Shirley

★★★1/2

I’m probably the least qualified person to write a review of director Josephine Decker’s “Shirley,” a biographical drama about renowned horror and mystery author Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), which debuts on Hulu and VOD Friday, June 5. 

I’ve never read any of Jackson’s work. I’ve seen both versions of “The Haunting” (1963 and 1999), but haven’t watched a single episode of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” I haven’t seen any of Decker’s other movies, but have heard good things about “Madeline’s Madeline.” I haven’t read Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name upon which the film is based. I know Moss more from her movie roles (“The Invisible Man,” “The Kitchen,” “Us”) than I do her highly acclaimed television turns (“Top of the Lake” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”). I’ve only seen one episode of “Mad Men” – Jared Harris whooped Vincent Kartheiser’s ass on it.

It’s the early 1950s in North Bennington, Vt. Fred (Logan Lerman, late of Amazon Prime’s “Hunters”) and Rose (Odessa Young, “Assassination Nation”) are a pair of newlyweds who are staying with Professor Stanley Hyman (ace character actor Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, the titular Shirley. Fred is working as an assistant to Stanley at Bennington College in hopes of securing a tenured position. Meanwhile Rose is roped into indentured servitude in Stanley and Shirley’s home working as maid, housekeeper and cook despite being with child.

Stanley and Shirley are horrible people. Stanley is a pretentious philanderer looking to squash his protégé’s aspirations. Shirley is an agoraphobic with a penchant for insults. Sitting down for the first meal Rose has prepared, Shirley calls her a slut and makes assertions about she and Fred having had a shotgun wedding. In spite of this, the two women strike up an unlikely friendship … possibly due to a lack of other options.

Much of the movie’s acclaim has been heaped upon Moss and her performance. She’s good as she reliably is per my limited sample size. This lady plays mania exceedingly well. The performance that most impressed me however was that of Young. She’s the actual lead of the movie and undergoes the greatest change. Young was impressive in “Assassination Nation,” one of my favorite films of 2018. She’s even better holding her own here against acting heavyweights such as Moss and Stuhlbarg. Speaking of Stuhlbarg, he’s deliciously douche-y as Stanley. I wanted to bust his Hyman in the face. He’s like the evil flip side of Stuhlbarg’s “Call Me by Your Name” role. Lerman isn’t given nearly as much to chew on, but you see the beginnings of academicians’ and husbands’ worst traits in his performance. 

“Shirley” connected with me … more on an intellectual level as opposed to an emotional one. It’s fascinating and well-made. I ignorantly expected “Shirley” to have more of a horror bent to it, while it’s actually more of a domestic drama. In the end, it’s a portrait of two couples who ultimately interestingly mirror one another.

I’m No Longer Here

★★★★

“I’m No Longer Here,” which won the Golden Pyramid Best Film and Best Actor prizes at the Cairo International Film Festival and was a selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, made its debut on Netflix Wednesday, May 27.

The film tells the story of Ulises (newcomer Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño), a 17-year-old boy living in Monterrey, Mexico. Ulises is the leader of Los Terkos, a youthful street gang in the area. Ulises and his crew don’t engage in criminality so much as they dance to cumbia (Definition per Wikipedia: “a broad genre of popular music that originated among Afro-Colombian populations in the Caribbean of Colombia, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in El Salvador, the Andean region and Argentina.”), drink and do drugs. The young men in Los Terkos sport baggy threads and funky hairdos.

Things are going swimmingly enough for Ulises until a fateful day when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and observes a gangland massacre. The attack’s lone survivor thinks Ulises set them up. The perpetrators want to eradicate the sole eyewitness. Ulises leaves his friends and family behind and flees to the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens.

Ulises isn’t welcomed with open arms to the United States. He’s mocked and ultimately physically attacked by his room and workmates for the way he looks and the music to which he listens. He tries to kick up some scratch by dancing to cumbia in the subway, but is accosted by crazies and hassled by police for permits. Ulises does occasional odd jobs for an elderly bodega owner and begins squatting on the shopkeeper’s roof unbeknownst to him. It’s here that he meets Lin (Angelina Chen), the old man’s 16-year-old granddaughter. She takes an immediate liking to Ulises, but he’s ultimately more of a cultural curiosity than a friend.

Treviño impresses in his acting debut. He brings great vulnerability to the role. His Ulises overcomes a huge hurdle in being immensely likable despite me hating the way he looks. Ulises’ haircut is the worst ‘do committed to film since Gary Oldman and Chris Tucker’s doo-doo ‘dos in Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” I had to laugh when Ulises’ bullies made a crack about him looking like he was from “Dragon Ball Z” despite it being unkind.

