Archive for October, 2021

Lamb

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Can overanalyzing a movie diminish its enjoyment? I love this question because it acknowledges a simple truth about films we love. Some accounts — while fascinating — don’t stand up to that kind of analysis. Lamb is a captivating picture, but it needn’t be scrutinized. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me. I enjoyed its weirdness.

Director Valdimar Jóhannsson is making his feature-length debut. He co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón, a poet, novelist, and lyricist who frequently collaborates with singer Björk. This folk tale concerns sheepherders in rural Iceland. On a fateful Christmas Eve, one of their sheep has a baby. This lamb is different. The couple has lost a child and perhaps this is why they take extra interest in the animal. The overarching through-line is a tender yarn about a maternal bond. They wrap the animal up, bring her into the house and have it sleep next to them in a crib in the bedroom. They name her Ada. It takes some time before we — the audience — understand what makes this baby unique. Although if you’ve seen the trailer, her deformity will not be a surprise.

The mood is somber and there is little conversation. The actors convey a lot with looks and glances . Actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2009]) imbues María with a steely resolve. Rapace is a Swedish actress but she lived in Iceland for a few years with her family as a child. She is still fluent in the language. Actor Hilmir Snær Guðnason (The Sea) is less famous outside of his native Iceland. As Ingvar, he manages to convey both the stoicism of Gerard Butler and the lighthearted goofiness of John Ritter. I use those references because he suggests both actors in appearance.

Haunting and hypnotic. That’s Lamb in a nutshell. It is a production that heavily relies on atmospherics . Developments unfold rather slowly. There’s a palpable feeling that something sinister is brewing. Like a pot simmering on the stove just on the precipice of a boil. However, there are welcome bits of levity that alleviate the solemnity. Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up unannounced to stay for a while. The next morning he is sitting at the breakfast table. When Ana comes to the table, the look on his face is priceless. His response affirms what the audience has been thinking.

Lamb can be challenging. The story is not heavy on plot. Movies that get by on simplicity should be brief. This saga is 14 minutes shy of 2 hours. There are periods where the lack of dialogue and events don’t serve the production. The stretches of silence can almost parody the minimalism of an art-house flick. Then again, I’m convinced the humor is intentional. The visual manifestation of Ana is a weird hybrid of horror and comedy. A chronicle with a slow narrative with little action can often tax the viewer’s patience. Here however the quality has enough provocation to keep the viewer enrapt. There is so much to appreciate here.

10-12-21

No Time to Die

Posted in Action, Adventure, Thriller with tags on October 10, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Daniel Craig doesn’t smile. At least that’s the claim. This is the 5th and final film of the series to star the actor and he has grown progressively despondent with each entry. Hey, I’ve enjoyed his interpretation. Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall are in my Top 10 of Bond movies. The actor has been reinventing the character ever since he fell head over heels in love with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in the iconic Casino Royale. That failed romance haunts him. Despite his ongoing depression, Spectre ended on a happy note. James Bond retired and drove off into the sunset with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). He should’ve quit while he was ahead.

In this story (and I’m liberally using the official synopsis), Bond has retired from MI6. He is enjoying a tranquil retirement in Jamaica after leaving active service. Nevertheless, his peace is short-lived as CIA field officer Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and asks for help. The mission to rescue kidnapped scientist Valdo Obruche (David Dencik) leads Bond on the trail of an enigmatic terrorist named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) who is armed with Project Heracles, a bioengineered weapon selectively tailored to an individual’s DNA. Lyutsifer is your standard-issue megalomaniac with an affected speech pattern. Actor Rami Malek enunciates each word with a nod toward camp. The confusing target of his evil plan seems to fluctuate, but I think his vendetta is ultimately against SPECTRE, the organization that murdered his family.

James Bond has a long and rich history. The British secret agent was introduced in 1953 by novelist Ian Fleming and adapted to movies starting with Dr. No in 1962. Forget what you knew. James Bond has changed. No Time to Die recasts the lothario as a monogamous family man. Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), his pretty love interest from Spectre returns. She’s got a mysterious five-year-old daughter named Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet) in tow. Mathilde may have piercing blue eyes, but Madeleine informs him that “she is not his.” Bond visits the grave of Vesper Lynd in the prologue so you know he’s still pining for that woman. I guess Madeleine is the next best thing because he’s devoted to her now. However, Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux generate as much heated passion as two damp towels in a freezer. These two look more like father and daughter than lovers. As progressive as this Bond is, dating a woman his own age is the one thing that doesn’t change. Side note: Their 17 year age difference isn’t a record gap for the superspy. Carol Bouquet and Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only were 29 years apart.

