BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY (2021)
Comedy/drama finds small town wife Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) feeling insignificant and ignored, especially as it is her birthday and no one seems to care. Things change when she catches her philandering, money laundering husband Karl (Matthew Modine) cheating on her at a motel and the surprise of her appearance gives him a heart attack. She buries his body and then concocts a wild story about him being missing and possibly kidnapped, to gain attention. When her ambitious local reporter sister (Mila Kunis) seizes the opportunity for a big story and goes on the air with Sue’s yarn, things start to snowball. Be careful what you wish for, as Sue keeps embellishing upon her story to cover the plot holes and she catches the attention of some of Karl’s shady business partners (Awkwafina and Clifton Collins Jr.) and a suspicious detective (Regina Hall).
Flick is directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, The Girl on the Train) from a script by Amanda Idoko and despite strong work from Janney and a really talented cast, it’s a sadly mediocre effort. The film has it’s moments, but never lives up to it’s potential and is kind of dull, when all is said and done. The script never takes full advantage of it’s premise, despite a promising set-up, and the direction by Taylor is surprisingly very by the numbers. Somber film has none of the manic energy it needs to make this a spirited farce, is never engaging enough on a dramatic level and the spurts of Tarantino-esque graphic violence seem out of place. The cast does what it can with the thin material, but even the likes of Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin and Juliette Lewis, in addition to the cast members already mentioned, can’t elevate this routine comedy from being anything more than a moderately amusing diversion…and it struggles with that. On top of everything else, it ends exactly as you’d expect something like this to end. Disappointing considering all the talent involved.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)
500 years ago the united peoples of the kingdom of Kumandra fell under attack by sinister beings known as the Druun. The Druun turned all they encountered into stone, till the dragons of Kumandra vanquished them at the cost of their own lives. Over the years, the people split into five kingdoms with only the magical dragon gem to keep the Druun away. When treachery splits the gem into five pieces and thus allows the Druun to return, Princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) of the Heart tribe must seek out the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to reunite the pieces of the gem and defeat the Druun once and for all. Standing in her way is bitter rival Namaari (Gemma Chan) of the Fang tribe and 500 years of mistrust between the peoples of this fragmented kingdom.
Film is directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López from a script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians) and is a fun and very colorful fantasy adventure. Raya is a noble and likable heroine, if not a bit cocky, and a good fit for Last Jedi/Rise of Skywalker’s Kelly Marie Tran, who voices her well. Awkwafina, is having a blast as the goofy, hyperactive and hopeful dragon, Sisu, who can transform into human form and back at will. They work well together and the characters are a nice balance to each other. There is also a colorful group of supporting characters, both good and bad, and the film movies quickly, as Raya seeks out Sisu and then needs to steal all five parts of the gem to reunite it. This is all done under the gun, as the Druun are quickly overtaking the five tribes and laying waste to all the land. There is adventure, escapes, betrayal and unexpected friendships and even if it is a bit predictable, it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of heart. The South Asian-centric design for both land and characters is visually sumptuous and imaginative and the animation is top notch. A really fun and engaging fantasy tale with endearing characters and a classic quest/adventure storyline that includes a nice emotional center. Fun for the whole family.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019)
Sequel to the sequel/reboot of the 1995 book based flick finds Spencer (Alex Wolff) returning to Jumanji, because there he felt like a hero. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Martha (Morgan Turner) follow him in and inadvertently take Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s friend Milo (Danny Glover) along with them. Meanwhile Bethany (Madison Iseman from Annabelle Comes Home) seeks help from Alex to help rescue her friends. Once inside, they find Jumanji once again in peril, this time from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann). Also creating distress is that avatars have become mixed up and Eddie is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo is Mouse (Kevin Hart) Fridge is Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) with Bethany becoming a winged horse and Spencer becoming thief Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina). Martha is still Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), however, and Alex is still Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas). The group must again save Jumanji, somehow get their avatars straightened out and maybe get back home again.
Film is again directed by Jake Kasdan from a script by himself, Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg. While not quite as lively as the last film, it’s still mindless and harmless fun. There is plenty of action and exotic settings, though does replay a lot of the gags from the Welcome To The Jungle. The cast are again having fun, especially Johnson and Hart, who get to play different characters whom their video game alter egos are representing. Johnson is fun echoing Danny DeVito, though Kevin Hart really steals the flick with his dead-on impression of Danny Glover. He’s hilarious. New addition Awkwafina is also fun as Spencer’s avatar Ming and when the gang gets their avatars realigned, she gets to have fun mimicking DeVito in the film’s second half. McCann makes a functional yet generic villain and it’s once again the character interaction that really makes it so enjoyable. Entertaining enough with a solid cast that overcomes a fairly pedestrian script.