Archive for April, 2020


Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

extraction_netflixSTARS2A very wise person once said, “It’s not what you know.  It’s who you know.”  Extraction proves the adage still holds.  Director Sam Hargrave has been an enduring presence in Hollywood ever since 2005 when he did stunts for the WB TV series Supernatural.  However, I suspect it was his connections as a stunt coordinator for the 3 Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame ) the Russo brothers directed that ultimately led to this job.  Joe Russo even wrote the screenplay that supports Sam’s directorial debut.  Is this a story that will captivate your attention?  Let’s just say if action and stunts are more important to you than plot, then this will be an absolute treat.

Chris Hemsworth plays a black market mercenary.  It’s hard to feel too much concern for an individual that is seemingly invincible.  John J. Rambo exhibited more vulnerability.  Rest assured that this is a drama where even getting shot in the neck may not be a life-threatening injury.  The main character is a writer’s creation.  There’s an amusing bit of foreshadowing early on when Tyler unceremoniously slams someone’s head face down onto a steel rake.  The scene is brief, but halfway through the picture, we learn that this guy’s full name is Tyler RAKE.  Hats off to those who have already seen the movie and made this connection.  Anyway, he is hired to rescue Ovi Jr., (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) a teen who happens to be the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord Ovi Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi).

This hazardous mission requires Tyler to transport the young boy out of Dhaka, Bangladesh which —  from the looks of this production — has got to be one of the worst places on Earth.  Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (The Usual Suspects, Drive) is a talented individual but here he chooses to film the events through a yellow filter that gives everything in this country a grimy haze.  The overall effect is off-putting.  I suppose it’s a superficial way to make the air appear unhealthy.  Extraction does for Bangladesh what The Hangover Part II did for Thailand.  I can safely bet the Bangladesh Tourism Board will not be endorsing this release.

This is an exceptionally violent production — the kind of generic shoot-em-up that dually redefines the word disposable.  First, in terms of memorability.  See this once and then forget about it immediately after, but also in the way it treats humanity.  A lot of people are murdered and every human life extinguished is treated with the same emotional weight of swatting a fly.  Nevertheless, the duplicitous script still manages to sprinkle little bits of “poignant” information throughout the movie to make sure the audience feels something (anything) for this character.  Tyler is haunted by the memory of his own young son, who died of leukemia while Tyler was away on an assignment in Afghanistan.  Normally that would be troubling, sure.  The thing is, it’s hard to sympathize with his love for one life when he’s responsible for so many deaths.

As many hunker down during shelter in place, Netflix has been the go-to source of entertainment for 60 million people in the US.  Now more than ever there are plenty of options but the streaming service has proven to be one of the most popular.  Netflix has made its Top 10 programs become a matter of public record.  I’m a pop culture fanatic which is akin to being a cultural anthropologist.  I’m fascinated by the things that end up in the #1 position.  Extraction is a big hit and so I watch what becomes part of the zeitgeist.

I wouldn’t have paid to see this in a theater.  Yet that’s exactly where a product like this would be best experienced.  That’s where connoisseurs of this stuff can appreciate all the explosions, carnage, and destruction on a widescreen in full digital sound.  Sadly fans will never get that chance.  Extraction was released to Netflix on April 24th and the title promptly shot to #1.  I’m not surprised.  It stars Chris Hemsworth.  I too think the actor exhibits charisma when he plays Thor so I figured if he’s starring in this, how bad could it be?   The answer is…extremely.



Posted in Comedy, Drama, Family with tags on April 25, 2020 by Mark Hobin

abeSTARS2Abe is a strange little movie.  On the surface, it presents a feel-good premise about a boy who simply wants to be a chef.  The title role is played by Noah Schnapp (Will Byers on TV’s Stranger Things) and in his hands, the character is sincere and likable.  Unfortunately, he must deal with some nasty turmoil at home.  You see his mom’s (Dagmara Dominczyk) family are Israeli Jews and his Dad’s (Arian Moayed) ancestors are Palestinian Muslims.  When both sides of these opposing clans come together they’re always fighting about “important” things like who invented hummus.  To make matters more confusing for this promising young boy, his parents fail to express any devotion towards either side of their respective religious cultures.  In fact, Father is a self-avowed atheist.  Abe has his heart in the right place.  He simply wants to unite the members of his conflicting families.  The budding culinary artist in him plans to cook a special meal that brings them all together by creating a perfect fusion of Israeli and Palestinian flavors.  It sounds earnest and sweet.   I was ready for one of those great food films similar to Babette’s Feast or Like Water for Chocolate.  Oh, how wrong I was!

