Week Of 08.29.2021 Movie Reviews

Reviewing Candyman, He's All That, Vacation Friends, Flag Day, And Swan Song

- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film One Has Seen For The Year
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd

- The Plot: Anthony and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini Green. After a chance encounter with an old timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity - and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.

- The Review: So before I give my review to this direct sequel to the 1992 classic (Which seems to ignore the other badly received sequels from the nineties), I should probably confess as much of a horror fan as I am, I am not a big fan of that original film. And I should note right away I think how much you like that movie is going to affect how you feel about this one.

Interestingly enough this film has gotten generally good but mixed reception all at the same time. Critics have liked it, Letterboxd's crowd seems to like it so far, mainstream audiences remain out with the jury as of my writing this, and yet "Film Twitter" has been pretty rough on the film. This is one of those rare times I find myself more in agreement with the latter.

I will say there is glimpses here and there of something really good, and I can see why some (my wife who saw this with me included) will like this more than I and others seemed to have. The direction here by up and coming Director Nia DaCosta is the highlight of the film. The acting from the ensemble involved is pretty good given the material they're given with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II being a sympathetic and doomed protagonist and Colman Domingo shines as he seems to in everything he's been in lately. The film touching upon the systematic racism among police, how white flight and gentrification affects black communities, urban legends, and providing introspection into the snooty artistic community (Heh, I hope that's not the trigger for some on "Film Twitter" to hate this?), were all also positives.

But the reasons I can't get behind this film too strongly are that ultimately it ends up a bland quasi-remake of the first film which I wasn't that too enthralled with in the first place. The motivations and dialogue of characters can be real weak points as you watch the story unfold, and the slaughters and killings start to just get too over the top to the point you almost think making this a comedy horror would have perhaps worked better? The horror works when it comes to some body horror, but I never felt scared by the actions taking place or felt fear for some of the main characters. The pacing can be too slow at times, though the film's short runtime helps with that a little; and the climax gets ridiculously goofy with an ending that just left me feeling like "Eh, that's how you're going to finish this?!" And finally, the whole thing about characters being so scared to play out the urban legend was as equally goofy and took me out of the movie several times.

This really is a "Your mileage may vary film". Personally to me this kind of slow paced, artistic, tragic horror story just hasn't appealed to me across the various films of this character's existence. I can appreciate some of the messaging and great technical filmmaking in this, but I can't pretend I generally liked the story all that much either. Like the other films from this franchise I just felt "meh" by the end of it. C+ for CANDYMAN. My best recommendation would be to just wait to rent this a few months from now when Halloween season arrives.

- The Plot: After being humiliated online, an influencer decides to get back at her now ex by taking a dare to turn the school’s biggest “loser” into a Prom King.

- The Review: A gender-swap remake of the 1999 cult teen classic which itself is a loose remake of MY FAIR LADY, this film has been brutalized by critics, "Film Twitter", and the Letterboxd folks as I expected they would given the material. But even mainstream audiences have been just as brutal towards it based on the metrics I've seen. The film isn't particularly egregious - its a pretty faithful remake even with the gender swap; with the added element of modern social media, teens wanting to become "influencers" and it does have its funny moments. So why has it gotten such a rough reception? Well...it has some issues with the writing.

The dialogue is pretty standard, but the characters can come off incredibly shallow and stereotypical. The romance isn't written particularly strong, and there's a distracting Kardashian role in here that isn't well acted quite frankly. There's some cringe moments that only teens might get a kick out of, particularly a dance scene in the climatic parts of the film that will have many adults rolling their eyes. In short, it just feels like a pretty forgettable and throwaway Gen Z romance comedy that isn't particularly well written.

And yet...from a personal standpoint I didn't hate it as much as most of you seemed to have. Don't get me wrong its got issues, particularly with the script which should have gone through some more drafts and it ultimately is a pretty shallow teen rom-com that deserves its place on Netflix. But I gotta' admit as a romantic at heart, a fan of the source materials behind this, and someone who laughed a few times at the movie even with some of the cringe scenes, I didn't loathe it as much as I thought I might. It just felt like an okay to mediocre time waster that kept my attention for the most part even though I won't be revisiting it either.

Shout-out to the cameos here from the original, must be surreal for those actors to be cameo-ing a remake of a film that is now 20+ years old for a whole new generation of teens who weren't even alive then. But yeah, I didn't loathe this and not having to see it at the theatre probably helped with that, but I certainly see all the flaws in it as well. C+ for HE’S ALL THAT. I'd say rent this at home for a night-in, but its on Netflix so give it a try for no extra cost if you're a sucker for rom-coms and especially if you have a teenager at home.

- The Plot: When a straight laced couple that has fun with a rowdy couple on vacation in Mexico return to the States, they discover that said crazy couple they met in Mexico followed them back home and decide to play tricks on them.

