Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard, The Nile Hilton Incident, The Teacher, Home Again, California Typewriter, Goon: Last of the Enforcers

Quick capsules on a nothing-special start to September:

An exceedingly generous 1.5 stars for the fairly ghastly Ryan Reynolds-Samuel Jackson action comedy "The Hitman's Bodyguard," in which the only people laughing are the two co-stars, who inexplicably laugh throughout the picture, probably at the thought of their paychecks. Gary Oldman also shows up for some money, playing a Slobodan Milosevic type villain as he could in his sleep. The movie occasionally flickers to life in the form of Salma Hayek as Jackson's ass-kicking wife, but she's given just a few scenes, not enough time to create a memorable character as she did in Oliver Stone's "The Savages." This week, as I have throughout this year, I resolve almost all close calls in favor of the higher star rating. On a less charitable day, this could easily have been a 1.

The one exception is "The Nile Hilton Incident," a political thriller set in Cairo on the eve of the Arab Spring. This one falls right on the line of recommendation or discommendation, but in the end its exotic setting and glimpse into a little-seen world are barely outweighed by the familiarity of the storyline and the lack of mystery or suspense.

Set in Bratislava in 1983, "The Teacher" starts out with promise. At the beginning of the school year, new teacher Mrs. Drazdechova (a fine Zuzana Maurery) asks her middle school students to stand up, introduce themselves and tell her what their parents do. Turns out, she's not making polite introductions; she's the widow of a major Communist figure and herself a party apparatchik, and she intends to put the parents to work for her. Those who comply are told which lessons to have their students focus on for upcoming exams, while those who refuse are targeted for criticism and failing grades. The movie cuts back and forth between the teacher's scheme and a meeting among parents to discuss whether to file a formal complaint against her. But after 102 minutes, we've learned little about the teacher, her students or their families. We're where we started, with an easy villainess ridiculed again and again so we'll know exactly what to think.

I kept asking "Can you imagine this?" during the cotton candy trifle that is "Home Again," directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of Nancy and Charles, with even less realism than in her parents' 1%er romcoms. My jaw dropped at the casual privilege on display in this High Concept treatment of a recently separated 40-year-old mom of two (Reese Witherspoon) who moves to L.A., meets three 20-something filmmakers at a bar, and ends up letting them stay in her guest house. There's the glossily sexy director (Pico Alexander), the sweet screenwriter (Jon Rudnitsky), and the nondescript actor (Nat Wolff, the most accomplished of the three actors and a sad sight to see in such an under-conceived part). Alice lets Harry, the baby-faced director, into her bedroom, and all three boys into the lives of her two daughters, but complications ensue when her husband (a scraggly Michael Sheen) shows up asking for a second chance. The one big laugh belongs to Lake Bell as an obnoxious socialite and Alice's first potential client: "I had been using another decorator," Bell confesses to Witherspoon, "but I kind of…hated her…"

Finally, the mildest of thumbs-ups for the documentary "California Typewriter," a thorough if slightly overlong exposition of the minor renaissance of interest in the old-fashioned typewriter (best line: "Does your wife share your enthusiasm for typewriters?" "In a word, no." - you can hear two lifetimes in that answer); and for "Goon: Last of the Enforcers," a supremely silly (and already available On Demand, where it belongs) sequel to the low-key hockey comedy starring still-sexy Seann William Scott as a Jewish big man still lacing 'em up in the minor leagues of Nova Scotia. I've laughed for days at a scene in which Doug's wife and her girlfriend watch one of his games at a bar (this is Canada, after all) and, after he scores, the girlfriend yells, apropos of nothing, "Yeah, Doug…with that big dick!", to which his wife softly replies, "That's not appropriate."

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