Day Shift

Release: Friday, August 12, 2022 

👀 Netflix

Written by: Tyler Tice; Shay Hatten 

Directed by: J.J. Perry

Starring: Jamie Foxx; Dave Franco; Meagan Good; Natasha Liu Bordizzo; Eric Lange; Karla Souza; Snoop Dogg

Distributor: Netflix

 

 

**/*****

A stuntman of many years, J.J. Perry sinks teeth into his first directing effort with Day Shift, a fun but forgettable vampire-themed action/comedy. For the most part this cartoonishly violent send-up plays the way you would expect from someone whose experience lies more on the technical side of things. Day Shift is mostly style over substance with a few clever spins on vampire mythology thrown in.

The goofy story revolves around Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx), a cash-strapped family man who cleans pools in sun-drenched SoCal as a cover for his real job as a vampire hunter. A protracted and vicious fight sequence early on proves he’s highly skilled and capable of defending himself. But he also seems to prefer doing things his own way. His off-the-book methods have led to his dismissal from the Union, which operates by a strict code of conduct, and his odd hours and constant excuses have created a rift in his family. Ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) is giving him a week to come up with $10k to cover their daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax)’s private school tuition and braces or she is putting Bud in her rearview once and for all. 

Meanwhile Audrey (Karla Souza), a powerful vampire posing as a real estate agent, has infiltrated the local market with plans of restoring the balance of power between her fellow bloodsuckers and the humans who now hunt them for their fangs. Souza is a game participant, chewing the scenery as a hammy villain who laments how the mighty have fallen. Sadly the script reduces her grand ambition to a predictable and boring revenge plot. When Audrey gets a whiff that Bud’s recent kill is none other than her daughter, she makes it her life’s work to draw even.

Unsurprisingly, like the vampires in this brave new world, it is the stunts that rule the day as well as the night. Brutal confrontations come thick and fast, whether it’s a one-on-one beatdown with an elderly woman or a tag-team effort in bringing down a stronghold. However not all of the stunts pulled are over-the-top fight sequences in which the dead and the living alike are tossed across the room like rag dolls. Supporting characters are their own spectacles, be it Eric Lange adorned with the world’s worst wig as grouchy union boss Ralph Seeger or Snoop Dogg busting out the snakeskin boots as Big John Elliott, a vaunted union member whose get-up hints at a myth never fully explained.

The union is Bud’s best chance of making the money in time, and Big John has the kind of clout necessary in getting him reinstated. But of course there are caveats. The rogue cowboy will have to work the less profitable day shift while being chaperoned by union rep Seth (Dave Franco), who will report directly to Seeger any and all code violations his partner is sure to commit. If only the avid rule-abiding accountant can avoid developing a conscience and/or devolving into a mess of involuntary bodily functions when things get real.

The pairing of Foxx and Franco is a curious one but it is let down by the hackneyed script from Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten. The odd-couple dynamic feels forced and never allows the actors to build convincing chemistry together. Franco is sentenced to making a fool of himself while Foxx gets to look stoic and heroic busting heads (or severing them in this case). Though the ultimate gag may be the very idea of casting the notoriously intense alpha male actor in a movie this absurd. The guy who once portrayed Ray Charles to Oscar-winning effect may not get turned into a comedic punching bag, but he does at one point get to experience that unique sensation of being thrown up a flight of stairs.

Day Shift certainly is colorful, and in more ways than one. Toby Oliver’s cinematography bathes the San Fernando Valley in an exaggerated color palette and like Souza’s super-vamp and her sense of fashion it calls just a bit too much attention to itself. The action pops, as do various joints and limbs thanks to the radical new vampire concept — think street contortionists, not so much Dracula. I guess you have to appreciate the little things here. The milieu is whacky (I love the idea of a pawn shop trading in vampire teeth, and treasured character actor Peter Stormare being the guy behind the counter). In the end Perry’s vision has spurts of imagination but rarely at a storytelling level.

Please don’t get all bent out of shape but I have to re-kill you.

Moral of the Story: Knowingly silly, Day Shift plays up the vampire mythology to mildly entertaining effect but with a smarter script it could have been a Zombieland, which is already what it feels like it’s going for. It has that same kind of hyper energy. Unfortunately it lacks the strong characters that could have made it more memorable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “So you just gonna light your finger on fire, huh?”

