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January Movies – Choose Wisely

Hope Madden Hope Madden January Movies – Choose WiselyPhoto via IMDb
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Man, it sure is January. Everybody’s out there trying to make that Paul Blart “there’s nothing to see, guess I’ll just go to this” money. Well, Dolittle is a little better than the trailer would lead you to believe. Bad Boys for Life is even worse the trailer makes it seem. There are some awfully good documentaries you can catch, though.

Bad Boys for Life

by Hope Madden

It’s been 17 years since we last checked in on Detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and his goofy partner Marcus (Martin Lawrence). One of them has intimacy issues. One of them always wants to retire. They drive recklessly around Miami and wreak general havoc.

In those 17 years, Generation X has gotten old.

Marcus has a grandbaby now and wants to retire again. Then Mike is almost killed, so now Marcus really wants to retire. That means frustrated Mike, desperate to reestablish his manhood by finding the guy who tried to kill him, must team up with Miami PD’s new superteam, AMMO.

That’s right, AMMO, which stands for literally the most attractive group of police officers in the history of crime. They’re tech-tactical. They have a drone and shit, and no one would ever notice a drone flying into the abandoned warehouse while they do an arms deal.

But Mike don’t play that. He’s old school. And old. You know he’s old because he’s always wearing long sleeved shirts and jackets in Miami.

Is Bad Boys for Life ludicrous? Oh, hell yes. Luckily its casual sexism and jingoism are offset by its refreshing pro-violence stance.

Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilail Fallah—whose Shakespearean take on Brussels gang violence, Black, is well worth finding—offer no such lyrical balance of carnage and emotion here. It’s actually hard to imagine a film franchise so single-mindedly opposite of their insightful gangster drama.

It’s clear the marching orders were: get the bad boys back together, blow stuff up and trade quips! Fine, but who ordered all the forced ridiculousness and tonal whiplash?

Saddled with a breathtakingly by-the-numbers script by committee (Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan), the directing duo punctuates dramatic moments with comic relief, distracts from a weak story with nonsensical car chases and explosions, and when all else fails, falls back on daddy issues.

Don’t look at the credits and you’d swear Michael Bay directed this movie. (Bonus: Bay has a cameo.)

The film broaches interesting themes as one partner turns to God while another turns to bloodthirsty vengeance in the face of death. But Lawrence, ever the sloppy sidekick, makes clear that spirituality and peace are only fodder for jokes and neither partner will regain his manhood until there’s a massive weapon between his legs and he’s shooting Mexicans out of the sky.

Will Mike learn to love? Will he whip his tech-savvy and law-abiding new team into shape (that is, help them to embrace lethal and mainly illegal justice)?

And finally, can we expect more of this?

Maybe. Whatcha gonna do?

Grade: C-

Dolittle

by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with a animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but its eager-to-please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

Grade: C

The Cave

by George Wolf

A mother wails in agony over her dead son. A child, sick from a chemical attack, cries for his mother.

The bombs of the Syrian Civil War keep coming, bringing more dead and injured civilians, and inside a makeshift underground hospital known as The Cave, the attending physician wonders aloud if God is really watching over them.

Director Feras Fayyad returns to the Syrian battlegrounds for a film that is perhaps even more unsettling than his Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo. And while it is not enjoyable to watch, its grip is only strengthened by the heartbreaking relief you feel when it ends and you’re free to return to your life.

Fayyad’s camera moves with frantic precision through the underground tunnels where Syrians have fled since 2013, when “the streets became battlefields.”

With an unflinching, verite-style eye, Fayyad follows Dr. Amani Ballour much as he followed the “White Helmet” volunteers in Aleppo. But here, Dr. Amani’s fight to save lives and foster change also encompasses the systemic sexism she’s been fighting all her life.

Dr. Armani saw pediatrics as “a righteous outlet for her anger,” and her experiences provide several juxtapositions Fayyad wields to great effect. Inside a world unfit for children and a religious doctrine used as a “tool for men,” a subtle humanity is revealed, one that refuses to waver amid constant waves of inhumanity.

