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Films I Neglected To Review: Granddaddy's Home
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Best Sellers," "Copshop," "Cry Macho," "Cryptozoo," "Lady of the Manor," "Live at Mister Kelly's," "The Nowhere Inn" and "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

Apparently the fabled house that Michael Caine built with the money that he earned from making the infamously terrible "Jaws: The Revenge" needs a new wing or a bunch of new throw pillows because the much-lauded actor appears to once again be slipping into his old habit of signing on to do obviously weak projects in exchange for a quick paycheck. Hot on the heels of "Twist," a largely dreadful contemporary version of "Oliver Twist," comes "Best Sellers," an aggressively mediocre comedy-drama whose only accomplishment is how it manages to largely waste the talents of Caine and co-star Aubrey Plaza. He plays Harris Shaw, a cantankerous, hard-drinking author who published one novel that became a cult favorite 50 years ago and then vanished from view. However, when Lucy Stanbridge (Plaza), the daughter of Harris's editor who has just taken over her father's publishing firm and is struggling to keep it afloat, finds an old contract saying that Harris has already been paid for a second book that he never delivered, she shows up on his doorstep to collect. After the requisite amount of cursing and grumbling, he turns a new manuscript over and then learns that in exchange for not his words touched in any way, he has to participate in promoting it with a promotional tour. The two set off on their journey and while it gets off to a rocky start when Harris threatens a pompous book critic (Cary Elwes), his cranky rantings at his appearances and Lucy's outside-of-the-box marketing approach begin to catch one with the public. Meanwhile, the two opposites begin to bond and before long, any number of long-buried secrets come to light that change things for the both of them.

The film is one of those cross-generational buddy films that is so familiar that most viewers will be able to figure out most of the plot developments well in advance and director Lina Roessler never quite figures out a way of making the material feel even remotely fresh. Therefore, the movie's success or failure rests entirely on the chemistry between the two stars and while they can't quite make it work, their efforts at least manage to make it vaguely passable for those who find themselves stuck watching it. Caine has played any number of curmudgeonly cranks at this point in his career and while he doesn't bring anything particularly new or interesting to the part, his sheer professionalism allows him to coast through most of it, though even he is unable to quite pull off some of the more melodramatic moments in the later going. Plaza has a harder time of it because she is stuck playing a largely sincere character that cries out for some of the tart snark that she is famous for delivering. Watching the two of them bounce off of each other is mildly amusing at times but the effect is like hearing two piano virtuosos playing dueling versions of "Chopsticks"--they hit all the expected notes with precision but never get a chance to show what they can really do.

At the start of "Copshop," mob fixer Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) turns up in a small Nevada town and almost immediately punches police officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) for no apparent reason, earning him an immediate trip to the local jail. As it turns out, Teddy has just sold out a number of his colleagues and figures that getting locked up in an out-of-the-way jail is a good way for him to stay safe until the heat dies down. Smart plan until the drunk driver who gets thrown into the opposite cell a little while later turns out to be Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), a feared contract killer who has been assigned to take care of him permanently. Before long, the entire station quickly ends up under siege and a wounded Valerie ends up stuck in the holding area with both a treacherous fellow officer (Ryan OíNan) and another hired killer (Toby Huss), one far crazier than Bob, who has shown up to kill Teddy himself trying to get inside. With nowhere to go and time running out, Valerie has to figure out which of the prisoners she can trust enough to help her get out of her predicament before the really bad guys break in or she bleeds out.

With its combination of dark humor, gory violence and characters who burst out into extended monologues at the drop of a spent piece of ammo, "Copshop" is yet another film trying blatant to follow in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino, a trick that director Joe Carnahan has tried to pull off before in such dismal previous films as "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane," "Smokin' Aces" and "Stretch." This particular effort may come slightly closer to hitting that mark than the others but that says more about how bad those films were than about how good this one might be. Like practically all of Carnahan's previous films (with the singular exception of the impressive man vs. nature thriller "The Grey"), this is little more than an empty stylistic exercise in which nearly every member of the cast seems convinced that they have the scene-stealing role and overact accordingly to such a degree that the usually grating Butler actually comes across as nearly tolerable by comparison. The only one who isnít swinging for the overacting fences with every line of dialogue is Louder and it is perhaps no wonder then that her performance is the one thing about the film that doesn't hurt too much, either while watching it or thinking about it afterwards. That said, not even her efforts can help save it from becoming anything more than a boring bit of mucho-macho horseshit that is never as clever or quirky as it thinks it is, though hopefully someone will notice her work and quickly put her in something far more deserving of her talents than this.

