Archive for August, 2020

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Music, Science Fiction with tags on August 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

bill_and_ted_face_the_music_ver3STARS2.5So the last time we saw Bill & Ted, it was 29 years ago.  A lot has changed since the duo’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1991).  I mean, let’s be real.  It’s been nearly three decades.  Neither installment was what I’d call great cinema but they both coast on the affable charm of the leads.  “Be excellent to each other!” and “Party on dudes!” they proclaimed.  I really wanted to like this sequel because (1) of nostalgia for the first film and (2) there are flashes of inspiration that kept me hoping it would get better.  Unfortunately, the production is a chaotic, loud special effects-laden fantasy that never quite gelled for me.

So the boys (well men — Bill & Ted are in their 50s now) are tasked with writing a song that will unite the world and save humanity.  If they don’t, then reality will collapse.  Being the slackers that they are, they decide to reutilize their old miraculous phone booth to time travel into the future where the tune already exists, steal it and bring it back to their current era.  But there’s so much more going on.  They are married and their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) are also time traveling to find an existence where each woman is happily married to their respective husband.  Bill & Ted are also pursued by a neurotic robot (Anthony Carrigan) that has been sent by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) to kill the duo in order to restore balance to the universe. Whew!

Now on to the most righteous part.  Bill & Ted are aided by their daughters, Thea and Billie, who want to help their fathers write the song.  Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine embody the offspring with charisma and appeal.  Their personalities reflect their fathers’ demeanor but with more wisdom.  They have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and they put it to good use as they recruit a supergroup of the greatest musicians from throughout history.  Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) are among the choices.  This is the story thread that harkens back to the sweet simplicity of the first movie.  The portion concerning the two girls is actually the most compelling.

The bloated saga is tedious though. Bill & Ted keep running into depressing or silly future versions of themselves.  In one they’re muscle-bound inmates in prison, in another timeline, hippies, in still another, old men.   None of these different iterations are very funny or clever.  Of course, most people tuning in won’t care.  They want to see “Bill” played by Alex Winter and “Ted” portrayed by Keanu Reeves.  The dudes are back and that’s very important because nostalgia is everything in this episode.  I think it’s safe to say if you haven’t seen the other two chapters or didn’t enjoy them,  then Face the Music is definitely not made with you in mind.   This is for the fans and it relies on jokes and asides that reward people who are.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on August 28, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Hello! 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 HORSE GIRL (Netflix) and THE RENTAL (Video On Demand). My segment begins 19 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 11 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

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

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 28, 2020 by Mark Hobin

personal_history_of_david_copperfield_ver9STARS3.5Frenzied, stylized version of David Copperfield is such a hyperactive exercise that you’d swear it was based on a comic book and not the Charles Dickens’ book published in 1850.  The production is nothing if not creative — a vibrant display of manic drama fashioned around a memorable performance by Dev Patel at the center of the narrative.

Dev Patel is a charismatic choice to play the naive and trusting protagonist.  The British-Indian actor is perhaps not the first actor one would select to play this historical character.  Yet he personifies Copperfield’s spirit with singular joyous energy.  His gawky frame and wide-eyed expressions engage the viewer.  We are captivated by this man as we enthusiastically follow him on his journey.  The ensemble is — in fact– populated by a few notable actors in roles that favor colorblind casting choices.  Where this felt like a stunt in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, here the actors mostly relish their parts with a comedic zeal that invigorates the proceedings.

