March 1, 2015, - 5:17 pm

Belated Wknd Box Office: Focus, The Lazarus Effect, Red Army

By Debbie Schlussel

Sorry for the belated movie reviews, but better late than never (although sometimes better never than late). You didn’t miss much, as I wasn’t impressed much by the new offerings, but for an art house documentary. Remember, you can always hear my movie reviews on the day they debut, first thing every Friday morning on “The Mike Church Show” on SiriusXM Patriot Channel 125 after 7:05 am Eastern and on “The Pat Campbell Show” on KFAQ 1170 AM Tulsa at 7:35 am Eastern. I do my movie reviews on both, as well as some discussion of current political issues and pop culture topics on both shows. So here’s what’s new at theaters, this weekend:



* “Focus“: I’ve seen plenty of con artist movies, all of them better than this one. This is a whole lotta nothin’. Just lame. It starts out as what might be a fun caper movie about two con artists in a crime ring, but it degrades into an unbelievable, nonsensical mess, with a silly ending. Oh, and Will Smith and the more attractive Jaime Pressly-lookalike, Margot Robbie, don’t have much in the chemistry department. Also, the movie really glamorized stealing and cons, and didn’t show the dark side. They really wanted you to root for these crooks, but I didn’t. The movie was just too slow and boring, even if I had been so disposed. And I could have done without some of the graphic sexual “humor” (which wasn’t funny) about oral sex and lesbian oral sex. The language was more explicit than I’d expected for a “comedy” or “rom-com”–or whatever this was supposed to be–about con artists.

The story: Robbie is a con artist who tries to con Will Smith at a hotel. But he, being a bigger con artist (unbeknownst to her), doesn’t fall for the con and tells her the jig is up. Later, she tracks Smith down and asks him to teach her how to be a better con artist. He tutors her and then tests her in New Orleans, where she is invited to join his ring of crooks. It’s Super Bowl weekend, and there are a lot of wallets, expensive watches, and other loot to steal from people. Soon, Robbie and Smith are sleeping together. But at the end of New Orleans con artist week, everyone gets his/her cut sent to him/her, and Smith abruptly says good-bye to Robbie.

Three years later, Smith is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, helping a race car driver scam his competitors. And Robbie shows up as the driver’s girlfriend. Smith is jealous and wants her back, which puts him off his game. But, predictably (and you could see this a mile away–I did), things are not as they seem, as in every previous caper movie (though most others are better at surprising you than this sloppy flick was). And after seeing this, you have to wonder if Will Smith has lost his touch at the box office. He seemed to be going through the motions and playing himself, which ain’t that interesting.

Like I said, after the first third of the movie, I was bored. A caper movie should be fun and amusing. This wasn’t. I expected more from this. I got less.

There wasn’t that much focus in “Focus.”


Watch the trailer . . .

* “The Lazarus Effect“: For what was supposed to be a “scary” movie, I didn’t flinch even once. It was boring, slow, and stupid. Much of it was also nonsensical and never explained. And what was supposed to be just an hour and 20 minutes seemed like three hours. A complete waste of time, and not scary at all. You know each time someone’s head is going to pop up or something is going to happen. The ominous music plays, and it’s just so predictable.

The story: a husband and wife team of doctors (Mark DuPlass and Olivia Wilde) and their crew work in a lab, studying animals and whether they can be brought back to life after long periods of being dead. They secretly developed a serum that brings the animals back to life, a dog being their first guinea pig. The dog does all kinds of weird things and disappears and re-appears like a ghost. Soon, the company that gave the doctors their grant yanks the grant, after having discovered that the doctors violated the conditions of the grant . . . and developed a “Lazarus” serum, which could be worth trillions and will now be the property of the company. After all, who wouldn’t want to buy a drug that could bring their relatives, or themselves, back to life?

The doctors want to prove that they invented the serum and prove that it works to bring animals back to life. So, after being kicked out of the lab, they break in, one night, and accidentally electrocute the female doctor (Wilde) to death. So, they bring her back to life by injecting her with the serum. But she disappears and reappears and has magical powers, which she uses to kill members of the team.

The movie never explains why this happened–why the serum brings dead beings back as evil beings. And none of the characters are particularly likeable, so you just don’t care. Plus, the story is just not tight. As far as scary movies go, I’d put this in the bottom 25%. It’s just a complete waste of time.

You walk out of this movie thinking, “Is that all there is?”


Watch the trailer . . .

* “Red Army“: This documentary, purportedly about the Soviet Central Red Army Hockey Team back in the old days of the Soviet Union, is really just a story about Vyecheslav “Slava” Fetisov’s experience as a star Soviet hockey player (it touches a little bit on his later career as an NHL pro), told from his point of view. As a former hockey agent and someone who followed the Russian hockey influx into the NHL, I had an interest in seeing this movie.