Unwilling to let even a global pandemic get in the way of continuing his reign as America's oldest living auteur, Clint Eastwood returns to the directorís chair with "Cry Macho," a modern-day Western/road movie pastiche that is his first film in more than a decade not based (however loosely) on a true story. Eastwood also steps in front of the camera for this 1980-set story in which he plays Mike Milo, a one-time rodeo champion who has lost everything but his regrets and is essentially being supported by his former boss (Dwight Yoakam), who now asks him for a favor to repay his past largesse--go down to Mexico City and retrieve his 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from his embittered ex (Fernanda Urrejola). It turns out that Rafo has been living on the streets and earning money in cockfights with his beloved fighting rooster Macho. After Mike finally convinces Rafo to return to Texas with him, the two--along with Macho, of course--are on their way but in the grand road movie tradition, a trip that should theoretically take only a couple of days stretches out into a couple of weeks thanks to some car trouble that lands them in a remote village. There, while trying to avoid detection from both the police and the ex's henchmen, longtime loner Mike once again finds himself embracing the idea of community, serving as an ersatz horse trainer and general animal whisperer to the locals and beginning a tentative romance with cantina owner Marta (Natalia Traven). He also finds time to educate Rafo about how his notions of the importance of being tough and macho do not really work in the real world.

"Cry Macho" is a project that has literally been floating around Hollywood for decades--it was originally a script by the late N. Richard Nash that he later adapted into a book when it failed to sell and various adaptations were announced as projects for the likes of Roy Scheider, Arnold Schwarzenegger (as his return to filmmaking after his foray into politics) and Eastwood himself, who reportedly passed on it to do "The Dead Pool" instead. In all that time, however, no one seems to have noticed that while the screenplay, credited to Nash and Nick Schenk, does provide an undeniably appealing hook (albeit one featuring a white savior narrative that plays somewhat awkwardly at times today), the actual story is pretty thin and more than a little contrived in spots. With the exception of one minor development, there is no real suspense as to where it is all going and what at first appears to be a cross-generational buddy film eventually transforms into the chronicle of an old man's effort-free redemption in which the younger character ends up serving as little more than a prop. And yet, even though the film is not necessarily good by any stretch of the imagination, I suppose I prefer it to most of the true-life adventures that he has been making for the last several years. This is closer in tone to the gently loopy likes of "Bronco Billy" and "Honkytonk Man" and for the first time in a while, his typical shoot-it-quick off-the-cuff filmmaking style is a proper match for the material, though he does let things meander a little too much. And while he is probably a decade or two too old to be convincingly playing Mike (which is especially evident when he proves to be catnip to both the cantina owner and the ex), he is clearly having fun chewing the scenery with his gruff old man schtick and meta-commentary on his own macho screen image and there is an undeniable thrill to be had at the sight of seeing him once again astride a horse, though the attempts to make it seem like he is doing anything other than gentle riding are pretty amusing. Although barely qualifying as second-tier Eastwood and ultimately little more than a curio at best, "Cry Macho" will probably please his longtime fans, who will slip into it in the same way that they might a battered-but-comfy old slipper. In times as strange and twisted as the ones we are living in today, my guess is that some viewers will find comfort in the genial mediocrities it displays.

Dash Shaw made a splash a few years ago with his inventive animated debut feature, "My Entire High School, Sinking Into The Sea," but comes up short with his latest effort, "Cryptozoo," in which a sometimes inventive visual style does battle with a narrative that never really works. As a child, Lauren (Lake Bell) had her childhood nightmares stopped when she was visited by a baku, a mythical creature that ate her dreams and allowed her to sleep. Now an adult, Lauren has devoted herself to tracking down other fantastical creatures, known here as cryptids, and housing them in a zoo of her creation to prevent them from being exploited by the outside world. While on a chase to find that original baku before military men can get their hands on it, Lauren begins to wonder if she is doing the creatures just as much harm by allowing them to be viewed by the world instead of letting them stay in the shadows. In essence the story is basically a slow and obtuse mashup of "Pokemon" and one of those Adult Swim shows you never quite got around to watching and while the hand-drawn animation style does yield the occasional lovely visual moment, there is little here to engage viewers on anything other than a purely technical level. Shown at midnight--preferably later--I suppose its hallucinatory approach might find favor with audiences under the influence of substances slightly stronger that oregano but in the cold light of day, it is little more than a good-looking bore.