Charles Dickens’ autobiographical tale of the titular character’s maturation to adulthood was supposedly his personal favorite.  The chronicle details Victorian England and the effects that wealth and class have on various individuals.  Director Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) and co-screenwriter Simon Blackwell present a rather unconventional reworking.  The mood is frenetic and fast-paced.  That’s particularly good news for moviegoers with short attention spans.  However, it’s less encouraging for those period piece fans who prefer tradition and nuance.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is not your father’s stuffy adaptation.  The saga has a loose, disjointed feel.  The hardships and good fortunes jammed together like a herky-jerky roller coaster of ups and downs throughout.  The sprawling novel has been serialized for TV many times over the years.  There’s also George Cukor’s highly respected 1935 version for MGM. The episodic nature of the numerous events could easily be seen as chaotic and random.  Nevertheless it alls serves in the detail of the gradual ascent of a young man in society.  It’s fitfully charming as a whole.  Take my positive appraisal with a  grain of salt.  I confess I have never read the book, nor seen any production of the work.  I do not worship the source.  However, I know what’s entertaining and this breezy movie certainly is that.


Project Power

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on August 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

project_powerSTARS1.5There is a (brief) moment where Project Power isn’t a turgid mishmash of special effects and badly edited action sequences.  It occurs when actress Dominique Fishback portraying high schooler Robin Reilly drops a series of rhymes extemporaneously built around random words suggestions by Art (Jamie Foxx).  These meticulously clever raps probably weren’t dashed off as effortlessly in real life.  Yet the screenplay by Mattson Tomlin presents them that way.  The fantasy that this teen has such a facility with language that she could achieve the impressive feat is a superpower in itself.  That’s the kind of talent that should have been the focus of this film — not some stupid drug.

Most of Project Power is a slapdash mess of an idea about a pill that grants the taker a mere 5 minutes of superhero ability.  However, there are caveats.  An individual’s reaction to the drug is unknown until it is ingested.  Some people have exploded after taking which makes it an extremely risky endeavor.  The narcotic is popular in the criminal underground where it has been purposefully introduced.  Now if you’re thinking this may be some thinly disguised sociopolitical message movie about the CIA and its association with crack cocaine, then you’re far too smart for this twaddle.

The drama is populated with hackneyed personalities.  Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a police officer trying to enforce order on the streets of New Orleans.  We’re reminded that this is the “Big Easy” many times.  So often, in fact, that I started thinking that it might make a good drinking game because alcohol is the only way I could have enjoyed this numbing assemblage of cliches.  Frank is supposed to be a good guy, yet even he takes the stimulant in order to level the playing field.  He’s conflicted.  The motivations of an ex-army soldier named Art (Jaime Foxx) are even less clear or logical.  He kidnaps a small-time dealer named Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback).  Robin is the one human being that exhibits a fresh personality.  Art demands to know her supplier.  As if we needed more plot threads, he also happens to be searching for his missing daughter.  Then there’s the clearly evil drug overlord “Biggie” portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro.

The tone is wildly inconsistent.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt often provides comic relief as Officer Frank Shaver.  Meanwhile, Jaime Foxx is as serious as a heart attack.  He scowls a lot.  You’d think the superhero narrative and presence of high school kids would’ve inspired directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Nerve, Viral) to go the family-friendly route.  Instead, this is a wallow through R-rated sludge.  Events are blighted by violence and gore.  The decision to feature people who either graphically explode or are permanently disfigured is misguided to say the least.  One guy is shot in the hand and his fingers are blown off.  Luckily the CGI is so sloppy that the effects are more cartoonish than realistic.  Visually incoherent is the best way to describe the action sequences and quite frankly, the entire film.  Project Power contains a creative idea that 9 out of 10 writers could’ve easily expanded into an interesting tale.  Apparently, this is the attempt that failed.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on August 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Hello! 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 TRAIN TO BUSAN (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), SHE DIES TOMORROW (Video On Demand – Aug 7), and FIRST COW (Video On Demand). My segment begins 19 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 11 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

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


Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on August 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

