Box Office: “Pirates” fatigue sets in, “Baywatch” drowns

Jack

You read it here, first. There will NOT be another “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. There’s a project listed on IMdb, supposedly Johnny Depp is on board. But “Dead Men Tell No Tales” should be the finish line or the 14 year long franchise.

As I said in my review, they summoned up just enough wit, heart and action to make this film their finale. Keira and Orlando make brief returns for a curtain call (Whoops, spoiler alert). And that’s that. Or should.

Disney will be satisfied with the worldwide ($250) opening numbers, but the US opening –– on Memorial Day weekend — is a well less than most of the franchise’s marks — about $60 million. Good, not “Let’s do this forever” good. Global will ensure this pricey picture finishes in the black. But it’s done, it’s time. Wake up and smell the rum, mateys.

Similarly, Ridley Scott and Fox have to stop milking the “Alien” cow. “Covenant” opened in the low end of expectations, and on its second weekend, just fell off the table. A nearly 70% “Tyler Perry Movie Second Weekend Plunge.” Ouch. I was in the reviewing  minority expressing zero shock, surprise or thrills at this rinse/wash/repeat bore. But audiences were with me. Done. No mas. Make something else your grand finale as a director, Sir Ridley.

“Baywatch” isn’t bombing, but it’s not blowing anybody out of the water, either. The reviews are drowning it, I dare say. Here’s one that could have been helped had critics thought it was a fun send up of a bad, jiggly TV show. It’s not funny, it’s violent and they got the tone wrong. They didn’t spend the money on the swimsuit side of the casting, and nobody wants to see it. $26 million over the weekend. Not awful, but bad.

That darned “Boss Baby” has one more weekend in the Top Ten, and will finish, as I have been predicting, in the $175 range. “Fate of the Furious” is still making money, another franchise that has run its course and then some. But there’s still money in that one.

 

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Movie Review: “True Story” or not, “The Journey” adds a comical undertow to the Irish Peace Accords

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A cursory search for details on the “St. Andrews Agreement” doesn’t tell you much about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of that 2006 finale to the Northern Ireland peace process.

And British newspapers have taken issue with the dark yet sometimes whimsical inventions of “The Journey,” their reviews often colored with the politics “Over There.”

But to an outsider with no real skin in that game, “The Journey” comes off as a playful fantasy of the “myth” vs. “fact” variety. As in, if things didn’t go down this way, it’s a pity. Because this is how an ancient blood feud ought to have ended.

Northern Irish screenwriter Colin Bateman, who has touched on the lighter side of the peace process before (“Divorcing Jack”), conjures up an Anglo-Irish “Walk in the Woods” — the Cold War era play, not the featherweight Appalachian Trail comedy starring Robert Redford. “Walk in the Woods” toyed with the conversations that American and Soviet diplomats might have had, away from the TV cameras and conference tables, just taking a walk and haggling over ideology and details. And that’s what “Journey” does.

Here, two implacable foes — the IRA hardcase Martin McGuiness, and the Protestant Unionist and firebrand preacher Rev. Ian Paisley — are needed to sign off on years of effort by others, and are not inclined to do so. Somehow, they change their minds.

But not on a walk, though there is one when the car they’re forced to travel together gets a flat. No, shove the two of them in a chauffeured Land Rover and let the bitter enemies — who had never met — vent, fume, wrangle and settle up, once and for all.

They were part of a meeting brokered by British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) at the Royal and Ancient Gold Club of St. Andrews, in Scotland. Years of negotiations, months of planning, and every detail had been seen to, save one — a very British one — the weather.

The Rev. Paisley (Timothy Spall) wants to fly out, right at the beginning of the conference, to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary back in Belfast.

And the IRA chief McGuiness (Colm Meaney) isn’t going to let Paisley go, by himself, back to the clutches of his fanatical following, if only for a single night.

“If we don’t get to him now, we’ve never get to him.”

