Buddy Games

Release: Tuesday, November 24, 2020 (internet) 

👀 Hulu 

Written by: Josh Duhamel; Bob Schwartz; Jude Weng

Directed by: Josh Duhamel

Starring: Josh Duhamel; Dax Shepard; Olivia Munn; Nick Swardson; James Roday Rodriguez; Dan Bakkedahl; Kevin Dillon

 

 

*/*****

Party movies are supposed to be fun, right? Well, Buddy Games proves that stereotype wrong. 

It is a rough start for Josh Duhamel, who makes his directorial debut with this odious and generic copy of more successful bro-team comedies, namely 2009’s The Hangover and 2018’s Tag. There’s also a “wonderful” (your adjective may vary) rip-off of a certain Van Wilder gag-inducing gag but I won’t spoil that for you.

In what feels more like a ploy to diversify the IMDb stats than an inspired choice with which to begin a directing career, the Transformers actor does his best Robin Hood, thieving both plot and prank from the aforementioned bro-downs to give to his poor man’s Entourage. This less-than-purifying cocktail of debauchery, misogyny and fabergé male egos concerns a group of 40-something dudes — lifelong pals, so says this movie — who are getting back together after a falling out to do what they used to do best: get shit-house wasted and compete in a grueling weekend-long competition for a cash prize and/or the chance for complete and total humiliation.

Despite having five main characters in the cast the movie really boils down to tension between two of them, Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl — Veep; Life in Pieces) and Bender (Nick Swardson — Grandma’s Boy; Jack & Jill), leaving the rest to be defined either by profession or, uh, sexual orientation. Suffice to say, something went down between those two, something you have no trouble believing even close friends would take a long time to come back from. Several years later Bender, who just endears with humble brags of blowing through his inheritance “and shit,” is considered persona non grata and Shelly is living in an assisted living facility, permanently berobed and eating cereal out of his own belly button. Stand back — this man’s losing it!

At wit’s end, his own mother calls in a favor from the Bobfather (Duhamel), the only individual she knows that can snap him out of this deep a funk. Bob not only has money but he has, apparently, a way of pumping people up. Something else we quickly learn: He’s good at being buddies with his wife Tiffany (Olivia Munn — X-Men: Apocalypse; The Babymakers) but even better at maintaining a marriage to his buddies and all their shenanigans. Granted, there is a degree of subversiveness to the way this ostensibly stable relationship trends but ultimately Tiffany is yet another doormat role for the underratedly funny Munn. Duhamel, meanwhile, doesn’t so much bring personality to the role as he does cliches and handsomeness.

As to the directing, he similarly relies upon tired mechanisms, lazy jokes and stale archetypes to fill in the time that isn’t spent on the titular competition. The collaborative script kicks into a higher gear once it’s putting into action this ridiculously elaborate event inexplicably made possible by the efforts of only five men. In fact much of the story feels like it is just stalling for time until it gets to use the big set piece, stumbling and bumbling around with its half-baked themes of friendship and confidence and trust, with only but a few character foibles truly having any bearing on the story. On top of that, Kevin ‘Drama’ Dillon fans are going to have to be cool with less of him and a heavy dose of Nick Swardson’s niched brand of self-loathing humor to stay attached here.

The set-up is unabashedly, appealingly simple. Not to mention bro-unions are a time-honored tradition that I have a lot of time for. Get everyone back together, paper over some old wounds, learn something about friendship in the process, accidentally drink one another’s semen, yay we all go home. Often simplicity is enough for these things to work wonders. I mean literally The Hangover is a movie that made a puzzle out of tracing one’s steps backwards after a night of heavy drinking. Plots don’t get much more basic than that. Tag, meanwhile, had the benefit of being based on a semi-outrageous true story. But this movie is so damn loud it is obnoxious and frequently insufferable. In compensating for its lack of originality Buddy Games doubles down on testosterone to the point of drowning in it. 

I would actually accept almost all of this — the neanderthalic attitude towards women excluded — were the characters on some level likable. But Duhamel appears to assume that torn scrota and bruised egos make for all the sympathy and character-building a d00d movie ever needs.

