Archive for January, 2022

Cyrano

Posted in Drama, Music, Musical, Romance with tags on January 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding people who make the blanket proclamation, “I hate musicals.” How can someone write off an entire artistic discipline? It’s akin to dismissing all Westerns or horror movies. Their reasons inevitably vary, but it’s often based on the artificiality of it all and no enthusiasm for the songs. To them I say, you haven’t seen the right one. But as I sat watching Cyrano, I sympathized with those people.

It’s a tale as old as the 19th century. That’s when poet Edmond Rostand wrote a play that ultimately outgrew the fame of the actual man who inspired it. It barely needs recounting but I’ll oblige. Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a cadet in the French army. He’s both a talented fighter and an expressive wordsmith. He carries the torch for his longtime friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Although his short stature (it’s his nose in the novel) gives him a lack of confidence. A foppish duke (Ben Mendelsohn unrecognizable under pounds of makeup and a big white wig) also has designs of marriage on Roxanne. She has eyes for neither. Her attention is captivated by a soldier named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who returns the same affection. However Christian is inarticulate and Roxanne demands to be wooed with eloquent words and letters. A mere “I love you” isn’t going to cut it. When Roxanne admits having feelings for Christian to her lifelong friend, Cyrano secretly decides to assist by ghostwriting the letters that Christian will send to Roxanne. They come from the heart.

Let’s start with the good. Actor Peter Dinklage is captivating and the #1 reason to see yet another adaptation of this work. This version is penned by Erica Schmidt who is married to the star. Dinklage and co-star Haley Bennett were part of the original stage production. When Cyrano hears Roxanne has something to confess, he assumes it is her love for him. His dejected expression perfectly captures heartbreak when she doesn’t return his feelings. His crooning is less mellifluous. Peter Dinklage’s bass-baritone is reminiscent of Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies. In fact, all of the singing is — quite frankly — mediocre with Haley Bennet being a notable exception. She is the only vocalist with a dulcet tone. I appreciated her ability. Nevertheless, this is a perfect segue into what didn’t work.

Music is the foundation for any great musical. “Well, duh!” The show features songs by twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the indie rock band The National and lyrics by Matt Berninger (also of The National) and his wife, Carin Besser. Sadly, Cyrano lacks memorable tunes. One forgettable ballad follows another. I’m usually humming the melodies after a production. I cannot recall a single one. They’re pleasant I suppose, but dull — like dialogue recited with a singsong delivery. I’d say more but I can’t discuss them with specificity. Oh, I do remember one where Christian sings the reprise, “I’d give anything for someone to say…” but that’s only because of the choreography by Jeff and Rick Kuperman. The soldiers flamboyantly prance about with overly affected gestures as they fence. It is a sight.

I have an issue with the original text. Cyrano de Bergerac is a bummer of a story. The titular character pines for a woman oblivious to his love. Here the poor guy is pouring out his soul and she’s completely distracted. Her heart has been duped by — let’s face it — a handsome face. She wouldn’t be the first, but is she worthy of his admiration? I think not. I wish Cyrano would just move on. So sad. Meanwhile, her growing frustration with Christian’s clumsy vocabulary adds self-righteousness to her obnoxious qualities. Roxanne’s ongoing fascination with Christian becomes even more superficial. I’ve never found Roxanne to be deserving of praise. Viewers are rewarded for enduring her behavior with a complete downer of a resolution. It casts a pall on the entire saga.

Even when mounted well, the developments of the narrative are difficult to embrace. The 1897 play by Edmond Rostand has been adapted numerous times, most famously as a 1950 film starring José Ferrer who won an Oscar, and as a 1990 French picture with Gérard Depardieu (he was Oscar-nominated). Roxanne — the 1987 modernization with Steve Martin — sidestepped the letdown by substituting a happy ending. Erica Schmidt’s Cyrano was originally a stage musical. I’ll give her credit for trying something new. Unfortunately, the songs don’t enhance the production. Peter Dinklage’s performance kept me somewhat engaged. This leads me to assert it would have been better as a straight-ahead drama. And yet there are so many of those. Did we really need another?

12-14-21

Scream

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Definitions vary but in Scream, a “requel” is a movie that functions as a sequel to an existing franchise but mimics so much of a previous entry that it verges on being a remake in disguise. Pictures like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Creed, and The Force Awakens are examples of this. Those all coincidentally came out in 2015. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a recent illustration. As most of these titles show, a requel isn’t necessarily bad. That similarity exists between Scream and…Scream. Of course, Scream is fully aware of this before it apes the plotline of…Scream. Now this is confusing. From here on out, I’ll be adding a 5 to the latest Scream so I can (1) distinguish it from the title of its 26-year-old predecessor and (2) call it out for what it is.