And while I found the movie somewhat interesting (it even shows us the Soviet Honey Booboo–the granddaughter of a former KGB agent), I felt it severely downplayed the severity of the Soviet Union and its human rights abuses. The movie also presented Vladimir Posner as “Journalist,” and didn’t mention that Posner is a Marxist who served as the spokes-apparatchik for the Soviet Union. If you really strain to look and know better than most audiences who will see this, you can see a faint photo of Stalin on Posner’s desk in the background, while he is being interviewed. (Posner’s parents were Hollywood Marxists who left America during the McCarthy era because they really were Commies working for the enemy in our midst.) The lack of coverage of what the real Soviet Union was really about might, in part, be due to the fact that Fetisov returned to Russia and now serves as the Sports Minister for former KGB-head Vladimir Putin’s government. But this doesn’t excuse filmmaker Gabe Polsky from his responsibility to show the truth. It’s his movie.

The movie did show that these members of the Red Army team were professionals in every sense and were treated to harsh terms generally imposed on athletes in Communist countries. They were sent to train full time and barely ever allowed to visit family members, including a dying father (the player wasn’t even allowed to attend the funeral), wives, and so on. But, in reality (and this was NOT shown in the movie), they had it much better off than most Soviets. If any of these Soviet hockey players had been Jews, for example, they might be sent to Siberia or imprisoned for years, merely for trying to practice their faith or applying for a visa to go to Israel. (And I’ve heard from some people in the know, in the Detroit Russian community, that some of the Soviet players who came to Detroit to play for the Red Wings were anti-Semitic, something they picked up being raised as hockey royalty in the Soviet Union.)

The highlight of this movie was watching the replay of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team beating the Soviet team in 1980 in the semi-finals at Lake Placid. And after that, the movie shows how the Soviets fired almost everyone and rebuilt the team, from the players to the coach. Fetisov was the only “survivor.” The movie showed what happened to the various members of the team, with one being elected to the Russian Parliament, Fetisov getting his appointment by Putin, and one of the other team members working for Fetisov. About one member, though, the movie leaves questions it doesn’t answer. He looks and seems very sad and unhappy, and the movie doesn’t tell us why. He died not long after his interview for the movie was completed, and the movie doesn’t tell us the circumstances of that, either.

This documentary provides an interesting and entertaining–but only baseline–look into the Soviet hockey system from one man’s perspective. It doesn’t go very deep. And, again, it largely whitewashes how bad things were under the Soviets.


Watch the trailer . . .

7 Responses

Will Smiff: “yo – smell ya later” is a moron who couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag, let alone be compelling as a “con artist” because he’s so obviously dense.

DS_ROCKS! on March 1, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Wonderful selection for the week — criminals and Communists.

Little Al on March 2, 2015 at 7:41 am

Save your money and just see Whiplash on DVD or on Demand. Great film.

Susan on March 2, 2015 at 9:11 am

    By the way, the Jewish connections to Whiplash. Miles Teller, the star is not Jewish, but has a Jewish grandparent. The main character is clearly and importantly identified as being Jewish and in a positive way. Jewish actor Paul Reiser plays Teller’s father. There is a positive Jewish role model in the form of the great Jewish musician/drummer Buddy Rich portrayed in a reverential light. Genius is portrayed as dangerous but great.

    Susan on March 2, 2015 at 9:18 am

Deb, and others, I highly recommend a movie called”Aftermath”,now on Netflix. Very Jewish connection, and tons better than the ones made today, which most are horrible.

Louis on March 2, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Thanks for your great reviews Debbie as always. I’m not going to even bother seeing any of this bunk. I’ve got too many Star Trek movies to watch. I would like to say that I remember when Wil Smith was a huge box office draw. Now he’s sucking big time. I don’t know that if it’s the kooky Scientology or what but now his kids are starting to act weird. Especially Willow. Maybe Jada can get her hubby a small role in Gotham playing a cop because he did good playing one in both Bad Boys movies.

Ken B on March 2, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Save for the replay of the 1980 semi-final game, sounds like “Red Army” is pretty much a whitewash of Communism and Soviet Russia. Forgotten seems to be, at least by the Soviets, was that that was a very close game that could have gone either way; that it finished as it did made it indeed a “miracle” of sorts. Typical authoritarian response: fire (or execute) everybody involved! May have to see the film just to re-live that great moment at Squaw Valley! 35 years ago now, and it seems like yesterday!

jc15 on March 5, 2015 at 1:03 am

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