Movie Nation goes to Mecum, the “World’s Largest Collector Car Auction”

Slated to cross the block at Mecum’s annual auction of thousands of collectible cars in Kissimmeee, Fla. Sunday. I do car shows and auctions for fun, and ran across this one movie fans might appreciate. It’s expected to go for $1 million. I have owned collector cars, and usually drive roadsters on a daily basis. My regular car mechanic has an ambulance used in many films, including “The Spirit of St. Louis.” So if you ever wonder why I pay particular attention to what the hero or villain is driving in a review of a movie, now ya know.
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Next Screening: “The Kid who Would be King”

It’s the first 2019 movie to be widely previewed for critics pre release. So Fox figures it has a winner on its hands. “Kid” who pulls the sword out of the stone in Brexit Britain features Patrick Stewart and opens Jan. 25th. Fingers crossed.


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BOX OFFICE: Kevin Hart dries off “Aquaman,” “Upside” wins weekend

hart.jpgIt started life as a Weinstein Co. holiday season project, and premiered at Toronto in 2017.

And we all know what happened to the Weinstein Co., and the Weinstein who ran it.

But no matter. STX picked up “The Upside” in the “Harvey’s Going to Jail Fire Sale” and damned if this Kevin Hart/Bryan Cranston remake of “Les Intouchables” (“The Intouchables”), a French film based on a true story, didn’t win the box office on its opening weekend.

A decent Thursday “preview” night and big Friday are pointing towards a $19-20 million weekend for “The Upside.” 

Reviews weren’t dazzling, and perhaps we’re seeing the impact of Kevin Hart’s homophobic jokes/tweets, that Oscar host blowback and marathon of apologizing he’s been subjected to (with varying degrees of sincerity). So it isn’t a big opening number by Kevin Hart standards.

That’s enough to dethrone Warners’ “Aquaman,” after Jason Momoa and James Wan’s blockbuster has dominated weekends for a solid month. “Aquaman” won’t clear $16.

“A Dog’s Way Home,” a film from the author of “A Dog’s Purpose” and the upcoming “A Dog’s Journey,” the Nicholas Sparks of We Love Dogs weepers, that Sony smuggled into theaters, will clear $11 million for third place.

The other wide release is “Replicas,” and it didn’t do the trick for Keanu Reeves. A critically-trashed piece of trash sci-fi poppycock, it didn’t even make the top ten — $2.4 million.

“On the Basis of Sex” may not have Oscar buzz, but it is safely within the Top Ten on its first weekend of truly wide release — a $6 million weekend.

“Green Book” is on a lot more theaters this weekend, thanks to its Golden Globes wins — picture, supporting actor and screenplay.

It isn’t making a lot more money, nor is Annapurna’s wide release of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Both are Oscar contenders, neither came close to cracking the top ten, this weekend. At least “Green Book” made a healthy return back in the fall when it first opened.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” closed the gap with “A Star is Born,” box office bucks-wise, with a decent week and wider release this weekend — another $3 million, putting it on the cusp of $200 million.

 

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Movie Review: Accept no substitute, even though Keanu likes to make “Replicas”

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It’s never too early in the year for the first seriously silly sci-fi poppycock to crawl out of Hollywood.

“Replicas” takes that title this year, a banal, thinly-scripted thriller about an amoral scientist (Keanu Reeves) who loses his family in a car wreck, but “brings them back” because he has the technology at his disposal, some of the know-how, dealing with neural pathways and transferring the contents of one brain to another — and an easily-bullied colleague (Thomas Middleditch, best known as a TV pitchman these days) who is a master of cloning.

Virtually everything about this is ridiculous, from its setting — high tech Puerto Rico, which has suffered no debilitating hurricane or criminally inadequate federal response — to the “Let’s skip over that” nature of much of the beyond-cutting-edge science, to the way Reeves and Middleditch try not to crack each other up as they cash gullible Entertainment Studios’ checks and never quite figure out of if they’re playing this as cult comedy — “We’re going STRAIGHT to Hell!” — or straight up B-movie.

All that good that Reeves did his rep with the “John Wick” movies unravels in a performance that requires him to order “Proceed,” and “Do you concur?” to subordinates, as if this is the way humans actually talk, even in a no-safety-procedures privately-funded cloning and human mind transference lab run by the shady Bionyne Ltd — no doubt with lots of tax incentives money to help.

