We’re at the halfway point of 2022. Since the summer is slowing down with the release calendar, I’ll be discussing a few movies I watched recently or a few months ago at home and didn’t write up my thoughts on them. I didn’t realize it was a lengthy post to come together. There were a few I also watched that I didn’t have the urge to discuss. For instance, I wrote up my thoughts on the remake of Firestarter, only to realize it wasn’t worth it. Spoiler Alert: Terrible. I’ll be talking about the following: Death on the Nile, The Bad Guys, Hustle, Men, The Man From Toronto, and Not Okay.
‘Death on the Nile’
Director Kenneth Branagh makes his long-awaited return to the murder mystery world of Agatha Christie with a brand new adventure shifting from the cold environment of a train to the warm climate of Egypt in the latest adaptation of Death on the Nile. This is the sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, which I didn’t think lived up to the hype and wasn’t carried enough by its star-studded cast. There was no rush to catch this back in February since it was safe to assume it would be about the same, and it felt like bad timing colliding with Branagh’s award success with Belfast. It also didn’t help when the multiple pushbacks kept it from making those want it more. The film takes the story from which I haven’t read the 1937 novel, but it manages to get past being better than its predecessor, though that’s not saying much.
Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot’s vacation aboard a glamorous river steamer turns into a terrifying search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short. Set against an epic landscape of sweeping Egyptian desert vistas and the majestic Giza pyramids, this tale of unbridled passion and incapacitating jealousy features a cosmopolitan group of impeccably dressed travelers, and enough wicked twists and turns to leave audiences guessing until the final, shocking denouement.
The increase in popularity of solving mysteries in entertainment has grown in the past few years is vast (The Afterparty, the upcoming Knives Out sequel). Though it’ll be easy to know if this will be more favorable to those who didn’t like the original, and this is more or less forgettable like before. You know how the setup begins, and once someone gets killed on traveling transportation, it’s a game of figuring out who’s the suspect. I knew nothing about the plot before watching or knowing who amongst this honeymoon party would be murdered. Death on the Nile offers a few twists and turns that surprised me most, but it ended up being a mystery that became less engaging as it continued. The first hour loved to take its sweet time with its setup of all the characters, taking the pacing down a peg. It couldn’t balance being fun and mysterious when I was waiting impatiently to get to the murder side of the plot to happen sooner with everyone’s possible motives. Once it sets in motion, the momentum is barely active when the investigation commands with Poirot on the case.
Branagh’s great again with his performance of Hercule Poirot, with his insanely good mustache and all. Every moment he’s on-screen makes me realize he must’ve had so much fun playing this character where he’s perfect, giving off this charming and intelligent detective we already know will solve everything Sherlock Holmes-style. But he gets more in-depth into why he’s the person he is now and a nice reminder of why Branagh is a talent in front of the camera. There’s even a black-and-white opening sequence of Hercule fighting in World War I, where it’s also an origin story of how he got his famous mustache to hide a scar on his face. Maybe it wasn’t needed or expected, but it’s proof his mustache is a fascinating character.
Much like Orient Express, he’s also working with a big ensemble to get this story in motion; shockingly, most of the cast issues are somewhat controversial when it came out (you know who). Out of the two movies, even though I can’t remember much about the first, they were better when I thought there were less exciting characters this time around. The standouts for me, besides Branagh, came from Tom Bateman reprising as Bouc, Poirot’s paul, who spots him flying a kite on the pyramids. And Emma Mackey, best known for Netflix’s Sex Education, as the jealous ex-lover Jacqueline de Bellefort was excellent in a role she’s in pain after her fiance left him. And man, nobody was kidding when they said she’s gorgeous. I wouldn’t say I like Russell Brand, but it was different seeing him give a toned-down performance as Dr. Linus Windlesham, Linnet’s former fiancé.
