“Gerald’s Game”

What a year for Stephen King, huh? He’s rolling in royalties from It and The Dark Tower (maybe not so much the latter. Now his controversial novel Gerald’s Game has been adapted for Netflix.

The estranged Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) take a vacation to spice up their love life. Things take a horrific turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack and leaves Jessie handcuffed to her bed. There’s no neighbors, housekeepers, or travelers nearby. When Jessie has some surreal hallucinations and a starving dog makes its way inside, how will Jessie escape? Can she even?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) once again delivers a nail-biting genre film that utilizes editing to its full potential. Gerald’s Game isn’t a film you can look away from (and you’ll want to at one particular point), but you must watch; like Oculus, Flanagan splices the film in a way that tricks its viewers.

I want to be abundantly clear that Gerald’s Game is NOT a horror film. Yes, there’s a survival situation, creepy visions, and some grisly moments, but it’s a film about toxic relationships, trauma, and catharsis.

Jessie spends most of her time shackled to the bed recounting her marriage to Gerald. We learn that Gerald was misogynistic, unfaithful, manipulative, and condescending towards Jessie. Jessie also finds catharsis in the situation as she uses this and flashbacks of her traumatic childhood to motivate her.

The underrated Carla Gugino delivers a demanding-yet-graceful performance as Jessie. We don’t just watch her panic, but we also see her interact with an imagined dominant version of herself. These sequences add the right dose of humor. Hopefully, the Academy isn’t too snobby over horror or Netflix and consider Gugino for Best Actress.

Bruce Greenwood (also underrated) is convincing as Gerald. He’s a despicable human in the opening act, but as Jessie imagines their confrontations throughout the film, he becomes more complex.

The final act is a slight copout; It’s a pet peeve of mine when films end in a exposition-fueled narrative explaining what happened in the aftermath. Gerald’s Game disappointingly does this via written letter. Given Flanagan’s unconventional narrative techniques, I would have expected something less straightforward.

Still, Gerald’s Game is a terrific thriller and a great kickoff for the Halloween season.

Grade: A-

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“Sandy Wexler”

I’m rooting for Adam Sandler. As much as I hate his current movies, I’m rooting for the guy to make another great comedy reminiscent of “Funny People,” “Anger Management,” and “Happy Gilmore.” “Sandy Wexler” is unfortunately not that comeback.

Sandler is the titular character. Wexler is a famous talent manager known for his fierce loyalty and dedication to his clients. Despite his credibility, he lives in the guest house of a mansion, drives a crappy car, and his biggest client is a poor man’s Evil Knievel (Nick Swardson). That’s until he meets a beautiful zoo performer (Jennifer Hudson) and launches her stardom.

Props to Sandler for scrapping his traditional tiresome mean-spirited behavior and attempting to be more sentimental. Unfortunately, “Sandy Wexler” is an uneven and uncomfortable failure. I laughed maybe once, but I can’t even remember the joke.

“Sandy Wexler” is told in a non-linear, mockumentary structure that’s more self-indulgent than clever. It’s just an excuse for Sandler’s friends Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, and David Spade to have cameos. Sandler also attempts to portray Wexler as a lovable ne’er-do-well, but how are we supposed to root for a guy whose biggest flaw is being a compulsive liar?

Jennifer Hudson shows off some great singing chops, but her soulful performance doesn’t mesh with Sandler berating incompetent extras or fleeing angry attack dogs repeatedly. Several jokes in the film are overdone in a 130-minute run time, so the film could have trimmed at least 30 minutes altogether.

I’m not kidding when I say I want Adam Sandler to redeem himself. With “Punch-Drunk Love” (my all-time favorite romantic comedy) under his belt, the man is quite talented. But this 50-year-old actor has to realize that the childish voices and violent temper tantrums aren’t what people want anymore. Fingers crossed he takes the hint before his next movie.

Grade: D

“The Do-Over”

I hadn’t watched an Adam Sandler movie since “Just Go with It,” which was released five years ago. I said, “Never again,” but five years later, here I am.

Sandler plays Max, a charismatic (and insane) old friend of Charlie’s (David Spade). Max convinces the miserable Charlie to ride on his yacht one day and the two catch up until it explodes! Charlie wakes up and finds that Max faked their deaths to give them a second chance at living how they want to live. And of course, there’s a price.

I wanted to watch “The Do-Over” because I wanted to see what an action-comedy from Sandler and Spade would be like. Well, it’s bad. This movie has all of the usual tropes in an Adam Sandler movie:

-An obscene amount of product placement.

-Casting of Sandler’s friends including Luis Guzman, Sean Astin, Nick Swardson, Torsten Voges, and Jonathan Lougran.

-Gross-out body humor.

-Racism.

-Dick jokes.

-Violent gags.

-Cruelty towards women and kids.

-Adam Sandler being a violent psycho.