Go out and drink your best life

Moral of the Story: It’s a movie about basically reclaiming past glory and manhood, in this case literally. Kevin Dillon (of Entourage) got me to bite. But it’s Swardson who dominates. If you’re a fan of his, like a super-fan I mean, you might just be the kind of viewer Buddy Games is looking to haze. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I bet this place brings back fond memories!”

The . . . holy crap, it’s a green-band trailer (?!) . . . that, in retrospect, hides nothing at all and, in a way, makes my review seem naive 

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Photo credits: flickeringmyth.com; imdb.com 

TBT: Out Cold (2001)

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As the leaves continue their mass exodus from their branches, I’m reminded that my favorite season is just around the corner. Why winter? A couple of reasons. First of all winter seasonals are some of my favorite beers. Second, winter usually means snow, and snow usually means it’s time to go and hit the slopes. And of course you can’t have ski trips without the aprês ski — very few things go better together than a long day of shredding and then hitting the bar at the bottom of the mountain at the end. Then there’s the other clichés of course: hot chocolate, the turn of the New Year and all that that entails. The list goes on. To mark the occasion I figured we’d take a look at a snowboarding film I remember fondly from high school. I distinctly remember wearing this disc out, well beyond playability I watched it so many times. 

Today’s food for thought: Out Cold.

Getting awkwardly stuck in jacuzzis since: November 21, 2001

[DVD]

For those of a certain comedic persuasion, it doesn’t get much more nostalgic than when you think back on the first time you watched the Malloy brothers’ Out Cold, a low-budget, low-risk, bacchanalia-obsessed film about a group of snowboarders trying to save their rinky-dink ski town from being converted into a commercialized tourist trap.

While the film has all the hallmarks of a direct-to-DVD feature — which I’m fairly certain it was — it goes down like a swill of your favorite Rocky Mountain brew, its outrageous (and numerous) Zach Galifianakis-centered hijinks and small-town frolics producing that oh-so-warm-and-fuzzy feeling buddy comedies are so adept at. Trust me, if you haven’t ever seen the movie it’s not anything you can’t figure out using the above movie poster as a reference. Out Cold is about as silly as they come, but unlike other films of its ilk it has a surprising amount of staying power.

The uniformly memorable cast of characters goes a long way in cementing the film as one of the best in a bunch of very mediocre and unambitious slacker films; Jason London’s Rick Rambis heads up a crew of twentysomethings who have probably spent a little too much time at elevation, for all intents and purposes good kids who have allowed the combination of fresh mountain air and bong smoke dictate every major life decision they need to make — whether it’s properly honoring Bull Mountain resort founder Papa Muntz or figuring out how to tell your crush they’re the only one for you.

Aiding Rick in his inebriated misadventures are Anthony (Flex Alexander), Jenny (A.J. Cook), the endearingly brain-damaged Pig Pen (Derek Hamilton) and his only slightly-more-coherent brother Luke (Galifianakis in his break-out role), and the bar tender Lance (David Denman), who has severe self-esteem issues . . .

Of course there are a few stand-out supporting roles that add some flavor to this Raunch Sandwich: David Koechner plays town weirdo Stumpy, a guy more comfortable in shorts than in proper winter gear and with a penchant for going on rants (be careful what you wish for, Richard); Lee Majors shows up in a small but pivotal role as John Majors, the businessman who poses a threat to Bull Mountain’s stoner status quo; Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt blends nicely into the Alaskan scenery as Inga . . . and of course by ‘nicely’ I mean she sticks out so much it becomes comical. At nearly 6 feet tall and long, flowing blonde hair she is quite the woman. Too bad she’s only a weekend visitor, schtepdaughter to Mr. Majors. The resort, a family business, is now being run by Muntz’ bumbling son Teddy (Willie Garson). And then of course there’s Thomas Lennon being, well, Thomas Lennon.

