WEEKEND BREAKDOWN REVIEWS: THE VALET, FIRE ISLAND, HUSTLE, CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, DINNER IN AMERICA, WATCHER

THE VALET (HULU)

First up is Hulu’s THE VALET, an American remake of the 2006 French comedy of the same name. Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving charming as ever) is a famous actress who has made a career for herself playing strong women on screen and doing her best to be a role model for women off screen. However, when a scandal erupts of her having an affair with a married businessman she must enlist the help of local valet parking attendant Antonio (Eugenio Derbez) to pose as her boyfriend to avoid any controversy. It’s a very simple setup that almost seems to absurd to even buy into. Usually, the weight of these sense of disbelief romantic comedies is put all on the two leading stars, but Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg’s script is quite strong as well. Derbez who continues to success in American films (he starred in last year’s best picture winner CODA) is both endearing and worth rooting for every moment. His chemistry with Weaving is reminiscent of exciting 2000’s rom-coms.

The film doesn’t rely on you needing to have these two fall in love over unusual circumstances. Instead, their relationship finds a way to be built around trust (amongst a lie) but also family and how that can cross cultural barriers. Derbez, a producer on the film, has made a career out of bringing positive Latino representation. This means that Antonio’s large family, all run by his adorable and hysterical mother Cecilia (Carmen Salinas), is a big presence in the film welcoming Olivia and showing her a very different side of L.A. that is only a few blocks away from her fancy Rodeo Drive lifestyle. Derbez himself shows off some of his best acting to date and will bring tears to even the coldest of hearts during a pivotal moment that is the perfect example of how love can be found at any age and any moment in time.

It is nice to see a romantic comedy where there is clearly strong heart put into every aspect. Sure not every joke lands, and the two hour runtime stays past its welcome but The Valet makes a great argument that these rom-coms deserve an audience even if they continue to be “dumped” onto streaming. Not to mention a film with important and well done representation should not be hindered by its lack of major release. Instead it is a perfect excuse to seek this out and hopefully find ourselves getting more films that just want to have fun but never settle.

B

THE VALET is now streaming on HULU

FIRE ISLAND (HULU)

Modern adaptations of classic romance novels are nothing new; it has become a fun genre trend in itself. However there has never been one with a cast full of all openly gay men. Fire Island is a charming and delightful modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The film stars Joel Kim Booster (who also wrote the screenplay) as Noah who is spending the weekend with his four best friends on the Fire Island. To Noah and many of the Gay community, Fire Island is a magical place where one can be free to be themselves as well as enjoy some great parties, hard drugs and even greater sex. Noah’s friends consist of closest friend Howie (BowenYang), Luke (Matt Rogers), Keegan (Tomas Matos) and Max (Torian Miller). While the crew all have their own agendas for the weekend it is Noah who decides not to have any sex until quiet and reserved Howie can get some. Thus begins a very comical weekend but all roads lead to Will (Conrad Ricamora) in the role of Mr. Darcy. Some of the film’s strongest moments is the realization of the connection to the novel and which character takes on the infamous Austen characters. Bowen Yang is the strongest as a fill in for Jane Bennet. Yang who has made quite the impression as one of SNL’s best members in years sells every moment. He is both hysterical but most importantly endearing and heartbreaking. His journey to find love in the arms of Charlie (James Scully) allows the film to have some of the more majestic moments.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Noah and Will. Joel Kim Booster clearly has a talent as a writer and is a fine performer but the script never elevates the character of Noah all that much. Ricamora as Will excels at playing it safe but stern in typical Mr. Darcy fashion. However the chemistry between the two never finds a proper footing. For a film that wants to adapt Austen but also create its own ground it slows down in the middle and has trouble finding the voice it wonderfully created in the beginning. The film works best when all the characters are together (a scene involving Marissa Tomei and Headsup is comedy gold), but those moments are too fleeting. It is great to see strong representation for both Asian men as well as gay Asian Men. This is a cast you want to see together again or even expand, but hopefully next time the bigger role goes to the stronger performer.