There’s more than that in “The Do-Over.” This movie is incredibly uneven. It begins as a tale of men having a mid-life crisis, as Spade is the textbook example of pathetic. It’s more uneven in its second hour when the action starts. That’s when there’s a confusing conspiracy and a dark subplot involving cancer, while still telling gay jokes? Lovely….

There are a couple of mildly funny lines where Sandler pokes fun at himself, but I would have liked more of this humor and less of his usual shtick. But I’m back on the wagon, so don’t expect me to review any Adam Sandler movies moving forward.

Grade: D-

“Hush”

For those who love horror movies like I do and are tired of cliches, please watch Mike Flanagan’s (“Oculus”) Netflix film, “Hush”.

“Hush” stars newcomer Kate Siegel (who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan) as an introverted writer named Maddie. She’s suffering from writer’s block, and while working on her ending for her new book, she receives a picture message of herself from her phone. She looks out the window and finds a masked killer with a crossbow holding the phone.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues, as the killer doesn’t want to kill Maddie right away – he wants to lure her outside. Maddie also has two serious disadvantages – she’s mute, so she can’t scream for help. And she’s deaf, so she can’t hear if the killer is inside or outside!

“Hush” took me by complete surprise, especially in its opening twenty minutes; the introduction of the killer alone is the most terrifying horror villain introduction since the first “Scream” movie. This isn’t meta or a parody like “Scream” or loaded with jump scares like a cliched slasher movie. It’s a harrowing thriller that builds to a violent climax while visually developing the characters.

Most of Maddie’s thoughts, fears, and plans are expressed through her head in some clever moments and as a result, we’re psyched out occasionally. Flanagan brilliantly used editing to trick viewers during the creepiest moments in “Oculus” (which was fantastic), and continues to show off his talent.

The killer is a twisted, menacing, and intriguing psychopath and we see that he isn’t your cliched slasher villain, but is more of a hunter. The way he toys with Maddie and how she observes for defense increases the tensity.

While “Oculus” was a study of memory and guilt, “Hush” is more of a study of disabilities and isolation; and a damn good one. Please, watch “Hush” if you consider yourself a horror fan and have a Netflix account!

Grade: A-

 

“Daredevil” – Season 2

Marvel’s sophomoric efforts have a trend – the first installment is superb, but their successor is simply entertaining. Season 2 of “Daredevil” falls under this category, but it’s still worth watching!

Season 2 takes place roughly eight months after Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) turned Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) into the police. Daredevil now has a reputation as a vicious vigilante and protector of Hell’s Kitchen, until there’s a new player in town (actually players).

We have former war veteran, Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) waging war on a biker gang, the Irish mob, and a Mexican cartel simultaneously. Then we have Elektra Natchios (Elodie Young), Murdock’s former lover and a deadly femme fatale seeking Murdock’s help in a war of her own.

The best way to describe “Daredevil” this season is Marvel’s take on “The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly”. We have Daredevil (the good) trying to establish a moral code in fighting crime. Elektra (the bad) fights her war her way, using and killing people in the process. Then there’s The Punisher  (the ugly), who straight up murders criminals in often hardcore fashion.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

The action is non-stop this season and we get some of the most innovative and badass action sequences all year. You thought the hallway fight in season 1 was great? Wait until you see a hallway/stairway fight in episode 3! This fight, Punisher’s darkly funny shotgun spree in a chop shop and brutal fight in a prison cell block, and all of the battles between Daredevil, Elektra, and The Hand (the season’s main bad guys) will leave action lovers satisfied.

Viewers who aren’t into violence may not enjoy this season since the graphic violence has increased greatly. That’s where some of the flaws start to show. This season’s more focused on hardcore violence than on the complexity of Murdock’s quest.

Elektra and Punisher serve as good foils to Murdock, and we get some great debates of self-righteousness between the three parties, but there are more fights than character-driven scenes. It can come off repetitive at times.

The triple-protagonist narrative this season also causes some tone inconsistencies with Punisher’s story acting as a dark revenge thriller and Elektra’s as a stylized martial arts film. Depending on it being a Punisher episode or an Elektra episode, the style often switches.

Nobu (the ninja assassin from season 1) is our main antagonist this season, and he’s nowhere near as compelling as Fisk. That doesn’t mean Fisk is absent entirely since episode 9 is a Kingpin-centered episode.

The season’s strongest aspects are the development of our original cast, and its acting. Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) are more mature and given more to do this season, often acting as secondary protagonists. Cox now portrays Murdock as an increasingly arrogant and broken man, growing darker in each episode. D’Onofrio is even more sinister in the two episodes he has.

This season’s star is Bernthal. He is menacing and expressive, bringing depth to a morbid and one-note character. He has Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson beat in Punisher portrayals, and I can’t wait until he gets his own Netflix show.

As over-stuffed as “Daredevil” – Season 2 is, I still kind of loved it for its few emotional moments and its selected action sequences. Let’s see what happens with season 3!

Grade: B+