Archive for May, 2021

A Quiet Place Part II

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on May 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

** WARNING – This review contains spoilers from A Quiet Place (2018) — not the current film, but the original that came out three years ago **

At the outset of 2018, no one could have predicted that A Quiet Place — a nearly dialogue-free horror movie with a minuscule $17 million budget — would become a U.S. Top 20 box office hit of the year. It even knocked Steven Spielberg’s much-hyped science fiction adventure Ready Player One out of the #1 position when it was released that April. A Quiet Place would go on to gross considerably more, so another chapter was inevitable. There will likely be a Part III given the success of this entry.

These are the continuing adventures of the Abbott household, a family desperately trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by a race of extraterrestrial monsters. The aliens can’t see, but they’ve got hypersensitive hearing. They attack anything that makes noise. Most of Earth’s human population has been exterminated. If you saw Part 1, all of this is merely a recap. If you haven’t, you should see that one first.

We open with a memorable prelude — a flashback at a baseball game. A flaming comet in the sky announces the aliens’ arrival. They brutally invade the town. John Krasinski returns as director as well as to portray Lee the father. Lee sacrificed his own life during PART I, so the opening prologue has a dual purpose. 1) It allows actor John Krasinski to make a brief appearance and 2) it introduces Lee’s buddy Emmett, (a grizzled-looking Cillian Murphy) who will become an important addition to this new story. Flash forward to the present day. Over a year has passed. Mother Evelyn and her newborn baby, along with daughter Regan, and son Marcus have all survived. They previously learned that the creatures are unable to withstand high-frequency audio feedback. Regan, who cannot hear, uses her hearing aid to produce the sounds that can kill them.

You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Come be entertained by an intense tale that continues the frightening narrative. The introductory installment was a tension-filled nightmare. PART II delivers the same stress and anxiety. However, this one offers a somewhat calmer survival drama that will split off into three separate stories: one concerning Regan and Emmett, the second with son Marcus watching over the baby, and a third featuring mother Evelyn. There’s a sequence In the climax where editor Michael P. Shawver intercuts what’s happening in each timeline, uniting the missions of a trio of concurrent chronologies. The editing masterfully creates unbearable suspense. I loved it.

The greatest horror is not always about the events themselves, but the people they affect. Emotionally compelling performances are what elevates a merely good flick into something great . Emily Blunt is always stellar. Yet she is surprisingly less essential to this account. The MVPs of this production are the children. Millicent Simmonds as deaf daughter Regan and curly-haired Noah Jupe as introverted Marcus are indispensable. Their faces convey all the fear, apprehension, sadness, and relief necessary for us to be invested. Their fully-realized dread is perfectly expressed. The relentless weight of their dilemmas becomes relatable. It’s their achievements that make this adventure so powerful.


Army of the Dead

Posted in Action, Crime, Horror, Thriller with tags on May 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s about quality not quantity in art. There is a power to simplicity. Most movie genres benefit from efficient storytelling. In particular, I’ve always thought comedies and animated films are better when they’re 100 minutes or less. After watching this 2 hour and 28-minute chronicle, I’m ready to add zombie movies to that list. The 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead adhered to that rule. Even Zack Snyder’s first foray into this genre qualifies. His feature debut was a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Ok, so I’ll concede the 1978 original was 126 minutes. There are exceptions to every rule.

Complicated epics may benefit from longer runtimes. However, this saga is rather simple. The zombie apocalypse has left Las Vegas separated from the rest of humanity. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is a former war hero who’s now flipping burgers. Casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) tasks him with retrieving $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip. Slight complication: In 32 hours, Las Vegas will be nuked by the government as a solution to its infestation. Scott accepts the challenge and assembles a team of experts for the heist. There’s little time to waste. The clock is ticking.

The narrative highlights a flamboyant band of mercenaries. Characterization isn’t a highlight, other than to emphasize tough guys and gals in its lively cast of personalities. Scott and his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) have unresolved issues that are shoehorned in for ersatz sentimentality. I remember Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). The latter looking like a sturdier version of Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles. Their prickly interactions at the outset predictably develop into a friendship by the end. French actress Nora Arnezeder as Lily suggests Kristen Stewart in Charlie’s Angels with her short blonde hairstyle. Then there’s Zeus (Richard Cetrone ) the alpha male, and his queen (Athena Perample) in this society of the undead. Question: Can an intelligent entity with emotions and highly evolved problem-solving skills still be considered a zombie?