Paisley’s marriage, McGuiness cracks, was “the last time he said ‘Yes’ to anything.”

They’re forced to share a car to a distant airport with only a callow, seemingly clueless driver (Freddie Highmore), a driver assigned to that duty by British intelligence, receiving instructions from the MI5 chief negotiator (John Hurt), a man keenly aware of the “hand of history” on all their shoulders.

The old preacher won’t speak, so the Land Rover makes a wrong turn. They’re slow to exchange pleasantries, so the driver asks gentle questions to prod the conversation along, all directed by MI5 via an earpiece worn by the driver.

Various actors had a hand on this script, at one point or other. Kenneth Branagh and Liam Neeson would have overwhelmed it. But the wonderful character actor Spall (“Denial,””Mr. Turner”) marvelously channels the seemingly humorless Paisley, who railed against drinking, dancing and Catholics.

And Meaney is a comfy fit for McGuiness, an Irishman always looking to “break the ice.”

“So, you’re married, eh? You get less time for murder!”

“Do you think this is a laughing matter, Mr. McGuiness?”

The banter ranges from light like that to deathly serious  — recalling “Bloody Sunday,” hunger strikes, intemperate speeches and quotations hurled by each and remembered — word for word — by each man’s foe.

It’s a brief film that stumbles into melodrama a trifle too often to be called “brisk.” Hurt plays a real person, but his “role” here is largely expository — laying out how they got there and what’s at stake.

But “The Journey”‘s wonderful stars — Spall, Meaney, Highmore, a testy Stephens and of course Hurt — make this sentimental saunter go down easily, reminding all involved just enough of the “bad old days” and how difficult it was to get anybody to say “Yes” to peace after so much blood was spilled, so many hard words had been exchanged.

“Never,” “The Journey” tells us, lasts only lasts as long as you resist ever meeting the person you’ve decided is your mortal enemy.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including violent images and language

Cast: Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, John Hurt,  Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens

Credits:Directed by Nick Hamm, script by Colin Bateman. An IFC release.

Running time: 1:34

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Movie Review: Russian school is turned upside down by “The Student” fundamentalist

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We don’t know what radicalized “The Student.” But something set him off. And the school and society that surround him must cope.

He has taken to wearing black, and not bathing. He has his holy texts with him, always. He’s enraged by the revealing bikinis in coed swim class, so they’re banned. “Modesty” becomes a byword of the school’s conservative administration.

He disrupts class with diatribes on Biblical “truths,” sexuality, corrupt popular culture and science. He isn’t suspended or even disciplined.

And the one teacher who stands up to him is scolded, cajoled and threatened to just go along to get along.

It wouldn’t surprise most moviegoers if Venya, “The Student,” was a Muslim insisting on changing the Western culture he’s immersed in. But the deranged, radicalized and possibly violent Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) is a Christian fundamentalist. And the society refusing to engage, debate and correct this dangerous, homophobic “abomination” is Russia.

Kirill Serebrennikov’s film, which had the Russian title “The Student Martyr,” is both a Jeremiad about being out of step with your culture and a blunt allegory about trying to reason with the unreasonable, attempting to debate the fact-averse and the dangers posed by religious fanatics of every stripe.

It is the American Christian screen screed “God’s Not Dead” as seen from “the other side.” As in “How do you argue with the irrational?”

Venya’s single-mom works three jobs, and is rattled by his sudden conversion.

“God will JUDGE you, Mom,” he hisses (in Russian, with English subtitles), “in a furnace of FIRE.”

The school priest/guest lecturer sees Venya’s pious usefulness, not the threats implicit in the Bible passages he quotes.

“I haven’t come to bring piece but the sword,” Venya bellows. “The ax is laid on the root of the tree!”

