The Black Phone

Posted in Horror with tags on June 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

At first, it seems like an idyllic opening for a coming-of-age tale set in 1978. Finney Blake (Mason Thames) is a shy but talented pitcher who nearly strikes out Bruce (Tristan Pravong), a rival baseball star. The 13-year-old has a crush on Donna (Rebecca Clarke), a girl who serendipitously adores him right back. Finney’s also got a small but protective buddy named Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), a capable fighter.

Unfortunately, Finney and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) are beset with severe problems. Their mother committed suicide even before our story begins. Their father (Jeremy Davies) awash in grief, is reduced to an abusive alcoholic. A group of bullies led by Moose (J. Gaven Wilde) torments Finney. It gets worse. The small town — a suburb of Denver, Colorado — is plagued with a series of kidnappings. An evil murderer is snatching juveniles in a dark van while wearing harlequin-like masks and brandishing black balloons. The media has dubbed this individual “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). Gwen harbors latent psychic abilities and experiences prescient dreams about the case. Her knowledge of unreleased details worries two detectives (E. Roger Mitchell and Troy Rudeseal). Missing youngsters start to accumulate, including both Bruce and Robin. Then one day, Finney encounters the Grabber and becomes his sixth abduction.

1970s period piece detail adds to the creepy atmospherics. Most of the film takes place in a darkened basement. The room is soundproof, with only a bed, a toilet, and a black phone mounted on the wall to break up the monotony of the space. Finney is alone, but other kids once occupied this area. Children in peril movies can be rather egregious, particularly ones threatening sinister developments too horrifying to recount here. It’s an alarming situation, and I braced myself for the worst. Luckily the mood veers towards optimism. Finney and his sister Gwen form a commendable sibling bond. They truly support one another. She never ceases to lose focus on her brother’s predicament.

It is so refreshing to see a horror movie where paranormal forces are actually working on the side of good. Ten years ago, writer-director Scott Derrickson gave us the low-budgeted but highly effective Sinister. Now he’s back to flip the script with co-writer C. Robert Cargill and star Ethan Hawke. The creative trio delivers another nifty Blumhouse production. The Black Phone flirts with a hackneyed formula. Menacing clowns, spunky kids, and inept adults were highly derivative ideas when Stephen King published It back in 1986. You’ll find all of that here. Yet the screenplay subverts expectations. We come to realize “The Grabber” is guilty of murder. Our mind recalls infamous serial killers Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. But like them — he’s still a flesh and blood human. After he’s been abducted, Finney unexpectedly receives supernatural help from a mysterious source. There is a positive foundation that elevates the saga. Finney and his sister Gwen form a compelling team even when they are apart. They give us hope even during the film’s unsavory tone. The maturity of their performances unexpectedly raises the production into something uplifting.

06-26-22

Elvis

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music on June 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On a superficial level, the latest account of the King of Rock and Roll could be considered a biopic. It covers 42 years through his death in 1977. However, it does much more than simply detail the dramatic beats of a life. It captures the feeling of a performer. Think of it as an ode to a cultural icon. This is Baz Luhrmann’s joyous celebration of the best-selling solo music artist of all time.

If you’re familiar with the work of Baz Luhrmann, you know the director can be a little frantic and over the top. The Great Gatsby, Australia, and Moulin Rouge weren’t known for their subtlety. Here his manic style has been carefully manipulated and applied perfectly. You can feel the director’s enthusiasm for this entertainer. I will admit the narrative is a bit chaotic. The chronicle is edited like a trailer as events transpire rapid-fire. A whirlwind of developments are thrown at the viewer. The presentation has all the giddy excitement of a fan who can’t wait to extol the virtues of their favorite star. You can barely catch your breath before another happening occurs.

The events aren’t in chronological order either. We begin in 1997 with the death of Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. He is our narrator. “I didn’t kill him. I made him,” he declares. We jump to Las Vegas in the 1970s, at the International Hotel where Elvis is headlining. Things aren’t going so well for the rock star as he can barely stand. Then we leap yet again to the mid-1950s at a carnival where Jimmie Rodgers (Kodi-Smit McPhee) is holding a record and singing the praises of a new artist. The frenetic account bounces around details served up in a flashy presentation befitting the legend himself. I admit I had to find my footing, but I grooved into the rhythm of the story. It’s like randomly dropping the needle on various cuts of a greatest hits album in cinematic form with one spectacular scene after another.

Major credit goes to Austin Butler in the title role. The musical numbers in front of a crowd are where he comes alive. The young actor channels the vocalist so perfectly that I did not view his triumph as a mere actor playing a part but as the genuine article. At one point, Elvis performs while gyrating his hips in front of an audience for a TV program. He whips half the throng into a frenzy, and the other half blankly stare, mouths agape in shock. You completely understand at this moment why Elvis was so charismatic and yet so dangerous to the social norms of the day. It’s a mesmerizing depiction. There have been memorable efforts in the past. Kurt Russell in the 1979 film Elvis and the 2005 CBS miniseries starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers come to mind, but Butler’s portrayal surpasses them all.

