Netflixable? Aniston, Sandler reteam to solve a “Murder Mystery”


“Murder Mystery” is a comedy as inventive as its name, as witty as Adam Sandler‘s mustache and a darned good use of Netflix’s billions.

Send the Sandman and Jennifer Aniston to Monaco and Italy for a wacky riff on Agatha Christie, “Clue” and every other “The Butler Did It!” in the history of stage, screen and cheap paperbacks.

No, really. Reunite the “Just Go With It” stars — because that really worked out — as  a married couple caught up in one percent intrigues, murder and inheritance issues on the sunny Riviera and the George Clooney (Lake Como) District of Italy.

How bad could it be? I mean, no worse than “Just Go With It,” right?

The geography may be fresh, and Sandler may have to get by without his make-work support group of ageing SNL comics (Colin Quinn, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider) and sports hangers-on (Dan Patrick).

But the weaknesses are basically standard-issue Sandler movie faults. Start with how dull the star is and the “common touch” gaucherie he embraces in the most pandering manner possible and throw those “strengths” at a script where the plot is everything.

That’s what murder mysteries are — plot exercises full of false clues (“red herrings”), twists, and “I never guessed He/SHE did it!”

It was a worn out, mockable genre long before Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery”  — with Neil Simon serving up “Murder by Death” way back in the ’70s.

Sandler is Nick Spitz, a New York cop who can’t pass his detective exam, not that he ever tells his wife of 15 years, Audrey (Aniston). He’s a lump and a cheapskate, and a favorite subject of complaints in the beauty shop where Audrey works.

Where’s that European vacation you promised when we got married? OK, that’d be cheaper than admitting he’s not detective material.

The flight over is where she meets the dashing Viscount (Luke Evans) in the first class lounge. That gets them invited to the shipboard wedding of the Viscount’s billionaire uncle (Terence Stamp) to a woman who once was the Viscount’s intended (Shioli Kutsuna).

And it’s on that yacht that rich uncle goes on a rant and is just about to write all the “leeches” on board out of his will. The lights go out, and the Dagger of Quince, a knife given to their ancestors by Marco Parlo, is jabbed into Uncle Walter.

Who did it? Was it the sexy movie starlet relative (Gemma Arterton), tha Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar), the African Col. (John Kani), the colonel’s Russia bodyguard (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the Italian racing driver (Luis Gerardo Méndez), the gay son (David Walliams)?

Or was it the American cop who isn’t really a detective and his “silly mystery novel” loving wife?

The others on board and the French Interpol cop (Dany Boon) who arrives to investigate, ALL of them assume it’s the Americans.


Let’s give the Spitz’s 45 minutes or so — the preliminaries eat up WAY too much of this movie — to solve the case themselves and clear their names.

Aniston spends much of the movie asking people like the Viscount and the Maharajah “How do you get into something like that?”

Sandler trots out his usual collection of lazy crudities, from F-bombs to “boat sex.”

“I just lay here and the boat does the work!”

Their predicaments include getting shot at in various locales.

“This is just like ‘Death in the Library!'”

“What happened in ‘Death in the Library?'”

“They died!”

Adeel Akhtar of “Victoria & Abdul,” “Swimming With Men” and “The Big Sick” gets off the best zinger, vamping up the whole serene stereotype of an Indian maharajah — bowing inscrutably.

“When a brown person bows, WHITE people bow back!”

He loves how that works.

The movie isn’t awful, just a charmless non-starter where the leads can’t find enough funny business in the screenplay from the guy who wrote “Zodiac.” Wait, really?

Everybody does their job, and nothing extra, in a movie that screams for “Give me some business here, some shtick. Make up something!”

Nobody does, not even Sandler, who was never that good at juicing up joke-starved scripts in the first place.

Slack direction just makes “Murder Mystery” groan along when a little pacing, as ALWAYS, would have covered up some of the other shortcomings.

The banter is tepid, the action beats (and car chase) kind of fun and Aniston gives fair value. She must have thought the Clooneys were watching every take.

But Sandman sleepwalks through this one, not that he’s exactly been hamming like his career depended on it in any of these Netflix movies that he makes instead of big screen features.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence/bloody images, crude sexual content, and language

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler, Luke Evans, Gemma Arterton, Shioli Kutsuna, Dany Boon, Adeel Akhtar and Terence Stamp

Credits: Directed by Kyle Nowacheck, scripted by James Vanderbilt. A Netflix Original.

