Game Night Review

A film like Game Night lives for the absurd and unexpected. Pushing the audience to the limits of plausibility, yet somehow avoiding jumping the shark in the process. It does its best to show the audience a good time, all while throwing in laugh out loud plot twists and a variety of comedy styles (including deadpan, dark, situational, and even occasional gross-out comedy).

Game Night focuses on the characters of Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), who are as competitive as individuals could possibly get. Frequently dominating the game nights they host for their friend group, Max and Annie are surprised when Max’s overachieving brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to visit. Brooks decides to give hosting a try and sets up a murder mystery party with fake criminals and FBI agents. However, as the game wears on and its participants compete to solve the mystery, they all discover that it’s not a game at all, and that their lives are in real danger. Leading to one wild chain of events and worst possible outcomes imaginable.

The film quickly proved to be more comedically intelligent than I would’ve anticipated, as jokes set up early on as one-offs would turn out to be well-crafted, long-running gags that span the length of the movie, and they all work. Occasionally a bit will be off the mark or badly timed, but the film moves so fast that there really isn’t time to fixate on the poor slices of humor.

The ceaseless bickering of our two leads is carried out with such finesse, such authenticity, that I found their performances particularly noteworthy for that very reason. They fire back and forth at one another in this passive-aggressive tone that really worked given the actors and scenarios. In one scene, after Jason Bateman is shot in the forearm, Rachel McAdams is forced to perform an impromptu surgery on him in a back alley. What ensues is so ridiculous, gross, and perfectly timed that I wouldn’t dare ruin it here.

And while the cast plays off the circumstances of the story quite wonderfully, the true star of Game Night is indeed the plot, which was so far-fetched that I certainly had no idea where it would go next. Often films try to immerse the moviegoer into the experience, as if they were part of the movie. Here, the moviegoer is more an innocent bystander watching the madness unfold, all to our sick sadistic pleasure.

I enjoyed Game Night in all its twists, turns, and various comedic ventures. I was constantly kept on my toes awaiting the next set of crazy plot twists or weird attempt at humor. Game Night was a much more exciting and all-around better film than I would’ve ever expected, and I can’t really argue with that.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Peter Rabbit Review

When I heard Sony was making a live-action/CGI animated film of Peter Rabbit (based on the stories by Beatrix Potter), my mind immediately went to Sony Animation’s The Smurfs. A film so dull and manipulative that it practically invented the term “corporate pandering”, I was sure Peter Rabbit would suffer the same fate.

Luckily, in some ways I was wrong. Meaning that Peter Rabbit had some redeeming qualities, which are sadly overshadowed by an overall lackluster picture.

Peter Rabbit stars the adorable rabbit himself Peter (voiced by James Corden), who loves sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegetable garden. After Mr. McGregor’s sudden passing, his home is left to one of his distant relatives named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), who plans to sell the house and make a pretty penny in the process. When Thomas discovers the rabbits intruding on his newly acquired property, he decides to take “pest” control into his own hands as an epic battle ensues between the two rivaling parties: man vs. rabbits.

The most insufferable part of Peter Rabbit was of course Peter Rabbit himself, along with the rest of his CGI entourage. All the humor and high jinks surrounding their characters have been done to death, and subsequently they get very few laughs. Most jokes went on for a painful amount of time, and sometimes I had to stop watching altogether (especially when the rabbits just kept talking).

The funniest moments were the oddly dark scenes, like when Mr. McGregor has a heart attack and dies out of nowhere. Not only are the animals overjoyed by his death, they celebrate by partying and trashing his house. While I found these scenes to be rather hilarious, when taking into account the target audience of Peter Rabbit (that being young children) it’s distastefully out of place.

The messages and morals are so on the nose that it treats kids as if they haven’t the least bit of intelligence. And because these messages are so at odds with the story and the characters’ behaviors, Peter Rabbit ends up being a pretty pointless endeavor. The film gives the vague appearance that Peter and Thomas learn something at the end, but their characters make no real change. In fact, both characters seemingly learned these lessons at multiple points in the movie yet resort back to their immature selves just moments later.