B-

FIRE ISLAND is now streaming on Hulu

HUSTLE (NETFLIX)

The debate over whether Adam Sandler is a good actor should be long over by now. The Sandman has proven himself time and time again to be a comedic genius as well as an excellent comedic actor. Another thing that is certain with Sandler is the man loves his basketball. Viral videos are practically released once a month of him at a pickup game impressing everyone. So when a movie like HUSTLE, which is all about basketball, comes out it should be no surprise that Sandler is in his element and winning all the time. Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers spends all his days travelling the globe, eating crappy fast food in five star hotels and looking for the next big thing. When bad luck continues to fall onto Sugerman he also gets a semi-win finding a Spanish street baller Bo Cruz (real life player Juancho Hernangomez). Sugerman knows Cruz is exactly what the Sixers need, but when team owner Vince Merrick (Ben Foster) doesn’t see it that way at all Sugerman quits and  he and Cruz embark on one of sports toughest battles ever; getting into the draft with no support. Directed by Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals) the film is both a love letter to the NBA as well as street ball. Yes, the cast is practically made up of just current and former NBA players and it could come across as the longest advertisement ever, but what it does so well as reminding you of how far the love of the game can take you. Zagar with his cinematographer Zak Mulligan use the camera to twist and turn with every move the players make. It drops low to the ground to practically give us a POV of the ball itself. It is all very impressive and when mixed with Dan Deacon’s exhilarating score, you are given a real winner. Not since 2013’a LENNY COOKE has there been a film that reminds you of the real risks these potential players make. They leave their home, their loved ones all on a promise that often never comes true. This pain and frustration is wonderfully displayed by Hernangomez who could easily make a career out of acting if the basketball thing doesn’t hold up. But of course the MVP of the film is Sandler. Here he delivers some of his best dramatic work while still reminding us of that Sandler charm. He knows the NBA and both loves and respects it, and in return the NBA loves him back. There are clearly a few shots that feature real Philadelphia residents just standing by to get a glimpse at Sandler and it gives the film an authentic feel while also showing how this is a city that respects an icon. Like most sports films, it finds a conventional beat, but that does not change the passion behind every aspect of the film. It is the pure definition of a crowd pleaser which is never a bad thing. In fact it just shows that we all love to see a winner.

A-

HUSTLE IS NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (IN THEATERS)

David Cronenberg the master of body horror is back. That is the good news, the bad news is that he has delivered an obnoxious and redundant film that is not up to par with the rest of his terrific filmography. Crimes of the Future is the type of film that will leave many divided but for this critic the film is barely worth a conversation. Set in the not so distant future, “surgery is the new sex.” We have reached a point where removing and displacing organs have become a form of performance art. Saul Tenser (a dreadfully dull Viggo Mortensen) and his lover Caprice (Lea Seydoux) use Saul’s unusual ability to grow abnormal organs as a way to create performance art. They invite anyone who can (or cannot) stomach it to watch Saul’s organs be removed. Cronenberg has set the scene wonderfully with some curious world building. However instead of taking a wider view he chooses a specific story that is far from intriguing. Performance art and the art world itself has been critiqued to the point of being a dead horse. The idea of celebrity obsession does not hold up as well when the real world itself has already acknowledged the repercussions. Yes the film shows how we still have not learned from our obsessions and that we probably will soon be heading down this path (we practically already have) but when a film repeats itself for 100 minutes it becomes excruciating. When a superfan named Timlin (Kristen Stewart) enters one would think that she could throw the film on its side in the best way. Instead Timlin, like most of the women in the film, are merely there to be in awe of Saul which only proves to be yet another redundant corner the film takes on. This is the kind of film that will get dissected over and over again, but one must really ask if anything being discussed about it is worthwhile. There is nothing wrong with a film feeling familiar, but when it becomes apparent that the filmmaker is behind on the times it just falls apart completely. It may be nice to have Cronenberg back but here’s hoping he finds a way to shake things up again.