Rarely have I ever been so disappointed by a screenplay’s utter failure to deliver on such a heartfelt thesis.  The thin, inconsistent script from screenwriters Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader lacks even the most rudimentary understanding of what makes an emotionally satisfying story.  It’s difficult to explain why Abe is such a soul-crushing experience without getting into specifics.  Naturally, I won’t spoil the drama by revealing the ending.  However, I will offer that the principal adolescent — who is supremely charming — deserves better parents.  Abe is a bundle of fervent innocence filled with burgeoning optimism.   Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are demoralizing killjoys utterly lacking the emotional fortitude to even raise a child.   They are the absolute worst.  There are some nice details.  Brazilian Chef Chico (Seu Jorge) motivates him and the cinematography of food is attractive but this is a portrait of missed opportunities.   This chronicle should’ve been a buoyant movie about warm relationships.   Not even close…it’s actually a depressing comment on why some parents should seek counseling on how to be decent human beings for the sake of their children.  Occasionally the production offers brief glimpses of hope and inspiration — but this account was a profound disappointment.


The Willoughbys

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on April 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

willoughbysSTARS3.5“If you love stories about families that stick together and love each other through thick and thin and it all ends happily ever after…this isn’t the film for you, okay?”

That’s how The Willoughbys (available on Netflix) begins.  A narrator introduces this witty riff on classic children tales by authors like Charles Dickens and P. L. Travers.   It turns out, the storyteller is actually a stray blue tabby cat who comments on everything he oversees.  He’s drolly voiced by comedian Ricky Gervais.  The parents (Martin Short & Jane Krakowski) are dysfunctional to say the least.  Apparently, mom and dad have so much affection for each other that they have nothing left to give to their kids.  Unfortunately, these adults don’t hide their lack of affection for their offspring.   There’s sensible eldest child Tim (Will Forte), cheerful middle child Jane (Alessia Cara), and creepy twin boys Barnaby and Barnaby.  Yes, the two were given the same name. Fed up with their parent’s distressing lack of parenting skills, the youngsters devise a plan  to make themselves orphans.  It’s not as gruesome as it sounds.  The kids simply entice their wicked parents to take a vacation that might prove hazardous to their health.  The moppets merely wish to experience their own happy ending.  Nothing wrong with that, right?!

If one word defines this work of fiction, it’s zany.  Director Kris Pearn also helmed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 in 2013, and this has the same goofy aesthetic.  More sober viewers may struggle to keep up with the account’s frantic pace.  As a matter of fact, I am talking about myself.  The dialogue (screenplay by Pearn and Mark Stanleigh) is rapid-fire and consists not so much of jokes, but a myriad of random plot developments.  One focuses on actor Terry Crews as Commander Melanoff — a merry owner of a candy factory.  Holy shades of Willy Wonka!  Later when the juveniles discover an abandoned baby, they leave the infant on his doorstep.  Another development highlights comedian Maya Rudolph as Linda — a kooky nanny.  She somewhat suggests Mary Poppins — that is if she were a disorderly mess.   In fact, the whole saga is the very definition of chaotic confusion.

I have always appreciated a distinct lack of saccharine in my children’s fables.  Novelist Roald Dahl is an enduring favorite of mine.  The Willoughbys is based on a 2008 novel by Lois Lowry (Number the Stars, The Giver).  This feature has been frequently compared in print to the work of Roald Dahl as well as Lemony Snicket.  Yes, I’ll admit those are valid comparisons.  Yet this is so much more hyper than the works inspired by those writers.  The production is defined by a frenetic narrative that rarely stops to take a pause.    I never developed an emotional attachment to these characters.  However, I did slowly warm up to the film’s wacky approach.  Perhaps I was worn down by the movie’s admitted — albeit relentless — charm.  The creative silliness ultimately won me over.


Les Misérables

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on April 21, 2020 by Mark Hobin

les_miserablesSTARS3.5I know what you’re thinking.  Another adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel?!  No this is a modern drama based on an incident of police brutality and the subsequent riot that followed.  There is a connection to the 19th-century classic, however.  It’s set in Montfermeil — an eastern suburb of Paris — where some of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 tome takes place.  Director Ladj Ly grew up there and still calls it home.  A neighborhood comprised of poor residents — Africans, Muslims, and Romani people — living in cramped housing projects within a lively community.  This fusion of people coexist within a constant state of unease.

If your idea of Paris is strolling along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, then this should be an eye-opener.  This is not the Paris shown in travel videos — the ads that proudly promote the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral.  It’s a rougher section of Paris where young lawbreakers rule the streets, a high-crime area rarely depicted.

