Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Movie Review: "The Witches" (2020)

Movie poster for the HBO Max original film "The Witches," starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci
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Movie"The Witches"
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Year: 2020
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Roald Dahl was a writer who made numerous fantastical children's tales with a slightly darker edge. He produced classic stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJames and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. FoxThe BFG, and the book on which this film is based, his 1983 novel The Witches. The story was adapted once before by director Nicolas Roeg in 1990, and that incarnation featured Jim Henson's creepy practical visual effects. That version of the story was not beloved when it was released, but it has amassed a cult following over the decades. 30 years have passed since the release of that film, and since Hollywood struggles to do anything original, it was almost inevitable that we would see a remake come to life. This time around, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis puts his spin on Roald Dahl's The Witches (2020)...and he does so by injecting it with his love for baby-boomer nostalgia. Seriously, should we be surprised at this point? After all, what's a Robert Zemeckis film without a couple of feel-good golden oldies on the soundtrack? Zemeckis combines elements from both the book and the 1990 movie but has relocated the setting from Norway and England to 1968 Chicago and Alabama in the good old US-of-A because apparently, Americans can only relate to Americans. Joining Zemeckis as co-writers are Kenya Barris (of Black-ish and Girls Trip fame) and Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro.

Octavia Spencer and Jahzir Bruno star in the movie Roald Dahl's The Witches
Octavia Spencer and Jahzir Bruno star in the movie Roald Dahl's The Witches (Image provided by Warner Bros.)

We were excited about the prospect of a remake of The Witches (2020), especially considering the cast and crew involved here. We love Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci, and we've enjoyed Anne Hathaway's work more often than not. Guillermo del Toro is one of our favorite writers/directors. If you need someone to incorporate horror-centered elements into your script, del Toro is the guy for you. I have always enjoyed Black-ish, and Girls Trip was a hilarious surprise. Robert Zemeckis has always been on the cusp of cinematic innovation, and he has been singlehandedly responsible for some of the most iconic films of all time (the Back to the Future franchise, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). We figured this trio would combine their expertise and bring something fresh and spooky to the world of Roald Dahl's The Witches. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

The Witches (2020) centers on an unnamed orphan boy (Jahzir Bruno) and his Grandma (Octavia Spencer), who takes him in after his parents are killed. One of the differences right off the bat is that this version attempts to explore the grief the boy experiences when he loses his parents, though this is done in the most shallow way possible. Seriously, it's eye-rollingly saccharine. It may have been better to take the earlier approach of not addressing the grief stage at all. As we mentioned, the film now takes place in the post-Jim Crow South. Given this immense change in location and era, we figured Zemeckis and co. would use it as an opportunity to address the racial inequality of the Civil Rights-era South. After all, del Toro and Barris are not strangers to confronting racism head-on in their other works. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Witches (2020) offers what amounts to a highly idealized version of late 60s-early 70s Alabama. The closest it comes to addressing this is the staff at the plantation-style hotel where the boy and Grandma visit, which is comprised almost entirely of people of color, while the majority of the guests are white. The bellboys are shocked to see Grandma and the boy show up as hotel guests, and nary a word of it is spoken after that. We shouldn't be surprised, considering Zemeckis has sort of built his career on altering history to make it "happier." It felt like a massively missed opportunity. The disconnect is too glaring to ignore, and it speaks to the greater issue at hand: the script doesn't know what it wants to be. It wants to be a reimagining, but about 85% of it is identical to previous versions of the story, and the changes that are made only add confusion and contrivances. Some elements of the narrative are left unexplained or only exist because they are needed as plot devices. One example is Grandma's mystery cough. In the 1990 version of the film, her cough is the reason she and her grandson go to the hotel in the first place, so she can take in the sea air to calm it. Another example is the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) having one toe on each foot. The defining characteristic of a witch is that they have no toes, and the only reason the Grand High Witch has them in this version comes back around later in the story unnecessarily. And speaking of Grandma and the Grand High Witch, most of the acting falls between "good" and "passable." Anne Hathaway's wacky Slavic-esque accent is all over the place. Her version of the Grand High Witch is over-the-top, to say the least. Though it might all be intentional, it was hard to focus on the film once she showed up because she was so hammy. Octavia Spencer does a good job but doesn't have much to work with.

Robert Zemeckis has always been a director who uses exciting, new technology to help tell his stories. We had hoped Zemeckis might combine the latest CGI technology with practical effects for optimum creepiness, and as a nod to the original film, which used puppets and special effects from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Wrong again. While there are some practical effects used here, Zemeckis leans heavily on the usage of CGI for most of the film, including the animals, the transformation scenes, and even for the arms, faces, and fingers of the witches. More often than not, the visual effects wind up looking cartoonish and painfully unrealistic.

