Friday
Jan112019

THE ODD COUPLE OF THE UPPER EAST SIDE // A FILM REVIEW OF "THE UPSIDE"

BY MATEO MORENO

THE UPSIDE, the new remake of the 2011 French mega hit Les Intouchables, has been on the shelf since 2017. Not because of any content the movie had but because it was collateral damage in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It eventually found a January release date (never a great sign if you’re not an action film), and we can finally get to see Kevin Hart go toe to toe against Bryan Cranston in a dramedy that’s “sort of” based on a true story (at least the original was). This American remake hits basically the same beats as the original film, but changes up the story a bit.

The story itself is about an ex-convict named Dell Scott (played by Hart) who needs to find a job, or at least look like he’s trying to find one, so that he can bring the proof back to his parole officer. He shows up to the mansion of Phillip Lacasse (played by Bryan Cranston) who is a billionaire quadriplegic who needs a caretaker. Yvonee Pendelton (Nicole Kidman) is giving the interview and she’s not impressed. But Phillip sees something that he likes, something that’s different, and hired Dell. At first, Dell isn’t interested in the job, until he hears the salary and he jumps at the opportunity immediately. Now begins an odd couple dramedy where the young black ex con teaches the billionaire white man how to live with his heart, and the billionaire white man teaches the black ex con how to live with his head. Stop me if you’re starting to cringe.

 

Why Director Neil Burger decided to remake this film, and why Hart and Cranston (and even Kidman) decided to jump on board is a mystery. The film plays, much like the 2011 French film did, like a movie that was made in the 1980’s and feels way outdated in the gender and racial politics of today. But yet, it wasn’t. The film is new, but no idea is. Stereotypes abound the film and even though Hart and Cranston both give solid performances, the film is a flopping, offensive mess. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so offensive that you’ll want to walk out of the theatre. But it's just offensive enough that you'll be upset that you're not seeing something that's more clever. Or actually funny. Unless you like catheter humor or enjoy how Dell can’t say the word “penis.” Monty Python watch out. This is comedy gold.

 

MATEO'S GRADE: D

BASED ON THE FILM "LES INTOUCHABLES" WRITTEN BY  Éric Toledano, Oliver Nakache SCREENPLAY BY Jon Hartmere DIRECTED BY Neil Berger STARRING Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman. Now playing in cinemas.
Sunday
Jan062019

TOGETHER WE FALL // A FILM REVIEW OF "ESCAPE ROOM"

BY MATEO MORENO

 

Turning games into films have not had the best track record. Remember the big screen versions of BATTLESHIP? How about RAMPAGE? PRINCE OF PERSIA? Okay those are bad examples, but to be fair, there aren’t really many good examples. But the idea of turning the concept of an escape room into a low budget horror movie seems like an idea someone should have had years ago. So, it is puzzling that it’s just now happening. Director Adam Robitel, who was the man behind last year's Insidious: The Last Key, strikes his vision here with ESCAPE ROOM, the feature debut of the game we all love or hate. And for the most part, it’s a lot of fun, as long as you don’t think too hard about it.

 

A mysterious box shows up on the figurative doorsteps of six strangers: a withdrawn young student Zoey (Taylor Russell), a full of himself finance man Jason (Jay Ellis), an army vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), underachieving Ben (Logan Miller), everyday guy Mike (Tyler Labine) and a super fan of Escape Rooms Danny (Nik Dodani). Inside the box is a private invitation to try out the latest game room, which they all accept, for various reasons. Once they arrive in the waiting room, they realize they have actually begun the Escape Room, but quickly find out that this is unlike any other room out there. This one has real fire, real danger, and each room seemed aimed at one of their own personal fears or tragic things from their past. Each room offers separate but equal dangers and they must all work together to get through them. But being a horror movie, not all of them do and the thrill is to see how many of them can, indeed, escape.

 

There’s a lot to like in this small little horror gem, including some solid dark comedy and some really creative and fun to watch rooms. And the cast are all game, and rarely are the characterizations overtly annoying (the super fan is a bit much though). The final act of the film dives a bit too grand in my option; I honestly feel playing it a bit smaller would have done the film more justice. But it’s a fun ride with some really exciting and bizarre setups. And it’ll make you think twice about going back to a game room yourself. Because this is not a good advertisement for a night out with your friends

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B

WRITTEN BY Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik DIRECTED BY Adam Robitel STARRING Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nik Dodani. Now playing in select cinemas.
Thursday
Nov082018

MONKEY BUSINESS // A THEATRE REVIEW OF "KING KONG THE MUSICAL"

BY MATEO MORENO

 

Before I delve too much into anything specific, let's just say off the bat: KING KONG is amazing. The puppet that is. It's a mouth dropping wonder, one that comes to life right in front of you and shows more emotions and nuance than the entire cast put together. And every single puppeteer deserves all the credit in the world. They hop up and down and all around, bringing every inch of Kong to life (off stage, the "Voodoo operators" work their magic on Kong's face and somehow bring a genuine sense of wonder and heartbreak to the giant beast). From the first thunderous roar to the well-deserved final bow of the evening, the 50-foot star of the show deserves ALL of your applause. As for the rest of the show. Well....not so much.