It may seem odd to give this many people a nod in a movie this small, particularly when considering only a few of them — Galifianakis, Koechner, Hamilton and Denman — leave a lasting impression. Yet Out Cold lives and dies on the camaraderie of its cast; this is very much a festive occasion with more emphasis on penis jokes, practical jokes and even practical penis jokes than story. Sadly Out Cold can’t quite resist the urge to toss in a thoroughly sugar-coated romantic subplot involving Rick and his former gal, who just so happens to stop in at their watering hole one afternoon. Oh, and she also happens to be Majors’ daughter, Anna (Canadian beauty Caroline Dhavernas). What are the odds?

London and Dhavernas share about as much chemistry as Galifianakis shares with his polar bear friend in the early stages of the film. Unable to move on since being stood-up at the end of a week-long fling in Cancun, Rick finds himself pining after his long-lost love to the tune of some seriously overdone clichés that offer up the film’s lamest scenes. Apparently the romance is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Casablanca (though I’ll leave it up to you to determine how successfully that comes across for anyone who hasn’t seen this film). Barring this unnecessary frill, Out Cold does well by its decision to stick to the open slopes instead of heading into the trees where less-traveled narrative paths run the risk of potentially exhilarating or completely losing its audience.

Out Cold is as predictable as they come but the party atmosphere, conjured by a great cast, makes for a highly enjoyable and unexpectedly hilarious package.

Recommendation: One to watch in your early 20s, there’s no doubt about it. Make that late teens. There’s no nudity in this one folks, which is a little odd considering, once again, the party atmosphere. (For whatever reason these guys were aiming at the PG-13 rating. . . presumably to net a larger audience, but . .  eh.) Definitely a great one for early, stand-out comedic touches from the likes of Galifianakis, Koechner and Denman. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

TBTrivia: Very loosely based on Casablanca. It can be seen when Rick has the flashback of him and Anna, when Rick says, “Of all of the bars in all the ski towns in Alaska why did she have to pick this one?” (much like “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . .”), when Anna has Luke (Sam in Casablanca) play their song and Rick walks in, and finally in one of the closing scenes when Anna gets on the plane and Rick says, “We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s,” which is a direct reference to Humphrey Bogart’s famous, “We’ll always have Paris.”

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Photo credits: http://www.martiperarnau.com; http://www.alchetron.com 

Park City

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Release: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (limited)

[iTunes]

Written by: Hannah Rosner; Julia Turner

Directed by: Hannah Rosner

Undoubtedly best viewed through the eyes of a filmmaker, Hannah Rosner’s mockumentary offers up a fairly fun adventure for those curious about behind-the-scenes action in the life of an aspiring indie film crew.

A mostly satisfying blend of documentary-style intimacy and mumblecore imperfection, Park City follows passionate director Joey (Joey Mireles), diva actress Jill (Jill Evyn), business-savvy producer Hannah (Hannah Rosner) and stoner/moral support/assistant Dave (David Hoffman) as they make their first trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah armed only with their first film Hearts and Cash, and a few dollars to their name.

Crammed into a Prius with her co-stars and camera equipment (iPhone(s), perhaps?) Rosner makes the most of a literal low overhead by intercutting footage of the adventure with interviews with the crew as they describe the experience before, during and after. The crux of Park City arrives when, after a successful evening of “mingling” with some of the movers and shakers and partying down with the more accessible crowd (that was more the successful part), Hannah and Joey are rudely awakened by the discovery that their only copy of Hearts and Cash has disappeared.

With mere hours before their screening, they attempt to rationalize last night’s events and possibly track down the film reel. Naturally there are obvious suspects in fellow filmmakers, and Jill’s self-centeredness makes her a candidate as well. Meanwhile, Dave’s eyes have glazed over in the fog of marijuana and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the developments. With frustration mounting and time running out, will the team’s first attempt at getting exposure end up blowing up in their face? Is a generally bad experience ultimately still good experience?