D+

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE IS NOW IN SELECT THEATERS

DINNER IN AMERICA (VOD/SELECT THEATERS)

Not enough movies are punk anymore. Just totally nonconventional while still throwing out a big fuck you to the entire process. Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner in America may be the most punk film in years. An entire deconstruction of the bullshit white picket fence American lifestyle that is deep seated in aggressive and often racist roots. It also features an all in and wild performance from Kyle Gallner who for years has been making his name known in supporting roles. Gallner plays Simon a punk rock singer, full time pyromaniac who spends his days avoiding jail and being a lab rat for new pharmaceutical drugs just for the petty cash. Simon is a on a path of righteous destruction as seen in one of the opening moments where he destroys a friend’s house after making out with her mother. It’s a comical moment but also one that shows that Simon is not the first person to come and disrupt the household. No, he is merely engaging in the same animalistic behaviors that many American families display during dinner time, a time many have been led to believe is meant to be peaceful and respectful. Rehmeier does a great job at showing this hypocrisy throughout. Eventually Simon finds his way into the home of 20 year old outcast Patty (Emily Skeggs). Patty is the victim of constant bullying from both local neighbors, her boss, and her own family. She finds solace in the music of punk band PSYOPS and even sends love letters and nude photos to the lead singer John Q. Once the two meet the film becomes quasi-road trip esque movie that humorously never goes beyond 20 miles or so, but the two of them journey across to seek revenge on anyone that has done them wrong. The humor may fall in the lines of Napoleon Dynamite and Welcome to the Dollhouse, but it very much has its own voice thanks to its two lead performers. Skeggs and Gallner are terrific together and even deliver one of the catchiest songs of the year. A punk film does not always sit with everyone, nor is it supposed to. One may have difficulty wanting to continue after those gnarly first twenty minutes, but not only are they wickedly awesome the entire film deserves to have its day, because we need more films that don’t try to be different to make a point but embrace their uniqueness and let the audience come to them. There is no catering for Dinner in America and we are better off because of it.

B+

DINNER IN AMERICA IS AVAIABLE TO RENT OR BUY ON VOD AND IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS

WATCHER (THEATERS/VOD)

Sometimes a familiar premise is all you need. This is not a negative for film in fact it can allow you to take the usual and create something unique and with a distinct voice. Chloe Okuno’s WATCHER does just that. A throwback to Rear Window and Rosemary’s Baby where paranoia holds strong. Maika Monroe plays Julia a young new wife who moves to Bucharest Romania with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his work. Francis is Romanian on his mother’s side and speaks the language. Julia does not. A stranger in a strange land, must rely on her husband to translate even though she herself is trying to learn. It isn’t long before Julia realizes she is being followed by someone, she just can’t prove it not yet. The stalker premise isn’t new but Okuno with her first feature does a wonderful job at creating tension through slower pacing and atmospheric terror. Romania is never insulted as being a terrifying place, but the mere notion of being unfamiliar territory to Julia is more than enough to scare anyone. For a post MeToo film there is less gaslighting of Julia but instead understanding of her fear. However Okuno makes a great statement but showing that even though many (especially men) like to claim we’d believe women there is a breaking point that far too many reach and eventually turn their backs on women. Francis is supportive until it no longer suits him, and a female neighbor tells Julia it’s almost easier to never get an answer because the alternative is to be right but at the cost of being raped or murdered. What Okuno continues to do so well throughout the film is never make Julia come across as losing her mind. Yes paranoia exists, but with good reason. The world today (and for all time honestly) has always been a horror movie for women. One they are continuously forced to survive without the aid of many. WATCHER is not just a needed reminder to believe women when they bring something to you, but to start even earlier and acknowledge the horrors that no longer lurk in the corners but instead right behind them.

A-

WATCHER IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS/VOD

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