I have no doubt that many of you out there have spent an inordinate amount of time speculating on what might result if actor Justin Long (who is either the poor man's Zach Braff or vice versa) and his brother Christopher were given sufficient funds to write and direct their very own film. If your guess was "piss-poor riff on the Abbott & Costello classic "The Time of Their Lives" with lots of jokes involving smoking pot, farting, f-bombs and the glories of the Civil War-era South), you--and perhaps only you, will no doubt be ready to embrace "Lady of the Manor," though others will most likely find it to be one of the limpest and most lamely misfired comedies of recent memory. After losing her job delivering pot and her boyfriend after being mistakenly arrested and charged as a sex offender (in a sequence so desperately contrived that I came vey close to bolting at that point), Georgia-based slacker Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) gets picked up in a bar by Tanner (Ryan Philippe), a sleazy rich kid who has been put in charge of the sprawling Southern manor--don't worry, it isn't a plantation--that has been in his family's possession for generations while his dad (Patrick Duffy, who actually turns in the closest thing to a funny performance) runs for mayor. In the hopes of sleeping with Hannah, Tanner hires her to serve as the tour guide for the plan--sorry--manor, which requires her to embody the late and esteemed Lady Wadsworth, who died after a tragic fall in 1875. Inevitably, Hannah fucks the gig up so badly that ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer) turns up to chastise her and force her into performing the part correctly. With the aid of Lady Wadsworth and a local history professor (Long) who inexplicably doesnít runs from her at first sight, Hannah learns how to act like a proper Southern woman (the rules regarding farting are given extra emphasis) and in return, she uses her knowledge of cold case TV shows to investigate the circumstances surrounding Lady Wadsworth's death and the long-hidden secret of the manor.

Even if you can somehow ignore the fact that this might not be the ideal time to make and release a film which is centered around celebrating the genteel nature of the post-Civil War South and takes place at a manor venerated by no less a figure than General Sherman--some films may fail to read the room but this one neglects to read the damn zip code--"Lady of the Manor" is still an astonishingly botched comedy from start to finish. The basic premise makes absolutely no sense, even by the normally lax logical standards of fantasy-comedy plotting, and appears to be little more than a laundry line for Long to bring in a bunch of pals to improvise scenes that seem to go on forever without inspiring even so much as a giggle, unless you have the sense of humor of a four-year-old. Those pals, by the way, are generally good actors but they are all at sea here struggling to make anything of the material they have been handed--Lynskey so overdoes the adorable screwup concept that you cannot understand why anyone, alive or dead, would want to spend more than five minutes in the presence of her character. Then, after an hour or so of aimless noodling, the script suddenly tries to make us care about the mystery of what happened to Lady Wadsworth and whether Hannah will finally improve herself but you are more likely to get whiplash from the sudden shift in dramatic gears than anything else. Oh, and just when you think it canít get any tackier, the Longs close things out by taking the hacky and hideous child predator bit from the beginning and giving it a reprise. Lacking the quiet dignity of the "Colonel Angus" sketch from "SNL" or the whimsy of "Antebellum," "Lady of the Manor" is the pits, the kind of film that actors do for a quick buck and then never mention again unless they are explaining to their current agents why they will be seeking new representation.

]Making a documentary about a long-defunct nightclub may seem strange to some people but when the nightclub in question is the one-time Chicago institution Mister Kelly's, it makes sense. After all, many of the biggest names in post-war American entertainment played that stage during its heyday from the Fifties through the Seventies and enough of them are still around to offer up testimonials in the new film "Live at Mister Kelly's," starting with none other than Barbra Streisand and including Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Lanie Kazan (who was sent to go on when the place burned down in 1966), Dick Smothers, Dick Gregory, Tim Reid, Tom Dreesen and many, many more. The film charts how the club, the brainchild of brothers George and Oscar Marienthal (George's son, David, serves as executive producer), strove against the racial and gender barriers that were still in effect in clubs around the country at the time and gave an incredible number of up-and-coming comedians, singers and musicians a chance to show audiences what they could do and helping to make the Rush Street location the epicenter for the shift in popular culture. The club was so well-regarded, in fact, that even people who didnít reside in Chicago heard of it through appearances in things like the old TV show "M Squad" and the Warren Beatty cult curio "Mickey One" and having its name emblazoned on numerous live LPs that were recorded there over the years. Sure, the film is more of a warm nostalgia bath than a hard-hitting expose--I would have liked a little more detail on the day-to-day realities of running such a racially and culturally diverse club in a city that didn't always reflect such attitudes in other areas--and the unfortunate lack of actual performance footage amongst the archival clips does hurt a little (though there is a neat bit of an on-the-cusp-of-stardom Bette Midler at her bawdiest). That said, if you have any interest in the history of Chicago and popular entertainment in the 20th century (a subject that is admittedly my jam), it is a must while others should enjoy it as both a celebration of a rich period of our cultural past as well as an elegy for a time when going out to a packed club for some shared entertainment was the norm.