An anti-social kid whom the pretty girl (Aleksandra Revenko) suddenly finds an alluring challenge won’t let himself be tempted. The bullied disabled boy (Aleksandr Gorchilin) becomes his first disciple — with Venya promising to heal the one leg that’s shorter than the other. Grisha (Gorchilin) is just happy to have someone who will touch him.

stud2Only the biology/sex ed teacher with the psychological training (Viktoriya Isakova) is onto Venya, is willing to fight back. She studies the Bible, tries to counter his arguments and still loses control of her class thanks to his antics.

And the administration just indulges the kid, giving him centimeters, so that he can turn them into kilometers.

The performances are spot on, with Skvortsov suggesting fanatical piety, inflamed puberty and violence — against himself or others — in many moments. Serebrennikov’s camera stalks Venya through a world that loses its colors, the more Venya rebels. A fundamentalist/fascist future not unlike the totalitarian Soviet past (check out the “beach” where the locals hang out, an industrial concrete breakwater) is hinted at, and the film reminds one of smart Soviet cinema that was created under the nose of the dictatorship.

Isakova makes the teacher a worthy foil, studying for each day’s debate, but someone who questions herself as much as the too-compliant school principal does.

“The Student” makes a chilling allegory for the post-fact age (Russia invented it, remember), and a cautionary tale for cultures everywhere. There’s such a thing as being too tolerant of the intolerant.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, nudity, profanity

Cast: Pyotr SkvortsovViktoriya Isakova, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Aleksandra Revenko

 

Credits:Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, script by Kirill Serebrennikov, Marius von Mayenburg. An Under the Mily Way release.

Running time: 1:58

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Movie Review: Worthington is strong, silent and deadly in “The Hunter’s Prayer”

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Genre films are movie comfort food. You don’t watch them expecting huge surprises. But the good ones are satisfying in the ways they do so much of the work for you.

There have been scads of “kidnapped kid/person protected by an assassin” thrillers. Two of the best that come to mind are “The Professional,” with Jean Reno defending first-time-film-starlet Natalie Portman from Gary Oldman, and “Gloria” — the Gena Rowlands original, about a mob moll who protects a child whose family has been massacred by the mob. But there are “Terminators” and the like all through recent film history that use the same basic scenario.

“The Hunter’s Prayer” isn’t in that top drawer. But with action auteur Jonathan Mostow (“Breakdown”) behind the camera and Sam Worthington in front of it, it gives fair value — and then some — as it treads a well-worn path.

The set up — a rich lawyer with mob clients is murdered, along with his wife — in their Scarsdale mansion. But his daughter, Ella, is in boarding school in Switzerland. She’s safe, right?

Not with today’s multi-national mobsters, oh no. There’s just enough connecting her to missing money and the sins of her father that she’s kidnap, torture and murder bait.

Not that Ella, played by the exotic Odeya Rush (Mila Kunis: The Next Generation?) has a clue. She’s doing what rich girls have always done at Swiss boarding schools — using fake ID to date older men, sneaking into clubs.

Who’s this creepy guy that keeps turning up in the shadows on her date?

“My Dad — sometimes he hires people to look out for me.”

And when the guns start blazing, she’s grateful for that — she thinks. But this Lucas fellow isn’t who he seems. As he man-handles the kid across Europe, Ella starts to figure that out.

hint2.pngAllen Leech is a properly depraved “businessman” sending minions in pursuit of Ella. Martin Compston is the assassin that Lucas must outsmart. That is, of course, made more difficult by the cell-phone addicted teen. All these movies with kids who just “have” to make a phone call, giving away their location. And yet the kids still do it.

Mostow stages some savage shootouts and bull-in-a-china-shop brawls, and Worthington, a far cry from his latest turn in the faith-based fantasy “The Shack,” is deadly with gun or whatever other weapon might be at hand.

“I finish what I start,” he growls. Great growl, same poker face when dealing with the kid or assorted villains.

There are a few twists, betrayals, conflicted loyalties tested.

