Movie reviews: 'The Hunt' is gritty but doesn't 'inflame and cause chaos'
Published Friday, March 13, 2020 7:00AM EDT
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin in a scene from 'The Hunt.' (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)
TORONTO -- THE HUNT: 3 STARS
Last summer, just before the original release date for “The Hunt,” a political satire starring “GLOW’s” Betty Gilpin, U.S. President Trump tweeted that the movie was “made in order … to inflame and cause chaos.” Being labelled “very, very bad for our Country,” by the most powerful man in the world, the film got the political satire pulled from distribution. The president and the rest of us will finally get a chance to see what all the fuss was about when the movie hits screens this weekend.
Breathing the same bloody air as dystopian movies like “The Purge,” “The Hunt” is a violent B-movie that examines America’s current political divide in very broad strokes. Gilpin plays Crystal, one of the “deplorables,” kidnapped by Athena (Hilary Swank), the ringleader of a group of “who run the deep state.”
“Every year these liberal elites kidnap a bunch of normal folks like us,” reveals Gary (Ethan Suplee), “and hunt us for sport.” The game becomes less lopsided when Crystal fights back, eliminating the “competition” one by one.
Horror films have long used guts and gore as allegories for modern societal woes. “Frankenstein” is a God complex story. “Night of the Living Dead” is a metaphor for the past coming back to wreak havoc on the future. Those, and others, like “The Host” and “Videodrome,” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” provide important and entertaining ways of looking at ourselves through a different lens. “The Hunt,” while entertaining in a B-movie kind of way, doesn’t really rise to the designation of important. Like so many things these days, the outrage that preceded its release was blown out of proportion.
There’s no allegory here. “The Hunt” is a literal representation of political polarization in a “Hunger Games”-style of haves and have-nots. It’s the 1 per cent vs the 99 per cent until a plot twist suggests that this may be an even emptier exercise in us vs them than originally thought. Most of what passes for social commentary—and it hits most every social situation from racism, class division, crisis acting, immigration, fake news, corruption, gender identification and cultural appropriation—is punctuated with a gun shot or a joke. One “deplorable” calls another a “snowflake” when he refuses to shoot her after she’s been injured. The punchline? A gunshot.
“The Hunt” is a gutsy, sometimes literally, grindhouse movie that only goes as deep as to poke fun at people who use “their” instead of “there.” But while it may not have the power to inflame and cause chaos, it is an effectively gritty little thriller more interested in the fist-in-your-face action, than getting in your face with its message.
MY SPY: 3 STARS
It’s rare for a kid’s comedy to start with explosions and the execution-style deaths of bad guys, but here we are. “My Spy” is an action adventure co-starring a nine-year-old and a hulking action star in a story with no blood and guts, but plenty of violence and charm.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” star Dave Bautista is JJ, a tough talking mountain of a man whose closest friend is a fish named Blueberry. As a CIA agent, he gets the job done, usually in the least subtle way possible. After one action packed adventure, he is assigned the relatively quiet gig of surveilling Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a single mother who was once married to a very bad man. Their mission is to gather information to determine if anything nefarious is happening inside the apartment.
When preteen Sophie (Chloe Coleman) discovers the cameras in her mom’s apartment, she tracks down JJ and his sidekick Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) in their “secret” apartment down the hall. Instead of being freaked out, Sophie threatens to expose their operation unless JJ teaches her how to be a spy. As he clandestinely trains the youngster how to beat a lie detector and other James Bond-type moves, he lets his bullet proof façade drop, becoming a father figure of sorts to Sophie and a love interest to Kate. “You opened up a part of me that has been closed for a long time,” he tells her.
When the baddies show up, JJ and Sophie must team to keep Kate safe.
“My Spy” has many of the earmarks of a kid’s flick. There’s the young co-star, some silly humour and even a dance number of sorts at the end. It also has some bad language, violence and gunfire so keep the little ones away even if they are fans of the larger-than-life Drax the Destroyer’s more kid friendly adventures. Just as this movie is somewhere between a kid’s movie and an action film, the audience is best limited to tweens.
Bautista is following in the footsteps of other muscle-bound stars like Arnold “Kindergarten Cop” Schwarzenegger, Vin “The Pacifier” Diesel and Dwayne " Tooth Fairy" Johnson in kid’s odd couple—big and burly, small and smart—films. The movies only work if there is chemistry between the leads and here the film’s biggest asset—and no, it’s not Bautista’s bulk—is the charming spark between Bautista and Coleman. The story is predictable, the villain is super evil and some scenes seem overly familiar, but despite all that, it raises a laugh or three.
Bautista is funny here. He can do the physical stuff, deliver a one liner and doesn’t seem to be taking himself too seriously. Coleman delivers, presenting Sophie as naturally smart and independent.
“My Spy” owes a debt to the other tough guy babysitting movies that came before it but succeeds through personality over predictability.
HOPE GAP: 3 STARS
In climate change circles the term “hope gap” refers to people who worry about global warming but feel powerless to do anything about it. The new film “Hope Gap” has nothing to do with the climate, but is all about change and a person who feels powerless to prevent it.
Bill Nighy and Annette Bening play mild-mannered Edward and firecracker Grace, a married couple of 29 years. Their cluttered home displays the earmarks of a life well-lived. Shelves overflow with books and knick-knacks, and photographs decorate the fridge. They have a seemingly comfortable relationship; they know how one another takes their tea and pad about the house working on their pet projects: his academic updating of Wikipedia history sites, her poetry projects.
When their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) comes to their Sussex coast home to visit, there is tension in the air. Grace, in an attempt to shock Edward out of what she thinks is his silent complacency, picks a brutal fight, overturning a table and slapping her husband in the face. “He should fight back,” she says to Jamie. “I want a reaction.”