As far as creative, funny content goes, Peter Rabbit has more to offer adults in the first thirty minutes than it does kids for the whole movie. Still, this isn’t to say adults will like this, as the vast majority is quite boring. Storywise, this is your typical half-hearted family comedy. Some attempts at real jokes and emotional moments are made, other times it all feels dull, disingenuous, and too cynical. Domhnall Gleeson gives his very best performance, and a lot of times his talent for acting works past the mediocrities, rising to levels of complete insanity. Other than that, everyone (including our furry stars) is bland and uninteresting. And seeing that Paddington 2 came out just a few months prior, there really is no excuse for such a boring story and bland personalities.

My disdain for a product like Peter Rabbit may sound trivial, but I strongly feel that movies should treat children with more respect. Attempting to inspire and challenge kids, as well as make them use their brains. Movies shouldn’t manipulate kids and subject them to apathetic corporate hullabaloo.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Daddy’s Home 2: A Ho Ho Horrible Holiday ‘Comedy’

Daddys Home 2 follows the occasionally used formula of turning a comedy sequel into a holiday escapade. An almost always disastrous decision (just look at A Bad Moms Christmas), it will surprise no one to hear that Daddy’s Home 2 is a comedic flop. With the first Daddy’s Home being a mediocre and forgettable comedy, this installment had no intentions whatsoever in surpassing it.

Will Ferrell plays his usual man-child schtick, and Mark Wahlberg plays a tough guy. Together they co-parent a set of forgettable child actors, who are disappointed they always must do two Christmases. That’s when Ferrell and Wahlberg get the bright idea to do a joint Christmas, as well as invite both of their dads in on the excitement. Their dads unfortunately consist of Mel Gibson (a stereotypical racist) and John Lithgow (a mirror image of Will Ferrell). From here, wacky and predictable hijinks ensue.

The only clever bit in the film involved a below the belt jab at Liam Neeson and his typical style of movies. Apparently in this universe, Neeson starred in a terribly bloated action film called Missile Tow (Get it!). From my guess, this is some kind of holiday version of Taken or Non-Stop. Pretty humorous nonetheless.

Daddy’s Home 2 suffers from the same ailment as every other bad comedy. That being, it’s not funny. It’s constantly caught between trying way too hard to be comedic and not trying at all. Sometimes there are moments of slapstick humor that are painfully long, and at other times there are scenes where I’m waiting for a punchline that never comes.

And by the end of Daddy’s Home 2, few of the characters went through any sort of change or revelation. They’re all still horrible people, yet the film accepts this and just decides to end on a poor note. Nothing is gained from watching it. In fact, all Daddy’s Home 2 really did was shine a spotlight on the limitations of these actors and actresses.

There was one particular scene in the film that really rubbed me the wrong way, and I think it really captures the mentality of Daddy’s Home 2. It’s when the entire cast gathers at a movie theater towards the conclusion of the movie. Will Ferrell’s character stands up in front of a crowd and makes a comment on how everyone came to the theater with someone they love. Except, of course, one man in the back, who came to the movie alone on Christmas. Will Ferrell then makes a passing remark on how this man is sad, and somewhat pathetic.

Well, movie, Christmas for some isn’t so joyful, and is quite lonely and depressing. So, when you make a shoddy, low-quality, unfunny, sloppy joke such as that, you come off as a huge dick.

Bottom line, this movie sucks.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

It was obvious from the get-go that The LEGO Ninjago Movie would be the least inspired installment of the continuing LEGO Movie franchise. Based loosely off a children’s cartoon series (which in turn was based off a preexisting toyline), The LEGO Ninjago Movie tells the story of Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), who lives in a metropolitan city constantly threatened by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Lloyd happens to be the most despised individual in the entire city, mostly because of his relation to Lord Garmadon.

Luckily, Garmadon never comes close to ruling over anything, because the LEGO city is protected by a secretive ninja force led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan). And, unbeknownst to just about everyone, Lloyd happens to be one of those very ninjas. He, along with the rest of his ninja friends, is about to embark on a dangerous quest to stop Lord Garmadon for good.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie features many bizarre creative choices that I found to be quite delightful. The tone and the genre of the film, for example, are ever-changing and seem to be a blend of many ideas.

