Comedians inevitably want to be taken seriously, if not in life then in dramatic film roles. And they are often quite capable. But I am quite happy queuing up a movie with comedic giants like Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and expecting a light hour or so of quality laughter.
Warning: Downhill is not a funny movie. That is not to say the movie is devoid of humorous moments, but they are more of the uncomfortable, awkward situational variety than pratfalls and belly laughs you’d expect from man-child Ferrell or Seinfeld foil Dreyfus. After all, there’s skiing in this movie. You mean Ferrell doesn’t get tangled up in a lift or take an agony-of-defeat tumble down a black diamond run? Nope.
This is the story of Pete and Billie, a couple silently struggling in their relationship following the death of Pete’s father eight months earlier. Pete is in awe of his father’s memory, and uncomfortable assuming the mantle of family patriarch. A seemingly therapeutic family ski vacation to the Alps finds them welcomed by a sexually confrontational hotel concierge, a gigolo ski instructor and an avalanche from which Pete instinctively runs, leaving his family to be buried at their table during lunch. That sounds funny, but it isn’t played for laughs. From that event arise deeper doubts about the strength of the marriage, the father’s love of his two sons and both partners’ willingness to fully commit to each other.
This is a short movie that feels long, and $5.99 felt about right to view it at home. It is an American adaptation of the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure currently streaming for free on Hulu. Julia Louis-Dreyfus produced the remake with directorial help from writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, whose 2011 The Descendants won them an Oscar for best adaptive screenplay. Zach Woods, who played Gabe in The Office, is at his awkward, unconfident best here, basically a redo of that character. Here he plays Zach, the submissive half of an adventurous young couple, traveling the world without a plan or a care, but with the aid of “shrooms.”
There’s a lot of talent involved in this production, but it feels somewhat amateurish. That said, the cast’s ability to make the audience squirm speaks to the effectiveness of the script and their delivery. Ultimately, this is a film about redemption and the ability to own a crippling shame. It is also about forgiveness.
If you’d like to save a few bucks, see the Swedish version. Or for a fun visit with your old comedy buddies, watch Elf or Seinfeld.

Downhill (2020) runs 1 hour 26 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?

The Hunt

The release of this film was delayed last September when it coincided with mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. They thought the timing would be better now with six months of lesser shootings behind us. Doubly cursed, the second release coincided with the nationwide pandemic shutdown of movie theaters, so it has been released as a streaming option for home viewers at a cost of twenty dollars. Maybe we’re just not supposed to see or enjoy this movie.
This is the latest offering by BlumHouse, Jason Blum’s production company known for twisted tales with gobs of violence and gore. They most recently brought us The Invisible Man and Fantasy IslandThe sleeper hit Get Out was also a BlumHouse feature.
The story line – liberals hunting conservative humans for sport – is far from that simple. As is the case in many films lately, a cell phone is the first character we meet, this time displaying a group text conversation that is either a joke in poor taste or commentary on a plot that the participants have agreed never to speak of. The text exchange, supposedly deleted, is exposed, resulting in career loss for the parties involved. It may also have become the launching pad for an actual plot that is of course denied. It’s just fake news.
Are you an elite liberal or a redneck conservative? A snowflake or an immigrant? It doesn’t matter. All labels are at play in full force during The Hunt. Political stereotypes, correctness, convincing but irrational arguments from both perspectives, the “deep state,” crisis actors, deplorables and “fake news” abound in every scene throughout the film. As with most conspiracy theories, there is overlap between truth and lies, reality and imagination, often projected by partisans onto themselves and explored in painful brush strokes evocative of the evening news. The truth is hard to determine for the film’s characters as well as the audience, but the absurdity of today’s politics are clearly exposed.
Betty Gilpin plays Crystal, one of twelve people kidnapped and released in a clearing to be hunted. They are gagged and provided with an arsenal of weaponry but the deck is overwhelmingly stacked against them. Yet Crystal has some skills and manages to take on the hunters.
Hillary Swank plays Athena, mastermind of the hunters, toppled from her lofty corporate position and seeking revenge against Crystal in particular. When debating the legitimacy of their respective positions with Athena, Cyrstal comments, “Depends on whether they’re smart pretending to be idiots or idiots pretending to be smart.”
You might want to brush up on George Orwell’s Animal Farm before seeing The Hunt, especially if you’re a redneck conservative because, well, liberal elites would never imagine you’ve read it.
By the end of this very dark but clever satire you may be surprised at who you’re cheering for because, as you know, all pigs are created equal, but some pigs are more equal than others.
The Hunt (2020) runs one hour 30 minutes and is rated R.
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....