UnhingedSTARS3It’s too early to say, but this might be the turning point where critics determine Russell Crowe’s career changed.  I must say, it’s rather interesting to see an Oscar winner (Gladiator) doing such an unabashedly B-movie.  Crowe was clearly doing prestige pictures in 2012 when he starred as Javert in Les Misérables.  I also consider recent roles in Boy Erased and True History of the Kelly Gang as reputable productions.  However, this is a step in a decidedly different direction.  It happens to the best of them. Bette Davis — one of the greatest actresses who ever lived — succumbed to playing exaggerated personalities too.  To be fair her impressive career spanned six decades.  She accomplished the feat by taking such parts beginning in the 1960s.  Now hold up.  I’m not saying this is anywhere even close to the high camp art of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or even The NannyUnhinged is absolutely ridiculous, but wickedly unwarranted acts pervade the film and if if you have the right mindset, it can be entertaining.

Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) is a divorced, single mother living in New Orleans.  One day while driving her 15-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman) to school she finds herself stuck behind a pickup truck.  It fails to move after the light has turned green.  She waits then honks the horn.  Not a “courtesy tap” mind you, but a full-on loud and steady beep.  Uh-oh.  Big mistake.  Soon after, the driver of the truck, Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe) pulls up alongside her and demands an apology.  She refuses and a road rage influenced game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Revenge of the angry-white-male is a role perfectly tailored to Russell Crowe.  He relishes the deranged misanthrope with unbridled gusto.  Each cell conversation he places to Rachel leads to more misery.  This occurs over and over again.  These calls are a development that knowingly winks at the audience.  Director Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) exploits the genuine temperament of the star.  The notoriously short-tempered actor was famously charged with assault for throwing a phone at a hotel employee back in 2005.  Here he figuratively wields a mobile device as if it were a weapon.  Sometimes, art imitates life.

Unhinged isn’t an intelligent movie.  Tom is most certainly the villain and Rachel is the innocent victim.  However, she makes a lot of bad decisions.  Many times throughout I asked myself, why doesn’t Rachel just___________? (Fill in the blank with something a sensible person would do).  There are so many things that could’ve put an end to the unbelievable sequence of events.  Simply not answering one of Tom’s sadistic phone calls would have been a good start.  Her initial choice to press that button on the steering wheel is key.  Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth seems to warn viewers about the dangers of angering another driver.  Whenever this veered toward a cautionary tale, the more absurd the chronicle seemed.  There’s a pivotal moment where the narrative is no longer framed as a saga about a psycho on the loose, but as a plea to limit the use of your car horn.  Those are the kinds of preposterous asides that had me amused.  You can’t take this story seriously.  Nevertheless, it’s very intense and compelling.  As a vehicle (get it?) to set your heart rate racing, it’s pretty effective.



Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on August 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sputnikSTARS3Sputnik embraces an ethos that will undoubtedly endear itself to some viewers more than others.  Personally, I get it.  There’s something extremely satisfying about a thoughtful sci-fi saga.  Scientists that are driven by intellectual thought more closely resemble the way things play out in real life than an action star that shoots first and asks questions later.  However, a movie favoring cerebral over emotional impulses is going to yield a decidedly lower level of raw excitement.

The year is 1983.  Two Soviet astronauts…er uh excuse me…cosmonauts are sent into space.  They unexpectedly encounter something out in the galaxy.  They crash land in Kazakhstan.  Only Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) survives.  Authoritarian military Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) is in charge of the government’s effort to study him.  Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina) is the controversial but effective doctor he brings on board to assist.  English speakers will probably associate the title with the first satellite launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union.  However, Sputnik is also the Russian word for “companion” and that’s exactly how it is meant here.  Konstantin inadvertently brought something back with him.

Creature design and mood are the best parts.  The potent but restrained use of special effects is highly effective.  The alien looks a bit like the Hammerpede entity from Prometheus but with the face of a wolf spider.  It’s impossible not to see how the DNA of Alien (1979) is an inspiration for the story.  Many have taken note of the similarities.  However, where Alien took place in space, Sputnik is a claustrophobic saga set in a laboratory where an explorer is being studied.  Additionally, the personality of the extraterrestrial is significantly different.   I contend this story actually adheres a lot closer to the narrative of Venom (2018).