Reeves plays William Foster, who can’t quite make this business of mapping, recording and then transferring the contents of the human brain to a “synthetic”robot work.

He’s obsessed with it, and not just because his not-scary-enough boss (John Ortiz) is running out of patience and budget.

“Would you like a nice reference letter?”

Foster’s wife, Mona (Alice Eve) is a doctor who relocated with him and their three kids to hurricane-proof Puerto Rico, and she’s worried that he’s losing his ability to tell right from wrong. Playing God does that to a scientist — makes him a Mad Scientist.

He insists we’re all just “chemistry” and “neural pathways.” She’s talking about “the soul.”

Sure enough, a car accident tests her thesis and his ability to end his string of failures, as he meekly strong-arms his cloning lab pal Ed (Middleditch) into hiding the accident, disposing of the bodies and setting up a lab where they can clone and then mind-transfer that lost family.

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Reeves has to play the “Sophie’s Choice” moment of this sequence — there are not enough “pods” to clone his entire family. It is not a pretty moment, on the script page or in Keanu’s clumsy hands. Much of the movie has him using a VR helmet as a computer interface, waving his hands about as he cuts and pastes and “maps.”

Middleditch aims to be comic relief with his line readings. How’s the 17 day cloning operation coming.

“They’re a foot taller!”

“Hey, let’s pump the brakes on the crazy talk, here.”

A lot of stuff aside from the science — selectively erasing memory is also touched on — is sort of skimmed-over here. Covering up the death of your family is a complicated thing, fraught with ways you can be found out, as any given week’s “Dateline NBC” will tell you.

You may bring the lovely Alice Eve, still totally “Out of Your League,” back to life. But will she be a Stepford Wife?

A review is, by nature, a collection of evaluations of what a writer, director and actors have done right and ways you’d wished they’d done better. But “Replicas” leaves one at a loss as to possible “fixes.”

It opens with what’s supposed to be shocking and scary, and moves to what should play at tragic, sympathetic, dire and emotional. And Chad St. John’s script, Jeffrey Nachamoff’s direction and Reeves’ performance just don’t deliver.

The movie is like Bill Foster’s mad experiment, a dry technical exercise with a functioning heart, but no soul whatsoever.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz

Credits: Jeffrey Nachmanoff, script by Chad St. John. An Entertainment Studios release.

Running time: 1:47

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Movie Review: “A Dog’s Way Home”

2333242 - A Dog's Way Home

All kids need to know about “A Dog’s Way Home” is that it’s about cute puppies and kitties and a digital cougar.

I mean, there’s a reason “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has stayed on the air for decades and that cute critter videos — especially cats and dogs — dominate the Internet.

It’s got a dog experiencing her first snowfall — “Ice cream is FALLING from the sky!”

And it’s about a dog getting separated from her person and faithfully making her way from New Mexico back to Greater Denver, over a period of years, because “Go home” is the only command a dog absolutely needs to learn.

Parents need to know the story was written by the author of “A Dog’s Purpose” and this May’s “A Dog’s Journey.” And that they’re in the hands of director Charles Martin Smith of “A Dolphin’s Tale.” He would never direct anything that would harm kids.

So even though there’s not a lot of wit or joy to this picture, at least it leans on sentiment and mostly gets away with it. The power of “puppy love,” dogs’ loyalty and therapeutic value to people who are depressed (especially traumatized veterans) have to suffice.

And there is a healthy helping of “peril” as they say in the movie ratings trade. Bella, the mutt (labeled a pit bull by the City of Denver) and voice over narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard, is menaced by a corrupt dog catcher, evil developer, a pack of coyotes and many a roaming dog’s doom — traffic.

As in real life, death crosses Bella’s path.

These scenes have some serious fright to them, but they’re teachable moments and as Walt Disney knew, children can withstand a little scare, here and there, as they develop empathy.

Bella meets good people — a caring gay couple, a depressed homeless vet played by Edward James Olmos, strangers who stop their car on a freeway rather than hit a dog — and bad on her way back to VA employee Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his veteran mom (Ashley Judd).

Bella is stereotyped — she only has to “look like a pit bull” to be banned in Denver (“That’s like racism for dogs!” complains Olivia (Alexandra Shipp), another VA employee who is sweet on Lucas.

