Movie Review: “Golden Boy” harks back to a Not-Golden age in Queer Cinema

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Judas Priest, what CENTURY was “Golden Boy” filmed in?

I don’t have to ask when it was conceived, as that is obvious and the answer is “In Ancient Times.”

This injuriously eye-rolling gay coming-of-age melodrama harks back to the early years of Queer Cinema, when every tale — even the sensitive ones — had the feel of soft-core porn and the arch absurdity of “We’ve never written a screenplay before, so here’s some CLICHES.”

I could limit this review to a single “tell” — two words of dialogue that are both so dated and numbingly overused that you’d think nobody with an ear would think to ever put them in any movie ever again, especially one with a gay setting.

“Fresh meat!”

That’s what the smirking men and sexually omnivorous women purr when James Myers (co-writer Mark Elias) first starts showing up at the randier sort of parties in L.A.

Yes, 1977 is calling. Yes, I’ll hold.

James Myers hears his name a LOT in this inane, pokey tale of a Carolina “boy” (of 28) who hits bottom, only to be rescued by all the many of gay and gay friendly folk — pretty much everybody he meets — in and around West Hollywood.

They practically swoon in his presence, picking him up out of the gutter, inviting him home, giving him work and “access” to all the coolest parties and gayest clubs. Homeless? Not any more.

As the star is also the co-writer, one could point to a little self-delusion in the crafting of how he is described by all he meets — “boy” when he’s not that boyish, a looker when he’s basically Rami Malek without the Freddie Mercury teeth, strung-out looking sunken eyes and pallid skin in a city where the sun is shining all the time.

The character’s supposed to be an innocent when we meet him, a liquor store delivery “boy” whose name is blurted out by every single gay customer he meets.

“James Myers!”

One of those is the semi-mysterious man of means “CQ” (Lex Medlin), who always has a party going on.

“Jesus boy, you make misery so proud!”

Another is “Houston” (Logan Donovan), a creature of the streets who flirts, nicknames him Captain Liquor, then just “CL.” And who points out after James is fired from the liquor store, “A guy like you could clean up at the park!”

Yeah, he’s suggesting James Myers, “CL,” become a hooker. It is CQ who rescues James Myers from that life, takes him in, no sexual strings attached, and eventually has him make his own “deliveries.”

Houston stays in the picture, and as James is clothed, coiffed and car’d by Nutrasweet Sugar Daddy CQ, he also meets Josh (Paul Culos), a photographer who takes him in after he’s passed out on the street, vomiting from a night of sex and “X.”

This isn’t just dated, it’s a gay fairytale.

Houston and Josh become the magnets tugging the hard-partying, sex-with-anybody-who-asks James in two different directions. Josh is a stand-up guy, plays gay basketball in a gay basketball league and photographs himself, shirtless, every morning.

Because gay men and narcissism are the movie stereotype that never dies.

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One of the older men who likes having “pretty boys” around is played by Armin Shimerman, long-shorn of the Dumbo ears he wore on “Star Trek”: Deep Space Nine.”

As CQ’s demands shift and James grows more careless with his “work,” dealing with more and more dangerous people with these deliveries, as he submits to the sexual advances of more women and men, “Golden Boy” gets around to an odd and pejorative “message” it wants to send.

Gay men, this movie says, are all hustlers at heart. Sex is more transactional than romantic, and it really is all about “opportunity” in that Gore Vidal sense.

“Never pass up the chance to have sex or appear on television,” the writer declared.

I’m not gay, but I’ve been watching what came to be labeled “Queer Cinema” since “Lianna,” only catching up to the pre-history films in the genre at festivals in later years.

And I think “Golden Boy” is a giant step backwards, clumsy and silly and dumb and dull.

The “fresh meat” here spoiled around the time Reagan left the White House.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with bloody violence, drug abuse, sex and nudity

Cast: Mark Elias, Lex Medlin, Logan Donovan, Kimberly Westbrooke, Paul Culos and Armin Shimerman.