This is a Zack Snyder movie through and through. He’s not only the director but also a producer, and one of the screenwriters. This also marks the first time that the director has been his own DP. Much of the cinematography has a “unique” look. The actors in the foreground are often clear but the background is blurry. Occasionally even the stars are out of focus too. This was a conscious choice the director made, but it didn’t improve the experience in my living room. In a theater (this played on 600 screens) one might be more forgiving. On a TV it comes off like a visual glitch. It’s a strange decision in this 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray age. Incidentally, Tig Notaro was digitally added post-filming, although the late addition doesn’t stand out from anyone else.

Army of the Dead has its moments. The high points occur when the adventure doesn’t take itself too seriously and calls attention to how — let’s face it — stupid it is. I especially enjoyed all the “on the nose” needle drops. They are a welcome reprieve from the heavy-handed gore. Snyder ends his saga with the most literally titled song you could imagine. The Cranberries’ protest anthem “Zombie” has absolutely nothing to do with reanimated corpses but here it is, appropriated out of context for your listening pleasure. “Night Life” and “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley can be heard. However, the version of “Viva Las Vegas” that opens the film is a campier rendition by Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe. A cover of “Bad Moon Rising” by Theo Gilmore, “The End” by The Raveonettes, and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” also pop up at amusing points.

Army of the Dead is a straightforward story undone by its interminable length. You could depict two heists in this ridiculously long zombie apocalypse tale. Is it too early to start championing a new hashtag on Twitter? “Release the NON-Snyder cut!” I’d prefer a version where the studio boldly makes the deep cuts necessary to edit this distended tedium into a compelling piece of entertainment. There’s a decent movie buried somewhere amongst all the excess.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on May 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

After a brief hiatus, I’m back on talkSPORT radio with Martin Kelner where we discuss movies. On Sunday, May 16th, we spotlight the very popular THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES on Netflix. Also, Seth Rogen gets into AN AMERICAN PICKLE and Russell Crowe becomes UNHINGED. My segment begins 22 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 segment (about 8 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

The Woman in the Window

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 24, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Woman in the Window apes the work of Hitchcock so superficially that the word “derivative” doesn’t seem to do it justice. Perhaps forgery is more apropos.

This glossy thriller stars Amy Adams as a former child psychologist living in Manhattan named Anna. She’s recently separated from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie), who has custody of their nine-year-old daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman). Nevertheless, they periodically talk on the phone. Anna rents her basement to a boarder named David Winter (Wyatt Russell).

More important information. Anna suffers from agoraphobia and never leaves the house. She regularly spies on her neighbors, out of boredom I suppose. The Russells — a family of three — move in across the street. She meets their teenaged son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). He is a sensitive soul, and they quickly form a close bond. Then Anna greets his mom Jane (Julianne Moore) when she happily drops over. They have a chat over wine where Jane alludes that her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) is abusive. A bit later, she sees Jane stabbed to death while staring out her window. She is convinced Alistair is the culprit.

The inspiration for The Woman in the Window is clearly Hitchcock’s Rear Window. THE miracle of 2021 cinema would have been if this even came close to that masterpiece. The feature is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour). Screenwriter Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) — who also appears as Anna’s psychiatrist — adapted the 2018 novel by Daniel Mallory who writes under the pseudonym A. J. Finn. It’s not a crime to be inspired by a classic film. Borrow from the best and call it an homage, right? Yet shoddy art is still some sort of an offense. I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. This story is sloppily thrown together.

For one thing, the screenplay doesn’t play fair with the audience. We’re never 100% sure that what Anna sees and does is real. She is frequently drinking wine and in a constant drug-induced haze because of her anxiety issues. She blacks out a lot. Are psychoactive drugs to blame? Is she being psychologically manipulated by the people around her? Maybe she’s just mentally depressed? We can’t take what we are shown at face value.

The Woman in the Window has gotten mostly negative reviews. Yet I didn’t hate it as much as some. It starts out rather promisingly as a slow-burn mystery. However in the last 30 minutes, the narrative hastily dumps all of its revelations. It’s ridiculous. I’ve seen episodes of Scooby-Doo that ended better. Actor Brian Tyree Henry closing dialogue as a detective is particularly bad. Another thing that annoys me is when you insert clips of famous movies in your new production. Anna loves old films. Not only do we see a clip from Rear Window, but also Laura, Spellbound, and Dark Passage. The choice inadvertently mocks the viewer. Thanks for reminding me of all the better motion pictures I could be watching right now.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on May 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Ideas for a Movie:

Plot #1: Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a specially trained wildland firefighter traumatized by the deaths of 3 children she failed to save.