But again, you don’t go to thrillers like this to be shocked and surprised. Mostow and Worthington make a genre promise, and “The Hunter’s Prayer” keeps it.

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MPAA Rating: R for violence, drug use and language

Cast: Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush

Credits:Directed by Jonathan Mostow, script by Paul Leyden, based on the Kevin Wignall novel. A Saban release.

Running time: 1:30

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Movie Review — “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

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If ever you’ve ever had a soft spot for those scalawags, the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and that dopey/daffy/rum-drunk Captain Jack Sparrow, then “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the latest and perhaps last film of the franchise, is for you.

It’s not for the critics, who rightly point out its many failings. It’s long, repetitious — with every chase, rescue from the hangman’s scaffold, every sea battle straight out of “Pirates of the Caribbean’s Greatest Hits.” Even the title is a little too close to “Dead Man’s Chest,” an earlier installment, and the latest film is more effects-driven and nautically inept than ever.

Truth be told, they could have abandoned ship a couple of movies ago, back when Keira Knightley had the good sense to sail on and Orlando Bloom embraced a tabloid life more about who he’s sleeping with than what movie roles he’s pursuing.

Or they could have turned the series into something animated, as the films have been cartoons for years now.

But “Kon Tiki” directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg strike just the right tone, and found just enough heart left in this tattered tale. Johnny Depp escaped his Errol Flynn-like offscreen life of dissipation and scandal to don the dreadlocks and black eye liner one more time. And darned if this doesn’t add up to an affectionate farewell, something the previous film didn’t manage.

Aptly enough, Jeffrey Nathanson’s script is about the pursuit of one last magical talisman — The Trident of Poseidon. Young adventurer Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) needs it to free his father, Will Turner (Bloom) from eternity on The Flying Dutchman.

And the only person who can interpret “the map that no man can read” is a very smart woman, so smart she’s labeled “a witch. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is a would-be astronomer — “Ahh, you breed DONKEYS!” — and “horologist” who has daddy issues of her own.  And “Galileo’s Diary,” which has that map.

The trident is the only thing that can break “every curse of the sea.” So those trapped in Davey Jones’s Locker, or the walking dead crew of murderous pirate hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) might be interested, too.

pirates2The one bloke who seems least interested in Captain Jack (Depp), and there’s a metaphor for you. He’s almost the last actor “cursed” by these lucrative, career-swallowing pictures, ensnared by the big paychecks to repeat this role into eternity. Keira and Orlando and Jonathan Pryce and even director Gore Verbinski got away. Not Depp.

Captain Jack and his old nemesis/sometime pal Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) must work out their differences, or betray each other one last time in a quest that has them fleeing the ghost ship and crew of Salazar, as well as the usual contingent from the Royal Navy, led this time by David Wenham.

Wenham makes a fine foil, or would have, had he been given more to work with. The dewy-eyed newcomers have pluck, especially Scodelario. And there’s pleasure in seeing Depp re-engage with the character, and in chewy scenes that square off Oscar winners Bardem and Rush.

The production is filled with baroque flourishes, such as Barbossa’s captain’s cabin, ornately decorated with human bones. There’s a ghostly gloom to the opening, giving way to a generally sunny romp as Jack and crew attempt a bank job and meet young Henry and young Carina.

“I’m not looking for trouble.”

“What a horrible way to live!”

I miss some of the supporting player pirates — Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook. The movies’ effects have “progressed” from having the sea’s living dead stalk across the ocean bottom to sneak up on the living, to having them sprint across the surface — not progress at all, really.

But getting the tone right and light is a big deal. Ask the boobs of “Baywatch” about that.

There are plans afoot to do a sixth film, with this one leaving just enough wriggle room for that possibility. If that happens, I take back every nice thing I’ve said here. For all involved, save the accountants, that would be a mistake.