Running time:

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Documentary Review: The rewards of being “The Quiet One” in The Rolling Stones


It was a radio interview in the mid-1960s, and The Rolling Stones, in the blur of their first rush of fame were asked, “What was it like the first time you were ‘mobbed?'”

We hear voices murmuring, and Mick Jagger speaks up, “That’s a really good question.” He thinks for a second or two more, and says “I don’t remember!”

“I do!” we hear another voice break in.

“Well, BILL does,” Jagger jokes. Of course “Bill does.” Bill Wyman remembered all, documented everything, kept tickets and tour posters, every article written about The Rolling Stones, every band button they ever issued, filmed home movies, took stills backstage, still has the first DIY bass he ever crafted out of an electric guitar he ruined.

Hell, Bill Wyman kept a cassette tape of the damned radio interview where he says “I do!”

He was the “Stone Face” of the Stones, “The Silent Stone,” the bassist whose goal was “not to get in the way, not really noticed” but whose “tremendous presence” and “air of world weariness” co-anchored the esteemed rhythm section of the world’s greatest rock’n roll band during its glory days.

He was the one who quit on a high note, at the end of a gloriously strung-along “comeback” tour from 1989-92.

And Wyman — born William George Perks, Jr. — was the archivist.“The Quiet One” is a documentary built on those extensive, one-of-a-kind archives.

For much of the debut feature length documentary of Oliver Murray, we see Wyman from behind or in profile and hear his voice telling the story of his life.

Using still photos, montages of news clippings, newsreel footage and TV news archives, along with the odd cartoon drawing of Bill at signature moments in his life, Wyman and Murray tell the (sanitized for your protection) story of the life of a rock star.

Rock history buffs and Stones completists will treasure Wyman’s memories (he kept cassette diaries even in their early years) and memorabilia from his childhood — he was the oldest member of the band whose childhood was the London Blitz of World War II.

He served in the military, idolized a “really cool” comrade in arms named Wyman, heart his first rock on American Armed Forces Network radio (AFN) and fell hard for Chuck Berry.

Invited into the Stones by the drummer of his first band, The Cliftons, he outlasted that drummer and went on to build a career that made him rich and famous, something only his doting, died-too-soon grandmother predicted all those years before, when he was just a bricklayer’s son from the rougher precincts of London.

“The Quiet One” charts the history of The Stones, their various tours, the “sadness” that accompanied watching Stones founder Brian Jones’ drug-fueled decline and death, the fear that came from his one serious drug experience where “the emptiness underneath me” freaked him out, and “then came Altamont.”

Wyman doesn’t go deep into this tragedy, Jones’ death, the band’s hard pragmatism at relegating keyboardist, road manager and “sixth Stone” Ian Stewart to a permanent in-the-shadows role, or Wyman’s later marriage to a woman 33 years his junior whom he married and split from in less than a year, a woman he’d “dated” as a 13 year-old girl.

On the infamous Altamont concert, “The violence just never stopped” at this event, which he sort of shrugs off with a “sometimes, you just lose control of things.”

The marriage, one of three, earns a simple “I don’t know what I could have been thinking.”



Clapton, Bono and Glyn John’s sing the man’s praises as a musician, and a presence. Stylistically, we hear but don’t see those interviewed for the film, and only see Bill in the flesh in the late going.

The fun thing about the Third Act Wyman is seeing how starstruck he himself could get. This started to manifest itself when the band became French tax exiles in the early ’70s. Whatever one read about Keith and Mick in the headlines, Wyman was widening his horizons, meeting the poet Andre Verdet, and through him all the luminaries of French art and culture, including the artist Marc Chagall.

That’s the same time Wyman met and befriended American expat writer James Baldwin. And through Baldwin, Wyman came to be a late-blooming fan of the great Ray Charles.

He backed Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at Montreaux, Howlin’ Wolf shortly after that (in ’74).

He wrote, sang and joked his way through a music video for his sole solo hit pop single, “Si si, Je Suis un Rock Star” in the ’80s.

