Archive for July, 2020

The Rental

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

rentalSTARS4You’ll reconsider the next time you decide to stay at an Airbnb after watching The Rental.  I mean when you think about it, moving into a stranger’s abode, even if only for a few days, is awkward.  It’s an intimate experience that requires trust.  This portrait presents insidious behaviors I may never shake.  But isn’t that what effective horror does?  Introduce fears that now haunt you.  I mean Hitchcock made the simple act of taking a shower scary.  2020 has had no shortage of horror films and wouldn’t ya know it.  This is a review for yet another.  Don’t write this off as an average release from the genre.  This one is quite good.

Our tale concerns two couples vacationing together for a weekend.  There’s Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and then there’s Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). Josh and Charlie are brothers.  Mina and Charlie are business partners.  It sounds a little convoluted but as developments unfold, the relationships feel organic.  The connections help explain the familiarity that everyone has with each other.

The “rental” of the title refers to a glorious ocean view estate along the Oregon Coast.  The property is available to rent for anyone looking to get away.  Well, actually Mina’s application to lodge there is denied until Charlie’s is approved.  Did the fact that her full name is Mina Mohammadi have anything to do with that?  The group wonders.  That’s the first, but certainly not the last, disconcerting situation our foursome encounters.  Josh insists on bringing his bulldog even though there is a distinct no-pets rule.  That doesn’t bode well either.  Upon arrival at the house, they meet their host, a good ol’ boy named Taylor (Toby Huss).  The creepy passive-aggressive conversation they have with him has unsettling undercurrents that set the tone for their stay.

The Rental is the directorial debut from actor Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Now You See Me) and it is a surprisingly assured and accomplished effort.  Beautifully filmed, effectively acted, and well-plotted ….up to a point.  This horror saga is an efficient 88 minutes.  I dare say the first two-thirds had me thinking this was more of a psychological thriller along the lines of something Hitchcock might do.  A lot of the credit must also go to the king of mumblecore Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) who brings his talent for natural dialogue to the screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Franco.  An interesting schism is introduced after a disagreement arises over whether to take recreational drugs that first evening.

The cracks that exist within their respective relationships underscore the subsequent events.  College dropout Josh has already expressed reservations that he feels he isn’t good enough for wildly successful tech entrepreneur Mina.  These thoughts weigh on his mind.  Co-workers Charlie and Mina are back at the mansion dealing with a hangover from the previous night.  Meanwhile, Josh and Michelle have a deep discussion while the two are out walking together in the woods that same morning.  Josh drops some revelations.  Michelle begins to doubt Charlie’s faithfulness after being confronted with a disturbing pattern in his past relationships.

The Rental holds a brilliant set-up that could have gone any number of ways.  I must tread lightly for fear of spoilers but the uneasy feelings are further compounded by a shocking discovery they make on the property they are renting.  Unfortunately, the end isn’t — shall we say — as intellectually sophisticated as the beginning.  In fact, the narrative devolves into a completely different film.  I admit I enjoyed both of them.  What ultimately happens is still exciting.  Just a wee bit anticlimactic after the impressive setup I relished before.

Palm Springs

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance with tags on July 27, 2020 by Mark Hobin

palm_springsSTARS4So I’ll just cut to the chase and start off by saying that Palm Springs made assembling my Top 10 list for 2020 a little easier.  I wasn’t prepared for how thoroughly enjoyable this tale would be.  Romantic comedies are often given short shrift when it comes to discussing great cinema but when they are done well the genre can hit emotional highs in a way that few stories can.

The amorous entanglement concerns two strangers who are both guests at a wedding in Palm Springs.  They meet and then promptly get stuck repeating the same span of time over and over.  It’s obviously similar to Groundhog Day.  I cherish that classic and I dare say Palm Springs is a close 2nd in all films featuring a time loop.  That may seem like a narrow bar but there’s a surprising number of choices that qualify: Source Code, About Time, Edge of Tomorrow, Naked and Happy Death Day are but only a few.  This is a story about how Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) become an unlikely couple in the midst of bizarre circumstances.