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The Beach Bum

Release: Friday, March 29, 2019

→Hulu

Written by: Harmony Korine

Directed by: Harmony Korine

Spoiler alert for those who demand any lessons or morals be taught in a movie: The Beach Bum is not for you. It’s a hedonist adventure “from the mind of” Harmony Korine, a not-for-everyone kind of filmmaker notorious for creating dreamlike experiences that more or less forsake substantive story for hypnotic style.

His latest once again brings together a wild assortment of famous people: Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Mr. Margaritaville himself, Jimmy Buffett. However The Beach Bum is more notable for being the first time the Gummo director has collaborated with Matthew McConaughey, who plays the titular tropical vagrant, a sun-bleached blondie who goes by the name Moondog. Once a lauded poet he has become human driftwood floating through life in the Florida Keys, getting tangled up in all sorts of situations that are perhaps best left for your own two eyes to try and process. He’s a character who is larger than life but smaller than legend, one who somehow makes James Franco’s gangster seem boring (though I raved about him in my review of Spring Breakers).

The Beach Bum is a bizarre trip full of lows but far more highs — the ones delivered by gas mask bongs, joints the size of a child’s arm and bud-producing trees kept in special rooms. With apologies to Fast Film Reviews’ Mark Hobin, I need to steal a line: The atmosphere is so drugged out you could almost get high by association. This is taken from a review of a certain Paul Thomas Anderson movie from 2014, but it is an apt description of this experience as well. Oh, and There Will Be Boobs. Like, an abundance of them. An anchor-less vessel who frequents the sun-kissed beaches and small tourist traps freckling the tropicana, Moondog just can’t help but be around and/or in between them.

If there is a story to be deciphered here it’s how Moondog draws upon his mangy, transient experiences for inspiration to return to his old writing form. I’m no judge of poetry but his seems the kind of shallow you don’t make deeper, even by getting more baked. Lingerie, played by Snoop Dogg (a real-world connoisseur of kush and good rhymes) digs it though so what the hell do I know. Accompanied by a stray kitten he finds in the opening scene, an almost endless supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall-boys and an actually endless supply of zest for living by his own code, the man and the narrative become one and the same, stuck in idle throughout. Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence get caught in his wake along the way, all while his daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) grows increasingly worried about his stability and his wife (Isla Fisher) pays a steep price for loving him.

The main issue with The Beach Bum is not its lack of “a point.” It’s that Korine insists this gadabout has virtuous traits. He’s not flagrantly abusive like the loser Efron portrays and even in thongs he’s not as cartoonish as the skuzzy douche of an agent Hill plays, so I suppose he’s a crop above but his Better Self is so well buried that his journey to self-actualization becomes contrived at best. This is not exactly harmful tokage but it becomes surprisingly challenging to separate in your mind the likable McConaughey from the frequently less-than-likable Moondog. Call that commitment to character. The Beach Bum isn’t a very good movie. It is, however, the epitome of a Harmony Korine experience. The cinematography is sexy and dripping with color, and that is at least enough to get a good buzz off of.

Recommendation: I’m a big fan of Matthew McConaughey, who winds the clock back to Dazed and Confused as Moondog, and his commitment to another memorable character here is not to be understated (it’s the reason this final rating is as high as it is) but I didn’t really find his character entirely redeemable. Anyone who saw Spring Breakers and didn’t get along with it probably should give The Beach Bum the old swerve. It’s available on Hulu though so really all it will cost you is a breezy 90 minutes . . . 

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “I get all these things going, man, and they are all turning me on. And my wires are connecting upstairs and I start to hear music in my head. You know, and the world is reverberating back and forth and I hit the frequency and I start to dance to it. My fingers get moving, my head gets soupy, I’m spinning all over the f-ing place, and the f-ing words come out.” 

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Dolemite is My Name

Release: Friday, October 4, 2019 (limited)

→Netflix

Written by: Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Craig Brewer

The way Craig Brewer captures the response to Dolemite, the movie-within-his-movie and at least part of its raison d’être, is so warm and uplifting. Yet it’s also quaint if considering today’s cinematic landscape. Cynics like me are tempted to dismiss the ending as too pat and Hollywood but the movie was indeed met with a serenading of sorts from audiences. Dolemitea pulpy, outrageous story about a pimp who breaks out of prison to take revenge on those who set him up, made $12 million on a budget of $100k. It’s gone on to become a cult classic of blaxploitation.

