Film Review: Billionaire Boys Club (dir by James Cox)


Have patience.  This is kind of a long story.

Billionaire Boys Club, a fact-based film about two murders that occurred back in the greed and cocaine-filled 80s, was first announced in 2010.  After five years of pre-production, the film started shooting in 2015.  It featured up-and-coming stars Ansel Elgort and Taron Egerton in the lead roles and Emma Roberts in a key supporting role.  It also featured a certain two-time Oscar-winning actor, who we will talk about shortly.  There was speculation that Billionaire Boys Club could be an Oscar contender.  At the very least, that two-time Oscar-winning actor might pick up another supporting nomination.  Shooting started in December of 2015 and wrapped in January of 2016.

And then …. nothing.

What happened?

Kevin Spacey happened.  On October 29th, 2017, Anthony Rapp told how, when he was 14, an intoxicated Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance towards him.  Subsequently, 15 other people came forward with stories about Spacey making similar advances towards them.  At the time, the Oscar-wining actor had key supporting roles in two upcoming films: All The Money In The World and Billionaire Boys Club.  The producers of All The Money In The World replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer and hastily refilmed all of his scenes.

Unfortunately, that really wasn’t an option for the producers of Billionaire Boys Club.  Whereas Spacey’s role in All The Money In The World was basically an extended cameo, he was a key part of Billionare Boys Club.  Spacey had been cast as Ron Levin, a flamboyant con man whose murder led to the collapse of an 80s investment firm.  There was really no feasible way to replace Spacey without reshooting the majority of the film.  As a result, Billionaire Boys Club sat a while in limbo before finally getting an extremely limited release back in July.  On opening day, the film made a total of $126.  (The final weekend gross was $618.)

As for the film itself, the behind the scenes drama is far more interesting than anything that actually happens on screen.  Elgort and Egerton play Joe Hunt and Dean Karny, two middle-class guys who want to be rich in the 80s.  They do this by starting an investment firm called Billionaire Boys Club and, for a few months, everything seems to be perfect.  They appear to be making money.  They drive nice cars and live in big mansions and throw big parties.  There’s all the usual stuff that you expect to see in films about rich twentysomethings: cocaine, swimming pools, black lingerie, and fast cars.  In fact, that’s kind of the problem with the film.  There’s nothing surprising about what happens to Joe and Dean.  If you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, you’ve seen it all before.  In fact, if anything, the film’s recreation of greed-fueled decadence is almost too tame.  I mean, sure — we get the shot of the lines of cocaine getting snorted off a counter top but it’s hardly the mountain of coke that usually shows up in a movie like this.  If anything, this movie needed more cocaine.

Of course, everything eventually falls apart.  It turns out that Ron Levin, their main financial backer, was actually a con man who had managed to trick everyone into thinking that he was a millionaire.  In the end, it all leads to two murders, one prison sentence, and one new life in the witness protection program.

The film tries to critique the culture of greed but it fails because it never seems to understand why that culture would be so attractive to two guys like Joe and Dean in the first place.  Despite the efforts of Elgort and Egerton, Joe and Dean just come across as being two ciphers who maybe watched Wall Street one too many times.  It’s never clear what made these two click or why they were able to trick so many people into believing in them.  Unlike something like The Wolf of Wall Street, Billionaire Boys Club is so busy scolding everyone for being greedy that it never acknowledges that being rich can also be a lot of fun.  (It doesn’t help that Billionaire Boys Club features first person narration, which often leads to the film telling us what it should be showing us.)

As for Kevin Spacey, he gave the same performance that he gave in any number of similar films.  He’s arch and sarcastic and sometimes ambiguously flamboyant.  He gets upset whenever anyone says anything against his dog.  When he announces that he’s a “hustler” and brags about how he can get away with anything because he’s convinced people that he’s something that he’s not, it’s hard not to cringe.  It’s not really a bad performance, as much as it just kind of a predictable one.  It feels destined to be remembered only for being Spacey’s final appearance in a feature film.

Billionaire Boys Club will be making its Showtime premiere later tonight.  It’s not a terrible film but it’s not a particularly memorable one either.

Film Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (dir by Burr Steers)


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I had high hopes for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the just-released film which, like the novel upon which it is based, attempts to combine Jane Austen and The Walking Dead.  The source material was good.  The cast — with Lilly James as Elizabeth Bennet, Jack Huston as Wickham, and Matt Smith as Parson Collins — was impressive.  The trailers looked great, promising a combination of zombies, ornate costumes, and a very British sense of humor.  Sadly, however, the ultimate film is a bit of disappointment.

Actually, it’s more than just a bit of a disappointment.  It is a HUGE disappointment.  To have so much promise and then to turn out so bland — well, it’s enough to make you wonder if maybe zombies have become so common place in popular culture that they’re no longer as interesting as they once were.  Don’t get me wrong, as a symbol of the impossibility of escaping death, zombies are great nightmare fuel.  But, when you see them in a relatively bloodless PG-13 film like this, you realize that it takes more than just a few random zombies to make an effective horror film.

Plotwise, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what it says it is.  It tells the same basic story as Pride and Prejudice, with the exception being that England is now under siege from zombies, the Bennet sisters have now been trained in how to kill zombies, Mr. Darcy (played by Sam Riley) is now Col. Darcy and he’s an expert at tracking down zombies and killing them, and Wickham is now more than just a cad, he’s a cad who wants to help the undead overthrow the living.  As I typed all that out, I realized I was probably making the film sound a lot more fun than it actually is.  And really, the movie should be fun but it’s not.

Director Burr Steers never manages to capture the proper tone for telling this story.  The satire is never as sharp as it needs to be.  The scenes that are meant to pay homage to Austen try a bit too hard to capture Austen’s style without contributing any of her insight and the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is sabotaged by the fact that Sam Riley and Lilly James had absolutely no chemistry together.  The scenes with the zombies are bland, largely because this is a PG-13 rated film and bloodless zombies aren’t particularly scary.  A typical episode of The Walking Dead is more graphic than anything you’ll see in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Which is not to say that there aren’t a few moments when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies kind of works.  It has moments but they’re isolated and they never really come together to build any sort of narrative momentum for the film as a whole.  Sam Riley is a bit of a dud as Darcy but Lilly James, Jack Huston, and especially Matt Smith all give good performance.  (Smith, in particular, is so good as Collins that I would like to see him play the role in an actual adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.)  Early on in the film, there’s a fun scene where the Bennet sisters destroy a horde of zombies and it actually strikes the right balance between comedy and horror.  Before that, we get the traditional scene that we get in all Austen adaptations, of the Bennet sisters preparing for a ball and, in between lacing up corsets and discussing whether they will all be able find husbands, they also carefully conceal the daggers and knives that they will be carrying just in case they happen to run into any of the undead.  It’s one of the few scenes that suggests what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could have been if it had only found a consistent tone.

For that matter, I also liked the animated opening credits, which wittily explained how the zombies first appeared in England and, not surprisingly, suggested that it was all the fault of the French.  And the film also had a fairly effective scene that shows up in the middle of the end credits and suggested what would might happen if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 2 is ever put into production.

But ultimately, even those moments that worked only left me frustrated that the rest of the film did not.  For all of its potential, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disappoints.

Horror Trailer: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


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It looks like they’ve actually gone ahead and made the damn thing. I remember writing about news of the Seth Grahame-Smith horror mash-up novel being green-lit for the big-screen all the way back in 2010. Yet, nothing much ever came of it. Directors were hired and the cast was set, but each passing year something would derail the project and things would go back to square one.

Now, over five years since that initial announcement back in 2011 we finally have proof that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has actually completed filming and will soon be up on the big-screen this February 16, 2016.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Film Reviews: Avengers Grimm, Bad Asses On The Bayou, Hayride 2, Insurgent, Poltergeist, Tomorrowland


Here are 6 films that I saw during the first half of 2015.  Some of them are on Netflix and some of them were major studio releases.  Some of them are worth seeing.  Some of them most definitely are not.

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Avengers Grimm (dir by Jeremy M. Inman)

Obviously made to capitalize on the popularity of Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers Grimm opens with a war in the world of fairy tales.  Evil Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien) uses Snow White’s (Laura Parkinson) magic mirror to cross over into our world and he takes Snow White with him!  It’s now up to Cinderella (Milynn Sharley), Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), and Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) to cross over into our world, save Snow White, and defeat Rumpelstiltskin.  Also sneaking over is rebellious Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Petersen) who is determined to kill Rumpelstiltskin’s henchman, The Wolf (Kimo Leopoldo).  

Got all that?

Avengers Grimm is another enjoyably insane mockbuster from The Asylum.  The budget’s low, the performances are intentionally melodramatic, and it’s all lot of fun.  Casper Van Dien has a lot of fun playing evil, the women all get to kick ass, and Lou Ferrigno is well-cast as a labor leader named Iron John.

Avengers Grimm is currently available on Netflix.

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Bad Asses On The Bayou (dir by Craig Moss)

Apparently, this is the third film in which Danny Trejo and Danny Glover have respectively played Frank Vega and Bernie Pope, two old guys who kick ass in between worrying about their prostates.  I haven’t seen the previous two Bad Asses films but I imagine that it really doesn’t matter.

In this film, Trejo and Glover go to Louisiana to attend a friend’s wedding.  When she’s kidnapped, they have to rescue her and impart some important life lessons to her younger brother.  It’s all pretty predictable but then again, it’s also pretty good for a film called Bad Asses On The Bayou.  This is a film that promises two things: Danny Trejo kicking ass and lots of bayou action.  And it delivers on both counts.

In fact, I would say that Bad Asses On The Bayou is a better showcase for Danny Trejo’s unique style than the better known Machete films.  Danny Trejo is a surprisingly adept comedic actor and he gives a performance here that shows his talent goes beyond mere physical presence.

Bad Asses On The Bayou is currently available on Netflix.

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Hayride 2 (dir by Terron R. Parsons)

I should admit up front that I haven’t seen the first Hayride film.  Luckily, Hayride 2 picks up directly from the end of the first film and is filled with so many flashbacks and so much conversation about what happened that it probably doesn’t matter.

Essentially, Pitchfork (Wayne Dean) is a murderous urban legend who turns out to be real.  He killed a lot of people in the first film and he stalks those that escaped throughout the 2nd film.  Like all good slasher villains, Pitchfork is a relentless killer.  He’s also an unrepentant racist, which leads to a genuinely unpleasant scene where he attacks a black detective (Corlandos Scott).  Say whatever else you will about the film, Hayride 2 deserves some credit for being on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to turn Pitchfork into an anti-hero and the movie is relentlessly grim.

Hayride 2 is an odd film.  The film’s low-budget is obvious in every single scene.  The pacing is abysmal and the performances are amateurish.  And yet, when taken on its own meager terms, it has a dream-like intensity to it that I appreciated.  Then again, I always have had a weakness for low-budget, regional horror films.

Hayride 2 is available on Netflix.

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Insurgent (dir by Robert Schwentke)

Insurgent is both the sequel to Divergent and was also 2015’s first YA dystopia film.  Shailene Woodley is as good as ever and I guess it’s good that she has a commercially successful franchise, which will hopefully inspire audiences to track down better Shailene Woodley films like The Spectacular Now.  

All that said, Insurgent often felt even more pointless than Divergent.  For a two-hour film featuring performers like Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, Insurgent has no excuse for being as forgettable and boring as it actually was.  The next installment in The Hunger Games can not get here soon enough.

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Poltergeist (dir by Gil Kenan)

When a family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new house, they discover that everything is not what it seems.  For one thing, they come across a bunch of creepy clown dolls.  They also hear a lot of scary sounds.  They discover that the house was built on an old cemetery.  Their youngest daughter vanishes.  And finally, someone says, “Isn’t this like that old movie that was on TCM last night?”

Okay, they don’t actually say that.  However, as everyone knows, the 2015 Poltergeist is a remake of the 1982 Poltergeist.  Since the 1982 Poltergeist still holds up fairly well, the 2015 Poltergeist feels incredibly unnecessary.  It has a few good jump scenes and it’s always good to see Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt in lead roles but ultimately, who cares?  It’s just all so pointless.

Watch the wall-dancing original.  Ignore the remake.

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Tomorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!  Wow, is it ever boring!

Actually, I feel a little bit bad about just how much I disliked Tomorrowland because this is a film that really did have the best intentions.  Watching the film, you get the sinking feeling that the people involved actually did think that they were going to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, their idea of a better world is boring and almost oppressively optimistic.  There is no room for cynicism in Tomorrowland.  Bleh.  What fun is that?

Anyway, the film basically steals its general idea from the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.  Tomorrowland is a secret place that is inhabited by inventors, dreamers, and iconoclasts.  Years ago, Frank (George Clooney) was banished from Tomorrowland because, after learning that the Earth was destined to end, he lost “hope” in mankind’s future.  Fortunately, he meets Casey (Britt Robertson), who is full of hope and through her, he gets to return.  They also get a chance to save the world and battle a cartoonish super villain played by Hugh Laurie.  (Why is he a villain?  Because he’s played by Hugh Laurie, of course!)

After all the hype and build-up, Tomorrowland turned out to be dull and predictable.  What a shame.  The Atlas Shrugged trilogy was at least fun because it annoyed the hipsters at the AV Club.  Tomorrowland is just forgettable.