Anne Hathaway stars as the Grand High Witch in "The Witches" (2020)
Anne Hathaway stars as the Grand High Witch in The Witches (2020) (Image provided by Warner Bros.)
The Witches (2020) is not intolerable, but it's a glossy, more mellowed-out, more Hollywood version of Roald Dahl's story, which we're sure is wickeder than this incarnation. It wants to be a film everyone can identify with, but the script lacks the conviction to dive into the hard-hitting issue of racial inequality despite being set in the not-so-far-off-1960s. It wants to be a dark fantasy adventure, but its heavy reliance on CGI makes it look overly goofy and not at all frightening. It does the bare minimum to keep kids engaged, and we think parents will be bored out of their gourds watching it. As hard as she tries, Anne Hathaway is not Anjelica Huston, a key component of why the original film was as successful as it was. We think it'd be best to stick with the version from 1990, which is more relatable and still holds up today.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: ~5.4/10
RT Rating: ~49%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Movie Review: "A Feral World" (2020)

Movie poster for the 2020 film "A Feral World"
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Movie"A Feral World"
Director: David Liban
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

The "post-apocalypse" genre has been a favorite for big-budget studios and independent filmmakers for decades. Maybe it's because using abandoned, dilapidated buildings and limitless desert landscapes make for relatively inexpensive film shoots. Maybe it's because vast tundras devoid of people make excellent cinematic eye candy. Perhaps, it's a little of both. Over the past few years, we have seen numerous small-scale, human-centered stories told in post-apocalyptic settings, including "It Comes at Night" (2017), "The Road" (2009), and "Cargo" (2018). "A Feral World" (2020) also attempts to do the same. The film is written and directed by David Liban, a film professor at CU Denver's College of Arts and Media, who clearly made the movie on a shoestring budget. It was shot over several years. We believe this had more to do with the previously mentioned budget restrictions rather than it being a conscious "Boyhood"-esque artistic choice, but who knows. Liban manages to weave the time delays into his story to his advantage, making it seem intentional as the child actors age in real-time. The story centers on a young boy named Sonny (Caleb Liban, the director's son), who has been orphaned during a global fallout. He soon pairs up with a woman named Emma (Danielle Prall), who has been searching for her daughter, who was abducted from their home during the dissolution of society. Together, they must help each other survive long enough to figure out where Emma's daughter may have been taken.

Caleb Liban and Danielle Prall in "A Feral World"
Caleb Liban and Danielle Prall in "A Feral World." (Image Source)
The apocalypse in "A Feral World" (2020) seems that it was caused by technology gone awry. Tiny, flesh-eating, building-destroying nano-bots appear on-screen as a swarm of insects that look as though they've been yanked straight out of a poorly CGI-ed "made for sci-fi channel movie" or some tech-savvy child's homemade YouTube video. We don't enjoy the prospect of hating on a movie for its graphics, especially when it was so clearly someone's passion project, but the CGI in this movie is really bad. Luckily, the goofy CGI is offset by some competent camerawork. As we mentioned above, it's not hard to make the right landscape look incredible, even when your movie is being made on the cheap. The narrative itself is a simple one as Sonny and Emma form a familial bond while they look for her abducted daughter. They walk, walk, walk, and they talk, talk, talk, and occasionally, they come across other desperate, sometimes violent people who are looking for a fight in this changed world. Eventually, Emma and Sonny come to a point where they may have to save her daughter from the person who snatched her, even if they might get hurt in the process. Unfortunately, we never felt the danger or passion or tension these situations should have held. If a mother is looking for her abducted daughter, we should feel the sadness, rage, and concern that she's feeling. We shouldn't feel bored. The script lacks nuance and emotion, and it feels derivative as a whole. It doesn't help that the characters themselves aren't written with a lot of depth. We're sorry to say it, but the acting in "A Feral World" (2020) comes off as bland and overly-scripted. We know that most of the individuals in this film are not professional actors, and the ones that are aren't very experienced, but for us, the stiffness brought the movie-watching experience down a peg or two.
Drew Barrett plays Maddy in the movie "A Feral World."
Drew Barrett plays Maddy in "A Feral World." (Add caption)

We certainly appreciate the effort and the dedication put in by those involved in the making of "A Feral World" (2020), but heart and drive will only get you so far. You still have to engage your audience, and sadly, we just weren't all that captivated by this story. There are a couple of interesting elements that could've worked out had they been explored more in-depth, but overall, the film is seriously lacking.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: ~3.2/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Movie Review: "Assassins" (2020)

Movie poster for the 2020 documentary "Assassins"
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Movie"Assassins"
Director: Ryan White
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

In February 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was murdered in broad daylight in an airport in Malaysia. He was killed with a chemical nerve agent called VX, one of the deadliest nerve agents in the world. It instantly became international news, even more so when it was discovered that his killers were two young women in their 20s. BigJ and I didn't know much about this new story beyond these few facts. The women accused of the assassination were Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam. They were caught on CCTV cameras at Kuala Lumpur International airport, rubbing a substance on Kim Jong-nam's face right before walking away from the scene.

It seems like an open and shut case, right?