This is as graceful a “Pirates” exit as can be hoped for. And if Disney and Depp are hell bent on carrying on, I’d suggest giving the job to animators. There’s always room for a new cartoon on The Disney Channel, even a violent one built around a funny rummy drunk.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content

Cast: Johnny Depp, Kaya ScodelarioJavier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham

Credits:Directed by Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandbergscript by Jeffrey Nathanson. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 2:09

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Movie Review: “Berlin Syndrome” brings torture porn back to Deutschland

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Young ladies, what did your mother warn you about foreign travel?

Sure, it starts with seeing the sights, taking the photos, flirting with the nice foreign fellow. That’s followed by the make-out sessions in the clubs, the sex in the shower.

But just you wait. It’ll all end in shackles and padlocks, walled into an abandoned apartment building, imprisoned by a pervert.

“Berlin Syndrome” takes torture porn back to the place where sado-masochism was invented. It’s a slow-moving/unsatisfying in the end how-will-she-escape thriller dragged out by too many scenes explaining the torturer’s psyche, undone by an ending that no Hollywood studio would allow past the “bad idea in the script” stage.

Teresa Palmer (“Hacksaw Ridge”) is Claire, a young Aussie photographer in Berlin on assignment. Or so she says.

“People who travel alone are usually in search of something.”

That’s the street-corner come-on of Andy, a high school English teacher played by Max Riemelt (“Warsaw ’44”). Andy is charming, engaging; something of a gentleman, or so Claire thinks.

One hundred years of German villains in the cinema isn’t enough for her to spot the “sinister” in his eyes. Germans always make the best bad guys.

She falls for him, right up to the moment she realizes he’s locked her in while he goes to work.

“Yeah, and I’m going to tie you up when I leave tomorrow!”

Oh, you tease!

The alarm bells ring in her head, and as much as she pretends this is “normal,” we know she’s just trying to lull him into making a mistake. She knows she’s in peril. In an instant.

Cate Shortland’s thriller, based on a Melanie Joosten novel, squanders good lead performances and a simple, primal set-up as it changes points of view, letting us see how Andy spends his days — his efforts to appear “normal,” to cover his tracks. School, chats with his father, a party, all give hints to his psychosis and its origins.

Because every minute we’re not trapped in that abandoned apartment building with Palmer’s Claire is wasted. The lady proved in “Lights Out” that she can carry a thriller, create empathy and make us reason her way out of this with her.

Shortland does nothing of the sort. “Berlin Syndrome” may get across Claire’s shock, victim’s guilt and fear of her captor, but it never lets Claire make the most of her escape possibilities and cheats a bit when she finally decides on one.

It’s not bad, nor is the under-rated/under-used Palmer.  But “Berlin Syndrome” gets in its own way, fails to tease out the false hopes and generally leaves one wishing for a shorter, tighter and more viscerally satisfying version of this same, creepy story, about the sort of terrors and kinds of men mothers warn their foreign-traveling daughters about.

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MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, strong sexuality, nudity and some language

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt

Credits: Directed by Cate Shortland, script by Shaun based on the Melanie Joosten novel. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:54

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Roger Moore, ex-Bond, UNICEF ambassador: 1927-2017

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I was very young the first time my parents let me know that I wasn’t the only fellow with the name “Roger Moore.” My Dad called me into the living room, pointed at an actor on a TV re-run and said, “That’s where you got your first name.” Something like that.

The show was “Maverick,” and it was the first big exposure in the U.S. for British model-turned-actor Roger Moore. He played Maverick’s English cousin, “Beau” Maverick to James Garner’s “Brett.” And he was funny.

I told this story to Sir Roger Moore some years back when he came to Orlando to an amusement park companies convention, a trade show where theme park rides and technology were peddled, and Moore — long-serving  UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador — was to speak, with his honorarium going to UNICEF.

On hearing that namesake tale, Moore, droll even as he was pushing 80, peered over his glasses and quipped, “You’re a VERY lucky young man.” Pause. Beat. Then, leaning in, “You might have been named BEAU-regard.”