- The Review: Woof! Talk about a film that has gotten some mixed thoughts. "Film Twitter" has barely paid attention to this, the Letterboxd crowd is pretty meh on it, the critics are middling, and the mainstream audiences seemed to be having fun with it. Count me in as someone who once again finds himself agreeing with the mainstream.

I had a blast with this raunchy comedy. The entire ensemble plays their roles to perfection and the comedic moments hit with me almost every time. I was legit laughing out loud. The film also does a great job in having everything come full circle with each story beat and mention of details in the film. Every time you think something mentioned is of no use but for a cheap laugh, its brought back up again to matter to the story. So in that way I would argue this is a well written film besides being the funny flick its supposed to be.

But what caught me the most off-guard was that for all the outrageous comedic moments, there's actually a little bit of heart in all of this leading to a pretty satisfying ending. And ultimately this proves to be a funny and just plain fun movie about friendship. I would've loved to have seen this at my local theatre with a drink from the bar in my hand, but alas I think its a great watch via Hulu for those interested. B+ for VACATION FRIENDS. I had a blast with this one, so count me in on the side of the mainstream audiences here.

- The Plot: A father lives a double life as a counterfeiter, bank robber, and con man in order to provide for his daughter.

- The Review: This might blow some folks' minds out there but there was a time when Sean Penn was among the A listers of Hollywood, even to the point his politics were a constant discussion on some news channels. He won two acting Oscars in less than a decade and Directed several well received films in the 2000s before hitting the jackpot with INTO THE WILD - a Best Picture nominated film.

But in the last decade plus the man has been plagued with some bad or awkward news moments and his directorial efforts saw films that were laughed at or booed at film festivals. He hasn't had a grand acting role in some time and he seems to have faded into the background to some younger and new movie fans. But alas here he is with a brand new movie in FLAG DAY, a film that supposedly spent years in pre-production hell before Penn finally got it completed.

The movie had a rough premiere at Cannes with mixed reaction and reports of some folks laughing at the movie coupled with really bad social media reactions. Its gotten rough reviews from critics and mockery from the "Film Twitter" and Letterboxd crowd. Mainstream audiences have given it a better shake, but their reception has been just middling.

After hearing so much about this movie I had to give it a try for myself, and I have to say that like when catching up with last week's JOE BELL I found myself not hating it but also seeing why the backlash was there.

Penn tries to give it his all here with a decent performance, and his daughter Dylan Penn shows shades of an actress that could hit it big in future projects. But their performances can only do so much to elevate really bad dialogue and writing, too much narration, some really spotty cinematography, and a pretty bland and predictable drama that feels like its trying too hard at times. Not to mention a few cameos that feel more distracting than adding to the film's benefit.

But the movie isn't completely irredeemable either. It has its moments, I did care to see how it would play out, the runtime was just a tad overlong for me, and the ending is arguably the most effective part of the film. But ultimately it proves to be a forgettable and standard drama that is best seen as a rental at home during a night in than anything like a trip to the theatre - especially with a pandemic going on. C+ for FLAG DAY. Penn really needs to get back to his acting roots, because I don't think he's capable of giving the kind of directorial efforts he pulled off before anymore.

- The Plot: An aging hairdresser escapes his nursing home to embark on an odyssey across his small town to style a dead woman’s hair for her funeral, rediscovering his sparkle along the way.

- The Review: This is one of those low-budget independent films I wouldn't blame you if you came away less than enthused about. Its Director, Todd Stephens, has a small resume just directing some LGBTQ comedies back in the 2000s and it shows at times with this film in the way its shot. There's also some questionable pacing in a few scenes, some side roles are played by clear non-actors who give wooden and mediocre performances, and the film has a very strange and sudden ending that comes off a bit forced.

But for me there was enough here for me to like (not love) this film so that I'm willing to give it that B range review. Udo Kier gives a pretty good performance that is a whole other type from him after I saw him as arguably the best villain from last year's season in his role for BACURAU. He's a top notch actor in an amateur's film and he elevates the material enough to save the film so that its gotten great reviews from critics and cinephiles and an okay enough reception from the mainstream audiences who I thought would hate this more. He is single handily carrying this thing on his back and somehow pulls it off - or at least he did for me. Though I will give slight props to Jennifer Coolidge as well, who is good in her small moments in this.

Overall this a fascinating journey of a man who has to rediscover his true self and learn to forgive as he returns to the hometown that broke his heart. I found myself caring enough to see this journey play out, and empathized with our protagonist even if the filmmaking and storytelling admittedly had its spotty crafting. B- for SWAN SONG. I wouldn't blame those that this didn’t work for them, but I enjoyed this as much as I could and had some slight fun with it.

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