Our story is centered around a trio of cops.  A plainclothes officer named Stéphane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard) is recently assigned to a three-man crime unit that patrols the city.  He’s the new guy, trying to play by the rules and the most sympathetic.  Then there’s hothead Chris (Alexis Manenti).  He often oversteps his bounds and takes pleasure in exerting control over people.  For the cynical among us, he’s your typical policeman.  Then there’s Gwada (Djebril Zonga).  He’s lived in this area all his life and shares the experience of the residents he serves.  Despite his background, he’s loyal to the badge which makes him complicit in Chris’s suspect behavior.

Les Miserables‘ point of view is although cops attempt to maintain order, their conduct might actually make things worse.  Curiously the drama is told from their perspective.  Chris is not to be trusted but Ruiz is oddly compassionate.  That makes his portrayal somewhat unique.  Interestingly Gwada is the most intriguing character and yet he’s also the most undeveloped.  I had so many questions.  Who is this man?  How does he feel about his partner Chris?  Why does he allow Chris to behave in this manner?  Sadly, the screenplay doesn’t answer those concerns.  Nonetheless, director Ladj Ly still has an artistic eye.  The presentation of humanity is impressively photographed.  I was drawn into the cinéma vérité style — its gritty realism feels authentic. Regrettably, the chronicle ends on a rather unsatisfying note.  Ambiguity is a creative choice but it can also feel like the filmmaker hasn’t committed to a point.  I would’ve preferred a definitive statement.  Whether positive or negative the result would’ve made the conclusion more powerful.  As it stands, the denouement is anemic.  The account is worth watching.  It’s satisfying enough, but it could’ve been great.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on April 19, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on Will Gavin’s talkSPORT radio show to discuss the latest in entertainment.

On this week’s show, I discuss the TV series Ozark and the movie Uncorked (both on Netflix), and Video on Demand movies Trolls World Tour and Vivarium

My segment begins 3 minutes in (27:00 minutes from the end) during the 2:00-2:30 section. Have a listen and enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT



Posted in Drama with tags on April 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

uncorkedSTARS3.5The coolest thing about Uncorked is that it doesn’t cater to the viewer’s expectations.  It’s hard to explain what I mean by that without revealing important details.  Let’s just say for most of its runtime, this appeared to be a very predictable drama about family discord.  And then suddenly it wasn’t.  Oh but it’s also a “wine film”.  I put the phrase in quotes because there are precious few titles that oenophiles will exalt based on the subject matter.  I’m talking The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), Year of the Comet (1992), A Walk in the Clouds (1995), Sideways (2004), A Good Year (2006) and Bottle Shock (2008).  Yes, this is a fine production.  If you’re a wine enthusiast, I suggest you add half a star to my review.  Your appetite will undoubtedly be satiated for 104 minutes.   Oh and watch the rest of the movies I listed too — that is if you haven’t seen them already.

Uncorked is a tale about family vs. ambition.  Actor Mamoudou Athie (Patti Cake$, Underwater) plays a young man named Elijah who dreams of becoming a sommelier.  His father Louis (Courtney B. Vance) is not happy.  He wants his son to take over the barbecue restaurant he owns.  Elijah’s mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) works there as well but she’s a lot more understanding of her son’s aspirations.  Mom is nurturing and loving.  Father is distant and cold.  It may sound like I’m knocking their roles as archetypes (and they are).  However, in the hands of talented actors like Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash, the personalities are rather well rounded.  They make the characters sympathetic and engaging.  We’re invited to side with mom because she’s supporting her son’s desire.  Naturally, that’s a good thing but why shouldn’t dad hope that his son would continue on in the family business?  That’s HIS passion.  It’s this dynamic that is the selling point of the drama about parents and their children.  Empathy, compassion and difficult life decisions are key themes.

There aren’t many films centered on the appreciation of wine and even less that spotlight a predominantly black cast.  Uncorked just may be a first.  The story dares to acknowledge there are black connoisseurs.   In one of my favorite scenes, Elijah is trying to help his girlfriend make the right wine selection. “Do you like hip hop?” he asks.  She nods and so he begins comparing the varieties to their rap equivalents.  Chardonnay (“the granddaddy of wine, versatile, smooth”) is Jay-Z.  Pinot Grigio (“with a little bit of spice”) is Kanye West.  Riesling (“Crisp, clean sweet”) is like Drake.  A brash hip-hop soundtrack infuses the proceedings.  Although occasionally the boldness doesn’t always — shall we say — pair so well with the subtle events that are quietly developing.