“I’m No Longer Here” is written and directed by Fernando Frias, who helmed all six episodes of Fred Armisen’s HBO series “Los Espookys.” It’s not an especially flashy movie, but it’s a sensitive and attractive one. The shot compositions dreamed up by cinematographer Damián García, who lensed much of Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico,” are highly evocative of place and feeling. The filmmakers let the dance sequences breathe, which allows the craft to come to the forefront. This isn’t an overtly political film, but it certainly makes a clear-cut case for asylum and acceptance.  

Debt Collectors

★★1/2

Yeah, I’m pretty much the President of The Scott Adkins Fan Club … to the point where a buddy of mine recently joked on Facebook that we, “should just bone and get that shit over with.” For those not in the know, Adkins is an English martial artist who stars in a whole slew of direct-to-video action movies. Adkins’ latest effort, “Debt Collectors,” a sequel to his 2018 vehicle “The Debt Collector,” released on DVD on Tuesday, May 26. For the time being it appears to only be available via Redbox (fitting for the current king of DTV action), but per Amazon it will be available for purchase on Tuesday, June 2. The movie’s Facebook page also says it’ll be available to rent on VOD Friday, May 29.

It’s kinda strange that a sequel to “The Debt Collector” even exists as (spoiler!) its protagonists for all intents and purposes died at the first picture’s conclusion. This is all written away – French (Adkins) escaped with two bullets in his chest in a coupe belonging to Sue (Louis Mandylor, whom my wife excitedly recognized as Carl, Joey’s “twin” on “Friends”). Sue died twice on the operating table, but was ultimately revived.

The duo’s reunited seven months after their near-death experience when Sue appears at the bar where French is working as a bouncer. Sue is looking to recruit French to assist him in making three collections. Before Sue can even make the offer, French is fired for his latest roughing up of ruffians. Hard up, French accepts the opportunity. Their targets are: Mal Reese (Marina Sirtis of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), a Las Vegas club owner who used to make time with Sue; Esteban Madrid (Cuete Yeska), the thuggish proprietor of a boxing gym and Cyrus (Vernon Wells AKA Bennett from “Commando”!), the owner of a motorcycle garage. These folks took out loans from Barbosa (Tony Todd), who was dispatched in “The Debt Collector.” Barbosa’s brother, Molly X (Ski Carr), holds French and Sue responsible, so he forces their handler, Tommy (Vladimir Kulich, the Russian gangster Denzel clipped at the end of “The Equalizer”), to put them on the case in hopes that he’ll get paid and they’ll get laid to rest.

There’s as much good about “Debt Collectors” as there is bad. As much as I love Adkins, these movies actually belong to Mandylor. He kinda reads like Mickey Rourke prior to all the plastic surgery. His Sue is the emotional center of these pictures and he’s simply much cooler and more substantial than Adkins’ French. In the flick’s best scene Sue and French duke it out with one another. The fight stands toe-to-toe with the skirmish between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David in “They Live” both in brutality and duration. This isn’t subtle stuff – the two begin scrapping in front of a dumpster after French concludes that Sue’s been lying to him – the dumpster has the word “Gaslighter” graffitied on it.

As for the bad, Carr doesn’t have nearly the presence Todd did in the big bad role. Go figure, a dude who made his bones as a dancer on “Soul Train” doesn’t have the gravitas of Candyman. The concluding shootout is also sort of a joke. Everyone’s in Tommy’s club, which reads like it’s 20 feet by 20 feet, and yet the gunfight goes on forever. Stuntman-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson employs the same coupla shots of Molly X’s henchwoman, Felix (first-time actress Charity Collins), firing machine pistols and loading then unloading a grenade launcher all the while annoyingly/hilariously exclaiming variations on a similar line, e.g. “Take this, bitch!,” “Take this, mf’er!” Budget and good sense be damned!

“Debt Collectors,” also known abroad as “The Debt Collector 2,” “Payback” and my personal favorite the Japanese variant, “2 Bad Buddies” (this is commonplace for low-budget genre fare such as this), is the sixth collaboration between Johnson and Adkins. It’s a lesser work for them. I greatly preferred “The Debt Collector,” “Savage Dog,” “Triple Threat” and “Avengement” (these are all available for streaming on Netflix). Their only joint effort I enjoyed less was “Accident Man.” Rumor has it “Debt Collectors” will be available on Netflix in three months … I don’t think audiences would be delinquent in waiting until then.

The Lovebirds

★★★1/2

“The Lovebirds,” which was originally supposed to premiere at SXSW on Saturday, Mar. 14 before opening theatrically Friday, Apr. 3, made its debut on Netflix Friday, May 22.

Directed by Michael Showalter (best known for being a member of comedy troupes The State and Stella, starring in “Wet Hot American Summer” and for directing 2017’s “The Big Sick”) and scribed by actors-turned-screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, “The Lovebirds” focuses upon Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae). Jibran is a documentarian; Leilani an advertising executive. We see the couple fall in love, flash forward four years and watch as they’re on the precipice of breaking up.