Palm Springs has a breezy screenplay that doesn’t take itself very seriously.  Yet it’s smart and coherent when it needs to be.  Nyles and Sarah aren’t about love at first sight.  He’s actually there with his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) who one of the bridesmaids.  Oh, it’s OK he flirts with Sarah.  Misty has been cheating on Nyles and he knows it.  Sarah isn’t some demure heroine.  In fact, she’s kind of edgy and bitter. Meanwhile, Nyles isn’t a suave leading man. He can be a goofball but he’s still charming nonetheless.  Neither Sarah nor Nyles wants to be a guest at this wedding.  So they have that in common and are united by this feeling.  That’s enough.  Then the temporal loop shenanigans begin.

None of this preposterous — albeit inspired — nonsense would work if the two stars weren’t so charismatic.  The saga stars Andy Samberg who got his start on the long-running late-night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in 2005.  He’s part of a contingent with a persona like Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon in the ensemble.  Pete Davidson currently holds that casting slot.  This may sound like I’m negating actor Samberg’s individuality.  I’m not.  In fact, he is probably the most appealing member that has ever held that niche.

Nyles has met the woman who will change his life in Sarah.  Cristin Milioti is probably best known for her role in the final season of the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother.  She’s featured in one of my favorite scenes in this production.  Sarah is hardcore studying quantum physics to figure out how to end this infinite time loop in which she’s stuck.  The inspired montage is set to “The Brazilian” by Genesis.  Another endearing musical vignette involves the couple’s impromptu dance in a bar while “Megatron Man” by Patrick Cowley blasts in the background.  These displays aren’t rare occurrences but representative of the many delightful moments contained within.  It’s been a while since a romantic comedy captivated me this much.  It’s funny, sweet, and a little acerbic.  I loved it.

07-11-20

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on July 26, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on talkSPORT radio with Martin Kelner to discuss the latest movies. On this week’s movie segment, hear my thoughts on HAMILTON (Disney+), EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (Netflix), and 7500 (Amazon Prime). My segment begins 16 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 14 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

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

First Cow

Posted in Drama on July 24, 2020 by Mark Hobin

first_cowSTARS3.5First Cow opens with a quote from the poet William Blake: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.”  That sets the tone for this poetic rumination on the deep accord that develops between two men.

Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) is a sensitive man of few words who works as a chef for a band of unruly fur trappers.  Then one fateful day he encounters a runaway Chinese immigrant named King Lu (Orion Lee) and the two form a strong bond that will also yield financial results.  The “first cow” brought to the territories by a rich landowner named Chief Factor (Toby Jones) inspires them to steal her milk to make “oily cakes”.  They’re made with a little honey and a pinch of cinnamon and they look delicious.  They then sell these to the locals for a profit.   Coincidentally Chief Factor is quite taken by the biscuits the men are selling.  “I taste London in this cake!”  However, he is oblivious as to where they are acquiring milk for their baked goods.  In an amusing development, he hires the duo to make an elegant french tart called a clafoutis —for a special meeting with a visiting captain (Scott Shepherd).

Director Kelly Reichardt has a minimalist style.  In movies such as Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and Certain Women her reliance on slow static takes is meant to be savored as one would appreciate a delicately balanced wine.  She is presenting the truth.  I adored the solidarity that unfolds over time amongst these close allies.  I wholeheartedly enjoy the sincere depiction of humanity in film.  She can get a bit indulgent though.  I must admit that I found some parts to drag.  The production has a painfully long introductory credits sequence.  Then it commences with a wide, fixed shot of a barge easing slowly down the Columbia River.  The director is in absolutely no hurry to take the narrative anywhere quickly.  She defiantly establishes this fact at the outset.  However, the situation grows infinitely more compelling from there.  Those with the patience to luxuriate within a deliberate pace will be handsomely rewarded by this thoughtful tale.

Can we talk about that ending, though?  Rest assured I won’t give details.  I’ll be completely abstract.  The late great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman once declared: “The film is made in the editing room.”  Truer words were never spoken.  I am reminded of his quote as the final scene of First Cow faded from the screen and the credit rolled.  The feature opens with a seemingly random episode of a woman (Alia Shawkat) who happens upon — thanks to a curious dog — something buried in the dirt earth beneath her feet.  Then the proper story begins with a flashback to the 1820s in the Oregon wilderness.  I contend Reichardt’s deeply realized portrait of friendship would have been even more powerful had the intro been the outro.

