Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin
I review movies for UK-based talkSPORT radio.  On Sunday, September 25th, I talked about two thrillers: DON’T WORRY DARLING is #1 hit in theaters.  It stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles.  Meanwhile, I CAME BY with Hugh Bonneville is streaming on Netflix. My appearance begins 3 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (27 minutes from the end).

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

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

After a two-week hiatus, I was back reviewing movies for UK-based talkSPORT radio. On Sunday, September 18th, I talked about murder comedy SEE HOW THEY RUN, romantic fantasy THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING, and the Disney live-action remake of PINOCCHIO. My appearance begins 8 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (22 minutes from the end).

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

Don’t Worry Darling

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even before Don’t Worry Darling was theatrically released on September 23, it was subjected to an onslaught of negative publicity. The tabloid shenanigans concerning certain key people were the fodder for rampant gossip. I’m being vague because this is Fast Film Reviews, not The Hollywood Reporter. I only bring it up because I’d bet the farm that the drama behind the scenes is 100x more interesting than the finished product.

The company town of Victory, California, is a traditional community in the 1950s. Husbands go to work while women stay home, do household chores, and socialize. Alice and Jack are a young attractive married couple in love. However, Alice begins to detect cracks in their seemingly idyllic existence. Bunny (director Olivia Wilde) is Alice’s best friend.

So let’s start with the good: The ensemble features an outstanding performance from Florence Pugh, looking radiant in Brigitte Bardot-style tresses. She is another UK actress (like Saoirse Ronan or Millie Bobby Brown) that is more convincing as an American woman than many of her peers. She did it perfectly in Midsommar, and now she’s done it again in another psychological thriller. Also worthy of mention is actor Chris Pine. He’s scary good as the enigmatic Frank — the founder of the “Victory Project.” A job to which the men all report every morning. Their departure in cars en masse is a spectacle. The details of their employment are shrouded in mystery.

I was captivated by the aesthetics. The production design is visually striking as it recreates this picturesque vision of suburban life in America. The cinematography is impressive too. Director of photography Matthew Libatique often partners with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Libatique’s effort draws upon his iconic visuals in Requiem for a Dream. Remember the repeated montage involving extreme close-ups of heroin as it cooks, boils, and enters the body? Well, substitute those sequences for bacon, eggs, and sliced toast as Alice makes breakfast every morning.

Ok, so now the bad? The script presents an unimaginative tale that is wholly derivative. Any deep dive into what happens here won’t withstand scrutiny. Why does Jack dance like a puppet for the men? What’s up with the hallucinations that feature choreography à la Busby Berkeley? Why do Bunny’s loyalties suddenly shift on a dime? Why does Frank’s wife (Gemma Chan) do what she does at the climax? Why do the aggressive (and unsexy) sex scenes never progress beyond third base? These are just a few of the questions I had. At least consulting the internet for answers made me feel I wasn’t alone. However, it didn’t resolve my confusion.

It feels like the screenwriters simply watched The Stepford Wives, drank a bottle of whiskey, and then wrote this movie. Ok, so it’s not *exactly* the same thing. (They threw in a little of The Matrix) Yet it’s so similar that the estate of author Ira Levin — who penned the 1972 novel — might be entitled to a cut of the profits. Katie Silberman gets credit for the screenplay based on a story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Silberman. The best scene in the film is a dialogue at a dinner party that includes Alice and Frank while the guests look on. Sadly even the promise of that conversation doesn’t coalesce into anything meaningful. The plot didn’t offer surprises. The “twist” ending is a disappointment, although my predictive abilities remain acute. So no, this flick isn’t worth your time, but don’t worry, darling reader! I saw this, so you don’t have to.

09-22-22

The Woman King

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Woman King may rest on the conventional construction of established action epics, but it innovates with an eye-opening subject. This is the 1820s story of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin), against their adversary, the Oyo Empire. The saga is epic in scale, has a fiery heart, and features rousing battles. In that sense, it shares an affinity with popular classics like Gladiator and Braveheart. Similarly, this narrative blends a healthy dose of fiction into its historical facts for exciting entertainment.

