Western movie reviews

Overboard (2018)

Nobody asked for an Overboard remix, so maybe it was right that the movie got dragged by critics. I already did a number on the original, but hating the idea of this movie is one way to be pleasantly surprised by some of the story’s retooling. It turns out the flipping the script and reversing gender roles can improve things. My main problem with the 1987 film is that the insufferable socialite who’s tossed overboard finds herself exploited by the man she’s cheated. He takes advantage of her vulnerability and then justifies that behavior by pointing finger at her and not himself, all of which is played for laughs and a sense of karma. So what happens when the one in need of his comeuppance is a man? Well, something a little more nuanced.

Kate (Anna Faris), for one, is a lot more sympathetic than the Kurt Russell character she is based on. She actually feels guilty about fooling Leo (Eugenio Derbez), the playboy bachelor and now amnesiac, into thinking he is her husband. It’s a last ditch move by a young widow who knows she can’t continue to juggle three girls, two jobs, and a nursing exam, especially after her mom’s popped off to do some community theater. Revenge is not the aim so much as it is a simple need to keep her life from falling apart. She sets the unsuspecting Leo up with a punishing construction job so that she have money for the mortgage. She enlists his help to cook dinner and get the groceries so she has more time to study. At no point does she abdicate her own responsibilities towards work or family.

Crucially, the power dynamics shift. Kate manipulates Leo, and criminal behavior is criminal behavior, but she doesn’t have complete control over him. He gains independence through his ability to work, and that in turn gives him a network of friends and coworkers. Leo takes cues about how to be husband and father, but he has a lot more room to shape his new identity. He is not trapped at home or at the mercy of people who could take advantage of him physically or sexually, and this telling change makes all the difference. In fact, it’s Kate who must remain guarded. She comes up with an excuse to keep him out of her bedroom and, having seen the way he used to demean women, is wary of letting him alone with her/their daughters. So it is that even a woman who seems to have all the power still does not.

I’ll own to be one of the few people who enjoyed this movie, certainly if we’re comparing it to the original. Its better hold on gender also extends to supporting characters. Kate’s kids each have a distinct personality, and Leo’s two sisters are a riot. Responsible, business-minded Magdalena (Cecilia Suárez) has her eye on the family’s company, but their father favors Leo despite his life of debauchery. I can’t say she’s entirely wrong for pretending her brother was devoured by sharks.

Most of my criticism is directed at the humor, which could be dialed up several notches. Though the laughs are consistent, they’re never very strong. Faris is delightfully neurotic, per usual, and keeps things funny while also being the adult in the room. She and Derbez aren’t always tuned to the same comedic wavelength though. They’re an odd couple not only because of age but also because he tends to be more deliberate and over-the-top in his delivery. In his eagerness to get laughs, he just doesn’t get many. I hope we’ll see more of Derbez and the other Mexican actors regardless. This kind of mainstream cross-production is the kind of cinema I want more of, where large chunks of Spanish dialogue is just a natural thing.

Released: 2018
Prod: Eugenio Derbez, Benjamin Odell, Bob Fisher
Dir: Rob Greenberg
Writer: Bob Fisher, Rob Greenberg, Leslie Dixon
Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, Eva Longoria, Mel Rodriguez, Hannah Nordberg, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Peyton Lepinski, Fernando Luján, Cecilia Suárez, Mariana Treviño, John Hannah, Swoosie Kurtz
Time: 112 min
Lang: English, Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

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Overboard (1987)

So Overboard is about a woman who rips off a guy, falls off her yacht, gets amnesia, and then goes home with said man when he claims that she is his wife. Once they reach his filthy hovel, he makes her clean, cook, and care for his four children. After a while, she starts to believe this lie and he starts to fall in love. Also, this is a comedy.

1987 me is looking at this like LOL, and 2019 me is looking at this like WTF. It’s almost as if this is a horrible story about criminal assault and deception layered on top of deep sexism and misogyny and should never be attempted a second time. How can one watch without considering the fact that Joanna Strayton (Goldie Hawn) is incredibly vulnerable, has no advocate, and doesn’t deserve what happens to her no matter how big a bitch she might be?