Sputnik is fascinating.  I was completely enrapt whenever the creature was on screen.  I enjoyed so much about this film.  Screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev rely heavily on talky exposition for most of its runtime.  Yet many plot developments leave the spectator with questions that are still left unexplained by the end.  That’s a bit frustrating. The schizophrenic late in the movie shift to deliver a standard action movie style climax leaves a bad taste too.  Sputnik is the feature directorial debut of Egor Abramenko.  Given this audacious effort, I am interested to see what he does next.


Made in Italy

Posted in Drama with tags on August 13, 2020 by Mark Hobin

made_in_italySTARS3Made in Italy feels like it was inspired by a dare.  What exactly motivated British actor James D’Arcy (Dunkirk, Avengers: Endgame) to make his writing and directing debut?  In my imaginary scenario, a friend declares “Italy is indeed a beautiful country but you could never make a movie that merely coasts on its scenery.”  “I bet I can,” Darcy counters to which his buddy reacts, “I dare you.”  “Challenge accepted,” D’Arcy replied with a smile.

This is all conjecture obviously.  It’s just that the raison d’etre for this film is so minor that it prods me to fabricate reasons as to why it exists.  The barely-there story concerns the difficult relationship between Robert, a bohemian artist, and his adult son Jack, who runs a London art gallery.  Jack wants to buy his soon to be ex-wife out of the business.  First, he must persuade his father to sell their Tuscan villa which is in desperate need of repair.  In Italy, a prickly British realtor played by Lindsay Duncan turns up to assist them.  Her deadpan expressions are a delight.  The focus, however, is on father and son.  They have been emotionally estranged since the death of Jack’s mother/Robert’s wife in a car collision many years ago.  It’s worth noting that Liam Neeson and his real-life son, Micheál Richardson play the central duo and their relationship has direct parallels to real life.  Neeson’s wife and Richardson’s mother Natasha Richardson tragically passed away in 2009 from a skiing accident.

I enjoyed the landscapes.  The gorgeous panoramas are breathtaking.  The production allows the viewer to vicariously travel to Italy at a time when one cannot.  The contribution of cinematographer Mike Eley is even more vital than the direction.  The problem is that the wispy tale is so slight.  The screenplay lays the groundwork for something more — perhaps an emotional catharsis — that never arrives.  After Taken in 2009, Liam Neeson’s career transformed him into an action hero star for a decade.  I don’t associate him with slow, quiet dramas these days.  Made in Italy is a chronicle about coming to terms with emotions for events that happened in the past.  There’s a generic romantic subplot too, involving pretty restaurant owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello).  Stuff happens, but there is no narrative thrust.  Simply a leisurely paced stroll through exquisite vistas while actors nosh on pasta.



Posted in Drama, War with tags on August 9, 2020 by Mark Hobin

summerlandSTARS4I like surprises.  Particularly when a movie exceeds my expectations.  Summerland is one of those films.  I am a big fan of British period dramas.  I admit I was already primed to enjoy this but I must’ve had my expectations set low.  I figured I was getting a pleasant period piece set against the backdrop of World War II.  It IS that but it is so much more.  This is a drama in which characters are routinely surprised.  So too will viewers be, happily.

Gemma Arterton portrays a reclusive writer named Alice during the 1940s. She lives alone in a coastal cottage in Kent.  The actress has been in a lot of middling action fantasies: Clash of the Titans (2010), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.  Her breakthrough as Bond girl Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace is perhaps her best-known role.  Summerland may be her most accomplished performance to date.  Arterton is still a young actress in her 30s, but her portrayal of an ill-tempered spinster is very convincing.  She’s merely an independent woman, but then again, admirable qualities often go unappreciated.  The local children think she’s either a witch or a spy.  Then she is entrusted with taking care of a 14-year-old evacuee during the London Blitz.