It is an odd irony when the same production can boast both the best and worst performances of the year. As revelatory as Austin Butler is in the title role, Tom Hanks is woefully miscast as Colonel Tom Parker. Underneath pounds of makeup and grotesque prosthetics that include a fat suit, the actor slinks and sneers his way through the picture in a manner so misguided it threatens to derail every scene in which he appears. A Bond film affords the villain more nuance. Early on when Parker realizes that Elvis is not a black man, the camera zooms into a close-up so he can incredulously proclaim, “He’s…… white?!” Hanks is so bad it blights this assessment from being a 5-star review. It is an absolute testament to the glory of Austin Butler’s achievement that he seizes focus.

Elvis is a kaleidoscopic extravaganza that taps into the energy that was Elvis. It won’t be easy to assemble an order to his discography as it’s bestowed here. It’s a celebratory feeling to what the man meant more than the sequential facts of what he did. The collage of melodies includes Austin Butler singing Elvis’ early tunes, lip-syncing to the real deal in his later output, and a pastiche of songs sung by other artists swirling in the background. The screenplay frequently touches upon the musician’s reverence for inspirations like B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison), Little Richard (Alton Mason), and “Big Mama” Thornton (Shonka Dukureh). The exhibition is dazzling for both its sweep and depth. There is so much to take in this emotionally exhilarating spectacle. It is breathtaking. Movies that often stretch past 2 hours rarely need to be. This film is 2 hours and 39 minutes. When it was all over, I wanted more.

06-23-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on June 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Pixar’s latest LIGHTYEAR was released to theaters on June 17. I reviewed this movie with Martin Kelner on talkSPORT radio. I also discuss sports drama HUSTLE, starring Adam Sandler on Netflix. My segment begins 5 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 25 minutes from the end).

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on June 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION was released to theaters on June 10 and it became a massive hit. That’s the review for talkSPORT this week. I also discuss PISTOL, Danny Boyle’s six-part miniseries about the Sex Pistols now streaming on Hulu. My segment begins 4 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 26 minutes from the end).

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Hustle

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Sports with tags on June 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Adam Sandler has two personas. There’s the comedian that does lightweight comedies like The Ridiculous 6, The Wrong Missy, and Hubie Halloween. Then there’s the thespian that does serious output like The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems. Hustle is from the latter category. Back in January of 2020, Netflix extended Sandler’s $275 million production deal to an additional four movies. The streaming service proclaimed that viewers spent 2 billion hours watching his films. There’s no question he’s still a popular star. His latest debuted on June 8. Over two weeks later, it’s still in the Top 5.

Hustle is a rather amiable sports drama about Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler), a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives life on the road, trying to discover the next basketball star. Being away can negatively impact his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and daughter Alex (Jordan Hull). Yet they also pitch in to help when needed. Things change for the better when Stanley discovers a talented phenom in Spain named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez). The saga revolves around Stanley’s attempt to prepare him for the NBA draft.

Adam Sandler’s enthusiasm for professional basketball shows. He’s in dynamic mode. The actor gives a warm, human performance as the beleaguered scout. He engages our sympathies, and you genuinely want to root for the guy. Sandler has excellent chemistry with a newcomer to acting. Juancho Hernangómez is a relative unknown in the NBA. Juancho may lack acting confidence during the dramatic scenes, but that quality works for this character. He’s supposed to be naive and unsure of himself in this world. There is a sincerity about him and Juancho is convincing as someone who can play basketball really well.

Hustle is not going to win any awards for storytelling. It’s a formulaic offering in the world of traditional sports tales, but it does have a lot of heart. The movie has various predictable obstacles they must face. Stanley butts heads with the owner of the 76ers, portrayed by Ben Foster. Meanwhile, Bo Cruz is taunted by a fellow prospect — also realized by a professional athlete named Anthony Edwards. Bo needs to learn to keep his emotions in check to succeed in the game. The account feels authentic as it has plenty of basketball action and is filled with cameos of athletes and notables from the NBA. This is such a winning presentation. As a crowd-pleaser embraced by audiences and critics alike, Hustle is a slam dunk.

06-16-22

Lightyear

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Three sentences flash across the screen to set the stage. “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” After it was over, I didn’t buy that assertion. Yeah, I know. It’s probably best not to question such things. This feature doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny, but given that the most captivating character didn’t become a toy back then is a huge leap of faith. Sox the cat (Peter Sohn) is the breakout star and it’s not even close. Buzz Lightyear’s robotic feline companion is an absolute delight. Buzz Lightyear himself? Oh sure, he’s in the film too. Just not a particularly interesting personality. He’s kind of an oaf, a bit of a dullard too.