Scream 5 returns to the quiet (?) town of Woodsboro, California. Yet another killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers. An attack on Tara (Jenna Ortega) compels her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to visit her in the hospital. Tara’s group of young and attractive friends assemble to figure out whodunit. Secrets from the town’s past come to light. That’s it. The plot isn’t going to win any awards. It’s Scream redux. In 1996 Scream became a substantial hit by turning the slasher film inside out. It satirized the clichés of the genre while also exploiting them. But let’s face it, it’s 26 years later and Scream 5 certainly can’t continue doing that.

Scream 5 brings something new to the table. This casts a wider net and considers the current state of sequels whose plot may seem like carbon copies of the original movie. Scream 5 mocks this idea. Then proceeds to do the very same thing by mimicking the developments of Scream but gently tweaking the narrative in meaningful ways. The screenplay is indeed funny and that’s where this installment shines. Even the very title imitates the recent trend of “back to basics” sequels that dispense with numbers like Halloween (2018) and Candyman (2021). This act of self-awareness is a precarious balancing act. There’s a fine line between smug and clever, but luckily screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick straddle the line. Scream 5 keeps you entertained with what it has to say.

It’s the spirited new cast that carries the story. The chronicle opens with a recreation of Scream‘s iconic intro when Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker answered the phone. This time however it’s actress Jenna Ortega playing Tara Carpenter. She has a debate about “elevated” horror pictures from directors like Jennifer Kent, Jordan Peele, and Ari Aster with an unknown voice. “I prefer The Babadook,” she says. I feel you, girl. The caller then forces her to play the most stressful trivia game ever before invading her home. Ortega is effective as Tara Carpenter. Even more compelling is actress Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) who portrays her older sister Sam. They enhance the saga because they’re likable. That’s important in a slasher film. I mean it helps when we care the people don’t die, right? “Legacy” characters David Arquette, Neve Campbell, and Courteney Cox are all back to placate longtime followers. They’re appreciated in supporting roles but aren’t essential to the story.

The screenplay also offers a cogent dialogue concerning certain zealous fans — specifically enthusiasts who feel betrayed by franchise installments that don’t adhere to a narrow definition of what constitutes a “good” sequel. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) recounts how Stab 8 — the meta slasher film series within the Scream universe — forgot everything people loved about the first and undermined the subsequent movies. She is hip to horror tropes like her uncle, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream & Scream 2. Her conversations with twin brother Chad (Mason Gooding) are where the script is able to intelligently introduce discussions about the perpetrator of these attacks and toxic online fandom.

Scream is the most meta franchise we have. Yes, I see you Deadpool. For the first time, a Scream movie is not directed by Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor the spirit of the original while still offering a fresh take. This is the same directorial duo who created the ultraviolent Ready or Not in 2019, so expect blood to spurt and spray more than you’ve ever seen in a Scream film — at least since the first. I didn’t need to see the camera linger on a victim as the knife goes into the side of their neck and pops out the other side. Nor witness the ridiculous number of stabs that one (albeit deserved) fatality gets. With that said, the kills are creatively staged. One murder recreates the shower scene in Psycho but wait a minute…does it? The killer’s whereabouts upends our expectations. Scream 5 pokes fun of the sequel, fandom, and of course the slasher genre. A lot of it will feel familiar and that’s kind of the point. A witty screenplay coupled with a youthful and charismatic cast make this material feel vibrant once again.

01-13-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

On Sunday, December 12, I was on talkSPORT radio to discuss Steven Spielberg’s glorious update of WEST SIDE STORY — my favorite film of 2021. My segment begins 5 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 25 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

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

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

On Sunday, December 5th, I was on talkSPORT radio to discuss THE POWER OF THE DOG (Netflix), a potential Oscar contender starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst. and Jesse Plemons. We also revisited the Polish movie COLD WAR from 2018. My segment begins 7 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 23 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

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

Belle

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Drama, Music, Science Fiction with tags on January 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When they call you the spiritual successor to legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, you must be doing something right. Director Mamoru Hosoda originally garnered fame at Toei Animation in the early 2000s with two films in the Digimon Adventure series. In 2011, he co-founded Studio Chizu. Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast were their first two films. Mirai followed and was Oscar-nominated for Best Animated feature in 2019. Belle is the studio’s fourth release.

