Archive for January, 2021

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 31, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio in the UK!  My Jan 31st appearance on talkSPORT I chatted with Martin Kelner about historical drama THE DIG (Netflix) starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, likely Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby’s PIECES OF A WOMAN (Netflix), and the 2019 legal drama JUST MERCY. Click below. My segment begins 19 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 11 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

The Dig

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on January 31, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You don’t know how badly I wanted to simply title my review: I DUG THE DIG. Aside from the fact that it’s a corny beginning, I had to convince myself that I loved it that much. I did appreciate the film, but “dig” is a slang word that seems to imply more admiration than I truly felt. In short, this is a perfectly fine film, but it didn’t wow me.

The Dig is one of those movies “inspired” by historical events. A 2007 novel by John Preston is the basis for this leisurely paced story. The 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo is the location where a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts dating from around the 6th to 7th centuries were found. The owner of the land Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) has hired Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the large burial mounds on the grounds of her estate. When he discovers an undisturbed 88-foot ship buried in the dirt, national experts take over. It becomes apparent that the site is a significant archaeological find. Edith is very protective of him and her property. She wants to make sure Basil gets credit for whatever he finds.

The drama is sort of an imagined idea of what transpired during their research . The narrative is curious because the account completely shifts the spotlight midway through from Edith and Basil to the marriage of Peggy (Lily James) and Stuart (Ben Chaplin). These are archeologists who have been called in to help out with the undertaking. It does return to the central duo by the end, but why the change in focus? It’s possible that screenwriter Moira Buffini felt there wasn’t enough excitement between Edith and Basil to sustain an entire picture. I liked their chemistry, but perhaps Buffini had run out of interactions between the two. Nevertheless, the first half is better than the second, so the pivot isn’t an improvement.

The production’s greatest asset is the beauty of the exploration itself. I like the details in their unearthing of various objects and the enthusiasm of their discovery. The cinematography is lovely since it’s a beautiful portrait to savor at a gentle pace. I’ll cite director of photography Mike Eley (Made in Italy, The White Crow) as his contribution is important. It’s an understated and relaxed tale, but I enjoyed the quiet simplicity of it. The Dig is a pleasant, if not deep, excavation of the period.

And there’s the pun.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 26, 2021 by Mark Hobin

My Jan 24th appearance on talkSPORT radio I chatted with Martin Kelner about the Marvel TV series WANDAVISION (Disney+), crime drama THE WHITE TIGER (Netflix), and GREED starring Steve Coogan. Click below. My segment begins 15 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 15 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

The White Tiger

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on January 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The White Tiger is a rags to riches tale set in India about an impoverished young man. I wasn’t going to make a facile comparison to Slumdog Millionaire. The screenplay already does that for me. It occurs late in the movie in a scene where our central “hero” is commenting on the hopelessness of his situation. In the moment he opines: “Don’t think for a second there’s a million-rupee game show you can win to get out.” OK so now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s evaluate this most absorbing film. It deserves to be considered on its own terms. Yes, there are some obvious similarities to that much lauded Best Picture winner of 2009, but this is a much bleaker and less optimistic account about finding success in life.

The White Tiger is a crime drama about a young man named Balram (Adarsh Gourav) who is a “self-taught entrepreneur”. As the narrator, he recounts his story. Balram was born into a poor rural village and gradually climbs India’s ostensible corporate ladder to become a chauffeur and finally a successful businessman. The highly intelligent Balram is prohibited from obtaining a higher education because of his father’s debts. Instead, he goes around to various houses and begs for a job until he just so happens to stumble upon the residence of the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) — one of the four evil landlords that bullies his town. The Stork hires Balram to become his son’s driver. Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) has just returned from America with his wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra). At first, Balram is more of a drudge to the family, while another servant, Ram Persad (Ram Naresh Diwakar), has the elevated privilege of driving them. This will change in time. As we see time and again, Balram’s quest for upward mobility is not guided by a moral compass.

Sometimes good people do bad things. Balram is actually a sweet and humble guy. That likable quality endears him to Ashok and his wife so they trust him. In fact, his obsequious manner incurs the condemnation of the couple who implore him not be so deferential. Nevertheless, you will later see that Balram’s inclination for exploiting the negative beliefs and corrupt tendencies of others, will ultimately help him climb the ranks of Indian society. For example, he abuses the fact that the Stork is openly hostile to Muslims in order to further his own career at the expense of a fellow worker. The film is filled with political commentary on the caste system of India. This is a fascinating fable and I was riveted by the twists and turns. It’s an epic of sorts and a lot transpires. The overriding lesson is that the freedom to succeed isn’t free. It must be taken.

American director Ramin Bahrani is no stranger to depictions of misery. His 99 Homes was a vicious excavation of the American housing market. This likewise is a bleak adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 picaresque novel of the same name. Incidentally, the first half is rather brilliant. Regrettably it’s in the second half where this chronicle loses steam. Balram’s social-climbing saga is pretty grim. Given that, Slumdog Millionaire comparisons are somewhat misleading. I saw more parallels to a crime drama like Scarface or perhaps the protagonist of a Patricia Highsmith thriller. Let’s not forget the Best Picture winner of 2020 either. They are all in there and yet The White Tiger is compelling without ever reaching the sublime heights of any of those influences . On the whole, it’s still extremely entertaining and incidentally my #1 recommendation when considering new offerings on Netflix at this moment.

P.S. I recommended His House back in November and that’s still available on Netflix.


Pieces of a Woman

Posted in Drama with tags on January 21, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

If nothing else, Pieces of a Woman will be remembered for a home birth sequence that unfolds in a single take less than 10 minutes in. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are having a baby. Their midwife Barbara is currently involved with another birth so she sends another, Eva (Molly Parker), in her place. The next 20 minutes is an agony that culminates in tragedy. What follows is a chronicle about how a mother and her family deal with that grief.

There is an undeniable craft to the construction of this account that is praiseworthy and compelling. The talented Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (White God) has fashioned a saga with artistic flair. It is rooted in Vanessa Kirby’s portrait of a woman undone. Her performance is the best reason to see this. She is utterly disaffected by life after this trauma. Shia LaBeouf is her husband Sean. One’s familiarity with the actor’s personal issues may prove to be a distraction to his credible work here. Then again, it may even help because his character is not likable. The always dependable Ellen Burstyn plays her controlling mother Elizabeth. She elevates the narrative with her presence as well.

Pieces of a Woman is yet another dramatic exercise where a film is an excuse for actors to converge and exhibit their thespian skills. The audience is subsequently invited to marvel at all the acting on display. Like all of these recent efforts, there are indeed impressive performances. Furthermore, this looks like a fully formed piece of cinema. It feels like real life as opposed to a theatrical showcase, but to what end? This is an unpleasant experience that depicts the degradation of a marriage. Martha is understandably wounded. She is cold to everyone, especially her husband. The couple fight. Sean cheats on her [with their attorney (Sarah Snook) no less!] Yes, movies can present the ugliness of life. However, the viewer should feel enriched for suffering along with the protagonist when the credits roll. Pieces of a Woman is a punishment to watch. I suppose if there’s anything to be gleaned from this nasty ordeal, it’s that the death of a child is hard. These actors truly make you endure that awful event and its aftermath. Uh thanks, I guess?


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

On Sun, Jan 17, I chatted with Martin Kelner about Regina King’s directorial debut ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI as well as Christopher Nolan’s TENET. Click below. My segment begins 20 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 10 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

One Night in Miami

Posted in Drama with tags on January 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

So let me set the stage. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) has just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history by beating Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander). Civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. ), and NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) were all ringside to witness it. Afterward, these four American icons decided to hang out. The date is February 25, 1964, and their meeting really happened. This movie, however, is a fictionalized version of what they might have talked about. It is an compelling idea for a film. This was a pivotal moment of contemplation in the career of each of these 4 young men. The magnitude of their encounter is underscored by the fact that Malcolm X and Sam Cooke would both be murdered within a year.