Then, the feuding Stones got together for those world-dominating tours in ’89, which seemed a peak moment to Bill W.

“So I left.”

It’s a fascinating film, jaw-dropping in its breath and potential depth, even if it skims the surface of what the grinding, isolating life that level of wealth and fame brings with it.

“The Quiet One” leaves a lot out, Wyman’s other passions (he’s a published author on the subject of metal detector treasure hunting, etc.), for instance.

But when the Great Book and film are finally created about the World’s Greatest Rock’n Roll Band, it’s comforting to know that it’ll be conjured, like this film, out of the vast, preserved and indexed archives kept by the guy most of us didn’t notice, “The Silent Stone,” aka “The Quiet One.”


MPAA Rating: profanity, smoking

Cast: Bill Wyman, Suzanne Accosta, the voices of Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Bono, Andrew Loog Oldham, Glyn Johns

Credits Written and directed by Oliver Murray.  An IFC release.

Running time: 1:38

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Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli dies at 96


Franco Zeffirelli did the 1968 “hippy opera” “Romeo & Juliet,” shot in his native Italy, one of the more lavish Shakespeare adaptations to hit the screen.

He was a lovely stylist who directed operas and lush operatic movies, the best of them.

He did the Mel Gibson “Hamlet,” too. “Tea with Mussolini,” etc. 


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BOX OFFICE: Disaster! “Men in Black” are in the red — permanently — “Shaft” gets the you-know-what

box1It’s been labeled “Sequelitis,” but the rot extends far beyond a glib description of what part of America’s most lucrative export has become — mass production mediocrity, lacking innovation, consumed with recycling what’s worked before.

“Men in Black” was played and played out. But Sony, where “Spider-Man” never dies, just recasts it, figured there was more money to be wrung out of folks in “Blues Brothers” suits and shades fighting aliens.

Sony was wrong. “Men in Black: International” has a cute cast, dazzling effects, humorless direction and a script that should never have gotten out of the community college screenwriting seminar where it must have been workshopped.

black3It will need a big Saturday to manage $25 million on its opening weekend, which is enough of a domestic disaster to kill the franchise, even if the Chinese can be suckered into bolstering it with ticket sales.

Then there was “Shaft,” one last shot at turtle-necked pistol-packing “cool” with aged swaybacked screen icon Samuel L. Jackson. “The Black James Bond” bombed. Weak co-star, crap, dated homophobic script, bad direction, “recycled” product and audiences could smell it from the previews. An $8 million weekend dings Jackson’s star brand (he’s worn out that damned “Avengers” eyepatch, too) and ends this “franchise” before anyone can mutter the curse word, “reboot.”

Another bomb? Jim Jarmusch’s jokey zombie movie, “The Dead Don’t Die” is reaching…nobody. $2 million.  A deadpan dog.

The lone “bright spot,” if you can call it that, is Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” a platformed release that reaches a wide audience this weekend — and is set to finish at $4.5 million. Those are “Booksmart” numbers, and “Booksmart” won’t clear $20 — not by much, anyway — by the time it finishes its run.

late.jpgLike “Long Shot” and “Booksmart,” “Late Night” is an R-rated comedy. Like “Booksmart,” it’s built around women and has a distinctly feminine “safe space/empowered/woke” feel.

And yet it’s still not reaching a large audience. Watching it yesterday, I was struck by the coarseness and unevenness of the experience Kaling conjures up. Mixed messages, meandering narrative, a stab at romance which seems to have been rethought in the editing and a torrent of F-bombs.

And preaching.

Will word of mouth boost this one? It didn’t lift “Booksmart” or “Long Shot.” Reviews look better when you’re only glancing at the Rotten Tomatoes “tomatometer.” Metacritic shows a general lack of enthusiasm, save for a few “all in on Mindy” outliers.

“The Hustle” wasn’t as edgy as “Booksmart,” not as ambitious as “Late Night” (although “The Larry Sanders Show/30 Rock” and others got there first, and did it FUNNIER), and it will wind up doubling what these other movies managed at the box office.

Read its particulars on Box Office Mojo. What stands out? That Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are box office “gold,” or at least silver? That a story that’s been filmed three times remains an audience favorite? Nope. It’s PG-13. And shorter. Funnier. No message, just sight gags and zingers and scenery and posh sets and costumes (escapism) and an odd couple at the heart.