OK, let me see if I can make sense of this story. Suzu is a withdrawn freckle-faced girl living in rural Japan. Following the death of her mother, the high school student retreats into an online virtual world called “U” with 5 billion players. She creates an avatar linked to her biometric info and becomes a pink-haired pop princess named Belle (also with freckles). It is within this alternate reality that Suzu achieves her true potential. As a lithe and beautiful Barbie-like singer, she attains global superstardom. She later meets a mysterious fellow player within the fantasy world called “The Dragon.” After this beast interrupts her concert — ultimately ruining it — he is pursued by a phalanx of vigilantes led by the arrogant Jason. They have superpowers naturally. Suzu’s desire to uncover The Dragon’s true identity develops into an obsession.

Belle is nothing if not bewildering for the number of plot threads it throws into the mix. The title acknowledges a debt to Beauty and the Beast. It even has an extended sequence that “pays homage” to the iconic ballroom dance from that Disney film. That’s merely one minor component. An ordinary teen who secretly performs as a pretty singing star is reminiscent of the 1980s American cartoon TV series Jem but in a simulated existence. Think Jem visits The Matrix.

Suzu is constantly being pulled between reality and fantasy. In the real world, Suzu is trying to come to terms with her mom’s passing. A group of uniformed high school peers comprises a soap opera that could be the foundation for a completely different movie. Suzu has a crush on childhood pal Shinobu. Popular “It” girl Ruka has eyes for jock Kamishin and appeals to Suzu for help. Meanwhile, her intellectual but snarky best friend Hiro offers Suzu advice on how to navigate the internet world of U. Hiro assists in trying to unveil The Dragon. It’s here that the saga goes off on another tangent as various odd characters are introduced: a troubled baseball player, a tattooed artist, and some random woman pretending to be the ideal housewife. If all that weren’t enough, there’s also an investigation into child abuse. Why have one plotline when you can have six or more?

Belle is an ambitious tale inundated by exquisite imagery. There are undeniably dazzling moments. Mamoru Hosoda populates his virtual environment with a glittering confection of digital avatars, pixies, critters, superheroes, confetti, glowing orbs, and whales in the cosmos. When Belle sings “A Million Miles Away” at the climax, it’s an epic finish that achieves a poetic finality. Unfortunately, the chronicle continues for another 20 minutes in order to tie up some unfinished details. The bizarre unpredictability of the production may have more appeal for fans familiar with the capricious nature of anime.

It’s sci-fi! It’s a fairytale! It’s a soap opera! Belle’s demanding two hour+ runtime entertains a dizzying number of subplots. Sadly they don’t coalesce into a compelling singular narrative. The spotlight is on Suzu (and her alter ego Belle), but this poor girl is beset by a myriad of distractions. The death of her mom, the cute boy at school, acquiring confidence, a J-Pop singing career, computer technology, and helping out an abused youth, all vie for her attention. Those craving a focus will be mystified. The lack of consideration for one central objective makes an emotional connection to this material impossible.

01-07-22

The Lost Daughter

Posted in Drama with tags on January 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Olivia Colman is simply one of our greatest actresses. She has been steadily working for two decades. Olivia began by appearing in a ton of British TV shows and came to prominence with the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show in 2003. Her talent entered my radar with a recurring role on the TV series Fleabag (2016–2019). She famously portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix period TV drama The Crown from 2019 to 2020. Academy Award nominations for the movies The Favourite and The Father cemented her status. Incidentally, she won Best Actress for The Favourite over American acting legend Glenn Close (The Wife) no less. Her latest tour de force is a psychological drama called The Lost Daughter. She’s fantastic and (I’m predicting) will likely garner her third Oscar nomination in four years. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, please welcome Olivia Colman to the fold. She is a national treasure.

The Lost Daughter is the chronicle of a middle-aged divorcee. Leda is a literature professor on holiday by herself in Greece. She has a very prickly rapport with motherhood. During the account, she reveals she has two adult children, aged 23 and 25. Leda has a passive-aggressive relationship with this large, noisy family that’s also on vacation there. She is constantly irritated by the family’s behavior. When Callie (Dagmara Domińczyk) asks her to move from her spot on the beach, she declines. Callie, who is pregnant, later comes over to apologize. Leda has an uncomfortable conversation with the first-time mother. Leda awkwardly concludes with, “Well you’ll see. Children are a crushing responsibility.” Then promptly leaves.

We gradually learn more and more of this woman’s past as the drama unfolds. She is fascinated by another woman in the group named Nina. American actress Dakota Johnson embodies the individual with a disquieting vagueness. Johnson is proving to be quite a talented thespian herself. Nina is a young mother with a toddler girl. At one point the story concerns a missing doll. This development causes Leda to think back in time to when she was an inexperienced mother. The present-day flashbacks to a younger Leda played by Jessie Buckley.