Yet if this heartfelt tribute to pioneering showman Rudy Ray Moore (or Dolemite, if you like) were to be rolled out in a wide theatrical release you wouldn’t struggle to find a good seat today. You can thank superhero movies for your extra leg room and more than the usual choice of good seats. Superheroes (and villains) rule and everything else drools at the numbers they are putting up at the box office. There isn’t a damn thing Eddie Murphy can do about this, even if he is as good as he’s been in years — maybe ever — in Dolemite is My Name, a ridiculous(ly) entertaining ensemble comedy available almost exclusively through Netflix.

Ironically, and despite actually earning a limited run on the big screen (the likes of which won’t draw crowds like you see here, sadly), Dolemite is My Name has perhaps found its ideal stage on your TV screen. Streaming is the ultimate in consumer catering because it gives you a more intimate, “customizable” experience. Imagine sitting in a 200-seat auditorium where everyone has a remote control to rewind their favorite moments in a Peter Jackson epic. Or to back up to try and understand what in blue Hades Sylvester Stallone just mumbled.

I say all of this because this is the kind of movie you’re going to rewind and pause just to bask a little longer in the triumphant return to Delirious-era Murphy. I must have inflated the runtime to something close to two and a half hours as I rewatched his Rudy Ray Moore enthusiastically chop the air around him as he envisions himself not just a star, but a kung fu master in his own movie. The energy Murphy brings and the riffing he does as he becomes his character, a pioneering, wig-donning, cane-wielding motormouth and eventual big-screen star whose name bore the fruit of not one but four Dolemite-centric adventures, is something to behold. And behold again.

Set in 1970s Los Angeles Dolemite is My Name examines the rise of a self-made man as he goes from lowly record store assistant manager by day/MC by night, to the maker of three crass but hugely popular comedy albums, to, yes, “f-ing up motherf–ers” on the big screen. The film divides neatly into two equally intriguing halves. The first hour or so is devoted to the birth of his stand-up persona and his intelligent if profanity-laced sketches that would earn him a substantial fanbase. And credit where credit is due: the writers don’t turn a blind eye to “toastmaster” Rico, a vagrant played by Ron Cephas Jones, who periodically drifts in and out of the Dolphins of Hollywood record store, spitting rapid-fire rhymes about an urban legend named ‘Dolemite,’ an identity Moore assumes as his own alter ego.

The second half focuses on our increasingly spectacularly besuited hero’s ambitions growing beyond touring the Deep South along what was called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” The narrative blends business and production reality with Moore’s insatiable appetite for nationwide recognition. He gains an entourage, establishes a production facility in the famous Dunbar Hotel and even convinces a big name to direct and co-star in his project-in-making in egotistical yet accomplished actor D’Urville Martin (a scene-stealing Wesley Snipes). Yet it’s not exactly smooth sailing as he attempts to get his ultimate dream realized. Walter Crane (Tip “T.I.” Harris), a film executive, denies Moore’s creative ambition (in appealing to the masses, black actors don’t do camp comedy; they do heart-warming dramas about overcoming their ghetto roots) while the business-savvy Bihari brothers warn him of the grave financial risks of failure.

The major developments unfold in a breezy if occasionally lackadaisical way. It’s a pretty familiar underdog story where obstacles are by and large steamrolled over. That’s in part by design, as an homage to the force of sheer will that was Rudy Ray Moore, but it’s also due to the script by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, one that prioritizes entertainment over profundity. Their story tends to glide over the surface rather than dive into the depths of Moore’s unhappy and impoverished childhood, providing a line or two about his burning desire to be better than his father. Yet (and I’m just guessing here) this is a more fundamentally sound production about the making of a legend — the so-called “Godfather of Rap” — than its namesake movie was. And unlike its namesake, the performances, not big boobs and kung fu, define this one.

While Murphy is going to get much of the attention (and deservedly so) I have to single out Da’Vine Joy Randolph as well. She plays Lady Reed, a former backup singer who rediscovers her mojo when Moore drops into a night club in Mississippi. Her relationship with the former is integral to the story’s focus not just on confidence but identity in a time when Hollywood was not only overwhelmingly white but upheld that only one body type was “beautiful.” Randolph is never less than convincing and inspiring as she becomes not just a confidante to Moore in his lower moments, but entirely comfortable in her own skin — breaking past her fear of having her figure captured forever in celluloid and simply owning her identity in ways she previously thought impossible.

