Velvet Buzzsaw Movie Review

There’s a moment in Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw where one of the vapid SoCal characters walks past a pile of garbage and declares it an inspired work of art. He doesn’t realize it’s just plain garbage. The writer/director has his eye trained on the reviewing class here in this satire fueled with intermittent gore. Items are junk or priceless because critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) says so. His opinion matters and his choices influence. When he has his eyes dilated after an eye appointment, someone asks if those flimsy and disposable sunglasses he wears after are the new designer craze.

These small moments provide some well-placed humor as Gilroy dissects his power-hungry characters one by one. The setting is Los Angeles, the same locale from his 2014 effort Nightcrawler (which happened to be my favorite film of that year). Gyllenhaal starred in that as well. His portrayal of Louis Bloom was a desperate figure looking to climb the ladder of his chosen profession. In Buzzsaw, Morf already has made it. The Bloom figure would be Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works for an art gallery run by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and she’s trying to make her mark. Josephina gets that chance when a tenant in her building dies and leaves behind a vast collection of paintings. No one knows much about the dead man’s background, but his works are immediately deemed masterpieces.

It takes a considerable amount of time for people to discover that the paintings have a mind of their own. A violent mind for anyone who dares to exhibit them. Or perhaps they’re just blinded to it because they see the dollar signs involved. Everyone in this piece judges art by that monetary standard only. Whether it’s an image that could harm you or whether it’s literal garbage, it’s valuation is what counts.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a bizarre and hit or miss concoction filled with stuffy self-important individuals to root against. You may find yourself cheering on the paintings to do their grisly thing. The cast is sprawling with Gyllenhaal adding another peculiar part to his repertoire. Russo (who’s married to Gilroy) is as ruthlessly profit hungry as she was in Nightcrawler (though her part isn’t as memorable). Her background here does provide the title as it’s the name of a punk rock band she was in decades ago. Toni Collette is a curator looking for her best angle to get in on the new craze. Natalia Dyer (of “Stranger Things” fame) is an opportunistic assistant who gains the unfortunate distinction of finding lots of dead bodies.

The artwork comes alive in visually arresting ways from time to time. The main difference between this and Nightcrawler comes down to this – I was constantly enthralled by the disreputable populace of the latter. It’s a more rare occurrence in the former. Velvet Buzzsaw won’t be mistaken for trash, but it shouldn’t be hailed as a sensation either.

**1/2 (out of four)

Game Night Movie Review

Too many big studio comedies can be numbered by the handful of gags that work while the rest fall flat. This is thankfully not the case with Game Night. It’s gimmicky, sure. It’s a bit forgettable. Yet it’s consistently amusing and doesn’t overburden itself with too much sentimentality. As far as the genre goes as of late, that’s enough to mark this a success.

The pic comes from co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who last made the more consistently unfunny Vacation reboot. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, married with no children even though she’s ready. Their biggest shared love is one of competitiveness, which includes their game nights with friends. Their usual group includes playboy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury). Next door neighbor and police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) is a former regular until his recent divorce has turned him into quite the weirdo.

Our main couple’s typical showing of charade and board gaming dominance is interrupted when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) pops up. Brooks is the ultra cool brother with a better bone structure and larger pocketbook that Max harbors jealousy for. Instead of Clue or Risk, Brooks has a different idea for game night involving a kidnapping and real actors interacting with the group. The players won’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out some real kidnappers turn up and that Brooks may be involved in some seedy stuff. What follows is a search for a Faberge egg, guns that the principals think aren’t real (an overused gag by now), squeaky toys used to bite down on for pain (a never before seen gag that’s pretty darn funny), and Bateman’s patented ironic detachment that always seems to work.

Night is served with a game cast. Standouts include Plemons as the creepy but probably well-meaning neighbor and Magnussen as the dim bulb participant of the team. Sharon Horgan is his much smarter date for the evening and she provides some humorous moments as well. The screenplay also provides a twist or two that are genuinely surprising.