Credits: Directed by Stoney Westmoreland, script by Mark Elias and Jonathan Browning. A DFM Creative release.

Running time: 1:42

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Netflixable? Thora Birch and Chris Klein are in it for “The Competition”

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Thora Birch (“Ghost World”) and Chris Klein (“American Pie”) are pretty far removed from their ’90s teen cinema heyday.

But “The Competition,” a rom-com that pairs them up, has a hint of that era about it, even if it is an emphatic reminder that “You can’t go home again.”

The quirky cute Birch and earnestly hunkish Klein still have their signature “look” about them. But this wan, chemistry-and-laugh-starved comedy suggests reasons they might not have smoothly transitioned to adult roles, even if they were offered better ones.

It’s a tepid tale of a scientist who crunches “formulas” for everything from “the perfect pizza” to the statistically doomed relationship. Lauren (Birch) has a successful blog — “The PIG Theory” — that might become a book about her “Point of Infidelity and Guilt” theorem.

Calvin (Klein, ahem) is a Portland attorney who specializes in women’s rights, female advocacy and women in divorce court, “undefeated” in the field, his firm reminds him.

But he abandons what we take to be his “integrity and honor” and assumed innate feminism to take up a partner’s  task. Gena (Claire Coffee) wants him to meet her, court her and get her to abandon the blog and the book deal over some vague concern that “the sister I grew up with” is about to disappear forever.

Right. She’s down the rabbit hole of cynicism. Can he rescue her?

Lauren’s establishing scene, the ONLY funny moment in “The Competition,” has her skydiving with a then-beau, assuring him that he’ll “love” this, that she is “certified,” which is why she gets to jump AFTER he exits the plane.

Yes, she’s breaking up with him. “It’s not you, it’s me” is shouted over the noise of the Cessna. After he’s gone, she assures the pilot, “I LIKED that one.” She’s done this before, which is why she had the foresight to bring a thermos of martinis to sip on the flight back to the airport.

Cute. Funny. Everything the movie that follows is not.

Cal forces a “meet cute” on her, charms Lauren and in a whirlwind (and super-short) montage, is about to get to the sleepover (after a week) when he “confesses.” Only nnot really. He tells her just enough to set up a contest.

He’ll pick five couples he knows, mostly guys from his poker “afternoons,” not “nights. A new mom at his office (Kelsey Tucker, also screenwriter of the film) is added to give the game a little gender equality.

Lauren will sic her bombshell “dancer” (stripper, played by ex-Playmate Tiffany Fallon) and other temptations at the experiment’s subjects. And we’ll soon see if her “six months” dating limit is all most people can handle “theory” is valid.

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Yes, the “wager” is absurd. She’ll give up the blog, book, etc. He’ll give up, what, his bachelorhood?

No, the “subjects” aren’t interesting. At all.

Yes, the Lauren-Calvin relationship is tested, the ante is upped. The most dispiriting bachelor party in screen history ensues.

Klein is a sturdy, ruggedly handsome leading man more cut out for “the guy she leaves behind” in romantic comedies. He’s never funny. Not even in “American Pie” was he the source of humor, strictly an earnest “straight man” to all the pastry defiling going on.

Birch has a little more on the ball, but her lot, too, seems destined for perpetual second bananahood, “the best friend,” the “odd girl/woman out at the bachelorette party.” Her big shortcoming here is an inability to create funny sparks on her own with deadweight Chris.

The supporting cast might have sparkled had their been more amusing things for them to say and do. The plot was never going to manage a surprise, because Hell’s Bells, this is the narrative of every Matthew McConaughy/Kate Hudson comedy ever. Almost.

For those reasons, and more, “The Competition” is lost in losing.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: TV-14

Cast: Thora Birch, Chris Klein, Claire Coffee, Tiffany Fallon, Henry Noble and David Blue

Credits: Directed by Harvey Lowry, script by Kelsey Tucker.  A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Preview: Blake Lively needs Jude Law to help her form “The Rhythm Section”

Whatever the title suggests, this is a classic “January thriller.” There’s revenge and conspiracy, stars but not “box office” stars.