As stylish as it is raunchy, this 70s-throwback is mostly a testament to the indefatigable spirit that erected a movie star out of a stand-up comic. It’s also an amusing, even insightful look into the moviemaking process, compacting several scenes from the Dolemite franchise into a collage that goes to show what can be done with limited funds, some good friends and an abundance of self-confidence.

Pimp daddy deluxe

Recommendation: Safe in terms of its narrative structure but bold in dialogue (families take note: Dr. Dolittle isn’t catering to your kiddies here) Dolemite is My Name is never less than a pure joy ride to the top, especially alongside an endlessly entertaining Murphy, who comes flanked by a number of highly recognizable names, including but absolutely not limited to Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, Titus Burgess and Kodi Smit-McPhee. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Dolemite is my name; f-ing up motherf-ers is my game.”

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

30-for-30: Trojan War

30 for 30 Trojan War

Release: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

[Netflix]

Directed by: Aaron Rahsaan Thomas

Another story lamenting how the mighty have fallen. That’s how Trojan War will look to anyone not familiar with the University of Southern California, Pete Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks . . . or really American football in general.

Carroll and his Seahawks have long been associated with some of the sport’s most recognizable brands, yet all this attention hasn’t always benefitted them. To a certain extent, that fall-from-grace trajectory is the genesis for the drama herein, although its exposure of infamous personnel (as well as famous personalities) is where the film sets itself apart.

Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who brings much experience writing and producing popular television series such as Southland, CSI: New York and Sleepy Hollow, turns the spotlight on the former head coach of the USC Trojans, rewinding the tape to reveal what events precipitated his jump back into the NFL after nearly a decade of coaching inspiring college athletes in a part of the country where stardom isn’t exactly hard to come by. (The campus is but a stone’s throw away from the entertainment capital of the world.)

The Carroll era kicked off in 2001 and ended in 2009. In that time, he resuscitated a program that found itself on life support having struggled through one of the worst four-year stretches in USC history, a period in which the Trojans were essentially cropped out of the national collegiate football picture, failing to crack the top 20 in the national rankings from 1996 until 2000. Trojan War rushes through backstory, hastily developing the environment into which the new head coach would be stepping before slowing down to catch its breath and focusing on what happened in the early 2000s.

The 2004 and 2005 seasons are of particular interest, for these were the years during which Carroll and quarterback Matt “Lion Heart” Leinart led USC to 34 consecutive victories, tying the fifth longest winning streak in Division I football history. Consequently they’re also the years upon which current and past USC players and alums reflect with deep-seated bitterness. In the interviews with former players like LenDale White and Leinart, even Carroll himself, you can sense the discomfort and tension. And for good reason.

In 2010 the NCAA wrapped up a protracted investigation into violations involving star running back Reggie Bush (who played for Carroll from 2003-2005), and went on to hand down particularly harsh penalties against the school: USC was required to vacate all of its wins from the 2004 and 2005 seasons, including Bowl games; they were banned from participating in postseason games for two years as of the 2010 season; Bush was stripped of his Heisman trophy and his name permanently scrubbed from the record books. The school also forfeited 30 scholarships over the next three years.

For all intents and purposes, those years of dominance ceased to exist — years during which their profile had risen so high it wasn’t unusual to brush shoulders with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Henry Winkler, Spike Lee, Flea (of course), Jake Gyllenhaal and Andre 3000, just to name a few celebrities, at any given game. Blame it on Carroll, said the NCAA; he was the one who had fostered an environment that was both unhealthy and unstable. The specific language cited a “lack of institutional control.”

Yet ultimately these dark days don’t represent the spirit of Trojan War. Thomas, perhaps conscious of the pain the school is still experiencing now five years after the findings, elects to spend more time backtracking down the path to greatness that the team once journeyed throughout those years, reminding skeptics just how effective Carroll’s coaching and his squad were as they met each team with ever mounting confidence and matching up against old rivalries such as UCLA and Notre Dame with a cockiness that felt earned rather than created out of spite.