At the center of The Lost Daughter is the fully realized and understated performance by Olivia Colman. It’s an achievement that’s sure to garner awards. Her interactions with this family and other people on the island can be unsettling. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is making her impressive directorial debut. She wisely keeps things intimate and intense. There’s a sinister mood that percolates beneath the surface. It is a most compelling narrative that meticulously lays the groundwork for a boffo conclusion. Sadly the denouement elicits the inevitable discontent of a promise unfulfilled. This fascinating depiction is resolved with an ending that is as ambiguous as it is supremely unsatisfying. I had developed so much admiration for the intensity of this chronicle. The saga begs for some definitive epiphany. Unfortunately, it tarnished my enthusiasm.

01-01-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on January 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m a little behind in posting these appearances…

On Sunday, November 28th, I was on talkSPORT radio to review HOUSE OF GUCCI starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. I also discussed the action-comedy RED NOTICE (Netflix) with Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot. My segment begins 13 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 17 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

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

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on January 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m a little behind in posting these appearances…

On Sunday, November 21st, I was on talkSPORT radio to review GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE which had a spectacular U.S. debut with $44M. Also in the discussion is Andrew Garfield in the musical TICK, TICK…BOOM! (Netflix). My segment begins 7 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 23 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

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

My Top 10 Films of 2021

Posted in Drama, Uncategorized on January 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I saw a lot of great movies this past year. One week into 2022, I reflect back on the past 365 days and pick the 10 films I loved the most. PLUS an additional 10 that just barely missed that list.

Here are the 10 greatest pictures I saw in 2021 followed by an additional 10 that didn’t quite make the list.

Click the link to reveal…

** My Top 10 Films of 2021 **

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful, so a big THANK YOU to all of you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in a fresh decade that begins with 2022!

Nightmare Alley

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Film noir” is a term used to describe the genre of stylish crime dramas released between 1945 and 1960. Subsequently, “neo-noir” was a loosely defined term created to describe pictures that advanced the same sensibility but came after the classic period. Nightmare Alley is a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946 and subsequently became a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power. Now Guillermo del Toro has adapted the same story (with Kim Morgan). Truth be told, my expectations were substantially restrained. I wasn’t a fan of his last release, The Shape of Water. However, color me surprised. I was completely captivated by this adaptation. Some of my favorite neo-noirs of the past 25 years include L.A. Confidential (1997), Match Point (2005), Brick (2005), Drive (2011), and Nightcrawler (2014). Nightmare Alley is an outstanding addition that ranks highly on that list.

The crime drama begins within the shadowy world of a second-rate carnival. Bradley Cooper is perfectly cast as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic man of questionable character. Stan takes a job in a traveling carnival owned by Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe). The occupants consist of the usual hustlers, grifters, and various sideshows including the unfortunate circus geek (Paul Anderson). Stan begins working with a clairvoyant act that comprises “Madame Zeena” (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn). Pete becomes something of a mentor to Stan and begins teaching him the tricks of the trade. These methods incorporate cold reading techniques used to extract information from their marks. However, Pete warns never to use these tricks to put on a “spook show” which means channeling the dead. Meanwhile, Stan is attracted to Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), a fellow carny whose schtick is to allow electrical charges to run through her body. He makes suggestions that improve her act. They form a connection. Then he proposes they leave the carnival together and start a new routine on the road exploiting the craft he has learned. As his approach becomes more and more sophisticated, Stan enters the pantheon of high society. Things get progressively more complicated from there.

The last time Guillermo del Toro directed a production it won the Oscar for Best Picture. That feat is unlikely to happen again. Nightmare Alley hasn’t been as warmly embraced. However, as far as I’m concerned, this is a far superior work. Guillermo del Toro has built a solid reputation on stories about monsters. Although his latest chronicle doesn’t feature any mythical creatures, it still details monsters of humanity. The story may involve unsavory people but it’s gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. At the same time, production designer Tamara Deverell recreates a 1930s carnival with authenticity and style. The tale unfolds with the complexities of a carefully plotted saga helmed by a director who knows exactly what he is doing. Every filmmaking decision informs the account which features an extraordinary ensemble of actors, all of which give performances worthy of acclaim. It’s incredible I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett. The character is a femme fatale in the most classic tradition. I’ve purposefully kept the specifics of her involvement secret so as not to spoil any of the twists and turns of the narrative. The second Lilith challenges Stan at one of his shows, I was enrapt. Every scene in which she is featured is mesmerizing. Ok so honestly, I was engaged throughout. That is the barometer of an entertaining movie. This also happens to be a work of art.

12-23-21