Gal Gadot gives a fine performance as Linnet Ridgeway, to where I already know she wasn’t doing anything Oscar-worthy but gives this character a sense of paranoia while on this trip. Though she’s romantically involved with Armie Hammer and I found no chemistry between them. Seeing Hammer was nothing but distracting with the allegations against him, and he had more scenes than I thought. The steamy dance number with him and Mackey wasn’t helping. This is another performance of his easy to point out why he’s never been the strongest actor over the decade. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright, Rose Leslie, Jennifer Saunders, and Dawn French, that do their best with little to remember them by.
What I caught on early with Death on the Nile is this felt a more old-fashioned whodunit unlike the first with the bright spots of dancing set pieces and the beautifully dazzling 65mm cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos to make the locations pop. On the other hand, I really wished they actually shot scenes in Egypt where we wouldn’t be looking at some poor green screen backgrounds. But after it was over, it wasn’t as effective as I wanted. This should’ve been fun, but this allowed itself to take itself seriously for some reason and it was pretty predictable who did it, which is a shame since the script could’ve used a surprise to throw the audience off in the final act. I won’t say it’s a disappointment since I wasn’t the least bit excited about a sequel in the first place, but it’s what one would think of for a delayed follow-up.
Death on the Nile is slightly better than Murder on the Orient Express, with a more old-fashioned way within the central mystery. Still, an impressive ensemble and Branagh’s strong performance and direction couldn’t save the predictable and overlong plot this time around. The mixed reception was what I expected, and if you liked the first installment, you’d probably enjoy this too. A third movie is happening soon, which needs to be better than what we’ve received so far.
Death on the Nile was released in theaters on February 11, 2022, and is currently streaming on Hulu and HBO Max. Runtime: 127 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material. Studio: 20th Century Studios.
‘The Bad Guys’
We’ve seen heist movies. But have we seen them with talking animals or at least one that’s good? That’s what DreamWorks Animation has up its sleeves with their latest project, The Bad Guys. I thought the trailers looked clever enough, but everyone else thought it could be another hit-or-miss from the studio. Because after How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World in 2019, their later releases haven’t made a good impression when focusing on less than incredible sequels (Spirit Untamed, The Boss Baby: Family Business) nobody asked for. Not a track record on the same wavelength as Disney or Sony Pictures Animation’s recent outings in the past year. Luckily, those who want to catch a fun crime movie with familiar beats will find this pretty enjoyable if you don’t think too hard.
After a lifetime of legendary heists, notorious criminals Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Mr. Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos), Mr. Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson) and Ms. Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina) are finally caught after attempting to steal the prized Golden Dolphin. To avoid a prison sentence, the animal outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet — becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, the guinea pig humanitarian Professor Rupert Marmalade (voiced by Richard Ayoade), the dubious gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good.
The Bad Guys is based on a collection of children’s books by author Aaron Blabey, and it does take on a premise of characters who see themselves as bad in them and the public eye who attempt to make a change. We’ve seen it done before, almost similar to Megamind, but throw in a classic twist in the subgenre. First-time director Pierre Perifel, who has worked at the studio for over a decade, goes for a style that adults will catch on to if there will ever be a time when Guy Ritchie takes over animation. So rarely do we have family movies where the troupes commonly in crime cappers are used in a film serves as a smooth love letter to them, which might lead a child to get into them when they’re older. The story doesn’t go all the way to pull any shocking revelations in going into the don’t judge a book by its cover message, though you have a mind to know the surprises it leads into.
DreamWorks always have stacked casts to provide their characters, and it continued here to give these the types of personalities. Sam Rockwell would be the right actor to voice a cartoon Wolf when pulling into a George Clooney-esqe character. Marc Maron as Mr. Snake made me forget that was him, and Snake and Wolf’s friendship was bought easily. But I also have to credit Ramos, Awkwafina, Robinson and Zazie Beets as fox governor, Diane Foxington, to round out a well-meaning cast.
