THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Written by: Tom O’Connor

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Young, Salma Hayek & Yuri Kolokolnikov

The trailers for THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD promised three things: Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, and explosions. I like Samuel L. Jackson. I like Ryan Reynolds. I also enjoy explosions. Lucky for me, THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD pretty much delivers on its promises of lots of bickering between Jackson and Reynolds, set alongside occasionally rousing action. THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is tepidly enjoyable. I wish the overall film was more entertaining and funny, but it’s okay enough for what it is.

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) was a top-tier bodyguard until one of his targets was horribly assassinated. Ever since that tragic event, Michael has been regulated to bottom-of-the-barrel bodyguard status. Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) is a hitman who’s killed well over 200 people and enjoys his violent line of work. Darius is also the only person who can put brutal Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) behind bars. Darius needs to be at a Netherlands courtroom by a certain time or the international case against Vladislav will be thrown out. A reluctantly bitter Michael is dragged into protecting Darius’ life. Together, the mismatched pair dodge bullets, get chased by cars, and scream profanity at each other. If the bad guys don’t kill them, they might just wind up killing each other…or become oddball friends. You already know how these buddy action comedies tend to work.

HITMAN’S BODYGUARD’s best quality is the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson. Both of these actors are great at generating laughs and seeing them paired together is pretty damn enjoyable by itself. Ryan Reynolds mostly serves as the straight man and his frequent agitation at the increasingly dire situation is amusing. Samuel L. Jackson spews his expectedly excessive profanity (including a constant use of “motherfucker”). Jackson also seems to be having a complete blast at this deadly, ultra-sarcastic hitman. The film even manages to milk some good character development between Reynolds and Jackson as their reluctant friendship evolves.

On the negative side of things, THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is noticeably unbalanced in its tone. Gary Oldman plays a stone-cold dictator and his introductory moment includes the brutal execution of a man’s family. In an action-comedy, this entire scene feels too bleak. The film frequently cuts to this main villain being a genocidal dictator who is accused of “ethnic cleansing.” We see photos of mass graves and this all seems mighty depressing for what’s mostly trying to be a light-hearted action comedy. Oldman’s performance is straight-faced and serious too, which certainly seems to throw a wrench into the fun factor. The script’s darker spots drastically put a damper on some of the potential enjoyment to be had.

Besides a tone that seemingly doesn’t know what it wants to be, this film also runs a tad too long in the tooth. HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is just barely under two hours long and it feels like 25 minutes could have easily been shaved off this entire experience for a tighter running time. There’s a love-interest plot between Ryan Reynolds’ character and Elodie Young’s bland Interpol agent that feels tacked on, but Penelope Cruz gets a couple of decent scenes in as Kincaid’s equally violent wife.

HITMAN’S BODYGUARD ranges in its action sequences. A few potentially exciting spots are compromised by choppy editing and shaky camera work. This mainly arrives during the opening 30 minutes and one car chase. Not every action scene is ruined by bad editing though, because there are a handful of cool bits. An early confrontation between Jackson and Reynolds is equally funny and tense as they go at it with fists and guns. There’s also a moment where Reynolds deals with a thug in a hardware store and this very violent (but oddly goofy) sequence ranks as the best fight in the entire film.

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is generic in terms of its plot and the tone seems to awkwardly shift between exciting/funny to needlessly dark/depressing. However, there’s still entertainment to be had in watching Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson play off each other in swear-filled verbal sparring matches. The action also squeezes in some cool sequences. If you’re sold on the idea of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in a buddy action-comedy, then you’ll likely have some fun with THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD. If that idea doesn’t interest you at all, then you’re not missing out on much.

Grade: C+

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Gore, Language and Nudity

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Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini & Fred Williamson

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is damn near impossible to classify into one genre. Robert Rodriguez delivers action-packed moments with adrenaline-pumping vigor that call back to the finer scenes of his Mexico trilogy. Quentin Tarantino’s snazzy dialogue supplies a ton of laughs and memorable lines that find myself quoting on a weekly basis. This crime-thriller’s first half is tense as a hostage situation becomes a bit of an oddball bonding experience. This horror-comedy’s second half delivers gore-soaked mayhem and the ugliest vampires you’ve ever seen. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN may not be the best vampire film ever made, but it’s definitely my favorite vampire movie!