The couple is en route to a dinner party with her friends. The barbs between them grow sharper as each mile passes. When their fight reaches its apex, Jibran suddenly strikes a bicyclist (Nicholas X. Parsons) with their vehicle. The bicyclist is OK and in a hurry to get the hell outta there. Another man (skilled character actor Paul Sparks) opens the driver’s side door, claims to be a police officer, tells Jibran to hop in the back seat, gets in the driver’s seat and is in hot pursuit of the bicyclist. The man eventually catches up with the bicyclist and runs him over … repeatedly. As quickly as he got in the car the man gets out and splits. 

Jibran and Leilani, worried that they’re gonna get fingered for the murder, flee the scene. They put their differences aside to investigate the crime and clear their names. Their investigation leads them to interrogate a frat boy named Steve (talented actor and comedian Moses Storm) and as quickly as you can say, “Fidelio,” to an “Eyes Wide Shut”-esque orgy.

I enjoyed “The Lovebirds” a good deal, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Showalter and Nanjiani’s accomplished previous collaboration, “The Big Sick.” The movie starts strongly and maintains this momentum until its halfway point where it begins to drag a bit … this is an issue for a flick that runs a scant 87 minutes. In spite of the sluggishness, Nanjiani and Rae are funny and charming enough to carry the picture to its conclusion.

I was more familiar with Nanjiani coming into the film than I was with Rae. I knew Rae more by reputation than repertoire. I’ve heard many good things about her HBO series “Insecure,” and found her hilarious calling out perceived racism and sexism while announcing the Academy Award nominations with John Cho earlier this year. Nanjiani is good here – Rae is better. She’s an attractive and humorous presence. She even gets the movie’s best and funniest line quoting the commercial slogan of a popular breakfast product.

Somewhat reminiscent of other romantic action comedies such as “Date Night” or “Game Night” wherein couples have a crazy evening that brings them closer together, “The Lovebirds” is better than the former and worse than the latter. It’s much funnier and saltier than “Date Night,” but lacks the flash and panache of “Game Night.” So far as mindless weekend entertainment goes, you could do a lot worse than “The Lovebirds.”

The Vast of Night

★★★1/2

The Mrs. and I were fortunate enough to see a screening of “The Vast of Night” at The Tibbs Drive-In located on Indianapolis’ southwest side (480 S Tibbs Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46241) on Saturday, May 16 prior to its release on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 29. I can’t speak for her, but it felt really damned good to see a movie on the big screen again. The last one I saw prior to quarantine was the Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” way back on Saturday, Mar. 14, which humorously enough was playing on the screen next door to “The Vast of Night” at the same time.

It’s the 1950s in small town Cayuga, N.M. Most of the community is enraptured by a high school basketball game that’s transpiring. This doesn’t mean a hill of beans to 16-year-old student/switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) nor local radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz). They’re busy walking, talking, playing with her newly acquired tape recorder, discussing what makes “good radio.” A strange audio frequency comes through the radio, which leads the duo on a nightlong investigation canvassing Cayuga and interviewing a good portion of Everett’s “five-person audience.”  

“The Vast of Night” was first runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as well as the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson and screenwriting debut of James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. It’s an auspicious start for the filmmakers, but not without its problems. “The Vast of Night” is so damned talky … arguably too damned talky. Much of the dialogue is witty and sharp, but there’s just such an abundance of it. There are instances where the filmmakers fade to black and allow the dialogue to roll onward. I most assuredly spaced out. Some of these folks make The Architect from “The Matrix Reloaded” seem mum by comparison.

Where “The Vast of Night” truly excels is in its cinematography by M.I. Littin-Menz, who also shot the recent Jesse Eisenberg Marcel Marceau Holocaust drama “Resistance.” The movie is almost entirely comprised of long take tracking shots. There’s an especially impressive one that sweeps the camera through Cayuga into the high school gymnasium and out again.

The performances are also impressive. McCormick and Horowitz (who reads like a younger Justin Long) are likeable in spite of often jerkily flirting with one another, which is important as the piece is essentially a two-hander. They do the walk and talk well enough it’d make Aaron Sorkin proud. Horowitz was sometimes hard to understand however as he incessantly had a cigarette dangling from his lips. Yay, youthful onscreen smoking! Also, yay period authenticity! 

“The Vast of Night” won’t be for all audiences. It sorta seemed like a combination of J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” (only concerning radio instead of film, taking place in the ‘50s as opposed to the ‘70s and with older and fewer kids) and the more loquacious entries of Richard Linklater’s filmography, i.e. “Slacker,” the “Before” trilogy and “Waking Life.” The movie is framed as an episode of “Paradox Theatre,” which apes anthology television series of the late ‘50s to mid ‘60s such as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” Fans of those properties will likely dig it … I just knew it was bitchin’ to be at passion pit with my best gal even if there was no backseat bingo afoot.