Lightyear concerns a human astronaut (Chris Evans) — er uh space ranger — who is responsible for marooning his crew of travelers on a hostile alien planet. You see he’s branded a failure at the outset. He even tries to quit the mission but his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) refuses to accept his resignation. So Buzz attempts to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal to get his crew off this foreign planet, thereby fixing his mistake and fulfilling his duty. Buzz undergoes a series of test flights to reach hyperspeed to bring everyone back home. Whenever Buzz zips away in his spacecraft for a few minutes, four years elapse for everyone else. He doesn’t age but everyone else does — rather quickly. Unfortunately, he isn’t successful for a very long time. Decades pass and the progression of time suggest the first 10 minutes of Up. Guess who finally comes up with the correct formula? Psst…See the first paragraph.

My encapsulation above may read like the complete saga, but it’s just a prelude. The setup seeks to establish the emotional basis for the formulaic drama that comprises the bulk of the picture. Lightyear and Sox have their moments interacting as a duo. That computerized feline saves his owner’s neck on more than one occasion. There is a refreshing simplicity to their relationship. Yet this chronicle doesn’t allow them to shine alone. The plot introduces a goofy collection of additional helpers. Three space-colony outcasts show up to assist Lightyear in his objective. Chief among this ragtag trio is Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alisha’s granddaughter. She’s flanked by Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) a naive and inexperienced recruit, and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) an elderly convict on parole.

This is where the moral comes through: “Collaborate as a team. Be less of a maverick.” The idea that cooperation is glorified as the ultimate goal is so ubiquitous in children’s entertainment these days that you accept it as standard-issue. I’d suggest that a great many intellectuals or innovators in the adult world are free-thinking radicals, and far from conformists, but perhaps that concept is a bit too revolutionary for Pixar. Anyway, the woebegone characters are uninteresting and detract from the narrative rather than add to it. The sad-sack troupe faces off against an invading force of robots led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) — another callback to the original Toy Story.

Lightyear isn’t terrible. It’s nicely animated and features an adventure with some lively sequences. But bestowing your creation with that title incites the exalted history of the Toy Story franchise. The first two are widely considered Pixar’s best. This production is not even in the same cosmos. It’s a straightforward tale, painfully ordinary and utterly lacking in imagination or depth. The only remarkable individual is a mechanical cat. Meanwhile, the milieu is oppressive and dreary. The plot throws in generic developments. A time travel subplot yields a reveal that is a ho-hum of a surprise. This is not the awe-inspiring entertainment that you’d expect to become any child’s most treasured movie. Lightyear may take place on a different planet, but creatively it remains — earthbound.

06-16-22

Ambulance 

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The last song I ever expected to hear in one of Michael Bay’s adrenaline-pumping testosterone-fueled odes to machismo was “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. The 1980 yacht rock classic incongruously pops up when adoptive brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) decide to sing it (badly) in a calming moment while driving an ambulance. But these guys aren’t paramedics. No, they’re bank robbers. They’ve hijacked the eponymous vehicle after a heist where they stole $32 million dollars. Oh, and they’ve taken two hostages. They’re transporting a comatose police officer (Jackson White) that Will shot twice. His slowly bleeding state promotes a Blue Lives Matter subplot. There’s also a gorgeous EMT named Cam Thompson (Eiza González). She is the best at what she does in the city of LA. Cam flaunts the beauty of Megan Fox and exudes confidence like Michelle Rodriguez.

Ambulance is essentially one overlong chaotic, cacophonous car chase through the streets of Los Angeles. It’s also the latest blast-a-thon from a director who built his reputation on the genre. When individuals aren’t screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, there’s a car collision with a corresponding explosion to drown out the din of their inane conversation. It’s hilariously overwrought. However, there’s a little room for some characterization in Chris Fedak’s script. Gyllenhaal is a crazy, wide-eyed gun-toting career criminal that behaves as if he solely subsists on a diet of Red Bull and speed. Conversely, Abdul-Mateen’s Will is the level-headed one who foolishly turns to his unhinged brother Danny when his cancer-stricken wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs money for surgery. Their father was an infamous bank robber too, so apparently, it runs in the family.