In posing these questions this low-key, relatively amateurish misadventure doesn’t aspire to reinventing the reel. It aims for crowd-pleasing, if not the general public then a specific group of like-minded individuals. Then again, and in spite of an ostensibly exclusive subject and a starlet who seems intent on portraying performers in an unflattering light (Evyn ironically might be the best actor on display as she is good at getting on your nerves), Rosner is knowingly winking at anyone who has taken those first, scary steps in pursuing a life goal. Okay, so perhaps this generalization overloads the film’s quota of cliché, but I’d like to think Rosner’s work isn’t as pretentious as some are likely to write it off as.

While it’s difficult to overlook the shaky acting and occasional technical difficulties — audio seems to be spotty in places and it’s more than likely this film was shot using an iPhone — Park City is an experience worth soaking up.

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3-0Recommendation: Park City might be aimed more for those plugged into the industry but there’s enough here to recommend to anyone with a general interest in film and the filmmaking process. The mockumentary has its moments of weakness (what film doesn’t?) but Rosner manages to overcome many of them by offering fun and interesting twists along the way. Think The Hangover on a much more modest budget, and with less set destruction, less vulgarity and definitely less Mike Tyson.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 86 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.ptsnob.com 

Wild Tales

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Damián Szifrón

Directed by: Damián Szifrón

Having a rough day at the office? Car get towed? Is your name Britt McHenry? Wild Tales may be exactly the movie you need to see today.

Allow Argentinian Damián Szifrón to remedy your red-letter-day blues with a different kind of cinematic experience in the form of six short films each dealing with people on the verge of completely losing their cool when put in extremely distressing situations. As an anthology film, Wild Tales mixes comedy, drama and tragedy in a farcical manner only cinema can provide. Last year’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film distinguishes itself as a fascinating collage of circumstances, each one suggesting we all harbor this ability to do ridiculous things when we’re pushed past our breaking point.

Rather than reviewing this feature as a whole I think it’ll be more beneficial to break it down into its individual pieces and rate them individually.

‘Pasternak’

pasternak

The first (and shortest) segment deals with passengers on a flight who all happen to have some kind of connection to a man named Pasternak. One man, a music critic sitting adjacent to Pasternak’s ex-girlfriend, claimed that he once destroyed Pasternak on the basis that he had not one lick of musical talent. And that’s just the beginning of this farce. It’s not long before the entire cabin realizes that the flight is nothing more than a trap that’s been brilliantly orchestrated by Pasternak himself (who is the chief pilot) and that their fates lie in his hands. Given that this is the introductory piece it’s put at 3-5somewhat of a disadvantage as the happenstance nature of the plot seems at first a bit farfetched and the performances aren’t uniformly convincing. However, this is a short that significantly improves when you look back upon it and becomes extremely amusing.


‘The Rats’ (‘Las Ratas’)

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Arguably the least effective and least engaging of the entries, ‘Las Ratas’ deals with a scumbag customer who treats his server (an emotionally fragile woman) and kitchen staff (a disdainful old ex-con) with little to no respect. Quickly the server realizes this man, a loan shark, has been the source of her recent misery as he is responsible for the destruction of her family. The lady in the kitchen tells her she should take care of this pest once and for all by poisoning his food — an order of fried eggs with fries, no less. However, the server can’t quite bring herself to do such a thing. The sketch feels a little too forced and just doesn’t click as the others ultimately do. In sequence, however, this one ends up as a considerably darker expounding of the humor 3-0presented in ‘Pasternak,’ and remains a pretty entertaining watch despite its numerous shortcomings. Anyone who has ever worked a kitchen job should be able to identify with these women’s frustrations.


‘The Strongest’ (‘El más fuerte’)

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Wild Tales hits its stride with this outrageous and hilarious showdown in the desert that pits two men of markedly different societal classes against one another in a scene where the description ‘genius’ doesn’t feel too sensational. What begins as a typical case of road rage culminates in a battle for survival as an upper-middle class white-collar worker (let’s just presume he is for the sake of brevity) blows a tire near a bridge and has to stop to fix it. The poorer man he happened to shout obscenities at while trying to overtake on the quiet desert road also shows up at the scene and begins threatening him, thinking the snob won’t escape. Tensions and tempers flare to unexpectedly comical levels, ending in a rather explosive finale where no one really wins. The third segment encompasses multiple emotions — fear, 4-0indignation, bitterness, jealousy among others — while portraying a situation that, while extreme, can be universally identified as an inconvenience. Quite possibly the best of the bunch.