Dueling Reviews: The Wrong Missy

Alec Toombs’ Take:

★1/2

I’ve had a rough go of it with my movie selections of late. In the past three days I’ve watched my three least favorite films of 2020 thus far – “John Henry” (available on Netflix), “Capone” (available on VOD) and now “The Wrong Missy,” which dropped on Netflix Wednesday, May 13.

“The Wrong Missy” is the latest in a long line of Happy Madison productions where Adam Sandler is not only kind enough to keep his friends and family employed, but he also sends them on vacation. “50 First Dates,” “Grown Ups,” “Grown Ups 2,” “Just Go With It,” “Jack and Jill,” “Blended,” “The Do-Over” and “Murder Mystery” all fall into this subgenre of schlock too. Sandler seems like a good guy and I can appreciate him looking out for his people, but the creative output often leaves much to be desired. I want less stuff like this and more works along the lines of the quarantine music videos Sandler’s done solo and with Pete Davidson on “Saturday Night Live,” his inspired 2019 Netflix comedy special “100% Fresh” and worthwhile movies such as “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Uncut Gems.”

David Spade stars as Tim Morris, an unlucky in love banking executive whose fiancée, Julia (Sarah Chalke of “Scrubs”), has left him for their co-worker, Rich (Chris Witaske). Tim’s Grandma sets him up on a blind date with Missy (gifted comedienne Lauren Lapkus), which goes horribly awry. Soon thereafter, Tim meets the girl of his dreams, Melissa (model-turned-actress Molly Sims), at the airport. The two are a perfect match – neither of them drink, they’re reading the same James Patterson novel, they have the same carry-on luggage and they’ve both been recently cheated on. They wind up snogging in a janitor’s closet, but the make out sesh is cut short when Melissa has to bail to catch her flight. Tim gets Melissa’s number before parting ways. There’s a snag however – Melissa’s nickname is Missy, which is how she enters her contact info into Tim’s phone.

The bank Tim works for has been bought by Jack Winstone (Geoff Pierson, forever the Dad from The WB’s “Unhappily Ever After”), who takes his employees to a Hawaiian resort for team building activities where Tim will have to compete with Jess AKA The Barracuda (Jackie Sandler, Adam’s Mrs.) for a highly coveted promotion. Tim’s overreaching Human Resources buddy, Nate (Nick Swardson, looking like he’s trying to fill out to such an extent that he can be another Chris Farley to Spade), takes it upon himself to invite Missy along. Unfortunately, for all parties involved, he invites “The Wrong Missy.” Chaos ensues.

Spade can be genuinely funny when given the right material. I enjoyed him in “PCU,” “Tommy Boy,” “Black Sheep” and “Joe Dirt.” He plays the straight man here and he’s fine at it I suppose, but the dude’s look seriously bothers me. He looks like Ellen DeGeneres’ stunt double. Also, what’s up with his hair? Is it a crappy wig or a worse haircut? Lapkus seems like a nice lady who I’ve dug on countless podcasts, but she’s annoying as all hell here. The worst actor of the bunch amid this motley crew is Jackie Sandler. She makes Tara Reid look like Meryl Streep. I found Denise Richards more convincing as a nuclear physicist in “The World is Not Enough” than I do Sandler as a businesswoman in “The Wrong Missy.” Nepotism thy name is Jackie Sandler.

“The Wrong Missy” is directed by Tyler Spindel, a Harvard University graduate who previously directed Spade in former Happy Madison/Netflix collaboration, “Father of the Year.” That movie was much better than this one, but his filmmaking overall seems to suggest Trump University more than the Ivy Leagues. The flick was co-written by Kevin Barnett, one of the army of screenwriters who penned the 2007 remake of “The Heartbreak Kid,” for which this feels like a lame-brained rehash. There’s little to recommend in “The Wrong Missy” other than a coupla cool needle drops including Elle King’s cover of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” and Vampire Weekend’s “This Life,” which despite being a good tune is kinda played out with its omnipresence in ads for TBS’ “Miracle Workers: Dark Ages” and “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” The biggest and almost only laughs come courtesy of John Farley, Chris’ younger brother. Nepotism rears its ugly head again.

Adam Aasen’s Take:

★★

Sometimes your enjoyment of a movie really depends on your expectations.

If you get really excited to see a new movie in theaters. You shell out the money. Get a babysitter. Buy popcorn and expensive snacks. And the movie isn’t as good as you hoped… you’re somewhat disappointed.

When you watch a movie on an airplane, flip around on HBO on a lazy Saturday afternoon or watch something mindless on Netflix by yourself, the expectations are much lower. The lower bar leads to much more enjoyment.

After a string of terrible movies, Adam Sandler’s productions company Happy Madison has lowered the bar sufficiently.

The Sandler-starring theatrical offerings include some real stinkers such as “Jack and Jill,” “That’s My Boy,” “Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and “Grown Ups.”