 

The plot pretty much resembles the original 1933 film with a few changes, and even more changes from the Australian World Premire from a few years ago. Gone are the island natives to fight, as are the dinosaurs (though there IS a giant snake that seems straight out of a bad Godzilla movie and long vines that are... maybe alive?). Also missing is the love interest or any character other than Anne (Christiani Pitts), the film director Carl Denham (Eric William Morris) and a random character named Lumpy (Erik Lochefeld). Instead the plot centers completely on Anne moving to NY to become an actress but failing. Since she's broke and apparently been living in Central Park (though we only see about three minutes of her "journey"), she's out of options. A film director that doesn't at all seem sketchy tells her she needs to be in his next picture! That has no script! And is taking place far.... away... (if you're thinking this sounds like a kidnapping, you're not the only one). But remember, she's out of options, so she jumps onboard of Denham's movie to be shot in a location that he tells no one, but we all know it to be Skull Island. Once we arrive, Kong appears and takes the reins from everyone else.

 

Director and Choreographer Drew McOnie has pieced this epic show together with such a breakneck speed that you would think perhaps the fast-paced plot is because the world is ending. I mean, why else open with a dance number so chaotically frantic as this one (it's like seventeen dance numbers all in one, and not in a good way) and then rush through the plot instead of ever stopping to explain much of anything with the human characters? The dance style is all over the place, as is the very bad score by Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect. The good news is that there's really not that many songs. The bad news is that there's not one good one. Seriously. Not one. Hearing this score makes me REALLY scared to see Beetlejuice, Perfect's next Broadway tuner. The background score by Marius De Vries (La, La Land) is much more effective, setting the mood and pushing along scenes nicely. Which begs the question: Why is this a musical at all? If we've learned anything from epic blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or War Horse and epic disasters like Ghost or Spiderman: Turn off the Dark it's that a Broadway spectacle can tell a story WITHOUT song and dance, especially in the fantasy realm (not that War Horse is a fantasy, but can you imagine if the horses would have had taps on their hooves? Thank God for small miracles).

 

Yes, there's a lot of missteps: The giant Snake/Kong battle is the definition of lame and is half blocked from the audience randomly by a giant sheet of ice, and the Skull Island jungle has some really bad left-over set pieces from Tarzan and Spider-Man, making it feel like a few things were sitting in the alley and the director went, "Eh. Why not?" But there are some shining moments. Christiani Pitts is a more than serviceable Anne Darrow, one that, in an inspired casting choice, is African American instead of the typical Caucasian blonde. Though her character is written fairly unlikable (She really does screw over Kong badly and then in Act II can't stop talking about herself), the actress does share some lovely small moments with the giant Beast. She also has some laughable bigger moments (her "scream/roar" is pretty dumb), but it feels more like bad direction than acting. The same can't be said for Eric William Morris who overacts an underwritten role, and Erik Lochefeld who really does next to nothing, but you can tell that book writer Jack Thorne really wanted you to "feel something" with his character. Speaking of Thorne, there has been a good amount of criticism over Mr. Thorne's co-adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and although it's not perfect, I will continue to defend it, having seen it on stage several times and been moved by the dialogue as much as the magic. The book for King Kong though is wretched. I feel like he wrote it in a weekend. And he was also really, REALLY busy that weekend. And possibly drunk.

 

So, after all of that, I couldn't POSSIBLY still recommend it, right? But I am. Because of one thing: Kong. Actually, I take that back. Because of Kong and all of his puppeteers. Not only was I completely enthralled with the puppet himself, but I also was thrilled watching the team climb on and off his back, sling down on wires, and climb up his back like a million worker bees. I'm not saying go spend $500 dollars on this. But see it for the spectacle. See it and be wowed by the scenic design (the boat trip to Skull Island is pretty great as well). And maybe hum a different tune as the songs come on, because you won't care about Perfect's score, but you will care about the Beast.

 

GRADE: C-
Music by Eddie Perfect and Marius De Vries Lyrics by Eddie Perfect Book by Jack Thorne Directed and Choreographed by Drew McOnie Starring Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris, Erik Lochefeld. Playing at The Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NYC. For more information and tickets: https://kingkongbroadway.com/