Though what the film goes beyond is the animation style itself. I’m always fascinated with the studio exploring different ways of making the stories come to life. So it goes for energy with a nice mix of 3D and 2D animation to make the character designs pop out, similar to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is an inspiration in creating this, breathing through every frame in its own way. Everything is impressive, from a great opening scene that’s an homage to Pulp Fiction where Wolf and Snake are chatting in a diner to an eye-popping car chase through Los Angeles that follows right after robbing a bank. It also contains the kind of humor usually associated with these family movies, which I laughed for a good majority. Not all the jokes landed, especially the fart-related gags or commenting on why a mentor lamp looks like a butt. But out of all the characters, Mr. Shark was the funniest since he’s the “Master of Disguise” of the team, where it’s not too unrecognizable. One of my favorite moments was when he just puts on a mustache and pretends to be a security guard’s dad.
By the end, I actually liked The Bad Guys, as it’s one of DreamWorks Animation’s better films in years. Predictable, sure. But, the slick animation, fast-paced, and memorable voice cast (Sam Rockwell, in particular) certainly made it entertaining for families. Even if this weren’t from an adaptation of books, I would’ve easily bought this as an original movie, and I wouldn’t mind sitting through a sequel.
The Bad Guys was released in theaters on April 22, 2022. Runtime: 100 Minutes. Rated PG for action and rude humor. Studios: DreamWorks Animation/ Universal Pictures.
Next up is one of Netflix’s latest originals, Hustle, starring Adam Sandler. The actor plays Stanley Sugerman, a former college basketball player turned basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers and has him traveling around the world to find the next major NBA player. He’s someone who needs a win in life, wanting to be more than a scout and spend more time with his family. He’s at that age where he sees himself coaching. While traveling to Spain, he stumbles upon Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), a construction worker and single father who dominated a great streetball game. At that moment, Stanley witnessed a potential athlete in the making and decided to make Bo a Cinderella story of sorts that could change their lives forever if he gets into the NBA draft.
I was interested in Hustle based on the trailer, and I’m someone who has warmed up to Sandler a little bit since I’ve always cracked on him making terrible comedies despite being a comedic talent. But truthfully, this will make my second view from one of his Netflix movies after the mistake of watching the unfunny Hubie Halloween two years ago. And I enjoy a good basketball movie from time to time when well executed. Usually, sports and the Sandman go hand in hand (Happy Gilmore), and while this won’t be regarded as a game-changer, this is what I call a crowd-pleasing drama that wasn’t a waste of time.
Hustle is a perfect watch, even for those who don’t consider themselves the most significant sports fans. But when you do, it will be easy to pinpoint the familiarity that’s seen in every sports movie out there. This takes The Way Back, Rocky, and Jerry Maguire put together. Thankfully for director Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals), he could make this formula work in its favor. A particular basketball game isn’t even the critical factor the movie goes for in wanting these characters to win in life. Zager, along with the screenplay from Taylor Materne and Will Fetters, tried their hardest not to make this another mediocre Happy Madison production where it’s lame jokes all around when it’s more of a lighthearted drama with a few moments of genuinely good humor. I knew where it was going, but there was something in the direction that didn’t leave me bored because they invested me in the premise that had me wishing I was also good at sports.
Sandler taking on serious roles is always something I’ve appreciated about him because he surprises everyone with just how amazing he can be, and this is easily one of his finest performances; top five even. His character Stanley is a likable guy who drives his passion for basketball and family, perfectly easy to root for throughout. Just like how he worked with Paul Thomas Anderson, the Safdie Brothers, and now Zager, this proves a strong-minded filmmaker will bring out that charm always missing in entertainment. So shocking a decade ago, he came out with the abomination of That’s My Boy and stars in a movie that people liked WAY better. And it’s a more tone-down role that’s always a change of pace for him. Alongside him is Juancho Hernangómez, a real-life player for the Utah Jazz, as Bo. Few athletes don’t give the greatest roles in movies since that’s not what they’re known for, but I had to give it to Hernangómez for a great presence of bettering himself in moving past his past issues to his chemistry with Sandler that acts like a father-son relationship. He’s great with a ball, but you wonder if that sudden pressure will get to his head and show everyone what he’s made of on the court.
Queen Latifah plays Sandler’s wife, and it feels like I haven’t seen her in forever in a movie. You’ll be able to catch so many basketball stars on and off the court. Anthony Edwards made for a worthy foe against Bo, whose words will get inside his mind to lose concentration. But it gets more for a two-hour movie that never plays dull at any turn. The tropes are everywhere, but it’s easy to get behind them when we’re watching Stan trying to get Bo ready for the draft combine.I loved the basketball action more than anything I’ve seen recently. Of course, the training montages are a given, but they actually felt exciting thanks to some great editing tricks from Tom Costain, Brian Robinson, and Keiko Deguchi.
Hustle is definitely worth recommending if you haven’t streamed it yet. Sure, it doesn’t break the mold for sports movies, and it didn’t need to be. With Adam Sandler giving one of his best performances to date and sharp direction from Jeremiah Zagar, it’s a familiar underdog story but still a surprisingly rousing basketball drama I enjoyed.
Hustle is now streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 117 Minutes. Rated R for language. Studio: Netflix.
Writer/director Alex Garland has been one of the few names to pay attention to when delving into the surreal world of science fiction. After writing a few modern classics, it was exciting knowing he’d also take on directing with 2015’s Ex Machina and 2018’s Annihilation. I loved Ex Machina, one of the most original sci-fi films of the 21 century, and though I didn’t have the same feelings about Annihilation, that certainly left me wondering what it all meant. With his third feature film in four years, his latest Men have him stepping away from his roots and transitioning into a folklore horror that will leave some impression.
A woman by the name of Harper (Jessie Buckley) rents a cottage in the small village of Cotson after her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) commits suicide after attempting to slip back into the locked flat. This retreat allows her to move past a real personal tragedy in her life and move past everything. The house greets Harper by the owner Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) where it seems as if she’s able to get some peace from her quiet holiday. However, Harper’s vacation from the English countryside takes a strange turn of events involving the surroundings that might have to do with a stalker following her on a nightmarish descent into madness.
I didn’t know what Men would be from the ambiguous trailers and Garland’s involvement had strong potential to be out of this world. Unfortunately, this is also another A24 horror film. It scared me to know if I’ll find appreciation over it or don’t see what the big deal was. A film I thought about seeing in theaters but expected to hear both sides of the table, especially when looking at the audience score from Rotten Tomatoes. Hours after I finished watching it, I couldn’t believe I didn’t like it. Yeah, I didn’t think this was good.
Know the type of film you’re getting into when Garland’s behind it, as he constantly works his directed features with what’s the deal with humanity and how we view things from a philosophical perspective. He tries to go for that, but it becomes very frustrating what he was hoping to come across straightforwardly. It goes with the themes of guilt, trauma, or victim blaming to get out a chilled and unsettling atmosphere that didn’t explore more deeply than I wanted. I guess the point of all this is telling us men are evil, which I always knew about since the dawn of time, and they could’ve made it most intriguing.
You’re asking questions along the way about specific events right as Harper tries to relax. But all I was wondering was why it had to be at a slow pace throughout. When we already know the points it’s getting with its simple message. My mind knew the tone would’ve gone had a different direction with the thriller aspect, lacking what made a usual screenplay of his standout. There’s much to admire about the ambition that’ll engage more to a specific audience. I couldn’t help seeing his screenplay that doesn’t come together to be an easy cross of The Wicker Man and Get Out with a hint of the pretentious mother! underneath the atmosphere Garland creates. Sometimes the tension gets to you when there are limited sounds or disturbing images, in this case, a naked stalker around the state.
I’ll tell you what I loved about this: the acting. Jessie Buckley, fresh off her surprise Oscar nomination for The Lost Daughter, is one of those actresses I need to see more in films. Although, her performance as Harper doesn’t have much development, she sells this character through her shocking or terrifying reactions in conveying in possibly every scene she’s in. Rory Kinnear delivers different performances than I thought. It’s caught on very early on that he actually plays all the men in this town with behaviors possibly representing forms of toxic masculinity and a threat for Harper. He was a real chameleon with his mysterious presence that Harper doesn’t even acknowledge. I was not too fond of one character where it looked like they CGI’d his face on a teenager’s body.