At least those movies have the charm and charisma of Sandler.

The Happy Madison movies that he merely produces but doesn’t act in? If the bar were any lower you’d have to dig a hole in the floor.

Needless to say, I’m not a Happy Madison aficionado. I’ve steered clear of the “straight to Netflix” movies that have been lazily churned out.

But there was something that intrigued me by his latest streaming comedy starring David Spade called “The Wrong Missy.” And that’s the female co-lead Lauren Lapkus.

Lapkus is an underrated comic talent that started off doing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. I first discovered her playing characters on a podcast called “Comedy Bang Bang!” Eventually I saw her pop up in small roles. She was a corrections officer on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” and she played a cheating wife in the HBO series “Crashing.” Most people know her from her brief role in “Jurassic World” as a tech operator or from playing the girlfriend of the comic book guy on “The Big Bang Theory.”

The premise of the movie is David Spade, playing the straight man, goes on an awful blind date with Lapkus. Months later, he runs into his dream girl played by model Molly Sims. They exchange numbers but she has the same name — Melissa — and so he mistakenly starts texting the crazy girl from the blind date instead of his dream girl. He invites her to a work retreat on a tropical island and is shocked when “The Wrong Missy” shows up. She’s loud. She vulgarly talks about sex. She gets drunk. She embarrasses him and he’s too meek to tell her the truth.

The humor in the movie is certainly hit or miss. There’s a mean spirited — almost misogynistic — veil over how they treat Missy’s character. When she decides to have sex with Spade’s character when he’s not completely willing, well, it was uncomfortable. (But as much as Isla Fisher’s similar scene in “Wedding Crashers.”)

“The Wrong Missy” definitely isn’t for kids but it has childish humor. It’s got a lot of swearing and sex jokes. Plenty of prat falls and slapstick humor. There’s a three-way sex scene with some physical comedy that will make you cringe because it’s so bad.

Spade is obviously mailing it in. He’s the straight man so he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting but some of his line reading seems like he just wants to get out of there.

One actress was so bad in her line reading I had to look her up to see how she got into this movie. Even for a Happy Madison movie she was bad. Turns out she’s Adam Sandler’s wife. Makes sense.

Still a few actors throw themselves into their roles with reckless abandon. Geoff Pierson, who often plays politicians on TV, is mildly amusing as the boss. Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider might not be your thing but they give their full effort in their cameos. And Lapkus brings a zany energy to her role that reminds you of Jim Carrey in “The Cable Guy.” It’s a shame her co-stars and the screenwriter didn’t put in the same effort that she did. My guess is her commitment stems from her improv background where you don’t second guess but rather say “yes and..” while fully committing to any comic premise. Her energy is contagious.

The screenplay is as lazy as some of the acting. Predictably Spade’s character starts to fall for the crazy Missy but the transformation is forced and seems to be predicated on the fact that she helps him get a promotion at work. At the end, the movie half-heartedly attempts to be a romantic comedy but there’s no teary-eyed moment like “The Wedding Singer” or “50 First Dates.” It limps toward the finish line.

I had really low expectations so I mildly enjoyed this one. I would never have seen it in a theater or paid to rent it even. But it was worth 90 minutes of my time. Barely.

I did not hate this movie. I laughed more than a handful of times. I liked Lapkus. But I can’t in good conscience give this movie a high grade. It’s a bad movie you might enjoy depending on your tastes.

The opening scene showing the blind date is particularly funny and showcases the talent of Lapkus. If you aren’t interested or amused by the opening scene, just turn it off because it’s pretty much more of the same. In fact, it kind of goes downhill from there.

Capone

★1/2

Writer/director/editor Josh Trank has had a rough go of it the past few years. He was poised to set the cinematic scene ablaze after his found footage superhero flick “Chronicle” dropped in 2012. The movie was low budget while simultaneously being commercially and critically successful. Trank followed this up with 2015’s “Fantastic Four,” which was meddled with by 20th Century Fox. Gossip emerged from the “F4” set that Trank was acting erratically and trashed the rental house he stayed in during filming. The box office and critical reception of “F4” in conjunction with rumor mill grist got Trank jettisoned from a Boba Fett “Star Wars” flick he was signed to do with Lucasfilm. Trank has recently come forward to say he quit the Boba project as opposed to being fired. Over this same period of time Trank was also married and divorced. Trank has emerged on the other side with “Capone,” which released on VOD on Tuesday, May 12. He has said he had complete control over the project and that this is his director’s cut. I take no joy in saying this as I don’t wanna kick someone while they’re down, but if “Capone” is evidence of Trank’s unchecked artistic id I now better understand Fox’s intervention. “Capone” is a movie that both literally and figuratively shits the bed.