Nevertheless, a sick sense of payback is the raison d’être behind this supposed comedy gold. Joanna cuts a ridiculous figure. Her wardrobe contains nothing but sequined swimwear and her diet nothing but caviar that “bursts in the mouth at the precise moment.” She hires Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) to redo her wardrobe, and when he makes the mistake of using oak instead of cedar, she literally throws him off her yacht.

Sure, Joanna is an awful human. She disdains, well, everyone and treats Dean as another one of her disposable hired help. (She also happens to have some great one-liners, which Hawn delivers with gooey condescension.) None of that merits what is to come, however, because while there are plenty of recourses for not getting paid, kidnapping is not one of them.

That doesn’t stop Dean, who, delighted by this turn of events, sings to the tune of “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” that he’s “got a wonderful slave.” He immediately puts Joanna, whom he calls Annie, to work on a house that looks like a wrecking project on a home renovation show. He has the gall to reason that she should do all the housekeeping since he’s the one earning the paycheck. To make things more unbearable, he outsources his beastly children’s well-being to Joanna. It falls on her to make sure they’re clean, fed, and literate. His hands-off approach is rich though since there’s scant evidence he was ever hands-on with his household or parenting duties.

Dean’s go-to trick is to lie to Joanna that she’s never been bothered by this work before, at least he tries this line until she barks back that it bothers her now. It’s a rousing moment, or at least it would be if she wasn’t being cut down again and again. Joanna constantly tries to stand up for herself only to find her efforts dismissed, and isn’t that the story of womanhood. Whether she’s put into the psyche ward for insisting she is who she is, or is not, or demanding proof from Dean that they’ve actually lived a life together, it’s painful to see her groping around for her own identity. Her existence is made worse because everyone around her is profiting from the deception.

I don’t buy the feel-good part of this story, no matter how hard Russell tries to sell me on his roguish charms. In fact, it’s his likability that makes this movie less palatable, not more so. Eventually Dean’s conscience catches up, but only when Joanna settles into this make-believe life he’s created for her and effectively becomes a “good” woman. She changes not only the Proffitt family’s lives for the better but her own as well, if better means not being a materialistic snob. Being worthy or blameless should have never figured into Dean’s decisions in the first place though. That he violated Joanna’s trust and security is entirely on him, and frankly, it’s not very funny.

Released: 1987
Prod: Nick Abdo, Roddy McDowall, Alexandra Rose, Anthea Sylbert
Dir: Gary Marshall
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Cast: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Jamie Wild, Jeffrey Wiseman
Time: 112 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

The Happytime Murders (2018)

The crime here is not the murders but the movie. Wholly unfunny and a waste of a good cast and about fifty pounds of fluff, The Happytime Murders is a disappointment any way you look at it. Melissa McCarty costars with Jim Henson’s muppets, though not the ones who reside on Sesame Street, in a whodunit about private eye and disgraced detective Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) and his former partner, Connie Edwards. The two reteam to solve a series of murders of actors from The Happytime Gang TV show, but the deeper they dig, the more personal the case becomes for Phil.

Many a movie has used this plot before, and it is executed well enough here. At first, it seems like someone is targeting the cast members because of an upcoming syndication deal, but the motive is thrown into question with the deaths of more muppets. Perhaps it has to do with the actors’ less illustrious post-show choices, which include drug dealing and incest. Regardless, Phil feels obligated to get to the bottom because his brother, Larry (Victor Yerrid), and human ex-girlfriend, Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), were part of the Happytime Gang.

This murder mystery comes with the standard set of red herrings and plot twists, but let’s be honest; no one’s watching because they want to see Marlowe in puppet form. Instead, what they really want to see are horny muppets, as promised by the trailer, and oh boy, we need to be more prudent about our wishes. There’s muppet office sex, muppet porn, muppet masturbation. One of the first scenes takes place in a sex shop that caters to muppets, a place I’m sure humans frequent as well, and you have at once rabbit Mr. Bumblypants checking out the dildo collection while a cow-octopus porn films in the backroom. It shocks, it’s amusing, and it pushes the limits, but then what? The novelty of profane puppets quickly fades, and there’s not much beneath the surface. In fact, I laughed a lot more during the outtakes. The movie is unlike, say, Sausage Party, a similarly inane idea involving horny foodstuffs that proves far more purposeful with its humor.

