THE WEEKEND WARRIOR 3/10/23
Mainly my review of CHAMPIONS, but SCREAM VI, 65, and MAGIC FLUTE also opening
This week’s column is going to be a little shorter than usual because I’ve already reviewed Paramount’s SCREAM VI, and I won’t be seeing Sony’s 65 until sometime on Thursday, so probably won’t review, so hopefully, you aren’t all disappointed. (I’m still having time factors to deal with, as well.) Because I’ve already written about the box office of both those movies over at Gold Derby and Above the Line, I’m going to focus most of this column on reviewing…
CHAMPIONS (Focus Features)
This is Bobby Farrelly’s solo feature directorial debut after making many low-brow comedies with his Oscar-winning brother Peter Farrelly, and Champions does veer closer to the more serious stuff Peter has done, but it’s still mostly a comedy. It stars Woody Harrelson as Marcus, an assistant basketball coach for a minor league team in Iowa, who gets fired after an altercation with his coach (Ernie Hudson). Soon after, he gets stopped on a DWI, and as community service, he has to coach a Special Olympics basketball team that really can use his help. At first, Marcus is unhappy about his new situation, but he soon warms up to the disabled adults he’s coaching and their individual personalities, plus he gets into a relationship with one the sister of one of them, played by the brilliant Kailtin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
I went into Champions not really knowing much of what to expect, since I saw it before watching any trailer or reading any synopsis. I was a little nervous when it started with a basketball game, ‘cause I’m not really a fan of the sport, and we also just had Adam Sandler’s Hustle last year, which was quite good.
The thing is that I really like Harrelson a lot, particularly when he plays likeable but flawed characters such as this one, and Olson proves to be his match in terms of being able to bounce between humor and drama from scene to scene. The real stars of the film have to be “The Friends,” a group of ten young men (and one woman, Madison Tevlin’s Costentino, who is quite a force) with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities), who each have their own quirks and eccentricities, but are all quite likeable, as the film allows them to take friendly shots at their coach.
I’ll admit being a little worried once I realized the premise, considering that I do frequently rewatch There’s Something About Mary, and you can’t forget the then-funny now-not-so-much character of Warren, Mary’s mentally-challenged brother, who was constantly bashing Ben Stiller around. Champions makes it well known that it realizes that using the “r” word is no longer funny or appropriate, but it also makes sure we’re never laughing AT the “Friends” and their quirks, but trying to empathize with them as they try to get past some of them.
I will also admit that Champions won’t be for everyone, because it’s very sweet, and rather crowd-pleasing with a pretty straight-ahead three-act structure where the movie can only go in two directions as far as the outcome, which is standard for most sports movies.
But Woody is so good in this movie, really allowing the younger non-actors to really shine by giving them the necessary support, and Farrelly does a great job balancing the comedy and the more dramatic aspects of the story to make this quite an enjoyable and even inspirational overall film.
Champions opens in 3,000 theaters this weekend, and I should have an interview with Bobby Farrelly over at Above the Line by Friday.
Surprise, surprise! I’m gonna review this movie anyway, which I just got out of seeing a short while ago. I have to be honest that it’s very easy to get very cynical while watching a last-minute courtesy screening of a movie that will open theatrically in less than three hours, but as with most people, I was intrigued by the premise and the marketing, and you know what? Adam Driver is quite a talented actor, especially when put into a situation like this one that might seem so ludicrous.
Driver plays Mills, a spaceship pilot and family man on a planet that’s not earth, with a young daughter who is quite ill (played by Chloe Coleman), who takes on a mission that will have him back to his family soon enough. Instead, his ship is struck by asteroids, and it crash lands on earth 65 million years ago. Once there, he quickly realizes that something’s wrong with all the wild prehistoric creatures he encounters, plus he also finds a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt). Together, they have to survive this environment and find a portion of the ship that was spared from the crash that can help them escape.
65 comes from A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, but contrary to Sony’s press notes, this is not their first feature as directors, as they previously directed Haunt and a number of shorts. I guess you could say that 65 is their longest feature at 93 minutes, but they have been directing stuff for quite some time, probably first paired with producer Sam Raimi when they directed a few episodes of his Quibi anthology series, 50 States of Fright. I wasn’t really a fan of Haunt, so I worried these might be good writers who used their pull from the success of A Quiet Place to get more directing gigs. Maybe that’s still true, but they prove to have just as good chops as any of Sony’s other “journeyman directors” like Reuben Fleischer and Daniel Espinosa, and this far exceeds the absolute mediocrity of something like the latter’s Morbius.
So much of the film is driven by Driver and his young liege, the two of them having a sweet relationship and rapport, despite not being that much dialogue between them. And then, every few minutes, they encounter one CG dinosaur or another, all of which look respectively decent, even if this movie probably didn’t have quite the budget of any of the Jurassic World movies.