07-15-20

Greyhound

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on July 21, 2020 by Mark Hobin

greyhound_ver2STARS3Are you thirsting for more World War II dramas?  Well, you’re in luck.  This is yet another — and decidedly old fashioned — saga between Axis and Allied powers.  This one happens to star America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks.  It’s clearly a passion project too because he also wrote the screenplay.

The setting is the Battle of the Atlantic which was a long ongoing military campaign that began in 1939 and lasted until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.  Hanks stars as US Navy Commander Ernest Krause in charge of the USS Keeling which had the codename: Greyhound.  That’s where the title comes from.  He’s leading a convoy of 37 ships.  Considering his career, the part is sort of a callback to the movie Captain Phillips.  There the 64-year-old actor also played a ship commander, albeit one from more recent times.

Tom Hanks is great at playing decent, honorable men.  He has cemented his status in the last decade with Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, and Sully.  Add this one to the list.  He’s definitely noble here.  He’s even shown kneeling in prayer at the end of the day.  However, the interesting thing is he’s playing a character that is a little out of his depth as an authority.  The rest of the crew have seen battle before so they’re knowledgeable.  Captain Krause has a lot of more years on these fellows but he’s less familiar with combat and his inexperience in this area plays a key factor in the story.  The production is respectable and sincere so it has good intentions.

If only the narrative were just a wee bit more compelling.  Hanks’ script isn’t about exploring the emotional core of one man.  Instead, you get an immersive feel for the day-to-day routine of the officers.  The dialogue is chock full of the jargon and minutiae of naval tactics, but it lacks humanity.  You can still enjoy the movie without understanding all the lingo but if you really want to understand every word I suggest closed captions.  Nevertheless, the military fight scenes are the best part.  They are extremely effective and well filmed so I’m giving this a pass because of the impressive spectacle.  I will only lament that it would’ve been significantly better in a theater on a big screen.

07-12-20

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on July 16, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on talkSPORT radio with Will Gavin to discuss the latest movies. On this week’s movie segment, hear my thoughts on ARTEMIS FOWL (Disney+) and DA 5 BLOODS (Netflix). My segment begins just 3 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 27 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

Relic

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on July 14, 2020 by Mark Hobin

relic_ver2STARS4The Unforgiven is a western with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn from 1960.  Unforgiven is a 1992 western directed and starring Clint Eastwood.  Heat is a 1995 crime drama with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.  The Heat is a 2013 crime comedy featuring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.  The pantheon of two distinct movies whose titles are merely differentiated by an article “The” just added a new member.  The Relic is a 1997 horror flick with Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore.  This current release Relic is a 2020 horror movie starring Emily Mortimer.  However, it begins rather peacefully as a drama.  That’s part of what makes this narrative so compelling.  It ever so gradually lures you into its web of dread.

Relic is shrewdly built around a simple premise.  What will happen when our parents age?  The story is about a concerned woman named Kay (Emily Mortimer).  Her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing and so she takes a trip out to the dilapidated old mansion where she lives and brings her own adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) along for moral support.  Kay’s mother does indeed show up again but she seems…..a little strange.  At first we the audience wonder if Edna is suffering from dementia, but then there are these weird sounds and shadowy figures that sort of appear in the nooks and crannies of the house.  It’s beautifully photographed at times exploiting the eerie vacant spaces of a large house as Kubrick did in The Shining.  These events justify that Edna’s fears might be based on very real things.

First time director Natalie Erika James does an excellent job at presenting this narrative.  It’s profoundly unsettling because it truly makes us understand the same experience as this trio of women.  We begin to question what is mental illness and what are supernatural forces?  Actress Robyn Nevins is like two distinct people as the aging matriarch.  When Edna gifts a ring to her granddaughter it’s a sweet gesture from a loving grandmother.  The very next day she angrily demands why Sam has stolen the ring when she notices it on her finger.  The scene suggests senility but Edna almost appears possessed, a completely different person.  It’s very effective.