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Sir Roger, light comedian (“The Saint/The Persuaders”), long-serving/much-ridiculed James Bond, and recruited to UNICEF by Aubrey Hepburn herself, died today. He was 89.

He was in a couple of seminal Bond films, the best of the “lighter” Bonds (“The Spy Who Loved Me”), better still in “ffolkes,” was active in films and on TV from the 1950s through the 90s. Not as good as Connery or Brosnan, on a par with the others. Funnier.

I always thought of him as the Jimmy Carter of James Bonds — filling the years after his heights with good works, still-abused by his critics, but never letting it bother him.

He was self-effacing and dry to the end, with that ramrod-straight posture and ever-arched eyebrow his trademarks. In later years, he was constantly getting trapped/cornered by the British press into saying something impolitic about “the latest James Bond” or James Bond rumors (Idris Elba stands out). But he kept his dignity in spite of it all.

As a kid, I thrilled to see the first James Bond film I went to with my peers, back-slaps and teasing as my name/his name rolled on screen in 20 foot high letters in “Live and Let Die.” That was a real tone-setter among his Bond films, and feels like something of a classic today. Dark, sinister, plausible and also hilarious.

He did game shows back in the ’60s and ’70s, quipping away. He was the only funny thing about Burt Reynolds’ “Cannonball Run.”

Over the years, having the same name as Sir Roger was always a great conversation ender in interviewing his acting/singing peers, ALL of whom seemed to call him “friend.” Michael Caine never tired of laughing upon hearing my name — every phone interview we did — and always had a “Roger story.” Great chums. James Garner? “Damned funny Brit.” But Dame Shirley Bassey, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Robert Goulet and others all had this or that Monaco or St. Moritz stories about hanging with Roger Moore.

Goulet, for instance, related the story of the two of them, both over over 70, sitting in beach chairs and having two nubile young things come up to flirt. “I started to get up,” Goulet related. “So did Roger. But he didn’t. So I didn’t.”

“The young ladies walked away, and Roger, trying one last time to uncross his legs, whispers ‘NOTHING works.'”

Steve Coogan WORSHIPS Sir Roger, made Moore the running gag in the British TV show that made him famous (“I’m Alan Partridge”) and  goes on and on — every interview we’ve had — about how “under-rated” Moore was. Coogan’s dream was to remake “The Persuaders” with Ben Stiller in the Tony Curtis role. Never happened, but a lad can dream.

The only fellow who wasn’t amused by the namesake thing was Pierce Brosnan, still stinging from losing the Bond gig, irked that this fellow interviewing him about “The Matador” at the Toronto Film Festival was a reminder of the paydays he’d lost and the oblivion he feared (unjustly) was his acting future. Irked. Rude. Made for a damned awkward interview but a damned funny profile story when I wrote about it.

A PR wag was handling the amusement park vendors convention, saw my byline in the newspaper, and could not resist calling me up to come have a chat. Too good a joke to pass up. I’ll treasure that impulse. We wandered the hall, stopped as Sir Roger signed autographs, and he went to make his speech.

Moore and I later swapped emails a few times over the years, usually after I’d written an obituary on one of his peers who had passed away — Peter Ustinov, a fellow UNICEF ambassador, comes to mind.

Moore told one joke to that convention audience that day that sticks with me, a joke that kind of summed him up. He came up as an actor with his pal Michael Caine, who changed his name from Maurice Micklewhite, but didn’t lose his cockney accent. “I kept my name, and changed my accent,” the plummy-toned Moore cracked. “HE has Academy Awards and more work than he can handle…and I…stand before you here, today.”

Funny man.

 

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Movie Review: Waterlogged “Baywatch” goes down for the third time

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“Baywatch” wasn’t much of a TV show, even as a “classic” of its genre — jiggle vision.

Glug glug glug, jugs jugs jugs. Ugh.