Tom Hardy stars as the titular infamous gangster in the last year of his life. Capone’s body and brain have been ravaged by the effects of syphilis. He’s living in retirement down in Florida with his wife, Mae (Linda Cardellini), and son, Junior (Noel Fisher, who played Michelangelo in the Michael Bay-produced “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies). Capone is looked after by his doctor, Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan), as well as the men in his employ, Ralphie (Al Sapienza, Mikey Palmice from “The Sopranos”) and Gino (Gino Cafarelli). They’re not the only ones checking in on Capone – he’s being surveilled by the FBI in the form of Crawford (promising young British actor Jack Lowden from “Fighting with My Family” and “Dunkirk”), who suspects that Fonzo has stashed $10 million in illicit cash somewhere on his estate.

Hardy alternates between inspired and insipid as Capone. He’s far too good of an actor to be boring, but it’s arguable he should’ve been reigned in a bit. Incessantly decked out in silk pajamas that he often pisses or shits, Hardy’s Capone comes across like Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison during a bender on more than one occasion. Hardy is fond of funky accents as evidenced by his turns in “Bronson” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” His Capone kinda sounds like Yoda with a serious cigar addiction. The rest of the cast is fine, but aren’t given much to do. This is essentially a one man show, but audiences aren’t given any real insight into Capone’s psyche … only his suffering. It’s a portrait of mania chockablock with toilet humor – we often don’t know what’s real or fake because our unreliable narrator doesn’t either. 

The whole enterprise feels a bit like the last half hour of “The Irishman” stretched out to 1hr 45min, void of context and guest directed by the Farrelly brothers. Rapper El-P’s minimalist score is cool when you actually hear it (namely over the closing credits). The movie’s also not bad-looking as it was lensed by David Lynch’s frequent cinematographer, Peter Deming. In spite of these positive attributes, you can only polish a turd so much. “Capone” is misery porn that’s at its best when it’s at its most ridiculous – watching Fonzo blast an alligator in the back with a rifle or unload on his own crew with a gold-plated Tommy gun whilst wearing a diaper snapped my attention back into focus. It’s gangster bling that don’t say a thing. Maybe Trank and Hardy will be more substantive with their Razzie acceptance speeches?

Arkansas

★★★★1/2

I was actually pretty stoked for comedic actor-turned-filmmaker Clark Duke’s feature debut, “Arkansas,” available on VOD as well as Blu-ray and DVD as of Tuesday, May 5. Yeah, I was the guy who was all fired up to check out the directorial chops of the fourth lead from “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Turns out the hype was warranted – Duke, a native of Glenwood, Ark., appears to have taken inspiration from the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino and fellow Arkansawyer Charles Portis (the late “True Grit” author is quoted at the beginning of the picture) in adapting John Brandon’s novel to make a real crackerjack of a comedic crime caper.

“Arkansas” is told in chapters as a series of vignettes that are tied together at the end. Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke) are drug traffickers posing as Junior Park Rangers under the watchful eye of Ranger Bright (John Malkovich). Kyle, Swin and Bright all work for a kingpin by the name of Frog (Vince Vaughn), who learned the trade under the tutelage of Almond (Michael Kenneth Williams). The Junior Rangers pick up packages from a middlewoman known simply as Her (Vivica A. Fox). Frog and by extension Bright have a few rules for the boys, “You can’t quit. If you run we’ll hunt you down and kill you. No fraternizing with locals. Don’t bring women around.” Swin isn’t much for rules and begins romancing a young nurse by the name of Johnna (Eden Brolin, Josh’s daughter). Things go swimmingly until they don’t. 

This may be the best Hemsworth has ever been on screen. He doesn’t get a knife jump kicked into his heart by Jean-Claude Van Damme or anything, but he’s pretty damned good. Hemsworth’s Kyle is stolid, the strong silent type. He’s curt and all about the business at hand. None of it’s fancy, but Hemsworth does a decent enough job selling it all. He even affects and maintains a Southern accent with aplomb. Duke pulls a “Seinfeld” and casts a woman way out of his league as his love interest. In spite of this, he’s a charming motherfucker here. Incessantly talking and decked out in Jams and old WWF t-shirts, Swin looks cool and more importantly is cool. Duke might be the only dude who looks better in a man bun. Between the hipster hairdo and a wispy mustache Duke manages not to look like Velma from “Scooby-Doo” for a change. 

Brolin acquits herself nicely. She looks like a combination of her Daddy and Leah Thompson’s kid, Zoey Deutch. Johnna asks too many questions, but is always likable and often funny. It’s nice to see Fox escape Sharknadoes and other assorted TV movie hell. Duke and co-screenwriter Andrew Boonkrong give her some zingers to chew into and she makes a meal outta ‘em. Williams is one of my favorite character actors having played Omar on HBO’s “The Wire.” (IMHO the best character in any piece of media ever created on the best television show of all-time.) He isn’t given a ton to do, but Almond is an integral character and Williams is reliably solid playing him. Malkovich ain’t in the movie a whole lot either, but is a blast when he is. Bright has the same blue Corvette my buddy Evil does and dotes on it like he’s Cameron Frye’s Dad from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Malkovich sports a fun accent in the flick – the dude does wonders making bad accents sing (see “Rounders” and “Deepwater Horizon”) – he does more of the same here.