Relic may be a spartan tale but it feels deep because of the thoughtful performances.  Director James adds all sorts of little touches to give these women a soul.  Edna’s home is littered with a collection of sticky notes as reminders to do menial tasks.  She has a hobby of carving candles, large bulky pieces whose wax has been twisted to form intricate shapes.  Meanwhile, Kay and her daughter Sam have a strained relationship.  Sam’s aimless job is a point of contention while Kay’s preoccupation with her own career has left poor Edna neglected.  Actress Emily Mortimer is always good.  As Kay, she exhibits fragility while still seeming intelligent and capable.  The thespian wields her vulnerability like a weapon that compels audiences to care.  If you enjoy horror flicks that are creepy without being overly graphic, then I highly recommend this film.  I quite enjoyed it.

07-10-20

Hamilton

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Music, Musical on July 9, 2020 by Mark Hobin

hamilton (1)STARS4For those living in a cave, Hamilton is a musical about Alexander Hamilton who was one of the founding fathers of the United States.  The play is known for a couple of daring distinctions.  It stars mostly non-white actors and incorporates hip hop, R&B, pop, and soul into “a story about America then, as told by America now.”  The stage production may make creative selections in casting but it still uplifts what is known as the American Dream for a group of men who were immigrants to a new land.

No musical has had a greater cultural impact on Broadway in the last decade.  Over the past 5 years, shows have consistently sold out and when you could buy a ticket they were prohibitively expensive.  This is a filmed version of the phenomenon that debuted in 2015.  There’s no trying to hide the theatricality of it all which makes it is a rare treat for audiences.  At this point, it’s unclear when theater will resume.  Fans can now witness the visual representation of the work they know by heart.  This was accomplished utilizing the original cast.  Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda inhabits the starring role and Leslie Odom Jr. portrays Aaron Burr.  There’s also Daveed Diggs as both the Marquis de Lafayette & Thomas Jefferson, Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife Eliza, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, and Jonathan Groff as King George.  Those are the featured actors.  There are many other talented performers as well.  I wish I could list them all.

The play received a record 16 Tony nominations and won 11 including Best Musical in 2016.  This is a chance to see the magnificent achievements of Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry for which they all won.  They may not be conventional choices for those roles, but they are extremely captivating.  Furthermore, the performances from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, and Christopher Jackson were all nominated.  The cast is indeed outstanding.  You can literally see the spit fly when Groff as King George III enunciates his lines and music.  It may be surprising to realize that the rest of the cast actually outshines Miranda in both singing and acting.  One scene where he’s required to cry feel particularly forced.  I saw this performed when the national tour came to San Francisco.  An actor named Julius Thomas III played the titular role and he was incredible.  However, Lin-Manuel Miranda is still a genius for writing the music and screenplay.  This is a work of art.  (He received Tonys for the Book and Original Score.)

Hamilton, the 2020 film of the Broadway experience, is much more than simply a filmed stage play.  Director Thomas Kail edited from 3 shows (2 with an audience, one without) during June 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Midtown Manhattan.  This all from the finest seat in the house.  This is a view better than any theater patron could have ever imagined.  Kail knows when to pull back and afford the presentation a broad overview and when to zoom in and be intimate.  He utilizes close-ups, Steadicam, crane, and dolly shots to give the viewer the very best perspective possible.  It is an impressive achievement and most definitely a perfect manifestation of Lin-Manuel’s artistic vision.  A filmmaker must make many critical decisions when presenting a live performance.  Director Kail’s craft elevates the spectacle to maximum effect.  There’s something undeniably special about being physically present in the theater.  Nevertheless, this is the optimal way to see Hamilton for most people.  Few records of this type have ever felt so immediate, vibrant, and vital.

P.S. It’s hard to catch all of the crucial lyrics of the songs and rap battles as they’re delivered. Turn on closed captioning for subtitles that will make your experience even better!

07-03-20

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on July 4, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I was a guest on talkSPORT radio with Will Gavin to discuss the latest movies. On this week’s movie segment, hear my thoughts on THE VAST OF NIGHT (Amazon Prime), THE HIGH NOTE, (Video on Demand), and TV show SCHITT’S CREEK (Netflix). My segment begins just 2 minutes into the 2:00-2:30 section (about 27 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

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