But it surely deserved better than this, a leering, violent, coarse, deathly-dull and stupidly long send-up that doesn’t give Dwayne Johnson enough to remind us how funny he is or Zac Efron the gags to make us forget how unfunny he can be.

It’s a goof that isn’t goofy enough, a romp that doesn’t, and a tone-deaf riff on a show that was already a parody, in and of itself.

The “Bay” this time is Emerald Bay (actually, Miami), and Johnson is the new “Mitch,” legendary lifeguard with over 500 “saves” to his credit.

“Are you BATMAN?” a kid he’s saved wants to know.

“Sure kid. Just bigger. And browner.”

He banters with the surfers in surfer-speak, swats away shots among the beachside basketballers and annoys the lone cop (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) on his turf.

Lt. Mitch has three openings to fill on his lifeguard crew, people who have to be great athletes, cool under pressure, first aid experts, boat handlers/Jetski masters.

Summer (Alexandra Daddario) lands one spot. Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass in the Josh Gad/Jack Black role) lands another. Inexplicably.

And the third is earmarked for two-time Olympic gold-medalist and major league drunk and slacker screw-up Matt Brody (Efron), a guy who doesn’t take himself, the job or “the Bay” seriously.

He and Mitch will clash, Matt and Summer will flirt and hapless Hebrew School slob Ronnie will crush on CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), the blonde goddess of the crew.

“Why does it always seem like she’s running in slo-mo?”

“You see that TOO?”

The villain is a developer/drug smuggler named Victoria (Priyanka Chopra), sort of an Indian parody of an ’80s American TV bombshell. And the set-up is the lifeguards are onto her schemes, on the case.

“You’re NOT cops,” their boss lectures them. “We’re not COPS” Matt points out, between club nights and yacht parties.

Hilarity ensues. Not at all.

bay4Because tone-deaf director Seth “Horrible Bosses/The Goldbergs” Gordon doesn’t take “The Bay” seriously. It starts with the unfortunate choice of going for an “R” rating, and spirals down the drain from there.

Imagine any of the show’s TV peers from that era — “Friends” or “Seinfeld” — laced with F-bombs, penis and dead-penis sight-gags. Dig if you will, the soundtrack, a grating blend of cloying/played for laughs Lionel Ritchie pop and seriously-out-of-place MF-riddled hip hop.

Johnson can be paired-up with most anybody to good effect, but he and Efron don’t click, despite the homoerotic (visual) references and Mitch’s running gag of not using Matt’s real name — “One Direction, Bieber, N*Sync, ‘High School Musical.'”

The women are just there for the swimsuits (as always), the “plot” isn’t really and the whole mashup just goes on and on and on.

Gordon can’t make the action convincing or, after a promising opening 20 minutes, any joke land. A telling moment — Mitch has been fired and is working in a cellphone store. Gordon gives a lingering close-up to the “son” of a customer. A producer’s kid? A special bar mitzvah gift to a relative?

Adding comic Hannibal Burress and giving him nothing funny to say or do is like sentencing him to sit on the Bill Cosby jury.

The dialogue is peppered with weak-villain zingers. Victoria takes compliments thusly.

“You have got taste. I really respect that.”

All they had to manage was a spoof of, as one character describes it, “a really entertaining (um, no) if far-fetched TV show.” But this spoof is too waterlogged to float.

And that can’t help Johnson’s announced plans to run for President, can it?

 

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Hannibal Burress

Credits: Directed by Seth Gordon, script by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:56

 

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Movie Review: “A Quiet Passion” puts some bite into Emily Dickinson

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British writer and director Terence Davies (“The Deep Blue Sea, ” “The House of Mirth”) looked at the poems of American poet Emily Dickinson and didn’t see a shrinking violet. He saw more than the shy recluse, the plain spinster who spun lyrics out of a life of utter desperation.

