Good Boys (2019)

If you’re a fan of Director John Hughes, in particular Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Paul Brickman’s Risky Business you may find moments that feel vaguely familiar in Good Boys. This is a coming of age film for friends Lucas, Max and Thor who are entering the social minefield known as sixth grade. So they may have one or two more coming of age periods yet to traverse.
I should warn you at this point that any comparisons to the classic films I just mentioned will set you up for disappointment. I can’t say that this movie is even as good as 2007’s Superbad, which succeeded on the strength of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in lead roles and Seth Rogan contributing to both acting and writing.
Hill and Rogan have stepped into Executive Producer and Producer roles respectively for Good Boys. Younger actors with equally foul mouths now journey through a simple plot that has them learning to kiss for their “cool kid” friend Soren’s party with the aid of a highly forbidden drone Max’s Dad uses for work. They are caught spying on two “old girls” who capture the drone and must then trade it for the girls’ club drugs the boys grabbed as they fled.
Previews for Good Boys have been playing for months. As with the recent release of Stuber, many of the funniest lines populated the trailer. Also as was the case with Stuber, some of those lines were never used in the final cut. But Good Boys lacked comparable replacements, which weakened the product that was released to theaters.
From start to finish, this is a showcase for obscene sight gags and tons of vocabulary humor appropriate to eleven year olds, much of it profane. Thor claims that he has become a “Social Piranha” following several embarrassing events. The discovery of a parental treasure trove of sex toys is fodder for gags (pun intended) throughout the film.
As sophisticated as today’s tweens have become, I felt that the main characters were somewhat na├»ve for their age. But they fell at different points on a spectrum that eventually breaks up “The Bean Bag Boys” as they’ve called themselves to this point. It’s somewhat heartbreaking to see them realize that a chapter is turning, and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), for one, is “not going there.” In fact, he joins a school group called SCAB – School Coalition Against Bullying – where he can police the kind of bad behavior he’s personally incapable of. His performance is endearing, and his parents’ divorce becomes a mirror for his own growth and resulting need of a larger “hermit crab shell.” His screams when startled are ear-piercing notes that would do Minnie Riperton proud.
The eventual scramble to return the drone to its prominent resting place is the scene reminiscent of Risky Business. And several moments in the film had me longing for a John Hughes festival. The improbable journey through all too familiar suburbia had a “Twist and Shout” feel that this go-round culminated in Thor’s performance in the “Rock of Ages” school musical.
There are a number of side-splitting laughs spaced evenly through the film, with many chuckles and groans. Hill and Rogan are clearly penis-obsessed at the level of 14 year olds. If you’re not convinced, see Sausage Party. Camera angles and effective editing contribute significantly to scenes like a mad dash on foot across an eight-lane expressway.
Fans of Stephen Merchant (Extras, The Ricky Gervais Show, The Office) will enjoy his portrayal of a nerd in search of a prized gaming card. He comes away instead with something extra special from Max’s parents’ collection.
While I would recommend seeing Good Boys, the big screen adds nothing to the experience. You can wait to see this one at home.

Good Boys (2019) runs 1 hour 29 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie? 

Ready or Not

“You think because it’s your family, it must be normal.”
So says Alex, handcuffed to a bed and threatening to kill his mother if anything happens to his new wife, who was married into the family just hours ago.
Welcome to game night with the Le Domas clan, heirs to the Le Domas gaming “dominion” as they prefer it to be called. That is about all Alex (Mark O’Brien) tells his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving), a pretty little thing who’s a bit crude and not at all what Aunt Helene would welcome into the family. Of course, Helene is a broadax-wielding psychopath with a gelled up Guy Fieri haircut, black devil eyes and a penchant for killing houseguests before sunrise. They resemble the Adams Family in family portraits.
Parents Tony and Becky Le Domas (Henry Czerny and Andie McDowell) have been dutifully performing a ritual since grandpa Victor Le Domas made a deal with the devil back in the old days. As a result, on wedding nights, brides must draw a card from a small, mystical black box imbued with magical directives from Mr. Le Bail, the benefactor of the family fortune, or maybe the Devil’s henchman. They’ve all done it, but rarely does the card “Hide and Seek” get drawn. And that is the game that must be played to be accepted as part of the family. But this particular game, unlike Old Maid, checkers or a variety of others, has a sinister twist. The bride needs to stay alive until dawn to win, and that’s what everyone is trying to prevent. They have a vampire-like fear of sunrise that motivates all kinds of awful behavior. Kill the bride or die, and the chase is on.
This is a macabre but deliciously dark comedy with lots of gore and a very modern feel. When folks get upset, they curse honestly and vociferously like the foulest among us. Weaving does a great job of acting terrified, and summons adrenaline-fueled fighting instincts to avoid her doom. Along the way, three family maids who dress like the guitar strumming, black mini-skirted girls in the Robert Palmer “Simply Irresistible” music video, are summarily dispatched by crossbow, gun or silent butler. They wind up in the barn at the bottom of a goat disposal well. Yes, goats have been periodically sacrificed by this Pagan, no, make it Satan-worshipping, clan.
Ready Or Not seems to borrow from the twisted and dark intensity of the recent movie Get Out. The ritual and deeply committed allegiance to family secrets feels familiar in that regard. Narrow escapes, failed attempts to flee and tons of blood and gore heighten the tension and keep it maxed out from start to finish.
Samara Weaving had a part in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and a lead role in The Babysitter, another bloody and darkly humorous thriller that was completely underrated and very worth seeing. Her face is a cross between Emma Stone and Nicole Kidman, with a devilish toothy grin that serves her well in this role.
Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel walks the line between obedient son and disenfranchised ritual resistor. He wants to help Grace, but needs to tow the family line. He’s familiar from his recent work in Shazam!
Despite Andie MacDowell’s busy portfolio, we can’t recall seeing much of her lately. And Director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, more often actor than Director, has made a successful move behind the camera for this release. Once again, a horror film has debuted a month or more early for the Halloween season. According to one industry expert, this results from competition for media buys. The number of horror films being released during peak periods can make it hard to raise awareness, to stand out from the crowd, for a particular film. August is also considered a “dumping ground” for questionable films. Hitting the big screen before kids go back to school and when vacations are over is a balancing act. As with many things, timing is everything. And the bottom line goal is to fill screens, get people in the door and at the concessions stands. In our area, we have one theater with 16 screens. The only other options require a 30-45 minute drive.
This is literally a dark ride. Once the wedding sequence ends and the game begins, the Le Domas mansion is plunged into deliberate darkness and “The Hide and Seek Song” is played on an old Victrola. Like any good mansion from the late 1800s, there’s a trophy and vintage weapons room and lots of hidden servant passages, a great vehicle for sudden appearances or sneaking up behind an intended victim. The lighting is subdued and warm, not that fake blue darkness often seen in “night” filming.
If you can handle the violence, gore and profanity, this is a fun and effective hour and a half. Just about the right length to get you home in time for a family dinner. Because well, you know, everything that happens there is…normal.

