‘Game Night’ is a guilt-free hilarious time at the movies

Bateman, McAdams work well here


Certain films are made with the intention to win awards. For example, when Steven Spielberg picks up a camera and walks into a room, the intention is to walk out of it with an Oscar. This is the goal of many films.

Game Night is thankfully not one of those movies.

Co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who misfired with the lukewarm Vacation), this is a guilt-free and hilarious time at the movies. It will take your mind off real life and won’t ask you to think too much. It’s fun, something that Hollywood forgets about when they make movies.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams look like the perfect couple on the surface. Two ultimate competitors who fell in love at trivia night, Max and Annie were soulmates. They have a great house in the suburbs, even if it comes with the weird, widowed police officer neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons). Their friends, including the dopey yet lovable Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and the high school sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), come over for the weekly game night.

However, Max’s rivalry with his brother, the rich and charismatic Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hasn’t lost any steam from their childhood, which Brooks doesn’t hesitate to revisit with embarrassing stories and painful reminders. When Brooks rides into town and wants to host a “different” kind of game night, Max and Annie see this as an opportunity to finally take down the big brother.

They have no idea what’s in store for them, but let’s just say the audience benefits from the chaos.

I laughed a lot during this movie. It’s a good time. This is an easy going cinematic experience that doesn’t demand you to think too hard nor does it make you look at your watch constantly. Daley and Goldstein’s film, working from a script by Mark Perez, keeps moving, is never boring, and stays away from heavy themes that would have dampened the effect of the main ingredient, which is comedy.

So often with comedies, they tend to get melodramatic or mix in so many subplots that you forget what the main idea was. With Game Night, there is one goal: following a group of ordinary people around who find out something about themselves that only a little of suspense can unearth.

Is Brooks hiding a few secrets? Sure. Will those secrets get his brother and friends into trouble? You bet. Will the sight of a guy trying to scrub blood of a dog only to make it worse make you laugh out loud? Bingo.

“Laugh out loud” is thrown around these days, but I did it a few times during this movie. Seeing a grown man bite down on a squeaky pet toy as a bullet is extracted from his arm is one of them. Morris perfecting a Denzel Washington impersonation is endless fun. McAdams dancing around a bar with a loaded gun in her hand is just hot goodness. Every time Ryan calls his date British, when she is actually an Irish woman, you laugh as she scolds him. Let’s just say an Edward Norton joke goes a long way.

The cast was perfectly assembled. I like when Bateman stretches out in darker roles like Netflix’s Ozark and Disconnect, but this comedy zone is his sweet spot. He has an effortless, cynically based humor that borders on acerbic that never gets old. You could have plucked out Max from Bateman’s role in Horrible Bosses (which Goldstein co-wrote), added some seasoning, and arrived at the same character-but the actor makes it work.

McAdams adds a little spunk to her heroine in a part that most actresses would have played straight. The usually stoic Chandler cuts loose playing an imperfect man, and it’s a refreshing site. Plemons gives enough uncomfortable willpower to make you feel for Gary while keeping an eye on him.

Keep an eye out for a surprise casting choice that made me do a double take.

Game Night doesn’t wish to reinvent the movie wheel or gun for Best Picture. It just wants to make you laugh and forget about reality for a couple hours. You’ll get up from your seat as the credits roll, and laugh again at that one part. This movie should make even the coldest cynic giggle. The filmmakers and cast did a good job here.

When a comedy is done right, it can be as satisfying as a hardcore Oscar worthy drama.

True Detective’s Season 2 Finale: A Giant Mess

True Detective’s Season 2 was a mess, and something creator Nic Pizzolatto will struggle to come back from. My review.

(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Picture yourself ordering a big juicy ribeye steak and you get a dried up bland T-bone steak cooked by a cook who hates his job. That’s what I got after 8 hours of heavy handed drama on HBO’s season 2 of True Detective. The finale stunk up the room and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. How did golden boy Nic Pizzolatto round up all this talent and mess this up? Next time, Nic, buy a diaper and unload in that instead of all over people who pay top dollar for HBO and went into this summer expecting something better.

I gave this season time to grow on me. Think of spending a few hours with a VERY serious kid at a playground. He’s cool and wants to have fun but can’t stop talking about philosophical meanings and boring layered narratives. That’s True Detective in 2015. Overwrought and overcooked and just too much in the end. Worst of all, its creator lost his compass. Pizzolatto can write twisty seedy stories about the rugged battles we fight within our subconscious on a daily basis but believe me he had better than this assortment of characters running around with their heads cut off in the middle of this mystery plot.

Hey, there’s Vince Vaughn, trying to recover some dignity from a career that fell straight down the soft comedy rabbit hole. Vaughn was trained on theater and came up in Hollywood through dramas like Clay Pigeons and Return to Paradise. What happened to that magnetic presence from Swingers? Vaughn was miscast here as a former criminal trying to go straight and a stupid one at that. He couldn’t handle the dialogue and never seemed comfortable except for a handful of scenes. Maybe he bit down too hard on the comedy bug or maybe he wasn’t meant for this gym class.