While the cast is uniformly very good, there’s a clear standout. Vaughn straight up murders it. When Vaughn takes a break from scowling at Meryl Streep at awards shows and kissing Donald Trump’s ass in suites at football games, he’s proven himself to be an extremely adept actor while playing heavies and morally grey characters. Much like he did in Season 2 of HBO’s “True Detective” and the S. Craig Zahler one-two punch of “Brawl in Cell Block 99” and “Dragged Across Concrete” (two wonderfully-titled movies I enjoy very much in spite of strongly disagreeing with their politics), Vaughn makes for a charmingly menacing presence in “Arkansas.” His Frog is almost always garbed in country western gear and a St. Louis Cardinals cap. Vaughn, an avowed Chicago Cubs fan (much like me), shows true dedication to his craft by willingly wearing this abomination. David Fincher asked Beantown boy Ben Affleck to wear a Yankees cap in “Gone Girl.” Affleck opted for a Mets cap. (I’d be in the Affleck camp.) Perhaps Vaughn was paying tribute to his buddy Billy Bob Thornton, an Arkansan and a die-hard Cards backer?

While “Arkansas” does so much right, it does have a few stumbling blocks. Vaughn doesn’t age much over the 35 years we see his character – the aging is more apparent when he removes the Cards crap … I mean cap … late in the picture revealing a head of gray hair. The way Vaughn pushes a broom also proves telling. Additionally, the photography of the picture is sorta dark and muddied at times – this adds atmosphere, but also makes things hard to see. Admittedly, I watched the movie in the morning. Perhaps I owe it an evening watch and that’d clear things up? I’m kinda annoyed I rented this on VOD and wish I’d just blind bought the Blu-ray in the first place. 

There’s a ton to recommend here whether it be the acting or the awesome music … psychedelic folk artist Devendra Banhart penned an Ennio Morricone-esque score and the Flaming Lips not only cameo but also provide originals and covers to the film’s soundtrack – their rendition of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is especially memorable. 

Duke has announced himself as an exciting new voice in cinema. I can’t wait to see what he does next. “Arkansas” is good enough that I almost watched it a second time during the 48-hour rental period and did ultimately order a Blu-ray copy despite having just seen it. It’s the second best movie I’ve seen in quarantine (the first would be “The Platform,” currently available for streaming on Netflix) and it’s in my Top 5 of 2020 thus far (I’ve seen 31 2020 titles at present.). Highly recommended!

All Day and a Night

★★★1/2

Writer/director Joe Robert Cole’s “All Day and a Night,” which dropped on Netflix Friday, May 1, feels like a throwback to the urban crime pictures that proliferated the early-to-mid ‘90s. It most reminded me of Edward James Olmos’ “American Me” and the Hughes brothers’ “Menace II Society.” Cole made his bones writing and producing FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and co-writing “Black Panther” alongside Ryan Coogler. He used the cache accrued on these projects to tell what appears to be a very personal story for him. Cole is a young African American man chronicling the way in which the deck is often stacked against people of color in this country. “All Day and a Night” takes place in Oakland, Calif. Cole is from San Francisco – right across the Bay.

“All Day and a Night” concerns Jakhor (Ashton Sanders of “Moonlight” and “The Equalizer II”), a young man who’s doing what he can to avoid the gang life. He has a girlfriend, Shantaye (Shakira Ja’nai Paye), a job at a shoe store and aspirations of becoming a rapper making his own beats and incessantly spitting rhymes. The movie also flashes back and forth to Young Jakhor (Jayln Emil Hall) and we see the effects his father, JD (Jeffrey Wright, one of our finest character actors), has upon him. JD is a cokehead, a hustler – Young Jakhor even witnesses him gun down another man in an open lot. Jakhor’s mother, Delanda (Kelly Jenrette), often asserts that her son will grow up to be nothing like his father. Unfortunately, the lure of the streets proves too much and Jakhor begins working as the right-hand man to Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of “Aquaman” and HBO’s “Watchmen”). Jakhor also has two buddies that kinda serve as the angel and devil on his shoulder – there’s TQ (Isiah John from FX’s “Snowfall”), a pusher who’s living the life, and Lamark (Christopher Meyer), who is confined to a wheelchair after having served in the Army abroad and yet remains on the straight and narrow.