The relative calm of the seaside home shattered, Edward announces that he has long felt inadequate in the marriage and that he’s leaving, immediately. Devastated, Grace wants to try and work things out as Edward begins his new life.
“Hope Gap” has moments of humour but make no mistake, this is downbeat story about two people who were living separate lives under one roof. The overall tone is one of melancholy but not melodramatic. Nighy and Bening give naturalistic performances, each feeling the pain of the other’s actions in a battle of wills. Bening is heartbroken, angry and yet hopeful for reconciliation. Nighy plays Edward like a wounded animal, skittish and afraid, a damaged man who has retreated from the relationship.
The beauty of the screenplay by Oscar-nominated writer-director William Nicholson, is that it doesn’t take sides. Complex characters are thrown into a complicated, almost unbearable situation with no real winners. It paints a vivid picture of Grace and Edward but doesn’t judge them.
“Hope Gap” is a portrait of middle-age angst. It may not make for a good date night movie but the nuance of the relationships on display is worth the price of admission.
EXTRA ORDINARY: 3 ½ STARS
Humour and horror may elicit different reactions, a giggle or a gasp, but in many ways they are the opposite of the same coin. Both genres rely on timing and tension to make their point and both act as stream valves for emotions. A case in point? The supernatural shenanigans of “Extra Ordinary,” a new film starring Will Forte as a Satanist, that finds a very pleasing mix of silly and scary.
Set in rural Ireland, “Extra Ordinary” is the story of Rose (Maeve Higgins), a driving instructor with a gift for communicating to the dead courtesy of her late celebrity ghost buster father (Risteárd Cooper). People leave her messages asking her to use her supernatural skills for all sorts of things including, “finding my charger” and “looking into whether I’m pregnant.” She has left the paranormal behind, haunted by the unfortunate childhood accident that claimed her father’s life during the exorcism of a dog. “I don’t use my gifts anymore,” she says. “It’s too dangerous.”
In another part of town, recent widower, the double-named Martin Martin (Barry Ward), is having some problems with his late wife who won’t stay dead—she stills runs the house and leaves messages like “You Must Pay... the Car Tax” written in the steam on the bathroom mirror—and his teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Martin) has had enough. “We can’t go on like this,” says Sarah. “If you are too scared, I’m going to call someone.” “Who you gonna call,” Martin replies, in one of the film’s many references to other spooky movies.
Of course, the only person in town to call is Rose. She resists but gives in when one-hit-wonder Christian Winter (Will Forte) enters the picture. He’s a Satanist who needs to sacrifice a virgin so his next album will be a hit and he has his eye on Sarah. “They say the devil is in the details,” Christian says, “and on this album all the details are just right.”
“Extra Ordinary” works not because of the gross outs and jokes but because of the characters. Higgins, as the lonely and lovable Rose, shares great chemistry with Ward, who displays laser sharp comic timing as he, possessed by the ghost of his late wife, jumps from personality to personality. Forte ups the ante, bringing his “in for a penny, in for a pound” style of extreme characterization to Christian, teetering on the edge of overkill with his blend of buffoonery and mysticism but never topples over.
Directors and co-writers Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern find just the right mix of laughs and lunacy to underscore “Extra Ordinary’s” story of lost souls looking to move on with their lives after loss, even if the dead still cast a long shadow. “You are not killing my dead wife,” Martin says in a line that sums up the movie’s absurdity and humanity in just seven words.
THE BOOKSELLERS: 4 STARS
Author Maurice Sendak said, “There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.” A new documentary, “The Booksellers,” is a Valentine to books and the people who understand that the printed word is just the beginning of our relationship to a book.
“The Booksellers” begins with some sobering facts. New York City, the center of antiquarian bookselling, in the 1950s had 368 book stores. Today there are less than 100. The suggestion is that changing tastes and the ease of buying a book online has destroyed a once thriving industry, but while there may be fewer shops, the passion for the business remains undiminished.
After a quick history lesson of bookselling in New York City we meet the people who form the backbone of the modern-day trade. Stephen Massey’s family has been involved in the business so long that their store is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners.
Judith Lowry, Naomi Hample and Alina Cohen took over the Argosy Book Store in midtown Manhattan from their father and refuse to sell to the developers who come knocking on a weekly basis. “People would ask our father how he got all three daughters to work for him,” says Lowry, “and he would say, ‘I guess I’m just lucky.’”
Nancy Bass Wydern, is the third-generation owner of The Strand Bookstore, situated on Book Row, a once bustling area now whittled down to one lone book store.
Talking head Fran Lebowitz looks back on the Book Row of the 1970s. “One thing I remember about those guys is that they were very irritated if you wanted to buy a book,” she says. “They wanted to read all day.”
From there we get into the nitty gritty, the obsessive collecting that drives the antiquarian book market. We meet a man who spent over a million dollars to reinforce the walls of his NYC apartment so his laden bookshelves wouldn’t collapse. We learn about the collectors, including Bill Gates who paid $30,802,500 for a collection of scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci in 1994.
We also learn how collecting has changed. “Collecting is about the hunt,” says one seller. “The internet has killed the hunt.” Another mentions how the internet changed the way collectors speak about what is rare and what is not.
The film, which also covers a collector of vintage hip hop ephemera and the millennials who inject some new life into this old field, isn’t about books. We see shelves stuffed with books and a book covered in human skin, but this is about the devotion of the collectors and sellers. They are an eccentric bunch, but director D.W. Young does a great job of showing how their devotion to books as part of our cultural DNA drives them.