He profiles a few of the star athletes — including Bush (who appears in archived footage but never in live interviews for the documentary as he’s presumably trying to put this chapter behind him) and LenDale White, who comprised the ‘thunder’ part of the USC “thunder-and-lightning” duo — while taking time to assess Carroll’s thoughts and feelings on this part of his coaching career. Actor Michael B. Jordan narrates. Yes, it is all a little generic and clichéd but it does serve at least one purpose. The NCAA can wipe clean from the slate any set of numbers and names they like but in the minds and hearts of those who paid attention to this club, this is the kind of legacy not even the slow, inevitable passing of time can render irrelevant.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans leave the field after another display of dominance

Recommendation: Trojan War will speak louder to California football fans but it should provide a sufficiently intriguing story to those who have been fascinated by Pete Carroll’s energetic personality. It could also benefit from a longer running time but I doubt a three hour feature would capture everything about this dynamic period either. This is a pretty worthwhile option for passionate followers of the sport and it’s right there on Netflix.  

Rated: TV-PG

Running Time: 77 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

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The Peanuts Movie

'The Peanuts Movie' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Shulz; Craig Shulz; Cornelius Uliano

Directed by: Steve Martino

In The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is still (mostly) the center of attention and adults remain out of sight, except for the few who lend their voices to the tune of a muffled, and possibly mangled, kazoo.

Here is a movie of extraordinarily simple pleasures, about a boy who crushes hard on the new redheaded girl at school and whose dog writes a compelling bit of fiction that details his most recent clash with the Red Barron. There is absolutely nothing here that you haven’t seen before, be it in previous incarnations of ‘Peanuts’ in celluloid form, in the comic strip or in any middling bit of entertainment aimed towards children 6-12. Surprisingly, in the comfortable and safe confines of unremarkable direction familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds deep pangs of nostalgia.

I can’t even remember the last time I watched or so much as looked at anything ‘Peanuts’-related. It has to be at least a decade since, not counting, of course, the teaser posters that were unveiled last year for this film. Three years ago this project was announced, but I don’t know where I was. Sleeping on top of a doghouse, perhaps? (I have always considered myself more of a Snoopy than a Charlie Brown.) This November marks the 65th anniversary of the comic strip’s debut, and the 50th anniversary since the first TV movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas. The strip itself ran for half a century, debuting in 1950 and ending in 2000. Of course, its beloved creator, Charles M. Shulz, passed away the day before his final Sunday strip ran in the papers.

As any ‘Peanuts’ fan knows the strip wasn’t destined for continuation as the Shulz family felt strongly about Charles remaining its first and only drawer. That might partially explain why we don’t get anything even close to original in The Peanuts Movie, a product now 15 years removed from the end of a significant era. Shulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan drafted a production that honors the legacy without stepping on any hand-drawn toes.

The formula requires introducing Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) to a “new” obstacle. Yes, he’s still having major issues with getting his kite to fly but when a new girl moves in next door, he finds himself with bigger fish to fry. Smitten by The Redheaded Girl, he remains paralyzed with fear when it comes to walking up to her and introducing himself. The conflict manifests as an amalgam of many smaller social anxieties good old Chuck has had in the past, be it overcoming Lucy’s bullying or avoiding Peppermint Patty’s advances: “You kind of like me, don’t you Chuck?” Charlie’s often been involved in love drama and that’s not the only thing that hasn’t changed here.

In the movie he must overcome his pessimism, and prove himself worthy of The Redheaded Girl’s affections.

In the movie he struggles, as he always has, to understand his place in the bigger picture when he aces a test and suddenly becomes popular.

In the movie he muffs the punt on the football, because Lucy is still a jerk.

The movie isn’t all about Charlie Brown, though. You guessed correctly. Snoopy, along with his trusted ally Woodstock (both of whom are given life thanks to archived recordings of Bill Melendez), dreams — writes, even — of the moment he rescues his own damsel in distress in the form of an exciting aerial adventure. The Red Barron, curse him, will stop at nothing to ensure Snoopy doesn’t succeed. A subplot as whimsical as it is perfunctory.

Here’s a production that manages to extend the legacy without expanding much of its horizon. It’s a win-win: we reap the benefits of being reunited with some of our favorite comic strip characters; the Shulz family will undoubtedly reap the financial benefits of the big screen treatment.

Charlie, Snoopy and Woodstock Got Talent

Recommendation: Good grief this is a nostalgic movie. Fans of ‘Peanuts’ should and probably will see this regardless of anything I write. I think it’s kind of telling that this is the first G-rated film I have reviewed on the blog. I just couldn’t resist diving back into this world, even if it is exactly the same as when I last left it.

Rated: G

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “You say you’ll hold it, but what you really mean is you’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and I’ll kill myself.” 

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