Uncorked is the kind of overlooked flick that I love to champion.  Director Prentice Penny (showrunner for the HBO TV series Insecure) is making his directorial debut.  The feature — released to Netflix on March 27 — breaks new ground in some ways but is business as usual in others.  Not all human beings are conventional in their pursuits.  I already get that.  Women want to play basketball.  Men yearn to dance ballet.  The fact that the movie is about a young black American male from Memphis, Tennessee who wants to become a wine steward, is pretty unique.  Once we get past optics, we’re left with a solid, fairly predictable saga constructed around family conflict.  I would have preferred a few more twists and turns to captivate my attention.  The screenplay will actually give you one unanticipated development.  I appreciated that.  The chronicle also underscores some nuanced acting work by the main cast.  Approach this as an understated piece highlighting complicated father-son relationships but not as a drama where someone is trying to become a master sommelier. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on April 13, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on Will Gavin’s talkSPORT radio show to discuss the latest in entertainment.

This is a “lost” episode of sorts as it was recorded 2 weeks ago.  We discuss the phenomenon that is TIGER KING — #1 on Netflix so still timely.

My segment begins 3 minutes in (27:00 minutes from the end) during the 2:30-3:00 section. Have a listen and enjoy!


Click the link below and hit play:

The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT




Trolls World Tour

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on April 11, 2020 by Mark Hobin

trolls_two_ver23STARS3Ok, I’ll admit I saw Trolls in 2016 — at the theater no less — but I wasn’t a huge fan.  Oh don’t get me wrong, it was a lively diversion but it evaporated from memory soon after I saw it.  The prospect of watching a sequel didn’t excite me.  In the original plan Trolls World Tour would have opened against the 25th James Bond film.  No Time to Die was going to be one of the biggest releases of the year.  That’s what I was looking forward to.  Then “stay at home” orders were issued and cinemas across the U.S. were closed indefinitely.  New movie prospects suddenly changed.  Given that theaters are unlikely to reopen anytime soon, Universal Studios course-corrected immediately.  Trolls World Tour is the first major studio offering to bow out of its scheduled theatrical release and go directly to VOD since the Coronavirus outbreak.  That alone makes it noteworthy.

Trolls World Tour is essentially a 94-minute long music video but there is a loose thread of a story nonetheless.  Poppy (Anna Kendrick) has recently been anointed, Queen.  She’s a cutesy hot pink creature with an even darker pink whale spout of hair.  She desperately wants to be a good ruler.  Her intentions are good but her inability to listen to other people will lead to trouble.  One of those is her father King Peppy (Walt Dohrn). He informs the kingdom that other similar societies do in fact exist.  Trolls have always loved music.  However, disagreements in the distant past led to different factions going their separate ways.  They are the “Pop” troll clan. The rest of the tribes each took a magical harp string representing different genres: Pop, Rock, Country, Classical, Techno and Funk.

Each land is host to a slew of new characters in what is substantially a marketing tool for new dolls and toys.  There are far too many celebrities involved to list them all, but Kelly Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Ozzy Osbourne, Anderson Paak, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige all make appearances.  I had some fun being able to identify their voices.  The proper plot begins when Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) of the Rock Trolls invites everyone to a big event.  She sports a red mohawk and sings a medley of rock classics: “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, “Crazy Train”, and “Barracuda”.  King Peppy warns to “stay away” but newly-crowned Poppy wants to befriend the other groups in the spirit of peace and harmony.  Joining her is Branch (Justin Timberlake), her closest friend.  He secretly holds romantic feelings for Poppy.

Trolls World Tour is not so much a story as it is a glitter bomb of color and music.  It is a non-stop unending deluge of one melody after another.  In what I can only describe as an assault, its accompanying razzle-dazzle visuals are extremely aggressive.  The spectacle is an unquestionable delight of intensity, but it’s almost akin to eating Pixy Stix laced with Pop Rocks paired with a shot of Mountain Dew.  It gives new meaning to the phrase eye candy.  Young kids will unquestionably be enchanted so I’m not exactly knocking it.  This might be perfect for children craving new entertainment.  There are a few original ditties including “The Other Side”, but it’s the medleys/mash-ups of older tunes that I remember most.  The graphical displays that supplement the songs can be quite beautiful at times, but it’s a lot to process.  I’m just warning adults who prefer a less hyper experience because I’m one of those people as well.  Then again, criticizing a product like this is kind of silly.  It simply wasn’t made for me.



Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

vivarium_ver2STARS2.5Before March 2020, a science fiction-themed work like Vivarium would’ve been just another riff on a Twilight Zone episode.  Ok, I’ll concede that it utilizes a premise stretched preciously thin by its feature-length.  Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are a young couple that go house hunting.  A peculiarly unsettling real estate agent, named Martin (Jonathan Aris)  introduces them to a residential tract development called Yonder that takes cookie-cutter housing to its conformist extreme.  Martin leads them into house #9.  They go inside. They chat for a short while and suddenly * poof * he’s gone.  They attempt to leave themselves but get lost in Yonder’s labyrinth of similar-looking roads.  After a while, they run out of gas.  Now they are compelled to spend the night.  The nightmare has begun.

Vivarium is a pessimistic ordeal about two individuals trapped at home.  Tensions arise due to the oppression of their forced isolation.  Occasionally there are incidents that will pique the viewers’ interest.   Early on the couple awake to discover a box with a living infant boy inside.  The instructions on the box read: “Raise the child and be released.”  The perplexing occurrence continues to lull the viewer into a state of unease.  The misery of parenthood is definitely a theme but it’s made worse by their confinement and inability to escape.  Their involuntary restriction to interact with anyone else adds to their growing hysteria.  Director Lorcan Finnegan has co-written a story with Garret Shanley about a civilization where personal freedoms have been eroded.

Vivarium‘s existentialist horror is admittedly helped by admirable production design.  Philip Murphy creates a maze of generic green monopoly houses that stretch endlessly unto the horizon.  The vivid color palette is quite effective.  However, no amount of style can obscure the fact that this is simply a movie about two people constrained to stay at home with an unruly child.  Can anyone relate?  The point could have been conveyed in a 10 minute short.  Yet Vivarium cruelly hammers the same objective for a full 98-minute feature.   The film is not only a descent into hell for the couple but for us the audience as well.  Let’s get down to brass tacks.  A month ago I might’ve found this to be an amusing — albeit implausible — bit of fantasy about a dystopian society.  At this moment in time, it feels strangely prescient.  Timing is everything in life.  Regardless, it doesn’t matter when this bit of hokum was unleashed onto the public.  It’s not powerful.  This a case where sadly real life is stranger (and a lot bleaker) than fiction.


Miracle in Cell No. 7

Posted in Drama with tags on April 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

AAAABejpIjwz9WyEgq1SUjZ95U4wh91IEjzTDKt2Pp9s1bA001yE4IqyBGehb8RlMRTN2rbBz3skQpNc0c57C6nRU5ynqG21STARS3.5Back in February, Netflix starting publishing a list to recognize its most popular movies and TV series.  Recently a 2019 production from Turkey somehow crept into the streaming service’s Top 10.  Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a remake of a 2013 South Korean film.   History has shown it to be a crowd-pleasing story.   The original also spawned Philippine and Indonesian versions as well.  However, the Turkish version is the adaptation that became a hit with Netflix audiences.

The drama concerns a father named Memo (Aras Bulut Iynemli) with an intellectual disability who has a young daughter named Ova (Nisa Sofiya Aksongur).  He’s wrongly implicated in the death of another little girl.  This was the daughter of a high ranking official and so the penalty is death.  He is sent to jail before his eventual hanging.  Ova is now being raised by Memo’s grandmother.  Actress Celile Toyon Uysal is quite compelling in that role.  Separated — Ova desperately wants to reunite with her dad, but more importantly, can Memo prove his innocence before he is executed?

Miracle in Cell 7 is a melodramatic feature that I suspect more jaded viewers will eschew because of its conspicuous sentimentality.  I was reminded of two previous works: Life Is Beautiful and I Am Sam.  If you appreciate those movies, there’s no reason to even question whether to see this.  You will enjoy because it’s cut from the same cloth.  There’s also a scene where Memo is coerced into signing a confession for something he didn’t do.  I immediately thought of In the Name of the Father.  That outstanding film is significantly more understated but I’ll give director Mehmet Ada Öztekin and writers Özge Efendioglu and Kubilay Tat a lot of credit.  They are referencing from the very best.

Miracle in Cell 7 creatively draws on a variety of inspirations to engage the emotions.  The screenplay is so overt in its intention to cull emotion.  In that respect, it’s extremely manipulative.  Some may resist its more obvious charms.  Yet the presentation is rather poetic.  There is a choice one particular prisoner decides to make near the end and it honestly touched me.  I got caught up in the emotional stakes.  The father/daughter relationship is key, but many of the side characters in the prison make an impression as well.  This is a portrait of humanity.  The film’s ability to consistently make people cry has currently fueled a shared cultural experience on social media.  The spirit of our age has embraced this flick.  I can understand why it captured the attention of the nation.  The tale is an uplifting piece of entertainment, especially in these uncertain times.