Mark Wahlberg used to own January with pictures like this, action and violence as counter programming to the “awards season” fare (and January horror film, there’s always at least one).

Blake wants to find the people who killed her family. Jude can help. Jan. 31.

 

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Movie Review: “Villains” hangs on one of the great bad guys

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“Good villains make good thrillers,” Hitchcock supposedly declared. And if there is better proof of his thesis in a world where Alan Rickman is no longer with us than “Villains,” I can’t think of it.

Jeffrey Donovan of “Burn Notice” puts moviegoers and filmmakers on notice that he can be bad, and wickedly funny at it, in this tour de force. Looking for a good heavy for your action pic or horror tale? Donovan is open for business and taking your calls.

He is George, oily smooth, silkily Southern and as devious as he is deviant in this story of two couples — both on the wrong side of the law, one wholly evil — that meet, by chance and mix it up in a murderous game of cat and mouse.

Filmmakers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen haven’t reinvented the wheel or delivered a masterpiece in their breakout film. It’s predictable to a fault, but serviceable, tight, well-acted and amusingly pitched.

And they hired themselves a doozy of a heavy to carry it.

Maika Monroe (“It Follows”) and another of those damned Skarsgårds, Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise in “It”) play a hold-up duo straight out of “Pulp Fiction.”

Wearing bizarre Halloween masks, we see them brandish a gun and HUGE crowbar as they noisily knock over a convenience store…after they figure out how to get the dang register open.

They’re manic, amped up, impulsive and horny, and you know what that implies. When they run out of gas making their getaway “to Florida,” they need “a creative boost” to figure out what to do.

The “boost” goes up their noses. It’s probably why they forgot to steal gas when they were robbing a gas station.

They grab their stash and set off in search of a car, and stumble into a big, newish and empty house in the middle of the the woods. Lots of antiques of the “mid-century modern” style decorate it. But dang, no keys can be found to the car in the garage.

Let’s look for something to siphon the gas out of the car with, something to hold the gas in, and gas up our OWN car!

That’s when they see the cellar. We’ve seen THAT movie. So has Jules (Monroe).

“Oh, I’m not going down THERE.”

Mickey won’t be dissuaded, although in this couple, he’s more of the “flight” than “fight” in the relationship.

There’s a kid down there, chained up. Jules won’t leave without freeing her, despite Mickey’s protests. And the delay in figuring that out is how they miss the warning that a stored video camera holds, and how they’re still there when the owners of this comfy abode return.

Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) is alarmed. I mean, she’s got a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes in her arms. George (Donovan) is smoother, not the least bit panicked at the pistol stuck in his face.

“That’s just our sweetie pie,” he drawls of the chained child. Can’t we reach “some kind of compromise?”

Jules and Mickey are “Pulp Fiction” profane and wound up. George and Gloria are Southern genteel. All are villains, it’s just a question of degree.

Let the games begin.

The men size each other up. George is sure of how much “wish you hadn’t gone down those stairs.” Mickey notes their ancient TV and declares “I don’t think you guys watch TV a lot, which I think is weird!”

The women are competing visions of “motherhood,” one delusional, the other bat-poop crazy.

It looks like a fair fight.

The most sophisticated filmmaking touch is the grainy, old-home movies flashback (and flash-forward, to their seaside Florida sea shell shop dream) that the youngsters experience when the tables are turned.

The best lines all belong to George. “There ain’t a sweeter sound in the world than a man trying hard not to scream.”

“Villains” doesn’t hold many surprises, but it’s fun to see the bad-people vs. bad people who have met by accident scenario, a familiar thriller trope, play out.

The violence is rattling, the tension nerve-fraying and the baddest-of-the-bad-guys?

“Who RAISED you, boy? Making a woman cry like that?”

Hell, he’s the reason to see these “Villains.”

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some violence, drug use and sexual content.

Cast: Maika Monroe, Bill Skarsgård, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgwick

Credits: Written and directed by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen. An Alter release.