‘Little Bomb’ (‘Bombita’)

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‘Bombita’ may very well translate as the most empathetic of all these farces. Can we all agree that having one’s car towed es un dolor mayor en el culo? Simón is a demolitions expert whose car is towed away while parked along a curb that is not properly marked as a tow-away zone. As a rather emotional man, he makes sure his complaints are heard by the so-called fascists pigs in charge but in so doing his life begins to unravel to a degree the husband and father of a young daughter was never expecting. ‘Bombita’ accurately depicts the way logic and emotion have this distinctly infuriating relationship with one another — though ultimately how emotion usually ends up trumping the former. But Simón is pushed to a point where he finally takes a stand for himself, even though it’s pretty much cost him his family and what was left of 3-5his dignity (not to mention finances). Emotionally charged and engaging like few of the segments preceding it, this elevates Wild Tales‘ ambition to another level, even with ‘Bombita”s absurd conclusion.


‘The Proposal’ (‘La Propuesta’)

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What gives Wild Tales such an air of authenticity is its ability to dabble in the realm of the tragic as well as the comedic. While comedy certainly dominates and is varied in terms of lightheartedness and absurdity, no segment thus far is neither as solemn nor as real as ‘La Propuesta.’ It deals with the son of a wealthy man named Mauricio and the consequences the youth must face after running down a pregnant woman while drunk during the course of a random night. He returns home and confesses to his parents, who in turn contact their lawyer. As Mauricio knows his son would not survive in prison he arranges that his groundskeeper take the fall, for payment. Unfortunately the scheme fails to convince the local prosecutor and Mauricio is forced into negotiating exorbitant prices to keep his son out of prison. What price would 4-0you pay to keep your family out of this kind of danger? The moral dilemma everyone in this segment faces is depicted with heart-wrenching attention to detail. It may not be the most enjoyable experience but it’s another highlight of this anthology.


‘Til Death Do Us Part’ (‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’)

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The final several (long) minutes of Wild Tales takes us to the world’s most ridiculous wedding reception, where Romina discovers her minutes-old husband, Ariel, has been cheating on her with one of the wedding guests. I’ve never been married but I’ve also never quite understood the term ‘bridezilla.’ Until now. ‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’ is easily the least-disciplined of the lot and overstays its welcome by several minutes, as the conclusion is neither particularly believable nor inventive. The build-up to it — the fall-out between the newlyweds and their families — is a good bit of fun that epitomizes Szifrón’s intent to lampoon common stresses that have the potential to bring out the worst in people. He really goes overboard on this one, using the heightened emotions that weddings tend to extract (not just out of individuals but as a collective of loved ones who have various levels of 3-0concern) as a springboard to end Wild Tales on a decidedly cartoonish note. It’s not that it’s poorly done. It’s just, well   . . . a bit too wild for it’s own good.

Recommendation: Wild Tales serves as a delightfully sensational take on human behavior, psychology, and interaction. The format is an ingenious decision on the part of Szifrón and each segment stands on its own in terms of its thematic content and emotional heft. If you’re seeking out something different from the usual cinema fare (I know that’s such a general recommendation, but I can’t say anything more in fear of spoiling this thing for you) allow me to point you in the direction of some theater that might happen to be playing this. Or when it comes out on DVD, be sure to give it a rental. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Calvary

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Release: Friday, August 1, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Behold, The Passion of the Brendan Gleeson.

In John Michael McDonagh’s second collaboration with the lovable Dubliner, we get to watch a good Catholic priest endure a brutal psychological and emotional beating for virtually no reason whatsoever. To the tune of Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus of Nazereth, McDonagh takes a wholesome lead and breaks his spirit slowly and painfully.