Ready or Not (2019) runs one hour, 35 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie? 

Blinded By The Light

In 1973, Bruce Springsteen recorded the song “Blinded by the Light” on his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park. It was popularized, though overplayed all the way to number one, by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1976 with confusing lyrics that couldn’t be Googled as we can today. It began:

Well she was
Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night

 It went on to mention Mozart, calliopes, curly wurly, the mumps, silicone and other poetic or seemingly psychedelic references in a catchy and up-tempo tune. What was this stuff? It was in 1975 that I picked up a copy of Time magazine that positioned Springsteen as the new Dylan. Newsweek called him “Rock’s New Sensation.” That kind of hype can be as damaging as helpful. A subsequent contract dispute had him take a year off to write songs, another risk and more fuel for his legend. 

As we later became familiar with Springsteen’s gutsy, stream of consciousness lyrical style the song’s source came to make sense, though was perhaps no better understood. Oh well, on to “Born to Run” for a more relatable ride through the streets of New Jersey.  Now shift your attention to real life Sarfraz Manzoor (Javed in the film), a young Pakistani boy living in Luton, England during Margaret Thatcher’s era of job loss, racism and 1980s synth-pop. As the film portrays Javed, a friend turns him on to “The Boss” and a superfan is born. Springsteen’s lyrics speak to him about the power of dreams and possibilities, even though the music is “what your parents listen to” according to a school DJ. 

Newcomer Viviek Kalra plays Javed, the aspiring poet and writer living amidst an influx of British Pakistanis and under the thumb of his oppressive father. Job loss hits hard as the family struggles to pay bills and save face. Dad, played by Kulvinder Ghir, wants nothing more for his son than to be more than a cab driver, but refuses to recognize Javed’s passion for writing as a possible means to that end. Family drama expands to include a sister’s wedding, impacted by anti-Muslim demonstrations (yeah, 30 years ago), blatant racist attacks and the concept of arranged marriages. “I’ll find a wife for you” says Dad to Javed. He continues, “Stay away from the girls! Make friends with Jews. They are successful people.” Javed is doubly mortified by his father’s loud, sexist and racist proclamations as he is dropped off at school from a malfunctioning car near a group of female students. 

The possibility of awkward music-video storytelling lingers early in the film. But there are several unlikely but fun musical interludes when Javed strolls the street with the E-Street Band blaring through his Walkman’s headphones. The music seemingly morphs him from shy “Paki” to red plaid/denim “Boss” when most needed. Who hasn’t pre-gamed a party with a favorite track or gotten musically pumped for a race? We’ve all seen Michael Phelps do it.  

Javed even falls in love with a cute activist, a renegade and misfit in her own right. Their romance becomes a nice subplot in the overarching story that finds Javed on a mission to attend college to learn writing and visit New Jersey – home of The Boss. An exchange with a customs official takes a positive turn in light of the prevailing racist sentiments. We can’t help but hear our stomachs churn in hindsight at the pre-911 world of airport security. 

Kalra, though limited to TV work and this being his first film, possesses an on-camera charm that legitimizes this journey. And being a true story, we get to see photos of the real Javed (Sarfraz) in selfies with Springsteen, who began to recognize him as the only Pakistani at over 150 concerts. Yes, he was blinded by the light, and timing is everything. A book he wrote about his quest came to the attention of Director Gurinder Chadha, who attended a red carpet event where they met Springsteen, quickly pitched the idea of a movie and gained acceptance from the musician. Very gracious and appreciative, Springsteen did not attend the film’s premiere for fear of taking away from the experience. He thanked Chadha for the beautiful treatment of his life’s work. What a guy!

The film culminates in a writing award ceremony. Javed’s English professor, played by an almost unrecognizable Haley Atwell, slimmed down from her Marvel role as Captain America’s sweetheart, Agent Carter, advocates for Javed and is instrumental in propelling him to success, to believe in himself and attend college at Manchester. 

The multi-talented Director of Bend It Like Beckham and a wide range of TV work, writing and acting, Gurinder Chadha capitalizes on the global immigration crisis without sacrificing the tender story of a coming of age dreamer. Positivity rules the day in this feel good film. My expectations weren’t particularly high, but I enjoyed the ride with this “scared and lonely rider.”  

Blinded By The Light (2019) runs 1 hour 58 minutes and is rated PG-13. 

Should I see this movie?  

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

This is one of those films with a difficult title to remember. Even the ticket taker at Regal stumbled over it as he confirmed our purchase....