Running time: 1:22

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BOX OFFICE: “Downton” set to drown “Rambo” in tea, “Ad Astra” should underwhelm

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I had to catch “Rambo: Last Blood” on opening night Thursday night, to a largely empty theater.

But just outside the Regal Winter Park 20, long one of the busiest cinemas in the Regal empire, the scene was straight out of a Tom Jones concert. Hundreds of women, young to old, chattering away as they entered the many showings of “Downton Abbey: The Movie.”

So I’m a little skeptical of these predictions, from Box Office Mojo ($20 million) and from Deadline.com (ditto) that Stallone’s latest outing as the trigger-warning Vietnam vet who slaughters all challengers — by the dozens — is going to make a run at the Granthams.

Thursday night, “Downton” clobbered “Ad Astra” (#2) and “Rambo” (#3) nationwide, $2.1 million to $1.5 and $1.3.

But we’ll see. The fashion film vs. the “fascist snuff film” would be an interesting BO race.

HUGE pre-sales suggest “Downton” will clear $22, that $22 will be the floor of expectations for it opening weekend. The wildly popular BBC/PBS series has millions of fans chomping at the bit to see this story of posh English privilege moved up to 1927, the cusp of The Great Depression.

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“Ad Astra” is a “cerebral” sci-fi outing that reminded me more of “2010” than “2001.” I was a bit of an outlier among critics on that one, but again, Rotten Tomatoes has fleshed out its ranks with a lot of folks new to the profession. “2010?” “Solaris?” What’re those? the youngsters chirp. It will underperform, in terms of that genre, with $18 million seen as its ceiling.

“It Chapter 2” was already fading, and should fall off more steeply this weekend than the 55% or sent or so predicted — mid $teens. Is anybody going to see it a second time? All 2:40+ of it?

“Overcomer” is losing screens, but should still be in the Top Ten.

“Villains” isn’t opening wide enough to crack the top ten. But we’ll have to check in Sunday to see if that turns out to be true.

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Movie Review: Please oh please let this truly be “Rambo: LAST Blood”

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What an odd place Sly Stallone has taken John Rambo in his dotage.

In “Rambo: Last Blood,” the traumatized VietNam vet, always reluctant to fight, efficient quasi-psychotic killing machine never daunted by the odds, is a retiring horse farmer on the Arizona/Mexican border.

He lives in a nice ranch house, decorated with the medals and memorabilia of the soldiering past he was so haunted by, with a housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) and a niece who’s been his ward (Yvette Monreal).

Oh, and guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns, to go along with his usual bows and “Damascus steel” knives (he forges his own) by the bushel basketful.

And uh, he’s tunneled under the place. Lots of tunnels to, you known, remind him of his days fighting the Viet Cong underground, a “Lurp” (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) loner trained to slaughter.

So yeah, maybe this is precisely where he’d end up.

The movie? Revisiting one of the most violent screen creations of his career requires him to up the ante from his ’80s, Italian-maned mayhem machine. Gory. This is a Trumpist vision of the border country, a fascist snuff film.

The ethos, “What if you CAN’T move on?” from his past, his trauma which he’s “just trying to keep a lid on every day,” is the same. But even now, reduced by age, most comfortable on horseback (a nice, show-boaty opening scene in a corral that hides the stunt work, if indeed he even needed a double), John Rambo can be triggered.

The college-bound niece crossing the border — “Why’d you want to do that?” — to find the father she never knew, kidnapped by a drug-and-sex-trafficking led by The Martinez Brothers (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Óscar Jaenada), a “rescue mission” that includes the requisite savage beating and cutting that no 70something Vietnam Vet would survive without an airlift, the help from the cliched “independent journalist” (Paz Vega)?

That’s what sets our old man in “No Country for Old Men” off. Let the slaughter begin.’

The insanely violent Mexican borderlands, where North America’s endless appetite for drugs ripples all the way from the First World to the Second (Mexico) on down the continent and into the Third, is as good a place as any to park Rambo.

The acting ranges from adequate (the women) to dismal (assorted villains, starting with the girl’s father). “Psychotic” has many shades. Not here.

And the bloodletting, and long preparation for it in the finale, is something to see — and avert your eyes from –144 ways to die. It starts out nuts, and leaps far beyond it by the time the credits roll.

Whatever fondness people cling to for Stallone’s most beloved character, the “Balboa” in his “Balboa Productions,” hanging on to Rambo is like never outgrowing torture porn. This borders on sick.

“Last Blood?” Let’s hope so. Action Stallone may never act his age, but he seems much more at home in the direct-to-streaming C-movies I’ve been seeing him in these past couple of years.

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MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use and language.

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Yvette Monreal,Adriana Barraza, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Óscar Jaenada

Credits: Directed by Adrian Grunberg, script by Sylvester Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1: 35

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Movie Preview: In Alfre Woodard’s prison, “Clemency” is a rare thing

Saw this attached to a Neon release last summer. Could not track a copy down to share.

Until now.

Awards buzz for the Great Alfre Woodard?

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Next screening? “Villains”

Maika Monroe’s in it?

I am so… there.

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Movie Review: Team building turns terminal for these “Corporate Animals”

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A diverse workforce at an “edible cutlery” start-up are trapped in a cave during a “team building” spelunking expedition in the dark farce, “Corporate Animals.”

As it’s a comedy scripted by the Brit who wrote “4 Lions,”  there is a moment or two that shows potential and a hint of edge. And it was directed by the fellow who found a little ugly in the similarly claustrophobic, characters-in-a-crucible comedy “The Overnight.”

So no matter how thin the laughs and how ugly the messaging can seem, it never comes close to “awful.”

Demi Moore is the delusional dunce who founded “Incredible Edible Cutlery,” “Saving the world, one bite at a time.” She used that to launch a side business based on the “success” of the first — a “Wealth Institute” where you too can learn the secrets of making your mark in business.

Sound familiar?

Lucy is an ignorant, self-absorbed sociopath who uses threats, bullying and lies to get what she wants — including sex — from those under her thumb.

OK, how about now?

Her delusions extend to the caving route she demands her crew’s guide (Ed Helms) test them with on this day trip to the caves and caverns of New Mexico.

She wants “the advanced route,” and ignores the protests of one and all — including the guide — to get it.

“Are you a woman who runs with WOLVES?” she barks at an underling (Nasim Pedrad).

“I’m more of a woman who runs away from wolves…because they can smell the fear!”

They’ve already injured the intern (Calum Worthy) with the first “test” of the day. But what the hell?

No sooner have they crawled into “Cathedral Cavern” than an earth tremor kills the guide and leaves eight employees and their loathesome boss trapped.

Two top lieutenants — played by Jessica Williams and Karan Soni — bicker over a promotion both think they’re getting above ground, and don’t let up much underground. The debate is summer replacement sitcom worthy and requires a laughtrack to fool anybody into laughing along.

Jennifer Kim, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., Dan Bakkedahl and Martha Kelly fill out this brain trust, which is not convinced by their lying, heartless boss who chirps, “Wake me up when the rescuers get here!”

Some will give themselves over to the sexual attraction they’ve felt but never acted on, some will use this boss-induced calamity to let the rhymes-with-witch know how they really feel. Finger-pointing and name-calling go hand in hand.

Some will hallucinate, with one’s visions involving the star of his favorite TV show and another the singer whose hit “Toxic” starts to apply to his infected leg wound.

All will whine. Not all will survive.

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Each has headlamps, which are no help when you’re groping around in the near-dark, hunting for a funny line.

“You’re looking at me like a turkey at Thanksgiving!”

“What a terrible, delicious thing to say!”

Yes, the movie “Alive” comes up, and “127 Hours.”

The over-the-top moments of conflict and psychotropic visions (animated hallucinations) are the closest “Corporate Animals” comes to finding the funny.