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Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are fugitive brothers heading for Mexico. In an effort to avoid the cops, the screwed-up siblings take an RV-driving family hostage. Ex-pastor Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), his daughter Katherine (Juliette Lewis) and son Scott (Ernest Liu) reluctantly cooperate with the Gecko brothers and wait for a morning rendezvous at secluded strip club “The Titty Twister.” What appears to be a tense hostage situation winds down with alcohol and then transforms into a gory fight for survival as the Titty Twister staff reveal themselves to be hungry vampires who feed on bikers and truckers. With hundreds of bloodthirsty monsters craving a snack, the Gecko brothers, the Fuller family and a few other survivors barricade themselves inside the strip club and try to live through the night!

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FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is a great party movie. The first half plays like a tense crime-thriller and the second half is a crazy horror-comedy, but the sense of fun remains constant through the entire running time. The film unloads its full bloody potential as soon as the vampire strippers pop up midway through, but that doesn’t lessen the first half by any stretch of the imagination. If nothing else, DUSK’s first half devotes time to developing the colorful characters before they are thrown into a fanged fray. This makes certain deaths more satisfying or sad, because we’ve come to either despise or love these people for the scumbags/badasses they are.

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George Clooney is clearly having a blast in his first major Hollywood role as the charismatic, dangerous Seth Gecko. Clooney’s presence helps sell big goofy fun mixed with 100% cool confidence. Acting alongside him is a creepy Quentin Tarantino in a very disturbing role, which is further amplified by the fact that he also wrote the screenplay and was totally cool with acting like a perverted lunatic…as long as he got to touch some feet. Tarantino gets both laughs and cringes in equal measure as unhinged psycho sibling Richie. Harvey Keitel is great as a ex-pastor who finds his faith tested in a way he never imagined and Juliette Lewis makes the most of her role as his rebellious daughter. Meanwhile, Ernest Liu doesn’t really do much as Keitel’s inexplicably Chinese son (never explained, but I assume he’s adopted).

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The supporting characters don’t show up until the crew step through the Titty Twister doors. Tom Savini is more than memorable as the aptly named Sex Machine, equipped with an unforgettable weapon. Former football player/martial artist/Blaxploitation star Fred Williamson is absolutely badass as Frost, a Vietnam vet who’s more than prepared to take on a few vampires. Speaking of which, the vamps themselves feature some recognizable faces. Danny Trejo does his usual thing as a scowling bartender. Selma Hayek is sexy as hell as show-stopping stripper Santanico Pandemonium. Cheech Marin shows up in three different roles (one of which is a vampire bouncer who’s not above some cheesy puns).

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The script is not without a few inconsistencies (Keitel’s priest’s so-so struggle with faith and varying amounts of screen time in the vampire transformations), but the sense of gory entertainment and high energy pretty much make up for the narrative problems. The practical effects are outstanding, while most of the CGI (mainly bats and melting bodies) is intentionally cheesy and kept to a minimum. The kills range in creativity, with truly inventive weapons being used and cool vampire demises. Hearts are ripped out, tables are used as improvised stakes, holy water comes into play, etc. DUSK’s vampires are among the ugliest that I’ve seen, resembling snakes, rats, and bats.

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FROM DUSK TILL DAWN may not be the smartest vampire story (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN probably takes that title) or the most technically well-made bloodsucker flick, but it remains my favorite vampire movie for its sarcastic sense of humor, colorful characters, insane gory fun, and sheer entertainment. When I see this film airing on TV, I always find myself watching it to the end like an unwritten personal rule. It’s a bloody blast from start to finish and cannot be clearly lumped thrown into one genre. Look at that director/writer team! Look at that premise! Look at the cast! Look at those effects! What’s not to love?

Grade: A-

SAUSAGE PARTY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, and Drug Use

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Directed by: Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon

Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir

Voices of: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Conrad Vernon & Scott Underwood

At the tail-end of an underwhelming summer movie season and in a year that’s been filled with depressing events, SAUSAGE PART comes as a hilarious breath of fresh air. Besides being the first R-rated computer-animated feature, SAUSAGE PARTY is probably the filthiest comedy I’ve ever seen. While driving home from the movie theater, I was trying to think of a movie or TV show that reached the same level of this film’s raunchy extremes…and I honestly didn’t have a single title come to mind. SOUTH PARK, TEAM AMERICA and DRAWN TOGETHER all seem slightly tame by comparison. This animated comedy for adults is surprisingly smart, while also serving as a pitch-perfect spoof of Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks.