Oscar-nominated this year for Best Documentary Feature, The Cave is among the most rewarding kicks in the gut you’re likely to experience.

Grade: A

Midnight Family

by Hope Madden

For a population of nine million, Mexico City keeps only 45 official ambulances. Private ambulances compete with each other to fill the need for additional resources. Midnight Family rides along with the Ochoas, one family making their living transporting the injured to government and private hospitals around the city.

Do they have training? The equipment they need to tend to a medical emergency?

Hell, they may not even have gas.

The nuance of the act of goodwill or commerce tightens the film’s emotional grip. As one member of the team worries over an infant while police question the father, clearly unable to pay for these services, it’s obvious that the Ochoa family takes its life-saving mission seriously.

At the same time, every action is calculated: how to beat another ambulance to an accident, how to evaluate each situation to best secure payment, which hospital will be the most forthcoming with payment, which police are willing to alert them to accidents in return for a bribe.

It all sounds seedy until you realize what would happen to the injured without them.

And while you’re weighing the ghoulish balance between money and mercy, director Luke Lorentzen shows you just how a high speed chase should be filmed as 17-year-old Juan races and weaves his ambulance through traffic to beat another unit to the scene. (Honestly, you’d think a group of people this well-informed on the ills of Mexico City’s healthcare situation might be a little less daring!)

Juan is all business, a savvy worker with ambition and wisdom to share with his little brother Josue, who rides along at night instead of getting ready to go to school. In these moments, when family members cobble together enough cash for a dinner of tuna on saltines before going home to shower without hot water, the larger context and struggle takes shape.

An urgent portrait of a system in collapse, Midnight Family also uncovers one family’s raft of hope amid an ocean of desperation.

Grade: A-

The Wave

by Brandon Thomas

For a split second there in the early 2000s, Justin Long seem primed for stardom: Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball, Drag Me to Hell and Live Free or Die Hard. His nervous charm mixed with casual handsomeness made him instantly relatable. The Wave might not be a major studio movie like the aforementioned, but Long brings his classic charisma with him to this trippy sci-fi comedy. 

Long stars as Frank, an attorney for a large insurance company. He’s about to have the best day of his career after finding a way for the firm to avoid paying out a large policy. To celebrate, Frank and a co-worker (Scrubs’ Donald Faison) go out on the town where they eventually find their way to a house party. At this party, Frank is reluctantly introduced to a new drug that turns his world into a living hallucination. With his job, marriage and life on the line, Frank races around town attempting to undo the mess caused by the drug. 

The Wave walks a fine line between various genres. For most of its running time, the film resembles many mainstream comedies from the last two decades. Long plays the kind of lovable chump that wouldn’t feel out of place in the latest Judd Apatow flick. He’s a dirtbag, but a pretty harmless dirtbag. For a time, avoiding the wrath of his overbearing wife seems like Frank’s biggest obstacle. But only for a time.

The movie switches gears fairly seamlessly into a more sci-fi realm as the severity of Frank’s situation becomes more apparent. Visual effects play a large part, but director Gille Klabin also gets a lot of bang for his buck with simple in-camera effects. Frank’s jumps through time are more often than not sold through basic edits. Not only does this help keep the “weird” more grounded, but it also keeps the audience in Frank’s shoes as these strange things continue to happen to him.

The film threatens to stall when it begins to veer into a message about fate, the decisions that people make and where that leads them. The theme is muddled and never does more than distract from the fun core sci-fi elements. Primer this ain’t, and rightly so. 

The Wave has aspirations of telling a complex story about good people who make bad decisions. While that message never quite lands with much impact, the movie is still a moderately fun sci-fi romp.

Grade: C+

Also opening in Columbus:
Afterward (NR)
Ethan Manchivaadavuraa (NR)
Fantastic Fungi (NR)
For Sama (PG)
VHYes (NR)
Weathering with You (PG-13)

Read more from Hope and George at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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