Plot #2: Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) and Jack (Aidan Gillen) are two contract killers that complete a hit on a district attorney and his family in Fort Lauderdale.

Plot #3: Owen (Jake Weber) is a forensic accountant that sees the murder of his boss on the news. Fearing for their lives, he escapes with his 12-year-old son Connor (Finn Little).

Plot #4: Ethan (Jon Bernthal) is the strapping sheriff and ex-boyfriend of Hannah. He is now married to Allison (Medina Senghore). The couple is anticipating a new arrival. She’s pregnant.

Each one of these disparate threads could be the basis of a different production. Yet these four situations all occur in literally the first 15 minutes. They will converge in a orderly manner later, so thanks for that. Nonetheless, the segments are pitched at the audience in a haphazard deluge without clarification. I craved coherence and sense.

It’s nice to see Jolie looking like herself in an action-packed thriller. She’s directed 5 films since 2007. Over the last decade, Angelina Jolie has most notably focused the acting side of her career on (1) playing a wicked fairy godmother and (2) voicing a tiger sidekick with a talent for kung fu. She’s a tough-talking smoke jumper battling the natural elements and evil hitmen. She’s the only female firefighter hanging out with a rowdy group of manly men. They naturally accept her as one of their own, but her gorgeous countenance stands out in the crowd. This is what the actress does. Jolie has such a physicality. She is beautiful, sure, but that belies a fiery personality. In a word the star is — charismatic. Seeing Angelina in her element is clearly something Warner Bros. wanted to highlight. The marketing prominently features the star on the poster with newcomer Finn Little partially visible in the lower-left corner. Thing is, it’s not just about Hannah. Nor is she the most interesting character.

This is a chronicle set in the Montana wilderness with multiple storylines that merge into a whole. Director Taylor Sheridan wrote Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water where he brilliantly utilized a similar blueprint. I hate to break it to the filmmakers, but this film ain’t winning awards. The narrative fragments are agonizingly vague. I understand what motivates that decision. Being bombarded with unnecessary minutiae can be a drain. I’m not asking for complicated exposition. However, laying a foundation is important. There’s hardly any explanation in the opening as to what is happening.

The screenwriters have deemed information as superfluous to our experience. We get to see WHAT people are doing, but not the details of WHO they are or WHY. What is on that piece of paper that Owen entrusts to his son? Why do Patrick and Jack wish this Connor kid dead? Tyler Perry pops up for an instant. He is never heard from or seen again. His appearance is so random it’s amusing. We can infer he’s a crime boss, but these and many other questions go unexplained. The writers don’t care. I did at first, then neither did I.

The movie begins badly. The screenplay simply drops us in the middle of the action. Michael Koryta is adapting his own 2014 novel with help from Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and director Taylor Sheridan. A storyteller can’t expect the viewer to care about a bunch of people we know absolutely nothing about. That changes though. As the events unfold, I got more invested. There are surprises — good ones — that kept me curious. Surprisingly it’s actress Medina Senghore, not Jolie, who gets to be the biggest badass. Patrick and Jack break into Allison’s home, looking for Connor. The fact she is pregnant seriously amplifies the tension of the scene. Her response is the most exciting sequence.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a generic thriller dressed up with capable actors and lush cinematography. This is a real throwback to the pulp fiction of the 1990s. John Grisham’s The Client comes to mind. “Young boy witnesses a murder” is a development in both. DP Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild) highlights the terror of uncontrolled wildfires. This trashy tale has the look of sophistication even when blighted by so much ambiguity. It’s frustrating at first. The movie recovers after a disastrous beginning — somewhat. The saga ultimately manages to entertain.



Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on May 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Netflix has a thing for sci-fi thrillers about people confined to a small space with diminishing air. That description describes the plot of Oxygen which came out on May 12, but coincidentally also applies to Stowaway released last month. If you haven’t seen either and can only handle one similar premise, this is the one to watch.

The chronicle concerns Elizabeth Hansen, a young (thirtysomething) woman who wakes up in a cryogenic pod the size of a coffin. Elizabeth has no memory of who she is or how she got there. She has been entombed and must find a way to escape. Her very life is at stake. The inability to even sit upright is also reminiscent of Buried, the 2010 drama starring Ryan Reynolds.