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Shopwell’s is a supermarket populated by all brands of foods, who worship shoppers as “gods” and eagerly await to be chosen for “the great beyond.” Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage who desperately wants to be with his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Luckily, they’ve been thrown into the same shopping cart and their dreams are finally coming true. When an unexpected spill occurs, Frank and Brenda are left stranded in the store…outside of their packages. Along with a Muslim lavash (David Krumholtz), a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton), and a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek), Frank and Brenda make the perilous journey back to their aisle…as a villainous Douche stalks them. To complicate matters, Frank discovers the horrible truth about the humans.

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I walked into SAUSAGE PARTY expecting an absurd amount of profanity (it’s definitely there, but never to a distracting degree), food carnage (there’s plenty of that) and stoner jokes (which only filled two major scenes). This comedy goes to the extreme and delivers on different types of humor, all while giving a huge middle finger to easily offended viewers. Like some of the best comedic material out there (ala SOUTH PARK), nothing is off limits. Religion, race, sexual orientation, graphic violence, tons of swearing and (to a much more innocent degree) plenty of puns are utilized throughout the running time. Expect to be shocked and grossed out, but also prepare to laugh a lot!

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SAUSAGE PARTY’s script goes into unexpectedly clever, very dark places. What was especially shocking is the film’s mostly well-executed message about community. Though the not-so-subtle social commentary isn’t quite up to the level of the intelligence in something like SOUTH PARK, it’s refreshing to see a filthy R-rated comedy use its filth to aid the plot as opposed to mere shock value. Be assured though, there’s plenty of hilariously perverse material packed into the short running time. Food carnage only makes up a mere portion of the smorgasbord of laughs that can’t be unseen.

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Besides delivering in its story and jokes, SAUSAGE PARTY is also very well-made. The animation is colorful and vibrant, which makes every swear word, sexual innuendo, disgusting sex act and bit of graphic violence that much funnier to watch. SAUSAGE PARTY nailed the look of an innocent children’s film and then took a hard turn into adult-only territory. A talented cast of big names enliven the anthropomorphic food and hungry humans. Even smaller characters manage to make memorable impressions on the viewer.

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Seth Rogen’s Frank is a headstrong hero looking for the truth behind his existence. Kristen Wiig’s Brenda is a bun trying to hold on to her optimistic beliefs and serves as an enjoyable enough love-interest, though a couple of her jokes fall flat. Michael Cera’s deformed sausage Barry serves as a side character in his own highly entertaining subplot. Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Craig Robinson, and Bill Hader all make the most out of purposely laughable stereotypes. Nick Kroll is a big highlight as Douche with a typical douchey attitude (excessively saying “bro”). Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and plenty of other notable comedic performers also lend their voices to the film in smaller parts.

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SAUSAGE PARTY feels like someone watched a bunch of Pixar movies, watched Wienerschnitzel’s old Delicious One commercials, smoked a ton of pot and then decided to make a children’s film geared towards adults. It’s a hilarious time that serves as one of the biggest highlights in a rather lackluster summer movie season and a fantastically entertaining distraction from depressing real-life events. The writing is also far smarter than you might expect, especially for a movie that revolves around a sausage running away from hungry humans. This is easily Seth Rogen’s funniest movie since KNOCKED UP and probably the filthiest comedy I’ve ever seen. If this sounds like something you’d like, I highly recommend SAUSAGE PARTY…just leave the kids at home.

Grade: A

CHAIN OF FOOLS (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Pontus Lowenhielm & Patrick von Krusenstjerna

Written by: Bix Skahill

Starring: Steve Zahn, Salma Hayek, Jeff Goldblum, David Cross, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, David Hyde Pierce, Kevin Corrigan, Orlando Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle & Craig Ferguson

Slapstick humor, witty dialogue, bullets and ancient Chinese coins all come together in CHAIN OF FOOLS. Utilizing a style that’s more than a little reminiscent of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, this directorial debut was dumped into a handful of theaters upon its release and then found slightly more success in other countries. There a lot of qualities to enjoy in this under-the-radar, oddball heist comedy. These include: an ensemble cast of quirky characters, clever intersecting storylines, plenty of goofy laughs, and a catchy alternative rock soundtrack. It may have a few noticeable flaws, but CHAIN OF FOOLS is a blast of dark laughs, unique characters and smart plot twists.

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Thomas Kresk (Steve Zahn) is a down-on-his luck barber, whose life drastically changes when shady criminal Avnet (Jeff Goldblum) walks into his shop and a simple haircut doesn’t go as planned for both the criminal and the barber. With the aid of his best friend Andy (David Cross), a mentally unhinged scout leader, Kresk finds himself in possession of three rare Chinese coins that are worth a fortune. Things get more complicated when a poorly educated gangster (Kevin Corrigan) enters the picture, along with corrupt rich guy Bollingsworth (Tom Wilkinson), teenage hitman Mikey (Elijah Wood), and sexy cop/Playboy model Kolko (Salma Hayek). Soon enough, Kresk and Andy find their get-rich-quick scheme is going up in smoke and will be lucky to make it out alive…let alone with the coins in hand.

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CHAIN’s main draw comes from the titular fools themselves, as portrayed by a large ensemble cast of big names and familiar faces. As Kresk, Steven Zahn is playing his usual typecast lovable loser…except with a bad mullet and barber jacket. Jeff Goldblum is clearly having a blast as straight-faced, twitchy Avnet and effortlessly steals the spotlight from the other cast members around him. Part of the reason that Goldblum winds up with so many good laughs is that he plays his part seriously, while everyone around him is goofing off like there’s no end. It’s like throwing a GODFATHER character into a wacky spoof and simply witnessing what follows.

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Even though Goldblum makes off like a bandit with a bag full of scenes, David Cross steals most of the show as borderline psychotic, socially awkward timber scout Andy. Cross frequently had me laughing and small details about his character get funnier the more I think about them. On a slightly lesser note, Tom Wilkinson is too exaggerated as Bollingsworth, while Elijah Wood’s angsty teenage hitman Mikey receives a few memorable moments. Salma Hayek is essentially playing the bland romantic interest and occasionally makes her way into other scenes as her clueless detective slowly gets close to the truth. David Hyde Pierce shows up for two minutes as Bollingsworth’s personal assistant, while Orlando Jones seems wasted as a transvestite caught up in the illegal proceedings.

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CHAIN OF FOOLS keeps itself interesting through a non-linear narrative that frequently takes us from one character to another and then back and forth in time. There are flashbacks within flashbacks, but these sudden shifts aren’t necessarily hard to follow. The film packs a lot of plotlines and characters into slightly over 90 minutes, so there’s never a dull moment…even if the main story can seem a tad cluttered. Indeed, some of this movie’s laughs are a direct result of flashbacks and reveals that slowly lay out the comical details of a character’s past. One of the film’s funniest scenes was a well-executed flashback that served as a big long visual joke. Even though the jumbled timeline seems integral to its charm, CHAIN OF FOOLS would likely remain just as entertaining if it were told in a straightforward manner. It’s a well-written movie that occasionally reaches beyond its grasp.

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In addition to feeling slightly overcrowded, CHAIN OF FOOLS has a lot of style, one might argue a bit too much. These “cool” details include: cartoony sound effects (lending to the over-the-top slapstick), title cards that introduce each main character with a tagline, and narration from Zahn’s bad barber. A couple of these touches (mainly the overuse of sound effects and title cards that add nothing to the story) seem a bit forced and awkward, detracting from some of the enjoyment packed into the fast-paced 98 minutes. Still, the pros far outweigh the cons in this quirky crime-comedy. The writing is clever. The characters are unique. It’s an all-around entertaining, funny film in the vein of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. If that sounds up your alley, then CHAIN OF FOOLS will likely satisfy your cinematic craving.

Grade: B

TALE OF TALES (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Nudity, some Violence and Bloody Images

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Directed by: Matteo Garrone

Written by: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone & Massimo Gaudioso

(based on the PENTAMERONE by Giambattista Basile)

Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave & Christian Lees

Three Italian fairy tales serve as source material for director/writer Matteo Garrone’s beautifully grim English-language debut TALE OF TALES. Despite its whimsical sense of imagination, this fantasy is strictly for adults only as lots of gruesome violence and seedy sex are prevalent in the seemingly simple storylines. This is an anthology, so I will briefly review each tale on its own merits before summing up my thoughts on the film as a whole. What remains consistent through all three tales are breathtaking production values and stunning visuals. Lots of real Italian castles and unique locations were used throughout the filming process. The atmosphere of TALES is a brilliant mix of whimsical humor and dark violence throughout. Without further ado, I’ll make my way onto the tales themselves…

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THE QUEEN: In the kingdom of Darkwood, a selfish Queen (played by a remarkably cold Selma Hayek) only wishes for a child and shows absolutely no affection towards her husband (John C. Reilly in an unusually straight-faced role). When a mysterious necromancer arrives at the castle, the royal couple are given a magical alternative method of conceiving. As with most morality tales, things don’t quite go according to plan. This story takes a few enjoyably dark twists and turns as it goes along. It seemed like multiple fairy tales were combined into a single tale and somehow didn’t overwhelm the narrative. The conclusion leaves a bit to be desired though, because it comes and goes so quickly that the viewer is left scratching their head. The lack of a solid ending slightly diminished what might have otherwise been the best story in this anthology. B

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THE FLEA: In the kingdom of Highmountain, a quirky King (Toby Jones) becomes fascinated by a flea that grows to enormous size. Meanwhile, princess Violet (Bebe Cave) longs to get married and see the world outside her father’s walls. Little does she know that her father’s obsession with the gigantic parasite will offer her a way out of the castle, but not in a “happily ever after” way. This fairy tale is my favorite of the three. It perfectly balances the mixture of fantasy and horror that the movie seemed to be aiming for. This segment constantly shifts as the narrative becomes darker, but also manages to maintain a PRINCESS BRIDE sense of whimsy. Though Toby Jones is great as the borderline insane King, the best performance comes from fresh-faced Bebe Cave as Violet. She’s a cross between Disney princess and slasher final girl, which is a winning combination in my book. If the other two stories had measured up to this tale’s quality, then TALE OF TALES would be a potential masterpiece. A

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THE TWO OLD WOMEN: In the kingdom of Stronghold, the lustful King (played by a wonderfully smarmy Vincent Cassel) tries to quench his sexual appetite through countless orgies and one night stands. He may have finally found a future Queen when he hears lovely singing from a nearby cottage. The beautiful voice actually belongs to one of two elderly sisters. This would-be romance (in which the King attempts to woo his love through a wooden door) results in trickery and abuse between the sisters…and there’s also a bit of magic involved. I love the ideas behind this story, but feel that a couple of important scenes were missing. This is especially true of the final moments. While the ending itself is a perfect way to cap off this dark fairy tale, there were a couple of incomplete scenes before it arrived. The occasionally distracting jumps in narrative keep this story from being as stellar as THE FLEA. As a result, this is the second-best of the three tales. B+

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As you might have guessed from the plot descriptions, you’ll want to keep the kiddies away from these cinematic fairy tales. If you’re hungering for a fantasy that contains dark themes, morality tales, creatively horrific visuals, and a sense of wonder, TALE OF TALES will more than likely satisfy your craving. The special effects, visuals, and acting are great and I never quite knew where these twisted fairy tales were heading, in spite of their familiar set-ups. Though a couple of narrative stumbles that keep it from perfection, TALE OF TALES is a wonderfully weird creation that should satisfy fantasy and horror fans in equal measure!

Grade: B+

SAVAGES (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal and Grisly Violence, some Graphic Sexuality, Nudity, Drug Use and Language throughout

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Directed by: Oliver Stone

Written by: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow & Oliver Stone

(based on the novel SAVAGES by Don Winslow)

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro & John Travolta

SAVAGES sounds like it has all the makings of a stellar crime-thriller. Controversial director Oliver Stone is behind the camera and using ingredients of drugs, violence and gangsters all blended into a film that could have and should have been great. In a sad turn of events, SAVAGES is not great. It’s not even good. Instead, this is an utter disappointment that suffers from a mixed bag cast of characters and messy pacing in spite of stylish sensibilities. This is a basic, run-of-the-mill kidnapping thriller.

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Chon and Ben are two dope-dealing best friends who share the same girlfriend, Ophelia. A particularly unique type of marijuana has turned these up-and-coming dealers into wealthy criminals. Ben handles the peaceful business side of things, while Chon takes care of the violence that occasionally arises in their highly illegal line of work. Meanwhile, Ophelia doesn’t do much except for smoking weed, having sex and lying around in the sun. When Ben and Chon are approached by the cartel and a highly questionable business deal goes bad, Ophelia is kidnapped by cartel leader Elena and vicious enforcer Lado. Together, Chon and Ben must use their brains and brawn to take down the crazed cartel and save their mutual girlfriend.

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The cast of characters is a combination of good and bad. Benicio Del Toro is great as Lado, a fearless thug who delights in every single one of his sick actions. John Travolta also gives one of his better performances of the last few years as a crooked DEA agent. Even though he’s a minor character in the grand scheme of things, Travolta adds much-needed talent to this movie. Selma Hayek is only okay as Elena. She is an intimidating villainess at points in the film, but there’s also a forced attempt to flesh out her character as a loving mother struggling to have a relationship with her daughter. At least, Hayek’s cartel leader has far more development than any of the three protagonists. Taylor Kitsch comes off as a bland tough guy and Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays laughably silly hippie. Meanwhile, Blake Lively doesn’t do much save for play a damsel in distress, look pretty and give an irritating voice over throughout the film. The stuff she’s describing is happening right before our eyes too, so there’s really no need for it to begin with.