None of the “Let’s consider cannibalism” stuff pays off with laughs. And the film’s reach for satire — a company built on “diversity” grants — hits the ground like a boulder plunging from a cliff. “THUNK.”

Moore, doing a variation of her vile “Disclosure” character from back in the ’90s, makes a fine foil for the others, who only need sharper lines and more inventive situations to give this picture a chance.

Which it never has.

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MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content, some gore and brief nudity

Cast: Demi Moore, Jessica Williams, Ed Helms, Karan Soni, Jennifer Kim, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., Nasim Pedrad, Calum Worthy, Dan Bakkedahl and Martha Kelly

Credits: Directed by Patrick Brice, script by Sam Bain.  A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:26

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Documentary Review: Get strong, live long, go Vegan say “The Game Changers”

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There was a moment, back in the dark ages, when “60 Minutes” cut to the chase at the climax of decades and decades of science, reports, government ad bans and warnings about cigarettes.

Smoking, the evidence showed in a famous piece that aired there, constricts blood flow. And guess what, guys? It REALLY cuts blood flow to that place no guy wants his circulation restricted. Not talking about the heart here, fellas.

Such a moment is echoed in the new documentary from the director of “The Cove.” In a giggles and squirm-inducing scene in “The Game Changers,” noted urologist Robert Vogel sets three college athletes up with muscle, bloodflow and erection monitoring gear (don’t ask) to check on them as they sleep.

He was checking on the impact of a vegetarian diet on “masculinity,” in effect. And damned if the chap who cut meat out of his diet didn’t, um, WAY outperform his compatriots.

“The Game Changers” is about the myths of vegetarianism and strength, stamina, longevity and yes, sexual performance. The host and narrator of the film, hand-to-hand combat coach and UFC fighter James Wilks leads us (with director Louie Psihoyos in tow) across America and around the world, finding athletes and ex-athletes, researchers and doctors by the score, making the argument that our meat-mania is mainly just marketing.

If you want to improve your health, increase your strength and oh, save the planet while you’re at it, eat your vegetables, kids.

Wilks introduces us to UFC fighters and weightlifters, sprinters and hyper-marathoners, all improving performance and recovery time from injuries by sticking to a  diet rich in vegetables and carbohydrates.

We’re shown, in the bluntest terms possible, how a single animal-based meal can foul the blood with animal fat and restrict blood flow.

Myth after myth is busted. Animal proteins vs. plant ones are broken down, scientifically, and the idea that “meat makes you stronger” is taken apart at the atomic level.

Soy foods “dose you with estrogen?” Nope.

Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s line from “Escape Plan,” “You hit like a VEGETARIAN” is repeated, and then we from The Man Himself about his discovery (post health and heart problems) of a plant-based diet.

Weight lifter Patrik Baboumian, who might be the world’s strongest human, does his Feats of Strength on a plant diet.

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Big Meat’s assault on harsh, widely-accepted global scientific truths is exposed as being driven by some of the same people and the same PR firm that defended Big Tobacco for half a century, the kings of the “Sow doubt” school of public opinion.

The film wanders quite a bit, getting all these people in, showing Wilks’ own conversion story, cherry picking which fight between vegan Nate Diaz and meat-chomping thug Conor McGregor to report on (they fought twice, and split).

The big arguments are solidly backed up even if there is a hint of “new convert’s zeal” to the proceedings. Yes, cattle and pigs consume land, feed and water and cripple the planet at every stage of production and consumption. Yes, people who eat meat tend to get more diseases and die younger.

It probably won’t convert a lot of folks, even if “The Game Changers” makes it on CNN. But those it does reach will have the last laugh, on their way home from the funerals of the Big Mac or Bust believers.

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MPAA Rating: Unrated, adult subject matter, some profanity

Cast: James Wilks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrik Baboumian, Morgan Mitchell, Scott Turek, Lucius Smith

Credits: Directed by Louie Psihoyos, script by Shannon Kornelson, Mark Monroe and Joseph Pace. A Refuel release.

Running time: 1:27

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