Wrong.
Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah mugshot photos from the 2020 movie "Assassins"
Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah mugshot photos from the 2020 movie "Assassins." (Image Source)

Ryan White's documentary "Assassins" (2020) digs deeper into the story of the two women who purportedly assassinated the half-brother of one of the most notorious leaders of one of the most mysterious countries in the world. Siti Aisyah grew up impoverished in Indonesia and had to drop out of school at a young age to begin working. She eventually came to Malaysia with the hopes of finding a job to earn money for her family, though she wound up being employed as a sex worker. Doan took a different path to Malaysia as she had aspirations of becoming an actress. She even had a short and somewhat embarrassing stint on Malaysia's version of "American Idol." The ultimate question this documentary seeks to answer is how did these two women from different countries and different backgrounds who had never met each other both wind up carrying out the assassination of Kim Jong-nam on the same day at the same airport? Were they really just cold-blooded killers, or were they unwitting pawns duped into an accidental assassination by agenda-driven secret agents from North Korea? The latter choice sounds almost too wild to be true.

Ryan White explores the overwhelming evidence showing that, despite its immense improbability, that is precisely what happened to Siti and Doan. These two random strangers were set up months in advance to take the fall for Kim Jong-nam's murder so that Kim Jong-un could not be implicated by the international community in the assassination. Perhaps the worst part of this ordeal is that the country of Malaysia was willing to let these women take the fall, all so it could maintain a strong political relationship with North Korea. It's downright despicable that the lives of these two women meant so little that two entire countries were prepared to let them go down for a crime they didn't commit all to service the cold, calculated manipulations of men craving to please their master.

CCTV footage from the murder of Kim Jong-nam from the documentary film "Assassins"
CCTV footage from the murder of Kim Jong-nam from the documentary film "Assassins." (Image Source)

Since we had not followed this case beyond the initial news report, "Assassins" (2020) gripped us from start to finish. We sat in awe as attorneys and journalists poured over the evidence in the case and the politics surrounding it. It's a comprehensive documentary full of an abundance of background information, as well as unexpected twists and turns. Everything that happens feels like it was ripped right out of the screenplay of a spy movie, one that you might think was too unrealistic if you didn't know it was true. "Assassins" (2020) is absolutely worth watching, especially if you're not familiar with this international case. We found it to be as compelling as any fictional crime thriller. It's one of the best documentaries we've seen this year.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.5/10
RT Rating: ~100%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Movie Review: "Farewell Amor" (2020)

Movie poster for Ekwa Msangi's 2020 film "Farewell Amor" (2020)
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Movie"Farewell Amor"
Director: Ekwa Msangi
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Many immigrants from war-torn countries seek refuge in the United States. Frequently, one family member, usually the patriarch, will come to the U.S. to try and become financially stable and set up a home before the rest of the family joins them stateside. Writer/director Ekwa Msangi explores one such situation in her film "Farewell Amor" (2020). After the end of the civil war in Angola, Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) left Africa for America so he could build a new life for his family. Little did he know he would be separated from his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and their daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) for 17 years before they would join him, and 17 years might as well be a lifetime. Esther and Sylvia are now practically strangers to Walter. Can they work together to overcome the literal and figurative distance that time has put between them?

At its core, "Farewell Amor" (2020) is about how Esther, Walter, and Sylvia have become drastically different people in the nearly two decades they have been apart. The story is told in three sections. Each portion focuses on a different member of the family. The first piece focuses on Walter, the second explores Sylvia's thoughts on coming to a new country to meet the father she doesn't know, and the final section focuses on Esther and the value shift she has gone through since Walter left Angola.

Ntare Mwine and Zainab Jah star in the 2020 movie "Farewell Amor"
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Living in America for 17 years is sure to change a person. Walter has moved on and had embraced much of the typical American lifestyle. He enjoys having a drink and dancing at clubs. Right up until his family arrived in America, he was even living with a nurse name Linda (Nana Mensah), whom he clearly loved dearly. For all intents and purposes, Walter had his own separate life without his family. Considering that Walter left Angola when Sylvia was just a baby, we think she has it the hardest of any of the characters in this story. Sylvia is a character in-limbo. She has been taken from everything she has ever known, only to be thrust into a new country to live with her father, who is a complete stranger to her. Her one passion and solace in life is dancing, though her ambitions to dance are thwarted by her mother at every turn. It is through dancing that Sylvia forges a new friendship with DJ (Marcus Scribner) and learns to connect to her father. Finally, the film shifts once more to focus on Esther, who spent her years engrossing herself in the church back at home and has become a religiously devout woman. Though it is never explicitly said, Esther's devoutness has become a point of contention between all three family members. She's critical about many things, including drinking and dancing, and she's even disapproving of Sylvia's friends from Angola. Esther also gives large sums of money to the church, money that could be used for getting necessities for the family, considering they live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. This clearly bothers Walter as he's barely saving enough as it is. Despite Walter's good intentions, Esther has been lost in the fray and must now make sense of the busy, different new world all around her.