I also couldn’t get enough of the cinematography from frequent collaborator Rob Hardy to show off some mesmerizing visuals out of green woods and some treatments of red I caught onto.
Once it reached the third act during the home invasion portion, that was when it went off the rails for me, where Garland decided to go for being automatically disturbing during a long sequence that won’t be for everybody. Was it trying this hard to say something? That entire scene reminded me why it was hard for me to sit through the Suspiria remake, though what they showed here made it look subtle by comparison. You have to be the worst parent in the world to let your child watch that and let them be scared for the rest of their life. And more or less, the pretentious side of the company I don’t respond to nicely.
Men provide terrific performances from Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear and gorgeous cinematography. However, this is a rare misfire from writer/director Alex Garland. Lacking a profound story like his previous films, I thought it was a slow mess to trudge through. No surprise this is my least favorite of anything he has done.
Men was released on May 20, 2022. Runtime: 100 Minutes. Rated R for disturbing and violent content, graphic nudity, grisly images and language. Studio: A24
‘The Man From Toronto’
Did someone call for a lousy action-comedy to forget about instantly? Look no further than The Man From Toronto. This proves just because something brand new is treading on Netflix doesn’t always mean it’s good. A good example is right here. I forgot it was still coming out this year since it was a negative sign the trailer drew little attention. Despite Kevin Hart’s and Woody Harrelson’s talents, this belongs somewhere in the ’90s, a time when these types of familiar stories are getting too old by now.
Teddy Jackson (Hart) is a down-on-his-luck salesman who wants to start an online gym and gets fired, resulting in him in another screwup again, or the coined phrase “Teddy’d it.” To not disappoint his wife Lori, he rents a cabin in Virginia for her birthday weekend. He gets the directions to the address wrong thanks to forgetting to put in a new toner for the printer where Teddy is mistaken for a hitman named The Man From Toronto. The FBI raided the cabin and Teddy explained to them the situation, leading him to continue taking on the assassin’s identity to catch an international criminal from a possible attack on the U.S. Teddy agrees to do so until the real Man from Toronto (Harrelson) arrives and teams up with him to complete the mission without screwing up.
Typically, buddy action movies are right up my alley, but how unoriginal are we getting with a plot surrounding mistaken identities with mismatched pairs working together? Maybe it” work for a few people, but not those wanting to be entertained for two hours. I have liked nothing director Patrick Hughes’ name is attached to since he’s responsible for The Hitman’s Bodyguard and its sequel from last year, both of which I couldn’t stand. Combined with a script from Robbie Fox and Chris Bremner, there isn’t anything new to get through by a movie you only wish was better than what we got. Just watching a character out of his element act all dangerous isn’t laughing at it for the viewer and the at shouldn’t be the same for anyone else. There’s a lack of interest in controlling what’s going on why one unmotivated action sequence after the other fails to deliver the excitement.
And having stars Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson would’ve made the whole thing watchable. However, I never thought they had the chemistry to begin with since the banter between them was flat to care about. Hart’s performance as Teddy is exactly the same character he always does in comedies with the usual shtick tiresome at every corner. All we have to care for about he what end up as a loser. Harrelson as the titular role looked as if he was bored during filming. However, he brings that tough persona he brought to the Zombieland movies and his introduction to his character is meant to show he’s dark, mysterious man.This also wasn’t the best move to waste both Kaley Cuoco, reuniting with Hard after The Wedding Ringer, and Ellen Barkin just talking to Harrelson over the phone.
Really none of the humor landed except maybe two moments delivered from Hart not enough to makeup for how long it was going on. But just as I thought it wasn’t gonna have anything redeemable, there’s this action scene in the third act that’s made to be one long take set to Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” that was pretty cool. Where was that energy with the earlier scenes? That was the most thrilling element, easy to remember from all of this.