Cut 10 minutes of F-bombs, whack a non-starter story thread or two and maybe “Late Night” breaks out. Amazon doesn’t know any better.

“Secret Life of Pets 2” is falling off steeply from its opening weekend, another $20 million for entertainment-starved tykes and families.

“Dark Phoenix” is falling off 77 PERCENT ITS SECOND WEEKEND. That’s calamitous.

“Aladdin” is nobody’s idea of a dazzler, but it’s still making money ($14 more).

Let’s soak this string of underwhelmers and bloated duds up, shall we? And ponder what might have been. Had “Avengers: Endgame” — a movie with no original thought figuring into it, loads of characters, a pandering script and a picture that in no way stands on its own as simply an entertaining movie (just a piece of the “universe” built to generate the warm fuzzies in a narrow target audience) — similarly bombed, this would be the SEA CHANGE summer at the movies.

Every boardroom in Hollywood would be in a panic, better script analysts would be sought out again, the word “original” would creep back into conversations dominated by “brand” these past dozen or more years.

We’d see our last $200-250 million picture built around nonsense and men in tights and women in bustiers. For a while, anyway. We came that close.

As it is, we won’t see more “Men in Black” or “Godzillas” or “Shafts,” but Disney will continue to flood the market with remakes of its most famous cartoons.

Pixar will never be allowed to retire “Toy Story” if the fourth one performs “on brand.”

And every three to five years, we’ll get a new “Spider-Man.”



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Movie Review: “Late Night” has a hint of “30 Rock Lite” about it


Mindy Kaling‘s “Late Night” is more woke than funny, but still an interesting not-quite-deep dive into the nuts and bolts of late night TV.

It’s proof that if the Great Emma Thompson could not save “Men in Black: International,” she can still carry a star vehicle in which she’s not ostensibly the star.

The outspoken comic Kaling uses this genial but uneven comedy as a dart board on which to score piercing points about old boy/frat boy networking, “token” diversity hires, the double-standards of sexism and the importance of telling your personal truth in comedy.

Which is to say, the picture wears its feminine sensibilities with pride.

Thompson is Katherine Newberry, the 27-year vet of late night, a British comic who got to stick around hosting a lot longer than Craig Ferguson, or James Corden is likely to.

But despite her declared pursuit of “excellence,” her aloof, uncompromising pose and her nightly sign-off — “I hope I earned the privilege of your time.” — her every gesture and utterance mutters “out of touch” and “frosty” and “about to get fired.”

She won’t take calls from the new network president (Amy Ryan), won’t bother to learn her writing staff by name, won’t cozy up to the audience.

She’s Letterman, and the deeper we get into the movie, the more obvious it seems.

An opening scene where she drolly dismisses a writer she’s firing with a self-righteous blast at sexism in the workplace gets her an earful of “You hate women,” which might be why none have ever written for her.

An edict to “Hire a woman” turns into “Hire ANY woman,” and that would be the not-really funny chemical plant “quality control” worker, Molly (Kaling). She got the job interview by playing the corporate chain of command game (the factory is owned by the same conglomerate as the network). She has no comedy writing experience, zero qualifications for the job.

Yay. She got it. The American meritocracy works!

Kaling’s scripted way of overcoming our natural skepticism for this minority-jumped-to the-front-of-the-hiring -line is that the other “Tonight” writers (Hugh Dancy, Max Casella and Reid Scott among them) got their jobs on equally dubious terms.

Katherine may go on the record saying “Comedy is the last meritocracy,” but Kaling’s out to show that no, it isn’t. Molly isn’t funny, and the frat-house writer’s room she’s joining is filled with nothing but guys, just as mediocre, but “experienced.”

They’re all doomed, because the show these slackers are scripting is failing — dull monologues, an unpleasant host (Letterman again) the audience can’t warm up to, a dated program hosted by a woman with no sufferance for fools, and no Twitter account.

New gal Molly tries “quality control” tough love. The shrew hostess won’t even let her writers on the stage where the show takes place, along with not knowing any of their names. She gives them “numbers” when she realizes she needs them and still can’t deign to embrace their humanity.

The new “token” gets humiliated, weeps in the bathroom and weeps some more under her desk. She doesn’t belong.