If I told you that "The Nowhere Inn" was a mockumentary from the minds of cult rock stars St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein, you might reasonably expect that it might be following in the footsteps of the legendary "This is Spinal Tap" but in fact, it is another comedy classic, Albert Brooks's brilliant 1979 debut feature "Real Life," that seems to have served as its inspiration. The conceit of the film is that St. Vincent--known off-stage as Annie Clark--is setting off on a concert tour and asks Brownstein to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary of her on tour that will give fans a more intimate glimpse of who she is as a person when she isnít rocking out in front of thousands of people. The problem is that while the onstage St. Vincent is undeniably electrifying, Annie Clark is considerably less so and after shooting endless footage of her playing Scrabble and talking about radishes, Brownstein is at a loss as to how to make the film even remotely interesting, even Googling the topic of great documentaries in the hopes of finding an idea that she can run with. Finally, she suggests that Clark bring a little more of her bolder performing persona to her offstage life and this sends things spiraling out of control as Clark overcompensates by staging increasingly outlandish faux-impromptu moments, ranging from a weird family reunion in Texas to a tryst with a lingerie-clad Dakota Johnson, until she is essentially performing even more aggressively off the stage than she does on it.

The film was directed by Bill Benz, who worked with Brownstein on "Portlandia" and indeed, the film does share the show's sense of bone-dry absurdity as it proceeds to get stranger and stranger. As a result, those who are unfamiliar with either the show or St. Vincent's musical persona may grow frustrated with the increasingly meta and relentlessly deadpan japery on display throughout. Hell, even members of those respective fan clubs may find that it starts to meander towards the end, as if Clark and Brownstein were not entirely clear of where they were headed with it. That said, there is still a lot to like here. The music is, of course, splendid, though the performance footage starts to come across as a bit irrelevant once the film makes its leap down the rabbit hole. There are also a number of very funny scenes on display as well--my favorites being a cringe-worthy moment when Clark's limo driver tries in vain to figure out who she is, not recognizing her even after she sings a few lines of one of her songs, and the hilarious Dakota Johnson cameo that brilliantly spoofs the attention surrounding Clark's own real-life dalliances with the likes of Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart. (At this point, I am of the mind that I am willing to see Johnson in practically anything now, as long as the word "Shades" is not part of the title.) Clark and Brownstein are also quite good playing funhouse mirror versions of their respective artistic personas while allowing their actual friendship to lend a certain frisson to the craziness. Clearly "The Nowhere Inn" is not going to prove to be a film for everyone but the combination of odd humor, good music and offbeat star power is just compelling enough to make it worth giving it a shot to see if you might be on its admittedly peculiar wavelength.

If "Pig" served as a bracing reminder of just how powerful an actor Nicolas Cage can be when given strong material to work with, then "Prisoners of the Ghostland" proves once again that not even his Herculean efforts can help rescue an otherwise dire project. In a post-apocalyptic future, a master criminal, known only as Hero, is sprung from the prison where he has been languishing since a bank jib gone wrong by the powerful boss (Bill Moseley) of Samurai Town and given an offer he cannot refuse--enter the blasted-out wasteland known as the Ghostland and retrieve his beloved missing granddaughter (Sofia Boutella). As an added treat to ensure his compliance, Hero is fitted with a suit complete with explosives wired to certain body parts--if he attempts to strike her, an arm get blown off and if any impure thoughts come to mind (a genuine risk when someone resembling Sofia Boutella is involved) and the bombs located at the testicles come into play. Although this may appear to be yet another bewildering choice of projects by Cage, his presence here makes a little more sense than usual as it allows him to team up for the first time with gonzo Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono for a true meeting of like creative minds, so to speak. Too bad, though, that the end results are as ultimately tiresome as they prove to be here. Oh sure, there are virtues to be had--the samurai/ "Fury Road" hybrid look offers up some interesting visuals, there is plenty of over-the-top action and Cage has a rally-the-troops speech featuring a moment destined to have a place of prominence in future YouTube highlight reels of his more outrageous screen moments. Beyond those virtues, however, the film is little more than an increasingly tiresome jape that seems to go on forever as Cage pretty much screams all of his line in an effort to alleviate his evident boredom. I get why a film like this would be invited to Sundance, where it made its world premiere earlier this yearófestival programmers love to include a few completely off-the-wall items when they canóbut anyone trying to claim this one as being anything other than instantly disposable junk is only fooling themselves.

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originally posted: 09/18/21 01:19:45
last updated: 09/18/21 04:05:42
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