This film should’ve come with a hyperactivity warning, as there are very few breathers for the audience. Not only are the scene transitions quick, but entire plot points fly by at a rapid pace. What felt like five minutes of watching LEGO Ninjago turned out to be an hours’ worth of the film.

Sadly, most of the characters didn’t have any depth or personality to them. Other than the lead antagonist Garmadon and Master Wu, none really stood out as being interesting. I noticed multiple talented voice actors behind the little brick figures, but I guess the script didn’t call for utilizing their full potential.

Probably the best aspect of the film was the clever humor poking fun at popular action/adventure genre tropes. In one scene, they mock the overuse of the popular sound effect dubbed the Wilhelm Scream (heard in Star Wars as well as Indiana Jones). In another hilarious scene, they comment on how the wise character in action/adventure movies always withhold incredibly important knowledge until they’re in the process of dying. Very funny.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie had plenty of comedic, fun-filled moments, yet unfortunately lacked the charm of its LEGO predecessors. There are a plethora of scenes attempting to teach kids very simple and valuable messages. But where these scenes came off as cute in LEGO Batman and The LEGO Movie, here they’re just sappy. Those looking for a fast-paced children’s comedy won’t need to search any further. However, if you were expecting anything more than that, you may find yourself disappointed.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The House (2017) Review

If you’ve ever wondered how a film could perfectly squander the acting talents of two A-list movie stars, then look no further than The House.

The House stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate, two parents trying to send their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) to college. With very little money to do so, Scott and Kate reluctantly decide to open up an illegal casino in the basement of their good friend Frank’s (Jason Mantzoukas) house. As they quickly become absorbed into the Vegas-esque lifestyle, Scott and Kate soon realize the bit off way more than they can chew, with angry councilmen, dim-witted cops, and even gangsters hot on their trail.

The most unfortunate aspect of The House isn’t its poorly paced plot or the abundance of shoddy scenes that go nowhere. No, the worst part of this entire picture happened to be the shockingly lousy performances of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, who were given too much free rein in their acting. It was as if they were both put in front of a camera and told to “be funny”. This decision to use improvisation resulted in horrible comedic timing, with many awkward pauses that constantly broke up the dialogue.

The one saving grace of The House that rescues it from being a complete failure in comedy, is the arrival of Jeremy Renner’s character. Renner played a mob boss whose behavior matched the nonsensical tone of the film much better than anyone else. The few scenes Renner was involved with are downright over-the-top and ridiculous, which actually got some laughs from the audience. Even though his presence in the film was short-lived, his character was infinitely more entertaining than Ferrell or Poehler.

The House could’ve been a much more successful comedy, had it only embraced the absurd nature of the premise (and stuck to a more focused plot). The moments where Will Ferrell is chopping off fingers and Jeremy Renner is getting set on fire are hilarious, but make up only a small sliver of the film. Most of the time the audience is subjected to embarrassingly stale humor from actors that deserve a better vessel to showcase their talents.

With overwhelmingly bad direction, crummy plot pacing, and lots of wasted potential, The House is a film that audiences will be quick to forget.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Review

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” That is the opening line to one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. From the moment I first watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was instantly in love with its dark humor and outlandish visuals.

Upon release, critics didn’t quite like Fear and Loathing, and it wasn’t that successful at the box office either. More recently however, the film has attained cult status, with a steadily growing fan base.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the book by the same name, and stars Johnny Depp as the revered Hunter S. Thompson (who goes under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke). Raoul, along with his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), are on a trip to Las Vegas to journalistically cover the Mint 400 race. Armed with a suitcase full of higher powered drugs, the entire trip instead becomes one big hallucinogenic drug filled experience.

As far as staying true to the novel, I think Fear and Loathing is among the best adaptations I’ve seen. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the film is actually taken straight from the book. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put in to give the viewer the same iconic imagery and peculiar sense of humor as the book. One of my favorite scenes in the film (and book) is when Duke first arrives to the hotel, and starts hallucinating that all the guests are actually giant lizards. This scene is full of lifelike puppets and vibrant colors reflecting off Duke’s face, giving the viewer the feeling they too are on a bad drug trip. Overall a brilliant use of freaky images and great lighting technique.

Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson is beyond hilarious and entertaining. I would go so far as to say it is one of his greatest roles to date. All the mannerisms and quirks of Hunter S. Thompson are fantastically mimicked by Depp, giving viewers a very memorable performance. The way he walks around bow legged and mumbles with a cigarette in his mouth cracks me up every time I see it.

The consensus I’ve heard critics is that Fear and Loathing had very little, if anything at all, to say. I would have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think Fear and Loathing had a lot of insightful commentary, particularly about the counterculture movement of the 60’s and the growing levels of American consumerism. There is one scene in particular where Duke monologues about the 1960’s, perfectly summing up the counterculture movement better than I’ve ever heard before. He sites how his peace-loving generation seemed like it was winning the cultural fight without ever hurting another person. Yet, somehow everything changed. The hippies lost all the momentum. This “Wave Speech”, as it is most commonly known, is worth watching the film for all on its own.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains one of my favorite films of all time, and for very good reason. The dark sense of humor, commentary on 1960’s counterculture, and peculiar imagery all work to make this a one of a kind film. Plus, the film gave us some of the best Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro performances to date.  I really think Fear and Loathing is a masterpiece of cinema, plain and simple. Hopefully it will continue to get the admiration and recognition it rightfully deserves.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint


Good Burger Review

Over time, Good Burger seems to have grown a strange cult following of fans who grew up with the flick. This goofball film is often treated like the Citizen Kane of the fast-food industry. Hell, when Netflix attempted to remove Good Burger from their streaming service, they were met with severe backlash. Am I missing something? I mean, is it really anything more than a cheap Nickelodeon movie?

The almighty Good Burger stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who previously appeared in their own Nickelodeon show together called Kenan & Kel. Kenan plays Dexter Reed, a high school student who hits his teacher’s car at the beginning of summer break, forcing him to get a job in fast-food. He takes a job working at Good Burger, a restaurant slowly going out of business due to its new competitor Mondo Burger. Here, Dexter meets a dimwitted cashier named Ed (played by Kel), who seems to live, breathe, and sleep fast-food. What follows is a very random series of events that I feel appropriate to only label as ‘hi-jinks’.

The writing of Good Burger is just so shockingly bizarre that I’m not really sure what to make of it. I’m mostly speaking about the films sense of humor, since every other word uttered by Kel Mitchell in the film is a ridiculously lazy pun. At times, I laughed at Good Burger’s weird jokes, however on most occasions I was trying to understand why anyone else would laugh at Good Burger. Some puns in this flick are clever, and others are just written so peculiarly that they got confused chuckles out of me.

Unfortunately, most of Kel’s puns come from him taking every statement someone makes literal, which gets very annoying very fast. In one scene of Good Burger, a customer orders a burger with nothing on it. Kel then gives the customer just given two buns with no meat. That was the joke. He got just two buns, get it! It’s just so downright stupid I’m not sure why I’m even wasting my time discussing why it’s not funny.

One thing Good Burger does surprisingly get right, is that it acts as a perfect snapshot of the time period it came out of. It reminds me of all the original Nickelodeon and Disney films that were released in the nineties. Good Burger also just has this inherent nineties feel to all of its cheesiness. These features both date the film, and give it a sense of timelessness.

The plot and characters of Good Burger are entertaining enough that kids will easily have a fun time watching it. The protagonists actually have some okay development throughout the story, and the plot does have exciting moments. This is probably the reason most people love Good Burger, because they saw it much more objectively as a child. When parents see the talking hamburgers with eyes, a strange ex-Black Panther played by Sinbad (seriously movie?), and a surprising amount of race and sexual humor for a kid movie, they will probably just be confused.

When all is said and done, I guess I can’t really hate Good Burger. I can respect why so many people love it, as Good Burger gives fans a nostalgic and sentimental feeling they  value greatly. However, the writing is unfortunately absurd and atrocious, and the humor is beyond cringeworthy. Yet, I somehow found a subtle hint of charm to the madness onscreen.

If you’ve never seen Good Burger before, then maybe that’s for the best. If you do plan on viewing it at some point, going in with low comedic expectations is highly recommended.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint