Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


SPOILER WARNING:  I’m always very careful to reveal minimal plot points in most of these blurbs, but I go a little deeper here.  It’s not like this is Arrival or anything but just covering my bases in case you’re dying to see this.


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is such ripoff of Wedding Crashers that it’s insulting.  It’s not quite as insulting a the original Fast and Furious ripping off Point Break, that was like someone plagiarizing The Holy Bible or my Dad’s shake and bake recipe, but it’s just as blatant.  This 2016 “millennial comedy” (the studio’s words, not mine) is loosely based on the true story of two brothers who posted an ad on NYC’s Craigslist seeking dates to their sister’s wedding and the post went viral.  Take that premise, insert every single beat from Wedding Crashers only swap the gender roles and replace Annapolis with Hawaii, vuala…Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.  Seriously, Anna Kendrick IS Owen Wilson, Aubrey Plaza IS Vince Vaughn, Adam Devine IS Isla Fisher, and Zac Efron IS Rachel McAdams.  Shit, there’s even a queer family member who keeps hitting on Plaza/Vaughn (The painting was a gift, Todd) and an aggressive family activity that leads to painful injury.


While Mike and Dave is a stencil of a movie, I didn’t hate it.  Everyone in this cast is very likable after all (Anna Kendrick can do no wrong in my eyes) and there are less enjoyable ways to spend 90 minutes than watch this foursome party.  Just don’t expect much more than that.  Grade: C


Under the Shadow


A small subset of the horror genre has been receiving a lot of critical praise recently and it’s made up of movies from Iranian filmmakers. 2015’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a black and white Vampire Western hybrid scored to 80’s style synth music, is probably the most famous of the bunch.   It’s certainly one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen and I enjoyed it quite a bit (currently streaming on Netflix).


Under the Shadow by first time director Babak Anvari was 2016’s entrant to this subset. Set in war torn Iran in 1988, a sinister, eerie presence is lurking in the apartment Shideh shares with her small daughter. Like it’s predecessor it was adored by critics upon release, warranting a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 65 votes), however it is not one that Rated Greg would recommend.  It’s hard to put into words but some very scary movies are really fun to watch (i.e. The Conjuring) while other very scary movies are just too distressing to enjoy (i.e. The Babadook).  I don’t know exactly where the line is but I would put Under the Shadow in the Babadook bucket.


I will say that there’s a non-horror subplot to this film that I did find pretty compelling. The early part of Under the Shadow features Shideh growing more and more frustrated about the cultural shackles put on her and the other women in Tehran at the time.  It’s a story you read about but never really see put on the screen.  An entire movie could have been made about Shideh’s back story but that’s not the point I guess.  Once things started going bump in the night I found Under the Shadow to be an unpleasant watch, though I understand why it got good reviews from others.  Grade: D




Rated Greg’s Top 5 Movie Twists

  1. The Prestige
  2. The Usual Suspects
  3. Seven
  4. Menace II Society
  5. Fight Club

Unlike big action movies or awards contenders, I tend to wait until horror films become available for home viewing before seeing them.  But upon hearing that there’s a big twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s well reviewed Split, I decided to see it in the theater for fear of inevitably stumbling across a spoiler on the internet.  And I’ll admit that when it comes to spoilers I’m unreasonably paranoid, avoiding movie trailers when possible and even occasionally skipping the “next on” segments in certain rose-centric TV shows.  I can’t help it.  Anyways don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything.  I can confirm that a reveal occurs but I wouldn’t classify it anywhere near a big twist, simply more of a “wink.”  If you accidentally come across it beforehand it won’t take much away from the experience (as opposed to say…. a movie like The Sixth Sense, which one of my jerk best friends ruined for me in 9th grade, eat shit Willie).


If 2015’s The Visit proved anything it’s that Shyamalan was still a crafty veteran despite the decade long slump, capable of turning in a decent film the same way a relief pitcher could enter the game in a dire situation and garner a much needed ground ball out.  He wasn’t the same flame-throwing superstar that broke into Hollywood in ’99, but there was still something there, a filmmaker with tricks up his sleeve, ever so slightly hinting at a comeback.  Well, Shyamalan’s follow up to The Visit is this month’s Split…… and I have to say his fastball is back baby!  You remember that crazy Roger Clemens Astros season where he inexplicably won the Cy Young as a 42 year old?  I feel like that is Shyamalan’s Split.  It’s ridiculous, a little sketchy, and I don’t know how long this will last, but sure what the hell I’ll enjoy the ride.


Split is anchored by an AMAZING, didn’t know he had it in him, performance from James McAvoy.  I only really know McAvoy traditionally as a brooding, one-dimensional protagonist, but in this Shyamalan grants him the opportunity to exhibit several different layers, quite literally.  The Irishman plays Kevin, a man suffering from a severe case of multiple personality disorder, who abducts three high school girls at the onset of the movie and traps them in his lair of sorts.  I know, that premise doesn’t really sound like a hoot but trust me, the two hours are more entertaining than scary.  McAvoy is so freaking good I can’t get over it, transitioning from different identities, accents, and even postures frame by frame.  There’s no way the Oscars would take him seriously, but I wouldn’t put it past the Golden Globes to finagle a nomination for McAvoy into their ballot, outside the box thinkers that they are.  Apparently Joaquin Phoenix was initially attached to this role, which I can totally see, but James was more than up to the task.


Incredible as McAvoy’s performance may be, boy does this film have some issues.  First off the third act falls off the rails a bit, but that tends to happen in horror films so I won’t dig too deep into that.  More importantly, the themes presented throughout the movie about the treatment of women could be interpreted as anywhere between simply dated to extremely irresponsible, depending on who you ask.  It is so insane to me that Split is deemed to be suitable for a 13 year old, but films like Moonlight or Manchester By The Sea get an R rating just because they contain multiple F bombs.  In what world does that make sense?  Dear Mr. President, could you please leave the EPA be for now and take on the MPAA?  That’s a movement I can get behind.


I can’t get more into this without spoiling anything, but I would like to make note that the girls are also really good in this movie.  Anya Taylor-Joy in particular is really having a moment right now.  The twenty year old burst onto the scene as the lead in last year’s The Witch, followed that up to play Barack Obama’s college girlfriend in Netflix’s Barry, and is now in the #1 movie in America.  Haley Lu Richardson, who you may recognize from The Edge of Seventeen, holds her own as well.  Grade: B+

Bright Lights


The documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds scored an impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, going a perfect 43 for 43 on critic votes.  Granted, you’d have to be a special kind of asshole to trash this movie, but it’s certainly deserving of the consistent high praise regardless of it’s bittersweet timing.  HBO initially set out to make a documentary on Reynolds’ career past and present, but upon observing her genuine interactions with daughter Carrie Fisher up close, they pivoted to focus on their complex yet beautiful relationship.  Reynolds and Fisher were not just mother and daughter, but also next door neighbors, best friends, and trusted confidants.

I’m ashamed to say the only thing I knew about Reynolds previously was that she was Princess Leia’s mother.  I’ve always thought of myself as a film buff but watching this made me realize I really don’t know shit about anything BC (Before Cruise).  A captivating section of the film dives into highlights of Reynolds’ illustrious film career patched together with home videos of a seemingly harmonious family life that was anything but.  Unable to go anywhere without the paparazzi on their heels, Reynolds and a toddler Fisher were basically the Kardashians in an era that actually valued talent.


The “present day” footage of Bright Lights takes place between April 2014 and January 2015.  It shows the humorous casual visits between the two icons along with providing glimpses into what each was currently up to in their showbiz lives.  Reynolds, well into her 80’s, was still regularly performing a one-woman show around the country and Fisher was gearing up for her Episode VII role in between Star Wars convention appearances.  The finished film hit the festival circuit throughout 2016 and HBO slated it for air in March 2017, however this was pushed up to January due to Carrie and Debbie’s tragic deaths.  Aside from an in memoriam title card, it appears the film was not altered to cover that sad news, which is commendable, for that could have betrayed the lively nature of this documentary.  Grade: B-


The Infiltrator


Rated Greg’s Top 5 Undercover Cops/Agents

  1. Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) – Point Break
  2. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) – The Departed
  3. Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) – The Fast and the Furious
  4. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) – Reservoir Dogs
  5. J. Reid (Omar Epps) – In Too Deep

Bryan Cranston stars as real life career undercover US Customs agent Robert Mazur, who penetrated and dismembered Pablo Escobar’s money laundering network in the 1980’s. The Infiltrator is fine. It’ll pass the time if you’re on a plane, but it doesn’t bring anything to the undercover cop narrative that you haven’t seen before in better movies. Don’t get me wrong, of course Cranston does a good job playing a down to Earth family man playing an extravagant criminal, but the operation in real life was probably a lot more impressive than this movie.

Why has it been so hard to make a great Pablo Escobar movie?  By all accounts he was one of the most fascinating kingpins of the 20th century, but I count this as the third recent whiff.  Maybe the Vinny Chase as Pablo Escobar season from Entourage (see below) ruined it forever.  Although some swear by Narcos I guess.  Maybe I should give it another shot (is the blond cop done over-explaining everything?).  Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Grade: C





Barack Obama, future leader of the free world, comes of age.  Barry tackles Obama’s experience in New York City in the early 80’s while enrolled at Columbia University.  It’s strange catching glimpses of what a president’s life was like as a young adult, making questionable decisions as young adults are wont to do, before they ever even considered entering politics.  It’s kind of like when we found out our 10th grade History teacher played bass in a bar cover band on the weekends (shout out to Mr. Bradbury).  You realize these inspiring authority figures have had completely separate, yet relatable lives.


It’s hard to tell how much of this film is fact based, and how much is just what the creators thought life would have been like for Obama as an idealistic, mixed race 21 year old from Hawaii living in a black neighborhood and enrolled in seemingly all white classes.  Taking on this role is a tall order and first time actor Devon Terrell stumbles a bit out of the gate, but now that I think about it that may have been the point.  After all, one of the driving plot points throughout Barry is Obama learning how to be comfortable in his own skin.  Streaming on Netflix.  Grade: B-


Fish Tank


In May of 2016, Andrea Arnold’s fourth feature film American Honey won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (pretty much the celebration’s third place).  However, this wasn’t the first time she had a film entered at Cannes.  It wasn’t even her first time winning the Jury Prize there.  Arnold’s second feature, Fish Tank, earned this distinction as well back in 2009.  Because I liked American Honey so much (#11 of 2016), I figured I might as well check out Fish Tank since it was streaming on Netflix.

Fish Tank is the story of Mia, a reckless fifteen-year-old living in a downtrodden neighborhood outside London with her borderline wicked single mother. Mia aspires to be a dancer one day but really seems to take more pleasure into fucking shit up for now. There’s not a ton of plot for most of this film, just a lot of meandering about town, but it does have some really touching moments in the second half. Michael Fassbender, before he became big swinging dick Michael Fassbender, is great in a supporting role.  I have to assume Quentin Tarantino saw this film before making him one of the breakout stars of Inglorious Basterds the next year.


Fish Tank has much more in common with American Honey than just Cannes accomplishments.  They are both coming of age films. They both star a young woman with zero prior acting experience (Fish Tank’s Katie Jarvis was discovered while having a fight with her boyfriend out in public). Lastly, they both feature astounding, hip-hop leaning soundtracks (Nas, Eric B & Rakim, Gang Star, and Bobby Womack are playing throughout the film on various radios and TV’s).  Grade: B-



Is the image below something you want to watch for 160 minutes?


How about this one?


Fancy an unhealthily skinny Adam Driver?


If so, HAVE I GOT A MOVIE FOR YOU!  Silence is a religious epic directed by Martin Scorsese based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name.  Two jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield & Adam Driver) travel to Japan in the 17th century to search for a comrade gone missing (Liam Neeson) and covertly spread the gospel, risking persecution by samurai around every corner if they are discovered (Christianity was outlawed in the strictly Buddhist Japan, punishable by death).  It’s an impressive movie by scope, scenery, and acting, but was not an enjoyable theater experience.  Some may really like this movie (84% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it was not for me.  If you’re on the fence, I urge you watch the trailer below.  If that looks like something that piques your interest, by all means go see it.  But if not, don’t go see it just because it was directed by the same guy that made Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street like I did.  Grade: D



War Dogs


War Dogs is a Wolf of Wall Street wannabe from Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover), only replacing stockbrokers with arms dealers. The film is based on the true story of two 20-something Miami knuckleheads played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller bullshitting their way into a very large weapons contract with the US government in 2007. It’s so funny and strange to me that Jonah Hill received a Golden Globes Best Actor nomination for this role. Ummm….what?  That would be like Zaza Pachulia getting voted a starter in the NBA All Star game.  Hill has had some great, all-time performances, but this isn’t one of them. I just think he’s much better as a sidekick than an alpha. This was originally titled “The Arms and The Dudes” so at least they got one thing right in changing the name.  Grade: D


Hidden Figures


People keep giving Jenna Bush a hard time for referring to Hidden Figures as Hidden Fences, but maybe she was really just referring to the Wayans Brothers follow up to Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood….

All jokes aside, Hidden Figures tells the true stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three black women who played pivotal, behind the scenes roles at NASA’s Langley Research Center during the Space Race. Played wonderfully by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, respectively, the film highlights the previously under reported mathematic and engineering accomplishments of the three in a state that still abided by segregation laws (despite Brown vs Board of Education occurring in 1954, the State of Virginia steadfastly remained resistant to integration in the early 1960’s when most of this film takes place).


I’m not just saying this because it’s politically correct. Hidden Figures is nothing short of DELIGHTFUL and it’s been a long time since I liked a non-animated PG movie this much.   Apollo 13 meets Remember The Titans.  As lazy as that interpretation is, it doesn’t make it inaccurate.  There were even control center props from Apollo 13 repurposed for the film.   Costarring Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Glenn Powell (Everybody Wants Some) as hip John Glenn, and the old 60’s movie staple of Kevin Costner’s buzzcut.  Grade: A-