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Oliver Stone directs SAVAGES with style and a slick look. There are definitely well-executed scenes on display, but they’re bogged down with pacing that drags for too long before arriving at any of the exciting stuff. Since the characters aren’t well-developed to begin with, that leaves us with almost an hour of screen time before Ophelia even gets kidnapped. By the time that happens, one might expect the film to pick up drastically. You would be wrong, because the action scenes and revenge moments are few and far between. There’s an appropriately savage vibe to the violence on display (things get gory and downright brutal) which is a good thing given what this story is about. However, the conclusion is a huge cop-out! This felt like an ending that cheated the viewer in every possible way. The final moments are dishonest and out-of-place.

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SAVAGES might have been a great, rip-roaring thriller if it had the right script and cast behind it. Instead, this comes off like a pretty standard by-the-numbers B-flick that underwhelms. Style, gruesome violence, a few good scenes as well as Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta aren’t enough to save this film from mediocre writing, a really stupid ending, poor characters, and bland performances. SAVAGES is strictly a middle-of-the-road effort.

Grade: C

DOGMA (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language including Sex-Related Dialogue, Violence, Crude Humor and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith & George Carlin

When one thinks of Kevin Smith, the first thoughts are probably dick jokes and iconic stoner pals: Jay and Silent Bob. DOGMA has those, but it also has a lot more than I initially expected. After years of this flick being recommended by friends, I thought this was going to be Kevin Smith skewing religion with his usually dirty sense of humor. Instead, DOGMA comes off as a sort of fantasy comedy that is both funny and oddly sweet. The content might border on offensive (the image of Buddy Christ has become a meme by now), but it also has a super rare quality of being so clever and creative that it should please both skeptics and believers. DOGMA is one of Smith’s best films.

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Bethany Sloane seems like the last person God would call on to take a holy pilgrimage. Bethany goes to church purely out of habit, but has little faith in God. To be even more ironic, she works at an abortion clinic. Nevertheless, Metatron (the voice of God) informs her that she is go on a quest that all existence hinges on. Thanks to a recent loophole, two fallen angels (Loki and Bartleby) might have found a way back into heaven and it’s up to Bethany to stop them from reaching the gateway in New Jersey (of all places). Aided by the black unknown thirteenth apostle, the stripper Serendipity, and two prophets (Jay and Silent Bob), Bethany races against time to stop these two fallen angels from ruining all of existence.

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DOGMA is a crazy movie that manages to be sweet, silly, and crude all at the same time. The plot is extremely detailed, throwing in lots of mythological figures and Catholic beliefs together for a wild ride. Seeing as this is ultimately about a reluctant heroine hired by the voice of God to stop two evil angels, you might expect some violence, but DOGMA has more than its fair share of that. This film can be pretty bloody at points and Smith never once loses the sense to keep everything light-hearted.

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The film is loaded with a strong cast given colorful roles. Bethany (Linda Florentino) is a surprisingly compelling lead and one of the stronger heroines I’ve seen in a film of this type. Of course, there’s Jay and Silent Bob as main characters this time around. These are arguably the funniest moments of Jay and Silent Bob in the View Askewniverse (a fictional universe that also holds the CLERKS films and MALLRATS). Then there’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon playing Bartleby and Loki. The pair play well off each other and that should come as no surprise given their film history at that point. These two make for some interesting villains as they aren’t necessarily all-out bad guys. They do kill people, but there are stipulations (they have to be semi-serious sinners) and there’s real motivation as to why they’d want to return to heaven (that doesn’t involve destroying the universe). Chris Rock is funny as the thirteenth apostle, Salma Hayek is a tad underused as Serendipity, and the same goes for Jason Lee as a demon. The big stand-outs (at least for me) are a sarcastic Alan Rickman as the voice of God and George Carlin in the side role as a business-driven Cardinal.

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The film does feel a little long and this is primarily due to a couple of unneeded scenes that were almost as if Kevin Smith was working backwards from the cool story he had built. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the inclusion of a poop monster. This scene served next to no purpose and supplied more than all of the potty humor the film needed. The frantic details being thrown at the viewer in the opening might be a little hard to follow, but everything connects and makes sense as the rest of the film plays out. I was surprised at how well Smith executed emotional scenes, including one stand-out moment before the final third starts. This scene didn’t feel like it even came from Smith and that’s a huge compliment, because it was absent of humor and had a touching side to it. It only served to make the rest of the film more entertaining and interesting.