The chronicle is titled The Woman King for good reason. General Nanisca is indeed at the center of the account. Viola Davis is a commanding presence as the lead, radiating steely resolve while exhibiting vulnerability. A traumatic incident in her past becomes an emotional plot component. However, this journey feeds off an ensemble of tributaries into a mighty river of sisterhood. Shiela Atim portrays Amenza; a spiritual advisor turned fighter who also happens to be Nanisca’s close confidant. Thuso Mbedu stars as a brash, young recruit. Nawi’s rejection of an arranged marriage will lead to a tender examination of her life. In a pot violently boiling over with fierce women, the most ferocious is arguably Lashana Lynch as an assured lieutenant. Izogie’s charismatic personality blends humor with intensity. The woman has sharpened her fingernails into razor-sharp daggers, and she isn’t afraid to use them.

The men are less important in this account, but John Boyega is a crucial ingredient as King Ghezo. His subtly affected demeanor comes across as an individual to jeer. Ghezo’s prosperous rule benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade that flourished during his reign. The practice of selling Dahomey’s prisoners of war (and some of their own citizens) won’t win him any fans. His choice does not sit right with Nanisca, and it becomes a bone of contention. Also, in one of the more cheesy developments is the character of Malik (Jordan Bolger), a half-Portuguese, half-Dahomean explorer who struggles with his identity. This is where the element of soap opera takes over. His long hair and sculpted physique would be more at home on the contemporary cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

The sheer existence of the Agojie was an anomaly. Back then, European visitors referred to them as the “Dahomey Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek mythology. Even today, this concept is a revelation. They were the real-life inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Woman King is one of those fascinating records that begs for more study. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) maximizes the screenplay by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello. Prince-Bythewood understands how to present a compelling movie. This chapter of unexplored history might have felt didactic if not for the crisp, explicit fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame). They feel immediate and grounded in reality. The thrilling combat takes this informative tale to the next level into captivating popcorn entertainment. Learning can be fun!

09-20-22

See How They Run

Posted in Comedy, Mystery with tags on September 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If I hadn’t checked the credits, I might have thought this sprightly comedy mystery was directed by Wes Anderson. See How They Run is a meticulous ensemble piece featuring exquisite set design and the retro fashions of another era. It is, in fact, the feature film debut of Tom George, a British television director (This Country, Defending the Guilty).

This loving creation is a sendup of the Agatha Christie murder mystery. The setting is London in 1953, and it features Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), who has been assigned to solve a homicide. In a nod to meta exposition, the crime occurs after the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at a West End theater. Also accompanying him is an inexperienced helper, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). The victim is an unlikeable movie director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody). He didn’t have a lot of friends, so everyone surrounding the play is a suspect.

A lighthearted romp…that just so happens to involve murder. Per tradition, audiences are asked not to reveal the killer’s identity to anyone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap play. Likewise, I would never spoil a film either, but whodunnit in See How They Run is unimportant. This is simply an excuse to get a spirited cast together for amusing conversations and funny situations. Director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell clearly admire Wes Anderson. I’m also a big fan, though I dare say this surpasses Anderson’s last picture, The French Dispatch. It’s light and breezy without being fussy. The developments all whiz by in a scant 98 minutes. Like this review, it’s fast.

09-15-22

Barbarian 

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on September 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The element of surprise is crucial in horror. It’s all about creating a potent shock. Jump scares are an easy way to accomplish this. Even though the ploy is pervasive, it’s a cheap way to earn tension. More creative is when a film manages to surprise with a plot that upends the viewer’s expectations. Barbarian is that movie.

Tess is a documentary researcher who books an Airbnb at 467 Barbary Street in a derelict area of Detroit. The address is mentioned enough times to become a trivia question if this production stands the test of time. I’m optimistic that it will. Tess will be attending a job interview in the morning. She arrives late at night and is disturbed to find someone already staying at the property. The awkward man is memorably portrayed by Bill Skarsgård. The fact that he was Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 2017’s It will only fuel your misgivings. The mix-up is seemingly due to a booking error. She ultimately decides to stay the night, given the lack of other options.

