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Schultz reviews: 'Buddy Games,' 'The Croods: A New Age' & 'The Last Vermeer'

Schultz reviews: 'Buddy Games,' 'The Croods: A New Age' & 'The Last Vermeer'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“Buddy Games”   Distributed by Saban Films, 97 Minutes, Rated R, Released November 20, 2020:

In the unfortunate “Buddy Games,” a group of adult men, friends since childhood whose relationships have been forged over the years by competition, reaffirm their lifelong commitment to each other by reconvening annually for a few beer-fueled days of stupid and and pointless games and tournaments.

Co-starring, co-written, co-produced, and directed by actor Josh Duhamel, “Buddy Games” within seconds of its opening scene reveals itself to be a crude, raucous, tasteless, cruel, sexist and just plain dumb pseudo-comedy with even less laughs than sense or filmmaking competence.  With more than a passing resemblance to 2018’s “Tag,” even the two reelers from Three Stooges exceed this movie in taste and humor.  Awkward and painfully unfunny, there’s virtually no upside to an embarrassment this bad.

“Buddy Games” is a production of WWE Studios, which is precisely what you think it is--a movie studio owned and operated by World Wrestling Entertainment, the professional wrestling corporation based in Stamford, Connecticut.  Past motion picture endeavors from WWE Studios have included the classics “Queen of the Ring” in 2013, “Scooby-Doo: Wrestlemania Mystery” in 2014, and “The Flintstones:  Stone-Age Smackdown” in 2015.  Seriously--look it up.

Starring Duhamel, Olivia Munn, Kevin Dillon, Dax Shepard, Dan Bakkedahl, and Stephen Farrelly (aka WWE Raw wrestling star Sheamus) as “Thursty,” “Buddy Games” is rated R for strong, crude sexual content, scenes of drinking and drug use, and language concerns.  If this is your only entertainment choice, grab a comic book instead.

“The Croods: A New Age”   Distributed by Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes, Rated PG, Released November 25, 2020:

In “The Croods: A New Age,” a sequel to the unexpectedly successful 2013 animated picture “The Croods,” while patriarch Grug boils and broods over the developing romance between his teenage daughter Eep and the orphan Guy, the nomadic and lowbrow Neanderthal family with Guy in tow continues to wander through the badlands in search of a place they can call home.

Eventually the tribe happens upon a walled-off tropical paradise that seems to fit the bill...until they realize the land is actually the farm of the Bettermans, Phil and Hope, a more genteel and refined prehistoric couple who were close friends of Guy’s late parents.  Delighted at being reunited with the young orphan and considering him a perfect mate for their own teenage daughter Dawn, the Bettermans scheme to persuade the boy to remain with them...while simultaneously pressuring the Croods to leave.

About as sublime as a punch-monkey, “The Croods: A New Age” while often resembling a random collection of sight gags, slapstick sketches, tortured puns, and cheesy one-liners left over from other animated movies, ultimately manages to stand on its own as an agreeably silly romp through the Stone Age.  Making all the difference are the picture’s lightning-fast pace, colorful animation, and dryly hilarious voice characterizations from a cast of Hollywood superstars.  

 

At the end is a sweetly-inclusive message about loyalty, cooperation, and the strength of blended families, but the movie has a lot of ground to cover before it gets there and provides a host of genuine laughs along the way.   The movie’s not much more sophisticated than an episode of “The Flintstones,” but the kids will love it, and the parents won’t mind tagging along with them. This is what might’ve happened if Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had wandered off the set of one of their “Road” pictures and onto the set of a Tarzan movie.

Directed by first-time filmmaker Joel Crawford from a script by “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” screenwriters Kevin Hageman and Dan Hageman in collaboration with animation veterans Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, the picture reunites “The Croods” cast members Nicolas Cage as Grug, Catherine Keener as wife Ugga, Emma Stone as daughter Eep, Ryan Reynolds as the orphan Guy, and 94-year-old Cloris Leachman as Gran.  Added to the mix this time around are Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann as Phil and Hope Betterman, with heroic young “Star Wars” technician Kelly Marie Tran as the sheltered Dawn.