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The biggest accomplishment that DOGMA pulls off is that it’s a fantastic comedy that should please both atheists and the religious (at least, those with a sense of humor) for similar reasons. It pokes fun at the mythology and beliefs of religion, but also doesn’t condemn it. This is a well-written film that ranks as one of Kevin Smith’s best works. Those afraid that DOGMA is sacrilegious should have their fears put to rest. Smith addresses that concern early on by pointing out that God clearly has a sense of humor. Just look at sex and the platypus.

Grade: A-

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action, Rude Humor and some Language

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Directed by: Peter Lord

Written by: Gideon Defoe

(based on the novel THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS by Gideon Defoe)

Voices of: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jenson, Al Roker

Aardman Animation has become known for their acclaimed and highly successful stop motion shorts. They made their feature debut in 2000 with CHICKEN RUN. That film played out like THE GREAT ESCAPE with poultry and played out as a one-joke film. It was a decent first effort, but Aardman really hit their stride with WALLACE & GROMT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT which stands as one of my personal favorite animated films ever made. The studio went on to do a couple of computer-animated efforts, but THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is their third Claymation feature. For some reason, this movie just didn’t resonate as well with American audiences as it did with our friends across the pond. It’s really a shame, because PIRATES! is pretty friggin’ great. It’s a piece of animation that will keep kids’ eyes on the screen from the sheer colorful visuals, but also throws in tons of jokes that only adults will understand.

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The year is 1837 and the British navy has control of the open sea with one exception. Pirates sail, plunder and pillage wherever they so desire. Many pirates are fearsome, intimidating foes, but this cannot be said of the Pirate Captain. Eager to prove his seaworthiness to his peers, the Pirate Captain aims to win the Pirate of the Year award by getting the most booty that he can, but he’s inept in nearly every way possible. After hijacking Charles Darwin’s ship, the Pirate Captain discovers that his crew’s beloved parrot Polly isn’t actually a parrot. The feathery friend is actually the last living dodo. Trekking into London to win the prize that comes with the Scientist of the Year award, the crew make their way to London in disguise and hijinks ensue.

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Unabashedly silly at every turn and clever in more ways than you might initially expect, THE PIRATES! is a beautifully animated family friendly adventure. Most kids may not understand a good portion of the jokes, but I’m reminded of how well MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN did this year and that film relied on tons of history jokes that only adults would recognize. It’s a colorful tale of swashbuckling seadogs that also happens to have brains, hard work put into it, and heart. There is a moral lesson being told (mainly about realizing who your true friends are and not taking them for granted), but it’s not done in a sloppy overly cheesy way. It just happens to be where things are ultimately heading and it certainly helps that lots of laughs populate the trip.

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Plenty of familiar voices can be heard from the mouths of these Claymation pirates and other characters. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain and this is the only animated film role in his career thus far. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins from THE HOBBIT) is Captain’s trusty second-in-command, while David Tennant (who most know from DOCTOR WHO) is wonderful as Charles Darwin. Despite being in her late 50’s, Imelda Staunton is great as the villainous Queen Victoria who has more than a few skeletons in her closest. Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin (if you’re watching the US version) and Brendan Gleeson have rather thankless roles, but are cool appearances nonetheless.

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I find myself thinking about certain moments from this movie in between long periods of not watching it and make references to friends who have seen it. There’s certainly a rewatchability factor to this film. I originally saw it in theaters and bought it the week it hit DVD. I’ve since viewed it about half a dozen times. It’s great fun. While it may be absolutely hysterical for adults, I can imagine certain age groups being completely lost during this movie. References to Jane Austen, the Elephant Man, and the inclusion of Charles Darwin as a central character might throw people for the loop. There’s a very British sense of humor around the whole film. If you like WALLACE & GROMIT, Monty Python, or any of the Cornetto trilogy (the latter two are admittedly more R-rated than kiddie fare), then you’ll probably dig THE PIRATES! a lot. There are a few misses in certain jokes and the movie just breezes by at a breakneck pace (almost too fast). The running times is about 80 minutes not counting the credits. All things taken into consideration, this is on the higher scale of family films of which there have been many recent good ones.