The greatest horror films are built around a compelling lead, and Barbarian has one of the best. Tess is a smart cookie — in the beginning anyway. She takes a picture of Keith’s ID, keeps the bedroom door locked, and refuses to drink the tea he prepared out of her sight. Her later decisions will grow less and less defensible. Keith is an awkward man, but her reservations about him are somewhat calmed when he expresses love for a little-seen documentary on which she worked. They bond over a bottle of wine that he opens in her presence. She becomes relaxed. Think you know where this is going? You’re not even close.

The strength of Barbarian is in the intricate story that mutates and changes. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what happens. The tale will involve an underground passage beneath the home. Filmmaker Wes Craven would be proud. Tess’s bewildering decision to descend into a dark and foreboding basement is a foolish choice that makes no sense coming from a previously intelligent woman. However, this is a genre flick. Stupid decisions must be made to generate scares. A dreadful discovery arises. I must admit that scene is one of the scariest reveals I can recall in recent memory. The anxiety is aided by director of photography Zach Kuperstein whose expert use of lighting and camera angles throughout the film heightens the suspense. Then without warning, the account abruptly flips into a tonally different saga about a cocky actor named AJ Gilbride. Baby-faced Justin Long is playing wildly against type.

Barbarian is a twisty chronicle that manages to weave the decline of Detroit, how ineffective police allow rampant crime to flourish in impoverished areas, and the #MeToo social movement. These disparate elements are creatively united by director Zach Cregger who also wrote the screenplay. Cregger assumes you’ve seen enough horror classics (Psycho, Friday the 13th, Misery) to make easy assumptions that he can overthrow. I do take exception when the “big bad” is such a physically overwhelming entity that it removes all hope that it can be overcome. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite the milieu, it’s highly amusing when AJ is initially excited to discover the additional basement of the home he owns. He chooses to measure the extra square footage without even considering the extreme danger in which he has willingly placed himself.

A talented ensemble aids director Zach Cregger, but Georgina Campbell is the MVP. The actress immediately joins the ranks of those classic scream queens that blend warmth with tenacity. Fellow actresses Janet Leigh, Linda Blair, and Jaime Lee Curtis are part of an elite club. I hesitate to make bold pronouncements that don’t stand the test of time, but her spirited and captivating performance is really that good. The success of Barbarian rests on her impressive achievement.

09-13-22

Pinocchio

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on September 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disney’s reliance on making live-action versions of their animated films really kicked into high gear during the 2010s decade. As a movie critic, I approach every remake for what it is — rather than what I think it should be. I’ve been more forgiving than most. I tolerated their critically reviled (but monetarily successful) reworkings of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and The Lion King to give them mildly positive reviews. However, the first five animated releases from Walt Disney Studios represent some of the greatest ever made, so the standard is admittedly higher when replicating these classics. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, are sacred. Incidentally, 2019’s Dumbo was a dreary slog. Pinocchio isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still a hollow shell of an adventure.

To its credit, Pinnochio — adapted from a screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz — at least duplicates the basic plot of the original. The main character (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) does look appealing too. The developments show some loyalty to the source material. Yet there is more to art than accurately recreating the scenes using CGI and human actors. The characters need to engage our emotions. There must be some joy, some spark that unites the production and makes us care. CGI is unnecessarily used to replicate everything from Geppetto’s pets Figaro and Cleo to a titan of the sea, Monstro. I get that a real whale would have been hard to tame, but why couldn’t they get an actual cat or goldfish? Tom Hanks doesn’t embody Geppetto with sincerity either. His goofily exaggerated performance reaches a zenith in one scene. Geppetto’s shock at discovering his wooden puppet can walk and talk on its own is an excessive display that would be an embarrassment coming from a first-year acting student, let alone a talent with two Oscars and over four decades of experience.