Jayme Lawson and Ntare Mwine in a movie still for the film "Farewell Amor"
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My thoughts differ from BigJ's when it comes to "Farewell Amor" (2020). I found it to be a compelling immigrant character study, as well as an intriguing look at what it means to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to stick together as a family unit. It looks at the concept of American individualism versus maintaining a tight-knit community, as well as valuing doing what you love versus doing what is expected of you by your family. The acting is excellent from everyone involved, particularly Jayme Lawson, who gives a terrific first-time performance as Sylvia. BigJ felt that, because of its narrative structure, it lacked the spark he was looking for for it to be successful. He thought that, while there is definitely enough depth to make a feature film out of any one of the characters, by breaking it up, he only got a surface-level understanding of each of them rather than an in-depth understanding of one of them. We both agree that, because it is broken up into three smaller portions, we were left wanting a little more time to explore some of the aspects of Walter, Esther, and Sylvia's lives as individuals and as a cohesive unit. We do appreciate that the story explores the same time period from three different perspectives, but they didn't vary so much that this type of storytelling felt necessary. Still, this film left us excited to see what Ekwa Msangi will have to offer us in the future.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.6/10
RT Rating: ~100%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Movie Review: "Shithouse" (2020)

Movie poster for the IFC film "Shithouse" (2020), starring Cooper Raiff, Amy Landecker, Dylan Gelula, and Logan Miller
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Movie"Shithouse"
Director: Cooper Raiff
Year: 2020
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

"Shithouse" (2020) is the second film we saw as part of the 2020 San Diego International Film Festival with a misleading-ish title. It isn't quite what you'd expect it to be based on its name alone. The name "Shithouse" conjures up images of raucous party flicks, "Van Wilder" (2002), "PCU" (1994), or "Porky's" (1981) types of pictures loaded with drunk people trying to get laid. This particular film does involve drunk college students trying to get laid, but tonally, it's more in line with Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" (1995) with a sprinkling of "Everybody Wants Some!" (2016). Written by, directed by, and starring Cooper Raiff, "Shithouse" (2020) follows a young college freshman named Alex (Raiff) who is struggling to adapt to college dorm life. Alex has no friends, he and his roommate Sam (Logan Miller) don't get along, and he spends most of his free time either talking to his stuffed dog or calling his family back home. Hoping to break out of his shell and with a little urging from his plush pooch, Alex decides to go to a frat party at a place known as 'Shithouse.' The party doesn't go well at all. When Alex and Sam return to their dorm room, Sam craps his pants, forcing Alex to seek refuge from the smell in the common room. There, he strikes up a conversation with the dorm's RA, a sophomore named Maggie (Dylan Gelula). The two instantly hit it off and talk into the night, but when morning comes, Maggie suddenly changes her tune, and the chemistry they had a few short hours ago seems gone.
Cooper Raiff is homesick while attending college in the 2020 IFC Film "Shithouse" (2020)
Alex (Cooper Raiff) is homesick while attending college in the 2020 IFC Film "Shithouse" (2020). (Image Source)
The first half of "Shithouse" (2020) mostly consists of Alex and Maggie walking around campus as they carry on conversations about their lives, how they were raised, and their philosophies on college and what they hope to get out of it. Cooper Raiff and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" star Dylan Gelula have terrific chemistry with one another, so it's not hard to get lost in their conversations. They share many humorous moments as Alex tries to escape his natural awkwardness, but there is also a lot of tenderness as they discuss past traumas and future ambitions. These intimate early conversations are the most compelling parts of the film.

After their transcendent night together, Alex and Maggie wake up the next morning, and her attitude has inexplicably changed. She has an almost hostile tone towards him and apparently wants nothing to do with him. At this point, the audience might be just as confused as Alex as to her sudden switch. Alex might throw some seriously nasty farts in his sleep...who the hell knows? It's as good an explanation as any since we're sort of left guessing. We get not wanting to create a relationship from a one night stand. We can even understand that Maggie's attitude change might reflect how much room she has left to grow as a person with a lot of traumatic emotional baggage, but her "ghosting" Alex with no explanation didn't sit right with us. There's not even a simple "this isn't what I want" or "we had a nice night together, but this isn't going to work out," just a cold shoulder he's left to work out as he wallows in his aloneness once more. From that moment on, the events of the next day unfold more awkwardly than watching Alex have a full-on conversation with his stuffed animal. We start to see Maggie become increasingly crueler as Alex gets even more desperate, which isn't an impression you want for your two romantic leads. If this series of events play out in the name of realism, well, it's nothing we've ever experienced first-or-even-secondhand, but maybe things have changed in the 15 years we've been together. In that same amount of time, however, our society has also made leaps and bounds when it comes to calling out bad behavior and toxic situations. For a time, we found ourselves actively rooting against Maggie and Alex's partnership because of its underlying toxicity, especially after they have their big blow-out and say some impressively shitty things to one another. Their massive fight gave us serious "you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half" vibes.

The narrative is also pretty uneven as it is almost entirely front-heavy, which makes for a sluggish second half despite the tension and bickering. The script rushes things at the end in search of a satisfying conclusion, which we thought was a little too convenient. It would have been nice to have had a few more minutes with the characters to catch up on whether or not they learned to be better people from the time they spent together. That being said, Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff both put on great performances.
Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff in the film "Shithouse" (2020).
Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff star in the film "Shithouse" (2020). (Image Source)
Regardless of how you feel about the title, "Shithouse" (2020) boasts quite a bit of charm early on despite some structural messiness. Anyone who has gone away to college or moved away from home will be able to relate to having feelings of homesickness while trying to find your place in a sea of strangers and new situations. One thing's for sure, we're going to be keeping an eye on Cooper Raiff and Dylan Gelula's careers because we see nothing but good things for them in the future.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.3/10
RT Rating: ~96%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Movie Review: "Hubie Halloween" (2020)

Movie poster for the Netflix original film "Hubie Halloween" (2020), starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Julie Bowen, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, and Maya Rudolph
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Movie"Hubie Halloween"
Director: Steven Brill
Year: 2020
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Well...no one can accuse Adam Sandler of being a bad friend.