The actual concept of a game night may not be as joyous as it’s supposed to be on occasion. You need fun people there. This movie has them. Like real game nights, you may forget some of details by the next day but you’ll remember enjoying it.

*** (out of four)

Game Night Box Office Prediction

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple whose night of innocent fun goes horribly wrong in the comedy Game Night, opening next Friday. From John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys behind Horrible Bosses and the 2015 Vacation reboot, the pic costars Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Michael C. Hall, Jesse Plemons, and Jeffrey Wright.

Night could manage to appeal to moviegoers looking for a straight comedy in the midst of other genre fare in the marketplace. Black Panther will certainly being tearing up competition in weekend #2 and Annihilation is also out there for sci-fi fans. As far as movies reaching for the funny bone, this stands alone.

I could envision Game Night performing similarly to recent Bateman outings like Horrible Bosses 2 and Office Christmas Party. That would put it in the mid teens range for its start.

Game Night opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my Annihilation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/annihilation-box-office-prediction/

 

Ingrid Goes West Movie Review

“Where’s my phone?”

Those three words, in today’s age, are enough to send collective shivers down most of our spines. They’re our lifeline to everything and everyone. In Matt Spicer’s darkly funny Ingrid Goes West, those words have a considerably more sinister meaning when uttered by its central character Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza). We may feel useless without our devices. Yet it provides her with her only feeling of usefulness and takes that in uncomfortable directions.

Ingrid is a lonely and mentally disturbed figure who finds solace through Instagram scrolling and fixating on certain profiles. We first find her ❤️ing the endless wedding posts of someone we assume is her friend. When she crashes said wedding (these things happen in real-time nowadays) and frighteningly confronts her for not being invited, it turns out they’re not really connected at all.

The second part of the title comes into play when Ingrid’s next fixation is Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a Venice Beach native who’s essentially a professional Instagram poster. Ingrid uses her inheritance from her mom’s death to move across the country with the idea of making her acquaintance. It works and it takes a dognapping  to do it. She actually does befriend Taylor and her starving artist hubby (Wyatt Russell).

There’s not an action taken here by Ingrid that isn’t directly a result of her considerably loneliness and need for friendship, no matter how fake or manufactured it is. Her Batman obsessed landlord (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) becomes a love interest, but only for Ingrid’s self-serving purposes. The character of Taylor’s brother (Billy Magnussen, memorable here) is a sleazy loose cannon, but he’s the only one that manages to see Ingrid for who she is.

Spicer and his co-writer David Branson Smith have certainly concocted a screenplay for its time. While there are laughs present, Ingrid goes into Single White Female territory (that quarter century old pic is name checked).

Plaza is a gifted performer who seems to be in a constant state of ambivalence in many of her roles. Ingrid gives her an opportunity to show a more varied range of emotions. She creates a character that is sympathetic to a point, but she also serves as good reminder to not talk to strangers. Even on Instagram.

The film also cleverly shows what we all kind of already know. These social media platforms are a way to create yourself in many instances and not be yourself. In the conclusion of Ingrid Goes West, our title character has a rare moment to be herself. That might be a moment of triumph in many pictures. In this jet black comedy, we’re left uncertain just how well or badly that could go.

*** (out of four)

Birth of the Dragon Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse and WWE Studios hope that martial arts fans turn out for Birth of the Dragon, opening next weekend. Set in 1960s San Francisco, it casts Philip Ng as legend Bruce Lee and chronicles one of his most famous showdowns with Shaolin Master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu).

The film premiered nearly a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival and it’s getting a release stateside on approximately 1500 screens. The late summer release date and lack of promotion could hinder its box office potential.

If box office predictions were made by considering the amount of Wu-Tang Clan members who might attend a screening, I’d have this higher. Minus that, I’ll say it struggles to even reach $3 million.

Birth of the Dragon opening weekend prediction: $2.9 million

For my Leap! prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/16/leap-box-office-prediction/

For my All Saints prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/16/all-saints-box-office-prediction/

For my Good Time prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/21/good-time-box-office-prediction/