“You have barely earned the right to be in awe!”

But Molly gets just enough encouragement to speak her mind and state the obvious holes in Katherine’s TV persona.

Events contrive to either seal Katherine’s fate — there’s a hot stand-up (Ike Barinholtz, whose material here wouldn’t get him on Comedy Central, much less HBO) in the wings, ready to take over “Tonight” — or drive her salvation. Think “viral.”

“Late Night” veers between plausible and fascinating — this corner of TV is ALWAYS promoting unlikely “stars” to the front of the line based on little merit and a hunch (think Trevor Noah and Conan, for starters) — and female wish fulfillment fantasy.

Since most comedies, romantic and otherwise (there’s a hint of that here, which shows up just often enough to feel as though more was there and it was edited out) are like “Long Shot,” male wish fulfillment fantasies, that’s fair.

When Kaling’s Molly answers a cutting hint of being a “token” minority hire with how relieved she is that “the funniest, most qualified person” got hired — it may be the film’s biggest laugh.

Yeah, one jerk wanted his brother brought on staff, and that same jerk got his job because his dad used to be a comedy writer. But Molly? She’s not funny, not qualified, just “woke” and pro-diversity and given to giving tough-love truths to Katherine that nobody else will utter.

Yes, you’re the only woman with a network late night show. Make menopause jokes. None of your competition can. Get more personal, more political. Still, Molly’s more a critic than a comic, doing “quality control” at a broken TV program.


There are stand-up bits scattered through the film, none of which impress.

The supporting cast –aside from John Lithgow as Katherine’s sickly, supportive and sweet husband — is meant to remind us of the writer’s room in “30 Rock.” Not one of the people cast in these roles — white males — is funny. Not one.

In Judd Apatow’s “Frat Pack” comedies, “the best joke on the set, wins” and gets in the movie. Funny people are cast to play funny characters and improvise a polish to the script.

Was Kaling too threatened to try that? Because Tina Fey wasn’t.

I am fascinated enough by the subject matter and kept pulling myself onto the fence about “Late Night” as it unfolded. Thompson is in her glory, after all.

But Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra (TV’s “Transparent”) never let this picture take flight. It comes closest when it mimics traditional “Working Girl” story beats, but then stubbornly wrenches itself into unfunny scenes in unfunny directions, just to break formula.

There’s one brilliant bit that she comes up with, a gimmick for the show that turns up in the “bring a failing program back from the dead” montage. But that’s just a “bit.”

There are laughs, here and there, and bursts of fun. But picking over one’s notes and picking apart a picture which offers no real third act surprises (Well, Seth Meyers shows up.) and not an over-abundance of laughs, one is left grasping at the depressingly obvious moral to the tale.

Why should privileged, mediocre whites get all the breaks, with so many eager and just as mediocre minorities dying for the chance?

I’m happy Kaling got to make her movie, cast it and give a woman a chance to direct it. Did she and they deliver? Not often enough.

Monocultures are echo chambers, a deathly failing for any media enterprise — late night comedy show, action franchise or NPR. That point is driven home.

But for such a woke comedy, “Late Night’s” a bit of a snoozer.


MPAA Rating:R for language throughout and some sexual references

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella and Ike Barinholtz

Credits: Directed by Nisha Ganatra, script by Mindy Kaling.  An Amazon Studios release.

Running time: 1:42




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Documentary Review: Descendants of Holocaust survivors go “Back to the Fatherland”


How do you make a Holocaust documentary that fails to move and struggles to connect on any level?

As “Back to the Fatherland” ably illustrates, you start by stripping away most of the context. You make no effort to include images of human suffering, leaving out newsreel footage of the actual horrors altogether.

The survivors profiled tell no truly harrowing or wrenchingly moving stories, and as one, Lea Ron Peled puts it on returning to the country that almost murdered her, “I’ve dealt with this and I’m done with it.”

Not every survivor is a great Font of Remembrance, and no, you cannot blame them for wanting to move on.

That’s what “Back to the Fatherland” is about, Israeli Jews, descended from survivors, telling their elderly relatives that they’re moving to Austria and Germany.

It’s a troubling time to be making such a move, as survivor Uri Ben Rehav tells his grandson, Guy Shahar — In Europe, America and Israel, “The entire political map is moving to the right.”