And he gives not the “Belle of Amherst,” of legend, play and teleplay (Julie Harris memorably captured that Dickinson). This is a woman of ambition and despair, fear and fury, a poetess with “A Quiet Passion.”

His portrait begins in her late teens, with Emma Bell as the literary-minded wit, one of three clever and glib children of a stern, pious Massachusetts lawyer (Keith Carradine).

In a single indelible opening scene, young Emily swaps barbs with an over-matched aunt (Annette Badland, quite good). “Cherish your ignorance, Aunt,” she purrs, in the only overt insult the prim old biddy can be sure was intentional. The pretty Ms. Bell (“Gracie”) suggests an Emily of youthful, biting sarcasm whose poetry is a revolt against her lot and humanity’s fate.

“Poems are my solace for the eternity that surrounds us all.”

Hard to be flip and funny with that outlook. But it’s only when Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” takes over the role, the charm slowly fades, the wit takes on a bitter edge that fans of the poetry will recognize, even if it is only glimpsed on the page. And for all the sisterly forbearance that Jennifer Ehle (“Pride and Prejudice”) can summon, that the snarky teacher pal Miss Buffam (Catherine Bailey) promises and the needy assurances that sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May) requires, Emily cannot fight the bile, the fury that pre-feminist decorum demands she suppress — at slavery, the Civil War, sexism and inferior poets like Longfellow.

“His genius lies in stating the obvious,” she opines with a murderous grin.

Dickinson’s poems are generously sampled, showcasing her genius, explaining her world view of “minor lives,” her grim expectation of death.

“Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.”

But rather than grim acceptance, this Miss Emily can work up a fine rage long before the coming of the night, snapping, shouting, accusing and breaking dishes.

Davies does a marvelous job of creating context, suggesting a circumscribed but not hermit-like life (the Dickinson of legend and cliche) and an era when beloved parents died in your arms, at home, when that was all you yourself had to look forward to, even if you “keep atheism at bay.”

Nixon has the gravitas to bring the brittle Emily to life, capturing the way disappointments, losing those close to her to marriage, moving away or death made her curdle into someone unfit for company. And Bell gives a smart alec sparkle to her brief, early moments of Austen-esque banter. The radiant Ehle feels like the better choice for Dickinson the moment we see her, but Nixon’s caustic cuts make the casting make sense. Ehle is delightful and warm as long-suffering sister Vinny, but Nixon’s Emily is only meant to be good company or so long.

It’s a movie that doesn’t focus as much on the creation of the work as it does on a fresh view of the woman who made it, and as such — the petticoats, formality of flirtation and chamber music dances (“I fear you must prepare yourself for a polka.”) can feel like a tease.

But Davies is hell-bent on showing us her private hell. His portrait of the poet is grim, gripping and  less entertaining by design. It does make one pine, just a bit, for a movie about Young Emily, before the talent had truly matured, and before the optimism faded.

3stars2

MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material
Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff, Catherine Bailey, Emma Bell
Credits: Written and directed by Terence Davies. A Music Box release.
Running time: 2:05

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Box Office: “Alien” fades, “Everything” picks up, “Guardians” clears $300 million

guardians2“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” roared back Saturday to swallow a big chunk of “Alien: Convent” cash — a $15 million to $12 million beat-down. “Covenant” is now projected to maybe hit $36 million.

Word of mouth? Not helping.

“Guardians,” not any as charming/funny as the first film, may clear $35. “Covenant” is now opening far lower on the all-time “Alien” openings scale. 

“Everything, Everything” now looks like a wash — a $12 million+ opening. Maybe it’ll break even, long run.

The “Wimpy Kid” franchise road picture didn’t reboot this tween series — $7 million will not give Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott work for years to come.

“King Arthur” didn’t recreate all that opening weekend buzz (snort) or audience. It will lose all its screens before it clears $40 million ($26 now).

“Lowriders” earned $1 million this weekend, a steady spike for a film in limited release.

 

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