One Night in Miami is the directorial debut from Academy Award winning actress Regina King (Jerry Maguire, If Beale Street Could Talk) based on the play written by Kemp Powers. The plot merely revolves around a conversation. The play leans heavily on the repartee between its four principal players. You’d expect them to agree but their differing ideologies are a big part of the conflict. Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali seize focus as the principals. They control and guide the deliberation. They are more aligned in political spirit whereas Jim Brown and Sam Cooke’s views are a little divergent. Yet they all share a mutual respect for one another. The Civil Rights movement was ongoing concern. As they speak we come to know what’s going on in their lives and how they wish to proceed in their separate careers.

One Night in Miami concerns four inspirational icons that spar over weighty matters. The screenplay is shrewd enough to present each of these individual men not as legends but as human beings with vulnerabilities. Of all the depictions, Leslie Odom, Jr stands out as Sam Cooke. He disappears into the role so you feel you are watching the soul crooner himself, not an actorly achievement. Odom’s extensive theater experience (Rent, Leap of Faith, Hamilton) also means he can do his own singing and that is just as impressive as the performance. The best interactions involve him and Malcolm X. My favorite part is when Malcolm X reminisces about attending the singer’s concert and how Cooke won over the crowd when his microphone didn’t work. That little vignette was so captivating I started to wonder what a Sam Cooke memoir would look like. His life would undoubtedly make a fascinating movie. This is not a traditional cradle to the grave biography. This is merely a snapshot in the lives of these men. I do appreciate that approach. It is unique.

Where the picture falls short is in the authentic presentation of a leisurely exchange. The dialogue here doesn’t sound natural. It’s infused with the well-researched viewpoints of a writer. You never forget this is a play. What might these historical figures have talked about? Apparently the preferred subject is politics. It’s focused on a philosophical debate that deals with the plight of African Americans and what the moral obligation of black men in positions of power and cultural influence should be. There is a lot of self-reflection. No resolution per se. Just conversational gymnastics. Most of the so-called action takes place in Malcolm’s room at the Hampton House motel. This isn’t a production rooted in a strong narrative structure. To that extent, the tale doesn’t rise above its stage origins. That has been a difficult task as of late. The recent Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also had that issue. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and timely effort. This is sure to be a future favorite of high school history teachers on the American civil rights movement. As an intellectual exercise, the work is intriguing. As a piece of entertainment, it’s a bit less engaging.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 17, 2021 by Mark Hobin

On Sunday, Jan 10, 2021, I chatted with Martin Kelner on talkSPORT radio about THE MIDNIGHT SKY with George Clooney and the upcoming PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN with Carey Mulligan. Click below. My segment begins 15 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 15 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

News of the World

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Western with tags on January 16, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

United 93 and Captain Philips are two of the greatest films of the past 15 years. Paul Greengrass directed both. He also helmed 3 of the 5 entries in the Jason Bourne spy series. They include my favorites: Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum (2007). So it goes without saying that my anticipation for Greengrass’ latest endeavor was high. News of the World is the achievement of a proficient filmmaker. The Western is a throwback to a bygone era when stately movies could expect to reap Oscar nominations in multiple categories, especially cinematography, costumes, production design, and sound. News of the World is unquestionably a beautifully constructed monument in the glorious tradition of Hollywood. Despite all this, I’m rather shocked that Paul Greengrass is responsible for it. This seems more like the fastidiously assembled effort from a talented hack than from the innovative auteur I have come to know.

The most important element in a movie is the story. Of course, all of the aforementioned components contribute. Don’t get me wrong. Those qualities are much appreciated. Particularly in our current age where this kind of grand filmmaking is on the wane. However, it’s the adventure that ultimately must captivate. News of the World is sadly lacking in this department. Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies (Lion, Beautiful Boy) adapted News of the World from the novel by Paulette Jiles. Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is an elderly widower traveling through northern Texas. He earns a living as a newsreader — which means he gives live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for “news of the world”. He agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa tribe to her surviving biological relatives. And so this commences a 400-mile journey south through difficult terrain as the two lost spirits form a bond that predictably plays out like the fictional construct of a writer.