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THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is based on the first entry in a series of children’s books and it’s a pity that there won’t be any follow-ups in the future. This is the definition of an overlooked gem. As the years pass, I’ll remember this film fondly with the likes of THE IRON GIANT, RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, and THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. It’s not necessarily a mainstream hit and it will never be. This is the closest thing that you’re likely to get to a Monty Python family film and enjoy it on those merits alone. Subversive, witty, and all-around ridiculous, THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS comes highly recommended! If you haven’t seen it, then do so as soon as you can. If you have, then it’s high time to revisit it. This is the kind of film that only gets the funnier the more you watch it.

Grade: A-

GROWN UPS (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Material including Suggestive References, Language and some Male Rear Nudity

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Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Written by: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Blake Clark & Steve Buscemi

Adam Sandler has easily become one of the most picked-on figures in Hollywood. It seems like I’m jumping on the band wagon by turning Sandler into a punching bag, but I originally liked this comedian. HAPPY GILMORE, BIG DADDY, and ANGER MANAGEMENT are probably my favorite films that Sandler has been involved in as a comedic actor, but the man can also really act in serious roles too (see PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). It’s absolutely infuriating to see Sandler rely on lowest common denominator humor and phone in damn near every movie he’s been involved with in the last decade. Who thought JACK & JILL (ranked one of the worst movies of all time) was a good idea? How about THAT’S MY BOY (also ranked one of the worst movies of all time) or BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (which Adam co-wrote)? GROWN UPS is no exception. It’s not that the film is out-and-out unwatchable, but rather that it’s bland beyond belief and plays out more like a horrible feature-length episode of a bad sitcom.

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The so-called story of GROWN UPS revolves around a group of childhood friends reuniting for a weekend of fun after their old basketball coach dies. That’s the whole plot in a nutshell. Each friend has their own separate issues, some more than others, and the tone can’t seem to make up its mind about either being sappy family friendly film or a gross-out affair. The really awful thing about either one of these is that they both feel forced. It’s all been-there done-that humor. Plenty of jokes involving bad hair (courtesy of Rob Schneider), sex with old women (also courtesy of Schneider), farts, breast milk being drunken by a four-year-old child, and somebody getting hurt with no real repercussions. Comedy is a subjective art form, but everything here has been done to death in previous films or is at the level of a Junior High kid’s sense of humor.

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One thing I kept thinking while watching GROWN UPS was about the lack of continuity in the story. It played out more like a series of SNL skits that were all thrown together in a single movie. A webisode format on the official Happy Madison website would have been a more effective way of getting these scenes out (although the material would still be just as lame). What’s even more insulting to the viewer is that everything feels half-assed as far as this being a full-length movie. Some inherent conflicts are set up between a couple of characters and then resolved about two minutes later. A skillfully crafted film might exploit these potential sub-plots for all they were worth and make a coherent plot around it of sorts. Not GROWN UPS and not Adam Sandler, he’s far more concerned about getting back to slow-motion scenes of David Spade falling face-first into a cow turd (not only seen once, but twice).

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The cardinal sin with GROWN UPS is that it doesn’t seem like anybody’s putting any real effort into being funny. It’s a comedy without laughs or a story to speak of. I have a theory that this was all a ruse set up as an excuse for the Happy Madison crew to hang out. The viewer is paying the price for to watch some of these admittedly funny (in the right roles) actors just phone it in. This includes everybody, even an underused Maya Rudolph (seen in a brief part in MACGRUBER with far more laughs than this film) and even more underused Steve Buscemi (appearing for three scenes total). When the movie tries to be sentimental is when it really goes down, because it showed a brief promise that there could have been a decent story inside of GROWN UPS. It all seems like a rushed, phoned in, forced, and false comedy on every affront.

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GROWN UPS wasn’t funny in the slightest. It would have been right at home as a bad TV movie on NBC complete with a laugh track, because everything is just so tame and lame. Some of the crude material gives it the PG-13 rating (mainly due to the disgusting breast milk scenes), but it’s just not anything new or remotely entertaining. Most of the devoted followers of Adam Sandler claim that the hatred for him is unneeded, but Sandler used to be funny and he isn’t anymore. I didn’t think some of his earlier work was good (e.g. BILLY MADISON), but things like HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY entertained me. As he’s progressed in his (unfortunately) successful career, Sandler has become content with playing it easy.

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The jokes in GROWN UPS are obvious, forced, or just plain lame. There’s no story to the film and nobody’s trying with this material. It’s one of the worst comedies I’ve seen in the past five years and the hatred for Sandler is very much warranted if this is the kind of crap he’ll keep pumping out. GROWN UPS is a waste of everybody’s time with the possible exception of the all-star cast. They probably got paid handsomely for their farts.

Grade: D-

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