That doesn’t mean the writers don’t try to instill a sense of a bigger picture. There are attempts to comment on discrimination, racial, sexual, and otherwise. Phil and his fellow muppet-kind are treated with contempt in many quarters with his dismissal from the police force leading to a moratorium on muppet officers. Meanwhile, Connie has a bit of an existential crisis, thanks to her muppet liver. It’s nowhere near as funny or poignant as Gary and Walter’s “Man or Muppet” meditation from The Muppets. Also it’s not in song form.

It’s hard to get attached to either her or Phil despite the strong estranged buddy cop dynamic at work. McCarthy tries her damnedest to liven up the proceedings, but it’s like she’s performing on an entirely different wavelength. She’s punchy as ever, quick with her verbal jabs at Phil and everyone else who crosses Connie, but he’s so dry and cynical, willing to take hit after hit like the boozy, depressed private eye that he is. Probably the one redeeming thing here is my newfound and rather disturbing delight in muppet murder. I could watch a few more of those to be honest. I mean, just so much fluff.

Released: 2018
Prod: Brian Henson, Jeffrey Hayes, Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone
Dir: Brian Henson
Writer: Todd Berger
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Victor Yerrid
Time: 91 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

Pompeii (2014)

So there’s this thing called Game of Thrones, and I don’t watch it. But not wanting to skip out on the moment, that is the final season premiere, and really just hoping to clear the DVR, I turned to another estimable Kit Harington production, Pompeii. Scratch, it’s just a second rate swords and sandals picture that takes place on the eve of the city’s destruction. Wikipedia notes, however, that it’s a “romantic historic disaster” and this is a genre I didn’t know existed but now kind of love. The movie is an example of aiming high and only halfway getting there, but its mishmash nature is also what makes it enjoyable.

For starters, the main characters are laughably miscast. Kiefer Sutherland as the manipulative and vicious Roman senator Quintas Attius Corvus? I’m more likely to believe that Thomas Kirkman, his accidental president character in Designated Survivor, held a night of “government through the ages” role play and he drew the short straw. Harington is slightly better as Milo, the lone survivor of a Celtic tribe slaughtered by Corvus and then sold into slavery. I can get behind the idea of the actor transforming into a gladiator because Harington’s entrance is marked by his very formidable abs, but he doesn’t seem so ferocious when the record shows that gladiators like Russell Crowe existed. Emily Browning is also slight, and Cassia, the governor’s daughter and Milo’s love interest, looks like she might tip over at any moment. Others are more fitted to their part though. Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss have a regal touch as Cassia’s parents, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje passes as Atticus, the seasoned gladiator who joins Milo against the slave traders and Corvus.

This hodgepodge of looks and accents strangely makes it easier to embrace the spectacle that director Paul W. S. Anderson presents. This is, after all, just expensive dress up with loads of gory swordplay and a cataclysmic natural event. The characters are secondary to the action, and gladiatorial fights get the better share of the attention. These don’t boast sophisticated choreography, but there are a few flourishes and the face-offs in and out of the arena prove well-paced and appropriately bloody.

With the eruption of Mount Vesuvius casting a shadow over things, the film aims to create a mood of doom and gloom, though perhaps too much gloom. Shoddy lighting design means a wasted scene early in the film when someone is swallowed up by an earthquake. Thankfully the better part of the effects involve raining fireballs and gushing tsunami waves and don’t take place in the dark. The last half hour is pure disaster movie chaos, which isn’t great if you want a more human account of the eruption’s devastation. We get masses of people running one way to avoid being crushed to death and then the opposite way to avoid being swallowed up by the sea, but there is nothing that conveys the personal. If you’re looking for affecting tragedy, you’ll do better to reflect on the frozen images found at the actual ruins.

The characters might have inspired more feeling if they weren’t so generic. They are better vehicles for the action than for an emotive story, and even Milo and Corvus don’t seem too antagonistic. Milo snarls with rage once he sees Corvus, who has come to Pompeii on official business and to chase Cassia, but there’s not much effort to build up this rivalry. They end up hacking at each other out of duty and over a girl. Instead, the story relies on the forbidden romance between Milo and Cassia for a little heartbreak. They share a scene that is similar to one in the Star Wars film Rogue One, except that the latter film made me cry and this one made me think about what movie to queue up next. The only characters who came close to conveying trouble or loss were Cassia’s parents, who do a lot with their little screen time.