News of the World concerns Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and his charge Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel). They encounter other people but this is essentially a two-hander. The 10-year-old girl has a grim past. Four years prior, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister. The Native Americans spared the youth and raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. Army, the child has once again been torn away from her home. She doesn’t speak English, is ill-tempered, and tries to escape. She appears to be mute which allows the young actress to perform without saying much. I might have thought it unique if I had never seen Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker.

Meanwhile, no actor represents righteousness better than Hanks. The celebrity quintessentially radiates integrity unlike anyone since James Stewart. In the last decade, Hanks has portrayed real-life hero Captain Sully and returned to the iconic role of Sheriff Woody in Toy Story 4. Need further proof? He’s played Mister Rogers and Walt Disney for goodness’ sake. He is a future candidate for sainthood before he even speaks. It’s a cinematic shorthand that works. I fully admit that. His inherently comforting demeanor alleviates the legend from having to display the nuance and craft that would be demanded of a less experienced actor. I don’t fault him for that. Nevertheless, the presentation feels so calculated and conventional.

News of the World is a piece of historical fiction that explores the definition of a family. That’s a nice idea but it unfolds at such a languid tempo. Nothing surprising occurs in this sanctimonious tale. The chronicle gradually limps to its inevitable conclusion with precious little enthusiasm. We keep expecting more conflict between these two disparate souls but Captain Kidd’s polite and mannerly personality doesn’t provide much friction. As the narrative plods along there are various vignettes. The duo meet three ex-Confederate soldiers. This leads to a shootout which got my hopes up for more excitement. Sadly that was the high point. They encounter more nasty fellows that want to rid the county from outsiders. The “good” and “bad” individuals might as well have those words stamped on their forehead. Granted some of the most captivating films ever made have clearly defined characters. It’s just that the saga is so lethargic. I guess I wasn’t expecting a drama to start at a snail’s pace and then frequently apply the brakes.



Posted in Drama with tags on January 7, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I love period pieces set in the 1980s.

That statement may sound like I’m referring to one of those comedic coming of age tales. Minari is a chronicle about the American dream. This is a loving recollection, externally dealing with the immigrant experience but intimately concerning a move the Yi family makes from California to Arkansas. Father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Yeri Han), have arrived with their two kids. The parents are originally from South Korea. Precocious youngest child David (Alan S. Kim) and solemn older daughter Anne (Noel Kate Chao) were both born in California. Jacob is determined to make a living through farming. He dreams of transforming his five acres into a homestead where his family can grow Korean fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes life has other plans. His wife is not convinced. They argue much to the consternation of their kids. Their angry voices echo within the space of the cramped double-wide trailer they call home. Monica soon enlists the help of her mother, Soon-ja (Young Yuh-jung), who arrives from South Korea. This sweet but non-traditional grandmother introduces yet another component to the household. She doesn’t know how to cook, would rather play cards, and curses frequently. Her arrival will change their lives. The entire cast is great but her personality takes the narrative to another level. She also brings a memento from their native country — some Korean watercress called minari. She plants it alongside a creek nearby.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Yi family yearns for the unalienable rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. This is a story that uplifts the assimilation into one’s adoptive country. There are so many little details that elevate this authentic depiction. To pay the bills, Jacob and Monica work separating baby chicks by gender. Chicken sexing is indeed an important part of mass poultry production. However, the success of the farm is their ultimate goal. The presentation is one of hope.

Minari is the fourth feature from American director Lee Isaac Chung. He too grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas. Little David can be seen as a representation of Chung himself. Chung does what director Barry Levinson did with Avalon. Take inspiration from his own upbringing. He extracts warm memories of growing up and presents them with honesty and heart for all the world to appreciate. Sometimes the greatest cinematic moments are not spectacular action setpieces but the intimate interactions within a tight-knit clan.

This beautifully realized portrait is simply one of the best films of 2020. Sadly as of this writing, you’ll have to wait to see it: February 12 to be exact. However, it received a one-week virtual release in early December and so I recognized it as a 2020 movie when I compiled my Top 10 list of 2020. It occupies the #3 position. Consider this an invitation to watch the film when it finally becomes available. Minari is an exquisite comment on humanity.