Last year, the Sand Man appeared in "Uncut Gems" (2019), the critically acclaimed film by the Safdie Brothers, which showed that he could still be taken seriously as an actor and led to a host of awards buzz for him. During the lead-up to the Oscars, Sandler joked that if he didn't win an Academy Award, he would "fucking come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay. That's how I get them." Were his words merely empty threats, or was he frightfully serious? Sandler returns to his bread and butter of silly voices and fart jokes in his latest spooky spectacle, Netflix's "Hubie Halloween" (2020), directed by frequent collaborator Steven Brill.

Adam Sandler dresses up as a ghost in Netflix's original film "Hubie Halloween."
Adam Sandler dresses up as a ghost in the original Netflix film "Hubie Halloween." (Image provided by Netflix)
For the first few minutes of "Hubie Halloween" (2020), we thought Adam Sandler might actually be fulfilling his promise to make the worst film of his career post-Oscars "snub." As the mustachioed busy-body Hubie Dubois (Sandler) bikes down the streets of Salem with a cartoonish voice and an oblivious disposition, local area children pelt him with eggs that he catches in his self-made-Swiss-Army-wonder-Thermos. He then shakes it up, drinks it, and promptly projectile vomits all over the road. It's a lot of cringe all at once and made for a bumpy start to this Halloween-themed comedy. As the movie goes along its runtime, we must admit, we found ourselves laughing on occasion at the ridiculousness of it all, but we think it would have been a whole lot funnier without Sandler's obnoxious, grating, tedious voice choice. The Swiss Army Thermos gag is a recurring joke that gets pretty old pretty quickly, but a couple of the choice gadgets did make us smile from time to time.

Make sure you know going into this movie that the script gravitates towards references to Sandler's other works in place of actual substance. Lines are recycled ("O'Doyle rules!" was originally from "Billy Madison"), actors play similar parts (Julie Bowen has once again been cast as Sandler's love interest), and characters reprise their roles (Ben Stiller reprises his "Happy Gilmore" role as Orderly Hal, and Steve Buscemi played a werewolf in "Hotel Transylvania"). When in doubt, go for the nostalgia factor, right? Just as we've come to expect (given the last two and a half decades of precedent), Sandler and fellow screenplay writer Tim Herlihy have found another vessel to help keep all of his friend (Kevin James, Blake Clark, Shaquille O'Neal, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, and active SNL players Kenan Thompson, Mikey Day, and Melissa VillaseƱor) gainfully employed for another year. Like we said, he's a top-notch friend.

We couldn't help but want more from "Hubie Halloween" (2020) because we're suckers for holiday-themed fare. This movie could be considered this generation's "Ernest Scared Stupid" (1991) or "Halloweentown" (1998). It's not something we would call "an uproariously hilarious annual necessity," but it's tolerable enough to view on Halloween afternoon with the older kids before the horror movies start playing. We say older kids because it might be awkward having to explain what a "Boner Doner" is to your younger children, as our good pal MannyInLofi would tell you personally.
Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler star in the Netflix comedy "Hubie Halloween" (2020).
Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler star in the Netflix comedy movie "Hubie Halloween" (2020). (Image provided by Netflix)
Netflix's "Hubie Halloween" (2020) is nowhere near as bad as we thought it would be, but that doesn't mean it's all that good. Still, it's a far sight better than most of Adam Sandler's other Netflix offerings. The best thing we can say about this movie is that we don't completely hate ourselves for having watched it, and that's a win where Sandler flicks are concerned. For people who are looking to turn their brains off for 102 minutes just to avoid the hellish nightmare that is 2020, Hubie Dubois, his cohorts, and their shenanigans might provide a much-needed escape this Halloween.

My Rating: 4.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.2/10
RT Rating: 47%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Movie Review: "Drunk Bus" (2020)

Movie"Drunk Bus"
Director: John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