No Time to Die subverts the nature of what makes this man tick. Cary Joji Fukunaga (1st season of the HBO series True Detective) directs this long-delayed continuation, taking over for Danny Boyle who left the project in 2018. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written seven episodes beginning with The World Is Not Enough (1999). Also contributing to the script is Phoebe Waller-Bridge (BBC Three TV show Fleabag) who was brought in to spice up the dialogue at Daniel Craig’s request. Every woman is a fully realized human being that most definitely does not exist to satiate your lascivious desires. Thank you very much. There’s even a competitive new 007 named Nomi (Lashana Lynch). She has replaced Bond at MI6. He is ostensibly working for the CIA at this point. Their combative rivalry is amusing.

Then there’s the action apex of the entire production. The setpiece recalls the elegance and winking silliness of the past. Bond travels to Cuba. There he is assisted by a sexy CIA operative named Paloma memorably played by Ana de Armas. The ensuing sequence unfolds when they infiltrate a SPECTRE meeting. The two face off in a balletic shootout against a host of various gunmen including Safin’s right-hand man (Dali Benssalah). At one point, Paloma rams the car she’s driving into the structure that corrupt scientist Valdo Obruchev is climbing, causing him and it to collapse onto the car. Ana De Armas outshines Bond. Sadly her appearance is merely a cameo. She steals the show and left me wanting more.

Daniel Craig’s version of 007 has always displayed world-weariness but here his sadness looms large. This is a surprisingly dour affair with the biggest downer of an ending to ever grace this franchise. At two hours and 43 minutes, the 25th entry from Eon Productions is the longest Bond film ever made. It feels like it. The good news is there’s ample opportunity for redeeming highlights. I loved seeing all the familiar faces return: Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, Christoph Waltz as arch-enemy Blofeld (in MI6 custody), and Ralph Fiennes as head of MI6. There are some cool vehicles too. #1 is a scissor-wing plane that folds into a submarine. #2 is the Aston Martin DB5 of course. Cinematic flair has been one of the hallmarks. Oscar-winning director of photography Linus Sandgren (La La Land) significantly contributes to the overall style of the production. The intimate and clean cinematography is a real throwback to the classic era before CGI and shaky-cam. Features like these reminded me why I love these movies. There are flashes of exhilaration buried amongst the melancholy.

10-07-21

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama, Music, Musical with tags on October 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It’s not uncommon for a musical to have origins in the theater, but how many of those works sprung from a documentary first? Everybody’s Talking About Jamie can trace its beginnings to the BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 — a 2011 portrait of Jamie Campbell, a 16-year-old boy who wanted to wear a dress to the prom. His true story inspired a West End stage play by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae. Jonathan Butterell directs this film adaptation of that smash hit musical.

Jamie New (Max Harwood) — as he’s re-named here — is gay. However, that’s not even the issue. His classmates already know this. Jamie is out at the beginning of the picture. While his peers are thinking about what they want to be after graduation, Jamie wants to be a drag queen. He craves the spotlight and needs to be a star. The upcoming prom is the pivotal location where he hopes to unveil his new persona. His best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) and his loving single mother, Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) may register slight surprise initially, but quickly shower him with unwavering support. There’s also local drag legend Hugo Battersby / Loco Chanelle (Richard E. Grant). He acts as a mentor. Even Jamie’s schoolmates seem mostly OK with his decision save for the obligatory class bully (Samuel Bottomley). The underwritten character casts a dismissive remark here and there, but never physical violence. Providing more genuine conflict is his absent father (Ralph Ineson), who wants nothing to do with him and one teacher, Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan).

Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan) is a fascinating character. She imbues the saga with some unexpected nuance and complexity. She isn’t so much intolerant as irritated by this diva who demands to be the center of attention in her class. “I’m a superstar and you don’t even know it,” Jamie sings in a lively production number where the boy daydreams a full-on performance with his classmates as backup dancers. Miss Hedge has no problems with his desire to wear a dress and be a drag queen. However, the prom she contends is not the setting. The yearly dance is a place for all the kids to shine. Jamie’s desire threatens to seize focus. The gala for many becomes a celebration of one. In a musical where you’re playing to the back of the house, her negativity has the undermining temperament of a villain, but here it’s registering a little subtlety. Her pushing back on his narcissism starts to make sense.