“The Croods: A New Age” overcomes a complicated and reportedly turbulent off-and-on production which has been in various states of planning since 2013 and cancelled entirely at least once along the way.  In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the film’s production eventually shifted locations to enable cast and crew members to work from their own homes.  The film actually represents actor Nicolas Cage’s 100th motion picture and eighth animated feature.  The interactions between Cage and co-star Peter Dinklage are sidesplitting.

“The Croods: A New Age” is rated PG for peril, action, and some rude humor.

“The Last Vermeer”   Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, 117 Minutes, Rated R, Released November 20, 2020:

Politics makes strange bedfellows, they say.  But during wartime, politics and bedfellows can get a person killed.

The Netherlands in 1945 was a country in turmoil.  Occupied during World War II by the repressive Nazi regime, the country after the allied victory over Germany was ruled by martial law.  Resembling Paris following the revolution, Amsterdam’s courts were vengefully trying cases involving those who’d collaborated with the Nazis during the war, and sentencing the guilty to quick execution by firing squad.

Just arrested for suspected collaboration is Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, a once-promising portraitist known to have accepted millions of dollars in Dutch currency from the Nazi High Command in exchange for a 300-year-old artistic masterpiece from artist Johannes Vermeer.  According to the charges, the priceless Vermeer painting had been looted from the home of a Jewish family arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Van Meegeren’s astonishing defense:  The artwork is not authentic, but an ingenious forgery created by van Meegeren himself and sold to the Nazis as an elaborate swindle to deprive the German war machine of much-needed funding.  And defending van Meegeren in court is the very man who’d built the case against him--the conflicted Canadian Army officer Joseph Piller, a Dutch Jew and war hero who’d disappeared from Amsterdam during the war to work in the resistance movement against the Nazis.

Adapted from writer Jonathan Lopez’ 2008 non-fiction book “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” “The Last Vermeer” turns out to be a riveting cinematic hybrid--a crackling wartime mystery thriller mixed with an engrossing courtroom drama, enlivened with the knowledge that it’s mostly all true and remarkably accurate to the facts.  More than that, like 2017’s “Loving Vincent” the picture gives the viewer fascinating insights into the qualities which make art compelling.

Leading the cast of “The Last Vermeer” is the almost preternaturally eclectic British actor Guy Pearce.  Known to American audiences for both his star-making performance in the Academy Award-winning 1999 drama “LA Confidential” and director Christopher Nolan’s US debut “Memento” in 2000, Pearce as always disappears into his role so completely that the actor disappears and the character comes to life.  Pearce’s van Meegeren is simultaneously arrogant, egotistical, conceited, and condescending...and yet, you just can’t help liking him.

Quietly matching Pearce’s strong performance is Danish actor Claes Bang as the emotionally conflicted and personally tormented hero-turned-investigator Joseph Pillar.  Known to audiences for playing the title role in the three-part 2020 BBC adaptation of the horror classic “Dracula” (currently streaming in the US on Netflix) Bang’s Pillar is a man haunted by the past and wary of the future.  

Tormented by questions about how his estranged wife survived the Nazi occupation while he risked his life in the Resistance, Bang as Pillar tracks the suspected collaborator van Meegeren with a quiet determination bordering on obsession,  But as the facts are revealed and the truth becomes apparent to him, the haunted man uses the same resolute determination to save his former quarry from the firing squad.

Directed by Dan Friedkin from a script adapted from Lopez’ book by “Band of Brothers” writer John Orloff (working here under the pseudonym James McGhee) in collaboration with “Iron Man” and “Children of Men” writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby, “The Last Vermeer” somewhat resembles a blend of “The Monuments Men” and “Schindler’s List,” with a portion of “The Sting” thrown in for seasoning.  Although the movie’s slow-going at times, stick with it--despite a sobering coda, you just might find yourself cheering at the end.

Filmed in the United Kingdom and Holland and also featuring performances from Vicky Krieps, Roland Moller, and Olivia Grant, “The Last Vermeer” is rated R for violence, some nudity, and adult language.

 

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