The title "Drunk Bus" (2020) conjures up images of a film with raucous frat parties and eccentric characters doing zany things, a potential new-age "Animal House" (1978), "Old School" (2003), or "Revenge of the Nerds" (1987). This indie comedy is based on the experiences of writer Chris Molinaro and directors John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke and is pretty far removed from the "wild college party" genre, though it does still have a few tricks up its sleeve. The main focus of the story is on a bus driver named Michael (Charlie Tahan), who rides "the loop" that transports drunk college kids from bars back to Ohio's Kent Institute of Technology campus day in and day out. Michael has been out of his long-term relationship for nine months but still pines for his ex-girlfriend. He has given up most of his future aspirations and is stuck living a repetitive, mundane life. That all changes when he meets Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a large, tatted-up, punk rock Samoan that the bus company has hired to be Michael's bodyguard after he was assaulted by a drunk frat guy. Pineapple teaches Michael to adopt a more "devil may care" attitude and to stop stressing himself out so much over shit that doesn't matter. Pineapple is occasionally a bad influence on Michael since his advice often leads straight to trouble and toxic behaviors, all in the name of being more carefree and more independent.
Charlie Tahan and Pineapple Tangaroa star in the upcoming 2020 comedy film "Drunk Bus."
Charlie Tahan and Pineapple Tangaroa star in the upcoming 2020 comedy film "Drunk Bus." (Image Source)
From minute one, we found ourselves interested in Michael's journey during "Drunk Bus" (2020), but once Pineapple entered the picture, we were really all aboard. It's Pineapple Tangaroa's charm and endearing nature that makes this movie as entertaining as it is. Tangaroa sure knows how to light up the screen. His look is intriguing, his laugh is infectious, and his chemistry with star Charlie Tahan makes this the perfect college non-road-trip-buddy-comedy. Tahan is excellent in his own right. Michael is an extremely relatable character. We all know what it's like to struggle with dull, repetitious days that bleed into one another, especially during this pandemic. Tahan does a great job portraying a guy who has been caught up in the monotony of life for so long that he has no choice but to try things Pineapple's way. After all, what's he got to lose (besides a coveted safety award and the chance at a promotion)? As Michael breaks out of his daily routine and starts forging his own path in life, some humorous happenings occur along the way, including some light theft, yards of yarn, fireworks, lots of DEVO, night terrors, and some artwork that will leave you in absolute stitches. Of course, many of Michael's actions would get him immediately fired (if not arrested), but sometimes, leaving a terrible job can be a blessing in disguise, so if you're going to go down anyway, why not go down in a blaze of glory? Finally, SNL veteran Will Forte plays a cameo role as Michael's boss Fred. Fred frequently chimes in over the bus radio to provide a host of silly shenanigans, as well as to give Michael a sobering glimpse into what his future might be like if he sticks with the company long-term. The performances are solid all around, and they make the film as successful as it is.

Still, "Drunk Bus" (2020) is not without its flaws. It does come off a little formulaic from time to time, and it does fall into some of the typical indie movie tropes. Some of the screenplay's more dramatic elements feel conveniently timed and a little too inorganic, which is odd considering this film is "based on some true shit." This didn't detract from our overall viewing experience, but it was something we both noticed.
Michael (Charlie Tahan) aimlessly drives a college bus in a still for the film "Drunk Bus" (2020).
Michael (Charlie Tahan) aimlessly drives a college bus in "Drunk Bus" (2020).  (Image Source)
"Drunk Bus" (2020) is a fun slice-of-life/coming-of-age indie comedy with some enjoyable performances, some spectacular chemistry, and one of the weirdest looking paintings we've ever seen. Just don't think too hard about its familiarity and occasional plot conveniences and hop on for the ride.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
RT Rating: ~100%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Movie Review: "Eat Wheaties!" (2020)

Movie still for the comedy film "Eat Wheaties!" (2020), starring Tony Hale, Elisha Cuthbert, Robbie Amell, Paul Walter Hauser, Alan Tudyk, Sarah Chalke, and Lamorne Morris
(Image Source)
Movie"Eat Wheaties!"
Director: Scott Abramovitch
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

There will be times in life when you're going about your day, and you run into someone from your past, like a high school acquaintance or an old college pal. Most of us briefly acknowledge the other person and do the half-friendly half-morbidly-embarrassed nod/sup-head-lift/semi-wave because we fear the awkward "catch-up-conversation" that inevitably follows. In the age of social media, former friends and acquaintances find each other on sites like Facebook, requesting friendships that are mostly limited to a "like" here and a "happy birthday" comment there. Sid Straw (Tony Hale), the lead character in writer/director Scott Abramovitch's "Eat Wheaties!" (2020), is in a league of gauche all his own. Sid goes out of his way to seek out life's awkward conversations, whether he does so knowingly or not. In fact, his whole life (and pretty much every interaction he has) is an embarrassing conversation. When Sid finds an old college buddy on Facebook, he's ready to share his life story with her, even when said college buddy just so happens to be a celebrity, someone like, say, Heather Locklear...no, no, someone more relevant: Elizabeth Banks. He sends her a quick friend request, then goes on to have several very personal, very one-sided, very public conversations with her Facebook wall. Since Sid is an older guy who is a bit out of touch, he isn't aware that all these posts are visible by everyone who comes across her page, and his "letters" to Elizabeth eventually send his life spiraling out of control.
Elisha Cuthbert and David Walton have dinner with Tony Hale in a movie still for the film "Eat Wheaties!"
(Image Source)
"Eat Wheaties!" (2020) is based on author Michael Kun's book "The Locklear Letters," which we wanted to seek out immediately after the film ended. We can't imagine how much more cringe-worthy content is packed in the book because the movie is chock full of it. Sid is a very oblivious person who tries a little too hard at everything he does. His slightly bizarre, aggressively friendly, borderline desperate nature and lack of personal and social filters are very off-putting to most of the people he interacts with, and we as the audience sense the uncomfortable feelings the recipients of his conversations experience. The secondhand embarrassment sets in early and often, and we repeatedly found ourselves slapping our faces and burying our heads in our hands while watching Sid carry on a chat with a coworker, extended family member, or romantic prospect. Come on now, none of us are perfect. We've all said, "you too!" after the ticket taker at a movie theater told you to "enjoy your movie." We've all sent a stupid tweet, or a silly text, or a dumb Tinder message...but how would you feel if your words went viral? Scott Abramovitch does a stellar job putting the audience in Sid's shoes as his online posts end up having real-life consequences. As the film moves along its runtime, it becomes apparent that the screenplay is not solely about its facepalms. There's a lot of sweetness, heart, and soul here, too, and by the movie's end, we felt satisfied with the pile-on-to-sincerity ratio.
Tony Hale and Paul Walter Hauser star in the 2020 movie "Eat Wheaties!"
(Image Source)
We laughed a lot during "Eat Wheaties!" (2020), even when we wanted to bang our heads against the wall while yelling, "Dude! What were you thinking?!" every time Sid did just about anything. Tony Hale was the perfect choice to fill this role as he has had a storied career playing uncomfortable, slightly abrasive characters like Gary Walsh from "Veep" and Buster Bluth from "Arrested Development." The film also boasts a terrific supporting cast, including Alan Tudyk, Sarah Chalke, Elisha Cuthbert, Danielle Brooks, Lamorne Morris, Robbie Amell, and one of our favorite newcomers, Paul Walter Hauser, who has been phenomenal in every movie we've seen him in. The only real "criticism" we can think of is that this feature is a bit formulaic and fairly predictable (and no, we haven't read the book). It might not be genre-defying, but it has enough charm, laughs, and excellent performances to make it worth the price of admission.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Movie Review: "Escape from Extinction" (2020)