But the fact that the movie keeps you invested in these characters, even during some of the duller non-dino scenes, is something in itself, and you can tell that Driver is taking this as serious as the filmmakers. Maybe the pace could have been better, and the ending proper comes rather sudden after the film’s short running time, but things are generally kept going by the fact that you really do grow to like the two main characters.
Despite Sony’s reticence to screen this, it is not a bad movie, and those going into it expecting a lot of Adam Driver fighting dinos, will get exactly that, and maybe a little bit more as well.
I knew I forgot something!!! This week’s Top 10!
Scream VI (Paramount) - $40.3 million N/A
2. Creed III (MGM) - $27.5 million -53%
3. 65 (Sony) - $10.3 million N/A
4. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Marvel/Disney) - $6 million -54%
5. Champions (Focus Features) - $5.5 million N/A
6. Cocaine Bear (Universal) - $5.2 million -52%
7. Jesus Revolution (Lionsgate) - $4.5 million -47%
8. Demon Slayer (Crunchyroll) - $3.6 million -65%
9. Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century) - $2.3 million -37%
10. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Universal) - $2 million -30%
THE MAGIC FLUTE (Shout! Studios)
One movie that I’ve been trying to get to, but just haven’t had the time is this adaptation of the Mozart opera into a fantasy-adventure, directed by Florian Siegl and exec. Produced by Roland Emmerich with a cast that includes Jack Wolfe, F. Murray Abraham, Iwan Rheon, Stéfi Celma, Asha Banks, and more. In other words, this seems like my kind of thing, and it’s getting released into over 300 theaters
HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART II (Hulu)
This long-awaited sequel to Mel Brooks’ 1981 anthology comedy History of the World Part I has already launched as a four-night limited series on the streamer, and I’ve had a chance to watch the first episode, and so far, this series is just as hilarious as the original movie with so many great comedians involved including Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, Kumail Nanjiani, Ike Barinholz, and many more. Hope to find time to watch the rest of this over the weekend.
UNSEEN (Paramount Home Entertainment/Blumhouse/MGM+)
Hitting digital and on demand this week before going to MGM+ in May (this is the new streamer by MGM and Amazon, which I still haven’t figured out how it differs from Prime Video other than having other exclusive content. (Apparently, it’s the former EPIX rebranded.) Directed by Yoko Okumu from a script by Salvatore Cardoni, this film is about two women who form a bond when depressed gas station clerk Sam (Jolene Purdy) receives a video call from a nearly blind Emily (Midori Francis), who is trying to escape her murderous ex chasing her in the woods. Using the technology, Emily requires Sam to provide her eyes in order to escape. This is the first of eight movies done by Blumhouse Television and MGM+ similar to its “Into the Dark” series for Hulu and the Welcome to Blumhouse movies done for Prime Video.
Let’s quickly get to some repertory stuff…
I’m excited that Beth B, the filmmaking wife of a friend of mine is getting a full retrospective this weekend at Metrograph, called “Sex, Power, and Money: Films by Beth B” that will include many of her documentaries and shorts from over the years. It only runs through the weekend but Beth will be on-hand to do some intros and QnAs.
The Metrograph will also begin the self-explanatory, “Autofiction at Work: An Intimate Portrait of Christophe Honoré” this weekend, and you can click on the title of the series to see what’s play8ing.
This weekend’s “Late Nights: Pam Grier” offerings are Scream Blackula Scream (1973) on Thursday night, and Walter Hill’s Foxy Brown (1974) through the weekend.
Continuing through Thursday is “End of Youth,” a series of films selected by All Quiet on the Western Front director Edward Berger with a couple more screenings tonight (Weds) and Thursday.
“Metrograph Presents A to Z” will be screening Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop Director’s Cut (1987), through the weekend, and then some repeats through early next week including Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).
The “Jeanne Moreau: Actrice” series continues through the weekend and into next week, as does Lou Ye’s Suzhou River (2000) and Dino Risi’s “Una Viti Dificile,” which will end next Thursday as well. This weekend’s “Film Forum Jr” is Roy Rowland’s 1953 film, “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,” and they’ll also be screening Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1946) in 35 mm on Saturday afternoon.
“Trashterpieces of the 90s” series will show a 35mm print of Uli Edel’s Body of Evidence, starring Willem Dafoe, on Thursday and Saturday nights just before midnight.
Unfortunately, that’s all I have time to write up this week, but you can see what’s playing at other New York rep theaters by clicking on the links below:
Lots of other movies out this week, none of which I had any time to watch:
THE RITUAL KILLER (Screen Media/Red Box)
PUNCH (DarkStar Pictures)
RIGHTEOUS THIEVES (Lionsgate)
UNICORN WARS (GKids)
THERAPY DOGS (Utopia)
UNWELCOME (Well GO USA)
Next week is Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which I probably will be reviewing separately (plus I have an interview with director David F. Sandberg at Aboe the Line), so not 100% sure there’ll be a column next week, but we’ll see.