On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 1, 2019

At this point I question if there’s even a point to me sitting down and taking time out of my day to write a review of a new Kevin Hart movie. I mean, unless Hart decides to work outside his comfort zone with a director that might challenge him or unless he’s part of an ensemble cast one pretty much knows what they’re getting from a Kevin Hart comedy, right? Given Night School is the first production to be released under Hart’s own production company though, one can safely assume that if this is successful-which all signs point to why wouldn’t it be?-that the general viewing public can expect more of this same, middle-of-the-road comedy with recycled premises and recycled jokes that hold Hart at the center as a character who must overcome something in order to realize something about himself...while being made fun of for being short, of course. That said, I appreciate and kind of admire Hart for always willing to be the brunt of the joke and despite Night School being a rather large missed opportunity given it pairs the immensely charming and infinitely likable Hart with Girls Trip breakout Tiffany Haddish and her director on that film, Malcolm D. Lee (who’s also made The Best Man films and the most recent Barbershop picture), there is still enough here for it to qualify as an entertaining enough time at the movies. No, that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement, but it does mean this doesn’t feel wholly like a cheap, quickly manufactured product with little effort put in and therefore little expectations held for it. In fact, it’s actually the opposite in that it’s not hard to see that Hart, his co-stars, and his company are genuinely trying to make something with, well...heart. Does this mean it actually holds some weight? Not really, no, and it isn’t as consistently funny enough given the stars of the film, but this is a rare comedy that doesn’t have an ugly side to it. It’s an optimistic comedy, if you will, whereas the majority of big studio comedies tend to be both cynical and egotistical, Night School sets itself apart from the pack if not for being the funniest of the year, but for holding out the most hope in humanity and seeing the good in the resilience of the human spirit. Full review here. C

This was the third of three movies I saw within a span of about six hours all of which were over two hours. Bad Times at the El Royale was also the second consecutive two-hour and twenty-plus minute film I saw and yet, despite those number of factors stacked against it due to nothing other than pure circumstance, it was easily the one I most enjoyed and was the most intrigued in of the day. Take of that what you will.

I loved almost everything about the first hour or so of this. The style of the camera work, the inherent tension in the writing, the character choices, and the editing that fluidly compacts every perspective writer/director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) introduces into a compelling mystery, but also visually conveys the themes the story is chasing. Bad Times at the El Royale is all about duality and perspective and the different ways in which one individual might perceive another based on the perception of their reality. While this may sound rather basic in terms of ideas what makes Goddard's approach work all the better is that he doesn't just layer in misdirects as cheap tricks, but truths so as to give the audience genuine pause to who can be trusted.

It is in the second hour and extended climactic confrontation that the tension begins to fizzle and it becomes clear certain story strands will not be explored further much less wrapped-up. That said, what does occur is still very much an entertaining time at the El Royale with character confrontations that refuse to fully diffuse the situation and therefore the tension at hand. It is in this extended climax that Chris Hemsworth's character, Billy Lee, shows up and takes the film in a direction that doesn't tend to layer in everyone else as much as the first half. Whether Billy distracts due to the fact Hemsworth is dancing around with his shirt off I don't know, but despite being satisfied with the frankness of the conclusion there is a desire Goddard might have continued in the more complex vein of his set-up rather than allowing a single character to take things off the rails.

Still, this thing is filled to the brim with solid work from an impressive ensemble cast, looks beyond fantastic on the big screen, and is immensely entertaining in ways that we don't often get to see this kind of storytelling on this grand of a scale anymore. B+

Having been released around the same time as the similarly feeling KIN, A.X.L. is the more kid-friendly movie about a top-secret, robotic dog created by the military to help protect tomorrow's soldiers. Code named by the scientists who created him, A.X.L. stands for Attack, Exploration, Logistics, and embodies the most advanced, next-generation artificial intelligence. After an experiment gone wrong, A.X.L. is discovered hiding alone in the desert by Miles (Alex Neustaedter), who finds a way to connect with him after activating his owner-pairing technology. Together, the two develop a special friendship based on trust, loyalty and compassion.

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