Movie reviews: 'Ready or Not' feels like a future cult classic
READY OR NOT: 3 ½ STARS
“Ready or Not” puts a darkly humorous spin on a childhood game but it isn’t the first horror film to use hide n’ seek as a plot device. The inventively titled short film “Hide & Shriek” sees a masked killer ruining the fun while “Emelie” features an evil babysitter who keeps the kids busy with a dangerous version of the game. The new film is a bloody satire with sly commentary about the lengths the 1 per cent will go to in order to keep their cash.
Upon marrying Alex (Mark O'Brien), Grace (Samara Weaving) becomes the newest member of the wealthy but weird Le Domas family. “You don’t belong in this family,” says drunk brother-in-law Daniel (Adam Brody). “I mean that as a complement.”
Her new in-laws, including disdainful father-in-law Tony (Henry Czerny), angry mother-in-law Becky (Andie MacDowell), coke-head sister-in-law sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and her husband Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun), all heirs to a board game fortune, tell her the marriage won’t be complete until she partakes in a family ritual, a randomly selected midnight game. “It’s just something we do when someone new joins the family,” explains Alex.
The last time this tradition was carried out it took the form of a game of Old Maid. Unfortunately for Grace this time around the family chooses hide n’ seek. “You pulled up a bad card,” says Alex. “The truth is, if they don’t kill you something very bad will happen.”
What begins as a lark turns lethal when Grace realizes that to ‘win’ she must first learn to navigate the Le Domas’ rambling old mansion, complete with trap doors and secret passageways. “When you marry into this family you have to play the game or you die. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true.”
“Ready or Not” is a well-executed lo-fi thriller with an unusual premise and lots of creepy characters straight out of a game of “Clue.” For the most part, Weaving plays it straight, even as she uses her wedding dress as a tourniquet, while the Le Domas family amps up the antics with broad performances driven by the belief that something terrible will happen if they don’t find Grace by first light. They’re a motley bunch, pseudo-aristocrats with an interest in the occult who don’t appear to have much in common except for the bond of family and a desire to stay alive. As old-money members of the 1 per cent they believe they are above the law, able to indulge in their game (even if they’re not very good at it) because of some old family legend. In other words, as Daniel says, “It’s true what they say: 'the rich really are different.'”
The surprisingly nasty third act gives “Ready or Not” the feel of a future cult classic, a crowd-pleaser with some laughs and a giddily gory climax.
ANGEL HAS FALLEN: 2 STARS
If action movies are the heavy-metal of the film world then “Angel Has Fallen,” starring Gerard Butler in his third turn as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, is the Ywengie Malsteen of the genre. It’s too loud, too frenetic with too many notes.
After years on the job, Banning is starting to feel the wear and tear of protecting the president. Concussions have left him with migraines and insomnia. Getting knocked around by bad guys has left him with painful compressed discs, and his doctor is not hopeful. “You’re a disaster waiting to happen.”
Things aren’t much better at work. According to President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), the White House is “leakier than a submarine with a screen door,” with top level info somehow making its way into the hands of nosy reporters. “I don’t know who to trust anymore,” says Trumbull. Of course, he trusts Banning, so much so he chooses him to head the massive security team accompanying him on a fishing trip. Out on the water it’s chilly, but idyllic until hundreds of drones swoop in, wiping out the entire POTUS security detail except for Banning.
Later, in the hospital, Banning is grilled by an FBI agent. “The president is in a coma and your whole team is dead. Tell me how that happened.”
Trouble is, he doesn’t remember and the FBI, who have discovered his DNA on launch controls, encrypted folders and $10 million in an offshore bank, look at him as the sole suspect. “President Trumbull’s top guardian angel has fallen tonight,” screams a news report.
Banning has saved cities, rescued presidents but can he save himself? Cue the explosions and a rather memorable cameo from Nick Nolte as, what else, a grizzled old man.
“Angel Has Fallen” plays its hand at every turn, telegraphing the obvious, making sure the audience, who likely aren’t paying attention to the dialogue in anticipation of more explosions, get every detail. That means no suspense, just loud noises. Lots of them. Former stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh loves to blow things up, filling the screen with flames and your ears with booms. It’s the stuff of action movies, but when coupled with dialogue that sounds like it was run through the Cliché-O-Matic—"I’m not going to stop until I prove you really did this!”—the action is more of a distraction from the story than a compliment to it.
The film has under currents of social commentary. A bad guy bets on “making America strong again” and Danny Houston’s character, a war dog named Wade Jennings, ushers in a conversation on private soldiers, but neither are explored in any depth.
“Angel Has Fallen” has its pleasures. Nolte is a gas and fans of pyrotechnics will be satisfied but it feels more like a direct to steaming actioner than a big screen experience.
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON: 3 ½ STARS
Set in the American South, the new Shia LeBeouf film, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” is an odd couple flick that plays like an updated “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Zack Gottsagen, a first actor with Down syndrome, plays Zac, a 22 year old abandoned by his family, now living at a nursing home for the elderly. “The state has to put you somewhere and this happens to be that place,” he’s told.
When he isn’t socializing with volunteer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) and the older residents, he spends his time watching old VHS tapes of his hero, “The Saltwater Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church) with dreams of attending Saltwater’s Florida wrestling school.
Eventually he makes a break for it, with the help of his roommate, a retired engineer named Carl (Bruce Dern), who sends him on his way dressed only in his underwear, with no money.
Zak sprints away, rushing toward his dream of becoming a pro-wrestler. Tired and looking for a place to sleep, he hides under a tarp on a boat owned by Tyler (LaBeouf), a tidewater fisherman who has fallen on hard times. On the lam from the law and a very angry crab-trapper (John Hawkes), Tyler first tries to rid himself of his stowaway but soon grows fond of him, taking him on an adventure that reunites him with Eleanor and brings him closer to fulfilling his dream.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (that’s the name of Zac’s wrestling alter-ego) is a gentle film, ripe with human connection. LeBeouf’s Taylor takes a minute to warm to Zac but turns into an older brother character whose empathy is rivalled only by Johnson’s Eleanor. The three leads become a family, equals in life, never condescending to Zac or allowing his disability to be an issue. He’s simply a guy with a dream and the courage to follow it. It’s an uplifting movie without a bit of cynicism that (as the title might suggest) isn’t afraid to be sweetly silly at times.
FIDDLER: A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES: 4 STARS
Somewhere in the world, right now, people are enjoying “Fiddler on the Roof.” In fact, as a new documentary on the making of the classic musical tells us, the show has been performed somewhere on earth every day since its 1964 Broadway debut. But why is it so popular? “Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles” aims to contextualize why the story of dairyman Tevye and his daughters in 1905 Imperial Russia resonates with audiences.
Director Max Lewkowicz spoke with 60 of the main players in “Fiddler on the Roof’s” creation, including lyricist Sheldon Harnick, producer Hal Prince and original cast member Austin Pendleton. Those interviews form the backbone of the early part of the film. We learn how Harnick and writer Joseph Stein collaborated with composer Jerry Bock to adapt Sholem Aleichem’s story “Tevye and his Daughters” for the stage. How when “West Side Story” choreographer Jerome Robbins came on board he introduced themes that echoed the civil rights movement in America.
It is that examination of tradition and the essence of change that deepened the show. It remained a Jewish story, a history about Eastern Europe, but now had a universal appeal to audiences. Even today the story of tradition and displacement, of uncertainties and hazards is both timeless and timely.
It’s interesting that the original production, led by the bigger-than-life Zero Mostel, was not a critical hit. But audiences loved it and interviews with fans Stephen Sondheim, Itzhak Perlman and “Hamilton's” Lin-Manuel Miranda suggest why.
Lewkowicz also details the making of the Norman Jewison film, productions of the show ranging from an African-American high school production to stagings from all around the world, hammering home the widespread appeal of the story.
Then, of course, there is the music. Lewkowicz showcases multiple versions of hits like “Tradition,” “Matchmaker,” “If I Were A Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” with one talking head suggesting, I think rightly, that after you hear the songs more than once they stay in your head forever.
“Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles” is a detailed history of a beloved show, with plenty of behind-the-curtain revelations—like the backstage war between Mostel and Robbins, who irked his star by testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee—but this isn’t just a Broadway origin story, it’s a testament to the enduring power of art to speak to specific situations while illuminating broader issues.