What elevates the story is Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me). She is the MVP. This is essentially a one-woman show in which she convincingly portrays confusion, exasperation, and panic to the astonishment of an audience that fully appreciates the agony of her situation. Occasionally flashbacks of her past provide a reprieve to the claustrophobia. Her predicament is an experience and that is where the production uncomfortably entertains.

If she has a co-star, it is the informative computer within the hi-tech chamber. MILO (Mathieu Amalric) is a disembodied voice that constantly relays helpful information on Elizabeth’s declining resources. Though Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) is never seen, his contribution is a key ingredient. His soothing tones are both comforting and sinister. There is a real HAL 9000 vibe to his matter-of-fact delivery in the face of dire circumstances. I did enjoy their exchanges.

Oxygen is director Alexandre Aja’s (Piranha 3D, Crawl) first French-language film since High Tension in 2003. Side note. The default setting for international programs on Netflix is the English dub. You will have to manually select French with subtitles to hear this in its original format. It’s nice to have options, but I prefer when the actor’s mouth and words are perfectly in sync. This is a surprisingly restrained effort from the horror maestro. There are moments where Elizabeth must pull bloodied tubes and long needles out of her body and then insert them back in. However, that is the zenith of the gore. I appreciated the focus on emotional rather than physical terror.

In the end, Oxygen is a fine movie. It manages to entertain with a compelling performance. However, there is no earthly reason why such a simple tale should require 1 hour and 41 minutes. The account would have been much more efficient and effective as a 60 minute (or less) episode on an anthology series for TV. The extreme length really taxes the viewer’s patience. It doesn’t support what is essentially an impressive acting exercise limited by a restrained location. The considerable skills of Melanie Laurent are the highlight.



Posted in Crime, Drama on May 13, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

In 2004 Charlize Theron famously won an Oscar for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. The title was a sincere description of its protagonist. However, it’s far more cynical and not to be taken at face value here. This long-delayed melodrama debuted at Sundance in 2018. Netflix acquired the film and released it on May 7. A team of screenwriters — Radha Blank (The 40-Year-Old Version), Cole Wiley, and Janece Shaffer — adapt the award-winning 1999 novel by Walter Dean Myers.

The “monster” of the title is Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a 17-year-old black honors student who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Steve now faces life in prison. He’s on trial charged with a felony as an accessory to murder. He was allegedly acting as a lookout for the crime. James King (A$AP Rocky) and Richard “Bobo” Evans (John David Washington) gunned down a store owner during their robbery of a bodega. Osvaldo Cruz (Jharrel Jerome) also stands accused, but like Bobo, he takes a plea deal.

The list of characters continues. Maureen O’Brien (Jennifer Ehle) is the defense lawyer who represents Steve. Anthony Petrocelli (Paul Ben-Victor) is the lawyer for the prosecution. Mom (Jennifer Hudson) and Dad (Jeffrey Wright) are devastated. While in jail, Raymond “Sunset” Green (Nas) is a fellow prisoner who gives Steve advice. The narrative also details Steve’s life before the killing. He is an aspiring film student attending the prestigious Stuyvesant High School. Leroy Sawicki (Tim Blake Nelson) is Steve’s teacher who attests to his strong character at the trial. We follow the teen as he navigates through a complex legal battle. His very future is at stake.

The chronicle is the portrait of a victim captive to a flawed American judicial system. Steve’s defense attorney has already decided the jury will connect race with guilt. Steve’s public defender laments an unequal system. Even before the trial, she characterizes the mindset of the jury as such: “You’re young. You’re Black. You’re on trial.” She’s preparing her client for an inequitable fight. Meanwhile, Steve’s thoughts can be heard in an awkward voice-over that sounds like text directly lifted from the book. Steve over-emphasizes points of view that are abundantly clear from the action on screen. The narration doesn’t help this heavy-handed saga. The screenplay favors an oversimplification of human beliefs and attitudes. Subtlety and nuance be damned.

A courtroom drama centered on a black teenager’s introduction to American justice could be the basis for a powerful account. At least the ensemble of actors is impressive. Perhaps the idea itself was enough to attract this stellar cast. Many of their careers have only become more distinguished since this movie was originally produced. It’s not hard to see why it sat on the shelf for so long. They do what they can with the material provided. Unfortunately, the treatment of a serious issue is clumsy and simplistic. Filmmaker Anthony Candler is a veteran music video director. He injects his style into the proceedings, but his guidance is amateurish. The pacing and scene transitions call more attention to the director’s hand than to the importance of the story. Monster is a missed opportunity.