The central conceit could have been handled in any number of ways. Here the drama is presented as a cheery and upbeat crowd-pleaser. The lesson promotes the timeworn mantra “Be true to yourself.” Disregard what other people think. The thing is, Jamie does care. His biggest fear: being ignored. He is supremely self-absorbed. He aspires to be famous and demands that everybody love him. His personality is all ME! ME! ME! His ego grows a little less inspiring after a while.

Propelling the lighthearted spirit is an energetic collection of show tunes. Full disclosure — initially, I thought the songs were merely pleasant. I couldn’t recall a single one immediately after I watched the film. Then I started listening to the movie soundtrack. Its buoyant energy started to work its way into my consciousness. I’ve been humming it ever since, “Everybody’s talking ’bout J-J-Jamie. Everybody’s talking ’bout the boy in the dress who was born to impress” the students sing at school. The title track occurs after they attend Jamie’s drag show the night before. Other highlights include Jamie’s mother’s poignant ode “He’s My Boy” and “This Was Me,” a vulnerable reminiscence from Hugo about the past. The aforementioned “And You Don’t Even Know It” is perhaps the stage musical’s best-known ditty. These hook-laden melodies paired with the imaginatively staged routines elevate the production. The subject of self-acceptance comes across as superficial at times but the colorful, catchy compositions have a joy that propels the message of encouragement with vitality and verve.

09-19-21

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on October 3, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you ever seen a movie that you enjoyed in the moment, but was so inconsequential you immediately forgot about it a day later? Such is Venom Let There Be Carnage, the sequel to Venom, Sony’s massive 2018 box office hit. As an entertaining time-filler, the film succeeds, but it’s hard to write about since it made virtually no impression on me. The mid-credits sequence had more of an impact than the proper saga. No details. I’ll only offer that it acknowledges Venom is a Marvel character originally introduced in the Spider-Man comics.

I could pretend this story is complicated but it’s easy to simplify things. The narrative isn’t complex. Venom is the alien organism that uses the body of investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as a host in which to live. The alien symbiote is a frightening presence because he wants to eat human brains. Nonetheless, he is resigned to eating chicken and chocolate because of Eddie’s admonition to do so. Venom has become a friendly dweller in his body.

The extraterrestrial must face a new enemy named Carnage who inhabits a serial killer named Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). At first, this guy only wants to get back to his true love but Carnage gives him powerful abilities. Girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris) has some superpowers of her own. Incidentally, the same actress is also Miss Moneypenny in the new James Bond flick No Time to Die. Harris is enjoying a most productive October.

The best thing about this production is what made the original so enjoyable. That is — the oddball relationship between Eddie Brock and Venom, the alien who uses him as a host. While he possesses his body, you can hear them talking to each other. They are at ease with one another. They bicker with the comfortableness of an old married couple and it’s amusing. They even experience a break-up. The screenplay has moments of hilarity. However, there are still many opportunities for jokes that aren’t exploited. At one point, Carnage incongruously shouts, “Let there Be Carnage!” The title is stated verbatim without nary a wink or a nudge to the audience. In another scene, Eddie ducks into a women’s bathroom to argue with Venom — and save for the surprised face of one occupant in the adjacent stall — nothing of consequence is mined from the situation.

There is little here to recommend to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the comic book. The chronicle is all in service of a climactic duel between the two monsters. The battle is terrible as it showcases garish and nonsensical CGI action that is just a bunch of craziness up there on the screen. Director Andy Serkis keeps things simple and brisk. That can be a plus. They say brevity is the soul of wit. If you subscribe to that point of view, then the fact that this a mere 90 minutes should increase your enjoyment considerably. The production stays light, but — ya know — with mass destruction. Oh, and the brutal — albeit bloodless — deaths of several characters that test the confines of a PG-13 rating. It’s like a violent sitcom.

09-3-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on October 3, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on talkSPORT radio to review MOVIES with the UK’s Martin Kelner.  On Sunday, September 19, we discussed the beautiful spectacle that is THE GREEN KNIGHT and then venture back a couple years to talk about Oscar-nominated BOMBSHELL which came out in 2019. My segment begins 9 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 21 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

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