“Dog’s Way Home” is aimed at the very young, so don’t expect anything challenging. It moves along but felt limp and kind of lifeless, for all the sentimentality Smith & Co. serve up.

Will Bella make it? Well, what’s the title tell you?

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MPAA Rating:  PG for thematic elements, some peril and language

Cast: Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi

Credits: Directed by Charles Martin Smith, script by W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, based on Cameron’s novel. A Sony/Columbia release

Running time: 1:36

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Next screening? “A Dog’s Way Home”

Bryce Dallas Howard voices the doggy in this “Incredible Journey” knockoff.

The author of “A Dog’s Purpose” wrote it, and reliable kids-and-animals director Charles Martin Smith (“A Dolphin’s Tale”) is behind the camera.

Yeah, the trailer seems a tad insipid, but I’m still not sure why Sony shied away from previewing this one. Must be marketing on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel.

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Movie Review: JCVD (Van Damme) is “The Bouncer”

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There’s something comforting in the way the ageing action star Jean-Claude Van Damme is wearing his years. He’s letting the mileage show, and not losing a lot of sleep about the fact that his punches aren’t what they once seemed to be, his kicks not quite the fight-ending footwork they used to be.

The “Muscles from Brussels” is well-cast as “The Bouncer,” a Belgian thriller (in French, Flemish and English) tailor-made for a world weary man of violence. The thriller, about a nightclub bouncer with a mysterious past caught between the local mobster he works for and blackmailing cops who want a piece of that hoodlum, isn’t all that. But Van Damme’s screen presence carries it as far as it goes, even if that isn’t all the way to a satisfying finish line.

“Lukas” (the film’s title in the rest of the world) is living in his native Belgium, a single dad raising a young daughter (Alice Verset) on a the salary he earns at a local nightbclub.

He spends his evenings breaking up fights, picking up ODs, defending waitresses and generally cleaning up the mayhem in the maelstrom of thumping techno in a club illuminated in flashes of blue and grey.

He injures a guy who was shoving a waitress around and loses his job. But his younger got-your-back boss (the rapper Kaaris, an arresting presence) knows of “this strip club in Ixelles.” Lukas has, at least an interview.

Here’s the first JCVD moment in “Bouncer.” Lukas shows up at the Funny Pony, is led to the basement where there are many other candidates for the job.

“It’s simple,” the boss (Kevin Janssens) growls. “The last man standing gets the job.”

Lukas is bloodied and dropped in the brawl that follows. But never count out the Muscles from Brussels.

Things turn complicated when the cops want to ask him questions about losing that previous job. Charges have been filed, and the police notice this Lukas is a man without a past, whose daughter is in private school under a false name.

“Who are you hiding from?

It’s OK, the EU agent (Sami Bouajila) assures him. Inexplicably, based on the accident that happened to the punk in the club, the EU special police want Lukas on their team and are willing to blackmail him — get the charges dropped — to get him to agree to it.

They want to know what the ruthless, mob-connected club owner (Sam Louwyck) is up to.

And Jan, that club owner, has his own questions of his new employee.

“Where are you from? Nobody knows you. You have one number in your phone.”

He, too, is instantly impressed with Lukas, entrusting him to guard the valuable Italian blonde (Sveva Alviti, given too little to do), bringing Lukas along for the hard jobs — kidnapping the expert drug cooker, etc.

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The plot is strictly hash, with coincidences, obvious clues and twists we see coming, with a couple of half-speed fights and half-hearted shootouts and car chases tossed in for variety.

The director gave the world “The Assault” and “The Crew” and the screenwriter scripted “The Night Eats the World.” So as we say in English, not Flemish or French, “It is what it is.”

But Van Damme, wearing a hoodie over a hoodie in most scenes, eyes cast down, staying on task, is a mesmerizing presence at the heart of it all. He’s not just playing a guy who has seen it all before, fought his way through this sort of thing too many times to count.

That’s sort of who he is now, a grizzled, melancholy tough guy — at least in the movies.

He was never Mr. One-Liner, never quite Stallone or Statham or the rest, even as they all aged into action heroes who relied on prop guns instead of fight choreography to get by.

And unlike the rest, he’s letting the years and miles show even if the movies shrink to fit his diminished screen profile as he does.

1half-star

MPAA Rating:  R for violence, language and brief nudity/sexuality

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sami Bouajila, Sveva Alviti, Alice Verset, Kaaris, Kevin Janssens

Credits: Directed by Julien Leclercq, written by Jérémie Guez. A Blue Fox release.