Ambulance is yet another indulgent American remake based on a foreign film. Jake Gyllenhaal is fond of starring in English-language reproductions of Danish hits. He was also in The Guilty (2021) and Brothers (2009). Ambulance was an efficient 80-minute picture from Denmark in 2005. In the hands of Michael Bay, it’s a loud distended 136-minute headache. Given the comparatively low $40-million-budget, this production is practically an indie for the director of the Transformers pictures. For example, The Last Knight cost $239 million. Nevertheless, Bay applies that same noisy aesthetic to this character-driven drama. It can be exciting. The chronicle features a breakneck pace and such sheer volume that you might be inclined to forgive the absurdity. However, at over two hours, the dissonance wears out its welcome. There were enough shaky-cam and dizzying drone shots in Roberto De Angelis’ cinematography that had me wanting to call an ambulance about halfway through.

Ambulance is currently streaming on Peacock and available to rent on DVD and Blu-ray.

06-14-22

Jurassic World: Dominion

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on June 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

After the tumultuous tedium of Fallen Kingdom, I don’t think I could stand another return to the remote enclave of Isla Nublar. Fortunately, the 2nd installment in the Jurassic World trilogy ended with the destruction of the theme park. The island is now a barren wasteland, but dinosaurs still exist and have been set loose on the mainland. They live and hunt alongside humans all over the world. The question is, will human beings remain at the top of the food chain? I’m happy to report that Jurassic World: Dominion gives plenty of examples where people and dinosaurs face off to test that theory.

The production succeeds as simply one breathtaking action sequence after another loosely strung together by inconsequential drama. If you want details, a screenplay by Emily Carmichael & director Colin Trevorrow provides them, but if you don’t grasp (or care about) everything they’re putting down, it won’t matter. So get this, a giant hybrid of locusts spliced with the DNA of their prehistoric ancestors is rampaging the earth. They are attacking all crops EXCEPT those grown from the seeds of a biotech company called Biosyn. Owen and Claire have an adopted daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who is a genetic clone of her mother, Charlotte (Elva Trill). Her DNA could hold the secret to eradicating the pests.

The story handily juggles a sprawling cast of actors. Akin to those disaster flicks of the 1970s like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, no one actor is the sole focus. I suppose the closest thing to a starring duo is romantic couple Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). We also are reunited with the scientific minds of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and Henry Wu (BD Wong) of the original trilogy. That’s a big deal. It’s nice seeing everyone reunite on screen. That wide shot of the entire cast looking up with mouths agape during the climax is an emotionally compelling sight.

The chronicle throws in a bunch of new key cast members. Surprise! They don’t stick out like a sore thumb. They’re welcome additions. Actors DeWanda Wise (TV series She’s Gotta Have It) and Mamoudou Athie (Patti Cake$, Uncorked) notably hold their own in the company of their more famous and experienced co-stars. Meanwhile, Campbell Scott (Dying Young, Singles) — another new addition — is a seasoned veteran who has been acting for nearly four decades. He channels his inner Steve Jobs in demeanor and wardrobe as the CEO of Biosyn Genetics.

But hey, let’s be honest. Who cares about the people?! These pictures have always been about the dinosaurs and Dominion offers several doozies. A red feathery Pyroraptor torments Owen and Kayla above a frozen lake and then dives through a hole in the ice to chase them underwater. With long extended claws, Therizinosaurus is like Freddy Krueger or the Wolverine crossed with a prehistoric bird. He swats a deer as if it were a fly with sharp talons after stalking Claire through the woods. Claire is forced to hide in a pond in a memorable encounter. And who could forget the pack of Atrociraptors that pursue Owen in a spectacular motorcycle race through the streets of Malta? That last setpiece is worth the price of admission alone. Oh and I haven’t even mentioned Giganotosaurus and his climactic showdown with a Tyrannosaurus rex, but I’ve said enough. Go watch the movie.

Jurassic World Dominion flips the script. The adventure introduces something new and wholly unexpected. Instead of being set on that same island yet again, we get globe-hopping exploits in jungles and distant countries filled with dinosaurs that involve shootouts, plane crashes, and undercover missions. The account has an “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. The audience is constantly inundated with stuff. “More is more” is the mantra and it works. These stories have never been about sense. As long as we’re having fun, I’m OK with it. The film strays when it feels the need to provide convoluted details about things that don’t need explaining. Also at 2.5 hours, it’s painfully long. Thankfully there’s lots of exciting dino action. I reveled in the effects and so I enjoyed the movie.

06-09-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on June 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

There wasn’t a major new release in theaters this week so on June 5th, I turned my attention to RRR, a spectacular Indian epic that is now a Top 10 hit on Netflix. Click on the link below to hear my thoughts on talkSPORT radio. My segment begins 3 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 27 minutes from the end).

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on June 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

On Memorial Day weekend, TOP GUN: MAVERICK opened and became a massive hit in theaters. That’s the main review, but I also discuss Alex Garland’s MEN — a horror film. Click on the link below to hear my thoughts about both on talkSPORT radio. My segment begins 6 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 24 minutes from the end).

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT