THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

The Happytime Murders

2018, US 

Director: Brian Henson

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Lame

You’d think that an R-rated, foul-mouthed, raunchy Jim Henson Muppet movie would be a side splitting, tear inducing, pants-wetting laugh riot, but somehow they failed utterly.

The movie takes place in an alternate reality where “Puppets” are marginalized citizens…unlike the real world where Muppets live along side us in harmony. A former LA cop turned hard-boiled puppet P.I. by the unamusing name of Phil Phillips bops around the city trying to figure out who is behind a string of hits being carried out on Puppet celebrities. Along the way, he enlists the help of his former partner, played by Melissa McCarthy. Of course, they both already have a major grudge against each other because that’s how the laws of nature work in the derivative buddy-cop universe.

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Like a lot of people, I had high hopes for this. When the trailer came out and that hilarious silly-string ejaculation scene, which was played in its entirety in an inept marketing misfire, was about as funny as it gets. However, the trailer went viral and everyone interested in the movie saw it a nine million times months before it was even released. In the end, they literally blew their load by previewing the funniest parts.

The rest of the movie suffers from a lack of comedic timing. The pace is sluggish and somehow jokes just come out lifeless, awkward, and forced; as if they were over-confident that the premise could carry the laughs alone. Brian Henson doesn’t seem to put a lot of passion into the film. Even the “Puppets” aren’t up to the usual Henson quality. They seemed like knock-offs, which might have been the point, but they seem too clunky. I mean, let’s face it, aside from the elaborate Dark Crystal characters, the average Muppet must cost the Henson’s maybe $3.00 to build. He could have tried a little higher to respect his dad’s legacy.

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Melissa McCarthy is savagely annoying and obnoxious, but I’m not going to go that much further into it. The old Muppet films were funnier and edgier without any obscenity. This is a bad movie that had the opportunity and resources to be good. Consider how the Henson’s knocked The Dark Crystal out of the park on Netflix. This, however, is a case of a pitch that looked good on paper but was then followed up with lackluster execution.

I don’t usually post bad reviews, but I wanted to make sure no one sees this by accident.

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HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

HOTEL ARTEMIS

2018, US

Director: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Not bad

In the near future, city-wide riots erupt in Los Angeles over the privatization of water and the streets are literally ablaze. Amid this disturbingly plausible scenario, a rogues gallery of casualties from LA’s criminal underworld admit themselves into a high-tech, underground clinic for villains called the Hotel Artemis where the drama plays out.

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After re-watching Blade Runner (for the millionth time) I had a hankering for similar futuristic neo-noir and this fit the bill. It’s a flawed film, but it does try. It’s more of a character and dialogue driven stage production than an action film and it succeeds on that level. The performances and characterization are all pretty solid and these are the film’s strengths amid a muddled plot.

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Jodie Foster is great as the clinic’s tormented nurse. Sterling K. Brown is excellent as always as a wounded, noble bank robber. Charlie Day is obnoxiously sleazy as a creepy arms dealer. Jeff Goldblum makes a walk-on performance as a powerful Malibu mob lord with Zachary Quinto, in an uncharacteristically aggressive role, as his ruthless son. And for a little bit of badass, hand to hand combat action we get Dave Bautista as a monster orderly and Sophia Boutella as an ass-kicking acrobatic assassin.

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Overall, the actors and their relationships hold the film together, but unfortunately, the off-kilter story crumbles into an uneven climax with an abrupt open ending. I can’t really imagine a reason for a sequel to this film. I mean it doesn’t have as much edge as, say, John Wick, which seems to be the movie’s main influence. Still, it is watchable and it is set in a cool, dark world.

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WILLOW CREEK (2013)

WILLOW CREEK

2013, USA

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Great

You can usually count on a Bigfoot movie to automatically suck. We all believed in him when we were children, but most of us outgrew it. So, once you’re and adult, any film with a Sasquatch in it looks ridiculous by default because it’s nearly impossible to take a monster that looks like Chewbacca or Andre the Giant in a gorilla suit seriously. You could put millions of dollars into making Bigfoot look awesome and the end result will always look stupid.

Still, though, each of us has a primal feeling that there is a large, subhuman thing lurking right behind us when we hike through the woods. And that’s precisely what Bobcat Goldthwait explores in Willow Creek, a heartfelt, genuine and convincing Bigfoot movie that doesn’t suck.

Goldthwait, as you may remember, is best known for his screaming, insane stand-up routine in the 80s and his onscreen roles as Shakes The Clown and Zed in Police Academy. He’s also known to be a Bigfoot believer and part of a community of enthusiasts that’s pretty much dismissed by everyone as group of crackpots, hoaxsters and who Joe Rogan might call “white dudes who can’t get laid.” I’m not sure if Bobcat is a hundred percent believer, but he sure has enough skill as a filmmaker and storyteller to sell it.

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The movie is done in the Blair Witch/ Cloverfield pioneered “found footage” format, that somehow often works and is sometimes more convincing and realistic than actual found footage. The story is simple: a couple from LA ride up into Northern California Sasquatch country just for the hell of it. The girl, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), is a skeptic along for the ride and her dorky boyfriend Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a casual believer. They view all the touristy sites in the area and go hiking into the forest. Guess what happens? 

The first and second acts are quirky and fun, lightheartedly running through some standard horror film tropes while the couple meets offbeat townsfolk and harbingers warning them of strange and evil happenings in the forest that could either be Sasquatch or feral druggies. The third act awakens in darkness and goes into high tension and anxiety pretty quickly, carried mostly by Gilmore’s performance.

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I remember hearing a Bigfoot story when I was a kid about some lumberjacks in a log cabin that were accosted by creatures in the forest that where making whooping sounds and throwing rocks at the camp. I’m not sure where I heard it, but that story always stuck with me. I’m pretty sure Goldthwait is familiar with it, too.   (AD)