Movie poster for the nature documentary "Escape from Extinction" (2020), narrated by Helen Mirren
Image Source

Movie"Escape from Extinction"
Director: Matthew R. Brady
Year: 2020
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

American Humane's documentary "Escape from Extinction" (2020) could be considered the anti-"Blackfish" (2013), the CNN-produced documentary that provided a scathing indictment of keeping whales in captivity. "Blackfish" (2013) attempted to link the violent behavior of one Orca as evidence of a whale's desire to be in the ocean rather than in an aquarium. It made claims that Orcas never attack humans in the wild, though recent footage of killer whales attacking boats in Spain calls this into question. It also argued against breeding programs, as well as the very existence of parks like Sea World. Like all things in life, there are two sides to every coin, and all documentaries come with some form of inherent bias. "Escape from Extinction" (2020) explores the importance of zoos and aquariums and the work they do to conserve endangered species throughout the globe. It serves to educate the public on the actual work these parks do behind closed doors and away from the public eye as they attempt to bring species back from the brink of extinction.

An African elephant with large white tusks in the movie "Escape from Extinction"
(Image Source)
There's no doubt "Escape from Extinction" (2020) is pushing its own agenda. However, it does offer a strong argument in favor of the existence of zoos and aquariums as long as they are accredited like the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the Birch Aquarium, not 'for-profit' roadside zoos like the one seen on Netflix's "Tiger King." Documentaries like "Blackfish" (2013) rely on emotion and more anecdotal evidence, but "Escape from Extinction (2020) is much more facts-and-data-driven. It feels like its primary purpose is to reason with the audience and to explain what zoos and aquariums actually do. Director Matthew R. Brady wants to stress that these places are not animal prisons that recklessly put exotic creatures on display for the amusement of the masses, but are places of research and education that strive to give people information about and passion for wildlife and conservation.

As we mentioned, this entire project feels like a direct response to the animal rights activists who have continually called for global boycotts of zoos and aquariums until the immediate release of all animals into the wild. "Escape from Extinction" (2020) lets viewers know that releasing animals into the wild could very likely be a death sentence for creatures who have spent years in the care of humans. It'd be like taking a family dog (one that has spent its entire life in human care), letting it go, and making it fend for itself in the wilderness. The primary account cited against releasing animals into the wild is the story of Keiko from the film "Free Willy" (1993), who was released from captivity in 2002 but was never able to survive without human help despite millions of dollars invested and years of integration training. Up until his death in December 2003, Keiko sought out human interaction, and he was never able to integrate with other Orcas because humans were all he had ever known. He was supposed to be a success story, but spending $20,000,000 to keep one whale alive for publicity is anything but a victory. While well-intentioned, saying "free all the animals" frequently means "let's send these animals off to die." Writers Alex Blumberg and Peter Meadows really pound in just how many species would now be extinct if it weren't for the efforts of zoos and aquariums. Animals like the grey wolves of Yellowstone, the American bison, the black-footed ferret, and many others would be gone forever if not for the conservation done by these parks.