Released: 2014
Prod: Jeremy Bolt, Paul W. S. Anderson, Robert Kulzer, Don Carmody
Dir: Paul W. S. Anderson
Writer: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson
Cast: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Joe Pingue, Currie Graham
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

Off the Menu (2018)

Off the Menu comes pretty close to being a Hallmark film without actually being one. It follows the same predictable storyline and includes all the familiar character types – a guy with no direction falls for a single mother and chef with skills to die for – and even features Hallmark regular Jen Lilley. Lilley is in a supporting role, however, because a big difference between this and the movies she’s usually in is that Off the Menu stars people of color, lots of them. And I don’t mean in throwaway parts like the best friend or the boss or the woman who runs the cute patisserie on the corner. I mean a Latinx family anchors the story, characters speak Spanish like it’s no big deal, and the leading lady isn’t white. It’s not a great film, but if we’re putting this in the Hallmark/Lifetime/UPTV sphere of influence, and I am, I will take this over Love at the Summer Festival (not a real film, yet) or whatever dippy romance is on TV.

That said, this movie is nearly undone by its cookie cutter plot, saved only by its very appealing actors. I decided long ago that I’d watch Santino Fontana in anything, so this is me on duty. The actor brings loads of charm to his character, Joel, an Irish American heir to a Tex-Mex food chain who hates Mexican food and really anything with flavor. He shows up to work, does nothing, and collects a salary, but you can’t say he’s lazy. He’s training for a triathlon and he graduated law school; he just hasn’t figured out a way to apply these skills to anything useful in life. Things change when his girlfriend (Lilley) dumps him and his sister and boss, Stacey (Kristen Dalton), shuttles him off to New Mexico to collect new and “authentic” recipes to add to the Tortilla Hut menu.

Joel makes his way south from California and ends up in Villanueva, a pit stop in the middle of the desert. There’s a church, a local crafts shop, and Javiera’s little restaurant, the town’s raison d’être. Javiera (Dania Ramirez), aided by her mother, Cordelia (Maria Conchita Alonso), cooks up a delicious storm, and visitors throughout the state arrive by busload for a taste of her secret green chile menu. Her dodgy boyfriend, Kevin (Andrew Carter), organizes a New Mexico culinary tour and is responsible for some of those guests, but she’s definitely the talent between the two of them.

No one is in the mood to try new things and certainly not a new relationship, but Joel and Javiera bond after he gets drunk at the town festival and spies her secret chile patch. At least I think this is what happens because I can’t quite see past the many holes in the story to figure out how their relationship develops. It doesn’t build up through little moments but lurches from point to point. Before we know it, they’re sharing sexy cooking time and dancing on kitchen towels to mash tomatoes or something.

The finer points of this romance are lost, but the mood is there. Unlike Frozen’s dastardly Prince Hans, the character Fontana is most known for, Joel is easy to forgive. The actor doesn’t erase all of his character’s selfishness, but he allows for his better parts to overcome his less desirable qualities. I also enjoyed Ramirez, who contributes a lot of warmth to film. Javiera conforms too much to stereotype though and lacks an individual touch. She may be a proud, fiercely talented chef as well as a doting single mother, but I kept hoping for a little something unexpected to peek through Ramirez’s performance, and it never came. I suppose a little something does come by way of Javiera’s daughter, Sophia (Makenzie Moss), a silly, lovable whip of a girl.

With any luck, Hallmark will catch on and make a movie more like this one. I don’t object to the dopiness of it all, but I’m not eager for another story about two white kids romancing one another at the hometown apple festival or falling in love despite competing donut shops. We’ve seen enough Main Streets in the Pacific Northwest and New England, and I need the vibrant colors on display here, whether it’s in the form of an electric “Vatican guest room” or mouthwatering chile split.

Released: 2018
Prod: Bethany Cerrona, William Newman
Dir: Jay Silverman
Writer: Jennifer Goldson
Cast: Santino Fontana, Dania Ramirez, Mackenzie Moss, Maria Conchita Alonso, Andrew Carter, Kristen Dalton, Ian Reed Kesler, Kenzo Lee, Jen Lilley
Time: 96 min
Lang: English, some Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019