This is a deep and moving depiction of a complicated soul.  The rapport with charming curly-haired Frank (Lucas Bond) inspires her to open up.  A motherly connection develops and the two become close.  As her friendship with Frank deepens, warm recollections of the past are rekindled.  There are memories of someone Alice knew back in the 1920s named Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  Their tender relationship is another detail loving portrayed in flashbacks.  Summerland is the feature debut of writer-director Jessica Swale who clearly fosters genuine chemistry amongst this ensemble of actors.  Swale’s direction is so assertive, you’d swear this was her tenth film.

Sentimentality isn’t a bad thing.  The screenplay values tenderness for the commendable trait that it is.  There is sort of an otherworldly quality to this hopeful account of the past.  Summerland is an expressive portrait.  This extends not just to emotional details but also in the exquisite cinematography by Laurie Rose that underscores every scene.  The picturesque landscapes are bathed in sunlight.  They practically beckon the audience to visit these stunning locales.  This is really a movie about humanity though.  It’s about people first. The gorgeous locations simply amplify the feelings.  Incidentally, I’m ready to book a trip to Kent, England right now.


An American Pickle

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 7, 2020 by Mark Hobin

american_pickleSTARS2.5So I did laugh during An American Pickle.  The saga concerns Herschel Greenbaum, A struggling Jewish laborer who emigrates from Schlupke, Poland to New York in 1920 with hopes of building a better life.  He gets a menial job at a factory and accidentally falls into a vat of pickles.  Apparently, no one realizes this has occurred.  A lid is placed on the cask and then the warehouse is condemned immediately after.  100 years later, he wakes up alive in present-day Brooklyn and hasn’t aged a day.  He was perfectly preserved in that salty brine.  You’ve heard of magical realism?  Well, this is that component taken to the tenth power.  Herschel’s existence is a wonder of science.  He is promptly placed on television where he is interviewed.  An expert is asked how such an unbelievable event could have happened.  His inaudible response makes complete sense to all who hear it, or so we’re told through voice-over narration.   THAT writer’s construct made me chuckle.  The rest of the film, unfortunately, did not.  When the story isn’t unfocused, it’s uninteresting.

After a clever setup, the fable coasts gently downward from there.  Herschel learns his only surviving relative is a great-grandson named Ben, also played by Seth Rogen.  Rogen’s ability to play dual roles is indeed convincing.  It’s easy to forget that each character is played by the same person.  However, that doesn’t mean that they are both are appealing.  I appreciated the plight of old-world Herschel who wakes up disoriented à la Rip Van Winkle in contemporary society.  However, I didn’t warm up to Ben.  He’s such a jealous sourpuss of a personality.  First, he calls the authorities to destroy his great-grandfather’s business, then purposefully gives him bad advice for navigating social media, and later asks him a difficult question in a public forum to trip him up.  Ben is a thoroughly reprehensible human being.  And yet relationships improve simply because Hershel finds a drawing Ben made as a child.  Huh?!

An American Pickle is neither a tale where people behave rationally nor one where things develop in a coherent manner.  The slapdash nature of the story is irksome.  Case in point: how many different ways can you make a joke about androgynous people?  I counted three but there may have been more.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for this.   The feature debut from cinematographer Brandon Trost was written by Simon Rich—based on his novella Sell Out.   If you’ve ever joined a minyan to say the Mourner’s Kaddish then you may appreciate how the chronicle honors certain traditions.  The screenplay has a reverence for Judaism as well as maintaining personal ties with our ancestors.  Although I did find it amusing that when Herschel first meets Ben.  1920s Herschel is the inquisitive one, eager to learn all about his great-grandson’s modern time.  Meanwhile self-absorbed Ben surprisingly has not one question to ask regarding Hershel’s experiences in the past.  Ben’s lack of interest in anything but himself, matched my lack of enthusiasm for this movie.