Look at Taylor Kitsch, playing the most doomed closeted gay cop of all time. So serious, never smiling and tormented beyond belief. The main recipe this season was inner torture. Look at me, I am pale, unhappy and out of cigarettes. Show pity on me. Taylor’s Paul, an ex-soldier trying to ride a patrol bike who gets sucked into this crime investigation set to explode. He never seemed right for the job, the same way the actor never knew quite how to play his character. When he found his step, it was overacting. So visible and forced.

Same for Rachel McAdams, the beautiful talented actress who is working so much right now she may need a break. Sometimes, when actors work at much as she has in the past year, I wonder if they don’t know how to handle a big role like this. Her overprotective, damaged, knife wielding badge started out like someone we could like in a dirty cool way, but quickly her character boiled too much and the goods spilled out. By the end of Sunday’s finale, I really didn’t care what happened to her character because I never felt like I knew her.

Colin Farrell’s Ray was the only character I felt had a complete base to work off of. A cop whose wife was brutally raped, a crime that set Ray off on a revenge trail that left him thinking he had killed his wife’s attacker but spending the rest of his life not sure if his son was really his. Farrell adopted this deep slightly Southern drawl and assortment of plaid shirts and funky facial hair to rip into Ray. It was like his Miami Vice character went to Texas and came back a changed much more tormented dude. A sad one but a character we cared about. Farrell can visually project 80 emotions on his face but in the end, the showrunners did him wrong, at least in my eyes. They walked him into a trap. I didn’t expect characters to find happiness at the end, but I expected they’d read something better than what they found.

One character needed his comeuppance and didn’t get it. You’ll know if you watch.

Season 1 was brilliant because it had a sexy confidence, was extremely well written and felt fresh and rightfully gloomy. People were sad, drinking too much, way too violent, but they had a purpose throughout the misery. The season had a vibe and a pulse. It was a wild guitar solo that seemed to last for 7 hours before encore sprung this culmination of all the plot threads. It also had a white hot can’t go wrong Matthew McConaughey meeting the character of a lifetime in Rust Cohle. A man who preached about a flat circle. Maybe Pizzolatto should have stuck with that circle and brought him back, along with Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart.

To me, the biggest missing element from Season 2 was a foil for the seriousness of the main characters. Season 1 balanced McConaughey’s madness and wrenching monologues with the bewildered humor and light presence of Harrelson. Season 2 was missing a Woody Harrelson. Something to balance all the depressed folks out. Too bad.

Another missing element from Season 2 was director Cary Fukunaga, a maverick world creator from Season 1 who turned Louisiana’s swamp into a gothic lost and found crime zone. The rift between him and Pizzolatto split the marriage they shared via True Detective and deprived Season 2’s players of a great director. Without his compass(Fukunaga’s camera), Pizzolatto was lost this go around.

Maybe Season 3 brings back Cohle and Hart. Go back to what worked and what put you on the map, Nic. Season 2 found you without a purpose. Season 2 felt like leftovers in a broken refrigerator. It was the little brother trying to be as cool as the older star athlete and coming up short. Maybe fans were set up to be disappointed.

True Detective Season 2 tried to go big with a larger cast and wide spreading mystery plot. It misfired, badly. You can go back and watch it again, and I’m sure the effect wouldn’t be better. Only worse.

Nice try, Pizzolatto. Next time, find a worthy story, characters worth caring about and something fresh. Take some time my friend. You need it after that strikeout.

In the meantime, go catch up on Cinemax’s Banshee, a show that DOES NOT disappoint. Like ever.

Raw and Honest “Southpaw” told from inside out

Jake Gyllenhaal anchors Antoine Fuqua’s raw and intense boxing drama.


(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Take everything away from us, and we are flesh, bone, blood and all that we have created. Antoine Fuqua’s gritty boxing flick is told from the inside out, and he accomplishes that by starting with the human frailty of the modern fighter. Southpaw may look familiar but it’s something different. The intense B-side track to Rocky.

Jake Gyllenhaal(the fearless actor can’t miss right now) is Billy Hope, and the fight opens with preparations for Hope’s 43rd fight. He’s unbeaten, but that doesn’t include facial scarring, potential brain damage and visceral shock to the upper body. His wife, the beautiful yet tough Moureen(Rachel McAdams, evolving as an actress with every role) can see the toll being stacked on top of her family, which includes the couple’s adolescent daughter. Hope wins the fight, takes a beating and may walk away before the brutal shock of life stuns him and takes everything away from him.  If you haven’t seen the trailer, good for you but this film will fake the left to the head and hit you in the kidneys with an uppercut you never saw coming.

Instead of just going all Rocky and showing us the comeback trail of Hope from the gutters to the ropes, Fuqua and screenwriter Kurt Sutter(the maestro of Sons of Anarchy) beat the soul of Hope senseless first. Stripped of everything, the fighter has to be reborn. Is this like Mark Wahlberg’s The Fighter? Is it a modern Rocky? Yes on both counts, but more brutal. Those fighters didn’t have it as tough as Hope and that sets Southpaw apart and gives this seemingly conventional drama fresh legs in the cinematic ring. Continue reading “Raw and Honest “Southpaw” told from inside out”