Running time: 1:34

 

 

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Preview, Netflix reunited Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo for a horrific spoof of the art biz — “Velvet Buzzsaw”

What’s great, worth going to see and buying? What’s hot in the art world, worth investing in?

Whatever we tell you is, darling.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a satiric thriller from Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) about a new “discovery,” already dead and thus valuable to art dealers and collectors, whose paintings and other works exert a murderous influence over those who come into contact with them.

“We’re trending on Instagram!”

Love Gyllenhaal’s eyesight-challenged taste-setter in this, and yes — he’s re-teamed with Rene Russo, his “Nightcrawler” object of desire, for it.

Toni Collette and John Malkovich also star in the film, in Netflix and select theaters on Feb. 1.

 

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The Worst Movie Theater in America? Your Nominees?

There’s nothing like the smell of a new multiplex. Every one I got into advances the state of the art, it seems, and some even improve the movie-going experience.

A new Epic Theater where I live has all this digital ticket buying and concession buying that eventually, like fast food joints, they will be able to cut staff and run the place paperless, if not entirely cash-less, with virtually no one to man the snack bar, tear tickets, etc.

The upselling of “reserved seating” is sweeping the business the way digital projection did in the mid-2000s.

But not every theater is new, and even a lot of the new ones leave a lot to desired for quality of experience, customer service, quality sealing, decent food and cleanliness.

And believe me, I’ve seen some disasters, and not just the ones up on the screen.

I’ve been reviewing movies since the 1980s, and as part of that, I’ve written stories for various newspapers over the years over a beloved local cinema that has fallen on hard times, others that have been allowed to fall apart.

I’ve written “The Last Drive-in” story more times than I can count. At the Orlando Sentinel, I visited every surviving drive-in in Florida for a story that took months to finish (most of them have since closed).

But I also surveyed all of the region’s movie theaters when I first started there for another story. Many were aged dumps where it took effort to lift yourself out of broken chairs, to lift your foot off permanently-stick floors.

A truism then and now? Theaters don’t do a lot of fixing of things that get busted. Seats, bathrooms, etc., are just roped off. This has been going on since the ’90s.

The great “purge” of smaller theaters and multi-plexes that happened around 2000 wiped out many of these dumps, though a few survive as second-run houses.

“The rescreening of America,” as the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) used to characterize it at their annual ShowEast convention in Orlando (which I covered) put new 14-24 screen theaters all across American in the mid-2000s, oddly at the same time as the Great Purge of Newspaper Movie Critics began.

But bad movie-going experiences still abound. I duck into theaters in small towns and big cities on my travels. And a few experiences, often repeated (as necessity takes me back to some “bad” cinemas repeatedly) stand out as the worst I’ve seen, perhaps the worst in America.

Decades of rumors that “it’s closing” have dogged the Oviedo Marketplace Regal outside of Orlando, a cinema that over the years has developed a bad reputation for botched showings.

Dank second run houses are pretty much the same everywhere, Deland or Durham, New York or Newport News.

But a few first-run theaters stand out, in my 35 years or so of reviewing experience, with recent visits burning the memory into my brain.

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Check out the negative Yelp! and Google reviews for the Stadium 10 at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, a theater I have visited a couple of times while checking in on elderly relatives.

It’s scorching hot in the summer, see-your-breath cold in the winter. I am only now getting over the bronchitis that I am sure I contracted while freezing through something there last Thanksgiving. And online customer reviews have been bitching about this for YEARS.

The pleasant-enough staff sell last-night’s popcorn, and apologize for the heat. Or the AC. The busted, torn and sticky seats and often filthy auditoriums? Not so much.

It’s a terrible theater, not the worst staffed (a lot of AMCs seem to best it in that regard), but a real dump that city inspectors ought to close until they fix it.

Is it the worst theater in America? I think it might be.

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The Satellite Cinemas in a dead mall in Titusville, Florida, lost their gear, their management and their monopoly when a shiny new Epic multiplex opened down the street.

Mall management, as is often the case, desperately wants that foot traffic the theater generated (not enough to keep the mall from converting into dance and gymnastics studios, an antiques indoor flea market, etc.). So they reopened it, as some mall management companies do. Second run. Rented projection gear.

And virtually no usable seats. It’s a pit. I took a tip about it and ducked in there the other day. A disaster.