The other aspect of "Escape from Extinction" (2020) involves showing how we got where we are in terms of the sheer number of endangered and extinct species on our planet. These beings aren't becoming extinct because nature is taking its course. They are being destroyed by poaching, deforestation, urban sprawl, industrialization, and environmental pollution via oil and plastics. These are man-made problems, and if people are part of the problem, they also have to be part of the solution.
Sea World employees give medical care to a manatee in a movie still for the 2020 documentary "Escape from Extinction."
Sea World employees give medical care to a manatee in a movie still for the 2020 documentary "Escape from Extinction." (Image Source)
"Escape from Extinction" (2020) is a competently made film that features an excellent voiceover by Dame Helen Mirren. This isn't a documentary like "The Cove" (2009) that will leave you sobbing and/or in shock, but it might make you think (or rethink) about accredited zoos and aquariums. While it is certainly biased, it makes a compelling argument that's difficult to counter. As much as we agree with the subject matter, after a while, the information does start to feel a bit redundant. We understand early on that zoos are a vital cog in the enormous machine of animal conservation, so we felt like the runtime could have easily been cut by 10-15 minutes without losing its impactful point. Without zoos and aquariums, much of the funding for global conservation efforts wouldn't be there, and many of the experts who go into the field to help animals wouldn't exist without the training and interactions they have had with the wildlife at these places. We wish the movie had offered a few more solutions beyond "support the organizations in which we're heavily involved," but the message is crucial nonetheless.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Movie Review: "before/during/after" (2020)

Movie poster for the 2020 film "before/during/after," starring Finnerty Steeves, Jeremy Davidson, Richard Masur, Marin Hinkle, Miriam Shor, Kate Burton, and Deirdre O'Connell
Image Source
Movie"before/during/after"
Director: Stephen Kunken and Jack Lewars
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

We all have our own ways of dealing with the difficult circumstances life throws at us. Many people turn to professional help from counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to discover different coping techniques, from simply reflecting on the good times you've had in life, up to and including role-playing your way through your problems. When you're an actor, however, you get a unique opportunity to really take 'role-playing through your problems' to the next level. "before/during/after" (2020) feels like writer/producer/star Finnerty Steeves's therapy through her art. Without even knowing the details of her personal life, we could tell right away that this project hit close to home for her. A quick Google search will tell you this film is very much a reflection of how her real-life 15-year marriage came to an end. In an interview with W42ST.com, Steeves discusses what went wrong in her actual relationship, much of which is shown on-screen, verbatim, in "before/during/after" (2020). Though this movie is directed by Stephen Kunken and Jack Lewars, we have a hunch they didn't take much artistic license beyond the initial script because it feels like they let it remain mostly (if not entirely) Steeves' story.

Photo: Finnerty Steeves and Jeremy Davidson look at greeting cards in the 2020 indie movie "before/during/after."
Photo: Finnerty Steeves and Jeremy Davidson look at greeting cards in the 2020 indie movie "before/during/after." (Image provided by the San Diego International Film Festival)
"before/during/after" (2020) is billed as a dramedy, though it leans into the drama more than the comedy. It's not the kind of movie that's full of the grandiose, over-the-top blowouts full of screaming and namecalling, you know, the one we've become accustomed to seeing in "soured relationship" movies (looking at you, "Marriage Story"). It's more of a "stoic reflection" type of drama as we watch actress Jennie (Finnerty Steeves) and her husband David (Jeremy Davidson) try to salvage what's left of their broken kinship. There are a couple of big, gut-punching emotional scenes, but where this film thrives is in its quietly pointed moments of absolute devastation as Jennie and David desperately try to save what has been shattered by infidelity, unaddressed needs, and a long-term lack of communication. While they reminisce about their happiest memories together, discuss "the other woman," and attend a revolving door of counseling sessions that would be enough to make the strongest couples fold, they come to the realization that they have always wanted very different things and had very different expectations for their marriage.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. There are several hilarious scenes in "before/during/after" (2020). But, even with the wacky couples therapists, a raunchy night out for Jennie and her girlfriends, and a trip to a pleasure palace for a vibrator "for her friend's bachelorette party," the story never feel phony or unrealistic. It's not a complex narrative full of crazy twists and turns. There are no grand romantic gestures or artificial Hollywood resolutions. It's merely a raw, relatable slice of one woman's life as she comes to terms with ending the relationship she's been in for nearly half of her existence. Finnerty Steeves acts the pants off of her part, but now that we know it's based on her real-life relationship, we're not surprised she nailed it.

On a technical note, we will admit the first portion of the film does aimlessly wander here and there. This is likely because the first few acts are told through a series of flashbacks as we watch Jennie relive the memories of her relationship during an audition for a part that's a little on the nose. Some viewers won't like that it's occasionally choppy, and while it didn't bother us too much, it did slow down the pacing just a skosh.
Photo: Jeremy Davidson, Finnerty Steeves, and Richard Masur star in "before/during/after" (2020)
Photo: Jeremy Davidson, Finnerty Steeves, and Richard Masur star in "before/during/after" (2020). (Image provided by the San Diego International Film Festival)
"before/during/after" (2020) might not be the best film to watch if you're in a bad place in your marriage, but it's definitely worth checking out. We both liked this movie and thought it was engaging, though I liked it a bit more than BigJ did. He felt like it was missing an emotional spark. On the other hand, I was either consistently laughing or silently crying throughout its runtime.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~9.4/10
RT Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!