’ news comes around.  Government is hardly the only agency of malfeasance: corporations have long done everything to evade a responsible watch by our representatives, but “Gringo,” which is Nash Edgerton’s new movie, shows that while  bosses finagle to line their pockets, employers are out to make financial gain by crook as well as by hook.

The venality of big business, in this case Big Pharma, covers the screen, the theme being a worthy one about the corruptibility of formerly honest people who turn crooked.  Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), treated as a friend of Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron), becomes frightfully disillusioned by listening in to captured conversations by his two employers running a company about to sell weed in pill form. With Elaine using her wiles on customers and Richard’s assuring clients of the value of his product, the two will do whatever they can to get out of their company’s financial difficulties.  Harold, a mild-mannered businessman, worries that a prospective merger of his company that would find his skills redundant, hits upon a plan.  He will fake a kidnapping in Mexico, using two dorky managers of a Mexican fleabag hotel to serve as actors.  He will shout to Richard and Elaine that he has been kidnapped by drug lords demanding $5 million in ransom and, when released will pocket the money himself and take off.

Though “Gringo” has enough twists to confuse the audience as to who is getting money from whom, the surprises are on a juvenile level.  Harold winds up actually kidnapped by a drug lord who thinks the poor guy is the real boss who knows the combination to a safe hiding the recipe for the weed.  He is turn switched from one group of bad guys to another.  The entire picture is on a level appreciated by an audience of adolescents in both age and intelligence though it features David Oyelowo who, considering his previous role as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” could feel guilty about his starring role in a movie that recycles car chases, crashes, and a surrounding group of cartoon characters.

Rated R.  110 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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