But what about you? Are you stuck in a neighborhood or town with a zombie cinema, a smelly, cold and underlit corpse where “I’ll wait to watch it on Netflix” changes your moviegoing habits forever?

Feel free to name your candidates in the comments. Shaming them might not do any good, but with this site’s Google Search position, management will get an eyeful of abuse about what they need to correct, even if they’re ignoring Yelp! and Google Reviews.

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Kevin Hart and Colbert — the “Last Apology?”

Kevin Hart’s got a movie that might have, at one time, been looked at as a “game changer” for him, to promote.

“The Upside” was filmed a few years ago and is just now coming out at what has felt like the Peak Kevin Hart Moment. He’s King of Hollywood, the biggest box office comic of the day. Even his middling movies make a mint.

He was even picked to be the host of the Oscars. But we all know what happened after that.

Old tweets and jokes came back to haunt him, he said he’d already apologized for that, when he hadn’t.

Gave up the hosting gig, finally got around to apologizing.

Got a “Get out of Hollywood Jail Free” card from Ellen DeGeneres, which didn’t pan out. And then on “Good Morning America” he found his new catch-phrase. Enough apologizing, enough of this public pillorying by the Interweb’s Social Justice Warriors.

He says “I’m over it.”

All of which was preamble to his appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

Where he had to deal with this controversy yet again, and get lectured by Colbert on how “The audience decides when they’re over it, not you.”

Being in the hot seat in front of a TV camera is not a comfy spot, not where you do your best thinking on the fly. Even if you’re prepared to be asked about this.

Hart, whose stand-up documentaries are what made him blow up a few years ago, has come off in the most recent of those films as a guy rich, successful and surrounded by people who don’t challenge him — sycophants. The last stand-up film he put into theaters showed him reveling in excess, success and weak jokes that nobody around him had the guts to say, “Let’s hire some writers to build your set up a little. Because this isn’t cutting it.”

So he A) might have thought he’d apologized, or thought saying “I’ve already apologized” was correct, because nobody around him said otherwise and he just forgot or blocked it out of his memory. He didn’t realize that B), when you say “I’m over it” to your entourage, they laugh and that’s that. “Good Morning America” isn’t your entourage. Nor is Colbert. Colbert is right. Hart doesn’t get to decide. The audience does.

But being on the hot seat he missed his surest “out” with Colbert and with this whole stink. Every time he says “I’m over it,” the audience applauds. He should have said, “Right, Stephen. And what did the AUDIENCE here just do when I said ‘I’m over it?’ They APPLAUDED.”

He’s not the only comic to have played the gay gag card, not even the only one to have made that “If my son told me he was gay” threat joke.

In the current climate of crime and recriminations, eight year old tweets aren’t even a misdemeanor.

But I think I get what DeGeneres was trying to do. You can’t selectively enforce shaming of acts within the broad umbrella of intolerance. You can’t deliver the death penalty to celebrities who don’t kowtow quickly enough. And those often nameless online “police” — can’t be allowed to trample the celebrity-scape unpoliced themselves.

Lady Gaga and her “Monsters,” at the forefront of the Social Justice Warrior crusading (and OSCAR campaigning) seem awfully tolerant of her collaborating with R. Kelly when every predatory thing about him has been on the public record and well known since 2003. And she STILL did a duet with him. Why should she be even CONSIDERED for an Oscar?

For that matter, somebody piece together all the times Bradley Cooper cracked “That’s so gay/Don’t be gay” in “The Hangover” movies. Comedies are where “The best joke on the set wins.” Did he improvise the line, or just think it was scripted funny and not challenge it?

Bradley Cooper wants an Oscar as badly as his “A Star is Born” co-star. Why not net-troll that chance away from him?

The answer, at least to Cooper’s case, is that this is no James Franco/Kevin Spacey level offense. Nor is Hart’s.

So yeah, he’s “over it.” We’ll see how the box office for “The Upside” turns out, but my bet is the audience (And he knows his audience, especially.) is “over it” too. It’s not terrible, and one suspects that a lot of reviews of it panned Hart over the controversy and not necessarily the overlong and slightly heavy-handed crowd pleaser that Neil Burger directed.

Maybe the rest of us should take a hint, including those short attention span Internet assault leaders. You ruined Hart’s Oscar hosting high. Considering the crime, that’s enough.

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