Sanders is a young actor I’ve grown to like a lot. He was probably my least favorite Chiron of the three featured in “Moonlight,” but still did a commendable job. He has a real presence here feeling less like a boy and more like a man. You feel for Jakhor. You understand what he does and why he does it even if you don’t agree with the action itself – a lot of this is attributable to Sanders’ performance as well as the fragmented narrative. Sanders’ voice is also super-cool – deep and gravelly – it gives him a presence that separates himself from his contemporaries. Wright is dependably good as ever playing a role that’s eerily reminiscent to one he played just last year in HBO’s “O.G.” JD fluctuates between being utterly terrifying and absolutely sympathetic, which is an affirmation of Wright’s chameleon-like abilities as an actor. Mateen is a performer I’ve gained a lot of respect for in a limited amount of time. He was a fun villain as Black Manta in “Aquaman,” brought considerable heart to “Watchmen” and I look forward to seeing what he does in the upcoming rebootquel “Candyman.” His Big Stunna is a completely different animal. It’s chilling to see Stunna cooking for and feeding Jakhor while simultaneously talking to the young man about a hit he wants him to perpetrate.

“All Day and a Night” treads well-worn territory. It lacks the heart of “Boyz n the Hood” and doesn’t quite have the edge of “Menace II Society.” It also sports some absolutely abysmal CG bullet hits, which is a pet peeve of mine. (Squibs for life, son!) That said it gives white audiences an opportunity to check their privilege and black audiences food for thought in avoiding the pitfalls that befall our protagonists and far too many promising young men in communities throughout America in actuality.

Blood Quantum

★★1/2

“Blood Quantum” is a fairly fresh take on the well-worn zombie subgenre. It premiered on Shudder on Tuesday, Apr. 28 after placing as second runner-up for the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival behind “The Platform” (currently streaming on Netflix and reviewed by me here a coupla months back) and “The Vast of Night” (premiering on Amazon Friday, May 29).

It’s 1981 on the First Nation Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow in northern Quebec. Fish are still flopping after being gutted. A sick dog that was put down comes howling back to life. Sheriff Traylor (Michael Greyeyes from Season 3 of “True Detective”) is trying to make heads or tails of the situation alongside his father, former Sheriff Gisigu (first-time actor Stonehorse Lone Goeman). Complicating matters is Traylor’s ex, Joss (filmmaking multihyphenate Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), who is riding his ass to get their son, Joseph (Forrest Goodluck of “The Revenant” and “Indian Horse,” which my folks keep recommending to me), outta the clink after the youngster was arrested for getting drunk, climbing atop a bridge and crapping on some pale face’s windshield as they drove past. Further complicating matters is the fact that Traylor’s other son from a previous relationship, Alan AKA Lysol (Kiowa Gordon, part of the “Twilight” wolf pack), is also jailed. Furthest complicating matters … the boys’ celly is a pale face who begins barfing blood before fully transitioning into a zombie. A skirmish ensues in which our indigenous protagonists are bitten. It’s during this scuffle that our characters and the audience discover that native peoples are immune from becoming zombies in this narrative. The movie flashes forward six months, the aforementioned characters now reside behind a wall alongside other members of the tribe (embodied most clearly by the cast’s most famous member, Gary Farmer, of “Dead Man” and “Smoke Signals”), Joseph’s pregnant, pale face girlfriend, Charlie (“Degrassi” vet Olivia Scriven), and other uninfected white folks.

Filmmaker Jeff Barnaby had his fingers in a lot of different pies while making “Blood Quantum.” He wrote, directed, edited and co-composed the score. This is personal for Barnaby, who grew up on the Mi’gmaq reserve in Listuguj, Quebec. It’s no mistake that the movie takes place in 1981 as that’s when the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation saw their home raided by Quebec Provincial Police, who aimed to impose fishing restrictions on the Mi’gmaq people. It’s also no mistake that a white character is given a ration of shit after trying to bring a blanket into the reservation following the outbreak. It’s in this social commentary that Barnaby truly excels … well, that and the bloodletting (a zombie lady graphically takes a chainsaw to the face, a dude gets his dick bit off and a zombie lad falls backwards out a window resulting in his torso dangling from its innards). Where Barnaby falls short is structurally (anime is employed for seemingly no reason) and occasionally in his stilted dialogue, miscasting and direction of actors. Greyeyes made quite the impression on “True Detective,” but is a void here. Tailfeathers plays Goodluck’s mother, but appears to be about 10 minutes older than him. Farmer has proven himself to be an immensely talented performer, but is given nothing to sink his teeth into here. Scriven is the token whitey and is blander than white bread. Standouts are first-timer Goeman, who comes across like a badass Indian samurai dispatching zombies with a katana, and Gordon as black sheep, Lysol. (Just think if the movie were made now, Lysol would undoubtedly be the most popular cat on the res!) I suspect if Barnaby had fewer responsibilities he could’ve focused in on lacking elements and tightened them up. As is “Blood Quantum” has HIGH highs and LOW lows, but it makes me excited to see what Barnaby has up his sleeve next. I just hope he has a bigger budget, more resources and more assistance.