Director Robert Zemeckis makes some misguided choices. The filmmaker relies on self-referential humor, which takes you out of this movie as it promotes others. Geppetto is a wood carver that makes cuckoo clocks based on properties that Disney owns. Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit timepieces honor the studio while referencing Woody, the toy Hanks voiced and a feature that Zemekis directed. A minor quibble, but the decisions get more egregious. I get that Pinnochio is naive and there are ways to illustrate this amusingly. Showing a closeup of horse droppings that Pinnchio approaches and then sniffs is not one of them. When Pinocchio ultimately gets to Pleasure Island, it’s meant to be a decadent isle full of illegal activities like drinking beer, chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars. None of that happens. In this account, boys and girls drink root beer, eat candy, and light fireworks in a theme park. I’m sorry, but how is this sanitized depiction any different from what goes on at Disneyland every day of the year? When the children transform into donkeys, the computer rendering is garish. It’s grotesque but because the image is implausible and ridiculous — not due to its inherent scariness.

What more is there to say? Pinocchio is a redundant, soulless recreation that dutifully mimics the plot points but without the charm, wit, or spirit. I could go on, but doing so would be simply beating a dead horse…or in this case, a donkey.

09-08-22

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hopefully, one day Regina Hall will win an Oscar. Pity that she’s never even garnered a nomination. Hall has consistently been a standout in most productions she blesses with her presence. I enjoyed her work in The Best Man, Scary Movie, Think Like a Man, Girls Trip, Support the Girls, and The Hate U Give. Hall’s latest triumph is a highlight of her career. She co-stars as one half of a married duo who runs a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is essentially a two-hander anchored by a pair of hypnotic performances. Sterling K. Brown is Lee-Curtis Childs, and Regina Hall is his devoted wife, Trinitie. Together they once served a congregation in the tens of thousands. A scandal involving Lee-Curtis forces their church to close temporarily. The couple has opened their life to a documentary filmmaker to record their ostensible comeback. The two are determined to succeed like a phoenix rising from the ashes. This film invites us to laugh at their attempt. Actress Nicole Beharie as Shakura Sumpter and actor Conphidance as her husband Keon deserve a mention as rival pastors who comprise a fascinating subplot.

There’s no question that Brown and notably Hall rise to the occasion. Their depictions are a mesmerizing achievement that captivates the audience’s attention. The problem is that the screenplay by director Adamma Ebo (her sister Adanne is a producer) is so utterly generic and superficial in its handling of the material. Targets include the excessive wealth of churches that serve the poor and a contradictory sermon to spread God’s love but not THAT kind of love. Wait, a religious leader isn’t as holy as they profess to be? Dear Lord that is the most predictable take I could have expected.

Consider for a moment that a man of God might show a sincere commitment to the glory of the creator. Coming on the heels of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it’s hard not to make comparisons. That film showed nuance as it elicited compassion for its protagonists. Here the characters are broadly drawn caricatures. Lee-Curtis Childs is an irredeemable charlatan that preens about in expensive suits and flirts inappropriately with the help. It is a testament to Hall’s talent that she — in contrast — manages to engender some sympathy along with the requisite contempt. “Why are you supporting this horrible person?” is the overriding feeling in one scene after another. Don’t get me wrong. Honoring your marriage is an admirable aspiration. Matthew 19:6 states: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Yet this movie managed to make me question that edict.

09-03-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 31, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m talking movies with Jordan Jarrett-Bryan on UK-based talkSPORT radio! I’ll admit the films are minor, but the conversation is amusing. On Sunday, August 28th, I discussed the Liam Neeson action/thriller MEMORY which is a streaming rental on various platforms, and the horror prequel ORPHAN: FIRST KILL in theaters and on Paramount+. My appearance begins 3 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (27 minutes from the end).

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

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 31, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m talking movies on talkSPORT radio! On Sunday, August 21st I discussed DAY SHIFT starring Jaime Foxx on Netflix, and in theaters there’s BEAST, in which Idris Elba faces down a lion. My appearance begins 3 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (27 minutes from the end).

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