Anti-immigration fueled nationalism and racism mean that, as artist Lea explains to her sculptor grandson Dan Peled, “What took years to happen in Germany, in Austria happened in two weeks!”

But younger Israelis are just as troubled by their own dogmatic, entrenched reactionary government, with “the war” that Guy’s wife Katherina (a European) married into, which her husband euphemistically insists on calling “a military operation,” one decades and decades long.

Others declare that they’re moving because they realize they need to find “a better place for my children, somewhere else.” Dan Peled flat-out says he’s not willing to be identified with the government of “an apartheid state” any longer.

They’re moving to Europe, with its rising nationalist movements, large anti-Jewish Islamic immigrant populations and ugly, ugly history of anti-Semitism. Because even that’s better than Netanyahu’s Israel.

The two photos from the film posted here illustrate the conundrum — two generations, three generations apart, not even making eye contact over the subject.


But “Back to the Fatherland” is a maddening documentary, hand-wringing and disconnections at every turn, and not just between the generations depicted here.

The principals switch from German to Hebrew to English, the filmmakers (Gil Levannon and Kat Rohrer) inject themselves and their own stories (one is the descendant of survivors, the other’s grandfather was an officer in the German War Machine).

Back and forth we go, from Tel Aviv to Salzburg and Berlin, arguing without coming to a conclusion. Yes, that captures the dilemma of embattled people, history’s Eternal Wanderers, trying to find a safe haven to ride out the next coming storm.

“We are tired,” young and old agree. The “victimhood” thing is wearing, especially on the children and grandchildren of survivors.

The argument, “Jewish people need their own country…because we cannot trust anyone else” still resonates. But where do you go when that “own country” is repellent?

The debate depicted here is a worthwhile one, even when it’s delivered in a movie that feels like a maddening muddle, too much of the time. How can Israelis and international Jewry “go forward” and leave this tragic past of victimhood behind when the world seems poised to revisit it, even if on a milder scale?

Perhaps a better film, more emotional, with more budget for context and survivors more willing to open up about their experiences and those of relatives, will get a handle on it.

All “Back to the Fatherland” manages to do is suggest the subject is worth  more attention.


MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Gil Levanon, Uri Ben Rehav, Kat Rohrer, Dan Peled, Lea Ron Peled

Credits: Directed by Gil Levanon, Kat Rohrer, script  Susan Korda and Anneliese Rohrer. A First Run Features release.

Running time 1:17

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BOX OFFICE: All is lost, as “Men in Black” and “Shaft” are set to underwhelm, “Late Night” goes wide

shaft2.jpegStrip away the run away hits of the summer — those pre-summer phenomena “Avengers: Endgame” and “Aladdin” — and it’s been a near disaster at the box office for any and all concerned.

Another weekend, another rebooted franchise swings and misses.

So it is with the move set to displace “X Men: Dark Phoenix” at the lowered expectations top of the BO heap.

“Men in Black: International,” a classic boardroom-wants-it-and-nobody-else reboot, is riding middling to poor reviews and is set to open at $30 million, in the “Dark Phoenix” ballpark. NOT in the “Secret Life of Pets 2” range.

Box Office Mojo has been on the money by betting low on all its “slumping sequels” opening weekends. It says $28 million, tops, with “Pets 2” coming in at $25 on the last weekend it will enjoy without having to compete with “Toy Story 4.”

As with most of the bloated underwhelmers of this summer, “International” will make its cash abroad, “Godzilla” style.

“Shaft” goes full on action comedy with that rebooted franchise, and it’s also not all that as a movie. But Samuel L. Jackson could lure in $18 million, with a little help from Regina Hall, Richard Roundtree and that dull kid given the Shaft surname for a role he wasn’t up to. Imagine how this might have played with funnier offspring and maybe a villain who is a real part of the picture? Box Office Mojo says nope, $14 million — tops.

“Late Night” is Mindy Kaling’s Amazon Studios take on late night TV work, and has earned decent reviews and a platformed release. Amazon has me blackballed from previews for reasons only they know, but I will get to it eventually. It looks to earn under $5 million in wide release.

No doubt Mindy Kaling will find somebody to blame for that, although she’s used the “white male critics” card already, so who knows?

Indie icon Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan take on zombie movies isn’t out of the gate a critical darling. Without good reviews, how is “The Dead Don’t Die” isn’t likely to scare up much cash, which must have been his only reason for making it.

I mean, Bill Murray’s already done the funny zombie picture thing. The studio knew how bad it was, via their own platformed release, and didn’t even preview it in my top 20 market.

It still could earn $2 million.

Last weekend’s “Dark Phoenix” will fall off a cliff this weekend. “Pets 2” will lose under 50% of its opening audience and “Ma” and “John Wick 3” will have their last weekend in the top ten.


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Preview, It’s back to The Overlook Hotel for “Doctor Sleep” — shades of “The Shining”

This couldn’t be “The Shining” sequel nobody really asked for, or could it?

Horror editor turned director Mike Flanagan adapted Stephen King’s “Shining” and

Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, the old Overlook — haunted as hell, still — and a November 8 release.

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Movie Review: Recycled, anti-climactic “Toy Story 4” still tugs at the (heart) strings


The major thematic thread that ties all the “Toy Story” movies together is “a toy’s noblest purpose,” to entertain, teach and belong to a child.

That fits neatly in the Disney and Disney/Pixar cartoon continuum, that an animated children’s film’s highest purpose is to touch us, with just music, hand-or-computer-drawn characters and sympathetic voice actors.

That’s how they get you. And “Toy Story 4” passes that toughest test.

That’s even more remarkable for the fact that it happens in a film that is, by Pixar’s “Toy Story” gold standards, unremarkable.

The animation is Next Gen vivid, and there are laughs — just not nearly as many as in the earlier classics in this supposedly concluded series.

The narrative is recycled from all the earlier films. A toy is in trouble, the child who owns it must be spared its loss, even as the toys grow more acutely aware of their mortality, how disposable they are in the lifetime of a child.

And the pacing, with the odd exceptional antic moment, is slow enough to maybe make you recall that this epic was wrapped up — perfectly — in “Toy Story 3.” Nothing we’re seeing here feels like anything more than a pointless epilogue, an anti-climactic one at that.

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and most of the other inhabitants of Andy’s toybox have been handed down to a little girl named Bonnie, who had other toys, some of which she’s more into than the mostly vintage ones Andy passed on.

Sheriff Woody has to get used to being second banana to boss doll Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) in terms of leading Team Toybox.

He’s getting left behind in the childplay arena, again. Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was resigned to being passed on, again, years earlier. “It’s time for the next kid.” But Woody shudders at being told, “Look, you’ve got your first dust bunny!”

Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten — which the sheltered little darling resists — gives him purpose. He hitchhikes to school and smoothes the way for her in several delightful helicopter-parent (toy) moments.

But Bonnie’s adjustment is even better aided by the toy she makes as a school project. “Forky” is concocted out of a spork, pipe cleaner, beady eyes and popsicle sticks. Instantly, he’s her new favorite, somebody Woody, Buzz and the rest will take a backseat to and be charged with protecting from a forgetful little girl.

It’s just that “Forky” is born into existential crisis. He knows what he is, and wants to go back to being that.


Some of the funniest moments on “Toy Story 4” involve Woody and the others taking on suicide watch duty for the spork toy lol. He’s hell-bent on “disposing” of himself.

“I can’t letcha throw yourself away!”

A family vacation just magnifies the problem. Woody finds himself searching an antiques store where Bonnie manages to lose Sporky — again — and facing off with a gang of ventriloquist dummies led by Gabby Gabby, an antique who resembles that darned “Annabelle” doll of the Amityville/Annabelle/Insidious horror universe.

Woody had something Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) needs.


Bo Peep re-enters the story, and the script introduces a couple of subversive plush carnival toys (the great Key and Peele) and a Canadian motorcycle stunt doll named Duke Caboom, and given his “Whoa” by Keanu Reeves.

The settings, from the store with collectible toys to the sandbox, are new versions of “worlds” previously visited by the toys. The carnival is novel and ably mined for a laugh or two.

But it’s a “Toy Story” movie, which means you can’t really compare it to “The Secret Life of Pets 2” or “Cars 1, 2” or (God forbid) “3.”

Most of the characters we’ve invested in are shuffled into the background to make room for those voiced by Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal and Jeff Garland. The story arc is “friend in me” worn out. And as a result, it plays longer than its 100 minute run time.

It’s easily the weakest of the four iterations of that title. If Disney and Pixar really needed to revisit a tale that they had gracefully ended, it should have been more of a victory lap.

This, whatever its modest charms, has the feel of an end zone dance — crass, unnecessary, and a slightly pale reflection of the glories that warranted it.


MPAA Rating: G

Cast: The voices of Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Bonnie Hunt, Christina Hendricks, Keegan- Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tim Allen.

Credits: Directed by Josh Cooley, script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom. A Disney/Pixar release.

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Movie Review: “The Tomorrow Man” meets “The Yesterday Woman”


He likes the way she shops.

Something about the items the stranger picks up at the supermarket, the care she seems to take, the fact that she pays with cash convinces Ed to compliment Ronnie.

“Strategic,” he says of her manner. “I know. And I know that you know.”

Ed may have leapt to conclusions, but he’s the sort of retiree who dives in, head first. He talks and talks. He follows her to the antique store where Ronnie is always late for work.

He instantly shares his worldview with her, the fact that the world consists of “those who want to control you, and those who don’t want to BE controlled.”

Ed (John Lithgow) is overwhelming, and Ronnie (Blythe Danner) seems like the easily overwhelmed type. But there’s a connection, generational, accepting, one might even say “settling.”

Whatever else Ed has erroneously assumed, neither one of them wants to be alone “on the wrong side of 60,” even though Ronnie instantly abhors that phrase.

“The Tomorrow Man” is a fragile fable of love between the fastidious, plan and over-plan for “tomorrow” Ed, and the passive, trapped in the past Ronnie.

Cinematographer turned writer-director Noble Jones can’t quite make it come off, but there are pleasures in watching two accomplished actors stage a character-development workshop, even in a film that isn’t all that.

Fastidious Ed has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and paranoia, stocking up on food, supplies, fuel and gear for the day when the “SHTF.” The last three letters stand for “hits the fan.”

He used to work in quality control at the ball bearing plant in nearby Syracuse, but the day he discovered the Internet is the day he abandoned quality control of the information he takes in. He is wound up and not rich enough, even in their small rural town, to be called “eccentric.”

We wonder why Ronnie isn’t seeing the warning signs that we do. He overwhelms her, hyper, arrogant, a man who’s watched enough cable TV news to figure he has it all figured out.

Ronnie doesn’t share his mania for news (and a little sports). She’s into war documentaries. As passive as she is, she accepts his attention, embraces it, and helps things escalate at her own pace.

She’s too genteel to brush him off, too flattered to let this last chance at something wander off, too damaged to admit that this “compromise” is between two people with little in common other than their generation.

She suffered a great loss, and never recovered from it. She’s the polar opposite of Ed.

But he bulldozes on, wearing his emotions on his sleeve and sharing his deepest secret with her — the stash he has hidden behind a wall of his house, his survival insurance.


To his credit, Lithgow never lets this guy become a Fox News/InfoWars/Glen Beck gold-buying caricature. Every family has its Ed’s in this day and age, reasonable people who lost their reason just at the moment when cynical media figures realized the political value in scaring such folks half to death.

Danner is likewise believable, real. Ronnie has let life get away from her and lets Ed be her unlikely and somewhat unstable lifeline.

I mean, the guy stops his pickup and runs into a field, weeping, when she sings along to “Muskrat Love” on the radio. DING DING DING — warning bell #16!

Writer-director Jones wrings what little he can out of this unlikely pairing in the real world, and then slaps “fable” onto it in the finale and hopes for the best. That feels inorganic and the picture, start to finish, has a touch of “padded” and “filler” about scenes and contrived situations, like their over-the-top Thanksgiving dinner with his “What happened to you, Dad?” son (Derek Cecil) and her constant conferring with Goth girl boutique manager Tina (Eve Harlow).

There’s a demographic niche desperate to be served that this movie is aimed at, and more’s the pity that it’s not better as there are so few filmmakers and studios willing to tell stories of this generation, for this generation.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and some suggestive material

Cast: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Eve Harlow

Credits: Written and directed by Noble Jones. A Bleeker Street release.

Running time: 1:34

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