Candyman (Amazon). This is a sequel to the original Candyman (1992) that expertly weaves the events of the first film into this one. Helen and Anthony are back, except Helen is a figure of urban legend and Anthony has grown up into an Artist (que the Twilight Zone music). Anthony quickly learns of the legend of Candyman, and gradually he becomes more and more wrapped up in the story. It takes over his life. Of course, before long Candyman is summoned and goes on various rampages against the fools who chanted his name, viciously slashing a growing number of victims. As the film progresses, Anthony learns the true history of Candyman and his place in the story.
At one level, this is a slasher film. Lots of slit throats and blood. However, the camera work is very inventive and the deaths are . . . interesting . . . and far from run-of-the-mill. This isn’t just your grandfather’s slasher film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s performance as Anthony is solid. The rest of cast are decent, but no acting awards here. I found the script (Jordan Peele et al.) to be uneven and a little heavy-handed at times. The strong points of the film are really the visuals.
The movie mixes horror with racial injustice commentary. The horror element is mostly visceral repulsion. Don’t come here looking for jump scares. The racial injustice commentary is pretty much a smack in the face. Not much subtlety. But I’m not sure how it could have been different. Candyman isn’t exactly a nuanced character. He’s a throat slashing monster who says hello with a metal hook to your face. That said, at the end of the film and a couple other spots, I thought the script went on one or two lines too long. I get it already.
If you haven’t seen the original Candyman, this movie as a standalone film is kind of meh. But, if are one of the legions of fans of the original, this is a worthy sequel and one you will most certainly want to see.
Cry Macho (HBO Max). Let’s cut to the chase. This is not a great movie…but it’s not awful either.
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in the film, like so many of his movies, and he deserves some credit. He’s 91 years old and gets around pretty well. Clint’s direct-
ing and acting here is very bare bones and minimalist like a lot of his stuff. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, the slow plodding pace and deadpan delivery is a dog that just don’t hunt.
So what’s this movie about? Clint plays Mike Milo, who is prevailed upon by Dwight Yoakum to go to Mexico and fetch Dwight’s grandson, Rafo. So that’s exactly what Clint does. After minimal discussion, Rafo and his cockfighting chicken, Macho, hop in the car with Mike and off they go. The rest of the movie is a road trip to the border. Along the way, the two have assorted minor adventures and do a little bonding. The movie ends with their arrival at the border.
As an actor, Clint gives a respectable performance, but clearly he’s lost his fastball. I found myself cringing at a couple points: Clint out breaking mustangs and then romancing a young woman half his age.
But what really sinks this movie, in my view, is the script. The best word I can come up with to describe it is “amateurish.” Here’s one example of many lines that make you grimace: “And you're the payback, kid. You’re the payback. I’m paying him back.” Ugh! And in addition to dumb lines like that, there’s lots of trite banalities. For example: “It’s like anything else in life. You think you got all the answers. Then you realize as you get older that you don’t have any of them. By the time you figure it out, it’s too late.” I think I’ve heard some version of that speech 5,000 times before. In short, a better script with more subtlety and nuance might have made this a pretty decent film. Alas, we’ll never know.
Having said all of the above, Clint Eastwood fans probably will want to watch the movie. Who knows how many more times we’ll be able to see him direct? Plus, there are a few spots where he flashes some of the old magic. They’re just too few and far between.
Free Guy (Amazon). Free Guy takes place mostly inside a video game called “Free City” and centers around a non-player character (NPC) name Guy. Guy does the same thing every day. Every morning he goes to work in a bank that gets robbed. This would probably go on for all eternity, or until the game
ends, except one day Guy sees a real game player (a sunglasses person) who goes by the handle Molotov Girl. For some reason, Molotov Girl breaks his routine and Guy goes off the rails. He appropriates a pair of sunglasses from a real player and víola he transforms into a self-aware NPC who can interact with the game the way real players do. In short order Guy goes on missions, racks up points, levels up quickly, and becomes a name in the Free City gamer community. He distinguishes himself by advancing in the game without violence.
Eventually Guy and Molotov Girl team up to track down secret information that will expose the entrepreneur behind Free City as a thief who stole the proto game designed by Molotov Girl and her friend Keys (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery). How is all this happening? Don’t ask too many questions, but somehow the AI function in the original game enables Guy to become self-aware. Soon, Guy, Molotov Girl and Keys race frantically to take down Free City and find the lost proto game.
Although much of the movie is an inside joke for gamers, it’s still a funny, laugh-out-loud slapstick for even non-gamers. Ryan Reynolds, who plays Guy, carries the movie and is in top comedic form. The story itself is a little thin in places. There is a romantic thread running through the movie, but it’s kind of clunky. In the end, Guy is the hero of course, the world is saved, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Free Guy is a family comedy best enjoyed with active gamers in the audience. The movie has some real belly laughs and succeeds in entertaining. There’s not a lot of depth to the film. It’s kind of shallow and gimmicky, but if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t dig too deep, it’s a nice, breezy movie for those nights when you just want to escape and have a few laughs.