Bad Trip

Posted in Comedy with tags on May 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Bad Trip wasn’t completely ignored. It hit #1 the week it came out on Netflix. Then promptly dropped out of the Top 10. Since it was originally set for a cinematic release before the pandemic, I wonder if it might have made more of an impression given that treatment. With streaming services, video on demand, traditional TV, and now theaters returning to the fold, there are simply too many choices vying for our consideration. It’s difficult to ascertain which movies are worth your attention. Bad Trip is a notable comedy.

Director Kitao Sakurai’s production is the latest addition to the illustrious list of “hidden camera prank movies.” The TV show Candid Camera is kind of the granddaddy of the genre. Legendary producer Allen Funt’s creation can trace its origins back to the 1940s. Its modern popularity was reignited by Jackass: The Movie after the new millennium. The team of Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, and Jeff Tremaine, would later do Bad Grandpa (2013). That endeavor was a little different in that it involved a relaxed narrative that connected the stunts and practical jokes together. Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine is a busy guy. Since then he has worked on the documentary Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine and Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt. Now he has returned with another project and it’s supremely ridiculous.

The loose plot follows two friends Chris (Eric Andre) and Bud (Lil Rey Howery) on a venture as they travel from Florida to New York. Chris wants to reconnect with Maria (Michaela Conlin), his high school crush. Tiffany Haddish also crashes the party as Trina, Chris’ ne’er-do-well sister. She’s conveniently in jail. So they steal her car for their expedition. That’s all the details I’m going to reveal. Why spoil the set pieces that make the film so funny? However, I will praise the actors’ commitment to the scene. Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, and Tiffany Haddish are effective in eliciting interesting reactions from their unsuspecting marks.

The similarly constructed Borat arguably achieved a cultural zenith in 2002. The politically motivated presentation was entertaining, but it was also depressing because of the negative light it cast on society. Conversely, Bad Trip creates situations in which naive people demonstrate surprisingly compassionate and sensitive responses to the unexpected chaos to which they are subjected. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t some heartwarming tale that will enrich your life for the better. It’s a low-brow comedy. “Two dudes get caught in a Chinese finger trap” is not a blueprint for intellectual satire, but it is a situation for some unexpectedly benevolent people. I was pleased by the screenplay’s deft handling of crudity mixed with sympathy. That balance is not easy to do. It’s the kind of silly film that often gets overlooked. I ignored it when it was unleashed on Netflix on March 26. Then came the positive reviews and I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. The saga is an affirmation of humanity. I was touched…and shocked…in equal measure.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on May 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! This was recorded Sunday, April 25.  I had a chat with the UK’s Martin Kelner of talkSPORT radio about three movies available on Netflix: hidden-camera prank comedy BAD TRIP. mind-bending thriller SYNCHRONIC and space drama STOWAWAY. 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


Posted in Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on May 4, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A three-person research team heads to Mars for a two-year mission. There’s commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). After they take off, they discover an accidental stowaway (Shamier Anderson). The unexpected passenger presents a conundrum.

Filmmakers Joe Penna (director, writer, producer) and Ryan Morrison (writer, editor, producer) offers the viewer another spare survival saga. The duo seems to have an affinity for this sort of thing. Their 2019 debut was Artic — an interesting tale that took place at the North Pole. Like Stowaway, Artic was a slow-burn account . However, Artic starred Mads Mikkelsen in a perilous adventure that was enough to carry us through. A cast of four people should be exponentially more engaging in theory. Unfortunately, the talented ensemble is limited by a deficient screenplay.

Fans of sci-fi are the ostensible target audience. It does indeed take place in deep space. However, most of the action is claustrophobically set inside a spaceship about the size of a large apartment. We’re treated to some impressive vistas that highlight the outdoors, but this is actually an existential drama. Granted there are some moments of tension and excitement. The crew debates ethical dilemmas while addressing various emergencies. A plan to acquire more oxygen is a heart-stopping vignette. Nevertheless, the story unfolds at far too leisurely a pace to justify a 2-hour feature.

Stowaway is a film that doesn’t cater to your expectations. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal taste, but one thing’s for sure. The developments demand you continue to watch. There would appear to be more than meets the eye. Nonetheless, my suspicions went unfulfilled. The dull narrative is punctuated by one thrilling setpiece. Then culminates in a weak denouement that I found frustratingly abrupt. Sounds like a recipe for disaster and yet it isn’t because the actors are simply that compelling. This is a good movie because it’s a well-acted character study. Just not a particularly exciting one.