For those who didn’t know, they initially set this to star Jason Statham before they hired Harrelson due to creative differences and was going to be in theaters before Sony handed it over to Netflix, and it was a smart move on them. There’s not a lot to get out of this $75 million budget when you could spend your time on actually funny action movies more on the spot.
I can only describe The Man From Toronto as a forgettably lackluster action-comedy. The comedic team-up of Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson would’ve worked if the unfunny script and direction weren’t in the way. Skip it.
The Man From Toronto is currently streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 110 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence throughout, some strong language and suggestive material. Studio: Netflix/ Sony Pictures.
Lastly, Not Okay will have a new meaning to the age-old question: What will it take to be famous? Are we becoming that desperate enough to fake who we are instead of being our authentic selves? Not when the view’s on Danni.
Right as it begins, it starts with a warning to the film containing an unlikable character. We see a woman named Danni Sanders (Zoey Deutch) looking through videos and messages on the internet that were less than kind towards her. So how did the downfall of her life begin? Danni is a New York photo editor working at the online magazine Depravity and is an aspiring writer. She doesn’t have any friends, especially her work colleagues, and wouldn’t be the first person to suggest hanging out with for drinks. So in a desperate attempt to secure fame online and the attention of her influencer co-worker crush Colin (Dylan O’Brien), she tells him she’s going to a writer’s retreat in Paris. In reality, Danni stayed at home photoshopping amazing Instagram photos of her fake trip. However, a terrorist attack happened when he posted her latest picture, with everybody hoping she was okay. This leads to Danni suddenly becoming popular with her lie digging deep into lying about her traumatic experience.
Word of mouth about writer/director Quinn Shephard’s follow-up to 2017’s Blame almost came out of nowhere. Not Okay is one of those satirical black comedies that will have Gen-Z’s or millennials thinking carefully about how deep we’ll become an overnight sensation. We live in a world where influencer culture has been huge, making me question how they reach more attention on TikTok than those with real jobs. And this lets us know that there’s an ugly side to those wanting to expose the truth. It’s a predictable story for sure of the rise and eventual fall, but I think Shepard lets us into the honest ones good through for the wrong reasons. We know it won’t be easy to make this redemption arc impossible when one of us doesn’t know why most posts gather more attention than others, especially when it’s a timeline feelin’ invisible for a year now.
I love watching Zoey Deutch in anything now when she’s in the lead because I’ve always considered her very underrated. She perfectly captured the complex personality of a woman who didn’t expect this white lie to go out of hand. Though she isn’t the most relatable person to understand what Danni is going through while knowing the implications she’ll eventually face in the long run. I believe the other performance to take away from this is Mia Issac. Where did she come from? I haven’t watched the other recently released Don’t Make Me Go, but her character Rowan is a popular activist for gun violence after a school shooting. Danni meets her data support group for survivors and gets a significant boost in getting to know her trauma more once they hang out. She made me believe she’s a real voice for change with her moments of spoken word. And this was definitely Dylan O’Brien’s most different role as this Pete Davidson-type pot smoker with a buzz blonde haircut that makes the comedy side work in spades.
Shepard’s screenplay shows two sides of how one deals with the aftermath of a traumatic event; where Rowan is an actual survivor of an attack, Danni is holding everything together to have everyone in the world believe she meant it alive. Sometimes the tone contrasts with some drama later relating to the relevant ideas present that can come across as trying too hard. Again, it’s part of a waiting game before Danni gets exposed. It also could’ve been ten minutes shorter since the pacing wasn’t effective near the end. There wasn’t a lot to get out of this the day after I watched it, but by the end, it’s certainly passable enough for a movie streaming on Hulu.
Not Okay doesn’t hit every note with its commentary, and while it won’t hit with everyone, it’s a story that feels too real in today’s world of social media. I won’t stop thinking about Zoey Deutch and Mia Issac’s performances. Pair this with Ingrid Goes West and you got yourself a nice double feature.
Not Okay is currently streaming on Hulu. Runtime: 100. Rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual content. Studio: Searchlight Pictures.