It’s disheartening to watch because this is Brendan Gleeson and despite how good he is as Father James, there’s simply nothing funny about his character, his circumstances or the things he says, will say, or be forced to say or do. Any amusement brought about by Gleeson’s jovial rotundness remains frustratingly out of reach, sealed off by walls of misery and suffering. And if all of this is indeed meant to amuse (it’s billed as comedy/drama), we’ve stumbled upon the Guinness of black comedies here, folks — this is some dark, heavy stuff.

A mysterious parishioner makes a threat against Father James’ life one sunny afternoon, and tells him — a soul obscured by the privacy of the confession booth — that he has seven days to get his affairs in order. Asked why, the voice tries to reason thus: if you kill a corrupt leader the world fails to notice. Everyone ultimately views the act as justified on the level that that individual deserved what was coming. When harm befalls someone free of blame, the shock of the injustice would surely, ideally ignite the spark of rage within the community at large.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll reemphasize the cynicism displayed by McDonagh’s filming sensibilities. Specific to this considerably bleak affair, he’s a strong advocate of the notion that misery loves company. His cameras force us to trudge through a town filled to the brim with unsavory characters whose collective depravity stems from a combination of miserable luck and self-made misery. The gang’s all here: perverts, angry drunks, doctors who are also atheists. The daughter of a priest becomes suicidal after the father’s failure to establish strong ties with family after the death of the mother. Yawn. The trigger for her own personal calvary is woeful and quite honestly annoying.

Enter Chris O’Dowd, and — I’m hesitant to admit this in fear of interrupting this free flowing vitriol  — at least he contributes to the picture its most complex character. As the town butcher, he doesn’t seem to mind who is sleeping with his wife. It’s only a piece of meat after all. There’s a lonely millionaire who favors luxury over happiness (this character is nothing more than a stereotype); a wife-beater; a washed-up American writer (M. Emmet Walsh) hanging on for dear life, in a pretty literal sense; and then we have the lead actor’s own son, Domnhall in an admittedly effective and borderline cameo appearance as a completely depraved, emotionless prisoner, guilty of some crime you’re probably better off not knowing about.

stoic foolish Father James (seriously man, just get out of town) makes the rounds to all of these wounded souls and more, all while the knowledge of his possible impending death hangs over his head. One shouldn’t call it a dereliction of duties if one’s life has been personally threatened in church. You’d be forgiven for taking a sabbatical in the face of an apparent act of terrorism — technically speaking, the threat is being made against this church as well as the priest. I suppose then, there’s the ultimate conflict of not having a story to film. That’s a pretty thin veil though, considering all that this intimate window into life in Northern Ireland happens to capture.

Calvary is a visually gorgeous film, one laced with scenic vistas and rich greens and blacks (beautifully emphasized in the above movie poster). It is also far too well-acted to completely dismiss. Despite the annoyance of Reilly’s character, this is not her fault and she handles a nuanced and fragile individual convincingly. She also happens to be one of the least offensive characters on display, a relative compliment. Little needs to be said about Gleeson, who happens to extend his streak of compelling protagonists with this peculiar nonpareil.

At the end of the day, despite deep convictions and some fine performances, the final product cannot be described as an enjoyable or even worthwhile experiment. You may as well add that to the list of things it shares with Mel Gibson’s relentless bloodletting farce.

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2-5Recommendation: I really can’t say that I recommend seeing Calvary unless you possess a masochistic streak in you. It’s next-to-no fun for most of the duration as the characters, while on some level identifiable, are not ones you’d ever want to share a room with, much less intimate confessions. Kudos goes to Gleeson and O’Dowd, however, for a pair of stellar performances that go beyond acting. I at times felt these people really were this far gone. That doesn’t exactly make me feel any better about the fact that sometimes the world is just evil; that there are priests out there touching kids. A fact this film all but rails against like a child in a grocery store unable to buy his candy bar.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “I think there’s too much talk about sins and and not enough about virtues.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com